|Live 8 at Eden - Africa Calling|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 01 November 2005|
There is an intrinsic justice in the all-African Live 8 line-up represented by this two-DVD set. It’s one thing to gather up wealthy rock stars and raise money for a worthy cause. It’s quite another matter, however, to watch African singers and musicians themselves calling for the end of Third World debt, as is done here. Obviously, these performers have a vested interest in the outcome of this vital issue. This historic July 6, 2005 concert also offers a healthy overview of the contemporary African music scene, which means you can go from being a know-nothing to feeling like a know-it-all, simply by taking in this package’s wide variety of ethnic sights and sounds.
Titled “Africa Calling,” this Edinburgh, England showcase was organized to coincide with the July 2 Live 8 concerts. Live 8, as most know, was the brainchild of Live Aid creator Bob Geldof. This companion event, however, lacked the star-studded quality found in both the Philadelphia and London Live 8 shows. Peter Gabriel had originally hoped to have a few African artists perform at the event’s bigger venues, but Geldof was concerned that too many unfamiliar names would turn away viewers. Initially, this secondary “Africa Calling” event was looked upon as an example of cultural apartheid, and even derogatorily referred to as “Token 8” by some. Nevertheless, actress Angelina Jolie was on hand to do a little MC work for it, and South African leader Nelson Mandela gave a powerful speech at one point. Best of all, Peter Gabriel is seen on screen multiple times throughout, introducing various performers. In addition to his pioneering Real World world music record label, Gabriel is an authority and a strong supporter of global music. He may not be the MTV pop star he once was back in the ‘80s, but this talented man, now gray-haired, lends credibility to almost anything he touches.
Most viewers will be struck right away by just how much variety there is in African music today. If your idea of African music is that of half-naked, spear-holding chanters, you’ll likely be in for an informative viewing session here. Of course, this collection does include a performance by Siyaya (Zimbabwe), which in fact fits the stereotypical African tribal look, for whatever that’s worth. With its rhythmic dancing, where foot stomps are just as essential as drumbeats, however, these male and female dancers and singers work up a mighty powerful and appealing groove. The men are dressed primarily in white, whereas the women have on more multicolored attire.
The first disc includes this set’s biggest names. Youssou N’Dour (Senegal), with his high and pure singing voice, is already familiar because of his past work with Peter Gabriel over the years. His is the voice heard along with Gabriel’s on the song “In Your Eyes,” for instance. N’Dour is also joined by popular singer Dido here and together they perform “7 Seconds.”
Although he may not be a big name globally yet, Geoffrey Oryema (Uganda) also makes an indelible impression on this DVD’s first disc. Accompanied by his lone acoustic guitar, Oryema strikes the strings rhythmically during “Lapowny,” whereas he plucks them more traditionally during “Land of Anaka.” His voice has all the tortured soul of a blues singer. Chartwell Dutiro (Zimbabwe) is another solo performer here. He plays an instrument that looks like a large bowl on the outside, yet comes off sounding like a marimba. His singing has a distinctively traditional feel to it, while his clothing – with its feather headdress – makes him look like a Native American.
One essential participant in this initial disc is Thomas Mapfumo (Zimbabwe), who looks like an aging blues man. Fronting his large band, however, he receives true respect from this adoring audience.
When you consider African music, percussion is likely its first instrumental element that comes to your mind. Supporting this point, special drums are central to Senegal’s Mondou Diouf’s work. He comes on stage dressed colorfully in yellow, and is backed by an equally colorful group that is wearing both blue and purple. These players then create a trancelike atmosphere with ensemble djembe drum work. Speaking of drums, Shikisha (South Africa) is an equally percussive unit. This, however, is a group of Zulu women who also infuses their sound with a wonderful dose of those South African harmonies we’ve come to grow and love by artists like Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, you may recall, has worked extensively with Paul Simon.
Shikisha is not the only example of female Africans on this first DVD. It does the heart good to also see so many other African women represented here. Maryuann Mursal (Somalia) is simply charming because of her beautiful smile. Her contribution “Heesteena” includes upbeat hand-clapping and backing vocals, and leaves the viewer wanting more of her. Mariza (Mozambique/Portugal), with her short-cropped hair and wearing a long black dress, is also a striking figure when she sings “Barco Negro.”
This set’s second DVD opens with the saucy Angelique Kidjo (Benin), whom Gabriel introduces as a woman that eats men for dinner. After being exposed to her fiery singing, it’s easy to take Gabriel’s warning seriously. Gabriel also joins in to sing “Afrika” with Kidjo. Coco Mbassi is yet another woman featured on the second DVD of this bill, and she is also the artist introduced by actress Angelina Jolie. Accompanied by a jazzy acoustic guitarist, Mbassi comes across a little bit like a Cameroonian quiet storm, if you will.
Ayub Ogada (Kenya) can be likened to Chartwell Dutiro on the first DVD, in that Ogada plays an instrument that is fairly difficult to describe. It’s called a nyatiti, but it looks a lot like a mini-harp. Ogada is also accompanied by three backing singers, traditional bass, drums, conga drums and acoustic guitar.
The most fascinating act on this second disc is one called Tinariwen, which is a band that hails from Mali. Gabriel introduces this group as one of the hippest acts in all of world music at the moment. Its members arrive on stage dressed in full robes and headgear, and look an awfully lot like Middle Eastern Arabs. The music Tinariwen plays, however, is something akin to sparse American funk. The songs “Chet Boghassa” and “Amidiwan” are driven by call and response vocals, whereas its last number (“Amasskoul”) has a reggae feel to it. Oddly enough, when the audience is panned during this group’s performance, the crowd appears to be doing the tomahawk chop. This is a move most closely associated with Atlanta Braves baseball games. Go figure.
It’s hard to succinctly categorize the rest of the lineup on DVD number two. Fritti (Ghana/Angola/UK) is troupe of drummers and dancers. Its stage is set up with two large drums on either side, and the various players communicate with each other through a kind of musical Morse code, which is fascinating. Kanda Bongo Man (Congo) is noteworthy for the high, chiming electric guitar work of his band. The music he plays is happy and inspires a large group of people to dance at the front of his stage before he’s finished. Akim El Sikameya (Algeria/France) does not fit into any handy African stereotypes at all. He leads this trio on violin, and is supported accordion and acoustic guitar. His sound is more like Eastern European folk music than anything else.
This collection closes with two acts that, except for the languages they speak, do not sound too different from what is heard today on American R&B radio. That’s because Emmanuel Jal (Sudan) and Daara J (Senegal) represent homegrown African rap. Rap music is truly a universal musical language now, even though some musical purists are probably unwilling to admit that.
Even though this is a concert DVD, and an outdoor one at that, the sound is especially good. There are a lot of acoustic instruments spread throughout these various sets, which can often be lost in outdoor mixes, yet here all of these elements are captured expertly.
When all is said and done, this is quite a large and varied meal to digest. It is worth all the time and effort it takes to appreciate it all, however, because the African continent has plenty of great music to offer the rest of the world.