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12 mai 2007

Political messages embedded in new CD

Born in Quidah a coastal city of West Africa, Angelique Kidjo has made a name for herself worldwide. She has an innovative style of fusing the elements of jazz, gospel, reggae, samba, salsa and electronica without abandoning the traditional music of her homeland.

While she may have pushed traditional beyond its limits at times, her latest offering has her returning to her roots with the help of a star-studded guest list. Best translated as “seize the day” Djin Djin is sure to please all her devote fans. Kidjo’s rendition of the Stones Give Me Shelter is a tasty one featuring Joss Stone who lights it up vocally.

But it is track four, Salala, featuring Peter Gabriel that really caught my attention. I’ve had a serious hunger for a little PG, so this little teaser hit the spot with his typical haunting style. Next up is the delightful Senamou featuring her good friends Amadou and Mariam known in their homeland of West Africa for their Afro-pop offerings.

Track six is a heart wrenching remake of Sade’s Pearls featuring Carlos Santana’s trademark guitar in addition to Kidjo teaming up with Josh Groban to make this unpredictable merger of epic beauty another of the Djin Djin’s vocal highlights.

This is followed by a lighthearted splash of Jamaican style with Ziggy Marley sounding oh so Bob for Sedjedo. Track 13 ends the album on a classical note with a stunning vocal rendition of Ravel’s Bolero.

After a few listens, though, the album’s somewhat political theme of economic oppression becomes obvious. This is not an album that can be taken at face value, Kidjo’s insightful liner notes spell out the inspiration behind the selection of these songs that make this an album that delves much deeper than you first think. The only thing missing here is Paul Simon.

Still, Djin Djin is the perfect backdrop for a classy summer dinning event be it a barbeque or an ethnic dinner party.

The Afro Celt Sound System: The sound of worlds colliding

The Afro Celt Sound System's unusual blend of African and Irish beats should prove a winning festival act. Pierre Perrone meets their founder, Simon Emmerson (Published: 10 May 2007)

"Afro Celt Sound System, they do exactly what it says on the tin. That's what they told the audience when we got the Radio 3 Listeners' Award five years ago," remembers Simon Emmerson. The frontman for Afro Celt Sound System says he first thought of blending together African and Celtic music while producing the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal in 1992. "He was asking me about my roots," he explains. "I realised he was just as interested in music from the British Isles as I was in what was coming out of West Africa. Later, I had Davy Spillane play this lovely Irish whistle on a track for Lam Toro, the first Baaba Maal album I did. It worked perfectly, it was sort of an epiphany for me. I became really interested in marrying the pentatonic scales from both traditions and putting them over a techno beat to see where it led. That became the basis for the Afro Celt Sound System."

With the benefit of hindsight, album sales of 1.2 million, two Grammy nominations and triumphant appearances at Womad, Glastonbury and other festivals around the world, Afro Celt Sound System seems like a natural fusion of genres and a bankable proposition. But Emmerson is convinced that, back in 1995, most record labels would have balked at the idea of bankrolling such a venture. "If I'd said to anyone else, this is what I want to do, they would have shown me the door," he says.

"Peter Gabriel gave us a week at Real World. We had Davy Spillane, several members of Baaba Maal's band, Myrdhin, from Britanny, on Celtic harp, a piper called Ronan Browne. I already knew James [multi-instrumentalist McNally] from his work with rap band Marxman. They were neighbours of mine in Hackney. Iarla [O'Lionaird, the Gaelic vocalist] was there, Martin Russell and Jo Bruce came in to play keyboards. I saw the whole thing as a one-off project. That's why we had Sound System in the name. I'd made so many albums over the years that didn't sell for one reason or another so I didn't really plan ahead."

In a previous life, as Simon Booth - "I picked the most boring pseudonym I could think of" - Emmerson had been a member of Scritti Politti. He then formed Weekend, and then the British jazz group Working Week in the early Eighties. "In Weekend, we tried to play like Brazilian musicians. With Working Week, we had Robert Wyatt singing 'Venceremos'. To me, it's all the same music."

The guitarist, bouzouki player and programmer was at the birth of acid jazz. has produced Manu Dibango and Femi Kuti and remixed Peter Gabriel. But the 1995 experiment nonetheless had a profound effect on him and McNally, O'Lionaird and Russell, the four core members of the collective. "We all look back at that as being the defining moment," Emmerson says. "We did 'Sure' ['Sure-as-Not/Sure-as-Knot'] and I got shivers down my spine. We felt this incredible responsibility because we had made this connection between Ireland and Africa."

He says the Irish musicians involved also saw the potential, as well as relative outsiders such as Jamie Reid, the graphic artist famous for his Sex Pistols artwork. "He'd decorated the studio with all these Celtic symbols and when I sent him a tape, he did a little sketch of a lion and unicorn with 'Afro Celt Sound Magic - from the light continent' incorporated into the drawing. We called the first album Volume 1: Sound Magic. Jamie Reid was really important. His paintings gave us a visual identity."

Emmerson is fond of comparing the ever-evolving line-up to the cast of Star Trek, with him not so much as Captain Kirk but "the weird-looking baldie alien. After the second album, I stood back a lot more. I'm not the leader. The others never get the credit they deserve."
While acknowledging the influence of Songhai, the late-Eighties World Music project centred around the Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté and the English bassist Danny Thompson, and drawing parallels with "fellow traveller" Jah Wobble, Emmerson is adamant that the Afro Celts have forged their own path - and avoided the blandness of Deep Forest, Sacred Spirits and other World Music-lite acts. But they have still managed to rub British critics up the wrong way. "Some journalists just wouldn't look me in the eye. This only happens here, and not in continental Europe and in the US, where we've been welcome and much better accepted," he reflects.

Indeed, the word-of-mouth success of the Afro Celts started in Germany. "We'd sold 30,000 albums before we'd even been there. Real World and Virgin [the label's distributor] had to sit up and take notice," he says. "What happened is we became a kind of monster. The last thing that I expected was to have a touring band. But it has worked, it's been incredible."
The band nonetheless struggled to follow up their debut, after the death of Jo Bruce - their keyboard player and son of legendary Cream bassist, Jack Bruce - in October 1997. "He was like a younger brother to us. Volume 2: Release was a really, really difficult album to make. But Sinead O'Connor came in and co-wrote the title track and we were away again," he says.

The band then collaborated with Gabriel and Robert Plant on Volume 3: Further in Time. Sensing a coffee-table crossover, Virgin sent Canadian rock producer Bob Ezrin to the studio. "He walked in and said: 'I've worked with Pink Floyd, I've worked with Alice Cooper, you should get a rock star to front this'," Emmerson says, in a passable impersonation. "We've always had trouble getting airplay and he felt we could have radio hits. His attitude was great but we thought: Why don't we do this ourselves? There's nothing to stop us doing four-minute songs. We got a lot of stick for it but Plant has got a big Celtic heart. You only have to listen to [Led Zeppelin song] 'The Battle of Evermore'."

In July 2001, the Afro Celts and Gabriel performed "When You're Falling" on the Late Show with David Letterman, and the track made serious progress on US radio. Following the events of 11 September, however, the title and lyrics were deemed too sensitive. The single disappeared from the airwaves and the video from television screens. Always an expensive proposition to take out on the road, the Afro Celts had no choice but to cancel their US tour. When they eventually played a concert in New York's Central Park in 2003, around the time of the release of their fourth album, Seed, the warmth of the reception took them by surprise. "They all had tickets for the cancelled concerts and here they were. It was an Irish audience, it was a World Music audience. We reflect Britain as a multicultural society so it made sense."

Unloved by critics but adored by festival-goers, the undeterred Afro Celts soldiered on to release Anatomic at the end of 2005, and continue to make occasional forays on the festival circuit. "People who don't really like us grudgingly say: Afro Celt Sound System, they're a great festival band," Emmerson says. "It's a bit of a backhanded compliment but we don't care. Other groups from the Nineties can sound really dated but, for some reason, we don't. One minute, it sounds like you're in a folk club, the next minute, it's slamming techno. We're unique. If there's a genre for us, it would be the eight-minute ambient-dub-eclectic-World fusion kind of thing. I'm surprised we got this far."

Afro Celt Sound System play the Wychwood Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse on 3 June (

09 mai 2007

Growing Up: A Tour of Peter Gabriel. Part 3 of ?

Peter Gabriel’s third and fourth albums came out in ‘80 and ‘82 respectively. His next studio album, So, would come in 1986 and mark the crest of his commercial success. If you don’t know the album by the title, some tunes that might ring a bell are Sledgehammer, Big Time, Red Rain, and In Your Eyes.

Not until I began to think about today’s post did I ever realize I’ve always grouped the first four albums together, as if there were an unseen rift separating them from So. Part of it may be as simple as the name scheme: So was the first Peter Gabriel album not named simply Peter Gabriel (though Peter Gabriel 4 was titled Security here in the states). It might be that the gap in time between Peter Gabriel 4 and So is double that of his previous albums. And though I’m at a loss on how to describe it, there’s a difference in sound between So and Peter Gabriel 3 and 4, just as there was between those albums and 1 and 2.

I’ve always wondered: what was he doing for those four years? What experiences, influences, and collaborators were involved in shaping his next album? I may never know, but sometime in those four years, Gabriel found the time to score a film.

Well, about a weekend, actually.

According to my sources at IMDB, Gabriel recorded 35 minutes of soundtrack in one weekend. I don’t know if that means if the whole process was completed in a weekend, or just the recording of new materials, but either way this impressive stat is likely due to the fact that much of the material on Birdy is reworked from Gabriel’s 3 and 4. That, and after watching that BBC documentary about his recording process, I’m sure he had all sorts of leftover synth sounds to play with.

On one hand, recycled material seems to be a bit of a cop out, but when the source material is this good, even a cop out can sound compelling. All the tracks are instrumental, and many of them are minimalist in nature. Quiet and Alone and Slow Water sound like distant relatives of Aphex Twin’s ambient tracks. Floating Dogs sounds downright eerie to me, and I love the rhythm it works into at the end.

Birdy’s Flight has the quickest pulse of the bunch, and borrows from and builds on the breakdown at the end of the song Not One of Us. Powerhouse at the Foot of the Mountain is a moody ambient track that reuses my favorite moment in Peter Gabriel: the ending of San Jacinto. If there’s one track there that stands on its own, it’s Slow Marimbas. Its sound is classic Gabriel, and the brooding mood it creates is and amazing.

If you need a tune with a bpm greater than your pulse, these might not be for you. Personally, these tracks all make it into my writing playlist, and they are great candidates to serve as an interlude to class up any mix CD. Enjoy the ambiance while it lasts, because next we’re going to hit the Big Time.

08 mai 2007

Thomas Dolby, Peter Gabriel build hit software

Musicmakers develop new ways to deliver tunes

Would you rather be famous for a pop song that helped define an era? Or would you prefer fame because you developed the software for listening to that song on a mobile phone?

If you're Thomas Dolby, you don't have to make that choice, even if Dolby is happier being a pop icon than the software entrepreneur whose little piece of code is loaded on more than 500 million mobile phones.

"Someone would have done that eventually," he said of his Beatnik Audio Engine. But only one person could have written "She Blinded Me With Science," a song people are likely to start humming after reading the title. (You're welcome.)

Dolby is not the only '80s pop star who has had a technical influence on our gadgets. As I write this, I am listening to a playlist on my iPod that Peter Gabriel helped me create.

Gabriel was lauded as a music-video innovator (check out "Sledgehammer" and "Shock the Monkey" at; they have aged well), but now is one of the creative and financial minds behind The Filter (, a nifty application to create playlists based on the music you already have.

Gabriel tinkered with recommendation engines prior to the success of iTunes. Eventually, he began working with an old business partner who had a similar notion on how to manage the excessive amount of choice technology is providing.

"We want all these options filtered, focused and meaningful to us," Gabriel said in an e-mail interview. "We want to be surprised, excited and entertained by a variety of systems that help us through the maze of possibilities. For example, I don't want to sit down at a restaurant and be presented with a hundred-page menu when I am hungry."

Gabriel and Thomas Robertson, Dolby's real name, are true geeks.

The Beatnik program "is a mixing board for sound on a phone," Dolby said during a visit to Chicago last week. That means every chirp, ring and catchy pop song that emanates from most mobile phones is handled by Beatnik.

In a nutshell, Beatnik has become the phone's standard audio operating system, much like Windows has become the operating system for most personal computers.

While Gabriel's innovation is not so widespread, it serves an extremely useful purpose: winnowing the digital clutter.

Why would someone need The Filter? Well, if you have more than 3,000 songs in your collection, as I do, you sometimes forget what you have. With The Filter, you seed a new playlist with three songs from your iTunes music folder and then the software generates a group of similar songs lasting up to three hours. You can keep the playlist on your computer or move it onto your iPod. Every time you plug your iPod into your computer, the playlist will refresh with a new list of your songs.

"I find I often can't be bothered to go searching through stuff and really want to be able to be presented with interesting material that matches my mood and activity and has the right balance of familiar and unfamiliar," Gabriel said.

I've created two filters, one with catchy pop songs for when I need a little motivation and another with jazz influences, when I need to be more contemplative. The recommendations are interesting, such as the jazz mix that includes songs from Wilco, Tom Waits and John Coltrane. I quite like it, actually, and it is not a combination of songs I would have considered. It's familiar yet unexpected.

Gabriel (gray hair) and Dolby (no hair) are on the road again, reconnecting with fans and creating new music. Dolby couldn't be happier.

"Now that Beatnik is this enormous business, I'm not needed," he said. He still is on the board, listed as founder, but he has turned in his business suits for the funky techno-gear he wears on stage.

"I've spent too long away from music. It's a passion and much more gratifying for me," he said.

The time away has provided a unique perspective on how the music business has changed -- for the good, in Dolby's mind, despite concerns from record labels about declining sales and still-rampant piracy.

For one, he controls his own sales today.

f you want a copy of "The Sole Inhabitant," a live CD he recorded last May in Chicago, go to It's sold through a partnership with CD Baby, a music distributor for independent artists.

"Today, you're not dependent on someone else [like a record label] to be a kingmaker. I wanted to be an active participant before, but I was a passive observer," he said of the process that made him famous but left him without any control.

"Now I'm back on the road, and I made my own live album," he said. He pressed it and sells it himself, keeping most of the proceeds.

"I feel closer to my fans," Dolby said of tools like blogs and MySpace profile pages. "When I write a new song, I can hit a button and put it on the Internet. The fans can hear it right away."

One coming new song is called "My Karma Hit Your Dogma," and it was inspired by Kevin Federline's unauthorized use of a sample from "Science" and Dolby's battle to get the father of Britney Spears' children to stop playing the song.

"It was [bad]," Dolby said of K-Fed's song, "America's Most Wanted." "I wanted to stop it -- it had like a half-million downloads," but he didn't know how to get a hold of Federline.

"So I went to apply as a friend of K-Fed on his MySpace page," he said. When K-Fed accepted the friend request, Dolby posted a "cease-and-desist order" in the page's comments area.

"That didn't work," he sighed, even though a settlement was ultimately reached. "But it did inspire a new song."

One that may become a ring tone on a half-billion mobile phones.

07 mai 2007

Daby Touré:’’Rencontrer d’autres musiciens est pour moi une forme d’injection’’

(APS) - Les voyages et les rencontres lui servant de source d’inspiration, Daby Touré, fils et héritier d’un des frères du groupe ‘’Touré Kounda’’, a expliqué que les rencontres artistiques sont pour lui ‘’une forme d’injection’’ qui lui permet de se retrouver à travers sa musique.

’C’est toujours pour moi une vraie chance de rencontrer des personnes, musiciens’’ divers adeptes du jazz, de la pop. ’’Pour moi, c’est toujours une forme d’injection dont j’ai besoin en un moment donné pour me sentir’’ à travers la pratique de la musique, a-t-il confié sur la chaîne francophone TV5.

’A travers mes voyages, je fais toujours de me retrouver face à des gens qui peuvent un moment donné m’inspirer ou échanger quelque chose avec moi parce que c’est ce que j’ai appris étant petit’’, a-t-il dit au cours de l’émission ’’acoustic’’ de la chaîne francophone. ’’J’ai pas mal voyagé, mon père m’a envoyé un peu partout au village, dans les grandes villes, au Sénégal, en Mauritanie, au Mali. Et j’ai toujours eu cette tendance à me déplacer, à ne jamais m’arrêter. C’est peut-être ce que je reproduis dans mes concerts’’, notamment, a indiqué l’artiste qui vient de sortir Stereo Spirit, son deuxième album solo. Après une enfance passée entre le désert mauritanien et la Casamance, au sud du Sénégal, Daby Touré s’est engagé dans une carrière solo depuis ’’Diam’’, son premier album signé en 2004 par Realworld (label du chanteur anglais Peter Gabriel).

’’Je suis né en plein désert, mais c’est réellement à Djéole, en Casamance, au contact des cultures soninké, toucouleur et wolof, que s’est forgée ma personnalité. A l’adolescence, je suis revenu à Nouakchott avant de m’envoler en 1989 pour la France avec mon père’’, Hamidou Touré, avait-t-il confié sur le site Internet de RFI. Son père, médecin de formation et musicien, devait alors rejoindre ses frères Sixu et Ismaël au sein des déjà légendaires Touré Kunda. ’’Très jeune’’, Daby avait ‘’baigné dans un environnement traditionnel, bercé par les instruments’’ ancestraux, mais c’est à partir de cette épisode française de sa vie qu’il avait commencé à s’intéresser aux autres musiques et ’’à jouer avec des musiciens d’autres cultures’’.

Qualifiant de ’’spontanée’’ la démarche artistique qui l’a conduit à sortir Stereo Spirit, Daby Touré a soulignant qu’il a mis ’’beaucoup’’ d’expérience, ’’beaucoup’’ de sa vie dans cet album dont il est l’auteur, le compositeur, et dont il a assuré les arrangements et la réalisation. ’’Les gens que j’ai découverts, les voyages que j’ai faits, tout le parcours que j’ai eu jusqu’ici’’ se retrouvent également à travers cet album. ’’En fait, la musique me permet d’unifier ou plutôt de mettre en relation, de faire le pont entre les différentes cultures qui sont les miennes. Stereo Spirit reflète tout à fait cela’’, explique Daby dans cet interview paru sur le site Internet de RFI.

L’auteur compositeur Daby Touré a justifié la fidélité qu’il voue à certaines langues ouest africaines qui lui servent de véhicule, assurant qu’il ne sait pas ‘’encore’’ chanter en français.

’J’essaie de rester fidèle à ce qui me fait vibrer le plus. J’ai appris à travailler avec’’ le soninké, le pulaar, le wolof, le hassania notamment ‘’depuis des années. Ça le reste’’, a-t-il dit samedi sur la chaîne francophone TV5.

La langue française, ’’c’est une belle langue’’ et ’’une culture’’, a ajouté Daby Touré au cours de l’émission ’’acoustic’’. Cependant, chanter en français ‘’est une façon de faire que je ne sais pas encore faire’’. ’’J’en ai forcément envie parce que je parle cette langue. J’ai l’impression qu’en parlant français, on me comprend mieux, en tous cas dans les pays dans lesquels je vis’’.

’’Donc, je ne vois pas pourquoi je ne chanterai pas en français’’, a poursuivi Daby Touré qui vient de sortir Stéreo Spirit, son deuxième album solo dont il est l’auteur, le compositeur, et qu’il a arrangé et réalisé.

‘’La seule difficulté’’, c’est de chanter en français, ‘’parce que parler une langue est une chose, la chanter en est une autre. J’ai grandi avec les langues avec lesquelles je chante’’, a fait observer Daby Touré...

Angélique Kidjo /«Le micro, c'est mon arme»

«Le micro, c'est mon arme»

Angélique Kidjo revient avec «Djin Djin», un album détonnant aux invités prestigieux

«La quête du pouvoir à tout prix met en danger cette fragilité humaine qui peut s'exprimer par la musique et par les arts» s'exclame Angélique Kidjo,

Peter Gabriel, Joss Stone, Alicia Keys, Carlos Santana, Ziggy Marley, la liste est longue des invités de renom sur «Djinn Djinn», le nouvel album audacieux d'Angélique Kidjo. Audacieux car la chanteuse béninoise, qui ne s'en laisse pas compter, ne se contente pas de donner une part d'africanité à ces grandes voix, elle tend un pont entre l'Afrique et la musique classique en interprétant «Le boléro» de Ravel a cappella. Rencontre avec une femme bouillonnante, qui sera très bientôt en concert aux Docks à Lausanne.

Vous avez invité des stars sur votre album, quel est leur point commun?
L'Afrique, c'est l'Afrique partout! Ecoutez la voix de Joss Stone, fermez les yeux et dites-moi si elle n'a pas une voix noire, une âme noire. Tout le monde a une âme noire. L'Afrique est le berceau de l'humanité, tout le monde a dans son génome quelque chose de l'Afrique. Les musiciens africains, on nous catégorise, ça réconforte, ça donne du pouvoir, mais pourquoi on a besoin de pouvoir? C'est le problème de l'humanité. La quête du pouvoir à tout prix met en danger cette fragilité humaine qui peut s'exprimer par la musique et par les arts.

Mais vous êtes toujours là pour décloisonner les choses, non?
Moi je refuse d'être mise dans une camisole de force. Je ne peux pas accepter ça puisque mes parents, quand j'étais gamine, m'ont dit «Le monde t'appartient, l'émotion est universelle». J'ai commencé gamine à me dire qu'il n'y avait qu'une planète, qu'une humanité.

Finalement, vous êtes devenue l'avocate que vous vous rêviez enfant...
Oui, avec mon micro que j'appelle mon arme d'amour massif. Je reçois tellement d'amour avec ma musique, le public, c'est un partage.
Vous faites une reprise de «Gimme Shelter» des Rolling Stones, pourquoi ce choix?
Parce que le texte de cette chanson est toujours d'actualité. On parle de plus en plus d'immigration mais si les pays riches veulent vraiment arrêter l'immigration, ils n'ont qu'à arrêter de financer la corruption qui existe en Afrique. Aucun pays d'Afrique n'a encore eu la chance de se gérer lui-même et d'apprendre de ses erreurs. On a tous été maintenus sous tutelle économique. On refuse à des êtres humains d'avoir une vie digne, on se sert de nous pour des discours politiques. Si des musiciens anglais le disaient déjà dans les années 60, c'est qu'il y a un problème.

Vous n'avez jamais voulu faire de la politique?
Jamais de la vie! Faire de la politique aujourd'hui n'a plus aucun sens.

Le titre «Pearls» parle des femmes, vous pensez toujours que la femme est l'avenir de l'homme?
Si je ne pensais pas ça, il n'y aurait pas d'humanité. Les hommes font tout pour que la femme ne soit pas leur égale, pour la rabaisser, pour se sentir forts. Un homme sûr et bien dans sa peau n'a pas besoin de ça pour avoir une partenaire digne de ce nom à ses côtés. La femme a autant de droits que l'homme et celui qui ne respecte pas sa meilleure moitié n'est pas un homme. S'il n'a pas besoin d'une femme qui a une tête, qui peut parler, être en désaccord avec lui et bien qu'il mette un chien dans son lit!

D'où vient votre personnalité très forte?
Des femmes qui m'ont élevée, des femmes indépendantes, mariées mais qui ne se sont jamais laissées marcher sur les pieds. C'est possible.