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OLD WORLD (Asia, Arabia, Europe)

Updated 1 August 2014

Get On Up, a biopic of James Brown, opens Friday.

Silver Words

Interview with Jonathan Ward of Excavated Shellac and the Opika Pende compilation

If you are in the mood, a long and dry article about music preservation from the earliest wax cylinders

The Archive of Contemporary Music has been working on its website

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Sonic Infidelity

From all corners of the globe, friends send links to music videos. Here are the best of the last month:

Astonishing one-man band (Don Keller) playing "Massu" by Franco

Les Mangelepa perform their late 70s hit Nyako Konya live

Sayon Camara from Guinea, with big electric band

Dengue Fever in a four-song set someplace called Luxury Wafers with videos and bonus downloads

Jugalbandhi concert with Vilayat Khan and Bismillah Khan

Bomba Estereo still have not put out their new album. Instead they are getting tipsy at carnaval in Barranquilla. The music starts about a minute in to the video, after some chatter

Stern's are about to reissue all the recordings of Malian greats Les Ambassadeurs du Motel. Teaser here


Ricardo Lemvo will make the following appearances in California:

August 15 Carlsbad, CA TGIF Concerts in the Park
August 16 Pasadena, CA Levitt Pavilion
August 21 San Francisco, CA Yerba Buena Gardens Festival at Jessie Square @ 6 p.m.
August 22 Los Angeles, CA Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Jerry Gonzalez & Fort Apache Band

August 16 San Francisco, CA Yerba Buena Gardens Festival @ 1 p.m.

Chappottin y Sus Estrellas, with Miguel Cuni Jr on vocals, First Ever US tour

August 3 - Musical Instrument Museum - MIM Phoenix, Arizona
August 7 - Kuumbwa Jazz Center Santa Cruz, California
August 8 - La Peña Cultural Center Berkeley, CA
August 9 - San Jose Jazz Festival San Jose, California
If you cant make any of these dates, you can still watch their show live from Kennedy Center in Washington DC

MOUNTAIN MELODIES (Evergreene Music)

This is traditional Afghani music and it is a magic carpet ride. Quraishi plays rubab, a lute-like instrument, and the accompaniment is simple hand percussion, tablas or dhol. The melodies are sweet and hearken to an earlier time before Afghanistan became a cultural wasteland. It is increasingly difficult to find live music in Afghanistan and it is no surprise that Quraishi left his native Kabul for New York where this was recorded. Like a Renaissance therbo, the rubab has three strings that are played to articulate the melody then as many as twenty sympathetic strings that are tuned to the ragas and create their own unique timbre. (The therbo has six main strings and a lot of sympathetic ones.) Quraishi grew up in a family of musicians and instrument makers and studied classical Hindustani forms. There is also a strong suggestion of Sufi trance music in the call and response between the rubab and the tablas. The percussionist Chatram Sahni is adept at creating backbeats. He spent his youth in the 1970s accompanying many now-famous singers on Afghan radio. Quraishi is not only a master musician he has a lot of soul in his fingers. He will be demonstrating his virtuosity on a tour to promote the album, arranged through the Center for Traditional Music and Dance. See the website for details.


Now that Morgan Freeman has replaced Charlton Heston as the voice of God, it's time to assess his abilities against another box-office giant who is regularly called on to voice the divinity: Amitabh Bachchan. But it doesn't take too many snippets to figure out who'd win a divinity throwdown or God-off. When it comes to Vox Dei or Godvoice, Amitabh wins handily. Indeed, he is already a minor deity in the Land of 10,000 Gods and you know no one does deep spirituality like the Hindus. Christianity is bound up in guilt and pettiness. Its main assets are the Jacobean translation of the Bible and its architecture. Now imagine we blend the two religions, and put Hindu spirituality in a reverend, resonant and reverberant Christian space: the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York. For volume four of the Nine Decades series, dedicated to issuing the best recordings of Ravi Shankar in an orderly fashion, East Meets West has opted for one night that Ravi spent in church on a bill with a host of other acts from dusk to dawn. The first piece is an afternoon raga. As Ravi says, "we are worshipping the divine sound in the house of God." The musician and the listener become one, he tells us, as eyes closed, we nod in consent. Then, on cue, he explains the metre of the next piece, four-four-one-half-one-half. No one laughs; no one goes, Huhn? Apparently, by then, the sun was rising (Ravi is the Sanskrit word for "sun") and as the light poured through the stained glass windows and the somnolent audience stirred in the pews, Ravi ripped into a sunrise raga, "Vachaspati," with his faithful accompanist Alla Rakha, one of the few musicians who could keep up with the master. There is an odd break-tempo moment about every nine beats in this piece: tapping it out on your knee is futile but you sort of sense it coming. Nevertheless there is a fluidity and grace to this work. It's nice to hear it in the comfort of your home and not in a coccyx-crucifying pew, but perhaps the mortification of the flesh, the long night ending and the holy dust suspended in the stained-glass-filtered light would add something. Who knows? you weren't there. Me neither. But, as Baba Ram Dass might say, you can be there now.


Think of this as jazz rather than Afrobeat when you listen to it. For me Afrobeat quickly leads to musical slackness, so I have sworn off it. Those long, endless sustained grooves are not an invitation to improvise so much as to go on the nod. You are fortunately not subjected to lots of ersatz Afrobeaters so you may be more open-minded. This is at heart Afrobeat, but it is genuine, varied, musical and original. O.J. is a saxophonist and song writer. (Well, he used to be "O.J." but I think prefers his first two names now so we don't confuse him with the quarterback turned criminal.) O.J. started out on sax and at 19 was already fronting I.K. Dairo's band, before joining Eddy Okonta's Top Aces in 1963. His sides with the Afro-Sounders from 1969 to 72 were released on Afro Ideas on the Ekosound label in 2003. Orlando took Nigeria by storm backed by his band the Modern Aces. Their first album Afro Soul (Strut) has a Motown feel to it and includes a strong James Brown cover and a weak cover of "My Girl." During the early 80s he taught at Berkeley (where I met him). He went back to Lagos where he continued to infuse Highlife with funk, soul and jazz. He jammed with the Crusaders, even Louis Armstrong, and recorded with Hugh Masakela and Lamont Dozier. For this album, backed by the London-based psychedelic jazz group Heliocentrics, he has revisited many tunes from his repertoire, some of them never before recorded. This is a well-mixed sharp recording that draws you in from the start. O.J. is a fine sax player and the band punch back with trumpets and baritone over the familiar chonking groove. There's a bit of psychedelia, a lot of funk, pidgin lyrics and a warm feeling like this really is a lost album from the vaults of Ibadan.

most recent reviews:

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

July 2014

Ricardo Lemvo's latest is filed in Congo part 3
Rock-a-Mambo double LP is in Congo Classics
Bombay Royale's latest is in Bollywood part 2
Son Palenque's Kamajanes is in Colombia
Mestre Cupijo can be found in Brasil part 2
The revised Rough Guide to Sahara is found in Arabia

June 2014

Kasai Allstars' Beware the Fetish is filed in Congo part 3
Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star Live à L'Etoile is filed in Senegal part 2
Bio Ritmo are docketed under Salsa, for want of a better place
Oumar Konate's Addoh can be found under Mali part 2
Dona Onete's Feitico Cabloco is filed in Brasil part 2

May 2014

Moreno's second reissue on Stern's is filed in Kenya part 2
Anansy Cissé's Mali Overdrive is filed in Mali part 2
Rough Guide to Psychedelic Cambodia is filed in Asia
Youlou Mabiala's 18 disc reissue can be found in Congo part 3

April 2014

Ernie Ranglin's latest Bless Up is filed in Jamaica part 3
Adnan Joubran's Borders Behind can be found in the Arabia section
That's where you'll find my review of Hassan Hakmoun's latest also
Ani Cordero is in Mexico
The Max Massengo reissue is filed in Congo part 3

March 2014

Zanzibara 7: Sindike vs Ndekule is found in Tanzania part 2
Aziza Brahim from Algeria is filed under Arabia
Atash's Everything is Music is filed under USA
New version of the Rough Guide to Mali is filed in Mali part 2
Thomas Blondet's Future World can be found in Old World misc section

February 2014

Alejandro Almenares' Casa de Trova is filed in Cuba part 4
as is Ernesto Oviedo's Siempre Clasico
Studio One Rocksteady can be seen in Jamaica part 3
Charles King's Champeta Fever is filed under Colombia
Tiecoro Sissoko's Keme Borama went to Mali part 2
as did Aminata Traore's Tamala
The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You've Never Heard is filed under Africa Miscellany
Jaako Laitinen & Väärä Raha's Lapland-Balkan can be found in Old World Miscellany

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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