Thursday, April 26, 2012

Listen: South Africa Celebrates Freedom Day!

South Africans celebrate Freedom Day on April 27th, the day back in 1994 when the first post-apartheid democratic elections were held in their country. Nelson Mandela of course won a resounding victory and he stuck to his principle of “forgive but don’t forget.” We delved into our archives to celebrate with the passionate stories and music of Hilda Tloubatla of the Mahotella Queens, Tandiswa Mazwai, Ray Phiri, Dorothy Masuka, Kabelo, and others remembering that glorious day.

Listen below!

South Africans Remember by Afropop Worldwide

Rap & Electro-Sha'bi Podcast: "What's Next for Egyptian Music?"

Wrapping up Afropop's Hip Deep series on Egypt, Banning Eyre asks "What Next for Egyptian Music?" To supplement part 5, "Revolution Songs," this podcast focuses on the roots of Egyptian rap, and its surging popularity after the revolution. The future of music in Egypt may be the fusion of rap and another surging, young genre, electro-sha'bi.

Download + Listen below: 

Egypt 5 - Revolution Songs podcast by Afropop Worldwide

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Video: The Very Best - "Yoshua Alikuti"

The always intriguing duo The Very Best are back with a video for a new single off their forthcoming full-length due to drop this summer. You may notice that the beginning of the track samples Lil Wayne's "A Milli" before delving into the electronic-fueled pop track. That sample is a hint at the videos theme. In the video for the 2008 Lil Wayne single, it showcases the rapper strutting around a set with his posse and security guards in tow.

For "Yoshua Alikuti," Esau and Johan riff off that video but instead of the set for a music video shoot or backstage at a concert, the two roll through a township in Nairobi. The end result is a colorful delve into a playful first person account of what it would be like to roll with someone popular on an average day in an Nairobi township.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Summer Stage 2012 Dates Announced

As spring finally rolls around (or at least what's marked as spring on the calenders), it's time to start looking forward to summer. Summer, when the New York City's parks come alive with FREE CONCERTS. We love them. You love them. Summerstage is the best. Here are Afropop's picks for this season:

MIDNITE / DJ CARTER VAN PELT 6.6.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm | Betsy Head Park 

BUSHMAN / NIYORAH / DJ SOUL SELECTOR 6.12.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm | Herbert Von King Park

SAFIRE / LISETTE MELENDEZ / DJ LUCHO 6.27.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

CANO ESTREMERA 6.26.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm | Soundview Park


JOSE ALBERTO “EL CANARIO” 7.3.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm | Saint Mary's Park

“A TRIBUTE TO TITO PUENTE ” 7.5.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm | Saint Mary's Park

FRANKIE NEGRON 7.8.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm | Saint Mary's Park

7.11.2012 | 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm | Central Park

ANDES MANTA 7.13.2012 | 10:30 am - 11:30 am | Crotona Park

7.14.2012 | 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm | Central Park 

ANDES MANTA 7.16.2012 | 10:30 am - 11:30 am | Rochdale Park

7.21.2012 | 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm | Central Park

ORCHESTRE POLY-RYTHMO / SMOD / BIBI TANGA & THE SELENITES / DJ CHIEF BOIMA 7.22.2012 | 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm | Central Park

HÉCTOR ACOSTA “EL TORITO” / DJ LOBO / ALEX SENSATION 7.29.2012 | 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm | Central Park

AMADOU & MARIAM / THEOPHILUS LONDON 8.4.2012 | 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm | Central Park 

SIDI TOURÉ / THE PEDRITO MARTINEZ GROUP / WOUTER KELLERMAN 8.6.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm | Marcus Garvey Park

HERITAGE OP 8.6.2012 | 10:30 am - 11:30 am | Slattery Playground

KÙLÚ MÈLÉ AFRICAN DANCE & DRUM ENSEMBLE / MBDANCE Master Class by Kùlú Mèlé African Dance & Drum Ensemble 8.11.2012 | 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm | Marcus Garvey Park 

GOAPELE / YOLANDA ZAMA / SCREENING: COME BACK AFRICA 8.14.2012 | 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm | Central Park TOBY LOVE 8.14.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm | Highbridge Park

24 HORAS / K ROSE 8.16.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm | Highbridge Park

Jamaica's 50th Independence Day:

JOSÉ ALBERTO “EL CANARIO” / 8 Y MAS / DJ POLITO VEGA 8.21.2012 | 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm | East River Park

Friday, April 20, 2012

Khaira Arby Tour Dates + Poignant Video

While talking about Khaira Arby's upcoming North American tour, we re-watched this footage from her first visit to the states in 2010. In light of the strife currently engulfing northern Mali, her description of her beloved multi-ethnic home, Timbuktu, is a potent reminder of what is at stake in the conflict.

In Arby's own words- "In the land of Timbuktu, there are black Tuareg. There are the white Tuareg. There are Songhai. There are the Peul. This is why, in my songs, in my music, all the ethnic groups of Timbuktu find themselves, and I sing to them one by one... The music of the north is cosmopolitan. The music of  Timbuktu is so broad, it can embrace all kinds of music."

Poignant words in light of the current situation. Watch the entire video below:


Tour Dates:

Thu 4/26 DALLAS, TX Kessler Theater

Fri 4/27 LAFAYETTE, LA Festival Int'l de Louisiane

Sat 4/28 LAFAYETTE, LA Festival Int'l de Louisiane

Mon 4/30 ATLANTA, GA The Earl

Tue 5/1 DURHAM, NC Local 506


Thu 5/3 NEW YORK, NY Le Poisson Rouge

Fri 5/4 BOSTON, MA Johnny D's

Sat 5/5 ROCHESTER, NY Abilene Bar & Grill

Mon 5/7 MONTREAL, QC La Sala Rosa

Wed 5/9 GRAND RAPIDS, MI Pyramid Scheme

Thu 5/10 CHICAGO, IL Old Town (small room)

Fri 5/11 IOWA CITY, IA Englert Theatre

Sat 5/12 LINCOLN, NE Bourbon Theater

Mon 5/14 SALT LAKE CITY, UT Urban Lounge

Sat 5/19 JOSHUA TREE, CA Joshua Tree Music Fest

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bombino Plays a Tuareg Dedication for Pitchfork

Bombino at the Highline Ballroom (Banning Eyre)

Online music juggernaut Pitchfork Media released a video last week of Bombino playing an acoustic song on the Highline in New York City. As Bombino explains before the song, the track is dedicated to the encourage of the Imouhar (nomads) living in the Sahara Desert. The track is a gorgeous acoustic dedication showcasing the infectious nature of Bombino’s music at its most simple – guitar, hand drum, and clapping.

Here at Afropop, we have been watching the unfolding situation with the Tuaregs in Mali closely (read more from us here). While Bombino hails from Niger, he is very familiar with violent conflict, having fought an armed conflict for independence in Niger and losing many friends and band-members to the violence.

Check the video below and the rest of Bombino’s tour dates here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Spotlight: Norte Sonoro

One of the interesting aspects of the global music culture is the multidisciplinary approach to musical creation by a number of its most influential artists. This is often predicated on the musical/technical flexibility afforded by the remix culture. DJ’s and electronic music, the members of this cohort, tend to assume a number of complimentary roles, producing work as writers, journalists, producers, musicians, and performers. (For more about this, see our recent "Crate-Diggers and Remixers").

An interesting, and musically productive, chapter in this larger development is the Norte Sonoro EP , recently released online by NRMAL records. Curated by Toy Selectah, and featuring artists prominent artists including DJ/Rupture, the music on the EP is the result of the collaboration between a geographically wide-ranging group of DJ’s and some of the most important musicians and sounds from the north of Mexico. Brought together with the financial help from the Mexican government, the stated goal of the project was to “establish a dialogue” between the traditional music of the north and the new generation of polyglot international artists.

The results are fascinating, stylistically varied, and often quite beautiful. Particularly notable is “La Espina Del Cardenche” by Algodon Egipcio (Egyptian Cotton), in which the original guitars and vocals of the source material are chopped into swirling patterns and then dunked into a bath of synth-spirals and stutters, with the end result somehow managing to maintain a sense of organically rooted simplicity while also functioning as a fully modern piece of electronic music.

The week-long residency (which took place last November) culminated in an outdoor festival, in which the various international artists played sets with the Mexican nationals with whom they had been working. According to (participant) DJ Rupture’s Mudd Up Blog this was both totally awesome, and (at least partially) the artistic culmination of the whole process. Although some intense collaborations may have occurred on stage, the tracks on the E.P. seem to exist at a significant remove from the music on which they were based (or rather, from which they were sourced). This isn’t much of a problem for the music itself, which is almost uniformly excellent, but it does beg the question of how much of the process was truly collaborative, and to what extent the sounds of northern mexico may have simply have served as raw material for a notably omniverious set of DJ’s. That said, the spotlight that the project shines on a group of underappreciated (at least in many western circles) Mexican artists is admirable, and may well lead to more opportunities in the future. And the tunes kill. Did we mention that already?

***UPDATE: It turns out that NRMAL is not a record label. Instead, it is a music and arts promoter based in Monterrey, Mexico. For more information, you can check out their website here. Our apology for the mistake.

Weekend Afro-House Jamz Courtesy of Dubbel Dutch

Untracklisted mixes aren’t usually a favorite source of new music at Afropop. Although we definitely understand the legal reasons behind the failure to post track names (#copyrightlawz), it sure does make it difficult to track down the original artists being (re)mixed, and probably hinders them from getting the credit (and the Ca$h) that they deserve.

Okay- that’s enough from our soapbox for now. We know that it’s the wild west out there in the inter-zone folks, but we feel confident that this mix has the stuff to get you through. Not to mention to soundtrack whatever it is that you’re doing this weekend. By turns bass-bumping, simultaneously uplifting and melancholy (in the way that only house and springtime can be), and stutteringly elegant, it’s a winner from start to finish. Nice moves, Dubble Dutch. Now tell us where those beats came from!

(h/t Ghetto Bassquake)

***Update: Dubbel Dutch hit us up with some clarity on his mix. Here is his response to the "Afro-House" term:

"Having simply titled this mix 'Afro-House' was somewhat misleading since a few people assumed or associated that the Afro-House I meant was the South African variety. All of the music in this particular mix however originates from either Angola or Portugal - and all of it was given away for free through soundcloud. A lot of kuduro producers have started migrating towards deep house or big room house sounds (similar to S.A. house) but with an almost kind of slow kuduro vibe."

A Response for the Sake of Clarity on Mali & Tinariwen

Last week Sam Backer and I wrote a blog post on our concern about the Tuareg rebellion taking place in northern Mali and the band Tinariwen. The response to the post were both positive and negative. We were glad to see a discussion taking place, even for those who didn’t agree with us. However, we were troubled that some respected colleagues were coming to conclusions that were not what we were trying to convey. We realize now that our post was a bit convoluted and lacked clearly marked reference points to support our concerns. Thus, we felt the need to respond, to make a few points clear.

First, in no way was the post judging or attacking Tinariwen. We recognize the complexity of the Malian situation are not passing judgment on the band’s politics or its longstanding commitment to the struggle for Tuareg rights and recognition.

Second, in no way were we expecting western music media to give in-depth, detailed analysis and history behind the longstanding tension between the Tuareg and the Malian government.

To be specific, last week we were receiving news about Tinariwen and their forthcoming tour with Red Hot Chili Peppers (Here’s the press release we received). Then we saw the news of this press-release being published on various websites (example 1 and example 2). Nowhere was there any mention of the situation in Mali or that two of the main members of Tinariwen were stuck in refugee camps. Or that they had spoken out on the situation in Mali (see here). We found that rather strange. In a way, it would be like reporting on a Rastafarian reggae artist and not mentioning his or her beliefs. Or talking about a Sierra Leonean artist, like Janka Nabay, and not mentioning that he had to flee Sierra Leone because of the civil war there. What made the Tinariwen situation especially acute, though, was that everything this band sings about and the way they have been represented to us now had real-time significance, as this excellent New Yorker article points out. Thus, it seemed odd that none of this was being acknowledged by many music outlets, especially for a band that had once been described as, “Friends in the wilderness, who turned from comrades in arms in a bloody desert rebellion into dedicated artists, and finally into global messengers for the people of the Sahara” (read full-press sheet here).

To a certain extent, we understand why this is. It is the job of publicists and sometimes journalists or bloggers to take complex history and create a digestible narrative that is both understandable and intriguing to audiences.  That’s a tough job and we respect that. Arguably also, the situation had just taken place.  And we do understand the instinct to remain hands-off, as OkayAfrica explained to us here.

However, we felt that to not recognize the situation at all was unfortunate and could hold negative consequences.  It may not be the job of music media outlets to inform their readers about the detailed history of Mali.  However, here at Afropop, we have always tried to push the envelope in that regard, receiving global music not just as exotic sound, but as a window into the realities of the world. This is especially important when a situation is so timely and pertinent to the band’s identity and how they’ve been presented to us stateside.  To ignore the news context entirely at best misses an opportunity, and at worst perpetuates ignorance. By at least mentioning it, you can act as a starting point for a reader’s own exploration into the nitty-gritty details. That was really all we meant to say.

We regret any misunderstandings. We look forward to continuing the conversation about events in Mali.  We encourage you to read Executive Producer Sean Barlow’s reflections on the multi-ethnic (not only Tuareg) culture of the Malian north (here).  Also, find out ways you can help out with the severe humanitarian crisis that these events, and the displacement of as many as 200,000 refugees, have created in Mali (here).

- Saxon Baird

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Help With the Humanitarian Crisis in Mali! Here's How...

An estimated  200,000 Malians have fled their homes in the north. You can help the refugees by donating to these organizations:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Musical Reflections on Dramatic Events in Northern Mali

Our recent post about JeConte & the Mali Allstars featuring Khaira Arby, Vieux Farka Toure and Bassekou Kouyate creating a song pleading for peace in their native Mali made me reflect. These three are all extraordinary, internationally celebrated artists from different backgrounds.

Khaira's heritage is Berber and Songhai. Vieux's is Sonrai. Bassekou's is Bambara and Mande. In my many interviews with the late Ali Farka Toure, he always delighted in the multi-ethnic heritage of his beloved north and pointed out that he drew from different languages, folklore and music styles for his art. When I met Khaira in Timbuktu in 2000, she likewise talked about Timbuktu as an exciting and rich crossroads of different ethnic groups that inspired her.

Songhai, Tuareg, and Sonrai artists all perform takamba, a style marked by slow, graceful arm and hand movements that you see in every Tinariwen performance. The origins go back to the Songhai Empire, hundreds of years ago. And the Tuareg developed their own version in the last century. One of Habib Koite's first hits was "Fatima" also in the takamba style, showing his eager embrace of all Malian culture, not just his own ethnic group. At the Festival in the Desert in Essakane in 2003, we saw Oumou Sangare, the premier Wassoulou singer from the south perform takamba and she called on stage Ali Farka who danced it brilliantly--beaming and serene. The point is that Mali is a multi-ethnic society through and through. This goes way back to the 13th century when Mali became an empire. And Mali has always prided itself as multi-ethnic. What could so easily be a source of division has been instead an admirable source of national pride.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Report on The 19th New York African Film Festival

 All text and photos are by 'kola. 

By my last count, there are four film festivals in the United States that are focused on Africa (New York African Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival, African Diaspora Film Festival, and the Cascade Festival of African Films). Make that four and a half, if you count the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. That seems like a small amount outlets to represent the almost one billion people on the continent. Fortunately, there are more and growing number of African Film festivals in Europe and Africa. The past Thursday, April 5, marked the town-hall opening of one the more venerated of the festivals, The New York African Film Festival (NYAFF). With its 19th edition, fans and friends say the festival keeps aging with grace and sophistication. If Thursday’s town-hall opener, interestingly titled “AFRICANS IN THE DIASPORA: EXPATRIATES AND HOMECOMING”, is any indication, then afro-film aficionados are in for a real treat over the next couple of weeks. The Thursday event featured “Borom Sarret” (aka the Wagoner) the 20 minute classic by legendary film maker Ousmane Sembene, accompanied by a remixed soundtrack by Dj Spooky. Though "Borom Sarret" is often considered the first film ever made in Africa by a black African, I must confess that I had never seen the movie until last week. Actually, it was quite a trippy experience. This was followed by a panel discussion with two film makers and a film critic, Yemane Demissie and Beatriz Leal, moderated by Femi Oke of WNYC.

Clip of "Borom Sarret":

Starting formally this coming Wednesday, April 11, with a celebration Mariam Makeba and some interesting treasures from the Russian State Archives, the festival will be showcasing a gamut of films from the continent produced mostly in the last two years. This is good for contemporary African and African focused filmmakers. Viewers can expect movies from Senegal, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya, Cameroon, Algeria and other countries.

I guess this is the stage where I am supposed to make some recommendations and tell you what you must not miss. I am an old soul when it comes to African movies so my obvious recommendations would be for you to see “Come Back, Africa” (1959 - about a young black man who goes to Johannesburg in search of a better life) and “Treasuries from the Russian State Archives” (1954/1976 - Russian Archival film and photo footage on Africa). Two films also seem very captivating-- “Monica Wangu Wamwere: The Unbroken Spirit” showcases what one individual can do against injustices in a country, of which there is no shortage of in many African countries, and “Our Beloved Sudan” which documents the political destiny of the Sudanese Nation.

Clip of “Monica Wangu Wamwere: The Unbroken Spirit” :

Call me a political junkie but films are good educators of people, especially in and of Africa. I would love to see African filmmakers tell more stories of the continent from the past as well as the present. While the NYAFF strikes a fine balance between anglophone and francophone films, I would also like to see more movies done in indigenous languages from the continent which is not as much as an impossibility as one might think. Nollywood has proven time and over that movies done in indigenous languages can still be appreciated across borders even with terrible subtitles.

But wait a minute, I am not done yet. NYAFF is not about the movies alone. It will be organizing a series of presentations including “Africa is a Country: Talking Media and Russian Archives” by the folks who bring you juicy stories on the popular blog, Africa is a Country (AIAC) [full disclosure: I blog on AIAC] and “Whose Story Is It Anyway?: Grassroots Media Movements On The Continent” by Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies (IAS) and Center for African Education (CAE). How can you possibly say “nay” to all of this excitement. Short of going to Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou or Carthage Film Festival of Tunisia, one cannot do better than the NYAFF. Only thing I am missing is a soundtrack compilation of the music from the movies being showcased; something to look forward to at the 20th Edition? So, hurry and get yourself a ticket or six.
Viva L’Afrique!!!

PS: A friend of mine just bet her salary on “Relentless” by Andy Okoroafor. Any of you care to differ?

Khaira Arby, Vieux Farka Toure and Bassekou Kouyate Call for Peace in Mali with New Song

JeConte & The Mali Allstars have released a track with famed Malian singer Khaira Arby, Vieux Farka Touré and Bassekou Kouyate, in direct response to the tumultuous situation in her home country. Her stateside manager Chris Nolan had this to say about Khaira, the situation in Mali and the new song:

Thousands of refugees have fled the country seeking safety in the open countryside or in refugee camps in neighboring countries.  Many more have stayed in their homes to wait for the situation to be resolved.  This humanitarian crisis is largely unknown and woefully underfunded because of NGO reluctance to move into what is effectively a warzone.

By chance, Khaira Arby was at work in a Bamako recording studio with JeConte and the Mali Allstars when the news broke that a coup was in progress, in the streets right outside the door.  No stranger to socio-political issues, Khaira Arby was eager to work on the new song that JeConte had just written about the tensions in Mali.  Together with two other internationally recognized Malian music stars, Vieux Farka Toure and Bassekou Kouyate, this plea for peace was born.

As of right now, Khaira Arby is scheduled to tour North America beginning April 26th in Dallas, Texas. Obviously there is question about whether or not she will be able to leave the country. If she does, Arby vows to call for peace in Mali throughout the tour.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Seun Kuti at Home in NYC: Live Review

Review and photos by Banning Eyre
Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 at Highline Ballroom, April 8, 2012

Seun Kuti digs New York.  In fact, he traces his career in music to the time he saw his iconic father, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, performing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. "I can never forget that gig," he recalled in 2007. "I said to myself, 'When I grow up, this is exactly what I want to do.'" Flash ahead to the Highline Ballroom last night, and there he was, more than "grown up," two superb albums under his belt, leading Fela's band of veterans with confidence and verve that would surely have made the afrobeat icon proud. 

The set opened with an instrumental number, letting the brass players take solos, as they did throughout the show.  These are not world-class soloists.  Brass chops are one area where Seun's elder brother Femi and his band Positive Force have the edge.  Egypt 80s strength is its organic symbiosis and its untouchable command of classic afrobeat grooves.  When Seun hit the stage, he opened with a cover of Fela's "Zombie," its challenge to military subservience to power elites, and control over African populations, sadly still relevant decades after the song first riled the Nigerian scene in the late 70s.

From there, the set was all originals, mostly from Seun's brilliant 2011 CD, From Africa With Fury, Rise (Knitting Factory Records).  Seun paused for a generous shoutout to New York, praising the sold-out crowd for supporting African music, and rewarding them with a rare performance of one of his older song, "African Problems."

The energy in Seun's set built inexorably.  He paused just once for a slow song, "Rise," punctuated by a rap to the audience--a kind of afrobeat economics lesson in which the control governments exert over citizens, especially poor ones, is universal the world over, "the same thing, just in a different package."  Seun spoke to the audience with warmth and familiarity, an evolution beyond Fela's playful surliness.  But Seun is every bit his father's son, and his economics rap in no way let corporate America, which uses the evil tool of "credit" to ensnare the young, off the hook. 

From there, the pace of the music grew increasingly breathless, with the lashing grooves of "Slave Masters" and "Mr Big Thief."  The inevitable removal of the shirt moment arrived mid  set, and for a moment, Seun stood with his back to the audience, letting us savor the words "Fela Lives" tattooed across his shoulder blades.  Seun has exquisite stage charisma, arguably the most powerful of anyone in the Kuti clan so far.  A key element is his wiry, wriggly, writhing body convolutions, in which muscle and bone seem to turn to rubber before one's eyes, transformed by Seun's deep involvement in the music.  As he becomes possessed, more deeply song by song, it becomes impossible to take your eyes off the guy.  He is quite simply one of the most compelling stage presences in African music today.

Nowhere was Seun's winning theatricality more effectively on display than on his praise song to marijuana, "The Good Leaf," which closed the set proper.  Seun made a point of saying this is not a call for legalization.  Frankly, he doesn't care whether pot is legal or not.  It's a plant, and man doesn't get to control nature.  Otherwise, he quipped, they would make tsunamis illegal.  Seun fired up the faithful with an inside reference to the Broadway show Fela!  Taunting the crowd for responding with enthusiasm to Sahr [Ngaujah, who played Fela in the production], and only limply to his demands for vocal support, he threatened to pack up his sax and go to the hotel to catch some sleep.  With that, the crowd roared along with Seun's call to "plant the seed and make it grow."  Seun used a water bottle to water imagined weed seeds on the stage, playing the schtick to the hilt before launching into a long read of his lighthearted ganja praise song.   An encore was inevitable.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Tinariwen, Mali and the Failure of Western Music Media

From this side of the world watching the situation in Mali unfold over the past few weeks has been a complex and sobering experience. (In a nutshell, the chaos following a recent military coup in Bamako in the south facilitated capture of major cities in the north by Tuareg separatist rebels. This culminated in the declaration of independence of a Tuareg state in Timbuktu on April 6th. Meanwhile some 200,000 Malians have fled their homes in the deadly hot season. Little information is available about where they are or how to help them.) Although we try our best to contextualize what we listen to, delving into the history and culture that necessarily surrounds the music, it seems that it is impossible to avoid at least partially sculpting our understanding to fit the narratives that make for the best, the most satisfying, the most interesting story. The media landscape in which we interact with this music helps of course; so few artists are able to penetrate the opacity of distance and culture, and those that are successful need something to catch our eyes.

This is a well-known statement, one that will not seem particularly remarkable to anyone who has spent much time following the music press. What is far more rare is the vertiginous experience of having the front page of the newspaper suddenly come into conversation with the review section of Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, the results of which clearly reveal the extent to which the music (just like any music made anywhere) are the artifacts of a larger world that they do not cleanly encompass and that they cannot clearly reflect.

Tinariwen, a group that Afropop has written about and aired frequently in the past, are a near perfect case in point. When they first gained a western following, they were touted as true-life rock rebels, musicians whose already fantastic music was spiced with a romantic image of nomadic warriors summoning the blues from the desert sand. To their credit, the group never made any excuses for their political past, and they have quite reasonably been entirely supportive of the Tuareg’s new military success.

What is startling is to realize the extent to which sophisticated music fans uncritically accepted this narrative almost blindly. Not because it is necessarily incorrect, or that that the group has somehow hoodwinked the culpable west, but because there has been so little consideration of the broader context in which any real-world rebellion must take place. The real world is a mind-boggingly complex place, and no group is ever entirely right or wrong in a place where relationships can easily go back centuries. We all too easily came to think of Tinariwen as cartoon heroes, fighting a war that we did not understand. The news from Mali makes that all too clear.

So how do we, music journalist living in the states, approach this subject? Clearly, the situation is much too multi-faceted and dense to pass judgment or take sides. However, to not, at least, acknowledge the situation is also something of a journalistic and moral misstep. Over the past week Tinariwen has been in the news not so much for their comments on the Tuareg situation in Mali, and not so much for their cultural background and connection with the rebel forces, but because they released a new live video with members of Red Hot Chili Peppers and are touring Europe with them. Not to mention that two of the main members, the bandleader Ibrahim and the acoustic guitarist Elaga Al Hamid—are reportedly  stuck in refugee camps near the Algerian border and have been since February. The lack of acknowledgement by so many music publications covering Tinariwen is a shame and essentially taking on a western-centric role of picking and choosing what parts of the narrative they want and essentially re-contextualizing and re-writing the history that is playing out.

Tinariwen’s music is deeply rooted in their culture and their history of rebellion and fighting for what they believe (see their comments on the situation via Africa is a Country). Now their thematic elements of their music and their words are playing out in real-time before our eyes in the deserts of Northern Mali. Yet, so much of their coverage of late has chosen, for whatever reason purposeful or not, to ignore any acknowledgement of it. Does this make sense? No, it doesn’t. To be frank, it’s lazy. And in that laziness, a new and inaccurate narrative is being written.

- Sam Backer and Saxon Baird

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Seun Kuti Tours the U.S.

Son of afrobeat legend and multi-talented instrumentalist/vocalist Seun Kuti is heading out on a U.S. tour starting today. The tour begins in Atlanta and takes the young star to the west coast and back again.

In case you missed it, last year his sophomore LP, From Africa with Fury: Rise was one of favorites. Produced by Brian Eno, the album was full of fiery, fast-paced afrobeat with a strong socio-political slant. Check out our review here and our " Mixtape Special " program where Seun was featured. Also, we interviewed Seun about the album as well last year, which you can watch below.


4/4: Variety – Atlanta, GA
4/5: Duke Performances – Durham, NC
4/6: Soundstage – Baltimore, MD
4/7: Club Helsinki – Hudson, NY
4/8: Highline Ballroom – New York, NY
4/12: UW Madison – Madison, WI
4/13: Rhythm Foundation – Miami, FL
4/14: The Cedar – Minneapolis, MN
4/15: Coachella – Indio, CA
4/16: Campbell Hall – Santa Barbara, CA
4/18: UC San Diego – San Diego, CA
4/19: Zellerbach Hall – Berkeley, CA
4/20: UCLA Royce Hall – Los Angeles, CA
4/22: Coachella – Indio, CA
4/24: KTAOS Solar Center – Taos, NM
4/25: Albuquerque Museum Amphitheater – Albuquerque, NM
4/27: New Orleans Jazz Festival – New Orleans, LA
4/29: Houston International Festival – Houston, TX
5/2: House of Blues – New Orleans, LA
5/13: Lake Eden Arts Festival – Black Mountain, NC

Fela Kuti x Del the Funkee Homosapien = West Coast Avengers II

Longtime west-coast rapper from the Bay Area, Del the Funkee Homosapien has started dropping a three-part series of free mixtapes titled West Coast Avengers. The second installment just dropped a couple days ago and boast of utilizing only Fela Kuti samples throughout its eleven tracks.

Del has been active as early as 1991 when he dropped his classic LP, I Wish My Brother George Was Here. He is also known for his work with alt-rap supergroup Hieroglyphics and his futuristic collaboration Deltron 3030 with Dan the Automator back in 2000.

Upon first listen, of West Coast Avengers [WCA LIMITED II FELA] , the samples are not necessarily immediately recognizable but still offers up some solid, soulful hip-hop along with Del's solid delivery and unique humor. It's great to see and hear some more cross-cultural exchange going on between American hip-hop and African styles of music like this. Last year, we covered Amerigo Gazaway, who mashed up classic De La Soul tracks with Fela on his Fela Soul mixtape. Up and coming rapper J-Cole also sampled "Paulette" from by Balla et ses Balladins from Guinea off his "Can't Get Enough" single late last year.

Make sure to also check out our most recent program "Crate-Diggers and Remixers" to hear more music and DJs who travel to globe to find music for remixing in order to create a new and updated sound.


- Saxon Baird

Spotlight: Munchi - La Brasileña Ta Montao

Munchi is a Dominican-Dutch producer out of Rotterdam whose club music of choice is moombahton, a relatively new club-music style that slows down synth-heavy Dutch house and couples it with reggaeton's dembow beat. Recently, Munchi did something unique, though seemingly obvious; he paired the reggaeton vocals of Angel Doze with moombahton. Result: instant club-banger!

If all of the above doesn't make sense, don't worry, just listen below. The track has been out for a bit and can be found on his Moombahtonista EP via the always on-point, Mad Decent imprint. A video for the track dropped recently which is just enough reason for us to cover it and bring this tropical bass-infused goodness to your ears.

Also, be sure to check out Afropop producer Marlon Bishop's interview with the young Dominican-Dutch producer via MTV Iggy.

-Saxon Baird

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Funk Ark Tours the U.S.


The Funk Ark, an outfit from Washington D.C. that brings a instrumental mix of afrobeat, funk and various other soul-infused styles. Recently, we reviewed the fiery and energetic High Noon, the latest offering from them. Reviewer Sam Backer dug the album and stating that, "anyone who likes afrobeat will certainly enjoy it. Also, the group will definitely be unstoppable live."

Well, if you are stateside and specifically on the eastern-side, then you are in luck because the outfit is bringing their show on the road!


4/05: Le Poisson Rouge - New York, NY (ESL Music Showcase]
4/14: Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company - Harrisburg, PA
4/20: Mauch Chunk Opera House - Jim Thorpe, PA
4/21: Martin's Downtown - Roanoke, VA
4/26: Doc Taylor's Seaside Market Lounge - Virginia Beach, VA
5/04: Stage One - Fairfield, CT
5/05: Empire Dine And Dance - Portland, ME
5/12: The Hamilton - Washington, DC
5/19: Balliceaux - Richmond, VA
6/28: Electric Forest Festival – Rothbury, MI

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Nintendo Nightmare of Super Gauchin

Mario is, without a doubt, one of the most important figure to emerge from the latter third of the 20th century, at least in the Western world. Now imagine a 200-foot tall Mario (similar to the intro of Super Smash Bros. Melee for video game nerds), walking calmly through the burning wreckage of a civilization that lies scattered about his feet. Shrieking his “Brrrrring-HA!” battle cry at deafening volume, he is the last man standing, a solitary figure striding fearlessly towards the future. 

Insert Super Gauchin, a new group that recently joined the roster of the much-beloved ZZK label, whose music brings to mind this nightmarishly pixilated scenario. Formed by the Argentinean brothers Ignacio and Luciano Brasolin, the group makes a souped-up hybrid of a number of the most active currents running through modern dance music, one held together by the brother’s unique cultural style. Ruthlessly mixing various aspects of genres like cumbia and dubstep (both present in a number of their possible forms), Super Gauchin refracts the rhythmic results through a set of sounds elicited from the brother’s (apparently extensive) collection of bent and repurposed gaming systems, ending up with a sound that is totally unique despite its readily apparent origins.

Admittedly, the Brasolin brothers are not the first to either reuse the primitive soundcards of vintage videogames for modern music, or to hitch low-quality synthetic tones to the structures of dubstep or cumbia. However, their music is set apart by both the quality of the sounds that they produce, as well as the effectiveness with which they deploy them. Although Super Gauchin shares some of the manic lightheartedness that is a characteristic of Chiptune music, by using the sounds of the arcade in the context of the relatively laidback rhythms of cumbia, they are able to defuse its potentially cloyingly qualities while still retaining its power as a nostalgic symbol. Super Gauchin is fantastic because their vintage sounds come across as both culturally meaningful signifiers and tonally fascinating musical tools. Their double impact is fantastic.  The bands first E.P.  “Piratas Y Finchines” is out now on ZZK records- you can stream it from their soundcloud. A full length is scheduled to be released later this year. Watch for it!

For now, you can sate your 8-bit appetite by watching this awesome music video for their track, "La Gorra."

-Sam Backer