ASAP: the Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project
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ASAP: the Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project


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The best kept secret in music


"Pitchfork review"

Pitchfork Media (April 25, 2005)

Various Artists
ASAP: The Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project
[Modiba Productions; 2005]
Rating: 8.0

I'm hoping that the people reading this review are aware of the war in Darfur. Our media have shied away from calling it that, preferring the word genocide, which certainly applies, and the rather loathsome euphemism "ethnic cleansing," a term I've always thought inadequate and much too polite for confronting human savagery at its worst. It is a war, though, separate from the decades-long fight that engulfed the southern half of Sudan until the signing of a peace agreement earlier this year, but similar to that conflict in that the totalitarian Sudanese central government has responded to local black African unrest with a coordinated campaign of destruction, allowing Arab militias known as Janjaweed carte blanche to burn, pillage, kill, and expel, even in areas where no uprising exists. The express purpose of the campaign, which is indisputably backed by the Sudanese regular military, is to erase Darfur's black African (I refer to them as opposed to the country's Arab population-- Sudan has a complicated ethnic and religious composition owing to its colonial background) population and their homes along with them.

The resulting human flight from Darfur has brought thousands of refugees to neighboring Chad, a nation in no financial or material shape to accommodate them, and various camps within Sudan, where they survive thanks mostly to international largesse. Without foreign eyes, it's likely that Sudan would simply press its offensive and proceed with its naked genocide-- unfortunately, the interest of foreign governments is fickle, and a brief outcry in the halls of the UN has devolved into ineffectual grandstanding and squabbling over how best to address the situation. Of course, the delicacy of governments like ours in dealing with the Khartoum regime is at least partially driven by interest in the oil resources that government controls, and it's left up to non-governmental organizations to provide aid, food and shelter for a massive displaced populace in a part of the worldÐthe eastern fringe of the Sahara-- not known for its hospitable conditions.

This background established, ASAP: The Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project is a compilation aimed at providing funds for the sundry organizations involved in Darfur relief, and all proceeds from its sale go directly to the cause, with no profit to any of the parties involved-- the artists, Modiba Productions, Ben Cohen's True Majority and Apple's iTunes store, the latter two being the discs's exclusive distributors (True Majority offers the disc at its website, iTunes obviously offers a download). As the reviewer, I'll say up front that this is a charitable cause I believe in and that in my opinion the donation would be worth making regardless of the contents of the disc. The rating up top reflects perhaps a bit of that conviction on my part, but this caveat is almost unnecessary-- this compilation is solid from any perspective and represents a fine introduction to the modern descendants of the 1970s Afropop.

It's a truly multinational mix, with performers from the U.S., Africa, and Europe, most of whom have called multiple continents home at some point in their lives. The American contingent revolves around New York City's modern Afrobeat orchestras, Antiabalas, Kokolo, and Akoya, and all have donated spectacular tracks for the cause. Antibalas offers a smoking live version of "Uprising" full of maniacal sax solos and burbling neo-Africa 70 rhythms, while Akoya's "USA" is a striking denouncement of unilateralism with a huge horn arrangement and a great vocal from Kaleta, an Afrobeat veteran who's recorded with both Fela Kuti and Fela's son Femi. Kokolo's two tracks are both excellent: "Mister Sinister" careens over whiplash horns into a dub midsection and "More Consideration" does something lyrically that almost no funk or Afrobeat ever does, lamenting the inequality of women in cultures the world over.

The African artists, most of whom were born in Nigeria and are now based in the U.S., contribute songs in a wide array ostyles, most of which are actually less indebted to Fela than their American counterparts. Ikwunga's "Di Bombs" is spoken poetry with a chugging Afrobeat backing, Ikwunga intoning evenly and calmly, "Di jets di jets/ Di jets are built in Germany/ But the air raids are for Freetown/ The air raids are for Asmara." Keziah Jones offers up thumping r&b on "Garan Garan," with an ultra-simple bass and drum groove backing up his vocal, which is based on an old Nigerian folk tune. Dele Sosimi and Franck Biyong & Massak each throw down monstrous slabs of deep Afrogroove, but the biggest revelation here might be Wumni, whose hyperkinetic dance track "What a See" is tailor-made for a post-M.I.A. world. She dives sweating into a sumptuous beat with rubbery rapping and spastic scatting for a result that's stunning and difficult to classify.

For good measure, there's even a classic mid-70s Tony Allen track ("Progress") to sweeten the deal, though by the time it shows up in the tracklisting, the disc has already proved its worth several times over. Like most charity releases, there's little direct relevance in most of these songs to what's happening in Darfur (the remix of Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble's "Star Wars" features samples from news reports on Darfur, and that's the only explicit mention), but unlike most charity releases, this has a cohesion and singularity of purpose that make it very listenable in one sitting. The way I see it, there are two reasons to check this out: First, it's a phenomenal introduction to current Afropop, and second, it's for a good cause. You don't often get to vote your conscience by buying a good record, so this gets my wholehearted recommendation.

-Joe Tangari
- Pitchfork Media

"Boston Herald review"

Boston Herald

Various Artists
ASAP: Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project
3.5 out of 4 stars

Review by Nate Dow
Friday, February 18, 2005

This is more than an all-star Afrobeat compilation. As the first production of MODIBA, a group founded by two Wesleyan University students to aid social and economic empowerment in Africa, it's a fund-raiser with 100 percent of the proceeds going to provide food and shelter for the ravaged citizens of Sudan.

Tony Allen and Dele Sosimi, veteran members of the late Fela Kuti's legendary Afrobeat band, offer stellar contributions from their musical vaults. Allen's classic version of "Progress'' even includes Kuti on sax, while Sosimi's ``Turbulent Times'' is vital and gripping.

Additional contributions from emerging stars Keziah Jones and Wunmi and two New York City collectives,Antibalas and Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble, give "ASAP'' a modern bent by melding hip-hop rhythms into an eclectic Afrobeat mix of funk, soul and jazz.

Available exclusively on iTunes in digital form and at the producers' Web site ( on CD, "ASAP'' is a collection that will please both Afrobeat devotees and newcomers. "ASAP,'' in fact, showed its mass appeal shortly after its release by cracking iTunes' Top 30 with virtually no advance publicity. MODIBA's healing mission is off to an auspicious start. - Boston Herald

"Sudan solution (Eye Weekly review)"

Eye Weekly

Sudan solution

*** (out of 4)
Modiba Productions

Like most people who saw Hotel Rwanda, I left the theatre shell-shocked and also furious that the international community had turned a blind eye to the genocide that occurred in that country 11 years back.

I slowly began to question my righteous indignation after receiving a copy of ASAP: Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project, a disc that aims to raise awareness of the genocide happening in Sudan's Darfur region and funds for humanitarian efforts there. More than anything, this collection of Afrobeat jams from around the world has inspired me to question my own inaction regarding the atrocities that enveloped Rwanda and the crisis in Sudan.

The conflict in Darfur began in February, 2003 after a rebel group began attacking government targets. Sudan's Islamist government and its allies -- an Arab militia group known as the Janjaweed -- decided to end the revolt by attempting to wipe out all the native Africans in Darfur. According to the United Nations, which has called the situation the world's worst current humanitarian crisis, over 300,000 people have been killed and more than two million displaced.

Instead of wallowing in despair, Wesleyan university students Eric Herman and Jesse Brenner decided to act. "We were in New York last year shooting a documentary on
African music and we got talking to a lot of Afrobeat artists," says Herman, a Torontonian majoring in music, from his apartment in Connecticut. "Meanwhile, we were sitting in this office where we were interning, reading all these articles about Darfur. We wanted to get involved somehow and we were wondering what to
do and then it clicked.

Six weeks after conceiving ASAP it was completed. And last November the project received a boost when Apple's iTunes agreed to forgo its usual distribution cut, marking its first foray into charitable work. To date, ASAP, which features jams from Antibalas, Tony Allen, Keziah Jones and Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble, has raised US$120,000.

Politics being an essential part of Afrobeat, it's easy to see why Herman and Brenner chose that style over, say, soukous or highlife. It also happens to be their favourite music. "We worship Fela [Kuti]," Herman says. "He's as close to a deity as I've heard of walking this earth." The late Afrobeat innovator's genius, Herman adds, manifested itself in "his compositions that were able to keep the simplest riffs fresh and powerful, sometimes for hours on end; in his ability to conceive of music as 'the weapon of the future' and to actualize that maxim in his own work, and in his command of all who have listened to his music and felt the rawest humanity within it."

Given this, you can imagine Herman and Brenner's excitement when Tony Allen agreed to provide them with a track, "Progress," featuring Fela's vocals. "That was absolutely surreal," Herman says. "This is our first major release and two founders of Afrobeat contributed to the album."

The music aside, you can't help but think if white Westerners were the targets of genocidal campaigns, international inaction wouldn't be part of the discussion. As Hotel Rwanda director Terry George bluntly stated in an interview, "It's simple: African lives are not seen as valuable as the lives of Europeans or Americans." Herman, who has visited Egypt, Morocco and Ghana, and studied music in Mali, agrees. "This is symptomatic of the neglect and lack of concern for Africa and the Third World," he says. "It's disgusting. I have been to Africa a few times and spent a great deal of time the last time I was there, and I'm completely enthralled with the place. Most of the people I met were generally more happy and content in their everyday lives than people in the United States.

"People there put their morality before their actions, they think about the greater good of the community, there's a familial connection -- they really cherish their families whereas over here people have become obsessed with the notion of the individual rather than the collective. [In Africa] there's a respect for the elderly, there's a hierarchy of age -- not a hierarchy of power, money and sexual attractiveness." - Eye Weekly

"Album of the Week (Milwaukee Magazine)"

Milwaukee Magazine

Album of the Week

Reviewed by Mario Quadracci

Various Artists
ASAP: Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project
[Modiba Productions, 2005]
Genre: Afro-beat

Nigeria, 1977 – A thousand soldiers storm a commune to bring a state criminal to justice. They brutalize and rape the compound’s residents and throw an 82–year-old woman through a second-story window. She succumbs to her injuries. The woman is the mother of the man they are after: outlaw Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Kuti’s crime: giving the have-nots of Nigeria a voice against their corrupt military government – Afro-beat.

Afro-beat is raunchy and hypnotic, a blend of traditional African rhythms, jazz, high-life and funk. Infused with political criticism, the music has been the cadence of African social movement for four decades. Silky threads of bass, guitar, percussion and electric piano weave polyrhythmic fabrics stronger than steel. Horn sections punctuate ideas of unity, force and voice. Lyrics are counterattacks and manifestos of progress.

Kuti was imprisoned and repeatedly beaten by the ruling powers of Nigeria but remained immovable in his mission and exact in his words to the end: “The truth should be said before death carries us.” He died in 1997 from complications from AIDS. In Afro-beat, he gave the world a weapon of peace. It is still being used effectively today.

ASAP: Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project was put together by Modiba Productions, an organization founded by two Wesleyan University students to aid in the social and economic empowerment of the African continent. The record is a compilation of tracks by Afro-beat artists and collectives from Europe, Africa and the United States.

One hundred percent of profits from the album’s sales go to organizations providing humanitarian relief to refugees of ethnic cleansing in the Sudan. The suffering of black Africans under the brutal hands of their totalitarian government and Arab militias is beyond tragic and going largely ignored as the Western world’s attention is drawn to more opportunistic problems. An estimated 300,000 people have been murdered, and 1.8 million have been forced from their homes since 2003.

Revolution is about movement, and ASAP’s 12 hard-grooving tracks certainly facilitate it. Two of Kuti’s former band members, Tony Allen and Dele Sosimi, contribute. Allen’s mid-’70s song, “Progress,” features the late high priest himself, Fela Kuti, on sax. The compilation also has contributions from three incendiary modern Afro-beat orchestras from New York – Antibalas, Kokolo and Akoya – as well as contributions from several other international artists.

Buying this album would be money well spent even if the proceeds ended up in pockets rather than in the aid of suffering people. ASAP is a great introduction to the extensive catalog of Afro-beat (Fela Kuti alone released more than 50 records) and also to the next generation of musicians that have inherited a way to proffer the sacred and move minds, hearts and bodies like a riptide. Buy it for everyone you know. - Milwaukee Magazine


"ASAP" has been played on over 100 hundred college and independent radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, with numerous interviews and appearances, including Amy Goodman's acclaimed "Democracy Now!" news media program. The first track on the album, Akoya's "Star Wars - Modiba Darfur Remix," has been featured in an MTV PSA starring Don Cheadle and has been adopted across the nation by students and other activists as one of the "songs of the movement."


Feeling a bit camera shy


"ASAP" was the brainchild of two college students in the summer of 2004, as the violence in the Darfur region of Sudan escalated in both brutality and media coverage in the summer of 2004. Modiba Productions co-founders Eric Herman and Jesse Brenner, having recently returned from extended studies abroad in Africa, were working at the time on a documentary about African music in New York for the NPR-affiliated Afropop Worldwide.

Watching with increasing horror at the atrocities being perpetuated in Darfur, Herman and Brenner dropped everything and began working on ideas for a Darfur music benefit. Afrobeat immediate came to mind as the sound and message that an urgent campaign like this required.

Having earned an international reputation since the 1970s as a music of infectiously funky grooves, Afrobeat is inherently a music social and political action and change. Nigerian Fela Kuti, one of founders of Afrobeat, was famous for his political outspokenness in criticizing the corruption within the Nigerian government and others. Africa's Bob Marley -- nicknamed "The Black President" -- Fela Kuti was the voice of the discontented masses in Nigeria and throughout Africa for nearly three decades.

Since his passing in 1997, there has been a resurgence of activity in the Afrobeat movement. An accessible and danceable blend of funk, West African styles, pop, jazz, and hip-hop, its appeal stretches across a broad range of ages and demographics. In today's turbulent international political climate, artists throughout the world have seized upon Afrobeat as a way to amplify the voices of those who are suffering.

In short, Afrobeat was the ideal soundtrack to mobilize relief for the victims of this new and dire African crisis.

Bringing in sound engineer Dave Ahl and graphic artist Adam Tuck, all Modiba needed now was a sponsor. A close friend connected Brenner and Herman with Ben Cohen of “Ben & Jerry’s” ice cream fame, a philanthropist, social activist, and early celebrity advocate for the Darfur cause.

Cohen helped secure funding and support of the “ASAP” project through his political action non-profit, By Christmas 2004, “ASAP” was on sale online as a CD and on iTunes as digital downloads. Within a single week, “ASAP” had reached the #1 World Music spot on the iTunes charts, and perhaps even more impressively, reached #24 overall, passing acts like Usher and Jessica Simpson on their way up the charts.

The youth market was especially enthusiastic about embracing the “ASAP” mission. College students from over 40 campuses across North America have sold “ASAP” to their peers. Music from “ASAP” was featured on Darfur public service announcements on MTV. Modiba also ran a promotional campaign in partnership with fashion giant Urban Outfitters, distributing free postcards with information about Darfur and ASAP in UO stores nationwide, and was also a featured album on UO’s music store.

With 100% of proceeds from album sales going to Oxfam-affiliated Kebkayiah Smallholder Charitable Society and Save the Children, “ASAP” has raised over $130,000 to date to help bring food, water, and medicine to the hundreds of thousands in need.