The Dark Continent
November 17, 2005 3:17 PM   Subscribe

No Condition is Permanent. World music, and African music in particular, often falls into two categories: pleasant and inoccuous, or the fetishized other. Even speaking of "African" music is misleading. Senegalese mbalax doesn't sound that much like Camaroonian makossa. And I don't say this as some great authority; I'm still just at the beginning of the learning curve. So come along with me. There's the broad Benne Loxo du Taccu, the sidebar of Mudd Up!, the great (and self-explanitory) African Hiphop, Stern's Music (this link going to a more accessible Thione Seck), Aduna (for Francophones— my middle-school French gets me by, but I'm really there for the music), Du Bruit (more Francophones, with an emphasis on vinyl sharities), and Worldly Disorientation (which covers all sorts of world music, but has some excellent African stuff). Have I missed anything great? Recommend it in the thread. I tend to prefer the psychedelic and dubby stuff more than straight folk styles, but that's me.
posted by klangklangston (42 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and try not to download everything all at once folks, some of these people are running slow servers and we don't want to bust 'em or their links...
posted by klangklangston at 3:18 PM on November 17, 2005

Ach! And the first link, the No Condition is Permanent, is kinda what sent me off into this direction. It's got amazing writing, clear and clean, with passion. Apparently, the writer also does things for The Wire in the UK as well.
posted by klangklangston at 3:19 PM on November 17, 2005

"The Dark Continent" ?
posted by docgonzo at 3:38 PM on November 17, 2005

Seeking explanation or attempting snark?
posted by klangklangston at 3:59 PM on November 17, 2005

The public radio station in Seattle associated with the Experimental Music Project runs a show on Monday evenings called Ambiance which features a collection of African music. They can be accessed over the internets at, and they have archived shows going back several weeks, and other streaming content available. Ambiance starts at 6:00 pm Pacific Time, so you should be able to get to the streaming archive for the last two or three shows.

My link fu is poor, so forgive the lack of a live reference.

Fair Warning: This is pledge week, so the most recent edition will probably contain a heaping helping support requests (a worthy cause for a great radio station).

(PS. I've always wondered whether I should think of you as Klangk Langston or Klang Klangston? I kinda prefer the former but suspect the latter.)
posted by FYKshun at 4:00 PM on November 17, 2005

I stumbled onto Sali Sidibe at the library once and was immediately hooked even though I don't know much about African music styles. She has what sounds like an extremely powerful voice and the wassoulou style music is, to me, wonderfully melancholic...something I never traditionally associated with African music I had heard prior to discovering her.
posted by well_balanced at 4:00 PM on November 17, 2005

Seeking explanation -- if there's another meaning other than the imperialist, racist one I'm missing it.
posted by docgonzo at 4:05 PM on November 17, 2005

I'm a fan of Sam Mangwana [downloads].
posted by Mr T at 4:06 PM on November 17, 2005

My son falls asleep to an African lullaby album published by The Thula Project. Its beautiful and very soothing.

I'm also a fan of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Johnny Clegg and Savuka and Ismael Lo (Dibi Dibi Rek is sonically stunning to listen to and it knocks kids out cold!).

There's also Miriam Makeba (highly recommend Holilili Tula Baba Lullaby) and Mbube sings my favorite version of Wimoweh (unusual and addictive).
posted by fenriq at 4:10 PM on November 17, 2005

I like Salif Keita. Also:
posted by thirteenkiller at 4:20 PM on November 17, 2005

"Dark" as in "unexplored." As in "Through the Dark Continent," a book from the late 1800s that (as far as I know) popularized the phrase. Your milage may vary on imperialist, but the racism you see is a shade in your imagination.
posted by klangklangston at 4:23 PM on November 17, 2005

Habib Koité

Ma Ya is one of my all time favourite records
posted by Substrata at 4:23 PM on November 17, 2005

My imagination? I don't think so.
posted by docgonzo at 4:34 PM on November 17, 2005

If "The Dark Continent" refers to the inhabitants' skin tone, is it a racist term? And, if it's racist, so what?
posted by thirteenkiller at 4:44 PM on November 17, 2005

david byrne's record label put out a good sampler
posted by puppetclause at 4:47 PM on November 17, 2005

Tinariwen, who are Tuaregs from Mali. Here's the concert that turned me onto them - I listen to their CD Amassakoul almost every day and have for months now. Wikipedia entry, huh, I never saw that before, cool.
posted by mygothlaundry at 4:49 PM on November 17, 2005

Ever since I first heard Fela and Antibalas, I've been looking for music that sounds similar. Can you make any recommendations?
posted by afroblanca at 5:00 PM on November 17, 2005

Afroblanca: Try Nomo. They're like Antibalas meets Coltrane's large ensembles.

Thirteen: Well, except that it doesn't refer to the skin tone.
posted by klangklangston at 5:25 PM on November 17, 2005


This is great. I haven't heard any yet, but I'm always interested in trying something new. Good linkage.
posted by Edgewise at 6:20 PM on November 17, 2005

klangklangston: Oh, that's good.
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:20 PM on November 17, 2005

No one has mentioned the Ghanaian highlife or its modern offshoot, hiplife (which is a fusion of the traditional highlife with modern day hip hop elements). I have tons and tons of Mp3s, about 50gb worth, and would be willing to share, but really not familiar with how (don't know how to bittorrent and dont have anywhere to host.)
posted by ramix at 6:23 PM on November 17, 2005

...oops, hit post too quickly. For a taste, try (comes with video too).
posted by ramix at 6:29 PM on November 17, 2005

Leaving to go see Konono 1 right now. I've heard great things. More here. And a bit more info from Amazon.
posted by dougny at 6:36 PM on November 17, 2005

Oh, and here is a MeFi link from 2003, before the album was released. Sorry I missed it the first time around.
posted by dougny at 6:43 PM on November 17, 2005

Just speaking generally, I used to be a purist about African music. The real thing, or forget it. The only collollaborations with Western music/musicians I heard were annoying.

But in the last ten or fifteen years there have been more and more genuine, organic, even inevitable fusions of different musics from different continents, Dark, Light, Mideastern...a lot of them produced in Paris.

New music. And many of us had almost given up....when jazz started sounding like pointless noodling after Coltrane, and pop music had been recycled a few too many times.

There's really too much to listen to. I know I'm missing most of the good stuff. (Sorry I can't be more helpful in linking or specifying.)
posted by kozad at 7:09 PM on November 17, 2005

I like benga, originally the (electric) music of the Luo of Western Kenya, especially DO Misiani and Shirati Jazz and Dr. Collela Mazee's Victoria Jazz. Benga's kind of a mix of the Congolese finger-picking guitar that developed into soukous and the Luo nyatiti, a kind of lyre that's played by bard-like musicians. Old-style benga had its day in the 1970s, but it's undergoing kind of a renaissance in Nairobi and Kisumu, I think.

All down the east coast, in fact, there's really interesting offshoots of soukous mixed with local styles. There's a great sampler of Zimbabwean music called "Viva Zimbabwe" (from 1983 but still available) and it just kills. The contrapuntal, thumb piano-based guitars are amazing to hear. If you like the psychedelic side, check out track 6, "Shirley." But my favorite Zimbabwe musician has to be Thomas Mapfumo, who must be one of the greats anywhere (downloads). More here.

And eventually you make your way down to Soweto, which was just bursting with great music back in the day, way too much to even begin on. Sub-Saharan Africa is a bottomless well of music. The variety of styles, from chimurenga to railband to soukous to morna to highlife to mbalax to juju, can be bewildering but you just have to immerse yourself and let it wash over you.

If anyone knows any online sources, please speak up.
posted by rodii at 7:33 PM on November 17, 2005

I'm still finding offshoots of my main links and you guys are tossing in more and more and more. I'm *tear* all choked up.

A good way to share is with You Send It.
For example, here's no 1 de no 1 by Guajira Van. If anyone has anything else off this album, I'd love to hear more...
posted by klangklangston at 7:46 PM on November 17, 2005

The "Dark" in "Dark Continent" refers to the unknown element. The blank space on the map. Here there be dragons and lions and whatnot. The phrase isn't racist, just archaic, and well-used in this context. I know I'm venturing into the unknown as far as this music is concerned.
posted by brundlefly at 7:58 PM on November 17, 2005

Nice one. Such a wealth of music & culture links lately. More!
posted by Miko at 8:17 PM on November 17, 2005

Ghanaian Highlife
posted by ramix at 8:33 PM on November 17, 2005

Klangklangston - thanks for the link and the suggestions!

And rodii - thanks for the info on Zimbabwean mbira music! I was actually just going to post a comment asking for mbira music suggestions, but you totally beat me to it.
posted by afroblanca at 9:17 PM on November 17, 2005

FWIW, the old Trey Anastasio Band included elements of afro pop with the hippie noodling. See also: Femi Kuti and King Sunny Ade.

And now I'll start digging through the links. Looks yummy.
posted by muckster at 9:33 PM on November 17, 2005

Just got back from the Konono No. 1 show myself. Reminded me of riding buses in Botswana, which is to say that the show was fun and grooving.
posted by huzzahhuzzah at 10:46 PM on November 17, 2005

Lots of good links here, if people are genuinely interested in the music. The temptation to appear superficially diverse is great in some. Props to klang2 for daring to think outside the Eurocentric mould.

Just don't let me see white kids performing this music to the tune of million dollar contracts next week.
posted by Kwanzaar at 1:38 AM on November 18, 2005

Calabash Music is a good "world music" MP3 blog that often carries music from the African continent.
Worth checking out.
Thanks everyone for the links!
posted by thatwhichfalls at 1:48 AM on November 18, 2005

ok this is a great thread, but you take my point kk
posted by johnny novak at 4:09 AM on November 18, 2005

Great thread. Thanks for all the links.
posted by OmieWise at 5:29 AM on November 18, 2005

I've been a fan of Youssou N'dour since I first heard him with Peter Gabriel. When I heard Paul Simon's "Graceland" I became a fan of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and almost all South African music.

I love Thione Seck's new album "Orientation", which is sort of on the style of Youssou N'dour's "Egypt", another album I love.

If you like Youssou N'dour, check out the new solo album Yaye Digalma by his band's lead guitarist Jimi Mbaye.
posted by mike3k at 1:20 PM on November 18, 2005

It's kind of beautiful and odd to think of artists from around the world being heard and appreciated without any knowledge of their language or context. Pure music wins hearts; film at 11.
posted by klangklangston at 12:10 AM on November 19, 2005

Moistworks is presenting "a few pieces of music rendered on mbira and likembe, referred to often as thumb piano." They are including a number of mp3s for a short time.
posted by dougny at 5:45 PM on November 19, 2005

Great post, and great pointers in the comments - thanks all.

One more recommendation: Lagos Chop Up, a compilation of Nigerian Highlife, Afrobeat, juju, fuji, etc. on the ever-reliable Honest Jon's.
posted by jack_mo at 7:22 AM on November 21, 2005

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