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Viva Africa: An Interview with Amadou & Mariam and BLK JKS

Cary Darling
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
Amadou and Mariam

African music, often exiled from the pop mainstream, is making a new incursion in the U.S. Darling speaks to two major African artists, plus highlights the best new releases.

Recent African Releases of Note


Recent African Releases of Note

Here are some recommended relatively recent releases from African artists who, like Amadou & Mariam and BLK JKS, are worth checking out. Most of these performers don't sing in English, but that doesn't get in the way of enjoying the music:

Vieux Farka Toure, Fondo (Six Degrees)

The late Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure played with a rootsy, bluesy feel, but his son goes for a more spine-snapping, rock-funk approach that is nevertheless very African. To top it off, Toure -- who switches between electric and acoustic guitars -- plays in a warm, fluid style that's immediately appealing.

For fans of: Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Robert Cray, Dave Matthews Band

Download this: "Sarama"


Femi Kuti, Day by Day (Mercer Street)

Like his father Fela Kuti, Nigeria's Femi Kuti, who sings in English, blends horn-drenched Afro-funk with socially conscious lyrics. If his approach is not as sweat-soaked and exhausting as his dad's, it's still effective.

For fans of: Bob Marley, Santana

Download this: "Tell Me"


Rokia Traore, Tchamantche (Nonesuch)

Mali's Traore sings in a soulfully hushed style set against a spare, moody musical background that sometimes verges on the experimental. Singing in her native Bamanan as well as French and English (including an entrancing version of Billie Holiday's "The Man I Love"), Traore has a unique approach.

For fans of: Nina Simone, St. Vincent

Download this: "Zen"


Tinariwen, Aman Iman: Water Is Life (World Village)

Sub-Saharan vocal call-and-response meets Arabic ululation and Western guitar in the hands of Tinariwen, a group of Tuareg tribesmen from the southern Sahara. Their name means "empty places", but singer Ibrahim Ag Alhabib's mournful, call-across-the-desert vocals and the group's panoramic but folky sound is anything but. They also have a new Live in London DVD out.

For fans of: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Dead Can Dance

Download this: "Matadjem Yinmixan"


Oumou Sangare, Seya (Nonesuch)

Co-produced by Nick Gold (of Buena Vista Social Club fame), Sangare is Mali's most popular solo female performer. Her latest album, her first in six years, shows off her expressive vocals. Her lyrics often deal with women's issues though, and unless listeners speak Bambara, that's impossible to glean.

For fans of: Rita Marley, Miriam Makeba

Download this: "Iyo Djeli"


Mulatu Astatke and the Heliocentrics, Inspiration Information, Vol. 3 (Strut)

Veteran Ethiopian jazz pianist Mulatu Astatke -- whose blend of jazz and African melodies was heard in Jim Jarmusch's film Broken Flowers -- teams with the British musical collective the Heliocentrics for a set of retro-flavored grooves that dance somewhere between jazz, chill-out, funk, and a spy film set in Addis Ababa in the '70s.

For fans of: DJ Shadow

Download this: "Mulatu"


Issa Bagayogo, Mali Koura (Six Degrees)

Mali's Bagayogo plays the six-string instrument called kamele n'goni, and it provides the base for his creamy smooth Afro-pop.

For fans of: Ry Cooder

Download this: "M'ba Fodi"


Various Artists, The Rough Guide to African Blues (Rough Guide)

Featuring Oumou Sangare, Rokia Traore and many others, this compilation is a good starting point to explore the genre.

For fans of: American blues

Download this: Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck's "Bibbe Ledy"

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