Behind the Story: Chance the Rapper and that Kit Kat Jingle

Chance the Rapper stars in a new Kit Kat commercial. Image courtesy Kit Kat.
Chance the Rapper stars in a new Kit Kat commercial. Image courtesy Kit Kat.

Chance has a new song out and it’s not a rap, it’s a jingle. For Kit Kat.

I was curious as to how all this came about, so I talked with Kit Kat officials to learn more. I wrote all about it for Forbes.

“We’re in the process of trying to modernize the Kit Kat brand, not just in terms of what we’re communicating but how we’re communicating,” says Ian Norton, director of marketing for Kit Kat, which is distributed in the U.S. by The Hershey Company. “We were looking for an influencer who was the voice of his generation, but we wanted to stay leveraged and connected to our core Kit Kat fan. He is the positive voice for the generation. He’s a multi talented artist so he was really great to work with.”

Chance had a great week last week, what with the BET Hip Hop Awards win and performing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. I love to see A fellow South Sider doing big things.

Then this happened.

Chance the Rapper Shout out to Adrienne Samuels Gibbs

As a writer it’s always cool to get a shout out. Can’t wait for that sit down…

BTW… if you read this far and you love Chicago the way that I do, head over to my other site, Southside Parenting, for a new look at the South Side.

 

Ledisi stopped by Mahalia Jackson’s grave before singing ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’

Image courtesy of Ledisi.
Image courtesy of Ledisi.

I was talking with Ledisi about her ongoing “Intimate Truth” concert tour, and I certainly didn’t expect for her to provide any extra details about the so-called Grammy snub. But she did. (You know the original story right? It’s from February 2015, where Beyonce sang “Precious Lord” instead of Ledisi, as part of the nod to “Selma.” Some fans got upset because Ledisi actually starred as Mahalia Jackson and sang the song in the movie.)

Anyhoo… Below you can read a portion of what the sultry songstress told me for a story that I penned for the Chicago Sun-Times:

I could not find a studio in L.A. to record the song! I couldn’t record in San Francisco. I had only one day I could do it. I had to go home. I flew to Louisiana because there was a studio there. When I landed I went to visit Mahalia’s gravesite, and laid flowers and thanked her for the opportunity. And then we recorded the song.

She never directly mentioned Beyonce by name, but did go on to say that she could respond to the issue with grace because she went about it in her own way and in a respectful way.  Asking permission of the dead. Can’t hurt, right?

The Intimate Truth Tour also features RaheemDeVaughn and Leela James, two stars that don’t get enough ink, adds Ledisi.  She also added that having drama shouldn’t be a requirement for getting ink in a newspaper.

“We don’t support our own enough,” she says. “Only when there’s drama is when we rise up… Can we rise up all the time?

And for the Chicagoans who like to go back to her very first songs and pretty much hear the entire catalogue, Ledisi (later, to me,) added a call for my South Side friends and fans to simmer down. “Chicago folk go all the way back to the very beginning. I’m not doing that. Please stop asking for it. I still have an album to promote yall!”

On The Run Concert Recap

This review, by Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, first appeared on voices.suntimes.com.

— — — — —

When the king and queen of pop culture take the stage together, the results are flawless. Beyonce and Jay-Z rocked out a crowd of nearly 60,000 with a set list of some 45 songs that lasted around 2.5 hours at Soldier Field Thursday night. More than a concert, the “On The Run” tour was entertainment. Beyonce’s windblown hair, bedazzled costumes and spiky heels only added to the glamour of the evening as she and her husband performed duets (for lack of a better word) of the rap and R&B nature.

They kicked it off with “Bonnie and Clyde” at around 9:30 p.m. Expert mixing wove in “Upgrade U” and then “Crazy in Love.” The songs weren’t performed in their entireties. It was more like Beyonce and Jay gave the best snippets of their hits in an effort to keep things moving and to keep the crowd guessing. That treatment worked, allowing the power couple to breeze through 10 more hits (“Show me what you got,” “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” and “Tom Ford,” to name just a few) which increasingly revved up the crowd and even caused the metal beams of the top tiers of the football stadium seating to sway.

The couple worked the overwhelmingly diverse crowd into a frenzy. After a furious and tightly danced routine, Beyonce often would do nothing more than stand still – booty cocked out – and raise an eyebrow to illicit screams. And Jay had only to shout out the South Side to coax out a crowd roar that needed no meter to measure.

Beyonce’s dancers, (including captain Ashley Everett, who blazed bright with her shock of red hair) were as much the show as Queen Bey. They slithered. They jacked. They stepped. They profiled. They “danced hard,” as some might say on the South Side. Jay, as usual, had no dancers (except for two short transitions between songs.) On those rare occasions, he “borrowed” Bey’s ladies and two gents (the fabulous brothers who ought to be called the Wonder Twins, with their capoeira-graceful moves.)

Was it the Beyonce show featuring Jay-Z? Or was it the Jay-Z show featuring Beyonce? I’d argue that Jay-Z was the act who came on between Bey’s songs so that she could change clothes. Then again, mid-concert, it seemed the reverse was true. The couple, who are dealing with rumors of divorce, seemed to present an open book with their home movie-centric interludes shown over two to three big screens. But Bey’s rendition of the infidelity-swirled “Resentment” slowed things all the way down. As she has in other performances in the On The Run tour, she changed the words of the song to reflect the dalliances of a man she’d known for 12 years – which sounds amazingly like Jay and was sung so sadly that people began to cry.

Beyonce.jpg”>Beyonce performs during the On The Run tour at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on July 20, 2014 in New Orleans. | Photo by Robin Haper/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images Beyonce performs during the On The Run tour at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on July 20, 2014 in New Orleans. | Photo by Robin Haper/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images

Beyonce surprised with eloquent sound production, and interesting dual-location staging, that added new life to old hits. “Bow Down/I Been On,” already a banger, seemed even more… heartfelt when laced with extra guitar licks from the all-lady band. Then “Flawless” was well, flawless, and then Jay stepped in with “On To the Next One,” which is still the best you-don’t-matter-but-I-do song I’ve ever heard. Despite the cavernous size of the venue, Jay’s words clearly rang through the 55-degree air. I’ve been to Bears games and could barely understand whatever is said on the loudspeakers, so Jay’s extraordinary vocal clarity was astounding given the sheer size of the space and the noise of the crowd.

This was a tightly scripted concert which didn’t much deviate from performances held in other cities. Beyonce only occasionally shouted out the Chi. Jay did much better, frequently asking the city to raise their hands, or throw up a diamond or finish a verse. He even quipped: “You know I had to slow it down for all the weed smokers tonight,” he said.”Yeah, I smell it.”

Other standouts include “Partition” which had people running back from the bathroom (the concert, frankly, had gotten slow just before this point) to see Beyonce spin on a stripper pole in her boudoir outfit and slink sexily around a chair, even performing some moves usually seen on the Las Vegas strip. Jay got no parts of that though. In fact, though the storyline of the concert was about the couple, complete with home movies, Mr. and Mrs. Carter first openly touched – awkwardly – at the finish of “Drunk in Love,” which was midway through the show. They exchanged more affection near the end, after a sweetly-sad rendition of “Young Forever.” Sweet because the music stopped and the crowd chimed in to finish the song. Sad because some 60,000 people, mostly under 35, were singing about living forever. And we all know know that can’t be, and yet in that moment, under the spell of Beyonce’s flowing hair and her powerful voice, and listening to the empowering wordsmithing of Jay, it does seem that anything is possible.

Set List

03 Bonnie & Clyde
Upgrade U
Crazy in Love
Show Me What You Got
Diamonds from Sierra Leone
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
Tom Ford
Run the World (Girls)
Flawless
Yoncé
Jigga My Nigga
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
Naughty Girl
Big Pimpin’
Ring the Alarm
On to the Next One
Clique
Diva
Baby Boy
U Don’t Know
Ghost
Haunted
No Church in the Wild
Drunk in Love
Public Service Announcement
Why Don’t You Love Me
Holy Grail
Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit
Beach is Better
Partition
99 Problems
If I Were a Boy
Ex-Factor
Song Cry
Resentment
Love on Top
Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
Niggas in Paris
Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
Hard Knock Life
Pretty Hurts
Part II (On the Run)
Young Forever
Halo
Lift Off

VIDEO FROM MIAMI

— Adrienne Samuels Gibbs

Anointed Debate: Should Beyonce Have Performed “Take My Hand, Precious Lord?”

adrienne samuels gibbs

The 2015 Grammys gave us all a lot to discuss. There was the old-young mashups, the kick off with a song about going straight to hell, a Kanye sighting or two or three and a send-off that included one of Black America’s most beloved gospel songs. Beyonce can sing, for sure. But many people took issue with how she sang Thomas Dorsey’s seminal classic – and made in Chicago – song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s also the issue of how Ledisi sang the song in the movie “Selma” but was unceremoniously left out of the Grammys performance lineup. Welp. I went straight to the sources to figure out what happened here.

This story first appeared on the Chicago Sun-Times website and, I’m proud to say, it garnered quite a bit of clicks that day and the days following. The debate continues though. Should Beyonce have sung that song? I talked with some of the giants of gospel to find out. You can continue the conversation on my Facebook page. Otherwise, read on.

— — — — —

There’s something everyone should know when considering and analyzing Beyonce’s Grammy performance of Thomas Dorsey‘s gut-wrenching gospel staple “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

It’s this: The song was written after Dorsey’s wife and newborn baby died and he writhed in pain, begging God to take even a piece of the hurt away. And anyone who is familiar with the African-American church — funerals in particular — has heard this song sung with a gut-punch. It’s not upbeat. It’s not fast. Rather, it’s poignant and intended to show how God does heal the singer and, as many in the black church might say, it offers proof of the “comforter” of the Holy Spirit.

Beyonce in her angel dress at the Grammys. | Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP

It’s not a song to be sung lightly or without consideration. And that’s why there is a schism between those who appreciated Beyonce’s literal, angel-in-a-see-through-dress translation of the song and those who preferred Ledisi’s rendition (as Mahalia Jackson) in the movie “Selma.”

Beyonce also swiftly came online today to post a video explaining why she asked to sing the song.  Being that Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church is the home of Dorsey and the birthplace of gospel music, it is only fair that local musicians and ministers weigh in on the controversy.

Grammy-nominated gospel producer Percy Bady, who sits on the local Grammy chapter, says he woke up to a Facebook timeline chock-full of judgments. “The concern is this: Look, this is a staple for us who grew up in the black church,” says the well-known producer who has years in the industry and is the minister of music for New Life Covenant Church. “And, coming out of Pilgrim Baptist Church here in Chicago, there’s a reverence that we have. No disrespect to Beyonce; she can sing anything. But, her rendition of ‘Precious Lord’ did not move me. It’s one of those songs you sing from another place.”

The writer, Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, saw this on a friend's Facebook timeline this morning in response to a Beyonce post.

He goes on. “I saw it for what it was: She performed. I wasn’t expecting to be slain in the spirit and wallowing on the floor or anything. It almost makes you wonder if this was a situation where the Grammys said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re gonna d0.’”

Bady is not alone. Many of Chicago’s Facebook pundits are saying they believe Beyonce really sang the song because that’s the only way the Grammys could get the superstar to show up for the telecast. The official word, however, from John Legend, is that Beyonce asked, and he and Common said yes.

Regardless. It’s the talk of the town for churchfolk everywhere. The memes alone — some of them using Jackson’s image — are to die for. And of course Black Twitter very quickly created the hashtag #beysus, which was trending by midafternoon the day after the show.

“It wasn’t a bad performance,” says Walt Whitman, founder of the Soul Children of Chicago. “It wasn’t like she was horrible, but maybe it wasn’t the power piece that would best represent that piece of music.”

But, says Whitman, there’s the political side of the performance as well. “There’s so many different levels to this that you’re dealing with. You had all those gospel artists in the room and any one of them could have killed it, but you chose not to. And in some cases, I believe they just don’t know. We’re making assumptions that the people [who produce] the Grammys know about anointing.”

And here’s Whitman’s clincher: “We’re not dealing with church. We’re dealing with people who do music as a profession, and they are looking at numbers and the bottom line for the TV show.”

RELATED ARTICLES BY ADRIENNE SAMUELS GIBBS

Beyonce and feminism is a new course at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Did Selma get snubbed at the Oscars: A look at race and Hollywood

The general consensus of those interviewed here is that Queen Bey was not there to bring people to God — and perhaps it was unfair to expect that she might. She’s a secular, not a gospel, artist. “Beyonce did what Beyonce does: She performed,” says singer and Deacon Joi Buchanan-Johnson, also one of the conductors for the woman’s choir at Trinity United Church of Christ. There is a difference between performance and ministry. If you’ve heard the song, you know it was a song that comforted you. And visually [she] has this semi-see-through dress on. Beyonce is a performer to her bone.”

Other pundits say the entire incident — including a so-called “snub” against singer Ledisi, who portrayed Mahalia Jackson and sang “Precious Lord” in the movie — was contrived in order to get more people to talk about the controversy and increase ratings. And on that end, all agreed that Ledisi was gracious in her response to ET’s Kevin Frazier when asked about it:

“What I will say and what I’m excited about is that I had the pleasure of playing an iconic figure in ‘Selma,’ and the song, ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord,’ it’s been going on forever — starting with the queen, Mahalia [Jackson], the queen of soul Aretha Franklin,” said the soul singer. “Then, I was able to portray and sing my version of the song, and now we have Beyoncé. Her generation will now know the song, so I’m a part of history.”

Chatting with Chief Keef (A short recap)

Chief Keef cracks a smile with Adrienne Samuels Gibbs. This was actually a tough interview yall...

It seems like it was yesterday. Except it wasn’t.

But I still remember the group of guys standing outside the nightclub, hollering and yelling for Chief Keef. They either wanted to be let in, or they they wanted him to out and put up his dukes. Our interview, meanwhile, was going south. I could barely concentrate because, you know, thugs were apparently outside. And he, despite trying, could barely concentrate either.

Some people get a thrill out of being around riots, or crowds or dangerous rap stars. Not me. I get a thrill out of hanging with rap stars so I can tell their authentic story. But, given Keef’s run ins with the law and the fact that various people seem to be out to get him, this meeting was swiftly going awry.

We raced upstairs to get away from the door. We were sitting way too close to the door. Yes. That must be it.

There’s a YouTube video of part of our interview. It’s not the best interview I’ve ever done, but it was the best I could manage given the throngs of people milling about who wanted to punch Keef. He also had a number of handlers who all seemed to disagree on what exactly he was doing, what he should be doing or why he should be doing it. But my task was clear: to find the humanity in this young man and figure out a little bit more about who he is.

You can read that Chicago Sun-Times front page story here or you can see the PDF if you scroll down a bit.  And frankly, I was shocked he finally smiled at me. It’s so tough sometimes, to find that sort of artificial friendship that must happen between interviewee and interviewer.

In the end, I got to see Keef perform, I saw everyone wish him a happy birthday, I met a ton of his fans and his entourage, and I got exclusive scoop on his new album. Of course, said album is now on hold since he was released from his record label. But there’s hope yet. I don’t think Keef’s done yet, and there’s plenty more story to be told.

—  — — — — — — — —

And because I’m THAT person, here is the original blog entry in totality. But note that the blog and the actual story are very different pieces of work.

Chasing Keef, a profile by Adrienne Samuels Gibbs. This story originally appeared in The Chicago Sun-TImes.

<em>Updated 6 a.m. PST</em>

The good news is that Englewood’s own Chief Keef, born Keith Cozart, showed up early for his birthday concert and he even took the stage 20 minutes before his scheduled showtime. The fans went wild — quite literally — as the event turned into a kind of hip-hop mosh pit.

Though Keef looked spick-and-span from head to toe in white, newly stitched Glo Gang-branded pants, shirt and leather jacket, he still had to deal with negative people trying to follow him into his own Hollywood set.

These men appeared to be older than Keef, not from Chicago and said they were members of the Crips. While hundreds of Asian, black, Hispanic and white fans of all ages waited patiently in line to get into The Attic, these self-described gang members hung out by a secret side door on the famous Hollywood Boulevard to catcall Keef (or ask for his photograph, as his manager interpreted the situation) as he walked in.

Talk about a buzz-killer.

Strong words were exchanged, tempers flared and few people kicked at the door but Keef eventually took the high road and walked away from that crowd. After all, he’s the one who is “finally rich.” Later on, his management said the group were guys who followed him to the club and who all believe they are great friends with the rapper. Some were angry about not getting a selfie and others, say management, felt as though they should also be able to enter a VIP entrance with Keef and got extremely angry and belligerent when told they would not receive the star treatment.

Despite that charged hiccup, the teen rapper, who celebrated his 19th birthday early this morning with friends and a yellow, sun-shaped cake, whipped the crowd into a frenzy in a way that only music drenched in equal parts bass and machoism can do.

Keef, whose fans inside the club were unaware of the growing disturbance outside, performed a number of songs over pre-recorded tracks. The club’s sound quality left much to be desired, but “Love Sosa” was easily recognizable. The sing-songy, oddly catchy chorus is difficult to shake from the brain once you hear it.

Say what you will about Keef’s music, one thing is for certain: Many of the songs actually fare better in a club situation than a private, listen-in-your-car-by-yourself situation. There is an intensity — and vocal clarity — to his presence that is clear as he gets an overwhelmingly male (gay and straight) audience to swing and sway to his beat, like he’s the conductor of a bravado orchestra.

The concert was streamed live via stageit.com, and fans could pay $10 for a view. By show time, only 200 spots had sold, but that number could have jumped once Twitter and Instagram went live with the news that Keef, in what is becoming a rare move, actually showed up to his concert. (This post will be updated with final stageit numbers once they are reported.)

Organizationally the event was a bit frenetic. The place is a nightclub, not a concert venue, and there was no clear stage and no green room. Keef wound up rapping in the middle of the largest room in the club, flanked by his “Glo Gang” — the young men who are either signed to his record label or actual family members. To some, the whole situation looked like a hot mess, especially when the air conditioning couldn’t keep up with what appeared to be a crowd of 600. (Case in point, in the wet heat, all those perfectly flat-ironed blond tresses began to frizz out.) But for the handful of 18-year-old Justin Bieber look-alikes who waited in line at 9 p.m. for a chance to take a selfie with Keef, it was a riotous dream.

People danced on tables and chairs and bars. “Scarface” played on a large movie screen in back of some couches randomly placed on a riser. The kids couldn’t drink liquor, so they had to buy water or soda and weren’t happy about the prices. (Overheard: “Water isn’t free? Well, can I have the ice then?”) But all was forgotten as the rapper pushed and swayed his way to each corner of the room, giving most people a decent chance to record a video or snap an image for Vine, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Security had a tough time keeping the fans off of Keef, but Keef kept diving right back into them.

Apparently the kids really do love Sosa.

Pussy Riot’s first English-language song is called “I Can’t Breathe”

There’s really nothing more to say other than even Pussy Riot “gets it.”

This new song, “I Can’t Breathe” features a stark baseline, simple music and a wailing vocal as the ladies are buried alive in dirt. At the end of the song, an unseen man repeats Eric Garner’s last words with ferocity. The last image is that of an empty and partially crushed Russian cigarette box, the dirt and shovels.

“I need to catch my breath.”

Watch the video below.

 

According to Pussy Riot: “This song is for Eric and for all those from Russia to America and around the globe who suffer from state terror – killed, choked, perished because of war and state sponsored violence of all kinds – for political prisoners and those on the streets fighting for change. We stand in solidarity.”

A Listening Party, Chicago-style, with Tyrese

Tyrese stopped through Chi Town last week on his multi-city listening tour. He played five songs off his new album for a packed, yet select, crowd at the Hard Rock Hotel. I heard part of the album before I interviewed Tyrese (earlier this summer) for his turn as the July cover boy for Ebony mag. The brother hasn’t lost his swag or his singing voice. The album features plain ol R&B and one or two club bangers. Tyrese said he wants there to be a distinctive difference between his love-making music and his dance music, hence the two easily discernible sounds on the album.

Free Heinekens made the rounds. I appreciated the beer, even though I don’t drink it. I also appreciate the Bulls player who shall go unnamed who let me and my fractured toe self (wearing a boot, to boot) crash his VIP table for the night.

As always, a picture (more tk once my cell phone charges back up.) And big ups to my friend Kev Ross, the EMI rep who pulled this swank event together.

Songs in the Key of My Life: My birth year birthed some of our most memorable music

Last night’s American Idol – where would-be Idols were asked to perform a song from the year of their birth – got me to thinking: what’s my 1977 hit list?

I’ve never before thought about the music that arrived in the same year that I did. But when I started considering it, it was a very powerful experience. See, I love Stevie Wonder and Aerosmith and Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. LOVE. Never occurred to me to actually check out the years that I Wish, Sir Duke, Walk this Way and Cherchez le Femme were released.

Andy Gibb came out with I Just Want to be Your Everything, which is on my list of top 100 love songs. Abba released Dancing Queen – which is on my list of top 50 dance hits. I must’ve been infected with the happy found in Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, a song that became the soundtrack of my time living in Miami  early in my career. The theme songs for Star Wars and Rocky hit the charts, as did the respective movies. The number one song on my guitar hit list, Hotel California, came out. (It’s also the song I sang for one year straight leading up to my wedding. Go figure. I just couldn’t get enough of that guitar.) Marvin Gaye’s greatest hits, including Got to Give It Up, were made that year. And the indomitable Barbra Streisand released the love theme from A Star is Born, otherwise known as Evergreen.

What a year for music!

Upon further research, I found that many music critics say 1977 was one of  THE best years in American music. So many styles were growing and adapting. All of the people who are mega stars now were baby stars then – already hugely famous and unaware of what the future would bring.

Who knew then that Andy Gibb would no longer be with us but that his music would be a favorite of a baby who liked disco?  Who knew that bringing that same baby to see Star Wars would change her life and instill in her a love for classical symphonies and deep, dark baroque? (Love live John Williams and the London Symphony Orchester! Music lovers, you should know that Williams wrote the music for Star Wars and Superman and Indiana Jones, ET the Extraterrestrial, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter AND Jaws. He’s the master and the BOMB when it comes to film scores) And clearly, my love of plain ole fun music was cultured by my sister’s incessant playing of Cherchez La Femme (which, dear reader, if you have never heard this song, you MUST find it. You will love it. I promise. It’s so damn happy and very trancelike!)

Easy, Fly Like an Eagle, I’ve Got Love On My Mind and Lucille by Kenny Rogers came out too.

What’s most interesting about these songs is that they all tell a story. They’ve all got a story arc that includes a complete beginning, middle and end with a climax somewhere in the middle, right around the bridge. They’re not silly and they each speak to life at that time – and still do. Hotel California and I Wish are both perfect examples of songs that spin a complete tale, all in under five minutes (unless, of course, you listen to the 10 minutes version of that hit.)

As a writer, I enjoy songs that tell stories. I study them. As a musician who started playing the piano at age 3 and the flute at age 10, I enjoy the nuances and live performances of these songs. Consider  Strawberry Letter 22, another 1977 hit, that has all the description and nuance of a 200-page novel. That’s the beauty of poetry and even better when said poem is put to music with lovely harmonies.

Think about your birth year. How did the songs of your birth year shape your life? Let me know.

Live with Baaba Maal at the Chicago Cultural Center

Senagalese superstar singer Baaba Maal swept through the Chi as part of his US tour to promote his new album, Television. He’d already been to L.A., been featured on National Public Radio and on CNN and he’s now on his way to New York to perform on the Jimmy Fallon show. I was honored to be asked by Baaba’s company to moderate a discussion with him, the man who has dedicated his life’s song work to tunes that make a difference and is frequently compared to none other than Bono in terms of the world music scene.

baaba and me

It was just Baaba and I on stage, relaxing in two leather chairs with four bottles of water between us. First question. Why call this album Television?

(dear reader: please not that his answers are not direct quotes, but approximations of the conversation. I did not have a notebook in hand during my on-stage interview. I’ll be posting the entire show in a week or so.. These are just my own notes.)

His answer? Africa has always had TV but now it’s more prolific and everywhere. It’s a stranger coming into your house with words and sounds that are foreign, yet familiar. It’s a good idea and a bad one all at the same time, especially now that everyone recognizes that there is culture to be preserved amongst the peoples who populate the continent of Africa.

Second question. This is your first album in eight years. What have you been doing in that time frame?

His answer: I started a music festival in my hometown in Senegal. I am what you Americans might call Fulani and I give my people and all the people of Africa an opportunity to come and play music in December for a stirring festival. It’s called the Blues de Fleuve Festival and it takes place in Podor, Senegal. I’ve been working with the people and with the United Nations Development Programme to improve Africa, to show that through music we can improve and bring the technology and education we need to bring Africa to where she needs to be.

He then performed a 20-minute acoustic set with two band members. You can view a portion of the set here. This is actually my favorite song off the album, “Dakar Moon.”

More on Baaba….

We talked for about a half hour as the crowd of 100 listened, laughed and clapped at many of Baaba’s comments. He talked of the irony of folks expecting African music to sound a certain stereotypical way while those folks insist that Africa must give computers to every household. You can’t have it both ways, he says. Once you give the people technology, they will use it everywhere – including in their own music.

We talked of the criticisms of Television, wherein many say that his music doesn’t sound “African enough” for them. He laughed, adding that he is evolving his traditional music and that the heartbeat – the drum – is ever present.

I asked him if he’d ever be interested in being an actual politician. He quickly said no. The crowd roiled with laughter. Why? Because Baaba IS politics, because in Africa, a musician is just as powerful as a mayor or a president.

We talked of Femi Kuti, the terrible situation in Guinea, Obama’s Nobel Prize, generational musical differences, the marked absence of hip-hop on his album despite the marked addition of Latin tones and why his entire album supports the thrusts of the United Nations Development Programme.

Basically, he told me, AFrican artists do not sing just to be singing. They have a point . Every verse has meaning and everything has to eventually help raise the consciousness or education of the people. He doesn’t have time to sing craziness. He sings solutions.

Baaba wanted to know if I had ever lived outside of Chicago.

I have. I’ve lived and worked in several US and non-US cities, in fact.

I told him that I’d been to Dakar (the capital of Senegal), while on a fellowship provided by both the United Nations and the National Association of Black Journalists. I was there to cover the UN youth summit and development program. (I loved Senegal and almost cried when I had to return back to the states, but more on that in another post.)

We connected when talking about our mothers and female empowerment. He doesn’t believe that women need to only sit home, raise babies and cook dinner. Raising a family is necessary for culture to survive, he says, but mothers in Africa have so much to offer in terms of sheer brain power that it’s time to harness that.

He said so much. I learned so much.

My favorite song off the new album is Dakar Moon, a haunting, melodic tale that reminds us to be ecological stewards of the planet. It’s also one of a very few songs in English on his album. The rest is in Wolof, French and the other languages that Baaba speaks.

If you’re not up on Baaba Maal, now’s a great time to expand your musical palate. Even if you can’t understand the words of Tindo Quando, another acoustic-guitar heavy song that sounds like a sad yet triumphant lullaby, you will sway to it and be moved by it. Music lovers take note. This is one album to add to the collection.

Peace.

A Discussion with Baaba Maal, Oct. 10, 5 p.m. Chicago Cultural Center

Come hang with me and Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 5 p.m.! We’ll be at the Chicago Cultural Center, and I’ll be moderating a discussion between Baaba and the Chicago community. He’s ready to talk about his new album, Television, as well as situations concerning women, HIV, the role of the artist versus the politician and anything else you can lob at him.

Then, he’ll perform five to six songs from his new album.
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If you like World Music, you’ll like Baaba. This is something you don’t want to miss!

Also, be sure to hit me up with questions you would like for me to ask Mr. Maal.