Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Various Artists: Africa - 50 Years of Music 1960-2010

Neil Spencer reviews Africa - 50 Years of Music 1960-2010.
By comparison, we live in an age of sophistication, where Nigerian Afrobeat and Malian desert blues are carefully distinguished even by western audiences who have come to the music via enthusiasts such as Damon Albarn and Vampire Weekend. Lovingly researched compilations of antique Africana, concentrating on the 1960s and 1970s, have also blossomed recently, sometimes resurrecting careers. "Acts like Senegal's Orchestra Baobab or Benin's Orchestre Poly-Rythmo are forgotten in their own country," says Urbanus, "but they can now tour Europe or even America."

The changes in African music are in many instances tied to the tides of the post-colonial era. West Africa's large orchestras, much influenced by Cuban music, fell apart as post-independence euphoria was dashed by corruption, economic collapse and dictatorship. Many musicians simply fled abroad, with Paris their preferred destination. That city became the crucible for a new spirit of Afro-modernity, with Ibrahim Sylla, in particular, bringing technological know-how and a radical ear to the numerous west African exiles shuttling between their homeland and the new frontiers of Europe. As author Mark Hudson puts it in his essay in 50 Years of Music: "The principal site in the development wasn't now the nightclub or the concert hall but the airport."

The crossover breakthroughs that followed have proved hard to maintain. "One problem is that the music becomes a novelty that fades," says Urbanus. "Nigeria's Sunny Adé was hailed when he was promoted here in the 80s, but after three albums people started to think, 'Do I want another juju album?' It's difficult to achieve longevity."
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