Go Get ’em Edem

Posted April 5th, 2016 at 2:42 pm (UTC-4)

One of West Africa’s most exciting recording artists came to visit me at VOA headquarters. His name is Denning Edem Hotor. This 29-year old, dread-headed rapper from Ghana goes by the stage name Edem. He has a couple of slogans too: “Go get ’em Edem!” and “Special Delivery”.


Edem is a force in Ghana and is aiming to push the envelope to the rest of Africa and the globe. I discovered him a little over a year ago during my daily routine of researching good African music. I liked him for his music, that raspy thick quality of his voice, and his music videos especially The One featuring Sway and Koene Remix featuring Ice Queen and Lil Shaker.

On March 8th Edem sat down with  me in Studio 4 for a nice relaxed interview. It is presented here in three parts from beginning to end. In Part 1 Edem describes his special relationship to VOA and explains what brought him to Washington. He also talks about his latest single that’s gone viral, and its connection to Ewe folk music in his native, Volta Region.


Next I coax “Special Delivery” into a little freestyle, although it didn’t take much effort on my part. The man clearly loves what he does. He concludes with mentioning more about the importance of mixing languages (English, Pidgin English and Ewe) to balance his music’s appeal to both young, urban audiences and global markets.


The interview concludes with a song, a summary of his multi-national awards, his exciting new role as advocate to end early child marriage, and a peak into his bright plans for the future.


Since the taping of this interview, Edem has released the music video for Nyedzilo. As usual, Go Get ’em Edem produces another masterpiece.


Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

AfroJazz Vocalist Loide Jorge

Posted January 29th, 2016 at 1:21 pm (UTC-4)

Loide Jorge is a true daughter of the Diaspora. She was born in France to parents from Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, and then raised most of her life in the US.  Ms. Jorge’s music and vocal style is an organic confluence of her diverse experiences and influences. Her sound and spirit are unique. Enjoy this 30 minute interview with Loide and her mates Mongezi Ntaka on acoustic guitar and Jordan Ringo on upright bass.


Loide Jorge lives in the Washington DC area and performs in select jazz venues throughout the year. By day, Ms. Loide is an immigration attorney. Click below for music excerpts of the interview:  “In Time” and “Mpondo”.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Bado’s modern Taarab from Coastal Kenya

Posted December 15th, 2015 at 12:21 pm (UTC-4)

Taarab is a Swahili style of traditional music generally associated with Tanzania and Zanzibar.  Coastal Kenya is rocking it today, though. Back in September when I was in Nairobi I had the pleasure of meeting Bado. His real name is Mohammed Said Ngana and he’s from Kilifi County, Malindi District, in the central part of coastal Kenya.

The following session was filmed in the basement practice room of Alliance Francaise. Bado performs and talks about three of his songs, “Pararira” (“Joyful Sounds”), “Jogoo La Ruhe” (“The White Cock”) and “Mzungu Giriama” (“The White Giriama”).


Thanks to the Ketebul Music team for local arrangements and filming this interview and to Alliance Francaise de Nairobi. I have more to share from Nairobi in the  coming months including sessions with Makadem, Kidum, Idd Aziz, and the all-female a capella group, The Flower Project.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

An Evening with Msafiri Zawose and the Sauti Band

Posted November 25th, 2015 at 11:04 am (UTC-4)
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Msafiri Zawose with zeze. Nairobi, Kenya. 09/10/15.

In September 2015, I spent five days in Nairobi, Kenya. Our East African music collection needed refreshing so I spent my time hunting down the hotspots for CD outlets and music production and live performance.

The most memorable live performance was by Tanzanian Msafiri Zawose, master of the zeze a 10-string, harp lute. He’s leader and vocalist of his Sauti band, consisting largely of family members. Here they are giving Music Time in Africa a shout out before the show


Msafiri comes from a distinguished line of traditional Gogo musicians. His father Hugwe Zawose is a music legend for having introduced Tanzanian traditional music to world music markets by way of Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. Gogo people are known throughout the country for their rich music traditions. Msafiri and his band live in Bagamoyo, a coastal town in central Tanzania..

These pictures were taken during sound check Thursday night on the stage at Choices.

IMG_0007The kayamba, a flat shaker made from millet, dry seeds, and mtopetope wood, is posed on top of the muhumeme drum. (Lower left and below)

IMG_0037The box-resonated marimba rests on a wooden frame (center stage).

All three of these percussion instruments are played by Pendo H. Zawose, the only sister in the group. Ally O. Chacha is playing the jembe (left). Bahati J. Zawose (seated behind) is playing the ngoma Zamkono (tall drums) and drumset. Kennedy P. Matiga and Sajaly Sharif play lead and bass guitars (back left and right) and Barakha H. and Michael J. Zawose both play ilimbas (far right).  Msafiri Zawose plays ilimba (to the right of Pendo) and zeze (lying on the floor). He is also lead vocalist.

IMG_0036These are a few of the variants of the ilimba (thumb piano or mbira).

IMG_0034IMG_0033After sound check we all went downstairs in the musicians’ lounge for the interview and shared a meal before the show. These pictures were taken by a member of the Ketebul Music team that filmed the interview. Msafiri is holding the zeze, amplified by a gourd resonator covered with mountain lizard skin.


 Listen to the interview to meet Msafiri and get a taste of the majestic zeze and his Sauti Band sound. And a special thanks to Kasiva Mutua and Tabu Osusa for their support.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Eight Days in Cameroon: Part 2

Posted July 28th, 2015 at 11:22 am (UTC-4)

Guitar Poster

Poster of guitars on the wall inside Crelicam, Yaounde. June 1 2014. Photo taken by me.

As promised, this post comes as a follow-up to Post 1 chronicling my musical encounters in Cameroon in June of 2014. Part 2 features more musicians I met in Yaounde and also in Buea – the capital of the Southwest Region – nestled at the foothills of the breathtaking Mount Cameroon. It also peeks into the world’s premier ebony mill used to export guitar frets and piano keys around the world.

One artist that opened my eyes to the Anglophone world of Cameroonian music was Francis Ateh Bazore. He is a presenter and host for the national broadcast house CRTV (Cameroon Radio Television), and president of the Association of Cameroon English Speaking Musicians (ACEM). We first met in Yaounde for a live interview on Morning Safari (before the crack of dawn) at CRTV.


Two days later, I met Ateh again in Buea, some 160 miles northwest of Yaounde. The U.S. Embassy had organized a gathering of the local area ACEM members and, as president of the association, Ateh had also made the trip from Yaounde. FullSizeRenderHe headed the meeting and expertly facilitated one-on-ones between each musician at the table and me. Most of them brought copies of their music for me to play on my radio show. Once I got back to Washington and had a chance to listen to all of the music from that day, I was most impressed with Ateh’s own CD, Ka Chieh Ma which he also gave me at that meeting. It thrilled me with it’s exciting, punchy rhythms and his matching vocal style. The music is earnestly rooted in the traditional dance style from the Northwest known as “Njang.” Ateh is it’s leading modern champion.


Another artist whose music I appreciate from that gathering in Buea is Eliré. This man was not in attendance but his music was given to me by a fellow musician by the name of Agbor Marts.  Eliré comes from the Southwest regional Division of Fako. He is a Bakwere man and sings mostly in Mokpe and Pidjin English. I especially like this track that, for lack of a title, I call “Chop Chop.”


While in Buea, I spent one day with the vibrant community of University of Buea music students. UB StudentsWe work shopped together at their campus IMG_1749(1)and they performed a variety of styles such as smooth jazz, traditional, and reggae. They are best known for their choral music. The University of Buea Choir (UB Choir) regularly release CDs of their music. Here is my favorite piece from Vol. 4 entitled “Psaume de la creation”.


Back in Yaounde for my final two days before heading home I had the honor of singing the American and Cameroonian national anthems and a jazz set at the U.S. Embassy’s official 4th of July celebration (celebrated one month early). I was accompanied by the U.S. Embassy choir for the anthems and a quartet for the jazz concert. One thing I learned while rehearsing with the choir is that Cameroonians use the movable do solfege system to learn songs.  Here is the sheet music for the National Anthem they gave me at rehearsal.  Cameroon Natl Anthem

The choir rehearses the parts using the do-re-mi syllables and then layer the lyrics on top of the music once they’ve learned the parts.

After the choir performance, I sang a jazz set with a talented and seasoned group of cats: Marcel Tala – sax, Jean-Paul Lietche – bass, Paul Tchounga – drums, and George Essono – keys.

Manuel Wandji also joined me for a few improvisational moments and then he took the microphone and led the quartet from jazz to world music. His classic “C’est pas facile” excited the Cameroonian crowd. The embassy lawn was covered with elegant, colorful dancing dignitaries.

Before sharing my final 8th day’s activities in Cameroon, I diverge in time and place to present a fabulous interview I had with Manuel on March 23, 2015 in Washington DC.  Months after my tour, I learned that he was coming through and would have time for a studio interview in our VOA studios. It was especially great to get this chance because while we performed and work-shopped together on several occasions in Cameroon, I never formally interviewed him.


On the day of my departure, I squeezed in one last  music experience in Yaounde. guy at CrelicamI visited Crelicam, an ebony mill located just outside of the city. The place was bustling with activity. Inside, workers were cutting ebony into piano keys and guitar fretboards. Piano keys



Outside construction trucks were whizzing by everywhere creating trails of red dust. In the office, the director explained how the ebony was harvested in an ecologically responsible way. IMG_2005

Taylor Guitar’s co-founder and President, Bob Taylor, explains the reason he partnered with Madinter Trade and bought this company in Cameroon to harvest ebony for his and most other premium guitars around the world in this YouTube address “The State of Ebony”. Start at 3:06 (if you’re short of time) to get straight to the matter, beginning with Bob’s reference to Madagascar and then Cameroon as the “last frontier” for legally harvesting ebony.

In January 2014, Crelicam won the Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE) for its company’s transformative work in the ebony trade and in the lives of the mill employees in Cameroon.

As I said in the opening of Part 1 to this blog series on my eight days in Cameroon in 2014, Cameroon’s musical diversity is nothing short of spectacular.  After only eight days that was obvious but imagine what other musical marvels dwell in that vast, rich country. Fortunately, we now live in the world of the Internet and, though there’s no substitute for actually being there in person, one can still explore and discover Cameroonian music through YouTube, Facebook, Soundcloud…and my radio show Music Time in Africa! I regularly receive messages through social media and email with links to new songs and videos. And for you guitarists or pianists out there, you may just be playing a piece of Cameroon on your fingers.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Eight Days of Music in Cameroon: Part 1

Posted July 10th, 2015 at 5:06 pm (UTC-4)

IMG_1703 Last June I visited Cameroon for the first time.  My eight-day mission was twofold: Introduce new audiences to Music Time in Africa and other VOA African music programs, and share my brand of American vocal jazz with Cameroonians. Heather US EMbassy Highlights of my performances and workshops were well documented by the Cultural Affairs Office of the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde and local newspaper and radio stations. Yet the amazing display of musical talent and diversity that had unfolded before me each and every day, was robbed of its own deserved time to shine. In all of the hustle and bustle of returning back to my regular tempo of life and scheduled programs in Washington DC, most of my documentation of the Cameroon tour got placed on hold. So now’s the time to bring back to life my best photos, video, and music from the world of Cameroonian music as I lived it, even if only too briefly.

The thing that struck me the most about music in Cameroon was its spectacular diversity. After only eight days in two different cities, French-speaking Yaounde and English-speaking Buea, the music I encountered seemed to encompass all of sub-Saharan Africa. Cameroonians are aware of this too, as I was proudly told me time and time again “We have everything in Cameroon!”

Heather Sings YaoundeYaounde Jazz: My first scheduled performance in Yaounde was a short jazz set with a local quartet: keyboard, drums, bass, guitar. The gig was at a swank cabaret called Yao Bà. I forgot to take note of the names of the members of the quartet, unfortunately, so cannot identify them here, but they were tight. I arrived with my U.S. Embassy crew when they were already playing so we didn’t even get the chance to talk through a song list, keys, or arrangements. I took the stage, said Bonjour, and called the song and key to the first song, “All of Me” – G Major. Without delay, the guys just took it away with a nice intro that set me up nicely. Pas de problème. If I’d closed my eyes and listened to that performance, I could have guessed that those musicians were from anywhere in the world where jazz rules: Paris, New York, or Washington DC. That night I also met Manuel Wandji, a Franco-Cameroonian, world music artist who would be assisting me in Yaounde. Affectionately know as Wambo in Cameroon, Manuel made a smash hit with his song “C’est pas Facile” in 2005.

The lyrics to “C’est pas Facile” struck a chord in the hearts of Cameroonians. They tell a sad truth (life is hard) yet offer hope in strength and goodness of friendship.  It opens with “Often I tell myself, money’s not the only thing that can make me happy.” It goes on, “Too often I see friends ruin their friendship over a nice car, jewelry, or shoes. That is so gaou (loser)! If you’re not doing well tomorrow, you’ll be alone like an old macabo (Cameroonian fufu) . If you’re doing well, remember that a friend is the best gift ever.” The refrain, which is sung many times, sings “Give your heart in friendship, life isn’t easy. Know how to love without jealousy, oh, life isn’t easy.
Forgive and forget, my friend, life isn’t easy.” In the final refrain, Wambo changes the lyrics to invoke a positive national identity “We stick together! Listen, that is Cameroon: Solidarity!
Solidarity is not eating alone, solidarity is not eating and cruising alone.”

From Gospel to Hip Hop: On Tuesday I met some thirty local music professionals and artists at the Solomon Tande Muna Foundation. Muna Foundation logoI spoke about VOA’s African music programs and then, many of the artists performed for me live and sought  feedback and advice on how to improve their sound, make it marketable and radio-ready. Several gave me copies of their CDs and DVDs.  Among them were rappers, one reggae duo from Cote d’Ivoire, singer songwriters, one gospel singer, House DJs, and Afro pop artists. I was astonished at the diversity not only in music style and level of artistry, but in age as well. Muna Foundation Jam SessionPictured below is a jam session at Muna with several of the participants and Manual Wandji (far right).

A HipHop star named Big Joe, for example, gave me his single “Tchop et Yamo” which had just blown up all over the Cameroonian airwaves a few months before.

Since last year, Big Joe released a second single “Sirri Bi” and is working toward funding to make his first music video. In a recent phone interview, he explained the messages behind his songs. Both celebrate Cameroonian culture in food and hometown beauties. Listen to “Sirri Bi” on the link below or to the full interview featured on this Music Time in Africa radio show.

Aunty Clo was another colorful artist I met at the Muna Foundation. Heather and Anty CloShe gave me a DVD of her hit gospel song “Africa, Arise and Shine”. Included in the DVD packaging are the lyrics taken from the Christian scripture of Isaiah 60: 1-16 “adopted for Africa” on 12/21/2009.


Neo-soul singer songwriter Danielle Eog Makedah performed one song and presented me with her full CD Peace, Love & Light. Here’s track 1 “Dry My Tears.”


On Wednesday, now day 3 of my sejour in Cameroon, I made a 7:30 a.m. appearance on the daily TV show  “Hello!”, a live entertainment TV program on the state-owned Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV). Hello set w weathe man and choirThe show’s audience is around 100,000 viewers all over Cameroon, primarily Anglophone working-class adults. The show is a one-stop wonder of weather and news reporting, live infomercials, music entertainment and more. To the right is the news reporter (left) with the host, reading the news to Hello!’s audiences from the daily paper posted on the bulletin board and an acapella gospel choir awaiting their cue to perform. The choir was phenomenal. As “Hello!” is not scripted, we were invited to perform something together while the cameras were rolling. Heather and full choir 2I believe this song was “Amazing Grace.” The choir sang in flawless 4-part harmony. dancing 4The singers moved in a loosely choreographed style that added a beautiful visual component to the sound.  At the conclusion of our collaboration, the women enticed me (and the show host)  to try and match their moves. Amazing Grace has never felt so amazing as it did on the set of “Hello!” in Yaounde.

Later that day I met an assemblage of some thirty student members of dance and music groups at the University of Yaounde 1Manuel Wandji was with me who hadn’t stopped drawing crowds of excited fans since he joined me on Monday night. The students straggled in one by one and appeared to be most drawn toward the snacks and cold drinks at first. Manuel’s presence and the gradual realization that I was from the Voice of America eventually captured their attention. After the formal introductions, Manuel and I talked about singing and performed for them. They politely listened, but really started to show some energy once they started singing for us. Here is some video of this afternoon I put together. It shows the progression of their performance for us, beginning from their somewhat sleepy delivery of traditional choral songs to their more popular numbers with an electric band. The band must have gotten wind that Manuel would to be there because, among the popular tunes they did, they played “C’est Pas Facile.” The clip also shows Manuel joining the band on congas followed by a brief lesson with the drum student on the correct, original rhythm to the song.


During the workshop after this performance, the students expressed frustration at the lack of quality instruments and music instruction. None of them were studying music seriously or as a primary academic subject rather, they just get together and play informally when they have time. They perform concerts four to five times a year.

The Mvet: Thursday morning Manuel had arranged an interview with Pantaleon, the uncontested king of mvet. The mvet is a traditional 10-string instrument indigenous to the Eton people from the Central Region of Cameroon. Pantaleon had made the trip on motorcycle from his home in the village of Lekie. We met at the poolside of Mt. Febe Hotel where I was staying and with the help of Manuel’s camera skills we were able to capture Pantaleon’s presentation and performance. I have made this clip of that magical moment and translated the French with English subtitles. Watch and enjoy the music and stay tuned to the end of the clip if you want to learn about the mechanics of the construction and tuning of the mvet.


I have only presented four of my eight days of music in Cameroon but this post ends here. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series where I’ll share my experiences in Buea, the capital of the English-speaking Southwest Region, and more from Yaounde.


Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Music Time in Africa Turns 50

Posted May 29th, 2015 at 1:08 pm (UTC-4)

Music Time in Africa: A Narrative Timeline of 50 Years on Air

The music radio program “Music Time in Africa” from the English to Africa Service of VOA celebrates its 50th Anniversary of broadcasting African music to Africa this month.

IMG_20150514_103603A Golden Anniversary of practically any kind is  generally a good reason for celebration. But in the context of radio, not to mention the music industry, a 50 year-old music show is little short of a miracle. Reflecting on its amazing longevity, and on what it takes to keep the show relevant to African audiences today, I’ve detected a little magic in Music Time in Africa.

1965: Leo’s Launch from Monrovia

In May of 1965 the first radio broadcast of Music Time in Africa rang out from VOA short-wave transmitters from Mambo Point, Liberia.Leo's First Recording The 30- minute, hosted radio show presented African music across the African continent in the English language.The program’s creator was Leo Sarkisian (born January 4, 1921). Leo collected original music and cultural information directly from the place and people who made it and used the material as content for his weekly broadcasts.  He recorded music himself, collected it from radio stations, and from listeners and local musicians.

1968-1978: The Early Broadcasts from Washington D.C.

In 1968, the VOA Program Center in Monrovia closed. Everyone moved back to Washington, D.C. including Leo who became the VOA Music Director of the Africa Division. In 1969, he added co-host Sue Moran who delivered a scripted text that greeted African listeners and cushioned each selection of music with a pleasant, mid-western voice. Leo would often come on air in the middle of the show having “just gotten back” from another African country or region. He would introduce the newest thing he’d just recorded or acquired from a national radio station. Listen to the excerpt below from a 1973 broadcast:

Leo Sarkisian gradually built an empire of Music Time in Africa, feeding it with yearly months-long trips to Africa where he would record and acquire more music. He set up a library to house the vinyl and bulky reel-to-reel recordings and worked there splicing tape, writing weekly scripts, conducting research, preparing Africa tours, and corresponding with his ever-growing fan base.NEW ONE

1978-2004: Leo and Rita

In 1978, Leo recruited Rita Rochelle Hunt to co-host Music Time in Africa. He then applied his artistic and promotional talents to develop a powerful marketing campaign for the radio show. “Pictures of Rita, Rita on VOA Music Time in Africa annual calendars, and her name and Leo’s became household names throughout Africa”, writes Mary Sarkisian in her unpublished memoir “…The Last Three Feet: Life and Travels of Mary & Leo Sarkisian.”


During most of the 1980s, Leo and Rita toured many Africa countries together, promoting the show and collecting African music. The team lasted twenty five years. On air and off, Leo used his emcee and sound engineering skills during these tours to connect with local audiences. His reputation as “Leo the Music Man” skyrocketed as did requests by American embassies to invite him for appearances, talks, and presentations on African music and art.sarkisian9.doc An accomplished artist as well, he attracted audiences of all kinds through art workshops and exhibits.sarkisian3.doc In 2004, Leo semi-retired at age 83. He and his wife devoted every weekend to correspondence with listeners. Leo continued to write newsletters, make calendars, build his mailing list and answer fan mail. “I’m limited by VOA budgetary constraints to mailing a maximum of 500 responses per month,” he said in one interview.

2005-2011: Transition and Expansion

Rita Rochelle left VOA in 2005 and Music Time in Africa came under the direction of ethnomusicologist Matthew Lavoie. At the same time, VOA appointed Sonya Lawrence-Greene (pictured below) as the new English to Africa (E2A) service chief.  Sonya Leo & MaryRecognizing the power of music in attracting young African audiences, Greene initiated a new era of expanded music programming within the Service. In addition to Music Time in Africa, Greene added three more music shows to E2A streams: African Music Mix, African Beat, and Hip Hop Connection. Additional play times were also increased for Music Time in Africa and the new programs.

Matthew Lavoie’s seven-year tenure as the new Music Man brought two exciting changes to the program. First, he created a blog called African Music Treasures, featuring rare recordings from Leo’s library and new music acquired during Matthew’s own trips to Africa and Europe. MLBlog CassetteML 43 Vinyl

The blog functioned as a type of open forum on older music that invited readers to listen directly to the songs on embedded links and then comment on them. In a post, he published “Lost Liberian 45s from the 1960s“, for example, Matthew featured several 45s on vinyl that post elicited 13 responses from readers that contributed further to the history and understanding of the music. Below is one such comment posted on August 17, 2011 by a Mr. Earl Burrowes:

“A belated thanks for sharing some of Leo’s amazing recordings. I interned with him in 1963 at the VOA recording studio – then located across the street from the US Embassy – and to this day remember him very fondly. He was also an amazing artist and when I completed my internship he did a sketch (cartoon) for me that I treasure till this day, It’s a cut-away of the office building showing him (Leo) turning up the volume on a speaker that is vibrating the office above him when his boss (Noon) is rattled reading a quivering newspaper. True Leo sense of humor.

By the way, In the first recording of Melody 8 (Amore in Twist) I hear John Feweh Sherman on the guitar. John, who later became Minister of Commerce Industry and Transportation, and I were college classmates and he played for Melody 8 regularly to supplement his family income. He was executed by the military junta on April 22, 1980.

ML reel cover









The second change Matthew brought to Music Time was that he lengthened its running time from thirty to sixty minutes.

Leo continued to work weekends as a contractor responding to fan mail and sending newsletters, calendars, and program guides to 500 individual addresses per month. He and Matthew called themselves the “A Team”.

2012-Present: Today with Heather Maxwell 

In 2012, I joined the VOA to take the helm as host and producer of Music Time in Africa. In the past three years, I’ve also made a few changes as well as preserved some traditions of our beloved program. As for the changes, the three most significant are social media, television, and digital. Since I came on board, Music Time now enjoys an active presence on Soundcloud, Facebook , Twitter, and YouTube.

Today, listeners from all over Africa engage with Music Time by watching, listening, and writing via these multi-media platforms. Messages, posts, comments and tweets now constitute the majority of our fan mail. Musicians send videos and sound files of their own music for consideration, as well.

Listen below to a 2015 Music Time in Africa radio show from Soundcloud.

Here’s one recent testimonial from a Nigerian listener I received by email:

Hello My Dear Heather,

Warmest greetings from your friend and regular listener, Olufemi Ojumu, at the Ondo State Radiovision Corporation, Akure City in Nigeria. Its easier now to monitor your beautiful programmes on VOA live streaming with my Android phone and Laptop. Please keep up the good job you are doing in making Africa a place of pride. A Nigerian adage says, “If a child is able to appreciate what you gave him yesterday, he automatically gets another gift today.” Allow me to thank you for the 2013/2014 VOA Calendar sent to me last year. Kindly remember to send 4 copies of the 2015 calendar to me as this year winds up.
My regards to David Vandy on the African Beat, and Leo Sarkisian who retired but is never tired.

God bless Nigeria. God bless America.

Mr. Olufemi Ojumu,
Akure City,

Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android.

The blog also has a new twist. Moving away from its original, historical angle, today it showcases live performances and stories of living artists.

Jomion and the Uklos in Studio 4 for Music Time in Africa with Heather Maxwell. May 24th 2013 at the Voice of America, Washington D.C.

Jomion and the Uklos in Studio 4 for Music Time in Africa with Heather Maxwell. May 24th 2013 at the Voice of America, Washington D.C.










The new blog also features stories of my own Africa tours where I continue the tradition of acquiring new and rare music for programming and, like Leo, giving appearances, presentations and talks upon requests by American embassies. My Music Time talent (outside of hosting and producing the radio show) is singing. This excerpt was filmed in Nyundo, Rwanda in May, 2014 during one such tour. We’re singing “Malaika”by Fadhili William Mdawida.


Another big change in Music Time in Africa today is television. Since 2015, Music Time in Africa presents on the VOA music series Music Alley (see below) and Africa 54 on Fridays.


The third major development of Music Time today is the preserving and digitizing of the Sarkisian Collection. In 2013, the Library of Congress inducted Music Time in Africa radio shows into the National Registry of Recorded Sound. In 2015, Leo’s collection of African music was moved to the University of Michigan to undergo long-term curating and digitizing.

Leo Goes Home

In the same year Leo turned in his official Voice of America badge for the very last time, and retired (again) at age 91. Within three months of his collection’s departure for Ann Arbor, Leo and wife Mary departed from their Maryland home of 44 years to settle back home in their native state of Massachusetts. Listen here as Leo describes his feelings about retiring and going home:

Leo and Mary kissMuch has already been written about the living legend and founder of Music Time in Africa, Leo Sarkisian. For more information, a scroll through this blog takes you to several accounts of his earliest years recording and collecting music in Africa with his wife, Mary. A Google search can take you to a Wikipedia entry, a front page article in the Washington Post, a full-length story on PRI, and other numerous TV features.


Looking Ahead

Times have changed many aspects of the beloved Music Time in Africa since Mambo Point, Monrovia, 1965, but history has shown that we know how to roll with the times. What will we sound and look like in 2065? It’s anyone’s guess but my bet lies somewhere in the heart of elder Leo’s favorite African proverb: When door open, go in.






Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Sounds from Southern Morocco: Festival Taragalte

Posted February 27th, 2015 at 2:54 pm (UTC-4)


The main entrance to Taragalte Festival’s small stage and artist residences.


Some local guys stopping by to check out the scene.

In late January, I traveled to the edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco to participate in an African music festival called Festival Taragalte. It took place in the dunes just outside the dusty oasis town of M’Hamid El Ghizlane or “Town of the Gazelles.” It was the Door of the Sahara or “Porte du Sahara” where the great, trans-Saharan caravans from Timbuktu and other desert regions came to exchange gold, slaves, ostrich feathers, and ivory for North African manufactured items like dates, clothes, and Arabic manuscripts. Taragalte is the old name for the city. The Taragalte Festival is modeled after the town’s traditional festival (moussem) that used to celebrate the end of the date season and long journeys of the caravans. The moussem, almost extinct today in the region, was celebrated annually with music and dance, song, poetry and other oral traditions.

It brought together all of the region’s diverse tribes, local populations, merchants and caravaners in the spirit of goodwill and prosperity. The Taragalte Festival, now in its 6th year, seeks to restore the moussem with a new focus on music of trans-Saharan nomads.  Here’s a glimpse of the official opening as I filmed it, prefaced with a roadside peek at the Draa Valley as we drove down to M’Hamid from Ouarzazate.

The performers above are nomadic folk troupes from the region performing traditional Berber and gnawa (gnaoua) music and dances:  the ahidous, rokba, ganga and chamra. The electric rock band on stage is also a local group called “Generation Taragalte”.


From left: Jacky Canton Lamousse, Issa Dicko (cultural promoter or Tuareg culture and specialist in Tifinagh), Heather Maxwell (Voice of America), Halim Sbai (Co-Founder/Director Taragalte Festival), Cheikna Sambakessi (Festival sur le Niger), Mani Ansar (Director Festival au Desert), Ibrahim S’bai (Co-Founder/Director Taragalte Festival.


Checking my levels (with bare arms!) with Radio-Africa.com Host, Mory Toure.

A second objective of the festival is to “not ignore the African roots” of Morocco. Festival co-director and founder Halim Sbai told me that his grandfather was from Mali. “We Moroccans forget that many of us have Malian ancestry, ” he said, “A healthy tree begins with healthy roots.” Taragalte Festival nourishes these roots by flushing new life into the moussem of M’Hamid, boosting the local economy, and engaging cross-cultural dialogue. This last point is what brought me to this festival. I was invited to participate in a conference (pictured above) on “Culture as an Agent of Development and Reconciliation.” Each of us on the panel talked freely in Berber, French and English to a mixed audience of Sahelians from Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Tunisia and some Western tourists and reporters. My favorite music groups (pictured below) were: Daraa Tribes, a local up-and-coming rock group from Tagounit with an American Peace Corps Volunteer as acting manager;


Daraa Tribes:Thomas “Mustafa” Duncan, Rachid (lead guitar), Mustapha (rhythm guitar), Abdul Kabir (bass), Bizhar (drums/jembe).

Univ of Gnawa adn MeJPG

University of Gnawa: John Kankan (drums) Adhil Mirghani , Alioune Wade (vocals/bass), (Heather Maxwell), Aziz Sahmaoui (vocals, Gimbri), Guimba (guitar).

University of Gnawa, a gnawa fusion band led by singer Aziz Sahmaoui; and Ben Zabo, a modern-traditional dance band from Mali.

Ben Zabo1

Ben Zabo, lead vocalist/guitarist of Ben Zabo.







Here are a few video clips from their live performances Saturday and Sunday, beginning with Ben Zabo.  Enjoy!


From the Main Stage on closing night of Festival Taragalte 2015 with Ben Zabo, the clip below featuring a solo peformance of Aziz Sahmaoui was filmed on the quiet dunes of M’Hamid Elghizlane earlier that day.


My thanks go out to Robert Drey for the invitation to participate at Festival Taragalte, to film-maker Pierre Mick with In-Ze BOX and to all my new friends and fellows in music. Taragalte pass

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

Music Today in Malawi

Posted December 2nd, 2014 at 12:00 pm (UTC-4)
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I landed in Lilongwe, Malawi on October 9th, 2014. My mission: to learn more about the country’s music. The energy of Lilongwe was entirely different than in Johannesburg or Capetown, South Africa where I had just been the week earlier. Here, things moved at a slower, more relaxed pace. Day and night, joyous voices of nearby church choirs wafted through my windows. I discovered sweet songs sung in four-part harmony, soft acoustic guitar melodies, and to electric dance beats with wholesome good fun lyrics.


Music shop with cassettes in background. Lilongwe, Malawi 10/10/14

I was surprised to find a music shop in the city center that still sold cassettes. In fact most of music items available there were cassettes, followed by CDs and some DVDs as well (image left).


DVD music by Symon & Kendall, purchased at shopping mall. Lilongwe, Malawi 10/10/14

The most popular genre by far was Gospel music. But in popular music, the Lilongwe based duo Symon & Kendall were the staff’s number #1 pick. Popularly known as the Nyembaynemba Boys, this duo produces only DVDs of their music and their videos usually feature village-wide involvement.

Their most popular clip to date is “Nkhwikoa’ released in December 2012 (image right). According to Malawian music blogger Gregory Gondwe, the title track is about the esophagus. “Imagine!” he writes, “You might think there is a serious message to this, but nope, as the track merely tells the esophagus to get ready as it will experience better food passing through it down into the stomach.”

Here is “Nkhwikoa”. What’s great about this clip is that it captures moments of everyday life in Malawi with a twist of humor. The quality of the video and sound is also excellent.


Music Crossroads musicians and Director Gayighayi Mathews Mfune (second to right, back row). 10/11/13


The highlight of my stay in Lilongwe was on Saturday morning when I visited Music Crossroads – Malawi (MCM). It is one of five centers for music training and production in southern Africa; the others being in Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. I arrived at the Center to find a well-organized group of young musicians waiting to greet me and to share their talents. Each one gave me their music on CD and a short performance that I filmed on the spot.

Some had professional CDs to offer while IMG_8885others had only rough mixes. During a brief interview, they told me why MCM was important to them. George Kalukusha comes because it offers a great sense of community and a place to meet like-minded people and share ideas. He’s currently working on a song called “Good Blood” about a girl living with HIV/AIDS and the struggles she goes through.


IMG_8894Neil Nayar is an English singer songwriter who came to Malawi two years ago to be here at MCM. He heard about MCM musicians playing in Malawian youth prisons. After arriving he did that for nine months and from there, has been developing his own music style with local bands that he calls Afro-country fusion. “Country music is really popular here. Since I arrived as a foreigner not knowing any local language, the one style that carried me through in the beginning was country because people really love country.” The still photos in Neil’s clip are shots I took of the city and surrounding areas.


IMG_8893Lackson Duncan Chazima is a singer and teaches voice and music theory at MCM Academy. He likes it here because so many “big” musicians from Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and even West Africa countries converge here and share knowledge and repertoires. He says he learns a lot just being around them.



IMG_8887Last but not least is singer songwriter, Ernest Ikwanga. He says he’s grown up at Music Crossroads – Malawi. He’s been coming since age seventeen. “It has been and still is my home”, he says. He just finished his theory classes and recently opened up his own home studio in Lilongwe.


There are also other musicians and singers who contribute to the diversity and positive energy of the place. Thanks to all of them, and to Director Mathews Mfune and Music Crossroads International Director, Joe Herman.

Music Today in Malawi is developing and several of the Music Crossroads artists told me that they were searching to find Malawi’s music identity. They have a few models to look to for direction such as Fikisa, Wambali Mkandawire, and Symon & Kendall, but  they are already well on their way.




Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

The Dust and Sheen of South African Hip Hop

Posted October 22nd, 2014 at 9:47 am (UTC-4)
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IMG_8603When I first heard the current hit South African song “Caracara” I knew I wanted to meet this crew. If there’s a winning recipe for feeling good, at least for 3:52 seconds, “Caracara” is it. The lazy, urban tempo, the sexy flow, and simple catchy hook is infectious.

One listen drove me straight to Youtube searching for the video. Ishkanda artist K.O and his crew, Cashtime Tsosti for Life, did not disappoint. “Caracara” is the local name for the Volkswagen minibus theme in the video and symbolic of good ghetto party time with beautiful women.

I went to Johannesburg and met up with the K.O, Kid X and the rest of the crew on October 2nd and we’ll meet them in a moment. But first, check out the video now if you haven’t seen it yet.

Caracara was shot in Soweto, the nation’s largest black urban township in Johannesburg and famously trendsetting place for politics, fashion, language, and music and dance.


So when I arrived in Johannesburg I’d already made arrangements with CashtimeLife’s CEO, Thabiso Khati, to meet with the whole crew.

We arrived thirty minutes late, due to an over-casual local fixer, but the crew were courteously waiting for me in a conference room of a high-end business campus; So much for the stereotypeIMG_8601

of the irresponsible and undisciplined musician.  After brief introductions and an awkward gift-giving moment (when I presented them VOA tee- shirts that didn’t exactly excite their dust-and-sheen stylistic sensibilities) we went outside for a quick photo/video shoot.

We settled by the pond and here in order of appearance I present DJ Vigilante, Ma-E aka Easy Does It, Kid X, Maggz, K.O aka Mr. Cashtime.

The CEO of CashtimeLife Thabiso Khati runs the company of artists as individual business units. Each artist, including one female who unfortunately could not make today’s interview, approaches his and her own art as a business. Thabiso encourages them to take ownership of their own units and equips them with their own team of booking managers, marketers, and marketing strategists to bring out the best the unique talents of each artist.

casthime feetCashtimeLife is only one year old, but two of its core members, MaE and KO, came over from an older crew called Cashtime Entertainment that has won several awards including a nomination for Best Group at the 2010 MTV Africa Awards. They are young but not newcomers. Furthermore, says Khati, most of the members have university degrees so he feels like they can’t go wrong. They don’t think that it’s cool to drop out of school. Instead, they are banking on their education to be the tool that turns their music into money. “We’ve got to monetize and capitalize,” says Khati. “We understand where the world is going so we’re playing in technology. We’ve launched our own digital platform where you can buy music. We actually aggregate content for other labels as well…We have merchandise…” Thabiso

Khati considers the longevity of an artist’s career. “It’s cool to be an artist but there comes a time when you just want to do one or two shows a year. You don’t want to be out on the road. Maybe guys settle, they’ve got families. But you also want to make sure that they settle into a day job that’s still within what they love and that they have ownership of that… the only pension is to create opportunities for guys to keep earning when they stop making music.

One big question I had for Khati was about the style of Hip Hop they call Skhanda. He defined it very nicely. “You take dust, you take sheen, you put them together and that’s bling.” Khati continued to explain Skhanda in historical context. “South Africa is split in two. The sections that aspire to be first world and you got third-world elements which are in the majority.

“We come from the third world elements. We come from the townships.”

He goes on to explain that growing up in the townships, they would acquire hand-me-downs and make the best of them by turning them into creative styles. But since 1994, more and more young people are growing up in an expanding suburban, black middle class who are Hip Hop’s number one consumers. They live in what we call the sheen. We come from the dust. So now, we take certain elements from where we come from… you see guys in Jordans, in gold chains…” I interrupted him to get one of the crew to demonstrate:


Skhanda is not only a style of dress that has changed the way kids dress, and music (of course) but it’s also a style of talk. It surprised Thabiso Khati recently to see that the kind of slang which CashtimeLife created amongst themselves as a crew is now everywhere on Twitter. For Khati and the crew, however, Skhanda is their opportunity to monetize and capitalize. He mentions their tee-shirt line, sock line and a new merchandising deal in the works. “It’s beyond music,” he says, “It’s how you take music and apply it to everyday life.”

We wrap up the interview with Khati repeating a point he’d brought up earlier about the importance of education. “Nelson Mandela said it best: The only way to come out of poverty is via education.

“We gotta teach that and preach that and show that education is not square.” Khati emphasizes that they come from the townships. He is from Meadowlands, in particular, and is a scholarship kid, so they are all cases-in-point that anyone can be whatever they want to be regardless of where they come from.


As for what’s next for CashtimeLife, Khati says “Music awards are great and nice, but it’s not what we work for. For me, the guys, and the whole crew, It’s being able to push the culture forward. Being able to do what’s never expected. And while doing that, the centerpiece is great music.”





Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.



Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

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