SIKINDE VS NDEKULE (Buda Musique)
It seems the odd numbers in this series are the ones to get for fans of "Muziki wa dansi," which was the widely popular music of East Africa in the 1970s and 80s. The even numbers are traditional Taarab music, but vols 3 and 5 have been brilliant compilations of rare, often never before heard, and beautifully restored classics that lit up the East Coast of Africa from Radio Tanzania and clubs from Malindi south to the verges of the Okovangu swamp. There is one small disappointment about this new release and that is four of the eleven tracks have appeared before on two compilations that I know any serious collector of African music has on their shelf: Tanzania Dance Bands vols 1 & 2, which came out from Monsun Records of Germany in 1989 and 1991. Actually volume two of that pair had some technical problems and was reissued with a revised tracklist from Africassette in 1995 (they dropped two and added three songs). This disc pitches International Orchestra Safari Sound [IOSS] against Mlimani Park in a friendly duel, with half a dozen tracks from each band. (The apparent rivalry was fomented by the singers and guitarists moving between the two bands.) The album kicks off with Mlimani's "Mtoto Akililia Wemba" which was on Dance Bands Vol 1. It's inclusion here is didactic as well as for the obvious reason it is fabulous; it also tells of the rivalry between these two bands. Their catchy song "Neema (My blessing)" was also on that earlier Monsun disc. The two IOSS tracks that are repeated are "Chatu Mkali" and "Homa Imenizidia." The latter was the song that provoked Mlimani's "Mtoto Akililia Wemba." The repeats come in the middle of the album as a solid core to remind you how brilliant this music can be or convince you if you don't have the Tanzania Dance Bands CDs. Still, three new songs from them is a welcome addition from a great band whose only known issue to me is two tracks on a vinyl album called Tanzania Hit Parade '88, issued by Ahadi Records of Nairobi. Then there are the cassettes: There were a dozen FLATIM cassettes issued of Mlimani Park, but only 4 I know of by IOSS (The songs here mostly come from the Christina Moshi cassette [MSK/CAS505]). The advantage of cassettes is they don't skip or get scratched; the disadvantage is the sound is usually muddy because they were dubbed at high speed from second-generation masters on cheap stock, using gummy equipment. But the master tapes are in the Radio Tanzania archives (those that haven't gone missing), so there is still hope of some more gems coming from that source. This storming big band sound is a treasure. The lead singer of IOSS (Hassan Bitchuka) has a wonderful voice which you can appreciate fully here. Sweet harmony vocals, speedy guitars, bubbling bass, four on the floor drumming, punchy trumpets, warmly warbling saxophones. Even if you recognize the grooves you will have a hard time taking it off once you start playing it. This comp makes them new, dusts them off and reframes them for another whirl.
SOUTAK (Glitterbeat GBCD003)
The Sahrawi people of the Western Sahara were displaced by the Moroccans in 1975 and put into camps between Algerian and the Western Sahara or forced into exile. Like the Israeli treatment of Palestinians in their greed for Lebensraum, the stronger nation hopes to wipe out the weaker one by attrition. It was the 70s so no one noticed that napalm and landmines were being tossed about with cruel abandon. Like most Saharan peoples the Sahrawi are intermixed with Berbers and Touregs and also have some relations among Bedouins. Aziza Brahim grew up in this rough refugee environment but managed to get out and go to Cuba during high school. But out of the frying pan into the fire: it was the 90s and Cuba was going through an economic crisis so she was not able to pursue music to university level. She returned to Algeria and started singing in the camps. In 2000 she was able to move to Barcelona and there founded her band Gulili Mankoo. This is her debut release, recorded live. Brahim sings and plays acoustic rhythm guitar and also a small hand-drum, the tabal. She has two Spaniards in her team: Nico Roca on congas and percussion and Guillem Aguilar on bass, and a Malian guitarist, Kalilou Sangaré, who is the featured soloist. Her sister sings back-up. The musicianship and recording are clean, clear and forceful. The small, acoustic ensemble does justice to her voice: she sings in Spanish and her native tongue (complete translations of her lyrics are included in Spanish and English in the booklet). Check out the opening cut here, and her debut video of the second track here.
Here's a band that takes the potpourri approach to the music of the world, combining as they do members from India, Africa and the Americas. Based in Austin, Texas which is known for country, folk and Latin music, Atash feels more at home with flamenco, reggae, jazz, rock and Indian classical music. Their name comes from the Persian word for "Fire" and refers to Zoroastrianism, the pre-Islamic religion of sun-worshippers. Another classical reference is in the album's title which comes from Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi poet. Just as fire is one aspect of the life force, music is the essence of our being. Individuals bring musical ideas to the group then everyone throws in what they want -- the result is a blend of all their backgrounds. I thought I would be turned off by this but the blend of oud and sitar works, and the rhythms, whether Middle Eastern, African, or Other, are all well-suited to the tune at hand. The singer, Mohammad Firoozi, grew up in rural Iran. He led the call to prayer at the village mosque but secretly listened to Western rock 'n' roll broadcast from Kuwait on his dad's radio. He would sing in pidgin English in clubs in Shiraz to crowds who didn't understand him, and now, decades later, he sings in Farsi in Texas, again to an uncomprehending audience! His "Amshab" reminds me of ONB, it has a wonderful dubby bass 'n' drums and then the oud and strings (on Echoplex) take us back to the Grand Bazaar. I like this because it sounds authentic, it's not a bunch of posers playing afrobeat, but people from divergent cultures coming together and sharing their joy of music. They worked on the album for over three years, writing new pieces and revising old ones. You can tell a lot of thought and effort went into it. The qawwali number, "Baaraan," is a stand-out with tablas and handclaps, then bandleader Roberto Riggio comes in on mournful violin behind Firoozi working out on the vocals.
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF MALI (Second edition RGNET1311)
I've said it before and I will repeat myself here: Mali is the default destination for African music right now. Rough Guide is the latest label to take us to the desert and desert us in the dunes for out just desserts. For their second trip to the landlocked nation, they've put together many of the current crop of great Malian musicians, mercifully light on the sound-alike Toureg guitar bands, and focussed on some lyrical and musically inventive artists. The trip kicks off with "Jama ko," the title cut of Bassekou Kouyate's last album with his group Ngoni Ba. Jammin'! The big names are here: Oumou Sangaré and Ali Farka Touré, and since they are digging back into the past for the late A .F. Touré I wish they'd included Issa Bagayogo who made a splash with his techno albums about the turn of the century. Maybe the licensing was too steep; most of the tunes come from the World Circuit or Cobalt labels. There is one Yves Wernert-produced track from 1998, "Na" by Ramata Diakité. We are also deprived of the lovely songstress Rokia Traore, who'd be first choice on any Mali comp I put together. The compilers also miss the oomph of Super Biton or Super Rail Band but opt instead for smaller ensembles -- more of the chamber music sound. But for me the great bands, like Toure Kunda and Ambassadeurs with Salif Keita, and especially the many regional bands that came up in the 1970s, defined the Malian sound as it emerged in our consciousness. However for a purely big band Mali comp there was African Pearls: Mali 70 that came out in 2008. The darlings of the labels for big bands these days are the Toureg bands with their open-tuning jams, featuring lots of Space Echo on the guitars and a twin-pronged lead in left and right channels: stoners must love it (Especially since the Allman Brothers are retiring this year!). Here Terakaft dose us with a cut from their Kel Tamasheq album which is great in a small hit. I rate Bombino and Tal National above all these bands, but they are from Niger, not Mali (What do we call them? Nigerois?) Current big names on the Malian scene, Khaira Arby and Fatou Diawara, are also well represented. But the older songstresses, like Nahawa Doumbia and Oumou Sangaré also hold up their end. Among the many great selections on here is Keba Solo. You may not want to hear a whole album of xylophone but the lead off track from his Kene Balafons CD is very enticing.
The bonus disc is also exceptional. It is the debut release of Samba Touré, titled Songhai Blues: Homage to Ali Farka Touré, which came out in 2009. I had not heard it before, but his third album made my top ten last year, so I am glad to hear more of his fine guitar and solid ensemble, with bass, spike fiddle, calabash and vocals. I am guessing it's Zoumana Tereta on the horsehair one-string who is in ripping fine form.
FUTURE WORLD (Rhythm&Culture RNC027)
Here's another example of music beyond categories, though in this case it is not necessarily a good thing. Initially it reminded me of one of my favorite discs of yore, Putumayo's Arabic Groove. It has been years and I have been "lingering hopefully" -- as Stevie Smith's aunt would suggest -- for something as good to come along. But after some Arabic electronica, it goes Bollywood, then suddenly gypsy brasswards in a cut called "Beyond the Balkans." (Blondet has remixed Balkan Beat Box in the past so that explains his diverse repertoire.) Unfortunately, like too many other albums, it gets flaccid in the middle. Track 6, a wet ballad titled "Tu va partir," is off the rails, but then wait, what is this, Bhangra I hear? "Curry flava," yes that is what it's called. It features M.I.A.'s percussionist. The singer of "Tu va partir," Leyla Chatti, returns for another outing called "In this world," which sounds a bit like Grace Jones from the "Warm Leatherette" era though not a tenth as sexy. I don't listen to much electronica but when I do it must be as good as Cheb i Sabbah or else I bail. Few efforts, outside Gaudi's Nusrat album & some Colombian technocrats, have come near. Blondet skips blithely about with a reprise of the Bollywood number, "Dil da Jani," and a couple of solid King Tubby-style dubs with New York's Subatomic Sound System to end up. All in all it's quite a tour but rather exhausting on the ears.
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(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
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
Angola Soundtrack 2 can be found in Angola & Cabo Verde
Randy Weston & Billy Harper The Roots of the Blues is filed under USA
as are the Rough Guide to Blues Legend: Blind Blake,
and Sonny Boy Williamson's Keep it to Ourselves
Rokia Traore in Concert is filed in Mali Live,
while her new CD Beautiful Africa can be found in Mali part 2
Latin Noir is from all over but I stuck it in Cuba part 4
Sembeh Ma Fa Fe (Roots) is file under Guinea
Grand Kalle's latest reissues are filed in Congo Classics
Mar Seck's classic Vagabonde is filed in Senegal part 2
Abelardo Carbono and Systema Solar both are found in Colombia
Boban & Marko's latest is filed in Gypsy Brass
Juana Molina is in Argentina
Kafry Mweene can be found in Kenya part 2
Uri Sharlin is filed under USA
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
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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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