CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Jospin Pendere-Yé, Aka Pygmy music, and a song for Putin

I know, there’s a lot going on in this title. Jospin Pendere-Yé is a Central African artist who focuses on traditional music. He’s an accomplished ngombi harpist, and was featured in Résistances Rythmiques.

Here’s a really cool song he did with Aka Pygmy singers – traditional Pygmy music has such complex polyphonies that it’s on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

However, there’s one song of Pendere-Yé’s that’s really caught my attention. I get that Russian influence is growing in the Central African Republic, and the use of a balalaika is a neat cross cultural blend, but Putin’s judo?

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Prosper Mayélé and Centrafrican Jazz

There’s some cool West African funk from the 70s and 80s, but before that, there was Centrafrican Jazz – kind of a “relaxed rumba” from the Central African Republic.

One of the biggest artists in CAR through the 50s and 60s was Prosper Mayélé and his Orchestre Centrafrican Jazz. Not only did Mayélé become one of the biggest stars in the country, but he founded the Groupement Orchestral de la République Centrafricaine, a musicians’ organization to support Central African artists, help them grow their careers, and get Central Africa a platform for its own music.

Continuing in the tradition of Central African musicians being “non-political” but still deeply tied to politics as a matter of survival, there are many songs that boost whoever the current government was – this one a paean to Bokassa, shortly after he took power in a coup in 1966.

Prosper Mayélé was successful enough in his career that, while he was favoured by the regime, he still came up as a threat to President Bokassa’s ego, and was conscripted in his late 30s into a military orchestra. He outlasted Bokassa’s government, and lived to a ripe old age, passing away in 1997.

There is an absolute wealth of Centafrican jazz and rumba from the 60s and 70s on a Youtube channel run by Jean-Claude Mayélé Gérard (I think a family member), and it’s truly a historic musical treasure trove.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Résistances Rythmiques (2017)

Résistances Rythmiques is a short documentary on Central African musicians and how they’re using music careers as an alternative and as a tonic to the violence in CAR. Many of these artists describe themselves as “anti-political”, but really, they’re quite political. It’s only that “politics” in this context means violence, insurgencies, and ethno-religious divides, while music is a way to bring communities together, support CAR’s culture, and promote peace.

Some speak about friends or brothers who have joined the anti-Balaka insurgents and who have died in the fighting, and most just want peace and stability. The older artists are very clear eyed that the recent hate between Muslim and Christian communities is new and driven by the various insurgent groups – CAR had been comfortable with being multi-ethnic and multi-religious until very recently.

It’s also a great primer on Central African music and musicians – rap, rumba, traditional music (including ngombi harps) and the tradi-moderne music of Montenguéné.

It’s available on Youtube here (can’t be embedded), though only in French.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Majora – Gbako na molebo

Some great upbeat jams by Majora, a Central African singer who focuses on Montenguéné – folk music from Lobaye, in the south part of CAR along the border with the Republic of Congo. Majora incorporates traditional dance, music, and dress into his music, as well as afro-pop and hip hop dance styles – and he’s a hell of a dancer:

There’s also a fair but of the political in his works, including the plea for peace in “Garder Moral”.

BANGLADESH: Dhaka Sessions @ The Bookworm / Indigenous Bangladeshis

That interesting interview with author Saad Z. Hossain from an earlier post was part of a the Dhaka Sessions, a series of interviews and performances at The Bookworm, a really cool little indie bookshop in Dhaka.

Some neat examples include a performance by the Farooque Bhai Project, a pop-funk-hip hop band started by a group of Bangladeshi students at university in Toronto. Really fun, bouncy jams:

Or a Miftah Zaman‘s beautiful mix of Bengali folk mixed with warm acoustic guitar – his music makes me feel like relaxing in a hammock on a summer afternoon.

And F-Minor, Bangladesh’s first female indigenous band – the members are Marma and Garo, and mix their own musical traditions with Bengali folk and guitar.

Bangladesh has struggled with even identifying and recognizing indigenous peoples – many non-Bengali groups, mainly along the borders with Myanmar and Assam, were classified in 2011 as “ethnic minorities” with the government insisting there were “no indigenous people” in Bangladesh.

The difference between “indigenous” and “minority” is actually significant. In any country, indigenous means the group was there first, and other ethnic groups have moved in around / over them, while ethnic minorities are just that, someone belonging to an ethnic group that is not the majority in a country. Indigenous people have claims for self-determination and protection of language, land, and culture.

That language seems to be shifting, with Bangladeshi press praising F-Minor’s success in sharing “indigenous cultural traditions”. The band also takes a broader feminist lens:

As the first female indigenous band of the country, F Minor’s songs strongly emphasises on women rights and women’s independence. “We are not working for the indigenous or tribal people only, we are working for women’s rights, women’s recognition as well,” shares lead vocal Pinky. “We want to talk about women’s lives, their struggles, their achievements through our music.”

Daily Star, “F Minor: Winning hearts through diversity and rhythm

BANGLADESH: Bapjaner Bioscope (2015)

Bapjaner Bioscope has a lot of the Bollywood tropes that South Asian cinema is known for – dramatic fast cuts and jumps, musical numbers, straightforward morals, and creative use of camera angles (there’s a great chase scene filmed just on a GoPro strapped to the chest of one of the characters) and a long two hour run-time broken up by an intermission.

However, it isn’t a fluff piece, and this award-winning film reinforces messages of Bangladeshi identity and the country’s narrative about the 1971 Independence War from Pakistan. The reinforcing of communal identity and national narrative through popular film isn’t anything new – you see it everywhere from Uzbekistan’s historical epics to America’s Marvel movies.

The film is a small conflict writ large – a poor farmer, Hasan, is inspired to take up his father’s bioscope – a hand-cranked portable slideshow machine, accompanied by live singing and storytelling. However, the stories he shares to his villages are stories are of his uncle, an independence fighter killed during 1971…by the family of the rich landlord who owns the barren sandbank the village is on. The landlord’s family were on the side of Pakistan, and are portrayed as collaborators and stooges – with a class element as well, as it’s implied part of their wealth and control comes from this collaboration.

The whole film is available on Youtube with English subtitles – though they translate bioscope as “peep show”, which carries a totally different connotation. The film’s soundtrack is beautiful – there’s lovely atmospheric setting pieces:

Even the love songs have a similar floating beauty:

BANGLADESH: Helipad DJ set

I don’t know if it’s just a product of the pandemic, but there’s a growing list of “DJs doing sets in odd places” – and I love it. Up a mountain, in an old castle, at a lake of asphalt, and now on a helipad in the beach town of Cox’s Bazar.

DJ Rahat is a seriously established DJ, he’s got some great collabs, folk remixes, and even runs a DJ school in Bangladesh. This Bengali folk mashup with singer Parvez Saddad is particularly nice.

And crossing all the way away from EDM, I really love this fun bluesy guitar number.