Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Orlando Owoh - Dr. Ganja's Polytonality Blues (1995)

"Stravinsky did it. Charles Ives did it. Over three decades of juju-highlife heavydom, Orlando Owoh did it far more than the other guys ever did." That is how John Storm Roberts colorfully introduces this extraordinary album, explaining how the two guitars and bass tuned in three different keys create a polytonality that  "sticks in your brain like burrs." Exactly. Over many years I keep coming back to this album for the polytonality and its unique rendition of highlife guitars, and for the massive juju percussion paired with it.

Orlando Owoh began his professional career in the 1960s, forming his own Omimah Band and recording his first record by the middle of the decade. He became extremely popular in Lagos for his songs addressing topical issues faced by ordinary Nigerians. Through nearly four decades, until shortly before his death in 2008, Owoh's ganja-relaxed voice was a mainstay of popular culture.
Besides having one of the best album titles ever, this Original Music release is packed with over 72 minutes of music from three Owoh albums (sides from His Omimah Band's 1972 albums Ire Lowo and Ajo Ko Dun Bi Ile, and 1981's album Obirin Asiko from Owoh and His African Kenneries Beats International). Four long medleys give an ample sample of Owoh's abundant talents: voice, songs, percussion and torqued guitar genius. If you get hooked, Global Groove has another dynamite album here. It gives me great pleasure to offer this great music to you today, right here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dimensión Costeña - De Que Suda Suda (1984)

I am astounded that the first Dimensión Costeña album I posted is the most popular, by far, on this site. Well, folks, here is the next infusion of coastal Nicaraguan party music. Like their first record, this one has a long Caribbean medley for extended dance mayhem and, as the title suggests, abundant sweat. The best song on this album, however, is the great "Cole, Cole," which is a guaranteed hit on any dance floor.

I'll leave it at that today, with few words between you and the music. I'm trying to get music out between bouts of clearing my driveway of snow, and am anxious to drop the next album, an absolute bomb.
Enjoy! (link fixed)

Tshala Muana - Biduaya (1989)

As the 1980s came to a close, zouk music was extremely popular in dance halls all over the world. It should be no surprise that Tshala Muana would open her album Biduaya with a track imbued with zouk, but perhaps it also signals a phase shift in her career where the music became less tied to her mutuashi roots.

This album is certainly more "produced" than the other two Muana albums offered on this site, at least in the dominant use of keyboards and programmed rhythms. When I looked at the cover, while listening to the album as I digitized it, it occurred to me that the music was about as natural as her hairdoo.

The two best songs on the album are Tshala's own, the title track "Biduaya" and "Ngoyi," and it might be my imagination, but I think she sings with more conviction on them than on the three songs by Dino Vangu. Of course her two songs are produced by Souzy Kasseya, with a completely different band than on the other songs. They make the album worthwhile. There is also a version of the classic "Africa Mokili Mobimba;" a yawn version.
Enjoy sometime soon!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: Guelewar - Halleli N'Dakarou

The moment this live Guelewar set began playing on my stereo, I stopped in my tracks. What was this?! Did some psychedelic rocker from the 70s get ahold of some West African traditional recording and sample the heck out of it? Was it one of those hybrid bands looking to break boundaries?

No, Guelewar was a short-lived, creative band from The Gambia, the tiny West African country surrounded by Senegal. The original Guelewar began life in 1970 as the Alligators, singing cover songs of U.S. soul music, but quickly began incorporating traditional percussion in one of the earliest experiments leading to mbalax. Led by Bai Janha and Laye Ngom, the group disbanded in 1975 having had made no recordings.

In the late 70s Laye Ngom reformed the band with his cousin Moussa as lead singer. They had two recording sessions that led to four records, but the band only received limited payment for the first, Sama Yaye Demna N'darr, which you can find on the net here. The second album, Tasito, is available here. Until recently band members did not even know that a fourth album was released, in Europe! Guelewar and Ifang Bondi, where Bai Janha went from Guelewar, were the two most influential bands from The Gambia, totally revolutionizing music in the country, while also having a notable impact on Senegal's pop music.

I would have loved to be at the gig when this extraordinary set was recorded! The twelve band members were in the zone, and the remarkably clean recording captures a brilliant performance. The opening track sets the pattern for the entire performance: a fierce rhythm section establishes a torrid pace as guitars and a mini-Moog synthesizer weave cyclical patterns with the vocalists. Listening through this recording, the synthesizer bores grooves on your brain. The guitars can be polite, mimicking the kora, or they can freak out in distorted psychedelic harmony with the Moog. Moussa Ngom's vocals can recall the griots, and then abruptly enter call-and-response discourse with the other vocalists as the percussion ramps up. And always, always, the synthesizer is part of the conversation.

Certainly this was experimental music. It was brilliant! This is one of the most exciting albums I have heard in a long, long time, and I am so thankful that this recording was rescued from near oblivion. Every time I listen to it, I hear new things. It occurs to me that the small labels working hard to uncover "lost," essential music, like Teranga Beat, the producer of this superb release, are moved by the same passion that motivates many of us in the blogosphere. It's a privilege for me to recommend Halleli N'Dakarou, without reservations.

While I've discovered no videos of the band on the internet, here is a slideshow of various images set to my favorite song on this set, "Balla Jigi," a wonderful percussive workout laced with funky mini-Moog keyboards and great singing. Since this blogging platform does not have an easy way to post audio, YouTube is often a solution:

Halleli N'Dakarou is available at the usual download vendors, or here, for the complete physical package with its informative notes.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kandandu - Bonga (1980)

Whether it is a morna from Cape Verde, a revolutionary song from Guinea Bissau, a nineteenth century horns and percussion piece, or any one of the songs that draw on his Angolan roots, Bonga produced one of his finest albums in 1980. Kandandu is simply a masterpiece from the Angolan superstar. Listening to this exquisitely beautiful album years ago is what led me to collect any Bonga recording I could find.

One of my early posts on this site was a 1984 release from this great musician, and that post had a fair amount of information about Bonga. Accordingly I write sparingly about the man today, and rush this music to you. The songs that feature Bonga singing along with simple percussion and lovely acoustic guitars, like the sublime title cut "Um Kandandu Amigo" and "Nguzu," are terribly moving. Others will have you dancing. It's no wonder that his gravelly voice became the epitome of Angolan popular music.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

James Chimombe and the Huchi Band - Jemedza (1990)

One of Zimbabwe's great singers and guitarists had a short-lived career, but one that left a permanent legacy in the country. In his 39 years James Chimombe passed through several bands, including Thomas Mapfumo's formative Acid Band, before developing into a headliner himself with the Ocean City Band.

Chimombe was a passionate singer, and this final album of his career showcases his fine voice as well as his light-fingered guitar style. While one can hear similarities to Mapfumo's chimurenga, there also are also strands of rumba as well as echoes from Kenya and South Africa.

I usually do not draw from text on a record sleeve, but in small print on this one is a great summary and touching tribute to this musician that I cannot surpass:
On Tuesday 23rd October at only 39 years old James Chimombe passed away having established himself as one of the most professional and dedicated musicians in Zimbabwe. Not only a dedicated musician, James was also a director of Z.I.M.R.A. and a staunch supporter of the College Of Music's Ethnomusicology Program.
James was born in Chivhu in 1951,  but grew up and was educated in Highfield Harare. Whilst in his teens he joined the Pop Settlers as lead vocalist, singing cover versions of popular songs. From Pop Settlers James progressed to the Harare Mambos and then to Thomas Mapfumo's Acid Band in the early seventies, playing lead guitar. The mid-seventies saw James playing with O.K. Success Band and in 1983, James Chimombe joined the Ocean City Band. With them, as lead vocalist and guitarist, the O.C.B. had several hit singles and albums. . . In 1988 James made his final move, forming his own group called 'Huchi Band.' Together they released several singles, and their debut album Zvaitika released in November 1989.
Jemedza is the last album to be completed before James' death, and long-time friend and producer Tymon Mabeleka believes that songs included here are of particular significance as James seemed to know that death was imminent and there are many references to the ancestral homes of the spirits.
Jemedza is a wonderful tribute to a man who dedicated his life to music — creating it, playing it and teaching it. James Chimombe was a quiet, considerate and dedicated person. His music will live on in our hearts forever. 
Indeed. This is a very nice album.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Transkei Special: Accordion Mbaqanga (1990)

Blame the weather. Or maybe the seasonal change and decreasing light. Perhaps it's the desire to occupy something. There are a plethora of reasons that posts have slowed down on this site; today it is -11° as the sun begins to set at mid-afternoon, and I begin to wonder if wood heat is so sensible. Yet never fear, posts are about to resume at our usual pace. Nothing beats a cold, dark winter for generating enthusiasm for hot music!

Today's offering is an upbeat collection of accordion mbaqanga instrumentals produced by accomplished David Thekwane, one of South Africa's premier mbaqanga producers. As the notes on the record admit, the musicians and tracks are rather obscure, but they are fine examples of the style. It is a short 25 minutes of sunshine from the 70s.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: Desert Blues by Twos - Tinariwen and Terakaft

When Tinariwen emerged on the world stage with their album The Radio Tisdas Sessions, in 2000, Tuareg rebel music became an instant sensation. The band's introduction of electric guitar into a traditional call-and-response music in the '80s, paired with revolutionary lyrics and insistent, throbbing rhythms, led to the band's legendary status among the Tuareg. Listening to the music for the first time, one could hear a great desert space: It was a revelatory experience.

The desert remains at the heart of Tassili, in many ways a more austere and intimate recording than earlier Tinariwen CDs. Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the band's leader, penned the songs, and his guitar and voice center the album, especially on the solo acoustic lament, "Tameyawt." The whole album has a solemn tone; perhaps that reflects the reality of drier, hotter deserts and atrophied liberation struggles. 

Tassili reaches for a more international sound on two songs. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band drops some chops into "Ya Messinagh," which is a little startling on first listen, just because it is so foreign to this music and therefore unexpected. It is not a perfect marriage, but it does explore the blues frontier of the song. The following "Walla Illa" has the harmonic vocalizations of Tunde Adebimpe, giving it a pop smoothness that seems out of place. The generous twelve songs on this album leave room for these experiments, however, and whether acoustic or electric, the whole album is charged. It's a great one to listen to with headphones.

The recent Terakaft release Aratan N Azawad is in the same genus, though Terakaft has a much more evident rock edge powered by dual electric guitars. Propelled with ample, driving percussion, many of the songs on this album gallop, and if you close your eyes, you can imagine camels and horses.

Terakaft and Tinariwen are closely related bands, with several Tinariwen veterans forming the core of Terakaft, so it is not surprising to find similarities in their music. Terakaft's lyrics are more directly confrontational, decrying the plight of the Tuareg peoples caught in changing reality. The attitude of defiance imbues the music, too, giving it a brash edge. Rebel music, for sure, apart from "Akoz Imgharen." That song is just as surprising as the departures in Tassili, but this time it is a West African guitar mash-up that creates an intriguing mix that may have made it onto my exclusive dance tape.

Both these bands have been characterized as 'desert blues' by promoters and critics alike, trying to shoehorn this music into a box with Ali Farka Touré and others. Don't believe it. This is authentic music that adapts and appropriates what ears hear, like all music, evolving in the creative process with tentacles that extend in all directions. Both of these albums are powerful blasts from the desert. That's characterization enough. You can get them at your usual digital download source, or with their beautiful and informative packaging here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fatala - Fatala (1988)

Returning from a couple of weeks of hiding from the cyber world, in a more verdant environment, today I bring you a tasty dose of mandé percussion with the Guinean group Fatala. Recorded in the pristine Real World Studios, this album has long been a favorite of mine.

Led by percussion master Yacouba Camara, the nine tracks are dominated by intricate and compelling drumming, but the singing of Mabinty Sahko is noteworthy, despite being mixed underneath the percussion. The timeless classic "Yékéké is given a refreshing roots interpretation, but the love song "Boke" is perhaps the strongest and best-balanced production on the album.

This record was rereleased on CD in 1993, as Gongoma Times, which still may be available, but this is the original release.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dimensión Costeña - Palo de Mayo (1984)

A few months ago I posted the first palo de mayo record made in Nicaragua, the wonderful Barbaros del Ritmo. Today I offer another listen to the infectious dance music from the Atlantic coast, a land of tropical rainforest rimming the Caribbean Sea. Dimensión Costeña was the hottest dance band in Nicaragua during the 1980s, performing at countless festivals and celebrations. This is one of two records I have from this band, and it has a characteristicly long, amped Caribbean medley that leads inevitably to sweaty bliss at a dance party. Rustic, but hot!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Jazz and Hot Dance in South Africa 1946-1959 (1985)

Occasionally you happen upon a golden album by chance, in a bin where it's totally out of place or one where normally you would never look. Although I do not quite remember where I found this one, I know it was serendipitous, and that I was in luck.

Jazz and Hot Dance in South Africa is a compilation of early jazz recordings from that country. The bopping begins with the Manhattan Brothers, and it does not slow down through 16 songs lasting 43.5 minutes. These are African mutations of American jazz from earlier decades, treasures from the shabeens that grew into distinctive township jazz. There are too many bands to name, but the highlight for me is the early Dorothy Masuka hit, "Ba Zali Bami." The hip song from the Shanty City Seven is sweet, and the closing track spotlights well-known penny-whistle jive master, Spokes Mashiyane.

This collection reminds my of John Storm Roberts' Original Music efforts due to its unearthing of rare vintage recordings and their detailed presentation. Every track has all available details included on the record sleeve: musicians, original publishing date and source, and English translations of song titles. I've included close-up photos of the extensive notes in the download, but a better option is to head over to the wonderful archive FlatInternational, where all the notes are published on the web.

Most, if not all of the songs, were taken from original records, so there is normal surface noise, but that does not detract at all from the great music. Jump and jive to this one, baby!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Franco and his All Powerful O.K. Jazz - Sorcerer of the Guitar (1984)

Here is the U.S. version of Franco's classic Tres Impoli from 1984, which was posted last year on Global Groove. I post this version for the somewhat garish cover, the English translation of "Tres Impoli" on the back cover, and the exceptionally clean sound. One of my favorite Franco songs is on this record, the duet with Madilu called here, "Tu Vois?" That song is so good, it reappeared a year later renamed "Mamou," on the album Franco et le T.P. O.K. Jazz Presents Madilu System. Under either title, it is classic.

All three of the songs on this album are delicious and need no other recommendation.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Zulu Jive Umbaqanga (1983)

Today I present a superb collection of diverse music from relatively unknown South African artists. This was the second record published by the nascent Earthworks label, almost two decades ago, and it stands alongside the label's two subsequent The Indestructible Beat of Soweto releases, among the best compilations of SA music from that era.

What I appreciate in this collection is the selection of groups exhibiting four distinct styles. The album opens with classic Zulu guitar mbaqanga from Aaron Mbambo, with a lovely female chorus; he adds screechy fiddle on his second cut. Is that Noise Khanyile? Joshua Sithole, perhaps the best known of the artists on this label, pairs his guitar with the swirling township organ that was such a feature of Lucky Dube's reggae. The four cuts from Sithole are a world apart from his soul workout presented recently on ElectricJive. The Rainbows play accelerated guitar and accordion instrumentals, while Shoba pairs Zulu guitar with penny whistle, squeezebox and singing.

Unfortunately little information is available on the records; there is no detailed band info, no indication of where the tracks were recorded or when, not even the name of a compiler or producer. We just have to thank them all, the musicians especially, for this fine listen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marxist Brothers - Mwana Wedangwe (1983)

The Marxist Brothers were one of the leading rhumba bands in Zimbabwe during the 1980s, a group of four Chimbetu brothers. I believe this is the first Marxist Brothers album, recorded in the fervor of revolutionary optimism that filled the country at that time. One of the tracks on this record would become the title track of the equally upbeat Goodbye Sandra compilation from 1988.

Despite suffering from a terrible pressing that especially mars the first tracks on both sides (and the last on the second!), this album sparkles with bright guitars and lovely harmonic singing from Naison and Simon Chimbetu. A couple of the slightly slower songs, such as "Ndiri Wenhano" and "Denda," are wonderful. Simon would split from the band in the late 80s to become a leading rhumba star in the country, but most of the band continued to back him as Orchestra Dendera Kings throughout the 1990s. In fact even on this early album the band's persistent split personality was evident, as the record label says Marxist Brothers (Orch Dendera Kings).

There are a few more Chimbetu recordings coming up here, but at a time when the global capitalist system is in crisis, here is a dose of Marxist rhythms to enlighten the situation.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nyami Nyami Sounds - Kwira Mudenga (1986)

Time to dip into Zimbabwe gold again for this fine album from Nyami Nyami Sounds, a band from northern Zimbabwe named for a Shona river god. The records opens with the strong chimurenga cut, "Ndiani Apisa Moto," that was collected on the 1990 Zimbabwe Frontline: Spirit of the Eagle compilation, and it ends with a song more akin to jit. In between are five other strong songs featuring cycling, intertwined guitar lines, thumping drums and lovely, harmonious vocals. Recorded at the venerable Shed Studios, this one is a keeper.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Idrissa Diop - Femme Noire (1987)

In the 1980s Paris was the place to be for talented musicians from the Francophone ex-colonies. As cassette piracy decimated musician incomes at home, as well as local music industries, Paris became a vibrant melting pot for musician refugees. Idrissa Diop left Senegal to seek his fortune there, and this album is one of his many achievements.

Diop chose the Senegalese rockers Xalam to back him on Femme Noire, as well as French electronic music wizard Jean-Phillipe Rykiel. This album was produced when Rykiel was involved on other projects with Xalam and Youssou N'Dour, and also on Salif Keita's seminal Soro album. Rykiel's hand is heavy on a few songs, which depending on my mood  has caused me to turn it off; but if I can overcome that urge, there is enough of Diop's percussion and singing to keep me interested. The straight percussion workouts "Worunana" and "Sahel" are breaths of fresh air that counterbalance the sometimes harsh urban edge on other tracks.

Femme Noire is a world away from Diop's roots recordings, reviewed in my last post, but it still is worth a listen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Idrissa Diop & Cheikh Tidiane Tall - Diamonoye Tiopité

The newest of micro-labels rescuing early African popular music, from the "golden age" decades of the 60s and 70s, is Teranga Beat, and its first release is crucial. Diamonoye Tiopité chronicles a transformative period in Senegalese music, when mbalax arose from the shadows of the Afro-Cuban music that had dominated pop culture for many years. 

The vehicle for illustrating this music history is the early career of Idrissa Diop and the band SAHEL. This CD collects three selections from Diop's first solo record, 1969's Diouba, including the immensely popular "Yaye Boye" that became essential for every Senegalese band to cover. Four songs from SAHEL's epochal Bamba recording sessions follow, including two songs that did not make the record. These tracks, taken from the rescued master tape, are the highlight of this wonderful Teranga debut. The Cuban rhythms are deep, the sound lush, and the horns bright. The organ solos and guitar of band leader Cheikh Tidiane Tall: Inspired. "Bamba" inserts sabar drums and traditional rhythms, thus innovating the first mbalax hit, with its catchy Touba Touba refrain. "Caridad" is one of the best African salsa recordings I have heard, funky and faithful at the same time.

The remaining five tracks collect two from an Orchestre Cheikh Tall & Idrissa Diop record, plus three previously unpublished recordings Idrissa Diop did with SAHEL in 1976. While the sound quality of these last tracks is more marginal, they do illustrate a completed transition to mbalax, with the tama talking drum taking its important role.

Diamonoye Tiopité is an Idrissa Diop revelation and education for me. I had only known the percussionist and singer from his later European recordings, which invariably leave me ambivalent with glossy, rock-oriented over-production. I'll post one of those albums in the next few days. This new CD of wonderfully fresh, old music gives me much more respect for Idrissa Diop and his important contribution to Senegalese music history. Production of this CD also led to a reconstitution of SAHEL in Dakar, and a couple of videos of new performances by these swinging elders are on the web. Enjoy this one!

Diamonoye Tiopité is available at the usual download vendors; for full sound CD or vinyl you can go here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Sound of Kinshasa: Guitar Classics from Zaire (1993)

John Storm Roberts was a musicologist fascinated by the cross-fertilization of music across the Atlantic, particularly Cuban music's profound impact on the development of popular music in Africa. Perhaps nowhere was more affected than the two Congos, where Latin rhythms catalyzed an explosion of musical creativity that produced the continent's most influential pop music.

Roberts was more than a musicologist; he also was an educator dedicated to sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm, and his great love of the music. How natural, then, for him to include a survey of early Congolese music as one of his Original Music releases.

As the liner notes (included in the download) explain, the album's tracks are presented chronologically in order to hear the evolution of rumba. It begins with a Hugh Tracey field recording, and quickly moves to selections from the most influential innovators, African Jazz, O.K. Jazz and African Fiesta. There are many outstanding tracks included, though standouts for me are the sublime "Madina" from Rochereau & Orch. African Fiesta and Franco's "Bomboka Awuti na New York." Although then there is Beguen Band's sultry "Christina," and. . .

I corresponded with John Storm Roberts quite a bit in the 90s, particularly in 1998 when Original Music was failing and about to cease its pioneering business. He was so passionate about the music and getting it out to as many people as possible, that I am confident he would endorse spreading the love here. This is the first CD I have posted, and I have to note that there are a few points in a couple of songs where Original Music's digital remastering is not perfect. Still, this is a great album, well worth listening to through a couple decades of wonderful music.
P.S. I have most Original Music releases, and over time will make them available here. Several of the best ones have been posted already on the eclectically awesome Holy Warbles.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Souzy Kasseya - Le Phénomènal (1984)

A good bookend for Tshala Muana's release below is this solo outing by talented guitarist Souzy Kasseya, recorded in Paris around the same time. This is very much an in-studio production, with Kasseya providing all guitars, programmed drums and many voices. Manu Lima adds keyboards, and there are a couple of horns, a little understated percussion and a few female backing vocals thrown in the mix. The result is a record that sounds over-produced, almost clinical, and quite thin.

While listening to Le Phénomènal, I could not help but compare it to his previous solo recording, the excellent Le Retour de l'As, which is much more open and natural sounding. More real. That record is available here on the excellent Global Groove site. Today's share was rereleased in Britain by Earthworks, but did not sell well. Get both of these records and see what you think.
Enjoy sometime soon!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tshala Muana - Nasi Nabali (1985)

Here is another dose of mutuashi rhythms from the champion of the southeastern Congo style, Tshala Muana. This is one of my favorite Tshala Muana records, in part due to the superb lead guitar provided by Souzy Kasseya. None of the musicians is credited on the record sleeve, so if you know who else sat in on this session, please let us know in the comments.

Tshala Muana was one of very few women to succeed in Congo's male-dominated music industry, through her strong song composition, sweet singing and flamboyant style. After beginning her career as a singer and dancer in both Mpongo Love's and Abeti's bands, she became a star in her own right. This album captures her at her peak.
Enjoy sometime soon!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tata Bambo Kouyaté - Djely Mousso (1988)

I don't know about you, but I tend to go through phases of listening intensely to one style of music, and then am captivated by another. Currently it is almost impossible for me to tear myself away from early Congolese music. I am reading Gary Stewart's fascinating Rumba On The River, and thanks to Global Groove, dialAfrica, worldservice and others, I am able to listen to the two Congos' musical history as I read about it. Yet at another time I was immersed in mandé music.

Tata Bambo Kouyaté is one of the great griot voices of Mali, and this powerful album catches her peaking. The album opens with the brilliant, sharp guitar of Modibo Kouyaté, and when the rhythm section drops in you think: This is it! Then Tata Bambo begins singing and you forget for a second that there is any instrumental accompaniment at all. The voice is overwhelming. It sweeps you away, and then the guitar draws you back for a suite of tribute songs delivered with passion.

This album was produced by Ibrahima Sylla with Boncana Maïga, a partnership responsible for uncounted outstanding recordings. While Modibo's guitar and Moriba Koïta's ngoni carry the traditional current, Maïga's electric bass and keyboards have a funky edge that gives the ageless praise singing a completely modern setting. Tata Bambo rides above it all, demanding attention with her extraordinary voice. Grab this extraordinary album, listen to it with headphones, and don't let go.

Blog Etiquette

I do a pretty careful search of the web before I post a record, making sure it is not still in print and not available on the premium share sites I depend upon – those in the lower left margin on this page - or others. Yet if it is out-of-print, does it matter if more than one blog hosts a recording? How would a reader of this blog find this particular album on another site, if it were posted years ago? Well, of course, via Google; but that would presuppose the reader was looking for a specific album. 

Yet I suspected that was not the usual case. So I analyzed traffic to this site, and found that less than 1% of you reading this came because you were searching for a recording I have posted. Chances are, you are coming here to glean a near-CD quality recording of an album, and perhaps an artist, new to you. Therefore as I continue digitizing my vinyl collection, unless I have seen a high bit rate copy posted on another blog recently, I'll post my records for you, with due respect to other bloggers that have similar tastes and longer history.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: Samba Mapangala - Maisha Ni Matamu

Longtime favorite singer Samba Mapangala recently unleashed a killer new album with a fortified Orchestra Virunga. Maisha Ni Matamu (Life is Sweet) covers broad sonic territory, including reggae and other Caribbean influences, but the bedrock Congolese rumbas are, and have been for decades, the band's foundation. Mapangala's Congo roots are enhanced on this release with crucial contributions from guitarists Popolipo, Syran Mbenza, and Huit Kilos, and Komba Bello Mafwala on drums.

The opening title track is straightforward soukous that will fill any dance floor, while the acoustic "Tupendane" is at the other end of the spectrum, a gently swinging, acoustic appeal for harmony among people everywhere. "Tupendane" features John Bashengazi, a musician from the Eastern Congo who plays all of the instruments and sings along with Samba. Other songs range from celebrations to exhortations to care for the environment and each other. "Tupende Miti (Let's Plant Trees)" offers its wisdom in multiple languages, giving a tribute to Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan Nobel Prize winner responsible for widespread reforestation in her country and beyond.

Mapangala has been based in the U.S. for years, but he built his career in Kenya after leaving the Congo. Doug Paterson has a good biography and appreciation here. His many recordings always feature wonderful guitar and his emblematic singing. While this record captures the veteran in good form and the production sounds first-rate, there are no nine-minute rumba classics comparable to those that kept Mapangala at the peak of popularity in East Africa for decades. He is more worldly now, and so is his music, and that is a mixed blessing for this listener

I was going to post an audio snippet of "Maisha Ni Matamu," but found this fun video that has the whole song, with the gentleman trying to keep up with the young women, on the cold streets of NY. I thought: Enjoy!

P.S. I've decided to start including reviews of new releases on this site, reviving in this format my earlier activity with The Beat magazine. I'll sprinkle them among the sharing posts, looking a bit different; I hope you find them useful. Maisha Ni Matamu (Life is Sweet) can be purchased for download at CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes, if a low bit rate is okay for your ears. Full-bandwidth CDs can be found here or here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Equators - Hot (1981)

During a hot summer in a year of personal transition, I went into Detroit with my friend Peter, to a small club where we had heard that a ska band was playing. It was 1981 and the club scene in Ann Arbor was new wave, punk and, rarely, reggae, so a ska band promised something different, a link to The Specials, The Selector and Madness, who had been residing on our turntables. I remember the club as dark and fairly empty, but I also remember dancing like crazy to music that was ska with a new wave edge. I bought an album from the band: The Equators.

The Equators were one of the second wave of ska that blossomed in Britain, decades after the ska originators moved on to rock steady and reggae in Jamaica. The bands mentioned above spearheaded the 2 Tone movement, and it is a mystery to me why this band did not achieve the same fame and following. A cynic might speculate that there wasn't enough white to make it into 2 Tone, but more likely the label (Stiff) failed to promote the band. Or this record: I never saw it in a record store.

Too bad, because this is one of the best, if not The Best, record of the 2 Tone era. Led by three Bailey brothers from Birmingham, a first British generation from Jamaican immigrants, the band was really tight and rocking. The two lead-off songs, "Rescue Me" and "Age of 5," are among the strongest, but the instrumental "Rankin' Discipline" absolutely kicks. The album exhibits solid musicianship from beginning to end. It's been grey, cool and wet where I live, for too long, and this music is an antidote for me, as it was thirty years ago when life was gloomy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Jocelyn Béroard - Siwo (1986)

The cross-fertilization of music between Africa and the Caribbean is fascinating, and it has had profound, evolutionary impacts on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The most obvious example, of course, is how the mutated African musics of Cuba provided the foundation for the development of most modern African pop. Another example is zouk that developed in Martinique and Guadeloupe, an infectious music created deliberately by fusing African and French Caribbean styles.

Kassav is the dominant zouk band, filled with wonderfully talented musicians including Jacob Desvarieux, Georges Decimus, Jean-Philippe Marthély and Jean-Claude Naimro. In the mid to late 80s, its influence extended beyond its Caribbean home and Paris base to Africa and around the world. Several members of the band participated in diverse recordings, including the M'Pongo Love album posted below.

Jocelyn Béroard has been Kassav's charismatic vocalist since the beginning. This album caught the band in great form, and I liked it before even listening to it! In fact, it has been my favorite Kassav record. Please excuse some surface noise; I played it often, back in the day. Put it on for dancing this weekend!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

M'Pongo Love et Alexandre Sambat - Exclusivite

Inspired by the great post on dialAfrica, with M'pongo Love's first record, here is one of her last recordings, a collaboration with Gabon's Alexandre Sambat. M'pongo (Landu) Love had an ephemeral career full of promise that was cut short by a fatal disease at the age of 34.

Compared to her early recordings, made as a very young woman, the songs on this album are radically more produced, utilizing state-of-the-art technology and a stable of excellent musicians. The one brilliant thread that connects this album to earlier works is M'pongo's wonderful singing. She excels with her two songs on this short record, and on the opening Sambat composition "Mbecka," which is choice. Yet even her sweet voice cannot save the insipid, thankfully short, "Hymne a la Paix." Maybe you enjoy hymns more than I do?
Enjoy sometime soon!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Zaiko Langa-Langa - Subissez Les Consequences (1987)

What better way to book-end my last post than with this Zaïko Langa-Langa album from the same year, presumably with a very similar line-up of personnel? Presumably because nobody in the band is listed on this album sleeve. I hate it when musicians are not acknowledged for their fine work!

Filled with great guitars, percussion and singing, and typical fiery sebenes, this album will heat up your weekend. The first song, by Bimi Ombale, is excellent. However, it will not heat my house this winter, and I am fairly occupied stockpiling firewood these weeks. My slow posting pace should pick up when the cold sets in, all too soon. Meanwhile, snack on this:
Enjoy sometime soon!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dindo Yogo - Apres Leurs Tournées de Tokyo-Paris-Kinshasa (1987)

Dindo Yogo was a singer and composer who passed through Viva La Musica and Langa Langa Stars, before settling into Zaiko Langa Langa for his longest band tenure. During his career, ended early at the age of 44 in 2000, he also produced several solo recordings. This album from 1987 captures a full, rollicking Zaiko sound, powered by that band's great guitarists, Popolipo and Petit Poisson.

Strangely, each side of this record begins, abruptly, with the extended sebene of last song on the other side. I was tempted to fuse them onto the proper songs, but left them as they were. "Souviens-Toi" is the best song on the album, but it is all fine listening.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Teta Lando - Menina de Angola (1990)

I've been listening to Angolan music a lot lately, and I devoted my radio show to it this week. Unfortunately I did not have this record available yet, for it has several tasty songs. Teta Lando was an important figure in Angolan music history who caused national mourning when he died in 2008. His long career included activism and leadership of the National Musicians and Composers Union.

This album swings between semba and a couple of slower songs full of suadade. It's interesting how influential Portuguese fado was in that country's African colonies. While the guitars and percussion are nice throughout, and the keyboards are mostly tasteful, it is Teta Lando's expressive singing that hooks you in this relatively short recording.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Basil 'Manenberg' Coetzee & Lionel Pillay - Plum and Cherry (1979)

Basil Coetzee acquired his nickname, 'Manenberg,' from his masterful performance in a wonderful collaboration with Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) in 1974. Coetzee remained in South Africa through the long years of apartheid, while many of colleagues in the SA jazz community fled repression to Europe and elsewhere. A good summary of Coetzee's career is here.

This album followed the seminal "Manenberg - Cape Town Fringe" by five years, and Coetzee's exuberant, joyful sax in that performance had become much more soulful in the rendition of Dollar Brand's "Cherry" that fills all 25 minutes of side one.

While Basil Coetzee achieved fame, if not fortune, for his musical efforts, pianist Lionel Pillay received neither. Although he spent years as a session musician, contributing to great recordings like Winston Mankunku's "Yakhal' Inkomo," and, as Lionel Martin, with the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Pillay died in obscurity.

This obscure album is really Pillay's opus, with two extended songs featuring his improvisations on piano, electric piano and organ. While Coetzee's sax flows through much of "Cherry," it is absent altogether on the flip side, filled by Pillay's "Plum." Throughout the album both Rod Clark, on drums and percussion, and bassist Charles Johnstone set down wicked, prolonged rhythms. Pillay samples "Manenberg" in "Plum," but much of the song rocks with disco or even house overtones. Pillay is brilliant on any keyboard he touches, on this unique recording.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Barbaros del Ritmo - Palo de Mayo (1971)

All around the edge of the Caribbean, where the sea meets the sand, the presence of African music is pervasive. Carried to the shores of various countries as slaves, or making their way there as escapees, Africans settled and integrated with local indigenous populations and descendants of colonial conquerors. While the music of Haiti and Cuba are completely familiar, and the cumbias of Colombia have swept the world, some less developed countries have equally compelling coastal music, varying from place to place depending on the cultural mix.

Palo de Mayo is Nicaragua's contribution to this musical diversity, and this was the first recorded Palo de Mayo album. Sung in English and mískito, the dominant indigenous language on Nicaragua's coast, this folkloric style is like mento on steroids. Most of the songs are Caribbean standards, but you will be surprised at the rendering. This is straight out party music, developed to celebrate May 1, harkening back to English celebrations from centuries ago.

Barbaros del Ritmo were the primary band of Bluefields, Nicaragua's small port, during the 60s and early 70s. This record was produced by Charlie Robb, the country's leading musician of the day, and his cosmopolitan experience added significantly to the horn arrangements. His trombone and sax contributions are essential. Despite its origin in one of the smallest of places, this music smokes. Try to be still, while listening to it. I predict you will be moving.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Le Gran Maitre Franco et T.P.O.K. Jazz - Ekaba-kaba (1987)

Today I post my fiftieth record since activating this site in March, with an amazing (to me) 30,000 page views by you. I feel privileged to have joined this community of impassioned music lovers, and grateful that I can contribute. To celebrate, I chose to share a mint condition recording from the immensely influential and profoundly important Franco Luambo Makiadi. Recorded in the same year as Attention Na Sida, and perhaps eclipsed by it, Ekaba-kaba is another brilliant musical effort.

This recording already was posted a few years ago on the wonderful Global Groove site, but not only is the recording offered here an exceptionally pristine one, I also think that Franco's legacy is so important, that propagating its preservation is a responsibility. Inspired by the excellent, informative WorldService site, I am making this mint recording available as a lossless FLAC file in addition to the normal MP3, limited to fifty downloads of the fiftieth post.
Enjoy! or FLAC while you can!

26 July - A kind listener noticed that there was a skip at the beginning of the second track of the recording I posted. I've replaced the 320 MP3 file with that track re-recorded, but for those of you who already downloaded the MP3 album, you can download the repaired track as an MP3 hereDue to upload restrictions, I'm afraid all FLAC downloaders will have to download the repaired track's FLAC file here and replace it manually. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dr. Nico & Empompo Deyesse - Derniere Memoire (1990?)

Legendary Congolese guitarist Dr. Nico (Nicolas Kasanda wa Mikalay) traveled to Benin around 1983 to make what would be his last recording, along with saxophonist Empompo Deyesse and a stellar band. Beginning with a definitive reprise of his classic song "Africa Mokili Mobimba," this wonderful record is testament to the virtuosity of the "god of the guitar." Three of the five songs on the album were written by Nico, and in each his guitar is dazzling. "Boninga," written by Deyesse, is also excellent, with memorable vocal harmonies that reflect the musicality of the talented saxophonist. This recording occurred during a flurry of creativity by Nico, after a decade of silence and obscurity. Sadly, his brilliance was lost in 1985, at the young age of forty-six.

I could find little trace of this record or the German label Voix d'Afrique, so am unsure of both the date of recording and publishing. If you know more details, please help us out in the comments.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pepe Kalle - Chante le Poète Simaro Massiya (1989)

Time to turn attention back to the Congo. Here is a splendid Pepe Kalle album that shines on every front. All of the songs are strong, but "Diarrhee Verbale (Tuba Tuba)" is tout puissant. This album is as much a Carlito one as it is Pepe Kalle; the duets shine throughout. I've always considered this one of Diblo Dibala's finest outings, as well, and I just wait for him to break out on every song. He takes over the sebene on "Tuba Tuba," Pepe Kalle's rich baritone sailing above. Papa Noel contributes wonderfully on lead, too, as do Simaro, Makosso and Lokassa on rhythm guitar. This is a fantastic, classic album.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Paul Matavire - Doctor Love Volume Two (1990)

When I entered the tiny record shop in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in early 1991, the sound system pumped out a catchy tune that tipped slightly towards disco. It was "Dhindindi Fulltime," the current hit by Paul Matavire, backed by the Jairos Jiri Band. Matavire was a blind performer who became very popular throughout the country during the late '80s because of his fine singing and pointed, and sometimes humorous, songs. He generated some controversy for personal behavior, in the process, including rape charges. Like many Zimbabwean musicians, Matavire died young, leaving a fine legacy of music behind. This album is an excellent sample of it, with diverse songs including one slow one for tight dancing. It also has the closing reggae-chimurenga rocker "Pamberi Navajiri," which was collected on the classic Zimbabwe compilation, Take Cover!.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Khiama Boys - Kubva Kure (1990)

The Khiama Boys surfaced in 1988 and produced a series of albums throughout the next decade plus. Music built on energetic, harmonic singing, thumping beats and fast guitars, it reminds me of Bhundu Boys at their peak. No credits are given for the musicians, and as this recording took place as the band was going through some personnel changes, it is impossible for me to name them. The Music of Zimbabwe page has a brief discussion of the band, as well as a discography, and that may give some clues. At least four CDs were available for awhile, through Stern's, but they appear to be out-of-print now.

I am really enjoying my temporary immersion in Zimbabwe's dynamic music. There will be a few more records coming your way soon, but I recommend you snag this excellent, rare recording. Now.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

John Chibadura & The Tembo Brothers - Rugare (1988)

Continuing to explore the trove of records I picked up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in 1991, here is a solid album from John Chibadura & The Tembo Brothers. This band was the most successful proponent of sunguru music, a cross between rhumba and jit jive that likewise relies on blisteringly fast, intertwined guitars. Chibadura was an excellent guitarist and charismatic performer who sang of working class situations and issues. He released dozens of hit albums before his death in 1999 at the age of 42.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mbilia Bel - Boya Ye (1985)

Another Mbilia Bel to lighten you up. Boya Ye is one of the early headliner albums of this chanteuse. She is backed by Tabu Ley Rochereau and his band Afrisa International, though none of the musicians are given credit on the record jacket. Three of the four songs are Tabu Ley's, and on two of them she sings sweetly. On "Tonton Skol," Mbilia barely surfaces in the ensemble singing, and she disappears altogether during the animation break. "Shawuri Yako" is sung in English over a plodding rhythm, and only irresistible guitar riffs make it a pleasurable listen.

While perhaps not the best Mbilia Bel record, this record has a couple of strong songs. Later in 1985 it was re-released by Stern's Africa, with one song substitution. Stern's also released a CD in 2006 that had both this album and another from 1985, Ba Gerants Ya Mabala, but I believe it is now out-of-print. There is a "best of" double CD from 2007 that is available here, and I just ordered one. So while you wait for delivery of yours, you can listen to this nearly pristine copy of the original release.
P.S. It is possible to earn money by posting links to purchases, as I have done here, but I am using a link that provides a small slice of the sale to my local non-profit, community radio station, KTNA.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ephat Mujuru & The Spirit of the People - Mbavaira (1983)

Ephat Mujuru was a virtuoso on the mbira thumb piano central to Zimbabwean traditional music. Through a prolific career based in both Zimbabwe and the U. S., Mujuru had a tremendous impact through his recordings and many performances, as well as his extensive teaching of his art. Tragically he died unexpected ten years ago, at the young age of fifty-one.

This is one of several records cut by Ephat Mujuru in Zimbabwe during his tenure as a student in the U.S. in the '80s. It is incredibly short, containing four songs that could fit on one side of an LP, but it is a welcome uplifting listen for these tumultuous times. May it bring a bit of peace to you this weekend, wherever you are.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

O.J. Ekemode - Sisi Shade (1987)

Friends have noted my perfectionist tendencies, and they certainly extend into my music passion. Nothing beats seeing music performed live, where the only separation between musician and listener is air. With recorded music, I try to keep the separation as minimal as possible. That is why I am fastidious with record care. Now I find that when I am digitizing my record library, for me and for you, I tend to take more care removing as much surface noise as practical. I want to listen to the cleanest recording possible in order not to be distracted from the music.

This great record was one of a handful in my Nigerian collection that suffered moisture damage. Through successive vacuum cleanings I was able to reclaim the vinyl, and that made it possible to hear how worn the record was from heavy rotation in the years just after I purchased it. I therefore used the tool ClickRepair to remove some pops and cracks, and the result sounds pretty decent, but not perfect. The record sleeve was trashed, too, and I delayed posting this recording as I contacted a few friends to see if anyone had another, better copy. Nobody did, so I did some work on mine and was able to clean it up quite a bit. If anyone wants to send me good artwork for this album, I would appreciate it and repost it here.

That is a long preamble to consideration of this rare album. O.J. put together a dynamite band of 17 to record a very strong afro-beat set in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The two songs sung in English, "Selma to Soweto" and "Be Counted," are both overtly political and directed at his audience during his long stay in the U.S. Both are excellent. The talking drum provided by Sikiru Adepoju is simply awesome throughout the album, and he is given plenty of room to strut. The rhythms rock. Yet O.J. is in top form on sax, too, and his singing is emblematic. This is an album you should not miss.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Amayenge - Amayenge (1989)

This is the second of a trio of Zambian recordings published by Mondeca Records that I have been able to post, and like the other Zambian records offered here, this is a gem. Quite different from either of the previous bands, Amayenge is high-energy dance music fueled by furious percussion and singing. There are the great guitars typical of Copperbelt pop, but band leader Kris Chali's voice dominates, as well as his percussion solos.

Recorded in Zimbabwe, where the band was popular, this album even has a chimurenga song in praise of the revolutionary Zimbabwe of the day. There also are several songs praising Zambia's first and persistent President Kenneth Kaunda, who at the time was charting an independent, one-party path, and who was to lose power a short two years after this album was recorded. There is ample information about the band and songs on the album sleeve.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sooliman E. Rogie - African Lady (1975)

S. E. Rogie was a palm-wine and highlife guitarist from Sierra Leone who also could sing very well indeed. This album was the first he recorded during his sixteen-year tenure in the United States. Rogie's music is light and easy, and this record reminds me of cotton candy: fluffy and overly sweet. Not to say I don't like it; just that I have to be in the mood, one that comes infrequently.

Yet Rogie's voice is hard to forget, and some of his songs, like the title track, stick forever. A couple of his early hits that swept West Africa over forty years ago are collected on another record, which I might be able to offer you in the future. This one is worth a listen for the singing and guitar and the gently swinging songs. Maybe the sweetness that gets to me emanates from the back-up singers, and not from Rogie at all?
You may read a biography of S.E. Rogie here.