Staff Column: African Adventures

The Blue Indian’s photographer is currently in West Africa on photo assignment (not for us, unfortunately). He sends us this mixtape of some of his favorite African musicians. Their styles are as diverse as the continent and its cultures. From Alpha & Lucky’s reggae grooves to Fela Kuti’s afrobeat jams, it’s all different and it’s all good.

Enjoy the tunes and if you hear something you like visit the artists’ web sites and support them by buying their album.

The Very Best – “Mfumu”
From the album Warm Heart of Africa, 2009
Esau Mwamwaya is from Malawi but teamed up with a London DJ/production duo to create The Very Best. They blend traditional music of Malawi with dance, hip-hop, and pop. You can download their latest mixtape for free.
Youssou N’Dour – “Pullo Ardo”
From the album Rokku Mi Rokka (Give and Take)
Called Africa’s most popular musician by Rolling Stone, this Senegalese Grammy winner is a legend. He started singing in the griot tradition of his ancestors and made the style his own. Even if you don’t understand his Wolof lyrics, you’ll be singing along in no time.
Alpha Blondy – “Cocody Rock”
From the album Cocody Rock
This reggae star was the Ivory Coast’s most popular singer. I saw him once in a hotel lobby and he was surrounded by adoring women. “Cocody Rock” is one of his most famous songs and he actually traveled to Jamaica to record it with Bob Marley’s backing band The Wailers.
Tinariwen – “Assouf”
From the album Aman Iman (Water Is Life)
Former rebels trained by Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi, these Tuareg warrior poets traded their weapons for instruments. The music collective has been playing together since 1979, but it wasn’t until 2000 that they began to get international recognition. You’ll be blown away by the guitars on this track.
Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra – “Ya Fama”
From the album Boulevard De L’Independance
Diabeté is an incredible Malian kora player. His Symmetric Orchestra is composed of other West African griots that play a variety of traditional instruments like the djembe, balafon and bolombatto.
Saka Acquaye – “Concomba”
From the album High Life
Acquaye was a popular Ghanaian musician best known for his contributions to the highlife genre – a free jazz style with calypsonian roots. This album is 2002 a reissue of an original record from the 1970s.
Amadou & Mariam – “Je Kiffe”
From the album Welcome to Mali
I’ve had this amazing Malian couple on my mixtapes before so I won’t go on about how awesome they are again. This song has some great lyrics about choosing your friends well.
Rokia Traoré – “Yorodjan”
From the album Tchamantché
Yet another amazing Malian musician! Though Traoré’s style of simple guitar and vocals departs a bit from the country’s traditional music you can still hear its roots. Her voice is simply stunning.
Ayub Ogada – “Obiero”
From the album En Mana Kuoyo
It’s a shame this Kenyan musician has released only one full album. He had a couple tracks appear on some soundtracks since then and had an EP released on iTunes in 2007. After that he returned to Kenya and sort of disappeared. I can only hope he sends some more music our way in the near future.
K’Naan – “Wavin’ a Flag (Live at SXSW 2009)”
Original track from the album Troubadour
Somali born K’Naan creates a great blend of hip-hop and reggae. This live version of “Wavin’ a Flag” is from a show sponsored by NPR’s All Songs Considered. I prefer it over the album version because it has an extra verse at the beginning about the violence he saw as a child in his war-torn homeland. Hear his entire SXSW 2009 set here.
Salif Keita – “Sina”
From the 1987 album Soro
Salif Keita is royalty – a descendant of Sunjata Keita, who founded the Mali Empire in 1240. He has been dubbed the Golden Voice of Africa and his afro-pop sounds have been influencing music since the early 1970s.
Lucky Dube – “Prisoner”
From the 1989 album of the same name
For 25 years Lucky was South Africa’s most prolific and popular reggae star. He cranked out over 22 albums before he was murdered in 2007. I was living in Ghana at the time and I distinctly remember how emotional a taxi driver was on that day. It was sadly ironic, that men living the lives of crime that Dube so often sang against would take his life.
Hermas Zopoula – “Jesus Hiesu Luri”
From the album Espoir (Hope)
A Christian from Burkina Faso, Zopoula is a singer-songwriter whose music varies from simple guitar & balafon to the catchy, slightly cheesy pop I heard all the time growing up in West Africa.
Ali Farka Touré – “Erdi”
From the album Savane
Mali-born Touré blended West African music with its American cousin – the blues. Internationally renowned for his skills on the guitar, Rolling Stone put him in their 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list. Savane was the last album he released before he died in 2007 and it considered to be one of his best.
Fela Kuti – “Shakara”
From the album Shakara
Nigerian afro-pop pioneer Fela Kuti is on the comeback. In 2008, an off-broadway musical was written about his life, last year his entire catalogue was reissued, and currently director/artist Steve McQueen is working on a Fela Kuti biopic. Listen to this awesome funk track “Shakara” and you’ll be glad Kuti is popular again.