Sunday, December 28, 2008
So everybody's doing it. I was asked along with my co-worker Tebukozza Babumba-Olatunji to do it. I did it. Here it is...my top ten African Albums of the year.
1. Congotronics 3-Kasai All-Stars
2. Africa to Appalachia-Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko
3. Day by Day-Femi Kuti
4. Many Things-Seun Kuti
5. Mandé Variations-Toumani Diabate
8. Warchild-Emmanuel Jal
9. Rebel Woman-Chiwoniso
10. Made in Dakar-Orchestra Baobab
Wayne Manor, the debut album from The Macrotones, an eleven-piece afrobeat band out of Boston, is tight display of funk and percussive aggression that shows a lot promise for the group. Certain songs attack and punch you in the face from start to finish while others slowly creep, ebb, and flow, much like some of their biggest influences, Budos Band, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Afrika 70, and Antibalas.
Funky basslines and tight rhythm section lay down a tight groove over which the horns drive the action and melody of the song in place of a vocalist. While there are only three horns in the eleven piece band, Nate Leskovic on trombone, Andy Bergman on baritone sax, and Jason Buhl on tenor and soprano, make their presence felt with authority with a heavy, deep register.
The percussion section really takes the identity of the album's overall sound. Since The Macrotones don't have a vocalist, they have an elongated, open texture. The clave, shekere, congas, and trap drums fill in the gaps and give the album its lasting impression.
The Macrotones are part of a growing faction of afrobeat bands throughout the east coast. Inspired by Fela and his contemporary disciples, they take on the same challenge as their peers: to continue the legacy of afrobeat with their own sound.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
It was a night of beautiful music, dancing, and people from start to finish at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Red Hot Rio where 16 of the best Brazilian artists in the world touched the stage both contemporary and classic. From bossa nova to samba soul, Jobim to Tropicalia, it was a celebration of Brazilian culture that had the entire BAM Howard Gilman Opera house dancing and going crazy.
The stage was absolutely filled to capacity with Brazilian musicians. Curumin, Ceu, Bebel Gilberto, Jose Gonzalez, and Otto, rotated singing in front of the superstar backing band of Joao Parahyba, Moreno, Domenico, Kassin, Stephane San Juan, Alberto Continentino, Money Mark, Janja Gomes, Ze Luis, Jorge Continentino, and Carlos Darci. Featuring trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, baritone sax, two guitars, bass, 3 percussionists, and 3 singers, the total sound throughout the night achieved beautiful and rich melodies and harmonies, that resonated throughout BAM's beautiful opera house and were accentuated by visual projections.
It started with Jose Gonzalez serenading the audience with his velvety voice. Then Curumin came on the mic and picked things up a notch. Ceu followed and enchanted the crowd with her beautiful voice. Bebel Gilberto came on next and the crowd got progressively warmer. Then Otto came out and got everybody jumping. Things calmed down for a bit, but then the Harlem Samba drum line walked down the center aisle and onstage making the entire audience get on their feet.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Japanpopshow, the new album from Curumin out November 4th on Adrenaline Records, could be the best samba-funk album of the century. Hailing from Sao Paulo, Brasil, Curumin embraces the many sounds to which he has been exposed to create an eclectic, consistently funky sound. Hip-hop, reggae, bossa nova, funk, and rock are all abundantly prominent throughout the album with certain songs featuring one sound more than another.
Curumin has been making music from a young age. He started his first band at 8 and was gigging regularly as a drummer in clubs across Sao Paulo at 14. At 16 he learned to play keyboards. Eventually he enrolled in music school and formed his first band, Zomba, which focused on Brasilian classic funk with dj accompaniment.
Chief Xcel of Blackalicious heard Curumin's last record, Achados e Perdidos, while touring in Brasil and brought him into Quannum Projects. Japanpopshow is the result. This album has one of most inventive, funky sounds of any I've heard this year. Curumin's playing at BAM December 4th; if you like funky, original music, check it out.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Day By Day, the first studio album by Femi Kuti in seven years out November 18th on Downtown Records, re-established the prince of Afrobeat as a voice in the contemporary Afrobeat community. His trademark punchy horn lines and passionate vocals represent Femi's style having grown but not changed significantly. He still has his own style, his own sound, and his own message, different from his father Fela and brother Seun.
As the son of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Afrobeat pioneer, African musical icon, and international protest figure, Femi played in his legendary father's band, Egypt 80, from a young age. He later broke away from Egypt 80 to start his own band, Positive Force, which played at The Shrine, Fela's home club in Lagos, Nigeria, one night a week. Femi has long displayed his father's passion for social justice and political action, but has differed from Fela on many fronts including his religious views and AIDS.
A few of the tracks on Day by Day are studio versions of songs performed on Africa Shrine, Femi's live album and Concert DVD such as "Oyimbo" and "One Two". Almost every song on the album has a strong political message like "Tell Me" and "Demo Crazy". Several of the tracks have a soft, jazzy feel at times such as "Tension Grip Africa" and "Untitled". Using the organ, guitar, trumpet, and various percussion instruments, Femi creates a soft backdrop against which the powerful horn section of Positive Force clashes.
"Do You Know?", a track that starts off with a funky bass line and Femi asking, "Do you know Miles Davis? Do you know John Coltrane? Dizzy Gilespie? Duke Ellington? Do you know Billy Holliday?" has a particularly funky groove. The guitar and organ parts are emphasized in a sly, scratchy manner in the early part of the song before the horn section comes in as a whole and then solos. Femi has been honing his keyboard skills for the past several years. His progress is evident on this track as the funky jazz vibe furnished by the keys and guitar parts is especially accentuated.
Some of the tracks are studio versions of songs performed on Africa Shrine, Femi's live album and Concert DVD such as "Oyimbo" and "One Two". Almost every song on the album has a strong political message like "Tell Me" and "Demo Crazy".
When younger brother Seun released his album Many Things earlier this year, a lot of people in the music community were ready to forget about Femi. People were ready to ordain Seun as the leader of the next generation of Afrobeat. Seun and Femi are very different and Day by Day is a clear example why. Seun, playing with Egypt 80, is picking up where his father left off, playing the same style and representing Fela's legacy. Femi has never been concerned with being the next Fela. Postivie Force and Egypt 80 co-existed for several years before Fela's death. Femi has always had his own style and sound, and Day by Day is a continuation of Femi's legacy of originality.
Femi Kuti Myspace
Thursday, November 6, 2008
The Budos Band, a tight ass band out of Staten Island with a sound that's too funky for words is coming to SOB's next Thursday night. They mix Afrobeat, Soul, Funk, Ethiopian Jazz, and Rock to create a sound that's downright danceably funky with an attitude. Their music has been featured in movies, commercials and NFL films. It's the type of music you imagine playing when a bad-ass Latin mob boss walks into a crowded room and everyone makes room for them. They're on Daptones Records and part of the Brooklyn/NY funk scene that includes Antibalas, Dap Kings, and Chin Chin. They know how to bring the funk hardcore. Definitely a show worth checking out...
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Fifties bossa nova mixed samba with jazz, sixties tropicália mixed samba with rock, and A Filial mixes Brazilian roots music and other world influences with hip hop. On $1,99, with the group’s percussionist Rodrigo Pacato, A Filial explores the unmistakable rhythms and harmonies of Northeastern Brazil and the new spirit of
Rapping in English as well as Portuguese, A Filial simultaneously is recognizable and foreign to the average American hip-hop fan. Their beats draw from American influences like the Beastie Boys and NWA, as well as Brazilian macaratu. They mix the two worlds of sound perfectly to create a soundscape that’s delightfully danceable and downright funky.
A Filial came out of
Now A Filial is releasing their first album, growing in popularity internationally, and growing together as a group. Their sound incorporates influences and styles from all over the world, so as they grow and travel to new places, expect their sound to continue to grow as well.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Africa to Appalachia spans continents to create a sound all its own. Featuring African instruments like the kora and ngoni alongside the banjo, fiddle, and guitar, the ensemble finds an extremely comfortable common denominator and explores the possibilities therein. Mansa Sissoko's African vocals dip and glide much like bluegrass fiddler Casey Dreissen's solos, and the banjo blends perfectly with the kora to provide a seamless harmony. The polyrhythms, syncopation and bended pitches that define bluegrass all come from their African heritage, so it's no real surprise the two musical cultures speak the same language so effortlessly.
Many people think of the internet or phonographic recording devices as the means of globalization's effect on music cultures, but the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade predates them both. The banjo is a descendant of West African instruments like the ngoni, akonting, and xalam. It was first played by African Slaves in the American South and Appalachia. The genres in which the banjo has traditionally thrived, bluegrass, early jazz, and especially the minstrel shows of the 19th century, all trace part of their lineage back to Africa as well.
Jayme Stone, who has employed an expansive musical worldview throughout his career, traveled to Mali, West Africa to explore the roots of his instrument in 2007. He traveled the country and studied with African string masters Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate, and of course, Mansa Sissoko. It was in Sissoko that he found a partner with which to collaborate. The two used the universal language of music to connect and get to know each other's history, "With little common language between us, we turned to music for communication," Stone reflects. "This tangible heart-to-heart connection was there immediately and I knew that he was the perfect collaborator for the project."
Sissoko descends from a revered line of griots, or family line of musicians, historians, and dispute settlers, that date back hundreds of years to the Mande Empire. Griots play a special role in African culture, similar to the one musicians play in American culture. "The griot is someone who is there to play the role of blood in the society, for the society to live," says Sissoko, "He gives life to the society, musically, using carefully chosen words."
Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko have given the world a gift by simultaneously creating a beautiful collection of music and giving testament to music's ability to bridge gaps, facilitate cultural dialogue, and bring people together. This album is a continuation of the cross-cultural exchange that was started in the 15th century. It was made possible by other musical works that have explored the history of African-American music and it will inspire others in the future. They'll be performing at Drom in the East Village on October 9th. Judging by their album, their live show should be even more captivating, so definitely check them out.
Jayme Stone Myspace
Thursday, September 4, 2008
The Afrobeat Blog: First of all, at 63 you do more than most people in their 20's. In the past year you've traveled to Africa, released an album on your own record label, where do you get your energy from?
Burning Spear: It varies, my energy is coming from the sun, my energy's coming from my mind, my heart, I try to focus. My energy's coming from all different directions.
The Afrobeat Blog: What was it like working with Bootsy Collins on your latest album?
Burning Spear: Working with Bootsy was very unique. I decided to do something different by bringing in Bootsy and Bernie. I did something on my album I never did before. I did a different thing changing up the instruments.
The Afrobeat Blog: Rockers is one of my favorite all-time films. How would you compare your story to that of Horsemouth from Rockers by taking on the record industry by yourself to change things for the better from the musicians' perspective?
Burning Spear: There's a lot of things that I can do today, and a lot of things I've done in earlier times, and those things come back to be a part of the mixture of what's going on today. There is a lot of improvement, I'm doing a lot of things for myself, I'm producing myself, I'm booking myself, I'm running my own business, I'm running my own label, Jah is Real is going to be my third release on my label, so there's a lot of difference and a lot of improvement.
The Afrobeat Blog: Do you plan on slowing up anytime soon? Another four, five albums? Do you plan on going as long as you can?
Burning Spear: I will always try to go to the studio and keep doing it as long as I can. Touring, I'll retire from touring, but I will use my discretion like when I'll do a show here and there, and that's about it.
The Afrobeat Blog: You've traveled all over the world playing music, most recently you were in Kenya, do you plan on going back to Africa again anytime soon?
Burning Spear: When the time is right. I went to Kenya in 2007, and it was very outstanding. I brought the people together for two to three hours, and everyone was enjoying themselves. The performance was properly supported by the people from Kenya, and when the time is right I will go back to Kenya or any other place in Africa when the time is right.
The Afrobeat Blog: Why do you think your music resonated so deeply with the people of Kenya on your trip?
Burning Spear: I think the people needed something like that at least for a couple of hours. Who knows what takes place after I leave, but at least when I was there everything was calm and the people came together as one people.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Fela!, an offbroadway musical that runs through the end of September at 37 Arts Theater, celebrates the life of Fela Anikulapo Kuti by bringing his music to life with captivating choreography, telling his story, and paying tribute to the legacy of his international protest voice. An ensemble cast of twenty-six actors, dancers, and musicians uses music, dance, video and still projections to tell stories from Fela's life. Sahr Ngaujah, who starred in the title role, has all of Fela's charisma and stage presence and then some. The creative choreography and set design paint a vivid picture of who Fela was and how he became the man we know today.
Bill T. Jones, a Tony award winning director and choreographer, Rikki Stein, Fela's former manager and the executor of his estate, and playwright Jim Lewis first met with Aaron Johnson and Victor Axelrod of Antibalas in the summer of 2006 to discuss their idea for the production. Later that year, Antibalas had a one day work session with the producers of the show and some dancers at which point they decided there was potential to pursue a show.
What they've come up with is an inventive, vibrant production that pays tribute to Fela's life by using his music to tell his story. The theater is setup to replicate The Shrine, Fela's home base nightclub in Lagos, Nigeria, with Antibalas taking the place of Afrika 70. When the show started, and Fela welcomed the audience to the Shrine, I thought to myself, "If everyone in the audience was dancing and ganja smoke filled the air, this would be just like the Shrine." Both things happened during the first act.
The story unfolds as musical numbers alternate with monologues and video projections to recap events from Fela's youth, adulthood and rise to fame. Major events from Fela's life up until the death of his mother are portrayed including Fela's college years in London, his trip to America and first marriage, the creation of his first band Koola Lobitos, one of his first encounters with the law (famously known as the "Expensive Shit" episode), his joint marriage of twenty-seven wives, and the attack on Kalakuta Republic.
Bill T. Jones is extremely successful in both paying homage to an internationally revered musical icon as well as introducing Fela to a new generation of people through this play. He introduces the different elements of Afrobeat by recounting the history of Fela's exposure to different styles of music in Africa, London, and the United States. The musical arrangements include the music of Fela's youth, highlife (as represented by an E. T. Mensah song--Medzi Medzi), big-band jazz (represented by Frank Sinatra), funk (James Brown), and cuban salsa. The rest of the show's music consists of Fela's most popular songs he recorded with Afrika 70 in the first half of his career including among others I.T.T., Water Get No Enemy, Shuffering and Smiling, Zombie, Sorrow Tears and Blood, and Coffin for Head of State.
Jones pays a special tribute to Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Fela's mother from whom he inherited much of his rebellious spirit. She was an internationally recognized women's' rights activist who was the first African woman to drive a car and travel to China. She is portrayed as an angelic figure in the play and her death at the hands of the Nigerian Army is the pinnacle event of the production.
To include the complexity and complete scope of Fela's life and music would have taken much longer than a couple hours, so obviously major elements of Fela's life and musical repertoire were omitted. Major characters in his life such as his spiritual advisor Professor Hindu and his brother Beko did not appear at all. Much of the dancing performed by the female dancers, although extremely captivating and majestic, was not reminiscent of that which one would have seen at the Shrine in Lagos or at any other of Fela's performances around the world.
If you are a disciple of Fela and an avid Afrobeat fan, or you've never heard of him before and simply love good music and dancing, you'll love this show. Bill T. Jones and Antibalas do justice to the legacy of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, one of the most dynamically prolific protest figures and musical icons in the history of the world, by celebrating his music and political message in a modern context. In a time where America could be on the verge of electing its first Black President, this play provides historical context to the international significance of Fela's legacy and its effect on contemporary culture.
Friday, August 22, 2008
The Kasai Allstars is a collective of twenty-five musicians from six bands and five tribes – the Luba, Sonye, Lulua, Tetela and Luntu – all of whom originally come from the Kasai region in the center of the Congo. Their music is drawn directly from ritual festive music played before the arrival of European colonizers and missionaries who found the highly erotic dances and pagan trance ceremonies satanic and unholy. The traditional musical practices were eventually banned pushing them to the brink of extinction. Even the actual traditional instruments all but disappeared.
Today the Kasai Allstars are reviving the practices once shunned by their colonial oppressors by fusing several different styles and cultures into a new "Allstar" sound. Using acoustic instruments with electric guitars, distortion-laden thumb pianos (with DIY amplification) and soulful vocals, they have a sound unlike any other. Their ability to layer repetitive patterns and progressions builds a rich texture to create a powerfully rich composition. The album is almost underproduced, emphasizing the raw, uninhibited nature of the music. After appearing on Congotronics 2, the Kasai Allstars are making a very strong first impression on the international music scene with their first full-length release.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Jah is Real is proof Burning Spear is as dedicated to Marcus Garvey's message as he was the day he first walked into Studio One. Tracks like One Africa, Grandfather, and Stick to the Plan all emphasize Marucs Garvey's Pan-African message. Run for Your Life advocates self-reliance, recounting the story of the founding of Burning Spear records. Bootsy Collins plays bass on a few tracks, injecting some extra funk into the proceedings, and Brian Hardgroove of Public Enemy laid down a funky drum and bass remix of Step It to close out the album.
Spear doesn't just advocate African Unity in his music, he backs up his words with his actions. At the request of the United Nations, he traveled to Kenya, the African nation from which he took his name, after a rigged election caused widespread violence earlier this year. He came as an ambassador of peace and was welcomed as a long-lost king as he performed for 65,000 people in Nairobi and brought them together peacefully as Africans, something Kenya badly needed in the post-election violent times.
The Spear kicks off a tour of the United States and Canada at the Irving Plaza on August 31st . He'll be playing eleven shows in ten cities throughout the month of September. If you love reggae, buy a copy of Jah is Real or catch one of his live shows. Burning Spear is as authentic a reggae legend as there is living today, and he isn't showing any signs of slowing up.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Dununya, the new album by griot balafon master Famoro Dioubate and Kakande, his 9-piece ensemble, is a testament to West African music's ability to stand the test of time and evolve. Kakande seamlessly combines traditional African and contemporary Western instruments and influences to foster a fresh, original sound.
Kakande is guided by the eight-hundred year old tradition from which Famoro Dioubate descends. He is a griot or jeli--a family line of musicians, historians, and dispute settlers--and his grandfather, El Hadj Djeli Sory Kouyate, is one of the most revered balafon players in West African history. Dioubate was mentored by his grandfather from an early age and performed with the Guinean National Ensemble by his grandather's side. The depth and profound nature of Kakande's sound pays homage to the traditions Dioubate brings to the ensemble.
Kakande employs a diverse instrumentation with the cello and electric guitar featured prominently along with the balafon, djembe, and flute. Dununya exhibits exquisite range, going from slow, deep, relaxing grooves to more upbeat danceable rhythms from track to track. Dioubate's arrangements push the music of his ancestors into the next generation incorporating western instruments and influences into the ensemble while simultaneously maintaining an authentic African sound.
One track from the album that perfectly exemplifies Kakande's evolved sound is Souaresi. The cello, flute and saxophone blend perfectly with the balafon and voices to foster beautifully deep, melodic lines and pitches. The cello especially adds an extra layer of texture that brings an elegant western class to accompany the majestic African sound. It contrasts beautifully with the polyrhythmic arrangement and adds heavier bass to the lower register to round out the total sound. Missia Saran Dioubate's vocal lines are especially beautiful as her voice soars over the flowing backdrop the ensemble provides.
Kakande's Dununya is eleven tracks of beautiful music that will make you dance, relax, invigorate your soul, and educate you about the traditions of West Africa. Famoro Dioubate is part of a recent wave of African musicians in New York City who in collaborating with different artists, broadening their musical horizons, and celebrating African music's ability to evolve and grow to take new shapes and forms, are fostering a new African sound, one that celebrates Africa's musical history while embracing its future.
The Chicago Afrobeat project lit up the stage at Drom Saturday night when they brought their midwest afroswing to the east village club on the back end of nationwide tour that took them west to California and Colorado before coming to the east coast. The seven-piece ensemble was joined onstage by two dancers from the Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago during the second set at which point the show went from a dope band laying down some beats to a spectacular audio-visual presentation that doesn't come around very often.
The Chicago Afrobeat Project got their start playing parties in the Chicago loft scene and has been touring the country spreading their politically charged Afrobeat message for the last six years. Their sound encompasses a wide range of influences and styles including jazz, funk, rock, afro-cuban, and West African highlife and juju. Perhaps the most prevalent sound in their arsenal is the soulful jazz element supplied by Kevin Ford on Fender Rhodes piano and David Glines on guitar. They both emphasize a light, jazzy style that cuts across the heavy percussion and bass arrangement and provides a perfect backdrop over which the horns glide.
(A) Move to Silent Unrest, the band's second full-length album, came out last year and exhibits the same range and variety as their live show; they have the ability to do deep, slower, jazzy songs, and then switch up the pace with an aggressive, faster, more hard-driving cut. Their rhythm section composed of Thad Landis on bass, George Jones on congas and percussion, and Marshall Greenhouse on trap drums, know how to move a party. Greenhouse especially can drum himself into a frenzy, sometimes bearing a resemblance to Animal from the Muppet Show.
The Chicago Afrobeat Project have an unparalleled live performance that features beautiful African dancers, polyrhythmic percussion sessions, and nasty soloists. They make it to the east coast a couple times a year, so definitely check them out when you get the chance. I highly recommend picking up their album in the meantime, especially if you're looking for something to play at your next dance party.
chicago afrobeat myspace
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
One Day as a lion is Jon Theodore and Zach de la Rocha saying we don't need anything but a keyboard, drums and a microphone to kick the shit out of you. They waste no time in doing so from start to finish on their 5-song EP out July 22nd on Anti Records.
One Day as a Lion is an ongoing collaboration between De la Rocha and Theodore in which they create a simplified, harsh sound that simultaneously showcase their voices. Theodore's unabashedly aggressive style meshes perfectly with De la Rocha's attacking vocal approach. Their arrangement sets the stage for a rhythmic and lyrical attack that holds no punches and brings it raw.
Zach de la Rocha is a better rapper than singer, but he still brings the rage when he uses his singing voice on tracks like Last Letter and If you fear Dying. By singing instead of rapping, he adds an elongated sustained element that contrasts Theodore's fanatically syncopated drum lines.
The New York City installment of the International Rock the Bells hip-hop tour on Sunday may have been the best hip-hop show in history. In a night where Dead Prez, De la Soul, Biz Markie, Afrika Bambaataa, the Pharcyde, Raekwon, Ghostface, Scratch, Supernatural, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Method Man, Redman, Slick Rick, EPMD, Keith Murray, Nas, Jay-Z and all four original members of A Tribe Called Quest with Busta Rhymes hit the stage, the 15,000 hip-hop fans who made it to the Jones Beach theater witnessed an historic event.
The doors opened at 12 noon. After I took three trains, one bus, made it through security and got in to the theater around two, Dead Prez had the crowd jumping to their anti-establishment message giving shout-outs to Crown Heights, Brooklyn along the way. Immortal Technique followed and continued the anti-government vibe.
De la Soul got on next and took things to the next level. They've been known to get a few crowds moving since their debut 21 years ago, and they were joined on stage by old school cats like Dres from Black Sheep who performed The Choice is Yours, Q-tip to do Buddy, and Biz Markie who brought the house down with, of course, You Got What I Need.
Next up was the Pharcyde, who before Rock the Bells hadn't played a show together in 11 years. Raekwon and Ghostface followed and had the sold-out theater chanting Wu-Tang. They were joined on stage by Cappadonna and played Wu classics like C.R.E.A.M., Victory, and a
tribute to the late O.D.B., I Like it Raw. Scratch and Supernatural came out after and Supernat kicked a freestyle that incorporated any object the crowd could hand him or reference in any way including t-shirts, cameras, jewelry, blunts, lighters, and a pair of underwear.
Mos Def came out next just as the Sun dipped behind the back of the stadium donning a kaleidoscopic basketball uniform repping Bed-Stuy. He did a few songs from the New Danger before being joined on-stage by Talib Kweli at which point they kicked it back to Black Star
performing songs like Brown Skin Lady, Definition, Respiration, and K.O.S. Determination. The reunited duo was joined onstage by Pharoahe Monch when the dj dropped Simon Says, and the crowd went nuts.
Method Man and Redman followed Mos Def and seriously got the crowd jumping. They climbed on top of the speakers, jumped into the crowd, stopped the beat to hit a blunt, and did anything else they could think of to incite the crowd. Guest MC's during their set included Slick Rick, who spit the first few bars of Lodi Dodi, Raekwon, EPMD, and Keith Murray who did his verse from the Def Squad version of Rapper's Delight.
Nas came out next and played possibly the best set of the show. He had a 6 piece band as well as Dj Green Lantern on stage with him. He kicked it back to Illmatic and brought it back to his new album making all the stops in between. The entire concert just about stopped in its tracks when midway through his Nas' set Jay-Z came onstage with a Yankees hat tucked low over his eyes. Nas put on his Mets hat, and the two rival MC's rocked a brief song before Jigga ran back off.
Finally, Q-Tip came onstage around 11 to close out the legendary night. He played his new single and other solo hits with Mos Def before all four original members of A Tribe Called Quest, Phife Dawg, Jarobi, Q-Tip, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, came onstage together in New York City for the first time in ten years. They played all the old-school joints off of The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, but the highlight of the concert was when Busta Rhymes came onstage during Scenario. In a night where hip-hop history was taught while simultaneously celebrating new school stars, Rock the Bells lived up to its billing as a world-class hip-hop forum, and then some.
Friday, August 1, 2008
While hip-hop and afrobeat aren't generally associated with cellos and violins, that didn't stop the Sweet Plantains String Quartet and Amayo’s Fu-Arkist-Ra from putting on a show packed to the brim with soul, funk and flavor Sunday night at Joe's Pub. Both groups have a reputation for bending genres and originality—Fu-Arkist-fuses afrobeat with free jazz, funk, dub, and classical music incorporating an inventive array of instrumentation and styles, and Sweet Plantain takes a contemporary approach to classical music bridging the gap between hip-hop, jazz, and latin improvisational styles with a classical repertoire. Needless to say, it was unique night.
The Sweet Plantain String Quartet started the night off. Composed of four classically trained musician—violinists Eddie Venegas and Romulo Benavides from Venezuela, Cellist David Gotay from the Bronx, and Violist Orlando Wells from New Jersey—they’re not your average string quartet. The group's mission is to give voice to a contemporary, urban, Latino sound, and much of the group's repertoire is rooted in improvisation. Throughout the course of a set they go from funky to fancy, graceful to gruff. Musically, they were all over the map: they played Afroblue by John Coltrane, a classical rendition of Excursions by A Tribe Called Quest, and Jenny’s Blues, a piece that had a New Orleans blues feel supplied by a strong back beat, Eddie Venegas’ trombone solo, and Romulo Benvides playing a staccato violin to mimic a banjo.
The Sweet Plantains transitioned out of their set with a cover of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Water Get no Enemy. Amayo joined the quartet on stage, and the music didn’t stop as all nine members of the Fu-Arkist-Ra joined them onstage and fell into the groove. I don’t know what was more impressive, the seamlessness with which the two ensembles merged their sounds, or their ability to successfully navigate and share the stage.
Everything about the Fu-Arkist-Ra, is unique, but their instrumentation is definitely something you’ll rarely see: electric keyboard, three vocalists, chekere, cello, flute, trap drums, congas, bass, guitar, and an 8-foot Nigerian Ife drum. Their interesting mix of instruments creates an original, unique sound on its own, but when the Sweet Plantains Strings joined them onstage, another layer was added to really make something special. The ensemble laid down a deep winding groove—a churning bass line and multi-layered percussions combined with off beat cello and keyboard lines. It was like an afrobeat score to a scary movie.
Overall, it was one of the more unique shows to which I’ve been. The rare mixture of musical elements fostered a sound and fusion that doesn’t come around very often. Every time I’ve seen Amayo’s Fu-Arkist-Ra, I always walk away with the same lasting impression of an energy-packed show that keeps the crowd engaged from start to finish. I was especially impressed by the Sweet Plantains as well. Their ingenuity in arrangement and propensity for fusing classical and contemporary genres is unmatched. Both groups are at the forefront of creating new soundscapes and pushing the limits of contemporary music.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Aaron Johnson is the musical director of Fela!, an off-broadway musical about the life and times of Fela Anikulapo Kuti directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones. You may know Aaron from Antibalas, the afrobeat band in which he plays trombone and conducts, but he has performed and/or recorded with Baaba Maal, TV on the Radio, Medeski, Martin, and Wood, Femi Kuti, The Budos Band, Chin Chin, Burning Spear, Dub Is A Weapon, Wu Tang Clan, and Taj Mahal to name a few. I asked him some questions in anticipation of the show set to premier August 5th.
The Afrobeat Blog: First of all, how did you come to the project?
Aaron Johnson: Rikki Stein, who was Fela's manager and currently manages Fela's estate suggested to the producers that they contact Antibalas. I met Rikki in London with Antibalas in early 2001, and usually see him whenever we pass through London. In summer 2006 myself, Gabe Roth and Victor Axelrod met with Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and the producers so they could ask us some questions about the music and whether or not we could or would be able to help them work on this idea they had. Later that year, Antibalas had a one day work session with Bill and others and I guess he saw the potential to make a show.
TAB: As the music director, does that mean you choose the music or just arrange it according to the script?
AJ: Both, when I was brought into the project, there was no script, it was an eight page treatment, and they had a few songs they were sure they wanted to use, but much of the material I suggested for musical or lyrical reasons, and the script has grown out of that process.
TAB: Who are the other musicians from the local Afrobeat scene playing in the show?
AJ: From Antibalas Jordan McLean, Stuart Bogie, Nick Movshon and Marcos Garcia, from Akoya, my old friend Yoshi Takemasa, who I have known longer than anyone else, since we played together in a band called Tadanoshin in 1997. Then some other great musicians who I have met over the last 10 years working in New York.
TAB: In the spirit of Fela, does the show advocate political action and resistance?
TAB: What are some of the other projects in which you play besides Antibalas?
AJ: I play with Ticklah, I was an original member of the Fu Arkistra and Dub is a Weapon,, sometimes I play with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, The Budos, The El Michels Affair, TV on the Radio, Bronx River Parkway, The Menahan Street Band, countless other bands sporadically around the city.
TAB: Who are some of your favorite afrobeat bands on the scene locally and all over the world?
AJ: Ah, hands down Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80, and if you want to call the Budos afrobeat, but beyond them and Akoya, I have not heard a lot of real afrobeat bands out there that have done anything for me.
TAB: Who are some of the artists you've enjoyed collaborating with the most in your career?
AJ: I love collaborating with my friends bands, TV on the Radio, Chin Chin, The Dap-Kings, The Budos, those are some of my favorite people and musicians.
TAB: In Antibalas, there are many different sensibilities and personalities that all effect the group's sound in different ways. If you look at people's side projects, you can see each sensibility on its own, such as Amayo with Fu-Arkistra, Victor with Ticklah, and Marcos with Chico Mann; how would you describe your sensibility and how it effects the group dynamic?
AJ: I don't know what my sensibility is, but I think after I started conducting Antibalas in 2001, the band evolved from a grooving but very sloppy and nonchalant group of musicians to a much tighter band. I think more than anything that has to do with me being able to feel the energy on stage and in the crowd and know where to direct the music, in terms of setlists, song arrangements, and also keep it really loose.
TAB: As an afrobeat musician, how challenging is it to make a living in such a big band, and how much is it a testiment to your passion for the music that you play the genre you do?
AJ: I am a musician, not an afrobeat musician, and I work in so many different genres, my passion is GOOD MUSIC, in my opinion of course. An "afrobeat musician" would not be able to do what we are doing with Fela's music in this new musical.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
(Photos by Abraham Amkpa)
Aphrodesia proved why they're the hottest Afrobeat band on the West Coast Wednesday night when they threw down at the Shrine in Harlem. The eleven-piece ensemble out of San Francisco brought their funky afro-grooves to the Shrine stage on the front end of a nation-wide tour, playing eighteen shows in sixteen cities.
Aphrodesia has a unique sound that is accentuated by female lead vocalists Lara Maykovich and Maya Dorn whose beautiful voices glide over a ferocious rhythm section and heavy horns. In a genre dominated by bombastic, male frontmen, Maykovich and Dorn send a female empowerment message that resonates with the entire band's anti-establishment message.
Sounds from all over the African continent as well as the diaspora are abundantly present in Aphrodesia's music which comes as no surprise as they toured across West Africa performing in Ghana, Togo, Benin, and with Femi Kuti at the Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria. They celebrate the heterogeneous nature of Afrobeat composition incorporating elements of highlife, dub, Zimbabwean trance, soukous, and jazz. One of the most prevalent themes of their music is a dirty southern blues funk vibe furnished by guitarists David Sartore and Mike Abraham.
Following in the tradition of Afrobeat creator Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Aphrodesia never hesitates to take a political stand. Many of their song lyrics have a strong anti-establishment message such as Bus Driver, a song that speaks out against America's foreign oil dependancy. They have also used their live shows as forums for political action and dialogue extensively including a nation-wide voter registration tour in 2004, multiple benefit concerts for causes such as AIDS Prevention, Tsunami Relief, and Anti-War demonstrations.
Aphrodesia has one of the most inventive, distinctly unique sounds of any Afrobeat band in the country. With a dangerously groovtastic rhythm section, a tight horn section, and beautiful female vocalists upon which to gaze, they've got the best stage presence of any band you'll ever see live. Their latest studio album, Lagos by Bus, came out in November of 2007 to widespread acclaim. Although they're based in San Francisco, they tour across the country regularly, so don't miss them next time they come to a city or town near you.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Baye Kouyate's performance at Joe's Pub Tuesday night was a celebration of West African music: musicians from several countries in West Africa, the United States and Europe put on a world-class show that got the entire crowd dancing by the night's end. Baye Kouyate is a talking-drum master from Mali. He descends from Griots, a family line of musicians, historians, and dispute mediators, and is one of the most up-and-coming African musicians on the NY scene.
Baye's Band, Les Tougarakes, is a collection of international all-star musicians with griot master Yacouba Sissoko of Mali on kora, German international recording artist Leni Stern on guitar, Senegalese master drummer Samba Guisse on djembe and sabar, Gbatokai Dakinah of Denmark on bass, griot balafon master Famoro Dioubate of Guinea, and Adam Clark, band leader of the Superpowers, an up-and-coming Afrobeat band out of Boston, on trap drums. Les Tougarakes represent both a wide range of musical styles within West Africa and the wide spread influence of West African music's diaspora.
Kouyate paid homage to the several-hundred year griot tradition from which he descends Tuesday night. Musical energy emanates from him with his beautiful smile, matching voice and talking drum which he makes sing. The virtuosic, rising and tumbling kora and balafon glided gracefully over the serene rhythms of the djembe, trap drums and bass. Leni Stern, who has collaborated with Salif Keita and Baaba Maal in addition to traveling extensively throughout Africa, added a special colorful touch to the ensemble, infusing a bluesy African jazz guitar feel.
Tuesday night was most definitely one to remember. Baye Kouyate is not only an amazing musician but an amazing person. Before the show was over, he paused to thank everyone who has ever helped him get to where he is today, especially the owners of Zebulon. It was in the Williamsburg venue that he made his first connections in the New York music scene and played his first shows.
Even though he descends from a long line of Malian griots, Baye does not see himself as simply an ambassador of African muisc, "I see myself not as a Malian Ambassador but as a Human Ambassador because my music is not just about Mali - it's about the world. My music is about the fusion of traditional and the modern, it's about love and peace in this world. It's about sharing life and no discrimination - it's about who we are as human beings, not just black and white, and together we all can save this world."
Baye Kouyate Myspace
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble brought their gargantuan afrobeat sound to Southpaw last Friday night and turned the packed house into a dancing frenzy. Featuring thirteen musicians from six different countries, Akoya is notorious for bringing insane amounts of energy to their live shows. Friday night, they lived up to their reputation.
Akoya has a diverse array of musical influences and voices that resonate in their live presentation. They accentuate the many different elements Fela incorporated into his original afrobeat sound: a tight, large horn section, beautiful female singers and dancers, multi-layered rhythm section, and a captivating front man singing call and response lyrics.
Lead singer Kaleta, who toured with Fela and Egypt 80, makes a very distinct imprint on the band. He made it into Egypt 80 he as a guitarist, but he's a percussionist and singer in Akoya. The biggest element he brings to the ensemble is his onstage energy. He's a master of engaging the crowd with call and response chants and his performance character. He performs the same role in another NY Afrobeat band, Zozo Afrobeat Ensemble.
Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble is one of the most underrated Afrobeat bands on the New York scene. With a monstrous horn section, tight percussions, and captivating vocalists, Akoya is a force to be reckoned with.
Monday, July 14, 2008
So many people came to Zebulon to see Nomo Saturday night, they literally had to turn people away. For those who managed to squeeze themselves into the cramped Williamsburg venue, they were not disappointed.
Nomo brought an uncontrollably infectious energy to the Zebulon stage, their favorite club in the city. Throughout their first set, the crowd seemed not to know what to make of them. People simply sat in awe trying to comprehend the complex sounds emanating from the seven-piece ensemble. That all changed during the second set when the crowd thinned out a bit, and the remaining concert-goers got up and danced like they knew they should.
Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Nomo is a seven-piece band whose sound is too unique to put in a genre. They fuse dubbed out 80's hip-hop synths with Tony Allen afro-funk drums and hard bop jazz horn lines. Even their arrangement is unique featuring two drum sets, electric bass, guitar, tenor and baritone saxophones, two trumpets, congas, timbales, bells, mbira (Zimbabwean thumb piano), and a combination of electric distortion effects.
Ghost Rock, Nomo's third full-length album came out last month on Ubiquity Records, and they're touring across the country promoting it playing thirty-four shows in fifty-five days in thirty-two cities. They are without a doubt, one of the most inventive, talented bands I've ever had the privilege of seeing live. Their ingenuity of arrangement and wide span of influences put them in a class by themselves. After listening to their records for the first time in the last six months, I had extremely high expectations for their show Saturday night, and they totally blew them away.
Friday, July 11, 2008
(Photos by Abraham Amkpa)
Central Park Summer Stage took its Afrocentric programming credibility to a new level last Sunday when Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, and U-Roy with Love Trio put on an energy-packed show that kept the crowd dancing from start to finish. All three acts are icons of their respective genres, and all three lived up to their prestigious reputations.
U-Roy and Love Trio opened things up. U-Roy is a legend of Jamaican music and founder of the reggae sub-genre dub. In the early 60's he pioneered toasting, or rapping over popular songs in dancehalls to liven up the party. He used his same signature style on Sunday, acting as lead vocalist with Love Trio, bridging the generational gap between a founder of dub and those continuing the tradition.
Next on stage was Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, one of hip-hop's founding fathers. They kept the crowd jumping and gyrating while interjecting Afrocentric and political charged messages into their rhymes. Some were more overt than others; Afrika Bambaataa spoke only once at the end of the set, "Peace, Love and Unity, One Nation Under a Groove, and Fuck George Bush."
Closing out the show was Egypt 80 and Seun Anikulapo Kuti, son of Afrobeat pioneer and international protest figure Fela Kuti. Seun took the climbing energy from Afrika Bambaataa and U-Roy and vaulted it even higher. Egypt 80 took the stage first warming up the crowd and setting the Afrobeat groove. Seun made a dynamic entrance and automatically demanded the attention of the crowd. Everything from his appearance to his sound was highly reminiscent of Fela. His dance moves reminded me of his father the most, but when he introduced himself as "the best singer in the world," I knew the apple couldn't have fallen far from the tree.
Seun Kuti Myspace
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
My first question is as an African musician, do you find it difficult to reach a mainstream audience? Do you ever get frustrated by being categorized into an "exotic other" category such as "world music"?
I GUESS I HAVE BEEN PRETTY LUCKY BECAUSE THE KIND OF MUSIC I AM DOING SEEMS TO BE REACHING A PRETTY WIDE AUDIENCE – AT LEAST FROM WHAT I CAN SEE FROM THE STAGE ! LAST WEEKEND I PLAYED ON THE ROCK STAGE AT THE
Growing up and now, who are some of your greatest musical influences outside of
MY FAVORITE MUSICIAN GROWING UP WAS PHIL COLLINS. I ALSO REALLY LOVE
You've traveled all over the world playing music, how has what you've seen and experienced in your travels shaped and stretched your perspective on your music and life as a whole?
IT’S TOTALLY CHANGED ME. YOU CAN’T TRAVEL THE WORLD, SEE OTHER CULTURES. EAT OTHER FOODS, MEET OTHER PEOPLE ALL THE TIME AND NOT HAVE THAT AFFECT YOUR WAY OF SEEING THE WORLD, AND OF COURSE THAT FILTERS INTO THE MUSIC. BUT OF COURSE IT ALSO MAKES ME VALUE EVEN MORE MY HOME, MY COUNTRY . WHEN I GET BACK TO
Since your father was such a legendarily famous Malian musician, do you ever feel burdened by having to always be compared to him? Do you ever feel like people don't give you enough respect on your own merits as a musician because of your name?
IT’S A GOOD THING AND A HARD THING TO HAVE A FATHER LIKE ALI. HE’ S A LEGEND WORLDWIDE AND I CAN’T COMPETE WITH THAT...ALL I CAN DO IS MY BEST AND HOPE THAT PEOPLE WILL SOMEDAY RECOGNIZE MY TALENT AS SOMETHING ELSE, SOMETHING DIFFERENT. B-U-T I ALSO KNOW THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE LISTENED TO MY FIRST ALBUM, PAID ATTENTION TO IT BECAUSE I AM ALI’S SON AND THAT’S A GOOD THING. THERE ARE HUNDREDS, MAYBE EVEN 000’S OF TALENTED ARTISTS OUT THERE, MAYBE WHO HAVE MORE TALENT THAN ME. BUT I HAVE BEEN LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE A FAMOUS FATHER AND SO MY FIRST RECORD WAS OF INTEREST TO PEOPLE. NOW I HAVE THE CHALLENGE OF MAKING THE SECOND ONE EVEN BETTER !
You've released two albums with Modiba records so far, do you have plans to go back into the studio anytime in the near future to record a third?
YES, I HAVE BEEN RECORDING FOR THE PAST COUPLE OF MONTHS IN
Your second album was a collaboration with various dj's that fused your traditional African sound with a more modern electric sound, who are some musicians you're interested in collaborating with on future projects both from West Africa and the rest of the world?
OH WOW, THAT’S A HARD QUESTION. WE’VE BEEN TALKING WITH DIRTY PROJECTORS ABOUT DOING SOME SHOWS TOGETHER. I JUST DISCOVERED WILCO ON OUR
My last question, your record label, Modiba productions, has repeatedly in the past donated parts of its sales profits to different charitable causes in Africa such as the ASAP album and buying malaria nets. Do you feel that enough African musicians use their financial success to instigate positive change in their home countries?
I THNK THERE ARE LOTS OF GOOD THINGS BEING DONE BY MANY AFRICAN MUSICIANS BUT I ALSO BELIEVE WE CAN – AND SHOULD – ALWAYS DO MORE. WE ARE LUCKY – WE OFTEN HAVE INFLUENCE, AND WE CAN HELP DIRECTLY. I AM SENDING MOSQUITO NETS DIRECTLY TO MY VILLAGE – AS MY FATHER USED TO SAY, WHEN THE WIOND BLOWS EVERYONE GRABS HIS OWN HAT.SO WHATEVER I CAN DO TO HELP MY OWN VILLAGE, I MUST DO.