Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Youssou N"Dour - Lii! (1996)

Many of the Africans who become international superstars do so by fusing their indigenous music with transnational pop flavors, and then producing albums designed to reach a broad global audience. Certainly both Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal from Senegal, as well as Congo's Papa Wemba, have made albums so mainstream and removed from the music that established their careers, that some fans are alienated.

Thankfully most of these stars continue producing albums for their home markets that carry the great strengths that propelled these artists to fame. This cassette from Youssou N'Dour et le Super Etoile is a Jololi release from Senegal that reflects the band's sophisticated polish, yet mostly retains a tough mbalax edge. The laid-back version of Youssou's great song "Birima" is a treat, as is "Baïkat."

The sound quality of this cassette is not perfect; in fact I could not get the last song to successfully play more than a few seconds. Perhaps it's just as well: it is a soppy duet with Italian crooner Messimo Di Cataldo that may have changed the whole premise of this short introduction, if I had had to listen to it. Take a listen to the rest of it: you should not be disappointed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bebe Manga - Amie (1984)

In 1985 there was a tiny African record shop under the elevated train tracks running through Brixton, south London. One could not walk by it any day without hearing an incredible song that would stop you where you stood, to hear it through. Set over catchy rhythms, a woman sang her heart out.

That woman was Cameroon's Bebe Manga, singing the definitive version of the perennial makossa hit "Amio," written by Ebanda Manfred in 1962. The song has had many spellings and interpretations over the years, yet Manga's 1980 recording stands above them all. Indeed, it was an isolated peak performance of this chanteuse. Amazingly, only recently has the track been collected on African music compilations like this or that massive. Today I offer a pristine analog dub of the 1984 French album.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

De Paur Chorus - Songs of New Nations (1972)

After many African colonies gained independence in the early 1960s, the new countries received attention from the U.S., which saw opportunities for increased influence and commerce on the vast continent. Aid projects hatched in New York and Washington D.C. offices were sent to the "dark" continent, along with Peace Corps volunteers and CIA agents. American culture also flowed freely, a tsunami that continues to overwhelm decades later. Much of this culture was pushed through commerce, especially music, but some was official state business. The U.S. Information Agency employed cultural ambassadors and sent them abroad.

Leonard de Paur was an ideal ambassador. He grew up studying music, and in World War II formed The De Paur Infantry Chorus, which became a top recording chorus for Columbia Records. The publicity photo to the right derives from that era of his career, and here is an interesting article from 1948 that puts the chorus into context. A brief biography of de Paur can be read at this site. In the early 1960s, the now-civilian De Paur Chorus toured through Africa performing and, with proof now in your hands, learning about African music.

This rare record, from the defunct Roulette Records label, was recorded "live in Africa," sometime in the mid-1960s. The Chorus interprets traditional songs from Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Congo, "with Native drums and percussion." These performances are quite powerful; the chorus obviously integrated with the different percussive styles, and the singing throughout is splendid. Detailed song information is on the back sleeve, available in the folder, although no African musician is credited. Shame.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mangungu Cley - Kazi Saza Amelia (1984)

When the youth groups of Zaire (Congo) transformed rumba lingala into soukous, the wave of international enthusiasm for the dynamic dance music pushed African music even onto the shores of the United States, where its availability and popularity have been weak compared to Europe. This album features four songs by Mangungu Cley, including the very nice Kazi Saza. While his singing solos are not the most powerful, neither do they dominate. The strength of this album is the great guitar provided by Zaiko Langa Langa veteran, Petit Poisson. The songs themselves are fine, and the guitar work and ensemble singing combine to produce a tasty listen. I hope you agree.

P.S. While the back covers of these albums are always in the folder with the music, I so far have not posted them here, to save page space. If you would prefer seeing the back of the albums included in my posts, please let me know.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bonga - Marika (1984)

The gruff voice of Bonga (Barceló de Carvalho) is without question the best-known one from Angola. When Bonga exchanged his life as an athlete for that of a musician, in the early 70s, he began a productive career that has produced over thirty records, and immense popularity in Angola, Portugal and the rest of the Lusophone world. There is a reasonable biography of Bonga here.

While his earliest recordings (Angola 72, Angola 74) were revived as CD reissues in the late 1990s, much of his exceptional work from the late 70s and early 80s, when his musical maturity and cosmopolitan experience combined to produce the iconic sound that has endured through the decades. Today we feature the album that spotlights Bonga's song Marika, which evolved from its semba roots on Angola 74 to become "real soukous" on this album. Critics of the day claimed that Bonga was abandoning his roots and becoming "commercial," but he rejected that criticism by claiming, justifiably, that soukous is related to the music of northern Angola. Indeed, one of the leading singers in Congolese rumba in that era was Sam Mangwana, who also has Angolan roots.

Bonga was, however, internationalist with his music, and Marika has the imprint of Cape Verdean morna and Portuguese fado, especially on the song, here called Camin Longe, which is a version of the epic Sodade that became a signature song for Cesaria Evora. Varied, interesting, stretching from traditional to organic African pop, I think you will like this album.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jo'Burg City Stars - Grooving Jive #1 EP (1986)

Listening to Bringing It Down, posted below, made me remember and dig for this 12" club mix of fiddle-driven mbaqanga from Noise Khanyile and the Jo'Burg City Stars. Originally released on South Africa's Shifty label in 1986, it was picked up for distribution in the UK in 1988 by GlobeStyle, at the peak of the "world music" craze. Leading off with wild fiddling, the monster Grooving Jive #1 fills the first side with stomping rhythms and the nearly incongruous mandolin and violin provided by Khanyile. At times there are echoes of Appalachia, but the groove never slackens.

The B-side is bit less rocking, but still a good vehicle for Khanyile to saw away with his township fiddle. He would go on to produce an album for GlobeStyle, The Art of Noise, in 1989. That album showcases both the traditional and jive styles that Khanyile mastered over decades of involvement in the South African music scene. It's still available as a CD reissue.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bringing It Down: South African Sax Jive (1990)

Twenty years ago the venerable reggae label Trojan Records briefly dipped its toes into classic township music from South Africa, for a few releases. Today's offering is a selection of ten mbaqanga instrumentals produced in the early 1970s by one of South Africa's greatest producers, Hamilton Nzimande.

This is jumpin' jive music guaranteed to brighten your day.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Comrade Chinx – Early Hits (1990)

Dickson Chingaira, whose stage name is Comrade Chinx, was a chimurenga singer during the struggle for liberation. After working with Andy Brown in the short-lived band Ilanga, Chinx began a solo career before entering the services of Robert Mugabe as a propaganda worker. Later years have not been so fortunate for the Comrade. His mansion was torn down in 2005, a story you can read about here, and according to this sad article from last year in The Standard, he is "is struggling to make ends meet."

From choral and chimurenga roots, Chinx evolved an unique sound, keyboard-driven chimurenga with a healthy dose of cheesy pop. Listening to this record, I can picture myself drinking beer in a shabeen among an audience of three. Early Hits does contain the fine, rocking song, Zvikomborero Kusimba, in both studio and live recordings, and it's worth the price of admission. The other Chinx album I have, Ngorimba, used to be found on the inimitable Global Groove site, but now there is a better dub on my site: here. That album has a much more traditional chimurenga sound than the one I offer today.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bembeya Jazz National - Special Recueil-Souvenir (1977)

Technical problems solved, here is a wonderful album by Bembeya Jazz National. This is the reissue of a 1974 album released the year after the band's great singer and leader Aboubacar Demba Camara died in a "stupid" traffic accident in Dakar. With two tracks changed from the original, this tribute album is packed with Camara's greatest hits. Some of the songs have been collected on compilations, particularly in the excellent Stern's Africa collection Bembeya Jazz National: The Syliphone Years, which sadly appears to be out-of-print. There is a detailed Bembeya Jazz discography here, in case you are interested.

At over 53 minutes, this album is big in every way with the luscious swing of one of West Africa's finest big bands, at its prime.