K’naan stole the show

Here I am rambling on about war, politics and depressing things — and one of the most awesome televised concerts I’ve ever seen just aired. Makes American Super Bowl halftimes look like a joke, and I think it rivaled Obama’s inauguration. K’naan stole the show (look, I know I can’t be considered unbiased about the guy by now, but this was great):

Also loved Desmond Tutu, Vusi Mahlasela, Tinariwen and Vieux Farka Touré. (Sorry, you’re going to have to Google those.)

Weekend jam: Melanesian Paradise

This song may have been commissioned by the Papua New Guinea tourism board, but that’s not keeping me from bobbing my head on this pre-Memorial Day Friday. Though I’ve never been to PNG, Solomon Islands, Fiji or the Trobriands, I am inclined — based on this song — to agree that, “with so many cultures living in peace and unity … we must all appreciate the Melanesian way.”

Anyone out there who can help with the pidgin (?) parts?

Thank you Haus Boi! (And HT to AK, who has been to the Melanesia paradise, and reports that is indeed pretty splendid.)

Some believe in Jesus, some believe in Allah…

Update: on the morning of 5/2 I woke to news of a terrifying attempted attack on Times Square. Whatever aesthetic criticisms I have of the place, I love the people who enjoy it and I’m disgusted and a little scared by the attempt. I thought of deleting this post out of respect, but instead I’m choosing to keep it – while adding this important paragraph.

The Egyptians left us the pyramids. The Romans, well… Rome.

Every time I go to Times Square (which is pretty darn infrequently), I think: This is what our civilization will leave for the ages.

To say I don’t feel particularly proud would be an understatement. Other civilizations worshiped gods and stuff. We worship … buying.

Here’s a sight from last night that I thought was especially salient in illustrating the rather pitiful combination of things our country sometimes stands for: a long chain of NYPD cars with flashing lights (show of force) parked beneath a preposterous array of energy-guzzling advertisements. Brute strength and consumption. Brilliant.

Had me thinking that maybe DJ Quik should’ve written our national anthem: “Some believe in Jesus, some believe in Allah, but riders like me believe in making dollars.”


Alsarah: music for the Sudanese elections

I just got tipped off to this rock-the-vote song and video by New York-based Sudanese artist Alsarah. The Sudanese elections are definitely a complicated issue. But whether, like Mia Farrow, you think that the elections are bad for the Sudanese people, or on the other hand if you think they are an important opportunity for Sudan to change from within, the excitement about the possibilities of the democratic process are palpable in this great clip featuring Oddisee.

Also, check out that link to Alsarah’s MySpace page — she’s an up-and-coming singer with a great sound whom I would be highlighting here even if she wasn’t a friend of a friend. She combines old Sudanese melodies with a contemporary, often Hip Hop feel in a way that’s part Fairouz, part Hashim Mirghani and part K’naan. Have a listen.

Hat Tip ST.

Inspiration for K’naan’s “Fire in Freetown”

Someone just passed me this YouTube clip of what, according to the video notes and the unmistakable melody, is the inspiration for K’naan’s “Fire in Freetown,” one of my favorite songs on the Troubadour album. The original is very beautiful (is that an oud, walla shu?). According to an extremely cursory Google search, Fatima Abdillahi Mandeeq (various spellings) is a Somali folk singer. I am working my Somali contacts for a translation.

Update: Hat-tip SG in Nairobi

7 songs that rocked Kenya and Tanzania last year

I was sharing links to music that was popular in East Africa last year with my brother (find his alter ego here), and he asked me to put them in a list for him. That’s a good idea for my blog, I said. Only trouble is, having recently been endorsed as a blog that will make you “a better person” by the Scarlett Lion, the bar for new posts is now a bit high. A simple countdown of my faves will not suffice. Luckily, I have deep experience describing pop musical phenomena in a way that makes them seem like they have social significance (see, for example, my interview of K’naan).

So here’s a list of seven songs that I liked that got a good amount of play in East Africa in 2009, along with some context that explains why each shows something “deeper” about society. Enjoy. Continue reading

There are certain things Fresh, and certain things مش

This would fall into the former category. “Africa’s rap Bruce Lee” has struck again: a free digital mixtape featuring K’naan rhyming to the music of Fela Kuti. It’s a collaboration between K’naan and J.Period, the first episode in a project called The Messengers that will apparently include K’naan alongside the likes of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan.

On one track K’naan explains that these guys are the secular equivalents of Jesus and Mohammed, رسل الله — Messengers with a capital M. His juxtaposition to the greats on the (very cool) cover art may not be a declaration of humility, but these are some nice tracks.

Download the album here at 2dopeboyz.

Music Break: Asa

The self-titled debut album of Nigerian singer Asa (pronounced ASH-ah) came out in 2007, but her hit record “Fire on the Mountain”‘s mere 2,800 views on YouTube tells me that, like me until a month ago, you probably haven’t heard of her.

That’s a shame, because Asa’s beautiful melodies and clean, fresh song-writing are some of the best I’ve heard in a while. Her music is R&B meets Hip Hop meets folk, and she sounds like a cross between Bob Marley, Traci Chapman and, at times, Lucinda Williams. Have a listen/watch:

Continue reading