French, Latin and Pygmy influences make up the structure of Central African Republic's music scene. Dulcet sounds are hammered out on the balafon, a xylophone relative made from animal horns and skin. Dances borrow from the cha-cha and merengue, kicking up kinetic energy and the spirits of those oppressed by a government that’s been in transition for years. Here are five artists providing the soundtrack to life in Central African Republic.
Created at a refugee camp outside the country’s only international airport, Handimusic gives voice to the displaced and the disabled. Led by activist and polio survivor Simplice Lenguy, the collective sings of peace and togetherness. “I am very optimistic,” he told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2015. “It has happened in other countries, but people have overcome the crisis. They worked hard and the reality changed.”
Theatrical and regal, Idylle Mamba is a Christian artist who enraptures with every note. Her melisma ripples like pebbles on a pristine lake, offering sanctuary to all who pass by. She radiates with positive feminine power, emphasizing in her works the need to celebrate African women. The above track, “Maman,” addresses her own mother, as well as the maternal vibration of the planet.
The world-renown DJ and trombonist is “Changing bad listening habits... one person at a time,” according to his Twitter profile. A perennial favorite of tastemakers like NPR, Gaba blends traditional C.A.R. beats with deep house, creating a cerebral chill. He currently resides in Baltimore, bridging the ocean between his home country and his community in transition.
When acoustic guitars play the role of keyboards and drums, and warbling vocals are as sumptuous as a bass line, you’re in Boddhi Satva territory. The mix master and multi-instrumentalist got a career boost from caffeine— Coca-Cola featured him as one of its Coke Studio personalities in 2013. And for good reason: He brings the dance floor to the savanna and binds the past to the present.
A storyteller extraordinaire, Laetitia Zonzambé weaves songs like patchwork. Her 2014 EP, Sanza, describes clothing made of many fabrics— like the spectrum of her art. Whether she’s possessed by a weary senior’s ghost (like on the above song) or crooning as herself, this Montreal immigrant immediately grabs curious listeners. (Lead image courtesy Marilyn Gilbert Artists Management.)
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