Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Practice: Africa! (My African Music List)

Music of the African continent leans towards earthy and robust with rich polyrhythms, soaring voices and rife with tribal traditions.  From the fascinating nature-based music of the Central African pygmies, to Malian blues, to Cape Verdean morna, and the ancient calls of Senegalese griot, “the dark continent,” provides music in abundance.  You could spend your entire life exploring the music of Africa and still not get past the tip of the iceberg.

Here are a handful of African recordings from my music library.  Many of you have amassed 100s of recordings, but I only have a small collection.  While I would imagine that every culture on the planet provides us with music for dancing, I find that African music and Afro-Latin music provides us with deep grounding.  Not only that, but nothing like moving that energy out of your hips, and thighs.  Here is my list.

1. Cesaria Evora, Nha Sentimento, LusaAfrica

The late Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora has left a huge gap in the world music community.  Known as the barefoot singer, the chanteuse’s understated vocals expressed a wide range of emotions.  She made singing seem effortless while lifting the spirits of her fans.  She has a huge influence on the younger crop of Cape Verdean Diaspora vocalists, such as Lura.

2. Habib Koite & Bamada, Afriki, Cumbancha

You did not think I would leave out Habib Koite of Mali, did you? Koite has his own style of playing guitar that has a folk and bluesy edge. He sings about stuff that matters socio-politically and personally in his honeyed vocals.  His music appeals to fans of African and American blues, though his sound is more “pop” and definitely accessible even when sung in Malian dialects and French.

3. El Tanbura, Between the Sea and the Desert, World Village

Hailing from the coast of Egypt, a fishing port, the collection of fishermen and philosophers, El Tanbur, kick up dust with their delicious Egyptian rhythms along with ancient lyres and harps.  They conjure snaky melodies sung in call and response vocals inviting listeners to learn exotic scales and modes.  These infectious beats will have you belly dancing in no time or at least wiggling your hips.

4. Gigi, Zion Roots, Network Median GmBh

From Egypt to Ethiopia, the Ethiopian pop-electronic diva Gigi returns to her sacred roots on this acoustic album of traditional Ethiopian music.  The sacredness seeps from the recording feeling your space with peace and a desire to visit the northeast corner of Africa. 

5.  Ballaké and Vincent Segal, Chamber Music, Six Degrees

Chamber music is the result of European classical cello and Malian classical kora connecting and intersecting.  The low tones of the cello blend well with the shimmering tones of the West African harp.  Griots and European explorers get on well this time around, causing me to wish that musicians had ruled over our various cultures instead of warriors.  This is one of those albums that leaves you in awe and wondering what could have and what might have been if humans connected deeper musically.

6. Trio Ifriquiya, Petite Planéte, World Village

What happens when a French jazz pianist, and an Arabic oud/violinist and a West African drummer collaborate? The musical planet shrinks and Arab-Andalusian music takes on new dimensions. I have not listened to this CD in a long while, but found it breathtaking upon the first few listens.

7. Ablaye Cissoko and Volker Goetze, Sira, ObliqSound

A German jazz trumpeter combines his clear tones with West African kora.  It’s a strange combo of instruments that works marvelously well and the result is a set of unforgettable songs.

8. Baka Beyond, Call of the Forest, White Swan Records

Long before Afro-Celt Sound System bounced into the world music community, British musicians Martin Cradick and his wife Su Hart ventured into the central African forests and explored the music of the Baka (pygmy) people.  More than a feel-good humanitarian project, the musical blend of Celtic fiddles and guitar with West African and Baka percussion and vocals has more power to lift vibration that several Putumayo compilations played in a row. That’s saying a lot. Effervescent and earthy, Baka Beyond hits the spot.

9. Lokua Kanza, Nkolo, World Village

If you listen to African pop and world music fusion projects you would have already heard Kanza’s vocals.  His solo recording features folksy African ballads that could leave you feeling a bit moody.  It’s one of the more accessible sounding African recordings in my collection.

10. Samite, Embalasassa, Triloka

Hailing originally from Uganda and now residing in Upstate New York, Samite is an extraordinary storyteller, and all-around musician.  Not only is he a delight to watch in concert, in any venue, Samite’s soulful music came to my attention long before sound healing or music therapy.  Samite founded the non-profit Musicians for World Harmony that brings instruments and music lessons to refugees, former soldiers, and AIDS patients in Uganda and other parts of Africa.

11. Women Care, collective, CARE/Kirkelig Kulturversted

Women Care marks another charity project album this time for the women of Africa.  This album features 4 European vocalists teaming up with 4 African vocalists as they sing about the many issues that African women encounter on a daily basis.  The women don’t flinch even going as far as singing about female circumcision (which they are against) and bringing in the famous Tracy Chapman tune, “Fast Car” which oddly fits in.  The songs are sung in mostly English and French.


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