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Posts Tagged ‘Afrobeat’

The first time I heard the Tom Tom Club’s song “Genius of Love” off their eponymous debut album I thought  “Hey, that’s Mariah Carey’s song.” Turns out I was only half-right.  Back in 1995, when I was twelve, Mariah Carey’s hit “Fantasy” was playing on every Top 40 station and I was choreographing dance routines to it with my friends. The rhythms in Tom Tom Club’s upbeat 1981 hit made “Genius” a hip hop sampling favorite too.  Public Enemy, Tupac Shakur and T.I. have all used snippets of the track. Mariah Carey created “Fantasy” as a remix and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five made “It’s Nasty”.

Fast forward 29 years and the Tom Tom Club is releasing a tribute to the tune, it comes out today, and it’s called “Genius of Live.” The album features select tracks from their “Live at the Clubhouse” album along with  recent remixes of the song created by lesser known  artists like the Latin-fusion band Ozomatli, the electronic dance musician Senor Coconut, and Money Mark — he’s the guy who came up with the familiar keyboard phrase that opens and underpins Beck’s hit “Where It’s At.” Money Mark’s  remix of “Genius” was, well, genius.  He somehow managed to make it even more uplifting, almost gleeful.  He adds random found sounds to his version like snippets of phone rings,  a harmonica track and a woman mumbling words in German.

Tom Tom Club’s  founding members, the husband and wife team of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, spoke to Studio 360 a few years ago about the artwork of James Rizzi — whose artwork is on  the covers of three of their albums. They explain how Rizzi’s cartoonish and colorful drawings match perfectly with the sound and message of their music.

Tom Tom Club Fans were bummed when the band recently had to cancel some tour dates (it’s their first tour in ten years), but TTC is still set to play The Getty in Los Angeles on October the 9th. Check the rest of their tour dates here. Listen to all the “Genius of Love” remixes here.

-Julia Botero


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The first-ever disco song, the one that spawned the entire American craze, made its debut in the Top 40 this week in 1973.  Only, back then, it wasn’t yet disco.  In fact, it wasn’t even American.

The song was “Soul Makossa,” and most music historians credit its popularity with disco’s inception.  It comes from the afrobeat record of the same name by Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango.

[YouTube= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmWTLDlj6SQ%5D

“Soul Makossa” may not instantly ring a bell, but I promise that you’ve heard it a million times.  The iconic chant “Mama-ko Mama-sa Mama-ko-sa” has been quoted by artists like Michael Jackson, A Tribe Called Quest, and even Rihanna.

The 1970s might have sounded very different had DJ David Mancuso not stumbled upon the track in a Brooklyn music shop in 1973.  Mancuso torched dance floors with every spin of the record, and its popularity in night clubs caused the rare disc to sell out across New York City.  Thus, disco was born.

And it’s easy to hear the roots of disco in Dibango’s song: dense percussion, thick bass, incessant groove, it’s all there.  And as someone who wasn’t alive to enjoy the 1970s firsthand, it totally explains the origins of the genre to me.  Disco always felt like an alien artifact that came out of nowhere – there always seemed to be a break between the more raw rock and soul of the ’60s and the lush dance ornamentation of the ’70s which time and Gloria Gaynor didn’t explain.  Apparently the answer, as with most questions of origin in American pop music, is that we took our cues from Africa.

Last week on Studio 360, Kurt and Alice Echols dissected disco and its impact on American culture – from the modern gay rights movement to Lady Gaga:

[AUDIO= http://audio.wnyc.org/studio/studio071610e.mp3%5D

-Stephen Reader

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It’s hard to imagine a band getting more exposure than by playing at the opening ceremony of the World Cup.  With the eyes of the world on South Africa last Thursday, the nation’s own BLK JKS delivered what was arguably the best performance of the night.

At the heart of their music is a tenacious fidelity to afrobeat, a mélange of traditional African styles with progressive Western ones like funk and jazz.  However, the BLK JKS have upped the ante, casting the elements of afrobeat in the unlikely mold of alternative rock, while referencing such disparate genres as dub, prog, and psychedelia.  Incredibly, the combinations, transitions, and contrasts never sound forced with these guys – that’s because all four BLK JKS are also really smart composers.  Their new album Zol! showcases this talent, particularly on “Paradise,” in which the band moves from dystopian guitar riffs to sun-soaked Afro-Cuban interludes in the blink of an eye.

BLK JKS wrote the title track from Zol! as an unofficial World Cup anthem.  It’s a joyous song, and easily the most “traditional” track on the album.  So it was surprising when they chose to play the more aggressive, politically-charged “Mzabalazo” at the opening ceremony instead. But I’m not complaining: it’s my favorite song on the new album.  It’s also a more fitting one to share with the world, as it shows just how BLK JKS mix the heaviness of Western rock with the musical vocabulary of Africa.

Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen talked with BLK JKS before a performance in Los Angeles last year.  They broke down all the different strands of music that show up in a single song, from art rock to Zulu chants.

– Stephen Reader

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