©2001 Alan Graves
Mabulu's debut album titled Karimbo (World Music Network) is an ambitious album that seeks to unite Mozambique's youthful hip-hop generation with old-timers from the 1960s; marrabenta rhythm meets rap right out of Manhattan. The unique blend is actually quite likeable, and what's more, it is also danceable. The formula is very straight forward and simple; Typically, the band kick start a marrabenta rhythm with Grand Old Man Lisbao Matavel and his contemporaries belting out soulful tunes. As things really warm up, the younger singers like 22-year old Chiquito and Mr. Arssen pipe in with hot rap and ragga to distinguish themselves from the older folks. It's heady music that more often than not throws a curve when you least expect one as on the opening track N'twananu. On the next track, you are forced to suspend the belief that you are not listening to a seasoned Jamaican ragga maestro, as Mr. Arssen lets fly a string of very authentic ragga licks.
Even the title track "Karimbo" opens with a magical New Age gimmick before melting into marrabenta and then giving way to serious rap duet featuring Chiquito and Antonio Marcos. The beat goes on, the bass growls in the background and the saxophone flitters joyfully in the mix. What's missing in this album is the complete list of credits; we will never know the name of that saxophonist who has done such a good job of listening to Manu Dibango, or the young female vocalists who make this a great album. Anyhow, does it really matter if you are down there in the dust kicking your heels to the anthem song "Niyaliwile?"
To the east across the Mozambique Channel lies the big island of Madagascar, whose music has become a part of world music lore, thanks to dynamic bands like Tarika. On Soul Makassar (Triloka), Tarika throws everything into the potpourri, from Indian film music, Makossa, Congolese soukous, South African Mbaqanga, and whatever else they could lay their hands on. The result is a very spicy dance number for the soul. Listen to "Allo Cheri," sung in French, and you understand what I am talking about. The big thing in their favor is the versatile song writing, which accommodates all these styles, while remaining completely true to their Malagasy roots. Moreover, it really helps that the band knows how to work the indigenous instruments that include the valiha, marovany, kabosy, as well as imports like the melodeon.
Led by the indomitable Hanitra (Rasoanaivo Hanitrarivo to those who dare to pronounce Malagasy names), the band is very tight, moving easily from bare piece like "Sulawesi" to the throaty "Kingsong" and on to the explosive "Aretina." The backbone of the album though, are those delightful soul music that speak of a longing, an aching in the heart for something or perhaps someone. Here, one is transported away on the beautiful wings of the tracks "Ela," "Tovovavy," "Malalako" and "Set Me Free." The soul needs some food too and Soul Makassar is it.
Meanwhile, at the foot of Mozambique, South Africa's dancing Mahotella Queens are back on track after time off raising families. Hilda Tloubatla, Mildred Mangxola, and Nobesuthu Mbadu are sharp as ever in the latest township album Sebai Bai (Indigo). The strength of the album hinges on the trio's rich vocal harmonies that crackle with the fire of liberation the very roots of soul. Listen to the endearing a cappella "Umona," "Town Hall," and "Love Emotion" It is so effortless, carefree and simply stunning, proving that this genre of music comes naturally to these South African women (as opposed to the studied style of many of the male vocalists). It will make Ladysmith Black Mambazo envious for many moons to come. They follow immediately with the liberation-era toyi-toyi rhythm on the tracks "Dlhaya Mhunu," "Waze Wangidelela," "Kumnyama Endlini" and "Sebai Bai." One moment you are transfixed in one spot by the unbelievable voices and the next you are dancing like a person possessed.
Sebai Bai proves two points, namely that you don't have to remain forever young in order to make music that shakes the earth, and secondly, in show business, never discard the truly tested formula. They may have started their ascendancy in the early 1960s, but the Mahotella are just beginning to really have fun for its own sake. Join in, won't you?
Return to the Rumba
Rumba music of the Congolese variety continues to make a steady comeback, perhaps as a backlash to the superheated soukous that dominated much of the last decade. Papa Noel's Bel Ami (Stern's) is a compilation of rumba music recorded ten years apart, in 1984 when the smooth guitarist went AWOL while still a member of the all-powerful OK Jazz led by Franco, and recorded in Brazzaville, and then in 1994 when he reunited with former members of OK Jazz in Paris. The Brazzaville recordings, "Bon Samaritain," "Madiabuana," "Bel Ami," and "Kizungu Zungu," are classic pieces that bear the hallmark of OK Jazz at its height; feather-light lead guitar, dough-heavy bass and double-barreled male vocals. The only thing missing is Franco's signature solo guitar, amply replaced by Papa's fine guitar skills as he leads the impromptu collection of artists that included a horn section performed by personnel from the Congolese Army.
The music is the original rumba sound that became so popular throughout Africa and Europe in the 1980s; it is flawless and seamless. Meanwhile, though true to rumba , the Paris recordings are synthesizer-happy and lack the spontaneity that characterized the Brazzaville recordings. Papa Noel works hard to deliver the lilting sound, yet it does not come home. To get a feel for the almost imperceptible difference, listen, first to the Brazzaville track "Madiabuana" and then to the Paris track "Simba Martha". The earlier recording brims with pizzazz, jest and sheer good fun while the latter comes across as clean music, but lacking in spirit. That said, with both great and the lesser tracks, lovers of the original Congolese rumba will find this a worthy collection.
Henri Dikongue flies off base
Too moody, that's the first impression of Henri Dikongue's album Mota Bobe (Tinder Record). The problem with Mota Bobe is that it lacks focus. One moment it is aspiring to be Congolese soukous ("Clone"), next it's sparkling reggae ("Non Retour"), before moving on to the soul jazz on many of the remaining tracks. The attempt to be everything to everybody detracts from Dikongue's talent as singer songwriter. Moreover, having grown to enjoy Dikongue's spare acoustic sounds of the previous albums, Mota Bobe seems overlaid with instrumentation which conflict with the emotional color of his sweet, gravelly voice.
However, Mota Bobe does occasionally succeed in infusing western blues and African traditional roots as occurs brilliantly on the tracks "N'oublie Jamais" and "Mota Benama." Dikongue pulls it off by bringing together incredible talent that includes countryman Manu Dibango on soprano saxophone. However, given Dikongue's huge ability as well as that of the supporting cast, Mota Bobe falls all too short. - Opiyo Oloya
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