Tosin Aribisala – Áfríkà Rising

 

Title: Áfríkà Rising
Artist: Tosin Aribisala
Label: Ropeadope
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 22, 2018

 

Nigerian composer, vocalist and percussionist Tosin Aribisala has very wide-ranging musical interests that cross multiple genres. As a young boy his initiation to music came via his father’s record collection, where he found inspiration in albums by jazz drummer Art Blakely and the  “master drummer of Afrobeat” Tony Allen. Following his passion in Nigeria had its limitations, however, since neither American jazz nor drum sets were not popular in the country at that time. After relocating to the U.S., Tosin made a name for himself as a versatile percussionist who can add that “special something”—namely the complex polyrhythms of African grooves—via his drum set. Those who have benefited from his talents include musicians ranging from Taj Mahal and Spyro Gyra to Fatoumata Diawara and Femi Kuti, a testament to his ability to bridge the music of two continents.  Continue reading

Antibalas – Where The Gods Are In Peace

Antibalas
Artist: Antibalas

Label: Daptone

Title: Where The Gods Are In Peace

Release Date: September 15, 2017

Format: CD, Vinyl, Mp3

 

 

Raise your hand up high if you know & are into the Brooklyn band, Antibalas. Not bad, not bad—I see a few hands and a fist or two. Now, for those who aren’t hip, let me explain exactly who Antibalas is. The group formed in 1998 with Martin Perna at the front. The word antibalas is Spanish for “bulletproof”, which lends credence to their long-lasting career in the afrobeat world—19 years and still going strong. Antibalas plays afrobeat music, paying homage to the king of afrobeat himself, Fela Kuti. Listen very carefully—you may hear Eddie Palmeri piano stylings and personally, I think I hear another echoes of another band hailing from Brooklyn, Mandrill.

Where The Gods Are In Peace could be considered a head scratcher because it’s so short. It showcases only five tracks, but in reality, it feels like ten, perhaps fifteen. To only have five tracks and still packing a serious blow is true testament to what this band is all about. Take the track “Goldrush”. It opens up with early 1970’s rock FM and fast as you can FELA, BAM! The mood shifts into afrobeat, advanced version. Brilliant! They have you thinking one thing, but accomplish another.

Antibalas is very well-schooled in pulling off feats such as this.  “Tombstone”, believe it or not, is the third, fourth and fifth track–a 3-part finale that will blow your mind. Zap Mama, the beauty from Belgium, lends her vocals on all three tracks. What can one say? Makes you wish more acts took risks like Antibalas, but they would be asking too much. Antibalas is one of a kind, folks.

Where The Gods Are In Peace. Enjoy it for what it is—an amazingly powerful punch in just a five step gig. Next time, I expect to see more hands raised when asked, “Who knows about Antibalas?” Don’t disappoint me.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman

Rich Medina Presents Jump ‘N’ Funk

rich medina jump funk

Title: Rich Medina Presents Jump “N” Funk

Artist : Various Artists

Label: BBE

Format: CD, LP

Release Date: May 27, 2016

 

 

It would be unfair to fault readers who are unfamiliar with Afrobeat. It’s not commercial music and unless you’re a regular NPR listener, the genre might have escaped your notice. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who saw the musical Fela! –if you were, then you know this music is heavy on horns and bass. If you weren’t, then this CD provides a condensed Afrobeat education. It’s a genre pioneered in the late ’60s by Fela Kuti. Nicknamed “The Black President,” Kuti was to Nigeria what Bob Marley was to Jamaica. Kuti was not afraid to take the Nigerian government to task for corruption and lying to the people, using his music to get social and political messages across. On this two disc set, DJ Rich Medina presents Jump N Funk, a collage of Afrobeat music, titled after the parties Rich Medina helped create and where he still regularly spins Afrobeat classics. These parties never really took off in Medina’s hometown of Philadelphia, but in New York, London, and Miami there is no parking on the dancefloor.

I found it odd that Fela’s son Femi is nowhere to be found on this CD, but Fela’s youngest son, Seun, was featured on two tracks. Disc two opens with the Antibalas, who are one of the biggest Afrobeat acts going today, not counting members of the Kuti family. They open disc two with a live version of “World War IV” at Jazz Café in London, with the lead singer taking the Clinton administration and other world leaders to task. This disc also includes a remake of 1972’s “Soul Moukusa,” a track that early B-boys would use as the soundtrack for popping and locking, while hip hop DJs Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa would cut it up in New York City parks. This remake stays true to the original. Disc one has another remake, Timmy Thomas’s 1973 cut, “Everbody Wants to Live Together,” covered by River Ocean on this set. This sentiment clearly maintains its value in the turbulent times that 2016 has brought.

Back to Seun Kuti. On “Don’t Give That Shit To Me” he says, “Don’t bullshit Africa”—a confrontational stance that shouldn’t put newbies off too much. Even though it is immanently danceable, this is angry political music at heart. Rich Medina appears on two tracks: on disc one’s “Too Much” with Martin Luther & Madlouna, and with Antibalas on “Ja Joosh.”  If ever commercial radio programmers wanted to expose this music to a wider fan base in the US, this radio-friendly cut would be the track to get behind.

Afrobeat isn’t for everyone, but if you like a message in your music, I highly urge you to give Rich Medina Presents Jump ‘N’ Funk a try.

Reviewed By Eddie Bowman

 

Two Compilations of 1970’s African Pop Music

soul sok sega

Title: Soul Sok Sega: Sega Sounds from Mauritius, 1973-1979

Artists: Various

Label: Strut

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: January 16, 2016

 

senegal 70

Title: Senegal 70: Sonic Gems and Previously Released Recordings from the 70s

Artists: Various

Label: Analog Africa

Formats: CD, LP, Download (MP3, FLAC, etc.)

Release Date: November 27, 2015

 

 

Two new compilations dive deep into the 1970s music cultures of two African regions—Mauritius Island and the nation of Senegal. Geographically, these places are about as far apart as you can get in Africa; Senegal is the westernmost nation on the continent, and Mauritius is an island hundreds of miles east of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean.

Sega is the traditional music of Mauritius Island. Its roots are in the slave trade, as Mauritius was a way station for humans captured in Africa and Madagascar, and subsequently trafficked to the Americas. It’s related to American blues, which also evolved from African slaves’ music.

In the 1960s, the traditional Sega musicians began to add in Western jazz, soul and funk elements, and a danceable, electric music resulted. This is the music featured on the Strut album, which was compiled by DJ duo La Basse Tropicale (Natty Hô and Konsöle), based on the neighboring island of La Reunion. Liner notes are by Mauritian cultural expert Percy Yip Tong, and include new artist interviews.

Although the music is sung in Creole, the underlying message is universal—get out of your seat and shake it. Each of the 20 tunes in the compilation are fast driving, foot-tapping gems. Also, kudos to Strut Records’ production team for making good transfers from 45rpm singles and other sonically challenged sources, and getting nice, clear end results. Soul Sok Sega is a winner.

Senegal 70 is more tightly focused. Five of the 12 tracks are newly-released recordings from the Sangomar club in the Senegalese city of Thies. These recordings have a less-produced quality about them than the other cuts, which are mostly transfers from 70’s-era commercial singles and albums. The commercially-released tunes have a tighter feel, whereas the club recordings sometimes suffer from off-tuning and out-of-sync playing. However, the club recordings have the admirable qualities of spontaneous happenings, full of enthusiasm if somewhat raw.

The music of Senegal in this era was electrified and funky, with strong Reggae influences. Typical of African popular music in the ‘70s, complex beats and multiple layers of guitars, vocals and horns are heard throughout. Like the Sega music on the other side of the continent, Senegalese popular music of the 1970s was dance music. The dances in Senegal were likely slower and more swaying, and some tunes in the compilation show how West African music influenced Latin jazz. As with the Strut collection, the Analog Africa albums’ songs are sung in non-English languages, but this does not detract from listening enjoyment.

As has been the case with previous Analog Africa releases, Senegal 70 includes a detailed, well-crafted booklet that profiles the music scene, the artists featured in the set, and provides historical context for the scene and the music.

These two fine compilations show again how vital and varied African pop music was during the 1970’s heyday. Both are highly recommended.

 

 

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Testimony: Vol. 2


Title: Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics

Artist: India.Arie

Label: Universal Republic Records/UMG

Catalog No.:  B0012572-02

Release Date: February 10, 2009




Following 2006’s Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, India.Arie’s new release continues her musical exploration of life, ethics, and philosophy.  Where Vol. 1 emerged out of personal heartbreak and introspection, Vol. 2 finds Arie in a more extroverted frame of mind, examining her own place in the world and her relationships with others (seen through romance, poverty, oppression, and religion.)   Arie’s neo-soul vibe has a more urban, electrified edge on this album, with more touches of blues, funk, and Latin rhythms, as well as the acoustic piano and gospel-tinged vocals that figured prominently on Vol. 1. A diverse range of guest artists, including reggae star Gramps Morgan, Côte d’Ivoirian singer Dobet Gnahoré, and Turkish pop queen Sezen Aksu, adds a breadth of musical influences from other styles and cultures.

As with Arie’s last release, Vol. 2 is punctuated with a short song motif, “Grains,” that occurs multiple times throughout the album as intro, outro, and interludes, organizing the album’s structure and providing a unifying idea through repetition and variation.  A prayer of gratitude and connection to the rest of humanity, it encapsulates Arie’s major theme for this album: “I’m grateful that you created me from the same grains, from the same thing / I’m grateful you never cease to amaze me, the way you love me.”  In a liner notes letter to her listeners, Arie writes about her history, the lessons learned through her career, and what she’s trying to say with Vol. 2. “I am a songwriter who writes about love,” she says; “The bottom line is these are my opinions about different things going on in the world and where I fit into all of it.”

Writing about love comes easy to Arie, and the first quarter of Vol. 2 most clearly displays her skills about love songs.  “Therapy”, featuring soaring backup vocals by Gramps Morgan, is the catchiest song on the album, building on the metaphor of love as a healing force.  The soul groove of “Chocolate High” (with Philly soul singer Musiq Soulchild) echoes old-school soul ballads, but its extended chocoholic imagery unfortunately strays over the line from sexy to just cheesy.  Love doesn’t always end happily, of course, so “The Long Goodbye” paints a picture of an imminent breakup viewed with sadness, sensuality, and the wisdom of experience.

Arie’s approach to politics takes several forms on this album.  Most obviously “political” are the two songs directly confronting poverty and oppression.  In the Latin-tinged “Ghetto”, Arie rails against the continued existence of ghetto conditions in the first and third worlds:  “the ghetto might as well be another country / the barrio might as well be another country / when you look around, you live in another country too.”

“Pearls”, originally by Sade, addresses the oppression of poor women in Africa; Arie’s cover features a mellow Afrobeat accompaniment rather than Sade’s static string accompaniment, as well as Dobet Gnahoré’s vocals, both of which add a musical evocation of Africa.  “The Cure,” a structural and thematic counterpart to “Therapy,” promotes love (romantic, but more importantly, spiritual) as the solution to most of the world’s problems, with Sezen Aksu’s backing vocals in Turkish suggesting a call to prayer and spiritual transcendence.  In this song, Arie also sings a defense of her overwhelmingly positive philosophy:  “It may seem that I’m looking at the world through rose-colored glasses / I believe that it’s so simple that sometimes it looks complicated / God’s love is like the sunshine / it’s there whether or not we recognize it / the most powerful energy in the universe, and all we have to do is use it.”  In this, she sums up both the holistic understanding of self, world, and spirit that she’s reached personally, and to which this album testifies.

Posted by Ann Shaffer