It's a great pleasure to write up this Totó la Momposina album because it is a reworking of her excellent debut La Candela Viva on the RealWorld label that compelled our attention 25 years ago. And it's not just the birth of a legend, it's the birth of two legends (because Batata is on there also). RealWorld are celebrating their anniversary by revisiting their catalogue and so far this has proved very fruitful. Totó, who is also about to celebrate an anniversary -- of 60 years as a performer, is a folklorist and scholar. From an early age she sang and danced in her mother's dance troupe, even as her native country Colombia was undergoing a civil war. Not only were the arts neglected but there was outright racism towards the African roots that she and her troupe were struggling to preserve. (She first heard of England in school when a charity delivered tins of hard cheese that she understood were a gift from the Queen of England!) When the WOMAD festival began in England Peter Gabriel, one of the organizers, had the idea of inviting selected acts down to his studio in rural Wiltshire to record a live album. Totó and her Tambores visited in 1991 and 1992 and laid down sets of Tambores, Sextetos and Gaitas, which are mostly vocal and percussion tracks. There are flutes (gaita) and even guitar and tiple (12-string guitar) on a couple of tracks. For the remixed album one track has been dropped and two added from the original master tapes. I compared the discs and it does sound richer. The liner notes say there was some overdubbing and choral additions by Totó's grand-daughters. Some of La Momposina's tunes have become classics, remixed by other bands, but also cherished as pure expressions of the blend of African, native and Spanish strains found uniquely in Colombia. The great international breakout sound known as Champeta began with Batata who was principal drummer in this group (heard on three tracks) before leaving to form his own Rumba Palenquera. "El Pescador" is a popular cumbia, composed by José Barros, that tells of the humble fisherman: "El pescador habla con la luna / habla con la playa / no tiene fortuna solo su atarraya (The fisherman speaks to the moon, he speaks to the beach, his fortune comes only from his net)." "La sombra negra (black shadows)" is a beautiful sextet with guitar and tiple that sounds Cuban, which it is because runaway African slaves from Cuba brought the songs with them. They built palenques, which were fortified villages in the jungle. The song, written by "Batata" Paulino Salgado, urges you to run run from the black shadow. To my mind "Dos de Febrero" and "Malanga" which come up next are both classics. The latter is in fact a remake of "Anabacoa" which was a hit for Perez Prado and Beny More back in their day. Batata is beating the daylights out of his tambor on the latter. The album ends with two sacred songs from the palenques, passed down to Batata by his father, also a master drummer.
LION SONGS: THOMAS MAPFUMO & THE MUSIC THAT MADE ZIMBABWE (Duke University Press)
The story of Zimbabwe is a fascinating (though sometimes depressingly familiar) one. The "Valley of Dry Bones" that was Rhodesia, lorded over by Ian Smith, a white demagogue, gave way during the battle for independence to become the now-crippled country of Zimbabwe, with its equally despotic and loathsome dictator Robert Mugabe clinging to the helm with his dead hands. For outsiders to understand this predicament requires some deep reading, but a great way to see the transition of an African country from colonialism to its place still teetering on the brink of independence, is through the eyes of one of its beloved native sons, Thomas Mapfumo, a popular musician. Banning Eyre has written an eminently readable biography of the artist, aided by Mapfumo himself who has given extensive interviews for the work. We also acquire an understanding of the music that was known as "Chimurenga" during the freedom struggle. While Mapfumo never became the next Bob Marley (as I predicted he would in the late 1980s), his message had a big impact at home, although he was forced to live in exile. He dabbled with reggae and English lyrics but, once in exile, fell into replicating his earlier tunes endlessly and lost the market. Eyre dips in and out of history and personal anecdote to keep his narrative lively. He interviewed scores of people who still remember the struggles of the seventies, when Mapfumo's music was used by the rebels as a weapon, and charts the disillusion when Mugabe locked down the resources in order to loot the treasury and favor his cronies. As Obama says, these African leaders have wealth, so why don't they retire gracefully? Nigeria just had its first democratic transition of power, but there are too many other leaders who become entrenched and resist the calls for change. For the musician the struggle was different, but also familiar: looking for direction led to going off in many false starts, like wearing white bell-bottoms and singing Commodores covers. But Mapfumo clicked: he discovered the rhythms of the ritual music played on the mbira, which he had heard as a boy in his grandfather's compound in the bush, transposed to the electric guitar, created the right kind of vehicle for trance as well as a bed for his lyrics, which grew increasingly bold and forthright in criticism of the status quo. But Mapfumo backed the wrong horse: he was an ally of Bishop Muzorewa and when Mugabe seized power, his agents brought Zexie and his Green Arrows to the fore and tried to discredit the Blacks Unlimited. Dangerous times to be singing of equal rights and justice. Muzorewa predicted that ZANU would suppress democracy the minute they got control and that is what they did. Consequently Mapfumo spent the latter part of his career in exile. Without lapsing into academic pedantry or preaching, Eyre provides a balanced and informative chunk of music history that will endure as we fill in our knowledge of the great continent's musical emergence.
KANAKU Y EL TIGRE
QUEMA QUEMA QUEMA (Strut 130CD)
An album of wistful pop that grows on you, it is the brainchild of the duo Nico Saba and Bruno Bellatin, a couple of Peruvians who have spent two years in their studio in Lima working on their second album, which translates as "Burn, Burn, Burn." They met as teens in a punk band and, despite having completely opposite tastes in music, have worked together successfully for a decade or more, in the UK and US as well as Peru. The harmonies are great, there is a pleasant quirkiness to the whole thing. Haunted slide guitar and mandolins, big-room echo and a relaxed acoustic bass walk us through their dreamscape. Their sound has been described as psychedelic folk, and that may be true, but it shows a sophisticated use of various styles and well-considered use of electronic touches with more conventional instrumentation to the fore. It's a very well crafted album and if they don't turn out to be the Lennon and McCartney of the 21st century it wont be through lack of talent.
When "Bar Konon Mousso Bar" burst out of the frayed 16-inch speakers of clubs back in 1978 we knew there was a new rawer sound breaking out from the heart of Africa. Along with "Yeye Mousso" by Mali's Moussa Doumbia we were hearing the birth of Afro-Funk. We immediately said, here's the link to James Brown, though it had been erupting all over Africa long before James Brown hit Zaire in 1974. But in the West Amadou Balaké remained a fringe performer despite what in retrospect would seem to be major inroads. Balaké was born in Burkina Faso (when it was known as Upper Volta) where he grew up performing in local Ougadougan bands like the 5 Consuls and Orchestre Super Volta. He then launched his own group called Amadou et ses Dieux (they recorded on Club Voltaïque du Disque in 1976; the album was recorded in Accra, Ghana and pressed in Benin because of the lack of local facilities). He was a hit maker in West Africa, adapting Afro-Cuban and funk that were growing in popularity. He made recordings for the Sacodis label of Aboudou Lassissi in New York and had moved to Paris by the mid-80s. He returned to Africa to continue a fruitful career and scored more hits, before ending his career in style with Africando. That group was inspired by some of his own studio work (for Lassissi) three decades earlier. Now in retrospect we assemble the pieces of this majestic oeuvre. Pioneering publisher Günter Gretz put together Balaké's West African hits that appeared on two Lassissi albums, "Taximen" and "Vol 3" in Abidjan in 1978-9 as Taximen. They were actually recorded in Nigeria. Other early recordings from the 70s from Super Volta and the Five Consuls were included on the excellent Ouga Affair CD (Savannahphone 2009); more 70s recordings were unearthed by Samy Ben Redjeb and included on Bambara Mystic Soul (Analog Africa 2011). In 2008 Oriki music issued Señor Eclectico, a fine compilation of later 70s tracks including some of the Afro-charanga material from New York. In my passion for Lassissi productions I was able to find those discs, though I still cant find a label interested in getting the rights and doing a proper series of Lassissi reissues. Balaké moved fluidly between salsa, Afrobeat and the warba style of his native land. Inducted at last into Africando in 2000, he recorded three albums with them. Here, as a coda to his career, Balaké returns to the studio, this time with a group of young talents from his hometown, and does a mixed set of new and old material, but calmed down and utilizing more traditional instruments. He is in fine voice, the band is tight. These were his last recordings and are a fitting capper to a distinguished career. He died at the end of August 2014, aged 70.
LULA ALL STARS
SALSA DE LA BUENA (Lulaworld Records)
Toronto is home to many diverse populations from across the globe. There are Italian and Portuguese suburbs, and also neighborhoods full of Trinidians and Jamaicans, Cubanos y otros Latino-Americanos. And there the Lula Lounge is home to a vibrant salsa scene. The debut CD from the 11-strong house band (catch them Saturday night) is a scorching tribute to internationalism. A top set of salsa dura is belted out by a roster of talents that have been sidemen to big names like Jimmy Bosch and Alfredo de la Fe. You might think they have a nerve calling themselves All Stars when no one has heard of them individually, but they aim to follow the Fania All Stars and, like the Spam All Stars from Florida, they are hardworking and have an energy level that doesn't quit. Fania were a New York phenomenon, and while Toronto is not that far away, it's a world apart and today's Salsa musicians have roots in Colombia, Venezuela and other parts of the New World in addition to Cuba and Puerto Rico. Another aspect of their homage to the Fania name is they are well-versed in Son and Timba as well as the hard Salsa that rides on sharp congas, guiro, punchy trombones, fierce piano montunos and a coro that keeps the vocalist in the pocket though in your mind's eye you can see them rocking back and forth off the mike. There's also timbales, tres, baby bass, sax and trumpet to round out the essential line-up. Flute and violin are sprinkled in as needed. It's all sung in Spanish so you might not notice lyrics like "Esto es Canadá" about multiculturalism, or the self-explanatory "Exceso de información."
the year so far:
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
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 indeed 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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