I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time.
Vocal music has surpassed instrumental music in popularity despite the advent of electronica music and its subgenres. It’s a sign of deep cultural change, as the change in importance from the cantanta to that of the sonata with the advent of classical music also was.
Brad Mehldau records instrumental music that could be more popular as vocal music: romantic songs, blues, ballads, and even an album named Ode (as in the genre of poetry.) He seems to feel a particular conviction about instrumental music.
He has just released an album with Joshua Redman, Nearness. Featuring songs with titles such as “The Nearness of You,” but also “Old West,” the album seems to explore a theme beyond the grasp of its listener. Redman’s playing and sharp and sober and so is Mehldau’s for all 6 rhythmic and romantic compositions. Like for classical music, the birth of instrumental music’s hegemony, this sort of music is made to be appreciated and deciphered and even patroned as Jazz often is in present day.
Zanzibar’s all-female Tausi Taarab orchestra was formed in 2009 and presents classical style music in the tradition of some of Zanzibar’s strongest women. Dating back to the 1920s when Siti Bint Saad who is widely recognized as the ‘mother of taarab’ recorded a large catalog of Swahili songs, many talented women composers and singers have contributed to the development of Zanzibar’s most famous music style.
Over time, other women’s taarab groups existed (such as Nadi lkhwati Safaa, Nuru el Ayoun, Sahib el Ary, Royal Air Force and Navy groups) that were especially strong during the 1960s. However, in those days even in the “women’s groups”, it was always the men who played the instruments.
Tausi Taarab presents an innovation and inspiration in a very traditional genre: an all female orchestra where all instruments are played by women, accompanying women singers and performing songs composed by women.
Omar Pene (born 1956 in Dakar) is the iconic lead singer of the Super Diamono. He was born in the working class neighborhood of Derkle, in 1956. Joining his first band, Cad, in 1975, he remained with the group for a few months. In the mid seventies (1975-1976), he joined the Super Diamono, one of the longest running Senegalese popular bands, similar to Orchestra Baobab and the Super Etoile of Dakar.
Recruited by Bailo Diagne, the first bass-player and a founding member of the group, Omar Pene stood out as the most natural fixture in the band. Along with his band members, Bassirou Diagne, Bob Sene, Aziz Seck, Lapa Diagne, Adama Faye, Abdou Mbacke and, later, Ismael Lo, already known as “l’homme orchestre” (one man band) due to his solo performances, they helped shape Senegalese contemporary music.
During the 1980s, in Dakar, there were two dominant types of music fans, the ones attracted by the frenetic and highly syncopative Mbalax of the Super Etoile, who frequented Djender and later on Thiossane night club; and those who loved the progressive bluesy-funky- soulful brand of local fusion of Super Diamono- who filled the Balafon Club located on the other side of town, near the Port Autonome de Dakar.
Although Omar Pene and Youssou N’dour, always maintained an healthy and lively artistic competition, their supporters pledged a loyalty only seen among opposing football fans (soccer). In many ways, both used the Mbalax, which is almost unavoidable, once the Sabar is involved, but they did it differently.
Over the years many of the group’s original members went on to other things, Omar Pene stayed; and to this day- even as he is now enjoying his solo journey he uses the Super Diamono, as a backup band.
In 2009 he released the all acoustic album Ndam.
Omar Pene established himself as a “conscious singer,” instead of indulging in praise songs- as many of his contemporaries did in honor of the riches and famous, he maintained a repertoire of socially engaged and sensitive songs. To this date, he has released dozens of hits in more than thirty albums and cassettes.
Born and raised in Dakar, Senegal, Meta Dia grew up listening to the likes of Bob Marley and James Brown as well as local African musical traditions.
Impressing audiences in Senegal since the age of 14, he arrived to New York City in 2002 and soon started collaborating with several noted hip hop artists.
With his own band, Meta & the Cornerstones, Meta’s powerful singing and songwriting abilities shine, as he reinvigorates reggae by reconnecting it with its African roots. Weaving between a multilingual palette of French, English, Wolof, and Fulani, his music breaks barriers as it builds bridges across the Atlantic.
Promoting tolerance and unity, Meta’s music is uplifting and positive, while it re-imagines reggae with an African aesthetic.
“Meta and the Cornerstones have taken us back to the foundation of reggae music,’ says Clive Chin, Jamaican producer for The Wailers, Dennis Brown, and Lee Perry. “It’s a band that sounds tight and wicked with infectious lyrics.”
Kassé Mady Diabaté is one of West Africa’s greatest voices and one of the most cherished singers in Mali. He is known for his profound knowledge of Mali’s deepest oral and musical traditions, for his ability to adapt these traditions into a modern context and last, but not least, for the sheer beauty and ethereal quality of his tenor voice.
He was born in 1949 in Kela, a renowned center of the Mande jeli tradition in western Mali, near Kangaba, one of the eats of the great Mali empire (1235-1469).
Kasse Mady’s family, the Diabates of Kela -all of whom are jelis- were the singers for the emperors and their descendants, the royal Keita lineage. And still today they are considered among the most important and authoritative jeli families across seven West African countries where Mande culture predominates.
Kasse Mady is the second person ever to be given the name Kasse Mady, which means ‘Weep Mady’ (Mady is a regional variant of Mohammed). His grandfather, also from Kela, was the first.
Mady, the grandfather, had such a beautiful voice that when he sang, he would move people to tears, hence his nickname, ‘Kasse from Kassi,’ (to weep). Kasse Mady the younger was given this name at birth to honor the grandfather. But no one in the family could imagine that his voice would have the same power and ability to move people to extreme states of emotion.
While still a young boy, Kasse Mady began singing at local weddings and other ceremonies, and around 1970 he was invited to become the lead singer of the dance orchestra of the nearby town of Kangaba. This orchestra was called the Super Mande, a name his brother Lafia Diabate, also a well-known singer, now uses for his own band of Kela musicians who are based in Bamako and who are the principal musicians on the album Kassi Kasse.
The decade of 1970s was an important period in Mali because of the new Cultural Authenticity policies, which were in vogue in the newly independent nation states of West Africa. In Mali, as elsewhere, musicians were encouraged to return to their own folklore instead of imitating rock or Cuban music. As it happened, Kasse Mady’s special blend of traditional Mande folklore with modern instruments was to play an important role in this movement.
Every two years, the Malian government sponsored a major festival call the Biennale, in which all the regional ensembles and dance orchestras competed with each other. In 1973, it was the Super Mande from Kangaba who won, thanks to the remarkable singing of Kasse Mady.
Not long before that, a group of eight musicians who had been studying music in Cuba had returned to Mali and formed the group Las Maravillas de Mali, famous for their charanga interpretations of Cuban classics. But according to the dictates of Cultural Authenticity, they had to begin to take on more of a Malian repertoire. After hearing Kasse Mady perform at the Biennale, they decided that he was the one to do this.
The chef d’orchestre was sent down to Kela, 104 kms west of Bamako down a bumpy dirt road, to find the singer. After various ritual consultations with the family, who were (and still are) very protective of their traditions, Kasse Mady was allowed to go to join the band in Bamako. Soon after, the Maravillas began enjoying a huge success throughout West Africa with songs like ‘Balomina Mwanga’ and ‘Maimouna,’ all sung memorably by the young Kasse Mady in Cuban style, but with a new Mande touch.
Around 1976 the band renamed themselves National Badema du Mali (meaning national family of Mali). Kasse Mady launched this new formation with several deep Mande songs that were to become hits, such as ‘Sindiya (later re-recorded by Ali Farka Toure as ‘Singya’ on his first World Circuit album) and ‘Fode,’ which was also the title of Kasse’s first solo album in 1988. Other hits were ‘Nama,’ a song Kasse Mady composed about a true story of an ong canoe that overturned while crossing the river Niger on September 22 in which many people drowned and ‘Guede,’ which he later re-recorded with Taj Mahal. By the mid 1980s, there was no longer much interest among Malian audiences in the old dance bands of the 1970s. The Rail Band was playing to ever decreasing audiences, and the Ambassadeurs, formerly led by singer Salif Keita, had broken up altogether. The trend was for singers to try their luck in Paris, which was an important center for world music at the time.
So when Kasse Mady was invited to Paris to record his first solo album for Senegalese producer Ibrahima Sylla (of Africando fame), Kasse decided to try his luck. He left the national Badema and moved to Paris, where he spent the next ten years. During this period he recorded two solo albums, Fode, an electric dance album which was meant to be the answer to Salif Keita’s Soro but did not enjoy the same promotion; and Kela Tradition, an acoustic album of Kela jeli songs, both on the Paris label Syllart.
Also in this period, he collaborated on in the album Songhai 2 with Spanish flamenco group Ketama and Malian kora player Toumani Diabate, with some stunning versions of classics such as ‘Mali Sajio,’ as well as, the beautiful ballad ‘Pozo del Deseo’ sung together with Ketama singer Antonio Carmona.
But things did not turn out as planned in Paris. Kasse Mady’s non-confrontational and peaceful character did not help him find his way through the labyrinth of royalty payments and contracts and the hard-nosed music business of Paris.
Exploited and disappointed, he returned to Bamako in 1998 where things began to look up for him. The music scene in Bamako had picked up considerably since he had left ten years before. For a start, there was now a new democratic government and a renewed interest among the youth in traditional music.
The kora player Toumani Diabate immediately snapped up Kasse Mady for more collaboration after the successful work they had done together on Songhai 2. Kasse Mady was invited to take part in the acclaimed Kulanjan project with Taj Mahal. Taj was so moved by Kasse’s singing that he presented him with a beautiful steel-body guitar and now, having heard the new album Kassi Kasse, is so entranced by it that he takes it with him everywhere he goes on his extensive concert tours.
Lalah Hathaway has released a new video for her neo-soul song “Mirror.” The video burns slowly as the song does also. Its lyrics are straight to the point and ask us, with incredible clarity, to love the image that we see in the mirror.
There is something remarkably proverbial about Lalah Hathaway’s singing, again, and again, poignantly each time, to “stop hiding yourself” in “Mirror.” It reminds of advice given in the form of sayings that can be heard in homes being told by a person to someone in need of help. Are proverbs still a thing in this American culture of advanced capitalism?
Hasn’t public education and public libraries and the necessity to educate one’s self “by the book” in order to get a job replaced proverbs with texts by known writers, revered for their knowledge? One would think so. While listening to Hathaway’s neo-soul song, rooted in the infamous soul aesthetic that came about at a much different stage of American capitalism, the listener is transported out of the world in which he or she lives and into one where proverbial knowledge seems to be what matters. It’s beautiful and reveals the possibilities of music.
Hathaway’s song might just be opening a door to temporarily feeling an alternative to mass culture not only through the song’s message and the song’s non-pop rhythm, but also through the fact that the message feels powerfully proverbial.
Julien Jacob arrived in France during his early childhood. His West-Indian parents settled in the South of France. For him, who was born in Benin, Africa, it was the encounter with a new culture. But he kept from his native country the imprint of African chants and rhythms.
H was passionate about music from his early childhood. Julian listened to Jazz, Motown music, mystical Asian chants, ethnic songs and dances. All these seeds enriched his artistic talent
In 1977, he performed on stage for the first time as lead singer for a rock band at the age of 17. After a few years, he decided to go his own way and left the group in 1983. From then on, he concentrated on composing his own music. But during this period, he also worked backstage at concerts by world renowned artists like David Bowie and Miles Davis. Backstage, he had intense artistic encounters, in particular a fabulous evening with Fela Kuti and his musicians.
In 1993, he left the south of France and settled in Paris, a time during which his artistic identity affirmed itself . Inspiration pushed him to sing in a mysterious language which he found within himself. An unknown language which everybody can understand because the words only find their meaning in the emotions they carry. From then on, Julien would sing in his own language.
At the same time, he started writing books. He has forever followed an internal quest and he writes about what he perceives of the invisible life. Music and writing are for him two different ways to express his quest.
In 1995, Julien finally found his adoptive home in Brittany. And from then on, everything moved faster. One year after self-producing a 4 track record, he recorded his first album, Shanti (Warner), and got on the road for 4 years full of stage experiences in France and abroad.
Julien Jacob’s second album, Cotonou, was released worldwide in February 2005 by British label Wrasse Records. To introduce his intimate afro-pop, Julien surrounded himself with his loyal producer and sound magician Ghislain Baran, the talented and famous percussionist Steve Shehan and the master of mandola lute Akim Hamadouche. His friend Rachid Taha a lent him his voice and sings the chorus on the track “Yacob”.
Argentine pianist Adrian Iaies’ unique style can best be described as a fusion of traditional tango and contemporary jazz. In 2000 he was nominated for a Latin Grammy in the jazz category for his album LasTardecitas de Minton’s (Acqua Records). Throughout his extensive career he has toured extensively on both sides of the Atlantic having shared the stage with artists such as Ron Carter, Lee Konitz, Michael Brecker, Dave Holland, John Patitucci, Chucho Valdes, and Dino Saluzzi.
In November 2000, Iaies recorded a new solo record in Barcelona called Tango reflections which was released worldwide in April, 2001. He has toured extensively in promotion of this release including dates in the Spanish Jazz Festival, La Semana de Jazz Latino de Madrid, the Miami Film Festival, and the Festival Internacional de los 7 Lagos in Argentina.