It’s not likely I’ll ever get a handle on just how many great African musicians are out there, despite over three decades of loving and collecting music from the continent that’s arguably the root of all things musical. Recent arrivals at my doorstep have numerically favored new (to me) artists over those I’ve long loved listening to. No problem- the more African music I get wind of, the happier I am. And I don’t anticipate the well running dry.
South African born and presently based in Montreal, Lorraine Klaasen offers up a rousing helping of Township-influenced music on Nouvelle Journee (Justin Time Records, 2016). The production is modern but the feel is traditional, complete with rich call-and-response vocals, lots of rim accents on the drums, guitars that ring out strong and a clear jazz influence on some tracks. That last is not surprising, given that Lorraine’s mother Thandie was a renowned jazz singer.
The younger Klaasen sings in multiple languages and a corresponding number of moods ranging from pensive and personal (“Polokwane”) to renewed vigor (the title track) to cautionary (“Where to Now”). Electric and acoustic musical backing frames Klaasen’s classy vocals to perfection, helping to make this a new day you’ll be glad you woke up to.
Montreal also appears to have been the main recording site for Melokaane (Pump Up The World, 2015) by Senegalese singer/composer/percussionist Elage Diouf, who laid further tracks for his second album in Toronto, Paris and Dakar. Diouf’s brand of Afropop is similar to that of Youssou N’Dour, though his vocals are more mellow than muezzin. I’d peg him as a kind of African Peter Gabriel even if he didn’t cover Gabriel’s “Secret World” (in Wolof) on this disc, given his skill with musical hooks that are both melodic and melancholic.
Touches of reggae, Latin and more recognizably Senegalese styles (such as m’balax) figure into his arrangements, which are brought to life by a tasteful blend of real instruments and programming. Anthem-like tributes to Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lubumba and Thomas Sankara stand out most on first listening, but the balance of ambient and organic sounds that support Diouf’s sagely vocals make the whole thing a treat.
The mischievous grin that Sierra Leone’s Seydu sports on the cover his CD Sadaka (Fol Musica, 2016) might make you think he’s up to no good. But really he’s looking to both preserve and expand upon the palm wine style of music for which his native land has long been noted. The disc’s title translates as “The Gift,” and it’s one given with laid-back charm and grace.
Seydu has the voice of a musical storyteller and his songs speak of essential things like lending a helping hand, appreciating beauty, remembering your roots and preserving tradition. Percolating, slightly insistent beats propel the tracks, with an overlay of acoustic and electric sounds sweetening vocals that don’t try to raise the roof and don’t need to. This music permeates slowly but completely, and guest turns by Lokua Kanza and Mariem Hassan add to its unfaltering beauty.
A new release by Jose Adelino Barcelo de Carvalho, better known as Bonga, the king of Afro-Portuguese music, is always a reason to rejoice. The impact of his landmark Angola 72 album during Angola’s struggle for independence from Portugal cannot be overstated. Although these days he’s making music with less of a freedom fighter aesthetic, his grandly grainy voice is still one of the most distinctive on the planet.
Recados De Fora (Lusafrica, 2016) is something of a look back, with Bonga covering influential songs by B. Leza (“Odji Maguado”) and Alfredo Ricardo do Nascimento (“Sodade, Meu Bem, Sodade”) as well as paying lyrical tribute to the African and Portuguese dualities that shaped his musical outlook.
The upbeat tracks are laced with acoustic guitar, bass, piano, accordion and chattering percussion (even some fairly uncharacteristic horns here and there) while the slower, sparser ones are no less classic in their showcasing of Bonga as a balladeer influenced equally by Angolan pride and those vestiges of colonialism that were worth keeping. It’s all Bonga at his finest, which is to say you won’t want to be without it.
Angolan singer-songwriter Bonga is one of the great artists of the Portuguese-speaking world. His new album, Recados de Fora (Messages from Elsewhere), released this week, is a musical voyage across Atlantic Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil. You’ll find irresistible Angolan semba along with passionate Cape Verdean morna, Portuguese fado and laid back son Cubano (Cuban son).
On Recados De Fora, Fora sings about post-colonial life and struggles in Angola, as well as love and a tribute to a dear friend, journalist Remy Kolpa-Kopoul who passed away.
The lineup on includes Bonga on lead vocal, dikanza, puita and percussion; Betinho Feijó on guitars; Thierry Fanfant on bass; Ciro Bertini on flute, bass and accordion; Mick Trovoada on percussion and background vocals; Valerie Belinga on background vocals; Valerie Delgado on background vocals; Malauia on hungo, bate and tambourine; Joãozinho on congas; Djipson on drums and background vocals; Jacky Fourniret on accordion; Valentino Figueiredo on drums; Christian Martínez on trumpet; Nicolas Guéret on saxophone; Philippe Henry on trombone; Ricardo Parreira on Portuguse guitar; Tiago Oliveira on viola de fado; Jessica Pina on trumpet; Anástacia on background vocals; Bau on cavaquinho and guitar; Chico Serra on piano; and Chiemba on bass.
Recados De For a showcases the talent and charm of a globe-trotting artist with a unique voice and interest in Atlantic cultures.
Bonga is one of Africa’s most inspirational musicians and part of the rare type of artists whose art derives its power from social and political upheaval. This Angolan legend recorded his first albums during his country’s struggle for freedom from Portuguese rule in the early 1970s. He has earned his place along side artists such as Fela Kuti, Thomas Mapfumo and Miriam Makeba as an advocate of the independence of Africa.
Angola 74, Bonga’s second album, was recorded during his exile from Angolan and Portuguese authorities. Much like Angola 72, Bonga’s first record, Angola 74 was dedicated to those who fought for freedom in Angola. Bonga’s first two recordings breathed new life into traditional Afro-Portuguese musical expression and opened the door for ancient ideas from Angola’s past to become revitalized ideals for the future. For many years Angolan’s had ignored or suppressed their native music as the effects of a colonial mentality wore on traditional music it faded from popularity.
Bonga’s main music style, semba, has ancient roots and served as the foundation for samba when it was exported to Brazil via the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. A lilting and engaging form of music, semba blends drums, scrapers, rattles and other percussion with the melodies and strings of Portugal.
Angola 74 is elegantly sparse, using minimum instrumentation and achieving maximum results. In later years Bonga expanded his lineup incorporating more horns and electric instruments experimenting with new sounds and methods of creating music. Angola 74, like Angola 72, represents the invigorating purity and subtlety of expression in Bonga’s early work and serves as a clear affirmation that in many case’s less is undeniably more.
Bonga’s personal history is strewn with triumph and tragedy. Born 1943, he grew up in a working class community on the outskirts of Luanda, Angola’s capital. At birth he was given the Portuguese name Barcelo de Carvalho but changed it to his traditional Angolan name as he grew into a stronger political consciousness. Barcelo de Carvalho became a national hero. A gifted runner he was the 400-meter champion of the Portuguese national team, as well as a soccer star on Lisbon’s Benfica squad.
During this time however, Portuguese officials did not fail to notice that his fermenting political resistance had started to sweeten throughout his rise as a sports hero. Just before Bonga recorded his first album he was forced into exile settling first in The Netherlands and later moving between other European cities for a number of years. His music became a rallying cry for his people and a symbol of resistance. The lyric speaks of literal emancipation while the music symbolized the need for cultural pride.
Angolan independence was achieved in 1975 and Bonga finally returned to his homeland. The victory over Portugal turned out to be just the beginning of Angola’s problems, however, as internal power struggles created one of the longest running civil wars in African history.
Since the early years of these first two recordings, Bonga has gone on to produce a number of successful and critically acclaimed albums. He toured extensively. Practically a household name in Africa and Europe, Bonga has created a highly respected body of work that is marked by the unique power of his voice and his ability to cling to his convictions no matter how staggering the opposition.
Angola 72 (Morabeza, 1972. Reissued by Lusafrica 2621622) Angola 74 (Morabeza 6810442-24, 1974. Reissued by Lusafrica 262192 and Tinder 42846652, 1999)
Angola 76 (Morabeza 6810865, 1976)
Racines (Playasound PS 601, 1978)
Kandandu (Chant du Monde LDK74720, 1979)
Kualuka Kueta (Playasound PS 606, 1983)
Sentimento (Chant du Monde 474643, 1985)
Angola, compilation (Playasound PS 65013, 1988)
Reflexão (Discosette, 1988)
Malembe-Malembe (Discosette, 1989)
Diaka (Discosette, 1990) Paz Em Angola, compilation (Rounder CD5052, 1991)
Geraçôes (Discosette, 1992)
Katendu, compilation (Melodie 79567-2, 19993)
Fogo na Kanjica (Vidisco 11.80.2045, 1994)
Swinga Swinga the Voice of Angola 102% Live (Piranha PIR 1040, 1996)
Preto e Branco (Vidisco 11.81.1455, 1996)
Roça de Jindungo (Vidisco 11.80.7505, 1997)
Dendém de Açucar (Vidisco 11.80.7645, 1998)
Falar de Assim (Vidisco 11.80.7850, 1999) Mulemba Xangola (Lusafrica 362272, 2001) Kaxexe (Lusafrica, 2003)
Bonga Live (Lusafrica 462242, 2005)
Maiorais (Lusafrica 462252, 2006) Bairro (2009) Hora Kota (Lusafrica, 2011) Recados De Fora (Lusafrica, 2016)
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