Thursday, July 30, 2009

Interview with Bajah of Bajah+The Dry Eye Crew

Bajah + The Dry Eye Crew are one of the hottest acts on the international music scene today. They were featured on The Blood Diamond Soundtrack in 2006, and released a mixtape earlier this week mixed by DJ Gravy. Their debut international release is due out in the fall with guest appearances by Talib Kweli, K'Naan, Black Thought and ?uestlove. I had the pleasure of speaking with Bajah, the group's frontman earlier today.

The Afrobeat Blog: What was your exposure to music like growing up? When did you first start listening to hip-hop and to whom did you listen?

Bajah: When I was growing up my father was listening to hip-hop and traditional african music. When I went abroad, I started listening to other kinds of music, hip-hop, reggae, Nigerian artists.

The Afrobeat Blog: Who were the first hip-hop acts to which you were exposed?

Bajah: Growing up I listened to a lot of hip-hop artists, the ones that I loved the most were KRS-One, Naughty By Nature, Wu-Tang Clan, all of those.

The Afrobeat Blog: What is your opinion of the growing popularity of African hip-hop on the international scene? Who are some other African hip-hop artists to which you listen and respect?

Bajah: Akon, K'Naan, a couple other Nigerian artists, I'm a music lover so I listen to a lot of different music, you know? Two Face from Nigeria

The Afrobeat Blog: Why do you think it is that African hip-hop artists are growing in popularity these days?

Bajah: Well, I think it's the right time for African musicians, they're getting the right promotion, so they're able to do big things. People have been listening to American hip-hop for a while and now they're getting into African hip-hop and I think they're gonna love it.

The Afrobeat Blog: I read on your website you guys are living in Brooklyn these days. How long have you been living in Brooklyn? What's the transition been like?

Bajah: Well, you know Sierra Leone is the least developed country, so if we can make it in Sierra Leone we can make it any other place, you know? We're trying to adapt to the American style.

The Afrobeat Blog: You guys are taking it day by day, taking things as they come?

Bajah: Yeah man, we just go with the flow. We're in Brooklyn as long as the music thing is moving, so we just go with the flow. We're here for the music because as far as I'm concerned Brooklyn is the place for music, we love it, Brooklyn is blowing up right now so I think it's the right place for us.

The Afrobeat Blog: What's it like being worshipped at home and seen as an up-and-coming new artist abroad?

Bajah: Sierra Leone is our homeland, so people already know what we're capable of doing, the fans are already going crazy for us, they really love what we're doing you know? We're for the people, and they already know us back home, but in Brooklyn, we're not yet known, so sometimes people give us the Dry Eye sign, and we'll keep things moving.

The Afrobeat Blog: Tell me about your name, The Dry Eye Crew? What does Dry Eye mean?

Bajah: Dry Eye is when people are talking about being bold, not afraid of things. When we were in Sierra Leone, and things were getting really bad, you know, people were afraid to say what they thought in the newspaper. Since we're musicians, we have a choice to play whatever kind of music we want to play. We could do phony music or we could make conscious music, you know, we believe in the right of the people to say what they want about the politicians, we take the risk, we just do it, so it's like being bold, the word Dry Eye is like being bold, not being afraid to say what you wanna say. It's like being outspoken, you understand?

The Afrobeat Blog: As ambassadors for Sierra Leone to the international music scene, what message would you like to send to the world about your home country?

Bajah: Well, you know, Sierra Leone back in the day was known as one of the best places in Africa to go to, and a lot has happened since then like the civil war, and the war has destroyed a lot of stuff you know? And after the war it's going to be a musical rejuvenation. So people will know that Sierra Leone is ready to contribute to the world musically, it's time to put down the guns and start making music.

The Afrobeat Blog: What is your hope for Sierra Leone as it continues to recover from the civil war and progress towards a functioning democracy?

Bajah: I want Sierra Leone to be one of the best places on the planet, but that's going to take everyone working together, the people, the politicians the musicians, all working together to make Sierra Leone a better place and to make Sierra Leone one of the best places for the arts.

The Afrobeat Blog: What is your opinion of Charles Taylor and what symbolic significance does his war-crime tribunal have for Sierra Leone and the rest of the continent?

Bajah: Well to me it means that whatever you do in life you have to pay the consequences, you know? In W. Africa in particular, and all over Africa, if there are laws that says nobody's supposed to be treated this way then that law should be accountable to everyone. And for Sierra Leonians, not everybody got hurt, but for the people that did, I don't think they want to see Charles Taylor living a better life than them, but they've already lost a lot of people and a lot of family, so I think they just want people to live by the law.

The Afrobeat Blog: What is your opinion of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her leadership in the region?

Bajah: Well I don't really follow what's going on Liberia right now.

The Afrobeat Blog: What are your goals for the new record coming out in the fall? What's it been like working with Talib Kweli, ?uestlove, and all the other hip-hop stars featured on the album?

Bajah: Since this is my first album, I really want it to be huge, but since it's my first, I just want to see the reception of the people. I don't know what people are going to like. When I did my thing in Sierra Leone I put out my first album in a different style and saw how people reacted and then changed things up from there.

The Afrobeat Blog: So what was it like working with Talib Kweli, ?uestlove and the other hip-hop stars featured on your new album?

Bajah: Back in the day when I was still in Africa, I used to see ?uestlove, Talib Kweli, I used to see these people on TV, I never knew I was gonna meet these people, shake hands with them, work with them, you know, so it's a blessing.

Baye Kouyate @ Joe's Pub-8/12

Baye Kouyate et Les Tougarakes, one of the most dynamic group of African performers I've ever had the privilege of seeing live onstage, is returning to Joe's Pub August 12th. Having seen them several times in the past, I can assure you they're more than worth the price of admission. Kouyate is a master of the tala, or Malian talking drum, and his band features some of the best African players in the city. Definitely a show not to be missed.

Bajah + The Dry Eye Crew-Kings of Salone Mixtape

If you've never heard of Bajah + The Dry Eye Crew, it's about time you have. Hailing from Sierra Leone where they're national superstars, The Crew is one of the fastest rising acts on the international hip-hop scene today. They've released ten albums at home and have their first international release scheduled for release in fall 2009 with guest appearances including Talib Kweli, K'Naan, ?uestlove and Black Thought. I have an interview with the guys scheduled for later today, but in the meantime, check out their brand spankin new mixtape put together by DJ Gravy.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Africa Plays On Vol. 2-DJ Underdog

The dopest dj in our nation's capital, DJ Underdog, has released the 2nd edition of Africa Plays On. If you are one of the unfortunate ones who missed the first go-round of this afro-heavy bangin' mixtape, and you feel like spontaneously unleashing a dance party, download Vol. 2 here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Afro-Marc Podcast

The Afro-Marc Podcast has landed and donated three editions of funk to the world thus far. If you like what you hear, subscribe for weekly updates here...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wunmi, Asiko, Rich Medina @ Le Poisson Rouge

Wunmi, the Queen of Afrobeat, is playing tomorrow night with Asiko, one of the tightest afrobeat bands in the city, Kofo the Wonderman, and Dj Rich Medina, one of the city's best proprietors of afrobeat, at Le Poisson Rouge. A lineup such as this at one of the dopest clubs in the I really need to say anything more?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chico Mann, Planet Rump, The Superpowers, and DJ Dhundee @ Southpaw-7/23

Chico Mann, Planet Rump, The Superpowers, and DJ Dhundee are all descending on Southpaw July 23rd at 8pm to unleash an electronic explosion of funk and energy that will no doubt result in a dance party of legendary proportions.

Chico Mann is the multi-faceted side project of Marcos Garcia, guitar player from Antibalas. Casio keyboards, turntables spinning afrobeat breaks, latin percussion and vocals combine to make up Chico Mann's dance floor pulsating presentation. What had started as Marcos Garcia's personal Casio Afrobeat experiment has blossomed into a genre-defying, life-affirming, sweaty, politicized dance party that is evolving at an exponential rate.

Planet Rump is what happens when three funky ass people get together with a casio keyboard. DJ Tantric, Miss Strawberry, and Nasty Ness have discovered extraterestrial life through the intergalactic language of funk. They use their intergalactic funkability to rock shows on the regular throughout the east coast. They've shared the stage with Chico Mann before and the results have been electric.

The Superpowers, formerly known as The Boston Afrobeat Society, are a powerfully tight afrobeat band out of Brooklyn. The rock at Zebulon on the regular and have been known to make dance floors shake. Their new album, Trance for Nation, just hit the streets featuring Claude and Rudy Gomis of Orchestra Baobab.

Dj Dhundee is a Brooklyn staple, doing his thing on the regular at Deity and a host of other venues throughout the city. As if this dance party needed anymore ammunition...

This will be a night to remember at Southpaw. Brooklyn may never be the same...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Album Review: Chico Mann-Analog Drift (Muy Esniqui)

Just when you thought it was safe to put down the casio, Analog Drift (Muy Esniqui), the new full-length album from Chico Mann out July 2009 on Furious Panther Records, is now available online at

Chico Mann started as Marcos Garcia of Antibalas' side project, experimenting with some break records and a casio resulting in the debut album Manifest Tone Vol. 1 in 2007. Chico has grown by leaps and bounds both in the studio and on the stage since then, a progression immediately evident on Analog Drift (Muy Esniqui).

Chico Mann is one of the most unique ensembles you'll ever see on any stage. The combination of elements and influences foster a very unique mix including spanish lyrics, funky afrobeat guitar lines, casio keyboard percussion breaks, and synthed out bass lines. Combining turntables, casio keyboards, live multi-layered vocals and percussion, they have an old-school yet simultaneously futuristic sound.

Analog Drift (Muy Esniqui) is an evolved album with diversity from track to track. Some tracks are deeper down tempo cuts like Go To That Place which contrast with harder-hitting upbeat cuts like Guárdalo (El Silencio) and Ya Yo Sé. The genius of Marcos Garcia's (and therefore Chico Mann's) sensibility is their appreciation of things both new and old-school and their ability to marry the two worlds so seamlessly. The instrumentation and presentation allude to a strong old-school flavor yet the production quality and overall sound have a modern sensibility and refinement.

Although most of the song lyrics are en espanol, that definitely shouldn't keep you from singing along. If you're completely inept at interpreting international sounds, certain songs are in English including a cover of The Talking Heads-Once In a Lifetime. Chico Mann is one of the most innovative ensembles on the ny scene these days, and they especially bring it live. Check them out at Southpaw on July 23rd with Planet Rump, The Superpowers, and DJ Dhundee...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Femi Kuti and King Sunny Ade at Toronto Harbour Front Centre Concert Review

While I admit it's not patriotic to go to Canada on the 4th of July, King Sunny Ade and Femi Kuti put on an amazing show at the Harbour Front Centre in Toronto.

On a beautiful outdoor stage about 50 yards away from Lake Ontario, King Sunny Ade came out with his legion of jolly African beatmakers and rocked out for a two hour set that got the whole crowd dancing. The Nigerian community in Toronto represented itself in numbers as the talking drums, voices, and guitars enraptured the crowd.

Femi Kuti and Positive Force went on around 8pm just as the sun was setting. By the time Femi hit the stage a several hundred deep crowd had formed around the harbour. Femi and his colossal ensemble roared out into the night pulsating the throng of fans who chanted and sang along as they danced. Femi switched between trumpet, keys, alto and soprano sax throughout his set. Reminiscent of his father he went on political rants in between and during songs, speaking about injustice, and, reminiscent of his father, the Nigerian government's antagonism of The Shrine.

The Harbour Front Centre is a beautiful place to see a concert. Free world-class music on a beutiful night is always a pleasure, but the atmosphere at the Harbour Front Centre is truly unique. I've seen a lot of live music, and I have to say, seeing Femi Kuti and King Sunny Ade last weekend was near the top of my list of concerts I've seen in a long time.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Africa Plays On-DJ Underdog

DJ Underdog is a D.C. based beatmaker who bringsthe gift of funk to the world on his latest album, Africa Plays On. The entire mix is a sweaty dance party waiting to happen. It's available for free here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Two Dope Shows Coming up at SOB's

Two shows you don't want to miss at the club who's been bringing the funk from more places the longest, SOB's.

Miz Metro is one of the funkiest girls I've ever met, and I've met a lot. She's throwing a party to celebrate the release of her new album. Definitely a show not to miss.

Curumin is one of the most innovative artists on the planet today. Coming from Brazil, he incorporates samba, hip-hop, reggae, and a plethora of other influences into his total sound. I've seen him in concert once, and he is worth the cost of admission.