Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Interview with Salif Keita

Salif Keita is known as the Golden Voice of Africa. He's become one of the most popular African musicians of all time due to his breathtaking voice, and his trail-blazing courage. That courage is on full display on his new album, La Différence. I had the honor of speaking to Salif about his new album, his decision to become a musician, and his upcoming N. American tour:

Marc Gabriel Amigone: You're about to embark on a N. American tour. Are there any dates in particular to which you're especially looking forward?

Salif Keita: I’m very happy to return to America and to see my American fans again.

MGA: How has the reception to African popular music changed in your eyes from the beginning of your career until now?

Salif Keita: Yes of course, it has really evolved and changed a lot because there are more and more collaborations between musicians, so it has become on a much more global scale.

MGA: As a pioneer of the World music genre, have you struggled at all in your career with not being able to escape the label of "World Music Artist?"

Salif Keita: Well in fact it’s a label the music industry has created. It’s not World Music, it’s African music. But the positive part is that it has helped African music to be known all over the world.

MGA: Right, personally I very much dislike the term “World Music” because it suggests two worlds from which music comes when in reality all music comes from THE world. Fela Kuti always hated the term World Music because it suggests its second class music.

Salif Keita: Voila, that’s it.

MGA: You make a powerful statement about Albinism on this album as well as about several other issues. Why did you feel that now is the time to make that statement?

Salif Keita: I feel that now is the time to stop atrocities and human sacrifices that are committed against albinos all over Africa. All over Africa, in Burundi, Tanzania, many regions of Africa. Albino people are killed, and sacrificed, and now is the time to stop, so that’s the reason why the message is so strong.

MGA: For those who are not familiar, could you please describe the dangers and obstacles Albinos face in African societies?

Salif Keita: Apart from human sacrifices, they are murdered, their body parts are sold on the black market. It’s really terrible.

MGA: On La Différence, you speak out most prominently about the discrimination of Albinos. To which other issues do you feel your message of tolerance could also be applied?

Salif Keita: The other concerns and issues that are occurring in Africa right now are desertification and degradation of nature. For instance, a lot of people earn their living by logging to the point where no forests are left on the continent. Pollution is also a big issue. Rivers are drying up. All these environmental issues are what I’d like to talk about.

MGA: Due to your royal lineage, it went against societal practices for you to become a musician. If you were not an albino and ostracized by your family as a result, do you think you would’ve gone on to become a musician?

Salif Keita: [If I wasn’t an albino] I would’ve done something totally different.

MGA: That was my thought exactly, since you were already outcast, it affected your decision.

Salif Keita: For me it was a way to go against my lineage. It actually helped other people, noble people, to stand up and take up music as well. It could’ve been a double-exclusion, but I still did it.

MGA: You use your platform as a musician and celebrity to affect change both in the statements you make as an artist as well as through your foundation. Do you feel that popular African musicians do enough to use their money and status to affect change in their home countries?

Salif Keita: Once you are known and you have an audience, it becomes your duty to really speak out and be a spokesperson for other people who don’t have that opportunity. So yes it is a duty.

MGA: You incorporate a wide variety of instruments on La Différence from a variety of regions and cultures. For instance, on Gaffou, you feature the oud alongside the n'goni and kora and other strings. Could you describe why you chose those instruments and what they have in common?

Salif Keita: They can complete each other. They compliment each other very well.

MGA: What would you say is the cultural significance of the oud and kora complimenting each other so well.

Salif Keita: Well, African music and middle-eastern music sound very well together. It’s good to be able use the two sounds together.

MGA: Could you describe the emotion behind the last song on your album, Papa?

Salif Keita: It’s a very emotional song since it talks about my father, who at first was not able to understand me, but then went on to become my confidant and my friend.

MGA: Could you elaborate on that a bit? How would you describe your relationship with you father?

Salif Keita: At first, since he had no information about what albinism is, he was not able to grasp, to understand what I am, but after that we became best friends. He became my best friend.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chico Mann @ Glasslands Tonight

Chico Mann, my personal favorite musical act on the planet, is throwin down tonight at Glasslands in Williamsburg. If you've never seen Chico Mann in the flesh, and you have the ability to get to Williamsburg tonight, no legitimate reason exists for you not to be at this show. Seriously.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Underground System at Public Assembly May 20th

One of the newer Afrobeat bands on the BK scene, Underground System, are throwin down for their monthly jam at Public Assembly in Williamsburg, Brooklyn this Thursday night. They'll be joined by roots dub outfit Top Shotta and DJ Trainwreck.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dirty Drummer-Chase The Barber EP

Dirty Drummer is a North Carolina based beatmaker whose people recently reached out to me regarding his new EP, Chase The Barber. While I'd never heard of Dirty Drummer before, I was immediately affected by the densely funky beats he's created. While I'm of the opinion the songs could be about four times as long, there's no denying they're jam-packed with hard-hitting breaks.
<a href="http://dirtydrummer.bandcamp.com/album/chase-the-barber-ep">The Barber by Dirty Drummer</a>

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Album Review: Earthology-Whitefield Brothers

Earthology, the long-awaited sophomore album from The Whitefield Brothers out January 2010 on Now Again Records, represents the next chapter in the largely untold funky saga of Jan and Max Whitefield. Their debut LP, In The Raw, was an underground classic celebrated by those who heard it as one of the most intensely funky records recorded in the last twenty years. Earthology picks up where In The Raw left off, and goes in an entirely new direction.

Jan and Max Whitefield are more widely recognized as founding members of The Poets of Rhythm, German recording artists on the Daptone roster. They traveled from their native Munich to New York to record In The Raw in 2001. They used stripped down funk grooves combined with traditional African music samples to foster an irresistibly funky sound. Almost as soon as the record was cut (featuring now legendary funk revivalists Neal Sugarman, Gabe Roth, and Leon Michels of the El Michels Affair) it was out of print and all but forgotten. That is until Now Again Records re-issued and re-introduced the record to the world in 2006.

Now in 2010, The Whitefield Brothers have returned to continue on their funky mission. This time around they’re looking past Africa for their inspiration, sampling sounds, time signatures and instruments from everywhere from Indonesia to Ehtiopia. They also widen their approach to include hip-hop verses from MC’s like Percee P, MED, Mr. Lif, and Edan. Other guests include El Michaels Affair and Quantic.

While the same distorted funk sound is definitely present on this record, fans of In The Raw should not expect the same theme to be continued. This record is something different, the next step in the Whitefield Brothers’ progression. They take their raw funky dissonance to the next level on Earthology, expanding their horizon to include sounds and influences from new places and cultures. If you dug In The Raw, you’ll dig Earthology; just don’t expect more of the same.

Whitefield In Paris from MASSCORPORATION.COM on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lagos Disco Inferno

If you've ever wanted to transport yourself to late 1970's Lagos, Nigeria, now you have the chance. Lagos Disco Inferno, the compilation of Nigerian disco, funk, and rock compiled by Frank Gossner, aka DJ Soulpusher, is an insanely danceable collection of songs capable of triggering an uncontrollable dance party at any moment. Featuring heavy-hitters from the late 70's Lagos music scene like Geraldo Pino, Asiko Rock Group, and BLO, this is music you don't hear everyday.

Frank Gossner is a legendary crate digger. He's made a name for himself with his blog, Voodoo Funk, where he documents his record collecting trips to West Africa. Anyone who's heard him spin can vouch for his ridiculously deep collection of obscure African gems. He collaborated with Daptone Records in 2009 to re-issue Pax Nicholas' forgotten Afrika 70 gem. Lagos Disco Inferno is his second re-issue project, and I believe he has more planned.

While not every track on the album is disco, every song will make you dance. The first time I heard this album, I immediately tracked it down on vinyl, and spun it at my next dj gig. This album is most definitely best administered in like-minded company and with generous doses of cold, alcoholic beverages.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Album Review: El Existential-Grupo Fantasma

El Existential, the new album from Grupo Fantasma out May 11, 2010 on National Geographic Records, is an energetic, free-flowing, collection of songs that blend a diverse array of elements and sounds. Following their Grammy-nominated third album Sonidos Gold (2008), Grupo Fantasma has made a name for themselves for their ability to combine Latin musical styles with psychedelic rock and funk elements to forge a trademark style all their own. El Existential exemplifies that style from start to finish.

The range on this album is truly impressive. They go from downtempo Cumbia to hard driving rock from song to song. Certain songs like Realizando, the album’s first track, emphasize the psychedelic funk aesthetic, which fosters an interesting mix with the accompanying more traditional-Latin sounding horns, vocals and percussion. The band’s horn section really makes it presence felt throughout the album. The multi-layered rhythm section provides a vibrant backdrop over which the horns resound.

El Exisential was recorded in the band’s home studio in Austin. GP purposely avoided the corporate studio route to immerse themselves in a collectively occupied homestead, so they could create communally in a non-corporate, domestic atmosphere engineered to foster collaboration and experimentation. You can hear the homemade, analog production quality when you listen to the album. Similar to Daptone Records’ signature sound, the soul and character comes across through the speakers.

This album was my introduction to Grupo Fantasma, and it made a great first impression. The album drops in a little over a week, definitely check it out.