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.