Surveying '50 Years Of Music' From Africa Seventeen African nations turned 50 in 2010, and to commemorate the continent's half-century move from colonialism to independence comes Africa: 50 Years of Music, an 18-CD compilation.
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Surveying '50 Years Of Music' From Africa

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Surveying '50 Years Of Music' From Africa

Review

Music Reviews

Surveying '50 Years Of Music' From Africa

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Seventeen countries in Africa turned 50 in 2010. And a new compilation of music celebrates the continent's move from colonialism to independence. "Africa: 50 Years of Music" is a journey of 18 CDs.

Summarizing the modern music of Africa is a daunting task, and reviewer Banning Eyre tells us this release may be as close as anyone will come.

(Soundbite of music)

BANNING EYRE: Independence swept the African continent in a wave, leaving South Africa as the lone holdout after 1980. As Africans emerged from their colonial ordeals, they forged new national identities. And the era's music became a sound print of that process.

Local cultures collided with influences from Europe, the U.S., the Caribbean and the Middle East. There was the brassy lilt of Ghanaian hi-life.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Ghana, we now have freedom. Ghana, land of freedom. (Unintelligible).

EYRE: Elsewhere, guitars and keyboards took on the sounds and rhythms of indigenous African instruments. In Zimbabwe, Thomas Mapfumo reinvented ancient religious music once played on iron-pronged thumb pianos as radio-friendly guitar pop.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

EYRE: Among the 185 songs in this collection are many hits that crossed borders and helped build a new global awareness of Africa. There's Cameroon's Manu Dibangu.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

EYRE: South Africa's Miriam Makeba.

Unidentified People: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

EYRE: And Guinea's Mory Kante with Yeke Yeke, a mainstream sensation in France in the mid-'80s.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: And then amid all this party music, we find evocations of classical poetry from Egypt's greatest singer, Umm Kulthum.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. UMM KULTHUM (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: This collection helpfully organizes all this diversity into six categories: north, south, east, west, central, and Lusaphone or Portuguese-speaking Africa, three CDs for each. It's a balanced approach that leaves room for lesser-known artists like the band Africa Negra from the islands of Sao Tome and Principe.

(Soundbite of music)

AFRICA NEGRA (Music Group): (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Devoted fans will find bones to pick. There are omissions, like juju pioneer King Sunny Ade, and times when a song pick doesn't show an artist at his or her best. Also, the sounds of the hip-hop generation get short shrift.

The truth is, 18 CDs is not enough, but this is a landmark effort, a soundtrack to a turbulent era of African history that produced some of the most beguiling and innovative music of our time.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: Banning Eyre is senior editor at afropop.org. He reviewed the box set "Africa: 50 Years of Music."

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