Tag: africa

Terror across the river: Letter from a Congo literary festival

New Yorker, March 6, 2013 Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, is an agreeable city with a frayed, low-rise commercial downtown, a hilly upscale district of hotels and embassies that stretches to the airport, and, radiating out in three directions, busy working-classquartiers where life goes on out of doors along rutted, unpaved side […]

Congolese guitarist Diblo Dibala

Boston Globe, July 12, 2012 NEW YORK — A corner apartment in Harlem: air conditioning on high against the blazing heat outside, African art objects and concert posters on the walls, incense wafting through the living room. This is the temporary command post of Diblo Dibala, Congolese bandleader and guitarist extraordinaire, as he readies for […]

Liner Essay: Debo Band, “Debo Band” (Album)

Sub Pop Records, July 10, 2012 The Debo Band’s debut CD on Sub Pop/Next Ambiance came out today. Here is the text of the liner essay I contributed to the album.  There’s something dangerous about tales of a Golden Age: especially a brief one. The so-called Golden Age of Ethiopian popular music (or Ethio-jazz, or […]

Last Van to Korhogo

Note: This is the text of my essay in Transition magazine, issue 108, out in June 2012. The full text is posted for a limited time here, prior to the issue’s release. Last Van to Korhogo Suspended between war and peace in Ivory Coast The filling station was no longer a filling station. The pumps […]

Spoek Mathambo brings the future sound of South Africa

Boston Globe, March 23, 2012 “It would be nice if you call me Nthato. It’s how I introduce myself.’’ Nthato Mokgata is trying hard to manage his identities in the face of his blossoming fame. By day he’s Nthato, the low-key, well-spoken 26-year-old from Johannesburg who dropped out of medical school to make his career […]

Soul is heavy, wisdom is sweet: Unraveling the mysteries of Nneka

MTV Iggy, March 1, 2012 It’s been three years since Nneka Egbuna moved back home. At 19, she had moved away from Nigeria to Germany, her mother’s country, where she studied anthropology and began her music career. But after releasing two albums and getting a little shine on the European circuit, she knew it was time to […]

Nimbaya! beats the odds — and the drums

Boston Globe, February 10, 2012 The tremendous swirl of color and rhythm; the rich layering of djembe drums with the kora lute and marimba-like balafon; storytelling theater that starts as gentle conversation and escalates into a dance party that pulls the audience out of their seats: Nimbaya!, the dance and drumming troupe from Guinea, delivers […]

World music top albums of 2011

Boston Globe, December 18, 2011 1. SUSANA BACA “Afrodiaspora’’ Soulful pedagogy from the sublime-voiced Baca, who this year was named Peru’s culture minister, and here leads a grand tour of Africa-rooted music from Latin America and the Caribbean, including New Orleans, with her customary grace and serene mastery. 2. MAMANI KEITA “Gagner l’argent français’’ A shimmering, just-right […]

Just A Kenyan Band of Superheroes

MTV Iggy, November 15, 2011 It took a superhero to bring Just A Band back from the future. His name: Makmende. His look: Blaxploitation chic—sharp tan jacket, flared trousers, broad-rimmed shades, Afro pick. His modus operandi: Appears in the streets of Nairobi to beat down miscreants, send robbers fleeing, fight off masked kidnappers, rescue a […]

Honoring his roots, Touré blazes his own trail

Boston Globe, August 20, 2011 Four years ago a conversation with Vieux Farka Toure was a loose affair held in a kitchen in Queens while the Malian singer-guitarist and his bandmates cooked lunch amid boxes of CDs. It was Toure’s first US tour; he had a name – he is the son of the great […]

Malian diva stays true to her own message

Boston Globe, July 24, 2011 There came a point, says Oumou Sangare, the great singer from Mali, when she had to finally take her own advice. A world music phenomenon since 1990, when she released her acclaimed debut album “Moussolou” at 22, Sangare had spent a decade and a half – or longer, if you […]

Celebrating Africa at City Hall Plaza

Boston Globe, July 15, 2011 The first time around, it was a gamble – one woman’s labor of love to make visible the Boston area’s scattered African communities and to present African music to the widest possible audience, not in pricey concert venues or out-of-the-way immigrant social halls, but free, in City Hall Plaza, on […]

Meklit Hadero, keeping it real and varied

Boston Globe, July 10, 2011 “On a Day Like This,” the 2010 debut album by San Francisco singer-songwriter Meklit Hadero, traces the arc of one day, its 10 songs sequenced to convey the moods and events of the passing hours from daybreak until time to sleep. It is a day of shifting weather, from “You […]

Friendship, opportunity rooted in the desert

Boston Globe, July 3, 2011 Discovery is a loaded term in world music. It carries the colonial connotation that the art of another culture does not really exist until an outsider – typically, a conquering outsider – comes across it, gives it a label, and delivers it to the market. And yet small acts of […]

South African band set to make it in America

Boston Globe, June 25, 2011 They were already big at home, in South Africa. Very big, in fact: born of a jam session on the small Cape Town scene in 2002, the seven-member Freshlyground has enjoyed, with its gently Africanized pop fusion, a string of local hit songs that convey sweetly earnest themes of uplift […]

Moving sounds of the modern Sahara

Boston Globe, May 22, 2011 Communities that go through wrenching change often find strength in concepts they use to define themselves and claim their identity. For the Tuareg of the Sahara, that word is “ashek.” It means something like honor and dignity. It guides the Tuareg’s behavior in a world where borders and economic change […]

Sounds of Africa served three ways

Boston Globe, February 25, 2011 A concert is a product, and sometimes a product is felt to require a brand name to describe it and attract audience and sales. This is often the case with tours that feature international artists who might or might not share a stage in their regions of origin. “Acoustic Africa,” […]

Sonic connection

Boston Globe, January 7, 2011 As their makers describe it, the ideal setting to hear the duets of cellist Vincent Segal and kora player Ballake Sissoko is the one where they recorded “Chamber Music,” their slow and sumptuous album: in Bamako, Mali, deep in the night, when the heat has dropped and silence envelops the […]

AfroCubism blends the best of both worlds

Boston Globe, November 5, 2010 In the 1960s, the West African republic of Mali was newly independent and brimming with optimism. A new middle class was starting to swell in the capital, Bamako. Education and progress were in the air. And pulling crowds onto dance floors were jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and most of all, […]

Malian singer Khaira Arby has arrived

Boston Globe, September 12, 2010 It’s pretty much accepted on the world-music circuit that Mali, population 13 million, always boxes above its weight. Salif Keita, Ali Farka Toure, Habib Koite, Oumou Sangare, Tinariwen, Amadou and Mariam are just some of the global superstars the West African nation has produced. It’s so rich, it’s silly. But […]

The month of vuvuzelas

OkayAfrica, July 11, 2010 In the run-up to the climax of the World Cup on July 11 in Johannesburg, with the field of teams inexorably reducing to finalists Netherlands and Spain, there was at last time between matches to start assessing the tournament’s global impact. This was, after all, the first World Cup of the […]

Skin tones

Boston Globe, June 13, 2010 On the issue that is nearest to his heart and most closely touches who he is, Salif Keita is trying a new tack: directness. As anyone who has seen him knows, Keita, the great singer from Mali and a crucial figure in modern African music, is an albino. The condition, […]

In afterlife, Fela Kuti is having a moment

Boston Globe, June 6, 2010 NEW YORK – A performance of “Fela!,” the acclaimed Broadway show on the life of Nigerian superstar Fela Anikulapo Kuti, makes for the kind of culture clash rarely seen on the Great White Way. And that’s just in the audience. During intermission at one performance this spring, two women asked […]

Festival showcases Africa in all its diversity

Boston Globe, May 23, 2010 With the World Cup kicking off in three weeks in Johannesburg, the eyes of the world are about to be trained on Africa. But how many people know that 2010 marks 50 years of independence for more than half the nations on the continent? And how aware are we of […]

Plucked from extinction

Boston Globe, March 26, 2010 One of the small indignities that African musicians face when on tour in this country is having to be rude to fellow countrymen when the breakneck road schedule leaves no time for proper courtesies. “The other day we played in Alaska, and local Malians came to see us,” says Bassekou […]

Pride in her heritage is easy to hear

Boston Globe, January 31, 2010 The best African act category at Britain’s prestigious MOBO (Music of Black Origins) awards last year was a heavyweight affair. Among the nominees were such global pop icons as Femi Kuti, Oumou Sangare, Baaba Maal, and Amadou & Mariam. And the winner was … Nneka. The waters are parting for […]

Balafon master has his hands on a legacy

Boston Globe, December 6, 2009 It’s one thing to be born into a musical family. It’s another thing altogether to be entrusted, by birth, with guardianship of a tradition that dates to medieval times and is central to the culture and memories of an entire society. That’s the burden that Balla Kouyate, griot and virtuoso […]

To another place: Somi

Boston Globe, November 15, 2009 Somi’s new album, “If the Rains Come First,” glistens with the sheen of an almost impossibly perfect cosmopolitanism, but that shouldn’t be held against her. It could hardly be otherwise. Recorded in Paris and New York, with a group that includes a Senegalese guitarist, Herve Samb, a Japanese pianist, Toru […]

Capturing the Cameroon sound

Boston Globe, June 26, 2009 If nothing else, history will retain that Andre-Marie Tala sued James Brown for plagiarism – and won. It stemmed from a 1973 incident when Brown was touring in West Africa. In Cameroon, the young Tala – an emerging local singer and guitarist – handed Brown a demo copy of “Hot […]

From pioneer to ambassador: King Sunny Ade

Boston Globe, July 12, 2009 It’s a signal achievement in world music to go global – to achieve recognition and a fan following that fills arenas and festival fields in countries far and wide. But sometimes you don’t have to. Sometimes, the respect you garner at home affords you all the gigs you need, plus […]

Rapping on the door of opportunity: Kaysha

Boston Globe, May 31, 2009 “I’ve always had a double identity,” says Edward Mokolo, who raps, sings, and produces under the name Kaysha. And that’s a simple way to put it. Congolese by birth, French by education, American by affinity, Caribbean by adoption, Pan-African by choice, the 35-year-old Kaysha is a walking pop hybrid who […]

Kuduro shakes things up: Buraka Som Sistema

Boston Globe, May 9, 2009 So you’ve grooved to house, tranced to techno. You’ve shaken to ghetto-tech, Baltimore club, and Miami booty bass. Perhaps you’ve undulated to Brazilian baile-funk or hard-charged the floor to London grime or dubstep. In the process you may have noticed dance music getting faster – and its geographical origins blurring […]

Seun Kuti – cover story

Alarm Magazine #33, September 2008 [Copy as filed before edit] “Right now,” says Seun Kuti, “music is the only fuel that is backing the movement.” Adamant and engaged, the stance fairly sums up the disposition of the 25-year-old Nigerian singer and bandleader. Kuti brims with the urgency of mission, and now, on the heels of a major […]

Banding together: Etran Finatawa

Boston Globe, September 7, 2008 Their name means “Stars of Tradition,” but the members of Etran Finatawa are just as much cultural pioneers, melding long-separate ethnic traditions of their native Niger in the service of nationhood – and in the process, producing one of the most fascinating recent hybrids on the African music scene. The […]

Orchestre Baobab, “Made in Dakar”

Paste Magazine, August 20, 2008 “The Black Atlantic” is the term black British scholar Paul Gilroy coined to convey how the Atlantic Ocean has shaped the growth of black culture and identity. The ocean, Gilroy argued, hasn’t so much divided black culture as it has unified it. From the days of slavery to the anti-colonial movement […]

Father’s rebellious spirit fills Seun Kuti’s songs

Boston Globe, July 4, 2008 Seun Kuti sets himself a high standard. “In the true tradition of Afrobeat, you have to make every album like a classic,” says the Nigerian singer and bandleader. At 25, he’s the new standard-bearer of Afrobeat, the furiously groovy musical style that is one of the most beloved and distinctive […]

A life in between worlds: Lionel Loueke

Boston Globe, May 2, 2008 NEW YORK – It’s your basic immigrant success story, really: A young man grows up in a faraway country, feels the call of a challenging vocation, sets his eyes upon a dream. He works with relentless purpose and finds his way to America where, under the tutelage of masters in […]

A sonic treasure out of Africa: Youssou N’Dour

Boston Globe, December 8, 2007 He’s known on a first-name basis – Youssou – not just across Africa, but around the world, which is remarkable when you think about it, when you consider that Youssou N’Dour emerged in the early 1980s as just another African bandleader, wildly talented yet from a small country at the […]

Singing for life: HIV/AIDS and music in Uganda

Afropop Worldwide, November 15, 2007 Produced by Siddhartha Mitter. Follow link for audio. In just fifteen years, Uganda lowered its HIV/AIDS infection rate from 30% to just 5%. The life-saving information was best channeled by grassroots theater groups, and especially, women’s choirs who turned health advice, sometimes blended with religion, into entertainment that could move […]

Mtukudzi sings song of survival

Boston Globe, October 19, 2007 In the 27 years since the hard-fought overthrow of white minority Rhodesian rule, Zimbabwe has tumbled from an exalted symbol of African liberation to an exhibit of almost all that could possibly go wrong. A paranoid regime in the grip of an aging president and his cronies, and hunger and […]

Homeward bound: Dee Dee Bridgewater looks to Mali

Boston Globe, October 14, 2007 The idea of returning to Africa has been an essential theme in American arts and culture ever since Africans were brought to this country. But it is a theme that has dwelt mainly at the margins of mainstream culture, whether by political choice of the artists involved or from lack […]

Nawal’s musical journey to liberation

Boston Globe, June 22, 2007 Chalk it up to globalization: The foremost cultural ambassador of an obscure Islamic island nation off the coast of East Africa can be found, when her schedule permits, taking the waters at a Northern California yoga and meditation spa. Such is the habit of Nawal, the singer and instrumentalist who […]

The hip-hop generation in Africa: Ghana and Ivory Coast

Afropop Worldwide, April 2007 Produced by Siddhartha Mitter. Follow link for audio. We explore the current pop music of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, two countries where elements of hip-hop and international pop music have grafted themselves onto local styles to create whole new genres-ones robust enough to not only take over the local youth culture […]

New York’s Ghanaian community celebrates independence

WNYC News, March 6, 2007 Today, the West African nation of Ghana celebrates 50 years of independence. After a turbulent history, Ghana is now a democracy. There’s a large Ghanaian community in New York and the ties between New York and Ghana go all the way back to the birth of the US civil rights […]

His musical inheritance: Vieux Farka Touré comes into his own

Boston Globe, February 23, 2007 NEW YORK—It isn’t customary for a 25-year-old West African musician with just one brand-new album to his name to make his American debut before a sold-out house including his nation’s ambassador, record label executives, and Harry Belafonte. But the tall young man in the grand silver-blue traditional robe wielding the […]

Sounds like Africa—and rock n’ roll

Boston Globe, November 10, 2006 With its 21 strings, the long West African instrument called the kora delivers a sound rich in nuance and finesse. It also requires lengthy study. Together these factors have made it a vehicle for the preservation of traditional music by griots – the praise-singing troubadours of Mali and Guinea – […]