Monday, July 13, 2009

African music is making another comeback in the U.S. and Europe

By CARY DARLING / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Every decade or so, it happens. African music, usually exiled by the pop mainstream into the land of world-music exotica, threatens to make a broader incursion into American consciousness.

The '60s: South Africans Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba scored breakthroughs while the New York group the Tokens went to No. 1 with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," their take on a Zulu song written in 1939.

The '70s: Cameroon's Manu Dibango comes up with a global hit in 1972, the sweaty, sax-drenched instrumental "Soul Makossa," considered by some to be the first disco track.

The '80s: Explicitly African influences could be found on albums by Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and the Talking Heads. "Afro-beat" became music-industry shorthand for a variety of acts. They ranged from the fiery soul-jazz-funk of Fela Kuti and the breezy, lyrical melodicism of King Sunny Adé, both from Nigeria, to the Afro-folk rock of Juluka and hushed harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, both South African.

The '90s: A wave of musicians, from Senegal (Baaba Maal, Youssou N'Dour), Mali (Salif Keita, Ali Farka Touré) and Cape Verde (Césaria Évora), became regular visitors to the U.S. and Europe.

But it's at the tail end of the current decade that a new, more blues- and rock-oriented African sound is arousing American interest. Mali's Festival in the Desert, a gathering of often nomadic, guitar-toting musicians, has attracted such high-profile visitors as Robert Plant and Jimmy Buffett.

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