(Diversions, a recurring feature on Aquarium Drunkard, catches up with our favorite artists as they wax on subjects other than recording and performing.)
Today’s Diversions catches up with Foreign Born’s Lewis Pesacov (also of Fool’s Gold) as he runs down some of his favorite jams from various African locales/eras (with the exception of Pakistan’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan). Outstanding stuff.
Tinariwen :: The Radio Tisdas Sessions (2002) The original members of Tinariwen came together in the early 1980’s in the rebel camps of the Sahara Desert. The Tuareg community had been previously ravaged by violence and rebellion in the post-colonial years due to ever shifting geo-political infringements upon their otherwise historically nomadic culture. After finally reaching peace agreements in the last two decades, the Tuareg community has finally turned away from violence toward a greater emphasis on the assertion of their cultural autonomy through a more expressive means- music. This album, their first to be internationally released on CD, was recorded live at the local radio station in the small northern Malian town of Kidal. These are the songs of their cultural history- of struggle, anguish and peace. The music is deeply evocative and echos the sounds of the great desert. Their name, Tinariwen translates from the Tamashek language as “empty places”.
Zaïko Langa Langa :: Zaïre-Ghana (1976) In the early 1970’s a ‘new wave’ of youthfully frenetic Congolese music developed upon the popular rumba craze of decades previous. Abandoning the previously preferred wind instruments for the influences of rock n’ roll, the new sound was dominated by electric guitars and full drum sets. I personally love how the improvised instrumental section, known as the “seben” played traditionally at the end of Zaïrean pop songs, took on a new, supercharged form as the guitars intertwined in a perpetual mobile of a trance over some seriously chattering snare. Another great Congolese Artist, Kanda Bango Man, would later open his songs with these jam sections as well as insert them after every verse! This album is not just an important document of a seminal band rocking at its peak but also highlights the height of pan-African popularity that Congolese music experienced in the 1970’s.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan :: Shahen-Shah (1989) When I was about 16 years old my father took me to see Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan play live at what was then the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. To this day it is still one of the most influential musical performances I’ve ever had the privilege to experience. His group sat cross legged, center stage on a beautiful rug and consisted of two harmonium players (one of which was his brother I believe), two tabla players, about 6 guys clapping and singing group vocals, his cousin singing a co-lead vocals and Nusrat himself singing lead. Within moments everybody in this massive venue, which holds about 6,000 people were all on their feet dancing ecstatically. What I felt that day but didn’t begin to cognitively understand until much later is how for about one hour and a half both the performer and the listener were drawn into an uncontrollably heightened experience- words and melodies repeated until meanings exhausted, leaving bare the only element to remain- a simple purity of sound, which allowed for an amazingly universal, cross-cultural understanding able to transcend linguistic, cultural and religious barriers.
Kasai Allstars :: In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic (2008) The Kasai Allstars is a 25 member super group featuring prominent musicians from the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The group is collectively made up of 5 separate ethnic groups, each with their own musical traditions, languages and cultures, some of which have been historically conflicting. Having all relocated to the capitol city of Kishasa, this is certainly an ancient music of the country moved and influenced by the urban center. Voices, chants, skinned drums, all sorts of metal percussion, likembes, traditional xylophones, electric guitars and electronic drum pads come together to create an extremely dense trance inducing tapestry of overlapping and ever expanding melodies- seriously deep vibes.