Give me the sun, the sand, the surf, Girl Friday, and a CD player with solar batteries and I'll happily forget civilization. As my ship goes down, the CDs I'd grab for a protracted stay on a sandy atoll would include:


This gentle acoustic album is the perfect accompaniment to meditation. The songs are fables and legends from the largest ethnic group in Central African Republic and are about hope, love, and reconciliation. They are accompanied by thumb pianos and rattles.


Stirring ritual music from the Ivory Coast recorded during the festival of the masks in the mid-sixties. The combination of masked voices, percussion, and bull-roarers will keep any malevolent spirits at bay.

FRANCO & L'OK JAZZ 1970-2 (Sono CD 36514)

During this period Franco had Celi Bitshou and Mose Se Fan Fan in the band. This collection of songs were mostly singles with an A side melody and a B side jam. There are acoustic tracks mixed in with the usual unstoppable OK Jazz juggernaut of intense sound.


These two classic albums of the early eighties were recorded under the musical supervision of Eddy Gustave who brought lilting Antillean rhythms to the forceful rhumba of the Congo. The resulting dreamy yet intense songs build with an erotic intensity.


One of the most creative periods for Docteur Nico where he experimented with new rhythms and invented dances like the Kiri-Kiri and Kono. You never know what he'll do next as he pulls music out of the aether and drives his band to unprecedented levels of creative interaction.


For a change, a group led by saxophones rather than guitars: the exquisite parallel horn lines of Nino Malapet and Jean-Serge Essous propel this group of brilliant Congolese musicians, many of whom started with Franco or Kabaselle. One of the best manifestations of re-Africanized Cuban music, this set features cha-chas, rumbas, and other classic dances.


This compilation draws from the whole career of Joseph Kabaselle with African Jazz -- the group where Nico and Rochereau started -- to the later African Team which featured Manu Dibango and Papa Noel. His biggest, most enduring hits are here: "Para Fifi," "Jamais Kolonga" and "Essous Spiritou".


This is where it all began. The first of two CDs documenting the birth of popular dance music in Zaire draws from a remarkable archive of pristine 78s which sound as fresh now as they did to the amazed ears of young Kinois forty years ago. DeWayon, Bowane, and other founders of the sound are well represented and the lyrics are translated and documented in the accompanying booklet.


As I was throwing things into my bag for a three month stay in Brazil I kept worrying that I was bringing the wrong music. I remember once going away for a month with twenty cassette tapes that I had carefully selected and then late one night wishing I had some mellow Ellington to listen to. If you are on a desert island you may not want to be reminded of the music you left behind. Maybe the break from all that artificial noise will be welcome.

When I asked my deejay friends what they would take, they said, "I'd burn some CDs!" A friend gave me a story from the New Yorker called "Keith Richards's Desert Island Disks," where Keith goes mad listening to Little Richard singing "Tooti Frutti" over and over. I didn't want to get into that predicament. However I did bring some of my current listening shelf so as not to go cold turkey on the stuff I'm into at the moment.

Two West African albums which are the best African releases of 1999 are in hot rotation on my desert island: Issa Bagayogo's SYA which is the most innovative Malian recording since Salif Keita's first solo outing SORO, and Cheikh Lo's BAMBAY GUEEJ, a great blend of Senegalese mbalax with a Famous Flames stone groove -- the horns are arranged by Pee Wee Ellis. From North Africa I brought the unusual and compelling BAB EL OUD KINGSTON by Gnawa Diffusion (& a tip of the fez to DeeJay IJ once again for turning me on to this gem), a mixture of Arabic-Andalusian, Gnawan trance, and reggae dancehall that works!

Now to the longtime loves. Tunes I'll always have to have in the conch shell nearest my ear as the sun beats down mercilessly and the surf crashes at my feet.

from OBJECTIF PERFECTION (Popular African Music ADC302)

Guinee is one of the socialist African countries that fostered state bands and managed to cultivate their musical heritage throughout the early years of independence by actively supporting the best musicians. The Syliphone label of Conakry documented the output of these bands, in singles, compilations and LPs. Now some of the cream is coming out on CD.

One of the legendary Guinean bands of the 1960s and 70s, Balla and his Balladins were half of the state-funded Syli Orchestre National founded in 1959 that split in two -- the other half becoming Keletigui and his Tambourinis, that featured Keletigui and Momo "Wandel" Soumah on horns. In addition each of the two bands got a singer named Kante Manfila, both grandsons of another musical Kante Manfila and cousins of the more famous singer of that name who started with Les Ambassadeurs. Balla (on trumpet) and his buddy Pivi (trombone & alto sax) had studied in Dakar and were music teachers when the group was formed. In Guinee they were considered intellectual folklorists for their interest in traditional music. After the group swelled to fifteen members, half of them left with guitarist Sekou Diabate (Not the Sekou Diabate aka "Diamond Fingers" of Bembeya Jazz!) to back Miriam Makeba. In recent years, sadly, funding sources have dried up and many of the bands are defunct.

"Sara" is a haunting love song about a noble lady from the savannah who underwent torture because she swore love to a poor young peasant. It was written and sung by Kante Manfila and features a kora-like guitar solo by Famoro Kouyate on the version recorded in 1970. It starts slowly like a lot of Guinean songs with the horns and guitar alternately punctuating the melody, a lot of echo on the voice, and the percussion (drums, congas, guiro, shekere) holding back. The bass guitar often plays percussively as well, so it's a rich and rewarding musical trip. Once the main story has been told, the percussion comes to a full boil and the guitar starts to scale the heights of imagination. The horn arrangements, featuring up to three saxes and clarinet, as well as trumpet and trombone, are especially inventive. Guinean pop music as a whole is very complex and interesting (the epics recounting historical tales, as well as modern satire, were a staple of bands like Horoya, Bembeya Jazz, and Super Boiro Band), but the output of the Balladins was magic.

from PIRATE'S CHOICE (World Circuit)

No one should be on a desert island without a copy of PIRATE'S CHOICE the legendary 1972 sessions from Orchestre Baobab of Dakar, originally issued on LP as KEN DOU WERENTE. When the sun goes down and you are sipping a cold coconut water and wondering how to distill rum from sugar cane you can slip into a nice euphoric state with Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis, the singers from Casamance who fronted the legendary band. A consummate balance of Barthelemy Attiso's smoky lead guitar, Issa Cissokho's plaintive tenor sax and occasional clarinet sweetens the aura of tropical mellowness that exudes from Baobab's grooves.

"Utru Horas" is undoubtedly based on a Cuban ballad though I'm not sure which one. It's the perfect reclamation of an intrinsically African sound and quickly submerges you in reverie. Just like Country & Western where all the songs are about loss and longing and drunken regret, Rudy Gomis pours it on in the ballads and the band egg him into his cups. Attiso obviously dug Jeff Beck, the Allman Brothers and other jam bands of the seventies, and works himself into a steaming sweat in his solos. The sax and clarinet remain cool and moody, weaving smoke trails through tinted lenses. Suffice it to say it gets under your skin, like most of Baobab's material, and works as a real panacea, whether or not you are trying to forget your troubles.


Some folks might say singer/songwriter music is the music of the Americas, but I discount the whole sordid perpetration of talentless "icons" erected by MTV & trust my ears. I get more salsa riffs caught in my head than pop ones which is a pleasant state of affairs. "Maraquita" is a classic smouldering groove from the pen of Markolino Diamond, a salsa pianist who succumbed to drugs long before his time. Angel Canales is a Puerto Rican singer of the "old school" who fronted Diamond's band for a while. There are no liner notes on the album and the Descarga database only says of this album "Classic New York salsa from the 60s or 70s," so I guess it's fair to say no one remembers when this was recorded. No matter. It has full-bodied horn lines, baritone sax-trombone-trumpet, and locks into a groove. I also brought along to my desert island HOMENAJE A PIPER 'PIMIENTA' DIAZ featuring the Latin Brothers and Fruko from Columbia as backup. This has some of the most killer salsa ever laid down and no one complained when I put it on at midnight on New Year's Eve. I sipped champagne with new friends and watched fireworks burst over the Atlantic, and thought of the nearest neighbours who'd already celebrated New Year and gone to bed in West Africa.


Maquis Original were one of the many bands from Zaire who moved East in the late seventies to get work and created a new kind of music, a hybrid of soukous with the local styles they found in Tanzania, Kenya or Uganda. In fact they were first called Maquis du Zaire when formed by singer Tshimanga Assosa, who left Kinshasa after the break-up of his band Negro Succès, following the death of Bavon Marie-Marie, that group's star guitarist. Keeping close to the sound of Negro Succès (a key rival to Franco's OK Jazz in the late 60s), the Maquis du Zaire became immensely popular in Dar Es Salaam throughout the 70s. But in 1980 the bright lights lured Tshimanga Assosa to Nairobi where he became part of a super-session fronted by Mzee Makassy that led to the album AGWAYA on Virgin. Assosa wrote "Mambo Bado," which should have prompted that group to international stardom but Virgin failed to promote them and the group broke up. It was then that Assosa rejoined Maquis, now renamed Maquis Original, and the group enjoyed its greatest successes with a new dance called the Zembwela. Singing in Kiswahili, instead of Lingala, the group went from strength to strength and their 1984 album KARUBANDIKA features blistering guitar work from Nguza Viking and harmonies by Assosa and fellow-Zairean Mutombo Lufungula, augmented by a twin trumpet horn line, or trumpet and sax. There is no mi-solo guitar as in soukous; the percussion is mostly snare-drum with foot-cymbal so the sound is a lot lighter than the parent Zairean rumba style. In the break this sparseness leaves more room in the mix for vocal harmonies and horn lines. The track starts slowly with an invocation and the instruments jump in till the whole thing is boiling a couple of minutes in and gets hotter for a full seven minutes of blistering dancefloor fun, with the lead guitar inventing new snaking runs over a very simple but equally slippery rhythm guitar.

Though KARUBANDIKA is long out of print, there are Maquis Original tracks in the Zembwela style on the Tanzanian dance-band compilation MUZIKI WA DANSI; their latest album is called BANA MAQUIS (or Maquis Kids), recorded in 1995 and released on Dakar Sound.


The Romans erected little altars around the house to their "Lares" or household gods. I have pictures of Thelonious Monk on my piano and thumb-tacked around my CD shelf, and while I don't light candles or offer incense to him, he occupies an important place in my life. I saw him play at Shelley's Mannehole in Los Angeles in 1971 in what was probably one of the worst concerts he ever gave. From the recent success of his UNDERGROUND album he had quit the Columbia label after they asked him to record an album of Lennon-McCartney songs and he decided to stop playing rather than submit to the indignity. He'd undergone electro-shock therapy which further fried his brain and added to his misery. But he was coaxed back to the concert circuit with a whole new band including his son on drums for one last round. He barely played and the band struggled along without him. No matter, it was an unforgettable event for other reasons, and I rate Monk alongside George Gershwin & Ferd Morton as a composer and performer. Later that same year, Monk was in London on a European tour with the Giants of Jazz (Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey and co) and recorded three hours of music at the Chappell studios in London; he briefly emerged from the extreme depression that left him semi-comatose for the last decade of his life and laid down two dozen of his most brilliant performances (that were also to be his last recordings). The solo piano recordings are memorable because of the fluidity of his stride style and the addition of a few new Tin Pan Alley chestnuts to his repertoire.

Many critics see Monk as the beginning of a new style of freeform jazz that includes Mischa Mengelberg, Steve Lacy & Herbie Nichols. I see him as the culmination of the Harlem stride style of James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Jimmy Yancey and Lucky Roberts. He takes "Loverman" in a deceptively slow stride quoting the history of Harlem music back to the rent-parties as he does so. His rhythmic complexity and harmonic invention resound in every bar, the half-remembered lyrics become nonsense syllables as Monk reshapes every phrase and claims it before sending it on its way with a laugh.

GNONNAS PEDRO "La Musica en Verité"

Gnonnas Pedro has finally been rescued from obscurity with the death of Pap' Seck and drafted into the ranks of Africando for their fourth album, though it was Pedro we all assumed was dead as nothing has been heard from him in years. Hailing from Benin in West Africa, his sessions with Dexter Johnson have long circulated on bootleg Nth generation cassette tapes. Their conjunction was at the birth of African Salsa: the reintegration of Cuban hits by groups like Arcaño and his Maravillas, Sonora Matancera or Johnny Pacheco into West African pop music. His medleys of "Pare Cochero," Mayeya," "El Manicero" and other chestnuts (or peanuts), from the salsa repertoire are fabulous. There's a seductively squeaky sax (I guess Dexter Johnson had a hard time getting reeds) played in tandem with a trumpet, and a rolling rhythm track that won't quit. The guitar plays a relentless riff that seems to be the piano montuno part; it's most noticeable because it's high in the mix. Slight reverb sweetens the vocals which are often in pidgin Spanish. Much as I love the Zairean rumba of Grand Kalle, Docteur Nico et al, this decidedly West African style stretches out more in eight and ten-minute jams. "La Musica en Verité" also features a Farfisa to give it an unusual pulse.

Incidentally, you can hear Pap' Seck, Pap' Fall and the hot tracks from Super Cayor de Dakar's great album SOPENTÉ on AFRICAN SALSA, the Senegalese compilation on the Stern's label from 1998.

photo: Lawrence A. Stanley

SOLDERING (Heartbeat)

Stanley Beckford is not a well-known Jamaican performer, at least not outside the island, other than in Rastafarian enclaves like Bahia. After reggae first made its still-widening splash, he stuck to the folk tradition known as "Mento" which has similar roots to calypso as well as wry, observant lyrics. "Soldering" (a euphemism for, well, screwing, to use another euphemism) was his bona fide hit in 1975, though it was banned from Jamaican radio, and prompted a raft of copycats such as "welding," "watering," "hammering," "torturing," "learning," etc. Under the name Stanley & the Turbines, he recorded BIG BAMBOO and another album LEAVE ME KISILOO which includes "Brown Gal" and several other classics. Songs like "Big Bamboo" and "Dip Dem Jah Jah," long a part of the folk tradition in the Caribbean, provided inspiration for Stanley. His backing band depended on the studio he was in so it might be GG Allstars from Alvin Ranglin's studio, Channel One's The Revolutionaries, or the Boris Gardner Happening. The instrumentation is light, with the melody carried by the voice, the piano prancing along nicely in a forerunner of the style known as bubbling, and the electric bass twisting out a monster line.

See "Dip Dem Jah Jah" for concert review and interview.


A big hit in Africa in 1983 when I was wandering about. The Swaheli word for white foreigner is "mzungu" which means "purposeless wanderer" -- how true! The song was covered by Rochereau and Mbilia Bel in Zaire and by Orchestre Super Mazembe in Kenya. But the original is so sweet, soaring and satisfying it can move me to tears. It has a groove that won't quit and the album contains the A side and B side back to back, with three other singles by this band that came from Northeastern Zaire to Nairobi looking for work and stayed to play.

NEGRO BAND "Luwumanshi"
from NEGRO BAND À PARIS "A tout casser" (Pathé Marconi 2C054-15054)

I would give anything to find more tunes by this band (or more releases on this label). Recorded in Paris in 1969, it is a set of light Congolese rumba from the golden age. As you can see from the cover, it's a big band, led by Max Massengo, saxophonist. There are two more sax players who double on clarinets, four singers and a toumbador. The guitarists were Nguemi Nini on rhythm and Willy Stany on lead. As far as I can tell they were not connected with another classic Congolese band from that same epoch, Negro Succès, however there is the familiar throbbing beat that is my all-time favourite sound.

BARBAREITO TORRES "Hijo del Siboney"
from HAVANA CAFE (Atlantic)

For me this was the best release of 1999 and also the best live concert. No big names, other than lautist Torres, but a lot of talent. In concert, as on the album, Pio Leyva appeared for a couple of songs and was as charming as his shtick was corny. "Hijo del Siboney" is a love song to an Indian girl from a native Cuban Indian in the son montuno style. The vocals are by Victor Villa who plays bass and performs with a lot of charm and conviction and it carries over to the recording. I picked the first song on the album because it flows seamlessly into the next and then the next. It's a well-conceived set, going through many traditional Cuban forms such as guajira and bolero. In each Torres plays one of his jagged solos, changing key and tempo, and flinging out daring impulsive ideas before returning to the melody.

SAM MANGWANA "I love you Maria Tebbo"

This soulful interpretation of a classic Congolese song by Groupe D'Oliveira fills the whole side of a Nigerian LP credited to Sam Mangwana. The band, produced by Eddy Gustav, is the classic African All-Stars that toured West Africa with Sam and broke through to a new level of brilliance in African music, merging Antillean rhythms with Congolese beats for the first time to give a more sustained relaxed groove instead of the slow start and fierce seben characteristic of most Congolese pop. Syran Mbenza is the lead guitarist and he shines. Ablo Lubadika plays rhythm guitar while a "guitare mélodique" is played by Sammy Massamba. Roland is on bass. Akyeampon, a Nigerian pianist, is dimly audible on electric piano, and Brice or Hekimian plays trap drums. The song was recorded in Paris in 1979 after a Camerounian tour. It was such a huge hit Franco begged him to return to OK Jazz and presented him with a new car. The fruit of that session is the incredible COOPERATION album from 1982. But "Maria Tebbo" is one of those ultimate songs that goes on and on. In fact it winds down a few times and then someone picks up a new idea and it starts to gear up again. When I first saw Mangwana, backed by Quatre Etoiles, shortly after Franco had died, everyone wanted to hear "Liwa ya Wech," and other ballads associated with OK Jazz. At the end of the set I started yelling "Maria Tebbo" at the top of my lungs and sure enough they did it as the encore.


Most Nigerian pop stars adopt or acquire titles like King, Sir, Lord, Cardinal, etc, but the great Celestine Ukwu was happy to be a humble Professor and his band had the poetic name of the Philosophers. Ukwu began his career in the 1960s in Enugu, capital of the Eastern Region of Nigeria when his band was called the Music Royals, but the Biafran war put an end to their career in 1967. After the war he resurrected the band in the early 70s as the Philosophers National. Tragically Celestine Ukwu died in a car crash in 1977.

"Igede," based on Igbo folklore, has all the earmarks of post-colonial Nigerian highlife (music for those who could afford a good time): guitar, killer percussion, and even an out-of-tune piano, but it has a relentless groove that sticks.

Part One of this classic of Nigerian danceband highlife can be found on the Flame Tree CD compilation CELESTINE UKWU'S GREATEST HITS but the original album (HIS PHILOSOPHIES, released posthumously in 1982 on Polydor from Lagos) features a second version of the song (Part Two) that further deconstructs the melody. A muted trumpet with a wah-wah sound mocks the vocals as the hand-drums rattle in complex concordance. It's a sparkling, poetic track that will always conjur the good times.

DELROY WILSON "Rain from the Skies"
on DELROY WILSON'S GREATEST HITS (Studio One & Jamaica Gold)

Some reggae productions, particularly Black Ark ones like HEART OF THE CONGOS or Lee Perry's OPEN THE GATE, must be thought of as symphonic, having distinct movements -- songs giving way to dubs and instrumentals, so no individual track stands alone. On the other hand Coxone Dodd's Studio One concentrated more on the singles market, and classic rocksteady songs like Delroy Wilson's "Rain from the Skies" endure among the best pop ever recorded. Many rocksteady versions of American pop hits have such staying power that you forget they are cover versions (John Holt's "You'll never find another love like mine" or Carlton & His Shoes' version of "I'm in the mood for love" come to mind) or they are vast improvements over the originals by Neil Diamond or John Denver. But rocksteady is also in synch with doo-wop, N'orlins, and the Memphis sound from which it also borrowed licks & melodies. And Jamaica had its own Mussel Shoals sound in the form of the Alpha Boys Club, a group of musicians that eventually led to the mighty Skatalites. You can hear Don Drummond, the immortal trombonist, and saxophonist Tommy McCook backing the Studio One rocksteady artists like Delroy Wilson who had his first hits as a teenager. "Rain from the Skies" has that laid-back intensity only Jamaicans could produce, totally in the pocket without breaking a sweat. Delroy Wilson's "Run Run" is a good example, but when I am in my cups, even if its coconut filled with ersatz rum, I want the full heartbreaking lost-love agony of "Rain from the Skies." The beat shuffles along like a wallflower at a dance trying to get up the nerve to break out, the trombone adds a mournful intonation, the guitarist plucks nervously at his fretboard and the bongocero makes mad little sorties.