Llasa de Sela: "A la vida vuelvo ya"

"Blessed with striking looks, a husky contralto and an intense, theatrical stage presence, she mesmerized audiences with her dream-like, tangentially biographical songs." - The Independent 

Lhasa de Sela was a truly unique singer and performer. With her deep and impassioned voice, it's hard to hear her music and not be pulled in to listen more closely. Her dexterity with a myriad of languages and styles made her music hard to categorize, but also accessible to a wide range of listeners. 

Born in upstate New York to a Mexican father and American mother, her first decade was spent criss-crossing the United States and Mexico, living and traveling in a converted school bus with her parents and siblings. Once setting her mind on a musical career, she sang and recorded in English, Spanish and French, drawing on influences including Mexican ranchera, French chanson, Gypsy folk music, rock, country, gospel and blues. Lhasa was often compared to influential artists including Tom Waits, Edith Piaf, and Nick Cave, and she experienced a short, but excited period of broad acclaim before her untimely passing in 2010 from breast cancer (she was only 37 years old). 

Her first album, entitled La Llorona, included a few magical numbers including De cara a la pared

De cara a la pared

Llorando
de cara a la pared
se apaga la ciudad

Llorando
Y no hay más
muero quizás
Adonde estás?

Soñando
de cara a la pared
se quema la ciudad

Soñando
sin respirar
te quiero amar
te quiero amar

Rezando
de cara a la pared
se hunde la ciudad

Rezando
Santa Maria, Santa Maria, Santa Maria

Muriendo 

 

Face to the wall 

Crying
face to the wall 
the city turns off 

Crying
And there is no more 
maybe I'm dead 
Where are you? 

Dreaming
face to the wall
the city burns

Dreaming
without breathing
I want to love you
I want to love you

Praying
face to the wall
the city smells 

Praying
Santa Maria, Santa Maria, Santa Maria

Dying 

In a powerful and poignant interview with NPR more than a decade before hear death, Lhasa spoke of her own influences and poetic dilemma, and perhaps foreshadowed her own fate:

"My father had shown me an Aztec poem and Aztec poetry is all about this conflict that the heart goes through because of loving life and knowing life is so beautiful, but knowing that we are not immortal."

Full interview below. 

Songs of Struggle: Music and the Anti-Apartheid Movement of South Africa

“They used to clap hands. They’d think we made nice music ... ‘Oh, these blacks can sing so nice!’ and they'd clap their hands and we'd sing: ‘We will shoot you, we will kill you … (laughter) ... be careful what you say. ... You’re going to die, slowly … (laughter)... be careful what you say, what you do.'” - Sophie Mgcina, South African vocalist and actress, recalling the irony of singing protest songs in African languages in the face of white troops. From Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony 

Music is dangerous. While often focused on love, loss, and personal struggle, songs can also be loaded with subversive messages and charged with rhythms that move people to rise up and fight.

Among the many social and political movements that have used song to give voice, cohesion, and power to its people, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa utilized music in a particularly powerful way. Some songs resonated internationally among exiled South African artists, while others were played in secret among the rebellious, youthful white communities, Music was everywhere. 

Most powerfully though was the music that emerged from within the communities of black South Africans weighed down by the heavy blanket of apartheid. This group maintained, by far, the most unique and sophisticated musical styles, which allowed it to organize their community on a deep and poetic level. 

 

South Africa and Apartheid

The social history of contemporary South Africa is complex, and the relationship between natives (i.e. descendants of innumerable African tribal and language groups) and whites (i.e. descendants of European immigrants who arrived in various waves starting in 1488) has historically been imbalanced and exploitative.

Translated from the Afrikaans as, literally, "the state of being apart," apartheid was a system of racial segregation enforced by the South African government for 46 years (1948-1994), under which the rights, associations, and movements of the majority black inhabitants were curtailed, while Afrikaner (white) minority rule was maintained.

The rise of apartheid is often attributed to the combination of two primary factors: the 20th century development of South African capitalism (with its strong reliance on cheap labor), and the country's strong history of racial prejudices and policies imposed by Dutch and British settlers. 

 

MINING AND CHEAP (BLACK) LABOR

Undoubtedly, another major influence on the development of apartheid was the discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886), which quickly transformed South Africa from an agrarian society at the edge of the world economy into a globally integrated industrial economy. 

The mining revolution quickly pushed European colonization into the interior of the country and, by the end of the 19th century, indigenous peoples of South Africa had lost all political and economic independence. In addition, new (racist) laws enabled the white-owned mining companies to control workers' lives, keep wages very low, and gain immense profits from the diamonds and gold.

 
MBW Gold miners Soth Africa 1950.jpg
 

Many men worked in the mines and farms under dangerous conditions and most were migrant laborers, spending nine to eleven months out of the year in the mines while their wives and children remained in the countryside. Since wages were kept so low and there were little to no other options for work, these men would often return home without sufficient wages to feed and clothe their families, with some even returning to find their wives remarried and their families torn apart.

In addition to these severely limited opportunities, apartheid laws forcibly uprooted 3.5 million non-white South Africans from their homes and moved them into segregated neighborhoods as part of one of the largest mass removals in modern history. The government also segregated education, medical care, beaches, and other public services, and provided black people with services that were inferior to those of white people.

 
 

 

The sound of Resistance 

During the course of the regime, the anti-apartheid resistance movements evolved and changed shapefrom loosely organized unions of non-violent protestors, to powerful and armed coalitions. Throughout it all, music was there. More than any kind of performance, it was the communal act of singing that served as essential fuel for the movement and helped heal emotional wounds, shed light on the injustices of apartheid, and keep the people's spirits high. 

During the early years of Apartheid, the songs arising from within the black community were pointedly critical of the regime and expressed overt political protest. One of the many prominent musical and political leaders at this time was Vuyisile Mini, who is recognized for writing some of the most influential songs of the early resistance period. As a gifted actor, dancer, poet and singer, he is remembered both for the songs he composed as well as his powerful bass voice.

 
 

One of the most popular liberation songs he wrote in the 1950s was entitled Ndodemnyama (Beware, Verwoerd) and it carried a fierce message to Hendrik Verwoerd, then Prime Minster and the so-called "Architect of Apartheid": 

"Look out, Verwoerd, the black man is going to get you.
Look out, Verwoerd, the people have taken up the song."

As expected, overt protest and popular uprisings were met with violent repression from the government, which quickly banned all forms of opposition and imprisoned numerous anti-apartheid leaders: 

"The political climate of South Africa soon changed with the general intensification of apartheid and increasing repression of political dissent. The Sharpeville massacre on 21st March 1960, where sixty‐nine unarmed protesters against the pass laws were shot and many more wounded, represents the beginning of the era of repression which stunted all political development among black South Africans in the 60s." (Schumann, "The Beat that Beat Apartheid")  

In 1963, Mini was arrested and charged with 17 counts of sabotage and political crimes, including complicity in the death of an alleged police informer. For this, he was sentenced to death. While it would have been unthinkable for him to resist his execution physically, it is widely known that Mini went to the gallows singing many powerful protest songs. A prisoner serving time in Pretoria prison at the time of Mini's execution recalls his last moments:

“The last evening was devastatingly sad as the heroic occupants of the death cells communicated to the prison in gentle melancholy song that their end was near... It was late at night when the singing ceased, and the prison fell into uneasy silence. I was already awake when the singing began again in the early morning. Once again the excruciatingly beautiful music floated through the barred windows, echoing round the brick exercise yard, losing itself in the vast prison yards.
And then, unexpectedly, the voice of Vuyisile Mini came roaring down the hushed passages. Evidently standing on a stool, with his face reaching up to a barred vent in his cell, his unmistakable bass voice was enunciating his final message in Xhosa to the world he was leaving. In a voice charged with emotion but stubbornly defiant he spoke of the struggle waged by the African National Congress and of his absolute conviction of the victory to come. ... Soon after, I heard the door of their cell being opened. Murmuring voices reached my straining ears, and then the three martyrs broke into a final poignant melody which seemed to fill the whole prison with sound and then gradually faded away into the distant depths of the condemned section." (from the South African History Online

Mini's execution was the first of many tragic and abrupt shocks to South Africa's vibrant creative scene during the 1960s. The removal of the country's creative seatSophiatown—was a huge blow and triggered the exile of many prominent artists and musicians, including Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, and Abdullah Ibrahim, among other. 

Combined with the consistent and widespread imprisonment of resistance leaders, these shocks also inspired songs of mourning. One particularly beautiful song from the early years is Nongqongqo ("To Those We Love"). While Miriam Makeba's 1966 recording propelled the song into popularity, the following clip from the 1973 film A Warm December spotlights a young singer—Letta Mbuluwhose voice carries incredible emotion as she laments the imprisonment and torture of many powerful black freedom fighters (lyrics below): 

Nongqongqo (To Those We Love) 

Bahleli bonke etilongweni                     (They are together in prison)
Bahleli bonke kwa Nongqongqo            (They are together at Nongqongqo*)
Hee, hee, hee, Halala                            (Oh, oh, oh, oh)
Nanku Nanku, Nanku uSobukhwe       (Here he is, here he is, here is Sobukwe**)
Nanku, nanku etilongweni                   (Here he is, here he is, in prison)
Hee bawo Lutuli                                 (Oh, father Lutuli**)
Hayi uzotheni, uzotheni                      (What have you done? What is your sin?)
Nanko Nanko Nanko uMandela         (Here he is, here he is, here is Mandela**)
Nanku, nanku etilongweni                  (Here he is, here he is, in prison)
Nanko Nanko Nanko uSisulu             (Here he is, here he is, here is Sisulu**)
Nanku, nanku etilongweni                  (Here he is, here he is, in prison)
Yini wema-Afrika?                             (What is wrong with us, Africans?)
Hayi uzotheni, uzotheni                     (What have we done? What is our sin?)
Bahleli bonke etilongweni                   (They are sitting together in prison)
Bahleli bonke kwa Nongqongqo          (They are sitting together at Nongqongqo)

* Nongqongqo is the name of a prison in East London, South Africa.
** The names of popular political leaders of the resistance movement:

 

Soweto, militarization, and Toyi-toyi

In 1974, the apartheid regime passed the Afrikaans Medium Decree, which deemed Afrikaans the only language to be used for upper level mathematics, arithmetic, and social studies in both black and white public schools, with English relegated to instruction in general science and practical subjects (e.g. home economics, needlework, woodwork, metalwork, art, agricultural science).

This was a strong symbolic and practical act of oppression since black South Africans had long preferred English over Afrikaans, which was widely viewed as "the language of the oppressor." English had gained so much prominence that it had become that language most often used in commerce and industry and this change was intended to forcibly reverse the decline of Afrikaans among black Africans. It also required black students to refocus their time and energy on understanding a language they were less familiar with instead of subject material, imposing additional challenges to their learning process.

In response, on June 16, 1976, between 3,000 and 10,000 students in the Soweto township mobilized and marched peacefully to demonstrate and protest against the government’s directive. On their way to a nearby stadium, the students were met by heavily armed police who fired tear gas and live ammunition, killing many and wounding thousands. This initial clash resulted in a widespread revolt and developed into an uprising that spread across the country and carried on until the following year. 

After the Soweto uprising, it became clear that the South African government was not interested in dialogue and thousands of youth left South Africa to join growing underground armies in nearby countries. When they returned, they brought both technical skills to organize and fight, as well as a new sound:

“The strategy became to train the people from within, people living in the cities and townships, who are already fighting. And with that, came the militarization of songs. You saw an army of South Africans with grenades, mackerels, AK47s, and that’s reflected a lot in the songs because the songs had to articulate a new urgency and a new direction. ... The songs were now of people in a war situation ... and those songs started beginning to take on those overtones. Just changing a word here, changing a word there. Putting an 'AK' here, taking out a 'bible' there.”  - from Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony

One particularly powerful form of revolutionary music picked up abroad during military training (most likely coming from Zimbabwe) was the toyi-toyiWith its charging, uptempo rhythms and aggressive sound, toyi-toyi quickly became commonplace in massive street demonstrations.

  “You can’t beat these people physically, but you can scare the shit out of them with the songs.” - Hugh Masekela, from the film Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony

“You can’t beat these people physically, but you can scare the shit out of them with the songs.” - Hugh Masekela, from the film Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony

And when the police replaced rubber bullets with machine guns, it helped instill fear in the enemy. A former police chief corroborates:  

You can’t go into a situation like this with batons, because people could get killed. You have to have heavy weapons. … And if you send them into a situation with 100,000 screaming, singing, dangerous, weapon-waving crowd approaching you, you’ve got to stand. You can’t fall back, you have to stand. You have to make a stand. Even for the older guymost of them won’t admit itbut I can assure you that a lot of the older guys they were also frightened stiff." - from Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony

Below is a clip from the Lalela Cape Town Choir singing a selection of famous toyi-toyi songs: 

And while the increased militarization of the movement and music in the 1970s was a necessary shift in the fight for freedom, many citizens and leaders had their doubts about whether they would be able to overcome the oppressive regime and violence: 

“This country was going somewhere. You didn’t know where, but—damn—this country was going somewhere, and not all of us were convinced that it was toward liberation. We were like, the whites are going to wake up one day and shoot everyone dead because of what was happening. … it was like our young people were running straight into the sea at high speed.” - Duma Ka Ndlovu, from Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony

By the 1980s however, the combined internal resistance and international sanctions placed on South Africa by the international community—including exiled artists Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela—made it increasingly difficult for the government to maintain the regime. In particular, from 1984 to 1989 the country was in a near a state of emergency, with townships in an almost constant state of revolt. By 1990, then President, Frederik Willem de Klerk, began negotiations to end apartheid.  

 

The end of Apartheid 

With Mandela's release from prison in early 1990, the country began a long and arduous healing process, including major political reconfigurations and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission

 Police watch an ANC rally while children taunt them by toyi-toying on the other side of the fence.  Johannesburg. 1991.  (Photo credit Graeme Williams, in his series  The Struggle for Democracy – 1989 to 1994 )

Police watch an ANC rally while children taunt them by toyi-toying on the other side of the fence. Johannesburg. 1991. (Photo credit Graeme Williams, in his series The Struggle for Democracy – 1989 to 1994)

Similarly, artists and communities had to carry out their own processes of remembering and documenting the musical traditions of the revolution since nearly "every phase of our struggle had its own kind of songs, and all the songs were composed to fit in to a particular phase of the struggle ... it’d be really, really difficult to know how many songs could have been composed." 

Thankfully, in the nine-year process of creating the film Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmonywhich includes many songs that were banned by the apartheid governmentthe director and producer were able to compile hundreds of hours of songs that they subsequently donated to the South African national archives to preserve this part of the country’s cultural history. 

 

Additional Resources

 

Films

  • Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony - Interviews, archival footage, and filmed performances highlight the role of music in the South African struggle against apartheid.

  • Mama Africa - powerful biopic about the life and music of Miriam Makeba

  • Come Back, Africa - a film about the life of Zachariah, a black South African living under the rule of the harsh apartheid government in 1959 (with special appearance by a young Miriam Makeba). 

  • Cry Freedom - a film about South African journalist Donald Woods, who is forced to flee the country after attempting to investigate the death in custody of his friend, activist Steve Biko.

  • Sarafina - a film about a group of South African teenagers and their fight against apartheid during the Soweto Uprising

  • Searching for Sugar Man - a documentary about two white South Africans who set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock 'n' roller, Rodriguez, who helped inspire revolutionary ideas among white youth under apartheid. 

"They Are We": The story of an astonishing cultural reunion across the Atlantic Ocean

"This is the story of a remarkable reunion, 170 or so years after a family was driven apart by the ravages of the transatlantic slave trade." - They Are We website  

They Are We traces the meeting between a proud community of Cubans of African descent living in Central Cuba (the Gangá-Longobá ethnic group) with a community in Sierra Leone, where the traditional songs and dances kept alive thousands of miles away in Cuba are as familiar to them as their own culture and traditions. 

While working in West Africa, director Emma Christopher showed footage of the Cuban Gangá-Longobá songs and dances to people living in an isolated village in Sierra Leone. The villagers immediately recognized the songs, despite the physical separation and "decades of brutal enslavement, independence wars, and then the denying of all religions after the [Cuban] revolution."

In early 2013, once the law was changed in Cuba to allow people to travel abroad more freely, a trip was made to visit this village in Sierra Leone. This film beautifully documents both the accidental discovery and the astonishing reunion visit. 

 Goboi, the Poro society mask, dances for the Cubans at the welcome ceremony. Mokpangumba, Upper Banta Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. April 2013. Photo from film's website. 

Goboi, the Poro society mask, dances for the Cubans at the welcome ceremony. Mokpangumba, Upper Banta Chiefdom, Sierra Leone. April 2013. Photo from film's website. 

Watch the trailer below and follow the continuing story of this film via its website and Facebook page.  

The Sound Room: Keeping jazz music alive in Oakland

There are only three things you need to know about Oakland's The Sound Room: they've got lots of heart, the combined for-and-non-profit model is innovative and inspiring, and the music is phenomenal. 

From their website, The Sound Room's goal is to focus is on the sound of the music: 

Unlike clubs where the performance may be peripheral to the experience, at the Sound Room the performance is the experience. We are an all-ages listening room. We exist to present great music and promote jazz as an art form.

Coming up on their two year anniversary in November, the space is the result of a collaborative effort between James Barker and Robert Bradsby, two architects living in Oakland: 

Uptown Kitchen is the brainchild of James Barker, an architect who'd long had a hankering to get involved in the culinary world. Last year, inspiration struck while Barker was helping a friend launch a gourmet tea company. He realized there were many aspiring food makers who needed a place to work. By providing that kind of facility, he could be involved in food without actually cooking for a living — a "merciless task" he didn't necessarily feel up for.

Around that time, Barker met one of his eventual partners in the kitchen venture, Robert Bradsby, a fellow architect who was looking to start a nonprofit jazz venue as an extension of the house concert series that he and his wife, Karen Van Leuven, had hosted for years. Bradsby had found a potential home for his club at 2147 Broadway, but the space came with a 1,200-square-foot commercial kitchen — a former Meals on Wheels site — attached to it. Once Barker and Bradsby got to talking, a collaboration between their respective projects seemed like a natural fit.

(Read more about their story in the East Bay Express.)

The team behind this project is 100% volunteer run and the music is great. Check out their calendar for upcoming events

Special Note: As a part of First Fridays in Oakland, the Jazzschool Combos -- a group of local young musicians coordinated by Erik Jekabson and the California Jazz Conservatory  -- will be performing at The Sound Room on December 5, 2014 from 6-9pm. FREE! (Later performances starting at 9pm will have a cover). 

FILM: "The Spirit of Samba: Black Music of Brazil"

A musical journey of Brazilian “black” music, The Spirit of Samba provides an introduction into the uniquely Afro-Brazilian traditional forms which have served to shape Brazilian music and music culture. Beyond looking simply at race and color lines, the filmmaker does an excellent job of focusing the film on the material and political discrimination experienced by many Brazilians. With footage from a variety of regions in a country larger than the contiguous United States of America, this film gives a surprisingly balanced impression of the way music — primarily samba — serves as a medium through which marginalized Brazilians express their struggles, dreams, laments, religions, and sensuality to create coherent communities within such a large and dramatically stratified society. 

Produced and directed in 1982 by British filmmaker, Jeremy Marre, The Spirit of Samba was released in 2000 by Shanachie Records as a part of the Beats of the Heart film series, a collection of films produced by Marre about music from around the world. The film begins in Rio de Janeiro, with footage from the city’s annual carnival celebration, complete with glittery costumes, semi-nude dancers and energetic drumming. The filmmaker quickly contextualizes and humanizes the spectacle by bringing a viewer into the communities where samba and the samba schools that parade each year had their start and continue to call home. The film then travels to the arid and impoverished northeast region of Brazil where traditional samba styles originated, and passes through the city of Salvador where black culture, music, dance, and religion have flourished, despite constant attempts at repression. Finally, the film returns to Rio de Janeiro to discuss the way Carnaval serves as an annual amelioration of the pains and frustrations of daily life among marginalized communities in Brazil. 

The film’s footage focuses heavily on images and scenes of music, dance, and community life of the underprivileged in the various regions of Brazil. These scenes are contextualized and balanced by personal interviews and performances by famous singers, popular artists, community leaders, and Afro-Brazilian intellectuals, including Leci Brandão, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Milton Nascimento, among others. These artists recall their struggle to maintain a focus on voicing the opinions and feelings of the less-fortunate in Brazil, while gaining popularity and fame. They also recall their experiences being persecuted and discriminated against as blacks, as women, and as artists, particularly under the repressive measures imposed by the military dictatorship which was still in power at the time of filming in 1982 (the military dictatorship in Brazil remained in power for 21 years, from 1964 through 1985). 

While the visual and auditory quality of the film is clearly dated, the filmmaker does a good job of not ignoring or exaggerating the complex relationships in Brazil between rich and poor, light skinned and dark skinned, urban and rural. The cities and favelas are portrayed in a surprisingly timeless way and the impression one is left with after watching the film is similar to that which remains after visiting Brazil—namely a sense of awe and exaltation of the beauty of the country, mixed with deep sadness for the material conditions in which most Brazilians live. The only fault of the film would be its minor over-emphasis and dependence on narration and the use of voice-over translations, both of which might be attributed to the style of filmmaking in 1982. 

The combination of visually powerful music and dance scenes, contextualized interviews with important artists, and an overall balanced portrayal of daily life in Brazil makes The Spirit of Samba an informative and enjoyable film. The interviews and narration, while at times relied upon too heavily, help to illustrate the complex contradictions of Brazil’s musical culture while the simple and uninterrupted scenes displaying music and dance allow the cultural forms to demonstrate their own beauty, as well as the power of black cultural traditions in Brazil. 

The full film is available on YouTube (below) and, for people who do not have an hour to watch the whole thing, the film includes some really beautiful clips: samba sung by Leci Brandão (2:27), traditional samba-de-roda from the northeast (22:44), the festival for Yemanjá, the goddess of the sea (25:09), inner workings of a Candomblé house and ceremony (28:07-34:32), capoeira (35:10), and a samba sung by Gilberto Gil (37:50. Seeing as all these clips are tied together with insightful commentary, it's probably best to just watch the whole thing. 

The Spirit of Samba: Black Music of Brazil. A film produced and directed by Jeremy Marre. Color. 60 minutes. Released by Shanachie Records (2000), original production by Harcourt Films (1982). Available from Shanachie Records Corp, 37 E. Clinton St., Newton, NJ, 07860, USA. 

Who is Tony Allen? The essence of Afrobeat

Despite being recognized widely as one of the most influential artists of the Afrobeat music scene in Nigeria in the 1970s/1980s, it's surprising that Tony Allen has not received more attention in literature and media about this style. Luckily, his autobiography was released in 2013 with very positive reviews and we can't wait to read it. Here's an article from Another Africa about the book and a bit more about the artist.

Below is a short film about his music and the album, "Secret Agent" (released in 2009).

And here is a video with the full album for your listening pleasure. 

Soundway Records

"Soundway Records was conceived in 2002 by label owner Miles Cleret while returning from Ghana with a hoard of dusty old 45s and LPs that had mostly not been heard outside the former Gold Coast since their original release."  

Not only has Soundway Records released some of the most fabulous music, the records they have produced bring rare sounds to a global audience. We can't recommend them highly enough. 

Os Tincoãs: Traditional songs and tight harmonies from Bahia in the 1970s

The following was taken from Luiz Américo Lisboa Junior’s article, “Os Tincoãs” (translated from the Portuguese).

reconcavo-da-bahia

In the state of Bahia, Brazil, one of the strongholds of African culture is the region known as the Recôncavo, which generally refers to the rich and fertile region surrounding the Bay of all Saints. Along with agriculture, this region has also produced incomparable cultural riches, which range from longstanding cult traditions such as the Irmandade de Boa Morte (Order of Our Lady of the Good Death) and traditional samba de roda. The region has also produced many influential artists, including: Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethânia (brother and sister), Raimundo Sodré, and Roberto Mendes. Another lesser-known musical group that emerged from this region was the vocal trio, Os Tincoãs, who conquered Brazil’s musical scene of the 1960s-70s with their tight harmonies, beautiful voices and repertoire of traditional songs.

Formed in Cachoeira, Os Tincoãs — whose name refers to a bird that lives in the interior of Brazil — began their professional career in 1960 on a television show called Escada para o Sucesso (The Ladder to Success). Initially, they merely covered popular songs (primarily boleros), but in 1963 they redesigned their repertoire and began focusing on songs from the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, traditional sambas and sacred Catholic chants. Although it was clearly a mixture of styles, it was the music of the Candomblé that provided the primary aesthetic base for the group.

os-tincoas

In 1973, they recorded a self-titled album (listen to the whole album here), which served as an important marker in the history of Brazilian music. Beyond the quality of the music and compositions, this album had characteristic vocal arrangements that came directly from the Candomblé houses of Bahia and incorporated only four instruments: the guitar, congas, agogô and xequerê. One of the highlights of the album is the song “Deixa a gira girar,” a folkloric song that the group adapted for themselves. Some other features include "Iansã Mãe Virgem," "Sabiá roxa," "Na beira do mar," and "Saudação aos orixás," which combine to form an excellent sample of traditional Afro-Brazilian music from the Bahian Recôncavo. In particular, the song “Capela da Ajuda” is particularly important as it makes explicit reference to the last of a handful of religious buildings in Bahia that were designed to look like Catholic chapels, but were actually home to African traditional rituals and worship.

After a few additional albums and the death of one of its founding members, Os Tincoãs traveled to Angola in 1983, staying and working for a week in the capital, Luanda. They quickly established themselves and participated in projects for the Angolan State Secretariat for Culture, which had recently made it a priority to identify Angolan values in the culture and music of Brazil, and to form connections and relationships between Angolan and Candomblé traditions. It was during this trip that the group recorded the album Afro Canto Coral Barroco (loosely translated as the Baroque African Chant Choir), which remained unedited and was only finally released for the first time in 2003, 20 years after it was recorded.

After the death of the last remaining original member in 2000, the group was disbanded, but it left a legacy of some of the most wonderful pieces of Brazilian popular music and essential examples of the African roots of Brazilian music.

Here's one treasure from their 1973 self-titled album.

Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba

Mama Africa is a beautiful documentary that details the rich artistic and political life of South African singer, Miriam Makeba.

"An unforgettable portrait of Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), the world-famous South African artist and civil right activist, who devoted her life to promoting peace and justice and fighting racism around the planet. A figurehead of the Black African movement in exile, her music and daily practice incarnated the hopes and fears of Africa through the convulsive 20th century, so that she has come to be considered the voice and mother of the Continent." - Beatriz Leal Riesco (Read more on OkayAfrica)

Below is the trailer and the full film is currently available to stream on Netflix

Egypt's New Craze: Electro Chaabi

"While Egypt has traditionally been the beating heart of classical Arabic music, with legendary singers such as Oum Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez, a new craze is taking over the Arab world’s most populous nation: Electro Chaabi. Inspired by the down-and-dirty music played at street parties and weddings, this new populist dance form combines a punk spirit with a hip hop attitude set against a furious cascade of drums, bass and electronic vocals." -  from MonoDuo Films website

This film was recently shown at a few select festivals in the United States, including the Fist Up Film Festival in Oakland, where the filmmaker -- Hind Meddeb -- was in attendance and allowed viewers to ask questions after the film. It seems to have been shown at only a few festivals in Europe and the United States this year, so keep your eyes peeled for showings near you. 

Read more about the film from the Seattle International Film Festival, learn about Chaabi music, and watch the trailer below.