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Arts & Culture

blogettes on 9 jazz fest bands

Seun Kuti’s father Fela sometimes was known as the ‘Bob Marley of Africa,’ but such was his force, that in Africa, they were calling Marley the ‘Fela of Jamaica.’ His dad passed when Seun was 14, but he continued his family’s musical and political message by mixing a seductive Nigerian afrobeat with a stunning stage presence. As a teen, he was a world class soccer player as well. Today, he has remained at the forefront of African awareness and innovative world rhythm.

It’s hard to believe Steel Pulse has been “feeling Irie” for over 35 years. Born and raised as a band among the British punks of the seventies, Pulse found success among a cross section of audiences, eventually winning a Grammy in 1986. As a seminal power-reggae band, they have never abandoned their social stance for equality and justice. They come to Jazz Fest as part of an American tour that will then fly off to Brazil.

Frankie Beverly and Maze hail from California, but one could be forgiven for considering them a New Orleans band. Their concert album Live from New Orleans, recorded at the Saenger Theatre, put tons of songs on the R&B charts; and every year they are the must-see closers for Essence Music Festival. Having had nine songs in the Top Ten, a tribute album by modern soul groups came out in 2009.

If they ever do like ancient Rhodes and build a Colossus across the Mississippi in New Orleans, Allen Toussaint could be the model. His New Orleans musical influence stretches back to the fifties. Innovative in the studio and at the piano, Toussaint has composed music that has been covered by everyone from Al Hirt to the Doors to Widespread Panic. Recently he collaborated with Elvis Costello and then with Eric Clapton.

Saxophone star David Sanborn and top-rated organist Joey DeFrancesco are the confluence of two streams of jazz that will change people’s preconceptions about where both musicians live on the musical spectrum. Many will remember Sanborn’s quieter days in the eighties, but here he rocks it out a bit. More swingy than where Sanborn has come from, and more bluesy than DeFrancesco’s Miles Davis/John McLaughlin’s roots, this trio actually evokes the hallelujah sounds of Ray Charles.

Cheikh Lô, the Senegalese reggae guitarist is a deeply religious man. A member of Baye Fall, a sect that believes that music is actual prayer, he strives in his own craft to honor that faith. He sports dreadlocks to his waist, sings and plays drums as well. His musical style that is at once maverick and at the same time a compendium of West African and Cuban influences.

Terri Lyne Carrington has a jazz pedigree so deep – from Herbie Hancock to Al Jarreau to Diane Reeves – that she has recently accepted a professorship at the prestigious Berklee College of Music; however most people know her as the house drummer from the Arsenio Hall Show back in the 90s. Her Mosaic Project combines her musical acumen with her penchant for technical wizardry.

Don’t know if you’ve ever been to Mamou, but it sits in the heart of Southwest Louisiana arguably providing the heartbeat of Cajun music. Native accordionist Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys have been chanka-chanking for three decades now, bringing the two-step and the Acadian waltz to audiences around the world. Their latest album “Grand Isle” is nominated for a Grammy this year.

Rockin’ Dopsie and His Zydeco Twisters can either refer to Dopsie, Sr, who fronted the band with virtuosic button accordion until his death in 1993, or his son Dopsie, Jr who rocks the rub board and vocals, and performs as the ambassador of country Creole culture all over the world. One of the hardest working groups in the business, Dopsie returns as a Jazz Fest mainstay.

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