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March 19, 2009

Jazz Grooves from Paris to the Cape

by John Oseid

On a breezy summer night in the hip Moroccan coastal town of Essaouira a few years ago, the soaring voice of a griot star kept me enthralled through the wee hours. Sitting cross-legged on an outdoor stage, Dimi Mint Abba showcased her percussive Mauritanian music at the Festival Gnaoua. Her ensemble's nomadic folk drums, strings, and hand clapping had the whole audience hooked.

If you happen to be in Paris this weekend, you can witness Dimi jam with the veteran American jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette at the new Quai Branly museum. Their three-night set launches a series (March 20-28) designed for jazz artists "to get back in touch with their African origins." Two shows of Ethiopian jazz, which I love, will be followed by pianist Randy Weston's innovations with Moroccan Gnawa musicians.

After Paris, head far south for the insanely huge Cape Town Jazz Fest on April 3-4. American stars like singer Dianne Reeves, saxophonist Maceo Parker and alt-hip hop star Mos Def are among the forty artists. South Africa is a jazz hotbed, of course. We know that trumpeter Hugh Masekela is a legend. But who of us (in the States, at least) have heard of veteran jazz and opera singer Sibongile Khumalo? I've just discovered a fine young Joburg-based quartet from Mozambique named 340ml who will be bringing its trip-hop fusion to the fest.

And the artist I'm really dying to see? In 1957 Miriam Makeba invited a 16-year-old Sowetan named Abigail Kubeka to join her township group, Skylarks, and Ms. Kubeka is still going strong with that gorgeous sound of their youth. The wow factor as she sings "Yini Madoda" in the documentary clip above will have you packing right away for the trip.

More music:
* Dimi Mint Abba sings in Mauritania at the Festival Musiques Nomades
* "Thando's Groove" is a recent cut by Sibongile Khumalo
* For a quick taste of 340ml's eclectic sound, watch them perform "Shotgun"
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world

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