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.
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...