TOURS NORTH AMERICA
.by Sidney Bechet-Mandela
JAZZUSA’S SUMMER OF WORLD MUSIC THIS MONTH HIGHLIGHTS THE FOUR ARTISTS THAT OPEN THE QUEBEC CITY SUMMER FESTIVAL OF WORLD MUSIC WHICH ALONG WITH NEW WORLD MUSIC FROM WEATHER REPORT FOUNDER JOE ZAWINUL WILL BE HIGHLIGHTED NEXT MONTH IN JAZZUSA.
The fourth Africa Fete sampler from Island Records is by far the best one of the quartet. The four artists represented are not only getting a big push from a record company, that in most cases is not their own, but the tour is garnering a lot of attention from the press and music lovers, including adventurous jazz listeners.
Collectively, Africa Fete ’98 are Salif Keita from Mali, Papa Wemba from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Maryam Mursal from Somalia and Cheikh Lo from Senegal. They’re touring the continent this month including the two opening nights at the Quebec City Summer Festival of World Music, which runs from July 9-July 19 and will be reviewed by JazzUSA next month.
As far as we know, none of these artists have histories with any jazz artists, however those who are into rock may recognize the name, Salif Kieta, who has played with some European and American rock stars. It goes without saying that worldwide Keita is the most popular of these four artists. However, in America, they’re all pretty much unknown, which is one of the purposes of teaming the artists up with each contributing two tracks. Keita’s material has the harder rock element while Lo’s two songs have deceptive rhythms and complicated harmonies, not to mention sharp playing and soloing, and should be the most listen-able for jazz lover.
PAPA WEMBA-Keita may be the most well known of the quartet, but Papa Wemba has the best tracks on the album. As many jazz lovers know, the further south in Africa you go, the more the American influences. That’s why the best jazz and r&b in Africa comes from South Africa. Wemba, who comes from the Congo, (formerly Zaire) has music that has an instant groove-ability to any one who like the strains of funk and slick harmonies. It’ll help beginning listeners of world music that Wemba contributes the only English speaking track on the album, and the hook from “Show Me The Way” is instantly singable. However, world music purists (who shouldn’t be reading our publication anyway) attack Wemba for those very reasons. They mistake his combination of adding his own style and traditional instruments to western recording styles as attempt at commercialism. These are the same sort of people who dump Pat Metheny in the same pile as Kenny G because Pat sells a lot of records. Island would do well to promote “Show Me The Way” to adventurous urban egends and has been written about and studied and even turned into a BBC documentary. In a nutshell, Keita is a member of the royal family of Mali and is a direct descendant of Sundjiata Keita, founder of the Mankinka Empire in the 13th century. Keita was born an albino, which is nearly a sin in Mali. The newborn and his mother was banished until a spiritual leader searched the elder Keita out and predicted immense fame for the infant. What makes it all so interesting is how quick Keita did indeed rise in the music field. He is revered in Africa the way many of us look at Miles Davis, Bob Marley or Stevie Wonder. He had his first hit in the late 70’s and has been a leader of African music all over the world. His track “Abede” is the second of the very strong first four tracks. Dripping in emotion, this anthem-like up-tempo number mixes and weaves the koro with Vernon Reid’s soaring guitar.
Maryam Mursal- Somalia is one of the purest countries in the world, but has produced one exciting vocalist. Few have a more dramatic tale to tell than Mursal. Before her stunning voice could be heard in the west, she was forced to spend seven months walking across the Horn of Africa with her five children as she fled the atrocious Somalia civil war. She walked out of Mogadishu, the Somalian capital, across Kenya, through Ethiopia, recrossing Somalia again and eventually arriving in Djibouti where she was given asylum by the Danish embassy.
In an incredible coincidence, she ran into free-lance photographer Soren Jensen. Jensen, was in Somalia in 1986 and heard a woman singing to hundreds of refugees. In Denmark, he worked as an arranger and heard Musal and boosted her career after he realized she was the same woman. After achieving some fame, of course she attacked the Somalian government in song, and found herself banned from her homeland.
If you’ve heard about the new Islamic pop music that’s so hot in Paris and Northern Africa, you’ll hear that in Mursal, especially on the track “Somalia, Don’t Shame Yourself,” which opens the album. Her tracks are by far the most pop-oriented and should be the least interesting to a jazz audience. Her second track “The Big City” is strictly a dance number, and that’s dance as in disco, not ceremonial.