OLD WORLD (inc Asia, Arabia)
Music from Colombia, Mexico, Congo, Kenya & the USA
The muzikifan podcast is updated twice a month.
GigsKanbar Center for the Performing Arts in Marin presents The 25th Annual Summer Nights Festival:
July 15 - Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited (Zimbabwe)
July 22 - Pacific Mambo Orchestra (Latin big band)
July 29 - Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca (Afro-Cuban)
Freight & Salvage in Berkeley welcomes
ObitsNo one died this month. Life is good!
ElsewhereInformative blog post of the evolving music scene in East Africa
and a history of the Opika label on afrodisc
Excellent piece on Festac 77 by Uchenna Ikonne
New Page: Congo in Tanzania
I've added a companion page to my "Congo in Kenya" page, that commemorates Congolese musicians in Tanzania at the same time as their compatriots in Kenya "Congo in Tanzania"
AFRICAN GEMS (Sharp Wood Productions 043)
The Charles Duvelle commemorative album, which I reviewed last month, got me to dig out some of my treasured OCORA albums and I started looking at the names of the people who recorded the music. Some other music pioneers, Hugh Tracey and John Low have been lionized, not only in the Sharp Wood Series, but also Original Music of John Storm Roberts who produced wonderful reissues of their recordings. What convinced me to buy African Gems was partly that it's what you might call "tribal Africa's greatest hits," but also that Sharp Wood's A&R man, Michael Baird, is a percussionist and drummer and is going to have a different take on what the great field recordings are from your humble reporter (I admit I got my Doctor of Rhythm doctorate from a mail-order college who gave me credit for "life experience"). The importance of these recordings is obvious: between 1965 and 1984 four white men, an Englishman, a Frenchman, and two Belgians, traveled the heart of Africa recording tribal music. Since then war, famine, HIV/AIDS, not to mention the onrush of modernity, have made this traditional music quietly disappear from the earth. But they captured vital musical moments, documents of life as valid as books or movies, maybe more so because of their immediacy. Tourists go looking for it, and perhaps are treated to a mock or recreated initiation ceremony but things slide out of reality, lose their context. In 1983 I visited the Mbuti pygmies (first celebrated by Colin Turnbull), and they put on a concert for my companions and me; they hocketed, jumped about imitating monkeys and generally tore the place up -- for a small fee. We spent a week camped near them in their forest village made of leaves and twigs, and traded them sugar and flour for pot, or to take us hunting. We were offered precious stones (probably bogus), gold (ditto) and even bark cloth, which was lovely but too fragile to transport. I traded a thrift store HARVARD t-shirt for a lovely sanza (thumb piano). (The t-shirt was immediately turned for cigarettes to the local "bigmies" -- normal-sized Africans who lived off the pygmies.) Several of the little people wore necklaces that had stones and seedpods on them. One day I asked one of them who spoke French the significance of those necklaces. Some Italians were here a few months ago and gave them to us, he said, would you like one? I have no doubt one of those necklaces is now in some ethnographic collection with a note, "Ituri rainforest 1983: Mbuti pgymy." So to the disc: the opening track comes from OCORA 25 Cameroun (the one with the cover that was plagiarized by Analog Africa for their disco reissue). It is outstanding, but then so are the 11 cuts that follow. A track like "Mbilé" by a kendé (xylophone) soloist is so rich you have a hard time believing it's only one performer. He accompanied a wrestling match in Chad in 1966 and here the track is restored to its full length. The kendé is an upright xylophone struck with four mallets, according to Duvelle, who also took a photo of the performer. Then we are treated to the "traffic jam" effect of seven ivory horns with percussion (Duvelle in Congo, also 1966). It's interesting that "out" jazz arose around this time and was also a product of African-American horn players. (Note the use of the word "horn"!) The segue into Alur horns from Uganda is great and the reason I wanted to give Baird the reins on this set! The horns from Chad performing "Sirhélé" are also extra-classic. It too slides seamlessly into one of the mind-blowingest pieces of "world music": "Gandja" music from Centrafrique. This is an initiation ceremony complete with chorus and ankle-rattles but the horn polyphony is completely trance-inducing. I admire the way the ten short themes flow together and marvel at their seeming lack of time signature. The anthology ends with an epic topical song sung to a home-made guitar with the choral singer frantically tapping a bottle. It brings us back to earth, though one can see why this music is the stuff that we sent into space to convince alien lifeforms that we earthlings have soul.
ROUGH GUIDE TO RAGTIME BLUES (RGNET1359)
American blues is a historic movement but nevertheless is in flux. Like other neglected musics of the past the recordings are now scarce and new discoveries, like the work of Geeshie Wiley (as written up deliciously in an extensive New York Times article, which you will forgive me for linking to again, but it's worth reading twice), are continually forcing us to reevaluate the story. So it's Little Wonder (the "Stevie" has been omitted for conciseness and clarity) that compilations like the ongoing series from Rough Guide are as full of revelations as Saint John in his damp Greek b'n'b. When the Beale Street Sheiks sing "Mr Crump don't like it" I thought they were singing about Mr Crumb, that being R. Crumb who collects and proselytizes about early American folk music and blues in particular. If you have seen the documentary about Crumb you will remember the moment when he pulls a Geeshie Wiley 78, "Last Kind Word," out of his shelves of identically grey-sleeved albums and the music blows you away. Well, that was his party piece: he knew the exact disc from some subtle mark because when I met him at home in Willets in the 1970s he pulled the very same act. So Geeshie featured in RG2 Country Blues and here she is again on RG2 Ragtime Blues. I am not complaining but the two categories seem interchangeable to me. Ostensibly ragtime blues attempted to recreate the staggered syncopation of Scott Joplin's piano on the guitar. Also Geeshie's "Pick poor Robin clean" was already on the Rough Guide to Blues Songsters. Her "Eagles on a half" was on RG2 Delta Blues (it's also on an old Yazoo Blues album I own, but I am not sure I could pinpoint its exact location at first try). However I like the random anthology approach because you might buy a Blind Lemon Jefferson or Charley Patton album, having recognized the name, only to find the sound is crap. But in the context of a bunch of other varied-quality tracks you can get the gist of their greatness in a small dose. Outstanding here are Blind Boy Fuller with his virtuoso picking on "Piccolo rag," (I accidentally typed Bling Boy Fuller: how times have changed!) and the crystal clarity of Mississippi John Hurt singing "Got the blues can't be satisfied." The great assured Robert Wilkins cut "Old Jim Canan's" was already on the RG2 Ragtime Blues & Hokum CD, as was the crisply clear and delicate "Cocaine Blues" by Luke Jordan, Willie Walker's "South Carolina Rag," and the great "Ragtime Millionaire" by William Moore. The Blind Blake track was on his Rough Guide CD; likewise the Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller and Charley Patton cuts. "Shake me like a dog" by Pillie Bolling (an artist known only by 4 songs) was on RG2 Country Blues 2, so diminishing returns set in. Of course there are unknown gems on here, so if you are budgetary minded you might want to cherry pick the tracks you want from this collection; and eight duplicates from 25 tracks is not a bad return if you don't have the whole set.
SEAN BELLAVITI & CONJUNTO LACALU
most recent reviews:
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
Zaire 74: The African artists is filed in Congo part 4
Mamadou Kelly's Politiki is filed in Mali part 4
Bargou 08's Targ is back in Arabia
Jaako Laitinen and Väärä Raha are filed under Old World misc
Palenque Records AfroColombia mix is filed under Colombia part 2
Trio Mandili are filed in Old World miscellany
The Top 16 of 2016 is HERETop 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
Poltroon Press, 2012, expanded to 88 pages; list price $19.95.
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