Nduduzo Makhathini – Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds

 

Title:  Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds 
Artist: Nduduzo Makhathini 
Label: Blue Note 
Formats: CD, Digital 
Release date: April 3, 2020 

 

A rising star on the international jazz scene, South African pianist and composer Nduduzo  Makhathini is a member of the band Shabaka and the Ancestors and was recently featured on the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s musical celebration, “The South African Songbook.”  Nduduzo makes his Blue Note recording debut this month with Modes of Communication: Letters from the Underworlds. The album is deeply rooted in the music and ritual practices of his homeland in KwaZulu Natal, with additional inspiration provided by legends of South African jazz including his mentor, the late Bheki Mseleku, and pianist Abdullah Ibraham. It was through Nduduzo’s exposure to American jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, however, that enabled him to develop a style of playing that “could mirror or evoke the way my people danced, sung, and spoke.” Retaining those nuances and connecting his improvisations to more profound elements of divination and healing, known as uBungoma, Nduduzo’s unique vision is communicated throughout the 11 original tracks. 

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Lakou Mizik – HaitiaNola

 

Title: HaitiaNola
Artist: Lakou Mizik
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Label: Cumbancha
Release Date: October 25, 2019

 

Inspired by the historical, cultural, and spiritual connections that tie the people and music of Haiti and New Orleans together, HaitiaNola is the sophomore release from Haitian roots revival collective Lakou Mizik. Founded in 2010 following the devastating Haitian earthquake, Lakou Mizik first came together with the goal of promoting Haitian culture and music when the international media was filled with negative stories and imagery from the country. Their debut album, Wa Di Yo, was released in 2016. The following year, a performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival inspired the group’s recent New Orleans infused collaboration. The band members immediately felt a connection to the city which reminded them of home—no surprise, given the number of Haitians that fled the island during the Haitian Revolution and assimilated into New Orleans’ Creole population. Continue reading

Ondigui and Bota Tabansi International – Ewondo Rythm

 

Title: Ewondo Rythm
Artist: Ondigui and Bota Tabansi International
Label: BBE Music
Formats: CD, LP, and Digital
Release Date: August 9, 2019

 

This reissue of Ewondo Rythm, the 1977 release by Ondigui and Bota Tabansi International, puts one in the mind of Afrobeat and Fela Kuti. Getting its genesis from the musical traditions coming out of the Congo in the 1960s, the group brings listeners into the hidden gem of highlife-soukous. Energetically balanced throughout its five tracks, the album creates a musical experience that leaves listeners wanting to dance, unwind, and perhaps even wishing that they were at Carnival! Ewondo Rythm is a great introduction to music from the Congo Basin for those looking to try something new, or to expand their appreciation of diasporic music. Continue reading

September 2019 Black Music Releases of Note

Following are additional albums released during September 2019 across multiple genres—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.  Continue reading

Moken – Missing Chapters

 

Title: Missing Chapters
Artist: Moken
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

Oumar Konate – I Love You Inna

 

Title: I Love You Inna
Artist: Oumar Konate
Label: Clermont Music
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release Date: July 5, 2019

 

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

Various Artists – Putumayo Presents World Peace

 

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

Salif Keita – Un Autre Blanc

 

Title: Un Autre Blanc
Artist: Salif Keita
Label: Naïve/Believe
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

Complete Cuban Jam Sessions

 

Title: Complete Cuban Jam Sessions
Artist: Various
Label: Craft
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

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.

Soweto Gospel Choir – Freedom

 

Title: Freedom
Artist: Soweto Gospel Choir
Label: Shanachie
Formats: CD, Digital
Release Date: September 14, 2018

 

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 – Siri Ba Kele

 

Title: Siri Ba Kele
Artist: Baba Commandant and the Mandingo Band
Label: Sublime Frequencies
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 2, 2018

 

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

Bokanté – What Heat

 

Title: What Heat
Artist: Bokanté
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

Nsimbi – Nsimbi

Nsimbi
Title: Nsimbi

Artist: Nsimbi

Label: Imara

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.

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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

 

 

Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba – Routes

Routes

 

Title: Routes

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:

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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

Playing For Change – Listen to the Music

playing for change

 

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.”

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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