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"Unredacted" featured artists reviewed last month plus other delights
"Dr Rhythm on Safari" is the story of how I got into African music
"The Ur riff" features new releases reviewed below plus old favorites
Updated 1 June 2019
I've redone the links link, above
This month the San Francisco Jazz Festival takes flight with many highlights, including Orquesta Akokán Sunday June 16 Miner auditorium 7 pm Zakir Hussain with guests Sunday June 16 Herbst theatre 8 pm Bobi Céspedes with John Santos Mon June 17 Miner auditorium 7:30 pm The Cookers (Hard-Bop supergroup with Eddie Henderson, Billy Harper, Donald Harrison, Cecil McBee, George Cables, and Billy Hart) Tues June 18 Miner auditorium 7:30 pm William Bell/Memphis Soul Revue Thurs June 20 Herbst theatre 8 pm Roy Ayers Sat June 22 Miner auditorium 7 & 9:30 pm
Coming in July
BKO Quintet (Mali) @ Freight in Berkeley Ricardo Lemvo @ Kanbar Center Marin
From Richard Shain comes the news that "Pascal" Dieng of salsa/mbalax group Super Cayor died in Dakar at the beginning of May. Richard adds: "Later, he fronted his own band with distinction. He was a gentle and affable individual and a talented artist, greatly respected by the Senegalese musical community. May his soul rest in perfect peace."
I uploaded the extended (4'45") version of "Nalapi" by the greatest lineup of African Fiesta Sukisa to YouTube here. The sleeve of the Philips 45 is so engrossing I spent some time playing around colorizing the band members, and thanks to Maitre Dizzy Madjeku I was able to identify all of them.
I also uploaded Shanti by Koko Zigo Mike and orchestre Kombe Kombe to the muzikifan YouTube channel. For the video I was just playing around with iMovie, but it's a great tune.
SALUM ABDALLAH & CUBAN MARIMBA BAND
NGOMA TANZANIA (Domino Sound)
Music is nothing if not circular. From 78 rpms to 45s to cassettes to CDs and back to vinyl, it revolves, just as the chords cycle round and round. Inspired by 78s of cha cha cha and other Cuban music imported into Africa in the mid-1940s, teen-aged Salum Abdallah wanted to be a musician. His first home-made guitar was found and destroyed by his religious father who had other plans for the lad, but once he started a band and they performed to acclaim at his sister's wedding, it was clear where his future lay. A scout for Mzuri records came to Morogoro, Tanzania, to hear the young band, set up a single mike and captured their first recordings for pressing back in Mombasa. Salum's father was from Southern Arabia and in his strict upbringing the young Salum had to learn to chant the Koran, the intonation of which also left traces in the singers of coastal taarab. The marimba of the band's name refers to the thumb piano or mbira played in local ngoma (dances). The guitar playing reflects this plucked style. Thus was born the blend of traditional Tanzanian music, with arab influences and the over-riding flavor of the Cuban cha cha played on clipped, chippy guitars instead of violins and pianos, which started to flourish all over East Africa. A South African version of the twist also permeated up the coast with its bright bubbly beat and is covered here in "Beberu." The Mzuri 78s continue to be issued in Kenya during the early 60s and eventually arrived in the West via cassette tapes. In 2000 Dizim records issued a CD of 22 songs by Cuban Marimba Band collected and remastered by Werner Graebner, the leading authority on Tanzanian music. Now with the strange precipitous return to vinyl we have an LP of 12 tracks, including 3 borrowed from Graebner's comp, put together by Michael Kieffer, who was the sound engineer for John Storm Roberts' estimable Original Music label. This is the roots of the famous muziki wa dansi or Tanzanian dance band sound, later heard in the work of Mbaraka Mwinshehe and Super Volcanoes and also Atomic Jazz, NUTA Jazz, Maquis and Mlimani Park, to name the best-known.
Sit back and relax and enjoy the latest episode of crate-digging adventures with Samy ben Redjeb. Having exhausted West Africa, for now, Samy is back in the Brazilian rainforest from whence came the exciting Mestre Cupijó compilation from Analog Africa six years ago. Jambú is a stimulating plant, akin no doubt to coca, which promotes the appetite; it's also added to the deadly distilled sugarcane hooch known as cachaça. This album will stimulate your ears. Hits of tropical psychedelia mix with choro, samba, merengue, even the lambada. Pure percussion backs all these tracks and there are no synths, so none of the cheezy disco-tinged stuff that was coming out of Europe and Africa in the late 70s penetrated the rainforest. The compelling "Coco da Bahia" by Pinduca is based around an insistent riff that reminds me of "Ode to Billy Joe," Bobbie Gentry's 1968 hit. But this one has no bridge. "Carimbó da Pimienta" -- the track that started Samy on the quest for the story of this music from Belém and environs -- has a lot of what I'd call Angolan feeling. And again he has done a thorough job, not just in tracking down the tunes, but finding the artists, many of them surprised that someone from so faraway had come to interview them and find out their story. Another Carimbó track, "Lundun da Yaya" by Grupo da Pesada jumps off the album, and makes you want to put it on a loop. There's a great backbeat on some big caxambu bass drums, shakers and a wobbly horn chorus. He ends with a wild live track from Mestre Cupijó which is thoroughly engaging in its sloppiness. Triumphant.
Arsenio Rodriguez first introduced the African drum known as tumba (and known Stateside as the conga drum) to his band in 1939. Before that hand drums, even including the little bongos beloved of beatniks in the 50s, were banned and kept secret as they were associated with religious Santería rituals. Cuban society was so restrictive they would not even allow black musicians like Rodriguez on the bandstand, though he would perform with Casino de la Playa on record. Casino de la Playa was a big band and ultimately had two tumbadors, one of them singer Miguelito Valdez who hit with "Babalu," the other another showman named Chano Pozo (1915-48). A young light-skinned Cuban in Hollywood, Desi Arnaz, copied Valdez' style and song and, despite his "expressionless and graceless performance," as one critic described it, was a huge hit in the USA. Chano Pozo, on the other hand, was both druggy and thuggy: someone who would not have been allowed in most clubs, let alone on the bandstand if it were not for his talent as a dancer and drummer. Landing on his feet in New York, playing with Xavier Cugat, Tito Rodriguez and Machito, he was in demand, but frequently returned to his home in Havana. Back in New York at the end of the 40s he was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie. Although Dizzy spoke no Spanish and Chano had no English they communicated with music (though neither could write it), going "ding-ding-ding... boom boom" to one another, and together created the fusion known as Afro-Cuban Jazz or Cubop. This new double LP gives an overview of Chano's career which is also a cross-section of the best Cuban & Latin music of the 1940s and 50s. In 2002 Tumbao, the Spanish label, put out a 3 CD set with 144-page book by Jordi Pujol that was the first major retrospective of Chano's work. It included 78 tracks compared to 28 here, but of course these are choice, and include all the important works with Dizzy: "Cubana-Be," "Cubana-Bop" (part of the Afro-Cuban Suite), their smash hit "Manteca" (arranged by Gil Fuller) and "Tin-Tin-Deo" (which became a jazz standard). Of his recordings with Arsenio "El Mago del Tres" there is only "Seven Seven" which will leave you wanting to hear the others. With Miguelito Valdez we dig "Si no tiene' swing." I didnt get any liner notes or even track info with the new issue, but assume the version of Chano's "El Pin Pin" is the version with Julio Cueva and not that recorded with Machito. You can still find the Tumbao set which is authoritative on the used market, and includes all the tracks here. But if you want vinyl, here it is. I don't think there's much they could have done to "fix" the sound of the Havana recordings and they still sound ropey. Still, in a single mic recording the hand percussion is going to be the sharpest sound. It's good to see Chano Pozo getting more notice for his considerable contributions to music, making the bridge between Cuban big bands and jazz.
Another great album where the music speaks for itself. It has to since the information on the press release is pretty scant, other than track titles. The press release does state "Dembele's musical stylings center around the ethereal sound of the kamele n'goni harp which he weaves into a musical pallet that includes layers of indigenous percussion..." When I drove a forklift I only ever encountered wooden pallets, none of them layered nor woven. They also say he draws on the afropop stylings of Salif Keita which I don't find useful or even credible. Dembele is a jeli (traditional singer-storyteller) who comes from Burkina Faso, and plays the kamele n'goni, an instrument heard all over West Africa. There's the now-traditional backing of electric bass and calabash with added djembé percussion and guest incursions from electric guitar and balafon on the romping "Mousso." No idea who other musicians are, possibly Dembele is multi-tracked as he was on his debut album. But do check it out.
In 1964, a few years after Independence, Malians swept up in a love for Cuban music, sent a group of young men to Cuba where they learned to play in the style of Orquesta Aragon, became quite popular in Cuba and recorded an album of Afro-charangas. But on their return to Mali in 1968, there was a military coup and the old Cuban-derived music was eschewed as authenticité took over. With only one hit, "Rendez-vous chez Fatimata," the group soon disbanded. Boncana Maïga, the flautist and arranger, went on to a successful career, notably with Africando, but the other band members vanished into obscurity. Years ago I dismissed their album as a poor imitation of Aragon and a dusty copy sits on my shelf unplayed. So with this new issue and its added tracks I am hearing it anew. But I am still not convinced, and it seems they producers were not sure either. There are thirteen tracks which are seven originals from 1967 and half-a-dozen remakes of their best-known African charangas in a sober measured, deliberate way: no improvisation, just straightforward replicas suggesting students attempting to cover an orquesta Aragon performance note perfect. There's no spark, no sudden outburst of obvious genius seizing the moment. The new version of "Fatimata" adds Mory Kanté but has an identical arrangement to the original. The agonizingly wet "Andurina" reminded me forcefully of Mamas & Papas and other folk-rock bands of the 60s. After they nod off with rehearsals of "Palomina" and "Boogaloo Sera Mali," there are four remixes, that are not only gratuitous, they completely alter the mood and leave a bad taste in the mouth. See for yourself. If you like African covers of Cuban music you might want to check this out. However Orquesta Aragon are still going strong and are always worth hearing.
HISTORY (Naive Records)
I am trying not to sound like a cranky old sourpuss. I did not review the Salif Keita album Another Blank, which came out last October (on the same label) and was touted to be his final statement (with a grand farewell tour in the manner of Elton John or other rolling stoners). Youssou is now a grand old man too, though I remember what a bright lad he was on his first US tour when he came by the radio station in a little college on top of a hill in San Francisco and dutifully answered the same old questions put to him by yours truly, a novice young broadcaster. Now he looks back over 35 years with portentous remakes of some of his favorite tracks, many first issued on cassette and sold in the streets of Dakar and then bootlegged in ever-diminishing quality. The opener is a tribute to Habib Faye, longtime sideman in his band, but it is loungey with easy-listening horns and not a promising start. Seinabo Sey (proponent of Scandinavian electro-soul) takes over vocals on the second track, "Birima," which is so depressing I had to take it off. Again there's angst-laden synths and this time an intrusive drum pattern. Where's Youssou? Oh here he is singing harmony in English, not his strong suit. Then he wails on echo... how much more of this can I stand? I liked Peter Gabriel back in the days of "Biko" but that big room over-production where every instrument has its own echo chamber, is really ponderous. Youssou's songs are "reimagined"; I would have preferred to hear them recreated. To fans in Dakar the cassettes were just a byproduct of their experience of the band, which they saw in clubs and stadiums; to fans in the West however, the same cassettes became talismata, however imperfect, of an emotional atmosphere they longed to get inside. The poor sound made you ache for it to open up so you could hear the tama, see the robes flapping as the dancers bucked on the stage, driven by the music. But without looking back, globetrotting Youssou goes off to Nigeria to refigure a couple of tunes by percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. In this he also follows Keita who had Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Angelique Kidjo on his "final" album. "Macoumba" returns to the mbalax sounds of Dakar that made Ndour famous and we want to hold the moment, have it blossom into a full album. It's worth holding out to hear this one, but then the "Kenny G of Cameroun" Alain Oyono returns & they put Youssou back into the echo chamber. And it does get worse, "Hello (remix)" is another English-language song this time by Congolese-Swede Mohombi, with added wailing from Youssou. It must have escaped from the Eurovision song contest, on its hands and knees. This album is all over the map, sadly it doesn't stop long enough in Dakar to get any traction. I often lamented the influence of Peter Gabriel on Ndour, but then his 2004 album Egypt, on Nonesuch, showed he could turn his vocal talents to the good with the right material. It's a shame his history is so tainted with the mediocre pop traces of his success.
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
Africa Negra's latest Alia cu omali from Sao Tome is filed for convenience in Cabo Verde
You can read about Canalon de Timbiqui's De mar y rio in Colombia part 2
Robert y su Banda is also filed under Colombia part 2
Adama Barry's latest is reviewed in Mali part 4 Nigeria 70: No Wahala is reviewed in Nigeria 2
Angelique Kidjo is from Benin, which is where you can read about her Celia tribute
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
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
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
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
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
The Top Ten New releases and Top 8 Reissues of 2018 are here
"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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