Aired live June 29, 2016, and available here online
Tonight’s episode—which will be the last for the summer—is dedicated to songs that have been major hits at African dance parties since the early 2000s, when I discovered the scene. I was living in Washington, DC, at the time, and I’d learned about a weekly African party at a place called the Ascot. I had gotten a taste of African club music in Ghana and Philly and wanted to expose myself to more, and a friend of mine was up for the adventure.
We arrived on time, at 10pm, and were sorely disappointed by the sparse crowd. I didn’t know anything back in those days (the normal arrival time for partygoers is typically past midnight!). But whatever—we came to dance, and so we danced, neither of us deterred by the empty floor. The music was just too good. And practically in a blink, the space was packed with other partygoers.
The dance floor felt like this famous ndombolo dance scene from Koffi Olomide’s ’90s hit, “Loi”
Soon my friend was checking her watch and telling me what I dreaded to hear: it was almost midnight. Public transportation was about to shut down soon. A look passed between us. We grinned and said at the same time, “Taxi!” and kept dancing.
I would return to the Ascot’s African night and stay past midnight many a time, loving every minute. And I was overjoyed to add new dances and music styles to my vocabulary—mapouka, makossa, soukous, mbalax, zouglou, zouk.
The guys of Extra Musica, rocking their ’90s FUBU gear
First up is one of the songs that first hooked my ears. It was already a year or two old, and more than fifteen years later, it’s still going strong. African party DJs know to play this one when the crowd is looking a bit bored, because it will literally make people run onto the floor.
And though it’s from the Ivory Coast, it resonates with people far beyond that country’s borders, and they try to sing along even if they have no clue what they’re saying. The song is none other than “1er Gaou” by Magic System.
On dit premier gaou n’est pas gaou-o!!
Let’s move on to a Congolese song that was fairly new but quickly gained popularity when I discovered the African party scene: “État Major,” by Extra Musica.
The next several songs in tonight’s playlist were recorded in the ’80s but were still in high demand when I was partying at the Ascot. They continue to be so today, and I think it’s because they have a timeless quality in addition to infectious beats. The first of these songs is “Let Me Love You” by Bunny Mack of Sierra Leone.
’80s African music classics are still going strong
Next up is a song that is neither from Africa nor performed by African musicians, and I suspect this might come as a surprise to some. Even the music genre—zouk—is popular in Africa, especially amongst the French-speaking populations. But the group and the music they helped popularize are both from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The song is none other than “Zouk La Sé Sel Médikaman Nou Ni” by Kassav’.
If you’re not familiar with African club music, you might be wondering why many of these songs have a Caribbean feel. But as I’ve mentioned before, there has been a musical dialogue over the past few centuries between Africa and the Americas, which I think is fascinating.
Our next ’80s hit is of no exception: “African Typic Collection” by Sam Fan Thomas of Cameroon. This song is also borrows some Lingala from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. And if you listen closely, you can hear them paying tribute to cavacha music!
And now we move forward in time just a bit to the ’90s. This next singer, also from South Africa, was known as the queen of African pop music: Brenda Fassie with “Vulindlela.”
Queen of African Pop
For more tidbits about the other songs in this episode, listen here online.
Episode 15 Tracks:
1er Gaou – Magic System
État Major – Extra Musica
Let Me Love You – Bunny Mack
Zouk La Sé Sel Médikaman Nou Ni – Kassav’
African Typic Collection – Sam Fan Thomas
Bane – Oliver Ngoma
Umqombothi – Yvonne Chaka Chaka
Vulindlela – Brenda Fassie
Loi – Koffi Olomide