Saturday, April 30, 2011

Short Site Advice

I invite and encourage you to read the page called "Site Insights," which you can see immediately to the left, if you are at all interested in the sound I am posting. I've updated it a bit with a couple of pictures.

Oh, and as you might judge from my posting of Michael Smith earlier this week, my definition of African music is broad. Which again you will see this coming week!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Hits of Zimbabwe - Independence Special '85

Released a mere five years after the liberation of Zimbabwe, this compilation exudes the optimism of a nation emerging from domination. Beginning with a strong song by Thomas Mapfumo, this set includes many less-known bands including John Kazadi & The Desh Band, Ujamaa Jazz Band, Super Sounds and New Hard Spirits. Devera Ngwena Jazz Band has one song to lead off the second side, and there are "institutional" cuts from a union and a militia group. Songs range from chimurenga to choral, with even the echo of Queen in the Pied Piper's "We Go Say."

There have been several good CD compilations of Zimbabwean music, and some are still available online. This collection, direct from Zimbabwe, is equal to any.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Michael Smith - Mi Cyaan Believe It (1982)

Linton Kwesi Johnson used his position as the preeminent dub poet to introduce a brilliant young Jamaican poet to a wider audience, in the early '80s. Dub poetry embodies reggae rhythms, and much of it carries militant political messages. Michael Smith's poetry is intensely personal as well as political. On this recording it is paired with the ever-powerful music of Dennis Bovell and his Dub Band, supplemented by a couple of members of Aswad. It makes for a very strong recording.
This record has cult status, for a year after it was released, Michael Smith was murdered during a ferocious period of political warfare on the streets of Jamaica. It received lukewarm promotion and limited distribution from Island Records. Yet Michael Smith deserves to be heard. Here is your chance.

Michael Smith deserves to be read, too, so here is a high resolution image of the album sleeve with his poetry. A good article about the man and this album can be found here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Admiral Dele Abiodun & His Top Hitters International - Ring My Number (1988)

The percolating rhythms of juju music were the sharp point that allowed African music to penetrate the moribund U.S. music market in the early 1980s, leading to the temporarily fashionable "world music" genre. While Sunny Ade was the juju ambassador, plenty of other bands were rocking Lagos. One of the best was Admiral Dele Abiodun's Top Hitters International.

Here we have a nice slice of juju with torrid percussion. This Nigerian pressing is reasonably clean, apart from several minutes of annoying noise starting a few minutes into the second side. It's not enough to detract from the movin' whole. If you like it, and have not been there, you can find a gold mine of Abiodun recordings on the incomparable Global Groove site.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kaba Mane - Chefo Mae Mae (1986)

It is my pleasure to offer you one of my favorite albums, this gem of koussounde from Guinea-Bissau. The first and title track always sends chills down my spine. Kaba Mane began as a kora player, and he took his skills to the guitar. Music from Guinea-Bissau often features interesting and intense percussion, and this album is no exception. The dynamic rhythm and style are credited as Mane's invention.

Kaba Mane released another album in 1989, which I will upload before long, but this one is a masterpiece.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gyedu-Blay Ambolley - Bend Down Low (1989)

From Ghana comes this upbeat album that captures a unique performer who took highlife and transformed it, with his vocal style that people have compared to rap. Gyedu-Blay Ambolley calls his music simigwa, and even today it sounds fresh. Threads of soca, reggae and funk lace through the six songs on this relatively short album.

Ambolley, based in Accra, has his own website where you can learn more about him and apparently purchase CDs of his music, which is pretty hard to find elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Papa Wemba - La Vie Est Belle (1989)

Let's round out the offerings of less-known works from the most-known African singer/bandleaders with this soundtrack from Papa Wemba's dramatic film debut. I probably should attribute this album to "Various artists," but to me it is Papa Wemba with adornments. There is not an abundance of songs on this album, and like most soundtracks, there is a theme that gets varied treatments. Yet that theme allows Wemba's extraordinary voice to have full stage, often over minimal, acoustic or traditional backing, or a cappella.

Of course there is full rumba from Wemba, too, as well as tasty songs from Zaiko Langa Langa, Tshala Muana and Klody. Those songs are all fine, but the bare voice of Papa Wemba is the wonder. This is one of my treasure's from the early days of Stern's Africa, who rescued it from its original 1987 release on Miracle Records.
Enjoy sometime soon!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Zitany Neil - Marcory Gasoil (1988)

A year before the Soukous Stars was born as a band, the group of soukous stars got together to produce this album of hit songs for Zitany Neil. Dally Kimoko, Lokassa, Pablo Lubadika, Shimita, Awilo: they are all here and in top form. Zitany Neil is from Congo-Brazzaville, and has a sweet, high voice. No further words are necessary. Just listen. But be prepared to dance!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Baaba Maal - Sunugal (1995)

Baaba Maal's first internationally available album, Wango, broke over me like a wave. The torrid percussion and incredible singing took my breath away. Since then I have seen him perform several times, and I have sadly watched his albums become ever more separated from the essence that I witnessed.

Here is a splendid Dakar cassette that captures that essence. The cast includes the regulars of Maal's acoustic performances. Kaouding Cissokho is brilliant on kora, Mansour Seck is steady on guitar as always, and on a few cuts, especially the opening "Ndaga," the percussion is a great tama and sabar interplay. But above and beyond all is Maal's unique voice.

I digitized this tape in the nick of time. The next time I played it, it self-destructed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Zimbabwe Cha Cha Kings - Vimbiso (1989)

Here is a wonderful album for you, to start off a new week. Zimbabwe Cha Cha Kings were one of the many jit bands that surfaced in the late '80s, at a time when things were infinitely more optimistic in Zimbabwe. Serendipity alone sent the Bhundu Boys to international stardom, while this band and others were next-to-ignored or confined to compilations.

The Cha Cha Kings actually had a live set on BBC radio, for John Peel's show in 1992, but that was not enough to launch global success. They were collected on the excellent Roots Rock Guitar Party - Zimbabwe Frontline Volume 3, which is still available on CD. Yet that song is from a later recording than that offered today. If you enjoy intertwined guitars, nimble bass and sweet singing, look no further!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sonny Okosuns - Which Way Nigeria? (1984)

Sonny Okosun(s) was an extremely popular musician in Nigeria during the '70s and early '80s. Combining highlife, funk and reggae, Okosuns sang about social issues from a progressive viewpoint. He led a torrid band called Ozziddi that could lay solid grooves. A good discography of Okosuns can be found here.

This album was released in the U.S. two years after Sunny Ade's Juju Music hit these shores. It has three strong songs, especially the rocking "My Ancestors." A relatively tepid title track presages Okosuns conversion into a gospel singer in his later years, although this time the gospel is "let's save Nigeria, so Nigeria won't die." Okosuns cast his critical eye on government corruption and injustice, but in a much less confrontational way than his compatriot, Fela Kuti. He died in 2008, but left behind a trove of great songs.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mandingo Griot Society (1978)

After seeing the Mandingo Griot Society perform in the basement of the student union building at the University of Michigan, I bought their album. It was my first African album, purchased with enthusiasm after my first exposure to live African music. Still it remains a favorite.

Of course Foday Musa Suso was already pushing the boundaries of his griot heritage, having relocated from the Gambia to the U.S. This album was the start of a long career of innovation that found the kora master forging relationships with progressive musicians Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell.

This record had some heavy play during its early years, and there are some pops and crackles, but most of the album sounds great. I saw it posted elsewhere, much compressed, and thought it deserved some room to breathe.
This groundbreaking recording is now available on CD here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Makishi Band — Ba Samora (1990)

Popular music from Zambia has been scarcely available outside of the country. Here is an engaging album from a tight band that leaves not a trace on the internet, except that it is one of the vanished bands from the late 1980s.

The style of music is the Zambian adaptation of all-powerful rumba lingala that swept throughout central and eastern Africa in the '70s and '80s. It was called kalindula, and several of the songs even have a revved up "sebene" to get the dance going. Yet rumba was not the only influence. Traditional music transformed the foreign music to make something new, and I can hear threads from Zimbabwe too, and perhaps Tanzania. Can you hear them?

Half of the six songs are sung in the Bemba language, including one about AIDS, and the remaining three in different languages. The more I listen to them, the more I appreciate this music. If anyone can enlighten us about this band in the comments, please do so.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Orlando Julius Ekemode - Dance Afro-Beat (1984)

When I danced to the irrepressible music of Orlando Julius in small clubs around the San Francisco Bay area during the mid-80s, I had no idea I was privileged to experience the genius of one of Nigeria's most influential musicians. I just felt incredibly lucky that this extraordinary African band lived nearby and performed regularly.

OJ Ekemode began recording in Nigeria in the mid-1960s, and by fusing local rhythms with the international musical influences flowing through Africa at the time – Cuban, funk, jazz, soul - he helped lay the foundation for Afrobeat. While Fela Kuti and Tony Allen built and expanded on that foundation in Nigeria, OJ became Afrobeat's ambassador, living in various places and always, always, creating.

Dance Afro-Beat was recorded in Nigeria, but released in the US on Ekemode's Afro-Beat Records label, and soon after picked up and distributed by Shanachie Records. Today's offering is from an album acquired while the ink was still wet. Unfortunately some of my Nigerian album collection suffered some water damage, a few years ago, and several record sleeves were ruined. Luckily no harm was done to the vinyl, and after using a vacuum record cleaner, the sound is as good as new. I apologize for the album art; I gleaned it from the web, where images of the Shanachie release are easy to find.

While preparing this great recording for posting, I was delighted to discover that almost ALL of Orlando Julius' early recordings have recently been released on CD. I urge you to get them while they last. I did!

Yesterday's mail brought me Super Afro-Soul and Orlando Julius and the Afro Sounders, both impressively packaged releases packed with photos of and information about this extraordinary talent. You can click on their images to find them.