1973-80 (ANALOG AFRICA NO 18)
Samy of Analog Africa has taken his foot off the African Funk pedal and switched to a mellower sound, Salsa Africana, the griot appropriation of Latin beats as manifest in Senegal by bands like L'Etoile de Dakar and Star Band. This is definitely a good sign, though the Teranga Beat label has that area of music well in hand. But more is always merrier. Amara Touré is not a household name but had a number of hits in West Africa in the 1970s. Hailing from Guinea-Conakry he started out in Tropical Jazz of Dakar and was a founding member of the Star Band, as a percussionist. He also sang lead on some of their Cuban covers, with a distinctive raspy delivery. He then joined saxophonist Dexter Johnson's Super Star de Dakar (see DakarSound DKS16 and 17). After a decade in Dakar he headed to Cameroun and formed the Black and White Ensemble. A scratchy copy of their "Lamento Cubano" is one of my favorite Latin remakes of this era (teamed up with the other two 45s which have been posted on various blogs over the years). The 45s Touré released with this band form the first six cuts on this compilation, so I am pleased to get a better sounding copy but also to fill out the set because Samy went another mile and found the later work of this enigmatic musician. Touré went on to join Orchestre Massako of Mack Joss in Libreville, Gabon, in 1980 and cut an album with them (released on the Sonafric label), also included here in its entirety. The review copy had no information as to personnel. There is a superb guitarist and also a sultry sax, who is on a par with Dexter Johnson. This is fantastic music and deserves the wider audience new exposure will bring to it. While I am not opposed to bloggers posting music, they rarely clean up the sound or provide informative context. (I am not including Worldservice in this generalization, they have in fact offered some great notes on Amara on their post of his LP, now superannuated, which forms half of this new release.) We should patronize Analog Africa and keep them (i.e. Samy) out in the field doing this exemplary work.
AMANECER (Bigdeal Sony Latin Records)
In their career Bomba Estereo have covered a lot of ground, adding electronic beats to various folk styles and suggesting everything from Berber music around a crackling fire to wacky Rajasthani puppet shows with whistling accompaniment. Their solid rhythm-machine tracks are augmented by live drums, then guitar and synth back engaging lyrics: this has endeared them to clubbers worldwide. Some questions arise with the new Bomba Estereo album. First, going back to their emergence in the early oughts, did their name and sound come from Azul Azul's hit "Bomba" which swept Latino America in the late 90s? They have been touring incessantly since their third album, Elegancia Tropical (maybe since their first album in 2007!), so when did they write this material? On stage, or in hotel rooms? Singer Li Saumet was living in New York last I read so how did they rehearse? Upside to Sony deal: this should break them worldwide; downside: no lossless downloads. Their familiar techno-folk cumbia-flavored sound has given way to super pop, or Uber-pop with confessional, existential lyrics and angst-tinged delivery from Li (as in "Alma y cuerpo" and "Feeling" on their earlier albums). Sony sent them a gringo pop/electronica producer wrapped in gringo dolares rather than, say, a reggaeton producer, and obviously that impacted the end product. He had never worked with Afro-Colombian musicians before, so be ready for a different experience. More money, bigger exposure doesn't necessarily mean better product. Their spring hit, "Que bonito" is not on here. But their latest smash hit, "Fiesta" is definitely here. They cleverly put it in the middle of the disc. If they had led off with it you'd have said it was downhill from there. Instead they come out strong with a rap, and shades of Dazz and Gap Band in the squinchy synth. Li sings in Spanglish; I assume she writes some of the lyrics, sexy Spanglish lyrics from a woman's perspective, like (in "Caderas"), "Come on take me on the table como me gusta me." Those first two songs are just samples of their "electronic-folk" style, then they go for the sky-guitar-on-echo for "Somos Dos," the first song with a melody (as opposed to a declamation over a heavy beat). It's still built on a solid rhythm track. "Soy yo," with its flute & swanee whistle chorus is irritating in its way. I can't wait for it to be over because up next is "Fiesta." There's a 24-bar intro then all hell breaks loose with the bass synthesizer, rocking like a giddy inebriate on a rollercoaster. The only possible response is to turn it up, and take out any loose teeth you may have or they will rattle. Another ballad, the heartfelt "Algo esta cambiando (Something is changing)" makes another auditory break and shows them to be more than a mere party band. "To my love" is another upbeat song made melancholy with a whistling chorus. Tragedies in Li's personal life seem to have made her more introspective as a writer, though I think Simon Mejia is the musical mastermind. The bass subwoofer gets another workout on "Solo tu." The last song slows the tempo to go out on a mellow note. Amancer will undoubtedly win Bomba Estereo new fans and then those fans will be thrilled to discover their three previous albums.
REBIRTH (World Village)
A new release from Les Ambassadeurs is cause for celebration. They evolved from other supergroups in Mali "back in the day"-- the mid-70s -- and subsequently went their own ways in the mid-80s. In the late 70s they were the trendsetters, swinging from James Brown funk grooves to Cuban cha-chas but always keeping their folklore in mind, particularly in the vocal styles. Notably from their ranks, Salif Keita moved to Paris and international fame. Cheikh Tidiani Seck was another member with a solid musical career, known today for producing the exceptional Hank Jones meets the Mandinkas album, Sarala. Most of them continued in music and when they ease into a brief set of their hits, it's a joy as rich familiar sounds emanate from the virtual grooves. "Mali denou" was a 1977 track on Les Ambassadeurs vol 1 from Sonafric and also kicked off CD2 of Stern's indispensable box set. "Tiecolomba Hé (Hoodlums)" from vol 2 was also on the Stern's compilation and had Idrissa Soumaro singing, rather than Salif Keita. He is back, singing and playing organ. "4V" didn't make the cut for the Stern's collection, but you may have the original take on Mandjou which came out (in Europe) on Celluloid in 1978. It's a Manfila Kanté composition. He was the guitarist (originally from Guinée) and I am not sure he is still with us. (Guenter Gretz tracked him down for Kankan Blues and Back to Farabanah in 1987.) Guitar is played by Ousmane Kouyaté who rips out some amazing licks right from the get-go. He was one of three original guitarists (the third was Amadou Bagayogo, who now performs as Amadou and Mariam). Ever since Les Ambassadeurs' day Kouyaté has been Salif's right-hand musician. Sekou Diabaté is back on bass. "Seydou" appeared on a Badmos LP issued in Cote d'Ivoire in 1980 and was collected in France on a Universal Music compilation. These are new recordings, however they have lost none of the old magic: in fact, sonically they are wonderful, you can hear so much in them, every percussive nuance, and Salif still pours it on passionately. I am guessing a tour and further recordings are planned.
FATOUMATA DIAWARA & ROBERTO FONSECA
AT HOME: LIVE IN MARCIAC (SP Jazz Village 9570080)
Funky Hohner Clavinet kicks this off and you think at once "Very superstitious", but then some bright Les McCann style piano dashes in and an acoustic guitar playing flamenco. This is Le Jazz Hot in its current incarnation. Fronting it is Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara who has done well to establish herself in another genre because the field of Malian praise-singers and singer-songwriters is packed to bursting. (I am sure your ears glaze over every time I say, "This is another great set of traditional Malian music.") Rokia Traore was on the Cannes jury this year, so it's great to see these ladies getting more respect for their enormous talent and sophistication, not just in songwriting and performing. Fonseca is the keyboardist with the jazzy edge; Diawara plays guitar and sings in more of a soul vein than Malian trad. They met in a nightclub and decided to jam together. They merged their bands and toured for six weeks, culminating in this live encounter in Marciac, France in August 2014. There are a Cuban bassist, drummer and percussionist and added to them is Sekou Bah on electric guitar and Drissa Sidibe on Kamalen n'goni. It's a great blend: the armature is jazz and the Malian guitarist does well to move that way, while the ngoni player sticks to his chops over a rock-solid bass and sporty congas. It's very accomplished, very smooth, and the whole is definitely greater than the parts.
BRIAN CHILALA & NGOMA ZASU
VANGAZA! (Sharp Wood SWP 047)
Sharp Wood has released eight albums of music from Zambia all told. Not much has been heard from the landlocked country, despite a little flurry thirty years ago when Shani! and a few other superlative discs were released. Shani! was an introduction from WOMAD, which later became Peter Gabriel's RealWorld label. Globestyle put out Zambiance! on vinyl in 1989. We discovered a bunch of great bands, including Shalawambe and Amayenge. Demon Records leapt in with their own compilation and also albums by those two groups plus Masasu Band. The peak of Zambian coolness was attained when Amayenge cut a session for John Peel's radio show and their song "Free Nelson Mandela" became a massive hit. The country is situated between Congo and Zimbabwe and the music sounds like it. There are elements of the chimurenga thumb-piano style of their Eastern neighbors and the intricate guitar patterns of their Western neighbors also. The speedy drumming style is all their own. This group's leader Brian Chilala was a protégé of Chris Chali, leader of Amayenge, and toured with them in their heyday. But he left and fronted various attempts at reggae and rock bands, along the lines of Sting's Police. Back in Zambia cassette piracy wiped out the local market but fortunately there were still bands dedicated to keeping the traditions alive. This is a great high-energy set of Kalindula music, incorporating dance styles from all the provinces of Zambia. The liner notes explain all the lyrics and the title, Vangaza! means let's dance, and defies you not to.
ROUGH GUIDE TO BLUES LEGENDS (RGNET1328)
Barbecue Bob had a short brilliant career. He first recorded in March 1927, laying down a few sides; more followed in 1928 and 1929 and a dozen in 1930 the year he died (aged 29, from pneumonia). Fifty years later he was rediscovered when the Dutch label Agram released an LP titled Brown-Skin Gal. In the late 70s I met Ray Funk, now a leading authority on Calypso, but in those days Ray was into Blues and Gospel and turned me onto some great stuff including the early Barbecue Bob album. Apart from the clever lyrics, full of double-entendres, Bob (Robert Hicks) had a unique sound because he was playing a 12-string guitar: slide gives way to a wild attack, called "frailing" adapted from claw banjo playing. He became popular because his lyrics were smart, he was a handsome devil (who worked as a BBQ chef, singing to his customers, which is how he became noticed by a Columbia Records talent scout), and his style was more upbeat than contemporaries like Skip James or Son House who sang about the hard times. More songs have surfaced since the 18 sides compiled by Guido van Rijn, and now the count is at 62 or so. Document Records put out a three-volume "Complete" set in 1991. "Motherless Chile Blues" is an important addition, found on the new Rough Guide, but we lose my favorite "Monkey & the Baboon," which is on the "Complete" set with other gems like "She Shook her Gin" (which also appears on the Yazoo compilation Chocolate to the Bone). If you are a blues fan you probably have the Yazoo disc, which is fantastic. Nevertheless this Rough Guide is a great introduction and the sound is wonderful. The Bibliothèque nationale in Paris has digitized some old recordings and these include both sides of a Barbecue Bob 78, so you can compare the quality to those found here. Interestingly the original version of "Honey you're going too fast" (found in Paris) has the same tune on the B-side with different lyrics, "It's a funny little thing." While I like the Rough Guide set I can do without "Jesus' Blood can make me Whole" and certainly some others could have been sacrificed to make room for the cream of his output. But if you don't know Bob this finger-licking set will have you seeking out more of his work, like his duets with his brother Laughing Charley or his final session with Curly Weaver and the Georgia Cotton Pickers (Curly's eerie "No No Blues" -- another take on "Motherless Chile"-- can be heard on the Rough Guide to East Coast Blues). BBQ Bob plays some fast tunes, with a percussive attack, snapping the bass strings and dipping a tasty slide on his little finger into the lead, sounding like two guitars playing at once. "Spider and the Fly" and "Yo Yo Blues" are among the best blues ever recorded, though they may be better characterized as hokum and are full of trebly pop gusto you wouldn't associate with blues.
PAT THOMAS & KWASHIBU AREA BAND
S/T (Strut Records)
One problem I have with modern Afrobeat bands is the simulacrum of the music they represent. You can listen to a Fela album and imitate the choppy guitar, any sax player can produce a credible Fela-sounding solo, and a talented drummer can anatomize the structure, but it is only a superficial resemblance and unlikely to go anywhere unexpected. It is not a living part of your experience, only a recreation of someone else's reality. But Fela and a lot of the other pioneers of Afrobeat and Highlife are dead. Not so singer and bandleader Pat Thomas. He moved to Germany in the 80s and with George Darko created a new type of music known as Burger Highlife, which had elements of disco (& is as dated as it sounds). Now, after 50 years in the business, Pat Thomas has returned to Ghana to wax some tracks: old favorites with old pals. He started out in the Broadway Dance Band and the Stargazers in the 1960s (singing often in English), alongside Ebo Taylor, who has also emerged from retirement to critical acclaim from a younger generation. Thomas was prolific in the 80s, touring Europe and the USA. The drummer from Fela's band, Tony Allen, also pops up on a couple of tracks to add his unmistakable driving touch, but in general Highlife is lighter and more melodic than Afrobeat and that bright sound is paramount here. Among the guests, Osei Tutu, trumpeter from Hedzolleh Sounds who was with Taylor and Thomas in Marijata band, appears. The rest of the band are younger members of the regenerated highlife scene and they run through some oldies from Thomas' catalogue, including "Gyae Su," "Odoo Adada" and "Mewa Akoma," which kicks things off in high style. They left the drum machine and synths in the closet so it's a fresh-sounding set of classic Highlife, the kind that cannot be replicated by wanna Afrobeaters. There are also a couple of new compositions, carried out in the traditional 70s mode.
the year so far:
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
Derek Gripper's album One Night on Earth has found an honorary spot in Mali part 2
Lenine's Carbono is filed in Brasil 2
Tal National's Zoy Zoy can be found in Niger
Novalima's latest is under Peru
Chico Trujillo can be found in the new Chile section
Aziz Sahmaoui went to Arabia
Bunny Lee's latest comp is filed in Jahmaica part 3
Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan's Sur Sangeet is filed in India & Pakistan
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba's Ba Power can be found in Mali part 2
Buena Vista's Lost & Found has been found in Cuba part 4
Mbongwana Star's from Kinshasa is filed in Congo part 3
In May I reviewed SIX digital reissues of Vercky's productions, so have created a new page for them called Congo Classics part 2
Lenine's Chão ao vivo is filed in Brasil Live
Taraf de Haidouks' Of Lovers, Gamblers & Parachute Skirts is filed in Balkans/Gypsy (Old World)
E T Mensah King of Highlife Anthology is filed in Ghana
Ndikho Xaba and the Natives went to the Southern Africa section
Samba Touré's Gandadiko and
Boubacar Traoré's Mbalimaou are both filed in Mali part 2
Rough Guide to Blues Legends: Blind Boy Fuller and
the Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues are in USA
Trio Chemirani can be found in Iran, which is in the Arabian sector
Rough Guide to Psychedelic Salsa filed under Salsa (New World)
Rough Guide to African Rare Groove is filed under Miscellany (Africa)
Bamako Quintet can be found in Mali part 2
and Debashish Bhattacharya's latest is filed in India
I created a new page called Latin Essentials, and have added more to it. Found in the New World section.
My Top Ten of 2014 can be found HERE.
My Top 12 of 2013, with best reissues, etc, is online HERE.
My Top Twelve of 2012 is HERE.
My Top Ten of 2011 can be found HERE.
My Top 9 of 2010 is online HERE
Click HERE for my top 10 of 2009
Click HERE for my top 9 of 2008
Click HERE for my top 10 of 2007
Click HERE for my top 11 of 2006
MY BEST-SELLING BOOK!
"Essential reference guide to the Congo guitar king" -- SONGLINES 64 **** (four stars)
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BACK IN PRINT (Second edition, November 2012)
A DISCOGRAPHY OF DOCTEUR NICO
Poltroon Press, 2012, expanded to 88 pages; list price $19.95.
By Alastair Johnston
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