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African Discographies

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The April 7 podcast featured music from Mali, Haiti, Mexico, Colombia, Congo, Cuba and Guinea


Latest podcast features the music reviewed below plus treats

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 May 2018

New releases

Download only issue of 16 early singles by Samba Mapangala and Orch Virunga on CD Baby

Every so often someone on facebook posts the stellar clip of this guy called Ronnie playing guitar from over the top of the fretboard, and then gets a dozen WOWs. It has had a million views. Now there's a new Piranha comp about Botswana guitar

Latest reissue from Matsuli is Genes and Spirits by South African jazz pianist Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, on vinyl only

Viewtube

a 20 minute chunk of Dr Nico and African Fiesta Sukisa performing three songs on TeleZaire has recently surfaced on youtube

Mighty clouds of sound

when you have played the muzikifan podcast a few times and are looking for other things to check out, be sure to catch this Mali special from Tonart Weltmusik

and David Noyes' weekly show of Congolese music

Bloggery

The ever-engaging Likembe has posted a rare album from A.B. Crentsil of the Super Sweet Talks, also catch his recent posts of Rail Band, Sunny Ade and Super Wanyika

LISTEN ALL AROUND (Dust to Digital DTD52)

A new double-CD of 47 tracks recorded by Hugh Tracey is one of the mind-blowing discoveries that thrills fans of African roots music, like your reporter. Of course there are a few duplications from already reissued CDs, but the consistently outstanding quality and informative liner notes by Alex Perullo make this worth every penny, especially given the durable book-format packaging from Dust to Digital. The subtitle is "1950s popular music from the Congo, Tanganyika, Zanzibar and Kenya." Hugh Tracey made many trips from his base in South Africa to record in the field, streets and social clubs, taking along his wife Peggy, Douglas Rex, a sound engineer, and two drivers, one a Swazi speaker the other who spoke Ndau. To help finance his travels he deliberately sought commercial acts that he knew Gallo Records could market, but also looked for good musicians in any genre to capture live. The songs were not only popular in other parts of Africa but of course were covered by American folkies in the 50s and 60s so that Jean Bosco Mwenda and one or two others had a global impact. (Pete Seeger brought Jean Bosco to the Newport Folk Festival in 1969.) Like his younger French counterpart, Charles Duvelle, Tracey's earliest published records won prizes and garnered attention. My cherished Decca 10-inches proudly proclaim "The African Music Society's Best Music for 1952" (leading off with "Masanga"); the following year there were two albums issued as winners of the Osborne Award (Decca LD9221-2). The musicians Tracey recorded quite often did not want any part of traditional music with thumb pianos and zithers, but were drawn to Cuban son, American jazz and country, European ballroom and military marches -- the prime reason being that in modern dance music you got to dance close to your partner. Tracey's first sortie in 1950 took him to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Nyasaland (Malawi), Tanganyika (Tanzania), Zanzibar, Uganda and Mozambique. He made over 1000 recordings and then edited and archived them. With funding from the Ford Foundation, he issued a series of 210 LP records called The Sound of Africa between 1958 and 1963, and provided sets to 60 academic libraries. Three commercial companies, Gallo and Tropik (South Africa), and Decca (London), repackaged some of the material. The Jimmy Rogers praise song by Kipsigis girls, "Chemirocha," is here, and Jean Bosco with "Mwenda tulikwenda," and you probably have or have heard "Mama Josefina" by Patrice Ilunga and Victor Misomba, with their two guitars in open tuning accompanied by a tapped bottle. Otherwise there is little duplication with the excellent series on Sharp Wood that even includes The Very Best of Hugh Tracey and Origins of Guitar Music in Southern Congo and Northern Zambia. Perullo has found interesting parallels to Ghanaian Highlife (a restrained Coast Social Orchestra, trying to stay laid back as they romp through a cover of "Rolling Ball") and a cover of "Lamento Esclavo" by Rico's Creole Band (GV26), done here by Dar Es Salaam Jazz band. The ECO African Band gives us "Doa jeupe," a "Peanut Vendor" cover on kazoo (though not identified as such) from 1952. There are three cuts from Salum Seliman's Brass Band -- I swear the chorus to "Shukurani (give thanks)" is Woody Guthrie's "This land is your land," but Alex Perullo only says it was a popular East African song. The last cut by Ombiza Charles, "Tulale Ngonga Imelia (The Time Has Come to Sleep)" is another gem, and I thought it might be on one of the Sharp Wood issues, where I only found two other songs by him, so clearly there's more gold in those archives. The sequencing is didactic without being pedantic, in fact the flow of the music is fantastic. Tracey was not patronizing, he appreciated good music and sought out outstanding performers. Yet he personally found some of the town music tiresome with its emphasis on sex n drugs and rock n roll, but he knew that was what Gallo wanted and lamented that they were not as interested in high quality folk music. This set presents a broad spectrum of musical styles and was culled from a larger selection made by ILAM archivist Elijah Madiba who also dug through files and found photos and notes that were thought lost. It's a wonderful reach into the history of the music but is as fresh now as it was 70 years ago.

HUGH MASEKELA
MASEKELA 66-76 (Wrasse354)

Hugh Masekela, who died last year, was in many ways the Colin Kaepernick of jazz. This may seem a backward way of putting it, but Kaepernick, for those who don't know, is an American quarterback who cant get a game because he decided to kneel rather than stand during the national anthem before football games. He led his team the 49ers to the Superbowl, he has won peace prizes for his quiet protest against police murder of innocent blacks, but no team will touch him. Masekela was a world-famous South African jazz trumpeter who spent half of his career in exile in the USA but no one seems to have his records. Now Wrasse has rectified the problem with a 3-disc retrospective drawn from his vast catalogue. Because of his exile he often teamed up with other African, rather than South African musicians, so there is a pan-Africanism to his records. After a stand at the Shrine in Lagos in 1973, Fela introduced Masekela to Hedzoleh Soundz in neighboring Ghana, and they became his backing band for a fertile period, producing the best tracks included here (the second half of disc two and first half of disc three). Another Ghanaian musician, drummer Guy Warren and Nigerian saxophonist O.J. Ekemode also appear on his sessions. Jazz was his first love and Masekela collaborated with the Crusaders and pianist Larry Willis. But like Manu Dibango, he was known for one hit, even after the big wave of African music hit Europe and the USA in the 80s. The period covered by this set includes his earliest North American recordings, when he was involved in the Civil Rights struggle, and also the recordings he made after moving to West Africa when he found the USA as oppressive as South Africa (where he had been arrested for breaking the pass laws). After "Grazing in the Grass" became a gold disc, labels clamored for more easy instrumentals but instead he expressed outrage at the Vietnam war and the white oppression of blacks in the US and narrowly avoided jail on a pot possession charge. The main drawback to the compilation is Masekela's singing, which is really bad. Yes he had something to say but he could have easily found someone to voice his lyrics instead of his awful declamations on songs like "What is wrong with groovin?" or "Mace and Grenades." When Larry Willis joins in vocalizing on the otherwise excellent "Salele mane" my reaction is, Don't encourage him. After "Grazing in the Grass" Masekela's biggest hit was "Stimela" which appears on CD for the first time. It was recorded at the end of a US tour with the Hedzoleh Soundz musicians, joined in the studio by Joe Sample on piano and Stix Hooper of the Crusaders. Their cover of "Night in Tunisia" is more a tribute to Miles Davis' electric band than to Diz, but shows you where they were at.

MELISSA LAVEAUX
RADYO SIWEL (No Format 40)

Melissa Laveaux is a Haitian born in Ottowa, Canada, hence her music is more reflective of her urbane upbringing and while it has French creole elements it doesn't include konpa, merengue, voudou jazz or other Haitian styles. Her backing musicians sound more like Lou Reed's (if the post-Velvets had practiced more), but her vocals are of the breathy Blossom Dearie type which makes it hard for me to get through the whole thing without taking a break. Sometimes you can't tell if she's singing in French or English, plus there's an intoxicated slurriness to her delivery which is not endearing. It makes me feel like a drunk on a merry-go-round. However the production on this, her latest (third) album is really excellent so it's easy to groove along for the ride and let the vocals slide. Laveaux first visited her parents' home of Cap Haitien two years ago; she started looking for folkloric music played by small bands of troubadours assembled for country festivals, known as bann' siwèl. Her research led her to explore the period between the two world wars when Haiti, the first free black country in the world, was occupied by the US, a century after declaring independence from France. The re-colonization led to the use of terror, in the form of manipulating people's fear of Voodoo gods to exert control and then of course through torture and murder by the Tontons Macoutes. Laveaux created a patchwork of old songs, leaning on the work of Dodo Titit and a Cuban expatriate Martha Jean-Claude whose lullabies she remembered from her childhood. Helped out by guitarist/tresero Drew Gonsalves of Kobo Town she give the rediscovered melodies new life. By examining the past Laveaux has given fresh form to the roots of Haitian music with a hip rock edge. The albums ends with a cover of "Panama mwen tombé" and then the band (mainly French Trinidadians) is introduced in a strange accent, giving a Bonzo Dog Band flashback to the outtro.

AFRICAN SCREAM CONTEST 2 (Analog Africa AA63 LP or CD)

If your idea of peachy African oldies is "Bring da funk" then this is for you. The compulsive propulsive mid-sixties rhythm lessons of the Famous Flames, Kool & the Gang and Parliament-Funkadelic were quickly learned in West Africa (particularly in the largely ignored country of Benin), and guitarists were happy to provide the screeching riffs that soon evolved into heavy metal in the 70s. This time around we also reach back to the Twist with "Asaw Fofor" by Ignace de Souza. And thanks to Samy Ben Redjeb and his quest for the sources of the music, we now add Stanislas Tohon, Les Volcans, Super Borgou de Parakou and Antoine Dougbé to the list of acts like Gnonnas Pedro and his Dadjes, Black Santiago and Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou as the stars of Benin funk. There's bits of happy organ, some heavy drumming and bleary horns, not to mention guitar pyrotechnics. And yes there's lots of screaming. Poly-Rythmo are back with "Moulon Devia" which is pure disco, and fortunately fades out before the wanky Moog synthesizer gets too involved. Their other entry, "Idavi" by Yehouessi Leopold, is an obscure 1974 B-side used as the closer and a wonderfully atmospheric jam. Black Santiago's "Paulina" is more dependably funky with good sax and very intricate drumming. "Gangnidodo" by Cornaire Salifou Michel et l'orchestre El Rego et ses Commandos has a nice Hammond organ break in the mid-section over a clavé rhythm and some jazzy turnarounds which take us to a clarinet solo before trumpet and saxes take us home. There is the usual meticulous documentation in rare photos and stories we expect from Analog Africa.

LOS SUPREMOS
ATIZA Y ATAJA (Vampisoul VAMPI1832LP)

Vampisoul continue with superb selections as they mine the vaults of Discos Fuentes for the great albums of Colombian music to reissue on vinyl. This was the only release of Los Supremos, and it is the 1971 debut recording of Edulfamid Molina Díaz, aka Piper Pimienta. I missed out on Colombian salsa the first time around. My friend DJ IJ of the infamous if not quite legendary Round World posse turned me on to the Latin Brothers. Los Supremos did take from Willie Colón and other New York-based salseros and bugalu-eros but also incorporated mellower elements of cumbia into their sound. So it's not all balls-to-the-wall or pedal-to-the-metal rave ups of the Fania All-Stars ilk, but has a swing to it, and room for nice trumpet and especially great piano parts. Another influence is the more stately guajira and son of Cuba's Sonora Matancera. The percussion is of course crisp and to the point: triangle and cowbell can even be lead instruments. Piper Díaz was a beloved singer and dancer, fronting label boss's Fruko y su Tesos and then the Latin Brothers. Sadly he was murdered in 1998. These first ten recordings with the ambitiously named El Gran Combo Los Supremos are fully fledged. The band was led by saxophonist José Duval Osorio and featured the great pianist and composer Luis Zúñiga aka "El Chiqui." The title cut, "Atiza y ataja (Push & pull)" was a dance crasher of the biggest type, a guaguancó rhythm with a descarga or improvised jam style rave up coursing through it and of course Piper Díaz's vocals coasting on top assuredly. In "Cali querido" he sings of his childhood in the barrio of Obrero. Pablo Yglesias aka DJ Bongohead described it as "the most experimental tune in the whole repertoire, mixing funky Latin soul/boogaloo with guaguancó, the whole thing punctuated with sleigh bells and a sort of garage rock Northern soul vibe that ends Atiza y ataja on an appropriately festive note."

QAIS ESSAR
THE GHOST YOU LOVE MOST (self-published?)

Essar is an Afghani who lives in Phoenix, Arizona and writes music on his rubab, an ancient stringed lute. He has produced several recordings and been featured in film soundtracks. A song he composed for the Angelina Jolie-produced animated movie The Breadwinner won best original song at the Canadian Screen Awards recently. Cinematic is a good way to describe this album, which has different guests on each track. There's electric bass and the western trap drums give it a familiar grounding, then he brings in Indians on veena, slide guitar and santoor (which is like a hammered dulcimer), and Westerners on 12-string guitars, cellos and harps. Even when a totally Indian soundscape floats into earshot it is soon picked up by the fretless slide and the bass and drums riding it, not into the Thar desert, but along Route 66 from Flagstaff into the Sonora Desert.

INVISIBLE SYSTEM
BAMAKO SESSIONS (Riverboat Records TUGCD1111)

Invisible System (-- not the group Baiana System who had a hit with "Invisavel" last year --) is a one-man entity called Dan Harper who went to Mali as an aid worker in 1999, and fell in love with a local woman. Harper also moonlighted as a record producer, mastering the fine Lost in Mali compilation for Riverboat, and met many local musicians in the forest on the outskirts of Bamako. Recently he returned to his wife's home, and for a month kept open house where local musicians were invited to drop by any time and jam. Some brought ngonis, others kora or balafon. He rolled tape (metaphorically speaking) and edited the results into this disc. Harper played guitar with them and then took the tracks back to UK where he added electric bass and some rhythm tracks on synth and traps. The result is a patchwork, like a holy man's cloak striving to be green all over with patches of white sunlight glinting through. This is a mellow wandering album, good for light background listening but I find when you try to put your finger on it, it evaporates like a mirage.







music reviewed in the last six months

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

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

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

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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