CLICK on a map to get to the archived reviews; SCROLL DOWN for latest reviews; Click HERE for Links



OLD WORLD (Asia, Arabia, Europe)

Updated 1 September 2014


Bomba Estereo are criss-crossing the globe on an exhausting schedule, and coming to a club near you soon:
September 1 Bumbershoot Seattle
Sept 3 MEZZANINE San Francisco
Sept 4 Cargo, Reno
Sept 5 C3 Guadalajara
Sept 6 Monterrey (MX)
Sept 9 Lowbrow Palace El Paso
Sept 11 House of Rock Corpus Christi
Sept 12 The Ballroom Houston
Sept 13 Pearl Brewery San Antonio
Sept 14 U Street Music Hall Washington, DC
Sept 15 World Cafe Philadelphia
Sept 17 Pop Montreal Canada
Oct 10 Joshua Tree
Oct 11 Shrine LA
Oct 12 Symphony Park Charlotte
Oct 14 Stage 48 New York
Oct 16 Grand Central Miami

Here they are live last year on KEXP

Atash, a world music band from Austin (reviewed last month), play Ashkenaz, Berkeley, Friday 26 Sept at 9 p.m., followed by the Mint in LA and UCSB on the 29th.

27 Sept Toumani Diabaté & Sidiki Diabaté (Mali) @ Miner Auditorium

Greetings, Platterbugs!


The Distortion of Sound is a 22-minute documentary about how earbuds, laptop speakers and MP3s have turned music into the sonic equivalent of macdonalds' junk food, with Snoop Dogg, Quincy Jones, AR Rahman and others. (Of course since this is on Youtube it's also compressed!)

Ernie Ranglin tiny desk concert, well worth checking out.

Paul McCartney on Fela.

Held over from last month's update, because it needs more views! Astonishing one-man band (Don Keller) playing "Massu" by Franco.

Les Ambassadeurs, reviewed below, got back together in June 2014 and played a couple of gigs, though all reports indicate they sounded like they needed more rehearsal.


Flemming Harrev has updated with His Master's Voice MPG Series issued in 1954-5 and featuring useful listings of early Congolese recordings. Find it in his Central Africa section and get in touch with him if you have one not listed. Also 231 discs were added to the EMI series in the West Africa section with Ghanaian and Nigerian artists recorded in the 1930s and 1950s and released in the UTC series on the Parlophone label.


Amadou "Ballaké" Traoré of Burkina Faso has died. He had many hits in his long career, such as "Super Bar Konon Musa," and "Taximan (n'est pas gentile)," which took him to Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali and France but in the end the curse of Africando got him! Somehow singing with that band means you are about to croak. Here's a video of him in action, thanks to David Noyes; and listen to Bembeya Jazz performing his big hit "Ballaké". Of all his albums, I am partial to Senor Eclectico (Oriki ORK004 2008).


CC Smith of Virunga management sends a link to the SingingWells project, dedicated to preserving East African music. There's also an hour of their recent trip on Soundcloud here, featuring lots of great Kenyan guitar music.

Downloadable playlist from Samy Ben Redjeb at Analog Africa, from 2008.

CONGO GUITARS 1952 & 1957
RECORDINGS BY HUGH TRACEY (Sharp Wood Productions SWP045)

I saw this on vinyl at a local record store and noticed it was mostly compiled from 3 Sharp Wood CDs so decided to pass on it, but I thought I should write it up anyway. I was the last person to give up vinyl (though a lot of the music I love never came out on CD), but I have finally converted all my African LPs to digital files, and now I discover I was right all along: vinyl is better. Hugh Tracey first encountered the Katanga sound -- a rich guitar sound based on traditional likembe thumb-piano riffs -- performed by the Luba people in the mining towns of Southeastern Congo in the 1950s. It had a worldwide impact at the time and influenced people as diverse as Pete Seeger and the young Franco. The album kicks off with "Masengu" by Patrice Ilunga and Victor Misomba. There are two guitars and bottle percussion and the vocals are in a mix of Swahili, Kiluba and Kanyok, a typical mining camp mix of dialects and languages: the singer is broke and depressed, all the women are back home and he just wants to get stoned! Another bluesy song from the mining camps, "Mangaay," adds basket rattles as the singers drunkenly boast about killing their neighbors. Again we get a dancing interplay of two guitars, courtesy of Chiband and Kazeng. Patrice Ilunga and Victor Misomba return with "Mama Josefina," which is the lead cut on the superb Origins of Guitar Music CD (Sharp Wood SWP017). A third track by the duo, "Antoinette wa Kolwezi," has not been previously reissued on Sharp Wood (but can be found on the Kaleidophone LP that sounds like a lop-sided score, Musical Instruments 6. Guitars 1, issued in Washington DC in 1972. Another previously un-reissued track, "Mudima zenzele," by Anatole Kaseba can be heard here, on the website of the South African Music Archive Project (but taken from a scratched 78). Other tracks are drawn from Origins of Guitar Music, as well as The Very Best of Hugh Tracey (SWP034), which to my delight grouped the 1952 Jean Bosco Mwenda recordings at the end. Bosco was busking under the town clock in Jadotville when Tracey encountered him one Sunday morning in February 1952 and captured his act on tape. I would venture that this recording is as important to African music as the Robert Johnson sessions to American music. Furthermore the set was almost lost, but had been preserved on a radio transcription of one of Tracey's broadcasts. Two of the songs were included on the African Music Society's LP Best Music for 1952, which I have on 10" LP from London records; Guitars of Africa (Vol 5 in London's series) has the original letterpress leaflet laid in, including a photo of Bosco which Tracey must have taken on the spot. The biggest star in Stanleyville at the time was Charles Ombiza, leader of Oroclos, whose guitar style had come through Angola and was called rumba (it is strummed rather than picked). He too sang about the plight of the poor workers. If you don't have Guitars of Africa, Origins of Guitar Music or The Very Best of Hugh Tracey and still have a turntable, you may want this distillation of some of the best guitar music every recorded. And if you decide to spring for the shipping from Sharp Wood, check out their other new LP Congo Traditional (SWP046), which is drawn from Hugh Tracey's bush recordings in the Belgian Congo on another musical safari. There's drums, likembes and flutes, and I've said it before: you can hear Bach fugues in the sublime Nande flute tunes which end this set.


Wittgenstein, I think it was, once said, "The piece of music must be played backwards for the spell to be broken." I don't think he was referring to literally spinning discs backwards looking for signs that "Paul is dead," or whatever, but that you have to change perspective to understand things. If we look at the career of Salif Keita it's good to see it in the context of his early work with the Rail Band and his long stint with Les Ambassadeurs which, in many ways, foreshadowed his solo career once he moved to Paris. The late Ambassadeurs work was very sleek and set the groundwork for the "Paris sheen" that was manifest on Soro, his huge worldwide hit. That album was a magnificent achievement but once other artist started to emulate it, with synth washes and studio effects, we lost a lot of the "realness" of African music and it moved to a musically generalized mush so you couldn't tell if an artist was from Cameroun, Mali, Congo, or had even been there. But Keita subsequently returned to some of the more folkloric sounds (e.g., in his album Folon) that marked his early career and his outstanding collaborations with Kanté Manfila, the guitarist. After his debut with the Rail Band he moved from the station to the motel. The Rail Band was based in the buffet bar of the Bamako railway station hotel, but a rich member of the military junta lured Manfila and Keita away to play at the more upscale motel across town, and thus Les Ambassadeurs du Motel were born (with an equally improbable name as their predecessors and now rivals). And they really became Ambassadeurs once they toured neighboring countries: they did come from Senegal and Guinea as well as Mali, so the diplomatic tag fit. A retrospective look back at Salif and Les Ambassadeurs allows us to see how threads of the traditional music became modernized and set the stage for later innovations. In addition to Kanté Manfila, the founding leader, the big boss lured in the cream of Malian musicians. (N.B. Kanté Manfila, the guitarist, must not be confused with his cousins of the same name. One was a singer with Balla et ses Balladins, known as "Soba," another - "Dabadou" - sang with Keletigui.) Salif was not the only vocalist, in fact he was the junior member. Beidy Sacko sang the Afro-Cuban songs (covers of Celia Cruz and Orquesta Aragon), Moussa Doumbia was the R&B specialist, and Ousmane Dia, formerly of the Star Band de Dakar, sang the Wolof hits. In addition we find, in one band, the great multi-instrumentalist Keletigui Diabaté and guitarists Amadou Bagayoko (later of Amadou & Mariam fame) and Ousmane Kouyaté. The songs, from 1975 to 77, have been compiled from scarce albums released on the SonAfric label in France. In addition to their three LPs they issued half a dozen singles, also collected here (though all but one, "Mana Mana" b/w "Ambassadeur," were gathered on the LPs 50.014; 50.030; 50.031, according to Stefan Werdekker of WorldService). A couple of reviewers have complained that they have been EQ-ed too much (one wrote "the quality of the releases is shameful -- spelling errors galore, cheap production, and a terrible flat sound that some tone-deaf fool has applied AFTER the recordings were made. Those Syliphone re-issues are a case in point..."), but a bigger issue is the bonus material. Two tracks have been added from Radio Mali broadcast tapes. The question the experts are posing is, Is it even Les Ambassadeurs? They could be by Keletigui, Bembeya Jazz or some other Guinean band. Nevertheless, for those who don't have the original vinyl, this is a superb set: the first disc is all Salif singing; but the second disc, which also features the other vocalists, really catches fire, opening with a ten minute workout in griot mode, before we jump into one of their R&B rave-ups, "M'bouran Moussou." The organ, played by Idrissa Soumaoro, is more prominent on the second disc, and we also get some trumpet-led descargas and the Latin soul of Ousmane Dia. His "Fatema," especially, is sparking. The flute and violin (uncredited) have been studying Afro-Charanga and stand alongside contemporaries like Nestor Torres, José Fajardo, Eddie Palmieri, Alfredo de la Fé and others. In a military purge in February 1978 the Motel's patron was imprisoned so the patronage vanished, and the majority of the band moved to Abidjan and regrouped as Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux. But here we have the fruit of their two years performing under the thatched cabanas on the banks of the Niger.


This is traditional North African music. Simo Lagnawi is a Berber, a native of Morocco, and student of his country's musical traditions. He has studied Ahwash chants and Gnawan musical modes. In 2008 he moved to UK, taking his guembri with him. That's the pulsing three-string bass you hear on Gnawan music, which is usually played at all-night session as a way of invoking the spirits. The groove is unstoppable and certainly trance-inducing with the wildly clacking krakebs and thudding animal-skin drums propelling it. The looping, loping rhythms quickly hypnotize the listener and there's enough echo on the vocals to make you feel time has been suspended and you are just floating in the warm air above the Sahara desert. For variety there are some Hausa and Bambara tunes drifting up from further South across the sands, where the Berber also lived. Famous Berbers include Saint Augustine and Zinedine Zidane. The Berbers are widely dispersed today. This is a richly dense, well-conceived and well-executed album. There are also guest appearances by a flautist and a banjoist, as well as a fiddler, which all fit in nicely as cousins of African instruments.


This came out on vinyl and CD a year ago. I wrote Strut for a review copy but they ignored me. It's a retrospective of early mini jazz ensembles and some of the big party bands that seemed to pour out of Haiti back in the days of Papa Doc Duvalier and his son Baby Doc. When I visited Haiti 15 years ago the place was falling apart at the seams and people longed for the bad old days: you had a glass of Babancourt rum and at least you knew the enemy, the Tonton Macoute, they said stoically. It was also the end of the era of the big bands who were being replaced by smaller groups with Miami Vice clothes and synthesizers and drum machines instead of horn lines and tumbadors. The Compas sound had been identified with Haiti as much as ska in Jamaica and local variations of salsa from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Colombia. Jean-Baptiste Nemours and Webert Sicot were the pioneers of the new big band sound, but as the 60s ticked over, smaller more dynamic groups brought rock guitars to the bandstand and created a denser, rawer, more earthy sound. Les Frères Dejean and Les Shleu Shleu were all the rage and their music quickly spread to North America also. When Tabou Combo rose to prominence they not only swept the Caribbean but the waves lapped to Europe and South America too. As they became more slick, adding mechanical toys to their set, the music morphed into Zouk by the mid-1980s. This compilation tells the story but also brings in lesser-known acts as well as artists influenced by the trovadors of Cuban music who became known as Twoubadou singers. The old Ra Ra music, which was a form of folk music, had all but disappeared, but "Gadé moune yo" collected here is a good example, with call and response vocals, vigorous percussion and some wild bleating that must be animal horns or trumpets made from roots. We do get some squinchy synth from Scorpio Universal at the end of disc one, but jump right back to the old-timey, almost 1930s sound of Raoul Guillaume with his group performing "Mal Elévé (Badly brought up)." The second disc starts out more laid back (in the olden time) and includes "Jouc li jou" by Pierre Blain which I had only known from a later stuttering zouk version by Tabou Combo. The clarinets and sax of the original make a nice ensemble. We also get to bask in the mellow grooves of Nemours Jean-Baptiste and Trio Select, the parents of the modern sound. One of my favorite early bands, Les Fantaisistes de Carrefour turn in a lovely number replete with laughing. It was not until I listened to this set that I noted the connection with the Peruvian Cumbias that were rediscovered and sprang into our consciousness in the last few years. So these are musical currents that run throughout the region. There was always an argument over whether the merengue came from Haiti or the next door Republica Dominicana, but there's a pan-Caribbean or if you prefer tropical beat that permeates this music. Even so I notice "Hotel California" creeping into the opening riff of "Jive Turkey" (1978) by Djet-X. Of the missing acts, like Les Gypsies de Petionville and Les Diables Bleus, I would certainly have included Coupé Cloué, but maybe Strut is planning a sequel.

REAL WORLD 25 (RealWorld)

It been 25 years since Peter Gabriel launched RealWorld records, a few years after he helped bring off the first WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance) festival in 1982. He found an old mill in a quiet English country village and converted it into a state-of-the-art recording studio and invited artists to tarry longer after their WOMAD performance to record for his new label. Now a 3-CD set has been issued to celebrate this monumental achievement. WOMAD itself released a couple of excellent compilation albums, as well as Remmy Ongalla's Nalilia Mwana and Sema, which are long overdue for reissue. Gabriel used his rock-star status to promote world music and it was to his credit that Youssou Ndour and Papa Wemba reached wider audiences, despite what happened to their music as a result. The first release on RealWorld was his own Grammy-winning soundtrack to the film, The Last Temptation of Christ, called Passion, which was followed up by a truly fantastic LP, Passion Sources, that included the raw material he had used to create the music for Scorsese's film. More Ongalla albums followed on RealWorld as his international status was confirmed. RealWorld also found Toto La Momposina in Colombia and Orquesta Revé in Cuba. Not that they were lost, but we didn't know about them. One rainy Xmas eve I was looking for action in Yucatan, Mexico and found a bar with a live band. They were a marimba group and pretty good. I saw another gringo and engaged him in conversation: he told me he was an A&R guy for RealWorld, so we had a great evening comparing notes over cervezas. RealWorld had a great knack of bringing out the best in artists: they recorded a superb album of Hukwe Zawose, the mbira master from Tanzania who also recorded on Triple Earth. When we thought Rochereau had passed his prime (after the departure of Mbilia Bel), he cut a live album in the Box studio which though short was really sweet. Sheila Chandra's "Ever so lonely" was another haunting tune captured in the moment in that Wiltshire village. The list is eclectic and inclusive. I am not sure the 3-CD set works that well, I know some of the tracks really well while some are quite jarring, so I tend to jump about, but if you don't know the depth of the label it is truly impressive. To my mind there's one RealWorld album that sums up their philosophy and also stands far above all the others (certainly in rotation) and that is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's Mustt Mustt, with its heavier-than-osmium Massive Attack remix of the title track. This brought producer Michael Brook into the mix, and it spun off in all directions, bringing Qawwali fans to the London dub sounds of Adrian Sherwood and hipper clubbers to the pure strains of Sufi devotional music. Nusrat embodied the spirit of RealWorld with an almost anything goes approach to musical collaboration, yet he always remained true to his self, confident his voice could take it all in stride. More pure Qawwali albums followed and more remixes but Mustt Mustt is the mountain peak.

most recent reviews:

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

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.



all of the writing on this site is copyright © 2004-2014 by alastair m. johnston

Your comments are welcome.

If you are not already a subscriber, send me an e-mail to be notified of updates. Please note none of the music discussed on the site is for sale by me. You can reach me at contact[at-sign]muzikifan[dot]com

Creative Commons License
muzikifan by alastair m. johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at