Tag Archives: Afrobeat

Interview with Composer and Bassist Dawn Drake

Dawn Drake

American composer and multi-instrumentalist Dawn Drake and her band ZapOte have a new album titled Nightshade. She discusses her background and the new recording with World Music Central.

What are your fondest musical memories?

My fondest musical memories are of playing for crowds of dancers whether they are school children, sambistas, late night dance party-goers at Bembe in Brooklyn, for salsa dancers at Brooklyn Academy of Music Cafe or the Kimmel Center’s “La Noche” Latin Music Series.

What was the first tune you learned?

I learned the “Boogie Woogie” also known as “In the Mood” by Glen Miller on piano when I was five.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

Essential elements are polyrhythmic percussion and heavy bass.

Dawn Drake

How did your musical ideas evolve throughout the years from your debut album to your latest recordings?

My musical ideas have become more composition and arrangement-oriented and less “singer-songwriter” based, though I still intend to put out more music with electronic production that may return to even simpler formats.

Your band ZapOte is named after a fruit found in Mexico and the Caribbean. I know this fruit as mamey. What led you to name your band ZapOte?

I see ZapOte as a very feminine fruit. It’s also delicious. The first song I ever wrote as an adult is the chorus of my song “Zapote” which was recorded on my previous album “Everythinglessness”. The song came to me after my first or second visit to Santiago de Cuba, a place that has inspired me greatly with its music, dance and culture over the years. Santiago de Cuba is the first place that I encountered the zapote fruit and I liked it instantly as well as the word itself.

Dawn Drake and ZapOte

Tell us about your new album, Nightshade.

The album is a culmination of various sessions played by a lot of New York’s finest musicians and audio wizards. Please refer to this description for more… It goes into detail about the overall darker mood of the album, the use of the iconography of the Yoruba orisha Oya as it coincides with the seasons and this particular season of darkness and the Day of the Dead, the homage to the ancestors who came before us and the hardships they went through, and how through making art and music come alive; when we make something out of nothing, we can heal the pains of the past and in the process bring people together and create community that may not have existed otherwise.

Dawn Drake and ZapOte – Nightshade

Who plays on Nightshade? Who are the musicians you are currently working with?

I am currently working with Mara Rosenbloom on keys, Eliane Amherd on guitar and vocals, Alicyn Yaffee on guitar, Jackie Coleman on trumpet (for over a decade now), Paula Winter (also for a decade!), Lynn Ligammari on tenor sax, and Beza Gebre on drums. For the album release, Patrick Hall has joined us on trombone and Karen Joseph on flute as well as my long time colleagues Buffy Drysdale and Elizabeth Sayre on batá drums.

Although I liked Nightshade overall, the electronics on the futuristic “Oya de Zarija” track really caught my attention. Will you be making more music in this direction?

Yes, that is my intention, to produce more tracks in that style in the future. Glad you like it!

In the press release you mentioned the bass chose you. What do you mean by that?

I meant that one day I went to a guitar store intending to buy a guitar and impulsively bought a bass instead which the store owner kindly told me came with a “gig bag”. I had never played the bass before and I certainly didn’t intend to get any “gigs” with it but after playing in my living room for a year, I ended up in the bass chair with Geoff Mann (Herbie Mann’s son) on drums, Viva Deconcini and Matt Moon (all from the New School of Jazz) in a band called Buttershack. From there, I have played hundreds of gigs on the bass.

Mainstream media does not provide an outlet for world music. In what ways are you promoting your music?

I promote through Youtube, Spotify, Apple, my email list and my live shows. It is not easy and I am looking for new avenues to promote my music. I would love to land a licensing deal and/or find other ways to get more listenership.

Dawn Drake and ZapOte live at the Shrine

What advice would you give to beginners, especially young women, who want to make music out of the pop and hip hop mainstream?

I would say, study and practice very hard to be the best you can be at your craft whether that is playing your instrument, singing and/or writing. It seems also that it pays off to get very good at learning how to promote yourself on Instagram. This is something I am really trying to improve at. I would also say that tenacity and risk taking are key. I personally have gained a lot from reading and doing the exercises in The Artist Way by Julia Cameron.

If you could gather any additional musicians, or bands, to collaborate with, whom would that be?

I would love to collaborate with Captain Planet, Antibalas and/or perhaps a producer who I don’t know yet who is interested in my work! One of my dream is to record a tune with musicians from Alexander Abreu and Havana d’ Primera in Cuba and possibly another upcoming artist in Cuba “Cimafunk”.

I recently went to Senegal this year to further my understanding of sabar drumming and mbalax music and I would love to collaborate with Thiat Seck and other Senegalese mbalax singers and musicians. I want to continue collaborating with international artists and it remains one of my main goals to continue to expand outward and do more projects with musicians abroad.

Aside from the release of Nightshade, do you have any additional upcoming projects to share with us?

We have several shows coming up in New York City, namely Bembe in Brooklyn (81 South 6th st.) November 17th at 11 pm and Shrine World Music (Adam Clayton Powell jr. Blvd between 133rd and 134th streets) in Harlem on December 21st at 10 pm.

I have also been selected to participate and present my music in a seminar sponsored by the US State Department called “Art, Culture and Transforming Conflict” in Santa Fe, New Mexico December 10-14. We hope to do more State Department sponsored tours abroad in the coming years.

In the meantime we also have a regular Tuesday night show called “Mardi Gras Fat Tuesdays” at Club 33 Lafayette in Brooklyn on 33 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217, every Tuesday 8-11 pm starting November 12.

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Alluring Afro-Roots and Funk from Dawn Drake and ZapOte

Dawn Drake and ZapOte – Nightshade (Dawn Drake, 2019)

Nightshade is the new album from American bassist, percussionist, vocalist and composer Dawn Drake and her band called Zapote. This masterfully-crafted recording combines funk, edgy and futuristic trip hop, Afro-Cuban rhythms, high energy Afrobeat, and jazz with lyrics in English, Spanish and French.

Dawn Drake and ZapOte – Photo by Albie Mitchell

Dawn Drake describes Nightshade as more ambient and moody than previous works. “Some of the themes that appear on this new album are looking at darkness or depression and the symbology of coming out of it. For this album, I wanted to write more instrumental songs and focus more on the compositional aspects of the music to represent that process, rather than lyrical themes with chordal accompaniment.”

Nightshade is a splendid album by a talented artist bursting into in the international world music scene.

Dawn Drake and ZapOte are set to perform on December 21, 2019 at Shrine World Music Venue in New York City, New York, USA.

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The Soulful Afro-Roots of Ajoyo

Ajoyo – War Chant

Ajoyo – War Chant (Shems Records, 2019)

War chant is the new EP from New York-based Afro-roots band Ajoyo. Led by saxophonist Yacine Boularès, Ajoyo delivers an exciting mix of Afrobeat, West African rhythms, contemporary jazz, funk and exquisite neosoul.

The lineup includes the extraordinary vocalist Sarah E. Charles and a formidable cast of skilled instrumentalists: Yacine Boularès on saxophone; Jesse Fischer on keyboards; Kyle Miles on electric bass; Michael Valeanu on electric guitar; and Philippe Lemm on drums. Guests: Keita Ogawa on percussion and Foluso Mimy on jembe.

Buy War Chant

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Elikeh: A Journey Between 2 Worlds

Elikeh – Photo by John Shore

“Between 2 Worlds” is the second CD release for Elikeh (Azalea City Recordings; released 2012). They are a big band based in Washington, D.C. who are best heard live. Imagine the punch of James Brown’s horns combined with the melodic guitar of Afrobeat and you would not go far wrong. Comprised of drums, percussion, two lead guitars, bass, two sax, trumpet and keyboards, their stage presence can enliven a sleepy crowd and get everyone on the dance floor.

This CD does an excellent job of capturing the band’s live sound and their versatility as performers: with a bass section that has the flexibility to encompass Togolese rhythms and funk in one heartbeat.

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Massama Dogo, their leader, about this latest release. When I asked him about the difference between this CD and the first, Massama, on lead vocals and guitar, explains, “On the first CD, we recorded different sections of musicians to make one track, here we recorded each track all together live in the studio.” Massama always wants to learn, “I seek inspiration from all the band members. We all come from different places and developed skills in different genres, rock, soul, yet I like to learn where I can. I learn from Frank Martins (lead guitar) and Clayton Englar (sax) who are both veterans.”

Elikeh – Between 2 Worlds

The CD starts with “No Vision” a slow, languorous track that uses a delicate guitar sound, but then builds in energy to the upbeat, highly danceable “Olesafrica” (an Osibisa cover). Here the music takes off as the chant of “Olesafrica” is interspersed between the lyrics and carries the music forward. The drummer opens up and flies with an intricate and hypnotic solo. It is with the fast, high energy songs such as this one that Elikeh excels. The lead guitar stretches out and space is made for a good rock improvisation. Massama’s deep, heartfelt voice adds to the quality of the music. Throughout this album Massama’s authentic, determined and sometimes frustrated voice compels the listener to pay attention.

Massama is impassioned about justice and this comes across in his lyrics. He says, “Injustice has been around since before I started to play music. To fight injustice is a part of my heart so it is natural that it be in the music.”

The music is helped this time by guest appearances from two great musicians, Vieux Farke Touré and John Kadlecik. Vieux originates from the Malian blues tradition, his father was the renowned musician Ali Farka Touré, while John comes from the American rock tradition. When asked about the experience of working with Vieux, Massama relates, “We opened for him in Washington, D.C., and ever since then, we became friends. When we found out he would record with us the band were jumping up and down like kids with excitement.”

This friendship can be felt on the track “Alonye.” Here Vieux’s bluesy guitar riffs fit right into the upbeat swing of the band. Vieux’s blues bring a soulful feeling to the music. Rather than taking over though, he has the understanding and sensibility to work right alongside the band with his guitar. On “Alonye” Vieux’s guitar in part echoes and corresponds with Massama’s deep and direct vocals, as if both are enjoying and thriving from the connection.

When I asked Massama about his hopes for the future of the group, he says: “Right now we are a regional band, I am hoping we will get more national gigs and little by little I want us to become international.”

With “Between 2 Worlds” Elikeh have finally arrived. A hard working and disciplined band, they deserve more space in the spotlight.

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Ebo Taylor’s Lost Nigeria Sessions Released for the First Time

Ebo Taylor – Palaver

Ebo Taylor – Palaver (Tabansi Records/ BBE Music, 2019)

Palaver contains five tracks recorded in Nigeria in 1980 by famed Ghanaian guitarist and composer Ebo Taylor. The material consists of irresistible songs that mix highlife, Afrobeat, funk and jazz. The EP showcases Taylor’s characteristic electric guitar style, along with a superb set of musicians, comprising George Amissah. Mat Hammond, George Kennedy and George Abunuah.

Ghanaian guitarist Ebo Taylor was one of the leading highlife musicians in the 1950s with ensembles such as Broadway Dance Band and Stargazers and continued during the following decades making remarkable highlife and Afrobeat recordings in Ghana and Nigeria.

This video sums up the historical context of the recordings:

Buy Palaver

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The Remarkable Nigerian Guitar and Beats of Toby Foyeh and his Orchestra

Toby Foyeh and his Orchestra – Pirates of Africa

Toby Foyeh and his Orchestra – Pirates of Africa (Kameleon Afrika Music, 2019)

Nigerian world traveler Toby Foyeh is an excellent guitarist, charismatic vocalist and band leader. After living in Nigeria and the UK, he is currently based in the United States where he put together a formidable band that performs irresistible Nigerian-rooted music.

Pirates of Africa is the new album from Toby Foyeh and his orchestra. It is a superb set of Nigerian styles such as Afrobeat, traditional Yoruba rhythms and call and response vocals, highlife, and palm wine combined with funk, jazz, rock, pop and Latin American music. Additionally, he treats the listener to memorable electric guitar work.

The lineup on Pirates of Africa includes Tony Foyeh on male lead vocals, backing vocals, lead guitars, flute and percussion; Frank Martins on rhythm guitars; Samuel Ebidighi on bass and backing vocals; Koby Adopoku Maxwell on bass; Femi Sanya on bass and percussion; Oscar Debe on drums and percussion; Tosin Aribisala on drums; Jojo Kuo on drums and percussion; Jerrol Pennerman on keyboards; JB Gnonlonfoun on keyboards; Dennis Ayandiran on talking drums and percussiin; Samuel Salawu on talking drums; Michael Baiyewu on percussion, batá drums, sakara, wood block; and Tari Nosika, Tolumide Yeboah, Gloria Osaghae, Lola Okusanmi, Feyi Okusanmi, Ronke Coker, Shafi Bello, Dele Odunaiya and Amaka Igbonezim on vocals.

Get previews and buy the album from kameleonafricamusic.com

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Artist Profiles: Osibisa

Osibisa

Osibisa exploded onto the music world in 1971 with a pulsating and vibrant sound. Translated from Ghanaian, Osibisa means “criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness”. Their innovative music style matched the exciting progressive rock scene of the era. Osibisa’s albums featured fantasy artwork by Roger Dean, an artist connected to some of the most iconic progressive rock album covers.

The band’s percussive influence began to manifest itself within the music of their contemporaries. The Osibisa poly-rhythms and percussive breaks were to be an integral feature of the disco boom that was to follow in the late 1970s. Their unique fusion of Africa, Caribbean, rock, jazz, Latin and R&B paved the way for other potent music force such as Bob Marley and the emergence of African music in the 80’s. Indeed, Osibisa are seen by many as the Godfathers of World Music.

One of the important reasons for Osibisa’s enduring success has been their highly energetic and extravagant stage show. However their music is still an influential factor in dance music of today with no fewer than a dozen covers of “Sunshine Day”, which was also used for the Euro 2000 football tournament.

For many years now, they toured tirelessly, headlining numerous festivals and performing in every far-flung comer of the globe. Highlights have included a major tour of India, which resulted in a No 1 Gold Album – an unprecedented achievement for a Western band. The mid 90′ s saw a re-emergence of Osibisa in North America where African and Reggae music are gaining in popularity. The band also had a cameo in the Ken Russell TV film about Cropready Festival in Oxford during this time.

Former President Jerry J Rawlings honored Osibisa in Ghana, where they played a series of concerts celebrating their homecoming. “The enthusiasm shown by the Ghanaian people, especially the youth was quite amazing” recalled Teddy Osei, Osibisa’s bandleader. United Kingdom Europe

Discography:

Osibisa (MCA Records, 1971)
Woyaya (MCA Records, 1971)
Heads (MCA Records, 1972)
Super Fly T.N.T. soundtrack (Buddah Records, 1973)
Happy Children (Warner Bros. Records, 1973)
Osibirock (Warner Bros. Records, 1974)
Welcome Home (Island Records, 1975)
Ojah Awake (Bronze, 1976)
Black Magic Night (Bronze, 1977)
Mystic Energy (Calibre, 1980)
Celebration (Celluloid, 1980)
Osibisa Like’s Live ‎(Multi-Sound, 1981)
Unleashed-live (Magnet, 1982)
Live At The Marquee (Celluloid, 1983)
Movements (in-akustik, 1989)
African Criss Cross (Pulsar, 1990)
Monsore (Red Steel Music, 1996)
Live At Cropredy ‎(Red Steel Music, 1998)
Aka Kakra – Acoustic ‎(Red Steel Music, 2001)
African Dawn, African Flight (Red Steel Music, 2003)
Wango Wango, compilation (2003)
Osee Yee ‎(Cadiz Music, 2009)
Osibisa Afro Mix ‎(Gonzo Multimedia, 2016)
Osibisa Tribal ‎(Gonzo Multimedia, 2016)

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The Seductive Burkinabe Beats of Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band


Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band – Siri Ba Kele (Sublime Frequencies, 2018)

Siri Ba Kele is the second album by Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band, a formidable band from Burkina Faso. Baba Commandant (Mamadou Sanou) and his colleagues play music rooted in Manding traditions with a modern edge, incorporating Afrobeat, rock guitars and funk.

Siri Ba Kele contains a set of powerful songs with charismatic vocals, irresistible rhythms, hypnotic balaphone, outstanding electric guitar work, and equally good doso ngoni performances.

The lineup on Siri Ba Kele includes Baba Commandant on vocals and doso ngoni; Issouf Diabate on guitar; Massibo Taragna on bass; Mohamed Sana on drums; and Sami Kimpe on balaphone.

The album is available on CD, vinyl and digital formats.

Buy Siri Ba Kele in North America

Buy Siri Ba Kele in Europe

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Artist Profiles: Dele Sosimi

Dele Sosimi

Dele Sosimi is a British-Nigerian musician born February 22, 1963 in London, England.

Dele Sosimi stands out as one of the most active musicians currently on the Afrobeat scene worldwide. Dele’s career began when he joined Fela’s Anikulapo-Kuti’s Egypt 80 (1979-1986) and then subsequently with Fela’s son Femi Anikulapo-Kuti’s Positive Force (1986-1994). In both bands he was musical director and keyboard player.

Since Fela created Afrobeat, Dele’s Afrobeat pedigreee is therefore impeccable. The music is a blend of complex but highly danceable funk grooves, Nigerian traditional music (including hi-life), African percussion, underpinning the jazz horns and solos from other instruments, as well as rhythmical singing.

Dele toured extensively around the world with Fela and Femi, re-orchestrating and arranging music and also handling the recruiting and training of new musicians. His keyboard work can be heard on Fela’s Power Show, Original Sufferhead, MOP 1 (Movement of the People), Authority Stealing, Army Arrangeement, ITT (International Thief Thief), and Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, and on Femi’s albums No Cause for Alarm and Mind Your Own Business.

Dele has also performed often with Tony Allen, the king of Afrobeat drumming. Following his first solo album “Turbulent Times” (Eko Star 2002), he was invited to select the tracks for the 3-CD compilation titled “Essential Afrobeat” (Universals Family Recordings, 2004).

He was producer and co-writer of “Calabash Volume 1: Afrobeat Poems” by Ikwunga, the Afrobeat Poet (2004). He is a central member of the Wahala Project, whose single Wahala appears on Puma’s 2006 Soccer World Cup Compilation CD. He has also featured on British rapper TY’s recent album Closer (on the track Sweating for your Salary), and his Turbulent Times is featured on The Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project (2006).

Currently based in London, Dele is an educator and instructor in Afrobeat (via his Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Foundation, and as a Visiting Lecturer in Music and Media, London Metropolitan University). Sosimi is abetted by a group of musicians, most of whom have either played with him on previous records or have gigged with him on the live circuit.

Discography:

Turbulent Times (Eko Star, 2002)
Identity (Helico Records, 2007)
You No Fit Touch Am (2015)

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Artist Profiles: Lagbaja

Lagbaja

Lagbaja is widely considered to be one of Africa’s most exciting and interesting contemporary artists. Combining sophisticated compositions with a dynamic stage show and enigmatic personality, he was a popular in Nigeria, in constant demand for live performance and ubiquitous on the airwaves. His monthly shows at his own Motherlan’ Niteclub, in the heart of Ikeja – the capital of Lagos state, sold-out well in advance.

Lagbaja – which in the Yoruba language has a simultaneous multiple-translation meaning of “somebody”, “nobody”, “anybody” and “everybody” – has always performed masked. On one level, by never revealing his human identity, Lagbaja represents the common man and the faceless voice of the masses. On yet another level, his elaborate masks and stage costumes link him to the ancient tradition of Egungun: Africa’s ancestral masqueraded spirits, who come out in times of crisis helping to guide the people towards truth and resolution.

Musically speaking, Lagbaja’s sound is unique, incorporating a range of influences from Afrobeat to Highlife, Juju, Pop, Funk and Hip-Hop. Generally his music is identified under the umbrella of Afrobeat, which is one of his major influences. Incorporating contemporary elements such as horns, guitars and keyboards alongside the most traditional of Nigerian instruments (such as Bata and Dundun drums), Lagbaja?’s music spans the generations of African expression.

He has a U.S. CD, We Before Me, on the IndigeDisc/Ryko label.

Discography:

Ikira (1993)
Lagbaja (1993)
C’est Un African Thing ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 1986)
Me (2000)
We ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2000)
We and Me Part II (2000)
Abami – A Tribute To Fela ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2000)
Africano ….. the mother of groove ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2005)
Paradise (2009)
Sharp Sharp (2009)
200 Million Mumu – The Bitter Truth (2012)

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