The “Sons of the Sahara” show is a unique collaboration in which Bombino (Niger) and Vieux Farka Touré (Mali) perform separately and together, electric and acoustic.
One day, I stumbled across Karim Dabo’s music online and I was transfixed. His vocals are soft and sensitive.
Even though you may not understand the lyrics as he sings in Wolof (a West African language), as a listener you are soothed and comforted by their gentleness. The vocals invite you into an atmosphere of peace, even relaxation. Karim is a good percussionist, but it is his singing that holds you in an embrace. In January 2014, his debut album “Sama Yone” came out. The sound is very spare, light, and acoustic with only drums, guitar, bass, kora and percussion accompanying his voice. Yet there is power in the simplicity. It sounds like folk music. Out of curiosity and wanting to learn more, I reached out to Karim for an interview and he responded.
Karim grew up in a household of music. His Senegalese father is a percussionist who loved traditional Senegalese music and the Mande music of West Africa. When asked about his father, he says, “My father’s story is important. When he was young he wanted to play music, but in our culture, it was forbidden to him, because it was not supposed to be part of our family. This was a family that was known for their work in business. Music is a genre reserved for the griots in West Africa. When my dad emigrated to France in his twenties, he played music, but in his head it was forbidden.”
Was music also forbidden to you?
“No, nobody forbid me to play, because I grew up in France, I was not directly confronted with these concerns. When I returned home to Senegal with my music, my family were very open-minded. We started learning percussion as children with the jembe and dundun (Karim has five brothers and one sister). My mother is French; she is a teacher of African dance. Together, we played percussion to accompany her dancing lessons.”
Karim came of age in Annecy, France, a small mountainous town near to Geneva. He said “there is a spirit of peace in the mountains,” but felt it was too quiet to remain there. He was drawn to the possibility of moving to Montreal, Canada. Unexpectedly, he met Mafé, a Haitian-Québécoise singer based in Montreal who was visiting France. They began to make music together, and it was after meeting her that he moved in July 2013 to Montreal.
Yours is an incredible voice, when did you start to sing?
“I always sang when I was young, but only in my room. The kind of singing I am doing on this album, I started three years ago. Before I played a lot of percussion, but then I decided I wanted to try to create my own sound with guitar and singing.”
Why did you want to make your own sound?
“I just wanted to discover the guitar, a new instrument for me. Also, one of my brothers, Sebastian Pintiaux, is a good guitarist and he sings. His music inspired me and he helped me to record and make the arrangements for this album.”
The music on the album is very spare and simple: is that deliberate?
“Yes, I wanted to keep the instrumentals quiet, basic, to give space for the voice.”
Can you tell me about the track Africa? I ask, its cyclical music flows in the back of my head. An upbeat sound, the word Africa is pronounced many times as a chant throughout the song. The gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar, drums and light ripple of percussion accompany the steady vocal.
“I am saying to African people we can make a choice for our development. It is not necessary to take a path in the same direction as Europe and America. We can make our own way. I believe this message is important, because when I go to Dakar, Senegal, I see a paradox in the people. I see a lot of people who want to live the same life as Americans or Europeans, but they are not being authentic to Africa.
This song is about how we can have our own way of life without being influenced by the West. The track was also inspired by the African musician Tiken Jah Fakoly, whose music often communicates directly and strongly with African people. I am saying we can build an authentic Africa, with an African spirit. Africa is beautiful and I think we can do a lot of things in Africa. In this song there is a little bit of revolution because I want to see African people strong and proud.”
Your vocals carry the sound forward, because they are from the heart. Your singing sounds thoughtful. Your voice reminds me a lot of Geoffrey Oryema’s vocals. He has a very calming, steady, almost hypnotic sound. He is from Uganda.
“Yes, I know him. The track Diorme which means give me, is in the same spirit of Geoffrey Oryema. Even if you cannot understand him, you can tell the message is deep. But he is a great singer and I am a bit nervous to be compared to him.”
Yes, his vocals are haunting. They stay with you. But your vocals also have a haunting quality.
“There is a meditative aspect to my music. I want to convey peace. My singing is a reflection of what is going on inside me, a sense of introspection.”
The track Jamm has that spiritual sense in it. Jamm is a gentle, meditative song with a steady rhythm. The same words are repeated, but the repetition is calming, not boring. The sound is restful.
“Yes, Jamm means peace in Wolof. In this song, I am talking about how a sense of peace comes from the sky and inspires me, but how peace may also inspire another person.”
So, is peace important to you?
“I am also a Social Worker, I work with people who are in difficulty. I’ve worked with disabled people and troubled youth. I’ve also learned to understand people by the way they play music. Through this experience I learned peace and self-control.”
Karim has used music in his Social Work practice as a way to connect with others and to enable clients to express emotions or difficulties that they may carry inside.
Because you have to remain calm to do Social Work?
“Yes, and that’s why I decided to create music with a spirit of peace and love for humanity. A lot of people do not understand the vocals because they are in Wolof, but they can feel this calm in the music. And to make a world of peace, we have to do a lot of work inside ourselves. That’s why on this album, I am starting from within. Other people have taught me a lot, I want to offer them peace through music in exchange.”
To find out more about Karim Dabo, you can visit his website at www.karim-dabo.com
The second annual Ongala Music Festival will take place August 23 to 25 in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. The festival is named after celebrated Tanzanian musician Remmy Ongala. The event celebrates the rising talent of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
For more information about the lineup go to ongalamusicfest.co.tz
Santana – Africa Speaks (Concord Records, 2019)
Two iconic artists, guitarist Carlos Santana and vocalist Santana teamed up to record a superb album titled Africa Speaks .
Carlos Santana brought to the table his wide-ranging experience in mixing Afro-Cuban music with rock, jazz and other global music influences. Afro-Spanish singer Buika is deeply influenced by the African music of her parents, flamenco, jazz, soul and Afropop.
Together, Santana and Buika deliver a remarkable album, where two unique sounds meet and intertwine: Santana’s highly recognizable electric guitar and Buika’s distinctive voice and singing style.
Santana was a pioneer in world fusion, combining Cuban music and rock in his early albums. Now, rock, African, flamenco and Afro-Latin sounds come together in an explosive mix on Africa Speaks.
“This is music that I hold so dearly, and it’s not a stranger to me,” says Carlos Santana. “The rhythms, grooves and melodies from Africa have always inspired me. It’s in my DNA. If you take your inspiration from many, it’s called research. I researched this beautiful music from the African continent. They have a frequency that’s all their own. It’s funny, because when I play in Africa, people say, ‘How do you know our music?’ And I say, ‘How can I not know what I love?’”
Personnel: Carlos Santana on lead electric and rhythm guitars, backing vocals and percussion; Buika on lead vocals; Laura Mvula on backing vocals; Cindy Blackman Santana, on drums; Salvador Santana on keyboards; Tommy Anthony on rhythm guitar; Benny Rietveld on bass; Karl Perazzo on timbales, congas and percussion; David K. Mathews on Hammond B3 organ and keyboards; Andy Vargas on backing vocals; and Ray Greene on backing vocals.
Africa Speaks brings out of the best of Santana and Buika: memorable guitars and exceptionally expressive vocals rooted in African traditions. One of Santana’s finest albums in many years.
Buy Africa Speaks in the Americas
Buy Africa Speaks in Europe
Additional artists from Malawi, Jamaica and Haiti have been revealed in the final set of acts for the 27th annual Africa Oyé festival this summer: Gasper Nali, Jah9 and Wesli. The festival will take place in Liverpool’s Sefton Park on June 22-23. Africa Oyé celebrates the music and culture of Africa and the Diaspora.
With a vocal style that has been likened to Ella Fitzgerald, and a contemporary freshness in the same style as Erykah Badu, Jah9 has become somewhat of an icon for the Jamaican movement known as ‘The Reggae Revival’. Her philosophy, spirituality and unique ‘jazz on dub’ style has traveled across Europe and beyond since her debut album New Name launched in 2013 to wide acclaim.
Making a welcome return to the festival after his 2016 set was cut short due to travel difficulties, is the multi award-winning Haitian star, Wesli. His music aims to give a new mainstream life to rhythms and instruments that he says have been neglected as Haiti faces an increasing amount of global commercial music and culture.
Rounding off this final wave of artists is Malawian one-man-band Gasper Nali. Gasper is a Kwela roots musician from the small town of Nkhata Bay on the shores of Lake Malawi. Playing a one-string, homemade, 3-metre-long Babatoni bass guitar with a stick and an empty beer bottle, together with a cow skin kick drum, he creates dance-inducing Afro Beats.
The final list of artists join a line-up that already includes The Garifuna Collective, Horace Andy, BCUC, Moonlight Benjamin, Sofiane Saidi & Mazalda, Carlou D and OSHUN, as well as Liverpool emerging stars Tabitha Jade and Satin Beige who make up the ‘Oyé Introduces’ program.
Africa Oyé’s Artistic Director said of the final set of artists: “These three artists really represent the diversity of the festival line-up that we strive for each year. We’ve got a breaking female reggae star, a one-man-band with instruments he’s crafted himself and an international award winning star returning to our stage; artists representing Africa, the Caribbean and the wider diaspora – it’s a perfect final wave of live acts for this year’s festival and I can’t wait for everyone to see them perform.”
As well as the international offering of live music on the main stage, festivalgoers will also be able to eat and drink their way around the world with a range of food vendors and traders’ wares on offer in the Oyé Village.
Entrance is FREE and a ticket is not needed.
For more information visit africaoye.com.
headline photo: Africa Oye festival – Photo by Matt Hart
Malawian one-man-act Gasper Nali is a Kwela roots musician from the small town of Nkhata Bay on the shores of Lake Malawi. He plays a one-string, home-made, 3-meter long Babatoni bass guitar with a stick and an empty beer bottle, along with a cow skin kick drum. With this arrangement, he creates amazing, dance-inducing Afro Beats.
Gasper Nali’s unique style of music has received an extraordinary amount of online attention after a video of him playing by the lake shore went viral with more than 18 million views. He has been featured by CNN, jammed with Joss Stone, appeared on Wired for Sound – Malawi, and has also been featured on BBC 6 Music.
Celebrated guitarist and composer Carlos Santana has released the video electronic press kit from his upcoming album, Africa Speaks (Concord Records).
Santana and his eight-piece band (that includes Santana’s wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, on drums), got together at Shangri La Studios in Malibu to record a large number of tracks during a 10-day period. Acclaimed Afro-Spanish singer Buika provided the lead vocals throughout the album.
Angelique Kidjo – Celia (Verve/Universal Music France, 2019)
As a young girl, Angelique Kidjo was inspired by Cuban singer and salsa star Celia Cruz. Angelique’s new album, Celia , recreates some of Celia’s most popular songs. It is also a celebration of Afro-Latin music as it includes salsa, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian material.
For this recording, Angelique sings in Spanish and chose some of the most Yoruban-influenced songs by Celia Cruz. Angelique’s band features well known musicians from Benin, the United States, the UK and Nigeria, including Nigerian Afrobeat trailblazer Tony Allen on drums, American musician Meshell Ndegeocello on bass, British jazz outfit Sons of Kemet, and acclaimed Beninese act Gangbé Brass Band.
Celia is a colorful and beautifully-delivered tribute to one of the essential vocalists from the 20th century.
Les Amazones d’Afrique have released a new single titled ‘Amazones Power‘ (Real World Records). The current lineup includes some new faces, including female musicians from West Africa, joined by additional artists from Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Guyana, Spain and Algeria. Also featured are the male voices of Douranne and Magué from the Parisian band Nyoko Bokbae.
The group’s message is still loud and clear: Violence against women must stop. Women must be able to realize their potential and not be held back by the dominant patriarchy. ‘Amazones Power’ tackles these issues head on. “Never again, silence, violence. I want to live and to be free.”
Les Amazones d’Afrique’s debut album République Amazone came out in 2017 on Real World Records . The ensemble features three generations of women, who sing out in unison, calling for a future without the threat of female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual violence, lack of education and forced marriage.
The group will return for a series of concerts throughout Europe this summer.
The second edition of the Black Atlantic series brought an excellent sampling of African and Afro-rooted music to Durham, North Carolina.
The first concert featured South African musician Derek Gripper, Congolese guitarist Jaja Bashengezi and Ugandan multi-instrumentalist Kinobe. Classically-trained Gripper has adapted the kora technique to the guitar. Kinobe played a fascinating Baganda harp called ndongo. This was a relaxed, virtuosic concert, focusing on the melodic side of African music. Derek Gripper has two albums related to his kora reinterpretations: One Night on Earth (2012) and Libraries on Fire (2016).
One of the highlights of the festival was Malian artist Fatoumata Diawara. I had seen her a few years ago when she was a rising artist. Years later, she has blossomed into one of the finest acts from West Africa and the world music scene in general. Her sold-out concert featured an explosive mix of modernized Malian traditional music, Afrobeat and Afro-rock. She speaks English very well and engaged the audience easily with her charisma and charm.
What surprised me (and the audience) the most is when she picked up her electric guitar several times and started soloing, ranging from Malian desert blues to Afro-rooted rock. Clearly spectacular. Fatoumata’s recent albums include Fatou and Fenfo.
The third concert in the series featured the captivating, trance-like Western Saharan sound of Mauritanian singer and ardine player Noura Mint Seymali along with her electric band. Her discography includes Tzenni (2014) and Arbina (2016).
Next was another highlight, spectacular Cuban singer Daymé Arocena. She also expressed herself in English very well, encouraged dancing and call and response interaction with the audience, and explained how Cuba is proud of its African and Spanish roots. Daymé bridges traditional Cuban, Afro-Cuban and American jazz. Her dazzling band featured world class Cuban instrumentalists, who obviously love jazz-rock fusion when they get opportunities to jam. Daymé’s highly recommended albums include Nueva Era (2015) and Cubafonía (2017).
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Friday and Saturday concerts, although a colleague reported that the Dafnis Prieto Big Band concert was stunning. The show featured a 17-member big band performing Afro-Cuban jazz and ballads. This format appears in Dafnis Prieto’s album Back to the Sunset.
Kudos to Duke Performances for this highly successful series and special thanks to Eric Oberstein and King Kenney for their support.