Rhythm Planet: Remembering four pillars of the world music community

Written by

As each week of this pandemic goes by, I’ve sadly noted the passing of many musicians due to Covid-19 (or other illness), including several American musicians that I love—Lee Konitz, Henry Grimes, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ellis Marsalis, and Hal Willner. The American press has already well-covered the above fallen heroes, so I wanted to shine a spotlight this week on four world music musicians who passed away recently, but are not as well known in the west. They deserve to be better remembered here.

Aurlus Mabélé

A Congolese superstar known as the King of Soukous, Aurlus Mabélé sang with the top Congolese band Loketo (which means “hips” in Lingala) during the 1980s. Soukous fused Congolese rumba with the hot new Zouk styles from the French Caribbean. The joyful and high-energy music propels all to the dance floor. Mabélé sold millions of albums over the course of his long career. He passed away from Covid-19 in March at the age of 66.

Aldir Blanc

Brazililan lyricist Aldir Blanc quit his psychiatry practice to write lyrics for superstar João Bosco. Blanc would infuse his complex lyrics with ideas from his former profession. He later left Bosco to work for the Carioca composer and guitarist Guinga, whose own complex musical language provided a perfect foil for Blanc’s lyrics. He passed away from Covid-19 in early May at the age of 73.

This documentary captures Blanc among fans and musical stars at Carnaval time in Rio de Janeiro (video in Portuguese):

Idir (Hamid Cheriet)

Algerian Berber poet-singer Hamid Cheriet, better known as Idir, passed away on May 2 at age 70 from pulmonary disease. He championed Berber music of the Kabyle, the pre-Islamic native peoples of Algeria. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune hailed Idir as “an icon of Algerian art and said, ‘Algeria loses one of its monuments.’" (BBC News). I discovered Berber music in Paris in the 1970’s through a late-night radio show. I simply loved the music, even though I didn’t understand a word. Listen to this beautiful and plaintive song from Idir with Algerian singer Arzika:

A remembrance of the artist by Al Jazeera:

Manu Dibango

I mourned the passing of Cameroonian superstar Manu Dibango from Covid-19 in a previous post, but wanted to include him again in brief tribute. Dibango’s death was hard to take. He was still going strong in his 80’s. Watch in the video below how he energizes a young band and electrifies the audience at the Olympia Theater in Paris.