Nnega Egbuna and Freshly Ground bass guitarist.
Photo by William Farrington

“I am what you hear,” Nigerian singer Nneka Egbuna says, “I wouldn’t be able to separate my music from me.”

Nneka, Blitz the Ambassador, Lokua Kanza and Freshly Ground perform Saturday, March 16, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, providing a glimpse at the breadth of contemporary music coming across from Africa. The show curated by the World Music Institute climaxes the two-day “Africa Now” festival.

“Identity is at the heart of the music of these artists” Musicologist Marcy Depina explains “The experience of creating music outside of your ancestral home, mixes both a longing for traditional sounds and desire to incorporate modern rhythms and musical styles.”

Their journeys bring us truly original music. As a genre crossing vocalist, Nneka had to forge her own path. Like Fela, a move outside of Nigeria’s borders propelled her career. What you hear when she sings, whether backed by spare rock, soul, or reggae arrangements is passion. She pours her heart into anthemic tunes in a voice at once vulnerable and strong addressing issues meeker artists avoid. Audiences globally have responded.

Blitz the Ambassador, a Ghanaian-born rapper, will be backed by a large band and projected imagery. In his video, “Best I Can” cold cut images create a narrative juxtaposing past and present, traditional and modern, western and African. About his music Ms. Depina says “Blitz was blending the two distinct cultures of Ghana and America using the medium of Hip-Hop. He was taking elements of High Life and other Ghanian styles, using a big band with lots of horns, effortlessly blending the styles of his home land, with the rawness and poetry of American Hip-Hop and weaving in Ghanaian percussion and beats.” Now with a new album ”Afropolitan Dreams” (summer 2013 release) coming, Blitz recently tweeted “cant wait to bring all these new songs and visual elements to my Apollo show”.

Nneka Egbuna.
Photo by William Farrington

Lokua Kanza a singer/songwriter from the Democratic Republic of Congo who thrived in the ex-pat Paris music scene playing with Youssou N’Dour and Manu Dibango and others. His music is understated, and his voice captivating, he will appear with a small band.

While West African artists are drawn to the Paris music scene, Capetown calls artists from southern Africa. Freshly Ground embodies the bubbling creativity of their cosmopolitan hometown, and true to its name, keeps evolving. Their new CD “Take Me to the Dance” is a beguiling listen, a richly layered and focused effort, complex rhythmically and featuring Zolani Mahola’s sultry vocals.

“The making of Take me to The Dance and the process we went through to get to the actual point of recording it definitely marks a new direction for us. We were feeling like we needed to inject our music with something completely new” says violinist Kyla Smith. More of a shift in direction, added drummer Peter Cohen, those who haven’t seen a live show in a few years will notice. “We’re definitely getting better. “

Freshly Ground.
Photo by William Farrington

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