World music matters - Kinshasa, Lagos, Tokyo, Paris: guitarist Kiala travels with Afrobeat
Congolese guitarist and singer Kiala Nzavotunga played with Fela Kuti's Egypt 80 band, founded Europe's first Afrobeat band Ghettoblaster in Paris, and recorded with avant garde bands in Japan. He's now released his first solo album Money with The Afroblaster.
"Afrobeat is like reggae, you have to send a message," Kiala tells RFI. "You have to be politically, ideologically aware if you want to do Afrobeat."
Kiala Nzavotunga, now 66, was born to Angolan parents and grew up in Kinshasa. He spent his early years as a musician playing with the great Joseph Kabasele, aka ‘Le Grand Kalle’ in Africa Jazz. And he joined the soukous rumba band Negro Success.
But in 1974 he "got tired of playing for Mobuto" and headed for Nigeria.
Poor and without contacts, he sold his shoes to pay the ticket to Lagos with the sole aim of asking Fela for help.
"He gave me 50 naira, in those days that was 50 dollars, I left and went to start my new life."
He finally joined Fela's Egypt 80 in 1981 but it was a scary beginning.
Fela asked him to play Cross Examination and counted him in.
"He shouted 'stop, motherfu**er this is not an African beat'! My heart start to beat like a drum," Kiala recalls, his eyes popping at the recollection of it.
He wanted to leave but stuck it out and learned to play in the more percussive way required. It worked, he stayed with the band two years and recorded the album Original Suffer Head.
They use us
Kiala's first solo album Money recorded with The Afroblaster (French percussionist Cyril Atef and the late Cameroonian bass player Hilaire Penda... among others) features an honourable cover version of Fela's Sorrow, Tears and Blood.
And the song They use us is very much in the spirit of Fela's Pan-Africanism.
"I’m talking about Europeans, the white people that came to colonise Africa. I say 'they use us, now they don't want us'. They don’t want immigrants to come here, they forgot what they did.
"When I was a little boy I didn’t know anything about life, and in school we were learning the history and geography of the Europeans and I ask myself: 'why not African history?'. I didn’t know about Africa when I was at school, we learned about Congo, about Belgium, the king, but I didn’t know the continent."
Kiala admits he owes Fela a lot.
"He made me understand being African you have to know your roots before thinking of another culture [...] even to change your name. Because I was born Kiala Nzavotunga David.
"So with Fela I understand a lot of things and I learn to love your brother blacks. Don’t think 'you’re from Congo, that person from Ghana is not my brother'. We are all the same you know, I learned that."
Kiala is preparing a tribute album to the late Hilaire Penda, founder of Les Rares Talents festival which supported many African artists in France.
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World music matters - Ibibio Sound Machine: The united colours of music
Ibibio Sound Machine is an eight-piece London-based music collective blending West-African funk and disco with shades of post-punk and electro. Its vibrant lead singer Eno Williams talks to RFI about the band's latest album, Doko Mien, and singing in Ibibio - the language of her Nigerian roots.
Lead singer Eno Williams sings mainly in Ibibio, a language from the southern part of Nigeria.
"A lot of the stories that I tell on the record are stories I got told as a child, growing up with the Ibibio language. I felt it was very important to keep the story-telling authentic," Williams told RFI.
Not only have the stories inspired her songwriting, but Williams also found the "very rhythmic" Ibibio language blends well with the musical roots of her fellow bandmates who come from Ghana, Brazil, Trinidad and Australia.
"I call it 'The United Colours of Music'. All that mixture is what makes the sound."
Ibibo Sound Machine picked up a big following in France after performing at the Transmusicales festival in Rennes, western France, in 2013 shortly after forming.
Their third album, Doko Mien, translates as Tell Me.
To find out what she has to say, listen to the podcast by clicking on "PLAY" above.
Ibibio Sound Machine is Eno Williams (vocals), Alfred Kari Bannerman (guitar), Anselmo Netto (percussion), Jose Joyette (drums), Derrick McIntyre (bass), Tony Hayden (trombone, synth), Scott Baylis (trumpet, synth), and Max Grunhard (saxophone, synth).
In concert: Village Underground, Lisbon, 14 September, then touring in UK. Dates here.
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World music matters - Cimafunk brings Afro-Cuban funk therapy to France
When Erick Iglesias Rodríguez discovered the power of groove, he quit medical school, went to Havana and morphed into Cimafunk. His 2017 album Terapia (Therapy) aims to make you sweat it out on the dancefloor. It worked in the Americas. Now he's determined to set Europe alight. Starting with France.
This is the therapy Cimafunk proposes at his concerts: "It's about having fun, it’s about dance, it’s about getting some people close to you, it’s about sexuality, friendship and dance and sweating. It’s all human, it’s about meeting up..."
No surprise then that Billboard dubbed the 29-year-old singer and composer Cuba's revelation of 2018 and his showmanship has drawn comparisons with James Brown.
Rodríguez' sound is based on Afro-Cuban rhythms fused with American funk music. That basically takes him back to his African roots as a descendent of cimarrones, the Spanish word for African runaways who hid in the forests to escape enslavement. Hence the moniker Cimafunk.
"African music is in every piece of my work because I make danceable music," he told RFI. "All the groove we have in Cuba, most came from Africa. We have the sound of Pilón, mambo, cha-cha-chá. All this musical style in the beginning came from African drums."
People in Havana have been soaking up Cimafunk's therapy since 2017, scaling walls to try and sneak into his late night concerts. Such is the enthusiasm he's begun adapting his sound and changing the songs in relation to the way the public reacts.
The song Me Voy (I'm going) is basically an everyday story from the streets of Havana: "You look at the person and the person looks at you and you both know that you wanna meet each other". It's a kind of 'your place or mine?' song about living the moment.
"What I’m trying to do is make you go to my concert and forget your troubles. You just have one or two hours of the show, of dancing, to figure out what you’re gonna do with your body."
For anyone lucky enough to catch the young singer, composer and producer in action, then do!
If you want to hear more about funk in Cuba, the impact internet has had on his rapid rise to fame (lots), the origins of the album (ski station in France) and of course listen to the music, then check out the podcast.
Cimafunk play at Parc Floral as part of the Paris Jazz Festival on 25 Juillet 2019.
For other tour dates, follow Cimafunk on facebook
The official website here
World music matters - Lemma brings women artists from the Algerian desert to the stage
Franco-Algerian singer Souad Asla grew up in Béchar in south west Algeria listening to, and loving, the region's traditional repertoires. While women have played a role in passing on that musical culture, they rarely perform in public. Asla has changed that. In 2015 she formed Lemma the first all-female ensemble from the Saoura to tour internationally.
"Women have always been part of the musical heritage of the desert. Women have sung, danced and played percussion for centuries. But behind closed doors."
Saoud Asla has brought these women out of the shadows and onto the prestigious Institut du monde Arabe in Paris to perform at the Arabofolies festival where we chat before the soundcheck.
Lemma (meaning union or gathering in Arabic) goes back to 2015 when Asla set out to try and preserve and promote the rich musical heritage of her native Béchar.
"I brought these women together to play and above all preserve the vast and rich oral heritage from this region because it’s dying out," she explains.
Musical genres, both religious and profane, like malhun, gnawi, zeffani, hadra are traditionally performed at weddings and funerals but are also shared between women at informal gatherings where they meet to "discuss and support one another".
Asla brought together nine women, aged 20 to 79, all from the region of Béchar where she was born. With the exception of Hasna El Becharia, the now famous gumbri player and vocalist, the other singers and percussionists were unaccustommed to the limelight.
"I had to go and convince their husbands, their brothers," she explains. "I set up residencies over there, kidnapped them and locked them up in a house in the desert for 10 days."
The women had music running through their veins but were unused to arrangements or using headphones.
"They’ve worked very hard, and they’ve become a lot more professional," Asla says proudly.
The women sing, dance and play percussion.
"Before going on stage, the women pray and put on their veils but they’re brightly coloured and shimmering," says Asla, They dress up, put on make up, they’re beautiful, they’re happy with themselves. That’s the Islam I grew up with."
The ensemble defends that tolerant, open Islam on stage.
"Our message is obvious when you see us performing in public: freedom of expression, freedom for women, a real place for women in music around the world, whether in Algeria or here in France.
"Because even here, it’s difficult to get our music heard. As a Maghrebi woman, I don’t know what’s happening, but doors are closing. You can’t imagine how hard it’s been to get this group off the ground. Thankfully I’ve found a tour manager to promote the project but it’s been five years battling on my own and it’s been difficult."
The tour shows it was worth all the effort. And the singer, who left Algeria for France 27 years ago to be able to perform in public, also takes satisfaction in having founded a kind of second family.
"There’s a musical and spiritual kinship between us all. I feel like they’re my aunts, mother, sisters. You could say I brought my family over here. It was a bit selfish in a way. I did the project for myself, but it's taking off and I'm happy.
Lemma play at the Festival des Musiques d'Ici et Ailleurs in Chalons-en-Champagne 30 June, 2019.
Follow Lemma on facebook and check out other tour dates.
World music matters - Yemeni-style hip hop from A-WA sister trio
A-Wa sing electronic-infused versions of Yemenite folk songs in Arabic. They proudly defend their Israeli Yemenite identity on their second album Bayti Fi Rasi, inspired by the story of their great-grandmother Rachel, a Jewish refugee brought from Yemen to Israel in 1949 as part of Operation Magic Carpet.
Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim came to fame with their 2016 debut album, Habib Galbi, on which they set traditional Yemenite songs to pulsating electro beats.
But Bayti Fi Rasi is a 14-track album of original compositions, based on the life and times of their great-grandmother, Rachel.
"On this new album Bayti Fi Rasi we talk about the notion of home and is life a matter of luck or fate," says Tair, the eldest of the three sisters, as they prepare to perform at Paris's Café de la Danse. "These are the themes and issues that our great-grandma Rachel dealt with.
"Bayti Fi Rasi means my home is in my head. Whenever she was asked in Yemen why she travelled from one place to another she said 'I can't stay in one place, my home is in my head'."
As a Jew and a single mother, Rachel suffered discrimination and wasn't allowed an education.
"She didn't know how to read and write, she couldn't express herself freely," Tair continues, "this is why we care about letting her voice be heard. It's really important for us in this album."
"We really felt she was present in the studio," says Liron, "it was very challenging and emotional to blend our voices with her voice."
On the video for the song Mudbira (a colloquial word for unlucky or miserable) A-Wa dress up as fiesty shepherdesses, delivering a strong feminist message to men who might dare to mess around with their goats.
Rachel's problems continued once she arrived in Israel in 1949, along with some 49,000 other Yemenite Jews.
"Where will I stake a home? You have a tent for now. Or at least a small shack. Along with four other families," A-Wa sing on Hana Mash Al Yaman (Here is not home).
"They were placed in tent camps, they couldn't work and had to use coupons for food," Tair explains. "The country was young and couldn't include everyone. It was sort of a mess."
"And you can't really disconnect the person from his or homeland and culture," Tagel adds.
Pride in Mizrahi culture
A-Wa are proud of their heritage but resolutely anchored in the present, mashing up traditional Yemenite headdress and costumes with sneakers.
They feel much more at ease with their Mizrahi culture in Israel than their great grandmother did.
"We want to bring the glory back to our culture," says Tagel. "The generation before us felt a bit ashamed but we feel it's so beautiful we have to celebrate it. Our generation is way more curious, really going back and digging in the roots and bringing to the front."
"People are more accepting now and more open for this kind of music," says Tair, "and the fact that we blend it with hip hop and more modern styles [means] it's very danceable and it's more accessible to all people.
"I guess the A-Wa experience now, we're becoming more and more mainstream in Israel and it's a blessing."
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