Music that connects me to Africa

10 basic tracks from throughout the ages, by Philip Briggs

Image above: Malian singer Oumou Sangaré. Photo by Francesca Moore / Alamy Stock Photo

Most Travel Africa readers will probably be accustomed to Philip Briggs, the creator of quite a few Bradt guides who has written for practically all of our 90 points, drawing on his huge expertise of travelling to many African nations over the past 25-or-so years. Phillip is a eager music fan, so we couldn’t resist asking him to share a number of of his favorite African recordings with us. He’s chosen one older monitor and a extra trendy one for every of 5 of Africa’s best-known musical powerhouses: Mali, South Africa, Kenya, Congo and Ethiopia.



Oumou SangareOumou Sangaré: Diaraby Nene (1990)

Mali is maybe my favorite African vacation spot musically. It has such a powerful residing musical custom, and it’s a kind of uncommon nations the place native sounds nonetheless fully dominate the airwaves — it was fairly uncommon to hear something however homegrown music once we final visited it about 15 years in the past. More lately, in 2018, I used to be lucky sufficient to catch a stay efficiency by one in every of my favorite Malian singers, Oumou Sangaré, the so-called “Songbird of Wassoulou”, on a go to (of all locations) to North Macedonia. It was an exciting electrified efficiency, however to me, her earlier, earthier conventional materials, akin to this monitor from her debut album Moussolou, is extra evocative of Mali’s extensive open Sahelian savannah, and atmospheric Niger river ports akin to Djenne and Timbuktu.

African music legendsAminata Wassidjé Traoré: Un jour (2013)

I’m more and more drawn to music that combines conventional and trendy sensibilities, and this spotlight off the debut album by Aminata Wassidjé Traoré, a Songhai singer from Diré, close to the legendary metropolis of Timbuktu, is a superb instance with its glowing manufacturing and stinging guitar work.


South Africa

AbogqomiAbagqomi: Bakhuzeni (recording date unknown)

I do know nearly nothing about this monitor. It would have been recorded within the Fifties or thereabouts by the state-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) for one of many numerous racially-slanted radio stations it operated in keeping with the then-recently applied apartheid coverage. Back then, the SABC paid black musicians subsequent to nothing for his or her efforts, particulars of the classes went undocumented (as far as I can verify, the names of the vocalists and instrumentalists on this recording are all unknown), and a lot of the tracks languished in obscurity for many years prior to the post-apartheid period. Despite this, the advanced guitar and accordion riff, overlaid with gruff sing-speak isiZulu harmonies, exudes vitality — an totally compelling hear.

(For these fascinated by exploring additional, a number of hundred classic SABC recordings, spanning a staggering array of conventional and widespread kinds and a number of other completely different languages, have been anthologised in 2000 on a set of 10 double CDs entitled African Renaissance Vol 1-10.)

YindeBCUC: Yinde (2016)

Strong and ingenious vocal harmonies stay a function of a lot traditionally-influenced music from South Africa, and this efficiency by Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness, a Soweto-based seven-piece that incorporates quite a lot of conventional and trendy kinds into their fusion sound, isn’t any exception. Recorded stay in France with no overdubs in 2016, the bass guitar is the closest factor to a lead instrument, and the closely percussive however in any other case sparse backing permits loads of respiration room for the contrasting vocal stylings of male singers Jovi and Hloni (harsh, indignant) and the one feminine member Kgomotso (gentler however equally impassioned). Stunning!



Chemutoi Ketienya with Kipsigis Girls: Chemirocha (1950)

This 90-second duet stopped me useless after I first heard it. It was recorded by Hugh Tracey at Sotik, within the highlands east of Lake Victoria, and options two younger Kipsigis sisters singing shyly of their Nilotic language over a gently strummed lyre-like chepkong. According to Tracey, ‘Chemirocha’ is a bastardisation of Jimmy Rodgers, the identify of an American nation singer whose trademark yodelling type, emanating disembodied from the gramophone gamers to attain the world, was so startling that it led to him being honored as a form of half-human, half-animal spirit determine. True or not, this unlikely again story is mirrored within the unusual ethereal high quality of this distinctive duet.

(Chemirocha ranks among the many greatest recognized of roughly 40,000 discipline recordings made between 1948 and 1963 by Tracey, who travelled all through the subcontinent, from South Africa to the Congolese jungle and royal courts of Rwanda and Uganda, to seize conventional music that could be in any other case be misplaced to us totally. These recordings have been anthologised over 20-odd CDs by SWP Records; this monitor opens a set known as Kenyan Songs and Strings, recorded principally within the west of Kenya in 1950 and 1952, as properly being the primary monitor on the introductory Very Best of Hugh Tracey, an exquisite assortment that compiles one monitor from every of the primary 21 volumes within the collection.)

Kenyan MessageMuthoni Drummer Queen: Kenyan Message (2018)

Powerful in an altogether extra upfront method, Kenyan Message is one other music that takes some inspiration from an American supply, on this case Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s influential 12” single The Message. One of a number of highlights on self-styled ‘musical and cultural firebrand’ Muthoni Drummer Queen’s genre-busting 2018 debut album She, the combined Swahili and English lyric chastises Kenya’s political and non secular leaders for his or her ineptitude, greed and out-of-touchness with extraordinary folks. Scorching stuff.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

Prince BaudoinAlphonse Lufungula: Prince Baudoin (1954)

The musically prolific Democratic Republic of the Congo is greatest generally known as the house of rumba (named after the Cuban counterpart from which it derives) and its extra electrified youthful sibling soukous (derived from the French secouer, actually ‘to shake’). Dating again to the rapid post-WWII period, each kinds are notable for his or her jittery guitar traces, danceable beat and cheerful vibe, and so they went on to have an immense affect on widespread music elsewhere on the continent, from Zambia and Zimbabwe to Kenya and Ghana. An wonderful introduction to these pioneering sounds is Crammed Discs’ meticulously annotated 2CD compilation Roots of Rumba, which collects 40 recordings made between 1953 and 1955. One of a number of highlights of the set is that this laidback homage to Kinshasa’s hectic Prince Baudoin Boulevard, full with bicycle bells, hooting saxophones and apparently the primary electrical guitar to function on a Congolese recording.

Mbongwana StarMbongwana Star: Suzanna (2015)

The soukous beat nonetheless underlies a lot Congolese music, however the post-millennial development is in direction of a denser and extra discordant digital sound utilizing an eclectic mixture of salvaged and selfmade gadgets for percussion, and/or amplified conventional devices such because the likembé (finger keyboard). Leading proponents of this DIY ethic embody Konono No1, Staff Benda Bilili and Kasai Allstars, however a superb start line — with an underlying beat harking back to Prince Baudoin, recorded greater than 60 years earlier — is that this echoey and claustrophobic standout from Mbongwana Star’s 2015 debut album From Kinshasa.



ToutouyeTigist Assèfa: Toutouyé (recording date unknown)

Ethiopian music, each up to date and conventional, doesn’t a lot resemble the rest you’ll hear in Africa, or elsewhere for that matter. On preliminary publicity, researching the primary version of the Bradt Guide to Ethiopia in 1994, it took me a little bit of getting used to. But I quickly grew to get pleasure from it, and one in every of my fondest reminiscences of that journey is hanging out within the row of azmari bars that lined the highway reverse the Piassa’s time-warped Taitu Hotel. Here, impressed by the brand new temper of liberalism engendered by the autumn of the appalling Derg regime two years earlier, conventional azmaris (actually ‘praise singers’, although they have a tendency to hurl insults as freely as they sing praises) would grumble, jest and improvise innuendo-ridden songs into the wee hours, accompanied solely by a one-stringed masenko fiddle and bow or lyre-like krar.

I doubt that many of those singers — flame-keepers of a folkloric musical custom that stretches again a number of centuries — ever made skilled recordings, and their rambling type is one thing of an acquired style. All the identical, this animated efficiency from across the identical time as my first go to to Ethiopia completely evokes the texture of those low-key azmari bars, which frequently held not more than a dozen prospects. It is one in every of 13 comparable recordings compiled on the Buda CD Ethiopiques 2: Tètchawèt ! Urban Azmaris of the 90s.

Gigi BaleGigi: Bale Washintu (2001)

Fast ahead to 2004, and I used to be again in Ethiopia researching the fourth version of my Bradt information. The nation had undergone a fairly unimaginable transformation within the intervening ten years. This was mirrored within the extra trendy — however nonetheless decidedly Ethiopian — music performed within the bars and eating places of Addis Ababa. The musical ‘It Girl’ at that time was Gigi (full identify Ejigayehu Shibabaw), whose eponymous second CD, launched in 2001 and listed at primary within the New York Times round-up of that 12 months’s ‘Best Obscure Albums’, boasted an eclectic sound that set typical Amharic vocal inflections in opposition to a fusion of jazz, reggae and different African kinds. The album soundtracked that journey, enjoying in each different bar and restaurant we visited, and the standout monitor Bale Washintu stays one in every of my perennial favourites.


For extra of Philip’s favorite music from Africa, click here.

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