Remember the Jolly Boys? You might think they were some golden oldies due for the old folks home, after all they used to play house parties for Errol Flynn who gave them their name, according to the Mento music blog. Lead singer Albert Minott is 72, and he sounds like someone who has led a full life and not bothered to take care of his vocal pipes, like Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart or Amy Winehouse. In fact it's an Amy Winehouse hit, "Rehab," that drew me to this band. My brother told me to check it out on Youtube. Minott rasps out the tunes with a stuttering delivery, as if he is about to forget the lyrics. He is backed by banjo and marímbula (known in Jamaica as a marumba box), which perfectly fit the bill in place of guitar and bass. The marumba box is so powerful it does sound like electric bass. For percussion there's maracas, congas and a drum kit played by Dale "Dizzle" Virgo (not seen on the video, but a crucial element since it has a flanger on the snare that gives it an extra sting & sizzle). After playing the video ten times in a row, I sought out the album. Purists complain that the playlist is all pop covers and not the Mento repertoire, but it's a really inspired selection, far from the predictable stuff you find on say, Playing for Change. They remember the Jolly Boys as a Mento band, playing "Big Bamboo" & "Wheel & Turn Me" for tourists in a resort hotel in Jamaica, but at a conservative estimate, they have played those tunes 25,000 times, how much new nuance can they find in them? Here they have cut loose with a wild set of tunes by Iggy Pop, New Order, Steely Dan, Johnny Cash, Lou Reed, the Doors, the Stones, Blondie, and the Stranglers, but the songs sound hipper and oddly younger once the mento beat takes over. Iggy's "The Passenger" sounds like it was written for the Jolly Boys, with the jerky banjo line & Minott's deadpan delivery. I wouldn't be surprised to see him dive shirtless into the crowd. Minott also brings incredible pathos to Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," which is lacking in the tentative & bombastic original. Other highlights include "I Fought the Law," originally recorded by The Crickets. They wind up the album with a smashing reggaeton-inspired take on "You can't always get what you want." Again the laconic delivery of the croaky singer imbues the song with a new layer of meaning & the dubby playing of the ensemble takes it out with class.

NAINA LAGAIKE (Saregama/Four Quarters in US)

After the mild disappointment of Asha's concert in Oakland on the first of October 2011 (fun to see in person; but not a great performance), I was relieved to see she has not lost her voice when I got her new album, Naina Lagaike. Her performance at the SF Jazz Festival was supposed to promote this new album, but the composer and co-singer Shujaat Khan didn't show and the band didn't know the material, so instead of the evening of classical music promised, it was a retrospective of some of her Bollywood hits. Asha recorded many duets with Mohammed Rafi back in her heyday but unfortunately early Indian music suffers from poor recording. Nowadays, with better recording, you can hear the nuances of the tabla clearly over the string section. That driving tabla beat from Amit Choubey keeps this whole effort afloat and I have been playing this disc daily for a month now, enjoying the instrumentation as much as the singing. Shujaat Khan (the son of classical musician Ustad Vilayat Khan) who wrote the melodies and played the sitar on the recordings has a warm baritone voice which perfectly complements the crystal aetheriality of Asha's flute-like alto soprano. It's 14 years or more since Asha last recorded in the classical mode (when she cut Legacy with Ali Akhbar Khan) and that's a shame because her voice and delivery are perfectly suited to these meditative modes; here the interaction with Shujaat is superb. In fact Asha gets co-writing credits on many of the songs for adding interpretation and improvisation to the final performance. I believe the lyrics contain traditional Urdu poetry (as well as Hindi verses). In addition to the sitar, there's bansuri (flute), acoustic guitar, dholak and a string section. The opening title cut is reprised once as a solo by Asha and finally as a solo by Shujaat. Beautifully sequenced and arranged, this is gorgeous music from start to finish.


With no preamble, Lobi launches into another scorching set of electric blues from Mali. He has bass and drums backing him, but also a well-slapped djembe and balafon continuo on half the cuts. This album was recorded live in two sessions in February 2007 and February 2008. Throughout he demonstrates the drive and virtuosity that propelled him to the top of my charts with his 2006 release on Honest Jons. This album surpasses even that one for intensity and sheer power: he indeed cooks a spoonful. Moribo Kouyate is still with him on balafon; I doubt anyone else could keep up. Unfortunately Lobi died last year -- not even fifty years old. Born in a village outside Segou on the banks of the Niger in 1961 he took to the Bambara culture readily as both parents sang in a secret society known as "Komo." (Komo is one of the three main power societies in Bamana culture: the other two are Kono and Nama. The Bamana have their own system of writing and unique metaphysical and cosmological concepts.) At 16 Lobi moved to the big city and played guitar with a folkloric troupe for three years before joining the Djata Band of Zani Diabaté. After tours of France and Ivory Coast, Lobi decided to go solo. He returned to the Bozo Bar in Bamako and grouped traditional musicians around his electrified lead guitar & power-rock trio. It's unusual to have such raucous guitar in this context but it works well. He recorded half a dozen albums with this combo. He plays long trancelike solos that remind me of ragas while the continuo adds a solid underpinning. This, his latest from Kanaga System Krush, is pure joy. Fans of Cream and Velvet Underground will also be delighted by it. The Bamana blacksmiths are members of the Komo cult because of their ability to transform materials through the medium of fire. Lobi's musical tricks are both incendiary and transformative.


This CD-DVD combination is a wonderful exposition of a largely unknown style of music, a kind of jam-band with big banjo magic from the Katanga province of Congo that gave us Jean Bosco Mwenda and other heavy hitters. It is similar to other copperbelt music found in Zambia and has been around for 40 years or more. The tunes are gritty & fast-paced but show continuity with folk music from this region since recordings were first made there by Hugh Tracey 60 years ago. The Karindula is a giant home-made stringed instrument attached to a goat-hide soundbox made from an oil drum. There is a tiny instrument that looks like a cavaquinho, plus a bit of bamboo beaten with a stick for rhythm, maracas, and, among non-musical aspects of the performance, a kid who dances with a spinning bicycle wheel on top of his skull! The dancing, a robotic hip-sawing motion done in a crouch, is also unique to this region and can be seen on the accompanying DVD which puts us on the spot at a 3-day festival during which these performances were captured. The DVD also lets you know why the crowd is going nuts: various dancers, including an old woman making a fool of herself and two guys in sports bras and kilts who seem to think they are truly à la mode, do some wild dancing. There are four bands and long jams from each (The first cut is half an hour long). Vincent Kenis was busy, filming with one hand and monitoring his laptop recording deck with the other. The last track is called "Beggar's Banquet," a parable about a greedy minister, and not a reference to the Stones. It is 17 minutes of explosive joy. There are different selections on the DVD. You must hear this!

LARU BEYA (Sub Pop NXA002)

2011 kicked off with this fine disc from Aurelio, a Garifuna singer-songwriter. The album is dedicated to Andy Palacio who was about to conquer the world when he suddenly died in 2009. Honduran music was not widely known until the Paranda album on Detour in 1998 broke it wide open for us. Aurelio Martinez was the youngest performer on there and the charismatic Palacio was most likely to bring it to the world stage. The present grouping was formed out of the tour that Palacio had assembled to achieve this. But Aurelio has not been in the shadow of Palacio, he is a very gifted guitarist and percussionist from a musical family that imbued him with the Garifuna musical traditions from his infancy. In addition we get guest vocals from the unmistakable Youssou N'Dour and a couple of other very talented West Africans: Balla Sidibé and Rudi Gomis of legendary Orchestra Baobab. N'Dour took Aurelio under his wing, and brought him to Dakar as well as having him open for him on tour. So Aurelio got to explore the African roots of his music first hand, and in addition get Etoile de Dakar to back him on one track on this album. The title cut has a wonderfully sinuous backbeat: I defy you not to move and groove to this. The album was recorded in a matter of weeks in a makeshift studio on the beach in Honduras. Ivan Duran the producer wanted to capture the old sound of the place where bands in the 60s played mambos, calypsos and ska -- everything but Garifuna music, in fact. But then the producer spent two years finessing the sound in post-production with overdubs. This does not detract from the spontaneity and beauty of the songs themselves. Aurelio is a natural and this is a wonderful album. (One drawback I have to mention is the package which is a long floppy sleeve, so the disc fell out and got lost!)

AGADEZ (Cumbancha CD-20)

One sign the recession is fading was the crowd in the new, trendy Mint Plaza in San Francisco's formerly seedy downtown, and a new club, Mezzanine, which was hosting Niger's guitar-wizard Bombino on Friday night. He is touring to promote Agadez, his new album on the Cumbancha label. After a terrible opening set from Matt Jennings (a talented guitarist with awful material who cannot sing), Bombino took the stage in his white Tuareg robes as whistles and ululations from the Africans present greeted him. I found a spot near the front with another grey-haired gent, this one wearing elaborate African regalia. My companion, Big Steve, who used to be a newspaperman in Oakland, told me he was a Black Panther who had fled to Africa and started a cooperative farm. Bombino looked pleased by the reception and started out on acoustic guitar with his percussionist playing calabash. He played "Tebsakh Dalet" and another ballad from Agadez, impressing us with his technical virtuosity. Then the percussionist switched to a drum kit and a rhythm guitar and bassist came on, while Bombino switched to his Stratocaster and turned on the reverb in his Fender Twin amplifier. The club is elegant and has great acoustics and pleasant ambiance plus stage lights with changing-color spotlights, but one unnecessary addition: a smoke machine. -- In San Francisco you just have to leave the back door open and the fog will come in. When the lights turned gold it looked like yellow cake uranium particles swirling overhead. The red-bearded bassist played about three notes all night: I think he was channeling the gimbri; the drummer was rock solid and created some great rhythmic patterns which Steve thought could have been heard in a disco in Tehran, or anywhere in the Arab world for that matter. The rhythm guitarist stayed in the background chopping out chords and sometimes giving a reggae-like backbeat chunk to the music, while the fifth member who was the "buddy" of the band, dressed in blue robes, a blue tagelmust, and a giant ornate leather amulet, thumped the calabash on the one and sang back-up. He was also the "translator," but Bombino only said a few words in French, mainly thank you, and I am moved by your appreciation. While he was enjoying himself he seemed very focussed and lost himself in ecstasy in his solos as the room heated up. There are suddenly lots of Tuareg bands on the concert circuit (no sooner had I slagged off Tinariwen than they were nominated for a Grammy!) but Bombino is something special. He is a truly gifted guitarist and if he continues to write material as solid as that on this album he has a great career ahead of him. After one ornate work-out, someone in the crowd yelled, "Jimi Hendrix says hi!" A mouth-harpist came on and blew some wailing blues harp which ignited Bombino during a long jam. They ended with their "hit" "Iyat Idounia Ayasahen (Another Life)."

DAMBE FOLI (Kanaga System Krush KSK)

This is Samaké's second album and, like the first, is devoted to traditional Bamana hunters' songs from the Mande people of West Africa. The hunters of Mali predate colonialism, they predate Christianity and Islam. As animists they're in touch with the spirits which are part of their natural surroundings. The lead instrument is the traditional harp of the hunter, a kind of ngoni which is familiar from Ngoni Ba as well as Issa Bagayogo. It's been twenty years since Musique du Monde put out his first album Music of the Hunters of Sebenikoro, which I often aired on my African Music Program on the radio. Back then Sibiri was hailed as a young virtuoso, born into the hunter clan, who had adapted to being a griot as well as a hunter. Traditionally hunters are responsible for the police force and medicine (learned from the forest), as well as providing fresh meat to their communities. Sabaré's bluesy vocals and resonant bass instrument (which is bluesy in the extreme) is accompanied here by karinya, or iron scraper, and kusubu, or shaker. Imagine Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker (with or without the red hair and kilts) & you get a sense of the dynamic jamming interplay between the ngoni and the percussionists. And like "Live at the Fillmore" there are four tracks that were captured in one take each. (Funny that I thought of Wheels of Fire because it also has two really long tracks and two less-long tracks...) The title means "traditional music," but if they had styled it a rootsy jazz-blues jam from the modern city of Bamako it would have made as much sense. Another superb offering from the KSK label.

CHAIYYA CHAIYYA (felmay 8177)

Bollywood Brass has reinvented itself. Diehard fans may not like this, but consider the alternatives: they have delved into the catalogs of the big composers of Indian film music, AR Rahman and RD Burman. They've jammed with Brasilian percussion groups, and they've been remixed, so now they've added a string section and a vocalist. The result is a success. Their brilliant instrumentalists are still evident in the solos and they even recreate some of their greatest arrangements, but the addition of a singer will disappoint some who like their brass polished and sparkling. Rafaqat dominates the first track "Maula Maula," an ancient Sufi hymn, then takes a less prominent role. Though the human voice is no match for an oboe, cornet or clarinet in the right hands, I feel this was a good move. The band will definitely garner new fans and I expect a wider appreciation for their wonderful arrangements. "Chura Liya" returns from their Rahmania album, but now in fuller effect with strings, bullfight trumpet, storming bass and percussion, and blinding solos by the possessed Sahra Moore. Rahman's big hit "Chaiyya Chaiyya" (voted 9th most popular song of all-time by a BBC worldwide poll) returns in a great version (with added train sounds to the outro; I often wondered, watching the video, from the lamentable film Dil Se, if dancers fell off the roof of the train during filming!). Going back to black and white there's the dream sequence from Awaara, one of my favorite films (starring Nargis and Raj Kapoor). I didn't know this is based on an Umm Kalthum hit from the 1930s. However, it sounds very filmi! Moore steps out on soprano on the "Dhoom medley," while "Dum maro dum" returns as an instrumental with some brilliant playing from the leader. "Ain't that peculiar" -- I mean "Gurh nalon iskh mitha"-- comes back too as the closer, with major enhancement from the vocals. The Bollywood Brass Band has gone from strength to strength; the next obvious step would be for some Indian film producer to hire them to write and perform a soundtrack. We live and dream.

TRAVELLER (Deutsche Grammophon)

Anoushka is only 30 years old and already has 6 award-winning albums under her dupatta. While I enjoy her classical Indian music I don't mind her forays into other genres, like the "buleria" on her last album. Her third album Live at Carnegie Hall is a gem, and was nominated for a Grammy in 2003. Her half-sister Norah Jones also received a nomination the same year. Her newest album, Traveller, tangles with flamenco. There's plenty Indian about it as she takes over every track with her lightning riffs of fire. (I thought of the time I saw the electrifying Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1973 and realised Anoushka wasn't even born then!) It's well-known that the gypsies came from Rajasthan and travelled throughout Europe & North Africa before a large contingent settled in Spain, so it seemed natural to make the bridge between Indian and Spanish music. The Spaniards bring guitars, vocal and percussion, while the Indians on the set have shehnai, violin, tanpura and percussion to back up Ms Shankar. She even makes the traditional tortured flamenco vocal style palatable. The lutenous tones of the Spanish guitar have a church-like formality to them, solemn and spiritual, while to me the opening glissando of the sitar always conjurs up altered consciousness. I guess it comes from the use of the sitar in the 60s as a cypher for LSD, but I also remember the wonderfully apt soundtrack to Jonathan Miller's Alice in Wonderland which was performed by Ravi Shankar, improvised to a playback of the film (there's a featurette on the DVD about this). When the Spaniards set up their hypnotic beat, it's a great go-ahead opportunity for Anoushka to jam; on the slow numbers she is lyrical. If the import price puts you off, the disc will come out domestically in the US in Spring 2012.

COURAGE (World Village 468108)

This is almost a novelty: a kora album that is purely African. I mean there's no horn section, no banjo, no slide guitar, no trap drums, no Latin beat, no remix, just some great kora playing. I guess that's why it's called Courage! Diabaté's fourth album, Douga Mansa, won a Grammy in 2009. Like the Oscars the Grammies have little weight outside the industry, people stick with what they know and like, but it does mean more exposure. Also Diabaté has lived in the USA so is probably bit more up on marketing strategies and dealing with label folks than his cousins in Bamako. Though there are familiar strains, and a couple of classic pieces, the material is nearly all new, composed and arranged by Diabaté and features, in addition to his kora, a balafon, ngoni and acoustic bass. There is also percussion on calabash or djembe as the mood suits. On "Diayeh bana" the balafon stretches out and touches on "The Flight of the Bumblebee," and "Shortenin Bread" -- or so it seems to me. Beautifully recorded, this is a meditative album, one you can listen to over and over.



One of the popular Peruvian Cumbia bands from the recent Chicha craze return in a limited way, with a vinyl remastering of their highly sought first album which is probably sold out by now (Update, the purple vinyl is gone, regular black vinyl still available from Secret Stash website). This music which became a craze in the 60s is not airy fairy pipes of pan guff, nor the Peru Negra stuff from Lima, but shit-kicking "country" music from the jungles and mining camps. Enrique Delgado, leader of Los Destellos was instrumental in bringing together surf guitar, funk and rock rhythms, with cumbia and indigenous sounds to create this light party music. I wont say it's infectious, because you are supposed to get inoculated before you travel, but you will be transported to some weary dusty roadside dive with a little too much cerveza in you. The band are wearing matching purple blazers and black bell-bottoms and some of them even have shades on though it's dim enough in there, but the guitarist presses his fuzztone pedal and suddenly lights explode in your skull. No, it's not Santana in the Fillmore but the home-grown equivalent, "Onsta la Yerbita." Funny thing is once the psychedelic daze wears off, we can sort of hear Henry Mancini underneath it all. Here you can see them on Peruvian TV performing "Elsa," which was on Roots of Chicha.


From the time Stern's announced this release and started posting teasers on their website and Soundcloud, I have been as excited as a kid waiting for Santa. I have a lot of Vijana Jazz (11 cassettes and several tracks on comps), most of it slightly warbly sounding tapes, and a thrashed 45, as found on my Tanzanian discography page. Interestingly only one of those tracks I list, "Gubu la Mume," from Swahili Hits vol 4, is gathered here. The rest magically appeared from nowhere, or rather from the sleeve of Doug Paterson, compiler and annotator of this excellent series. Not only is this Tanzanian muziki wa dansi series going from strength to strength, it's impressive for two other reasons. First, the sound is restored to audio excellence. Yes, you can go off into the blogosphere or YouTube and find music sort of like this, but chances are if anyone has made an effort to clean it up they have just added a filter to make it more fuzzy sounding. If you don't have access to the source material you are starting at a disadvantage. Tapes may not have surface crackles like 45s, but are blighted by other problems. Secondly, not least among the attendant problems of this music "at a few removes" is the documentation. It's fine to have African music on your iTunes but if you don't know what the song is about, or who wrote it or why, it has less meaning.

Considerable sleuthing went into the discovery of these Vijana Jazz master tapes. First of all 6 of the tracks were released pseudonymously, under the imaginative title of The Koka Koka Sex Battalion. The reason was simple: the band's label in Tanzania thought they had enough material on the market, but the members were burning to record more recent stuff and knew if they drove to Nairobi, where there were good studios, they could cut some new songs and get paid for them, hence the surreptitious aspect of this venture. So after a New Year's Eve concert to bring in 1975, the hung-over members got into a truck with their guitars and amps and headed north to Kenya as Ali Mohamed, their driver, navigated the giant potholes and herds of goats along the red dirt highway. (That's conjecture on my part; maybe they stopped for a smoke or a leak and joked with Ali, calling him "the Greatest" after his namesake, Mohammed Ali who had electrified the world by beating George Foreman for the World Heavyweight boxing title two months earlier in Kinshasa.) What we learn from Paterson is that the studio they chose was famous as the home of Benga music, and the band adapted Kenyan musical ideas into their style, as well as the pervasive sound of Congo, noticeable when they shout out "Sukisa!" at the start of a wonderful jam, "Ujirani mwema (good neighbours)," a praise song for Zaireans, Kenyans, Kenyatta, Harambee (the "Work together" concept drilled into the wananchi), Zambians, and so on. But the flailing drums and congas, blaring horns and choppy guitars are 100% Tanzanian, as heard on "Gwe Manetu Fii," by lead singer Hemedi Maneti and second vocalist Issa Chikupele. Maneti has a wonderful raspy voice and clearly their fans would have known who the Sex Battalion really were from the catch-phrases they shout out. Once again one of my albums of the year is a reissue from long ago, but that's part of aging and realizing the old guys had it right the first time.


I suppose it's part of getting old that you find most new music superficial and derivative and really love reissues and classic material from the period when you were young. I didn't grow up in Africa in the '60s, but I must have had a doppelgänger, and no doubt there is some 60-ish African guy who is into Kinks, Cream and Small Faces as much as I am into Baobab, Balla and Bembeya. Teranga is a new label out of Senegal and I have to say I wish them every success because their aim is to reissue little-known gems from the golden age as well as some newcomers to the West African music scene. Their debut disc features Idrissa Diop and his Sahel band from the period 1969 to 1976, and it is a sure-fire winner. The label is the brainchild of a Greek music lover Adamantios Kafetzis who regularly visits Senegal looking for rare vinyl or neglected artists and their "lost" tapes. Obviously it is our duty to support him in this endeavour by buying the discs, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. In the sixties the predominant sound in Senegal was Cuban, heralded by singer Laba Sosseh and Nigerian saxophonist Dexter Johnson. Kafetzis can attest to this because he notes, modestly, "Because I have collected almost all the records and cassettes released in Senegal, I have listened to all the musical phases within its development." Clearly he knows whereof he speaks. For him the height of the music came in 1975 with three albums: Bamba by Sahel, Bitaa Baane by Le Diamono, and Daida by Xalam. Among them, he asserts, Sahel was the top band. Cheikh Tidiane Tall was chef d'orchestre, known for playing guitar and organ, often simultaneously. Thierno Koité, today with Orchestra Baobab, is on saxophone. Vocalists included René Cabral, Seydina Wade, and Idrissa Diop. Their major contribution was to bring the sabar & tama drums to the salsa sound thereby creating Mbalax, which grew to dominate Senegalese music in the 1980s. Kafetzis was determined to bring his passion to the larger world and went to Senegal to find Diop. Not only did he find the master tape for the Bamba album, it contained a bunch of great unreleased material. Idy Diop saw what was happening with this enthused Greek and turned over an unreleased 1976 tape of Sahel, half of which is heard here for the first time. There's a kindler gentler mbalax brought to us on the mellow sax of Thierno and the intricate guitar leads of Tidiane Tall, but there's also storming mbalax and also classic Senegalese salsa, including a great cover of Larry Harlow's "Caridad," recorded live in Club Sangomar, far removed from its origins, literally and musically. But after Salsa, Soul music made a huge impact on the whole continent & Idy moved to Paris. Considering these are two-track recordings, done live with two mikes, they are far better than a lot of Senegalese stuff I've heard that was taken from sandy cassettes.



Label samplers don't always work. The bands may be friends but they have different musical agendas and putting them all on one album doesn't make anything more coherent. Yet there is a groove on this Stronghold Sound release running from Morocco to Medellin that recommends it to your ears. DJ Bongo (Alpha Omar Sidibe from Guinea) kicks things off with a deep grumbly bass groove on "Jah protect my people," and then we are in the full flight of djembes & balafon tricking along on "Sabu Faye" by Bongo's other band Wontanara. I think these acts are SF Bay Area but have global roots -- which is to say I used to see Moroccan Yassir Chadly's name pop up frequently when I paid attention to the local club scene -- and they cast a wide musical net. I am glad these artists are getting their act together and recording, as they have long had a strong grasp on what gets a crowd moving. After all we had Cheb i Sabbah here as our guiding light for years in the Haight scene. Gnawa Kronik (where do they come up with these names?) serves us some more trance-dance with "Sahrawi swing." Just when you think they may be running out of ideas they throw in a good dub number "Bab Manara" by The Dunes and Dub Snakkr (from Syria). So you get at least half way through before your attention flags. But guess what? They switch it up and bring in a cumbia. It's not quite blow-out-the-speakers brilliant but thuds aplenty. It does peter out before the last two cuts, but by then you've had quite an earful. The artwork and packaging is crappy but most people will probably just download it anyway.


Special Sounds from Luanda 1965-78 (Analog Africa AACD069)

Before its civil war that lasted for the last quarter of the twentieth century, Angola had a thriving music scene. Despite the strife, bands recorded some great tracks as evidenced by the 5-disc series ANGOLA 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s on Buda Musique. There is also the out-of-print Soul of Angola (on Lusafrica: see my Africa Top 50), a double disc that celebrated the decade from 1965 to 75, the period under consideration again here. Os Kiezos, Os Bongos, Jovens do Prenda, David Zee are the artists who return for this new look. The big names, Carlos Lamartine, Ruy Mingas, are not here, but there are no disappointments (Teta Lando shows up singing in the last track with Africa Show). This is a fine set & it's safe to say that all the tracks are rarities. There are pachangas and other Cuban styles, Congolese touches on the guitar, as well as Semba, Rebenta and home-cooked carnaval music. The only track I had heard before was the storming instrumental "Kazucuta" by Os Bongos which was on Angola 74-78. As usual with Analog Africa a download doesn't suffice because there's a deluxe booklet with photos, sleeves and other ephemera to engage while you enjoy the music. It also details Samy Ben Redjeb's difficult journey to bring back the music -- not all of it from Angola. In fact he was in Barranquilla, Colombia when he heard "Tira Sapato" and realised the importance of this music (that has strong Caribbean currents like merengue) to those of us in the New World. But more than just a narrative of Samy's bouts with food poisoning and record buying there is a history of each singer and song presented. Ben Redjeb spent his time in Angola well, meeting the artists and recording their memories. In the case of Vaté Costa of Os Kiezos, this was his last interview. Consequently this booklet is an important document. The sequence is great and if you were not fortunate enough to get the Angola 60s-90s CDs from Buda (now out of print) you should do yourself a favour and check this out.

THE RAW SOUND OF BURKINA FASO 1974-9 (Analog Africa AACD 070)

For his tenth release, Samy Ben Redjeb has well and truly staked his claim to Burkina Faso. This was an obscure area of Africa with even more obscure music until Savannahphone licensed tracks for a double album two years ago. As we know Ben Redjeb went to Benin and found the Poly-Rythmo guys. Now they are re-established, he's working on neighbouring Burkina Faso (ex-Upper Volta), also home to the Voodoo cults which came to the New World. Upper Volta was something of a leftover country. Though occupied by the French, the colonizers didn't create any government bureaucracy, preferring to send in civil servants from Senegal and Mali, and similarly the music industry sprang up by accident, with no state support, no radio station (until 1959), no recording studios (until the 80s), and only occasional influences from outside such as a 1962 tour by Franco & OK Jazz which made all the local musicians envious of Fender guitars. At the end of the sixties two bands, Volta Jazz and Harmonie Voltaique, went to Cote d'Ivoire to record. By the 80s a succession of military coups returned the country to darkness, so their golden era essentially spanned the late 70s. Bambara Mystic Soul starts off with an old friend, "Bar konou moussou," by Amadou Balaké this artist's work runs like a leitmotif throughout the recording, cropping up every few tracks to reenergize the set. The opening cut comes from his Volume 2 album on the Lassissi label, released in Abidjan. (This is one of my treasures: it came out in 1978 and in 1992 it turned up in a box of "dead stock" in Stern's basement on Whitfield St in London with a bunch of other Sacodis vinyl in mint condition that I obtained.) While the first track does suggest "Mystic Soul," the album is not as raw as the subtitle implies. After three funky outings we get into a more contemplative Islamic strain. The fourth track, "Renouveau" by Balaké backed by the 5 Consuls, is an example of that dreamy Sahelian late-night blues that seems to go on endlessly, weaving a silvery trail into the translucent night sky. Their Latin number "Baden Djougou" is another stand out track (It was also included on Savannahphone's 2009 album Ouaga Affair, a gem of a compilation despite sonic problems, now out of print). Coulibaly Tidiane stands out also, and "Kabendo" by Mangue Konde et le Super Mand'e9 has a brilliant drum break. Super Volta back Amadou Balaké on "Oye ka bara kignan," another song that was included on Ouaga Affair. The album is well sequenced and ends on a light note, floating off on "Tond Yambramba" by Sandwidi Pierre & Super Volta.

OPIKA PENDE: AFRICA AT 78 RPM (Dust-to-Digital DTD-22)

One thing is certain, as many sages from St Matthew to George Harrison have said, everything is transient. The compact disc seems destined for a quick exit & may have a shorter lifespan than 78 rpm shellac discs, though I doubt anyone will be collecting CDs in future the way collectors search to acquire vintage recordings made on the old technology. Even cassette tapes will in the long run be more durable than CDs. The problem with MP3 music, which is posited as the replacement for the CD, is organization and evanescence. If I download an album it may end up in my iTunes folder as Track01, Track02, etc, and then I have no idea what or where it is. I can burn it to CD but then I am back where I started with unstable media. The difference is between virtual music and visceral music. What is an MP3 after all? It's like radio waves, floating by. But drop the needle on a spinning disc and you are suddenly in a whole different relationship to the music. And, with LPs, the gatefold album was a joy: big art, easy-to-read text, and of course a perfect place to roll a joint. The 78 rpm disc was important to Africa because it didn't require electricity and, despite people constantly signaling its imminent demise, African music thrives and evolves as it always has. In 1928 Erich von Hornbostel wrote: "As yet we hardly know what African music is. If we do not hasten to collect it systematically and to record it by means of the phonograph, we shall not even learn what it was." But quite apart from ethnomusicological concerns, Africans were already recording and enjoying popular music then. This compilation has all the advantages of the gatefold album: It's a 4-disc set and comes with a lavish 6 x 8 112-page book in legible 12-point type (black on white paper: what a novelty!). It's a lovely package and contains almost 5 hours of rare popular recordings from Africa that span the continent and half of the twentieth century.

Dust-to-Digital has embarked on a series of "Excavated Shellac" (perhaps familiar to you from the blog of the same name) and this is their latest entry: Opika Pende, which is Lingala for "Stand Firm." Jonathan Ward is the compiler of this flawless effort. Clearly he has put a lot of effort into making this a brilliant, seamless tour from the Cape to Cairo and from Senegal to the Seychelles. The sound on the old recordings is remarkable, nearly all of them crystal clear; the booklet has lots of photos of picture sleeves, old snapshots of the locales and information on individual tracks. Disc One, Arabic North Africa, shows that traditions have not changed much: the Algerian and Moroccan selections could have been recorded this year. Sassi, from Algeria, welcomes everyone with his mandole. He was part of the Judeo-Arabic tradition known as Al-Andalus music and was prolific in the 15 years after 1924. Fatimah Bent Meddah and Kouider turn in a magical droning piece, "Adhouh, Adhouh (Gimme, gimme)" from the rough part of Oran, 1924, that is only the 3-minute- & 22-second "A" side of this disc but hits a stone groove that wont quit.

Banjo, brass band and thumb piano begin to pop up on the second disc, which is a tour of West Africa. The Greek-run Ngoma studio in Leopoldville may be well-known to readers of this column for the many rare and wonderful early Congolese tunes they waxed. However they also ventured into the field, and the recording of "Ngwop" by the Bamileké of Western Cameroun is a real gem. The first sighting of the "Peanut Vendor" ("Ma-ni!") occurs in the Jolly Orchestra's pennywhistle and guitar ditty "Egberun Buso." We sense the continuity of tradition in the early Black Beats' piece, "De Ehuo," from Ghana, featuring King Bruce on trumpet, as HighLife takes flight. The item that appears next is intriguing -- "Kurungu" by Onana Mbosa Isidore from Cameroun -- it's a percussion jam, but then legendary guitarist Tino Baroza jumps in playing Solovox organ, and there's a Congolese bassist too, on this novelty item from the Opika label. The mbira and drum solo that follows has no documentation: it's a French field recording from Yaoundé, 1950, & is also a head-banger's delight.

Disc Three moves into the area of Africa covered by Hugh Tracey in his musical peregrinations. We can almost hear him introducing the groups in his dry tone: "The mosquitos were as thick as Kamau's ugali porridge as we settled down to hear these gentle folk pluck their nyatitis..." But Dr Tracey would have stopped the tape before letting the Kiko Kids loose on "Tom Tom," a paean to their label: it's a weird highlife calypso sung in very bad Swahili, redeemed by a long smouldering sax solo. Ward completes the trifecta of great Congolese labels with a smash hit from Esengo: "Titi" by African Jazz, featuring Joseph Kabasele. Then he dives back into the bush with a nyatiti piece from the Luo of Western Kenya, followed by a moody Tanzanian piece by Pancras Mkwawa (two other numbers by this artist, also recorded by Hugh Tracey, can be found on Tanzania Instruments [Sharp Wood 022]). But Hugh Tracey was not solely responsible for preserving the great music of East Africa at this time: Peter Colmore commissioned hundreds of recordings and the guitar and Fanta bottle piece here is wonderful, suggesting a whole area of unknown early work to be explored. Ward is right in calling these recordings cultural artifacts because the discs themselves have label information and stories that are interwoven with the histories of colonialism and independence of each of these nations. The "Comic sketch" of Mbarak Talsum took me aback: I was immediately reminded of British music-hall numbers by Harry Lauder from twenty years earlier! Hugh Tracey doubted anyone would enjoy the manic fiddle piece from Uganda, played on the ndingidi: I love it, and it perfectly sets up the pristine clarity of "Masanga" by Jean Bosco Mwenda, the one track on here you surely know. This is magic: it would do credit to Johann S. Bach himself if he had written it.

The final part of this monumental tour is through the lower quarter of the continent. The opening track, an unidentified flute solo from Madagascar is sublime. It reminded me of Satyajit Ray soundtracks: immediately conjuring up deserted stone buildings on the edge of the desert, haunted by bats! An Mbaqanga number reminds us of the longevity of the 78 format; a crisp mbira recording by Tracey is superb, but also showcases his incredible skill as a sound engineer. This set, in fact, doubles as a great alternative sampler of some fine Hugh Tracey discoveries. If you like George Sibanda you are gonna love Josaya Hadebe, also from Zimbabwe, and his purring delivery. There's another Tracey alumnus, Americo Valenti (aka Feliciano Gomes) playing his guitar and singing in Tsonga, a language of Mozambique, among a flush of great Southern African guitar players on the last disc. There is a great variety of stuff on here, some of it may not appeal to you, but no matter, there is a wide spectrum of music that opens a window onto the past, and many undoubted pleasures you would otherwise have missed.