A Spin Through The Newest Music From Africa Host Guy Raz takes a spin through some of the newest music from West Africa and the Southern Sahara. His guide is Betto Arcos, host of Global Village on KPFK in Los Angeles. Among Betto's picks: Angelique Kidjo's thrilling version of a song many Americans know as "Wimoweh" or "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

A Spin Through The Newest Music From Africa

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123187656/123187721" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(Soundbite of song, "Chabiba")

TINARIWEN (Music Group): (Singing in foreign language).

GUY RAZ, host:

We're hearing the music of the desert, actually the Sahara, and the sounds of Tinariwen, a band of nomads, former rebels turned rockers, who released a new record called "Imidiwan." It's one of the tracks Betto Arcos is spinning on his world music program "Global Village" on KPFK in Los Angeles.

And Betto is here once again to share some of the new music he's found. Betto, good to have you back.

Mr. BETTO ARCOS (Host, "Global Village"): Great to be with you, Guy.

RAZ: You brought several new pieces from African artists, mostly from Mali in the southern Sahara region. And I want to start by asking about this song we're hearing by Tinariwen. It's called "Chabiba."

Mr. ARCOS: This is a group of Tuareg musicians. They call themselves Kel Tamashek, specifically. That's their ethnic group. And they sing in Tamashek, that's their language. They're former nomads. They live around the borders of Libya, Algeria, Mali and Niger.

This is a song about their landing for their homeland, their family, their friends and the rebels who fought like them for their freedom.

(Soundbite of song, "Chabiba")

TINARIWEN: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: And I guess you should explain a little bit of the background of the rebellion.

Mr. ARCOS: They were fighting against the government of Mali because they felt oppressed. They felt they weren't able to travel from village to village and crossing the borders. And the Malian government wasn't exactly happy with this, but then there were peace accords. And after the rebellion, they decided it's time to give up their arms and continue with their music.

(Soundbite of song, "Chabiba")

TINARIWEN: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: The song is called "Chabiba" by the band Tinariwen.

Betto, we're staying in the region, and you bring a new piece from an artist who's just pretty well known here in the U.S., Ali Farka Toure.

(Soundbite of song, "Sabu Yerkoy")

Mr. ARCOS: I think a lot of people remember Ali Farka Toure from the work that he did with Ry Cooder...

RAZ: Ry Cooder, yeah.

Mr. ARCOS: ...back in the early '90s.

RAZ: "Talking Timbuktu," correct?

Mr. ARCOS: Correct, that beautiful album. Ali Farka Toure has had a long history of music in Mali, and this record is a kind of retrospective of some of the music that he started playing back in the early '60s, including this particular tune, which is kind of an anthem to the independence of Mali, which happened in 1960.

Interestingly, this song is not a traditional Malian song from the North, where he's from, from the village of Niafunke, in the area of Timbuktu, but it's actually a song influenced by Cuban music, and the Cuban aspect of it you hear very clearly in the melody line. There's even a reference, perhaps, to a Cuban tune. And not only that, they asked Cachaito Lopez, the great Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez, the bassist who played with many musicians in Cuba, and also famous for the Buena Vista Social Club, to join in on bass.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: It's such a beautiful piece of music and so easy to listen to, you know? When was this recorded?

Mr. ARCOS: This was recorded about a year or so before Ali Farka Toure passed away.

RAZ: He died in 2006.

Mr. ARCOS: Yes.

RAZ: And it was just released now.

Mr. ARCOS: This is actually coming out in a couple weeks. So you are hearing a very special advance of this beautiful music.

RAZ: The track is called "Sabu Yerkoy." It's from the forthcoming record "Ali and Toumani" by the late Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate.

(Soundbite of song, "Ligdi")

RAZ: Betto, this next piece takes traditional music from Burkina Faso with a sort of a dance spin to it.

Mr. ARCOS: Yeah. You're probably going to say what a contrast to go through this electronica, and I'll be the first one to tell you, I'm not a fan of electronica. But when I heard this music, I said wait a minute, wait a minute, I love this stuff.

(Soundbite of song, "Ligdi")

BURKINA ELECTRIC (Music Group): (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. ARCOS: We have a composer-percussionist from New York, Lukas Ligeti, son of the great composer George Ligeti, working with an electronica artist from Dusseldorf, Germany. And they work in collaboration, okay? They're all co-composers of this music, working in collaboration with musicians from Burkina Faso. The guitarist is out of this world. I mean, this guy, oh, when I heard the solos that he had on this record, I said wow, where is he from? I want to meet him.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ARCOS: Lukas Ligeti and the musicians, what they've done is they've actually spent time in villages, listening to music, absorbing the sounds, the ooze from the streets, from the markets, and learn how to play the rhythms of Burkina Faso. And they put on a show.

I mean, I haven't seen them yet, but I'm told that two of the other members are dancers. So they dance to this music. So they get the audience going. And it's supposed to be really an amazing show.

RAZ: Wow. The track is called "Ligdi." It's off the debut album by the band "Burkina Electric."

(Soundbite of song, "Mbube")

Ms. ANGELIQUE KIDJO (Singer): (Singing in foreign language).

RAZ: Finally, Betto, you've been talking about this last piece we're hearing for weeks now. It's called "Mbube" by Angelique Kidjo.

Mr. ARCOS: If you hear the background vocals of this song, you might be able to recognize a very, very famous song from South Africa that was recorded in the early '50s by none other than the great Pete Seeger. It's a song that he titled "Wimoweh."

(Soundbite of song, "Mbube")

Ms. KIDJO: (Singing in foreign language).

RAZ: Yeah, when I heard that, it just it blew me away. I mean, a completely different version of that song that we're used to hearing.

Mr. ARCOS: This song was initially recorded by Solomon Linda with a group that was called The Evening Birds in South Africa. The record made it to the U.S. through Decca Records. Alan Lomax got a copy of it, gave it to Pete Seeger. He recorded it, loved it. Then Miriam Makeba, the great South African singer who passed away a couple of years ago, also recorded it with Harry Belafonte Folk Singers and the Chad Mitchell Trio. And then, of course, I came to hear it, growing up in Mexico in the early '60s, with a version by The Tokens, which called it yes, you remember, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: The track is "Mbube." It's by Angelique Kidjo. And it's one of the songs Betto Arcos has been spinning on his radio show "Global Village" on KPFK in Los Angeles.

Betto, thanks so much for coming in and sharing some of your favorites with us.

Mr. ARCOS: Oh, I always love doing this. Thank you for having me.

(Soundbite of song, "Mbube")

Ms. KIDJO: (Singing in foreign language).

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Thanks for listening, and have a great week.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.