Tradition and modernity

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A perpetual back and forth

Today, most of African musicians have a dual focus on tradition and modernity, with the latter imported from Europe and from the United States. African music has also been influenced by the music of the Indian Ocean and Latin America with Brazil, Cuba and the Caribbean. Finally, cultural interaction has always existed.

Musico-cultural heritage has always been influenced by external factors through geographical borders and the evolution of technology both in terms of communication and musical production. The interaction of all these factors, has encouraged a greater sharing in musical esthetics, ideas and methodology. This intercommunication phenomenon is witnessed in all African countries, and from a regional or global point of view we can see the same interaction between Black Africa and the Western World. The case of Guinean musician Ba Cissoko is an illuminating example, because his career is a succession of unending questions on the way to link tradition and modernity in his music.

This naturally requires the use of new instruments borrowed to electronic music, and acts which can be seen as blasphemous by keepers of the tradition. Indeed, Ba Cissoko does not hesitate to invent new chords while playing with his « kora ». He even accelerates and distorts the rhythm to marry the sound of his « kora » with electric guitars. Ba Cissoko asserts that every kind of music can be played with the « kora » instrument. He aims to bring together all the cultures of Guinea, and in the meantime absorb other music flavours like jazz, rock’n’roll and reggae, following the path of Manu Dibango and Fela. These two pioneers with others were the first to build musical bridges between Africa and the western world. Among their successors, there is Didier Awadi, one of the two founders of Positive Black Soul (PBS) a music group which has dominated the hip hop music in Senegal for many years. PBS message is far different from Afro-American rap. Following the steps of Fela, this Senegalese group was fiercely critical of the corrupted African political leaders “who used the national wealth of the country for their own benefit and have their bank accounts in Switzerland while half of the country is dying of in the country”. Their message is clear: “we are Pan Africanists ….. Not racist”.

Today, hip hop music is very present in Africa, especially in the west of the continent. Same message is said among African reggaemen (Tiken Jah Fakoly and Alpha Blondy). With his music label Fakoly Production, Tiken Jah supports new talents like Beta Simon and Jah Verity, who recently produced a very successful album called “President Boulanger”. In Ivory Coast, another big reggae group is Zouzouko Africa with singer Liazou Pedro. All these musicians were influenced by “roots” reggae of Jamaica, Lucky Dube’ reggae and Alpha Blondy, but their music is trending towards something new. New musical marriages and evolutions cannot be all identified but we can describe few of them.

In Senegal, Cherif Mbow revolutionized the ancestral mbalax. He mixes it with salsa, jazz and soul. In Mali, Mamou Sidibé music style varies between an electronic music and acoustics. In South Africa, the young singer Lira is the symbol of a new generation which music style is moving towards afro-pop, while DJ Mujava is the front artist of new South African electro music.  It is necessary to balance these new initiatives with those of young musicians who remain faithful to their tradition, such Kassé Mady Diabaté in Mali who uses only traditional instruments in his recent album “Manden Djeli Kan”. Kora instrument, djembé, calabash, balaphon are used to produce a high quality music.

“I was lucky to play music with musicians of different horizons. All these experiences obviously nourished my creations. Salif Keita, Mory Kanté, Touré Kunda and Fela Kuti inspired me tremendously. All of them knew how to adapt traditional music with new sonorities…” Ba Cissoko