Welcome to my A-Z 2018, for which I am revisiting Africa, the continent of my childhood and my dreams. The posts are, as always, infoheavy and opinionated, but they are sectioned off - some music, the day’s topic, couple writers, a slideshow from the safaris – plenty ways to cherry-pick. So you may consume just as much, or as little, as you're cool with. Zero obligation to agree with any of my views either, feel free to air yours :)

Friday, 20 April 2018

R is for Rai... and... Red Ochre ...


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Rai is an Algerian genre, it first developed in the 1920’s in Oran. The word rai in Arabic means 'opinion' or 'advice.' Cheikha Rmitti is revered as ‘the mother of the genre.’ Originally sung by women, Rai rejected the then conventional rules of refined Arabic poetry and used a gritty, often vulgar colloquial lyrics and a fusion of Arab and Western musical influences, which found a ready resonance among the underprivileged classes, but was unpopular with the posh audiences and authorities. Rmitti travelled to France and for most of her singing career sang for Algerian immigrants there. Rai was rediscovered in the 90's and became a hit with world audiences with Cheb Khaled being the most well-known exponent of the art. 

Listen to a Rai song by Cheikha Rmitti and also by a later 1980's Algerian band Raina Rai below:  





Ruff n Smooth are a Ghanaian band, but they sing in pidgin English which makes them popular in Nigeria and in wider Africa, even abroad. Take a listen




From the North to the West and then onto South to Laurika Rauch, a legendary singer from South Africa, here with a lovely slow Afrikaans track. She is bilingual - sings both in English and Afrikaans. Read more about her here


Thursday, 19 April 2018

Q is for Qongqothwane ...and ...Qart-Hadasht ...


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el-Qasabgi (1892-1966, Egypt) with a composition called Zikrayat (My Memories) performed here by the National Arab Orchestra from Michigan at the Lincoln Centre, DC. El-Qasabgi is considered one of the greatest North African Arab composers (1892-1966) and a maestro of the oud. 


And here is Q-chillah from Tanzania singing a genre called Bongo Flava, less of the Eastern vibe here. This is a version developed from American hip hop with wider African influences – Afrobeats and Tanzanian Taarab and Dansi. Lyrics are usually in Swahili or English.





And last but not the least - the click song, Qongqothwane, sung by the iconic artiste Miriam Makeba and covered by many others.






Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Road Less Travelled - Write... Edit... Publish... April 2018


If you’re looking for my A-Z post click here. Though this one qualifies too (P for Prose! P for Prompt.)
  
Today it’s time to get back to Write…Edit…Publish…with our entries for the prompt -




and I'm offering this after scrapping the poem I first did weeks ago. This is directly inspired by the Frost poem, though it has absolutely nothing to do with woodland pathways or anything half as lovely. Three part flash and I'm hoping they can be read in any order and I'd value your inputs as to whether you think so or no. And due apos to the poet and all, but I can't bring myself to write travelled as traveled, drives me crazy, sorry! :)

P is for Plantations...and...Photographs...


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Percussion to die for! Here is Babatunde Olatunji from Nigeria: 





This track is a super popular one from his album Drums of Passion, which introduced African percussion to global audiences in 1959. The track went onto sales of millions and has been covered by other artists as well.

And here’s P Square, also from Nigeria, band of twin brothers Peter and Paul Okoye. A different era, a different genre and a different sound altogether – take a listen.




Tuesday, 17 April 2018

O is for Old men ...and Olduvai...


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Osibisa, the Afropop/Highlife African heritage band formed in Britain by an expat Ghanaian, I'm giving you their Ojah. They became popular in the years I was growing up in Nigeria and toured India in 1980, though I never got the chance to watch them perform live. 'Inspired' some Bollywood tunes as well, if I'm not mistaken. But all happy memories, happy listening!





And Koffi Olomide from DRC, one of the top ten richest musicians from Africa with Obrigado. His music’s popular, he has many gold albums to his name, but the man seems unpleasant - a pretty unsavoury reputation for assaulting people. Don't quite get why making great art and/or having oodles of cash should give anyone a free pass to be obnoxious to their fellow humans - thoroughly disapprove.





Monday, 16 April 2018

N is for Nok... and... scarecrow Noggins ...and an unfinished Narrative...


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Youssou N’dour from Senegal, a multi-awardee (including the Grammy) musician and cultural icon across Africa and the world. 




And also Yannick Noah, of Cameroonian origin and a French resident, he has represented France in world tennis tournaments, then taken up music after retirement from sport - a tennis star turned star musician. 



Saturday, 14 April 2018

M is for Music...Motherese...and...Motive...



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Massive! - loads to say today! Firstly, here is the late South African diva Miriam Makeba with Malaika -


There is much sound and fury around the authorship of this ultra-famous 40’s East African song of ill-starred love. The earliest recording was by Fadhili Williams though most people are now of the view that it was written by Adam Salim in 1945, a not-so-famous Tanzanian song-writer who at the time lived in Nairobi. The lyrics are simple, particularly the melody is quite unforgettably haunting. I heard it first in my teens and didn’t have a clue about the meanings (no YouTube, A-Z lyrics and translations then!) but loved it instantly. And all these decades later, it can “still take me back where my memories remain” – no mean thing.

A whole legion of artistes have covered it, including later singers from East Africa (Mombasa Roots) and West Africa (Angelique Kidjo), well naturally. However, covers are not only restricted to Africa, artistes right around the world – from India (Lata Mangeshkar, Usha Uthup) and Germany/Caribbean (Boney M) and US (Harry Belafonte, The Brothers Four) sung it through the 70’s and 80’s. It’s eternally popular – I heard it performed live in two restaurants in Kenya during my visit last year. Talk about earworms! and classics.

And coming back to the 21st century, here is the West African vocalist Eneida Marta, who sings in Portuguese/Creole, with a super-lilting number - 





Also a quick mention of Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi (1952-) since we are on the subject, a famous Zimbabwean musician who, apart from being a vocalist and guitarist, is a social activist, businessman, educator, philanthropist and one of the most recognised African cultural icons. He is the UNICEF goodwill ambassador for the southern Africa region. Take a listen to him -








And if you are in a hurry today, this is where I suggest we say goodbye, for I am about to get into a Megaramble about Music…


Friday, 13 April 2018

L is for Life...and...Lineage


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Take a listen to Life while you ponder the big issues :)  Bisa Kdei is the stage name of Ronald Kwaku Dei Appiah, he is from Ghana and has successfully collaborated with a string of African artistes, including Patoranking from Nigeria.




And have a listen to Ismael Lo as well. He's an award winning, internationally acclaimed musician actor of mixed Senegalese-Nigerian heritage.






Thursday, 12 April 2018

K is for Kora...and...Kose



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Here's a favourite track of mine, take a listen - melody ring any bells? This track was part of the Windows Vista package…Habib Koite is from a Malian griot family and is one of Africa’s most recognised contemporary musicians.   



Find out more about him on his website and listen to more Malian music as you read along...




There are way too many star musicians for this entry, not all of them from Mali – Salif Keita, Bassekou Kouyate, Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti, explore their music by clicking on the names.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

J is for Jambo! ...and...Jewellery...


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Listen to Sona Jobarte. She is from Gambia in West Africa, from a griot family, a musician and a multi-instrumentalist, but renowned as a virtuoso kora player. (I know you are like what on earth is kora now? Shhh...come back tomorrow!) Click her name for her website.

Incidentally, Gainako is a song celebrating the cowherds of the Fulani people, originally a nomadic, cattle-rearing tribe found all through the Sahel from Guinea Bissau to Sudan. They migrate south of the Sahel with their cattle herds as far as the banks of the river Benue in search of pasture in the dry season. Fulani tribeswomen coming to my mother’s porch with calabashes upon their heads to sell fresh milk is a childhood memory. Fulani traditions have seeped into Malian music, the Fulani are a major ethnic group in Mali and Northern Nigeria both, and perhaps that is why it feels like big time déjà vu to me in the most wonderful way when I come across music from Mali.





From the West to the East - Jambo! is Swahili for Hello, the common greeting in East Africa. Here is a peppy number from Kenya titled Jambo Bwana or Hello Mister -



Tuesday, 10 April 2018

I is for Ishango...and...Instrument



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First off, here is Imuhagh, a track from Imarhan, a fairly young, Tuareg band from Algeria, very reminiscent of the original desert blues. Music traditions they blend with pan-African rhythms and melodies. Imarhan means ‘people I care about.’ Listen to more of their music on their site.


And then take a listen to Iza Ngomso, from the other end of the continent - South Africa, sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir. This was released live in Carnegie Hall in 2014, and is composed by Christopher Tin. I first heard it sung by a choral group of young people led by a South African teenager, powerful voices and absolutely sublime singing! Goosebumps-inducing. SGW come quite close to replicating that experience.  Just kidding :) I love the Soweto Gospel Choir - enjoy!



Ishango  - the Ishango bone is a bone tool, the fibula, one of the forearm bones of a baboon. It's been dated to roughly 18-20,000 years BP, in the Upper Palaeolithic era, well before the advent of agriculture. It was discovered by a Belgian geologist in 1960, in what was then known as Belgian Congo, near the Congo-Uganda border in an area called Ishango from which it takes its name.

The bone has a quartz tip embedded at one end and groups of notches down its length. At first, it was thought these were tally marks. But then, it was observed the marks were too well-organised to be just tallies. They were divided into three columns, related to each other in slightly more complex ways than first anticipated.

The left column has four groups of notches – 19, 17, 13, and 11. They are the four prime numbers between 10 and 20 and add up to 60.  The right column has groups of 9, 19, 21, and 11, also adding up to 60. The central column starts with 3 notches, then doubles to 6, then 4 notches and doubles to eight, then has 10 notches which is halved to 5. They don’t really look or feel random. Some inklings of addition, multiplication and division can be surmised. Prime numbers as well? Just imagine!

Ancestral humans were counting and multiplying and dreaming of primes before they could grow a single ear of wheat! Wouldn’t surprise me if that were proved true. If they could make the kind of art they did nearly 80,000 years ago, if they could use cosmetics and jewellery for adornment and/or camouflage, then their imaginations had taken off already, it’s not such a large leap to numbers.

Besides, if they lived in tribal groups, then some kind of roll-call was probably necessary to make sure everyone was where he/she was supposed to be. And I can so totally imagine the mums toting up the number of fruits required for their kids so they could give out equal shares, no breakouts of sibling squabbles please! (‘Here’s one for you, Gnat, Cat and Bat, stop bothering your eldest sister this instant!’) But of course, the Ishango bone goes much beyond just counting.

Some scientists have theorised that this bone instrument is a six month lunar calendar. A natural extrapolation being that it was a woman’s way to track her menstrual cycle. Some others have dismissed this view. Yet others have proposed it was used to construct some sort of numeral system, or a slide rule type instrument.  A second companion Ishango bone also exists, with a total of 90 notches on its surfaces. This has not been analysed to the same extent, partly because it is not in the same state of preservation.


However complex or simple the explanation of the notches may be, what seems quite indisputable is that the Ishango bones prove Africa to be the cradle of mathematical thought. Not Sumer, not Mesopotamia, not Ancient India, not even Ancient Egypt in North Africa. But way deeper, way earlier than that – in sub-Saharan Africa. Homo sapiens – the Thinking Man, well, he thought up numbers before he thought of planting seeds, and he thought that way sitting in the heart of Africa. 




From the Safaris



~ Thank you for watching! ~

Books n Stuff

Yusuf Idris – I’ve talked about this author from Egypt before over here.

Frances David Imbuga (1947-2012) – was a writer, awarded playwright, poet, teacher and scholar from Kenya. He was born in 1947, the second generation of East African writers after the pioneers who created a space for the African voices in literature. Imbuga developed and extended that space. He explored themes of gender equality and justice and respect for a black identity through his plays and political satire. Read more about him here.

And here is a poem called Ibadan by John Pepper Clark (1935- ), a famous Nigerian poet –


Ibadan,
           running splash of rust
and gold – flung and scattered
among seven hills like broken
china in the sun.

Ibadan is a well-known city in south-western Nigeria, one of the most populous in Africa overall, a trade and cultural hub for more than a century. It is also the location of the University of Ibadan, the premier institute of higher education in Nigeria and West Africa, one of the oldest. Clark is himself an alumnus, so were Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo and so also is Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature.

The poem was part of my syllabus at school. I visited Ibadan only once and I can still remember thinking how brilliantly John Pepper Clark has evoked the exact image of the city in such a tiny wordcount. And something that occurred to me on rereading this time is the allusion of that 'scattered among seven hills'  - what other city sits on seven hills? yep - Rome.  Is that a coincidence? I think...vehemently not! John Pepper Clark knew what he was doing for sure, even if it has taken his slowpoke fan a few decades to read deep enough. Respect!







Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018


Monday, 9 April 2018

H is for...History-Heavy...and...Hakuna Matata!


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Here is Mariem Hassan (1958-2015), a Sahrawi singer and activist from the Western Sahara, with Haiyu. Mariam sang usually in Hassaniya, a dialect of Arabic spoken in Mauritania and Western Sahara, and sometimes in Spanish as her country was previously colonised by Spain. Sovereignty over Western Sahara is contested by Morocco and its status remains unresolved. Sad that she passed away so untimely.






And Hakuna Matata, which in Swahili means no worries! Lyrics by Tim Rice, music composed by Elton John, wildly (um...is that a bad pun?) popular track from The Lion King, 1994 animated Disney film, nominated and awarded various gongs and accolades. Apart from that phrase, there is really nothing else that is African about this song. But as you’ll see, I’m bending the rules a bit for H, oh not the A-Z rules, the ‘Africa rules’ rule –