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.