Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Kanda Bongo Man

Kanda Bongo Man is one of the foremost figures in modern African popular music. He formed his first band as a 15-year-old in 1973, together with his two brothers, Soki Vangu and Soki Dianzenza.

The band, Orchestre Bella Mambo (later Bella Bella), toured in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Zaire with their newly created Soukous, a music style that is a cross between Caribbean rumba rhythms and traditional African music.

He is most famous for the structural changes he implemented to soukous music. The previous approach was to sing several verses and have one guitar solo at the end of the song.

Kanda Bongo Man revolutionized soukous by encouraging guitar solos after every verse and even sometimes at the beginning of the song. His form of soukous gave birth to the kwassa kwassa dance rhythm.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Burning Spear

Burning Spear--born Winston Rodney in 1945 in St. Ann's, Jamaica--easily shares the title "The Father of Reggae" with his musical contemporary Bob Marley. Since 1968, Spear's music has defined the genre of "roots reggae," which emphasizes Jamaica's historical links to Africa, the self-determination teachings of Marcus Garvey, and black consciousness themes.

Burning Spear - African Postman

"I don't know how other people see music," Burning Spear reflects. "Some people might see it based upon money, some people might see music based upon opportunity and access. But I see music as life. I see music as inspiration."

Burning Spear - Pick Up The Pieces

Over the course of his career, Spear has released over 20 albums and has been nominated for five Grammy awards. And he remains one of the few reggae pioneers still working and influencing the people today.

Burning Spear - Clip from the documentary 'RISE UP'

Rodney took the name Burning Spear, after the nickname of Jomo Kenyatta, who was jailed by a colonial British government in Africa but rose to become the first president of Kenya.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Souad Massi

Souad Massi, is an Algerian of Kabyle descent, singer, songwriter and guitarist. She fled her homeland after being hounded out by Islamic fundamentalists who took exception to her promotion of independence for young women.

The Storyteller by Souad Massi

In the early 1990s, Massi joined the Algerian political band Atakor. She recorded and performed with the group for seven years. The band, however, with its political lyrics and growing popularity, became a target of fundamentalists. Massi disguised herself by cutting her hair and dressing in male clothing before moving to Paris, France.

Khalouni by Souad Massi

In Paris, she started to create her own unique blend of folk, rock, flamenco and shaabi (Arabic street pop), releasing her acclaimed debut album Raoui ("Storyteller") in 2001. She's toured prolifically for the past few years, and won a Planet Award at the 2006 BBC world music awards. She is defiantly outspoken about the problems in Algeria: "Remaining silent would mean that terrorists have won and that all the intellectuals they murdered died for nothing," she says.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mulatu Astatke

The father of Ethio-jazz, was born in 1943 in the western Ethiopian city of Jimma. Astatke is first and foremost a composer but also a multi-instrumentalist, playing the vibraphone, keyboards and organs. He is further credited as having established congas and bongos, instruments normally central to Latin styles, in Ethiopian music.

Since his youth, Astatke has worked with many influential jazz artists, most notably Duke Ellington. He is the recipient of several awards, including the Berklee Achievement Award.

As Ethiopian songs traditionally focused on vocals his greatest contribution to the music of his country was introducing a new focus on instrumentation.

Of late, Mulatu Astatke has been the center of renewed attention in the West through a compilation on the Parisian series Ethiopiques and a 10” 4-track compilation on the Soundway label out of Brighton England.

Most notably, a number of his tracks were also featured in director Jim Jarmush’s 2005 independent film Broken Flowers with actors Bill Murray, Sharon Stone and Julie Delpy.

A project to re-record some of Mulatu Astatke’s older work as well as new original material has recently been undertaken in collaboration with Will Holland of Quantic fame, drummer Max Weissenfeldt from Poets Of Rhythm, The, trumpeter Todd Simon, and Showboy from Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

One of the most frequently asked questions about Ladysmith Black Mambazo is where their name came from. "Ladysmith" is the hometown of group leader Joseph Shabalala. "Black" refers to a black ox, the strongest ox on the farm. "Mambazo" means axe in Zulu and symbolizes the groups ability to "chop down" the competition, musical or political.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo has won 2 Grammy Awards and been nominated for several others. More poignant, however, is that after apartheid fell, Nelson Mandela brought the group along to join him when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize. The group also performed at his inauguration, when he was made Prime Minister of South Africa. They have also performed for the Pope and the British Royal Family.

Paul Simon & Ladysmith black mambazo

The group's genre of music springs from the 19th century, when Zulu people were forced to work as slaves in the South African diamond mines. Taking the vocal harmony concept from their traditional mbube music, they created a style of music and dance that was expressive, yet extremely quiet, so as not to wake their camp night guards.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lucky Dube

Lucky Dube, singer against apartheid, was born on 3rd August,1964, in Ermelo, Eastern Transvaal, South Africa. His mother had thought that she was unable to bear children, so when he arrived, "Lucky" seemed like the perfect name. Dube first discovered his talent for music when he joined the choir at his school, as a teenager. In the early 1980s, Lucky Dube discovered artists like Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, and began the switch from mbaqanga to reggae.

In 1984 he dared to make a mini-album, “Rastas Never Die”. The then apartheid government saw the album as a challenge, and banned it from the airwaves. It sold a mere 4,000 copies. But he made another (“Think about the Children”, 1985), then another (“Slave”, 1987), all the time notching up more sales and ratcheting up the menace in the music.

The next year Mr Dube got bolder still. At a recording session he sang gently, on to the tape,

Too many people
Hate apartheid
Why do you like it?

His recording engineer stopped the tape, telling him he couldn't say that. But Mr Dube not only said it; he also persuaded the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to air it, the first anti-apartheid song to be played on a white station. The album, “Together as One”, sold 100,000 copies in its first five days, becoming the soundtrack of the anti-apartheid movement. In that week, too—as if Mr Dube had sensed the first ripples of the coming wave of change—eight of South Africa's long-term political prisoners were suddenly released from jail.

(Lucky Dube - Rastas Never Die)

(Lucky Dube - Truth In The World)

With the end of apartheid in 1994 Mr Dube became a world star, signed by Motown. But there was still plenty to sing against at home. He took on drugs (“You go sniffling them glue/No good for you”); promiscuity and AIDS (“Don't you think it's time/to be a little more responsible”) and racial quotas (“We are tired of people who/think that affirmative action is the way out/and is another way of putting puppets/where they don't belong.”)

He also sang against South Africa's appalling crime wave, apparently unstoppable by bodyguards, police or high walls.

Do you ever worry
About your house being broke into
Do you ever worry
About your car being taken away from you
In broad daylight
Down Highway 54

It was not down Highway 54, but in Rosettenville, a suburb of Johannesburg; and it was not in broad daylight, but at 8.20 at night, that Lucky Dube's vehicle was carjacked by five men. He was shot to death in front of two of his seven children. But for his legions of fans throughout Africa and beyond it, mourning the senseless loss of a musician they also considered a liberator, his prophecy had come close enough. (Parts of this post are taken from the Economist magazine)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Alpha Blondy

A member of the Dioula ethnic group, Blondy was born Seydou Kone in 1953, in the Ivory Coast town of Dimbokora. Alpha Blondy was born to a Muslim mother and a Christian father and was brought up by a grandmother who taught him to respect everyone. Alpha Blondy's reverence for all religions and the spirituality he derives from them can be heard on tracks like “God is One” or “Jerusalem” where he sang for unity between all religions in 1986.

(Alpha Blondy - Jerusalem)
Alpha Blondy has always been a critic of authority. He calls himself a defender of free speech and since his breakthrough with “Brigadier Sabari” has fought against injustice as well as racism, harassment and corruption. In 2000 Alpha denounced the mismanagement of government funds for private gain in the album “les voleurs de la république” (thieves of the republic).

(Alpha Blondy - Brigadier Sabari)

(Alpha Blondy - Masada)

Despite the risk, he had the courage to denounce also the mysterious murder of the burkinabè journalist Norbert Zongo. But it was in 1998 that Alpha recorded his most controversial and criticised album: “Yitzhak Rabin”. He also wrote a song calling for the departure of the French military arguing that the Ivory Coast and other former French colonies did not need their services anymore, and the track “guerre civile“ predicted civil war if the politicians did not stop their corruption.