Hip Hop – Senegal Style

It’s been a while since I came across Senegalian band Daara J at WOMAD Taranaki. A trio of very likeable intelligent young men sang with energy in styles that some would say had their origin in the hard battles of Detroit but which they would say owed its origin to West African music, the minstrelsy, griot  traditions that have been developed by artists such as Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour, conveying positive messages about love, health and community.

Daara J at WOMAD Taranaki in 2005

Daara J at WOMAD Taranaki in 2005

Daara J’s original founders, Fadda Freddy and N’Dongo D, together with Aladji Man became world famous with their third album “Boomerang”, playing at venues in the UK, USA and around the world via the WOMAD music festivals. The title of the album reflects their belief that Hip Hop has its origins (like much American music) in the West African kingdoms from which people were taken as slaves. Recently they have reverted to the founding duo and are known as Daara J Family, with their most recent album “School of Life” reflecting the range of musical styles with which they grew up. Check out their latest video in which they “celebrate”  in a mixed groove which includes ska, rocksteady and twist influences.

This was the same WOMAD in which I met the late Richie Havens, a survivor from Greenwich Village in the 60s, and famously from his appearance as opening act at Woodstock. I asked him about Hip Hop and the negative imagery it communicated; violence and misogyny. He told me not to believe  everything I heard, that the public face of Hip Hop was a distortion created by the record companies that did not reflect the truth on the streets, where rappers and singers would write and sing much more positive sets of lyrics. Yes there was a culture of drugs and  the crime that surrounds it, but that was never the  whole story. Hip Hop  may come from hardship but it doesn’t have to be hateful, mean and abusive towards  women.

Listen to Richie Havens Here:

Hip Hop has always been political; a blend of dominant rhythm and poetic exclamation which at times doubles the rhythm section in a band, weaving around and across a singer’s melody; and at other times stands like a raw edge to sequences of pre-recorded, mixed or scratched sounds. It’s often edgy and tough, yet draws its themes from everyday experiences of love, hardship, anger and celebration. It is often associated with communities that are disadvantaged, marginalized and poor and is an ideal vehicle to transmit messages of hope.

occasionally musicians appear on my personal musical radar, they make contact, I might meet them or just talk online and we form a connection. One of these is a young Sengalian Rapper, Matar M’baye who goes by the name of Cool Art MC.

Cool Art MC was born in Dakar and is at the forefront of a new group of Senegalese rappers, having fallen in love with Hip Hop in the early 1990s and deciding to take up a solo career in 1998. His lyrics are a mix of Wolof and French, speaking to the people of Senegal and to a wider francophone world. However, Hip Hop is language and rhythm based, so when the words are not understood the power of the emotion is transmitted by the voice and the rhythm.

“From my earliest childhood my only love was to make rap music. My brothers were rappers and in 1996, through their faith in my talent I began to take my work seriously. As I grew up I became more aware of the hardships faced by those around me in the poor suburbs of Dakar: floods, poverty, violence, injustice and corruption. My community could see how I was passing this message through my music, even though I did not have any albums.”

Boubacar Djiba, Owner of Vazy Music an artist management company, described to me what the music scene is like in Dakar.

“In Senegal the music is developing, with the traditional styles of Mbalax from artists like Youssuo N’Dour, Baaba Maal and Ismaël Lô, and newer styles like Rap and Hip Hop, led by Daara J and Positive Black Soul (PBS). People listen to music in different places in the  cities. Radio stations are very important for musicians exposure, also there are big festivals with lots of artists. Locally, there are no big halls or arenas so the artists  play in clubs or go to a public place, set up their materials and then put on a show, but they won’t collect much money, because the audiences are poor. To play in the clubs the musicians must already have an album, and a band.

“It is hard to fund music here in Senegal. Music piracy is sucking money out of the industry, making it very difficult to find backing for recording projects. I have a business plan for an album, with all the recording and production costs, as well as the background activities like publicity and video, yet it is still hard to get finance. Senegal is not a rich country, we have great musical ambassadors like Youssou N’dour and Daara J who are now mentoring younger artists like CoolArt. We have international ambitions and need to create more recordings to reach a wider public. In Senegal people come to performances when they have your records. It’s the CDs and the videos that make you famous, then the shows. Here you get respect from what you have to show for your success: posters, CDs, videos etc; that attracts the audience.

CoolArt MC

CoolArt MC

When  you are producing music that has a fan base of young people  who have no money themselves it is hard to get funds to create albums. We use our own funds to make recordings, mainly using the little equipment we have. We are lucky to have a new computer now so we can make a little, slow progress. Here though, it is often a question of who you know that can get you a chance to earn money from your music.

You have to LOOK GOOD and show success before you can get a chance to have success

CoolArt MC has performed at venues in Senegal and has yet to travel beyond the borders of his country. His concerts have included other rap artists, as guests – such as this one in his home Dakar suburb of Thiaroy where he performed with 9 others in a show where he was the headline artist.

coolart poster
Thiaroy has a history of hardship and revolt. It was the scene for an infamous massacre of Senegalese “tirailleurs “, or conscripts, in 1944. These West African conscripts of the Senegalese units of the French army mutinied against poor conditions and revocation of pay at the Thiaroye camp. The mutiny was seen as an indictment of the French colonial system and became a watershed for the nationalist movement. The tirailleurs involved were former prisoners of war who had been repatriated to West Africa and placed in a holding camp awaiting discharge. They demonstrated in protest against the failure of the French authorities to pay salary arrears and discharge allowances. The following day French soldiers guarding the camp opened fire killing thirty-five African soldiers. The provisional government of Charles de Gaulle, concerned at the impact of the Thiaroye incident on serving tirailleurs acted quickly to ensure that claims for back pay and other monies owing were settled.

Thairoy

Thiaroy

https://i1.wp.com/www.afvs.net/IMG/jpg/P1070312.jpg

CoolArt MC is becoming a voice for the disenchanted youth of Senegal: “Enough is Enough” they are saying. His song “JUSTICE BOU KOUMBA AME NDAYE” is a rap song with fiery words on the determination of Senegalese youth to take their destiny in hand for a better future. (Check out http://www.npr.org/2012/02/19/147113419/enough-is-enough-say-sengalese-rappers )

“……this song was made to sensitize the population but mainly the youth on the importance of voting and fighting for democracy in Senegal. At (the time of recording) we were preparing the presidential election and it was very intense because people wanted to see changes according to the day-to-day hardship they were living so we decided to join the fight and voice the injustice in the country and it works because people made a great step in the democracy by electing a new President.

We are involved in the different issues of our country but also of the world we want to make positive changes with our music and inspire others to do the same “

As part of his commitment to social issues CoolArt has also recorded music in support of the worldwide campaign against Malaria ,, performing at a “Roll Back Malaria” awareness concert in Senegal in 2010.

In the song he urges the people of his country to  become more active in Malaria prevention: (In Translation)

Prevention is better than waiting untill the disease affect you

Let’s join our hands and fight against Malaria before it bring us down

Take tablet as soon as your body shiver and hurts

If you feel that it’s better to go at the hospital

 Malaria is not good for children and pregnant women

Parents must take care of their children and themselves

 The Poor people are mainly affected by Malaria during the rainy season

 Beware of stagnant waters and the exposition of flowers because it’s the hidden place of mosquitoes

 Let’s fight against by taking fast act tablets, chase the mosquitoes before sleeping and sleep under impregnated mosquito

Hey Mosquitoes beware and know that we fight against you.

currently Cool Art MC spends time touring in schools to both educate and entertain young people  about social issues, he is also working on an album of songs he has written and arranged, looking for resources to convert his music into CDs and videos that will publicize his talent.

I can see that, compared with the US,  life for musicians in Senegal has similarities and differences. Musicians with talent have to work hard to get their music heard in both countries, yet the Senegal scene has built-in barriers of poverty, pride and nepotism that interfere with what could be a natural progression for talented youth like Cool Art MC.

Cool Art will be organizing a  fund-raising campaign for  his new album…. so watch this space!!!

Universal Life Church Guide to Divinity

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Looking back across the sea to WOMAD Taranaki 2013

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I’m back in the USA after a great trip to New Zealand and the opportunity to attend WOMAD Taranaki after a two year absence. You might have already read my WOMAD diaries: three editions of EarthSouNZ written on-site in New Zealand. Now’s my chance to reflect on the festival and to show some more photos.

Whilst WOMAD tries not to have a “Star” system there’s n0 doubt that there are headline acts that jump out when you first look through the programme at its launch some  four months before the festival. WOMAD is a kind of touring celebration that pulls in local artists in each country as well as mixing some who can’t commit to the whole season, and it’s artists like Salif Keita, Hugh Masakela and Jimmy Cliff who will have attracted the crowds, with others like Vieux Farka Toure, The Correspondents and Jordi Savall not far away, although Savall is probably better known to classical music fans than those whose tastes are more mainstream.

Hugh Masekela on opening night - Bowl Stage

Hugh Masekela on opening night – Bowl Stage

An attentive audience for Jordi Savall

An attentive audience for Jordi Savall

Some things had changed since I last attended the festival. I enjoyed the larger Chimney stage area, a big improvement from an space that was always cramped for the audience. The range of “over 65” seating areas was greater, and the addition of “supporter” areas, with seats, tables etc was a useful money-spinner for the organisers as well as offering those who could afford the extra $100 a chance to find some respite from the throng whilst enjoying the song.

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The last time I saw Salif Keita at WOMAD NZ it poured with rain. This year New Zealand has had a summer to remember, long hot days and no rain; with water restrictions and threats to agriculture. So Keita’s performance, on a day when the first rain for months was predicted was a portent of much needed refreshment and soaking t shirts and shorts. As it happened the rain was no show-stopper and will have dampened very few spirits on the last day of what has been hailed as the best WOMAD NZ for years, if not the best ever.

Salif Keita

Salif Keita

Highs and Lows? it’s hard to start. Of course I didn’t get to everything so my views are of just a sample of the delights on offer. A less-than-delight was the sound of NZ band AHoriBuzz shouting obscenities across the crowd  at the Gables stage with families and young children passing by. This is not a good look for New Zealand music; I’m no prude but do draw the line at this. What made it even more disappointing was the presence in the band of some very talented New Zealand musicians like Jonathan Crayford and L.A.Mitchell. AhoriBuzz front man Aaron Tokona looked like Alamein Kopu (played by Taika Waititi in his movie “Boy”) so it’s possible to think of the band as an ironic statement; try telling that to the parents of 6 years olds in the crowd.

Having dealt with that, here’s a selection of “highs” from WOMAD

I loved Jordi Savall‘s performance in the Taste the World tent, (sheltering his 17th century bass viol from the Taranaki wind and rain) playing old Celtic music on ancient instruments on St. Patrick’s Day. His immaculate attention to detail and lively music making was enough to pack the tent and enthral an audience of all ages. Joined by Andrew Lawrence–King on Irish harp and psalterium and Frank McGuire on bodhran, the trio provided an excellent balance and showed how intensely a WOMAD audience can listen to music that is quietly, yet energetically, played.

Jordi Savall on the Gables Stage

Jordi Savall,  Andrew Lawrence–King and Frank McGuire on the Gables Stage

Jordi Savall's exquisite touch on the Treble Viol

Jordi Savall’s exquisite touch on the Treble Viol

Vieux Farka Touré showed great aplomb as a guitarist and crowd engager, demonstrating how much West African music is drawing from western music in ways that do not compromise its integrity.

Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré

I was impressed by Bassakou Kouyaté, with his band Ngoni Ba. The ngoni is a relatively obscure african intrument that comes in different sizes, looks so simple and yet can be played with great force and complexity. This was electric African music in a form that spoke easily to the predominantly western crowd.

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba

Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba

I was privileged to both meet and hear Abigail Washburn, not your average Appalachian mountain singer. Together with Kai Welch (who played everything from fiddle and keyboard to trumpet and guitar) Abigail drew from her pantheon of original and traditional music, inspired by the folk traditions of Appalachia, played and sung with strength; her open-backed banjo offering who knows what to her yet-to-be born infant son. Check out my interview with her, where she talks about her relationship with China and being a pregnant musician.

Listen to this episode

Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch

Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch

I enjoyed Grace Barbé, as much for the colours she  brought to the stage as her music. Originating from the Seychelles she played a range of self-penned songs in a style she calls Afro-Kreole, melodic and rhythmically strong; accompanying herself on electric guitar with an accomplished and well-rehearsed multi-ethnic Australia-based band.

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Grace Barbé

You can’t walk away from the Melbourne Ska Orchestra – a 30 piece horn-led band organised, conducted and energised by drummer Nicky Bomba. This band feeds and feeds off the party spirit that is generated by their mix of ska, bluebeat and reggae. Party on stage, Party in the crowd – is the lasting impression of this group. Listen to my interview with Nicky Bomba where he talks about the history of the band and their new album, with musical extracts.

Listen to this episode

Nicky Bomba (drums) vocalist

Nicky Bomba (drums) on shared vocals

Melbourne Ska Orchestra - Bowl Stage

Melbourne Ska Orchestra – Bowl Stage

Whilst we are with horn-led bands I must give a brief mention of Wellington-based Newtown Rock Steady who presented a well-played and entertaining set.

Newtown RockSteady

Newtown Rocksteady

It was good to see many horn-led bands at WOMAD. Traditionally prohibitively expensive to transport to gigs, the representation at WOMAD mirrored a world-wide enthusiasm for real, live horn sections that have their origins in Soul, Big Band Music, Jazz, and Brass Bands that go back as far as 16th century Venice and 12th century sackbutts and cornetts. The big sound of these groups was even present in UK duo, The Correspondents, in their choices of multi-genre recorded tracks and samples for a hugely energetic performance on the last night of the festival.

The Correspondents

Mr. Bruce of The Correspondents

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Sudha Ragunathan offering a meditative balance on the Chimney Stage

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B V Raghavendra Rao

Lau

Lau, a UK-based folk trio who represented the new spirit of British folk music to a Southern Hemisphere audience, many of whom will have Celtic ancestors.

Fans eager to hear The Correspondents

Fans eager to hear The Correspondents

Mussel Fritters won the Hathaway Prize for "go back and get some more"!

Mussel Fritters won the Hathaway Prize for “go back and get some more”!

Definitely outdoor instrruments!

Definitely outdoor instruments!

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The Human Library – a brilliant way of gaining insight into others’ lives.

Chucks and Mr Bruce - The Correspondents

Chucks and Mr Bruce – The Correspondents

Marie Boine, majestic calls from the North

Marie Boine, majestic calls from the North

Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff

Yes, a thoroughly enjoyable festival in what is recognised as the best WOMAD location in the world. I hear that there is a possibility that WOMAD might, again, try its luck in North America – this time in Vancouver, Canada. Good luck to them, this is a festival that is unrivalled as a family-friendly event  that caters for ALL ages!

Universal Life Church Guide to Divinity

WOMAD Diary – Day Three

WOMAD – Day Three

I can think of no-one better to start the third day of WOMAD on a rainy Sunday than the Melbourne Ska Orchestra. This 30 piece, horn heavy band, formed and led by Nicky Bomba, injected a party spirit across the TSB Bowl lake and into an increasingly festive group of WOMAD-ites at noon on what was to become a wet, but not too wet, day. The MSO have a huge reputation across theTasman as a band of excellent players, tightly rehearsed and strong in their adherence to the traditions of phases one and two of Ska, Blue beat, Reggae and Rock Steady; from the Skatalites and Millie Small through to the Specials and Madness. “Party on Stage and Party off Stage” is what this band stand for, and their performance on the third day of WOMAD Taranaki will have increased their reputation internationally and certainly put day three of this festival into high gear from the word GO.

Melbourne Ska Orchestra

Melbourne Ska Orchestra

WOMAD is hosted by the local Maori, who offered a range of events within the festival based, around an area known the Te PaePae. I watched a class where the audience was taught how to make a simple clay flute and the teacher demonstrated the range of music obtainable from the Putorino, a flute which can be played in ways that represented the spirit of man, woman and child.

A Pair of Putorino

A Pair of Putorino

Jordi Savall is an internationally acclaimed performer and researcher of early music. This scholarly man presented a St.Patricks day programme of Celtic music played on two types of Viol – Bass and Treble – looking like a cello and violin these are ancient forms of those instruments, fretted like a guitar; but the frets are tied gut, not metal. Savall’s bass viol dated from the late 17th century and needed to be protected from the winds and rain of the Taranaki storm so the performance was moved from the Gables stage to the smaller, but covered, “Taste the World” stage. Savall performed with two other musicians: Andrew Lawrence-King on Irish harp and psalterium and Frank McGuire on bodhran,; both highly accomplished experts in their field and keenly tuned to Savall’s precise, yet spirited renditions of ancient Celtic tunes. The audience listened attentively to the trio, enjoying both the spirit and the artistry of the playing from these masters of their art.

An attentive audience for Jordi Savall

An attentive audience for Jordi Savall

Jordi Savall - master of the viols

Jordi Savall – master of the viols

The TTW stage was also the setting for an entertaining and informative presentation from members of the Peruvian band Novalima. These food events are a great tradition of WOMAD Taranaki;! traditional Peruvian dishes were prepared with musical interludes and knowledgeable interjections from the musicians, bantering between themselves and with the audience; who were keen to move forward to taste the meat balls and cerviche snapper offered at the end.

Novalima Tasting the World

Novalima Tasting the World

New Zealand loop artist Mihirangi showed skill in this most recent combination of musicianship and electronics. Armed with only a voice, a drummer and the electronic gear designed to sample and play back her vocal offerings she gained much approval from the audience. I found her presentation skills needing more “panache”. Having seen and heard other loop artists I am aware that the equipment must never come between the artist and their audience. I found Mihirangi’s use of a table was both a hindrance for her to be more flexible in presentation and a barrier.

Mihirangi

Mihirangi

Jamaican super star Jimmy Cliff was a big attraction on this final day. The rain was coming down hard but this did not deter the many thousands of fans who gathered on the slope of the TSB Bowl to hear many familiar songs played and sung by a pillar of reggae music. Songs such as “You can get it if you really want”, “I can see clearly now” and “The harder they come” were mixed with songs like Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” to create a masterly and well-honed performance.

Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff

Whilst Jimmy Cliff was performing, Indian Carnatic singer Sudha Ragunathan performed one of the most intimate sets of the festival at the tiny Chimney Stage. There was a small audience for this set, and the sound of the violin and tabla demanded intense concentration in what remained a rather wet evening.

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Fans eager to see The Correspondents

Fans eager to see The Correspondents

UK duo The Correspondents were probably, for me, the biggest surprise of the festival. Closing WOMAD on a wet evening they were the perfect foil to the Melbourne Ska Orchestra at the start of the day. The Correspondents are basically a DJ and a dancer/singer – Mr Bruce, but that completely understates the experience. Mr Bruce is a high energy man who entertains with a strong, 80s style voice and physical antics that are exhausting to watch. Drawing from a wide range of music styles; the duo captured a spirit of club dance across a range of eras, from Cab Calloway through Saturday Night Fever and beyond. This was not your ordinary MC/rap/DJ mix – transcending genres The Correspondents had something new to say and to left you feeling thoroughly exhausted after what has been an excellent festival.

Mr Bruce

Mr Bruce

That’s the end of this quickly put together diary. Watch out for more in depth analysis, photos and interviews in future editions of

EarthSouNZ

WOMAD New Zealand – Day Two

Day 2

Friday night at WOMAD was a supreme taster for what was to come. Hugh Masekela’s one and only set was one to savour until another time, but, on Saturday, Vieux Farka Touré gave fans an opportunity to hear him again on a different stage, this time with a one off-guest appearance from Blues great, Taj Mahal. Unlike the TSB Bowl stage, the Brooklands stage has no lake and gives the crowd an opportunity to get closer to the artist and to dance on flat ground. This seemed to inspire Touré to a more freely expressive set than yesterday, showing off his guitar skills and his feeling for a real connection with his audience.

Vieux Farka Toure

Vieux Farka Toure

A stand-out for me was Salif Keita. Once again this was a one-time only performance on the TSB Bowl stage. Keita is a small man, getting older now, albino and losing his sight. Yet he moves with a subtlety on stage which still commands your attention, as does his soaring voice – riding above the rhythms and the backing like an eagle surveying his landscape. I think that this was a smaller band than last time I saw him; just seven in the band; no brass, just percussion, guitar, kora and electronics, but the relative simplicity of the arrangements made for a more pleasing sonic experience in this setting, where too much (bass especially) can be too much! Although he sings in French and his native language, those who know his music will recognise his songs that convey a range of messages, especially those (eg “La Difference”) which convey his commitment to racial tolerance and, especially, the persecution of albinos across the world.

Salif Keita

Salif Keita

Fellow Malian, Bassoukou Kouyaté offered a different style of music, his Ngoni Ba band extended the traditional Ngoni instruments into the modern era without betraying its cultural roots. On sight the Ngoni looks like a very simple instrument, maybe a precursor to the banjo, with its skin and gourd body and few strings, yet Kouyaté and the other players in the band were able to display amazing virtuosity, at times using electronic effects but mainly exhibiting sheer picking skill. The combination of Amy Sacko’s voice, drums and ngoni offered an eager crowd a superb opportunity to hear immediately accessible Malian music that, no matter what attempts are made to destroy it, cannot ever be lost to a receptive world.

Baasekou Kouyate

Bassekou Kouyate

 

Ngoni Ba

Ngoni Ba

If nothing else, this weekend at WOMAD has been a celebration of the Music of Mali.

Mari Boine comes from Norway, from an oppressed minority people, the Sámi. She sings with an occasionally other-worldly wildness, trance-like rhythms and vocal sounds that reminded me of the throat singing of the Inuit people. Her traditional music is joik, which she weaves into accessible forms that brought an enthusiastic late-night crowd into the Brooklands stage area. I found her music hypnotic and immensely enjoyable; her stage presence is almost Shamanic as she seems, at times, to become lost in her music – especially when crouched over her simple bodhran-like hand drum.

Mari Boine

Mari Boine

A long-time feature of WOMAD Taranaki is “Taste the World” where artists create a dish from their culture, often whilst offering musical interludes. I caught Spanish singer, Amparo Sánchez creating a meat ball dish, which I unfortunately didn’t get to taste but which smelt delicious. The artists share the stage with British presenter Jax Hamilton in what is an original and entertaining alternative to the artists’ stage performances.

Tasting the WorldThe smallest stage at WOMAD Taranaki is the Pinetum, a clearing in an area of pine trees that is very peaceful and aromatic. I caught iconic Kiwi poet Sam Hunt there. He has an eccentric, rock-star presence that plays on his reputation as a travelling poet- cum-minstrel with a liking for booze and women. His poems are entertaining and acknowledged as standing up well in the pantheon of New Zealand poetry.

Sam Hunt - still standing

Sam Hunt – still standing

Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch epitomise a simple, acoustically-driven movement in American music that has its roots in country/folk/bluegrass, which in itself has roots in the music of the various European cultures that comprise the main early migrants to America, especially those with Celtic origins. Yet there are other influences that make you listen to, what are often powerful songs, with new ears. Their set on the Gables stage (named after the gabled house that sits next to the stage) was rich and varied, with both playing different instruments to match and augment the songs, without pushing their virtuosity.

Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch

Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch

This was a fine day in Taranaki. As I write, the remnants of the tropical cyclone that caused the cancellation of WOMAD New Caledonia are offering a parched New Zealand much welcome rain. This may threaten to dampen the spirit of WOMAD, but the festival spirit will rise above this and we look forward to another day of great music making and entertainment.

WOMAD New Zealand Day One

Diary – Day 1

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WOMAD Taranaki is celebrating 10 years of presenting the World Of Music Arts and Dance festival in New Plymouth. The site, a mix of grassy slopes, woodland and lake is acknowledged by Thomas Brooman, a co-founder of the festival, to be WOMAD’s best setting amongst festivals that also play in the UK, Spain, Australia, the Canary Isles and various other less regular venues across the world. As a festival WOMAD attracts people of all ages, from babes in arms, through aging hippies to those whose musical origins will have pre-dated rock and roll.
This has been New Zealand’s hottest summer in living memory and the green slopes are dry, and the dust rises as we move from one stage to another. The festival has three main stages and three minor, offering a range of performances from full-scale, big stage, intimate “workshops” that involve the audience to “artists in conversation” events where local musician Nick Bollinger talks to some of the visiting musicians.
This is not just a music festival. The spirit of arts pervades the site with wandering performers, installations that grow during the weekend, activities for children and thriving stalls that sell everything from large sculptures, ukuleles, “ethnic” clothes to food with local and exotic origins.

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WOMAD 2013 exists under the cloud of the persecution of musicians in Northern Mali. Three Malian artists are playing over the weekend, Vieux Farka Touré, Salif Keita and Bassekou Kouyaté with Ngoni Ba. The first of these, the late Ali Farka Touré’s son, opened the weekend with a display of guitar virtuosity which has earned him the title of the “Jimi Hendrix of Africa”. His music is clearly rooted in the rhythms and melodies of his homeland, but he brings a rock sensitivity to his music that extends the ethnic purity of his father’s music, bringing the music of his country to new and old audiences in exiting ways. Listening to Touré’s guitar you cannot help but hear the music of the Kora, a 21 stringed gourd harp that from originates in West Africa and played by “Griots”, hereditary musicians who are like the wandering minstrels of medieval Europe. The mix of driving thumb beats on the bass strings and fast, intricate finger-picking must have its origins in that instrument, predating the guitar by, perhaps thousands of years, and eventually leading to the American blues styles of people like Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker. African music, unlike the blues, does not return “home” to the main “tonic” chords. Africans do not need to return home, they just keep walking.

Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré

Touré’s 60 minute performance, with just two other musicians on bass and drums, provided a powerful start to the weekend. His music charged across the lake that sits in front of the stage, pulling in the thousands of visitors to the slope, rising to dance and engaging with this son of a famous father who has begun to stand tall in his own right on the world’s stages.
Hugh Masakela is a legend in his native South Africa. He was the second act on the main stage for the evening. This was to be his only performance at the festival. By then the sun had gone down and the crowd rose again to the man and his band, performing a rich range of music with messages that were both comic and serious. Masakela’s music was a focus for the anti-apartheid movement, so he is no stranger to the world’s biggest humanitarian issues, whether the results of human oppression or natural disaster. LikeTouré he pulled the crowd with him to chant words that would be outside of their understanding, but he was able to reassure us afterwards that they were fairly innocuous!

Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela

The evening on the main stage ended with a performance from a group of musicians who epitomise the spirit of creative collaboration amongst musicians in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. “Fly my Pretties” is a loose collective of singers, guitarists, drummers and keyboard players who have formed, and reformed over the last 8 years to perform self-penned songs that cover a wide range of styles, from blues through a kind of NZ country folk to the reggae-driven sounds that echoed the sounds of bands like Fat Freddy’s Drop. They performed a long set, providing a backdrop to a superb first night of what looks like a great festival.

Fly My Pretties

Fly My Pretties

WOMAD is a festival where you can often catch a band performing a second show if you missed them the first time. Bands that I caught briefly were a hugely energetic folk trio from Scotland “Lau”, and a very tight Cajun band from Louisiana, the Savoy Family. More about them another time.

Savoy Family Cajun Band

Savoy Family Cajun Band

Lau

Lau

Afrobeat,WOMAD and New York

Seun Kuti in New York

Fela Kuti’s son, Seun Kuti, in New York with Egypt 80

I’m excited to be returning to WOMAD Taranaki, New Zealand, following a two year absence since moving to New York City. Having been energetically following and promoting the local music scene (www.sometimeinlongislandcity.com) the EarthSouNZ brand is re-energising  and will be writing about, photographing and podcasting musicians on the world stage.

This edition looks at Afrobeat, its presence in New York City, and the American band “Antibalas” (www.antibalas.com ), who will be appearing at WOMAD Taranaki (www.womad.co.nz) this year.

Afrobeat in New York 

New York is a melting pot of different cultures and this is represented in the music scene here, although not as much as I expected. Yes, there are Hispanic bands, and street musicians; and some West African musicians who make more money playing on the subway platforms that in concerts, clubs and bars. I have been struck  by local enthusiasm for Afrobeat bands. Whether led by African musicians like Leon Kaleta Ligan-Majek (who once played with Fela Kuti and now fronts Akoya Afrobeat and Kaleta-Zozo Afrobeat –www.zozoafrobeat.com) or by non-Africans who just love the music. Check out Brooklyn band Zongo Junction (http://zongojunction.net) and what is probably the most famous US Afrobeat band Antibalas, who I’m featuring in this edition of EarthSouNZ..

Akoya Afrobeat with Leon Kaleta Ligan-Majek

Akoya Afrobeat with Leon Kaleta Ligan-Majek

Zozo Afrobeat

Zozo Afrobeat

Zongo Junction

Zongo Junction horns

The musical “Fela” may have had some influence in the revival of a brass-led style that has its origins in the Nigerian political Jazz-funk created by Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the pioneer of an actively political “modern” African music that found a ready audience in Europe in the early 1970s and which tested the tolerance of a corrupt Nigerian government.

A hard driving stage presentation of Fela’s life, this Broadway musical has played across America and in the UK since its first performances in 2008, drawing regular and local musicians to play in the house band that stays on stage for the whole of the show. Well before “Fela”,  Brooklyn-based Afrobeat band “Antibalas” had been playing to enthusiastic audiences in the US and overseas as leaders of what has become known as the “second wave” of Afrobeat music.  They formed the nucleus of the “Fela” house band for its preliminary workshops and subsequent productions, enjoying the stimulus the musical gave to Afrobeat music and to their own continued development as a band.

Antibalas will be appearing at WOMAD Taranaki this year in their second visit to New Zealand. I interviewed their founder Martín Perna to talk about the band’s origins and their experience touring in the Southern Hemisphere.

Antibalas

Antibalas

Antibalas

The band’s name means “bulletproof” in Spanish , (antiballistic, get it?), and is the top US-based Afrobeat band. Founded by sax player Martín Perna in 1998 as a horn-heavy band of mixed genres they moved in the Afrobeat direction very quickly and now have a big following in the US and Europe, with overseas tours to SE Asia and Australasia. I talked to Martín about the band, their origins and their experiences n New Zealand.

Antibalas was formed in 1998 when Martín pulled together a group of musicians he  knew who were good players who understood Afrobeat and other genres. After a couple of years of playing their mix of Latin Funk and Fela-style jams they began to specialise.

“We really started to come together when we  were given a residency at the “No Moore” club in downtown New York, the Tribeca district. We were able to develop a really big following there, it was a lot of work as we had to bring a big chunk of the sound system and we were a band of between 14 and 17 players. We were doing at least three gigs a week, including our Friday night residency, which allowed us to get a lot better, a lot faster. We did this for a couple of years but in April 2001 the club was shut down for fire danger reasons in Mayor Giuliani’s no compromise safety campaign, but this may have been more to do with wealthy neighbours wanting quiet evenings. Then a few months later there was 9/11; downtown Manhattan became deserted, people were traumatised and New York nightlife was crushed for a long time.

“So in the meantime we built up our own venue, the “Afrospot”, in some street level premises in Brooklyn that was rented by our then singer, Amayo, who had his own African themed design and tailoring business. We were also able to build the first Daptone recording studio in the basement (http://www.daptonerecords.com), a project that has gone on to record Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (who were big favourites at WOMAD Taranaki 2008).

“This site lasted for less than two years, but we got a lot done in that time in terms of recording and rehearsal, which was a good base for our touring schedule; this grew significantly when one of our members took some recordings to WOMEX (the world music industry fair) in Germany and set up bookings across Europe. People were into the music, but the logistics were difficult with such a big band, 14 going on their first tour to England with uncertain bookings, transport and lodging. I used my savings to bankroll the band’s travel initially, but we still had to be very creative, travelling in trucks and going from record shop to record shop selling our 45s; even asking in a BBC interview for people to take us home after the show!

“Europe was fertile ground for Antibalas, with DJs like Gilles Peterson promoting a wide range of musical genres, especially from West Africa. People were listening to old Fela Kuti records but there was really no Afrobeat being played live. The British colonial history made for a natural link with Anglophone Africa, especially with the immigration from that region into the UK; and the French, with their African colonial history, caught on too. We’ve been going to France for just as long as the UK, and that audience is getting bigger. We’ve have also toured festivals in Turkey, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark;  Europe has a lot of resources so we’re not so poor these days, and have proper transport and places to stay.”

WOMAD

World Of Music Arts and Dance was created by Peter Gabriel, Thomas Brooman and Bob Hooten in 1980 with their first festival in 1982 featuring a range of musicians, artists and dancers; including the Drummers of Burundi and a Chinese Orchestra.

“Pure enthusiasm for music from around the world led us to the idea of WOMAD in 1980 and thus to the first WOMAD festival in 1982. The festivals have always been wonderful and unique occasions and have succeeded in introducing an international audience to many talented artists.”

“Equally important, the festivals have also allowed many different audiences to gain an insight into cultures other than their own through the enjoyment of music. Music is a universal language, it draws people together and proves, as well as anything, the stupidity of racism.” Peter Gabriel

Antibalas have played WOMAD in the Canary Islands and the UK, but this is their first excursion to WOMAD in the Southern Hemisphere. Along with Womadelaide and Taranaki they are playing gigs around Australia and in Noumea.

WOMAD Taranaki (www.womad.co.nz) , March 15-18, will be the band’s second visit to New Zealand having previously played in Wellington at the NZ Festival of the Arts (2010) on a tour that included dates in Australia where they played at other festivals, including one featuring NZ band “Fat Freddys Drop” (www.fatfreddysdrop.com), another innovative brass led group who have mixed roots music with jazz and soul.
Martín remembers landing in Wellington and noticing how few people there were ( the population of New Zealand is about the same as Brooklyn in New York). “It felt very intimate and very peaceful. There are so many resources and not too many people crawling over themselves to get to them. At customs I was worried about them quarantining our drums, but in the end they just took one drum, a souvenir rather than a band instrument. I respected this and understand the need to protect the environment.”

“I really liked the Maori welcome we had in Wellington, a full greeting, respecting the relationship with the place and their ancestors and also recognising that we had travelled so far. That has never happened anywhere else in the world.”

The Band on this trip will be baritone and tenor Saxophones, trumpet, trombone, two guitars, bass, drums, keyboard and two percussion, one of whom is the main vocalist. Having only been in NZ for 32 hours on their first trip, Martín is looking forward to being able to stay longer  this time and plans to travel after WOMAD, maybe to Hawkes Bay.

Although the he is the band’s founder Martín sees the group as more of a collective, each member having their own strengths. Whilst the membership  has changed over the years there is still a commitment to strong musicianship.

Do you think that the musical “Fela” has brought Afrobeat back into popularity?

“I think more people know about Fela as a man and musician, but I don’t think that this has given Afrobeat a new audience, they’re not really going to hear bands. We’ve had gigs around the touring musical but really the crowds were no bigger than we would have expected. It has never got any easier for the band, we don’t fit into an established scene; we’re not part of the American musical DNA.”

Do you think there are aspects of Afrobeat that are difficult for people? After all it’s not just highly rhythmic and melodic music, it’s also angry and political.

“I think so, we all live in these bubbles of privilege that have sometimes been created out of injustice. Many of the band come from backgrounds in which injustice has been significant, so the messages that are in our music are part of our lived experience. Stirring it up can make people feel uncomfortable; it’s not an “everything’s going to be OK” music. It can force you to consider where you stand in relation to the power that you have.”

Some people say that being able to dance to this music cheapens it, dilutes the message.

“Just because you can dance to the music, it doesn’t mean that the message isn’t important. Movement is important in political change, if you can’t move on the dance floor there’s no way you would be able to make change on the streets. A lot of people need to shake off the protestant position that dancing is somehow shameful and use dance movement to express themselves.”

Do you think that political music like this has a role on the American, or even the Western political scene?

“Music creates a space for ideas to generate away from the one-way communication echo chamber that the traditional news media promote. We play our part in something that’s a lot bigger, and it’s important that we do it.”

 

Fela Kuti's son Seun at WOMAD Taranaki 2010

Seun Kuti at WOMAD Taranaki 2010

 

 

Review of “High” on Broadway

Review: “High” – at the Booth Theatre, New York: April 2011

Matthew Lombardo’s “High” presents, in a tragi-comic context many of the issues surrounding the treatment of addiction; especially when the treatment is provided by members of religious orders. In a too short Broadway run that was prematurely closed, (perhaps because it was a victim of the practice of headlining talent over topic) three actors played out conflicts and dramas that anyone who has attempted to work with troubled youth and addicts would recognise. The added challenges around faith, guilt and forgiveness make for a rich a complex dramatic exploration. These are uncomfortable subjects, coming close to the audience’s own concerns around religion, family, drugs and alcohol; not to forget sexuality.

In the play a Counsellor , Sister Jamison Connelly (Kathleen Turner), is asked to treat a young man Cody Randall (Evan Jonigkeit) who falls outside the usual clientele of the Catholic institution by whom she is employed. Father Michael Delpapp (Stephen Kunken), her priest manager insists that she work with the young man, even though he is aware of some of the personal buttons this might push for Sister Jamie. She has her own demons and has turned to a religious order after difficult life experiences that have made her street wise, with a vocabulary to prove it. He also, has his own reasons for asking her to undertake this work – he has his own family issues that the young man represents, both in himself and as a relative. So, already the stage is set for a complicated three-way relationship where professional boundaries are challenged and breached.

Kathleen Turner plays Sister Jamie with just the right mix of comic bawdiness and the tough empathic confrontation that Cody needs. She has a strong voice that is well suited to the part and she uses it to good effect. The juxtaposition of the nun and the ex-addict makes for a conflicted character that requires a strong presence in both the counselling room and on the stage. She is the central character; a woman who has made vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience and who faces internal conflicts that have their origins outside the counselling room, and outside the religious order. She also faces conflicts between the roles of nun and counsellor, with a duty of obedience towards her priest that challenges her professional ethics; and also the conflicts with Cody that are part and parcel of the treatment of troubled and addicted young people.

Evan Jonigkeit’s performance as Cody was balanced and totally credible. He portrayed the tragedy of Cody’s life – its abusive past, confused present and uncertain future in a way that the audience could certainly react to, even if they might not relate to it. At one point he strips off and confronts Sister Jamie with both himself as a sexual young man and a representative of her past demons. Some in the audience might have been uncomfortable at this moment, not that they weren’t warned. But maybe they just came to see a star and not to feel awkward or embarrassed.

I found Stephen Kunken’s performance as Father Michael least sympathetic. He came across as weaker than his role required, partly the writing and partly the performance. Yes, he was placed in a difficult position with Cody, but the depth of his commitment to this remnant of his family did not come across well. He was more the fool than the conflicted priest.

This is a play in which Matthew Lombardo presents professional, ethical and religious dilemmas in ways that are authentic; emotionally, physically and intellectually challenging. I was struck by his thanks, in the Playbill, to his sponsor. Sponsorship is a central feature of twelve-step programmes for addicts and Father Michael’s sponsorship of Cody is a central feature of the play, providing the backdrop to the many traps into which the characters fall.

This play deserves further hearing. Its early demise might say more about its presence on Broadway, with a star performer and people’s consequent expectations that they be entertained and not challenged. I would value being part of a  discussion with cast and author, especially after a performance to which interested parties, be they professionals, members of religious orders or addicts (or all three) formed an audience.

Eric Hathaway

The News from New York

Hi folks,

New to New York, arriving arrived from New Zealand – so what’s the News? Cool music connections already, especially with Microfundo.com where I am producing their online streaming radio. Have had some great muscial experiences here – tops involved Neil Young – first his appearance playing rhythm guitar for his wife Pegi in a gig at the Bell House, Brooklyn – supporting Bert Jansch, who I first saw at Les Cousins in London in the late 60s. The tables were turned when Bert supported Neil at the Avery Fischer Hall in NYC – for an acoustically amazing concert – in which Neil vibrated the seats (and people’s brains and bellies) with low frequency sounds created by a pedal which, seemingly, took the bass strings of the guitar down (at least) two octaves. Some great new and old tracks – especially “You’re not here” – a new song about someone who had died.

Other key events have been Angelique Kidjo in New Jersey. I frst saw her at WOMAD in the UK last year – but this gig was more intimate, the South Orange Performing Arts centre – not quite a village hall but almost. Lots of interaction with the audience, which in this space seemed real and connected, unlike large venues when it can seem quite contrived.

Another was Oliver Mtukudzi (who I knew from having introduced him on stage in New Zealand and interviewed him for radio), Habib Koite and Afel Bocoum at BB Kings Blues club – a cabaret style venue that deterred the kind of dancing that you would expect at a gig of African music.

Then there was Prince at Madison Square Gardens – with Sharon Jones as support. I had seen Sharon at WOMAD in New Zealand and had been impressed, preferring her show to that of Mavis Staples, which had felt like just another show-biz outing. With Prince she reached the heights – amazing tight and exciting music . She deserved her encore with Prince at the end of his set.

I was bored by Jeff Beck’s “Rock and Roll Party” – his tribute to Les Paul may have been authentic, but it’s not my era – I remember Jeff with the Yardbirds and Rod Stewart – not that I am old fogie in that way, I love his more recent stuff – check out his DVD live at Ronnie Scotts) – but the older Rock and Roll stuff seems like tame  white boys copies of black men’s blues. Elvis could do it, but Bill Haley couldn’t.

More reflections to come