The Cuban twins, Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé, together calling themselves Ibeyi release their debut album this month. With their musical pedigree and ethereal voices, they are difficult not to like, but what I really like about them is the slightly creepy aesthetic they have going on. Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m projecting cultural stereotypes we have about twins, but it seems like they are capitalizing on this with their video for River.
Calling their music “modern Negro spirituals” the twins draw from traditional Yorùbá chants and folk songs, they make music that is at once both comfortably old and interestingly new
My current auditory obsession is this remake of Fela Kuti’s 1974 song Lady, by tUnE-yArDs, featuring ?uestlove, Angelique Kidjo and Akua Naru. It is the first single from the second Red Hot compilation, (RED) Hot + Fela, which will raise funds for HIV/AIDS research.
My love for this version is so strong it is almost sexual. Angelique Kidjo is a goddess as always, her lead vocals are full of grunts and gymnastics that call to mind Fela’s energetic stage presence. ?uestlove, the biggest proponent of Fela in mainstream Western music is as ever, the cool backbone of the track. tUnE-yArDs quirky harmonies are just left-of-centre enough to stand on top of the amazing things the brass section, represented by Rubblebucket, are doing. This version manages to inject even more energy into the song, which if you know anything about Fela Kuti and his long musical reign at The Shrine, is quite an achievement. The climax of the vocal harmonies and brass at the end, will make your arm hair stand up and take notice.
Fela’s music was always political, and Merrill Garbus’ (of tUnE-yArDs) choice to populate this song with female vocalists is a political one. The original song was a criticism of what Fela saw of African women’s embrace of Western values.
If you call am woman
African woman no go ‘gree
She go say, she go say, “I be Lady o”
Today I am thinking about female African pop stars, the ones who inspired and interested me when I was younger. Intrepid women who kicked down doors and destroyed barriers with the power of their vocals.
I am thinking in particular of three South African women who made a special place for themselves in the music industry and in my heart.
“Princess of Africa”
Ask anyone who lived in Africa during the eighties and they will be happy to sing some kind of localized version of Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s song Umqombothi. It is a song about home brewed beermade from sorghum or mealie-meal. It is first and foremost a party song, and I have fond memories of watching the adults get drunk and dance to it at parties when I was a child. It is also about the women who made umqombothi, and ran shebeens (speakeasies) in order to entertain the working men and feed their children in the poverty stricken townships. During Apartheid especially, shebeens were a cultural centre, an oasis of peace hidden from the burning South African sun of oppression.
Yvonne Chaka Chaka grew up under that sun; in fact she was the first black child to ever appear on South African television. When asked who she admired most, Chaka Chaka said
“My mother because she has always been there for me. My mother raised three daughters single-handedly on a domestic workers salary. That took great courage and strength. She is my mentor and hero. When I was born in 1965 in Soweto, it was during apartheid, and those were extremely difficult times. My dad was a great musician who could never realize his dream. He died when I was 11 years old. I inherited my talent from both parents, so music has always been in my blood .When I was little I would strum an empty tin and blow into a broom stick pretending it was a microphone. I sang in church choirs. I loved singing. I am blessed that I achieved my destiny, and been able to accomplish what my father could not.”
When the phrase “MTV Generation” was coined in the 1980s this is not what they were referring to. “This” is Thursday night at Steak Out; a bar, restaurant and club in tropical Kampala, Uganda, also known as “Rock Nite”. At the table beside me, a guy cradles his beer bottle like a microphone, singing every word to the 30 Seconds to Mars song playing; the tendons in his neck straining, the drops of sweat on his forehead shaken into rivulets. I don’t know whether to cringe or laugh, so I just look away.
The kids of Kampala’s growing middle class have been raised on MTV videos beamed into their living rooms by South African satellite television. Now they can go out to enjoy their favoured angst-driven guitar riffs and catchy pop tunes in the company of like-minded, equally inebriated individuals. Club scenes that were once dominated by Lingala music out of Congo, Western reggae, rap and hip-hop, and their African permutations, have been forced to make room for new tastes. Where young people once Ndombolo-ed, tonight they are head-banging.
The team behind Okayplayer (including eternally-cooler-than-thou ?uestlove), recently launched Okayafrica, a website exploring Africa’s contemporary music scene. I’m already a fan.
With content on African artists, from internet darlings BLK JKS and Just a Band, to those you may not have heard of like Siji and Bajah and the Dry Eye Crew, I have high hopes that Okayafrica (bringing you true notes since 247,000 BC) is here to stay. They also feature blogs and writing, like this piece wrapping up the 2010 World Cup by Siddhartha Mitter.
Beyond football, the Cup’s effect on the rest of Africa will be incidental – another of those global Africa moments with benefits that are mostly symbolic. If anything, the World Cup may leave Africa more vulnerable, not less, to the simplifying gaze of well-meaning outsiders, such as Belgian photographer Jessica Hilltout, whose images of men and boys in various African countries playing soccer with improvised balls were being shown in a Johannesburg gallery. The photographs are artful, technically strong. Yet Hilltout’s artistic statement – “Africa is a world like no other. Unstructured, disorganised, carefree, monotonous. African people have simple needs and huge hearts. They accept their lot in life with a supreme calmness” – conveys the lazy condescension that afflicts so much of the continent’s treatment by its would-be foreign advocates.
I went to Zambia recently, meaning about six months ago and was amazed at how African music has exploded. All kinds of African musicians are getting play all over the continent and like youngafrican pointed out
music is crossing cultural barriers and that Zambians are listening to Ugandan music and Ugandans are listening to Naija music and Nigerians are playing Zambian music as their ringtones!
I have a problem with it which is based on the fact that Afro-pop is kind of stagnant and lacks a genuine artistic identity.