SELECTED RECORDINGS 1976-96 (No Wahala Sounds NWS5)
I was a little harsh on the No Wahala crew last time out for their excellent Kenya-Congo Collection LP. My objection was that, fine as the music is, they were trying to get too much into a 40 minute vinyl album and consequently there was a lot of "part ones" that were just getting going when they ran out, and it seemed to me they should have given us fewer tracks in their entirety, or else extended to a double album -- or done a CD in the first place. While the Kenyan tracks on Nairobi Calling! are good, the "Congo in Kenya" ones are outstanding. Of course you'd expect me to say that, but the three expatriate bands (which are all interrelated via personnel) are Baba Ilunga wa Ilunga (i.e. Baba Gaston and his group), Bana Ekanga and Moja One, the brainchild of Moreno Batamba, a singer who has had two excellent compilations from Stern's in recent years. This new offering is more satisfying than No Wahala's first in that there is only one abridged song, and this is Bana Ekanga's "Amemiki part 2"-- I don't mind because I have the whole thing, but then you may not be so forgiving. Bana Ekanga was one of the transitional bands between Baba Gaston's pioneering Baba Nationale and later groups that spread the Congo sound over East Africa. Bijou Ley & Nana Akuma (later of OK Jazz) were the vocalists, alongside Kasule Mopepe, Dago Mayombe and Ochudis. Siama the rhythm guitarist and Lava Machine the drummer were later key members of Shika Shika, Bana Ngenge and Moja One, so they complete the bridge to Moreno's band. Siama and Moja One bassist Tomy Lomboto are seen on the cover in a photo from this website which the producers have reworked for the worse. For my money Bana Ekanga are worthy of a least a whole CD or double-album reissue. But that's not even the best track on here. The Baba Ilunga track, "Nakuomba," has never appeared before. Why it was left in the can is a mystery but shows how great the musical outpourings of the expat musicians were when they entered the studios in Nairobi back in the late 1970s. The two Western Kenyan Benga bands, Victoria Chomeka and International de Nelly, hold their end up pretty respectably in two succinct numbers. From them you also hear the mi-solo breakdown and spare drumming parts that were picked up on by the Congolese immigrants to perfect their sound. A longer exposition is heard from Biashara Jazz Band, who played in Tanzania. Moreno was an earlier adopter of the local scene in Nairobi (and also Dar Es Salaam) and sang in Kiswahili with an achey breaky voice, which made his wonderful music even more accessible to the locals. His "Maria" absolutely raises the roof at all corners and is a brilliant capper to this fine compilation.
MALEEM MAHMOUD GANIA
COLOURS OF THE NIGHT (Hive Mind Records HMRLP001)
Finding new music from the Moroccan master of the three stringed guimbri is always thrilling and I have been looking forward to this for months. However my thrill in hearing it is tempered by the fact that it is his final recording. Doubtless there are tapes floating about which may come to light but we will not have the joy of knowing he is still creating his trancelike music in all-night sessions in the medina. This LP and digital issue comes from HiveMind, a new label in the UK. It's Gania's first solo vinyl issue and is rich and warm with the beautiful sounds of his pulsing bass-y instrument and the accompanying finger-cymbals. Born in 1951 Gania grew up in Essaouira on the West Coast of Morocco. His family are descended from black Africans enslaved to work in Marrakech, but who brought musical traditions from sub-Saharan Africa with them. Their choral singing is accompanied by drums and the metallic clack of the relentless krakrebs. Maleem (or Maallem) means "master musician" and Gania was the acknowledged star of his style of Tagnawite music so made numerous recordings (though only three are listed on discogs and not his blistering self-titled CD "Mahmoud Guinia" that came out in France on Casa Maroc in 1992). He was sought out by Pharoah Sanders, Peter Brotzmann and other top-flight jazz musicians for collaborations. His Gnawa brotherhood are unorthodox Sufis, a sect of Islam with roots going back to the first muezzin to Mohammad who was an Ethiopian. The bases are loaded, and the hypnotic rhythms induce a spiritual intoxication of religious passion that leave you open -- to God, to enlightenment, to some form of transcendence. Curtains to the cosmos are drawn back as the infinite waits to nebulize us.
INNA DE YARD: THE SOUL OF JAMAICA (Chapter Two/Wagram 3342736)
A decade ago the Viceroys' Inna de Yard blew me away. A band I remembered chiefly for the novelty number "Ya Ho" had survived the years and, a little worse for wear, got together in Earl "Chinna" Smith's yard in Half-Way-Tree, Kingston to record an acoustic album of what they remembered from their heyday in the late 60s. A whole series of "Inna de Yard" albums appeared but none quite had the same impact as the Viceroys working through "Heart made of stone," and "My mission is impossible." However the idea was worth pursuing and now here's a compilation, newly recorded with stripped-down acoustic versions of a few oldies and some new material, all caught live and unedited. The old-timers returning are Ken Boothe, Cedric Myton (of the Congos), Lloyd Parks, and of course the Viceroys, formerly known as the Voiceroys. "Chinna" Smith is not present but there are plenty of talented musicians such as Nambo on trombone and a plethora of drummers slapping the skins. On "Jah Power, Jah Glory" by Kiddus I we hear an organ and an accordion, but it is still propelled by the Nyabinghi beat. Lee Perry's favorite singer Cedric Myton's unearthly etherial voice floats on a tide of hand drums and a lyrical trombone. "Love is the Key" by the Viceroys is outstanding but then Ken Boothe also shows he has not lost it, and on his remake of "Let the Water run dry" the Viceroys sing backup. Boothe's "Artibella" is also a gem with that accordion hanging around to give a cafe ambiance. New to me Derajah is great on "Stone" and he is only one of several fine singers on here, including two Scots descendants, Winston McAnuff and Kush McAnuff. Winston "Bo-Pee" Bowen, best known as session guitarist in the mighty Roots Radics takes us home with "Thanks & Praises" and a little bit of night sounds, crickets, birdies and cool breeze.
KEITH & TEX
SAME OLD STORY (Liquidator LQ097)
I have been catching up with recent reggae and rocksteady releases from Jamaica. That island's musical heritage has been well-served by revivalists who have sought out obscure gems from the last half century and restored them for our enjoyment. The Iberian peninsula, which gave us the Jamaica Gold label, turns up a classic Rocksteady duo, whose "Stop that Train," was featured in the "The Harder they Come," the film that brought reggae to an international audience. Keith & Tex began singing for Derrick Harriott in the late 60s, with songs like "Stop that Train," "Tonight," "Hypnotizing Eyes," and their Temptations cover "Don't Look Back." But by 1970 the duo had broken apart when Keith moved to the USA and Tex went to Canada. Keith Rowe had a later career with Lee Perry and hit with "Groovy Situation," but their earlier more innocent sound was prized by fans. Now Spanish producer Roberto Sánchez has reunited them in the studio with mostly Spanish musicians (including organ, trumpet, trombone and tenor sax) to create a new album of originals. (The cover is crafted to look like a Jamaican album from the 1970s, but look again: they are no longer kids!) The band, particularly drummer Iñigo Elexpuru, are a good fit with the rocksteady groove; on "Party night" they hit the ska beat hard with Sánchez on acoustic double bass, Rueben "Ras" Telford on piano, and double-tracked mouth percussion from the singers. Titles like "Queen majesty" signal new works, not covers though like the Techniques and the Uniques they borrowed the lyrics from Curtis Mayfield for this. They deliver the familiar sweet tones on songs like "Soulmate," but for "Refugees," they sing about the poor Syrians and how we need to take a stand to help our fellow man.
RESURRECTION LOS VOL 1 (Analog Africa)
This was the final album of a once massive Camerounian band who broke up in 1979. It was recorded live in the Mango Bar, Yaoundé and has laid-back vocals with a smoldering guitar. Lead guitar wizard Messi Martin has a catch-all approach to Makossa, Bikutsi and even Cavacha in the breakdowns and solos. The disc comes out on vinyl in a limited edition at the end of September. There's a big room sound to the drums and loads of Echoplex on the guitar as well as the vocal mikes. Oddly it reminds me of my beloved Super Mama Djombo from Guinée-Bissau more than other Camerounian bands. I even get a feel of Angola in there. Whatever it is, legendary is a fair epithet, and once again we owe Analog Africa bigtime for finding it. Analog's man-on-the-spot Samy Ben Redjeb explains how the music evolved. Bikutsi was traditionally played on balafon but Messi chewed up bits of paper and stuck them under his strings to deaden them and give his guitar a balafon sound. This drove the fans wild. Despite massive radio hits and local popularity, the band fell apart by the mid-70s: the solid grounded leader Jean Gabari could not longer contain the quixotic lead guitarist Messi. Then in 1979 a businessman asked them to reform for one more round. They opted for playing live in a club, rather than the studio and just picked up where they had left off, thriving off the energy of the crowd. It is shimmering and exciting music. There was no volume two, sadly, as Jean Gabari, the bandleader, was already ill, and was forced to retire. As usual none of the members ever reached these heights again, so we are fortunate to have this gem literally resurrected for us.
MONTE ABAJO (Wakan Tanka)
Bomba Estereo have a new album out, but since they signed to Japanese mega-capitalists Sony two albums ago, they have started replicating themselves without much conviction, as if someone said, OK, that's good just do more of that. The songs, the chord progressions, the effects are all too familiar. I have been looking for this summer's breakout hit and it's getting kinda late in the season, but I played the lead track, "Cumbia mañanera," from Guanchaka on my podcast a while ago because I thought it had potential. It's catchy, in that robotic techno-cumbia way, but then it all becomes a bit too samey: more of the stoned carnival fairground organ against a loping backbeat as awkward giant figures on stilts sway uncertainly and dark clouds gather behind the big top. Actually my images are a bit off: the cover shows a guy embracing a limp sex doll in the beam from a flying saucer rising from a deejay deck, with voodoo dolls and hi-fi equipment in the desert. Shades of Burning Man who put the sand in the sandwiches. So it's even more menacing than it appears at first. You can stream/hear the whole thing on bandcamp (linked above) and decide. Giving music away free is great, but then it cheapens it to the point where you may think it is really not worth much anyway.
SWEET AS BROKEN DATES
LOST SOMALI TAPES FROM THE HORN OF AFRICA (Ostinato Records)
Fans of the interminable Ethiopiques series or "Lost tapes from Africa" may want to check out Sweet as Broken Dates, a collection of (previously) lost tapes from neighboring Somalia recorded in the 1960s and 70s and released on Ostinato Records. I have listened to it a few times and despite some intriguing hooks, the sound quality is so warped I cannot get into it except in small doses. I am not averse to the music, in fact the distortion factor reminded me a bit of actually being there (in my case Sudan, not quite in the "horn") and hearing distant radio from a transistor fed over a tannoy system in a big public square, so that the music wafted on the breeze as the signal waxed and waned, and mixed with the evening sounds and smells. It's a magical experience and I hope it's one you have had somewhere on the planet. A poet once said there's nothing as lonely as hearing your own pop in a distant land, but that is unlikely now since most pop is a global phenomenon. I had that experience, too, in 1978, in Peru when I was wandering in the backstreets of Miraflores and came to a small square and the tannoy-attached radio was playing "Roxanne" by the Police and I suddenly felt very far from home. But listening to what the locals are listening to is a much more grounding experience and a better souvenir of specific times and places. Now few of you reading this can remember Somalia in the 60s so where does that leave us? Cheesy organ, slap-happy tambourines and vocals in arabic: if that's your thing, here you are. The liner notes are intensely detailed and the booklet is lavishly produced, even detailing the attempts to track down rights holders, but since Somalia in the 60s was a socialist state there was no private ownership, and the music was produced for public broadcast. At the time people would tape it off the air on cheap cassettes and then mass-duplicate them. You know what the result sounds like. There are a few western influences, but even more Indian and Sudanese strains to be heard. I almost said Sundanese since there is also an Indonesian feel to some of the scales. There's one reggae-feeling track, called "Mama." In that regard the music from Hargeisa & Mogadishu has a parallel story to the music in Addis from the same time. In this present instance, however, the fuzziness is not a guitar effect but something left on those overworked tape heads.
the year so far:
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
Septeto Santiaguero in concert is filed under Cuba Live
John Collins' Highlife Giants is on the bookshelf
Rio Mira's Marimba del Pacifico went to Columbia part 2
likewise the latest from Son Palenque Kutu Prieta Pa Saranguia
African Gems went to the African Miscellany section
Ravi Shankar's Ghanashyam &
Rocqawali's Sufi Spirit are both filed in India
Rough Guide to Ragtime Blues is filed under Blues
Toko Telo can also be found in the African Miscellany section
Toronto's Bellaviti and Conjunto Lacalu are in Salsa
Lisandro Meza went to Colombia part 2
Zaire 74: The African artists is filed in Congo part 4
The Photographs of Charles Duvelle is filed in Africa Miscellany
Oumou Sangare's Mogoya can be found in Mali part 4
Kasai Allstars Around Felicité is filed under Congo part 4
Juana Molina's Halo can be read about in Argentina
Rough Guide to Jugband Blues is in the Blues section
I put Vincent Ahehehinnou in Nigeria part 2 though you may be looking for him in Benin
Fruko's Tesura is in Colombia part 2
Orkesta Mendoza pose a problem, being so eclectic, but I put them in the salsa category
My write-up of Michel Camilo, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdes is in Cuba LIVE
Mamadou Kelly's Politiki is filed in Mali part 4
Afro-Cuban All Stars' Viva Mexico is filed in Cuba part 4
BaianaSystem's Duas Cidadas is filed under Brasil part 3
Read about the Original Sound of Mali in Mali part 3
Orch Baobab's latest, Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, is in the Senegal part 3 section
Bargou 08's Targ is back in Arabia
Shem Tupe is filed under Kenya part 2
Les Amazones d'Afrique's Republique Amazone can be found in Mali part 3
Aurelio Martinez' Garifuna opus Darandi is filed under Caribbean miscellany
OK Jazz's The Loningisa Years 1956-61 is in Congo Classics part 2
Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica can be read about in the Cabo Verde section
Fruko's A la Memoria del Muerto &
Combo los Yogas' Canabrava are filed in Colombia part 2
Jaako Laitinen and Väärä Raha are filed under Old World misc
Sory Diabaté's latest is filed in Mali part 3
Diama Ndiaye's Dafarèèr is filed under Senegal part 3
so is Ibrahima Cissokho & Le Mandingue Foly's Yanfu
a review of the movie Faaji Agba is filed under Nigeria part 2
Palenque Records AfroColombia mix is filed under Colombia part 2
Jinja by The Nile Project is filed in Arabic music
Djime Sissoko's Djama Djigui went to Mali part 3
The Rough Guide to Hillbilly Blues is reviewed in the Blues section
The Top 16 of 2016 is HERE
Top 15 of 2015 is 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
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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