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.”
The Native American Music Awards & Association (NAMA) announced late last night that Award-winning Cheyenne musician and composer Joseph FireCrow died on Tuesday, July 11th, at his home in Winsted, Connecticut.
Jan Michael Looking Wolf (Kalapuya/Grande Ronde) remembers Joseph as a “beautiful human being filled with love and light” who enjoyed “coming together with other artists and giving thanks.”
Gary Small (Northern Cheyenne) states, “It’s a sad day to learn that my brother in arms has passed. Maheo’ bless Joe. I will miss you forever.”
Flutist Rona YellowRobe (Cree) called Joseph “gracious and wonderful…His smile was BIG and Beautiful and could light up your day.”
Cody Thomas Blackbird (Cherokee/Dakota) posted, “The world lost an amazing being, the music industry lost the greatest Native flutist and traditional musician to ever grace a stage, and I lost one of my best friends.”
Spencer Battiest (Seminole) shared, “My heart is heavy today to hear about the passing of my dear friend. Joseph’s gentle spirit and authentic approach taught me so much. I will forever be grateful for the times we’ve shared over the years, and I will keep you in my heart and on stage with me for life!”
Native American Music Awards President, Ellen Bello stated, “Joseph was one of the most humble and genuine artists from the Native music community. His big, beautiful smile, sincere kindness and undeniable talent touched and influenced everyone in his path. I am heartbroken to learn of the passing of our friend, Joseph from his wife Joann. Not only was he one of our leading Award winners, but even more than that, he was an incredible human being who was truly loved by all.”
At the 16th Annual Native American Music Awards last September 17, 2016 at Seneca Allegany Casino, Joseph FireCrow received a Lifetime Achievement Award honoring him as a leading American Indian singer-songwriter, flute player, vocalist and musician.
Calling/Viewing hours will be from 2 – 6 on Saturday, July 15, 2017 at Maloney Funeral Home. Address: 55 Walnut St, Winsted, CT 06098. Phone: (860) 379-3794. Services will began immediately thereafter. A private burial is at the convenience of the family.
Cards and memorial gifts can be sent directly to Joann at: PO Box 173, Winsted, CT 06098. In Lieu of flowers please send contributions and donations to: Northern Cheyenne Girls and Boys Club, P.O. Box 309, Lame Deer, MT 59043-0309.
Louisiana accordionist and vocalist Belton Richard died on June 21, 2017. He was a well-known Cajun accordionist who recorded various hits.
Belton Richard was born on October 5, 1939 in Rayne, Louisiana. He formed the popular band The Musical Aces in 1959.
Belton Richard was inducted into the Cajun French Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2003, he was welcomed into the Acadian museum’s ‘Living Legends’ list. He also received the Cajun French Music Association’s ‘Male Vocalist of the Year’ award in 2004.
His discography includes I’m Back! (Swallow Records, 1996), Belton Richard, Vol. 2 (Swallow Records, 2000), Good N’ Cajun (Swallow Records, 2000), Louisiana Cajun Music (Swallow Records, 2000), Older the Wine the Finer the Taste (Swallow Records, 2003), Live at Jazzfest 2016 (Munck Music, 2016).
British traditional world music producer, traveler and sound archivist David Lewiston died May 29, 2017 in Hawaii. Lewiston was born in London and studied composition at Trinity College of Music, London (1949-1952), and later with the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann in New York.
David Lewiston was best known for his field recordings of traditional music from various parts of the globe. He spent 40 years making field recordings in Indonesia, Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, and Central and South America. He created an archive of some 320 hours of traditional world music recordings. On many of his trips, he also collected photographic records of the life and culture of the communities he visited.
In 1966 Lewiston traveled to the island of Java and Bali in Indonesia to record the music of the islands with one of the first portable stereo tape recorders. From this trip came the pioneering album “Music from the Morning of the World: Gamelan and Ketjak” the first of his 28 recordings for the Nonesuch Explorer Series.
Lewiston spent most of 1967 and 1968 in South America, recording the Andean music of Peru, and the African-rooted music of Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. In 1975-76 he visited Central America, documenting the marimba music of Guatemala and the celebrations of Chiapas and Oaxaca in southern Mexico.
In the 1970s he traveled lengthily throughout Asia.
Legendary Southern rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Gregg Allman passed away on May 27, 2017.
Gregory LeNoir Allman was one of the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band. Based in Macon, Georgia, the Allman Brothers Band was a pioneer of Southern rock, a remarkable mix of rock, blues, jazz and soul.
Some of the best known songs he performed include “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post.” The Allman Brothers Band won a GRAMMY Award in 1995 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Jessica.”
“We have lost a pioneering force in American music, and our condolences go out to Gregg’s family, friends, colleagues, and music fans everywhere,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy.