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The Power and Beauty of African Guitar Greats

The Power and Beauty of African Guitar Greats


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The Mali-based collective Tinariwen is a part of the material of contemporary Tuareg historical past; its founder, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, fled the nation as a toddler after his insurgent father was killed by authorities forces in an rebellion. For a long time now, Tinariwen has set the usual for Tuareg bands with tightly coordinated rhythms led by Ag Alhabib, whose electrical guitar typically appears to humbly pray. “Matadjem Yinmixan,” about Tuareg unity, has a groove so locked-in it may virtually be a dance hit — after I noticed the band at Coachella 15 years in the past, each hip below that tent was in movement.

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A Nigerien musician of roughly the identical era as Mdou Moctar, Bombino has additionally made inroads within the American rock world, recording with members of the Black Keys and Dirty Projectors. And he shreds, for positive, although Bombino is a subtler stylist than Moctar, right here calling to thoughts lyrical gamers like Ry Cooder.

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In the Nineteen Seventies and ’80s, this Senegalese band epitomized an enchanting form of cultural switch that had crisscrossed the Atlantic: musicians in Africa absorbing and refracting Afro-Cuban dance kinds that had initially descended from enslaved Africans within the New World. Led by the guitarist Barthélémy Attisso, who made advanced arpeggiated runs sound as easy and joyful as a mambo step, Orchestra Baobab had a seemingly bottomless repertoire of sweetly melodic, irresistibly breezy tracks like “Coumba.” Seeing them play in Central Park on an ideal summer time day in 2002 is a cherished reminiscence for me.

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A Nigerian polymath, Uwaifo was by no means a star on the extent of Fela Kuti or Oliver Mtukudzi, though he did tour the West, reaching the Village Vanguard in New York in 1970. In the 2000s his work was rediscovered and anthologized, and it’s eccentric and vibrant, with touches of classic African highlife fashion, uncooked R&B and a few wild-man guitar solos. This observe is one in every of a collection primarily based on a standard coronation dance referred to as an ekassa, although in notes to a reissue Uwaifo describes it as a music by development staff, “meant to function a warning that if the shopper doesn’t pay them, then the home will fall down.”

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One of Africa’s most admired guitarists, the virtuosic Tounkara was the longtime lead participant within the Rail Band (a.okay.a. Super Rail Band), a well-liked Malian group that, like Orchestra Baobab, was born out of Africa’s midcentury craze for Latin music. On this glowing acoustic observe, Tounkara performs a romantic, flamenco-style lead, displaying off his chops for a strong minute and a half earlier than the vocals are available; he may have gone on without end.

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A titan of Twentieth-century African tradition, Kuti was a musical and political revolutionary who used the unruly energy of his enormous funk band in difficult Nigeria’s army authorities within the Nineteen Seventies. Brawny horns take the melodic middle stage in most of Fela’s music, although he makes extremely efficient use of guitars as a form of percussion aspect, as James Brown did. Led by Oghene Kologbo, Fela’s guitarists on “Zombie” — a mocking censure of troopers blindly following orders — play a sequence of repeatedly interlocking riffs, like wheels that by no means cease turning.

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