Alex Boicel of Afromondo spends a good part of the year scouring the world for new artists. In 2018 he has been through Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Colombia, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Senegal and WOMEX at Grand Canary island listening to new music nightly. His World Music Fire showcase, January 3rd at SOBs in New York City has been a bridge for established and younger artists in the Caribbean and African diaspora to reach stages and audiences internationally. “Today new artists are benefitting from social media and smart phones to get their music out,” Alex says, “the Afromondo Showcase (at SOBs in New York City) is for those ready to take the next step.”
This year World Music Fire features diaspora based African artists. Interspersed with voices new to New York audiences are established regional artists. The lineup includes Nkumu Katalay, William Cepeda, ILAM, British Dependency, Rafiya, Jemirye, and Wesli. Coinciding with the APAP conference in New York City, performers reach the ears of North American music presenters and open up opportunities in the burgeoning international festival circuit.
William Cepeda is perhaps the best known artist, internationally, on the bill. His music has evolved over the past 30 years but begins with his exploration of the Puerto Rican roots music, Bomba. Bomba dates from the African slave trade. It is a set of rhythms particular to Puerto Rico performed on Buleador, Subidor, (barrel drums) panderatas, (hand drums) maracas or guida (scraper), features call and response vocals and most importantly dancers, who interact with the drummers in an improvisational fashion. The Cepeda family has been keepers of this heritage for generations.
William, a trombonist and conch shell player, has for nearly 30 used these rhythms in his compositions which range from AfroRican jazz, world music in his International Quintet, and even classical music (Bomba Sinfonica). Over the course of his career he has received for grammy nominations for his music but still takes time to give back to the community. Cepeda this past month has begun a municipal band in Loiza Puerto Rico, his home, where he will teach and direct the local children.
Nkumu Katalay & The "Life Long Project" Band have built a reputation as an exciting live act in his adopted home of New York. The Congolese artist is a consummate musician in demand with touring artists such as Zaiko Langa Langa and the Soukous All Stars. He labels his music “Rumbian Funk” a blend afro-cuban, gospel and Congolese traditional and urban music. On stage will be Nkumu on congas and vocals, Yohni Loboko, guitar; Joseph Abiala, keys; Emmanuel Etoummou, bass; Folachade Abiola, drums; dancers and guest vocalist Sparta De La Mode.
His set will offer a historical perspective reflective of Congolese music form the 60’s to the present. He says: “I was always putting music together, filling in the gaps on an idealogical level, now i see things with a different perspective and put the chemistry together.”
Jemiriye is a Nigerian singer we first heard briefly at the MASA festival in Abidjan. Her appearance at World Music Fire continues a musical journey that began in the children’s choir of her church in Lagos. No matter what obstacles life has thrown up she has sung right through all of them. As a 14 year old she formed the Echoes of Praise at the Ikeja Grammer School which gave birth to the offical school choir. Upon graduation in 2001she and two classmates formed The Just Sistars singing in churches and eventually getting a record deal before breaking up in 2006. A pivotal moment in her career came in 2008 when she was asked to write, record and perform a song, “Mama Africa”, for a Pan African Women’s Conference in South Africa. Singing about women’s and children’s issues has been an obsession ever since.
Jemiriye relocated to Pittsburg Pennsylvania several years ago. She was introduced to her band, who will perform with her at SOBs after a performance at the University of Pittsburg where they were music students interested in Afrobeat. Her set will include the debut of a new song “Lagos” and “Pretty Lady ” a song encouraging women to accept their natural beauty.
British Dependency is back, the power trio out of Anguilla took a year off after the devastation of Hurricane Irma, and this will be their first New York show since. British Dependency, in performance, seem to revel in defying expectations. A hard edged DIY sound, restlessly searching, sifting through skanking reggae rhythms, led by Ishmael Levi’s raw and at times convoluted guitar playing, veering towards punk one moment and rock steady the next. Anchored by Jaiden Fleming’s drumming, the interaction is fascinating. Ras Marvin will be playing bass replacing Joyah and it will be interesting to hear his influence on the music. No promises but we may hear music from their upcoming (early 2019) recording session.
Wesli (Wesley Louissaint) is a Haitian singer whose music comes from the personal experience of growing up in the rough and tumble zones of Port au Prince. He ventures out musically incorporating reggae and afro beat rhythms (brought out by the horns, sax and trumpet) with the rasin, twobadou and rara rhythms to create an original and affecting music. He is now based in Montreal.
ILAM a Senegalese vocalist/ guitarist has been turning heads since arriving in Montreal in 2014. He quickly established himself as a positive musical voice releasing an EP in 2015, and an album “Hope” in 2016. He sings in Toucouleur but also French and English. He describes his music as Afro-Pop rock or Sahel Blues, it has also been described as afro folk, is at turns folksy, bluesy, funky but always engaging. He comes to New York from recent gigs in Morocco at Visa For Music.
Rafiya is Congolese, born in California but well traveled absorbing a wealth of musical influences. Her music features her alluring vocals and well crafted songs, some rhythmically complex others condensed heart tugging soulfulness. It is her only APAP appearance, she will be accompanied by a live percussionist and rhythm tracks. Spaceship Funk is her newly released single. Its mission: Celebration of Africa!
World Music Fire is in its 4th year. Past performers have included Septeto Santiaguero of Cuba, Christiane Obydol, of Zouk Machine, Awa Sangho, local New York favorites Brown Rice Family and Something Positive Dance, whose appearances led to opportunities to showcase in Cote d’Ivoire and Morocco.
SOBs, Sounds of Brazil is a a pioneering world music establishment in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan operating nightly since being founded in 1982 by Larry Gold.