AFRONAUTS: File this under: “a future that never was”. Photographer Cristina De Middel uses the fact of a failed 1960’s Zambian proposal for a space program as a starting point for a photo series called “Afronauts”. Lovely concept. Beautiful tones in the images.
Video feature: “Delphine Diallo: Creative Control”
MIXED MEDIA: I discovered Delphine Diallo’s work a few years ago with Magic Photo Studio a series of painted on/around photos created after a trip to Senegal. She has a current project, an art book titled “The Gift” being funded via Kickstarter. Go there and support the work of this artist-to-watch.
FELA’S QUEENS: Kalakuta Queens, circa 2011. Photographer James Petrozello’s portraits of the dancers of “Fela!”, the Broadway show currently touring the US. WARNING: some images NSFW.
Posted: November 26th, 2011 | Author:kamau | Filed under:hip hop, music | Comments Off
AFROBEAT x HIP HOP Gummy Soul artist Amerigo Gazaway presents Fela Soul. Here is an excerpt from the Gummy Soul web site describing the project:
What do you get when you put together afrobeat legend Fela Kuti and rap pioneers De La Soul? You get Fela Soul; musical tapestry created by Gummy Soul artist Amerigo Gazaway. More than just a clever title, Fela Soul is an 8-track, 33 minute journey into the world of afrobeat rhythms, funky horn riffs, and classic hip-hop gems. Using dozens of hand-picked samples from the Nigerian instrumentalist and political figure Fela Kuti, and 8 carefully-chosen acapellas from the Native Tongue rap trio De La Soul, Amerigo seamlessly intertwines the two into something completely new and original.
DYSTOPIAN AFRO-FUTURE: The 2 song (plus remixes) Put Some Red On It EP finds the prolific Spoek Mathambo in a dark afro-futuristic mood musically and lyrically. On the title song he comments on the messed up mix of money, wealth, corruption, conflict that is the darker side of modern African life. The download is worth it to me for the lyrics to the original mix of “Put Some Red On It”. I love this inspired lyric: “Learned the split tongue trick from the mission school”.
See Also: Speaking of dystopian, here is a great article on South Africa’s house music scene. Quote from Mathambo points to the source of the dark, ominous textures to be found in Township Tech. Snip:
As for the sound – South African house isn’t afraid to get dark. Much of the music has a minor-key, slightly ominous sound that differs from the House found in Europe, for example. “South African House has so much energy,” says Spoek Mathambo, who is a big fan of South African House music and often spins it when he performs as a DJ, “But I think the society is so dark and dense and weird, so that it’s not this happy-clappy energy. That’s not how we get down. It’s more aggression and angst. We have some of the highest murder rates and rape rates in the world. There’s a lot of tension in society.”
Trailer for “Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer” a film by Charlie Ahearn
“As a street photographer, he was breaking all the traditions, of the Robert Frank traditions of street photography, having to do with spontaneity, and having to do with capturing images…
“Yes, he did everything that they would say was wrong. He would spend time with his subjects first. He would the pose his subjects, and in a very theatrical way. To which the earlier idea, it destroyed the life of what it was about. But I immediately perceived that this was an expression that was essentially hip hop. I had seen flyers of people posing like this from the late ’70s. In other words, the way he posed these people was not something that he made up. These were, in a sense, traditional cultural signifiers. They go back to the street culture of the ’70s.”
South African photographer Frank Marshall’s images of cowboy-clad metaleros from Botswana collected into a body of work he calls “Visions of Renegades”. Snip from article on the otherwise ribald Vice web site:
“… many metalheads in Botswana are cowboys from the villages and farms, so they mix the cowboy image with a biker metal look. Many wear hunting knives and parts of dead animals. We drink from the hollowed-out cow horns.”
Screenshot of NPR website feature on Egyptian diva Um Kulthumm
A while ago, NPR did a feature on Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum as part of a series of the 50 greatest voices of all time. I sat up when I heard the orchestrastration behind her voice that sounded familiar. I sat all the way up when correspondent Neda Ulaby, in reminiscing about her Syrian father’s love for Kulthum’s music, used the word tarab which, translated into Arabic means ecstasty (the emotion, not the drug). And you could hear that ecstasy as the mostly male voices on the live recordings of her songs shouted their approval when Kulthum would hit a particularly high emotional note.
In East Africa, taarab refers to a specific form of sung poetry. Per an excellent interview with anthropology professor Kelly Askew the roots of the music are in Zanzibar, where 19th century Omani sultan Barghash brought Egyptian musicians to perform court music like he had seen in travels in India and elsewhere. Classical (Zanzibari) taraab is epitomized by groups such as Ikhwani Safaa or the Culture Music Club; their sound influenced by mid-20th century Egyptian pop music as well as the firqah orchestras of Egyptian film.
Askew also posits an alternate theory that taarab grew organically from the interaction of African/Arab/Indian sailors who plied the Indian Ocean. The music evolved as a synthesis of the cultures of these places and the people who came into contact with each other. The various flavors of taarab seem to bear this theory out. In towns like Dar es Salaam and Tanga in Tanzania, it is more vocal-oriented and flavored with the ngoma (rhythms) of ethnic groups like the Chagga, Nyamwezi, Sukuma. Over time is has also incorporated dansi or urban/western sounds like the foxtrot, cha cha and Cuban as well as Congolese rumba. Mombasa taarab is more influenced by Indian Bollywod film music and incorporates classical Arab musical structures. Mombasa bands are also much smaller and the ngoma are inspired by Giriama and Digo rhythms.
While taarab themes mostly concern themselves with matters of the heart, in Nyerere’s Tanzania it provided culturally neutral ground (together with Kiswahili) that helped Tanzanians stitch a national identity beyond tribe, something that other (East) African countries would do well to emulate.
SEE ALSO: Taarab legend Bi Kidude performs with the Culture Music Club of Zanzibar.
In the aftermath of watching the ‘Brains I believe that HR and Dr. Know have had the same deep impact on popular music AND the black experience as George Clinton and Bootsy Collins did, but in totally different music worlds.
Without knowing a damn thing about his life off stage you could see and hear that this dude is about one complicated brother and his complexity matched our own, those of us that is who were young black and trying to figure out what it meant to be Black in post Civil Rights America before hip hop provided us with the collective answer. But for those whose identity questions could never simply be answered by joining the hip hop or crossover r&b, or jazz neo-classicist camps, for those who embrace the chaos, confusion and flux of the rainbow, HR and Prince and their later acolytes, Fishbone’s Angelo Moore and Living Colour’s Corey Glover, functioned as heralds, dark angels sent to scream and shout that yes it was possible to be in love with being Black and have mad love for Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten too.
For all of us who cannot be in Mzansi right now in a Jo’burg club dancing/listening to kwaito/house apres the latest World Cup match here is Secousse SA Kwaito House Mix by Moroka from the Secousse Sound System. Mix contains classic and new “chunes” from the South African music scene. Stumbling on RSA kwaito/house like this is always exciting here at casa forota since I have found it so hard to find and buy any South African music in my usual online/offline places.
The swenkas are a small group of Zulu working men which formed in South Africa following the abolishment of Apartheid.
These well-dressed men are proud and considered to serve as an inspiration to others. On Saturday nights, these men leave their work clothes behind and don highly fashionable quality suits to impress a judge, who is a randomly picked. Traditionally, the prize for the most stylish suit is cash, but on special occasions such as Christmas, the winner may receive a goat or a cow. This traditional fashion show still happens today, but it is unclear as to precisely when it was instigated. The men follow certain set values of Swanking, such as physical cleanliness, sobriety and above all self-respect.
It is not clear what the precise roots of the swenka culture are. There is the acapella Iscathamiya music, where the performers, inspired by African-American ragtime/jazz fashions took a sense of formality and elegance. Also like migrants everywhere else the workers needed to buy swanky outfits for their return home to show those they had left behind that they had made it in the big city, regardless of what the daily reality was (is) of life in the mines, the construction sites, and white homes where they worked. Regular competition seems to have raised it all into an art form and a subculture.
The three video clips below highlight the various threads that make up Swenka.
Mini-feature on the Zulu ISICATHAMIYA choir competitions in Johannesburg
“artsworld” feature on Iscathamiya choral and Swenka fashion competitions in Johannesburg
Trailer for 2004 documentary “The Swenkas” by Danish director Jeppe Ronde. Synopsis here
See also: Vice magazine: Swanky Swenkas Snip from article from Adolphus Mbuyisa on swenking:
I am one of the organizers of the Joburg swenkas. I don’t know how many suits I own, maybe 20 or 30. If I see a suit I like, I simply must have it. I also have lots of shoes, ties, and shirts. It is important for everything to match if you want to win a competition.
I live in a room in Soweto. My family is very supportive of me and my clothes. They don’t mind that I spend so much money on suits—they are proud of me and they like it when I look smart.
Screen shot from designer Paul Smith’s web site
Speaking of Swankiness, See Also: Underscoring the power of the imagination in subcultures like the Swenkas and sapeurs, fashion designer Paul Smith has a new fashion line for spring/summer 2010 called “Mainline” influenced by Congo Brazzaville’s sapeurs:
See Also: Through all this I can’t help but think of Hugh Masekela’s song “Coal Train” (aka “Stimela”) about a train carrying men from the hinterlands of southern Africa (all of Africa these days?) who uproot themselves from their homes, lands and loves in the pursuit of dreams of wealth and comfort. The dreams that crash into the reality of migrant life and that are rekindled in Swenka fashion and Iscathamiya music/performance.
Movimento Brasil Long form commercial commissioned by Brazil’s Brahma beer on the launch of their beverage in the US market. Great inspiration video to watch as the mercury rises and we shed insulation layers here in the northern climes (does any one other nation know how to express muenjoyo than the Brazilians?) Awesome soundtrack, particularly for the samba and capoeria segments.
UPDATE: See also: Clip/excerpt below from the commercial describes in more detail, the roots and goals of capoeira.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Book Review: Malick Sidibe vs Dash Snow. On the occasion of the recent release of Malick Sidibe‘s latest book, art photography critique site Conscientious juxtaposes two things that should not go together. Jörg M. Colberg posits that art should transport/transform; it is the unalloyed joy and humanity in Sidibe’s images that are core of the images appeal. Conversely, Dash Snow’s VICE magazine-style party polaroids of the tortured/alienated artist NYC do not. Providence allowing, one day I will own this Malick Sidibe print.
PHOTOGRAPHY:Carnaval: Surreal Selves. In 1987 famed Brazilian documentary photographer Rogerio Reis took portraits of “counter-carnaval” participants on the back streets of Rio de Janeiro. What he found were people who for one day were trying to escape the social/cultural strictures they lived under the rest of the year. It makes me think of the lyrics of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “A Felicidade”.
A felicidade do pobre parece
A grande ilusão do carnaval
A gente trabalha o ano inteiro
Por um momento de sonho
Pra fazer a fantasia
De rei ou de pirata ou jardineira
Pra tudo se acabar na quarta feira
The happiness of a poor man is like
The grand illusion of Carnaval
People work the whole year long
For one moment’s dream
To play the part of
A king or a pirate or a gardener
And all of that is ended on [Ash] Wednesday