Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba – Routes (Twelve Eight Records, 2018)
Routes is the new album by North Carolina-based Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba. Diali Cissokho is a Senegalese kora maestro who moved to Pittsboro a few years ago and formed a band with American musicians.
This new recording has deep Senegalese and North Carolinian roots. Diali Cissokho traveled with his American bandmates to his birthplace, M’bour to record an album together. The band’s bassist and producer Jonathan Henderson and engineer Jason Richmond setup a mobile unit in a hotel near the ocean and invited local musicians.
After the sessions in Senegal, the producer added North Carolina musicians to the tracks. Guests included renowned violinist Jennifer Curtis, North Carolina Heritage Award-winning mandolinist Tony Williamson, jazz and gospel vocalists Shana Tucker and Tamisha Waden, and the excellent pedal steel guitar player Eric Heywood.
The final result was Route, an eclectic and deeply satisfying album that features a mix of traditional jali (griot) kora, Afropop, Senegalese salsa and American gospel, jazz and North Carolina roots music.
Mwinda is the fourth studio album by Angolan singer-songwriter and likembe (thumb piano) player Lulendo Mvulu. Most of the album is radio friendly likembe-fueled Afropop although he also treats the listener to rootsier sounds.
Highlights include the engaging title track “Mwinda,” where Nigerian Afrobeat, led by pioneering drummer Tony Allen, meets Angolan vocals and fascinating likembe. Equally good is “Africa Meu Amor,” another Afropop-infused track featuring Tony Allen once more and the prominent sound of the likembe.
Belgian multi-ethnic band Zanzibar plays an unexpected mix of rhythmic Afropop music, harmonica-based American blues, boogie woogie, jazz, Haitian folk music and even a traditional African American prison work song titled “‘Berta ‘Berta”.
Zanzibar uses vocals in various languages, including English, French, Kirundi (language of Burundi) and Haitian Creole.
Band members include vocalist Desire Ntemere from Burundi on vocals; Belgian multi-instrumentalist Renaud Patigny on piano, keyboards, balafon, and vocals; Kankan Bayo from Guinea Conakry on percussion and vocals; and Belgian harmonica ace Genevieve Dartevelle, who also plays didgeridoo.
Genevieve Dartevelle delivers outstanding performances on the harmonica.
Singer and multi-instrumentalist, Ze Manel is one of the most famous and influential contemporary musician to emerge from the West African country of Guinea Bissau. By the age of seven, Ze, playing drums and acoustic guitar, had become the main attraction of Super Mama Djombo band.
During the 1970’s, this seminal orchestra played a major role in the liberation struggle of this former Portuguese colony. In 1982, Ze released his first solo album Tustumunhos di Aonti, which sounded the alarm over the formation of a new repressive ruling class in Guinea Bissau. The album was a national event (people in Guinea Bissau today still sing the songs from this soulful, relevant album), but the political environment was heating up and Manel’s fans were concerned for his safety. Manel fled his homeland.
This self-exile took him to Portugal, France and, finally, the United States. His American debut album, Maron di mar (Cobiana Records) released in 2001, was an instant success. It received rave reviews from European and American media and was nominated for best album at the All African Kora Music Awards in South Africa, and best world music album at the Just Plain Folks Music Awards in the USA.
He returned with a new album African Citizen (M10). His message in the title track is more global. Ze calls for African unity, peace, and stability in all continents. He delivers his messages Jji the most beguiling of-tenor voices accompanied by his acoustic guitar and percussion. In this release, Ze’s uniquely innovative talent expands the boundaries of both traditional and contemporary Guinea Bissau dance music, creating a new musical genre that is urban yet profoundly steeped in the root. Sung in many languages (Kriol, Portuguese, English, and French), the lyrics are as declamatory and inflammatory as his rhythms are infectiously danceable. Ze sings of love for family and friends, respect for women, compassion for children, social justice, and he poignantly describes the ravages of poverty, prostitution, AIDS, and the dictatorships that repress the advancement of people.
Ze said he faced the challenge of blending cultures while preserving his own. “I am respecting our traditional music, but we want to make more progress towards meeting other cultures.”
The CD Povo Adormecido (My People Are Asleep) was released on August 1, 2006. Sung in Criolu (Creole), English, Portuguese and French, and set to a series of irresistible Afrobeat grooves, the songs speak to the universal longing to live in peace.
The title track pays tribute to the indomitable spirit of the African people, and raises a challenge to all of us to transcend our limitations when faced with the greatest challenges. Other songs (some with lyrics by Zé, some written in collaboration with schoolteacher/poet Uco Monteiro, journalist Tony Tcheka, and Senegalese computer engineer Pierre H Sagna) address the humanity (and inhumanity) of policemen, the homesickness of political exiles, and the inhumanity of selfish African dictators.
Angélique Kidjo is one of the African singers with more attraction and performance power. The direct rhythms, strong, energetic, taken from the traditions of her homeland, Benin (Western Africa), are combined with the sounds of reggae, samba, funk, soul, gospel, zouk and many more.
On stage is where Kidjo shows her charisma. She is a great dancer. With her very short hair style, she is a real version of the “postmodern” African woman. In addition, she has the ability of communicating with her audience, a gift that is transmitted just as well live as on her CDs. “Even when I am singing alone in my own studio, I imagine that I am with my audience.”
Kidjo was born in Cotonou and was raised in Quidah, a small coastal city of Benin, a country that harbors numerous cultures. The main language of Benin is Fon, the language that Angélique uses more often when she sings, although she also sings in English, a language that she speaks with fluency, as well as French.
Kidjo comes from a family with nine siblings, who have an open mind about international music. Her mother, a choreographer and theatrical director, has had a profound influence in the life of Angélique, who used to act in her mother’s plays when she was a little girl.
Traditional music was not the only kind of music that the young Angelique used to listen to. Benin, in the 1970s was open to numerous styles: salsa, Zairean rumba, makossa from Cameroon, soul, funk, Gospel… even Arabic and Indian music was available. Her brother, a guitarist, introduced her to the sounds of Santana and they memorized his songs.
When she was still an adolescent, Kidjo began to tour Benin performing at local festivals and on the radio. She was one of the few female artists doing this. People in Benin didn’t look kindly to women who tried to make a professional living from singing. “It was so hard. I really had to fight.”
Miriam Makeba, the South African singer, was one of her main idols and Kidjo performed some of her songs, like the Swahili ballad Malaika.
She moved to Paris in 1983, where she found a melting pot of music. Some of the most famous West African musicians, such as Salif Keita and Manu Dibango, were also in Paris, either recording albums or living there. African musicians mixed with Caribbean, French and American musicians. The result was an explosion of hot rhythms and a crossed fertilization of world-beat styles that found an echo in the in the musical experience of Kidjo and created the most appropriate environment so that she could develop her own style.
“Some call it afro-funk, they can call it whatever they want, but it is really difficult to classify my music within only one style. Even when I use my own traditional music I don’t try to recreate just only style but rather I mix it all.”
Kidjo took advantage of her stay in Paris to enroll in a jazz school. “There, I was taught many things, I improved my tone and I learned flexibility for my voice.” It was an important element for someone whose native language is Fon, which is tonic, with a soft oscillating musical profile.
Angélique joined a Dutch Afro-jazz group, Pili Pili, with which she recorded two albums. Together they participated at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1987. That same year she met Jean Hebrail, a French bassist and composer, whom she married sometime later.
Parakou, her first internationally distributed album, featured Jasper van’t Hof, the leader of Pili Pili.
Logozo, recorded in Miami in 1991 and produced by Joe Galdo of Miami Sound Machine, featured Branford Marsalis on saxophone. Marsalis later performed on Kidjo’s album Oremi. The album features Kidjo singing duets with Cassandra Wilson (“Never Know”) and Kelly Price (“Open Your Eyes”).
Kidjo’s most ambitious album, Fifa (1996), featured more than 100 percussionists, flutists, cowbell and berimbau players, singers, and dancers from Benin and one track featuring Carlos Santana.
In 1998, she started a trilogy of albums, Oremi, Black Ivory Soul and Oyaya that explored the African roots of the music of the Americas. Oremi featured Cassandra Wilson, Branford Marsalis, Kelly Price and Kenny Kirkland.
During 2001, Kidjo started to work on the Black Ivory Soul album, drawing connections between Benin and music of Bahía, Brazil. “For the new album, I went to Brazil and wrote songs with Carlinhos Brown, and Vinicius Cantuaria, and I am covering a song by Gilberto Gil, which he wrote after traveling to Benin.” The album also features drummer Ahmir Thompson, from the Roots, and Romero Lumbambo, the Brazilian guitar master, along with African and Bahianese players. “The concept of the album is based on my research into truth and the idea of bringing people together through music.”
Kidjo won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music for her album Djin Djin, and in the same year received Benin’s Commander of National Order of Merit for loyal services to the nation. Kidjo dedicated her Grammy award to the “women of Darfur, the women who are fighting every day to give their kids an education.” On Djin Djin, Kidjo collabnotrated with guest stars including Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana, Joss Stone, Ziggy Marley, Branford Marsalis and Josh Groban. The record was a return to Kidjo’s Beninese roots, capturing the most traditional rhythms from her country. It comprised material sung in her native languages as well as in English and French.
Since March 2009, Kidjo has been campaigning for “Africa for women’s rights”–a movement launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). In September of 2009, UNICEF and Pampers launched the ‘Give the Gift of Life’ campaign to eradicate Tetanus and asked Kidjo to produce a song, “You Can Count On Me,” where each download of the song donated a vaccine to a mother or mother-to-be. She also campaigned for Oxfam at the Hong Kong WTO meeting for their Fair Trade Campaign, participated in the video for the ‘In My Name Campaign’ with Will I Am from The Black Eyed Peas, and was one of the LiveEarth Ambassadors for the 2010 ‘Run For Water’ events along with Jessica Biel and Pete Wentz.
Also in 2010, musician and philanthropist Peter Buffett and Kidjo teamed up to release “A Song For Everyone.” 100% of proceeds from the sale of the song benefited the Batonga Foundation, an organization founded by Angelique to advance education for girls in Africa.
Oyo, released in 2010, celebrates the music that shaped Kidjo’s artistic formation, including “Lakutshona Llanga,” a lullaby made famous by Kidjo’s hero, Miriam Makeba; Yoruban interpretations of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” and Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti;” a collaboration with Diane Reeves on “Monfe Ran E,” a tribute to the Aretha Franklin hit, “Baby I Love You;” and a take on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat.”
Oyo features a band of acclaimed musicians, including guitarist Lionel Loueke, Christian McBride on upright bass, Kendrick Scott on drums and Thiokho Diagne on percussion. Trumpeter Roy Hargove makes a memorable appearance on “Samba Pa Ti.”
Kidjo’s 2014 album Eve (429 Records) is named after Kidjo’s mother. Eve is a collection of songs dedicated to the power of African womanhood, mostly those women Angelique grew up with in her native Benin. The guests on the album include Dr. John, Rostamm Btmanglij (Vampire Weekend), the Kronos Quartet and the Orchestra Philharmonique du Luxumbourg, as well as guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Steve Jordan, bassist Christian McBride and Senegalese percussionist Magatte Sow.
In 2015 Angelique Kidjo won her second “Best World Music Album” Grammy Award for her Eve album. That same year Kidjo released Sings, recorded with the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg, conducted by Gast Waltzing. This project fused the classical music traditions of Europe and the rhythms of her native land. Kidjo recreated nine classic pieces from her 24 year discography and two new songs (“Otishe,” “Mamae”) from the sessions of her Eve album.
The guest artists on Sings include upright bassists Christian McBride and Massimo Biolcati; guitarists Lionel Loueke, Dominic James and David Laborier; Gast Waltzing on flugelhorn; several native Beninese singers, and Brazilian classical guitarist Romero Lubambo.
“The orchestra brings different textures to my life and music,” said Kidjo about her symphonic collaboration. “Unlike in pop music, the orchestra doesn’t follow you, it leads and dares you to follow it. If you don’t do this successfully, the songs suffer and the communication is lost. But I love the challenge of doing new things. I never want to get too comfortable with what I’m doing, and I love my work too much to repeat myself.”
In addition to her music career, Kidjo has devoted much of her adult life to global charity work. She is a spokesperson for UNICEF and Oxfam, and created her own charity, Batonga, which aims to create a culture that values and supports the secondary education of girls in Africa.
Fatoumata Diawara (a.k.a. Fatou) was born of Malian parents in the Ivory Coast in 1982. As a child she became a member of her father’s dance troupe and was a popular performer of the wildly flailing didadi dance from Wassulu, her ancestral home in western Mali. She was an energetic and headstrong girl and at the age of 12 her refusal to go to school prompted her parents to send her to live and be disciplined by an aunt in Bamako. She was not to see her parents again for more than a decade.
Her aunt was an actress, and a few years after arriving, Diawara found herself on a film set looking after her aunt’s infant child. The film’s director was captivated by Diawara’s adolescent beauty and she was given a one-line part in the final scene of the film Taafe Fangan (The Power of Women). This led to a lead role in a film by the celebrated director Cheick Omar Sissoko: 1999’s La Genèse (Genesis).
At the age of 18 Diawara traveled to Paris to perform the classical Greek role of Antigone on stage. After touring with the production she returned to Mali where she was given the lead in Dani Kouyaté’s popular 2001 film Sia, The Dream of the Python. The film tells the story of a West African legend called Sia, a young girl who defies tradition. To many in Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and Burkina Faso, Diawara is Sia thanks to the film’s enormous success throughout the region.
Offers for further acting roles poured in but Diawara’s family wanted her to settle down and marry and forced her to announce, live on Malian television, that she was abandoning her career as an actress.
In 2002 Jean-Louis Courcoult, the director of the renowned French theatre company, Royale de Luxe, travelled to Bamako to offer Diawara a part in his new production. An unmarried woman is considered a minor in Malian society so her family’s permission was required. They refused. After much soul-searching Diawara took the daring decision to run away and at the Bamako airport she managed to board a plane for Paris, narrowly escaping the pursuit of the police who had been alerted to the girl’s “kidnapping.”
With Royal de Luxe, Diawara performed a variety of roles around the world including tours in Vietnam and Mexico and throughout Europe. During rehearsals and quiet moments she took to singing backstage for her own amusement. She was overheard by the director and was soon singing solo during the company’s performances. Encouraged by the reception from audiences she began to sing in Parisian clubs and cafes during breaks from touring. Here she met Cheikh Tidiane Seck the celebrated Malian musician and producer who invited her to travel with him back to Mali to work on two projects as chorus vocalist; Seya, the Grammy–nominated album by Malian singer Oumou Sangaré, and Red Earth, the Grammy–winning Malian project by American jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. When the albums were released Diawara toured worldwide as singer and dancer with both artists.
On her return to France, Diawara took the role of Karaba in the popular touring musical Kirikou and Karaba. She was encouraged to take the role by her friend Rokia Traoré, who also inspired her to take up the guitar. Diawara bought a guitar and started to teach herself and to write down her own compositions.
She made the decision to dedicate herself to her passion: music. She worked to complete an album’s worth of songs and started recording demos for which she composed and arranged all of the tracks, as well as playing guitar, percussion, bass, and singing lead and harmony vocals. An introduction from Oumou Sangaré resulted in a record deal with World Circuit and the recording of her debut album.
Between recording sessions she found time to collaborate on Damon Albarn’s Africa Express and contribute vocals to albums by Cheikh Lô, AfroCubism, Herbie Hancock’s Grammy–winning Imagine Project and Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou.
Diawara’s EP Kanou was released by World Circuit Records in the U.K. and Europe and by Nonesuch Records in North America. World Circuit released her debut album, Fatou, in Europe and the U.K. in the fall of 2011 to critical acclaim; Nonesuch released the album in North America on August 28, 2012.
Following the release, Diawara performed as part of Damon Albarn’s album and live project Rocket Juice and the Moon, which featured himself, Tony Allen, and Flea. She also is featured on Roberto Fonseca’s most recent release Yo and on Bobby Womack’s album The Bravest Man in the Universe, which was co-produced by Albarn and Richard Russell. Diawara has also toured extensively, selling out venues across Europe, Canada, and Australia.
Lokua Kanza was born in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire). His father is one of the Mongo people, known for their polyphonic singing, and his mother comes from Rwanda, known for its sophisticated court music. In Kinshasha he learned to sing in church choirs. To finish his studies he went to the Conservatory at Kinshasa, where he learned music theory, harmony and composition while perfecting his instrumental knowledge.
His decision to become a singer happened after he’d attended one of Miriam Makeba’s concerts, then her friend Ray Lema gave him his first guitar, and he made his first public appearances in some Zairean rumba bands. This was followed by a period of study – music theory and orchestration – at the conservatoire. He was always ready to listen to everything that came his way, from Bach to chanson by way of Rhythm ‘n Blues, pop and bossa nova.
Lokua Kanza became an exceptionally-gifted musician, playing guitars, sanza, percussion, flute, mandolin, bass, piano, and keyboards. Beginning in 1980, he spent the early days of his career along the Gulf of Guinea from Zaire to Ivory Coast, but his talent really came to the fore in the group of the great Zairean singer Abeti Masikini (a.k.a. La Reine Abeti).
In 1984 he left for Paris to take some jazz guitar lessons. He quickly became part of the African community there and accompanied Ray Lema, Papa Wemba, French jazz band Sixun and Manu Dibango.
In October of 1992, Lokua Kanza gave his first major concert in Paris, opening for Angelique Kidjo at the Olympia. Alongside him were two partners who have remained with him ever since: the radiant Julia Sarr (vocals), from Senegal, and his own brother, Didi Ekukuan (bass, vocals, various percussion, talking drum, tambourine, etc.)
Lokua Kanza recorded his first album, Lokua Kanza, during winter 1992/93, and it revealed-a deeply-inhabited universe “I wanted to rediscover the magic of the nights I spent in Kinshasa when I was a child,” he says. With its nostalgic atmospheres, its ethereal, meditative climate, destitution, simplicity, minimal chords, liquid, undulating, the art of Lokua Kanza imposed its highly subtle difference right from the very first hearing.
As early as the end of 1993, the bard became a star. He signed with a major record-company, toured all over the world, opened for Youssou N’Dour (he sings on several titles in the Guide (Wommat) and Patrick Bruel, produced sessions for his friends Papa Wemba and YYoussou N’Dour (in Peter Gabriel’s studios)… and got down to the producing of his second album, Wapi Yo (1995). This was a commercial success. However, the achievements of his third album, titled 3, more modest, didn’t have the same success.
After a three-year “retirement” (not that he was inactive, for he composed continuously), Lokua Kanza returned with Toyebi Te, sung in French, English and Lingala. The musicians featured included Didi, his old comrade, guitarist Sylvain Luc, percussionists Komba Bellow and Greg Bondo, the strings of the Bulgarian Symphony orchestra, his daughter Malaika and a choir made up of his four children. His 2010 album Nkolo includes vocals in Lingala, Portuguese and French.
Julien Jacob arrived in France during his early childhood. His West-Indian parents settled in the South of France. For him, who was born in Benin, Africa, it was the encounter with a new culture. But he kept from his native country the imprint of African chants and rhythms.
H was passionate about music from his early childhood. Julian listened to Jazz, Motown music, mystical Asian chants, ethnic songs and dances. All these seeds enriched his artistic talent
In 1977, he performed on stage for the first time as lead singer for a rock band at the age of 17. After a few years, he decided to go his own way and left the group in 1983. From then on, he concentrated on composing his own music. But during this period, he also worked backstage at concerts by world renowned artists like David Bowie and Miles Davis. Backstage, he had intense artistic encounters, in particular a fabulous evening with Fela Kuti and his musicians.
In 1993, he left the south of France and settled in Paris, a time during which his artistic identity affirmed itself . Inspiration pushed him to sing in a mysterious language which he found within himself. An unknown language which everybody can understand because the words only find their meaning in the emotions they carry. From then on, Julien would sing in his own language.
At the same time, he started writing books. He has forever followed an internal quest and he writes about what he perceives of the invisible life. Music and writing are for him two different ways to express his quest.
In 1995, Julien finally found his adoptive home in Brittany. And from then on, everything moved faster. One year after self-producing a 4 track record, he recorded his first album, Shanti (Warner), and got on the road for 4 years full of stage experiences in France and abroad.
Julien Jacob’s second album, Cotonou, was released worldwide in February 2005 by British label Wrasse Records. To introduce his intimate afro-pop, Julien surrounded himself with his loyal producer and sound magician Ghislain Baran, the talented and famous percussionist Steve Shehan and the master of mandola lute Akim Hamadouche. His friend Rachid Taha a lent him his voice and sings the chorus on the track “Yacob”.
Waldemar Bastos is one of the best known artists from Angola. He’s been living in Portugal for the last years, working with musicians from various backgrounds. His style is characterized by warm laid back sounds, sung in Portuguese, combined with powerful Congolese-style guitars.
”My music arises out of paradox,” says Waldemar Bastos . ”I am a professional musician who barely studied music, an African performer whose first album was recorded in South America, an artist from a war-torn country whose principal themes are peace and optimism, a singer/songwriter who is considered to be the voice of Angola, although I presently live in Portugal.”
Waldemar Bastos was born in Angola, on the border with Congo, in 1954. ‘Five centuries of colonization meant that when I was growing up I heard songs from many different cultures,” he explains. In addition to the African sounds he absorbed, he heard Brazilian music and cites the Beatles, Nat King Cole, the Bee Gees and Carlos Santana as early influences.
Bastos grew up in a country wrecked by war. First, a war of liberation, which began in the early 1960’s and ended in 1974 with the overthrow of the Portuguese dictator Salazar, and then a civil war that lasted for many years. Although both sides in the civil war tried to claim his music as their own, he refused to be drawn into partisan politics, instead offering a message emphasizing the value of all life, the beauty of the world, and the need for hope.
Nevertheless, the political climate in the newly independent country was not supportive of artists. The communist government was even more repressive than the colonial government it had replaced, and Bastos came to feel that he was in potential danger. In 1982 he defected from a cultural delegation visiting Portugal. For a time he lived in Brazil and later in Paris, and he now makes his home in Portugal.
After Angola became independent, Bastos began to write his own songs, in which African guitar-pop is laced with Brazilian and Portuguese influences. He recorded his first album, Estamos Juntos (We’re Together), in Brazil and two more, Angola Minha Namorada (My Sweetheart Angola) and Pitanga Madura (Ripe Pitanga Berry), after his return to Portugal.
Pretaluz (Blacklight) was recorded in the United States and released by Luaka bop. Pretaluz features Angolan and Portuguese musicians.
In April of 2003, Bastos went back to Angola for the first time in many years to perform in the national stadium in Luanda, the capital, in celebration of the ending of years of civil war. Since then he returned half a dozen times more, ensuring that the spirit of his African roots remained a powerful influence on his music.
His 2012 album Classics of My Soul features Derek Nakamoto on keyboards, Mitchell Long on guitars and The London Symphony Orchestra.
The message that Bastos brings to his audiences merges the suffering of his people and a longing for home with optimism and the power of love.