Like Soundway's earlier comps, Ghana Special and Nigeria Special, the idea here is to present some lesser-known tracks interspersed with polished gems to document an historic era in African music. If you've visited Fredrik Lavik's afro7 site, you know he has been posting Kenyan oldies (Benga, Cavacha and so on), and he has contributed much to this new compilation, including the elegant design (and very legible typography). Douglas Paterson provides the in-depth scholarly liner notes and context for each of the 32 selections. But this is not your father's Kenyan oldies collection! While most of us think of Kenyan music as either indigenous Benga from the Luo people, Swahili pop, or the imported Congolese rumba arriving via Tanzania and Uganda, there were also bands playing funk, and other varieties of music, and so a wide spectrum is covered here. Most of the songs are A-side singles, so only 5 mins tops. The album starts with a fanfare, which may have been inspired originally by James Brown, but is derived from Afrisa International's entrance music from FESTAC. This is Loi-Toki-Tok's "Ware wa"; another from them on disc 2 sounds more like a "Mutuashi" beat. We continue in a Famous-Flames vein, and could be anywhere in Africa. Afro 70 get three entries and, as Paterson points out, their style was influenced by West African "Afro" music. Their "Week End" (included here) from 1972 is a bona fide classic. The funk vein is dominant (which you can expect from Soundway's agenda) though obviously Benga strains can be heard. Orch Vévé Star (a Verckys band who made it to Nairobi via Uganda) sing in English and have the added attraction of a piano, heard while they hold down the funky groove. There's an organ-churning beat to the Taarab ballad "Sina Raha," performed by Hafusi Abasi, backed by Slim Ali and the Yahoos Band. Slim explains the Kiswahili lyrics in English in this moody entry. The emphasis is on American-sounding music but there are still great moments for fans of the more recognizable Swahili sounds. "Sweet sweet mbombo" by Baba National is another classic (again with pidgin English lyrics). Super Volcanos turn up the heat behind Mbaraka Mwinshehe on another Polydor 45, "Mngeni mali yake yoke," with his recognizable arab-pitched vocals, two-fingered OK-Jazz-style guitar lead and big horns braying in the distance. By the middle of the second disc we get to a solid run of Kikuyu pop from a series of "boy"-bands: Kalambya Boys, Huruma Boys, Gatanga Boys and The Famous Nyahururu Boys. You could make a good case for a Country & Western influence on the guitar styles here. The Lulus get three entries and Eagles Lupopo get four. The diverse mix of styles (plus licensing from many companies) bodes well for future compilations too.
[n.b. The backstory on Fredrik Lavik's quest for Kenyan vinyl can be read here. Also note there is an EP of four disco remixes that includes some excellent grooves aimed at the contemporary dance floor.]
ORCHESTRA SUPER MAZEMBE
MAZEMBE@45 RPM VOL 2 (Stern's)
The great Orchestra Super Mazembe are back in a flash! Two months after their superb Mazembe@45 compilation on Stern's, here's another helping of nine more fabulous 9-minute singles. But you'll have to reread what I wrote about volume one, because there are no liner notes, not even writing credits, for volume two, which is download only. And since you can't buy it on a CD you should try to get the highest quality possible, so you may have to wait. You can get it at 320 kbps from 7digital in the US, from emusic, or if you want FLAC, wait and get it from boomkat, who are offering the Stern's catalogue in higher quality, but they are slow in getting it on line. Once again Doug Paterson has lovingly restored the tracks from the master tapes, and, where none were available, he has taken the original 45s and remastered them, seamlessly joining the A & B sides. It's a real pleasure (especially for me, as currently I listen to this genre of music probably more than any other) to hear such clean recordings. This is certainly as good as volume one, Mazembe were on a roll in 1977 and 1978 when they recorded these sides. Katele Aley and Lovy Longomba are all in full voice. I'd only heard one of these songs before (Lovy's "Yo-mabe") which I have in a scratched 45: the whole set rocks. Great sax, four-on-the-floor drumming, and the weaving guitar magic of the front line, featuring Bukalos. I like this as much as the first release, maybe even more, the sequence is great. "Aleseia"-- I know this refrain -- there's a reggae shuffle, even a taste of Zaiko and things to come. I miss Paterson's synopsis of the lyrics. The last song is clearly religious (about a big god, according to my understanding of the lyrics), but it may not be devotional. And "Sala keba" tells you to "tika na lela" which means "leave and weep."
CHELA CHELA VOL 1 (RETRO9CD)
My page devoted to the music of Kenya and Tanzania was getting unwieldy, at over 50 entries, so I decided to divide it in two. At first I thought I could separate out the bands by nationality -- nothing easier, right? Then it occurred to me there were so many Tanzanian bands that ended up being huge in Kenya (because of the shared language) that I decided to ignore borders and leave them as one category. But I also noticed I had not reviewed one of my favorite CDs: Chela Chela, which came out on the Retro Label of London in 1995. (When I reviewed for WIRED magazine and a couple of other websites, including one run by MTV, before I started muzikifan, they had copyright on my work, so sometimes great discs didn't get reviewed here.) Shikamoo means "respect," and the idea behind the band was to give some respect and love to the elders. The band was formed of old-timers, men who had been in bands in the 60s and 70s, who got together to jam on some of their old hits. So it's a new recording with an old sound, which means we get classic Tanzanian rumba but it is well-recorded for once! The men are veterans of some of the most renowned muziki wa dansi groups: Orchestre Maquis, Les Wanyika, NUTA Jazz, Kiko Kids, Vijana Jazz, etc. In 1994 the band toured the country and then took up a residence at a hotel in Morogoro and, inevitably, began writing new material! They call their relaxed style "Chela Chela" and though it looks like Volume 1 is all we are going to get, it's a treasure. The sound is dreamy, and they even slow it down further for the great ballad "Nakuomba Radhi," which has reedy organ, and bird calls on it. The music rises to a transcendent passage in the middle with two tracks "Mpenzi azizi," and "Sumu ya Ugonjwa ni dawa," that carry you away to the empyrean, which is all you can ask of music (no drugs required).
JOHN SANTOS SEXTET
FILOSOFIA CARIBENA, VOL 2 (Machete Records M211)
Now here is a class act. You may not know John Santos but when someone can bring in a "Who's Who" of the Latin scene ("Maraca" on flute, Jerry Gonzalez on flugelhorn, Steve Turre on trombone, Orestes Vilató on timbales, etc) to guest star on their disc, you know they have some clout. Santos is a talented versatile percussionist as well as a deep scholar of his musical heritage. Thus it's natural he would explore Afro-Latino roots music in his groups and pay tribute to that rich legacy. The sobriquet of Latin Jazz covers many modes and here the various ancestors are given voice in Spanish, Yoruba, Brikamo, Ki-Kongo, Kreyol, English and other tongues. The styles vary too, encompassing jazz-waltz, rumba, bomba, merengue, and something called "crooked chá"! In addition to the stellar guest roster the recording includes some very talented musicians such as Marco Diaz on trumpet, Melecio Magdaluyo on tenor sax (who often reminds of Coltrane) and Santos himself on every imaginable percussion instrument. Among the deeply "rootical" tracks, "Bronze y Oro" stands out: it is a hymn to Oshún, Yoruba goddess associated with water and protector of women. "Maraca" (Orlando Valle) gets to go wild on flute with this against a ton of percussion and call and response chorus to play off.
JUMBIE IN THE JUKEBOX (Cumbancha CD25)
Now for something completely different. Trinidad is famous for having created calypso music, a kind of troubadour newscast (which of course has traditions going back to pre-literate societies). In Trinidad it has become an historical form with Kaiso, a more rap-like entity, replacing it. But people remember Lord Kitchener, Roaring Lion, Arrow, Mighty Sparrow and other Calypsonians and, more importantly, still quote their lyrics. Kobo Town delivers the news in an updated style, with pointed references like "Three cheers America / I hear how allyuh catch a dictator / Gone down in a hole to catch a mouse / While a rat livin' large in the white house." The music is modern with thumping bass, dub effects, interjected guitar licks, but it has not succumbed to the excesses of modern Caribbean music and makes a wonderful counterpoint to the message. We're even treated to jawbone and bass clarinet in the spread of musical styles. The jumbie of the title is a spirit, like a bogeyman, who has inhabited the old records, and the singer/composer Drew Gonsalves cast a wide net for inspiration, including an adaptation of "The Dark Night of the Soul," by the 16th century Spanish mystic Juan de la Cruz. "The Trial of Henry Marshall" has a "Peanut Vendor" reference for those of you who collect them. The final cut "Tick tock goes the clock," is a mini-epic and is included "on the assumption that every album needs to finish off with a long-winded apocalyptic diatribe peppered with muted trombones and allusions to dead English poets. T S Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Derek Walcott, Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Book of Revelations crash together in the lines of this song." It's eclectic and the best kind of folk music: a fresh departure for an historic form.
VIEUX FARKA TOURE
MON PAYS (Six Degrees)
A friend called to say he had found a great John Lee Hooker album. What's so great about it? I asked. There are no guest stars on it! he replied. It's funny how big name collaborations inevitably fall flat, Muddy Waters or Howlin Wolf expecting the Stones' charisma will give their sound a boost while the guests think that being alongside their legendary heros will carry the event. So I am happy to report no big names on the new Vieux Farka album. His last outing was a wretched collaboration with Idan Raichel that literally sounded like two guys jamming on "open E" endlessly as the tape rolled. I threw it out. Raichel shows up here on piano on one track but is not noticeable. There is a kora player, Sidiki Diabate, who is excellent and the son of Toumani Diabate: so there is a generational connection here as their parents famously collaborated on a couple of Ali Farka's final albums. The album is sincere, and a collection of new songs about the state of things in Mali, a country long celebrated for openness and toleration which has now seen a resurgence of slavery and fundamentalism as Al Quaeda in the Maghreb has started seizing towns and imposing Sharia Law in the north. You can kill fighters but you cannot eradicate fundamentalist belief, so fighting it with song seems like a viable approach. Education vs ignorance, music vs grim recitation. This new album, Mon Pays, is all acoustic (apart from bass guitar) with calabash, occasional djembe and other percussion. Ngoni and kora make excellent contrapuntal balance to Touré's guitarwork in this fine production.
ORCHESTRE POLY-RYTHMO DE COTONOU
VOL 3: THE SKELETAL ESSENCES OF VOODOO FUNK (Analog Africa)
Poly-Rythmo are now up to three volumes of compiled singles in this series from Analog Africa. Other than Gnonnas Pedro, I didn't have a Benin section in my library until Samy Ben Redjeb started crate digging in West Africa and gave us a stream of truly memorable releases. In addition to his half dozen releases focussed on Benin and Togo, we also have issues from Soundway and Strut, jumping on the Poly-Rythmic band wagon. L'Orchestre T.P. Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou thrived in the 1970s: they had the nerve to call themselves "Tout-Puissant" but the aplomb to carry it off. Singing in Fon they covered many styles, from Jerk to Cavacha, from Pachanga to Bossa, and from Slow to Afro. But even tracks labelled "Fon Pop" have aural dynamics you would normally only attribute to pop masters like Hendrix or Cream. They can also do the "Baobab" thing on dreamy ballads, like the Afro-Cuban "Vi e lo." They are relentless and display incredible versatility and drive in their performances. Like the best of them they can take it down to manic snare drum and solo lead guitar and keep you totally engrossed, before bringing back bass and vocals. One of their rhythms is called Sato (featured on volume one The Voudoun Effect, and heard here on two tracks), in 6/8 time: the guitar hits the first and second beat and a tambourine the fifth and sixth creating a wildly off-kilter bed for horns and screeching organ to work out. This is sonically superb and an all-round great compilation.
POP YEH YEH
PSYCHEDELIC ROCK FROM SINGAPORE & MALAYSIA 1964-70 (Sublime Frequencies SF 079)
I don't know how much of this I can take, therefore I can't say whether you need this, even if you are into esoteric covers of the pop of your youth. Once, around 1982, when I was teaching at UC Berkeley a couple of Asian kids showed up to my class in full-on Mod gear: RAF-roundel t-shirts, union jack jacket, parka with fur-trimmed hood. Wow! I said, you look like Mods. We are, they said. I told them, How odd, back in 1964 I was a Mod and looked a lot like you. They were gob-smacked, could not imagine their grey-haired professor with a Beatle haircut, purple velvet 'loons and a white turtleneck grooving to the Yardbirds, the Kinks and (I hate to admit it) the Dave Clark Five. To me it was equally bizarre that these young Asians identified with something so distant from their own culture. But now we learn that all through Asia there were bands in the 60s making a creditable effort of covering the Mersey sound, as well as the other Brit pop & San Francisco psychedelia that was storming the world's music charts. This compilation features late 60s Psychedelic Rock from Malaysia and Singapore with wailing backing singers, wheezy Farfisa and choppy Fender guitars. If you enjoy spotting quotes from the Surfaris (too easy), Jefferson Airplane, Los Bravos, Cliff & the Shadows, you will dig this. Hours of fun! And you must hear "Kembali lagi," by A Halim and De'Fictions, which starts with a scorching paraphrase of Jeff Beck's "Over, under, sideways, down." The same group's "Kan hilang nanti" shows that the guitarist is indeed a superb musician. To add to the fun there are also references to Bollywood songs (e.g., the lovely Zaleh Hamid's "Bertemasha," based on "Zindegi ek safar," from Andaaz) which were themselves often already one remove from Western sources. The handsome package includes two booklets packed with pictures and info.
JAIPUR KAWA BRASS BAND
DANCE OF THE COBRA (Riverboat TUG1073)
Jaipiur is a magical city: I actually saw a blue ox pulling a cart. There's the lovely Hawa Mahal (or Palace of the Winds, glimpsed fleetingly in the Marigold Hotel movie) & a really fine Jantar Mantar, or astrological observatory. The Palace of Amber (or Amer) is another outstanding attraction. If you have the wherewithal you can ride a howdah atop an elephant up to the entrance. But my most memorable time in Jaipur was hanging out with Hameed Khan, tabla player and music impresario, for a couple of days. With his boundless energy, Hameed is keeping several musical scenes alive in Jaipur, from Qawwali to Baraat, and it's this latter, the traditional wedding brass band, we hear on this disc. Rawer than Romany gypsy bands like Fanfare Ciocarlia, more raucous than Bollywood Brass Band, Jaipur Kawa add sitar, jews harp (even bass guitar on one track), and snare drum to the army brass line-up of trumpets, trombones, clarinet and euphonium. The album is called Dance of the Cobra because the band performs with a snake charmer, fakir and dancer -- in fact it's more of a carnival than a musical group. The set opens with an Asha Bhosle classic "Piya tu ab to aaja," written by her hubby RD Burman. (You'll know it when you hear "Monica, oh my darling!"); "Mera Pyar Rahega Tere Sung" from the film Pehchan is next; a classic, "Gore Gore O Banke Chhore" from 1950s Samaadhi (originally sung by Lata), follows; I have been having fun playing the songs back to back with the originals found on YouTube. Fans of Hindi rock n roll will dig Mohammad Rafi's "Laal laal gaal" (from Mr X, 1957) as interpreted by Hameed Khan's band. The Rockabilly aspect of the original becomes a solid bomping waddling 60-year-old trying to do the twist. Maybe you will be inspired to check out the old film with its all-star cast of Ashok Kumar, Nalini, Helen, Pran, and the comic genius Johnny Walker. Another Mohammad Rafi song, "Jiya o jiya kuch bol do," is taken at a leisurely pace. Pakistani singer Noor Jahan's "Soniya dil da mamla" has been subjected to disco remixes and we get a frantic version of it here, complete with sung vocals. We come up to 1993 for the closer, "Yeh Kali Kali Aankhen," which was in the film Baazigar, a vehicle for Shahrukh Khan and Kajol. The music was written by Anu Malik. If you enjoy Bollywood escapism, remixes, or just the frenzy of brass bands going full tilt, this is for you.
most recent reviews:
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
La Yegros is filed under Argentina
Ravi Shankar's Living Room Sessions part 2 &
Ahmed Sham Sufi Group can be found under India & Pakistan
(Yes, they are reunited here on Muzikifan!)
Dieuf-Dieul de Thiès,
Teranga Senegal, and
Abdou Diop are all filed in Senegal part 2
Chicha Libre's Cuatro Tigres can be found in Peru, for some reason
Dr Nico's, uh, 360159 is filed under Congo Classics
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba's Jama Ko is filed under Mali part 2
Sekouba Bambino's The Griot's Craft is in Guinea
Orchestra Super Mazembe @ 45RPM VOL 1 is logged under Kenya & Tanzania
Vandana Vishwas can be found in Bollywood part 2
I put Mehrpouya's Soul Raga under Bollywood part 2 also, though he is Iranian
Dabke's Sound of the Syrian Houran can be found in Old World under the Arabic tab
Laba Sosseh's Belle Epoque vol 1 is filed under Senegal 2
Fela Kuti's Best of the Black President vol 2 can be found in Nigeria part 2
Mahala Rai Banda's Balkan Reggae is filed in the Balkan & Gypsy music section, Old World
Stern's Reissue of the Legendary Bands of Mali is filed in Mali part 2
Staff Benda Bilili: the movie is filed under Congo part 3
Lula Lounge is filed in Salsa
Plena Libre's Corazon is filed in Puerto Rico
Ballake Sissoko At Peace is filed in Mali part 2
Vusi Mahlasela is found in Southern Africa
Ravi Shankar Live in concert in Escondido is filed under India & Pakistan Live
Cubana All Stars' A Dream come true is found in Cuba part 4
Malick Sow and Bao Sissoko's collaboration is found in Senegal part 2
Super Biton de Segou's classic 1977 album is covered in Mali part 2
as is the new offering from Makan Badjé Tounkara on n'goni
Blue Flamingo's Search for CMS is filed under Kenya & Tanzania
My Top Twelve of 2012, with best reissues, concerts, etc, is online 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!
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BACK IN PRINT (Second edition, November 2012)
A DISCOGRAPHY OF DOCTEUR NICO
Poltroon Press, 2012, expanded to 88 pages; list price $19.95.
By Alastair Johnston
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