Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Music: Novalima - "Festejo"

Afro-Peruvian genre-bending outfit Novalima just dropped a new LP titled Karimba. The group is known for effortlessly blending traditional Afro-Peruvian sounds and rhythms with modern styles of music from electronic and dub to afrobeat. The lead single off the new record, "Festejo," is a dreamy Latin-dub that showcases the outfit in full form.

Check it out:

You can buy the new album via the ESL website. Stream it in its entirety this week over at AOL Music.

Also, check out our live footage of the group performing at GlobalFest in NYC early last year. Wait for it at 1:13!

Afropop Dance Party @ NJPAC

AfroPop Dance Party with DJ Prince Segue Segue

When: Fri, February 24, 7:30pm – 10:30pm
Where: NJPAC (map) in Chase Room

Ready to party? Get your hips in gear for some old-school Afropop—rumba, soukous, salsa, samba, Afrobeat, chimurenga, juju, Manding swing and mbalax—as well as some of the newest music that’s catching heat with the new generation—coupé décolé, kuduro, baile funk, and more. DJ Prince Segue Segue (aka Sean Barlow) is the creator of the nationally syndicated Afropop Worldwide and Afropop.org.

Presented as part of NJPAC's Cheza! Festival of African Music.

Cash bar and refreshments will be available.
 $16 at the door
New Jersey Performing Arts Center 
One Center Street, Newark, NJ 07102

Administrative Offices: (973) 642-8989 -- Box Office : 1-888 GO-NJPAC


A Special Dinner with Angelique Kidjo

Afropop Worldwide, Mitchell Harwood and Fran Janis cordially invite you to an

Afropop Dinner Party with
Angelique Kidjo
Leap Night, February 29th, 2012

Not only is Angelique Kidjo a charismatic, Grammy Award winning artist, she is also a renowned chef. Angelique will prepare a sumptuous, sit-down West African dinner for a limited number of guests in what promises to be a special, memorable evening.

At the home of Mitchell Harwood and Fran Janis

To benefit public radio's acclaimed Afropop Worldwide series and Afropop.org connecting Americans to Africa and the African Diaspora through music since 1988. We are proud that Angelique along with Youssou N'Dour and other luminaries serve on Afropop's Board of Directors.

The tax deductible contribution is $2,500 per couple.

RSVP via Afropop Worldwide:
email: Saxon@afropop.org

Monday, January 30, 2012

NY Times Op-Ed Speaks to Hip-Hop's Revolutionary Power in Africa

An op-ed in the New York Times today exposed the growing trend of hip-hop as a vehicle for expressing political and social discontents across Africa. Written by Sujatha Fernandes, an associate professor of sociology at Queens College, the op-ed points out that many styles of African music, from West African griots to Afrobeat to the Chimurenga of Thomas Mapfumo, have a long tradition of questioning their political leaders. Fernandes also points out that the oratorical style of hip-hop cuts through the “political subterfuge” that has ultimately made some rappers, like Keurgui Crew from Senegal (see our October coverage of them), across the continent become “voices of clarity and leadership.”

Afropop Worldwide has been on top of the growing trend that Fernandes points out for awhile now. In our "Trans-National Hip-Hop Train" program, Moroccan female rapper Soultana pointed out last summer to us that, “in Arab countries, hip hop is the reason why there is revolution” (read full interview). While Malian rapper Amkoullel spoke about the importance of including social criticisms in his lyrics in our interview with him in 2011. And in our forthcoming third Hip Deep installment on the music of Egypt, “Cairo Underground,” we will talk and listen to Egyptian hip-hop groups and MCs such as Arabian Knightz (see video below) who played vital roles in last year’s revolution.

The extent that hip-hop permeates Africa is enough to showcase the power of its influence. However, watching (and listening) it grow out of New York City in the 80's and eventually transform into a vehicle for expressing and inspiring real social and political change across the world is a revolution unto itself.  As we continue to watch hip-hop take hold across Africa as a mic for critical and poignant expression, the question logically arises: what will American rappers learn from their African hip-hop counterparts?

We eagerly are watching, listening and waiting to see.

-Saxon Baird

Youssou N'Dour Barred from Running for the Presidency in Senegal

Less than a month ago it was announced that legendary Senegalese singer/songwriter Youssou N'Dour would be running for president against 85-year old incumbent Abdoulaye Wade, who is seeking a third term.

This weekend saw a series of riots and protests erupted in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, after it was announced that Wade would run for a third term but that N'Dour was left off the list of candidates by Senegal's Constitutional Council. The council stated he had not gathered the required 10,000 signatures of support. In response, N'Dour called on his supporters to prevent the elections from going ahead.

"We will never allow Abdoulaye Wade to take part in the election," he said, speaking on his own TFM television channel. "The decision to keep me out had nothing to do with the law. It was a political decision and we will reply with a political decision," he said, without giving further details.

Wade's decision to run for a third term challenges some readings of the Senegalese consitution. Now with N'Dour being barred from running, one of Africa's most stable democracies has suddenly been thrown into an edgy, contentious situation.

Read more on the situation HERE.

Friday, January 27, 2012

EXCLUSIVE DOWNLOAD - Maroni River Mashup: A Guyanas Mix

Maroni River Mashup: A Guyanas Mixtape by Afropop Worldwide

This week, Afropop Worldwide brings you a special treat. To go along with our new episode, “Getting Down in the Guyanas”, we’ve decided to release a mixtape of some of our favorite music from Suriname and French Guiana.

From the first time I turned on the radio in Paramaribo, Suriname, I was blown away by the music I heard. It’s related to all sorts of African-rooted music on both sides of the Atlantic, but it has its own particular swing that it totally unique. There’s bits of soca and dancehall, bits of merengue and bolero, snippets of Dutch bubbling and American R&B, African kuduro, French Carribean zouk and compas. But it all mixes up in a way that is hard to pick out the individual parts, and is insanely good.

Part of that is because the Guyanas, up in the corner of South America, are everywhere and nowhere all at once. It’s not quite Latin America, and not quite the Caribbean, but right between both those regions. At the same time, the people of the Guyanas come from all corners of the world, speak countless languages, and worship all sorts of religions. And they live inside or right on the edges of one of the world’s most pristine wildernesses, the vast forests of the Amazon.

On this mixtape, you’ll hear everything from Hindustani trance music from Suriname to French Creole zouk (sung in Dutch creole) to dance-band music from the jungle interior. It’s named after the Maroni River – the river that divides Suriname and French Guiana, the place where all these sounds meet, and the lifeline of the Bushi-Negue people.


- Marlon Bishop


Lieve Hugo - "Langra Bere"
Dropati - "Gowri Pooja, Gowri Pooja"
Kees & the Troubadours - "Mi Na Kunta Kinte"
Ajatray - "Mi Dren Ju"
Kenny B - "Wang San E Dangr A Deng"
Rico - "Otiamba"
Zware Guys - "Mo Faja"
Gambusi - "Sukru Sani"
Unknown Artist - "Kawina"
DJ Chuckie - "Chipi Naka Pokoe"
Florieda - "Ie Kan Sjie Deng"
Naks Kaseko Loko - "Gron Winti"
New Combinatie - "Big Up"
Prince Koloni - "Luku A Meisje"

Produced by Marlon Bishop and mixed by Geko Jones

Live from Tahrir Square, One-Year Later

Cairo-based Afropop contributor and scholar Kristina Nelson was in Tahrir Square for the one-year anniversary of the revolution. Check out her photos and the brief description of the scene.

From Nelson:

Nobody expected the numbers for the marches coming from all over Cairo to Tahrir-tens of thousands and these were all against the military's handling of the transition. the Islamists were all in Tahrir, "celebrating", but at one point, even they started chanting, "down with the army". The numbers exceeded last year's protests-many people couldn't even get close to Tahrir. The bridge coming into the square was solid and unmoving-no more room in the square. All the entrances to the square were packed with people stretching back several kilometers. And it was all peaceful (until the evening when many had left the square and some women were badly and sexually assaulted. The good thing is that they've talked to the media and the whole issue of attitudes to women is being discussed.), no police, no army in sight, anywhere.

For a blow by blow narrative check out the report from Ahram.org.

For even further reading, check out this article on the musical spring that has erupted post-revolution.

Here's our web, exclusive podcast "A Summer Walk Through Tahrir Square" produced last year by Afropop's Banning Eyre and Sean Barlow:

A Summer Walk through Tahrir Square by Afropop Worldwide

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spanish Flamenco singer Buika wows Carnegie Hall in concert with Chucho Valdés

Executive Producer Sean Barlow recently attended the Chucho Valdés with Buika concert at Carnegie Hall. Here is his report.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Spanish diva Buika and seeing her perform with the dean of Cuban jazz, Chucho Valdés and his Afro-Cuban Messengers last Saturday at Carnegie Hall. Chucho moved effortlessly between Ellington, Gershwin, Afro-Cuban traditions, Joe Zawinul, and his own compositions. What a class act!

Halfway through the set, the petite flamenco singer Buika dressed in black comes on stage, beaming. She starts out saying, “I’m a shy person. I go to a lot of countries where things are difficult, but what I love when I come to New York is, you are free! You can say anything. I can speak!” From that moment Buika had the audience in her hands. She added the unusual element of sultry flamenco and flamenco jazz and soul vocal to Chucho’s sound. This is a spectacular and totally unique voice. She got standing ovations. It almost felt like she was stealing the show from Chucho.

I interviewed Buika earlier in the day and she told me her story of growing up with the Spanish Romani people (Gitanos, commonly known as gypsies) on the island of Mallorca off the Mediterranean coast of Spain. She was drawn into the local flamenco scene, the only artist of African descent to be accepted.

Buika’s parents were political exiles from the harsh dictatorial regime of the tiny African country of Equatorial Guinea, colonized by, you guessed it, the Spanish. This 40-year-old artist has never been to the country of her ancestors. When I asked her if she had considered going “home” to research traditional music there and combine it with the flamenco she grew up with, she laughed and said, “You mean music for hippies?” So in one fell swoop, she seemed to discount much of the “world music” impulse! But hey, with her chops, no problem. Buika is intensely grounded in what she considers her own roots, the flamenco tradition.

Buika has definitely gone her own way in other ways. She tried out amongst 20 others in Las Vegas to be a Tina Turner impersonator, and got the gig—for five years, seven nights a week. And this as a single mom. I asked her to sing me something from her Tina repertoire to record. She smiled and shook her head forcefully. Not a chance.

Buika’s recording career took off about seven years ago. Check out the album she recorded with Chucho in 2009 El Ultimo Trago. Her 2008 album Niňa de Fuego was nominated for Latin Grammy Award album of the Year. Another personal favorite is Mi Niňa Lola (2006) . And a good place to start is her 2011 compilation En Mi Piel.

Buika’s music and my interview with her will be featured on an upcoming Afropop Worldwide program. Meanwhile Chucho is touring the U.S. now. Catch him if you can. And you can follow Buika’s whereabouts via her fansite.

(Photographs by Jack Vartoogian/Front Row Photos, copyright 2012)

Report from Transamazoniennes Festival: Getting Down in the Guyanas

Our producer Marlon Bishop recently took a trip to the Transamazoniennes festival in French Guiana, and came back with loads of stories (and bootleg CDs) to share. The festival is located in a remote Amazonian town on the Surinamese border, and featured some of the most unique and surprising music we’ve ever heard. Be sure to check out his new show 'Getting Down in the Guyanas.'


That’s the single word written in white lettering on the standard-issue blue European Union road sign on the banks of the Maroni River, on the border with Suriname. Not “French Guiana” or “Guyane,” just “France.”

Yet a quick look around confirms that we are not, in fact, in any kind of France I’d ever conceived of before. Squirrelly thickets of standard-issue Amazonian green stretch out in all directions, as far as the eye can see, and motorized canoes buzz gently up and down the river, carrying barrels of fuel and supplies to bank-side villages.

However, this is indeed France – an “overseas department” if you will. French Guiana, once a penal colony, is now a full member of its former owner, with senators in the French senate and everything. The very fact that I am here in the first place is proof of this. I’ve landed in this often forgotten swath of European jungle to visit the Transamazoniennes music festival, a full-blown event with international artists and press and a big stage and shiny lights, all dropped in the middle in the remote town of Saint Laurent-du-Maroni. It’s the kind of thing that only Europeans can get away with (read: pay for.)

Not that they just hand over the money without a fight. Transamazoniennes has happened for the last 15 years due to the tireless hustling of Michaël Cristophe, a very tall, Creole-looking man who wears dreadlocks and an easy disposition. As the story goes, Cristophe returned years ago from Europe to his native French Guiana disgusted with the ugly and brutish nature of humanity, and went into the bush to live alone in nature (read: like a massive hippie). He eventually came to the Maroni River on the Surinamese border, and became enamored with the lifestyles of its inhabitants, the Bushi-Negue, known in English as Maroons. They are the descendents of enslaved Africans who, centuries ago, fled to the safety of the region’s infinite forests, forming several distinct tribes. Cristophe was amazed that this culture was intact and thriving, and decided that the world needed a music festival to draw attention to the very existence of the Bushi-Negue, not to mention the many issues affecting the community.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. What are the Guyanas, and why should we “get down” in them?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reflections on the 2012 Festival in the Desert

Chris Nolan’s previous report on the 2012 Festival au Desert was a summary of highlights. But there was much more going on. Below is an update from Chris, send from Nouakchott, Mauritania. Also be sure to check out Nolan's footage from this year and festivals past. Also, the amazing festival photos taking by Alfred Weldinger this year. Here is Chris' report:

The Festival au Desert had in its original mission statement a focus on “reconciliation” after the Malian civil war of the 1990's. When the Flame de la Paix [Flame of Peace] monument was constructed in the late 90's in Timbuktu, the hope was that development would come to the area. The first three editions of the Festival occured in different locations reflecting the nomadic Tuareg. Logistics played a part in its fixing a location at Essakane about 65 km outside of Timbuktu in 2003-2004. The Festival continued for the following 7 years in the Essakane location until, in 2010, regional security concerns forced its relocation closer to the city of Timbuktu itself. Though still in the desert, it was now more secure and convenient, though some think the Festival lost a bit of its atmosphere. Nonetheless, this event continued to bring commerce and culture to the region.

During this same period, geopolitical forces have evolved to bring the entire western Sahara to a precarious moment. Drug mafias, complicit corruption, criminal motivations, fundamentalism and proponents of Saharan independence have all found refuge in this expansive and largely unsupervised region.

The desert is not empty. It is not a vast moonscape void of people. For millennia there have been vibrant cultures in the Sahara. Unique adaptive strategies have allowed people to create and thrive in these seemingly harsh conditions. However, with the arrival of neo-colonial powers, with foreign natural resource exploiting internationals, mafia-like smuggling networks, "modernization," and political corruption, those cultures are stressed to the limit and many see little hope for a peaceful resolution.

Andy Morgan correctly summarized the situation in the north of Mali in The National on 20 January 2012: "Today, that homeland is arguably in greater danger of total conflagration and anarchy than at any other time for a century. Until a few years ago the Touareg struggle for self-rule against the central governments of Mali and Niger, in which founder members Ibrahim Ag Alhabib and Alhassane Ag Touhami played an active part in the 1980s and early 1990s, was the only real conflict to blight the peace of the area. It was open and hospitable to outsiders. Now it's in lockdown. The fundamentalist Salafist terrorism of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the brutal trafficking of people and drugs across the Sahara, the rampant exploitation of mineral resources, the corruption of local governments and leaders, the heavy-handed intervention of foreign armies and security services, especially those of France and the US, and the huge inflow of small and medium-sized weaponry following the demise of Qaddafi in Libya, are turning this once remote, peaceful wilderness into a "globalised hellhole."

Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang Release New Track, Sign to Luaka Bop

Sierra Leone bubu king and musical madman Janka Nabay is back with a new song, "Eh Man Ah," for your listening pleasure. The track is off his forthcoming three-song EP An Letah due to drop March 20th via True Panther. "Eh Man Ah" showcases a new, more psychedelic, sonically-rich Nabay. Full of gritty keys and high-end reverb-drenched guitar, the song builds off the frantic energy of “bubu” dance music for a hypnotic offering that enhances the Sierra Leone-style without transforming it into something entirely different. Impressive stuff.

Janka Nabay & The Bubu Gang - Eh Mane Ah by truepanther

Nabay and the Bubu Gang have also announced that they recently signed to world music juggernaut imprint Luaka Bop. The new label will release Nabay's debut LP that is set to drop this summer. The new full-length will continue to explore the newly expanded sound.

Nabay and the Bubu Gang are also taking their show on the road through March.

Dates below:

Feb 16 Oberlin, OH – Oberlin College
Feb 17 Cleveland, OH – Now That’s Class
Mar 08 Brooklyn, NY – Glasslands Gallery
Mar 09 Richmond, VA – Strange Matter
Mar 10 Savannah, GA – Savannah Stopover
Mar 11 Birmingham, AL – The Bottletree Cafe
Mar 12 Baton Rouge, LA – Spanish Moon
Mar 14 to Mar 17 – SXSW
Mar 22 Boise, ID – Tree Fort Festival
Mar 24 Denver, CO – Hi Dive
Mar 25 Omaha, NE – Slowdown

-Saxon Baird

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Nile Project: United Music for a Good Cause

There's a lot of good projects out there doing great things for both music and Africa. However, every now and then something comes along that really catches our eye. In this case, its The Nile Project which is uniting music while raising water concerns in Northeastern Africa. The project recently launched a kickstarter to cull funds.

Find links and information below:

The Nile Project Unites Music, Raises Water Concerns of Northeastern Africa
Fundraising ends Feb. 1, Artist Scouting Begins in April

In a boat crafted of recycled water bottles, a beautiful Ethiopian-American singer / TED Senior Fellow and a brainy Egyptian ethnomusicologist / music activist are about to set sail down the Nile. The goal: Use music--from ear-candy pop to the eldest of traditions--to spark a spirited conversation and change the way people from Uganda to Egypt think about their river, their environment, and their communities.

The ambitious, multiphase Nile Project ( nileproject.org) will gather eclectic, respected musicians from the seven countries along the great river (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Egypt) for local, regional, and international performances. Guided by local tastes and aesthetics, the resulting ensemble will be the first of its kind--and about far more than music. It will leverage the power of music and performance to get people excited, get people in different countries talking across borders and cultures, and help spur efforts to find new, grassroots ways of addressing water issues along the Nile.

This unique, thoughtful combination of international know-how and local savvy, of music and environmental education and activism, is beginning with a Kickstarter campaign to support the first phase.

"It’s not about how do I get more water, or how do I negotiate to get the most water. It's not about scarcity, but about how we can solve this together," explains Mina Girgis, the Cairo-born music scholar and founder of Zambaleta World Music and Dance School in San Francisco. "When I see someone from Ethiopia who plays resonant music, I’m excited to get to know them more. I’m starting to think about them in a very different light. Music can bring people together, instead of separating them."

In this first phase, "we're going to be scouting for musicians, but also looking for a real pool of local advisers in all the places we’re going," singer Meklit Hadero notes. "That's part of our mission, looking for community-based solutions, for local leaders and people on the ground with solutions to environmental problems."

Check out Meklit and Mina talking more about the project and the current Kickstarter campaign.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Afropop Video Exclusive: Mulatu Astake & the African Jazz Village

Filmmaker Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel in collaboration with Afropop Worldwide, recently visited the father of Ethio-Jazz, Mulatu Astatke, last year to learn about his story and the African Jazz Village in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

See the mesmerizing results below:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Women’s Songs in Post-crisis Côte d’Ivoire: “Ask Gbagbo…”

Korhogo Women Song 1 by Afropop Worldwide
Recorded in Korhogo, Ivory Coast in June 2011. Solo voice: Mariam Silué. Chorus: Téné Coulibaly, Kayoh Yeo, Fanicho Soro, Nawa Soro.

Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Côte d’Ivoire, is now in detention at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. He has been charged with crimes against humanity. Defeated at the polls in November 2010, Gbagbo refused to give up power and tried to hold onto power by force. An estimated three thousand people died. He was arrested in April 2011. From April to the end of November he was under house arrest, in northern Côte d’Ivoire, in the town of Korhogo, where some local women commemorated his capture in song. Carol Spindel sends us this report from Korhogo:

The market town of Korhogo in the center north of Côte d’Ivoire is surrounded by the wide skies of the savanna, and by fields of cotton, rice, and corn, and orchards of cashews and mangoes. The Senufo people, the largest ethnic group in northern Côte d’Ivoire, are proud of their identity as successful farmers and as Korhogo’s founders. They are also proud of their reputation for hospitality. When an outsider arrives, he is taken in by a local host. This relationship transforms the visitor from a stranger, an outsider, into an authorized guest.

From April until the end of November 2011, the stranger in their midst, who was both sheltered and imprisoned in Korhogo, was Laurent Gbagbo, the country’s former president. He was being held in preventive detention by the government he used to head for economic crimes including aggravated robbery and embezzlement.

When they walked past the high walls of the presidential compound in Korhogo, passersby knew that Gbagbo was trapped inside, stripped of his power, while the candidate they supported, Alassane Ouattara, was in the presidential palace in Abidjan. They didn’t gloat. That would have been unseemly, for Gbagbo was a stranger under their protection, a guest in their territory.

2012 Festival in the Desert: full report

Over the weekend, we posted a couple of partial reports from Chris Nolan, our man at the Festival in the Desert.  Now that he's back in reach of a better internet connection, we have his full report.  Chris does not mention this, but the headline might be that, once again, the festival went off with no crime or violence.  Despite other things that may be happening in this region, this festival's safety record remains exemplary.  We will have more on this year's festival--video, photos, another report.  So stay tuned.  Here's Chris's full report:

12 January 2012, Timbuktu, Mali

Not many tourists are in these streets. But those who are here and attending this years Festival au Desert edition 2012 will be treated to a great lineup. Tinariwen, Bassekou Koyate, Habib Koite, Noura Mint Seymali, Vieux Farka Toure, Tartit, Samba Toure, Khaira Arby, Oumar Konate, Mamoudou Kelly, Atri n'Assouf, Mamar Kassey, Koudede, Amanar, Abdoulaye Diabate, Igbayen, and many more. Over 30 groups made up this three day event's program. And on opening night a special guest was announced: Bono from U2.

The program began with short sets by local groups who are just cutting their teeth on the music scene. But some future stars were evident. One such artist to watch for was Kia whose strong voice has been assisted by the advice of Khaira Arby (the reigning queen of song in Timbuktu).

Khaira Arby, Vieux Farka Toure, Omar Konate, Timbuktu airport
Another star about to be launched on the international stage is Omar Konate. This young guitarist hails from Niafunke, the home of Ali Farke Toure. He has been trained in that style and also has mastered the electric guitar of rock. His voice is strong and his presence electric. This is a guy to watch for.

Omar Konate
About 6000 people are here for the Festival 2012 including 350 non-Africans from as far away as New Zealand who have braved the warnings and come to support this cultural peace project. The officials report that there are foreigners from 60 countries. Bono himself arrived Thursday the 12th with about 20 from his One World foundation who are on a research tour in western Africa.

As the main program began Thursday night, the crowd was electric with anticipation. Abdoulaye Diabate got everyone going with his infectious good humored set. A master vocalist, Abdoulaye was backed by his hot band, which kept the groove up nonstop. He dedicated a song to festival director Manny Ansar and in the crowd Bono was dancing up a storm with the people who were around him. Even the Minister of Culture, Hamane Niang, got up to dance.

Bono with his wife and Minister Niang

With government ministers present there was a lot of security. The Prime Minister was due to arrive on Sunday for the final day of the Festival. This didn't seem to dampen the festivalier's spirit. Unfortunately, I imagine that the reduced number of tourists overall this year has severely dampened the artisans market volume. This event is one of the only major influxes into the area. Several people remarked that once the Festival ended, Timbuktu would be left with nothing giong on given the current freeze of activity. This is unfortunate as it leaves a void that someone will fill. But as of now, most people agree that Tombouctiens are surprisingly open and ready to engage their visitors in multiple languages. One is greeted in English, German, and Spanish as the polyglot locals have self-taught language mastery in support of their tourism industry.

One of the exciting aspects of the Festival is the number of Tent Session [the subject of Afropop’s 2004 film on the Festival in the Desert] where artists jam and collaborate. I met a young friend, Mohamed Ag Aballow, who showed me how he is mastering the lute called tehardent, the instrument his father Aballow Yatarra plays. The young crowd are proud of their cultural heritage and work to preserve it while also embracing modernism. Mohamed has his cell phone, facebook page and email address as ready as any young guy in the West.

Mohamed Ag Aballow
Noura Mint Seymali at the Timbuktu Airport

The absolutely spellbinding vocalist Noura Mint Seymali from Mauretania is ready to claim the role of her famous stepmother the late Dimi Mint Abba. Noura comes from the great griot tradition of the family of Seymali Ould Mouhamed Val and began her career as a backup vocalist to here stepmother Dimi. She has the depth of training in the classical traditions of Mauritanian song craft to be compelling in the vocal pyrotechnics of this poetic and devotional song style. Incredible to hear once more in Timbuktu as Noura had graced the stage in 2007 at Festival au Desert. She has also bridged the classical and the modern in her music as she transitioned to a more electric band configuration. With her strong charisma and appeal to the audience she will become a major star. What I hope for is that the West will finally open its ears and hearts to the beauty, subtlety and craft of this Islamic music. Noura is incredible!

The seasoned Tuareg roots music group Tartit put on an amazing set, as they always do. Their traditional style includes tehardent, the traditional violin called imzhad, Tinde drum, hand drum, augmented by electric guitar. Their vocals alternated between the forgeron (blacksmith) griot and the women. Tartit encountered some technical sound problems, which, as Disco, the group's leader, pointed out from the stage, are a normal aspect of switching to electric instruments from traditional ones. That initial delay put their set out of Festival's stage schedule and threw off the group's change of style to contemporary. They call that configuration, Imharhan. They were only able to play two songs but after some negotiation were able to come back to say that the would finish their set at the end of the evening's program and continue on as long as the audience wanted. Imharhan are a very popular local band who play alot in the area and have many devoted fans of their desert blues inpsired rock groove.

Mohamed Issa leader of Imharhan
Habib Koite

Malian troubadour and Afropop stalwart Habib Koite played a stellar set on the last night. He too had some sound tech issues, but it turned out to be just a bad guitar cable. Habib kept right on going, a real pro, unfazed by a minor hassle while his sound guy scrambled to find the source. Habib's personal charisma and connection to the audience created a strong bond immediately. His performance was one of the best I have seen him give. The band kept fully in high gear as they drove through his strong set.

Many Ansar at the controls!
Kiran Ahluwalia
The final programmed band was the finale by Tinariwen. Their full set included a collaboration with a singer from India, via Canada, Kiran Ahluwalia. She sang the Indo-Pakistani Sufi song "Must Must" made famous by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and the crowd was totally into it. Her vocal subtlety and strength were fantastic. As most songs in the classical Islamic tradition, this was a devotional piece, a fitting ending for a peaceful, spiritually charged gathering. Starting with a meditative statement of the raga, the song progressed as the band joined in with their guitars and then familiar Tuareg rhythms. An immediate cultural resonance was felt by everyone and they showed their enthusiasm and appreciation with loud cheers and dancing.

Tartit soundcheck

"Disco" of Tartit

Preview Poirier's 'Soca Road'

Need something to thaw out your winter? Apparently, soca specialist Poirier, who lives in chilly Montreal, needed something too. Yesterday, he dropped a 4-track EP courtesy of Mixpak Records. The new offering titled, Soca Road, features two unreleased instrumentals and two other offerings featuring vocal contributions from South African EJ Von Lyrik and well and Quebec rapper Imposs on the anthemic Carnival riddim “Sak Te Gen Tan Gen.” From what we’ve heard, Soca Road avoids the glossy, highly-produced pop trappings of modern soca in favor of a hyperactive and quirky electro-heavy sound that is fueled off the style’s energy.

Also, just look at that cover. Don’t we all wish we were sitting in the back of that bus, with a warm breeze coming through over rustling palms? Check out the preview below and let that imagination run.

-Saxon Baird

Poirier - Soca Road EP Preview by Mixpak

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Amkoullel & Toni Blackman Release New Track "Change"

Malian hip-hop artist Amkoullel and Toni Blackman have teamed up to drop an exclusive single in celebration of a new year. The track titled, "Change" features long-time hip-hop figure Toni Blackman, who amongst performing alongside the likes of Mos Def, The Roots, and Wu-Tang, was also apart of the first Hip Hop Cultural Envoy to travel to Africa on behalf the U.S. state department.

The track is what we've come to expect from Amkoullel. Gritty beats, anthemic chorus and social-political subject matter in both English and in French.

If you are unfamiliar with Amkoullel, he is one of the first Malian hip-hop artist from the country and has released a handful of albums. He was also featured on our Trans-National Hip Hop Train program last year. Check out the new track below.

Change / Toni Blackman and Amkoullel by Amkoullel

GlobalFest 2012 in Review

A little over a week ago twelve bands making up 17 different countries took to three stages in New York City for one excellent evening showcasing some of the best acts from music beyond the U.S. What was it? GlobalFest, of course! The festival has become an annual showcase bringing international acts, many who have never played in the U.S., to the Big Apple at the delight of world music fans.

As with each year, Afropop was in attendance for all the great performances that included a wide variety of styles. While we often offer our own coverage of the festival, this year we decided to partner with NPR to bring you photos, videos and commentary on all the bands featured this year.

Go HERE to listen to our very own Banning Eyre join Bob Boilen from All Songs Considered, NPR Music's Anastasia Tsioulcas and Rob Weisberg of WNYC to discuss the festival and sample some of the great music from the festival. You can also see photos and hear full sets!

The Debo Band
(photo by Ryan Muir for NPR)

Monday, January 16, 2012

More from the Festival in the Desert, 2012

Over the weekend, more short messages from Chris Nolan at the Festival in the Desert in Timbuktu have been arriving.  Here they are:


“Several thousand people have entered the city for the Festival au Desert 2012 bringing much needed life to this City of 333 Saints. 300 westerners braved the journey and will be unique witnesses to this incredible show. But when we arrived, the economic crunch caused by recent travel bans was clearly evident.  With the success of the Festival au Desert, a much needed boost is evident. Everyone in the region is excited and welcoming.”

“Absolutely spellbinding set from the Mauretanian singing sensation, Noura Mint Seymani.”

"Toinight, appearing onstage in Timbuktu: Bono will be performing with Tinariwen! Bono is here with a delegation of 20 people from the One Foundation. Last night he sat in the VIP section between the Minister of Culture and Minister of Tourism and Arts, at one point everyone got up and danced with the crowd.

“Bono just did a 15 minute song with Tinariwen and Bassekou Koyate. "Viva la music du desert!". A stadium anthem for the 5000 people gathered here filling this bowl in the dunes of the Sahara just outside Timbuktu.”


“Atri n'Assouf plays an anthem rock high energy with pride and power filled with positive energy. They bringing an uplift to everyone's spirit after the hardships brought to this region by crime and violence. Everyone is really getting into the party. “

“There is a huge crowd for closing of these three days and the anticipation that led up to them. It’s packed with people between the sound booth and the stage. Atri n'Assouf have a mosh pit going in front of the stage. Their strong voices and performance bring a celebration into the air. The rolling rhythms get everyone dancing. This is a great band with real depth. Led by Rhissa ag Wanagli and Koudede, tonight they sport a crew of 5 guys singing backup and a young female dancer. All is held in place by bass, djembe and trap drum set.”

“The prime minister just gave her closing speech praising the Festival and its vital role in the north of Mali for economic development and cultural preservation. Festival goers from 60 countries made the trip, braved the route and arrived to the warm hospitality of Mali and especially the North of Mali. Representatives from each country were invited onstage for a family photo. Tonight, new discoveries and familiar superstars will continue to enthrall the audience: Oumar Konate, Habib Koite, Noura Mint Seymali, Bassekou Koyate, Vieux Farka Toure, Mamoudou Kelly, Tartit, and many more.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Festival in the Desert: Happening Now

Our man Chris Nolan (manager for the great Khaira Arby of Timbuktu) is at the Festival in the Desert right now, and keeping us up to date.  You may recall that after the Thanksgiving kidnapping/murder incident there, a number of governments, including the US government, warned people not to to attend the Festival this year.  Personally, I had real doubts that there would be any trouble at such a big public event, but the chill was understandable, and inevitable.

Meanwhile, Chris didn't hesitate.  He's been having trouble getting online, but managed to send a few texts during last night's opening festivities, and two photos.  Here's his brief, but inspiring, report so far.

"Not many tourists are in these streets, but those who are attending this year’s FID will see a great show. Muezzin’s call to prayer opens ceremony. Lineup tonight includes a group sponsored by Khaira Arby, Groupe Kia. Main lineup includes: Omar Konate, Terekaft, Abdoulayer Diabate, Mamar Kassey, and Koudede. About 6000 people here on opening night. Everyone having a great time. Maybe 150 Westerners who are going to be treated to an incredible series of performances. Bono is here with about 20 people from his One Foundation. The crowd is electric. Abdoulaye Diabate is burning up the… Bono is rocking with the music as he sits between the Minster of Culture and the Minister of Tourism and Arts."

Ah, don't you wish you were there?  I do.

Opening moments of 2012 Festival au Desert, Timbuktu

Many Ansar (white turban), Festival director, at the controls
We should note that en route to this festival, Chris, along with Khaira and her band attended Festival Taragalte, in the Moroccan desert.  He has sent a report and photos, which we will post next week.

Banning Eyre

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Buraka Son Sistema Tours the U.S.

Portugal's Buraka Som Sistema recently released their much anticipated sophomore album Komba last year, which they described as an exploration of the borders between life and death, and ultimately was a searing mix with their hyper-timed dance music approach. The outfit is most well-known for putting the Angolan style of kuduro on the map and blending it with more western, club styles.

Now the eclectic electronic outfit is returning to North America a handful of shows. Check 'em out if you can. It's sure to thaw out your cold winter for at least a couple hours.

January 6-8 - HOLY SHIP FESTIVAL w. Diplo, A-Trak, Fatboy Slim, Rusko, more.
January 10 - WASHINGTON D.C. @ 9:30 Club
January 11 - NEW YORK, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
January 13 - TORONTO @ Wrongbar (updated venue)
January 14 - MONTREAL @ Igloofest

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Youssou N'Dour Announces He Will Run for the Senegalese Presidency

Youssou N'Dour has never been afraid to voice his political opinion in his music and beyond. Now legendary Senegalese singer has announced that he plans to run for president against Senegal's 85-year old incumbent Abdoulaye Wade, who is seeking a third term.

N'Dour has a long record of performing in support of human rights causes and was the African representative on Amnesty International tours in the 1980s. In his announcment on Monday he said "In the school of the world, I have studied" adding that his decision to run was "a supreme patriotic duty."

N'Dour isn't the first "world" music singer take up politics. Panamanian singer Ruben Blades ran for president in 1994 and lost. Fugee's rapper and singer Wyclef Jean announced his intention to run for president of Haiti in 2010 but was declared ineligible. And Afrobeat inventor Fela Kuti attempted to run for president of Nigeria in 1979, but his candidacy was denied. More recently, Haitian musician Michel Martelly, also known as 'Sweet Mickey,' was elected president of his home country.