No this isn’t an all Toto list; no matter how much I’d love to do it and weird out the other two LxLers. After years of loving music influenced by African world music (Paul Simon, Talking Heads, Dirty Projectors), I finally decided to plunge in and just listen to the stuff myself. What I learned is it’s no doubt a blast to listen to especially as things begin to warm up here in May. So here are some of my favorites in terms of African world music finished off with some American artists who incorporate the stuff. This is admittedly tweener African music, but it’s what I’ve dug into and enjoyed at this point.
Amadou & Mariam-“Sabali”
This is amazing hybrid stuff- electro pop crossed with Malian blues for a true one of a kind song. The spectacular blind Malian husband-and-wife duo wrote the song alongside Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame (who has a deep love for Afrobeat as well) and you can hear it in the production that it could have made the Plastic Beach album and nobody would’ve blinked an eye.
Fela Kuti- “Zombie”
The father of Afrobeat himself, it would be pretty hard to right on African music without this Nigerian pioneer being included. “Zombie” perfectly captures the Afrobeat sound, with its non-stop motion, shuffling percussion and its perpetual guitar and bass grooves. One can’t help but move his feet.
P.S. If you love Afrobeat music and even if you don’t, be sure to check out the movie The Visitor. Richard Jenkins is tremendous as usual, and its celebration of the genre is exuberant.
The Very Best-“Warm Heart of Africa”
The Very Best consists of a London production duo alongside Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya for a lively, modern mix of African flavor. “Warm Heart of Africa” features vocals from Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend and I think I could probably listen to the song on repeat all day and never lose a smile.
Talking Heads-“I Zimbra”
In my opinion, “I Zimbra” is the quintessential Afrobeat Talking Heads track, opening Fear of Music on perfect footing. The big African chorus only serves to supplement the irresistible saxophone hook, chunky bassline, and feverish percussion.
The Dirty Projectors-“Gun Has No Trigger”
Ok, you caught me. The main reason I did this list was an excuse to talk about the new Dirty Projectors single. Since the first time I heard it, it worked its way into my constant subconscious. Definitely one of their most mellow tracks, “Gun Has No Trigger” still pulls some definite African world music tricks in their vocal harmonies as well as the big time bassline.
So there is the list. For more Afro-greatness, check out my 15 song playlist on Spotify.