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OLD WORLD (inc Asia, Arabia)

African Discographies

Latest Muzikifan Podcasts

The latest podcast is a tribute to Rough Guide & Riverboat labels, with music from Mali, Madagascar, Niger, Sudan, Congo, Nigeria, Morocco plus Delta blues

"Good thing going" is a mix of reggae, soukous, guaguanco, rumba, and more

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Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 March 2019

Blogs and other podcasts

Here's an hour of Kenyan Benga played by the "Bwana mkubwa" Doug Paterson on African Airwaves, posted on Soundcloud, including Kilimambogo Bros and a gem from Belgut Jazz Band. Bookmark his site here for more episodes

Also on Soundcloud, Radio is a Foreign Country. An hour of field recordings of xylophone and mbira music

Over on Likembe my colleague John Beadle is posting a lot of old King Sunny Adé albums for nostalgia freaks

Matthew Lavoie's latest post+upload is some 1969 radio recordings by Malian songwriter Idrissa Soumaro


You can now hear, or buy, my Shika Shika compilation Hit after Hit on bandcamp. It's also available from Dusty Groove in the USA


The great Malian vocalist Sali Sidibe, a praise singer from the heart of Wassoulou, died last month, aged 59.

Reading List

This month I read two books on African music: Richard M. Shain's Roots in Reverse, a deep study of the Afro-Cuban music of Senegal, with loads of information on the roots, the creation of the various Star Bands and their offshoots, the arrival of mbalax and the "nostalgia for decay" that led to the marketing of Baobab and even the Africando revival.

Also Gilbert Ebolu's biography of Chantal Kazadi (one of my favorite African singers) who was executed in his late teens. He rocketed to stardom with Dr Nico's African Fiesta Sukisa in 1968 before attempting to branch out on his own but ran afoul of the military/police state. Rather than paste my lengthy reviews here for you to scroll past, you can check them out on the bookshelf link.


A young guy I know (not sure if he qualifies as a hipster) is now fanatically into cassette tapes. Cassettes were another format that was replaced by CDs and then digital media, but were always in favor in Africa (less likely to get scratched, warped or dusty than vinyl). Now Hive Mind has brought back the cassette in a limited-edition release of Gnawa music that is even making a stir on bandcamp. While on the plus side cassettes of music don't get scratched or stick (though they can stretch or break); on the minus side they were usually dubbed at high-speed on gunky decks on the cheapest-available blank tapes and so sound like mud. At least many of my Tanzanian cassettes have those problems. Houssam Gania is the youngest son of the late master musician Maalem Mahmoud Gania, who was sought out by Randy Weston, Peter Brötzmann, Bill Laswell and Pharoah Sanders (seperately!) when they became entranced by Gnawa music. Young Houssam has mastered the meditative groove on the bassy 3-string guimbri, so dont expect pyrotechnics on here, just a solid slab of ritual music, thick and sticky as black hash, but as bright as the sun on breaking waves on the beach of Essaouira. His brother Hamza plays percussion, as do others who add qraqabs and chorus behind Houssam's vocals. The opening cut also adds guitar, keyboard and drum kit for a taste of Essaouira fusion. If you don't fancy cassettes, or have a deck any more, it's also available as download in trusty intangible digital formats.

ATLAS ELECTRIC (HiveMind Records HMRLP003)

Quite unknown outside Morocco, Moulay El Hassani has been recording for 30 years releasing over 50 cassettes and CDs. Now Hive Mind has dug through his archive and put together a 2LP set of a dozen of his tunes. It's modernized folk music: he sings sweetly and plays guitar with a lot of Echoplex, creating washes of sounds that float over a staccato beat of tambourine and hand drums, augmented by synthesized percussion. The backing vocals are also auto-tuned and run through the Echoplex which is not as awful as it sounds: it's just another sonic layer to play with. The guitar tuning is more lute-like or maybe that's because it's an opening tuning. The songs remind me of gentle Rai, but are also related to Amazigh music of the middle-Atlas region. As the label suggests: "The resulting sound is like a twenty-first century folk music for a people caught somewhere between a vision of their own idealized pastoral past and a turbo-charged, technologically driven urban future."

DANSONS (Radio Martiko/Disques Vogue)

This collection of EP tracks and 45s from the legendary Ry-Co Jazz was reissued at the end of 2018 by Radio Martika in Belgium. Legendary of course implies that though they were big in their day their records became increasingly hard to find (& hear) as rich collectors bought them up, and today they are even scarcer. Ry-Co Jazz were a mainstay of the French Vogue label in the 60s. Formed by Henri Bowane at Loningisa studios in Leopoldville in 1958, their name was an abbreviation of "Rhythme-Congolaise." They went on tour to newly-formed Central African Republic and some members remained for 13 years! Exceptional guitarist Jerry Malekani joined them in Bangui in 1959. After a split from Bowane, four key members, singers Freddy Nkounkou & M'bilia Casino (also on congas), Jerry, and bassist Panda Gracia went to Nigeria and ended up in West Africa bringing the gospel of Congolese rhythms for four years, and recording in Dakar where they were heard by a producer from the French label Disques Vogue, who invited them to Paris. Cuban-influenced Mambos, a bolero and pachangas abound. You can hear the early OK Jazz and Rock-a-Mambo sound on tracks like the cha-cha "Maria de mi Amor" (from Vol 5, 1961). The bassist fell in love and stayed in Dakar; in Paris saxophonist Jean-Serge Essous joined up. He is heard on clarinet on "El Casel del Ry-Co," sung in Douala by Camerounian bassist Jean Dikoto Mandengue, from Vol 23, 1966. On tour their set list grew to include tunes like the Nigerian hit "Bottom Belly", and Dizzy Gillespie's "Wachi wara." Significantly they next went to the Antilles in 1967. Their seven year stint there, adding calypso and cadence (or "Kadans" in kriyo) to their repertoire, had a huge impact on the locals and some of their sidemen formed Kassav, the kings of zouk music. Their importance is outlined in Gary Stewart's book Rumba on the River, where he notes they returned to Paris to record and Essous went back to Les Bantous, to be replaced by Manu Dibango for a further North African tour. But their music evolved too and the Martiniquan style which permeated their sound in the 70s had a direct influence on the Paris recordings of Eddy Gustave -- check anything on the Eddy'Son label such as recordings by Pamelo Mounk'a, Théo Blaise, Master Mwana Congo or Sam Mangwana, for what is best described as the "Antillean lilt." This selection, of 10 tracks from the 100 or more they recorded for Disques Vogue, covers the early 60s before their Martinique trip. A sequel is promised, but this is their golden sound and, to my ears, much more coherent than the RetroAfric disc Bon Voyage which was the last anthology of their work, over a decade ago.


VampiSoul's latest reissue of tropical beats is Cumbia Volume 3: experimental guitar-driven tropical sounds from Peru, recorded in the mid-60s to mid-70s. The first volume came out in 2010 and featured now familiar names like Juaneco y su Combo, Los Wemblers de Iquitos, Los Destellos & Los Mirlos. Volume 2 followed in 2012, coming up to 1983, and now we have a third volume of action-packed cumbia presented on double LP. Some of the same bands are present, like Los Scorpios, though the not so familiar ones dominate this selection of 45 rpm rarities from more short-lived bands. It comes on the 50th anniversary of the release of "Manzanita" (a version of which is included here) considered the first Peruvian electro-cumbia. Three of the bands, recorded in 1965-7 offer up outstanding huaycumbias which blended cumbia with huayno, another local rhythm. In addition to elements of Colombian cumbia and Cuban guajira you can hear the psychedelic influence from the USA and UK on tracks such as Los Girasoles' rocking "Girasoleando." At the time it was very much underground music and escaped notice in the mainstream: now it sounds like an old friend.

(DE BASSARI TOGO)(Analog Africa)

The latest discovery of Analog Africa comes in the shape of an album of Togolese funk from 1972-5, originally released as singles on the Polydor label. Organ, guitar, shuffling drums, and a vocalist grunting and growling in the best Afrobeat manner. Elements of Fela Kuti are apparent in the singing as well as in the riffs. All I can say about Orchestre Abass comes from label boss Samy Ben Redjeb who notes Arabic elements to their music from their location, the northern Islamic part of Togo. The founder of the group, Malam Issa Abass, was murdered in 1993, but Samy tracked down Abderaman Issa, the guitarist and one of the songwriters. It has been reissued on limited edition vinyl and is also downloadable from bandcamp. There are six tracks, two of them previously unreleased, discovered in a vast trove of abandoned Polygram master tapes in remarkable preservation in a warehouse in an undisclosed location in Central Africa. "Kissagui" the last track is the most interesting to me as it seems the least derivative of Fela. However Samy is a great champion of what he calls "the Islamic funk belt" which stretches from Northern Ghana to Northern Cameroun and includes bands like Super Borgou de Parakou as well as Abass. If you liked the Afro-beat Airways compilation, where they were featured, this one is for you.

Recent Reviews

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

February 2019

Kwi Bamba are filed in Guinée
Star Band de Dakar reissue is filed in Senegal part 3
Nostalgique Kongo is filed under Congo Classics 2
Yelsy Heredia can be read about in Cuba part 4
Coumba Gawlo is filed in Senegal part 3
Etienne Charles' latest is reviewed in Trinidad

January 2019

Bassekou Kouyate's Miri &
Livio's Melodies Mandé are both filed under Mali part 4
Delgres' Mo Jodi can be found in the Caribbean section
Tita Duval & Bobby Rey's Cumbias Internacionales went to Colombia part 2
Les Bantous de la Capitale's Hommage to Grand Kalle &
Nganga Edo's Le Patriarche are filed under Congo part 4
Tartit's latest can be read about in the Niger section

November 2018

Orch Shika Shika's Hit after hit is filed in Kenya part 2
Bollywood Brass Band's Carnatic suite is reviewed in Bollywood part 2
Dizzy Mandjeku & Ale Kuma's De Palenque a Matonge is written up in Colombia, part 2
Eddie Palmieri's Full circle is reviewed under Salsa
Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band's Siri ba kele is filed under Burkina Faso
To Catch a ghost: field recordings from Madagascar can be read about in the Madagascar section
Deben Bhattacharya's Paris to Calcutta went to Old World Miscellany for want of a better location

October 2018

The latest offering from Docteur Nico Dieu de la Guitare is reviewed in Congo Classics part 2
Bheki Mseleku's Celebration is reviewed in South Africa
The Hip Spanic All Stars album can be read about in the USA section
Subhasis Bhattacharya is filed in India & Pakistan
Sarazino is filed in Arabia
BKO performing live is filed in Mali Live which has some curious tales

September 2018

Lenine's latest Em transito, as well as
Elza Soares' Deus é mulher, and
Bixiga 70's Quebra-Cabeça are filed in Brasil part 3
Robi Svärd's Alquimia is discussed in Spain
Rough Guide to Barrelhouse Blues is in the Blues section
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley's The Message is filed in Ghana
Stella Chiweshe's Kasahwa: early singles can be read about in Zimbabwe

The Top Ten New releases and Top 8 Reissues of 2018 are here

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


"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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muzikifan by alastair m. johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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