NIU Afropop Ensemble may perform last concert Friday

By Katie Finlon

After its inception at the beginning of last year, the NIU Afropop Ensemble may very well be playing its last concert.

The ensemble will perform at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Recital Hall in the Music Building. The concert is set to go for about an hour.

The nine-piece ensemble is directed by Mathew Tembo, world music performance graduate student and popular African musician. The ensemble’s instrumentation includes traditional African instruments from Zambia—such as the kalimba, which is a thumb piano—along with western instruments, including the saxophone and trumpet.

“The most fulfilling thing about attending our concerts is that it’s different,” Tembo said. “It’s not what people are used to.”

Half of the repertoire will be new to the audience, Tembo said, and all of the pieces that will be played are original compositions of his.

“In the ensemble, we try to experiment with African music, and we take the characteristics of African music—polyphony, syncopation—and try to work with them in a lighter ensemble setting,” Tembo said.

Tembo was a reggae musician at home in Zambia before furthering his education in the States, and the change from reggae to Afropop was inspired by a stranger he encountered when the stranger remarked on Tembo being a reggae musician from Zambia.

“I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, I’m from Africa, and I have to do something about my own music,’” Tembo said.

After that, Tembo went back home and started playing traditional instruments from Zambia and changed his compositions completely.

Ian Letts, senior jazz performance and music education major and Afropop alto saxophonist, said the music of the ensemble has African influences infused with popular music influences, such as U.S. pop music or reggae—hence the name Afropop.

“The horn players are kind of like spice on top of it all,” Letts said. “Everything grooves really hard—it’s all about the feel of the music and making it feel good.”

This might be the ensemble’s last concert ever at NIU. Because Tembo will be graduating in December, the fate of the ensemble from that point forward is unknown.

“Of course I love this area, but playing here at NIU might not happen again in a long time,” Tembo said. “I think people should come out.”