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African Discographies

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"Do your thing": The mid-January
podcast features music reviewed in January, including Bassekou Kouyaté,
Livio, Nganga Edo, Tita Duval &c

"What goes around" is a mix of reggae, Latin, N'orlins, blues, jazz, and more

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Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 February 2019

Don Keller, guitar virtuoso from Seattle whom you may know from his YouTube classes in how to play Franco compositions, has a new album out, Fiesta. It's mostly soukous, sung by Jeannot Bel with the lead-off cut featuring the great Nyboma on vocals, and also with a few songs in English, including the outstanding track "Dirty Rain." Check it out here, on his website.

The latest reissue from Analog Africa is Funky Rob Way, remastered from the original tapes recorded in Ghana by Essiebons in 1977. Mr Bongo also announced a reissue. Samy of Analog Africa previously reissued it in 2011. If you are a fan of African funk and soul you probably got this then, if not, it's a monument of the sound.

R. I. P.

Oliver Mtukudzi, made a National Hero in Zimbabwe a day after his death...

IGNACE NKOUNKOU aka Master Mwana Congo, the guitar soloist from Republic of Congo (not DRC) died on 8th this January in Brazzaville. He featured on Pierre Moutouari's hit "Missengue" as well as albums by Ballou Canta, Tshala Muana, Abeti Masikini, and Pamelo Mounk'a. Here he is in action.

Phil Stanton
"World Music Network is deeply saddened to announce that company founder Phil Stanton passed away on Saturday 26th January, after a long battle with illness. A true visionary, Phil was hugely influential in creating awareness of world music for over 30 years and making it available to a larger audience through the creation of the Rough Guide series of albums in 1994, and has also brought to the fore many wonderful artists from around the world on the Riverboat Records label."

Jumbo Vanrenen, another great producer of African music, died at the end of 2018. Here is Ken Braun's tribute to him.

KWI BAMBA
KWI BAMBA & L'ORCHESTRE DEGAMA BEREMA (Ouch! Records)

The Guinean state-sponsored band Nimba Jazz, later Le Nimba de N'zerekore, is one of those fabled bands of the post-Independence era of the 1960s. Their 1980 album Gön Bia Bia (SLP71) is a gem, but if you have only heard the Syllart CD you are missing the clarity and sharpness of the horns and percussion. Many people, including bloggers Stefan Werdekker and John Beadle, have commented on how Sylla distorted the Syliphone albums when he got his hands on the rights to reissue them (in dubious circumstances), losing definition when he tweaked them in remastering. The maestro Kwi Bamba was leader of those bands and is still creating the same style of propulsive, relentlessly grooving music. This album, more a non-stop party, was recorded in the bush in 1999 by Frédéric Migeon. It is a live set of great intensity and joy, with bright speedy guitars and wild, sparkling reeds (soprano sax) over a panoply of crashing drums, including drum kit and I think I hear bottle percussion too. Given that it is a live recording I wouldn't be surprised. Once again I am indebted to our Washington bureau chief, Ken A, for turning me onto this wonderful set.

STAR BAND DE DAKAR
PSICODELIA AFRO-CUBANA DE SENEGAL (Ostinato)

A new vinyl LP from Ostinato Records of New York, featuring psychedelic Senegalese music from the golden age, focused on Latin rhythms. Why, I will take a large dollop of that, thank you. If you are a Star Band fanatic like me you will have their dozen albums showcasing the acid-washed guitar of Yakhya Fall, Cuban rhythms mixed into the mbalax, and a roster of singers, including Youssou Ndour, Pape Seck and Laba Sosseh who went on to stardom with other bands including Etoile de Dakar and Number One. Other alumni include guitar wizard Barthélémy Attiso, singer Balla Sidibe and saxophonist Issa Cissoko, who left to found Orchestre Baobab. Dexter Johnson plied the sax, before he and Laba Sosseh left to form Super Star de Dakar and Estrellas Africanas. The main Star Band discography is here.
For the record the tracks are "Guajira Ven," written by Trio Matamoros, from vol 4 (sung by Laba Sosseh), "Mysterioso" which was on Vol 12, originally a hit for Dominican duo Cuco & Martin Valoy who performed as Los Ahijados, "Andado" from vol 10 (sung by Papa Fall), "Mariama" from vol 9, "Danguele Fasso" from vol 8 (sung by Papa Fall), and "Le Lolay" which appeared on vol 3 (again sung by Laba Sosseh). Those with disposable income will want the vinyl which comes with a 12-page booklet. I strung these tracks together, which are their most Latin ones, and it makes a great set. "Danguele Fasso" is a Wolof rewrite of "Cambia el paso (o se te rompe el vestido)" i.e. change the step or you'll rip your dress -- the lyrics from "El paso de Encarnación" by Antonio Machin, popularized by Orq Aragón, and then by Larry Harlow of Fania All Stars, a classic jam in any language. This will have to do until the remastered 12-disc box set comes out.

NOSTALGIQUE KONGO
KONGO ROOTS 1950-1960 (Buda Musique)

I was ready to be transported back to Congo in the 50s with this new collection from Buda Musique, idly thinking, hmm, it could turn into another hit series like their Ethiopiques which seems to have legs like Roadrunner. But, despite the superb music, there are some serious flaws in this compilation. First the writing is a pastiche of others' work on the topic, starting with this dumb remark: "The code name 'GV Series' had no particular meaning but local legend translated it into 'Great Vocalists'." Folklore is fine but the facts are there. A simple study of the label will reveal that GV stands for Gramophone and Victor: the parent companies.
The more I listen the more puzzled I am to tell what is going on here: is it some smart-ass kids who found a dozen 78s at a charity shop and decided they would make a great compilation? This seems the most likely explanation, as they don't really give much context for the songs, and to really ruin the mood the producers put cows mooing, ducks quacking and other barnyard noises on between songs that overlap the beginnings and endings of the songs (for continuity, anti-piracy, a lark?) ... What the hell are they playing at? There is no call for this kind of bullshit which verges on racism. The booklet is very shoddy, there are photos, ambitiously attributed to "the public domain" which show African Jazz (not represented musically), Nicolas Kasanda (also not heard here) and then some unidentified band shots, printed so dark you can't tell who it is. The cover photo is taken from a Novelty Jazz release, but Ngoma used the same photo for a Dynamic Jazz sleeve (Ngoma 72), making us wonder who the band really is. There is ONE picture of one of the discs: OPIKA 454 "Amis Benatar" by Jhimmy, sung by Paul Mwanga, and this is a great track (although, mysteriously, they refer to him as "Jimmy of the Hawaiian"). A quick search of the afrodisc.com catalog of Opika reveals two things: the full credit "Le guitariste hawaien Jhimmy et son ensemble; Chanteur Mwanga Paul" and the important fact it was recorded on 02-08-1951, and we also see the photo of the Opika sound truck that they lifted for the booklet... Next we find Ebenie Ebongue Bollanga, Olla Faustin et leur ensemble which was a Fiesta 78 (undated), but we learn from afrodisc they put out 9 singles in Cameroun. Flemming Harrev tells us it was an early 1950s operation and shows wonderful images of their paper sleeves. Another Camerounian entry comes from Gustave Dalle, also on Fiesta. Would it be too much to ask these crack reporters to do some basic research on who these singers and guitarists were? Or simply write out all the label info for us?
Suddenly we go electric at the tenth track: Trio BOW with "Akeyi na Zanu." We do know they were on Ngoma and backed by the Beguen band. Beyond that it would be nice to get the lyrics translated or even transcribed, and please, leave off the cows... Occasionally they add rain sounds, perhaps to confuse you because they didn't remove the surface noise from the tracks. Three songs by Wendo are up next. He was the most popular of the Trio BOW, after his song "Marie Louise" became a pan-African hit. "Bakilo" -- actually it should be "Bokilo"-- was recorded 14-04-59, and he was backed by 3 guitars, clarinet, bass and jazz. A piano is added on the B side, also present. Camille Feruzi's Ngoma single "Bokamo ya babuti" is mislabelled as "Bokano ya babut" -- is it that hard to transcribe a label? Camille Mokoko's "Chérie Babolingo" is also mis-spelled. Adou Elenga is called "Elanga." "Bilengende" by Mokoko (It would have been useful to give his name, Victor, to distinguish him from Camille Mokoko) has surface noise which I could probably get rid of with free audio tools on my desktop. In short no one really made any effort to do a half-decent job on this release which is massively disappointing.

YELSY HEREDIA
CAMINO A MAISI (The Feelin' Club)

Thanks once again to Ken A, our Muzikifan Washington correspondent, I was turned on to this album which came out in 2014. This is a mostly changüí album by a Cuban upright bass player living in Spain. He also takes us on a tour of many other styles of Cuban music, with piano, flute and bountiful percussion. Heredia was born in Guantánamo in 1978 but has been gigging for years with the likes of Bebo and Chucho Valdés, Diego el Cigala, Salif Keita and others. Looking at his discography, I see he has also performed with Tata Güines, Guillermo Rubalcaba and Changuito, as well as many tango and flamenco artists. For this outing he revisits his homeland, featuring "El Guajiro" Fernández on lead vocals and Dayme Arocena as female lead singer on "Hermosa Santa," a hymn to la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, which has a bembé rhythm. The main feeling is Latin Jazz, though the flute and noodly soprano sax push it a bit towards easy listening -- but it is by no means an on-the-nod session. There are some fiery approaches to traditional rhythms (heavy on percussion): the title track is a fine changüí. And the bass is to the fore, appropriately, reminding me of Cachao. "No te olvides" has lovely harmony singing over a simple maraca and clave beat with the bass soloing behind. Other highlights are the cha cha cha and danzons they deliver in a stately manner, where the flute works well.

COUMBA GAWLO
TERROU WAAR (Sabar)

Not unlike an aging rocker, Salif Keita announced his retirement with a final album along with a farewell tour. Sad to report his farewell album is just an attempt to recapture his glory moment from 1987 when his breakout album Soro, produced by Ibrahim Sylla, brought synth and euro-horns to his traditional West African sound. I cannot listen to it. Thirty years later I am sick of the sound of synth washes and sampled instruments. There's no doubt the West African sound certainly has evolved and needs to continue to grow but there is still room for traditional praise-singing as heard on the opening cuts from this strong album from Coumba Gawlo Seck. The ubiquitous Sylla launched her career in the mid-90s when the Senegalese singer was still in her early 20s. Next to Youssou Ndour she is the best-selling artist in her homeland. Her new album showcases folk music, pop music and what I would call light jazz. This is an unfortunate development, after a strong opening when she gets to "Na," the fourth track, and Kenny G-type sax playing intrudes, along with the shrill Peul flute, it's over the top. Pop is up next with "Diombadio" which also has a traditional fiddle player behind the big band. "Rokale," "Borom Ndaam" and "Ngoulok" remind me a lot of the Salif Keita sound I was complaining about above. However the latter turns into a jam on the sabar drums and I suspect she is a fine dancer and they can tear this up in performance. "Tekk Gui" is more of a breathy French ballad, with echoey keyboards and bird sounds, the sort of thing that made us think Baaba Maal had lost the plot. More atmospherics kick off "Naby" which leans towards the "tinkly arabesque" sound Youssou captured on his Sufi album, Egypt. This is a good showcase for her voice and smartly they held it back (so she wouldn't get hoarse?) to show what she is capable of, after the tepid mid-section of the disc. The closer "Allez Africa" is another very light pop ditty with a heavy bass bomp to get the French-speaking punters waving their hands in the air.

ETIENNE CHARLES
CARNIVAL: THE SOUND OF A PEOPLE (Research)

My friend the Honorable Ray Funk is a distinguished musicologist and also a popular figure in Trinidad where he goes annually to participate in Carnival. He has written widely on the traditions of Trinidadian music, even hosting a TV show there, and of course he gets dressed up for the costume part of the festivities, known as Mas. He was a big hit as a "Midnight Robber" which caused hilarity among his friends who know he is also a judge in the state of Alaska. Etienne Charles, who hails from Trinidad, studied trumpet at the prestigious Juilliard school in New York. On a trip home he was taken with Jab Molassie masquers, vengeful demons who spatter one another with blue paint as they cavort. It's a reaction to the centuries of cruelty practiced against slaves, some of whom were even boiled in molasses. He uses their biscuit-tin percussion and frantic yelling as the backing to his lead off piece on this compelling disc. Singular carnival characters like Dame Lorraine and Moko Jumbie are also feted in his lyrical playing. You'd think trumpeters would be keen to avoid straying into the Miles Davis sound, but Charles jumps right in even adding a distinctive Fender Rhodes electric piano (James Francies) to suggest the cool era Miles with Herbie Hancock on Bitches Brew. It's a pleasant jazz album, the irksome steel pan, so beloved of Hizzoner Funk, only intrudes late on.






Recent Reviews

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

January 2019

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

November 2018

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

October 2018

The latest offering from Docteur Nico Dieu de la Guitare is reviewed in Congo Classics part 2
Bheki Mseleku's Celebration is reviewed in South Africa
The Hip Spanic All Stars album can be read about in the USA section
Subhasis Bhattacharya is filed in India & Pakistan
Sarazino is filed in Arabia
BKO performing live is filed in Mali Live which has some curious tales

September 2018

Lenine's latest Em transito, as well as
Elza Soares' Deus é mulher, and
Bixiga 70's Quebra-Cabeça are filed in Brasil part 3
Robi Svärd's Alquimia is discussed in Spain
Rough Guide to Barrelhouse Blues is in the Blues section
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley's The Message is filed in Ghana
Stella Chiweshe's Kasahwa: early singles can be read about in Zimbabwe

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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