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OLD WORLD (inc Asia, Arabia)

African Discographies

Updated 1 July 2017

June 11
Music from Colombia, Mexico, Congo, Kenya & the USA

June 25
Music from Cameroun, Jamaica, Congo (Zaire), Cuba, Kenya & the USA
"One of your best yet: I shall certainly download this for future rainy days." - a listener

The muzikifan podcast is updated twice a month.
The most recent podcasts can he heard via the above links.
The next episode on July 9 will feature the artists reviewed below, as well as surprises.
Subscribe on podomatic for updates.

Greetings, Platterbugs!


Kanbar Center for the Performing Arts in Marin presents The 25th Annual Summer Nights Festival:
July 15 - Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited (Zimbabwe)
July 22 - Pacific Mambo Orchestra (Latin big band)
July 29 - Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca (Afro-Cuban)

Freight & Salvage in Berkeley welcomes
L'Afrisa International Friday July 14 $30 advance
Sidestepper Saturday 22 July $24 advance


No one died this month. Life is good!


Informative blog post of the evolving music scene in East Africa

and a history of the Opika label on afrodisc

Excellent piece on Festac 77 by Uchenna Ikonne

New Page: Congo in Tanzania

I've added a companion page to my "Congo in Kenya" page, that commemorates Congolese musicians in Tanzania at the same time as their compatriots in Kenya "Congo in Tanzania"

AFRICAN GEMS (Sharp Wood Productions 043)

The Charles Duvelle commemorative album, which I reviewed last month, got me to dig out some of my treasured OCORA albums and I started looking at the names of the people who recorded the music. Some other music pioneers, Hugh Tracey and John Low have been lionized, not only in the Sharp Wood Series, but also Original Music of John Storm Roberts who produced wonderful reissues of their recordings. What convinced me to buy African Gems was partly that it's what you might call "tribal Africa's greatest hits," but also that Sharp Wood's A&R man, Michael Baird, is a percussionist and drummer and is going to have a different take on what the great field recordings are from your humble reporter (I admit I got my Doctor of Rhythm doctorate from a mail-order college who gave me credit for "life experience"). The importance of these recordings is obvious: between 1965 and 1984 four white men, an Englishman, a Frenchman, and two Belgians, traveled the heart of Africa recording tribal music. Since then war, famine, HIV/AIDS, not to mention the onrush of modernity, have made this traditional music quietly disappear from the earth. But they captured vital musical moments, documents of life as valid as books or movies, maybe more so because of their immediacy. Tourists go looking for it, and perhaps are treated to a mock or recreated initiation ceremony but things slide out of reality, lose their context. In 1983 I visited the Mbuti pygmies (first celebrated by Colin Turnbull), and they put on a concert for my companions and me; they hocketed, jumped about imitating monkeys and generally tore the place up -- for a small fee. We spent a week camped near them in their forest village made of leaves and twigs, and traded them sugar and flour for pot, or to take us hunting. We were offered precious stones (probably bogus), gold (ditto) and even bark cloth, which was lovely but too fragile to transport. I traded a thrift store HARVARD t-shirt for a lovely sanza (thumb piano). (The t-shirt was immediately turned for cigarettes to the local "bigmies" -- normal-sized Africans who lived off the pygmies.) Several of the little people wore necklaces that had stones and seedpods on them. One day I asked one of them who spoke French the significance of those necklaces. Some Italians were here a few months ago and gave them to us, he said, would you like one? I have no doubt one of those necklaces is now in some ethnographic collection with a note, "Ituri rainforest 1983: Mbuti pgymy." So to the disc: the opening track comes from OCORA 25 Cameroun (the one with the cover that was plagiarized by Analog Africa for their disco reissue). It is outstanding, but then so are the 11 cuts that follow. A track like "Mbilé" by a kendé (xylophone) soloist is so rich you have a hard time believing it's only one performer. He accompanied a wrestling match in Chad in 1966 and here the track is restored to its full length. The kendé is an upright xylophone struck with four mallets, according to Duvelle, who also took a photo of the performer. Then we are treated to the "traffic jam" effect of seven ivory horns with percussion (Duvelle in Congo, also 1966). It's interesting that "out" jazz arose around this time and was also a product of African-American horn players. (Note the use of the word "horn"!) The segue into Alur horns from Uganda is great and the reason I wanted to give Baird the reins on this set! The horns from Chad performing "Sirhélé" are also extra-classic. It too slides seamlessly into one of the mind-blowingest pieces of "world music": "Gandja" music from Centrafrique. This is an initiation ceremony complete with chorus and ankle-rattles but the horn polyphony is completely trance-inducing. I admire the way the ten short themes flow together and marvel at their seeming lack of time signature. The anthology ends with an epic topical song sung to a home-made guitar with the choral singer frantically tapping a bottle. It brings us back to earth, though one can see why this music is the stuff that we sent into space to convince alien lifeforms that we earthlings have soul.


Volume V of the Nine Decades project (which is unearthing and restoring lost gems from Ravi Shankar's back catalogue) is a big change from his sitar and tabla pieces, in fact he doesn't play on it. It is the score for a ballet he wrote for the Birmingham Opera in 1989. At the time he felt that people equated Indian music with drug trips (in many movies, starting in the 60s, a swirling sitar and a kaleidoscope of colors was shorthand for dropping acid) and wanted to counteract this. The preoccupation with drugs, he felt, was an "easy escape from the sadhana found in disciplined hard work." Those of us who reveled in drug experiments in our youth know how close you can come to losing it, and the fact that America is in the grip of drugs like Oxycontin, Fentanyl or crack cocaine shows how bored and spiritually empty large swaths of the population are. The prescription drugs are overused to the point of inertness, which of course makes good politics as a docile out-of-it populace is easily manipulated. Shankar wrote this music in the folk-tale tradition. Not only did he have experience in writing full-length scores, he had also spent his teens dancing in his brother's touring troupe. His soundtrack credits begin in the 1940s and in the 1950s he scored some of the great films of Satyajit Ray, including the Apu Trilogy. Then he went on to the 1957 Kabuliwala, Jonathan Miller's Alice in Wonderland (where, yes, his music does suggest altered states) and Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. For Ghanashyam he drew from all Indian traditions, northern Kathak style and southern Kathakali, and also added in Western classical ideas to the Indian orchestra. Ghanashyam is a dancer and his descent into drugs horrifies his wife, Lalit, and his fellow dancers. A bell rings and you think, ah that's to awaken the gods, then it rings again as other instruments enter and soon it is jingling like anklets, and we remember dancing can also be an act of worship. Well-known playback singers Ashit & Hema Desai sing the lead parts. There's Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on guitar. Violin, sarangi, sitar, flute and shenai add color. The result is a lyrical score with a cinematic sweep. And for the first time the full-length (80 minute) work has been restored from the original tapes.

SUFI SPIRIT (Riverboat TUGCD1099)

I must have watched scores, if not hundreds, of Bollywood movies. I have my favorites among directors, actors, actresses and playback singers. The big historic dramas often have moments of spiritual reflection (before or after a battle scene) and quite often secular singers, like Mohammed Rafi or Lata Mangeshkar were called on to plumb the depths of Islamic devotion for the on-screen characters. Muslims too got the chance to sing behind the screen and many films have been boosted by the presence of Nusrat or Rahat, Jagjit Singh (a Sikh who revived the ghazal form) or the Wadali Brothers. You may find it incredulous to expect transcendence from a film soundtrack but that's what happens in ecstatic moments like A. R. Rahman's "Khwaja mere khwaja," the central moment of the 2008 film Jodhaa Akhbar, when the male lead escapes self to find the divine. This new album is described as a blend of rock and qawwali but to me it's pure Filmi. Despite their political and religious differences, exacerbated by the current "strongman" Trump-clone Modi in Delhi, Pakistan and India share a love for the Sufi devotional music, and as a militant atheist, I am also partial to it. The singer is Ejaz Sher Ali whose father Sher Ali and uncle Meher Ali are famed qawwali singers, being trained in the same tradition as Nusrat. The omnipresent but thoughtful guitarists are Danes: one of Iranian extraction, the other Pakistani. The group is completed by bass and drums: there is no bare bones hand-clapping accompaniment, but someone is in the studio with a synth adding some atmosphere. The rock edge is kept below the vocals and helps emphasize the wild abstract vocalizations of the singer Sher Ali who is superb. They don't have a video, which is fine by me, the movie in your head is always the best one.


American blues is a historic movement but nevertheless is in flux. Like other neglected musics of the past the recordings are now scarce and new discoveries, like the work of Geeshie Wiley (as written up deliciously in an extensive New York Times article, which you will forgive me for linking to again, but it's worth reading twice), are continually forcing us to reevaluate the story. So it's Little Wonder (the "Stevie" has been omitted for conciseness and clarity) that compilations like the ongoing series from Rough Guide are as full of revelations as Saint John in his damp Greek b'n'b. When the Beale Street Sheiks sing "Mr Crump don't like it" I thought they were singing about Mr Crumb, that being R. Crumb who collects and proselytizes about early American folk music and blues in particular. If you have seen the documentary about Crumb you will remember the moment when he pulls a Geeshie Wiley 78, "Last Kind Word," out of his shelves of identically grey-sleeved albums and the music blows you away. Well, that was his party piece: he knew the exact disc from some subtle mark because when I met him at home in Willets in the 1970s he pulled the very same act. So Geeshie featured in RG2 Country Blues and here she is again on RG2 Ragtime Blues. I am not complaining but the two categories seem interchangeable to me. Ostensibly ragtime blues attempted to recreate the staggered syncopation of Scott Joplin's piano on the guitar. Also Geeshie's "Pick poor Robin clean" was already on the Rough Guide to Blues Songsters. Her "Eagles on a half" was on RG2 Delta Blues (it's also on an old Yazoo Blues album I own, but I am not sure I could pinpoint its exact location at first try). However I like the random anthology approach because you might buy a Blind Lemon Jefferson or Charley Patton album, having recognized the name, only to find the sound is crap. But in the context of a bunch of other varied-quality tracks you can get the gist of their greatness in a small dose. Outstanding here are Blind Boy Fuller with his virtuoso picking on "Piccolo rag," (I accidentally typed Bling Boy Fuller: how times have changed!) and the crystal clarity of Mississippi John Hurt singing "Got the blues can't be satisfied." The great assured Robert Wilkins cut "Old Jim Canan's" was already on the RG2 Ragtime Blues & Hokum CD, as was the crisply clear and delicate "Cocaine Blues" by Luke Jordan, Willie Walker's "South Carolina Rag," and the great "Ragtime Millionaire" by William Moore. The Blind Blake track was on his Rough Guide CD; likewise the Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller and Charley Patton cuts. "Shake me like a dog" by Pillie Bolling (an artist known only by 4 songs) was on RG2 Country Blues 2, so diminishing returns set in. Of course there are unknown gems on here, so if you are budgetary minded you might want to cherry pick the tracks you want from this collection; and eight duplicates from 25 tracks is not a bad return if you don't have the whole set.

TOY RAHA TOY (Anio Records)

Remember D'Gary's 90s album of Malagasy guitar A World Out of Time which was produced by Henry Kaiser? After two decades he has returned (well, he has been touring with Bela Fleck and otherwise still plying his axe), and teamed up with Regis Gisavo who plays accordion, and Monika Njava, a singer who has performed with Deep Forest. They are called Toko Telo, which means trio, and celebrate their traditional Southern Malagasy music. Monika draws her lyrics from folklore but adds commentary from everyday life to keep them current, so corruption and environmental concerns, which we all share, are also part of her songs. In "Rapolany" a lonely woman stays out all night looking to meet men. She returns at sunrise and the neighbors whisper behind her back: her life floats up and down like a plane. It's a two-minute ditty which also floats up and down. In "Jiny Karo Karo" a young woman dreams of owning plaid jeans but can't afford them. Gizavo is unknown to me, but has the strongest pedigree. After winning Radio France's Prix découvertes in 1990 he performed with Cesária Evora, Richard Bona, Manu Dibango, The Mahotella Queens and Boubacar Traoré. That's some resumé. While he can adapt to any style his accordion is the perfect balance to the acoustic guitar on this mellow outing. His song "Mikea" is about the attrition suffered by the Mikea people whose forest homes are being destroyed. D'Gary sings about cattle rustlers, and in "Hainao Moa" about a drunk man who has to hitch up his cow to the cart carefully, because he wants to get home in one piece. We've all been there!

TORONTO MAMBO (Lulaworld LWR005)

No surprise that as one of the liveliest, most diverse cities in North America, Toronto is home to a very active Latin music scene. We've known about this since Jane Bunnett surfaced in gigs with the likes of Don Pullen and Paul Bley before her Spirits of Havana album put her in the spotlight in 1992. Toronto is also closer culturally, I'd wager, to New York than to Quebec. This fine new outing has a mix of locals and arrivals who keep the classic salsa of Eddie Palmieri's 70s sound deep in the groove. "Suavemente canto yo" is the most obvious nod to La Perfecta with its cool laid-back sustained slow smolder. "Micaela" has a thinly disguised cover of "Tea for Two" in the piano solo! Yes, the oldies are best. "En San Leopoldo" -- a guaguanco -- takes it down to guiro, congas, and suddenly you are listening to the gaps in the baby bass riff, with just comping piano, before the tres sparks up and then the coro and horns all blaze forth and the place is simply pulsating. Lacalu are not lacking in ambition and to prove their chops are at the top level, the great Jimmy Bosch shows up to blow on one number. A quick search of the interwebs shows some of their personnel, e.g. Alexis Baro on trumpet, are recognized stars in their own right. Many of them moonlight in multiple bands. There is one cover song, "Caballo viejo," loosely based on a Simón Díaz original. The tunes sound classic but are otherwise original compositions -- by pianist Sean Bellaviti or Cuban-born tres player Pablosky Rosales, formerly tresero with the great Cubanismo, before he decided to settle in Toronto. Cumbia, montuno, mambo and jazz all blend together for a great spicy salsa blend.


Another classic album from Discos Fuentes, reproduced in facsimile. Including the obligatory cover "bathing beauty" from the time when such girls were quite demure. Already a versatile bandleader at 21, multi-instrumentalist Lisandro Meza joined Los Corraleros de Majagual and, with an eye on Beny Moré's outfit, renamed them as his "Combo Gigante." They took up the boogaloo sound then prevalent in New York's salsa scene with raw sound and a party ambience in the studio. For their first album, issued in 1970, they performed eight covers, with cowbell & additionally a tambourine up front adding a weird loping cumbia beat to the rickety piano montuno. Timbales and brass also stride forth on a variety of tunes originally waxed by Benny Moré with Perez Prado, Celia Cruz with la Sonora Matancera, Willie Rosario and others. Short, sweet and very much to the point.

most recent reviews:

(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)

June 2017

Zaire 74: The African artists is filed in Congo part 4
The Photographs of Charles Duvelle is filed in Africa Miscellany
Oumou Sangare's Mogoya can be found in Mali part 4
Kasai Allstars Around Felicité is filed under Congo part 4
Juana Molina's Halo can be read about in Argentina
Rough Guide to Jugband Blues is in the Blues section
I put Vincent Ahehehinnou in Nigeria part 2 though you may be looking for him in Benin
Fruko's Tesura is in Colombia part 2
Orkesta Mendoza pose a problem, being so eclectic, but I put them in the salsa category
My write-up of Michel Camilo, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdes is in Cuba LIVE

April 2017

Mamadou Kelly's Politiki is filed in Mali part 4
Afro-Cuban All Stars' Via Mexico is filed in Cuba part 4
BaianaSystem's Duas Cidadas is filed under Brasil part 3
Read about the Original Sound of Mali in Mali part 3
Orch Baobab's latest, Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, is in the Senegal part 3 section

March 2017

Bargou 08's Targ is back in Arabia
Shem Tupe is filed under Kenya part 2
Les Amazones d'Afrique's Republique Amazone can be found in Mali part 3
Aurelio Martinez' Garifuna opus Darandi is filed under Caribbean miscellany
OK Jazz's The Loningisa Years 1956-61 is in Congo Classics part 2
Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica can be read about in the Cabo Verde section
Fruko's A la Memoria del Muerto &
Combo los Yogas' Canabrava are filed in Colombia part 2

February 2017

Jaako Laitinen and Väärä Raha are filed under Old World misc
Sory Diabaté's latest is filed in Mali part 3
Diama Ndiaye's Dafarèèr is filed under Senegal part 3
so is Ibrahima Cissokho & Le Mandingue Foly's Yanfu
a review of the movie Faaji Agba is filed under Nigeria part 2

January 2017

Palenque Records AfroColombia mix is filed under Colombia part 2
Jinja by The Nile Project is filed in Arabic music
Djime Sissoko's Djama Djigui went to Mali part 3
The Rough Guide to Hillbilly Blues is reviewed in the Blues section

December 2016

Trio Mandili are filed in Old World miscellany
Bollywood Brass Band's Carnatic Connection is filed in Music of Bollywood part 2
Oro Negro are from Colombia
Bonga is filed in Angola, Cabo Verde etc
TP Orch Poly-Rythmo's Madjafalao can be discovered in Benin
Alikibar Junior is in Mali part 3, as well as the Top Ten of 2016
Elage Diouf's Melokaane is filed under Senegal part 2

The Top 16 of 2016 is HERE

Top 15 of 2015 is HERE

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


"Essential reference guide to the Congo guitar king" -- SONGLINES 64 **** (four stars)
"I do not know anybody who has such immense knowledge of African music. Congratulations." -- Gerhard G (a purchaser)

BACK IN PRINT (Second edition, November 2012)

By Alastair Johnston

Poltroon Press, 2012, expanded to 88 pages; list price $19.95.
Available now. Click here for details.



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