Archive for the ‘african music’ tag

Mali, Then and Now

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Mali has been in the news lately. (A coup, secession movement, and constitutional crisis will do that.) So while its status remains unresolved and its name is still in the headlines, we at AudioCred want to take a step back and examine the deep and varied  history of one of the world’s richest musical areas. Mali has been part of three major West African empires – the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (from which it takes its name), and the Songhai Empire, the latter of which was one of the greatest Islamic political entities in history and dominated West Africa for more than two centuries. Later on, it was controlled by France and part of the French Sudan colony, until 1960 when it achieved independence. It has been nominally democratic for twenty-one years, but this could change depending on the outcome of the pending coup.

If you’re from the United States than you have almost certainly listened to music related to Malian music, as the largest percentage of African-Americans are descended from West African areas near and around the current state of Mali. During the period of slavery in the US, Black Americans kept up musical traditions that evolved from West African states into their own, unique American phenomena. Critical elements of blues, gospel, spirituals, jazz, ragtime, among others can be traced directly back to musical characteristics derived from West Africa. These include the banjo (a West African instrument), the blues scale (derived from the minor pentatonic scale, which was predominant in West African music), call-and-response singing, the blues note (aka the tritone, which was inserted into the minor pentatonic scale to make the blues scale – something that Europeans and White Americans were initially loath to do), a tradition of improvisation in concert and performance, and many, many more. Most genres of American music have characteristics that can be directly or indirectly traced to this region.

Today the link between West African music and African-derived American styles – particularly the blues – is celebrated by artists like Springfield, Massachusetts born Taj Mahal and famed Malian koro player Toumani Diabate. Their 1999 album, Kulanjan, featured songs from both traditions and fused American and West African instrumentation and conceptions of harmony to great acclaim. “Kulanjan” comes more directly from Mali, while “Ol’ Georgie Buck” and “Catfish Blues” are American blues originals.

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Toumani Diabate & Taj Mahal – Kulanjan

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Toumani Diabate & Taj Mahal – Ol’ Georgie Buck

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Amadou & Mariam – “Doug Badia”

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Musicians Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met when they were adolescents, at the Institute for the Young Blind in Mali. They dated, eventually married in 1980, and since then have become some of the most visible Malian pop musicians worldwide. They’ve been producing music since 1974, when they performed with Les Ambassadeurs du Hotel. After their marriage, they continued to play solo productions, with a particular focus on Malian blues. Their next break came with the release of their album Sou Ni Tile, which gained success in France in 1986 and established them on the French language pop charts.

Their biggest hit, thus far, was the 2004 album Dimanche A Bamako (“Sunday In Bamako”), which was produced by Mexican musician Manu Chao. Since then, they have enjoyed success in both American and European charts, composed music for the latest World Cup in South Africa, and opened shows for such acts as the Scissor Sisters and Coldplay. (My own take is they’re much better than either of those acts.) Their latest release is the track “Doug Badia,” a collaboration with American musician Santigold. We’ve included that song here, as well as three other essentials from their extensive, varied library. My personal favorite is “Coulibaly.”

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 Amadou & Mariam – “Doug Badia” (feat. Santigold)

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 Amadou & Mariam – “Coulibaly”

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 Amadou & Mariam – “Senegal Fast Food”

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 Amadou & Mariam – “Sabali”

Written by Jimmy

January 11th, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Toumani Diabaté – “Sombou Ya Ya”

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I’ve been in love with the kora ever since Toumani Diabaté introduced it to me, years ago. The instrument, which is constructed in the manner of a bridge harp, has a harp-like tone but is played more in the style of delta blues and flamenco guitar fingerpicking techniques. Toumani himself comes from a long line of kora players: his father, Sidiki Diabaté, recorded the first kora album ever, in 1970, and Toumani has risen to become perhaps the most well-known practitioner of the instrument worldwide. He has become known for his virtuosic performances that include music drawn from traditional Malian music, as well as other genres such as jazz, flamenco, and blues.

In addition to pieces he’s released with other musicians from Mali, including his father Sidiki, with whom he recorded his first album, Ba Togoma, and In The Heart Of The Moon, which he worked on with Ali Farka Touré, Toumani has also collaborated with artists outside of West Africa, to great acclaim. Two of the most well-known albums in the latter vein are his co-release with Taj Mahal, Kulanjan, and Bjork’s album Volta.

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Kulanjan is of particular delight to music history aficionados, as it combines Malian strains of kora music with one of the world’s most famous blues players – and as I’m sure either musician could tell you, many musical characteristics of the blues come straight out of regions of West Africa, including Mali. It’s a natural combination, and both musicians prove their ability to incorporate their respective styles in each other’s traditions. “Ol’ Georgie Buck” is an old blues ballad, generously reinterpreted in a manner that befits both artists’ playing styles, and “Kulanjan” is a tune from Mali.

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It’s difficult to pick a single track from the Diabate repertoire that represents his tone, songwriting ability, and virtuosic technique – so I’m just going to give you a snapshot of where he is now. This track, “Soumbou Ya Ya,” was recorded recently this year in London’s Union Chapel. It is a particularly good showcase of the simultaneous playing of ostenato riffs, known as “Kumbengo,” and extended, improvised solos, known as “Birimintingo.”

Toumani Diabaté – Soumbou Ya Ya (Live from Union Chapel, 2011) by World Circuit Records

Written by Jimmy

December 23rd, 2011 at 12:13 pm

John Chibadura – Zuva Rekufa Kwangu

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There are a variety of reasons “Zuva Rekufa Kwangu” is great – it’s one of the most effective fusions of reggae and Southern African music out there, it’s a fantastic example of Zimbabwean music, and the syncopated tango of upstroke guitar and bass, to name a few. Most simply, I love this song because it always makes me happy. I listen to it again and again is because it never fails to get me moving back and forth with a smile on my face.

John Chibadura became a well-known musician when he fused the Zimbabwean genre of jit (also known as jit-jive) with reggae. Sungura, itself, as his music came to be predominantly known by, is characterized by a balance of reggae-like offbeat guitar strokes, with its grooving bass lines and upbeat mood, and the more driving Congolese styles of rhumba and soukous. (The latter styles are often seen as Latin in origin, which is a mistake: in reality it’s the other way around, with the Latin rumba we all know from the Western Hemisphere having been influenced initially by the music of the Congo.)

I prefer “Zuva Rekufa Kwangu,” and music in its vein, to music that’s more strictly reggae because there’s more of a drive to Chibadura’s stylings than much of the reggae than comes directly from the Caribbean. This may be a matter of taste: you could very well prefer the more laid-back sensibilities of Jamaica and Barbados. Still, if that appeals to you, give this one a try. Reggae, after all, is fundamentally African in origin. As it is in the case of this song, I’ve found it’s usually good news when you combine it with its musical cousins across the pond.

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Written by Jimmy

December 20th, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Terah Kasozi

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Terah Kasozi is a singer-songwriter from Kampala City, Uganda, who currently lives and works in Copenhagen. He’s been performing since he was 6 years old, and will be releasing his first full-length album, Icing Sugar, in February. We’re privileged and pleased to be able to present an exclusive interview and spotlight of his music. To get a taste, check out “Dream Philosophy” and “Muyambaganenga,” below. For my part, his material is top-of-the-line. You would be cheating yourself not to listen.

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Where did you grow up in Uganda? Did you spend your entire childhood there? 

I grew up in the suburbs of Kampala City and spent most of my life there.

What did you study at Makerere University Kampala? How did you engage with performance as a student? Was it entirely independent of your academic work?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in ‘‘Organizational Studies & Communication Skills’’ from Makerere University in Kampala Uganda. As a student and singer, I participated in a couple of music activities like church music events and concerts within and outside the university. While studying at the university, I mainly sang with music teams such as Praise Group of St. Francis Chapel Makerere University and a band called ‘Voice of Celebration (VOC). All of these were entirely independent of my academic work.

What opportunities and venues for performance did you have in Uganda as a child and as an adolescent?

I started to sing at the age of 6 before church congregations, at wedding ceremonies and parties of family and friends. I was actively involved in church choirs and Choirs of schools I attended. After university, I joined Worship Harvest Music Team in Kampala. I still belong to this particular music team back home in Kampala.

A few years down the road, I started to sing with individual recording artists as a back-up vocalist; some of which included Moses Mukisa, Lynnet Kyomugisha Nsubuga in recording studios and at concerts and music events in Kampala. Some of these albums included ‘Seasons of Life’ by Moses Mukisa, ‘Kyomu-We’ by Lynnet K.Nsubuga. I also did background vocals for at the ‘Not Guilty Concert’ by Lynnet in Kampala this year.

In Denmark, I have had opportunities to perform at a Musical Conference in Rodvre Copenhagen in November 2011, and I have also performed at events in 2006 and 2011 in Helsingor.

Do you consider your music to be in one or more genres? Do you think it can be categorized as a specific style?

I cannot single out one genre that best describes all my songs. My music is in more than one genre because I do lots of fusion styles, which actually would make it hard to categorize it in one specific genre. I think most of my songs would fall under Alternative, African, World, Jazz, Soul, Neo-soul, Blues, Afro-Jazz, Reggie and Singer Songwriter genres.

What instruments do you play? What is the full ensemble you feature in your songs?

My main instrument is piano. I however also play an acoustic guitar and bass guitar. In most of my songs, I use a pianist, an acoustic guitarist, a drummer, a percussionist (Congas), xylophonist, string, electric guitarist, a trumpeter and a saxophonist. Then I have back-up vocalists who some of sometimes also take lead parts in songs.

You mention in “Dream Philosophy” that you switch languages several times in the course of the song? Which languages do you sing in, and why did you choose to do that in “Dream Philosophy?” What language do you sing in “Muyambaganenga?”

Muyambaganenga was sung in Luganda language, which is a language from the Central part of Uganda, but also the most widely spoken language in Uganda.

The chorus of the song ‘Dream Philosophy’ is in Kinyarwanda language, which is a language from Rwanda. The verse is in Kiswahili language, widely spoken in East Africa and in a couple of other African countries. The song message is summarized in English language in form of final adlibs. I kept re-emphasizing the message that dreamers fight for their dreams but don’t give up until they have achieved them. If you intend to achieve, you need to be ready to fight to the very end.

So, packaging the song in 3 languages was to ensure that the message reaches as many people as possible in and outside Africa especially the youth.

What are some of the themes and ideas you sing about in your music?

I focus on a positive approach toward life, positive thinking, encouragement, second hope, unity, forgiveness, love and peace. I enjoy reminding people that there is always hope for tomorrow. I encourage people to think ‘outside’ a box. I encourage my listeners to operate in what I call a ‘Sixth Sense’ and encourage them to stop drawing conclusions based on today’s project of their lives.

I believe in God and I am not ashamed of saying it. I understand that He loves me so very much and he also loves every person I will ever meet. I use music to speak my mind. I try to package music in ways I believe are more appealing. People have been condemned so much by today’s church that they don’t want to hear or know anything from him. They are tired of hearing the ‘‘dos’’ and ‘‘don’ts’’ no wonder they can no longer stand church music. All my songs are built on biblical principles and poetry even if they do not necessarily sound like.

I love to connect with society through music and I express it best through music. When I speak to people through music, I am basically reminding them that God is actually not as bad and as evil he has been branded! In fact, he is not even about to be close to anything like that but the exact opposite is his nature (He is Love). Just because he allows bad things to happen to them, it doesn’t mean He does bad things to them. He should not be held accountable. No, he is not responsible for the bad things to them.

I also emphasize that there is absolutely nothing they can do to please him, because he is already pleased with them anyway. All they need to do is to ‘‘chill-out’’ and REST.

Tell me about your upcoming album.

My upcoming album is called Icing Sugar. It will be out in February 2012 and will have 10 songs. It has a variety of genres as I tried to create a unique sound on the album. Every song on this album has a significantly different style and sound, which makes it a lot sweeter to listen to.

The project has been going on for more than a year now and the good news is, I do not regret having spent this much time on this particular project because I am happy with the final product. The project is very personal and I enjoy every song on it. It is my debut album and I am proud to say that the final product is really good because of its detail and the attention I have given it throughout the production time. I do not doubt my listeners will enjoy it so I would encourage everyone to give it a shot.

If you are looking for something different from the ordinary, ‘‘Icing Sugar’’ is one album I would recommend.

Best case scenario: where do you see yourself in two years?

 In two years from today, I will have my own band and I will have released at least 2 more albums. Also, I will have performed on at least 10 concerts in USA, Europe, Canada and Africa. Also, I am working toward owing a recording studio within the next two years.

Who are some musicians you look up to and consider to have influenced your music?

Over the years musicians like Incognito, Worship Harvest, India Arie, Jill Scott, Moses Mukisa, John Legend, Erykah Badu, Lynnet K.Nsubuga, Kirk Franklin, Alicia Keys, Fred Hammond, Adele, Ayo, Assa, Lisa McClendon, Jamie Cullum, The Floacist, Michael Bubble, Joss Stone among others.

Special thanks to Peter McNally for help with this interview.

Written by Jimmy

December 9th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Creole Choir Of Cuba

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I consider myself fortunate that I just heard of the Creole Choir of Cuba, as they are embarking on their first US tour. I’m most excited about this Sunday’s performance at Symphony Space in New York – but fear not, even if you live in a secluded hamlet such as Hanover, NH, or Amherst, MA, they’ll be coming your way.

Composed of ten singers from the East Cuban city of Camagüey, they fuse sounds orally passed down from their own Haitian heritage with modern Haitian music. The result is electric. If it’s a little reminiscent of Isicathamiya, the style Ladysmith Black Mambazo sings in, fear not – it’s natural, as both groups draw from stylings that are fundamentally African in origin. The Creole Choir is entirely its own beast, however, and cannot be considered truly parallel with any other group: their sound is their own (for one thing, they’re not always a cappella). Buy their CD or see them live; I might do both.

These two tracks feature a great blend of traditional Afro-Caribbean percussion and vocal harmonies.

THE CREOLE CHOIR OF CUBA – Se Lavi by music-mdc

THE CREOLE CHOIR OF CUBA – Tande by music-mdc

This one is a gorgeous a cappella piece – it really gives a sense of their range of influences.

Extrait peze café by music-mdc

“Chen Nan Ren” gained a bit of radio play by virtue of being performed on BBC Two’s “Later… With Jools Holland.” It features a traditional call-and-response structure – leader and chorus – from start to finish.

Chen Nan Ren by RealWorldRecords

Written by Jimmy

September 29th, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Damon Albarn Collaborating With Congolese Musicians In New Project

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Musician and producer Damon Albarn has had a varied past couple years. He’s seen the end of the Gorillaz franchise, he’s recorded, mixed, and produced an impromptu album – The Fall – entirely on the fly while touring the US, all using an iPad. The result was uneven, but compelling – certainly a worthwhile experiment in narrative LP form. He’s just completed, with director Rufus Norris, an English language opera entitled Doctor Dee about John Dee, Elizabeth I’s adviser, scientist, and purported magician. His orchestrations betray what seems to be an emerging career arc – the use of instrumentation from several continents. Its main players include the kora, a Malian string instrument most notably played by Toumani Diabate, harmonium, viol, theorbo, organ, drum set, and acoustic guitar. The Guardian called it “elegant and full of a sense of warmth and intimacy.”

Now he’s focusing on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He’s planning a visit there to “play his part in a project in which DJs and producers will record and sample Congolese music, and aim to complete a record in not much more than a week.” The album will be an Oxfam benefit, and will include such artists as Actress, Jniero Jarel, Dan the Automator, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Kwes, Marc Antoine, and Jo Gunton. I find this beyond exciting. Albarn has always shown a willingness to explore new mixtures of genre and sound. He’s an ideal man to head such a collaboration. I can’t wait to see what kind of sounds the Congolese musicians he works with have to offer, and what the final product will be like. Here’s a taste of some of the music that this is coming from:

This artist, Basokin, plays what is known in the Congo as “tradi-moderne” music and are primarily comprised of musicians who moved to Kinshasa from the country. The style draws heavily from traditional trance music. “Mulume” has an entirely unique sound:

“Bobby In Pheonix” was one of the best off The Fall – one of Albarn’s most intimate songs:

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Marc Antoine, a Haitian electronic artist who’s collaborating on the project, adds another dimension:

Fitiri by Marc Antoine

And here’s a collaboration between Albarn, Kid Koala, and Dan the Automator, the last of whom will be coming along for the ride.

Damon Albarn, Dan the Automator, Kid Koala – Untitled

Salif Keita – Coming to America

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Despite being a direct descendant of Sundiata Keita, the founder of the Malian Empire, Salif Keita was cast out of his community and ostracized by his family because of his albinism, which is considered bad luck in rural Mali. Luckily for us he persevered, and started the groups Super Rail Band de Bamako (after the capital city, Bamako) and the more popular Les Ambassadeurs. He later fled during military unrest and established a more prominent career in Paris. He has been hailed by many in West Africa as “The Golden Voice of Africa,” and if you live in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Savannah, or New York City (at the Apollo!), he’ll be playing for you soon. Here are his US / Canada tour dates (credit to The Afropop Blog for alerting me to this):

Thursday, March 31: Edmonton, AB – Winnspear Center
Saturday, April 2nd: Vancouver, BC – Vogue Theatre
Monday, April 4th: San Francisco, CA – Yoshi’s
Tuesday, April 5th: San Francisco, CA – Yoshi’s
Wednesday, April 6th: Los Angeles, CA – Conga Room
Friday, April 8th: Savannah, GA – Trustees Theater (Savannah Music Festival)
Saturday, April 9th: New York, NY – Apollo Theater
Tuesday, April 12th: Ottawa ON – Ottawa Jazz Festival
Thursday, April 14th: Quebec City QC – Palais Montcalm

His style of music is largely traditionally West African, a bit like Toumani Diabate and his son Amadou, but his latest album, La Difference, incorporated jazz and similar sounds from such diverse sources as France and Lebanon, whose famous trumpeter Ibrahim Maaluf contributed a different sense of texture to what is normally dominated by such traditional instruments as koras, balafons, djembes, and guitars. Check out a couple of his tracks:

Salif Keita – Folon (Live) by Couleurs Urbaines
Salif Keita – Madan by Imogen