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: http://www.furious.com/perfect/roberts.html

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

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