Our old friend Ljova was showing off his conductor chops in Bryant Park recently, leading a varied group of NYC subway musicians via FaceTime, connected through the MTA's Wi-Fi system (coming soon to a station near you.) Mixing everything from African Djembe to a musical saw, the music is as light and airy as the subway...well, isn't. You can watch the results above, or listen to a high-res audio file here.
by Steven Pisano
The vibrant music presented at Saturday’s “Africa Now” concert at Harlem's Apollo Theater was strong evidence that music in contemporary South Africa has gone far beyond the more traditional isicathamiya and mbube singing styles popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo thirty years ago. Emceed by the legendary trumpet player Hugh Masekela, the evening was a showcase for the 3rd annual “Africa Now!” festival produced by the World Music Institute, one of the country’s leading presenters of world music.
Jumpstarting the show at the Apollo was a rousing performance by a cappella group The Soil, an affable trio that exhibeted tight harmonies while allowing each singer to showcase his or her voice through engaging solos. Composed of Buhlebendalo Mda (aka Buhle) and two brothers, Ntsika Fana Ngxanga (aka Da FanArtistc) and Luphindo Ngxanga (aka Master P), they sounded a bit like the early 70's Manhattan Transfer. But, if that group was all about airy, jazzy fun, The Soil is more earthbound, singing songs about everyday family life in Soweto. Their signature song, "Joy (We Are Family)," says it all.
Master P's virtuoso prowess at making beat box and other musical instrument sounds had the audience wondering where all the music was coming from with only three people on stage, all of whom appeared to be singing. The audience rewarded the irresistible performance with a standing ovation, which visibly thrilled the group. "Our mothers would be so proud!" they responded, clearly overwhelmed by the warm reception at the venerable Apollo.
“We are Hungarian, but we also play…” and the list of musical influences on traditional Hungarian folk music—traditions of China, Turkey, parts of the Middle East, and, of course, Croat and Serbian music—flowed as Söndörgő took the Elebash Recital Hall Stage for the opening concert of the Live@365 Global Music Series. Surveying the room, the group, comprised of four brothers and a childhood friend, seemed genuinely thrilled to be finishing up their first US tour, and said they would be back for more soon.
Söndörgő hails from a small suburb of Budapest, and forsakes the more traditional fiddle led Hungarian groups for the perfervid rhythms made possible by the tambura, a mandolin like instrument with which they have become closely associated. Their wild blend of Eastern European dance music and a virtuosic handle on a variety of instruments, made for a party that could hardly be contained by the Recital Hall, which had people dancing in the aisles and shouting during the show.
Over the past half-century, West Africa has yielded an incredibly rich crop of musicians who have merged the indigenous music of the Griot tradition with rock, blues, and R&B, including Femi and Seun Kuti (sons of Fela), Salif Keita, Vieux Farka Touré, and, of course, Youssou N'Dour, who recently appeared as part of the ongoing Nonesuch at BAM festival.
Add to that list Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, who appeared at the Howard Gilman Opera House Wednesday night with her band for a two-hour set. Traoré, 40, had a serene, almost regal bearing, her hair cropped in an anrogynous buzzcut. Her voice wasn't particularly beautiful, but it did penetrate the haze of psychedelic cowboy electric guitars and lute-like Ngoni.
Traoré sang in three languages: her native French and Bambara, as well as English. When she wasn't accompanying herself on guitar, she danced around the stage in a Dervish-like trance, flowing along with the loungey groove. Most of the crowd stayed seated for the performance, save for one inspired audience member who approached the stage during "Mélancolie" (from Traoré's 2013 release Beautiful Africa) to do a traditional African dance while Traoré accompanied her in a seemingly endless torrent of lyrics. It was rapturous, transporting.