If sheer presence on stage is anything to go by, Mali's Fatoumata Diawara would be considered the most effortlless and dynamic superstar ever. She weaves and bops through songs with a sonorous voice made from the heavens as indeed her griot background demands. Today, her Fenfo CD is making waves everywhere and little wonder was last year's nominee at the Grammys for best World Music Album of the Year.
She told African World's Peter Uduehi "I am so grateful for that nomination. It means a lot to me that people from very far away are recognising me and what we do in Africa musically. I am from Mali, yes, but I feel I am representing Africa, the whole continent. I see myself as African first", she said, adding that "Africa is the home of music and i am happy that they are finally realising that".
Diawara brings to Toronto on 28 February at the Flato Msrkham Theatre her inimitable voice from griotland. Her new CD Fenfo, which means "something to say" in Mali's Bambara language, means a lot to Diawara because this time she really has something to say. Advocating for hapless migrants around the world, she particularly notes that Africa's desperate migrants to Europe should be cared for like the human beings they are. "Too often it seems the world doesn't care about these Africans who are dying in high seas. This must change because they are human too. The world is full of problems," she says, "and we know that if a burning church in Paris [like the Notre D'ame] can be revived with donations overnight we can also try to help human beings with flesh and blood."
This, she says, is the real message in her new CD. Diawara definitely has something to say and beginning this weekend in Montreal, Canadians will be treated to an earful
By Peter Uduehi
Malian troubadour Habib Koité joins
ngoni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyaté
at Toronto’s George Weston Recital Hall
for a night of African blues!
One of Africa’s most popular and recognized musicians, Malian guitarist Habib Koité joins Bassekou Kouyaté, master of the traditional Malian lute known as the ngoni, for a night of African blues, March 5, 2019, 8PM at the George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts.
Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased online at tocentre.com, by phone, or in person at select Civic Theatres Toronto box office.
Habib Koité and Bassekou Kouyaté are two eminences of African music and are performing together as part of an unprecedented international tour, performing songs from their repertoire, and accompanied by the powerful voice of the Malian singer Amy Sacko.
Recognized as “the biggest pop star of Mali” by Rolling Stone and called the “African Jimmy Hendrix” thanks to his unique guitar playing, Habib Koité’s artistry and magnetic personality have made him an international star, delighting audiences the world over, and placing him firmly among the leading figures in contemporary world music.
Breaking with tradition to electrify his instrument and play standing up, Bassekou Kouyaté is recognized as one of the best players of the banjo-like ngoni, a traditional Malian instrument. His talent has won him two BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music and two Grammy Award nominations. Time Out magazine said “Ngoni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyaté can make notes bend like light rays in the desert heat.” Recently, Bassekou’s involvement with the critically acclaimed film ‘Mali Blues’ and his exceptional recording have earned him a recognition throughout the world
Notes From A Reporter’s Journal
By Peter Uduehi
I first saw Fela Kuti perform, like many of his adoring fans did, at his enormously popular club called the African Shrine in Lagos. That was in 1979. It would take ten more years to catch up with him, this time as a freelance journalist in New Orleans, where the Afrobeat music king performed two nights at the historic Tippitinnas Lounge. It was as close as I could get to him, in a dressing room that he loathed and didn’t hesitate, as usual, to lambaste whoever was responsible for leading him into such a dungeon – a ramshackle back room filled with graffiti and smelling like a hobbled, dingy annex to the city’s oldest nightclub.
“Look where they have brought us in to perform. What kind of place is this?” he pondered aloud.
But more thrilled by the idea of a possible interview than his annoyance with Tippitinnas’s dilapidating ambiance, I quickly asked for one on a radio station I worked for at the time. He declined due to timing, but told me he would be available to talk to me for print at his hotel, which meant I could publish his comments in any of the newspapers I was stringing for in the city. However, I never had the opportunity to publish his views in the New Orleans press because I left the city for good to live in Houston the same day Fela and his band concluded their tour in the Louisiana town. Coincidentally, we met again in Houston because it was going to be one of his next dates a few days after I left New Orleans. Another point to note is that, because of my love for Fela’s musicianship, I decided to treat him and his band to a hearty Nigerian meal in New Orleans, dipping into my meager earnings to cook fufu and egusi soup (laced with fish and hen parts) for more than twenty of them. I thought they would enjoy the little delicacy having being away from Nigeria for at least a month touring the world. They were quite appreciative, with some of them struggling through the line to give themselves an enthusiastic helping of the Nigerian staple. Fela was very peeved when told his entourage stressed through the queue to the food cauldron.
“Stupid,” he called one of them, as he brought everyone to order. Fela himself liked the meal and had a good portion.
“Remember I am not a gentleman,” he said jokingly, a reference to his much-publicized tune Gentleman that lampooned Africans who pretend, supplant and confuse the mores of their native origins with European colonial attitudes and ways. I must say I was absolutely impressed by the humility and free-spiritedness with which he succumbed to a surprise dinner from a man he was meeting for the first time and whose only connection to him was that he hailed from his country. Most mega stars and celebrities would have squirmed or showed signs of unrestrained apprehension and timidity at anyone they had just stumbled into. But Fela understood quite well that it was an African thing to be honoured in that fashion.
Meanwhile, I quickly seized the opportunity of an interview with him, engaging him for two hours on his music, lifestyle, women, politics, and just about everything he had done since his Anglican-priest father and pace-setting revolutionary mother gave birth to him on October 15, 1938. He asked me to bring him whatever amount of marijuana I could give him as a present on my way to his hotel suite. I showed reluctance on that, telling him I couldn’t guarantee finding it because I don’t smoke. It would have been unethical as a reporter, not to mention my aversion to cannabis-ingestion. Knowing full well how much he loved to smoke the drug, Fela gracefully sensed and accepted my position, and then said: “you look like a nice person, and it would not matter if you bring it or not. I just want us to talk so you can understand where I’m coming from with my music and message.”
If you thought he was a disorganized, brain-warped and pot-smoking radical bordering on lunacy and without affection for the things he espouses in his music, think again. Fela was as organized in thought as his Afrobeat invention is; a keenly sharp individual who took note of every detail he discussed with you. At the end of our interview, for example, he told me he was very impressed when I told him in a straightforward manner that I could not oblige to his request. “I wish most of our so-called politicians were straightforward in Africa. It will be the best place to live on earth,” he chided.
For so many years, his candour and constructive criticisms won him adoring fans, and it was easy to see why. “People used to dance to my music while at the same time listen to the message in the music; I believe music without a message or African philosophy is not my style. That’s not what I am about.
“This is why music is about feelings and the senses,” Fela explained, noting that he was aware that “some of my fans say that I have allowed the message to overshadow and dominate the elements of my music. But you see, my brother, both have always been present in my music, but what is probably not there so much as before is the fast pace to make you dance as fast. But what you must understand is that …the bastards who are our so-called leaders have become stronger in their wicked ways. So also I have no choice but to increase the volume of my noise against these soldiers and corrupt politicians,” he said.
Some of the releases criticized as lacking luster with the step include Look and Laugh, Perambulator, Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, Beasts of No Nation, and ODOO; all of them suffused with great delivery of subversive messages but considered by many not to be of major partying value like Shakara, Lady, No Bread, and many others in the classic genre.
Vintage Fela bopped, weaved, entertained in regal fashion, lectured and danced. He goaded people in authority because he felt it would be an effective tool to correct a whole lot of discrepancies in modern African societies, “not because I hate authority but because power should be used to help your people”. Twice he said, he thought of committing suicide because he felt there was really nothing to live for as an ambitious African, and also because he felt he was fighting alone without much support from the Nigerian frightful masses. “After all I have had the opportunity to swim in money but I chose not to because money cannot be a man’s central focus in life,” he said.
“Our entire culture as a people,” Fela opined, “is not progressing. We do not do enough research in medicine, the arts, and in the spirit, and I tell you, my brother, we can achieve great things if we think correctly. African people have the soul and spirit to do anything. It’s like football. We must develop our own way of playing soccer. African man must dance with the ball. That’s our rhythm,” he joked. On a serious note, he said, “If others choose to do as we do, that’s okay, but we must develop our own style instead of following what everybody does. Look at Egypt. I am talking about ancient Egypt. That was Blackism. Look at those achievements”, he sermonized. As an inventor, he said he could relate perfectly to the creative juices that flow through every human being but that these musings have remained dormant as a result of fright and “leadership breakdown in Africa”.
Those who did not have the opportunity to sit down and talk with Fela, but had an earful of his lyrical compositions would think the self-styled chief priest was racially motivated. Of course not; otherwise how do you explain the fact that one of his best friends, and one-time band member who insisted on understudying the Afrobeat superstar, was the white British renowned drummer Ginger Baker. “I simply used certain examples of our colonial past to drive home some hard facts, and particularly because Britain and America or white people in general have become an integral part of our history as a people. I believe in my Blackness,’ Fela stressed, “and I have studied it, and if a man is first not proud of himself how can he be proud of others. I just want my people to progress like other people. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Whether you agree with him or not one thing is clear: Fela matters today because he gave us the language to describe ourselves, as “zombies”, as “shakara” people, as “kpansa kpansa”, as “authority stealing”, as “BBC” (Big Blind Country), as “Alhaji...means that you are a Stranger in your own land”, as “dem-all-crazy” (“Democracy”), as “Mattress”, as “Jenku-oku”, as “Follow-follow”, as “yellow fever”, as “beasts of no nation”, and so on. He predicted a lot of things and events that have come to pass like the magic words of a prophet. Fela told us in 1976 in his song Army Arrangement that people everywhere are so fed up with politicians that they will either have to revolt en masse or bodyguards will take on the unenviable task by helping citizens assassinate their bad heads of government. It happened in 1980 with the assassination of Anwar Sadat of Egypt at the hands of his security detail. The recent revolution that befell Sadat’s protégé Hosni Mubarak is further evidence of Fela’s predictions; not to mention Tunisia’s president Ben Ali who fled the country after an uprising early this year. Libya’s Col Muammar Gadhafi has faced a similar challenge.
Fela also said in the same song that “one day go be one day for those wey dey steal money for government”. Translated, it reads like this: “one day shall come when Africa’s corrupt leaders, no matter how powerful they think they are, will be held to account in public”. Since Fela’s death in 1997, Nigeria’s powerful elite was shaken up when for the first time a civilian government headed by Olusegun Obasanjo (himself a member of the elite) commissioned an anti-graft agency called Economic and Financial Crimes Commision (the dreaded EFCC) headed by a no-nonsense lawyer-police officer, who probed high-ranking public officials alleged to have committed egregious financial crimes against the state. Their net included a disgraced police boss Tafa Balogun who stole millions of dollars. He was sacked summarily and jailed. He was also forced to pay back millions of dollars of his loot. What the EFCC did on Balogun in 2005 was an absolute coup of immense proportions because no-one in Nigeria thought that a big man could be so humiliated in a country where the huff and puff of an influential figure was enough to send the average citizen squirming. This was the hope Fela provided us in his songs. They were songs of freedom of sorts.
Sekouba has carved a name for himself as one of the most versatile African musicians of his generation. A native of Guinea in West Africa, Sekouba is the penultimate virtuoso with a voice inimitable to most African music lovers. Bembeya Jazz, the national orchestra of Guinea, and Africando, an African salsa band, are some of the institutions and raw talented musicians associated with Sekouba over the many years of this 55-year-old's illustrious career.
"Bambino" is the stage name of Sekouba Diabaté, born in Guinea, West Africa, in 1964.
On Saturday, November 2, Toronto's Aga Khan will play host to a group of musicians whose sound reveal a deep connection to their individual background in the Maghreb.
"Multi-instrumentalists, Hassan El Hadi, Fethi Nadjem, Haiba Ali Hussein and Maryem Hassan Tollar share a deep cultural connection through the language, stories and songs that define their North African heritage," notes North America’s foremost African music promoter Batuki Music Society of Toronto.
Performing under the headline The Maghreb Project, Batuki’s artistic director Nadine Mcnulty says “it’s fantastic to witness (Toronto-based) musicians from different parts of North Africa in a collaborative effort. They bring out their cultures in a powerful way for everyone to see”. Batuki is also the brainchild of the Okavango African Orchestra, a Juno-award winner in 2017 for World Music Album of the Year. Okavango brings together Canada-based musicians of several west, east and southern African musicians in the traditions of the five-notes genre, call-and-response chants and modern dance throughout the continent south of the Sahara.
On collaboration, singer and songwriter Maryem Tollar agrees. “Collaboration for me is enriching. It makes you realise you have to work with other people to produce something great. The Maghreb Project has definitely done that for me,” she said. An Egyptian native, Tollar, who has been doing music for 30 years, says her own album Cairo Moon is different from what she is currently working on with the group “but this collaborative effort is really satisfying, especially as I learn new things every time”.
The Maghreb (Arabic name for the region of North Africa) is suffused with cultures and traditions that date back centuries in folklore and oral tradition.
The Maghreb Project includes Hassan from Morocco, Nadgem from Algeria and Hussein from Sudan.
The event at Aga Khan for the Maghreb Project starts at 8 pm.
Batuki Music Society and the Alliance Francaise present Grooz on Saturday November 16, 2019 at the Alliance Francaise Theatre in Toronto at 9:00 PM. Singer, bass player and guitarist Abdelhak Benmedjebari with his group Grooz, have a knack for electrifying a crowd and bringing them into “an ecstatic trance”. Grooz embodies Algerian grooves that extend the ancestral tradition of Gnawa music by incorporating in it reggae beats, blues and jazzy sounds.
Abdelhak Benmedjebari, chanteur et guitariste de Grooz, est un habitué de la scène. Il accompagnait son père, Maalem Mejbar, et ses oncles, membres de Gaâda Diwan Béchar, deux figures importantes de la culture algérienne. Aujourd’hui, il revisite la tradition gnawa et réinvente la transe à coup de rifs électrisants. Infiltrant le répertoire ancestral avec des sonorités reggae, blues, rock et jazz, Grooz crée un maelström de rythmes hypnotiques et vigoureux, provoquant des mouvements de danse extatique.
Saturday November 16, 2019 Alliance Francaise Toronto, 24 Spadina Rd. Toronto Doors: 8 PM / Concert 9 PM
Advance Tickets: $25 / $13 members / $20 seniors/students / Door: $30
(416) 922 – 2014 x 37
Ahmed AG Kaedy brings Tuareg music to Toronto's Aga Khan tonight. It's not the usual storied Mali traditional music that influenced today's Western pop, r&b, jazz and sould and blues music carried across by slaves many centuries ago. Tuareg stringy music is airy and philosophical permeating the desert of the Sahara, and satiating the space the ethnic Tuareg finds themselves. AG Kaedy, whose show starts this evening at 8:30 p.m., tells the African World News in a written interview by Peter Uduehi (below) about his music and what it means for the world:
How would you classify the type of Malian music you play considering Mali is particularly known for its rich griot/jali folklore style? Does your Tuareg background and style compete favourably with Mali's storied traditions?
The tuareg people have a very independent spirit, many don't recognize the Malian influence politically, much less culturally. However, their music is popular amongst all Malians and especially young people of all ethnic backgrounds will lend their ear to the messages of artists such as Ibrahim [Ag Alhabib of Tinariwen] and me.
Who are some of your influences?
Artists such as Ali Farka Touré and Ibrahim Ag Alhabib were the ones that encouraged me to play the guitar, by showing that it is possible to have great influence using the guitar and the power of song. But as a young man, I listened to all the music that was available to me at the time, which also includes Bambara music, Songhoy styles such as the Takamba but also a fair deal of American and European popular music. I have always enjoyed listening to Mark Knopfler, for instance. But my goal has always been to create my own style, and play from original inspiration rather than copying people.
What does the term "desert blues" mean to you?
It is a term coined by foreigners, and it refers to many different styles that are in fact very different from each other. Ali Farka Touré is arguably the most influential musician that fits the term "Desert Blues", which is also commonly used to describe the music of Tinariwen and Amanar. The latter two however play a the Tuareg guitar style while the former belongs to a wholly different ethnicity and sings in a different language and uses different rhythms. They do however influence and reference each other, as they both understand music to be a tool of connection rather than separation. People may call my music desert blues, Tuareg music, Malian music or African rock music, what matters is that they will listen and make an effort to understand, not the intricacies of the medium but the essence of the message, which is in a lot of ways shared among the great musicians of the West Sahara region.
Are you still able to perform in Mali to Tuareg audiences considering the Islamist rebels constantly oppose your profession as a musician, drove you out of your residence, and tried to stop you from playing music some years ago?
I can not publicly perform in my home of Kidal ever since the war started. It is too dangerous. I do however regularily play across Southern Mali, in Bamako and Segou and the region. I am playing at the Festival de Niger in Segou [the biggest music event in Mali] every year, as the representative of Tuareg culture. I have lived off nothing but music ever since I quit the military, there is no way to do that without performing regularily!
To whom do you perform in Mali these days?
Many people, across all ethnicities and backgrounds, including foreigners and poor people in villages. I try however to specifically reach the Tuareg youth, as they understand the language and the poetry of the songs which is in many cases directed at them, to stress the importance of education and peace for instance.
What's your opinion on Islamic extremists who constantly attack the African way of life, especially African traditional music?
Islamic extremists are very much an outcome of extreme poverty and a lack of education, which has been the condition throughout the Sahel for as long as I can remember. It is hard to judge young men who have no other opportunity in life than to take up arms for whatever cause will pay for their sustenance. That is what I did too. The people who abuse this circumstance to promote their often hateful agenda, that is another matter.
Considering music to an African is like water for plants, can anyone really stop an African from playing music?
I do not speak for all Africans, but I'm still playing music, and my life has been threatened because of it, so I do not believe anything short of death will stop me. I know of many people who have abandoned music for far lesser reasons though.
Has your faith in Islam been shaken because of the violence of Muslim extremists in Mali?
I am not a scholar of Islam, but I am a Muslim and I know that killing innocent people and forbidding music, which is what they are doing, is wrong and is not my faith. It is in fact my very faith that has helped and reassured me to continue with what I am doing. God has allowed me to do what I do for a long time now, and has blessed me in many ways. If he needs me to go through hardship, it can only strengthen my resolve as long as I make sure that what I am doing is right.
What message do you bring from your music as you tour the world?
To be honest, when playing for western audiences, sometimes I am not sure what message they receive. I see a lot of joy at my concerts, and people will show gratefulness to the point of being in tears after my concerts, but I am aware that they have not understood a single word of what I was singing. My lyrics are directed at my people, and they reflect my experience in Mali and increasingly also in the West. I see a lot of the same problems all over the world and I try to adress them, try to help people see things for what they truly are rather than what they appear to be through the lenses of their particular identification and experience. Apparently, music is universal that way.
Are you finding Western audiences' response to your music different from those in Africa?
Yes. Westerners want to dance a lot, for them the expectation when they go to a concert with an African artist is usually that they will have a great party. Tuareg audiences will be much more timid and calm especially at the beginning of concerts, on a good day there is collective joy by the end of a concert for both though, just a different energy.