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'Legends of African Music': Sounds of a Continent
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'Legends of African Music': Sounds of a Continent


TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox and this is NEWS & NOTES.

And now NPR correspondent Farai Chideya and two guests discuss music from one of the most influential parts of the world.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Africa: one continent, 54 countries, thousands of cultures and brilliant musicians. In the latest issue of Global Rhythm magazine, more than four dozen artists, including South Africa's Miriam Makeba, Senegal's Youssou N'Dour, and Benin's Angelique Kidjo are featured as Legends of African Music.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Women: (Singing in a foreign language)

CHIDEYA: The articles inside offer a sweeping transcontinental music tour packed with everything from Juju to Marrabenta to rumba Congolese. Still, one magazine can only cover so much. So for a better look at music across Africa, I'm joined by two Global Rhythm contributors. Tom Terrell is a music journalist and Christina Roden is a writer and marketing consultant. They both join me from New York.


Mr. TOM TERRELL (Contributor, Global Rhythm): Thank you

Ms. CHRISTINA RODEN (Contributor, Global Rhythm): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So let's get right to the music. You both contributed short write-ups about some of your favorite artists. Christina, I will start with you. You have a couple of favorites featured here. Tell me about your picks.

Ms. RODEN: Well, the first one was Africando, which is a band partly Senegalese. What happened is that some of the best Senegalese salsa musicians--there is a very intense salsa scene in West Africa--came to New York in order to record with great Latin musicians. So what we had was this bicultural joining that was absolutely extraordinary.

(Soundbite of song)

AFRICANDO: (Singing in a foreign language)

Ms. RODEN: And the second one was Zyco Lunga Lunga(ph). They are rumba Congolese and one of the more off-the-wall bands. They definitely have a lot of enthusiasm.

CHIDEYA: Give me a sense of how that enthusiasm affected you the first time you heard their music.

Ms. RODEN: Well, just an overwhelming sense of joy. They had a puckish sense of humor. They were musically just--you never knew what they were going to do. They were rhythmically very, very fast and very profound, and the vocals are very sweet and the guitars just didn't--never dropped a beat. They were just incredible.

(Soundbite of song)

ZYCO LUNGA LUNGA: (Singing in a foreign language)

CHIDEYA: Tom, you picked Salif Keita, an internationally known singer from Mali. Tell me a little bit about him.

Mr. TERRELL: Well, yes, Salif was born in 1949. He was born Salifa Keita(ph). Anyway, he was--he's an albino and in his culture to be born that way is to be considered cursed by the gods. And--but he overcame that to become, I think, one of the greatest singers ever to come out of Mali. And he just--I first heard him live years ago, gosh, around 1990, and from that point on, I mean, I've always been moved by his vocals which come from some other place, some higher, higher spiritual place from within. I mean, I just can tell you. And his last album, "Mufu," took him back really to his beginnings, which is griot beginnings. It's very acoustic and it features a lot of traditional instruments.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SALIF KEITA: (Singing in a foreign language)

Mr. TERRELL: Well, once you hear Salif, it's to be touched, I think, by, like, the angels.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. KEITA: (Singing in a foreign language)

CHIDEYA: Let's talk a little bit about the broader scope of this issue, Legends of African Music. There are so many different cultures and styles within African music. Can you possibly encompass it? I'll start with you, Tom, and then Christina.

Mr. TERRELL: Well, you know, there are--what's beautiful about it is that really everything that American music is, which is basically the black American experience, is from Africa. And so you're going to hear all kinds of different things. If you hear something here in America, you will hear it paralleled in at least three or four other countries or cultures throughout Africa. So, you know, the only thing that we had an advantage for a while was electricity and it's not that anymore.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. Christina, tell me a little about how African music has changed with things--you know, not just electricity but electronic instrumentation. You know, there's obviously some people in this issue who use very traditional instruments, including the Zimbabwean musicians who are using the thumb piano as well as the electronic instrumentation.

Ms. RODEN: Well, you also have to realize that we're in the age of the computer now and most of the musicians that I work with, you know, 'cause I also do production, are guys that are very happy with computers, they're very comfortable with electric instruments. I mean, Africa is going into the 21st century with the rest of us.

CHIDEYA: Let's talk, Christina, just briefly about the late Fela Kuti. He's on the cover. He is someone who masterfully blended modern and traditional styles. Why does his influence linger so long?

Ms. RODEN: In this country I think that his music is so easy on the American ear because it used so much of an R&B influence and also, I think, because of his rather aggressive political stance, which a lot of Americans, particularly during the '70s and '80s, found very attractive. He was a very outspoken man. I don't agree with him all the time. For example, he seemed to feel that all Nigerians should be free except women, which I always had a bit of a problem with, but there's no denying the fact that he was a very great musician.

CHIDEYA: And, Tom, what about you?

Mr. TERRELL: Oh, well, Fela just knocks me out. I mean, I think when I hear Fela on this side of the world, I hear Sun Ra. I hear Parliament/Funkadelic. I hear, of course, James Brown. I hear Sly & The Family Stone. And I also hear Miles Davis' electric period. I think he was the first modern African musician, pop musician anyway, to take stuff from America and then to mold it with his own native rhythms. So what you have is a music which is not only Nigerian but it's international and it's also American and it's also modern. And...

CHIDEYA: I think of songs like "Teacher, Don't Teach Me Nonsense." What's your favorite Fela song?

Mr. TERRELL: My--"Who No Know Go Know."

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. FELA KUTI: (Singing in a foreign language) we no hear.

Chorus: (Singing) We no know.

Mr. KUTI: (Singing) We let them die, we no hear.

Chorus: (Singing) We no know.

Mr. KUTI: (Singing) I say who no know go know.

Chorus: (Singing) Who no know go know.

Mr. KUTI: Who no know go know.

Chorus: (Singing) Who no know go know.

Mr. KUTI: You go know, you go know before you die.

Chorus: (Singing) Who no know go know.

CHIDEYA: Christina, what about the audiences for African music in the United States? If you go hear someone like Femi Kuti, who's Fela Kuti's son, or Cesaria Evora from Cape Verde, you see a lot of white faces in the audience, not so many black ones. Have black Americans ever really warmed to African music as much as white American audiences?

Ms. RODEN: Strangely, through all my years working with various record companies, I have found that African-Americans have not enjoyed the music as much or sought it out as much. Part of it is the language problem. I think that a lot of black people like to be addressed in their own language about their own situations and their own cultural realities. I think that's part of it. But I think the audience is also growing. When I go to these shows now, it's not all these white faces. It's getting to be more of a mix, I would say at this point, about a third people, you know, who are not white.

CHIDEYA: I had an interesting experience where I went to one of Youssou N'Dour's kind of super festivals in New York...

Mr. TERRELL: Ah, yeah, the Grand Festival.

CHIDEYA: a huge hall. And it was almost all black people, most of them African, but all of the Americans were dressed in African dress and all of the Africans were dressed in Gucci, which I just--it cracked me up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TERRELL: It's about time. It's about time the worlds got reversed here. Yeah.


Mr. TERRELL: No, but it's a very funny because I found my experience has been in a place like--probably the most receptive places to me for black Americans has been Washington, DC, because I used to give house parties and I would always play Fela and Prince Nico and Bob Marley, whatever. But, as Christina said, it is changing now because I think as African music has gotten more electric, more sophisticated, more bringing in more other elements, you're finding out that there is going to be a lot more black audiences because now the rhythms and the pop and the melodies and the harmonies, which they are so close to R&B in a lot of cases, that you're going to find, and you are finding, more and more black Americans, you know, getting into African music, world music.

CHIDEYA: Finally and very briefly, you both have some favorites that didn't make your list. Christina, tell me about one.

Ms. RODEN: Well, I have to mention Buda Music's magnificent "Eqthiopiques" series, which is--they're up in the 20s with the CDs volumes now. And it deals with this wonderful '60s and '70s music that happened in Ethiopia before the political junta got in.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. RODEN: And it's just this marvelous free-flowing Ethiopian R&B. It's extraordinary.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in a foreign language)


Mr. TERRELL: One, Femi Kuti, Fela's son. Femi has done stuff way beyond, I think, what his father has done and there's a new release. It's a double CD. It's a CD and a DVD. It's called "Live at the Shrine." And there's amazing tracks on it like "Dem Bobo."

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. FEMI KUTI: (Singing in a foreign language)

Mr. TERRELL: I have to say, Umu Sangares(ph)--there's a collection called "Umu(ph)" which everybody must get next to this woman. This woman--she is just so, so fantastic. And even if you don't understand the words--a lot of her songs are dealing with religious issues, polygamy, oppression of women--even if you don't understand what she's singing, you will feel it.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. UMU SANGARES: (Singing in a foreign language)

CHIDEYA: Where is she from again?

Mr. TERRELL: She's from Mali.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, Tom Terrell is a music journalist and Christina Roden is a writer and marketing consultant. They've both written articles for the latest issue of Global Rhythm magazine featuring Legends of African Music. And we've just heard a whole variety of things we're going to have to rush out and get. They join me from our studio in New York. Thank you both so much.

Mr. TERRELL: Thank you, Farai.

Ms. RODEN: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Farai Chideya, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. UMU SANGARES: (Singing in a foreign language)

COX: You can learn more about Global Rhythm magazine's Legends of African Music issue and listen to music by some of the continent's artists on our Web site,

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. UMU SANGARES: (Singing in a foreign language)

COX: Before we end today's program, we'd like to welcome the listeners of KBBG-FM in Waterloo, Iowa. They air the program every day at noon. We hope you enjoy the show.

Thanks for joining us. To listen to this show, visit NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. I'm Tony Cox. Ed Gordon will be back tomorrow. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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