VIENE D MI (ZZK Records)
Cumbia is still among the most happening music in the world and seems to have evolved in a very hip direction in the last couple of years. This got me moving from this first note. The singer, La Yegros, has a coarse street-wise delivery, a bit like Li Saumet of Bomba Estereo. Her backing is marginally less techno with acoustic guitar, percussion and accordeon, still, there are "effects" such as vocals injected to resemble samples on echo, and a synth. There's also a Melodica which makes a nice addition and some African percussion instruments. "House" style kicks in slightly on "Vagar" with deep floating bass and Melodica. Co-writer of the music is the acoustic guitarist Daniel Martin on some songs, and keyboard/ programmer Gaby Kerpel on others. But here's the boot in the booty: La Yegros is not Colombian! She comes from Buenos Aires, Argentina, though her music sounds more tropical, or should I say equatorial. She studied at the conservatory in Moron (no jokes, please) and lived abroad for 5 years before starting on this, her debut disc. There is a traditional Argentinian rhythm, the "Chamame," that has a loping beat like Cumbia, which features in her song "Trocitos de Madera (wood chips)." Another Argentinian, Miss Bolivia, shows up to duet on "Ya no Llorés." Miss Bolivia, who was on Cumbia Bestial, is a former psychologist, a rapper who mixes dancehall, reggae and hip-hop Latino. She lives in La Boca, a famous ghetto in Buenos Aires. I couldn't take a lot of it, but she lays it down hard on her guest toast. There's squinchy synth, the aforementioned bass, which manages to be both solid yet crumbly, and even a bright charango, which is that teeny 8-stringed instrument from Bolivia (all the backing on this track was laid down by Kerpel). The momentum builds, and while the title track is a sure hit, there are other stand-outs, including "Solo," and the closer "Que me hizo mal." This is an auspicious debut, to use a platitude, but that is apt in this case, and signals an important new voice on the Latin scene.
THE LIVING ROOM SESSIONS PART TWO (East Meets West Music, EMWM1009)
This may be the last new recording we get from Ravi Shankar, since he passed away shortly after recording it, at home in Encinitas, California, in 2012. Part One of these sessions won this year's Grammy for best World Music album (beating out his daughter Anoushka's latest), but Anoushka was there at the Grammies with Nora Jones to accept this, and a Lifetime Achievement Award for their late father. They joked about his profligacy and how he had "lost his Grammy" -- literally mislaid it. So they had called the Grammy office and asked if they could get a replacement. For which one? asked the receptionist. Turned out Ravi had won more than once but didn't know it. For fans of his music every album is a winner: he was a master of improvisation and whenever you listen to his music you never hear it the same way twice. Sometimes you might think he is pulling your leg, quoting "De Camptown Races" or another tune, then he flits off like a hummingbird to another musical source of nectar. Tanmoy Bose, longtime accompanist, is on tablas and two of his devoted students, Kenji Ota and Barry Phillips, play the drone parts. Ravi is unusually vocal on here, scat-singing the rhythm, you can almost see him nodding to Bose, like "that's it!" The album seems quite short at 51 minutes, but Shankar is great for putting us into dream space. At the end he exclaims, "Oh, this was fun! Great fun!" Thanks for everything, maestro.
INTRODUCING THE AHMAD SHAM SUFI QAWWALI GROUP (INTRO118DD)
The Ahmad Sham Sufi Qawwali Group has been performing traditional Sufi music in their native Afghanistan for over 30 years, notably at Kablui, I mean, Kabuli shrines. However during the Taliban's reign their music was banned. We can only hope that once the Western powers leave, the corrupt government will not implode and return to the barbarism that has ruptured this society for centuries with their hateful misogyny and totalitarian intolerance. Nothing could be more mellow than Sufi music and this selection of 8 tunes is a delight throughout. Rough Guide has this odd way of putting out these excellent INTRO CDs which get forgotten, but then a year later they put out a lame compilation and revive the INTRO or Riverboat disc as a bonus. They do this repeatedly, so if you forget to buy this when it comes out digitally in a few weeks (I guess they have to generate the electricity for the downloads first?), it will almost certainly reappear as the bonus disc on the Rough Guide to Mellow Muslims or something similar in the next year. If you are a fan of Nusrat you will want to check this out. I still listen to Ol Nusrat regularly since his was one of the greatest voices of the last century, but there is certainly room for more Sufi singers. The vocals (and instrumental tracks) are backed by harmonium, flute, tablas, tampura, and tambourine.
DIEUF-DIEUL DE THIES
AW SA YONE VOL 1 (Teranga Beat)
Afro-Manding jazz, what does that conjure up? Senegalese jamb kickers? Now we're getting somewhere. I am beyond having my mind blown by the Teranga Beat label, now I just pick my jaw off the floor, hook it around my ears again, and put the CD into the player. This latest foray, their fifth, is yet another previously unreleased session featuring a stellar line-up. The Teranga gang have discovered some tapes that were made by Pap' Seck, famous guitarist of the Guelwar band, who also backed Baaba Maal. With him are singers Assane Camara, Bassirou Sarr, and Gora Mbaye. Their traditional melodies succumb to wailing saxophones, psychedelirious guitar and relentless percussion. There are eight tracks, each 9 or 10 minutes long. It's amazing something so creative never saw the light of day until now. The vibe is loose, the four horns (trombone, trumpet and saxes) are in full accord with solid walking bass; rhythmically entwined guitar and organ add layers over the drums: timbales, tama, sabar and congas. In addition to a fine picked lead guitar style, Seck has mastered that clipped fuzztone sustain that was made famous by Robert Fripp on Eno, Bowie & Gabriel sessions. After stints in Guelewar and Royal Band de Thiès, Seck joined Ouza & ses Ouzettes and was instrumental in their hits with Quatre Femmes dans le Vent, but the band members were not happy with Ouza and when Seck decided to leave Dakar and go home to Thiès they wanted to go with him, thus, in 1979 Dieuf-Dieul was formed. Their first recording session was taken to Paris to be turned into an LP but the producer's luggage, including the reel-to-reel tape, was stolen. They made two further 4-track recordings, hoping to sell cassettes and launch a career but the promoters only wanted mbalax and so the group dissolved. This disc presents half of their recordings: the remainder are promised as volume 2. It's vintage but still sounds fresh, even when the chorus launches into "On verra ça," a refrain made famous by Baobab. Noteworthy are the rhythm guitar of Abdoulaye Camara (who also turns on the flanger when Seck is soloing) and the two sax players who add soulful solos. But then, too, the singers are hot and the complex layering of the drummers add so much to the excitement of the project. The group's name "Dieuf-Dieul" means something like good karma or good deeds creating ultimate benefits. Though they were only together for three years we are now able to appreciate their exceptional polished talents after 30 years, thanks to Teranga Beat.
I am increasingly ambivalent about compilation albums. They are a good way to sample music but not always well-sequenced enough to enjoy in themselves. Increasingly we turn to the internet to learn about music: we can listen to radio shows on-line, google or youtube bands for samples, and even hear whole albums on soundcloud & other sites before buying them. You can discover an artist through a great track and buy the album only to find that the great track is the sole reason to have the album, so from that perspective comps can be useful in saving space and money. On the other hand comps invariably have tracks you have to skip which means you cannot just put the disc on and let it roll. In 2009 Syllart issued a double-disc in their African Pearls series called The Teranga Spirit. I skipped that because it was a recompilation of classic Senegalese tracks from Baobab, Star Band, Star Number One, Ifang Bondi, Guelewar, etc, that I surely have. Now Stern's has issued a double-disc of more modern material, also compiled by Sylla (with two songs from nearly every artist). While personally I prefer the sound of the previous generation, this more modern set has its moments. There are a couple of old-timers: 75-year-old Ablaye Ndiaye Thiossane, who had hits in the 60s and then vanished until his debut album appeared in 2011 (he keeps the old Afro-Cuban sound warm and is represented here by three cuts); Idrissa Diop, who toured with Xalam "back in the day" and moved to France, but has now returned to Senegal; and Ndiaye Samba Mboup whose career also stretches back to the 1960s (& shows the enduring influence of Youssou). The other artists are the younger generation: the feel is acoustic and light, almost folky with occasional outbursts of mbalax drumming. There are forgettable tracks and of course loungey moments (which Mark Hudson calls "poolside mbalax"!) as well as hip hop and some other unnecessary contributions. Outstanding among the newcomers are Les Frères Guissé and Ablaye Mbaye who sounds a lot like Youssou with less driven backing. Daby Baldé (whose debut disc and live sequel got rave reviews from me) is included. Simone Sène's raw track, "Léopold Senghor," stands out because instead of guitar and hand drums it has a fiddle accompaniment and is delivered as an anguished complaint. The second disc opens with Yoro Ndiaye in a mode best described as Youssou Lite. I start to get trigger-happy as the synthi backing becomes prominent on disc two, and skip forward increasingly, certain a single disc would have been sufficient. The deal breaker is the muzak version of "Pape Ndiaye" of Baobab performed by Jules Guèye, which leaves a sour taste.
Abdou Diop is from the Casamance region of Southern Senegal. Against his parents' wishes he enlisted in the Army and, in the capital Dakar, ran into Baaba Maal who encouraged him to stick to his Pulaar roots, rather than adopt the Wolof sound of the North. He plays acoustic guitar and has assembled a wide array of talented sidemen for his second album. There's bass and lead guitar and calabash. In addition there's hoddu and flute plus more percussion on some tracks. Three different guitarists guest at different times to increase the variety (they also bring their tunes): the constant is Diop's fine voice and guitar. His lyrics celebrate simple pastoral themes: A man wants to pick fruit but the tree is across a river; to venerate cows they are given salty water with tree leaves and bark as a treat to encourage milk production. The name Casamance always brings to mind that dreamy Touré Kunda album from the 1980s "Casamance au clair de lune (Casamance in moonlight)," which was the best, rootsiest thing that group did before they shot to overnight fame with the Lambada (sic). Diop has a similar dreamy vocal style and when he adds Massamba Diop on tama and Ibrahim Cissokho on guitar things really take off. Baye Mahanta Diop's guitar on "Weliyaade" is also haunting and sets up a mysterious atmosphere over the insect-like percussion and thwack of the hoddu.
CUATRO TIGRES (Barbès Records)
It's nice to see some bands escaping the tyranny of the CD's length. Lenine's last album was a relaxed 28 minutes, and now Chicha Libre have returned to another format -- the EP -- which is sometimes the right space for listening to a band or a sound. I think the original length of 72 minutes for CDs was determined by the length of a symphony of Mahler that someone felt should be heard complete in one go. In the 78 RPM days you would have a pancake stack of black shellac dropping down on your turntable in order to hear a long work in parts. These four songs are wonderful and I do wish there was more to this issue, however I am happy with what I've been given. On this outing the New York-based band supplies the psychedelic Peruvian cumbia treatment to four gringo compositions: "Guns of Brixton," "Rica Chicha," "Alone again," (Gracias a Dios, not the Gilbert O'Sullivan one, but a song by Arthur Lee & Love) and the Simpson's theme by Danny Elfman. If you don't have a Victrola you can always download the album, er, EP.
LES MERVEILLES DU PASSE (1967) (Sonodisc 360159)
Occasionally I review reissues of old favorites here, but was anything ever sadder than this? Look at that cover! The new owners of Sonodisc have finally put their entire catalog up on amazon for download (what goes up must come down). It's only $6.99 to download the entire album, in the usual lame low-fidelity measly bit-rate offered by amazon's cloud player. The good news is that here is the entire LP which came out on vinyl and was later broken up and put on different CDs, omitting four of the tracks. So for the first time (for many listeners) there are 4 classic Nico tracks on offer ("Runeme mama," "Yo soy tu dolor," "Para bailar" & "Impercoque.") The bad news is they don't seem to have done anything to enhance the sound. The opener "Bougie ya motema" is a perfect demonstration of Nico's guitar wizardry, if there was ever any doubt that he is indeed the God of the Guitar. "Para bailar," revived here, is another example of his "dry" style with vertiginous spiraling runs. It's a smoking cover of a Cuban pachanga. I never understood why those 4 songs were left high and dry in the early attempts to market Nico's oeuvre on CD. Randomness can be the only answer. The cha-cha "Runeme mama," also reissued for the first time, is another of my favorite Nico tracks. In my book on Docteur Nico I say that the LP is "an orderly compilation of upbeat material, mainly rumbas in Lingala, but a few pachangas, cha-chas and a bolero in Spanish." From one point-of-view it is the most coherent Nico album issued by Sonodisc. It's by no means the best of Nico's Latin tracks but since the sides are Sukisa singles, from 47a to 53b in chronological order, it does give a more coherent view of the band's repertoire than you get from most compilations that chop and change from different eras. "Yaka toyambana" and "Mwa Kasanda" continue the musical theme of Nico's brittle runs bouncing off the chorded arpeggios of his brother's mi-solo, while the singers' excitement is palpable in the latter. Chantal Kazadi and Paul Mizele are the main vocalists; Nico does whip out the Hawaiian guitar for the lonesome unearthly bolero "Pauline," in which Kazadi calls out to him, "Eh, Nico, Dieu de la guitare!" The horns are in full effect; Chantal's wistful vocals are the perfect counterpart to Nico's laconic lead guitar. For my money this 1967-8 band, African Fiesta Sukisa (mark 1), was Nico's best, far better than the earlier Rochereau grouping in which the rumbas were just copies of Cuban originals: here they became full-blown Lingala dances with the Zairois groove before it evolved into soukous in Verckys' studio. Now they had something to prove, not only were African Fiesta Sukisa better than the other Kinois rumba bands, they had to top Rochereau's splinter group, too. Why are there no liner notes? You're kidding: it's a download. Why is there no photo of the band? Beats me: too lazy to find one. The audience for these reissues is undoubtedly mostly white Europeans and they are exactly the people who want to see pictures of the artist and read something meaningful about their oeuvre. Why didn't Sonodisc just use the cover from the LP for this reissue? Ah, therein lies the rub: Sono used the same cover for three different LPs, so you might well look at it and think you have it already. Believe me, if you don't know it, this (along with a few sessions from their arch-rivals OK Jazz) is the finest music made in the Congo in the twentieth century: too bad it's now reduced to this anonymous dirt pile in low fi. OK, Sono, it's now up to you. I have given you a plug: time to reissue those countless 45s on the African label in your vaults. (Yes, those cardboard boxes of 6" reel-to-reel tapes under the desk, that's them.)
most recent reviews:
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba's Jama Ko is filed under Mali part 2
Sekouba Bambino's The Griot's Craft is in Guinea
Orchestra Super Mazembe @ 45RPM VOL 1 is logged under Kenya & Tanzania
Vandana Vishwas can be found in Bollywood part 2
I put Mehrpouya's Soul Raga under Bollywood part 2 also, though he is Iranian
Dabke's Sound of the Syrian Houran can be found in Old World under the Arabic tab
Laba Sosseh's Belle Epoque vol 1 is filed under Senegal 2
Fela Kuti's Best of the Black President vol 2 can be found in Nigeria part 2
Mahala Rai Banda's Balkan Reggae is filed in the Balkan & Gypsy music section, Old World
Stern's Reissue of the Legendary Bands of Mali is filed in Mali part 2
Staff Benda Bilili: the movie is filed under Congo part 3
Lula Lounge is filed in Salsa
Plena Libre's Corazon is filed in Puerto Rico
Ballake Sissoko At Peace is filed in Mali part 2
Vusi Mahlasela is found in Southern Africa
Ravi Shankar Live in concert in Escondido is filed under India & Pakistan Live
Cubana All Stars' A Dream come true is found in Cuba part 4
Malick Sow and Bao Sissoko's collaboration is found in Senegal part 2
Super Biton de Segou's classic 1977 album is covered in Mali part 2
as is the new offering from Makan Badjé Tounkara on n'goni
Blue Flamingo's Search for CMS is filed under Kenya & Tanzania
My Top Twelve of 2012, with best reissues, concerts, etc, is online 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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