Posts Tagged ‘family atlantica’
Every year, Songlines recognises an emerging artist or group who have made an outstanding album, and winners of the Newcomer Award invariably go on to have bright futures. Mokoomba (pictured above) won the Award in 2013, and you can find out all about their latest project in the April 2017 issue (#126). Meanwhile, here on the Songlines website we’ve gathered together fascinating features and interviews with other previous winners of this prestigious award.
Songhoy Blues won the Newcomer category in the Songlines Music Awards 2016. Hailed as ‘Mali’s Next Big Thing’, the young band have continued to ride on a much-deserved wave of success.
Read the article: ‘Songhoy Blues: Songhai Stars’
Winner of the Newcomer Award in 2015, Ibibio Sound Machine’s British-Nigerian singer Eno Williams talks to Alexandra Petropoulos about her role as a storyteller.
Read the article: ‘Introducing… Ibibio Sound Machine’
Family Atlantica carried off the Songlines Newcomer Award in 2014. Russ Slater talks to the band that unites traditions, stories and rhythms across the Atlantic in a wave of Afro-Latin grooves. (Photograph by Alex Harvey-Brown)
Read the interview: ‘Family Atlantica: a family affair’
The story of Fatoumata Diawara’s rise to fame includes winning the Songlines Newcomer Award in 2012. She chats to Rose Skelton and explains about how she found her voice. (Photograph by Youri Lenquette)
Read the interview: ‘Fatoumata Diawara: “my voice was my first companion”’
Robin Denselow catches up with Songlines’ 2011 Newcomer Award-winner, Raghu Dixit, and reflects on the young singer’s remarkable career to date. (Photograph by Nikhil Madgavkar)
Read interview: ‘The Rise and Rise of Raghu Dixit’
Since winning the Newcomer Award in 2010, Deolinda have been taking Portugal by storm. (Photograph by Isabel Pinto)
Read interview: ‘Deolinda: the fresh face of fado’
Indo-Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia has moved away from her ghazal tradition and come up with a whole new musical genre: a Touareg-ghazal-qawwali fusion. She talks to Li Robbins about her new-found love for music from the Sahara. (Photograph by Fernando Elizalde)
Read the interview: ‘Kiran Ahluwalia: mix and match’
Russ Slater talks to the band that unites traditions, stories and rhythms across the Atlantic in a wave of Afro-Latin grooves. Photograph by Alex Harvey-Brown
“Music unites people, it builds a bridge between individuals across the Atlantic.” In one fell swoop Jack Yglesias sums up the reason Family Atlantica exist. Their debut album, four years in the making, ties together rhythms, traditions and stories from Africa, Europe and the Americas. It’s an epic journey in search of roots and connections that veers between the personal and the global. It’s also an astoundingly varied and intimate document of musicians who found themselves living together in London and created an extended family, their various nationalities and cultures inextricably linked via music.
So much of the story of Family Atlantica is tied to London – East London specifically. It was here that Jack Yglesias – a London-born arranger and percussionist known for mixing jazz and world rhythms via projects such as The Heliocentrics, Saravah Soul and Quantic’s many bands – met his musical partner and soon-to-be-wife Luzmira Zerpa. Project 142, an arts organisation that had taken residence in a Victorian factory complex in Hackney, had become a meeting place for what Yglesias calls a “thriving scene of international arts and music… an oasis in a bleak part of East London.” It was here that he met Zerpa. “There were about 30 or 40 people playing drums and I was in the middle playing a cowbell and directing,” remembers Yglesias. “Suddenly this incredible-looking woman strode into the middle of the circle with her hands raised up high, singing ‘kimbera kimbera kim-ber-ba, kimbera kimbera kim-ber-ba.’ Her voice just completely hypnotised me.”
For Zerpa, a Venezuelan singer and musician, the meeting was just as momentous. “When I met Jack I thought ‘This is the guy I’m going to make a band with.’ Because there was this amazing chemistry, even before we spoke.” This meeting would not only lead to the two making music together, but the start of a relationship. “Obviously something inside me was triggered, and the rest, as they say, is history,” tells Yglesias of that first encounter. For Family Atlantica to really come to life though, it took another serendipitous meeting and a third core member.
“Luzmira and I were wandering around a festival in East London and suddenly we heard this sound of drumming in the distance,” Yglesias explains. “We looked at each other and, without saying anything, we both began to sprint towards the source of the noise.” Zerpa continues: “We looked at Kwame [the origin of the drumming] and asked permission to get our instruments. He said yes and we started playing.” The Nigerian/Ghanaian percussionist Kwame Crentsil had only been in London for a day before being asked to play drums at the festival. “When I was playing and you guys came and started playing I thought it was going to be something different,” he tells them, “so I was a bit scared. But when they started playing I felt, no, we’re family. I’ve met my family.”
The three of them quickly began making music together. “It started to have a life of its own. It instantly became family,” explains Yglesias. They then began to record an album while living together in an abandoned vicarage in East London. “This process hasn’t been contrived,” says Yglesias. “It’s been a process of living our lives together and that’s been a process of sharing and exploring ourselves; our roots, our influences. Quite quickly after that the name came,” and never has a name seemed as apt as Family Atlantica.
The group are continually finishing each other’s stories, growing excited when each one speaks about how the band came together and their own personal histories. In every sense the group is a family that crosses the Atlantic, but also one that is greater than just the three of them. Yglesias calls this “a wider family that we’ve drawn in around ourselves – that is Family Atlantica,” alluding to the various collaborators on their record. It has a global cast, including Ethio-jazz legend Mulatu Astatke, Venezuelan folkloric group Danzas Mandela, Senegal’s Nuru Kane, Afro-Cuban group Yoruba Andabo and even their newborn son Jaia, who makes a brief vocal appearance.
In addition to Yglesias’ role in some of London’s foremost jazz and Latin groups, both Zerpa’s and Crentsil’s histories meant the group also possessed a deep knowledge of African and South American music. Crentsil first came to the UK as a member of Dzembii, a group formed by his father Daniel Crentsil, a name familiar to devotees of Fela Kuti. He was pivotal in Kuti’s move from highlife to Afro-beat, adding the extra percussion that led to the genre’s harder sound. He was also the first Ghanaian to play with Kuti, causing the group’s name-change from Nigeria 70 to Africa 70. Crenstil has kept the Afro-beat influence strong by not only playing in his father’s group, but as part of the London cast for FELA! the musical.
Zerpa’s story is harder to unravel, but no less extraordinary. One of 19 siblings, she grew up in a small village in Lara, known as being Venezuela’s ‘music state.’ Her dad was a singer and poet, leading the family in Afro-Venezuelan traditions such as the tamunangue. At nine years old she began to learn the cuatro, bashfully practising under the lemon tree. “It was the last tree in a really big garden,” laughs Zerpa. As well as soaking up llanero harp music on the radio she would play in a variety of Afro-Venezuelan groups, as well as alongside Alirio Díaz, best known as John Williams’ classical guitar teacher.
This in-depth knowledge of Venezuelan music is one area that Family Atlantica hope to bring greater awareness to: “It’s a treasure trove of stuff that needs to be opened and shown to the world and that’s what we’re doing.” Yet at the same time they are trying to do this in an honest way, as a multi-cultural London-based group. “We are finding a balance between tradition and innovation,” says Yglesias. “We want to create something that represents ourselves today. We live in London, in a very diverse situation, so we’re finding ways to express that in our music, while at the same time paying respect to the musical forms that we’re using.”
At times this need to innovate has carried risks, as Zerpa explains. “I tried to be more contemporary, like in ‘Tamunangue Blues’. The tamunangue is something almost sacred – no-one ever changed the lyrics of tamunangue. But I did. I talk about things that are more relevant, singing ‘I don’t need a gun, I have my heart.’” The stories of the slave ships are told in ‘El Negrero’, those of racism in Venezuela on ‘El Apamate’ – these are stories that are relevant but also continue a tradition of song. “I want to speak in the present time as a folklorist,” she says. “It’s interesting that people think the folklorists are dying. No man, we’re here, we’re doing it.” This updating of tradition continues in the music, with the addition of incendiary electric slide-guitar to ‘Tamunangue Blues’, the reconfiguring of calypso with home-made instruments on ‘Fly Through the Lightning to Speak with the Sun’, and in the dark brass-filled Latin jazz of ‘Cumbacutiri’, built around Zerpa’s singing of a Venezuelan tongue-twister.
This approach to making music, involving a huge amount of research and familiarisation, is one of the reasons it took four years for the group to make the album. “It’s not cut-and-paste music,” says Zerpa. “It’s music that has been lived. To get that rhythm we lived with the guy, we drank with the guy, we played with the guy.”
“It’s our lives” says Crentsil, “our emotions” adds Zerpa, before Yglesias hammers home the point: “It really was what we were living: we had our son in the studio most of the time, in a cot, while we were recording. We ended up with this really diverse sound because there were so many different things we wanted to explore, so many different rhythms.”
Later, as I walk around Brixton hearing Spanish tumbling out of the Colombian butchers, the deep English accents at the Ghanaian fruit and veg stall and the always unfamiliar sounds that greet me when I enter the Ethiopian café, it reminds me that Family Atlantica is not fusion for fusion’s sake. They’re not trying to formulate a new genre in a bid for success. They’re simply documenting what London sounds like: its dark past, its uncertain present and its hopeful future, shot through with a musical acumen that makes it one of the albums of the year, a world of music at our doorstep.
Here at Songlines Towers we’re always on the lookout for the most exciting music from around the world.
Check out our playlist of tracks that we’ve been listening to.
Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble feat Rhiannon Giddens, Michael Ward-Bergeman & Reylon Yount – ‘St James Infirmary Blues’
This is an advance preview of the forthcoming album Sing Me Home, by the Silk Road Ensemble, which features artists from all around the world including Toumani Diabaté, Martin Hayes and Shujaat Khan. This is what they describe as a Taraf de Haidouks-inspired version of ‘St James Infirmary’ with singer Rhiannon Giddens.
Tom Robinson – ‘Mighty Sword of Justice’
Featuring guests including Billy Bragg, Lisa Knapp and Gerry Diver who also produced his latest album Only the Now. Check out Tom Robinson’s Songlines’ playlist and interview in the June issue (#118, out May 6).
Full Attack Band – ‘Four Letter Short’
The kooky, groovy band fronted by saxophonist and composer Alejandro Toledo. This track, featuring the excellent Fedzilla, is from their debut album, 1001, which will be reviewed in our next issue (#117, out April 1).
Family Atlantica – ‘Enjera’
The Songlines Music Award 2014 Newcomer winners return with their sophomore release, Cosmic Unity, on May 13 (Soundway Records). This is the first taster from the album; an intoxicating instrumental number packed full of Ethiojazz groove.
Exuma – ‘Damn Fool’
Bahaman musician Exuma was a one of a kind artist, mixing junkanoo, ballad and calypso to create music that was almost unclassifiable. This track is the first on his second album, Exuma II, released in 1970.
Editor Jo Frost and editor-in-chief Simon Broughton choose their favourite albums from 2013…
Oana Cătălina Chiţu
A real treat this one to mark the centenary of Maria Tănase (1913-1963), the Romanian Edith Piaf. Chiţu brings these songs alive with an excellent ensemble of violin, accordion, sax, guitar, cimbalom and bass. The songs are nostalgic and romantic and given a dark, Oriental tone by Chiţu’s chiaroscuro alto voice. There’s a tasty Romanian tango in ‘Habar N-ai Tu’ and the way she draws out the introduction to ‘Aseară Ti-am Luat Basma’ surrounded by filigree cimbalom flourishes is gorgeous. SB
This band is a product of the fertile, multicultural metropolis that is London. The charismatic vocalist, Luzmira Zerpa, is Venezuelan and the other key members are London-born Jack Yglesias and Nigerian/Ghanaian percussionist Kwame Crentsil. Not surprisingly Family Atlantica’s self-titled debut follows an ida y vuelta between Africa, South America, the Caribbean and Europe – with some spectacular percussion at its core. Guest artists include Senegalese Gnawa Nuru Kane and the wonderful Mulatu Astatke, who Yglesias got to know as a member of Ethiopian band The Heliocentrics. A life-affirming debut. SB
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita
This isn’t the first kora collaboration to be featured in our Best of the Year list but it’s certainly the first to include the harp. Classically trained Welsh harpist Catrin Finch has joined forces with Seckou Keita, Senegalese UK-based kora player, and they’ve produced an album of real beauty. The album’s title sounds like it could be either Welsh or Wolof, in fact clychau is Welsh for ‘bells’ and dibon is a West African hornbill, but also the second bass string on a kora. There’s a wonderful symmetry to this music – at times it’s hard to distinguish between the two instruments, held in such high esteem in their respective cultures. This is an album of real class. JF
Jupiter Okwess International
(Out Here Records)
Lead singer Jupiter Bokondji was the subject of a French documentary called Jupiter’s Dance back in 2006, so this international debut has been long anticipated. Jupiter has the swagger and looks of a bona fide rock star yet at the same time there’s an ageless wisdom to his expression. The album is a hard-hitting critique about the Congo’s history of colonisation, independence, dependence and corruption – Jupiter feels his country is still at war because of the avarice of its people. Despite the serious nature of the songs, there’s a raw energy to this edgy and funky music, and live, this band simply rock. JF
This is London-based Aslan’s debut disc. She is a lioness of Greek and Turkish rebetika, and focuses on the smyrneika style from Smyrna (now known as Izmir) that was shared by Turks, Greeks, Armenians and Jews. Alongside Aslan’s idiomatic vocals, there are excellent instrumental contributions from Nikolaos Baimpas on kanun, Pavlos Carvalho on bouzouki, and Meg Hamilton on violin.
La Noche Más Larga
A sumptuous, emotionally charged set of songs from Concha Buika, a flamenco singer from Mallorca who has turned more towards jazz for this highly polished release recorded in Miami. Buika’s live performances can at times be unnerving with her no holds barred approach on stage. But she’s pulled out all the stops in the studio and her voice sounds better than ever.
Kayhan Kalhor & Erdal Erzincan
Kula Kulluk Yakısır Mı
The only drawback with this album is the hard-to-remember title (if you don’t speak Turkish). It’s a folksong, which translates as ‘how unseemly it is to follow anyone slavishly,’ advice that both of these master musicians have always taken to heart. This is a largely improvisational duo performance by Iranian kamancheh (spike fiddle) player Kayhan Kalhor and Turkish saz player Erdal Erzincan. The two musicians create a tapestry that unfolds organically over an hour with moods ranging from introspection to elation. It was recorded live in Turkey and the contrasting textures of bowed and plucked strings sparkle brilliantly off each other. SB
(Out Here Records)
This recording demonstrates exactly what puts Mali at the top of the African music charts. Jama Ko is a fiercely contemporary album produced by Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire), though it is rooted in the nimble, yet rough-edged sound of the ngoni, the desert lute that goes back centuries. The extremely catchy title-track is a call for unity and peace, while ‘Kele Magni’ features the magnificent Khaira Arby from Timbuktu, under Islamist control when the album was recorded. ‘Sinaly’, with Kasse Mady Diabaté, refers to a historical Malian king resisting radical Islam. Powerful content and a thrilling sound. SB See also: Top 25 Mali Albums
This is the debut solo release from the newest member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Born in New York to Haitian parents, McCalla grew up reading the works of American poet and social activist Langston Hughes and in tribute, has set some of his poems to music. In addition to these poem-songs are some beautiful a capella Haitian-Creole songs. Besides her beguilingly languid singing style, McCalla is an impressive cellist and plays a mean banjo too. An album steeped in the Caribbean and Haitian roots of America’s South. JF
Ever the innovator, Rokia has, for her latest album, hooked up with producer John Parish who is best known for his work with PJ Harvey. Perhaps it’s his influence as Beautiful Africa is certainly a rockier affair – but still innately Malian, with some fabulous ngoni from Mamah Diabaté, and some feisty female backing vocals. You really get a sense that Rokia has a determined intention of getting her message across, whether singing in Bambara, French or English. Standout tracks include ‘Mélancholie’ and the title-track. Another class act from Mali’s first lady of song. JF See also: Top 25 Mali Albums