It’s been five years since the United Nations declared that 2015 to 2024 would be the International Decade of People of African Descent, and a year since Ghana initiated the Year of the Return, inviting descendants of enslaved African people to come home, explore their heritage, and even seek citizenship. It’s also been a century since Jamaican civil rights activist Marcus Garvey initiated the Back to Africa Movement.
These events have long played a role in drawing well-deserved attention to the resilience of an area that has long been exploited through colonization, slavery, and intense mining of its natural resources. And though traveling to Africa requires a substantial degree of planning, South Floridians can catch a glimpse of the continent’s musical offerings through the Rhythm Foundation’s two African music concerts being staged this week. This Thursday, January 23, 3MA — a trio of African stringed-instrument players — will strum up a sweet soundscape of three continental corners: Mali, Madagascar, and Morocco. Then, on Friday, January 24, New York’s legendary Afrobeat outfit Antibalas will thrust audiences into what ought to feel like a transatlantic jam cruise featuring an energetic fusion of Latin and Yoruba rhythms.
“We play instruments that are really born in Africa,” Malian 3MA member Ballaké Sissoko says, adding that his instrument, the kora, is the one that reaches the farthest across the continent. It originally comes from what is now Gambia but is played widely in the region in present-day Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Guinea. Meanwhile, Malagasy artist Rajery represents the sounds of East Africa through Madagascar’s valiha, and Moroccan artist Driss El Maloumi uses the oud to fuse North Africa and Europe’s Iberian Peninsula.