Thursday, October 27, 2011

Malian singer Rokia Traoré Finds A Rare Spotlight in Western Theater

Rokia Traoré, celebrated female musician and singer from Mali, has found a spotlight in Desdemona, a recent production written by author Toni Morrisson and directed by French experimental theater director Peter Sellars. It's a unique and rare spotlight for an African artist. While African musicians crossing over to the west is nothing new, few of them have found themselves at the center of such progressive theatrical performances.

The show, which is a concert and a play welded together, stems from a disagreement on the part of Peter Sellars and Toni Morrison over the significance of the play Othello. Morrison was challenged by Sellers to create a "response" to Shakespeare's tragic tale on the moor of Venice. The result is interactive performance of words and music regarding the doomed heroine of the Othello, Desdemona. During the performance, she speaks from the grave about subjects ranging from race and gender to war and love.

Traoré plays the part of Desdemona's imaginary nursemaid, Barbary, who acts as a confidant to Desdamona's laments and in turn, much of the music of the play is performed by Traoré who wrote all the music. Accompanied by a trio of female backing singers, Traoré plays most of the music with West African lute and a type of bridge harp while the lyrics were composed through an exchange between emailed text from Toni Morrison and Ms. Traoré. Many of the lyrics are in her native Bambara language.

Thusfar, the play has received polarizing reviews; however, critics have applauded Traoré's performance and almost unaniamously agreed that she is the spotlight of the show. Les Echos, a French daily, described Traoré's voice as “magical, at times soft, at times impetuous.” While a critic for the daily Le Monde said Ms. Traoré had an “absolutely magnificent presence."

The show will have a mostly limited run. It will be in New York for performances on Nov. 2 and 3 at the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center as part of the White Light Festival. In addition, it will be seen in Berlin in mid-November and in London during the Summer Olympics next year.

For more information on the show, check out the review from The New York Times.

-Saxon Baird

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spotlight: Fally Ipupa -- African Guitar with Hip Hop Sensibilities

Unlike some African R&B and rap that chooses to mimic its Western counterparts with slick beats and auto-tune, Congolese singer and dancer Ipupa finds a refreshing middle ground. Simple percussion, plinking guitar melodies and a soulful background chorus make for an upbeat atmosphere worlds away from the booming audacity of American R&B. His vocals in French waver and fall with an equal amount of restraint and passion, pausing at times to speak with the listener. On tracks such as "Cadenas," the stuttering beat and his mournful falsetto make an easy comparison to the ranchero ballads of Mexico. Perhaps his serious approach to this easy and uplifting music is best described by the title of his 2009 album Arsenal of Beautiful Melodies.

Fally took 'Artist of the Year' at the Afrotainment Museke Awards in New York in September and is set to release his fourth album, Power, later this year. Success is not new to Fally however; in Congo he set the record for most sales in a week with Arsenal de Belles Melodies. And at this year's Europe Music Awards, he was nominated for best artist in the Africa/Middle East category alongside Angola's Cabo Snoop and and Nigeria's Wizkid.

Keep an eye on him!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Festival of the New Black Imagination

What were you doing a couple Saturdays ago? Well, you should have been in Brooklyn, New York for the Festival of the New Black Imagination. It was an all day event that explored a futuristic mindset of the black community, including the culture, music, technology, and economic status.

My experience was somewhat equal to a family reunion or a barber salon talk on steroids. Everyone there conversed with each other as if they were kin. At a hall on Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus is where the day was spent. Ringshouts were thrown across the room, original stories heard, and imaginations were peaked. Imagining the Future, The Future of Progressive Culture In a Capitalist Economy, Shaolin Jazz and the 21st Century Remix are just a few names of the sessions at the festival.

Dj Reborn (photo by Ed Marshall Photography NYC)

A couple of my favorite highlights were the screening of a short film by A. Sayeeda Clarke entitled White. I don’t want to be a spoiler for you guys, so all I will say is the plot will shock you. A futuristic tale of a man who is forced to use the world’s new currency in order to save his family. Might I warn you, the new currency is nothing you have ever imagined! Another session was the Shaolin Jazz and the 21st Century Remix where the infusion of certain styles of music were discussed. Music is universal and no matter what culture you come from, there are always “mashups” and “remixes” to be made.

Monday, October 24, 2011

GlobalFest Announces 2012 Lineup!

Are you waiting for a concert that brings international music under one roof? A concert that aims to bring musicians to ears and even into venues once closed to global artists? Wait no more, set the date. The GlobalFest is back on January 8th 2012 at the all famous Webster Hall in New York City. The day will run you from Malian roots rap, sensually fresh samba, to 21st-century tarantella. So who's going to hit the stage? Well artists from Haiti, Cape Verde, Yemen and many more.

Here is the line up:

Canzionere Grecanino Salentino
Debo Band
Diogo Nogueira
M.A.K.U. Sound System
Mayra Andrade
Silk Road Project Ensemble
The Gloaming
Wang Li (U.S. Debut)
Yemen Blues

While you wait for the globalFEST to rock in the new year, check out our past coverage.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Summer Walk through Tahrir Square

A report from Tahrir Square!

Two weeks ago we aired our first program from our Hip Deep series on the music of Egypt. Here we bring you a report from Tahrir Square from the Summer of 2011.

Afropop producer Banning Eyre took a walk through the square to interview and talk to some of the people who were still occupying the space. Eyre met a series of people and musicians who told him about the music they played during the occupation of the square and what inspired them to stand up against the government.

Download or listen:

A Summer Walk through Tahrir Square by Afropop Worldwide

Be sure to also check out Cairo Soundscape, our first 1-hour installment from our 4-part Egypt series.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Concert Review: Sidi Touré in NYC

Sidi Touré in Vermont earlier in the tour (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)

Malian guitarist Sidi Touré performed last Thursday to a standing room only crowd at Lincoln Center. He walked onstage with a bright, shining robe, instantly grabbing the crowd’s attention and marking a sharp difference between him and the business suits of many of the New Yorkers in the audience. Alongside him were band mates Jambala Maiga and Douma Maïga in similarly extravagant attire. After saying “Hi! We are happy to be here” he had reached the limits of his English and switched into French. All the chairs of the David Rubenstein Atrium were filled, and many people stood against the wall and in the entryways. Beginning with a soulful blues intro on the guitar, Mr. Touré was then joined by the two other musicians and they settled into a tight yet effortless groove. Touré’s smooth voice carried above the ensemble as he sang in Songhaï, a language spoken in Mali and Niger. Douma Maïga’s upper body swayed back and forth as he strummed the kurbu, a percussive guitar which can produce fast cutting rhythms while the light glittered off his sky-blue robe. Each one displayed the many distinct sounds they could get out of their instruments. Despite having no traditional drums, the time felt locked in at every moment. Often Touré used his thumb to strum his lowest string, E, and keep the beat while he played the melody simultaneously with his other fingers. As the first song ended, Touré’s voice lingered, letting the audience relish in the final chord.

On Touré’s right stood Jambala Maiga on his right in a sand-colored robe, who played the kuntugui, a single-string fretless guitar which produced high, light tones. At some points he plucked the string and at others seemed to tap the instrument like a drum. To Mr. Touré’s left was Douma Maïga, an energetic kurbu player whose body moved to the beat of each song. He wore a brilliant light blue robe. During solos, he often hung on one single note for a long time, building the tension until moving to another riff. His long three-stringed lute created a rough percussive sound resembling the shekere or guiro common in Latin music.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Senegalese Rappers Hope for Peaceful “African Spring”

In Senegal, political rap group Keur Gui is raising the pressure against the President Abdoulaye Wade, who they say has to go. Their rallying cry: Y’en a Marre, Enough is Enough. Their method is a massive campaign to register young voters and foment a peaceful revolution to end the 11-year rule of Wade and transition to true democracy. Rapper Omar Toure, who goes by the stage name Thiat, along with fellow MCs Fou Malade and Kilifeu and reporter Fadel Barro started the movement in January after political frustrations had reached a boiling point, as Wade is up too run for a third term.

Their complaints include unemployment, the high cost of food and gas, recurrent power outages, corruption and Wade’s decadent misuse of government funds, such as the new $27 million African Renaissance Statue, which does little to help the poor. The president is accused of focusing only on the capital of Dakar, and ignoring the whole country’s needs. Their song “Coup 2 Guelle” shows the rappers angrily calling out the inequality in their daily lives. “They’re building tunnels/while poverty is looking at us/Life became too expensive/ while we drown in misery.”

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Toure said he thinks this movement could be similar to the Arab Spring, and hopefully will speak to marginalized people everywhere. The movement, however, has also made clear their approach of non-violent disobedience and use of the established electoral process.

“The first thing we did was to explain that we don’t want what happened in Egypt or Tunisia to happen here,” said a founding member “we don’t want people immolating themselves, and we don’t want young people going into the street to burn things down. People need to fight at the ballot box.” "They are popular because they talk to the people directly," says Senegalese sociologist Djiby Diakhate.

Six months after its inception, the youth movement already began to make waves as it organized successfully against Wade’s attempt to change the constitution making it easier for him to be re-elected. After massive riots in Dakar, he withdrew the bill. But not before Thiat was arrested at a rally after publicly insulting the president. Y’en a Marre rallied to the courthouse where Thiat was held, leading to his release the next day.

Wade, 85, says he still plans to run in February, but he may be facing his strongest opposition yet due to the large number of youth now motivated by these musicians’ words.

-Will Yates

Friday, October 14, 2011

Antibalas Confirms a Trio of East Coast Dates

Antibalas is touring the East coast. Although, you've only got three chances to witness their greatness. Joining together with Medeski Martin &Wood, the members of the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra will blow you away with their robust Afro-Caribbean and funk sound on the weekend of Halloween. This comes just after the recent release of the latest 12-inch, Rat Race/Se Chiflo with Exactomundo Records. We hope that this is just a kick start of their comeback after their long hiatus.

Here are the dates to their upcoming shows:

10.27: 9:30 Club w/MMW 815 V St NW Washington, DC 20001
10.28: Electric Factory w/MMW 421 N. 7TH ST. Philadelphia, PA 19123
10.29: Terminal 5 w/MMW 530 W. 56th Street New York, NY 10002

Check out a clip of our past coverage with Antibalas:

Also, check out review of their 2007 full-length, Who is this America?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bombino Returns to North America (Again!)

Born Omara Moctar, Bombino is known as one of the best guitar players of the Sahel and Sahara regions. Just coming from his two month European tour, he is bringing North America his sounds for just the same, two months. With a mesh of traditional Sahara desert music and western blues and rock, Bombino sets his audience in a trance-like mood. Be there to witness his story of encounter and hope.


11.26: Montreal, QC -Cabaret du Mile End
11.28: Northhampton, MA - Iron Horse
11.29: New York, NY - Le Poisson Rouge
11.30: Somerville, MA - Johnny D's
12.02: Washington, DC - Black Cat
12.03: Port Washington, NY - Landmark on Main Street
12.06: Los Angeles, CA - The Mint
12.09: San Francisco, CA - Mezzanine
12.10: Portland, OR - Dante's
12.11: Seattle, WA - Nectar Lounge
12.13: Mexico City, Mexico - El Plaza Condesa

While you are waiting for his concerts to come to your town, take a just a minute to checkout out our review of his latest CD. He also appeared on our April Mixtape, free and available download.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Afropop October Mixtape Out Now!

It's back! From Nigerian-German soulstress Nneka to Ghanaian rapper M.anifest to \ Malian diva Khaira Arby with The Sway Machinery. Something for everyone. And it's all free!

To download press the little black button on the right of the player. Otherwise, stream away right here.

Afropop October Mixtape 2011 by Afropop Worldwide


1. El Rego – Hessa (from El Rego out 10.25 via Daptone)

2. MonoMono – Make Them Realise (From The Dawn of Awareness out now via Soundway)

3. The Sway Machinery with Khaira Arby - Gawad Teriamou (out soon via Electric Cowbell)

4. M.anifest - Suffer (from Immigrant Chronicles: Coming to America out now!)

5. Nneka – Soul is Heavy (from Soul is Heavy out soon!)

6. Double - Tatali ( single via Akwaaba Music)

7. Natacha Atlas - Batkallim (David Starfire Remix) (Mounqualiba – Rising Remixes out soon via Six Degrees Records)

8. Jose Conde - Amor Y Felicidad (from Jose Conde out now)

9. Kiran Ahluwalia - Mustt Mustt (from Aam Zameen: Common Ground out 10.25)

10. Afrolicious – A Dub for Mali (from A Dub for Mali out now via ESL)

If you've missed out on any of our previous mixtapes, be sure to check out our collection of them on our Soundcloud here!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Something Soulful & Heavy from Nneka

The Afro-German music shaker Nneka Egbuna has done it yet again. Her new evolutionary (revolutionary?) album Soul is Heavy is just that. Out of her own mouth Nneka acknowledges a "higher power" above her as well as in her.

Not keening to a mystical, supernatural power but rather an ability to share her message with enough savoriness to make you fulfilled. Don't let Nneka's youth fool you, she is well aware of her past and has let her words on the microphone be influenced by the sounds of her surroundings and bloodline. Her lyrics leave you full, with traces of Fela Kuti and other legends like him.

Recently, I listened to her first two singles off the new album, "Soul is Heavy" and "God Knows Why" featuring Black Thought. Both of these tracks not only exhibit her raw belief in what's right but her readiness to see things change. In "Soul is Heavy" she begins with a call out to her native land and to see if she can find herself in it. Throughout the song she speaks as the voice of past history makers, revolutionaries like Isaac Boro, Ken Saro Wiwa, and Jaja of Opobo. The lyrics perhaps are the back beat to her fight and her cry for her people. "You are a power-hungry class of army arrangements, you are stealing money in my country's plight. You are a soldier pretending to be a politician. You are a teacher who knows nothing. So don't teach me lies." As a quote by Ken Saro Wiwa that ends off the track, she demands rights and the end of political and governmental corruption.

"God Knows Why" is a track that not only speaks from the heart but a track that leaves you wanting more of Nneka's head turning, head knocking, soul-filled music. The song is an announcer of conscious problems that seem to have no solution but in time do. Wanting to see her people who still suffer find some peace and solace in knowing they are not alone in this game called life and do have an answer. 

Nneka, although unconventional, brings the answer that she knows and believes: that a higher, spiritual power knows why their souls are heavy.

Nneka- "God Knows Why (Feat Black Thought)"

-Melanie Chery

To learn more about Nneka's new album, check out her "making of" video here!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Good Rhymes of Ghanaian M.anifest

M.anifest was born and raised in Accra but now resides in Minneapolis of all places. Much like fellow Ghanaian-by-way-of-the-U.S. rapper Blitz the Ambassador, M.anifest raps often about issues pertaining to his identity and his homeland of Ghana and the African continent.

Back in April, M.anifest released a video for the first single “Suffer” off his forthcoming sophomore LP, Immigrant Chronicles: Coming to America. Showcasing the rapper walking through the streets of Accra, M.anifest rhymes on the strengths that can be found out of ones' suffering. Backed by a simple, American soul beat courtesy of Rhymesayers producer Budo, the track borrows heavily from the sounds of stateside hip-hop. We dug the cross-culture mix immensely and thought that the track sounded similar to the playfully inspiring work from L.A. rapper Murs and 9th Wonder.

On his the second single, “Asa” from his forthcoming album, M.anifest pulls more from his African roots, rapping over beats reminiscent of classic Hiplife while recruiting Ghanian singer Efya, who won female vocalist of the year at the last Ghana Music Awards, for a guest spot.

Stream "Asa" via OkayAfrica HERE.

The new album is out now. Check back soon for a review via

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chief Boima + Liberian Goodness

Dutty Artz collaborator and world trotting DJ, Chief Boima, was in Monrovia this summer checking into the local music scenes. As we reported in August, one of his discoveries blew our mind a little bit that we blogged about it here. As the story went, a Liberian cab driver handed him a cassette that featured crazy, hyper-speed tracks with high-end vocals and a soca meets dancehall meets shangaan electro sound on fast forward. Apparently the speedy madness was the sound of the moment in all the local clubs and it immediately peaked our interest to what other discoveries Boima would bring back.

Luckily, Boima has return with a bag of goodies and as a result, he is putting together a 15-track compilation of Liberian hipco and gbemba that he heard on his trip. To get a taste of the compilation, the always awesome Akwabaa Records has hooked up with the Chief for a 30-minute mix of the compilation. It's not as crazy sounding as the cassette he got from the cab driver but in a way, that's a good thing. Instead it’s a super fun mix of high-energy nu-Liberian goodness.

Download or stream below:

Lone Stars Mix by chiefboima

Also, be sure to check out Boima's report on his experiences via Cluster mag.

-Saxon Baird

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Spotlight: Youssef Kassab & Ammar Mohammed Hayel in NYC

Mariam Bazeed is an Egyptian living in the U.S. Recently, she accompanied Afropop Worldwide on their trip to Egypt.

Traditionally, Arabic music has always been best suited for live performance. As highly improvisational music, it is still understood that every live musical performance of traditional Arabic music is a living and breathing creature, subject to the performers’ passions of the moment, as well as the audience/musician interaction. It is rumored that when the recording industry first came to Egypt, musicians of all stripes unused to recording in a sound booth would require one or two audience members to be present in the studio with them, as they could not imagine a musical performance without that essential ingredient of an appreciating, engaged audience. Whether creation myth or truism, this story of the Egyptian recording industry captures the spirit in which Arabic music of ages past has been consumed and understood.

I wanted to give the Afropop Worldwide audience an opportunity, while you learn of the music of Egypt and Arabic music generally through the radio shows that you will soon hear, to actually have the experience of one of these live performances. I’ve been a long-time volunteer for Alwan for the Arts, a non-profit organization dedicated to showcasing the best in Arab art and culture. What initially drew me to Alwan was its robust musical program, and these shows in October are an excellent example of the unique programming that Alwan and its curators strive to put on for the Arabic/African/South Asian/Middle Eastern music community.

On Saturday, October 8th, at 9 pm (doors opening 8:30 pm), Alwan will be hosting the band Zikrayat (led by violinist Sami Abu Shumays), and singer Youssef Kassab, to present a program of songs by the late great Egyptian composer and singer, Mohammad Abdel Wahhab. From the Alwan website, the event is introduced as follows:
Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab was one of the most influential singers and composers in Egypt and the Arab world in the 20th century. He was both a master of the traditional Tarab style, and an innovator who fused Arabic music with Jazz, Western Classical, and Latin music, experimenting with new instruments and techniques. He not only composed for himself, but wrote many songs for nearly every other singer in Egypt in the mid 20th century, including Umm Kulthum, Warda, Abdel-halim Hafez, Fayza Ahmed, Layla Murad, Sabah, and many others, creating a legacy that is one of the major pillars of the Arabic music tradition today. Youssef Kassab and Zikrayat pay tribute to this great master with a concert exclusively featuring songs composed and sung by Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab, and instrumental pieces composed by him.

Watch Youssef Kassab performing with Zikrayat:

For ticketing info click here.

Alwan will also be presenting an evening of music from Sanaa’, Yemen, on Friday the 14th of October, at 9 pm (doors opening at 8:30 pm). This musical offering is a rarity in the Arabic music scene in New York, and an evening sure to interest you with the various African, Asian, and Arab influences to be found in Yemeni music. From the Alwan website:

This music is performed by a singer/oud player joined by a percussionist, and focuses primarily on the poetry, which is sung in either classical Arabic or Yemeni dialect. Performances usually take place in homes in the late afternoon and evening where performers and audience members alike engage in chewing qat, a mild stimulant leaf chewed throughout Yemen. Distinct from other styles of Arab singing, the Yemeni vocal quality is generally high-pitched and features a fast vibrato. The ‘oud style utilizes a fast plectrum technique, probably based on that of the qunbus, a four-string bass instrument historically used to accompany singing before being replaced by the ‘oud in the mid-20th century.
Many diverse musical styles are performed throughout Yemen, from the African-influenced, percussive music of the Tihamma to folk traditions of Hadramawt in the Southeast and the classical Homayni style of the capital, Sana‘a. This form, inscribed in 2003 on UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage, dates to the 14th century and will be the focus of the evening’s performance.

Watch Ammar Mohammed Hayel in a short clip representative of this evening’s program.

For ticketing info click here.