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World Music Matters - Electric Vocuhila: the French quartet with taste, and talent, for African rhythms

Electric Vocuhila combine the spirit of free-jazz legend Ornette Coleman with driving urban guitar rhythms like tsapiky from Madagascar or Congolese sebene. They masterfully sew them together on their pulse-raising third album, Palaces.

"I had a long time love for African music and the repetitive motifs used in bebop and free jazz," the band's saxophonist and composer Maxime Bobo told RFI just ahead of the Palaces release party in Paris.

The album is an electrifying patchwork of rhythms like tsapiky, sebene, sungura and benga.

They got into tsapiky after meeting France-based Damily, the king of this fast, electric-guitar led genre which he developed in Tuléar in the 1970s.

"We started to use its grooves and forms," Bobo said. "But doing it our own way, trying to get closer to this kind of 'dancey' feeling and fluidity, but using the saxophone and with the way we interact and compose together."
The saxophonist as a voice
The band went to Madagascar, saw how the professionals did it, and came back inspired.

But their command of other rhythms like Congolese sebene or sungura from Zimbabwe has been garnered "mainly through the internet and YouTube," Bobo admitted. 

Together with the other band members: Boris Rosenfeld (guitar), François Rosenfeld (bass and guitar) Etienne Ziemniak (drums), they weave these rhythms together rather seemlessly.

They are all guitar-led, and yet Bobo plays saxophone.

"I’m much more attracted to these kind of guitar players or singers, the voices in tsapiky, of African styles," he said.

"I connect with this more than with contemporary saxophone players. I guess I’m trying to use the saxophone and to put somewhere between the voice, singing a song, and guitar riffs."
Back to the roots of jazz
Bobo has found inspiration in sax player Ornette Coleman, the father of free jazz. Not so much because of his renowned harmolodics, but his "voice" and the way he let his band members express themselves.

"I loved his music when I heard it in my 20s. His playing is really open with very melodic lines, always rhythmic and warm. It has the feeling of a human voice."

Like many members of the free jazz movement, Coleman looked to the African continents for the roots of jazz.

"He played with the Masters of Joujouka from Morocco. There's one song on the Dancing On Your Head album," Bobo said.

But it was Ed Blackwell, one of the first drummers in Coleman's quartet, who was more connected to Africa and spent more time there. As did Archie Shepp. 

Electric Vocuhila make no claim to ...

World Music Matters - Cult 1984 album 'Sons of Ethiopia' enchants new audiences in 2020

Admas, a quartet of young Ethiopian musicians living in exile in Washington DC, had a ball recording an album of synth-heavy, funked up versions of Ethiopian classics. 'Sons of Ethiopia ' was soon forgotten but became cult among fans of ethiojazz. Now reissued by Frederiksberg Records, it reflects happier times from a generation that "just escaped" the worst of the Derg.

Some records are far more than the sum of their parts, and Sons of Ethiopia is one such.

The seven tracks were recorded in 1984 by the band Admas: Henock Temesgen, Abegasu Shiota, Tewodros “Teddy” Aklilu and Yousef Tesfaye.

Like so many Ethiopian expats in the U.S. at the time, the four young men had fled the Derg: the military junta that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. As the White Terror gave way to the Red Terror, over a million people died in the violence.

Aklilu, the band’s keyboard player, left Addis in 1977, aged 15, just before the worst of the Red Terror began.

“It was so sad, kids killed each other,” he told RFI on the line from Addis. “I went to the U.S. and basically closed my ears for the next two or three years.”

Aklilu closed his ears to the horror, but opened them to exciting new music.

When bass player Henock Temesgen, an old school friend, arrived in Washington DC in 1980 they began playing together.

“It was a very dark time but we found our cocoon, our own friends, playing in each other’s houses. We tried to create our own group, our own happy times,” said Temesgen.
The need to experiment
The two friends played in a band called Gasha and took up residency at the Red Sea, a lively Ethiopian restaurant in Washington.

They would open for big Ethiopian names like Aster Aweke, playing instrumentals to audiences of expats, many of whom had lost friends and family in the civil war.

While they enjoyed traditional Ethiopian music, they immersed themselves in the sounds of their new home with its go go funk, jazz, highlife, samba and roots reggae.

Brazilian jazz fusion band Azymuth, The Crusaders and Spyro Gyra were big influences, they said.

“In DC you got to hear a lot more of what the world has to offer, than in Ethiopia, and it’s very natural that when you hear something you want to experiment with it,” Aklilu explained.

What’s more, there were new tools like Moog keyboards, synthesisers and electric guitars to play with.

Joined by drummer Yousef Tesfaye and ...

World Music Matters - Ennio Morricone: a tribute to the late maestro

Italian composer Ennio Morricone was famed for his film scores but his work straddled jazz, pop, psychedelia as well as the avant-garde, influencing bands as diverse as Air and Metallica.
Ennio Morricone left behind some 500 scores for both film and television.
The theme tune to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is undoubtedly one of the most renowned.

“Just 10 seconds into one of Morricone’s soundtracks, you know it’s him, you know which film it’s from, you can see the pictures,” said French composer Jean-Michel Jarre in the wake of the Italian composer’s death on 6 July.

To recreate this feeling of the American far west, Morricone added on drums, some flute, and of course the "cry" of a coyote.

The trademark whistling came courtesy of Spanish guitarist and whistler Curro Savoye, who now lives in the south of France.

The two men never met, but Savoye was "the" whistler on the vast majority of Morricone’s work.

The film soundtrack also includes “Ecstasy of Gold” – a stirring three-minute orchestral bonanza with drums to set you galloping into the sunset and wordless vocals by Edda Dell’orso with whom Morricone regularly collaborated.

The music is so stirring it became a fetish piece for U.S. band Metallica. Since 1983 they’ve played it to open all their concerts.

They recorded their own version of “The Ecstasy of Gold” for their tribute album to Morricone in 2007, and performed the song themselves for the first time at a 2009 concert in Copenhagen.

Metallica frontman James Hetfield said something special happened when they begun using the piece as their intro music in 1983.  “It set us up for the night and the fans got excited.”

In a tribute to Morricone on Instagram, he said the music had become “part of our blood flow, deep breathing, fist bumping, prayers and band huddle pre-show ritual ever since”.

'Elevated every film he scored'

Morricone wrote scores for six of Sergio Leone’s westerns. Their last collaboration was in 1984 for Once upon a time in America.

It was customary at the time to write the soundtrack before shooting the film, but still, Morricone’s music was so evocative that the director played it on set to conjure up the right atmosphere.

Sergio Leone’s westerns helped make Morricone a household name but the composer’s artistic reach knew no bounds.

Here in France, his biggest hit is the violin-heavy “Chi Mai” which famously featured in the 1981 film “The Professional” starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. Morricone was ...

World Music Matters - 'Black Lives Matter', and songs are showing it's a fact

Inspiring speeches are great, but a song can travel and connect people like nothing else. After the tragic death of George Floyd, musicians are helping to bring issues of police violence and social justice to the fore. Beyoncé, queen of R 'n' B,  and the young gospel singer Keedron Bryant have just released songs with a strong 'Black Lives Matter' message.

World Music Matters - Ariana Vafadari breathes life into Anahita, Persian goddess of water

After exploring Zoroastrian chants on her 2016 album “Gathas, songs my father taught me”, mezzo soprano Ariana Vafadari puts femininity to the fore with the heart-wrenching “Anahita”, inspired by the Persian prophet Zarathustra and the goddess of water. Ten deeply spiritual songs set to Oriental maqam scales, tracing a path from despair to resolution.

French-Iranian Vafadari has a successful career as an international opera singer, but remains deeply attached to her Zoroastrian roots. 

“I’m from two cultures,” she said. “I love opera more than anything but a part of me needed to express the origins, the music of Iran, the Oriental music.”

She learned Gathas - Zoroastrian prayers dating back some 3,700 years - from her father. 

“Gatha means song but we have no idea how it was sung at that time,” she said. “Just the prayers were kept and now the priest chants them. I wanted to compose music on it and make it more alive.”

She did just that for her 2016 album "Gathas, songs my father taught me". 

“It was something I gave to my father, I think it was my father’s side, my more masculine side: knowing, understanding, finding the way."

The album "Anahita" was inspired by the legend of the Persian goddess of water, fertility and wisdom. The story was introduced to Vafadari by Leili Anvar, a specialist in Persian literature who wrote the lyrics for seven of the songs.

Anvar's adaptation involves a modern day Iranian young woman whose village is plagued by drought, forcing its inhabitants to flee. She is visited by the goddess in a dream and goes on a quest to find the source of water.

Vafadari said the legend spoke to her in a world dominated by the over-exploitation of the world's resources. "It's a world of grabbing land, producing more; the masculinity is so powerful that I felt a lack of femininity in my own world and in myself."

In addition to original compositions, Vafadari sings three prayers from Zoroastrianism’s holy book known as the Avesta.

“The three prayers are the way Anahita finds her own femininity, the link to her ancestors and to earth and to water.”

Vafadari has surrounded herself with superb musicians from France, Turkey, Morocco and Iran: Julien Carton (piano), Driss El Maloumi (oud), Leila Soldevila and Nicolas Deutsch (double bass), Habib Meftah Boushehri (calabash, bendir, daf). 

“It’s important to show that our generation is a mixture of cultures, all these musics have to stay alive and stay together."

Follow Ariana Vafadari 

Purchase the album 

World Music Matters - The Eddy: a love letter to jazz in modern, multicultural Paris

There are big names in The Eddy, a Netflix series about a struggling jazz club in Paris. But the real star is jazz. And since coronavirus is depriving us of the thrill of live music, the jazz sessions recorded with its own six-piece band provide music lovers a much needed fix. Composer Glen Ballard and saxophonist Jowee Omicil talk about the joy of putting music first.

All the songs in The Eddy were written by award-winning American composers Glen Ballard and Randy Kerber. 

The series began with a song and an idea back in 2007.

“Ive lived in Paris off and on all my adult life," Ballard told RFI.  "And I’ve always loved the fact that Paris still had jazz clubs, still had young people going to the clubs, listening to music being played live.

"So I had this concept of a club that I called The Eddy: a perfect jazz club where you could go and have the greatest band in the world and a great singer, and you could find some kind of connection with that music and work out some of your own problems.”

That “greatest band” is the Eddy Cast Band - formed especially for the series with Ludovic Louis (trumpet), Damian Nueva (double bass), Jowee Omicil (saxophone) Randy Kerber (piano) Lada Obradovic (drums) and Joanna Kulig on vocals.

“It’s a truly international band showing that jazz is an international language now,” said Ballard.  “We have a drummer from Croatia, a sax player from Haiti, a bass player from Cuba, a piano player from the U.S., a trumpet player from Paris and a singer from Poland. But they all share the same language which is jazz and it’s really high musicianship.”

“It was an honour to play with all of these musicians, it’s truly an 'All Star' band,” said Paris-based Jowee Omicil who plays Joey the saxophonist.

The first two episodes of The Eddy were directed by Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle. He insisted the jazz sessions in the club be recorded live. 

“We’re playing for real so if you’re messing up it's gonna show,”Omicil recalled.  "There were many ‘one takes’!”

Glen Ballard meanwhile wanted the music to be easy to listen to, but difficult to play. Omicil said they succeeded. 

“I was telling Randy Kerber and also Glen: ‘I feel like I'm back at Berkeley, 19 years old in 1997 and I gotta learn how to play to play this music, this tradition of music, but from today’. They evolved the music, we ...

World Music Matters - Mugogo!: electronic music from the coast of Kenya

When Swiss beatmaker Flexfab was doing a set in the coastal town of Kisili, Kenya, a young Kenyan rapper Ziller Bas grabbed the mike and delivered his "Swengflow". The chemistry was immediate and six months later the two artists are set to release their debut EP Mugogo! A dancefloor must.

Pablo Fernandez, who's been working under the moniker Flexfab for a decade or so, likes to work outside his comfort zone. He's lent his beatmaking skills to Kenya's Muthoni Drummer Queen, Batuk from South Africa, rapper Rozzma from Egypt, Malaysian singer The Venopian Solitude...

In August 2019,  a Swiss music non-profit, Flee, invited him to East Africa for a series of exchanges with local musicians. During a gig in Kisili, some 70kms north of Mombasa, Baraka Shujaa, an MC going under the name Ziller Bas couldn't resist joining in. 

"The beats were so good, I was so excited I had to jump in," the 25-year old rapper said on the line from Kisili.

"This freestyle session with Zilla Bas was magic, the kind of moment that only happens a few times in your life," Flexfab said. He found a way to return to Kisili in January this year with a mobile studio. In just two weeks they recorded 14 tracks, a documentary about their story and three videos. 

Their EP Mugogo part 1 has four tracks for hot club nights.

Ziller Bas lays down his vocals in his very own Swengflow: a mix of Swahili, English and his native Giriama.

The title track Mugogo has a hypnotic beat, with traditional percussion from shakers known locally as kayamba which Flexfab recorded live when doing the final mix.

"I didn't sample music, all the songs are original," he said. "There's some synthesizer, a lot of electronic things but a big part of the job I did at the end of the project was to add some live percussion."

"Mugogo means great, like the king, someone magical, noble, with dignity," Ziller Bas explained. "It's derived from a leader here in Mijikenda called Karissa Maita."

Maita was a former tourism minister and an MP from Mombasa's kisauni area known affectionately as "Mugogo, wa pwani": Mijikenda for "Big Man of the Coast". He was a popular politician who defended the interests of coastal peoples, encouraging them to speak out about the politics of exclusion.

The track Sawa Sawa means OK in Swahili: an upbeat, positive song "about feeling good," Ziller Bas said.

Vituko meanwhile is "very poetic and more political. It talks about challenges in the ...

World Music Matters - Touki: how West Africa's kora found kindred spirit in the banjo

When musicians Amadou Diagne and Cory Seznec had a chance encounter in a bar in Bath in 2007, they knew one day they would record together. Thirteen years later, after many "touki" (journeys), they've embarked on a new musical adventure with a debut album Right of Passage. They talk to RFI about making new roots music with kora, banjo and guitar.

“It was a fortuitous meeting of like-minded kindred spirits,” said Seznec, a French-American singer-songwriter, guitarist and clawhammer banjoist who’s honed his sound through travels on the African continent.

He was playing in a bar with his band Groanbox when Diagne showed up with his djembe after a day of busking and the two men began improvising together.

“The energy was fantastic ... some really simple connection happened back in 2007," said Seznec.

They played gigs from time to time, Seznec bringing Diagne on board “for his percussive and harmony prowess” but it took more than a decade for them to form the duo Touki and get into the studio.

“It was always in the back of our minds that we should do something, but life took us in different directions,” Seznec continued. "And then finally the stars aligned.”

When Diagne secured a grant from the Arts Council of England, he immediately thought of Seznec.

“It my dream for a long time to do something with him,” said Diagne, a multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer-songwriter from near Dakar and who settled in the UK in 2004.

“I just tell him ‘hey man, come on, this is the time now, let’s do it’!”

The two musicians rehearsed in Paris and recorded 13 tunes in Peter Gabriel’s World Circuit Records studios in southwestern England.

Diagne, who was born into a Griot family of drummers and praise singers, sings in Wolof and dug deep into his own personal history for inspiration on several songs.

Yaye Bouye is about his mother dying when he was a young boy, while Tirailleurs draws a parallel between his difficult beginnings in the UK and the Senegalese Tirailleurs who fought bravely alongside French troops in various world wars. Diagne’s own grandfather, Mass Mboup, was decorated by the French for his bravery in WW2.

Two songs, Yaen Yalay and Machallah are influenced by Seznec’s three years in Ethiopia and feature Endris Hassen on the one-string bowed lute known as masenqo.

“Yaen Yalay means ‘thank you’ in Eritrean. It’s a sort of banjo percussive, instrumental track, a nod to Ethiopia and Eritrea,” said Seznec. “It has ...

World Music Matters - Chadian band Pulo NDJ creates sounds out of its Lomé lockdown

When N'Djamena-based electro band Pulo NDJ found themselves stranded in Abuja with no chance of returning to Chad because of the coronavirus, they made their way to Lomé, set up a home studio and recorded a song about living in lockdown. Their story is one of friendship and remaining creative through the crisis.


Since the release of their acclaimed debut album Desert to Douala in March 2019, Pulo NDJ has spread its inventive blend of traditional Chadian rhythms with an electro beat around West Africa.

In March they were invited by the Institut Français in Abuja to head up DJ-ing workshops and give concerts in Nigeria.

But the coronavirus stopped them in their tracks. With borders shut, they found themselves stranded in Abuja, unable to return to N’Djamena. 

“The concert was cancelled and we had to return to Chad but Chad closed its border," said guitarist Stingo. "We got help from friends."

The band headed to his home country of Togo and found shelter at Luc’s (aka Lord Kossivi), a member of the HAPE Collective which produced the Desert to Doula album.

They were introduced to the French filmmaker, Marion Poizeau, who was also locked down in Lomé. Together they turned to music as a way of pushing back the walls.

“Luc lent them his home studio, Walid (the keyboard player) had his computer, Stingo his guitar and I lent them a mike,” said Poizeau. “We made do with what we had.”

They began writing and one song - Confinement - talks of what it feels like to be in lockdown.

It’s a pensive cream-pop song with a universal message: ‘We’re all here together, we’re stuck, we’re in lockdown,’ Poizeau sings.

“The idea was to express what we were feeling being stuck together in a house,” said the filmmaker turned backing vocalist.

“Making music was also a big help during this time, to make the time go faster and more enjoyable," she added.

Poizeau made a video for the song showing the five of them trapped inside the house, set against backgrounds of the ocean, grasslands, and an array of untrammelled wild animals.

Making music has allowed them to remain positive and break the feeling of social distancing.

“We did this to share what’s happening here and to share the way we met and created together," Poizeau said. "So even if it’s a crisis we can still be creative and produce something positive. I hope we can share our positive idea of keeping making music with the rest of the world.”

Lockdown is having a devastating impact on musicians, not least in Lomé where the night-time curfew ...

World Music Matters - Djibouti's Groupe RTD make international "Dancing Devils" album debut

Djibouti is better known as a strategic outpost than a hotbed of music but Groupe RTD, the country's national radio band, are one of its best kept secrets. By day they play at official ceremonies, off duty they let rip their love of American jazz, Indian Bollywood, Jamaican reggae and Somali funk. For the first time ever an independent label, Ostinato Records, was allowed to capture that sound and release it to the outside world on the upcoming Dancing Devils of Djibouti album. 

Since Djibouti gained independence from France in 1977, its music industry has been controlled by the state, its bands run like national enterprises.

And none more so than Groupe RTD, the official band of national radio Radiodiffusion-Télévision Djibouti (RTD), whose job it is to perform at official ceremonies.

Its music has always been recorded in RTD’s studios, conserved in its extensive archives, but has never had international release.

Vik Sohoni, producer and curator with Ostinato Records, met the band by chance in 2016 when tracing author’s rights for its compilation album of Somali music, Sweet as Broken Dates.

He found Groupe RTD at the radio’s recording studio jamming “off duty”.

“We quickly realised this was not just some national, ceremonial band, this was a very raw, gritty, tough, funky band,” he says.

“A lot of these guys were old legends and there was some young talent too. Everything that was happening in that studio was world class musicianship and we were really blown away.”

Among the older talent is saxophonist Mohamed Abdi Alto, a self-taught musician who Sohonie says deserves to be “right up there” with the world's greatest jazz instrumentalists. “He’s a national treasure, the best saxophonist in the country and possibly the most unheralded saxopohone virtuoso in all of Africa.” 


Alto emerged as part of the east African scene in the 1970s as did the band’s guitarist Abdirazak Hagi Sufi “Kaajaa” and bass player Abdo Houssein Handeh.

New talent includes vocalist Asma Omar, who joined Groupe RTD after winning a youth talent competition, and Hassan Omar Houssein, also a singer.

The band performs Somali music, in Somali. But there’s a “distinct Djiboutian twist,” which comes partly from the country’s geography and history as an important trading post at the mouth of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Many cultures - but above all the Middle East and India - have left their mark on the country and its music.

“What’s incredible about Djiboutian music is not only its ability to take in all the different ...

World Music Matters - Sarah McCoy sings, and lives, the blues

Sarah McCoy is undoubtedly one of the most exuberant and talented singer-songwriters around, unafraid to bear her heart and soul in her music. "Honesty is important," says the 35-year old American. "If I were just singing about how it's sunshiny all the time, well some people can do that, but it's my job to sing about when it rains."

McCoy was picked out by a French researcher singing and playing piano in clubs and bars in New Orleans. After a few years on the road, living rough, she moved to Paris in October 2017 where producers Chilly Gonzales and Renaud Létang helped produced her debut album Blood Siren. Listen to the podcast to hear her story, along with songs from this remarkable record.

Official website here.

Follow McCoy on facebook and instagram

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