African Music Reviews Volume 3
All reviews by Cliff Furnald unless otherwise noted. Copyright 1994, 95, 96
Updated April 1, 1996
Lucky Stars & Rosy Mornings: The 60s Ibadan Juju Scene
Original Music (Original Music, 418 Lasher Road, Tivoli, NY 12583 914.756.2767) is the warehouse of all things old and unusual, and they have unearthed more treasures on Lucky Stars & Rosy Mornings: The 60s Ibadan Juju Scene. The death last month of I.K. Dairo has brought a lot of renewed interest in the early roots of juju, and this CD helps to fill the gap of the late 60s and early seventies. Along with Sunny Ade and I.K. Dairo were the lesser known bands represented here, like the exuberant Michael Robinson And His Ever Ready Sports Band or the more Latin influenced Easy Life Dandies. They were the working stiffs of the scene, the club bands without the contracts or fame, but with plenty of musical muscle and local glory, the garage bands of Ibadan.
LAMBARENA: BACH TO AFRICA
Lambarena is a tribute to Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) in which of Gabon, where he built and directed the hospital at Lambarene; and the gospel according to his beloved Johann Sebastian Bach are aligned into manifold encounters with ecstasy, mystery and passion. The collaborators behind the massive project were the French producer Hughes de Courson (Malicorne, Kolinda) and Gabon's master composer, poet laureate and cultural figurehead Pierre Akendengue, both men of profound musical intuition and creative audacity. The classical choristers and players were brought together with ten Gabonese ensembles of mixed voices plus soloists and virtuoso instrumentalists in Paris under conditions of absolute parity. During a recording session that lasted nearly one hundred days, de Courson and Akendengue explored the common ground and telling contrasts between the Gabonese and Classical material. Brazil's Nana Vasconcelos, a percussionist of international renown, contributed an introspective and sinister Janguage, hissing and rattling among and between the voices and instruments. Highlights are incessant, but the juxtaposition of a traditional chorus led by a female soloist of nearly frightening power with "Lasset Uns Den Nicht Zerteilen" from Bach's "St. John Passion" exerts an inexorable fascination as it rushes by. Later, a muted moan from one of the African choirs exhaled over what sounds like a Zen temple bell foreshadows the tragic opening of the "St. John", "Herr Unser Herrscherr, which is itself orbited by tamtams and forest sounds. While a child wanders alone, piping fractured quotes from "Jesus Bliebet Meine Freude," a countertenor sings the pleading "Agnus Dei" and is met by women's voices chanting a pygmy rhythm. Bach addresses his God by erecting measured Baroque exaltations to His glory while the Gabonese agitate the divine by performing rituals that celebrate passages on the human timeline. Lambarena is an appropriate memorial to a man whose desire for the sacred caused him to love and heal suffering flesh. - Christina Roden
Germany has been gaining ground as a source for especially fine world music recordings. The latest label to find a distributor over here is NETWORK (distributed by Stern's Music US, 598 Broadway, New York NY 10012 212.925.1648), a hard traveling crew whose declared ambition is ..."to go wherever the music of the world takes us" and to avoid..."overdubbing or other cosmetic effects"; and they are as good as their word. Network's catalogue currently numbers over thirty titles recorded either in Cologne at the studios of the West German Radio and Television Network or on location and each CD features copious liner notes in German, French and English. Release number twentynine is Senegal's YANDE CODOU SENE & YOUSSOU N'DOUR / GAINDE VOICES FROM THE HEART OF AFRICA is a return to Youssou's Serer tribal roots and to a 63 year old diva who has been a major inspiration to him. In this wondrous allacoustic recording, Yande Codou Sene's gruff gunmetal pearl vocals are heard either a capella or supported by her drummers and choirs preserving the voice of a sparsely documented culture. Youssou sings duets with her and also some ardent solos, including one ballad which sounds like a Senegalese take on "Stairway To Heaven," accompanied by a chiming guitar. The only quibble anyone could have with this set is the cover art, which could be made more arresting to better its chances of reaching its audience at the retail level. - Christina Roden
DESERT BLUES AMBIANCES DUB SAHARA is the piece de resistance of the label (so far). It is a lavish compilation on two discs, each containing more than seventy minutes of musthave material by artists from the Sahara and its environs. It differs from Network's other productions in that it features previously released selections from various sources, while the balance of the label's output was recorded by and for themselves. The layout of the cuts could serve as a primer on the art of the segueway. Each tune is displayed to its best advantage via its chemistry with its neighbors. While considerable ground has been covered geographically and musically, a soothing unity of temperament and direction has been maintained. The packaging is a paragon of sheer loveliness and features an essay illuminated by several beautiful and atmospheric photographs. - Christina Roden
The new KING SUNNY ADE E DIDE/ I GET UP (MesaBluemoon), which was recorded in Seattle, is not a complete bust. But should you get up to get down, thus following the advice so helpfully tendered by the title of this opus, you'll soon end up sitting down. As the cuts run between three and five minutes in length, probably to court mainstream airplay, the result is Juju Lite. The tunes are simply not given the time to coalesce into that hypnotic polyrhythmic Juju cool that burns like dry ice. and conversely they wind up lacking anything resembling a hook. Taken as a whole, this recording is a tease from someone who well knows how to satisfy. Alas, it may be that yet another master musician is in search of the Demon Crossover, a mirage that has been the source of so many musical Faustian bargains over the past decade or so. - Christina Roden
When The New York Times flatly pronounced Senegal's singer and bandleader KINE LAM to be THE best female vocalist from that part of the world, anyone who wasn't at S.O.B.'s for her performance was desperate to hear her. An advance copy of her debut recording, Praise (Shanachie Records), which will be released on February 20, has proved most enlightening. While she's not the best this reviewer has ever heard, comparisons are notoriously subjective and she's awfully good. Her center of gravity is rocksteady amid the jagged tremors of Mbalax and her voice resembles a dusky sirocco, swirling with heat and motion. However, the vocals are not consistently merged with the melodies and some of the arrangements are a touch overeager with the backbeat or synthheavy. In any case, Kine Lam is a lady to watch and Praise offers enough splendor and promise to make it a welcome addition to any play list. The fifth and sixth cuts best show off what she can do, and that's a lot. - Christina Roden
VARIOUS ARTISTS Jive Nation - The Indestructable Beat Of Soweto (Stern's Earthworks) is the fifth volume of Trevor Herman's much honored compilation series. Fourteen of the eighteen cuts are devoted to taking the pulse of postApartheid South Africa. which is thundering mightily. The impact of the tunes is only slightly mitigated by our long and blessed familiarity with the classic volumes that came before, which were important as musical revelations and as dispatches from the front. Groaner deluxe Mahlathini and The Mahotella Queens appear on this as on all previous volumes, along with Johnny Clegg, and Savuka, a band whose interracial membership is no longer a danger to life and limb. The smooth harmonies of the Soul Brothers contrast with the twangy, disorganized charm of John Maluleke and the Rotterdam Sisters while Phuzekhemisi No Khethani's strutting Zulu Trad packs scraped percussion like the caw of a raven. Colenso Abafana Benkokhelo sing disorienting,ly exquisite Mbube a cappella. Mbayanga, Jive and other styles are all represented and the acts jump in and mix it up. While the opportunity to renew ties with longtime favorites and discover that they have evolved but are fundamentally as they were is reassuring, the certainty that we are hearing the first fruits of the soundtrack to the new South Africa is downright exhilarating. - Christina Roden
Musiki Wa Dansi
Africassette, Box 24941, Detroit, MI 48224 313.881.4108 email: email@example.com
Absolutely, this is music for dancing. This second volume of hot floor burners from Tanzania (the first was Mlimani Park's Sikinde) from Africassette is solid, grooving, relentless dance music. The bands here are among the best not only of Dar Es Salaam, but of the eastern African continent. In the wake of the short cut, radio-briefed soukous and juju we have had presented on recent tracks by Sunny Ade and Rochereau, here's some of the stuff that keeps the house rocking until the wee house. The music of Tanzania's pop scene is a hybrid of all that's hot on the continent (especially soukous, rumba, highlife and a bit of the jive and pop sounds from South Africa and Kenya), but it takes interesting twists and turns that are uniquely eastern. Heavy on the horns, these large bands churn out a smoldering sound, romantic and sensual, full of life. Even in their six to eight minute, somewhat shortened state (these were mostly recorded by national radio in their studios in the early eighties), these four bands tear it up on every track. -Cliff Furnald
HIJAS DEL SOL Sibèba
NubeNegra, Humilladero 8, Madrid 28005, Spain, Tel/Fax (+34) 1 364 02 29
Now here's an obscure treasure: music from the island of Bioko in Equatorial Guinea, the first I've ever heard. The front for the group are two marvelous singers, Piruchi Apo and Paloma Loribo. They will remind you of Zap Mama, geographic neighbors of theirs. When they sing solo, they are a potent a capella force. When the band kicks in with its raw, mostly acoustic energy on guitars, bass and percussion, they absolutely steam. Little touches of soukous/rumba and lots of comparisons to Cameroon's bikutsi and even Malagasy music were made in conversation on the internet about this record. All valid, all irrelevant. If you like the Tarika, then this acoustic roots style of bands like
Two Views Of Salif Keita's Folon
Salif Keita is one of the great enigmatic
characters of African music. He has made one of the most reviewed
and praised albums in popular African music, Soro. His albums
have also sparked more conversation and occasionally controversy
than almost any other. Accused of cheap westernization on one
hand and lauded as one of the first true innovators of contemporary
music, Keita has seen his share of ups and downs in the press
and at the record counter.But one thing no one has ever debated
is that Salif Keita was his own inspiration and his own guide
on his musical journey. Never one to find a trend, he has always
chosen paths less travelled. Soro was a monument to that individuality,
his second and third albums were a testament to his need to innovate,
even if it meant failing. He learned some hard lessons about the
dangers of consciously making "popular", and his last
album, Amen often showed how rocky a trail that can be.
Folon (which means "the past") Salif Keita is returning
after four years, with a roar. Here is an album that has all the
best devices of pop music and all the powerful elements of tradition,
forged with high musicianship and dedication by all the artists
involved in the project. -cliff furnald
I personally think this is one of theose "important" recordings that come along
rarely, and I may rave a bit. RootsWorld Internet field
officer Eric Hines offers a another perspective, in response to
an ongoing discussion a number of us have been having on the internet
at alt.music.african. Here are some excerpts from our correspondence
about the album
Eric Hines says: "I've never liked Soro. I kept it for years waiting
for it to grow on me, but it always seemed like empty atmospheric
music to me--so I finally sold it. Thankfully Folon is not another
Soro (or another Ko-Yan or another Amen). Salif finally seems
to have his western-oriented musical vision straightened out.
Hurrah! While this is not a masterpiece, it is a fine record,
well worth having, well worth repeated listening. I'll run through
some notes I made during my second serious (i.e. doing nothing
else requiring attention) listen:
but not forced. A very nice piece of Manding rock; something
reminiscent of the seventies, especially the balafon-style rhythm
picking. Lead guitar rather disappointing. Bit too much brass
in the mix.
"Mandjou"- I had very high expectations
from this, they weren't fulfilled. This is a good song, mind,
but I don't see why they bothered if they were going to approach
it this way. Salif is not truly re-envisioning the song, he is
simply trotting out a classic song AS A CLASSIC. He's revising
it in accordance with the status it has attained rather than really
going back to the music and re-thinking it. This is sort of like
the concert rendition of an old warhorse. The guitar, breathy
synths, and the female vocalists only make one miss the original.
Still an OK track, but lacking the drama and immediacy of the
"Nyannam"- I love Hendrix, too, but I must
say Kouyate has an unfortunate taste in guitar distortion. Someone
take away his fuzzbox. He has a rather ridiculous sounding solo
on Kalongoman, too, I think. He's also got a gift for robbing
the song of it's urgency (check out solo on 2nd bridge).
Didn't like the English lyrics on first listen, but didn't mind
them second time round. When I first heard this song in the car
I though Salif had transformed into Lee Perry when he started
the long count off. When I saw the song-title and listened again,
I saw the force of it. Very good.
"Sumun" - good groove.
Don't think I'll be listening to this during the next century,
"Seydou" - a masterpiece of the acoustic Manding
style. Could have done without the simulated sounds of passing
jet planes. All in all this stands up to the best acoustic Kante
Manfila or Jali Musa Jawara.
"Dakan-Fe" - Dabblers in
reggae usually send me running for the door, but this is well
done all around. I look forward to hearing Salif with a real
vocal trio one day.
"Folon" - nice, but they should have
done this with a real string quartet a la Youssou's Xale instead
of having the synthetic string section sit in.Summary- This is
our first chance in a long time to see this man's genius relatively
unobstructed on record. A considerable genius it is. Now that
Salif seems to have found a comfortable approach to the crossover
music scene, I think we can expect more and better from him in
years to come. - Eric Hines (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sierra Leone's Kru/Krio Calypso Connection
If there is a measurement of pure joy, perhaps it is in the music on this disk, twenty two tracks of unadulterated delight. The <palm wine> style of Sierra Leone is probably best known through the recordings of S.E. Rogie, but Original 's J.S. Roberts has dug deep for some exhilarating early 78s by Ebenezer Calender, "Famous" Scrubbs and a number of tracks of less known Kru and mandingo artists. Palm wine music is a close relative of Trindad's calypso, developing in the same period, and influenced or becoming an influence on that popular island style in the fifties. The music grew from the jamming of African sailors, Caribbean soldiers and locals in the bars of Freetown, and the easily stowed instruments they favored like the mandolin, guitar, accordion, and banjo became the backbone of the music. With the addition of percussion, and some wonderful brass sections, these songs mirrored not only the rhythms of calypso but also its topical tendencies, with stories of local events, politics and everyday life. It's a real "chicken or egg" thing, and Robert's investigation into the roots of the music related in the liner notes do little to clear up the mystery. Irrelevant! The Calender cuts with his Maringar Band are great, with renditions of familiar tunes like "Fire, Fire, Fire" coaxed on by a tuba bass line and a chorus. The wonderful penny-whistle and mandolin sound of the Kroo Young Stars' "O Gi Te Bi" is pure exhilaration. The sound of Mandingo band of A. Cambah is unusual, very European in its trumpet part, and yet heavily African in its call and response vocals. The Kru group Amukoke could well have had relatives in Memphis jug bands of the twenties. While the roots of the music may remain shrouded in history, the music itself is no mystery at all. It is simple, open euphoria.
ORCESTRA MARRABENTA STAR DE MOÇAMBIQUE
Recorded in Harare and produced by Radio Mozambique and Piranha,
this band incorporates the music of South Africa, Madagascar,
Zimbabwe and their own local traditions into a music that is at
once folky and psychedelic, led by wonderful voices and unusual
harmonies and tunings. This is hard hitting, salty stuff, full
of horns and guitars and unique to its own environs.
As always with Original Music, there's a twist to Yoruba Street
Percussion... Five Takes on 60's Lagos (Original Music). It's not traditional,
exactly. This was contemporary street music, influenced by popular
idioms from Africa and beyond, but keeping to the heart of traditional
Nigerian music by sticking to the basics, the voice and drums.
There are Islamic influences, in particular, and the African-Cuban-African
hybrid so impossible to trace or attribute. But because it doesn't
bend to the western influence as deeply as juju and other pop
styles, it is far more local. This is a joyous look at the roots
of fuji, juju, and other soon to be slickified Nigerian styles,
while they were still fresh and simple. They are well recorded,
wonderfully remastered, and the notes by OM's J.S. Roberts are
the most amiable, listener friendly guide to music I have read
in a while. He says it all, so I'll just tell you to listen.
THE PAN AFRICAN ORCHESTRA
If you swim the waters of Francis Bebey, Pierre Akendenque and other
innovators out of Africa, then this album will find you drifting in the
same stream. Just as Philip Glass and Steve Reich have done in America, the
Pan African Orchestra seeks to find the territory that lies between
tradition and new creativity, taking the rhythms and instruments of all of
African and merging them into a new whole.
The PAO is based in Ghana, a traditional home to pan-African political and
cultural movements that date back to the fifties, so it was a perfectly
natural occurrence that this ensemble should come into existence here.
Founder and director Nana Danso Abiam sought to break the colonial strong
hold on his country's national orchestra, and failing that, decided to
create a new on using the sanza, the drum, the flutes and strings of many
African cultures in a new way, as a compositional tool for new music in the
same way most western classical traditions use ensembles.
The music is anything but the usual classical music of the west, however.
It is a genuinely African music, based not only on the traditions and
instruments, but on the contemporary cultural experience. There is not only
the skill and discipline that mark any great orchestra, there is also a
vital creativity in both the composition and execution of this music. There
are hints of European music from the 18th and 19th centuries, but they are
transient and only mark the music as universal rather than colonial. The
real heart of the music is the heart of the nations it comes from, the
striving for unity that is the root of pan-Africanism.
Mango, 14 E. 4th St., New York, NY 10012
Salif Keita was born in Djoliba, Mali, and grew up in the capital, Bamako; in the early '70s, he was the driving force behind one of Mali's official provincial bands, the Rail Band of Bamako. In '73 he left the Rail Band to join Les Ambassadeurs, a band heavily influenced bythe Cuban rhumba popular in Zaire, and quickly came to dominate the band, adding more local music to the repertoire and giving voiceto a new "roots" music for Mali. The '80s see Keita in a solo setting, and his latest recording, Ko-Yan, follows the modern, Paris-pop direction of 1987's Soro. A friend in describes it as "more of a consolidation than a progression," and that's fine with me. Lots of percussion, synths tuned to the African marimba scales, a hard-hitting horn section, backing vocals from the heavens, an incredible electric bass player,
Hilaire Penda, and guitarist Ousmane Kouyate ripple and weave and spin an intricate, beautiful and powerful web that just barely contains the soaring voice of Keita. If you've not heard him sing, you're in for an adventure- he growls, howls and chants, and then reaches up to the top of the register and wails. Premier cuts include "Nods Pas Badger," the title cut "Ko-Yan," and a thickly textured, driving remake of "Primping," a hit in West Africa for the Ambassadors in the late '70s. If all the imitative "tribal" sounds you hear on Peter Gabriel records and car commercials have kept you away from modern African music, come back. Ko-Yan is deeply rooted in folk tradition, but it is not an archivesrather a broadening of tradition in a new and smaller world; Mali as a contemporary neighbor, not a textbook curiosity. And Salif Keita is one of its best ambassadors.
ABDELLI New Moon
An interesting project is presented here, and it is as much "project" as artist. Berber singer Abdelli is given legendary status in the liner notes, the dreamer who sings his new songs in his sleep as a young boy, who magically knows how to play his instrument the first time he picks it up. Abdelli the man has a wonderful voice, one that is cool yet passionate, one that knows its roots. Abdelli the project is also cool, a studio creation based on an amazing singer's voice, and then enhanced as much by the world view of the producer as the talent of the artist.
Thierry Van Roy recorded the solo voice, and then brought in musicians and instruments from Algeria, South America and Ukraine. While the conection between ancient the Americas and north Africa are the result of some creative cultural anthropology, the connections made by the musicians and the music are all too obvious on an artistic level. This really does work, and the subtle crossing of mandola and cajón, gentle zither with fuzzy bendir has brought together some fine new music. This is not the explosive roar of rai, but a subtler music that is no less a challenge to the ears. It will be an odd experience of comfortably familiar and incongrous.
More shimmer and shine from the soukous scene: MOSE FAN FAN AND SOMO SOMO NGOBILA are back to say Hello Hello (Stern's Music, 598 Broadway, New York, NY 10012 / 212-925-1648) with their usual style and grace. Under the subtitle of "The Last Pioneers Of Authentic Congo Rumba Music," the latest incarnation of Somo Somo is a formidable band. Guitars in the hands of Fan Fan, Syran Mbenza, Bopol, Nyboma and Wuta Mayi are a powerful force indeed. Add the voices of giants of Sam Mangwana, Saak Sakoul (aka "Sinatra"), Youlou Mabiala and Fan Fan himself with the massive rhythm section (and no synth drums!) of Komba Mafwala and Miquel Yamba and you have a band that is both elegant and tough, the trademark of their mentor and teacher Franco. This is real African roots rock.
I dread this scenario. The offspring of a famous star gets his or her chance to rise, takes the same band, the same groove and runs off to a major label for fame and fortune. The results are going to be horrifying every time, right? Well, Fela has always been a case unto himself, and his son Femi Kuti seems to be his own case as well. On his debut CD, the son of the god-father of African pop has taken all the elements that made his father a legend and make them his own. Politics, soul, funk and groove ooze from every track, and if you loved or hated Fela Kuti for his "Afro-pop" music, you'll have the same reaction to Kuti the younger.
Femi Kuti's choice of going worldwide on his debut makes sense. His is a message of international power, unity and politics fused to a timeless sense of rhythm and a contemporary sense of pop. This is music that will access the mainstream without acquiescing to it. Jazz, rap and rock fans will all feel at home here, while still experiencing something of the regional sound and message of the music. I can already see the VH1 hype that will surely follow, and I hope that the news in the music survives it. Femi Kuti deserves his spotlight as a musician, and his soapbox as the budding political heir to the Kuti kingdom.
While fusions like Baaba Maal's Lam Toro show where the music is going on an international scale, it's necessary to look to where the music comes from, and where it still thrives, as a local social and ritualistic art. Village Pulse is a small label looking to do the latter, and their first recording explores a unique musical phenomenon in west Africa. Tabala Wolof: Sufi Drumming Of Senegal (Village Pulse) records the music of the Khadriya drummers and singers of Senegal, live in Dakar at a ceremony. The emphasis is on the thick sound of the tuned tabala drums, in a bass-heavy percussion style that echoes both its Arab roots (seven centuries removed) and its African home. The problem with the recording may be the same drum emphasis. The chorus of singers featured on a number of tracks are so far behind the drums as to be lost at time, a prejudice of either the performers or the recorders, but a loss, because the vocal style is equally unique and alluring. This is but a minor complaint for an album that brings to America a musical culture unknown here.
Village Pulse releases its second set of African drum recordings, this one by MAMADOU LY:Mandinka Drum Master. As with their first release of Senegalese drummers, this one is beautifully recorded in Senegal, in the winter of 1992. Mamadou is accompanied by two other drummers on 13 tracks that explore social, ceremonial and dance rhythms of The Gambia and Senegal.
It's those unique "crossroad" locations, scattered around the world, that offer some of the most stunning examples of how humans are driven to make music that expands their own world view, bringing seprerate cultures together into new cultures. Such is the case with Madagascar, an island that , while situated in the Indian Ocean off the African coast and over run at various times by voracious Europeans, is neither African, European or Indian. Instead, it is a truly uniwue blending of cultures that over the centuries has become its own subset.
If you accept as I do that music is one of the best descriptors of a culture, then the music of Madagascar speaks volumes of its history. The Music Of Madagascar (Yazoo, via Shanachie, 37 East Clinton Street, Newton, NJ 07860 201.579.7763) is an early history lesson. It takes old 78s from the 30s on labels like Pathé, Odeon and HMV, beautifully remastered with just the right touch of lingering surface noise, and presents then in all their potency and richness. The European choral tradition is everywhere in this music, tinged with other Euro-devices like fiddle, accordion and concertina. The melodies are a blend of Indian Ocean and southern African, with their own cadences in sweet contrast to the vocal arrangements. The instruments, especially the bamboo and string valiha, are uniquely Malagasy.
The twenty recordings on this set range from deep, full a capella numbers to lively string ensembles (one of these tracks opens with a very Swedish sounding fiddle group). All the tracks are fabulous. If this is where the world music boom leads us, back to the early recorded roots of the world, lead on!
Madagasikara One: Current Traditional Music Of Madagascar
Madagasikara Two: Current Popular Music Of Madagascar
Globestyle, via Rounder, 1 Camp Street, Cambridge MA 02140 617.354.0700
If the Yazoo set shows you the early days of Madagascar's modern music, then these two albums from 1986 are the record of the beginings of the contemporay roots explosion about to hit the island. Here are the current generation of stars in their developmental stage: Rossy, Tarika Sammy, Maheleo, compiled with their older mentors and fellow revivalists. Recorded on location by the Globestyle team 4 years before Birger Gesthuisen's equally wonderful collection (Feuer und Eis/Germany), 6 years before the Kaiser and Lindley expedition (Shanachie), these recordings literally blew the Malagasy scene open for the world to see, and did it by presenting the music on it's own terms, without fusion or interference. From the South African roots-rock drive of Trio Fa to the gentile European sound of Ny Sakelidalana, this compilation offers a lot of "where are they now" questions, too. This set has always been one of my "desert island" choices, ever since I fist triped over it in a record store and decided to take a chance on something new, and it turns out, wonderful.
Other Malagasy Notes: Do go back and find these albums:
JEAN EMILIEN: Hey Madagascar (Melodie/France )
D'GARY: Malagasy Guitar Music From Madagascar (Shanachie)
MALGACHE CONNEXION: Bilo (Silex/France)
and of course, recent work by RICKY & MBASALALA, TARIKA and JUSTIN VALI. If you want to do a little internet web surfing, check out FolkRoots editor Ian A. Anderson's discography at
http://www.cityscape.co.uk/froots/ or check out the discussion on the Usenet group: soc.culture.malagasy
MAMA SANA Music From Madagascar
The music, like the title, is straight to the point. Like the blues of Robert Johnson or Robert Wilkins, Mama Sana's music is as old as the hills and as new as the daybreak. She plays the valiha and sings with a fervor that will seize your heart. She is the southern blues shouter that balances the pop energy of a Rossy or Tarika on the Malagasy music scene. There's little else to say. Listen, hear. (There is a clever interview with her in the liner notes, too. And a word to Shanachie: rewite the damn 1991 introduction you use in EVERY Malagasy rlease. It's time.)
SAM MANGWANA Maria Tebbo
Stern's Music, 598 Broadway, New York, NY 10012 / 212.925.1648
This is one of those weird albums. I have had numerous friends refer to it over the last decade, some as "I heard this album by Mangwana" and most as "I heard about this album by ...." but I have never had the good fortune to connect with a human who actually owned and was willing to loan out a copy of it. I wait no more. Maria Tebbo and the preceding year's Waka Waka are out on one CD. Mangwana in the seventies was at the forefront of Zaire's pan-African pop movement, and this album certainly illustrates how to do it right. As a compatriot and companion musician to both Franco and Rochereau, he learned from the best, travelled throughout Africa and picked up enough good ideas for any lifetime. Here, on these 1979 tracks is a vision of the heights to be reached; proto-soukous, post-rumba, with influences from Cameroon, and brilliant flashes of chimurenga from Zimbabwe just as the revolution was flourishing there. It's this pan-African spirit of change and optimism that rules Mangwana's music, lifts his voice and propels his music forward.
VARIOUS ARTISTS Dada Kidawa/ Sister Kidawa
(Original Music, 418 Lasher Road, Tivoli, NY 12583 914.756.2767 email: email@example.com)
This is the second volume of earlier Tanzanian pop from original, a followup to The Tanzania Sound. Most of the bands are the same, but there's never enough of a great musical form, and the blend of African colored Latin and local African sounds imbued with a certain Arabic flavor is certainly unique. These recordings span the sixties in east Africa, reflecting both the dominence of the Congolese/Cuban hybrid that ruled most of the musical continent at the time and the local musicians' own instincts to make their own Tanzanian music. The results are as quirky as anything that came out of Senegal later, with local voices giving new life to the Cuban elements (which were, of course, African in the long view). Th Kiko Kids lay out genuinely mellow latin folk, while The Cuban Marimba Band follows up with a voice that could only come from east Africa. The horn parts follow a similar path, with some of them right out of the text books, while others have a locality all their own. As always from Original, the recordings are old and scratchy, mastered to make the music, not the technology, the center point. There may be some old vinyl noise here, but so what? The music is superb, after all.