Looking back at 2017

Among those who died in 2017 were musician Moriba Koïta (Mali), Augustin Mawangu, leader of Konono #1 (Congo), singer Frankie Paul (Jamaica), Cuban singer Rolo Martinez [at left], tresero Papi Oviedo (Cuba), guitarist Cheikh Tidiane Tall (Senegal), pianists Mischa Mengelberg (Holland), & Fats Domino (USA), recording folklorists Charles Duvelle (OCORA) & Paul Oliver.

Concerts of the Year

There were undoubtedly some great concerts in 2017, such as the reformed Dieuf Dieul de Thiès, who toured Europe; sadly the opportunities for me to hear music of such caliber in California are slight to nil. However, the centenary of the birth of Thelonious Monk meant there were many tributes to the great American pianist and composer. SF Jazz brought Danilo Perez, Randy Weston and others to town to celebrate him. The evening with the nonagenarian Weston reminiscing about Monk and then playing with a couple of SF Jazz Conservatory students was magical.
We still get Cuban acts coming through and it was thrilling to see El Septeto Santiaguero in a small club. Another transcendent evening at SF Jazz was provided by a trio of Cuban pianists Chucho Valdes, Michel Camilo and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, playing the music of the great Ernesto Lecuona. There's a wonderful anecdote about Lecuona, told by G. Cabrera Infante: Late in life Lecuona, a bit down at heel, was walking down a street in Havana and heard his own music coming from an open window. He went up and listened because the Victrola was playing a highly embellished, lush orchestral arrangement. Excuse me, he called in through the window, what is that music you are listening to? The lady of the house came to the window and replied, It's the new piece by the American genius, George Gershwin. Oh really, answered Lecuona, it says it was composed by Gershwin? Yes, but wait, it says the themes are adapted from Cuban folklore. OK, he said and left. He told his friends and they said, You can sue for copyright infringement and make some money. No, replied the composer, if the great Gershwin wants to mistake me for folklore then I am satisfied. You can read my reviews on the Cuba Live page. And catch the video of their rehearsal for the show here.

Room at the Top

For once my colleagues have totally different ideas about this year's best from your humble reporter. Here's DJ David Sharp (of Musica International)'s list:
Lila Downs, Ballaké Sissoko w Driss el Maloumi & Rajery, Lee Perry (Super Ape returns), Trio Dakali w Kronos Quartet, Ammoye (The Light), Les Amazones d'Afrique, Las Cafeteras, Ahmad Jamal, Jayme Stone, Orch Baobab.
You know my opinion of some of these, Les Amazones is the only one we agree on, I liked the lead-off single, but not the whole thing; Baobab was a huge disappointment to me, like a Beatles reunion album without John Lennon. Lee Perry is a good call, but it's just his classic Upsetter sides once again with fancy new toast & avocado on top. I had not heard the Ballaké Sissoko "fusion" disc, so I checked it out, and the others, on YouTube and wasn't moved to change my selection. Regarding reissues, the final appearance of Zaire 74: The African artists was welcome, but sadly, as Ken Braun pointed out, the Franco and Rochereau sets were heavily edited, so what's the point? The legacy of Ravi Shankar was carried forward with another issue in the Nine Decades series, Ghanashyam, a sparkling music theater piece.

Top 10 new releases of 2017

KUTU PRIETA PA SARAGUIA (Tico Music/Palenque Records)

Some time in the not-too-distant past soukous guitar merged with the native cumbia rhythms of Colombia and found a natural home in the champeta music of Son Palenque. Since 1998 DJ Lucas Silva has been producing high quality CDs of this exciting blend of African and traditional Colombian music, call it reAfricanized Cumbia if you like, from the fine Champeta Criolla compilations to four albums by this outfit known as Son Palenque. They have also recorded for Munster Records and other labels. They grew up separately in the timeless traditions of rural villages but found each other when they moved to the city. Their latest offering is an exciting mix, with vocals (sung and declaimed) and saxophone, provided by Michi Sarmiento, augmenting the speedy guitar and the writhing coils of percussion on the first four tracks. After that, they mostly get rootsy and show they can generate as much excitement with drums and shakers behind the vocals while the guitarist is off at the bar. The bassist steps up on track 6, "Jo no puedo más (I can't go on)." Over almost 40 years this group has improved and honed their art in a superb blend of traditional drumming with exhilarating guitar and sax rave-ups.


Perfect to get your juices flowing for your cardio workout; in fact you'd be hard pressed to listen to this sitting down. The Colombians have long cherished African music and it has become a mainstay of their sound systems, or picós. Like their Jamaican counterparts they are keen to get the rarest sides (blacking out the labels so rivals cannot find out what they have) and sample and loop and repeat the seben, stretching out the groove, overlaying it with drum patterns or other riffs for maximum dance floor impact. Much as I love my LPs I have moved into the CD then digital worlds, reluctantly. One bonus of the CD is the hour length so you are not constantly jumping up to turn over the album. This is only half an hour long, as it's an LP, which left me wanting more. Palenque has been a prime mover of the AfroColombia scene since the mid-1990s, having brought us Batata, Luis Towers, Mystic Orchestra and a bunch of other great stuff. Their motto is "We are the Real Motherfuckers of AfroColombian Music!" Champeta music grew out of the hybrid of African music with Colombian instruments such as marimba, and legendary Congolese musicians Diblo Dibala and Bopol Mansiamania have had residencies in Cartagena to add their licks to the tracks. To celebrate twenty years, Palenque invited "global bass" DJs from Europe and the Americas to remix tracks. It's very varied but also engaging. Soukous fans will love the lead-off track "Kumina" with Bopol and Son Palenque, remixed by the Dutchman Solo Moderna, with a lovely sax part. Son Palenque also provide the stunning "A Pila el Arroz" in the Ghetto Kumbé Afro Rework by a Colombian DJ. "Mini Kusuto" by Viviano Torres is the most trancelike track with echoey jungle sounds and even marimbas sounding spacey. There's a woman's voice whispering something that sounds to me like "Itsy bitsy spider" but I know that can't be right. A revelation I had listening to this is that there is a connection between pygmy flutes and Andean pan pipes, once the pan pipes looped on reverb come in, you hear that pygmy polyphony that is so mesmerizing. As Heraclitus said, "The hidden harmony is better than the obvious one."

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.

DUAS CIDADES (free on line)

My pal Zeca told me to check out this group, Baiana System: I gave it a cursory listen and said, nah, too techno for me, thanks. Then I stumbled across their video for carnaval 2017, "Invisivel," which got under my skin and I decided to give them another listen. Like many other bands they give away their music since they know people will steal it if they can, so you can check it out for free. One hopes this promotes them to the point where they get more gigs and that pays for their time and effort. This album is firmly rooted in their home turf: Cidade Alta and Cidade Baixa of Salvador da Bahia. The Duas Cidades (two cities) sit on the Bay of All Saints from which they get their name, and are separated by an old lift: the Lacerda elevator which takes you up from the bay to the precincts of the beautifully preserved 17th-century town on the cliffs above (a UNESCO World Heritage site). When I first went there 20 years ago the Lonely Planet guide said, "Avoid the ruined old city at night because it's full of thieves and prostitutes," so I figured that was the place to go. And I was right, I loved it on sight. Baiana System have a nice touch on the one-drop reggae, with post-Adrian Sherwood effects (though still a strong hint of Massive Attack). In fact the album starts in the middle of a dubby piece with tasty piano and squeaky jazz clarinet riffs bouncing off a prowling bass line and very busy drums. You feel like you opened the right door late at night to a welcoming little bar off a cobbled side street in Pelourinho. The band are cooking and you are not yet too intoxicated to appreciate it. "Playsom" is a reggae/axé hybrid and the drummers really merge well, even adding in some Style Scott drum fills before a crashing dub comes in. In addition to the samba-reggae there are some more -- what's the word? traditional -- hip hop type tracks, including a tribute to Fela Kuti.

HALO (Crammed Discs)

My Argentine section is notably sparse and, truth be told, Juana Molina could be from anywhere, Brazil, Spain, Colombia. Her latest album (No 7) is another chapter in her stylish exploration of treated voice over synthesizer and rhythms built from electronic disjecta membra. Wind turns into an electronic wail, and garbage drum sounds from a Roland Sampling drum pad build as live traps, cymbals and guitars (Molina herself via loop) ride along. It's engaging and offbeat enough to keep you wondering where it's going. The closest I can come up with musically is Robert Wyatt. Trying to describe it puts me in mind of a client I once did a printing job for: I had her pick it up from the record store where I worked, Round World Music, which specialized in world music. Do you work here? she asked. Yes, I said. Well, that's nice ... if you like that sort of thing, she replied. Words to live by. So if you like this kind of thing: breathy Spanish pop vocals about "icy feet" over a mysterious sometimes atonal backing track that builds to a peak then evaporates like smoke, then go for it. The "Halo" of the title refers not to sanctity but to the mysterious lights that float above ground at night and scare travelers. In concert the synth player, Odin Schwartz, who likes the pitch bend wheel a bit too much, doubles on bass and guitar and adds backing vocals.


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.

TARG (Glitterbeat)

This is a brilliant album, perfectly executed. Nidhal Yahyaoui grew up in the Bargou valley, a forgotten fold of land somewhere between the mountains of northwest Tunisian and the Algerian border. The people there have their own language, part-Berber, part-Arabic, and have been passing down traditional songs and stories for hundreds of years. When the people's revolution began in Tunisia, Yahyaoui's first thought was, what is going to happen to our ancient culture? He decided it was on him to collect the songs of his folk and this became his passion for a decade: finding village elders, old men and women, who could teach him the songs and variations on them. Gradually he assembled a band including some youngsters from the village to perform the music. There's traditional reed instruments, the gasba and zokra; the big tambourine known as bendir; Nidhal himself plays an oud-like instrument called wtar and sings; there's a drummer, and musical director Ben Youssef on Moog. Yahyaoui didn't hesitate to add a Moog synthesizer to the traditional line up to appeal to youth. The band went on the road, performing in festivals from Denmark to Sarawak. This shaped their repertoire and brought the rhythms to the forefront. Instead of overwhelming things, the Moog just fattens the basslines. Back in Bargou they found a place to play, lining the walls with bales of hay, and running the cables to the soundboard in the kitchen, where Ben Youssef recorded with one hand and played synth with the other. Then they laid down their live set in one of the most engaging albums of traditional music I have ever heard. The vocals are raw the solos are not note-perfect, but passionate.

TAMALA (Muziekpublique)

This trio was formed in the Low Countries, far from the hot deserts of West Africa. Yet they retain the arid raspy vocals and the sparkling strings reminiscent of glistening drops of water evaporating in the bright sun. The two Africans are Senegalese and brought their traditions into exile in Europe. There they hooked up with violinist Wouter Vandenabeele in Brussels, the international crossroads of Belgium. Like other successful fusion albums, the violin fits in perfectly with the plangent kora of Sissoko and the other strings plucked by Mola Sylla. He plays the small ngoni-like xalam and thumb piano on two tracks. The band name Tamala means Travelers, which has far pleasanter connotations than Refugees. However they sing about the plight of slaves in the striking number "Kongoman" which refers not to Jamaican music but to the kalimba which was brought to Senegal by slaves en route to the New World. The violin soars and evokes the big "Egyptian" sound that Youssou admired in the music of Oum Kalthoum. In the heart of the album, the violin leads the line on the instrumental "Ceppe" and "Zanzibar" which is a tribute to Bi Kidude, the late taarab singer. Kora and xalam intertwine on "Geej DJu Malika" a song about Malika the town near Dakar where Sylla goes to the ocean for inspiration. Vandenabeele plucks his fiddle expressively too. In fact the violin blends in perfectly, alternately plucked and bowed (as on "Xafamaya") adding counterpoint and grace notes and making the ensemble sound that much bigger.

MOGOYA (Noformat NOF36)

Oumou is not yet 50 but has already made her mark as one of the grand divas of Malian music. The daughter of Peul famers from Wassoulou, she sold water on the streets of Bamako as a small child, but soon attracted attention for her singing voice. She got gigs as a praise singer at weddings and baptisms and this led to a career with the National Ensemble of Mali and then a European tour with the group Djoliba. World Circuit launched her international career with Ko Sira in 1993 and Worotan in 1996. The anthology Women of Mali: the Wassoulou Sound also boosted her career as the hypnotic rhythms of her homeland captivated the Western audience. Her lyrics take a frank critical look at customs like polygamy and excision; on the new album she sings about suicide on the moody single "Yere faga," which features the driving drums of Tony Allen. A reggae feel permeates "Kounkoun," yet overall there is a French sheen to the production, reminiscent of the recent efforts of Rokia Traoré who has emerged as the strong young voice of Mali. But Oumou reasserts her vocals chops and adds her own secret weapon in the form of Guimba Kouyaté, a young Malian guitarist who rips out some extraordinary riffs. Her backing band is an electronic group called Trio A.L.B.E.R.T. It may be a cliché but this is an album rooted in tradition with a strong progressive thrust into the future.

IN TIME (Blue-Skinned God Records)

Simply a lovely set of traditional Indian Carnatic music. Despite audible appearances, the group is from New York though they ply traditional instruments: the double-headed barrel-shaped mridangam drum, tabla, bansuri flute and hammered dulcimer. Bala Skandan the leader is the drummer who sets the pace with complex rhythms. He also studied violin as a lad, but the drum was his first love as he could always hear it emanating from temples, unamplified. And if there was a wedding going on, you knew from the sound of the drums. Skandan worked for a while in London (one of the tracks is called "Mind the gap"!) where he would put together Indian ensembles for one-off concerts. Now based in New York he has not hesitated to bring cello and viola into the mix because he feels they fit so well. One cello player got married so he brought in another from Brooklyn Raga Massive and now they have two cello players as needed. The album, of traditional ragas from both the Carnatic and Hindu canon, is perfectly sequenced and at 45 minutes leaves you wanting more.

Top 10 reissues of the year:


When Piper "Pimienta" Díaz died (murdered in front of his home in June 1998), a tribute album was issued by his label Discos Fuentes of Colombia that included a photo of him looking like a dolled-up corpse on the cover, so my cynical musical friends called it the "dead man" album. I am sure this put off potential buyers, but it rapidly became one of my favorite albums. Díaz had been the singer for two of Colombia's biggest bands: Fruko y sus Tesos and the Latin Brothers. Now the European label Vampisoul has reissued Piper's first album with Fruko from 1972. The style, known as salsa brava, has a hard sound with percussion to the fore and big blasts of brass from three trumpets and two trombones. There are many styles represented, including the traditional bomba and plena of Puerto Rico, guaguancó, oriza, and cha cha chá from Cuba, and the New York-bred Latin soul and descarga, all of which found a fertile home in Cali in the 1970s. Piper Pimienta (born Edulfamid Molina Díaz) brought an energy and intensity to the sound that matched Fruko's arrangements and the stark engineering by Fruko's uncle Mario Rincón. This was the group's second album and is mostly cover versions of guaranteed dance hits, some from the 50s, showing the continuity of Latin music in Colombia. This album is what propelled Díaz to fame alongside Joe Arroyo, another Colombia superstar who joined him in the Latin Brothers. For an hour of pure unbounded joy you won't find better than this.


I am very greedy when it comes to classic Malian, Senegalese and Guinean music of their golden era, which spans post-Independence in 1960 through the 80s. As much as I discover, there's always more, and I am grateful to people like Graeme Counsel, Florent Mazzoleni, Adamantios Kafetzis of Teranga Beat, not to mention Stern's, Kanaga System, Dakar Sound and all the independent labels who find this music and restore it for us. This latest reissue from Mr Bongo is simply stunning. Looking at the tracklist you might see "Mandjou" by Les Ambassadeurs, and tracks from Rail Band and Super Djata and think to yourself, I probably have these. But chances are you don't have more than two or three of these tracks, not because they are obscurities, but because they are super-rare gems. I know, you are saying, But I have the 6-disc Rail Band set from Sterns (STCD3033-34, 39-40, 43-44), but you still don't have "Mouodilo" (a solid funk track, it came out on 45 from HMV in Nigeria!), and you might have "Fatema" by Ambassadeurs or Sory Bamba's "Yayoroba," but that still leaves a stack of stuff you need, like the two impossibly scarce and fabulous Idrissa Soumaroro tracks with his band L'Eclipse de l'I.J.A., the overlooked but far from slack Tentemba Jazz, and the Super Djata tracks which have never been reissued to my knowledge (They don't even show up on Idrissa Soumaroro is less well-known than other alumni of Les Ambassadeurs du Motel, and there are two cuts from his solo venture (Ampsa, 1978) presented here, bracketing the whole package: they are in a steaming R&B vein with great organ, congas, funk & rock guitar: a nice change from Afrobeat. "Fama Allah" made me think of "You keep me hanging on" as covered by Vanilla Fudge. His band L'Eclipse consisted of some of his blind students from L'Institut des Jeunes Aveugles in Bamako, including Amadou (on guitar) and Mariam (on vocals) who later had a successful breakout career in Europe and America. Back then, the European and American influences were grafted onto traditional melodies and lyrics, though occasionally some broke from tradition, like Sory Bamba whose hit "Ya Yoroba" celebrated women with large breasts. With his swirling electric organ, his group, Kanaga de Mopti, were compared to Pink Floyd. Super Djata had a wider repertoire, stylistically, than the other bands and also came to their peak powers during the 80s when the other big name bands -- Les Ambassadeurs and Rail Band -- were dropping off in popularity. In addition to Rail Band's Djelimady Tounkara and Super Biton's Mama Sissoko, Super Djata's Zani Diabaté is one of the great African guitarists. Compared to Magic Sam, Freddie King and even Hendrix, he was also a renowned percussionist and dancer. The booklet shows the covers of five Super Djata LPs that I have never seen, nor heard of before. The three tracks here stand up to the best of Ambassadeurs and the other class acts present. The whole album shows many facets of some musicians as they appeared in different configurations. The producers refer to one of "the heaviest Afro Funk cuts, 'Moko Jolo' of Rail Band" (which is on their 1973 "blue" album, Serie Folk-Rail 1, but not included here). I guess they are leaving some stuff on the side for a further smorgasbord. It's a great jam, but currently only available on a 2011 Japanese import replica CD of the original album which has three other cuts which are not in print. But there's enough here to satisfy you and broaden your collection of fabulous classic Malian music.


Hot on the heels of their fabulous Mali compilation, Mr Bongo drops another sonic bomb: this time from Burkina Faso, a landlocked country surrounded by Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana, Niger, Benin and Togo. So now you know where it is: there will be a test. As Upper Volta the country was part of French West Africa so predictably is a gathering of people from different ethnic groups which span the country's borders. In addition musicians had to go abroad to record so were influenced by what they heard on these trips. Musically the compilation provides a wide variety of treats. It's not all sunshine and lollipops, there's the inevitable disco number, and you surely have the Amadou Balaké tracks already, such as the definitive Latin version of "Whisky et Coca-Cola" and "Super bar konon Moussa," that churns the funk. You may also have sprung for Bobo Yeyé, the 3-disc set that came out last year from the Numero Group, which was distinguished by a lovely hardback book of the B&W photos of Sory Sanlé (It has the photo of the guy on a moped on the cover). "Sie Koumgolo," as well as "Super bar konon Moussa," were on Analog's Bambara Mystic Soul; "A son magni" and "Yamb ney Capitale" -- Pierre Sandwidi's rocking closer -- were on Ouaga Affair (another fine comp); while others were in the Bobo Yeyé box. However there are plenty of rarities here, including the kicking lead-off cut "Jeunesse Wilila" by Abdou Cissé which you really don't want to fade out when it does. "Djanfa Magni," a famous Manding ballad which was popularized in Mali, is covered in a great version by Youssouf Diarra. Mangue Kondé's guitar playing here, with both 5 Consuls and Super Mande, is outstanding, pushing him up to the level of Sekou "Bembeya" Diabaté. The important thing is Burkina Faso's musical heritage is finally getting its due. Soon Volta Jazz, Super Volta, Dafra Star and Les 5 Consuls will be as well known as the big bands from neighboring countries thanks to the excellent detailed histories of the bands by compiler Florent Mazzoleni, and CDs such as this. We want music to suggest an alternative past for us, and this Voltaic outpouring speaks to our soul, singly or collectively: we find something familiar in it right from the start. It may have been around as long as we have and while we were listening to Paul Jones of Manfred Mann singing "Do wah diddy diddy," some kid in Ouagadougou was digging Amadou Balaké singing "Aminata" -- it's almost as if we swapped memories or recognized each other in a parallel mirrored universe. This music, so familiar after hearing it once (after all it has guitars with wahwah pedals and fuzztone, Hammond organs, saxophones), now speaks to us of our whole life, our loves and disappointments (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde in "The Critic as Artist"). What more could you want.


Matsuli step outside their normal Azanian comfort zone for this package, the latest installment in their growing collection of fine jazz reissues. This rare album came out in Turkey in 1976. It's expressive, experimental and above all engaging. The invisible catalyst is American avant garde trumpeter Don Cherry. Johnny Dyani had gone to London from his native South Africa in 1964, still in his teens, as bassist for jazz group The Blue Notes with Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana. After five years Dyani decided to try his luck in Copenhagen and ran into Don Cherry who was performing with a Turkish drummer, Okay Temiz. The three soon formed a trio and toured Europe and America from their base in Stockholm. They recorded with Abdullah Ibrahim on piano in 1970 and 71. From a teenaged student of hard bop, Dyani had absorbed Cherry's idea about global music, involving all styles and any influences, whether Chinese, Turkish or from elsewhere, including South African folksongs and rural music that Dyani could bring to the mix. He and percussionist Temiz had forged a bond that also led to their explorations with other South African, Turkish and Swedish musicians in a variety of configurations. The culmination of their search for a successful mix between jazz and folklore led to a trio with Mongezi Feza of the original Blue Notes, who was also well-versed in the marabi music of the shebeens back in South Africa. Sadly Feza was committed to a London hospital where, neglected, he contracted pneumonia and died. In 1976 the surviving duo had a residency in Istanbul and decided it was time to record their ideas: side one would be the Turkish side, and side two the South African side, with invited Swedish and Turkish musicians improvising live. On the traditional Turkish tunes, Saffet Gündeger features on violin and clarinet. Recorded in two days, this album fulfills the aims of two inspired performers and, though they are not present, the spirits of their brothers in music, whether Cherry (via his tune "Marimba [Mother of music]") or Abdullah Ibrahim (whose influence can be heard in Dyani's piano on here), are represented. It's a remarkable journey and a truly great rediscovery.

1974-5 (Analog Africa 24)

Analog Africa is one of the most prolific, diverse and provocative labels going. It focusses on reissues and has created a fabulous back catalogue of music we never even knew existed, from all over Africa. And Analog Africa strides ahead with yet another fantastic reissue, the second or third this year (depending whether you count disco). We are still digesting Los Camaroes' stellar album, which reappeared this summer, and here comes another previously unknown gem. This short album presents the complete works (3 singles or 6 sides) of Hamad Kalkaba backed by a band who I am pretty sure are not the same Golden Sounds of "Zangalewa" fame. The "continuing adventures of Samy" fill us in on the story of how label boss Ben Redjeb found a single by this artist and then went on a quest for more works by this one-time master of a particular Northern Camerounian rhythm known as the Gandjal. Finding the music was tough, but it was not hard to track down the artist, for, once identified, he was known to everyone as a retired colonel who had gone on to the nation's Olympic committee and thence to head the Confederation of African Athletes. As a soldier Kalkaba joined the band of the Republican guard and rose to be leader, learning the various instruments along the way. But at the time, 1970, they played European music and he wished their own rhythms could be showcased the way Makossa and Bikutsi were being performed in other parts of the former French colony. (Originally a German territory, Cameroun was divided between Britain and France after WW1, but when Independence loomed in 1960, the Northern British part opted to join Nigeria.) Like other African artists of the 70s the aim of young Camerounian musicians was to take traditional rhythms and modernize them with electric guitars, keyboards and drum kits. "Lamido," one of the harsher cuts on here, has an attack reminiscent of Fela, a grindingly funky groove, yelled vocals and an ominous organ hovering in the back with even more threatening horns punching through as the vocalist grunts "Bismillah!" I have no doubt these were massive hits in their day and shocked the people with their bold thrust away from the traditional thumb piano and rattles into electric big band sounds. They even turned some of these traditional songs into military marches. They did include a balafon and talking drum in the lineup but these recordings were made in a Protestant mission and consequently the mikes are not balanced, which is why there is a distant rumble from some of the less-audible instruments. "Gandjal kessoum" kicks right in with wild drums and wildly flailing sax in a hot take. The lyrics (which are included) are socially conscious and show how Kalakaba could have been a transformative force as a singer had he chosen to continue that career. But after his band appeared at Festac '77 as representatives of Cameroun he decided to devote himself to the more secure career of the military. This is short, sweet and mighty fine.

THE LONINGISA YEARS 1956-61 (Planet Ilunga 3)

On 1 September 1950 Henri Bowane cut the first disc for the Loningisa studios, opened by the Papadimitriou cousins, who were textile merchants in Leopoldville. Over a decade later, on 3 May 1962, the artist known as Geraldo waxed another rumba titled "Yo canto para ti" as the four hundred and first disc issued on 78 from Loningisa. In a handwritten note on their catalogue, deposited with the Belgian copyright society SABAM (& reproduced on the Worldservice blog) they state: "We have given up recording because of the political situation." Later, they stated that after President Mobutu declared the Republic of Zaire on 30 November 1973 they were forbidden, as foreigners, from continuing their commercial enterprises.
The Papadimitrious were one of four foreign enterprises (the others were Olympia, Ngoma and Opika) who specialized in producing Congolese rumba records for the local market. During those 12 years they nurtured some considerable talents and, as it turns out, half of their recordings were by members of a group that became known as OK Jazz, though they were essentially Bana Loningisa -- "the kids of Loningisa studio."
Bart Cattaeart has assembled 32 pristine tracks here, none of which are on the other key albums of this group's early days: Originalité (Retro2XCD 1999), with 20 tracks, or Roots of OK Jazz (Crammed Disc CRAW7 1993), with 19 tracks. But as Bart says, 90% of Congolese music from the 78 era has not made it to the digital age.
In volume one disc one of his 4-disc collection of the career of Franco, Francophonic, Ken Braun included 3 cuts by Bana Lonigisa (from Crammed's compilations) and three from Originalité, the famous "On entre OK, on sort KO (You come in fine, you leave knocked out)" and the blistering love song not about Demi Moore: "Tcha tcha tcha de mi Amor." But other early tracks have been hard to find. After De Wayon brought young Franco to the Papadimitrious to audition, the stable of musicians came together. Bassist Roitelet and singer Vicky came from the CEFA label, followed by guitarist De La Lune, singer Rossignol and clarinetist/saxophonist Jean-Serge Essous. Vicky had wanted to be an accountant but was soon busy as vocalist with both OK Jazz and Negro Succès. The band came together with a live gig at the OK Bar in the Mulattos Home, run by Gaston Cassien, himself a Belgian kid with a Congolese mother. Essous was chef d'orchestre and the musicians above were augmented by Pandi Saturnin and Dessoin on congas. Bowane took a huff over being left out and quit to work for a new label (run by another Greek businessman): Esengo (built on the remains of Opika), where he would gradually lure Rossignol, Roitelet, Pandi and Essous to form Rock-a-Mambo. Isaac Musekiwa was brought from African Jazz to fill the big hole left by Essous' departure, so there could be interplay between the horn and Franco's dazzling guitar. Trumpeter Willy Kuntima and another guitarist, Brazzos, joined in 1957. In 1959 there was another shake-up with half the band leaving to join half of Rock-a-Mambo in creating the Bantous de la Capitale in Brazzaville. Guitarist Brazzos and singer Vicky left to go the Table Ronde summit in Brussels with members of African Jazz; Franco was invited too but his wife Pauline forbid him to go. He struggled to continue but from then on OK Jazz was his band, and he increasingly put his personal stamp on it.
Like the music of African Jazz, Rock-a-Mambo and the Bantous, the early OK Jazz repertoire was deep into the Afro-Cuban boleros, rumbas, merengues, cha-chas and the occasional calypso. Franco even adapted Bakoko folklore, but by the late 60s he was forging the rumba-odemba sound with which he is most strongly identified. The 32 tracks here are in many ways similar to those other bands' repertoires, except in the "guitare parlante" and of course the vocalists. Cattaert has put together as wide an array as possible of styles, even including Colombian porro and Brasilian samba.
In contrast to Sonodisc who put out some early Franco material from unrestored records with no information other than title (often mis-spelled) and composer, Planet Ilunga has done an exceptional job of restoration, with the needed information. There is one slightly muddy track at the end "Bana OK Jazz": one assumes it was impossible to find a copy that had not been worn out on the Victrola. I had heard 8 or 9 of these tracks before from traders who had thrashed 78s, so the clean sound is a joy and a revelation. You won't find this exquisite music elsewhere, and it is a limited-edition pressing, so grab your copy a.s.a.p.

Note: I printed up an imaginary poster for the first OK Jazz gig at Cassien's Home of Mulattos in Léopoldville, 6 June 1956 [left]. Planet Ilunga gave these away with the first 80 orders; I have a few left, which are available from my Etsy page.

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.


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.


There's a brilliant travel book by Redmond O'Hanlon called Into the Heart of Borneo. He and a friend undertake a dangerous trek into the depth of the jungle, hoping to meet a tribe that have had no contact with the outside world in over 50 years. One of the Rockefellers, Michael, was allegedly eaten while trying to make contact with these people in 1961. You learn that you don't pee in the river while bathing because there's a spiny fish that loves the warm piss and will swim up the flow and lodge itself in your urethra. But when the intrepid explorers get to their destination they find natives hoping they have batteries so they can play their boomboxes again and hear the Michael Jackson tapes they love so much. For much of the twentieth century, Africa had a similar shivering-dread/romantic appeal for daredevil travelers, but by the mid-century music explorers were going armed with reel-to-reel recorders and capturing the local music made in villages. While Hugh Tracey was working his way North from Southern Africa, the French National Radio had a man on the spot in the form of Charles Duvelle who covered West and Central Africa, then the Indian Ocean, South-East Asia and the South Pacific. Duvelle grew up in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, where his father was a colonial governor. Returning to France when he was 9, he studied classical piano and began to compose, and by chance came across a collection of tapes recorded in West Africa held by radio station France d'Outre-Mer. He offered to organize them and soon had a job. He saw a chance to escape the drab motherland and get back to the bright tropics. His radio station sent him first to Niger in 1961 to help set up a radio station there and he found many badly recorded tapes, done in the studio, and told his hosts that since the music was originally played in the field, as it were, they should go and capture it in situ. He set out with the radio host, who was his entrée to the villages, and brought along a Nagra tape deck and a Sennheiser mike. With griots or small ensembles he was able to set up his mike out of the wind and capture their performance, but he also got excited by the possibility of listening in on ceremonies and capturing the sound by becoming part of the action, moving around and adjusting his set-up so, in a sense, improvising with his recording equipment. Returning to France he issued three LPs: those from Upper Volta and Ivory Coast won the Grand Prix du Disque, and not only established him as a music producer but created a market for this music among anthropologists, musicians, travelers and fans in general. Duvelle ended up in charge of the sound archives of OCORA (Office de Coopération Radiophonique), which was established in 1964. The success of these early records led to the deluxe series published by OCORA with gatefolds, cloth covers, embossing, and booklets of photographs and notes that make these discs so attractive. Duvelle returned to Africa, visiting Cameroon and C.A.R. in 62, Dahomey (Benin) and Madagascar in 63, Kenya in 65, Congo (Zaire) in 66, Senegal in 1967, and then on to New Guinea in 1974 and so on. He was involved with FESTAC 77 and, bizarrely, the soundtrack to Fellini's Satyricon. The surreal juxtaposition struck Duvelle as a brilliant idea, making the African music seem like contemporary avant-garde music. Also in 1977 his field recordings from Burundi were selected by Carl Sagan to go on the gold disc sent into deep space aboard the Voyager spacecraft. And then those recordings of Burundi drummers were appropriated by Burundi Black. He felt that some of the royalties should go back to the people who created the originals so assigned the rights to the Burundi embassy. Here, in appreciation of Duvelle, we have a book the size of an LP with 230 pages of his photographs of musicians from all over the world, plus a discography (including 94 full-color thumbnails), OCORA catalogues from 1964 to 73, notes, articles and two CDs, one of African music, one of Indian. There are a few tracks from Papua incongruously interspersed in the African side, though one or two fit into the flow. This is a celebration of a remarkable individual and, for those like me, who grew up listening obsessively to the OCORA pygmy and ritual recordings, not to mention the mesmerizing Valiha Madagascar set, this is a wonderful treat. Rakotozafy from Madagascar became a celebrity in the world music world with his home-made bicycle spoke zither and you can hear him rock out on "Samy faly (Everyone can find happiness)" here. There's a thumb piano duet, a striking (ahem) xylophone piece from Gabon and another from Guinea which makes an interesting contrast. Then out of the blue we hear a bopal solo, which is a reed instrument made from a single millet stem, played by Moussa Sandé, a Peul shepherd, who just wails for 6 minutes. This Burkinabe could get up on the bandstand with Pharoah Sanders and fit in just fine. More balafons complete the African set. The second disc is a soothing collection of South Asian music including bansuri flute and drone from India and mouth organ from Laos. It's a completely different mood but rounds out the picture of this cosmopolitan and groundbreaking music pioneer.

AFRICAN GEMS (Sharp Wood Productions 043)

The Charles Duvelle commemorative album, which I reviewed above, got me to dig out some of my treasured OCORA albums and I started looking at the names of the people who recorded the music. Some other music pioneers, Hugh Tracey and John Low have been lionized, not only in the Sharp Wood Series, but also by Original Music of John Storm Roberts who produced wonderful reissues of their recordings. What convinced me to buy African Gems was partly that it's what you might call "tribal Africa's greatest hits," but also that Sharp Wood's A&R man, Michael Baird, is a percussionist and drummer and is going to have a different take on what the great field recordings are from your humble reporter (I admit I got my Doctor of Rhythm doctorate from a mail-order college who gave me credit for "life experience"). The importance of these recordings is obvious: between 1965 and 1984 four white men, an Englishman, a Frenchman, and two Belgians, traveled the heart of Africa recording tribal music. Since then war, famine, HIV/AIDS, not to mention the onrush of modernity, have made this traditional music quietly disappear from the earth. But they captured vital musical moments, documents of life as valid as books or movies, maybe more so because of their immediacy. Tourists go looking for it, and perhaps are treated to a mock or recreated initiation ceremony but things slide out of reality, lose their context. In 1983 I visited the Mbuti pygmies (first celebrated by Colin Turnbull), and they put on a concert for my companions and me; they hocketed, jumped about imitating monkeys and generally tore the place up -- for a small fee. We spent a week camped near them in their forest village made of leaves and twigs, and traded them sugar and flour for pot, or to take us hunting. We were offered precious stones (probably bogus), gold (ditto) and even bark cloth, which was lovely but too fragile to transport. I traded a thrift store HARVARD t-shirt for a lovely sanza (thumb piano). (The t-shirt was immediately turned for cigarettes to the local "bigmies" -- normal-sized Africans who lived off the pygmies.) Several of the little people wore necklaces that had stones and seedpods on them. One day I asked one of them who spoke French the significance of those necklaces. Some Italians were here a few months ago and gave them to us, he said, would you like one? I have no doubt one of those necklaces is now in some ethnographic collection with a note, "Ituri rainforest 1983: Mbuti pgymy." So to the disc: the opening track comes from OCORA 25 Cameroun (the one with the cover that was plagiarized by Analog Africa for their disco reissue). It is outstanding, but then so are the 11 cuts that follow. A track like "Mbilé" by a kendé (xylophone) soloist is so rich you have a hard time believing it's only one performer. He accompanied a wrestling match in Chad in 1966 and here the track is restored to its full length. The kendé is an upright xylophone struck with four mallets, according to Duvelle, who also took a photo of the performer. Then we are treated to the "traffic jam" effect of seven ivory horns with percussion (Duvelle in Congo, also 1966). It's interesting that "out" jazz arose around this time and was also a product of African-American horn players. (Note the use of the word "horn"!) The segue into Alur horns from Uganda is great and the reason I wanted to give Baird the reins on this set! The horns from Chad performing "Sirhélé" are also extra-classic. It too slides seamlessly into one of the mind-blowingest pieces of "world music": "Gandja" music from Centrafrique. This is an initiation ceremony complete with chorus and ankle-rattles but the horn polyphony is completely trance-inducing. I admire the way the ten short themes flow together and marvel at their seeming lack of time signature. The anthology ends with an epic topical song sung to a home-made guitar with the choral singer frantically tapping a bottle. It brings us back to earth, though one can see why this music is the stuff that we sent into space to convince alien lifeforms that we earthlings have soul.