Acclaimed Nigerian musician Femi Kuti and his band Positive Force are set to release their new album One People, One World in February 2018 on Knitting Factory Records. Femi talked to us about his music and upcoming album.
Angel Romero – Tell us about your musical background, and how your father influenced your choice of music as a career.
Femi Kuti – Musical background is I practically taught myself everything I know by just reading and listening. And by playing in my father’s band. My father advised if I wanted to be a musician then it was best I listened to a lot of jazz music. This was difficult for me as I didn’t like jazz, he then introduced me to Moody’s mood for love by James Moody. This was really my introduction into jazz.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
My father’s influence for sure, these days my music comes from my heart and soul.
Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
My father and all great jazz musicians from Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and for sure most of them great jazz musicians of that era.
How is your Afrobeat different from your father’s Afrobeat?
Hard for me to describe. And if I did, most people would think I’m being critical of my father. One easy way is my music is shorter 😊.
Afrobeat has spread to many corners of the world and is still popular with many fans. How is the Afrobeat scene in Nigeria currently?
Still very relevant. Especially as things are still bad economically for majority of the people. And most young artists or bands are influenced by my father or me in a way.
What’s the concept behind your new album One People, One World?
That we are all one living on one planet basically. And we have to urgently understand this before we destroy our planet.
Your son Omorinmade Anikulapo – Kuti participated in One People, One World. What was his role and what did he bring to the table?
For me, he brought beauty and love; I have no words to describe. To see my son play on my album and contribute was …. true love.
What are the challenges you face as a musician, composer and father?
Being on the road missing my children, always trying to make my band understand what we are doing is a fight against injustice and corruption. Finding great melodies to keep people that love what we are doing happy and inspired and making sure my music stands the test of time.
What is your vision of what music can bring to our complex world?
Peace, love, understanding to complex issues that politicians are too afraid to talk about.
What countries will you visit on your next tour?
Hopefully everywhere. Europe, the USA, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Asia.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?
I keep an open mind. I could really work with anyone or any band if time permits.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians out there?
To pick up at least one musical instrument. And music isn’t about just the fame and money. Music is as important as studying medicine, law etc.
It is a long time since I have contributed reviews to this site. The reasons are many, varied and not a matter of public record. They’re also quite boring, so you wouldn’t want to hear about them in any case. My tendency had been to write reviews in groups united by some sort of genre, style or perceived common-ground theme. But I presently find myself so far behind that the disconnected overview I am about to subject you to is the only approach that will effectively close the gap. Apologies, and away we go.
As a longtime fan of Afrobeat music, I was greatly interested when I heard that Chicago Afrobeat Project would be collaborating with drummer Tony Allen. Allen, after all, was the man behind the kit for all of Fela Kuti’s groundbreaking records and was just as instrumental (pun absolutely intended) in creating the Afrobeat style. What Goes Up (Chicago Afrobeat Project, 2017) does not disappoint. Allen’s militantly polyrhythmic drumming is as spot on as ever. He also brings the experimental feel of his recent works, so the album isn’t simply formulaic Afrobeat but rather an effective blend of contemporary textures (including measured doses of rap) and traditionally-grounded grooves.
Horns, stinging keyboards and no-nonsense vocals (largely female) share most of the upper mix with Allen’s drums, while bass, guitars and percussion provide covert menace beneath. The lyrical unrest typical of Afrobeat is very much present in songs that address racial and gender inequity, political nonsense, media trickery and the belief that the high and mighty will be toppled sooner or later. None of the tracks are even five minutes in length (another departure from the once-usual Afrobeat template) and lest you think it’s all message-laden heaviness, “Afro Party” will handily prove otherwise. If this is the current state of Afrobeat, it’s in a healthy state indeed.
While Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Colombian and Afro-Peruvian music have all been getting their due of late, Afro-Venezuelan music hasn’t fared as well. Perhaps the level of upheaval in that nation has some bearing, but now there’s a degree of redress to be found with Loe Loa: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree (Odelia, 2017) by Betsayda Machado and Parranda El Clavo.
Percussion and vocals are all you hear on this field recording (albeit captured with modern technology), and given that Betsayda and her many-strong ensemble are descended from escaped slaves who lived in hidden village communities, the drumming and call-and-response voices ring with an air of both celebration and defiance. This is thunderously rousing music, binding in its spell and guaranteed to raise your spirits to the highest heights. Alan Lomax is surely smiling from the Great Beyond.
Similarly, Transmision En La Erita Meta (Sendero Music, 2017) is all about drums and voices, though the drums here are more than instruments. They are a trio of sacred Cuban bata, vessels of sound created to invoke and seek the blessings of the deities known as orishas, belief in which originated among the Yoruba people of West Africa and survived the slavery era. The worship system of Santeria was later syncretized with the saints of Catholicism, but purer forms of orisha worship endure in Cuba and elsewhere.
Spoken testimonies are interspersed among the 21 tracks on the CD, and if your understanding of Spanish is as non-existent as mine, the hypnotically complex pulses of the double-headed, bell-festooned bata and reverent vocal chants are all you’ll need to connect to the Divine. The disc comes with an extensive booklet that tells in great detail how the story of the particular drums used fits into the overall tradition that inspired their use. It’s as absorbing to read as the drumming is to listen to. Curl up and absorb yourself in both.
Keeping close geographically as well as covering more music that came about in the age of slavery, Darandi (Real World/Stonetree, 2016) by Honduran Garifuna master musician Aurelio, captures him at his raw best. Following a performance at the U.K. WOMAD festival, he took his band to the in-house studio at Real World Records and recorded a dozen live-and-direct tracks that are a kind of greatest hits from his three previous studio albums.
Acoustic and electric guitars, bass and a pair of snare-buzzed traditional hand drums provide the accompaniment to Aurelio’s nimble voice and the glorious wraparound of his three backing vocalists. The African roots of Garifuna music resound in the highlife-like guitar chiming and feverish drumming, but Spanish and Central American indigenous elements are just as present. I’ll leave it to you to research the Garifuna origin story if you don’t already know it. I’m too busy listening to this excellent music.
The liner notes of A Je (Riverboat Records/World Music Network, 2017), the latest by Monoswezi, describe them as “African-Nordic jazz alchemists.” And who am I to argue? Such wording makes my task of describing their music that much easier. I’m fairly sure this is the group’s third album, and the most immediately striking addition to their sonic brew is the harmonium, that hand-pumped organ so central to Pakistani Qawwali devotional music. The instrument gives a penetrating mystical edge to Monoswezi’s already very fine fusion of Mozambican, Norwegian, Swedish and Zimbabwean sounds. As before, I’d peg the rhythmic side of things as mostly African, though melodically it’s the punctuation of instruments like clarinet, banjo and the prior- mentioned harmonium that add the welcome Scandinavian chill and outward reach.
New to the lineup is Sidiki Camara, a calabash and ngoni (lute) player whose name I’ve seen in the credits of many a West African music album and who brings an extra layer of spark to this one. A Je is Monoswezi’s best yet, full of propulsive, hands-on percussion, adventurous but mutually perfect combinations of lead instruments (such as banjo and mbira plucking happily side-by-side) and vocals that sound like jelis singing tales of recent trips to Arctic zones and beyond. Consistently great listening through and through, so count it a must-have.
Closer to the African mainland (just to the west of it, specifically) we find the latest up-and-coming singer from Cape Verde, Elida Almeida. She scores on Kebrada (Lusafrica, 2017) which despite her young age finds her fully adept at the heart-stirring nuances of singing in familiar Afro-Portuguese styles like funana and coladera, mixing things up with some Latin and Caribbean inflections. Nothing revolutionary, just great music for the many out there who love the sounds Cape Verdeans have brought to the world. The fact that one of the contributing musicians is recently deceased Malagasy accordion master Regis Gizavo makes it even greater and more than a little bittersweet.
Sometimes three pieces are all you need. Such is the case with Stringquake, whose album Cascade (Stringquake, 2016) blends Amelia Romano’s harp, Misha Khalikulov’s cello and Josh Mellinger’s percussion into instrumentals that range from intimately moody to absolutely grand. The two stringed instruments complement each other to perfection, an intertwining mesh that trades leading roles of tonal beauty while keeping pace with a percussion backdrop that includes cajon, frame drum, tabla and steel pan. You can rightly call some of this chamber music, some of it jazz fusion (like the cover of Don Cherry’s “Guinea”) and some of it world music in the not-otherwise-easily-classified sense. But it’s all beautifully, passionately rendered and stands up to repeated listens that continue to impress.
If an unconventional musical foursome is more your speed, check out Astrid Kuljanic on her release Riva (One Trick Dog Records, 2017). Her band, comprised of accordionist Ben Rosenblum, bassist Mat Muntz and percussionist Rogerio Boccato, is called the Transatlantic Exploration Company and her own background of having been born in Yugoslavia, studying music in Italy and Manhattan and finding inspiration on the Adriatic island of Cres makes the name perfectly fitting. And not surprisingly, the music fits the moniker as well. Kuljanic’s swooping, versatile vocals make her sound at home singing reconfigured traditional Croatian songs, scatty jazz pieces, samba-inspired charmers, a quirky original or two and a completely unique take on Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” She and her players sound like they’re having a blast and the music is again hard to classify, but the whole thing is head-spinning good. Available from www.onetrickdogrecords.com
Lovers of sevdah, the often-melancholic traditional music from Bosnia and Herzegovina, will rejoice in Divanhana’s Live in Mostar (ARC Music, 2017). The band sports instrumentation that only bows partly to tradition (accordion, electric piano, electric bass, drums, percussion and violin) and livens up their “Balkan blues” with jazzy breaks and klezmer-like seasonings. The achingly gorgeous lead vocals of Naida Catic (particularly on the unaccompanied “Daurko Mila”) are clearly a major asset, but the entire band rises to the occasion.
Given how crystalline the sound is, you might easily mistake the disc for a studio album until the audience reaction reminds you that a lucky bunch of folks were able to enjoy this live and direct. And the CD comes with the next best thing to having been there: a DVD featuring live performances and interviews. Get this and savor a double dose of sevdah at its progressive best.
If your collection of Cuban music isn’t complete (and whose is?), pick up Cuba! Cuba! (Putumayo, 2017). The various artists here are mostly in classic sound mode and some are younger artists carrying the torch for that classic sound. Still, the Putumayo folks like to throw in a wild card or two, and one surprise here is the unearthed instrumental “Guajira” featuring legends Alfredo Valdes Jr. on piano and trumpeter “Chocolate” Armenteros, recorded in Peru in 1964. That track serves as a kind of guidepost for the other fine singers and players on the disc, including veterans Roberto Torres and Armando Garzon (the latter with the ever-venerable and hypnotic “Chan Chan”), Miami-based young traditionalists Sonlokos and the always invigorating Jose Conde y Ola Fresca. This one’s got sizzle to spare.
“Chan Chan” is also the opening track on Mista Savona Presents Havana Meets Kingston (17 North Parade/VP, 2017), a brilliantly realized Cuban/Jamaican fusion in which son meets one drop, congas patter away alongside nyabinghi drums, Spanish-accented troubadours trade off with Trench Town chanters and both sides nice up the party. Some songs are more one locale than the other and employ a key element (like deejay chatter or regional horn riffs) that make the connection, while most are seamless mashups that are simply thrilling, like veteran guitarist Ernest Ranglin joyously picking his way through “410 San Miguel” with pianist Rolando Luna nimbly matching the vibe (and that’s before the dub effects even kick in).
Some of the other participants on the album are Sly and Robbie, Barbarito Torres, Changuito, Bongo Herman, Julito Padron and a chorus of notables that includes Leroy Sibbles, Lutan Fyah and Price Alla. That’s just the tip of things. No other written words will do justice to this landmark release recorded at Havana’s Egrem Studios under the guidance of producer/arranger/keyboardist Jake Savona. Highly recommended.
Grandly combining Italian traditional music with jolts of contemporary Western pop, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino strike a tasty, dance-ready balance on Canzoniere (Ponderosa Music Records, 2017). CGS are one of those bands that can seemingly do it all, mixing accordion, uniformly rhythmic clatter and a reggae feel on “Ientu,” infusing “Moi” with a start-and-stop techno stomp that dramatically punctuates the traded vocals, builds simplicity into complexity in nothing flat with help from guitarist Justin Adams on “Aiora” and erects walls of sound throughout using instruments and voices that are organically and electronically symbiotic. I’m not sure if the term “mind-blowing” is still in the accepted lexicon, but this album fits that description in a most satisfying way.
Scotland’s Mary Ann Kennedy gives us An Dan: Gaelic Songs for a Modern World (ARC Music, 2017), and a very nice lot they are. Her voice is grand and soaring and the arrangements, heavy on strings and Kennedy’s own piano, match to near-perfection. The lyrics are from a combination of literary sources while the musical arrangements are again Kennedy’s work, so the whole thing has an air of tradition mixed with vision.
Those who appreciate the familiarity of Gaelic music will be spellbound even as subtleties like the South African melody that underpins “Song for John MacDonald” ring true from a world beyond. For pure beauty, you can’t beat this.
Juntos is the new album by a Chicago-based collective with rotating members named ¡ESSO! (El Sonido Sonic Octopus). The band’s sound crosses numerous musical boundaries. It’s a superb mix of Afro-Latin, funk, rock, jazz, Afrobeat, pop, reggaeton, ska, cumbia, and more.
The band features seductive rhythms and a creative brass section. On the vocals side ¡ESSO! features lead and background vocals in Spanish. There is also some less interesting, tired rapping thrown in.
The members of ¡ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat are committed to social justice, performing for grassroots community organizations that support after-school, immigrant justice, and fair housing programs throughout Chicago and Illinois.
Personnel: Armando Pérez on guitar, bass, keyboards and vocals; Kevin Miller on saxophone; Dan Lieber on drums and percussion; Ezra Lange on bass; Diana Mosquera on vocals; Lessic Franko on percussion; Jess Anzaldúa on percussion; and Matthew Davis on trombone. Juntos also includes various guests.
Chicago Afrobeat Project – What Goes Up (Chicago Afrobeat Project, 2017)
Chicago Afrobeat Project, one of the finest Afrobeat collectives in North America, teams up with Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer and groove master Tony Allen on What Goes Up. What was initially to be a collaboration on two tracks, grew into 10 tracks.
What Goes Up features a formidable rhythm section, an excellent cast of vocalists, and fabulous keyboards and guitars, as well as a solid brass section. In addition to classic Afrobeat, Chicago Afrobeat Project injects soul, funk, jazz fusion, blues, electronica and other elements, creating an explosive mix. The only drawback is the participation of some rappers who disrupt the cool vibes with their tired, monotonous out of rhythm rapping on 2 or three songs.
Chicago Afrobeat Project (CAbP) is a dynamic musical collective rooted in 1970s funk and jazz-infused afrobeat. CAbP mixes traditional afrobeat with other dance-invoking musical motifs such as Chicago’s electronic house music complex West African percussion rhythms and upbeat funk.
At each performance the polyrhythmic groove and sharp horn lines of CAbP stir up energetic momentum sweeping listeners directly to the dance floor time and time again.
The group began in late 2002 in a third-story loft on Lake Street in downtown Chicago. What began as a simple experiment turned into sifting through unique and colorful musicians literally from around the world.
One by one at a series of loft rehearsals in downtown Chicago like-minded musicians joined the project until members of the current band felt an undeniable chemistry.
Today the ever-morphing 7- to 14-piece CAbP consists of a full percussion section a full horn section keys guitar bass and African dancers (at select shows) — and is still growing.
The band’s live set consists of originals as well as carefully chosen classic and obscure afrobeat covers — each embedded with the unique CAbP footprint. In CAbP each member is a leader an ensemble player a percussionist and a soloist.
Jungle Fire – Jambú (Jungle Fire Music/Nacional Records, 2016)
Los Angeles-based Afro-Latin funk band Jungle Fire is an outstanding collective of musicians from various backgrounds who have played with many well-known artists and musical styles. On their album Jambú, Jungle Fire delivers a sizzling genre-defying combination of Afrobeat, funk, cumbia, Latin jazz, West Coast Latin rock, makossa, and more, featuring an irresistible rhythm section and potent brass section.
The line-up includes Joseph “Joey” Reina on bass; Jud McDaniel on guitar and bass; Patrick Bailey on guitars; bass and Korg MS-20; Sam Halterman on drums; Sam Robles on baritone saxophone; Otto Granillo on trombone; Sean Billings on trumpet; Alberto López on congas, timbales, batá drums, cajón, güiro, flor tom, guacho, guagua, llamador, Moroccan bongo, guijada, qraqeb (karkabas); claps and vocals; Michael Duffy on timbales, bongos, bongó cowbell and claps; Steve Haney on congas, bongó, batá, shekere, güiro, trash lid and tambourine. Special guests: Sandino González-Flores on vocals and Natalia González on vocals.
Afrobeat musician Honoré Avolonto started his career in 1969 as a percussionist. The young conga player went onto become one of Benin’s most prolific composer.
Avolonto composed Benin’s most successful LP (no title – SAT 143) which was recorded for the Satel music label in the late 70s. The album was recorded with the Black Santiago, a band fronted by amazing trumpet player Ignace De Souza, another legend, with whom he recorded the Afrobeat track “Dou Dagbe We” few years earlier. Avolonto has fronted some of Benin’s most powerful bands.
I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time.
We Be All Africans is wholly political. Its songs are rich enough for a politicizing listen. Their lengths burn the mind.
The title of the album is slogan English, replenished by political rallies and political conversation. The song “We Be All Africans” is Afrobeat-ish Jazz, political, that could be a Fela Kuti song. Fela’s aesthetic was built on ethos guided by Nigerian religion and ethnic culture and so was his appeal. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids’ Afrobeat is rooted in subjective political sentiment, on abstraction about ‘blackness,’ and on an appreciation of Afrobeat. Ackamoor’s Afrobeat nonetheless sounds phenomenal.
“Whispering Tenderness” is soul, also political. It’s the sort of song that conjures good sentiment both because of a woman’s singing voice and because of a fresh and cool perspective; it is a medley of goodness. “Traponga” is a much harsher listen. That they are on the same album is exactly what We Be All Africans is all about: it strives to cover a significant pan of what Ackamoor considers to be African-ness (political.)
“Silent Days” is what is today considered Afro-futurism (political.) If translated to French, it could be a jazzy French chanson (political) and would work. English, the language par example of Gothic feeling and of sobriety, of reformation, seems unsuited to this sort of political feeling balladry.
“Epiphany” is slow and sultry. Naming a sultry song “Epiphany” is fascinating (is sultry, the act of being sultry, an epiphany about one’s self?) In the US (because of its protestant cultural history) it may be the case. What’s more is that perhaps blackness in music, black music, provided this country with an epiphany about individuality – that this world was made to Jazz, rag, rock, blues, stride, funk, in until one’s death.