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African Discographies

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2020 Vision includes all the albums reviewed below, & runners-up from best 2019 releases

Rough rumbas verse 3 presents rare Congolese & Kenyan 45s on vinyl

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 5 January 2020

Best releases of 2019 can be found here and a two-hour podcast of them here

News

Latin music you may have missed in the last year. Picks to click: Etienne Charles, Minyo Crusaders, Combo Chimbita, (wait, I take that one back), BaianaSystem, Canalón de Timbiquí (which made my top 10), Dona Onete, Romperayo...

YouTube Gems

Bembeya Jazz doing "Tama tama"

Horoya Band performing "Djalabati"

& the Mills Bros scatting (or beatboxing if you prefer) on "Caravan"

Gnawan again

pay what you like for these Moroccan field recordings of the Gnawa from Hive Mind Records -- proceeds go to charity

BALLAKE SISSOKO & BABA SISSOKO
SISSOKO & SISSOKO (homerecords)

I had no idea of this album's existence until a friend sent me the Bandcamp link. I was enthralled and immediately bought it. Had I heard it sooner it would be on my top ten discs of 2019 so it will have to be a holdover for this year's "best of" list. Ballaké plays kora -- which I like less than the other Malian stringed instrument the ngoni -- but he is a fine player and his companion has a nice bluesy tinge to his vocals. In fact, in his cousin Baba Sissoko, Ballaké has found the perfect foil: a percussionist who also plays ngoni and sings. The kora is a constant but the guest is a wizard on many instruments so the varied accompanying change-ups keep it interesting. Both have toured the globe with other artists but this is the first time the duo have recorded together. So they delved back into their childhood when they were musical cohorts in the Ensemble Instrumental Nationale du Mali, both of them growing up and studying, as griots, to replace their fathers in that group. Ballaké's father was the distinguished Djelimady Sissoko who is name-checked in "Djamu Djakoli." The new generation take the primordial sound of plucked strings and slapped skins and direct its warmth to us. It's a great experience eavesdropping on their musical dialogue and their shared heritage and residual youthful competitiveness pushes them to great innovation.

INVISIBLE SYSTEM
DANCE TO THE FULL MOON (EUCD2874)

In contrast to simple folkloric albums like the meeting between Ballaké Sissoko and Baba Sissoko, Dan Harper cues up a full-blown studio production with many guests leading to fiery encounters and a deep groove provided by trap drums and electric bass, and the full panoply of effects possible with modern technology. Harper plays all the instruments (though no harp), inviting a couple of guests on ngoni, kora and balafon, as well as a couple of Malian vocalists. Harper married a Malian woman and has lived and worked there as well as in Ethiopia for two decades. (Though since the fundamentalist insurgencies he has moved back to rural Somerset.) He found the local griot music was still heavily tradition-based but now includes "headless guitar," which is an electric guitar plugged into a Roland guitar synthesizer, featured here. The material does have traditional elements but is predominantly rock -- with an incursion of rap, the latter in French (track 6 "Kclc [war]") which is one I skipped. The center point of the album: a hard rock track "Juru" set me aback. It's starts exactly like "Love will tear us apart" by Joy Division: I guess Harper grew up in that generation. He is joined by Banjougou Kouyaté on guitar and Sambou Kouyaté (who had a reputation as a rocker on stage) on vocals. Both have tragically died since these recordings were made. The programming and atmospherics are good and complement the traditional singers. By the seventh track the griots take over, unaugmented. The album, which was previewed on Bamako Sessions (TUGCD1111), ends with a collaboration with Sidi Touré singing and playing guitar and overdubbed on calabash as we all dance to the full moon.

MOGADISCO: DANCING MOGADISHU 1972-91 (Analog Africa AACD089)

Fortunately this is not ALL disco or I would not review it. The 70s were a bad era musically for those who lived through it, and bands who imitated the Bee Gees, Chic, KC & Sunshine Band etc should be shunned not celebrated. I feel the same about African funk which we have finally exhausted. Why listen to bad imitations of James Brown or Kool & the Gang when you have the real thing? As usual, the engaging thing about this package is the "further adventures of Samy" which you can read while listening to the disc. Mogadishu is in Somalia which has been in the grip of a civil war since the last century, and only a madman would want to go there, even if he was hoping to find rare music. Just the other day scores of people were blown up by Al-Shabaab (79 dead) probably because their favorite diner, Al-Kebab, was closed. To prepare for his trip label-boss Samy ben Redjeb wrote several hotels to find out about accommodations. Mostly they wanted cash in US $ and offered add-ons like armed bodyguard for $1200 a day. In the end he did need armed guards at all times. When Samy got to the radio station archives he only had a few names, but they dug out tapes for him to copy. You've heard of Dur-Dur band who have three tracks here, but probably none of the others. The second track, "Hug me" by Omar Shoolil is a reggae cover ("Hold me tight, my baby" may be the original) -- tight organ and sloppy drums make this stand out. The reggae beat is paralleled in an indigenous rhythm called Dhaanto which Shoolil used to update a traditional song. The percussionists on "Brave fighters," a political song by Bakaka are much more assured. They later became Dur-Dur. Iftin Band give us "No secrets" and "Cry for me" which have ample ghostly organ, more Joe Meek than Ray Manzarek and part J-Pop. Mukhtar Ramadan Idii performs a cover of the Meters' "Fiyo on the Bayou" mixed with War's "Slippin' into darkness." However the source is not credited, nor is Carl Douglas mentioned for his "Kung Fu fighting" which morphed into "Ladaney" by Dur-Dur Band. And despite claims of Dhaanto being the source of reggae, Jamaica is clearly the origin of "Choose freedom," the fine second entry from Bakaka. This is an interesting album: having got past covers of "Lady" by Fela, the Somalis were exploring Michael Jackson, funk-era Temptations and Bob Marley, as their country slipped over the brink indeed, into darkness. Siad Barre's military dictatorship collapsed along with the economy by 1991 as the whole country became a failed state and sank in civil war.

HUGH MASEKELA
LIVE IN LESOTHO (Matsuli Music MM114)

Christmas 1980, not so long ago for us geezers, but the Apartheid regime in South Africa was still in control and so fans flocked to the tiny landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho for a concert with the two biggest South African musical stars, who were living in exile, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. Their music had become pan-African (Makeba lived in Guinée while Masekela moved to New York where he enlisted some African-American funketeers to back him). 75,000 showed up for their own equivalent of Woodstock, a social event of great cultural significance. Get up, stand up, fight the power: the concert was so loud it could be heard in the white enclaves across the border! But for technical reasons they couldn't get a good enough feed to record it. So this album was recorded a few days later in a smaller auditorium and fewer than 600 copies were pressed for local distribution. The secret weapon is pianist and arranger Don Blackman (Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament/Funkadelic, Roy Ayers). There's fine sax from Rene McLean and other sidemen came along from the bands of Sonny Rollins and Weather Report. Masekela of course sings (now and again) and plays trumpet. This was his regular band that played at a black artists' club in New York but none of them had ever visited Africa before. The repertoire is geared towards his hits, including "Stimela," but opens with a previously unheard (at full-length) version of O. J. Ekemode's "Ashiko." They cover two tunes by Caiphus Semenya, another expatriate, including the elegant "Part of a whole," with a great rapid-fire horn solo from the leader. It's very tight, and the bassist, Victor Bailey from Weather Report churns the funk. Bobby Broom, guitarist with Art Blakey, Miles, Dr John and others, steps up to take the lead on South African pianist Hotep Galeta's "Sister Fania" which takes up all of side three. We end with the full-length version of another hit, Makeba's "The Healing Song," with a sustained elegant groove from Blackman's piano while the horns punch in and out as the tune swells and recedes like the tides.

AMAZONES D'AFRIQUE
AMAZONES POWER (RealWorld CDRW228)

Here is a follow-up to the Amazones d'Afrique's 2017 Republique Amazone. Songwriting credits go to Mamani Keita and Rokia Koné for the most part and both are superb singers. The feminist collective was formed in 2014 in Mali by Keita, along with Oumou Sangaré and Mariam Doumbia of Amadou & Mariam. The latter pair seem to have dropped out but a large array of new younger talent has signed on including Niariu, a Guinean rapper living in Paris, and Fafa Ruffino, a singer from Benin. Singing about gender equality, they have also allowed a couple of boys to join the team (& most of the backing band seem to be males). There is a lot of familiar vocal styling and drumming but it has been treated with synths by the Congotronix mixer Liam Farrell so there is more of an urban dance groove to this album. For me a little goes a long way. The lyrics in English are consciousness-raising and aimed at young women, which is good, but like their first album the mix is overwhelming and a bit overwrought in places where additional guitars, synths, drums and Hammond organ have been overdubbed. You can get the double album on green or blue vinyl if you are bent on such things.

BAIANASYSTEM
O FUTURO NAO DEMORA (No label)

I thought I had downloaded this, but this band is tricky, they don't sell CDs: you can stream the album free on many platforms such as Spotify but it remains intangible and for me artifactuality is an important element of music. Not just the possession factor but for classification, filing and retrieval. (My last computer meltdown wiped out a lot of music I had stored on it.) As innovative as their 2016 Duas cidades, this album has hip hop lyrics delivered over a strong dubby bass and Afro-brasilian drumming, with a wash of Hammond organ, electronica, a real horn section and a light rinse of berimbau and other instruments local to Salvador da Bahia, the colorful heart of Brasil. Among the tropical rhythms there is a lot of modern samba and even afoxé, also called ijexá, recognizable in the repique drum riffs on the downbeat. For this they enlisted a bloco of ten drummers! But in general they wear the folklore lightly, adding irresistible guitar hooks and the oddly insistent synth keyboard part guaranteed to give you earworms. Adrian Sherwood was brought aboard to tinker with the dub aspects of "Navio," where vocalist Russo Passapusso sounds like an old pirate. "Bola de cristal (Crystal ball)" and "Sulamericano (South American)" are stand-outs. The latter features Manu Chao and recaptures the excitement of their first hit "Playsom." The new album is titled "The Future wont wait." Their message is a heartening reaffirmation of the urgent necessity of ecological salvation, so important in this day and age.






Most recent reviews

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

December 2019

Mamadou Kelly's Les Bateaux is filed in Mali 5, also in 2019 top ten
Kinshasa 1978: Originals & Reconstructions is filed in Congo part 4, also in top discs of 2019
12 Bombazos bailables can be found in Colombia part 2
Stephane Wrembel also made the top 10 of 2019, or read about him the Euromisc section
Rough Guide to Blues Divas headed off to the Blues section

November 2019

Congo Revolution is filed under Congo Classics 2
Yaseen & Party can be found in Kenya & Tanzania part 2
Pour me a grog can be read about in the Cabo Verde section
Guillermo Portabales can be seen in Cuba part 4
Send I a Lion, from Nighthawk, is filed in Jamaica part 5
Radio Tarifa have gone back to Spain
Pat Thomas is in Ghana

October 2019

Cuban Golden Club went to Cuba pt 4
Monty Alexander is filed in Jamaica part 5
Dytomite Starlight Band of Ghana can be found there
Lakou Miziki's latest can be read about in Haiti

September 2019

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe's reissue Osondi Owendi is filled in Nigeria part II
Nusrat F.A. Khan's Live at WOMAD 85 can be found in the harmonious India & Pakistan part II
Juffureh Band's Abaraka Bake is filed in Senegal & Gambia part III
Johnny Clarke's Creation Rebel can be read about in Jamaica part V

August 2019

Early Congo Music 1946-62 is filed in Congo Classics part 2
as is the latest compilation of Jean-Bosco Mwenda
Wuta Mayi La Face cachée goes to Congo part 4
Peru Negro is filed in Peru
and Hama Sankare's Ballebe can be found under Mali part 5

July 2019

Rough Guide to Country Blues is filed under Blues (USA)
Hope Masike can be found in Zimbabwe
Oumar's I love you Inna is in Mali 5
Dona Onete's latest is filed in Brasil pt 3
Marcia Griffith's Sweet & Nice is filed in Jamaica part 5
Kongo dia Ntotila is filed in Congo part 4

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

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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