This is the third feature in a series we’re calling “Fresh Cuts.” It’s a selection of newly released tracks and videos from across Africa and the diaspora, featuring established and up-and-coming artists and everything in between. Today we’ve got, among other things, rhymes and beats from London, Ghana, Dominican Republic and Cameroon, some entrancing electrified Ugandan folk music and slick electro-pop from Namibia. And, in case you missed them, also check out “Fresh Cuts” Vol. One and Two! Enjoy!
Calypso Rose: “Leave Me Alone” with Manu Chao and Machel Montano
Big up to Brooklyn, big up to T&T! Trinidad and Tobago’s long-reigning queen of calypso, Calypso Rose, is at it again with a marvelous collabo with soca king Machel Montano and globe-trotting musical legend Manu Chao. The video for this track is such a gem, flipping between the raucous scene of Trinidad’s 2016 Carnival and shots of Rose in Brooklyn leading up to our own 2016 Labor Day Parade. For those who’ve walked down Fulton St. in Brooklyn in the vicinity of Nostrand Ave., you’ll recognize some Trinidadian landmarks: Ali’s Trinidad Roti Shop and the legendary Charlie’s Calypso City, where Calypso Rose dances in the stacks. Montano and Rose trade vocals and Chao only pops in towards the very end with a little bit of the chorus. This one will melt your winter day right away with some Caribbean sunshine.
Nadia Rose: “Skwod”
South London in the houuuse! Here’s a track from Nadia Rose’s recently released album, Highly Flammable. There is a brilliant wave of fierce female MCs changing the male-dominated rap game in Britain these days–Stefflon Don, Lady Lykez, Lady Leshurr–and Nadia Rose is right up at the crest of the wave. The 22-year old wordsmith has a love of language (starting with recreational dictionary reading as a kid) and a versatile flow, layering on rhymes and double meanings, sometimes in patois, sometimes in a rambling banter like Lady Leshurr. Rose is the child of a broad-minded DJ dad with Ghanaian roots who exposed her to all kinds of music, particularly grime and jungle. She is also cousin of a leading British MC, Stormzy, who helped speed her rise to fame–fame that she well deserves. “Skwod” is sings the praises of Nadia Roses’ crew of no-nonsense women, marching down a London street. Check this video and others on her Facebook.
Lady Leshurr: “#UNLESHED 2”
On that note, Lady Leshurr is back with another piece of fire with this track. Following up her Queens Speech series, she’s back with another, darker series she’s calling #UNLESHED. She dives deeper than the playful banter in Queens Speech, talking about fame, money, betrayal, anxiety and the like. You can read more about Lady Leshurr in our first Fresh Cuts.
Jovi: “Ou Meme?”
Here’s a single from multitalented Cameroonian artist Jovi. Hailing from Douala, Jovi is an innovator and boundary-breaker in the local music world. Rap has spread across the world from its birthplace in the Bronx and evolved into a kaleidoscope of styles, and language is, of course the focal point. For rappers across the globe, rhyming in English or other widespread colonial languages has been a sure step towards wider recognition and accessibility. This often–but not always–leaves those using more localized languages to fight harder for fame. Some rappers very intentionally stick to the languages that speak to their location (e.g. Ghana’s Sarkodie, Shatta Wale and EL). Cameroon has both French and English as official languages and a very divisive, painful history of conflict along linguistic lines. Jovi flies over any kind of borders and creates his own place, both cosmopolitan and rooted locally, by rapping in a blend of French, English, pidgin English, Ngemba and Nliimbom (Limbum). Perhaps the first rapper in the country to rap in pidgin, he combines his witty social commentary with premium production skills to craft a unique sound that has roots in hip-hop, trap, r&b, and local bikutsi rhythms.
Jovi’s much-loved first album, H.I.V. (Humanity Is Vanishing), has been followed by a succession of solid releases and collaborations (including with Senegalese star Akon). Those who caught our first Fresh Cuts selection will recognize some of the sounds of this track in the bumping tune “La Sauce” by fellow Cameroonian and collaborator Reniss. “Ou Meme?” is driven by similar bikutsi beats and a lush instrumental environment (which makes sense as “La Sauce” was produced by Jovi) and insistent lyrics from Jovi. His album 16 Wives is due for release soon–check back on New Bell Music for updates.
Wanlov the Kubulor: “Trotro Blues” with Otuntu
Here’s a chill tribute to Ghana’s most popular form of transportation, the trotro. This one’s from the one and only rapper/comedian Wanlov the Kubolor, with a guest feature by Otuntu, off the album Orange Card: Fruitopian Raps. The track is a laid-back, retro hip-hop groove mirrored by a video in grainy film. Wanlov and Otuntu rhyme casually in pidgin about the sounds, sights and sufferings of a daily ride on a trotro. While you’re at it, you might want to check out a very different side of Wanlov in this heavy diss track, aimed at MTVBase for featuring Ghanaian rappers who are, in his opinion, lesser than.
AcentOh and Mediopicky: “Patrimonio”
From the Dominican Republic, AcentOh is breaking through the rap game. The young MC is a rising star with a deep, dark and ruthless flow. Like on this track, “Patrimonio,” he tends to partners with producers who lay down a retro, breakbeat vibe, often with flavors of jazz and soul. Mediopicky, a solid producer also from D.R., is behind the beats on this cut and others with AcentOh like “100.” On “Patrimonio,” AcentOh speaks to the rough journey to success in the music business and brutally disses his competitors in the race. Keep an ear out for his album, Apatheia, out Jan. 30.
One of Ghana’s biggest names in popular music, Kwame Ametepee Tsikata A.K.A. M.anifest, just dropped this hot hiplife/hip-hop track. His incisive, effortless rhymes flow over a lavish beat with a shimmery horn riff and a horn sample that looks back to Fela’s early recordings with Koola Lobitos. M.anifest boasts his greatness in the rap game: “Ghana man, name one better than…None.” Hearing his rhymes, you might have to agree. The rapper’s list of collaborations goes on and on, having toured and recorded with dozens of big names across the musical spectrum since his entry into the music world as an Economics undergrad at Macalester College in Minnesota. As one line in “B.E.A.R.” boasts, he’s even had residencies and lecture gigs at universities in the U.S. and Ghana: “Universities even pay for my keynotes/So even when I quit rap, I won’t be broke.” Always good to have a contingency plan.
Ibrahim Keita: “Selfish” with Soukeïna
Coming at you from Côte d’Ivoire via Washington, D.C., we’ve got a laid-back alternative r&b track from Ibrahim Keita. Keita grew up in Abidjan, moving to D.C. in his teens where he came of age a computer whiz and DIY producer of skateboarding videos around town. He took up piano in high school and eventually left his computer science studies at college to pursue music full-time. Keita founded his own label, Les Autres, and has worked producing artists in the U.S., Côte d’Ivoire and France (including Afropop contributor Deguet Kone A.K.A. Kinté, Le Prince Héritier). This smooth track features production and vocals from Keita, plus vocals from Soukeïna, a soulful Ivoirian singer (and daughter of Alpha Blondy). Ibrahim Keita’s very dope full-length album, 24, just dropped last month. Check it out here.
BecomingPhill: “Tomorrow Love” with Shishani
BecomingPhill is the musical moniker of Tsuutheni Emvula, a boundlessly curious Namibian artist, tech entrepreneur and space-travel enthusiast (his passions merged in a remix of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”). Emvula, as BecomingPhill, has been a producer with remarkable depth and breadth, working with rappers, producers, guitarists around the globe. He draws musical influence from people like J Dilla, whose pioneering production style not only reshaped the sound of hip-hop but also delved into house music, setting up no limits to his creativity. Emvula takes this idea to heart, from his first forays into electronic music production with the Fruity Loops program in his youth, to his recently released album, Electrum, which sounds like an ahead-of-its-time record right out of the ‘80s (maybe emphasized by the cover art). It’s a slick piece of work with an alluring amount of cheesiness. It’s rife with minimalist electro-pop drum lines with reliable snare and handclaps on the upbeats, funky bass riffs and disco synths. Two tracks host guitar solos from Christian Polloni, a French guitarist who played with Papa Wemba, Alpha Blondy and Youssou N’Dour. In the time that Emvula is not making his modern hip-hop/disco pop, he’s giving TED Talks and trying to find ways of developing a viable space program in Namibia. Very cool.
Otim Alpha: “Gang Ber Ki Dako”
This exceptional piece of work exists in a category of its own. Otim Alpha is a musical legend from Gulu, Uganda, but his music has not reached far beyond the country’s borders. He is a pioneer of electronic music, remixing the repetitive vocals, rhythms and bowed strings of Acholi folk music with dancing synths and a high-speed tumble of electronic drum-kit beats. The result is an incredible, hypnotic flood of music that isn’t at all techno or punk but certainly bears some energetic resemblance. Here’s something I could listen to all day long. This track is part of a collection of Alpha’s music that is due for release February 15 on Nyege Nyege Tapes.
Charleston Okafor: “America” (Jake Fader Kokolo Remix)
Charleston Okafor came to the U.S. from his home in Nigeria to study medicine in Kentucky, but was diverted from that path by the powerful force that is MTV. He had long dreamed of a career in music and eventually left university to realize that dream. Now living in Ohio, Okafor has been in the music world for several decades, hosting a radio show, African Abstract, and producing music of his own. His style brings in shades of reggae, dub, Afrobeat, funk and rock under the umbrella of his bristly, untethered voice. Leading up to his recently released album, America, Okafor, in a reversal of norms, released remixes of the songs on that album. The remixes come from his friends and colleagues in the reggae and Afrobeat world. This cut is a remix of the album’s title track done by Jake Fader of Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra, with just the right dose of heavy Afrobeat groove laid over Okafor’s imploring vocals.
Témé Tan: “Ça Va Pas La Tête?”
Tanguy Haesevoets, A.K.A. Témé Tan, was in Kinshasa with a tape recorder in pocket when he came across a group of kids singing in the street. He turned the recorder on and caught a snippet of their song, which he samples in this bubbly, intimate funk-pop tune. He says of the kids, “They did not sing in French but I could almost hear as if they were chanting ‘Ça Va Pas La Tête?’ meaning ‘Are You Out Of Your Mind?.’ I later developed the song around those samples in Guinea Conakry. The guitars and bass were recorded on a very cheap amplifier my dad once bought in a supermarket back in the ’80s.”
Haesevoets is a Belgian with Congolese roots, drawing musical inspiration from his youth in Kinshasa and his travels around the globe, from Guinea to Brazil. He blends soul, electro-pop, hip-hop and “Afro elements” into a vibe you might think of as “groove Afro-pop minimaliste” (minimalist Afro-pop groove). Good vibes for a sunny day.
Skales: “Temper Remix” with Burna Boy
Here’s a suave Afrobeats track that shows that Afrobeat (no “s”) is still strong in the Nigerian musical lexicon. Nigerian stars Skales and Burna Boy’s melodies and words riff on several different Fela Kuti songs, mostly “Sorrow Tears and Blood.” In fact, the track may have a bit too much Fela–the official music video was removed from YouTube recently due to a copyright claim by “Anikulapo Kuti.” Put this one on rotation for your morning commute or during moments of chaos: The chorus of this track advises, “As you enter road, remember, cool your temper.”
Back again with more perpetually beautiful and potent guitar jams, Tamashek rock’s godfathers, Tinariwen, have a single from their forthcoming album, Elwan. It’s apropos that it was released not long before a massive global movement brought millions of people into streets around the world for the Women’s March on Jan. 21. The song, recorded with the rest of the album in the deserts of Joshua Tree National Park in California, is an insistent message of solidarity with oppressed Tamashek women fighting for better lives: “That’s the voice of Tamashek women/searching for their freedom/Those are the thoughts of the old women/living in the Sahara devoid of water…/This is a message for those/who toil for the revolution” (translation provided by band management).
That’s it for Vol. Three, keep your ears open for Vol. Four in a few weeks. Stay strong, be well, and keep groovin’.
Assembled with help from Akornefa Akyea, Morgan Greenstreet, Ben Richmond and Alejandro Van Zandt-Escobar.