Musical diversity is the pulse of Africa
Think you know the sound of this continent? It's time to listen again. Home-grown and global impulses are interacting in dynamic ways.
What does the phrase "African music" mean to most Americans? Light-spirited guitar lines made danceable by polyrhythmic talking drums; big bands led by tall men in regal garb, smiling as women in bright headdresses dance behind them.
In the two decades since rock stars such as Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel enlivened their music with an African tinge, a stereotype has formed, created by those crossover hits, many charity concerts and "The Lion King": an ethnographically rich pageant, politically relevant but somehow separate from the rest of pop.
Now, as part of a movement toward a truly global music marketplace, the American cliché of African music is falling apart -- or, really, exploding. Greats like Senegal's Youssou N'Dour and Mali's Oumou Sangare maintain fruitful careers within the usual avenues of what's become known as "world music." But a new wave of artists and archival releases is exposing the diversity of sound that's always been the African reality.
In the past few months, a select group of African artists has made its way to America to promote new releases or play shows. In conversations held in hotel bars or over the telephone with a translator at hand, they've discussed their relationships to tradition and to globalization, and their hopes for making music at home and for a worldwide audience. And they aren't all wearing those bright colors we know so well.
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-- Ann Powers
(AMADOU & MARIAM: The Malian couple are taking their “Afro-blues” sound to unexpected places. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)