Another list. Just felt the urge I suppose. In no particular order, here are some African musicians whose stuff I can’t get enough of (in no particular order). Not exhaustive, not exclusive, not definitive. Just for a laugh.
- Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) – South African – Mama Africa, lived much of her working life in enforced exile from apartheid era SA. Was, for many, one of the voices of protest outside. Her voice has soul, soul, sweet soul. Somehow evokes a whole generation and era. Nuff said.
- Ayub Ogada (?- )- Kenyan – was given his epic En Mana Kuoyo some time before we moved to Uganda by bro-in-law Jez – but it is now firmly embedded in my mind as the soundtrack of Kampala evenings. Mellow and yet completely compelling, this is trad Luo music given a western mix. Just wonderful. You’ll recognise some of it if you’ve seen the film The Constant Gardener.
- Vusi Mahlasela (1965- ) – South African – has a unique and extraordinary voice and is wonderful guitarist in South African folk style. His voice just has it all – pierces the heart and captures the agony, fury, life, hope, joy and reality of Africa. Just listen to Song for Thandi, or the raw Africa is Dying; or more positive, Everytime. Also, check out his cover (with Josh Groban) of Weeping, and of U2’s Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.
- Johnny Clegg (1953- ) – South African & Zimbabwean (originally English, born in Rochdale bizarrely enough, but moved to Africa as a child) – he is known as the White Zulu, and formed the first racially mixed South African band in the late 70s. Often sings in Zulu, English and even French. Some great stuff – esp the popular Asimbonanga, and one of my favourites The Crossing.
- Youssou N’Dour (1959- ) – Senegalese – draws on all kinds of different musical heritages, but clearly rooted in trad Senegal folk music (called mbalax). Hugely popular globally, and justly so… He played key abolitionist Olaudah Equiano in the 2006 film Amazing Grace. Sometimes, his voice sometimes evokes Imam’s call to prayer, piercing and resounding above the band. Many will know his duet with Neneh Cherry, 7 Seconds – but check out Chimes of Freedom or the joy of Set and you’re transported to an African minibus taxi.
- Abdullah Ibrahim (1935- ) – South African – a jazz pianist, originally called Adolph Johannes Brand. Does big band stuff, and close-up stuff, all in all, a great and unique sound. As a random pick, I just love his District Six, evoking apartheid’s infamous clearing of Cape Town’s most vibrant community (see previous post) or the exuberance of African Marketplace.
Honourable Mentions: Soweto String Quartet (aka SSQ – exactly what it says on the tin, a string quartet formed by 3 brothers and a mate from Soweto – doing classical-pop-african crossover stuff) and Oumou Sangare (from Mali).
I’ve had the joy of seeing 4 out of these 8 acts live – true joy. But all of these folks have stuff on SPOTIFY (which you must use if you don’t already) – so check them out.
Having just returned from South Africa, my heart was stirred afresh by that great continent of life. So I thought that this week I’d celebrate with our very own QUAERENTIA AFRICA week. The Southeaster will lure us back in time I suspect…
Johnny Clegg has been called the White Zulu. And his is certainly an extraordinary life. Born outside Manchester in the UK, an early childhood in Israel briefly before moving to southern Africa where he has been ever since. And his music reflects all these different influences – singing fluently in English and Zulu, as well as occasionally in French and other South African languages. Having seen a poster for his outdoor gig at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the very day we arrived, we jumped at the chance of getting tickets (having heard him back in the UK summer at Mandela’s 90th concert). We had a right laugh going – a few pix on our Flickr page here.
Here are 2 of Johnny’s protest songs which seem particularly poignant when placed side by side. The first, written in 1987 years before a multi-racial government seemed possible, is perhaps one of his most well-known in the UK: ASIMBONANGA. It is Zulu, meaning ‘we have not seen him’ and is all about Mandela’s imprisonment across Cape Town’s bay on Robben Island. But watch this clip – and see who appears! From Frankfurt in 1998, at Mandela’s 80th.
This one is more recent. Recorded in Jo’burg in 2006, this song is about another African president who was heralded at the start in terms not unlike those used of Mandela 10 years later. But how differently the tyrant of Zimbabwe is now regarded. This is: THE REVOLUTION WILL EAT ITS CHILDREN (ANTHEM FOR UNCLE BOB).