Category: African Diaspora Music

New Audio: Oakland’s Orchestra Gold Shares a Lysergic Single

Oakland-based psych outfit Orchestra Gold is rooted in the decade plus-long collaboration between Malian-born vocalist Mariam Diakite and Oakland-based guitarist Erich Huffaker. The duo first met in Bamako, Mali back in 2006. At the time, Huffaker was very busy: he was working for a nonprofit, studying djembe and dunun (drums) and immersing himself in the city’s burgeoning music scene when he had met and befriended Diakite. The duo recognized a deep and profound musical connection, which led to Diakite relocating to the States to start a band — Orchestra Gold.

Since then, the Oakland-based psych outfit specializes in a kaleidoscopic sound that meshes Malian folk with psych rock and elements of Afrobeat and soul: Diakite delivers heartfelt and thought-provoking lyrics in her native Bambara language over a trippy and funky soundscape featuring swinging rhythms, funky brass and scorching guitar riffs. The outfit’s goal is to transcend national and musical borders while being a healing force.

Orchestra Gold’s third album Medicine is slated for a January 20, 2023 release. The album reportedly sees the band firmly continuing their pursuit of spreading and healing and community through music. Medicine‘s latest single “Koniya (No Benefit to Envy)” features shuffling rhythms, scorching feedback and distortion-driven riffs serving as a lysergic and sinuous bed Diakite’s gorgeous vocal. The end result is a song that arches upward towards the cosmos while rooted in earthly matters.

Acclaimed Senegalse singer/songwriter and guitarist Baaba Maal is a member of the semi-nomadic Fulani people. He first his home in Podor, Senegal to perform music hundreds of miles away as a teenager — and he has been a wanderer ever since. ““It’s part of my culture,” Maal says. “The songs travel from village to village, from country to country. It’s something natural to my tribe and this part of Africa.”

Since then, Maal has followed his music, as it traveled around the world, starting from his young travels around West Africa, performing with mentor Mansour Seck, to the Paris conservatory, where he studied music theory and then eventually across the rest of the globe, while collaborating with an eclectic array of contemporary artists including John Leckie, Brian Eno, Damon Albarn’s Africa Express, and Mumford & Sons. Maal has worked on the soundtracks for The Last Temptation of Christ and Black Hawk Down. He has also worked with soundtrack composer Ludwig Goransson to create the soundscapes for both Black Panther films, essentially making him the voice of Wakanda. Throughout his career, the acclaimed Senegalese artist has spread the word of an idealistic, energetic Africa — to the entire world. “I could bring my Africa to this other, abstract Africa, and both places collided together beautifully,” he says of Black Panther, “I brought this mythical Africa back to Podor, extending my reality, my hometown, and my music. I didn’t know whether I would make another album after The Traveller, but I did know my thinking about music was still changing. And once more something stirred inside me at home in Podor. I found myself once again. It was time for a new album.”

Maal’s forthcoming album Being is slated for a March 31, 2023 release through Marathon Artists. The album reportedly is the latest stage in the development of a highly distinctive, ecstatically melodic sound that meshes traditional African instruments and rhythms with modern, electronic production, The album is a set of confrontational and contemplative stories in which Maal mixes evocative, personal local concerns with grand universal themes to produce a unique form of deep, immersive soul music, taking the listener to new places via his birthplace of Podor, Senegal, where his music always begins, and his travels always end. “However far I travel, whatever direction, I will always return home,” the acclaimed Senegalese artist says. “It is the nomadic nature. To wander, but to return home, eventually. Home is where you start from, where you begin to learn what really matters, and home is where you finish. Podor is the perfect place for me when I need some time to think, to see my music with a fresh eye, to surprise it, snare it, catch it unawares as if coming across it for the first time.”

The album is also deeply informed by experiences Maal had before, during and after the pandemic. And as a result, the album also manages to be about being African, being a songwriter, being a romantic, being a realistic, being wary, being online, being at the mercy of the elements, being caught between two worlds, being on your way somewhere — and ultimately about his being from Podor while being connected to a constantly turbulent and shifting world through his art. “Each song of this album has its own personality. A song is like a person. It has a life, name, a character, and it has a position in life,” Maal says in press notes. “I think that’s what makes this album so powerful – it is totally about now and where I am now, the dreams I have of the past and the future.”

The album’s material also reflects Maal’s need to continually move forward with his work. Interestingly, much like his previous work, there wasn’t a deadline: Songs were finished when they were finished, emerging out of a combination of fast and slow work. There were intense improvisational studio sessions in Brooklyn, Podor, and London, where things moved quickly and songs took place over a few days. After energetic bursts of activity, both artist and producer took time to process their work, and songs would reveal themselves over many months. Some would be recorded by the ocean, in the ocean air, with the sound of crickets, dogs, donkeys, birds, traffic, rain and people being captured nearby.

Album opening track “Yerimayo Celebration,” Being‘s latest track is a joyous and percussive stomp centered around layers of thunderous percussion, African traditional instrumentation and enormous, ebullient hooks. The song which features contributions from Cheikh Ndoye (bass ngoni) and Momadou Sarr (percussion) is celeebration of music — and of music’s power to open the mind and heart in deeply troubled times, and of its power in fighting cynicism and chaos.

Red Hot has been producing great music to promote diversity and equal access to health care since 1990. The first project was the Cole Porter tribute Red Hot + Blue, quickly followed by Red Hot + DanceNo AlternativeStolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, and Red Hot + Rio. Over the past 15 years Red Hot produced two successful projects with Aaron and Bryce Dessner – Dark Was The Night and Day of the Dead – along with a tribute to Arthur Russell and several other projects. 

Yesterday, was World AIDS Day. And to commemorate the occasion, Red Hot reissued their acclaimed Fela Kuti tribute, Red Hot + Riot, which featured contributions from D’Angelo, Questlove, Femi Kuti, Talib Kweli, Sade, the late Tony Allen, Macy Gray, Nile Rodgers, Jorge Ben Jor, Baaba Maal, Meshell Ndegeocello, Dead Prez, Kelis, the late Roy Hargrove, Archie Shepp and many others 20 years after the compilation’s original release. (On a personal note, 20 years ago I was interning at FHM Magazine. I received a press copy of Red Hot + Riot Fela Kuti tribute, and that album was my introduction to both Fela and to Afrobeat.)

The 20th anniversary reissue is remastered and features two hours of bonus material, including a previously unreleased cover of “Sorrow Tears & Blood” by Bilal, an acoustic version of “Trouble Sleep” with Baaba Maal accompanied by the late and legendary kora player Kaouding Cissoko, and an extended version of Sade’s “By Your Side” by Stuart Matthewman. The original release had to be heavily edited to fit the time limit of a physical CD, and the reissue also features a wealth of bonus material, including extended versions of many album tracks, along with early mixes, acapallas, instrumentals, and much more.

And lastly, the folks at Red Hot have released the album on digital streaming platforms for the first time ever.

Just to refresh your memories a bit: Fela Kuti was — and still is — one of the most important African musicians, bandleaders and activists of his time. Sadly, Kuti died at age 58 in 1997 of causes related to HIV/AIDS, two years before Red Hot began the project.

The idea for the Red Hot Fela tribute came from Questlove during sessions for Red Hot’s Gershwin tribute compilation, which featured a collaboration between The Roots and the late and legendary Bobby Womack. Questlove suggested that Red Hot do a cover of Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin On but they couldn’t secure the rights.

The ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, along with a love of Fela Kuti’s work transformed the project into what we now know. Red Hot secured the rights to Fela’s music, as well as his master recordings, which allowed for both covers and sampling. Questlove kicked things off with a superstar session at Electric Lady Studios covering “Water Get No Enemy,” with a band led by D’Angelo and Fela’s son Femi Kuti, along with members of the Soultronics — James Posner, Pino Pallodino and the aforementioned D’Angelo and Questlove — and Femi’s backing band Positive Force. Nile Rodgers, Macy Gray and Erykah Badu joined the session, although Badu’s vocal didn’t make the final mix. Red Hot producer Beco Dranoff brought in legendary Brazilian artist Jorge Ben Jor to the session a bit too late to join in, but he recorded the basic track of what would become “Shuffering and Shmiling” in another room at Electric Lady overseen by producer Andres Levin.

Red Hot spent the the next two years recording material around the world and at the Fun Machine studio that Andres Levin built in the SoHo office of Funny Garbage, the digital design company co-founded and run by Red Hot’s co-founder and creative director John Carlin. Coincidentally, the Baaba Maal session for Trouble Sleep,” the first session at Fun Machine was on September 10, 2001. 24 hours later, the World Trade Center, which could be seen from the studio windows was attacked. It was a tragic and tumultuous time, but the recordings continued and by the end of the year, there was a joyous celebration of Fela’s music and life about to be released.


The 20th anniversary of Red Hot + Riot is a cause for celebration, but also a sober reflection on the continued devastation of HIV/AIDS, particularly as Sub-Saharan Africa is disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic: Sub-Saharan Africa currently accounts for 71% of people living with HIV, a devastating reality where 75% of global HIV-related deaths and 65% of new infections occur. I think these numbers will give you a better sense of HIVs impact on Sub-Saharan Africa: Of the 38.3 million people living with HIV worldwide, 27.3 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa. 7.8 million of the 27.3 million infected people are in South Africa, including 6,.3 million young adults and children. 11% of the global population is in Africa but it accounts for over 71% of the global impact in terms of infections and mortality.

The stigma around men who have sex with other men, women’s lack of resources and agency and the vilification of sex workers and drug addicts halt all progress that can be made to aid the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Frequently, ignorance is used to distance the culture from undesirable and uncomfortable topics like intimate partner violence, sex education, the LGBQT+ community and women’s lack of agency and access to proper care.

Tragically, young women and girls bear the brunt of the impact from cultural silence and their pain and misfortune is passed onto future generations. The HIV/AIDS epidemic’s root is the intersection of structural and cultural setbacks in awareness, acceptance, understanding and treatment. 

Red Hot celebrates the 20th anniversary reissue by sharing the expanded album’s first single, “Sorrow Tears and Blood,” off the bonus material, a joyous yet righteous, pan-African Diasporic take on the original that sees its talented crew of collaborators — Bilal, Zap Mama and Common — seamlessly meshing elements of jazz, neo-soul, hip-hop and Afrobeat. As Black folk — hell, as people — we need to be concerned with what’s going on in the Motherland, the very cradle of all of us.


New Video: Fabien Gravillon Shares a Breezy, Swooning Bop

Paris-born singer/songwriter Fabien Gravillon specializes in Zouk, Kizomba and Afro pop — but in his native France, he may be best known as an actor, who starred in the hit French soap opera Plus belle la vie.

After the release of his debut album through Because Music, Gravillon went to Los Angeles and appeared in several videos by internationally acclaimed artists including Macklemore and Patrick Stump‘s “Summer Days,” Collapsing Scenery and others.

He also participated in several projects filmed at Fox Studios in Hollywood and for The Jim Henson Company. Interestingly enough, inspired by animation and by his experience as a voiceover artist, Gravillon decided that his music videos should be cartoons. . .

“Bonita,” Gravillon’s latest single is sleek and swooning, genre-defying bop featuring skittering, reggaeton beats. glistening synth arpeggios and Gravillon’s sultry and vulnerable cooing (in French and Spanish) paired with a two-step inducing hook. While being slick and modern pop song, “Bonita” is a sweet and old fashioned plea of devotion and love.

The animated video features cartoon version of Gravillon and the song’s titular Bonita on a romantic date that’s sweet in its old-fashioned feel.

Michael Odokara-Okigbo is an emerging Nigerian-American singer/songwriter and producer, who writes and performs under the moniker Michael O. His latest single, the Harvey Mason, Jr. co-produced “Japa” derives its title from the Yoruba slang word “to flee,” a reference to the many Africans across the continent, forced to seek out a better life in the West. The song is also a story of survival — and a story about the foundation and creation of America.

Featuring skittering African-inspired beats, glistening and atmospheric synths, bursts of strummed guitar and a razor sharp hook paired with Odokara-Okibgo’s sultry yet plaintive deliver, “Japa” is a breezy and slickly produced bop rooted in a deeply universal message of survival — and hope. We should all remember that folks everywhere are struggling, and many are resorting to the most difficult decision imaginable: picking up their entire life and going someplace they’ve never known for the hope of a better life. Many of our — and here, I refer to those in America, Canada, the UK and so on — ancestors have done the same.

“Japa” will appear on Odokara-Okibgo’s forthcoming EP, slated for release next year.

Odokara-Okigbo is also the founder of NKENNE, the first African language learning app. Founded to create solidarity and as an avenue for the global African Diaspora to connect to their roots through language and technology, the Nigerian-American artist and producer has won the 2022 Gorham Saving Bank Emerging Business Award. He has also received a grant from MusiCares COVID-19 relief program, which has helped him jumpstart his app and his EP.

New Audio: Vincent Bugozi Returns with Sultry “African Fever”

Vincent Bugozi is a Tanzanian-born, London-based artist and bandleader. Along with his backing band, Bugozi specializes in a genre-defying and crowd-pleasing take on Afro Pop that meshes elements of of Afrobeat, reggae, Afro-Cuban music and pop among others. The Tanzanian-born, London-based artist and his backing band aim to combine the sounds of different cultures to connect people through music and an energetic live show — and help bring positivity and unity in a world that desperately needs it. 

Bugozi and company will be releasing their latest album AFRICAN SEBA! later this year. Inspired by Tanzanian Tinga Tinga art, AFRICAN SEBA! sees the act drawing inspiration from an eclectic array of sources and collaborating with a collection of musicians from the United Kingdom and European Union, while still deeply rooted in the sounds and styles of Africa. Thematically, the album’s material touches upon the “big themes” — love, sorrow and joy. Interestingly enough, the album will be his first multilingual album. 

So far I’ve written about two of the album’s singles:

  • Tinga Tinga,” a breezy, genre-smashing banger featuring skittering dancehall-meet-trap beats, 80s Quiet Storm soul-like saxophone and twinkling keys paired with Bugozi’s plaintive vocals and an infectious, razor sharp hook. Pulling from a variety of sounds and styles across the African Diaspora, the song manages to be a wildly accessible bop that will get a lounge or a club rocking and grooving.
  • Bossa Nova” is a slickly produced, seamlessly mesh of elements of Afro-pop, reggaeton and Bossa Nova that further cements Bugozi and company’s unerring knack for catchy hooks.

“African Fever,” the latest single off AFRICAN SEBA! continues a remarkably run of crowd-pleasing bops featuring elements of dancehall, Afropop, Afrobeats and contemporary electro pop centered around a sultry, dance floor rocking groove. If this one doesn’t make you want to get up and move, then something is very wrong with you.

Antananarivo, Madagascar-based trio LohArano — Mahalia Ravoajanahary (vocals, guitar), Michael Raveloson (bass, vocals) and Natiana Randrianasoloson (drums, vocals) — formed over seven years ago, and in that time, they’ve developed a unique, forward-thinking and boundary pushing sound that sees them pairing elements of popular and beloved Malagasy musical styles like Tsapiky  and Salegy with heavy metal. 

The band’s sound and approach represents a bold, young generation of Malagasy young people that honors and respects the traditions and practices of their elders but are also inspired by contemporary Western music genres and styles.

Over the past handful of years, the Malagasy metal outfit has been very busy: They released a self-titled EP, which fueaterd “Tandrroka,” a mosh pit friendly ripper, featuring rumbling, down-tuned bass lines, thunderous drumming, scorching guitar riffs and Ravoajanahary’s feral Karen O-like vocals. 

They quickly followed up with their full-length debut LohAmboto, which featured the System of a Down-like album title track “LohAmboto,” another mosh-pit friendly ripper that sees the band refining and honing their unique, global take on metal. 

The JOVM mainstays closed out last year with their first European tour — and it included a set at  Trans Musicales in Rennes, France, which the band filmed and released as a concert film. The concert film features their debut single Andrambavitany,” the aforementioned “Tandrroka” and “LohAmboto,” as well as material off their full-length debut performed with a feral intensity.

The Malagasy JOVM mainstays and their label Libertalia Music will be releasing a five song live EP from their Trans Musicales set. “Ts’Izy,” the live EP’s first single, is one explosive synthesis of metal, nu metal and hip-hop that channels Rage Against the Machine — but while being decidedly African.

New Audio: Vincent Bugozi Returns with a Genre-Defying and Breezy Bop

Vincent Bugozi is a Tanzanian-born, London-based artist and bandleader. Along with his backing band, Bugozi specializes in a genre-defying and infectious take on Afro Pop that meshes elements of of Afrobeat, reggae, Afro-Cuban music and pop among others. The Tanzanian-born, London-based artist and his backing band aim to combine the sounds of different cultures to connect people through music and an energetic live show — and help bring positivity and unity in a world that desperately needs it. 

Bugozi and company will be releasing their latest album AFRICAN SEBA! later this year. Inspired by Tanzanian Tinga Tinga art, AFRICAN SEBA! sees the act drawing inspiration from an eclectic array of sources and collaborating with a collection of musicians from the United Kingdom and European Union, while still deeply rooted in the sounds and styles of Africa. Thematically, the album’s material touches upon the “big themes” — love, sorrow and joy. Interestingly enough, the album will be his first multilingual album.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the breezy and summery bop “Tinga Tinga,” a genre-smashing, banger featuring skittering dancehall-meet-trap beats, 80s Quiet Storm soul-like saxophone and twinkling keys paired with Bugozi’s plaintive vocals and an infectious, razor sharp hook. While pulling from sounds across the African Diaspora, “Tinga Tinga” manages to be distinctly African while simultaneously being and pop-leaning, accessible banger that will get a lounge and/or a club rocking and grooving. 

AFRICAN SEBA!‘s latest single “Bossa Nova” is a slickly produced, breezy bop that seamlessly meshes elements of Afro-pop, reggaeton and Bossa Nova while cementing Bugozi and company’s unerring knack for infectious hooks. As Bugozi explains, the song tells a nostalgic tale about an Afro-Latina woman named Fatuma, who had the ability to make people dance to bossa nova.

New Audio: Nigerian-Greek Artist Ofili Shares Infectious Theme Song to Disney+’s “Rise”

33-year-old, Francis “Ofili” Adetokunbo is an emerging Lagos-born, Athens-based singer/songwriter and producer. And if you’re as big of a sports fan as I am, the last name may be dimly familiar for a reason: Adetokumbo is the oldest brother of Milwaukee Bucks‘ superstar forward/center Giannis Antetokounmpo (né Adetokunbo) and his three other professional basketball player brothers, Thanasis, Kostas and Alex.

Perhaps best known as a professional soccer player back in Nigeria — and as a semi-professional basketball player, Adetokunbo has spent the past decade creating original music that draws from Afrobeats, hip-hop and trap. Although he had been creating music for some time, Francis, who performs as Ofili, the name of his beloved grandfather, released his first official single a few years ago, after relocating to Athens.

Since his arrival in Athens, Adetokunbo has been busy releasing a series of singles including 2020’s “Shekosi,” which was released through Def Jam Greece; and last year’s “Like Giannis” with Moose and Negros Tou Moria, which was released through Sky Vector Music. Through the Athens-based imprint, he released “Count On U” and “On My Level” and the Rise EP, which features the title track “Rise” theme song to the Disney+ movie on his four younger, basketball player brothers, Rise.

Speaking of Rise — both the EP and the movie — the title track “Rise” is an infectious, hook-driven, genre-smashing bop featuring elements of Afrobeats, electro pop and dancehall that to my ears brings Nigerian superstar Burna Boy to mind. While being club and lounge friendly, “Rise” is centered around a powerful message of hope, resilience, dedication and familial love.