“First, there was Hendrix, then Stevie Ray and now, Habib.” —Bonnie Raitt
“[Vusi Mahlasela] was a voice during the revolution . . . a voice of hope, the Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan of South Africa, and still is.” —Dave Matthews
“Dobet Ghahoré is one helluva talented artist. Powerful singing combined with a charismatic stage presence, original choreography, and a theatricality that reminded me of Marie Daulne of Zap Mama.” —Sean Barlow, Afropop Worldwide
The extraordinary breadth, emotional depth, and joy of African music come to life in a rare all-star evening of music from across the continent featuring Habib Koité, Vusi Mahlasela, and Dobet Gnahoré on Thursday, November 2, at 7 and 9:30 pm in the Walker Art Center’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater. The concert is the first event of AfricaNOW: Currents of a Continent, a four-part series of contemporary performing arts. One of Mali’s most revered guitarists, Habib Koité is joined by his legendary band Bamada. Vusi Mahlasela’s powerful songs and soaring voice played an important role in the South African struggle against apartheid, and his music was recently featured in the 2006 Oscar-winning film Tsotsi. The evening also features the U.S. debut of Dobet Gnahoré, the young Cote d’Ivoire singer/dancer described by the BBC as “a vivacious bundle of energy, blessed with a powerful voice and infectious charisma.” Copresented with the Cedar Cultural Center.
AfricaNOW: Currents of a Continent is an exploration of contemporary expression from across sub-Saharan Africa. Music, theater, and movement drawn from four countries embody the genius that so often results when artists wed profoundly rich traditions with present-day influences. The series continues in November with Cote d’Ivoire’s Compagnie TchéTché, who combine the most recent developments in contemporary dance with deeply rooted West African styles to address issues of women’s roles in a rapidly changing culture. Subsequent programs feature the township theater of The Farber Foundry (South Africa) in February 2007 and the iconoclastic jazz-fusion of Gangbé Brass Band (Benin) in April 2007.
Highlighted on Putumayo’s September CD release Acoustic Africa, alongside Angelique Kidjo, Lokua Kanza, and other respected African artists, these distinctive and influential singer-songwriters write and perform contemporary music inspired by their cultural roots. Each has made an effort to remain grounded in their region’s musical traditions while being open to external musical influences. In the 1980s and ‘90s, while most African superstars built careers on studio-based synthesized dance music, Koité, Mahlasela, and others spearheaded a return to a more acoustic tradition with meaningful songs, rather than beats, as the basis of their music.
The Acoustic Africa tour and CD will provide an opportunity to draw attention to some of Africa’s challenging social issues, in addition to its music. All three performers on this tour are social activists, building awareness of the conditions in Africa that affect the region and the world. The 1980s and early ‘90s in Africa were punctuated by enormous political and social transitions. The direct result was profound on Koité’s and Mahlasela’s creative output, and reflected maturation in their artistic identity. Often addressing issues of social and political significance in his homeland, Mahlasela’s lyrical message of peace was a beacon of change during South Africa’s formation of a new government. Eventually, this drew him into close contact with national leadership, performing for Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994. Meanwhile, Koité had formed his new band Bamada in Mali, where tribal conflicts had reached a peak prior to the first democratic, multiparty elections in 1992.
Koité’s extraordinary talent in bringing together divergent musical styles is evident in his songs, which reflect the multiple ethnic traditions of his country and nurture the goal of a pan-Malian culture. At the same time, a young Gnahoré was studying music and dance in the pan-African community of Ki-Yi in the Ivory Coast, where social conflict has led to the displacement of thousands in the last decade. Eventually, she too migrated to France, where her artistic identity continues to evolve. Gnahoré’s songs, musically and lyrically diverse, evoke the struggle and hope of her country. This will be Gnahoré’s debut tour of North America. Koité and Mahlasela have each toured successfully but never as part of such a diverse presentation of contemporary African music.
Habib Koité, one of Africa’s most exciting performers, plays music that reflects the diverse musical traditions of his Malian homeland. He has developed a unique guitar style infused with complex rhythms and grooves that has made him a favorite with African music and jam band fans alike. He recorded two critically praised and best-selling albums, Ma Ya and Baro, for Putumayo. He has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, in such magazines as People and Rolling Stone, and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” In 2002, Koité recorded a duet with Bonnie Raitt on her album Silver Lining and Putumayo’s new collection, Blues Around the World. Over the past 10 years, Koité and his band, Bamada, have performed over 700 concerts for audiences around the globe, including venues in Japan, Australia, Brazil, and Kazakhstan. With their fiery stage presence and expert musicianship, Habib Koité and Bamada deliver a show to remember.
Vusi Mahlasela was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and spent his childhood listening to the elderly men of his village sing traditional songs. After teaching himself to play music on a homemade guitar, he developed a reputation as a gifted singer-songwriter. Mahlasela’s powerful lyrics and beautiful melodies have made him a leading figure in contemporary South African music. Mahlasela is featured in Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, the celebrated film about the importance of music in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle. Among his most ardent supporters is Dave Matthews, who featured Mahlasela’s vocals on the multi-platinum selling album Everyday. Matthews also signed Mahlasela to his ATO Records label and released his album The Voice in 2003.
At just 24, Dobet Gnahoré is the youngest and only female artist of the tour. She has animated stages in Africa and Europe with her vibrant performances and powerful vocals. As a child, she was trained in the music and dance traditions of the Bété people in her native Ivory Coast by her father Boni Gnahoré, a well-known performer in West Africa. Both her song and lyrics, sung in several African languages, are steeped in the music and culture of her homeland. The Acoustic Africa tour marks her U.S. debut.
Tickets to Acoustic Africa are $25 ($20 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600. AfricaNOW series price: $85 ($70).