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OLD WORLD (Asia, Arabia, Europe)

Updated 3 May 2015

Check out Alice Barker of the Sepia Steppers and the Black Orchids seeing herself
dancing in the 1930s, for the first time, 70 years later.

Greetings, Platterbugs!


We had a discussion about Nina Simone's and the Tamlins' various covers of Randy Newman's "Baltimore" on the facebook Muzikifan page.

Two great American soul singers, Percy Sledge AND Ben E. King died recently.

New post at Highlife Turntable. (I don't know what happened to the latest Soundways Highlife comp-- they never sent it to me)

Mlimani Park live on stage (Via Robert Leaver)

A B Crentsil still performing (Via Robert Leaver)


Thursday 5/12 : BOMBINO @ New Parish Oakland!!

Berkeley 5/15 : Sergio & Odair Assad (Brasil) @ First Congregational Church

Friday 5/22 : Shuggie Otis @ New Parish Oakland

Boonville 6/19-21 : Jimmy Cliff, Thievery Corporation, Third World, Steel Pulse, The Mighty Diamonds, Ken Boothe, The Melodians, plus more @ Sierra Nevada World Music Festival

Great line-up for the Hertme African music festival for our Eurobuddies

SUR SANGEET (Kanaga System Krush KSKCD015)

Thus far Kanaga System Krush has been a publisher, almost exclusively, of music from Mali. For their 15th release they move to Pakistan for a rousing set of traditional Sufi qawwali music. While Nusrat opened our ears to this magical sound it has a centuries-old tradition and is still a vital and growing part of Sufi devotional rituals. In fact, Dildar Hussain was tabla accompanist for Nusrat for over three decades, and has now formed his own Qawwali party with three of his sons. There is a second tabla player, Israr Hussain, in addition to harmonium and handclaps accompanying the singers. The lead singer is Abrar Hussain but the tabla playing is equally to the fore as there is an amazing bass thrum going on thanks to the older "Jori style" of drum which the father plays. Son Israr also gets to solo on tablas on half the tracks. Most of the songs are traditional poems or scripture but some new lyrics have been added; "Ali Moula" who married the daughter of the prophet, was called the Lion of God, so singing his praise invokes strength. Other new material is created when it is composed for a movie soundtrack and becomes a hit (Dildar backed Nusrat on several successful soundtracks, including "Last Temptation of Christ," "Dead Man Walking" and "Bandit Queen."). Now that there is cinematic détente between India and Pakistan, some Bollywood films with hit soundtracks, which have been known in Pakistan for decades are actually getting shown on the big screen for the first time. Dildar Khan comes from a musical family and by 15 had started accompanying the young Nusrat who was already making an impression. He was able to study with Ravi Shankhar's famous accompanist, Alla Rakha, another of the Khan family. Thus he added Indian classic riffs to his Punjabi style. The groove is rock-solid, the singing spiritually uplifting.

BA POWER (glitterbeat)

This is fantastic, a massive line-up of talented ngoni players who hit the ground running and don't let up. Kouyaté has added even more ngonis, it seems, to his band so it is like a whole orchestra of them in all shapes and sizes -- five of them (lead, three medium and bass) with an added guest kamale ngoni on four cuts. Kouyaté's wife, Amy Sacko, sings lead and backing vocals and there is a roster of additional guests including fab muted trumpet on the second track played by David Jahr. This is the group's fourth album and they started well and got better as they have grown in confidence. Despite the intensity, there is still air in the sound so you can hear the percussion and little touches like the slide guitar on track 3, which is a ghostly whisper in the background behind the array of plinked ngonis. The tempos change and you even get a suggestion of a Bach fugue on track 6, "Waati." I swear I hear electric guitar all over this album, though there's only a couple of guests listed on individual tracks such as when Samba Touré adds electric guitar on "Fama magni." So I guess it's Bassekou using an effects pedal to blaze Hendrix-like on the proceedings. Touré is on the same label and so, oddly are Eno and Hassell. Hassell adds keyboard and trumpet in a couple of places. There's also the soku, or horsehair fiddle of Zoumana Tereta who pops up in all the right places, or albums. This is a great set. I didn't want it to end, but finally they bring it down to a slow number and go quietly off into the night.

LOST & FOUND (World Circuit)

The Buena Vista Socialists were like Africando in two ways: they were a nostalgia band that turned into a real meal-ticket for some old musicians and their promoters, but consequently (to their being old) they had a knack of dying off. So I believe BVSC is now extinct although the younger Afro Cuban All Stars who were their backing band continue to tour. However the music remains and for anyone who wants another dose, or has worn out their four albums, we now get Lost and Found, a mellow album of chestnuts and lesser-known cuts from the BVSC in their prime. Some of the tracks were laid down in Egrem Studios, Havana, during the original 1996 session that led to their breakout as massive international stars. (Although Ry Cooder was there and put his name on the recording, the sessions were organized by Juan de Marcos González, the true leader of the group.) A few more of the tracks here were recorded in subsequent world tours. "Bruca Manigua," featuring Ibrahim Ferrer, kicks it off, then the great Eliades Ochoa steps up with his guitar for "Macus," backed by the even more legendary Compay Segundo on coro. Some fine piano (Rubén González) introduces "Tiene Sabor," sung by Omara Portuondo. It's all high calibre material, perfectly executed. I can't get enough of laoud player Barbarito Torres: he has toured to my vicinity twice but otherwise I don't see any new albums from him. You may have enough versions of "Como Fue" or "Lagrimas Negras" in your collection, and maybe better ones too (certainly Benny Moré is infinitely preferable as a vocalist to Ibrahim Ferrer), but it's reassuring to hear the old familiar refrains wafting out of the speakers and bright moments for the top-notch backing musicians on bass (Cachaito), timbales, bongo & conga (Miguel "Angá" Díaz) etc. One treat is a trombone-led danzon, "Bodas de oro," featuring Jesus "Aguaje" Ramos on trombone with a big backing band and sadly, González' last-ever recorded piano solo. What sounds like violin is I guess Cachaito bowing his bass on the oddly named "Black chicken 37," a little spontaneous duet with Díaz. You can see why it was overlooked in the heat and excitement of the first album, but it's a fine little memento. I am a sucker for danzons and boleros so this is most suiting to my taste. I like the sequence: Eliades Ochoa opens big at the beginning then returns for two more laid-back brief cuts two-thirds of the way through. These two were grabbed after-hours in the Egrem studios and have a great late night feeling. Ibrahim and his big band take on another Arsenio song live, "Mami me gusto" features bass, trumpet & trombone solos and a wildly enthusiastic audience. Rubén González wraps it up and ties a bow around it with his brief recital, "Como siente yo," performed in his London gig of 1996 after his return from retirement age 76.

FROM KINSHASA (World Circuit)

I should have expected to be disappointed by this release because I was so hyped about it before it showed up. When I saw Staff Benda Bilili in concert I felt theirs was a fragile scene and couldn't last. The documentary about the band confirmed this: the volatile young genius Roger who played their lead instrument barely seemed anchored to the earth, while the others were firmly grounded in their wheelchairs and you knew it was a massive effort to tour and even to function day to day. After two albums and a triumphant tour the band did fall apart, but two of the key songwriters, Théo Nsutuvuidi and Coco Ngambali formed a new band, Mbongwana Star (originally called Staff Mbongwana International), adding younger musicians on bass and drums. Raw footage on youtube of them jamming looked very promising. But they also decided to try a new direction and hooked up with "Doctor L, a producer on the Paris hip-hop and electro scenes." The resulting mix (the Guardian called it an "angular hodgepodge," and I don't think they were being flattering) has elements of their songs but the drumming has been turned into trip-hop or whatever you call it when things get looped and then overflubbed, layered and buried and exposed and reburied. There's even a kind of Afrobeat guitar going on in here (in "Masobélé" and hints elsewhere), so it's just a mash-up. I don't know how it will work in concert: maybe deep-sea divers wandering around out of their depth, like on the cover, will amuse the audience while preprogrammed techno beats blare from speakers. All elements of the old homespun rumba Kinois that colored their material for SBB have been stripped away and though Coco & Théo have great mournful voices there's not enough of the raw and ragged production that made their earlier band work so well. At the midpoint of the disc there is a guest shot from Konono Numero Un (who have the same management) to remind us of the raw edge of Congolese music we crave. "Malukayi" is in fact the highpoint of the disc and I will play it again mainly for this collaborative jam. There is high energy here and other individual tracks like "Kala" and "Suzanna" are outstanding, but they are more like a club track you might drop in a set to introduce a bit of African rhythm rather than part of an entire album you want to sit down with and study the lyrics (not provided in my copy). Once I get used to this diversion I may enjoy it more, but it is not the logical step forward from their debut as songwriters with SBB but another arena -- or lounge -- of world music entirely.


I was idly spinning the dial on my TV recently and lighted on a program about Eric Clapton. They had a young talking head who was expounding about Clapton's career. "He created a new sound called 'The Woman Tone,'" he said portentously, with the voice of Revelation. --Yes, I replied to noone, as mentioned in the documentary about Cream which we have all seen. "And he was very influenced by the early Blues masters, such as Robert Johnson ... and Blind Willie Dixon." Oh no, I exclaimed. Willie Dixon is blind, how did this happen? as I changed the channel. Unfortunately musical history is often written by ill-informed chumps (Blond Boy Scribbler) like this who write for trade magazines and postulate on the tube. The "woman tone" is a setting which you can hear in Junior Wells and many others' playing, although they didn't give it such a fanciful name. So Rough Guide is here with a proper lesson and once again shade the count on our understanding of the Blues. We all, who don't read SPIN or watch AXS, know about the Mississippi Delta blues and how some of the exponents migrated to Chicago and went electric. The Mississippi Delta blues was born of strife, racial segregation and hard times. The coastal Piedmont region, on the other hand, which spans the Appalachians and runs from Virginia through the Carolinas down to Atlanta, was less segregated, so in this relaxed atmosphere musicians borrowed from one another: ragtime and minstrel or medicine show music informed the blues, as well as a touch of what is known as Hokum music. The big names of this genre are Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller and Barbecue Bob and not far behind them are Blind Willie McTell, Rev Gary Davis, Curley Weaver and Brownie McGhee (along with his harp-playing partner Sonny Terry). Blind Willie, in this case McTell, turns in a sensational dialogue with a young lady, called "Mama, let me scoop for you," recorded in 1932, though she assures him she is strictly a 1933 type gal. The restoration on these tracks is superb: a cut above the usual hairy oldies you commonly find in the marketplace. Sighted Willie Moore is new to me and has a nice easy strut (on a 12-string?) that reminds me of Barbecue Bob, who is up next. There are a few familiar tracks on here (some repeated from other recent compilations) but it is always good to hear "She's coming back some cold rainy day" by the Georgia Cotton Pickers, with its rough-sawn rhythm and jagged harmonica counterpoint.

EDITION VEVE (Sono African 360 049 - digital release via Stern's)

In one concise disc, this album tells the story of the successful beginnings of the Vévé label. The boss himself -- Verckys -- kicks it off with a two-sided epic about death, "Olingi nakufa." Bella Bella are up next, with Pepe Kalle singing on "Lipua Lipua," a song that gave birth to a new splinter group with the young Nyboma (Pepe Kalle didn't go along, but started his own band) when the Soki brothers decide to quit the label. Someone yells out "Chicken!" -- my favorite shout-out in this set. "Onassis," presumably a reference to the wealthy Greek shipping magnate, was an early hit for Zaiko from 1973. Zaiko signaled a new direction in Congolese music, getting away from the big band sound of OK Jazz with fewer guitars and no horns. It was a bold move, especially for the renowned saxophonist Verckys. Another over-miked scorcher is up next, "Diamile" also by orchestre Vévé: two minutes of a choral intro then the twin saxes kick it up for a concise blast off from the mothership. Side two (of the original LP) is another two-parter and one of the label's biggest hits, "Sola," a 9-minute monster by Bella Bella (written by Mulembu Tshibau, who also moved from this band to Lipua Lipua then to Les Kamale with Nyboma) that features a fanfare of horns at the start. The horns balance the vocals all the way to the bridge when we get a snappy snare and a mi-solo guitar (Kinzunga Ricos?) twisting and turning: the very quintessence of the sound that swept all of Africa in the mid-70s. The bass is high in the mix again for "Massamba" sung by Dilu Dilumona and Empire des Bakuba, who quickly assembled out of the break-up of Bella Bella and stuck together until the death of Pepe Kalle in 1998. Having heard Bella Bella's "Lipua Lipua" on side one, we now hear Lipua Lipua's "Kamale" another hit song, written and sung by Nyboma, that once again gave birth to a new band.

LA VOIX QUI CONSOLE (EVVI 145 - digital release via Stern's)

This Lipua-Lipua release has a preface which doesn't tell you about the band and their career or ask you to cast your mind back to the golden age of Congolese rumba, surprisingly, is a legal statement of the producer's rights to the music. In it, Kiamuangana Mateta (a.k.a. Georges "Verckys") says that he has noticed the publications of Glenn and Ngoyarto, in contravention of the various statutes covering Intellectual Property. One wonders what took him so long ("Verckys" was ill for a while), but now he is working with Stern's to put his considerable achievements as a producer back on the market. And we, the mélomanes or fans, have been waiting a long time for this, if only to sophisticate our thrashed copies of much-worn albums and cassettes. I suspect the master tapes were lost somewhere in Kinshasa during some civil unrest or military coup, or borrowed and never returned, so these reissues sound like they were taken from earlier CD reissues. But to true fans like myself this early work of Nyboma and Vata Mombasa is a piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The opening cut "Mombasa" is about the lead guitarist (rather than the seaport), and was included on a Sonodisc compilation in 1974 (as well as a Glenn bootleg in 1998). "Lemba-Lemba," "Matoba," "Mbonda" have not been collected on CD elsewhere and that is a treat (The latter were included on a very hard-to-find Sono LP L'Afrique danse avec Sakumuna Vévé 360 091 from 1975). "Amba" is on four other CDs that I have; this track and "Nouvelle Génération" were both on a King Jimmy release called Greatest Hits volume 2, but I suspect few people got hold of that one. The last cut "Masele" was also included on a Sonodisc CD Lipwa Lipwa de Nyboma, but I figured they had gathered all the extant tracks since they reused the same ones over and over. The group issued two dozen singles on the Vévé label, most of which were reissued on the Sono African label in Paris. But there is often a randomness to what gets collected. The best singles may not get anthologized because they were so well-loved no one can find a clean copy (though rumor has it the latest owners of the Sono catalogue are digitizing what they have). So it is a bonus to have three obscure but wonderful songs brought back to us in this compilation. Also, this is the order they were compiled in originally. It is always gratifying to hear a properly sequenced set from one band. The longest track on here, "Mbondo," clocks in at 12 and a half minutes. I can't stop playing it. The complex, creative and lengthy break-down on rhythm guitar by Vata Mombasa is outrageous. He does another tour-de-force solo in the next song "Nouvelle Génération," then in dialogue with the second guitarist Mongo Ley, accompanied by the bassist and the snare. To sweeten the deal even more, Stern's have also licensed a few stray singles, including two more by Lipua Lipua not included here: "Tika kosaboter motema" b/w "Kuelo" (from 1978) and "Nala 1 & 2" from 1975, and the elusive Orch Kiam's "Memi" (Sakumuna 15). For the record, Nyboma and co (Mulembu Tshibau and guitarist Kinzunga Ricos) felt they were being exploited by Verckys so left in 1972 to form Les Kamale, while Lipua-Lipua was reformed around Nzaya Nzayadio, Mbudi Malanda and guitarist Mongo Ley by the label boss. Nevertheless Kamale also recorded on the Vévé label. I guess he was the only game in town and while he assumed the rights, he did have the distribution, and paid them to record.

LA BELLE ETOILE (EVVI REM 360 - digital release via Stern's)

I didn't get this from Sterns' because, perversely, I like the (slight) snap crackle and pop on the copy I have taken from vinyl. Two of my favorite voices, Papy Tex and Pepe Kallé, harmonize beautifully on these four songs. The big man, Pepe Kallé, is credited with all compositions, though Tex sings lead on the title track and Dilu Dilu Mona is also singing harmony. There is sparkling guitar from Boeing 707 and Doris, fierce drumming from Samy Maracas and the rock solid bass of M.P. Cherie. It's a familiar set-up: an exposition of sweet singing for a minute or two, then the seben or turn-around where everything kicks up a gear and we go into a frenzied 7 or 8 minute workout. There's an added airhorn on these which is really unnecessary (actually it becomes irritating), given the explosive nature of the band in full flight. Maybe a kid with a vuvuzela snuck into the studio to join in. They sound like live recordings, as if they rehearsed then did it all in one take, singing and playing live without multi-tracking, which is probably the case, and adds to the immediacy. I believe this was released circa 1984. I can hear a Flanger on the guitar (which was first introduced by Boss in 1977, but Roland had effects pedals from the mid-seventies). There's a shout-out to "Pecos," a good Indu-Bill name for an animateur.

LE VERDICT (EVVI 999 - digital release via Stern's)

This is an interesting entry in the Verckys catalogue. Verckys the sax player had quit OK Jazz in the late sixties. In 1970 singer Youlou Mabiala quit OK Jazz and sang with Lovy du Zaire, but when lead guitarist Mose Se Fan Fan also departed OK Jazz, they formed Somo Somo (the great Syran Mbenza also played guitar in those two breakaway bands). It was a low point for Franco and it took him years to recover (his brother died to compound the pain). Though Youlou returned and scored a massive hit for OK Jazz with "Kamikaze" in 1975, it was just a temporary move (Sam Mangwana also had a revolving door to the band's front line when he needed it). In 1977 Youlou used the popular song title to create Kamikaze Loningisa. After Franco's death in the late '80s the band struggled: various attempts were made to revive it with Simaro (main songwriter), and singers Josky and Madilu System fronting the remaining players. Though the band functioned fine without his input, Franco had never been more important than in his absence. In 1994 Bana OK rose from the ashes, but until now I did not know there was a 2000 recording. The good news is it sounds like classic OK Jazz (no syndrums, lots of singers and horns creating harmonies). It's a nice long session, no personnel are listed though Verckys himself is leading the sax players. It was originally released by Andrew Crawford in Kenya, so may have been recorded there.

SANGO MABALA COMMISSION (EVVI39/REM370 - digital release via Stern's)

Now that Stern's is involved in these reissues there is every hope they will be around long enough for fans to delve into them and expand their collection of great Congolo-Zairois music. If you look through my African reviews you will see many rare albums that appeared for a while, either on CD or digitally, and then went out of print. Many of the Verckys albums didn't make it further beyond Paris than Brussels. This branch of the Zaiko family with Jo Kester Emeneya, Bongo Wende and Joly Mubiala recorded in the mid-80s. The ten members had deserted Viva la Musica in 1982 after feeling they were getting short shrift from Papa Wemba. They were the mainstays of the Verckys label along with Langa Langa Stars, which was the branch led by Bozi Boziana, Dindo Yogo & Evoloko Jocker. It's pre-programmation so there is no drum machine and no synthesizers to mar the vibes: just great guitar-driven soukous to fill the dancefloor. The guitars were ably handled by old pals Huit Kilos, Safro Manzangi and Mongo Ley who had worked their way through many bands, including African Fiesta and Lipua Lipua. The leader, college-educated Emeneya had as much style and presence as Wemba but with his long hair and beard and the name of his new band sounding vaguely hymn-like he appeared more like Jesus to his followers, according to Gary Stewart, who also tells us Verckys loaned the band instruments in return for a four-year contract. Victoria Eleison was one of the most solid of the Clan Langa bands, others came and went, but eventually Rochereau's Afrisa lured away Huit Kilos the guitarist. Still, under Emeneya they went from strength to strength. In 1986 Emenya's "Kimpiatu" was voted song of the year, eclipsing Franco and his "Mario." A lot of this mid-80s soukous still stands up and you can sample much of it through Stern's reissues.


Lately I have been binging on my favorite music. Of the four "new" Edition Vévé compilations assembled by Sterns to celebrate Verckys, I chose number 3 as the volume containing the most songs I did not have. The first of the series appeared as Bankoko Baboyi from Sono in 1998 and that is a fabulous collection of Orchestre Vévé material. Similarly volume 2 features the label boss in charge of his own band and includes blockbusters like "Ah! ngai Matinda," "Bilobela," "Baluti," Vivita," and "Nakomitunaka," some of which were also on the Sono release 36599 (originally three of them were collected on Grands Succès des Eds Vévé volume 3.) It is essential listening. I concur with Gary Stewart that the ballad "Nakomitunaka," which asks why God is white, is Verckys' masterpiece. Volume three kicks off with two songs by Gilbert Youlou Mabiala from 1968 or 9 before he rose to legendary status fronting OK Jazz. There is a rare cut from Makina Loca (the original band, not the modern band with the same name fronted by Ricardo Lemvo). Equally obscure and brilliant Orchestre Kiam give us "Baya Baya part 2." You can get the whole single as a separate download, which you will want once you hear this (It was on a Sonodisc release 360 062). Two cuts from Bella Bella may seem more familiar, "Mbuta" and "Sofele," as they appeared on a Sono compilation of les freres Soki, CD36602. This is from the earliest incarnation of the band with Pepe Kallé & Nyboma singing and the great Shaba Kahamba on bass. Fataki, Bitchou, Ricos, and Bissikita all get shout-outs on "Mbuta"-- what a line-up! The three Empire Bakuba tracks were collected on an Ngoyarto CD La Naissance de l'orchestre Empire Bakuba (NG085), each features one of the singers: Pepe Kallé on "Nazoki," Dilu Mona on "Kanu," and Papy Tex on "Nakoluka yo Sabina." Two cuts from Lipua Lipua round out the set. You can also get them separately from Stern's though I don't think they have gone as far as making repro 45s (as some reggae labels now do), which would appeal to a lot of folks I know. These two songs were so popular they were reissued in Nigeria on a Soundpoint album, Music from Zaire volume 6. If you are a collector frustrated at never finding those Soundpoint albums in good condition, never fear, all the tracks they licensed can now be enjoyed on download or via recent CD reissues. All we are missing now are a few Lipua Lipua tracks that appeared on Grands Succès des Editions Vévé volume 4 and the work of Orchestres Kiam and Engunduka, much of which has fallen through the cracks.

most recent reviews:

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

April 2015

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)

March 2015

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

February 2015

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

January 2015

I created a new page called Latin Essentials, and have added more to it. Found in the New World section.

December 2014

Verckys et l'Orchestre Vévé comp on Analog Africa is filed in Congo Classics
Spirit of Malombo is filed in Southern Africa
Kassé Mady Diabaté's Kirike is filed in Mali part 2
(All three are also in the top ten of 2014)

November 2014

Abelardo Barroso is filed in Cuba part 4
Djessou Mory Kanté is filed in Mali part 2

October 2014

Nouri Mint Seymali is filed under Arabia
Nakany Kante's Tounka is reviewed in Mali part 2
Neil Dixon Smith's The Panamericanist can be found in USA

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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