RENASCENCE (Stern's STCD1126)
The new Kandia Kouyaté album went straight to the top of Stern's new release charts, which is a sign that there is continued, even growing interest in Malian traditional music. Ever since Oumou Sangaré stormed into our consciousness in 1990 we have seen a steady flow of fine female praise-singers, from Nahawa Doumbia to Dienaba Diakité, to Sabré Soumano, Sali Sidibe, Coumba Sidibe, and that's only a few of the myriad performers. A lot of attention went into this fine production: there's a variety of instruments and styles behind Kouyaté. When still only 20 she gave a private recital that circulated on cassette causing her reputation to precede her, followed by gifts of cash, gold and even new cars -- one enthusiast put a private jet at her disposal. I am assuming that her patrons get more than a thrill from hearing her voice, maybe they attach some spiritual significance to getting a namecheck in her song. Despite touring to Europe and the USA she was still not well known because she refused to record and was only known to insiders via bootleg cassettes of her live performances. Things changed when she was invited to sing on Sekouba "Bambino" Diabaté's 1997 album Kassa (Stern's). However, after a few early recordings for Ibrahim Sylla, released by Stern's, she suffered a stroke. She did not sing or even speak for seven years, but, at the end of his life, Sylla persuaded her to return to the studio in 2011 and create this album which took four years to come to fruition. The backing is mostly acoustic, with balafon, kora and guitars. Her song about ill-health, "Sadjouhoulé," can be seen here.
YOUSSOU NDOUR ET LE SUPER ETOILE DE DAKAR
FATTELIKU: LIVE IN ATHENS 1987 (RealWorld)
This new release reminds us of the excitement we felt when Youssou first toured the West. He was an energetic young performer and had caught the attention of Peter Gabriel of WOMAD and RealWorld Records, and Gabriel invited his band to open for him on a world tour. This brought him to San Francisco in 1987 and I got to meet him and translate for my friend, Papa Freddy, who interviewed him on his radio show. It was the first in a series of wonderful shows that Ndour put on in Northern California and, as this disc attests, around the world. It was recorded in Athens and has fantastic sound. Actually the set-up was to film a live show of Peter Gabriel and this disc is a by-product. Youssou's set is a mix of classic mbalax and the English pop he was trying to work into the act to appeal to non-Senegalese audiences who had come out to hear PG. This of course became a dilemma as it led to the forgettable "Seven Seconds" with Neneh Cherry (I think it's crap but it has had 10 million viewers on YouTube, compared to 3,000 for one of his classic live performances). Here he is joined by Gabriel for the latter's "In Your eyes," but it's his classics "Ndobine," "Kocc Barma" and "Immigrés" that stand out. There is intense energy here, partly due to the frantic talking drums (sabar, tama and djembe in dialogue) of Assane Thiam, Falilou Niang and Babacar Mbaye, abetted by Habib Faye's popping bass and the smooth sax of Thierno Koite (who has also backed Cheikh Lo and appeared with Baobab and Le Sahel). I am sure the musicians learned from their counterparts on tour: Gabriel had the great Tony Levin on bass, David Rhodes on guitar and David Sancious on keyboard, and they step up to perform the hit "In Your Eyes." However this is a Gabriel song and very different from Etoile de Dakar, despite having Youssou wailing in the background. I think they could have left it off, but you can always skip it if you just want the mbalax.
TRIBUTE TO IRAKERE: LIVE IN MARCIAC (Jazz Village)
Forty years is a long time, and it's over 40 years since Irakere made its debut with a fusion of Afro-Cuban ritual music with jazz and even rock influences. To celebrate the history of the band, Chucho Valdés is touring the USA (now that Obama has discovered his latin groove) and the band's leader and driving force Chucho Valdés, son of the legendary Cuban pianist Bebo, is now the headliner. He is a fine pianist and can pound out big ham-fisted chords, or lapse into very sedate classical bits of Lecuona or Johann Sebastian. As recently as August 2015 the band was touring Europe and this album is a fresh out of the oven recording of them in France. It's now a second-generation of musicians, many of whom are in Valdés new project The Afro-Cuban Messengers. I believe the original band expired about a decade ago. The Messengers have been augmented with three trumpeters and two saxophones for this tour. I am less engaged by the sax player (I didn't get any packaging material so don't know the specifics of the band). Chucho, whom I think of as junior though he is 74, says he cried when the band rehearsed the old Irakere material, such as "Misa Negra," "Juana 1600," their unique take on "Stella by Starlight" called "Estela va a estallar" and the extra-classic "Bacalao con pan." There are strong Afro-Cuban ritual elements in the drumming and chanting that kick off the album but then it goes into a more familiar jazz groove. Of the tracks mentioned above, only "Juana 1600" is on the Marciac set, the other tunes are two by the Afro-Cuban Messengers, "Yansá" and "Lorena's Tango," and three jams. Each track does have space for a conga and percussion solo which is welcome but it makes the band seem that much more noodly when they come back in. "Afro-Comanche" goes from a Bach 2-part invention into a jam and then an orchestrated bridge that reminds me of Les McCann & Eddie Harris' Swiss Movement. Come to mention it, the next track, with the uninspired title of "Afro-Funk" also sounds like that evergreen disc. The last track "Yansá" turns into "Take Five," though I had not noticed the time signature before then. It breaks down into the "knackered horse" rhythm where the conga player clip-clops slower and slower, a novelty overused on this disc. You'll have to catch them live if you want to experience the old Irakere material.
MR PERRY I PRESUME (Pressure Sounds 89)
You know old-fartdom has set in when you have the following sequence of thoughts. I am in line at the record store and the guy ahead of me is buying a $200 box set of the Rolling Stones (I think that's what it is: just a plain black cardboard box) and I am smugly thinking, what a chump. He's spending all that money to try to get back something he never had: he wants to think he's a cool teenager again, digging Mick's imitation blues vocals and some Nanker Phelge rave-ups. What a waste of time and energy. When you can recognize a tune from the very first chord you probably don't need to hear it again. Then it's my turn and I plunk down the "new" Lee Perry CD with promises of a dozen previously unreleased tracks, but it's the very familiarity I am looking for: the sound of the Upsetters inside the cinder-block walls of the Black Ark with Scratch at the controls. Now, I can tell you who played bass and drums for the Rolling Stones but I couldn't say the same for the Upsetters; nevertheless, I am ready for the bass 'n drums to blow out the speakers on this new mix of "Police and dub" (I don't have to tell you what the rhythm is!). And there's that cheesy wheezy bubbling organ I know and love. No vocals but some swampy guitar is in the mix. Actually if you put your head inside the speaker you can hear a dimly echoing whisper of the verse bleeding through on the rhythm tracks "Hear what I say, hey hey hey hey uh....." Lee Perry is the Paul Cezanne of music. He paints the same views over and over -- the same trees the same mountains -- but every time it comes out different and they are all equally fascinating and slightly crooked and beautiful. But lest the message escape you, the unpainted part of this canvas is the telling lyric which goes unsung: "All the crimes committed, day by day / No-one tries to stop it in any way / All the peace makers turned war officers..." Junior Murvin's song may be one of the most-versioned and most-covered reggae singles but its message is perennial. Wailers fans will dig the two new mixes of "Sun is shining" and "Keep on moving" -- the former has Peter Tosh imitating Augustus Pablo with Melodica on reverb and echo; the later has Augustus himself. "Ethiopia Land" has the "cow" sound you will remember from other versions: Cedric Myton told me it is Watty Burnett! The hits keep coming (and I don't mean Scratch hitting the top of the Roland SpaceEcho with his fist for added ooommph): Max Romeo's classic "Chase the Devil" is versioned here as "Devils dub plate," with that crack percussion from Skully & Sticky. Perry visited London in 1974 to make some record deals and also to appear at a sound system clash. For these events producers prepared unique ten-inch dub plates that were only heard on the night. Unfortunately the word "clash" is a bit too graphic because of course the police showed up, chasing a thief, and waded into the crowded club with their truncheons. By pure coincidence, Jeremy Collingwood tells us in the booklet, at that moment Johnny Clarke's new single "Move outta Babylon" was playing. And after the felon was apprehended 70 more police showed up to arrest a few more "suspects." Dennis Bovell was charged with being "about to commit a crime" and held for 6 months. Perry and Bunny Lee were used to seeing police breaking up sound systems in Kingston so made a quick exit through the back way and the next day the papers crowed "42 Held After Club Battle" -- another milestone in tension between the British authorities and West Indian youth, many of whom were merely guilty of being in possession of "curly hair, big lips and wearing a loud shirt," as Rowan Atkinson put it in 1980. There are many familiar Upsetter grooves on here, in new and surprising versions, recorded in the mid-70s. And, for the record, in addition to Sly n Robbie on drum n bass, you might hear Boris Gardiner holding the bottom and Benbow or Mikey Boo lickin' the skins.
LIGHT AND SOUND OF MOGADISHU (Afro7 AFRCD01)
I like Nilotic oud music, and once you get past Lake Turkana into Kenya I am all ears, but for some reason Ethiopian and Somali music doesn't grab me. Nevertheless I feel I should alert you to this new release because you may like it and in fact run out and buy it, and I wont stand in your way. It's eight tracks -- 42 minutes -- of rare grooves you've never heard before, assembled by the tireless Fred Lavik of Afro7.net -- one of the best and last places where you will find this kind of music for sale as original 45s, many of them previously unplayed. The first four tracks are from the Sharero Band who really work the seventies funk groove. Their leader, Ahmed Naaji, on organ, came from Somalia and worked at Radio Mogadishu as a bandleader, bringing Santana and James Brown sounds to town. The grooves are superb, it's the singing I can't take, I am sorry to say. Lavik licensed this compilation from the Light & Sound label and has tracked down the original artists to tell their stories (The detailed liner notes were written by Matthew Lavoie, formerly of the Voice of America). It's clear they were all much beloved throughout Somalia and the current tragic state of that country needs no explanation: suffice it to say the survivors are all expatriates now. In one bright note and a hope for renewal, John Beadle of the Likembe blog sends a link to an article (and video) about the ongoing effort to digitize the reel-to-reel tape archives of Radio Mogadishu. The second half of the disc (or B side of the LP) contains more traditional tunes, at least old melodies and instruments that remind me of John Storm Roberts' LP Jamiila -- Songs from a Somali City (Original Music, OMA 107) from 1987. The last three tracks are by a popular singer, Magool, who died in 2004 in Amsterdam. They are her hits from 1973.
THE WEST BRIDGE BAND
KIBERA ESBERA (KENYA) (Electric Cowbell ECR713)
This is refreshing: an album of traditional Kenyan music, played with a lot of energy on home-made instruments. The players and singers are Luhya men, four of them, led by Wamalwa Lusweti on the Litunga, a nine-stringed instrument he invented and built. It looks like a lyre; there's also a one-string fiddle prominently and vigorously sawing away, and percussion provided by rattles and something, perhaps a cow-hide covered wooden drum, being struck. The other homemade instruments are the Sichenje ring and the Shiriri. Curiously this is not a CD release: your choice is limited-edition vinyl or digital download: could this be the first sign of the end of the CD market? Personally I think they should bring back the shellac 78 (they are durable and don't require electricity). Although the music sounds traditional and would not be amiss in the John Storm Roberts or Hugh Tracey archive, the songs are about modern life in rural Kenya: beware of being struck by "flying toilets" warns one. This is a reference to plastic bags full of shit which people throw out of their houses after dark, into the bush. I doubt they yell "Gardez Lieu!" as they do this. It's far from the beaten track, in fact the local moto-taxi boys, who are high on mira weed, rob tourists by stringing wires across the road to knock them off their bikes, often killing them. One mzungu who made it through is Grammy-award winning producer Ian Brennan who made the recordings. He discovered the band's secret: they often perform in Nairobi for tourists and during their set go off stage and change costumes and return to play music from different tribes, making the audience think it's a rotating roster of bands, when in fact it's the same four guys displaying their versatility. (The venue is not identified but I suspect it's Bomas of Kenya, a tourist site with different tribal styles of building on display, where you can also eat rare meat, like gazelle, when the parks service culls them.) Check out the West Bridge Band of Nairobi on YouTube here. The last song is in pidgin english so the full pathos of the lyrics finally hits you.
the year so far:
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
Cheikh Lô's Balbalou is filed in Senegal part 2
José "El Canario" with Septeto Santiaguera can be found in Cuba part 4
The Soul Jazzmen's Inhlupeko is filed in Southern Africa
Riverboat's Lost in Mali comp is found in Mali part 2
Terakaft's latest is reviewed in Niger
Grupo Fantasma are filed under salsa
Adham Shaikh's Basswalla is filed in Old World Misc for want of a better spot
Vincent Segal & Ballake Sissoko can be found in Mali 2
Banda de los Muertos can be discovered in the Brass Band section (Old World)
Cabruêra's Colors of Brazil is in Brazil part 2
Ravi & Anoushka Shankar's concert Live in Bangalore is filed under India
In Jamaica part 3 you will read about Studio One Dancehall as well as Rastafari: the Dreads enter Babylon
Malawi Mouse Boys and Kid and the First People are both filed under South Africa & Malawi
Quarter Street from Australia are filed under Salsa (New World)
Amadou Balaké's In Conclusion is found in Burkina Faso
Toto la Momposina's Tambolero went to Colombia
Banning Eyre's Lion Songs can be read about in the bookshelf
Kanaku y el Tigre are found in Peru
Lula All Stars are filed in Salsa
Amara Touré is found in Senegal part 2
Bomba Estéreo's Amanecer went to Colombia
Les Ambassadeurs' Rebirth is filed in Mali part 2
I don't have an appropriate world fusion category for Fatoumata Diawara and Roberto Fonseca's collab so it's filed in old world miscellany
Brian Chilala and Ngoma Zasu's new disc is filed under Zambia
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
RG2BBQ Bob is found in the Blues
Ghanaian Pat Thomas is in the Nigeria/Ghana page, part 2
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)
"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)
A DISCOGRAPHY OF DOCTEUR NICO
Poltroon Press, 2012, expanded to 88 pages; list price $19.95.
By Alastair Johnston
Available now. Click here for details.
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