African Hybrids

African Hybrids
"African music" is obviously a generalization of a complex subject. Within a continent of over 50 countries, there exist many more nations, each with their own voices. There is a further overlay of these cultural impulses from influences beyond Africa: Latin, American and Caribbean pop, European instrumentation and digital technology. And not all African music is made in Africa: emigrants of different nations collaborate with non-Africans to create pan-African sounds. Finally, Africa has inspired musical hybrids with an "Afro-" label, whether or not they incorporate true understanding of African musical forms. As with almost any music that can't be easily compartmentalized, mass media has championed older music while ignoring or dismissing contemporary sounds.

Club Africa

The first African club groove was the proto-disco hit "Soul Makossa" by Manu Dibango, who was at the vanguard of dance floor trends for some time, working with the Fania All Stars, Sly & Robbie and Bill Laswell. King Sunny Ade's dub-wise percussion odysseys made him a star of the first wave of African music popularity in the ‘80s. He and Youssou N'Dour were among the first examples of the marketing term "world music." The Real World label has foisted both good and bad Afro-fusion unto the world, but Wally Badarou and Angelique Kidjo are far more interesting examples of explicitly club-influenced African music. DJs Russ Dewbury and Gilles Peterson have championed obscure African breaks, while African stars utilise the same synths and drum machines as musicians the world over. Afro-house tends to be more inspired than driven by traditional African rhythms, much as Afro-rock (Osibisa, etc.) did a generation earlier.

Starters: Various Club Africa (Strut, 1999); Manu Dibango Electric Africa (Celluloid, 1985); Various Frikyiwa Collection 1 (Six Degrees, 1999); King Sunny Ade Juju Music (Mango, 1982); Lafayette Afro Rock Band Darkest Light (Strut, mid-‘70s); Various Abstract Afro Lounge Series (King Street, 2000)

Manu Dibango

Ethiopian Grooves

This pentatonic, fuzzy and very soulful form of pop existed only briefly: from the early ‘60s to late ‘70s. The lo-fi sound is somewhere between garage rock, soul rhythms and strictly Ethiopian vocal styles. The first example of the music appearing in the West was Mahmoud Ahmed's Ere Mela Mela in 1986, which was a stunning contrast to the more popular West and South African music of the time. The Buda Musique label has single-handedly educated the world with its nine volumes (and counting) Ethiopiques series. Although the songs of this era remain popular, it's old news to most Ethiopians, and owes its popularity to the nostalgia of British and North American media. Since the ‘70s, notable performers have included Aster Aweke and the Express Band.

Starters: Various Best of the Sixties (Ethiosound, 1996); Various Ethiopian Grooves: The Golden Seventies (Blue Silver, 1994); Mahmoud Ahmed Ere Mela Mela (1975) and the entire Ethiopiques series (Buda Musique), Aster Aweke Aster (Columbia,1990)

Mahmoud Ahmed


Afrobeat's funky, long-form grooves have swept clubs since Fela Kuti's passing in 1997. Of Nigerian and Ghanaian origin, Afrobeat developed from a soul music craze that swept West Africa in the ‘60s combined with Yoruban influences. Fela's music was urgent, horn-driven, and politically caustic. Antibalas, from New York, stick closely to Fela's musical blueprint, but have a broader political agenda and shy away from the less funk-oriented influences in the music of West Africa. Fela's son Femi, while amazing in concert, received mixed reviews for his recorded music, which is slicker than the James Brown vibe currently in vogue. Lagbaja is a masked performer from Nigeria whose political thought is expressed through parables rather than through political invective. This has given him a broader appeal in Nigeria than those who disapproved of Fela's outrageously strident image — hopefully his sound will be recognised world-wide for its uniqueness rather than its polish.

Starters: Fela Kuti Shakara and No Agreement (EMI, 1972, 1977); Tony Allen NEPA and Black Voices (Celluloid, 1984; Comet, 1999); Antibalas Liberation Afrobeat Vol 1 (Ninja Tune, 2000); Femi Kuti Shoki Shoki (Barclay, 1999); Daktaris Soul Explosion (Desco, 1998)



Afro-Cuban styles are closely related to traditional West African drumming. They are further characterised by their lack of emphasis on Spanish instrumentation. African chants and rhythms of everyday life, religion and ceremony were passed down through the generations in Cuba. Its cultural vitality and proximity to the U.S. led to the introduction of bongos, congas and bata drums into America's percussion repertoire. Machito and Chano Pozo introduced these rhythms into jazz. Afro-Cuban traditions were a strong ingredient in classic salsa, and today infuse artists from Bobby Matos to Romatt. The influence worked in reverse, too. Recordings and tours by Cuba's rumba musicians were very influential on the development of popular African styles during the 1940s, leading to many ace African rumba bands of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Africando is currently reinvigorating this synthesis with their all-star African/ Latin summits.

Starters: Various Havana 1957, Matanzas 1957 (Smithsonian Folkways, 2001); Cachao Descargas Cuban Jam Sessions (Egrem, 1957); Africando Mandali (Syllart, 1999); Orchestre Baobab Bamba (Stern's, 1993); Wendo Kolosy Marie Louise (Indigo, 2000)

Wendo Kolosy