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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.