One of the heirs of the genius of Nigerian Afrobeat superstar Fela Kuti is his son, Femi. Femi’s version of Afrobeat is the exciting new sound to emerge from Nigeria for years, borrowing the best elements from his father’s powerfully polyrhythmic prototype – the funky, jazzy, heavily percussive sound that took James Brown’s beat back to Africa. Femi adds to the winning formula with a freshness and exuberance of young Lagos and its taste for the new R&B and dance music of the United States of America and Europe.
Femi first rose to international prominence in 1985, when he appeared at the Hollywood Bowl, fronting Fela’s forty piece band, Egypt 80. Fela failed to make it onto the plane, having been arrested at Lagos airport and jailed on a trumped-up fraud charge. Femi, already a member of his father’s band, came to the rescue that night, giving a show that brought the audience at the packed Bowl to its feet. Even though the fans had paid to see and hear the charismatic Fela, Femi was able to fully satisfy them with the same rude, muscular saxophone style (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) and lean self-confidence bordering on arrogance.
Two years later, Femi had formed his own young band, The Positive Force, and released their debut album for Polygram Nigeria. Titled No Cause for Alarm, the album was a raw but impressive mixture of funky soul-jazz, driving percussion and horns, with sharp social comment.
Strong interest in this album prompted a dramatic debut appearance in Paris, where Femi’s no-hold-barred show devastated a huge audience. He has since carried out numerous, extensive European tours with critics favorably comparing the big band sound of the sixteen member group with Fela Kuti’s legendary Egypt 80.
The performance of The Positive Force’s lithe and sensual dancers/singers is described as a visual feast which has to be seen to be believed. In 1994, Femi was signed by the legendary Motown label. An album, Wonder Wonder, was released in 1995, and was followed by a successful tour of the United States. Unfortunately, soon after the record’s release, a change in the presidency of Motown resulted in the scrapping of Tabu, the African music boutique label which the company’s former president, Jeryhl Busby, had championed. An undaunted Femi pressed on, carrying out extensive tours within Africa, with further acclaimed visits to Europe in 1996 and 1997.
Sadly, in August of 1997, Fela Kuti died. Another tragedy was to shake the Kuti family to their roots shortly afterwards with the untimely death from cancer of Femi’s younger sister, Sola. Together with his other sister, Yeni, Sola had been a founding member of The Positive Force and her presence sorely missed. Her place in the group was taken by Femi’s wife, Funke, who has proved to be a gifted singer and dancer. In December 1997, Femi signed a recording contract with Barclay/Polygram. His Shoki Shoki album was first released in Europe to tremendous critical acclaim.
Femi performs regularly in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. He has also toured extensively in Europe and the United States, including a 50-date European tour and US club tours. Femi and The Positive Force will continue to return to the US on tours and festival dates.
In July of 2000, UNICEF published Femi’s AIDS in Africa essay in its Progress Of Nations 2000 report. On September 4, Femi received top honors at the Kora All Africa Music Awards, including Best Male Artist in Africa and Best Song for his sexually charged single, “Beng Beng Beng.” At the globally-televised World Music Awards in May, 2000, Femi received the Best-Selling African Artist award and performed “Beng Beng Beng” to a captivated audience.
In 2001 Fight to Win continued to evolve this development of a democratization and an openness in afrobeat instigated by Femi Kuti since his first album. Containing Nigerian jazz funk rhythms with a touch of hip hop, Femi collaborated with American rappers such as Mos Def and Common, and soul singer Jaguar Wright, creating an album of universal critical acclaim.
After three years spent between studio work and touring, Femi Kuti returned to the roots of a musical and political movement of which he is, as of now, the unique symbol and only representative. He decided to invest his success in the reconstruction of a new Shrine, a musical temple, erected, displaced and rebuilt by Fela Kuti following repeated attacks against the old ones by a corrupt military power.
Just as his father before him, Femi Kuti and his Positive Force continue to make of this place a space in which music is the weapon of the future. For this heir to afrobeat it’s a turning point. Having achieved recognition on the international scene since the 1990s, Femi Kuti could have chosen to live in a western city such as Paris, London or New York City, all cities which have taken him to their hearts. But it’s in Femi Kuti’s hometown of Lagos, one of the most explosive cities in the world, he has decided to pursue the fight.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, previously Ransome-Kuti, was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 1938. His family belonged to the Egba branch of the Yoruba tribe. His father, like his grandfather, was a minister of the Protestant church, and director of the local grammar school. His mother was a teacher, but later became a politician of considerable influence.
As a teenager, Fela would run for miles to attend traditional celebrations in the area, already feeling that the authentic African culture of his ancestors ought to be preserved. His parents sent him to London in 1958, but rather than study medicine like his two brothers and his sister, Fela chose to register in the Trinity School of Music, where he was to spend the next five years.
While still a student, he married a Nigerian girl called Remi and had three children. In his spare time, Fela played in a highlife band called Koola Lobitos with other Nigerian musicians living in London. Among these was J.K. Bremah, who had previously influenced Fela by introducing him to African music circles in Lagos at a time when Western music predominated there.
Fela returned to the Nigerian capital in 1963, three years after independence. Soon after, he was playing highlife and jazz, fronting the band with those of the musicians who had come back from England. Over the next few years, they performed regularly in Lagos and then in 1969, in the midst of the Biafra war, Fela decided to take Koola Lobitos to the United States.
In Los Angeles, he changed the name of the group to Fela Ransome-Kuti and Nigeria 70. At the club where they were playing, he met an African-American girl, Sandra Isodore, who was a close friend to the Black Panthers. She introduced Fela to the philosophy and writings of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver and other Black activists and thinkers, through which he was to become aware of the link existing between Black peoples all over the world. Through this insight, Fela also gained a clearer understanding of his mother’s fight for the rights of Africans under colonial rule in Nigeria, together with her support of the Pan Africanist doctrine expounded by Kwame Nkrumah, the Ghanaian Head of State, who had negotiated independence for his country with the British.
While in Los Angeles, Fela also found the inspiration he was seeking to create his own unique style of music, which he named AfroBeat. Before leaving America, the band recorded some of these new songs.
Back home, Fela once again changed the name of the group, this time to Fela Ransome-Kuti & Africa 70. The Los Angeles recordings were released as a series of singles. This new African music was a great success in Lagos, and Fela was to open a club in the Empire Hotel, called the Afro-Shrine. At that time, he was still playing the trumpet, having not yet changed to the saxophone and piano. He started singing mostly in Pidgin English rather than Yoruban, so as to be understood all over Nigeria and in neighboring countries. In his songs, he depicted everyday social situations with which a large part of the African population was able to identify.
Young people from all over Nigeria flocked to hear his songs, which developed themes relating to Blackism and Africanism, encouraging a return to traditional African religions. Later he was to become satirical and sarcastic toward those in power, condemning both military and civilian regimes for their crimes of mismanagement, incompetence, theft, corruption and marginalization of the underprivileged.
In 1974, pursuing his dream of an alternative society, he built a fence around his house and declared it to be an independent state: The Kalakuta Republic. To the chagrin of the bourgeois section of Nigerian society, this act of defiance was soon to spread throughout the entire neighborhood as more and more people were inspired by Fela’s stance. The authorities remained vigilant, fearing their potential power of his ‘state within a state.’
On countless occasions, Fela was to suffer the consequences of his scathing denunciations with arrests, imprisonment and beatings at the hands of authorities. With each incarceration and violent confrontation with the powers that be, Fela became more outspoken, changing his family name from ‘Ransome’ to ‘Anikulapo’ (‘he who carries death in his pouch’). His notoriety spread and his records began to sell in the millions. The population of the Kalakuta Republic grew amidst mounting criticism, particularly of the young people, many of whom were still in their teens, who left their families to live there.
During the Festival for Black Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in Lagos in 1977, Fela sang ‘Zombie,’ a satire against the military, which was to become enormously popular throughout Africa, bringing down the fury of the Nigerian army upon him and his followers. As Fela relates in ‘Unknown Soldier,’ a thousand soldiers attacked the “Kalakuta Republic,” burning down his house and beating all of its occupants. The song tells that, during the course of this attack, his mother was thrown from a first floor window and later died from her injuries. Homeless and without his Shrine, which had also been destroyed along with the entire neighborhood, Fela and his group moved to the Crossroads Hotel.
A year later, Fela went to Accra (Ghana)to arrange a tour. Upon his return, to mark the first anniversary of the destruction of the Kalakuta Republic, Fela married twenty seven women in a collective ceremony, many of whom were his dancers and singers, giving them all the name Anikulapo-Kuti. After the wedding, the whole group set off for Accra where concerts had been planned. In a packed Accra stadium, as Fela played ‘Zombie,’ riots broke out. The entire group was arrested and held for two days before being put on a plane bound for Lagos, banned from returning to Ghana.
Upon his return to Lagos, still with nowhere to live, Fela and his entire entourage squatted at the offices of Decca, where they remained for almost two months. Soon after, Fela was invited with the seventy member-strong Africa 70 to play at the Berlin Festival. After the show, almost all of the musicians ran away. Despite this catalog of set-backs, Fela returned to Lagos determined to continue.
The King of Afro-beat and his Queens went to live in Ikeja, in J. K. Bremah’s house, a new Kalakuta. There, Fela, more political than ever, went on to form his own part, “Movement of the People” (M.O.P.). He presented himself as a Presidential candidate in the 1979 elections that would return the country to civilian rule. His candidature was refused. Four years later, at the next elections, Fela once more stood for President, but was prevented from campaigning by the police, who again rampaged through his house, imprisoning and beating Fela and many of his followers.
Any further presidential aspirations were crushed, however, when a coup brought Nigeria back to military rule. In 1984, with General Buhari in power, Fela served twenty months of a five year prison sentence on trumped-up currency charges. He was only released when, under General Babangida, the judge confessed to having sentenced him with such severity because of pressure from the previous regime. The judge was dismissed from office and Fela was given his liberty.
Over the next decade, with an entourage of up to eighty people, now called Egypt 80, Fela made several visits to Europe and the United States. These tours were to receive tremendous public and critical acclaim, and made an important contribution to the worldwide popular acceptance of African rhythms and culture. Considering himself to be the spiritual son of Kwame Nkrumah, the renowned Pan Africanist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a virulent critic of colonialism and neo-colonialism.
For over twenty years, he became famous as a spokesman for the great mass of people, in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa and the African diaspora, disenchanted with the period of post-independence.
Fela’s sad death in August 1997 was mourned by the nation. Even those who did not agree with him were among the million people or more who attended his funeral. Even the many governmental letters of condolence sent to his family were eloquent testimonials to a great man. His death was attributed to an AIDS-related heart failure, though a more popular diagnosis was that, as a result of the countless beatings at the hands of the authorities, his system was sufficiently weakened to allow disease to enter.
Throughout his life, Fela was sustained by the unconditional love and respect offered to him by the millions of people whose lives he touched. In death, he retains the legendary status to which he was elevated by the throngs of people who came to pay their last respects at his laying in state in Tafa Balewa Square: ‘Adami Eda’ – (Chief Priest). “He will live forever!”
In 2009, Fela Kuti’s legacy gained new significance and popularity. Knitting Factory Records, a new label, licensed the 45-album Fela Kuti catalog. Over the next 18 months, the label will release remasters of all the Fela Kuti CDs in unique digi-packs with the original artwork, as well as certain releases on vinyl for the first time in North America. Knitting Factory Records will also be giving the first official release to the entire Koola Lobitos catalog- this was Fela’s highlife band which he fronted through the 1960’s.
The first release in the series was a compilation set titled The Best Of The Black President. The Deluxe Version includes two CDs and a DVD. The DVD includes segments from “Music is the Weapon”, the Berlin Jazz Festival, “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense,” and interviews with Bill T. Jones and Carlos Moore.
A Broadway musical titled Fela! opened in November at Eugene O’Neil Theatre, a follow-up to the highly acclaimed off-Broadway show. The musical is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening), with a book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones. Sahr Ngaujah and Kevin Mambo play the title character on alternate performances, while Afrobeat band Antibalas and other members of the New York City Afrobeat community, under the direction of Aaron Johnson, perform Kuti’s rousing music live onstage. Winner of 2009’s Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical, Fela! was conceived by Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel. Fela! had its world premiere at Off-Broadway’s 37 Arts in September 2008, where it enjoyed a sold-out limited run.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Obituary
“Fela was sweet, perhaps not an adjective that would normally be used to describe this tornado of a man, but Fela was sweet to me. This sweetness that I perceived in him emanated from his love for humanity, particularly for those who had drawn life’s short straw.
Hundreds of people depended upon Fela for a living. Many more than he needed to run his Lagos club, The Shrine, or to play in his band. I saw him as a social engineer, concerned with issues of injustice, corruption, the abuses of power. He was ready to lay his life on the line in defense of such causes, which he did on countless occasions.
For his trouble he was beaten with rifle butts, endlessly harassed, imprisoned, vilified by the authorities, despised by bourgeois society (whose sons and daughters were captivated by him). His house was once burned to the ground by a thousand soldiers after they had raped and beaten his followers, thrown his mother and brother from a window, both of whom suffered fractures (his mother was ultimately to die from her injuries).
Each time they were to beat him, though, he always bounced back with a vengeance, stronger than ever. It is my view that the only thing that kept him alive, and the ultimate source of his strength, was the love the people had for him.
And his music – the rumble of thunder and the crack of lightning – layer upon layer of sublimely interwoven rhythm and melody, tangled in a delicious knot of divine inspiration. Deliberate conspiracies of hot brass woven around the intricately hypnotic consistency of bass and guitar lines, all driven by the dual forces of lavish percussion and Fela’s own passion for the precision of his musical vision.
Heaven help any musician who might stray from his given task. Fury would descend upon him until, in mortal terror, he would struggle his way back into the groove. The icing on the cake of a Fela performance was his singers and dancers, fabulous glittering unreal creatures from another world who would exude waves of sensuality and downright sexiness that you could cut with a knife.
All in all, thirty-something people on stage, each playing their part in what Fela called “the underground spiritual game.” In the center of the audio-visual feast for the senses, Fela reigned supreme. He was everywhere at once, playing keyboards, soprano or alto sax, the occasional drum solo, a sinuous dance from one side of the stage to the other and then it was time to sing, the ever-present spliff held in his elegant fingers. No moon and toon and joon for this articulate firebrand. Only eloquent, biting poetic social observation, expressed with a breathtaking clarity and natural authority which placed him firmly in an unsurpassed realm in which he had no equal.
Perhaps Pavarotti can break a wine glass at sixty paces, maybe Bono can make girls wet their pants with a flick of his sweat laden hair, but for sheer master, panache, style and guts nobody could or can beat this guy. To get a bead on who he was, once he had recorded a song, he would never perform it again on stage, no matter how record company execs may plead.
Recently, however, he had ceased his endless harangue of politicians, big business, organized religion, the military, police, etc. (Once, when running for President of Nigeria, he proclaimed that his first act upon being elected would be to enroll the entire population in the police force. Then, he said, “Before a policeman could slap you, he would have to think twice because you’re a policeman, too.” The authorities ultimately refused to allow him to enter the race. Too bad.) He now saw politics as “a distraction,” saying that our only task was to enter into contact with our own spirit, without which “we would not survive.”
His last years were spent in spiritual contemplation. He never left the house, except twice a week to go to the Shrine to play. He wouldn’t arrive until two in the morning. There would be fifteen hundred people waiting for him and he would finish at dawn. And now he has gone. AIDS they said. As far as I’m concerned it was one beating too many which had weakened his body sufficiently to allow disease to enter. He was a giant of a man, but a man nevertheless. The system can only take so much. I went to his funeral.
A hundred and fifty thousand people or so gathered in Tafawa Balewa Square to pay their last respects. Bands played, people queued endlessly to file past his glass coffin. We then ran with the coffin to a hearse (there were still thirty thousand people queuing up) to make the 20 mile journey to the Shrine, where Fela’s children were to carry out a private ceremony for family and friends.
In a cavalcade of vehicles we rode through Lagos City behind a band in the back of a pick-up truck playing Fela tunes. The road was thronged with tens of thousands of people, until we came to the brow of a hill. I looked down across the valley to the distant horizon. The road was filled with people from one side to the other and as far as the eye could see.
A million people or more, and even more came as we passed through each neighborhood. Seven hours to cover 20 miles and the band never dropped a note. As we came nearer to Ikeja, we began to worry. What would happen when we reached Pepple Street, a small side street in which The Shrine was situated. How, in fact would we reach The Shrine with a million people in front of us? Night fell as we drew near. We turned in to Pepple Street. There was hardly anyone there. One million or more people had decided that it was not appropriate for them to be there.
Fela was my friend for the past fifteen years. Our fourteen year working relationship had grown from that friendship. I regret his passing but celebrate his life. He will live forever through the incredible legacy of more than 50 albums of music which he has left up and through the love and respect of the millions of people who knew him, from near or far. He was finally laid to rest in front of his house, Kalakuta, in Ikeja on the morning of Tuesday, August 12, 1997. His son, Femi, played a plaintive sax solo. A gentle rain fell like perfume.
By Rikki Stein. Courtesy of MCA Records.
Yeshe Yeshe (1966)
Mr. Who Are You (1967)
The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions (1969, Stern’s, released 1993)
Blackman’s Cry (1970)
Viva Africa (1970)
Fela’s London Scene (1970)
White Man to Suffer (1970)
Who Are You (1971)
Nai Poi (1971)
Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1971)
Open and Close (1971)
Egbe Mi O (1972)
Na Poi (1972)
Alagbon Close (1974)
He Miss Road (1975)
Fela’s Budget Special (1975)
Expensive Shit (1975)
Noise for Vendor Mouth (1975)
Everything Scatter (1975)
Kalakuta Show (1976)
Ikoyi Blindness (1976)
Yellow Fever (1976)
Upside Down (1976)
No Bread (1976)
Before I Jump like Monkey Give Me Banana (1976)
Again, Excuse O (1976)
Sorrow, Tears and Blood (1977)
Opposite People (1977)
Fear Not for Man (1977)
Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1977)
Observation No Crime (1977)
I Go Shout Plenty (1977)
No Agreement (1977)
Shuffering and Shimiling (1977)
Unknown Soldier (1979)
Authority Stealing (1980)
Music of Many Colors (1980)
Coffin for Head of State (1981)
Original Sufferhead (1981)
Live in Amsterdam – Music Is the Weapon (1984)
Army Arrangement (1985)
Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense (1985)
Beasts of No Nation (1989)
Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (1989)
Confusion Break Bones (1990)
Just Like That (1990)
Underground System (1992)
The Underground Spiritual Game (Quannum Projects, 2004) The Best Of The Black President (Knitting Factory Records, 2009)
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.
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.
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.
Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra is an instinctive, seductive and finely crafted celebration of African and Haitian music.
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.
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.
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, 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)
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’s reggae style includes dub, rock, jazz, afrobeat and psychedelic music elements.
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.
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.
Calle San Dimas 3. Madrid 28015
Metro stations: Noviciado / Tribunal
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.
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 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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.