Most of the time, the stories we see about Africa are tragic ones. Those stories are important — but they are also just one side of life of on the continent and shouldn’t make up our entire picture of Africa and Africans. The recently-ended World Cup showcased another side of Africa and showcased the continent, and South Africa in particular, in celebration. That spirit can also be seen in Africa’s many musical scenes.
Side note: I realize that Africa is a large continent, as culturally — and musically — diverse as any other. I’m going with an overview here because there is so much to sample, and because Africa’s contemporary musical offerings are relatively unknown to North Americans. (Musical traditions from the continent influenced much of what we consider North American music, even if we don’t realize it now.) But I plan to look at specific African countries and scenes with more depth in future posts, as well as those from other parts of the world.
This album, originally out in the late 1970s, features Afrodisco music performed by Buari, a Ghanian performer. Buari is still involved in Ghana’s music industry today, and works with groups like the Musical Union of Ghana and the African Action Committee of the Federation of Musicians. A lot of what we associate with disco music and the era around it seems uniquely American — roller skates, Saturday Night Fever — but the music and culture clearly involved a much wider part of the world.
Tony Allen — Lagos No Shaking
Drummer Tony Allen is a co-creator of Afrobeat, a genre that combines traditional Yoruba music, jazz, highlife, funk and chanted vocals. This album is a percussion-focused recording of ten nights of performing with over 20 musicians in Lagos, Nigeria, and features several other notable African musicians. Brian Eno called Allen “perhaps the greatest drummers who has ever lived,” and at 70 he’s still performing regularly and has released more than 30 albums.
Various Artists — Africa Boogaloo
Strange album name, yeah? Well, if it’s not immediately clear, this LP features music from West Africa in the 1960s and 1970s — specifically, music that highlights the heavy Latin influence of that time. Much of Latin America has a strong African cultural influence, of course, since that’s where many of their people came from — in no small part due to the slave trade, unfortunately. Hundreds of years later, music coming out of the Caribbean and Latin American made its way back to Africa, where it got a positive reception. This double album chronicles how that cultural exchange then began influencing what came out of Western Africa’s musicians.
Various Artists — Next Stop Soweto: Volume One
The first volume of the Next Stop Soweto series looks at South Africa’s township jive of the 1960s and 1970s. Jive music emerged in the ’60s as a hybridization of Western jazz and traditional Zulu music. The scene started in the early part of the decade with male stars like Simon Mahlathini but grew as rival female groups popped up. This compilation of singles, mostly released only in the Soweto area in small runs, takes a primarily local musical era global.
Various Artists — Marvellous Boy: Calypso From West Africa
In the middle of the last century, Calypso had its moment in America, but not only there. This double-LP looks at the genre in Western Africa. The songs here cover several African nations, from Sierra Leone to Ghana, and the music itself brings in familiar Western influences like Creole language and military-style horn sections. Calypso ended up overshadowed by soul and R&B in the 1960s, but this collection is a thorough look at the genre’s time in the sun.
Various Artists — Zulu Stomp!! South Africa Garage Beats!!
Rhythm and blues wasn’t the only genre to influence musicians in South Africa in the 1960s — this compilation covers the country’s history in garage rock. A bad reputation wasn’t exclusive to British or American rockers, as South African musicians were dismissed as “louts” in their own country too. The album makes the historical examination complete with remastered tracks and rare photos.