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Every month, I bring together some of the music from around the world that I've enjoyed most in recent weeks. April, however, has been completely overshadowed by Prince's death. Few contemporary artists have meant so much, for so long, to so very many people working in wildly disparate corners of the globe.
In the midst of putting together this month's picks, I realized that I could hear individual facets of Prince's polymathic, polymorphous talents in each of the tunes I've selected for this edition of Latitudes.
Hot guitar licks. I know I'm not the only one who's been watching Prince's incendiary solo on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. And anyone who has seen that (or his own set, which is online, at least for the time being) knows, that Prince was a consummate rock guitarist — if he had only been a guitarist, he would still be a legend.
And that legacy hasn't lost on young Tuareg musicians, for whom rock-inflected guitar has become an intrinsic part of their own idiom. (See: Tinariwen, Bombino, et al.) Seizing upon that idea, an American filmmaker, music archivist and label head Christopher Kirkley (who collaborated with us at NPR Music and the show Afropop Worldwide a few years back to create a stream of 100 must-hear songs from Mali) directed a Tuareg remake of Prince's film Purple Rain. He cast Mdou Moctar, a guitarist from Agadez, Niger, in the lead role.
Afro-funk. As my colleague Jason King wrote in his his marvelous remembrance, Prince was an uncategorizeable, "überfunky, hyper-synaptic, wildly eccentric, crazy-magical boho black genius." Yet he was funk — and rock, and pop, and so much more.
This collaboration between Angolan/Portuguese producer Batida (a.k.a. Pedro Coquenão) and Congolese band Konono Nº1 just hits so many sweet spots, thanks in part to their shared love of funked-out beats and metallic textures. This song, "Nlele Kalusimbiko," is the opening track on their new joint album, Konono Nº1 Meets Batida.
Smoky, sultry, sexy. The Turkish band Model, fronted by singer Fatma Turgut, is all about those vibes on their single "Mey" (Wine). The song boasts a catchy chorus — and it really highlights the allure of Turgut's voice, which references old-fashioned melismatic acrobatics and yet sounds refreshingly up-to-date.
Courting controversy. As my colleague Ann Powers noted after Prince's death, he was a transgressive force on so many fronts — sexual, spiritual, political and certainly musical. (As he wrote in a 1999 statement explaining his name change to his famous glyph, "It's all about thinking in new ways, tuning in 2 a new free-quency.") And certainly that involved playing with gender identity and roles, too.
I can't help but hear — and see — some of that same sense of new possibilities when I hear a band like Lebanon's Mashrou' Leila. They've attracted worldwide attention this week for a show scheduled in a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan; governmental permission was rescinded because of a furor over their "political and religious beliefs and endorsement of gender equality and sexual freedom." The concert was granted approval at the last minute by Jordan's ministry of the interior, but according to the band, it was much too late to re-coordinate the show.
Mashrou' Leila has been playing with tropes of all kinds for years now. In one of their early hits, "Fasateen" (Dresses), the band members destroy all kinds of traditional wedding symbols — and toy with the idea of who would wear white tulle in any case.
Finally, I can't let April run out without paying another tribute to Congolese singer Papa Wemba, who died last week doing what he clearly loved so much. He collapsed while performing a joyful set for a big crowd in Ivory Coast. The song "Yolele" comes from his 1995 album Emotion. Made for Peter Gabriel's Real World records, it marked a watershed moment in Wemba's career, in which he made an overt overture to an "international" — that is, primarily (white) European and North American — audience.
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