Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Orlando Owoh - Dr. Ganja's Polytonality Blues (1995)

"Stravinsky did it. Charles Ives did it. Over three decades of juju-highlife heavydom, Orlando Owoh did it far more than the other guys ever did." That is how John Storm Roberts colorfully introduces this extraordinary album, explaining how the two guitars and bass tuned in three different keys create a polytonality that  "sticks in your brain like burrs." Exactly. Over many years I keep coming back to this album for the polytonality and its unique rendition of highlife guitars, and for the massive juju percussion paired with it.

Orlando Owoh began his professional career in the 1960s, forming his own Omimah Band and recording his first record by the middle of the decade. He became extremely popular in Lagos for his songs addressing topical issues faced by ordinary Nigerians. Through nearly four decades, until shortly before his death in 2008, Owoh's ganja-relaxed voice was a mainstay of popular culture.
Besides having one of the best album titles ever, this Original Music release is packed with over 72 minutes of music from three Owoh albums (sides from His Omimah Band's 1972 albums Ire Lowo and Ajo Ko Dun Bi Ile, and 1981's album Obirin Asiko from Owoh and His African Kenneries Beats International). Four long medleys give an ample sample of Owoh's abundant talents: voice, songs, percussion and torqued guitar genius. If you get hooked, Global Groove has another dynamite album here. It gives me great pleasure to offer this great music to you today, right here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dimensión Costeña - De Que Suda Suda (1984)

I am astounded that the first Dimensión Costeña album I posted is the most popular, by far, on this site. Well, folks, here is the next infusion of coastal Nicaraguan party music. Like their first record, this one has a long Caribbean medley for extended dance mayhem and, as the title suggests, abundant sweat. The best song on this album, however, is the great "Cole, Cole," which is a guaranteed hit on any dance floor.

I'll leave it at that today, with few words between you and the music. I'm trying to get music out between bouts of clearing my driveway of snow, and am anxious to drop the next album, an absolute bomb.
Enjoy! (link fixed)

Tshala Muana - Biduaya (1989)

As the 1980s came to a close, zouk music was extremely popular in dance halls all over the world. It should be no surprise that Tshala Muana would open her album Biduaya with a track imbued with zouk, but perhaps it also signals a phase shift in her career where the music became less tied to her mutuashi roots.

This album is certainly more "produced" than the other two Muana albums offered on this site, at least in the dominant use of keyboards and programmed rhythms. When I looked at the cover, while listening to the album as I digitized it, it occurred to me that the music was about as natural as her hairdoo.

The two best songs on the album are Tshala's own, the title track "Biduaya" and "Ngoyi," and it might be my imagination, but I think she sings with more conviction on them than on the three songs by Dino Vangu. Of course her two songs are produced by Souzy Kasseya, with a completely different band than on the other songs. They make the album worthwhile. There is also a version of the classic "Africa Mokili Mobimba;" a yawn version.
Enjoy sometime soon!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: Guelewar - Halleli N'Dakarou

The moment this live Guelewar set began playing on my stereo, I stopped in my tracks. What was this?! Did some psychedelic rocker from the 70s get ahold of some West African traditional recording and sample the heck out of it? Was it one of those hybrid bands looking to break boundaries?

No, Guelewar was a short-lived, creative band from The Gambia, the tiny West African country surrounded by Senegal. The original Guelewar began life in 1970 as the Alligators, singing cover songs of U.S. soul music, but quickly began incorporating traditional percussion in one of the earliest experiments leading to mbalax. Led by Bai Janha and Laye Ngom, the group disbanded in 1975 having had made no recordings.

In the late 70s Laye Ngom reformed the band with his cousin Moussa as lead singer. They had two recording sessions that led to four records, but the band only received limited payment for the first, Sama Yaye Demna N'darr, which you can find on the net here. The second album, Tasito, is available here. Until recently band members did not even know that a fourth album was released, in Europe! Guelewar and Ifang Bondi, where Bai Janha went from Guelewar, were the two most influential bands from The Gambia, totally revolutionizing music in the country, while also having a notable impact on Senegal's pop music.

I would have loved to be at the gig when this extraordinary set was recorded! The twelve band members were in the zone, and the remarkably clean recording captures a brilliant performance. The opening track sets the pattern for the entire performance: a fierce rhythm section establishes a torrid pace as guitars and a mini-Moog synthesizer weave cyclical patterns with the vocalists. Listening through this recording, the synthesizer bores grooves on your brain. The guitars can be polite, mimicking the kora, or they can freak out in distorted psychedelic harmony with the Moog. Moussa Ngom's vocals can recall the griots, and then abruptly enter call-and-response discourse with the other vocalists as the percussion ramps up. And always, always, the synthesizer is part of the conversation.

Certainly this was experimental music. It was brilliant! This is one of the most exciting albums I have heard in a long, long time, and I am so thankful that this recording was rescued from near oblivion. Every time I listen to it, I hear new things. It occurs to me that the small labels working hard to uncover "lost," essential music, like Teranga Beat, the producer of this superb release, are moved by the same passion that motivates many of us in the blogosphere. It's a privilege for me to recommend Halleli N'Dakarou, without reservations.

While I've discovered no videos of the band on the internet, here is a slideshow of various images set to my favorite song on this set, "Balla Jigi," a wonderful percussive workout laced with funky mini-Moog keyboards and great singing. Since this blogging platform does not have an easy way to post audio, YouTube is often a solution:

Halleli N'Dakarou is available at the usual download vendors, or here, for the complete physical package with its informative notes.