Monday, December 28, 2009


Hi John,

I have been a fan of your website Likembe for a couple years since I came across some thing you posted about Kuku Sebsebe. I also wanted to introduce myself to you.

My name is Danny Mekonnen. I am a Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology at Harvard. I work on Ethiopian music and will start my dissertation in about one year. I am also a bandleader and musician -- I play saxophone in my group Debo Band. The group is an 11-piece Ethiopian pop, together now for over three years.

We've been given the incredible opportunity to bring Ethiopian music for the first time to East Africa’s largest music festival: “Sauti za Busara” on the island of Zanzibar, February 11th-16th, 2010. We will bring with us 4 Ethiopian musicians and dancers living in Addis Ababa. This is a major opportunity for us to reach a wider audience and make further connections and collaborations with music in Ethiopia and East Africa.

Debo Band has launched an online fundraising campaign, and we have just 15 days left to raise more than $5,000 to pay for our upcoming African tour. We'd love you to watch our video and help spread the word. The success of this effort depends on this news reaching people far and wide.

See the video at

We've received a grant which only covers some of the cost, so we are now seeking (tax-deductible) donations to complete the budget and make this journey possible. Any amount makes a huge difference -- most donations are $25 or $50, which will add up quickly to help us to our goal.

It's hard asking strangers for help, but I feel that the fund-raising is all for a good cause: an exciting opportunity for cultural exchange through music. We hope that when you watch the video you feel inspired to contribute in some way! Check out the video link above to see what we're up to, and please pass this on to more people who would be interested in this project. (You can also learn more about Debo Band at

Many thanks in advance for your time reading this email and for the work you do through your blog Likembe. I hope than we can be in touch in the future, and that we can find a way to work on something together.

All best wishes for the new year!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Salam Sounds

Researching that last post has got me to pondering the ways in which the kora, the traditional 21-string harp-lute of West Africa, has been combined with more modern sounds. There are plenty of examples, from the musical fusions of Foday Musa Suso and Djeli Moussa Diawara to Toumani Diabate's collaborations with Taj Mahal and Björk, to, incredibly, Naughty By Nature's 1991 smash hit "O.P.P."

None of these attempts to update the classic sound, in my opinion, approach the pure polyphonic joy of Ebrima Tata Jobateh's cassette Waato, recorded with his group Salam (apparently members of his extended family) and released by Kerewan Sounds in Gambia in 1995.

Efforts to find out more about this mysterious artist didn't yield much save this observation by Nick Deen of Natari: ". . . Tata's solo style is extremely impressive and in fact leaves the older Paris-based kora players like
Mory Kante very much in the shade. Absolute magic all the way through." Of course, I wholeheartedly agree with Nick's assessment! Hear for yourself:

Tata & Salam Band - San-Chaba

Tata & Salam Band - Sabarla

Tata & Salam Band - Mali-Gambia

Tata & Salam Band - Boto Sanneh

Tata & Salam Band - Mariama Jallow

Tata & Salam Band - Kaira

Tata & Salam Band - Duwa

Tata & Salam Band - Alagie Danso

You can download Waato as a zipped file here. More new-fangled kora sounds to follow.

Monday, December 21, 2009

House of Kings

The Casamance region of southern Senegal has been the scene of sporadic fighting over the years between the central government and the separatist Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC). The area was formerly a Portuguese possession and is culturally distinct from the rest of Senegal. The name "Casamance" is said to derive from the Portuguese word for "house" combined with the Mandinka word for "king." An alternative explanation attributes the name to an old kingdom in the region called Kassa.

The music of Casamance also differs from the mainstream Senegalese sound, having more in common with the music of Guinea and Mali, with a distinctive Lusophone flavor. Orchestre Baobab, Toure Kunda and Xalam all have roots in the region, but the foremost musical group in the area has been the Sedhiou Band, variously known as UCAS de Sedhiou or the UCAS Jazz Band.

The Sedhiou Band was founded in 1959 as the musical group of the Union Cultural Association in the town of Sedhiou, and has had a varied lineup over the years. The most recent configuration features Ibrahima Sylla Dia on lead guitar, vocals by Abdoulaye Dandou Diedhiou, Seydou Ndao, Amadou Leye Sarr and Aminata Dieng Ndiaye, and a battery of percussionists and other musicians. The group came to the attention of most African music fans outside of Senegal when Africa Kambeng (Africassette AC9404) was released in 1998, a recording that is still in print and available from Amazon and Sterns.

The Sedhiou Band have released numerous recordings over the years (a 1970s LP is available from Worldservice here). I possess four cassettes by the group released during the 1990s, from which I present selections here. It's a sort of "
Sedhiou Band Best of the '90s," as it were.

The title track of Saaroo, released in 1992, is distinguished by the kora playing of Sirakata Diebaté, who also features prominently on "Kambeng" from the same cassette:

UCAS de Sedhiou - Saaroo

UCAS de Sedhiou - Kambeng

I wish I knew the name of the female singer who graces the lovely song "Nenne Suuxo," permeated with a sense of saudade, that opens A Paris, issued in 1993. "Yaa Musoolu," from the same cassette, definitely kicks things up a notch:

UCAS Band Jazz de Sedhiou - Nenne Suuxo

UCAS Band Jazz de Sedhiou - Yaa Musoolu

In 1997 the Sedhiou Band made several recordings for the Gambia-based label Kerewan Sounds, and these reflect Gambian concerns. Notable is this praise song to the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, a political party that grew out of a military coup in the Gambia in 1994 and swept the 1997 elections. It continues to rule the country amid charges of intimidation of opposition parties. This is from the cassette Dimbayaa:

Sedhiou Band - A.P.R.C.

Also from Dimbayaa is this lively tune:

Sedhiou Band - Khady Kebe

Africa Kambeng, also released in 1997 by Kerewan Sounds, continues the theme of uptempo dance music combined with political paeans. "22nd July Movement" is a praise song to the 1994 miltary coup:

Sedhiou Band - 22nd July Movement

Here's another praise song, but apparently not a political one. There is a Senegalese professional basketball player named Ndeye Ndiaye, but she would have been 18 when this song was recorded, so it's probably not about her. I wish I knew more:

Sedhiou Band - Ndeye Ndiaye

Download these tracks as a zipped file here. If you enjoy this music, go to this post about Ramiro Naka from Guinea-Bisaau, and see if you don't hear a connection.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Roots of "Art Music"

I didn't know what to expect when I posted a recording of Fela Sowande's African Suite a couple of weeks ago, but the reaction has been surprisingly positive, not only in comments and emails but in the the number of downloads.

I say "surprisingly positive" because I didn't know what people would make of this effort to fuse African traditional music with European classical forms. Turns out that African "Art Music" isn't the obscure back ally that I thought it was. Not only is there a lot of it out there, it is the subject of a surprising amount of scholarship. Andreas Wetter directs us to two articles on his website Ntama, and the internet offers up considerable analysis for those who are interested.


George Williams Aingo - Akuko Nu Bonto

Ghanaian composer Ephraim Kwaku Amu was a trail-blazer in the field of transcription of traditional African songs. He was born in 1899 and began teaching in 1920, contemporaneously with his musical education under the Rev. Allotey-Pappoe.

Soon he had composed a number of popular songs, including "Mawo do na Yesu" ("I Shall Work for Jesus"), "Onipa," "Da Wo So" and "Yen Ara Asase Ni." His cultural nationalist tendencies led to a break with the Church, and he left for London in 1937 to study at the Royal College of Music. It was here that he learned to fuse African polyphony with European forms of music. In the late '60s Amu was the director of the University of Ghana Chorus, which recorded the LP Ghana Asuafo Reto Dwom (Ghanaian Students Sing) for Afro Request Records (SPLP 5027). Amu's composition "Ennye Ye Angye Da," included on the album, was the basis for "Joyful Day" in Sowande's African Suite. From the liner notes, the lyrics are as follows:

This is a joyful day.
Why be sad, when all around is happy and merry?
Work and merrymaking alternate each other to make life enjoyable.
We pledge to engage in both, work and merrymaking, each in its appropriate time to make life happy and merry.
University of Ghana Chorus - Ennye Ye Angye Da

Miles Cleret of Soundway Records asked my wife Priscilla to translate some Igbo-language songs for inclusion on the upcoming Volume 2 of the amazing Nigeria Special. Interestingly, in light of our subject matter, one of those songs, "Egwu Umuagboho" ("The Young Maidens' Dance") is by Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko (above), one of the leading lights of Nigerian Art Music. Ms. Nwosu was born in 1940 and has lived in the United States since 1996. In 1961 she journeyed to Rome on an Eastern Nigerian Government scholarship with the ambition of becoming an opera singer. Here she studied in several conservatories for ten years. Returning to Nigeria in 1972, she became Producer of Musical Programs for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and became a Musical Lecturer at the University of Lagos in 1975, holding a number of posts in that institution until 1992.

Ms. Nwosu has recorded several LPs in Nigeria and is responsible for numerous popular compositions. "Egwu Umuagboho," recorded with Dan Satch Joseph's band, is quite unusual for an Igbo song, reflecting her operatic training. It is based on the traditional girls' dance of Nwosu's Enugu region. Lyrically it is more of a "tone poem" than a straight narrative, adress to a girl named Agnes: "Beautiful Agnes. . . what slight is done to another person? . . . peace, peace Udoegwu. . . anger and quarrel. . . Agnes, it's me talking, Agnes, it's me calling:

Joy Nwosu & Dan Satch Joseph - Egwu Umuagboho

"Egwu Umuagboho" is unavailable for download at this time. Many thanks again to