Category: Afro pop

Comprised of Peter Kaunda (vocals), Albert Manda (vocals), Solomon Nikho (drums), Myles Minthall (percussion, vocals) and Guta Manda (percussion, vocals) the Malawi-based act Tonga Boys emerged with the release of last year’s Tiri Bwino, an effort that vividly described African urban life — chaotic, crowded, desperate, frequently deprived of electricity and in many cases surrounded by sewage treatment plants. Sonically, the act meshed contemporary electronic music with the traditional music of the Tonga people.

Reportedly, the Malawian act’s sophomore album Vindodo finds the act pushing their sound in a more mature, dynamic and refined direction. While still centered around the lead vocals of Kaunda and Manda paired by the call and response vocals of the act’s remaining members. Musically, the act’s call and response vocals are accompanied with drums and improvised instruments — namely, plastic buckets, shovels, aluminum cans filled with gravel, and a guitar made of wires on an unheated board. The album was recorded in makeshift home studios in about five different sessions with the band telling their production team Pitor Dang, Czanry Latawiec and Wojciech Kucharcyzk to add more sounds to it later. Dang, Latawiec and Kucharcyzk incorporated a bolder use of electronics into the overall sound. Ultimately, the aim wasn’t to find a way to adapt Malawian act’s sound into European ideas about African electronic music or traditional folk music but rather to further emphasize the energy, rawness, joy and sense of dislocation and displacement within their music.

Album opener “Buranda” which is centered by a deceptively simple arrangement rapid fire call and response, bolstered by forceful tribal polyrhythm that gives the song an ecstatic, trance inducing vibe. Interestingly, as the folks at 1000Herz Records explain, the track is about a party in honor of an arriving stranger, presumably far away from their homeland. Focusing on the experience of a stranger in a strange and perhaps unforgiving strange land seems like a decidedly modern concern, but when rooted to a folk-based sound, the track points at the fact that it’s a timeless one.

 

 

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Centered around the collaboration between core duo Martin Kuphukusi (vocals, lyrics) and Pitor Dang (electronics, sampler, production, mixing, lyrics, bass) Owls Are Not are an international collaboration primarily based in Warsaw, Poland that specializes in a minimal Afro funk/electro pop/electro punk that at points draws from footwork and dub, and live, organic Eastern African rhythms.

The act’s latest effort, Radio Tree released through the non-profit label 1000Herz Records is the result of several months of ethnomusicological research in Malawi and Tanzania. Adding to the Pan African and international flavor of the album, four of the album’s six songs were written with Eastern African vocalists, including Tonga Boys‘ Peter Kaunda, appearing as Certifyd, Sehno‘s Masaya Hijikata and Martin Kaphux Kaphukusi, the choir conductor of Christ Church of Malawi. Additionally, newspaperflyhunting and Vendrae Vendarum’s Michal Pawlowksi contributes guitar on a song.

Radio Tree‘s latest single is the thumping, club friendly “Asali.” Centered around arpeggiated synths and an infectious hook, the song manages to recall dancehall with a distinctly African flair. Thematically, the song like much of the album’s material focuses on love — and in a way that feels endearing and almost old school.

 

 

 

 

 

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New Video: Acclaimed Singer/Songwriter Gerald Toto Releases a Cinematic and Symbolic Visual for “Away Alive”

Last year, I wrote about the acclaimed trio of Toto Bona Lokua, comprised of French-Antillean singer/songwriter Gerald Toto, Cameroonian jazz musician Richard Bona and Congolese singer/songwriter Lokua Kanza, and as you might recall, with the release of  2004’s, critically applauded sophomore effort Totobonalokua, the pan-African act received attention across world music circles for a sound and aesthetic that effortlessly blended several different traditions, cultures and languages; in fact, the album was a commercial success in France, despite very little promotion and no touring.

Since the release of Totobonalokua, the members of the trio have pursued a series of diverse solo projects, which kept them incredibly busy. Of course, because of the success of their sophomore album, the individual members of the trio would frequently be asked by fans and the press if they would be reuniting to write and record new material — or if they had any plans to tentatively do so. Although the individual member of the trio’s paths seldom crossed, they managed to stay in touch, and as the story goes Gerald Toto suggested that it might be time to reconvene the trio and try to write new material. Bona and Kanza quickly agreed and while it took some time to synchronize the schedules of three extremely prolific and busy artists, they found time to write and record their third full-length album Bondeko, which was released earlier this year through French record label Nø Førmat. (By the way, the album’s title is derived from the Lingala word for  “friendship” or “fraternity.”)

This year has been a very busy one for Gerald Toto, as he followed the release of Toto Bona Lokua’s third album with his latest solo album Sway, and from the album’s first single “Away Alive,” Toto will further cement his reputation for crafting infectious and breezy pop that’s mischievously difficult to categorize. In fact, “Away Alive” is centered around a languid and tropical groove, featuring gently strummed guitar, brief bursts of arpeggiated synths and an infectious hook paired with Toto’s yearning falsetto. Sonically the song hints at Tropicalia, Bossa nova, 70s soul, Afro pop, French pop and folk while not being one thing in particular; but perhaps more important, the song encouragers the listener to slow down and pay close attention to gentle sway of life’s rhythms every now and then. 

Produced by Paris-baed company La Sucrerie and directed by R&D, the recently released — and incredibly cinematic — video follows Toto as he wanders about the desert. Speaking about the video, Toto says “The desert is an allegorical dream. An inner space where one seems initially lost, without reference or bearings, before finding, within, an anchor point from which to walk. With a heart open to all encounters.”

 

 

Last year, I wrote about the acclaimed trio of Toto Bona Lokua, comprised of French-Antillean singer/songwriter Gerald Toto, Cameroonian jazz musician Richard Bona and Congolese singer/songwriter Lokua Kanza, and as you might recall, with the release of  2004’s, critically applauded sophomore effort Totobonalokua, the pan-African act received attention across world music circles for a sound and aesthetic that effortlessly blended several different traditions, cultures and languages; in fact, the album was a commercial success in France, despite very little promotion and no touring.

Since the release of Totobonalokua, the members of the trio have pursued a series of diverse solo projects, which kept them incredibly busy. Of course, because of the success of their sophomore album, the individual members of the trio would frequently be asked by fans and the press if they would be reuniting to write and record new material — or if they had any plans to tentatively do so. Although the individual member of the trio’s paths seldom crossed, they managed to stay in touch, and as the story goes Gerald Toto suggested that it might be time to reconvene the trio and try to write new material. Bona and Kanza quickly agreed and while it took some time to synchronize the schedules of three extremely prolific and busy artists, they found time to write and record their third full-length album Bondeko, which was released earlier this year through French record label Nø Førmat. (By the way, the album’s title is derived from the Lingala word for  “friendship” or “fraternity.”)

Unsurprisingly, this year or so has been a very busy year for Gerald Toto, as he follows the release of Toto Bona Lokua’s third album with his forthcoming new album Sway, which is slated for an October 26, 2018 release, and from the album’s first single “Away Alive,” Toto will further cement his reputation for crafting infectious and breezy pop that’s enigmatic and mischievously difficult to categorize; in fact, “Away Alive” is centered around a languid and tropical groove, featuring gently strummed guitar, brief bursts of arpeggiated synths and an infectious hook paired with Toto’s yearning falsetto. Sonically the song hints at Tropicalia, Bossa nova, 70s soul, Afro pop, French pop and folk in a way that feels both familiar and new, but while encouraging the listen to slow down and to pay attention to the gentle sway of life’s rhythms every now and then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Led by Makara Bianco and featuring production from prolific French producer débruit, KOKOKO! is a pioneering Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo-based DIY electronic collective inspired by a growing spirit of protest and unrest among Kinshasa’s young people. Unsurprisingly, these young people, much like young people everywhere have begun to openly question centuries-old norms and taboos, and have openly begun to denounce a society that they’ve perceived as being paralyzed by fear — namely, the fear of inclusiveness and change. And they’ve begun to do so with an fearless, in-your-face, almost punk rock-like attitude. In fact, the collective’s name literally means KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK! with the collective viewing themselves as the sound of a new generation boldly, loudly and defiantly banging on the doors and walls, yelling “OUR TIME IS NOW!”

I’ve written quite a bit about the collective, and as you may know, the collective’s members operate in a wildly inventive DIY fashion, creating self-designed and self-made instruments from recycled junk, flotsam and jetsam and claptrap. They even built a recording studio out of old mattresses, found wound and a ping pong table. Fueled by the underlying notion that desperate survival fuels creativity, the collective exploded into the international scene with their debut EP Tokoliana an urgent, forward-thinking, avant-grade-like effort centered around a sound that nods at disco, post-punk, hip-hop, reggae, retro-futuristic funk, Afro-futurism and traditional regional music — from a sweaty and grimy, post-apocalyptic future in which the ghetto and club are one and the same. It was arguably one of the most unique and exciting debuts I’ve come across in some time and unsurprisingly as a result, EP single and title track “Tokoliana” was one of my favorite singles last year.

Building upon a rapidly growing profile, the Congolese collective’s TONGOS’A EP was released last year, and the EP found the members of the collective further exploring themes of survival within the desperate and uneasy sociopolitical climate of their homeland — sometimes being forced to focused on small, deeply human pleasures and concerns. TONGOS’A‘s first single, EP title track “Tongos’a” (which translates roughly into “’til the morning light” in English)” was a sweaty, sultry and raunchy banger, centered around skittering drum programming and African percussion which helped to further cement the song’s overall theme — the necessity of getting good sex.

“Azo Toke,” the Congolese collective’s first single of 2018 features a production consisting of explosive blasts of static and feedback, tribal percussion, thumping and stuttering, tweeter and woofer beats, glitchy bursts of synth, throbbing low end, call and response vocals and subtly shifting moods and tempos — and while seemingly post apocalyptic, the track will further cement the act’s inventive approach to dance music, in which they seamlessly mesh African traditions with forward-thinking, hyper modern production.

 

New Video: French Electro Pop Duo Synapson Teams Up with Sengalese Singer/Songwriter Lass on a Breezy and Genre-Defying Single

Synapson is a French electronic music production and artist duo, comprised of Alexandre Chiere (keys, saxophone, beats, vocals) and Paul Cucuron (drums, turntables, production and mixing) and since their formation in 2009, the duo have been critically and commercially successful — they’ve sold over 150,000 physical copies and have amassed over 100 million streams; however, they may be best known for their remake/re-work of Burkinabe singer/songwriter and musician Victor Deme’s “Djon’maya,” which they renamed “Djon Maya Mai,” and their original track “All In You,” featuring Anna Kova. Both tracks were smash hits in the duo’s native France, as they charted at #12 and #10 respectively. 

The duo’s soon-to-be released album Super 8 will further cement their reputation for a sound that possesses elements of nu-disco, deep house but it finds them at their most ambitious, as they collaborate with a diverse, international cast including French act M83’s Mai-Lan,  Archive’s Holly, Kaleem Taylor, L. Marshall, Idyllwild’s Casey Abrams, Miami-born, Paris-based rapper Beat Assailant, Jamaica-born, London-based Taneisha lJackson, Tim Dup, Haute’s Tessa B. and Blasé, Sengalese singer/songwriter Lass and a list of others. 

Super 8’s latest single “Souba” synthesis of French electro pop, house music and Afropop as its centered around a slick yet soulful production featuring a looped, shimmering guitar line, a sinuous bass line, thumping beats and a club rocking and radio friendly hook. And unsurprisingly, the two step inducing track will remind the listener that electronic dance music translates language and culture, and that perhaps most important, it’s music that’s always a beneficial unifying force. Additionally, the track will establish the duo on a growing list of French electronic music acts that blur genre lines with a globe spanning bent. 

The recently released video employs a simple but endearing concept — we see Lass and the members of Synapson hanging out in and around a prototypical European car. At points the videos features the members of the trio brooding, but for the most part they’re hanging out and enjoying each other’s company. 

New Video: Introducing the Global, Genre- Blurring Sound of Up-and-Coming Benin-born, New York Artist Shirazee

Shirazee is  Benin-born, New York-based Afrosoul artist and singer/songwriter, who studied in Ghana, overcame homelessness and after spending a stint in Atlanta, relocated to New York to pursue his dream of being a performer and singer/songwriter. Since then, Shirazee has written for and collaborated with Afrojack, Sting, Ty Dolla $ign and Kiesza — and as a solo artist, the Benin-born, New York-based artist has received attention from Wonderland, OkayAfrica and Hunger Magazine, as well as millions of streams across Spotify and Apple Music for a sound that draws from Afropop, American hip-hop and contemporary electronic music paired with songs that possess underlying personal narratives.

The up-and-coming Benin-born, New York-based Afrosoul artist’s debut EP Make Wild finds him collaborating with the Brooklyn-born and-based hip-hop artist and producer SAINt JHN — and as the Brooklyn-based artist and producer says of their collaboration, “he’s a friend first and a rising star in his own right second. When he heard me playing Juju in Toronto and asked to jump on it, I thought he was kidding, until he insisted, ‘Juju issa vibe!’”

“Make Wild,” the EP title track and latest single is a breezy and summery track featuring thumping, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, shimmering and looping guitar lines, and a sinuous and infectious hook — and while managing to be a slickly produced amalgam of African pop, Afrobeat, American electro pop and soul, the up-and-coming Benin-born, New York-based artist manages to do so in an incredibly accessible, crowd pleasing fashion.

Produced by WOVE, the recently released video employs the use of incredibly vibrant video, full of colors meant to evoke sunset over the Sahara Desert as Shirazae sings to a gorgeous woman just out of his reach. 

New Video: Congolese DIY Collective KOKOKO! Returns with a Raunchy Club Banger

Bordered by Central African Republic and South Sudan to its north; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to its east; Zambia and Angola to the south; the Republic of the Congo to its west; and the Atlantic Ocean to its southwest, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second largest country by area in Africa and the eleventh largest by area in the entire world — and by with a population of 78 million people, the most populated officially Francophone country in the entire world, the fourth most populated nation in African and the seventeenth most populated country in the world.

Humans first settled within the expansive territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo roughly 90,000 years ago, although various Bantu speaking tribes began migrating into the region in the 5th century and again in the 10th century. From the 14th to the 19th century, the territory was split into three different territories — to the West, the Kingdom of Kongo ruled for close to 500 years; while the central and Eastern sections were ruled by the Luba and Lunda kingdoms, which ruled from roughly the 16th century to the 19th century.

In the 1870s, European exploration of the Congo region was first carried out and led by Henry Morton Stanley, who was sponsored by King Leopold II of Belgium and by 1885, Leopold had formally acquired the rights to the Congo territory, making the land his private property. Ironically naming the territory the Congo Free State, the colonial military unit the Force Publique forced much of the local population into producing rubber and from 1885-1908 millions of Congolese died from exploitation and disease. Despite initial reluctance, the Belgian government formally annexed the Free State and the territory became the Belgian Congo.

Between the late 1950s and mid 1960s, revolutionary movements swept much of Africa, reshaping the map; in fact, The Democratic Republic of the Congo achieved independence in June 1960 as the Republic of the Congo, with Patrice Lumumba, a Congolese nationalist, becoming the country’s first Prime Minister and Joseph Kasa-Vubu, becoming the country’s first president. Within a few months, the provinces of Katanga, Moise-Tshombe and South Kasai attempted to secede and by September 1960, Lumumba was dismissed from office by Kasa-Vubu with encouragement by the US and Belgium after Lumumba sought assistance from the Soviet Union with what has since been known as the Congo Crisis. By mid September of that year, Lumumba was arrested by forces loyal to Army Chief of Staff Joseph-Desire Mobutu, who gained de facto control of the country through a coup d’etat. By early 1961 Lumumba was executed by Belgian-led Katangese forces.

In 1965 Mobutu, who later renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko, officially came into power through a second coup d’etat, running the country, which he renamed as Zaire as a one-party state, with his Popular Movement of the Revolution as the country’s sole legal party for more than 30 years. By the early 1990s, Sese Seko’s government had begun to weaken and by the middle of the decade, growing disenfranchisement among the country’s eastern Congolese Tutsi population led to Zaire’s invasion by their Tutsi-ruled neighbor Rwanda, which began the First Congo War and eventually led to the end of Mobutu Sese Seko’s 32 year stranglehold on the country.

In May 1997, Laurent-Desire Kabila, a leader of South Kivu province-based Tutsi forces became President of the country and reverted the nation’s name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unfortunately, tensions between Kabila and the Rwandan and Tutsi presence led to the Second Congo War from 1998-2003, which involved nine different African nations and 20 different armed groups and eventually resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million people. Naturally, the decade long period of civil war and instability devastated the country and the larger region. And if you add several centuries of commercial and colonial exploitation, which continues to this very day, extreme poverty, inequality and inequity and a lack of infrastructure, you understandably wind up with a population that’s desperate and struggling to survive.

Led by Makara Bianco and featuring production from prolific French producer débruit, KOKOKO! is a pioneering Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo-based DIY electronic collective inspired by a growing spirit of protest and unrest among Kinshasa’s young people, who have begun to both openly question centuries-old norms and taboos and or openly denounce a society that they perceived as paralyzed by fear. In fact, the collective’s name literally means KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK! with the collective viewing themselves as the sound of a new generation boldly, loudly and defiantly banging on the doors and walls, yelling “OUR TIME IS NOW!” The members of the collective operate in a wildly inventive DIY fashion, creating self-designed and self-made instruments from recycled junk and claptrap — and they built a recording studio out of old mattresses, found wood and a ping pong table. (If that isn’t punk as fuck, I don’t know what is.) Fueled by the underlying notion that desperate survival fuels creativity, the collective received international attention with their Tokoliana EP, an urgent, forward-thinking, way out in left field effort featuring a sound that nodded at disco, post-punk, hip-hop, reggae, retro-futuristic funk, Afro-futurism and traditional regional music — but from a sweaty, grimy, post-apocalyptic future in which the ghetto and club are one and the same. 

ICI released the Congolese collective’s second EP TONGOS’A late last year, and the EP finds the collective further exploring themes of survival in the desperate and uneasy political and social climate of their homeland — sometimes focusing on small, deeply human pleasures and concerns; in fact, the EP’s first track, title track “Tongos’a (which translates roughly into ’til the morning light”) is a sweaty and raunchy club banger on the necessity of getting laid properly, rooted around skittering drum programming, thumping beats and a looped guitar and bass line that’s derived from the Mongo tribe repertoire, making the song a mischievous mix of the old and the new. 

Directed by débruit, Markus Hofko, Renaud Barret, the recently released video for “Tongos’a” stars a local dance act “l’homme capote” comprised of Mbuyi Tickson, Makoka, and Riyana sweaty and grinding seductively to the song, capturing the song’s raunchy, club-friendly vibe.