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The second podcast of the new year featured music from Haiti, Benin, Cuba, Congo and Jamaica


Latest podcast features the music reviewed below

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 February 2018

On the Road

Cambodian/American rockers Dengue Fever are touring the West Coast, info here

Obits

"The father of South African jazz," trumpeter Hugh Masekela, a leading figure in the struggle to end apartheid has died aged 78. Born in the South African town of Witbank in 1939, Masekela was inspired to learn the trumpet after seeing Kirk Douglas play Bix Beiderbecke in the 1950 film Young Man with a Horn. He persuaded one of his teachers -- the anti-apartheid crusader Father Trevor Huddleston -- to buy him an instrument, promising to stay out of trouble in return. Masekela gained global recognition with his distinctive Afro-Jazz sound and hits such as "Soweto Blues." The 1977 song became synonymous with the anti-apartheid movement.

Gabby Omollo, Kenyan singer and guitarist, whose biggest hit was "Lunch Time," also died in January

At the Movies

Charming 45 min documentary about Gangbe Brass Band of Benin taking a Slow trip to Lagos to play at Fela's Shrine with Femi Kuti who seems like a chip off the old block (unrehearsed, complaining, full of himself!)

New film about the son of Chas Duvelle, Frederic, who like his dad did some field recordings in New Guinea in the 1970s

Other blogs

Matthew Lavoie has been posting a lot of obscure yet great African music since his return to the blogosphere, better bookmark him as he reloads every five days without fail

John Beadle calls it "Yacouba Soukous" -- a tape of hot music from Ivory Coast, one of the latest posts on his Likembe blog

Afrodisc has added more Ngoma listings to the Central Africa section, including mouth-watering picture galleries

SARA TAVARES
FITXADU (Sony music)

The latest set from the sweet-voiced singer more than fills the void left by Cesaria Evora. Tavares hails from Lisbon and she is of Cabo Verdean ancestry, however her music encompassing Brasilian as well as African rhythms and melodies. She came to prominence through TV talent shows and is a charismatic performer. Her latest album is a pleasant journey and includes a cover, "Ginga," which includes "Suor di no pubis" (I am sure it's not a dirty expression, but hey little boys always snigger at anything with "pubis" in it) and "Dissan na mbera," by Super Mama Djombo of Guinea-Bissau. This is followed by one of the two songs she wrote solo, "Coisas bunitas (Pretty things)," the first single off the album, also featured in a remix at the end. The second single (I know, you've barely had time to hear the first one) is "Brincar de Casamento (Wedding games)," with Toty Sa'Med singing the male part, and suggests to me she has been listening to Lenine and some other avant garde Brasilian composers. There is a decidedly Brasilian mellowness to parts of the album, and looking at her YouTube videos you notice a lot of appreciation from South American fans. The title song features Princezito and is sung in Portuguese creole; his raspy voice adds the Evora component in case you felt it was lacking. The album is light but very well produced; the closing remix grooves without getting too aggressive, which would change the overall tone. But I think someone could really trip it up a bit with more bass and create a dance hit out of it.

BOLON STAR
BOLON STAR (Mondo Tunes, streaming or download on-line)

When you think of timeless music, quite often you imagine the great Sahelian bands with balafon or kora, hand drums, and guitars behind those gravelly complaining vocals. I can't find out much about Bolon Star other than the fact they are Malian. Ernie Keita is the guitarist, Modibo the drummer. From their facebook page I can see their singer Yaya Soumagno learned from Lobi Traore. The band was formed by childhood friends around 2012 in Bamako, and they've put their music on soundcloud. They describe their music as Malian blues, Afro-pop and reggae. The reggae is credible (on "Babwa -- the Bobo" which has a nice breakdown), but the "blues" component really shines. Further web explorations suggest they are a backing band for some of the great Malian praise singers. This album was released in 2012 at the depth of the civil war, but nevertheless the band seems to be thriving and continuing to perform for local audiences. You can hear them and buy this fine set from iTunes or your preferred venue.

PLENA LIBRE
AMORES EN EL CAMINO (LOVE'S JOURNEY) (GN Musica)

Puerto Rico has a rich culture, including distinctive music, known as Bomba and Plena, of which the best known exponents are this band Plena Libre. The country was devastated by hurricane Maria last year and still has not recovered, despite the buffoon-in-chief going there to throw paper towel rolls to them. Considering the lack of electricity, running water and other basic needs, the band has produced a fiery rootical album full of hope and pride. Bandleader and bassist Gary Nuñez has brought in some younger players to reinvigorate their ranks and keep it driving hard. There are also contributions from legendary trumpeter Luis "Perico" Ortiz, and other guests. Drumming is to the fore and the Latin jazz-tinged set is permeated with Afro-Caribbean roots. Fans of salsa will also find enough to kick up their heels with the bomba tracks. The plena is the focus of "Recordando a un amigo," which is call and response vocals over claves, shekere, and hand drums. A well balanced and genuinely kicking set.

LOS CHICOS MALOS
LOS CHICOS MALOS (Vampisoul 180)

Vampisoul has unearthed an obscure 1980 gem for their latest reissue of Colombian salsa dura infused with the cumbia beat. Los Chicos Malos was a one-shot project of some of the Latin Brothers, particularly "El Nene" (Victor del Real), their pianist, composer and arranger. Inspired by Willie Colon's double-trombone attack they wanted to not only light up Cartagena but reach out to the Venezuelan market also. Some of the band were childhood friends of Joe Arroyo, and had worked with his orchestra, La Verdad; "El Nene" had written and arranged for Michi Sarmiento in the 70s and surrounded himself in the studio with fully fledged professionals. Working with Discos Fuentes, Vampisoul has remastered the album from the original tapes. If like me you dig the Latin Brothers, you will be thrilled to hear this vinyl reissue of an album that was packed full of "tropical dancefloor bangers," as DJ Bongohead calls them.

PALENQUE RECORDS AFRO-COLOMBIA REMIX VOL 2 (Galletas Calientes GCLP123)

Warning: This may destroy your subwoofer. Galletas Calientes ("Hot Biscuits" in English), a French-Colombian label, returns for another dip into the catalogue of Palenque Records to give the "global bass" scene a new shot of oomph in the phat bottom. Palenque Records has specialized in the crossover between Colombian popular music and African roots, dropping superb albums from the likes of Son Palenque, the legendary Batata y su Rumba Palenquera, and the mezmerizing Colombiafrica: The Mystic Orchestra. Along the way the Colombians have brought in luminaries of Congolese soukous guitar such as Diblo Dibala, Dally Kimoko and Bopol Mansiamina. This fusion created the sound known as Champeta Criollo and lit up the picó -- or mobile discotheque -- scene on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The cover has been painted by an artist who decorates these picó system. The vinyl album has 7 tracks, then there are 8 more bonus tracks available as a digital download to buyers of the LP. The bonus set kicks off with a remix by Novalima of "Alioto pio" by Son Palenque. "Mama Africa," the fine track by Louis Towers & Columbiafrica, gets a total of three remixes, one being the "long guitar" version which is totally gratuitous: I guess it's for when the DJ needs to go to the bathroom. "La Negra" by Son Palenque, from their 2014 album Kamajanes is also treated to three versions: dub with melodica by Piper Street Sound Dub Redo being a standout. Be careful what you wish for: I complained that least year's Volume One compilation, which was excellent, was too short at five tracks. This one, at 15, is too long. The last few tracks, inevitably, get stuck in the groove, seemingly not fully evolved as ideas, but there's plenty to get your teeth into, or to continue the phat bottom analogy, to get your paws around.

LEE SCRATCH PERRY & SUBATOMIC SOUND SYSTEM
SUPER APE RETURNS TO CONQUER (Subatomicsound.com)

You can't count out the octogenarian Lee Perry yet. The man who pioneered dub at his Black Art studio in Kingston, Jamaica has issued a retrospective CD, reworking his songs ("Curly Locks," "Super Ape") and several others he produced with artists like Junior Byles and Max Romeo in the 1970s. He is something of a performer, certainly not a singer, more a mumbling stand-up act, nevertheless songs like "Disco Devil" toasted over "Chase the Devil" or "Dread Lion," might appeal to version completists. The Black Ark sound is unmistakable though one critic noted how it changed as the ganja smoke residue on the tape heads muffled it as the years went by. In the studio Perry's band the Upsetters jammed for hours while he selectively dropped instruments in and out of the mix on his 8-track board. He would patch mikes through a Maestro Echoplex or a Roland Space Echo, which run continuous magnetic tape over several heads. This causes the sound to multiply; pots can then by applied to give echo, sustain or reverb. If you twist all the inputs to the max (the proverbial "11") the agglomerated sound quickly charges to a sonic throb, which you can kill by turning off the main switch, then turning it back on and adjusting the pots allows you to build from the start. This requires skill, dexterity and of course intuition, so that Perry was playing the mixing board like Mickey Mouse conducting the kitchen implements in Fantasia. He was even known to thump the Space Echo to create a clap of thunder (Perry, not Mickey). Today there are simple computer tools that mimic these effects once carefully & ingeniously engineered by Perry and his followers (think of Gaudi's Nusrat album). At the press of a button you can have spooky melodica, guitar with flanger effect, thudding bass, drums with echo and so on. So the Subatomic Sound System is in essence one guy with a laptop cranking out some pounding drum n bass that is a simulacrum of the Black Art sound. Added to this is a barely audible live conga player (Larry McDonald formerly of Tommy McCook's Supersonics, the Crystalites and Gil Scott Heron) and a live sax player (Troy Simms) on echo. In concert it's an unholy racket, everyone is overamplified and all the mikes are on "stun" with reverb and echo, so you only hear Perry intermittently muttering about "No nuclear war ... Trump ... hump ... dump" or singing the praises of "Coconut water" instead of Jah Lion or Curly Locks. The album has nostalgic appeal, though you may prefer to go back to the originals to hear why Perry's career was so important to the development of Jamaican music.


Lee Perry in concert January 2018 Photo copyright by the Duchess #Marinsowhite





music reviewed in the last six months

(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)

December 2017

Original Sound of Burkina Faso is filed in the Burkina section
Hamad Kalkaba and Golden Sounds are in the new Cameroun section
Gladiators and Ethiopian's latest are in Jamaica part 3
¡Esso! Afrojam can be read about in the salsa section

November 2017

Okay Temiz & Johnny Dyani went to Southern Africa
Ilú Keké are in Cuba part 4
Betsaydo Machado, from Venezuela, is in the Carib Misc section
Tamala can be found in Senegal part 3
Leila Gobi is next door in Mali part 4
Akshara's In Time and Rough Guide to Acoustic India are filed in India
Paa Gow is a goner to Ghana
Andina is found in Peru

September 2017

Nairobi Calling! is filed in Kenya part 2
Maleem Mahmoud Gania's Colours of the Night is filed in Arabia
Inna de Yard: The soul of Jamaica is filed in Jamaica part 3
likewise, Keith & Tex' Same old story
Resurrection Los vol 1 by Los Camaroes is filed in Cameroun
Guanchaka is filed in Colombia 2
Sweet as Broken Dates is filed in Ethiopia

August 2017

Septeto Santiaguero in concert is filed under Cuba Live
John Collins' Highlife Giants is on the bookshelf
Rio Mira's Marimba del Pacifico went to Columbia part 2
likewise the latest from Son Palenque Kutu Prieta Pa Saranguia

The Top Tens of 2017 are HERE

The Top 16 of 2016 is HERE

Top 15 of 2015 is HERE

My Top Ten of 2014 can be found HERE

My Top 12 of 2013, with best reissues, etc, is online HERE

My Top Twelve of 2012 is HERE

My Top Ten of 2011 can be found HERE

My Top 9 of 2010 is online HERE

Click HERE for my top 10 of 2009

Click HERE for my top 9 of 2008

Click HERE for my top 10 of 2007

Click HERE for my top 11 of 2006

MY BEST-SELLING BOOK!

"Essential reference guide to the Congo guitar king" -- SONGLINES 64 **** (four stars)
"I do not know anybody who has such immense knowledge of African music. Congratulations." -- Gerhard G (a purchaser)

BACK IN PRINT (Second edition, November 2012)


A DISCOGRAPHY OF DOCTEUR NICO
By Alastair Johnston

Poltroon Press, 2012, expanded to 88 pages; list price $19.95.
Available now. Click here for details.

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