Wednesday, June 30, 2010

K'Naan: Troubadour Champion Edition

Andy Gill reviews K'Naan's Troubadour Champion Edition
In Somalian, K'naan Warsame's name means "the traveller who carries the words of peace".
It is apt, then, that his "Wavin' Flag" – included in three mixes here – should have been chosen as the official anthem of the World Cup in South Africa. Especially since the pan-African mutuality of support in that tournament is strongly reflected in the opening track "T.I.A. (This Is Africa)", in which he offers to "take rappers on a field trip any day", betting that the hardships and gun crime they brag about are no match for what he had to face as a child growing up in Mogadishu, where several of his friends were killed in the civil war.
K'naan's homeland remains too dangerous for him to return – when he went back to Africa to film a video among fellow Somalis, it was with refugees in Kenya – and he has wandered as a troubadour should, living in Toronto, Washington, London and Switzerland and becoming proficient in English in order to secure the widest possible audience for his work.
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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Baaba Maal at the Hollywood Bowl

Reed Johnson reviews Baaba Maal's performance at the Hollywood Bowl.
No continent has parented more musical children than Africa, and its progeny were out in force on Father's Day at the Hollywood Bowl.
Never mind that many of these creative offspring — reggae, blues, gospel, beat-happy electronica — make their primary homes in distant parts of the planet. Sunday's ebullient concert, headlined by the veteran Senegalese sonic nomad Baaba Maal, reminded us that in today's digitalized global village of file-sharing and YouTube, African music lives everywhere.
Everywhere, at least, where rhythm rules.
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Ana Moura: Leva-me aos Fados

Michael Rofe reviews Ana Moura's Leva-me aos Fados.
Wishing to return to the house where she can recuperate from the pain of love, Ana Moura sets the tone for this wonderful exposition of contemporary fado in the title song. Fado means fate in Portuguese. This music's sad but tender themes of the heart originate in sea songs from Portugal's past as a maritime power, when its sailors left for colonies and new worlds. These are love songs, confessions of regret, but also the expression of hope for a better future. Leva-Me Aos Fados is Ana Moura's fourth recording and her best. It confirms her status as one of the best new-generation fadistas, along with her compatriots Joana Amendoeira and the more celebrated Mariza.
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Gogol Bordello: Trans-Continental Hustle

James Jeffrey reviews Gogol Bordello's Trans-Continental Hustle.
Some music can be judged properly only by one criterion: would it make a decent soundtrack to riding a horse through the streets of Kiev while swigging wine? Gogol Bordello surely has this in mind, launching the latest of its rambunctious musical adventures with the swift one-two punch of Pala Tute and My Compamjera, songs that combine Romany and English lyrics with a Slavic sense of life-and-death urgency and driving rhythms almost impossible to remain sober to.
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Daniel Metcalfe on Nairobi's live music scene.
Like any big city, Nairobi has plenty of low-quality gigs, but equipped with some online dailies, such as and, you can strike out. Make it your mission to catch Orchestra Super Mazembe and the Harmoniq's Jazz Band.

Every weekend, Nairobians flood into Westlands, the city's drinking district. The writhing floor of Black Diamond on Mpaka Road offers a dim but unhealthy recollection of university nightspots, only sweatier and louder. Gipsy on Woodvale Grove is fun, though the sheer overload of expats and conflicting boomboxes (four) leaves you feeling fragile and bewildered.
But the Klub House, a thumping, jumping, local bar on the Ojijo road, was exactly what I was looking for. Less self-conscious than the GoDown Arts Centre, it had an unchained buzz. Crammed round small wooden tables, people chattered, while waitresses twirled through the close-packed crowd. This was where I found Gogo Simo, one of Nairobi's hottest acts, led by married couple James Jozee and Susan Wanjiru from Mombasa, who brought a raw, good-time energy to the venue. With clear soul and funk influences, they also draw on benga and soukous (of course), zouk – a Caribbean carnival vibe, and chakacha – a bopping dance sound from the coast. Susan was remarkably dynamic, one minute belting like a Swahili Aretha, before descending minutes later into a sizzling near-whisper. I caught the band after the gig, and they explained the inspiration behind their music.
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Interview with Mike Lindsay

Tony Clayton-Lea interviews Mike Lindsay from UK's experimental folk band Tunng.
Does it bother you that Tunng are more often associated with nu-folk and psych-folk than other kinds of music?
It depends on who is saying it, really, and what they think. I reckon we have a lot of different influences in our music, and when we started out five year ago perhaps there were more direct references to slightly traditional melodies. These days I’m not so sure what Tunng is about, although in fairness there are elements of folk in there, for sure, so you can’t really argue.
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Miriam Makeba: South Africa's Skylark

Howard Male reviews Miriam Makeba's South Africa's Skylark.
Compiler Phil Meadley has inventively put all the traditional, more township jive-orientated material on one CD and the heavier, funkier and more politically motivated material on the other. A must-have collection.
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K'Naan: Troubadour

Lauren Ashi reviews K'Naan's Troubadour.
K'Naan has generated plenty of interest of late, due to a backstory of struggle and survival in the Somali civil war and his "Wavin' Flag" being played during ITV's World Cup coverage.
The third album from the "Dusty Foot Philosopher" fuses hip-hop beats, Fela Kuti horns, rock guitars, Somali folk sounds, a Damien Marley collaboration and everything but the vuvuzela.
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Putumayo Presents South Africa

Steve Moffatt reviews Putumayo Presents South Africa.
If you’re throwing a party - or a wake - while you watch Harry Kewell and the lads go round the paddock over the next few weeks the Putumayo World Music label has the perfect album to set the scene for a World Cup shindig.

Like all the recordings in this excellent medium-priced series, Putumayo Presents South Africa is a compilation of different artists from several genres - an overview of the republic’s vibrant musical culture. It covers a lot of ground, from Afro-jazz, hip-hop, gospel and folk to township jive, mbaqanga and that distinctive Afro-pop sound.
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Etran Finatawa: Tarkat Tajje / Let's Go!

Deanne Sole reviews Etran Finatawa's Tarkat Tajje / Let's Go!
This is the third album Etran Finatawa has released through World Music Network. I didn’t think they’d make it past the first one. That has nothing to do with the quality of their music, and everything to do with commonly held ideas about what people will like or, specifically, what an English-speaking audience will buy. The core idea is: this audience is not supposed to like music in foreign languages. If the music is in a foreign language, then they are supposed to prefer it if it sounds like a different, English-speaking genre with which they’re already familiar: Central Asian rock music rather than Central Asian folk recordings; Albert Kuvezin’s Re-Covers rather than Dust-to-Digital’s Melodii Tuvi. It helps if the frontman has a recognised name. Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra has an advantage over a plain Symmetric Orchestra. It should have a photogenic face to represent it. A woman’s is nice. Call her a diva. Else, it should come with an exciting story: bold joyous Gypsies, rebel Tuareg, a blind couple. These bits of wisdom are repeated so readily that you can start believing in them, cynically: ah, people won’t buy that, it’s too strange for them … ah, those bloody people! Forgetting that you are one of the bloody people.
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Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love

Robin Denselow reviews Youssou N'Dour's I Bring What I Love
It goes without saying that Youssou N'Dour has one of the finest, most soulful voices in Africa, if not the world, and that his live shows are exhilarating. But when it comes to recordings, his output has been patchy, from the bravely experimental Egypt to his last release, the disappointing Rokku Mi Rokka. Now comes a magnificent set that does him justice, because it consists mostly of well-produced live recordings.
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Regina Carter: Reverse Thread

Jim Fusilli reviews Regina Carter's Reverse Thread and interviews the jazz violinist.
On "Reverse Thread," her seventh album as a leader, the 43-year-old Ms. Carter reinterprets traditional and contemporary folk music from Kenya, Mali, Uganda and other African nations; the impact of the continent's music on the Western canon is represented by Papo Vázquez's "Un Aguinald Pa Regina" and "Day Dreaming on the Niger," a song co-written by Ms. Carter and Reginald Washington that first appeared on her 1997 album "Something for Grace." While celebrating composers such as Mariam Doumbia, Habib Koité, Bassekou Kouyate, Ayub Ogada and James Achieng, and Boubacar Traoré on the album, Ms. Carter allows their compositions to hold true to form while she plays with characteristic warmth, intelligence and joy. Jazz is present, but her band's instrumental lineup here-on most tracks, it's a rhythm section of guitar, bass and percussion percolating under Ms. Carter's violin, an accordion and the 21-string harp-like West African kora-allows a seamless blend of varied styles to create something fresh and pleasing. Ms. Carter does much more than replace the singer's voice with the sound of the violin. On gorgeous readings of "N'Teri" by Mr. Koité and the festive "Zeripky," a tune with its roots in Madagascar, she brings us deep into the songs' emotional core.
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Interview with Vieux Farka Touré

Stefan Simanowitz interviews Vieux Farka Touré.
We meet in London some weeks before he has to fly out to South Africa. Although Dingwalls in Camden is a far cry from Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium Farka Touré appears to be enjoying the intimate setting. He is relaxed and cheerful despite a grueling tour schedule, starting his set gently with a song called ’Slow Jam’ before gradually moving up the gears to finish an electrifying set with the infectious ’Awei Womei’.
Nicknamed ’the Hendrix of the Sahara’ Farka Touré blends desert-blues with rock, reggae, funk and R&B. Combining strong catchy baselines with intricate guitar work and gentle vocals he seamlessly fuses traditional Malian music with modern instrumentation to produce a distinctive trancey sound. Unlike the some desert blues which is raw and deliberately dissonant, Farka Touré’s sound is rich and warm. His songs are heavily instrumental and at times he drifts into wonderful labyrinthine guitar improvisations that last a full five minutes.
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Tony Allen: Secret Agent

A.D. Amorosi reviews Tony Allen's Secret Agent
At nearly 70, Tony Allen is one of the few links to Afrobeat's past and its future. He was the drummer and unofficial music director of Fela Kuti's Africa 70 between 1968 and 1979. As if that weren't enough, Allen added intricate percussion to sessions for Manu Dibango and King Sunny Ade. In the 21st century, Allen was a founder of the dub-inspired The Good, The Bad and The Queen with Gorillaz/Blur main man Damon Albarn and Clash bassist Paul Simenon.
As a composer and leader, Allen shines just as brightly.
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Friday, June 11, 2010

Miriam Makeba: Mama Afrika

Mark Hudson reviews Miriam Makeba's Mama Afrika.
The first African artist to make an international impact, banned from her native South Africa, exiled from her adopted America, Miriam Makeba is once, twice, maybe even four or five times an icon. Having returned in triumph to South Africa in 1990, she collapsed and died on stage in 2008, after a life so dramatic it continually threatened to overshadow her music. If the woman who earned herself the title Mama Afrika is still more revered and talked about than actually listened to, even in Africa itself, this epic retrospective gives an opportunity to assess the music that paralleled the life. And it makes fascinating, often surprising listening.
While Makeba emerged on to a burgeoning South African music scene buzzing with jazz and gospel influences, in the early Fifties, her early recordings sound tentative, even polite to modern ears. Yet there’s a touching gravity that marks out her slightly warbling contralto on the delightful lullaby-like Ntyilo Ntyilo, and the beautifully handled show tune The Back of the Moon, from the all-black musical King Kong, shows she had the poise of an all-round international entertainer before she even set foot outside South Africa. Pata Pata, recorded when she was the darling of Broadway during the honeymoon period of her exile in Sixties’ America, has a confident bounce.
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Konono No. 1: Assume Crash Position

Richard Elliott reviews Konono No. 1's Assume Crash Position.
This bringing together of traditional music (associated with Mingiedi) and modern pop styles (associated with Manuaku’s soukous music) is suggestive, as is the involvement of other young guitarists who have been inspired by Konono No. 1. In the DRC, Konono have often been portrayed as old-fashioned, at odds with the modernizing sounds of the soukous, pop, and hip hop sounds popular with young (and even middle-aged) Kinshasans. This has led Mingiedi to claim that the group have a more promising future in Europe than they do at home. At the same time, he continues to nurture young talent from his base near the Ndjili market and is clearly open to the kind of collaborations exemplified by this new album and by his group’s appearance on the recent album by DRC rapper Baloji.

Whether the slightly more varied sounds on Assume Crash Position will find a place in the hearts of Congolese audiences remains to be seen. It is hard to see how the album could fail to impress foreign listeners, however. It is everything Konono have given us before and more. It is one of the most vital and alive albums released so far this year and it gets better with every listen, working equally brilliantly through speakers at high volume and through earphones for an immersive experience like no other. Whether it is the trance-summoning bleeps, whistles, and samba-esque drumming of “Fula Fula” or the intimate invitation of Mingiedi’s solo closing number, the music of Konono No. 1 continues to demand involvement on the part of the listener. This is glorious noise.
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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Toumani Diabaté at Barbican Hall

A stage review of Toumani Diabaté's concert at Barbican Hall by Lucy Duran.
In the Barbican Hall last night, in an emotional but rousing evening’s music, one Malian superstar celebrated the memory of another. The virtuoso kora player Toumani Diabaté has grown to become one of the biggest names in world music over the past 10 years or so. His elder statesman status (although he’s only middle aged) has much to do with his prowess as a recording artist. Diabaté’s varied albums of the past few years – the stunning solo record The Mandé Variations and big band recording with his Symmetric Orchestra (surely one of the funkiest African albums ever produced) – have entrenched the view that here is a musician who has the ability to celebrate the music of his homeland at the same time as redefining it.

Yet it is his duo project with Ali Farka Touré that has been his most enduring achievement to date. In the Heart of the Moon (2005) has become the stuff of legends. The two lions of Malian music – the griot from the south (Diabaté) and the blues guitarist from the north (Touré) – met at the Hotel Mandé in Bamako, on the banks of the Niger river, and without any rehearsal recorded an improvised set that was intimate, gentle and haunting. The partnership was further sealed with a further London recording session, the fruits of which were finally released this year: Ali and Toumani.
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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Rachid Taha: Barra Barra


Volunteer Latin America: reviews Bebo & Cigala: Lágrimas Negras.

TJNelson: reviews Lokua Kanza: Nkolo.

From Rabat to Tunis: The French-Algerian phenomenon.

Etoile de Dakar featuring Youssou N'Dour: Once Upon a Time in Senegal: The Birth of Mbalax 1979-1981

Chris May reviews Etoile de Dakar featuring Youssou N'Dour Once Upon a Time in Senegal: The Birth of Mbalax 1979-1981
The birth of mbalax in Senegal towards the close of the 1970s, and a 2010 highlife/funk hybrid from south London, show how the embrace of imported styles by African musicians can enrich the continent's music.
Digging into Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour's back catalogue is a fun exercise on two fronts. The recordings he made with the original Etoile de Dakar lineup between 1979-81 are a delight in their own right; and listening to them again in 2010 demonstrates how far N'Dour has travelled over the last 30 years. The punky, psychedelia-drenched proto-mbalax heard on Once Upon a Time in Senegal: The Birth of Mbalax 1979-1981 is in almost total contrast to the nuanced elegance of Egypt (Nonesuch, 2004) or the bland and over-polished vibe of Dakar-Kingston (Decca, 2010).
And yet there have been some constants over the decades. Etoile de Dakar's lead guitarist, Jimi Mbaye, and tama drummer, Assane Thiam, have remained at N'Dour's side since becoming founder members of his Super Etoile de Dakar, the breakaway group he founded in 1981. Bassist Kabou Gueye was another founder member of Super Etoile; now a freelance songwriter and producer based in Dakar, he and N'Dour co-wrote the material featured on Egypt (check the YouTube clip of that wonderful album's "Cheikh Ibra Fall" below). Then, of course, there is N'Dour's voice, no longer as raw as in the Etoile de Dakar years, but in its maturity, still every bit as spellbinding.
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Steve Knopper writes about Sophiatown, the birth place of African Jazz.
It’s hard for a visitor to tell today, but Sophiatown is the historic epicenter of African jazz, the Soweto sound and the “township jive” that came to America in Paul Simon’s 1986 album Graceland and the performances of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and which continues to reverberate in the music of indie-pop darlings Vampire Weekend. It’s some of the most joyous and soulful music in the world. But nearly all evidence of its origins here have been erased. In 1955, during the early years of apartheid, the government began displacing the residents of Sophiatown, bulldozing their homes, and rebuilding the town as a whites-only enclave. Where music once spilled noisily into the streets from homes, churches, bars and schools, a suburban quiet settled in.

Now Sophiatown is free again, and former residents have returned to live here, but it’s still strangely quiet. I came to find out where the music went.
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Interview with Kevin Crawford (Lúnasa )

James Lynch interviews Kevin Crawford from Lúnasa.
Having spent 13 years on the road with Lúnasa and looking back on those years, Barefield resident and member of the band Kevin Crawford tells how, after initial surprise at their success, the band went on to embrace their opportunity at success on the live scene. “Timing played a big part. It was around the time of everything Irish, everything Riverdance and everything Celtic. There was a lot going on in our favour and we were riding on the coat tails of that.”
Signing with Green Linnet records in 1999 was the perfect access point for the band to break the American market. The deal proved to be mutually beneficial as Green Linnet had one of their fastest and biggest selling records with Lúnasa’s Otherworld album, thus cementing the group’s reputation as one of the hottest tickets on the trad, folk and roots music scene.
The band recently parted ways with the label and released their current album Lá Nua on their own label earlier this year. “Things have changed in the recording industry, record companies are less inclined to weigh in behind you with promotional campaigns and in some cases you are reduced to just a number in a catalogue,” explains Kevin. This change is reflected in the album title. “It ties in well. Lá Nua, it’s a new day, and it’s a new day for us in terms of business and in terms of music”
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William Connors introduces Nneka.
In the magnetic singer Nneka (Nneka Egbuna, 29), the opening act for Nas and Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives summer tour, Nigeria has found another performer capable of drawing global attention.

Nneka pulled herself up from a hardscrabble background in the oil-producing Niger Delta region of southern Nigeria and with no family support emigrated to Germany when she was 19 (her father is Nigerian and her mother is German). After years spent struggling to earn a living - including a stint cleaning bathrooms - Nneka found music.
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Amadou et Mariam

Mark Edwards tells us how Marc Antoine Moreau got to know Amadou et Mariam's music.
Next time you’re standing at a bus stop, bored and increasingly stressed as you wait for a bus that never seems to come, it may help your mood to know that sometimes wonderful things can happen because a bus is running late. If it wasn’t for a bus taking its own sweet time, the rest of the world might never have discovered the amazing music of the Malian couple Amadou & Mariam. (...)

Back in 1995, Marc Antoine Moreau, an A&R man at a French record label, was in Senegal visiting one of his artists, Ismael Lo. Deciding that he couldn’t come all the way to Africa and not see more of the continent, he took the train from Dakar to Bamako, the capital of Mali. After a few days in Mali, he was ready for the next stop on his itinerary, so, as he remembers: “I went to the bus station to take a bus to Ivory Coast. It was a small bus station, and the company I took the ticket with was just starting. They wanted to wait until the bus was full before they would go. So we had to wait three days.

Moreau had little money, so he basically stayed at the bus station for three days. “One day, a little boy came to me with a big box full of tapes. I looked at one. The cover said, ‘The blind couple from Mali — Amadou & Mariam.’ I looked at the title of the first track, A chacun son problème [Everyone’s Got Their Own Problems]. I liked the title, so I played the tape. I loved it.

While he was playing the tape, the woman sitting next to him on the bench said: “That’s my sister you’re listening to.” At first, Moreau assumed she meant it in the sense “We’re all brothers and sisters”, but, astonishingly, it really was Mariam’s sister. The couple were on tour in Burkina Faso, and Moreau didn’t have the money to stay and wait for their return, so he asked Mariam’s sister to pass on the message that he liked their music.

Over the next year, Moreau played their tape to friends and colleagues. Then, one day, someone who had heard the tape told him Amadou & Mariam were playing at a restaurant in Paris. Moreau headed down there and introduced himself. “Ah,” said Amadou, “you’re the guy from the bus station.

It took two years for Moreau to put a deal in place to bring the couple back to France, with the aim of spreading the music beyond France’s Malian community. Over four albums, they became stars in France, but it was eight years before the collaboration with Manu Chao that would take them to the next level. That’s nothing. They had actually been playing together for almost 20 years before they met Moreau, and it had been a dozen years before they had even been able to make their first recordings — which involved moving to the Ivory Coast, as there was no real recording industry in Mali.
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