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AFRICA

OLD WORLD (inc Asia, Arabia)

African Discographies

Latest Muzikifan Podcasts

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The early August podcast featured music
from Colombia, Cuba, Nigeria, Congo,
Mexico, Surinam, Jamaica and New Orleans


The late-August podcast featured music
from Cuba, Senegal, Guinea and Congo.
Plus Khaira Arby & three of the discs
reviewed below.

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 September 2018

The Quick & the Dead

Rest in Peace Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul.
a BBC reporter asked mourners, Why are you here for Aretha Franklin? Old black woman replied, She was alla that... AND a bowl of soup...

Rest in Peace Khaira Arby, another Queen, this one of the desert

Jack Costanzo, better known as Mr Bongo, has died at 98. He accompanied Stan Kenton, Nat King Cole, and others on Bongos and Congas. He was also a dancer, appearing in feature films, such as this cheesy number from Elvis; and plays congas with Brando ten mins into this clip.

Tom Clark, a poet & friend of mine was hit and killed by a car crossing the street in front of his house. I was really depressed, but this song, "The Cowboy rides away," by Los Luzeros de Rioverde cheered me up -- i dont even like country music, but it seems to be calculated to grab you in moments of extreme emotion

Sadly, at 92, the great Randy Weston who moved to Africa to explore his musical roots has died.
Here's a nice long read about him.

and, still standing at 93, Daddy Melquiades is taking the piss out of Daddy Yankee: Hilarious

Touring

Juana Molina in the US:
Sept 8 Chicago world music festival
Sept 9 Minneapolis, the Cedar
Sept 11 Portlan, the Revolution
Sept 12 SF, The Independent
Sept 14 LA, Terragram ballroom
Sept 15 Phoenix, musical instrument museum
sept 19 Brooklyn bowl
sept 20 Atlanta, the Earl
sept 22 Miami north beach bandshell
From her new album HALO comes this video single Cosoco

LENINE
EM TRANSITO (Mameluco productions)

Arguably one of the best singer-songwriters working today, Lenine's career is hampered somewhat by the fact that his songs are in Portuguese which to most people sounds like the deaf-mute version of Spanish. To compound the problem he writes poetry that is full of internal rhymes and puns, so google translate is at a loss regarding what he is saying. "Ogan ere," which has mouth percussion in harmony and a single drum backing, is translated as "hehehe," and the euphonious line "Bate ate couro doer" is rendered as "Beats until leather ache." His latest album was recorded live in a theatre in Rio de Janeiro in February 2018. The mix is superb and the musicianship top rank. This band has been with him for a couple of years now. He is backed by two guitarists who also do programming and backing vocals, a bassist who also plays synth and vocals, and a drummer. Amaro Freitas plays piano on the ballad "Lua candeia (moonlight)". Brasilians love to sing along, which ruins many live albums, so the only way to get away with it is to do a set of all new material. The first song, "Leve e suave," admonishes us to travel light and live in love. The horns on "Intolerância" sound live, but are uncredited. This uptempo single reminds me of The Specials although it doesn't really have a ska beat. "She is still cursing me" he sings. My friend Zeca who stays atop the music scene in Brasil commented that the sonic wash provided by the synthesizers is also calculated to drown out the audience's attempts to sing-along, so they are being pro-active about creating an original sound that is also a defense against the quirks of performing. The versatility of the band make every song distinct and Lenine's vocals are alternately wistful and forceful. Another triumph.

ELZA SOARES
DEUS E MULHER (Polysom)

I think of this as Soares' second album though it's actually her 35th! Back in the 1960s she recorded sweet samba songs on Odeon and was married to Garrincha, Brasil's second-most famous footballer. In 2017 she electrified a whole new audience with her punk-samba "A Mulher do Fim do Mundo (Woman from the end of the world)." Now the octogenarian has followed up with another hard-ass set of scorching songs that sound more like indictments, delivered in her world-weary tone. She was probably nodding off with samba tributes when this new wave overtook her and she is up to giving it her all, yelling over the thundering drums and screeching guitars. God is a Woman is her message. The band, who have previous form in this department, are intent on mayhem. They are the perfect accompaniment to her gravelly delivery, though from time to time, as on "Lingua solta (loose tongues/language)," they get positively orchestral. Berimbau shows up with needle-jagging guitar and lush ominous strings for "Hienas na TV (Hyenas on TV)." The Duchess thought Soares sounded like Bob Dylan; dissonance rules, but there are some bright moments in the din.

BIXIGA 70
QUEBRA-CABECA (Glitterbeat GBCD063; also 2xLP)

The title of this album translates to Puzzle but the portuguese literarily says, Break your head, which is a popular game with the headbangers south of the equator. The fourth album from the Paulista big-band collective, it's bold and brash but also melodic. Their roots may be in candomblé, the Afro-Brasilian religious and ritual music, but their foot is on the pedal when it comes to jazz funk. Touring and playing for eight years has sharpened their chops, and the fact they've played with the likes of Ghanaian Pat Thomas and Nigerian O.J. Ekemodé gives them an inside track on making a big Highlife sound without seeming like another Fela tribute band. Their Brasilian side is manifest in influences from João Donato. In addition to treacly thick drums, the horns layer up in a rich tasty cake with the skittering guitars as the frosting on top. While it is instrumental, the horns take the vocal part (I love the solid baritone sax underpinning) and are arranged intricately as the guitars lurk waiting to come back to the fore. The album is also geared like a live set with three danceable numbers followed by a break in tempo, with organ, skanking guitar, and congas & triangle to the fore for the first minute of "4 Cantos," then it starts to heat up again. There's a dose of 60s psychedelia with burping mad-scientist synth in "Primeiramente" and again in "Camelo"; I could have done without these, but they don't stray off the path for long. Afro-Brasilian percussion underpins the closer "Portal" with lyrical guitar, mellow organ, dreamy horn incursions: this is bliss. The musicianship is exceptional, every element coming in loud and clear on the clean recording.

ROBERT 'ROBI' SVARD
ALQUIMIA (Asphalt Tango CD-ATR 5918)

Robi Svärd's first foray into flamenco was so stunning it was unlikely a follow-up could live up to it. Nevertheless, the Swede has now established himself as a major figure in the world of Spanish guitar. Two years ago his debut Pa'ki pa'la blew away the establishment when he showed that an outsider could excel in the heart of one of the most jealously protected musical domains. The guardians of the tradition had no option but to embrace him and on this outing he has as many as twenty guests lining up to clap hands, stamp feet or accompany him in whatever capacity they can. "El Potito" Antonio Vargas sings on "Bajo la luna." Flamenco singing always sounds to me like complaining drunks, but "beneath the moon" I guess that's your best option. "El Cheyenne" plays percussion. These people are so famous even the hand-clapper has a nickname: "El Moreno," and on chorus we hear "El Quero," "El Negro" and "Cheyenne junior." This one fades suddenly and we are back to the basking joys of Robi's florid guitar and now even the moon wants to dance. After this tango we hear "Soñando," a "detalle por rondeña," which is a musical form I have never heard of before but it is exquisite. Svärd plays trilling leads on the top strings and a bass with his thumb. There's an acoustic bass and a harmonica sneaks in unobtrusively. The biggest surprise is the appearance of duduk on "Nor jugha" -- this is an Armenian double woodwind, which I suppose has a distant connection to Galician gaita or bagpipes. It makes a lovely counterpart to the bright bristling guitar. "Te Vienes O No Le Vienes (Are you coming or not)?" quotes bits of "Fly me to the moon," which seems to be a theme here. A guest guitarist is allowed to join in for the last quiet fade as they go gentle into the good night.

ROUGH GUIDE TO BARRELHOUSE BLUES (RGNET 1375)

The subtitle of this album is "reborn and remastered" and I wish the latter claim was a bit more accurate. Sure, these old discs have seen better times but I have heard Duke Ellington & James P. Johnson 78s remastered from this era that sound brand new. The surface noise is not a deal-breaker but it is a disappointment. These sides were cut between the Depression and the Second World War. The big names are here: "Pinetop" Smith, Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Cow Cow Davenport, even Skip James who gave up the guitar in disgust when his royalties never came through for the records he made in the certainty they'd be smash hits (as they should have been). He played piano in church and also cut a couple of piano sides, including "If you haven't any hay" as heard here. Victoria Spivey and Louise Johnson (check out her hand-wringing chops and breathless vocal on "On the wall") represent the ladies. Like the more decorous ragtime, which developed at the same time, Barrelhouse emphasized the off-beat, but also added a walking bass which can rip right into the heart of the sound and, if you can keep both hands going independently and fast enough, you have Boogie Woogie. This was adapted by Ray Charles for his hit "Mess Around," further pushing the sound into the mainstream. New to me is "Head rag hop" by Romeo Nelson (1929): "Daddy that gonna make me feel so boogie woogie!" he sings in girly falsetto, -- I know baby, he says. For the most part the selections are instrumental, or heavy on the ivories, so it's a great showcase of the various talents who livelied up the barrel-houses and juke joints of the nineteen-thirties.

GYEDU-BLAY AMBOLLEY
THE MESSAGE (Analog Africa)

It's well-known that if you want to sell records on EBay you should say they are African funk, regardless of what is on them. A friend commented he even saw Perez Prado labelled as such. Let's be clear, it's not limited to Fela, but I would say there is a time frame for Afro-funk, which centres around James Brown's appearance at the "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire in 1974 and a location, mostly Anglophone West Africa, with obvious bleed-through to neighboring countries and one or two examples from central Africa. The impact of James Brown on African popular music was manifest in attempts to incorporate his fractured rhythms and bass lines, plus a lot of singers trying to do the "hit me one time, hit me two times" bit. Fela and O.J. Ekemodé both traveled to the USA and both were recording Afro-beat and funk tracks from 1972. They had a much more sophisticated approach to the whole of the sound, using guitar as a rhythm instrument, bringing in keyboards and beefing up the drum sounds. Sonny Okosun, Segun Bucknor and many other artists recorded in this style and there has been a widening vortex of available Afro-funk music as record labels have delved back in time to find overlooked examples that can be marketed as such. One obvious problem is that music is never static and when a band tries to replicate the James Brown sound ad nauseam it becomes stale; in the USA the music rapidly evolved so by the 80s we had a completely different Funk sound, leaping from Parliament into psychedelic funk with Sly Stone, N'Orlins funk with the Meters, then to more electronic experiments with bass synthesizers in the Gap, Dazz and Zapp Bands. But the Africans themselves did not settle on the sound past the 70s. Many who emigrated from Ghana to Germany added disco touches and created Burgher Highlife in the late 70s. This newly released album on the redoubtable Analog Africa label, has a definite disco flair, with its drum patterns and synth touches, but is still rooted in what is basically an American funk sound. This I am sure will delight fans of the genre. It veers progressively more towards the disco side which means it may stir the dancefloor, but again I am not equipped to judge this, since I have not deejayed a dance since the 80s (though i did do a guest shot at a wedding in Oakland about 20 years ago where I brought the house down with some Brasilian music I had just brought back from there). This is a handsomely packaged album, on colored vinyl, and as such is a lovely artifact. I presume the tracks were rare singles or maybe even unreleased tapes that Samy has found. You can hear the title cut for yourself on bandcamp.

STELLA CHIWESHE
KASAHWA: EARLY SINGLES (Glitterbeat GB061CD/LP)

We haven't heard from the Queen of the Mbira in some time. She even put out a "Best of" compilation twenty years ago which usually signals a caesura in an artist's career. But I guess like all of us, she is aging, and taking it easy now she is in her 70s. I was doing pretty well myself until I knackered my lower back (an old complaint) last week. My sweetheart sent me an article which explained how bushmen in Tanzania, the Hazda, one of the last groups of hunter-gathers on earth stay fit because they are foraging for food and not sitting in front of a computer all day. I am not sure what their life expectancy is however, so I am not giving it all up to go to the Serengeti looking for nuts n berries and the odd spearable and roastable small critter (I can't even throw a tennis ball to scare the squirrel who tears up my plants). Bethatasitmay those East African tribes have deep spiritual roots connecting them to the earth and you sense that in ancient music, such as the mbira and rattles heard on this new gathering. If you are sitting in the smoke of a fire listening to this, it could put you in a trance and connect you to the spirits of those animals you long to encounter with your spear and flexible back. The Shona have played this mystical music for over a century, to call out to the spirits of birds, trees, water, even stones and send messages to the guardian spirits in all-night ceremonies. You might glimpse that here, in these eight brief tracks that were released as singles in pre-Mugabe Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia. Interestingly the rituals associated with this music were forbidden but the recordings were made by Teal Record Co, however they did not actively promote them, so they are very obscure. The title track "Kasahwa" says innermost emotional pain is like a fishbone stuck in the throat. Chiweshe recorded it on a borrowed instrument since none of the instrument makers would make her an mbira. It was an immediate hit and secured her a place in the National Dance Company. Check out her single "Mayaya" here.










The Year so far in reviews

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

August 2018

Novalima's latest Ch'usay can be read about in Colombia part 2
Junior Byles, Winston Jarrett plus Ethiopian & Gladiators all went to Jamaica part 3
that leaves Ali Akbar Khan in India & Pakistan

July 2018

Ammar 808's Maghreb United went to Arabia
Magin Diaz El Orisha de la rosa can be found in Colombia part 2
Thierry Antha's Crimes of Rumba, reviewed by Alan Brain, is on the Bookshelf
Rough Guide to Zakir Hussain and
Anandi Bhattacharya's Joys Abound are filed under India
Zanzibara Vol 1 -- the vinyl reissue -- is filed in Kenya & Tanzania pt 2

June 2018

Zoumana Tereta's Soku Fola is filed in Mali part 4
as is Samba Touré's Wande
I'm not Here to Hunt Rabbits is filed in Southern Africa
Rough Guide to Ravi Shankar is filled in India & Pakistan
Rough Guide to Hokum Blues is filed in Blues
Orquesta Akokán is filed in Cuba part 4
Juaneco y su Combo can be found in Peru

May 2018

Hugh Tracey Listen all around has gone to the dedicated Hugh Tracey page in Africa
Hugh Masekela's retrospective Masekela 66-76 is filed in Southern Africa
Melissa Laveaux's Radyo Siwel can be found in Haiti
African Scream Contest 2 is filed in Benin
Los Supremos' Atiza y Ataja is filed in Colombia part 2
Qais Essar's The Ghost you love most, from Afghanistan, is filed in Arabia
Invisible System's Bamako Session can be found in Mali part 4

April 2018

Camarão's Imaginary Soundtrack is filed in Brasil part 3
The Turbans' self-titled effort is reviewed under Euro misc
The Rough Guide to Blind Willie McTell is in the Blues section
Los Rumberos de la Bahia's Mabagwe can be read about under Cuba part 4
Sonido Gallo Negro's Mambo Cosmico is reviewed in Mexico
Two Gladiators' reissues are reviewed in Jamaica part 3

March 2018

Angolan Saudade vol 1 can be found in the Angola section
Malagasy Guitar Masters are filed in African Miscellany
BKO are in Mali part 4
Tamikrest's Kidal is filed in Niger
as is Tal National's Tantabara
Les Mangelepa's Last Band Standing is found in Kenya/Tanzania part 2
Justin Hinds & the Dominoes' reissues can be read about in Jamaica part 3

February 2018

Sara Tavares' latest is in Cabo Verde
Bolon Star is filed in Mali part 4
Plena Libre can be found in Puerto Rico
Chicos Malos and Palenque Records remix vol 2 are filed under Colombia part 2
Lee Perry's Super Ape return to conquer is filed under Jamaica part 3

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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