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.