The recent influence of African Music on the American music scene and music market

by Omar Azam
The Globalization of American Society
Professor Anderson

Music is a strange and complex thing; historically, it has no tangible roots, and no obvious direction. Its structure and form take completely different shape from society to society, from one time period to the next. American music is an enigma in itself. Our culture is its own salad bowl of social, cultural, and political traditions, and our country's music has just as diverse of a background. While American music began mostly from Northern European traditions, it was slowly transformed by immigrants who came from Southern and Eastern Europe, and eventually from China and Japan. While these atypical immigrants influenced the musical styles of the time, African-Americans, during and after slavery, took on an increasingly important role in the development of popular American music. By the beginning of the 20th century, American music, popular and experimental, had permutated greatly from its original Northern European roots.

With the advent of swift and economical intercontinental travel and communication, musicians from around the world came to America to experiment with existing genres and to create new ones. Meanwhile, foreign musicians abroad tried to market their music in the U.S. while training visiting American musicians in their native styles. After the 1960's, this cosmopolitan attitude picked up, as bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones used African and Indian instruments to complement the existing rock and roll sound. Folk music and dance music also picked up foreign vibes. Now, wit h -world music' in fashion, risk-taking musicians are looking for ways to bring music out of its original context. Be it through fusion of a foreign musical genre with another, or through strict international marketing of foreign music, musicians and the music industry are looking for ways to 'globalize' the American music scene in one way or another. Recently, (past the '70's) pure continental African music has been exerting more of an outright musical influence on the American music scene and market than ever before. The American music industry sees market potential, and many interested musicians see original, passionate, complex music that has yet to be fully discovered by the American and European world. And for just as many reasons, the American music audience šis also buying into this Africanism; some Americans are interested in the stereotypical dance-ability of some African music styles, while others are becoming aware of the rich instrumental heritage of indigenous African village music. African music, in all its forms, continues to bring itself into contact with every realm of American music. But although the future of this influence seems to be bright, the type of influence that will occur may not be very advantageous to African musicians and their music as a whole; while some musicians show genuine respect for African music, it often winds up misunderstood and stereotyped musically, politically, and socially by the majority of American people. But to understand these negative side effects caused by the sharing of musical cultures, we must first examine the way in which African music has lately been involved with American music.

The recent history of African musical influence has played a large part in encouraging the current trend toward African musical appreciation. Since the '80's, there have been continuous landings on U.S. shores of the best guitar sounds from Zaire, township rhythms from South Africa, and many other styles from dozens of African regions. The result has been soaring levels of music imports from Africa. This barrage of African material first came to Europe, and now it has found its way into the American scene. Accompanying the new sounds have been performances and musical events focusing on new African sounds. These are becoming more and more common also (Labate 18).

The original African musicians who came to the U.S. helped pave the way, and a perfect example of such a musician is Remi Kabaka, who is one of Afro-rock's avant-garde drummers. In the early '70's, he laid the initial drum patterns that created the Afro-rock sounds in bands such as Ginger Baker's Airforce, the Rolling Stones, and Steve Winwood's Traffic. He worked with Winwood, Paul McCartney (of the Beatles and Wings), and Mick Jagger (of the Rolling Stones) in the '70's, and now has a home in Lagos and another in New York (Highet 3,18). What made Remi different from other African ensemble musicians was his dedication to promoting African music, not just playing 'African-sounding' music for others. His quest to spread 'highlife' (a type of African) music started a long time ago. By 1984, he had seen European kids finally playing African music: 'They have congas and timbales, they even play African chords' (18,19). When Remi played in the '70's, companies didn't know how to market African music; it was a bad business market. For example, companies would say 'yes' to musicians like him, the band would work in awful conditions to produce an album, and then the companies would back out. Now, however, Remi plays in Albert Hall (a prominent London concert hall ) and makes highlife crusades in Europe. He turns on Capital Radio and hears 'African-style music.' And even though it's becoming fashionable now, it was due in part to the work of pioneers like him.

Kabaka could have melted into the international scene quite easily by doing disco, or staying a sessionman or ace drummer. But he always kept to the goal of African music, and fronted risky bands with African sounds. In 1985, Kabaka was doing more albums with Winwood and was also playing with the famous Osibisa (his group). Kabaka acknowledges the important place of native Africans in the development of African fusion; according to him, his work in America with legendary flugelhornist Hugh Masekela cannot just be duplicated by interested American musicians, even African-Americans who 'have usually been playing jazz and funk so long, they've lost that African vibe.'

Another African musical contingent which has played into the American scene has been The Master Musicians of Jajouka, a group who was recognized by some Americans as early as the 1950's. They are a group of musicians descended from a long line of music nobility. The Master Musicians have been around for over two decades, and their musical traditions date back over 400 years. From the foothills of Morocco, they were first revered by the beat expatriates of Tangier in the 50's, then by the Rolling Stones, particularly the late Brian Jones. Their music is a 'thundering transporting choral of undulating drones and shrill, ecstatic fanfares performed on an oboe-like horn called the ghaifa and underscored with mesmeric circular rhythms' (Frizke 52). Brian Jones attempted to showcase their talent through the 1968 record, Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, but in the process of drenching the recordings in a 'gelatinous pool of stereo phasing' he corrupted their natural-sounding music. His fit of psychedelic enthusiasm was finally redeemed two decades later, in The Master Musicians' Apocalypse Across the Sky, their first major label recording since then. In Apocalypse, the Musicians dramatic open-air clarity finally shines through (57). If The Master Musicians had not released Apocalypse, their musical tradition would have been misunderstood by Americans for a long time. History is full of disastrous misrepresentations of foreign traditions. In this case, Brian Jones's 'alteration' completely changed the mood and substance of The Master Musicians' material.

Misrepresentation often leads to stereotyping, and Americans do have a good number of stereotypes of African music, thanks to musical history. Many musical traits in North American pop music, such as ;Blue Notes,' call and response, improvisation and syncopation, are commonly believed to be African in origin, but are actually found in indigenous European music as well (Celtic in particular). But these traits are attributed to Africa because at the time, these musical traits were spurned by the late 19th century bourgeois conceptions of European musical traditions. Roland Schmitt, German radio journalist, writes in his paper, 'Hot, Hotter Africa: Stereotypes in the (re) presentation of African pop music in German and European media,' that stereotypes like these make it extra hard for African pop music practitioners to achieve any great success on the European pop music circuit [or the North American one] (Abo 53,54).

A typical European stereotype of African music is that it uses only a few instruments like the tom-toms and stick percussion. Also, many people assume that blues, soul, and other R & B styles have much to do with the African continent although they, at best, are permutations of real African song (Watts 50). Finally, many non-Africans think African music can only be used for dance; while the dance music industry has taken advantage of powerful African drum patterns, African music is not just a rhythmically-based one. It is the diverse music of an entire continent and there can be few generalizations made about it.

The summer of 1984 saw a London series of concerts highlighting Britain and Europe's re-awakening to African music. The bouncy, free-flowing 'soukous' rhythms of Zaire and the refined 'mbalax' sounds of Senegal were in full swing during the showcase. This series of regular African music nights at a top London venue featured a different artist flown in from Africa or Europe each week. The idea was conceived at a very low level, by a local entrepreneur. He convinced Stern's (London's leading African music center) and the Greater London Council (through an Anti-Racism Campaign) to fund the concert series (50). In 1984, African music was still not a major business in Europe and America, so men like the local entrepreneur had to initiate dealings with African musicians themselves.

Reggae, popularized by men like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, has a peculiar place in African musical history because it is almost a pure African style, yet its originally successful proponents were invariably of Caribbean origin. Marley helped make a reggae international breakthrough in the '70's, but his death in the early '80's left the genre with a void that was incompletely filled by other musicians until Sunny Ade rekindled interest with his 1983 London debut shows (51). By now, each African country has its own reggae group, each with a diverse style, and each proclaiming, 'This is African music' (emphasis added). The Ivorian band, Alpha Blondy, Sunny Okosun, Majek Fashek, and Toure Kunda are a few of Africa's reggae musicians (Ewens 2137). Now, reggae is an accepted form of African music, but many people are ignorant of the fact that it is only one of the numerous styles present in the African continent.

By 1985, African music, coupled with extensive promotion in Europe and America, was poised for a real international breakthrough. African music giants joined in to take shows on the road to Europe and the U.S. Notable artists were Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Segun Adewale, and the great Franco from Zaire (57). European and North American exposure were finally a significant reality. The rest of the '80's saw Ghanaian highlife and other African styles victimized by disco fever, but ultimately recovered by A.B. Crentsil, Pat Thomas, and other expatriate musicians. Also, Osibisa slipped out of the limelight (Ewens 2137). But as a whole, African music was only increasing in international importance.

African music has continued its upward climb through the American charts and throughout the American public, but to understand the root of this development, we must look at the way in which the actual music artistry has been affected by this interplay of musical traditions.

Domestic musicians have reacted to African music in different ways. Randy Weston is a good example of an American composer who has experimented with African music. Born in Brooklyn, the pianist was influenced early-on by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk (Birnbaum 47). He grew up a jazz prodigy, but recording deals and business were tough in New York, so in the early '60's he settled in Tangier, Morocco. While in Africa, Randy ventured through black Africa, made regular performances in Europe, and occasionally returned to the New York jazz scene. Through his extensive travels around the continent, his music has become more African at the deep-structure levels of rhythmic and tonal organization. But, he has maintained a profound appreciation for jazz and has successfully fused jazz and African sounds. His latest album, The Spirits of Our Ancestors, features diverse soloists ranging from Dizzy Gillespie and Idrees Suleiman to Dewey Redman and Billy Harper. Weston has extended African music's fundamental scaffolding of rhythmic lines all the way up through piano, into horns, and down through percussion into the drum set. The American musician's music is profoundly African in feel, but is still deep jazz to its core. Due in part to the wide range of genres inherent in Weston's music, '[It] connects with anyone who hears it' (Palmer, 'The Spirits' 108).

Mickey Hart, drummer for the psychedelically inventive American band, the Grateful Dead, put out an album with a supergroup of percussionists from Nigeria, Brazil, and India. Planet Drum stayed on top of Billboard's charts for over three months. As '[i]indigenous music is being brought into the digital age' (Garcia 58), Mickey Hart has been promoting fusion between East and West, old and new. On Planet Drum, cultural and temporal barriers drop. Says Guy Garcia, a music journalist for Time, the album is 'a rollicking time machine, at once archaic and up-to-the-second, primal and technologically smart.' Says Hart of his interest in Third World musical traditions: 'This is not a bunch of savages killing chickens and howling at the moon. These are people...who are virtuosos in their own right....We are looking for the rhythms of the 21st century.'

Henry Kaiser and David Lindley are two American guitar phenoms whose encounter with African music was a little different. The two decided to venture off to record the music of Madagascar, and now, one year later, are both championing 'one of the most complex styles of music on the planet' (Ouellette 'Kaiser's' 11). The result of the experience was a collection of five CD's and an invitation from the Americans to two of the island's most renowned musicians to tour the States with them. Rossy, a 31 year-old pop superstar, and Rakoto Frah, an older flute master, toured the West Coast in a variety of settings. The performances were extremely successful, and highlighted the talents of both musicians evenly; the concert included slower numbers from the highlands along with the more widely-known rhythmically- charges tunes from the hot coastal areas. Most importantly, both of the Americans left the Malagasy musicians to their work and let them portray the heart and soul of the music. Except for a few tasteful solos, Kaiser and Lindley remained in the background and exhibited a degree of patience rarely found in American musicians' attempts at fusion. This was very different from the approach of other North American or European pop stars, who often use African music styles as 'window dressings' for their own projects (e.g. Paul Simon, who will be discussed later). This project, therefore, was more in the tradition of a Peter Gabriel-sponsored collaboration on his 'Real World' label series.

World music has gradually been seeping into the Western pop mainstream, and this world music craze has helped expose African music But although many American pop stars have been influenced directly or indirectly by African music, many less have pursued their interest. Among the major innovating rock stars are David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, and Paul Simon. David Byrne helped pioneer the fusion of rock and third world traditions with his band, Talking Heads. He also has founded Luaka Bop, a label that has released compilations and samplers of authentic African music. Peter Gabriel, another revered musician, successfully founded the Real World label (discussed earlier), and has helped numerous musicians from around the world spread their music. In the late '80's, Paul Simon released two albums which had a profound effect upon the Western world's music audience. Graceland (1986) and The Rhythm of the Saints (1990), brought South African and Brazilian folk styles to a mass audience (Garcia 58). But despite the fact that Simon's music relied heavily on foreign musicians and their culture, he ultimately never gave the foreign music the full respect it deserved. A detailed study of the album will shed light on the way that African music styles comes into play with their American counterparts.

Graceland was a turning point for Afropop. The album helped open ears to African music. But the victorious album had questionable character. The first issue has to do with the politics involved with the record. Graceland was recorded in South Africa in contravention of the UN's and the African National Congress's policies for foreign artists to boycott South Africa and the cultural events sponsored by the South African regime. The issue arose whether or not the use of performing arts in this manner was detrimental to efforts to bring official racism to an end in South Africa. In general, Simon was reprimanded for his apparent disrespect to anti-apartheid lobbyists, but there was irony in this scolding considering the political effects that came about from Graceland. Dr. David Coplan of SUNY, Westbury, made a strong case for anti-apartheid activists to reconsider their policies. During an international music conference in Ghana, he pointed out that while Simon's 'adventure' was condemned in many anti-apartheid circles, it was successful in two ways. First, it brought, through mass media, South African pop music to a worldwide audience (but also to the disposal of the South African regime). Secondly, it provided working material for astute anti-apartheid musicians like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. They employed the same South African exposure that the regime had used against them. In a display of anti-apartheid attitude, Paul Simon, Masekela, and Makeba threw a live concert in Zimbabwe, watched by then-Prime Minister Robert Mugabe and other important government ministers and state officials (Abo 52,53). The concert, along with all the anti-apartheid fervor surrounding it, portrayed Simon as a musician who really cared about the political situation of Africa, but upon closer examination this does not shine so clear.

In fact, Simon's Graceland was devoid of any political overtones, and it did not even address the apartheid issue. There are no semantic references to apartheid in Graceland, and there is minimal general reference to South Africa in the lyrics or graphics at all; the front cover depicts an Ethiopian effigy (Meintjes 39). The album is full of beautiful music but it is completely oblivious to the precarious political situation of the South African musicians working in it. The liberal attitude of Simon's public stance toward the relationship of politics and art is conveyed in the following statement made during an interview in Zimbabwe:

...I am not a South African and cannot choose, as a public personality, a specific political party in South Africa....The only sentiment I really feel I should express on the issue is that as far as all political parties are concerned...they should not tell me how I should play or write my music.

Simon seems to be defending the integrity of music, but is this going a little bit far? Although the musical virtue of the album was 'saved' by not mixing politics with the music, was it befitting for such a globally influential musician to ignore the frightening existence of his coworkers?

In addition to the tainted political stance of the album, even the anti-apartheid concerts that took place with it were not done for solely humanitarian reasons. Stan Rijven, a Dutch journalist, made a provocative analysis of the various pop music events outside of South Africa, especially the ones that took place in North America and Europe. Although they were intended as contributions to the struggle against apartheid, personal ambitions sometimes undermined the anti- apartheid posture (57). For the most part, though, the general call on all foreign cultural workers not to visit may not have been in the best interest of the worldwide struggle against the evils of apartheid. As a result, the political consequences of Simon's album may not have been harmful after all. But if we take a look at Simon's prototypical album from other viewpoints, the implications are not always so positive.

According to ethnomusicologist Louise Meintjes, the album's production and marketing style were deliberately planned to promote the idea of 'collaboration' on various musical and sociopolitical levels. As a result, the 'musical collaboration that takes place in the album is subsequently valued or criticized by some listeners in terms of how they value or criticize the social collaboration between races that takes place on the actual album. On the other hand, other listeners who adhere to a bourgeois aesthetic principle may evaluate the musical collaboration without paying regard to the social implications of the actual recording process. The political dynamics of the music's meaning, therefore, remains highly ambiguous. But Simon argues that even though he consulted prominent anti-apartheid musicians before embarking on the project, that he had no politics in mind at all:

I didn't say 'I'd love to bridge cultures somewhere in the world, and mmm...where? Maybe South Africa.' No, I just fell in love with the music....My view is instinctually [sic] cultural....There's a political implication [in Graceland ] but essentially I come at the world from a cultural sociological point of view, and they [his...critics] want to define the world politically' (Meintjes 39).

As in the last quote, Simon gives light to the fact that he is not a politically slanted musician, like so many today. But his stark separation of culture and politics is not very accurate given the nature of a problem like apartheid, which has cultural and political roots within South African history.

In addition to the political ethics problem involved with Graceland's South African influence, Meintjes also sheds light on the 'collaboration' theme discussed earlier from a more strictly musical point of view. There is no doubt that the album is very musically interesting; it is skillfully crafted, superbly produced, and is played by master musicians. It was also the latest and greatest in a continuing trend of collaboration between South African musicians and North American stars; others include Talking Heads' Remain in Light (1980), Peter Gabriel's So (1986), and Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels (1989). But there is something more 'politically correct' about Graceland:

there is a deliberate effort to convey a sense of mutual cooperation and benefit in the composition and production of Graceland--in the...tour organization, in the integration of musical styles and languages, and in the metacommentary about all of these aspects... (Meintjes 40)

For example, in the liner notes of the most collaboratively-inspired songs, Simon describes the process involved in its composition. But this song, 'Homeless,' is the only one for which he really does this; On a number of tracks, musicians were paid just to play prearranged music, and were not given a chance to co-write the songs (41). This fact takes away from the image that Graceland tries to promote, of a group of musicians who all had the chance to participate in the act of musical creation.

The extensive tour that followed the release of Graceland also attempted to highlight Paul Simon's commitment to his co-workers and his image as a humanistic and well-intentioned collaborator. The tour promoted South African music and its proponents, and had a positive effect on the artists and their newfound U.S. audience.

The actual stylistic and musical integration that takes place in Graceland is very intricate and once again, is aimed at conveying a sense of intercultural collaboration. For example, in the song 'You Can Call Me Al,' two major instruments that are used are the pennywhistle and the bass guitar. Each of these instruments references a different African music style. The pennywhistle is representative of the music style kwela, the bass guitar is symbolic of the style mbube, and the way they are combined is typical of mbaqanga (43).

Collaboration also takes place at the language level. 'Homeless,' previously mentioned, is also a good example of a song that integrates two linguistic styles; Simon's English and Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Zulu are given alternate sections. The 'too loo loo' vocables -facilitate a linguistic transition from one language to the other, and operate semiotically to reference Zulu tradition (45). While the 'too loo loo' sounds are recognizable to the non-Zulu listener as being similar to those that Simon makes in other songs, the Zulu listener recognizes the similarity to the ceremonial 'thululu' chant used in Zulu societies. Graceland is full of such strategic collaboration to give both the non-African and the African listening audience their pleasure.

A final characteristic that is revealed about Graceland is that much of it precisely lacks collaboration. First and foremost, Simon primarily profits from the project. As producer, principal songwriter, and lead vocalist, he 'dominates the musicmaking process' (47). All the lyrical content makes only indirect references to South Africa, thus 'offering little grounding in the South African musicians' social space.' In the studio and on stage, Simon is the 'star' (not a prevalent African concept), and he tends to draw a line between him and the rest of the band. The result is a diminished sense of harmony, and a reinforced expression of differentials--'crucial differentials for the maintenance of apartheid (48). The more commercialized the process of intercultural musicmaking becomes, the harder it is to be equitable and fair. This is because the American music industry tends to restrain collaborative projects. The music industry is organized to promote hierarchical, competitive, profit-oriented work, and intercultural exchange is often experimental and deals with many parties that are not interested in, or cannot afford, pop music/big money status. It is hard to interest many American musicians in risk-taking musicmaking when there is easy money to be made through 'smash hits.'

It is now time to look at another side of African music's recent influence: foreign artists in the U.S. But before we actually examine the latest from Africa, it is important to understand how the American music market is responding to this new global music trend. David Byrne gives his insight into the new American taste:

People are becoming aware there are other musical styles besides Western rock and pop that are just as valid....You get tired of turning on the radio, and it sounds like the same producer could have made half the Top 10....You get assaulted by a million different cultures when you walk down the streets of most American cities, and that's not reflected in the music (Garcia 58)

In addition to this new globalism, many people are attracted to world artists' heartfelt intensity--something that is becoming rare in the 'cookie-cutter commercialism of Western rock and pop' (58) Now, after so many American artists (like Simon, Byrne, and Gabriel) have borrowed from and joined with them, third world composers are finally creating cross- cultural fusions of their own. This response from the East is the important new trend in world music. Notably, aside from a few old instruments, the kind of foreign artists that are making it are mostly the modern, not the very traditional. And this new crop of talent is likely to sell many more albums than they would have been able to ten years ago. To be more accurate, ten times more likely.

The number of record companies involved with world music has exploded too. Among them are Luaka Bop, Mango, Real World, Rhythm Safari, and Shanachie. Shanachie Records was one of the first U.S. companies to tap a diverse range of African village music. Major labels are catching on to the trend, so the translation is big business. Polygram's Verve label is signing on the South African stars, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, and Sony's Columbia is distributing the music of Senegal's Youssou N'Dour (Labate 18).

African music comprises a small percentage of sales in the U.S. music market, but when one looks at Billboard's World Music Chart, it is often dominated by Africans. National Public Radio is helping Americans get the beat by broadcasting Afropop Worldwide to over 200 stations weekly (18). The final indicator of America's approval can be found in the fact that the Grammy's now have, for the first time, a Best New World Music category (Garcia 58).

One problem that the American public has found with African music is, obviously, the language barrier. Georges Collinet, a disc jockey from Cameroon, hosts NPR's Afropop. He thinks that in America, '...I'm afraid they're going to have to start singing in English, because people accept it much better' (Duncan 76). Collinet also points out another problem that Americans may have with African music: 'It's usually out of tune! But...to be in tune or out of tune is perhaps a notion of the European civilization. In Africa what counts is the rhythm, the dance, and the soul that pours out' (77). Sean Barlow, producer of the Afropop series, believes that America is finally catching up with the rest of the world:

You know, you'd travel around Africa and you hear the older musicians talking about Duke Ellington...and James Brown. They'd always say how come your people don't know anything about our music?, and I would...say, it's a sad situation. But I think finally, the U.S. is opening up to the fact that there's a two way street going on here (75).

Aster Aweke is an Ethiopian singer who had always dreamt of becoming a U.S. star. That's because her whole life she had always listened to modern American performers like Donna Summer. In February 1992, Aster's latest album, Kabu, reached number four on Billboard's world music chart. The album is a fresh mix of Ethiopian folk and jazz and pop. And although most U.S. fans can't understand her words, 'Americans say, 'We don't know what you're talking about, but we can follow; we feel you there'' (Garcia 58).

As mentioned earlier, the African music that is catching the American public's fancy is often not African'roots' music of the record section at the local library. Instead, it is a new breed of crossover called Afropop. The term is absurdly general in that it covers contemporary pop music of an entire continent; everything from the soaring Islamic vocals and 'mbalax' dance grooves of Senegal to the singing guitars of Zimbabwe. Afropop is percussion-based, and it takes on various new forms that are mixes of traditional African music with U.S. pop, rock, and R & B. And modern electric guitars, synthesizers, and drum sets are joining or replacing the traditional instruments. Afropop has been thriving in Europe, especially Paris; it is now starting to explode in the U.S. One time hits of the '60's and '70's (Hugh Masekela's 'Grazing in the Grass,' and Manu Dibango's 'Soul Makossa') have given way to even more intense interest in Afropop (Duncan 75).

Some say that Afropop will eventually assimilate with American pop, and will lose its essence; Youssou N'Dour, Senegalese superstar, feels that fusion has its small price and reward: 'It's true that technology is here, and it's true that when you start working in the studios with modern technology, you lose something. But, with experience, you win something also' (76). N'Dour also feels that the language barrier is not a problem for Afropop. 'Music has no language....I think at first people get upset about the language, but that will pass.' Opera, for example, is appreciated by many who do not understand the language. Perhaps this tolerance will occur with African music.

During the '80's, this African pop music spread across the globe, challenging Western preconceptions and winning new audiences, thus establishing a firm base for future growth. Outside Africa, the major stars of virtually every productive country showed their wares, and brought audiences in Europe, North America, and Japan. Francophone musicians have led the way: Senegal's N'Dour, Toure Kunda, and Baba Maal; Mali's Keita; Guineans Mory Kante, and Les Amazones; C÷te d'Ivoire's Alpha Blondy; Cameroon's Dibango; Gabon's Pierre Alandengve; and Zaire's OK Jazz and Kanda Bongo Man. Non-'francophone' musicians include Nigeria's Fela, Ade, and Obey; Ghana's Darko; Old masters E.T. Mensah; and Sierra Leonean palm-wine guitarist S.E. Rogie (Ewens 2136).

European audiences are prepared for 'world music,' and they have a taste for the contemporary roots fusions of the Savelians, like Mory Kante, who broke into the European singles charts. Accompanying him is Salif Keita, whose Amen stayed #1 for twelve weeks. Salif mixes Western guitars and drums with the native-sounds of the stringed kora and the xylophone- like balaphone (Garcia 58). Along with these two performers, Youssou N'Dour, who performed on Amnesty International's Tour, has gotten the most recording contracts and international exposure (Ewens 2137).

Roots music is still acknowledged by the popularity of delicate kora music, and by Mandingo Criots from the Gambia, Senegal, Mali, and Guinea. A t  rend of compromise started following Sunny Ade's three album deal with Island records. Since then, African artists have had to compromise their music for market demands; Ade's juju, N'Dour's mbalax, Kante's kora, and Keita's griot were all heavily reprocessed hi-tech listening. This compromise alienates the musicians' cultures and their native audiences (2137).

Taking Youssou N'Dour as an example, we will explore the situation of a typical young African star. N'Dour had a European and American following since '88's Amnesty International tour with Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, Sting, and other pop stars. N'Dour thinks Afropop in the world music scene is inevitable:

We, the latest generation of African musicians, are a little more open. We know a little more about things outside of Africa, so we've mixed things from the U.S. with African tradition. People...are open to it, especially the rhythm (Duncan 74).

The Senegalese singer/songwriter 'respect[s] tradition very much, but [he's] not just a roots musician.' Known for his amazing ululating voice, N'Dour has been trying to marry first and third world music since his first collaborations with Peter Gabriel in the mid-'80's. His first major label albums presented an extraordinary singer confused on how (or whether) to adapt while still delivering the mbalax rhythm that made him a hit back home. But on his latest album, Eyes Open, N'Dour creates a context with large fusion possibilities. It is pointedly cosmopolitan, epic-sized, and it lays claim to a universe of pop, but never drops its West African accent (McLane 67).

'New Africa,' the first song on N'Dour's album, is filled with modern synthesizers, ancient talking drums, and choppy guitars. It has an R&B mood. 'Africa Remembers' is reggae-paced, yet has jazzy sax solos intertwined with the African sound. 'No More' is a spare acoustic ballad accompanied by a flamenco-style guitar. N'Dour even sings in tongues, his Arabic-inflected wail switching from English to Woluf (native tongue) to French, in the same phrase! N'Dour's new album is a tremendous success. It is '90's sharp. yet is the extension of a 500 year-old tradition. N'Dour's music, like his native Senegal, is a crossroads connecting Europe with West Africa, Christianity with Islam.... -N'Dour's Eyes Open is the Senegalese mix, updated for the global bazaar' (67).

N'Dour successfully blends new with old, but many African artists may be tempted to trade in their cultural respect for a commercialized prepackaged album. Collinet, the Afropop deejay, thinks this is a possibility. As a result, 'I believe [music] is going to blend more and more into one type of African sound, a pan-African sound.' Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, has lived in the U.S. over forty years, and realizes that to prevent this from happening, '[w]e must realize that going through the process of acculturation is not so easy; we have to be careful that we don't get so involved in the modern tradition that we forget the past....[m]ake a marriage' (Duncan 76-77). 

For many African musicians, getting their music out to the world is very important because of the political nature of their song. Despite its anti-apartheid success, this is one facet of modern African song that Paul Simon ignored on Graceland. Many African musicians see music as a political and social force. According to Mbongeni Ngema, writer and director of the South African broadway hit, 'Sarafina,' 'The more voices that can be heard, then maybe it can help influence the larger community in South Africa, and in the outside world to change things in South Africa' (75).

African musicians have a definite goal in spreading their music. They are spreading influence, and they are also changing from their new contacts with America and American music. In tandem, American musicians are becoming increasingly interested in African music; let us hope that they can preserve the integrity of African music without succumbing to the market's and the music industry's demands. The interplay between the two cultures will most likely increase in the '90's, and hopefully the two traditions, no matter how they fuse, complement, and play off of one another, will retain mutual respect.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Omar Azam

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