Thanks to the internet - and, I still like to believe, open minds, wider arms - there's no need for such a short-hand term anymore: but most of the non-UK/US musicians I have grown to love over the years, I first got to know when our music media treated them all as part of an enormous nebula, 'world music'. French chanson, devotional Qawwali, Cuban senior citizens, Nigerian high-life... all in the same few racks in HMV, for those of us into 'foreign'. I only discovered Zambia's Amayenge through a John Peel session. I only heard the oud maestro Anouar Brahem because I'd already got a bit obsessed with 'the ECM sound' (the distinctive record label he records for).
But in all that time, I never encountered African classical music. Then, in 2018, I read about 'Ekele', Rebeca Omordia's disc of African solo piano works. Of course, it was bound to appeal, but I soon became smitten by it. Trace elements I could recognise, particularly in the rhythms... but as part of a brand new, instantly welcoming soundworld.
I got to hear Rebeca Omordia perform an incredible concert based on 'Ekele' the following February. She expanded on the CD's repertoire, and the programme opened my ears to an even wider range of composers. I wrote about the experience here.
That gig turned out to be part of a festival, also curated by RO, the African Concert Series. I was hopeful for a follow-up in 2020, and perhaps the opportunity to attend more events. Well, yes and no. Inevitably, due to the pandemic, there are no fully-mounted concerts with audience: but I was encouraged and grateful to see this year's version go online, with a shorter, 'virtual' concert broadcasting every day during the last week in June.
I'm going to tune in to as many of these as I can, and I encourage you to do the same. I'm especially excited to hear RO perform solo again on 29 June; one of the composers featured on 'Ekele', Fred Onovwerosuoke, is performing in person on 22 June; and 'The South African Double Bass' on 24 June features Leon Bosch previewing his upcoming disc on Meridian Records.
Please follow the African Concert Series on Facebook at this link for ongoing updates on times/programmes.
And you can buy the superb 'Ekele' directly from Heritage here.