An African invasion may be underway. While it might not quite do for contemporary Twin Cities music what the British invasion did for 1960s America, it behooves discerning music lovers to take heed.
I thought nothing at all of encountering Ivory-Coast-spawned bassist Serge Akou playing with Wain McFarlane and Jahz some years back. Except that the guy’s got monstrous chops and is very nice fellow (the couple times of I sat in with the band at the now defunct North Minneapolis landmark Lucille’s Kitchen, he was most gracious). Similarly, I crossed paths with Ethiopian-born bassman Yohannes Tona a little while later (he played in the house band at Sol Testimony’s Soul Sounds Open Mic and Jam Session—another regrettably failed venture), an equally nice cat with a world of ability. Thought little of it except that more than a few bass players with heavy reps around Minneapolis and St. Paul had reason to start looking over their shoulders.
Recently, I was made aware of one Kenn Wanaku, a guitarist-singer-songsmith from British Cameroon, who leads the band SUNplug’d. According to the band’s Web site, it’s “the short form of ‘Serengeti Unplugged.’ The name comes from a desire to use acoustic instruments (unplugged) on stage when performing Afrikan rhythms and melodies through a public address system.” It’s also brightly spirited polyrhythmic music—magic for the ear, heart, and soul, not to mention the dancing feet. “Moskito Danz” off Wanaku’s latest album Afrikan GuitarStrophy is a wonderful example, percussion layered in an irresistible beat as Wanaku intersperses a judicious touch with delicate guitar, singing warm as a sunny day. If the song was any more fun, you’d be able to roll it up and smoke it.
“Fire On The Mountain” strikes a somber note—no less energized, just downbeat—with guitar sweetly lyrical as Wanaku laments in stark verse, “No one can quench this fire but Jah” and “Go down to Afrika and tell the pharaoh, let my people go.” There’s “Strangers in this World,” elegant funk-jazz fusion. Liner notes relate, “the Aborigini women’s group in Nkwerre, Eastern Nigeria have a line in one of their songs that says: ‘Uwa bu onye zuru nke ya la wa/’ Literally: ‘The world is who buys his/her own and leaves.'” The music is hypnotic.
Recorded at Hot Igloo Studios in Minneapolis, mixed and mastered at WildSound Studios also in Minneapolis, Afrikan GuitarStrophy is a fine listen. Albums previously released by Kenn Wanaku and SUNplug’d include AfrikaWanda and Save Afrika. June 19th at the Cedar Cultural Center, Kenn Wanaku and SUNplug’d open for the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.
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