Three years ago Staff Benda Bilili and Novalima were my top two and again this year they make my hit parade with strong entries. Two years ago Bomba Estereo's "Fuego" was on my top compilation, Cumbia Bestial, and their album has been my top disc for the past 4 or 5 months (you can download it or wait 'til February when Soundway will release it in UK). There was a burst of new releases from Pandit Ravi Shankar just before he died, but hopefully more are in the works. Malian guitarist Zani Diabate also passed away, after completing a brilliant album which makes my list this year, along with a bunch of other Malian releases which continue to showcase the strongest new music from Africa, despite the evil Muslim extremist attempts to silence them. In fact there were so many good Malian issues this year that I had to omit at least two: Fatoumata Diawara's debut which made Songlines' Top of the World last year, and Taga Sidibe's Wassoulou Foli, both of which were strong contenders.

As for this year's reissues, the great thing is many of them were previously unknown albums. Either the labels are getting more sophisticated or the wrack of back-catalogue stuff found online has caused them to go further and find stuff that was truly obscure, but in most cases, really worth finding.

Ravi Shankar, Zani Diabate, Keletigui Diabate, Etta James and Dave Brubeck were among those influential musicians who died in 2012.



Every year I wait for the big summer hit to come along. Sometimes it doesn't come right on time -- but the hit shows up eventually, even if there's no summer. It should be bright and upbeat, loud and poppy and not meant to last forever, but insistent enough to get under your skin like a bad case of chiggers. This year's winner is the latest Bomba Estereo disc: a great itching pelt straight outta Barranquilla. Their third album -- electronica with bits of techno, dubstep, rap, reggae -- is a real mix of tropical sounds. Their smash hit last summer -- "Fuego" -- was a once-in-a-lifetime track, but this comes close to recapturing that moment. In this album cumbia and chiche are the featured flavas. "Chiche" is spanish for easy, which must refer to the ease with which they build a groove and set it loping off into the depths of the subwoofer. The line-up is unchanged: Liliana Saumet on vocals, Simón Mejía on programming and bass guitar, Kike Egurrola on drums, and Julián Salazar on guitar. I was so thrilled with this I was hyping it as the "summer hit" for two months before it came out, but in the end I had to assume it's always summer in Colombia. After a brief intro we get to the main dish: "Bailar Conmigo (Dance with me)" -- the most like "Fuego" -- has a mid-point turn-around break that almost sounds like Bhangra; the Duchess says it made her think of Jean Michel Jarre (shudder). Well, there is goofy synth on this one. Then surf takes us to a tropical shore for "El Alma y el cuerpo (The Soul and the body)," which is the first single off the album, complete with a sweet video and a cool live acoustic version; and so it flows into the next track and the next one. "Sintiendo" is a favorite, but the whole thing has become so familiar it's my go-to record for getting me going. I don't know what constitutes a Number One but I also have to admit that because their name starts with "B" it's high in my iTunes playlist (Consequently I also listen a lot to Alfredo Valdes Jr's A Cataño which is above it.) For all its simplistic lyrics (como dice Bob Marley, 'One love'), "Pure Love" is a joy as the groove locks down and wont quit. It gets a bit raucous towards the middle, so prepare for a marathon dance session rather than an easy skank with a few energetic bursts. "Rocas featuring Bnegao" is my least-favorite: it's a bit too generic hippy hoppy for me, and "Caribbean Power," when you play it loud, is a bit too reliant on synthetic noise, but it finally gets back in gear on "Pajaros (birds)," cools down for "Lo que tengo que decir (What I have to say)," which is almost a ballad, and then ends with a bang with "Pa respirar (breathing)." I don't watch MTV but I gather they have named them "Best New Band in the World!" They have also released YouTube videos of several tracks played unplugged which are worth seeing.


"Bouger le monde" means "Shake the world" and that's exactly what this band is managing to do. The 2009 debut of Staff Benda Bilili marked an incredible story of triumph over adversity: the group was formed of paraplegics and kids who lived on the streets of Kinshasa and hung out at the nearly abandoned zoo where they played for change. They were heard by Vincent Kenis, Crammed Disc's man on the spot, and almost overnight their lives were transformed. Their debut disc sold 150,000 copies and they toured Europe, America and Japan, even starring in a documentary film. Vincent Kenis recorded that first album on his laptop in the zoo, and at one point lost some overdubs when his computer was stolen. This time he has taken the band into an old Kinshasa studio, formerly used by Franco, Tabu Ley, Pepe Kalle & Papa Wemba for some of their hits. The great spirit of Congolese music hovers over the whole thing. Again we hear the homemade guitars and drums, and above all the incredible virtuosity of Roger, who plays solos on a satonge: a single guitar string attached to a tin can. They've added Amalphi, a new lead guitarist (dig his shimmering Johnny Bokelo style on "Mutu esalaka [The brains are OK]"), and have rediscovered Randy, a street kid who vanished for a couple of years but has returned on percussion. The best part of the success story is the band members now have homes and are able to send their kids to school. In addition they have started a school for homeless and disabled youth to train them in mechanics, carpentry, computer science and, of course, music. There are many moods on this album, and as SBB have evolved, different musical styles abound, from the jamming opening track, "Osali mabe," to the haunting "Djambula," with bull-roarer effect, for something completely unexpected. ("Djambula" is a remake of a West African oldie from about 20 yeas ago but I cannot remember who did it initially.) After three years of anticipation they made it to California and their show exceeded expectations: it was not only the show of the year, but the best show I have seen in years!


Moreno Visi, aka The Spy from Cairo, goes from strength to strength. I really dug his previous outing and now he has returned with his masterwork: Arabadub, a set of Arabic dub on which he programs the drums and plays bass as well as all the middle Eastern instruments. Apart from oud and saz there is something called a chifteli, perhaps the dulcimer-like instrument we hear, a longer skinnier relative of the oud. According to his website he has remixed everyone from Baaba Maal to Billie Holliday to Novalima. He definitely has some fine chops, both as an engineer and a performer. This one is in the "Gaudi mixes Nusrat" vein, which was a highwater mark for dub albums. The title puns on rub-a-dub style as well as the rubbing of Aladdin's lamp. The Cairo aspect is heard in the hovering strings which punctuate the tunes with a big blast of warm air, reminiscent of the Om Kaltoum sound (recently recreated by Youssou Ndour on his landmark Egypt album), and done to great effect on "Sons of Hannibal" (which has a riff slightly reminiscent of "Funky Town" by Lipps Inc!). Monster bass adds a phat counterpoint that is most satisfying. When the lighter chifteli takes flight it's more Arabo-Andalusian, taking us tripping across the entire Mediterranean. This is a very satisfying hour of music and has no flat spots (unlike the predecessor which was less consistent). Uncredited guests add crazed accordion and vocals (which might be Tunisian singer Galia Benali).


With seemingly boundless energy Novalima have found time out from their busy touring schedule to record another superb album. And from endlessly performing they've adapted some live dubbing that works well on disc. I got to see them right before this album dropped, and had this to say: Lead singer Milagros Guerrero had a great time and got the audience fired up, while the irrepressibly perky Cotito on cajón made his yelps of delight and drove the rhythm. He even got out the "jawbone of an ass" -- as used by Samson (Judges 15:16) -- for "Machete." There was a performer with a laptop who also seemed to run reverb and echo chamber on the guitars and drums to give the sound greater dimension and flexibility. Karimba opens with a synthesized pulse which soon is pushed back by vocals and drumming. It's a traditional song, "Festejo," but they create a completely new feeling for it with the risky arrangement, including the synth which interjects some raggedy farting sounds, however there's a great sustained guitar part that has been looped for a hypnotic drone. "Mamaye," the next cut, romps along and because of the flawless sequencing seems to invert itself into a dub but that is actually the intro to a third track, "Diablo." Novalima have gone from strength to strength. Their Coba Coba was one of my top albums from 2009 and I attributed their success to the production, but they have now absorbed all the studio tricks into their performance as well as the Latin influences that I saw floating through their sound then, to create a new Pan-American groove. It's still got the "Soul of Black Peru" which surfaces in tracks like "Revolucion," but it also expands into Cumbia and Dub styles. "Macaco (remix)" is outstanding with a strong rootsy drive and I have already seen another mix of it on the Faraon Bantu Sound System album from Palenque Records. "Luna Ciega" is in their traditional "Black Peru" mode with all the live dubbing tricks and Cotito yakking it up.

THIOSSANE (Discograph/Syllart; Stern's Africa)

A native of Thies in Senegal, Ablaye Thiossane has waited over 70 years to make his debut. In the early fifties his father used to play Duke Ellington and Tino Rossi 78s which inspired him to take up music, and the then-prevalent Afro-Cuban style. In 1966 he was recognized at the Festival of Negro Art by President Leopold Senghor for his song "Talene lampe yi," which became a hit. He has re-recorded it here, along with a bunch of great material that has that warm feeling of dry West African desert winds. Guests include Papa Noel & Cheikh Tidiane Tall on lead acoustic guitar, Orchestra Baobab's Thierno Kouyaté on alto sax, and their Mountaga Kouyate on percussion. There's also accordeon, electric bass, sabar and other drums. Kouyaté's alternately strong and dreamy sax has been heard on Lat-Dior (when Thierno played with Ouza et ses Ouzettes in 1982), & on Bambay Gueej, my favourite album by Cheikh Lo from 1999. He's even played with Etoile de Dakar. If it seems like old home week: Medoune Diallo, the vocalist from Baobab, also shows up to do a guest shot. The Cuban styles are not completely subsumed in the African idiom: "Thiere Lamboul" has a familiar son riff from Trio Matamoros that has been through the wash with rock, cumbia, soukous, etc, and still not faded. "Bouki Ndiour" is the most laid-back track and sounds like they were really jamming and having fun. Fans of Baobab, Super Cayor and other classic Senegalese bands will love this.


In the last couple of years Ravi Shankar took control of his legacy and put out a series of CDs and DVDs from his home in Southern California in order to get the important and best stuff out there. The three CDs that came out in the last 18 months called Ninth Decade are varied and wonderful. Last time we checked in on Ravi (see my review of the CD Nine Decades vol II) he was a relatively young man playing to a crowd of hip and happening people at at a party in LA. It was the '60s and he was zapping his fans with lightning riffs. The 17-beat cycle was so fast he explained that he counted it at half speed, which made "8 and a half -- or Fellini!" Now he is a mellow 92 years old and has moved south to Encinitas, California, nearer the warmth of Mexico. There are four tracks on here (of 7 recorded in four days with Tanmoy Bose on tablas). Though they are each called "raga" none of them notably has the movements which make them like symphonic variations -- Allegro, Largo and so on -- or alap, jod, as he usually explains. Here the mood is tranquil and reflective. Great news for fans of Indian classical music that he is still recording brilliant improvisations.

KOIMA (Thrill Jockey)

Sidi Touré comes from Gao in Northern Mali, a region currently in crisis as armed mercenaries, ejected from Libya, are battling it out with the regular army for control of resources (Not to mention the armed battles for the rest of the country). Sidi started out with Songhaï Stars, which was the regional orchestra of Gao, but last year went solo and embarked on a US tour with a very laid-back album which I found excellent. His follow-up is not a super-session with a bunch of Western rockers and bluesmen jumping in to prove their connection to roots, but rather a highly accomplished set of real Malian traditional music. Sure you can detect the blues and R&B strains than were familiar in Ali Farka Touré's music, but for the most part it is natural and heartfelt and a great sequel to Sidi's 2011 Sahel Folk. The album consists of ten original compositions played on two guitars, calabash, drums, and the sokou which is a traditional fiddle. It's sparse, clean and quite magical. It's also uptempo enough to get you moving and shaking. Koïma is a giant pink sand dune on the banks of the Niger with wet toes and its head in the sky; literally the word means "go listen," and I suggest you do. Preview here.

TIENTALAW (Stern's STCD1113)

This top-notch album is sadly the last recordings of this brilliant West African guitarist. Zani rode to international fame with the Super Djata band in that moment when African music had a big Western audience and labels like Mango willing to promote them with tours and other support. True, there is still a huge festival circuit in Europe every summer, but ever since the Bush era the US State Department has done its best to keep foreign acts from touring the USA. Occasionally bands play New York's summer stage or venture as far as Washington DC but I don't hear of any acts coming out West, though I recall the days when Sunny Ade, Nusrat, or Sly 'n' Robbie packed the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. Nevertheless Zani wowed the European audiences, as attested by this Youtube video. Zani started out as a teenager playing balafon & kora and dancing with the National Ballet du Mali. From that troupe he met fellows who became his lifelong companions in a group that evolved into one of the first non-state-sponsored bands in Mali, the Djata Band. These were vocalists Alou Fané and Fani Sangaré who also played kamalen ngoni and djembé. They took Bamako by storm with their fusing of traditional music (from all over Mali) with Zani's electric guitar. It was the flash of Zani's guitar that recalled Freddy King and T-Bone Walker which widened their appeal to Western audiences. When Zani's originally partners Fané and Sangaré died, he inducted their sons, and his own son, into the line-up and that is the outfit playing here, known as Les Héritiers, or the Inheritors. I don't know how they will fare without Zani, but here he is in control, with a great set of Malian music, full of pulsing bass, congas and drums, balafon, djembe, ngonis, & other traditional instruments weaving in and out, plus his acid-tone guitar. The sequencing is great because the hottest songs are saved for the end, like a live show, so by the time you get to "Ambou wele (You've gotta dance)" you really have to dance, and then "Soubagaya," which trades riffs between guitars and sax, lifts the roof. A great exit for Zani (if only Sir Mick or Sir Paul had departed when they were still hot). God speed, maestro.

SARO (Studio Mali)

You can sense the dry hot atmosphere of Bamako in this recording of traditional Malian music, with Andra Kouyaté on bass ngoni, along with calabash, tamani and guitar. Kouyaté has a deep resonant voice to match the bass ngoni (which he made). From a musical family, he started studying ngoni at age 7 and moved to Bamako in 1989 to play with National Badema. In 1997 his big break came when he was invited to tour with Rokia Traore (along with Baba Sissoko on second ngoni). That tour lasted three years and exposed him to a wider world of music, but it also gave us our first opportunity to hear the talented musician. Thereafter, he was in great demand, performing with Fantani Touré, Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté. In 2005 he was one of the founders of Ngoni Ba with his brother Basekou Kouyaté and together they recorded the wonderful Segu Blue album. He goes from strength to strength and has played with jazz musicians (Raaga Trio), Dee Dee Bridgewater, as well as other African artists. While this is definitely filed under "Traditional," you will be surprised by the sudden lurch into one-drop reggae on the title track, "Saro." I have to say it's by far the best African re-interpretation of reggae I've heard. A wonderful balafon skitters in on this one. Glorious stuff.

CHAO (Universal Music)

It may be hard to find this as a physical CD, but it's worth seeking out. I don't think Lenine cares if anyone buys his albums, since he performs frequently in Brasil. You can listen to most of it on the artist's website. Lenine is arguably the most brilliant performer working in Brasil today. He writes great songs full of linguistic tricks and intelligence. These aren't the lovelorn lyrics typical of a lot of MPB; his delivery is unexpected and despite his unassuming manner, he is a fine showman. He matches his linguistic talent with creative brilliance on the guitar. Above all his arrangements are orchestrated to make his songs engaging and surprising. "Chão (floor)" starts off with what sounds like someone walking on gravel, but turns out to be a percussion instrument, a kind of guiro with metal ball-bearings wrapped around it, I think. The short (10 tracks in 28 minutes) album abounds with interesting musical effects, heartbeats, lots of birds, and a solid rhythm with, occasionally, real bass and drums, but often as not collaged sounds providing the backing to his provocative lyrics. (The bird is his mother-in-law's pet canary which got into the studio and started singing to the playback, so they decided to include it.) The "marching feet on gravel" effect (from the opening) returns again for "Isso é só o Começo (This is only the beginning)," which is the closer, completing the circle. He is great at building to an ominous intensity, reminiscent of early Pink Floyd, or creating rhythmic drama like late Led Zep! On "Seres estranho (Strange beings)" he heightens the drama quickly with only a few effects (spooky vocal echo, pulsing bass throb) and sustains it, then just as quickly cuts to a simple ballad plucked from his Ovation. Suddenly in "Uma cançao é só (A Song is only)" a kettle starts to whistle -- he ignores it, but its insistence creates a differently ominous voice to focus you on the music (shades of Hans Reichel!). He does this again with a chain saw felling a tree on "Envergo mas não quebro (bend but don't break)" which comes next. Much as I hate streaming music, the alternatives are a pricy import (Amazon mistakenly has the date as 2007: it came out in 2011), or a download from his website. His site also leads you to videos, including an animation of the title track of Chão, music and lyric sheets, and other stuff.


Straight off the streets of Dar Es Salaam comes this fierce band of Bongo Hotheads. I haven't heard anything this intense and raw since Konono Numero Un (No wonder they are on the same label). Jagwa Music is another fount of unstoppable energy. This ensemble has home-made drums and, as lead instruments, two old battered Casio keyboards wired to homemade amps. Singers and dancers complete the line-up. While the music is trancelike and repetitious, the fuzzy Casio lends grit and weirdness, and the pace suggests Afro-Punk. The mainstream media in Tanzania ignore this shanty-born music, deriding it as the music of thugs, but it has had a strong following for twenty years now as the band has continually renewed itself with young singers and performers. Vocally, the songs recall the old sound of Tanzania (Shikamoo and co), and are about lost love, voodoo and other popular topics. The producer of this hi-level insanity is Werner Graebner who has a distinguished career as one of the leading African musicologists today, author of Sokomoko. Popular Culture in East Africa (Amsterdam, 1992). His record production credits include the Zanzibara series, Abana ba Nasery, Culture Music Club, as well as work on Mlimani Park Orchestra's Sungi and also Masimango, the great remastered reissue of Mbaraka Mwinshehe. While these wonderful albums are a treat to us in our small circle of cognoscenti, this Jagwa Music deserves to break out to worldwide acceptance and popularity.

JUNK FUNK (Riverboat TUG DD1066)

Something tells me Hugh Tracey would have dug this. A group of Southern African shepherds who make music in the tiny landlocked kingdom of Lesotho. They sing acapella, or accompanied by home-made instruments -- weird one-string fiddles, guitars made from tin cans and bicycle brake cables, plastic tub drums, thunking washtub bass. It's recognizably South African, especially the vocal style and the melodies, and the instruments are suitably scratchy and creaky to counteract the sweetness of the singing. Riverboat continues to do a good job of unearthing great roots music from around the world. (Maybe the Riverboat explorers could sail over and unearth some of the great music lost in my iTunes download folder. I am sure they won't be disappointed.) Sotho Sounds' songs are about everyday things, though since the band played in England they have a piece called "Something to think about," which is a response to the perennial greeting, "How are you?" It's not funk so the name is a misnomer, instead it's poppy and fun. "Jo! Kelishapa" has wonderful bird calls & whistles on it, over an insistent one-string fiddle and gravelly vocals.


SISTER PILI + 2 (Stern's STCD3062)

You know there's one thing I love dearly and that is classic Congolese music. There's also the variety of expat Congolese in Kenya that I have devoted many column inches to, explaining that the musical scene in Congo was so rich in the late 70s that bands went East looking for gigs and many settled in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, reinvigorating the local scenes. These musicians flowed in and out of different configurations but there were several key performers, including arguably the finest singer of the era, Moreno, subject of this reissue. It consists of a fine album with never-before-known bonus tracks. Moreno was handsome and charismatic, as well as having a rich bass voice that is on the verge of cracking, lending it loads of emotion; his charm extended to eliciting the best performances from his musicians. The combination of dueling lead guitars, sax punctuating the harmony, and pounding bass is irresistible. It sounds as though they are jamming live in the studio and the tunes have all the excitement of first takes, urged on by a very excited Moreno. After all this is the "First" band, not only that, First Moja-One. (As any African traveller learns, "Moja" is Swahili for "One" so Moreno is overstating it just a bit!)

The album, Sister Pili, returns in glorious sonic fidelity thanks to Doug Paterson. When I record old scratched LPs I tend to leave them alone; I know from years of playing with Dolby, hi-bias and/or cheap cassettes that anything you do to a signal is only going to cause it to degenerate. Doug got hold of the master tapes and they've been sonically cleansed to an unbelievable degree of clarity. What's truly great about this reissue is how clearly you can hear everyone, including Moreno, presumably, suddenly grabbing a beer bottle and tapping it to add to the beat. The guitars are in separate channels too so the stereo effect is fantastic. A band this tight has to be heard to be believed. Since these musicians were in several bands (basically any of the Congolese expats who had a gig would call on them), they can stop and start on a dime, know how to improvise and then, when someone is cooking the others give him some room. You notice this even with the bass player (Tommy Lomboto) who is bustling throughout and even becomes the lead instrument a couple of times. Lava Machine is on the drumkit, though sometimes Kaster or Hassani add other percussion or take over from him. The drummer steams along on snare, high-hat, kick bass & tom-tom drums. Simple is best. Frankai Kayuba adds sax; Bibiley, Mokili, and Siama get shout-outs as the lead, rhythm and mi-solo guitars. Presumably the backing vocals are Coco Zigo Mike, Monimambo Jim, and others from Shika Shika and Bana Ngenge.

In addition to this rare Sister Pili album there are bonus tracks that I don't think anyone has heard since they came out in Nairobi back in the day. Particularly notable is the song "Teresia," which should be a chart-topper! The bonus tracks are by another incarnation of the band, called Bana Nzadi, with Tabu Ngongo (later of Les Mangelepa & then Vundumuna) on sax and Sammy Kasule (of Special Liwanza and Les Kinois) on bass. Madjo Maduley sings harmony on these, and the accompaniment is by "Professor" Siama Matuzungidi once again. You wouldn't expect the second guitarist to get a shout-out until you hear the amazing interplay between them. Doug Paterson guessed it might be Moreno from the title, "Rehama-Piri," and wondered if it could be another song dedicated to the lovely Tanzanian model who was Moreno's muse. He was right and the 1977 bonus singles by Orchestre Bana Nzadi on the obscure Pope Label are a true gift from the past.

NDIGAL (Teranga Beat PTBCD015)

I thought I was pretty well informed on the history of Senegambian music but here is another mind-blowing discovery. A previously unreleased, hence completely unknown album from the leader of Guelewar & Ifang Bondi, Bal Janha. If you love those bands, and I know you do, you will be all over this like white on rice (as Tina Turner would say). Bal came from Gambia and brought Psychedelic rock to the mbalax sound of Dakar. The resulting soul and funk stew supplanted the Cuban sound and led to the dominance of Afro-Manding pop music throughout West Africa for more than a decade. Karantamba was a band he created that became a fertile school for younger musicians in Dakar. This recording was made at the famed Sangomar night club in 1984. The vinyl release has a bonus track, while the 9 cuts on the CD deliver an hour and twenty minutes of pure bluesy, soulful, steaming bliss. The sound is sharp, especially when the "African" trumpets come in, but you get used to that. (I thought such trumpets were off-key until I was at a Bembeya Jazz concert with an African friend and when the trumpets started playing he nudged me and said, Now, that's the sound of African horns!) Track five, "Titi," changes the mood as it is a highlife number, but it's all good & they go back to the Senegambian rave-up. The last track, "Gamo Jigimar," is outstanding. It's 12 minutes of musical bliss and makes me wish I had a radio show again so I could play it & exhort you to rush out and buy it.


This is a download-only* album you nevertheless have to own, and to satisfy your need to have something in your hands to look at while listening, you should pull out the booklet from Volume 1 and reflect that Sterns' East African series is now up to 5 discs and is catching up to the essential Guinée sets put out from 2007 onward (which is up to 5 double-disc sets). Don't worry there's plenty more great East African music & this disc is no less impressive than Volume 1. "Teresia," which was a smash hit single in the mid 1980s is included, as is "Sauda," a killer cut from the Mpita-Nija album (three of the four tracks from that album were on Volume 1, so completists will be thrilled). The stellar "Sarah," another long-time favorite, which was included on Sigalame 2 is here, along with the title cut which may be the one Issa Juma track you know if you had that Discafrique album that came out in Europe in 1990. That was their breakthrough album to Western ears & I am glad it has been digitized because I played mine so much it skips now. It's a good thing Sterns decided to include it here because it is truly one of the great East African songs and, after 22 years, there may be some people who missed Les Wanyika Stars then. "Selemani" & "Pole Issa" are here with a few other tracks previously unknown, even to the congnoscenti! And if you recall the first volume ended with "Ma Eliza" in an unreleased version with a sax solo; this one ends with a different take of that same tune. In it you can hear Omar Shabani trying out some Franco-style staggered guitar licks. Interestingly Sterns still haven't got to their early work as Les Wanyika, songs like "Sina Makossa," "Pauline" and a few others from the late 70s which quite possibly will constitute Volume 3. Doug Paterson writes: "It just speaks to the largely unrecognized talents of Issa Juma that practically everything he did for AIT still sounds great: great rumba with a Tanzanian sensibility with the benga pulse; and often, perhaps unintentionally, a raw / gritty sound that I find quite appealing."

Though the good songs are all now collected on these two volumes, Stern's has also released two of the Wanyika LPs --Bwana Musa and Pole Pole -- with their original track lists, and you can download those Golden Oldies separately if you prefer.
(*Ken A, who has more experience than I in these matters, reports that amazon and iTunes generally encode their files at 256 kbps; with emusic you never know what you're going to get -- sometimes half of that -- but other than 7digital, othermusic and dancetracksdigital sell music for the same price as amazon and iTunes.)

KADIOR DEMB (Teranga Beat)

You just know this is gonna be fantastic, right? Royal Band are one of those late-70s, early-80s Senegalese bands that took the old rhythms and cut loose on them with a new energetic sound known as mbalax. Up to now, Royal Band de Thiès was only known in a couple of cuts on the excellent pair of CDs from Dakar Sound: Their Thing and Latin Thing. I have a copy of their album Dioubou -- volume 1 from 1980, from which those four tracks were lifted, and it smokes from start to finish. The early eighties was the era of the Etoiles -- Youssou's Super Etoile and Al-Hadji Faye's Etoile 2000 -- but we cannot discount other contenders. In 2002 Ted Jaspers issued the Meanwhile in Thiès... CD (Dakar Sound vol 9), which had 6 more tracks from the Royals. Kadior Demb is a set of 11 previously unreleased tracks, now presented in sonic high-fidelity. Once more Teranga's GM Adamantios Kafetzis is on the case. He went to Thiès, a sleepy little backwater that was once an important railhead connecting Dakar to the rest of West Africa, in 2004. He wandered into a nightclub and there singing was Adema Secka, the vocalist who had laid these tracks down 30 years earlier. Kafetzis discovered there were three unreleased albums by the band and also met Mapathe "James" Gadiaga, the other vocalist (also of Super Cayor) who had made a career as a West African salsero. After founding Royal Band, Gadiaga was in Xalam, then joined Omar Pene and Ishmael Lo in Super Diamono. He went to South Africa and gigged with Johnny Clegg and spent time in Paris before returning home to found Super Cayor in 1994. Günter Gretz heard Super Cayor and turned us on to them in two fabulous issues: Sopenté (pam oa 206, 1997) and Embouteillage (Traffic jam) (pam oa 210, 2002), but Gadiago knew if anyone heard the Royal Band recordings they had made in the Sangomar Club in Thiès back in the 70s they would want to release them. He was not wrong. This is essential music. The horn players Jackie (Zaky) Seck on tenor and alto and Cisco on alto sax have distinct voices, almost as recognizable as the perfectly balanced salsero and griot lead vocalists! The line-up differs from the large band listed on Meanwhile, where Issa Diasse is credited with the brilliant guitar solos, Ousseynou Yade on tama, and Aly Penda's trumpet; here we have Racine Aw on lead guitar, and Alioune Mbodjet on tumba (& I presume, sabar) to add the finishing touches to the perfect outing.


One of the popular Peruvian Cumbia bands from the recent Chicha craze returns in a limited way, with a vinyl remastering of their highly sought-after 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.

Reissue Compilation of the Year

THE COLOMBIAN MELTING POT 1960-1985 (Analog Africa no 12)

Among labels that have discovered Colombian music recently, Soundways has scratched the surface of this culture that is one of the richest in the Americas, but they have not always made the right choices. Their Cumbia CD is late to the party: the Disco Fuentes archives yielded a great set on World Circuit in 1989, which has recently been reissued as a double CD, and, if you want more, there's a three disc set called Ola Latina that came out on the OLA label in 2006. But here's something completely different. Instead of going for the familiar hits of the Latin Brothers, Joe Arroyo, Alfredo de la Fe, Gabino Pampini and Lisandro Meza, Samy Ben Redjeb the redoubtable force behind Analog Africa, has sought out Calixto Ochoa, Wganda Kenya and lesser-known artists who delivered variations on the familiar with Afrobeat, Caribbean Funk, Porro, and other Colombian styles like Cumbiamba, Terapia and Malapé. Samy has been visiting Barranquilla for the past five years looking for connections between home-grown music and imported sounds from Cuba, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Congo. And to quote Ruth from the Old Testament (any old testament), "Whither thou goest, I will go." In this collection, boiled down to 32 tracks, he showcases Afrobeat, Afro-Funk and Psychedelia on disc one, and a variety of tropical sounds on the second disc. My favourite on the second disc is a real oldie: J. Alvear's "Cumbia Cincelejana," which reminds me of Cab Calloway-era American jazz, rendered with a Cumbia beat. Samy plumbs the depths here. The result is action-packed with stimulating sounds and nary a slack track on the front or the back!

all writing on this website is Copyright 2012 by Alastair Johnston