In March 2016, during the first edition of the Re-Imagined Storytelling festival held in Nairobi, Positively African (PA) launched an online contest inviting African writers on the continent and in the Diaspora
to write an African folktale for the 21st Century. Out of nearly 100 entries, twelve were selected and scheduled for publishing by Pavaipo (East and Southern Africa) and Ouida Books (West Africa) in an anthology called Story, Story! Story Come! in December 2018. Alongside the anthology, Positively African also planned to release audio book versions of the stories, with original music. However, the age-old tradition of oral storytelling is on the decline. Rapid urbanization, the breakdown of the extended family, technology and so on has altered our social fabric. Whilst our daily lives are still peppered with snippets of remembered words of wisdom and proverbs, the reality is that a new generation of Africans has never had the pleasure of listening to a story being told by a storyteller.
Story, Story! Story Come! was a contribution to larger efforts to revive storytelling in Africa and beyond. The challenge was to develop new narratives that speak to issues that are fundamental to Africa’s development in a way that is unconventional but true to our past traditions of folktale and oral storytelling.
There was also a growing consciousness to want to know more beyond the fantastical, aesthetically appealing representation of Africa in fabric and art, beyond the stereotypical entertaining display of African culture through music, drum circles and dance displays. This is where the art of authentic oral theatrical African storytelling comes in, where moods are illustrated sonically and musically to drive home the message. With this idea in mind, Positively African decided to get in touch with musician Franck Biyong, one of this generation’s true innovator in musical interpretation (who credits Cameroonian virtuoso guitarist and master composer Francis Bebey as the main inspiration that set him down his path as a pre-teen, and also cites Fela Sowande, King Crimson, Pierre Akendengue, Frank Zappa and the Art Ensemble of Chicago as major influences on his artistry) to write original music for each story of the planned audio books.
Receiving musical instruction and training at the National Institute of Arts in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Biyong scorched a brilliant path with his works and became a reporter of a modern day African identity’s aspirations and ambitions. Franck translated these experiences into 15 diverse and challenging albums ranging from orchestral African sound to black jazz pastoral pieces, Afropop, electronica, rock, Afro house and psychedelics and went even further into musical experimentation while completing this very unusual project: “ For once, it wasn’t just about writing music to fit with words, melodies or the other way around…the stories were recorded first and I then had to work more like a sound designer or painter trying to illustrate each particular nuance or evolution within the stories…and it wound up being way more challenging and mind boggling than I thought it would be...”
Ultimately, while working on the project, Biyong gradually tapped into his own musical influences and piece by piece began designing the music as a tribute to legendary Space Jazz innovative composer and band leader SUN RA, now widely acknowledged as the pioneer of Afro Futurism and creating a new synthesis that used space-themed philosophy to reflect African-American people’s linkage of ancient African culture, specifically Egypt, and the cutting edge of the Space Age.
“I think there is something quite specific about “African Music” in general: There are as many different forms of music in Africa as there are many different countries, people or “tribes” who speak different languages, have different cultural values and different history and lineage even though they also may have a lot in common. Each of these groups has different ways of rejoicing, celebrating, praying or healing through the power of music, dance or chants. Therefore you can literally say that “African music” doesn’t exist as such but that we should rather speaks of the “numerous and various musical expressions coming from the multiple ethnic groups of the African continent” which sounds a bit long and complex but which is much more appropriate if one has to consider these issues seriously”. Biyong also reflected on the role of the Griot in traditional West African African society for inspiration: “We seek to describe the nature of our local, social, private identities from our own environment and native cultures, to the ancestral traditions that leave many of us amazed today.
Africa, which is believed to be home to the early man, has a rich tradition which dates millions of years back and is in most cases passed orally from one generation to the other”. The Griot is a member of an aristocratic family among the peoples of Africa whose function is to keep alive the oral history of a tribe, a village, a lineage or ethnic group; a masterful traveling storyteller who educates and entertains with tales, historical narratives, dances and recitals.
On this conceptual recording, Biyong and his musicians really intended to tell the story of culture through music; He explored the dimension that lies beyond rhythms or chants through the eyes, ears and wisdom of a futuristic Griot portraying fictional characters and modern African heroes leading the pace and narration through modernized tales. These sounds from the ancient continental past aim at addressing the complexities of African oral tradition, re-positioning African folkloric music as a futuristic artistic medium and inspiring epic stories of self assertion, quest of knowledge and cultural preservation
released May 10, 2019
Artwork: Peter Nzomo
Executive Producer: Maimouna Jallow
(Check out the website www.reimaginedstories.com)
Recorded by: David Sanna, Maxwell Ochieng, FB
Recorded @ Ndokoti Studios (Douala, Cameroon),
Afrolectric Mobile (Yaounde, Cameroon), HBS Studios
(Paris, France), Dynamix Studios (Nairobi, Kenya)
Mixed & Mastered by Wanyoike Kimani & FB
@ Square Down Studios (Nairobi, Kenya)
Produced, Arranged & Conceived by FB
GRANDMASTER MASESE: Bass, Tenor & Alto Obokano,
Percussion, Mbira, Kayamba
EDWARD ODHIAMBO OKUTO a.k.a "ODADA": Orutu,
Percussion, Shakers, Vocals
WILLIAM RAMA: Congas, Djembe, Tumbas,
AJOSE ADEWALE BABATUNDE: Rhythm Talking Drum,
Congas, Cowbells, Shakers
OLASUNKANMI OYENIYI: Lead Talking Drum, Congas,
MOSES NJOROGE: Multiple Keyboards, Synthesizers,
Piano, Organ, Accordion, Litungu
DEBE DEBE (Obuya Owino & Daniel Muhini): Ngoma Drums,
Congas, Djembe, Kayamba, Nzumari
RILDHA ESSO: Nkul (Tambour d’Appel), Bongos, Congas
ASAPH UZELE: Electric Bass, Acoustic Bass
ZACHARIE ABRAHAM: Double Bass
NICOLAS BAUDINO: Tenor & Soprano Saxophone
MARC-BORLET-HOTTE: Trumpet, Flugelhorn
EMMANUEL YAKOBO OBEDI: Drums, Percussion
FELISTER NGUNJIRI: Vocals, Handclaps
LYDIA OGOTI; Vocals, Handclaps
CHRISTINE KAMAU: Trumpet
NOAH SAHA: Alto & Tenor Sax
TIM RIUNGU: Soprano Sax & Flute
Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Keyboards, Synthesizers, Bass,
Percussion, Field recordings, Loops, Samples, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Drum Programming, Piano, Melodica, Balafon, Vibes,
Tape Effects: FB
© 2019 Afrolectric Music Ltd. / Akhetaton Records