Tag: African Diaspora Music

Over the past 25 years or so, Cape Verde (Cabo Verde in Portuguese), the tiny island nation comprised of an archipelago of 11 different volcanic islands, located some 400 miles off the Africa’s Northwestern coast has been hailed as one of the continent’s most stable democracies. But its history is fascinating and complicated.

The Portuguese colonized the then-uninhabited island nation in the 15th century. Because of its prime location, the island nation was established as the first European settlement in the tropics — and as a major commercial center and stopover point for the Transatlantic Slave Trade during the 16th and 17th centuries.

With the decline and gradual abolition of the slave trade in the 19th century, the now-former Portuguese colony suffered through a crippling economic crisis. But because of Cape Verde’s location in the middle of several major shipping lanes, the island nation quickly because an important commercial center and port.

The decline and gradual abolition of the slave trade in the 19th century resulted in a crippling economic crisis for the Portuguese colony; however, because of the Cape Verde’s location in the middle of major shipping lanes, it quickly became an important commercial center and port.

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. Cabral’s half-brother Luis Cabral, led the tiny archipelago nation to independence in 1975.

Much like their counterparts across the continent and elsewhere, Cape Verde has suffered through the ills of a society born by and influenced by colonialism, slavery, corruption, brutality and greed while struggling to integrate into a rapidly globalizing world — and often, not quite knowing how exactly to do so.

Over the past handful of years, Ostinato Records had delved deep into the music and sounds of the tiny African nation. Critically acclaimed compilations like Synthesize the Soul, Leite Quente Funaná and Pour Me A Grog featured three distinct chapters of Cabo Verde’s musical story: 1980s synthesizer-driven dance music, the 1990s Cape Verdean Diasporic sound in Europe and the accordion-driven fuaná sound. All of those sounds came from the island of Santiago.

Ostinato Records fourth album of their Cabo Verde series, The Ano Nobo Quartet’s The Strings of São Domingos can essentially trace its origins back to roughly 1989. Back then, a burly solider from Cabo Verde, named Pascoal saw the Berlin Wall fall from the East German side. Nicknamed “El Bruto” or
“The Brute” because of his “brutally” amazing guitar prowess, the Cape Verdean guitarist saw history while in full uniform, the ever dutiful solider. As a member of the FARP, the armed wing of Cabo Verde’s independence struggle, which was backed by the Soviet Union, Pascoal was dispatched the world over—from Cuba to Crimea to East Berlin.

Being stationed in Cuba gave Pascoal access to a world of guitar music. His stints in the Caribbean and the Crimean Peninsula were alongside soldiers from elsewhere in Lusophone Africa and the former colonized world. Unsurprisingly, these military postings became cultural gatherings and jam sessions, where sounds and techniques were exchanged amongst its members.

Along with fellow guitar maestros Fany, Nono and Afrikanu, Pasocal currently leads The Ano Nobo Quartet, named after Cape Vervde’s legendary and beloved composer, Ano Nobo, Pasocoal’s mentor and the father to the rest of the group. Nobo is so beloved that you’ll frequently see his face gracing murals across the archipelago.

Understandably, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a departure in Ostinato’s fourth Cabo Verde chapter. A different story needed telling. Pascoal is a soldier, able to weather hardship, adapt, and maintain a clear-eyed focus. It seemed fitting that he should lead a pandemic-era recording that demanded a shorter recording period to lessen the chances of transmission among the players and recording staff, along with abrupt restrictions and limitations on gatherings and recording locations.

The Strings of São Domingos is not only a tribute to Koladera or Coladeira, a guitar-drive, subtly rhythmic sound with a light spirit, but to Pasocoal’s Cold War shaped life and travels, as well as Ano Nobo’s legacy. But these tracks aren’t traditional Koladera, as first created on the island of Fogo and popularized by Cesaria Evora. 

The Ano Nobo Quartet’s Koladera is a global story with Cabo Verde at its center, a creole melting pot in the middle of the Atlantic attracting the best from four continents: hypnotic, haunting Koladera guitars inflected with twangs of Salsa Cubano, Spanish Flamenco, Brazilian Samba Canção, Jamaican Reggae, Argentine Tango, Mozambican Marrabenta, and even a dash of Black American Blues. Pascoal even picked up a few notes from a group of Chinese guitarists—a traditional instrument in China resembles the cavaquinho—who arrived on a socialist cultural exchange in Cabo Verde. Absent percussion, the quartet’s sound still drips with rhythm.

This album was recorded in three locations on Santiago Island: in Pascoal’s home in São Domingos, the small hometown of Ano Nobo that sits amid the cascading hills of the countryside; in a secluded, remote recording space in the north of the island; and near Santiago’s northern beach cove without any electricity. Each location used a mobile recording studio equipped with different mics placed near and far to capture both the Spanish and Chinese-made guitars and the natural environment that shapes the saudade, a melancholic longing, of Koladera. Each space has its own atmosphere heard in the interludes.

Ostinato Records released three singles from The Ano Nobo Quartet album:

  • The gently swaying samba-like “Sociedad di Mocindadi,” which features some gorgeous strummed guitar and a sonorous lead baritone vocals.
  • The breathtakingly beautiful flamenco-like composition “Tio Bernar”
  • “Canta Ku Alma Magoado,” a swaying mix of samba and tango that’s simultaneously wistful and hopeful.

Deeply informed by personal and world history, the three singles are centered around an elegant and seemingly effortless simplicity. But interestingly enough, the material seems to ask the listener to slow down and to take stock of ourselves and our world in the years ahead.

New Video: Guiss Guiss Bou Bess Teams up with ISS814 on a Heady Mix of African Diaspora Music

Sabar is a beloved and traditional folk music, played with a sabar, a traditional drum, generally played with one hand and a stick, throughout Senegal and The Republic of The Gambia. Most often you’d hear the style at weddings and other special celebrations.

Guiss Guiss Bou Bess—Mara Seck, Aba Diop, and Stephane Costantini — is a Dakar, Senegal-based act with some bonafide credentials:

  • Mara Sack is the son of beloved griot and musician Alla Seck.
  • Aba Diop is a rising sabar percussionist, from a family with a deep lineage with the instrument.
  • Stephane Constanti is a producer with extensive knowledge and experience in electronic music and drum ‘n’ bass.

Since their formation, the Senegalese trio have attempted to modernize the ancient and beloved sabar style, creating what they’ve dubbed Electro Sabar, a mix of ritual percussion, trap, dubstep, UK garage, drum ‘n’ bass, bass house, Afrobass and kuduro that manages to simultaneously respect Senegalese traditions while being inspired by the bustling, exuberant, working class neighborhoods of their hometown.

Back in March, opposition Ousmane Sonko was arrested for rape allegations. His arrest led to ongoing mass protests, demonstrations and riots across the country, which has left more than 13 dead. Mackay Sall, Senegal’s President has responded with restrictions to Internet, social media and other other forms of expression and communication as a way to curb protests.

Coincidentally, the Senegalese trio’s latest single “Sunu Gal (La Pirogue)” off their album Set Sela manages to be remarkably timely: Featuring Senegalese emcee ISS814, “Sunu Gal,” as the band explains was written for their homeland’s young people: Partially written as a loving ode to Senegalese culture and values, the song sees the collaborators calling for their homeland’s young people to peacefully protest, while demanding that the government respect and honor the rights and concerns of its people.

Sonically, “Sunu Gal (La Pirogue)” is a heady and slickly produced mix of traditional rhythms and instrumentation, skittering trap hi-hat, tweeter and woofer rattling beats, dialogue, traditional chants and some fiery and dexterous bars delivered in French and local dialects — presumably Wolof. While obviously being a meeting across the African Diaspora, the song is a powerful reminder that hip-hop is the lingua franca of young people across the globe.

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Joire, the vidoe for “Sunu Gal (La Pirogue)” is a gorgeously shot glimpse into daily life in Senegal with a playful and fantastical bent, before heading to the club, where we see dancers doing a mix of traditional and modern steps to the song.

New Audio: London’s Blue Lab Beats Teams up with Accra, Ghana’s Killbeatz and Fela Kuti on Dance Floor Friendly “Motherland Journey”

Rising, London-based Jazztronica production duo Blue Lab Beats — producer NK-OK and multi-instrumentalist Mr, DM — had rather humble origins, as bedroom producers, who remixed tracks by the likes of Dua Lipa, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man and others. The duo’s sound quickly morphed to incorporate jazz, soul and hip-hop influences while staying true to their British/London roots. Since the formation, the London-based duo have quickly exploded into the national and international scenes: they’ve played played Glastonbury — and they’ve opened for the likes of the legendary Roy Ayers and Thundercat. They’ve also contributed a remake of Bobby Henderson‘s Blue Note Records‘ classic “Montara,” which appeared on last year’s Blue Note Re: imagined compilation. And adding to a growing profile, the duo’s work has amassed over 25 million streams to date.

2021 has been a busy year for the rising British production duo: They’ve released a handful of critically applauded singles including “Dat It,” “Blow You Away (Delilah)” and “Sensual Loving,” which have seem them collaborating with the like of Stones Throw Records affiliate Kiefer and Afrobeats star Ghetto Boy. And as you may recall last month,I wrote about “Labels,” which featured a  J. Dilla meets The Midnight Hour-like production centered around soaring strings, boom bap beats and a sinuous bass line.

The production serves as a lush and mesmerizing bed for thoughtful and lovelorn verses from London-based emcee Kofi Stone that find him questioning the need for labels to define what his romantic relationship is to others. The song also features a soulful hook by London-based vocalist Tiana Major9.

Those four singles will appear on the duo’s long awaited new album and Blue Note Records full-length debut Motherland Journey. Slated for a February 25, 2022 release, the album is a result of two-and-a-half years of work that celebrates pushing boundaries, taking risks and overcoming adversity. Starting out with over 70 demos, the duo meticulously whittled them down to the final 17-track album.

“This album took us two-and-a-half years to finish, our longest process to make an album, but it was so worth it,”the members of Blue Lab Beats say in press notes. “On this album you’ll hear many fusions of genres and inspirations that we gathered throughout that time frame and especially to work on so many of the songs during the first lockdown it was a test in itself. We had to figure out so many different ways to achieve what we exactly wanted sonically and having Blue Note to help us achieve that was an absolute blessing. Many of the vocal features and instrumentalists on this album are great friends of ours and it’s just so amazing to have family on this album.”

Motherland Journey‘s fifth and latest single, album title track “Motherland Journey” features Ghanian producer KillBeatz and the vocals of the late Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. Co-written by the duo and Killbeatz in Accra, Ghana, the song was blessed by the estate of Fela Kuti. Featuring a warm, dancehall meets Afrobeat-like production, featuring a looping and shimmering guitar line, skittering beats, regal horns, “Motherland Journey” is an upbeat, club friendly bop. But underneath those dance floor vibes, the song suggests that Africa is the future — and for some, it’ll be an introduction to the legendary Kuti and the sounds of Africa in a crowd-pleaisng fashion.

Formed over six years ago, Antananarivo, Madagascar-based trio LohArano — Mahalia Ravoajanahary (vocals, guitar), Michael Raveloson (bass, vocals) and Natiana Randrianasoloson (drums, vocals) — have developed an incredibly unique, boundary pushing sound that meshes elements of popular and beloved Malagasy musical styles — in particular, Tsapiky  and Salegy — with metal. The Madagascan trio’s sound and approach represents a bold generation of young people that are inspired by music from West, yet honors and respects the traditions of their elders, all while roaring with the fierce urgency of our moment.

Earlier this year, LohArano released their self-titled EP, which featured “Tandrroka,” a mosh pit friendly ripper, featuring rumbling, down-tuned bass lines, thunderous drumming, scorching guitar riffs and Ravoajanahary’s Karen O-like vocals, which alternate between feral howls, screeching and shouting.

The band released their full-length debut LohAmboto this past Friday through Libertalia Music. The album’s first single, album title track “LohAmboto” continues an incredible run of expansive forward-thinking, post rock/metal inspired material centered around scorching riffs, heavy bass lines, thunderous Malagasy polyrhythms and Ravoajanahary’s howls and shouts. It’s a face melting ripper, reminiscent of System of a Down and others.

The band will be playing Europe for the first time on December 3, 2021 — with an appearance at Trans Musicales in Rennes, France. They’ll embark on their first European tour during the Summer of 2022.

New Video: JOVM Mainstays Ibeyi Release a Dreamy and Symbolic Visual for Swaggering “Made of Gold”

Deriving their name from the Yoruba word for twins ibeji, the acclaimed French-Cuban, London-based twin sibling duo Ibeyi (pronounced ee-bey-ee) — Lisa-Kainde Diaz and Naomi Diaz — can trace the origins of their music career to growing up in a deeply musical home: their father, Anga Diaz, was best known for his work as a member of the intentionally acclaimed Buena Vista Social Club and for collaborating with Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez and Compay Segundo. Sadly, Anga died with the Diaz Sisters were 11.

Upon their father’s death, the Diaz Sisters began studying Yoruba folk songs and the cajon an Afro-Caribbean drum that their father played throughout most of his music career. Interestingly, although Yoruba is primarily spoken throughout Nigeria and Benin, the African language has been spoken in some fashion in the Diaz Sisters’ native Cuba since the 1700s, when the slave trade brought Africans to the Caribbean. When the sisters began studying their late father’s musical culture and heritage, they had a deeper understanding of their father as a person; but they also were in touch with their ancestral history.

The duo’s 2015 self-titled debut was released to widespread critical praise. Thematically, the album dealt with the past — the loss of their father, their relationship with each other, their father’s origins, their own origins and connecting with their roots. The album’s saw the duo quickly establishing a unique sound that meshes elements of electro pop, hip-hop, jazz, the blues and Yoruba folk music. The JOVM mainstays’ sophomore album, 2017’s Ash found the duo writing songs firmly rooted in Afro-Cuban culture and history while being among the most visceral, politically charged material of their catalog to date, with the album thematically touching upon race, gender and sexual identity.

Earlier this year, the twins headed back into the studio to begin work on their third, full-length album. Understandably, feeling a sense of chaos, informed by the chaotic state of our world, the acclaimed twins set out to invoke the age-old teachings of their ancestors to remobilize the power of their birth-given destiny as Ibeyi.

The duo are currently working on the album, which is slated for release next year. But in the meantime, “Made of Gold” is the first bit of new material from the London-based JOVM mainstays since the release of Ash. Centered around a lush and textured production featuring atmospheric synths, buzzing bass synths, skittering tweeter and woofer rattling beats that evokes unease and menace while meshing contemporary Afro pop/Afrobeats, electro pop and trap in an infectious fashion. While being one of the few songs of the sibling duo’s growing catalog with lyrics sung in English, the song features swaggering verses delivered by Gambian-British emcee Pa Salieu.

“The first song we produced in the studio was ‘Made of Gold.’ Whilst we were creating the layers of the backing vocals, we could feel that we were making contact with our ancestors; that what we were recording was calling on the brujas and our ancestors for their ancient knowledge,” says Lisa-Kaindé Diaz. “‘Made of Gold’ is about connecting to our ancestors’ knowledge, to the truths of the past and the power of the ancient. The line is not broken, nor is it lost. Protected by these spells, our third album will see us conveying our reconnection to that power and channeling that magic into our new music.”

Directed by Daniel Sannwald, the recently released video for “Made of Gold” is a highly symbolic, gorgeously shot visual conceptualized by Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi. The video is inspired by Frida Kahlo’s The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me and Señor Xolotl. The video features Naomi as the Queen of Thunder, a referrence to her Yoruba god, Shango — and Lisa-Kaindé as the Queen of Water, a reference to her Yoruba goddess, Yemaya, Emerging from the sky to join the sun and the moon is Pa Salieu. It’s trippy fever dream but much like their music rooted in their Yoruba heritage and tradition.

New Audio: Acclaimed Kinshasa-Based Collective KOKOKO! Releases a New Banger

Led by Makara Biano and prolific French producer débruit, the pioneering and acclaimed Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo-based DIY electronic collective KOKOKO! is fueled by growing spirit of protest and unrest among their hometown’s young people. And much like young people across the globe, Kinshasa’s young people have begun to openly question centuries’ old norms and taboos, and they’ve openly begun to denounce a society that they perceive as being paralyzed by fear — namely,. the fear of inclusiveness and much-needed change.

The collective and their local counterparts have done this with a fearless in-your-face, punk rock sort of ethos. This isn’t surprising: the acclaimed Congolese collective’s name literally means KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK! — with the collective viewing themselves as the sound and voice of a bold, new generation defiantly banging on the doors and walls, yelling out “OUR TIME IS NOW!”

The Kinshasa-based collective’s creative processes are centered around the notion that poverty and the desperately urgent need to survive often fuels wild creativity. And unsurprisingly, they operate in a wildly inventive DIY fashion, creating self-designed and self-made instrument made from recycled and reclaimed flotsam and jetsam and recovered junk. They even built a recording studio out of old mattresses, reclaimed wood and an old ping-one table.

The collective exploded into the national and international scenes with their critically applauded, full-length debut 2019’s FONGOLA was a forward-thinking, urgent effort featuring a difficult to pigeonhole, global orientated sound with elements of disco, post-punk, hip-hop, reggae, retro-futuristic funk, Afro-futurism and the region’s traditional folkloric sounds. The end result, was a sound that seemed to come from an alien yet familiar, near-dystopian future like our own, where the ghetto and the club where one and the same.

The Kinshasa-based collective’s latests ginned “Donne Moi,” is the first bit of new material since their full-length debut. Featured on the soundtrack of FIFA 22, “Donne Moi” sees the act expanding upon their forward-thinking, sound: while still pairing their handmade instruments with electronic production, the new single is a percussive, house music leaning club banger centered around chanted and shouted call and response vocals, rousingly anthemic hooks.

“We recorded ‘Donne Moi’ in Brussels just before the pandemic hit, and we are happy it’s finally seeing a release. The song is about giving back. Giving, as well as receiving, shouldn’t be always one way.”

The collective is currently working on new material, which is slated for release next year.

Acclaimed Malian-born, Paris-based kora player Ballaké Sissoko comes from an equally acclaimed and deeply musical family: Sissoko is the song of the late, legendary kora master Djelimady Sissoko, best known for his work with Ensemble Instrumental Du Mali. Drawn to the kora at at a very young age, the younger Sissoko was taught the instrument by his father.

Tragicaally, Djelmady died while his children were very young — and Ballaké stepped up to take on the role of the family breadwinner, eventually taking his father’s place in Ensemble Instrumental Du Mail.

Interestingly, Ballakè Sissoko has had a long-held fascination with genres and sounds outside of the scope the Mandika people — i.e., flamenco guitar, sitar and others — which has inspired and led to a series of critically applauded collaborations with a diverse and eclectic array of musicians across the globe including Vincent SegalToumani Diabaté, legendary bluesman Taj Mahal and Ludovic Einaudi.

Now, as you may recall Nø Førmat Records released Sissoko’s 11th album Djourou earlier this year. The album features solo compositions while continuing upon his long-held reputation for collaborating with a cast of diverse and unexpected artists including Nouvelle Vague’Camille, African legend Salif Keita, young, leading female kora player Sona Jobareth, the aforementioned Vincent Segal and Malian-born, French emcee Oxmo Puccino among others. 

Deriving its name from the Bambara word for string Djourou can trace its origins to when Sissoko approached Nø Førmat label head Laurent Bizot with the proposition of blending solo kora pieces with unexpected collaborations. Interestingly, the label and Sissoko mutually agreed that he taake teh time to confirm enriching and challenging parternships with artists, who were also fans of Sissoko’s work. The album took a painstaking yet fruitful two years to write and record.

Over the past couple of months I’ve written about three of Djourou‘s released singles:

  • Frotter Les Mains:” Deriving its title from the French phrase for “rub hands,” the mediative track is centered around the simple percussive element of Sissoko rubbing his hands back and forth, shimmering plucked kora and Malian-born, French-based emcee Oxmo Puccino’s dexterous and heady bars in French. While being a much-needed bit of peace, thoughtfulness and empathetic connection in a world that’s often batshit insane, the two artists make a vital connection between the ancient and the modern, the West and Africa — with an important reminder that hip hop is the lingua franca of post-modern life. 
  • Album title track “Djourou,” which sees Sissoko collaborating with leading Gambian-born, female kora player Sona Jobarteh. Centered around the duo holding a musical conversation by trading expressive and shimmering, melodic kora lines paired with ethereal interwoven vocals, the track finds its collaborations making connections with across both contemporary African borders and through time. Interestingly, Sissoko sought out Jobarteh with a specific wish to connect with the younger generation of kora players — to rejoin with their common forebears, to weave a connective thread across borders that were unknown and unimagined to the griots of the Malian Empire’s presence over much of West Africa. 
  • Kora,” a collaboration with Nouveau Vague’s Camille centered around the electric and playful interplay between Camille’s coquettish vocals and Sissoko’s expressive yet melodic bursts of kora. The song itself is a love letter to the kora that suggests that the instrument holds an ancient, mystical power.

Djourou‘s latest single “Jeu Sur La Symphonie Fantasique 2” is an album bonus track that features Patrick Messina (clarinet) and frequent collaborator Vincent Segal (cello). This particular collaboration can trace its origins back to when the trio were all playing at the annual Berlioz Festival held in France: The trio were invited to create a piece to mark the 150th anniversary of Hector Berlioz’s death. The end result is a gorgeous re-imagining of “Symphonie Fantasique” that focuses on the composition’s “March To The Scaffold” segment that manages to draw parallels between the martial themes of the original composition and the historic battles of Sissoko’s Mandinka people. Interestingly, while being breathtakingly gorgeous, the track feels like a witty and playful conversation between three masters of their craft.

New Video: Rising Burundian-Tanzanian Artist Young Spit Releases a Summery Banger

Niyomwungere Eric is rising 24 year-old Burundian-Tanzanian singer/rapper, whose family emigrated to the States when he was a child. Best known to the world as Young Spit, the Burundian-Tanzanian artist rose to prominence with the release of his first two singles “Shanna” and “Cinderella,” which appeared on his full-length length debut, last year’s Era 257. Those early singles and his debut found the young artist quickly establishing his unique sound, a mesh of Afro pop, Caribbean music and hip-hop paired with lyrics that draw from his personal experiences.

Clocking in at a smidge under three minutes, Era 257’s latest single “Uwanje” is a summery banger that’s both club and radio friendly — while drawing from an eclectic array of influences: the song manages to mesh trap, contemporary pop and R&B and dancehall as it prominently features twinkling synth arpeggios, skittering tweeter and woofer rocking beats, brief blasts of squiggling horns, a scorching guitar solo and the rising Burundian-Tanzanian artist’s gently Autotuned yet expressive vocals. But underneath the glossy swagger, the song is actually a tender and very sweet love song that gives it a subtle Quiet Storm vibe.

Directed by the rising Burundian-Tanzanian artist, shot by 21G productions and edited by Easy.Cuts, the recently released video for “Uwanje” is part behind-the-scenes-like footage of a photo shoot with the rising artist and some beautiful women split with footage of Young Spit rocking out to the song. The video has a playful charm that’s as infectious as the song itself.