Mikaben, Haitian singer, 41, died on stage in Paris. His biggest hit was 2012's "Ayiti se."
Kiamuangana Mateta Verckys died on October 13: he had been in poor health for some time. Coming from the same tough neighborhood in Kinshasa as Franco, he played sax alongside him. But he broke away from OK Jazz to form his own band in 1968, and soon had a record label and recording studio. Verckys was a major hit-maker, creating bands such as Vévé, Bella Bella, Les Kamale, Lipua Lipua, Trio Madjesi, Kiam, Shama Shama and Zaiko Langa Langa.
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Tribute to Verckys: the music of the Congolese producer and saxophonist who died two weeks ago
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Jump right in! features the music reviewed below, & then some
An initial reaction to this album is likely to be "Another kora album, oh, so how does it differ from all the others?" Well, it differs in terms of accomplishment and arrangement. Maiga is Senegalese and self-taught on the instrument. Here he is accompanied by violin and cello which suit the mood perfectly, and then various guests drop by with guitars and vocals to keep it interesting. It is fusion but it also situates the kora perfectly as a classical instrument in a string trio. The fine recording also brings out the percussion which is varied and not just a slapped calabash but a complex of subtle rhythmic additions. There are jazz and Spanish tinges from other accompanists which also keep it from going on the nod. As a youth, Momi Maiga was sent to live with his uncle's family in Casamance, in the south of the country. His uncle is Solo Cissokho, the virtuoso kora player, and the lad was so interested the uncle had a custom-made small kora built for him, on which the boy learned at home. He also accompanied his uncle on percussion at concerts so literally grew up in the music of his ancestors, the Mandinka repertoire. Invited to Spain to perform, Momi resettled there, which explains the buleria rhythms and flamenco singing on here. The ten tracks are very varied and provide a warm, well-rounded musical experience.
The latest slice of life from Bulgarian artist Kottarashky is quite vivid compared to the picture we have of Bulgaria and Eastern Europe in general as relentlessly drab. This is his fourth album of high energy dance music and meditative jazz soundscapes. As you'd expect from Balkan music there is accordion and trumpet, but there are elements of blues and jazz, and even trip hop drumming grafted onto Bulgarian folk music. I also hear tango in the accordion, and why not. In fact, there are few of your typical Balkan beats: it's something unique and much looser, more fluid. There is a new crooner in the band, a New Zealand singer called Tui Mamaki who started in France, visited India, and ended up in the Balkans, in her musical explorations. She fares better than the lounge singing of Kottarashky with his lyrics like "Fuck you very much," which is not cute, but Tui plus the accordion are excellent. Sax takes the lead on "Drunken fish," which has nice sloppy drumming. Flute adds a nice layer to "Hare Nishto," which I guess has Indian inspiration. The trumpets and saxes also get to show their chops in this varied and very engaging set of original tunes.
I reviewed Abdullah Ibrahim's scarce first album, Dollar Brand Trio plays Sphere Jazz, on here not so long ago, when it was reissued. While he has not appeared in these pages often, he has been a constant in my life, up to this most recent album which came out at the end of 2021 and which has been nominated for a Grammy. Jazz was big in Ibrahim's native South Africa in the 1930s, a quite unique spot for this cultural exchange, and there a band called the Jazz Maniacs played Basie and Ellington with a Zulu tinge! In the 'fifties young men like trumpeter Hugh Masekela and Ibrahim began playing jazz too. In 1959 Ibrahim (born Adolph Brand; he got the name Dollar Brand because he was always scoring foreign currency to try to buy jazz records off American servicemen), and Masekela formed the Jazz Epistles (inspired by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers) with Kippie Moeketsi and Jonas Gwanga, becoming the first South African bebop band and the first to record. But in 1960 the Sharpeville Massacre (when Afrikaner police killed 69 unarmed demonstrators against apartheid) caused the band to flee the country: Masekela to the USA and Brand to Switzerland. Masekela soon had a pop hit with "Grazin' in the Grass" and Brand (who converted to Islam in 1968 and became Abdullah Ibrahim), was spotted in a Zurich nightclub by touring Duke Ellington who got him a recording contract. He soon moved to the USA also where he deputized for Ellington on tour. I have been fortunate to see Ibrahim in concert several times, in fact any time he comes to the Bay Area, I am there. The last time, 4 years ago, was quite funny in a perverse way. Ibrahim was scheduled to perform at San Francisco Jazz (which started out as an annual festival but then they bought a building and now have a regular schedule). When Masekela died in 2018, SF Jazz held a memorial concert with the remaining Jazz Epistles, now performing as Ekaya. Wadada Leo Smith was invited to play the trumpet with this distinguished group, but clearly the rest of the band were not impressed with the American, playing over his solos, changing the charts on the fly, in short, making him feel left out and sound like a chump whenever he tried to show off. So it was a weird night. Nevertheless it is always a treat to see Ibrahim perform, even though he is 88 and has slowed down a bit. This solo album has many of his familiar grooves and licks: he will throw in a quote from "Getting Sentimental over You" or "Caravan" and then invert it, change the emphasis and find a new riff buried within. The set was recorded live in a concert hall near his home in Chiemgau, East Germany (from where he did a memorable Tiny Desk concert last year). "Blue Bolero" (which appears thrice), "Blues for a Hip King," and "The Wedding" show some variations from earlier recordings, which is where we listen and learn. Like Monk, Ibrahim has no compunction about playing the same tunes over and over: In 1973 he released The Pilgrim and then Good News which featured another take of the "The Pilgrim" on it. In 1977 Cape Town Fringe also had a long workout on "The Pilgrim." "The Wedding" showed up on a soundtrack album he did and also on Water from an Ancient Well (1986), and African Marketplace (1984), and I am only referring to albums I own. "The Wedding" is now reflective, no longer a joyful processional but an introspective musing. (The Duchess complained it sounded like a funeral! — she is not entirely wrong...) While he is slower, his touch is sure. And the pensive majestic building underscores his compositional strength, like the way "Blues for a Hip King" merges into "District 6" with a stately vamp. The tracks flow together, a nice touch, as he takes the lid off to show us the workings. As if to say, here it's quite simple, but can you do it? Just how big are your hands?! Some of the pieces are 14, 22 or 40 seconds. Just long enough to get a breath.
"El Picotero," as we all know, refers to the sound systems that keep the barrios of Colombia hot and hopping. But the literal meaning is chatty or gossip — in short a gasbag! — and it is one of the titles on this stellar disc. The Latin Brothers' anthology, Homage to Piper "Pimienta" Diaz, is on my top ten of all-time great Latin discs and I play it often as a quick pick-up. It's a non-stop party and this reissue of their first album from 1974 shows they were born fully fledged as a riotous salsa band guaranteed to fill a dance floor. Backed by Fruko y su Tesos, the Latin Brothers were fronted by Piper Diaz and made Medellín into an important center for Latin music, to rival New York, San Juan, Cali and other hot spots. This group also quickly established Discos Fuentes as a major purveyor of party music and Vampisoul has generously added another track to the vinyl reissue, squeezing in "Echa pa' lante camará" which only previously appeared on a 1975 compilation album called Fuentes All Stars. Two of the tracks on here are familiar from the Homage disc, "A la loma de la Cruz" and "Que no muero la rumba," but that is not to imply the rest are substandard. That slice of cake was only a sample of the riches found over all their two dozen discs. Hernán Guitérrez gets a shout-out on piano (he was also an arranger); the blasting duo on trombone are uncredited, and some other sleuth will have to figure out flautist and even backing vocalists. Joe Arroyo got his start here and some of the other members joined Wganda Kenya, but as usual the LP cover only has song titles. Of the tracks that are new to me, "La Loma" is outstanding, but of course the pair that were anthologized on the "best of" are really sensational. And this group has issued SEVEN "Greatest Hits" compilations! If you buy only one Latin album this week, make sure it is this one!
El Palmas have been diligently reissuing some exciting discoveries from Venezuela (now that that country's economy is in the tank & therefore, presumably, licensing is dirt cheap). With their man Dragón Criollo they have compiled some tracks from a tropical band formed at the Universidad Central in Caracas — surprisingly not from the music school but from the engineering faculty, hence their name Conjunto Ingeniería (The Engineering Group). They started out at teenage birthday parties but soon were spearheading the salsa movement in Venezuela, appearing on TV, and even backing la Reina, Celia Cruz, when she came to town. They had a secret weapon: one of their classmates regularly went to New York and brought back the latest releases from Tito Puente, Pete Rodriguez or Machito, which they devoured. They issued three albums in the sixties, moving from rock to Latin with ease. These have been sampled for this LP reissue (in a pressing of only 100 copies) which El Palmas have been teasing for a couple of months. It is interesting historically but musically it is a mixed bag. It opens strong with "Mambo Silbado," featuring a whistling chorus, then goes into a full-tilt salsa jam on "El Alacrán," that would do credit to any of those New York big bands mentioned above. Next up, "Amorcito" is a cover of the Diamonds' "Little Darlin'." They cover "Pare Cochero" by Orquesta Aragón as "Mambo Sancocho"; the horns are punchy but the xylophone is not a good addition (in my opinion). Similarly "Mambo rock" is a pretty weak and forgettable 12-bar boogie (based on "Mambo Italiano"), with a good trumpet solo. But these are all three-minute cuts; the album ends very strongly with "Aefo" and "Intermission riff." The former an original composition with a deadly boogaloo groove and some "Peter Gunn" horn blasts. The latter a Stan Kenton cover from the swing era, showing the wide range of their influences. This one has a fine trombone solo over a choppy tropical groove.
ALHAJI WAZIRI OSHOMAH
THE MUSLIM HIGHLIFE OF (Luaka Bop)
This double-LP is billed as the third volume in a series of "World Spirituality Classics" and features seven songs of "dance and devotion." It is straightforward Nigerian Highlife: the classic Benin City sound developed in the 1970s and 80s, and so has great percussion, guitars snaking along and pleasant organ fills. Although the liner notes compare him to Onyeabor, Fela and Ebo Taylor, I would say Waziri Oshomah is closer in style to Stephen Osita Osadebe with his mellow delivery over ten-minute tracks. A praise song for "Alhaji Yesufu Sado, managing director" clocks in at 17'47, i.e. the whole side of an LP. The lyrics are not as preachy as I feared, suggesting respect, humility and some common sense attitudes we can all relate to, no matter our belief or lack thereof. As far as Muslims go, Waziri seems pretty enlightened and has avoided the de-Africanization of the more fundamentalist Islamicists who want Sharia Law in Africa. Obviously the Christian missionaries did not do a good job, so we now are faced with the other extreme. We can only hope these disparate sects can still put aside their differences and dance. The organist meanders pleasantly into the void left when Waziri is not singing. In fact, though it is not stated, the liner notes say he was inspired by Victor Uwaifo to have electronic keyboards and I think that may be him playing the organ. "Omhona" clearly shows the Uwaifo influence. And some brass shows up to punctuate the proceedings. "Jealousy" is marred by syndrums and some really dreadful synth effects on the keyboard. On track 5, "Ovini Omoekeke Alhaji Inu Umoru," there's a great muted trumpet which also graces the track "Okhume Ukhaduame." On the whole the Uwaifo influence wins out over the experimental attempts.
This is a treasure: an anthology of 27 rural blues songs (& a few electric urban entries to spice it up), recorded recently (in this century), with stories, photos and amazingly, complete transcriptions of the guitar parts, for anyone who can read music, or wants to play along. In the case of the lovely "Going to the Race Track," by Etta Baker, this will be a special treat for anyone reading the tablature. As the Rough Guides to Blues have been getting scratchier and scratchier of late, it's cool to hear some clean and crisp recordings with all the subtle tones of acoustic guitar and voice to the fore. The CD has 19 songs; the download 27, so clearly you have to choose between the physical package and the additional tracks. I started with Taj Mahal's "My Creole Belle," and was surprised to see his entry is a ragtime tune, done in a Piedmont Blues style! But most of the 18 artists are new to me, and many have several selections to showcase their talents. Alabama Slim and Beverly "Guitar" Watkins do sound like people I might have heard, and I know Freddie King, but the artist performing here is Little Freddie King. He is a cousin of Lightnin' Hopkins and styles his blues playing after the real Freddie King. Preston Fulp (born 1915) gives us the chestnut "On the Banks of the Ohio," and his singing strains toward the etherial ghostlike quality of Skip James. Benjamin Tevohal stands out, first because he is a white Frenchman, living in Strasbourg, who grew up loving the blues (like a lot of European kids), and secondly, because he is a one-man band, using a foot to kick a bass drum and cymbal, while using his other foot to play a bass pedal board, while also adding in harmonica to his fine guitar, on an original composition. Meanwhile back in North Carolina, John Dee Holeman has a kick-ass backing band of bass, drums and organ as well as harmonica and his stellar guitar. His cover of Lightnin' Hopkins' 1950 hit, "Shotgun Blues," is chilling. Another Lightnin' hit, "Dew Drop," credited to "trad," is turned into another fine guitar solo by Etta Baker. She was discovered in the 50s and invited to the Newport Folk Festival but her husband refused to let her go. After his death she returned to the guitar. A lot of these musicians are not professional, or working at it full-time, but still have the requisite chops. Jeffrey Scott is a farmer, mortician and long-haul truck driver but he sure has a fine touch on the fretboard. Alabama Slim is from Alabama, but now has a New Orleans accent and a wonderful resonant voice like John Lee Hooker. He plays electric guitar with his thumb so it's quite rudimentary but he gets his point across. "Fannie Mae" is a 13-bar blues in E: it was the lead track on his 2010 album Blue & Lonesome. Another highlight is the roadhouse boogie "Back in Business" performed by Beverley "Guitar" Watkins from Atlanta. She started out with Piano Red in the 1950s. By the mid-60s she was playing with the likes of Ray Charles, James Brown and B.B. King. She has a full band, accompanying her jamming guitar and raspy vocals. Another denizen of the Atlanta blues scene, Frank Edwards, turns in a stirring "Chicken Raid," which he recorded when he was 90! Of Guitar Gabriel's playing, Eric Clapton said, "Oh, my God!" Yes, he is astounding (represented with four selections). And speaking as one of the Eurokiddies who grew up listening to Southern blues, there is a lovely rendition of "Baby Please Don't Go" by the aforementioned Little Freddie King. This album and accompanying photo-illustrated book do a lot to further the cause of Southern folklore.
RECORDAR E VIVER: ANTOLOGIA VOL 1 (Bongo Joe)
Earlier this year Pedro Lima's Maguidala
was reissued by Bongo Joe, and so it is a thrill to find more from this São Tomense artist who died in 2019. The sound of São Tomé is a sweet hybrid of Angolan semba and neighboring Congolese cavacha rhythms (both countries were part of the original Kingdom of Kongo before Europeans arrived), with sweet harmony vocals and intertwining guitars and complex puxa percussion from drum set, reco-reco and congas. This galloping rhythm will be familiar from the other great bands from those island, such as Sangazuza and Africa Negra. Formed in the 1970s, Os Leonenses made their first recording in Gabon in 1981. Their second album Maguidala came out in 1985, followed by a new disc every two years or so (on obscure labels). They often visited Luanda, Angola to record and once played for a crowd of 40,000 there. This compilation draws from 45s and also gathers unreleased material to fatten the offering. It's all first rate: the band are very assured and maintain their intensity with the occasional bridge where they take it down to to bass and percussion while the guitars fall back to the mi-solo (as in 70s Congolese and some Kenyan music) before returning for a "B-side" jam. Until the release of Maguidala we only had three songs on the Bongo Joe compilation Léve Léve, which also includes details of Lima's life and especially his outspoken leftist politics which found their way into his song lyrics. This is a rich compendium of some everlasting music from the small island with a big voice.
Estrellas (i.e. a cast of thousands) is a collaboration of Cuban and Senegalese artists, something we have enjoyed sporadically over the years, particularly on Popular African Music's Afro-Salseros album. In May 2021, during lockdown, Cubans came to Senegal to jam with local and French musicians on originals and standards. There is also a strong Cadence element from the French Antilles. Afro-Cuban vocalist Brenda Navarrete sings "Déjame en Pa (Leave me in peace)," with a small combo, including a fine (uncredited) pianist. You'll know "Adduna Jarul Naawo" as Baobab's "Dée moo wóor," which adds piano and an attempt to cop the atmospheric guitar of Bathelemy Atisso, but this is an impossible task, and ultimately a limp and loungey cover, despite the strong vocals by Alpha Dieng and Assane Mboup. "Il n'est jamais trop tard," is a cover by El Gato Negro of Bembeya Jazz's "Doni doni" that improves as it goes on. The horns are noteworthy. Brenda Navarrete returns for another highlight, a duet with David Walters, on "Por qué ou ka Fè sa," which is again in Haitian kriyo ("Why do you do that?"). Once again, we can listen before we commit, thanks to Bandcamp! There is some good noodling, some forgettable parts (the rap on "Barrio"), some truly awful songs ("Sin Pantallas"), but overall this set is worth skimming through, at least.
OUMOU SANGARE, LIVE AT THE FREIGHT, Berkeley, 25 October 2022
Oumou Sangaré is on tour promoting her latest album, Timbuktu. I did not want to pay the exorbitant $70 cover for Berkeley's Freight & Salvage but a friend decided not to go and gave me her ticket. I have not been to a concert in over a year, I think the last time was Cheikh Lo, also at the Freight. I got there an hour early and got a seat in the middle of the fourth row. The mostly agèd white crowd found their seats, ready to rattle their jewelry. Oumou came on to rapturous applause and my first impression was a reminder of Celia Cruz, a stately figure with an afro, and also wearing one of those bright tight dresses that flare out at the knee. She had massive gold jewelry on (earrings and a signet ring that covered half of her left hand), a long bib of cowrie shells and blue lipstick! On her left were two energetic backup singers and dancers who caught your eye throughout. One of them, who looked like she could be Sangaré's daughter, had amazing facial gestures and moves to match, though both were in sync throughout the 90 minute set. To the singer's right were two kamele n'goni players: one of them Mamadou Sidibé who has been the singer's friend since childhood. However, he had technical problems with his instrument and left the stage. Then during the blazing R&B number "Sira," the guitarist broke a string, so it was more of a dub version as the keyboard, bass and drums carried on while he replaced the broken string. The backline were her non-Malian band members but for once they integrated perfectly into her sound, especially the keening sound of the slide guitar. She did not introduce the band, but brought back Mamadou Sidibé to explain his involvement in the production of the album, giving him most of the credit. Apparently, sick of the festival circuit, she flew to New York in 2020 to find everything locked down. She spent three months pretty much alone, and then called Mamadou in Baltimore and asked him what he was doing. — Nothing much. So she then spent three months in Baltimore with him writing music, morning noon and night, she explained. The band were tight and mostly drowned out the vocals, except for the slow numbers and when Sangaré chose to really belt it out in the climax of some numbers. She got everyone on their feet, but there is no dance floor at the Freight, so everyone clung to their chairs and swayed to the beat.
Reviewed so far this Year
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
Montparnasse Musique's Archaeology is found in Congo part 4
Baba Commandant's Sonbonbela is filed in Burkina Faso
Ernesto Djedje has gone to Ivory Coast
Okaidja Afroso's Jaku Mumor can be read about in Ghana, part 2 MAG 14 Magnificos Bailables is a compilation from Peru
Wganda Kenya are from Colombia, filed in part 2
Celestine Ukwu can be read about in Nigeria part 3, as well as on his own page in the discography section
John Ondolo and his Hypnotic guitar went to Kenya, Tanzania part 3
Shikamoo Jazz live and John Kitime's new album with Wahenga are also filed there
Kanda Bongo Man went to Congo part 4
Alfredo Linares with El Pito is filed in Peru
Los Dementes can be read about in the Venezuela section Rough Guide to Memphis Blues is filed in Blues
BKO's Djine bora is filed in Mali part 5
Oriental Brothers new album Oku Ngwo can be found in Nigeria 3
Cabruera's Sol a Pino is filed under Brasil part 3 Crossroads Kenya is filed in Kenya & Tanzania part 3
The Movers hit compilation is filed in South Africa pt 2
Karamanduka and Melcochita's rare collab can be found in Peru
Ray Perez with el grupo Casabe are now in Venezuela
Los Corraleros de Majugal are in Colombia part 2
& let's not forget Folk and Great tunes from Siberia in Old World misc
Los Kintos have gone to Peru
Los Volcans du Benin are also repatriated in their homeland
Los Calvos are filed in the new Venezuela section
so are Los Kenya with Siempre Afro Latino
The Live at WOMAD 1982 comp is in the Miscellany section
Ignacio Lusardi Monteverde plays flamenco so I set him down in Spain
You can read about The Bongo Hop in the Old World Miscellany section,
as I don't think it deserves to be in the Colombia section
Oumou Sangare's Timbuktu is filed under Mali part 5
read about Zambian Michael Baird's Thumbs on the Outside in Euro miscellany
Congoman Remmy Ongalla's reissued Songs for the Poor Man is filed in Kenya/Tanzania part 3
Noori & His Dorpa Band are from Sudan, in the Africa section
Swede Robi Svärd is filed in Spain
Cie Tambor y Canto is New World Latin music but filed in Old World miscellany, as the leader is French
Los Calvos ...Y que Calvos can be found in Venezuela Ebirac All-Stars are in the Salsa category
Mista Savona's Havana Meets Kingston part 2 can be found in Caribbean misc
Godwin Kabaka's International Band's Kabaka can be read about in Nigeria part 3
Viviano Torres Ane Swing's Joyas Champetas is filed in Colombia part 2
I stuck Color de Tropico vol 3 in Venezuela
A couple of recent Blues comps from Rough Guide and Putumayo are found under the Blues tab
Bomba Estereo Live in Dublin is also in Colombia part 2 (not in Ireland)
Africa Negra's Antologia vol 1 is filed in Sao Tome Animamundi from the Spy from Cairo is filed under Arabia Rough Guide to Delta Blues vol 2 can be found in the Blues section
Nuru Kan's latest is in Senegal part 4
Saturno 2000 comes from all over Latin America, but I filed it under Colombia 2
Burkina Azza's Wari Bo is filed in Bukina Faso
Gonora Sounds are from Zimbabwe
Coco Lago is Latin/salsa, found in Peru
Ano Nobo Quartet are filed in Cabo Verde
Owino Sigoma Band are filed in Kenya/Tanzania part 3
Okuté by Okuté is filed in Cuba part 4
as is Changui – The Sound of Guantanamo
Kadi Yombo by Pape Nziengui is filed under African misc as there is no section yet for Gabon
Rokia Koné's Bamanan went to Mali, part 5 Zanzibara vol 10 is filed under Kenya & Tanzania, part 3
Wganda Kenya's self-titled debut is found in Colombia part 2
BaianaSystem's latest Oxeaxeexu is filed in Brasil part 3
Imed Alibi & Khalil Epi's Frigya can be read about in Arabia
Tony Ugabi's debut album is reviewed in Nigeria part 2
Two reissued albums from Vis-a-Vis are filed in Ghana part 2
Although he is in Switzerland, I have archived Anour Cherif's album in Algeria
"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
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