Artists

SOFIANE SAIDI & MAZALDA (Algieria)

Known as the “Prince of Raï 2.0”, Sofiane Saidi and the outstanding band Mazalda present a post-modernist vision of electro from Maghreb. Analogue synthesisers, an electric saz and saxophones as well as Saidi’s hypnotising voice create a new quality of raï, a music genre from Algeria.

Raï, once music for workers from the port city of Oran, became popular in the 80s and dominated the dance floors of the Algerian diaspora in France. Its origins date back to the mid-20th century and zendanis, first Algerian protest songs. Poor port and seaside factory workers complained in the lyrics about harsh living conditions, increased number of crimes and colonial oppression. In Algerian, the word “raï” means “opinion”, and it was often used in the lyrics of zendanis. The new genre absorbed nearly all musical elements that appeared back then in multicultural Oran: the Moroccan gnawa, Arab-Andalusian themes, flamenco, rhythm and instruments of the Bedouins as well as French cabaret songs. In fact, this still happens today. The peak of raï’s popularity came in the 80s and 90s thanks to the expansion of electronic instruments. This is when, Khaled, Rachid Taha and Faudel started their careers.

Sofiane Saidi grew up in Sidi Bel Abbès near Oran. He listened to local raï artists who performed at weddings in music clubs. At the age of 15, Saidi started singing. In the 90s, just like many of his fellow countrymen, he emigrated to France. There, he set on a journey to various musical worlds and cooperated with the hip-hop band Tukuleur, Natachą Atlas, DJs from Acid Arab and the legendary raï band from his hometown – Raïna Raï – among others. In 2015, he released his debut solo album – “Mordjane”. Three years later, he cooperated with the band Mazalda on a well-received record – “El Ndjoum”.

Saidi plays with the style of raï in a fascinating way, drawing a lot of inspiration from funk, rock, electronic music and disco. He managed to capture the energetic spirit and freshness of raï from its glory days. Primarily, Saidi is a fascinating singer and a charismatic frontman who was born to perform on stage. Mazalda, a six-member band from Lyon, are fascinated by raï, fans of Bedouin rhythms and gasbah sounds as well as psychedelic synthesiser music. Along with Sofian Saidi, they take the audience to the world of the best version of the 21st-century modern raï.

SONA JOBARTEH (Gambia)

The first woman in Africa who decided to put an end to men’s dominance in playing the kora, an instrument of the Griots from West Africa. Born in London, she spent her time in the UK and his father’s homeland – Gambia. At the age of four, Sona was introduced to the repertoire and history of kora according to the tradition, i.e. by men. In her case it was her brother and father. A year later, she debuted along her brother in the London’s Jazz Café. Next, Sona learned how to play the piano, cello, harpsichord and harp, having attended the Purcell School of Music and Royal College of Music in London. As a teenager, she joined her brother Tunde Jegede’s band “ACM Ensemble”, with which she has performed all over the world and cooperated with such artists as Oumou Sangaré, Kasse Mady Diabaté and Toumani Diabaté. Some time later, Sona studied the vast repertoire of Mandinka music with her father and decided to focus on solo career.

Sona comes from one of the most important Griot families, in which people have been playing the kora for centuries. Her grandfather, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, was a famous kora virtuoso, and she is a cousin of the well-known and respected Toumani Diabaté. Nowadays, the Griot culture is mainly associated with Mali, where it is still an important part of musical life. However, Gambian musicians has also largely contributed to it. One of them was the legendary Balafasé Kouyate, the personal grio of the great Mandinka leader Sundiata Keita. Currently, this genre has not been doing well in Gambia, but attempts have been made to revive it. This is one of the reasons why Sona Jobarteh and her father founded a school in Gambia where children study music and culture of the former Mandinka Empire.

Nowadays, Sona is a versatile instrumentalist, singer and producer. Her solo career picked up the pace in 2011 after the release of the album “Fasiya” (Legacy). She often makes and composes film music, for example the soundtrack of “Motherland” (directed by Owen Alik Shahadah) and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (directed by Justin Chadwick). Sona stresses the importance of nurturing tradition but does it in a modern way that is adapted to today’s society, of which she is a prime example. She has performed in Poland a few times and was a music curator during the 2015 Brave Festival in Wrocław.

TONY ALLEN (Nigeria)

One of the most recognisable artists of the world music, the legendary drummer and the undisputed king of the modern African rhythm, the co-inventor of afrobeat and afrofunk. Brian Eno called him “perhaps the greatest drummer ever”.

Tony Oladipo Allen (born on 1940 in Lagos) is a self-taught musician who discovered the drums at the age of 18, so relatively late. Back then, he was working in a Nigerian radio station as a sound engineer. The turn of 50s and 60s saw the rapid development of the Lagos metropolis, which brought new musical styles, including jazz and highlife. African traditions had a huge influence on those genres, which eventually led to creation of afrobeat. At the time, Allen was very familiar with Jùjú, a popular genre that was based on Yoruba, traditional drum music. He was also fascinated by the work of Guy Warren, a Ghanaian innovator who combined tribal drum music with bop. Allen’s first band was Cool Cats, a highlife group with the legendary trumpet player Victor Olaiya as the frontman. Later on, he was also involved in such bands as Nigerian Messengers and Melody Makers.

The huge milestone in Allen’s career and in the history of modern African music came in 1964. In that year, the artist started a regular cooperation with Fela Kuti – initially as the highlife band Koola Lobitos. In 1969, Fela renamed his group to Africa ’70 and came up with a new music genre based on jazz and funk inspirations from the USA. Tony Allen was the other pillar and co-founder. He and Fela invented afrobeat and revolutionised the musical image of Africa of the 70s. They have recorded dozens of albums, both together as Fela Kuti’s band and solo. In the 80s Allen went even further – based on afrobeat he came up with a hybrid of electronic music, rap, dub, r’n’b, which he named afrofunk. This led to the release of “No Discrimination” (1980), one of the best albums in the history of African music.

The list of artists with whom Allen has recorded and performed is truly impressive and most of all diverse. He became an icon for many western musicians who invited him to cooperate. Some of them are: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Air, Sébastien Tellier, Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn, whose band Blur paid a tribute to him in the song “Music is My Radar” with the line “Tony Allen got me dancing”. In 2006, Allen, Albarn, Paul Simonon and Simon Tongo founded the supergroup „The Goods, The Bad and The Queen”. Today, the 79-year-old musician is still named among the best drummers in the world. Moreover, he did not rest on his laurels – he recorded his latest album, “Tomorrow Comes The Harvest” (2018), with the Detroit techno icon Jeff Mills.

DIEGO EL CIGALA (Spain)

A famous flamenco singer and two time Grammy award winner who went from flamenco clubs in Madrid to the biggest venues in the world.

He was born in an artistic Roma family as Ramón Jiménez Salazar. His passion for flamenco was developed by his parents, who themselves were passionate about music. At the age of 12, Diego achieved his first musical successes – he won a competition for young singers in Madrid and the talent show “Gente Joven”. Just like many other singers, he sang in the streets and clubs, the so-called peñas and tablaos. He had a great sense of rhythm, which initially led him to choruses of such dance stars as Mario Maya, Farruco, El Güito, Manuela Carrasco, Cristóbal Reyes, Carmen Cortés. Moreover, he accompanied the best guitarists, having performed and recorded with such personalities as Paco de Lucia, Tomatito and Vicente Amigo.

In 1994, Diego began his solo career supported by the guitarist Antón Jiménez. Three years later, his first album – “Undebel” – was released. It featured guest appearances from David Amaya, Paquete and Tomatito. One of El Cigali’s subsequent albums, “Corren tiempos de alegria”, was recorded with several jazz musicians who starred in Fernando Trueba’s famous film “Calle 54”. One of them was the famous Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, who was 85 years old at the time. In 2003, the artists joined forces to create the album “Lágrimas Negras”, which was a great breakthrough in El Cigala’s career and was nominated for numerous awards, including the Grammys and the Latin Grammys. After such a huge success, the artist wanted to return to flamenco and decided to cooperate with numerous stars to make another record – “Picasso en mis ojos” (2005). The album was dedicated to Picasso and won the Latin Grammy award. In the next few years, he decided to try other musical traditions of the Latino world, having experimented with bolero, copla, tango and salsa. They served as inspiration for his latest album – “Indestructible” (2016).

Nowadays, Diego El Cigala is not limited only to flamenco puro and cante jondo – musical versatility has become a trademark of his and allowed him to gain fans all around the world.

FLAVIA COELHO (Brazil)

A contemporary nomad who feels like home wherever her music is well-received.

Born in 1980, Flavia grew up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. In such hard conditions, she was accompanied by diverse music, ranging from samba, pagode and bossa nova to reggae, soul and funk. Perhaps, this is why today her trademarks are genre diversity and mixing. As a teenager, she sang in bars in Copacabana. Few years later, she decided to give it a shot in Europe. Eventually, she settled in Paris in 2006. A huge turning point in her music career was meeting the producer Victor-Attila Vaghiem, who enabled Flavia to record her debut album – “Bossa Muffin” (2011). The record combined elements of reggae, which she has loved since she was a child, with African styles and rhythms, which she studied under the watchful eye of Pierre Bika Bika, a bass and guitar player from Cameroon. The next step was “Mundo Meu”, an album on which the young artist was accompanied by Patrice Bart-Williams from Sierra Leone and Tony Allen himself.

Her music has the vitality of samba, the joy of forró, the cheekiness of hip-hop, the positive vibrations of reggae and the lyrical echoes of bossa nova. Despite the fact that she is a true volcano of energy on stage, she can also show her more peaceful and melancholic side – the famous saudade. It is particularly noticeable in the bitter-sweet lyrics which refer to life in favelas and personal recollections full of emotions. Moreover, Flavia sings about women’s strength and wisdom – they are often the main topic of her songs and a constant warranty of the world’s continuity. Still, Flavia’s music is first and foremost a huge dose of positive energy and a multi-colour conglomerate of issues, styles and topics.

Positive reception of her albums, especially the latest record – “Sonho real” (2016) – helped Flavia gain recognition among reviewers from the Guardian as well as in her homeland – she was even invited by Gilberto Gil himself to perform together.

KROKE I URNA CHAHAR – TUGCHI (Poland/Mongolia)

A musical meeting between the Kroke trio and the outstanding Mongolian singer Urna Chahar-Tugchi. Urna has been friends with the artists from Kroke for many years, which led to the release of the album “Ser” (“Awakening”) in 2018, among other things.

Urna comes from a traditional shepherd family from the Ordos Plateau in Inner Mongolia. She developed her talent when studying the yangqin, convinced by one of her professors of the Shanghai Conservatory Of Music, who heard the young artist on vacations in Hohhot (the capital of Inner Mongolia). At the age of 18, Urna decided to move to Shanghai, however, she quit that instrument to work on her unique voice. She mentions that one of her teachers used to record her singing traditional songs. That convinced her to keep on working on her vocals.

Listening to Urna singing is nearly a theatrical experience which gives the feeling of being close to nature and takes the audience to the world of Mongolian fables, legends and philosophies. Some people even compare it to a religious ceremony. People of Ordos often call their region the “Sea of Songs”. In her compositions and lyrics, Urna conveys the spirit of Mongolia and the atmosphere of a nomadic life on a steppe, while loose improvisations set new directions for the music of her roots. Many of Urna’s melodies come from the repertoire of her beloved grandmother, to whom she promised to nurture the musical integrity.

Kroke have been on the international scene for over 25 years. Initially, they focused on klezmer music but now draw inspiration from ethnic music of different cultures. The trio have won many prestigious awards and distinctions (e.g. the German Record Critics' Award), performed at the biggest European festivals, and their albums reached the very top of the World Music Charts Europe. They have cooperated with such personalities as: Steven Spielberg, Peter Gabriel, Nigel Kennedy as well as Krzysztof Herdzin, Edytą Geppert, Anna Maria Jopek and Maja Sikorowska.

Urna and Kroke have been friends for many years. At first, she cooperated with Jerzy Bawół, with whom she performed in Asia and Europe as the international project URNA & Friends. In 2012, Urna and Kroke released three compositions included on the album “Portrait” [Network Medien 2012]. In the summer and autumn of 2012, they performed officially under the name URNA & Kroke at the prestigious Schlezwig – Holstein Musik Festival as well as in Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin.

RABIH ABOU KHALIL (Lebanon)

In his almost 40-year career, the Lebanese lute virtuoso and composer has created his own unique musical style. Rabih Abou-Khalil was one of the first artists to synthesise Arabic music with jazz and elements of western classics.

His open-mind attitude was developed thanks to the atmosphere of his hometown –tolerant and cosmopolitan Beirut of the 60s and 70s. The start of the civil war in Lebanon meant the end of the glory days and liberalism for the “Paris of the East”. At the time, Abou-Khalil was studying the oud at the Beiruti conservatoire. In 1978, he emigrated to Germany and focused on western music by studying the flute at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Munich. Vast knowledge of European and Arabic musical traditions allowed him to create a synthesis based on the sounds of the oud and styles that he found the most interesting – jazz, rock as well as European and Arabic classical music. He started to create such musical fusions in the early 80s, even before the term “world music” became a thing. Rabih recorded his first albums as a flute player, but they did not bring him the anticipated fame. That is why, he decided to return to the oud. This turned out to be a brilliant move – the gifted Lebanese musician started to attract more and more attention. In the early 90s, Abou-Khalil signed a contract with the German record company Enja, and that is when his career started to pick up the pace. Since then, he has released over 20 well-received albums, recorded with artists from various musical worlds, including the classical music of northern India, Armenian music and fado.

For years, Abou-Khalil has co-operated with outstanding instrumentalists who share his musical visions, including the avant-garde tubist Michel Godard, the pianist Joahim Kühn, the percussionist Mark Nausseef and the accordionist Luciano Biondini.

Multiculturalism is not Rabiha Abou-Khalila’s only idea – he sees it as a mean to create music that is not easy to define and helps discover new emotional messages. However, he does not treat his music as a revolution yet as a bridge between the East and the West.

GISELA JOAO (Portugal)

Many people believe that fado is sad. Gisela João, a rising star of this genre, claims that fado is not just about sadness and melancholy but also about intensity – just like real life.

In Portugal, the artist born in 1983 is touted as “the 21st century response to Amália Rodrigues”. Gisela grew up in Barcelos, a small town in northern Portugal, far away from the cradle of fado, i.e. Lisbon. She often recalls that she was first fascinated with fado as a child when she heard the voice of famous Amália on the radio. She left Barcelos to study in Porto, where she started to sing more frequently, for example in fado houses, i.e. places dedicated to performance and listening of this music. Moving to Lisbon was just a matter of time. There, she made her first records and featured on the album of the famous fado guitar player Fernando Alvima – “O Fado E As Canções do Alvim" (2011). It was a review of the newest and most interesting fado voices of the 21st century – this distinction opened the door to a career for the young singer. But first, she had to live up to her reputation in the best fado houses in Lisbon.

Her debut solo album “Gisela João” was released in 2013 and quickly went platinum. Tickets for João’s concerts in the best Portuguese venues started to sell out instantly, and she has received numerous awards and prizes. She confirmed her status on the Portuguese fado scene with the album “Nua” (2016). The record is a tribute to João’s musical idols – Amália Rodrigues, Beatriz da Conceição, Argentina Santos and Chavela Vargas – but it is also a nod to contemporary artists such as the actress Ana Sofia Paiva and the rapper Cupicua.

Gisela João combines the style of the greatest fado stars with contemporary themes and directions. Her voice is a reminder of classic fado music, which originated as music of the streets. One of her artistic goals is to show the beauty of fado to a wider and diverse audience, but also to those people who would not check it out on their own. Gisela is not shy of trying other genres. She has made guest appearances with Joss Stone, Nicolas Jaar and Snarky Puppy, among others.

KEZIAH JONES (Nigeria)

Olufemi Sanyaolu was born in Nigeria, went to school in the UK and for many years created music between London and Paris. He started to write songs as a teenager. At first, he used an old piano at school but later switched to a guitar. After graduation, he opposed his father’s will and devoted his life entirely to music. He was discovered when busking with a guitar in the Paris underground. To kick off his career, Jones got help from the man who found his talent – Phil Pickett, the former Culture Club keyboard player, who quickly became his manager.

Jones calls his style “Blufunk” – this is a mix of African influences, blues and funk rhythms. This word appears in the title of his debut album – “Blufunk Is a Fact”, which was released in 1992. The record includes such hits as “Rhytm Is Love” and “Free Your Soul”, which quickly became popular in the UK. At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, Jones was considered one of the most interesting blues and rock musicians on the European scene. So far, he has released six albums. The last one – “Capitan Rugged” (2013) – is a comeback of the satirical superhero who magically captures the stories of African refugees in pop songs.

Jones is not only a musician but also a poet, a painter, a photographer and an author of short films. One of them, “BLACKSPEEDTEXT”, is in particular a reference to his life presented in the spirit of artistic bohemianism and playing music in the streets. He is a self-taught musician and multi-instrumentalist, but his favourite instrument is the guitar, which he plays with a unique style. His biggest musical inspirations are: Fela Kuti, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix. Keziah Jones’ talent and stage charisma have been appreciated by listeners and fans from almost all over the world – he has performed in Europe, the USA, Australia and Japan.

PAT THOMAS & KWASHIBU AREA BAND (Ghana)

Having started his musical career in the 70s, the legend of Ghanaian highlife music Pat Thomas returned in 2015 after a 10-year break.

The West African highlife is a genre that has never been related to any political or social movements – it has been an expression of artistry and free spirit. Although it originates from higher classes of the Ghanaian society (hence the name of the genre), it quickly spread among the working classes not only in Ghana but also in neighbouring countries. This happened in the 30s and 40s. However, the big boom for highlife music came during the years of the greatest changes and rapid development in Africa, i.e. in the 60s and 70s. During that period, Pat Thomas started his career. Since 1968, he has been performing with equally popular Ebo Taylor. Together, they played in famous highlife bands – Broadway Dance Band and Stargazers. In the 70s, they were the pillars of Ghanaian music, not only in terms of highlife but also as afrobeat, afropop and afrofunk artists. They provided highlife with new elements, which originated from western as well as African music, e.g. Kwa from the vicinity of Kumasi. Thomas sang in various languages – in English, Frafra dialects and Ashanti Twi. He founded his own bands, including the famous Marijata and Sweet Beans, with which Tony Allen cooperated, as well.

In 1978, Thomas received the nickname “The Golden Voice of Africa”. Unfortunately, he was not able to enjoy success in his homeland for long. After the coup in 1979, he emigrated to Germany. There, Thomas helped the Ghanaian music scene to grow. Eventually, he settled in Canada. 2015 saw his great comeback with the album “Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band”, which was recorded with the up and coming Kwashibu Area Band. They are an outstanding group headlined by the multi-instrumentalist Kwamo Yeboaha (e.g. Cat Stevens) and the saxophonist Ben Abarbanel-Wolff, who has also collaborated with Ebo Taylor. Together, they rearranged some of Thomas’ compositions from the 80s and wrote new pieces, providing highlife with a breath of fresh and contemporary air.

Jerz Igor (Poland)

A mysterious multi-instrumental poly-singing double-faceted entity. In reality, Jerz Igor is Igor Nikiforow and Jerzy Rogiewicz – two musicians who participate in countless alternative bands. When asked about the project, they say: “our dream was to record an album for kids which would take the little ones seriously, be rich in sounds and recorded using only true instruments. It would be an album that we would love to listen to with children”.

2014 saw the release of their debut album – “Mała Płyta” – which contained lullabies for children. Two years later, in 2016, their second album – “Jerz Igor Zimą” – was released. Jerz Igor’s songs are popular not only with children – their great artistic value is also appreciated by the parents.