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OLD WORLD (Asia, Arabia, Europe)

Updated 15 December 2014

"Nabeleli" by Orchestre Kompako

Greetings, Platterbugs!


I've posted my top ten new releases and top ten reissues of the year here


Loopy space Cumbia from Bareto ("Las voz del sinchi"), plus Bomba Estereo, Sidestepper, etc on a varied sampler from Polen Records

Dubby slowed-down Cumbia from G-Flux y Papi Perez "Noiseyméxico", but wears thin after a while...

If you prefer your Cumbia straight up: "Suave" by Eskorzo with Celso Piña & Coque Malla


Aurelio Martinez, last of the Garifuna rockers from Belize, is on tour. Triple Door, Seattle, Dec 30; Portland Oregon Museum of Art Dec 31

Wu Man (Chinese pipa player) backed by Kronos Quartet, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley January 18


I updated the LETTERBOX below right, after a nice exchange with Jan in Dublin
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VERCKYS et l'Orchestre Vévé
Congolese Funk, Afrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978
(Analog Africa AA17 2014)

When you pull out all the stops on a church organ you get an almighty noise guaranteed to raise the roof. When Samy of Analog Africa does it, you get a killer album of rare tracks from one of the most rumbustious acts to come out of the Congo in the rip-roaring 70s. Georges Kiamuangana "Verckys" was a saxophonist with OK Jazz from 1963 but didn't always see eye-to-eye with his boss and finally, in 1969, broke away to create his own band, his own studio, and even his own label (in 1970) from where he threw hit after hit onto turntables across Africa, from Lagos to Nairobi. Though the sax was his main instrument (his nickname came from mishearing King "Kurtis" as "Verckys") he was soon to jettison the horns and feature the stripped-down acts of the generation Langa Langa which replaced the older dance bands of Franco and Rochereau. Verckys had monster smashes with his own band, Orch Vévé, as well as the numerous bands he nurtured like Orchestres Bella Bella, Kiam, Les Kamale, Empire Bakuba, Lipua Lipua, Les Grands Maquisards, Zaiko Langa Langa and Stukas. His first three albums were put out by Ngoma before he started his own state-of-the-art studio, to which he added a record-pressing plant. He then signed Rochereau and recorded four very successful albums, including Maze. In 1977-8 Sonafric issued a nine volume series of Grands Succès, Direction Verckys. Because of the great passion for Congolese rumba and cavacha in East Africa, Verckys went on tour to Uganda and Kenya. He struck a deal to reissue albums in Nairobi and recorded the smoking "Nitarudia" with Orch Vévé Star (So far, I've found a dozen albums released in Nairobi in those golden years 1983-5.) The audiences went wild. Any talented bass player was compared to Vévé's Shaba Kahamba. Some Vévé musicians decided to stay behind and formed Orchestre Bana Ngenge. The Vévé sound was so pervasive (and portable) that many Congolese acts moved East and played the stripped-down music with sax and multiple lead guitars. Other aspects of Verckys' career and his productions appeared periodically on Sonodisc in Paris. In the 1990s Sonodisc issued a couple of greatest hits CDs and RetroAfrica leaned heavily on them for its reissue called Vintage Verckys. Since I maintain the collaborative Vévé discography (elsewhere on this site) I can quickly pinpoint the source of these tunes, and it is really startling. Samy has had a fresh look, and only taken tracks from a couple of known albums: the rest are 45s and quite a few of them - six - obscure B-sides. Needless to say he has come up with the goods: every track on here is a revelation. Yes, I think the entire output of Verckys should be reissued & this first step in that direction makes a good case for that.

The CD kicks off with a sax-led funk track (with pidgin English lyrics), "Bassala hot," which was featured on Grands Succès vol 2 and reflects particularly the Nigerian passion for James Brown. But then we kick into the cavacha sound that became the high watermark in East Africa, with wild dueling guitars, snapping snare drums and sweet vocals harmonies. I am guessing Roxy Tshimpika is on lead guitar, but there was no info on individual tracks in my digital copy. I would love to know who is singing on here, and even the sax which I think is Moro Beya Maduma. I heard a shout-out to Aladji who is the rhythm, or mi-solo guitarist with the alluring name Aladji Baba. "Cheka sana" returns to the funk, this time with twin saxes (Matalanza or Verckys himself with Moro Beya?). "Oui Verckys" follows: this time organ-led and highly reminiscent of "Mother Popcorn" by James Brown. Enough with the funk, back to the mellow rumba with "Nakobala yo Denise," a love-song with lyrical sax and a kick-around seben at the midpoint of the 4-minute nugget. Organ returns with jazzy sax and a more psychedelic groove for "Sex Vévé," which brings to mind "Sex Madjesi" and Sosoliso, the splinter group from Verckys headed by his original trio of singers. This shows off his jazz sax while the guitars churn out blues chords. Back to the cavacha sound next (not sure this sequencing works, it jumps about a lot) for the lovely "Sisa Motema," then back to Famous Flames for the B-side of "Cheka sana," called "Talali Talala," another funk instrumental. According to Ben Redjeb three of the tracks were recorded in Nairobi. I don't know them and don't see any sign of them on kentanzavinyl either, so the originals must be pretty obscure. We strike a happy medium with "Zonga vonvon," which I would classify as a "rave-up," a speedy romp with shrill vocals and shouted chorus as well as some honking from the leader. The lovely high tenor voice on echo, launched by Tabu Ley and carried on by Nyboma was also a big thing in East Africa, with artists like Lovy Longomba and Nguashi Ntimbo. Here we get a taste of it on "Nakomi Paralise" (which may or may not be a typo for "Paradise"); singers unidentified. Actually my unease at the arrangement may be that we start with two long ten-minute tracks then have a real smorgasbord of seven varied styles until we get back into a groove with the 6 minutes and 41 seconds of extended bliss that is this guitar- and horn-driven workout. The shortest track is a charanga-style blowout called "Matinda comono" in pidgin Spanish. Then there are three bonus tracks (which I guess are not on the vinyl): "Nitarudia" is outstanding with sax and piano (a rarity) and a tight arrangement. I wish we had personnel listings on these cuts. Still it is a monumental set and bodes well for future reissues, from Analog Africa, with their faultless track record, and also for more from Mr Dynamite: Verckys.

KIRIKE (No Format! NOF26)

(NB: US release date is January 6th on 6 Degrees)
There was a time when I mainly listened to Congolese music (so much in fact my girlfriend thought of starting a Soukous Widows' Society), then Cuban music took hold and it seems lately the best stuff coming out as new music is Malian. Yes Guinea, Senegal, Colombia still get time on the turntable, with Jamaica, Ghana, Cabo Verde and India close to hand, but in terms of stuff coming in over the transom I find the Malians consistently good: their musicians are top flight, their singers and songs engaging, and their rhythms put me in a happy frame of mind. Kasse Mady is one of the older griots from a distinguished family. His voice reminds me of Salif Keita's at times. He has appeared with fusion groups as well as Afrocubism and the Symmetric Orchestra of kora player Toumani Diabaté. The ensemble here is more stripped down and there's no acoustic or electric guitars: just balafon, ngoni and kora (Ballaké Sissoko on two tracks, early and late in the set as a bracketing device), while producer Vincent Segal (who also appears on Ballaké Sissoko's At Peace) plays cello to give us a resonant bass line. Makan Tounkara is featured on ngoni (his own album of traditional music appeared from Buda and, like Ballaké Sissoko's, garnered a most favorable review here). Lansiné Kouyaté has also backed Toumani Diabaté and he appeared on Kasse Mady's Kela Tradition album, which Stern's issued in 1990. He is elegantly understated here, playing what seems at times to be a muted balafon, behind Tounkara's ngoni solos. These guys have grown up together since their youth in the National Instrumental Ensemble of Mali and have mellowed in unison. They no longer need Taj Mahal to raise their profile (that album with Taj Mahal was cited by President Obama as one of his favorites), and give us a delightful hour of chamber music from the soul of Africa.


Long-time fans of African Jazz will recognize the name Malombo and associate it with Philip Tabane. In the 80s Günter Gretz launched one of the great series of recordings: his aim was to find a characteristic album of each style of African music or, if one didn't exist, to create it as a compilation. He brought us Sam Mangwana jamming with members of OK Jazz, Etoile de Dakar, Balla et ses Balladins, Orchestre Baobab, Sweet Talks and many other essential recordings that delighted and informed us. Each of these became treasures that followers of his Popular African Music label prized above most others. For his 13th release he compiled Man Phily from 4 albums and a cassette recorded by Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzmen. American Jazz only took root in South Africa; the influences in other parts of the continent were Cuban music and later R&B and pop. And South Africa had rich indigenous traditions. Mbube originated in church choral music (with gospel and blues elements) as exemplified by Ladysmith Black Mambazo; Kwela (pennywhistle) music was played on the street with home-made instruments; a musical style that mixed traditional and modern forms (under apartheid) was Mbaqanga which had a huge international impact with the fabulous tours of Mahlathini and Mahotella Queens. Jazz, in its more stately way, issued forth in wonderful recordings by Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim). Tabane formed his first group in 1961 with himself singing and playing guitar, backed by Julian Bahula on the hollowed log drums that gave the group its name. Oupa Monareng replaced Bahula on malombo drums and then other percussion instruments, in addition to bass and flute, were added. In 1988 an eponymous album was reissued by Kijima Records in London. This new release on Strut follows the other thread of the story. The original Malombo drummer, Julian Bahula, left Tabane with flautist Abbey Cindi after one year and created the Malombo Jazz Makers. Though they won festivals and recorded albums they received only small change from Gallo records for their efforts. Both bands with the Malombo name brought Hilda Tloubatla of Mahotella Queens into the studio to sing on their records (featured here on "Hleziphi," which sounds like a Zulu ballad, and the uptempo "Jikeleza"). The political significance of jazz with African drums was not lost on the audience as, of course, overt anti-apartheid lyrics would mean imprisonment. The skin-covered drums were made from hollowed-out baobab roots and Bahula would hide ANC documents inside them when they toured! The heat was on though and eventually Bahula fled to London (touring with a white group) & stayed there until the end of apartheid. Fortunately other expatriates including saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and a big group of ANC activists were also there to help promote the band and the cause. It's a mostly mellow album, better when Cindi plays sax rather than flute, to my ears. Few of the songs rise to the abstract genius of Tabane's "Hi Congo," "Ki Kgale," or "Phamba Madiba," but the good news is Strut are planning a sequel featuring the other branch of Malombo.

most recent reviews:

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

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

September 2014

Congo Guitars 1952 & 1957 is found on the Hugh Tracey page (under Africa)
Les Ambassadeurs du Motel are filed in Mali part 2
Simon Lagnawi The Gnawa Berber can be found in Arabia
The Haiti Direct comp is in Haiti
Real World 25 is in Old World Miscellany

August 2014

Quraishi from Afghanistan is housed, for the moment, in India & Pakistan
so is Ravi Shankar, with A Night at St John the Divine
Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics is found in Nigeria

July 2014

Ricardo Lemvo's latest is filed in Congo part 3
Rock-a-Mambo double LP is in Congo Classics
Bombay Royale's latest is in Bollywood part 2
Son Palenque's Kamajanes is in Colombia
Mestre Cupijo can be found in Brasil part 2
The revised Rough Guide to Sahara is found in Arabia

June 2014

Kasai Allstars' Beware the Fetish is filed in Congo part 3
Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star Live à L'Etoile is filed in Senegal part 2
Bio Ritmo are docketed under Salsa, for want of a better place
Oumar Konate's Addoh can be found under Mali part 2
Dona Onete's Feitico Cabloco is filed in Brasil part 2

May 2014

Moreno's second reissue on Stern's is filed in Kenya part 2
Anansy Cissé's Mali Overdrive is filed in Mali part 2
Rough Guide to Psychedelic Cambodia is filed in Asia
Youlou Mabiala's 18 disc reissue can be found in Congo part 3

April 2014

Ernie Ranglin's latest Bless Up is filed in Jamaica part 3
Adnan Joubran's Borders Behind can be found in the Arabia section
That's where you'll find my review of Hassan Hakmoun's latest also
Ani Cordero is in Mexico
The Max Massengo reissue is filed in Congo part 3

March 2014

Zanzibara 7: Sindike vs Ndekule is found in Tanzania part 2
Aziza Brahim from Algeria is filed under Arabia
Atash's Everything is Music is filed under USA
New version of the Rough Guide to Mali is filed in Mali part 2
Thomas Blondet's Future World can be found in Old World misc section

February 2014

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

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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