Tag Archives: Africa

Manu Dibango and “Soul makossa”

The Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango began his career by performing in the local church choir in his hometown of Douala. As a child, Dibango faced significant challenges growing up in a household where his father and mother belonged to rival ethnic groups in the region. His parents, however, did own a vast record collection, which deepened his interest in Cuban, U.S., and French music at a young age. After moving to France in 1949, Dibango learned to play the piano and later the saxophone. He developed a love for jazz while in France with the help of Francis Bebey and other musicians who inspired and taught him.

After moving to Brussels in 1956, Dibango joined Joseph Kabasele’s Congolese orchestra Le Grand Kallé et l’African Jazz, which was famous for its hit Indépendance chacha in 1960. Dibango traveled with Kabasele’s orchestra to perform in the city of Kinshasa in1961, where he decided to stay and open the famous Tam-Tam nightclub. In 1963, Dibango’s hit song Twist à Léo helped popularize the twist dance throughout the Congo, and his encounter with Congolese music inspired him to delve deeper into African music, especially makossa, the popular genre of his hometown Douala.

Dibango recorded the song Soul makossa in 1971 and positioned it as the b-side to the single Hymne de la Coupe d’Afrique des Nations, which was a tribute to the Cameroon football team. Local listeners were not initially impressed by Soul makossa, and even Dibango’s father scoffed at the stuttering vocal line in the song. A few copies of the single, however, found their way across the Atlantic Ocean and into the hands of radio DJs in New York City by 1972. The song became a hit on New York radio stations and in disco clubs. The few copies circulating in the city were immediately sold out, and the lack of distribution resulted in Soul makossa being recorded and released by several local New York City bands to meet the demand. Once distribution of the original single by Dibango resumed, Soul makossa immediately shot to the top of the charts.

Read the full entry on Manu Dibango in MGG Online. Below is a video of a performance of Soul makossa in 1983.

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Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music, World music

E-Journal of Music Research (EJOMUR)

The E-Journal of Music Research (EJOMUR) is an open-access journal from Ghana that publishes academic articles, conference papers, dissertation and thesis chapters, and book reviews in music. EJOMUR was first published in August 2020 and since then, their readership has grown to include academics, musicologists, composers, historians, musicians, and those interested in music research. All research articles submitted to the journal undergo a double-blind peer-review process, and issues are subsequently published online monthly.

EJOMUR publishes original articles on a wide range of topics in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, systematic musicology, music education, and music literature.

Find this journal in RILM Abstracts. Listen to Kwesi Gyan, a 21st-century chamber orchestra piece that combines Apatampa rhythms and folk music with contemporary compositional techniques. The piece is featured in an article in the July 2023 issue of the journal.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Africa, New periodicals

Zilipendwa and nostalgia

Tanzanian zilipendwa is a look-over-the-shoulder metagenre whose musical subject is a moving target dependent on the current time reference.

The term was initially reserved for east and central African dance music chestnuts popular during the 1960s and early 1970s post-Independence period, but it recently encompasses the music of the mid-1970s through late 1980s, a time generally associated with the Socialist policies of Julius Nyerere.

Fans of zilipendwa are most eloquent about its value in their lives when making humorous generational distinctions with Bongo Flava, the region’s hip hop and R&B. Zilipendwa fans are also quick to demonstrate their affinity through physical expression, dancing a style known as serebuka, translated as “blissful expressive dance”.

Recently popularized on the television show Bongo Star Search, serebuka dancers take to the floor and bounce off the walls with a coterie of enthusiastic free moves and styles (mitindo) covering fifty years of popular music history.

Nostalgia for zilipendwa is far from being a melancholic rumination over days long past; it is enacted instead for the sake of health and community well-being. Zilipendwa is a conscious act towards musicking the values of a fading era, creating temporary autonomous zones where the perceived chaos and noise of neoliberal globalization are now waiting to rush in.

This according to “‘Rhumba kiserebuka!’: Evoking embodied temporalities through Tanzanian zilipendwa” by Frank Gunderson (The world of music (new series) III/1 [2014] pp. 11–23; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2014-17463).

Above, Msondo Ngoma, a group discussed in the article; below, the U.S.-based zilipendwa artist Samba Mapangangala. (Don’t worry—the music and dancing start soon, and they’re worth the wait!)

BONUS: Schoolboys getting down to zilipendwa in the great outdoors.

More posts about Tanzania are here.

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Filed under Africa, Dance, Popular music

Benin Journal of Music and the Arts

In 2022 the Music Programme of the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Benin (Benin City, Nigeria) launched Benin Journal of Music and the Arts (BENJMA), an open-access online publication that is also available in complimentary print versions.

BENJMA is designed to publish at least one annual issue, and to undertake the publication of special issues when the need arises. The journal publishes well-researched scholarly articles in music and the arts to promote scholarship and support the dissemination of research findings at local and global levels, providing a forum for discourses on historical, contemporary, and evolving subjects. It aims to serve as a basis for the formation of future perspectives, the making of impactful predictions, and the galvanization of developmental ideas. 

BENJMA’s editors and reviewers have a wealth of experience in various areas of music and the arts, and the journal is open to any thematic area.

Below, excerpts from the Yorùbá ìbejì festival, the subject of an article in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under Africa, New periodicals

Malipenga mashup

Performed by Tonga men and boys in Malawi, malipenga involves competitive teams organized in a quasi-military hierarchy—titles include sergeant, captain, and kingi as well as doctor and nurse—dancing in rows and columns and wearing modified European costumes.

Rather than simply viewing it as a product of colonialism, malipenga should be understood in terms of the dynamic nature of ngoma traditions, an ongoing cultural feature that has survived the disruptions of the colonial period.

This according to “Putting colonialism into perspective: Cultural history and the case of malipenga ngoma in Malawi” by Lisa Gilman, an essay included in Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000, pp. 321–345; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2000-8791). Below, an example from 2018.

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Dance

Wagogo music and ethics

Among the Gogo people of Tanzania music is an essential factor in societal cohesion, comprising the central link between earthly and spiritual life. Gogo music is concerned with ethics, not aesthetics, and it is governed by direct connections between performance circumstances and musical parameters.

For example, the polyphonic section linked to the performance of cipande functions as a way to relieve pain during ritual male circumcision. After the song has begun, the men surround the boy who is about to be circumcised and, on a signal, break into  vocal polyphony as they project their voices toward him; the women continue to sing just outside the ritual circle. The information saturation generated by the dense polyphonic texture acts as a natural anesthetic, as the distracted boy is unable to process the aural complexity.

This according to “Logic and music in Black Africa. II: Social function and musical technique in the Gogo heritage, Tanzania” by Polo Vallejo (TRANS: Revista transcultural de música/Transcultural music review XI [July 2007]; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2007-7124).

Above, a Gogo women’s drum group (courtesy of Martin Neil, Voices from the Nations); below, a demonstration of cipande singing.

More posts about Tanzania are here.

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Filed under Africa, Black studies

Valódia: A transatlantic decolonization anthem

Written and recorded in 1975 by the Angolan popular singer António Sebastião Vicente (Santocas), Valódia is derived from African praise songs, with their characteristic heroic laudatory epithets. The song demonstrates the timeless quality of such praise songs, as it turns a young soldier into a socialist hero.

Traditional African poets served as both praise singers and court historians, and their successors are in the vanguard of political song movements. Santocas’s lyrics capture the essence of the fallen subject, who fought against neocolonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.

When Valódia was recorded by the Cuban singer Beatriz Márquez it became a transatlantic anthem advocating sociopolitical and economic change framed by communist doctrine, advancing an agenda of decolonization that still lingers over the destinies of both Angola and Cuba.

This according to “Valódia: A transatlantic praise song” by Jorge Luis Morejón-Benitez, an essay included in Indigenous African popular music. I: Prophets and philosophers (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 303–20; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-2996).

Below, the original recordings.

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Filed under Africa, Central America, Curiosities, Politics, Popular music

Oliver Mtukudzi: Instruction and reconstruction

Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi left a vast and rich body of music produced over a long and illustrious career. Through his skillful use of traditional Shona proverbs, textured idiomatic expressions, metaphor, and ingenious word play, he was able to teach while simultaneously entertaining his audience.

Through its dialogic nature, Mtukudzi’s music positioned itself at the service of both instruction and reconstruction in ways that differed markedly from those offered by Western formal education.

These pedagogical and reconstructive potentials are located in traditional forms of knowledge generation and knowledge transfer. Mtukudzi’s music must be viewed as a reconstructive pedagogy that raises the social consciousness of its listeners. Framed against current trends in Africa and other formerly colonized spaces for the decolonization of ways of learning and teaching, Mtukudzi’s music articulates reconstructive ways of thinking about knowledge, knowledge generation, knowledge transfer, and the archiving of lived experiences in Africa.

This according to “Music as pedagogy: The life, times, and music of Oliver Mtukudzi” by Gibson Ncube and Yemurai Gwatirisa, an essay included in The life and music of Oliver Mtukudzi: Reconstruction and identity (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 39–50; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-407).

Today would have been Oliver Mtukudzi’s 70th birthday!

Below, Mtukudzi’s Todii (What shall we do?) evokes the world of traditional proverbs to convey new messages of social commentary.

BONUS: In a collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mtukudzi’s Neria raises vital themes involving women, family relations, and politics.

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Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music

Moroccan insult contests

Marrakech

A performance that occurred almost daily in a public square in Marrakech in the early 1980s traded on ethnic identity for fun and profit.

The performance began with an Arab duo singing in Arabic; as a crowd began to gather around them, a Berber—a member of a rival ethnic group—leaped into the circle with a song in Tashlit. After a few moments of cacaphony a shouting match began, with the Berber and one of the Arabs trading insults while the other Arab took one side and then the other, upping the ante.

“Monkey, block-headed windbag, long-fingernailed King Kong, hick, salt stealer, son of a whore!” Each string of insults was preceded by an ethnic designator, and audience members were encouraged to contribute money to the aggrieved party to demonstrate their own ethnic pride. Occasionally fisticuffs between audience members ensued.

The high point of the performance came when the monetarily losing antagonist was figuratively turned into a donkey and the winner climbed onto his back and called for his instrument; victory, however temporary, meant both being on top and singing one’s own song there.

This according to “Saints, prostitutes, and rotten sardines: The musical construction of place and ethnicity in a Moroccan insult contest” by Philip D. Schuyler, an essay included in Ethnomusicological encounters with music and musicians: Essays in honor of Robert Garfias (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011, pp. 249–259; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-5436).

Above and below, examples of street music in Marrakech.

Related article: 50 best literary insults

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Humor

Taarab and mpasho

The Swahili word mpasho is related to the verb -pasha, “to cause to get”, and it refers to someone “getting the message”.

In the popular genre taarab, mpasho performances involve sending and receiving powerful communications—often competetive and antagonistic in nature—through song texts. The subject may be an individual, an organization, or social group, any of which may respond with their own mpasho performance. The phenomenon arose among women singers, most notably Siti binti Saad (above).

This according to “Hot kabisa! The mpasho phenomenon and taarab in Zanzibar” by Janet Topp Fargion, an essay included in Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000; 39–53). Below, Siti binti Saad’s Wewe paka (You are a cat, 1930) sends a message about unwanted sexual advances that would resonate with today’s #MeToo movement.

More posts about Tanzania are here.

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies