Graceland/Under African Skies: released & reviewed

I’ve posted a couple of items recently about Under African Skies, the excellent documentary about Paul Simon’s groundbreaking Graceland album, released 25 years go. The documentary includes footage of original recording sessions, Simon’s first return to South Africa last year, and the international political controversy it caused from his breaking of the UN’s cultural boycott of the apartheid regime.

For that 25th anniversary, a raft of packaging has now been released: CD’s, DVD’s, BluRay, deluxe box sets and more. Don’t let the marketing hype mislead you however; the music is still brilliant, and the documentary, by Joe Berlinger, is great.

Check your favourite outlet. (Soundscapes delivery didn’t come in last week, but should be here this week).

Huffington Post has a fine, four-part review by Michael Giltz posted. Recommended

Part One: The Boxed Set Review
Part Two: The Cultural Impact

Part Three: The Boycott
Part Four: The Album, Track By Track (not yet posted… seems to be late. Watch Giltz’s main page)

Afrocubism at Luminato, June 12: A Big Deal

I’ve posted several items about Afrocubism here and in the newsletter over the past couple of years, but it’s worthwhile commenting again about what a remarkable collection of musicians will be assembled on the stage at Luminato on the evening of June 12, for a free concert.

This website has a particular focus on African music, and much of it on West African music; Mali may have some of the greatest musicians on that continent. If I were to try to pick an “all star team” of Malian musicians, it might end up looking like these guys.

Much publicity about this group centres on the story that this group was what Buena Vista Social Club project was originally supposed to be. Certainly that recording project in the 1990’s was originally intended to bring together Eliades Ochoa, Djelimady Tounkara and Bassekou Kouyaté. However the quality of this music doesn’t need to be tied to the fame of that album. It more than stands on its own merits.

And for those familiar with the Afrocubism CD, their live show is a different — and far more exciting — sound.

A few random personal comments about some of the musicians, and some video clips of their performances with their own bands:

Djelimady Tounkara

Djelimady with Afrocubism. NYC Town Hall, Nov. 2010

Djelimady Tounkara
One of the best guitarists I’ve seen, I first saw him in 2002 at the Grassroots Festival in New York State with his Super Rail Band (the band Salif Keita started with in the late 60’s/early 70’s).

His guitar playing at the festival knocked me out, but I was also impressed with his professionalism. Some organizational problems had delayed the band’s set, and so at the scheduled completion time, Banning Eyre of Afropop Worldwide (whose book recounting his time studying guitar with Djelimady in Mali, In Griot Time is highly recommended) urged the audience to call for him to extend his set. Djelimady wouldn’t, he said, because he knew how festivals worked and it wasn’t fair to the other artists.

For my own sake, I wish he’d played longer, but I was impressed with his principles.

Later that fall, he played some U.S. shows (without Super Rail) in the US; I’d wanted to take in a concert in some American city, but couldn’t. I figured I’d catch him the next time he was here.

But the next time for Djelimady was 2010 with Afrocubism. So when they came to North America, I didn’t miss this chance, and went to New York City to see the band.

I had the treat of second-row seats right in front of Djelimady (and Banning Eyre was seated right behind me).  Just soaked up those guitar licks, and Djelimady’s beaming & looming presence.

Video: Djelimady with Super Rail Band at Grassroots Festival, 2001 (the video quality is poor, but I couldn’t resist the location)

Bassekou & ngoni

Bassekou at Toronto's Great Hall. Nov. 2011

Bassekou Kouyaté
I’ve posted many items, comments & videos of Bassekou and his group Ngoni Ba in the past.

I really came to love the sound of the n’goni at another American concert the same year as that Grassroots Festival. I saw Salif Keita in at the Irving Plaza club in New York City that October. He had just released his album Moffou, a terrific return to a rootsier, less electric sound.

That night remains the only time I’ve seen him with an n’goni player (not the more common kamale ngoni), and the driving sound of the n’goni — far more powerful than the guitar in that show — is one of my most vivid memories of that concert.

It’s sadly still rare to see touring musicians with n’goni. (For example, I wish Khaira Arby had kept her n’goni player, and cut back on the wailing electric guitars she’s now touring with).

All that is to say I love the sound of the n’goni; so when the man who might be the best n’goni player in the world also forms an n’goni band!… it’s no surprise that Bassekou is one of my favourite musicians in the world.

Video: Bassekou with N’goni Ba, Royal Albert Hall. Guest: Justin Adams on guitar

Kasse Mady & Djelimady

Kasse Mady & Djelimady. own Hall, NYC. Nov. 9, 2010

Kasse Mady Diabaté
There are those who will debate who has the greatest voice in Mali: Salif Keita or Kasse Mady Diabaté. Who cares? They’re both great, and while Salif is a semi-regular visitor here, Kasse Mady appearances are far more rare. This might be his first since his performance at the old Bamboo Club in 1995.

He’s a powerful presence on stage with Afrocubism.

Video: (A younger) Kasse Mady, “Kaban Yoro”

Toumani & Tamsir Seck

Toumani (with Toronto's Tamsir Seck). Harbourfront. 2007

Toumani Diabaté
Not much point in trying to write anything more about this great kora master.

Video: One of Toumani’s many musical sides. Performing “Cantelowes” from his beautiful solo album, The Mandé Variations

Eliades Ochoa

Eliades Ochoa. Royal Theatre, Toronto. April. 2010

And of course there’s Eliades Ochoa, the Cuban guitar great who led the historic Cuban group Cuarteto Patria for many years before becoming a key member of that Buena Vista Social Club recording.

Video: Eliades & his original group, Cuarteto Patria. This isn’t a live performance, but I enjoyed his music against the slideshow someone did of scenes from Eliades’s hometown Santiago de Cuba. It will resonate for anyone who’s been there.


Afrocubism also features Eliades’s current band, plus Lassana Diabaté on balafon and talking drum.

For some more information & Afrocubism videos see the ost immediately prior to this one.

Like West African music? You can’t miss this show.


Luminato & other festival info

Part 1 of the summer festival notes.  Check for details on these and many other events.

Summer festival time kicks is here, kicking off this weekend with

  • The Afrofest launch event tonight
  • Beginning Friday, 10 amazing days of free Luminato concerts
  • & the annual free Muhatadi International Drumming Festival Saturday.

Afrofest launch: June 7

Tonight in the Ballroom of the Gladstone Hotel, Music Africa announces the lineup for the 2012 Afrofest, this year moved to Woodbine Park. A few names have already been announced including Sam Fan Thomas (Cameroon) and Wazimbo (who put on a terrific show at the Lula earlier this spring).

Performing tonight: Njacko Backo with Long Tak Fah (Valery Woloshyn, Joaquin Nunez Hidalgo, Dan MacDonald); Tich Maredza Band & Jabulani.

Watch a video featuring Tich Maredza Band, opening for, and backing Freddie Gwala last year at The Great Hall

$10, or free for Music Africa members. See Music Africa website


The musical offerings of Luminato over the past few years, put together by Derek Andrews have quickly become one of the top musical events of the year. This year looks like the best yet.  Truly, an amazing 10 days.

The free concerts are at David Pecault Square (Metro Hall), each evening as well as weekday afternoon concerts.  For brief notes on the shows, see Derek’s Luminato blog post, “The World in a Square“. Full event listings are on the Luminato site here.

Of course, there is a wealth of offerings at Luminato, beyond what this website covers, but below are a few musical comments:

June 8: A festival that kicks off with a free double bill of K’naan, plus Kae Sun (Ghanaian Canadian) is heading down the right road.

And while sticking on the African theme, two more don’t-miss shows are:

Sun. June 10, 2pm, an “Ethiopiques” theme with Boston’s Debo Band in their Toronto début, followed by Abyssinian Roots, the collective of great Ethiopian musicians who put on a tremendous concert last February at the Glenn Gould.

For an  extended sample of what you’ll hear, much of that February concert by these musicians is available on CBC Music. Listen here.

And for more background about music from Ethiopian, see “Ethiopian Music: an emerging force in popular culture” by Reuben Maan posted on the CBC Music website earlier this year

Tue. June 12, the North American début of a rising Malian star, Fatoumata Diawara (video clip) is a treat in itself, but she’s opening for Afrocubism, the Malian-Cuban superstar collective.

Here’s “Djelimady Rumba”, with the great guitar of Djelimady Tounkara:

If you want more, enjoy Toumani Diabaté, Kassé Mady Diabaté and the others with the classic “Jarabi”.  Add Bassekou Kouyaté on ngoni, Lassana Diabaté on balafon, Eliades Ochoa on guitar (with his band)…

So much else is there: On June 10: Kobotown, Ernest Ranglin, Calypso Rose and Michael Rose . June 16 a “Balkan Beat Blowout” with Shantel and the Bucovina Club Orkestera & Lemon Bucket Orkestra,

Other dates: Rufus Wainwright; Loreena McKennitt / Jayme Stone; Michael Franti, Jovanotti from Italy (who sold out 2 nights at Lee’s Palace his first time in town); Kathleen Edwards/Dan Mangan… and numerous others.


Muhtadi International Drumming Festival

The annual Muhtadi Drumming Festival also moves to Woodbine Park this wekend. All free, with a huge lineup including Cuba’s Iyá Iré.  Details here


And outside of the festival circuit, this weekend, the Lula Lounge offers a couple of notable double-headers:
Friday: Elmer Ferrer (Cuban guitar), plus Changui Havan
Saturday: Joanna Moon, plus Lady Son

The following week, on June 15, a celebration of the life of the late Oliver Schroer, eclectic fiddler at Hugh’s Room


Much more coming soon.

Supporting the Ubuntu Learning Village in Zimbabwe (Mutamba Rainos)

Most people around the African music community know Mutamba Rainos, an mbira player/singer/dancer/percussionist with Nhapitapi, and formerly with Masaisai. He’s also a storyteller, chef, and (as of this fall), PhD student at OISE.

However he also created an important project in rural Zimbabwe, the Ubuntu Learning Village.  He is in Zimbabwe for four months now, beginning the construction of this village. (I’m looking forward to meeting Mutamba in Harare this August)

I’m posting some messages below from Mutamba about the project, and a fund-raising effort for it being held in Toronto June 17, through the AIDS Ride for Africa, sponsored by CAP AIDS. 85% of the money raised through the Ubuntu Toronto team will go toward the building of this Village (the rest into the general CAP AIDS funds).  All donations will receive a charitable tax credit receipt from CAP AIDS.

I’ll be participating in this ride. 

To help support this project, you can visit my bike-a-thon page. See also the CAP AIDS website for more information about that organization

Message from Mutamba:

Over the last two years we have been working together with friends and family in Canada and Zimbabwe to create a learning village. Through this village, communities in Zimbabwe and around the world can learn together to foster ways of living fully and sustainably. With the support of Moyo Wa Africa and my personal financial resources, we purchased 40 hectares of land in Chaarove, Zimbabwe. Work has begun already on farming and the construction of living spaces in the area that we are calling the Ubuntu Learning Village.

Ubuntu, has the spiritual/ philosophical/ objective root of interdependency. Translated loosely, Ubuntu means “you are because we are”. We continue on this side of the community to dream of and work out ideas for how this village will come to be. We are envisioning farming (food for the village and the surrounding communities), art, dance, free holistic alternative school, healing, spiritual growth, herbal knowledge, and ceremony – all rooted in environmentally and socially just, indigenous ways of being. We are hoping that by year number 5 – that is in 2016 – we will have realized these visions at Ubuntu Learning Village. And hopefully you can come and learn with us!

In the nearby Kufunda Learning Village, program facilitators train over twenty youth at a time in sustainable agriculture, community engagement, discussion facilitation, and interdependent living. Of those twenty + youth, they are hosting two of our youth per training session as well, who will go on to help build the dream of Ubuntu Learning Village. For a better understanding of the goals of Ubuntu, check out the incredible work being done at Kufunda here: .

With the support of Canadians, we have been able to send two of our youth leaders to Kufunda Learning Village for training. The Youth Leaders are Tapiwa Tukazi and Ketsiya Ndava. Their training consist of practical skills around community engagement, sustainable living and agriculture, personal care and conflict resolution to mention a few

Bike Ride:
We would like to dedicate the funds raised in this year’s ride to:

  • Building of accommodation at the Ubuntu Learning Village centre in Gutu
  • Supporting the outreach work of Ketsiya and Tapiwa in neighbouring villages to start sustainable cooperatives projects with women, youth and men in rural environments
  • Support organic farming for families living at Ubuntu Learning Village

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support in helping us realize this incredible vision of a sustainable, holistic and interdependent community. We hope you can join us one day in Ubuntu!”.

Mutamba Rainos, Co-Creator Ubuntu Learning Village

About Mutamba & Nahpitapi:

And for a touch of Mutamba performing…. a video taken at Placebo Place earlier this year with his group, Nhapitapi, followed by the Tich Maredza Band, and then all musicians together. Mutamba is first on the screen. (Lighting was minimal there…)


Khaira Arby talks music and politics with CBC Music: new unreleased songs

Khaira put on a great show at the Lula Lounge last Tuesday (May 8). She also spoke with CBC. The page has a few new unreleased songs available online

Khaira Arby talks music and politics, shares exclusive new songs CBC Music – Free Streaming Radio, Videos, Songs, Concerts & Playlists.

Doc Pomus documentary

UPDATE (May 13)
Just came back from the first-ever screening of the documentary, A.K.A. Doc Pomus at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema as part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

What a great film.

It did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Doc’s life (as well as the music and the stories.  I found it really did prove a quote by Doc’s biographer, Alex Halberstadt that Doc “was literally the most beloved person I’d ever come across”. Very moving, and highly recommended. Not sure when or where you’ll be able to catch it. See

My older article about Doc and a short biography of his life is posted here.

Watch the film’s trailer:

AKA Doc Pomus from Clear Lake Productions on Vimeo.

“Under African Skies”: Documentary on “Graceland”, 25 years on (updated)

Update, May 24:

See this page for details on the various CD/DVD/Blu-ray packages being released June 5.

Update (May 18):

The film will be shown on A&E (TV), May 25 at 10pm.

Update (May 13):

A couple of film reviews:

And, to capture a bit of the flavour of the original album release, you can find many videos on YouTube of Simon’s original “Graceland” tour which followed the original album release. Many are from the final concert in Harare, Zimbabwe, including:

And, for a twist: Simon & Wilie Nelson perform “Graceland

Original post (May 9):

In April, the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema screened two showings of the Joe Berlinger documentary, Under African Skies, being released on the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s landmark (and controversial) Graceland LP.

The film’s trailer:

Those who don’t remember the original release of the album, largely recorded in South Africa and with South African musicians during the height of apartheid repression and brutality, might not appreciate the significance of the recording at that time, and certainly not the political controversy it raised. No matter how good Simon’s motives were, his work there contravened a UN-approved cultural boycott of the South African regime.

Protests greeted Simon after the release of the LP, and during the international “Graceland” tour that followed. He was fortunate, for his credibility’s sake, that the tour included two of apartheid’s most visible opponents in the music community: Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela.

(Simon recounts one press conference where someone had criticized him over these issues.  He claims he had to literally hold Masekela back as he asked the questioner, “What the f__ have you ever done for South Africa?”)

It’s an eye-opener for everyone: those new or not, to the album and its history. And, it’s apparent from the film,that the depth of the apartheid evil was an eye-opener for Simon, who was clearly naive when it came to the politics he was soon to be a part of.

It includes a good amount of film from the original recordings with the variety of musicians he used. None of the songs were actually written there; music was recorded, and Simon and his engineer took the tapes to New York, where they worked on finding ways to fit the music together, and Simon figuring out some lyrics that worked. (Surprising even himself sometimes… eg, the chorus to “Graceland” was completely unintended).

He returned to South Africa for the first time last year, meeting and performing with the original musicians, and most memorably, visiting the home of Dali Trumbo (son of Oliver) who led the cultural boycott and still insists Simon should not have gone.

It’s a moving, enlightening, thought-provoking — and musically wonderful — film; very highly recommended.

After its initial television screening, it’ll receive the full “silver anniversary” marketing push, with DVD, Box sets of various flavours and elaboration, and Simon will be touring with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and perhaps others.

Articles and videos:

An article in the May 6 New York Times: “Graceland After 25 Years

Probably the first taste most people had of the album was on Saturday Night Live, May 10, 1986. The album’s release had been delayed, but Simon was scheduled to host the show, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo was ready (it was probably the audience’s first exposure to that group). Ray Phiri and band (I was struck by the resemblance between him and Toronto’s Tich Maredza) , and the result…

And a video interview with Simon and director Berlinger at the Sundance Film Festival

Simon, with Miriam Makeba on the original “Graceland” tour, performing “Under African Skies”:

May Days (and down the road)

Check for details on these and many more shows.


Great stuff to look forward to this month including…

  • A big-time highlight: Khaira Arby at the Lula May 8. More on her here
  • The Annual Lulaworld Festival kicks off the next day, marking 10 years of this Toronto musical treasure. This year’s festival focuses on many of the collaborations between local and international musicians. A great lineup for 11 days, starting with Autorickshaw, and ending up with a huge blowout concert featuring Pupy y Los Que Son Son from Cuba at the Phoenix Theatre.
  • May 12: Too much going on this night! Njacko Backo has a full day and evening in his annual fundraiser. More info here. Bill King presents a musical landscape of the Old South in “Gloryland” at the Royal, and Justin Townes Earle is at the Opera House
  • AKA Doc Pomus: a documentary at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, one day May 13. More about Doc here
  • Small World Music‘s Asian Music Series finishes this month with “Next Music from Tokyo” May 18 & 19, Liu Fang on May 19 & “Bombay Brazil” on May 31
  • Soul Influence CD Release at Hugh’s Room, May 25
  • And just beyond the border of May: June 1, Tich Maredza Band will get the NOW Lounge up and dancing

To plan things out further down the road some festival info…

Luminato’s annual concert gems, include a concert by the terrific collection of Malian and Cuban stars, Afrocubism, a great Ethiopian show, a K’naan concert. These and many more free shows are at the David Pecault Square. I have more about some of the Luminato shows here. Luminato’s list of free concerts at David Pecault Square is here

Two long-time festivals are moving from their traditional Queen’s Park home to Woodbine Park. Muhtadi International Drum Festival (June 9-10), and Afrofest (July7-8). Lineup details for Afrofest are TBA, but one of the headliners will be Sam Fan Thomas of Cameroon.  Music Africa will be holding a pre-Afrofest launch concert on June 7, at the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom (6-11pm) featuring Njacko Backo, Jabulani & the Tich Maredza Band. Watch Music Africa website (and here!) for more about Afrofest

The Toronto Jazz Festival runs from June 22 to July 1.  I don’t try to cover jazz on this site as well, but this page lists many of the Latin & other world music performers at the Festival. Closing night (July 1), the main stage at Nathan Phillips Square, the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars open for Tower of Power

Harbourfront Centre has announced its theme weekends,  and the names of some of the performers. From the perspective of the music covered here,  there are more notable shows than we’ve seen for a couple of years.  Some highlights include Johnny Clegg (June 30), Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou (July 13), Sidi Touré & The Masters of Mali (July 27),  Yemen Blues (Labour Day weekend)

Last month, Koerner Hall announced its 2012-13 lineup. The hall is a gorgeous facility: beautiful to look at, excellent acoustics and sight lines, and in the time few years since it’s been opened has generally hosted exciting concerts.

I admit however, to being somewhat disappointed in learning of the upcoming season. Their world music series is usually my main focus, and compared to other years, I found it a bit uninspired. Excellent musicians, but nothing that struck me as either unique, or something that immediately said “must see”.  The series includes Alex Cuba, Amanda Martinez, Soledad Barrrio and Noche Flamenco, Buila & Milton Nascimento.

There’s also a special night featuring Johnny Clegg in a concert to be held at the Jackson-Triggs Niagara winery, on July 7. As well, a Cuban series which features, among others, Jane Bunnett with Chucho Valdes,.

Some other shows that may be of interest are in the “Music Mix” series including Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio, Keb’ Mo’, Chick Corea & Gary Burton, Allen Toussaint and David Bromberg, Dianne Reeves.

Some other events in different veins sound interesting:

  • “Glenn Gould’s Birthday BACHanalia”
    Celebrating the birthday of the Conservatory’s “most illustrious alumnus”. It’s a night of Bach — without a classical pianist in sight. Musicians include Trichy & Suba Sankaran, Howard Levy (harmonica player with Béla Fleck), Mark O’Connor (fiddle), the Dave Young Trio and others. (Sep. 24)
  • “The Beethoven Marathon”
    Stewart Goodyear will play all 32 Beethoven sonatas in a single day, from 10am to 11:30pm.
  • “Devoted to Dizzy”
    Five concerts celebrating what would have been Dizzy Gillespie’s 90th birthday. October through May

Brochure for the season is here

Njacko & Friends: supporting Bazou at the Gladstone, May 12

Sahara Sloan

Sahara Sloan at Bazou fundraiser, 2011

This is the third annual fundraising event for this project to raise much-needed funds for Njacko Backo’s childhood school, École St. Albert Le Grand in Bazou Cameroon.

The school, which receives no government support was lacking in so many basic facilities, that Njacko and his wife Valery, on visiting in 2009, decided to embark on a 5-year project to help. In the first two years, they raised over $8000 for which helped with building rehabilitation, latrines, soccer equipment and music instruments.

This year, the goal is to raise $8000. For more about the project, click here

The annual Gladstone event has a family event from 3-5pm, featuring Soli & Rob with Alistair Ant, Charlie Kert/Little Fingers Music and African Tales with Njacko Backo.

And in the evening, a remarkable lineup including Jane Bunnett, rising opera star Sahara Sloan, Cameroonian Kome Manu, plus Afroteque: a new Afro-fusion band put together by Altaf “Bwana Moto” Vellani featuring a great lineup: Njacko and Altaf, plus Celina Carroll, Maryem Hassam, Rick Lazar, Paul Neufeld and Paco Luciano).

Afternoon: $10, Evening $20. A sliding scale will also be available at the door.

Want more reasons to come out?

  • It’s a great cause
  • Nobody ever leaves a Njacko performance anything other than happy
  • Njacko & Val support so many great causes; this is a chance to support one of theirs
  • And the music will be great; as will the family entertainment.