Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top Ten Releases of 2011

Last week we aired our Stocking Stuffers 2011 show that showcased some of our favorite releases of the new year. The show included 32 different albums packed into 60 minutes ranging from Panamanian hip-hop by way of San Francisco to neo-classical kora offerings.  There was truly something for everyone. Be sure to check our our feature for the program to find links to reviews, interviews, videos and more.

But which ones are our favorites from the past year? It's a tough decision. However, we've narrowed down our top ten albums of 2011. And here they are, in no particular ranking: 

Bombino - Agadez (Niger) - Cumbancha

Damily - Ela Lia (Madagascar) - Helico

Blitz the Ambassador - Native Sun (USA/Ghana) - Embassy MVMT

Takfarinas - Lwaldine - Hymne aux Parents (Algeria) - Mandole

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 - From Africa with Fury: Rise (Nigeria) - Knitting Factory

Dub Colossus - Addis Through the Looking Glass (Ethiopia) - PID

Baloji - Kinshasa Succursale (Democratic Republic of the Congo) - Crammed Discs

Aurelio - Laru Beya (Honduras) - Next Ambience / Sub Pop

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal - Chamber Music (Mali and France) - Six Degrees

Habib Koité, Afel Bocoum and Oliver Mtukudzi -
Acoustic Africa in Concert (Mali and Zimbabwe) - Contre Jour

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Glory that was Cesaria Evora

We are extremely sad to report that the incomparable Cesaria Evora has passed. Cesaria’s gorgeous singing graced major stages all over the world as she played a singular role in introducing music fans to her island nation, Cape Verde, and its rich traditions of morna, coladeira, funana and more.

Cesaria showed us all that it's possible to get a second chance in life.  After being all but forgotten following her earlier career, she surged to new heights after being "rediscovered" in France in the 1980s. She went on to inspire a new generation of Cape Verdean singers to follow in her footsteps—Lura, Maya Andrade, Fantcha and many others.  We will miss her!

We dug into our Afropop Worldwide archive to find our program featuring our recording of Cesaria Evora making her powerful New York City debut in 1995 at the Bottom Line.

Quincy Jones's Love Song to the Arab World

Quincy Jones in Morocco
When Afropop visited the Mawazine Festival in Morocco in May 2011, we interviewed Quincy Jones and caught a glimpse of an ambitious project he was then in the midst of. He put on a spectacular, multi-genre, multi-national concert as part of the festival. And he also spoke of a song he was creating, a remake of the 1989 song "Tomorrow," but now mostly in Arabic and re-dubbed "Tomorrow/Bokra." Produced by Jones and RedOne, with a host of talented helpers, the song was to be sung by an array of top Arab-word singers, including Iraq's Kadim Al Saher, Algeria's Souad Massi, Egypt's Sherine Abdel Wahab, Senegalese R&B artist Akon, and many others.

The song and video are out now, and it is moving to see Jones transporting his uplifting celebration of youth, and his "We Are The World" optimism and can-do spirit to the Middle East and North Africa.

Here's a link to the "Tomorrow/Bokra" video, with over 3-million views as of this posting.

And, listen to the Afropop program "Mawazine the Magnificent" for interview excerpts with Jones, and a selection from his concert at the festival.

And here's CNN's report on "Tomorrow/Bokra."

Go, Quincy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"El Rego" Compilation CD- Soul and Funk from Benin

If you're looking for a gift for the funk aficionado in your life, or just want to hear something great from Africa's wide musical past, check out this retro release from Daptone Records. This fall the New York-based label, on a mission to increase the amount of new and old funky tunes in the universe, put together an epic compilation of the best of a 70's soul legend from Benin, Theophile De Rego, stage name El Rego. Lots of this album channels solid James Brown: there's horn jabs, plenty of funky bass and El Rego bellows and intones in just the same way as his contemporaries in America. On other tracks, you'll swear you're hearing the gospel style of Ray Charles, or the blaring keyboards of the Doors. But El Rego also goes into his own realm on a lot of tracks. The slow march of "Ke Amon-Gbetchea" coupled with his haunting vocals makes for a blues-y final number. What stands out most here is obviously El Rego's incomparable voice, soaring, wavering and grunting with equal force and beauty. Percussion-wise it's all there, from motown drums to cowbells and bongos, all perfectly balanced. Latin rhythms make an appearance too, on "E Nan Mian Nuku" and there's a smattering of smooth guitar virtuosity on "Kpon Fi La." This greatest hits compilation jumps all over the place, but that's kind of a good thing. It's consistent in its tight rhythms and El Rego's powerful voice, making it a soulful African version of a great American tradition.

Here's a free download of the record's single "Hessa."

-Will Yates

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spoek Mathambo Announces New Album

South African electro-art weirdo Spoek Mathambo has announced that he will be dropping a new album called Father Creeper on March 13th via his relatively new imprint Sub Pop. Mathambo is one of the more exciting artists to come of South Africa. of late. His music is nurtured of off kwaito, hip hop and the theories of afro-futurism but ultimately results in something that is very unique and his own.

Already, Mathambo has created a buzz across the U.S. and Europe with his dark bass-heavy cover of "Control" by the UK post-punk band Joy Division. (You can hear it on our show The Mixtape Special). He also has appeared on a guest spot with Germany's electro artist Tim Turbo and scored a minor underground hit with his single "Mshini Wam."

Undoubtedly, Father Creeper will become one of the more anticipated albums dropping in the early new year and likely make a big impression on western, indie scenes. Score another one for Africa. Be on the look out for it.

Listen + Download Mathambo's most recent single, "Put Some Red on It" below.

Globalized Tuaregs, and the Plight of the Festival in the Desert

These are trying times for the Tuareg communities of the Sahara. We are barely one month from the 11th annual Festival in the Desert in Timbuktu. A tantalizing preliminary roster (including Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, Habib Koite, and of course the preeminent Tuareg band Tinariwen) has been posted. Tinariwen has recently toured in the US, including an appearance on The Colbert Report, further enhancing their mantle as champions of a globalized, “desert rock” sound. And, prior to a November 25 kidnapping incident in Timbuktu, Festival in the Desert director Manny Ansar was also making the rounds, talking up the festival and its pristine security record, and encouraging people to come and enjoy and support Tuareg culture in this amazing region.

Manny Ansar in New York
I spoke with Manny about all this in New York on November 17, at an event hosted by Essakane Film, which is currently producing an independent documentary film on the Festival in the Desert. The event was a celebration, with a private concert by Tinariwen, a short screening of footage from the film, and much excitement about the coming festival. Days later, came tragic news of an assault on a Timbuktu hotel, resulting in the death of one tourist and the abduction of three others. Exactly who did this and why remains unclear, but the event comes in the wake of Qaddafi’s overthrow and death in Libya, which has released a small flood of Africans, including Tuareg, into places like Mali, sometimes well armed—another unpredictable wild card in the mix.

Amid all this, Afropop received a lengthy, thoughtful review of Tinariwen’s 2011 CD release Tassili (Anti). Intagrist El Ansari, a Tuareg follower of the band, writes with nostalgic passion about Tinariwen’s origins in the 1980s, in refugee camps during a time of war. “We were young in those ‘Kel Tamasheq’ (Tuareg) refugee camps,” El Ansari writes, “built in Mauritania, Algeria and Burkina Faso during the clashes between the rebels and the Malian armed forces. Adolescents, we grew up being shaped by the spirit of this music, full of sentimentality, hope and nostalgia. The beauty of those song poems made us hopeful that we would one day return for the better to the desert homes of our childhood.”

El Ansari’s feels that, in its decade-long rise to global acclaim, Tinariwen has strayed from the spirit and purpose of those times. “Emotion that was in the past the strength of this music gives way to a much more technical approach,” he writes. “We put a lot of energy into organizing musical evenings in the camps dedicated especially to this music, mostly only with tape cassettes, but occasionally groups came and gave concerts. Today, we are nostalgic for the authenticity that this music had in its early stages.” Even on Tassili, recorded in part in the deserts of southern Algeria, El Ansari complains that electric guitar now “saturates” Tinariwen’s songs, and that “the spirit of spontaneous creation is dying,” replaced by something “more calculated, more fine tuned… less poetic and lyrical.” For El Ansari, the mere fact that the band feels a need to go back to roots amounts to a concession that it has strayed. And needless to say, the participation of members of TV on the Radio does not impress him.

Ironically, the very qualities that alienate this longtime fan, and presumably others, are central to making Tinariwen so accessible to Westerners. That’s too bad, because Tinariwen is doing a tremendous service to its people and region, offering a powerful counterweight to so many negative forces—from Al Qaeda copycats in the Sahara, to refugees of the fallen regime in Libya. Tinariwen is caught in an awkward in-between.

Tinariwen at private NYC appearance
Take the Colbert appearance. Three band members sat for an interview first, alongside Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, and a female Tuareg translator, dressed like the band in traditional attire. There were a few softball questions. The musicians laughed at Colbert’s bombastic humor. Then, out of the blue, Colbert said to the translator, “I understand these fellows were in Qaddafi’s military training camps to train as rebels in the Mali civil war. Is that true?” Something got lost in the subsequent translation, because the answer that came back was not about the musicians of Tinariwen in their early, rebel camp days, but rather, the more recent waves of Africans who have gone to seek their fortunes in Libya. They didn’t go there to be in Qaddafi’s army, but to find a better life, was the gist of the answer. Sure, some ended up in the army, but not because they wanted to fight for Qaddafi. That was the only work available to them.

Colbert moved on quickly, and soon came the performance, which featured Malone and Adebimpe singing and vibing along with the turbaned and robed Malians in a truly soulful performance. This was the payoff. One can assume that much of Colbert’s audience gets little exposure to Tuareg, or even African, music. So the sight of these austere, turbaned men—who have some vaguely defined connection with “Qaddafi’s military camps,” wielding guitars and performing rapturous, trancey, rock-like music with well known US pop music personalities, had to be---at the very least---a challenge to the imagination. The appearance may have clarified little, but it had to spark curiosity, and to my mind, it was a great moment for Tuareg awareness within American popular culture. Watch, and see for yourself:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tinariwen with Kyp Malone & Tunde Adebimpe
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Now, the Festival in the Desert must negotiate between these complicated extremes. In New York, Manny Ansar spoke about the tension between security and celebration at the festival. He had a good story to tell. Last year, a number of governments recommended against attending the January, 2011, event. Nevertheless, some 1000 foreign visitors made their way to Timbuktu, and the worst security breach was a stolen camera. The president of Mali attended. There were camel races, concerts, talks, and in all, the very hospitality and desert magic that has drawn people to this event for over a decade.

Looking to 2012, Ansar said, “Foreign Affairs officials of major governments have decided for the past few years to draw a line in Mali, and tell people they should not cross that line. The line moves, but now Mopti and Timbuktu are included. I’m not sure exactly what barometer they use to make this judgment, but from our point of view, it is completely out of touch. Because, honestly, we see no reason to red light Mali, any more than many other countries around the world where there are many, many more victims of terrorism than in Mali.  Over the past few years there have been four or five victims of terrorism in the entire Sahara region. And as you know, there are countries in North Africa and the Middle East where there are 10 times as many attacks every year, by comparison with Mali. They don’t say, ‘Never go to Egypt.’

“For us, it is exaggerated. It is not more dangerous in Mali than elsewhere. Zero risk exists nowhere. But if it is necessary to stop this festival, if it is possible to stop tourism in Mopti and Timbuktu, that is too much. 70% of peoples’ income in those areas comes from tourism. You will create unemployment, banditry, and more problems. That is the reality.”

Ansar pointed out that if they can’t profit from tourism, young people will be forced to work for drug smugglers and terrorists. “This is the paradox of this history.” And this is why Tinariwen’s outreach to the world, and the Festival in the Desert are so important in the global struggle for cultural harmony, even if some measure of authenticity is sacrificed in the eyes of people like El Ansari, and some risk is assumed by visitors.  In short, big things are on the line in the fate of this tiny festival. And while the November 25 kidnapping/murder makes Ansar’s argument a tougher sell, it does not diminish his larger point.  This is a matter of economic and cultural survival, and of preserving a hard one peace in the the Timbuktu region.

Banning Eyre and Manny Ansar
On December 3, Manny Ansar and other Festival in the Desert officials held a press conference in Bamako to announce that the Festival will go ahead in January, 2012. Ansar said, in part, “Since its creation, the Festival in the Desert has represented the values of peace and reconciliation. It is a symbol of people, Malian, Sahelian, African and non-African, meeting in the desert where, in the face of the reality of this difficult environment, all men are equal. To not hold this festival, when the same area is threatened by violence and terrorism, is somehow to forget these values and to let fear gain a durable foothold.

“We are not able to ignore the risks which exist for all our invited westerners, be they festival attendees, artists, volunteers or members of the organization. Yesterday, the President of the Republic of Mali himself reaffirmed his strong intention that the event be held. The Festival Directors are working in collaboration with the government to put in place maximum security measures to assure the safe operation of the Festival.”

I personally find this stance admirable, and if I had a ticket to Timbuktu, I would not change my plans based on a single incident there. I hope others feel the same way, and I would dare to predict that those who do attend the festival and hear bands like Tinariwen asserting their cultural pride, and their proud connection to the larger world, will have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and return home safely.

Click here to visit the official, Festival in the Desert website.

Banning Eyre

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Festival on the Niger in Segou, Mali-Feb 15-19, 2012

 This coming February the Niger River near Segou, Mali will be transformed into a six-day festival for African and Malian music, visual art, local crafts, and cultural discussion. This year there's a great line up of bands featured on a floating stage on the river. The goal is to bring together artists of all varieties to help preserve their local artistic customs. The festival also aims at saving the Niger River from environmental degradation. Check out the amazing line up of artists and events!


Each year the Festival organises a forum about themes that are important for the Malian society. In the Forum lecturers from around the world come together to create realistic debates that result in concrete recommendations.

TRADITIONAL EVENTS : "Ségou Welcomes the Mopti Region"

Traditional troupes will reveal the great cultural richness of our ancestral rites; a magnificent opportunity to discover these memorable ceremonies and for which the festival also provides a space for newer expression. Music, theater, dances, masquerades, and giant puppets, hunters’ performances, the annual canoe race…


An international meeting of visual artists from Mali and other parts of the world in the « Kôrè » Gallery.


Malian stars:



Cheick Tidiane SECK



Boubacar TRAORE Super BITON de Ségou


International stars:

Lokua KANZA (Congo RDC)


Oxmo PUCCINO (Fr/Mali)

Pape DIOUF (Senegal)

Bill Aka KORA (Burkina)

King AYISOBA (Ghana)

Sauti SOL (Kenya)

Sousou & Maher CISSOKO (Sweden/Senegal)

-INTERNATIONAL CRAFTS FAIR OF SEGOU where imagination and creativity of craftsmen and
farmers of the region and the sub-region mingle.


And much more including workshops, storytelling, and puppetry.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Join Harry Belafonte in Supporting Afropop Worldwide!

We are honored that our friend and colleague, Harry Belafonte, kicks off our annual 2011 fundraising campaign to keep you on top of the world:

“I write to ask you to join me in supporting Afropop Worldwide, an organization that does visionary work in bringing awareness of African and Diaspora cultures to Americans and the global online community…. The need is greater than ever.  Americans are starved for this kind of engaging and revelatory insight into the workings of our multi-cultural world.  And nobody has shown greater commitment, and worked harder to realize this vision than the people at Afropop.  Funding sources are scarce, so it is up to us who want to see Americans remain connected to and inspired by the rest of the world to stand up and give generously.”  
Thank you Harry!
As an added incentive--The first 20 donors of $20 or more will receive a cool Afropop CD. And the top donor will receive our Egypt gift package with papyrus art, your very own pyramid, a flute, fabric, and music you can’t get anywhere else. Contest open until Dec. 31st (hint top donor so far is $100). Good luck!
We need everyone who values what we do to pitch in. And the first 20 to respond with a gift of $30 or more will receive a great CD from the Afropop collection.  And the highest donor from now until December 31st will also get our Egypt gift with papyrus art, your very own pyramid, a flute, fabric... and best of all…a mix of the coolest music from Cairo, impossible to find here. Go for it!

To securely donate, just click the "DONATE" button below. All major credit cards are taken:

Or you can send a check via snail mail to the following address:

Afropop Worldwide
688 Union St
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Help us continue to make great and unique programming in 2012! 


Friday, December 2, 2011

Music Concert Fundraiser for Tahrir Square Field Hospital

As any of you who have been following the news will know, Egypt is electrified with activity. After a period where only modest numbers of protestors could be found in Tahrir Square, late November brought an increase in their numbers, and several calls for a “million man march” in the now-historic square. These were met with a violent response from the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), which is currently charged with Egypt’s governance until a transition of power can be initiated. Many of Egypt’s civilians were injured in the resulting clashes, and there is some controversy surrounding SCAF’s tactics, as their forces have been accused of intentionally targeting protestors with a force unnecessary for mere crowd dispersal.

The response to this from NGOs and activists has been varied, and New York has had its share of protests in front of the Egyptian embassy in order to speak for these victims of that violence. As in Tahrir during this ongoing revolution, music seems to make its way into the work of these activists, and we wanted to share with you an event at which you can support those injured by these latest clashes. You can access the event details here.

The Alwan Arab Music Ensemble will be hosting a fundraiser for the victims of these latest clashes, in which funds will be collected to provide medical assistance. The event will be held at the Alwan Center for the Arts, a non-profit arts and culture center dedicated to presenting the best of Middle Eastern arts and culture to the NYC audience, and which is donating their venue for the cause. If you are unable to attend, donations will be accepted online – but really, these musicians are fantastic, and will be presenting a repertoire of the classics from three musical centers in the Arab world, namely Cairo, Aleppo, and Baghdad. You’ve been listening to some of this repertoire in our latest Hip Deep shows – come out and hear them live, and support a great cause!

If you are not in NYC, you can still get a sample of the Alwan Arab Music Ensemble when they performed on WNYC's New Sounds with John Schaefer below:

Most recently, the Alwan Arab Music Ensemble performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a program of music celebrating the reopening of the Islamic Art Galleries. The ensemble features the following musicians:

George Ziadeh, oud, vocals
Tareq Abboushi, buzuq, vocals
Sami Shumays, violin, vocals
Johnny Farraj, riqq, vocals
Zafer Tawil, qanun, violin, vocals
Amir ElSaffar, santur, vocals

What:  Tahrir Field Hospital Fundraiser
When:  Sunday, December 4th, 8 pm (doors open at 7:30 pm)
Where:  Alwan for the Arts, 16 Beaver Street, New York, NY

-Mariam Bazeed

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sekai Soundclash: Japanese Dancehall Mix by BARNEY ILLER

Barney Iller - Sekai Soundclash (a JAPANESE DANCEHALL mix for afropop.org) by Afropop Worldwide

DJ Barney Iller caught our show Africa in East Asia: From Shanghai Jazz to Tokyo Rastafari. Iller was particularly excited about our section on the thriving Japanese dancehall scene. He was so into it that he offered to make us a mix of some Japanese dancehall cuts that you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. The result is a feverish, unique 74 minute sampling. In no way is this a definitive list. Rather, it's a musical taste of a scene rooted in the African diaspora but located very far from it. Thanks Iller!!

Check out Iller's own comments and the tracklist below. Download + Listen above.

" I'm a DJ first and a librarian a much distant second. Therefore I've focused on party jams, tracks that 'rock' rather than 'seminal' songs or those which 'define the genre' or are particularly popular. Sadly, I don't know which ones are most popular. I make this mix as an outsider to the culture of Japanese dancehall. I say that not just because I haven't put the time in at the clubs, but also I recognize I made a mix different from the style of mixes made by people in the scene. Most of the artists I used also make tracks in the style of traditional reggae, more sung, in addition to this ragga-centric dancehall style I've focused on in my mix. Judging by the content of whole albums and DJ mixes, the sung tracks are just as popular if not more so than the style I've focused on.

I focus on ragga tracks because of both musical and cultural interest. The Japanese interpretation of sung reggae appeals to me less, and also I find those interpretations very similar to the original culture they're aiming for. But with dancehall, a somewhat more maverick style to begin with, I feel the Japanese artists take more liberties, and end up reinterpreting the music into something more natively Japanese, more homespun from their own cultural heritage, more original rather than emulated.

However, I'd love to know the truth. I have a very difficult time getting the artists to reply to me about cultural issues, and it's rare for me to encounter an enthusiast of this music. Those of us immersed in club culture run across Japanese at reggae nights frequently, but in my observation, they're most often pursing the authentic experience of Jamaican culture rather than their compatriots' interpretation of it. Most native Japanese people I speak with don't even know what kind of music I'm referring to, let alone the artists. Dancehall and reggae in the Japanese language is a fairly underground and regional phenomenon even in Japan, and very difficult for foreigners to access due to the distance and written language barriers, plus much of the music is only available on limited-run 7-inch 45rpm vinyl from a small number of specialty stores."

Track list:
1) Rudebwoy Face & Elephant Man - こんにちはJAPAN
2) Kenty Gross - A-Boy
3) Jumbo Maatch - Tell Me...
4) Akane - Dancehall Head
5) Soul Eye - 酒
6) Wassy - Entertainer
7) Shiba-Yankee - Clap Your Hands
8) Kenty Gross - ほんまに言うてんの
9) Yoyo-C - Babylon No Naka
10) Rankin Taxi & Dub Ainu Band - 誰にも見えない、匂いもない 2011
11) Rumi - 邪悪な放射能
12) Sami-T & Burro Banton - Back Bitter [sic] (4B Mix)
13) Boogie Man - Pachinco Man
14) Rankin Pumpkin - Japan から Jamaica
15) Mr. T.H.C. & Tony Curtis - High Grade
16) Tony Matterhorn, Richie Feelings, Sami-T & Masta Simon - Genki Desuka?
17) Vader - King of Musiq
18) Ryo the Skywalker - Fight Music
19) Terry The Aki-06 & Erone - Back Yard T.T. (Remix)
20) Ryo the Skywalker - Instru-Men
21) KENTY GROSS, Ng Head, Shingo Nishinari & Boogie Man - Osaka Pride
22) Boxer Kid - Onsoku Big Wave
23) Kenty Gross - G-Style Good It!
24) Kenty Gross - G-Style Hyper
25) Ryo the Skywalker feat. Takafin from Mighty Jam Rock - Thunder Roll
26) MIND=VOICE - My 暴動
27) Ryo the Skywalker - Outer-Net
28) Armstrong - Fire Man
29) Papa B - Crasher

*****Thanks Iller!!*****

Spotlight: Kreyol Emcee: Bennchoumy

Check out this new video from Haitian emcee Bennchoumy. He offers socially conscious hip hop with a heavy soul influence, and, most intriguingly, raps in Kreyol. The song, entitled “Nou Sou Wout” (On the Road), challenges the black community, repeating the phrase “Take heed of your existence!” His flow includes snippets of English interspersed within the Kreyol that are gone almost before you realize it. The similarities between the two languages make it possible to grasp much of the meaning without the help of the subtitles. The music video was directed by Johwell Saint-Cilien. Also take a look at the video for “Waddup King,” which resembles a big Brooklyn house party (with bumpin’ music of course).

Bennchoumy was previously a member of the gospel/hip-hop group The Shepherdz. He currently plays with a larger group called The Manifestation of Bennchoumy. In Nov. 2009, the group released the album The Living Myth. Let us know what you think!