Category: African Music

Now known as the Federal Republic of Somalia, most Westerners view the country as being a lawless, dysfunctional and broken country, split and reeling from a brutal and bloody civil war between two or three different factions — and while that has been true over the past 25-30 years, what Westerners and others have sadly forgotten is that because of its location,the Eastern African nation for known for more than a millennium for being a major trading post, with several powerful Somali empires dominating regional trade, including the Ajuran Empire, the Adal Sultanate, the Warsangali Sultanate, and the Geledi Sultanate. And as one of antiquity’s major trade posts, the cultures and peoples of the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, India, Southeast Asian and China found a way to influence and slowly work their way into the region’s unique musical culture and sound.

In the late 19th century, the British and Italian empires through a series of treaties with Somalia’s historical empires and sultanates gained greater control of parts of the country’s coastline, establishing the colonies of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland while Mohammed Abdullah Hassan’s Dervish State fought and defeated the British four times before a crushing defeat by the British in 1920. Italy, then acquired full control of the northeastern, central and southern parts of the country after defeating the Majerteen Sultanate and the Sultanate of Hobyo — and their occupation of the country lasted until 1941 when the British took over with a military administration. British Somaliland would remain a protectorate of the British while Italian Somaliland became a United Nations Trusteeship under Italian administration, the Trust Territory of Somaliland.

Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, independence movements across Africa helped to redefine the map; in fact, by 1960 Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland united in 1960 to form the Somali Republic under a civilian and democratic based government. Sadly, democratic government didn’t last long; by 1969, the Supreme Revolutionary Council led by authoritarian Mohamed Siad Barre seized power and established the Somali Democratic Republic.

Now that I’ve gone through roughly 1000 years or so of Somali history in a couple of hundred words, things musically for us begin in more contemporary times — 1988. You see, back in 1988 on the eve of a bloody, two-decade civil war, Siad Barre launched a series of punishing air strikes in Somalia’s northern region, known known as Somaliland in an attempt to smash a growing independence movement within that region of the country.

Musically speaking things for us begin in relatively contemporary times — 1988. On the eve of a bloody, two decade plus civil war, Siad Barre launched a series of punishing air strikes in Somalia’s northern section, now known as Somaliland in an attempt to squash a rumbling independence movement within the region. Unsurprisingly, one of the targets Said Barre targeted for airstrikes was the regional radio station Radio Hargeisa, as a way to prevent the organization of further resistance. Knowing that an attack on their radio station and their hometown was imminent, a handful of radio operators, tastemakers and historians recognized that they needed to preserve more than 50 years of modern Somali music as quickly as possible — and it meant finding a way to remove thousands upon thousands of cassette tapes, records and master reels and then dispersing them to neighboring countries like Djibouti and Ethiopia — or in many instances, burying the tapes deep underground to protect them from theft, airstrikes, fire and so on.

The Somali Civil War broke out in 1991 and it resulted both the collapse of Mohamed Siad Barre’s government and a number of armed factions fighting for influence and control throughout the country’s southern region. With the absence of a central government, Somalia quickly began to known as a failed state with residents returning to customary and religious law in most regions, along with a couple of autonomous regions — namely Somaliland and Puntland. But interestingly, the early part of the millennium saw the creation of several fledgling and sputtering federal administrations, including the Transitional Federal Government, which in 2004 reestablished national institutions such as the military. And with the assistance of Ethiopian troops, the Transitional Federal Government assumed control of the country’s southern conflict zones, beating back the Islamic Courts Union, which eventually splintered into a several radical Islamicist groups, including Al-Shabaab, a group that continued an ongoing battle with the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) for control of the region and its territory.

By 2012, insurgent groups had lost most of the territory they had seized, and a political process that provided benchmarks for the establishment of a permanent democracy  — and it included the drafting of a provisional constitution, which reformed Somalia as a federation. At the end of that lengthy process was the creation of the Federal Government of Somalia, the first permanent government in the country in well over 20 years, followed by a period of necessary and hopeful reconstruction in Mogadishu.

Remember those audio recordings that the engineers, programmers, historians and tastemakers dispatched to Djibouti and Ethopia and buried in various locations across the region? Interestingly enough, those recordings were recently excavated from their shelters with some of those recordings being kept in the 10,000 cassette tape archives of the Red Sea Foundation, the largest known collection of Somali music and cassettes, located in Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa. (Yes, things do and can come full circle.)

Ostinato Records, best known for the preservation, digitalization, and distribution of obscure world music was able to digitized a significantly large portion of the Red Sea Foundation’s archives, choosing 15 songs as part of their latest compilation of African music Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa. And while revealing the diversity of styles and sounds of Somali musicianship, the compilation also provides a glimpse of life in Mogadishu in the 1970s and 1980s, when the coastal capital was referred to as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean.” At the time bands like Iftiin, Sharero and Dur Dur played at some of East Africa’s glitziest nightclubs, while Waaberi Band played packed to the rafter sets at the national theater.  Nightlife, music, culture and art were enormous — and interestingly while there were renowned male vocalists like Mahmud “Jerry” Hussen, Somali music of the 70s and 80s were best known for beloved female vocalists Faadumo Qaasim, Hibo Nuura, Sahra Dawo and a collection of truly empowered, prolific women; in fact, half of the compilation features songs sung by and written by women.

This cultural and musical golden age occurred under a socialist, military dictatorship, which effectively nationalized the country’s music industry. The state owned a thriving scene and essentially music was recorded for and by national radio stations, and it was distributed and disseminated through public broadcasts or live performances. Privately owned labels were non-existent and the work of a generation of artists was never made available for mass release in the way it is elsewhere — and until recently, hadn’t been heard outside of Somalia or its immediate neighbors. Most of that period, Somali music was largely influenced by the cultures and people who traveled to the region throughout its history as a major trade port; however, during the height of the Cold War, Somalia had periods of financial and logistical support by both the Soviets and the US in the Ethio-Somali War — and with about a decade of US backing, American soul, funk and hip-hop captured the imaginations of Somali youth, adding to a unique element to the country’s musical culture and sound.

While compiling the tracks on Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa, members of the Ostinato Records team spent the better part of a year traveling back and forth between Mogadishu, Hargeisa, Djibouti and across the Somali Diaspora in parts of Europe, the US and the Middle East to track down the musicians, songwriters, composers, government officials, scenesters, radio personalities and other folks, who had played a role during the 1970s and 1980s and got their stories down in a detailed, 15,000 word liner note booklet.

 

As the folks at Obstinato Records explain in press notes “Along side the story of Somalia’s music before the civil war, the selection is also focused on the pan-Somali sound. Spread over much of the Horn of Africa, Somali language and culture transcend arbitrary borders. Somali singers from Djibouti were at home in Mogadishu.” They add that “this compilation  seeks to revive the rightful image, history, and identity of the Somali people, detached from war, violence, piracy, and the specter of a persistent threat.”

Now, as you may recall, the compilations’ first single Danan Hargeysa’s “Uur Hooyo (Mother’s Womb)” feat. Mohamed “Huro” Abdihashi was recorded and released back in 1987 and the breezy confection nods at the trippy psychedelia of dub and dubstep as the collaborators pair a shuffling, two-step-like rhythm with explosive blasts of horn, shimmering synths, Nile Rodgers-like guitar and a strutting bass line, and while revealing an obvious reggae and calypso influence, the song possesses an undeniably sunny and funky vibe. Recently, the folks at Ostinato Records released two more singles from the compilation, Aamina Camaari’s “Rag waa Nacab iyo Nasteexo (Men are Cruel and Kind)” and Sharaf Band’s “Kadeed Badanaa Naftaydani (My Life is Full of Tribulations)” feat. Xawoo Hirraan in anticipation of its official release on August 25, 2017.

Aamina Camaari’s “Rag waa Nacab iyo Nasteexo (Men are Cruel and Kind)” is an achingly gorgeous and slow-burning lament of a song that pairs Camaari’s ethereal and plaintive vocals with a lush and soaring Middle Eastern and Indian-inspired string arrangement and percussion and Casio synthesizer-like beats that dimly reminds a bit of Omar Souleyman, The Bombay Royale and JOVM mainstays Tinariwen while being absolutely unlike anything I can quite describe; but at its core is an an ancient and timeless ache. Sharaf Band’s “Kadeed Badanaa Naftaydani (My Life is Full of Tribulations)” feat. Xawoo Hirraan is a swaggering and funky track that manages to sound as though it drew influence from Afrobeat and American soul and funk; but much like the preceding single, it features the ethereal and plaintive vocals of Xawaoo Hirraan, which give the song a similar ache.

Certainly, all three tracks from the forthcoming compilation evoke a far simpler time full of laughter, flowing beer and wine, of dancing until the sun came up and walking home in a drunken and elated shuffle, with arms draped over the shoulders of a companion or two, softly singing — and of sad love songs that speak directly to the lonely heart. No matter the language, it’s the sound of fleeting youth and swooning hearts before life’s ambiguities and horrors.

 

Now known as the Federal Republic of Somalia, Westerners view the country as being a lawless, dysfunctional and broken country, split and reeling for a brutal and bloody civil war, and while that has been true over the past 25-30 years, what most people have forgotten is that for roughly a millennia, the Eastern African nation was one of antiquity’s major trading posts with several power Somali empires dominating regional trade, including the Ajuran Empire, the Adal Sultanate, the Warsangali Sultanate, and the Geledi Sultanate. And as a major trading post, the cultures of the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, India, Southeast Asian and China, all of whom conducted trade with the Eastern African nation, managed to influence and slowly worked their way into Somalia’s rich and unique musical culture.

The British and Italian empires through a series of treaties with Somalia’s historical empires and sultanates during the late 19th century gained greater control of parts of the coast, establishing the colonies of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland while Mohammed Abdullah Hassan’s Dervish State fought and defeated the British four times before a crushing defat by the British in 1920. Italy acquired full control of the northeastern, central and southern parts of the country after defeating the Majerteen Sultanate and the Sultanate of Hobyo — and their occupation of the country lasted until 1941 when the British took over with a military administration. British Somaliland would remain a protectorate of the British while Italian Somaliland became a United Nations Trusteeship under Italian administration, the Trust Territory of Somaliland.

In the 1960s, independence movements across the continent helped redefine the map with Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland uniting in 1960 to form the Somali Republic under a civilian government. Sadly, democratic government didn’t last long; by 1969, the Supreme Revolutionary Council led by authoritarian Mohamed Siad Barre seized power and established the Somali Democratic Republic. Now, here’s where things musically for us begin — in 1988 on the eve of bloody, two decade civil war Siad Barre launched a series of punishing air strikes in Somalia’s northern section, now known as Somaliland in an attempt to squash a rumbling independence movements in the region. Unsurprisingly, one of the targets Siad Barre targeted was the regional radio station Radio Hargeisa, as a way to prevent the organization of further resistance. Knowing that an attack on their radio station and their hometown was imminent, a handful of radio operators, tastemakers and historians recognized that they needed to preserve more than 50 years of modern Somali music — and it meant finding a way to remove thousands upon thousands of cassette tapes, records and master reels and then dispersing them to neighboring countries like Djibouti and Ethiopia, sometimes burying the tapes deep under the ground to protect them from airstrikes, fire, and so on.

The Somali Civil War broke out in 1991 and Mohamed Siad Barre’s government collapsed and as a result a number of armed factions began fighting for influence and control, particularly towards the south. And because of the absence of a central government, Somalia began to be known as a failed state, wth residents returning to customary and religious law in most regions. There were a few autonomous regions towards the north, including Somaliland and Puntland. The early part of the millennium saw the creation of several fledging and sputtering federal administrations including the Transitional Federal Government in 2004, which reestablished national institutions as as the military and in 2006 with the assistance of Ethiopian troops, assumed control of the Eastern African nation’s southern conflict zones from the Islamic Courts Union, which eventually splintered into several radical groups such as Al-Shabaab. Al Shabaab in particular continued to battle the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) for control of the region.

By 2012, insurgent groups had lost most of the territory they had seized and a political process providing benchmarks for the establishment of a permanent democracy was launched, and it included a provisional constitution, which reformed Somalia as a federation. The end result was the Federal Government of Somalia, the first permanent central government in over 20 years was formed and a period of reconstruction began in Mogadishu.

Remember those buried audio recordings I mentioned earlier? Well they were excavated and recalled from their foreign shelters very recently, Some of those recordings are now kept in the 10,000 cassette tape achieve of the Red Sea Foundation, the largest known collection of Somali music and cassettes in the world in Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa. Ostinato Records, best known for the preservation, digitalization, and distribution of obscure world music was able to digitized a significantly large portion of the Red Sea Foundation’s archives, choosing 15 songs as part of their latest compilation of African music Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa. And while revealing the diversity of styles and sounds of Somali musicianship, the compilation also provides a glimpse of life in Mogadishu in the 1970s and 1980s, when the coastal capital was referred to as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean.” At the time bands like Iftiin, Sharero and Dur Dur played at some of East Africa’s glitziest nightclubs, while Waaberi Band played packed to the rafter sets at the national theater.  Nightlife, music, culture and art were enormous — and interestingly while there were renowned male vocalists like Mahmud “Jerry” Hussen, Somali music of the 70s and 80s were best known for beloved female vocalists Faadumo Qaasim, Hibo Nuura, Sahra Dawo and a collection of truly empowered, prolific women; in fact, half of the compilation features songs sung by and written by women.

Strangely enough, this cultural and musical golden age occurred under a socialist, military dictatorship, which effectively nationalized the country’s music industry. The state owned a thriving scene and essentially music was recorded for and by national radio stations, and it was on distributed and disseminated through public broadcasts or live performances. Privately owned labels were non-existent and the work of a generation of artists was never made available for mass release — and until recently, hadn’t been heard outside of Somalia and its immediate neighbors. Adding to a rather strange period of history, during the height of the Cold War, Somalia had been supported by the Soviets and then US in the Ethio-Somali War — and with a decade of US backing, American soul and funk captured the imagination of Somali youth and musicians.

The Ostinato Records team then spent the better part of year traveling to Mogadishu, Hargeisa, Djibouti and across the Somali Diaspora in parts of Europe, the US and the Middle East to track down the musicians, songwriters, composers, government officials, scenesters, radio personalities and other folks, who had played a role during the 1970s and 1980s and got their stories down in a 15,000 word liner note booklet.

As the folks at Obstinato Records explain in press notes ” Alongside the story of Somalia’s music before the civil war, the selection is also focused on the pan-Somali sound. Spread over much of the Horn of Africa, Somali language and culture transcend arbitrary borders. Somali singers from Djibouti were at home in Mogadishu.” They continue by saying that “this compilation  seeks to revive the rightful image, history, and identity of the Somali people, detached from war, violence, piracy, and the specter of a persistent threat.”

The compilation’s first single Danan Hargeysa’s “Uur Hooyo (Mother’s Womb)” feat. Mohamed “Huro” Abdihashi was recorded and released in 1987, and the breezy and summery track manages to nod at the trippy psychedelia of 70s dub and soul as a shuffling rhythm is paired with explosive and expressive horn blasts, synths that possess a cosmic sheen, and a strutting bass line. And if there’s one thing the song does evoke is a far simpler time of laughter, constantly flowing wine and beer, of dancing until the sun came up and walking home in a drunken and elated shuffle with arms draped over the shoulders of your comparisons softly singing the songs you heard in the nightclub throughout the night. The language, the scales and the melodies may be somewhat alien to many Westerners, but it’s the wistful tone — albeit in retrospect perhaps? — that should feel familiar. It’s the sound of youth before inevitably being altered permanently by life’s complexities, ambiguities and horrors.

 

 

 

New Video: Introducing the Infectious Positivity of Ivory Coast-born Tel Aviv-based Elisee Akowendo

Yves Elisee Samuel Akowendo, best known as Elisee Akowendo is an Ivory Coast-born, Tel Aviv, Israel-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who grew up in a very religious and very musical home. “I come from a Christian family where music has a very important place,” Akowendo says in press notes. “Every morning, noon and evening, we sang gospel songs.” And as a boy, a young Akowendo discovered his love of rhythm as a drummer at his local church’s youth band, which paved a way of a lifelong passion for music. “I was constantly listening, composing and singing,” the Ivory Coast-born, Tel Aviv-based artist explains in press notes. Interestingly, as the story goes, Akowendo’s church group was invited to tour Israel — and while on our, he realized that he had to make a life altering choice: continue pursuing a master’s degree in business or follow his lifetime dream of becoming a professional musician. The Ivory Coast-born, Tel Aviv-based artist decided to follow his dream and remain in Israel.

Understandably, the transition wasn’t easy for Akowendo as he didn’t speak or understand Hebrew; however, his church and a growing ex-pat Ivory Coast community provided him with a great deal of support. “I met great people, made new friends, and hoped that maybe here I could live from music,” Akowendo said in press notes. Within a short period of time, Akowendo crossed paths with APE Records producer Tamir Muskat, who had discovered the Ivory Coast-born, Israeli-based musician and his band Groove Ambassadors on YouTube. As Muskat recalls, “I was surfing through videos and became mesmerized by this amazing African drummer. Then I saw him jump out from behind the drum kit, and grab the mic. It blew me away. I knew immediately that I wanted to work with him.”

Muskat connected with Akowendo and played him some beats and the duo just immediately connected over music and their mutual passion for creating music; however, for Akowendo, he hadn’t written lyrics before and it was a major challenge for him — an his latest single “I Dey Shina” is the first time that the Ivory Coast-born, Israeli-based artist has written lyrics. And interestingly enough, while he admits that he feels equally comfortable singing in French as he does rhyming in English, much of his latest single is sung in his native dialect, Baoule. “Sometimes it’s easier to express certain emotions in your native language,” he explains of his decision to sing in his native tongue.

Considering the embittering negativity of our world, the song manages to convey an infectious and much-needed positivity; in fact, as Awokendo explains the song was about him looking at his life, seeing how he was living his dream — and thanking God for the fact that he could actually live his dream, while showing others that sometimes we need to be reminded about how we should grateful for what we have. But he also adds that the song also suggests that if you have a dream that you shouldn’t give up on it; that we should invest as much positive energy as possible into our dreams every single second of every day. Additionally, he goes on to say that he hopes to pass along a much bigger message into the world — that we can all live together in peace, if we love and help one another.

Emphasizing such an infectious and positive message is a club-banging production that sounds as though it draws from British grime, soca and industrial electronica as it features stuttering drum programming, hot flashes of hi-hat, some metallic clang and clatter and ambient electronics with an anthemic hook.

Directed by Bonamaze, the recently released music video also radiates a infectious positivity as it features the Ivory Coast-born, Israeli-based artist singing and dancing with an international crew of dancers, complete with bright colors. And honestly, it’s just a ton of fun.

New Video: Tinariwen Reminds Us That Music is a Mighty Weapon

The recently released music video for “Sastanàqqàm” is reportedly inspired by real life events. When the members of the band returned to their homeland in 2006 they spent some time wandering around looking for old friends, associates, family members, neighbors and the like. Roughly 1,000 miles away from their homeland in Northern Mail, the members of Tinariwen came across six young musicians who hailed from M’Hamid el Ghizlane. These boys were the only boys that the members of the collective came across during their visit; but they immediately saw a reflection of themselves, their dreams and aspirations in the music they heard the boys play. In the subsequent years, the boys from M’Hamid el Ghizlane learned the Tinariwen catalog note for note, word for word although they couldn’t speak a word of Tamashek. When the members of the band returned to the town to record the material, which would comprise Elwan, their disciples had displayed a mastery of Tinariwen’s catalog — and the members of the band recognized that they had passed the torch on to their young disciples; in fact, the band decided to invite their disciples to be in the music video for “Sastanàqqàm,” symbolically standing in for the members of the band. The video follows as some of Tinariwen’s elder members wrapped new turbans around the heads of their young disciples, symbolically marking the passage from boyhood and manhood; but also marking how music can be transmitted across generations and influence young men and women to pick up instruments and speak truth to power. Let that serve as a reminder that music and art hold great power — a power that even the most autocratic demagogue can’t possibly stop.

Over the years, I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally renowned Saharan blues/Saharan rock collective  Tinariwen, an act that can trace its origins to the late 197s when its founding member, guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who as the story goes had been inspired to learn the guitar from an old Western film, in which a cowboy played guitar, joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refuge camps throughout Libya and Algeria. Interestingly, Ag Alhabib and his fellow rebels had been influenced by 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, and started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements

After relocating to Tamanrasset, Algeria, Ag Alhabib started a band with Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil that had played traditional Tuareg music with both Western and traditional instrumentation and arrangements at weddings, parties and other occasions across the Algeria, Libya and Mali. When this quartet started, they didn’t have a name; however, people across the region, who had seen them play had began calling the quartet,  Kel Tinariwen, which in the Tamashek language (the tongue of the Taureg people) 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. Whether or not the founding members of the band truly believed in Gaddafi’s military ambitions would be difficult to say — but on a practical level, a steady paycheck to support yourself and your family back home certainly is an enticement. Five years later, Ag Alhabib, Ag Touhami and the Ag Ablil brothers answered a similar call by leaders of the Libyan Tuareg movement, who desired an autonomous homeland for their people, and wound up meeting fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale (a.k.a “Japonais”), Sweiloum Ag Alhousseyni, Abouhadid Ag Alhousseyni, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni — all who had sang and played guitar. At this point, the lineup of Tinariwen was completed and the members of the collective began writing songs about the issues and concerns of their people.

The members of the band built a makeshift studio and then vowed to record and then distribute music for free for anyone who supplied them a blank cassette tape. And perhaps unsurprisingly, their DIY cassettes were highly sought after and were traded throughout Saharan Africa.

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 the following year, some of the members of the band went to  Abidjan, Ivory Coast to record a cassette at JBZ Studios, which they followed up with extensive gigs for their fellow Tuaregs across Saharan Africa, which helped further establish the band’s reputation by word-of-mouth.

After collaborating with renowned French world music ensemble  Lo’Jo, the members of Tinariwen started to receive greater international attention outside of Saharan Africa, including their first British live set at Africa Oye, one of the UK’s largest African music/African Diaspora festival. Building on the increasingly buzz they were receiving, the band released their first full-length effort, The Radio Tisdas Sessions, their first recording to be released outside of their native Northern Africa. As the collective has pushed forward throughout the years, it has gone through lineup changes, incorporating a younger generation of Tuareg musicians, some who weren’t even born during some of the military conflicts of the older generation or whose lives were impacted by the fighting during the 1990s,  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 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 GlastonburyCoachellaRoskildeLes Vieilles CharruesWOMADFMM Sines Thomand Printemps de Bourges. And although they employ both Western instrumentation and traditional instrumentation and arrangements, their sound has always managed to evoke the surreal and brutally harsh beauty of the Saharan Desert, the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, rebellious and proud people whose way of life is disappearing thanks to encroaching Westernization and technology.  And most recently yet another bloody and contentious war has splintered several nations across the Tuareg territory — including devastating wars across Mail and Libya. Now, if you had been frequenting this site over the past couple of months, you’d likely recall that the Tuareg collective’s forthcoming album Elwan (which translates into English as The Elephants) is slated for a February 10, 2017 release, and the album thematically focuses both on the disappearing traditions of the Tuareg people and of being forced into a reluctant and begrudging exile — with the realization that many of the collective’s members may never see their homeland again.

With Elwan‘s third and latest single “Assawt” the band’s frontman, guitarist and founding member Ag Alhabib turns the focus to the women of the Sahara, strong women who in his words are “searching for their freedom” and “who toil for the revolution,” recognizing their role and place in the long and often bloody fight for a Tuareg homeland. Ag Alhabib’s mournful yet soulful vocals are paired around a shuffling and snaking acoustic guitar line, a sinuous bass line, propulsive handclap-led percussion with the band joining in on a harmonized and anthemic hook. Interestingly, while drawing from the Tuareg tradition, the song also manages to subtly nod at the sounds of Mali, Nigeria and elsewhere as it continues to cement the collective’s reputation for crafting tight grooves.

The band and their label have done a kind favor by providing an English translation of the song’s lyrics, which you can check out below.

That’s the voice
of the Tamashek women
Searching for their freedom.
Those are the thoughts
of the old women
Living in a Sahara devoid of water,
Desiccated and miserable,
My wish is for it
to stop being subservient.
This is a message for those
Who toil for the revolution.

The band will be embarking on a North American tour, which will include two NYC area dates at Brooklyn Bowl. Check out the tour dates below.

30 MARCH 2017 – SOLANA BEACH, CA : BELLY UP TAVERN
31 MARCH 2017 – LOS ANGELES, CA : THE FONDA THEATRE
01 APRIL 2017 – BERKELEY, CA : THE UC THEATRE
02 APRIL 2017 – PORTLAND, OR : REVOLUTION HALL
04 APRIL 2017 – SEATTLE, WA : BENAROYA HALL
05 APRIL 2017 – VANCOUVER, BC : CHAN CENTRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
7 APRIL 2017 – SALT LAKE CITY, UT : THE STATE ROOM
08 APRIL 2017 – DENVER, CO: SWALLOW HILL MUSIC ASSOCIATION
10 APRIL 2017 – MINNEAPOLIS, MN : CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER
11 APRIL 2017 – CHICAGO, IL : OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSIC
12 APRIL 2017 – TORONTO, ONT : MASSEY HALL
13 APRIL 2017 – MONTREAL, QC : PLACE DES ARTS
14 APRIL 2017 – BOSTON, MA : ROYALE
15 APRIL 2017 – BROOKLYN, NY : BROOKLYN BOWL
16 APRIL 2017 – BROOKLYN, NY : BROOKLYN BOWL
18 APRIL 2017 – PHILADELPHIA, PA : UNION TRANSFER
19 APRIL 2017 – WASHINGTON, DC : BARNS AT WOLF TRAP
21 APRIL 2017 – PITTSBURGH, PA : CARNEGIE OF HOMESTEAD HALL

 

Comprised of founding members  Ousmane Ag Mossa and Cheick Ag Biglia along with Aghaly Ag Mohamedine,  Ibrahim Ag Ahmed Salam, Mahmoud Ag Ahmouden, Mossa Ag Borreiba, Fatma Wallet Cheick, Bassa Wallet Abdamou and Wannou Wallet Sidaty, the members of Tamikrest hail from the region around the city of Kidal in Northeastern Mali; in fact, all of the members of band attended the Les enfants de l’aurar school in Tinzawaren where they met and received basic music training. And with the members of the band being in their late 20s and early-to-mid 30s, their youths were shaped by the Tuareg Rebellion of 1990-1995 as each of the bandmembers had family, friends and others fought and died in their people’s fight for autonomy. Much like the members of the internationally acclaimed Tuareg collective Tinariwen, the members of Tamikrest began playing their people’s traditional music, as well as the music of Tinariwen — and thanks in part to the intent, the members of the band got a chance to listen to and be influenced but he work of Western artists like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd and Mark Knopfler.

When another series of riots exploded across Kidal and elsewhere in 2006, the band’s founding members decided the it would be best for them to fight with their instruments and songs — with songs that called attention to their people’s cause. Interestingly, a chance meeting with American-Australian band Dirtmusic at 2008 Festival Au Desert led to both friendship and to a lengthy collaboration in which the members of Tamikrest were invited to play on Dirtmusic’s 2010 sophomore effort BKO, which was recorded in Bamako, Mali. Chris Eckman, a member of Dirtmusic and The Walkabouts produced Tamikrest’s 2010 full-length debut Adagh and the band’s 2011 sophomore effort Toumastin

Kidal, the band’s fourth, full-length effort pays homage to the town in which the band was formed, as well as the town that’s one of their people’s main cultural centers. Historically, Kidal has been fought over, conquered and re-conquered many times over — and as a result, the town is a long-held symbol of the Taureg people’s defiance, resistance and hope. As the band’s co-founder explains of the album, “Kidal talks about dignity. We consider the desert as an area of freedom to live in. But many people consider it as just a market to sell to multinational companies, and for me, that is a major threat to the survival of our nomadic people.”

 

And although the Tuareg have traditionally been a nomadic people, there was a brief moment in which they actually had a homeland when the Tuaregs collectively rose up in 2017 and declared the Azawad region of Mali, an independent state. Sadly, it lasted less than a year as Al-Qaeda militants came in from the north and imposed strict Islamist rule and was followed by the French military, who arrived to liberate the area. And as a result, the Tuareg people were left with little or no chance for immediate self-determination; however, the dream remains for the Tuareg people, even if it seems trapped between several different governments, religious terrorists groups, and greedy, global corporations. As the band’s associate Rhissa Ag Mohamed mentions in press notes, “Kidal, the cradle of all of these uprisings, continues to resist the many acts perpetrated by obscure hands against our people. The album evokes all the suffering and manipulations of our populations caught in pincers on all sides.” And much like the aforementioned the members of Tamikrest feel an obligation to preserve and protect their people’s culture, while informing the world of their people’s plight — and unsurprisingly, Kidal‘s first single “Wainan Adobat” possesses a forceful urgency that belies its gorgeous yet cool self-assuredness. Interestingly, while the track nods at Tinariwen, the track also is reminiscent of Brothers in Arms-era Dire Straights. But perhaps most important, this song should be a reminder that in the difficult times that seem to be coming up ahead, that music and art should be used both as spiritual sustenance and as one of the most powerful political weapons known to man.

 

 

With the election of Richard Nixon, the hippie era had come to a screeching halt; however, just as the hippie era ended in the States, young people across what was then known as the white minority ruled Rhodesia — now known as Zimbabwe — had created a rock ‘n’ roll counterculture that drew inspiration from the hippie era’s message and ideals, as well as the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and others. And unsurprisingly, the young folks in their scene had dubbed their music “heavy” because they felt and believed in its impact — and their music began to resonate across to its neighbor in Zambia and as far North as Nigeria. And at its peak, in the mid-1970s, the country’s heavy rock scene had united thousands of young progressives across all racial and social backgrounds, openly defying the country’s harsh segregation laws and secret police, while making a bold stand for democratic changes that would benefit all.

As I’ve mentioned frequently on this site, including as late as yesterday, the technological advances brought forth by computers and the Internet have made discovering new and extremely rare, lost music from known and little known artists much easier. And it’s also contributed to a proliferation of extremely niche-based labels, who are willing to take careful, thoughtful and taste-making risks. As a result, a number of these labels have spent at least a portion of their time introducing and re-introducting artists, whose work was either so far ahead of its time, that audiences at the time just couldn’t grasp it upon its initial release — and yet, now has proven to fill in a historical gap; or the work of regionally favored artists, whose work should have seen a bigger audience but somehow just never broke out; and in the case of “world music,” releasing work from artists based in regions and countries that Westerners being biased Westerners hadn’t been paying attention to and really should have been. To add to my point, at the time of Zimbabwe’s heavy rock scene’s existence, a quartet by the name Wells Fargo was at the forefront of their homeland’s scene — and for the first time ever will be released the band’s renowned album Watch Out outside of Zimbabwe.

Interestingly, Watch Out‘s first single, album title track “Watch Out” was largely considered their counterculture’s anthem and while clearly drawing from Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland-era Hendrix, there are hints at 60s garage rock and folk-leaning blues and while pointing out the dangers of what was clearly uncertain and fucked up times for them, there’s clear sense of hope and possibility; after all, the storm that’s coming over the horizon will inevitably end. But with some strange days ahead for us here in the States, let the example of these Zimbabweans be a reminder that music and art are weapons — and when you have them on your side, you wield incredible power, the sort of power that wannabe autocratic demagogues like Donald Trump actually do fear. So artists, go out and lead the charge!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although over the past twenty years or so Cape Verde, the tiny island nation comprised of an archipelago of 10 different, volcanic islands off the Northwestern coast of Africa has been hailed as one of the continent’s most stable democracies, its history suggests that things were very different. With a prime location in the Atlantic Ocean, the island nation was uninhabited until the 15th century, when the Portuguese colonized it, established it was not only the first European settlement in the tropics; but as a major commercial center and stopover point for the Transatlantic Slave Trade during the 16th and 17th centuries. The decline and eventual abolition of the slave trade in the 19th century resulted in a crippling economic crisis; however, because of the island’s location in the middle of major shipping lanes, it quickly became an important commercial center and port. Interestingly, with few natural resources and inadequate sustainable investment from the Portuguese, who had controlled the island nation for the better part of 300 years, Cape Verde’s citizens had become increasingly frustrated with colonial rule.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, a series of independence and nationalist movements across colonized Africa began sprouting up across Africa –including Cape Verde. In 1951, Portugal changed the island nation’s status from a colony to overseas province in an attempt to blunt Cape Verdeans growing nationalism; however, by 1956 Amilcar Cabral led a group of Cape Verdeans and Guineans, who formed the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). The group demanded improvement in economic, social and political conditions in Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea — and interestingly enough, formed the basis of both nations’ independence movement. After moving its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea in 1960, the PAIGC began an armed rebellion the following year, which resulted in a bloody and complicated civil war that had Soviet Bloc-supported PAIGC fighting Portuguese and African troops.

Portuguese Guinea declared independence in 1973 and was granted de jure independence the following year as Guinea-Bissau. Amilcar Cabral led Cape Verde’s burgeoning independence movement until his assassination that same year, then led by Cabral’s half-brother Luis Cabral, who led the archipelago nation to independence in 1975. Much like their counterparts across the continent, the tiny island nation suffered through the similar ills of a society born by and influenced by colonialism, slavery and greed struggling to integrate into a rapidly globalizing world — and not quite knowing how to do so. The sense of detachment from the modern world fostered among Cape Verdeans a yearning to integrate, to connect with the larger world in any way that they could. And those who emigrated to the cosmopolitan European cities didn’t find much respite as Cape Verdeans were viewed as “hot-blooded” “dropouts” and “juvenile delinquents.” However, with the ready availability of electronic instruments, a doorway to a sense of modernity and an perceived anchor in their adopted homes was understandably seductive. As Val Xalino, a Cape Verdean-born, Gothenburg, Sweden-based electronic music artist and pioneer of his birthplace’s electronic sound explains in press notes “Cape Verdeans were celebrating their independence and with that the dancing became even more important.People wanted to hear something different. They wanted the synthesizer!”

Émigré musicians began traveling back and forth between Europe and their island homeland with luggage packed with synthesizers and MIDI instruments. And although many were primarily urban-based, musicians began frequent traveling to the countryside to learn the rhythms and melodies of rural farmers, frequently sampling melodies played off of slightly off-tune and damaged accordions and other field recordings. The result was this weird and compelling sound that drew from folk melodies and rhythms and contemporary electronic production — and from both African and European influences. The hearts and minds of a new nation of passionate, musically-included people were enthralled, including Paulino Viera, who would quickly become the island nation’s most important, beloved and influential musician.

Veira was especially drawn to keyboard-based instruments as he had honed his skills playing organ and piano at a Catholic seminary. His musical career started in earnest as a backing member of the renowned vocalist Cesaria Evora, whose cavaquinho-based folk songs received international attention while being instrumental in establishing the island nation as a music scene worthy of your attention — especially if you were into music across the wildly diverse African Diaspora. Interestingly, an underground electronic music scene had started with Viera leading charge once he relocated to Lisbon, Portugal, where he lead Voz de Cabo Verde, a beloved ensemble that frequently collaborated with other Cape Verdean-born musicians across the Diaspora. As Elisio Gomes, a Cape Verdean-born, Paris-based vocalist, who collaborated with Veira often, explained in press notes ““Paulino was the most visionary. He always had this gift to be 10 years ahead of his time. That’s why our music sounds like it was produced today.”

Now, as I’ve mentioned frequently on this site, the technological advances brought forth by computers and the Internet have made discovering new and extremely rare, lost music from known and little known artists much easier, all while contributing to the proliferation of extremely niche based labels, who are willing to take careful and thoughtful risks based around the tastes and listening habits of their staff and their most fervent followers. Naturally, it meant these smaller, niche labels would frequently spend their time re-introducing artists, whose work was so far ahead of its time that audiences just couldn’t grasp it upon its initial release — and yet fills in an important gap historically speaking; re-introducing regionally favored artists, whose work should have seen a bigger audience but didn’t; releasing music from various locations around the world that Westerners should know and love but was largely ignored; to provide an alternate history of developments across a genre — based on a region or a country that Westerners had long ignored and so on. And adding to a growing list of small labels releasing cool stuff, Ostinato Records will be releasing a cool compilation of electronic music from Cape Verde — a compilation in which the aforementioned Paulino Veira contributes to about half the songs — titled Ostinato Records Presents: Synthesize The Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica From The Cape Verde Island 1973-1988.

And through 18 extremely diverse tracks, the compilation will reveal how immigration from Cape Verde to Europe and the US created an alternate history of electronic music that had been largely ignored by most Westerners. Manuel Gomes’ “Jelivrà Bo Situaçon” pairs propulsive African percussion, shuffling Nile Rodgers-like funk guitar, twisting and turning keyboard chords played on what sounds like an old Casio keyboard paired with Gomes’ softly yearning, bittersweet vocals and is the compilation’s first single. Sonically speaking while the song clearly has the mark of either decidedly lo-fi production or comes as the result of re-mastering from old analog masters, it possesses a hypnotic, cosmic glow with groove and melody turning into one cohesive unit. And while being a bit bittersweet, the song at its core possesses the sense of unbridled freedom and possibility of the dance floor, and the hopes and dreams of a new nation learning to create its own image and history for itself.