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OLD WORLD (inc Asia, Arabia)

African Discographies

Latest Muzikifan Podcasts

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The mid-February podcast featured music from
Brazil, Colombia, Trinidad, Benin, Congo and Guinea

Latest podcast features the music reviewed below

Greetings, Platterbugs!

Updated 1 March 2018

On the Road

Tal National (reviewed below) are touring the Eastern United States right now. Must be great live.


Medoune Diallo died last month. There is a detailed obituary on the Stern's blog

Live gigs

From our Washington Bureau: RAM were just here and their gig at the Kennedy Center is online

Counting down

to Alan Brain's film The Rumba Kings, about Congolese music, I found this clip on line that interviews Brazzos & Petit Pierre, the rhythm section and only surviving members of African Jazz, talking about the making of "Independence Cha-cha."

Other blogs

Matthew Lavoie traveled around Congo with a tape recorder in 2011 and YOU are there

The British Library's Sound & Vision blog has posted a charming bit of fireside chat with thumb piano here
A little further back in the same blog check out these two Ethiopian kids singing

ANGOLAN SAUDADE VOL 1 (Sons d'Afrique)

Angolan music doesn't arrive too often and when it does there is not much fanfare. Also it comes in clumps which is to say you are more likely to encounter a compilation than individual artists. Nevertheless there are many wonderful compilations of Angolan music as I have doubtless said before. My friend Ken B alerted me to the latest which is called Saudade, which we tend to think of as sad ballads full of melancholic longing for the lost land that was decimated by decades of civil war. But it's not at all a downer: there are many sprightly tunes on here. You can find this 18 track compilation on line, on your favorite download site, but you won't find any liner notes, merely the names of the artists and the song titles. This is the current trend and it doesn't help reviewers or those trying to get a handle on the context of the music, especially if their Portuguese is limited to "obrigado" and "o meu amor." From the general sound I would guess this music comes from the mid-70s, and the consistent high quality suggests that Os Jovens do Prenda, the main backing band of that era, play on a lot of these tracks. It's a well-put together compilation and does not overlap with either Soul of Angola or the two volumes of Angola 70's, that appeared on Lusafrica and Buda respectively. The storming "Pachanga Maria" by Os Bongos and "Comboio" by Kiezos did appear on Analog Africa's Angola Soundtrack 1 which was thoroughly annotated. We learn there that both tracks were issued on Rebita Records in 1974; Rebita issued hundreds of records before the start of the civil war in 1975. Diminishing returns has not set in to this old music, and it seems that, once again, here is a rich vein of relatively unknown music still turning up gold nuggets.

VOLO HAZO (Carthago music)

Madagascar entered our consciousness with the wild home-made zither of bicycle spokes on the famous OCORA Valiha albums. Now a generation later three masters of more orthodox six-stringed guitar get together to jam and show off their jazzy chops. They are Teta Jean Claude, son of an accordionist, who plays tsapiky style, which is traditional, though his influences are Hendrix, jazz and blues. Chrisanto Zama is self-taught and a mainstay of the Ny Malagasy Orkestrail who play rhythmic music for wrestling matches as well as funerals. Joel Rabesolo is considered one of the most versatile guitarists on the island and also loves jazz. At first I heard Georgian bouzouki music in here, but that is possibly the last influence you could expect. As you know Madagascar is a big island off the Southeast coast of Africa, so the mainland influences come from South Africa and Kenya as well as Congolese guitar which influenced everyone. The Kenyan flavor is more likely Taarab than Benga, but there is also the Arab lute music that drifted down from Yemen. The pervasive valiha sound, on the other hand, can be traced to Indonesia, according to the liner notes. There are traditional tunes here, used at various rituals, but also modern ones played purely for entertainment, and if you need a benchmark, say Django, they rip up a wild version of Ellington's "Caravan." The recording is superb: produced by Tao Ravao, himself a guitarist who has recorded D'Gary, Rajery and even Sekou Diabaté of Bembeya Jazz.

MALI FOLI CURA (Buda music)

Founded in 2014 as BKO Quintet, and named for their hometown of Bamako, Mali, BKO have been touring endlessly and sharpening their chops in front of festival audiences. The line-up is billed as two ngoni players, djembe and drum set. But that has to be a guitar on the opening track "Tangwanana," though the blurb only calls it "griot's guitar." It sure is loud and electrifying. The success of BKO is in blending two distinct types of Malian music: that of the traditional griots, singers and story tellers, and the hunters. Each group has their own style of ngoni: the hunters play the donso ngoni and the griots the djeli ngoni. Adama Koulibaly plies the former and Abduolaye Koné the latter. The ngonis are amplified so the drummer has forsaken slapping a calabash for a full-on drum kit, raising the temperature of the set from folk-rock to hard rock. While most of the tunes go from "blazing" to "stun," they do slow it down for a final ballad, "Mon amour," and play with somewhat less ferocity. Great vocals and fine production push this ahead of the pack as one of the hottest new releases from West Africa.

KIDAL (Glitterbeat)

I seem to have a block against some African music, like Touareg Blues and Ethiopian Jazz, not to mention AfroFunk-fusion, etc. So I forced myself to listen to Tamikrest's latest and my mind wandered. They reminded me of Donovan (whom I have not thought about in 50 years, since kids in school would ask Who is better, Bob Dylan or Donovan; then the follow up was Who is better Elvis or Cliff Richard? My answer was always the Who are better...). Another thought that came to mind was a bunch of guys strumming in open G tuning without any real purpose. They claim their influences are Pink Floyd, Rachid Taha and flamenco, so imagine that mashup to get an idea of the Tamikrest sound. After they warm up they get to a place where, if I were a stoner, I would think was pretty deep. Two tracks, "Atwitas" (a slow 12-bar blues with Cooderesque slide guitar and atmospherics on a third guitar) and "Ehad wad nadorhan," stand out as examples of laid-back smoke-wreathed jams, but then they go back to the skip-to-my-lou lyrical see-sawing which seems so simplistic as to be silly. The tracks I like have contrapuntal rhythms and the guitars trying out different effects (with lots of echo), as well as the odd sortie from an acoustic stringed instrument, perhaps an ngoni. Kidal is a town on the southwest edge of the Sahara desert, it sounds like the real Wild West: dust blowing along what passes for main street, no place to go unless you are ready to face miles of desolate wilderness. You sense that in the atmospherics of this uneasy dream.


If you turn the pot up on the talent -- more talented guitars (playing fast in unison), polyrhythmic pounding trap drums, talking drums, assured singing -- then Niger has something to boast about: in the form of Tal National, to me the outstanding band from this deserted corner of the Sahara desert. This is their third album on Fat Cat but, once again, I can't tell you more than song titles and repeat a few notes on bandcamp saying energy, spirit and intense emotion surround you. We also learn that different band members sing lead on each of the 8 tracks on here. They see themselves as a rock band, though rooted in tradition, while the guitarist Almeida is interested in "trance." But he is more a Bedouin Jeff Beck than another dopy desert Deadhead. It veers from hard rock to frantic quite often, so if you are ready for some blazing guitar pyrotechnics, crank it up.


I finally gave up waiting for those tightwads at Strut to realize my influence over the African record-buying community and send me a promo of this, and shelled out my shekels for a copy. I put it on and the Duchess, bless her, said "Don't you already have this? It sounds like every other record you buy..." So much for a varied playlist. The last Mangelepa disc I acquired was the Endurance CD on RetroAfric in 2006, a compilation of their greatest hits dating from the 70s. For this disc they rerecorded many of those songs afresh and show that after 40 years they still have the chops. Originally part of Baba Gaston's band Baba Nationale, they came East from Lubumbashi, Zaire in the early 70s. After a stint in Tanzania they moved to Nairobi where there were better recording studios. Finding themselves regularly shorted on wages, the core of the band split to reform as Mangelepa, a corruption of the French "Marquez les pas," or "Mark time," from the martial beat they laid down. In those days sales of their 45s sometimes reached 75,000 copies. However by the 80s the arrival of cheap cassettes meant they could only count on ticket sales to support themselves and attrition set in as members moved to neighboring countries as well as the UK, Norway and Canada. The core of the band is the trio of vocalists, Evany, Vivi and Macky, all other members having been replaced over the decades, apart from the bassist. But they are no mere "Stars on 45" cover band: the younger recruits also came East on tour with Defao and jumped ship in Nairobi, joining their older Congolese comrades in order to keep the band "standing." Their weekly residency at Club Vibro, playing a typical 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. gig, is quite a feat of endurance for the 70 year olds but conducive to sharpening their tunes to pinpoint focus. The liner notes by Guy Morley are thorough, if a little hard to read in dropped-out 7 point type. However he gives a good description of the various East African rhythms employed in different songs, such as Cavacha, Zebola and Chakacha. "Mbungu" as performed here, uses a riff from "Djamo Djamo" by African All Stars, but the original melodies soar over the martial drumming and even the old farts will shake a leg.

TRAVEL WITH LOVE (Omnivore Records OVCD-259)
KNOW JAH BETTER (Omnivore Records OVCD-260)

Justin Hinds hit big with "Carry go bring come" in 1964 and went on to release something like seventy singles on Treasure Island records. These would be rushed out for sound system clashes between Duke Reid and Coxone Dodd and guaranteed Hinds' place in the top ten for weeks at a time. By the mid-80s Rocksteady had given way to reggae but the Dominoes (named for Fats Domino as well as the game) kept up with the evolving sounds of their island and went into Tuff Gong studios in 1984 to record Travel with Love, for Nighthawk Records, with the Wailers' rhythm section of Carlton Barrett on drums and Aston "Family Man" Barrett on bass, and with their keyboard players "Wya" Lindo and Tyrone Downie. Yet another Wailer, Earl "Chinna" Smith, joined on lead guitar and the studio was filled out with the top session men from Kingston, including Bingy Bunny on guitar, Gladdy Anderson on piano, Skully and Sky Juice on percussion, and the best horn section East of Memphis: Tommy McCook, Deadley Headley and Bobby Ellis. Throw in Pablo Black on melodica and you have a recipe for magic. Hinds (whose background was in the church and singing for tourists) has a sweet soft voice backed by the unobtrusive Dominoes. Steve Barrow remarked on the timeless quality of the original 8-cut LP issued by Nighthawk. Now since the the take-over of Nighthawk's archive by Omnivore we are treated to a remastered album with an insane TEN bonus tracks. Three are newly added to the compilation and the other seven are versions, some of which surfaced over the years. The spacing of the instruments in these is very nice, with Skully on top of the mix and the others dropping in and out selectively. Flashes of vocals show these were separate takes and not simply created off the master tape, and the entire band is having fun in the version sides.

The later album Know Jah Better was Hinds' attempt to enter the Dancehall scene in 1990. He avoided the Kingston music scene, preferring to stay in the country where he would play Nyahbingi drums in his yard, sometimes his neighbor Keith Richards would join in on guitar and even produced an album from these casual sessions called Wingless Angels. For Know Jah Better Nighthawk felt the disc needed more punch (despite syndrums and squelchy synth) so brought in Earl "Chinna" Smith and Skully Simms again to overdub guitar and percussion. Other than Dean Fraser on sax, the musicians are not household names and dont inject the air of excitement you get from the Tuff Gong sound on the first disc.

music reviewed in the last six months

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

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

September 2017

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
Guanchaka is filed in Colombia 2
Sweet as Broken Dates is filed in Ethiopia

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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