Sélébéyone Is at the Intersection of Experimental Hip-Hop, Jazz & Wolof

The international 'avant-rap collective' deliver a new album packed with impressive rhymes from Senegal's Gaston Bandimic.

Shrouded in birdsong, Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty opens up “Djibril,” the second track on Sélébéyone’s new album with grave certainty. In French he tells us: "You must close your eyes. Have you closed your eyes? You see points of light. Close them tightly. Each time that you want to see the light, you must close your eyes."

It encapsulates an astounding album in Xaybu: The Unseen that sounds like a spiraling Miles Davis as cosmonaut lost in geometric prisms of Africa. Free jazz in the lost outer dimensions may not be for everyone but this ‘international avant-rap collective’ as they like to call themselves sound less like session musicians polishing off their licks when Senegalese star, Gaston Bandimic, is cutting loose at the heart of it all.

Down wormholes of terror and abject confusion this group’s best moments are when they shoot for spiritually and mysticism through sonic chaos. Saxophonists Steve Lehman of Los Angeles and Maciek Lasserre of Paris ride off the energy that pours out of Bandimic. He delivers in Wolof as if it were for the last time.

That he and Lasserre are both Sufi Muslims, makes the record take on a shape of its own and attempts to reveal the connection they have with the unknown. When I manage to track him down he is in Lyon with his family. A hip-hop star back in Africa, he appears on this transatlantic album that sounds at times like a bad dream in an 80s movie. What is the deal here?

Bandimic describes making music as making new universes, citing “the symbiosis of cultures and civilizations” and how “jazz is not symmetrical, it’s another level — just as the spirit is not palpable. It is abstract”.

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6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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