Category: African Music

New Video: The Lush and Trance Inducing Sounds and Visuals of Mauritana’s Noura Mint Seymali

Arbina’s latest single “Na Sane,” consists Seymali’s gorgeous, siren-like vocals, Chingaly’s shimmering and dexterous guitar work that will make you say to yourself “I’ve never heard guitars sound like that,” Toure’s muscular, driving bass grooves and Tinari’s precise, jazz and rock-inspired drumming, with the result is a song that possesses a lush, enveloping and hypnotic quality. And while being thoroughly modern, the song draws from something deeply timeless and unmistakably universal — an aching yearning to be immersed in the love and power of the infinite.

As the band’s drummer and producer Matthew Tinari explains of the recently released video “Essentially, we just threw an impromptu family barbecue. One of the dancers is Noura’s brother Baba; some of the younger boys are nephews of Jeiche. The girl dancer is a friend from the neighborhood. It was a family affair!” The video manages to captures Moorish traditions and daily life in a gorgeous and cinematic fashion.



While most Westerners are most likely familiar with Afrobeat, Malian blues and several other genres that have hit European and American shores since the early 1970s, there’s actually a lesser known genre primarily based in the Western African nations of Togo and Benin called vaudou, named after both the culture and rituals that birthed it; in fact, part of vaudou rituals reportedly involve the use of characteristic lines sung to various divinities that differ wildly from everything one may hear in neighboring cultures. Sadly, many of the genre’s key figures including Poly-Rythmo of Cotonou, Dama Damawuzan, or El Rego have had their popularity confined to crate-digging and groove-obsessed Afro-groove and Afro-funk fans.


Lome, Togo-born and Lyon, France– based Peter Solo (lead vocals and guitar) stumbled upon this energetic Afro-funk and found a natural extension between vaudou and the blues, funk and R&B of James Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and others. Solo then recruited Vicente Fritis (keys, backing vocals), Ghislain Paillard (sax, percussion and backing vocals), Guillhem Parguel (trombone, percussion, backing vocals), Jeremy Garcia (bass, backing vocals) and Hafid Zouaoui (drums, backing vocals) to complete his band Vaudou Game.

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site for some time, you’d know that I’m frequently multi-tasking while working on posts and it has lead to the serendipitous discovery of a handful of acts that I’ve written about — including the aforementioned Vaudou Game. Check out “Revolution,” the opening track off the band’s latest effort Kidayu, a single with an infectious and deep groove reminiscent of early 70s James Brown (think of “The Payback”), and Open and Close/Afrodesiac-era Fela Kuti and Pazy and the Black Hippies’ Wa Ho Ha with lyrics sung both in English and one of the local dialects spoken in Togo — while being equally politically charged.


Congolese-born, Minneapolis, MN-based guitarist, singer/songwriter and composer Siama Matuzungidi has had a lengthy, decades long prolific career that began in earnest when he left his home in rural Democratic Republic of the Congo, then Zaire with a guitar strapped to his back. He then travelled to Kinshasa and Uganda before eventually landing in Nairobi, Kenya. And during those travels a young Matuzungidi was a studio musician, songwriter and or cowriter with some of soukous’ biggest and brightest names including Kanda Bongo Man, Sam Mangwana, Moni Mambo with Shika Shika, Lovy Longomba, Tshala Muana and Samba Mapangala with Virunga; in fact, Matuzungidi has played on more than 100 singles, including some of soukous’ most beloved radio hits while developing a reputation for material based around tales of love, desire and betrayal paired with catchy hooks and a wry and ironic sense of humor — although on many of those songs he wasn’t officially credited.


As a result of his prolific songwriting and incredible guitar work, Matuzungidi became considered one of soukous’ legends — and in a highly competitive genre in which writing catchy song just wasn’t enough to stay relevant. During the genre’s golden age during the 70s and 8os, it took more than writing a catchy song to keep listeners ears and fans buying albums, and the genre’s songwriters and musicians began writing songs with a deeper complexity and nuance, so you’d hear intricate hooks, complex scales an more. And interestingly enough, that period of experimentation may arguably have prepared and influenced the Congolese soukous legend’s future interest in experimenting with his sound.

Now as the story goes, after spending time performing in Japan and Dubai, Matuzungidi relocated to Minneapolis, the soukous legend quickly realized that he was in for a rather big professional and personal change — “for the first time there wasn’t anyone to play soukous with. I was worried I might have to stop playing but another voice told me to try new things,” Matuzungidi explains in press notes. So the Congolese singer/songwriter and guitarist decided to invite a number of local and locally-based emigre musicians to collaborate with him including Carnatic Indian singer and veena virtuoso Nirmala Rajasekar, renowned gospel singer JD Steele, master Tibetan multi-instrumentalist Tenzen Ngawang, classical cellist Jacqueline Ultan and Joe Savage on pedal steel. As Matuzungidi continues “I invited musicians to share what they feel when they hear my music. I didn’t tell them what to play. I just encouraged them to express themselves in their own way. The music still sounds like home but they’ve added so many cool ideas to it.”

And as a result Matuzungidi’s recently released full-length Rivers is a bit of a modern and highly global take on traditional Congolese music. I have the unique privilege of premiering Rivers‘ opening single, the upbeat 6/8 “Jungle Zombie” which pairs a twisting and looping guitar line with bright blasts of horn, playful polyrhythm and a jazz-leaning bridge in a loose composition that allows room for each of the musicians a few brilliant moments to show off in a brilliant solos, along with call and response vocals. Reportedly, the song is loosely inspired by and is meant to channel the imagery of Matuzungidi and his family walking through the bush to get to their farm, where they grew their own food. Interestingly, as the press notes mention the song’s lyrics translated from Lingala simply say “Bring me water. Bring me food . . ” But the main thing is that the song is so joyous, so fun that you can’t help but want to dance along.







Comprised of Massama Dogo (lead vocals, guitar), Clayton Englar (sax), Megan Nortrup (sax), Scott Aronson (bass), Franck Martins (lead guitar). and Aaron Gibian (percussion and drums), the Washington, DC-based sextet Elikeh has developed a reputation for material that sonically has been classified as Afropop, as it draws influence from Western Africa — frequently meshing traditional Togolese rhythms with rock, funk, jazz with lyrics that deal with global themes and personal journeys.

Dogo, the band’s leader was born in Togo and while in the African nation, he played and sang in several local bands, including a local band also named Elikeh, with whom he released one album, Nyade in 2007. Several years later, Dogo relocated to Washington, DC met the current lineup and then wrote, recorded and released their 2010 Stateside debut, Adje! Adje! The sextet’s 2012 release Between 2 Worlds featured renowned Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure and Further and Dark Star Orchestra‘s John Kadlecik received international attention in World Music circles.

As the story goes, the band was considering calling it quits, finishing out the songs they had booked and moving on to other creative endeavors. During a band meeting in which the members of the band were going to discuss their future and splitting up, the band’s guitarist Frank Martins kept playing the entire time. He came up with a musical idea, someone else would join in, another band member would join in and then everyone began jamming — until they developed a song. One of the sax players had recorded the jam session and while listening to that session, the members of the band realized that their break up talk was premature. “We’re all excited about the band now,” Dogo mentioned in press notes. “It’s lucky the guitarist didn’t want to put down his instrument. The EP saved us.”

 That jam session inspired “The Conversation,” which appears on the Washington, DC-based sextet’s recently released Kondona, an EP that gets it title from ” a ceremony they hold every five years in the northern part of my country,” Dogo explains. “It’s an initiation, a way to welcome the young men into the adult part of the community. It seemed right for what had happened to us, although we still have a long way to go.”
The EP’s first single the aforementioned “The Conversation” manages to possess clear elements of Afrobeat and sounds partially influenced by Fela Kuti (in particular Afrodesiac/Open and Close and Expensive Shit/He Miss Road-era Fela) and contemporary American Afrobeat bands, including fellow DC area band The Funk Ark, NYC’s Ikebe Shakedown and others,

as the song begins with an introductory section with soaring organ chords throughout  before establishing the tight, percussive groove that holds the entire song together, and allows for each section and each instrumentalist to show off their immense chops — and conversing with each other throughout the length of the song. Of course, each region of the world specializes in subtle variations of the genre so that Togolese Afrobeat won’t be exactly the same as American Afrobeat or Nigerian Afrobeat — and in the case of Elikeh, the band’s sound possesses subtle elements of highlife, the genre that influenced Fela, thanks to its upbeat feel. But interestingly enough there’s subtle elements of pop and other African traditional sounds, which helps to set them apart from a very crowded DC Afrobeat scene. And yet somehow, from listening to this single it’s surprising to me that they’re not much larger than what they currently are; hopefully, the blogosphere can get it right.

Founded by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Tinariwen can trace their origins back to the mid and late 1970s when Alhabib, who had been inspired to learn the guitar from an old Western film, in which a cowboy played a guitar, joined other Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria, who were exploring the radical chaabi protest music of Moroccan groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala; Algerian pop rai; and western artists like Elvis PresleyLed ZeppelinCarlos SantanaDire StraitsJimi HendrixBoney M, and Bob Marley.

While in Tamanrasset, Algeria, Ag Alhabib started a band with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil, and they began playing the traditional sounds of the Taureg people at weddings and parties across Algeria and Libya. Interestingly, when they started, the band had no official name but people began calling them Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language translates roughly as “The People of the Deserts” or “The Desert Boys.”

In 1980, Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi released a decree inviting all young Tuareg men, who were living illegally in Libya to receive full military training, as part of his dream of forming a Saharan regiment, comprised of the best young Tuareg fighters to further his territorial ambitions in Chad, Niger, and elsewhere across Northern Africa. Al Alhabib and his bandmates answered the call and received military training. They answered a similar call in 1985, by leaders of the Libyan Tuareg movement and wound up meeting fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale (aka “Japonais”), Sweiloum Ag Alhousseyni, Abouhadid Ag Alhousseyni, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni — all who had sang and played guitar. The musicians joined together in a collective — now known across the world as Tinariwen — in order to write songs about the issues facing their people, built a makeshift stood and vowed to record music for free for anyone who supplied a blank cassette tape. And naturally, as a result their homemade cassette tape series  were highly sought after, and were traded throughout Saharan Africa. (It’s also incredibly punk — perhaps more punk, than anything most Western artists could ever come up with.)

In 1989. the members of the collective had left Libya and relocated to Ag Alhabib’s birthplace of Tessalit, Mali; however, by the next year Mail’s Tuareg population revolted against the Malian government, with some members of the collective participating as rebel fighters. After a peace agreement known as the Tamanrasset Accords were reached in early 1991, the  members of Tinariwen left the military and devoted themselves to music full-time — and by 1992, some of the members of the collective were to Abidjan, Ivory Coast to record a cassette at JBZ Studios, and they occasionally played gigs for far-flung Tuareg communities throughout Saharan Africa, which helped the band gain word-of-mouth popularity among their people.

Tinariwen started to receive international attention after they had began collaborating with the renowned French world music ensemble Lo’Jo — with the result being the highly acclaimed 2001 Festival au Desert in Essakane, Mali. Greater attention came to the band when the play their first UK performance at that country’s largest, free African festival, Africa Oye. And the year was topped by the release of their full-length debut, The Radio Tisdas Sessions, their first recording to be released outside of their native Northern Africa. Coincidentally, this has gone on as the collective has gone through some lineup changes, incorporating a younger generation of Tuareg musicians, musicians who didn’t live during some of the military conflicts of the older generation, including bassist Eyadou Ag Leche, percussionist Said Ag Ayad, guitarist Elaga Ag Hamid, guitarist Abdallah Ag Lamida, and vocalists Wonou Walet Sidati and the Walet Oumar sisters.

As the collective has started to see greater international attention, they’ve toured regularly across the European Union, North America, Japan and Australia, often playing at some of the world’s biggest and highly renowend music festivals including Glastonbury, Coachella, Roskilde, Les Vieilles Charrues, WOMAD, FMM Sines and Printemps de Bourges. And they’ve won over an incredible list of celebrity fans and champions including Carlos Santana, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, U2‘s Bono and The Edge, Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke, Coldplay‘s Chris Martin, Henry Rollins, Brian Eno, and TV on the Radio, among others. And it shouldn’t be surprising because of their hauntingly gorgeous music rooted in the poetry and traditions of the tough, rebellious people of Northern Africa — and in some way, the material captures the vast expanse of the desert as their sound seems to arch heavenward . . .

At the end of last year, the members of Tinariwen played a show in Paris and invited the legendary grand dame of Tamashek culture, Lalla Badi, one of Tuareg culture’s beloved master of the tinde, which is both a percussive instrument covered by taut goatskin, played by women and a poetic repertoire sung at ceremonies and special and intimate occasions. Not only is she considered the paradigm of Tuareg femininity, she has also long been an outspoken advocate for Tuareg culture and causes, as well as being a mentor to the members of Tinariwen in their early incarnation. The end result was a live recording of their Paris show, Live in Paris slated for a November 20 release through Anti- Records.

The first single off the live album “Tinde Final Tinariwen” is a hauntingly gorgeous track that begins with droning guitar chords, propulsive percussion and a collection of male vocals crying and chanting before Badi’s regal vocals joining in on a composition that marries ancient traditions with contemporary sound. Indeed, there’s a forcefulness to the composition but it arches heavenward with lilting, trance inducing beauty that’s awe-inspiring.

New Video: OkayPlayer Catches Up with French-Cuban Sibling Duo Ibeyi For an Acapella Rendition of “Ibeyi (Outro)” in Central Park

Deriving their name from the Yoruba word for twins, ibeji, electro pop act Ibeyi (pronounced ee-bey-ee) are comprised of 19 year-old French-Cuban twin sibling duo, Lisa-Kainde Diaz and Naomi Diaz, who come from a rather […]