Tag Music

Secular praise songs from Western Kenya

This is from a really wonderful blog (my tax dollars at work!) that posts decades-old African pop music, accompanied by lengthy history and commentary. Here’s the brief background: “The Kawere Boys were formed by Cheplin Ngode Kotula in Kericho, Kenya in 1974, and over the next four years became one of the more popular Benga groups in Luo land. … These recordings were not only popular throughout Luo land, but also sold well in Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, Cameroun, and West Africa.” It’s fascinating and heartening to learn these tales of cultural spread that bypass the usual centers of power (Europe, the U.S., heck, even Nairobi). Also—fascinating relationship between artist and patron: the patron doesn’t just make the song possible, he is the song’s subject.


The Kawere Boys ‘Muma Ben’ (1974) mp3

Most of the songs in the Kawere repertoire seem to be praise songs for patrons who had invited the group to perform. These songs can be thought of as pre-internet age social networking. The singer usually starts by introducing himself, goes on to introduce the object of his praise, as well as the patron’s relatives, friends, and neighbors, before explaining the nature of his relationship to the patron in question. For example, in ‘Muma Ben’, the song starts with an introduction of ‘Muma Ben from Saye Konyango’, then introduces Muma Ben’s family, and ends with praise for the hospitality the singer received when he was invited to Muma Ben’s house. If you were to map out all of the relationships outlined in the Kawere Boys singles in our collection, and if you had a deep understanding of Luo culture, you could get a good idea of the social networks the Kawere Boys relied upon for their livelihood.

from “The Kawere Boys,” by Matthew LaVoie, Voice of America African Music Treasures Blog, 12 November 2008 :: first posted here 12 November 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.


Wimbo Zuri Catalog No. 054.1A10-1

This past October I attended the Manhattan wedding of pair of wonderful Kenyan-based friends. This CD came together as part of my preparations for my journey east from Portland. Though it almost qualifies as a member of the 50 States! series, in the end I tried to focus on the tensions and the connections between Africa and New York. The mix revolves around two versions of the Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji’s “Akiwowo,” which was covered by French pop icon/iconoclast Serge Gainsbourg as “New York USA,” wherein he replaces the original lyrics with what seems to be a list of random important buildings in 1960s Manhattan. Part of the irony is that “Akiwowo” itself was written in Manhattan, and is Olatunji’s nostalgic recollection of a train-driver he had known during his childhood.

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My charango

Bolivian Charango


A few months ago, around my thirty-fourth birthday, I decided what I really needed was a smaller guitar. A man reaches a certain age, I guess, and after spending most of my life figuring out tunes on a classical guitar, I figured I’d gotten as good at “Wayfaring Stranger” as I was going to get. I thought something smaller might enliven the mix.

There aren’t really any standard guitars more diminutive than my Yamaha classical—I toyed with the idea of a Martin 000-series like Woody Guthrie painted up and played (“This Machine Kills Fascists“). But I realized that my desire to tweak Guthrie’s proto-punk motto into something more comfortably charitable (“This Machine Loves Fascists”? Wait, that doesn’t sound right) would probably make the 000 a not-quite-satisfying axe. Besides, other musical cultures—and more importantly, more-fun-to-say instrument names—beckoned.

A graphical analysis of national anthem lyrics

With attention to religious expression, Olympic performance,
and general bloodthirstiness

One of my 2010 New Year’s resolutions was simple: I wanted to learn the words to the French national anthem. My reasons for memorizing “La Marseillaise” were twofold: first, I’d always wanted to sing along with that climactic scene in Casablanca where Bogart, Bergman, and the whole gang at Rick’s Café Américain join together to drown out an annoying chorus of Nazi officers. And second, for the past few years I’ve undertaken an unsuccessful effort to teach myself the language of Voltaire and Hulot, largely by watching Le 20 Heures, the French national broadcaster’s nightly newscast.

Mix CD | The Mix Who Knew Too Much

Wimbo Zuri Catalog No. 048.1A09-1

The challenge I gave myself for this one: reference as many Alfred Hitchcock film titles as possible without having the music slide entirely into a stew of murder and terror and deep discomfort. For the most part it worked out. I’m still not satisfied with the visual side of the design—an uneasy riffing on Saul Bass’s title credits for Vertigo and North by Northwest, but I did enjoy working the director’s famous profile into the Wimbo Zuri icon.

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Mix CD | Hope Is Just Another Word for Love

Wimbo Zuri Catalog No. 046.1A09-1

For the past several years, my friend Robyn has taken part part in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Colorado. I designed this mix CD, of peppy, hopeful, walk-appropriate songs, for her to use as a giveaway to her most generous donors. The creative commons-licensed cover photo is from flickr user riot jane.

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Mix CD | October Surprise

Wimbo Zuri Catalog No. 041.1A08-1

This was a quick “What I’m listening to these days” concoction created for friends around the time of the 2008 elections. It’s not overtly political, but let’s just admit that O’s were in the air back then.

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Mix CD | Hold On

Wimbo Zuri Catalog No. 040.1A08-1

For a while I’ve been interested in the ways that repeating a word over and over can change it—sometimes it loses meaning, becoming a simple babble of repeated sounds. In other cases, the repetition increases the strength and depth of the word. Sometimes, indeed, it feels like—transcendently, I guess—both is happening at once.

I started to wonder whether it was possible to make a coherent mix where every song was different but had the same title. Which titles are universal enough for this to be possible? Which titles lead to themes so various to make such repetition bearable, something more than a joke? I feel like “Hold On” succeeded at this, far beyond my wildest hopes. I find myself sharing this mix with friends and people I’ve never met, not as a joke so much as an offering, a pointer towards hope.

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Mix CD | Here Is a Good One

Wimbo Zuri Catalog No. 035.1A07-1

A mix of equal parts hip-hop, indy pop, and sound clips from strange old movies I’ve seen on TCM. The cover illustration comes from a vintage advertising card for a 200lb. roll-top oak desk.

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Mix CD | Roxbury Dispensary

Wimbo Zuri Catalog No. 034.1A07-1

A few years ago, some doctor friends of mine moved from Tennessee to the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury Crossing. This CD was created to commemorate the transition. The cover is from an 1841 public health pamphlet I found in the Library of Congress website.

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