Sunday, 2 October 2011

Guide To Africa

Compiling this reminded me of a book by Mark Hudson “The Music In My Head” where Litch an instantly dislikeable lead character claimed to be the leading expert and driving force of signing African artists to English labels. The character stated something along the lines of … “Most people who say they know African music only have a few albums. I really know African music”. I would have to put myself in the former category.

Looking back old skool house gems such as More Kante’s “Yeke Yeke” and Mombassa “Cry Freedom” were made in Europe and even the Afro-Beat compilations like Strut’s “Africa Funk” contained acts like Oneness Of Juju, American and the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band, French.

U4-I-C’s web-site has been a very useful tool in discovering the artists behind certain tracks (and introductions to one’s I was unaware of) played at Whirl-Y-Gig. In recent years Six Degrees records deserve a mention for bringing some fantastic artists to a wider audience. I think most of you will agree even if you don’t like the music you have to admire what most of these artists have done for human rights through their music.

Fela Kuti

Born in Nigeria in 1938 Fela Kuti went to London and studied at the Trinity College Of Music at the age of twenty where he formed a highlife (a fusion of jazz horns and guitar originating from Ghana) band Koolas Lobitos. He returned to Nigeria in 1963 where he reformed the band and a few years later visited Ghana to find new musical inspiration. Fela fused jazz with funk, psychedelica, highlife and traditional African chants coining the new sound afro-beat.  They took this new sound to the States in 1969 and were introduced to the Black Panther movement which changed his whole outlook. They were soon sent packing for not having the legal work permits and on return he re-named the band the Nigeria 70.

From this point it’s hard to separate Fela’s music from his involvement as a human rights activist as they were really intertwined. He sang in English so there would be no language barrier across the African nations. His lyrics angered the Nigerian government and eventually led to imprisonment upon what many believed were false charges. Various human rights groups fought for 20 months for his release.  In 1997 Fela died of aids and more than one million people attended his funeral. His son Femi Kuti also a member of his band went on to have a prominent career on the world music circuit and collaborated with rap and soul stars raising money for research into combating the aids virus.

Baaba Maal

Born in Senegal in 1953 Baaba and his friend Mansour Seck embarked on a journey to study the music of Mauritania and Mali. Baaba went on to study music in Dakar and in 1982 was offered a scholarship at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he was later joined by Mansour. On returning from Paris they continued to study traditional music and formed the band Daande Lenol. He continued to fuse his sounds incorporating other music forms from across the diaspora and has firmly established his place among the World Music festival circuit.

In 1991 he collaborated with Simon Emmerson who had noticed the similarity of one of Baaba’s melodies and a traditional Irish song. He went on to form the Afro-Celt Sound System with members of Baaba’s band. Baaba has also worked with One Giant Leap and has tracks featured in the movie Black Hawk Down.

Youssou N’Dour

Born in Dakar in 1959 Youssou N’Dour is probably the most famous African artist of our time. He started performing at the age of 12 and within two years he joined one of Dakar’s biggest acts The Star Band. At twenty he formed his own Latin jazz band Etoile de Dakar in the 80’s the line up changed and so did the sound. With the Super Etoile de Dakar Youssou began to fuse mbalax (a traditional Senegelese form of music) with samba, jazz, hip-hop and soul.

Youssou has collaborated with stars such as Peter Gabriel, Sting, Ryuchi Sakamoto and Bruce Springsteen. He has been a part of many major events in 1985 he organised a concert for the release of Nelson Mandela. Performed in Amnesty Internationals “Human Rights Now!” and “Secret Policemans Ball” and in 1998 he collaborated with Axelle Red for the FIFA World Cup anthem "La Cour des Grands”. There have also been two films made about his life.

Angelique Kidjo

Born in Benin in 1960 Angelique was singing in her mother’s theatre group by the age of six. In her teens her cover of Miriam Mikeba’s “Les Trois Z” was played on national radio which led to her recording the album “Pretty” and touring West Africa. In 1983 due to political unrest in her native country she moved to Paris to study music at CIM jazz school. In 1985 she joined the band Pili Pili and after three albums they had become one of the most celebrated acts on the Parisian live circuit. In 1990 she went solo and recorded the album “Parakou”. A year later she was signed by Island records recording four albums before signing to Columbia records and moving to New York in 2000.

Angelique sings in four languages Fon, Yoruba, French and English fusing afro-pop, jazz, gospel and latin sounds. She has collaborated with stars such as Peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and Bono. She is also an active campaigner for women’s rights in Africa acting as an ambassador for UNICEF, founding the Batonga Foundation which builds schools to provide education for girls and helping to gain scholarships for higher education. She has also performed to raise awareness of (and money for) tetanus and aids.

Tony Allen

Born in Nigeria in 1940 Tony began to learn the drums with no tutor while working as an engineer for a radio station influenced by jazz supreme’s Art Blakey, Max Roach and highlife drummer Guy Warren. He joined a band the Cool Cats initially playing claves and eventually taking over on drums. He played for a few more bands until his unique sound came to the attention of Fela Kuti and in 1964 he joined Koola Lobitos.

Tony recorded three solo albums whilst drumming for Fela Kuti and the Nigeria 70 and was the only member of the band who Fela didn’t write the music for. By the late 1970’s Tony felt he wasn't receiving enough recognition for his part in the afro-beat sound, that there were too many hangers on and parasites when it came to dividing the pay. So in 1980 he formed his own band and began to develop his own sound afro-funk a fusion of afro-beat, dub, funk and rap.
Other artists worth exploration

Information sourced from wikipedia.

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