Friday, July 29, 2011

Get Some Free Kuduro

Portuguese crazy-person hip-hop by way of Luanda? Sim, por favor!

Shout-out to Ghetto Bassquake for bringing the sixth installment of J-Wow 2011 Hard Ass Mix (name self-explanatory) to our attention for this wild slice of absurdity, served with a side of pseudo-krumping. You can buy the mix here or just listen to the promotional mix put together by J-Wow himself.

2011 Hard Ass Mix by J-WOW

"Kuduro" started in the late 80's by producers in Luanda combining African rhythms with calypso and soca, "kuduro" was originally known as "batida," but once Angolans got their fingers in the pie and tweaked and adjusted and began rapping over it, batida was transformed into the kuduro we know now, a beat-oriented funky pastiche of Western house, reggae, punk, and hip-hop that blows speakers and moves glutei in a fashion that cribs from dancehall, house, and techno along with Angolan kilapanga, semba, and zouk.  Don't even worry about it.

Now, kuduro is experiencing a comeback in both former Portuguese colonies in Africa and Angolan-heavy Lisbon suburbs Queluz and Amadora. Arguably the most well-known group doing "kuduro" is Buraka Son Sistema and they hail from this region of Lisbon. Their 2009 release, "Sound of Kuduro," is  an amuse-bouche of this all-expansive genre and does the job with a fury that comes through even in laptop speakers, featuring the ubiquitous M.I.A., along with prominent Angolan hip-hop heads like DJ Znobia, Puto Prata, and Saborosa.  You know what to do:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

R.I.P. El Joe

In case you missed the sad news coming out of Colombia a few days ago, salsa legend Joe Arroyo has passed away due to complications caused by pneumonia.

His presence in Colombia and fans of salsa music is unfathomably deep and popular. According to news reports, thousands have fled to the streets of Barranquilla today for Arroyo’s funeral. Originally signed to Discos Fuentes label, Arroyo went on to make a name for himself by successfully mixing salsa, soca, kompa, zouk and other music from the African Diaspora in a unique style that has earned him the nickname of Chonero de la Salsa by critics and fans.

El Joe was featured in numerous Afropop shows. Including the more recent Live Latin Extravaganza.

He will surely be missed.

Spotlight: Sia Tolno - "Odju Watcha"

Sia Tolno's Odju Watcha from Lusafrica is a small release. Three originals and one radio edit of the title track makes it barely even an EP but a so-called "excerpt" from her forthcoming full-length My Life due in September. Despite clocking in just under 20 minutes, Odju Watcha is a powerful release showcasing Tolno's undeniable strength as a vocalist and makes a strong, albeit brief case that this Guinea singer is one to watch.

The real gem, though, is the lead single and title track. Backed by clean but lively production, “Odju Watcha” is a funky, mid-tempo number with cyclical, Mandingo guitar licks and soulful backup singers. However, Tolno is the one who really makes the track shine, passionately exhibiting her deep, full voice with intensity. Switching back and forth between a Creole that draws on Kissi and Mendi (native languages from the Kissi people of who Tolno hails from) as well as English, Odju Watcha's lyrics that are suggestively socio-political that a native speaker might be able to decipher better than a regular Toubabe. Nevertheless, Tolno's fervor throughout the track gets her point across that is reminiscent, as cliché as it may sound, like a female Fela.

Odju Watcha is excellent foretaste that makes us impatiently wait for the full-length, My Life, due out in September.

Brazilian Soulstress Luísa Maita Returns to North America

One of the real gems to come out of Brazil last year was Luísa Maita's debut album Lero-Lero. Sexy and soulful, the young singer injected new life into traditional Brazilian styles. We liked it so much, it made our Top Ten Latin Records of 2010 list last year. We weren't the only ones to praise the album, though. NPR praised Maita as an exciting "new voice of Brazil" and she recently won "Best New Artist" at the 2011 Brazilian Music Awards.

Now she is back in the North America and will be hitting up cities across the continent. Don't miss her.

Tour Dates:
08.14 San Francisco, CA: Stern Grove
08.18 Portland, OR: Alberta Rose Theatre
08.20 Salmon Arm, BC: Salmon Arm Folk Festival
08.21 Salmon Arm, BC: Salmon Arm Folk Festival
08.24 Colorado Springs, CO: KRCC World Music Series
08.26 Cambridge, MA: Regatta Bar
08.27 Townshend, VT: On the Ground in the Barn
08.28 Burlington, VT: Parima
09.01 Plainfield, VT: Goddard College - Haybarn
09.02 Collinsville, CT: Bridge Street Live
09.03 New York, NY: Highline Ballroom
09.08 Santa Cruz, CA: Kuumbwa Jazz Center
09.09 Austin, TX: Flamingo Cantina
09.10 San Francisco, CA: Yoshi's Jazz Club
09.11 San Diego, CA: Anthology
09.15 Tucson, AZ: Solar Culture Gallery
09.16 Albuquerque, NM: Globalquerque
09.17 Madison, WI: Madison World Music Festival
09.19 Minneapolis, MN: Dakota
09.20 Chicago, IL: World Music Festival: Chicago 2011
09.21 Chicago, IL: World Music Festival: Chicago 2011
09.23 Bloomington, IL: Lotus Festival
09.24 Toronto, ON: Small World Music Festival
09.25 London, ON: Aeolian Hall

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Egyptian Sufi Celebration: Carnival Mysticism

Mahmoud Al Tuhami singing at Abou Teeg (Eyre)
There is no American equivalent to a mulid, a Sufi saint celebration commonly celebrated in Egypt.  Imagine a cross between a town fair and a revival meeting with a ripping hot, down-home gospel act belting away all through the night.  A brilliant paradox!  A mulid is part carnival, with colored lights and banners, party hats, food and souvenir vendors, and an air of family fun.  At the same time, the action centers around extremely elevated music featuring a highly skilled religious singer--a munchid, who improvises stirring vocal interpretations of deep Sufi poetry.  This is popular Islam, expansive, joyful, communal and celebratory.  The munchid and his musical ensemble perform on a high stage at the center of the action, gracing the chaotic activity all around with an air of spiritual transcendence.  On the "big night" (layla kabeer), the high point of a celebration that can last a week, a series of munchids hold forth lasting nearly until sunrise.  And no one leaves until the last note sounds.

Mulid at Abou Teeg (Eyre 2011)
The mulid we attended on July 21 was among the most extraordinary musical experiences Sean and I have ever known, and will make for a singularly memorable segment in Afropop's upcoming Egypt program series.  We have first to thank our Alberta-based Egypt scholar Michael Frishopf for connecting with us with his friend in Cairo, Taha Gad, who in turn led us into the inner circle of the Al Tuhami family of El Hawatka in Upper Egypt.  (This is the way things work in Egypt.  Chains of connection get you to your destination.)  Yasin Al Tuhami is perhaps the most respected munchid in Egypt, and we had the privilege to meet and briefly interview this charming elder shortly before making our way to the mulid, where his son, Mahmoud Al Tuhami was featured munchid for the "big night."  Everyone treated us with overwhelming warmth and hospitality, feeding us lavishly, explaining what we were about to experience with patience and humor, and facilitating our documentation in a way that would be any field recordist's dream.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Kanté Manfila, Guinean Guitarist Dies at 65

Sad news for the whole African music community today as we hear about the death of legendary Guinean guitarist Kanté Manfila. One of the founding members of the band Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux, Manfila came to fame in the early 70's playing with the great Salif Keita. The band became one of the best known bands to come out of Mali, propelled by such classic hits as "Mandjou", "Seydou Bathily", "Ntoma", and "Primpin." Check out a video of Mandjou here

Truly one of the greatest African guitarists of the last century, Manfila was one of the first guitarists to play balafon parts on the guitar in the 1960's, taking its melodies and interlocked rhythms into the electric realm, and onto the world stage. His importance is felt in the number of guitarists and other artists who mention him throughout our interviews. 
Search through the archives for more about Kante.  

Spotlight: Y'akoto

Props to Okayafrica for this one.  Y'akoto is half German, half Ghanian and all voice, a throwback to smoky cabarets, single-malt scotches, and a time when everyone wore a hat.  Similar to British soulstresses Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Duffy–however, she is no bandwagon-jumper, possessing a moodier quality in her voice and instrumentation than these three, lending her songs a haunting element.

This darker sound spills out on her first single of her debut, both named "Baby Blues."  Sparsely sketched out with piano, drum, and her beautiful voice, "Baby Blues" is resigned and dour, and is completely mesmerizing as she tells her sorry tale and leaves a hole in your chest when it's over, the same one that you imagine she has.  Y'akoto is a fresh face on a neo-soul genre that has seen too many tabloid headlines connected to it, and not enough music (R.I.P., Amy).

Check out Okayafrica's profile on her for a listen of "Baby Blues," as well as "Tamba," her equally strong ode to African child soldiers.  If that doesn't satisfy, peep her Myspace for more music, and info.  Don't sleep on her!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cairo Journal: Pre-Ramadan Zar at Arabi's Place

One of the key musical rituals we wanted to experience before Ramadan begins is the African healing ceremony known as zar.  Zar is comparable to the Gnawa lila in Morocco in the sense that it is a tradition rooted in the pre-Islamic life of sub-Saharan Africa that has been accommodated to the Arabic, Islamic north.  It is also about healing through driving out bad spirits.  Spirits, or djinns, are recognized by Islam, but the notion of driving them out using music, rhythm and trance, is not to be found in the Koran, or any other official Islamic teaching.  Indeed, during the long buildup to the zar we experienced, a loud call to prayer echoed through the narrow alleyway where we were waiting not once but twice.  As best we could see, no one answered it.  "Because the two things are in conflict," our guide opined.  You begin to see why these rituals are not performed during the holy moth of Ramadan.

We learned of this zar from Zakaria Ibrahim of the group El Tanbura and the Mastaba cultural center here in Cairo.  Zakaria could not accompany us because he's on his way to London to perform in a concert called "A Night in Tahrir Squre" at the prestigious Barbican center on July 22.  (By the way we visited Tahrir on the morning of the zar to interview the young political singer Ramy Essam, who will also be part of the Barbican show.  More on Tahrir and Ramy in a future dispatch...)  In any case, while zar music is performed for the stage at cultural centers like Mastaba and Makan, this was the real thing, a private event aimed at healing, and at closing the zar season before the start of Ramadan.

We made our way through gnarled Cairo traffic to the Boulak Abouelaila neighborhood, with Zakaria's right hand man, Mamdou El Kady at the wheel.  We passed industrial markets, butcheries, and streets packed with somewhat ragged looking Caireans.  We had been told to come at 4PM, though we didn't make it to the designated meeting place until 5:30, and the music didn't start for some hours after that.  We were met by Hassan Bergoman, leader of the group Rango, named for a rare form of xylophone long used in Sudanese zar rituals.  Hassan explained to us that there would be three groups performing at this zar, an all-women's Egyptian zar group led by Umm Hassan, Bergoman's own Sudanese zar ensemble, which features the ancient, low-pitched tanbura lyre, and finally, a local Sufi zar ensemble.  The Sudanese aspect is key, because zar came to Egypt along with waves of mass migration following Egypt's 1820 conquest of Sudan under Ottoman Egyptian leader Mohammed Ali.  For much more on this history, see our Hip Deep interviews on Sudanese history with Ahmad Sikainga (Sudan: A Musical History) and Eve Troutt Powell (African Slaves in Islamic Lands). 

Street in Boulak Aboulaila (Eyre 2011)
Hassan Bergoman, pre zar!
We walked a short distance into a tight alleyway where kids on motorcycles, horse-drawn carts, cars, hand trucks and various other vehicles vied for space amid a crush of human life, all the more crowded as people gathered outside in preparation for the zar.  People were drinking tea and smoking sweet tobacco from chishas (water pipes), generally relaxing, and patiently waiting.  The event itself would take place in a kind of tent, separated from the alley only by beautiful, hand-embroidered cloth curtains.  Inside, warm light emanated from strings of incandescent bulbs and towering candles set alongside a table set up with bowls of nuts, fruit and other foods--none of which was eaten during the six hours we spent there.  As the hubbub went on outside, five or six elderly women sat in a row before piles of drums.  The way we finally knew music was approaching was that these women began heating the heads of their drums over hot coals.  The sharp tak and dumm of drums being tested was a sure sign that the zar would soon begin. 

Umm Hassan's Egyptian zar group

Preparing the drums

Globaltica World Music Festival: Afropop behind the Iron Curtain

At Afropop, we know that African music can truly span borders and touch people all across the globe, and the Globaltica World Cultures Festival–situated in scenic Gdynia, Poland–truly exemplifies the global reach of African music.   Since 2005, it has boasted a diverse array of performers from all genres and countries, from Afrobeat artist Seun Kuti (Nigeria) to Britpopper Sinead O'Conner (UK) to reggae icon Burning Spear (Jamaica).  In particular, they have a strong focus on African artists, hosting Cheikh Lo (Senegal), Ba Cissoko (Guinea), and Bassekou Kouyate (Mali), among others.

This year's lineup has no appearance of slouching, with the legendary Afro-Cuban All-Stars headlining, along with semba-tinged Angolan Bonga, Hungarian dance band Besh o DroM, and Malagasy (yup, that's Madagascar) traditionalist Kilema.

African music can truly come from the most unexpected places, and we urge you to check out The Globaltica World Cultures Festival if you find yourself in Eastern Europe and feeling a lack of Afropop in your life.  Check out the website here (yes, there is a translation option) for more information.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sergent Garcia Tours North America

Sergent Garcia may be French but you wouldn't guess it by just listening to his music. Going at it for almost twenty years now, Garcia has recorded and performed styles ranging from rock to reggae to "salamuffin" -- a genre created and self-coined by Garcia himself on his latest offering Una Y Otra Vez. What exactly is salsamuffin? Well it's a genre-bending style that infuses neo-Colombian rhythms with...well, whatever fancies Garcia.

Intrigued? Well, you should be. Read our review of Una Y Otra Vez here and hit up one of his shows this summer. We can only imagine his live shows are just as all over the place as his albums.

Tour Dates
8.12: Gaspe, Quebec - Musique Festival du Bout du Monde
8.13: Caraquet, New Brunswick - Festival Acadien
8.16: Toronto, Ontario - Lula Lounge
8.17: London, Ontario - Aeolian Hall
8.18: San Jose, CA - Music In The Park
8.20: Salmon Arm, British Columbia - Salmon Arm Folk & Roots Festival
8.21: Salmon Arm, British Columbia - Salmon Arm Folk & Roots Festival
8.23: Seattle, WA - Nectar
8.24: Portland, OR - Aladdin Theater
8.26: Oakland, CA - New Parish
8.27: San Francisco, CA - The Independent
8.31: Los Angeles, CA - The Roxy Theater
9.01: San Diego, CA - Belly Up Tavern
9.02: Tucson, AZ - Rialto Theater
9.03: Miami, FL - Grand Central
9.08: Washington D.C. - Black Cat
9.10: New York, NY - SOBs
9.13: Austin, TX - Flamingo Cantina
9.16: Albuquerque, NM - Globalquerque
9.17: Madison, WI - Madison World Music Festival
9.18: Milwaukee, WI - Milwaukee World Music Festival
9.18: Chicago, IL - Chicago World Music Festival
9.20: Quebec City, Quebec - Palais Montcalm
9.21: Montreal, Quebec - Le National

Cairo wedding night with Hakim

The weeks before Ramadan, which starts on August 1 this year, are packed with weddings in much of the Muslim world, and Cairo is no exception.  On Sunday night, we met up with the king of Egyptian sha'bi music, Hakim, and tagged along while he sang at two such events.  This is a well-oiled routine.  All the PA equipment is set up in advance, and the band simply moves with their instruments, arriving just in time to perform at each location.  Hakim told us he recently performed at four weddings in one night, finishing just before 6AM.  So this was a relatively light night of work.

Sha'bi music was born in Cairo's bustling working class neighborhoods during the 1970s, a chaotic time when Egypt was opening up to the West as well as the conservative Islamic influence of Saudi Arabia.  The word itself can mean "folk," "popular," or "traditional," and can be cause for confusion.  Cairo's urban sha'bi music is blend of rural folk rhythms, melodies, and instruments with Western aesthetics.  So accordion, kawala flute, and Arab percussion combine with electric guitar, keyboard, bass and drums.  Sha'bi's most distinguishing feature is its lyrical content which is decidedly local, entertainment aimed at the irreverent masses.  Sha'bi scholar James Grippo writes that today's sha'bi singers are united by "their embodiment of the vulgar, downtrodden, curious, sexy, obnoxious, clever, authentic, backward and hilarious..."  Little wonder that intellectuals look down on this music, and radio and television have almost completely ignored this genre--as though it did not exist--until quite recently.

Coming back to our adventure, it is important to know that Hakim is one of the biggest names in sha'bi over the past 15 years or so.  He has developed a powerful sound with a full brass section and four percussionists.  His recordings are beautifully produced and consciously aimed at a Western audience as well as the local one.  He has toured in the US, including a recent appearance at Millennium Park in Chicago.  So when Hakim performs at a wedding, it's not apt to be taking place in an alleyway of a crowded neighborhood, but rather in one of Cairo's ritziest hotels.  We met him at the Intercontinental in Heliopolis, part of Cairo's young, urban sprawl heading east toward the airport.  When we arrived, a zaffa (procession) band was regaling a pair of newlyweds and their guests with loping hand drum rhythms and the wail of the double-reed mizmar in the lower foyer.  We'll visit with a zaffa troupe next week, so stay tuned for more on this popular wedding ritual.

Zaffa troupe

Hakim appeared in the hotel lobby wearing a white shirt and pinstriped vest, close-fitting designer jeans and pointy, black leather shoes.  Before this first wedding, he seemed a tad on edge.  He regretfully told us that there were no proper concerts this season as in years past---"No sponsors, no concerts," he lamented, "because we are having a lot of problems in Egypt this year."  For Hakim, weddings are a different animal from staged concerts.  They are less about art and spectacle than about making "a very special connection with people."  For this reason, he asked that we not take out any big cameras or recording gear, but simply watch.  (He allowed for point-and-shoot photos at the second wedding, hence the images here.)  With that, Hakim downed a glass of water, his pre-performance ritual--took up a cordless microphone, and waltzed into a banquet hall where his band had already struck up his traditional wedding opener, "Salam Allaikum."

The room was cavernous and elegant with chandeliers, flower arrangements, and the newlyweds (not the same couple we saw earlier) seated on a throne-like, white settee at the far end of a shining, white stone dancefloor.  Hakim gestured to the newlyweds to join him, and as they came forth, the singer was surrounded by a scrum of revelers in black tie.  The room was far from full, and it took a couple of songs before everyone was standing and joining the scrum.  Cameras were everywhere, from cell phones held aloft to professional videographers perched on step ladders with glaring lights on their cameras.  Gradually, men and women separated into distinct circles, close but separate.  All of the women were veiled.  Hakim moved between the two groups, revving the energy in one camp and then the other.

Hakim's band

 The band sounded fantastic, with keys, guitar and bass making a bed of sound over which percussion, brass, and especially, the active kawala flute dominating.  Two male backing singers supported Hakim's unmistakable keening voice.  This may not have been a stage show, but the groove and sound were there, and it was a thrill to hear.  After about seven songs, Hakim exited singing, handed off his cordless microphone and vanished, saying to us, "See you soon."  As we made our way downtown to the Four Seasons Hotel for wedding number two, we learned that this wedding had been attended almost exclusively by families of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The next wedding was for a Coptic Christian couple, and the guests a mix of Caireans from varied backgrounds.  Hakim showed up all in black this time, looking super sharp.  The setting was similarly grand, but this time, the mood was wilder.  This bride was a dancer, and the crowd, a few of them drinking alcohol, became ecstatic, driving Hakim and his band to a whole new level of energy.  At one point, Hakim joined the couple and another gentleman on their matrimonial stage and they danced and sang together before an exultant room full of well-wishers.  It was now past 2AM.  Christian weddings, we learned, happen late.  And when Hakim made his exit around 3AM, they were at last ushered into the next banquet room for dinner.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Los Rakas feat. Favi- "Abrazame" (Uproot Andy Hold Yuh)

To state we are excited about Panamanian duo Los Rakas is to say Babe Ruth hit a ball once.  Panamanian-turned-Bay Area rappers draw on the funkiest Latin and American music scenes have to offer for a sound that wails like Otis Redding and booty-pops like Shakira.  For a year, they have been tickling our fancies with a steady stream of aural hors d'oeuvres, all as a preview to the August 23rd drop date of their forthcoming EP, Chancletas y Camisetas Bordada.  

Do yourself a favor and listen to their collaboration with nouveau-tropicalia pioneer Uproot Andy, "Abrazame." Featuring the eagerly-remixed riddim "Hold Yuh," Los Rakas does what Major Lazer, Nicki Minaj, and seemingly anyone in the music business could not: remix this riddim in an enjoyable fashion, and if the EP is half as delicious, I'll be a very happy camper.  Peep it below and stay tuned for Afropop's review of Chancletas, coming out soon.

Los Rakas ft. Favi - 'Abrazame' (Uproot Andy Hold Yuh) from Los Rakas on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

First night in Egypt... with Mohamed Mounir

Text and photos by Banning Eyre

The taxi driver coming from the Cairo airport was keen to point out the burned shell of a large government building near Tahrir Square.  We were on our way to a hotel on the island of Zamalek, not far from Tahrir, where a huge crowd was gathering for "Final Warning Friday."  Sounds dire, but from what I could tell, the mood there was upbeat and friendly.  The protesters handle their own security.  The police stay away.  But while the young visionaries gathering in the square revel in the thrill of unfolding history, and a new wave of hope, it is clear that not everyone supports their approach.  Just hours after my arrival, I took another taxi to Talaat Harb, a square just adjacent to Tahrir.  This driver made a spitting gesture to show what he thought of the protesters.  He spoke almost no English, but told a story of a child in his family struck by a car in the jumbled traffic.  He held out an envelope with two syringes of blood in them marked AB.  "AB blood!" he exclaimed, somehow suggesting that the disturbances had prevented this child from getting the blood transfusion she needed.  Again the spitting. 

The point of going to Talaat Harb was to meet Lobna Ghareeg, an Egyptian who grew up in Brooklyn and now works with one of the greatest singers and bandleaders of the last 50 years in Egypt, Mohamed Mounir.  Normally, summer sees all sorts of high-profile concerts on the North Coast, the heavily developed resort communities that dominate the Mediterranean shoreline on either side of Alexandria.  But this year, monied promoters have been cautious, keeping their cash in reserve, or out of the country altogether, so the usual spate of splashy concerts has ebbed to almost nothing.  So it was extraordinary luck to find Mounir putting one on himself on our first day in Egypt.  Worth staying up all night for, despite jet-lag.

During the wait for Lobna, two waves of chanting, flag-waving protesters streamed out of Tahrir and briefly filled Talaat Harb before racing on, their voices echoing between the walls of a narrow, urban street.  Nobody paid the protesters much heed.  To the residents of this square, this ruckus felt absolutely routine.

Protestors streaming through Talaat Harb Square
It took over four hours to drive to the Marsilia Beach resort where Mounir's concert would take place.  A flat tire, and some misdirection slowed things further.  And even with Lobna's stellar connections, getting through security proved an ordeal, though nothing compared with what regular customers had to endure.  Mounir had to organize his own security for the event, and given Mounir's massive popularity and the relatively few concerts he has been able to perform in Egypt this year, some 20,000 eager fans mobbed a zone already jammed with summer vacationers.  For them, getting into the outdoor concert space was nothing short of traumatic.

Entrance gate for Mounir concert

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Video: Fela! The Musical in Lagos

In April of 2011, the cast and crew of FELA! on Broadway traveled to Lagos, Nigeria becoming the first original Broadway production to be performed on African soil. Afropop correspondent Mark Gettes was there to document the historic occasion. You can read Gettes report from earlier this year HERE.

Now we have footage of this historic occasion. Check out the video below of this truly unique and momentous event. Edited by Erich Woodrum.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bombino North American Tour Dates

Tuareg guitar master Bombino has hit the road on our side of the world. His North American tour which starts tonight will take him across the US and throughout Canada. His latest album, Agadez, dropped earlier this month via Cumbancha and is a real treat of electric desert blues.  Read our review HERE.

Tour Dates:

07-16: Surry, British Columbia - Surrey Fusion Festival
07-19: Montreal, Quebec, Nuits D'Afrique - Balattou
07-20: Lake Placid, NY - Lake Placid Center for the Arts
07-21: Montreal, Quebec - Nuits D'Afrique
07-22: Burlington, VT - Higher Ground
07-24: Los Angeles, CA - Hollywood Bowl
07-26: San Francisco, CA - Slim's
07-27: Santa Cruz, CA - Moe's Alley
07-28: Pasadena, CA - Levitt Pavilion
07-29: Los Angeles, CA - Levitt Pavilion

Check out Cumbancha's site for European dates!

Ghostfunk-Max Tannone

Mashup DJ Max Tannone does not put out singles of two songs teased and twisted together, unlike mashups DJ's.  He puts out albums worked around a central concept and–unlike every other person that has done that since the dawn of time–it works.  Every time.  It does not work because of shock value, or because it has a punny title–it is just good music, and Tannone leaves you scratching your head and wondering why hip-hop legend and Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah didn't do this himself.

His newest offering, Ghostfunk, does not fail to disappoint, pairing rare cuts of Afrobeat, African psychedelic rock, and rhythm and blues from Ghana and South Africa with Ghostface songs from throughout his career.   It is anything but smooth, as Ghost's high insistent notes are mirrored by the hard angular African rhythms, just as Mos Def's West Indian tones were brought out by reggae in Mos Dub, Tannone's previous album.  Ghostface always sort of sounds like a teary-eyed boy trying to get himself out of trouble, and the instrumentation in Ghostfunk emphasizes his wobbly high timbre and pushes it forward to its breaking point. In "Make It N.Y.", Ghost comes out swinging at his most agitated and insecure, and the high synths carry his voice up and up as his flow gets tighter and tighter until it finally breaks into the chorus, as if the Ironman is too emotional to continue.  

Unfortunately, none of the other MC's on the record (AZ, Cappadonna, Raekwon, and the Notorious B.I.G.) have voices as operatic, and their rhymes, however classic, sound fundamentally unchanged by the African instrumentation, bringing flat lines to the landscape when Ghostface brings wild brushstrokes and jabs of color.  However, Ghostfunk is still a good successor to Mos Dub, and Tannone proves that mashups are not simple derivations of original songs, they are works in themselves and can be more than the sum of their parts.

Ghostfunk by Max Tannone

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beatles Done Cuban

Cuban band Delexilio just released a cover of "Anytime At All" as part of the awesome Beatles Complete on Ukelele project. Beatles covers are so ubiquitous, especially coming out of Latin America,  that it's a real pleasure to find one that stands out and satisfies the understandably high expectations. This version's got Cuban tres guitar, ukelele, and Spanish vocals. Check it out here.

"Kinshasa"-Alec Lomami

Looking to shake off the summer doldrums? Look no farther than pleasant surprise "Kinshasa", sent to our info account from Congo-by-way-of-North-Carolina rapper Alec Lomami.  His ode to his hometown is sunny and French, with a fun, pulsing hook and a quick, precise flow.  We hope to hear more from this shot-in-the-dark's upcoming EP soon!

Kinshasa by Alec Lomami

"I'm Excited"-DJ Shadow feat. Afrikan Boy

DJ Shadow has nothing on how excited we are about this collaboration with Afrikan Boy.  The trip-hop pioneer teams up with one of Africa's most intriguing and grimiest MCs for this microchip-studded slice of electro-hop goodness.  The track begins with ambient noise before morphing into a rave-up that sounds like the baby of John Lee Hooker and Optimus Prime for a barely-controlled howl.

However, Afrikan Boy steals the song.  With the hook, "I am an alien living in the ghetto," he does a better job than anyone else I've heard encapsulating the experience of the African MC.  Hip-hop is very geographically grounded, and historically depressed areas like Compton, the Bronx, East St. Louis, and the South Side of Chicago have been branded into America's consciousness–partly because of hip-hop–in a way that Africa has not.  So Afrikan Boy may have had the exact same experiences as N.W.A, but is still alienated from the largely US-centric hip-hop culture, as well as his own culture that ghettoized him in the first place.  Perfectly worded.

This track comes off DJ Shadow's new LP, The Less You Know, The Better, dropping September 5th.  Give it a listen below:

DJ Shadow ft Afrikan Boy - I'm Excited by Island Records UK

Friday, July 8, 2011

Afropop July Mixtape is Out!

So, we're a little bit late. Nevertheless, your July supply of new music from Afropop Worldwide is here. As usual, we've supplied you with a super eclectic mix of music to push your listening boundaries and knowledge to new levels.

Funky soukous? You got it. Panamanian hip-hop by way of Oakland, California? Sure thing. Downtempo, South African electro? Of course. Reggae from Ethiopia? Most definitely.

DOWNLOAD by pressing that little black arrow button on the right. Or STREAM with the play button.


Afropop July Mixtape 2011 by Afropop Worldwide

1. Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga - "Zanzibar" (from Maisha Ni Matamu (Life is Sweet) via Virunga Records. Out now!)

2. Sia Tolno -"Odju Watcha" (from Odju Watcha EP via LusaAfrica. Out soon.)

3. Chief Boima - "Danze Street Makossa" (from African in New York EP out soon via Duttz Artz)

4. Da Cruz - "Boom Boom Boom" (from Sistema Subversiva via Six Degrees. Out now!)

5. Spoek Mathambo - "Put Some Red on It" (Digital single from forthcoming EP Put Some Red on It)

6. Nina Dioz - "Lola" (free download via Remezcla)

7. Los Rakas - "Hierba" (from forthcoming PanaBay Twist 2: La Tanda Del Bus)

8. See-I - "Dub Revolution" (from Self-Titled LP via Fort Knox Recordings. Out now!)

9. Dub Colossus - "Wey Fikir" (from Addis Through the Looking Glass via Real World. Out now!)

10. Johnny Clegg - "Asilazi" (from Human via Appleseed Recordings. Out now! )

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Baloji Kicks Off New York's African Music Summer

Text and photos by Banning Eyre

Anyone who caught this inspired, charismatic, genre-busting Congolese MC Baloji during his blizzard-challenged January swing through New York City knew that Central Park Summerstage was the place to be on Sunday, July 3. Once again, the weather was uncooperative--this time with muggy heat and rain showers. But Baloji and his 4-piece Congolese band (a keyboard was added to his guitar/bass/drums combo) once again delivered an exhilarating set, and showed a unique ability to reinvent African traditions in a savvy, club-ready context. 

Baloji at Summerstage (Eyre)

In a nod to Congo pop's tradition of stylishness, Baloji kept on his blue plaid jacket for the first few numbers, which including his brilliant reworking of the 1960 classic "Independence Cha Cha."  Guitarist Dizzy Mandjeku--a veteran of Franco's TPOK Jazz, and a legend in his own right--provided tasty riffs throughout.  Indeed the set was long on roots grooves, and light on anything at all like mainstream hip hop.  It was Baloji's baritone rapping, unpredictable stage moves, and edgy charisma that kept things fresh and contemporary.  Sometime before the song "Karibu Ya Bintu," which Baloji recorded with members of Konono No 1 and later turned into one of the most arresting African pop videos ever made, the jacket came off, and Baloji sweated along with the rest of us.  He collected Dizzy's jacket as well and gave the crowd a sly smile as he handed them off to a stage hand.

Dizzy Mandjeku

From there, we got antics with a bull horn, and the participation of two gyrating dancers, gyrating not in the conventional Congolese mode, but something entirely more quirky and modern--like Baloji himself.  Baloji afterwards worried that his group had not figured out how to take advantage of such a big stage.  But with his long-legged moves and restless nature, this was not a problem.  Expansiveness came naturally.  The energy never flagged, and the 45-minute set left a soggy crowd howling for more.  The weather certainly cut down on the numbers who got to see this exceptional performance, but Baloji made his statement and his mark.  His was the best 45 minutes of the day, and there is no doubt that Baloji is one of the most promising ascendant stars in today's African music. 

Next came Group Doueh from the Western Sahara with an at times mesmerizing set of electric desert blues.  Despite the venerable roots appearance, notably by the group's three large, beautifully adorned front women, this group's sound is an odd fusion of new and old.  There is a traditional lute (soon traded for electric guitar), but many songs ran on keyboard beats a juxtaposition whose novelty wore off quickly.  The most powerful material played down rhythm and featured the dark tonalities and torn vocals that go to the heart of the Saharaoui story--a 40-year saga of conflict, flight, and life in refugee camps and communities.  The guitar work in this group is compelling, though not spectacular as this style can be at its best.  One should not complain about any chance to experience this rare and trenchant musical tradition live.  But the set was uneven and never completely took off.   Perhaps rain and humidity were a factor.  Perhaps it would have worked better in the confines of a club.  With a little tweaking, this could be a very powerful act.  The music is certainly deep, and the singing is terrific.

Group Doueh at Summerstage

Direct from Haiti, Richard Morse and RAM closed out the day with an eclectic set of rara pop.  This group has a tight, percussion-rich sound.  The bass player delivers strong, funky pump, and the guitarist works in a nice blend of African, especially Congolese, riffs.  The set started off relaxed, but  worked up to a pretty good rara frenzy as it neared its end.  The trombone-like rara horns came out, the groove deepened and the soggy crowd, which included a number of delighted Haitians, got moving in earnest.

As for Morse himself, he left most of the work to the band and its female lead singer, his wife Lunise.  Morse is a cousin of Haiti's newly elected president, Michel Martelly, and now serves as "Consellier de President" and works in the palace, quite a twist of fate for this hotel owner and roots music champion.  In a brief backstage chat, Morse seemed mostly preoccupied with his new responsibilities, and dedicated to the task of making Martelly's presidency succeed against the backdrop of earthquake hell, endemic corruption, and generally heavy odds.  On stage, Morse mostly pranced, seemingly possessed of his unexpected prominence--almost above the music.  No matter.  The contradictions of Haiti, circa 2011, were on full display.

Richard Morse
RAM percussion section

Lunise Morse

A few more shots from July 3 Summerstage show....