May 12th, 2011

I was just going through the excellent compilation series Africa 50 Years of Music, recently released by Sterns Records, and came across this great track by Menwar.


Menwar is a singer and percussionist from Mauritius island, in the Indian Ocean. I just wrote a blog post about Danyel Waro from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, and it strikes me that there are strong similarities between the two. There is a lot of shared history between both islands, but just from listening you can hear the distinctive creole language and they both have gravelly, strong voices backed by trance like percussion.

Menwar is said to have helped modernize sega music- a traditional music form from the creole Indian ocean islands. He was named Artist of the Year by Radio France International in 2006.

Been researching music all morning for my commercial clients and finally came across something that brightened my mood.

The Owiny Sigoma Band was formed when 5 UK musicians went to Kenya to work on a music exchange music, organised by Betty Hughes and Aaron Abraham of the volunteer organisation The Art of Protest which promotes Kenyan music (can’t find more info on them online…). The UK musicians included Jesse Hackett, leader of the awesome electro funk group called Elmore Judd. The Kenyan musicians they were introduced to were Joseph Nyamungu, a master of the nyatiti (8-string lyre) in the Kenyan Luo tradition, as well as Charles Owoko, a drummer specialising in traditional Luo rhythms.


It’s interesting to see how African music is creeping into the indie pop mainstream, with groups like Vampire Weekend sporting African influenced guitar riffs, projects such as The Very Best, Daman Albarn’s collaborations with Amadou & Mariam, and the popularity of albums such as Best of Ethiopiques getting attention outside of the “world music” scene. Not to mention the trend of vintage recordings of African 60’s and 70’s funk and soul coming out on all kinds of labels. The constant ebb and flow of music influences across borders and oceans.

Now comes this interesting collaboration. There are already several things in its favor. Elmore Judd is an electro funk group that have a unique sound. The musicians they met up with, although I didnt know them previously, come from a old and rich musical tradition.

What I like most is the pared down but well thought out instrumentation. Tracks alternate with Jesse Hackett’s distinct singing on some, Luo chanting on others, solo electric guitar melodies and Joseph’s 8 stringed nyatiti, organ and compelling rhythms. Its at once simple, but entrancing with enough complexity and differences between tracks to keep you hooked.

Just realized that track 7 “Owegi Owandho” is in exactly the same entrancing style as Opondo Mugoye’s “Odhiambo Otieno”, track 5 on Limbalimba rock. It was from the East African 1925-48 recordings from the series The Secret Museum of Mankind. They are both from the Kenyan Luo music tradition. Have a listen:

New Luo -UK collab

Old Luo recording

Very exciting that UK musicians are discovering this kind of music and breathing new life into it by exposing it to new audiences and transforming it with their own influences.

Madala Kunene, Zulu guitar legend from South Africa. Just found a best of album “African Classics” and can’t stop listening. Soulful singing and melodies that are entrancing, rooted in Zulu music traditions and spirituality. “When I am playing, my brain is not there. Each time I go to a place I’ve never been before.”


Madala Kunene revived the ‘Madalaine’ style of guitar playing, combining blues & soul with African folk, and developing the trance – like quality of his Zulu folk singing.

“Although Kunene makes the routine musician’s complaints (radio doesn’t go for the “deep stuff”; most promoters are “only interested in money”; “there’s a minister for soccer but not music”), there’s nothing routine about his art. So fuck the McWorld and the kak it sells as soul. Madala Kunene’s alchemy is the real thing. Just do it. Open yourself to this natural mystic and his dwaal jol.” – Richard Pithouse, Green Left

Persian and Greek Lute

March 8th, 2011

A stunning collaboration between the Iranian Kamancheh player, Ardeshir Kamkar, and the Greek pontic lyra player Mathaios Tsahouridis.

The two instruments are related. From wiki: The kamānche or kamāncha (Persian: کمانچه ) is a Persian bowed string instrument related to the bowed rebab, the historical ancestor of the kamancheh and also to the bowed lira of the Byzantine Empire, ancestor of the European violin family.

While researching East African music for the Limbalimba rock playlist I came upon a beautiful song:

Its from an album called Songs the Swahili Sing, songs John Roberts Storm collected and recorded in Kenya and released on his label Original Music.


I had never come across Roberts before, but he was an avid collector, scholar, and lover of African and Latin music way before most people had heard any of it. I had recently been looking for a book that explores the influence African music has had on the Americas, and vice versa, and it seems Roberts has written several seminal books on the topic including The Latin Tinge (1979), about how early forms of Latin dance music influenced American pop music, Black Music of Two Worlds(1972) about the two way musical dialogue between Africa and the Americas, and Latin Jazz: The First of the Fusions, 1880s to Today (1999) on central figures in Latin jazz.

One of the most fascinating things to me about music is how it absorbs history, how it tells it own unsanctioned version, often in opposition or in resistance to the voices of power, taking in influences, distilling, discarding, constantly changing, living and breathing. Like languages. And how these histories are interwoven. Garifuna music from Belize, brought by escaped slaves from St Thomas, carrying their history from where they originated in Africa and pulling in influences from the Caribbean and then Central America. Taarab music played in coastal town in East Africa integrating African rhythms and Arab melodies, South Indian vocals and percussion. Roberts explores these connections and long ago understood that there is no such thing as pure, that tradition is a living thing, criticizing the neo-colonialist attitude of trying to keep traditions static or only valuing the parts of them that were integrated long ago.

His label, Original Music, put out music from marginalized and forgotten cultures. Songs the Swahili Sing is one such album. Im off to explore more.

Here is an interview with the man:

Sadly, Roberts passed away in Nov 2009. There are many great obituaries on him if you google his name.

Zanzibar Music Festival

January 26th, 2011

I am very excited about an upcoming trip to a music festival in Zanzibar (Feb 9-13)!

The festival features music from East Africa, a region whose music has been much less explored internationally than West African music, with its well know stars such as Ali Farka Toure, Orchestra Baobab and Salif Keita.

Francis Falcetto’s excellent 25 CD series, Ethiopiques, has done much to bring the music from Ethiopia to a wider audience. The Best of Ethiopiques album was even a best seller in the world music charts, featured at the front of world music sections in CD stores. However, there is a wealth of traditions from the region that havent made it to the attention of the wider music-loving public.


For example, I recently came across Danyel Waro from Reunion Island. Waro is credited with helping to revive Maloya music, one of 2 main traditions indigenous to the island. Also known as the Indian Ocean blues, Maloya is rooted in slave music and the sacred percussion from the Tamil region of South India. Maloya, sung in creole, deals with themes of poverty, slavery and freedom. It was buried for decades by the French colonialists, and only began to resurface with the independence and communist movement of the 60’s. Its incredible history aside, the music speaks for itself. Waro in particular sings with a rawness and sincerity that blows me away, eschewing modern and electric instruments for traditional Maloyan ones. You can listen to him sing unaccompanied here:

danyel waro

Another tradition which I plan to learn more about (and hear more of!) is Taarab, from the coastal regions of Tanzania and Kenya, which fuses Arab, South Indian and African traditions. Incidentally, the same label that produced the Ethiopiques series also produced a series called Zanzibara, which I’m currently downloading…

I plan to write more about the festival while I’m there and afterwards make a playlist inspired by the music I hear and discover! Stay tuned! And please share any tips you may have.


Wait What is the brilliant remix project of the San Francisco-based Charlie Kubal.


The first of his project’s that I fell upon, and that has blown up on the internet is the Notorious XX, which mixes the music of the deceased 90’s rapper, Notorious B.I.G., with the newly popular UK electro group the XX. It’s an unusual pairing, combining Biggie’s gangsta rap with the sparse rhythmic guitar and sweet female vocals of the XX’s self-titled debut album. He has managed to bring together these vastly different styles, creating something new and compelling, while not comprising the integrity of either. Very good stuff. (Read interview on the project here).

Sadly, Biggie’s label requested that the album be taken off the internet, but Im sure you can find it with a thorough google search. To Wait What’s point, its disappointing that the label couldn’t see the value of reviving interest in the original album as well as introducing his work to fans of the XX, an entirely different audience.


His other album, This is Real Life, combines different hip hop artists such as eminem and Jay Z with contemporary groups such as MGMT, M.I.A and Miike Snow. Sometimes three or four artists are mixed up into one song. This album you can download from his website:

Apart from the original and awesome results of Wait What’s efforts, he seems to be the coolest guy. He makes all of his work available for free (although if you choose to pay it all goes to a great charity supporting youth music writing) and has a really open and humble attitude, inviting feedback, to get in touch and expressing his gratitude to everyone out there who spread the word.

You can check out an interview with him here:

Serious respect to this artist. Check him out and spread the love.

Andreya Triana

December 13th, 2010

After having gone to too many disappointing concerts, my faith in the power of live music has been restored!

I think I came across Andreya Triana through Bonobo’s new album Black Sands where she features on some of the songs.

I got an email today about this concert tonight and had a good feeling. It helped that she was playing at the Tabernacle, a beautiful community arts center in the heart of Notting Hill with a fascinating history (it was the epicenter of West Indian immigration in the 60’s).

The guitarist walked on stage and started playing a simple repeating series of notes, eyes closed. She emerged shortly after in a pink jumpsuit and purple high heels, and went straight into the song, Darker Than Blue, eyes closed. It was the perfect way to begin. In fact the highlights of the show for me was when the music was stripped down to only her voice and the minimum of instrumentation.

Andreya’s voice is rich and smooth, filled with soulful inflections. She has the ability to switch into a higher register which totally gets me.  She was fully immersed in the music when she sang tonight, giving herself to it fully and unselfconsciously. You could see how much she loves what she is doing.

The band on stage were also fantastic. I was surprised that the only programmed element was when she played with echoing and looping her vocals. There was a string section (2 violins and 1 cello), a horn section (sax, trombone), plus a guitarist, bassist, drummer and keyboard player.

Simon Green (aka Bonobo) came on stage and played the keyboard for one of the last tracks, which is from his album.

There were many elements that contributed to making it a wonderful concert (venue, band etc.) but mostly Andreya’s beautiful voice and her total humility and obvious dedication to the music. Take away everything, leaving just her and a guitar or keyboard and it still would have been heaven.

Every so often a song will come on that just really gets me – where I feel it all through me. At times like this Im often inspired to dance and just feel grateful that music exists that can make me feel so good! I thought I’d share today’s inspiration.

Kreol from Kreol

Today I am listening to Kreol, a song by an exceptional guy from Cape Verde, Mario Lucio. An innovator in Cape Verdean music, he has explored the archipelago’s traditional musical roots while creating complex and original arrangements that take the music to a new place. Definitely one of the most interesting contemporary artists from Cape Verde. He has also written award-winning fiction and poetry, composed music for dance, films… He is most well known as the band leader of the Cape Verdean group Simentera and as a well respected song writer, having worked with Cesaria Evora, Lura and others.


Kreol is from his latest solo album also called Kreol. Like many other great artists, not all of his recordings are good, but there are definitely a few great tracks on his latest two albums (Kreol and Badya).

Pretty Down from Badyo

Check out his website to learn more about him:

Andrew Bird – Useless Creatures

November 17th, 2010

Andrew Bird is an exceptional contemporary American musican. A classically trained violinist, his influences range from American and European folk to pre-war jazz, bluegrass, blues, gypsy, classical and electronic. He has worked with many different styles, plays different instruments (predominantly string) and yet manages to sound authentic and be moving in which ever stage he is in. His lyrics and singing are good too.


I recently discovered Useless Creatures, an album that was released as a bonus to his latest album Noble Beast (2009).

Carrion Suite is gorgeous instrumental track by Andrew Bird – a stream of consciousness, starting off as a classical violin piece and evolving into different moods filled with plucked strings, organic percussive sounds and far off cymbals. The violin seeps in and out bringing the song back into focus. Its reminiscent of an Indian violin raga in its improvisational and classical feel and then heads back into the feel of a Bach cello suite. Perfect for late night spacing out. Useless Creatures was a bonus album to his 2009 album Noble Beast.


“You Woke Me Up!” is another excellent track from the album, which reminds me of the Canadian producer Michael Brook’s album Dream with the Indian mandolin player U Srinivas. An excellent album form 1995.

Until I figure out how to upload songs onto this blog, you can listen to clips and buy the songs through our Amazon store.

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