Steel pan innovator Ellie Mannette passed away August 29, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia. He was 90 years old.
Shannon Dudley, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington provided the following obituary: “Mannette was arguably the most influential steel pan tuner (builder) in the world because of the quality of his instruments and also his willingness to teach and share.
He made his name in Trinidad, beginning in the 1940s, as the leader and tuner for the Invaders steelband, whose instruments were sometimes referred to as “harps” because of their beautiful sound. Based at the edge of the Woodbrook neighborhood in Port of Spain, Invaders became one of the first steelbands to acquire a middle class following.
Mannette developed relationships with middle class artists, including dancer Beryl McBurnie and her Little Carib theatre. In the competitive and secretive culture of Trinidad steelbands, he was one of the few tuners who was willing to teach his skills to others, which magnified his influence.
In 1961 Mannette was hired to tune steel pans for the U.S. Navy Steelband, and a few years later he moved to Brooklyn, New York. In New York he met social worker Murray Narell and worked with him to build instruments and teach steel pan to young people in community centers. He developed a lifelong relationship with Murray’s son Andy Narell, who became one of the most innovative and recognized steel pan players in the world through his fusions of Caribbean music and jazz.
In the 1970s Mannette began to work with music educator Jimmy Leyden, a pioneer in introducing steelbands into schools in the U.S., and soon became the go-to steel pan tuner for school and university steelbands across the U.S.
In 1992 Mannette began the University Tuning Project in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he took on West Virginia University students as apprentices and expanded his tuning business. In 1999 he received the NEA’s Heritage Award, and was subsequently honored in Trinidad with the Chaconia Silver Medal and an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies.
I had the opportunity to meet Ellie Mannette a couple of times in the 1980s and 1990s. He was supremely confident of his knowledge and skills and didn’t hesitate to share them. A brazen self-promoter, he also had a youthful enthusiasm for discovery and improvement that was endearing. He will be missed and remembered by steelband enthusiasts all over the world.”
Ugandan media, and his official Facebook site, reported today the passing of celebrated world music artist Geoffrey Oryema. Oryema was born in Uganda and had been living in France. His greatest hit was “Land of Anaka” from his 1990 album Exile.
Clarence Fountain died Sunday, June 3rd, 2018 in a hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was 88 years old.
“Clarence Fountain was a founding member of the GRAMMY-winning gospel group Blind Boys of Alabama, and was seen as a pillar of inspiration in the music industry,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy. “He lent his distinctive vocals to the ensemble’s extensive catalog of recordings for more than 70 years and helped drive the group to mainstream success in 1948 with “I Can See Everybody’s Mother But Mine.” With the Blind Boys, he earned four GRAMMY Awards in the Best Traditional Gospel Soul Album category and the group was honored with the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 for their remarkable contributions to gospel music. Clarence will be dearly missed, and our thoughts go out to his loved ones during this difficult time.”
Senegal is in mourning. Not only have they lost a beloved man, but a hero who changed forever their musical landscape. Habib Faye was a virtuoso bassist. He was a gifted composer, arranger, and a Grammy nominated producer. Think African traditional drumming meets Jaco Pastorius’s funk and you begin to capture the sound. He was a multi-instrumentalist who played the piano and owned it, while other musicians might claim it as a secondary instrument. He was a highly creative mind who could transform a piece of music from failure to success in moments.
Habib was born in 1965, in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. It’s a bustling and crowded city on the west coast of Africa, and its citizens have a strong tradition of hospitality. It’s also a deeply musical city, rooted in tradition, yet open to modern music. Habib grew up in a musical family: his father and his five brothers were all outstanding musicians. He didn’t attend music school, but listened to jazz, rock, and salsa, absorbing it and teaching himself to play it all. He worked hard at music, perhaps in part because he was a Mouride – a follower of the Sufi tradition in Senegal and devotee of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, who installed both non-violence and hard work into his followers.
He was only a teenager when he was plucked up to join a young band, Super Étoile de Dakar, whose lead singer was the fiercely ambitious Youssou N’Dour. Youssou with his soaring, heartfelt vocals and good looks was the obvious leader for the group, and he captivated many female fans. His father had forbidden him to play music, but his mother’s people were griots, and music was in his birthright. In the short film, Youssou N’Dour: Eyes Open, he says: “I sing about things which are important to me, I sing about real life in Dakar as it is today.” But his singing could go only so far. He needed a great band to make the music fly, and that’s why he chose Habib as his bassist.
At this time, a new musical genre was created in Dakar: Mbalax. The word means rhythm. Three drums lay down a polyrhythmic mosaic whose origin is in the music of the Serer people. The percussion section has a lead drum (the nder), a rhythm drum (the sabar), and a talking drum (the tama). In Super Étoile de Dakar, Mamadou Jimi M’Baye on electric guitar and Habib Faye were among the first Senegalese musicians to incorporate this highly rhythmic pulse and give it a new spin. Habib also brought elements of percussion into his bass playing.
Part of his power was in the variety of rhythms in his playing. His outstanding technique allowed him to make rapid interchanges between funk and indigenous rhythms. He was also one of the first to introduce marimba keyboard playing into Senegalese popular music. This was a participatory music, Super Étoile knew how to start with slow numbers, and then to accelerate the tempo, and to increase the intensity of their rhythm and energy as the night progressed. The rapid fire percussion caused sparks to fly. The group redefined Senegal’s music. Never before had the traditional and the modern been played alongside one another. Dakar was electrified.
In the 1980s, Super Étoile de Dakar, Youssou N’Dour, and Habib, caught the attention of Peter Gabriel, the famed British pop musician and producer. And he introduced them to international audiences and to critical acclaim.
After Habib had played for twenty-eight years with Youssou N’Dour, he at last formed his own quartet. And, in 2012, he released a significant solo work in the album entitled H20. It is a thoughtful, meditative work, and when the music slows down in a lament, listeners can hear the full expressiveness of his bass line.
Ashley Maher, an American musician, speaks of the more recent years, “If I am to speculate, his international travels expanded Habib’s appreciation for jazz and funk. He became a master of bass ‘slapping’ in his solos. And he also collaborated with a wide range of star jazz masters such as Stanley Clarke and Lionel Loueke. There was also a period of time that he toured with Angelique Kidjo. In my view, the world was never as aware of his incredible talent as they should have been.”
His final project was with Ablaye Cissokho, the kora player. For one more time, he brought traditional Senegalese instruments and rhythms to work together with the modern music that so inspired him.
Habib Faye died of a lung infection on Wednesday, April 25th, 2018. He was only fifty-two years old. He is survived by his wife and their children. The name Habib means beloved in Arabic, it is a fitting name for a man not only beloved to his family, but to his friends, fellow musicians and fans around the world who have been irrevocably touched by his music.
To give readers a feel for how his Senegalese contemporaries thought about him, I interviewed several of them, and here’s what two of the most important of them had to say.
Etu Dieng, musical director and bassist with the vocalist Kiné Lam, said, “His bass playing caught my attention. I lived not far from him. There was a stadium nearby and once Super Étoile played there. I was too young to go to the concert, I was about five years younger than him, but I sat outside to listen and I cried because of that bass. He was one of the first African musicians to be successful in incorporating advanced electric bass playing into our native music.
He inspired people. And I realized that the bass can be fun: we can do a lot with the instrument. He was already naturally percussive, but when he started to listen to Jaco Pastorius, his sound developed as you can hear in the progression of his work with Youssou N’Dour. He incorporated more funk into our music, as in the song ‘Hey You’ recorded by Youssou in the 1990’s. It was a new way of playing.”
Cheikh Ndoye, a younger bassist who plays for Baaba Maal, said, “Habib’s bass lines were so original, melodic, and harmonically rich. They were very rhythmic. He was the only bass player to come up with that style of playing, Mbalax. He changed the way we young Senegalese musicians created music. We’ve lost one of the most respected African musicians, multi-instrumentalists and composers. He’s no longer here, but his music lives on. And younger musicians will continue to play his music to keep it alive.
He had an incredible vision and an original sound — the hardest thing to find in musicianship. He was unique, and anything he touched in music became stronger. You can recognize him both in his bass playing and in his compositions. We loved him as a musician and as a person. He inspired all of us.”
Country and bluegrass guitarist, producer and songwriter Randy Scruggs died on April 17, 2018. He won four Grammy Awards and was named “Musician of the Year” at the Country Music Association Awards two times. He was the son of Earl Scruggs.
Randy Lynn Scruggs was born on August 3, 1953. He participated in his first recording at the age of 13. He worked with some of the finest artsts in the country and bluegrass genres. He released an album titled Second Generation Scruggs (Vanguard Records) with his brother Gary in 1970 and a solo album, Crown of Jewels (Reprise Records, 1998).
“Four-time GRAMMY winner Randy Scruggs was a celebrated musician, producer, and songwriter,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy. “Throughout his extensive career, he collaborated with an impressive roster of fellow country and bluegrass artists, including Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, and Dolly Parton, among many others. He earned his first GRAMMY in the Best Country Instrumental Performance category for “Amazing Grace” at the 32nd GRAMMY Awards and went on to win three additional GRAMMYs in the same category for “A Soldier’s Joy,” “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and “Earl’s Breakdown.” As the son of bluegrass pioneer and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Earl Scruggs, Randy continued his family’s musical legacy and was one of Nashville’s most esteemed producers and session players, leaving a lasting mark on Music City. Our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and collaborators during this difficult time.”
American artist, art director, and designer Gary Burden died March 9, 2018. He specialized in album covers. In the 1960s and 1970s, he designed covers for many well-known rock musicians: Mama Cas; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; Joni Mitchell; The Doors; The Eagles; Neil Young; and Jackson Browne.
“GRAMMY winner Gary Burden was a legendary artist praised for conceiving designs for many classic album covers for more than 40 years,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy. “A pioneer in his field, Burden played a significant role in conceptualizing album packaging for The Doors’ Morrison Hotel, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu, among others.”
Portnow added: “He earned five GRAMMY nominations during his career and was awarded the Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package GRAMMY for his contributions to the album design for Neil Young Archives Vol. I (1963-1972) for 2009.
Burden will be deeply missed, but remembered for shaping the visual element of the music listening experience for artists and listeners alike. Our thoughts are with Gary’s family, friends, and fellow colleagues during this difficult time.”
South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, a leading jazz and world music artist died today, January 23, 2018 in Johannesburg.
The Masekela family issued a press release: “It is with profound sorrow that the family of Ramapolo Hugh Masekela announce his passing. After a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer, he passed peacefully in Johannesburg, South Africa, surrounded by his family.”
Born in Johannesburg in 1939, Hugh Masekela was widely considered both the father of African jazz and South Africa’s musical ambassador to the world. Masekela’s trumpet (introduced to him by anti-apartheid activist Father Trevor Huddleston) was an instrument of resistance, a call to freedom, and a celebration of the strength and resilience of people.
His powerful blend of jazz, funk, Afrobeat, and Latin rhythms first mourned the tragedy of apartheid and then celebrated its long-awaited demise. Over the span of his life-long career, he released dozens of albums, toured the world-over, and performed with renowned artists, including Louis Armstrong, Paul Simon (on the Graceland tour), Adrian Below, The Byrds, Miriam Makeba, Zimbabwean Dorothy Masuka, the Jazz Epistles, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Hedzoleh Soundz, Francis Fuster, and Dudu Pukwana.
When Masekela went into exile during the 1960s, Harry Belafonte helped him settle in the United States, as a student in New York, where he recorded much music including his 1968 hit Grazing in the Grass.”
His 1987 hit “Bring Him Back Home” became the anthem for Nelson Mandela’s world tour following his release from prison in 1992. Masekela returned to South Africa in 1990.
In 2010, President Jacob Zuma presented Hugh Masekela the highest award in South Africa: The Order of Ikhamanga. In 2011, Masekela received a Lifetime Achievement award at the World Music Expo, WOMEX in Copenhagen.
Steel Pulse founder Steve “Grizzly” Nisbett died on January 18, 2018.
Steve Nisbett was born in Nevis (West Indies) March 15, 1948. His family moved to the UK in 1957.
The Recording Academy released the following statement: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of esteemed reggae artist and GRAMMY winner Steve “Grizzly” Nisbett,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy. “A founding member of Steel Pulse, Nisbett and the group used their music to speak out against racism and social injustices. Nisbett was nominated for three GRAMMYs during his career and earned the Best Reggae Recording GRAMMY for 1986 with Steel Pulse for Babylon The Bandit. His passion for spreading love and justice through his music will be cherished by our creative community and his devoted fans for years to come. Our thoughts go out to Steve’s family and friends during this difficult time.”