Out of Africa

Sarthak Kaushik | Updated on July 17, 2020

Pack a punch: Mali’s finest women musicians came together to form Les Amazones d’Afrique in 2014   -  IMAGE COURTESY: TWITTER/AMAZONESAFRIQUE

The region’s rich musical tradition is the silver lining in an otherwise dark year

* This week, we draw lyrical inspiration from Africa’s musical tradition from the desert sands of the Sahara

As restrictions posed by a rampaging virus force us to look within to find soothing notes of hope, it is perhaps as good a time as any to scan the globe for some lyrical inspiration. And one of those areas, clouded by the desert sands of the Sahara, is the African musical tradition. The sounds from the African landmass have for long influenced music elsewhere in the world. The list of artistes who have played their way into the hearts of those who have opened their doors to the music is a long and illustrious one.

Malian Ali Farka Toure and his stunning body of work with the inimitable American songwriter-composer Ry Cooder brought the rich, nuanced, simple yet elegant musicianship to the fore with Toure’s easy mastery of the guitar and his unique vocal texture giving expression to the lilting Swahili tongue. His son Vieux Farka Toure has carried on the legacy with his blazing solo oeuvre and his awe-inspiring collaborations with the likes of Idan Raichel, the Israeli piano virtuoso.

There is also the uplifting story of Omara Moctar, better known by his music nickname Bombino. Forced to flee his native Niger to escape the ravages of the armed rebellion sweeping through his country, he discovered the wonders of the sounds of the guitar when his uncle left behind one while fleeing. His music was noticed when he performed at wedding receptions. And proving the old adage of good music finding its way into hearts and minds, his debut album Agadez found support and active encouragement from people such as Dan Auerbach of the American band The Black Keys. His second album, produced by Auerbach, cemented Bombino’s reputation as a consummate musician, and African sounds reached some more appreciative ears.

For those squinting to find the silver lining in an otherwise fraught year, the rich and varied African tradition has provided one, at least on the musical horizon. One young musician tapping deep into African musical tradition to draw out timeless sounds, then clothe them in contemporary notes, and a group of divas coming together to make a difference are the golden rays of hope that are brightening up an otherwise dreary musical landscape.

Ambrose Akinmusire was born and brought up in Oakland, California. By the time he was 25, he had already won the two most prestigious jazz contests in the world — the Thelonius Monk Jazz Competition and the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition. His third album, The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint, had already begun to point quite plainly at the direction his statement-loaded music was taking. The weather vane was firmly in the direction of music as a vehicle for underlining and overwhelming the senses with harsh social reality. On the eerie Rollcall For Those Absent track, a child’s voice rises over the hovering notes to read out the names of those dead in violence in the name of colour.

The trumpeter’s sixth studio album also highlights his hold on the blues genre. His style shows clear influences of freestyling MCs (where MCs versify over a recurring beat) expressing themselves in rhythms doing callisthenics, but his phrases continue to talk stridently of injustice in individual and socio-historical terms, as NPR (National Public Radio) so succinctly puts it. And apart from being one of the hottest names on the jazz circuit, he is also being seen as an incredible innovator with his latest, poetically brilliant On The Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment. An album that weighs heritage (percussionist and singer Jesus Diaz makes an appearance, singing in the West African Yoruba dialect) with the weights of social injustice and extends hope of understanding is certainly something that deserves the confident pressing of the play button.

Six years ago, some of the finest — and arguably best known — female African artistes decided to make a musical statement by merging their formidable talents to sing about woman power. Oumou Sangare, Mamani Keita and Mariam Doumbia got together to give lyrical expression to their desire of empowerment for the African woman. An artistic collective was born in Bamako, Mali. A supergroup emerged. Les Amazones d’Afrique was ready to spread the good word.

In January this year, their follow-up album emerged: Their message is strident, more electronically endowed, and their resolve even stronger. Amazones Power is a bright light, powered by blinding genius, shining on the grossly underrated talent that has animated the musical scene of sub-Saharan Africa, and has poured honey into the hearts of those who have cared to drown a little deeper in the ocean of melody.


Sarthak Kaushik   -  BUSINESS LINE


Sarthak Kaushik is an RJ at Ishq 104.8 FM, Delhi;

Twitter: @radiochaos

Published on July 17, 2020

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