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OLD WORLD (inc Asia, Arabia)

African Discographies

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The mid-March podcast featured live music recorded by African bands

Latest podcast features the music reviewed below plus treats galore

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 April 2018


A new page dedicated to Orchestre Kiam, one of the great unsung Congolese bands of the 70s. Researched and written by Matthew Lavoie, and hosted here at Muzikifan on the discographies page.


CK Mann has died; the 83-year-old Ghanaian had numerous hits


traditional Bakuba dances still being kept alive, posted to our facebook page by Kitali Ngaira

27 min award-winning documentary on Roy Smeck, who popularized ukelele and hawaiian guitar in the 20s and 30s (as heard in March 25 podcast)

Other blogs

Dieuf Dieul, an early cassette by Cheikh Lo posted by JB over at Likembe


Samy ben Redjeb jets off to the Sertão of Northeast Brasil and returns with an invigorating collection of accordeon hits from the decade 1965-75 in a new departure for his groundbreaking label, Analog Africa. He refers to a Western Movie in the title and it's not far-fetched: the deserts of the Nordestino do resemble the wild west and are also full of legendary figures like Lampião, a cross between Robin Hood and Jesse James. Lampião is the subject of folk ballads which are sung and gathered in chapbooks called Livros do Cordel, one of the great surviving folk art forms of South America. Those ballads, a bit like decimas, are hard to take at length, however, unlike the delicious forró which has elements of brass band, with seductive clarinet and exclamatory triangle romping along with accordeon and a resounding bomp on bass drum. I recently had my old dead Mac brought back to life and was to pleased to think most of the acres of lost music files were intact, but when I started digging them out, iTunes had only kept the first track of many albums. In this era of evanescent digital music it's nice to hold the album in your hands, whether you are into vinyl LPs or CDs with a fat booklet to give you the context for the music you are listening to. Young people are getting into books, apparently, so perhaps artifacts are not so obsolete, and while I don't have much faith in the durability of my CD collection, I know where stuff is. Also LP sales are on the rise again, helped along in part by vinyl issues from Analog Africa (not to mention Matsuli, Teranga Beat, Crammed Disc and even Buda are planning a compilation album based on their fabulous Zanzibara series). Drawing from 6 albums released between 1964 and 1974, this disc presents a great selection of quintessential forró music. Camarão started modestly with a triangle and zabumba (bass drum) to accompany his accordeon but his band expanded to include 4 percussionists, 3 saxes, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, 2 guitars and 2 singers, so he fed a large family in his decade in the spotlight. The various configurations give the compilation depth and variety, and a definitive cinematic flavor: the whole thing is a joyous celebration.

THE TURBANS ( Six Degrees)

A wide wild array of gypsy-inspired music by a collective who wandered the globe accruing members for a while, busking and playing festivals, until they ended up in a 17th-century Northumbrian bastle house, fortified against Scots marauders. Anyone who survived the trek from Belarus, Greece or Bulgaria congregated in the rustic retreat to make music and between them they composed 30 songs, eleven of which are gathered on their debut album. An Anglo-Iranian fiddler, Darius Thompson leads the group. Baba the Kurd (who got out of Istanbul just ahead of his legend) is the percussionist; Maxim on oud (electric) is from near Chernobyl, so really happy to be freezing in a stone farmhouse in the wilds of England and not glowing in Belarus. There's a Bulgarian rocker on lead guitar and a German rocker on bass, and that's not even half the band, who are all multi-instrumentalists. Kansia on ney gets his turn on his own tune, "Kansianitsa," a nice eccentrically tempoed number featuring his blowing. Pablo Dominguez on flamenco guitar kicks off "Aman," which also shifts effortlessly through key and mood changes into another Balkan-inspired flare up. The disparate elements are well reined in, which makes for interesting segues from one style to another. Simo Lagnawi sneaks in so we are in North Africa for a brief moment catching his krakrebs. The closing number, "Hackney," a song about the ethnic diversity of the London suburb, is a bit hackneyed: I would have preferred no lyrics to stuff like "if you ask your mam where's the best kebab in town? she's going to send you right away to Hackney," etc. Up to that point it's an enjoyable outing.


Everyone knows "Statesboro Blues," because it was a huge hit in the rock era, covered by Taj Mahal and then the Allman Brothers. I am speaking of the rock era in the past, and cannot understand why they don't just close the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I mean it's done, right? But the Blues lives on and it's a delight to hear two dozen songs with exceptional guitar-playing and witty lyrics delivered in the sweet voice of Willie McTell. The syncopated finger-style picking reminds me of Barbecue Bob, another Piedmontese bluesman who played a 12-string guitar. McTell recorded about 117 songs (including alternate takes), famously "Georgia Rag," (which he recorded as Georgia Bill) and was a successful musician, unlike many retrieved voices from the Delta and Country catalogues who cut two or four sides and vanished. New to me are the duets with his wife Ruth Kate Williams, which are brilliant. Other appealing elements here are the duets with Curley Weaver ("Whip that thing, boy!"), with whom he performed often, though his playing is so intricate he sounds like he is dueting with himself. Sadly, however, McTell was caught in that post-war slack tide when black musicians were ignored and he died in obscurity in 1959 (age about 56) just before the big folk-blues revival that would have gratified his heart after decades of accomplished performances. The original "Stateboro Blues" is one of the most achingly beautiful songs of the late 20s. His wife's snappy comebacks on "Searching the Desert" are also brilliant, although it is essentially a novelty number. Bob Dylan covered McTell's "Broke Down Engine" and paid tribute to him on several of his recordings. English folkie Ralph McTell even took his name! You can hear how his lyrics were influential on many later performers: "I can't be trusted, and I can't be satisfied / when the men see me comin' they go to pinning their women by their side" from "Lord send me an Angel" or "Got three womens: yellow, brown and black... one is Memphis yellow, the other Savannah brown, one of those Statesboro darkskins will really turn your damper down," another three-minute short story from "Three Women Blues." Then there's "the blues came down like dark night showers of rain / I drank so much whiskey I staggered in my sleep / my brain's dark and cloudy, my mind's going to my feet" from "Dark Night Blues". If you look up his complete works King of the Georgia Blues (6 disc set) on discogs, the artists they recommend at the bottom of the page are Neil Young, The Band, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Safe to say he covered all the bases.

MABAGWE (Eguin Eje Records)

Three rumberos dreamed about making this album for years, as life passed them by. Michael Spiro is now Associate Professor of Percussion (!) at Indiana University but paid his dues working in bands like Santana and David Byrne and backing musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Cachao and McCoy Tyner. José Luis Gomez is a Cuban who grew up playing in comparsas in his hometown of Sancti Spiritus. He went to Africa in the late 70s and worked as a basketball coach. Back in Havana he participated in street rumbas put on by the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba, before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1982 where he got to work with Pancho Quinto, Giovanni Hidalgo and other luminaries. He became vocalist with Fito Reinoso's Ritmo y Armonia, and played on recordings by the Coro Folklorico Kindembo of John Santos. These two friends finally teamed up with Jesus Diaz (another percussionist/ vocalist with a lengthy pedigree, even overlapping with the others in groups like Santana or Sheila E) to put together a purely traditional album devoted to their elders — "Los Mayores". The title Mabagwe, is a Yoruba word meaning "Remembrance" and though the African roots are pronounced (the songs are often devoted to Afro-Cuban orishas like Chango), and there is a hint of Spanish decimas in the call-and-response vocals, rumba is a purely Cuban form, expressed here by these three elders with a group of recent immigrants from Cuba. The obvious connection, if you are not familiar with this music, is to the Muñequitos de Matanzas in that is is primarily percussion with vocals, to accompany dancing. But in addition to keeping tradition alive, the music evolves and they have written new material reflecting contemporary concerns, from veiled political commentary to simple exhortations to shake your bum.

MAMBO COSMICO (Glitterbeat)

I did not know the Amazon stretched all the way up to Mexico but what we have here is more of that Amazonian psychedelic cumbia, known as chicha. It's a weird take on 60s bubblegum music, rooted in its own way in American pop though as different as say the Cambodian version we already know well from bands like Dengue Fever. This is the third outing from the Mexico City combo who have added touches of mambo, cha cha, danzón and Colombian porro to the mix. It is still predominantly the cosmic- glitterball-reflecting loping cumbia on Farfisa and spiny guitar that started from Pucallpa, Peru, in the hands of Juaneco y su Combo in 1969, and made it as far afield as Brooklyn when Chicha Libre got into it a decade ago. The beat is relentlessly "up" — this is a 9-man band so there's room for timbales, guiro, flute and even a theramin. There's an (instrumental) cover of "Quién será?" by Pablo Beltran Ruiz, which became a hit as "Sway" recorded by Connie Francis, Dean Martin and others. There's lots of fun and games, like "Mambo Egipcio" which could accompany a silent movie of battling bedouin. And speaking of silence, the last track has a long pause in the middle which made me think my speakers had become unplugged or I had muted them accidentally. I wish they wouldn't do this; maybe just have dim crickets chirping if they want to insert space? Then the last ninety seconds beam down extraterrestrial rays from another soundtrack.

SERIOUS THING (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-273/274)

The Gladiators hit for Studio One with "Hello Carol" in 1968, and followed up with "Bongo Red." By the 80s they were internationally acclaimed as a roots reggae band. They closely followed Bob Marley & the Wailers, even covering some BMW songs such as "Small Axe" and "Stand Alone." In 1982 St Louis-based Nighthawk label's Robert Shoenfeld & Leroy Pierson got them into the studio to record Symbol of Reality. The title comes from Griffiths' notion that the Gladiator is always struggling and fighting, hence a symbol of reality. They revisited their catalogue (little-known outside Jamaica at the time), including classics such as "Dreadlocks the Time is Now," "Watch out," and "Big Boo Boo Deh." (The best of their early material was collected by Virgin on Vital Selection in 1981 & more recently 4 of their Virgin albums reappeared on a double CD.) The influence of Marley is notable on this album, even to the sound of Lee Perry's production, though the engineer was Sylvan Morris at Harry J Studios. In 1984 the Gladiators recorded Serious Thing, again for Nighthawk. Cultural consciousness comes up on tracks like "Freedom Train," and in quotes from "We shall overcome" in the melody. Now with the acquisition of Nighthawk by Omnivore Records we are treated to some gems from their back catalogue, each time remastered with a load of bonus material, sometimes doubling the length of the album. The new tracks are mainly dubs and versions, but occasionally another song, that was left in the can because of the 45 minute limit of the LP format, surfaces. These include the excellent "Bless our soul" and "New song" on Serious Thing. And, as for dubs and versions, the more the merrier, I say. The vocal trio of Albert Griffiths, Clinton Fearon and Gallimore Sutherland (who also played guitars and bass) were augmented in the studio by Pablov Black on keyboards, Scully & Bongo Herman on percussion, Nambo on trombone, Deadly Headley, Dean Frazier & Glen DeCosta on saxes and Bobby Ellis & Dave Madden on trumpets. (I assume this was after Dave's stint as manager of the Partridge Family.) The Gladiators' own band included Clinton Rufus on lead guitar, Audley Taylor on keys, and Barnabas (who replaced "Horsemouth") on drums. The three singers were accomplished musicians too, unlike most harmony trios of the time who just vocalized with studio bands. The Gladiators were consummate professionals which is probably why their catalogue shows them working with many other artists, like Richard Ace, who showed up and contributed keyboards to three cuts on Serious Thing, or The Ethiopian who asked them to back him.

music reviewed in the last five months

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

March 2018

Angolan Saudade vol 1 can be found in the Angola section
Malagasy Guitar Masters are filed in African Miscellany
BKO are in Mali part 4
Tamikrest's Kidal is filed in Niger
as is Tal National's Tantabara
Les Mangelepa's Last Band Standing is found in Kenya/Tanzania part 2
Justin Hinds & the Dominoes' reissues can be read about in Jamaica part 3

February 2018

Sara Tavares' latest is in Cabo Verde
Bolon Star is filed in Mali part 4
Plena Libre can be found in Puerto Rico
Chicos Malos and Palenque Records remix vol 2 are filed under Colombia part 2
Lee Perry's Super Ape return to conquer is filed under Jamaica part 3

December 2017

Original Sound of Burkina Faso is filed in the Burkina section
Hamad Kalkaba and Golden Sounds are in the new Cameroun section
Gladiators and Ethiopian's latest are in Jamaica part 3
¡Esso! Afrojam can be read about in the salsa section

November 2017

Okay Temiz & Johnny Dyani went to Southern Africa
Ilú Keké are in Cuba part 4
Betsaydo Machado, from Venezuela, is in the Carib Misc section
Tamala can be found in Senegal part 3
Leila Gobi is next door in Mali part 4
Akshara's In Time and Rough Guide to Acoustic India are filed in India
Paa Gow is a goner to Ghana
Andina is found in Peru

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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