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 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/deboband/debo-band-returns-to-africa
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 http://deboband.com)
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!
Monday, December 28, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
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
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
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.
Reader/listener William Matczynski has passed on a couple of tunes that were direct influences on passages in African Suite. "Akuko Nu Bonto," a Fanti-language song by George Wiliams Aingo from Ghana bears a sharp resemblence to "Akinla" in the suite (and, I might add, to the classic highlife song "Saturday Night," which has been recorded by just about everybody). This version of the song was recorded in London in 1927 by Zonophone Records and distributed all across West Africa. It is included on the fascinating release Living is Hard: West African Music in Britain 1927-29 (Honest Jon's Records HJRCD 33). We can't tell you anything about Mr. Aingo but the CD Roots of Highlife (Heritage Records, 1992), now long out of print, collects a number of his recordings.
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:
University of Ghana Chorus - Ennye Ye Angye Da
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.
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 William Matczynski and to Priscilla. The beaded artwork at the top of this post is by Nigerian artist Jumah Buraimoh. You can learn more about him here.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Over the years there have been efforts to adapt African music to Western "classical" instrumentation and forms. One of the countries where this has been most successful is Nigeria, where this genre is called "Art Music."
In his book The World of African Music (Pluto Press/Research Associates, 1992), Ronnie Graham briefly discusses Nigerian Art Music and regrets that it hasn't gotten more attention. Among the composers Graham cites are Lazarus Ekwueme, Samuel Akpabot and Josiah Ransome-Kuti, a pastor and choral music composer who was the grandfather of Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
I've had little exposure to Nigerian Art Music. During a visit to Lagos in 1994, I came across a stack of LPs in the Jazz Hole, but passed them up (they were rather pricey), something I now regret. Recently, however, I was going through a box of my late father's things, and found a recording of African Suite (London LPS 426, 1951), probably the best-known composition of
Fela Sowande, left, considered by many the father of Nigerian Art Music.
Olufela Sowande was born on May 29, 1905, in Abeokuta, a historically important city that was the capital of the Egba United Government, an independent entity which became part of the British Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914. Sowande was introduced by his father, an Anglican priest, to choral music and was an accomplished pianist by the time he graduated from Kings College in Lagos. Exposure to jazz broadcasts from abroad led him to found the Triumph Dance Club Orchestra in the early 1930s.
During his studies in London to become a civil engineer, Sowande supported himself as a jazz musician, befriending a number of African American musicians in the process, notably Paul Robeson and Fats Waller. In 1940 he performed his own compositions on the BBC Africa Service and later served as Music Director of the Colonial Film Unit.
African Suite was recorded and released by Decca Records in the UK in 1951. This is apparently the same version, performed by the New Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Trevor Harvey, that I discovered in my father's posessions. The liner notes of a later recording state:
The African Suite, written in 1944, combines well-known West African musics with European forces and methods. For the opening movement, "Joyful Day," Sowande uses a melody written by Ghanaian composer Ephrain Amu, as he does in the fourth movement, "Onipe." In "Nostalgia," Sowande composes a traditional slow movement to express his nostalgia for the homeland (in itself a rather European idea). At the centre of the work is a restive "Lullaby," based on a folk original.Despite working in a "Western" musical idiom, Sowande was very much a cultural nationalist and composed his last major work, Nigerian Folk Symphony, to mark his homeland's independence from Britain in 1960. However, Bode Omojola writes in his 1995 book Nigerian Art Music that:
The finale of the Suite, "Akinla," traces a very singular musical history. It began as a popular Highlife tune - Highlife being a pungent, 20th-century style, combining colonial Western military and popular music with West African elements and a history of its own. Sowande then featured it as a cornerstone of his "argument" that West African music could be heard on European terms: the African Suite was originally broadcast by the BBC to the British colonies in Africa. Years later, in another colony far away, the sturdy Highlife dance tune became famous as the theme song of the long-running CBC Radio programme "Gilmour's Albums", a typically idiosyncratic choice of the host, Clyde Gilmour.
He believed in the philosophy of cultural reciprocity and argued against what he called "apartheid in art." According to him: "We are not prepared to submit to the doctrine of apartheid in art by which a musician is expected to work only within the limits of his traditional forms of music." He therefore warned against: "uncontrolled nationalism in which case nationals of any one country may forget that they are all members of one human family with other nationals."Following a long and fruitful career composing and teaching at Princeton, the University of Ibadan, Howard University and the University of Pittsburgh, Sowande died of a stroke in Ravenna, Ohio on March 13, 1987.
I confess that I'm not in a position to evaluate African Suite as a classical music composition, although it's certainly pleasant enough. The liner notes by Sowande (below, click to enlarge) shed some light on the thinking and influences behind the piece. I would be interested to hear from readers and listeners who have more personal knowledge of the folk tunes that were incorporated into the composition. African Suite is an illustration of the many varied forms that "African music" takes. Enjoy!
The New Symphony Orchestra - Joyful Day
The New Symphony Orchestra - Nostalgia
The New Symphony Orchestra - Onipe
The New Symphony Orchestra - Lullaby
The New Symphony Orchestra - Akinla
African Suite can be downloaded as a zipped file here.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
If you like the music of Somalia's Iftin and Dur Dur, featured some time ago in this space, let me direct your attention to Andreas Wetter's new blog Kezira, whose latest post features a whole cassette by Dur Dur, recorded some time in the early 1990s.
As Andreas tells it, the developing civil war in Somalia forced the group across the border to Ethiopia, where Africa was recorded and released by Elham Video Electronics in the provincial town of Negele. Vocalist Sahra Dawo, who has drawn raves hereabouts, features on several tracks.
While I'm at it, let me comment on the current state of the African music blogosphere, whose quality has advanced dramatically in the last couple of years. Notable in this regard are three sites - African Music Treasures, Electric Jive and World Service, whose proprietors regularly grace us with their knowledge and insight. This is not to slight outstanding work also by Oro, Global Groove and Freedom Blues, whose copious postings of hard-to-find recordings have forced me to buy a new hard drive. I'm overwhelmed really - I just haven't had time to listen to all the great music that's come my way, thanks to these busy beavers.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
In 1971, after several years of musical experimentation following the breakup of the super-group Cream, British drummer Ginger Baker made his way to Lagos, Nigeria, where he helped set up EMI's new 16-track recording studio. It was here that Baker re-united with his friend Fela Anikulapo Kuti (then known as Fela Ransome-Kuti) and recorded Stratavarious (Atco SD 7013), one of the first collaborations between an African musician and a Western rock star.
To the best of my knowledge, Stratavarious has been out of print ever since it was released in 1972 and consigned to oblivion shortly thereafter, although one or two cuts from it may have been included in compilations. It is very much Ginger Baker's "thing," although Fela plays an important role on several tracks. Also present is Fela's American girlfriend Sandra Izidore (credited as "Sandra Danielle").
Strativarious is a fascinating look at a magic time when rock, jazz and Afrobeat were taking their first tentative steps toward each other, and a harbinger of fusions to come. It certainly deserves more attention than it's gotten. Like the recordings featured in the last two posts, Stratavarious was originally posted on Uchenna Ikonne's With Comb & Razor blog.
Fela and Sandra Izidore take center stage on Side 1 of Stratavarious. Izidore provides vocals on "Ariwo," an adaptation of a Yoruba folk tune, and Fela sings lead on "Tiwa," with Sandra included in the backup chorus. Fela plays keyboard on both tunes:
Ginger Baker - Ariwo
Ginger Baker - Tiwa
Fela's keyboard work also features on the next two tracks. Both are notable also for the lead guitar work of Bobby Tench (here credited as "Bobby Gass"), who had previously played with the Jeff Beck Group:
Ginger Baker - Something Nice
Ginger Baker - Ju Ju
Fela Ransome-Kuti plays no role in "Blood Brothers 69" or "Coda." "Blood Brothers" was apparently recorded in London in 1969, a collaboration between Baker and renowned Ghanaian percussionist Guy Warren, later known as Kofi Ghanaba:
Ginger Baker & Guy Warren - Blood Brothers 69
Ginger Baker - Coda
Stratavarious can be downloaded as a zipped file here.
Stratavarious was by no means Ginger Baker's first experiment with African music. Not only had he previously recorded Fela Ransome-Kuti & the Africa '70 with Ginger Baker Live! (Signpost SP 8401, 1971), but his two LPs with Ginger Baker's Air Force had a definite African "feel," notably this tune from their first album (Atco SD 2-703, 1970, right). Compare it with "Ariwo," above:
Ginger Baker's Air Force - Aiko Biaye
This series of posts was occasioned by the recent announcement that Knitting Factory Records plans to reissue the "complete" Fela discography, although as I pointed out here, there are a few titles missing. In addition to Stratavarious, Perambulator and I Go Shout Plenty!!! the 1985 Bill Laswell "remix" version of Army Arrangement (Celluloid CELL 6109) is long out of print with no plans for reissue (it was released while Fela was in prison and he is said to have hated it). Toshiya Endo's Fela discography lists a number of other tunes that have never been released in any form. Notably, Knitting Factory plans to release the "entire" catalog of recordings Fela made with the Koola Lobitos in the 1960s. This is good news indeed.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Here's another Fela rarity for your musical enjoyment: The Afrodisia disc I Go Shout Plenty!! (DWAPS 2251), released in 1986 but apparently recorded earlier. Like Perambulator, featured in my last post, I made this available to Uchenna Ikonne's With Comb and Razor blog a couple of years ago, and as it is no longer online, I'm making it available again.
According to Toshiya Endo, Side A ("I Go Shout Plenty") was recorded in 1977 as DWAPS 2038 but never released (the B Side was to be "Frustration of my Lady" or "Frustration," which later became the B Side of Perambulator).
Side B, "Why Black Man Dey Suffer," was also recorded in 1977 as the A Side of DWAPS 2036 (Side B was to be a song titled "Male," which I don't believe has ever been made public), but also not released. This is a different version of the tune of the same name that was released as African Songs AS001 (and recently reissued on CD) in 1971 (that version features Ginger Baker).
No personnel listed, but I wouldn't be surprised if Lester Bowie played on these tunes also. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if these tracks were recorded in the same set of sessions as "Perambulator" and "Frustration." These aren't really primo Fela tunes, and he is said not to have approved their release. I suspect that in 1986, however, shortly after the Black President was let out of prison, Afrodisia Records thought it could make a few Naira off of the attendant publicity and put them out.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti & Afrika '70 - I Go Shout Plenty
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti & Afrika '70 - Why Black Man Dey Suffer
You can download I Go Shout Plenty!!! as a zipped file here. In my next post I'll be discussing Ginger Baker's LP Stratavarious, recorded with Fela in the early '70s.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
By way of Undercover Black Man I learn that Knitting Factory Records intends to remaster and reissue the "entire catalog" of Nigeria's late Afrobeat King Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in the next 18 months.
I'm wondering what the difference is between this project and the extensive Fela reissue that saw the light of day about 10 years ago. Not that I'm complaining, of course, but I can think of several Fela pressings that are not among the "entire catalog" of 45 recordings listed for reissue on the Knitting Factory website. A few years ago, before Likembe got started, I made these available to Uchenna Ikonne to post on his With Comb and Razor blog, and as these are no longer online, it seemed like a good idea to put them out there again.
Perambulator (Lagos International Records LIR 6) was released in 1983, following a rather fallow period in Fela's career, and just before the jailing on trumped-up charges that would bring him back to the world's attention. "Perambulator," the song, was apparently recorded a number of years earlier. Toshiya Endo writes in his Fela discography that it was the B side of the French issue of Shuffering and Shmiling (Barclay 829 710-1) in 1978 while "Frustration" was recorded as "Frustration of My Lady" in 1977 as the B side of an Afrodisia LP that was never released.
If you look closely at the credits on the back of Perambulator you'll see Lester Bowie credited as a "guest artist" (I think that's his trumpet solo about 6 minutes into "Frustration"). Bowie lived with Fela in Lagos for three months in 1977. A co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, he was also married for a time to Fontella Bass, who did the awesome 1965 R&B hit "Rescue Me." So contrary to the record cover and label, I don't think Perambulator is a "true" Egypt '80 record, as it was recorded several years earlier, when Fela's band was still called Afrika '70. The record was not included in the "official" Fela CD reissue of the late '90s, although it did come out combined with Original Sufferhead (Lagos International Records 2, 1981) on a CD in Japan in 1998, a pressing that is no longer available.
As to why Perambulator is not considered part of Fela's "official" canon, I suspect it was an unauthorized release. While it may be sub rosa it is certainly not sub-standard. "Frustration" in particular is a killer track. Enjoy!
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti & Afrika '70 - Perambulator
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti & Afrika '70 - Frustration
You can download Perambulator as a zipped file here. In my next two posts I'll discuss two more "unknown" Fela releases.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
For all I know, recordings like Simon Sene's Magal (Afrique Dioundioung/KSF) could be as common as dirt in Senegal, so the title of this post may not be completely accurate. Still, the first time it came my way ten years ago, I knew that something set it apart from the general Wolof/Peul axis of modern Senegalese music.
Now, from his My Space Profile, I learn that Mr. Sene is a Serer, the third-largest ethnicity in Senegal (see map below), a people that still retain animistic beliefs, although some members in recent years have converted to Islam or Christianity. As a singer of traditional music at weddings and christenings, he was discovered by Moussa Bopp of Radio Kaolack and encouraged to record. At first his family resisted, objecting that the songs were meant only for the griot caste, but he recorded his first hit, "Ndakaru," in 1993. His first cassette, Magal, with its sparse yet striking arrangements for keyboards and percussion, was released in 1997. With two further releases, Jamm Cassamance in 2001 and Yaye in 2006, Simon Sene has clearly taken his place in the pantheon of modern masters of Senegal music. Enjoy!
Simon Sene - Roi des Arenes
Simon Sene - Magal
Simon Sene - Greve
Simon Sene - O Young
Simon Sene - Fexwe
Simon Sene - A Cang
Simon Sene - Maayaay
Simon Sene - Hommage a Mbissane
You can also download this album as a zipped file here. In the future I will be offering this option for the convenience of Likembe reader/listeners, and I will also try to make it available in older posts as well. As the zipped files use "free" file-hosting services (as opposed to the individual tracks, which I pay to have hosted) I can't assure that they will always be available. Let me know how it works out.