Afro-pop bands hop continents
In U.S., African musicians find more opportunity and audiences.
It's a sweaty, early autumn afternoon on Boston's fashionable Newbury Street, and a small crowd has gathered around a group of musicians who are performing a kind of flash-mob concert.Skip to next paragraph
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The band is Kina Zoré; the music is a fusion of Mozambican traditional music, Afro-pop, and American jazz; and the crowd is grooving. Bandleader Helder Tsinine runs through a series of arpeggios up and down the neck of his guitar and sings lyrics in his native Ronga tongue, while Noah Teshu and Galen Willett keep rhythm on drums and bass. A Sudanese synthesizer player named Mohamad Araki lays in a hard-rock-sounding solo on top, with a decidedly retro-looking "keytar," while Sean Peters and Conor Jones play horns.
Close your eyes, and you just may find yourself transported to the beaches of Maputo, Mozambique, under swaying palm trees, in front of a vast aqua-colored sea. Open your eyes, and you see ... well, concrete and graffiti, and a great new up-and-coming Afro-pop band.
Mr. Tsinine is not the first African musician to try his luck on American shores, and he won't be the last.
But in a world of new media and changing tastes, where Africans are increasingly intrigued by the American sounds of hip-hop, and where Americans are attracted to the exotic sounds of Mother Africa, Tsinine may be in just the right place at the right time.
"I came here because my wife is from Massachusetts," says Tsinine, after a recent recording session for Kina Zoré's first album. After getting his immigration status sorted out, he enrolled at Boston's Berklee College of Music, and started jamming with fellow students. And in 2010, Kina Zoré was born.
"I identify myself as an African, and so the music I play is African music," Tsinine says. But what is it that gives African traditional music its distinct sound? "The rhythm is very important, the guitars, the drums, and especially the sound of the hand drums."
"Sometimes you just groove," he says. "The way I grew up, you had three or four guitars, each playing their own pattern, but all in rhythm with each other. And then, rather than add new sounds, sometimes you subtract them for a while, and when you add it back in, that becomes all the more sweet."
A changing market
Back home in Mozambique, and indeed across much of Africa, the music that is playing on radio stations is all too often either American hip-hop or a local approximation of the hip-hop and American rhythm-and-blues sound.