Not to blow my own horn, but since I started an African program—Morning Goes Makossa—in 1980, I have been exposed to a lot of African music from all over the continent. KCRW was the first NPR station to play the propulsive afrobeat of Fela Kuti, the first to play the funky juju rhythms of King Sunny Ade. KCRW was also at the center of the African music’s “grande époque”, the golden age that lasted from 1983 to 1990, when every week there would be a new African band travelling through LA. Bands such as I.K. Dairo, Thomas Mapfumo, Barrister, Ebeneezer Obey, Rigo Star, Les Quatres Étoiles, and Tabu Ley Rochereau were regular visitors both to LA and to KCRW. Soukous was live and well here. KCRW presented Fela in 1986, our first “presents”. We had shows at the Music Machine in West LA, The Alligator Lounge close by, the Greek Theatre, the Country Club, Club Lingerie, The Wadsworth Theatre, The Wiltern. Many of these venues are long since gone. But not forgotten. There is even a doctoral student at UCLA writing a dissertation on this short-lived African renaissance.
Those days are gone, the African show is gone, but the seed was planted and LA—like America—has embraced African and world music in general. But I sometimes miss the sheer variety of African bands that used to come here. The Nigerian artist Barrister sang solo with 20 talking drummers, calling his art “Fuji” music, mighty like the Japanese mountain. I dedicated my first book to Ebeneezer Obey’s talking drummers, the likes of which I’ve never heard since.
These bands go to London, Paris, maybe New York for a one-stop. But no longer LA.
Rathernd generation afrobeat star Seun Kuti, and Vieux Farka Touré, also a scion, this time from a great Malian blues family. I love these new albums, but there is so much more to African music that we’re not hearing today.
Certainly Afrobeat is alive and well, ditto for Malian blues, and Masakela has a show at the Hollywood Bowl this summer. What about all the other styles of African music? The troubadors of Cameroun like Henri Dikongue and Coco Mbassi, or for that matter the smooth groove of Camerounian makossa with Bebe Manga or Manu Dibango? Then there’s the angelic voice of Congo’s Lokua Kanza, the great cultural mix of Zanzibar’s Culture Musical Club, which fuses African, European, Arabic, and Indian music? When was the last concert of joyous Congolese rumba here in LA? I can’t remember. The preponderance today of Afrobeat, South African music (plenty of it since Graceland) and Malian modal blues has eclipsed many other African styles. I regret this, as Africa is vast and its musical topography is equally diverse and impressive.
Lokua Kanza: Nakozonga
Lokua Kanza: Elanga Ya Muinda
I have a starting suggestion: fairly recently a beautiful album by Congolese singer Lokua Kanza was issued by the World Village label, part of Harmonia Mundi. Kanza has one of those voices that levitates you into musical wonder and delight. He sings like an angel. It is not about driving rhythms but rather about melody and lyricism. It shows that African music comes in all sizes and shapes.
Here is Lokua talking about his latest album Nkolo–which means God. He talks about life, gratefulness and the human spirit.