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OLD WORLD (Asia, Arabia, Europe)

Updated 1 May 2016

This month's muzikifan podcast features tracks from new releases reviewed below,
new and old favorites, as well as tributes to Shaba Kahamba and Papa Wemba.

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Death and all its woes

The bombshell music news in North America last month was the sudden death at age 57 of Prince on April 21. If the autopsy shows it to be a painkiller overdose it will change the dialog on this hidden scourge. (There were 14 Fentanyl overdoses in Sacramento alone last week, but doctors pushed by Big Pharma continue to prescribe these powerful opiates and suburbanites gobble them like candy.) Since Prince tightly controlled his back catalog little of it is actually on the market currently. However, I suspect his posthumous catalog will grow, like Hendrix's, to overshadow what he has already put out. He was legendary for his "after parties" following shows where he would play Motown or R&B or funk sets and no doubt this aspect of his remarkable talent will start to appear. Here's a fine cover of "Creep", a Radiohead song, live at Coachella 2008, and if you want to see another awesome cover check out his "While my guitar gently weeps" solo at the George Harrison induction concert to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Here are all these big name stars like Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne (remember him?!) and then the Purple One arrives to show them how it's done. 5 chumps and Prince. Need more? The full Coachella 2008 set (with Morris Day) is here and you can skip about.

R.I.P. Shaba

We also mourn the loss of the phenomenal bass player from Congo, Shaba Kahamba, aged 68. I used to think he was ubiquitous until I realized his name had become synonymous with stellar bass playing, so much so that other bass players were called "Shaba" when they were doing well, like when you call a great guitarist "Segovia" or the moment in "Hey Jude" when Lennon salutes MacCartney with "Hey, Liberace!" Shaba rose to prominence in Orchestre Bella Bella and wrote some of their early 70s songs, such as "Bondeko," "Ndele Okozonga," "Made," and their 1980 hit "Pambindoni." After the Soki brother split up the group, Shaba joined l'Afrisa International of Tabu Ley Rochereau and penned numbers for his new group, including "Amitié" (1983), "Vina," "Loumousou" (1984), and "Bomba Sékélé" (1985). He was also on the breakout Mbilia Bel albums produced with L'Afrisa; he played on many of their hits, including "Sorozo," "Ebue," "Tanga Tanga," and "Zuwa te." After touring with Kanda Bongo Man and Diblo in the late 80s he made a couple of solo albums. The non-stop disco version of his Bella Bella era hits (including "Pambindoni") was predictably synth and drum machine driven, but he returned to more organic sounds for Bitumba (1993) his masterpiece, after joining Eddy Gustave's elite Paris session group known as Les Esprits Saints. Huit Kilos (who also had a stint in l'Afrisa) plays lead guitar and Caen Madoka rhythm. Someone walked off with my copy of the CD after a wild soukous party at my apartment in San Francisco in the late 80s, so I was really pleased when my friend DJ IJ turned up a copy of the vinyl album for me.

Lord Tanamo, singer with the Skatalites, died in Canada, age 82. Here he sings "In the Mood for Ska"

And the Malian photographer who captured the evolution of the hip youngsters of the 60s, Malick Sidibe died last month.

Alive & Kicking

Brian Eno's unusual Desert Island Discs (you can hear most of them on YouTube of course) with amusing anecdotes about "the great musical quest" that true melomanes will recognize

DJELY BLUES (Label bleu)

Djelimady is now the elder statesman of Malian music. He has effectively taken up the mantle of Ali Farka Touré and has released a brilliant new solo album, with much less fanfare than surrounded the Donkeyman's later efforts. In the last century Djelimady was the leader of the Super Rail Band, one the legendary Malian bands which launched many stars to international prominence. But of course it was the singers Mory Kanté and Salif Keita everyone noticed, rather than the phenomenal guitarist, who himself was the son of griot praise singers. The Rail Band was founded by saxophonist Tidiani Koné in 1970, but the modest guitarist soon assumed authority. His style was a mix of George Benson and Chuck Berry as the band switched from traditional Mandingue melodies to more Western-oriented rock tunes. Students of guitar will also note elements of Bill Frissell and even the smooth Hank B. Marvin in his playing. But he also picked up a triplet run from his childhood study of the n'goni and adapted it to guitar. In 2001 he released his first solo album Sigui, which won the BBC World Music Award the next year. Solon Kôno followed in 2005. Now after a decade he has brought forth another solid instrumental set with his Les Paul guitar to the fore, but he has not left the acoustic sound behind. He is backed by acoustic guitar and light percussion: Sayon Camara plays rhythm and Yacouba Sissoko is on calabash. There's also Samba Kanté on electric bass. The "Blues" of the title is evident in his diminished chord runs. But there's also the Afro-Cuban element, which came from his youth but then was revived with his involvement with Eliades Ochoa and the Afrocubism project in 2010. And he told me he was inspired by flamenco as a young man: you can tell from the trills and flourishes that augment his playing. Here there's a remake of "Mansa," which was the title track of the Super Rail Band album recorded in 1995. Two or three saxes, two trumpets and three vocalists swelled that opus, not to mention Jean-Philippe Rykiel who snuck in on "claviers" like a drop of bleach in the colored wash. Now it's stripped to essentials. Here Djelimady performs "Sansenesougouro" from the new album.


One of the greatest musical survivals or reinventions of recent decades is soukous which was the popular dance craze from the Congo in the late Mobutu era. It never died out but evolved through the passion of deejays in Colombia, and this latest album from Bogota-based Tribu Baharú features the loud and lively champeta sound with added attraction Diblo Dibala on lead guitar. He is only on one track, "Amor Champetetuo," but the spirit of soukous guitar permeates the whole thing: it's an invitation to dance from the get go. Baharú's own guitarist is Boricua, he has mastered the licks of the speedy soukous masters; as part of the update there are some deejay scratches and samples -- their MC is called Shaka, and he brings Raggamuffin style, not to mention 20 years of the "Boom Bam Alliance" to the sound. There's also the switch from French and Lingala to Spanish, with the odd shout-out in English, "Peace and Love to everyone! Right?" In the spirit of inclusiveness there's a one-drop reggae track also, "Nora." The title means something like "For the most urgent dancing," so hop to it.

THE QUEEN OF TURQUOISE (JazzVillage JV 570123)

Subtitled "The Soriana project," this album unites some Syrian expatriates with others from the Arabic diaspora in a pensive, almost-mournful set. Given the news from the mound of rock and sand at the right end of the Med it's no wonder, but it's tragic to see a millennia old culture gradually wiped out by ignorance as various world powers try out their military hardware on innocent victims. During the first Iraq War I found an LP by an Iraqi artist called Saadoun al-Bayati; I used to air his "Everybody blames me" on the radio. On this set Basel Rajoub, who studied classical music at the conservatory in Aleppo, leads the group on soprano and tenor sax and also duclar, another woodwind similar to the duduk. If you google "duclar" the first thing to come up is a store selling them with a video of Rajoub improvising. We hear Kenan Adnawi on the oud, Andrea Piccioni on percussion and Feras Charestan on qanun, a zither-like string instrument. Lynn Adib sings on one or two numbers. Rajoub is the main focus: the jazz saxophone is not indigenous to the middle east (or anywhere?) but he has clearly studied John Coltrane which style fits well with Arabic melodies and percussion. This is his third album. For five years the civil war has been raging but now the government of Syria is the main enemy trying to destroy the city of Aleppo. Not ever album has to be upbeat all the time. Outside the birds are singing and I smell fragrant flowers.


There is no doubt that "Papa" Shungu Wemba was one of the most important African artists in the 1970s and 80s, even the 1990s. That he was largely ignored in the West is of no consequence. He created a youth movement called "La Sape," giving young poor Kinshasans the ability to look sharp without spending a fortune, though once he moved to Paris, he started buying suits at Gian Franco Ferre and other high-end fashion designers. Then, ironically, he would wear them inside out to show the label -- and the stitching. His oversize suits were "borrowed" by David Byrne for his own Talking Heads shows. But the stylish look was only part of the story. Wemba was part of the revolutionary movement spearheaded by college kids who created Zaiko Langa Langa in 1968: they went for a rawer sound that the big rumba bands (like OK Jazz & Conga Succès) that preceded them, abandoning saxes and going for repetition and crowd-stirring frenzy in guitars and also in the shout-outs of the "Atalaku" or animateurs -- wild dancers who exhorted the crowd and urged the singers on. But far from raw, Wemba had the angelic voice of a choirboy and the passion adopted from listening to his mother, a professional mourner, who sang at funerals. Zaiko also had six singers -- instead of just one -- and he took the stage name Jules Presley. Dancing and singing alongside him were Dindo Yogo, Nyoka Longo, Bimi Ombale, Bozi Boziana, Evoloko Jocker and later Koffi Olomide. His first hits were "Chouchouna" and "C'est la Verité." But egos swelled and in 1974 he split with several members to form Isifi Lokole, and a further split to Yoka Lokole, groups that employed the traditional slit log drum -- the lokole -- as part of its signature sound. His music was popular from Paris to Tokyo. His Nippon Banzai concert brought soukous to Japan in a big way, and he thrilled the crowd by addressing them in Japanese. But then the band dumped him after two years and he decided to start his own band, taking the name Viva la Musica from a Johnny Pacheco album. It was with this group that he would rise to fame.

I don't think you could have found a bigger Papa Wemba fan in the 1980s than yours truly. I eagerly awaited his every release and, as my disillusionment slowly and reluctantly built, I kept buying his records in the hope he would see the light and get back to the great sound that he started from. Every now and then he would throw me a bone: like the album L'Esclave (Gitta productions, 1986), one of his mid-period masterpieces, or La Guerre des Stars, where he was challenged to come up with the goods in a friendly duel with Lita Bembo, Esperant and Boziana. In fact the song "L'Esclave" is probably his greatest work and had he sung it in English it would be as big as Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." He still had Awilo Longomba on drums and Ikonola on lokole but the guitarists were all newcomers: Nguando Milos, Matianga Stella and Mukoka on bass. And I fervently hoped to see him live. Wemba did finally come on tour as opening act for Peter Gabriel at the Oakland Coliseum. I BARTed over there and bought a ticket from a scalper for $25. Wemba's show was pathetic: he was completely ignored by the fans who were hyped about seeing Gabriel so talked and milled about during his set. I had been to a few smaller Gabriel shows before "Biko" or whatever put him into the stratosphere of pop, but this one was like the Nuremberg rally. Wemba had traded in Viva la Musica for some French rockers who were awful, and I barely recognized his sound. The next Viva la Musica concert was to be a year later at Slim's in San Francisco, a perfect venue, and I hoped it would be the real band. However the show was canceled. What happened was the band showed up at SFO at 11 p.m. and called the club to say, Tell the opening act to keep going, we'll be there and ready to go on at 12. --Don't bother, we decided you were not showing, replied the promoters.
All I had to sustain my interest was the video of LA VIE EST BELLE, the 1988 film by Benoit Lamy, starring Wemba as a down-and-out village kid who (eventually, after many picaresque adventures) makes it as a singer in Kinshasa and finally gets to appear alongside his idol Pépé Kallé.

In the '80s I was in Paris and there were posters everywhere advertising a big night with Viva la Musica, but as I got deeper into the African neighborhoods I saw the posters had cancelation stickers glued over them. Every new album had one good song but it was 75% filler. Then each member of the group, even the drummer, did a solo album using the name. I began to feel I was supporting a huge extended family with my weekly cash investments. When they started singing "Get up! Stand up!" in every song, I sat down. Eventually, I culled my collection down to the essential 22 LPs & 8 CDs. I blamed the managers who try to make a crossover hit out of a fiercely original artist and lose sight of his originality in the process. When Wemba returned in triumph to tout his "crossover" album on the RealWorld label and appeared at the Fillmore doing a feeble version of Otis Redding's "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)," I was horrified. That was the second show and the second disappointment, I felt I had really missed the boat. I refused to buy the RealWorld albums and felt betrayed by my idol. However as his popularity grew, his earlier material appeared on Ngoyarto, P-Vine (in Japan), and a set where he teamed up with Franco surfaced. So there were moments: Foridoles (Eds Esperance 1994), a return to the Viva la Musica lineup, featured a guest shot from Sam Mangwana and had a great Latin track; Nouvelle Ecriture (Eds Esperance 1997) packed the dancefloor. He returned to the Bay Area to play Ashkenaz in Berkeley in July 2001, and this time it was a reunion of his original Viva la Musica line-up, not the leather-pant Frenchmen. So I did get to experience it as it was meant to be: a small crowded dancefloor, overmodulated mikes, lots of yelling, people jumping on stage to dance, shout-outs to Bongo Wende, Awilo Longombo and there I was surrounded by happy Congolese experiencing their youth again and for me, experiencing it along with them. Now he is gone back to the idealized village he called "Molokai": Rest in Peace, Papa.

most recent reviews:

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

April 2016

Robi Svard is filed in Spain
Los Hacheros can be found in Salsa
Elaides Ochoa's latest is in Cuba part 4
Cortijo can be found in Salsa
Fanfare Ciocarlia are found in Gypsy Brass

March 2016

Osei Korankye is filed under Ghana
Dengue Fever's The Deepest Lake can be found in "Asia"
Gambari Band's Kokuma
and Waati Sera by Adama Yalomba are filed in Mali part 2
The Rough Guide to South African Jazz can be read about in Southern Africa
Ram, Lakou Mizik and Wesli are all Haitian artists, so read about them in that section
The Rough Guide to a World of Psychedelia can be found in old world miscellany
Sidestepper's Supernatural Love is reviewed in the Colombia tab
Not sure where to file Sol Sok Sega from Mauritius, I guess Old World misc for now

February 2016

Mbaraka Mwinshehe & Super Volcano's Masika 1972-4 is filed under Kenya/Tanzania part 2
Sahra Halgan Trio can be found in the Arabic tab
Siba's De Baile Solto and Daniela Mercury's Vinil Virtual are both found in Brasil part 2
Rough Guide to Bottleneck Blues is filed under Blues in the New World

December 2015

Shujaat Husain Khan & Katayoun Goudarzi's Ruby is found in the Arabia section
The late great Allen Toussaint's Bright Mississippi is filed under USA
Senegal 70 and Dieuf-Dieul de Thiès's Aw Sa Yone Vol 2 are both filed in Senegal part two and also made the Top Fifteen of 2015

November 2015

Kandia Kouyate returns -- to Mali part 2
Youssou Ndour captured Live in Athens 1987 can be found in Senegal part 2
Chucho Valdés makes his home in Cuba part 4
Lee Perry's Mr Perry I Presume is found in Jah part 3
Light & Sound of Mogadishu is filed under the Horn of Africa
The West Bridge Band's escapades can be read about in Kenya part 2

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


"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)

By Alastair Johnston

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



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