Magic is in the air in the West African country of Benin. Home to nearly 10 million people, with more than 40 recognized ethnic groups, the nation draws its musical inspiration from a wide variety of sources. French culture seeps into its history from its colonial days and Voodoo traditions permeate even the most modern of songs. Grab a talking drum and join the exploration.
You’ll feel the rhythm and spirit from head to toe when listening to one of Benin’s most celebrated artists. Her full-bodied vocals, vibrant soul and colorful presentation make Angelique Kidjo a force to be reckoned with. She’s won Grammys, performed with renowned orchestras and written books. Kidjo is recognized not only for her transformative music career – bridging Afro Beat with international pop – but also for her efforts to earn equal rights for girls in Africa.
Take it from jazz legend Herbie Hancock: Lionel Loueke is “a musical painter.” Like Jackson Pollock, he throws notes and time signatures at a standard canvas and turns them into an abstract, strangely coherent work of art. He attended Berklee College of Music on scholarship, and from there he expanded into the science of metallurgy— in that he contorts common instruments into something more. In this Kennedy Center performance, the 42-year-old molds a hollow-body electric guitar into something of a standup bass. His latest album, Gaïa, is out Oct. 20 on Blue Note.
Melismatic storytelling, intricate horns and rhythm changes, and animated dancing all characterize the Gangbé Brass Band. A 10-piece formed in 1994, the collective bring the Fon “sound of metal” to eager ears. Their reverie can be heard in calypso and zydeco pockets in the Caribbean and southern United States, as well as the spiritual music of jùjú and Voodoo. But GBB are originals who draw large audiences all across Africa and Europe.
Benin’s most boisterous rap duo pay homage to the aforementioned Kidjo with their take on her “Batonga” ahead of Diamant Noir’s fourth album, DN4EVER. Lifelong friends Anwar and Amir shared a love of Biggie Smalls, basketball and fiery beats, forming Diamant Noir (“Black Diamond” translated from French) in 2005. The hip-hop pair aim to rip up thug stereotypes and prove to their elders that rap can be used to unify populations.
Labeling herself as “tradi-moderne,” the songstress known as Zeynab fuses Auto-Tuned vocals with unrelenting percussion and pizzazz. She is often accompanied by a band of “talking drummers,” musicians who accompany time-honored magical invocations. Indeed, her songs transcend the ordinary and enliven from within. Her latest album is slated for release before the end of 2015, with two new singles available on her Facebook page.
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