Tag Archives: African music

Masterful and Electrifying Ne La Thiass

Cheikh Lo – Ne La Thiass (World Circuit, 2018), reissue

In 1995, while Coolio’s “Gansta Paradise,” TLC’s “Waterfalls,” Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” and Madonna’s “Take a Bow” were floating on the airwaves of Western pop stations, a wonderful collection of songs was cutting a swath through the musical streets of Africa’s Senegal. It just so happened that musician, singer, songwriter, composer and studio owner Youssou N’ Dour came across a demo by fellow Senegalese musician and composer Cheikh Lo.

Setting up Mr. Lo, along with percussionists Assane Thiam and Mbaye Dieye Faye and guitarist and arranger Oumar Sow, into Mr. N’Dour’s Xippi Studio in Dakar, the recording Ne La Thiass was born. Mr. N’Dour went so far as to lend his own vocals to that of Mr. Lo’s on the tracks “Set” and “Guiss Guiss.”

So, while we were being browbeaten by overplayed songs like Hootie &the Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be With You” and Nicki French’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” the good people of Senegal were dancing to Ne La Thiass’s “Boul De Tagle” and “Cheikh Ibra Fall.”

In 1996, World Circuit Records corrected this injustice by releasing an enhanced version of Ne La Thiass and the world was set to rights again as world music fans around the globe were treated to the Latin-flavored Senegalese goodness of Cheikh Lo.

Mr. N’Dour would go on to record scores of albums such as 7 Seconds: The Best of Youssou N’Dour, Joko: The Link and Africa Rekk, win a Grammy Award for 2004 album Egypt, appear as Olaudah Equiano in the movie Amazing Grace and earn an honorary doctoral degree in music from Yale University. Mr. Lo would go to record such albums as Bambay Guieej, Lamp Fall, Jamm and Balbalou, as well as collaborate with Cuban pianist Ruben Gonzalez’s on his recording Chanchullo singing alongside the esteemed Ibrahim Ferrer and work with Les Nubians and Manu Dibango for the Fela Kuti tribute recording of Red Hot and Riot.

So, now it could be that the planets have aligned just so or that we’ve been very good (this might be a bit of a stretch) that fate has once again smiled down upon us. Of course, it could just be the person at World Circuit sent to rummage through shelves and boxes that we owe our good fortune. This sweet luck would be the re-issue of Ne La Thiass from its original 1995 cassette tapes. Available on vinyl, CD and digital down load, with color booklet, Ne La Thiass has been lovingly remastered and has hit the streets.

Even after more than 20 years, Ne La Thiass hasn’t lost a bit of its keenly addictive appeal. It takes only the barest listen to opening track “Boul Di Tagale,” to fall under Cheikh Lo’s spell.
Weaving a magic spell out of vocals that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, acoustic guitar, double bass, flute, electric bass, keyboards, some truly spectacular mbalax rhythms and talking drum (and those who don’t like a good talking drum are out of the club), Ne La Thiass is masterful and electrifying as it makes its way through treats like title track “Ne La Thiass,” the feel-good feel conjured on “Ndogal,” the plummy rhythms of “Set” and the sweet swing of “Cheikh Ibra Fall.”

The intricate rhythms of “Bamba Sunu Goorgui” and the Youssou N’Dour vocals laced “Guiss Guiss” are additional icing on the cake that is Ne La Thiass.

There’s always that moment before listening to a re-issue where you wonder if it will be as good as you remembered. With Ne La Thiass it’s not as good as you remembered – it’s better. So intensely addictive, this is the music that if you listened to it all the time you’d never get anything done. And, I doubt you’d care.

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Artist Profiles: Orchestre National de Barbes

Orchestre National de Barbés in 2008

Orchestre National de Barbés is a piece of North Africa stranded in the heart of Paris. In English, the name means The National Barbés Orchestra, implying that Barbés is a nation unto itself. It is a sentiment that few who visit the neighborhood would dispute.

The band’s story started in Belcourt, a working class section of Algiers, Algeria at the peak of the 1980 baby boom. Youcef Boukella’s older brothers listened to rock and bossa nova, people watched Cairo film classics on TV and tuned to Kabyl folk music on the radio. Outside the Belcourt alleyways, there were street peddlers, muezzins, Gnawa street performers, shaabi concerts, and ghetto blasters playing reggae, funk and raï.

My style of music goes back to my childhood in Belcourt,” explains Youcef Boukella. In 1985 he was offered a slot playing bass for the first Arabic-language rock group, T34. But when Youcef heard what visiting jazz musician Jeff Gardner was performing, that’s when he decided to leave home. Raï was all the rage when he arrived in Paris. He worked with Cheb Mami and Kabyl native Takfarinas at diaspora parties. Safy Boutella introduced him into underground jazz.

Larbi Dida comes from the town of Sidi bel Abbes and is a founding member of Raïna Raï, the rock-raï group that transformed the Algerian rock scene. Recognized by the Algerian media as a historic breakthrough, this group was the first rock group to use raï in its repertoire. Ever since Larba Dida moved to Paris in 1989, his has been one of the great Arabic voices in the French capital.

Aziz Sehmaoui is another pillar upholding Youcef’s vision. Raised in Marrakesh, Morocco this Sufi artist was nourished on a combination of Gnawa Arab-African beats and British-American pop performed in Morocco with various traditional and electric groups (Association Ziriab, Lemchaheb and others). Like Youcef, Aziz attempts to weld the mystical power of healing rhythms with today’s sounds.

Discography:

En concert (1997)
Poulina (1999)
Alik (2008)
Rendez-vous Barbès (Le Chant Du Monde, 2010)
15 ans de scène, live (2012)
Dame de coeur (2014)

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Artist Profiles: Les Nubians

Les Nubians

Les Nubians, the self-proclaimed Afropean sisters, Hélène and Célia Faussart, came into the public eye in 1999, when their U.S. debut, Princesses Nubiennes, became the most successful French-language album in more than a decade of Billboard Charts.

After that, the two sisters traveled the world, soaking up the sounds of reggae, afro-beat and electronica, allowing each to influence their own music.

Discography

Princesses Nubiennes (Virgin Records, 1998)
One Step Forward (Virgin Records, 2003)
Echos, Chapter One (Nubiatik, 2005)
Nü Revolution (Nubiatik/Shanachie, 2011)

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Artist Profiles: Mighty Popo

Mighty Popo – Photo by Angel Romero

Jaques Murigande, aka Mighty Popo, was born in Ngagara, a neighborhood in Bujumbura, Burundi populated largely by Rwandan and Congolese migrants and refugees. Growing up he could hear contemporary and traditional musicians from East and Central Africa on the street, in clubs and in the homes of friends and family, while radio and recordings played music from the whole African continent and beyond. Ngagara was a soundscape in which Soweto, Kingston, Bahia and New Orleans lived side by side.

In spite of hardship, Popo and his family made connections and friendships, found jobs, expressed ideas, pursued dreams, surrounded themselves with music and managed to live and be engaged in a larger world.

As much as Popo inherited a love of the traditional music of Rwanda and Burundi, he also has a lifelong connection with rock, blues, jazz, R&B, Reggae and folk traditions. His music reflects his immersion in a world culture which he has navigated with grace, sensitivity and an enormous sense of exploration and fun. It is enriched by many traditions.

When Popo left Burundi for Canada, his musical journey took him down paths his ears had already traveled at home. He has toured North America and Europe with Canadian and American bluesmen, played reggae and R&B from Halifax to Vancouver and down to New Orleans, and led the house band at the 1998 Pan-African Dance Festival in Kigali.

Mighty Popo was a member of the 2004 Juno Award winning African Guitar Summit and performed at the Canadian edition of Bob Geldof’s international Live 8 concerts (one of the few chosen for EMI’s Live 8 DVD).

Discography:

Tamba (1996)
Dunia Yote (2000).
Ngagara (CBC Records, 2003)
Live 8 DVD (EMI Canada, 2005 )
Muhazi ‎(2006)
Gakondo ‎(Borealis Records, 2011)

DVDs

African Guitar with the Mighty Popo (Learn Roots Music, 2006)

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Africa Oyé 2018 Announces First wave of International Artists

Africa Oyé festival has revealed the first set of artists scheduled to perform this year. The festival will take place June 16 and 17 in Sefton Park, Liverpool. The artists announced include singer-songwriter Binhan from Guinea Bissau, British-Gambian kora player Sona Jobarteh and Guy One from Ghana.

Africa Oyé celebrates the music and culture of Africa and the diaspora with live music, DJs, dance, workshops, food stalls and traders in the Oyé Village.

Oyé’s Artistic Director, Paul Duhaney said “The huge number of applicants to play this year’s festival has been overwhelming, yet a real testament to how revered the event has become around the world. It’s been far too long since we had an artist from Guinea-Bissau so Binhan’s appearance will be a perfect way to remedy that. Sona deserved a far bigger audience than she had on a rain-soaked day a couple of years ago, so we’re really pleased to be able to bring her back. And Guy One is one of those musicians that is a true master of his art – his set is going to be something really special.”

More information at africaoye.com.

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The Apollo Theater and World Music Institute to Present Africa Now!

Black Coffee

The Apollo Theater in partnership with World Music Institute will present its annual festival Africa Now! on Saturday, March 3. The show presents emerging and established artists of today’s African music scene.

This year’s edition will showcase the continent’s current trends in electronic music and will feature South Africa’s megastar DJ and electronic music producer Black Coffee, and the U.S. debut of Afrobeat/techno duo Tony Allen & Jeff Mills.

Additional events include Apollo Music Café performances by Meklit on March 2 at 10pm and an after-party performance by Afrotronix on March 3.

Every year in partnership with Apollo Theater we proudly present the best in contemporary African music with this unique event. This year we focus on the continent’s current trends in Afrofuturism and the contemporary movements in African electronic music,” says Par Neiburger, Artistic Director of World Music Institute. “Africa Now! is all about what is happening now in African music, and it’s a thrill to bring over some of the most forward thinking artists from the continent.”

More at www.worldmusicinstitute.org

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Enthralling Bondeko

Toto Bona Lokua – Bondeko (No Format!, 2017)

We use music for a variety of things. We use it as entertainment, to get across a message, to get through our daily workout, to get up in the morning or to fall asleep at night. It is our emotional release allowing us to sing and dance at will. It sets the mood for our carnal encounters and plays a central role in many of our religious rites. Music can convey all shades of human emotion, having us politely applauding or behaving like animals. A piece of music can be played to a gargantuan crowd and still the meaning can be felt individually. But perhaps one of the best things is when music surprises us, when it snags those invisible cerebral threads and enthralls us.

That being said, I am pleased, surprised and utterly enthralled by Toto Bona Lokua’s Bondeko out on the No Format! record label. Silky smooth riches eke out of every track on this offering by French-born composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Gerald Toto; Cameroonian singer and jazz bassist Richard Bona; and singer and songwriter Lokua Kanza from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Slyly cool and cleverly crafted, Bondeko perfects a sound that is smoothly flavorful and richly worked homage to Caribbean breeziness, Afro-beat lushness and African troubadours.

Opening with the birdsong laced “Ma Mama,” listeners are treated to this trio’s spectacular vocals before giving way to the sassy guitar, bass and percussion backed “Naleki.”

“Youwilé” is stunning in its delicate simplicity of vocals backed by a pair of acoustic guitars. Bondeko lightens the mood with the sleekly cool “Je Kango” before giving way to the delightfully deliciously version of Toto’s “Love Train” with percussion and vocals supplied by Mr. Toto.

Equally scrumptious are offerings like “Ngum Nya Ko,” “Thitae and fluidly cool “Tann Tanbou A.” Listeners get a dose of flute and keyboard wrapped guitar and vocals on “Bukuvu” that is surely to lull even the most reluctant listener. Closing track “Awo” is all savage coolness with bass, smart percussion and vocals.

Bondeko’s particular brand of joyfulness makes this remarkable trio an irresistible lure to those cerebral threads. We will just have to content ourselves to be entertained, surprised, enchanted with Bondecko and wait, sort of patiently, until Toto Bona Lokua comes up with something new to dazzle us.

Buy Bondeko in the rest of the world

Buy Bondeko in Europe

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Africa Oyé festival Announces 2018 Dates

Africa Oyé festival – Photo by Mark McNulty

The 2018 edition of the Africa Oyé festival will take place June 16 and 17 at Liverpool’s Sefton Park from 12:30 pm to 9:30 pm both days. The festival will feature the music and culture of Africa and the diaspora with live concerts, DJs, dance, workshops, food vendors and traders in the Oyé Village. Admission is free.

“2018 will allow us to do what we do best and that’s showcase the best undiscovered gems from across the continent and beyond,” says Oyé’s Artistic Director, Paul Duhaney. The applications have been flooding in from some incredible artists and the programme is going to be packed with international talent”

For more information go to africaoye.com.

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3MA at the Top of the Transglobal World Music Chart in January 2018

3MA – Anarouz

Anarouz (Six Degrees), the latest album by 3MA, a group featuring three high profile African musicians Ballaké Sissoko, Driss El Maloumi, Rajery, is the number 1 album in January 2018 at the Transglobal World Music Chart. Ballaké Sissoko (Mali) is a kora maestro, Driss El Maloumi (Morocco) is an ud virtuoso and Rajery (Madagascar) is the leading valiha player in his country.

The rest of the January 2018 chart

2. Boubacar Traoré – Dounia Tabolo- Lusafrica

3. Efrén López, Stelios Petrakis, Bijan Chemirani – Taos – Buda Musique

4. Saz’iso – At Least Wave Your Handkerchief at Me: The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song – Glitterbeat

5. Kapela Maliszów – Wiejski Dżez – Unzipped Fly

6. BKO – Mali Foli Coura – Buda Musique

7. Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet – Ladilikan – World Circuit

8. Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino – Canzoniere – Ponderosa Music

9. Anouar Brahem – Blue Maqams – ECM

10. Maya Youssef – Syrian Dreams – Harmonia Mundi

11. WoWaKin – Kraj za Miastem – WoWaKin

12. Saeid Shanbehzadeh – Pour-Afrigha – Buda Musique

13. Júlio Pereira – Praça do Comércio – Tradisom

14. Ross Daly & Kelly Thoma – Lunar – Labyrinth

15. Raúl Rodríguez – La Raíz Eléctrica – Fol Música

16. Lankum – Between the Earth and Sky – Rough Trade

17. TootArd – Laissez Passer – Glitterbeat

18. Jivan Gasparyan Duduk Ensemble – Yeraz – Buda Musique

19. Khalid Kouhen & Marylène Ingremeau – Sillage – Ouï-Dire / UVM

20. V.A. – Mista Savona Presents: Havana Meets Kingston – Baco Records / VP Records

For more information go to www.transglobalwmc.com

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Artist Profiles: Tama

Tama

Tama was a Pan-African world fusion project made in the late 1990s. The Tama album Nostalgie came about when Tom Diakite (Mali), Sam Mills (UK) and Djanuno Dabo (Guinea Bissau) met while performing with Bengali master Paban Das Baul. According to Sam: “We had some spare time booked in a studio and played a few songs which were impromptu but sounded really good and were enough for us to convince Real World to record an album.”

Primarily based on singer and multi-instrumentalist Tom Diakite’s material, the album displays a combination of rhythms and influences from West Africa with European music elements. Tom said: “Originally I came from the same part of Mali as Oumou Sangare and Nahawa Doumbia, the Wasulu and the music I learned there was already a mix – something different from the mainstream Malian tradition. Now I use aspects of the tradition like the pentatonic scale adding some blues and non-Malian elements both in the vocals and in the guitar, piano, cello and ud instrumentation.”

Tama made a second and final album titled Espace (Real World, 2002).

Discography:

Nostalgie (Real World, 1999)
Espace (Real World, 2002)

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