Notes about music and the people who make it
More than a decade after the non-profit music collective began, Africa Express—a U.K.-based group helmed by Damon Albarn, frontman of bands Blur and Gorillaz—return with Egoli, an 18-track album that combines the diverse styles of South African music with electro-Acholi from Northern Uganda, London Afrobeat, and melancholy Welsh vocals.
Ethiopia provided the starting point for the record, but Thread of Gold is also a broader reflection on issues of displacement, migration, and identity. (The band’s name is an Arabic term that means “migration away from danger towards a safer place.”) “It’s about our experience in a place that is unfamiliar to us,” says Beste, “and making sense of yourself in that reality.”
Black Tenere, by desert blues outfit Kel Assouf, is not so much a blistering record as it is a Saharan letterbomb: heavy guitars, fierce drumming, and hypnotically repetitive beats channeling the band’s anger in the face of injustice and colonialism.
Ghanaian group Basa Basa got off to an auspicious start: their debut album was produced by Fela Kuti himself. But it was the group’s third album—an adventurous collaboration with producer Themba “T-fire” Matebese—that propelled them to cult status. 1979’s Homowo, reissued this year by the Vintage Voudou label, builds on Basa Basa’s rhythm-heavy sound with layers of ultra-modern keys and futuristic synths.
From Ghana’s traditional seperewa harp music and Angola’s fast-paced kuduro, to Afrofuturistic Senegalese electronica and Bourkinabè hip-hop, the label embraces both traditional and experimental art, often straddling both worlds at once. Here’s a guide to the musicians who are shifting the perception of the Motherland’s sound
Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost 1970s and 1980s Tapes from the Horn
Unbeknown to audiences worldwide, Mogadishu in the 1970s and 1980s moved to the sound of funk and soul, reggae, Bollywood-like-bangers and synth fuelled disco-pop hits. Men rocking afros, sequinned jackets and bell bottom trousers performed traditional Somali love songs with Afrobeat rhythms, filling up clubs and hotel bars.
In Uganda, on the banks of the Nile, Megan Iacobini de Fazio dives in to Tanzanian singeli, electro acholi and Ghanaian EDM.
Donning brightly coloured kangas and headscarves, several women take their place around a large, bright room, furrowing their brows as they tune their instruments. Vibrant laughter, the quivering sound of the violin, the rhythmic thumps of the percussion and the hypnotic hum of a female voice chaotically compete with each other, until the appearance of Mariam Hamdani in the doorway brings the cacophony to a halt.
“I hate when someone tells me I don’t sound African,” says Ukweli, the youngest member of East African Wave—or EA Wave for short. “What am I supposed to do, put Conga drums on all of my tracks? My music is African by virtue of me being African.”The 21-year-old is one-fifth of EA Wave—a group of five DJs and music producers who, over the last couple of years, have created a small scene in Nairobi around their style of electronic music: an amalgamation of trap, house, trip-hop, and downtempo beats.
Last Saturday dozens of people made their way through the tight alleyways of Kenyatta Market, past the hair salons and through the nyama choma (roast meat) smoke to stall 570, where James ‘Jimmy’ Rugami set up shop in 1989. Young, old, Kenyan and expat alike filled the tight space by the stall, cradling cold beers as they browsed the hundreds of records on offer.
In 2011 the band released their first album. The hour-long record perfectly encapsulates the theme which Mezmur had in mind during the band’s conception. Covering tracks which already gleaned sounds from places as diverse as Armenia, Sudan and Europe, and layering them with latin, jazz and folk influences, Addis Acoustic create an album which is timeless, global and yet undeniably Ethiopian.
After a year-long hiatus, Sauti Za Busara is back. This year the festival happened across three stages, with the main one set up between the imposing walls of the 400-year-old Omani fort. The eclectic line-up featured traditional taarab groups alongside Ethiopian dub, Moroccan reggae, and psuchedelich rock from Seychelles to mention but a few.
The Mozambique-based record label Kongoloti Records is out to change that. The label takes contemporary music from Lusophone Africa—the melodic sounds of Northern Mozambique, politically-charged Angolan hip-hop, or J Dilla-inspired beats from Maputo—and brings it to the rest of the world. “We were intrigued by how much music from Lusophone Africa people really knew, so we started this journey,” says Milton Gulli.
Sewele, his 1986 album, marked a crucial change of direction for him: he was just starting out as a solo artist, experimenting with his sound, and trying to make his mark in the world of juju music. The record wasn’t a commercial success, and is often forgotten in discussions of Peters’ career. But it was an important time in the evolution of his sound.
The subject of an extensive new reissue from Analog Africa, Dur Dur Band were one of the few privately run bands causing a stir on Mogadishu’s vibrant ’80s dancefloors. Lost for a generation, this is the story of Dur Dur Band’s mission to globalise Somali music.
“Accra is booming right now, there are a lot of things happening,” says Alex Wondergem, a beatmaker and visual artist based in Ghana’s capital city. “Now more than ever, there is new energy—this belief that it’s time to express yourself, to live by your art. Everyone is owning up to their craft and pushing for it and finding their voice, and for a place for art in society.”
Most people hadn’t even set up their tents when the sky darkened and swelled, pregnant with the tropical deluge that within minutes would turn everything to mud and water. But even as the rain fell and thunder rumbled close by, the first arrivals gathered by the main and stage and kicked off their shoes, dancing in the rain, clothes and hair soon clinging to their skin
The internationally acclaimed Malian musician tells Megan Iacobini di Fazio about the power of song and why ‘world music’ is just music from the world.
Since 2013, Arlen Dilsizian and Derek Debru have galvanized Uganda’s electronic music scene, throwing parties and events with a focus on underground electronic music. “Dope underground music, that’s what we’re about. Just dope music,” says Dilsizian, an ethno-musicologist and co-founder of emerging Uganda-based label Nyege Nyege Tapes.
A delicate, hypnotic voice opens White African Power, the first album by Tanzania Albinism Collective, setting the tone for a record built equally on raw vocals, and lyrics that speak candidly of personal tragedy. “The world is hard, and I’m feeling defeated,” singer Christina Wagulu laments in Swahili. “Hatred, jealousy, and other emotions damage my heart / Disease weighs me down like defeat.”
During a career spanning more than two decades, the 42-year-old musician has effortlessly experimented with an array of different styles, mastered a number of diverse instruments, and played with some of Ethiopia’s most renowned musicians.
New festivals championing alternative African music are popping up all around the region, young self-taught DJs are sampling traditional instruments, and secret Facebook groups are dedicated to the discovery of obscure music; there are workshops about finding an identity in East African music and about marketing oneself online, and events whose line-up include musicians from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and abroad.
An eclectic mix of live music and DJs, palm-fringed white beaches, cold beer, hammocks, and some of the best stargazing in the world: can anything sound more appealing? These are only a few of the things drawing an ever-increasing number of music lovers to Malawi’s biggest music event, Lake of Stars.
The words power and music frequently come up in the same sentence when Fatou speaks. She believes that culture can be a strong force in the development of her beloved continent, and that musicians can have a wider and deeper impact than politicians, without the violence.
Tucked away in the meat corner of the market is stall 570, where James ‘Jimmy’ Rugami has been selling music since 1989. Raising from an old record player, the sounds of rhumba and lingala waft through the air and mingle with the smoky aromas of roast meat. PHOTOS by Rachel Clara Reed
It's a Wednesday evening in Westlands, known for its neon-lit streets, raucous clubs and 24 hour fried chicken joints. Hidden away behind a tyre yard, away from the clubs pumpng out Jamaican Dancehall and Nigerian Afrobeat, a crowd is gathering for an impromptu jam session at The Alchemist, one oc the city's most popular venues.
The newly released fourth volume, No Wahala: Highlife, Afro-Funk & Juju 1973-1987, returns to the vibrant heyday of Nigerian music, but shifts the focus away from the Lagos scene to other regions of the country.
It was 1971, and Guyana had only just become a Republic—it had achieved independence from its British colonizers in 1966. It was a difficult time, but also one in which the Afro-Guyanese people endeavored to rediscover their roots. It was against this backdrop that the Yoruba Singers began playing together.
But while there’s an air of mundanity around library music, it’s also been fertile ground for experimentation and creativity. And nowhere was this truer than in Italy in the 1970s, where avant-garde compositions, psychedelic guitars, futuristic synths, and brash horn sections became the signature sound of an era.
Dur Dur Band were at the forefront of Somalia’s Golden Era—that vibrant period between the 1970s and late ’80s—but their music was almost lost forever. Thankfully, some of the original recordings survived: Analog Africa’s reissue combines Dur Dur’s first two albums, released in 1986 and 1987
Paris to Calcutta: Men and Music on the Desert Road, released on Sublime Recordings on November 2, 2018, brings together Bhattacharya’s original diary, introductions from Millis and Jharna, and all the original recordings from the expedition.
Moontribe, the first record by a mysterious artist who goes by the same moniker, opens with an insistent, high-pitched bleep, the pace of which steadily quickens until it reaches anxious alarm. It’s a fitting start to Moontribe’s heady, psychedelic record, where African rhythms, meandering electric organs, and tribal chants immerse the listener in what feels like some sort of esoteric outer space ritual.
Founded in 1984 by keyboard player Isse Dahir Qassin, Dur-Dur Band’s music fused traditional Somali melodies with dance rhythms from all over the globe, from American funk and soul to Jamaican reggae. nThe band’s first two albums—released in 1986 and 1987 respectively, and reissued now via Analog Africa—capture the exuberance of Dur-Dur’s music, giving us a glimpse into the sounds of Mogadishu in the 1980s
The music on South Korean label Beatball Music is an unlikely mix of psychedelic rock, garage-revival, synth-pop, movie soundtracks, Scottish prog-rock, acoustic punk, and spiritual jazz. It was founded in Seoul in 2002 by Bongsoo Lee, a record collector who envisioned Beatball as a way to release “old stuff from the 1960s and ‘70s from all over the world” to Korean audiences.
And so, in 2007, Parisian label Heavenly Sweetness (named after avant-garde sax and flute player Byard Lancaster’s composition, produced by Rajon himself) was born with the intention of “spreading colorful music for the soul,” whether by unearthing and reissuing relatively unheard-of jazz records from around the world, or producing unusual new music by contemporary artists.
For over 40 years, Orchestre Les Mangelepa have been a dominant force in East Africa’s music scene, making people dance all across Congo, Tanzania, and Kenya with their energetic live performances and signature sound. They’ve helped evolve East African rumba—the musical art form that has come to define East Africa—and have kept it alive in Kenya’s busy capital, where they still play weekly gigs in local clubs.
We caught up with saxophonist Jack Wylie after a captivating performance at U.K.’s Womad Festival to talk about the album, their return as a quartet, and how automation doesn’t have to mean the end of art.
When London-based record collectors Rich Elson and John Bryan began work on digitizing the vast Sonodisc Catalogue—one of the largest label and distribution groups releasing Afro disco, funk, jazz, boogie and latin sounds—in 2012, all they had was a long list on a piece of paper. With no physical records or masters to speak of, they started tracking down the various records on the catalogue.