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OLD WORLD (Asia, Arabia, Europe)

Updated 1 February 2016

This month's muzikifan podcast features tracks from new releases Siba and Sahra Halgan,
reviewed below, as well as Fanfare Ciocarlia, plus some new and old favorites.

Greetings, Platterbugs!


British Library Sound Archive has announced that you can now listen to nearly 7800 tracks from Guinea thanks to the massive effort of Graeme Counsel who has digitized their national archives. There were only 83 LPs in the Syliphone series, so this vastly expands the available music of the "golden age," post-Independence under president Sekou Touré, coming to our ears. There is some duplication in that all the 45s are presented as well as the LP compilations, but it is still 90% new to our ears. Read about it, & listen, here

New Djelimady Tounkara album on the horizon

Tourists with visas

Noura Mint Seymali is touring North America this month

05 Feb Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda's
06 Feb Brooklyn, NY @ Pioneer Works
10 Feb Pittsburg, PA @ Thunderbird Café
12 Feb Dearborn, MI @ Arab American Museum
13-14 Feb Toronto, ON @ Small World Music Centre
19 Feb Minneapolis, MN @ Cedar Cultural Center
20 Feb Madison, WI @ Union Theater
22-27 Feb Chicago, IL @ Old Town School of Folk Music
28 Feb Vancouver, BC @ The Blueshore at Capilano University
29 Feb-3 Seattle, WA @ The Triple Door
02 March Portland, OR @ Alberta Rose
03 March San Diego, CA @ UCSD
05 March Los Angeles, CA @ UCLA

Dengue Fever are also on the road

March 04 @ The New Parish, Oakland, CA
March 05 @ Harlow's, Sacramento, CA
March 07 @ Mississippi Studios, Portland, OR
March 08 @ The Crocodile, Seattle, WA
March 09 @ The Shakedown, Bellingham, WA
March 11 @ Lost On Main, Chico, CA
March 13 @ Casbah, San Diego, CA
March 14 @ Constellation Room, Santa Ana, CA
March 26 @ The Regent Theater, Los Angeles, CA

The phenomenal Fanfare Ciocarlia are also on a world tour, to celebrate 20 years in show business. Dates here -- Hong Kong and UAE this month, Germany next, but coming your way in April!

In Concert

Gautam and Sangati appear at Artists Television Access on Valencia Street, San Francisco, 7 pm Fri. Feb. 12th: $7 online / $10 door; with Gautam Tejas Ganeshan - song; Akshay Venkatesan - mridangam, Krishnan A. V. - ghatam, & others.

In Memoriam

Pianist and arranger Alfredo Valdés, Jr has died
Here's a July 2000 interview where he talks about SAR Records & Lassissi

Another sideman for the great Arsenio Rodriguez (who also appeared on the Cachao "Master Sessions"), trumpeter Chocolate Armenteros has died

MASIKA: 1972-74 (Zanzibara 9 Buda Musique)

The Super Volcanos are intense, talented, confident. When their leader, Mbaraka Mwinshehe, sings and plays guitar the rest of the band are inspired too: the trumpeter solos, playing jazzy counterpoint to the vocals. Everyone is carried along on the exciting rush. The horns, which add punctuation throughout, lend an excited tone to the production. The spontaneity of a live show is captured in each selection of this fine compilation as Buda Musique continue with their wonderful Zanzibara series, drawing on the musical heritage of Tanzania and the East African coast. The even numbers in the series are Taarab and other traditional music, while the odd numbers are (mostly) the muziki wa dansi that is irresistible. Volume 3 presented the 60s sound, including Jamhuri Jazz, NUTA Jazz, Atomic Jazz and Morogoro Jazz. Volume 5 covered 1978-83, pitting Mlimani Park Orchestra against Dar International, while volume 7 posed Mlimani against I.O.S.S. from the mid-80s. Now we have gone back to the early 70s and one key band, which evolved out of Morogoro Jazz. Drawing heavily from two of the LPs in Polygram's Ukumbusho series (vol 4 and vol 6) we now get to hear Mbaraka Mwinshehe with his band Super Volcano in clarity, with contextual notes, photos and song lyrics added to the restoration. Ukumbusho means "souvenirs" and the remembered good times were spread over a dozen or more albums that appeared in the decade after Mbaraka's tragic early death (aged 34) in 1979 (These included "The Last Recordings" [polp 512] which was followed definitively by "The Very Last Recordings" [polp 517]). Mbaraka's earlier band, Morogoro Jazz, was given its own retrospective on the Dizim label in 2000, with Masimango (Dizim Asili 4702-2). Like "Daktari na mimi (The Doctor and I)" on vol 3, "Morogoro HQs ya Volcano" is a slide guitar tribute to Dr Nico. This was on a Polydor album POLP504 issued in 1974 and tracked down by Doug Paterson; it may have been reissued as vol 12 in the Ukumbusho series, who knows? One track on here, "Posa Na 2" is new to me, but then I am a Mbaraka completist. There is a "Pesa No 1," which is quite different, on a couple of Mbaraka LPs. According to Douglas Paterson it means "Wedding proposal no 2" and is about a brokered marriage where the broker absconded with the dowry. All of Ukumbusho vol 6 is included. Three tracks from volume 4 and one from volume 7 complete this set. Unless you have mint vinyl copies, you probably have not heard these songs with their urgent live-room feeling. There is a raggy sax and trumpet that complement Mbaraka's singing, but his guitar playing is up there with the greats -- Nico & Franco -- to whom he was often compared. The sound is clean, I can hear a clave and guiro in here which were just "surface noise" before on some of the low-fi recordings I have heard.


Somaliland is a breakaway part of Somalia in what used to be British Somaliland until 1960, then it was under a dictator from '69 until civil war broke out in 1991. Whenever there's a news story it usually involves some horror or atrocity. This affects their neighbors most when the al-Shaabab "where's my kebab" rebels from Somalia cross into Kenya, which has a huge permeable border, and indiscriminately murder innocent people. Sahra Halgan worked as a nurse while engaging in the fight for liberty as a singer, but was eventually forced into exile in Europe. Meanwhile the rest of the world cannot tell Somaliland from Somali so nothing changes. Nevertheless she played an important part as a young woman with her televised songs about the liberation struggle inspiring the young soldiers. She spent 20 years in Lyon in Southern France and met her band: Aymeric Krol and Mael Salètes who support her on guitar and drums, plus there are guests on four tracks. Her repertoire includes a few originals and many traditional songs taught to her by her mother or an old troubadour named Abdinasir Macalin, who accompanies himself on oud. The trio produced this album then returned to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, to make a documentary film about her journey which is include in the package. The duo pack a punch behind her vocals, also singing harmony. The songs feature the trance-inducing repetition and intensity familiar from other desert warriors such as Bombino or Lobe Traoré. Krol plays kamalengoni on the title track, and there's a fair amount of acoustic guitar backing, however I would have liked to have heard the oud of Macalin included on here. Maybe it would not have got made without the two French musicians, or had the same exposure, but it was good to see that after 25 years she is still remembered by her first name wherever she went in her native land.

DE BAILE SOLTO (YbM Music / Polysom P0566)

Polysom is the last vinyl manufacturer of South America. Since 2010, they've also operated as an independent record label and they have an impressive catalogue. Not sure how you can track this one down on vinyl if you are not in Brasil. There's amazon's lame MP3 download if you are happy with cheap earbud quality sound, but if that's the case, Siba gives away all his discs in low quality on his website. Siba who used to front Mestre Ambrosio, sings and plays guitar and delivers a blend of rock and maracatu -- the traditional Pernambucan sounds. His lyrics are politically engaged, protesting deforestation, which is finally a hot topic in most of Brasil. Violence, consumerism, over-reaching authority, and social inequality are among his other themes delivered over an interesting mix of electric and acoustic instruments: hand percussion and a pair of dueling guitars that seem differently tuned and would not be out of place on a Nigerian stage with Orlando Owoh. Also did I mention tuba bass? It's rocking. His voice is sometimes tentative which lends appeal to the plaintive pop ballad "Tres Carmelitas." A song about a spider and a jar ("A Jarra e a Aranha") rehearses an old tongue-twister ("arranhar" is to scratch; "aranha" is spider; "jarra" is jar). This is a very catchy and varied album and the more I play it the more I like it.

VINIL VIRTUAL (Biscoito Fino)

Daniela Mercury has been at it for decades, but there's enough new ideas here to make her latest release worth checking out. It's predictable, which is good if you are a best-selling artist; it's not quite MPB, but a mix of samba-reggae and pop, with occasional outbursts of axé -- to me, the most interesting aspect of Brasilian carnaval music. 16 years ago I used my press credentials to get backstage at her bloco and met the lady; my Portuguese was unacceptable and she didn't speak English, but see how far we've come. "Frogs in the sky" is sung in English though it makes as much sense as a Sarah Palin campaign speech, if a bit more left wing: "Love is freedom... No violence... peace and love." Her impetus, she says, was the Annie Leibovitz photo of John and Yoko on the cover of rolling stone which spoke to her about peace and love. OK, I am losing my mind, "Alegria e Lamento" starts out like "Hotel California." Get me outta here. "De Deus, de Alah, de Gilberto Gil" is haunting. Warning: earworms ahead. Time to move on. "Antropofágicos São Paulistanos" seems to be about the cannibals of São Paulo. It has the heavy insistent axé drumming I was talking about. Truly old-school Hohner clavinet (à la Stevie Wonder) rips up the intro to "O Riso de Deus (God's smile)" which also has popping bass and the drumming bedrock, this time singing more favorably about Rio. The title track is a rap, sort of. Well more of a spoken thing over outré jazz piano, but the full force of her skill as a singer is brought to bear on "Tres Vozes" where she brings in Olodum on the battery. I am not sure of the heavy rock influence on "Minha Mãe, Minha Pátria" since I never listened to Queen or AC/DC, but I suspect it's in there somewhere. Overall, a varied and worthwhile enterprise.


If there is one American musical form that is truly imbued with magic it is the Mississippi Delta Blues. While every other form has its hagiographers, its explainers and apologists, the Blues remains a secret society of immutable dark secrets, Shakespearean levels of intrigue and even murder. Alone among American musics that have existed in the recorded era, it still has near-metaphysical puzzles hanging over it. The latest mystery is a third (second to be debunked) purported photo of Robert Johnson. You'd think this would be a minor issue, but fortunes hang on authentication. From the deepest depths of mythology scholars dredge up tales of artists like Geeshie Wiley, a black lesbian guitarist in the Depression who only left a handful of haunted songs. Then another was found, then someone conjectured a connection to another recording and so the legend, worthy of a Brecht opera, is erected. Now, the deck is shuffled again and the devil deals. Here's a shuffle and cut from the top of the deck laying out an incredible run of aces and diamonds (OK, I am gonna squelch this metaphor before I have to bring in spades 'n clubs). Each of these tunes is three minutes long and there are 25 of them here, giving a wide spectrum of styles, all using slide tools on the necks of their guitars. The effect is not unlike some single-stringed West African instruments (& like our beloved African music some of it is in terrible audio shape). Blind Willie Johnson (first of three Blind Willies on here!) kicks off with his gruff delivery of "Nobody's fault but mine"-- the slide echoes his words perfectly as he blends country blues and gospel. The giants of the style are included -- Charley Patton, Bukka White and Son House -- but you will also hear the immensely talented Curley Weaver and a personal favorite, Barbecue Bob. One notable omission is Mississippi Fred McDowell. I remember playing his 1969 album, I Do Not Play No Rock'N'Roll, where he explains how his guitar talks, countless times when it came out. Kokomo Arnold's "The Twelves" was included on the first iteration of this compilation (RGNET1151 2005), here he appears under the moniker Gitfiddle Jim. From the whine of a human voice to a train whistle perfected by the black players, the white country exponents (like also notably absent Roy Smeck) of the slide soon adapted the sounds of the Hawaiian guitar. As well as country duo Darby & Tarleton some real Hawaiians (Jim & Bob) are here: they moved to the mainland seeking fame and fortune. This more expansive style was soon evident in the work of Kokomo Arnold, Casey Weldon, Tampa Red and, new to me, Black Ace. Another nice surprise is Bayless Rose and his "Frisco Blues" from 1930. A quick web search suggests another mystery, no one is even sure of his race. There's room for many noted exponents of the potent form, from Blind Willie (Joe) Reynolds (author of "Outside Woman Blues") to Leadbelly ("C. C. Rider") and Gus Cannon ("Poor boy, long ways from home").

most recent reviews:

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

December 2015

Shujaat Husain Khan & Katayoun Goudarzi's Ruby is found in the Arabia section
The late great Allen Toussaint's Bright Mississippi is filed under USA
Senegal 70 and Dieuf-Dieul de Thiès's Aw Sa Yone Vol 2 are both filed in Senegal part two and also made the Top Fifteen of 2015

November 2015

Kandia Kouyate returns -- to Mali part 2
Youssou Ndour captured Live in Athens 1987 can be found in Senegal part 2
Chucho Valdés makes his home in Cuba part 4
Lee Perry's Mr Perry I Presume is found in Jah part 3
Light & Sound of Mogadishu is filed under the Horn of Africa
The West Bridge Band's escapades can be read about in Kenya part 2

October 2015

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

September 2015

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)

August 2015

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

July 2015

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 collaboration so it's filed in Old World miscellany
Brian Chilala and Ngoma Zasu's latest disc is filed under Zambia

My Top Fifteen of 2015 can be found HERE.

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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