Monday, January 31, 2011

V is for Venezuela

Although we didn’t get a chance to mention it our program, “The Cumbia Diaspora,” Venezuela plays a pretty big role in the cumbia story.

Sitting right next door to Colombia’s coastal region, it was natural that cumbia caught on in Venezuela quickly, reaching Caracas perhaps even faster than cities in the Colombian interior like Medellin and Bogota. Colombian bands from the 50s like Lucho Bermudez played frequently there, and Venezuelan bands came and played cumbia in Colombia, some with considerable popularity. Part of the reason is that Venezuela had the resources and the market to support a vibrant nightlife and music industry.

According to our top cumbia scholar Hector Fernandez D’Loeste:

“During that time Venezuela was experiencing a boom from the oil industry. Through that boom that had imported tons of American technology, and a lot of bands emerged and started playing music for the middle and upper class in Venezuela, who which were cash rich from oil.”

One of the most important early bands in Venezuela was called Los Melodicos (in the picture above), founded by Renato Capriles in 1958 and still running a version of the band as of 2008, amazingly. Their sound is really fantastic – less rich rhythmically than what Lucho Bermudez was doing across the border but with these really rich big band arrangements that surpassed what Bermudez was doing, full of 4-part saxophone soli and horn shouts. There’s almost equal parts American swing and Colombian cumbia present here in “Ojos Verdes”:

Venezuelan dance bands like Los Melodicos didn’t play cumbias exclusively – they were all-purpose groups played Cuban music, American foxtrots, boleros and ballads, as well. Another important band of the time was Billo’s Caracas Boys, run by a transplanted Dominican from the Cibao named Billo Frometá:

According to Hector Fernandez-L’Hoeste, Billo’s band was well received in Bogota and Medellin, and his stripped-down and simplified sound was part of what contributed to the rise of the style known as chuco-chucu.

The other Venezuelan bandleader worth mentioning from this period is Pastor Lopez. To my ears, his music sounds closer to the Colombian aesthetic, less whitened and jazzed-up. Indeed he lived the majority of his life in Colombia, and passed away in Bogota just this last December. This song, “Llora Mi Corazon” is really great:

Coming up: M is for Mexico

PODCAST: The Cumbia Diaspora, Part 3: Argentina

In part 3 of our 4-part podcast series, "The Cumbia Diaspora," we visit Buenos Aires, Argentina to find out how a new form of cumbia emerged during the financial crisis of 2001 and turned the nation upside down. We speak with Jace Clayton (aka DJ Rupture) about his experiences attending cumbia villera parties the shantytowns while reporting for Fader magazine, as well as with cumbia scholar Hector Fernandez-L'Hoeste.

To download all our cumbia podcasts, visit to our main cumbia feature. And to subscribe to the Afropop podcast, click here.  Or search for us on iTunes.

The Cumbia Diaspora, Part 3: Argentina by Afropop Worldwide

Saturday, January 29, 2011

All the Cumbias: U is for Uruguay

Now it’s time to get into some slightly more obscure corners of the cumbia-verse.

Little Uruguay, sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil and more or less with the population of Brooklyn, is a profoundly musical country despite its size. Besides having one of South America’s most progressive rock scenes, it’s one of the birthplaces of tango (this song was born there, for instance), and home to a whole bunch of unique local music traditions. They range from murga, a kind of politicized musical theater played on drums and harmonized voices during carnival season, to the Afro-Uruguayn mobile drumming tradtion known as candombe, to a rich guitar-based folk tradition. If you don’t know about it, I suggest you educate yourself. Culturally, the place has a lot in common with Argentina (mate, meat, pronouncing the letter “Y” like “SH”), but a lot of its own identity as well, influenced by proximity to Brazil, endless beautiful windswept beaches, and strong Afro-Uruguayan presence.

Like everywhere else in Latin America, cumbia took off in Uruguay, and continues to be the music of choice for people of the rural interior and the so-called planchas – the track-suit wearing, platinum hair-dyed young residents of Montevideo’s outskirts. But unlike in Argentina, the most popular cumbia remains the more feel-good romantic stuff, and the music in general enjoys a wider swath of popularity. It doesn’t draw nearly as much a cultural line between people as it does across the river in Buenos Aires, where you’re either a cumbiero or you’re not. I’ve seen Uruguayans of all sorts dancing cumbia at parties, something you don’t see in the posher spots in BsAs.

The following YouTube videos of Uruguayan cumbia were sent to me by a friend from Montevideo named Federico Pereda, a great rock guitarist. He wrote me a disclaimer, saying “All this music is really commercial and tacky.”

We’ll let you be the judge of that – frankly the richness of Colombian cumbia hasn’t completely translated here – but there’s some groovy stuff nonetheless. The biggest band was called Karibe con K (trans: Karribean with a K), led by a guy named Eduardo Rivero. They were huge pop stars in their day, since which was really the early 90s, thus the presence of that trademark digital synthesizer sound.

This is their “Mi Mundo Tu”:

Another important group was Sonora Borinquen, headed up by Carlos Goberna. This is their “Cometa Blanco”:

What’s interesting to the intrepid musicologist is seeing the degree to which a vision of Caribbean “tropical-ness” is invoked at every turn despite the large distances  both cultural and geographical from the West Indies. (Case in point: The flowing blonde Fabio-esque locks and sequined suits on display above). Sonora Borinquen’s name references the indigenous name for the island of Puerto Rico, a place that has little or anything to do with cumbia, which kind of goes to prove our scholar Hector Fernandez-L’Hoeste’s point when he says that, to cumbia’s vast Latin American audiences, “its origin was irrelevant. What was relevant was that it conveyed this idea of the tropics, and that idea of the tropics could be consumed and it could be adapted to a local context.”

Aside from the more white-washed cumbia pop acts on display above, there’s a great tradition of playing “tropical” dance music within in the strong (and very segregated) Afro-Uruguayan community.This music, often referencing salsa, cumiba, and local candombe all at once, never completely geled into a codified pop form. One  legendary singer was Lagrima Rios, a black Uruguayan woman who first gained fame as a tango singer, but also sang a lot of really amazing candombe-influenced vocal pop. There is a very upsetting lack of her stuff available on the internet. Here’s one video, accompanied by guitars, candombe drums, and images of Uruguayan carnival. Not cumbia but worth watching!

Coming up: V is for Venezuela

PODCAST: The Cumbia Diaspora, Part 2: Peru

In part 2 of our 4-part cumbia podcast series "The Cumbia Diaspora," we explore the psychedelic Peruvian cumbia style known as chicha. Interviews with Olivier Conan, the producer behind the "Roots of Chicha" series of compilations, and with legendary chicha guitarist Jose Carvallo.  Recordings courtesy of Barbes Records.

To download the podcasts, visit to our main cumbia feature. And to subribe to the Afropop podcast, click here.  Or search for us on iTunes.

The Cumbia Diaspora, Part 2: Peru by Afropop Worldwide

Friday, January 28, 2011

PODCAST: The Cumbia Diaspora, Part 1: Colombia

This week, our cumbia program is airing nationally on public radio stations near you!

But we're also, for the first time ever, offering the complete program (minus long music clips we don't have permission to liscence) as a series of downloadable podcasts. This week and next, we'll be releasing the podcasts periodically, and posting them here on the blog.

To download the podcasts, visit to our main cumbia feature. And to subribe to the Afropop podcast, click here.  Or search for us on iTunes.

The Cumbia Diaspora, Part 1: Colombia by Afropop Worldwide

Coming Up Next: The Cumbia Diaspora, Part 2: Peru

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars in Brooklyn to record new CD

Amid the snowiest January in recent memory, the members of Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars have been camped in Brooklyn, working on their third album.  Anyone who knows the story of how this band formed in refugee camps of Guinea during Sierra Leone's heartbreaking civil war knows these guys are well accustomed to adversity.  But playing instruments and singing while bundled in parkas and multiple wool hats is something they never expected to endure.

When Afropop visited the studio to see how things were going, the sounds were sweet, but the smiles a tad forced.  Cold weather is just not part of these guys' experience, and working under such conditions makes a huge contrast to the experience of making their last album in Sierra Leone and sweltering New Orleans.  The group's youngest member, Black Nature, suggested that the cold might actually be inspiring them to bring new heat to the music.  Meanwhile, the space heater remained the musicians' best friend.

Aside from the climate challenge, the musicians were feeling a little blue, having days before received the news that a founding member, Franco, had died in Freetown.  Reuben Koroma was particularly sad about this, as his duo with Franco was the original spark for this band.  Anyone who has seen the film The Refugee All Stars will remember the sweet scenes of the two of them banging out songs in a camp on an acoustic guitar, and singing their hearts out.  This is a tragedy, and that much harder to absorb so far from home.

Reuben Koroma

For anyone within striking distance of Brooklyn, the band will be playing an intimate gig at Zebulon in Brooklyn on Saturday, January 29, their last performance before heading home to Freetown.  More details in the Events section at

Here's a short video of Black Nature discussing the new album.


Monday, January 24, 2011

GlobalFEST: The goods at last!

Novalima (Peru)
GlobalFEST, New York City's annual, 13-band world music extravaganza at Webster Hall is now two weeks behind us.  Pardon our delay, but it's been a paricularly hectic January at Afropop.  Our whole crew agreed that this was an exceptionally strong year of GlobalFEST, and one with so much of the kind of music we love.  We can now direct you to the full experience on line.  First, here's a link to NPR's web coverage of GlobalFEST.  There's a discussion between Bob Boilen, Afropop's Banning Eyre, and WFMU's Rob Weisberg covering the show highlights.  And there are links that let you hear all 13 sets of music, also see photos, videos and more.  For anyone who didn't make it, this is highly recommended armchair time travel.

Here too are some of Banning's best photos of the event.  Note that Afropop came with a film and audio crew.  Music from Yoro Ndiaye's set was broadcast on our recent Senegal program.  More from GlobalFEST will be heard on future programs.  And, we are working on a web video tour of the event.  So watch the blog and the Afropop homepage for more.

For now, photos, photos, photos!

Rhythm of Rajasthan (India)

Aurelio and Garifuna Soul (Honduras)
Aurelio did an amazing job.  Called to fill in when key visas for the Creole Choir of Cuba were delayed, this Garifuna star pulled together a New York band, and gave a superb, crowd-pleasing show.  With his new album Laru Beya about to hit, Aurelio should have a big year in 2011.

Ballake Sissoko (Mali), Vincent Segal (France)
Many GlobalFEST fans thought this the standout set of the night.  These two players have amazing chemistry and make cross-cultural collaboration an exercise in sublime creativity, and joy!

RAM (Haiti)

Richard Morse has led this spirited Haitian band, while running one of Port au Prince's best hotels, the Oloffson, for decades now.  A leader in the rasin (roots) movement in Haitian music, RAM kicked out the jams and got Webster Halls ballroom into a rara frenzy. 

Yoro Ndiaye (Senegal)

Yoro Ndiaye, a very promising singer/songwriter on the Dakar scene, made his New York debut at GlobalFEST.  He's been compared to Habib Koite, and his stylistically varied, rootsy, electric/acoustic lived up to that billing.  Watch this guy!

Diblo Dibala (Democratic Republic of Congo)
One of the most beloved guitarists of Congo music delivered a blistering set late in the night.  He's still got it, and he's still got those dancers...

Diblo's dancers!
Novalima (Peru)
Marlon Bishop and Wills Glasspiegel

Afropop producers Marlon Bishop and Wills Glasspiegel were on hand with cameras, Marlon for New York's WNYC, and Wills for NPR's music website (see link at the top of this post).  That means about 1/2 the photographers at this year's GlobalFEST were Afropop Producers.  If you notice that Marlon and Wills have a lot more low-angle, stage side shots, that's because it's easier to lie on the floor in a fetal crouch when you're closer to 30 than 50....

Afropop interns: Saxon, Kate, Erich, Auma

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Banning Eyre and Brian Shimkovitz with Awesome African Music!

Baloji, the one artist both Banning and Brian picked
Afropop's GlobalFEST goodies coming tomorrow.  In the meantime, check out Banning Eyre and Brian Shimkovitz (of the blog Awesome Tapes from Africa) last Friday on Connecticut Public Radio's morning talk program Where We Live, with John Dankosky.  The subject was Awesome African Music and Banning and Brian delivered.  It's actually a pretty remarkable hour of radio, because it sums up a good deal of the history of modern African music, and gets at current trends and even nods to the future.  The whole show is available for streaming and downloading.  Click here.  And let us know what you think!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The History of the World Festival of Black Arts & Culture / FESTAC

The World Festival of Black Arts was first held in 1966 in Dakar, Senegal. The festival was conceived by then president, Leopold Sédar Senghor. Senghor was a foundational member of the Negritude movement that sought to affirm and elevate the achievements of Black people and African culture throughout the world.  A perfect expression of this mission, the first Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres was attended by people from 37 countries, and hosted many of the greatest Black cultural emissaries of the day including Duke Ellington, Aimé Césaire, and Josephine Baker.

The second, called FESTAC, was held in 1977 in Lagos, Nigeria. It was the stuff of legend. By then, most African countries had gained their independence, freeing themselves from degrading colonial control only 25-30 years ago. New African countries were eager to send their best cultural ambassadors to the festival.  FESTAC ’77 was attended by thousands of people from Africa and the Diaspora.  Artists included Stevie Wonder, The Sun Ra Arkestra, and Donald Byrd from the US, Tabu Ley and Franco from the Congo, Gilberto Gil from Brazil, Bembeya Jazz National from Guinea, and Louis Maholo, Dudu Pukwana, and Miriam Makeba from South Africa. The core of the festival from the organizers’ perspective was a two-week long colloquium where more than 200 leading Black scholars presented papers and discussed topics related to everything from arts and languages, philosophy and religion, to science and technology.

After a 33 year gap, the World Festival of Black Arts and Culture (sometimes referred to as FESMAN) was revived by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, and given the go ahead by the African Union, to mark the renaissance and legacy of Africa in the 21st century. 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of independence for 18 African nations, as well as being the year that South Africa hosted the World Cup Soccer Tournament.The guest of honor at the Black Arts Festival was Brazil, who brought a 400 strong delegation of artists and intellectuals. Featured musicians included, Salif Keita of Mali, Angelique Kidjo from Benin, Omar Pene from Senegal, Marcus Miller from the US, the Mahotella Queens from South Africa, and Wyclef-Jean from the US/Haiti. Intellectuals participated in a full slate of panel discussions on everything from the African Renaissance (Wade’s signature theme) to the role of the Diaspora in Africa today to Egyptology to the role of culture in the fight against HIV/AIDS (Baaba Maal was a featured speaker.) Visitors also enjoyed after-hours concerts at hip downtown venues including a local favorite, Just 4 You Dakar that featured veteran artists like Orchestra Baobab, Souleymane Faye, and Cheikh Lo.

See other posts related to this past World Festival of Black Arts here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sounds and Rhythms of Afghanistan

2011 got off to a rowdy start in New York City.  Between all the APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters), GlobalFEST, and the regular Big Apple hubbub, the Afropop crew caught over 20 acts in just a few days.  Many of them were exceptional, and you will hear and see much more of them on this site in the future, starting with our upcoming report on GlobalFEST.

But first, a word about a truly remarkable act that actually has nothing to do with the usual Afropop agenda.  Sounds and Rhythms of Afghanistan (SARA) is a consort of four, young, virtuoso musicians of central Asia--three from Afghanistan and one from Uzbekistan--who play a generous and highly original repertoire of popular, classical, and religious music from this profoundly rich and deeply troubled country.  Salar Nader is a protégé of tabla giant Ustad Zakir Hussain.  Nader grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and became a recognized master of Indian classical music.  But he has maintained a deep connection to his Afghan roots, learning the country's traditions, and even composing music for a theatrical production of Khaled Hosseini's novel The Kite Runner.

Salar Nader and Homayun Sakhi
Homayun Sakhi is one of the greatest living masters of the quintessential Afghan lute, the rubab, which dates back to the 7th century.  With both plucked and sympathetic (resonating) strings, the rubab produces ancient, hypnotic sonorities, and in Sakhi's hands, it is an electrifying instrument to behold.  Sakhi left Afghanistan for California just ten years ago, and returns home often.  In fact, after SARA's debut in Abu Dabi last summer, he brought Nader for his own first visit to Kabul, and they played a series of informal, but well-received duo concerts around the city.   They also paid a visit to the US Embassy there, and persuaded officials to support the SARA project financially.  Bravo to our enlightened representatives in Kabul.  This group stands to do as much to make a better future for Afghanistan as any diplomat or soldier.

SARA's vocalist, Humayun Khan, grew up in the US, like Sader, far from the world of his Afghan ancestors.  Khan enjoyed an American childhood in northern Virginia, and became drawn to the music of his ancestral home only after attending a concert of Indian classical music at the Kennedy Center in the late 1980s.  Before long, he was traveling to India to study with a master, and learning a wide range of regional music, including Sufi devotional songs, romantic Ghazals, and Afghan popular and folkloric music.  He brings all that experience to bear in SARA, perhaps the only group on earth able to cover all this ground.

Abbos Kosimov

The fourth and most recent member of the group is simply one of the most talented hand percussionists alive.  Abbos Kosimov grew up in Uzbekistan playing the country's most popular frame drum, the dorya.  But Kosimov quickly moved beyond tried and true repertoire and techniques.  He began playing along with any recording he could get his hands on--Afghan music, Indian classical music, jazz, rock.  In his hands, the dorya simply had no limit.  The moment Nader heard Kosimov tickling the skin of his drum with his fingertips and producing complex rhythms like a tabla player, he knew this was the man to complete this one-of-a-kind ensemble.  And SARA was complete.

Humayun Khan, Homayun Sadkhi, Salar Nader, Abbos Kosimov

There are recordings of the various members of SARA, notably in the Smithsonian Folkways "Music of Central Asia" series.  And you can find out more about SARA via Dawn Elder Management (  Meanwhile, we await the first full-fledged SARA recording, and be on the look out for this act at a festival or performing arts center near you.  Time spent with these four, brilliant, optimistic men and their sublime musicianship will give you a completely new impression of Afghanistan, and a welcome one.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A new Festival in Timbuktu?

A concert has been scheduled in Bamako Mali for the 22nd of January at the Palais du Congres, the largest concert space in the city. Performing will be the great Khaira Arby from Tombouctou;

Khaira Arby

the powerful singer Fantani Toure, the wife of Habib Dembele, a nationally known and loved comedian;

Fantani Toure

and the amazing Mauritanian singer Dimi Mint Abba.

Dimi Mint Abba

This is an amazing and unique opportunity to hear the incredible voice of Dimi Mint Abba outside of her native Mauritania.  I for one am beside myself that I have to miss the chance!

In her native Mauritania, Dimi Mint Abba is revered as the Diva of the Desert. She is the small republic's best-loved female griot and comes from a talented musical family (her father, Sidaty Ould Abba, wrote the Mauritanian national anthem). The griot represents much more to Mauritanians than a singer or musician, as their songs convey history, social commentary, poetry, prophecy and tales about the beauty of love. After winning a prize at the Festival d'Oum Kelthoum in Tunisia in 1976, Dimi represented Mauritania at the Festival of Arabic Youth in Iraq (1977), Festival of Timgad in Algeria (1978) and the Festival of Agadir in Morocco in 1986. In 1989, she embarked on a European tour, giving audiences a first taste of music from Mauritania, followed by the album Moorish Music from Mauritania, with her haunting vocals supported by ardin (similar to the kora), tidnit (a type of lute), tabal and electric guitar. Although the music of neighbouring Mali, Senegal, Algeria and Morocco are better known outside of Africa, the modern and traditional music of Mauritania boasts a unique fusion of African and Arabic cultures to produce a passionate, expressive singing style over complex rhythms - a powerful influence on other forms of music, including flamenco.

This program boasts of extremely talented female vocalists.  It is being billed by its producer, Habib  Nadif, as the launch of a new Festival in Tombouctou .  It is being underwritten by the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Mali.  I will keep a watch on this development to see how this first Festival in Tombouctou gets off the ground.  It is scheduled for late October 2011.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

All The Cumbias: A is for Argentina

Argentina is probably not the country you think of when you think of tropical dance music. While the country might be best known abroad for melancholic tango and Spanish-language rock acts, its cumbia that really rules these days, at least in the interior and in the vast outskirts of Buenos Aires. Cumbia villera, the potty-mouthed electronic sound that blew up around the year 2000 as economic crisis was unfolding in the country,  has received a lot of attention recently at home (negative) and abroad (curious). It’s been a focal point for Argentina’s culture wars that have pitted the Euro-centric middle classes against the growing poor that align themselves with South American cultural mores.

 But cumbia actually has a much longer history in the country. Pablo Vila, the Argentine popular music expert we consulted for our upcoming program, says that cumbia came to Argentina in the 60s, at the same time it was gaining popularity around the continent, and fit in with a tradition of “festive music” played by groups called orquestas contemporaneas – groups that played comic songs, mostly of Italian and Spanish origin. The first major cumbia group was called Los Wawancó. They were made up of foreign students studying in Buenos Aires from Costa Rica and Colombia, and rose to considerable fame.

This Wawancó song, Villa Cariño has really been sticking with me ever since I first heard it yesterday. The composition is so very different than the stuff coming out of Colombia at the time – from the stylized melody of the vocals, to the pseudo-classical guitar stuff going on and the mandolin-like tremolo. Note the audience composed of lanky blondes who have no idea how to dance:

The next important cumbia hit came from pop singer Chico Navarro. El orangutan was a big hit, and was re-recorded many times abroad. It’s pretty legit sounding, musically, but is also, a very stupid vision of the “tropical” world. It’s about an orangutan and a orangutana (a lady orangutan, for those that don’t habla español).  Orangutans don’t even live in the Americas.

Peruvian cumbia came, in the 80s, and was quite popular. Amazonian group Los Mirlos, (see P is for Peru) were really big, and their “La danza de los mirlos” continues to be performed by villera groups, renamed “La danza del pajarito.” At some point, a version of cumbia mixed with the folk rhythm chamame came about, called chamame tropical. Romantic cumbias from Santa Fe province, called cumbia santafesina, dominated the "tropical" scene in the 90s.

Then two things came: Pablo Lescano, and the economic crisis. The later is rather complicated and had to due with neo-liberal policies implanted by Carlos Menem and the collapse of the Argentine peso. The former was a cumbia singer who transformed the genre by singing, in plain (read: extremely vulgar) language, about hard realities of the villas, or shantytowns. His band, Damas Gratis, and the many imitators who came shortly after, sang about sex, drugs, and robberies, supported by a heavy cumbia beat on electronic drum pads and tinny synth patches played on a keytar.

 The music has lovers and haters at home and abroad. When I was living in Argentina as a student some years ago, I rarely heard it, shielded as I was by the cumbia-deflecting force field that surrounds central Buenos Aires. Middle-class porteños, for the most part, hate the music with a passion that I have trouble understanding.

If you can get past some of the cheesier synth sounds, I’ve found that cumbia villera is pretty infectious. It’s cheap and dirty and hits hard, and that’s kind of the point. Here’s a few videos:

Damas Gratis - Se Te Ve La Tanga

This is one of the biggest hits from Damas Gratias, the foundational cumbia villera band. This comes from a live TV performance on one of the weekend cumbia shows - a major part of the promotional machine for the genre.

 Pibes Chorros - Negro Soy

In terrible sound quality, the Pibes Chorros (thieving kids) express working-class pride, (bizzarely conflated with "blackness" in Argentina), by singing about their predilection for cheap box wine.

Coming next: U is for Uruguay

Echoes of Festival au Desert in Bamako

Issa Dicko
The reknowned Touareg historian Issa Dicko speaking at a conference on 15 January in Bamako. He discussed the origins, culture and customs of the Touareg people. The conference is part of an exposition on Touareg Culture held at the French Cultural Center at the square where the monument to the 50th Anniversary of Mali was built.

Also part of this exhibition was a concert on the evening of the 14th by Tadiazt. This group is comprised of instrumentalist members of the group Tartit and their children who are developing into a new group of prominence. Collaborating with them was the Italian saxophonist, Dmitri Espinoza, who is leader of the group Dinamitri from Florence. Dinamitri had collaborated with Tartit and others at the Festival au Desert the weekend before. The saxophonist followed the multiple notes of the tehardent (ngoni) players and kept a background of running pentatonic scales seemlessly incorporated into the traditional music of Tadiazt.  The collaboration began at a festival held in Florence Italy last July and organized by Fondazione Fabbrica Europa per le Arti Contemporanee.  The festival was called Festival au Desert/presenze d'Africa and is anticipated to be held again next July.  The organizers are headquartered in Florence and stage several festivals and concerts in that city.

Tadiazt with Dmitri Espinoza

Members of Tadiazt performing with Tartit at Festival au Desert 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

All the Cumbias: P is for Peru

In the 60s and beyond, Cumbia travelled all over the Americas, but Peru fast became one of the most important cumbia nations. There, cumbia combined with Cuban music, tradtional Andean huayno, psycadelic rock, and surf sounds, among other influences, to make a sound that really is unlike any other. The accordion and horn parts were replaced by effect-laden guitars and Farfisa organs, and the chord progressions changed to reflect pentatonic Andean aesthetics.

In the late 60s, early 70s, the sound was cumbia peruana, and it mostly was being made by people in Lima and in the cities of the Amazon. Then, around the mid 70s, Andean influences became stronger and the music became known (somewhat derogatorily) as chicha, the name of a fermented corn drink from the sierras. Many of the new bands, like Los Shapis, were from the highlands, or the children of highland migrants to Lima.

On our shores, the greatest exponent of this music has been Olivier Conan, who runs a beautiful bar and music venue in Park Slope, Brooklyn called Barbes. Olivier was kind enough to curate a list of his “Top 7 Chicha Songs” for us. Without further ado:


Los Destellos – Elsa

"Enrique Delgado's Los Destellos is the grand daddy of all Peruvian Cumbia. Elsa, one of his better kown songs, is sung by Felix Martinez, whose own band, Los Girasoles is another peruvian cumbia great."

Manzanita - Arre caballito

"The other great guitarist responsible for giving Peruvian Cumbia its original, national identity. This is his most famous song."

Juaneco - Vacilando con ayahuasca

"The originators of the Amazonian sound. Guitarist Noe Fachin wrote this song under the influence of the indigenous hallucinogenic. He died a few years later in a plane crash, along with most of the band."

Los Mirlos -Sonido amazonico

"The other great Amazonian band, although they were based in Lima.  Their influence reached Colombia and Argentina. This song, however, was written by Los Wemblers, another great Amazonian band from Iquitos."

Grupo Celeste - Viento

"In the mid 70's, Victor Casahuaman's grupo Celeste introduced a harder, more rocking sound, which became the template most of Chicha bands used after him. With this song, he also introduced singer Chacalon, who went on to become el faraon de la chicha."

Los Hijos del Sol – Cariñito

"Angel Rosado's Los Hijos del Sol was often steeped in Andean folklore but they also liked to play with echo and tape slap-back. This song is now part of the repertoire of a lot of folkloric bands."

Los Shapis - -El Aguajal

"Probably the most successful  band of  the golden age of Chicha. El Aguajal, their first hit, is a traditional Huayno sang in a distinctive highland style, as opposed to the more tropical style of earlier bands. The video is taken from their beatles-like film, los Shapis en el mundo de los pobres."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

All the Cumbias: C is for Colombia

Cumbia was born in Colombia, and so it’s the logical starting place for a YouTube-curated bloggy encyclopedia of the genre.

Here’s a bare-bones crash-course.

Cumbia, and the host of other Afro-Latino styles the word has come to stand in for (porro, gaita, mapale, etc) comes from the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, a region known locally as “La Costa,” and it has deep roots in African and indigenous music. The “original,” folkloric cumbia, has surprisingly little to do with Europe and the influences the Spanish brought throughout the Americas.  It’s played on drums, shakers, and long end-blown flutes known as gaitas. The sound, which is pretty distant from the commercial cumbias that came afterwards, has become pretty en vogue in Colombia recently. The style has been encapsulated most in a group called Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, who even won a Latin Grammy back in 2007:

In the early 20th Century, around the same time that other “national” styles from around Latin America like samba (Brazil), tango (Argentina), son (Cuba) were taking form, a modern dance band version of cumbia arose. The two bandleaders that became most famous were Pacho Galan and Lucho Bermudez. Bermudez became big in the 40s, and was ultimately responsible for bringing the music to the wealthy Andean cities of the interior that had looked down on Afro-Colombian sounds – Medellin, Cali, Bogotá. One of his most famous songs was “Tolu,” in the video below, which was obviously produced some decades after the fact (note awesome 80s green-screen dance sequences):

The “Golden Age” of cumbia lasted through the 60s or so, in which the local music industry exploded and cumbia orchestras enjoyed successes abroad. The next wave of bands were groups like Los Corraleros de Majagual and la Sonora Dinamita, who brought the down-home accordion sound, formerly associated with the lower classes, into the fold

Then, bands like Los Teenagers, Los Graduados, and Los Hispanos began to bring in chintzy organs and electric guitars. These bands were made up largely of mestizos from the interior, rather than Afro-Colombians from the Coast, and the music lost some of its rhythmic complexity. This music was looked down as by some, especially people from the Coast, who called it “chuco-chuco” to make fun of the repetitive scraper beat. The lyrics, too, became somewhat ridiculous. This song, “Aguardientoski” turns Spanish words into Russian words by adding “-oski” to the end of them.

But the 60s sound did very well abroad, and cumbia began to really spread around Latin America, upwards into Mexico and downwards into the Andes and eventually to Argentina. Which brings up to the real topic of our show….

Coming up next:  P is for Peru!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baloji in Harlem!

Yesterday, Banning, Sean, Saman, and Justin went to see Congolese/Belgian rapper Baloji at Shrine in Harlem, where they recorded some of the show— which was phenomenal (video below)— and got an interview with him afterwards.

This guy has really got something special going on with his inventive mix of rap and Congolese soukous, and he is poised to explode this year! Rather than the samples and electronics we've come to expect from rap these days, Baloji's French rhymes danced over the fresh sounds of a killing soukous trio (electric guitar, bass, and drumset). The trio's playing was very dynamic over the course of the show, ranging from standard-issue party-time soukous, to more relaxed numbers like "Independence Cha-Cha" and full-on rockers.

In addition to the music, Baloji's intensity and charisma onstage was striking. Not only is he a solid rapper, but he's got some serious dance moves and impeccable style to boot.

Stay tuned for a forthcoming feature on Baloji, including Banning's after-show interview. In the meantime, check out this video of "Karibu Ya Bintu" from yesterday's show!

Haiti, One Year Later

One year ago today on the 12th of January, 2010, Haiti was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that became one of the world’s worst natural disaster’s on record. The images and mounting death toll that resulted from the earthquake will all be settled in our mind. Below we review the facts of the earthquake to refresh your memories, and provide links for more information on the progress that has (or has not) been made as well as ways in which you can help. But we at Afropop would like to commemorate the victims of this terrible disaster through a recognition of its music. Haiti’s complex political history has often been mirrored and even shaped through its music, and it comes as little surprise that the victims of the earthquake have been expressing their situation and appealing to the world through music. Check out this group of youngsters, orphaned by the earthquake and facing their new realities with a hopeful approach and an appeal for peace and love through hip hop (filmed by Unicef). Haitian Hip Hop.

At Afropop, we have a Hip Deep show to offer you: delve deep into the ‘Music and Story of Haiti', a show that explores the tight relationship music has maintained with the country’s politics.

The Earthquake:
The epicentre struck just ten miles from Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The city’s already weak infrastructure collapsed into chaos: institutions that would normally take charge of the situation were victims of the earthquake themselves. The aid response, in spite of overwhelming generosity, has been complex and hampered by a lack of organization. In a country with a population of 10 million, the death toll has reached 230,000 with more falling victim to a recent cholera outbreak. Millions remain homeless and those living in tent cities are having to accept this ‘temporary’ solution as home for the moment. The rebuilding of this country will be very much a long-term project and your help will always be appreciated.

See the BBC update, one year on.

The American Red Cross is one of the most widely known organizations working in Haiti. They accept online donations, help volunteers arrange to give time or other support, and can accept $10 donations, charged to your cellphone bill, by texting HAITI to 90999 (for details of this text donation service, click here). 

Read a special report from Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) workers in Haiti one year on, and donate to this great organization.

More from Festival au Desert 2011

Samba Toure onstage at Festival au Desert 2011
Samba Toure coming offstage with his band after a
great set at the Festival au Desert 2011
The audience at Festival au Desert 2011
Bassekou Kouyate with his wife and lead singer Ami Sacko
at Festival au Desert 2011