Music from the Four Corners of Africa

This week we embark on a cross-border safari around Africa, from West to South, then East to North, and back down to Mali for one more musical helping. I’m spinning African tunes at the opening party on June 2 for Striking Iron: The Art of the African Blacksmiths at the Fowler Museum, so I thought I’d feature just a taste of my favorite African music.

We start with a master Ghanaian drummer, Ben Baddoo, demonstrating how African polyrhythms are made. This track comes from a classic Womad compilation produced by Peter Gabriel back in the 1980’s.

The soulful Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab embraced the Cuban music model before the arrival of the new mbalax style from a young Youssou N’Dour. Check out the great guitar solo by Togo-born Barthélémy Attiso, who left the band to become a lawyer. By the way, he was self-taught on guitar.

The hot new Zimbabwean band Mokoomba comes next. They perform on June 9 at the newly-renovated Miracle Theater in Inglewood as part of an extensive U.S. tour. Should be a fabulous show!

We move next door to South Africa and hear a great combo—Mahlathini, the “Lion of Soweto” with the Mahotella Queens. The vibrant beat and vocals represent the heart and soul of South African music. It's zulu jive at its best.

The American-Ugandan duo Nsimbi (Swahili for “Iron”) has a brand new self-titled album with lyrics sung in Swahili, English, Luganda, and Lingala. Nsimbi is a partnership between Ugandan hip-hop artist GNL Zamba and American vocalist Miriam Tamar. Their first album blends the traditional and modern, using East African instruments and sounds in contemporary ways.

We then hear a lovely pastoral song from the Kenyan artist Ayub Ogada. This cattle-herding song came out originally on a Real World album, and I put it on a compilation that I produced years ago, Trance Planet Vol. 2.

We head next to North Africa on our musical tour, to Marrakech, Morocco, with a terrific cut called “Zeye Meyel” from the band Nass Marrakech. The rising and falling rhythm is typical of gnawa-inflected Moroccan music. Gnawa is the trance music of Morocco that Paul Bowles and the Beat Poets loved so much. Nass Marrakech gives us a gentler version of it.

Algerian singer-songwriter Souad Massi sings “Raoui,” the title cut from her first album. I also found it on a nice collection called Desert Blues 3. The plaintive longing and simplicity in this song make it so compelling.

On the final selection, we head back down the coast of West Africa to the Sahel (the East-West band of Africa that runs between Mauretania and Sudan on Africa’s East coast, below North Africa and above forest Africa). I love the Malian family band, Bassekou Kouyate + Ngoni Ba, and we hear from their 2013 album Jama Ko. If you ever get a chance to see them live, you will be entranced.  The band features the ngoni, a small leather-wrapped guitar, which happens to be the ancestor of the banjo. The word banjo comes from Africa and arrived in the Americas with the slave trade.

Rhythm Planet Playlist for 6/1/18

  1. Ben Baddoo / "Kpanlogo" / Womad Volume 1: An Introduction to World Music / Womad
  2. Orchestra Baobab / "Gnawou" /Bamba/ Sterns
  3. Mokoomba / "Muzwile" / Luyando / Out Here
  4. Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens / "Kwa Volondiya" / A Taste of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto / Earthworks
  5. Nsimbi / "Dunia Ni Matembezi" / Nsimbi / Nsimbimusic
  6. Ayub Ogada / "Kothbiro" / Trance Planet Volume 2 / Triloka
  7. Nass Marrakech / "Zeye Meyel" / Bouderbala / World Village
  8. Souad Massi / "Raoui" / Desert Blues 3 Network
  9. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba / "Madou" / Jama Ko / Out Here





Tom Schnabel