Monday, September 27, 2010

World Festival of Black Arts and Culture: December 10-31!

Text and photos by Banning Eyre

It turns out the president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, played guitar in a pop band when he was a student. Wade offered this fact, more or less as an aside, during a remarkable press conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York City on September 24. With Angelique Kidjo and Akon at his side, Wade was heralding the approach of the World Festival of Black Arts and Culture, an ambitious celebration of African and African diaspora arts, sciences and intellectual pursuits, scheduled to take place in Senegal December 10-31, 2010.

The festival is expansive in every way, including exhibitions, forums, lectures and performances spanning 16 disciplines (cinema, traditional and visual arts, crafts, dance, music, urban culture, design, literature, fashion, photography, theatre, food, architecture, science and technology, and sports).  Events will take place all around Dakar, and in Senegal's second city, Saint-Louis.  There is also a major outreach to the diaspora, to "blacks on all continents," in Wade's phrase.  Brazil is the "guest of honor country," and President Lula da Silva is expected at the opening ceremony.  In his remarks, Wade evoked "the geography of black people" around the world and tied their histories and cultures into the overarching idea of "African renaissance," a dominant theme of his 10-year presidency.  As a wide variety of presentations during this press conference made clear, this will be more than a music festival or cultural symposium.  Artistic Director Kwameh Kwei-Armah said, "This is the day the African renaissance begins to make Africans the leaders of the 22nd century."  

Angelique Kidjo, President Abdoulaye Wade, Akon
"African renaissance" has crucial intellectual and political dimensions.  It is about rescuing lost history, seizing the initiatives represented by the UN's 2015 Milennium Development Goals, ending the spread of AIDS on the continent, and much more.  The festival's forum manager Professor Iba der Thiam said the objective is "not just glorifying ourselves, but reestablishing the truth."  Thiam listed human endeavors that were born in Africa, including "math, law, the calendar, architecture, and science in general."   What is beautiful about this festival's embrace of this all-inclusive package is the primacy of culture, and especially music, in the vision.  The literature on the festival calls it the "third edition."  And we're not talking annual editions.  The "first edition" was held in Dakar in 1966 by then president Léopold Senghor.  And the "second" was the legendary FESTAC festival in Lagos in 1977,  perhaps the biggest and most consequential showcase of African music ever.  

FESTAC was the starting point for Angelique Kidjo's remarks.  She recalled the event as a touchstone moment of her youth.  Paraphrasing Fela Kuti, Kidjo called music "the weapon of peace," and spoke passionately about its importance and power. "I am an artist that has been talking about the impact and the richness that the continent of Africa has given to the world," said Kidjo.  "It started, sadly, with slavery.  We have been brought to many different parts of the world to build the wealth of continents, of countries, instead of building our own continent's wealth.  But what is most important is the music that we brought...  Without the music of the slaves, we wouldn't have the blues, we wouldn't have rock 'n' roll...  So I claim all the music of the world as African.  We are all Africans, and we should be proud of being African."   This sentiment pretty much brought the house down.   

Amazingly, the concerts in this festival will all be free to the public.  They will be ticketed in the interest of crowd control, but there will be no admission fee to hear groups ranging from Akon and Angelique Kidjo to Afropop veterans (Salif Keita, Hugh Masekela, Bembeya Jazz and the Mahotella Queens) to jazz musicians (Marcus Miller, Omar Sosa, Chucho Valdez and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Messengers), reggae (Tiken Jah Fakoly and Alpha Blondy), hip hop (Didier Awadi), and of course Senegal’s favorite sons Youssou N’Dour and Baaba Maal.  This is only part of the partial list provided at the press conference.  Visit the festival website for updates.  But already the lineup is impressive.  During the festival, one channel of Senegalese television will be dedicated to events, including concert broadcasts, and AV feeds will be offered to other African countries as well.  Organizers spoke of plans to broadcast concerts on massive screens in public locations around the continent, and the world.  

Akon, in his remarks, noted the historic dimensions of this event, and its potential to promote a new, more positive conception of Africa in the world.  Referring to President Wade as "my Papa," Akon said Senegal was the perfect country to host this momentous festival.  "Senegal," he said, "is one of the few African countries that always held peace and always moved forward.  And that was, one, from religion, and two, from entertainment."

Akon with festival organizer Djibril Diallo
Akon is the son of legendary Senegalese percussionist Mor Thiam.   Akon recalled how his father had made sure his kids were born and educated in the United States, so they would have more opportunities.  But Akon's education led him back to Africa, to the realization that his ancestral continent is the true source of so much he learned in American schools and life.   “I make sure that my children grow up not only learning other languages, but they learn their culture," said Akon.  "They learn their history.  They learn their whole way of life, how it began and how it shall be.  I think this festival will be a big step to allowing people who are not familiar with Africa to get a better understanding of what Africa has to offer.”

Inevitably, at this press conference, there were questions about logistics and infrastructure, essentially how easy it would be for foreigners to negotiate such a massive series of events.  Organizers offered assurances that festival-goers would get plenty of help with transportation, translation, guidance and security.   There was also a deeper question, from Afropop's Sean Barlow, about how the festival is being "marketed" to Americans.  Clearly, with this press conference occurring just eleven weeks before the opening ceremony, the publicity campaign is getting a late start.  The message that all are welcome comes through loud and clear, but while millions will experience festival events through media, YouTube and other outlets, a relatively few lucky souls will likely pick up from the US and head for Dakar in time.   Not a problem, said Akon.  “There’s no particular way to market something like this," he said.  "This has to be a situation where you yourself have to want to learn more about Africa and experience this yourself.”  At the same time, the pop superstar voiced a commitment to try to encourage “my generation” to have that curiosity and desire.  

By Mamadou Gomis
As of this writing, the Afropop team does not have a way to attend the World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures.  However, we are open to any offers and ideas...  We also encourage listeners and readers who do attend to share reports and impressions.  Say what you will about African governments, including Senegal's, President Wade deserves praise for devoting significant resources to such a momentous undertaking.  No other contemporary government in Africa has made a similar commitment to culture.  Alas, when asked by Sean Barlow, President Wade noted he would not be taking the stage with his guitar during these concerts, though he still has time to change his mind on that...

By Stéphane Tourné

Hip Hop Soul Jam At City Winery

Something really cool happened last Monday, September 20th at City Winery in New York City that we were eager to share with all you Afropop Worldwide listeners. The special event was the continuation of Hip Hop Soul Jam, a quarterly performance series showcasing emerging hip hop soul artists making music for a purpose. The show featured performances by live acts Aposoul, Okai, Brown Rice Family, Underground Horns and Denitia Odigie, with a special opening performance by The Hip Hop Congress from the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action middle school in the Bronx. Hip Hop legend Marley Marl also did a special guest DJ performance.

Okai's Odyssey

Denitia Odigie

Marley Marl
One of the reasons why we dig the Hip Hop Soul Jam so much is because the evening benefited Millennium Promise and coincided with the launch of the 2010 Millennium Development Goals Summit, to focus on eradicating poverty worldwide. Millennium Promise is the leading international non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Millennium Promise oversees the Millennium Villages project which supports integrated social and business development for more than 500,000 people in rural communities across 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Hip Hop Soul has the power to effect change on a global level” said Hip Hop Saves Lives founder, Chad Harper. “That’s why we give a spotlight to quality hip hop soul artists, those with a focus on saying something and creating music with artistic integrity. We place emphasis on performers that follow their words with actions, personifying Hip Hop Saves Lives’ motto: ‘We don’t just talk about it, we be about it.’”

Members of Millennium Promise Young Professionals Leadership
Committee: (back) Iva Iordanova, Justin Lyons, (front) Kyoko Kaneda,
David Nemer (Chair), Amy Shaw (Millennium Promise)

Hip Hop Soul Jam Producers Jake Bright and Chad Harper
Anna Harrison, Millennium Promise UK; Bala Yunusa, Millennium
Villages Project in Pampaida (Nigeria); Amy Shaw, Millennium Promise;
Bocary Kaya, Millennium Villages Project Mali; Niyi Onabanjo,
Millennium Villages Project Nigeria
 To this end, Harper teamed up with Hip Hop Soul Jam co-producer Jake Bright, a DJ and Director of African focused Cocody Productions and a former producer of events for Alicia Keys’ Keep a Child Alive. Bright works with Harper to infuse an international (largely African) component to Hip Hop Soul Jam’s artist selection, while adding his DJ skills mixing African music with other black genres, such as hip hop, soul, reggae, dancehall, and funk. He rocked several DJ sets through all those genres during the evening, sharing the stage momentarily with hip hop pioneer Marley Marl. Bright and Harper have already been approached about connecting the next Hip Hop Soul Jam to a worthy cause, so expect to see a new exciting ensemble of music for a purpose soon.

Saturday was another great evening for Hip Hop Soul Jam and we hope that there are many more night of fun and exciting music going towards a positive cause in their future.

City Winery Crew

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Le Grand Dakar Block Party: Boogie in the rain!

The fifth annual Le Grand Dakar Block Party was foiled by rain this past Sunday.  It never rained hard, but it never really stopped either, and for a public grown accustomed this summer to 90-degree steamers, this was a problem.  When Afropop arrived late in the afternoon, the street was a pretty desultory scene--a block party ready to go with entertainment, eye candy and savory food, but relatively few takers.  This event features art, fashion, food and music including this year Brooklyn-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador, Bajah and The Dry-Eye Crew from Sierra Leone, Senagalese Sabar-stylings of Mar Gueye, and the first-ever New York appearance of the Belgium-based soulful Congolese rapper, Baloji. DJ Mihoki, DJ Laye and The City Billies.

The good news is that the music moved inside Le Grand Dakar, and despite the tight quarters, the performers and their reduced but willing audience revved up the energy and laid down a fine party despite the weather.  I caught Bajah and the Dry-Eye Crew freestyling up a storm of their own with a tight, brassy band they would share with Blitz.  Three horns, two guitars, live drums and bass cranked out tuneful grooves for the rappers, whose boisterous voices more than filled the small space.  This was a big sound, aching to burst out onto the street, but alas, unable to.  Bajah and company have been doing gigs around New York and they are sounding terrific.  We await their debut CD, expected to drop soon...

Blitz came next, with the band kicking out forceful, funky grooves, but the rapper ruled, with crisp flow and a totally committed delivery that transcended the humble setting.  Rising above circumstances, literally and figuratively, Blitz stood on a chair and gave his all, rapping, dancing as if it were Madison Square Garden.  He worked in a spitfire rap in a Ghanaian tongue that really wound up the crowd.  Blitz was asked to pause while a ceremony for the elders followed unfolded.  Sabar drums sounded in the street as the stage shifted.  After a delicious plate of herb-roasted lamb from Le Dakar's kitchen--grilled over coals!--I had to move on, but Blitz returned for more, and the African party continued.  Better luck next year.  This is a sweet event.  With a day like Saturday (sunny and in the 70s), it would make the perfect cap to an exquisite summer of free outdoor entertainment in New York City.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival 2010 Review

The plan worked out. Like most other Caribbean islands, Curaçao depends largely on tourism that normally hits rock bottom in early September when the heat is temporarily not attenuated by a constant breeze. To lure visitors to the largest of the Dutch islands in the Western hemisphere anyway, promoters in the capital Willemstad had the idea of a musical event. In collaboration with the famous North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, Holland, the Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival was created.

Its first edition attracted nearly fifteen thousand visitors on each of the two nights, almost half of them from off island. While waiting for my flight back to Berlin via Amsterdam, I met a guy from Dallas who told me that he had surprised his wife with a trip to the festival to celebrate their tenth anniversary. Journalists had flocked to the event from Holland, the US, Brazil, Suriname and other countries to experience the festival and explore this island, which lies close to the Venezuelan coast. Part of the attraction is historic. The center of Willemstad—once the hub of Holland’s busy slave trade, and still full of Dutch colonial architecture and housing as well as the oldest American synagogue in continuous use is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.

Historic Waterfront in Willemstad

Like many jazz festivals today, the event in Curaçao presented a lot of R&B, Latin and African music, in addition to jazz, of course. The opening band at Willemstad’s World Trade Center were Cuba’s veterans of son music Sierra Maestra, still featuring a few of the musicians who founded the band back in the mid-70s. They played the only indoor venue, the Celia Stage, named after the legendary salsa singer Celia Cruz, the godmother of salsa. New York’s Latin music queen La India performed a bit later on the Sir Duke Stage in front of about a thousand people and backed by a fantastic orchestra. Meanwhile, the third and biggest venue, the Sam Cooke Stage, was filled with thousands of fans for guitar legend George Benson. He delivered his usual mix of commercial vocal ballads and first class grooving guitar jazz.

George Benson
The “jazz police” were placated by artists like piano virtuoso Michel Camilo from the Dominican Republic who told his enthusiastic audience that he had been to Curaçao before—for his honeymoon. His fellow pianist Randal Corsen, based in Holland but a native of Curaçao, had put together an incredibly grooving all-star band with Roy Hargove on trumpet, Puerto Rican sax man David Sánchez, the great drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez from Cuba and on percussion Corsen’s compatriot Pernell Saturnino. Saturnino spent many years in the US working with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera and Andy Narell. But in April he decided to relocate back to his native island to open a percussion academy which, of course, does not stop him from performing internationally. Pernell proved to be the festival’s busiest musician, turning up as a guest with five or six different groups.

 Another local act was the band Tumbao Cubaçao, formed by natives and immigrants from Cuba who delivered an interesting fusion of rhythms from both islands. Two completely different shows closed the first evening: the solo performance of Raúl Midón, who displayed once more his incredible talents both as a singer and a guitarist, and soul veteran Lionel Richie who drew the expected huge crowd.

Sergio Mendes
 The second evening opened with Natalie Cole in a swinging and sometimes Latin-influenced set in the tradition of her dad Nat King and her uncle Freddy Cole, while Sergio Mendes presented Brazilian classics with an international band featuring, for example, a bassist from Sri Lanka. Mulato, a band from Willemstad, used jazz, soul and music from the Dutch Antilles and Brazil to create a unique and very danceable mix. Roy Hargrove’s quintet played another straight-ahead jazz set. Hargrove was also one of the most active players during the nightly jam sessions at Willemstad’s Renaissance Hotel.

From Austin, Texas, the eleven-strong Grupo Fantasma came through with an exciting fusion of salsa, Latin-rock and funk that got everybody dancing. And the festival’s only artist from Africa, Cameroonian bassist and singer Richard Bona, delivered—incapable of disappointing—another amazing set with a particularly interesting medley of compositions by Bona’s former employer Joe Zawinul. The young singer Giovanca was born in Holland where she still lives, but her parents come from Curaçao and she feels at home both in Europe and on the island to whom she dedicated a beautiful song sung in Papiamentu, the local vernacular that everybody speaks in addition to the official language Dutch and, in most cases, English and Spanish too. The festival closed out with UK’s pop super-group Simply Red on their farewell tour.

As no major problems occurred and the whole event was almost sold out, the organizers announced that there will be a second Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival in 2011.

- Wolfgang König

Thursday, September 9, 2010

An Evening for Lobi in London

Honest Jon’s Records and SOAS Music will be presenting a night of live music, DJ’s and some very special guests including Tunde Jegede and kora in memory of the Bambara Bluesman, Lobi Traore. The event will take place on September 28th at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh Street at Russell Square in London. The event is asking for a 10 pound donation that will go directly to Lobi’s family.

Banning Eyre recently wrote a tribute piece to Lobi Traore shortly after his unexpected passing that can be found HERE.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Five Dollars Off Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars Tickets!

We’ve been granted a very special offer exclusive to fans of Afropop Worldwide for the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars show this Saturday at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. Simple type the password found below into the promotional code section of the below link and you will receive FIVE dollars off to the show. We know you were probably planning on going, anyway. Now you get a discount!

To use the discount go HERE and type in: RISEANDSHINE as the promotional code.

Simple as that!

Kevin KalimbaMan Spears

We love it when friends of Afropop direct us towards great music. Going through the hundreds of emails we got over the weekend, a listener of Afropop Worldwide sent us a link to a Youtube video of an Atlanta-based, Kalimba artist named Kevin Spears who really takes the use of the instrument in interesting directions.

Spears recently participated in a contest put on by the audio equipment company BOSS. We aren’t sure about the details of the contest but judging from the video Spears recorded for the contest, we think he should have won. Spears utilizes the traditional African instrument and tweaks it to create a soulful, funky sound that would make Stevie Wonder smile.

Check it out:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Music Mix!

We know it isn't a holiday everywhere in the world but for those in the U.S. this Saturday marks the beginning of a three-day weekend. So we decided to put together a short mix of some of new songs from artists we love for the extra day off. Regardless of where you are located, everyone wins with good music... no matter where you are!

Labor Day Weekend Mix by afropopww

Afropop Weekend New Music Mix

1. Khaira Arby - "Waidio" (from Timbuktu Tarab)

2. Wrinkars Experience - "Soundway" (from The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia in 1970's Nigeria - Soundway Records)

3. Los Destellos - Constelación (from The Roots of Chica 2 - Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru via Barbes Records)

4. Tom Zé - O Céu Desabou (from Estudando a Bossa-Nordeste Plaza - Luaka Bop)

5. Antibalas - "Big Man" (from the recent re-issued Who is This, America via Ropeadope)

6. Mohammed Alidu and the Bizung Family - "Land Of Fire" (from the forthcoming LP, Land of Fire via Black Eye Watching)

7. Toubabe Krewe - "Holy Grail" (from their forthcoming LP, TK2 via Nat Geo Music)

8. Alma Afrobeat Ensemble - "New School" (from the forthcoming Toubab Soul)