Friday, May 28, 2010

Video of Full Youssou N'Dour Concert Last Weekend

Unable to make it to Germany last Sunday to see Youssou N'Dour at Africa Festival? No problem, we've got a video of the full (almost 2 hours) concert right here. The video is really well done, and Youssou is in tip-top form. After all, "Youssou N'Dour ist ganz unbestritten der afrikanische Superstar schlechthin." Right? Right.

Emeline Michel in Brooklyn Next Friday

An interesting tidbit passed to us by DJ Neva...

Invitation from Kings County Hospital Center


Date: Friday, June 4, 2010
Time: 5:30 - 7 p.m.
Place: Kings County Hospital - "T" Building - Auditorium, 2nd floor
451 Clarkson Ave., corner of New York Ave. - Brooklyn 11203

Info/RSVP: (718) 245-3910

This program is a partnership with the Musical Connections program of The Weill Institute at Carnegie Hall. The program will begin at 5:30 pm, doors open at 5 pm. Seating is limited, and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Thank You!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New Video from Afropop: Angelique Kidjo on OYO, Part 2

It was a long time comin', but certainly worth the wait. In this new Afropop exclusive, Angelique recounts the music of her youth, and she is one heck of a storyteller. All I can say is, I hope she invites me to her next party (because YOU KNOW there's gonna be some James Brown on).

Special, SPECIAL thanks to Julius Jusay, our intrepid video editor.

And now, without further ado...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Northeast and Central Argentina with BBC Radio 3

Next stop on the BBC Radio 3 World Routes Argentina tour was the provinces of Misiones, Corrientes and Chaco, essentially the northeast of the country. Misiones and Corrientes—bordered by two rivers and tucked in between Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay—are lands of dense bush and rivers. That’s where most of the beloved yerba mate is grown. This leafy green shrub is the source of a stimulating hot beverage that is part and parcel of many peoples’ lives in Argentina. Everywhere you go, especially in the north, you can see people walking the streets carrying small round gourds filled with maté with metal straws protruding upwards. A thermos tucked under the other arm supplies a splash of 80-degree water for each shot of the communally shared drink. The taste is a tad bitter, but the effect decidedly invigorating and the social custom quite delightful once you get used to it.

This region is also the home of the music called chamame, a local blend of European accordion music, Spanish guitar, and ineffable aspects of indigenous Guarani language and culture. The music’s genealogy is mysterious, but the sound is a delightful, playful blend of rhythms. As our guide accordion maestro Chango Spasiuk explained, it is deeply polyrhythmic music, juxtaposing 6/8 and 4/4 times in a way not unlike a good deal of African music. Teasing the “Africa” out of this and other Argentine folk genres is a tricky business. Africans certainly passed through Argentina prior to the mid 19th century, but most moved on to places like Brazil and Peru. Those who stayed were more apt to have been domestic servants in fancy homes and on private ranches than involved in any kind of large-scale commercial endeavor. And it seems that many blacks were killed in a protracted regional war against Paraguay between 1865 and 1870. Few visible reminders of an African presence remain anywhere in Argentina, but it certainly feels like the continent’s rhythmic stamp exists deep in the mix of some of the country’s hybrid folk musics. And not surprisingly, this subject is much discussed—and debated—among devotees of Argentine music genres.

Indigenous South American populations do still exist in Argentina, although they are somewhat isolated and marginalized. In Resistencia, we recorded an indigenous “choir” of Qom (Toba) people. They sang and played drums, shakers, and a distinctive violin called n’vike, most often constructed with a tin resonator (formerly a gourd) and a single horse-hair string. The Coro Chelaalapi made music with notable similarity to native music in the western United States—a deep, slow and steady beat with spare strong vocal melodies. Given all the cultural disruption, including a strong acculturation effort on the part of active evangelical churches, it is difficult to assess the ultimate authenticity of the surviving indigenous music. But the artists we met are dedicated to keeping what remains of these traditions alive, and the music they make is certainly compelling.

Side-by-side with indigenous culture and peoples in places like Resistencia, one finds all sorts of hybrid criollo music and dance. Popular dance rhythms like cuica, zamba, and chacarera bridge a genteel waltz feeling with lively 6/8 time. Further west in and around the city of Santiago del Estero, we spent a fantastic day with the popular criollo music maestros Duo Coplanacu, who accompany their tight, zesty harmony vocals with guitar and the large local bombo drum.

Our final days included a tour of Buenos Aires’s only hand-made accordion factory. Anconentani Accordions only repairs instruments these days, but it preserves a fascinating and colorful history of what has to be Argentina’s most prevalent instrument. We also heard more tango, and spent two days in the pampa ranch country south of Buenos Aires, exploring the work of local cowboy poets, and the lilting milonga—a music that Robert Farris Thompson observed is to tango something like what the blues is to jazz. We worked around the town of Maipu, birthplace of the amazing young singer Cristóbal Repetto, whose voice sounds remarkably as if it were emerging from a 78-rpm record player, loaded up with vinyl from the earliest days of tango. He was also a most gracious host, who helped open doors to all sorts of distinctive regional musicians, many of whom he joined in their performances for the BBC.

The fruits of World Routes’s Argentine adventure will begin airing in September on BBC Radio 3, and continue in 2011. There will be 5 programs in all, with yours truly as host. The recordings are quite spectacular and nothing short of dazzling in their variety. Watch for links and details.
Banning Eyre

Jorge Ben Live 1972

Today we found a fantastic clip of Jorge Ben Jor in top form from the early 1970's. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Exclusive Awadi Tracks!

Here at we spare no effort in finding you tasty music morsels unavailable in the US. To that end, we present two choice cuts from from Didier Awadi’s, Senegal’s #1 hip hop artist, just released CD, Présidents D’Afrique. On these two tracks, you hear excerpts of spine tingling speeches by Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and President Obama mixed with Awadi rapping in French.

Check out our "Free Stuff" section and enter for a chance to win a copy of the album, hand imported from Senegal by our executive producer Sean Barlow.


Dans mon reve


Greatest Break in Afropop History?

Working at Afropop comes with the occasional hazard. Inevitably, an earworm of epic proportion will lodge itself in my brain and drive me crazy. Well, crazier than my usual crazy, anyway.

The most recent, and potent, earworm I've come across at Afropop is from the first track of Stern Music's recent Congo collection: AFRICAN PEARLS: PONT SUR LE CONGO. The entire disk, which features the cream of the Golden Age crop of Congolese music, is excellent. But the first 20 seconds of the first track ("Kamaki" by Orchestre Kiam) sets the whole collection off with (and I'm no Sean Barlow or Banning Eyre, so you can feel free to take this with a grain of salt) perhaps one of the greatest breaks in Afropop history, starting at 0:12.

Check out this one minute sample from the Stern's Music player.

The polyrhythm is sick, that 4-on-the floor bass drum kills, the guitar shimmers and it all comes together in a way that makes your head nod and your eyes light up.

Listen at your own will be stuck in your brain.

--Matt, with Gabe

Sunday, May 9, 2010

In the Foothills of the Argentine Andes, with BBC Radio 3

The northwest of Argentina, near the borders with Bolivia to the north and Chile to the west, is mountainous and beautiful. Our destination, the dry, colored rock canyon country north of Jujuy (hoo-HOOee) is in many ways reminiscent of the American southwest. Beyond the colored rock canyons, there’s the adobe architecture, corn based food, and cultural expressions that blend Spanish and native American—in this case South American—elements. Then, of course, there are the pan pipes, charangos and a number of unique and surprising ingredients—like the erque, a 10-foot-long wind instrument with a hooked tin horn at the end of a long stretch of thin tubing. The erque produces deep blasts of flatulent melody believed to provide spiritual benefits when played in winter (about to begin here), but also to attract diseases during summer, when by custom it is not played.

Tomas Lipan met us at the airport in Jujuy. A bear of a man with a long, black ponytail and an oversized personality, Lipan is a celebrity throughout the region. Everywhere we went, friends and relatives came out to hug and kiss him, or at least shake his hand. Any hint of official harassment, such as when we tried to record a session amid the restored ruins of an 11th century fortress in Tilcara, vanished instantly at the mere mention of his name. “Tomas? Tomas Lipan?” asked the officious guard at this national monument, “Well, in that case, go right ahead. Do whatever you want.” In the end, it was the wind, not official protocol, that forced us to do the session in a gift shop across the road from the ruin.

Lipan plays guitar, various drums and pan pipes, charango, and even the signature instrument of Buenos Aires tango, the bandoneon. He also sings with a fabulously deep tenor that lends itself to all sorts of genres, from authentic folklore of native peoples to varieties of hybrid shtick. One night after a dinner of llama steaks and locro (local corn and beef stew), he treated us to a reworking of “Auld Lang Syne.” (Check Tomas Lipan out on YouTube; you won’t regret it.) As to the “authenticity” of local folklore, Lipan would be the first to tell you that it is quite unknowable. European conquerors and immigrants have raised cultural havoc in this region for well over a century. Lipan grew up in and around Purmamarca, in the shadow of the spectacular Cerro de Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors), and he recalls being a schoolboy ashamed of the clothing, cuisine and music that were part of his home life. He has travelled a long road to become one of the most successful and passionate exponents of local music. He’s a devout Christian who still honors his native ancestors. He performs hybridized local genres of music, including festival songs and mystic, bawdy coplas (couplets), as well as his own songs and music targeting popular audiences throughout Argentina. He is a jolly, high-spirited man, and a notorious flirt, but he became quite emotional—almost teary—when recalling the fates of his ancestors in the violent days of the past.

We spent three lovely days with this man, driving up the and down the Humahuaca Valley from our cozy base in Purnamarca. Lipan introduced us to a number of his favorite musicians, like Fortunato Ramos, accordionist, poet, bandleader, folklorist and operator of a peña (restaurant and traditional music venue) in picturesque Humahuaca. He played the erque for us, apparently safe to do as it is currently autumn here. On the last day of our northwest swing, we camped at a stylishly funky rural restaurant in the green hills outside San Salvador de Jujuy. After a lavish meal—featuring mountains of meticulously barbecued meat (parilla!)—we had the place to ourselves for a series of recordings with regional musicians. The highlight had to be Baguelera Vasquez, a character to rival Tomas Lipan. A “baguelara” is an interpreter of coplas, those short, wise and witty poems that combine Latin literary tradition with earthy and inscrutable local lore. In his red poncho-cape, wide-rimmed hat, and cowhide mudflap trousers, he looked like some kind of gaucho shaman as he held his buzzing frame drum (caja) aloft, tapping out rhythms and roaring out coplas set to spare, tritonic melodies. The themes featured wine, women, horses and goats, and they had those attuned to the language in stitches. When these shows air on BBC Radio 3’s World Routes, listeners will be treated to full translations.

Now it’s back to BA for a quick turnaround and up to the rivers and jungles of Misiones and Corriente in the northeast…

Banning Eyre

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Baaba Maal Live In NYC!

Today we have a nice treat for Y'all...

Here's some live footage of Baaba Maal's recent performance at The Fillmore at Irving Plaza in NYC. This was just one memorable stop on a huge summer tour promoting his new album Television.
If you get the chance to catch one of these shows, don't pass it up!




Preschoolers to Perform Original Fela-Style Protest Song

The guitarist for the Deedle Deedle Dees, a Brooklyn band for "the whole family," passed by the Afropop office today with a poster for their "No No No! You Don't Have to..." concert coming up at the Knitting Factory on Saturday at 11AM. My interest was immediately piqued, as the performance is not only a celebration of Fela Kuti's protest songs, and will feature performers from FELA!, but will also feature Brooklyn preschoolers performing an original Fela-style protest song.

What do preschoolers have to protest, you ask? According to the Deedle Deedle Dees...people who hurt animals.

More information and tickets ($10 per person/$20 per family) at the Knitting Factory website.

FELA! Tops Tony Noms

Smash broadway musical, FELA!, has tied with La Cage Aux Folles for the most Tony nominations this year.

FELA! is nominated for 11 Tonys, including Best Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Sahr Ngaujah).

For more information, check out this New York Times Blog Post

This is also a perfect excuse to check out our recent interview with Seun Kuti, Fela's youngest son, about FELA! on Broadway.

Congratulations to our friends at FELA!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Banning in Buenos Aires

Two days on the ground in BA with the BBC, and I’ve had a tango education. I’m here as the host for 4 future radio documentaries on BBC Radio 3’s World Routes program. The work began with an intimate home session with the smoky-voiced tango singer Amalia Varela, one of the genre’s most popular contemporary artists. Varela brings a kind of rock ‘n’ roll passion and intensity to the genre—fittingly as she grew up on The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, and turned to tango as part of a search for authenticity and identity. Varela favors the oldest grittiest forms of the music and her set for us included two songs by early-20th-century legend Carlos Gardel, and two even older songs.

From there, we made our way over to a club called No Avestruz (No Ostritches) to hear the fabulous, 8-piece tango orchestra El Arranque play two sets of music that spanned history, from venerable tango tipica, up through the innovations of Astor Piazzola, and even included a few of the group’s own compositions. Their style and verve was visceral, and they had a sold-out house, filled with folks of all ages. El Arranque’s 15-year career is roughly synchronous with a tango revival in Argentina, and these musicians spent the first ten of those years learning the classics before they began embellishing with ideas of their own. In an interview at the Casa de Tango the next day, the group’s bass player and co-founder Ignacio Varchausky spoke powerfully about tango and Argentine identity. The music, he said, is a mirror on the country’s complicated multi-ethnic past, a reality many are uncomfortable facing. Like all great, hybrid music, the sound communicates history, and for many that is a history of Europeans who somehow ended up displaced in South America, a place they may not really belong. Varchausky seems to feel that if more Argentines were open to hearing the messages contained in tango’s complexities, and to facing the reality of their true natures, the country would be more successful, and even better governed. Heady stuff…

Late tonight, we crossed town to a tango dance salon, where well-turned-out, mostly elderly couples turn up just before midnight to dance to sets of classic tangos. Their moves are elegant, mysterious and impeccable. They are obsessed with the whole attitude of tango. They do not seem in the least confused about who they are, but perhaps they are a lucky minority of portenos (citizens of Buenos Aires)—people at ease and in love with the contradictions of Argentine life. My favorite detail: at the Club Gricel, when they want to clear the dance floor, they play the first 90 seconds of “Staying Alive.” Works every time.

From here, we head north to the foothills of the Andes where a whole new set of contradictions and challenges prevail.