All eyes were on South Africa this summer as we watched the World Cup finals. Unfortunately, the sound that will most likely be remembered from the games is the drone of the vuvuzelas, not the abundance of African popular music that was on display. Now is a great time to sample some of the music you may have missed.
There are a number of recent recordings that showcase South African talent. To get a great overview of South African music, try Putumayo Presents South Africa or The Rough Guide to the Music of South Africa. Just released is a series by Strut Records that features jazz, R&B, funk, and soul music from the townships in the 1960′s and 70′s titled Next Stop Soweto, v.1, v.2, and v.3.
The popularity of the new Broadway musical Fela! has renewed interest in the music of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Nigerian musician, producer, and political activist popularly known as Fela, who died in 1997. He was the inventor of Afro-Beat, an exuberant West African style of dance music that he fused with African American styles like funk and jazz. Although dance music at heart, his songs offered lyrics that were confrontational and his political activities often landed him in jail. A compilation called The Best of the Black President was recently re-released.
Soundway Records has been issuing an exciting series of compilations of Nigerian music including Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-6, v. 1 and v. 2, and Nigeria Afrobeat Special: the New Explosive Sound in 1970s Nigeria.
Konono No. 1 is is a group from the Democratic Republic of Congo that has been playing traditional African music for over 40 years. Their exuberant, celebratory sound is created on homemade instruments constructed from car parts and other discarded items. Their latest album is Assume Crash Position.
Rise and Shine by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, offers a melding of West African roots music and reggae. As their name implies, the members of the group met at West African refugee camps during the long civil war in their home country.
Take a listen.