World music matters - Cimafunk brings Afro-Cuban funk therapy to France
When Erick Iglesias Rodríguez discovered the power of groove, he quit medical school, went to Havana and morphed into Cimafunk. His 2017 album Terapia (Therapy) aims to make you sweat it out on the dancefloor. It worked in the Americas. Now he's determined to set Europe alight. Starting with France.
This is the therapy Cimafunk proposes at his concerts: "It's about having fun, it’s about dance, it’s about getting some people close to you, it’s about sexuality, friendship and dance and sweating. It’s all human, it’s about meeting up..."
No surprise then that Billboard dubbed the 29-year-old singer and composer Cuba's revelation of 2018 and his showmanship has drawn comparisons with James Brown.
Rodríguez' sound is based on Afro-Cuban rhythms fused with American funk music. That basically takes him back to his African roots as a descendent of cimarrones, the Spanish word for African runaways who hid in the forests to escape enslavement. Hence the moniker Cimafunk.
"African music is in every piece of my work because I make danceable music," he told RFI. "All the groove we have in Cuba, most came from Africa. We have the sound of Pilón, mambo, cha-cha-chá. All this musical style in the beginning came from African drums."
People in Havana have been soaking up Cimafunk's therapy since 2017, scaling walls to try and sneak into his late night concerts. Such is the enthusiasm he's begun adapting his sound and changing the songs in relation to the way the public reacts.
The song Me Voy (I'm going) is basically an everyday story from the streets of Havana: "You look at the person and the person looks at you and you both know that you wanna meet each other". It's a kind of 'your place or mine?' song about living the moment.
"What I’m trying to do is make you go to my concert and forget your troubles. You just have one or two hours of the show, of dancing, to figure out what you’re gonna do with your body."
For anyone lucky enough to catch the young singer, composer and producer in action, then do!
If you want to hear more about funk in Cuba, the impact internet has had on his rapid rise to fame (lots), the origins of the album (ski station in France) and of course listen to the music, then check out the podcast.
Cimafunk play at Parc Floral as part of the Paris Jazz Festival on 25 Juillet 2019.
For other tour dates, follow Cimafunk on facebook
The official website here
World music matters - Lemma brings women artists from the Algerian desert to the stage
Franco-Algerian singer Souad Asla grew up in Béchar in south west Algeria listening to, and loving, the region's traditional repertoires. While women have played a role in passing on that musical culture, they rarely perform in public. Asla has changed that. In 2015 she formed Lemma the first all-female ensemble from the Saoura to tour internationally.
"Women have always been part of the musical heritage of the desert. Women have sung, danced and played percussion for centuries. But behind closed doors."
Saoud Asla has brought these women out of the shadows and onto the prestigious Institut du monde Arabe in Paris to perform at the Arabofolies festival where we chat before the soundcheck.
Lemma (meaning union or gathering in Arabic) goes back to 2015 when Asla set out to try and preserve and promote the rich musical heritage of her native Béchar.
"I brought these women together to play and above all preserve the vast and rich oral heritage from this region because it’s dying out," she explains.
Musical genres, both religious and profane, like malhun, gnawi, zeffani, hadra are traditionally performed at weddings and funerals but are also shared between women at informal gatherings where they meet to "discuss and support one another".
Asla brought together nine women, aged 20 to 79, all from the region of Béchar where she was born. With the exception of Hasna El Becharia, the now famous gumbri player and vocalist, the other singers and percussionists were unaccustommed to the limelight.
"I had to go and convince their husbands, their brothers," she explains. "I set up residencies over there, kidnapped them and locked them up in a house in the desert for 10 days."
The women had music running through their veins but were unused to arrangements or using headphones.
"They’ve worked very hard, and they’ve become a lot more professional," Asla says proudly.
The women sing, dance and play percussion.
"Before going on stage, the women pray and put on their veils but they’re brightly coloured and shimmering," says Asla, They dress up, put on make up, they’re beautiful, they’re happy with themselves. That’s the Islam I grew up with."
The ensemble defends that tolerant, open Islam on stage.
"Our message is obvious when you see us performing in public: freedom of expression, freedom for women, a real place for women in music around the world, whether in Algeria or here in France.
"Because even here, it’s difficult to get our music heard. As a Maghrebi woman, I don’t know what’s happening, but doors are closing. You can’t imagine how hard it’s been to get this group off the ground. Thankfully I’ve found a tour manager to promote the project but it’s been five years battling on my own and it’s been difficult."
The tour shows it was worth all the effort. And the singer, who left Algeria for France 27 years ago to be able to perform in public, also takes satisfaction in having founded a kind of second family.
"There’s a musical and spiritual kinship between us all. I feel like they’re my aunts, mother, sisters. You could say I brought my family over here. It was a bit selfish in a way. I did the project for myself, but it's taking off and I'm happy.
Lemma play at the Festival des Musiques d'Ici et Ailleurs in Chalons-en-Champagne 30 June, 2019.
Follow Lemma on facebook and check out other tour dates.
World music matters - Yemeni-style hip hop from A-WA sister trio
A-Wa sing electronic-infused versions of Yemenite folk songs in Arabic. They proudly defend their Israeli Yemenite identity on their second album Bayti Fi Rasi, inspired by the story of their great-grandmother Rachel, a Jewish refugee brought from Yemen to Israel in 1949 as part of Operation Magic Carpet.
Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim came to fame with their 2016 debut album, Habib Galbi, on which they set traditional Yemenite songs to pulsating electro beats.
But Bayti Fi Rasi is a 14-track album of original compositions, based on the life and times of their great-grandmother, Rachel.
"On this new album Bayti Fi Rasi we talk about the notion of home and is life a matter of luck or fate," says Tair, the eldest of the three sisters, as they prepare to perform at Paris's Café de la Danse. "These are the themes and issues that our great-grandma Rachel dealt with.
"Bayti Fi Rasi means my home is in my head. Whenever she was asked in Yemen why she travelled from one place to another she said 'I can't stay in one place, my home is in my head'."
As a Jew and a single mother, Rachel suffered discrimination and wasn't allowed an education.
"She didn't know how to read and write, she couldn't express herself freely," Tair continues, "this is why we care about letting her voice be heard. It's really important for us in this album."
"We really felt she was present in the studio," says Liron, "it was very challenging and emotional to blend our voices with her voice."
On the video for the song Mudbira (a colloquial word for unlucky or miserable) A-Wa dress up as fiesty shepherdesses, delivering a strong feminist message to men who might dare to mess around with their goats.
Rachel's problems continued once she arrived in Israel in 1949, along with some 49,000 other Yemenite Jews.
"Where will I stake a home? You have a tent for now. Or at least a small shack. Along with four other families," A-Wa sing on Hana Mash Al Yaman (Here is not home).
"They were placed in tent camps, they couldn't work and had to use coupons for food," Tair explains. "The country was young and couldn't include everyone. It was sort of a mess."
"And you can't really disconnect the person from his or homeland and culture," Tagel adds.
Pride in Mizrahi culture
A-Wa are proud of their heritage but resolutely anchored in the present, mashing up traditional Yemenite headdress and costumes with sneakers.
They feel much more at ease with their Mizrahi culture in Israel than their great grandmother did.
"We want to bring the glory back to our culture," says Tagel. "The generation before us felt a bit ashamed but we feel it's so beautiful we have to celebrate it. Our generation is way more curious, really going back and digging in the roots and bringing to the front."
"People are more accepting now and more open for this kind of music," says Tair, "and the fact that we blend it with hip hop and more modern styles [means] it's very danceable and it's more accessible to all people.
"I guess the A-Wa experience now, we're becoming more and more mainstream in Israel and it's a blessing."
Follow the band on facebook
World music matters - Kenyan singer JS Ondara keeps the American dream alive
JS Ondara began writing songs as a kid in Nairobi, obsessed with American artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. His dream of following in Dylan's footsteps became reality when, in 2013, he reached the U.S. He released his acclaimed debut album Tales of America in February this year.
JS Ondara would appear to be living the dream. After releasing a remarkable debut album recounting the tales of living as an immigrant in America, he opened for Neil Young on his US tour in May.
"It's a bit of a dream, I still have to pinch myself," the 26 year old self-taught musician told RFI at a recent sold-out concert in Paris's Nouveau Casino.
"I'm essentially a folk musician, I have a wandering heart and a wondering mind and that's why I'm here now. I'm in Paris playing folk songs."
He talked to us about the difficult beginnings, grappling with the complexities of the American Dream and why, for the moment, he has "said goodbye" to the boy from Nairobi.
Listen to the podcast at the audio link and read some of the highlights below.
On his place in President Donald Trump's America
"There’s definitely some kind of growing intolerance towards immigration in his era and I’m sort of trying to navigate that space and trying to shine some light through living out the American dream and show that’s something that can still be achievable. Maybe my place in Trump’s America is to succeed as an immigrant and show that it is possible and that there is a place for immigration and for immigrants, that there’s value in it still.
On questioning the American dream
Writing the whole record, it’s a juxtaposition of what the dream is and how sometimes it turns into a nightmare once you’re in America ... the romance with firearms that America seems to have and there’s racism obviously and lots of other things that trouble America. But despite all that it still ends up becoming this place that people look up to in some way. So "that dream but not really" is what I was trying to convey in some fashion.
On his family back in Nairobi
My family is mostly puzzled, they didn’t really know this was a version of me that could exist in the universe. They had no way they could conceptualise that because of how we grew up and because of what was around us. They’re largely puzzled but they’re happy for me. Music wasn’t really part of culture back home, of the family, so obviously they’re not going to support that because it makes no sense to them at all.
On the song "Saying Goodbye"
I’m saying goodbye to a lot of things, I think of it as the totality of the past, just who I once was. The tradition, culture... And I think I reached a point in my life when I felt those things were keeping me from becoming the best version of who I am. And so I felt I had to separate myself from that and that’s part of the reason I moved to America.
On returning to Kenya
I haven't been back. I would love to at the right time. Right now I’m busy and I’m glad I am. At the right time I’ll go back.
JS Ondara is in concert on 5 July, 2019 at Cognac Blues Passions festival
Tales of America is out on Verve Forecast Records
Visit his official website here
World music matters - Serpentist Michel Godard meets Alim Qasimov: spellbinding
French avant garde jazzman Michel Godard is one of the world's leading players of the serpent, a Renaissance wind instrument, ancestor of the tuba and which was first used to accompany Gregorian chant. The instrument's connection to the sacred is wonderfully rendered on his latest album Awakening recorded with Azerbaijan's Alim Qasimov.
Godard started out as a classical tuba player and joined the Radio France Philharmonic orchestra aged just 18. His love of early classical music pushed him to look for an instrument he could play it on properly.
He discovered the serpent and "completely fell in love with it".
Made from wood and covered in leather with a mouthpiece made of cow horn, it has a softer sound than the tuba, closer to the human voice.
"The serpent is a sacred instrument," says Godard. "Like most religions, [the Catholic Church] had a wind instrument to make the connection between earth and heaven. And the serpent had this role."
Godard has worked with scores of musicians and singers from both the jazz and classical music world and his latest adventure, Awakening, is with renowned Azerbaijan singer Alim Qasimov.
The serpent offers a counterpoint to Qasimov's soaring maqam, his variations on Azeri poetry and traditional chants. With enchanting results.
"Being on stage with someone like Alim Qasimov, you immediately feel when he’s singing that it’s not him, there is something coming to him, that passes through him," Godard explains.
"He is completely connected with something else, you can call it what you want: it can be God, energy, creativity, something is coming through him, this is absolutely sure, and to be on stage with him is wonderful. I never felt this so strong."
Listen to the full interview to hear about how Godard and Qasimov met, worked together and the fascinating history of the serpent: its French origins, fall from grace and revival thanks to a British trio.
Michel Godard and Azim Qasimov play at the Morgenland festival on 14 June 2019.
Awakening is out on Buda Musique