Take The A Train

I’ve recently taken on a new daily commute from Bed-Stuy to Harlem via the A Train. This route, once celebrated in song by Duke Ellington, was and remains famous for connecting New York’s two largest and most historical Black Communities. Today, both communities retain their importance as cultural nodes for the descendents of Black migrants from the American South, but both have also become central nodes for New York’s newest waves of African immigration. The almost hour long commute has given me plenty of time to get through a few DJ mixes. Given my daily trip’s musical and cultural connection, perhaps it’s only appropriate that I present “Take the A Train” updated for the 21st Century, a list of some of my favorite Africa-connected mixes from this year so far.

Olugbenga’s Africa in Your Earbuds #15 for OkayAfrica
By far my favorite in the Africa in Your Earbuds series over at OkayAfrica. This schizophrenic but brief mix takes us from Highlife to Grime via Naija pop and Afrobeat, transitioned by Olugbenga’s own productions. The personality that comes out in this mix is something that all mix creators should strive for.

Otelo Burning Mixtape
I haven’t seen the movie, but the mixtape is outstanding. There are plenty of surprising elements and favorite tracks, but standouts include Zaki Ibrahim’s “Something in the Water” and “Walk on Water” by Reason. Both artists are on the lineup of Motif Records.

The Jungle Book Beat Tape by DJ Juls
This is a beat-tape, a mix made up of original productions that sample from sources that have influenced the beat-maker. While others have attempted to do similar Dilla-esque sampling of West African sounds, DJ Juls’s The Jungle Book beat tape is by far the best I’ve heard. The mix is perfect to vibe out to while doing something else, allowing oneself to get surprised by the various musical elements he throws in. Check out the great write up on Juls by Benjamin Lebrave at This is Africa.

Ngoma 13: Juju-Juke by DJ Zhao
The great thing about the Internet is the ability to give a lot of context to a DJ mix to learn about what inspired the sound, and give background on the artists included. No one does this more thoroughly than Berlin-based DJ Zhao. His latest mix in his Ngoma series “Juju-Juke” is my favorite of his. Zhao expands on an idea I myself have played with, and puts it together into a beautifully executed mix.

Afro-House 2012 by Dubbel Dutch
I’ve repeatedly said that Angolan House is one of the genres I’m most excited about. Benjamin Lebrave points to a flawless mix by a key figure in the industry, DJ Satellite. But it is an American who put together my favorite mix of African House tunes in 2012 so far. This mix culled entirely from the Soundcloud pages of various producers in Portugal and Angola is a stellar representation of the Kuduro-House sound.

The Ultimate Azonto Mix CD by DJ Neptizzle
A springtime round up of the best in Azonto sounds via UK DJ Neptizzle. This is probably the most comprehensive round up I’ve heard of the impending Ghanian take-over of the global pop pallette. A great mix to get anyone dancing!

Fact Mix 307: Ayshay
This mix officially dropped in 2011, but in December, so I mostly listened to it in 2012. Ayshay is the alias of New York via Dakar via Kuwait producer Fatima Al Qadiri. A deeply personal cross-section of the artist’s Afro-Arab sonic identities, the entire mix is stellar. But it’s the point where Madinina suddenly slips into Medina that made this one of my favorite mixes ever.

Yo No Soy Virgen, Pero Hago Milagros by Maracuyeah
Based on the name and cover of this mix, it already deserves attention. Sonically you get Cumbia, Vallenatos, smashed together with the Dembows and Moombahtons of DJ Rat and Mafe’s DC Latino experience. It’s a formula to create another deeply personal and well put together DJ mix. My only critique comes inspired by my El Salvadoran friend who grew up in DC when it was still “Chocolate City,” who said he wanted to hear Cumbia and Go Go mashed up.

Dark York by Le1f
This mix is one I’m still wrapping my head around. Partly because the Uptown lingo, that Le1f spits mutedly over an amazingly curated selection of futuristic electronic beats from the best of the up and comers in the electronic dance world like Nguzunguzu, Skin and Bones, Matt Shadetek, is taking me a while to fully understand and interpret. Le1f raps fast and continuous around colloquial concepts that will have most of us playing catch up for awhile long after he’s moved on to his next projects. It’s also worth mentioning that Le1f (Khalif Diouf) is a representative of New York’s Senegalese community via Harlem, and that’s a perfect place to end our ride on the A Train. Almost.

Don’t forget my own Africa-centered mix from earlier this year over at the XLR8R Podcast!


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