I think it’s a reasonable generalisation to say that in countries where the working week begins on a Monday, many people need antidotes to the lethargy and depression known as Mondayitis. So in the interests of cheering up the workers of the world, I’ve decided to start a series of Monday posts devoted to music.
After all, we all know the power of music to inspire, excite, relieve tension and just generally make you feel good. The only danger is that you might start a dance revolution in the office/factory/shop/mine/farm/insert workspace here. So don’t forget to
turn up the volume put on the headphones.
Obviously my selection will have a strong African bias, but I also see this series as an opportunity to discover musicians/genres I’ve never heard of, as well as promote my personal favourites. I’ll also post about all kinds of music I stumble across online, at live gigs, or via friends.
In keeping with the spirit of discovery I will often feature clips from African countries that are celebrating independence or national days in the week that I post. So I’m starting off with music from Sao Tome and Principe (independence: 12 July 1975) and Africa’s youngest independent country, South Sudan (9 July 2011). I know nothing about music from Sao Tome and Principe, and not much about Music from South Sudan, so here goes.
WHAT I FOUND OUT
SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE
The music seems very influenced by Congolese music. That’s not surprising when you consider the islands’ location in the Gulf of Guinea, and even less when you read in this interview, one of their most famous guitarists reminisce about “the hours he used to spend … listening to the latest records from Gabon, Zaire and Cameroun”.
The sound is also quite Latin. Again, not surprising given the islands were colonised by the Portuguese, and that Latin sounds influenced the great Soukous stars of Central and East Africa.
As a result of these influences, it sounds very danceable, although the quality of videos that I found wasn’t fabulous.
That’s the sound quality – the visual quality was delightful, as several of the Sao Tome/Principe music videos appeared to double as tourist promos. They work well – I wanna go there,
But enough talking. Here’s my Sao Tome selection:
Tourist promo + famous band (Africa Negra)
Check out the fish markets around the midway point.
Nice hotels and beaches
You can really hear the Soukous influence in this one – but I don’t know who the band is.
After discovering Emanuel Jal a couple of years ago I felt that I didn’t really need to go looking for more South Sudanese music, he was so good. One listen to the famous hit Warchild, which is based on his own experiences as a child soldier, and I was a fan. I also loved the electronic collaboration of Kuar. But of course there’s more to South Sudanese music than Jal, and this blog post is an excellent motivator for me to – as it were – stick my pin into the internet’s virtual atlas of world music, and enjoy the randomness of what it lands on.
My first two picks are in a traditional style that to my ear owes a lot to North African/Arabic sounds, to the rhythms of the Sahel, and of course what I think of as the typically African call and response style. Already I’m loving how exploring the music of different countries exposes the musical connections that ignore political boundaries.
Good news from Africa
The western world focuses so much on what is sad/bad/scary about Africa – war, political upheaval, famine – and I think many people aren’t aware of the multitude of wonderful, life-affirming things that come out of that continent. Such as music.
While I can’t understand a word of this song, I think this first video could be a social marketing campaign for the light-filled continent of Africa: sun drenched, lush crops, happy, chubby-cheeked children, bright, smart clothing, serenity and calm. (We’ll just leave aside the apparent subservience of the woman for now, as I’ve no idea what the song is actually about and don’t want to misinterpret).
A new take on women in uniform
The women in this vid, however, leave little doubt that there is a vision for women’s empowerment in the new country. Go Girls.
Young people today
In my work with African communities I have found that what’s known as ‘intergenerational communication difficulties’ are a common concern for migrant communities. Young people’s ideas about the new (or changing) society differ from those of their elders. That’s what this video is addressing – from the perspective of young people. No need to understand the language to spot that.
Can someone tell me what you call this style of music? It has a strong feel of Soukous/Lingala to me, but I can also hear Arabic and Hip Hop influences. I’m realising my ignorance about music. I know what I like, but not always what it’s called! What the hell, maybe it’s just a joyous fusion.
Ending with a question
It’s not the video’s question, it’s mine. This is Emmanuel Jal’s scathing attack on the West’s self interest and greed that cause so much suffering in Africa. I agree with the points he makes, and his cold anger is incredibly moving, but I don’t like that he compares Africa to a vagina.
Yeah, sure, a lot of men see women/vaginas as objects to be conquered and despoiled, and I can fully understand the comparison with rape … but …. does this song just accept/perpetuate that horrible attitude towards women’s bodies, as well as the idea that we are victims? I’m not sure. I keep listening but I can’t decide. What do you think?