Tuesday, June 5, 2012

We've Moved! Kind of...

Today we launched a new, updated Afropop.org. The new site we hope you find more engaging, user-friendly, and easier to read. In addition, this new website will allow you greater flexibility linking to various programs and pages via your social network accounts. You can also now subscribe to us through any web syndication format!

So we will no longer be blogging here. Instead, you can find all further blog posts, features, programs and content via our new website.

So update your bookmarks immediately to Afropop.org

We'll see ya there!

Friday, June 1, 2012

New Video: The Very Best - "Kondaine" F. Seye

We are super excited for MTMTMK, the forthcoming album from The Very Best set to drop on July 17th. We’ve been bumping it in the office and we are loving it. Stay tuned for a review.

About a month ago we wrote about the excellent video for the first single "Yoshua Alikuti." Now the duo are back with a second video for the track “Kondaine” featuring UK by way of Nigeria artist Seye. The first video featuring the duo strutting through a Nairobi township gave us an awesome feel for the day in the life of a working class Kenyan. Theis latest video heads out into the country and features the three taking a concoction called Kondaine with some Turkana tribesman. The resulting effect is a psychedelic trip, a sacrificial ceremony and a bunch of other crazy stuff we will leave for you to see.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer NYC Concert Guide is Here!

Each year, we produce a summer concert guide for great music happening in NYC. See our card for 2012 below! For the rest of you, don't worry, we also produce a show each year showcasing some of the great music, acts and concerts going on across North America. Listen to Summer Concerts Preview 2012 here. And be sure to check out the new card design below!

Click the photo to enlarge!


Download It HERE

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Simon Bright and Thomas Mapfumo in NYC for Debut of Bright's film "Robert Mugabe... What Happened?"

Text and photos by Banning Eyre 

On May 17 at the New York Institute of Technology, a new film by Zimbawbwean filmmaker Simon Bright had its US debut before an overflow house.  The film, Robert Mugabe… What Happened?, offers a succinct and powerful recap for Robert Mugabe’s public career from his early political rise in the nationalist movement of 1960s, through his eleven-year imprisonment, his key role in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle, his triumphant election in 1980, and the twists and turns of his ultimately disastrous 32 years leading Zimbabwe. This event was organized by three enterprising young Zimbabwean living in New York, and featured a panel discussion that included, among others, both Bright, and the Lion of Zimbabwe himself, Thomas Mapfumo, en route from a trip to South Africa, heading home to Oregon.

For all their differences, Bright and Mapfumo have things in common. For instance, both are, Thomas quipped, “former Rhodesians.”  More to the point, both have traveled the road from supporting Mugabe to opposing him.  “My family was against the Rhodesians,” recalled Bright. “I refused to fight the Rhodesian war. And so, Mugabe was my hero in a way, as he was the hero of Thomas Mapfumo at one time. Mugabe enabled me to come home to Zimbabwe, to the new Zimbabwe, to work in the Ministry of Agriculture, to work on resettlement programs. He brought me home.”Bright’s film reminds us what the world once loved about Mugabe, his eloquence, his apparent humanity, and the solid achievements of his early years in power, including tremendous advances in health, education and, surprisingly, land resettlement. “Zimbabwe in 1980,” recalls Bright, “up to about 1995, was the most successful development story Africa has ever seen. The fact is that there was significant resettlement, redistribution of land in the early 1980s. And it was very well done. It was well planned. It was well executed.” Farmers learned skills and produced bounty. But by the time economic austerity became the order of the day in the 1990s, Zimbabwe had abandoned its land program. The next wave of resettlement would be destructive and disorderly, done at the point of a gun starting in the late ‘90s, and accompanied by no organized strategy to make the land productive.

The title of Bright’s film invites a kind of personal analysis of Mugabe. Is a he a good man gone bad? Or was he fooling us all along? A good part of the discussion following the film focused on this line of thought, until some in the audience objected on the grounds that too much attention on the man obscures the truth of the country. Bright essentially agrees. The characters in his film differ on Mugabe’s nature. Some feel that power changed him.  Others—and Thomas Mapfumo falls into this camp—say he never changed. Circumstances simply forced him to take off the velvet gloves when his power was threatened.

Wherever one comes down on that issue, Bright feels the best way to evaluate Mugabe is by his deeds, and two loom particularly large: Gukuruhundi, the massacre of Ndebele people in the early ‘80s, which Bright calls a “genocide,” and Murambatsvina, the bulldozing of opposition neighborhoods in Harare in 2005, that displaced some 700,000 Zimbabweans. “The events speak for themselves,” says Bright, and his film’s presentation of these episodes, told with stunning archival footage, is both gripping and heartbreaking to watch.

Bright, like Mapfumo, is now in exile from Zimbabwe. Bright left after being imprisoned for no clear reason in 2004. He returned surreptitiously to film interviews with close associates of Mugabe, mostly fellow freedom fighters. Their remarks are both perceptive and persuasive, and as hard as the Zimbabwean state press is now working to discredit this film by discrediting its witnesses, the clear-eyed recollections and measured conclusions of these first-hand witnesses are difficult to dismiss. Bright risked an automatic 20-year prison sentence (for bringing members of the government into disrepute) in gathering material for this film, and the fact that it so riles Mugabe’s paid press, is but one indication that the effort and risk were worthwhile.

The discussion that followed the New York screening was both passionate and chaotic. Some viewers were uncomfortable with the idea of a white man making a film about black history. This is ironic given that a key message of the film is that Mugabe set out to make a non-racial state, and then resorted to outrageously racist rhetoric in order to divide his opposition. The power of Mugabe’s divisive tactic was literally on display as some questioners preferred to talk about the race of the filmmaker than deal with the content of his film.

“One of my objectives in making the film,” said Bright, “was to break down this division, as I talked about, the way the Western media demonizes him, he demonizes all the opposition. You have this kind of incredible polarization, which suits Mugabe very well. And so in the film, you have white ministers saying what a great president he was in the 1980s. You have people who are his comrades in arms explaining what a terrible job he's made of running Zimbabwe. Basically, what I wanted to do was to show the full complexity of the situation, and of the history, and then the audience must judge for themselves.”

Some in the New York audience were keen to air their views on globalization, austerity, South African politics, and other ancillary topics.  At times it was a struggle to keep the focus on Zimbabwe.  Mapfumo—introduced and addressed here as Dr. Mapfumo, in recognition of his two honorary degrees—stirred up controversy when he suggested that England and the US owed it to Zimbabwe to help oust Mugabe, by force if necessary. This idea found little support on the panel or in the room, but in a sense, it was a rhetorical device on Mapfumo’s part. If the crimes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi merited military intervention, surely Mugabe’s did as well.  It should be remembered that Mapfumo is a singer, and an inveterate gadfly, not a political analyst. He actually seemed quite pleased to stir up a ruckus.  “They can call me anything,” he said afterwards. “But I won't stop talking. I will keep on talking. Call me what you can call me.”

Earlier in the day, Thomas expressed his admiration for the three, young organizers of this event.  So called “born frees”—Zimbabweans born after 1980 and so having no memory of the war—these three are unusual in their political engagement.  Thomas told one of them, Nyasha Gutsa, “This is your fight now.  You are the young generation. You have to keep it up. Try and bring more youngsters into this project, so that the world can hear and can also get the knowledge of what is happening in Zimbabwe, because this story is being told by the Zimbabweans.”

Bright says that in recent decades, as much as 25% of Zimbabwe’s people, including many of its best and brightest citizens, have left.  Gutsa notes that if this force could organize itself, it could affect future events in Zimbabwe.  “There was a report,” he noted, “that said $700 million comes out of South Africa in remittances to Zimbabwe, keeping that economy afloat. Diamond money is not enough to keep Zimbabwe going. [A recent discovery of diamond wealth has been a windfall for the regime.] So, people are surviving because we are sending money home. And I think that is also a grant of admission, and I think it would be fair for us Zimbabweans living abroad to be represented in parliament.”  No surprise, in current constitutional talks, Mugabe and his party are firmly resisting any steps that would empower Zimbabweans outside the country.  But as Bright, Mapfumo, Gutsa and others involved in this remarkable evening in New York made clear, there are still ways they can resist, and fight for positive change in Zimbabwe.

Thomas Mapfumo and Nyasha Gutsa

Spotlight: Urban Knights - "Step On Dem" F. Blackout JA

The UK has a long tradition of bringing unique brands of reggae and dancehall. And a series of producers and artists have been maintaining that tradition for a minute now, mixing in elements of UK Bass and electronic music seamlessly along the way.

The latest offering from the UK-based duo Urban Knights is no different. Featuring Blackout JA, "Step on Dem" is hard-hitting bashment offering just in time for summer. Made up of producers Benny Kane and Dr Specs, the track strikes a funky, dancefloor-ready balance between various grime, UK Bass and modern dancehall. In other words, this track is hot like the weather. We actually heard this track last week but are just now getting to it. Fire!

The track was released via the Finland-based Top Billin. Check out a few remixes via their Soundcloud.

Friday, May 25, 2012

BET's Best International Act - Africa Nominees + Videos

The 2012 BET Awards recently announced their nominees. One of the categories, "Best International Act - Africa" had us intrigued (clearly) so we checked it out. Like most award shows, often times the nominees for the various categories are off-point. We can think of a few African artist from the last year who should probably be on this list but for whatever reason, they didn't make the cut. On the other hand, it's pretty cool that these African artists are at least getting some recognition.

Below is a list of the nominees and a sample of their music. What do you think? Anyone missing? Who do you think will win?

Camp Mulla - Kenya

Ice Prince - Nigeria

Lira - South Africa

Mokobe - Mali

Sarkodie - Ghana

Monday, May 21, 2012

Beth Lesser's "Rub-A-Dub Style" available as a free download

The 1980’s remains one of the most under-heralded periods of the Jamaica's musical history. Despite the fact that the decade saw the introduction of the digital production, fast-paced MC’s, and aggressive attitudes that would do much to define the path taken by nation's music over the next two decades, the 80’s themselves are something of a lost period, neither organic enough for fans of roots reggae nor able to provide the gleaming electronic rush that is the currency of modern dancehall. Hopefully, Beth Lesser's newest book, “Rub-a-Dub Style: The Roots of Modern Dancehall,” will do something to bring this period to greater attention. Certainly few writers are better positioned to do so;  Lesser is not only the the author of three previously published books on reggae/dancehall [“Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture,” “The Legend of Sugar Minott & Youth Production,” and “King Jammy,” the latter coauthored by Steve Barrow], but also a talented photographer whose pictures offer a window into the musical life of 1980's Jamaica. Fascinatingly, Lesser has taken the uncommon approach of making the entire text of the book available as a free download, a gift in honor of the people of Jamaica and their culture. Starting May 30th, the download will be available from her website. The book will also be available from Amazon and other E-Book venders for the price of one dollar.

An excerpt of the book can be read here.

To get a taste of Beth’s taste in Dancehall, check out this playlist of her top 10 dancehall essentials (from Largeup.com)

All photos were taken by Beth Lesser.                                                                          
- Sam Backer

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Afropop Worldwide's Hip Deep in Egypt Complete Series is Online

Afropop Worldwide's 5-part Hip Deep in Egypt Series is now complete! Find links to all the programs and podcasts below. You can stream the 1-hour programs, and download the shorter podcasts. To link to the various features (interviews, videos, photos, blogposts and more) click on the program titles. The series was produced by Banning Eyre, with help from a stellar array of artists, scholars and other collaborators. Dig in!  Special thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the New York Council for the Humanities for making our series possible.  Thanks also to PRI (Public Radio International) for their support and distribution. 

Afropop Worldwide Presents Hip Deep in Egypt Series by Afropop Worldwide


Egypt 1: Cairo Soundscape - Hip Deep's Egypt series kicks off with a sonic tour of Cairo--the chatter of car horns on jam-packed streets, the persistent call to prayer broadcast from mosques city wide, koranic recitation, radio sounds, nightclubs, Ramadan concerts, Coptic hymns sung in ancient churches, bustling markets, and the lulling waters of the Nile. We will introduce the themes and central characters for this unique Afropop program series, which takes the pulse of an ancient civilization in the midst of upheaval and historic change.

Egypt 2: Cairo: Hollywood of the Middle East - By the mid 20th century, Cairo had become the unrivaled center for music and film production in the Middle East.  Producers, writers, composers, actors, musicians, star singers, and creators of every stripe flocked here to take part in the city's fervent, international, progressive artistic milieu.  This was the heyday of the diva Umm Kulthum, and the beloved singer and composer Abdel Halim Hafez.  But events of the 50s and 60s signaled an inward turn for Egypt and Cairo.  The 70s saw the rise of a rougher, more street-wise music--sha'bi--and films began to lose their edge.  This program looks back at the rise and decline of a media capital, and points to possible futures in an era of reinvention and change.  Music by Farid el Atrache, Umm Kulthum, Ahmed Adeweya, Hakim, and much more!

Egypt 3: Cairo Underground - Egypt’s revolution has brought much to light, including a lot of music that’s been percolating in hidden corners there, largely ignored by nearly all broadcast and print media.  It turns out a musical revolution has been going on in Egypt well before the political uprisings of 2011.  On this program, we hear music that either was or still is “underground.”   We meet Cairo rock musicians from the band Wust Al Balad, and also from widely stigmatized heavy metal musicians who appeal to a small, passionate, and surprisingly wholesome audience.  We also hear experimental music by composers out to break the orthodoxy of the Egyptian past, and sample new forms of sha’bi pop and Sufi music, bubbling up from poor urban neighborhoods where street weddings may offer a glimpse of Egyptian pop music to come.

Egypt 4: Living Traditions - As Egyptians struggle to forge a new, post-revolution identity, some will look to traditions.  The country is rich in indigenous culture from the amorous odes of desert Bedouins to the keening boom and blare of a Zeffa wedding procession.  New Cairo venues now present Nubian music, ancient sounds from the Delta and Suez regions, and even the music of the zar healing ritual—elevating these forms above touristic fare found on Nile Cruises and in old Cairo.  This Hip Deep edition, rich with recordings made in the field, offers a sonic map of Egypt’s traditional life, culminating in the ecstasy of a Sufi saint celebration—a mouled.

Egypt 5: Revolution Songs -  Afropop’s "Hip Deep in Egypt” series concludes with a survey of the music created during the first 15 months of the ongoing revolution.  We meet Tahrir Square troubadour Ramy Essam, top rapper Karim Rush, Egyptian music legend Mohamed Mounir among others.  Most observers agree that Egypt’s popular music industry has grown out of touch and moribund—a bit like the former government.  But what comes next?  Scholars and artists weigh in on the significance of music in preparing the way for revolution, and the consequences of revolution on the future of Egyptian music.


A Summer Walk Through Tahrir Square - Afropop producer Banning Eyre took a walk through the square to interview and talk to some of the people who were still occupying the space. Eyre met a series of people and musicians who told him about the music they played during the occupation of the square and what inspired them to stand up against the government.

Cairo's Evolving Classical Music Scene - Producer Banning Eyre takes the pulse of classical music in Cairo today. He visits oud virtuoso Naseer Shamma, and speaks with ethnomusicologist Scott Marcus. We hear an amazing live performance by violin maestro Abdou Dagher.

The Electronic Underground of Cairo - Producer Banning Eyre delves into the small but vibrant world of Cairo's electronic music scene. We meet Mahmoud Refat, founder of the independent record label 100 Copies Music, and sample work by his artists. We also meet and hear work by Refat’s ally and collaborator, composer Hassan Khan.

The Ecstasy of Sufi Moulid - Banning Eyre delves into the world of sufis. Join us as Afropop visits a sufi moulid celebration in Upper Egypt and delves into the history of sufi celebration and culture in Egypt.

What's Next for Egyptian Music? The Rise of Rap & Electro-Sha'bi - This podcast focuses on the roots of Egyptian rap, and its surging popularity after the revolution. The future of music in Egypt may be the fusion of rap and another surging, young genre, electro-sha'bi.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thomas Mapfumo in NYC to speak at debut of Simon Bright film: "Robert Mugabe... What Happened?"

Zimbabwean music legend Thomas Mapfumo will pass through New York this week, en route from South Africa, to speak at the debut of a new film about Robert Mugabe's legacy. The film, "Robert Mugabe... What Happened?" was made by veteran Zimbabwean filmmaker Simon Bright, who will also be on the panel.  This is a rare chance to hear about what has been going on in Zimbabwean from people close to the action, and a rare chance to see "The Lion of Zimbabwe" in conversation. 

Spotlight: KonKoma's 70's Afro-Funk Excellence

The always reliable Soundway Records is prepping the debut release of London-based afro-funk outfit KonKoma. The group was originally conceived by saxophonist Max Grunhard and producer Ben Lamdin who wanted to form a group around a pair of highly-respected and well-known Ghanaian musicians -- Alfred Bannerman and Emmanuel Rentzos. Both have been working musicians for a long time having worked with the likes of Bobby Womack and Hugh Masakela, as well as regularly playing with long-time afro-rock band Osibisa.

Previews of the new album showcase a firm nostalgia for a classic 70's West African sound that isn't afraid to update the music with modern stylings. The band also is not afraid to go beyond that sound and incorporate acoustic guitars and kora for a rich offering. As expected, the musicians sound at the top of their game throughout and the band is extremely tight.

Watch a video preview about the album below and sample clips from the full-length.

The self-titled album will be out June 25th via Soundway.