Mar 28, 2015

From Australia: The Seven Ups

It's a hallmark in a career, and it could very well be the defining moment in a musical lifetime. But for Melbourne Afro-fusion band The Seven Ups, this doesn’t seem to be the case with the release last month of their self-titled longplayer. “We’ve only just done it in the last couple of weeks, and it’s already been amazing,” says band member Marcel 'Mac-Daddy' Tussie.

“I mean, the only real response we’ve seen is at shows. When we finish a show, when people come up to us and are interested in buying merch, not only the CD but on vinyl as well, which is becoming more and more popular, that's been a great response.

“It’s been a supportive response, not only from punters but from other bands and fellow musicians, you know they want to get the record, they wanna hear the music on the recording and they want to support live music. It’s been a really satisfying feeling, and it's only the beginning.”

The band's style is not something you hear every day. There’s something unique about a group of suburban Australian musicians, from a variety of different artistic backgrounds, coming together to play a style that undoubtedly has its roots in African music. “We’re not exactly doing Afro-beat to its truest form; we’re not replicating anything Fela Kuti would have done back in Nigeria in the 1970s or anything – we’re just trying to modernise it.

“We’re not playing 15-minute songs where we sort of jam-out with 10-minute solos. We’ve sort of taken elements of that, and elements of pop songwriting, where you’ve got an intro, a verse, a chorus, a solo. There’s structure in every song to keep the audience interested, 'cause you either have to be incredibly talented musicians to keep the audience going for fifteen minutes on one groove or you’re just really selfish and willing to play that for your own satisfaction.

“Take elements of pop songwriting and elements from Fela Kuti and also some more modern bands such as Antibalas, who are doing their thing on the Daptone label in NY at the moment, anything in between those dudes is where we’re definitely getting our influence. But there’s definitely a long list of bands in between that I could rattle off to you.”

Recording 'The Seven Ups' was done in a timely manner. “For us we played the songs a lot live, and we rehearsed it as well, so we knew down to the very last detail what we wanted to do in the studio; and due to the cost of studio time and the cost of sound engineers, and everyone else's individual time; everyone has at least two or three other bands they’re playing in. Once we got the dates sorted, it was just a matter of doing four or five twelve-hour days back to back in the studio."

And of course, no first album release is complete without an obligatory favourite track. “The favourites have to be the one we struggled with the most,” Marcel says. “The song 'The Boss', for us, was really challenging, 'cause we were playing it and listening back to it and saying this sounds nothing like it does when we’re playing it live. So that was a real big shock to us, but we are most proud of it.”


A1 Hello Afro 3:23
A2 The Boss 2:51
A3 Senora Doll 4:21
A4 The Chase 3:07
A5 Not Afraid Of Dying 4:34
B1 The Trial 3:41
B2 No Compromise 4:16
B3 Brunswick Special 3:10
B4 Scarlett Fever 2:42
B5 New Mellow 6:55

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Mar 27, 2015

Yaaba Funk - My Vote Dey Count

"Yaaba Funk is currently one of Britain's most popular Afrobeat bands, and one of the most distinctive -- because while others imitate Fela Kuti's Nigerian sound, Yaaba Funk starts with highlife, the more upbeat (and guitar-led) Ghanaian dance style, and brings in James Brown grooves, Sun Ra jazz,Parliament-Funkadelic jams, and more than a hint of mind-altering dub. Coming out of London's multi-culti Brixton neighborhood, Yaaba Funk made its name at parties, dance clubs and festivals, mixing showmanship and social activism with a spirit of fun, recalling the 2-Tone movement of 30-some years ago and the Swinging London scene of the '60s. "Yaaba Funk in concert," Songlines declared, "can be as exciting as the young Rolling Stones." The band's debut album, Afrobeast, which Blues & Soul championed for its "majestic sound [and] infectious rhythms," became a DJ favorite and won fans throughout the UK. Yaaba Funk's new album (its first to be released in North America) has all the dynamic dance inducements of its predecessor, and takes them even further with a set of original compositions sung in Akan and English by two compelling lead singers, Richmond Kessie and Helen McDonald, and performed by a mighty band of guitars, keyboards (including a thumb-piano), horns galore, and a panoply of drums, shakers, bells and whistles. Everyone's vote counts here -- yours as well."

( OtherMusic review - April 2014)

“The Brixton 10-piece’s second album packs a punch from the off with a muscular James Brown cover. Their sound centres on tense, politically motivated Afrobeat but a wide spectrum of styles is embraced along the way. “Poor Man’s Tale” is slow, ground-hugging funk, “Ghana” builds its hypnotic hold around a delicate thumb piano riff and some ethereal vocals by Helen McDonald and “Volta Blues” is just as it’s title suggests – a straight-down-the-line blues track. It’s great to hear a home-grown band like this reach what is analogous to an athletic peak of their powers, setting them up as equal with (yet a good deal more versatile than) more globally known Afrobeat outfits such as New York’s Antibalas. ”

(Howard Male. Independent on Sunday review of My Vote Dey Count, 20 April 2014)

Mar 26, 2015

From Belgium: Black Flower - Abyssinia Afterlife

Born out of a surreal experience and with strong devotion Black Flower takes you on a lucid voyage through the gardens of the Abyssinian afterlife. A highly remarkable place, far away from what you and I would call reality. It is a place where strange creatures and unfamiliar sounds merge into a harmony of the weird and the beautiful.

It is said that these are the secret realms of the long past legendary ruler of Ethiopia, Sir Prester John. Some even claim that he composed these sounds as a way of ruling his ancient land. Whether this is fact or myth, nobody knows for sure...

Now, for the first time, we have the chance to get a glimpse of this mystical empire. It is no secret any more that Nathan Daems has been chosen to witness this special place. Being such an overwhelming experience, he felt the urge, even the obligation, to share this with the real world. The result is a record he applicably called “Abyssinia Afterlife”.

It was no easy task finding the right people for this job. In his years of musical exploration, Nathan kept searching for the right people to team up with. A challenging process, because they needed to embrace the idea of looking to music from a whole new perspective. They needed to be able to capture the Abyssinia Afterlife as if they had visited it them-selves. Finally he found four young and dedicated spirits who could do the job.

This is the moment Black Flower was born. 

Black Flower band seem to have reincarnated something from the essence of Ethiopia-Jazz. I heard many new bands that were inspired from especially some melodies, and even more often from the special groove (like Ikebe Shakedown, Nomo, Karl Hector & Malcouns, Master Musicians of Bukake,..), but Black Flower, except on ‘”Again I lost it” (-what’s in a title-), not only deals with every sort of original element from the instrumentals themselves, go for the groove of it, exaggerates one element with a new element of drum & bass, but then also expands it to jazz improvisation, which renews and gives new life to the musical form, something which is more than welcome to hear, finding with it new original elements that contribute to what it borrowed before and then made it their own. In that way, from now, it has something to give back and contribute something extra to it as well. Here and there, not only keyboards or sax perform the solos, but we also have electric guitar solos, a bit like late 50s contributions or also guitar rhythms. Its rhythm section adds an element of old exotica in some tracks, in a relaxed version of it. The organ parts add extra funky elements too. The use of attractive harmonies is often well worked out to the best effect. A recommended album, and for obvious reasons, I have also listed it amongst the reviews of original Ethiopian releases. I think the band could even be appreciated in Ethiopia too.

For this album debut by Black Flower, the Ethio-jazz project of and around saxophonist Nathan Daems, we were already waiting since heard the five tracks on their self-titled EP from 2013. For 'Abyssinia Afterlife' Daems drew inspiration from the legend of Prester John (see also Tommy T's 'The Prester John Sessions' and be sure to read the crazy story behind the album on Black Flower's website) and that resulted in an album that sounds like a feverish LSD-trip through the streets of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa (something yours truly also wrote about Dub Colossus' 'In A Town Called Addis'). But 'Abyssinia Afterlife' exceeds the boundaries of Ethio-jazz: in songs like 'Upwards' (featuring Smokey Hormel's splendid guitar playing) or 'Again I Lost It' Dengue Fever's psychedelic Cambodian rock is not far away and Wouter Haest keyboard sounds are at times reminiscent of the work of The Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek ('I Threw A Lemon At That Girl', together with 'Winter' the only song from the EP also featured on 'Abyssinia Afterlife'). Black Flower only serves up nine songs on 'Abyssinia Afterlife', but with several compositions lasting more than five minutes, this album will certainly not leave you feeling unfulfilled. 


01. Solar Eclipse
02. Upwards
03. I Threw A Lemon At That Girl
04. Jungle Desert
05. Winter
06. Star Fishing
07. The Legacy Of Prester John
08. Again I Lost It
09. Abyssinia Afterlife

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Mar 24, 2015

An excursion into Namibian hip hop: Black Vulcanite (for free)

Originally published @

The first time that I wandered into Black Vulcanite’s dormitory of music was during mid-summer last year when I saw a post from one of my Facebook friend’s raving about their music and how they were ‘….so different from the rest’. Being the intuitive music head that I am I decided on following my gut as I had a feeling that they might suprise me. I Google’d them and one of the search results led me to a link where I could download their “Remember The Future” for FREE @ bandcamp!

I must admit, I was a bit wary at first, I mean who puts out a free EP with good music on it these days? Everything is commercialised and artists are trying to cash in on their art but they took the pro bono route in a bid to, presumably, market themselves. Whatever their reason was it certainly worked on me and the very moment that I first lent my ears to the opening track “Black Narcissism” I was instantly hooked, it was like love at first sight, or in this case love at first listen. I can write an infinite number of pages drooling over why their music is captivating but I’ll give you one good description that does justice to their music, it’s starkly stupendous! In an age where Hip Hop has grown to be increasingly dominated by irrelevant and senseless lyrics that are being churned out by egotistic, high on vanity and self-consumed rappers, Black Vulcanite’s music is refreshingly unique.

The group is formed up by three members who are close allies in their quest to change the face of Hip Hop, which is what I believe they’re doing. Mark Question, real name Mark Mushiva, is the lyrical genius of the group. His bars enthuse an admirable sense of knowledge on science, history and pride themselves on black consciousness. He’s like the Steve Biko, Albert Einstein, Amiri Baraka, Mark Twain, Mahatma Gandhi, Sin Tzu, Tupac and Hendrick Witbooi all rounded up and moulded into one warrior, a warrior of words. When a rapper churns our dope verses such as: “I am the only Asian in this class with a space suit,” (listen to “I hope They Write”) or “…this game is something like Sudoku in a kid’s brain,” (listen to “Drinking Life”) then you know that his IQ is as worthy as that of any intellectual great and his philosophy is quite mesmerising. Mark uses his intellectual knowledge to suit his ethos and take a stance in society which many people have ignored since the attainment of our freedom.

And really that’s what their EP, “Remember The Future”, is all about. It’s nothing short of a time capsule that captures your conscience and gives you a mind-opening tour into the past while whisking you back to the present thereby reminding one to be mindful of the past deeds that define us as Namibians and as Africans. Notwithstanding the fact that it encourages us to also look towards the future with hope and optimism but with the memory of our past safely tucked away in our hearts and minds as our reference point.

It’s quite poetic isn’t it? This brings me to the other member of the group Okin, real name Nikolai Tjongarero, who pleases the listener with his gravel yet silky voice. Okin commands attention when he reads out his lines with striking poise, lines that depict the conflicts within our minds and the everyday life encounters that play a pivotal role in our existence as superior creatures of creation. “….for those that spoke to his mind never really spoke to his heart” the poem goes in “Black Narcissism”. Okin’s poems are quite philosophic; he’s clearly an observer and is aware of the great battles that we face in life, especially the battles that have enslaved our minds. Whether he is describing the “Lady in The Blue Dress” or how friends turn to enemies in “That’s how I feel” he does it with vocal poise. He just doesn’t warn us of the paths that we should try to avoid and the ones that we ought to seek in life either, he also gets creative and charms the ladies, making them completely vulnerable to his soft hitting words and giving the fellas something to dedicate to their equal halves. He’s a smooth operator and a testament to that description is how he describes his encounter with a lady in “Nostalgia”. Okin is rightly so the poet within the group.

“Corruption and incompetence [is] evident in our government, [They] claim it’s for the people but [they] do it for their own betterment.” Is the captivating line within “Visions” by AliThatDude, who’s real name is Alain Villet. Ali’s musical persona is distinct in that it he can translocate his vocal skills from being a straight out hard flow, and he has an impeccable flow at that, rapper to spitting out ragga like verses (listen to their new single “Big Egos”). Ali puts the fun in rap as he makes it seem easy to spit the way that he does. He’s very descriptive and one can feel that he visualizes things in his lyrics and that builds a personal feel with the listener because it’s almost if you are with him when he describes how he takes a flight to Jupiter but promises his girl that he will be back before the daylight (listen to “Cosmic Symphony”). He’s also an exceptional vocalist. Ali is evidently high on life and his laid back approach to songs is refreshing cos really, why be stuck up by being primarily serious when you can be that (serious but not stuck-up) and still have a good time while at it? That’s why their music conscientizes the youth in a fun and interesting way.

All in all, the group is young and dynamic and definitely has a great future ahead of it. The only reason I’m raving about them is because they are my only refuge from the usual crap that we are sold these days. I must admit I’m an old school Hip Hop head, I was born in the era where real Hip Hop thrived, way before Nas declared Hip Hop dead. I’m glad that there’s a new emerging group of socially conscious artists such as Black Vulcanite that are taking the lead and sowing the seeds that will provide the game with more variety and encourage cats to cease with their shallow lyrics and be more competitive and smart lyricists.

Artists like Public Enemy were vocal about many issues such as racism and police brutality and they used Hip Hop as tool to express their disapproval of such brutal acts and give a voice to the voiceless. Birthed by the youth within the black communities Hip Hop became a way of life for many teenagers; they were craving for self-expression and trying to elevate their self-worth by being recognised. They knew that they had acquired the status of being menaces to society but they also knew that music and art was one of the only platforms that they could seek solace in and refuge from their troubles and try to make something out of their lives without giving in to the harsh judgments and the stereotypes. Hip Hop artists like the Notorious BIG were musical portraitist, the real Picasso’s and Basquiat’s of rap music.

Many might say that I have unrealistic expectations and so forth but really I’m not proud of the direction that Hip Hop has been taking these couple of years. I understand the fact that as a new era we ought to set an identity for ourselves but we should be careful not to let this infringe upon the core values of the game. And shouldn’t we hold high expectations in the first place? Low expectations are boring and nothing is unrealistic in this game unless you’re aiming low. Black Vulcanite has impressed me; it’s music resonates well with that era, it is aware of the post-independence issues that face the nation, most especially the youth, and it sings about it which is something that many artists nowadays rarely do. The only time they do is to score cheap publicity stunts to elevate themselves within the minds of the people.

Listening to the Hip Hop lyrics of today is a brainwashing endeavour. They promote materialism, drug use, violence and glorify attaining and amassing wealth as the sole purpose to life while ignoring the fact that people in their communities are facing many hardships. “I’ve got money” or “I’ve got a 100 b!tches” is all you hear from them and many of my peers, unfortunately, still continue to bump to it like its some sort of mediocre mediation technique. They’re being sold a dream, particularly the American dream, a dream of instant riches and fame not knowing that that very dream is the source of pain for many celebrities who are stuck in their apparent ‘ideal’ lives. Fame is overrated and the new Black Vulcanite jam, which they performed to a packed crowd at the FNCC recently, “Hollywood Is Dead”, highlights that notion. There’s nothing retrogressive about cats who are sticking to the principles laid down by the ‘old school’ and I’m not saying that we can’t bend the rules all I’m saying is that if you’re going to bend them don’t look stupid while doing it. Be creative, break out of the box but ALWAYS stay relevant.

Apart form shifting the spotlight to the issues that affected them and their communities these artists were poets and lyrical maestros, they could flow. If you put French Montana or Trinidad James in that era the only position they would hold in the Hip Hop industry is nada. Eminem once sang about how people are rarely interested in listening to the lyrics of a song no more, its all about the beat and chokingly yelling once lungs out like Waka Flaka Flame or Trinidad James gasping for air. But within this whole dark Hip Hop dilemma is a glimmer of hope, artists like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, to mention a few, are enjoying commercial success but still staying relevant and loyal to their craft and to the streets. In fact Kendrick Lamar is making great strides, the Compton emcee gained much popularity over the web lately for his hot verse on Big Sean’s joint “Control” where he calls out all his ‘competitors’ to step up their games and cease with the mediocrity.

Locally artists like Brain The Tool and That Boy Jay are also marching to the same tune and dropping sick mixtapes (Check out their projects: “Black Boy Experience” and the “Leo Manuscript” respectively). Continentally rappers like Zeus, Youngsta, OutSpoken, Tumi, Optical III and a whole bunch of others are also taking the lead and trying to form an identity for African Hip Hop, one which is not highly influenced by Western culture. I see a few of my peers are responding to this form of Hip Hop and realise that there’s more to music than just singing about p*ssy, fame or cars. I hope that none of the Hip Hop artists or groups that I bump to today fall victim to the pressures of commercialisation of music which distorts their musical maxims and detaches them from their initial goal because I place high expectations on them. In the meantime do your ears an ‘eargasm’ of a favour and check out Black Vulcanite’s “Remember The Future” EP and their recent singles, I’m a 110% sure that you’ll be held captive by their creative minds.

Originally published @

Mar 21, 2015

From Mali: Songhoy Blues ... an interview

Originally published @

The Malian four-piece formed after fleeing from the north of the country when it was taken over by Islamist militants in 2012. Three years on, they tell Richie Troughton about combining blues with their native Songhai music on debut album, Music In Exile.

Since being discovered in a Bamako club, having gained a reputation as one of the Malian capital's most exciting live acts, the last 12 months have been a whirlwind ride for Songhoy Blues. In that time the group have featured on an Africa Express compilation, recorded their debut album with Yeah Yeah Yeahs' guitarist Nick Zinner producing, and recently played at the 5,000-capacity Royal Albert Hall, supporting Damon Albarn. It's a remarkable chain of events for the group, who formed after being forced to flee northern Mali following the spring 2012 arrival of Islamist militants under whom music was forbidden as they enforced sharia law. The musicians were forced to leave home to avoid the threat of beatings or of having their instruments confiscated or smashed, and found themselves in the right place at the right time when they started playing music together, having relocated.

Vocalist Aliou Touré, guitarist Garba Touré (whose father played guitar and then percussion in Ali Farka Touré's band) and bassist Oumar Touré had lived and grown up in Gao and Timbuktu respectively, and were studying and playing music prior to the invasion of jihadists. Although they didn't know each other previously (they are not related), having made the 15-hour bus ride south to Bamako the trio met and teamed up with Bamako-based drummer Nathanael Dembélé. Although a dominant force in the Sahel region of northern Mali up to the 16th century, today the Songhai people make up around 6% of the country's population. Songhoy Blues formed to play and keep alive the Songhai music from the north, for themselves and other refugees displaced by the ongoing problems. They soon found their audience was not just made up of Songhai people in the area, but also Tuareg, Bambara and others, who all united at early performances.

Late last year the group were spotted in a Bamako nightspot by Marc-Antoine Moreau, who was on a scouting mission for artists to appear on last year's Africa Express compilation Maison Des Jeunes (which would have featured their track 'Soubour'). Marc is now managing the group and, with Nick Zinner, co-produced Songhoy Blues' debut album, Music In Exile. In addition to recent UK dates the group also visited India for a string of festival appearances and are featured in a new Kickstarter-funded film on the current plight of musicians in Mali, They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Musicians In Exile.

Ahead of their biggest show to date at the Royal Albert Hall the group had a low-key warm-up gig at private members' bar The King's Head in east London, where the basement live room can barely hold 100 people. When we spoke before the show Marc said: "The thing with Songhoy Blues, what I really found when I saw them first was I saw a rock band. I hadn't seen an African act, I saw a rock band. They are all taking decisions together. They are totally like a rock band coming from Manchester or Glasgow going out of school and that is a good thing, an interesting thing. And also, the way we worked, we tried to develop this project, we tried to avoid totally the 'world music' scene. We want to consider them as a regular rock band as the two other bands who are going to play tonight."

As Songhoy Blues blast through the bulk of their new record that night it is clear what Marc means. They really rock, playing with a passion that transfers to the audience, as heads nod and hips inevitably give way to shaking to the slinky grooves. Although one of their slower numbers, set opener 'Sekou Oumarou' unwinds around call-and-response vocals, as the group ease into their full flow, with 'Nick' rolling on a Canned Heat boogie riff, with some dramatic breakdowns. Garba's sinewy guitar playing mixes bluesy riffs with highlife rhythms and hypnotic solos as Oumar and Nat lock into relentless trance-inducing grooves. Frontman Aliou delivers his lines with an emotive intensity and interacts with each band member, with off-mic yells and shoulder strutting dance moves as, track by track, the group build and build their intertwining polyrhythmic sounds to frenetic levels.
By the final two numbers, forthcoming single 'Al Hassidi Terei' and 'Soubour' there is a real party atmosphere in the crowded room. As the group are cheered back onstage for an encore, just to make sure you don't forget it, they play 'Al Hassidi Terei' again, so the repeated chorus melody is fully stuck in your head, the track's descending riff an example of why their refreshing sound has been described as 'desert R&B'. Together Songhoy Blues are something else and, having resisted being silenced, the smiles on their faces at the end of the show defy the experiences that brought them together as they are now getting to see the world playing their music.

The music you are playing has a different feel to what listeners here may have heard before from Mali, like Ali Farka Touré - who I know you have connections to and have played his music as well - and then Tuareg bands like Tinariwen and Tamikrest. I've seen it described as 'desert R&B', is that a fair description?

Garba Touré: There are plenty of similarities from Ali Farka Touré for sure, but also from the Tuareg people like Tinariwen. At the same time we have our own influences other than those we were talking about before. If you listen to a track like 'Soubour,' for example, it has nothing to do with Ali Farka, it's nothing to do with Tinariwen. We have set up our own sound - and now when you listen to that it is Songhoy Blues. But if you take another track, like 'Irganda', this is more similar to what Ali Farka could be doing.

Before you came to Bamako, what were your musical projects?

GT: Aliou was working with a band in Gao and I was playing as a guitarist in a band in a town close to Timbuktu, and at the same time we were students, and while we were students we always played music as well. We were playing in different cities in the north, there were plenty of festivals, like Festival au Désert, it was easy to play and I have played there with another band, and then we had to face the problems. After that we had to go to Bamako.

Marc, how did the group come to your attention?

Marc-Antoine Moreau: I was cutting music [in Mali] for the Maison Des Jeunes project, and I went there two weeks before and I went all over Bamako and everywhere. I have known Bamako for over 20 years and a sound engineer, who used to do sound for them in a small bar, talked to me and said, "Oh, you should check out this band, they are from Timbuktu, they are very interesting." And so I went to a bar called Tropicana and the music was amazing, kind of what you are listening to now, blues rock, with that strong influence, and I just really loved it. I am good friends with Nick Zinner and when he arrived to work on the project I was sure that this band was dedicated to work with Nick for sure.

They did one track for the Maison Des Jeunes project and after they came to London for the launch show for the album [at Oval Space in December 2013] and it was really cool. Nick was there and I asked if he was open to going back, and he said yes, and we made the album in April, four months later.

Was there much input from yourself and Nick in the sound?

MAM: It's really what they play. I remember in February we wanted to record all the songs we could as demos before we recorded in April and I sent that to Nick and then we talked together and we decided to go to Bamako to make a selection of the tracks and work with them, but it is basically their stuff. The impact is about a few guitars that Nick has brought into it, and how we treat the song and a few things that we add on top. But it is not an overproduced project, that was not the goal.

Over the last year things have moved really quickly, from playing back home, to coming here and playing with Damon Albarn this weekend at the Royal Albert Hall…

GT: It is fast, but it depends on the competency of the manager!
MAM: But I would say they are so good. And that is the main thing. And it is true that what has happened in one year's time - I met them a year ago - is amazing. But it is also amazing to get a band that is only two years old who has got that element and that efficiency, and it is really them. But for Garba, living in a musical family, hearing Ali Farka every day, and Aliou being really committed to his lyrics and his writing - nothing happens by hazard. And if it goes that quick, it is because they are that good!

Aliou, can you please explain the meaning and message of 'Soubour'?

Aliou Touré: 'Soubour' is about patience. And in life, for all you intend to do, you need patience and you need to be courageous and patient to get what you want. We have been patient and we were all expecting something to come, but we were not imagining that what would come first was a war that has obliged us to go to Bamako, to set up a new band there and meet the people from Africa Express and from there going to now. We were not expecting that even if we were waiting for something to come. So the theme of patience is all about that. There is a proverb: "Do what you need to do and desire will come by itself."

And the new single 'Al Hassidi Terei', can you tell us about that?

AT: It is about selfishness. In Africa, for example, sometimes if things don't move that much sometimes it is because people are a bit selfish, so it's all about that and we try to avoid this. Because it is only all together that things are possible.

The album's closing tracks, 'Mali' and 'Desert Melodie' seem to have a nostalgia for the country as you may want to remember it.

AT: In the track 'Mali', it is really a picture of the country at the moment and I am using the first president of Mali, Modibo Keïta [in office 1960-68], and I am asking what he would think about what Mali has become now. So this is really a picture of what Mali is today, so I would not say it is that optimistic. And 'Desert Melodie' is mainly about the jihadist guys, who don't let us play music and say that if you don't pray you are not a good Muslim man and that you are not allowed to play music. Those people have said that we are not good Muslims, and yet the Tomb of Askia [believed to be the burial place of one of the Songhai Empire's most prolific emperors, Askia Mohammad I] in Gao has existed for ages, for centuries, and this is a Muslim thing, and also the Sidi Yahya Mosque in Timbuktu, these are very strong Muslim things and we cannot hear that we are not good Muslims.

You also feature in the new film, They Will Have To Kill Us First. How did you get involved in that?

GT: After we came to London, Andy Morgan, who is part of Africa Express and a journalist, went to Mali in February with the film crew who were starting this movie. He introduced them to us as they were looking for bands coming from the north and the story of Songhoy Blues fitted in with the way the movie was being made. The question that Aliou is asking in that video is that if there were no wars and no cries then maybe this band would never have existed, so that is a positive thing.

 What is your message now about what is happening in your country when you play to people outside of Mali?

GT: We are here to promote our culture and we want to play our music to the maximum amount of people and we want to show the world that we are Malian music, and within Malian music we are the Songhai music.

Originally published @
on 27th January 2015

Mar 20, 2015

Ethiopian Groove: Akalé Wubé - Sost

In their 6 years of existence, Akalé Wubé have never stopped widening the canvas onto which they lay their music, which keeps becoming richer and deeper just like their primary source of inspiration: the popular Ethiopian repertoire of the 60s and 70s. The band started off by covering music from the “Ethiopiques” series, after which they immersed themselves deeper into Ethiopian music, all the while multiplying their collaborations with musicians and dancers from Ethiopia, Africa and Europe. Slowly but surely, clocking in at around 200 concerts in Europe, Asia and Africa, the band has become one of the world’s leading ambassadors of Ethiopian groove.

Whilst Akalé Wubé’s third album, Sost (“three” in Amharique) is perfectly in line with their previous records, it is also a testament to a more mature and experienced band, who have proved able to win over different audiences in different circumstances with their infectious grooves. While touring in Ethiopia, the band realised that local musicians had stopped playing music from the Swinging Addis golden age. A puzzling but liberating discovery that convinced the band to completely stand behind their project, and release three albums to date.

More than half of the tracks in “Sost” are original compositions, with the other half being songs discovered on old cassette tapes brought back from Ethiopia. Akalé Wubé have invited the radiant Genet Asefa on three tracks, an Ethiopian singer with whom they have often shared the stage. Cautious to give precedence to authentic encounters, the band have chosen only to invite musicians with whom they have already played in a live context. Manu Dibango’s presence on the album is not an opportunistic move: there are strong human and musical ties between the afro-jazz pioneer and Akalé Wubé. Another sign of the band’s high quality expectations is that the album has been recorded in a studio set up by the band itself in the heart of Paris. This is a space that Akalé Wubé have made their own and which has permitted them to master completely the process of recording this album.

Far from being a devout tribute, or an obsolete copy, “Sost” is the album where all forms of ethio-grooves are restored and reborn.

Mar 19, 2015

Interview with Steven Hendel (producer of "Finding Fela")

Afropop Worldwides Sean Barlow recently spoke with Steve Hendel, the visionary producer behind the acclaimed, Tony-winning Broadway show Fela! and the new documentary film Finding Fela.

Sean Barlow: Steve, why don’t you introduce yourself. 

Steve Hendel: My name is Steve Hendel. I have a tremendous interest in music and always felt that music was the way I got in touch with emotions, big feelings, feelings of universal brotherhood and struggle. I have been inspired by music in many ways and my whole experience with Fela came out of my interest in music and my willingness to explore and listen to music of people who I’d never heard of before.

Tell us more about what drew you to Fela, and your earliest memories of when you heard him.

Well, I heard Fela sometime around the year 2000 for the first time, and I was literally introduced to Fela by the Amazon algorithm. I was on Amazon and it popped up, “If you liked this artist, then try this artist” and it was Fela Kuti. It was an album, a double CD called The Best Best of the Black President, with this really interesting yellow and orange cover. I’m not sure what I had bought that led the algorithm to attach Fela to it but I looked at it and I read a little bit of the blurb and I said, “OK, I’ll buy that and see what it’s like.”

I remember when it came. I never download music; I always buy something physical, and while I have a turntable it’s been a long time since I used it and so I live in the CD world. I listen to a lot of CDs in my car. It’s a joke in my family that the backseat of my car has 50 CDs all over the place and if the car gets filled up, people have to be careful not to step on the CDs and ruin them. But I bought this, and I’m so thankful I bought a CD instead of downloading it because it had this amazing booklet that was written and organized by Rikki Stein, who I had no idea who he was, and the booklet explained the songs. It talked about the context and a little bit of what the songs were about, since Fela was singing in pidgin, and it also had this essay about Fela’s funeral that Rikki had written. I put the first CD on, the first song was “Lady” and within 30 seconds I was saying, “What is this? What is this music? This music is overpoweringly great!” And it just continued and continued and continued–that song and then “Shakara” and then “Water No Get Enemy” and then “Zombie” and “Sorrow, Tears and Blood,” “ITT”–and as I got into it, the music, I thought, was the most beautiful, most kinetic, and most powerful music I had ever heard. And the songs, what Fela was singing about, blew my mind. “Zombie,” “ITT” and then “Sorrow, Tears and Blood,” and “Coffin For Head of State,” those four songs. Here was this person writing this genius music that I’m sort of convinced is in our original DNA as humanoids, sort of electrified and arranged like Charlie Mingus on LSD and that this was the music that we would celebrate the birth of a child, victory over a war with another tribe, killing a juicy wildebeast, this was the music of our primal roots. But what he was singing about was standing up against abusive oppression and refusing to back down–suffering, defiance, social justice, human dignity–and I just was carried away by it.

So it was both a combination of the power of the music and also the real substantive content. Were you engaged in politics as a young person growing up?

Well, I grew up in the ’60s and I grew up in the counterculture. I wasn’t in the SDS but I went to demonstrations, and I certainly have always had a progressive political orientation.

So you, of course, produced Fela on Broadway, and we’ve covered that a lot, so I want to focus our conversation on the Finding Fela film. So you had this run on Broadway and you toured the country, and even took it overseas and to Europe and Nigeria. So why make a film?

First of all, that’s a very interesting question. One answer to that is, film is a very different medium than a theater piece and when we created the musical, what we had to do was to create something that had a lot of entertainment content. We couldn’t tell Fela’s story. What we could do was create an impression; we could create an event, around Fela’s story. But it had to have a lot of great music, a lot of great dancing, great visuals, and we told a slice of the story. We really told the story of 1977, with some flashbacks and then made-up trips to the underworld, meeting his dead mother and all that stuff. So our purpose in making the musical was to create a great theatrical event, and I think everyone connected with the making of the musical had a life-changing experience. But we didn’t tell the story of Fela. When we made the musical–we created the musical from scratch in rehearsal rooms through a process of improvisation, and artistic creativity led by Bill T. Jones. I could see that what we were doing had the potential of being something really special and I kept saying to myself, “My gosh, I have the rights to tell the story of Fela Kuti and use his music and the man who is leading the artistic creation is America’s greatest performance creator and greatest performance artist and what I can see happening is sort of unique.”

I made arrangements. I asked our projection designer Peter Negrini, who is a wonderful artist, if he knew any documentary filmmakers who could come and film the process of the artists creating the show and he recommended a young woman, a lovely, talented young woman named Nara Garber. When she was free and they were working, she would come when she could and she would spend the day, just as a fly on the wall, watching the creative process and Bill was gracious enough to wear a mic so by the time the show was off Broadway, I had 250 hours of film of the show being created from scratch, the creative process from 2006 to 2008, including the off-Broadway show. When you go on Broadway, it’s union and they have all these rules. It’s really counter-productive, the rules, in terms of filming and things like that. Really in my own opinion it’s a disservice to the project and to the performers, frankly. We couldn’t film it. The cost was too high. When Femi Kuti came to the Broadway show and went on stage and told the audience what his feelings were, which might have been the most dramatic moment of the entire run, we couldn’t film it. But anyway, I had 250 hours of footage, and I had the good fortune of being invited to perform in Nigeria and having spent all this time filming.

Invited by whom, by the way?

We were invited really by the Governor of Lagos, by the Governor Tinubu, the ex-Governor of Lagos. We had a few other sponsors, but that was the prime sponsor. I wanted to have it filmed. Because I knew it would be amazing to go Lagos with the original cast and mount the original production. And when I say mount the original production, when we left Broadway and I took the set, I didn’t put it in a warehouse somewhere in the United States, I put it on a container ship and literally sent it to Nigeria because we were taking the original set, the original costumes, the original projection computer and the original cast and we were going to do eight Broadway shows in Lagos and we were also, before the Broadway shows in Lagos, doing a special command performance for Femi Kuti and Yeni Kuti and the family at the New Afrika Shrine, and I wanted it documented. One of the people who was a big fan of the show, who was previously in documentary film community, had arranged for a bunch of documentary film people to see the show, one of whom was Alex Gibney.

In Lagos?

No, on Broadway. They had loved the show and I had been told that Alex Gibney would love to possibly do a documentary about it. So I spoke with Alex. I was introduced to Alex by this woman, and Alex said that he thought taking the Broadway show to Lagos could make for a very interesting film and he’d be interested in directing it. He suggested a line producer named Jack Gulick, and Jack Gulick brought along one Alex’s top-notch international film crews and so I took a film crew with me to Lagos where, over the course the two weeks or three weeks we were in Lagos, we filmed over 250 hours of footage. We filmed the concert version of the show that we did at the New Afrika Shrine and we filmed one of the full Broadway shows that we did at the Echo Exhibition hall and we interviewed all the cast members, all the people involved in the production, we interviewed Femi, Yeni, and Seun Kuti in their homes, we went on a tour to the Shrine, we went on a tour to Kalakuta, and we had a Nigerian film crew at the same time. And we had 250 hours of footage of the experience of being in Lagos. We did not have a film about taking the show to Lagos. We did not film the whole setting up of the production.

Flying on the airplane or whatever…

Well, we had footage of the cast flying on the airplane but we don’t have footage at four in the morning of them setting up the lights and the projections because it was very logistically complicated. It was a very challenging experience getting the show up and getting the tickets up and getting everything going so we did not film that. And coming back, Alex and I sat and talked and that’s really when I made Alex aware that I had the 250 hours of footage of making the Broadway show. We thought about it and we thought that what we should do is get an archivist–and Jack Gulick was part of the discussion–and start finding all the footage we could about Fela and tell the story, tell the full story, because in a film you can tell a much more extensive timeline story than you can in musical theater presentation where you’re trying to provide a tremendous amount of music and entertainment. So for several years we scoured the world for material, and eventually Alex went and interviewed again many of the key figures in Fela’s life, interviewed the family, but we ended up in the end having 1600 hours of footage.

That’s a lot of logging to do.

A lot of logging to do. And we restored footage that we found and a young woman named Lindy Jankura spent two years in an editing room, distilling it down, and then distilling it down, and then distilling it down.

She was the editor?

She was the editor.

Which is really in a way being the director?

Well, let me say that she was great. She did an amazing job and then she was finished and then what she did was she took a three month vacation and when I next saw her she looked so young and beautiful and so refreshed, I couldn’t believe it. But yeah, she would bring stuff to Alex and Alex would make her go back and make it better. And Alex was very involved but it was a very full process. We took the 1600 hours and we distilled it down to 2 hours worth of material.

Were you involved in that?

Oh yeah.

You were commenting on all that footage?

Sure, I was involved. I was commenting. I’d come once every couple of weeks and look at the footage, look at the edit and as it got to where we had a four-hour version, they got it down to three hours without showing me and then we got it down to two hours and 30 minutes and there were certain things I wanted in the movie. I wanted the movie to be more than just a biopic of Fela, and more than just a series of YouTube clips of him performing. I wanted it to be about the power of legacy, the power of creativity. I mean, here’s this man. He lived in Nigeria, he died, and a decade later this group of artists were inspired by him and created a work inspired by him on their own–I’m talking about the Broadway show–then we brought it to Lagos and we redefined his legacy in Lagos. So I wanted it to be about inspiration, creativity, the transference of ideas and influences and emotions between continents. Because it’s an amazing story–this young African man who travels, he gets to L.A. in 1969, he meets a woman who introduces him to the ferment of black political and social thought, it opens his mind, he goes back to Africa a different person through the experience of being exposed to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and Nina Simone and what’s going on in the States and he creates this politicized, social content music that’s also inspired by James Brown and jazz and Miles Davis and then it goes back to the United States where this group of artists and musicians create this seething Broadway show and I thought that was part of the story.

So the film tells the story of Fela. It’s impossible to tell the whole story of Fela. I hate reading reviews where the reviewer says, whether it’s about the movie or it’s about the Broadway show, “Why didn’t they do more with this? Why didn’t they do more with that? Why didn’t they tell this part of the story? Why didn’t they mention this?” Well, yeah, I always say to myself, “Look, buddy, contact the family and get the rights and do your own movie or your own musical and you can tell whatever story you want.” I mean the human attention span is shorter now than it ever was. The documentary is two hours long, it’s actually like one hour 59 minutes and 30 seconds. Most documentaries are 90 minutes. The attention span for a documentary filmgoer is frequently challenged after 90 minutes. I think we made a film that flies and I think that most people find it incredibly compelling so I’m very proud of that, but you only have a certain amount of time to tell the story that you want and Fela’s story is monumentally complicated, it’s monumentally rich. It’s, in a sense, the story of Nigeria. His family, from his grandfather through to his kids is the story of Nigeria. It has huge themes, besides musical themes. It has the themes of colonization, dehumanization, Christianity, Islam–Christianity and Islam as vestigial remains of the colonial powers–true indigenous culture, all the musical themes, the theme of the American civil rights movement, the disappointment of independence, military dictatorships, oppression, struggle.

The oil economy.

The oil economy, the Biafran civil war, And then the cost of losing his mother and being oppressed. And the cost wasn’t just going to jail or being beaten or losing all your money but the cost turns out to be being taken advantage of by fakes and losing your livelihood, losing your band, and then losing your balance, your mental balance. Being incapable of understanding the disease that’s killing you. Really, the cost of what he did is the last 30 or 40 minutes of the movie. The price he paid. And it’s a price that unfolded over two decades. Anyway, that’s the story of how we made the movie. We opened at Sundance. It was so much fun.

Did you fly out the cast?

Yeah, I flew out Yeni Kuti, Sandra Issadore, Sahr Ngaujah, the originator of the role on Broadway, came. The Fela band played. And then everyone in my family wanted to come. All my kids wanted to come. My daughter who has three young children, she said, “Look I want to see it.” And she came for the opening. And I remember afterwards, she looked at me and said, “I thought that what you were doing was crazy but now I see what the movie is and oh my God, it’s so fantastic.”

Are there plans to screen the film in Nigeria?

We’re having a theatrical run in Nigeria. We passed the Nigerian censors with no cuts, no issues but we are rated R, which is fine.

No kids under 17?

No kids under 17 admitted without their parents? I don’t know what it means in Nigeria but we’re going to be commercially in the movie theaters there next week. And over the next course of time we’ll roll out the film in other countries. We’re going to be on video on demand I think October 31st in the U.S. We’re going to be on iTunes in November. We’re going to be releasing a DVD in January. I think we’ll be on Netflix at some point in 2015. We’re doing screenings across the country for events, like your event–so in Portland, OR, as a fundraiser for Afropop, we are donating the film for a screening.

So are the screenings going to be one by one, or simultaneously?

As we have opportunity. For updates we have a Finding Fela Facebook page, with a list of all of the screenings. And the website will have the listing and use the hashtag #findingfela. We’ve partnered with Give A Hope Foundation to bring the film and introduce audiences to Fela’s culture with screenings, music and culinary events at some of the most popular Nigerian restaurants across the country, so if you’re a Fela fan and you’d like to attend something like that and learn more those are going to be wonderful events.

And Give A Hope Foundation is an American nonprofit or is it a Nigerian nonprofit?

It’s an American nonprofit. This is in the U.S., these are U.S. screenings. We’ve partnered with Tugg, an innovative company that allows the fans to bring the screening to their city or their community venue and use it as a fundraiser. So the site is and visit the website there and click on host or screening. We’re looking for people who want to host and sponsor and work on a Tugg screening. If you live in Charleston, WV, Birmingham, AL, Akron, OH, Montpelier, VT, Eugene, OR, this film is not likely to be playing at your multiplex and you mostly likely don’t have an arts film presenter presenting it so if you want to see the film, you contact us on our Facebook page or our website and say “Hey, I’m here and I’d really like to help organize a screening,” and we’ll work with you to organize a screening. Just so people understand, in many places where there are multiplexes and there are these monster franchise films, designed for 22 year-olds, they only go to the movies on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday is dead time, so if we can organize enough of an audience, we can rent the theater inexpensively and we’ll show Finding Fela at a cinema at 7:00 on a Monday or Tuesday night instead of seeing the latest Disney animation film. So we’re trying to get film out there in all sorts of ways…

There’s something great about seeing this movie in a real movie theater because it’s two hours long and it has one hour and 53 minutes of spectacular music and the visuals are amazing.

You feel a much bigger impact if you’re in a theater.

Yeah, this film has a much bigger impact if you’re in a movie theater. I guess most films do, but this film…. And then you have the collective experience with an audience that gets drawn into the subject matter and the presentation the way you do.

So we talked a little bit about this, in terms of thinking about the film, what went into it. Of course there’s the archival footage, which you so diligently, as you described, hunted down and made look as good as possible. There’s the footage from the Broadway musical, and then there’s the behind the scenes, Bill T. Jones talking about …
And there are the interviews.

Of course, there are the interviews with Fela’s kids. And that leads to my next question, because a lot of times with children of famous people–artists, politicians, whatever–it’s not easy to be a child of a really famous person sometimes and they can tend to be pretty protective, pretty reticent, like, “Why are you bugging me?” So I’m just wondering how you saw the process. First you invited Fela’s kids to come and see the show on Broadway and then, I think that was one of the most successful parts of the film was listening to Femi, Yeni and Seun because they are just such a moving manifestation of their father and how funny and incisive they are. But did you see a process where first they went, “Who are you?” but then getting more and more comfortable talking about their father, really, and their memories. And being comfortable being filmed so that they would be able to be in the film. Describe that process.

First of all, it’s one of the most wonderful aspects of the film–one of the most emotional aspects of the film–the way the family embraces what the film is. By the time I started working on the film, I had a relationship with the family because they had seen the musical several times and we had developed a relationship. And I think the family came to see the musical as this vehicle that just reawakened interest in their father and in the family and in their grandmother, and in the story of what the family stands for and what happened to the family in a way that nothing else had been able to do, and that it had been done it with respect and authenticity and consideration. So the family developed a relationship with me and with the artists where the foundation was that they trusted our approach to the legacy of their family and you know, Femi said, and has said, that when his father died he wanted to get his father’s legacy known to the world and be preserved.

Through Femi as an artist?

He wanted to do it through him as an artist, but he wanted the world to know who his father was, what his father had done, what his father had gone through, how his family had suffered, what his family stood for and what had happened in their country and the situation of the country. And I think he saw that that was beginning to be achieved through the musical and that progress and that process could be moved forward through the film. And I think all of the family members participated feeling the film was another step and another way of making their story known to the world. And I think the level of participation and embrace and extension–you know the film in many ways is really their film, and not my film or Alex Gibney’s film.

It’s a portrait of Fela and his family.

Yeah, in the truest sense of the word, it’s really their film, and the reason why you get that sense and how the film achieves that level of legitimacy is because they made it possible for the film to represent the family in the world. You’ve seen the film–am I exaggerating?

No. For me the strongest parts of it were seeing Fela over time, through video documentation that I’ve never seen before and hearing him speak. You know, I’ve seen him on the stage several times. I saw him perform maybe three or four times. But it’s different when he’s actually talking on a topic. But then I think the most powerful thing is hearing his kids, who obviously love him and respect him but he’s such a complicated figure, you know? He’s not your normal dad.

No, no, no, and the kids are carrying on the family’s legacy. I mean, now it’s their legacy. They are out there with the message of social justice, commitment, dispossession, human dignity, and doing it both through their music and through their presence and their spokesmanship.

But think about what I was saying about being the son or daughter of a famous person. I can’t say I follow Ziggy Marley. I was a huge fan of Bob Marley, and we all know how hugely influential Bob Marley was and still is. I think Fela’s in the same league as Bob Marley as an artist and global force.

Well, look, I think it’s very complicated. I think it’s a huge responsibility, it’s a huge burden. I’m sure that Femi and Seun and Yeni, and she’s not a musician the way that Femi and Seun are, I’m sure they carry that burden of being Fela’s son and being musicians as well, it’s monumental. And I think they’ve managed, with a great deal of effort on their part–physical, mental, and psychological–to carry that burden as part of themselves and have their arms around that burden, but I’m not sure that it was a straight line getting to that point, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for what they’ve done because it’s harder having that burden than not having that burden, for sure. To me, the legacy of Fela is profound. I mean Fela literally sacrificed his life to stand up for the voiceless in Nigeria and Africa, OK?

And all around the world.

And all around the world. He literally died to do that. He refused to ever leave Nigeria. He refused to ever back down. I mean, what always blew my mind when I was thinking about the whole thing at the beginning was, “What kind of person was this?” This guy was the greatest musician, the greatest composer, the coolest guy. He could have gone to London, Paris, New York, L.A. and been a hero of the world’s record industry, film industry, pop culture. He could have been a multimillionaire selling out Madison Square Garden having groupies, hanging out with Bono, political figures, whoever he wanted to. I’m just making this up a little bit but, you know, instead, he was basically in Nigeria, living in poverty, putting out another record telling the oppressors that they’re evil and that he will not back down, and getting the shit kicked out of him, only to do it again. What kind of person would do that? And in the end he gave his life doing that. So to me, it’s the biggest story of a musician in my lifetime. I mean, it makes me very emotional, but I don’t think I’m overstating it. You know, there are other musicians that have stood up and been counted and suffered and been exiled but nothing of this intensity.

We could go on and on about this, but we don’t need to compare him to other people. I mean, it is interesting to think, though, what made the difference?

Well, it’s also that he and Marley, as you mentioned, they’re the two leading world music figures.

Leading figures who are really talented, and had a political consciousness, and connected to people.

And the main incident in their lives, the formative event where the rubber hit the road between the music and the social content, took place in 1977. That’s when Bob Marley was shot at and had that famous concert in Kingston (with rival politicians on stage) and went into exile and that’s when also Kalakuta in Lagos was burned to the ground.

I think they would have enjoyed each other. OK, we talked about the kids. Something that’s interesting, as you said, the Fela on Broadway had the main motivating priority, it has to be entertaining, it has to have a lot of music, a lot of dancing and so on, and the film platform allows a lot broader storytelling and in fact, if it was all singing and dancing it would not be very interesting, but I’m sure you’ve read this before, there’s some things that are revealed in the movie that are not revealed in the musical. For instance, the fact that Fela was battling AIDS and his brother/doctor who said, the day after Fela died, that everyone should know Fela died of AIDS. So some critics of the Broadway play, as I’m sure you’ve heard, say that there’s important aspects of Fela’s life that were not covered, as in AIDS and so on, but was the movie in a way your answer to that criticism that you wanted to tell a broader story?

Well, again, the question of Fela’s death by AIDS and the musical was something we wrestled with from the beginning to the end, literally. And there’s a way we could have dealt with it. We could have just put up on that last projection that he died of AIDS. And we chose not to, because, first of all, the musical was not a biopic of Fela. The musical was a theatrical expression of how Fela’s legacy and music inspired us. And the legacy of Fela is not that he died of AIDS. The legacy of Fela is that he had this vision of using music as a weapon to fight for justice. That was the legacy of Fela. And I felt very strongly that adding his death of AIDS would detract from the focus on the core legacy. You know, AIDS is less of an issue now, but there’s been a historical question of issues of stigma. AIDS is a complicated thing.

Especially in Africa.

And it was more complicated in 2008, when we first performed the show off Broadway, than it is today, but I just didn’t want to detract from the core message of the show. We were criticized for that and I understand it, and I particularly understand it because one of the great moments of the show was when Columbia University School of Public Health did a fundraiser and alumni team-building effort at the theater and a magnificent professor, Professor El-Sadr, who has used the school as a platform for leading AIDS prevention and AIDS treatment in centers throughout Africa spoke and she said that when Fela died of AIDS, it was a wake-up call to Africa, more than when Rock Hudson died of AIDS here. Because it wasn’t just that a famous person that all Africans knew died of AIDS, but Fela Anikulapo Kuti, he who has death in his pouch, who nobody can kill, who the government of Nigeria could not kill, AIDS killed. And if AIDS could kill Fela, it can kill you. And it had a different message; it was really more significant. And maybe leaving it out…maybe we should have put it in that context. But in any event, for the movie, it gave us a chance to include it. It’s a very interesting story. We had amazing footage. I mean that scene where Fela’s brother describes it, you see these men in the audience standing around hearing it. You watch them shift the weight on their legs, you look at the expression on their faces. It’s like “Holy shit!” I mean you can see that–it’s really very subtle but really there. You know I think it’s an example of what you can do in a film that you can’t do in the musical. If I had to subtitle part of the film, I would say “The Price Fela Paid.” The musical was about the legacy and there’s none of the price Fela paid. I mean obviously there’s part of the price he paid in the musical.

Being in detention and so on.

Well, I think really the price he paid in the musical is the loss of his mother, which is the emotional center of the musical and that’s part of the price he paid. But the film has 20 years of the price he paid and look, they’re companion pieces in many respects. I think roughly a million people saw the musical. I’m hoping more people over time see the film. I think Alex Gibney and the team did a wonderful job. I think it will be the definitive documentary about Fela, although I don’t want to discourage other people from making documentaries about Fela because I think it’s an amazing subject and I certainly would admire and support anyone who takes it on.

And wish them good luck.

And wish them good luck.

So I can see that whole course you were talking about, it’s complicated. But I see your motivation to keep it focused on Fela and the price he paid and the musical legacy. And certainly if you hadn’t included it in the film, that would have been an absence, but the film deals with it. When I’ve seen Femi in concert, he basically talks about it “OK, all you kids out there, if you’re going home tonight with someone, be sure to use a condom.” So he’s, I think, extending that part of his father’s legacy that was not in his father’s performance but he’s making sure it’s in his performance.

What I should also mention is that we have a soundtrack album. I said the film has an hour and 52 minutes of music. Well, the film has music from the beginning until the end and the soundtrack has really the arc of his entire career. There’s some very fun things on the soundtrack. The “Zombie” version on the soundtrack is done by the Broadway band, which is sort of fun. And the finale of the film, which was the encore of the musical performed at the New Afrika Shrine in Lagos, and Femi playing the sax solo. On the soundtrack is the full 18 minute encore version of “Colonial Mentality.” And I have to say, for me, I think it’s the most exciting 18 minutes of live musical performance ever recorded. I’m obviously too close to it, in part because he talks about the show and he talks about the cast.

I saw the movie but, no, I haven’t heard the full version.

You should listen to it, and then let me know what you think. I mean it is so f**king hot. It is so cool. And then periodically he just talks and talks about how Fela has blessed everyone who’s come and what the show means.

Femi’s very impressive.

Oh my God …

He’s just so smart and funny…

And he understands the biggest picture as well as the nitty gritty. That big picture–it’s such an impressive family. This family is literally at the forefront of speaking out for justice in Africa.

So you told us about what’s next for the film going through Africa and I guess one question I thought of is, besides telling the story and getting it out there to young people, what do you hope showing this film in different African countries in 2014-15 might accomplish?

Well, I believe in social justice. I believe that people should be treated with human dignity. I think that vast inequalities of wealth are bad. I think that corruption is bad. I think people have a right to demand that they be properly treated, properly governed and that society function in a way that’s beneficial for everybody. Now this is not specifically an African comment, because I’m talking about everywhere. One of the reasons I was motivated in the first place is corruption in Nigeria, how different is it than corruption in the United States. We’ve got this whole thing called K Street. And it’s pretty blatant out there–“I want this in the law, because I’m gonna make this money if I have this in the law and therefore I will give contributions to these politicians who will invite me to have special sessions with them if I give them more money, and I will have certain things done in the law that benefit me. And when the politician leaves office, the politician can go work and use his Rolodex to funnel money from business through to the politicians. I mean, it’s sort of corrupt, you know? I mean, I don’t know where it compares on the corruption scale to other places but it seems to me to be a form of corruption and qualitatively doesn’t seem to have a much better smell, so I think that the message of Fela to me is working for a better society and inspiring people to demand what they should be entitled to.

Tanzania is a pretty clean country, with a democratically elected president. The thing that people don’t realize is that some African countries have gotten a lot better in terms of true democracy. Of course there’s always this kind of stuff, like influence peddling, but still, the vote is the vote and it’s improved.

It’s improved, and it’s not all the way there but it’s making progress in the right direction.

But some of these countries, I’d think they’d be threatened by “Finding Fela.” The authorities would look at it and go, “Oh, I don’t know if I want our young kids looking at this thing.”

Yeah, they may feel that way. I don’t know. I mean, look, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that, you know, since we brought Fela the musical to Lagos, the government has rehabilitated Fela. The government of Lagos spent money and renovated Kalakuta and turned it into a museum.

That’s a surprise. 

Yeah, with restaurant and a hotel. You know, there was a piece of theater a week ago in Lagos about Fela in Kalakuta, recreating or dramatizing Kalakuta, and there’s a statue in Lagos right now of Beko (the brother of Fela.)

The brother. Is he still alive?

No, he’s dead. Look how politicians, how governments relate to Fela–unfortunately they have to. I guess the communist Chinese can put away an inconvenient truth, but Fela, he’s a musician, people hear the music, they know the music is out there, the music’s really compulsive, there’s YouTube and everything. And he was flawed. I think that comes through in the movie. He was complicated. I always sort of think that the flaws come in part because of the isolation and pain of sticking with it. All I know is, I couldn’t be arrested 200 times, I couldn’t spend much time in a Nigerian jail, I certainly wouldn’t like to be beaten up more than once in my life.

Or your mother …

Or have my mother thrown out a window. I mean, where did he get the courage? Where did he get the stubbornness? I don’t know, and the cost of having it … I understand not being able to back down. I understand that to leave a beating or an arrest or a confrontation, and leave it a beaten person. And have all those people that counted on you realize that the government had finally broken you, and the loss of respect you might feel for yourself or you realize the cost of what that is, I understand that. But you know, he just did something that had a tremendous cost.

Thanks Steve for sharing your thoughts on the making  of  “Finding Fela.”

Thanks Sean. I appreciate it.

Afropop Worldwide

Mar 17, 2015

Ethio-Soul from Australia: Dereb the Ambassador

Dereb Desalegn (aka Dereb the Ambassador) is well known on the streets of Addis Ababa as one of Ethiopia’s most respected singers.

Born in Ethiopia, Dereb grew up amongst a family of musicians, completely immersed in his home country’s rich melange of sounds, rhythms and musical styles. Dereb’s extraordinary vocal talent was recognised early on, with his first performances at the age of 4. With parent mentors by his side he went from strength to strength, adding a Masenqo, the single-stringed Ethiopian spike fiddle, to his repertoire by the age of 10. By his teens he was drawing crowds in the bars of Addis Ababa and around Ethiopia.

In 2003 Dereb recorded his first solo album ‘Korkorow Yalew’ from which the hit single ‘Wollo’, reached number one on the Ethiopian charts. Dereb has since toured in America, England, Asia, New Zealand and Australia where he currently resides.

On arriving in Sydney, Dereb collaborated with producer Tony Buchen, to put together his latest project, assuming the moniker Dereb the Ambassador, after a title given to him years earlier by the Ethiopian media.

The first album under this new title, released in 2011, was recorded using pre-1970’s recording equipment, and is influenced by the warm, funky sounds of great Ethiopian artists from of the 60’s and 70’s such as Mulatu Astatke and Mahmoud Ahmed, who have gained a resurgence of interest through the ‘Ethiopiques’ series and Jim Jarmouche’s film ‘Broken Flowers’.

Having recently returned from a tour of Ethiopia, Dereb and his 8 piece band continue to develop new material and satisfying crowds with their gritty, addictive brand of Ethio-soul.

Dereb the Ambassador


In his native Ethiopia Dereb Desalegn has a devout following. In his adopted Australia, he’ll probably languish as a niche “world music” concern. Here's hoping he doesn't. With his seven-piece backing band, Desalegn is a traditionalist in a fairly remote field: his is a sound that combines Ethiopian folk music traditions with western jazz, a style that has seen a surge of interest over the last two decades thanks to the Ethiopiques compilation series. This style flourished from the mid-1960s and was quashed when the Dergue communist military junta sent most of its purveyors underground or overseas in the mid-1970s. On this record, Desalegn pays homage to many of the ethio-jazz founders featured on those compilations, including the style's pioneer Mulatu Astatke. He also tackles three traditional Ethiopian folk songs, and two of his own.

What results could be pegged as a beginners-guide to ethio-jazz for uninitiated listeners. It's more than that though, because Desalegn's voice – capable of straddling a myriad fervently felt emotions at once – is breathtaking. With a studio's modern bells and whistles at his disposal, Desalegn has rendered Alamayehu Eshete's 'Addis Ababa Bete' – an ecstatic and possessed “banger” limited by the original recording's treble-heavy production – into the type of shamanistic, bass-oriented rapture that teems into nerve endings you never knew were there. Desalegn's melismatic vocals seem to literally swirl in and out of the ensemble's components: cadences turn into false cues, decidedly un-Western chord progressions are crushed together, and the vocal sounds we commonly associate with particular feelings are upended. It feels like Desalegn's voice can fit multiple narratives and emotional trajectories into a single bar.

To a listener unfamiliar with ethio-jazz, what's immediately striking about Dereb the Ambassador is its affinities with modern psychedelic rock music. Indeed, strip these tracks of their dizzying and tangential African scales and the rhythm section plays out like a guns blazing power-trio, with Desalegn's voice visiting tonal regions previously off the map. But you wouldn't want to strip away anything, because Desalegn has recruited an ensemble of musicians whose unashamed technical nous doesn't preclude their ability to properly inhabit the material. In a word, these tracks exude all the delirium and otherworldliness that presumably attracted western vinyl collectors to this curious fusion to begin with. Here's hoping though, that Desalegn won't be permanently designated to the world music basket as a mere sample of an exotic culture, and will instead be welcomed as an artist whose work we can pour over and wonder at on its own terms.

by Shaun Prescott



  1. Addis Ababa Bete
  2. Etu Gela
  3. Ney Denun Tieshe
  4. Gonde
  5. Kulun
  6. Setaleygn
  7. Gedawo
  8. Yegale Tizeta
  9. Mela Mela
  10. Ayneiam
  11. Hiwot

Mar 16, 2015

From Puerto Rico: Bando

The proclamation of the race

The concepts that for decades have change the musical landscape not always make their emergence in the form of scholar statements made by the great academies of music. Neither do they get inside the mass psyche though bland and compromised commercial radio stations.

The sounds that have change the world since mid-20th Century, almost by default come in moments of great artistic desperation and cultural uncertainty on social rupture scenarios. They come to us unexpectedly and from the less predictable corner of the musical spectrum, with just a handful of powerful ideas which are ready to mortally wound the ever languishing and stagnated musical scene.

In that way, in rags but with an irrefutably powerful musical statement, Bando comes to the world’s musical scene.

Its name comes out of a piece of forgotten history of 19th Century Puerto Rico, which refers to the infamous Bando Contra la Raza Africana (The Proclamation Against the African Race): a series of bans made by the Spaniard Crown and promoted locally in 1848 by the then Spanish governor Juan Prim, which imposed the most absurd and brutal punishment to citizens from African descent –be them slaves or freed- out of fear of a negro revolt after the Haitian revolution of 1810.

However, this proclamation is musical, a proclamation for all the races that integrate the genetic pool of the Great Caribbean, that wishes to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that all different slopes of music created by the African diaspora unmistakably lead to the same starting place: Africa.

With barely two years of being formed, this sextet of veterans from the local musical scene -that includes Agustín “Chito” Criollo on bass guitar, Oscar Delgado on Latin percussion, Martín Latimer on rhythm guitar, Jerry “El Zambo” Rivera on lead vocals, Richard Torres on drums, and Gaby Vidal on lead, rhythmic and atmospheric guitars- have taken their distinct blend of Latin rock, Boricua afrofunk and afrobeat to world renowned platforms where have become the talk of the town.

Perhaps their biggest achievement to date – not considering the numerous live performances from the likes of their presentation of the March 2014 edition of the Heineken Ventana al Jazz and their opening show for salsa heavy weight Ismael Miranda on the Smithsonian American Sabor tour- has been becoming the first band in Puerto Rico to get signed by a Japanese independent music label (Barrio Gold Records), which released their debut album on January 2015.

Indisputably, 2015 marked the year that Bando exploded into the world musical scene becoming one of the most relevant musical groups in Puerto Rico since Puya. We only hope that 2016 will be the year that Bando conquers the world.



Bando come from San Juan, and bring to the game a unique fusion of afrobeat, classic funk, folkloric afropuertorican rythms, boogalo, jazz and progressive rock, penning their own style as afrogressive. The Puerto Rican band collects on this self-titled first CD album all its singles released since the summer of 2013, announcing great things for what's gonna come out next… We had picked them for our 4th 'Tropical Grooves & Afrofunk International' compilation, 'Have You Ever Been To Electric Afroland?' and now the band has licensing this debut album - with redesign cover art and new tracks - on the Japanese indie label Barrio Gold Records/Music Camp Entertainment so you should hear more about Bando in 2015….

01. Vuela 6:45
02. Serembe 8:18
03. La Clave 3:58
04. Oruro 5:53
05. Malambo 7:27
06. Alabanza 6:34
07. Suite Maria La O 9:59