Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Burkinabe Reggae singer Banned for Stirring Up Revolt

 It has been brought to our attention that reggae singer and radio host Sams'K Le Jah has been banned from any access to the radio because of a song that he wrote and broadcasted about Blais Compaore, the president of Burkina Faso.

Since the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, there have been violent events across Burkina Faso including teacher strikes, and mobs demanding the end of Blaise Compaore's reign as dictator. Aligning himself with the revolt, Sams'K Le Jah became something of a voice for the revolt on his weekly reggae show via Ouaga FM. Inspired by the revolts, Le Jah wrote a song with the refrain ‘Ce président là.... ce président là... il faut qu’il parte... et il partira...’ (‘This president will have to go, and he will leave’). The song has subsequently caused Le Jah and his show to be banned from the airwaves in Burkina Faso.

Read more on this unfortunate violation of free speech and Le Jah's politically-charged past including his involvement in the festival " Sankara Festival," a music fest dedicated to the memory of former president Thomas Sankara who was violently over-thrown in a coup staged by Compaore in the 80s at Freemuse.

We encourage you to pass this news on in hopes of making the music world aware of this situation. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mawazine Festival in Morrocco 2: The voice of youth

Text and photos by Banning Eyre

This nine-day musical extravaganza in Rabat, Morocco, continues to deliver spectacle, exhilaration, and surprise.   Perhaps the most picturesque venue is the 13th century Chellah ruin, where you watch music with a view of adobe walls and turrets, distant hills, and enormous black-and-white storks nesting in the tower of an abandoned mosque.  This is where, on May 23, I saw activist and folk musician Daniel Waro of Reunion deliver a gorgeous solo concert, captivating a rather well-heeled Rabat audience with spare, soulful songs from his Indian Ocean Island.

Daniel Waro at Chellah

From one of the smallest and most intimate venues, I made my way across town to one of the largest and most insane, OLM Souissi, where Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) serenaded an adoring crowd that easily topped Kanye West's 50,000, both in numbers and enthusiasm.  This is remarkable when you think that the artist has not released an album of new songs in over 30 years.  Some in the crowd told me that he became something of a hero in this part of the world when he embraced Islam and changed his name.  But this hardly explained an audience, young and old, who knew the words to his songs, and joined in like nostalgic children of the 60s.  I myself was unexpectedly moved when he greeted the crowd and launched into "The Wind," a song I had not heard or thought about in decades, but which nearly took my breath away.  Yusuf, as he likes to be called, sounded terrific, undiminished, and his easy warmth with the crowd was lightyears from the angry, remote, aggrieved person press reports about him in recent years might lead one to expect.  This is an experience Americans need to have.  Obviously Yusuf's new name and faith work against him there, but that should not be an obstacle.  The music is as affecting now as ever.

Now for surprise.  For some time, I've caught the buzz about a Casablanca rock band called Hoba Hoba Spirit.  The music is metal-based, but hard-grooving, full of Moroccan grooves--edgy and ecstatic.  The band caught on about 9 years ago after a stellar showing at the underground Boulevard festival, which showcases young, alternative bands.  Hoba Hoba's lyrics are bold and political, not what you would expect to hear at "the king's festival" (Mawazine).  In an interview for Afropop, the group's leader Reda Al Ali expressed some ambivalence about coming to play Rabat.  He thinks that the protesters who advocate boycotting this festival raise legitimate questions, especially about how--despite all these great festivals--musicians don't get the sort of sustaining support that would come in the form of copyright protection, music and business education, and more year-round opportunities to earn a living from their art.  Still, said Al Ali, he's not in the business of "boycotting cultural events."  And when I saw the reception Hoba Hoba Spirit got, I understood why.  This crowd of at least 10,000 at Espace Menzeh, a stage by the sea, was off the hook.  Like nothing I have seen in years.  These were young, mostly guys, so devoted to this band that they seemed near possession.  They shouted out words, raised fists, tossed one another in the air, stood on one another's shoulders, and generally went berzerk for a good 90 minutes.  But the mood was not angry.  Rather it was hopeful and ecstatic.  This concert, probably the most exciting one I've seen here, really demonstrated how youth, music, and technology (Hoba Hoba Spirit is a band that has marketed themselves on the internet, not through radio, TV or CDs) is a huge and maybe decisive force driving the Arab Spring.
Reda Al Ali

Hoba Hoba Spirit

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Free Music for the Holiday Weekend

What goes better with warm weather and a holiday weekend than some music. It’s even better if the music is free, right? Well, we did some scouring of the internet to find you some music that you can obtain free and legally to soundtrack you holiday weekend, no matter where you are located.

Stephen Marley – "Made in Africa"
Download Here

Are the Marley’s the most musical family in the world? Possibly. Stephen has recently collaborated with Afropop favorite Angelique Kidjo and for this track hooked up with D.C. rapper Wale and the entire cast of Fela! The Musical to create an track that smoothly bridges roots-reggae with hip-hop.

NGUZUNGUZUThe Perfect Lullaby -->
Download Here

The production duo of Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda, who go by a strange name have dropped a couple EPs of their own and worked on M.I.A.’s solid club-friendly mixtape VickiLexx. The 40 minute-plus mix, The Perfect Lullaby pairs undercurrents of Angolan musical styles such as Zouk and Kizomba with radio-friendly American R&B. Sound strange? Definitely. Somehow it works, though, making The Perfect Lullaby not so much a sleepy mixtape but a mash-up fitting for hot, weekend evenings. Oh and peep this really weird video by them:

Batida – "Mamã Africana"-->
Download Here

Admittedly, we pretty much dig everything Akwabaa Records is dropping nowadays. Just listen to our new show, The Trans-National African Hip Hop Train, where the label is well represented. This EP by Batida is admittedly, the same song re-mixed three times. However, that shouldn’t stop you from grabbing it while you can. Each version features a different MC who Batida challenged to build a poem, essentially, about Africa.

Vieux Farka Toure -
"Aigna (f. Derek Trucks)" -->
  Download Here

The Malian guitar virtuoso has made it clear over the years that he is interested in working with variety of different artists from all over the world. His new album, The Secret, is no different with guest appearances from Dave Matthews and on this track, Derek Trucks.

Detroit Techno: The Electrifying Mojo

Ask any Detroiter alive long enough to know, and they’ll tell you who the man was that sculpted the city’s soundtrack in the 1980s. Charles Johnson, aka the Electrifying Mojo, was an FM radio DJ who ran a radio show called the Midnight Funk Association. What made the show so revolutionary was that he refused to conform to the prevailing radio formats of the time. He defied the racial segmentation that ruled the day and played what he wanted, an eclectic mix of music ranging from P-Funk and Prince to Kraftwerk, the B-52s, the Talking Heads, Italo Disco and Phillip Glass. Hi disregarded the notions of “white” music and “black” music and played whatever he felt was funky.

Mojo’s show had a cult-like following. At the beginning of each show, he invoked futurist ideas of Parliament and Sun Ra, calling a fictional Mothership down to Detroit. Then at midnight, he called into order a meeting of the Midnight Funk Association, asking Detroiters to flash their porch lights and honk their horns if they were tuning in. The city erupted into flashes of light, reportedly.

In this video, over a bed of theme music from Star Wars, Mojo inducts his audiences into the Association:

By embracing such a wide swath of music, Mojo got a generation of black youths in Detroit turned on to music that the music industry had long decided wasn’t meant for them. As everyone tells it, Kraftwerk were HUGE in Detroit at this time. Everybody was listening to them. Techno originators like Juan Atkins, Derick May, and Kevin Saunderson assimilated all those weird electronic influences, those hard-funk influences, and spit out music that sounded like nothing else ever made before, music that would become one of the most popular sounds in the world.

One of Mojo’s favorite artists was Prince. He interviewed The Artist Formerly Known on the show several times:

 Here’s what Juan Atkins, widely regarded as techno’s founder, had to say about Mojo:

At this time there were only three or four other FM stations. FM was still real new. FM didn't even come into existence until 1977. And at that time there was only like three stations. WGPR, the station that Mojo was on, was like 107.5, way on the right side of the dial. You wouldn't even know about it unless you personally loved to just venture on the radio. So Mojo happened to be on what happened to be the first black FM station. So Mojo was very very popular with the urban youth. He played all types of music – rock and pop, but he made it work. On American radio it was unheard of to have all these different genres of music being played on one show. Because on rock stations that's all they played was rock songs. They didn't play any R&B music or Black music. And vice versa, the Black stations never played rock music, punk, or nothing. So Mojo was very unique because he played like a half an hour of Jimi Hendrix, then back it up with half an hour of James Brown, then come with half an hour of Peter Frampton, and then Funkadelic, and then Kraftwerk. You know? It was just amazing.”

Brendan Gillen, of the techno group Ectomorph, recalled the following about Mojo:

“He had this a persona,  like an acid-damaged Vietnam veteran who was trying to reunite Detroit after the race riots. His exact social program was to try and confuse the boundaries of White and Black music by playing really awesome new White music, really awesome Black music, and like if you were White growing up, part of your history would be that you love all this Black music, and if you were Black growing up, you’d love all this – B 52’s, Talking Heads. There was a time when gangsters in Detroit – like bad-ass gangsters that you actually should have been scared of – would wear pink lace over their eyes during the Purple Rain time period, thanks to Mojo. He presented himself in a mythological tone. And that’s the basis of Detroit Techno, is thinking about yourself mythologically. We know that Cybotron and Model 500 and Infinity are all Juan Atkins, but as a Techno music fan or connoisseur, you would know the context of each one of those projects.”

Mojo broke Juan’s first band, Cybotron, in Detroit. He played the hell out of “Alleys of Your Mind” in 1981, jump starting local interest in the nascent genre, and continued to support the genre until he was taken off the air.

As legend has it, Mojo left the Midnight Funk Association after he became obsessed with dedicating his time to showing the African-American contribution to classical music after a listener called in and asked about the lack of Black faces in the classical world. The station kicked him off when he began losing audiences midway into the crusade.

Since then, he’s buzzed around the Detroit radio world from behind the scenes, but rarely grants any interviews. Even the techno stars say they don’t know where to find him. Brendan Gillen, who has spoken with him and tried to get him to talk on the record, to no avail has a theory: “I believe he’s like – he made such a great myth, he doesn’t want to destroy it.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hoba Hoba Spirit: A Message from Morocco

From Banning Eyre at the Mawazine Fest in Morocco:

This week, I am in Rabat, Morocco, covering the huge Mawazine music festival. Everyone from Kanye West and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) to Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dour, to top Arab classical singers, and all sorts of Moroccan acts are performing on 8 urban stages over the course of 10 days. It’s quite amazing. But I must say, the most powerful thing I have seen is a young rock band from Casablanca called Hoba Hoba Spirit. They had a crowd in the tens of thousands, almost all under 25 years old, shouting and moshing to hard-edged rock with Moroccan rhythms and very clever, edgy political lyrics. This is the face of North African youth—engaged, passionate, aggrieved, but more joyous and hopeful than angry. This band has made its reputation on the internet and using social media—not via CDs, radio play, or television. Seeing this, I understood how music—especially local rock and hip hop—genuinely has paved the way for the Arab Spring. This is not the music of a movement. In a very real sense, the music IS the movement. And, ultimately, the story we will be investigating and revealing in Egypt is all about that: how music makes history, in the past, but, especially, in the extraordinary present we are now witnessing.

I am more convinced than ever that Afropop is working on one of the most important stories going on in the world today. Please help us to make our Egypt project a success. Give whatever you can, and know that we will use every dollar wisely!

Click HERE to see video and read more about our historic project.


The African Hip Hop Train is in the Station

The Trans-National African Hip Hop Train arrives today for your listening pleasure. Our new show features a number of hip hop artists from Africa and beyond while attempting to showcase the ability hip hop has to resonate across borders, cultures and language barriers. The show will feature the artists below including FOKN Bois, Ruff-N-Smooth, Awadi from Positive Black Soul, Talib Kweli, Nneka and more.

To supplement your listening experience we have posted three interviews with various rappers and put together an extensive feature with videos and links! ( Check it out)

A taste of what we have to offer...click the quotes for full interviews:

[…]hip hop in its nature is immigrant culture, whether people recognize it or not.”

-Blitz the Ambassador

- Amkoullel  

 “In Arab countries, hip hop is the reason why there is revolution[…]”


The 'Trans-National African Hip Hop Train' broadcasts this week. Check your local listings for times. It will also be available for online streaming on June 2nd.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Detroit Techno City

In prelude to our forthcoming Hip Deep show, 'Midwest Electric: The Story of Chicago House and Detroit Techno,' producers Marlon Bishop and Wills Glasspiegel will be updating periodic posts about their experience. Video and music to come!

An uncontestable truth that is well known among European electronic music fans and (somehow) little known here in the U.S. is that the music style known as techno began in Detroit and its suburbs in the 1980s, invented by African-Americans with drum machines, futurist ideas, and a predilection for weird European synth rock.

And so, intrepid Afropop producers Marlon Bishop (yours truly) and Wills Glasspeigel swung through the Motor City in early May to speak with some of the founding fathers of techno and soak in the post-Industrial vibes. I personally had always been excited to go to Detroit – as big fan of Motown and later D-town musicians like Parliament-Funkadelic, it seemed like a place for a lover of American music to visit.

A display case at Underground Resistance's techno museum.
But nothing quite prepares you for your first time driving through the city. You’ve heard the basic idea: a city built for 2 million people – formerly the 5th biggest city in America – is now housing less than 700,000. Vast neighborhoods almost completely depopulated, abandoned mansions and crumbling factories everywhere. A ten-story beaux arts train station in the center of town empty, reclaimed by foliage. A massive car plant the size of a small town reduced to rubble. There are a lot of Rust Belt cities with boarded up businesses around America, but what makes Detroit different is just the insane scale. One hundred and fifty square miles, complete with a Gothamesque sky-scraping downtown. For someone with a mildly sick fascination with post apocalyptic imagery, its quite beautiful.  But it’s also heartbreakingly sad. Detroit has been left for dead.

There’s been a flurry of reporting lately about renewal projects – urban farms springing up in empty lots, the improving-quality-of-life-via-giant-polka-dots initiative of the Heidelberg Project, and there’s been the same influx of young and idealistic kids drawn to urban challenges and cheap rent that has happened in cities all around the country. Yet, as many people pointed out to us, Detroit has a very deep problem that can’t be helped by a few farms: there’s just no jobs.

Rubble at the ruined Packard auto plant, a popular rave site in the 1990s.

But the other truth that revealed itself to us as we spent time in the city was that Detroit was full of secrets. Just out of sight, there’s a lot going on. The warehouse you thought was abandoned is filled with colorful artist’s lofts. Another hides one of the country’s largest independent record presses, Archer Pressing. A little bar hosts a blistering live soul band on Wednesday nights. And in squat, non-descript buildings along desolate boulevards, techno luminaries like Carl Craig, Juan Atkins, and Derrick May are still making global dance hits in state-of-the-art studios.

Techno came up around in the 80s as a brainier, more instrumental-focused variant on Chicago house. Where Chicago house came from a soul and disco-oriented, largely gay scene, Techno was a Black, middle-class teen phenomenon, more influenced by Parliament-style funk and Kraftwerk than disco. It had its moment as a popular style in Detroit – played on the radio and danced to at clubs like the Music Institute. Ultimately, Black Detroit moved on to hip-hop and so-called “booty” music, and techno’s real audience developed overseas, to places like London and Berlin.

Juan Atkins, widely regarded as techno's founder
Now, on any given week in Detroit, the city’s two dozen techno stars are likely to be spinning at festivals in Australia, Goa, Ibiza, London, Paris… anywhere but in Detroit. Yet for some reason, almost all of them come home to the blasted out American city that made them. Some of them have been very successful and could easily leave, yet they don’t.

We heard a bunch of reasons from people we interviewed about why that is. Some cited the cheap rent, allowing for creative freedoms not possible for those running a studio in New York or LA. Others talked about a loyalty to the city, a commitment not to go overseas like the car companies did, to stay and work to beautify their broken city, to help nurture it’s much-prognosticated comeback. A mandate to not give up on Detroit.

Techno wonderkid and Planet E label founder Carl Craig, with his giant monitors.
One of the few impacts techno viscerally has on the hometown is the yearly Detroit Electronic Music Festival, drawing ravers and Euros and beat-scene hipsters from across the country to the normally vacant downtown for a weekend of electronic music that ranges from the crassly commercial to the cutting edge. For that one weekend, hotels fill up, restaurants sell burgers, and techno very actively stimulates businesses in downtown. For the techno DJs, it means their families can come to see them do their thing. Call it techno’s way of giving back.

Then there’s the techno tourists - techno-obsessed kids from Germany and England who come to Detroit to experience some of their beloved music’s history first hand. They crash on couches and visit Underground Resistance’s secret record store, and visit closed up techno clubs of yore. Rumor has it that UR’s famously illusive “Mad” Mike Banks sometimes will give a free tour of the city if asked nicely.

"Coney Islands" - a hot dog with everything on it - is a Detroit delicacy.

In conversations I had with techno people over that week, I often asked people why they stayed in Detroit despite the challenges, to articulate what loved about the city. The answer I kept getting was “the people.” Pretty standard response. But in a city where the physical structures that make the city are disappearing into vacant lots one by one, it seemed to me to have an extra level of poignancy.

I was taken by the idea that this uniquely American place, touched by soul music and car culture and made by machines, created a unique sort of person - person that thrived in the city’s bleakness. A person primed to create futuristic, utopian music that used machines in order to reclaim humanity, through dance.

Anthony "Shake" Shakir, techno DJ and producer in his Detroit home
Coming up in mid June, Afropop Worldwide will tell the House and Techno story in a glorious hour of radio. Stay tuned.

Here on the blog: check back for uncut interview by techno founder Juan Atkins, a tour of the Underground Resistance compound, and lots of videos and music.

 -Marlon Bishop

Monday, May 23, 2011

NYC: AfroHop Launches with Blitz the Ambassador

AfroHop is a new African focused cocktail party bringing together great people and music at unique venues. Held monthly, it will be driven by hot DJ sets mixing music from the African Diaspora: Afropop, African hip hop, reggae, and soul. AfroHop will also integrate artist releases and performances, to expose the best in new African music, and special themes and partnerships, such as African country nights, and alliances with charities, museums, and media.

We’re so excited on this new event that we are serving as a media partner for inaugural launch this Wednesday at the Smyth Hotel. The event will also serve as an album release and guest appearance by Ghana's Blitz The Ambassador who just released an excellent full-length record titled Native Sun. Check out review of the new record and be sure to check back to stream our forthcoming new program “The Trans-National African Hip Hop Train” which will feature the new album as well as an interview with Blitz.

Doors open at 7pm. Space is limited.

For more information on the AfroHop event series, Cocody Productions, and Hip Hop Saves Lives please contact Cocody@cocodyproductions.net.

Mawazine Festival in Morocco 1: Omnivore's Delight!

Text and photos by Banning Eyre

The tenth annual Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco, is off to a dizzying start.  This 10-day musical extravaganza takes place on 8 stages around the Moroccan capital between May 20-28.  After three days and nights taking in music, I can report that this is a one-of-a-kind musical event.  While much of North Africa and the Middle East is engaged with fundamental issues of destiny and governance, Morocco is moving ahead with its tradition of spring and summer public festivals.  Mawazine is without question the most ambitious of them all.  Called by some "the king's festival"--because it is largely funded by a non-profit organization called Maroc-Cultures, which gets significant personal support from King Mohammed VI--this festival delivers an overwhelming diversity of international music.  Where else could you see Kanye West, Salif Keita, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Nass el Ghiwane (pioneers of Moroccan roots pop), Kadim Saher (one of the most respected classical pop singers of the Middle East), Ernest Ranglin, and Sahraoui desert diva Saida Charaf, all within the space of a few days?

Kanye West in Rabat, Morocco

Saida Charaf, Mawazine Festival

With eight stages going, some of them a good 20-minute drive apart, it is impossible to catch even half the action in any given night.  You have to make hard choices.  Are you in the mood for icons of Western pop?  An Afropop superstar?  A revered singer of Arabic art music?  Or your choice of Moroccan music, from Andalusian majesty to Sufi trance or raucous roots music?  For Moroccans, who can attend the concerts for free, or pay a modest price to stand in an area closer to the stage, one concert a night probably does it.  For insane journalists like the folks I'm moving with, you try to thread the needle, catching a bit of this then charging across town to experience something different.  Take the first night, Friday, May 20.  Following an opening ceremony that featured an all-female drumming ensemble from Japan, I headed to the seaside Espace El Menzeh to hear gnaoua modernizer Majid Bekkas making a scintillating, multi-national fusion with German pianist Joachim Kuhn and Argentine percussionist Minino Garay.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You Have to Dance Before You Can Walk: Los Muñequitos de Matanzas in 2011

Afropop Producer Ned Sublette recently attended a rare and special performance by Los Muñequitos de Matanzas in NYC and filed this report.

New York, May 17, 2011. Legendary Cuban music-and-dance group Los Muñequitos de Matanzas returned to the U.S. for concerts in April and May 2011 after a nine-year absence. The tour included three shows at New York City’s Symphony Space on May 5-7, presented by the World Music Institute. (The photos accompanying this piece were taken by Banning Eyre at the May 6 performance.)

Not only have Cuba and the United States both experienced major changes in that time, so has the group. Since their first, precedent-shattering U.S. tour in 1992, four senior musicians of the troupe have died. First we lost magisterial founding member Gregorio “Goyo” Díaz, then singers Ricardo Cané and Alberto Romero, and finally quintero and composer Jesús Alfonso, who was the group’s music director and one of the most magical musicians I’ve ever heard.

Meanwhile, we lost touch. There was 9/11 and the consequent implementation of the Homeland Security state. The onset of bushismo in U.S.-Cuban relations at the end of 2003 unilaterally slammed the window shut and stopped communication. No Cuban groups were allowed into the United States to perform between the last days of 2003 and October 2009, while travel from the U.S. to Cuba got much harder.

Though the Muñequitos were regular visitors to the U.S. in the 1990s, with fans all across the country, their last U.S. appearance was in 2002. Only now has it been possible to bring them back -- a mind-numbingly difficult labor involving much bureaucracy, a lot of lead time, and the risk of a considerable amount of money. And with so many senior members gone, there were going to have to be a lot of new faces. It was going to be a new group.

I knew that Matanzas was a great incubator of talent, so I wasn’t concerned they wouldn’t be good.

But I didn’t know how good.

They did it right. This new, younger version of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas is a model of generational continuity and transmission of knowledge, drawing on the collective cultural understanding of an interconnecting web of families who have conserved and nurtured the rumba all these years in the same barrio where the style grew up. It’s a powerful group that will continue to grow in the years to come.

Musical Painter from Benin: Lionel Loueke in Chicago

It was truly a magical evening. During his concert at the University of Chicago´s Mandel Hall, guitarist Lionel Loueke created a kaleidoscope glimmering with bits of his homeland Benin´s rich musical heritage. Set solidly within a jazz framework, his pieces were beautifully textured musical visions, gently evoking the joyous rhythms of highlife, touches of funk, and even occasionally a Latin-tinged beat; certainly giving credence to mentor Herbie Hancock´s description of him as “a fearless musical painter”.

The performance was led by Loueke and his Paradis (“paradise”) guitar, a custom-made Rolf Spuler instrument that is a piece of art in and of itself. Accompanied by Italian/Swiss Massimo Biolcati on bass and Hungarian Ferene Nemeth on drums, both classmates from the Berklee College of Music where Loueke studied in addition to Paris and the Ivory Coast, the trio’s effortless groove gave the feeling we were listening in on a dialogue amongst very good friends. And indeed the three have played together for over ten years, ever since the times Loueke began to incorporate his African roots into jazz techniques, and thus the tangible rapport between them.

Being deeply informed by West African music, Loueke’s sophisticated jazz is warm and intimate, with graceful rhythmic shifts that surprise and enchant. To the trio’s playing, he added vocals, but much more than what one normally might imagine and experience in jazz. In addition to singing, he used his voice as a mouth percussion instrument, delivering clicks, hisses, exhalations and pops, as well as syncopating and then scatting in note-by-note mimicking of the distinctive sounds of his guitar.

The melodies and rhythms produced by the trio had a fluid and almost ethereal feel, and even the funkiest sounds were delicate and textured. The acoustic sounds were tinged with occasional electronic enhancements, for example, adding layered effects in harmonies to Loueke’s vocals and giving parts of songs a rich, almost choral feel.

It was amazing to experience this entire world of sound being created by only three musicians. Loueke is one of the most original guitarists in jazz and indeed may be a legend in the making.

Photos: Phil Onofrio
Video and report: Catalina Maria Johnson

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Much Desired Distraction with a Dose of Hakim

When Afropop visits Egypt this summer (learn more about our historical trip to explore the musical culture of Egypt HERE), we will be meeting with famed Sha’abi singer Hakim to get his take on the revolution and how it ties into the popular music of his country. Excited by this prospect, we turned on some of his music in the office the other day and decided to give him a quick Google search. Hakim's videos are so light-hearted we decided to share them with you, enjoyable affairs that we imagine might be a nice repose from the political and social tension in the country.

Listen, we understand that times are tough amid the uprising against Mubarak in February and the struggle to form a new democracy. We also understand that everyday life still must go on in Egypt. Hopefully a little dose of Hakim offers hope and a much needed distraction.

In tribute to this great performer and in hopes of offering something of an amusing, positive distraction from the day to day growing pains of a country amidst a great transition, here’s a collection of some of our favorites from Hakim.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cape Town Jazz Fest: Esperanza Spalding to Guitarfrika!

Afropop contributor Lee Middleton was at the Cape Town Jazz Festival and filed this report for us.

Hugh Masekela
It's been over a month since the lights went down at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Though most of the artists are long gone and all the stages dismantled, the energy, spirit, and music still linger for those lucky enough to have attended the (once again) sold-out festival, which, in its 12th year, remains a highlight for music lovers across Africa. Headliners this year included legends Earth, Wind & Fire, Youssou N'dour, Hugh Masekela, and Wayne Shorter, as well as young bright lights like Esperanza Spalding.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Brahim Fribgane & Ibrahim Maalouf Animate NYC's World Nomads Morocco Fest

Text and photos by Banning Eyre

This year's World Nomads festival in New York City is focused on Morocco--timed just in advance of that country's major music festivals:  Mawazine (May 20-28, Rabat), Fes Sacred Music Festival (June 3-11, Fes), and the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival (June 23-26, Essaouira).  Afropop will attend and report from Mawazine this year.  But for New Yorkers who can't get to Morocco, the World Nomads festival is a splendid alternative.  It kicked off on April 30 with a transcendent performance from the Orchestra of Fes with Francoise Atlan, a brilliant interpreter of Sephardic Jewish song, as the featured soloist.  Then, last night (May 5), came Brahim Fribgane and Ibrahim Maalouf with a sensational amalgam of Berber (Amazight) music, Arabic classical music and jazz.

Frank Woeste, Ibrahim Maalouf, Brahim Fribgane

The concert took place at Lincoln Center's David Rubenstein Atrium, part of the Target Free Thursdays series, free and open to the public.  The show started with Brahim Fribgane alone on the stage with an electric oud (very cool instrument!).  Fribgane is a Moroccan Berber composer and multi-instrumentalist living in New York, where he blends various traditions in his work.  He started with a traditional 7/8 houaria rhythm, accompanying his fine feathery oud playing with a relaxed vocal, gentle and reedy, not unlike the late Hamza El Din's hypnotic solo work from across the continent in what was once the kingdom of Nubia.  This performance had a similar feeling of ancient but timeless balladry.

Afropop May Mixtape 2011 Out Now!

This month is an super eclectic mix including Malian blues, Latin electronic mash-ups, Afro-Peruvian rhythms, hip-hop, cumbia, Venezuelan rock and whole lot more. How else would we do it at Afropop?

Afropop Worldwide May Mix by Afropop Worldwide


1. Pedro Luis Ferrer - "Tangible" (from Tangible out now on Escondida Music)

2. Kobi Onyame - "Green Green Grasses" ft. M3NSA (from Green Green Grasses out now on Haatsville Records )

3. Bola Johnson & His Easy Life Top Beats - "E Ma S'Eka" (from Nigeria 70: Sweet Times out 5.10 on Strut Records)

4. Susana Baca - "Bendiceme" (from Afrodiaspora out 5.10 on Luaka Bop)

5. Boubacar Traoré - "M'Badehou" (from Mali Denhou out 6.14 on LUSAFRICA)

6. Malika Zarra - "Berber Taxi" (from 'Berber Taxi' out now on Motema Music)

7. Charley García - Fanky (Un Mono Azul Remix) - (from Villa Diamante's Enciclopedia out soon/free download)

8. Bomba Estéreo - "Ponte Bomb" (from Pump The Jam out now on Nacional Records)

9. Red Baraat - Chaal Baby (Live!) - (live recording/Free download)

10. Pedro Infame - "Suck My Hard" - (from The Tropical Incineration out now/free download)

11. Dj Rafa Caivano - "The Salmon Cumbia" (from Cumbahton out now/free download)

12. La Vida Boheme - "Danz" (from Nuestra via Nacional Records)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Together for Egypt: Cairo Opera House in New York City

Mariam Bazeed, an Egyptian living in New York who will be a prominent contributor to our Hip Deep programs on Egypt. Read on... 

Though the Egyptian revolution has moved from the spotlight as far as major US media outlets are concerned, the efforts of Egyptians have remained unceasing in ensuring the transition to democracy that Hosni Mubarak's absence has made possible. Since February, Egypt has seen continued demonstrations in Tahrir Square, as Egyptians dissatisfied with the mere departure of Hosni Mubarak have continued to call for constitutional amendments, and for true reforms in military and government rule. Since February, Egypt has seen an historic and controversial referendum, in which a record 41% of the population voted - a percentage unmatched in many decades of referendums. In short, the on-going revolution has sparked a spirit of civic engagement and empowerment that few of the young generations have ever known, and few of the older generations can remember.

This level of civic engagement and participation has not left the diaspora community of Egyptians untouched. In New York, the Arab and Egyptian listservs are buzzing with a fantastic energy - talks and panels and films and benefit concerts all clamoring for attention in these very hopeful and very critical times.

One exceptional example takes place this weekend in New York City, sponsored by the Egyptian American Medical Community (EAMS). The proceeds from this gala dinner will go to support medical relief efforts in Egypt. In attendance will be Congressman Gregory Meeks, and Wael El Ebrashy, an Egyptian journalist and TV host of "The Truth" will MC the event. Of particular interest to Afropop is the roster of performers coming from Egypt to enliven this gala dinner. Singers Eman El Bahr Darwish and Amal Maher are scheduled to perform with an ensemble of New York musicians skilled in Arabic music performance.

Sayyed Darwish
Eman El Bahr Darwish, who himself is a distinguished artist in Egypt's traditional and pop music scene, happens also to be the grandson of Sayyed Darwish, a noted modernizer of Arabic music who lived in the late 19th and early 20th century. Sayyed Darwish is known for compositions that drew upon the common experience of the people, and moved away from the forms of musical expression appreciated by the elite Khedive government of the time. In fact, one of Sayyed Darwish's songs dealing with the Egyptian revolution of 1919 is still performed all over the Arab world, and can be considered an anthem of revolutionary uprising and revival. Entitled "Ahu Dalli Sar", here is a clip of one version performed by Aly El-Haggar and another iteration as interpreted by Amal Maher, the second noted performer of the evening.

Eman El Bahr Darwish
Eman El Bahr Darwish's career, though solid enough in its own right not to need association with the great Sayyed Darwish, has nevertheless been seen through the lens of his familial connection with all that is traditional and all that is folk in Egyptian music. One of Sayyed Darwish's songs performed by Eman El Bahr Darwish has seen something of a revival on youtube and other channels in connection with the revolution:

Amal Mahe
Amal Maher is a young female vocalist who has traveled all over Europe and the Middle East performing Egyptian music of the 40s and 50s. Her focus has been on Umm Kulthum's repertory of elaborately orchestrated songs as composed by Abdel Wahhab in the 50s, at the height of their collaboration.

Umm Kulthum herself was not only a musical figure, but was seen by Egyptians as a cultural ambassador to the rest of the Arab world. She did not only sing love songs, but concerned herself with the contemporary politics of her time, and was often courted by the ruling party of the time, given her strong presence in the hearts and minds of the Egyptian public at large. At her most politically outspoken, Umm Kulthum throughout the 1960s and 70s, donated all of the proceeds from her concerts all over the Arab world to Egyptian government coffers during Gamal Abdel Nasser's war effort with Israel. Amal Maher is one of the youngest voices on the scene that has so confidently taken up this repertoire, continuing to bring it to diverse audiences all over the world. Here is a short clip of her performing the much longer song, Enta Omri, in Amsterdam:

Abdel Rahman El Abnoudi
Last but not least, the poet Abdel Rahman El Abnoudi will be in attendance. Though it was not announced in the flyer for the event, it is expected that he will read from his composition "Qasidat Al Midan", or "Poem of the Square", which was composed in the days of the Egyptian revolution, and was one of the first poems to be publicly broadcast dealing with this subject matter. Most notable about the poem is its language; it is written and read by the poet in this clip, and is in Egyptian colloquial Arabic. The use of the colloquial lends it an accessibility to Egyptians across all class and educational levels, and matches the songs of Sayyed Darwish in taking on the heavy themes of civil rights and revolution in simple, direct language.

A few stanzas of the poem was sampled in this song, which was one of those that went viral in the days of the revolution. The song is entitled, "Sout El Horreya"; "The Voice of Freedom", and to date has more than 1.4 million hits on youtube.

- Mariam Bazeed

Robert Johnson turns 100! Big Head Blues Club pays tribute

Perhaps the most influential blues musician ever, Robert Johnson, would have turned 100 years old this week--had not met up with that bad bottle of whiskey at age 27.  Johnson recorded a mere 29 songs, and none of them were particularly big sellers during his own lifetime.  In fact, as Bob George of the ARChive of Contemporary Music pointed out in a recent Afropop interview, "Until the 1960s, until the reissues came out on LP, there were not any Robert Johnson records pressed in America. That's 30 years.... It's almost impossible for us to understand now that such important material to the history of later music was completely abandoned and not kept in print for over 30 years."  Of course, in the aftermath of that hiatus, folks like Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton got their hands on the Robert Johnson legacy and the rest is history...

If you're looking for a good way to feel the RJ legacy--and you've already worn out the grooves or digits on your Best Of Robert Johnson collection--you might want to pick up a copy of a new CD called Big Head Blues Club, featuring Big Head Todd and the Monsters.  In honor of Johnson's centenary, Todd and the gang dig into the Johnson repertoire in the company of living blues legends:  David "Honeyboy" Edwards,  B.B. King and Charlie Musselwhite, along with some of the best current revivalists Ruthie Foster, Cedric Burnside and Lightning Malcolm.  There's even a chugging take on "When You Got a Good Friend," featuring some tasty riffs from 95-year-old Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, one of the last people left who actually knew Johnson.

These are high-spirited takes on Johnson classics, played with love, not ceremony.  There's no gimmickry or reinvention going on here--just hard driving blues played by musicians young and old, black and white, who bask daily in the legacy of a blues giant--in short, music for the ages.

Johnson is certainly not alone as a musician under-recognized in his time.  But it turns out the story of why Johnson's music didn't sell during his life, and vanished for awhile afterward, has as much to do with America and the music business as with the revolutionary nature of his sound.  For more on that story, visit Afropop's Hip Deep section and listen back to the program Escaping the Delta with Elijah Wald and Ned Sublette.  You will never hear Johnson's music in quite the same way.

And before the week is out, be sure to raise a glass (preferably of whiskey) to Johnson himself.  Had he himself lived to see this day, can we even imagine how large he would loom?  In the end, the music made the case for him, because without a doubt, Robert Johnson was one of the great guitar stylists and American songwriters of all time.

- Banning Eyre

Monday, May 2, 2011

Egyptian Martyr Pop

Our Kickstarter campaign to get Afropop to Egypt this summer is going well - we're halfway there now. If you haven't checked out our campaign and film yet, we encourage you to take a look and see what's in the pipeline for Afropop in the future. In our excitement about the trip and all the musical discoveries awaiting us, we are preparing by keeping up with the musical news coming out of the country. A couple of articles from the site Norient caught our attention and we thought we'd share them with you.

'"Martyr Pop" - Made In Egypt' takes a look at popular music in post-revolution Egypt. Many of the pop artists who stayed quiet during the protests have now come out with songs dedicated to the 'martyrs' - those who died during the uprisings - the most outspoken of which is Hany Shaker’s song, "The voice of the martyr" (see below). These new songs challenge the non-political stance of most of Egypt's popular music and brings a different aesthetic to the scene. But has their contribution come too late to not seem like a PR stunt?

Then artist and musician, Nader Sadek, has written 'From Metal to Twitter', giving an insight into the life of an artist in Egypt. The revolutions have given him the courage to continue with his more outspoken artworks. Let's hope that others feel the same.

Thanks so much to everyone who has helped us out so far. Keep supporting us and we will be sure to search out plenty of exciting music for our Hip Deep shows.