Tag Archives: Afrobeat

Artist Profiles: Kiala Nzavotunga

Kiala Nzavotunga - Photo by Jean-Marc Laouenan
Kiala Nzavotunga – Photo by Jean-Marc Laouenan

Afrobeat master Kiala Nzavotunga is a founding member of the band Ghetto Blaster (1984 – 2006) and Fela Kuti’s band. Kiala Nzavotunga was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire), with family roots in Angola. At the age of ten, he moved to Kinshasa, the center of African music with Latin American influences like rumba, merengue and cha cha cha. There, he played in the boy scout band and was encouraged to study the guitar. He started playing in local clubs for a while, then he joined the soukous rumba band Negro Success and later Africa Jazz of Kabassele.

By 1974, he traveled through Africa playing, as a guitarist, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Gabon, Cameroon, and finally in 1975 in Nigeria. He remained in Nigeria for eight years playing with several groups, Eyes of Man, Black Children, Action Funk Ensemble and Stormers. In 1981, Fela Kuti invited him to join his band, Egypt 80 with whom he recorded on the album “Original Suffer Head”.

In 1983, Pascal Imbert, Fela’s manager suggested that he form a band with some African musicians including Udoh Essiet, Nicholas Avom, Willy N’for, Betty Ayaba and two French musicians, Stephane Blaes and Romain Pugebet. The band Ghetto Blaster was formed and they went to Paris in late 1983.

In Europe, Ghetto Blaster immediately began to have some success. They opened for artists such as James Brown, Albert King, Kool and the Gang, Manu Dibango, and Kassav. This led to their first record, “Preacher Man-Efi Ogunle” in 1983, and their first album “People” with Black Frame Productions – Mélodie in 1984 (including the hit “Na Waya”).

In 1988, they started a US tour, but, because of disagreements about the creative direction the band should take, Ghetto Blaster disbanded.

After the experience playing with Ghetto Blaster, Kiala wanted to explore different musical directions. He started a new group, One Love Connection, and worked on compositions and arrangements based on African music styles such as zebola, a Congolese dance music.

In 1989, he met the members of a Japanese band called Jagatara. He found a lot of similarities between Japanese and African music and became very interested in combining African rhythms and Japanese songs. In 1993, he recorded a demo of a Japanese traditional called Osaru-no-kagoya, with Kunimoto Kateharu (My Shammy Six). In this recording they used traditional instruments (Kunimoto playing the Japanese shamisen and himself playing the Congolese likembe).

In 1989-1998, he spent time between Tokyo and Paris writing, composing and playing with One Love Connection and a variety of Japanese groups including Vibrastone and Jagatara. In 1995, he wrote the title “Mbanza Mpuena” for the compilation “The Rainbow Colored Lotus”, a compilation for the Kobe earthquake in Japan.

Between 2001 and 2003, Kiala worked on an album project for the 20th anniversary of Ghetto Blaster. This album, “River Niger,” was released in 2003, it allowed the band to come back after few years of silent.

Ghetto Blaster - River Niger
Ghetto Blaster – River Niger

Between 2004 and 2006, he worked with Doctor L, who is very important in the electronic scene. They released the albums “Psycho” and “There Must Be A Revolution Somewhere” for Mind (2005), in which Kiala is author-compositor and plays likembe, guitar and lead vocal. They toured Europe with Omar Sosa and Stéphane Belmondo.

2009 was an important year for him. He started a new recording “One Race” with friends such as Sandra Nkake, Cyril Atef, Stéphane Belmondo, Lulendo, Rody Cereyon and the producer Slim Pezin. This allowed him to play music from his traditional heritage, African tradition, as well as jazz, blues and funk.

Solo Discography:

One Race (2010)

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An Afro-Roots Experiment That Worked

Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra (Glitterbeat, 2016)

Nigerian Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen recorded a set of jams rooted in Afro-rooted rhythms from Africa and Haiti that appear on the self-titled AHEO Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra.

The idea for this project was spearheaded by Corinne Micaelli, the director of the French Institute in Haiti. She brought Tony Allen, an Afrobeat pioneer and trendsetter to perform in Haiti with local musicians. Erol Josué, a singer, dancer, voodoo priest, and director of the Haitian National Bureau of Ethnology, helped to recruit local percussionists and singers. They chose musician’s from Haiti’s leading bands, including Racine Mapou de Azor, RAM, Erol’s own band, the Yizra’El Band and Lakou Mizik, the group of Sanba Zao, one of Haiti’s top percussionists and traditional singers.

The musicians were given 5 days to compose and rehearse the musical pieces that they’d play in the main square of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and broadcast live throughout the country.

The band featured 10 leading Haitian percussionists, Tony Allen, Mark Mulholland on guitar, Olaf Hund on keyboards, and Jean-Philippe Dary on bass.

Due to technical problems the concert was not recorded but Mark Mulholland had the multi-track rehearsal tapes and that’s where the material on this album came from. The vocals by Erol Josué, Sanba Zao, and the other singers were re-recorded and the pieces were mixed. The final product is a captivating set of Afrobeat rhythms from Nigeria and traditional and modern beats and chants from Haiti interlaced with jazz and electronica.

The complete album lineup includes Tony Allen on drums; Jean-Philippe Dary on bass and keyboards; Olaf Hund on keyboards and electronics; Mark Mulholland on guitar and organ; Sanba Zao, Wolele, Zikiki, Beauvois Anilus, Edmond Gera and members of Rasin Mapou de Azor & RAM on percussion; Erol Josué, Sanba Zao, Marc-Harold Pierre, Zikiki and Mirla Samuel Pierre on lead vocals; Zikiki, Marc-Harold Pierre, Wolele and Mirla Samuel Pierre on backing vocals.

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Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra is an instinctive, seductive and finely crafted celebration of African and Haitian music.

Buy Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra in the Americas

Buy Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra in Europe

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Global Songs about Miami Characters

The Baboons - Spanglish (Syncopated Sounds, 2016)
The Baboons – Spanglish (Syncopated Sounds, 2016)

Multi-ethnic band The Baboons is based in Miami and has absorbed many of the musical influences that characterize the most Latin American of US cities. On the album Spanish, the band sings in both English and Spanish and delivers a mix of world music sounds such as mambo and samba from Latin America, Trinidadian steel pans from the Caribbean, Afrobeat from West Africa, Balkan music from Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, along with American jazz, rock and blues.

“Spanglish is a love letter to Miami where diverse people from all over the world live, love and influence each other every day,” says lead vocalist, songwriter and percussionist Majica. “These songs are stories about real Miami characters. They come from different worlds, they struggle, but in the end they all call Miami home.”

Highlights include “Pequeña Habanera” that mixes son cubano with rock en español; an English-language blues song called “Prints”; the Latin party song “Alborotá”; and the fabulous Latin rock meets Afrobeat piece “Yuca.”

The lineup on Spanglish includes Majica on lead vocals and percussion; Mano Pila on drums and vocals; Miguel Rega on congas, timbales and percussion; Isaac Rodriguez on lead vocals and guitar; Michael Mut on bass; Dominick Cama on alto and tenor saxophones and flute; Paul Messina on tenor saxophone and flute.

Guests include Senegalese griot Morikeba Kouyate on kora; Jose Domenech on piano, AJ Hill on baritone sax; Rich Dixon on trumpet; Jose Elias on guitar; Buffalo Brown on soukous guitars’ Kenneth Metzker on steel drums and vocals; Phil McArthur on bass; and JJ Freire on jembe.

The “Spanglish” CD cover features artwork by Eva Ruiz.

Buy the Spanglish CD. Or buy the digital download version.

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Afrobeat Melting Pot

Alma Afrobeat Ensemble – It’s Time (Slow Walk Music, 2015)

It’s Time is the new album by Spain-based Afrobeat band Alma Afrobeat Ensemble. The group was originally started in Chicago by guitarist Aaron Feder, but he later moved to Barcelona in 2006, which is where Alma Afrobeat Ensemble is currently based.

The new recording includes several hip shaking Afrobeat studio pieces along with some reggae and blues as well as a set of songs remixed by various DJs: DJ Farmo, DJ Phader, Los Kalakos, DJ Quiet and Ray Lugo, who brought in hip-hop, coupé decalé, dance music, and dub elements.

Alma Afrobeat Ensemble’s lyrics show the band’s commitment to social justice with songs like “Shakedown” that delves into racism and corruption.

The ensemble has a new Nigerian vocalist, Joe Psalmist, from Lagos, who brings Afrobeat authenticity to the band. Psalmist sings in Yoruba, English and pidgin and is especially influenced by soul music.

The lineup on It’s Time includes Aaron Feder on guitar; Joe Psalmist on vocals; “Olawale”; Alfonso Fernandez on bassoon and backing vocals; Aurora Arenare on trombone and backing vocals; Didier Roch on percussion; Fernando Redondo “Dinky” on bass; Gustavo “Tato” Sassone on drums; Josep Contreras on saxophones; Paquito de la Iguana on keyboards and backing vocals; and Valentina Sousa on backing vocals.

The fascinating Picasso-inspired Afrocubist album cover artwork is by Yusupha Gai, a Young Gambian artist that the band met at a club in the Spanish city of Ceuta, located in North Africa.

It’s Time combines a powerful mix of classic Afrobeat, soul, reggae, soul and other African-rooted genres.

Buy the digital version of It’s Time

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The Best of Spanish Reggae at Siroco in Madrid

Siroco_Origenes

The legendary Siroco club in Madrid will present a reggae music special on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 at 21:00 (9:00 p.m.). The lineup includes Blueskank Trio, Razaguaya and rising star Nora Norman.

Blueskank
Blueskank

Blueskank

Blueskank, from Madrid, is one of the most effective acts in the Spanish black music scene. The group appears in both electric and acoustic formats, fusing reggae, soul, blues and Afrobeat. Blueskank has toured Spain, the UK, Portugal, Germany, France, Czech Republic, and Austria. The group released its first single “Peace on You” in 2009, the album “Taking Off” (Prod. Psicotrónicas & LaFamille Music, 2011), the live acoustic EP “The Wiser, the Better: From the Inside” (Prod. Psicotrónicas, 2013), and the album “A Thin Line” (Youkali Music, 2014)

Razaguaya

Madrid-based Razaguaya returns after five years of silence with its second album, “Enséñame” (Teach me). The new recording is an indie self-release financed by supporters and features guest appearances by Blueskank and Dremen collaborations.

Razaguaya
Razaguaya

Razaguaya’s reggae style includes dub, rock, jazz, afrobeat and psychedelic music elements.

Nora Norman

Nora Norman was born in the Barcelona suburb of Sabadell and is currently settled in Madrid. Nora Norman became popular in early 2013 thanks to her wonderful soul voice that appeared in several YouTube videos. caught the attention of festivals like Mulafest or newspaper El Pais, which included it in its event tribute to The Beatles.

Nora Norman
Nora Norman

In 2014 she performed at the 101 Sun Festival and was chosen as guest artist by Nick Waterhouse during his tour of Spain, among others. During 2015 she participated in major jam sessions in Madrid or initiatives such as Madtown Days. She recently released a neo soul EP.

Sala Siroco
Calle San Dimas 3. Madrid 28015
Metro stations: Noviciado / Tribunal
Tickets: http://entradium.com

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Don’t Nix the Mix

Seems like a clear majority of releases coming my way nowadays are some kind of fusion music. It hasn’t been easy tearing myself away from specific genres I know and love, but this thing we call World Music is getting ever more, well, worldly, and being along for the sonic global ride can result in finding music that excites listeners as much as breathtaking sights thrill literal travelers.

You’d expect an album with a title like Planetary Coalition (Skol Productions, 2015) to be pretty far-reaching, and it is. Under the guidance of guitarist Alex Skolnick, a versatile axe man known mainly for dual identities as a thrash metal and jazz player, this sizable, ArtistShare-sponsored coalition shines on 75 minutes of sounds from many a corner of the world.

Skolnick’s string finesse trades off gracefully with the santoor of Max ZT on several tracks, matches the deft fire of Rodrigo y Gabriela on another, makes the textures of Yacouba Sissoko’s kora that much more heavenly, underpins Kiran Ahluwalia’s ghazal-influenced vocals with the proper mysticism and adds electricity to the tart tones of Adnan Joubran’s oud. And that’s barely marring the surface. There are Argentinian, Eastern European, Far Eastern and Latin Jazz ingredients here as well, and notable guest players aplenty. Yet this mainly instrumental set doesn’t overreach. It’s an ear feast that satisfyingly blends the familiar and the unexpected.

 

Idan Raichel - At the Edge of the Beginning (Cumbancha, 2016)
Idan Raichel – At the Edge of the Beginning (Cumbancha, 2016)

 

For the time being he’s put aside the Idan Raichel Project name and recording simply as Idan Raichel on At the Edge of the Beginning (Cumbancha, 2016). An Israeli keyboardist, composer, producer and arranger, Raichel has (apart from his acoustic albums with Mali’s Vieux Farka Toure) long blended Jewish, Arabic and African sounds with a worldly dance music sensibility. His new one finds him more introspective, starting off with a pair of chamber-like pieces that primarily showcase Raichel on piano.

Programmed rhythms fuel the tracks that follow but the feel stays rather whispery. The tracks are short and many have a lulling quality to them, reflective of Raichel’s recent identity as the father of two small children. Sparse instrumentation in the form of things like accordion, cello, saxophone and baglama stays on the supportive outer edges of the songs, which are delicate in their construction but have their own quiet strength. While not as groundbreaking as Raichel’s earlier material, his latest nevertheless gets to the heart of its matter by being touchingly low-key.

 

Karim Nagi - Detour Guide
Karim Nagi – Detour Guide

 

Karim Nagi has got a thing or two to say about Arabic culture and Detour Guide (Self-released, 2015) says it with percussion, spoken words, rap-like cadences and beat backdrops. Born in Egypt and presently based in Boston, Nagi is out to dispel myths, question stereotypes, recount history, impart truths and make both humorous and serious points about what it is to be of Arabic ethnicity nowadays.

He seamlessly mixes the cheeky with the sincere on titles like “What Arabs Do For Fun,” “Oriental Magic Carpet,” “Heart Full of Cairo” and “If I Were Hummus,” bringing so many observations to the table that you’ll have to listen to this disc multiple times to digest it all. It’s a kind of aural performance art that’s impossible to describe in any significant detail, but a rewarding listening and learning experience just the same.

 

Black Masala - I Love You Madly
Black Masala – I Love You Madly

 

A mashup of Balkan brass, stomping funk, Gypsy zest, punkish energy and Afrobeat syncopation, I Love You Madly by Washington DC’s Black Masala is a rousing fun burst of energy and true musical chops that’ll get you smiling and busting dance moves you didn’t think you had in you. While the music changes gears quite a bit, it does so rightly and tightly, such that the resulting songs are full of infectious instrumental and vocal passion rather than just one hot mess after another. Great stuff.

 

 David Broza & The Andalusian Orchestra Ashkelon - Andalucian Love Song

David Broza & The Andalusian Orchestra Ashkelon – Andalucian Love Song

 

The musical connections between Moorish Spain, North Africa and the Middle East have been explored before, but seldom as grandly as the work of David Broza & The Andalusian Orchestra Ashkelon on Andalusian Love Song (Magenta, 2015). One of Israel’s most respected singer/songwriters, Broza here has a number of his tunes arranged for a 35-piece ensemble of strings (bowed, plucked and strummed), reeds, brass and percussion.

Improvised interludes set the mood between the songs, which range in feel from aching to celebratory (much like the ups and downs of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that often figures into Broza’s work). The vocals are richly emotive and the music, under the direction of conductor and arranger Tom Cohen, is unfailingly superb.

 

Avataar - Petal
Avataar – Petal

Avataar, a band led by Toronto-based saxophonist/flautist Sundar Viswanathan, achieves a crackling good mixture of Indian classical music, jazz and ambient frameworks on Petal (InSound Records, 2015).

Viswanathan’s reeds put forth the same sonic sweetness as Felicity Williams’ largely wordless vocals, and the expert support of Michael Occhipinti (guitars), Justin Gray (bass, mandolin), Ravi Naimpally (tabla, percussion) and Giampaolo Scatozza (drums) provides serpentine grooves, nimble melodies and unending pleasure. The music is intricate without being overbearing or showy, and the result is blissful.

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Lineup for London’s La Linea 2016 Festival

The artists scheduled to perform in 2016 La Linea Festival, London’s annual Latin music fest, include:

Sunday 24 April at Koko
Criolo, One of Brazil’s most acclaimed songwriter/performers. He draws influence from his love of samba, afrobeat and reggae and takes lyrical inspiration from his beginnings in a favela in Sao Paulo.

Monday 25 April at Barbican
Calexico’s latest project draws fresh influence from Mexico City.

Wednesday 27 April at Electric Ballroom
Chico Trujillo, Chile’s leading cumbia band. Chico Trujillo mixes classic cumbia, Chilean traditional musical forms rock and ska.

Friday 22 April at Rich Mix
From Buenos Aires, La Yegros is a popular digital cumbia act.

Friday 29 January at Rich Mix
Bixiga 70 is a ten-piece band from Sao Paulo. They combine Brazilian percussion sounds with Afrobeat.

More information at: http://www.comono.co.uk/la-linea/

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Buika with a Caribbean Seasoning

Buika - Vivir sin miedo
Buika – Vivir sin miedo

Buika

Vivir sin miedo (DRO/Warner Music Spain/Warner Music Latina, 2015)

Afro-Spanish Spanish singer-songwriter and composer Buika developed Vivir sin miedo (To Live without Fear) in Miami, which is her current home. Buika is a do it yourself artist so she composed and played all the instruments in her original demos for the new album while she was in Miami, New York and Madrid.

Buika is known for venturing into different musical directions. In the past, she has recorded Afropop, flamenco, boleros, Cuban music, jazz and others genres. Vivir sin miedo presents another eclectic mix with a Caribbean flavor and smooth pop flavor, including reggae, dub, ragga, flamenco, R&B, afrobeat, pop and gospel, although the dub feel seems to permeate most of the album. Buika is also trying to appeal to a wider audience so she sings in a mix of Spanish and English.

 

 

With the support of Warner Music, Buika invited two well-known international artists Meshell Ndegeocello (bass) and Jason Mraz (vocals), as well as masterful flamenco singer Potito. The album was recorded in London, co-produced by Martin Terefe (Coldplay, James Blunt, KT Tunstall, Zaz), who played bass and guitars on Vivir sin miedo.

 

 

Vivir sin miedo is clearly an effort to expand Buika’s reach to English-language and bilingual pop fans as well as the reggae market.

Buy Vivir sin miedo

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