The Essential 10: African Collaborations

Posted on November 30th, 2013 in Recent posts by .


African music is at the root of many styles, so it’s no surprise that there’s a wealth of collaborations. Here are ten landmark albums that are inspirational meetings of musical minds. Words by Simon Broughton, Jo Frost, Alexandra Petropoulos

Paul Simon – Graceland (Warner, 1986)

After finding a tape of South African mbaqanga, Simon was inspired to team up with African artists for one of the most important ‘world music’ recordings by any Western artist. Graceland introduced the world to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Joseph Shabalala, with its hits like ‘Call Me Al’ and ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’, and paved the way for world music artists. More than that, it’s just a great album. AP

Ali Farka Touré with Ry Cooder – Talking Timbuktu (World Circuit, 1994)

Unfortunately it often takes a well-known Western musician to bring attention to African artists. But this, featuring Californian guitarist Ry Cooder and Malian desert bluesman Ali Farka Touré, was a splendid meeting of minds and fingers on equal terms that brought Ali to an international audience. SB

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal – Chamber Music (No Format, 2009)

The delicate sound of the kora seems to float like beautiful filigree above the Frenchman’s deeply resonant cello-playing. This unostentatious album, with its simple black and white cover, gradually inveigled itself until became (and still is) a firm favourite on the Songlines’ stereo. Music to soothe the mind. JF

Songhai – Songhai (Hannibal, 1988)

Featuring nuevo-flamenco group Ketama, kora player Toumani Diabaté and bass player Danny Thompson, this was one of the great collaborations of the 80s world music boom. The concept works, the music fizzes and the musicianship is magnificent. There was a Songhai 2 in 1994 that brought in Bassekou Kouyaté on ngoni and Keletigui Diabaté on balafon. SB

Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara – Soul Science (Wayward, 2007)

What might have been a one-off experiment – a British blues guitarist with a love of West African music meets Gambian, one-string ritti player – has become a very successful partnership, now known as JuJu. They were signed to Real World, won a Songlines Music Award in 2010 and are firm festival favourites, touring extensively. SB

Ellika & Solo – Tretakt Takissaba (Proper Records, 2002)

These days kora albums featuring another non-African instrument seem to be all the rage. But when Solo Cissokho from Senegal teamed up with Swedish violinist Ellika Frisell over ten years ago, it really made an impact. Add in the fact that Solo is a griot, who sings alongside Ellika’s polskas, and the result is a joyful, special album. JF


Kronos Quartet – Pieces of Africa (Nonesuch, 1992)

With Pieces of Africa the Kronos Quartet introduced African composers to a classical audience. They commissioned eight composers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda, Nubia, Ghana, Gambia and Morocco – most of them also sing or perform in their pieces. The most exuberant string quartet album ever. SB

Getachew Mekuria & The Ex – Moa Anbessa (Terp, 2006)

While many Ethiopiques collaborations have sprung up in the last five years, Dutch punk band The Ex got in early, inviting flamboyant saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria (who’d never been out of Ethiopia before) to their 25th anniversary party in 2004. It’s an unlikely mix, but the Ethio-punk combination is both frenzied and sublime. SB


Béla Fleck – Throw Down Your Heart: Tales from the Acoustic Planet Vol 3 (Rounder, 2009)

It was a serendipitous first hearing of Oumou Sangaré that led world-renowned banjo player Fleck to Africa in search of the roots of his instrument. The result featured many of Africa’s most famed musicians: Vusi Mahlasela, Baaba Maal, Toumani Diabaté and lots more. The accompanying film won numerous awards and Fleck’s love affair with African music continues, as he has recently toured with Oumou and Bassekou. JF

DRC Music – Kinshasa One Two (Warp Records, 2011)

Damon Albarn is no stranger to collaboration and has long been a champion for African music. For this release he gathered ten producers and shipped them off to the heart of the DRC to work with over 50 of Kinshasa’s local musicians. The album is an eclectic mix of hip-hop, funk, electronic and traditional music, and laudable as proceeds went to support Oxfam’s work in the DRC. AP

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