Thomas Mapfumo's Chimurenga Explosion (aNOnym reCOrds) is a mature brew, distilled over three decades of frontline struggle for the rights of ordinary Zimbabweans. Throughout the album, the sweet groove of the multiple mbira is carefully touched with bright guitar lines and impeccable percussion. The music swells with rugged insistence and urgency, even as Mapfumo's voice provides a steady reassurance. The more rootsy, the better. On the tracks "Chisi," "Wachiona Chirombo," "Kariba" and "Zvichapera" you realize that Mapfumo has returned to classic Chimurenga rhythm played not just for the fun of the music but for healing the troubled soul.
The traditional-based track "Disaster" loudly hints at the corruption in Zimbabwe, and here the veteran musician veers away from the classics to try something different. Mixing some reggae, Chimurenga and traditional Shona melody, he creates a heady dance rhythm. The horns are somewhat misplaced here, but it does not really matter as the lead guitar dives in and out to the rescue.
On the rest of the tracks on this 12-song album, Mapfumo is in the thick of it all, leading a pack of seasoned mbira players, sharp percussion and raucous horns to create great Chimurenga dance music. Whether you choose to twirl or simply sit and listen, there is an unmistakable feeling that this music is speaking to your entire being. Mapfumo is still very involved in the battle for the rights of ordinary Zimbabweans, carefully channeling his anger, never allowing it to spill out into chaos.
Another veteran who knows a thing or two about the "good old days" is Congolese crooner Sam Mangwana. Sam Mangwana sings Dino Vangu (Stern's) is a return to the Golden Era of Congolese rumba when the music was more than just showmanship, but raw talent as well. He reunites with old chum and guitarist Dino Vangu (the two played together in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the band Festival de Maquisards) in an album that could have been named "Tribute to Franco Luambo Makiadi," as it revisits the rumba style pioneered by the late guitar maestro.
The album also features Nana Akumu (formerly with T.P.OK Jazz) and bassist Miguel Yamba (Zaiko Langa Langa). Together, the two bring to life the lost art of making music that people can actually enjoy.
This is more than mere nostalgia; it packs more TNT per square inch than anything Mangwana has done in a while. The music is measured and carefully constructed to bring out the ambiance of the time when you could still hold your partner up close, dance cheek to cheek and dream, but listen to "Marie Kembo," "Femmes Africaines," and "Kiyedi." Mangwana's voice is timeless and Vangu's coquettish, devilish guitar fritters like a bright-colored African Kingfisher among the rustling of tall reeds.
"Escrobondo" and "Ibrahim" seem to be lifted right off a page in Franco's scrapbook, but there is absolutely no doubt that both Mangwana and Vangu are enjoying themselves and it shows in the very rare, authentic Congolese rumba ambiance that the album evokes. Most important, the music sways, shakes and brings the kind of joy that the frenetic world of soukous could never even dream of. This is pure stuff of life; you sip it once and you want more.
Reggae from Abidjan
One of the good things about reggae is that it can be written in any language and it still sounds good. That is mostly true of the album Black System (Stern's) by Ismael Isaac, a 33-year old singer from Ivory Coast. The music, produced by renown music doctor Ibrahim Sylla, is sung in a combination of languages including French, Malinke, Dioula, and Bambara. Hugging close to the classic reggae rhythm of Marley and the explosive lyrics of countryman Alpha Blondy, Isaac's voice radiates a kinetic sweetness. He is especially lethal in the slower genre when the instruments let up to allow the voice more room. My favorite track is the title song in which the call-and-response is truly matched by the keenly tuned instrumentation.
The rest of the album, however, suffers from too much production, which gives it a kitschy quality. The percussion is overpowered by the keyboards and programming, when a good dose of the real drums, tama and djembe might have been the solution. Still, this is as good as it gets on a debut effort.
Hot Music from Canada
Ottawa, the capital of Canada, is undeniably one of the coldest place on earth (I know, I lived there for two years). But it has spawned Cheza, a pepper-hot world music group with strong African roots. Singing in French, Kiswahili, and English, the group has put out a potpourri album titled Shaker (Festival Records - www.festival.bc.ca). The album selects the best ingredients from rock-n-roll, African traditional roots, Congolese Rumba and soukous, makossa, R'n'B, jazz and rap to create a completely original music that beckons you to the dance floor.
The tracks "Pili Pili," "Sokomoto" and "Mziki wa dunia" spring from African roots, but soon branch out into rap, jazz and blues. As you listen to the music, it dawns on you that the apparently simple, even repetitive lyrics are overlaid with rich and complex melody. Far from being Franken-music, it's a smoothly conceived and executed album that can only come from paying the utmost respect for music from all corners of the world.
The slow tune "Mziki wa duniya" has Far Eastern tendency, African attitude and western sensibility that makes it a choice track. It captures neatly what the group is all about: the children of world music having fun.
Audio: Sam Mangwana and Ismael Isaac both (p)©2000 Stern's Music
You can hear music from the Thomas Mapfumo album, and download MP3s at www.anonymousweb.com
order these CDs from cdRoots
Opiyo Oloya is the host of the radio program Karibuni on CIUT 89.5 FM Radio, Toronto. The show airs on Sunday, 6:00 PM- 8:00 PM. CUIT is now available via Real Audio G2 at www.ciut.fm