Friday, February 13, 2009

Pièces d'Afrique

One of the worst habits of the PC current of totalizing Anglo "pan-ethnicism" is to relegate everything non-White to the category of "world music," a dangerous and offensive tendency that is as such utterly of a piece with its other cultural effects: everything from Africa is "African music," for example, though of course no one would think of asking if you're into "American music" or "English music." With that in mind, let's be specific--let's do our homework:

Ray Lema & Tyour Gnaoua, "Allal" (live 2000), studio version on Safi (2001)
The term gnaoua denotes an ethnic tradition, a musical ensemble, and the type of music it plays: the gnaoua are descendants of the slave classes of sub-Saharan Africa, and a gnaoua ensemble is a group consisting of musicians, dancers, healers, seers, and their students that plays a ritualistic, cyclical, rhythmically cross-hatched music heavily influenced by both Arabic North African and continental African sounds which is generally comprised of metallic castanets called crotales, the guembri (a three-string lute that sounds something like a cross between an oud and an upright bass), and vocals. Tyour Gnaoua hails from Morocco and is led by guembra player and vocalist Adeslam Alikkane.

Ray Lema, on the other hand, is a Congolese guitarist, keyboardist, and singer (born there in 1946 when it was still Zaire) heavily influenced by various western sounds and interested in crossbreeding them with the rhythms and timbres of central Africa. The combination of his makossa- and Afrobeat-influenced sensibility with the ancient folk-mysticism of the gnaoua yields a sort of glittering, beyond-body historical futurism, an electrified traditional trance.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti, "Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense" (live), studio version on Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense (1986)

Fela remains possibly the best-known and certainly the most influential modern African musician in the west: the entire genre of Afrobeat, a combination of the ritual rhythms and forms of the Nigerian Yoruba, jazz improvisation, and funk-style drumkit patterns, guitar riffs, and horn stabs (themselves, of course, traditions which developed from Africa), is essentially of his invention. Fela was also a genuine political radical in a sense that is perhaps unattainable for the modern western musician: his legendary "Zombie," which mocked the militaristic Nigerian government that followed the withdrawal of White colonial powers, caused an anti-militarist backlash which eventually landed him in prison, and the story of Nigerian cops' attempt to plant drugs on him is chronicled in some detail in the monolithic "Expensive Shit."

King Sunny Adé & His African Beats, "Ja Funmi," from Jùjú Music (1982)
Adé is probably the best-known exponent of Nigerian jùjú, a style that, like Fela's Afrobeat, takes influence from the percussion ensembles of the Yoruba people but emphasizes them over the westernized funk and jazz elements one can discern in "Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense"--one might (too generally) summarize the difference by saying that in Fela's music, the rhythm section sets up grooves on top of which he and the horns can riff and improvise, whereas King Sunny Adé places his percussion sections in a lead role and supports them with subtle, sometimes limpid webs of interlocking guitars and keys.

Manu Dibango, "Soul Makossa," from Soul Makossa (1972)
Makossa, a combination of Occidental funk, rock, and R&B influences with a style of Afro-Cuban big-band music called soukous popular in the Belgian and French Congo during the '30s and '40s, developed in Cameroon on the West African coast during the '70s, and its prime mover was Manu Dibango, whose breakbeat-driven form of minimalist soul music is often considered a direct precursor to the development of early-'70s funk into mid-'70s disco in the west. Dig that drum break.

1 comment:

cosmic cheese said...

continue to soak my paisley skin with the motherland songs