Thursday, March 31, 2011

Savannah Music Festival Part 2: Shouters and Jukejoint Blues

Kenneth Routon recently attended the annual Savannah Music Festival and filed this report for Afropop Worldwide. Read his previous entries here.

Driving back to my hotel Friday night, all those beautiful moss-covered oaks seemed to take on a more menacing presence, their crooked and hairy arms inked out onto the asphalt in the form of sprawling moon shadows. Things can change here within the blink of an eye. One can move from stately opulence to ghetto and back again all within the same block. At times a jolting and disfiguring urban landscape, it is as if Savannah were endowed with great shape-shifting powers, a quaint southern belle and brooding sorcerer all at once, depending on the angle and time of day.

With those spectral night shadows from the previous evening still lingering in my head, I returned to the SMF the following day to catch a performance by the McIntosh County Shouters. The Shouters perform a genre of slave song called “ring shot,” perhaps the oldest surviving musical tradition of African origin in North America. Returning to their quarters after a long day in the fields, slaves would gather to perform this unique form of percussive call-and-response singing. Still performed today in some black communities in McIntosh County on Georgia’s coast, the ring shout combines a rhythm section of “clappers,” foot stomping, and the percussion of a stick beaten on a wood floor with a “songster,” usually a man, providing the “calls” or lead and a group of women called “bass-ers” who repeat the phrase in response.

Although once referred to as “running spirituals,” these songs are now called “shout” songs. The term “shout” here has a specific, unconventional meaning. Its refers not to the act of hollering but rather to the movements of the women, who shuffle their feat as they move in a counter-clockwise circular pattern during the performance. The women shuffle rather than step in order to avoid crossing their feat, which is considered profane, an invitation to evil. Interestingly, the word “shout” might have originally been derived from the Afro-Arabic saut, referring to movement around the Kabaa in Mecca. Over time, however, Christian cosmology has been slowly grafted on to this form of expressive culture, so that many of the original African (and, perhaps, Islamic) religious foundations have been lost or buried.

McIntosh County Shouters

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Savannah Music Festival Part 1

Kenneth Routon recently attended the annual Savannah Music Festival and filed this report for Afropop Worldwide:

As an icon of the Deep South, Savannah, Georgia seems an unlikely setting for one of the best world music festivals in the country. Majestic moss-draped oaks canopy the city’s streets and square. Everywhere the scent of honeysuckle, jasmine, and magnolia blossoms perfumes the air amongst hidden gardens, ghostly antebellum mansions, and tales of hoodoo that impart an eerie quality to the town’s overall mystique. Despite Savannah’s idyllic Southern aesthetic, each spring the city transforms itself into a global crossroads of music for the Savannah Music Festival where delta bluesmen, West African griots, Honky Tonk crooners, Cuban rumberos, zydeco accordion masters and Indian sarod virtuosos all cross paths.

Geno Delafose (photo by Frank Stewart)
I caught my first performance of the Festival last Friday night. Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie kicked things off at the Charles H. Morris center with their crowd-pleasing take on Louisiana creole and zydeco music. Delafose, who looked as if he had just casually walked off his Double D ranch on the Acadian prairie maintained a working-man persona despite his sparkling belt and shiny squeezebox. A tall guy with an infectious permagrin, Delafose and the band quickly got Savannah on its feet with a set of two-step numbers and nouveau zydecos. Within minutes, the placed looked like a Louisiana dancehall with couples eagerly taking to the floor showcasing how well Savannah can dance!

The global reach of the festival became most apparent when Malian kora master Ballake Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Ségal took the stage later that night at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts. Next to Toumani Diabate, Sissoko is likely the greatest kora player in the world. After missing his first flight, there was a scramble to get Sissoko to the gig on time (just 45 minutes before the show I was told he was still going through security in the airport!). Arriving just minutes before the start of the show, Sissoko, dressed in a shimmering boubou, seemed as calm as a frog in the sun. He was accompanied by Vincent Ségal, a classically trained cellist who has branched out to play with the likes of Sting and the dub/trip hop group Bumcello. The two played a mesmerizing set of original and sophisticated compositions blending the music of West African Mande griots and classical European styles. Although I normally only listen to classical music when I’m in the dentist’s chair, Ségal is what I can only describe as an elegant badass on the cello – swinging back and forth between graceful melodic phrases to sometimes raw, pleasantly distorted licks and funky, West African-tinged bass riffs. Sissoko didn’t disappoint, either. Effortlessly summoning a range of sounds from the 21-stringed kora that at times, sounded regal and polished while at others moments coming off unprocessed and coarse like a Delta bluesman finger-picking a National guitar. It was truly spellbinding to hear these two virtuosos as they brought to life a novel “Afropea” soundscape with “‘Ma Ma’ FC” and “Wo Ye N’gnougobine” among the standout songs of the night.

Lionel Loueke (photo by Frank Stewart)
The evening concluded with a riveting set of original material by the Lionel Loueke Ensemble. Created by Robert Sadin and performed exclusively for the SMF, the ensemble includes Benin guitarist and latest jazz sensation Lionel Loueke, Mark Feldman on violin, Vincent Ségal on cello, Charles Pillow and Walter Blanding on reeds, Senegalese percussionist Thiokho Diagne and Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista. Loueke is a rare talent, he uses an alternate tuning and sometimes places a piece of paper between the strings to get a sound more akin to a kalimba than a guitar. Comfortable playing complicated time signatures, intricate jazz harmonies, and traditional West African melodic gems, Loueke is also known for his own unique vocal clicks, smacks, and baritone grunts which he can do all in a single song. Diagne was only allowed short bursts of thundering percussive accompaniment but his powers were not diminished. Meanwhile, Baptista resembled a slightly mad hawker of trinkets during carnival season, constantly digging into his magical grab-bag of percussive accessories (ceramic vessels, miniature bells, shakers, key chimes, friction drum, vacuum cleaner hose, etc.), often only to make the tiniest of sonic accents. Feldman gave a blistering violin solo and Ségal, Pillow, and Blanding left me wanting more.

Sissoko & Segal (Photo by Frank Stewart)


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Salif Keita Tour Dates

The great Salif Keita is gracing North America with his presence once again.  Salif fronts one of the most exciting African bands on the road today.  His ability to merge traditional instruments and musical ideas with sophisticated modernity is pretty much unequaled.  Here are the dates.  If you can catch any of these shows, you will not regret it!

North American Tour Dates

Thursday, March 31: Edmonton, AB - Winnspear Center
Saturday, April 2nd: Vancouver, BC - Vogue Theatre
Monday, April 4th: San Francisco, CA - Yoshi’s
Tuesday, April 5th: San Francisco, CA - Yoshi’s
Wednesday, April 6th: Los Angeles, CA - Conga Room
Friday, April 8th: Savannah, GA - Trustees Theater (Savannah Music Festival)
Saturday, April 9th: New York, NY - Apollo Theater
Tuesday, April 12th: Ottawa ON - Ottawa Jazz Festival
Thursday, April 14th: Quebec City QC - Palais Montcalm

Monday, March 28, 2011

Muslim World Music Day: April 12!

On April 12, 2011, the Archive of Contemporary Music (ARC) in New York City will become the hub of a global day dedicated to the music of the Islamic world.  ALL the music of the Islamic world, from rappers in Ramallah to a Muslim country and western singer in Oklahoma.  (Seriously.  Check out Kareem Salama.)  ARC founder Bob George describes the event as part crash course and part global town hall meeting.  We at Afropop found the event so intriguing that we decided to participate by producing a full-hour radio program on the effort.  That will air this coming weekend.  And we will post a lengthy interview with Bob about ARC and the whole notion of "world music days," and in particular, this one!

In the meantime, here are some excellent links to follow to find out more about Muslim World Music Day and how you can get involved.

First, the Muslim World Music Day website:

Then, the blog, which gives an overview of the project, a list of suggestions for ways people can participate and a list of the people and organizations currently planning events:  @     

A beta version of the ever growing Muslim World Music database:

And most delightful of all, the Muslim World Music Day YouTube channel, with superb hand-picked videos organized by country:

ARC is home to the largest collection of popular music in the world, and a powerful creative force in the world, as this one-of-a-kind event demonstrates.  If you want to get involved in Muslim World Music Day, write to ARC at   And tell them Afropop sent you! 


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dub Inc brings Franco-African reggae to NYC

From Saint-Etienne, France, Dub Inc is a hot reggae combo that incorporates North African Berber (Amazight) music and rock into its punchy, crowd-pleasing mix.  On their second visit to New York, the band pulled a big crowd to Drom in the East Village, and gave them exactly what they were looking for--a powerhouse barrage of skanking stage action.

Singers Aurelien Komlan Zohou (from France and Benin) and Hakim "Bouchkour" Meridja (from Algeria) are a tag-team dynamo on stage.  They work like two sides of the same coin, flipping vocals, switching places, and practically completing each others lines.  Zohou has a gravelly dancehall-style vocal, where Meridja can channel the ornamented cry of North African song.  It's a winning combination wherein the contrast between their styles lends power to the unity of their joint performance.  You literally can't take your eyes off them.

The band is tight and limber as well, shifting grooves mid-song, and covering every variety of reggae imaginable along the way, from slow skank to jump-up dancehall.  On one song the singers did in fact get the crowd jumping, and seem delighted by the spectacle.  Guitarist Jeremie Gregeois stepped forth for a flashy rock solo at one point, to the fascination of the two singers.  And Meridja picked up a frame drum and unleashes a gorgeous stream of vocal melisma on the one strongly North African number in the set.  But for the most part, this was a reggae show, and an excellent one.  This is exactly the sort of band needed to put the energy and performance chops into a genre that has tended to be lost in Marley nostalgia and dub doldrums.  Don't let the "dub" name fool you.  These guys are far more than knob-twisters.  They're a first rate club band with a fresh global vibe.

Dub Inc's new CD Hors Controle (Diversite) is also highly recommended.

Banning Eyre

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ghanaian Soccer Player Turned HipLife Star?

This may not be news to you but it’s new to us. Did you know famed Ghanaian soccer player Asamoah Gyan is also a Hiplife artist? Apparently he goes by the name Baby Jet. We couldn’t find any singles by Gyan, let alone a full album, but we did find out that he was featured on the auto-tune heavy single “African Girls” by Hiplife star Castro. Check out the video:

In case you are still completely confused, Hiplife is a Ghanaian musical style which fuses highlife, hip hop as well as dancehall and reggae. It gained popularity in the 90’s and has since exploded all over the world.

As for Asamoah Gyan, he is probably most known on the international scene for missing a penalty kick against Uruguay after Luis Suarez's famed handball. The match ended in Ghana's elimination from the tournament after an impressive run at the Cup. Gyan can also be caught on the pitch playing in the English Premier League for Sunderland.

The Carnival Is Over

Cosmopolitan Trinidad and Tobago absorbs massive amounts of cultural content from the North Atlantic, Asia, Africa and other islands of the Caribbean, reproducing these influences in its various festivals. At Carnival, however, Trinidad and Tobago reverses this trend and exerts its own gravity on the rest of the world. The islands’ population bulges as visitors, some 60% percent of whom are returning nationals, flow in to witness and participate in one of the truly great popular festivals of the modern world.

The economy of Carnival from refreshment sales to temporary tattoos is based on emotional commerce, the business of relief, release and rebellion. This was the theme of the winning Groovy Soca Monarch song, “Wotless” by Kes the Band.

* Kes the Band, “Wotless”

Visitors to Carnival week may miss the now massive mobilization of bodies in the ‘warm-up’ season between Christmas and Carnival as Trinis work to slim down and fit into costumes. Many make their way to gyms and parks, hoping to be held in the loving embrace of local and international cameras.

* Young King: Benjai, Winning Song, “Ah Trini”

Carnival is a politician’s dream as well as a photographer’s. Indeed, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar’s new administration sank its teeth into the festival with the investment of over 100 million TTD (15 million USD). Parading bands returned to the central Queen’s Park Savannah stage after a 5 year hiatus and unprecedented 2 million dollar (300,000 USD) prizes were sponsored by the government for all the major Carnival competitions. The bonanza atmosphere led to intense clashes on stage, epitomized by 2010 Chutney Soca Monarch Ravi B’s meltdown after losing his title to veteran performer Rikki Jai.

Chutney Soca Monarch, Rikki Jai, Winning Song, “White Oak and Water”

The theme of Trinidad Carnival’s centerpiece event, the Dimanche Gras was unity in diversity: “All ah we is one family”. Karene Asche made the theme her own, winning the Calypso Monarch title with a stinging delivery of the well-crafted composition “Uncle Jack”. She defeated several former Monarchs and also conquered the massive Dimanche Gras stage with its unique performance requirement of addressing audiences located to the North (North Stand) and South (Grand Stand) of the stage.

* Karen Asche- “Uncle Jack”

Theatre and Carnival are being re-combined in other ways by productions such as The 3Canal Show, this year entitled Re-Evolution. The Rapso trio, winners of Trinidad and Tobago’s Cacique award for excellence in theatre, continues to add a twist to the traditional concept of the calypso tent, sharing the stage with new and underground acts such as Gyazette, Collis Duranty and Kin/Sibling Rivalry.

* 3 Canal Show

3Canal takes its show from the Beryl McBurnie’s Little Carib Theatre to the streets of Woodbrook on the Monday morning J’Ouvert with celebration in mud, oil and paint and the ‘chip’ that takes masqueraders slicing along the road to the sounds of Trinidadian rhythm sections and the steelpan. This year the Rapsonians continued their association with the acclaimed Laventille Rhythm Section who remained active in this year’s Carnival despite the recent loss of their manager, journalist Keith Smith.

* Laventille Rhythm Section

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chico Trujillo at Barbès: Small Bar, Big Scene

Tucked into the corner of a first-story building on the edge of Park Slope in Brooklyn lies a small, inconspicuous bar called Barbès. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, there is a good chance you wouldn’t even notice it. Yet, on a weekly basis, Barbès showcases some of the hottest music from the international NYC-scene to a small, but often, packed crowds.

Last night, was no exception. In the back room, Chilean Cumbia-fusion outfit Chico Trujillo blasted their unique combination of varied Latin genres with animated fervor to an intimate crowd of roughly 75 people. At Barbes, there is no stage and the PA system is small, but as Chico Trujillo showed last night, a decent band can still get the entire place dancing and responding to the band’s call and responses. Beer was spilled, sweat dripped, a guy sat atop of his friend’s shoulders shaking a Chilean flag, shoulder rubbed against each other, people screamed, sang, yelled, and made-out. Does it get much better? The only thing missing is a proper photo of the mayhem. Sorry, we were all too busy dancing to remember.

Cumbia's popularity has been growing but how hot it actually gets remains to be seen. Last night at Barbès, though, it was definitely in full control.

Sample Chico Trujillo's first stateside LP, Chico de Oro, via Barbès Records.

-Saxon Baird

Baoku Moses: A Unity of Sounds

Like so many that have come before him, Baoku Moses left everything he knew in Nigeria and immigrated to the United States in hopes of a better life. Along with a few personal items, Moses brought something entirely unique and intangible: his exceptional skills as a drummer and dancer. Combining traditional African drumming and dancing into the modern sound of Afrobeat, Moses came equipped with hopes and a rare talent.

However, unlike many before him, Moses didn’t begin playing music until he was in his twenties. After a short stint working in the Nigerian film industry, Moses joined Ivory Ambassadors, a cultural organization that preserved, celebrated and taught traditional African music, drumming and dancing in 1996. Before joining Ivory, Baoku felt he was “blind” to his own culture. After becoming a company member, Baoku was immersed in the diverse traditional music of Nigeria and beyond. Music mesmerized him in a way that it had never before and he began contemplating the possibility of a life in music. From the outset of his training, it was apparent he had a creative and natural ability to write songs. Baoku explained that, “the training was intense, the exercises could make you cry, and it was very hard on the hands. We didn't use a microphone, everything was vigorous and very technical.” After learning various styles, Baoku quickly developed a unique approach as a “drummer dancer”, that is, on stage he had the ability and flexibility to dance while drumming. At Ivory, he learned the traditional music of over twenty five African tribes, absorbing their cultural practices, their rhythms, and their dances. By the end of his time at Ivory, Baoku had worked his way up to lead drummer, and began directing many music shows.

In 1997 Baoku first heard Afrobeat, the same year Fela Anikulapo Kuti died. Having never listened to much Afrobeat, Moses became intrigued and soon became entranced with its sound. As Baoku explains, “I began to eat it up like food, day and night, to listen to it, to rip it apart.” Baoku claims that Fela's spirit came to him, “Afrobeat became a calling for me from God, with Fela as the messenger. Within two days of first hearing it, I wrote my first Afrobeat song, within the space of a month, I don't know how many Afrobeat songs I wrote. We have a saying in Nigeria, no one can trap breeze or water.” Indeed, Afrobeat’s influence on Baoku's drumming can be heard in such tracks as “Free Nigeria” on his album Okodoro Oro with its infectious multi-layered rhythms and the hypnotic sound of the talking drum underlying the track.

Baoku is a gifted musician, but he also has a passionate commitment to justice as did Fela Kuti. After moving to Cincinnati, he has brought musicians from different genres together to perform in what he calls a “Unity Jam.” He started it in December 2009, as a way to use music to bring people together. The Image Afro-beat Band, his current group, also brings together musicians from different backgrounds. “Kowa de na sa” (‘everybody with their own’) is a song about unity. As he says, “The pain, the gain, suffering, smiling, situations, conditions, sadness, happiness, feeling and dying are all absolutely the same all over the world.” He does not believe that the Nigerian traditions should be preserved for Nigerians alone. Baoku embraces all people through his music. He wants to bring the rich rhythms of Africa to the public at large so that these musical traditions can be celebrated and preserved. He shares his understanding in teaching both children and adults. When I asked him about his understanding of unity, Baoku said, “One message that is important about unity is for people to begin to understand that we do need each other. The first thing I am is a person. It is not too hard for a rich person to look at a neighborhood and to see that the people are not eating three meals a day. People shouldn't suffer like this. People need other people to grow. They need each other to survive. They need to embrace each other.”

For more information about Baoku, you can visit

- Dorothy Johnson-Laird

Monday, March 21, 2011

Letter from FESPACO 2011

Fulbright student fellow Jennifer Blaylock is studying early Colonial film production in Ghana while conducting audiovisual preservation work in Ghana with the New York University APEX (Audiovisual Preservation Exchange) program. You can read more up on Jennifer and her work at Cinema In Transit.

I would call the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) a festival rather than just a “film festival.” In many ways the celebration of Panafrican film and television is just an excuse for the city to let loose.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I took a 24-hour bus from Accra to Ouagadougou until I reached the gates of Stade du 4 Août, the largest stadium in the country, for the opening night. The people waiting in a queue to get into the stadium were filled with glee. Children wearing FESPACO visors were stuffing candy in their mouths as their parents dragged them to their seats, while groups of teenagers schemed about how skip the line and get seats closer to the field. Once we sat down the next performer, the Togolese band Toofan, was announced and the audience roared with excitement. Following Toofan’s energetic performance began the “Youth in Dream” dance performance staged by well-known choreographer Salia Sanou. Over 300 brightly costumed dancers filled the stadium grounds dancing to a mix of traditional and contemporary drumbeats. The performance gathered momentum as exciting, unexpected performances were revealed. To a dramatic drumbeat tall men on stilts came dancing onto the field followed by acrobats and contortionists. Lastly a troupe of equestrians appeared to steal the show by performing acrobatic stunts on their horses as they rode around the stadium. Finally to end the evening there was a 20-minute fireworks display so close to my end of the stadium that I could see glowing embers falling onto unsuspecting audience members.

Afrobeat Chicago: A Few Amazing Weeks!

The last few weeks have been quite satisfying for world music fans in Chicago! Here’s a set of video highlights from five events that were particularly special. Vusi Mahlasela, Chiwoniso and Ricardo Lemvo performed at the Mayne Stage; the Yemen Blues and Acoustic Africa concerts took place at Old Town of Folk School Music.

Vusi Mahlasela: The meaning of “ubuntu”

I had the chance to visit with Mahlasela by phone a few days before his concert, and besides the pleasure of hearing the velvety voice of the singer, poet and activist known in his land as “The Voice” on the other line, I learned about “ubuntu”. Mahlasela explained how in his music he always strives to express this concept, which originated in the Bantu languages of South Africa. It is a philosophy best described by the phrase “I am because you are; you are because I am”, which emphasizes our relations with each other, and focuses on the bond of our common humanity. He also described how he believes music as a universal language transmits this message without any need for translation.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Live in New York: Dub Inc

On Tuesday, March 22nd, French-reggae outfit Dub Inc. will be returning to the Big Apple for one-night at Drom! Last summer, we caught them perform in NYC. The show was an energetic, impressive performance displaying the unique sound of this exceptional group. New York fans of Afropop should not miss this show! Check out the video below and see for yourself. Be sure to enter to win a pair of free tickets plus a CD too!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Balla Onivogui dies at 75

One of the great bandleaders of West Africa, Guinea's Balla Onivogui, died of a heart attack at 75 on March 15.  Balla et ses Balladins never made it to an American stage, but as any collector of classic "Manding swing," or just dance band music of West Afrfica's golden age, knows well, this was one of the truly spectacular recording acts of Guinea.  This is a great loss. 

Find more on the Worldservice blog.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Conga Pop

While you may well be familiar with conga music from Cuba, do you know what's happening on the conga scene today? Check out this exploration of the development of conga pop by Kenneth Routon in his interview with Sur Caribe. Drawing on the history of the conga, the music of slaves, and setting it to the pulse of modern Cuba, Sur Caribe has been 'catapulted into Havana's jet set' through their development of the genre known as 'conga pop'.

As Kenneth writes:
'No other song quite captured Cuban longing and nostalgia like Sur Caribe's “Añoranza por la Conga” (“Nostalgia for the Conga”). In 2005, the song seemed to be everywhere; it spilled out into the streets from home stereos, local bars, and passing Ladas. An instant classic, it was one of those rare performances that seemed to sum up the collective mood. As a metaphor expressing nostalgia for one's roots, the song quickly became an emblem of diasporic sentiment.'

Still from the video for 'Nostalgia for the Conga'.

So take a read, and why not listen to “Añoranza por la Conga” while you do so?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Adam Klein: From Georgia to Mali

We are seeing a mini-wave of collaboration between American Jewish musicians and Malian Muslim ones.  Just in the past week, two live shows in New York showcased the phenomenon.  Sway Machinery is the creation of guitarist singer/songwriter Jeremiah Lockwood, and play a rock fusion of his grandfather's Jewish cantor tradition and down home blues.  After hooking up with Timbuktu diva Khaira Arby at the 2010 Festivil in the Desert, Sway Machinery recorded an album in Bamako.  That album, The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1 (Just out on Jdub Records) pulls all this together, as did the live show, which went on at The Bell House on March 5, and is currently touring with both Sway Machinery and Khaira Arby's band on the bill.  On March 9 at Poisson Rouge, Oran Etkin's Kelenia opened up for the Yemenite Jewish boogie band Yemen Blues.  Etkin has been fusing jazz with Mande music since traveling to Mali over a decade ago, and his group Kelenia has developed a dynamic blend of mostly instrumental composition and improvisation.  Where else will you hear clarinet and balafon trading riffs?

Oran Etkin & Kelenia
Khaira Arby (lft), Jeremiah Lockwood (rt)
Enter Adam Klein, an Athens, Georgia based, country, folk and Americana singer/songwriter, who first went to Mali as a Peace Corps volunteer (2002-04), learning to speak Bambara in the process.  He came home to Georgia to launch his own musical career, and a record label, Cowboy Angel Music.  Klein returned to Mali in 2010 to record an album that would seek common ground between local traditions there and his own compositions.  He worked with some heavy hitters, including guitar-ace brothers Djelimady and Solo Tounkara, and the soku (violin) wizard Zoumana Tereta.   The album, recently finished, is called Dugu Wolo, and Klein describes the music as "original traditional-styled Malian ʻMandeʼ songs performed in the Bambara language."

Lassine Kouyate, is Klein's Bambara name, and he's earned it, spending enough time in Mali to learn the language and a great deal about the music, and also to make deep friendships there. The album features a range of traditional Malian instruments, but the songs are mostly Klein's, and so filtered through his own folky, southern American musical background. Filmmaker Jason MIller of Eikon Productions filmed a "making of the record" documentary film, which Klein says, "shows Mali through the lens of some of my close friends there and deals with my struggle to remain connected with and supporting my friends and home community form a distance as I work to gain footing and establish my own career in the states." This is a case study in the fast growing field of American-West African musical collaboration. Here's the trailer, and incidentally, the film is still being completed, and looking for support if you have ideas!

You can find out more about Adam Klein and his work at his website (www.adam-klein.com and his Tumblr site.  Watch this space for more on all these collaborations.

Banning Eyre

Yemen Blues in NYC: Photos

Yemen Blues is a super-energetic combo dedicated to updating Yemenite Jewish tradition.  Afropop first heard the band at WOMEX 2010 in Copenhagen, but really saw what they could do when they hit Le Poisson Rouge in New York on March 9.  With brass, strings, percussion, and one of the most kinetic frontmen we've seen in awhile, Yemen Blues not only packed the club, but kept it rocking from the first note to the last.  The band's self-titled album is highly recommended.  Here are a few of Banning Eyre's photos from the Poisson Rouge gig.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And the Carnival Road March Winner in Trinidad is...

Hi everyone! This is Justin, reporting from Trinidad for Afropop Worldwide. We are all extremely exhausted from a long, festive and exciting Carnival. While we've been out here, we kept hearing the song “Advantage” by Machel Montano everywhere (and I mean EVERYWHERE) we went. Well, as it turns out, it is the road march winner for 2011! Here’s a video:

Another song we heard all over the place was "Trini" by Benjai. Although it didn’t win the road march award, it's still pretty awesome.

Trini by magplus80

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Acoustic Africa II: Mali meets Zimbabwe

Habib Koite, Afel Bocoum, Oliver Mtukudzi
Report and photos by Banning Eyre

The second edition of Acoustic Africa (tour dates here!) is now rolling across North America.  The series presents three African artists on the same stage, each with just a few support musicians, and collaborating interactively on each others' repertoires.  This edition features Habib Koite and Afel Bocoum of Mali, and Oliver Mtukudzi of Zimbabwe.  I caught up with them at the Somerville Theater in Boston on February 27, and found a beautiful and fascinating exchange going on between great artists from two of my favorite musical countries.  Interviews and music from this tour will be featured on an upcoming edition of Afropop Worldwide, "21st Century Troubadours."

Afel is a champion of northern Mali's Sonrai and other regional traditions.  He was long part of Ali Farka Toure's ensemble, and has led his own exquisite group for many years now.  All three of these artists make expert use of their counties' indigenous music styles, but Afel is the most authentically "traditional" musician among them.  He appears here with Mamadou Kelly on guitar and vocals and Yoro Cisse on the one-string lute (monochord or njurkel) and one-string violin (njarka).  Afel has never brought his full ensemble to the US, so this is a first chance for Americans to experience the particularly deep spell this music can cast when played live by musicians of this caliber.

Afel Bocoum

This Week in Chicago - Musicians Without Borders: Howard Levy & Kinobe


“I´m just feeling very good about it, and very open to what our connection is going to bring”, says Kinobe, via phone and on his way to Uganda. I´m conversing with him because here in da Chi, we´re looking forward to a very special first-time collaboration when Chicago-based jazz harmonica and piano player Howard Levy and multi-instrumentalist Kinobe from Uganda - master musicians from two very different parts of the world – who will perform together at the Mayne Stage on March 10. For the first time ever!

Howard Levy

It all started last summer in Salina, Kansas, where their friendship was born when Levy played with his Trío Globo at the Smoky Hills River Festival, on the same stage and at an adjacent time to Kinobe and his group, Soul Beat Africa. Encouraged by their mutual agent, they will embark on this new creative journey in just a few days, and we will get to witness it.

Kinobe, who plays traditional instruments such as the kalengo, or “talking” drum; the kora, the 21-stringed harp-lute; the kalimba, or thumb piano; the adungu or bow-harp; the endongo, or African lyre, among others, has been a musician since childhood, and his pan-African rhythms are informed by growing up surrounded by the music of the courts of the Kingdom of Buganda.

Kinobe looks forward to a collaboration with Levy, and speaks with great admiration of Levy’s harmonica playing, “The first time I heard it, I thought, this is impossible, this is so crazy amazing!"

As to Levy, whom I also spoke with on the phone to get a preview as to what might happen when he and Kinobe join musical forces for the first time, he comments that he has for many years both been a fan of African music as well as engaged in collaborations with Chicago-based African musicians, such as Foday Musa Suso and his Mandingo Griot Society. Levy mentions he has also been affected by Africa as a
composer – for example, his piece “Camel Parade” is inspired in older African music from the Sahara region. He speaks of enjoying the complexity of the rhythms that he will encounter: “…there´s that casual relationship that African musicians have with rhythms, makes my head spin! No matter how sophisticated Western musicians think they are, there are still moments you wonder where you are…”

What will happen when the richly textured musical worlds of these two musicians collide? From the looks of the videos of their solo performances, the only thing that can be predicted is that it’s surely bound to be exciting, and beautiful. Kinobe affirms: “We will bring two worlds together, and create one world, which proves music is a global language. Because really, we do live in a global village.”

We’ll keep you posted as to the magic that ensues!

Catalina Maria Johnson

Monday, March 7, 2011

Free Afropop Worldwide "March Mix" for Download + Stream!

The March edition of our new monthly mix series featuring new and forthcoming music that we dig!

Afropop March Mix by Afropop Worldwide


1. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo - "Pardon" (from Cotonou Club due out 3/29 via Strut)

2. Pat Thomas & Ebo Taylor - "Ene Nyame 'a' Mensuro" (from Life Stories due out 4/12 via Strut)

3. Femi Kuti & Positive Force - "Dem Bobo" (from Africa for Africa due out 4/12 via Knitting Factory Records)

4. Easy Star All-Stars -"First Light (Ramblin' Fever)" (from First Light due out 4/5 via Easy Star Records)

5. Justo Bentancourt - "Pa' Bravo Yo" (from Fania Records 1964-1980: The Original Sound of Latin New York due out on 3/29 via Strut)

6. Zongo Junction - "Oh Why?" (From Thieves out now!)

7. Dub is a Weapon - "Forwarding Home" (from Vaporized due out 4/12 via Harmonized Records)

8. Les Nubians - "Veuillez Veiller Sur Vos Reves (J Period Remix) f. John Banzai" (from Nü Revolution via Shanachie)

9. Aurelio - "Laru Beya" (from Laru Beya out now via Next Ambience )

10. Peña - "Cardo O Ceniza" (from Vol.2 out now via Secret Stash Records)

Friday, March 4, 2011

It's Carnival Week in Brazil!

In Rio, the parades take place in the gigantic Sambodromo
The official start of carnival might be scheduled for this Saturday in Brazil, but one wouldn’t be able to tell that easily. The so called pre-carnival parties are already been held throughout the country, samba schools have been staging massive rehearsals all summer long and nothing can stop the talks about the party.

The year-long preparations for carnival culminate in a wild four day celebration that will have the streets totally covered in sequins by Ash Wednesday. Samba is inevitably the soundtrack, but axé, funk carioca and pagode can also play a big part. What about the dress-code? The shiniest costume you can get or, in some cases, the tiniest. There are carnival celebrations in every corner of the country, so for now we’ll talk about the best-known ones:

As the set of the largest carnival celebrations in the world, Rio de Janeiro is preparing itself for a big change in the routine. As from tomorrow several streets will be closed for traffic and open to blocos, organized groups of revelers, and bands. The police force, nonetheless, might be smaller than in other years due to officers recruited for the occupation of the city’s favelas. They’ve been there since November, when the government ordered an unprecedented raid. Still, nothing will stop the masses of people that flock to the city every year to drink, dance, flirt and enjoy the spectacle. In 2011, 760,000 tourists are expected. Thinking of the tourists, the city has created a mascot called “John Carioca” (carioca refers to the native inhabitants of the city of Rio de Janeiro). But the government has more important worries as well: campaigns were launched to end discrimination against homosexuals and authorities will be handing out 20 million free condoms.

Beija-Flor, one of the biggest samba schools, applies the final touches to its floats
For visitors, the place to go is the 70,000-seat Sambodromo, where the main competition between samba schools takes place. Each of them picks a theme, compose a score with lyrics and, of course, practice year around to succeed. In 2011, the 12 samba schools will deploy up to 5,000 dancers each lead by the barely dressed “drum queens”. Beyond the parades, there are the carnival balls (usually with live music) held everywhere from clubs to hotels and schools.

This video introduces each samba school in the order they will appear in this year's parade:

Ok, now forget everything you read about Rio’s carnival. We’re going to Recife, in the Northeast part of Brazil. People in Recife like to say their carnival is the most democratic, since all action happens in the streets and people don’t need to pay anything to party. There, carnival incorporates a myriad of regional rhythms such as frevo, maracatu, troça and caboclinho, as well as afoxés, sambas, ciranda, coco, samba, rock, reggae and manguebeat. The frevo dancers, called passistas, have become symbols of the city and its carnival. Wearing multi-coloured costumes and carrying umbrellas, they jump according to the music.

Watch the latest videos on Recife's carnival here. And check out an example of frevo dancing in the streets:

In another northeastern metropolis, Salvador, carnival kicked off this Thursday. At 8pm the King Momo Edgar Passos was given the city key from the hands of the mayor. Ivete Sangalo and Claudia Leitte, the two most succesful singers of axé music, will attract a big crowd in the “trios eletricos”  huge trucks that ride the streets with blasting soundsystems and that have become  icons of Salvador’s carnival. In 2011, 2 million people are expected to join in and party. Both singers will transmit their shows live in their websites: and
The carnival veteran Daniela Mercury promises a show where she'll wear a white dress that will be painted by artists while she sings.

Ivete Sangalo opened her first trio eletrico this thursday at Praia do Forte, a beach located 30 miles from Salvador, with this summer's hit "Acelera Aê":

Even Google couldn’t resist the party and started broadcasting it through a new YouTube channel. So, even if you're far away, there's no excuse not to join the party! You haven't seen anything yet...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Music in the Middle East: Rapping the Revolution

One of our constant points of focus at the moment is, of course, the series of uprisings in the Middle East (read more here). We have just received a number of updates and links about the musical influence on these happenings from our contact in Cairo, Kristina Nelson.

 Crimson/ Jabulani R. Barber
We'll start off with a great article by Andy Morgan in the UK newspaper The Guardian portraying the explosion of music in the Middle East after the protests began. Under the previous governments in Egypt and Tunisia, music was harshly censored; any criticism or deviation from the norms of high art Arabic music or glitzy pop would be silenced or even punished. But the recent courageous actions of the protesters have released musicians from the metaphors they were using to disguise the truth. Music has become critical, direct, and explosive.

AP Photo/Ben Curtis
This article also features our Hip Deep producer, Mark LeVine. A prominent scholar of the Middle East and Islam, Mask is also a journalist and activist, not to mention a very adept musician. He'll be bringing his wealth of knowledge to Afropop for our forthcoming Hip Deep series on Egypt which we're very excited about. Keep reading here.

And of course, the music can tell its own story. Here are links to some of the best songs accompanying the protests:

Mustafa Said singing live in Tahir Square on February 9th, with translation of the lyrics in English:

El Général's outspoken 'Rais Le Bled' (President, Your Country). The power of El Général's words led to him being arrested and questioned by the Tunisian authorities. Translations of the lyrics accompany the video and can also be seen in full at the top of the comments.

Cairo band Arabian Knightz produced this song in the midst of the protests in Egypt: 'Rebel', feat. Lauren Hill.

Ramy Donjewan's 'Against the Government' has been adopted as the 'official' rap song of the protests. Again happily the chorus is translated in the comments below the video.

And musicians in the Arabic rap diaspora are also having their say. With the world becoming ever-closer through social media, artists from around the globe are joining together and voicing their support for the protesters. One group of rap artists who have produced a tribute song which has gone on to be a viral hit: '#Jan 25 Egypt'.

Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) is also producing music of solidarity through innovative methods using social media. For his latest song, 'My People', Yusuf asked people to add their voice to a plea for freedom and peace by joining him in song. He uploaded the chorus to his website, and suggested that people email him mp3 tracks of them singing the harmonies. The resulting 'My People' is available to download for free:

Al Jazeera interviewed Yusuf Islam about the making of 'My People' and talked with him about the impact of music as an instrument of social change. Watch it here.

Out in the streets, people were coming up with their own protest songs. Despite their injuries, this group of protesters came up with a catchy satirical tune named "Expell Hosni Mubarak Song":

Clearly, recent events in the Middle East have been partially driven by the internet and social media – a  revolutionary way to organize protests and show solidarity. So the final word goes to the extensive documentation of events that has been made possible by these new technologies. Check out I Am Jan 25, an amazing website collecting together hundreds of videos and photos – a revolutionary library:

Keep checking on The Afropop Blog, where we'll keep documenting all these wonderful initiatives.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Vusi Mahlasela and Jolly Boys in NYC

I've seen so many great concerts in the past week, my head is spinning.  Here's a quick report on two of them.  First, Vusi Mahlasela returned to SOBs on February 22.  I first saw him playing solo there close to 20 years ago.  He came this time with just his lead guitarist, who remained tastefully riffing and occasionally harmonizing in the background for a show that was, essentially, all Vusi!

Vusi has been doing a fairly standard set in recent years, so it was great to hear him break out songs from his tasty new CD, "Say Africa" (ATO Records), produced by Taj Mahal.  The title track is a heart-tugger, essentially saying that wherever Vusi goes, it's Africa.  Vusi's songwriting is quite sophisticated, full of Paul Simon-like subtleties and twists.  But what really carries the day is Vusi's vocal.  He is, hands down, one of the strongest singers in African music today, capable of crooning, growling, whispering, and wailing--all in a single song.  He's also a terrific story teller, with a dry wit and a big heart--a genuine African troubadour.   And he hardly looks a day older than that first time I saw him in the early '90s.  Seems music is a fountain of youth for this guy.  Go Vusi!

On February 24, I headed to the Hiro Ballroom to catch Jamaica's premier mento band, The Jolly Boys.  These guys used to come to Boston when I lived there in the late '80s, but it has been a long time since they've appeared in the US.  Actually, it turns out the the band has seen a lot of turnover.  The septuagenarians of that era have been replaced by a new set of septuagenarians, led by one dynamo of a front man, Albert Minott.  Talk about a fountain of youth.  These guys may not look young, but man, their energy and spirit had the room--packed, by the way--rocking from the first note to the last.

Mento is a kind of folksy, proto-reggae, featuring banjo plinking and bass lines played on an enormous thumb piano called a rumba box, that the player--in this case Derrick "Johnny" Henry--sits on while plonking out his lines.  The instrument is remarkably versatile and effective, especially considering that it has only five notes.

Rumba box!
This time around, we didn't get to hear many of the classic mento songs the Jolly Boys built their reputation on.  That's because they were featuring numbers from their surprising new release "Great Expectations" (Geejam Records).   The CD is a collection of most unlikely cover songs by artists ranging from The Doors (Riders on the Storm) to Johnny Cash (Ring of Fire), to Amy Winehouse (Rehab).  Albert carried off that last one with a wink and a nod, and total sincerity.  Honestly, this sounds like a bad idea, but these guys were having a ball with these songs, and putting a truly original spin on them.  I'm telling you, you have not lived until you've heard The Jolly Boys digging into Lou Reed's "Perfect Day."  Quite sublime!

 The CD is highly recommended, but don't miss a chance to see these guys live if you can.  It will make your week.  And besides, they won't be around forever.   Or will they....

Banning Eyre