Over the recent past years I've really gotten heavy into African music from the sixties thru the nineties. There is a vast universe of stuff out there from a variety of different countries with all sorts of different sounds. I enjoy it all and intend to learn as much about it as I can. There are just all sorts of links between African music and African-American music and American music in general. This is especially the case with West African music, which seems to have the closest relationship to my favorite American genres. One band which I've always appreciated is Ifang Bondi. Ifang Bondi is a Gambian-Senegalese group that combined some popular Afro-Cuban and African-American funk stylings with deep blues feeling and really deep traditional West African music. They deliberately went back to their roots instead of just playing Africanized versions of Western music. The mix is one I enjoy a lot but it's hard to find their stuff. Most of their music I've gotten from collections of Senegalese music.
It really is hard to overstate how familiar some of this music sounds if you are at all interested in African-American or other African based music diasporic African music. And yet at the same time it's very obviously foreign. Some of the beats or changes aren't exactly where I would expect them to be and obviously in most cases I have absolutely no idea what the singer is talking about. But that doesn't prevent my enjoyment of opera and it shouldn't prevent you from enjoying Ifang Bondi.
Saraba is my favorite piece. It's really mournful sounding with riffs that intermingle distorted guitars and what sound like synths. Although Saraba sounds similar to what could have been an unreleased Parliament-Funkadelic cut, it also is very reminiscent of some old field chants I've heard. Other pieces you might find interesting include Xalel Dey Magg, Saya, and Salimata.
I would imagine that everyone knows this story if not from Bizet's original opera then from the various popular remakes (Carmen Jones with Belafonte and Dandridge, Carmen with Phifer and Beyonce). If you don't the story is pretty simple. Uptight boy meets girl with loose morals, girl drives boy crazy, girl tells boy to get lost and runs off with another boy with higher status, boy kills girl in jealous rage. Why has this story resonated so much with so many people over the years? I don't know but it probably says something not so good about gender relations. Anyway I wasn't being facetious; that really is about the extent of the story.
In 1820 Seville a woman named Micaela searches for a soldier named Don Jose to give him a letter from his mother. The letter orders him to come home and marry Micaela. In the meantime though a gypsy woman named Carmen, who's been around the block a few times, makes eyes at Don Jose though he ignores her. After she gets in a fight with another factory girl she is arrested. She is supposed to be transported to prison by Don Jose. She sings about the pleasures of well, you know and offers to meet Don Jose later. He lets her escape. He's temporarily arrested.
At a tavern Carmen is waiting for Don Jose and rejects the advances of the bullfighter Escamillo, who knows what he likes. Don Jose arrives and doesn't want to leave just yet with Carmen but after a fight with a superior officer he has nothing to lose and leaves with Carmen and her group of Gypsy desperadoes and smugglers.
Later Don Jose is not sure he made the right decision. Carmen has found him somewhat boring and has become a bit of a shrew. Carmen reads fortune telling cards that say that both she and Don Jose will die. Micaela arrives to tell Don Jose that his mother is dying. Escamillo shows up sniffing after Carmen. He and Don Jose get into a fight but it's broken up. Escamillo invites everyone (but mainly Carmen) to his next bullfight. Don Jose goes home but says things aren't over between Carmen and him.
But as far as Carmen is concerned they are. She's dropped him like a bad habit and gone with Escamillo. Carmen is warned that Don Jose is creeping around but she has no fear of confronting him. He begs, pleads and whines for her to leave with him. She tells him she has someone new and doesn't love him anymore, throwing away the ring he gave her. Enraged that he was number 999 on a 1000 man list, Don Jose kills her, just as Escamillo and the crowd emerge from the arena.
My favorite versions of this opera feature Placido Domingo as Don Jose. This music is quite popular and you will likely have heard it, if not in the original opera format, then in various movies or parodies. This is pretty melodramatic stuff and was not a success in Bizet's lifetime. Who knows, maybe 100 years from now Tyler Perry's works will be considered high art. You never can tell.
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