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www.afropean.com: A new Afro European Culture Magazine!

Afropean.com: A New Afro-European Resource

The Afropean is a new online multimedia, multidisciplinary journal exploring the social, cultural and aesthetic interplay of black and European cultures, and the synergy of styles and ideas brought about because of this union.

After winning an ENAR Award for a contribution toward a racism-free Europe with our Afropean Culture Facebook page, we hope to build on the work of Erik Kamble’s important Afro-Europe blog, which closed in 2013, and will continue to shed light on art, music, literature, news and events from the Afro-European diaspora, as well as produce and commission original essays and projects.

The Afropean team: Johny Pitts, Nat Illumine and Alice Gbelia

What’s in store for March…

From the forthcoming photo essay/travel narrative 'An Afropean in Marrakech' coming soon on www.afropean.com

From the forthcoming photo essay/travel narrative ‘An Afropean in Marrakech’ coming soon on http://www.afropean.com

In the coming weeks we’ll have interviews with legendary Belgo-Congolese singer Marie Daulne of Zap Mama, get the lowdown on why French Hip-Hop is still a political force to be reckoned with from UK MC turned-Paris native Apocraphe, and revisit a digital journey down the river Thames, exploring themes of immigration with Caryl Phillips. We’ll look at Arabic Neo-Soul, with an accompanying travel guide and photo essay about Marrakech, get three unique perspectives on what the term ‘Afropean’ means as a cultural identifier, and speak to world record holder and British Nigerian TV Host Andy Akinwolere about Afro-European style. You can also expect news, reviews, and a calender packed with Afro-Europe related talks, calls for papers, exhibitions, events and gigs in our ‘Agenda’ section.

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Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Paris

10 Classic Escapist Music Videos for The Afropean Traveller

Few arts have developed the idea of Afropean as an aesthetic like music.
Presented here are ten particularly beautiful videos born from a musician’s vision in which something fresh emerges from what W.E.B DuBois described as the ‘double consciousness’ of the black diaspora experience. They are also videos that transport us through time and space, and explore ideas of black travel out of wanderlust, rather than usual notions of illegal immigration and displacement. If nothing else, they’re great escapist visuals for a cold Monday night to help ease us all into late Autumn/early Winter.

Maxi Priest ‘Close To You’

Maxi Priest is a British- Jamaican artist who gained popularity in the late 80’s as a pioneer of fusion reggae, a mixture of smooth quiet-storm soul and rare groove moods with reggae. This violet video, with influences of Nubian North Africa, perfectly captures the essence of his sound- soulful and tinged with the tropics.

Orelha Negra ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’

Orelha Negra are Portugal’s premier soul band, and this video is a stunning love letter to Europe’s oldest city, and the place where their music is born: Lisbon.

The Pharcyde ‘She Said’ (J Dilla Rmx)

A bit of a cheat, this one. Yes The Pharcyde are from the West Coast of America, but their brand of alternative Hip-Hop found a home in Europe in the 1990’s, probably more than it did in the States, and here is the band on tour in Amsterdam. The visuals are beautiful and capture the sentiment of this J – Dilla remix.

Sade ‘Sweetest Taboo’

Sade Adu has always personified elegance and effortlessly weaves her multiculturalism into something completely unique. Of middle-class Nigerian and British heritage, Sade was born in Ibadan Nigeria, but moved to Greater London with her parents when she was a child. Sade songwriter and band member Stewart Mathewman was instrumental in creating the neo-soul movement, and went on to produce Maxwell’s classic ‘Urban Hang Suite’. The video sums up their sound, splicing the melancholy with the romantic.

Zap Mama ‘Brrrlak’

Marie Daulne of Zap Mama might well be credited with being the first person to coin the term ‘Afropean’ when she released her ‘Adventures in Afropea’ LP in the early 90’s. Her father was a Belgian man, tragically killed by Simba Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her Mother was of Bantu heritage and it is through listening to her African chants and songs that Marie was first inspired to create her own sound. Born and raised in Brussels’ Congolese quarter ‘Matonge’, Marie started her musical journey with an acappela quintet, but eventually made her transition into more funk and soul influenced sounds and also took on the ‘Zap Mama’ moniker for herself. This video for their first single featuring the original line up ‘bumpin’ in the desert’ can’t fail to put a smile on your face…

Joy Denalane ‘Was Auch Immer’

Has the harsh German language ever sounded so mellifluous? Joy Denalane has German and South African roots and grew up in the hip Kreuzberg district of Berlin, before it was hip, of course. This video isn’t filmed on an exotic desert island, but Joy’s vocals and the colours she brings some how makes Berlin seem as Tropical as Havana!

Kaoma – ‘Lambada’

Kaoma, the French-Brazilian pop group with the song everybody knows and loves. The music video is one of the most joyful ever made, and references the idea of the Lambada being a ‘forbidden dance’.

Les Nubians – ‘Makeda’

Hélène and Célia Faussart grew up in Paris but are heavily influence by the sounds and styles of their motherland Chad. They broke onto the international scene with their classic album ‘Princesses Nubians’ which became a surprise hit with the American neo-soul crowd. Undoubtedly influenced by their Afropean forerunners Zap Mama and Sade, they popularised the ‘Afropean’ term more than any other act during the 1990’s. Another video based in a city, but with beautiful colours and cherry blossoms.

Ayo – ‘Life is Real’

I interviewed Ayo, a tall, stunning woman of Nigerian and Romany heritage a few years ago in Paris, and she told me her tumultuous life story with an incredible lightness of being. Her Mother, a romany gypsy, was a lifelong drug addict and Ayo was brought up mainly by her father in Germany. Thus her music, which she describes as ‘African Gypsy Soul’ has the various influences you’d expect from a lifelong traveler…from folk to reggae, soul and Afrobeat. This video was filmed in Nigeria and lilts along just like Ayo’s music.

Buika – ‘No Habrá Nadie En El Mundo’

Latin Grammy award winning singer Buika grew up in Mallorca, Spain and has, in my opinion, one of the most beautifully rich voices in contemporary music. African and Spanish rhythms have always worked well together, and with Buika’s voice at the helm the combination is enough to melt your soul!

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Stockholm

Afropean Music: A Swedish Soul Classic

This weekend the Scandinavia Show came to London’s Tobacco Dock in Wapping, and being a bit of a Scandophile I decided to pop along to feed my enthusiasm (mainly by eating a shed load of Swedish meatballs covered in lingonberries).

I perused stalls that celebrated everything from clever furniture to the Aura Borealis, and watched beautiful blonde women perform a mildly risque fitness demonstration; all the things one usually associates with Scandinavia. But the show reminded me why I set up this blog all about black Europe, a side of the continent that rarely seems to get a mention in the national identities that get exported. There was nothing to suggest any multiculturalism at the show- nothing of Denmark’s large Somalian community or Rinkeby, the area of Stockholm with a demographic that is around 90% Muslim.

Taken in Rinkeby, on the outskirts of Stockholm. Image by Johny Pitts ©

Taken in Rinkeby, on the outskirts of Stockholm.
Image by Johny Pitts ©

There was something, though, which reminded me (even though the connection is a little tenuous) of a Swedish- Jamaican soul singer I’ve long been a fan of. I came across a stall selling some Danish candles called Hygge and on the packaging there was a piece of writing describing their popularity in Nordic countries.

“[The people of Scandinavia…] create intimacy, fellowship and conviviality around everyday moments. The kind of everyday moments borne from the region’s exposure to extended cold and darkness and the need for people to come together, over centuries, around a source of heat and light…It’s their ability to turn this rather functional need into an almost spiritual experience…with friends and family around the illuminating glow of the flickering candle flame to create what neighbouring Sweden calls ‘Mys’”

Stockholm is one of my favourite Scandinavian cities, I visit it at least once a year and nearly always go during the winter where I sense, in the flickering candles behind the frosted windows and the cosy little bars and cafes that are cocoons, this feeling of Mys; of warmth, comfort and relaxation despite the minus zero temperatures outside. I’m constantly struck by how the Swedes find beauty in the cold and the darkness, figuratively and literally, because there is no doubt that a lack of sunlight during the winter months can bring one closer to melancholy, too.

Taken on an early visit to Stockholm, wandering through 'Slussen' in the snow. © 2006 Johny Pitts

Taken on an early visit to Stockholm, wandering through ‘Slussen’ in the snow.
© 2006 Johny Pitts

All this mys and melancholy can be found on the 1997 debut album of Swedish soul artist Stephen Simmonds entitled, simply, Alone (repackaged and remixed as ‘Spirit Tales’ in the UK and US). Simmonds’ father was a Jamaican musician who, like many black musicians during the 60’s and 70’s, found a home in relatively liberal jazz-loving Sweden. Simmonds’ foundations for the album are undoubtedly the spirituality of Bob Marley, the politics of Marvin Gaye, and the soul stylings of Stevie Wonder, along with the odd Jazz inflection here and there- all influences his Dad brought from across the seas. There are also contemporary comparisons from America to be made, that range from Eric Benet to D’Angelo and, as the US and UK record labels were blatantly trying to exploit, Maxwell. Indeed, Stephen Simmonds came along in the fine tradition of what Kedar Massenberg coined neo-soul, a musical movement formed by the latter part of a Generation X who came of age in the 1990’s, and were responding to all the 60’s and 70’s soul artists that were played to them as children. Simmonds was also part of a golden generation of black music coming out of Scandinavia that included Neneh and Eagle Eye Cherry, Blacknuss, Danish super producers Soulshock and Karlin, Robyn, Jennifer Brown and Titiyo.

Whilst he found success in Sweden, the album faltered in The States, and I think it is because Alone is not quick music. I remember buying it, listening once and forgetting about it for a while. The album doesn’t have any ‘bangers’ that jump out and demand your attention. Much like the Hygge candles I mentioned earlier, it is a slow-burner, with whispery vocals that flicker upon warm cinematic chords. I say flicker because there is space- the music is quiet and moody and capacious with an emphasis on the rich low-end.

© Photo by Rick Guest, Art direction by Mat Cook

© Photo by Rick Guest, Art direction by Mat Cook

I actually gave my copy of ‘Alone’ to a friend, who was more patient than I, and ended up encouraging me to give it another chance. I would play the album in the background when I was writing or cooking or doing anything but consciously listening. Slowly but surely the melodies and the lyrics began to marinate, and today Alone ranks as one of my favourite albums of the last 20 years. The more you listen, the more the wonderful subtleties appear, and I’m still hearing new things after more than a decade of playing it, like the use of a rainstick on the jazzy ‘Let it Go’ or the whispers on the moody title track ‘Alone’, that I eventually realised were spoken in Swedish. You begin to hear Sweden as an influence all over the album; the late Swedish Jazz legend ‘Esbjorn Svensson’ playing on ‘Tears Never Dry’, Neneh Cherry’s half sister Titiyo providing backing vocals on ‘Hope You Do’, the production of Swedish film maker Peter Cartriers, who no doubt contributed to the atmospheric sound of the album. I might even suggest Simmonds was responding to growing up as part of Stockholm’s first-generation mixed-race community, and themes of loneliness and alienation permeate throughout lyrically.

“It’s so hard to live alone, I’ve got no place to call my home” – Stephen Simmonds ‘Alone’

From the Alone/Spirit Tales inlay. © Photo by Rick Guest, art direction by Mat Cook

From the Alone/Spirit Tales inlay.
© Photo by Rick Guest, art direction by Mat Cook

There is another Swedish word that I hear in Stephen’s music that doesn’t have an exact translation into English. I say ‘word’, but I see it more as a kind of understated philosophy which, along with the Law of Jante, underpins much of the country’s national identity, particularly when it comes to art and design. The word is lagom.

The best description I have found of lagom in English is ‘enough is as good as a feast’, that is; anything superfluous to what is necessary to reach a desired result doesn’t need to be there, and Alone distinguishes itself from the plethora of American soul artists at the time because of the restraint and minimalism of the album. There are no caterwauling adlibs, no self indulgent piano solos, (despite Simmonds’ being an accomplished pianist) and none of the lover-man spoken word intros many of his contemporaries were guilty of (you know, all that “Listen baby, tonight you’re gonna have the night of your life” type stuff).

‘Alone’ is an album that invites one to sit and listen and conjures up imagery of winter, yet warmth and of loneliness, yet optimism. It is melancholy though deeply spiritual.

So as winter begins to set in, why not take a Fika, burn a candle, and have a listen to one of the most underrated soul albums of the last twenty years. You never know, you might even feel some of that Swedish Mys.

http://www.stephensimmonds.se/webshop.php

Post cover image by Rick Guest, Art Direction by Mat Cook

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