Rhythm and Roots


Sudanese singer Alsarah has been dubbed as the princess of Nubian pop and calls herself a self-claimed practitioner of Sudanese retro-pop. Born in Sudan and raised in the US, the singer / songwriter with a degree in ethnomusicology has been making waves over the past few years with her beautifully haunting voice and 21st century interpretations of North and East African music. 

Alsarah and her family moved to the US when she was just 12 years, escaping increasing limits on freedom in her native Sudan and then civil war in Yeman. Her music represents a homage to her musical roots, revisiting the traditional Nubian music of Southern Sudan and Northern Egypt. She first became known globally for her participation in the ‘Nile Project‘, a collaboration between musicians from the Nile Basin that combined music and education to explore the region’s cultural and environmental challenges.

Then last year, in a rather unexpected move, she broke out of the ‘world music’ pigeon hole, collaborating with French electronic producer Débruit to release a critically acclaimed album on British label Soundway Records fusing experimental electronica with her haunting Sudanese vocals.

Alsarah has also combined her music with politics and human rights, releasing a song encouraging Sudanese people to vote ahead of the 2010 landmark elections and being a member of WISE Muslim Women, an organisation working to give a voice to Muslim women. She also took part in the first music festival in Somalia for almost 20 years.

I actually see these endeavors as part of my music. I sing about migration, voluntary and forced, I sing about people the world likes to ignore except when speaking of them in the past, and I sing about what it means to yearn for home. I also sing about survival and love and joy, which is how people continue despite policies that change the course of their existence.

The Guardian, Sept 2013

Next week Alsarah will release the much anticipated debut album from her band Alsarah and the Nubatones via Wonderwheel Recordings. Expect to hear more from this lady!

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Over the past month or so Colombia has been shaken by nationwide protests and strikes uniting farmers with teachers, milk producers with students. Though their demands are varied, at the heart of the demonstrations were united calls for land reform, rural development and justice for the small-scale farmers in the face of unjust free trade agreements and rising production costs.

While the government recently came to an agreement with the farm leaders, the protests have brought the issue of land rights disputes back to the forefront. Though not gaining the same level of global media coverage as similar movements in Turkey and Brazil, the Colombian protests have stood out for their universality. The movement evolved from a farmers demonstration into a nationwide call for change. Much as the students stood next to the farmers on the picket lines, a group of musicians, artists, video producers and bloggers came together to add their voice to the multitudes with #YoQuieroPapaConYuca.
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In the sea of music that washes over our eyes and ears everyday there are those moments that really stand out. EPs, tracks or albums that cut through the masses and make you smile, think or blow you away with something truly different. These are a couple of releases over the past few months that have done exactly that.

Umoja – Vuelo Nocturno

(18th August, INI Movement)

Umoja are a couple of talented young guys making roots-heavy tropical bass from their bedrooms in Haarlem, the Netherlands. The duo have had a steady release of well-produced, grooving, original tunes and their latest release shows their sound maturing and constantly improving. A blend of dubby cumbia, cut up samples, flutes, shakers, bird song and bass, Vuelo Nocturno is a breath of fresh air that manages to simultaneously celebrate global roots and digital culture.

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As the unrest and police brutality in Turkey continues, I thought it fitting to shed a little light on the country’s burgeoning underground/alternative music scene. Over the past month or so I have been immersing myself in as much Turkish music as I could find, from the brilliant out there psychedelic / funk from the 60s & 70s to the modern Turkish underground electronic scene. At the centre of the modern inversions of Turkish urban music is Tektosag Records and their sub-label, launched last year, Davalun Sesi.

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Beat Making Lab is a brilliantly simple and stylishly executed idea bringing electronic music education to communities around the world. Though the lab initially started as a music production course at the University, it has since been transformed into a global project with the two teachers taking their know-how and a travelling studio around the world.

The Lab itself is a crowdfunded “electronic music studio small enough to fit in a backpack” that offers young musicians the tools, skills and opportunity to make their own beats. For each lab the “teachers” (producers Apple Juice Kid and MC Pierce Freelon) spend two weeks in a local organisation teaching young people the skills to professionalise their music and become part of the 21st century global digital music community. Though the producers go back to the US, the equipment stays as an investment in the artists and the community.

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Afro-House Explorations

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After a welcome winter hibernation, Rhythm & Roots is back and what better way to start 2013 than with the soulful, fresh, warm sound of Afro-House. Over the past month or so my playlists have been dominated by mixtapes, bootlegs and soundcloud sessions pouring over the offshoots of house music that are flourishing in Angola and South Africa. After a lot of digital crate digging I have put together a mix that celebrates some of my favourite Afro-House tunes, whilst also incorporating some influences from further afield akin to the sound and rhythm. So, a bit of context…

South African House

Unlike other parts of the world, in South Africa, house music is not confined to the dancefloor but has become one of the country’s dominant sounds, leading sales and making stars of its biggest names. Resident Advisor recently celebrated the SA House (centring on Johannesburg) as part of the “Real Scenes” mini-documentary series – a great introduction to the scene.

South Africa has not only become a global mecca of house music but has also managed to formulate its own diverse scene with its own diversity of sound. There is the upbeat, snare driven house sound epitomised by DJ Mujava‘s international breakthrough Township Funk, the deeper, soulful style from producers like Black Coffee, Black Motion and Culoe de Song and then the smash hit, lyrical, Kwaito-hereditary sounds of big name producers Professor, Oskido & DJ Clock.

Angolan House


Meanwhile, the past few years have also seen a house music explosion in Angola, drawing inspiration from the South African scene and offering stiff competition to the Kuduro sound that has, historically, dominated the country’s electronic music scene. As Benjamin Lebrave, who offers a fascinating insight into the rise of Angolan house via This Is Africa, noted in July after a visit to Angola:

“A genre that was practically absent just three years ago during my last visit can now be heard virtually anytime, anywhere.”

Many Angolan producers such as DJeff and DJ Silyvi lean towards the deeper side whilst also emphasising rhythmic richness and incorporating traditional vocals samples. New producers are constantly appearing on Soundcloud with fresh sounds in a genre that continues to spread and diversify. It will be interesting to see two how these scenes now evolve and how they will feed back into electronic music globally.

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Musical migrations: Cholos in Japan

Culture moves in mysterious ways. The Huffington Post this week ran a little feature on the presence of Mexican-American chicano or cholo culture, music, fashion and lifestlye in Japan. Its beginnings can apparently be traced to the emergence of lowrider culture (Lowrider magazine has over 70,000 readers in Japan!) and the lifestyle that comes with it. However, for the past few years the scene has grown to include homegrown chicano or cholo fashion, music and language.

One of the key names attributed to pushing Mexican-American music in Japan is Shin Miyata who as a youth spent time living in LA and became fascinated by chicano culture. Upon returning to Japan he set up his own record label Barrio Gold Records and began to release classic chicano albums from the Rampart Records back catalogue by the likes of Quetzal, El Chicano,  Little Willie G and more. This, combined with the strong lowrider scene in the country contributed to the emergence of a small but seemingly thriving Japanese chicano sub-culture.

In more recent times Japanese chicanos have sought inspiration from the cholo hip-hop scene, giving way to the emergence of chicano rap groups whose lyrics move between Spanglish and Japanese and who dress in stereotypical cholo style. As rapper Cuete Yeska said of the scene in Japan a while back:

Last night I was on myspace, there’s a guy named Ese Lil Night, he gave me a message saying that I cant wait for your CD to come out, all my vatos and all the hynas out here cant wait to see you in Japan, we got your back Cuete. Wow, when I read that, these guys were talking to me in my language. He was Chicanoed out! He had locs on, he had the clothing. Now, they look like eses more than I ever would have imagined, they just down with the music.

Another wonderfully strange cultural movement: from Mexican-American sub-culture to Japanese-Mexican-American sub-culture. To finish, not really chicano but a Japaenese version of Murder She Wrote riddim.

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Songs For Desert Refugees

Over the past few months Mali has faced one of it’s worst crises since the 1960s. In January secular Tuareg rebels rose up against the national army calling for a separate Tuareg state. The uprising was quickly seized upon by foreign backed Islamist factions and Al Qaeda fighters who since pushed out the rebels and now control the biggest cities in the north.

According to a recent Al Jazeera report (a good background on the current situation)

“Northern Mali has imploded from a mix of poverty, drought, guns, corruption, marginalisation – and destabilisation following the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi – while the primary vector of this chaos remains the long-suffering Tuareg populace.”

After nearly six months of conflict, the north faces further destabilisation and violence while the Islamist factions are now imposing Sharia law across the region. In a worrying report by the great Sahel Sounds blog the northern town of Gao is nearly empty while Sonrai percussionist said this of the Islamist control over Gao:

“They’re redefining the city and changing the past, destroying historic sites as idols and burning instruments they consider harem. The electricity is out, food is expensive, and there is hardly anyone left.”

These events have inevitably led to mass Tuareg exodus from the area with families fleeing to refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso. The people have lost the little they already had, provoking the area’s worst humanitarian crisis for years. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 280,000 people have been driven from their land. As always, it is the local people, the poor Tuareg nomads and families, already impoverished by drought and overlooked by the national government, who will suffer most from this conflict.

Tomorrow Glitterhouse Records will release “Songes for Desert Refugees” a benefit compilation of unreleased Tuareg music from across Mali, Niger and Algeria including names such as Tinariwen, Tamikrest, Bombino, Faris and more. It also features sleeve notes from UK journalist (and former Tinariwen manager) Andy Morgan. All proceeds from the album will go to two NGOs TAMOURDRÉ  and ETAR who are working directly with refugees from North Eastern Mali.

Mali’s strife does not seem likely to end soon and while the international community decides what steps to take, regional African coalition ECOWAS is already readying military intervention in the north while experts have warned the country could become the “next Somalia”.

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Esperando el Tsunami Outtakes

Since Lulacruza and Vincent Moon returned from their ambitious Esperando el Tsunami project, which set out to capture the soul of Colombia’s musical landscape, we have been treated to a steady stream of material. The latest offerings from the project are these three ‘outtakes’ from Colombian musicians, recorded during the trip. Each outtake is accompanied by a bio, the video and even audio files (all available for free and for distribution). With Lulacruza & Moon as the facilitators, these snippets offer a wonderful little insight into three very different strands of Colombian music.

After the release of the film and these teasers, you get the feeling they are still sitting on a mountain of golden footage and recordings (we still haven’t heard much about the album itself). What I really love about this project is the way the whole thing is presented, the beautifully designed website, the quality of the videos and the way the material is released, bit by bit. It is done with a real finesse and sits as a thoughtful homage to Colombia and its music – a project worth heralding.

Aterciopelados – Mothership Andean Roots


Son Palenque – Legendary Roots of Champeta 


Jorge Henriquez – The lonely voice of the desert

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John Peel’s Record Collection Online

It has been nearly 8 years since the legendary DJ John Peel passed away, but a new project is undertaking the worthy task of digitalising his renowned collection of over 25,000 vinyl LPs, 40,000 vinyl singles and thousands of CDs. The Space is an ” “interactive online museum” that today revealed the first 100 albums from Peel’s collection, starting with the first As and including the likes of Acid Mothers Temple, Adam & The Ants, Abdel Gadir Salim and Abba. The project aims to upload the details of the first 100 albums, listed alphabetically, from each letter of the alphabet each week.

It is a really well-made, interactive site that lets you explore Peel’s collection and is fleshed out with audio clips, photos, video and info on the brilliant collection of “Peel sessions”. Though the music isn’t currently streamable, which would be an added bonus, most of the albums have Spotify links (if you can still stand to use the service!) The collection gives you a look into Peel’s boundless passion for all genres of music. Once complete, it will be a great place to fill the gaps in your collection, discover a forgotten classic or just take a chance on something you’ve never heard of, happy in the knowledge that it was good enough to make it into John Peel’s archive.

It is good to see this wonderful resource get the treatment it deserves and a testament to one of the most important figures in the recent history of UK music, John Peel.

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