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.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Angélique Kidjo

The Grammy Award-winning Angélique Kidjo, was born on 14 July 1960 in Ouidah, a small harbor town on the coast of Benin. Following in the footsteps of internationally famous artists such as Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango, Youssou N’Dour and Mory Kanté, she is the latest star to have emerged from the hotbed of musical talent in Africa.

(Mama Afrika by Angélique Kidjo at Nelson Mandela's Birthday Concert)

Bono of the Irish rock band U2 has described Kidjo as "the galvanizing voice of sub-Saharan Africa" and considers her the "vanguard of the crusade for Darfur"

(Angelique Kidjo Agolo)

Her musical influences include Afropop, Caribbean zouk, Congolese rumba, jazz, gospel, and Latin styles; as well as her childhood idols Bella Bellow, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Miriam Makeba and Carlos Santana.

In the course of her successful career Angélique Kidjo has spread her rhythmic Afro-funk fusion to the four corners of the globe and become almost as famous as her childhood idols. With her fun-loving personality, her on-stage charisma and her totally unique voice, Ms. Kidjo is certainly one of the most popular artists on the current world scene.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cheb Mami

Cheb Mami is an Algerian raï singer who later emigrated to France. He was born Ahmad Khelifati in 1966, in Saida, Algeria. Mami began his career singing at weddings. His plaintive voice earned him the nickname "Mami," which means "the mourner."

Meli meli

Mami's daring innovations pushed rai style of music to new levels of artistic sophistication, assuring its place as a vital component of world music. In 1999, after an eight-year absence during which the Algeria was riven by political and religious strife, Cheb Mami returned home to perform at an open-air concert in Algiers. The concert was a triumph, attracting an audience of 100,000.

Sting feat. Cheb Mami

Speaking of this experience, Mami was quoted by Dan Rosenberg in the Metro Times as saying, "I have hope for Algeria's future.... This concert was to raise morale and to turn the page after all that has happened in Algeria. I hope, above all, that this concert will lead other singers to return home after me."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Habib Koité

Malian guitarist Habib Koité is one of Africa’s most popular and recognized musicians. Habib Koité was born in 1958 in Mali. His supporting cast, Bamada, is a super-group of West African talent, including Kélétigui Diabaté playing balafon.

Habib spent some time wandering around Africa trying on different musical sounds, but in the end he fell in love with the traditions of Mali and its own variety of music. He returned, embraced his homeland and started singing its virtues to the rest of the Malians so they would appreciate its beauty.

Koité is known primarily for his unique approach to playing the guitar by tuning it on a pentatonic scale and playing on open strings as one would on a kamale n'goni. Other pieces of his music sound more like the blues or flamenco which are two styles he learned under Khalilou Traore.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Miriam Makeba

She is known to millions all over the world as "Mama Africa". Miriam Makeba remains the most important female vocalist to emerge out of South Africa. Hailed as The Empress Of African Song, Makeba helped bring African music to a global audience.

Makeba, was born in Johannesburg on 4 March 1932 and is a leading symbol in the struggle against apartheid. Her singing career started in the 1950s as she mixed jazz with traditional South African songs.

She came to international attention in 1959 during a tour of the United States with South African group the Manhattan Brothers. She was forced into exile soon after when her passport was revoked after starring in an anti-apartheid documentary and did not return to her native country until after Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990.

She is the first black African woman to win a Grammy Award, which she shared with Harry Belafonte in 1965.

Miriam Makeba is not only a singer with a remarkable voice. She is also a humanitarian who fearlessly speaks her mind and has never let even personal traumatic events get in her way of fighting for the rights of the oppressed.

UPDATE: Miriam Makeba died in the early hours of the morning in Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy, on 10 November 2008, of a heart attack, shortly after taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Manu Dibango

Emmanuel N'Djoké Dibango (aka Manu Dibango) was born on December 12, 1933 in Douala, Cameroon. Originally trained in classical piano, his musical career began in Brussels and Paris. During a holiday in a camp for Cameroon children living in France, he discovered the saxophone.

In his teenage years, black American jazz icons such as Louis Armstrong and Sydney Bechet had been a powerful motivating force in Manu's life. And in March 2007, the Cameroonian musician paid his own tribute to Bechet, the renowned composer and musician from New Orleans, with a pure jazz opus entitled "Manu Dibango joue Sydney Bechet."

Nicknamed 'The lion of Cameroon', Dibango has been established as the elder statesman of African music, feted all over the globe, collaborating with any number of artists, and continuing to release his own albums. He has been for over 30 years one of the giants of world music.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ali Farka Toure

Legendary singer Ali Farka Toure (October 31, 1939 – March 7, 2006) was born in Niafounke into a North Malian noble family who trace their roots back to the Spanish Moors who first crossed the Sahara to control the salt and gold trade. In 1956, after a chance meeting with the director of Guinea's National Ballet, Keita Fodeba, Toure made the decision to learn the guitar.

The self-taught Malian guitarist, Ali Farka Toure, is on Rolling Stone's list of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time."

It was a prescient choice as he will forever be known as the Bluesman of Africa because of his highly distinctive blues style that's a cross-mix of the Arabic-influenced Malian sound with American blues reminicent of bluesmen such as John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Big Joe Williams.