Following are additional albums released during September 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during August 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Title: Missing Chapters
Label: MoodSwing Records
Format: CD, Digital
Release Date: August 9, 2019
When Cameroonian-born artist Moken released his debut album, Chapters of My Life (2016), he sought to capture the tumultuous experience of moving to the U.S. in the jazzy, rhythmic style of Cameroonian makossa music. Three years later Moken, who is now based in Atlanta, has compiled both new and reworked songs he felt were missing from his first album in the aptly titled Missing Chapters. Drawing upon a close circle of Atlanta musicians and other friends, including drummer Raphael Periera and violinist/flutist Marla Feeney, Moken offers what he calls “a feelings album,” as in “whatever felt right, we kept it.” Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during July 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
The music of Oumar Konate can be heard every weekend in the nightclubs, concert halls, and festival stages of Mali. The Malian superstar’s fifth album, I Love You Inna, is a reflection of the mood of the young people in his country. Sometimes overjoyed and sometimes angry, the songs on the album range from slower love songs and upbeat dance anthems to guitar-driven rock songs and ballads. On “Koima Djine” and “Ni Tchilla Sibara,” this rock-inspired vibe comes through in the commanding instrumentals of guitarist Khaira Arby, bassist Dramane Toure, and drummer Makan Camara. Konate’s vocals on these songs are especially powerful and hard-hitting, a departure from his more mellow vocals on other tracks. I Love You Inna offers some “desert rock” for your summer soundtrack with masterful performances from these Mailian musicians. Continue reading
Title: Putumayo Presents World Peace
Artist: Various Artists
Label: Putumayo World Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: June 14, 2019
Putumayo World Music, the record label known for its joyful compilations of international music, has released its newest project, World Peace. Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s historic “peace speech” of 1963 that eased Cold War tensions, World Peace draws upon the speech’s themes of ending excessive militarism and “making the world safe for diversity.” Continue reading
Following are additional albums released during June 2019—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves. Continue reading
Title: Un Autre Blanc
Artist: Salif Keita
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 1, 2019
Hailed as the ‘Songbird’ and ‘Golden Voice of Africa,’ Malian singer Salif Keita has been sharing his art with the world for 50 years—performing with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Vernon Reid, and Esperanza Spalding. His journey, however, has not been easy. Born with albinism, Keita was banished from his village at an early age due to superstitions surrounding his skin color. Finding kindred spirits among the griots, he quickly rose to prominence as a musician, but was forced to flee the country during the civil unrest of the 1970s and eventually settled in Paris. Now, Salif Keita concludes his illustrious recording career with his 14th studio album, Un Autre Blanc (Another White). Continue reading
Title: Complete Cuban Jam Sessions
Formats: 5-CD set, 5-LP set
Release date: November 16, 2018
Panart, one of the first and most successful independent record labels in Cuba, embarked upon a project in 1956 to commission and record a series of descarga, or improvised jam sessions incorporating jazz and popular forms of Cuban music. Over the next decade, the label released several volumes of these descarga under the generic title, Cuban Jam Sessions. The series sold over a million copies, becoming the first commercially successful descarga recordings and inspiring many other projects over the ensuing decades. Now, all of the descarga sessions released by Panart from 1956-1965 have been remastered and packaged together for the first time in Craft’s definitive 5-disc box set, The Complete Cuban Jam Sessions. The set was co-produced by Cuban music specialist and Panart label historian Judy Cantor-Navas, who also wrote the liner notes for the well-illustrated accompanying booklet. Continue reading
Welcome to the November 2018 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture.
This month we’re featuring three new jazz releases including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest, drummer Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings, and the eponymous debut album from Christian McBride’s New Jawn.
In honor of Bill Withers’ 80th birthday, two artists have released tributes to the legendary singer-songwriter: José James’ Lean On Me and Anthony David’s Hello Like Before: The Songs of Bill Withers. The late soul singer Charles Bradley is remembered on the posthumous release Black Velvet, while the late Ohio funk musician Roger Troutman is honored on Zapp VII Roger & Friends.
Broadway star Capathia Jenkins and composer Louis Rosen offer their new project Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs, while baritone Thomas Hampson’s Songs From Chicago features works by composers Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, and John Alden Carpenter—all based on poems by Langston Hughes. Gospel music releases include Brent Jones’ Open Your Mouth and Say Something and the Soweto Gospel Choir’s Freedom.
Alternative rock and blues projects include Blood Orange’s Negro Swan, Black Joe Lewis’ The Difference Between Me and You, and Cedric Burnside’s Benton County Relic. Rap albums include Masta Ace & Marco Polo’s A Breukelen Story, and the self-titled release from Ill Doots that blends funk, jazz and hip hop. Wrapping up this issue is the Burkina Faso group Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band’s Siri Ba Kele and our list of October Black Music Releases of Note.
Described as “meticulous and unstoppable… spirited and secular” by the New York Times, the Soweto Gospel Choir is back with their sixth Shanachie Entertainment album, Freedom. Fittingly, this collection of freedom songs from the Grammy Award and Emmy winning group marks the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, a figure who signified love, peace, and strength and who has been an inspiration to the choir. Continue reading
Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band’s sophomore album, Siri Ba Kele, features the Bukinabe funk sound and the fusion of the mandingue guitar style by the band’s guitarist, Issouf Diabate. Band leader Mamadou Sanou sings with a “riveting growl” while also playing his main instrument, the doso n’goni, which is in the chordophone/ harp family and akin to the kora. The Burkina Faso based group is quoted as featuring the “searing sounds of Sahelian compositions of complex funk and cosmic guitar explosion.” The album follows the success of the band’s 2015 Afrobeat-driven project, Juguya.
Reviewed by Bobby Davis
Title: What Heat
Label: Real World
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 5, 2018
In the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, Bokanté means “exchange.” I can think of no better name for a band with such a diverse sound and collection of musicians since every song they record features something new and breathtaking. This is especially true in their collaboration with the Metropole Orkest for their sophomore album, What Heat. Continue reading
Format: CD, Digital
Release Date: June 22, 2018
American-Ugandan power duo Nsimbi offer their debut onto the world stage with their self-titled album, Nsimbi. Hip-hop MC Zamba and American song-writer Miriam Tamar comprise this duo they describe as originating from ancient African insight in the form of Swahili proverbs. As Zamba explains, every song is based on a thread of those adages connected through the theme of human oneness and sociality. These networks, Tamar details, are then woven sonically via instruments from kalimba to kora into tight grooves that convey the message of hope and humanity.
Nsimbi has diverse origins but the tracks share a sonic integrity, a sunny acoustic sound and a rhythmic intensity. In music video for the first track, “Dunia Ni Matembezi,” we journey through the wondrous eyes of a schoolboy as he embarks on a trip through the desert after reading his favorite afro-future comic book, “Dunia.” He’s joined by a merry band of pranksters and vagabonds, who teach him about discovering the world through the five senses, a universal language that we all share. As the boy comes into contact with exotic landscapes and develops his perception of sight and sound, he finds connection and community with those around him. In this retro-future video, time is at a standstill, forever present, and travel is a state of mind.
All of the contributor’s various styles glimmer throughout the album. Tamar’s singer-songwriter instincts lay the groundwork for “Gonna Be Alright,” Zamba’s hip hop roots offer age-old griot wisdom on “Flower of the Heart,” US-based Ugandan multi-instrumentalist Kinobe offers his expressive kora on the refugee-themed “Forsaken,” and Congolese-born soukous guitarist and singer Jaja Bashengenzi imprints his own style on multiple tracks overall.
The day used to end the same way around the world. After the work was done, families and communities would gather around a fire, where they would sing, dance, tell stories, and distill learning into proverbs. Thanks to Nsimbi, we are able to capture that magic of long-ago and instill it into our modern existence. With Nsimbi, the fire that brought us all together burns eternally.
Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi
Artist: Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba
Label: Twelve Eight
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 29, 2018
Building a bridge across the Atlantic, Routes is a collaboration between Sengalese kora master Diali Keba Cissokho and his band Kaira Ba that links North Carolina to M’bour, Senegal—where the tracks were recorded in a rattan-paneled hotel room overlooking the ocean. Cissokho, who was born into a family of griots and can trace his musical linage back to 16th century Mali, relocated to North Carolina after marrying an American student of Sengalese music. There, he connected with a quartet of local musicians including drummer Austin McCall, percussionist Will Ridenour (who also plays djembe), Berklee-trained jazz guitarist John Westmoreland, and bassist Jonathan Henderson—an ethnomusicologist well versed in jazz and afro-diasporic styles. Working together to create a musical language that combined elements of these multiple traditions, the group transformed into Kaira Ba.
One of the unique aspects of Routes is the wide range of contributing artists from both nations who lent their talents to this project. As the tracks were laid down in Senegal, Cissokho invited numerous friends and relatives to contribute to the mix, including a group of drummers who set up in the courtyard. Once the band returned home, they overdubbed instrumental and vocal tracks using a variety of well-known local musicians. Their goal, to “tell the story of these two places Diali has called home,” has certainly been realized through this expanded musical palate and community spirit, while the aural soundscapes of each location also enter the mix.
Opening with the familiar Carolina summer sound of cicadas, “Alla L’a Ke” is a traditional kora song dedicated to Cissokho’s late father, which the group transforms through the addition of a string quartet featuring violinist Jennifer Curtis, among others. Up next is “Badima” with a catchy Afro-rock groove laid over Chuckey Robinson’s organ and a fast and furious percussive conclusion. Salsa, which is extremely popular in West African, is the basis for the track “Salsa Xalel,” blended here with the national dance mbalax using local percussion and balafon. The tie-in to the American South comes by way of the track’s funky horn section and gospel singers Shana Tucker and Tamisha Waden, who join Cissokho on vocals as they ponder what kind of world are we leaving for our children:
Yet another interesting sound collage can be found in “Saya,” a poignant song about grasping the reality of death. Opening with a kora solo by Cissokho, the focus shifts mid-section to Eric Heywood’s pedal steel guitar, blending perfectly with kora, guitar and bass. John Westmoreland takes the lead on “Story Song,” which he composed in the Mali style known as desert blues, with Cissokho providing the narration in English about the band’s seven-year collaboration: “these people I’m playing music with / we’re not the same culture / we’re not the same religion/ but out heart is the same…you can’t play music like this if your heart is not beautiful.”
The album closes with “Night In M’Bour,” featuring a collage of sounds recorded during an evening in Cissokho’s home town, including a traditional sabar drum ensemble and fula flute solo, then concluding with the night crickets of M’Bour—a bookend to the opening soundscapes of North Carolina.
Routes is the perfect showcase for Kaira Ba’s unique fusion of Senegalese and American musical traditions, as well as a demonstration of cross-cultural collaboration and mutual respect between band members who welcomed an immigrant to their community.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Title: Listen to the Music
Artist: Playing For Change
Label: Motéma Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: April 20, 2018
Playing For Change, the multimedia company best known for their “Songs Around the World” online video series that has over 500 million views, has released their fourth album Listen to the Music. Featuring a selection of global artists performing tracks in their home countries, the project took almost three years to complete.
The album’s first single, “Skin Deep” performed by blues legend Buddy Guy and over 50 accompanying musicians from around the U.S., speaks on race issues and violence in America stating, “underneath we’re all the same.”
Another track, “Africa Mokili Mobimba” performed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and TP OK Jazz Band, is a famous Congolese song that serves as an anthem to connect and unify Africa. One of the final songs on the album, “Congo to the Mississippi,” exemplifies this theme of unification through music; the song started in a village in the Congo and added musicians from Jamaica, Japan, and Italy before wrapping up with a harmonica solo played by New Orleans street musician Grandpa Elliott.
Each track on Listen to the Music is completely unique in its combination of talented musicians and vocalists. The related video series document many of these collaborations, including “All Along the Watchtower” (with Cyril and Ivan Neville), “Everlasting Love” (with Vasti Jackson and Roots Gospel Voices of Mississippi), and “Bring It on Home to Me” (featuring the late Roger Ridley).
The album, while bringing together the contributing 210 musicians from 25 different countries, also aims to unify today’s often divided societies. According to the co-founder of Playing For Change, Mark Johnson, “In a world with so many divisions, we need to create connections. Musical collaboration is the best way to make that happen.” In addition, 100% of profits from the album with be donated to the Playing For Change Foundation. This non-profit educational organization has opened 15 music-focused schools for underprivileged children in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Morocco, Mexico, Argentina and Thailand.
Reviewed by Chloe McCormick
Artist: BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness)
Label: Buda Musique
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: April 20, 2018
Hailing from South Africa, the seven-piece band BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) has released their newest album Emakhosini, an EP featuring three tracks that capture the sound of ancestral, indigenous musical traditions while also including contemporary and controversial commentary on modern Africa.
Each of the three songs, though all very different, contain the essence of ‘Africangungungu,’ the name BCUC has given to their ‘afropsychedelic’ music. The tracks are best described as vibrant—each is buzzing with the distinct energy that BCUC brings to all of their music and performances. A mix of traditional indigenous South African music with funk, hip-hop, and punk-rock influences, BCUC’s music is nothing short of unique. As vocalist Kgomotso Mokone declared, “We bring fun and emo-indigenous Afro psychedelic fire from the hood.”
The album also tackles the issues of modern Africa head-on, including commentary on the harsh realities of uneducated workers. One song from a previous self-produced EP expressed views about a national idol and was so controversial that it was ultimately removed from the album. Despite this and other criticism regarding the group’s refusal to identify with a single social or political movement, BCUC sticks to their philosophy of creating “music for the people by the people with the people.” This philosophy is expressed in the video for the final track, “Nobody Knows (the Trouble I’ve Seen), filmed in Soweto:
Although Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness faces criticism for their stances, their commitment to representing the voiceless, speaking on important social and political issues, and exposing audiences to indigenous music is admirable. Emakhosini perfectly represents and lives up to the rebellious, lively spirit of the group.
Reviewed by Chloe McCormick
Artist: Los Rumberos De La Bahia
Label: Eguin Eje Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: November 10, 2017
Mabagwe is a collaborative album between Cuban native José Luis Gómez (vocalist), Michael Spiro (percussionist and associate professor at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music), and Jesus Díaz (producer, percussionist, vocalist)—performing as Los Rumberos De La Bahia. Featuring high-spirited songs in the rumba tradition, the album displays superb performances by many featured musicians—Rogelio Ernesto Gatell Coto (vocalist), Ivan Camblor (tres guitar), Colin Douglas (percussion), Jesus Gonzalez (quinto), Jason McGuire (acoustic guitar), Beatriz Godinez Muñiz (vocalist), Fito Reinoso (vocalist), Genesie Reinoso (vocals), and Randel Villalongo (quinto)—and highlights the socio-cultural aspect of the Cuban music-making process.
As the title indicates, Mabagwe (“Remembrance” in Yoruba) honors the legacies and memories of legendary Cuban rumberos and culture bearers of Cuban folkloric music—Regino Jimenez Saez (“Omi Saide”), Esteband Vega Bacallao (“Cha-Cha”), Gregorio Hernández, Juan de Dios Ramos, Francisco Hernández Mora, Gregorio Díaz, Jesus Alfonso, Julito Collazo, Francisco Aguabella, and Pedro Aballí.
The album opens with “Siempre Viviran,” an arrangement dedicated to the legacy of the group’s mentors, featuring call-and-response dialogues coupled with toque to the orisha spirit Olokun, guaguancó rhythms, and the bata toque for the Egun (spirits of departed ancestors). Later on, “Potpourri De Boleros” treats the listener to a beautiful medley of popular boleros—“Sabor a Mi,” “Muchas Veces,” and “Y Tu Que Has Hecho”—supported by a light and sophisticated rumba.
Publicist Ron Kadish writes, “Rumba can be played anywhere—at the kitchen table, on some buckets in the patio, on a desktop—whenever and wherever rumberos decide to start playing clave and sing about what’s going on their lives.” Mabagwe is most definitely an encapsulation of this rumba tradition, capturing an image of the San Francisco community of rumberos—Cubans and Americans—as they channel the spirits of “Los Mayores,” or elder Cuban rumberos.
Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste
Title: Project Mama Earth
Artist: Project Mama Earth
Formats: CD, Vinyl, streaming
Date: November 10th, 2017
In June of 2017, five world renowned musicians came together to embark on a bold new project with no songs and no plan, but by the end of ten days they had completed a masterpiece. Both the group and their debut EP bear the name Project Mama Earth. Band members include Nitin Sawhney on guitar, Jonathan Joseph on drums, Étienne M’Bappé on bass, Jonathan Shorten on Keys, and the executive producer and lead singer, Joss Stone.
According to Stone, the idea for the project was brought to her by drummer Jonathan Joseph, who wanted to create a project based around the African bikutsi rhythms from Cameroon. In his words, “…let’s all come together and make some music with this rhythm in it.”
Joseph and Stone have performed together since 2003 when he was drafted to accompany the young British singer on her debut album, The Soul Sessions. As they began working together to assemble their team, the choices seemed obvious. Joseph enlisted his longtime friend, Cameroonian multi-instrumentalist Étienne M’Bappé, who has played with acts spanning from John McLaughlin to Robert Ford. His heritage, rooted in rhythms, was a style they wished to tap into. That, and M’Bappé’s his shear musicality made him an obvious choice.
Next they contacted Jonathan Shorten., who produced much of Stone’s music, as well as some of the biggest hits for multi-platinum selling artist Gabrielle and other British artists. Last but not least was guitarist Nitin Sawhney. Described as a one man musical tidal wave, he’s collaborated with musical legends like Paul McCartney and Sting, as well as the London Symphony Orchestra. These musicians all came together at Joss Stone’s home studio in Devon, England where their ten day adventure began.
Project Mama Earth contains six songs and five interludes, all centered around nature and the bikutsi rhythm. The first song on the album, “Mama Earth,” begins smoothly, prominently displaying the driving bikutsi groove as Joss Stone enters with her trade mark R&B sound and a nature inspired lyric. Stone explains that she wanted to keep her creative process separate from the four instrumentalists: “I didn’t have any input in the music because I didn’t want to affect it— or it’d all come out hip-hop and R&B.” So when the instrumentalists finished, they would bring the song to Stone, and with the help of her mother, they wrote the lyrics and melodies.
Stone seems to stick to the theme of personifying the earth throughout the album. In an interview with Billboard magazine, she explained that her lyrics where inspired by what Mother Nature might say to her to her inhabitants if she could speak. This is especially apparent in the fourth song on the album, “What Would She Say,” as Stone speaks from the stand point of the earth, with the the lyric:
Do you think I would cry if I run out of gold?
I’d blink more than an eye if I get that old.
Well maybe you think I forget how to cleanse my soul.
As if humans could change or slow down
Only the arrogant truly know
I suppose I could just shake them off and let them go.
It’s so amazing that Project Mama Earth was competed within such a short period of time. One can only hope this musical team of Jonathan Joseph, Étienne M’Bappé, Jonathan Shorten, Nitin Sawhney, and Joss Stone will come together again to grace us with their art.
Reviewed by Jared Griffin
Title: What Goes Up
Artist: Chicago Afrobeat Project
Release date: September 29, 2017
The newest release from the Chicago Afrobeat Project, What Goes Up, builds upon the group’s strong foundation of recordings. The already large ensemble heavily features guest artists on its latest album, including Nigerian afrobeat drummer Tony Allen (who has worked with the legendary Fela Kuti, a pioneer of the genre) as a featured artist on each of the album’s tracks.
The Chicago Afrobeat Project has always drawn heavily from funk-influenced afrobeat styles, and, as the group’s name implies, continues this basic approach on its latest album. The 14-member ensemble features great arrangements for its full horn section on cuts like “Race Hustle,” but moves somewhat outside of traditional afrobeat expectations on other cuts, as on the extended synth intro to “Cut the Infection.” The group incorporates some jazz fusion influences on the polyrhythmic cut “Must Come Down,” interpolating wah wah guitars with African rhythms more typical of the group’s style.
Unlike the work of afrobeat pioneers like Kuti, the lyrics on What Goes Up tend to be more pop-philosophical than explicitly political, with tracks like “No Bad News” vaguely addressing the importance of ancestors and the evils of corporate pollution, but without finding specific figures to either praise or criticize. “Marker 48” continues in the same vein, arguing that humans cannot continue to exploit the Earth’s resources, but without addressing who is using most of these resources, who benefits most from extraction, or what could be done to change this pattern. This group is at its best on songs like “Afro Party,” when taking more of a celebratory than a critical lyrical tone. It is difficult to level poignant political critique in any kind of music, let alone music this sharply focused on creating textures and grooves. This group puts forth great effort, but ultimately lacks the specificity necessary to compellingly address social issues in most cases.
With that said, the Chicago Afrobeat Project can groove—each track feels great, and there’s exciting rhythms and melodies to go around. This is in large part due to the strength of its members’ musicianship and their strong connections to both afrobeat music and the other genres they incorporate into their approach. For the Chicago Afrobeat Project, the audience is What Goes Up—up out of its seat and onto the dance floor.
Reviewed by Matthew Alley
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
Artist: Wyclef Jean
Formats: CD, Vinyl, MP3
Release date: September 15, 2017
Wyclef Jean released his Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, highlighting the 20th anniversary of his album The Carnival, and the 10th anniversary of Carnival II: Memoirs of an Immigrant. Like the other albums in the Carnival series, the third installment incorporates music from different parts of the world, offering an outstanding conglomerate of music for the listener. According to Jean, this multi-cultural “genre-bending album is outside the box . . . It’s a celebration of what I love about music: discovery, diversity and artistry for art’s sake.
The first thing that stands out is Jean’s inspirational words, reminding us that “we shall overcome our struggles someday.” His motivational lyrics and usage of biblical references (e.g. Zion, Golden Gates, and Psalm 23) resonate with the listener as symbols of hope, while inspiring them to pursue their goals. Another aspect of this album is Jean’s blending of polyrhythms (“Fela Kuti”), reggae (“Turn Me Good”), Afro-Cuban (“Trapicabana”), hip hop and popular music, creating a multi-cultural experience. Finally, the skillfulness and musicality displayed by each guest artist (including Jazzy Amra, T-Baby, STIX, and Emeli Sandé) adds another layer to the brilliance of this album.
Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee sustains the legacy of Wyclef Jean’s first Carnival album, spreading the message of community, hope, and love while showing the diversity of the world stage through the art within a music compilation.
Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste
Artist: ¡ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat
Label: Sonic Octopus/Dist. via Bandcamp
Formats: Digital (MP3, FLAC, etc.)
Release date: September 8, 2017
Garnering the titles “Best New Band” and “Best International/World Music Act” in last year’s poll by the Chicago Reader, ESSO Afrojam Funkbeat is capitalizing on their local popularity with their new full-length sophomore release. Juntos, which means “together” in Spanish, is indicative of the multi-cultural ensemble that’s comprised of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Colombian, and African American musicians. Band members include Armando Perez (guitar/vocals), Kevin Miller (saxophone), Dan Lieber (drums/percussion), Ezra Lange (bass), Diana Mosquera (vocals), Puerko Pitzotl (percussion), Jess Anzaldua (percussion), Matt Davis (trombone), and Luis Tubens (vocals).
The album’s title also reflects the socially conscious nature of the project as well as band’s aspirations to unite their city. As stated by Perez, “We believe, especially growing up and witnessing the social divisions and violence in Chicago, that we can only move forward as a people, united with tolerance and understanding. Divisions are a social construct and we believe music is one of those special things that brings people together.”
ESSO performs an infectious fusion of tropical funk and cumbiation—a blending of cumbia with reggaetón. Opening with sensuous rhythms, “Baila” is an excellent example of the band’s synthesis of more traditional Latin music interspersed with raps and electronic effects. Following is the harder, funk-driven Afrobeat song “La Calle,” about the challenges of growing up on the streets of Chicago, particularly among first generation immigrant families. Vocalist Diana Mosquera is featured prominently on her self-penned “Mariposa Negra,” while traditional Yoruban chants over several layers of percussion form the basis of “Homenaje.” Cuban-born DJ AfroQbano, now based in Chicago, programmed the beats on “Piramides,” “Meet Me Out,” and “Stone Eagle”—the latter two the only songs in English. Tracks such as “Somos Hermanos” and “Mi Gente” perhaps best articulate the group’s socio-political message of coming together as brothers and sisters and communities to strive for a better future.
On Juntos, ESSO Afrojam Funkbeats combine tight horns with an array of percussion to create infectious dance beats all while espousing the necessity of solidarity and embracing the multicultural nature of communities. This is world music fusion at its finest!
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Title: Loé Loá: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree
Artist: Betsayda Machado & La Parranda El Clavo
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: September 14, 2017
Known as “the Black voice of Barlovento,” Venezuelan vocalist Betsayda Machado and her fellow musicians hail from descendants of rebel slaves who lived in clandestine villages deep in the Barlovento region of Venezuela. One of the most culturally distinctive traditions that has endured in these villages is Afro-Latin drumming, or tambor venezolano, expressed through the local genre parranda. This percussion heavy music, often performed by as many as one hundred musicians at village celebrations and funerals, has many different branches. Machado and her village band, La Parranda El Clavo, prefer to focus on the “trunk,” which she defines as the drums and vocals that form the heart of their tradition: “We are purists; we don’t worry about adding lots of melodic instruments. We defend the old ways and make our own drums.”
Though Machado has performed on world music stages in North America and with bands in Caracas, it wasn’t until recent years that efforts were made to capture her music in situ with La Parranda El Clavo. Thanks to the efforts of producer Juan Souki and Jose Luis Pardo (aka Los Amigos Invisibles’ DJ Afro), field recordings made in the village by Latin Grammy-winner Dario Penaloza were transformed into the groups’ debut album, Loé Loá: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree.
Featuring a 16 member chorus and 12 member percussion ensemble, all of the tracks on the album vibrate with the spirit of El Clavo. In particular, “Oh Santa Rosa” and “Merengada E’ Ron” perhaps best exemplify the virtuosity of the drumming, along with “No La Peles, Papá” and “La Situación” which also address current hardships and food shortages in Venezuela. The band also advocates against gun violence through the poignant song “Sentimiento,” written following the death of two of their friends:
Loé Loá presents an intimate portrait of a centuries old musical tradition that connects a small village in Venezuela with its African roots.
Editor’s note: Betsayda Machado is touring the U.S. this fall, including performances on September 16-17 at the World Music Festival Chicago and Sept. 30 at the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival in Bloomington, IN.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
Album: Transmisión en la Eritá Meta
Artist: Ilú Keké
Label: Music Works NYC
Release date: August 10, 2017
Formats: CD, MP3
Ethnomusicologist Amanda Villepastour and Cuban producer Luis Bran have teamed up to bring the story of multi-generational religious drums, Ilú Keké, to a global audience. The 21-track album, titled Transmisión en la Eritá Meta, is a rich introduction to Yorùbá deity traditions conducted in the diasporic setting of Cidra. Resulting from the witnessed reminisces of the late Justiliano Pelladito, this musical project took both Villepastour and Bran on an iconic journey to uncover the history of Ilú Keké, one of the oldest remaining bàtá sets in the Matanzas region of Cuba.
The musicality of the album is captivating, even to the novice. Detailed liner notes guide listeners through each selection, providing the history and purpose in addition to key visual images. Locations in and around Cidra feature as prominent backdrops for each track, adding to the presentation’s depth of cultural offering. Drifting between gritty field recordings and pristine studio production, Ilú Keké’s deep-rooted spiritual meaning is captured through powerful drumming that transmits sacred knowledge from the elders to following generations. Transmisión en la Eritá Meta ensures that Ilú Keké takes its rightful place in Cuba’s history of bàtá drumming.
Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi