Channeling Fela

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When I heard that Franck Biyong would be in town playing a tribute concert to the “Black President”, Fela Kuti himself I was quite over the moon. Once more the music gods have chosen to bless Nairobi. Orchestre Lipombe Jazz under the leadership of Cameroonian Franck Biyong,  will be taking us down memory lane,  bringing our beloved Fela Kuti back to life, if only for a night.
Franck Biyong is the originator of the Afrolectric sound that is greatly inspired by Fela Kuti’s own Afrobeat.  He is a singer, composer, band leader, record producer and not to mention an amazing electric and bass guitar player.  He isn’t new to Nairobi as he has performed here a couple of times and was also the first music director of Coke Studio Africa.
The first Fela Kuti cover I heard by Franck Biyong is of ITT (International Thief Thief) and to be sure, he does Fela’s timeless classic justice.  ITT talks about corruption in Africa by its leaders in cahoots with foreigners, most often times their former colonial masters. ITT is a live recording done in vintage Paris club. It manages to capture all the vibrancy, passion, fiery energy and excitement that was present during this tribute to the Africa man original. You can listen to it on bandcamp.

https://franckbiyong1.bandcamp.com/track/i-t-t-international-thief-thief

 

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Mystic parables

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I don’t know why but when I heard Don Ngatia singing a little over a year ago his voice reminded me of chocolate caramel. The perfect blend of ingredients that just melts in your mouth and takes you to a very good place.  A place that you never want to leave.  That’s what Don’s singing does to you.  Don is a Berklee Alumni and refers to his sound as afro urban music.  He released a 3 song EP,  Venus and Mars a few years back.  He has also put three songs up on sound cloud that I’d like to review.
Solitude is an ode to unrequited love. Something that deeply resonated with me when I first heard it as I’d developed a huge crush on someone and I didn’t quite know when or how I’d see him again or if he felt the same way.  Don talks about how it’s all a mystic parable, why do we keep being drawn back to this person, why do we feel that if only they gave us a chance everything would be right with the world again? Lord knows,  but Don says everything you have ever wanted to say to this love,  in a soulful caramel voice of course.

Listen to Solitude by Don Ngatia #np on #SoundCloud

Tide me over is a prayer, asking the Lord to give us wisdom and vision especially when we are lost and confused.  When we aren’t sure of what we are doing or our pride has led us astray and we badly need that reassurance that we can call on someone or something more powerful than we are.  It has a lovely guitar intro and some clapping towards the end that is reminiscent of a black evangelical church.

Listen to Tide Me Over by Don Ngatia #np on #SoundCloud

Mirabelle is a favourite with many of Don Ngatia’s fans and it’s easy to see why.  Mirabelle is a song about life, love and everything in between.  It’s set against the backdrop of Don Ngatia’s great caramel vocals, a good instrumental mix,  lovely harmonies and is quite upbeat as well. I hope his music takes you to a good place!

Listen to Mirabelle by Don Ngatia #np on #SoundCloud

Rising

Towards the end of last year,  on the day that Fatoumata Diawara was to grace Nairobi with her captivating  presence,  I was involved in a minor car accident. It definitely threw me off and it took me a while to get back into my regular routine. And in the middle of all this brouhaha I ended up taking a break from practice, blogging and a couple of other things. So now I am trying to get back to it all, music, writing…

The first song of the year is Rise by Mayonde. It was released over 2 years ago but for some reason it’s been my anthem since the year began. It’s been my trying to sing in the shower song.

Rise reminds us to keep fighting for ourselves. In Rise, Mayonde gives us the faith that is needed to keep believing in ourselves, to defiantly refuse to stay down, or to be left behind as everyone else forges ahead. I hope it inspires you as much as it has me to make 2017 the year that you will rise above. Have a wonderful year. I almost forgot to mention that the acoustic guitar gives us the perfect backdrop to this beautiful song !

Spoilt for Choice

Whichever way you look at it, today promises to be an amazing evening.  There are two great concerts lined up , you can either join Ciano Maimba doing his first gig as a main artist at the Goethe- Institut. Or Blinky Bill and the Key Cutters who will be having a gig at the Alchemist. The choice is up to you and well  you can always go for both of them ! Enjoy !

On Timbuktu , Fatoumata Diawara and Safaricom Jazz

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Timbuktu, the ancient Malian city, full of mystery, culture, legends and so much more. It was the site of one of the earliest universities in Africa which was tragically destroyed , erasing enormous  chunks of Africa’s precolonial intellectual thought.  It’s also a city who’s fate was closely tied to that of the great Mansa Musa who essentially established it’s reputation as the “city of gold”.timbuktu-desert-vegetation

It was interesting  that I got to hear Fatoumata’s soulful , sultry , golden voice on the soundtrack of the movie Timbuktu  known as Timbuktu Fasso.  I was completely enraptured by her voice as she sung an ode to this ancient city.  And for the longest time I was haunted by the vocalist behind it as the soundtrack was attributed to Amine Bouhafa. I did not look into it further. But as it turns out they worked on it together,  with Bouhafa being the genius behind the instrumentation and composition. The instrumentation being a unique blend of African traditional instruments and Western instruments .fatoumata-diawara-04

 

However, just like the ever mysterious city , she resurfaced through the Safaricom Jazz Festival.  After seeing the poster I kept wondering who this Fatoumata Diawara was. Her name sounded like poetry,  like it belonged to some siren of the sea or something. So I decided to look her up and as soon as I heard the first song. I knew I had found the enchanting voice behind Timbuktu Fasso. You can check it out right here and I’ve also included a peformance of her and Roberto Fonseca .

3 Videos you should definitely watch

Aparo by Kato Change ft Lisa Oduor Noah

This video has good vibes written all over it.  I always end up smiling to myself every time I watch it. It was made on a magical Nairobi night, full of happy people, fairy lights and fireworks. That and the amazing vocals of Lisa coupled with the guitar maestro Kato Change make it a video well worth checking out.

Linkomo by The Soil 

Africans are tellers of great stories and I love how this story is told in this video.  Lots of creativity and humour in this one.  And the music itself is pretty upbeat and would definitely  make you want to dance a little bit,  or much.  It was a recommendation from a friend, hope you enjoy it as well.

No Away by MI featuring Becca

From all the Nigerian vs Ghanaian jollof wars on social media I gather there is beef between the two countries. I have no idea what the beef is about but I certainly like the collabo between the two countries in this song.  Check out No Away by MI and Becca.

Concert Alert : Motown in Nairobi

With the kind of performers lined up, this gig promises to be epic ! Catch up with Edward Parseen, Different faces band, Chris Bittok, June Gachui,  Denise Gordon,  Neema Ntalel and many other great artists at the Motown in Nairobi concert.

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Lonely streets of Boston : An EP review

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Jason Sibi Okumu’s music has this amazing way of leading you to introspection.  It’s like looking at a mirror or reading your journal.  His music is authentic;  so raw and real that I almost shied away from doing this review. The ‘Lonely streets of Boston’ is an EP by Jason.

The first song after which the EP is named tagged at my heartstrings. I felt like he was telling my own story.  I couldn’t help but think of the times I’ve felt so lost, lonely and alone in this city that I’ve been born and raised.  Where not even the familiarity of everything could take that feeling away.  When I’ve known deep down that I really have got no idea what I’m doing yet I’ve been too afraid and proud to ask for help.  And all I wished for was someone who could understand what I’m going through or  just be there beside me.  I can only imagine having this same feeling in a foreign place .

Now you know is the second song in the EP. We can all relate to having been asked that dreaded question since childhood, “What do you want to be when you grow up? “. At times I feel like deep down my answer may be like John Lennon’s, who as a child had aptly replied that he wanted to be was happy. Find out Jason’s take on this here.

Close your eyes and for a minute visualize what your life would look like if all your dreams came true. Would you finally be happy,  would you lose your mind,  would you feel empty, are you really ready to have what you wish for happen ? That’s Jason is musing about in this third song, On your side.

Said and done is the fourth song in this EP. I don’t know where to start. It’s beautiful , it’s raw , it’s  soulful , completely captivating.  I was taken in , I experienced so many emotions listening to it . I felt the pain of an almost impossible love and the beauty of an epic love . I saw just how brave it is to love . And how even more courageous it is to fight for this same love especially when the odds seem against it . This song is etched in my soul, and really words do fail to capture its beauty. Just listen to it already !

Winter is the last song on the EP. I will not say much about it. But I really like the visual he creates of winter coming . It’s so vivid , I felt like I was in Boston experiencing fall.

Jason Sibi-Okumu is a great songwriter . He has a way with his acoustic guitar and his words . His vulnerability in this EP is beyond inspiring . Definitely looking forward to more of his music .

01 Lonely Streets Of Boston – SoundCloud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legend series:Fela Kuti

There is something altogether gutsy and admirable about a man who can write a song titled, “you give me shit, I give you shit”. That was Fela Anikulapo Kuti for you. The black president, Africa man original. He simply did not give a shit what people thought of him. He was not afraid of ruffling feathers. But he did care a lot about other things. About Africa and it’s people, our culture, resources and governance. He was passionate about African music and explored it indepth. He was completely obsessed with reclaiming Africa’s lost dignity. Yet this obsession came with a high price that included police beatings and near death encounters with the military. Let’s not forget the unfair court rulings and even the loss of his own mother.
Fela changed his name from Ransome, which was his birth name, because he did not want to remain with what he saw as a slave name.  He instead took up Anikulapo, meaning ‘he who carries death in his pouch’. He was basically saying that he would be the master of his destiny. That he would decide when it was time for death to take him. It’s hardly surprising that at his funeral one million voices chanted, ‘Fela will live forever’.

felaI  have great reverence for Fela. To me he has always seemed like a demi god. This man whose hypnotic music first began a guilty pleasure in my otherwise completely western classical music world. Yet his music like Bob Marley’s got me hooked. And I would spend hours completely mesmerized. Fela is complex, I did not know what to make of him in the beginning. This man who once married 27 women on one day.  This man who referred to his music as the underground spiritual game. This man who reverted back to the religion of our ancestors. This man who boldly  denounced being a gentlemen. I don’t know, Fela is like magic. Ever mysterious yet one cannot help but fall in love. He is the root of our music. He is to Africa what Bach is to western classical music. The foundation which we rest upon. The root which holds the tree firmly in the ground.

Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was born in Abeokuta Nigeria in 1938.  His father was an Anglican minister and mother a Feminist activist. He left for London in 1958 to go study music at Trinity college. He was to study  was to study medicine initially. While in London he formed his first band, known as Koola Lobitos. He went back to Nigeria upon finishing his studies. Here he would perform with his band for a few years before leaving for Ghana in ’67. He wanted to think up a new musical direction. It was here that his music was first referred to as Afrobeat . He is the pioneer of Afrobeat, a genre that fuses funk, jazz, salsa, calypso, juju, high life and African percussive patterns. Two years later, he left for America. Here he was influenced by black power ideals. It was the era of the Black Panther party. While in America, he recorded the Los Angeles sessions with his band Nigeria ’70. He came back to Nigeria and renamed his band Afrika ’70. He also formed the Kalakuta Republic. It was a commune of sorts,  a recording studio and the ultimate chill spot. He even later declared it independent from the Nigerian state!

Fela set up a night club as well, the Afrika Shrine.  He would perform here regularly and practice the traditional Yoruba religion. In 1979 he put himself forward as a candidate for president  but it was declined. He created Egypt ’80 around this time.
Fela’s legacy lives through his music as well as through his two sons.  Seun, the youngest, who leads his father’s band Egypt ’80. Femi, the first born who has his own band, Positive force. Fela is one of the most sampled artists of all time with musicians such as Yasiin Bey, Wizkid and Nas having sampled his music. There are also numerous covers of his music.

Every year in October the “Felabration” concert is held his honour. I hope I can get to attend one of these someday. This and a visit to the ‘New Afrika Shrine’ in Lagos.

I leave you with “Shakara” and “Trouble sleep yanga wake am. ” The latter being the first Fela song I heard. I always get wistful whenever I listen to it playing.