Why is FESPACO losing it’s value? – An interview with Claire Diao

When it comes to African film, there is one festival on the circuit you don’t want to miss. Every two years, film enthusiasts and filmmakers from all over the continent troop to Ouagadougou for the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO). The festival, which was inaugurated in 1969 by the Burkina Faso Cultural ministry sought to bring together all interested parties in the African film industry to meet, share ideas and collectively grow the artistic enterprise of telling stories through film in the spirit of panafricanism.

FESPACO has grown to become the gold standard of african film. The grand prize, “Étalon de Yennenga” (Stallion of Yennenga), is highly coveted and has been won by legends of African filmmaking include , Kwaw Ansah and Haile Gerima. However, over the past years, interest in the festival has been dwindling. FESPACO no longer feels like the place to discover the best of african films or connect with artist. There is hardly any publicity or branding on the event. Non-french media and visitors of the festival are also excluded from the majority of the activities due to the language barrier. FESPACO, at the moment, is running solely on nostalgia, despite the great potential it holds.

Claire Diao, an african film critic and the co-founder of AWOTELE  (a journal of african film criticism), looped DANDANO in on everything going on at FESPACO 2017. Being a perennial presence at the festival, we caught up with her to examine the troubles that Africa’s most prestigious film festival is facing and also remedies for them. She also shared insights into her work projects, which include a platform to distribute african film.

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FESPACO || © Mo’ Ekwa


Dandano:

We hope you enjoyed FESPACO 2017. In one sentence how would you describe this edition of Africa’s most prestigious film festival, for those of us who missed out?

Claire Diao: Lot of moviegoers but a disappointing selection.

Dandano: We understand that FESPACO is opening up and going digital which led to the submission of close to 1000 films from filmmakers on the continent and in the diaspora as well. Do you think FESPACO should be organized annually instead of biannually to accommodate for this expansion?

Claire Diao: Regarding the problem FESPACO is facing every two years, I don’t think it would be a good idea to turn it into an annual film festival like Carthage – its “twin” festival founded in 1966 in Tunisia. On one hand, if the organization is problematic every two years, it will be worse if this happens every year (except if a completely different management is invented). On the other hand, the biannual edition offers the opportunity for other film festivals to happen on the continent. And except the countries at war, the good news is that almost every African country has, at least, one film festival. To answer your question, I would also be really careful regarding “the expansion of digital productions”, especially because most of them are not movies but terrible copies of bad quality TV content. To have the tools to make movies does not mean making good movies. Out of the quantity hopefully will  come the quality. A historical film festival like FESPACO should focus on that, to have any real meaning in the film festival circuit and to also be a source of recognition for every selected filmmaker.

Dandano: Despite its legacy as Africa’s most prestigious film and television festival, FESPACO feels inaccessible. It’s particularly hard to follow if you did not get the chance to be in Ouaga. Why do you think this publicity issue exists?

Claire Diao: I have lot of respect for the people working at the FESPACO offices but they do not look at what other film festivals do and what works. As a journalist, I am really upset about not receiving daily email, in French and in English, of the festival’s program. We have no access to the list of journalists in attendance, there are no press conferences or Q&A organized for the filmmakers, the introductions at the beginning of a screening are really basic. And we can’t say that’s a money problem. I’ve been to hundreds of film festivals, and some of them, without money, are much more organized in terms of PR. Every journalist is fighting to find a trailer, poster or informations about a movie. That should be the work of the FESPACO to present this information! So, if a journalist attending FESPACO is fighting to get information, what about the ones who are not in Ouagadougou? They have to wait for others publishing something about FESPACO… In 2017, I think this is sad. Because the festival is losing its prestigious rank. And international press you see in Toronto, Cannes or Berlin are not even interested in coming to Ouaga. If  FESPACO’s main goal is to promote African films, the “promotion” role of the festival has disappeared…

Claire Diao || © Laurent Pantaléon

Dandano: Aside the historical prestige, why would new filmmakers still be interested in FESPACO? Do you feel that the festival is still achieving its goals of fostering interactions of capacity building among Africans in the film industry far and wide?

Claire Diao: FESPACO is a historical festival where you can meet all the filmmakers, producers and festival directors interested by Africa. The others are not coming – whereas the XXIth Century goal should be to get the attention from the ones who do not care about African cinema. Except the prestige of the award you will receive, I think something is missing: the old generation and new generation are not exchanging ideas. The film business is completely missing. If you want to do business, you should go to Durban FilmMart in South Africa where there is money and international film professionals are in attendance. If you want to learn from the older generation, you should attend other film festivals where masterclasses and meetings are organized. The current power of FESPACO is to still bring all the African filmmakers together for one week. There you realize you’re not alone. You’ll see hundreds of people attending screenings. You’ll drink beer and discuss until 3am. But if you speak English, I recommend you to find a translator. Otherwise you’ll be on your own.

Dandano: What were some of your highlights (feature film, documentary, actor, director) from this year’s edition?

Claire Diao: Alain Gomis’ Félicité (Senegal), who won the Golden stallion, of course. For his aesthetics proposal and his depiction of Kinshasa. Daouda Coulibaly’s Wulu (Mali) who didn’t win any official award unfortunately but highlights the capacity of this filmmaker to put a look on situation. It’s a first feature and definitely a director to follow.  Aicha Macky’s documentary L’arbre sans fruits (Niger), is also the best testimony on infertility I’ve ever seen. A soft, powerful, and intimate look on this taboo issue. And Dani Kouyaté’s Medan vi Lever (Burkina Faso) who was out of competition and depicts how a mixed-race teenager moved to Gambia in order to pacify himself and his relation to his widow mother. The movie won the Burkinabè Film Critic Award.

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Aicha Macky (Niger) ||© Claire Diao

Dandano: If you had the chance to influence the organizing and planning of the festival, what one thing would you try to implement?

Claire Diao: The selection. It is not possible to enter in a screening room and wish to get out after 15 min. FESPACO is the place where you watch movies you will perhaps never watch somewhere else! So I want to be driven by passion when I’m going to the cinema. Not to think “OMG, why did they select that?”

Dandano: We’re also big fans of “Awotele”, a pan African magazine for the review of African cinema which you co-founded. We particularly love that it is bilingual, making it more accessible. Obviously this must come with some logistical challenges. How would you describe your experience of putting this very critical venture together?

Claire Diao: Thank you! The first issue was released at Fespaco 2015 because the film critic workshop that usually take place and is organized by the African Film Critic Association didn’t happen (this year neither). With Michel Amarger and Samir Ardjoum, two other film critics, we considered that film critics should not be forgotten during the film festival. Then we realize that they are three main rendez-vous on the continent: Carthage in Tunisia in November, Fespaco in Ouagadougou in February and Durban in South Africa in July. Each one has its own linguistic focus (Arab, French, English) but the main interest of cinema is to abolish barriers. So we’ve decided to release our magazine during these three events, to focus, at the end of the magazine, on the festival that happens just before, and of course, to translate everything in French & in English. It is a hard work because people are not used to buying a magazine and we do not receive support for the moment but it needs to exist. This is why I’ve created a company, Sudu Connexion, to publish it. And this is why we run from festival to festival with issues in our suitcases! Behind the idea of promoting a magazine, we promote African films. And these cinemas deserve high quality support.

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Ousmane William Mbaye supports AWOTELE ||© Claire Diao

Dandano: You seem to have a very hands-on approach to confront some of the challenges you have identified facing african cinema. This, I believe is one of the reasons why you started Sudu Connexion to distribute African films. Can you briefly describe what it is and the opportunity it offers African filmmakers and enthusiasts?  

Claire Diao: I became a journalist when I realized African films suffered from miscommunication. Everyone is doing things but no one knows! After ten years writing on films and traveling worldwide to film festivals, I realized that the other lack is distribution. Famous Tunisian film critic Tahar Cheriaa, founder of Carthage Film Festival, once said: “Who owns distribution owns cinema”. I think he understood everything. Filmmakers are focused on doing their movie. Producers are looking for money. The distributor is the one looking for frames to broadcast the movies. There is no reason to leave Africa being the only continent where movies are broadcasted for free. A mentality change is happening on the continent, especially from the English-speaking countries who understood the film business. Francophones are still stuck with subsidies. I’ve also decided to distribute PanAfrican content because I’m running Quartiers Lointains, a shortfilm touring program since 2013 between African countries, USA and France and I’ve understood that if exhibitors are not programming African films its because they mostly don’t know where they are and how to reach them! This is why I want to be the intermediary between producers and broadcasters. To fight for them and help them existing on screen as much as I fought to write about them. I want a PanAfrican movie to win a Palme d’Or at Cannes before 2075! (the only one, the Algerian Chronicles of the year of fire, won in 1975).  And last but not least, because it is through distribution that filmmakers and producers can get money! Sudu Connexion means ‘home’ in fulfulde. The company is the home for the ones who want to connect around strong PanAfrican content: we send movies to film festivals and deal with TV broadcasters.

 

 

~

 

Conducted by Hakeem Adam

Photo Credit: Claire Diao (twitter) , Laurent Pantaléon.

Super 16 [Take 3] – African Short Films you should see

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Super 16 keeps looking for filmmakers finding new and creative ways of telling their nuanced, authentic stories centered on people of colour. This edition is particularly polarized towards experimentation both in the areas of film and music. Our selection features shorts from the continent and the diaspora, worthy of your time. You can also check out the past editions here and here. Enjoy!

Monochrone

5 Mins

(2017, U.K)

Dir: Seye Isikalu

The black men or the black body is severely restricted especially with regards to displaying affection. The display of any kind of warmth or care must exist in some pre-constructed notion or impassionate manifestation that reinforces overt masculinity . Seye Isikalu in his experimental film, Monochrome, interrogates these boundaries among black men by juxtaposing images of them in various position where they are vulnerable like in a barber’s chair or with their children. The film creatively employs mundane scenes ,low lighting and poetry to weave together alternative ideas of how black men can display their affection towards each other.

 

Fantastic Man

30 mins

(2014, US)

Dir: Jake Sumner, Alldayeveryday

When you see a man with 8 microphones and many other synths around him on his album cover, then you must know, immediately that he is up to something special or utterly ridiculous. William Onyeabor, from his home in Enugu, Nigeria pioneered a way of using modular synths in popular music in a manner that still shocks the world. He was completely independent, in a time with no Bandcamp, SoundCloud or Twitter, yet found a way to use very expensive and experiment instruments like the legendary Moog synthesizer to create the most sparkling african music yet. He self-produced, recorded, and pressed all his enigmatic 9 synth pop albums under his expansive company. However, despite his genius, Onyeabor decided to be mysterious. This film tries to put together some reasonable explanation of his life and tell us all who William Onyeabor is? Unfortunately, Onyeabor died in January this year at the age of 70. This documentary might be the only clear picture of how one man was able to change synth pop forever. Questions as to where he got his finding from, or the ideas to be so radical in his sound will forever remain a mystery, just has the chief intended it to be.

 

CRACKED SCREEN: A SNAPCHAT STORY

8 mins

(2017, U.K)

Dir: Trim Lamba

The rise of technology has pushed the boundaries of filmmaking significantly further, by gifting creative minds with versatile tools to tell nuanced stories. Snapchat, Instagram and other videos and photo sharing apps have rearranged our perceptions of how images can look and feel with many filmmakers already taking advantage of them. Well, Cracked Screen by Trim Lamba is a significant leap in this domain of filmmaking that does not care about  proper lights or aspect ratios. He examines the themes of identity and self love through a young black woman’s snapchat story with frightening accuracy. What makes this film unique and relatable is the perfect juxtaposition of the two personality of the character (played by Chantelle Levene), before and after her unfortunate abuse. The emotions seep from the cracked screen and viewers are reminded of the brutality of this same technology that allows us to connect with the world.

 

Waves/The Water

5 mins

(2017, Ghana)

Dir: David Edem and Sutra

Mesmerizing. Just mesmerizing. Filmmaker David Edem and singer Sutra in their two-part music video translate a sense of fluidity in carefully choreographed movements, lulling vocal and a calm ambience. This multifaceted film communicates a keen sense of displacement and loss in the first part “Waves”. Sutra’s spellbinding vocal lull the viewer into the rhythm of her words, accompanied by the patient movements of the dancers, clad in black and red. The film also uses natural light superbly to achieve a gloomy mood that blends with the aesthetic. The second part of the film, similarly fluid, plays with the concepts of healing, mimicking water. Waves/Water is beyond the concept of a music video because of the many different themes that are condensed in this tight visual narrative.

 

StelooLive: An experimental, electronic soundscape in Accra

3 mins

(2017, Ghana)

Dir: Fotombo

Steloo is an enigma . Anyone who has seen the Ghanaian DJ, Sound artist or fashion icon in any of his artistic endeavors will attest to that. His evolution continues in this new sound art installation, with the help of Design Indaba and Nana Anoff. Being an organic product of his environment, Steloo reacts to the sights and sounds and reinvents them in his live sets. His dexterity extends beyond the mere manipulation of distorted sounds to an ethereal connect with these mundane yet striking notes his plays live. This video appears to be just a glimpse into a sound art project Steloo is pioneering and we are very excited to see and hear it! Listen to the full set on Soundcloud.

 

 

Clean Water

6 mins

(2016, Uk)

Dir: Kamau Wainaina

Clean Water is my wildcard pick for this edition of Super 16. Kamau Wainaina examines identity and displacement through the images of a young boy black growing up in the UK and the US. He uses the voices of his parents to expresses their fears and anxiety of a young boy coming to terms with racial inequality. However, these spoken fears are careful juxtaposed with the mages of a happy child exploring his environment. Along with poetry and dance, the persona in the film performs an honest examination of his identity, enhanced by the crisp monochrome images.

 

Written by: Hakeem Adam.

Album Review: Daymé Arocena – Cubafornia

In 2015, Daymé Arocena dropped her debut solo album, Nueva Era to critical acclaim in the Afro-Cuban and Jazz circles across the world. She proclaimed and ushered her audience into a new era of Afro-Cuban music with serenading yet powerful melodies about mystical spirits and losing love on singles such as her sleeper hit, Come To Me. This year, the Havana based songbird is back to reinforce this new era she is pioneering with her new record, Cubafornina.

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Dayme Arocena by Casey Moore
The 11 track sophomore album released via Brownswood Recordings and Giles Peterson sees Daymé Arocena seeking to strengthen her brand of music with characteristic silky vocals, spiritual themes and overall dance-inducing joyfulness. Indeed, Cubafornia, from the title alone you get a sense of the direction the artist seeks to take on the tape. Arocena’s sound is rooted in jazz music. Here ability to seamlessly blend her traditional Santeria rhythms with the contemporary acoustic guitar and percussion heavy Cuban music is the ethos of her appeal and accessibility. On Cubafornia, she takes this love from fusion, whilst affirming her individuality to the next level.

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The first song, Eleggua, sets the racy tone that this album takes. Named after the Orisha of roads and directions, Arocena begins this album as she did her last with a prayer to guide her on this new direction. However, it is a departure from the soulful and solemn Santeria prayers for a fierce big band evangelical sound. It begins with moody bass scales before the sudden rousing appearance of the horns and drums as Arocena whispers her words underneath. The song then flairs up with the orchestral vocal performance accompanied by various spiritual chants.

This expectant vibe reverberates through the entirety of the record with most of the songs mimicking the big band sound. Song’s such as La Rumba Me llamo Yo also feature sharp jazz piano chords and drums and the strong conga pacing the melody. Arocena’s vocals are also similarly fierce as they are on almost all of her song. In the flurry of instruments competing for attention, her strong domineering voice, rises above all to coordinate the sound. Being a seasoned music, she has no trouble exerting her authority over songs and guides the listeners with gracious dexterity.

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Dayme Arocena by Casey Moore
Despite the attempt to establish a wider following in America and Europe, Arocena does not stray too far from her core. On the song Como, she reverts to the basics of her cherished soul sound. Her steady voice strolls gently on back of lonely grand piano chords as she croons graciously in English. Then songs snakes into a steady grove when she switches to Spanish and draws in an angelic string section. Arocena radiates the electricity of emotion in the ballad. Como epitomizes the qualities that have placed Daymé Arocena at a position of interest in the jazz and soul music circles. She is aware of the power of her voice and is able to focus it on each lyric she sings such that the sonic and emotional force behind it is not lost but reaches your ears just as she intended.

Cubafornia’s intentions of being a cross over record are unwavering on the album. By rooting her sound in the Cuban musical direction, Daymé Arocena gives jazz a new dimension similar to what Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz did with The Girl From Ipanema, in giving a genre that is growing stale a breath of fresh air by confronting the traditional jazz sound from a new perspective, enhancing its universality and accessibility. Cuba’s new position on the world stage is another reason to be excited about the music. Arocena could definitely be the face of the new Afro-Cuban wave gracing distant shores.

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Dayme Arocena by Casey Moore
Like Nueva Era, Cubafornia is just under an hour and is produced by Giles Peterson with the glistening string arrangements from Miguel Atwood-Ferguson . Each song is crisp and compact with familiar themes of love, longing and loss threaded along the body of work. Long-time fans of Daymé Arocena would be familiar with her singing in English as it is present on most of her past work. However, on this album she does sing more on English than before. This is the only point at which the artist appears to be a bit unsure. Her usual bright and imposing personality appears out of place as she delivers verses in English, especially on the song “Its Not Gonna Be Forever”. Ultimately, it does not take away from the quality of the dance friendly song which has some mesmeric trumpet solos that eclipse her singing.

On Cubafornia, Daymé Arocena extends the Afro-Cuban sound beyond the Havanna restaurant bands and Santeria folk lyrics. She is definitely more ambitions in her arrangements as she challenges her writing to embrace the mercurial nature of jazz. Nevertheless, she has continued to further the new era she pioneered on her debut album. Cubafornia is the next and necessary step, expansion.

 

 

Written by: Hakeem Adam

Image Credit: Daymé Arocena / Casey Moore 

Album Review: Jinja – The Nile Project

 
Nature awakens with such graceful force on The Nile Project’s second album, Jinja. 15 musicians from 11 countries who drink from this magnificent waterbody alloy their sounds to make a passionate plea for this river. The Nile’s existence in critical, not only to the daily lives of the people of the countries through which it runs, but also forms a major component of their history and culture. And The Nile Project has so much fun reminding you of this fact.
 
Most musical projects that make use of a great number of musicians coming from different musical traditions, with their distinct sounds tend to be problematic and incoherent as it takes clinical coordination and chemistry to blend perfectly. However, the artists who form part of the broad collective known as The Nile Project have proven to be able to borrow carefully from each other as they did on their acclaimed debut live album Aswan. On Jinja, they take this uninhibited fusion, to the next level.
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The 10 tracks on this tape which is just over an hour long are stretched out to allow the various elements to gel. Tenseo”, by far the best song on the album begins with a spine-chilling folk lyrical verse, accompanied by patient flute notes that linger long enough to be memorable. The song then tolerantly brings in the strings and mellow percussions to further heighten the chilly and moody atmosphere it invokes as the core rhythm rides out till then end. This simple yet masterful piece of composition perfectly sums up the ethos of the group, which is its ability to blend a range of musical traditions as if they were woven from the exact same cultural fabric in one song.
 
The various regions, cultures and climates through which the Nile and its tributaries snake on their epic journey along the continent of Africa are well represented on Jinja. By recording with indigenous instruments like the Ugandan Adungu (harp) and Rwandan Enanga (harp zither) and the Egyptian Tabla and Riq (drum), the music also introduces listeners to this splendid range of authentic instruments. This further increases the appeal and accessibility of the album, making the sound resonate in the cultures in which it should be most relevant.
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Indeed, the album’s linear notes vividly describe the many different intersections that grace the album. However, barely listening to the music alone is enough to give you a strong evaluation of the process as you feel the improvisation and the confluence of influence on songs like “Allah Baqy” and “Inganji”. This style of fusion mimics the Nile, which flows seamlessly and happily embraces all the water that enter it. The track list also follows this trend in resembling the muse with the early tracks having a strong north African sound and the latter tracks being more East African, just as the river looks on the map.
 
However, Jinja predominantly sounds North African as it appears that the core of the instrumentation involves Ethio-jazz and Egyptian folk elements. This does not lessen the impact of the album but highlights the direction the band took. Also, with three songs exceeding 8 minutes and the shorter tracks also lasting over 5 minutes, Jinja feel more drawn out that it should. Perhaps a more compact arrangement would have enhanced the directness of the tape.
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Nevertheless, The Nile Project represents more than just music. This brilliant group of musicians are one part of a larger collective or artists, activists, students and intellectuals who have made it their mission to protect the waters of Africa’s greatest river. The Nile Project designs programing through which they attempt to achieve their goal of environmental consciousness and cross cultural collaborations . The music is one facet of this plan, yet it feels like the most accessible. This stellar body of work is empirical evidence of how different people can come together to achieve their collective goals, which is what the Nile Project dreams of.
 
Listening to Jinja awakens the listener to the range and power of east and north African musical styles, whilst empowering one to think more critically about the Nile River over calm, easy-going and relaxing fusion. You vicariously experience what it feels to be immersed into those glorious waters through patient yet rousing music.

Amara Toure Is Missing

Album Review: Amara Touré 1973-1980

Amara Toure is missing. Nobody knows where he is, if he is alive or whatever happened to him since the 1980s. Yet, his body of work, which is all he is survived by, is one of the most irreplaceable African music discographies of all time. The Guinean went to Senegal to reinvent the afro-Cuban sound in the 1950s and his catalogue of just 10 songs is the only proof of this inspiring musical journey. These songs, remastered from the original session tapes and released via Analog Africa in 2015 are not only his legacy but also a beautiful reminder of how infinitely powerful and cruel music can be, at the same time.
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Album cover. courtesy of Analog Africa

Sonic Signature

The music on this tape begins with “N’Niyo” in a sombre fashion with a steady percussion line and his signature sensual guitar before Toure begins to croon in his silky and somewhat abrasive voice. Right from this pleasant and sharp dramatic introduction, you get a concrete sense of what Toure aimed to achieve with his music: to be sensual and timeless. His sound grazes your conscience slowly with its charming trumpet solos and sturdy, carnal acoustic guitar lines, much like in most Afro-Cuban, Bossa Nova and Samba tapes. But, Toure’s composition is much more sporadic and wild. He used the big band, soul and jazz techniques to piece the music together by bringing each instrument in one at a time. Yet, he controlled the direction and pace with his raw and brittle but captivating voice.

On this discography, you get to follow Toure’s development and his Guinean, Senegalese and Afro-Cuban sound from his time with The Black and White Ensemble in Senegal to Orchestra Massako in Gabon. Toure studied and played as a live band musician all his life from the 1950s with the band, Le Star Band de Dakar until the released of his LP in 1980 after which he disappeared. It is indeed very curious that a successful musician of such prodigious talent and fame in his prime recorded only ten songs. In these ten songs, he made sure that his sonic signature was firm. The song Salamouti epitomizes this. Here, he employs the steady Afro-Cuban baseline with congas and shakes as well as feisty brass chords in-between before providing a counter rhythm with his voice. In 9 minutes the song goes through various shifts whilst maintaining the core sensual rhythm. Indeed Toure, did create some of the most sensual Afro-Cuban music of all time by sticking to this winning formal. Love songs become conveyor belts on which you travel to joy in his music.
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Amara Toure Album Poster

Afro-Cuban Link

He understood the inherent link between his own folk music and Afro-Cuban music, which was brought to Senegal by Cuban sailors. He understood that it was this underlying link that made Senegalese in bars and clubs in the 50s, 60s and 70s go crazy for the sound. So, he decided to magnify its presence by alloying it with his influence from “sabar” and other indigenous music sounds. What you get on this discography is something like Youssou N’Dour meets rumba. Richard Bona’s latest album, Heritage also sounds close to Amara Toure. It will not be a surprise if Bona, who recorded in Cuba, was influenced by Toure. There is no denying that Caribbean music and Latin music in the Americas was influenced by traditional African music. The Yoruba pantheon and other spiritual themes are often present in such rhythms, emphasising the connection. It is also a great feeling to know that these nexuses are not lost and modern musician like Ibeyi and Dayme Arocena continue to promote that legacy and create canvasses to reflect the duality of this relationship. You do get a sense that the nexus is beyond physical and the rhythmic patterns are embedded in the conscience of black people.
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Le Star Band de Dakar

Collective Amnesia

Discovering Amara Toure brings up many interesting debates on African music. Artists all over the content have continued to create amazing bodies of work over the years that went beyond entertaining the people. Yet, collectively we do tend to exhibit some form of amnesia with regards to such works. Obscure tapes from artists like Ata Kak, Awa Poulo or Amara Toure are easily forgotten, especially after a new musical wave sweeps through the land. Listening to this tape today will undoubtedly feel like an exercise in nostalgia, especially with the quality of the record that makes the music sound gritty and rough. Yet, the genius that is embedded in the chords demonstrates why it should be more than a way of remembering the past.
Amara Toure’s discography is a curious one. You will enjoy the music so much that you will wish for more and be disappointed that there isn’t any left by this pioneer. Maybe this brevity of the catalogue also places more value on it. Even so, each of these ten tracks is a deeply satisfying reminder of a forgotten treasure.

Super 16 [Take II]: African Short Films to Watch

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Super 16 is back after a short hiatus. On this edition we showcase four short films from the continent and beyond that you should watch now! In no particular order, here are some of the short films from across the country that we enjoyed watching over the past month. They represent the growing quality of african short films and we are happy to share them with you.

For those of you who are not aware of what Super 16 is, you can read the first edition to get a sense or dive right in!

 

Hitman

5 mins

(2015, Sudan)

Dir: Sami Elgalabi

Sudanese director Sami Elgalabi brings the scenes from the animated video Hitman to life with this short film, where the notorious mercenary goes on a mission to save his wife who has been taken hostage by his employers. The film does well to translate some of the tension of a hostage scene in the camera angles as well as the colouring of the film. However, ultimately, what draws a viewer to this short are the special effects, as the character in the game is known for his clinical shooting skills. Sudanese Hitman definitely gets it right with very creative use of visual effects and slow motion to bring the gun scenes to life. It also places the character accurately in the Sudanese context.

 

Salt

(2015, Nigeria)

Dir: Umar Turaki

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa set the whole subregion into a state of panic and distress as everyone was afraid of contracting this ruthless and often fatal diseases. Dozens of measures and half-truths circulated as governments and anxious citizens attempted to control the spread of the disease wreaking havoc. In Nigeria, Umar Turaki portrays a personal experience as the disease was reported to have been discovered in Nigeria. In Salt, the viewer is presented with the same weight of anxiety and uncertainty that Nigerians bore upon hearing about Ebola. The cast do well to accurately depict that range of feelings they experienced that night. Based on a personal experience, Umar Turaki’s film is a decent examination of the nature of concern for a person and how it can translate into annoyance, whilst exposing the fractures in the Nigerian health services.

Becky’s Journey

24 mins

(2014, Nigeria/Denmark)

Dir: Sine Plambech

The only documentary on this edition of Super 16 is an epic! A woman from Nigeria narrates her two failed attempts to make it to Europe in a heartfelt and empathetic manner. Becky takes you through the motive for her travel as well as the disappointment she suffered. In this film, the viewer get an inside look on the topic of migration, be it legal or illegal. Thousands of migrant leave the continent each year to find work in Europe as they attempt to escape from poverty, conflict and themselves. It is quite hard to watch Becky’s Journey without reacting to the story as it causes you to feel exactly how this brave women felt through out her epic journey of lies, fraud, deceit, death and survival.

Where Are We

15 mins

(2016, Guyana/New York)

Dir: Kwesi Abbensetts

The year 2016 was a year that inspired a lot of artistic work due to the nature and controversy of the events that went on during it. Be it political, social, economic, these events have definitely made creatives more aware and receptive to how such issues like the US election unfold and how we should react to them. Photographer and filmmaker Kwesi Abbensetts in his surrealist film Where Are We engages in a loose stream of thought about such existential topics. Everything from the power of Beyoncé to nature are tackled as he portrays a black woman who seems to be attracted to nature. She is drawn towards trees and flowers but flees from everything else. Where Are We is an art film that compels the viewer to see more than a black women and react to what the narrator talks about.

Special Sauce – Sabolai Mix

African Electronic Music is one of the most criminally underrated genres of all time. Usually, major labels and music media tend to group all music from the continent under one vague and lazy category: World Music. This tag undermines the genius work of artist who have toiled to innovate new and distinct sounds, mirroring their personalities and times. It also makes it frustrating from new listeners to find these almost obscure tapes from artists like Abdel Halim Hafez, Amara Toure or Kiki Gyan.

Our resident DJ, Special Sauce, a huge fan of African electronic music has put together a solid 45-minute mix that looks to unearth some of the gems of African Electronic Music. The mix, debuted at the Sabolai Radio Music Festival in December 2016, takes listeners on a sonic journey along spacy synthesizers, enigmatic drum loops, spine-chilling electric guitar riffs and unapologetic bass. After listening to this well curated mix, one gets a firm sense of how expansive the African electronic music scene is as it contains songs from different sub-genres from all over the continent like kwaito, Sudanese hypnotic hip hop, afro funk, asorkpor, afro trap and house.

 

Tracklist:

 

  1. Chino Amobi – Berlin
  2. Alpha 606 – Afriba
  3. Sufyvn – Fragments
  4. Kiki Gyan – Keep On Dancing
  5. John K – Moko Nshi Omo
  6. Ata Kak – Bome Nnwom
  7. DJ Katapila – Zoomlion
  8. MHD – Champions League
  9. Rich T – Afrikan Elektronix
  10. Kashaka – Dankasa remix
  11. JLL + deDunamis – Brass Action
  12. Langa Mavuso – Libalele (pray)
  13. Zaki Ibrahim – Do The Thing Right
  14. DJ Nova – Drunk in Love
  15. Mr vezzy – No Sweat No Sweet

 

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Tapes on the wall: 2016 Music Recomendations

It is that time of the year where all the music blogs want to tell you which tapes where the best, which artists had the most impact and why you should trust their taste and agree or disagree, if you may, with their lists. Frankly we love lists. They are great ways to keep track of the music we missed out on. They also provide us with an opportunity to see how others rate the albums we loved or hated. What we do not like is how they seem to promote the idea that music is some competitive sport and there must be one clear winner or that there is an objective standard of measuring music. At Dandano, we believe that music is a unique experience and we all interpret sounds differently to suit our tastes.

In the spirit of sharing, we believe in letting you in on some of the music we enjoyed rotating, not because they are better than what you currently prefer but because it might be worth your time. And if not, what better way to waste your time than but experiencing the work of African artists?

So in no particular order,

 

MHD – MHD

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African dance music at its finest. MHD’s eponymous afro-trap album embodies the spirit of electrifying trap beats alloyed with soukous, Senegalese kora based chords and euro-pop melodies. After uploading 8 homemade videos, all title Afro Trap, of this experimental future sound onto YouTube, MHD’ s sound razed the internet and has subsequently gone mainstream. Our personal favourites in include Kakale Bomaye and Ngatie Abedi, guarantee to get your hips to move. [Critical review coming soon]

DJ Juls – African Crates Volume 1

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DJ Juls, afrobeats sensation and genuine hip hop head had a phenomenal 2016 with his brand and quality of music growing rapidly. Early this year, he uploaded African Crates Volume 1 onto soundcloud. The 21 instrumentals and a few singles are delightful and mystic Africa samples from all over the continent over silky boom-pap beats. This hard-hitting collection is easy to groove into although most of the sounds are optimized for rapping. Clearly a passion project, Juls shares an eclectic mix that reminds listeners of classic vinyl record they might try to recognize whilst getting them to unwind and rock gently to the sultry programmed 808s.

Chino Amobi – Airport Music For Black Folk

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As a fan of Steve Reich and Brian Eno, experimental electronic musicians who allowed their creativity to push the boundaries of our experiences of sound and inspired Chino Amobi to undertake this project, Airport Music For Black Folk is probably the best thing we heard all year. This experimental sound project examines the place of black people in airports by splitting and combining ambient sounds, electrifying riff, spoken word poems, echoes, shuffling noise and white synths almost sporadically but purposefully building up to this moody space. In just 21 minutes, Chino Amobi constructs a space that allows the listener not only to meditate but also travel along the bumps and hurdles in the sounds, just as a black person might experience traveling around the world. As it is available for free, we would strong encourage you listen and see what it does for you. [Critical review coming soon]

Kyekyeku – Higher Life On Palmwine

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Highlife music has not been as glamorous as it used to be in its glory days. However, budding guitarist and singer Kyekyeku has other plans for it. His debut tape, Higher Life On Palmwine sees him combine palmwine music and highlife groves with some interesting cotemporary sounds to create something epic. His syrupy singing and glistening melodies form a compact core through which he celebrates and furthers this traditional sound that seems to be forgotten in the echo of hip-life. Read our comprehensive critical review for more on this blissful album.

Jojo Abot – Fyfya Woto

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This falls under our slightly old but very much gold section, as it was not released in 2016. Yet, we could not pass up on a chance to share this 4-track jewel with you. Jojo Abot makes music to terrorise bored minds and charming them towards an oasis of cheerful pleasure. With silky, soulful vocals, she tells a tale in Ewe about a “compromising situation”. By investigating tradition love and gender, Jojo Abot churns out a sound that is not only refreshing but also a bold statement as to how progressively awesome afro soul can be by strolling out of its entrenched positions.

Alpha 606 – Afro-Cuban Electronics

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Producer duo Armando Martinez and Rey Rubio, collectively know as Alpha 606 complete our not so long list. The afro-cuban sound is traditionally known to be soulful and serene guitar inspired melodies. However, Alpha 606 seek out the electronic nexuses of the afro-cuban sound on their tape. The music is therefore a medley of transient and spacy congas, acoustic guitars and pianos as well as the abrasive synths and harsh but welcomed basslines.

 

 So there you have it, no ranks, stars or points out of 10; just good music you should enjoy. If you think there’s something we should hear too, feel free to comment and recommend. 

Written by Hakeem Adam

 

Album Review: Katapila Trotro – An Electrifying Sonic Portrait of Ghana’s capital

It is hard to find a soundtrack that would illuminate the intricacies of the city of Accra due to its volatile and mercurial nature. At some tangents, the city is a cool breezy, slowly gracing the hairs of your skin. At other blurry and serendipitous moments, it is an electric shock zipping through your being. DJ Katapila grooves and rocks with both sides and chose to memorialize his love for the city of Accra and the abounding energy it exudes in 45 pulsating minutes of electronic dance music.

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You experience Accra vicariously through this 9-track album, reissued earlier this year by Awesome Tapes From Africa despite an independent release in 2009. This much-needed publishing and publicity boost did well to provide a wider audience for this sonic portrait of Accra, leading to coverage in major media outlets. However, very few have tried to dissect the music on this tape beyond is sonic nature to expose the deep-seated social issues it addresses as well as the musical brilliance that birthed it.

This highly formulaic music with its extremely repetitive flair has the tendency to be monotonous. It is constructed by looping the same hushed yet abrasive 808-drum pattern and poly-synth phrase throughout the song. However, DJ Katapila, renowned for his tenacity and insanely lengthy DJ sets, manages to allow the sound to meander into dynamic patterns by layering it with interesting samples, some of which are pitch distorted yells and other bits of social commentary, which are so prominent in contemporary Ga music. This style of toasting, originated from the practice where DJs had speak to the crowd to implore them to react to the music, thereby creating their own vocal performance to complement the music they were mixing.

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By employing this simple and efficient means of production, Trotro stays compact and remains relevant to the core group that inspired the ingénue mind to sculpt this sound. It also draws new listeners in due to its unique and refreshing zest. Songs like Cocoawura ,which was a massive hit on radio circa 2009, thanks to Tema based radio personality, DJ Lalo, will still draw a crowd anywhere it is played in Accra, not just because of the nostalgia associated with it, but also how eternally contagious the rhythm is.

Named after the ever-present minibuses, which serve the main source of transportation in Accra, Trotro’s sonic signature bears an uncanny resemblance to deep house, synth-pop and post-disco era techno. However, it is clearly differentiated by the infusion of Ga music, lending a unique shadow to the pulsating baseline and chilling programmed chords. Indeed, it is the engineering of traditional and contemporary Ga musical influences like “Gyama” and “Gome” (communal procession music) as well as pre-azonto hi-hats and sharp snares and the present bell jingles that epitomize DJ Katapila’s mimetic use of tradition on reimaging the future of Ghanaian electronic music.

The social commentary that the music on Trotro provides might take longer to notice but is equally as consequential as the hard-hitting melodies on which it travels. Through sprinkles of humour, wit and irony, DJ Katapila pokes fun at the prevailing social condition existing in his muse. On the opening track, Sakawa, he raps/sings about the motive behind internet fraud, which is the need to survive. Over gritty and heavy electric synth riffs and metronomic snares, he examines the phenomena sweeping the youth, through a humours lens with his signature pitch disported phrases and other ad-libs that appear irrelevant to the passive listener but carry his dispositions about the subject. On other tracks like “Zoomlion” and “Nkran Dokunu”, DJ Katapila paints a collage of the city of Accra by providing little portrait of the social landscape through his samples, despite some of the songs dragging on for too long . With these simple phrases, almost meaningless at first, you began to notice a scene building up and gradually see the picture of the heart Accra where dance music does not rest!

DJ Katapila’s production was entirely self-taught, driven by his own will to transform the music he was spinning to suit his audience. Years of experience gave him innate musical knowledge to be able to determine which rhythms are prefect for dance especially among the Ga people. However, these same schemas for interpreting good dance music tends to be universal as Trotro continues to be enjoyed by audiences all over the world. You can read the full story of how this album came to be on his bandcamp page.

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Trotro demonstrates the need for Ghanaian and African musician to continue to ensure variety in their music. They must try to look beyond rigid mainstream categories reliant on sales figures but prioritize their creativity. Because representation matters and dynamic sounds are needed to represent the dynamic nature of our lives and experiences.

 

Written by Hakeem Adam

Image Credit: Fact Mag, DJ Katapila

 

Kyekyeku blends palmwine and highlife on compelling debut 

 

 

Ghana is an inherently musical nation. In everything Ghanaians do, they seem to find ways to inject some musicality into it. By lubricating their daily tasks with music, like fisher folk hauling in their catch with pulsating songs that match the tenacity of the sea or trotro mates calling out for passengers in a metronomic rhythm, Ghanaians employ music to bind each other. In these communal exchanges, creativity brews and is encouraged. Indeed, it is from this vociferous oral tradition and knowledge system that the heartbeat of our modern musical sound, Highlife emerged.

Although Nigerians try to claim it, Highlife music, through all its various transformations has always remained authentically Ghanaian. It served as a medium of political protest against systems of oppression in the 60s and 70s. Immigrant Ghanaians in Germany in the late 70s and 80s found a way to combine it with the sparkly synths of the euro-electric scene to produce the glistening Burger Highlife. Budding guitarist Kyekyeku attempts to celebrate this mercurial yet endearing stylistic nature of highlife music on his album, Higher Life On Palmwine.

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The 10 track LP released independently earlier this year is Kyekyeku’s debut album despite thriving on the live music scene in Accra for quite a while and cultivating a cult following. With mesmeric dexterity on the guitar, the singer digs deep within himself and his heritage to express his stories in ways that are not necessarily new. He draws mainly from Palmwine music, a less glamorous yet exciting tag for highlife music before it was restricted to the ballrooms by nouveau riche Ghanaians following independence as “highlife”. Agya Koo Nimo is one of the pioneering figures in this genre, which draws heavily from Akan oral traditional poetic patterns and folk call and response lyrical arrangements. Kyekyeku is a student of this tradition; having played with Agya Koo Nimo and his music exudes a similar depth of strong telling.

From the first song Pay Me Friday, Higher Life on Palmwine is immediately refreshing. Reminiscent of E.T Mensah’s swinging 1950’s big band approach to highlife, Kyekyeku brings tingling guitar chords and patient percussion loops in a slightly upbeat manner as he sings in pidgin English of the ever-complex socio-economic situation in Ghana. This song sets a tone for the tape and you expect the rest of the music to be a throwback to a very period specific sound. However, Kyekyeku does not seek to replicate the old style entirely. He manages to etch his own interpretation of Highlife and Palmwine whilst incorporating contemporary Ghanaian music. His voice soars over the lulling guitaring on Ghana Filosofia, a song which blends modern and Latin guitar scales over throbbing Akan poetics and hushed samples of the whispering sea.

It is difficult to not enjoy Higher Life on Palmwine due to the myriad of emotions it evokes. On one level, it pays homage and honours the legacies of living legends like Ebo Taylor, Agya Koo Nimo and Nana Ampadu who shaped Highlife and influenced Hip life as well. Yet, simultaneously, it is transforming that period specific, groovy highlife by borrowing from other musical influence like Latin music, Afro Cuban soul and compelling the audience to examine it in a new light. The tape succeeds in permeating different age groups and cultures and appealing to a wide demographic due to how new it sounds to some and old to others.

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Listening to Kyekyeku brings up the thought of American soul singer, Leon Bridges. Click your heels three times whilst listening to his song Lisa Sawyer and Sam Cooke will appear before your eyes. Leon Bridges is a magician of nostalgia and has rooted his career in that specific sound. Most of his critics point to how problematic this is because he is not only engaging the sound but the social conditions at that point that fostered the sound. Therefore, although he is making brilliant music to tremendous success, he cannot shake of how Sam Cooke-like he sounds or how his songs celebrate relationship that would have been abhorred in the time, in which they are set. Kyekyeku has the potential to suffer from this same critique by investing in the sound of the past but this album proves that he most certainly would not.

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On Highlife on Palmwine, Kyekyeku exhibits a level of creativity that demonstrates why his sound is more than just mimetic. He is able to take from the tradition and reinvent to suit his personality and his world. Listening to the 45-minute tape and synchronizing into the groovyness of Kakra Kakra, a personal favourite, you recognize the need to respect the music of the past and draw from it to sculpt the future. It is hardly a matter of if we need old or new highlife music, but rather can it be presented in a way that we can enjoy?

Listen to the album below.

Written by Hakeem Adam

Album art by Isabel Abreu

Photo Credit: Artist’s website