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by Dan Weiss

May 25, 2014

Afropop-Influenced Indie

by Dan Weiss  |  May 25, 2014

With Vampire Weekend's phenomenal not-just-critical success (two No. 1 albums!), it's impossible to not talk about the explosion of Afropop and other African styles' influence on contemporary Western alternative music. You can trace this impact back to the the '80s, with Burundi drumming on Bow Wow Wow's songs like "Jungle Boy,” and Penguin Café Orchestra's interpolation of the beautiful traditional mbira hymn "Nhemamusasa" on "Cutting Branches for a Temporary Shelter.”

But it was Vampire Weekend's Paul Simon-esque tunes like "White Sky” and the liquid-clean soukous-styled guitar lines on songs like "California English” that helped popularize non-Western single-note guitar styles in contemporary indie. Dirty Projectors tunes like "The Socialites” as well as their cover of Black Flag's "Gimme Gimme Gimme” are acclaimed, complex examples of how Afropop guitar can be intertwined with avant choir rock. Meantime, the massively talented Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs has clearly internalized Mbuti pygmy-style chanting on songs like "Hatari" and the new "Rocking Chair.” (And the syncopated rhythms on her single "Water Fountain" are somewhat reminiscent of M.I.A.'s rhythm tornado "Bird Flu.”)

These sounds have become so widespread in recent music that even reverb-drenched power-poppers like Surfer Blood ("Take It Easy"), subversive pop brat Lily Allen ("Life for Me") and indie folk troubadour Conor Oberst ("Hundreds of Ways") have drawn at least some kind of inspiration from the sounds of Afropop.

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