Sikiru Adepoju was born November 10, 1950 in Nigeria. American percussionist Mickey Hart calls him “the Mozart of the talking drum.” Sikiru Adepoju first came to the focus of the American music scene through his involvement with the Grammy Award-winning Planet Drum project. His technical mastery of the talking drum and various indigenous percussion instruments (dundun, gudugudu, gome, omele, sekere, etc.) have gained acceptance and respect among music listeners of all tastes.
Born in Eruwa, Western Nigeria, Sikiru grew up in a “talking drum family” where he began his tutelage of the instrument at his father’s side (Chief Ayanleke Adepoju), at the age of six. He then went on to tour and record several albums with renowned Nigerian Juju artist Chief Ebenezer Obey and his Inter- Reformers Band. Obey, who called his personal style the miliki (enjoyment) sound, began where noted juju entertainer I.K. Diaro left off. Obey drew in such Western elements as multiple guitars and a Hawaiian steel guitar soloist, adding them to the traditional rhythmic foundation.
After he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1985, Sikiru soon met world-renowned percussionist and leading African music artist Babatunde Olatunji. Shortly after meeting Olatunji, Sikiru joined his Drums of Passion ensemble and began a 17 year period with the group, recording and touring extensively throughout the world, until a year before Olatunji’s death in 2003.
While a member of Olatunji’s Drums of Passion, Sikiru recorded with Stevie Wonder and Carlos Santana, and performed with the Grateful Dead, where he met Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. It was after meeting Hart that Sikiru also joined Hart’s Planet Drum ensemble. In 1991 the group’s debut release, Planet Drum, hit #1 on the Billboard World Music Chart, remaining there for 26 weeks, and went on to receive a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album. In 2002 Sikiru joined Mickey Hart’s Bembe Orisha (party to the spirits).
Adepoju formed various bands, including The Honeymakers, Afrika Heartbeat, Sikiru Adepoju & Heart Beat, and Limbo Rhythm Project.
The Apocalypse Now Sessions, with Rhythm Devils (Rykodisc, 1979)
Juju Jubilee, with Ebenezer Obey (1985)
Drums of Passion: The Invocation, with Babatunde Olatunji (1988) Drums of Passion: The Beat, with Babatunde Olatunji (Rykodisc, 1989) At the Edge, with Mickey Hart (Rykodisc, 1990) Planet Drum, with Mickey Hart (Rykodisc, 1991)
Jungle Fever, with Stevie Wonder (1991)
Drums of Passion: Celebrate Freedom, Justice & Peace, with Babatunde Olatunji (1993)
Big Bang, percussion anthology with various artists (Ellipsis Arts, 1995)
Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box, with Mickey Hart (1996)
Watchfire, with Pete Sears & Friends (1996)
Supralingua, with Mickey Hart and Planet Drum (Rykodisc, 1998)
Honour Simplicity, Respect the Flow, with Kai Eckhardt (2000)
The Best of Mickey Hart: Over the Edge and Back, with Mickey Hart (2002) Ijinle Ilu, with Afrika Heartbeat (2003)
Life After That, with Airto Moreira (2003)
Soup’s on Fire, with Jana Herzen (2003)
21 July 2004 San Francisco Ca: On The Road, with The String Cheese Incident (2004)
Circle of Drums, with Babatunde Olatunji (2005)
Ara Kenge, with Bola Abimbola (2005) Global Drum Project, with Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo (Shout! Factory, 2008) The Rhythm Devils Concert Experience, with Rhythm Devils (2009) Mysterium Tremendum, with Mickey Hart Band (2012) Superorganism, with Mickey Hart Band (2013) RAMU, with Mickey Hart (Verve, 2017)
Obo Addy was born January 15, 1936. He was a prominent member of the first generation of African musicians to bring their traditional and popular music to Europe and the United States of America. This versatile magician of the drums embodied the past, present and future of Ghana’s musical culture. He celebrated past traditions while embracing new ideas and foreign influences. Internationally, Obo Addy’s contribution can be measured by the fact that he was one of the key originators of the seminal musical movement now known as “Worldbeat.”
His musical background was a combination of the rigorous standards of ritual music he learned from his father, a Wonche Priest (A Wonche Priest of the Ga culture is a traditional spiritual healer, herbalist, community adviser and conflict mediator. His skills include complete mastery of music and dance as used in rituals he performs for the community.), with the flashy international pop music he performed as a young professional with big bands in Accra, Ghana. After moving away from performing Western standards on the nightclub circuit, Obo Addy joined the National Arts Council of Ghana, becoming a master in the traditional music and dance of the many cultures in Ghana. He later moved to the United States where he created two colorful performing ensembles, each expressing one of the two closely-related sides of his musical personality: traditional and popular.
Okropong, meaning “eagle” in Obo Addy’s native Ga language, performed traditional Ghanaian music using a variety of hand and stick drums, talking drums, bells and shakers. While the musicians built layers of driving rhythms and singing, the dancers, clad in colorful West African garments, engaged in an energetic physical “conversation” with the drummers and the audience. Occasionally, Obo Addy complemented the drummers by playing the Dzili or Giri (a marimba-type instrument) in a manner which demonstrated the strong connection between traditional African music and jazz improvisation.
Bringing the jazz connection into the fore was Obo Addy’s second ensemble Kukrudu (Ga for earthquake’). This eight piece ensemble of African and American musicians performed a rich synthesis of musical styles on Ghanaian percussion and Western instruments including saxophone, trombone, guitar, electric bass and drum kit.
Not only was he a percussionist of consummate skill, but Obo Addy was a singer and vocal arranger of unique character whose harmonic ideas and expressive vocal tone demonstrate for audiences the very real connections between West African and African-American singing styles. The musical compositions performed by both Okropong and Kukrudu were are frequently preceded by stirring polyphonic vocal introductions which displayed these characteristics.
In addition to his performing activities, Obo Addy gave instrumental and dance residencies at academic institutions and was the founder and artistic director of the annual Homowo Festival of African Arts in Portland, Oregon. This festival showed American audiences how the music and dance performed by Okropong fits into its broader cultural context. Obo created a strong residency program titled “Rhythm Explosion” aimed at high school age students and not only showed the evolution of traditional to contemporary music but builts in several lecture-demonstrations for music students.
Since his international debut at the 1972 Munich Olympic games, Obo Addy toured extensively in Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Australia, throughout the seventies with his brothers in Oboade, and since 1980 with Kukrudu and Okropong.
In 1992 Obo Addy was commissioned by the innovative classical music ensemble, the Kronos Quartet, to compose “Wawshishijay” for their chart-topping album Pieces of Africa.
In 1996, Obo Addy was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts. This is the highest honor a traditional artist can receive in the United States. Obo was the first African born artist to ever receive the award.
Mustapha Tettey Addy was born in 1942 in a small village near Ghana’s capital Accra. The Addy family was known for their impressive ritual drummers and so Mustapha learned to play the drum from early childhood. He first performed outside of Ghana in 1964, when he toured several eastern European countries. Since then he has been a frequent traveler to Western Europe, specially to Germany. He also toured in the UK and the United States with various groups (e.g. Ehimomo) and led many workshops, especially at Die Werkstatt in Dusseldorf.
In 1982 Addy started to collect and arrange the Obonu drum music which has its main roots in the Ashanti region. He became a student of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana and also traveled through all regions of Ghana where he researched the music and the language of the different tribes. In 1986 Addy started a new group called The Drummers which later became the Obonu Drummers.
In 1988 Mustapha Tettey Addy opened a cultural center in Kokrobitey near Accra. At the same time he founded the Academy of African Music and Arts LTD (AAMAL). This center tries to retain traditional forms of music, arts, dance and craftsmanship. The AAMAL is a school for artists, musicians and teachers, but it also promotes young talents and supports the Pan-African cultural exchange.
Aja Addy was born 1948 in Accra, Ghana. He was an acclaimed Ghanaian master drummer and percussionist. Influenced by his work as a tigari priest, the nephew of Mustapha Tettey Addy combined the power of the Kpanlogo drum with the more relaxed highlife rhythms of Ghana. Aja toured extensively with Reinhard Flatischler’s MegaDrums ensemble.
“My father was a drummer“, explained Aja Addy, “so I learned how to drum and to dance from him. He has taught me the songs we play in our concerts. They are from the villages in the Greater Accra region and you’ll hear them at any occasions, when a baby is born, at parties, weddings and funerals All my musicians are Ga, a people of fishermen, hunters, carpenters or masons like me. My family taught me how to work with cement. What kind of job you get depends on the region where you live. For example I lived near the river so I learned how to swim and fish, but when the river carried no water, we had to hunt, so I learned all this, but in different seasons. Once every year we go to Ghana to say hello to my family and to have the ceremonies. I also teach my students there.”
After two successful solo releases, Aja Addy recorded a live album titled Live Refreshment with his band Tsui Anaa (Patience). It was recorded in Bremen, Germany and covered traditional songs and rhythms of the Ga people in Ghana. They are played at ceremonies as well as parties and dance festivities.
Conducted by Emile Biayenda, Les Tambours de Brazza works with rhythms from all over Africa, with particular emphasis on rhythms from Congo-Brazzaville, their home. There are approximately 50 different ethnic groups living in the Congo, and each of them lays claim to their own rhythms. Members of the company come from various of these ethnic groups, bringing great diversity and richness of culture to the sound of Les Tambours.
Emile Biayenda leads the group from his seat at the trap drum kit, and freely exhorts his musicians to mix traditional rhythms with urban influences and electric bass. Formed in 1991, the group has been performing, recording, and touring ever since, although never in North America. They have released several CDs, played at major world music festivals in Europe, including Musiques Metisses in France, the Moers Jazz Festival in Germany, the Roots Festival in the Netherlands, among many others. In addition to concerts the group delivers wonderful workshops for school-age children, and adults. They have toured most of Europe, and North Africa, as well as Japan, and Hong Kong.
Fellé Vega, is a renowned Dominican artist; Dominican percussionist native of Santiago De Los Caballeros who defines himself as an Imaginary Folklorist.
Percussionist, composer, inventor, instrument designer, who over the course of his multi-faceted 25-year career has shared the national and international stage with many notable artists, has participated in numerous jazz festivals around the world and led several musical groups, has served as instructor and lecturer at percussion workshops in addition to being a composer and designer of musical instruments.
This craftsman of rhythms and varied instruments exhibits in his music a strong ethnic fusion that is the result of the African, Spanish and Taino influence ever-present in the Caribbean.
Devoted to finding the sound of life, Fellé has distinguished himself by his experimentation with recyclable materials and everyday objects that have percussive possibilities, such as pails, lids and pots, which he then turns into musical instruments. His use of such materials to create music has earned him on many occasions the title of musical wizard from Dominican music critics.
Fellé currently heads the Monday’s concert series Monday’s Jazz every Monday in Bar Code, is the musical director of the jazz and world music group Orquesta de las Danzas Mezcladas, and member of the most famous percussion quintet in the country Cuero, Madera y Metal, as well as the music coordinator of the Palafitos Jazz Festival in Moca.
He is the creator and director of motivational percussion workshops offered at public and private schools called Tocando la Vida, (playing the life) and conducts an innovator idea for workshops based on percussion dynamics for corporate human resources department called SonTeam.
Fellé designs and manufactures percussion instruments under his own trademark, Tokit, for which he uses wood and recyclable materials. The percussion instruments called Boombaquin (percussion box), Tata, Gargaritas, Gayumba, Cuadrangarang, and Tambiro are some of his original creations.
At the moment, he is pointing all his energies in commercialize internationally the Boombakini. This instrument was designed by Fellé in the early 1990s and has being played by several Dominican and international musicians around the world. This is the first Dominican instrument that has been patented, something that makes Fellé very proud.
Retreta para el alma, by Felle Vega and La Orquesta de las Danzas Mezcladas (2005)
Farafina was founded in the early eighties in Burkina Faso. Right from the beginning they were enthusiastically welcomed by their audiences who were fascinated by so much virtuosity.
Their ability to expand their music without denying their traditional instruments has enabled them to experience new forms and record with musicians such as Jon Hassell, the Rolling Stones, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Daniel Lanois, Billy Cobham, and Joji Hirota. They played several times at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and for 72,000 listeners at the famous Nelson Mandela’s birthday concert in the London Wembley Stadium.
Their music interweaves complex and forceful rhythms and is carried by the melodic lines of balafons, flute and koras. The songs are played on traditional instruments while their lyrics deal with present issues of African realities in a critical though hopeful way.
But they stayed faithful to their own track. So while integrating new orchestral forms and melodies, and adding contemporary sounds (guitar and keyboard), the balafons, koras, flute, jembes, tama, and baras still remain the core and hearth of their music. Last but not least, the arrival of a female voice introduces a new color to this up till now male only ensemble.
During their odyssey of 30 years the group naturally faced some changes. Thus, its founder Mahama Konaté left the group in 1991. Others came and went and still others died. New and younger musicians have joined the group. All came in through the so called “Farafina School” which continues the African tradition of having the children, from their youngest ages on, attend the concerts of their elders and trying to repeat the music they hear all day long. In this way an astonishing and remarkable musical continuity is guaranteed.
Farafina creates a subtle music that is sensitive and ardent at the same time. It draws your body and mind into discovering not only the African life but a universal life nourished with rhythms leading all the way to the roots of jazz.
Reinvented by encounters with modernity, Manding influences, the music of Burkina Faso’s neighboring countries, the melodies of the people of Mali, Niger and the legends of Kong and the chants and drums of Ghana and Benin, all contribute to the richness of Farafina’s s work.
* Farafina Live At Montreux Jazz Festival (Artways Productions ART 2929, 1985). Produced by Artways.
* Faso Denou (Realworld CDRW 35, 1993), produced by Billy Cobham & Daniel Lanois
* Nemako (Intuition Music INT 3241-2, 1998), produced by Michel Schaer and Thierry van Roy
* Kanou (Intuition Music/L’Empreinte Digitale ED 13134, 2001), produced by Heinz Dill and Thierry van Roy.
* Flash of the Spirit (Intuition Music & Media INT 3009-2, 1988). Produced by Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois. Recorded in New-York after a series of five concerts in Europe together with Jon Hassel
* Beauty (CDVUS 14, 1989) Collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto for the recording of three titles
* Steel Wheels (Rolling Stones Records 4657522, 1989). The Rolling Stones invited Farafina to participate on the recording of the track Continental Drift.
Being a self-styled traditionalist doesn’t mean my musical tastes are so staunch that I shun any sonic adventurousness that steps over traditional boundaries. Cross the line into an over-reliance on gimmickry (which can take the form of too much technology or pop pandering for commercial purposes), and you’ve lost me. Taking chances by mixing traditions or styles in ways that leave musical integrity unscathed? You’ve got my attention.
Aziza Brahim, a Sahrawi woman who was born in an Algerian refugee camp as the war over the Western Sahara region was raging, doesn’t exactly go in for traditional Sahrawi music on Abbar el Hamada (Glitter Beat, 2016). Having lived and studied in Cuba and currently a citizen of Spain, some of her songs have an expected, and very welcome, Iberian and Latin edge. She even sings in Spanish for much of the album, the title of which refers to rocky desert landscapes and subject-wise deals with activist concerns like the ongoing plight of the Sahrawi.
The disc also digs into a measure of the “desert blues” sound that many Saharan musicians have become known for, as well as a few galloping rhythms that suggest a more laid back version of Senegalese m’balax (which has always had its own Latin flavors).
Brahim isn’t as frequent in her use of wailing, undulating tones as a lot singers with Arabic roots tend to be. Her approach is more pensive, but she sharpens her tone when needed, and partly because she also plays the bowl-shaped tbal drum while she sings, her voice fits the grooves as naturally as the grooves themselves, be they acoustic or electric. A stunning release all around.
She’s already a groundbreaker for use of the Swedish nyckelharpa (keyed viola) in the music of her native Spain, and now Ana Alcaide takes things a few steps further with Leyenda- World Music Inspired by Feminine Legends (ARC Music, 2016). Female folkloric characters from various cultures (including Spain, Mexico, China, Scotland and Alcaide’s own imagination) are celebrated in songs that range from lullaby-like softness to ritualistic and pulsating.
Nyckelharpa, baroque guitars and bouzouki are sweetened with other strings, reeds, percussion and celestial production values that surround Alcaide’s gracefully penetrating vocals and construct a pair of instrumentals that seem to tell otherworldly tales without any words at all. This is music that could serve as a soundtrack for any ancient or modern fantasy worth conjuring, or bring about just enough of a dream state to take you blissfully away from reality for a while. Either way, it’s stunning.
Chicha, the Peruvian-originated, organ-tweaked, fuzz guitar-laden psychedelic style of music with similarities to Colombian cumbia and Jamaican dub, continues on its revival path courtesy of Austin-based band Money Chicha. Their debut album Echo En Mexico (Vampisoul, 2016) is an irresistibly throbbing beat fest where unyielding layers of Latin percussion support keyboards, guitars and bass that are as trippy in their wall of sound as they are intertwined in their tightness. And tightness is indeed the key.
The chicha sound is one that must not lag in its skipping rhythms or spot-on melodic mesh that weighs in somewhere between surf rock, alternative Latin, Andean tradition, the ghost of Arsenio Rodriguez and music that simply wouldn’t appeal to polite society in Lima, Bogota or, well, Austin. Money Chicha go their own way by eliminating vocals entirely and giving the tracks a subtle funk push with a little extra breathing room among the instruments, resulting in a disc that satisfies to the frenzied max.
Lovers of African drumming and African music in general will happily tune in to West to West (ARC Music, 2016) by Nii Okai Tagoe. He’s a master of many a drum and percussion instrument affiliated with the Motherland and treads a beaten (beating?) path away from tradition by lacing his danceable pieces with horns, keyboards, violin, harp, bass and guitar.
Some unexpected turns are taken with arrangements as well, such as the blues sway of “3 Monkeys.” Not surprising for a gent who’s played with outfits as diverse as Baka Beyond and African Head Charge. This sort of thing has been done before, but Tagoe certainly does it spot-on.
A very different take on percussion and its relationship to the human voice can be heard on Chiaroscuro (Bent Records, 2016) a collaboration involving Baird Hersey & Prana with Nexus. Nexus is a virtuosic percussion ensemble; Prana is a group of singers who all specialize in singing two pitches simultaneously. That dual pitch knack helped inspire Garry Kvistad of Nexus to invent the vistaphone, four octaves worth of chimes gathered into one instrument and the perfect companion to the harmonic series scale of notes that the singers use to achieve their second level of vocal prowess.
The grandiosely-titled tracks on the album (“The Rituals of Dusk,” A Crown of Radiant Fire,” etc.) combine orchestral drums, gongs, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, voices and the debuting vistaphone to create music that I can only describe as equal parts refined and primal, rhythmic and atmospheric, structured and seemingly spontaneous, eerie and comforting, earthy and not of this earth. Repeating patterns of percussion and wordless voices ascend to mesmerizing heights and hover there, exploring in sonic terms the disc’s titular concept of light and dark contrasting yet harmonizing.
The three concluding compositions (including a mind-and-ear-altering Balinese monkey chant) are voices unaccompanied and lose nothing in the absence of their percussive counterparts. So is this disc the pinnacle of traditional music, the complete lack of it or something else altogether? Get it and decide for yourself. And prepare to be spellbound.
I don’t know a great deal about traditional Welsh music and thus can’t say how closely 9Bach adheres to it with their latest release, Anian (Real World, 2016). But I am quite taken with the shimmery emotiveness of singer/pianist/composer/lyricist Lisa Jen’s lead vocals, as well as the sparse yet very sturdy support her bandmates offer on guitar, bass, percussion, harp, hammer dulcimer and harmonies.
While some of the instruments used reportedly stray from tradition, the end result is a perfect fit, with modern production adding a kind of cool mist to softly enveloping music that often has a melancholy, longing feel offset by pure beauty. Anian is one to savor repeatedly.
There’s also a bonus disc, Yn Dy Lais (In Your Voice), that features Welsh-influenced poetry and storytelling rendered in English by the likes of Peter Gabriel and Rhys Ifans. It’s meant to make the nuances of the Welsh language more accessibly artsy and is worth a listen, but the lovely sounds on the first disc are the true reason to get this album.
A world away but still bringing tradition to a different level, Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars take music with roots as old as the Louisiana bayou itself and jolt it full of rock, soul, blues, zydeco and funk energy. Gulfstream (Octavia Records, 2016) is a swampy, sultry, swaggering, sizzling slab of deep-south musical gumbo that will delight anyone who loves the celebratory sounds of New Orleans and Lafayette and appreciates the need to cool down for a ballad like the Aaron Neville-ish title track. It’s a party, albeit from the heart.
Richard Bona, the “African Sting,” melds his smooth Cameroonian roots music with the sounds of Afro-Cuban band Mandekan Cubano on Heritage (Qwest Records, 2016). African and Latin musical traditions have been best friends for a long, long time thanks to their shared origins, and Mandekan Cubano’s piano, dual percussion, trumpet and trombone lineup expertly underpins Bona’s joyous salsa-infused numbers and his softer side. Primarily a bassist but adept on numerous instruments, Bona adds unexpected touches like electric sitar to the range of Afro-Latin delights that comprise a very fine release.
Brazilian music, a familiar world staple for decades, has more recently been fused with electronica to degrees that some traditionalists have accepted and others rejected. Put me in the former category. It’s telling that Luisa Maita waited six years since her first album to put out a followup; perhaps she wanted to see how the Brazilian/electronica scene would play out in the interim. Her sophomore release Fio da Memoria (Cumbancha, 2016) has the breathy, sensual feel that’s nearly a given when it comes to female Brazilian singers, and the tunes roll out on a foundation of grooves rooted in samba, even if they’re not always rendered on organic instruments.
Maita’s steamy sentiments translate well, as the sung-in-English “Around You” demonstrates, and she’s got some stories of substance to tell, like “Na Asa,” a musical tale of dreams realized. Fio da Memoria is a keeper for sure, but Maita’s vocal mix of subtle and searing would benefit even more from backing that likewise balances real and electronic sounds equally.
If you need a reminder of how well traditional Ethiopian music meshes with jazz, The Rough Guide to Ethiopian Jazz (World Music Network, 2016) will handily serve. Trailblazer Mulatu Astatke kicks off with the horn-heavy proclaiming of “Gamo” and things jump ever further back into the Swinging Addis feel of the 60s and 70s from there.
While at only 9 tracks the collection can’t cover the whole spectrum, what you get is choice. Serpentine instrumentals are the bulk of it, including NYC’s Budos Band providing impressive overseas translation of the sound, but the soulful vocal thrills of Tlahoun Gessesse and Gabriella Ghermandi show just how large a role male and female voices also played (and play) on the scene. A superb sampler.
Award-winning Cuban jazz master is set to perform on Friday, September 16 at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This concert is part of the Global Fridays series.
Prieto’s innovative drumming techniques and compositions have had powerful effect on the global Latin and jazz scene. Also a gifted educator, Prieto has worked with bands led by Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman and Eddie Palmieri, among others.
The spectacular rhythms of The Drummers of Burundi have been cited as inspirational to rock and folk musicians The Clash, Echo & The Bunnymen, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez & Malcolm McLaren. Yet, these master drummers, from Burundi (the small African country between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania) almost at the very heart of Africa, rarely travel abroad or tour and the making and playing of these drums remains a privilege that can only be handed down from father to son.
The drums are made from a tree that grows only in Burundi, and the Drummers plant the seeds of the trees to maintain their drum-making skills for future generations.
Originally, The Drummers of Burundi accompanied the King on his travels; today they play at local festivities, national events and are considered by the Rundi (the inhabitants of Burundi) to be the most important representatives of the country’s musical tradition.
Live in concert the Drummers of Burundi are a fascinating show of music and dance. Full of energy, grace and pure athleticism, the 12-strong troupe, traditionally dressed in colorful robes, perform compelling rhythms and complex syncopations while leaping, dancing, singing, or even fighting imaginary enemies over their drums