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All that Jazz: Sept. 2009

Imbube, Mbalax, Jiti, Kizomba, Apala, Soukous, Taarab and Highlife. Sound familiar? These are not brands of beer, but rather the styles of African music that in one way or another have influenced the formation of blues and jazz.

Last issue’s “Hot Sounds for Summer” showcased Vienna’s Jazz Fest, which featured one particular incarnation of this fusion of influences: Afrobeat. Those of you who witnessed Seun Kuti and the Egypt ’80 at the Rathaus’ Arkadenhof in July experienced the full-blown energy of the genre. If you missed it, no worries; September has more Afrobeat and African-imbued jazz to come.

Afrobeat is a musical cocktail of funk, jazz, and African polyrhythm. Songs can last for upwards of 25 minutes, with an infectious groove continuing throughout the song. This style was created by Seun’s father, Nigerian trumpet and saxophone player Fela Kuti, after a trip to the United States in the late 1960s. Musically, Fela was steeped in the Highlife style popular in London and influenced by American jazz and James Brown’s funk; politically, he became inspired by the U.S. civil rights movement and the Black Panthers he met in Los Angeles. Fela returned to Nigeria with new musical and social influences that became Afrobeat. Despite Fela’s passing from AIDS in 1997, the essence of the music he created still lives on in his sons Seun and Femi, as well as countless groups around the world.

Seun Kuti’s performance in July possessed all the trademarks of his father’s style. Despite a late start due to a delayed flight from Paris, the band came on strong wearing T-shirts proclaiming “Afrobeat Rules”. The band established a cadence with members of the horn section trading solos before Seun and the backup singers made their entrance onto the stage. You could tell from the moment that he appeared on the stage that Seun is a product of his father’s music and style. Dancing and flailing his arms wildly about on stage, Seun looked much like his father. The band’s performance was solid throughout the night, maintaining a groove that kept the audience dancing and on their feet throughout the entire set.

The one encore left the crowd crying for more; and that chance will come on Sep. 19 when another innovator of Afrobeat rattles the stage at Porgy & Bess: Tony Allen.

Whereas Fela forged the message and charismatic performance of the music, drummer Tony Allen directed the musicians, numbering anywhere from ten to twenty. These days, Allen continues the Afrobeat tradition with his group’s latest albums Lagos No Shaking and this year’s Secret Agent. With “only” seven other musicians this time, the modest stage of Porgy & Bess will surely be packed to the gills and pumping.

Allen’s show is just one succulent serving on the plate of African offerings in the second annual “Began in Africa” series running Sept. 18-24. Danish guitarist Pierre Dørge kicks off the event with his New Jungle Orchestra, one of the most authentically African groups not wholly of African origin.

The Sunday concert features a screening of outh African film Yesterday, followed by music from the film performed by Madosini Manquina. Deemed the “Queen of South Africa’s Pondoland Music,” Manquina is a master of the musical bow, a cousin of Brazil’s berimbau, and sings in the Xhosa language (yes, that’s one of the famous clicking languages; click the X) Her jazz ensemble founded by floutest Pedro Espi-Sanchez in 2005, Madojazz, builds up these traditions and takes you back to the times of sitting around a campfire under a star-studded night.

Dakar guitarist Oumar Ndije Xosluman brings his Senegalese repertoire and twenty years of experience as a songwriter to stage on Sept. 21 in a double-bill with Ugandan kora picker Joel Sebunjo. Backed by the Sundiata trio of guitarist Samuel Otaala, bassist Bukko Brite and djembe player Abbey Ntambi, this young Ugandan reflects pan-African styles from Mbalax (Senegalese dance music) to Mali blues, as well as traditional influences heard on the radio in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

The legerdemain of Sebunjo’s touch on the kora will explode into thumping basslines from Cameroonian Etienne Mbappé the next evening. A former member of Joe Zawinul’s Syndicate, the Paris-bred bassist fuses Makossa, Bolobo and Sékélé styles from Cameroon, and has toured with Salif Keita and the French National Jazz Orchestra. Catch him here before he joins up with jazz guitar legend John McLaughlin.

Host and organizer of these concerts, Vusa Mkhaya performs on the penultimate evening. Hailing from Zimbabwe, he teams up with Congolese guitarist and crooner Pascal Papi Lopongo, Austrian pianist Roland Guggenbichler and German percussionist Stephan Maass, creating a well-blended and multi-cultural musical cocktail. Also on slate for that evening, Burkinabè balafon player Mamadou Diabate with his Afro-Austrian formation Bekadiya.

Elsewhere, Mkhaya, Guggenbichler and Diabate will be on preview at Sargfabrik on Sept. 17 in a very unique set-up. The Mozuluart ensemble will meld Mozart compositions with three-part Mbube harmonies from Zimbabwe for a fusion that works remarkably well, reminding us that music surely must be the universal language.

So while summer is waning, hot sounds will live on in the ethos of jazz-inspiring African melodies and rhythms in Vienna’s jazz halls.

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