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New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2014
Band World Afropop




"The talking drums of Ghana's Mohammed Alidu"

Well, it's another new music Tuesday and time for me to highlight another album that is pretty far off the beaten path. And again, loyal reader, I have to explain that I am not exactly an expert in the music I am presenting to you. Yes, it's true. I don't know that much about music from Ghana. But again, that doesn't stop me from enjoying the music of Mohammed Alidu and the Bizung Family.

The album Land of Fire (self-released) begins with the song "Zomnilanisala." My first impression is that this song reminds me of another African artist Oliver Mtukudzi. The guitar tuning provides the same bright sound that you would hear from the popular artist from Zimbabwe. I don't understand any of the lyrics of this song, but I don't feel it's necessary to feel the joy that bubbles from this tune.

Then there is the song "Salabe." When I listen to this song, it just sounds like a tune that is steeped in tradition. It is folky in that it feels like the sort of music that is passed down from one generation to the next. I'm not sure I could explain what about this song gives it that traditional feel, but I can't. I guess the best comparison I can think of involves three types of music from the south: Cajun, zydeco, and bluegrass. When you listen to those types of music, you know that the musicians are playing music that has been passed from one generation to the next. This is similar, but with a lot more history to back it up.

OK, so what is this music all about? Well, it's one part traditional African folk music, one part funk, and all soul. I don't mean sould like Irma Thomas or Marvin Gaye. What I mean is that you are sure to feel whatever this band is singing about. And you are pretty likely to get your feet moving when you listen to this. So since it is a new music Tuesday, why not add some music that is completely new to your collection? I'm willing to bet that you'll get your money's worth if you buy this album. - Orange County Music Examiner

"Mohammed Alidu"

“Land of Fire,” the new exuberant omni-Afrobeat album - Spinner

"Midnite and the Bizung Family Play For Change"

Mohammed Alidu & the Bizung Family Band gave an impressive and energetic performance that moved the crowd. Mr. Alidu, born into the Bizung lineage of talking drum chiefs of Northern Ghana, led the Bizung Family Band into a heart-pumping groove with his spiritual voice and talking drum. - Inity Weekly

"WoBeOn Festival"

April 9, 2013

WoBeOn (World Beat Online) produced the first Austin world music fest this past weekend at the Mexican American Cultural Center adjacent to the Rainey Street entertainment district. The two-day concert included top tier bands from South America, Africa and North America. Notable entertainers included former ACL Festival performers, Bomba Estereo (Columbia). Also on the bill was talking drum tribal chief, Mohammed Alidu (Ghana), MAKU Sound System (Columbia) and Grammy winner, Agelique Kidjo (West Africa). See a complete list of performers at WoBeOn Festival. The top rated (according to the Austin Chronicle) local world music acts, Atash and Hard Proof were also invited to participate. For international music lovers, it was an opportunity to see many great bands all in a single weekend.
WobeonFest partnered with Flamingo Cantina and the United Way for Greater Austin, who helped in organizing the festival. Flamingo hosted a Saturday evening after-show with the aforementioned MAKU Sound System, La Santa Cecilia (Los Angeles) and newly formed Austin Latin act, Como Las Movies. The location was appropriate for a world music festival as the grounds of the center are spacious and inviting (see slideshow). The positive aura around the event was a pleasant side benefit for attendees who enjoyed ideal weather conditions.

Examiner dutifully caught sets by Austin bands, Atash and Hard Proof who both opened the festival on successive days. Both performed brilliantly for appreciative fans. If you have not seen either band, plan to see a show soon and find out why the groups finished one and two in the Austin Music Awards world music category this year. Hard Proof is slated to perform at next weekend's Art City Austin Festival. Atash is appearing next at the Carver Museum on May 9.

Saturday, MAKU Sound System delivered a high-energy show that had fans up off their seats and dancing to the Latin band's fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms, punk, electronic and jazz that proved to be irresistable. The Bogota natives currently residing in New York City had an edge and attitude evident in their sound, similar to fellow New Yorkers, Budos Band and Outernational. Vocalist, Liliana Conde mentioned it was the band's second Austin appearance after SXSW. Judging from the audience response, they will be back in Austin soon.

Besides Hard Proof's spot-on set to the open the day Sunday, another notable act, Mohammed Alidu grabbed attention with his talking drum, arresting music and a crack band. It was hard to determine which players stood out as they all played impressively. Alidu even invited the festival MC and founder, Jakes Srinivasan on stage to guest on congas. The unique aspect of the talking drum Alidu played with a curved stick on a hand-held drum drew much attention. Alidu comes from a 1000-year lineage of talking drum chiefs. His presence was, indeed royal.

Although we were not able to cover Bomba Estereo or either headliner due to prior commitments, it should be noted that the Columbian electro-Latin, hip-hop act is captivating live as they were under the tent stage at ACL Festival 2012. Additionally, lead vocalist, Liliana Saumet is both intense and an exudes raw sensuality. - Austin Examiner

"Lungu Lungu: Talking Drums Get Around"

Up until now, this column has barely scratched the surface of musical tradition in Africa. The wide range of artists I’ve chosen to focus on make highly stylized music, mostly electronic. Often, I’m asked how I feel about “world music” vs “global bass” or “tropical beats.” A few of the artists I’ve written about may belong to the latter categories, but beyond marketing considerations, I don’t see the relevance in that dichotomy. However, it does stem from a locally relevant divide, one that has nothing to do with the taste of record label A&Rs and producers in the West, and nothing to do with Soundcloud-savvy bedroom producers.

In Ghana, there is a striking divide between people who embrace their roots and people who shy away from them in shame, preferring to adopt Western customs by all means, no matter how absurd. In such a situation, artists play a crucial role, and as you may have gathered from past posts, many prefer to stick to modern equipment, usually vocal mics and sequencers. I love that formula. So does Mohammed Alidu. But as a master drummer and heir to a centuries old tradition, he feels other areas of Ghanaian culture are grossly overlooked in Ghana today. Worse than that—they are purposely ignored.

This is the world Alidu grew up in, in the Dagomba capital of Tamale, in northern Ghana. His art has allowed him to travel to Accra to join the National Dance Ensemble, then to join another group in London. Later he started teaching in Boulder, Colorado and concerts all over the world. He is living the dream of so many young Ghanaians. “A lot of people thought I’d stop playing the talking drum once I traveled. But this is what took me everywhere in the world, this is the difference,” he says. “Many Ghanaians overseas try to forget where they came from, they want to be part of a culture that doesn’t belong to them. [Even] in Ghana we sing about things that don’t make sense. We let go of what we have, we want to cut it with things we don’t know.” Mentioning a great 1960s highlife album he just listened to, Alidu asks,”What radio in Ghana still plays this music? Kids see what’s on TV, hip-hop, which is great. Very important, but nothing is as important as knowing where you are from, and knowing you have a choice.”

In London and Colorado, but also in Madagascar in 2005, Alidu has had choices. He’s had the chance to collaborate with musicians from all corners, he’s been exposed to different musical traditions. And when he comes back to Ghana every year, he does everything he can to share his experience with the people. When he is invited on TV, he is always asked why he drums. “I want people in Ghana to understand, you can be Dagomba, Ashanti, Ewe, Ga, Fanti, don’t be ashamed of it,” he says. Alidu started his professional career in Accra by embracing Ghana’s cultural diversity. To this day, fusing rhythms and mixing genres is at the core of his work. It’s impossible to pinpoint where he is from when you listen to his album, Land of Fire.

So what’s next? Alidu tours with Playing For Change, the same organization he has teamed up with to open a music school in Tamale. Traveling allows him to meet musicians from different backgrounds, who he often records with. He has his Pro Tools rigs at home, both in Tamale and in Los Angeles where he now spends most of his time. But everywhere else he has his laptop and mics, and continues to learn and build upon his experiences. While some still debate about world music vs global bass, artists like Alidu continue to build bridges, both between musical genres and between people. He’s not telling anybody to stop using computers to make music, his mission is to get Ghanaians to embrace their roots and incorporate them into a format they choose, instead of trying to fit into formats dictated to them. More talking drums, please. - The Fader

"Drumming through history with Mohammed Alidu"

Originally hailing from the African country of Ghana, Mohammed Alidu has made a name for himself as a drummer and singer in the world renowned and respected Playing For Change Project. Through his music he has collaborated with artists such as Peter Gabriel, Ziggy Marley, and Keb Mo.' Alidu even worked with the Playing For Change Project to open a music school in his home town. These days Alidu is focused on playing with his own band, and with two albums in the works he is hitting the road to bring his music to the people.

Mohammed Alidu is a man on a mission. In the digital age where information is quickly digested and popular music often consists of soulless beats that come and go as fast as the attention spans of young listeners, Mohammed Alidu is focused on connecting people with not only history, but with that basic joy that comes from a simple drum rhythm. When you speak to Mohammed, there’s a warmness in his voice, a sense that he is coasting on a higher plain of enlightenment that comes as the result of getting to make his music and share it with the world.

Having grown up in the small village of Tamale in Northern Ghana, Mohammed was raised in a culture based around the tradition of the talking drum, and this is how he communicates his music and message.

“My father was the chief talking drum player in the whole northern region for many years since I was born. The talking drum is something that is from my great great grandfather, called Bizung. It started from the 1500s when he started playing that talking drum. It's a long history, so the talking drum is in my family. In Africa they call it the memory of Africa, the history of Africa, and that is what it is,” says Mohammed.

The concept of the talking drum is the idea of the instrument as a vessel of communication, a way for the musician to send a message through pitches that at times mimic human speech. Depending on where in West Africa you are, the drum may be different in size, shape, material or even style, and can produce an endless amount of diverse sounds. While there are many specific uses for the talking drum, at its core the instrument is a communication device, a way to send messages among people of the community. This may explain why drummers and drum circles have historically served as occasions for the community to gather and be with one another.

Even though Mohammed’s music may be more accurately categorized as Afropop or Afrosoul, the heritage of the talking drum makes up the heart of the groove and serves as the primary inspiration.

“When I write a song I think about the message I am trying to bring and I think about African rhythm. In Africa the rhythms that we play are not just rhythms, they are saying a message in the drum,” says Mohammed.

Finding that unique sound that sets you apart as a musician can be difficult when you are rooted in a centuries old tradition. Where Mohammed sets himself apart is through his integration of Western musical styles ranging from pop to funk, as well as instruments more commonly associated with those styles of music, such as a drum set, bass and electric guitar.

“I listen to a lot of general music. I always try to bring it to the pop culture today and to the world. What are the rhythms that move people? What gets people excited? If you want to talk to somebody that's so powerful, the music is about trying to make somebody understand that we need each other,” says Mohammed, adding, “I always look for something that will make people happy, to talk to people and understand where I'm coming from. I always have a different type of sound to mix in to the African culture.”

Whether it be through connecting the youth with the tradition of the talking drum at the Bizung School of Music, a school Mohammed built “in [his] home town right next door to [his] mom,” and whose mission is to “train kids about the culture and teach them different kinds of drums and instruments,” to being a member of the world-renowned Playing For Change Band, Mohammed Alidu never loses focus of sending messages though his music.

“That is something I learned from my father, and also believing that what I'm hearing is deeper, you know, something that can open me up to the rest of the world. I believe in the rhythms and the messages behind [the talking drum],” says Mohammed. “Let's be real, because every human being, we are just animals in the jungle and we need each other to live and grow up and work. So all of these melodies are to make somebody happy to listen to you. I always look for something that will make people happy, to talk to people and understand where I'm coming from.” - The Horn

"Mohammed Alidu at Arlene’s Grocery 3/31/13"

Mohammed Alidu

Arlene’s Grocery

March 31, 2013

Mohammed Alidu is probably best known for his involvement in the Playing for Change project as a drummer — and although he been a member of the Playing for Change touring band, Alidu is quickly making a name for himself internationally as a vocalist, songwriter and performer. (On a certain level, he’s a musician’s musician, as he’s played with Peter Gabriel, Baaba Maal, Tinariwen, Michael Franti, Ziggy Marley, Keb Mo, and others.)

Born and raised in the town of Tamale, in Northern Ghana, and now based in Los Angeles, Alidu’s music is heavily influenced by an over 1,000 year musical traditions of the Bizung people while using Western arrangements, and mixed with the modern studio sounds heard in the clubs and lounges of the African Diaspora of New York, London, and Paris. it’s a sound that’s both ultra modern and yet incredibly timeless.

Alidu has embarked on a tour, on which he was playing mostly new material — material which will be appear on his forthcoming third album, an album that’s slated to be released later on in the year. His tour included two NYC area stops, and I caught him and his backing band at an old haunt — Arlene’s Grocery.

With a jubilant, 10 million megawatt smile, Alidu much like Nneka and even Bob Marley speak with a profound wisdom that belies their age — and with a warm, friendly sense of humor. He’s a larger than life presence that radiates charisma — watching him live, you feel compelled to give every ounce of attention to him.

As I mentioned earlier, Alidu and his backing band mixes the traditional sounds of the Bizung people with modern production. You’ll hear elements of reggae (which isn’t surprising as reggae is beloved across the African Diaspora), funk, Afrobeat and other genres. it sounds warmly familiar, and utterly sincere — there’s a beating heart and passionate soul to his music, and it can’t (and won’t) be denied. But it’s also incredibly funky. if you’re not shaking your ass then there’s something wrong with you and your soul. ”Land of Fire,” one of my favorite songs of his, describes Alidu’s native land in such vivid, beautiful and loving terms that i can almost envision it as he would.

i was impressed by him and his backing band — they played a set that felt completely improvised and free flowing, and yet felt entirely tight and prepared. That’s a rare thing. Catch this guy while you can, I suspect that you’ll be catching a legend. - The Joy of Violent Movement

"Live music review: Debut WoBeOn Fest brought top world music acts to Austin"

Besides Hard Proof's spot-on set to the open the day Sunday, another notable act, Mohammed Alidu grabbed attention with his talking drum, arresting music and a crack band. It was hard to determine which players stood out as they all played impressively. Alidu even invited the festival MC and founder, Jakes Srinivasan on stage to guest on congas. The unique aspect of the talking drum Alidu played with a curved stick on a hand-held drum drew much attention. Alidu comes from a 1000-year lineage of talking drum chiefs. His presence was, indeed royal. - Austin Examiner

"Mohammed Alidu "Aikaso (Murlo Remix)""

The original tunes by Mohammed Alidu (pictured above) have a delicate power to them, with sounds rooted in the artist's native Ghana. Alidu was born into an exhalted family lineage of talking drum chiefs, and has built his career upon the Playing for Change project, as well as an exhausting pedigree of gigs, teaching positions, and communal forms of expression. Now based in Los Angeles (where he'll be performing next week), his upcoming Talking Drum EP (out in June via Akwaaba) takes on a heavier Western slant: Soulful horns, playful drums, and elements of pop and dancehall are peppered throughout. The latter of those influences helps make the backbone (along with soca) that fuels UK producer and recent Bubblin' Up subject Murlo, who reworks the tune into a territory which is decidedly more tropical than one might expect from a Londoner. The UK remixer keeps the focal points of Alidu's music intact: Impressive polyrhythms, hopping drums, and infectious vocal hooks rub up against the darker side of Murlo's sound. His playfulness is undercut by a subtle and melancholy low end, but rather than making the tune gloomy, the undertones manage to enhance the joyous sounds they share space with. -


Still working on that hot first release.



The Playing for Change project has been the music industrys feel-good movement of the past decade. Part of the PFC touring band, Mohammed Alidu adds his vibrant talking drum to that inspiring musical tapestry and he is proud of his work with the organization. Yet Alidu (as his friends call him) is quickly establishing himself as an important new singer, songwriter and performer on the international music scene with two albums out and another on the way.

Originally from the town of Tamale in Northern Ghana and now based in Los Angeles, Alidus music has one foot in his 1000-year family legacy of earthy and pulsing Bizung rhythms and another in the modern studio sounds heard in the clubs and lounges of New York, London and Paris.

This versatility made him a natural for PFC and he has also played with such diverse artists as Peter Gabriel (on OVO), Baaba Maal, Tinariwen, Michael Franti, Ziggy Marley, Keb Mo and countless others in the U.S. and around the world. Recently hes even hooked up with Benjamin LeBrave of the tastemaker label Akwaaba for a set of remixes. One thing thats consistent throughout, however, is that he connects with musicians and audiences wherever he goes.

I think if you open yourself up to others, they will open themselves up to you, Alidu explains. What I do I do from my heart, and so far everywhere I've traveled people seem to embrace that.

Building on the traditional drums and vocals of the mesmerizing 2007 debut entitled Asisawa, which honored his familys legacy, Alidu made a decisive statement of self on 2010s wholly modern Land of Fire, which is filled with soaring vocals, warm electric and acoustic guitars and playful horns its a broad inclusive aesthetic that recalls the work of such legends as King Sunny Ade, Amadou and Miriam and others.

Land of Fire was a learning process and I learned every step of the way, Alidu says. From where to place the mics to get the sound I wanted to understanding the type of mix and mastering the record needed, it was all so new to me and there was a lot of trial and error. But I loved it! I always loved the technical side but never had the opportunity to get much training in it.

Even though Alidu has changed his music and his approach to fit with modern times, he has not forgotten about his homeland or the mission of Playing For Change he regularly goes back to Tamale, Ghana to work at the Bizung School of Music and Dance, which he founded with help from the Playing For Change Foundation in 2010.

The way we learned music before doesn't exist anymore, Alidu says of his people. I used to sit at my Father's feet every night to learn the history of Dagbon and the proverbs, stories and patterns of the talking drum. Our history is not written, it's all oral and spoken through the music and so the school is the place that can pass along the tradition and history for the younger generation to understand where they come from in order to know where they can go.

Through his school and performances, Alidu is also leading the charge to modernize the music at home, not simply by added elements of pop, hip-hop, reggae or funk, but by recognizing and then reimagining the Dagbani music already there and celebrating it.

We have the same traditions as the people in Mali but somehow people in Mali have been better about promoting their traditional music, Alidu points out. I hope people will see that we also have something to be proud of.

Band Members