BY PETER UDUEHI
“The Souljazz Orchestra” is the name of the band, and in every respect they live up to the billing. They are funky, jazzy, groovy and danceable.
Band members Pierre Chrétien Marielle Rivard, Steve Patterson, Ray Murray, Zakari Frantz, and Philippe Lafrenière are multi-instrumentalists who are fast turning out to be major acts around the world spreading heady topical issues as well as the genre of funk and Fela Kuti’s afrobeat. Fela founded afrobeat in 1970, 27 years before his death in 1997 and during a period he popularised music as a weapon for social change.
“I like Souljazz like many afrobeat bands around the world,” says Seun Kuti, Fela’s youngest son, in an African World interview during a Canadian tour recently.
Little wonder the Ottawa-based band (formed in 2002) is signed to the London (England)-based label Strut Records renowned for promoting afrobeat music worldwide. They bring their performance to the stage of Toronto’s Velvet Underground November 30 along with their new album Chaos Theories, which is rife with protest songs, making them even more instructive for the times.
“We live in desperate times and desperate times call for desperate speak,” says band leader Chretien, adding that their new album speaks truth to power.
These tracks from the new album, Boat Rockers, Sky High, War Games, General Strike, Slumlord, and Well Runs Dry all attest to working class themes and the sign of the times we find ourselves today. “We need to do something about our ominous climate chamges, about the increasing dangers we find ourselves with nuclear proliferation, and with police brutality,” Chretien says, noting “it’s difficult to forget my Somali-born neighbour who died after a police altercation”, a reference to Abdirahman Abdi whose death led to manslaughter charges levelled against officer Daniel Montsion in Ottawa.
For partygoers out there, they will definitely find songs from Chaos Theories to be a great addition for dancing. “It’s great that music should provide many purposes, one of which should be for happiness. Dance is also an integral part of music,” Chretien explains, adding: “it should move you, and it’s a pleasure to think that our sound can move from your head to your feet.”
He said “we have also performed in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (the only African country where the band has toured), and it doesn’t take much to get people to dance to music in Africa.”
· Pierre Chrétien - electric piano, clavinet, organ, guitar, bass, percussion, vocals
· Marielle Rivard - percussion, vocals
· Steve Patterson - tenor sax, percussion, vocals
· Ray Murray - baritone sax, percussion, vocals
· Zakari Frantz - alto sax, flute, percussion, vocals
· Philippe Lafrenière - drums, percussion, vocals
Batuki Music Society and Alliance Francaise Toronto present the Sounds of Senegal featuring singer, song-writer and guitarist Alioune Guissé on Saturday November 10th at the Alliance Francaise Toronto Theatre at 9 PM. Alioune Guissé will be accompanied by an all-star lineup featuring Sadio Sissokho (djembe, sabar, calabash), Diely Mori Tounkara (kora, guitar), Aboulaye Kone (guitar), Carlo Birri (bass) and Sylvain Plante (drums).
Alioune Guissé distinguished himself at the age of 17 years by creating a new hybrid of Senegalese music that combines the sounds of his two cultural heritages, Foutanké (Peul) and Wolof, a fusion of Pulaar yela and mbalax music, with hip-hop and reggae using guitars, percussion (sabar, djembe, calabash), kora and voices.
In 1992, Alioune won the prestigious “Oscar des Vacances,” award for the best emerging singer by Senegal’s national television network. Alioune attended the Senegalese National School of the Arts, where he studied composition and performance of African music, both traditional and contemporary. In 1996, Alioune formed his first band, Tim Timol, with his friends from the School of the Arts. Tim Timol brought a new flavor to the yéla sound by fusing this traditional Fulani music style with hip-hop and reggae. The band brought together a unique group of artists, including talented female rappers, an MC, and Alioune as the vocalist. With Tim Timol, he toured West Africa and Europe, sponsored by the Belgian International Center for Youth.
In 2000, Alioune relocated to New York City, where he joined the renowned Maimouna Keita African Dance Company as a teacher and performer. His first solo album, Macha Allah (As Allah Has Willed It) was released in 2004 in Senegal. The first single, “Yaye Kene La,” dedicated to mothers worldwide, reached number one on Senegalese radio and TV. The second single, “Africa Unites,” calling for unity of the African peoples, also reached the top of the charts. His song Dental Africa received the same distinction in 2006. He created a new group, Dental that went on to perform in many of the top venues and festivals in Senegal and appeared on popular television shows including Samedi Soir, Cafe Musique and Star en Ligne. He released the album Hebbo in 2011 that featured leading figures in Senegalese music including Kabou Gueye, Assane Ndoye, Papis Cissokho, Alioune Seck and Jeannot Mendy.
In April 2012, during a remarkable appearance on the show “Sous les Projecteurs” on 2STV, Alioune captivated the audience as he sang the songs “Taara” and “Thierno Samasa” with the legendary Baaba Maal and Djibril Dramé at his side. The same year he won the Discovery Award from the Institute Francaise and was selected to perform at the Olympic Games in London. Alioune received the 'Best African Entertainer' award at the Chicago Music Awards in 2015.
He talked to reporter Peter Uduehi in Toronto
Bopping, weaving and strutting across the stage like a man who would not let go of his teenager years, 70-year-old trumpeter Hugh Masekela says he’s only getting stronger as time progresses.
The native South African performed recently at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall before a 2,000-capacity audience on a rainy evening he jested was as impassioned as attending his concert on a flurry day some winters ago, an indication that he truly appreciates his Canadian fans.
One fan, for example, returned the favourable remark after the night with a compliment referring to his entire aura on stage, particularly his dance moves by saying “he must be in his seventies; he is giving everyone especially those of us in our fifties the hope that life is not boring after all in old age”.
Masekela told the Africa World he knew he was born to entertain the world at an early age. “I started playing the piano at six, and some people took notice of my talent including Trevor Huddleston who bought me my first trumpet. And when I found the trumpet I never put it down.”
Huddleston was the Anglican priest who was once Archbishop of Mauritius and the Indian Ocean. He worked in South Africa and became known for his anti-apartheid activism. Banned from reentering South Africa by the white-minority dictatorial racist regime, he was President of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1981 from outside. He died in 1998.
“I will never forget Huddleston,” Masekela said, noting he’s writing a book about the former archbishop from Bedford, England. “His work deserves mention.
The South African legend, who spent many years living in different African countries and the United States in the apartheid years, says another passion of his these days is “creating the excellence of Africa. Yes I’m a child of the world, I love everybody even though I must tell you that being a part of the human specie in the past decades has left much to be desired because of the way we humans have treated each other...the racism, fascism and a plethora of things that are just disgusting”. He says he deals with these shortcomings with a great deal of laughter and humour because “it is the highest order of truth, to be able to laugh at ourselves”.
Asked why Africa is a passion of his, Masekela said “we all have to start from somewhere and that he sees himself beyond ‘pan-Africanism’,” saying that “African is a huge concept for me; I believe Africa should be one country because I personally don’t recognize the current frontiers that are prescribed to Africa. We should be one, and if we are not careful as Africans we will disappear from the map considering the current happenings in the continent right now”.
Extremely disappointed that Africans today don’t know much of their history and what it means to be called ‘an African’, the trumpeter notes that African people are not doing enough to mark their place in history. In decades to come, he opined, “people will say ‘there used to be a people called Africans’ if we are not careful”.
Saying the recent World Cup staged in South Africa may have drawn the world to the continent in a big way, and may have helped hotel owners and other business people, it says nothing about the many injustices suffered by the continent over many centuries. Africa needs more than the World Cup to revive the culture, he said.
“Until we begin to control things, the media, the arts, for example, our story will continue to be told by others who know zilch about us...and until we control the media and the arts” African musicians will continue to struggle to find their voice and be well-known as a staple on the diet of the world’s consumption. “The only way African musicians will become well known is if we Africans control the media,” he repeated, stressing “we need to have our priorities together,” adding that “most African musicians live outside the continent” because they are looking for ways to promote themselves worldwide.”
Apart from Huddleston who inspired him, Masekela said his true inspirations are “people...everybody is my inspiration because basically I’m a child of the world...I draw inspiration from everyone I meet. I have lived in many cultures and been to many places.
None the least was Nigeria, where he met the legendary Afro-beat musician the late Fela Kuti. Describing him (as well as the late singer Mariam Makeba of South Africa) as two of the greatest Africans that ever lived, Masekela says his knowledge of Africa and particularly West Africa was bolstered by “my meeting Fela. Fela not only taught me pidgin English, he was a joy and history in motion apart from being an extraordinary musician”. He said the current musical on Broadway about Fela’s life (which won three Tony Awards) is okay at best and that “Fela would have preferred a work on him to show more of his political and social sides. This is like a Disney version of Fela”.
Playing tracks from his compositions over the years in his Toronto concert, Masekela traded funny stories of his youth in South Africa with his audience, folkloric anecdotes that can also be found in his new CD Jabulani, mostly a compilation of wedding songs from his native Zulu tradition.
The controversial lawyer, who unsuccessfully vied for Nairobi governor in the August 8, 2017, was detained by police for five days prior to his 'deportation' over his involvement in NASA leader Raila Odinga's 'presidential swearing in' ceremony despite the court ordering his release.
Mr Miguna is a barrister in Canada, where he holds a citizenship. The Kenyan constitution, which was enacted in August 2010, allows for dual citizenship.
Playwright and producer Deborah Adelman says the climate emergency is real and those who continue to deny it must look in the eyes of children who are now more than ever before standing in the frontlines warning adults not to mess with their futures.
It's why the likes of Sweden's 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg are helping other children to understand that our climate is falling apart and we need to do something about it, Adelman says in an interview with the African World.
It's also why Adelman is taking on the issue of climate change head-on among children, starting with those she teaches everyday in the classroom in her regular job. She brought her play titled Radioactive Spyder to Crow's Theatre recently in Toronto with actors drawn from school children aged six to sixteen.
Radioactive Spyder is a ‘climate action musical comedy’ for all ages. The lively, upbeat Afro-Cuban music makes you dance, the comedic characters make you laugh, and "the climate emergency that we’re in brings you to tears. This musical is both a wake-up call and a call to action. It’s timely", notes Adelman.
Spyder’s Quest to Save the World, in the second part of the play, opens with a dramatized version of the September 2019 world-wide youth climate strikes. The world is ready for change and youth want to feel empowered to make a change.
Radioactive Spyder is trying to make sense of our modern world. In a nutshell, our obsession with power, money, consumerism, fame and our growing addiction to technology juxtaposed against the backdrop of a climate emergency and mass extinction. These existential themes are deeply disturbing especially for young children. Thankfully, it’s a musical comedy. The combination of fun, upbeat music and comedic characters helps to lighten the weight of these difficult themes.
"The character of Radioactive Spyder originated when I was telling an Anansi story to my grade two class," notes Adelman. "A boy blurted out that a radioactive spider bit Spiderman and that’s how Spiderman got his powers. The wheels in my head started to turn: was Anansi the Spider the origin story for the radioactive spider in Spiderman?" Anansi stories are an integral part of West African and Caribbean folklore. These stories try to make sense of the world and their society. Anansi is a trickster, who tries to deceive and exploit other characters in the story for his own benefit. He is selfish and crude, yet his tricks and actions provoke laughter. Radioactive Spyder is a fusion of Anansi the Spider with a touch of superhero.
The stories in Act Two are based on true stories about youth activists: Greta Thunberg, Julia Butterfly Hill and the youth of Standing Rock Nation in North Dakota. These peaceful protestors respectively have launched a world-wide climate strike; saved old growth redwood trees in California; and protected the waters from oil pipelines in North Dakota. One of the biggest hurdles to taking action is knowing what to do. These inspiring youth activists are excellent role models for how we can take action and make a difference.
Protozoa, the 14 billion-year-old being, almost gets the last word in the play when she reads her Letter to Seven Generations in the Future. Basically, the letter recounts the actions that Spyder has taken to ‘Save the World’ and the earth has been restored or, rather, restoried to a thriving paradise! Hopeful, yes! Acheivable, yes! Optimistic, yes! Empowering, yes! So let’s join forces with the youth of today and ‘be the change’!
By Peter Uduehi