Posts Tagged ‘west africa’

Video | My Instrument: Derek Gripper

Posted on December 13th, 2016 in Recent posts by .


Derek Gripper’s visionary reconceptions of the rich traditions of West African kora music on classical guitar are second to none, and showcase his extraordinary technical ability. Libraries on Fire is one of Songlines’ Best Albums of 2016.

Read more about him and his instrument in the current issue (January/February 2017, #124), where he talks guitars with Simon Broughton on p87.

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West Africa at the British Library – Free CD

Posted on November 20th, 2015 in Recent posts by .

West Africa British Library Bonus CDWest Africa: Word, Symbol, Song showcases music and literature from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to the cultural dynamism of West Africa today. It aims to demonstrate how West Africans have harnessed the power of words to build societies, sustain religious belief, drive political movements, fight injustice and express creative ideas. Recordings show living traditions, including epic narratives right through to West African rap. The tracks here loosely follow the exhibition’s storyline to highlight historic and unique unpublished recordings in the Library’s collections.

West Africa at the British Library is a free covermount CD exclusively available with the December 2015 (#113) edition of Songlines.

Order you copy today.


01 ‘Atumpan ‘Talking’ Drums’
Kofi Jatto (Ghana, 1921)
Robert Sutherland Rattray Collection

The drum phrases were recorded on wax cylinder by Rattray in Ghana in 1921. The Asante king’s atumpan player sends messages across the kingdom, plays welcome statements and eulogies, and recites praises and ayan (drum poetry) at ceremonies and festivals.

02 ‘Sunjata Faso’ (excerpt)
Amadu Bansang Jobarteh & Jeneba Konte (The Gambia, 1977)
Lucy Durán Collection

This epic praises Sunjata who freed the Mande people from oppressive powers and founded the Mali empire in the 13th century. Performances by griots keep his memory alive. In this recording, the text also commemorates various important nobles and kora patrons.


03 ‘Ìyèrè Ifá’
Awótúndé Awórìndé (Nigeria, 1965)
Robert Armstrong Collection

Sung text has always formed an integral part of religious observance in West Africa. Armstrong aimed to document the principal texts of the Yoruba Ifá religious practice by recording, transcribing and translating them.


04 ‘Jesu Olugbala Ni Mo
F’ori Fun ẹ’
Josiah Jesse Ransome-Kuti (Nigeria, 1922)
Zonophone 3394

The hymn ‘I Give Myself to Jesus the Saviour’ in Yoruba. Christian missionaries often suppressed indigenous musical practices in favour of hymns. By the early 20th century, African Christians were translating hymns into their own languages and composing their own. JJ Ransome-Kuti, Fela’s grandfather, was one of the first to do so.


05 ‘Dagaba Music for Mass at Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church, Cape Coast’
(Ghana, 1996)
Trevor Wiggins Collection

In West Africa today many masses are celebrated entirely with indigenous musical practices.


06 ‘Aleenum’
Daniel Jatta (The Gambia, 2015)
Daniel Laemouahuma Jatta Collection

A song for the akonting, an instrument of the Jola people from The Gambia with striking similarities to the banjo [see #112]. This one was handmade for the exhibition by Daniel Jatta in May, at the Akonting Centre, Mandinary Village, The Gambia.


07Cost of Living Nar Freetown’
Calender and his Maringar Band (Sierra Leone, c1950)
Decca WA 2630

A West African calypso. Calypso began in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 20th century though with origins pre-dating that from West Africa. Many calypsos act as commentary on events and social conditions.


08 ‘Saharawi Revolution’
Tarba Bueibu (refugee camp in Algeria, 2013)
Violeta Ruano Portraits of Saharawi Music

This was composed before exile (from Western Sahara) between 1973 and 1975 by Polisario Front founder El Uali Mustapha Sayed and others. It is an adaptation of traditional music with revolutionary lyrics and new instrumentation, here a plastic bucket.


09 ‘Vai Song’
Male vocal duet (Liberia, 1915)
Northcott Whitridge Thomas Collection

A script for the Vai language was invented in Liberia in the early 19th century by Mọmọlu Duwalu Bukẹlẹ. It’s a full syllabic script – each character representing one syllable. This is a recording of the language made at roughly the same time.


10 ‘Agbadza Drumming’
Philip Gbeho, drum leader (Ghana, c1950)
Arthur Morris Jones Collection

Jones was influential in analysing West African drumming. He made recordings on lacquer discs in the 40s and 50s in Ghana that dissected each instrumental part, from the hand-clapping to the gankogui (bell).


11 ‘Afa’
Dzigbordi Group (Ghana, 2003)
James Burns Collection (also on Topic Records)

Community dance drumming from the Ewe repertoire. This track is associated with the oracle of Afa, a system of divination with 256 signs, each with its own corpus of songs.


12 ‘Wak’ar Nasha’di’
Danmaraya Mai Kuntigi (Nigeria, 1980)
Anthony King Collection

A Hausa entertainment song. Dr King was a Hausa linguist with a special interest in sung poetry. As one of the first directors of the Library’s sound collections, his archive includes unique recordings from throughout West Africa.


13 ‘Jola-Fogny Women’s Songs’
Jola women (Senegal, 1982)
Giles Swayne Collection

British composer, Giles Swayne, made a field trip to Senegal to record Jola music, an expedition that has greatly influenced his life and work. These songs directly inspired his ‘Magnificat, Op 33’.


14 ‘Rock Gong, Pikworo’
Seyara Chanerie, Anabuyum Aduwa, Apuri Yiridiri (Ghana, 2007)
Anna Craven Collection

Male singers accompany themselves on rock gongs (lithophones), some of the earliest examples of instrumental music making in Africa.


15 ‘Bubu Music from Tasso Island’
(Sierra Leone, 1991)
Dennis Furnell Collection

The recording features about 12 musicians on instruments including exhaust pipes, box drums and plywood boards. It was made shortly before the start of the civil war that destroyed the livelihoods of the island’s inhabitants. However, islander, Ahmed Janka Nabay, continues to carry the bubu banner.


Click here to listen to more tracks.

+DATES The exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song runs until February 16 2016


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Top of the World: Samba Touré – Albala

Posted on June 23rd, 2013 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

Words by Nigel Williamson

A voice of reason singing the Malian blues

Like his compatriot Bassekou Kouyaté, it has taken Samba Touré a while to emerge as a star of Malian music. Now in his mid-40s, his slow advance finally began to gather pace in 2009 with Songhai Blues, recorded for the label World Music Network. Conceived as a tribute to the late Ali Farka Touré, the record helped establish him as perhaps the most talented of the next generation of Songhai bluesmen, taking forward the great man’s legacy. He entrenched his growing reputation with a second album for World Music Network, 2011’s Crocodile Blues. His first for his new label, Glitterbeat, sounds like another major step forward. The sharp production by Chris Eckman of Dirtmusic and the guitars and keyboards of Hugo Race, formerly of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, lend the record the kind of dynamic energy that will appeal to indie rock fans. Yet it’s done with a subtlety that avoids any sacrifice of the wellspring of Samba’s inspiration, the timeless profundity of the African blues tradition.

Recorded in Bamako in autumn 2012, Albala is a suitably dark, even sombre work that reflects Touré’s desperate concern over the troubles in northern Mali on songs such as ‘Fondora’ (Leave Our Road), ‘Ago Djamba’ (Life Betrays Us) and the plea for ethnic unity ‘Awn Be Ye Kelenye’ (We Are All Malians): the album’s title is a Songhai word meaning ‘danger.’ His voice is resonant, the rhythms have a relentless groove and his guitar burns with the intensity of the desert sun. But above all, there’s a confidence and gravitas that reinforces the feeling that Samba is a man whose time has come.


(On Glitterbeat Records)

Click here to buy the album on Amazon

Click here to download the album on iTunes

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Oxfam produce Mali crisis video

Posted on June 13th, 2013 in News, Recent posts by .

Help Oxfam provide emergency support to Mali

Since fighting broke out in northern Mali last year following a military coup, 450,000 people have fled their homes and 1.2 million are facing growing food shortages. The recent violence and political turmoil have forced many into refugee camps in neighbouring countries, and despite the work of Malian and French forces in recapturing the country’s north, Mali’s future remains uncertain.

What is certain however, is that Mali remains one of Africa’s cultural powerhouses; producing an endless stream of musical and artistic talent. In the latest issue (July 2013, #93) we countdown our Top 25 Mali albums to remind us that there is an endless amount to celebrate in its music. 

With many UK festivals featuring Malian artists this summer – including Glastonbury, Latitude and Hay – there are plenty of opportunities to indulge in the country’s rich musical history.



Watch this Oxfam produced video, where Malian musicians including Bassekou KouyatéNaba Toure and Amkoullel talk about how people are working for peace and development. Donate to Oxfam’s Mali Crisis Appeal

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