Sunday, 9 December 2012

5 African Albums You Should Check Out

Thandiswa Mazwai - Ibokwe

Thandiswa (or King Tha! as she calls herself) has been on the scene since the early 90's, first with legendary kwaito group Bongo Maffin, and then branching out as a solo artist. Her music mixes traditional xhosa rhythms, melodies and beliefs with urban sounds and topics. Reminiscent of the late Busi Mhlongo, her vocal prowess and Afro-futurist aesthetic have led to legendary musician Hugh Masekela describing her as "the leader of the past, which is now the future". Thandiswa has two albums to her name. Here is my favourite track from her sophmore offering, Ibokwe. She is also an interesting 'tweeter', if that is even a word (tweetist?) Where most entertainers seem determined to use twitter as a medium to reveal their banality, @thandiswamazwai can actually make you think in less than 140 characters (I also love her website!)  

Lionel Loueke - Heritage

I first heard him play with Robert Glasper at the iTunes festival. Like Glasper, his music is somewhat uncategorizable. Whilst having serious jazz chops and incredible technique on the guitar, you can still hear the hypnotic, cyclical sounds of his native Benin and a rhythmic drive to his playing. There's even some drum n' bass and percussive scatting! His album represents an exciting trend of young (and successful) jazz musicians actually playing intelligible music together and to the mainstream listner, rather than just the snooty black hole that is the traditional 'jazz audience'. This is definitely one for the ipod to chill you out on long tube journeys...

Precious Ramotswe - From the Vault vol. 1

Why Precious Ramotswe!? Because Jill Scott doesn't easily fit into this list (lol) and I couldn't be bothered to make another one! Plus this album is the truth and I just heard it. Most consider "Who Is Jill Scott" to be the zenith of her recording career thus far, but I think these are even better songs than on that album (I guess these are the tracks that didn't make the cut: just goes to show you Jill throws away what others make careers out of!). The album even hilariously features a song where Jill's grandmother is telling her about how fine she used to be back in 'the day'. Who else could put something that random into a neosoul groove?...Sidenote; will the Ladies No.1 Detective Agency ever come back to the BBC?!

Philip Tabane & Malombo - Malombo

This is that serious old school - a re-release circa 1988! I heard this album about 3 months ago and promptly started taking Djembe lessons. My hands are much more sore than they used to be but I am not sure my talent is any greater than it was when I started! In any case this album mixes some serious rhythmic ingenuity with guitar playing in a style that I am not sure how to describe, except that it will transport you off somewhere if you allow it to. It's almost like he is narrating a story without words...An as old as it is it still sounds futuristic! The album is surely out of print now, having been originally released in 1984, but is Malombo's work is widely available on Spotify...Here is a  sample.

Rokia Traore - bowmboi

Hailing from Mali, Rokia's slight frame masks her big and haunting voice. I first saw her at the Africa Express tour in London, where she performed with (and eclipsed) Paul McCartney (sorry Paul). I had no idea what she was on about as it was in French (I think), but I was transfixed at the sound she produced.  Her album is great, as is the beautiful image on the cover. According to her biog., her family hails from royalty in Mali, which has caused her difficulty in pursuing a musical career as nobility is not supposed to perform entertain. Oh well. Here is a funky sample of Rokia breaking with tradition! I can here her saying "Je suis Zen" and "J'ai le courage" - I guess she is chilled out in her decision...On another note read last weeks post and this BBC story about how the crisis is Mali is affecting Malian artists like Rokia...

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Democracy Now (?)

'Liberal' capitalism or crony capitalism?Liberal (or neoliberal) capitalism, proposed and imposed without alternative solutions, is based on seven principles, which are considered to be valuable for all societies of the globalised world.
*The economy must be managed by private companies as they alone conduct themselves naturally as agents operating under the demands of open competition. This is in fact beneficial to society and ensures economic growth based upon the rational allocation of resources and the fair remuneration of all elements of production - capital, labour and natural resources. Consequently, if as an unfortunate legacy of 'socialism' any assets such as productive enterprises, financial institutions, urban or agricultural land are owned by the state, they must be privatised.

We'll drift through this | Mahala

We'll drift through this | Mahala:

'via Blog this'

Monday, 3 December 2012

Soweto Surfing: the Subaltern Speaks | Think Africa Press

Soweto Surfing: the Subaltern Speaks | Think Africa Press
Emboldened by drugs and alcohol, spurred on by the promise of notoriety amongst the youth of the Soweto ghetto, and invigorated by the death-defying thrill of it, a group of young South Africans are infamous for surfing the 9373 train to Johannesburg.

Check out this article about 'Train Surfing' in Soweto, based of a documentary by Journey Man Pictures. These young men, who lack employment and come from broken homes and troubled backgrounds, literally ride and do tricks on top of moving trains the way skateboarders do on the streets...

Jacob Zuma vs Fish n Chips

What does it say about freedom of speech and expression when a state broadcaster bans an advert because it offends the President's delicate sensibilities? What does it say that this is happening in supposedly the most advanced democracy and market economy on the continent? Why is Jacob Zuma's head so pointy? These are all important philosophical questions raised by an advert parodying President Zuma's decision to build a multi-million dollar compound for him and his wives (read about it here). Why is he so mad?! The ad, made by South African based cartoonists and comic book creators IziKhoho is far from controversial and far from their best work but that still did not stop the SABC banning it. It also speaks to the independence of the state broadcaster from the office of the presidency. In protecting the feelings of the premier, do they not lose their credibility?

This all comes after the 'Spear' controversy when a painting of the president with his genitals exposed caused outcry in the country and was subsequently defiled by some vigilantes I guess protecting the mans' 'honour'. Criticisms about the colonial gaze and black male sexuality followed...(the presidents penis)

Much more offensive in my opinion was the similarity of the painting to one of Lenin, as if Zuma's record on human rights and democracy was somehow akin to that of the deceased dictator. Say what you want about Zuma, but he is democratically elected. He's clearly just too damn sensitive!! I think a 70 something year old man is doing rather well if people still conceive of him as a sexual being, and furthermore, if you have a mansion / compound that is worth well into the millions, you should at least have a sense of humour when people tease you about it! 

South Africa's state broadcaster refused to air an advert for a fish and chips firm depicting President Jacob Zuma feeding his family on a budget meal, the company and its agent said Tuesday. "You won't get to watch the new television advert... for The Fish and Chip Co. on SABC because they have banned it,"...  (via AFP)

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Silence in the Sahel...

A tragedy is happening in Mali. Half a million displaced, ancient Sufi shrines destroyed and a ban on secular music being performed. What's causing this is al-Qaeda's attempt to impose sharia law in the north of the country. This is a new dimension to an old conflict.... It began around 50 years ago with the Mali's independence from French colonial administration. The new country was a combination of the Songhai, Ghana and Malian empires, and as a result, multitudes of different cultures. As with most post-colonial states, some groups couldn't accept nationhood under multiculturalism. 'The Tuaregs - a nomadic people located in over 10 African countries by way of the Sahara - were one of the dubious lot, and started a (hitherto now) unsuccessful bid for independence.

Buoyed by weapons Libyan weapons and a convenient coup southern Mali, their group 'Liberation of Azawad' or the 'NMLA'  took advantage of the chaos and declared independence of the North. Whilst regional and global actors continue to condemn this, no intervention has taken place - a weakened Mali government can't do it, and Ecowas has so far failed to get UN funding or permission to go in. Disastrously, in the midst of the confusion, Islamic fundamentalists have taken large swathes of the north. They immediately banned secular music and busied themselves destroying ancient heritage sites. Here is a video of Redi Tlhabi of Al Jazeera talking with some musicians about their experiences...

Why is fundamentalism taking such a grip on northern Africa now?! An incredible sounding 'Festival in the Desert' in Mali has had to be cancelled, meaning the artists will now have to perform in exile (festival-au-desert). The human rights abuses occurring are of course an abhorrent reality of all such conflicts, but the added tragedy is the destruction of culture and history. With heritage treasure-troves like Timbuktu, Mali is on of the 'Griot Nations' of the continent. Attacks on its traditional practices and arts are as such attacks on the collective African identity...

The Bones (a.k.a Mathambo) Have Spoek-en

Spoek Mathambo is what happens when you mix electronica, house music, kwaito, metal and an 80's style hip hop rhyme scheme. This young south african artist-producer, an 'Afro-Futurist' (check out his website) as he describes himself, makes ill beats that will leave you skanking and headbanging, and generally looking cool around your friends, who will be impressed that you know about such an underground yet sickening artist. His latest album 'Father Creeper' even got a 4 out of 5 star review in the very particular Guardian (here it is!) so you know hes doing something right! Spoek to me represents a trend of post-Apartheid artists producing work that is well rooted in the South African political experience, but still somehow manages to be Pan-African in a sense and reflect the influence of Globalization. Check out this TEDxSoweto talk of Spoek explaining his creative process. Not only is he a G musically, but the brother can hold a room!