The lineup of artists slated to perform at the 2015 Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July 17-19 at Jericho Beach Park) features a wealth of music from Africa – likely one of the largest contingents of African artists playing the festival in a long time. These artists also present an amazing diversity of music – from traditional to contemporary, experimental to innovative and beyond – offering music lovers of all kinds something to enjoy and celebrate. The artists hail from South Africa, Mali, Angola, Senegal, and Cameroon. Some still call Africa home, others are world travellers.
Let’s start with the electrifying music of Mali’s Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba. Hailed as a music genius by no less than blues legend Taj Mahal (also performing at the festival), Kouyaté is a master of the ngoni. A descendant of a long line of griots, he says “My ancestors played ngoni, I play ngoni, my son plays ngoni. That’s my family’s mission”. But this is the ngoni lute played in a very contemporary way – reaching new electric heights with the release of Ba Power (Glitterbeat Records). Their multi-date North American tour in support of this record is the reason they’re coming to Vancouver. “In Bambara, ‘ba’ means strong or great, but it also means group,” Kouyaté explains. “This album is called Ba Power because the messages on it are important and strong”. Here is West African rock played on a very traditional instrument – steeped in history yet stepping boldly out into a future.
Maher Cissoko was born to be a kora player, part of a great griot family in Casamance, Senegal that has seen the art of kora playing passed down from generation to generation for more than 700 years. Maher embraced then embellished that tradition, developing his own explosive and danceable style of playing. He met Sousou, from Sweden, when she was learning kora from Maher’s brother Solo. They became both musical and life partners, forging a music with roots in the kora tradition, yet spiced with the sounds of Swedish folk, reggae, & other influences. On a unique voyage of cultures, rhythms, melodies, and movements, the Cissokos welcome you to join them on their global travels.
Guitarist and vocalist Cécile Doo-Kingué is one of Montreal’s most electrifying guitarists, and a favourite of the city’s groove aficionados. Her bewitching, incomparable fretwork and deep, suave voice blends blues, soul and afro-folk to create a signature sound on which one can surf to the end of the world. Born first generation in New York to diplomat parents from the Cameroon, Cécile has lived in France, the United States, and is now at home in Montréal. This meeting of cultures is reflected in the eclecticism of her music – a world blues.
South Africa’s Bongeziwe Mabandla calls himself a folk singer, yet his expressive voice evokes the emotions of pure soul; his music is drawn from an eclectic mix of influences that range from Tracy Chapman to Oliver Mtukudzi. From Tsolo, a rural town in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, his sound has a rhythmically grass-roots vibe, fusing elements of traditional Xhosa music, mbaqanga, soul, hip-hop and dub. He is a storyteller who sings in both Xhosa and English, his heartfelt lyrics a candid portrait of what he sees in the world around him.
Paulo Flores is a legendary Angolan singer-songwriter keeping the flame of semba music alive in the 21st century. Semba is the elegant, earthy, African ancestor of Brazilian samba — and the root of today’s kuduro and kizomba dance crazes. Flores’ poetic compositions focus on everything from love and life to history and politics, tapping the roots that make semba the repository of decades of Angolan wit and wisdom. In a country where the deep wounds of civil war are plastered over with new oil money and a beachfront building boom. Paulo Flores keeps a nation’s conscience and memory alive – while bringing the glorious and danceable sounds of semba music to an enthusiastic international audience.
For those who already love the rich diversity and vitality of the music of Africa, there is much to enjoy at this year’s Vancouver Folk Music Festival. The excellence of the musicianship, passion for performance, great melodies, and dynamic rhythms of the artists playing the festival will also win over new converts, guaranteed. For full info on the 2015 Vancouver Folk Music Festival artists, go to www.thefestival.bc.ca