Friday, April 29, 2011

Regal Reggae

As the resident Brit at the Afropop offices, it seemed to be my place to comment on the wedding of Wills and Kate today. Royal fever has swept the UK and, judging by the coverage out here, the madness has spread over to the US as well. In fact, so much has been written on the event that it seems there is little left to say.

So, if you're feeling overwhelmed by it all, chill out with some regal reggae.

- Kate Bolgar Smith

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Akwaaba Up In Your Speakers

If you’re the type of Afropop listener who gravitates towards dancehalls and hard-hitting African club anthems, then keeping up on the string of great releases from Akwaaba Music is a must. We don’t want to pigeon-hole them, though. Their catalog of releases is deep, varied and should be checked out by all fans of African/African-Diaspora music. In addition to releasing music, Akwaaba does other great things like going to Africa and giving up and coming artists a rundown on how the music business works. They also act as a publicity and marketing firm for musicians to get their music to the world. In other words: they rule.

Recently, two specific releases from Akwaaba caught our attention. The first is a series of remixes of the hit single, “Azingele,” by Ghana’s Ruff-N-Smooth. If you haven’t heard of the duo, they released a number of hits in Ghana over the past two years and are bound to catch on stateside and beyond any time now.

Check out the original track and the remixes below:


Azingele Remixed by Akwaaba Music

The second release we are digging is a unique collaboration between the hiplife duo FOKN Bois (M3NSA and Wanlov The Kubolor) and an Hungarian production duo Irie Maffia. Titled The FOKN Dunaquest In Budapest, the collab is an eclectic and highly unique output that mashes house, dancehall, hip-life and hip-hop into a upbeat and energetic set. The release was due out yesterday.

Get a taste of it below:

FOKN Bois meet Irie Maffia Prod.-FOKN Dunaquest Minimix by Irie Maffia Production

In late May we will be producing a new program surveying the African hip-hop scene and beyond. Be sure to stay tuned to hear more great music coming from Akwaaba and others.

-Saxon Baird

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rango With Us

You may have heard that one of the musical enclaves we will be covering in our Hip Deep Egypt series involves Cairo's large Sudanese community.   One amazing musical expression within this community is Rango music -- a mystical, Sudanese (Nubian) style of music that is used to induce a spiritual, trance-like state, and historically, to bring about spirit possession.  The music is centered around a huge, ancient xylophone called rango.  Chances are you've never seen or heard a rango, and that is one of the reasons why we want to delve into the musical scenes of Egypt and bring such unique music to your ears.

Check out the video below of Hassan Bergamon, Rango music master.

Pretty cool, huh?

Right now, we are currently raising money via a Kickstarter campaign so that we can travel to Egypt and bring back such unique and exciting material.

To learn more about our campaign visit our Kickstarter HERE.

My Secret Timba: Jorge Gómez & Tiempo Libre

Tiempo Libre
When he was teenager growing up in Havana, Jorge Gómez, director and keyboard player for the Miami-based timba band Tiempo Libre, would often climb to his rooftop in the wee hours of the morning. With his boombox rigged to a homemade antenna fashioned from metal clothes hangers and aluminum foil, carefully hidden from the prying eyes of nosy neighbors and government inspectors, he listened to the latest tunes beaming out of radio stations from across the Florida Straits. Like many Cubans, Jorge and his bandmates were proud heirs to the island’s fertile music culture but, at the same time, intensely curious about what was going on elsewhere in the music world, especially in the United States.

Perched on that Havana rooftop, the radio was not just a treasured source of unknown music but a dream machine. “We were teenagers,” Jorge recalls, “and it was very hard to listen to that music without fantasizing about what it would be like to live in the U.S., to be a musician there, to have a whole new existence in a place that was free and open.” “In a way,” he adds, “those were the moments that filled us with yearning, desire and the strength that it took to leave it all – families, friends, a country, a life – behind to pursue those dreams.” Now, after ten years of performing in the U.S. and playing a leading role in the development of timba, a heavily percussive- and horn-driven Cuban dance music (música bailable), it’s likely that Tiempo Libre’s latest timba is among the tunes beaming through one of those secret, rooftop radios somewhere in Havana.

The group’s new album My Secret Radio, a reference to those clandestine radio transmissions that marked the group’s adolescent years on the island, releases on May 3rd. Following on the heels of three Grammy nominations, the band’s fifth studio album chronicles both sides of the immigrant experience – from secret radio sessions which fueled dreams of life in America to the perplexities of starting life in a new country. If there are any standout tracks on the new album then the infectious “San Antonio” is surely the best contender. In fact, if it wasn’t for the lyrics, which pay homage to San Antonio, Texas and its people, who enthusiastically embraced the band several years ago, this hip-shaking timba sounds like it could have just as easily been the latest EGREM recording to blast from the makeshift, heavily amplified soundsystem of some passing Lada or inner-city solar in Central Havana.

Read more on Tiempo Libre and Kenneth's interview with Gomez HERE on

Monday, April 25, 2011

FELA! The Broadway Musical in Lagos

Afropop correspondent Mark Gettes is currently in Nigeria, reporting on the historic event of FELA! the Broadway musical opening in Lagos.

The hottest place on the planet this week, theatrically speaking, was not in New York or London but in Africa. FELA!, the Broadway musical about the life of Afrobeat pioneer and political rebel Fela Kuti, began an historic and groundbreaking series of performances in Lagos, Nigeria, Fela's home city.

Produced by a Nigerian Production company, Broken Shackles, with the assistance of the Lagos State Government, the entire Broadway production, consisting of over 80 cast members and crew, as well as 19 tons of equipment, were transported to Lagos to present the show. According to Stephen Hendel, the originator and producer of the original Broadway production, this is only the second time in the history of Broadway than an entire Broadway cast has been transported to a foreign country to perform a show, and is the first time a Broadway cast has performed in Africa.

Femi Kuti with the cast (Photo by Niegel Smith)
 After a single performance last week of a concert version of the show at the New Africa Shrine, where they were joined onstage by Femi Kuti, Fela's eldest son and Afrobeat bandleader, the full version of the Broadway show opened on Thursday night at the Eko Center, a conference hall converted to a theater for the purposes of the show. Closer to the size of Madison Square Garden than to a Broadway theater, the Eko Center was filled almost to capacity for opening night. Many luminaries were in attendance, including Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Former Governor of Lagos State, Ahmed Tinubu, his Excellency Babatunde Fashola, the current governor of Lagos State, and many other Nigerian politicians and members of Nigeria's musical, artistic, and fashion communities. In remarks from onstage before the show, Governor Tinubu spoke of how he became absolutely determined to bring the show to Nigeria after seeing the show on Broadway on Broadway in New York. He also commented that he thought it was reason for great optimism that a show such as FELA!, which in parts is openly critical of the Nigerian government and power structure, could be presented freely and openly in Nigeria, particularly as it opened just days after the Nigerian Presidential election.

Response to the show was overwhelmingly positive, both from the public and the critics. It was immediately obvious that the audience was not a New York or London audience. Being more familiar with Fela's life-story and music, they joined in on many of the songs, picked up on many of the jokes quickly, and seemed to particularly empathize with those parts of the dealing with Fela's struggles with the government. Lillias White, who plays Fela's mother Fumilayo in the show, was moved to tears when, within one bar of starting to sing Fela's song "Trouble Sleep", the whole audience joined in and sang the entire song with her. Many members of the audience also expressed astonishment that the American musicians in the show, many of whom are from the Afrobeat band Antibalas, could perform Fela's music with such skill and passion.

Of course, much of the audience's reaction to the show depended on their response to Sahr Ngaujah who played Fela. Whatever skepticism they might have had about a non-Nigerian playing the role of their national hero seemed to vanish with the first "Yeah Yeah", and at the end of the show he was greeted with a standing ovation. One member of the audience, a man known as Captain, who had been a close friend of Fela's, told me "Now in my life, I have witnessed two Felas - Fela, and Sahr/Fela." For many of the cast members, variously of African-American, African living in America, and Afro-Caribbean descent, performing in Africa and in Fela's hometown of Lagos was a tremendously emotional experience with many of them describing it as one of the most moving events of their lives.

After opening night, Kevin Mambo alternated in the role of Fela with Sahr Ngaujah. The outpouring of support and the sharing of emotion that continued between the audience and the cast was overwhelming and is best summed up by Kevin Mambo's statement after his first show:
"Wow. first performance in Naija! They laughed and cried with us. A boy came to me during the walk-around and asked me to return from the dead with tears in his eyes because Naija needs me, and after the show during "Gentleman", the audience mobbed us with love love love. Words can never express. Diaspora touching and sharing together. How could we be so fortunate? Humbled and exhilarated."

FELA! will continue to run in Lagos through the Easter weekend. If you missed it, don't be too sad - the show will tour in Amsterdam and London this summer, and plans are afoot to bring the show back to Lagos, and to other parts of Nigeria and Africa, sometime soon. As Fela would say - Plenty More To Come....

Left to Right: Kevin Mambo, Yeni Kuti, Sahr Ngaujah, Seun Kuti

Seun Kuti with Sahr on stage

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rewind! Africa Holds On To its Tapes

The humble audio cassette has seen a recent revival due in part to the children of the 80's nostalgic for their artful mixtapes and the fuller sound afforded by the analogue recordings. Some bands are starting to even make the decision to put out their recent albums out on cassette.

But the audio cassette is not only the domain of hipsters. As the BBC noted yesterday business is booming for audio cassettes in parts of Southern Africa. So much so that Diamond Studios has opened up in Harare, becoming one of the only commercial music cassette production facilities in the world.

Bouba's music store in Dakar - Barrie McClune
For years, audio cassettes have been one of the most popular formats for music on the continent, and around much of Africa, tapes still sit alongside CDs in music stores. Artists such as Youssou N'Dour who make albums specifically for local markets will often have great albums that can only be found on tape rather than CD, let alone mp3.

Luckily for us, there is someone trawling through the mountains of musical cassettes from Africa and making them available online for us – Brooklyn's own Brian Shimkovitz. If you haven't discovered it yet, take time to look through the amazing library of music Brian has created and download some treasures: Awesome Tapes From Africa.

-Kate Bolgar Smith

The Magnificent Seven Return: Septeto Nacional de Cuba in Chicago

“Without the Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Piñeiro, there would be no mambo! There would be no salsa! There would have been no Buenavista Social Cluuuuuuub!” - called out from the stage of Old Town School of Folk Music by a handsome, somewhat older gentlemen bedecked in white from tips of shiny shoes to rakish beret. This by way of introducing the performance of the acclaimed seven-member ensemble founded in Cuba in 1927. Their mission for nearly eight decades has been to preserve the legacy of their beloved founder Piñeiro, an illustrious and incredibly prolific bassist/composer – he´s credited with some 327 songs - whose popularity was so great that even friend George Gershwin incorporated a fragment from one of Piñeiro's tunes into his own “Cuban Overture¨.

Eugenio Rodríguez
The current version of the Septeto, headed by singer Eugenio “Raspa” Rodríguez and bongo player Frank “El Matador” Oropesa, is a group of veteran musicians who are truly virtuosos of the Cuban son,  a creolized New World music that was created by the cultures in collision and contact in the island. The genre´s elements of Spanish canción and guitar music with African rhythms and percussion are beautifully expressed in melodies that highlight the interchanges between vocals, upright bass, trumpet, bongos, and percussion with the heart and soul of Cuban son--the tres, a guitar-like instrument with three double strings (hence the name “tres”). The earliest versions of this staple Cuban instrument are said to have been made from codfish boxes by African-Cuban dock workers.

Enrique Collazo
The concert at Old Town was ample evidence that the introduction was no exaggeration. Each performer contributed masterfully to weaving a magical musical spell of delicate and rhythmic texture, practically a Cuban sonic landscape. It was also impossible to sit still, and with encouragement from the band, the audience was frequently on its feet, shimmy-ing and shaking as much as was allowed by the bench formation of Old Town School´s auditorium. Each instrument was played in a way that one could easily focus on its melody and beats individually. Vocals harmonized, the tres’ delicate and intricate lacework of melodies coursed through the room, the trumpet blared golden, the guitar moved it along, bongo punctuated and maracas shimmered.

Dagoberto Sacerio Oliva
We heard the classic “Echale Salsita” (Piñeiro was the first to mention "salsa" in that song in 1933), participated in the call and response of some of the songs that displayed their Afro-Cuban roots most markedly, and even danced slowly to a couple of boleros. It was a night to remember!

Small wonder that the Septeto is recognized as Patrimonio Nacional de la Cultura Cubana (a national treasure of Cuban culture). In 2009, they were the first Cuban musicians to receive visas from the State Department after no Cuban musicians had entered the U.S. in a six-year period. They came to Chicago that year, and we are privileged they came to visit us again to share the exuberant joy of Piñeiro's Cuban son.

- Catalina Maria Johnson

Berber Rising 2: The Saga Continues

By Banning Eyre

The plight of the Berber, or Amazight, the original inhabitants of North Africa, is an ongoing concern, one that is playing into the unrest and change sweeping the region. Afropop checks in with Berber music on many fronts on this week's broadcast.  We have links to great resources on Berber music, and also excerpts of interviews with some of the major artists.  In preparing for this show, we spoke with a number of sources.  I had a particularly interesting conversation with Moh Alileche, a composer and singer from Kabylia, Algeria, who now lives in San Francisco. Moh's music was featured in the first Berber Rising program in 2002, and has been heard on other Afropop broadcasts. 

Moh follows the struggles of the Imazighen (Berber peoples) around North Africa, but especially in Algeria, where the cultural oppression has been intense, outdone perhaps only by the Khadafi regime in Libya.  When we spoke, Moh said that the situation in Algeria has not improved significantly since the "Berber Spring" uprisings in 1980.  "Thirty-one years later," said Moh, "nothing has really happened in a positive way.  In fact, it has deteriorated."  Nine years ago, Moh was also not optimistic, despite positive statements made by the Algerian government at that time.  "I said they were trying to eradicate [Berber culture] completely.  Now they are approaching success.  They have surrounded the Kabyle region with 100,000 military.  They say it is to protect against terrorists, but it's the opposite.  They will crush any Berber organization immediately."

The optimism of that era was based on the designation of Tamazight, the Berber language, as a "national language."  But as Idir notes in our interview, this means little.  To be taught in schools and written in public communications, the language must be "official," not merely "national."

Moh notes that while rai singers like Khaled and even Mami (recently released from a French prison after serving time for forcing a woman to undergo an abortion) can now perform in Algeria. Islamist objections to the supposed decadence of their music has now relaxed enough that they can return and perform openly.  Not so Berber singers like Idir and Takfarinas.  Although they have returned to Algeria, neither has been able to perform there since the early 1990s.  Moh says, "Young stars can sing in Tamazight, but only about love and flowers and dancing.  Nothing else."

Moh is inspired by the mood of change sweeping North Africa.  He has been paying close attention to the plight of Berbers in Libya, where just before the uprising, two Berber singers were jailed after one performed at a Berber festival in Morocco. "If you sing in Tamazight in Libya," said Moh, "you are in trouble."  Moh is working on a new song about what is going on at present in North Africa.  The working title is "It started in Tunisia."  It's his first song in English, and he shared with us his lyrics, still in progress:

It started in Tunisia
A struggle with Zin Abidine
Youth wanted a new era
And toppled the old regime

Spirit rising in the air
Quickly embraced in Cairo
People of Tahrir Square
Forced Mubarak to go

Wind blows into Libya
Bringing hope and liberty
Forty-one year old junta
Is wanted in Benghazi

People of other nations
With courage and dignity
Join the revolutions
And fight for Democracy

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Music Tease: Reimagining Africa through American Jazz

 Next week we will be airing our next Hip Deep program, Reimaging Africa: From Popular Swing to the Jazz Avant Garde. For the past couple weeks, we’ve been supplementing this exciting and in-depth look into how some of American Jazz masters have addressed their African ancestry with posts giving you a glimpse behind the music that will be featured. Read here.

Recently, AACM founder George Lewis was kind of enough to drop 25 essential albums on us to check out that closely relate to the theme of our show. From that 25 we picked out ten tracks to showcase for those looking to go beyond the hour long program. Our original plan was to offer these tracks for streaming. However, as we quickly learned, iTunes is lacking in their jazz selection so we had to head onto Youtube to find more tracks. Even then, we often came up empty. The end result is the XX track featured below. While it isn’t the extent that we wanted to bring you, we thought it still did a good job at giving you a nice preview of our forthcoming program.

For all you record crate diggers out there, we’ve included the list of 6 from George Lewis below as well.


Henry Threadgill's Zooid - "Tickled Pink" from Up Popped Two Lips 


Amina Claudette Myers - "Jumping in the Sugar Bowl" from Jumping in the Sugar Bowl

Art Ensemble of Chicago - "Theme de Yoyo" from Les Stances a Sophie

Revolutionary Ensemble - "Hu-Man" from Pysche

Joseph Jarman - "Little Fox Run" from Songs For

Anthony Braxton - "To Artist Murray De Pillars" from For Alto

George Lewis' Top 25:

1. Muhal Richard Abrams - Levels and Degrees of Light (1967)

2. Muhal Richard Abrams - The UMO Jazz Orchestra Plays the Music of Muhal Richard Abrams (1999)

3. Air - Air Raid (1979)

4. Fred Anderson Quartet - Live at the Velvet Lounge. Vol. 2 (2000)

5. George Lewis - Homage to Charles Parker (1980)

6. Roscoe Mitchell - Sound (1966)

7. Roscoe Mitchell - L-R-G; The Maze; SII Examples (1968)

8. Samana- Samana (1996)

9. Anthony Braxton - Creative Orchestra Music (1976)

10. Anthony Braxton - For Alto (1969)

11. Anthony Braxton - Three Compositions of New Jazz (1968)

12. Douglas Ewart - Bamboo Meditations at Banff (1994)

13. Joseph Jarman - Song For (1967)

14. Nicole Mitchell - Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler (2008)

15. Edward Wilkerson - 8 Bold Souls (1987)

16. Muhal Richard Abrams and Amina Claudine Myers - Duet (1993)

17. Wadada Leo Smith - Tao-Njia (1996)

18. Wadada Leo Smith - Kabell Years 1971–1979 (2004)

19. Revolutionary Ensemble - The Psyche (1975)

20. Amina Claudine Myers - Jumping in the Sugar Bowl (1984)

21. Henry Threadgill’s Zooid - Up Popped the Two Lips (2001)

22. Art Ensemble of Chicago- A.A.C.M. Great Black Music/Message to Our Folks (1969)

23. Art Ensemble of Chicago - Les stances à Sophie (1970)

24. Art Ensemble of Chicago - Live at Mandel Hall (1972)

25. Art Ensemble of Chicago - People in Sorrow (1969)

The Controversial Death of Smiley Culture

 Last week in London, a march was held in the name of 'human rights and justice' after the death of UK reggae singer, Smiley Culture. 'Smiley' died from a single stab wound to the heart during a police raid at his house. Police state that the wound was self-inflicted, but as the crowds of protesters demonstrate, many believe there is more to the story than the official version. His death is being investigated.

Smiley was a big name in the UK, paving the way for much urban music today. He had success both for his DJ work with the Saxon Soundsystem and for his hits as a solo artists. His first single 'Cockney Translation,' aimed to help the Jamaican communities to understand cockney London talk. The themes of this song also signaled the growing connection between working class and Caribbean immigrant communities in inner cities of UK, and nodded to the increasing influence of Jamaican patois on English language. Smiley's most successful single, 'Police Officer,' told a humorous story of police taking his weed, but the underlying message told of prejudice amongst the UK police in their treatment of black people.

At the march, instead of holding a minute's silence for Smiley, 'Police Officer' was played over a sound system while the crowd danced and sang along.

There are now plans to re-release this song, and hold a concert in the name of all those who die in police custody. Word has it that David Bowie, Sade, Nas, and Damian Marley are all in talks to be involved. Watch this space, and take in Smiley's tune:

-Kate Bolgar Smith

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Laru Beya: Aurelio, Ivan Duran and Garifuna Culture

Afropop film contributor Erich Woodrum recently spent some time in Belize at Stonetree Records interviewing and filming Aurelio Martinez, producer Ivan Duran and the scene at the Stonetree compound. What he brought back is a real gem documenting the current state of Garifuna culture and some great exclusive, behind-the-scenes footage of Aurelio in his element. This footage is truly unique.

Watch below and please pass it on!

Laru Beya:
Part 1

Laru Beya: Part 2

Help Send Afropop Worldwide to Egypt! (It's Tax-deductible too!)

 More than a year before Egypt’s inspiring revolution, Afropop began planning a research trip to the country as part of our ground breaking Hip Deep program series. The plan is to travel to Egypt this summer to gather material for four radio programs, and a variety of web offerings, including videos, blog posts and social media outreach.

The programs are:

Cairo, Part 1: A Musical Portrait: A history of the city told through music

Cairo, Part 2: The Seduction of Production: How Cairo became the region’s music and film production capital in the 20th century

Cairo, Part 3: 21st Century Underground: From Sudanese hip hop to heavy metal, a behind the scenes look at the city’s contemporary scene

Egypt: Living Legacies of the Past: Sufi festivals, wedding bands, cultural revival in Port Said, the epic poets of Luxor, the music of Ramadan, and the way the past inhabits Egypt’s fast changing present

Through our radio show and our multi-media website, Afropop will bring you aspects of Egypt you won’t find anywhere else. Programs will sample Cairo’s heavy metal scene, its Sudanese enclave with hip hop stars and mystical healing ceremonies. We’ll spend time in recording studios taking the pulse of new music for a new nation. And along the way, we’ll hear the music of Sufi mystics, Coptic Christians, epic bards, sha’bi street philosophers, and more.

Each of these radio programs, hosted by Georges Collinet, will be accompanied by extensive web materials: blog posts, web videos, audio playlists, photo essays, interview transcriptions, music reviews, and more. Social media outreach to a worldwide community engaged in Egyptian music has already begun, and will continue beyond the broadcast of the four radio programs.

The Story
 For 23 years, Afropop Worldwide has taken radio listeners and web fans to some of the world’s most exciting cultural destinations: Ghana, Cameroon, both Congos, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Republic of Congo, Angola, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, Cuba, Martinique, Trinidad, Jamaica, Belize, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, Portugal, Spain…But there’s one very important country we have never visited, a place where much of the Afropop story began: Egypt!

“Hip Deep in Egypt” was already going to be a one of a kind offering on the American media landscape. Now it’s going to be downright historic. Guided by a team of leading musicians and authorities on Egyptian music, Afropop producers Banning Eyre and Sean Barlow will spend four weeks working in Cairo, Port Said, and Upper Egypt. This team will come home with material for a production marathon that will extend well into Afropop’ s 2012 season. Beyond the first-rate productions and web postings our listeners and viewers expect, Afropop will build lasting ties with artists, bloggers, institutions and individuals in Egypt, to keep the channels of communication open long after we leave.

This will be Egypt as only Afropop Worldwide can reveal it. Become a part of Hip Deep in Egypt. Become a part of history!

About Afropop:
Afropop Worldwide is a syndicated public radio program introducing listeners to the music and culture of Africa and the global African diaspora. Hosted by veteran Cameroonian broadcaster Georges Collinet, the program started in 1988 and is now heard throughout the United States on public radio stations. It is also distributed in Europe, and heard globally via the companion website Afropop’s website began in 1997 as one of the first dedicated to African music. The site has kept up with changing technologies and remains one of the richest African music destinations on the internet.

Since 2004, Afropop has produced a unique set of Hip Deep radio programs, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Hip Deep programs use music to explore important chapters of history, from slavery and colonialism, to diaspora communities and the rise of today’s hip hop generation. Hip Deep in Egypt extends the reach of this ground-breaking initiative both geographically and thematically. It will also make extensive use of original field work by the Afropop team, a new emphasis in the Hip Deep program series.

Monday, April 18, 2011

More on Sweet Mickey

Michel Martelly...

Recently, we wrote about Haiti's election of Michel Martelly, AKA "Sweet Micky" as the nation's president. Check it out - you can see a clip of him performing at NY's international music hub, SOBs.

Now, we've got some more in depth coverage. A Hip Deep contributor, Elizabeth McAlister, has written an article for Foreign Policy that is definitely worth reading. Elizabeth explains the role of music behind Michel Martelly's success - quite a feat for such an outspoken artist. As Elizabeth points out, his signature lyrics were somewhat controversial: '"Whoever doesn't know Micky, here's Micky." The riff was followed by a crowd response, "ko langet manman'w:" literally, "your mother's clitoris," roughly meaning, "go fuck your mother."'

...or Sweet Mickey

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Salif Keita and Johnny Clegg in New York

Text and photos by Banning Eyre

Last week, two Afropop veterans gave remarkable performances in New York.  On Sunday and Monday, Johnny Clegg played the City Winery, with his lean new Johnny Clegg Band.  Then, on Saturday, Salif Keita returned to the Apollo Theater with his absolutely unique African traditional rock band.  Both artists gave fully committed performances and were enthusiastically received by near-fanatical audiences.  There were intriguing differences and similarities between the two shows, but they both gave solid evidence that, for all the great new blood coming into African music these days, there's nothing quite like seeing the old lions of African pop, still in form even as they hover around 60!

Johnny Clegg   Salif Keita

Hip Deep with George Lewis and AACM

As we noted in our recent post, we have an exciting Hip Deep show coming up entitled “Jazz: Africa in America.” We're honored that the producer of the show, Simon Rentner, will provide his personal interviews with the influential scholars, George Lewis and Ingrid Monson.

Over the next week or so we'll be drawing on these interviews to bring you a series of posts relating to our upcoming Hip Deep show: Jazz: Africa in America. We'll be looking at the ongoing histories of the AACM, streaming a few tracks from George Lewis' recommended list of recordings, and looking at ideas of African identities in American jazz through Art Blakey, the AACM's concept of Great Black Music, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

First up, George Lewis and the AACM:

George Lewis plays a crucial, innovative role in the development of American music. He is known for being a composer, performer, improviser of music; professor of American Music at Columbia and director of its Center for Jazz Studies; and prolific writer on music. He has been a member of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) since 1971, and has recently published a widely acclaimed book on the history of the AACM: A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008).

In their own words, the AACM is 'a collective of musicians and composers dedicated to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music.' While many have interpreted the AACM as promoters of free jazz, or even as a jazz ensemble, the Association was founded to provide creative musicians with a forum, the support, and the means to compose and perform original compositions. George Lewis sees it as coming “out of necessity,” as the name itself hints at. George talks of the discussions surrounding the choice of the name AACM (Association For the Advancement of Creative) itself in the interview with Simon:

Someone said, "Is it musicians or is it music?" There seemed to be arguments on both sides. So one person – I think it was Phil Cohran, who was one of the founders, a trumpeter in Chicago-- said that basically we were here to advance the creative musicians because the music had been advanced for a long time but nobody was advancing us.

That seemed to make a lot of sense because, it was basically referring to that history of exploitation of black music, which advanced the music to be sure but the musicians were kind of left behind.
While it is an ongoing, dynamic organization, the AACM grew out of a specific context: Chicago's South side in the 60s, after the Great Migration. Coming out of such a space and time, it is inevitably tied up with the civil rights movement. A striving for freedom and mobility lies at the heart of the organization, and George Lewis believes this is why the composing and performing of original music has been so important for the AACM, for 'original music is a sign of self-determination'. Rather than playing the standards for easy-going jazz audiences, or having to perform to the whim of whoever holds the money in his hand, the AACM created a space where musicians' own voices could be heard. George Lewis expands on the importance of original music, and the connection of the AACM with the civil rights movement in his interview with Simon:

Simon: Do you also think this creating original music also goes hand in hand with African-Americans trying to get their equal rights, to be completely free in America?

George: Boy, that's a hard one. Let me just say this. If you don't feel free to express yourself, then you are definitely not free. Let's put it this way, in this sense, personal expression is kind of a human right. So naturally, it's unfortunate in a way, because there is a lot of obviously wonderful music that was being played. No one could say that, you know Charlie Parker wasn't expressing himself by playing “Out of Nowhere” or whatever.
But you have to remember that even there, what they would do is, they would take these old tunes and put new melodies on them. They would change the music around, put new harmonies or extend the harmonies that were already there. They were already putting their stamp on the music. So they weren't just accepting it as perceived wisdom, as young people are told they must do today.

So this is a time when musical self-determination and political self-determination were being conflated, and productively so, I think.

Stay tuned for more on George Lewis, the AACM and our forthcoming Hip Deep show. Also, be sure to check out the AACM’s website.

-Kate Bolgar Smith

Rediscovered: 90s Zanzibar Hip-Hop is a site we check up on regularly. They are one of the few places on the web that is dedicatedly trying to focus on hip-hop coming out of Africa while giving it a intelligent and focused coverage. They don’t post much (probably a bit understaffed and working pro-bono) but when they do throw something up, we tend to love it.

Last week they blogged about the discovery of old music videos from 90’s Zanzibar hip-hop groups and featured some of the footage. The tracks are undeniably solid incorporating the simple, mid-tempo bass-heavy beats of rap coming out of the East-Coast (stateside) at the time. While groups like Kwanza Unit took it a step further by incorporating local rhythms and solid vocal harmonies into their tracks.
We highly encourage you read more on about these groups, the brief history of Zanzibar hip-hop and where these MCs are today.

Here’s a sampler:

Struggling Islanders – Historia

Kwanza Unit – Msafiri

-Saxon Baird

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bomba Estéreo's Wacky "Ponte Bomb"

This week we’re airing our second installment of Best of Womex 2000-2010. The international music festival has been a must-go yearly trip for us over the last 10 years. Each visit has exposed us to some great music from up and coming musicians and bands from Africa and beyond.

Last year, we had the fortunate experience of discovering a plethora of new music from all over the world making up a variety of different styles. One such group we discovered (and featured in our coverage of Womex 2010) was the Colombian duo Bomba Estéreo who create a danceable, electro-infused mix of hip-hop, cumbia, reggae and more. A couple months ago the group released “Ponte Bomb,” a Latin reworking of Technotronic’s “Pump up the Jam” and it is undeniably infectious. Now the group has created a wacky and colorful video to accompany the single. Full of anthropromorphic creatures, cut-off jean shorts and lots of butt-shaking; the visuals fit the track perfectly.

Judge for yourself:

While they are not featured on our upcoming Best of Womex shows, we do love the music they are pumping out and we wanted to give a quick shout-out to them in case any of you out there have yet to check ‘em out.

(h/t Rezmecla)

-Saxon Baird

Sacred Steel

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

Robert Randolph’s meteoric rise to the status of “jam-band/blues cult hero,” as Timothy Finn put it, is astonishing, especially considering that he began life as a musician in a black Pentecostal church and spent the majority of his adolescence entirely unaware of what was going on in popular music.

With so much buzz circulating around this virtuoso of the pedal steel guitar, I took my seat at the Trustees Theater last Friday night early, not wanting to miss a single note. Maybe it was the noticeably younger, jam-band revelers, who made up a significant portion of the audience that night, or maybe it was the stadium rock acoustics, but, to me, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, who stuck mostly to a set of blues-tinged, gospel-inspired southern rock, seemed to be trying way too hard, and way too soon, to just blow the roof off the place. I recalled one reviewer’s characterization of Randolph as a one-man, machine gun quartet, something like “BB King on steroids.” Although I was disappointed with this particular show, Randolph is a real gem, a phenomenal musician known to sometimes cater too much to his audience and their cravings for a spectacle, which is likely the reason why the diesel-driven antics of some of his shows tend to overshadow what is truly unique and rare about him and his style.

photo by Ayano Hisa

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lapiro de Mbanga Released from Prison!

Lapiro and his wife after being released
In August of 2010, we wrote a blog post about how Cameroonian music star Lapiro de Mbanga was jailed for the politically-charged nature of his songs, more specifically the song ‘Constitution constipée’ (‘Constipated constitution’). The song expressed de Mbanga’s distrust in the in Cameroon government’s plans to expand their constitutional power. Clearly, de Mbanga was unfairly thrown in jail for acting on what we feel should be a fundamental freedom for all: the freedom of speech.

Well this weekend we got good news that after over 3 years in jail, de Mbanga has been released! Read more about this exciting news on Freemuse.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Music of the Muslim World Day, A Problem of Terminology

That said, Bob George feels that in some indirect way, religion may inform even completely non-religious music. As he notes in our interview, "[People ask,] 'Why are you calling it Muslim music? Is there such a thing as Christian music?' Well, maybe there is. There's gospel music. There's Christian rock. They're all these things. And maybe, being a Christian somehow informs this music. We understand that it's somewhat ridiculous, but there is a way of working, and a flow that has come out of the Middle East, that has influenced a great many kinds of music, and thank God it has. It is absolutely wonderful because of that flow."

If this strikes you as a bit vague and squishy, that is probably appropriate. The idea behind Muslim World Music Day, and our program, is to bring attention to a vast and varied realm of music made by Muslims, born or converted, living anywhere from the Arabian peninsula to Oklahoma. So we urge listeners not to dwell on the terminology issue. This is intended to be a celebration, and what it may lack in precision of terms, it more than makes up in sincere intent, and great music!

But keep the comments coming. And remember, Muslim World Music Day is next Tuesday, April 12, 2011. Visit the Muslim World Music Day website and get involved. As Bob notes, "We welcome controversy." However, we suspect he prefers participation!

Jazz: Africa in America

The Art Ensemble of Chicago in Les Stances à Sophie
 We're really excited about our upcoming Hip Deep show, 'Jazz: Africa in America.' So much so, we've pulled together a few tracks for you to give you a taster of what is to come in the show. In 'Jazz: Africa in America,' we'll be looking at how American jazz musicians have addressed the African roots of their music, focusing in on Duke Ellington, Jim Crow, Max Roach, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Jason Moran, and the AACM (the Art Ensemble of Chicago).

Here, we've picked out three tracks for you: Duke Ellington's awesome 1927 recording of 'Black and Tan Fantasy' with trumpeter, Bubber Miley; Art Blakey's 'Lamento Africano' from the 1958 Holiday For Skins which he recorded after his travels in Africa and is filled with West African and Latin rhythms; and a video clip of the AACM in the 1970 French film Les Stances à Sophie. The AACM performed an amazing soundtrack for this rare classic of the French new wave that was out of print for thirty years and has recently been re-released – definitely worth checking out.

Enjoy the music!

Duke Ellington, Black and Tan Fantasie (1927).

Art Blakey 'Lamento Africano' from Holiday For Skins (1958, remastered 2006).

AACM 'Thème de Celine' from Les Stances à Sophie (1970).

Cuban Rumba & Miami Timba Share the Stage in Savannah

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

Last night, Cuban musicians from both sides of the Florida Straits came together to share the stage at the Savannah Music Festival. The legendary rumba group Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, who are on a one-month tour across the U.S., and the Miami-based timba band Tiempo Libre, represent, in many ways, two very different sides of the Cuban musical spectrum. Los Muñequitos are a virtual Cuban institution, an extended family of performers known both at home and abroad as a living repository of Afro-creole music and tradition spanning everything from rumba to the hallowed rhythms and cantos of the island’s many African-derived religions. Unlike many folklore ensembles, Los Muñequitos’ sound is neither entirely scripted nor vapid; they somehow manage to push the envelope while remaining firmly anchored in the African roots of Cuban culture. Tiempo Libre, many of whose members left Cuba for Miami in the 1990s, during the so-called “Special Period,” is a relatively young band and the first U.S.-based Cuban timba group to achieve a modest but notable level of success here. Their image is plastered on cans of Bustelo Café and, more recently, they appeared on the TV show Dancing With the Stars. “You know how things are,” Tiempo Libre’s singer Joaquin “El Kid” Díaz joked with me during soundcheck, “they come from the ‘communist’ side and we are on the capitalist end.” “But apart from all that, we’re all ordinary Cubans!,” he added.

Although there was some anticipation that perhaps we were in for an unprecedented display of musical diplomacy, it quickly became clear that no such diplomacy was necessary. Members of both groups mingled freely, told jokes and stories, posed for photographs, and engaged in intense discussions regarding the fate of so many popular Cuban musicians who have immigrated to the U.S., only to then fall short of revamping their music and careers. “El Médico de la Salsa,” Manolín, was a name that kept popping up in the discussion. There a few Cubans who do not know Manolín’s story; he was blacklisted in Cuba for singing a song in which he declared his intention to build a bridge between Havana and Miami, “so that the people of Havana can come, and the people of Miami can go.”

Los Muñequitos played two impressive 50-minute sets, each one followed by Tiempo Libre and their polished, Miami-style timba. After Tiempo Libre took the stage for the last time, many of Los Muñequitos’ 16-member ensemble retired to their hotels rooms, fatigued from travel, and many still recovering from a cold that has been making its rounds. But a handful did stay behind. Sitting off to the side of stage, I watched as they occasionally nodded their heads or stomped their feet in response. But when Jorge Gómez, Tiempo Libre’s director and keyboard player, began a romping version of Adalberto Álvarez’s “A Bayamo en Coche” – telling them this was a song “they knew very well” – the remaining members of Los Muñequitos jumped to their feet, sang along, and grabbed a few local women out of the crowd to dance. After that, they jumped on stage and grabbed guiros, congas, and, every now and then, the microphone, accompanying Tiempo Libre on a conga and a timba called “La Llave” that had the whole place jumping. The night ended with enthusiastic embraces, hearty pats on the back, and promises to keep in touch. Not only was it a great show but a striking testimony to the power of music to bring people together, nourish and sustain a sense of community, and transcend the polarizing ideological divides that characterize so much official political discourse on U.S.-Cuba relations.

Photo by Frank Stewart

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Congo Classical & African Hip Hop In the Bronx: New York African Film Festival 2011

Opening the New York African Film Festival last night were two films about music, featuring hip hop in the Bronx by way of Tanzania, and classical music in the Congo. The term 'African music' can cover a lot!

The eight minute Bongo Barbershop began the evening. Filmed in a matter of hours in the Bronx, it gives us a little insight into the African diaspora here in New York.  Director Charlie Ahearn recreates the arrival of a Tanzanian citizen who is looking for 'the real hip hop' and ends up in a barbershop in the Bronx. Like a streetwise musical, the barbershop becomes a performance space as the US and Tanzania challenge each other to rap. Short in time and budget, the film is more of a lyrical styling around an idea than a fully fledged film, but it had the audience at the Lincoln center wooping. Check the whole film on youtube:

The opening night feature, Kinshasa Symphony, is a gem. Stories from the Congo usually reach US screens through news reports of civil war, rape, mass migration, and poverty. Kinshasa Symphony brings a very different story to the global stage: a documentary on the city's Symphony Orchestra as it prepares for its biggest concert yet in Kinshasa. In spite of a total lack of funding, instruments and, for many members, musical experience, the director pushes the orchestra on with determination. Watch on as classical music takes over Kinshasa!

The film is a joy to watch, with intriguing characters and hilarious moments. It is beautifully shot, and worth the price of a ticket for the images of Kinshasa and the orchestra alone. Of course, the soundtrack filling almost the entire film is a welcome bonus! From Beethoven on a bus to Congolese soukous in the streets, music drives the film forward.

We highly recommend Kinshasa Symphony and urge all those in New York to see it this Friday.

You can watch the trailer below, but be warned of spoilers!

Check out the rest of the New York African Film Festival program here.

And don't forget that the New York Havana Film Festival is an all this week too, including a salsa film or two. Check out their program here.

Make the most of it, NYC!

-Kate Bolgar Smith

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hope through Music in Uganda: Acholi Music Project

 At Afropop we are always receiving interesting music, project and emails. Recently, we received information from Stuart Hyatt of Team Records about a project called Acholi Music Project.

The endeavor captured the unique singing of tribes in northern Uganda through the extensive field work of anthropology graduate student Adrian Yen. Hyatt was kind enough to share some of the tracks captured with us which you can listen to below.

Read more on the project at the Team Records site.

Lamdogi - "Muzubele"


Awobe - "We Children"

Chinese - "Twero Pa Mon"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lorraine Klaasen & Malika Zarra Salute Makeba at the Apollo

Text and photos by Banning Eyre 

This past weekend two African jazz singers--one from Morocco and one from South Africa--performed a unique tribute to Miriam Makeba at the Apollo Music Cafe, a sweet new venue at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem.   Malika Zarra opened with a spare trio consisting of only cajon percussion a saz and Zarra herself.  Zarra's roots are with the Berber (Amazight) people of Morocco--often called the original North Africans.  But she became a jazz singer in Paris, and brought her career to New York City a few years ago.  Zarra usually fronts a larger band, as on her new CD Berber Taxi.  But it was a treat to experience her in this stripped-down format.  We heard some of the rough edges of her smoothly nuanced voice as she delved into North African vocal sounds, including some growling and grunting offsetting her clear mellifluous melodies, some of which she appeared to be able to harmonize using an effects pedal.  The instrumentalists supported her splendidly, Jean-Christophe Maillard on saz occasionally throwing in angular jazzy riffs, or a bass line to accent his instrument's subtle chime, and the Moroccan percussionist Brahim Fribgane kept things sharp and grooving throughout. 

Lorraine Klaasen steps right out the pages of South African jazz history.  In many ways a spiritual and artistic heir to Makeba, it made sense for her to deliver a mostly-Makeba set that included "The Click Song," "Pata Pata," "Meadowlands" and more.  Klaasen has a powerful voice, and seemed completely comfortable with her backing quartet, which she unabashedly told the crowd had learned her songs just the day before.  They did beautifully, but this was Klaasens' show, and as moving as her evocations of Makeba's delivery and style were, her sassy stage banter was almost as good.  She coached the band, teased the audience, told humorous stories, and imparted fascinating insights into Makeba's songs:  "Pata Pata?  Means 'touch touch' by the way.  Yeah!  You didn't know that?"   Klaasen let us know she had had a lifelong dream of performing at the Apollo, and while this was not the big stage, it seemed quite enough to fulfill that dream for her.

No surprise, both singers did a take on Makeba's signature song (though not her composition) "Malaika."  Zarra's was boldly experimental, bringing in Berber chanting, dark North African harmonies, and a wholly original sensibility.  Klassen explained that the song was about lobola, the very high price of an African Bride "In this country you just take them.  At least give me something.  A cow!"  Then she proceeded to belt it out of the park.  I recently blogged that artists should be careful covering this song, given what a find job Angelique Kidjo has done with it, but both these covers stood the test and did Makeba proud.  The show ended with tremendous good feeling, with Zarra and other singers in the crowd joining Klaasen for her boisterous finale.

Haiti Elects Musician "Sweet Micky" As President

In case you didn’t catch the news out of Haiti, 50-year old Haitian singer Michel Martelly has been officially elected as Haiti’s next president. Also known as “Sweet Micky” or Tet Kale, Martelly beat out out college professor and former first lady of Haiti, Mirlande Manigat. Read more on the outcome of the election here.

We’re not sure if it’s a great idea to elect a musician with no political background as president, especially after the country has suffered a major disaster. We’ll have to see how Martelly does. One thing we do know is that “Sweet Micky” won’t be touring anytime soon. Here he is in NYC last year at SOBs, keeping it rather tame.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pedro Infame: Not Everyone's Cup of Tea

Pedro Infame is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. With track names such as “I really fu*king like big butts” and “Suck My Hard,” it would be reasonably to suspect Infame is trying to push your buttons. Consider the crass song titles as a warning sign: Not for the Light-Hearted Listener.

Before you click the “back” button, though, give Infame at least a couple minutes. The Venezuelan by-way of Mexico producer is creating some intriguing mash-up of genres that may not be what you usually listen to, but should at least be appreciated. On his recently-released, digital-only EP, The Tropical Incineration, Infame playfully mashes up hip-hop, Latin rhythms, hard-rock and French-techno. This music refuses to be categorized, even for the ever bending electronic music scene.

Infame’s music is definitely not for everyone. Even the interns were passionately split over it. However, we found it new and interesting enough that we wanted to pass it onto our listeners as a reminder that we keep a pretty open mind here at Afropop and hope you do too! Plus…it’s free!

-Saxon Baird

Pedro Infame - The Tropical Incineration by tropic-all

Friday, April 1, 2011

Afropop April Mixtape 2011 Out Now!

Afropop Worldwide April 2011 Mixtape! by Afropop Worldwide

Our monthly mixtape series continues with an eclectic mix including such artists as Panamanian hip-hop group Los Rakas to kora master Mamadou Diabate.

Here's the tracklist:

1. Elikeh - "Adje Adje!" (from 'Adje! Adje!'/ Out now via Azalea City Recordings)

2. Bombino - "Tar Hani (My Love)" (from 'Agadez' / Out 4.19 via Cumbancha)

3. Blitz the Ambassador - "Dear Africa" f. Les Nubians (from 'Native Sun' / Out 05/03/11)

4. Sub Swara - "Tambores" f. Zuzuka Poderosa (from 'Triggers' / Out now via Low Motion Records)

5. Chicha Libre - "Primavera En La Selva" (from 'Sonida Amazonico!' / Out now via Barbès)

6. Chico Trujillo - "La Piragua" (from 'Chico Trujillo Y La Senora Imaginacion' /Out now via Brutal Recordz)

7. Sergent Garcia - "Mi Son Mi Friend" (from 'Una y Otra Vez' / Out 5/17 via Cumbancha)

8. Los Rakas - "Hacerte El Amor" f. Xavier ('Chancletas y Camisetas Bordada' out soon)

9. Adam Klein with Abdoulaye Kone - "Djon Si Sekote" (unreleased)

10. Mamadou Diabate - "Dafina" (from 'Courage' / Out now via World Village)

South Indian Ragas and More

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

In Sanskrit, the word “raga” means ‘to color,’ ‘to impart a tint or hue,’ the purpose of which is to evoke a certain emotion, mood, or ambience. As an ancient Indian musical genre, the raga is known for its power to conjure. In classical Indian lore, ragas bring rain, turn things into fire, and summon powerful storms. In his novel Midnight’s Children, Salmon Rushdie describes how, during a military parade celebrating India’s advance into the Bangladesh capital, a raga performance fueled and escalated the foul humor and bad temper of an audience so much that it brought them to the brink of pulling out their knives and slaughtering each other.