Friday, November 30, 2012

Chief Ebenezer Obey - Je Ka Jo (1983)

I've had this record in the hopper for awhile, and forgot why I did not post it 18 months ago when I digitized it. Perhaps it was available elsewhere, then, or maybe because my record sleeve was trashed by water damage. The image to the left is one I gleaned from the web and enhanced.

Ebenezer Obey, of course, is one of juju's premier ambassadors, having carried his bubbling music around the world. Released on the major Virgin label during the juju rush in 1983, this album was crafted to cross boundaries, incorporating funk influences and a global pop sensibility. Simple English lyrics make the music even more accessible, and at times it sounds like juju lite. Keep listening until you reach the second side, where the wonderful dun dun talking drum is given much more space to help create rich, percussive rhythms. Mixed with laid-back singing, spacey guitar and off-key keyboards, the dun dun sets up a perfect groove to bring on the weekend.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Segun Adewale and his Superstars International - Adewale Play For Me (1984)

If it were not for the mightier marketing muscle of Island Records promoting Sunny Ade, this bopping album may have introduced juju music to the world. Released in the UK by Stern's in 1983 and a year later in the U$, by Rounder, Adewale Play For Me is full of tremendous percussion, great harmonic singing, and sweet slide guitar.

Segun Adewale began his career in I.K. Dairo's band, before moving on to work in a succession of bands and ultimately forming his own successful Superstars International. A short biography can be found here. One of the earlier recordings of the band, this record is an upbeat drop to counter the darkness that fills the news.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Afro Sunshine - This Is Afrika (1989)

The small, arid country Botswana has not been a fount of music, and its pop scene has been dominated by the teeming culture of its southern neighbor, South Africa. Yet in the late 80s a couple of bands produced records, and one, Duncan Senyatso and the Kgwanyape Band,  even achieved international distribution.

This is the other record, by Afro Sunshine, which proved popular in Gabarone, but never crossed as many borders. Weaving strands of influences from the south, and from Ndebele Zimbabwe, soul and even Prince-like funk, this is a pretty mixed recording. I particularly like the song "Tote." See what you think. . .

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Prince Nico Mbarga & Rocafil Jazz - Sweet Mother (1977)

Today I present one of the all-time classics in African dance music. When this marriage of highlife guitars with the most earnest, universal tribute to Mother exploded from the studio in Nigeria, Sweet Mother swept over the continent like a fresh breeze. Prince Nico Mbarga's sweet voice delivers his simple, upbeat messages mostly in English, with a lightness that influenced, among others, Tchico. "Aki Special" is the other mega-hit on this album, which also lent its title to the CD rerelease that likewise is long out-of-print.

This ± 1981 U$ release was among the first handful of 'world' music releases by then-vibrant, independent Rounder Records. Licensed from Rogers All Stars, there is abundant information on the back sleeve and album insert (included in the download). Rereading those notes today, which foreshadowed the 'world music' boom by a few years, is nostalgic. So is the sweet music.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tchico - Giselle (1983)

Pambou Tchicaya Denis, better known as Tchico, came of age in Les Bantous de la Capitale, but in the late 70s left Brazzaville on a musical odyssey that would take him first to Nigeria, and then to other neighboring countries. This record captures sweet-voiced Tchico during a mid-career period in Paris, with support from a first-rate session band that included Bopol, Dally Kimoko and others.

Perhaps because of his light voice, Tchico's music seems like the champagne of rumba, not-too-serious but refreshing and pleasurable. While the cover of this album would indicate its title is the singer's nickname, excellent discographies here and here use the first track's name as the title. At one time Global Groove had this record and a treasure trove of Tchico's numerous, varied recordings. This may be a slightly cleaner version than previously available.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Viva! Zimbabwe - Dance Music From Zimbabwe (1984)

Released a few years after the overthrow of the apartheid Rhodesian government, this compilation celebrated independence and the vibrant music that surrounded it. First released in Britain by Earthworks, it also introduced Zimbabwe's torrid, guitar-driven dance music to the world.

Many of the groups on this record became internationally successful and famous, including The Four Brothers, Devera Ngwena Jazz Band, and especially Thomas Mapfumo. There also are treats from Nyami Nyami Sound, New Black Montana, James Chimombe, and Super Sounds. A well-traveled record, it took a while to get the sound where I like it. It works. . .

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sound D'Afrique II 'Soukous' (1982)

By the early 1980s reggae had gained a large audience in the U$, perhaps the greatest "foreign" penetration of the music market since the Cuban wave that began decades earlier. After Bob Marley's tragic death in 1981, Island Records saw an opportunity to experiment with marketing African music, which already was ubiquitous in many European urban centers.

Among the first probes were the two Sound D'Afrique  compilations of African pop. This second volume was released in 1982, and while it is not exactly a collection of soukous, it is a set of Congolese music and three songs from nearby countries influenced by rumba. What is remarkable is that none of the musicians collected was a major star, except perhaps for the very talented Pablo Lubadika Porthos. A few months after this record was released, Island unleashed King Sunny Ade's Juju Music, completely eclipsing the Sound d'Afrique records and igniting the "world music" heyday.

This album does collect the major hits from the assorted musicians, however, and it is a pleasant listen. The opening two cuts, from Central African Republic's Lea Lignanzi and Cameroon's Mensy, are sweet, and Pablo's "Madeleina" is fine. A few individual albums from these and other musicians on the album, as well as this record itself, were once available on the excellent Global Groove site.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Le Grande Maître Franco et son Tout Puissant O.K. Jazz - Mario (1985)

After a prolonged silence catalyzed by flooding and extended by beginning a project to digitize my CDs, I owe you the sublime. Mario has been my favorite Franco et le T.P.O.K. album since it first appeared: A real treasure. The title track is one of Franco's major hits, but all three tracks on this album are great.

"Mario" is the perfect Madilu/Franco symbiosis, the two trading verses and both singing with incredible soul. This album was recorded during golden years where T.P.O.K. reached a pinnacle of tightness and power. Words do not really suffice.

This is a pristine pressing, so for a limited time a FLAC version is referenced in the comments.

A kind reader informed me that I had the wrong song titles for Side B on this album; I relied on an internet database because I only had the cover images with me, while I processed the sound file and post, and I mistakenly used the song titles from the first "Mario" album. It's not my first mistake, nor will it be my last. Below is a photo of the B-side label, so you can grab the correct titles.

There are a couple of YouTube videos with the band performing "Mario." Here is one I enjoyed:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Soggy Interlude

We have been having an uncharacteristic, steady succession of rain storms recently, and several during the past week have caused flooding. The picture shows the road near my driveway, with my dog enjoying the flow. The road washed out and I cannot currently get to my house. Separated from my system, a temporary and not-very-hardshipped refugee, I decided finally to write down my process for creating the sound files I share. Look for the Sound Process link to the left, or here.

I was able to hike around the flooded area. To the left is a picture of the swollen creek that illustrates the reason for the flood. The bridge on the left is where the creek used to naturally flow, but over decades of erosion, it has 'wanted' to cut a new path to the right. Planners have desired it to behave, and endeavor to force the creek into its old bed. Six years ago they built a dike to the right of the trees in the center of the picture, after the creek cut through the road during another flood. Obviously, the creek wins again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dembo Konte and Kausu Kuyateh - Tanante (1987)

Much as Foday Musa Suso introduced the griot and kora traditions to a broad U.S. audience in the mid- to late 80s, in the process also moving beyond tradition to experimentally apply the kora in other musical genres, Dembo Konte and Kausu Kuyateh extended their virtuosities through the U.K. and beyond. This first record of their collaboration was recorded Konte's home in the Gambia, by the folks at the enterprising and eclectic Rogue Records label.

The six songs on this album are steeped in tradition, and the two koras and voices blend hypnotically. Kuyateh is from the Casamance region of Senegal, and he plays his own 23-string kora creation. On the beautiful song "Yeyengo," he plays solo, creating intricate rhythms while playing his dazzling melodies.

This recording sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom, which it more or less was, and so the sound is not as bright as it might have been in a studio. This is not meant as a criticism, for the music is brilliant and you can feel like you were there, crickets barely discernible in the mix.

Most of the songs on this record, as well as others from a second early recording, were rereleased a while back on CD by the Rogue Records descendant, Weekend Beatnik. I recommend you get Kairaba Jabi at the fRoots site here; it appears to be out-of-print in the U$. Perhaps the reissue also was remixed? You may also search for Jali Roll, the rollicking collaboration between these kora masters and 3 Mustaphas 3 and others.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Foday Musa Suso, Tamba Suso, Jarju Kuyateh - Mansa Bendung (1986)

It is tempting to seek solace through music, when radical fundamentalists whose god is money are using brute force and hegemonic media control to obscenely enrich themselves. The power grab is global, as my esteemed colleague at WorldService illustrated a few days ago, but nowhere is it more repugnant than here in the U$, where a cynical election facade progresses despite the fact that the predominant voters are corporations.

With its hereditary roots stretching centuries into the past, West African kora is amongst the most sublime, peaceful musics of the world, potentially offering solace. Gambian kora virtuoso Foday Musa Suso has based himself in the U$ for decades, having worked with and influenced diverse musicians, which I discussed in my 2011 posting of Suso's Mandingo Griot Society debut.

This album developed spontaneously when two of Suso's compatriots visited New York. A studio session was quickly arranged, and the trio recorded on New Year's Day of 1986. Tamba Suso is a formidable singer, and on this record he sings with passion. Side B has three kora instrumentals where Suso's kora deliciously intertwines with that of Jarju Kuyateh. The three songs with vocals are rousing, but even though the instrumentals are more peaceful, they also contain tremendous energy -- enough to make you want to get up and do something.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Mory Kanté - A Paris (1984)

When Mory Kanté moved to France in 1984, it took him little time to establish himself in the "world music" milieu with this album. Descended from a Guinean griot family, Kanté began his pop music ascent in the prestigious Rail Band of Bamako. He became the lead singer when Salif Keita left to form Les Ambassadeurs, and took up and mastered the kora.

Paris allowed Kanté to express his electric self, and his mandé roots are quite well hidden on half the songs. In truth, this is not one of my favorite records, though I do like the vibrant version of the classic "Yéké Yéké." See what you think. . .

Saturday, September 1, 2012

L'Afrique Danse No. 4 (1966)

It pleases me to cap my L'Afrique Danse offerings with this superb record featuring "the voice of lightness," Tabu Ley Rochereau. This album collects hits from Orchestre African Fiesta National, Rochereau's branch of African Fiesta after he split up with Docteur Nico in 1965. Sometimes calling themselves Le Peuple, the band included a young Sam Mangwana on vocals.

The album begins with Rochereau's a cappella voice, and in each tasty rumba it is clear both why he is considered among the elite few singers in Congolese music history, and why he emerged and remained a star, decade following decade. I cannot recommend this album highly enough; it is a true classic, exceptionally preserved.
For a comprehensive collection of Rochereau's profound musical contribution, search for Stern's two relatively recent "Voice of Lightness" double CDs.

Note: While some may find pops and cracks a nostalgic bonus in records, I prefer as little separation as possible between the music and myself. Happily, the sound on this record was about as good as it gets, without me having to do anything to restore it. Perhaps someday I'll post my procedure for achieving the best sound I can in digitalization, in case anyone is interested.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

L'Afrique Danse No. 3 (1966)

Finally following up on my earlier post of No. 2, here is the splendid L'Afrique Danse No. 3 that features wonderful, formative Congolese rumba. Side A has delicious songs by Kalle and Kwami, and easily heard in their singing is the impact they had on the up-and-coming Rochereau.

Side B has a quartet of strong songs from Orchestre Negro Success, and a rare, lovely couplet from Robin (Albert Missia) and Orchestre Los Angel, including the sublime cha-cha-cha "Kawa." This offering comes from nearly pristine vinyl, so please immerse yourself.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Super Diamono de Dakar - People (1987)

Recorded a short time after Ndaxami, this album from Super Diamono has a much more produced sound with more global ambitions. It opens with a reggae-imbued tribute to the people of Soweto, a fashion in African pop music during the waning years of apartheid, where Lamine Faye's guitar is impressive, as it is throughout the record. Ismael Lo has left the band at this point, leaving the lead vocals to the ascendant Omar Pene.

Unfortunately, on many of the songs on this album, the "world music" production submerges the strengths of the band, giving the first side a decidedly somber tone. That said, the sound quality of this production is gorgeous, with every instrument and voice exceptionally clear. Mbalax pokes through more successfully on the second side, but not enough to rescue it from world music banality. Except for the last cut, recorded live at a concert: Omar Pene and Lamine Faye rock.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Super Jamono de Dakar - Ndaxami (1984)

Super Diamono is one of the great bands of Senegal, and this record comes from the fecund period when Omar Pene and Ismael Lo shared leads. I've always considered Diamono to be analogous to early Zaiko Langa Langa in the Congo, a band bursting with young energy, a little rough on the edges yet setting new standards.

I love this album; it is so full of soul. There is no information about the recording or musicians, on the record sleeve, but it sounds like a live studio recording. It is so refreshing to hear raw, brilliant music that was not processed for global consumers. Check the great underlying piano, Lo's harmonious harmonica, the percussion: Sweet!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Baaba Maal et Dande Lenol - Wango (1987)

Moments after entering the Berkeley record store, on my way home from work, the clerk, who was familiar with my weekly Friday visits, said: "Check this out!" He put this record on his deck and filled the shop with Massamba Diop's tremendous tama. This was my introduction to Baaba Maal et Dande Lenol, so many years ago, and it opened a whole new avenue in my obsession.

Wango, simply put, is a masterpiece. Every song is exquisitely crafted and performed. Dande Lenol was incredibly tight on this perfectly recorded and mixed album, a definitive Sylla production. The rhythms are complex and urgent, and Maal's singing is sublime.

Two of the songs, "Laam Tooro" and "Loodo," are electrified versions of the well-loved acoustic versions on the earlier recorded, yet later globally released, Djam Leelii. Wango is a great way to start your week, as it has mine.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thione Seck - Le Pouvoir d'un Coeur Pur (1988)

Recorded in Paris with his band Raam Daan, this strong album from Thione Seck reprises songs from cassettes that had made him a household name in Senegal, following his divergence from Orchestre Baobab.

On this record Seck's majestic voice towers above complex, driving rhythms, while the horns and guitars weave an almost jazz-like improvisational thread through the mbalax, especially on "Yaye Boy." I prefer the B side of this record with it's two tremendous, urgent mbalax songs and the final, reggae-fied ballad. It is impossible to sit still, listening to it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Baaba Maal - Taara (1990)

Baaba Maal has moved well beyond the role of innovative musician on the world stage. Recently he was named Oxfam's Global Ambassador to bring global attention to the food crisis in Africa. He has a unique voice to lend to a cause, one that was consistently awesome through decades of many recordings. While I became increasingly dismayed by the homogenized, transglobal sound of his later records, not able to listen to Television at all, his early recordings still resonate with complex rhythms and an authentic vision.

Taara sits on the edge of Baaba's move towards global stardom, retaining the tough Dande Lenol sound of the wonderful preceding recording, Wango, while pointing towards the ever more electronic future. A typically strong Ibrahima Sylla production, Taara layers European horns and keyboards on the core guitar/percussion/voice that made Dande Lenol such a potent band. Massamba Diop's tama is killer, like always, but it is Baaba Maal's voice that sails above all and keeps it together.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Quatre Etoiles - Dance (1985)

Early this year I posted 6 Tubes from this supergroup, before calamity befell many blog colleagues. I had this great record queued, but at the time it was available on Global Groove and I deferred. Dance is one of the most tasty Quatre Etoiles records, in my opinion, and one of its earliest.

So to fill in one of the gaps in the GG cloud library, here is a Zimbabwe pressing of this classic, complete with its marginal sleeve art. You can read more about the band in my previous post.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ndombe Opetum - 20 Ans de Carriere (1989)

I have been on the road lately, in more ways than one, so have been unable to post regularly. Yet I did learn with sadness of the recent demise of Ndombe Opetum, via the inimitable World Service blog. I highly recommend you go there for a complete biography, pictures and a video.

While I cannot offer any deeper information about "Pepé", I can offer in tribute some music from the masterful composer/singer, who was such a presence in both Afrisa and T.P.O.K. Jazz over many years.  Today's record, on the Anytha-Ngapy label, presents two long medleys of Opetum's memorable songs.

Sadly I lost track of the album, so the (pristine) recording here is from the first-play copy I made years ago on a metal cassette. Unfortunately I have no information on the other personnel involved in this tasty session. Perhaps others could enlighten us in the comments?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gamma Express - Vol. 6 - Têt Colé

Along with the cumbia that developed along the Caribbean rim of Colombia, Haiti's konpa is one of the most infectious dance musics to evolve in the African diaspora. Gamma Express was one of the leading bands in Haiti during the 1980s, led by Pierrot Kersaint. It is incredible that such joyous music would emerge from a country plagued with oppression and grinding poverty; but looking around the world, perhaps it is not unusual.

The title track, Têt Colé, has it all. It begins with half a minute of schmaltzy introduction before the vocal ensemble erupts and percussion and guitars set up an irresistible rhythm. Then horns enter, along with occasionally improvising synthesizer, ramping up the energy, and in steps lead singer Benito D'Haiti. Half-way through the eight-and-a-half minute song, the synth sets up a break; the rhythms resume, and a women's chorus drops in like a swinging Andrews sisters. Sweet!

All but one of the five songs on this album follow that winning formula, although lamentably the women sing on only two songs. The last song, though perhaps sweet for those in the know (or the family), reminds me of karaoke in a dive bar, and I apologize for not being fastidious in removing the pops and cracks. I just could not bear to listen to it more than once, and in fact removed it from my iTunes library. The rest of the songs are keepers; in fact I have been listening to them a lot recently.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jali Musa Jawara - Yasimika (1990)

Proclaimed and generally acknowledged as one of the classic recordings from Africa, this exquisitely recorded gem has the power to haunt for decades. Guinean kora master Jali Musa Jawara (Diawara) headlines this record, though his kora is set amidst equally skilled balafon from Jalimrijan Kuyateh and two other Kuyatehs, Lamine and Kissiman, on guitar. Jawara's singing is passionate and beautiful, and perfectly balanced with the female chorus.

Drawn from two of the most legendary griot families, this ensemble provided a revelatory introduction to Manding love and praise songs, when it was first released in 1983. This 1990 reissue on Hannibal spread it throughout the world. Apparently it was remastered a few years ago for a second CD release, but nothing in this original release needs any tampering whatsoever.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Zani Diabate & The Super Djata Band (1986)

As a military coup rocks Mali today, throwing the country into chaos, this ferocious music from The Super Djata band could be one choice for a soundtrack. Perhaps a melancholic ballad from Rokia Traoré would be a better choice, but that is a separate discussion.

Zani Diabate burst onto the international market with this record, and his fierce guitar became the focus of critic notice. He is compared on the album sleeve to Jimi Hendrix, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King and Freddie King, but his innovative accomplishment was providing a completely new interpretation of Malian guitar.

This album throbs with energy, though it is not all generated by Zani's guitar. Super Djata was co-founded by the great Daouda "Flani" Sangare, and his urgent singing is easily as remarkable as the guitar. You can read more about this extraordinary musician on Worldservice's very first post. Percussion is always up front on this session, with trap drums jousting with traditional Malinke drumming. The album rocks, from beginning to end, sounding just as fresh and modern now as it did a quarter century ago.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Le Grand Maitre Franco - Attention Na SIDA (1987)

What better album to begin a second year and the second hundred posts than this masterpiece from the grand Franco Luambo? The long title track is a polemic and a protest, an outcry and a public health message, a heartfelt entreaty to the world to beware the scourge of AIDS. One cannot listen to Franco singing, with more emotion than ever before, without being moved. His outrage thunders forth with the authoritative voice of a god, while ache and despair are just below the surface. Two years after producing this tremendous recording, Franco would die of the dread disease.

Recorded in Brussels while on business without his band, Franco recruited members of Victoria Eleison to back him. The music absolutely sparkles. While the first magnificent moral diatribe carries a message, the two songs on the flip side are built to move the body. The Checain song "Mpo Na Nini Kaka Ngai?" swings with a retro feel, while the more concise "Na Poni Kaka Yo Mayi" carries the youthful energy of the Langa Langa generation. Feast and . . .

Friday, March 9, 2012

Akendengue - Owende (1979)

For this, my one-hundredth post and the beginning of this blog's second year of life, I offer a special album that is one of my favorites, Pierre Akendengue's fourth album, Owende. As I wrote in my first, testing-the-water post here, I have a long history with Akendengue's music. I consider him to be a musical genius with an unique vision.

The brilliance begins with rhythms, which are always complex and impelling, yet the rhythm section integrally includes the human instrument alongside various drums, either voice or clapping hands, or both. In many of his songs the usually female chorus adds rhythmic cadence, in call-and-reponse exchanges with Akendengue, but often the voices are used specifically to augment or even give foundation for the whole rhythmic structure.

Voices, including his own, are central to Akendengue's beautiful music, and this album opens with harmonious, gentle singing. His vocalizations are inspired by his observations of birdsong in Gabon's rainforest, but a couple of the songs on this album feature Akendengue as poet, much more common in his early albums.

Akendengue is a social critic, and this may be his most explicitly political album. Owende translates as Oppression, and the song "Anome Anomie" celebrates a plethora of freedom fighters including Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Che Guevara and Malcolm X, among others. All of the lyrics are included in the centerfold of this deluxe album, replicated for your benefit in the download folder. With great pleasure I invite you to. . .

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

L'Afrique Danse No. 2 (1966)

The L'Afrique Danse series is without doubt the most important, early effort to catalog and preserve the extraordinary musical ferment occurring in the two Congos during the 1960s. This second in the series is dominated by early hits by Rochereau with African Fiesta, and the Rochereau tracks are truly wonderful. Yet there is also one killer song from Kalle, crooning with a Latin swing, and two sweet songs from Jean (Johnny) Bokelo with his band Conga Succès. The album ends with two songs from Orchestre Los Angel, an obscure band in the O.K. Jazz mold led by Albert Missia, aka Robin.

This is a wonderful record with sublime music, and it has appeared elsewhere on the 'net. Yet this is a relatively pristine copy, suffering from a couple of original recording issues (especially on the Los Angels cuts), but thankfully free from defects caused by playing it over and over. Which, by the way, is your fate once you have this in your library. I have excellent copies of Nos. 3 & 4 as well, and will queue them up.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Choc Stars - Awa et Ben (1986)

Here is the Siamese twin to my last post, delayed by two feet of snow and then 5,000 miles of flight. I believe this record comes from the same recording session as the one below, and have always felt that the strongest songs of the session were chosen for the first Shock. The Choc Stars are no less impressive on this record: the singing is impeccable, the guitars are splendid (who are they?), and the rhythms rockin'.

So have a listen, and see what you think. Are these songs weaker, or did I just tire of the formula after eight long songs on two records?
Enjoy sometime soon!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Choc Stars - Choc=Shock=Choc (1986)

The Choc Stars were one of the descendent bands of the extensive Zaiko Langa Langa family, formed in 1983 by Bozi Boziana and Ben Nyamo. During the mid-'80s wonderful singer Matumona Defao Lulendo joined, and a number of wonderful albums resulted. The pioneer "world music" label GlobeStyle, which had an exquisite ability to find and publish essential music from Africa and beyond, licensed two 1986 Afro Rythmes records, for nearly simultaneous UK and U$ releases. This spectacular record is one, and the other is queued for imminent posting.

One of my colleagues at The Beat, the Congolese music expert Martin Sinnock, devoted one of his first column's to the Choc Stars, and I recommend reading it here. Though none of the musicians are credited on the album sleeve, Martin identifies Koffi Olomide as a guest on this session. The harmonic singing throughout this record is fabulous, especially notable on "Lieven" and "Santa." The guitarists are great. Anyone who has further information on musicians, please share in comments. Others, just immerse yourself and...

Enjoy sometime soon!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oliver Mutukudzi - Live at Sakubva Concert (1989)

One of the legendary Zimbabwean musicians who continues to perform into his fourth career decade, Oliver Mutukudzi recorded this milestone in Sakubva Stadium in Mutare, on 29 April 1989. Not only was this his first live recording, it also is claimed to be the first live pop recording done in Zimbabwe.

Despite some significant vinyl defects, I value this album especially for Tuku's exuberance. Recorded when great optimism remained in the country, ten years after the overthrow of Rhodesia's post-colonial, racist government, a listener can tell the audience and musicians connected for an unforgettable night. The breadth of Mutukudzi's unique style is evident in these twelve songs, drawing from Shona and Ndebele traditional, chimurenga, and South African pop influences.

Tuku's expressive baritone is backed by his band Black Spirits, composed at the time by: Robert Mutukudzi (Keyboard), Moses Mullah (Lead guitar), Job Mteswa (Rhythm guitar), James Austin (Drums), Sam Mtowa (Drums/vocals), Joseph Alphas (Bass guitar), Basil Phiri (Sax) and Picky Kasamba (Vocals). The live recording itself is good, and hopefully someday it will be rescued from master tapes and made available on a better medium than this inferior vinyl. The album has a generous two records that I processed as one, but divided into two for smaller downloads.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Mighty Invaders - Invasion! (1983)

Let's slip into the weekend with an easy skankin' dose of classic reggae from The Mighty Invaders. This roots band was based in Baltimore, Maryland, but recorded at two of Jamaica's legendary studios: Tuff Gong and Channel One.

It's been many years since I listened to this record, and it amazed me how familiar it is. The first song, "Hatred," sets a deep hook. Notable with this band is the key role of women singers, a relatively rare situation in roots reggae, and their voices provide a lightness that balances the deep bass and serious lyrics. This is not the heaviest reggae in my stable, by any means, but it is a fun listen to a group with talent. Dean Fraser sits in on sax. Lively up yourself!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Batsumi - Batsumi (2011)

South African jazz is quite well known throughout the world. Indeed, I have listened to an immense quantity of it over the past three decades. I was introduced to South African jazz through the collection of a friend I lived with in Britain, a South African exile who revered the music of Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim). It was Dollar Brand and the other supremely talented South African expatriates, Myriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, who effectively defined South African jazz for the international audience.

Of course jazz that germinated in the townships continued to grow and evolve after its luminaries emigrated, because most musicians could not flee the apartheid reality. I've explored as much of that music as I could, and have even posted some on this site. ElectricJive has provided a wonderful resource through which I have learned a great deal more during the past couple of years.

Nothing, however, prepared me for the 1974 Sowetan blast from Batsumi. Listen to this first awesome track as you read on.


Beginning with a minute of gentle, soulful acoustic bass and guitar, the rhythm suddenly accelerates. The strings are joined by drums and piano to create a dynamic, throbbing foundation for sax and, wait for it. . . flute improvisations. Two-thirds through this monster cut, all but the drums drop out, trap and traditional drums snaking around each other to create a different rhythm that drives the band for the final three minutes. This last movement and its vocals remind me strongly of Philip Tabane and Malombo.

The second track, "Emampondweni," is an urgent song lifted by Thomas Thabang Masemola's soaring flute, which fills all the empty spaces with reverb. Pianist Lancelot Sello Mothopeng begins "Itumeleng" in a classical vein with a couple of jazz chords, but then the other Batsumi musicians drop in one by one to stretch out for fifteen minutes of grooving introspection: Really, really nice. The whole album has traces of U$ soul music, which blend seamlessly with the traditional drums.

This rerelease was produced by Matt Temple over at Matsuli Music, the second loving restoration of a crucial recording made available by that tiny label. On Matt's site you can read a great deal more about Batsumi, the band, and the social context under apartheid in which this recording was made. I do not think I need to provide more details here. 
I'm a little behind the curve with this review, as it is, for the premier LP pressing of it is already virtually sold out! Nevertheless I think this classic reissue is important to consider, since it still is available as a lossless download here. Besides, writing the review gave me the great pleasure of listening, again and again, to this wonderful music.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thione Seck & Le Raam Daan - Yow (1990)

Although one of Senegal's most loved singers, Thione Seck has not been as internationally famous as compatriots Youssou N'dour or Baaba Maal, despite having several excellent albums released around the world. Seck first achieved widespread notice as vocalist for Orchestra Baobab, but by the '80s had set out on a solo career with his band Le Raam Daam. Unparalleled producer Ibrahima Sylla caught Seck for this 1983 set, rereleased on the Melodie label in 1990.

Thione Seck croons over first rate mbalax with jazzy guitars and torrid percussion, and this album, one of his earliest solo efforts, is excellent. The first five tracks are vibrant mbalax, while the last is a ballad that picks up the pace slightly towards the end.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Hugh Masekela - Masekela (1968)

Today I have a very special post for you, a rare recording from Hugh Masekela. Masekela has never shied from speaking out for justice, and this recording, made in the U$ during a rebellious 1968, bristles with outrage from its first track, "Mace and Grenades."

The record sleeve is trashed, but the sound quality of this record is mostly excellent. Digitizing it was a small challenge because many of the cuts virtually crossfade into the next. In fact I left the tracks "Gold" and "Subukwe" conjoined because they work splendidly together. Most of the songs were written by Masekela, with one Dollar Brand song ("Gafsa") and another by saxophone legend Kippie Moeketsi. "Head Peepin'" certainly sounds dated due to its groovy language, but most of the album is timeless. One intriguing quirk about the record is that the last track, a snippet of "Grazin' in the Grass," is separated by a gap. The record apparently finishes and rotates continuously without getting to the "Extra Added Attraction" unless you physically lift the tonearm and put it at the beginning of the 1-minute teaser. Was that intentional?

There is absolutely no information about the musicians participating in this gorgeous session, on the record sleeve, but thanks to Doug Payne's essential discography research, we can attribute this fine music to these musicians:

  • Hugh Masekela (tp, vcl)
  • Wayne Henderson (tb)
  • Al Abreu, Wilton Felder (sax)
  • Bill Henderson (p)
  • Arthur Adams (g)
  • Henry Franklin (b)
  • Chuck Carter (d)
Do not hesitate to listen to this one!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Endangered Blogging

In the last ten days, three of the blogs I have followed - and kept listed at the bottom of the left column on this site - have been crippled or deleted by service providers. There seems to be a sudden, worldwide effort to implement dramatic suppression of internet freedom. It appears that the impetus may originate with the U$ FBI, which may be acting to enforce stymied SOPA/PIPA legislation. In effect, enforcement is happening because corporations have pulled the strings of their politician servants, who so far have not been able to legislate internet repression in the face of public outrage.

What we witness is a battle over intellectual property rights. It is prudent, for our sanity, to understand that we live in a capitalist system where property rights trump all other rights. In an era when corporations are deemed to be humans, where that particular race of humans has unlimited access to and control over the politicians that rule our lives, how could it be otherwise? Until and unless the system itself is changed so that human rights are the basis for society, there will be endless battles between people like us - the 99% - and the privileged few cloaked in corporate power.

I have been scrupulous on this site to avoid copyright violations, and totally open to remove posts if someone who owns the intellectual property right to a recording requests I delete it. Yet realistically, considering the obscurity of copyright tendrils that may exist among corporations - and most likely do not connect to musicians, by the way - I may inadvertently violate rights, when I intend only to help preserve for humanity valuable works of art. So there is the possibility that my blog may be eliminated by corporate action, as the battle for a free internet broadens. Therefore please write down or bookmark this address: I may try to mirror this blog at that address, but will certainly attempt to carry on there, if Google bows to its master.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Soul Brothers - Jive Explosion (1988)

The Soul Brothers are one of the most successful bands in South African history, having sold millions of records and CDs in their country alone. Rising from humble, working class roots in the early 1970s, David Masondo, Zenzele "Zakes" Mchunu and Tuza Mthethwa created a particularly infectious style of mbaqanga by fusing soul-influenced vocals with township jive. While Mosondo's iconic, soprano vocals instantly identify the band, the phat bass of Mchunu and the intertwined, inventive guitar of Mthethwa helped define its unique character. The early addition of Moses Ngwenya brought township keyboards into the mix. With additional vocalists for harmony, a full, dynamic band and vibrant choreography, the Soul Brothers built an mbaqanga dynasty that has weathered challenges from other pop music styles through the decades.

The Soul Brothers suffered several tragedies early in its history, including the death in car accidents of four members, including founders Zakes Mchunu and Tuza Mthethwa. Today's share is a 1988 compilation of Soul Brothers recordings from 1983-1986, selected by Earthworks' Trevor Herman. It was one of the major hits of the "world music" phenomenon of the day. Since Mchunu died in '84, several of the songs include his bass. The entire collection is outstanding, and I cannot understand why it has not been reissued. Yet prompted by another request, here it is, a great listen for animating your weekend.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: Vijana Jazz Band - The Koka Koka Sex Battalion

Whenever there is a rumor of a new East African collection being put together by Doug Paterson for Sterns, I wait in anticipation. I have never been disappointed and usually am completely blown away by the music he uncovers. A while ago I reviewed a killer release of music from Issa Juma and Super Wanyika on another site. Now in my greedy hands I have another choice selection of Tanzanian pop music, this time from the Vijana Jazz Band, one of the country's best bands that is barely known around the world. 

Koka Koka Sex Battalion is the album's title, but it's also an alternate band name the band and its Kenyan producer used to finesse more money from the record label, AIT Records, which did not want to have too many songs from one band circulating. 

Vijana Jazz Band began as a government-sponsored youth band in 1971, becoming very popular throughout Tanzania and Kenya from the mid-1970s through the '80s. Almost all of the fourteen songs on this collection were written by vocalist and band leader, Hemedi ManetiThere is a generous, nearly 80 minute collection of Vijana Jazz songs on this release, mostly from recordings made in 1975-6. 

Most songs, like the wonderful opening "Magdalena," are in the band's koka koka style that points directly to the Swahili rumba style that would dominate Tanzanian pop for decades. A couple of songs are much more folkloric, including "Heka Heka," which begins with horns and sounds like the coastal tarab music, before the guitars and percussion kick into a koka koka dance groove. The sweet instrumental "Koka Koka No. 1" begins with the percussion that defines the style, with conga and what sounds like pounding on a hollow log. One song I like particularly for the looping guitar phrases is "Lela." The sound is great throughout, taken from master tapes and obviously treated with great restorative care. 

Here for your enjoyment is "Koka Koka No. 1", provided by Sterns. You can download it by clicking on the downward-pointing arrow on the right.


The CD comes with a 24-page booklet that has abundant notes about the band and its music, written by Paterson, along with translations of the Swahili songs into English. These are the things, along with the superior sound quality, that make me dread the impending death of physical music distribution. You can get this wonderful release here now, and it will be available in the US soon (I'll post a link). Inferior digital downloads are available at the usual places, though I notice you get the digital booklet through iTunes. By the way, I found another, excellent, wobbly-in-places and presumably 1980s Vijana Jazz tape here, along with a few other Tanzanian tapes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pepe Kalle - Pon Moun Paka Bougé (1989)

Happy to fill a request, here is one of Pepe Kalle's fine albums with the tremendous title track "Pon Moun Paka Bougé." Without doubt this is one of the most danceable soukous hits of all time, always filling and animating the dance floor. With dual guitars of Diblo Dibala and Dally Kimoko, the drumming and percussion of Komba Bellow, and the grand voice of Kalle himself, this is a classic album.

Two of the tracks were collected on Globestyle's long out-of-print Pepe Kalle sampler CD, Gigantafrique, including Pon Moun Paka Bougé, but after digitizing this vinyl I can say that especially on that cut the sound is vastly better than the CD version. There is more definition, especially noticeable with the guitars. Not all is perfect on this record, though: there is some surface noise on the second cut, "Djarabi - Adjatou." Kwassa kwassa!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Franco et le T.P. O.K. Jazz - Presents Madilu System (1985)

This post is made in solidarity with Moos at Global Groove, who has had such a huge positive impact on so many lives around the world. His unselfish sharing of exquisite music abandoned by commerce - music in danger of being lost forever, of becoming extinct - inspired me to create this blog, while also enriching my life. Global Groove has been crippled, hopefully temporarily, by the rampant wave of censorship threatening a free internet.

Franco needs no introduction to you, so let me simply say that this is, in my opinion, one of his best records. I was going to save this record for my upcoming 100th post along with a FLAC version, since it is an exceptionally clean pressing, but this important recording is gone from GG now, and I thought I should not delay making it available here. Get it while you can! The FLAC version will have to wait: the one I had uploaded to Megaupload is gone  is now available. Until it isn't!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Quatre Etoiles - 6 Tubes (1987)

Add Syran Mbenza to the personnel in the last post, et voila! Quatres Etoiles, the fantastic all-star band that proved to be the gold standard for soukous through the 1980s and early 1990s. Besides the other Four Stars, Bopol, Wuta Mayi and Nyboma, this album has awesome lead guitar from Dally Kimoko on two Nyboma-penned cuts, "Omba" and "Samba."

While Quatre Etoiles recorded in the increasingly technology-drenched Parisian environment, their soukous retained the feel of classic Congolese rumba. How could it be otherwise, since these grand veterans had diverse, influential participation in many of Congo's seminal bands?

Two great sources for information on Quatre Etoiles and many other bands are Frank Bessem's Musiques d'Afriques and Gary Stewart's web version of his excellent Rumba on the River. Global Groove has a good copy of Quatre Etoiles' 1985 recording, Dance, so I will not need to post mine.

My copy of this record comes from a Zimbabwe pressing, and the album sleeve is pretty basic. I found the original cover on the net and posted both of them, for your amusement. Luckily the sound quality is nearly perfect for this very fine album.
Enjoy sometime soon!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nyboma - Doublé Doublé (1984)

With Bopol as the thread, let's take a listen to Nyboma from his 1981 release (reissued by Rounder for US distribution in 1984). Recorded in Togo's Studio Cineato, this album was a massive hit, and one of the first Congolese records to be marketed in the US and Canada.

Nyboma is backed by his band Kamalé Dynamique, which features Dally Kimoko on wonderful lead guitar, Bopol on bass, and Ringo Moya on drums. Nyboma, of course, is one of Congo's greatest singers, having played a key role in many bands for four decades. His performance on this album is as sweet as any of his recordings.

Coming in the wake of Sam Mangwana's African All Stars, the rumba on this album is stretching its boundaries with the incorporation of other West African influences, including highlife. Preceding the explosion of full-charged soukous by a few years, this release retains the charm of classic rumba. Side A of the album is compiled on the excellent Stern's Nyboma collection, Nyboma & Kamalé Dynamique, which is still available, but here is the entire set.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bopol Mansiamina - Manuela (1983)

Through more than four decades of his professional career, Bopol Mansiamina has played a key role in Congolese music history. Beginning in the '70s he passed through bands such as Rock-A-Mambo, African Fiesta Sukisa and Orchestra Continental, and he founded Les Ya Tupas before joining Sam Mangwana in the short-lived band, African All Stars.

Bopol established his prolific solo career in the early 80s, always assembling around himself a stellar group of musicians. This interesting album has Wuta Mayi, Nyboma and Syran Mbenza in the line-up, previewing what would become the soukous supergroup, Les Quatre Etoiles.

The record opens with the title track, "Manuela," a lovely track with sweet guitars from Bopol and Syran, and wonderful singing, including scat in the sebene, from Wuta Mayi and Ballou Canta. "Manuela" is a great song that he recorded again, fourteen years later when he played with Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca. It is the best song on this album. In many of the other songs, Bopol experiments with various rhythms that demonstrate his virtuosity on bass and rhythm. A keyboard is present, but generally takes a backseat to the guitars and horns, while providing a funky angle to a few songs. Throughout, the singing is excellent. The final song is pretty unusual, and I'm not really sure how to classify it. Can you?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Four Brothers - Rudo Chete (1988)

The holidays are over, the new year is begun, and the environmental challenges continue with unrelenting subzero temperatures. So let's go to Zimbabwe for some classic music from a premier dance band!

Led by Thomas Mapfumo's nephew, Marshall Munhumumwe, Four Brothers became one of Zimbabwe's most successful and famous dance bands. Fusing chimurenga guitar styles with rumba drive, the band's hits are on nearly every compilation of Zimbabwean pop music. BBC deejay John Peel enthusiastically called them "the best live band in the world," after seeing them play.

Light, lightning-fast guitars dance around Munhumumwe's steady drumming, while his singing floats over all. This album was released just as the band followed the Bhundu Boys' trail to the UK and achieved international fame. Four Brothers remained extremely popular in Zimbabwe for two decades, until a car crash-induced stroke ended Munhumumwe's career in 1997. Caught midway through a prolific career, this album sparkles. I hope it lightens up your new year.

11 Jan: While researching something else, I came across a recent article by Fred Zindl that discusses the fate of the Four Brothers and their families. Tragic, and all too common for the vast majority of African musicians exploited and then discarded by the music industry.