Uncategorized

Flashback: 21 July 1969. Pan-African culture festival rocks Algiers

nina

(ARISE magazine, issue 18) “It was absolutely amazing, explosive,” remembers Algerian artist Houria Niati. “People were embracing each other, there was total acceptance of what they were seeing. It was very pure, very untouched: raw Africa.” Algiers had never seen anything like it. Miriam Makeba, in exile from South Africa, sang protest songs, while Nina Simone premiered her take on Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas. In shaded courtyards, Black Panther leaders discussed revolutionary tactics with their African comrades. Wide-eyed children stayed out late under the twinkling streetlights, determined not to miss a second of the action. And the air was filled with the smoke of gun salutes, the sound of drums and a hubbub of tongues from all corners of Africa and beyond: Arabic, Portuguese, French, English, Yoruba, Swahili.

Niati was just 21 at the time and working in the Algerian Ministry of Sport and Culture. “Every day was different. Wherever they said there was a big singer I would go. We had open halls, open theatres… It was just incredible. People wouldn’t sleep because the weather was so fantastic.” Musical and political conversations thrived, inspiring scenes such as acclaimed US jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp freestyling on stage with Algerian and Touareg musicians. “We are still black and we have come back. Nous sommes revenus,” Shepp can be heard chanting on a live recording. “Jazz is an African power. Jazz is an African music.”

Funded by the Organisation Of African Unity (now the African Union), The Pan-African Cultural Festival of 1969 celebrated the achievements of a decade that had brought independence to Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and, in 1962, Algeria – among others. Africa was united by a new sense of shared purpose, a sentiment evident in the excited yet overawed faces captured in Le Festival Panafrican D’Alger, American artist William Klein’s remarkable first-hand documentary of the event, which invaded Algiers from July 21-August 1, 1969.

But this impressive display of Africa’s rich culture had a deeper purpose. “The first Pan-African Festival is not a general diversion that distracts us from the daily fight,” says Algerian president Houari Boumédienne in the film to a UN-style conference of country representatives. “It is part of an immense effort for our emancipation”. Although today Algeria might seem an unlikely location for a pan-African festival, the country’s brutal eight-year struggle for independence in the 1960s had made it something of an African hero. Nelson Mandela trained with the country’s National Liberation Front in 1962. And it was the adopted home of Martinican writer Frantz Fanon, a key voice in Algeria’s independence struggle.

Nathan Hare, founding publisher of The Black Scholar, attended the festival and noticed Algeria’s resistance to “the re-entry of the French and American imperialists”. In the November 1969 edition of The Black Scholar he writes of seeing revolutionary graffiti on “buildings, walls and fences, and the old pre-revolutionary symbol of resistance, the haik (or veil), worn by so many of the women”.

A symposium was held to give a platform to speakers including Guinean revolutionary Amilcar Cabral, US Civil Rights activist Stokely Carmichael and Negritude theorist Leopold Senghor. “People came here specifically to check each other out,” says Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver in the film, “to see what was going on and to get some ideas as to which movement they could relate to.” An Afro-American Cultural Center was also opened and a Pan African Cultural Manifesto drawn up, calling for culture to form the basis of a new, empowered Africa.”I don’t think there will ever be any African festival like that,” says Niati.

Nevertheless in 2009 there was an attempt to recreate the glory of the 1969 festival. The €80million event, organised by the Algerian government and African Union, attracted 8,000 artists from 51 African nations – including Salif Keita, Khaled and Binyavanga Wainaina. However a lot had changed since the first festival. “It’s quite amazing because [in 1969] you can see women wearing the traditional veil next to a topless African dancer,” says Ali Meziane, one of the organisers of London’s Algerian Cultural Festival. “But in 2009 you could hear from the crowds shouts of ‘monkeys’ towards the dancers and some racist comments.” In 40 years Algeria had been through a lot: Algerian Civil War, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. But, says Meziane, “the festival is a good tool to educate people to reopen the Algerian identity towards an African identity. We are Algerians and we are Africans”.

African arts, culture + politics

Word games: Talib Kweli

talib

(ARISE magazine, issue 18)

Such is the power of social media that before Talib Kweli had even touched down in South Africa this August, to judge the Sprite Uncontainable Hip Hop Talent Search, the US rapper was already embroiled in lively debate with his SA Twitter followers. On being told that Africans hate the term ‘the motherland’ he tweeted, “[It] could come off as corny, but for us struggling with the effects of the slave trade saying motherland is a point of pride.” When another fan declared African-Americans “not real Africans” he diplomatically replied, “I disagree but, hey, to each his own.” And when accused of referring to Soweto as a country he quickly, and indignantly, responded, “I’ve BEEN to Soweto. Did a show in the street with Black Thought, Dead Prez, Boots & Jeru.”

Kweli was referring to his 2001 visit as part of the Black August Hip Hop Project, which saw several US rappers tour Durban, Joburg, the Cape Flats, Cape Town and Soweto to promote Black August’s work fighting for the rights of political prisoners. The trip had a lasting effect on Kweli. “[It] defined my role,” he told Charise Cheney in her book Brothers Gonna Work It Out: Sexual Politics In The Golden Age Of Rap Nationalism. “I had access to food, shelter and education [growing up], I have to use those resources to help people all over the world. If I can’t see that after trips to all those places then I’m a fool.”

On Push Thru, the first single off his new album, Prisoner Of Conscious, Kweli proves he’s no fool, delivering lines such as “fighting for freedom like the people in Tunisia/ spread to Sudan and Egypt, this is the music for the movement”. “My aim was to make an album of love songs but it ended up being deeper,” he admits. “There are a lot of songs dealing with the opposite sex though.” He describes the album as “lush and romantic”, which is perhaps less surprising given some of his collaborators: Seu Jorge and R&B singers Melanie Fiona and Amber Strother (Nelly and Busta Rhymes also feature).

Prisoner Of Conscious is Kweli’s second release in recent months, coming off the back of his free mixtape Attack The Block. “People in this generation expect free music, period,” he says. “To work against that as an artist is to work against yourself. God willing the mixtape will drive up a buzz for the album, and I also wanted to do a mixtape with a real DJ like Z-Trip, that had actual mixing.”

TEAM PLAYER

Collaborating with established artists and discovering new talent are skills Kweli has nurtured throughout his career – from teaming up with Mos Def, Hi-Tek and Madlib to co-founding record label BlackSmith Music (with Corey Smyth). In SA he drew on this experience to decide the three winners of the talent contest: rapper Hydrochloric, graphic designer Dane (aka Stops) and b-girl ShamRock. “Cape Town was incredible,” he enthuses, “The performers were great and I look forward to seeing the winners in NYC [where he will mentor them]”.

Kweli took to the stage too, putting on killer shows at Cape Town’s Trinity club and Joburg’s OST. But SA is not the only pin on Kweli’s map of Africa. He’s also been to Nigeria (see right) and Tanzania (for the MTV show Tripping). “People of African descent have Africa running through their bones,” he says. “It’s a connection that slavery and colonialism could never erase. So when I touched down, even the distant felt familiar.” Kweli has expressed an interest in genealogical testing – but, he says, “the science I’ve seen behind tracing one’s roots past the slave trade is hokey at best”.

From the moment his professor parents named him Kweli (‘true’ in Swahili), Africa has been ingrained in the rapper’s life. “My parents’ generation came of age in 1960s America when black consciousness and pan-Africanism was on the rise,” he says. “Those values were taught when I was young, then reinforced when I listened to hip hop.” In terms of African music, Kweli namechecks MC Tumi, Seun and Femi Kuti and is keen to hear more. “African music, other than our popular music influenced by African rhythms, is not mainstream in the US at all. We have a long way to go with that.”

As well as an album, Kweli’s also been busy motivating his fellow citizens to vote, taking to Twitter to scorn Nicki Minaj for seemingly showing support for Mitt Romney (“Just heard a dude on Hot97 say he won’t let his daughter listen to Nicki Minaj cuz she endorses Romney. Really? That’s what it took?”). ARISE spoke to Kweli before the election took place, but he had no doubt what the result would be: “Obama will win for sure, no question. The election seems like a distraction, because it’s a popularity contest. And Obama is definitely more popular.” How right he was.

The rapper’s also been working on his autobiography and has already shared one chapter, That One Time When I Was Atheist, And The Influence Of Malcolm X, on his Tumblr. Coming from a man who once bought a bookshop in Brooklyn with Mos Def it’s not a surprising move. “I would like to create industry around myself rather than waiting for an industry to support me,” he says. “The book is part of that. I feel my story can be as inspirational as the music.”

Prisoner Of Conscience [Javotti], out Feb

[BOXOUT] LIGHTS, CAMERA, AFRICA!

Talib Kweli shot his video for Hostile Love in Lagos. But he’s not the only one repping Africa on MTV.

Rick Ross, Lagos (2012)
Rick Ross caused a Twitter storm with his Hold Me Back video, in which the rapper swaggers through the ghettos of Lagos State, dishing out dollar bills.

Solange, Cape Town (2012)
Solange roped in a troupe of snappily dressed sapeurs for her Losing You video, shot against the barbershops and streets of Langa township.

MIA, Morocco (2012)
In MIA’s Bad Girls, gun-toting, headscarved women strut the dusty streets of Ouarzazate. After the redhead genocide of Born Free it’s almost tame.

Westlife, Gauteng (2011)
Bafflingly beloved across Africa, Westlife shot their video for Lighthouse in SA’s Cradle of Humankind heritage site. Cue swaying grasses and safari tents.

African arts, culture + politics

Dangerous mind

mia

(ARISE magazine, issue 18) You’re as likely to find MIA in the news as the charts. but after last year’s storms, she begins 2013 with new projects that’ll make headlines for the right reasons

“There’s nothing that can touch me now. You can’t even break me down”, sings MIA on a preview for her new track Come Walk With Me. It’s trademark MIA: obstinate, single-minded and resilient. At the start of 2012 she summoned a storm at the Super Bowl by flashing her middle finger. The same month she was widely criticised (and also defended) for her Bad Girls video, shot in Morocco and described by Asian-American magazine Hyphen as “just a hipper, high-definition stereotype of Arabs as desert-dwelling, sword-wielding, horse-riding and dangerous”. And in March she got into a Twitter spat with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, tweeting “@AndersonCooper called me a terrorist for speaking out [about Tamil civilians dying in Sri Lanka]” (although after defending their positions the two called a truce).

Of course, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And that’s just as well, with a raft of MIA projects landing soon. She has a new, eponymous book on the shelves; newly commissioned art works on show at India’s first biennial Kochi-Muziris Biennale; a new album, Mathangi, poised for release; and a documentary about her in production. She also inadvertently revealed another ongoing venture – a design collaboration with Versace – in November while speaking at New York’s MoMA PS1. Her personal laptop was hooked up to a giant screen so the singer could share some of her works and indulge in some collective Googling, leaving folders labelled Versace Prints, Bootleg Versace and Versace Outlines clearly visible on her desktop.

The 37-year-old rapper describes the new album as “Paul Simon on acid”, but also as “basically all my other albums… like an anthology”. The same could be said of her characteristically colourful self-titled book, which is part art portfolio, part discography, part autobiography. Inside the London-born, Sri Lanka-raised artist (real name Mathangi Arulpragasam) shares her DIY works of art, drawing on Google Search, stencils, video stills, Photoshop, typography and her formative years studying at Central St Martins. There’s also an intro by designer Steve Loveridge, her friend and collaborator, as well as song lyrics and fascinating explanations from MIA herself of the stories and inspirations behind each of her three albums – Arular, Kala and MAYA – plus her free mixtape Vicki Leekx, released in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

It’s a fascinating documentation of a career and life, and a demonstration of MIA’s global outlook – in which India, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean and Africa figure as much as London, LA and New York. Consider the African connections of her recent output alone: the video for Come Walk With Me borrows pre-existing YouTube footage of Congolese coupé decalé dancers, while her muses for Bad Girls include the female bikers of Marrakesh (see right). Bring on the next chapter, MIA.

African arts, culture + politics · Travel

I Love… Gaborone

zeus
Detail from illustration by Jim Spencer

(ARISE magazine, issue 17) Hip hop artist and Channel O awards nominee Zeus tells us where it’s at in Botswana’s chilled-out capital, from the coolest club to the unofficial business hub

Mokolodi Nature Reserve
Most people come to Africa expecting to see wild animals everywhere, which is just silly! There are areas in Botswana with freely roaming wildlife but not usually in cities, towns or villages. There is, however, a small game reserve in Gaborone where you can enjoy a game drive or a braai in the picnic area.

BotswanaCraft
This amazing place connects aspects of Setswana culture and lifestyle. They sell art, sculpture and other ornaments made by Batswana artists. Its courtyard restaurant specialises in local cuisine served in the traditional manner – down to how the waiting staff assist you in washing your hands before a meal. It’s also a popular live music venue and has hosted some first-class acts, including Oliver Mtukudzi, Salif Keita and yours truly!
Plot 20716, Magochanyama

Mafia Soul
For a more urban shopping experience visit one of the five Mafia Soul stores. The branch in Riverwalk Mall is the place to go if you live the hip hop lifestyle. Check out latest hip hop fashion trends, flick through magazines, buy music or debate the latest song, beef or your favourite MC with owner Molf and manager Prince. They man the floor, giving first-class service.
Riverwalk Shopping Mall, Unit 25/27

National Museum
Located next to the old mall in the city centre (formerly known as the Main Mall), the museum gives travellers an appreciation of the history of the relatively young city and the country as a whole. It brings back memories of primary-school field trips for me, and is captivating for all ages.
331 Independence Ave

Thapong Arts Centre
Located in the charmingly lazy, residential area of Village, this centre exhibits works by local visual artists. It’s testament to the resilience of Batswana artists, who haven’t received the support they deserve but still manage to produce breathtaking works.
Plot 21965, The Village

Pop-Inn
There is a local snack served with tea or coffee – or alongside chips, fish and Russians (a type of sausage) – which is known as magwinya or fat cakes. They are an oily, unhealthy but delightful [fried dough] treat one should enjoy every so often. Stop by here for one and some snoek fish – you can work it off later.
1873/4 Kgopo Close Ext 4

Dot Com
Formerly known for hosting business executives and political hotshots, this popular ‘beer after work with the guys’ spot mixes professionals, socialites and entrepreneurs in a melting pot of boyish mischief. Talk ranges from football, cars and ladies to business. If you want to bypass a lot of gatekeepers and meet key influencers and decision-makers, this place might serve you better than the business district.
Matima Crescent, off Maputo Drive

Khwest Cafe
For sundowners, Khwest is where it’s at. A very sociable joint smack in the middle of the oldest mall in the city with a lovely balcony, it’s a setting for soulful house music sessions, poetry recitals and stand-up comedy.
Queens Road, Ext 2

Sanitas Tea Garden
A nursery that houses more than plants and ornaments, Sanitas Tea Garden has a chilled restaurant with a great homestyle menu – complete with homemade lemonade and ice-cream. Perfect for a lazy afternoon or mid-morning when you want to escape from the routine of a dull day.
Gaborone Dam

Fusion Entertainment
Fusion Entertainent caters to a house and hip hop market. I’ve hosted some great parties there, including the debut of my Champagne Music video and my birthday. It attracts an ‘I wanna party, no BS’ crowd and on the right night it’s electric inside – with the balcony serving as a half-time rest stop for the city’s party rockers.
Mowana Park, Phakalane

African arts, culture + politics

Icon: Freddie Mercury

freddie

(ARISE magazine, issue 16) Many people have tried to claim Freddie Mercury as their own. In 2009, Brian May unveiled a star-shaped plaque dedicated to his former bandmate in the London town of Feltham, where Mercury lived when he first moved to England in 1964. Last year The Asian Awards recognised the Queen frontman, who was born to parents from India and studied there as a child. And in Zanzibar, visitors can find a gold plaque outside Zanzibar Gallery commemorating the island’s most famous son, who was born at the Government Hospital on September 5 1946. For most of his fans though, Mercury is simply a legend – the musical genius who made Queen famous and dazzled audiences around the world with the always-fulfilled promise: We Will Rock You.

Mercury came into the world as Farrokh Bulsara, son of Bomi and Jer Bulsara. In Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography by Lesley-Ann Jones, his mother remembers: “As a young boy he was very happy and loved music… I think he always wanted to be a showman”. At the age of eight, Mercury left Zanzibar to go to St Peter’s School in Panchgani, India, where he formed his first band, the Hectics. “I was a precocious child,” Mercury remembered in an interview with Melody Maker in 1974. “My parents thought boarding school would do me good so they sent me to one… I look back on it and I think it was marvellous. You learn to look after yourself and it taught me to have responsibility”. It was also here that Farrokh got his nickname Freddie, though it wasn’t until moving to England that the transformation from Bulsara to the intergalactic Mercury would happen. In The Definitive Biography, a friend recounts his memories of hanging out with Mercury on his return to Zanzibar: “We’d cycle to Fumba in the south, Mungapwani in the northeast, the site of the old slaves’ caves… we’d swim, eat snacks, climb coconut trees. We were mischevious but not bad”.

Under pressure

Away from their youthful adventures, however, a political and social storm was brewing. After gaining its independence from Britain in 1963, Zanzibar’s power passed into the hands of an Arab ruling elite – despite the Afro-Shirazi Party winning 54 per cent of the electoral vote. Furious that the party, which represented Zanzibar’s African majority, had lost out, revolutionaries overthrew the Sultan and his government in 1964. In the aftermath of the coup, Arab and South Asian Zanzabaris were targeted in reprisal attacks. A headline from a Los Angeles Times report of the time declares “Hasty Mass Burials Prevent True Count; Toll of ‘Political Suspects’ May Hit 4,000”. Years on, the BBC website is no closer to knowing an exact figure – saying only that “as many as 17,000 people were killed”. During these events, the Bulsara family fled the country – with England in their sights.

For Mercury, the move opened a world of possibilities. “He really wanted to come to England,” his mother later told BBC radio. “Being a teenager, he was aware of these things in Western countries and they attracted him.” In London, Mercury flourished. After A-Levels, he enrolled on a course at Ealing College of Art, where he met bass player Tim Staffell, who was in a band called Smile with May and Roger Taylor. In 1970, Mercury replaced Staffell, and Queen was born.

During a spectacular career, Queen would monopolise the number 1 single slot for nine weeks with Bohemian Rhapsody, perform what’s widely regarded as the greatest-ever live gig at the Live Aid concert in 1985, and send audiences around the world wild. One of these tours took Mercury back to his African roots when in October 1984 the band played at Sun City in South Africa. However the run received huge criticism as the British Musicians’ Union’s boycott of the venue was still in place, in protest at South Africa’s continued policy of apartheid. “We’ve thought a lot about the morals of it,” said May at the time, “and it is something we’ve decided to do. The band is not political – we play to anybody who wants to come and listen.”

While in South Africa, the band made some amends. As Mercury rested a damaged throat, which had led to several cancelled dates, his guitarist accepted an invitation to present an award in Soweto. “Moved by the welcome he received, May vowed that Queen would come back some day and play for the Sowetans,” recounts Phil Sutcliffe in Queen: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Crown Kings of Rock.

While Soweto is still waiting for its show, Queen have since performed elsewhere in South Africa – namely at Nelson Mandela’s 46664 charity concert in March 2005. But the show went on, of course, without Mercury, who died in London on November 24 1991 of Aids-related bronchial pneumonia. The 45 year old had publicly announced he was HIV positive just 24 hours before.

Buried past

As with his diagnosis, Mercury was cagey about his heritage. When asked about his roots in
a 1977 interview with NME, he responded: “Oh you sod! Don’t ask me about it. Read my bios. Oh, it’s so mundane.” Even Tony Brainsby, Queen’s first publicist, was none the wiser: “He was very secretive about his background… He was fairly dark-skinned… so there was no disguising that he came from somewhere off the beaten track, or at least had exotic parents.”

Whether his decision to hide his background was born of a desire to fit in, a lack of interest or self-denial, Mercury’s loss of contact with his Zanzibari roots – and the exodus of 1964 – means little is known about his time on the island. “I don’t know anything… there is no one left here who knows” a local Indian shopkeeper says in The Definitive Biography (first published in 1998). “Local people don’t understand. Who was this person anyway?” Since then, however, few can have failed to have heard of Mercury. In 2006 a Freddie Mercury-themed restaurant on the waterfront of Zanzibar’s capital city, Mercury’s, drew up plans to hold a 60th birthday party in the singer’s honour. However the celebration was cancelled after the Association for Islamic Mobilisation and Propagation declared: “We do not want to give our young generation the idea that homosexuals are accepted in Zanzibar”.

Today Mercury’s name is woven into the history of Zanzibar and India – just as these countries left their mark on him. “If you know that Freddie was born in Zanzibar, then went to India, then came to London… then you can see multiculturalism in Freddie Mercury and the way he used his voice,” says Rudi Dolezal, director of Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story. Mercury’s own analysis of his technique, especially being able to hit the high notes, was less exotic: “I used the Demis Roussos method: you get a pair of pliers under the frock and go ‘crack’. ”

African arts, culture + politics

Flashback: August 1986. Paul Simon releases Graceland

paul

(ARISE magazine, issue 16) Over a quarter century has passed since Paul Simon went into a Johannesburg studio with a host of South African musicians, defying the UN cultural boycott. But the ‘was he right or wrong?’ debate rages at the core of every Graceland anniversary review, casting a shadow over a universally acclaimed album.

In new documentary Under African Skies, Joe Berlinger looks at the album’s legacy, but the story isn’t a South African one. Guitarist and Graceland collaborator Ray Phiri lamented in an interview with South Africa’s Times Live. “Other individuals haven’t started telling their stories yet… There are gaps and holes. And these are the South African stories.” Even Simon admits in the film “I don’t know what the internal debate was here.”

However the US singer was well aware of the situation. Harry Belafonte advised him to tell anti-apartheid party the African National Congress (ANC) he was coming but Simon ignored the singer and civil rights campaigner. And though he refused to play the boycotted casino resort Sun City, Simon felt his recording visit was justified. “To go and play Sun City would be like going over to do a concert in Nazi Germany at the height of the Holocaust,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “But what I did was to go over and play to the Jews.”

Adopted in 1980, UN resolution 473 called for a cultural boycott of South Africa – backed by the ANC, the UK-based Artists Against Apartheid movement (AAA) and other international groups. “We saw Paul Simon coming as a threat and an issue,” remembers Dali Tambo, AAA founder and son of ANC politician Oliver Tambo. The concern, Amer Araim from the UN Centre Against Apartheid told the LA Times in 1987, was that “the apartheid regime is utilising them [artists] to show the people that everything is business as normal.”

Despite Graceland going triple platinum within a year in South Africa, Simon was blacklisted by the UN, a mark that was only lifted once he had promised he would not play in the country. The advocacy of Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela – who both spent over 30 years in exile in protest against apartheid – certainly helped. “[Graceland] revealed the excellence of our indigenous urban and rural music,” said Masekela, “leading listeners to lean on their governments, to turn their backs on the racist regime that had destroyed the entire Southern African region”.

Politics wasn’t the only issue dogging Simon and Graceland. While the South African musicians had been paid generously (triple the NY studio rate), some complained that they had not been properly credited. Chicano group Los Lobos accused Simon of stealing songs from them, while Phiri claimed co-songwriting credits on Crazy Love and Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes – although he later said he had “no hard feelings” and recently joined Simon on his Graceland 25th anniversary tour.

Further criticism of Graceland was that Simon hadn’t written any anti-apartheid songs to add to the growing canon, which included: The Special AKA’s Free Nelson Mandela, Eddy Grant’s Gimme Hope Jo’anna and Stevie Wonder’s It’s Wrong (Apartheid). But Simon admitted, “I realised I’m not capable of telling a South African story, nor did I have the right to.” Despite this, Graceland and its 1987 world tour were far from apolitical, with Miriam Makeba’s Soweto Blues, Hugh Masekela’s Bring Him Back Home, and the entire line-up joining in on a rendition of then-unofficial national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (Lord Bless Africa).

With South Africa off limits, Simon took the tour to Zimbabwe – but criticism still dogged him. Phineas Ndlovu wrote in Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper ”Paul Simon stands like some explorer or missionary in 19th century Africa surrounded by a group of singing, tribally dressed Africans. The European is the center of attraction… the master.” However the event itself was harmonious – uniting white and black Zimbabweans with the 2,000-plus South Africans who had crossed the border.

Apartheid’s death knell sounded in 1992 and Graceland finally came to South Africa, with concerts in Joburg, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Cape Town. The boycott over, the ANC gave their support and even held a reception for Simon. “It’s poetic that it finishes like this,” said Simon. “I can feel a sense of completion and move on”. His 2012 reunion tour – where he was joined by Hugh Masekela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and, for the first time, Jimmy Cliff (who sang on pro-boycott song Sun City) – shows that while he may have moved
on, the power and legacy of Simon’s music remains.

African arts, culture + politics

Key player

samuel

(ARISE magazine, issue 16) Pianist Samuel Yirga is at the melodic heart of Ethiopian collective Dub Colossus. But left to his own devices, as he is on his brilliant debut long player Guzo, the 27 year old shows us his keyboard skill set stretches to classical, jazz and Latin too. “I took good experiences from the Dub Colossus tour and how audiences accept your experimental works,” he says.

Dub Colossus came about after producer and aid worker Dan Harper started a home studio in Ethiopia and called on local musicians to come and record. After Harper got in contact with him, producer Nick Page came to Addis and took recordings of the musicians back to the UK. “Three years later he rang five of us and he told
us he wanted to work with us,” remembers Yirga. “So we processed everything, went to the UK and made the first album with Dub Colossus. After that we started touring, and it’s been a great time for all of us”.

Despite now striking out on his own, Yirga has continued working with Page, who produced Guzo. “Nick opened my mind and really made me think broader,” he says. “He is an amazing guy, like a father or big brother.”
Ethio-jazz and its variants are popular in Addis Ababa, and when he’s not in his studio, producing or working on his R&B album, Yirga is playing in one of the city’s jazz bars: “Every Monday I play in Guramayle and on Wednesdays in a new bar called Jazz Amber”. Ethio-jazz is definitely unique though, he says: “There
are different styles in each group, for example I have a group Nubian Arc which plays Ethio-funk and jazz. Another group plays experimental Ethio-jazz and you can see the difference. It’s really bringing a change to the audience”.

On Guzo, Yirga enlists the varied talents of The Creole Choir of Cuba, British/Iraqi singer Mel Gara and Nigerian-British vocalist Nicolette. And he has a whole list of other artists he’d like to collaborate with, from established Ethiopian musicians such as singer, masenqo and krar player Alemayehu Fanta – “he’s amazing” – to acclaimed American jazz pianist Chick Corea, and Alicia Keys. Ms Keys are you listening?

Guzo [Real World Records] out now

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Dele Sosimi: Afrobeat Ambassador

dele_sosimi

(ARISELIVE.com, 2012) Words Carinya Sharples

Dele Sosimi is the self-confessed ambassador of afrobeat. Ever since he became keyboardist in Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 band in 1979 at the tender age of 16, he has been promoting the genre.

But like Fela´s former drummer Tony Allen, Sosimi has kept the spirit of afrobeat alive while also taking it into new waters. After playing with Femi Kuti´s Positive Force for eight years, he moved to London in the mid-1990s to strike out alone.

Since then Sosimi has performed at Montreux Jazz Festival, Womad and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival; hooked up with British rapper Ty; and set up his own underground night – London´s answer to The Shrine – the monthly Afrobeat Vibration sessions. Little wonder that he scooped the Outstanding Contribution to Music title at the 2011 Nigerian Entertainment and Lifestyle Awards.

His 15-piece band Dele Sosimi´s Afrobeat Orchestra is due to play at Liverpool´s Africa Oyé festival in July, so we caught up with the man himself on a rare sunny London day (“It´s like we´re back in Lagos!”) to chat Fela, future plans and what he thinks about the new afrobeats wave.

You left Lagos for London nearly 17 years ago now. How has it been?

It’s been fun. It’s been kind of a learning curve for me. I’ve mostly been experimenting with my music, and then trying to evolve the genre by making sure I don’t go stagnant. I’m always happy to try something new. When I initially got to London I was not performing in anything less than a big band but now I do trios, I do quartets, quintets, duets… so I’m ready to experiment as long as there’s a good spirit between me and whoever I’m working with.

Are you collaborating with anyone at the moment?

Right now I´m working with a Brazilian artist, we’re exchanging stuff. Who is it? Well I should keep it under wraps! It’s supposed to be a surprise thing, but I’ll tell you that I’m working on his material to start with then depending on the result we will bring him over to the UK or I will go out to Brazil. We’re not sure what will happen but we’ve got a good spirit. And the jellifying factor is Fela. He loves Fela to bits and when he heard that I was interested in collaborating with him he was over the moon and he was very quick to give me his latest album and say, ‘look listen to that and tell me what you think’.

Any other hookups?

I’m working also with my very good friend, another keyboard player who’s based in London, his name is Kishon Khan. We went to his country, Bangladesh, the year before last and performed in the first Dakar World Music Festival, which was interesting. It was one hell of a performance. We’re definitely going back very soon. But that got me collaborating with him and we’re going to be trying to release a couple of tracks very soon. I happened to also go to India this year so I’m taking afrobeat to two new territories.

You’re like the Afrobeat ambassador

Yeah, more or less. I think I can claim that I’m Afrobeat’s most interesting ambassador at the moment! I’ve taken it to Dakar, Bangladesh; I’ve taken it to Booti in South India and there’s a possibility that I’m going back very soon to those two places and this time I’ll probably stay longer and do some collaborations with local musicians, local traditional Indian musicians. So it’s looking very very interesting in terms of content that people can look forward to.

Do you have much connection with what’s happening in Lagos or Nigeria at the moment?

I try to stay in touch with what’s happening but if you’re not on the ground there there’s no point. You have to be there. And to be honest I’m not there, I’m not there at all! I keep in touch with Femi every once in a while, we chat and all that but it’s not enough. You have to be in Nigeria for you to be relevant. But I’m always looking to see what’s going on, to see what people are doing.

What do you think of the new afrobeats craze?

I don’t know much about it but I know that there’s a particular wave going around now called afrobeats. I don’t know whether it’s a fad, whether it’s a phase but I know there’s a lot about it on Twitter. I also know that a couple of people have made reference to me, Seun Kuti, Fela etc as the originals…For me art is art, I don’t like to criticise art. I think it’s an interesting wave to watch but I still remain true to my upbringing [and] school, and happy to explore, to expand the horizon as long as it’s live and real.

When I performed in India…[there were musicians on stage] surrounded by computers, playing samples, pre-recorded material on a loop… It sounded interesting enough but what I noticed was that there was no energy. When we got on stage the whole vibe changed. When you watch ten men performing afrobeat on stage there’s an energy that you feed off them that makes you move and they are feeding off your return energy.

Why do you remain an independent artist?

Lots of reasons. The industry has changed for starters and I’m a mature artist so I’m more experienced, I’m choosy, I’m picky. And I have not been able to convince myself to sign with a record label, the kind of contract that exists today, which is in my opinion not worth getting involved in. The advent of technology now gives the artist the ability to keep his destiny in his own hands. You can record an album as long as you finance it, you can pay a producer to produce with you if you don’t have those skills and then upon doing that you can release your product yourself. And with the advent of social media networks you can get involved in a lot of things. Working with an established record label is good if they are willing to work with you and earn what they work for – but they always want more.

Are you working on any of your own compositions?

I’ve got quite a number of tracks that I’ve written but – maybe because I’m old school – I don’t believe in releasing something that I have not performed well. When Fela released an album he had been playing that track in The Shrine for over three years. So the band could enter the studio with their eyes closed and record it in one take. That’s what I was exposed to, so I always like doing the same thing. I believe in getting that live feel going, having performed it so many times over and over again you get so used to it and then creatively develop it over the repeated performances so when you get in the studio you know you’re performing the best version of it you can.

What would you say is the most important thing you learnt from Fela?

Loads of different things but one of the most important things is; no matter what happens it’s better to get to your appointment two hours before and be chilled, relaxed and ready than for you to get there late and have to make an excuse. [ARISE: So much for African time!] Oh the African time thing, it’s good it’s all good and all that but to be honest we live in a world today where time is money and time don’t wait for nobody!

What I also learnt from Fela is you need to have somewhere you can be identified with, so in London I have a regular night every two months called Afrobeat Vibration, where if you want to hear what I’ve been up to that is where to go. So that’s where I have been able to keep my sanity, keep my music going, keep my creative juices flowing and also offer an environment for interested musicians, up-and-coming musicians to have an experience of playing afrobeat and funk in front of an afrobeat-loving audience. So I’m really proud of that – four years and we’re still going.

What about future collaborations?

There are a couple of people I’d love to work with. Top on my list is Questlove, it would be nice to do something with him. Last year I did something with the Copenhagen Jazz Festival where we did a Fela tribute, a star-studded line-up of the top jazz musicians based in Denmark, and it was a successful outing so I’m looking forward to doing it again this year – we’re earmarked the 13th or 14th July for that. I’m going to be doing some collaborations with Tony Allen at some point in time too, and I’m looking at collaborating with a couple of hip hop artists because I believe afrobeat is a hip hop artist’s partner – there is a lot they can take out of afrobeat as a vehicle for getting their message across.

Dele Sosimi´s Afrobeat Orchestra is performing at Africa Oyé in Liverpool this July. delesosimi.org; afrobeatvibration.com

African arts, culture + politics

My Favourite Things… Vieux Farka Touré

vieux

(ARISE magazine, issue 15) The Malian singer-guitarist and son of late blues legend Ali Farka Touré has just completed a new collaboration with Israeli musician Idan Raichel – The Touré-Raichel Collective – and tours America in April and May.

Zebulon, Brooklyn
This venue has the best energy. It’s where I played my first ever concert outside of Mali with my own group in 2007. It’s a small place, really cool and intimate. The crowd goes crazy there. Beautiful place.

WOMAD
It is always a really fun festival with some of the best music in the world. I played at WOMAD last year so I do not think I will play there again this year.  But of course, if they want to invite me I will be happy to play again.

The Source, Ali Farka Touré
The Source by my father, Ali Farka Touré. It is my foundation. I grew up listening to it and it is the one I put on the most when I have the choice. I cannot say why, I just love it.

The Banjo
I love the sound and I play some too. I got one when I first went to North Carolina. I associate it with bluegrass music, which is deeply connected to the music from Mali – it is very similar to our ngoni.

African arts, culture + politics

Spoek Mathambo: Culture Vulture

spoek-sean-metelerkamp
(ARISELIVE.com, February 2012) Words Carinya Sharples   Photography Sean Metelerkamp
ARISE can’t get enough of South African rapper and producer Spoek Mathambo. After hosting his first UK performance at our Afropolitans night at the V&A, we shot him in glorious technicolour for issue 13.
These days, Mathambo’s a very busy man. As well as fine-tuning his new album, Father Creeper, and rolling around for some suitably spooky promo shots (our pick above is one of the tamer versions), he’s been exercising his producing arm with vowel-deficient Danish producer and long-time collaborator Chllngr. Together they have whipped up remixes for Lana Del Rey, Seun Kuti and the enigmatic son of South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, Alekesam (Masekela spelt backwards. Not so enigmatic after all).
Before he launches into a whirlwind round of tours – with stops in the US, Canada, South Africa and Europe – ARISE got Mathambo to sound off on annoying labels, cool collaborations and not being a political poster boy – before mining him for his hot cultural tips.

On coining the label “Township Tech”…

It’s so weird how labels work; stuff getting slapped on. It’s something that I initially coined for a lot of South African music that I was a fan of. I did a lot of DJing and my work was kind of curating exciting new South African music – hyper techy, hyper house, which was very based in South African township culture. And I just clumsily stuck that together to make it township tech.

On the first album I was so hugely influenced by that. But if you listen to the new album it’s very far from those influences. Now I pretty much just do me. The goal is to make big enough sounds, which are accessible, interesting and beautiful enough that people will just appreciate them as Spoek Mathambo’s music, and not necessarily need a tag.

On collaborating with Sauti Sol

Late last year we went to Kenya to work with R&B group Sauti Soul [look out for the band in issue 15 of ARISE, out in March]. They’re incredibly talented. Through some friends we got the link up to work with them and produced some songs.

On scoring an operetta…

There is a performance artist from Cape Town called Athi-Patra Ruga who’s making big moves. He was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary African Art in New York and produced a performance piece, Ilulwane, in which he was suspended on a ridge above about 20 synchronised swimmers He’d written it as an operetta about Xhosa initiation ceremonies mixed with some stuff about the male body, and we scored a 50-minute piece for it. That was a good collaboration.

On making music on the road…

Touring is really boring. A lot of the time you’re just waiting for sound checks, and getting drunk. I’m used to having a mobile studio on tour with me and being fully able to work. That’s how Prince has done it for years.

On working with Chllngr…

Steven [Chllngr] is a saxophonist. His music theories are pretty like tight. I come up with a lot of rhythmic and conceptual stuff. And we meet in the middle. We just have fun, and have a nice rhythm of working together. The stuff we produced together for the album was made on the road. We’re totally used to this two headphones splitter and laptop style – we’re literally in the back of a car making beats with a keyboard on batteries.

On performing with live musicians…

I’ve been doing electronic music for a while, a couple of years. I don’t appreciate the staid, really strict format with a beginning and end to it and I think that’s why I got into more having more live musicians – to have it be new and to go into different directions, to have more possibilities.

On not sticking to one thing…

What’s the need? The people I look up to are Prince, Stevie Wonder – really well-rounded artists. Every day I am less and less a rapper. I’m moving more and more towards being a musician and learning that side of it.

On making the viewer the video artist…

We’re doing the second video from this new album for the track Kites. The point of it is to have a kind of mass collaboration, where we film a part of the video and then have the rest of the video made up of contributions from digital and video artists from all over Africa. As a viewer you generate original content – you basically generate your own video. So everyone who watches it will be watching a different video. I’ve never heard of a video like that so that’s exciting.

SPOEK MATHAMBO EPK from Romain Cieutat on Vimeo.

On South Africa’s ruling ANC party celebrating 100 years…

I am absolutely into politics and I believe everything is somewhat political but looking at the ANC as something absolutely to celebrate is a bit ridiculous to me. It’s a party that shouldn’t necessarily be running the country now, and is responsible for a lot of good and a lot of bad. So stuff should be looked at absolutely critically. I’m a musician…but to be a poster boy for a political ideal that I don’t necessarily believe in is tough. I mean a lot of people do it because its profitable but that profit is taxpayers’ money – it’s ugly, it’s dicey and it’s corrupt.
It’s not like people have to vote for them because of what they’ve done necessarily. A lot of people vote for them because if they don’t another white party might win, which might mean South Africa regressing back to what it used to be – and it was a very ugly place. So it’s like to defend their freedom. And that’s what the ANC plays on a lot: the “upholders of the liberation”, “the liberation movement”, “the revolutionary house” etc etc…

On bigging up South African dance…

In the video for Let Them Talk I wanted to represent South African dance culture – not dance music, actual dancing. It’s very vibrant, very vital scene. There are so many different styles – and I don’t think the video showed this as much as even I wanted it to, so it’s going to be an ongoing goal for me for a while; to meet with and work with different dancers. There’s always new styles emerging so it’s very exciting.

On future collaborations…

As far as future collaborations go, there’s a great group from Niger, Group Inerane – two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer – who just blew me away. I saw and met them in Malmö [Sweden] when they were touring Europe a couple of months ago. They put music out on the Sublime Frequencies label. It’s just really, really great. I appreciate what they’re doing and I’d love to work with them in the future. It’s not in the works now but like to put it out into the ether…

Listening to…

Dirty Paraffin: the group [made up of Okmalumkoolkat and DJ Spizee] is putting out something new soon. They’re really, really sick – great stage presence as well.
Soulfaktor: Really nice producer. I want to work with them [Soulfaktor is part of creative hub SHO!EPIC a lot more.
The Frown: The singer Eve [Rakow] is in Johannesburg. I love her voice, it’s really, really unique.
BFG: A rap group from Durban. Bra Solomon is a sick Zulu MC. As far as Zulu rapping, I really, really rate him.

Reading…

 Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami: I’m trying to get through this because I enjoyed Murakami’s book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It took me something like 300 pages to get to parts that I liked but I stuck it through. This time I’m not really winning. I’m still on page 150 and every page is work.
Forced Landing: Africa South Contemporary Writings, edited by Mothobi Mutloatse: This is a bunch of short stories from the 1980s from South Africa.
Connected: The Surprising Power Of Our Social Networks And How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler: It’s about human life in relation to social networks. In terms of dyads and triads, and how society’s influence works across the digital realm. How the sickness of someone you’re in contact with can make you sick, how their unhappiness can make you unhappy or how they can make you buy certain things. It also talks about social hysteria. For example, there was a laughing fit that started at a high school in Tanzania in the 1960s and spread across thousands of people and into another part of the country…It’s interesting.
Father Creeper by Spoek Mathambo, out March 12.
African arts, culture + politics

Aria code

opera

(ARISE magazine, issue 14) The success of novelist Alexander McCall Smith’s series The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency has spawned a film, starring Jill Scott; an entire tourism industry in Botswana, where it is set; and even an opera house. The No 1 Ladies Opera House was opened in 2008 in a converted garage, comprising a 60-seat theatre and a cafe. After a brief closure, it reopened last March and has re-established itself as one of the best coffee houses in the capital, Gaborone, according to the Botswana Guardian.
Of course music is high up on the agenda too; as well as training and providing a platform for young Botswanan musical talent, the opera house presents musical evenings, opera, films, exhibitions, even farmers markets.
Under the new direction of Rosalyn Beukes, also director of Gaborone’s Maitisong Theatre, the musical programme for 2012 features Cavalleria Rusticana in April and extracts from The Marriage of Figaro in November.

African arts, culture + politics

Ten Minutes With… Vieux Farka Touré

vieux-edit

(ARISELIVE.com, January 2012) Words Carinya Sharples  Image credit Zeb Goodell

He’s called the Hendrix of the Sahara and has wowed crowds around the world with his fresh take on the Malian music made famous by his father Ali Farka Touré.

Now, on the eve of an eagerly anticipated UK tour, Vieux Farka Touré tells ARISE about carving his own musical path in his latest album, The Secret; rocking WOMAD and the important legacy of his father in his music.

What can audiences expect from your tour? Or what do you hope to achieve?

It’s been a long time since I have toured in the UK, so I want to reconnect with the public there.  We had a great show with my new rock trio at WOMAD last summer, so I want to keep up that high energy on this tour.  Good energy – there’s nothing more than that when it comes to live music. I feel good about the energy of the rock trio.

On the tour you will play alongside Tim Keiper and Johann Berby, and you have collaborated with BLK JKS. Do you find fresh energy or inspiration playing with musicians of your generation? Or is age not important?

No, age isn’t important to me. If you’re 17 or 71 if you have the right feeling in music there is no problem, we can relate.

For your London concert, UK artist Oli Brown is opening for you. Will any other special guests join you during the tour?

Ahh, I never know what will happen!  I think there will be some special guests playing with us, but I cannot tell you who now

Is it frustrating that the crowds you will play to in the UK will not generally understand the words of your songs? Or is it enough that they will appreciate the music?

For me it’s enough if they get the feeling, feel the energy of the music. No one except the people in Mali understand the words in my music anyways. I’m very used to it. So the music must express the message just as much as the lyrics. It’s a good challenge.

The Secret was called a bold change of direction, mostly because of collaborations with American artists such as Derek Trucks and John Scofield. Was this an attempt to open up your music to new audiences or did you just want to play with them?

I just wanted to do an album where I collaborated with other guitar players so we could have an exchange between African music and Western music.  Derek, John, Dave Matthews – they are all guitarists I really respect and admire, so it was really just fun to experiment and make music with them.

Rolling Stone said these collaborations work because “the players come to his music [i.e. your music], not the other way around”. Did you feel this too? Or did you feel stretched into new musical areas?

Yes, I think in this case we were asking them to come to my style more than the other way around. In most cases we gave the guests the songs very well developed, then they did their part, and we figured out what to add or take away to make the sound its best.

You have said your music is now more mature, more evolved. In what way? Do you feel it’s less rough and unsure than before? That you’re getting closer to making the music you want to?

I think I am moving forward with every new project but I have always made the music that I want to – but what I want changes and gets deeper.

What was the response in Mali to this musical departure?

The people in Mali loved the new album.  When they heard the song with Dave Matthews people could not believe it.

Vieux’s latest music video, All The Same (feat. Dave Matthews)

Are there any artists from Mali or elsewhere in Africa that you’re itching to play or record with?

Yes – hundreds of them! I am very open to play with new people all the time, but I can’t think of one person in particular right now.

Are there any lesser-known Malian artists that you would like to champion? Who are we missing out on?

The son of Toumani Diabaté, Sidiki Diabaté, is a very good young kora player. You should watch out for him!

Femi Kuti was also discouraged by his father to become a musician but earned his respect and pride by pursuing his dream anyway. How important was it to get your father’s blessing to be a musician, before he sadly passed away?

It was enormous. It was everything. To have this blessing meant the entire world to me.

Do you feel your father’s presence or spirit when you play music? How important is his legacy to your music?

Of course I can feel my father though music. His legacy is very important. My style is my style, his style is his style, but of course we are part of the same tradition. I am the next branch on the tree, that is all.

Do you still live in Mali? How does the country influence or affect your music?

Yes I still in Mali and I will always live in Mali.  My music does not exist without Mali, period.  It is my inspiration and my motivation.

What do you think of the title “the Hendrix of the Sahara”?

That is nice if people want to compare me to Hendrix. He was probably the best ever. But I play my style and he played his.

What would you like to do next?

I would like to go cook a steak!… No, but seriously, I am working on the new idea for my next album, but I should keep it a secret for now.

You recently went to the Festival au Desert. How was that?

It was very fun. So many great musicians, everyone happy… Also every year the organisers do a better job.  Soon it will be one of the biggest festivals in the world.

Finally, will you be following the African Nations Cup? Do you think Mali have a good chance?

No no, I do not follow sports really.

Vieux Farka Touré is on tour in France on February 2, 3, 17 and 18, and in the UK from February 5 to 16. Later in the year, from April 3 to May 4, he will be touring the US. For more details visit www.vieuxfarkatoure.com.

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Nigeria’s No 1 Samba School

ekosambaband_edit

(ARISELIVE.com, October 2011) Pictured Seyi Ajeigbe, founder of Eko Samba School in Lagos, with his growing bateria

Words Carinya Sharples

It’s the national music and dance of Brazil, yet the roots of samba stretch back to Africa – from the semba rhythms of Angola to the Yoruban agogô bell. Now one musician is completing the circle by setting up Nigeria’s first samba school.

Seyi Ajeigbe moved to the UK from Nigeria ten years ago and it was in London that he discovered and learnt to play samba. “I was amazed and dazed at the same time,” he remembers. “I had never seen anything like it … the energy was so gripping I had to get involved immediately”.

After performing with many groups – from the London School of Samba to samba reggae band Eri Okan – Ajeigbe decided to share his expertise with young children in his home city, Lagos.

Through his new project, Eko Samba School (named after the traditional Yoruba name for Lagos), Ajeigbe aims to teach samba to kids in disadvantaged communities in the Nigerian city. “The children just love being able to play drums, a lot of them would love to but haven’t got access to anything like it,” says Ajeigbe. “Samba for them is something they’ve never heard of, but they are willing to learn something new, they truly enjoy it and I think it makes them feel like they’re part of an international community.”

On the ground, setting up Eko Samba School has had its obstacles. “We’ve had a lot of difficulties getting any support or recognition from within Lagos itself,” says Ajeigbe. “We couldn’t get into the Lagos carnival… it was also impossble to get an audience at the Brazilian Embassy. No one really knew or understood what we were trying to do except us”. However, he adds, the music has made it all worth it. “The best part so far has been the music itself. It brings a lot of satisfaction to hear the samba swing in the middle of a slum in Lagos, it’s as if the souls of those slaves taken via Lagos to Brazil are returning.”

After returning to Nigeria earlier this year to set up the school, Ajeigbe is back in London to raise capital for the project – to buy much needed resources and instruments. A night of live music will be held on October 30 at East London music venue Cargo to kickstart fundraising. Ajeigbe will perform at the one-off event with his band Agemo, alongside Maracatudo Mafua and a special samba bateria.

For more information on the Eko Samba School fundraiser on October 30 and details on how you can donate to the fund visit www.gandaia.org.

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Ten minutes with… Mayra Andrade

Mayra_1v2

(ARISELIVE.com, July 2011) Words Carinya Sharples

Her rich, earthy voice and beautiful lyrics have captivated fans across Africa, Paris, London and beyond. On the eve of her first performance at London’s legendary jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s, we spoke to Cape Verdean singer-songwriter Mayra Andrade about her freedom fighter father, living a nomadic lifestyle and singing The Beatles.

Did you already know about Ronnie Scott’s before coming to London?

To be honest not really but everyone around me knew about this place… For example my boyfriend’s dream, when he was a child, was to go and see a show in Ronnie Scott’s! So I’m happy because I understood how important this place is.

Will you be performing songs by other artists too?

Yes, Michelle from The Beatles – I recorded it on my last CD – La Javanaise, Serge Gainsbourg, a song from [Brazilian singer-songwriter] Caetano Veloso, and other Cape Verdean composers. I also have my own songs but I’m composing for my new album [out in 2012] so I’m not playing any of the songs yet.

You’re very connected to your roots in Cape Verde.  Now you live in Paris, how do you find life there?

I arrived in Paris when I was 17 so I’m very connected to that city – Paris saw me becoming a woman and growing and making my career. But you know, I’m very nomadic. I’ve lived in five different countries [Andrade was born in Cuba and raised in Cape Verde, Senegal, Angola and Germany]. I’ve never stopped more than six years in a country and I’ve been in Paris for nine years so I’m already looking for the next place. [ARISE: Where might that be?] I’ll tell you when it’s decided! I have my little ideas…

In your songs, you often mention freedom fighters from Cape Verde’s history.

Yes, my father is one of them you know. He went to Guinea Bissau when he was 15 years old because Cape Verde and Guinea fought for independence together. So I’m very concerned about this – recognising what these people did for us.

Is the connection still strong between Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde?

No because it’s also political. We had the PAEGC, which was the Partido Africano para a Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde. When the two countries got independence they didn’t agree with what they wanted to do or how to move on so they split and the Cape Verdeans did their own politics and so on. The situation in Guinea is quite complicated.

Do Cape Verdeans think of themselves as from Cape Verde or Africa?

You have these two sides. I consider myself as an African woman – I don’t have any doubt about this, because Africa is so many things together. We are a mixed country, because when the Portuguese arrived nobody lived there… But some Cape Verdeans like to say ‘no, I’m not African. I’m Cape Verdean, because we are too mixed to say that we are African’. So I say, ‘OK, are you European?’ ‘No, not exactly’. ‘But you try to be, right?’ ‘No I’m Cape Verdean’.

We are ten very, very small islands – separated just by ourselves. So it’s not only a racial aspect it’s also a geographic thing. In Africa you can walk and go all over Africa, in Cape Verde you can’t. It’s a particular mentality – but a good one. We are very open to people and friendly. I love to be with people when they are going to Cape Verde for the first time because I’m like, ‘Oh I know, I know! I know it’s wonderful. I know every woman is beautiful here. I know they all say welcome to my home’. I feel proud.

You’ve collaborated with many African artists, including Angélique Kidjo, Youssou N’Dour and Asa. How did that happen?

I met Angélique about nine years ago; I was opening for her. Since then we’ve met so many times in so many festivals and we’ve sung together – she invited me and other African singers to join the last song of her show.

I met Asa when she spent two months in Paris four or five years ago. I was preparing my first CD – I already signed with Sony – and was invited to a conference to talk about my culture with other guests. Asa just came to sing two or three songs at the end and I was like, ‘Introduce me to her, I want to meet her!’ and then we became friends. I tried a little bit to present her demos to the labels but they didn’t pay attention. But when she came out with [French music label] Naïve, I called that guy and was like ‘you see!’ And then she invited me to sing in a show, which is on her live DVD, with Yael Naïm.

Are there any new, Cape Verdean singers you would recommend?

Yes, Sara Tavares; Carmen Souza, a Cape Verdean singer here [in London]; Tcheka, Tito Paris, who is not so known unfortunately… There are so many.

Mayra Andrade is performing tonight at London’s Ronnie Scott’s, before heading to Festival Nuits du Sud in France (July 21) and Luanda Jazz Festival in Angola (July 30)

London culture

Brazil in London: Brazilian Music in London

rebeca_vallim1

(Visit London, 26 November 2010) Rebeca Vallim, a singer from Rio de Janiero, tells us about the exciting Brazilian music scene in London for our World in London project.

How long have you been living in London?
Almost six years now. What I really like about living in London is all the different cultures in one place.

Where have you performed in London?
All around London, including Guanabara, Ronnie Scott’s, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Favela Chic, Pizza on the Park, Rose Theatre Kingston, On Anon, Barbican and The Green Note.

I’ve also performed at different London festivals, like Thames Festival, Carnaval del Pueblo, Summer in Holborn and Bloomsbury Festival.

What is your favourite place to perform?
It’s really hard to say!  Probably the Southbank Centre as they’re very supportive of artists, and encourage and promote Brazilian music, like with Festival Brazil this summer. The audience are great too, people aren’t busy drinking or chatting – they come to appreciate the music.

What is the Brazilian music scene like in London?
The Brazilian music scene in London is very varied, with rhythms from North to South of Brazil. It’s exciting, there’s so much happening.

You can hear all kinds of Brazilian music in London: bossa-nova, samba, maracatu, forró, samba-rock, pop, country, chorinho, samba-reggae and others…

Where do you go to listen to Brazilian music in London?
The last places I’ve been to hear Brazilian music were Guanabara for a concert by Diogo Nogueira, a great sambista of the new generation; Royal Albert Hall to see Gilberto Gil, an icon of Brazilian music; and Koko to see the great singer Maria Rita.

I also recommend the Tia Maria restaurant in Vauxhall, which has live samba and choro every Thursday.

So where can we see you perform?
I perform in a number of different bands: Rebeca Vallim & Band, Mafua de Yaya, Viramundo, Umpatacum and Maracatudo Mafua.

My next gig is Brazilian Night at Ronnie Scott’s Bar, upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, on 9 Dec from 8pm.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/11/brazil-in-london-brazilian-music-in-london/

London culture

Brockley Max Festival Opens The Door To Local Talent

brockleymax_door_539

(Visit London, 7 June 2010) For the past week, Brockley has been a hive of activity with the return of community arts festival Brockley Max.

Following the recent arrival of the East London Line in Brockley, it seemed the ideal time to showcase the area’s talents.

There was comedy at Jam Circus, Sonnets From Shakespeare at The Brockley Barge and poetry in the bizarrely named Toad’s Mouth Too Cafe.

In fact, there was something going on wherever you turned. Tree-stump sculptures mysteriously popped up in Hilly Fields Park, and on the opening night of the festival I stepped off the train to find half the neighbourhood crowded round the colourful murals of Brockley Station for a free music concert.

The week’s festivities ended on Saturday with live music, food, DJs and children’s activities at the Hilly Fields Park Stone Circle – South London’s answer to Stonehenge. Brockley wine bar/shop Mr Laurence was doing a roaring trade in Pimm’s at the bar, while excited kids tore around the newly refurbished playground.

Brockley Max may now be over, but there are still many events happening in Brockley where you can discover local talent, including:

  • Tea Leaf Arts Summer Open: exhibition of work by local artists at Tea Leaf Arts Gallery, until 12 Jun
  • Working On A Groovy Thing: art exhibition with music at Lewisham Arthouse, until 13 Jun
  • Books In Limbo: get involved as a huge installation is constructed from salvaged books at Tank Gallery, 28 May-19 Jun

Plus, keep an eye out for our review of The Last Five Years at Brockley Jack Theatre, which opens tomorrow.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/06/brockley-max-festival-opens-the-door-to-local-talent/

London culture

Markus The Sadist at Bloomsbury Theatre (review)

bashy_markusthesadist

(Visit London, 19 May 2010) It’s going to be hard watching hip hop videos without a heavy dose of cynicism after seeing Markus the Sadist at Bloomsbury Theatre last night.

Created by Jonzi D – the man behind Sadler’s Wells‘ street dance sensation Breakin Convention – Markus The Sadist is a darkly comic diatribe against the fakery of the music industry.

Talented London emcee Markus (played by real-life grime artist Ashley “Bashy” Thomas) is spotted at a local hip hop battle and promised fame and fortune. Success comes at a price though, namely abandoning his intelligent lyrics and adopting a groin-grabbing rap persona and a sneering American accent.

Markus’ transformation from wide-eyed boy next door to hip hop stereotype is hilarious yet uncomfortably recognisable. One of the best moments is Markus’ first video shoot, when the flamboyant director (played by the scene-stealing Rob Broderick) demands the ubiquitous rap-star props of guns, bling and scantily-clad women dancers (“otherwise I’m shooting a documentary”).

Halfway through many scenes, you realise all the characters are talking in rhyme – which works surprisingly well. The musical thread is strengthened with jazz saxophonist Soweto Kinch as composer/musical director, while much of the cast are clearly talented artists in their own right.

There were a number of technical hiccups that need tightening and the play could be shorter and tighter. But on the whole, Markus The Sadist makes for a fresh, intelligent addition to the British theatre scene. Interested? Don’t hang about – the last performance is tomorrow night (Thursday)! Buy tickets (£14-£17.50) at http://www.thebloomsbury.com

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/05/markus-the-sadist-at-bloomsbury-theatre/

London culture

Disabled Arts Given Boost for London 2012

UN_MG_37431-539x359

(Visit London, 7 October 2009). There was a buzz of excitement at the Southbank Centre today as Unlimited, the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad project to support disabled-led arts, culture and sport, was launched.

“Bring it on!” was the enthusiastic verdict of Jenny Sealey MBE, Unlimited’s Artistic Advisor and Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company. “There are plenty of us waiting in the wings to come and fly.”

We were given a sneak peek of the sort of talent Unlimited will be supporting over the next three years as The BLT Crew – an upbeat trio of DJs with learning disabilities – spun a selection of feel-good party tunes, from My Guy to Baby Love.

There was also a performance by Cando2, the Candoco Dance Company’s Youth Dance Company, which runs weekly classes for disabled and non-disabled youngsters at London’s Siobhan Davies Dance Studios, The Place and Aspire.

£3 million has been earmarked for the project, which will provide funding, training and a platform for disabled and deaf-led organisations and artists.

Other speakers included Tony Hall, chair of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Board and Chief Exec of the Royal Opera House – who wasted no time in getting on the decks with The BLT Crew and picking up some tips – and Chris Holmes. The nine-time Paralympic gold medal winner and London 2012 Director of Paralympic Integration entertained everyone with some sporting anecdotes before getting us all to shout “Unlimited” – and refusing to accept our feeble first attempt!

Like the project, the event was as inclusive as possible; with a sign-language interpreter on hand and instant subtitles on a large TV screen. Jenny Sealey even created a new way to “sign” Unlimited – an energetic combination of the sign language words for “create” and “explosion”.

After the launch, we spoke to Jenny about the two main obstacles facing many disabled artists:

  • negative attitudes
  • physical obstacles (such as lack of interpreters, lifts etc at venues).

“There’s still a perception that disabled performers can’t do Shakespeare, for example,” she says, with frustration, “but it’s still Shakespeare, there’s just another undercurrent to the performance. We all have our own unique selling point.”

To apply for funding or find out more about Unlimited, visit http://www.london2012.com/unlimited.

If you’re interested in exploring the disabled arts scene in London, why not check out Crossings, a new play by Julie McNamara at The Cochrane Theatre in London this November – it comes highly recommended by Jenny. And who knows what new talent Unlimited will uncover… watch this space!

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2009/10/disabled-arts-given-boost-for-london-2012/