OKAY TEMIZ / JOHNNY DYANI
WITCHDOCTOR'S SON (Matsuli Music)
Matsuli step outside their normal Azanian comfort zone for this package, the latest installment in their growing collection of fine jazz reissues. This rare album came out in Turkey in 1976. It's expressive, experimental and above all engaging. The invisible catalyst is American avant garde trumpeter Don Cherry. Johnny Dyani had gone to London from his native South Africa in 1964, still in his teens, as bassist for jazz group The Blue Notes with Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana. After five years Dyani decided to try his luck in Copenhagen and ran into Don Cherry who was performing with a Turkish drummer, Okay Temiz. The three soon formed a trio and toured Europe and America from their base in Stockholm. They recorded with Abdullah Ibrahim on piano in 1970 and 71. From a teenaged student of hard bop, Dyani had absorbed Cherry's idea about global music, involving all styles and any influences, whether Chinese, Turkish or from elsewhere, including South African folksongs and rural music that Dyani could bring to the mix. He and percussionist Temiz had forged a bond that also led to their explorations with other South African, Turkish and Swedish musicians in a variety of configurations. The culmination of their search for a successful mix between jazz and folklore led to a trio with Mongezi Feza of the original Blue Notes, who was also well-versed in the marabi music of the shebeens back in South Africa. Sadly Feza was committed to a London hospital where, neglected, he contracted pneumonia and died. In 1976 the surviving duo had a residency in Istanbul and decided it was time to record their ideas: side one would be the Turkish side, and side two the South African side, with invited Swedish and Turkish musicians improvising live. On the traditional Turkish tunes, Saffet Gündeger features on violin and clarinet. Recorded in two days, this album fulfills the aims of two inspired performers and, though they are not present, the spirits of their brothers in music, whether Cherry (via his tune "Marimba [Mother of music]") or Abdullah Ibrahim (whose influence can be heard in Dyani's piano on here), are represented. It's a remarkable journey and a truly great rediscovery.
TRANSMISION EN LA ERITA META (Music Works)
Ilú Keké is not a person nor a group, but a trio of batá drums that hung for over a generation, neglected, on the wall of a house in Matanzas. The importance of these drums is that they may be the oldest surviving drums from the time of slavery in Cuba and were constructed as sacred vessels to contain the spirit of the God they invoked. Within the tradition of Santería this god is known as Añá. These drums were likely made in a nearby sugar mill in 1830, and have aprons and bells attached as ceremonial appendages for rituals. The producers had heard about these drums from an old musician who recalled seeing them in the early 1950s, but subsequent stories told of the owner's keeping their usage a secret so they were passed on to descendants who knew nothing. One owner famously was more interested in women and flashy clothes and died while getting it on. For 50 years the drums were merely ornamental curios but have been returned to their intended use and are the focus of this recording. The disc starts with a long recitation (it's a prayer so the strict integrity of the performance is maintained), so I skip to the next track, a limpid drum exercise with jingling bells meant to invoke Eleguá. Then "Caminando por la marina" takes the mike on a stroll outside for a walk to the ocean as we hear the drums through the walls of a building, along with motorbikes, market sounds, etc. Things get serious by the fourth track, which is a chant to Ogún, preceding by a train horn. The whole panoply of Santería divinity (the worship of Yoruba gods) is here, including Changó the deified West African king from the 1500s. Although I am not religious in the practical sense, I have an abiding interest in the gospel of Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit (there is a PDF on line if you have not read it, but a physical copy is necessary). Thompson's book elucidates the African gods and how they re-emerged in the New World, sometimes disguised as Catholic saints; it is a useful guide for atheists like me to approach spiritual transcendence or at least understanding when exposed to music such as this. Matanzas is home to some of the main drum and chant groups surviving today, so members of Afrocuba de Matanzas were brought in to consecrate the rediscovered (& recovered) drums and perform for this recording. The title means Transmission at the Crossroads, though actually the intersection is a Y, where the roads between the village and the sugar mills meet. The recordings are sharp, and not just acoustically clean studio sharp, but street sounds float by also. It is authentic, not sleek and refined (pure cane, not granulated white) and brings you right into the midst of a centuries old ritual.
BETSAYDA MACHADO & PARRANDA EL CLAVO
LOE LOA (Sabroso)
Despite being restricted to rural villages in the bush in Venezuela, the Afro sound of Parranda has become known outside the jungle. Detour records celebrated the Parranda sounds of Garifuna music from Belize, Honduras and Guatemala, in 1993. From those sessions Aurelio Martinez emerged to some celebrity. Now we get to some seriously rootical sounds from this Afro-Venezuelan party. Subtitled (in tiny type) "Rural recordings under the mango tree," the album was produced by DJ Afro of Los Amigos Invisibles with Latin grammy winner Dario Penaloza. For this album they dispensed with other instruments (such as guitars) and concentrated on drumming and vocals. The musicians are descended from runaway slaves who set up communities called cumbes, in the bush, out of sight, and there they survived for generations, preserving their African traditions. The songs (in Spanish) are lovely, with strong lead vocals, chorus and shouts and powerful percussion, mainly hand drums with shakers. The group played weddings and funerals as well as other village social events at home for 30 years with no interest in recording or touring, they were simply keeping their music alive. But a video of them prompted an invitation to tour North America and that trip included Lincoln Center in New York. There are a "mere 8 players" of drums here, says Machado, compared to 100 or so that might show up to play for a Christmas celebration at home. "We are lucky to have the lano trees," she adds, "that make the best drums in our town." Now I have to trace whether "Louie Louie" comes from this tradition of the Loé Loá.
BAO SISSOKO, MOLA SYLLA & WOUTER VENDENABEELE (Muziekpublique)
This trio was formed in the Low Countries, far from the hot deserts of West Africa. Yet they retain the arid raspy vocals and the sparkling strings reminiscent of glistening drops of water evaporating in the bright sun. The two Africans are Senegalese and brought their traditions into exile in Europe. There they hooked up with violinist Wouter Vandenabeele in Brussels, the international crossroads of Belgium. Like other successful fusion albums, the violin fits in perfectly with the plangent kora of Sissoko and the other strings plucked by Mola Sylla. He plays the small ngoni-like xalam and thumb piano on two tracks. The band name Tamala means Travelers, which has far pleasanter connotations than Refugees. However they sing about the plight of slaves in the striking number "Kongoman" which refers not to Jamaican music but to the kalimba which was brought to Senegal by slaves en route to the New World. The violin soars and evokes the big "Egyptian" sound that Youssou admired in the music of Oum Kalthoum. In the heart of the album, the violin leads the line on the instrumental "Ceppe" and "Zanzibar" which is a tribute to Bi Kidude, the late taarab singer. Kora and xalam intertwine on "Geej DJu Malika" a song about Malika the town near Dakar where Sylla goes to the ocean for inspiration. Vandenabeele plucks his fiddle expressively too. In fact the violin blends in perfectly, alternately plucked and bowed (as on "Xafamaya") adding counterpoint and grace notes and making the ensemble sound that much bigger.
This is the second internationally released album by Malian singer Leila Walet Gobi. She has a youthful verve and a sharp delivery. A stand-out at the Festival in the Desert in 2013, she toured West Africa and then North America and signed to the Clermont label that represents Khaira Arby, Mamadou Kelly & other great talents. The tracks were laid down in the capital, Bamako, but, given the occasional power-outages and lack of recording technology, she decided to just cut a clean album and add effects in post. She is backed by guitar, bass and percussion. Then the looped beats & delayed echo to her keening vocals were added on the coasts of North America, in New York and Los Angeles. This of course changes the overall aspect of the sound, and propels it to the dancefloor. I wonder if they had a click track, since the beats which are so integral to the sound, are in synch with the bass and calabash. Ultimately a whole album of dance tracks is hard to take, I for one would have enjoyed hearing her without the relentless disco bomp on every track. But then I am older than you and no longer have the stamina to dance the night away. However there's a break after half an hour when a reggae groove steps up for "Akan nana," and the next track "Eh Khanzam" is irresistible with its chorus of (seemingly) "Num num num."
Simply a lovely set of traditional Indian Carnatic music. Despite audible appearances, the group is from New York though they ply traditional instruments: the double-headed barrel-shaped mridangam drum, tabla, bansuri flute and hammered dulcimer. Bala Skandan the leader is the drummer who sets the pace with complex rhythms. He also studied violin as a lad, but the drum was his first love as he could always hear it emanating from temples, unamplified. And if there was a wedding going on, you knew from the sound of the drums. Skandan worked for a while in London (one of the tracks is called "Mind the gap"!) where he would put together Indian ensembles for one-off concerts. Now based in New York he has not hesitated to bring cello and viola into the mix because he feels they fit so well. One cello player got married so he brought in another from Brooklyn Raga Massive and now they have two cello players as needed. The album, of traditional ragas from both the Carnatic and Hindu canon, is perfectly sequenced and at 45 minutes leaves you wanting more.
ROUGH GUIDE TO ACOUSTIC INDIA (RGNET1361CD)
Some people I know -- and not just Euro peons -- don't get Salsa. I am always curious why: maybe because there's no lead guitar and the piano is often a percussion instrument. Or maybe it's the upbeat tempos urging you to dance that seem too trying. Classical Indian music is also met with resistance: again I think due to cultural misunderstanding. The complex rhythms take some getting used to and also there's another set of instruments quite different from the ones we are used to: a piercing flute, a deep woody cello sound, and the droning "sympathetic" strings. But study is rewarding and the latest Rough Guide is a wonderful tour of some lesser-heard modern sounds from the vast elephant-ear-shaped sub-continent. Sometimes we glimpse traditional Indian sounds in Bollywood, but usually they are set against a wash of synthesizer loops or stereo-chorus strings, showing that even Indians see exoticism in their own traditions. There's the strictly traditional raga performed on sitar and tabla that made an impact in the West. Gradually we have been exposed to other strains, such as Debashish Bhattacharya, who plays his own modified guitar, and indeed plays ragas on it, so has adapted the format of the sitar and tabla "exposition and variations" to his own ends. This is one highlight of the album. And there's Paban Das Baul, a wandering "madman" whose album Music of the Honey Gatherers is sampled here and demonstrates the trance groove that Cheb i Sabbah and others found in traditional Sufi music. Here Rough Guide has managed to stay within its own catalogue and given us a sampler of eight exceptional albums they have released mostly through their Riverboat subsidiary. My old friend Hameed Khan pops up with his Jaipur Kawa Brass Band in an oddly elliptical snare-driven theme. Yes, even I (with my doctorate in rhythm) find myself looking for the "one" sometimes. The jagged melody occasionally suggests music for film, but the trombones appear to be playing a different melody to the trumpets!
Paa Kow is a drummer from Ghana. (At first i read it as KaaPow.) He grew up beating on cans in the street until he finally convinced his elders that he was good enough to be in a band. He played with George Darko among others and toured Europe, establishing himself as a talented percussionist in the traditional highlife mode. After ten weeks in residence at the University of Colorado he put together this album with a horn quintet called By All Means (saxes, tuba, trumpets, trombone). The drum kit is to the fore with occasional bursts of melody. The liner notes are too small to read, even with a magnifying glass, but I think this was recorded in Colorado and overdubbed in Accra, Ghana. Apart from the overemphasis on drum solos there is a pleasant familiar highlife groove to many of the tracks but no real lyric focus, the emphasis instead being on bringing the funk. There's some fine alto sax on "I made a mistake." A live feel permeates the recording, and the various members of the group, guitar, organ and horns get to stretch out.
ANDINA: THE SOUND OF THE PERUVIAN ANDES 1968-78 (Tiger's Milk Records TIGMOO6LP)
In the last decade Barbès Records (The Roots of Chicha, 2007) and others have rediscovered the psychedelic Amazonian cumbia music of Peru. The suggestion of this album is that there was another golden era of Andean music that the world forgot about and this disc mainly focuses further south on the Andes mountains, that form the spine of the country, and the Huayno, Carnaval and Cumbia heard thereon. The psychedelic stuff is represented here by Los Walkers and Los Bilbao with the familiar swirling guitar and organ. I was in Peru in 1979 and all I recall was the awful "El condor pasa" pan pipes which not only haunted the tourist sites there but then years later I'd turn a corner in Cambridge, England, or Paris, France and there would be the wooly perpetrators busking on their reedy flutes. Fortunately there's none of that alpaca-clad nonsense here, but some rustic bands (16 of them in all) with names like Los Bárbaros del Centro (the downtown barbarians) or the untranslatable Los Jelwees. The Tourists from Mantaro -- Los Turistas del Mantaro -- have a lively cumbia turn with dueling clarinets over bass and percussion and "conversational" vocalists calling the odds. Rough and ready, this is a nice mix and worth delving into.
the year so far:
(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)
Nairobi Calling! is filed in Kenya part 2
Maleem Mahmoud Gania's Colours of the Night is filed in Arabia
Inna de Yard: The soul of Jamaica is filed in Jamaica part 3
likewise, Keith & Tex' Same old story
Resurrection Los vol 1 by Los Camaroes is filed in Cameroun, which is African Misc
Guanchaka is filed in Colombia 2
Sweet as Broken Dates is filed in Ethiopia
Septeto Santiaguero in concert is filed under Cuba Live
John Collins' Highlife Giants is on the bookshelf
Rio Mira's Marimba del Pacifico went to Columbia part 2
likewise the latest from Son Palenque Kutu Prieta Pa Saranguia
African Gems went to the African Miscellany section
Ravi Shankar's Ghanashyam &
Rocqawali's Sufi Spirit are both filed in India
Rough Guide to Ragtime Blues is filed under Blues
Toko Telo can also be found in the African Miscellany section
Toronto's Bellaviti and Conjunto Lacalu are in Salsa
Lisandro Meza went to Colombia part 2
Zaire 74: The African artists is filed in Congo part 4
The Photographs of Charles Duvelle is filed in Africa Miscellany
Oumou Sangare's Mogoya can be found in Mali part 4
Kasai Allstars Around Felicité is filed under Congo part 4
Juana Molina's Halo can be read about in Argentina
Rough Guide to Jugband Blues is in the Blues section
I put Vincent Ahehehinnou in Nigeria part 2 though you may be looking for him in Benin
Fruko's Tesura is in Colombia part 2
Orkesta Mendoza pose a problem, being so eclectic, but I put them in the salsa category
My write-up of Michel Camilo, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdes is in Cuba LIVE
Mamadou Kelly's Politiki is filed in Mali part 4
Afro-Cuban All Stars' Viva Mexico is filed in Cuba part 4
BaianaSystem's Duas Cidadas is filed under Brasil part 3
Read about the Original Sound of Mali in Mali part 3
Orch Baobab's latest, Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, is in the Senegal part 3 section
Bargou 08's Targ is back in Arabia
Shem Tupe is filed under Kenya part 2
Les Amazones d'Afrique's Republique Amazone can be found in Mali part 3
Aurelio Martinez' Garifuna opus Darandi is filed under Caribbean miscellany
OK Jazz's The Loningisa Years 1956-61 is in Congo Classics part 2
Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica can be read about in the Cabo Verde section
Fruko's A la Memoria del Muerto &
Combo los Yogas' Canabrava are filed in Colombia part 2
Jaako Laitinen and Väärä Raha are filed under Old World misc
Sory Diabaté's latest is filed in Mali part 3
Diama Ndiaye's Dafarèèr is filed under Senegal part 3
so is Ibrahima Cissokho & Le Mandingue Foly's Yanfu
a review of the movie Faaji Agba is filed under Nigeria part 2
Palenque Records AfroColombia mix is filed under Colombia part 2
Jinja by The Nile Project is filed in Arabic music
Djime Sissoko's Djama Djigui went to Mali part 3
The Rough Guide to Hillbilly Blues is reviewed in the Blues section
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!
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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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