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OLD WORLD (inc Asia, Arabia)

African Discographies

Latest Muzikifan Podcasts

"Jawbone of an Ass": The late December
podcast features music from Senegal, Zaire,
Peru, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, USA and more

The Best New Releases of 2018 features just that

Subscribe on podomatic to be notified of updates.

The Best New Reissues of 2018 features eight
classic reissues plus a tribute to Jumbo Vanrenen

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 January 2019

Roots in Reverse

New Book from Richard M. Shain on Senegalese Afro-Cuban music and tropical cosmopolitanism, sounds like a must-read


New video from the Spy from Cairo

New blog post by Matthew Lavoie: Burkinabe balafon music

& from John B at Likembe on Igbo women's music from Nigeria


I put this on and was immediately transported to New Orleans by the high energy guitar and drum backbeat, then listened closer. Yes, it's French creole they are singing, but the Caribbean variety from the islands rather than the mainland. Delgres is a power trio of bass, drums and lead guitar, but the bass is actually a sousaphone! I first saw them on YouTube and was captivated. Lead vocals and guitars (including Dobro with slide) are the province of Pascal Danaë, born in Paris to Guadelupean parents. He and drummer Baptiste Brondy shared a love of Mississippi Delta Blues, but wanted that N'Orlins second-line sound on bass and were thrilled to encountered Rafgee (Raphaël Gouthière), another Parisian and conservatory-trained trombone player, who also plays trumpet, trombone and flugelhorn. But whatever he is doing, Rafgee is another lead instrument (like Jack Bruce, rather than just a backing boost to the bass drum bomp). There are also country and rock inflections in their sound. And there is a live urgency to their recording: Danaë is a real veteran having won the French equivalent of a Grammy in 2015 and performed with Youssou N'Dour, Gilberto Gil, Peter Gabriel, Neneh Cherry, Souad Massi and Morcheeba, one of whom shows up on here. Despite the small line-up this is a varied and well-rounded album.

MIRI (Out Here Records OH32)

Each new release from Bassekou Kouyate is eagerly awaited, and his fifth album will be out on CD & LP on February 1 2019. Surrounded by a host of guest artists, Kouyate returned to his hometown of Garana, Mali, which is a village on the banks of the Niger River. The title song means "Dream" or "contemplation" and is about his mother who passed away recently. The whole thing is very mellow as he gets away from the noise, traffic, turmoil and politics of Bamako to ponder life. Kouyate's wife Amy Sacko is the lead singer on half the tracks, and she surrenders the mike to Habib Koite, Afel Bocoum and Abdoulaye Diabate by turns. We also hear Majid Bekkas on oud and vocals on the opening cut "Kanougnon," and Yasel Gonzalez Rivera singing lead on "Wele Cuba," which, as you guessed, is a Latin number but, to me, feels out of place here. Bassekou grew up listening to Maravillas de Mali and other local bands doing covers of Cuban songs and often does a version of "Guantanamera" to end his live shows, hence the taste for a Latin groove. The album is dedicated to two former members of the group who made a huge impact on Malian music before passing away, soku (fiddle) player Zoumana Tereta and Kassemady Diabate. Mostly the musical accompaniment is three ngonis: Bassekou on lead, with a secondary player, Abou Sissoko, and Madou Kouyate on bass ngoni, plus two percussionists. The title cut is an instrumental with no frills and is very lovely. A guitar is added for "Konya" which is another high spot. Afel Bocoum, who used to be in Ali Farka Touré's band, sings about the plight of the Peul, sedentary farmers who exist from Senegal to C.A.R. but who ranks have been decimated by the unrest caused by Islamic fundamentalists who have destroyed their homes and stolen their cattle. (The booklet explains all the songs in French and English.) The album ends with a tribute to Kouyate's late mother, who used to travel around singing to support her family with young Kouyate on ngoni. Sacko's vocal delivery pays homage to her mother-in-law's singing style. A very fine effort.

MELODIES MANDE (Sans Commentaire)

In West Africa, the piano is called the White Man's balafon ("Toubabou balafola"), but the White man has his own balafon-like instrument, the Xylophone or Vibraphone, the sound of which which I really dislike. This is not an antipathy to all metalophones as I love the gender, the Balinese metal keys suspended over bamboo tubes and hit with mallets (pongels), but my favorite is the struck keys of the wooden thing called balafon, which is a legless marimba, without the resonating tubes, though it may have gourd resonators attached. It is a traditional Manding instrument, used in Mali to accompany story tellers. Livio Camara was director of the Instrumental Ensemble of Guinea for a decade. On this 4-track EP he is accompanied by a small trio of supporting musicians, playing electric bass and calabash along with Kandiafa on ngoni, a hot young musician (nephew of the great Mama Sissoko) who has been called the "Django Reinhardt of Mali" and who has his own album out Mali Country, which is hailed as a groundbreaking Afro-House recording, with remixes. Vocals are provided by another journeyman, Kabadjan Konate, who sang formerly with Vieux Kanté, the blind kamale ngoni player who died suddenly in 2005. Short as it is, this is a very sweet outing, and I look forward to more from them.

AMANKOR / THE EXILE (Riverboat Records TUGDD1120)

Over a decade ago Tartit was one of a flurry of desert nomad bands, Touregs in exile, who made a splash with the combination of complaining vocals and Grateful dead-like guitar dirges rambling on endlessly. Some, like Bombino, went from Nomads to Womads and others were forgotten; the women of Tartit did not forget, however they were unable to get together again and continued struggling to survive against the odds in strife-torn Mali. In addition to the aforementioned electric guitars, they add other traditional instruments such as the teherdent (three-stringed ngoni), flute, imzad (fiddle, made of horsehair with a gourd resonator) and the tindé (hand-drum). Still in exile, they sing of their love for their home in Timbuktu far across the Sahara from the studio in Bamako, where they made their home for a month to regroup and perform live for the tape. They, and their fellows, have been shuttled around refugee camps in Mauritania and Burkina Faso while the military (French and local forces) tries to root out the baddies, which is a problem not so much of religious difference as religion masking a frustration with economic failure as was seen, for example, in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 70s, and exacerbated by the collapse of Libya. Fatimata Walet is back on lead vocals, and fortunately not overmiked this time. Women in Toureg society are equal to men but this is the only one of the many desert bands fronted by women. The songs are also concerned with domestic issues, the hardships of daily life, lack of water and education and health care. They even adapt a children's game/song to encourage unity and solidarity -- the name Tartit means "Union." And the woman in the home is like a tent pole -- not necessarily malnourished -- but if she goes down the whole home collapses.

LE MEILLEUR DE GRAND KALLE, VOL 1 (Cyriaque Bassoka productions)
LE PATRIARCHE DE LA RUMBA CONGOLAISE (Cyriaque Bassoka productions)

The new Bantous tribute to Grand Kalle is strictly for completist fans of la Rumba Congolaise and it's unlikely anyone will snap it up on the merits of that terrible cover, which looks like late 80s experiments with CorelDraw. Casual fans will already know the majority of the tracks on here as they are classics of early Congo music, even before it became Zairois music. No one can match Joseph Kabasele's voice but the old guys of Les Bantous give it a good shot and of course their musicians are well versed in the tunes. Some members of the original studio line-up that backed Le Grand Kalle were the nucleus of the Bantous back when they were created, so there is certainly consanguinity in the two bands' histories. At first I was put off by a metronomic beat on the bass and drum that almost sounded like programmation, and there is even some sickly sweet synth washes, but I persisted. Various younger bands covered some of the songs, such as "Para Fifi" but here we get an expansive non-soukous treatment with fine horns in addition to the ringing guitars (no liner notes were discoverable anywhere online; the albums are both posted as download only). The bass bomp persists but you get used to it by the time "Kelya" comes on and in addition to the horns, there are live conga drums too. "Moselebende to bolingo" is another highlight, but they should have left the synth in the closet. In fact once through was pretty much all I could take. I would enjoy it live, I am sure, and there are fine moments in various songs but overall the disco-ness dooms it.

As a companion piece, Nganga Edo, les Bantous' patriarch and principal vocalist, also has an EP out of some medleys of his old tunes, or "pot pourri" as he styles them. He started out in Rock-a-mambo and was in OK Jazz in their first three years before joining les Bantous in 1960. This is vigorous and less prone to the monotony of the Bantous' collection, however the sound is muddy and appears to be taken off worn discs, or else was poorly recorded in the first place. A reprise of the 1979 hit "C'est toujours comme ├ža" is the highlight.


For their latest reissue from the Discos Fuentes catalogue, Vampisoul turn to a novelty disc which was massively popular in its day (1974). Bobby & Tita were an Argentinian couple who moved to Medellín, Colombia in the late forties to introduce the tango but became enamored with the local cumbia. Well-known show biz personalities, they experimented with various genres and on this album fused psychedelic hippie pop with the tropical Atlantic rhythms of Colombia. The album opens with a traditional cumbia but veers into craziness with "Safari, Safari" with its English-language chorus of Manson followers (?) creepily enjoining you to come and dance while an electric sax with wah wah (the Varitone) warbles ominously over an Afro-disco beat. The cult singers continue in vague English, something about "death of de poor men" over an attempt at a Stax sound to a porro beat. The Varitone sax is back, accompanied by a Mellotron. "Zombie Rock" opens on organ, with a Santana vibe, but then the farty Varitone/Mellotron combo gasses the proceedings. Side A ends with "Noche de Cumbia"-- a tribute to Isaac Hayes' soundtrack album "Shaft" which had come out a couple of years earlier and was still massive. "Batukacuto", an Afro-funk jam with ringing cowbell kicks off side B and is the outstanding cut here. Many well-intentioned riffs are derailed by the instrumentation. "La cumbia mujer" is really too bad, but worse is in store: "My way" turns up as "A mi modo". This was a travesty even before Sid Vicious took it on. Some fine studio musicians went through hell to create this (good trap drumming and fine bass playing): it is only "good" in a perverse sense.

Recent Reviews

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

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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