Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer NYC Concert Guide is Here!

Each year, we produce a summer concert guide for great music happening in NYC. See our card for 2012 below! For the rest of you, don't worry, we also produce a show each year showcasing some of the great music, acts and concerts going on across North America. Listen to Summer Concerts Preview 2012 here. And be sure to check out the new card design below!

Click the photo to enlarge!


Download It HERE

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Simon Bright and Thomas Mapfumo in NYC for Debut of Bright's film "Robert Mugabe... What Happened?"

Text and photos by Banning Eyre 

On May 17 at the New York Institute of Technology, a new film by Zimbawbwean filmmaker Simon Bright had its US debut before an overflow house.  The film, Robert Mugabe… What Happened?, offers a succinct and powerful recap for Robert Mugabe’s public career from his early political rise in the nationalist movement of 1960s, through his eleven-year imprisonment, his key role in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle, his triumphant election in 1980, and the twists and turns of his ultimately disastrous 32 years leading Zimbabwe. This event was organized by three enterprising young Zimbabwean living in New York, and featured a panel discussion that included, among others, both Bright, and the Lion of Zimbabwe himself, Thomas Mapfumo, en route from a trip to South Africa, heading home to Oregon.

For all their differences, Bright and Mapfumo have things in common. For instance, both are, Thomas quipped, “former Rhodesians.”  More to the point, both have traveled the road from supporting Mugabe to opposing him.  “My family was against the Rhodesians,” recalled Bright. “I refused to fight the Rhodesian war. And so, Mugabe was my hero in a way, as he was the hero of Thomas Mapfumo at one time. Mugabe enabled me to come home to Zimbabwe, to the new Zimbabwe, to work in the Ministry of Agriculture, to work on resettlement programs. He brought me home.”Bright’s film reminds us what the world once loved about Mugabe, his eloquence, his apparent humanity, and the solid achievements of his early years in power, including tremendous advances in health, education and, surprisingly, land resettlement. “Zimbabwe in 1980,” recalls Bright, “up to about 1995, was the most successful development story Africa has ever seen. The fact is that there was significant resettlement, redistribution of land in the early 1980s. And it was very well done. It was well planned. It was well executed.” Farmers learned skills and produced bounty. But by the time economic austerity became the order of the day in the 1990s, Zimbabwe had abandoned its land program. The next wave of resettlement would be destructive and disorderly, done at the point of a gun starting in the late ‘90s, and accompanied by no organized strategy to make the land productive.

The title of Bright’s film invites a kind of personal analysis of Mugabe. Is a he a good man gone bad? Or was he fooling us all along? A good part of the discussion following the film focused on this line of thought, until some in the audience objected on the grounds that too much attention on the man obscures the truth of the country. Bright essentially agrees. The characters in his film differ on Mugabe’s nature. Some feel that power changed him.  Others—and Thomas Mapfumo falls into this camp—say he never changed. Circumstances simply forced him to take off the velvet gloves when his power was threatened.

Wherever one comes down on that issue, Bright feels the best way to evaluate Mugabe is by his deeds, and two loom particularly large: Gukuruhundi, the massacre of Ndebele people in the early ‘80s, which Bright calls a “genocide,” and Murambatsvina, the bulldozing of opposition neighborhoods in Harare in 2005, that displaced some 700,000 Zimbabweans. “The events speak for themselves,” says Bright, and his film’s presentation of these episodes, told with stunning archival footage, is both gripping and heartbreaking to watch.

Bright, like Mapfumo, is now in exile from Zimbabwe. Bright left after being imprisoned for no clear reason in 2004. He returned surreptitiously to film interviews with close associates of Mugabe, mostly fellow freedom fighters. Their remarks are both perceptive and persuasive, and as hard as the Zimbabwean state press is now working to discredit this film by discrediting its witnesses, the clear-eyed recollections and measured conclusions of these first-hand witnesses are difficult to dismiss. Bright risked an automatic 20-year prison sentence (for bringing members of the government into disrepute) in gathering material for this film, and the fact that it so riles Mugabe’s paid press, is but one indication that the effort and risk were worthwhile.

The discussion that followed the New York screening was both passionate and chaotic. Some viewers were uncomfortable with the idea of a white man making a film about black history. This is ironic given that a key message of the film is that Mugabe set out to make a non-racial state, and then resorted to outrageously racist rhetoric in order to divide his opposition. The power of Mugabe’s divisive tactic was literally on display as some questioners preferred to talk about the race of the filmmaker than deal with the content of his film.

“One of my objectives in making the film,” said Bright, “was to break down this division, as I talked about, the way the Western media demonizes him, he demonizes all the opposition. You have this kind of incredible polarization, which suits Mugabe very well. And so in the film, you have white ministers saying what a great president he was in the 1980s. You have people who are his comrades in arms explaining what a terrible job he's made of running Zimbabwe. Basically, what I wanted to do was to show the full complexity of the situation, and of the history, and then the audience must judge for themselves.”

Some in the New York audience were keen to air their views on globalization, austerity, South African politics, and other ancillary topics.  At times it was a struggle to keep the focus on Zimbabwe.  Mapfumo—introduced and addressed here as Dr. Mapfumo, in recognition of his two honorary degrees—stirred up controversy when he suggested that England and the US owed it to Zimbabwe to help oust Mugabe, by force if necessary. This idea found little support on the panel or in the room, but in a sense, it was a rhetorical device on Mapfumo’s part. If the crimes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi merited military intervention, surely Mugabe’s did as well.  It should be remembered that Mapfumo is a singer, and an inveterate gadfly, not a political analyst. He actually seemed quite pleased to stir up a ruckus.  “They can call me anything,” he said afterwards. “But I won't stop talking. I will keep on talking. Call me what you can call me.”

Earlier in the day, Thomas expressed his admiration for the three, young organizers of this event.  So called “born frees”—Zimbabweans born after 1980 and so having no memory of the war—these three are unusual in their political engagement.  Thomas told one of them, Nyasha Gutsa, “This is your fight now.  You are the young generation. You have to keep it up. Try and bring more youngsters into this project, so that the world can hear and can also get the knowledge of what is happening in Zimbabwe, because this story is being told by the Zimbabweans.”

Bright says that in recent decades, as much as 25% of Zimbabwe’s people, including many of its best and brightest citizens, have left.  Gutsa notes that if this force could organize itself, it could affect future events in Zimbabwe.  “There was a report,” he noted, “that said $700 million comes out of South Africa in remittances to Zimbabwe, keeping that economy afloat. Diamond money is not enough to keep Zimbabwe going. [A recent discovery of diamond wealth has been a windfall for the regime.] So, people are surviving because we are sending money home. And I think that is also a grant of admission, and I think it would be fair for us Zimbabweans living abroad to be represented in parliament.”  No surprise, in current constitutional talks, Mugabe and his party are firmly resisting any steps that would empower Zimbabweans outside the country.  But as Bright, Mapfumo, Gutsa and others involved in this remarkable evening in New York made clear, there are still ways they can resist, and fight for positive change in Zimbabwe.

Thomas Mapfumo and Nyasha Gutsa

Spotlight: Urban Knights - "Step On Dem" F. Blackout JA

The UK has a long tradition of bringing unique brands of reggae and dancehall. And a series of producers and artists have been maintaining that tradition for a minute now, mixing in elements of UK Bass and electronic music seamlessly along the way.

The latest offering from the UK-based duo Urban Knights is no different. Featuring Blackout JA, "Step on Dem" is hard-hitting bashment offering just in time for summer. Made up of producers Benny Kane and Dr Specs, the track strikes a funky, dancefloor-ready balance between various grime, UK Bass and modern dancehall. In other words, this track is hot like the weather. We actually heard this track last week but are just now getting to it. Fire!

The track was released via the Finland-based Top Billin. Check out a few remixes via their Soundcloud.

Friday, May 25, 2012

BET's Best International Act - Africa Nominees + Videos

The 2012 BET Awards recently announced their nominees. One of the categories, "Best International Act - Africa" had us intrigued (clearly) so we checked it out. Like most award shows, often times the nominees for the various categories are off-point. We can think of a few African artist from the last year who should probably be on this list but for whatever reason, they didn't make the cut. On the other hand, it's pretty cool that these African artists are at least getting some recognition.

Below is a list of the nominees and a sample of their music. What do you think? Anyone missing? Who do you think will win?

Camp Mulla - Kenya

Ice Prince - Nigeria

Lira - South Africa

Mokobe - Mali

Sarkodie - Ghana

Monday, May 21, 2012

Beth Lesser's "Rub-A-Dub Style" available as a free download

The 1980’s remains one of the most under-heralded periods of the Jamaica's musical history. Despite the fact that the decade saw the introduction of the digital production, fast-paced MC’s, and aggressive attitudes that would do much to define the path taken by nation's music over the next two decades, the 80’s themselves are something of a lost period, neither organic enough for fans of roots reggae nor able to provide the gleaming electronic rush that is the currency of modern dancehall. Hopefully, Beth Lesser's newest book, “Rub-a-Dub Style: The Roots of Modern Dancehall,” will do something to bring this period to greater attention. Certainly few writers are better positioned to do so;  Lesser is not only the the author of three previously published books on reggae/dancehall [“Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture,” “The Legend of Sugar Minott & Youth Production,” and “King Jammy,” the latter coauthored by Steve Barrow], but also a talented photographer whose pictures offer a window into the musical life of 1980's Jamaica. Fascinatingly, Lesser has taken the uncommon approach of making the entire text of the book available as a free download, a gift in honor of the people of Jamaica and their culture. Starting May 30th, the download will be available from her website. The book will also be available from Amazon and other E-Book venders for the price of one dollar.

An excerpt of the book can be read here.

To get a taste of Beth’s taste in Dancehall, check out this playlist of her top 10 dancehall essentials (from

All photos were taken by Beth Lesser.                                                                          
- Sam Backer

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Afropop Worldwide's Hip Deep in Egypt Complete Series is Online

Afropop Worldwide's 5-part Hip Deep in Egypt Series is now complete! Find links to all the programs and podcasts below. You can stream the 1-hour programs, and download the shorter podcasts. To link to the various features (interviews, videos, photos, blogposts and more) click on the program titles. The series was produced by Banning Eyre, with help from a stellar array of artists, scholars and other collaborators. Dig in!  Special thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the New York Council for the Humanities for making our series possible.  Thanks also to PRI (Public Radio International) for their support and distribution. 

Afropop Worldwide Presents Hip Deep in Egypt Series by Afropop Worldwide


Egypt 1: Cairo Soundscape - Hip Deep's Egypt series kicks off with a sonic tour of Cairo--the chatter of car horns on jam-packed streets, the persistent call to prayer broadcast from mosques city wide, koranic recitation, radio sounds, nightclubs, Ramadan concerts, Coptic hymns sung in ancient churches, bustling markets, and the lulling waters of the Nile. We will introduce the themes and central characters for this unique Afropop program series, which takes the pulse of an ancient civilization in the midst of upheaval and historic change.

Egypt 2: Cairo: Hollywood of the Middle East - By the mid 20th century, Cairo had become the unrivaled center for music and film production in the Middle East.  Producers, writers, composers, actors, musicians, star singers, and creators of every stripe flocked here to take part in the city's fervent, international, progressive artistic milieu.  This was the heyday of the diva Umm Kulthum, and the beloved singer and composer Abdel Halim Hafez.  But events of the 50s and 60s signaled an inward turn for Egypt and Cairo.  The 70s saw the rise of a rougher, more street-wise music--sha'bi--and films began to lose their edge.  This program looks back at the rise and decline of a media capital, and points to possible futures in an era of reinvention and change.  Music by Farid el Atrache, Umm Kulthum, Ahmed Adeweya, Hakim, and much more!

Egypt 3: Cairo Underground - Egypt’s revolution has brought much to light, including a lot of music that’s been percolating in hidden corners there, largely ignored by nearly all broadcast and print media.  It turns out a musical revolution has been going on in Egypt well before the political uprisings of 2011.  On this program, we hear music that either was or still is “underground.”   We meet Cairo rock musicians from the band Wust Al Balad, and also from widely stigmatized heavy metal musicians who appeal to a small, passionate, and surprisingly wholesome audience.  We also hear experimental music by composers out to break the orthodoxy of the Egyptian past, and sample new forms of sha’bi pop and Sufi music, bubbling up from poor urban neighborhoods where street weddings may offer a glimpse of Egyptian pop music to come.

Egypt 4: Living Traditions - As Egyptians struggle to forge a new, post-revolution identity, some will look to traditions.  The country is rich in indigenous culture from the amorous odes of desert Bedouins to the keening boom and blare of a Zeffa wedding procession.  New Cairo venues now present Nubian music, ancient sounds from the Delta and Suez regions, and even the music of the zar healing ritual—elevating these forms above touristic fare found on Nile Cruises and in old Cairo.  This Hip Deep edition, rich with recordings made in the field, offers a sonic map of Egypt’s traditional life, culminating in the ecstasy of a Sufi saint celebration—a mouled.

Egypt 5: Revolution Songs -  Afropop’s "Hip Deep in Egypt” series concludes with a survey of the music created during the first 15 months of the ongoing revolution.  We meet Tahrir Square troubadour Ramy Essam, top rapper Karim Rush, Egyptian music legend Mohamed Mounir among others.  Most observers agree that Egypt’s popular music industry has grown out of touch and moribund—a bit like the former government.  But what comes next?  Scholars and artists weigh in on the significance of music in preparing the way for revolution, and the consequences of revolution on the future of Egyptian music.


A Summer Walk Through Tahrir Square - 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.

Cairo's Evolving Classical Music Scene - Producer Banning Eyre takes the pulse of classical music in Cairo today. He visits oud virtuoso Naseer Shamma, and speaks with ethnomusicologist Scott Marcus. We hear an amazing live performance by violin maestro Abdou Dagher.

The Electronic Underground of Cairo - Producer Banning Eyre delves into the small but vibrant world of Cairo's electronic music scene. We meet Mahmoud Refat, founder of the independent record label 100 Copies Music, and sample work by his artists. We also meet and hear work by Refat’s ally and collaborator, composer Hassan Khan.

The Ecstasy of Sufi Moulid - Banning Eyre delves into the world of sufis. Join us as Afropop visits a sufi moulid celebration in Upper Egypt and delves into the history of sufi celebration and culture in Egypt.

What's Next for Egyptian Music? The Rise of Rap & Electro-Sha'bi - 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.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thomas Mapfumo in NYC to speak at debut of Simon Bright film: "Robert Mugabe... What Happened?"

Zimbabwean music legend Thomas Mapfumo will pass through New York this week, en route from South Africa, to speak at the debut of a new film about Robert Mugabe's legacy. The film, "Robert Mugabe... What Happened?" was made by veteran Zimbabwean filmmaker Simon Bright, who will also be on the panel.  This is a rare chance to hear about what has been going on in Zimbabwean from people close to the action, and a rare chance to see "The Lion of Zimbabwe" in conversation. 

Spotlight: KonKoma's 70's Afro-Funk Excellence

The always reliable Soundway Records is prepping the debut release of London-based afro-funk outfit KonKoma. The group was originally conceived by saxophonist Max Grunhard and producer Ben Lamdin who wanted to form a group around a pair of highly-respected and well-known Ghanaian musicians -- Alfred Bannerman and Emmanuel Rentzos. Both have been working musicians for a long time having worked with the likes of Bobby Womack and Hugh Masakela, as well as regularly playing with long-time afro-rock band Osibisa.

Previews of the new album showcase a firm nostalgia for a classic 70's West African sound that isn't afraid to update the music with modern stylings. The band also is not afraid to go beyond that sound and incorporate acoustic guitars and kora for a rich offering. As expected, the musicians sound at the top of their game throughout and the band is extremely tight.

Watch a video preview about the album below and sample clips from the full-length.

The self-titled album will be out June 25th via Soundway.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Interview: Baloji

Popular Congolese by way of Belgium MC recently talked with Afropop's Wills Glasspiegel.

Here are some choice quotes:

[...] it’s a key place. But of course I know that for me, doing music that is mostly in French – not in some Congolese language that sounds exotic for European or at least western people – it’s a difficult market.

On choosing to not rap in English:

I think I don’t speak English good enough to make music in English. You have to write it properly, and you have to spell it in the right way, otherwise you sound stupid. It’s like listening to Fat Joe singing in Spanish, rapping in Spanish, and he doesn’t really pronounce the words right.

On performing in the Congo:

[...]it was really important to play it there live and with the guests off the record. But to be really honest with you, we had to face the fact that Congolese music is kind of suffering. It’s like the Cuban embargo. There is basically one kind of music that people listen to – the Soukous, the ndombolo as they call it, which is the main music. They really have a small window, so we had to face that.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sofritos Is Back with an International Soundclash!

Sofrito is made up of UK-based DJs Hugo Mendez and Frankie Francis who have something of an "unquenchable thirst" for re-discovering sounds from across the globe and bringing them to a new audience. Their debut Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque was exactly what the title suggests: a scorching set of tunes from vintage Congolese rumba to an exclusive cumbia from Quantic. Basically, its a collection of dance-floor filling tracks from places with a tropical climate with one goal in mind: to make you dance. It soundtracked much of our summer last year.

Now Sofrito is back with a forthcoming released titled, Sofrito: International Soundclash.The new selection mixes the old with the new yet again, plucking "dusty gems" from Trinidad, Colombia, Dominica, Congo, Cameroun and beyond. Exclusives include the deep Pacifico sound of Grupo Canalon’s ‘La Zorra y El Perol’ - a new project from Nidia Góngora, singer with Quantic's Combo Barbaro - a previously unreleased track by UK/Kenyan sensations Owiny Sigoma Band, and a Tropical Treats edit of Haiti’s dynamite Les Difficiles de Petion-Ville.

Other highlights include an incendiary lesson in Soca groove from Lord Shorty, stunning up-to-the-minute carnival sounds from Guadeloupe's Mas Ka Klé, all backed up by deep bassline Cadence, synthed-out Soukous and other Afro Latin encounters.

When does it hit the stores? Just in time for summer on July 24th via Strut. Hear the first track below and peep the track list after that.

Track list:

1. Lord Shorty & Vibrations International - Vibrations Groove
2. La Pesada - Cumbia y Tambo (En La Lluvia)
3. Midnight Groovers - O Ti Yo
4. Les Difficiles de Pétion-Ville - Fe'm Confiance (Tropical Treats Edit)
5. Owiny Sigoma Band - Nabed Nade Ei Piny Ka F
6. Mas Ka Klé - Lésé yo Palé
7. Kiland et L'Orchestre Mabatalaï - Pour Chercher le Magot
8. Bell'a Njoh - Ebolo
9. Concept Neuf - The Path (Sofrito Edit)
10. Grupo Canalon - La Zorra y El Perol
11. Les Vikings - Ambiance (Guhe Huiamo)
12. Sartana et Son Groupe Mistral - Information Par Le Mistral
13. Luis Kalaff y Sus Alegres Dominicanos - Agarralo Que Eso Es Tuyo
14. Afro Festival led by Fantastic Tchico Tchicaya - El Manicero
15. Melodica Teens Band - Mwekuru Muthao

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Midweek Baile Breakdown

The ever-dependable folks over at Generation Bass, in the course of their unflagging mission to make the entire world dance by beating them into submission with free mixtapes, have brought yet another gem to our attention. The Mulheres Do Baile Mixtape Volume 1 compiled by DJ Comrade for XOA productions, is an 100 percent official banger. Compiled entirely from tracks featuring female Baile funk/funk-carioca MC’s, this thing explodes in a blaze of stuttering, accordion-sampling, copyright-flaunting glory. The beats are awesomely over the top, the energy quotient is dialed up past eleven (obviously), and the attitude problem is palpable. Taken at high volume, it’s the perfect antidote to the peculiar midweek illusion in which Friday appears to recede endlessly into an unreachable distance.

 Put it on, and feel the weekend. Or silly because your coworkers just saw you dancing way too hard. But whatever- forget them, and put it back on.

Listen to it now:


- Sam Backer

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Music: Staff Benda Bilili - "Osali Mabe"

What's this? New Staff Benda Bilili?! We are super excited about this new track off the forthcoming full-length from these super talented Congolese street musicians. The new song "Osali Mabe" is an energetic upbeat affair full of Congolese stylings and group vocals. A preview of good things to come, no doubt.

If you are unfamiliar with Staff Benda Bilili, the group is made up of disabled musicians who lived around the zoo in the DRC's capital Kinshasha. The group's sound is often recognizable by the sound of their altered instruments, most notably an electrified one-stringed lute.

The new album Bouger Le Monde is due out in September via Crammed Discs. Stream the new track below:

 Staff Benda Bilili - Osali Mabe (from upcoming album "Bouger Le Monde") by Crammed Discs

Monday, May 7, 2012

Video Interview: Amadou & Mariam

Afropop producer, Wills Glasspiegel interviews Malian superstars, Amadou and Mariam in their New York City hotel room. 

Special thanks to Sara Goldblatt for translating and Erich Woodrum from editing the video.

Amadou & Mariam just announced their first North America summer tour since 2009, including dates at Lollapalooza in Chicago and SummerStage in NYC:

July 31:Washington, DC - 9:30 Club

August 1: Boston, MA - Paradise Rock Club

August 3: Montreal, QUE - Parterre Parc Jean Drapeau, Osheaga Music and Arts Festival

August 4: New York, NY - Central Park SummerStage

August 5: Chicago, IL - Grant Park, Lollapalooza

August 6: Madison, WI - Capitol Theater, Overture Center for the Arts

August 7: Minneapolis, MN - Cedar Cultural Center

August 10: San Francisco, CA - Golden Gate Park, Outside Lands Festival

August 14: Salt Lake City, UT - Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre (With Andrew Bird)

August 16: Santa Monica, CA - Santa Monica Pier  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Capetown Jazz Festival Report

Continuing its history of success, the 13th edition of “Africa’s Grandest Gathering,” not only sold out, but the last tickets of the 40,000 three weeks in advance! As result, festival director Rashid Lombard and his team can hopefully look forward to the enlargement of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, home to the festival since 2004.

While the actual festival takes place on the last weekend of March, many activities occur in the days immediately before it. Artists frequently arrive early for workshops and master classes, and courses in arts journalism and music business are made available. For the second time, people from the Berkley College of Music came all the way from Boston for two days of auditions in which young South African artists were able to apply for scholarships. Those who could not afford festival tickets, or those had simply missed their opportunity to purchase them, had a chance to see some of the performers from the festival at the traditional free concert held on Wednesday evening in Greenmarket Square. At the Convention Centre, a jazz exhibition featured works of photographers from South Africa and Angola.

                                                               Youth Jazz Group 
From its start, one of the festival’s primary objectives has been to book half of its featured artists from within South Africa. As a result, the audience was able to cheer not only big names from abroad such as Marcus Miller, James Ingram or the reggae veterans of Third World, but also homegrown artists such as the legendary singer Dorothy Masuka or trumpeter Hugh Masekela. The latter performed a moving tribute to his ex-wife Miriam Makeba who had passed away in 2008. Special guest vocalists in this show included Thandiswa Mazwai, the former lead singer of Bongo Maffin, Zolani Mahola from South Africa’s prime pop group Freshly Ground, and Vusi Mahlasela, one of the country’s best singer/songwriters.

                                                                  Adam Glasser 
In addition, there were also impressive performances from the likes of the Chinese Xia Jia Trio and the Puerto Rican sax player David Sanchez, whose band featured the Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke. The Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez lead his trio through a more experimental set, decomposing Cuban classics and reassembling them into a variety of original formulation. Herbie Tsoaeli, one of South Africa’s top double bass players, introduced his first project as a leader. Cape Town-based Mozambican saxophonist Moreira Chonguica and his band played Afro-funk, in a lineup that prominently featured singer Wazimbo from Maputo. A very special performance was given by London-based pianist Adam Glasser, an artist who has deep roots in South African musical history (His father was the musical director of King Kong, South Africa’s first black musical in 1959). In Cape Town, the city of his childhood, he performed originals and new arrangements of South African classics with fellow ex-pat singer Pinise Saul (also currently based in London), as well as guitarist Bheki Khoza and other Johannesburg musicians.

Unfortunately, the Angolan singer/songwriter Gabriel Tchiema and his band ran into bad luck. While traveling from Luanda via Jo’burg, they had problems with their connecting flight and missed their show in Cape Town. However, Rashid Lombard and his team arranged another time slot on a different stage. As a result, the Angolans were forced to start their set at 12.45 in the morning.

Sandile Gotsana 
One of the main highlights of this year’s festival came on the day following these performances. Over the last few years, Cape Town has lost many of its most famous jazz, most notably the Manenberg and the Green Dolphin. Finally, the residents have a new club, the Mahogany Room, located on Buitenkant Street in an area that is considered to be an up and coming “hip” neighborhood. The club was started at the end of 2011 by trumpeter Lee Thompson, drummer Kesivan Naidoo and his cousin, businessman Lawson Naidoo. The venue is tiny, (about 50 seats) but has both a Steinway grand piano on its stage and no shortage of excellent music between its walls. Among the famous artists that have already graced its stage are Hugh Masekela and his former fellow-student at the Manhattan School of music, pianist Larry Willis. On the night after the festival, they performed as a duo.

In the early 2000s, Masekela owned the record company Chissa. However, due to mismanagement by the CEO, Chissa went broke a few years ago, and Hugh Masekela swore never to start a label again. Last year, his nephew Pius Mokgokong somehow persuaded his uncle to change his mind. The first release on the brand new HOM (House of Masekela) label is a box of four CD set of Jazz. Three of these were recorded with Larry Willis on the piano and “Brother Hugh” playing flugelhorn and occasional singing. This duo had their first live performance at the Mahogany Room, where they played to a small but electrified audience. Although it was for just 50 people instead of the 10,000 at the Convention Centre, it was the perfect finale to a weekend full of music!

Contributed by Wolfgang König 

and special thanks to edelweiss air for helping Wolfgang with a ticket.

Video: Locos Por Juana - "Afro-Sound (remix)" F. Palenke Soultribe

We are a a bit late on this but Miami-based Latin-fusion outfit Locos Por Juana dropped a video for the remix of their single "Afro-Sound" a couple weeks ago. The video is a colorful accompaniment to the smooth, funky hip-hop groove of the track showcasing the band playing live in-between shots of what looks to be Miami. In other words, it's everything we want for a late-Spring weekend soundtrack.

The remix features the group collaborating with Palenke Soultribe, a live electronic music trio that fuses their sound with Afro-Colombian rhythms and melodies. The group originally formed in Colombia but now resides in Los Angeles.

Check it:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New Songhai Music from Malian North: Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure and Sidi Toure

Coverage of the recent troubles in the Malian north has rightly focused on the nomadic Tuareg, a long-aggrieved population that has now declared a Tuareg homeland encompassing much of Mali, including the important cities of Timbuktu and Gao. Tuareg musical artists, such as Tinariwen, Tartit and Bombino, have inevitably found themselves in an unexpected, and at times awkward spotlight. A cause these artists have long championed has advanced with breathtaking speed, but this advance has also empowered Islamists interested in imposing Sharia law, and perhaps banning music altogether. The big picture remains clouded on many fronts, and we await clarity on how the ethnic, political and religious aspects of this rebellion will ultimately play out.

Meanwhile, often sidelined in the conversation has been the fate of non-Tuareg residents of the Malian north, many (perhaps 200,000) of whom have been driven into exile.  Of particular interest, regarding the pre-history of this region and conflict, are the Songhai people, who ruled much of Mali from the city of Gao in the 15th and 16th centuries, the time of the Songhai Empire. The agrarian Songhai have known a symbiotic relationship with the nomadic Tuareg for centuries since. That harmony was always celebrated at the famed Festival in the Desert in Essakane, and later, in Timbuktu, and we hope all concerned can find a way back to peaceful coexistence.

 For the moment, two beautiful new recordings showcase modern Songhai traditions.  First, from a Songhai musician now based in New York, Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure's long awaited solo CD, Sahara Spirit is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby. I say "long awaited," because Toure has been active in a variety of contexts in the New York area for the past 10 years.  In solo and duo settings, with his own group, and with Source and other local bands, Toure has delivered many tremendously moving performances.  Anyone familiar with CDs by the Niger roots band Toure co-founded, Mamar Kassey, has a sense of his prowess in the studio.  Mamar Kassey's Denke Denke and Alatoumi are masterpieces of arranging and execution, in large part thanks to Toure.

Savana Spirit blends Toure's razor-sharp arrangements of Songhai traditional pieces with his own compositions.  Toure sings with plaintiveness and warmth, while his guitar playing--mostly acoustic on these tracks--is on fire.  The songs range from simple, spare offerings of Toure on guitar and vocal (the slow-blues flavored "Aiganda") to full-on, large ensemble works, such as the mesmerizing opener, "Maiga et Toure," honoring major Songhai families.  This song, and "Humaisa," both work with the famous takamba dance rhythm, a magically polyrhythmic universe.  Toure brings in a variety of support musicians, including stalwarts of New York's African music community, such as talking drum virtuoso Idrissa Kone, one-string-lute (molo) player Housseini Chipkaou, and ex-Fela Kuti drummer Jojo Kuo, who really kicks out the jams on the most driving numbers, "Tandina," "Anine Kaina," and "Bahunai (The Art of Living)."

Even yours truly guest solos on one track.  This is an artist I have watched closely and been honored to work with, so it is especially gratifying to see him bring such an excellent recording to completion.

Meanwhile, another singer/guitarist/bandleader from Gao, Sidi Toure, is also out with a new and gorgeous set of traditionally inspired songs, Koima (Thrill Jockey).  This set of songs expands on the spare sound of Toure's 2010 release, Sahel Folk.  Here, we get ecstatic guitar interplay, filigree horse-hair fiddle and gut string lute melodies, and the thump and click of pendulous calabash percussion.  The ancient spirit of the Songhai Empire is present, as is the singer's aching nostalgia for the glorious days of the past.   Sidi Toure's voice conveys desert-dry resolve, along with a certain fragility, somewhere between the august grandeur of griots, and the raw, growling grit of Tuareg folk rockers.

Not since the last release from Afel Bocoum, has Songhai folklore been so effectively presented as on these two releases.  This is closer to sahel chamber music than sahel folk.  The music is indeed intimate and earthy--like the best folk--but it is also extremely subtle, rhythmically complex, and delicate in its balance of sounds.  In short, this stuff is deep and enduring--up to many repeat listens.  So if you are a Mali music lover, seeking solidarity with the country at this dangerous juncture, get these CDs and remember again the profound history and resourcefulness, and exceptional musicality, of the Songhai.  And remember that the ultimate solution for the Malian north must also accommodate and recognize them, along with the Fula, Dogon, Bozo and other long-time inhabitants of this challenged and challenging terrain.

-Banning Eyre

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Amkoullel's "S.O.S" for Mali

Malian hip-hop artist Amkoullel is a one of the first successful MCs to come out of Mali. One of the defining aspects of Amkoullel's raps is his socio-political themes that he unleashes with unreserved critiques. Thus it comes as no surprise that Amkoullel has responded musically to the crisis in Mali.

Just one month after launching the first ever international festival of Selingue which gathered more than 12,000 people during 3 days and 2 nights of contemporary culture anchored in the tradition, history and tourism for the development of one of the most beautiful areas of Mali, the Tureg rebellion erupted. In response, Amkoullel has mobilized his colleagues to get the voice of the Malian people heard and to denounce, what he sees, as a terrible situation for Malians who live in the north of the country. Amkoullel's goal is "to defend the democracy and the sovereignty of their country" through the creation of the collective PLUS JAMAIS ÇA (NEVER EVER AGAIN) and an organization of a human chain that took place on April 25, TEGUE DI GNOGUON MA (let us give each other hand). About 1500 people demonstrated hand in hand for solidarity with the endangered population of the North. It gathered all ethnic groups and social classes. In conclusion of the demonstration, eight doves were released, representing the eight Malian regions.

Further attempting to bring awareness to the situation in Mali, Amkoullel has released a new track called 'S.O.S.' All income from the track will go to NGOs supporting the people in Northern Mali.

Stream below. Read our interview with Amkoullel in 2011 here.

S.O.S - Amkoullel feat Mylmo by Amkoullel