Saturday, July 7, 2007

AfroPop - Music from Mother Africa

Mother Africa. The well-spring of the human race is a vast land of diversity and contradiction. Much of the continent, regrettably, is beset with war, famine, pestilence, endemic poverty and widespread corruption. Darfur, child warriors, blood diamonds, oil exploitation, deforestation, racial and ethnic divides - by now, familiar concepts conjuring up real images. Then, there's HIV/AIDS - which afflicts enormous numbers of people across the continent. It is long past time the developed world take note and provide the kind of support necessary to alleviate this human suffering. But that is not the subject of this post.

Out of this cauldron of tragedy and disaster comes some of the best, most engaging and involving music on the worldbeat scene. Like many others, I was introduced to African sounds by the likes of Hugh Masekela, Miriam Mkeba and the choral stylizing of South African township choirs.

Since that time I've enjoyed exploring the universe of regional African music as well as the world of AfroPop. I owe Ry Cooder for turning me on to a menu of musical styles and ethnic musicians through his many collaborations. Like his milestone work with the late Ali Farka Toure. From that beginning, I started to listen to the music of Mali, Senegal and the Cote d' Ivore - Francophone, west Africa. While at the Festival d' ete in Quebec one summer, I had the opportunity to hear Baba Mal and Amadeau & Miriam. The latter; a blind, married duo from Mali, have a number of music videos and are frequent performers at worldbeat festivals. Both from Griot families, they have a rhythmic, almost trance-like sound to their music.

Benin-born diva Angelique Kidjo is the queen of Afropop. Singing in her native Fon, Swahili, French or English, Kidjo has produced more chart-busting discs than any African musician. Her latest effort features cameo performance from the likes of Peter Gabriel, Alicia Keyes, Ziggy Marley, Carlos Santana, Joss Stone; and, Amadeau & Miriam. Hot and sweet.

Central Africa is a tapestry of varied musical traditions. From the stylistic pop of Kidjo, to the high-pitched and energetic songs of Congo's Papa Wemba. As I explore the continent, I'm finding that I enjoy Afropop as well as traditional, tribal tunes. Kidjo's Naima, the gentle voice of Francophone Congo's Lukua Kanza and Ismael Lo come to mind. Africa offers a lot of sweet and mellow pop tunes to be sampled, in addition to traditional tribal sounds like the Orchestre Baka Gbine, who were recorded in the Cameroon rainforest chanting traditional Pigmy songs.

From Nigeria, with Africa's largest population and an unsettled history of corruption and military rule, the music of the late Fela Kuti from his "Shrine" in Lagos set a standard for contemporary protest. Kuti, who so angered the military government that he spent a bunch of time behind bars for his musical challenges, gave the world a raw, brass-driven jazz that combines influences from James Brown and John Coltrane with traditional Nigerian rhythms and highly charged political messages. Now his two sons continue the tradition. There's a great documentary about Kuti on LINK TV called "The Shrine."

Also from Nigeria, King Sunny Ade, the king of 'juju" music. Ade is pictured on stage in the accompanying image.

[update 12/4/10] Been listening to a lot more Nigerian & Congolese music lately. And I have a new YouTube channel with an AfroPop play list that numbers almost 50 videos. Of course, it changes as YouTube pulls vids on a regular basis due to unclear copyright. That really irks me. It is obviously in the Artist's best interests to put themselves out there. But that's another subject. I've been listening to young, outspoken Nigerian Hip Hop artist Nneka. She's dope, pure and simple.

Then there's the bevy of Congolese Pop Divas, sexy, slinky and beautiful. I'm thinking of Barbara Kanam, Tshala Muana and Meje.

Naturally I'm leaving a lot of great talent out of this post, in the interests of readability. You can find a link list to AfroPop sites on the right sidebar below the post list, archives and a bunch of pictures. Check out some of those links for a lot more information.

I wanted to conclude this post with a few words about the world's most successful Reggae artist. And yes, he's African - not Jamaican. South Africa's Lucky Dube has sold more Reggae discs than any living individual. Not a small accomplishment for an artist that is not yet well-known in the U.S. Dube's sound is highly produced, tight as can be, and fully orchestrated. He's often got a choir working with his enormous stage act. Check him out if you love Reggae. This is not roots Reggae, from the streets and raw. No, it is the height of the slick production piece of the genre. Infectious and very danceable nonetheless.

1 comment:

Therese said...

From Burkina Faso, Cameroon, The vory Coast, Mali, and Senegal in Africa, and from France in Europe, African Francophone reggae consists of a brilliant mix of artists and beats. Just wanted to share with you music lovers out there, this amazing track!!

Afro Reggae Party - FREE Song: 'Egaux w/Asney'!!