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OLD WORLD (inc Asia, Arabia)

African Discographies

Latest Muzikifan Podcasts

"Consommez local" featured artists reviewed last month plus some jazz and other delights

"Test pressing" is a mix of jazz, rocksteady, Congolese classics and whatnot

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Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 May 2019


Monik Tenday is a singer/guitarist living in Belgium. HERE she pays tribute to the late Lutumba Simaro

La Familia Valera Miranda play traditional Cuban son. HERE they are performing at Seattle's Triple Door

Maithili Thakur is still a young girl but already making waves in India with her singing. She accompanies herself on harmonium HERE while her brother plays tabla

Brasilian singer Dona Onete has a new album out. Ska meets frevo. Teaser HERE (music starts at 2'24)

Baiana System, also from Brasil, has a new album out. Here's the absurd part: you can listen to it on spotify, iTunes, etc, but you cannot buy or download it! I guess that's one way to defeat piracy. Links to audio HERE

A lyrical short film about the Malinké people of Guinea and the role of rhythm in their daily life. FOLI: there is no movement without rhythm. Dont miss this VIDEO, dedicated to the people of Baro

Gofundme Appeal

Congolese songwriter and guitarist Bopol Mansiamina had a stroke last year and needs financial help to keep him in a nursing home while he recovers. His career started at Orchestre Bamboula of Papa Noel in 1969. From there he played with Rock a'Mambo & African Fiesta Sukisa before founding Orchestre Continental with Josky in 1971. From 1973 to 76 he was a member of l'Afrisa International of Tabu Ley. In 1978 he joined Sam Mangwana's African All Stars in Abidjan. In 1979 he released solo albums Pitié, Manuela and Marriage Forcé. His hits included "Saturday night," "Choisi" and "Ca ç'est quoi?" In 1982 he settled in Paris and formed Les Quatre Etoiles with Syran Mbenza, Nyboma and Wuta Mayi. Since then he has performed and recorded with Samba Mapangala, Déesse, Ricardo Lemvo and Mose Fan Fan. You can contribute to his fund-raising appeal HERE.

ALIA CU OMALI (Mar & Sol MSR003)

This is remarkable. A new album from Africa Negra that sounds like their classic albums of the 80s, so of course I thought it was a reissue since, as far as I knew, they broke up years ago. Even the cover image of a topless native girl seems quaintly retro. The group was established over 40 years ago in São Tomé y Principe, tiny islands off the West Coast of Africa with a population who speak a Portuguese patois. The leader of the band is singer/songwriter "General" João Seria and the original guitarist Dió Vaz is still with the band, now as a percussionist. Their many albums are issued in Portugal but contain no useful information other than song titles and once in a while, personnel (often first names only). The most reliable authority is Matthew LaVoie who went to meet and record them for the Voice of America radio show and blogged about it here. LaVoie explains, "Most of the group’s songs use metaphors to sing about mores and social dilemmas," and he expounds some of their most popular lyrics, and supplies sound files also. Back then, in 2009, they were complaining about the rise of DJ culture and the lack of gigs. While their music is spiritually akin to that of Cabo Verde and Angola (where they are huge), it also shares the excitement of Congolese soukous and stretches out with a seben you can dance to. Leonildo Barros, second voice, has also been around since the '90s where he was guitar and keyboard player. Singer and lead guitarist Antonio Menezes also joined up in the 90s, right after Panela. Mainly they start off with a minor key island lilt of the A-minor to E-minor variety, and then the drummer cranks it up to race tempo, followed by a guitar breakdown reminiscent of the African All Stars of yore (I am thinking of Bopol's dry "waka waka" guitar sound heard here on "Fala da cu Beto"). Small and compact they carry a punch with powerful drums, jangling guitars and distinctive voices.

DE MAR Y RIO (Llorona Records LLO 006LP)

You have to slow down for this one. It's not sleepy but there are no bells and whistles in the way of amplifiers, soaring guitars or pulsating basses. It's a folkloric album with singer and chorus, delivering lovely lyrics, five hand-slapped cununo drums, shakers (guasá), and a lively marimba. The lead singer is the highly respected and talented Nidia Góngora who reminds me a bit of the other Colombian chanteuse Toto la Momposina. From the beautiful block-printed cover to the arrangements, this is a well-thought out album. If you look at a globe you may be surprised to see Colombia has a Pacific Coast as big as its Atlantic Coast, and it's there, in those jungles that surround the Amazon, that the African heritage of the country's slaves took root and manifest in many unique musical forms and rhythms, as demonstrated by Canalón de Timbiquí. The fourth album by these former students who moved to Cali for further studies in 2002 shows a variety of traditional rhythms (& one assumes dances in performance). The songs are often religious and as students of Robert Farris Thompson know, the African slaves hid their own gods inside the pantheon of Catholic saints. They recorded this album live (in performance in the studio), in a short time and mixed it hot to give it a presence which you can feel.

SOY LA LEY (Vampisoul VAMPI 190)

In the great salsa boom of the 1970s, New York had Fania Records and Colombia had Discos Fuentes. But that's not the whole story as you can imagine. And obscure as they may be, Colombia's other salsa labels such as Codiscos managed to pack the dance floors -- without Fruko as their A&R man. This disc, selected for reissue on vinyl by Vampisoul, is a fine example of salsa dura. The leader, Roberto Fonseca, was as much part of the costeño cumbia movement as he was into salsa but on this album he waxed the first recording of "Rebelión" by his childhood friend Joe Arroyo, called "El Mulato." Joe first recorded it with Fruko, but it was shelved, as Fruko thought the vocals were sub-par. After Arroyo went solo he redid it backed by La Verdad, in a new arrangement by Michi Sarmiento, and it became a global smash. Here it is a rough gem, with a cumbia feeling, especially in the bass. Joe Arroyo also wrote the title track of Roberto's album, "Soy la ley (I am the law)." The other songs are mostly covers too, of originals from Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico, but blend into the familiar Colombian groove, hitting on the brass with congas, timbales and cowbell. Always more cowbell! If you play this disc backwards, i.e. side two first, you get caught up in the movements of each style, and the excitement of a really hot recording session. The romping cumbia "Hijo de gitana (son of a gypsy)" reminds me of the Latin Brothers. Roberto's voice recalls Héctor Lavoie which is probably why he was so beloved by the fans in Barranquilla and Medellín.

LEMBI (JazzLand)

Once again I am indebted to our Washington Bureau chief, Ken A, for alerting me to this, and as Ken points out it's an odd mashup of two albums that maybe should have been kept separate: one is a set of traditional Malian music, with Peul flute, kora, balafon, hand percussion and a mellow vibe. Then as soon as one song ends on comes a techno remix with drum machine, burbling synth and an edginess that wipes out the mood. It's not bad, by no means, it's just a shock. I like the remixes, they remind of of the late lamented Issa Bagayogo; I also like the traditional tunes. Problem is if I separate them the traditional set might put me on the nod so I need the change of pace the remixes bring, even though on their own they feel incomplete. However, eventually as the tempo warms the two become less distinct so there is something satisfying about having the traditional blend into the modern as on the remix of "Bissa" by Prins Thomas. Though Barry grew up in Burkina Faso I get the feeling he lives in Norway since his label is based in Oslo and the names of the remixers sound Scandinavian. We gather he made his own flute and string instruments and his accompanist is Solo Diarra on djembe and balafon. A jazz piano enters halfway through and you think maybe it's a different album; this track "Serendou (Bugge Wesseltoft Remix)" truly is distracting. It's not a remix per se and seems quite out of place. Bugge should have saved it for his own album. "Soukalen" sounds a lot like Issa Bagayogo: it even has a spoken interlude. The Sex Judas remix that follows is gratuitous and off the rails. Then there's another go at the same tune: the Bendik Baksaas Remake which is ominous rumblings at the end of a long dark tunnel; neither of these does justice to the tune. Barry reclaims ownership of the set with the closing track "Mballa" on flute, balafon and hand drums. It's a long strange trip, indeed.

NO WAHALA: HIGHLIFE, AFRO-FUNK & JUJU 1973-87 (strut 2xLP, download or streaming)

As far as I know this is the fourth entry in this potentially endless collection of Nigerian oldies showcasing highlife, funk and (better left unsaid) disco. The double album Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story came out in 2001; Lagos Jump followed in 2008. Then there was Sweet Times in 2011, which I missed. Strut has also devoted serious coverage to Orlando Julius, Ebo Taylor, Fela, Tony Allen and Pat Thomas with individual new albums and reissues. We start off with what sounds like "Kung fu fighting" with farty synth lead which fortunately gives way to a nice guitar and percussion groove, punctuated by horns, by Odeyemi. The second track is neither disco nor funk but a sweet highlife number by the great Prince Nico Mbarga called "Sickness." His Rocafil Jazz have been neglected with all the rush to Fela-style funk in the last few decades. One of the few Nigerian acts to have an international following before Sunny Ade, after they hit big with "Sweet Mother," they put out another 20 albums before Prince Nico died tragically in a motorbike accident. Felixson Ngasia and Sina Bakare turn in what I would call filler: it sounds okay but doesn't move me, despite "conscious" lyrics in English. The International Brother band always make me perk up however. Sir Steady Arobby and his posse turn in a dreamy 8-minute highlife workout heavy on the percussion. Don Bruce and the Angels give us a perky "Kinuye" followed by a real gem: "Let them say" by Rogana Ottah & His Black Heroes from their 1986 Who knows Tomorrow LP. One thing about endless compilation series is you might start to turn up obscurities but some of them are ridiculous. While the guitar and organ are interestingly off key, the lyrics to "Psychedelic shoes" by Etubom Rex Williams are absurd. After that diminishing return, even the great Sir Victor Uwaifo & his Titibitis have a hard time regaining our trust. New to me is M. A. Jaiyesimi & his Crescent Bros band who close out the set with a short sweet melodious highlife number. A good way to round it off.

CELIA (Verve/Universal Music France)

This has to be the prizewinner for chutzpah. Last I heard Angelique Kidjo was touring in a show based on a Talking Heads album, like Stars on 45, or a Beatles tribute band, recreating Remain in Light as a live show. Now she has come out with an album of ten covers of songs made famous by Celia Cruz. Kidjo assembled a stellar line-up of backing musicians, including Gange Brass Band from her native Benin, ex-Fela drummer Tony Allen, and American singer Meshell Ndegeocello. The songs are all familiar but Kidjo is no Cruz and she fails miserably in attempting to imitate the great delivery of the late Latin "Queen of Salsa." It's as bad as Rokia Traore singing Billie Holiday, or Tabu Ley covering the Beatles. But the up-tempo numbers with brass and percussion deserve better, and I kept imagining ducking out Kidjo's voice and finding an isolated track of Celia's vocals to mix in. I saw Celia when she was in her 70s, with Pedro Knight and Tito Puente, and even though she didn't come on 'til well past 2 a.m. she electrified the place and ripped through her hits like "Quimbara" and "Bemba Colora." There have already been an award-winning musical and a telenovela based on her life. Damn she even got her own US postage stamp! I am not saying the status of Celia Cruz is unassailable: other great Cuban singers will no doubt come along, but tribute albums are almost always doomed to failure. Think of the mediocre Buddy Holly tribute Rave on, the weird Cole Porter tribute Red Hot + Blue (which was redeemed by the goofy performance of Iggy Pop & Debbie Harry), the uneven Fela tribute album Red Hot + Riot, or others too horrible even to recall. The Kurt Weill tribute Lost in the Stars, is the only one I can think of that worked, and that was by several artists. The music on Celia is great, so maybe the producers should have brought in a variety of singers, though again it could have fallen flat. But for one artist, lacking a massive voice but showing a lot of hubris, to take on the well-grounded powerhouse of Celia's repertoire is folly.

Recent Reviews

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

April 2019

Hama Sankare's Niafunke is filed in Mali part 4
Culture on Nighthawk is filed in Jamaica 3
Los Jubilades' Llave del Son
& El Comite's So What? are both filed in Cuba pt 4
as is Complete Cuban Jam Sessions
Yapunto latest can be found in Colombia part 2
Mdou Moctar's Ilana the Creator is filed in Niger

March 2019

I've added two book reviews to the bookshelf
Houssam Gania's Mosawi Swiri and Moulay El Hassani's Atlas Electric made their way to the Arab section
(Remind me to create a page for Morocco)
Ry-Co Jazz's Dansons avec le Ry-Co Jazz is filed in Congo Classics part 2
Cumbia Beat volume 3 went to Peru, of all places
Orchestre Abass de Bassari Togo should be found under African Miscellany

February 2019

Kwi Bamba are filed in Guinée
Star Band de Dakar reissue is filed in Senegal part 3
Nostalgique Kongo is filed under Congo Classics 2
Yelsy Heredia can be read about in Cuba part 4
Coumba Gawlo is filed in Senegal part 3
Etienne Charles' latest is reviewed in Trinidad

January 2019

Bassekou Kouyate's Miri &
Livio's Melodies Mandé are both filed under Mali part 4
Delgres' Mo Jodi can be found in the Caribbean section
Tita Duval & Bobby Rey's Cumbias Internacionales went to Colombia part 2
Les Bantous de la Capitale's Hommage to Grand Kalle &
Nganga Edo's Le Patriarche are filed under Congo part 4
Tartit's latest can be read about in the Niger section

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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