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OLD WORLD (inc Asia, Arabia)

African Discographies

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The mid-May podcast featured music from Brasil, Colombia, Jamaica, Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and USA

Latest podcast features the music reviewed below plus treats

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 June 2018

Press play

A fabulous collection of African and Latin oldies, curated on a Spanish website, I suggest you start with the set I've bookmarked, then try some of the other playlists, if you like what you hear

First listen

The latest from Bombino. Actually, i was thinking it was pretty blah, run-of-the-nil, same ol' shit, then the penultimate track really lit up!


Philip Tabane, founder of Malombo, brilliant South African composer and guitarist has died

Zoumana Tereta, the great Malian soku fiddle player, has died, according to the Samba Touré album reviewed below

Singer Kassé Mady Diabaté, a Malian griot best known for his work with National Badema, passed away in May, age 68. He started out with orchestre Kangaba, where he sang praise songs with ngoni accompaniment, then joined a Cuban-inspired group called Maravillas de Mali which was subject to state censure before changing into the National Badema orchestra, a big band aimed at modernizing traditional music. His biggest hit with them was "Nama" (1983). Syllart issued two LPs of his work with the national band and five solo albums between 1990 and 2009. Stern's issued Kela Tradition in 1990. He also fronted the all-star Symmetric Orchestra and sang with Afro-Cubism and Ngoni Ba. More recently he released two albums on No Format. Also see worldservice post here for rare early material, and Ken Braun shared a really great 2015 concert from the Met in New York

WANDE (Glitterbeat)

I am a big fan of Malian music so am always eager to hear the new releases and stay current with developments, but there's an increasing reliance on the novelty remix or collaboration, with producers eager to add guest musicians on classical or country and western instruments. Samba Touré gives us his own music, unadulterated, and it is very much in the mode of American blues, though he resists the label. This is his third release. I don't care what he says, it's a blues/rock/R&B album with Malian overtones, no question. I am not complaining: I like it a lot for what it is. He used to be accompanist to Ali Farka Touré, whose best-selling record was his 1994 collaboration with American Ry Cooder, Talking Timbuktu. Though I have told the story before, it's worth repeating that when Fred Hill and I interviewed Ali on KUSF on his first American tour, Fred had the idea of doing a "Downbeat"-style interview with fragments of music for him to comment on: Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Charlie Christian, etc. We played him some John Lee Hooker. He denied he knew it and blustered about having no idea what we were talking about. It made for an uncomfortable hour, trying to get him to open up about his influences. But there's no denying the Howling Wolf, Buddy Guy and B.B. King elements in this music. There's even J.J. Cale, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Johnny Otis and a load of other Western guitar influences clearly audible in this new disc from Samba. You can sing the lyrics to "Baby please don't go," or "Willie and the hand jive" over many of the grooves, which I inevitably find myself doing. I grew up on Chicago Blues-derived music so you can't fool me. There's tama (talking drum) on here, and soku too, but the last track is "Tribute to Zoumana Tereta": this sadly signals the demise of the great soku player-- another blow, though it is a fine moody closer. Overall it's a very satisfying set of spontaneous grooves.

I'M NOT HERE TO HUNT RABBITS (Thevitalrecord/Piranha PIR3165LP)

This is a vinyl release that overflowed (overflew?) the LP and so comes with an extra album available as a download. Many people were amazed by the guitar antics of one "Ronnie" which racked up over a million views on youtube and concomitant facebook shares. One sees this androgynous figure smiling and slapping on a guitar: not playing it in the traditional fretted manner but over the top of the neck, with wild gestures. There are of course many ways of playing a guitar as long as you achieve a melodious result (easier in opening tuning). Between the era of the 1950s, when Hugh Tracey roamed Southern Africa with recording equipment and today's instant feedback loop of youtube, there have been many other efforts to capture local guitar music from these parts. In the 1980s John Lwanda, a Malawian doctor, issued cassettes and CDs of wonderful guitar bands he had found on the Pamtondo label (His CDs of Jivacort Kathumba and Kasambwe Band are not on discogs, but i have a problem with discogs: whenever i go to enter a NEW artist they reply, Sorry, cannot post: this act is not in our database...). Following in Tracey's footsteps, Michael Baird gave us Zambia Roadside and other bush recordings in the 1990s, on Sharp Wood. Botswana is a pretty remote place, home to both the Kalahari desert and the Okovango Swamp, neither a real tourist destination (despite the potential draw of The Gods must be crazy!) In 1885 Britain annexed the region, probably thinking it was mineral rich. The local chief said, Bet you want the land! so the brits called it Bechuanaland. (In the interest of global harmony I'd better admit I just made that up, in case someone decides to enter it into Wikistupedia as fact. Sheesh.) There are 11 tracks on the LP and 8 more for download. Without the distractions of youtube you can hear what's going on. There's a solid right thumb bass line thwocking away in a four-chord round, loping chords quite like South African gumboot style, and hoarse vocals, again reminiscent of the neighboring Township music or Zulu Jive. The overall effect does take me back to the 80s when I was passionately into the music of Mahlathini, Mahotella Queens, Soul Brothers, Amaswazi Emvelo and other South African acts. I was such a groupie I followed the Makgona Tsohle Band around on their California tour. Here though it's mainly solo guitar and vocals, but with the rhythm carried on effectively. There's not a lot of variety on side one, despite there being many artists on here, however the lyrics are translated so you can tell what each song is about. Side one ends with a different instrument, a one-string segaba, bowed by Oteng Piet. He is self-taught liked most of the musicians on here and seems like one of the most literate people the producers encountered. He worked as a miner in South Africa and speaks a pidgin dialect as well as English. Now he is a schoolteacher, craftsman, builder, musician and a herder. Side two takes a different approach with more experimental guitar on "Tika molamu" and "Gladys" by Sibongile (who has five tracks included) but then there's an awful drum machine and organ song by Annafiki Ditau. After this the sections get stronger but oddly the best material, in my opinion, is in the "rejects" or bonus downloads, not included on the album. The booklet is not effective. I am not a fan of primitive (sloppy/bad) graphic design used to suggest folksiness in music or elsewhere. The color choices, magic marker titling, and collage art are pretty weak. All the photos are moiréed which is not cute, but irritating. This doesn't help promote this rather fine collection of traditional Southern African music.


This retrospective look at Ravi Shankar's vast oeuvre has an interesting twist. The compiler, who is also a biographer of the Pandit, has chosen to showcase one raga, "Tilak Shyam," in two versions. The first is an early recording made in the era of 78s which were cut directly to shellac and limited to about 3 minutes (despite what you may think, the sound is fine on this). The second, recorded in 1966 on reel-to-reel tape stretches out to the full 24 minutes of the maestro and his accompanist, Kanai Dutt, in full flight. Starting from Bengali roots, Shankar adapted folk songs (& dance) and rose to the heights of global recognition. His lyrical score for Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (1955) won awards at Cannes and promoted Bengali culture to a Western audience. The film was based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore, who won the Nobel for Literature in 1913-- he was the first non-European to do so. Ray adapted other tales for his film Teen Kanya and Shankar collaborated retroactively with Tagore on such masterpieces as Kabuliwala, which has been filmed at least four times. Shankar's global fame was hastened by his association with the Beatles, as well as Western classical musicians like Yehudi Menuhin, but either way, the world was ready for his sophisticated theme and variations and the raga became a popular form of entertainment in the 1960s when people were looking for ways to tune in and relax. Listeners instinctively knew you had to enter the raga and experience it in the moment, and that the performer was facing the same challenge: to follow the instant in interpreting the theme. Shankar's sitar offered morning, evening and night ragas, most of which could be enjoyed at any time of day or state of mind, and no two were ever the same. Another short piece, the 6-minute "Megh" references clouds and is a raga for the rainy season. This CD is abridged from A Journey through his Music, a 10-disc box set that came out on the Document label in 2006. The last track comes from a 1991 live show with Zakir Hussain on tabla, first issued by EMI in India. Like Rabindranath Tagore's stories and Satyajit Ray's films, Ravi Shankar's music is ultimately a monument of human culture.


I love old Cuban music, all types, including the big band mambo that makes you realize that ultimately you become your parents. Even if my parents didn't dance to mambo I am sure they snapped their fingers and tapped their toes when Pérez Prado launched forth into "Cherry pink and apple blossom white" or "Patricia." Akokán, with the benefit of hindsight, have revived many aspects of classic Cuban music, highlighting percussion and individual instrumental talents on their debut self-titled album. Their vocalist and composer José "Pepito" Gomez assembled the 16-piece Orquesta Akokán (their name is the Yoruba word for "from the heart"), including four saxophones & two trombones, to keep the sound of Beny Moré and Orquesta Aragon alive with sheets of brass. Though some of the band are based in New York, there are many Cubans in their ranks and so they naturally wanted to record in Havana's legendary EGREM studios. This not only put them in the mood, it helps create the 1940s atmosphere that is essential to their sound. But it has a bigger, fuller sound than the mambo 78s of yore. The excellent sonic qualities indeed recommend this as a superb hi-fidelity experience, and every nuance of percussion is clearly audible. Pianist Mike Eckroth is also a devotee of the Cuban piano sounds of the 1940s (an era long before he, or Gomez, was born), but wrote a doctoral dissertation on the music, which exposed him to enough material in great detail that he is now an accomplished arranger. The Cuban experience was not without its challenges for the novice band. There were blackouts in Areito 101, the studio, plus a shortage of paper for printing out scores, but one of the biggest obstacles was finding the window after Obama's normalization of relations with Cuba in 2014, before the fascist backlash of the Un-Obama era set in. They handled the difficulties with ease and spent three days in the studio laying down a sweet, beautifully realized album.


When I was in Peru in 1979 all I recall hearing was Western pop -- Sting & the Police sang "Roxanne" over a badly tuned radio coming out of the lonely tannoy atop a flagpole in a town square at twilight. I didn't know any Spanish. The jungle cumbia sound of Los Wemblers and Juaneco y su Combo had not penetrated to the big city as far as I was aware. Peru's Amazon region was still the Wild West and my planned trip there was cut short by my inexperience as a globe trotter. Lima was an edgy place; I did not let my guard down until I got to Cusco, which is where I was robbed of my camera by a light-fingered kid in a park, & my travelers' checks by a shifty hotel clerk who crept into my room in the middle of the night. This pretty much ruined my experience, along with strangers coming up to me and asking if I, a gringo with glasses, was Woody Allen. Funny, people in England often took me for another well-known pervert Rolf Harris. But enough about me. The successful Roots of Chicha compilation led to a lot of reissues, and even a Chicha cover band. So this is the second Juaneco compilation I have come across, however there are only two tracks in common with the previous one (issued by Barbès in 2008). Going back to their earliest albums, released in 1970 and 1972, James Tuesta has restored what was great about this band: it is raw, and like the label promises, vital. I really enjoy the tropical one-drop on the bongos, or the galloping ride cymbal, along with acid-etched electric guitar and the world-weary Farfisa organ warbling away in the background. There's also an elaborate booklet which explains the lyrics and context of the songs.


Rough Guide continues to carve out a massive history of the blues, a uniquely American folk form as important as jazz in its influence on other cultures and even other art forms. Hokum Blues is dear to my heart (after the nauseating religious stuff) as a light-hearted lyric style that grew out of minstrel acts. We have already been treated to some of the songs on here, on individual albums and other compilations (though you can never tire of Charley Patton's "Shake it and break it"), but this is a wonderful set and one of the best compilations in the series so far. The lyrics are full of innuendo and double-entendre: "draw my cigarette baby until my good ashes come," sings Bo Carter in the lead-off cut. You'll notice the riff which became famous as "Mess around" by Ray Charles. This is followed by the celebrated "Keep on truckin, mama," by Blind Boy Fuller, but you have to listen closely to decipher the lyrics. Bessie Smith however goes overboard in "Need a little sugar in my bowl," with her lyric "need a little hot dog in my rolls" (a wonder she didn't say buns)! Or Lil Johnson's "Sam the hot dog man" when she exclaims "-- I don't mean a weenie!" Half a century ago, when I bought my first blues albums, the selection was pretty scattershot and the sound often atrocious. The rarer the song, it seemed, the more beat-up the reproduction. Now through this ongoing series of Rough Guides we are getting an orderly collection that already amounts to several hundred essential blues track, mostly restored, that everyone should become familiar with.

SOKU FOLA (Kanaga System Krush KSKCD009)

If you ask yourself, Do I need another Malian album? then you should think about what kinds of Malian music you have in your collection. If it's all hot guitar slingers, you need some female praise singers; if it's all big rocking bands, you probably need some Fulani folk music. You have to maintain a balance. There's a permeable border between the traditional and modern Malian music, so I don't keep my "folk" or griot music separate from the modern stuff. Zoumana Tereta, from Segou, is in the traditional camp, sawing on his single horsehair fiddle, but he was always in demand to play with the modernizers. On here there's acoustic guitar (Vieux Parré), calabash and also bass played on a djeli n'goni. The repertoire is fables and praise songs, sung hoarsely (not horsely) by Zoumana. He grew up playing traditional music, including flute, around Bamako, and was the go-to guy for a touch of traditional fiddle, so appeared on literally hundreds of cassettes. He also toured the world, backing the likes of Oumou Sangare, Nahawa Doumbia, Sali Sidibe and, on the gentlemen's side, Toumani Diabaté, Samba Touré & Bassekou Kouyaté. This album, recorded in one day February 16, 2008 in Studio Bogolon, Bamako, is a perfect balance of the four components: acoustic guitar, the bass n'goni and slapped calabash and Tereta's horsehair fiddle.

I also found a 4-track EP by Zoumana, Bozo Fama, on bandcamp, that was released in February 2018.

music reviewed in the last six months

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

May 2018

Hugh Tracey Listen all around has gone to the dedicated Hugh Tracey page in Africa
Hugh Masekela's retrospective Masekela 66-76 is filed in Southern Africa
Melissa Laveaux's Radyo Siwel can be found in Haiti
African Scream Contest 2 is filed in Benin
Los Supremos' Atiza y Ataja is filed in Colombia part 2
Qais Essar's The Ghost you love most, from Afghanistan, is filed in Arabia
Invisible System's Bamako Session can be found in Mali part 4

April 2018

Camarão's Imaginary Soundtrack is filed in Brasil part 3
The Turbans' self-titled effort is reviewed under Euro misc
The Rough Guide to Blind Willie McTell is in the Blues section
Los Rumberos de la Bahia's Mabagwe can be read about under Cuba part 4
Sonido Gallo Negro's Mambo Cosmico is reviewed in Mexico
Two Gladiators' reissues are reviewed in Jamaica part 3

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

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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