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1/12/13 The Indelible Mark of the Mbira Af rica is a Country

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The Indelible Mark of the Mbira
October 11, 2012 By Boima Tucker 2 Comments
1/12/13 The Indelible Mark of the Mbira Af rica is a Country
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The multi-named thumb piano is quite an important foundational instrument for
contemporary music all over the world, although its perhaps not always recognized
as such. In Congo, colonial era missionaries banned the instrument from their
services, saying that its association with traditional spiritual practices sullied the
sacredness of the choral music they were adopting to the musical cultures of the
people they sought to convert. But, the instrument lived on in Congolese pop as
guitarists in Kinshasa adapted the style to their finger picking Cuban-son infused
Rumba. The instrument has also travelled far and wide beyond Africa. Ive seen
versions of the thumb piano in historical photos of Jamaican Mento bands, and it is
common in Latin American musical history as well. I wouldnt be surprised if a few
thumb pianos made their way to the American South helping to influence the blues
guitar style that originated there.
Today in the wake of the international stardom of such groups like Konono N1, the
thumb piano has made somewhat of a resurgence in contemporary pop music. I tend
to be wary of the exoticism that sometimes accompanies the flash popularity groups
with strange traditional instruments, so its funny to me how much that same
instrument has figured so centrally in my life recently.
For the past week Ive been touring with Sierra Leonean Kondi virtuoso Sorie Kondi.
He and bandmate Ibrahim finally arrived at my house last week after his Sierra
Leone based producer Luke Wasserman and I spent several months working to bring
Sorie to tour in the United States. Our initial intention was to structure the tour
around the SXSW music festival in March, which we raised money on Kickstarter for,
but the timing didnt work out since the U.S. Immigration office waited until the last
second to grant Sorie his visa. But, I have to say the wait was worth it as Ive been
having such a wonderful time with the Sorie Kondi crew this week.
My relationship with Sorie Kondi began one morning in Oakland, California when I
saw a link to the video for his song Without Money No Family sent by my friend
Banker White. I knew instantly that I wanted to remix his song: firstly because the
sound of the recording was so sparse ready to remixed; secondly because I knew that
a larger audience than those interested in Sierra Leone (literally 5.5 million of us)
needed to know about the musical genius of this man; and third the intelligible
English lyrics carried a social message that I knew audiences in the North could
understand (and perhaps transcend ideas of exoticism). I found the album available
on iTunes, downloaded it, remixed the song, and passed a rough version of it to a
German DJ, who put it in a mix.
The unfinished draft of the remix sat on my hard drive for a couple years, until I
received an email from Luke, who had been working with Sorie since 2007. Luke had
helped Sorie record his album Without Money No Family, and was now looking for
other opportunities to promote his music. They had just finished recording his second
studio album at Big Fad studios in Freetown. I thought about remixing the album or
coming to Sierra Leone to work on some original tracks with Sorie. Luke mentioned
he wanted to bring Sorie to the U.S. for a tour, so at that moment the wheels to bring
Sorie Kondi to America were set into motion. I finished the Without Money No
Family Remix, put it on my release African in New York, and one kickstarter
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campaign, a couple visa applications, and a trip false start later, Sorie Kondi is in
So far weve played shows in Washington DC and Philadelphia where Sorie and
Ibrahim wowed audiences with their Sierra Leonean version of cultural dance
music. The event in DC, hosted by Mothersheister, DJ Rat, and DJ Underdog at
Tropicalia was warm and welcoming, and the crowd danced the night away to Sories
Kondi and his bass box boom pumped up to sound like a House music club. The show
in Philadelphia really made me sink into thoughts of blurring of the lines between
traditional, folk, or world music and contemporary pop, electronic, or dance music.
The venue was an old church in West Philadelphia, whose acoustics made the Kondi
reverberate off the walls and back into itself creating waves of tones that sounded
like the rising of arpeggiated synths. There was an impressive amount of sound
coming from that small wooden box.
Beyond the amazing musical aspects, the cultural exchanges that happened on the
road were inspirational in themselves. One highlight of the gig hosted by the
Tropicalismo crew and Sonic Diaspora in Philly, were the exchanges that happened
between the Sorie Kondi team and Colombians Explosin Negra who performed and
partied with us late into the night on Saturday. While neither Sorie Kondi nor
Explosin Negra could communicate through spoken language, and this separated the
crews in every other space, on the dance floor it was a Champeta Soukous, Temne
Techno, Chirima Soca dance celebration! Not to harp too much on the clich but it
was really amazing to be part of a such a moment where the universality of music
was so evident. I really believe that it is during these types of moments that this new
lightweight and mobile, do-it-yourself global bass club scene (or whatever you want to
call it) is at its best.
Sorie Kondi is in New York this week, and if you are a music lover of any genre, from
folk to Techno (or like me, the amalgamations that blur the lines between them) then
you dont want to miss his performance at Public Assembly in Williamsburg Brooklyn
this Saturday October 13th. Well be celebrating the release of Lamin Fofanas
Africans Are Real project (which I have a remix on as well) who will be performing
live alongside Brooklyn rappers Old Money, and DJing will be Binyavanga Wainaina,
Clive Bean, GiKu, Matt Shadetek, and myself:
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If you miss that one, or you arent in New York this weekend check all of his tour dates
on Vickie Remoes site.
The other major way the thumb piano has appeared in my life is in the Zimbabwean
form, known as the Mbira, via Shabazz Palaces beat maker Tendai Maraire. Talk
about pushing the boundaries between traditional and contemporary, Shabazz
Palaces have been able to challenge music fans of all backgrounds with their mind
blowing videos, inspiring live performances, and futuristic Hip Hop beats wrapped
around Tendais skilled live percussion and Mbira playing. Sometime this summer
Tendai called me up and said that he wanted me to do a mix for him after hearing
some of my work. Just by coincidence the first mix of mine he listened to started out
with the a plinking Mbira, and he said he knew right away that he knew he had
found the DJ to work with.
After we discussed details of the project, I really took up the challenge to try and find
any Mbira playing in the old records I have collected along the way, and may have not
listened to that closely. I think the most exciting realization to make was that one
record that I had once bought in the discount bin at Amoeba records in San Francisco
(and later saw on sale in the premium section for $60 I wondered, and still wonder
1/12/13 The Indelible Mark of the Mbira Af rica is a Country
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why the vast price difference for the record) was in fact a record by Tendais father
Dumi Maraire. This made both father and sons music really come alive with brilliant
historical context. The record I have seemed to have been from a live performance in
Seattle a little after or around the time Tendai was born. The label on the record also
describes the record as Zimbabwe, which is interesting because it was recorded at a
time when Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia. With that realization, the military-
tinged images that Tendai paints in his lyrics suddenly start to fall into place for me:
Couldnt connect to the server. Please try again later.
When I try to do mixes I always try to base them around a central theme or concept.
This one proved a challenge for me since I dont know as much about Southern Africa
as I do about West Africa. But I do know that music and a contentious politics from
Mozambique to South Africa to Zimbabwe to Angola are intimately intertwined in a
history of struggle against colonial rule and state-based violence. So, being an outsider
to all that, all I could do was try to connect the dots across national boundaries to
show how the cultures (and by extension the struggles) of Southern Africans are very
much intertwined. In my record collection, I was able to find a bunch of Mbira related
songs from across Southern Africa including Bonga (Angola), the Kasai All Stars
(Congo), and DJ Sbu (South Africa). Of course there are plenty of Zimbabwean tracks
from the likes of Thomas Mapfumo and Tendais father, Dumi! Lastly, I just included
some of my favorite songs, like the ones from Khaled and Yossou NDour, that I
thought fit well with Tendais original productions, which he in turn remixed to
amazing results!
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1/12/13 The Indelible Mark of the Mbira Af rica is a Country
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Filed Under: FEATURED Tagged With: Africans Are Real, Chimuregna Renaissance,
Dutty Artz, Kondi, Lamin Fofana, mbira, Shabazz Palaces, Sierra Leone, Sorie Kondi,
Tendai Maraire, Zimbabwe
10 African films to watch out for, N6
Soukous for Francophonie (and for Kabila)
1. Tawanda Moyo says:
October 12, 2012 at 7:44 am
Mapfumo is a master
2. Ken says:
October 12, 2012 at 5:08 pm
Thanks for the article. A video from Nigeria.
Man must wak- Baby carry belle- Parley Brown2
0:00 / 10:59
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