January 02, 2009

Roots

I tend to get very annoyed with all the releases stressing western aspects of African music. "Nigeria Disco Funk", "Afro-Rock", various West African Funk compilations and such. I can understand the need for these from an African point of view. But the strange thing is: most of these compilations are put together by western producers, and for a western public.

How does this work?
It's like those people that travel to the other side of the world for an exotic holiday, but take their own local brand of coffee.
Why bother?

So in this post I am sharing with you an African compilation of music from Benin. I find no mention of "funk" or "rock" on the sleeve. And if you ask me, I can only hear music with obvious African roots. With rhythms borrowed from the traditional (vodun and other) music.

Discafric AF 003


PS: apparently the last two tracks on the B-side have been switched around on the sleeve. The last track is clearly Gnonnas Pedro.

20 comments:

Neu Mejican said...

What a great collection. I have this version of "Igbala" already... attributed to Le Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly Rythmo De Cotonou. Is that not correct? It sounds like them.

matt said...

The Afrofunk/James Brown entry point to African music...used to market African music, through the original Russ Dewsbury compilations (Africafunk, Club Africa) and more recently through work by Miles Cleret and Samy Redjeb at Soundway and Analog Africa is not necessarily a bad thing. Irritating maybe and you might question their tastes but they have increased awareness of historical musics and delivered cash to the original artists.

Anonymous said...

i love this blog such wonderful records i can't thank you enough

symbolkid said...

great LP, thank you!

i think if people need something to dance to, and then they would like something with african flavour, and if then some of them would find out about a true origins of african music and culture - it would be a good thing and such compilations as those you've mentioned can help at that.

Oro said...

Bonne année 2009 pour votre blog absolument génial.

Your questions are totally clever. I always tried to put an african point of view on my documentaries. I hope they don't look like poor compilations.

These wonderfull compilation you offered us today is a diamond. I did not no most of those tunes. What a gift for me. Thank you a lot i will make Cotonou and Porto Novo listen to this album.

Oro

Frank said...

That's funny!
if you don't like the aspects of most compilations out there, why not make your own one?

In times where the music industry is already on it knees, you can't really be mad at people releasing compilations from a "Western" standpoint and for a "Western Market". If you think about it, that's what it is. People from Europe or the US compiling African music they feel has relevance and might find interest on the European and US-American market.

I can't see anything wrong with this.
I would find it more disturbing to have "Westerners" pretend to be down with traditional African music without even knowing anything about the sprititualistic aspect and most times animistic/religious background of the deeper, traditional stuff out there.

What I'm really sick and tired of is people looking down on "Western influenced" African music.

Blues, Gospel, Soul, RnB (real R&B and not the garbage they're selling nowadays using this name) and Funk are all African music if it comes down to it. Once this music had made it to Africa, it didn't spoil original African Music, it was a homecoming of advanced African music and these influences interacted with traditional styles. This is what music does, it travels, people use it to communicate with each other and it constantly changes its form. That's the beauty of music.

If there's anything to complain or to feel sorry about than it's the fact that there's little to no market for vintage African music in Africa, be it traditional or be it Afro Funk.

WrldServ said...

It's good to see some discussion about this subject. First, let me stress that I was expressing a personal opinion. I am primarily a mélomane who has been listening to African music for 30 years.
I know in Africa -as in Europe and all over the world- musicians follow trends in music. When Europeans were dancing the chachacha, Africans also danced the chachacha. When James Brown had a hit with "Sex Machine", all the world wanted to be James Brown.

In retrospect maybe the comparison was wrong. It is actually more like a Dutchman going to Africa and shop for butter.

@ Matt & symbolkid: I can only hope you are right. But I know from experience this can go two ways. The novice can also reject the African artist as delivering an inferior copy.

@Oro: thank you. And keep up the great work on your blog, which I follow with great interest!

@Frank: this blog is actually like my 'own compilation'. So I am already doing what you suggest.
And I agree with the last point; but I'm afraid this is also a result of the western 'interference'. A lot of good artists are only considered once they have had what is seen as 'success' in the West. I will come back to this point in future posts.

Frank said...

There was only a handful of African artists who ever had any larger success in teh West. For the most part, African pop music was recorded and pressed for the local market. Who had success in each African country was for a big part depending on how well-connected the artists were. Ever noticed the many, many pr-revolutionary songs by Poly Rythmo? El Rego once told me how he was imrisoned for not writing pro-revolutionary songs and after agreeing to publishing one was promptly released. What becomes popular often depends on how things are being marketed and what gets airplay. same in Africa as in the rest of the world.

It simply upsets me when Funk and Soul music is considdered an outside influence to African music. This is just wrong. Funk is much more African music than Western music. If you think about it, you will realize that without African music there would have never been any Gospel, Soul, Funk etc. if Africans create music outside of Africa, do you seriously want to considder it to be "Western" music that needs to be kept away from Africa so it doesn't polute the pure, authentic African music? To me, this sounds elitist and ignorant.

Do you want to argue that African unlike oher music has no right to develope?

Sometimes public taste and airplay corruption lead to music changing for the worse. Look at Western pop music. There wasn't anything worthwhile happening since the early to mid 80s. Human culture doesn't always have to be a success story. If people want to hear shit music, let them have it. Maybe after decades of shit music flooding the aiwaves, nightclubs, shopping malls and ipods, someone starts digging out some old records, plays them for his friends and things start to turn around again.

For your average consumer out there, African Funk music still sounds like something brand new, most people still have never heard of such a thing. Once exposed to it, a lot of people really love it. What's wrong with that? Chances are, they're ging to investigate deeper and find more and more interesting sounds. African music is like a pandora's box.

I picked up loads of un-funky African records while I traveled around West Africa (amongst them, the record you posted above which in my book contains about 50& pop music and uses "western" instruments like electronic guitars, brass instruments and keyboards). When I began doing my radio show on WFMU, I began with the idea of only playing stuff that I wouldn't play at an Afro Funk party but more deeper or (for Westerners) danceable tracks. The stations manager complained after a few shows that it would sound too much "like other African music shows out there". I said I didn't believe him and went to the station's record archive. If those records should be filed into the "World Music" (how much I hate this term) and into the "Afrobeat" section of a record store then no more than 20 of records would be considdered Afrobeat.

Your butter and tea stories don't make any sense to me whatsoever.

Neu Mejican said...

It seems that (voodoo funk) Frank and World Service are arguing not over the nature of the music, but the terminology used to describe it. Certainly music is a constantly developing beast in all parts of the world. It takes an unusual degree of isolation to avoid influences from other parts of the world. Africa certainly has had as big an influence on "Western" music as Western music has had on African music. It is a dialogue. The most vital musics, imho, come from the intersection of tradition, outside influence, and the artistry of the individual artist. Musicians who manage to incorporate their local traditions, spiced with outside influence as a way to complete their artistic vision are far more artistically successful. Traditions alone, without outside influence, stagnate and produce staid, boring music...no matter where they come from.

Both Voodoo Funk and this blog contribute to the important dialogue across culture and time that keeps music vital as art. Keep it up...it is appreciated.

Frank,
Like you don't understand the story of butter and milk, I don't understand this- "Look at Western pop music. There wasn't anything worthwhile happening since the early to mid 80s."

That's just nonsense.

Frank said...

... you might call it nonsense but that's my honest personal evaluation. I used to listen to a lot of Rock and Pop music, mostly Punk Rock, New Wave, No Wave, "Alternative" etc. and I can't come up with anything since... okay, let's say since the mid- to late 80s that had any deeper relevance. Some very few things that were enjoyable stil pop up every now and then but nothing that really matters in any way. Nothing new to say and no new ways to say it. Which post-'86 records would you say did something new and exciting and stand a chance against the test of time?

Neu Mejican said...

Frank,

Musical taste is always subjective, but the list of important records since 1986 is too long to even start. Entire genre's have developed in the last 22 years. Some of my favorite artists of all time started their careers in the 90's a & 00's (btw, I am pretty sure I am older than you). As a musician working since the early 80's I can tell you that the music scene is as vibrant now as it has been at any point in my career. The dialogue between the kids coming up and the archives of the past has increased its pace and broadened to a global pool like never before (thanks in part to blogs like this one and yours). Too many of us old folks say things aren't as good as they were when we were kids. That is, imho, more about how our perspectives have changed than a comment on the state of the artistry available.

Comb & Razor said...

This is pretty interesting... It's a subject that I think about a lot, in fact. I have to admit that my feelings on it are probably based more on sentiment than reason.

I'm sort of peeved when Westerners look down their nose at "Westernized" African pop music.

I think it's because I see this desire for African music to be "pure" and unspoiled by Western influence is really a fantasy... a myth.

And as an African who grew up in Africa listening to African music, I'm sometimes almost insulted by it... Because I think it sort of seeks to prohibit Africans from participating in modernity, to shackle us forever to some romantic ideal of the past.

The world is getting smaller--they make great jazz in Eastern Europe, the Japanese produce some pretty progressive hip-hop, South America has some awesome rock bands... I know some might want to argue that this homogenization of global music culture is far from a good thing, but regardless, this is the world we live in.

Why should Africa be excluded from this global dialogue?

I wish I could say that I grew up listening to "traditional" music--I didn't, and I can barely think of anybody my age from my country who did. Perhaps this is a tragedy in of itself, but it's just the reality. I mostly learned about "traditional" African music when I came to the US and started reading anthropology books and spending time in the "World Music" section at HMV.

And yes, I appreciate this music--field recordings of fertility songs from remote tribes and the like--but can I tell you that it in any way represents my personal experience as a contemporary African, or the experience of anybody I know?

Nah.

Obviously, I believe each individual has their own personal taste and if they don't like African funk or rock or soul or what have you, there's nothing that says they have to listen to it. Thank God there is plenty of African music that is "free of Western influence" for the pleasure of anybody who is into that kind of thing.

But even then, I'm often unsure what people mean by "free of Western influence."

Where exactly do you draw the line? Musics that a lot of people think of as "traditional" or "free of Western influence"--stuff like highlife, juju, rumba, soukous, mbalax, etc.--obviously they are all played on Western instruments and incorporate ample influence from Western pop music.

So is the issue that they are free of relatively recent Western pop influence, as in Elvis Presley onwards?

That's probably my issue more than anything: what point in time is the cut-off point?

Frank just said that he doesn't believe there's been any interesting music since the early 1980s or so. Now, I don't agree, but I do understand and respect Frank's sensibility. Even the African music he prefers is from the 1960s and 70s... And there was a LOT of great stuff then.

But then, perhaps because I grew up in Nigeria in the 1980s, I think there was a lot of great music during that era, too. I love a lot of boogie and disco and modern soul--that was the soundtrack to a formative period in my life. Frank and Miles don't care much for that sound, and that is reflected in the compilations and mixes they put out. And that's cool.

If I want to spread awareness of African disco and pop, and I think there are other people out there who might dig it, then maybe the responsibility lies with ME to make a compilation about it since I'm the one who cares about it and knows about it.... I can't expect Frank to do it because he doesn't have the connection with that particular sound.

Basically, I'm saying there is room for everybody... Africa is the most diverse continent in the world and we can't expect all the cultural products that come out of it to conform to any one particular standard. There are all kinds of faces of Africa and for each one of those, you'll find people who appreciate them and those who hate them.

(Sorry for the long spiel there!)

Boima said...

I've been reading a book that offers an interesting perspective on this issue. I've posted it and my own thoughts here.

WrldServ said...

I really had no intention of commenting again, but I'm afraid this discussion is getting out of hand and too much is being read into my original post.

I am certainly not opposed to any kind of 'Western' influence. Apart from anything else, it is (as I wrote in my earlier comment) a fact that African music has been influenced by outside sources. Who am I to oppose this? This would not only be useless, but also extremely arrogant and 'neo-colonial'...

I was ony talking about the labelling of African music for western audience, and in reference to the lp I posted. One can easily label some of the tracks on that lp as "funk" or "afro-pop". And I am sure that this will help the sales of that particular lp, but it gets up my nose and I don't understand the need for it. That's all I was trying to say.

I am not a purist or a traditionalist or any other form of -ist. All I am trying to do, is what Franco suggested when he said: "We, Africans. are listening and have always listened to all kinds of music (....) But it is you, Europeans, who refuse to really listen to our music."

But, of course, anyone is free to interpret my posts in the way they want to.

Neu Mejican said...

Maybe the terms coming out of Africa are the best ones to use, but only a few, such as "afrobeat" (Fela's term) & "afrofunk" (Tony Allen's), are going to have much utility to a western audience.

Until you are educated, the difference between juju, highlife, fuji, etc... are obscure and there use in sales/marketing is limited as, to the uneducated buyer, they are not very informative.

I do see a difference between labeling Poly Rythmo "Funk" in an attempt to hook western audiences, and putting together a compilation of "Funk" songs from Africa...whereby you look for songs that fit western conventions, but just happen to be from Africa. Far too often this second kind of compilation uses location ("from Africa") as a replacement for quality ("is a kick ass song") in the choice of songs.

Anonymous said...

Now that everyone's spewing some bile, I was quite annoyed by the december 2008 issue of The Wire and its rather revisionist, anglocentric and overall over the top feature on 'West African Psychedelia' ... There's absolutely no mention of Syliphone/Guinee, Senegal and Mali (let's say modern Mande and Wolof music, in my opinion still the most 'psychedelic' guitar-oriented African music) but the author does label Nico Mbarga's Sweet Mother LP (!) as a quintessential 'African Psychedelia' record, apparently on account of the 'groovy' white vinyl boots Nico's wearing on the sleeve picture ... Sigh. Not sure what I'm trying to say here but this is definitely a good example of the kind of hipster stupidity I could do without. (tom)

ReeBee said...

thanks

Anonymous said...

I can see where the original blog post is coming from - here's the Mauritian James Brown, here's Chad's James Brown, here's Central African Republic's James Brown etc etc but they comp. easily (ie. usually 7" singles) and are pretty easy to sell in Europe and the US. Its the same thing with psych. - here's psychedelic Mongolia, here's psychedelic Bhutan etc etc.

Some other forms of African must are a hard to comp because often the tracks last 20 mins a time and the demand in the Europe is a lot less (eg. Fuji, lots of Nigerian highlife, long Kora pieces). You could make a sakara comp. but more often than not the lyrics are about how great the local car dealer is which kind of kills the music's impact. But music such as 70s Islamic music does seem to have been marginalised in favour of more instantly recognisable forms (eg. african funk etc).

Totally agree with Symbolickids point tho - these styles of comps are often a very good entry point for people to explore on their own.

It also depends where certain compilers decide to work. Gunter Graz kicked the door wide open in West Africa for a lot of other compilers to come through and some countries have been very fortunate with the people who chose to work there. Graeme Councel in Guinea, Analog Africa and Soundways in Benin, etc. However. some other countries have been far less well served by the compilers who work there; Mali seems to be most blatant example.

Love the blog by the way. Keep up the great work.

The Mighty Louche said...

Anglocentric buzz words, such as the more recently excavated and recycled 'psychedelic', are simplifying, generalising and most often anachronistic and completely wide of the mark.

And yet I would never have checked out Analog Africa's 'Scream' comp (and all their other collections) if that particular title hadn't had the word 'psychedelic' in the it. Not that I thought it would be genuinely psychedelic, like a Pink Floyd psych-out, or that Howlin' Wolf album. But by now the consumer in me knows what to expect from such shorthand. (Fuzz... limited 'garage' technology... perhaps ambition exceeding talent. All great stuff!) It misrepresents the music and historical context, sure, but it grabs my attention.

And to be fair, psychedelia didn't come from the cradle of civilisation. You only need to listen to Honny & the Bees Band's 'Psychedelic Woman' -- or Fubura Sekibo's 'Psychedelic Baby' -- to appreciate that the term didn't mean more in West Africa than it did on Madison Ave.

Anywho, your blog is a beauteous place of wonder and surprise. Thanks for making all this stuff freely available, and with such loving care. It really is much appreciated!

Jazzvier86 said...

Hi!
I´m a guy from Spain, as this is an old post I dont hope for any reply, but just mi opinion. As a western inhabitant, african music compilations helped me introducing into the huge variety of musics. Although most people just scratch the surface, some people do get deep in researching some good tracks and trying to imagine what they say, I fall into the rithm.

Great work on the blogs guys, keep them alive, music is a good medicine for people.