Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bombino is Back!

Tuareg guitar maestro from Niger Bombino made waves stateside and throughout Europe last year with his well-received solo debut Agadez. The album blended classic Tuareg electric blues with Bombino's own trance-inducing guitar stylings. Our own Banning Eyre in his review found on the record Bombino’s "attack precise", and his "sense of melody irresistible." He went on to state, "Bombino makes music with an open heart, and it’s impossible not to be drawn into its magical inner spaces."

Clearly Bombino is something special. Fortunately for those in North America, Bombino is returning with a lengthy tour through the Spring.

Dates below:

April 04: Portland, ME - Hannaford Hall - USM Portland
April 05: Portsmouth, NH - The Historic Theater
April 06: Plainfield, VT - Haybarn Theater at Goddard College
April 07: Somerville, MA - Johnny D's
April 09: New York, NY - Highline Ballroom
April 10: Washington, D.C. - DC9
April 11: Pittsburgh, PA - Thunderbird Café
April 12: Toronto, ON - Lula Lounge
April 13: London, ON - Aeolian hall
April 14: Chicago, IL - Martyr's
April 15: Madison, WI - High Noon Saloon
April 16: Cedar Rapids, IA - Legion Arts
April 17: Oakland, CA - The New Parish
April 18: Santa Cruz, CA - Kuumbwa Jazz Center
April 20: Portland, OR - Soul'd Out Festival - Star Theater
April 21: Vancouver, BC - Fortune Sound Club
April 22: Victoria, BC - The Victoria Event Centre
April 24: Kirkland, WA - Kirkland Performance Center
April 26: Lafayette, LA - Festival International de Louisiane
April 27: Lafayette, LA - Festival International de Louisiane
April 28: Houston, TX - Houston International Festival
April 29: Austin, TX - Austin Psych Fest - Emo's East
May 02: Atlanta, GA - The Five Spot
May 03: Asheville, NC - Grey Eagle
May 05: New Orleans, LA - New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Y’en A Marre and Rap Revolution in Senegal

'kola (Bukola Jejeloye) is a freelance design, ideas and innovation "barnist" with previous extensive international development, policy and legal experiences in Africa and the Balkans. He loves everything about his continent - the history, people, villages, music, food, art and even the bad roads (though would he like to work on improving this part). He is not fond of dictators, long-term presidents and pet peeves. All text and photos are by him.

On February 26th, the much anticipated elections in the West African country of Senegal took place. While official results are being waited upon, speculations are high that there will be a March run-off election between the incumbent 85-year-old president, Abdoulaye Wade and Macky Sall, his former prime minister and protege (they had a falling out due to Sall wanting accountability from Wade’s son, Karim, over some governmental expenditure). World famous Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour attempted to get on the ballot but his candidacy was invalidated by the country’s Constitutional Court.

A recent Senegalese young voter

Listening for results in Dakar
Like several previously untarnished African democracies before it, including Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal was used to being touted as a fine example of a functioning democracy in a region where electoral chaos, civil wars and coups are the norm. However, following a string of missteps, to put it lightly, by the Government of President Wade, including a $27 million monumental statue overlooking the capital which the president claims 35% ownership based on intellectual property (don’t ask, won’t tell), a new presidential plane, tinkering with the country’s Constitution in order for the president to run for a third term, and a spate of unusual power failures that led to deaths of citizens, the country found itself in the grips of protests and riots last summer that extended into recent weeks before the election where six or more people were killed.

Reportedly leading these protests, sans the riots, are M23, a composition of civil society groups, ordinary citizens and opposition parties that arose from an uprising on June 23, 2011 protesting against a constitutional makeover by President Wade, and Y’en A Marre (French slang for "fed up"), a group of citizens including youths and artistes fronting for the frustrations of society at large. M23 does not come as a surprise to many people but the leadership and strong voice of Y’en A Marre has been something of an anomaly in this traditional and mostly conservative country. Y’en A Marre has been described by the population and popular media with a range of terms from “a group of rappers” to “a bunch of street thugs” to “young men seeking change”.

So who really are they? According to its website, Y’en A Marre is “a citizens' initiative started at the outset by committed Senegalese artists (rappers) and journalists.” It was indeed founded by a small group of rappers including Thiat (Cheikh Oumar Cyrille Touré) and Kilifeu (both of the famed hip-hop band "Keur Gui of Kaolack" (see our October coverage of them here), Fou Malade (Malal Talla), Djily “Baghdad” Aidara and Simon Bisbi Clan (Simon Mohamed Kouka). All these rappers are quite well known in Senegal and their hip hop albums do quite well in sales. The founders of the group also included two journalists: Fadel Barro and Aliou Sane. According to Simon, when I caught up with him at the polling station where he was voting, Y’en A Marre, though started by the rappers and journalists goes beyond this niche. It is a group for the people voicing the past frustrations of the people, speaking to the current situation of the people in seeking fair elections (which they hope will lead to Wade’s departure) and arousing the aspirations of the people after the elections for a New Type of Senegal (NTS). Many on the streets of Dakar are not surprised that rappers would help found a new political movement in the country as they have the ears of the street through their music which their fans adore.

 Fadel Barro and Simon (right), Y’en A Marre founders, at polling station to vote and monitor

While Y’En A Marre has proven itself a force to be reckoned with especially in the resistance to Mr. Wade’s efforts to stay longer in office despite constitutional provisions to the contrary, its founders insist that the movement remains officially unaligned with any party or candidate and keep demanding change for the better for the country regardless of who is in power. According to Keyti (Cheikh Sène), a veteran hip hop artist in Dakar and a supporter of Y’en Marre, “Y’en A Marre has grown beyond just the rappers and their fans ... its message and goals have resonated with people on the streets, including those who do not listen to rap or hip hop”. He is right on the money regarding that. I could not help but notice the diversity in the age, gender and social status of people that kept coming to speak with Simon and Fadel at the polling station. Most to encourage them to continue what they are doing for the sake of the country.

Then there is the music, the revolutionary hip-hop music underpinning the movement. It is only natural that Y’en A Marre would tap into its internal resources to make its voice heard. It also helps that Y’en A Marre’s founders have street credibility as they have been rapping revolutionary songs before they formed the group. But just to highlight its message markedly, the group also released a compilation at the end of last year, self-titled “Y’en A Marre”. The single “Faux! Pas Forcé” from the compilation has become the group’s anthem in its protests and on the lips of many desiring change in Senegal. Rap has come to make its mark in the politics of Senegal and I doubt it will be leaving anytime soon no matter how annoying it might be in the side of the establishment. Fela Kuti would be smiling in his grave now ... “Music is [indeed] the weapon”.

Spotlight: DJ Juan Data's Bondi Blaster

Bondi Blaster is DJ Juan Data's latest incarnation. His debut EP ¡Lo' Juimo!, is fashioned around what the Argentine-born and Bay Area resident DJ calls "cumbia linyera" (linyera is Argentine vernacular for garbage pickers). Teaming with Dub Snakkr and a handful of friends, ¡Lo' Juimo! is a seamless mash-up ranging in styles from hip-hop to Brazilian pop all with a party-heavy cumbia slant.

Below you can sample “Cumbia Nena” featuring three MCs --Nes, Ephniko and Juan Data himself each one representing for Mexico, Argetina and Colombia – three countries where cumbia has found a new renaissance. "Cumbia Nena" locks into a groove and maintains a steady, bass-heavy electro-cumbia pace throughout. The MCs drop their verses en español with playful attitude and swagger. Keep the cumbia coming strong!

¡Lo' Juimo! comes out March 6th on Stronghold Sound.

Spotlight: Alec Lomami's “Pop Revolution”

Alec Lomami came straight outta…nowhere, really. And in many ways, that has been the fascinating thing about Lomami since he dropped his first single “Kinshasa” about 8 months ago. Born in Belgium (although denied citizenship there), Lomami grew up in the Congo before fleeing the heightening violence and instability that have plagued that nation since the late '90s to stay with relatives in North Carolina. Attempting to claim asylum in the U.S., Lomami somehow ran afoul of immigration policies, and ended up in prison for 9 months. While there, he was fed a steady diet of modern Pop, Hip-hop, and R’n’B, the influences of which are clearly audible in his music. While Lomami has returned to the Congo for now, we are left with his new track “Pop Revolution,” a totally bumping piece of French language rap, complete with a stuttering horn line and a classic hip-hop beat that gets wickedly panned before gradually morphing into something more contemporary. Then that chorus hits and we are even more hooked.

Admittedly, we are a few weeks late on this guy. He’s already been feature in juggernaut music publication, The Fader. Nevertheless, we wanted to make sure he was on your radar.

Check it out here-. And get excited for his EP, Melancholy Joyeuse, which should be released sometime soon.

-Sam Backer

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mohamed Wardi dies in Khartoum

In the modern history of Sudan, no musical figure stands as tall, or cuts as deep as singer/composer/bandleader and political activist Mohamed Wardi, who died in Khartoum on February 18, 2012. Wardi’s legacy is complex and multifaceted. He famously befriended Louis Armstrong, and helped to introduce jazz and other contemporary influences into Sudan’s national music. In effect, he took the brass bands left behind by British and Turkish interlopers and taught them to swing, but in a uniquely Sudanese way. Wardi composed over 300 songs, many of them classics, and many of them courageous for their social and political import. Sudanese historian Ahmad Sikainga called Wardi “the largest giant of Sudanese music,” noting that he was detained and jailed for his outspokenness numerous times during the 60s and 70s, and driven into an extended period of exile with the rise of a repressive, Islamist regime in the 1980s. Wardi later returned to Sudan, and news of his death riveted Sudanese everywhere, creating a moment of unity in a profoundly divided nation.

Wardi traces his heritage to the northern Sudanese (and southern Egyptian) kingdom of Nubia. A profound force in this region’s ancient politics and culture, this Nile River kingdom was substantially dispersed and flooded out by the construction of the Aswan High Dam during the 1960s. Since that time, Nubian melodies and rhythms have carried a particular poignancy—a nostalgic link to lost African greatness. Wardi sang the traditional melodies of Nubia, and played the oud (lute) and the tambour, a frame drum linked to his own Nubian family lineage. Another legend of Nubian music, the also-late Hamza el Din, once described Wardi as “a monumental composer and singer… a true fountain of inspiration.”

Wardi was born Mohamed Osman Wardi in 1932, on Sawarda, an island in the Nile in the Sudanese north. He began as a teacher, traveling extensively in northern and central Sudan, absorbing a rich variety of local traditions and musical idioms. He moved to Khartoum in 1957, and began singing and recording, quickly acquiring a reputation, in particular for his powerful and mellifluous voice.

Early on, Wardi used his art and fame to denounce oppression and tyranny in Sudan. He was first jailed in 1961, then again for two years in 1973. On the eve of another imprisonment in 1983, he was smuggled out of the country. But his fame only grew. At a 1990 concert at the Itang refugee camp in Ethiopia, Wardi enthralled a huge crowd of Sudanese refugees, estranged from their civil war-torn country. A 1994 concert in Addis Ababa had to be held in a football stadium to accommodate the massive audience.

Wardi’s stature and musical prowess gave him access to the very best Sudanese musicians, an expansive and brilliant ensemble he called The African Birds. In 1999, Wardi brought his musicians to Los Angeles and recorded 18 of his most essential songs under the direction of veteran producer Dawn Elder. This recording has yet to be commercially released, but hopefully, one result of Wardi’s sad passing will be a new impetus to bring this historic recording to the public.

Mourning Mohamed Wardi in Sudan
Describing his band during that 1999 recording session, Wardi said, “These Sudanese musicians and singers have been working in the struggle to bring democracy back to Sudan. They deserve to be shown and written about, because all of them are political refugees. I would like to show the American media, which displays all the wars and the famine and all the difficult things, that there is cultural life, too.”

Wardi finally returned to his beloved homeland in 2003 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Khartoum in 2005 in recognition of his 60-year career, and his status as an immortal of Sudanese art.

You can hear some of Wardi’s music, including a track from the unreleased 1999 session, on Afropop Worldwide’s program, Sudan a Musical History.

- Banning Eyre

Remembering Bouba Sacko

Bouba Sacko, Bamako 1993
At the end of 2011, while much of the world was on holiday of some sort, one of Africa's greatest guitarists, Bouba Sacko, died in Bamako.  Bouba was a virtuoso and a pioneer.  If his name is less known than those of other African 6-string maestros, that is only because he mostly recorded behind brilliant Mande vocalists such as Ami Koita, Kandia Kouyate, and his late wife Djessira Kone.  Djessira's death a couple of years ago presaged a long decline for Bouba, who never really emerged from his grief.  His last years were difficult, but he leaves us profound memories and spectacular recordings.

I first met Bouba in 1993 on my first trip to Bamako.  I knew him from the sensational, 1992, acoustic Bajourou CD, a collaboration with Djelimady Tounkara.  I found Bouba in his Bamako compound, surrounded by gadgetry, and playing high-tech Mande guitar music (bajourou) with pedals and loops.  This was his element.  Bouba had a particular feel and arranging aesthetic, one he would use on many productions.  When I asked him to describe his sound, he had few words, but his playing said it all.

Among musicians, Bouba Sacko was one of the most respected guitarists in Mali. When he started playing guitar in the 1960s, the concept of a “griot guitarist” barely existed. The famed praise musicians of West Africa’s Mande people mostly worked with the kora (21-string harp), ngoni (spike lute) and wooden-slatted balafon. Bouba’s father Ibrahim Sacko was director of the state-sponsored Instrumental Ensemble of Mali, so the traditional repertoire and lore of Mande griot heritage surrounded him from the start. Just the same, Bouba stuck with the guitar, developing a powerful capacity to evoke traditional instruments using his axe.

Djelimady Tounkara, Bouba Sacko, 2005
In 1977, Bouba became the first guitarist to perform with along with kora, ngoni, and balafon in the chamber-music-like setting of a great griot chanteuse, Fanta Damba. While other Mande guitarists, like Djelimady Tounkara of the Super Rail Band, moved into the realm of electric dance bands, Bouba stuck with the jelimusow (female griot singers). Over the years, he has accompanied some of the greatest, including Ami Koita, Kandia Kouyate, and his wife, Djessira Kone. Most of these artists’ recordings have not found their way to the international market, perhaps because they rely so much on lyric content, and appeal most powerfully to a local audience.

I stayed in touch with Bouba, and was privileged to spend time with Djessira and him in New York and in Middletown, Connecticut, during an extended visit they made in 2003.  They were an extremely happy couple, and dynamite together on stage. They performed memorably at Wesleyan University, for an Afropop fundraiser we will never forget, and at a number of private celebrations for New York's Malian community.  At one of those events, in a hair salon on 125th st, I provided a PA system, and joined in on guitar on a number of songs.  When I met Bouba again in Mali in 2005, he excitedly told me that the gig had earned him a 4-wheel-drive SUV, as a gift from the groom's father.  The car sat in the driveway.  Sadly that amazing and happy moment was the last time I ever saw him.  But he lives on in so many memories, and in the hearts of all who love Malian music, and virtuoso guitar.  Rest in piece, old friend!

 - Banning Eyre

Dirck Westervelt, Djessira Kone, B. Eyre, Bouba Sacko, 2003

Thursday, February 23, 2012

D'banj Live in NYC: Good Business

Contributing Afropop producer Wills Glasspiegel saw Nigerian superstar D'banj's U.S. debut at Irving Plaza in NYC this past weekend. Here's his report:

"D'banj isn't Afropop." That's what a young journalist from Sierra Leone told me in the photo-pit at Irving Plaza as we waited for MTV Africa's Artist of the Year to take the stage. D'banj is from Nigeria and reportedly sold 7 million copies of his last record. He signed recently to Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music label -- West even gifted D'banj a gold chain on stage in London. D'banj has his own reality TV show in Nigeria, and a host of other ventures including a line of mobile phones preloaded with his music. "Uncle Snoop," D'banj's nickname for Snoop Dogg, flew out to Lagos last year for a video collaboration.

If you're West African or have lived in West African metropolises like Lagos and Accra, you probably know D'banj's R&B and hip-hop-infected pop. But if you're not African -- even if you're a fan of Afropop, world music or hip-hop -- D'banj may not be on your radar. Apart from myself and Jon Caramanica taking notes on his blackberry, Irving Plaza was mostly packed with Anglophone Africans. It didn't quite seem like D'banj was "crossing-over." This was an upwardly-mobile/upscale African market in Union Square, and it was a hell of a party.

"I'm an entertainer. I came to entertain," D'banj sings in one of his stock-phrase English hooks that makes the front-row girls scream. This music, which for me is too commercial to be palatable in any type of intimate listening environment, came to life at Irving Plaza. D'banj's band (drums, bass, guitar, dancers, keys and backup rappers) was tight and the songs were simple -- they left room for improv. D'banj called out to his Nigerians audience, his Ghanaian audience, and his Liberian audience -- those who filled the room, paid for the expensive tickets and dressed impeccably for the occasion.

D'banj's music is grounded in a cosmopolitan African-pop aesthetic. The DJ's opening performance set that context: Drake and Lil Wayne played beside Magic System; the crowd knew every word to songs by Demarco, Serani, Khago Na and Bracket. It's a new African global-pop canon. This mix winds through languages, dialects, riddims, reality TV and fancy clubs throughout the continent and the Diaspora. This is the community that makes D'banj a global pop star even if he'll never make the cover of Rolling Stone or put out an album on Putumayo.

Later in the set, the crowd marveled when D'banj broke out his harmonica, his signature (and only) instrument. It's a gimmick, but it's a charming gimmick. It's entertaining. It's heartfelt. It's something to blog about.

As his Wikipedia entry notes, D'banj often professes his love for another Nigeria legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Wikipedia says Fela was D'banj's mentor, which isn't true). D'banj imitates the Chief Priest-- he often poses triumphantly on stage with raised arms just like Fela. But D'banj is not the new Fela. He has no counter-culture in him. Perhaps because of ties to big money in Nigeria, D'banj is notoriously
hesitant to address the current upheavals in Nigerian society related to oil and the Christian / Muslim divide. Fela's art was grounded in revolutionary politics and social commentary. D'banj is an entertainer and a businessman. He's good at what he does.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

And the Road March Winner: is... Machel Montano - "Pump Yuh Flag"

 With Ash Wednesday comes the end of Carnival and, for soca fans, the identity of this year’s Road March winner. This year the title, along with the lucrative International Power Soca Monarch ($2,000,000) and Groovy Soca Monarch ($500,000) all went to a single performer: Machel Montano and his massive tune, “Wave Yuh Flag,” which was played a total of 233 times.

Machel is one of the most successful soca performers, having also won the "Road March" title last year, as well as in 2007, 1998, and 1997. Yet despite this popularity, how was it possible for him to have achieved such a clear domination of the Soca field? In this case it took a song trilogy, and an unceasing drive to utterly reform, nay, to supposedly totally “revolutionize the very concept of flag-waving” as it had heretofore existed. 

In a case of such a massive triumph, it seems best to get out of the way, and let the man (or at least his production company) speak for himself. Here are some gems from his ridiculous, but fun press release for "Pump Yuh Flag:"
"Pump Yuh Flag” also affectionately known as P.Y.F., is the first segment of a road-march ready trilogy. The song will be released as tri-factor that consists of:

1. The “Original” - Designed to ignite the Carnival masses

2. The “758 Re-Mix” – Orchestrated to elicit unbridled euphoria in the fetes

3. The “Road Mix”. Meticulously engineered to increase the blood-flow
(A complete physical or medical clearance, is recommended before crossing the stage to this mix).

This musical trilogy will build the momentum and climax unto the streets, as P.Y.F. subtly seduces 3 moods of your consciousness. A Soca syncopated progression - from radio stimulation - to fete frivolity - and segways into masquerader stage satisfaction.” 

Some tune though… 
 Congratulations Machel!

Check out two of the three versions below:

-Sam Backer

Spotlight: Céu — "Retrovisor"

Brazilian singer/songwriter Céu just released a new video for her song "Retrovisor" off her forthcoming album Caravana Sereia Bloom. The number is a moody, piece with hints of surf guitar, jazz and samba. Really, though, this is a languid, sexy pop-song that would fit perfectly in a Bond film. It also continues to showcase Céu's flexibility as an artist and her refusal to be pigeonholed to any one genre.

The video is a perfect accompaniment to the song. With it's grainy, 8mm-type footage, deep hues and mysterious shots of Céu in various locations, the video works well with the mood of the track. We liked it so much we thought that both song and video were perfect for a post-Fat Tuesday hangover.



Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nomadic Wax Drops the Multi-Lingual "Super MC"

Nomadic Wax, a record label specializing in hip-hop from around the globe and often times Africa, dropped a new, 7+ minute mix today called “Super MC.” The title refers to a statement Chuck D said on his radio program a few years back that “the Super MC is the one who can spit in more than two languages.”

Riffing off that idea, Nomadic Wax put together this new mix featuring seven MCs who can flow in more than one language flawlessly. Only one lives outside of North America but various languages represented make it a real international affair.

Listen or download below!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Weekend Music Selection With Boima, Rakas, Ebo Taylor + More

A bunch of free music dropped this week. So much so that the small staff of Afropop Worldwide could not keep up with all of it. So here is a short roundup of free, excellent music that should keep your weekend bumping and full of good sounds.

The Dutty Artz-affiliated producer/DJ is a favorite around here. His excellent African in New York EP was recently released. He also produced some of Los Rakas funky plena meets hip-hop EP, Chancletas y Camisetas Bordada. He also dropped  Lone Stars, a compilation of Hipco and Gbema music from Liberia late last year.  Boima is the type of smart, trail-blazing DJ bringing us new sounds from across the world that we dig. His new mix for XLR8R is a fiery energetic offering that should be on repeat around here for the next few months.

As much as these Bay-Area by way of Panama bad boys like to front as tough guys, they’ve also been known to let their romantic side shine through. How else can you explain dropping a free, 9-song EP called Raka Love on Valentines Day? 

Carioca-influenced electro-pop three-piece from Curitiba, Brazil will be dropping a new single and video any time now. Until then, Mad Decent let loose some b-sides and so-called “castaways” from the group’s debut With Lazers. Grab ‘Em!

Ghanian guitarist, producer and music innovator may be well into his 70s but that hasn’t stopped him. After releasing the solid Love & Death in 2010, Taylor saw a series of his classic releases see re-issue via Strut. This year Taylor is back with a new album Appia Kwa Bridge set to drop later this year made up of entirely new material. Hear the first track “Ayesama” via Bama Soul. 


What else did we miss? Let us know! Shoot us a tweet or comment below.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago Full of Controversy Caused By New Fees

Few areas take Carnival more seriously then the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago where it is the single most important event of the year and a huge tourist draw. As a result, changes to the traditional routine take on an extreme importance, affecting the economic reality of significant numbers of bandleaders, musicians, and other artisans. Despite its celebratory feel. This is a BIG business.

This year the run-up to Carnival has been characterized by divergent interests and conflict between the various parties involved. Although Carnival is officially overseen by the National Carnival Commission (NCC), the actual organization and running of the parades and competitions that form its centerpiece is handled by the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA), which receives annual funding from the government. Lead by its longtime president David Lopez, the NCBA has recently taken several controversial positions that seem to have put it in direct conflict with many of the bandleaders that it officially represents, particularly those running the largest of the Mas groups. Of these positions, the one that has received the most criticism is the imposition of new (and previously unheard of) registration fees on all performers and bandleaders.

Lopez claims that the new fees are necessary because, while the costs of organizing Carnival continue to rise, the amount of money that the NCBA receives from the government has remained fixed. Furthermore, he argues that the funds collected would also be used to help develop the “creative skills” of those from whom it is collected. Lopez has previously claimed that many of the skills and cultural creativity that make Carnival unique are increasingly threatened; in particular, he has singled out the growing trend of importing the material used in Mas costumes from China and India as a particularly damaging development. Speaking last year, he claimed that the tradition of costume making in Trinidad was “rapidly dying if not already dead…The industry is not where it was some ten years ago. Soon people will no longer need skilled labor like wire benders, metal beaters and hundreds of people who are employed in accessorizing the costumes.”

The reaction to the fees and this argument for their necessity (the latter backed up by the seemingly unlikely threat of 2000% percent tariff on the importation of all pre-made costumes by the Minister of Arts and Culture) has been met with negative reactions from the major bandleaders who are decrying it as economically unreasonable and,given the disorganized way that they were introduced, both illegitimate and unprofessional. According to Mahindra Satram-Mahara, chairman of the National Carnival Development Foundation, the organizers of Carnival have made an “annual habit of poor planning and last-minute consultations with stakeholders." Satram-Mahara continues his critique stating, "The Government is putting emphasis on globally branding Carnival but how can we brand it if we cannot get our house in order?”

While these arguments are often formulated in the terms of carnival culture, with claims made that the fees are an assault on the “freedom of expression” that is the beating heart of carnival, it is difficult not see their roots in the light of the marketplace. As bands have expanded to provide an increasingly immersive experience, promising their members food, drink, and security in addition to the traditional costumes, costs and organizational difficulties have increased as well. According to the bandleader Ronnie McIntosh, “Everyone thinks that bandleaders are making big money. They only see the launch of the bands, the costumes and the prizes….
There is a heavy cost attached to safety and security of the bands; a heavy cost attached to renting trucks, trailers, and generators; and the production costs of costumes are very high. We have to pay for production at every level - be it local or overseas. That is why we have to treat Carnival as a business and not bacchanal.”

According to this viewpoint, developments such as the importation of costumes from China and India should be understood as a necessary part of the decidedly realistic process of running a modern carnival group. If feather prices are too high in Trinidad, the next step is, just like in any other business, to buy them from China where they are cheaper. In direct opposition to this is the understanding of Carnival espoused by the NCBA, which views the effort “to export the ingenuity and creativity of Carnival through its locally produced final products” as its main aim. This clear opposition means that the friction between the two camps is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, as Trinidad and Tobago continues to negotiate the complex process of making a viable industry out of its cultural heritage.

-Sam Backer

Are FOKN Bois Fokn With You?

Ghanian duo FOKN Bois dropped an entire18-track album for yesterday and letting you name your own price for it. Titled FOKN Wit Ewe, the album showcases their brand of offensive humor with song titles like “Laffin at Cripples,” “Strong Homosexual Guys” and “Sexin Islamic Girls.”

If you are familiar with FOKN Bois, though, they seem like socio-conscious MCs and likely, beneath these song titles and inside their lyrics exists a creative and relevant commentary. FOKN Bois specialize in trying to push their listeners beyond their comfort zones in hopes of bringing to light what is, in their opinion, the problems and inanities of major social issues, particularly in Africa and African identity. When the duo sing about not fearing guns, not fearing knives but that they do fear “homosexual guys,” they are not being homophobic but calling out the extreme homophobia that exists in their home country.

Is this effective, though? Does the message come across clearly enough or could it easily be misconstrued? How does it compare to the intense and obvious socio-political messages of the recently covered Waga 3000?

We are still delving into the record but do find their abrasive humor engaging and worth a listen and, at least, a conversation.

You be the judge and tell us what you think. Download or Stream below:

-Saxon Baird

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spotlight: Waga 3000

The man behind Akwaaba Music, Benjamin Lebrave wrote up a hefty article for The Fader the other day about some seriously hot hip-hop out of Burkina Faso from an outfit called Waga 3000. As Lebrave explains in his article, Waga 3000 is "not average hip hop from Burkina Faso, and it’s very obvious, very fast." No doubt, Lebrave is right. The jagged beat off the trio's debut offering, "Dal Fo Yi Kin Dao" is cold and fires off rapidly with synth flourishes and heavy, kicking bass. MCs Joey Le Soldat and Art Melody drop right in with force and don't miss a step, letting loose their rhymes with ease and personality.

The group has an interesting background that is very much rooted in the toxic socio-political situation that has characterized Burkina Faso since the assassination of Thomas Sankara in 1987. We highly encourage you to read more on them via Lebrave's article which brings to light a number of fascinating aspects in regards to not only Waga 3000 but hip-hop in francophone Africa.

But first, bump this!

-Saxon Baird

globalFEST 2012 In Photos

globalFEST, New York City's annual musical extravaganza, happened on January 8, 2012. The NPR Music globalFEST recap and discussion, which featured Afropop's Banning Eyre, has been getting a lot of play. The NPR Music site also lets you stream and download each of the 12 sets that went down over the course of a dizzying 5 1/2 hours on three stages at Webster Hall.  Of course, it will take you a lot longer than that to hear it all!  If you accomplish that

This week, keeping the globalFEST buzz going, Afropop Worldwide features a selection of the best songs, together with interviews with key artist, Belo of Haiti, Mayra Andrade of Brazil, SMOD a young hop hop act out of Mali, and more.  Afropop's Marlon Bishop has pulled together a behind the scenes look at this uniquely rich event, and to accompany that, here's a photo essay mostly through Banning Eyre's lens with a few comments from him.


This young Haitian singer-songwriter is one to watch. He's making an interesting fusion of Haitian roots styles and global sounds.  Belo recorded his third CD, Haiti Debout (Haiti Stand Up), in Paris with a number of African musicians, including Blick Bassy of Cameroon and Malian kamelengoni master (of Salif Keita fame) Harouna Samake. The lean, punchy band Belo brought to Webster Hall lacked that sonic richness, but the set had soul.  And its great to hear a strong new voice coming out of Haiti.


This dynamic Israel-based band draws fundamental inspiration from the folklore of Yemen.  But with a near orchestra-sized lineup including strings, brass, percussion backing charismatic frontman Ravid Kahalani, the influences and sonic references run deep. From folksy interludes to full on dance band blare, this group delivers passion through complex, thoughtful arrangements. Yemen Blues played the Ballroom, Webster Hall's biggest venue, and they rocked it!

by Wills Glasspiegel

Friday, February 10, 2012

Podcast Exclusive: The Electronic Underground of Cairo

On this special, web-exclusive Afropop delves into the small but vibrant world of Cairo's electronic music scene. You can stream or download the podcast below.

Also, be sure to read our interview with 100 Copies, a small boutique label based in Cairo, that releases limited edition albums of experimental and electronic music.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Spotlight: David Álvarez - " Como la Mariposa"

We are slowing things down a bit today with our spotlight on Cuban musician David
Álvarez. Without a doubt, the first thing that becomes obvious about Álvarez is that he is a bit of a romantic. One listen to his forthcoming album, Clandestino reveals his exceptional ability to blend Latin styles and songs of lament, love and heartbreak with his own twist on tradition. Clandestino has both rural campesino traditions and the innovative musicianship of Pedro Luis Ferrer for a sound that is both old and new.

With legendary Cuban players ( Irakere’s sax man Alfred Thompson; tres master Pancho Amat; Buena Vista Social Club’s Roldán Carballoso Gomez) rounding out his ensemble, Clandenstino is a quiet, delicate offering that runs deep in history and emotion for those looking for something contemplative, mellow and sweet.

Sample "Como la Mariposa" below:

Clandestino is out via Tumi on March 13th.

-Saxon Baird

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Spotlight: MkC - "ULA ULA"

The always reliable Tropical Bass just dropped a premiere of Mike Cerda (aka MkC) latest single from his forthcoming album Caribbean Swagga. The track fits nicely from a slew of producers and artists from across Latin and South America that are taking old genres and styles and infusing them with a club-ready backbone.

"ULA ULA" does just this. The self-proclaimed "VENEZOLANO-Latin Urban Producer/DJ" paves the single with a heavy layer of bass underneath squeeking synths and some nice organic brass.

Let the sweat drip.

-Saxon Baird

Monday, February 6, 2012

Spotlight: Super Hi-Fi - "Single Payer"

If you read the Afropop Blog on the regular then you know we got some mad love for Electric Cowbell Records. Somehow these guys just keep on digging out some great music from bands that really present creatively tight, sonically-rich, organic sounds that blend various styles into some goodness for your ears. On top of that they still got love for vinyl and good looking album covers. Always a plus.

This time we just got a track from the Brooklyn-based Super Hi-Fi who just dropped a new seven-inch via Electric Cowbell. Side A features a dubby Afrobeat offering called "Single Payer." The first half slowly unwinds like a Skatalites track co-opted by King Tubby before the second half picks up the pace as the brass comes in for a gorgeous conclusion.

Hear for yourself:

You can pre-order the seven-inch now via their website. It officially drops on 2.21.

Finally, if you are in New York be sure to check them out at Zebulon in Williamsburg on February 16th with Spanglish Fly. Show is free and starts at 9pm.

-Saxon Baird

Friday, February 3, 2012

Ziggy Marley Joins Cast of Fela! The Musical for Good Cause

This just in from the people of Fela! The Musical:

The FELA! cast and producers, in association with Knitting Factory Records is currently running a promotion with the amazing children’s charity run by Ziggy Marley, U.R.G.E. (Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment). U.R.G.E. If you enter the coupon, “africaunite” with your purchase from the Fela Kuti webstore, 20% of the cost of your items will be donated to U.R.G.E. from now until February 9th. Shop for a good cause –it’s a win for everyone.

If that wasn't cool enough, Ziggy will be performing on Letterman tonight, talking about his work with Amnesty International and performing "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan according to his Twitter.

Check out the footage of Ziggy joining the cast in L.A. last month:

Free Download: Punk in Africa

Here's something different for your ears. Dj Zhao, a Berlin-based DJ, has put together a compilation of punk-ish tunes from bands out of Africa. The compilation mainly consists of South African bands but Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and DR Congo are represented as well.

DJ Zhao does take some liberties when it comes to the term "punk," riffing off the style's aesthetic, approach and attitude opposed to the straight 4/4, three-chord type. Which really, is an excellent decision resulting in a highly eclectic offering that covers "rock, punk, Afro-garage, Techno, Bass Music and beyond"

Best of all the entire thing is free for you to download.

PUNK IN AFRICA official selection mixed by dj zhao by Punk In Africa

-Saxon Baird 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ana Tijoux Drops New Album Stateside

Chilean by way of France rapper Ana Tijoux released her third full-length La Bala stateside yesterday. Judging from the video for the first single, "Shock," the album will be heavy with socio-political commentary much like her last full-length offering 1977.

The album comes during an pivotal time in Chilean politics where much of 2011 was marked by protests catalyzed by a massive student movement advocating equal access to education. The level of the protests are causing a level of upheaval that hold similarities to those the nation experienced during its return to democracy in 1990.

We were fortunate to catch Tijoux at the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City a few years back. Check out the program 'Tales from the LAMC' to hear Tijoux and other awesome Latin artists. We were excited about her then and are just as excited for this new album.

Watch the video for "Shock" below and be on the lookout for an Afropop review of it in the near future. You can also stream it in its entirety via

Ana tijoux Shock from Eduardo Polanco on Vimeo.