Golden Afrique Volume 1
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Various Artists
Golden Afrique Volume 1
Network Medien (www.networkmedien.de)

cd cover The heading on the back cover sums it up succinctly and without excessive exaggeration: "Highlights and rarities from the Golden Era of African Pop music (1971-1983): Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Tschad, Togo."

Golden Afrique is a commendable collection of 24 tracks, 144 minutes of music on 2 CDs with detailed, well-written and well-illustrated notes in German, French and English, exactly what one would expect from this high quality German world music label, that excels in both presentations and packaging. A minor inconvenience is the format - with the case measuring 5.5 by 10 cm, one cannot store this album with most of your other recordings. However, since this appears to be standard practice with Network Medien double CD productions - such as the impressive Desert Blues (1995) & Desert Blues 2 (2002) compilations - appreciative fans should probably have a separate shelf just for these releases.

Listen!
But it is the music that matters. It is both swinging and varied (but I am probably a bit biased, being somewhat addicted to classic West African dance music from the first 20-30 post-independence years). I also have fond memories of good times in Abidjan in the early 1990's - how I wish I had been going there 20 years earlier. Also with a fairly extensive collection of such music, my fear was that this compilation would contain too many repeats. In fact, I only recognized immediately 1 track (Bébé Manga singing "Amie"), and since it is outstanding, I never tire of listening to it. Bébé M actually hails from Cameroon, but the track was recorded in Abidjan, as indeed are many of the other tracks as well, not surprising, since Abidjan was a West African musical mecca in the 1970s. Amadou Ballaké (from Burkina Faso, and more recently a lead singer with Africando) is also featured in an amusing complaint about Abidjan taxi drivers. If your French is OK, you will get an extra kick out of the lyrics of some tracks.

Some of the featured musicians were at the start of promising careers and subsequent fame (e.g. Salif Keita, Youssou N'Dour, Orchestra Baobab and Bembeya Jazz National). Others appear to have faded, leaving only one or two pearls behind, the opening track by Maitre Gazonga from Chad being a fine example. An interesting surprise is a track by Miriam Makeba from her Guinea years. Two versions of a Senegalese classic tribute to mothers, "Yaye boye," are also present, but do not overlap.

Whatever the level of your familiarity with this kind of music, you will almost certainly be pleased with this compilation. For neophytes, it is a first-class introduction; for the initiated it is a very appealing and relatively novel mix, selected by savvy enthusiasts who obviously know both the territory and where to find hidden treasures. Both groups will find that one can play these 2 CDs in extenso without developing auditory fatigue. At the end of listening to these tracks, one is left with a sense of both happiness and sadness. The 1970s were wonderful years for many musicians and their fans in parts of West Africa, but all too ephemeral. Apparently, Network Medien's intention is to produce at least 4 more similar volumes to include musical gems from other West African countries, and that's really good news. - William Bain

CD available from cdRoots


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