Archive for the 'Africa' Category Page 2 of 2

Back to Africa

Boys of Baraka opens with a startling statistic: 76% of black male students in Baltimore City Schools will never graduate from high school. The balance of the film is spent exploring one possible solution: taking kids out of their environment — ten thousand miles out, and for nearly two years.

Some will compare this movie to Hoop Dreams and as far as documentaries about inner city kids go, that’s fair. But what Boys of Baraka has that others can’t touch is, well, Africa. Seeing the effect being there has on the kids — being in a country run by black folks, miles from the nearest town, surrounded by people poorer than them but prideful — is worth the trip.

It made me think about the middle passage and all the family history and heritage lost beyond doors of no return; connections we can never reestablish. It reminded me of the importance of knowing you come from someplace you can be proud of. All things lost through slavery. The question the film asks, then, is can this kind of journey back to Africa begin to help kids rebuild some of this for themselves? Can what was lost be regained in some way?

As you might expect, Baraka doesn’t provide any easy answers. But it does ask a number of thoughtful questions, and that’s why it matters.

Read more about Boys of Baraka at Loki Films

image grabbed from thinkfilm

Nanga Def Jam

Daara JIn Senegal, a place where these days you’re almost as likely to see a kid wearing an Iverson jersey as a traditional boubou, hip hop has become massively popular. Superstars in Senegal, rap trio Daara J recently appeared on WNYC to spread the word. While deeply influenced by artists like Grandmaster Flash, their style has older roots — in the tradition of the tassou, a form like rap but much older. They point out that “ya dig” is an African expression and even argue that Wolof is more conducive to rap than English. Cultural echoes from Africa to America and back again — hence title of their new album: “Boomerang”.

On how American rap is understood in Senegal:

It makes sense. The environment effects the people and we can understand that. But, on the other hand, the concept and the message is a bit different because we can’t afford to talk about bling bling while we’re living in a poor country where our priority is to see people satisfying their hunger.
— N’Dango D of Daara J

As you might guess, the interview is wide-ranging and thoughtful. Very much worth the listen. Check it here: mp3 or real

On this side of the Atlantic, casual observers of the industry might say rap here has gone the other direction — pointlessly violent, materialistic, misogynistic. Emerging artists, however, see things a bit differently. Take the enigmatic MF Doom for example:
Continue reading ‘Nanga Def Jam’

Summer(stage) of African Music

I saw three fabulous African acts at SummerStage over the past few months.
First was Oumou Sangare on July 2. On a night of female Malian singers, Ramata Diakit? opened the show and was wonderful, but Oumou’s politically charged yet joyous follow-up took the night. The audience was alive and the sheets of music kept us all swaying. Pick up Ko Sira. You won’t be disappointed.

Not a week later, Senegal’s legendary Orchestra Baobab rolled into town on July 6. Folks were sad that Cuba’s Sierra Maestra was held up in customs, but Baobab more than made up for it with a raucous show, including a infectious rendition of Bul Ma Miin that had people dancing in the aisles and on the stage! For new school Baobab, check out Specialist in All Styles. Folks who want to see why these guys were forced out of retirement after 15 years may want to check out Bamba or the forever bootlegged and now legit Pirate’s Choice.

Lastly but certainly not least was Guinea’s Bembeya Jazz National on August 17. The weather wasn’t as gorgeous as it could have been, but it’s testament to the group’s fantastic musicality that a large number of people stayed through the rain and lightning, dancing and splashing to the beat. When the sun finally came out towards the end of their set, the music seemed to help it punch through the clouds. Ridiculously good stuff. Check their new disc Bembeya for a primer. Yet another wicked good African group to come out of retirement recently. (Bembeya was out of the limelight for just one year less than Baobab.)

Overall, SummerStage was nothing short of excellent. The groups they booked were world class, the sound was better than a lot of indoor venues, and at the price — free — well, it’s just irresistible!

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