We’re delighted to announce the winners of the seventh Songlines Music Awards. Selected from an original pool of over 650 albums to a shortlist of 16, here are the four outstanding albums of the past year
For Film of Life on Jazz Village
To sustain artistic creativity over half a century is a rare achievement and so it was remarkable that Tony Allen should mark the 50th anniversary of his first encounter with Fela Kuti with the release of one of the finest albums of his career. Their 1964 meeting, of course, led to the musical revolution that was Afrobeat, and on 2014’s Film of Life, Allen paid homage to his illustrious past but moved expansively into fresh territory with a thrilling melange of tribal grooves, jazz and funk.
“It’s still Afrobeat but I cannot repeat the same things,” he told Songlines in #104. “I want people to know I’ve not grown stagnant and I’m giving it a new twist.” Key to Allen’s best work as a drummer and bandleader over the years has been his choice of collaborators. On Film of Life they include Damon Albarn, with whom – like Fela Kuti – Allen claims a “telepathic” understanding. “It broadens my knowledge to work with people like that. I’ve got everything to gain by taking up the challenge,” he says. It’s a hell of an attitude at 74 years young.
Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté
For Toumani & Sidiki on World Circuit
Photo by Youri Lenquette
The African griot tradition of handing ancient musical skills down from father to son was shown to be alive and well on a sparkling collection of kora duets between Toumani Diabaté, the acknowledged poet laureate of the instrument who can trace his ancestry back through 71 generations of hereditary musicians, and the latest branch of the family tree, his 23-year-old son Sidiki. The younger Diabaté has made something of a name for himself in Mali as a hip-hop producer, but he’s also absorbed the ancient oral traditions of the Mande people and developed a fluent, virtuoso style of his own.
Together father and son crafted an album of rich diversity, the kora’s trademark sound given a markedly different nuance of tone and character on almost every track. Changes of rhythm or tempo convey contrasting moods – reflective, energetic, hypnotic, graceful, dynamic – although who is playing what is not easy to discern, so intricately are the strings of father and son interwoven in an exquisite tapestry, every thread perfectly chosen in the pursuit of perfection.
Photography by Jay Blakesberg
“When I started playing string quartets aged 14,” says David Harrington, the leader of Kronos Quartet, “I remember looking at the globe and thinking that all the quartet music I knew was written by four guys who lived in the same city – Vienna.” Now a young boy might look into the repertoire of Kronos Quartet and think ‘Where haven’t they been?’
Kronos celebrated their 40th anniversary with A Thousand Thoughts. It not only won them this award because it’s so good, but also because it draws on a worldwide diversity of sounds. Guest artists include Asha Bhosle, Zakir Hussain, Wu Man and Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares – an extraordinary line-up of stars – plus music from Vietnam, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and beyond. Looking ahead, they’ve just finished a recording with this issue’s cover star Tanya Tagaq. A few years ago, the New York Times suggested that no one had expanded the idea of the string quartet as much as Kronos since it was ‘created’ by Joseph Haydn (in Vienna of course) in the 1750s. A Thousand Thoughts is the evidence for that.
Ibibio Sound Machine
For Ibibio Sound Machine on Soundway
This London-based eight-piece, fronted by British-Nigerian singer Eno Williams, have created the perfect dance storm with their music since the release of their self-titled debut. First started as a project in order to use Williams’ mother’s language – Ibibio from south-east Nigeria – ISM successfully deliver Nigerian folk tales set to some of the funkiest beats this side of disco’s heyday.
The members of ISM provide a solid base of Afrobeat grooves, highlife guitar lines, a funky horn section and electronic dance beats around which Williams’ folktales weave themselves. The album is full of stories, from the cunning tortoise to the proud peacock who struts his stuff.
Williams told Songlines last year, “the way storytelling happens in [Ibibio] culture it is like passing down history and messages, so it feels like that baton has been passed to me and I’m now putting those stories to song.” And this rejuvenation of folktales required a fresh musical approach, which they have perfectly delivered here – storytelling that is sure to get your booty shaking.