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OLD WORLD (inc Asia, Arabia)

African Discographies

Latest Muzikifan Podcasts

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The first July podcast was a tribute to the Birthday boys Nico and Franco, with some of the new releases of July

The mid-July podcast featured reggae, and also music from India, Romania, Nigeria, Botswana and Congo

I just uploaded a special bonus Cavacha podcast of Rough Rumbas Verse II

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 August 2018

On tour

Peru's Afro-dub monsters Novalima (reviewed below) are playing the Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA on Sat August 4 at 8 p.m., to promote their new (4th) album Ch'usay. They put on a wicked live show. Next stop: Thurs, Aug 9, 8 p.m., Nectar Lounge, Seattle, WA, then the Beloved Festival in Oregon on the 10th.

Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba will be playing simultaneous and separate piano pieces at SF Jazz 3rd to 5th August. I saw them last year and it was sensational. Check them out dueting on "Blue Monk" in Havana. Miner Auditorium; tix from $40 up. SF Jazz Center, 201 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Also at SF Jazz this month Changüí Majadero, Sunday August 5, Joe Henderson Lab; Taj Mahal Aug 16 through 19th, Miner Auditorium

Pacific Mambo Orchestra at Kanbar Center for the Performing Arts, Marin, Sat. Aug 4

Ammar 808 (reviewed last month) are on tour of Europe: in France and Belgium this month


I've updated the Congo in Tanzania page with more material by Maquis Original, thanks to Peter Toll

Video killed the radio star: Proof is in the Pudding
It's amazing, nay depressing, how much crap music there is in the world! The entire globe (apart from India), even Russia and Estonia, has been taken over by bad rap music. About the only bright note out there is a Bomba Estereo remix, which is no 1 in Mexico. Otherwise No 1 in Maldives is worth checking out, for the video anyway... see they got me looking instead of listening (Via the Duchess.)


No one died in July, enjoy the summer!

Check it out

Meanwhile some hot (musically speaking, of course) Cuban ladies have formed DivinaBanda and are recording their debut album. Check out their smoking cover of Joe Arroyo's "No le pegue a la negra"

A good review on what drives record collectors (in this case looking for 78s in India), but sadly of a now out-of-print book

From Stella Chiweshe, Kasahwa: Early Singles coming on Glitterbeat in September "Mayaya"

CH'USAY (Wonderwheel)

Novalima took two years off from touring to craft a new album and the result is superb. They started off at the dawn of the internet 15 years ago as a file-sharing enterprise, sourcing musical ideas from different countries but bringing them all to their own Afro-Peruvian roots. Now onto their fourth album, Novalima is an established monument in both mainstream media and international festivals as well as their underground club roots which keep them real. They have brought up other musicians, an Andean soprano, Sylvia Falcon who adds a bit of the Yma Sumac eeriness, and a Quechua rapper, Liberato Kani, who now join the fray. (The rapping is not as objectionable as I feared, in fact it fits in fine. The title is Quechua for "Voyage.") Their music is hard to describe: not only have they modernized the music of Black Peru, they have added the dubby studio effects we find in Quantic and other Colombia producers, so there is definitely a pan-South American groove at work here. Yet they can still bring it down to the cajon and jawbone of an ass percussion with vocals. As the saying goes, they've got soul. Other guests include a Colombian marimba master and Kumar, a Cuban rapper based in Barcelona. It will be familiar to fans of the previous albums, but they've added new layers of complexity to their sound.


I've always felt there are not enough Junior Byles tunes in the world, so was thrilled to receive the latest reissue of Nighthawk Records from Omnivore. Junior's final album, Rasta no pickpocket, from 1986, backed by the legendary Roots Radics and produced by Niney the Observer was sadly only 22 minutes long. It has come around again with enough bonus material to double the length. Byles must have been a fat kid, because he was known as "King Chubby" when he formed a vocal trio called The Versatiles with schoolmates. They had a series of hits with Joe Gibbs ("Someone to love," "Lu-lu Bell," "Push it in," "Time has come," "The thanks we get"-- need I go on, or can we just have the definitive compilation? Someone please prod Steve Barrow for me), working with Lee Perry, and then the Versatiles moved to Duke Reid's Treasure Isle. When Bob Marley left Perry's Black Ark, the legendary producer brought in Junior to fill the void as a Rastafarian front man for his sonic experiments with the Upsetters. Six years of this work was distilled into the essential Curly Locks compilation on Heartbeat. From the liner notes it seems the present album was cut in one night in 1986 under difficult circumstances -- in an overcrowded studio with onlookers (rude bwoy gwan mash up da place) creating massive fumes and disruptions. "I don't know" is, to me, the standout track on here. Technology has great potential to take us to space but others are using it to wipe out the human race, he says, getting it off his chest. "Demonstration and protest are pitting brother against brother. I don't know what the world is coming to." Despite my avowed Atheism I appreciate religious sentiments such as "What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" Homilies such as this inform the lyrics of Byles. After that there was nearly a decade of relative silence when Byles was homeless or institutionalized. Two of the bonus tracks are songs which Junior fans will have already: "Bur-o-Boy" and "Weeping" appeared on the Trojan compilation When will better come, however there they were shortened by 30 seconds each, so that's a bonus minute. Then there's "This feeling" a welcome new addition to the Byles canon, with conscious lyrics and a solid groove. By the way the two new version sides also show off the talents of the band, comprising Style Scott on drums and Flabba Holt on bass; Bingy Bunny, Chinna and Dwight Pinkney strum the guitars; Steelie and Bubbler pump the keyboards; Bongo Herman, Scully & Sticky ply the percussion, and that leaves the fabulous hornsmen, Tommy McCook, Bobby Ellis & Deadly Headly, to fill any gaps. Classic, Extra Classic even.


Leonard Dillon (1942-2011), better known as the Ethiopian, had a long musical career, starting as a choirboy. As a hungry teen he went to Kingston to sing for Peter Touch (Tosh) who took him to Marley and then to Coxsone Dodd who recorded him with vocal backing by the Wailers. In 1963 he teamed up with another singer, Steven Taylor, and they scored a couple of ska hits as the Ethiopians. Dillon's day job was as a mason and he met Albert Griffiths on a building site. Griffiths had his own band, the Gladiators and together they recorded "Train to Skaville" with backing by the Gladiators and "You are the girl" by the Gladiators with vocal harmony from the Ethiopians. From then, until Taylor's accidental death in 1975, the Ethiopians were always on the charts. In 1977 Dillon made a beautiful lyrical solo album Everything Crash for Coxsone Dodd, but then was out of the picture for a while. In 1986 the original team of Ethiopian and Gladiators reunited to cut this mellow album for Nighthawk. It's another example of Nighthawk's Bob Schoenfeld having impeccable timing, catching a neglected artist who still has a lot to give -- and is eager to show it. The Gladiators are augmented by four top horn players, and percussionist Scully. Each song is followed by a dub cut: these were mixed hot by Sylvan Morris, who rewound the tapes at the successful conclusion of each take and then demonstrated his skills with a live board, causing amazement among the musicians.

JONESTOWN (Omnivore OVCD-289)

Hope you left room for dessert. Yet another classic album from the Nighthawk catalogue resurfaces on Omnivore, this one without bonus tracks, but a solid LP full of the talented Winston Jarrett. Another young Rastafarian who moved close to Trench Town in search of a musical identity, Jarrett's neighborhood was called Jonestown, and he shared a yard with Alton Ellis as a youth. So his debut recording was part of Alton & the Flames and they had a string of Rocksteady hits on Treasure Isle, like "Cry tough," "Dance crasher," and "Girl, I've got a date." Alton went solo and moved to London, and Jarrett reformed the group as the Righteous Flames, singing lead himself, and recorded for Prince Buster and Coxsone Dodd. Then in the 1970s he made a string of records, using various pseudonyms, in conjunction with Family Man and others known as the Hippie Boys who soon became the Wailers, for Lee Perry, Sonia Pottinger, Duke Reid and so on. A wonderful career retrospective can be found on Survival is the Game (Young Tree Records). This album, Jonestown (not a reference to the Kool-Aid-suicide cult of Jim Jones in Guyana), was made in 1983 when reggae had changed: there is more of a disco beat to the drums and the creeping forebodings of synth and syndrums. It could be that the fans had switched from ganja to coke and needed something a bit more spirited and speedy, but that is just my speculation. I have the feeling that many of the tracks on here were already in the Righteous Flames' repertoire -- one of them was included on one of my favorite LPs Rite Sound Reggae Story: there "Spanish Town Road" has massed horns and nyabinghi repeater drums, giving it a stately tone; here it has farty horns and whiny keyboards (Winston Wright). "Run to the rock" was a single in 1971, and is reprised with funky continuo by Gladdy Anderson on Hohner Clavinet, but again Santa's snare snap is a bit overpowering; "Hold on to this feeling" was a Marley tune, here it is given quite an excessive disco workout. My sense is the producers were trying to create a more current sound to broaden the appeal as, by 1983, Reggae was an established genre, so they were trying to hook the rock audience. Beyond that (the in-your-face production) there are gems on here like "Babylon broke dung me house" and the catchy "Conference Hall."


There's a nice reference in the liner notes for this new compilation to Claude Debussy's opinion that "music is a matter of colours and rhythmical time." Although i cant find the source of this quote on Google it makes sense: Debussy, like Erik Satie, was interested in mood and expression more than structure and strict tempo. Those French guys created cinematic music before the full potential of the cinema was even realized. And like those two Frenchmen, two Indians shared the world stage a half century later with their similar yet distinct compositions as they popularized Indian classical music beyond the subcontinent. By far the more famous is Ravi Shankar, the Hindu sitar player. On the other hand Ali Akbar Khan, a Muslim, was the maestro of the sarod, a shorter metallic instrument -- the yin to the sitar's yang. And this new Rough Guide takes the same approach as the Rough Guide to Ravi Shankar which came out recently. Early in his career when Khan first recorded, the limitations of the 78 shellac meant you could only fit 3 to 4 minutes on a side of a disc, so he had to take what would be a half-hour long raga and distill it to the essence. Just sketch the story. So we have two opening cuts that are from early in Khan's career (complete with a grinding sound in the background from the surface of the disc), and then three longer tracks from his mature years and we end with a coda that again returns to brevity, as a nightcap. (I think they could have dispensed with the closer, having made the point at the outset, as the sound quality is weaker.) The music is very poetic and evocative -- of many things. My first image is always of black and white riverscapes with reeds because of the powerful impression the Apu trilogy made on me, but then my mind wanders, trains, printing presses, trees, smoke, clouds. Then I think about the relation between tabla and tablature: Indian music is improvised so probably not written down but handed on by demonstration. And you cannot notate accurately the muscular inexactitude in the rhythm of four fingers rapped on a drum in quick succession, bringing us back to those Frenchmen who would say, "imbibet (like a drunk)" or "robotic" rather than commit to presto or lento. The three long pieces on this disc are full of grace and loveliness.

The Year so far in reviews

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

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


"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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