Africa Music reviews Volume 4

The full menus are listed here

Bajourou have credentials enough for ten groups: Jalamadi Tounkara's guitar is currently the leading light in Mali's Rail band (the group that launched folks like Salif Keita and Mory Kante); Lafia Diabate's voice has graced that band's records, replacing Kante. Bouba Sacko is the guitar genius behind some the Africa's greatest singers: Tata Bambo Kouyate and Ami Koita, for instance. Bajourou means "big string," a reference both to instruments and philosophy, and Big String Theory (GlobeStyle/UK, Green Linnet/US) is a stunning album of acoustic music, simply produced in Mali by Globestyle. To talk of stellar performances is irrelevant, given the cast. This is music for the soul, for the heart, not the head or the external ear.


BAABA MAAL Lam Toro (Mango)
"Remember, every sound of the drum that you hear is an African beat, and this is the sound of Africa!" Bob Marley often said the roots of reggae were in Senegal, and Baaba Maal takes the groove and turns it upside down as proof of the inextricable ties between African and Caribbean. Maal has made an amazing musical journey, creating gentle acoustic folk, storming Paris pop and many shades in between. Lam Toro may be the final word (so far) on what can be done with technology if it's approached in an honest, creative way. He has achieved the new music that fellow Senegalese artist N'Dour hinted at in his last album, a music at once clearly and cleanly African without a hint of retro-ethnicity. He also avoids the major pitfalls of N'Dour, bypassing the urge to sing in English (save for a rap number that opens the U.S. edition of the album). If there is a standout track, it is probably "Yela," a dramatic number that echoes Keita's ground-breaking effort Soro. The slow groove throbs, a chanting chorus is pitted against a barrage of technology, and the story of the magic and mystery of music unfolds brilliantly. "Daande Lenol" follows a similar path, opening on a wash of synths and the pluck of the kora, again setting the stage for an enchanted testimony to the contemporary power of tradition. The roots of rap are also all over rhythm drenched tracks like "Toro" and the toasting tune "Ndelorel." The musicianship on the album is top of the line; Baaba Maal and Assane N'Daye Cisse's sensitive acoustic guitar work, Davy Spillane's flutes, a phenomenal chorus of voices, a wall of drummers. The production is clean, almost bare at times, each instrument is allowed it's own place, a now unique approach to mixing that many producers of pop music ought to consider emulating. Maal's voice is a mix of emotions; plaintive, soaring, pleading and roaring from track to track. Lam Toro is one of those rare albums you can call radiant.
Caprice Records of Sweden has a long history of releasing creative new music and good compilations of world music. Music From Ethiopia features 15 contemporary recordings that range from solo traditional flutists to the urban big band pop of The Abyssinia Band, which features the soulful vocal work of Hanna Shenkute. Notable tracks on the pop side include a Motown-esque "Mis Men Gidifkini" (Who did you leave me for?) by the Abyssinians, and The Yared Orchestra's "Alegntaye" (My Belongings). On the trad side is acoustic orchestra Sne Bahel, which features the krar (lyre harp) with drums and fiddle, and fabulous vocals.
ROSSY One Eye On The Future, One Eye On The Past (Shanachie)
My first taste of modern Malagasy music was Globestyle's two LP set Madigasikara. The artists that turned my head completely around were a band called Rossy, an all acoustic, deeply moving vocal and instrumental group that became my most played song of 1988. Since then Rossy, aka Paul Bert Rahasimanana and his band, also called Rossy, has made a mixed bag of folk to pure pop records recorded in Europe, none of which lived up to those first early tastes. Now, in his own recording studio in Madagascar, Rossy has made the album I have been waiting for. One Eye On The Future, One Eye On The Past beautifully sums up what can be best in music, a love of tradition fueled by a passion for creativity and progress. This album takes the sweet moods of older Malagasy music, and injects them with modern salegy, soukous, South African jive, and Euro-pop touches. But by keeping his rear-view vision clear, he never makes anything that isn't first and foremost homegrown. The music of the valiha, the flute, and the kabosy dominate the sound, given new context by synthesizers, accordion, fiddle, electric bass and kit drum. But it is still the voices that grab me, both solo and beautiful chorus pieces, some from Madagascar's Afro-Indonesian heritage, others a remarkable revision of European art song. It all comes together in two tracks, the jumping accordion and fiddle jive of "Molia" and the incredible rumbling vocals of "Faranaina." Pair these with a track from Tarika Sammy's Fanafody and give your listeners a look to the future of Madagascar's rich history.
D'GARY Malagasy Guitar (Shanachie)
The title states the whole thing: this year's big location, displayed via the virtuosity of one man, one voice, one guitar. Ernest Randrianasolo, a k a D'Gary, has honed an original music based on the traditions of Madagascar, spiced with the blues, European folk and southern African guitar styles. His one track on Kaiser and Lindley's World Out Of Time project was mentioned in almost every review I read of the album, and played on many a radio program. This full album was recorded by in a makeshift digital studio by Henry Kaiser and his Malagasy partner Dama Maheleo. The only addition to the music is some wonderfully spare percussion added by Pana Dourantonis. The strength of this music lies in the seeming simplicity of the sound, its beauty in a sly complexity. D'Gary is a skilled acoustic guitarist in the ranks of Nic Jones, Ali Farka Toure or Stefan Grossman, and as truly original in his approach. In fact, there really are no comparisons to be made here; his music is so much his own creation that time and place are of little importance in what the strings do, what his voice says. No higher praise can be given to a musician than to be so good as to force a wordy reviewer like myself into speechless wonder. Hence the short review that ends here. - CF
AFRICANDO Gombo Salsa
Stern's
Volume three and they're still steaming! When Ibrahima Sylla and Boncana Maiga brought together New York's Latin music machine and west Senegal's powerhouse vocal team of Pape Seck, Medoune Diallo and Nicolas Menheim back in 1993, they made a record that just couldn't be topped by anyone. Except themselves, it seems. Two more volumes out and they are still the hottest thing in African and Latin music to hit the street. While the gravel riddle voice of Pape Seck has passed on, the front-line on this latest release is reinforced by New York's Ronnie Baro and Benin's Gnonnas Pedro, who adds a new sound to the group, a smooth, round and mellow sound that accents the ensemble's grit nicely. Not just a rehash of last years hits, this crew takes the music to new places, adding a heavy dose of cumbia to the mix, along with trace elements of everything from Mandinkan roots to compas. Not content to "make do" with some of NY's finest (Hector Zarzuela on horn, Chino and Pablo Nuñez on timbales, some crazy fiddling by Dave Rimelis just hints at the talent here), they have brought in guest vocalists to push it further: Tabu Ley Rochereau, Sekouba "Bambino" Diabate, and Tabou Combo's Roger Eugène and the great Rudy Calzado, whose work-out with Menhiem on "Maral" is a damn near perfect piece of roots music, no matter the geography. Number three of Africando proves this was not a clever idea, this reuniting of Africa and Latin music that have been feeding each other for years. No, this union was a shining bit of inspiration that with any luck will grow to become one of those ongoing projects that will continue to bring not only the great old men of music together, but incorporate the next generation (and the other sex??) into a tradition all its own. - CF
SEKOU BEMBEYA DIABATE has such a reputation as a guitar player that he has become known as Diamond Fingers all over West Africa. As one of the core members of Bembeya Jazz National, he helped forge the modern Manding musical style that took root in West Africa in the sixties and blossomed in the seventies. Now his work as a guitarist can be heard on a CD reissue of some classic Guinean songs, played out with just two guitars (joined by Djeli Moussa Kouyate) and some bass (Iblouse Kouyate). Diamond Fingers (Dakar Sound, Joachim Altinghstraat 13, 9724 LT Groningen, The Netherlands) is sublime melodies masterfully played.


New and VERY rootsy is Singa (Stern's), by the Senegalese/Malian ensemble KAIRA BEN. Featuring an all-star cast of characters, this remarkable band know their history well and play it all. Not hard to understand when you realize that lead singer Idrissa Magassa has been with some of the best over the years, with early years in the same folkloric group that featured Youssou N'Dour, and later a five year stint with Zani Diabate's Super Djata Band. Guitarist Zou Diarra made his mark with The Super Rail Band and Super Biton before coming into the Super Djata Band. Producer/keyboardist and arranger Abdramane Fall added his talents to the recent Adama Diabate recording Jako Baye. Also backing the groove are pianist Cheik Tidiane-Seck, Kelitigui Diabate on balafon and Makan Tounkoura on ngoni. The band sticks to the dominant malian groove, rarely venturing too far from its sinuous rhythms and spindly guitar solos. Followers of Salif Keita who need a more acoustic alternative need look no further than this wonderful recording. - Cliff Furnald


MUSA DIENG KALA Shakawtu-Faith
Shanachie
Senegalese singer Musa Dieng Kala takes the now familiar pop-roots crossover of Youssou N'Dour and Salif Keita and develops a beautiful album of music based on the writings of African Sufi poet Cheikh Amadou Bamba, a turn of the century mystic and spiritual leader in the blossoming Islamic movement going on in Africa at the time. This is a heavily processed, keyboard based music that will recall Keita's Soro, both in its strange spaciness and its ultimate deep reach. It is augmented by percussion, strings, reeds, guitars, even a little harp and sitar that give it sonic depth, much needed because his voice is expressive but light. The music brings the vocals out beautifully. Musa Dieng Kala is a new voice, and because of the devotional nature of this project, he seems to have found a balance that is rare in new African music, keeping the roots firmly planted while encouraging growth.
SIBÈBA Hijas del Sol
NubeNegra/Spain via Intuition Music in USA

I know I already made this a feature in an earlier column, but this is such an extraordinary record that it deserves another mention now that it is out in the US. First note that the band and the album title have switched so that this duo of singers and their fabulous backup musicians are now known as Sibèba instead of "The Daughters Of The Sun." Piruchi Apo Botupá and Paloma Loribo Apo come from the island of Bioko off the coast of Equatorial Guinea and now reside in Spain. But their roots are firmly on the island, and their songs speak of their ancient culture, in their own local language. The music is a mix of their own local sounds, but with the addition of the band (lots of percussion and guitars, nothing more), you'll find Cuban, African and European touches everywhere, without a hint of popularizing kitsch or electronic silliness. This is pure acoustic beauty, no matter what the roots are, with a vocal sweetness and an instrumental roughness that together are irresistible.


TOURÉ KUNDA
The Touré Kunda Collection
Putamayo

Touré Kunda is one of those secret passions of mine. They are slick, over-produced, often way too influenced by the Parisian pop that surrounds them, and yet every album has one or two songs that REALLY click, that really grab me. This collection is a truncated version of the brothers Touré recent album, Sili Beto, with a couple of tracks from the less than wonderful Toubab Bi and two excellent tracks from Salam. Interestingly, the compilation does of good job of showing off the band in both its splendid roots style and its far less desirable hyper-pop mode. It cranks open with "Wadini," an over-funkified toss-off from Toubab Bi, then rolls through two tracks from Salam, a keyboard soaked, Salif-Keita-style "Ndoungou" and then "Guerilla," one of their best pieces, a homage to the children lost to war, full of great Brazilian and Latin touches and some soulful vocals. Most of the rest of the album is selected tracks from Sili Beto. These tracks are some of the best the band has done in years. Clearly under the influence of the music of Keita, they are using that blend of high-tech synth strings and horns that will drive many a listener to distraction, but that with the right songs and the right singers seems just right. Touré Kunda have both, as evidenced in the driving Mandinka rock of "Cira" or the romantic sounding "Akila" (which is actually a warning to enter into voudou only with deep commitment) with its painful synthetic accordion (forgiven because the rest of the arrangement is damn fascinating). The liner notes are the usual "collection" pap, including an apology for not including the names of the musicians and singers, although they did find plenty of room to mention all the other Putamayo collections, contacts for sales of both CDs and clothing, and of course, a nice white border around the name of the "producer" who bought the rights to the songs these musicians, singers and album producers worked so hard to make.


PAPA WEMBA
Emotion
Realworld/Caroline

What a voice! What a character! Wemba, Zairean in the best Parisian sense of the word, has grown into a major figure in the modern journey of African music. This album takes all the things that were flaws in Youssou N'Dour's last trip out and turn them into advantages; synths, drum machines, incurable pop grooves, even a pop-style duet. Why, because he's Wemba, and there is an infectiousness to his voice, his songs and his arrangements that takes every cliche in the book and makes them seem somehow fresh. Even his turn around on Otis Redding and Steve Cropper's "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)" is durable and right. He tries out Latin tempos, hip-hop and some off-the-wall turns and makes them his own by sheer force of talent. I usually hate this stuff, these pop-masters of Africa, but every once in a while someone gets it right, and plays it with undeniable Emotion.


BRICE WASSY N'ga Funk
B& W Music
Credentials aside (Manu Dibango, Salif Keita, Jean-Luc Ponty, Pierre Akendengue, Toure Kunda, Don Cherry and Miriam Makeba just to hit on part of the list!), Camerounian drummer/percussionist Brice Wassy is a formidable talent who has deserved the chance to stand up front and wail for a long time. Now is the time, and N'ga Funk is a full-frontal rhythmic attack, bringing together his jazz, African and pop experiences in an exploration and explosion of the many beats of Cameroon. A full album of original works for instruments new and old, and voices sweet and aggressive is a tall order for a drummer, and most would fall back to solos and groove, but Wassy has the talent to pull it all together and make his brand of African folk-pop sing. It doesn't hurt to be able to call in favors from some of the best in the biz, either: Vincent Ngini's guitar, Phillip Rykiel's keyboards, Dibango's sax and amazing balafon riffs from Lansana Diabate. Traditional dance groups are melded with high-tech synths seamlessly and respectfully, and the old becomes new in a way only a few African artists can find. Wassy is one of the names to watch for, and now not only as a backing musician. He's found his own voice.


AFRICANDO Gombo Salsa
Stern's

Volume three and they're still steaming! When Ibrahima Sylla and Boncana Maiga brought together New York's Latin music machine and west Senegal's powerhouse vocal team of Pape Seck, Medoune Diallo and Nicolas Menheim back in 1993, they made a record that just couldn't be topped by anyone. Except themselves, it seems. Two more volumes out and they are still the hottest thing in African and Latin music to hit the street. While the gravel riddle voice of Pape Seck has passed on, the front-line on this latest release is reinforced by New York's Ronnie Baro and Benin's Gnonnas Pedro, who adds a new sound to the group, a smooth, round and mellow sound that accents the ensemble's grit nicely. Not just a rehash of last years hits, this crew takes the music to new places, adding a heavy dose of cumbia to the mix, along with trace elements of everything from Mandinkan roots to compas. Not content to "make do" with some of NY's finest (Hector Zarzuela on horn, Chino and Pablo Nuñez on timbales, some crazy fiddling by Dave Rimelis just hints at the talent here), they have brought in guest vocalists to push it further: Tabu Ley Rochereau, Sekouba "Bambino" Diabate, and Tabou Combo's Roger Eugène and the great Rudy Calzado, whose work-out with Menhiem on "Maral" is a damn near perfect piece of roots music, no matter the geography. Number three of Africando proves this was not a clever idea, this reuniting of Africa and Latin music that have been feeding each other for years. No, this union was a shining bit of inspiration that with any luck will grow to become one of those ongoing projects that will continue to bring not only the great old men of music together, but incorporate the next generation (and the other sex??) into a tradition all its own.


Jali Kunda
Ellipsis Arts

In the deluge of compilations, collections and reissues we are suffering through, it's hard to dodge all the flotsam. Rehashed nonsense with titles like "Women Who Sing Songs They Wrote Themselves" and "Jalis of The Lost Chord" and "Sublime Springtime of Mao's Youth" are making it impossible to find my floor, let alone my desk. Jali Kunda is one of those much needed antidotes. What seems to be a compilation in the usual style (pretty book, luminous names in the production slots, etc) turns out instead to be a cohesive and introspective exploration of the music of the griots by one of it sons. The album really should be billed as Suso Family and Friends. Foday Musa Suso has gone to west Africa with recorders and producers and returned with one of the first truly personal collections of this incredibly complex and rich musical culture.

Travelling through Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Senegal, they recorded the traditional music, "on the ground," of Suso's extended family of musicians, capturing the kora, the voices, the clapping hands of the Manding nation. Then they returned to the states where Foday Musa Suso does what he does best; collaboration with Bill Laswell, Nicky Skopelitis, Philip Glass and other long-time friend in America, he put the contemporary spin on his ancient culture and completed his journey with a vision for the future.

There's a wealth of music on this one little CD packaged in a big box with a glossy picture book, and a reasonably good set of notes that approach the music form a personal perspective. Suso's philosophy has always been that the griot lives not in Africa, but the world. He brings the message to Asia, South America, Europe and North America that the music and culture of Africa is potent, beautiful and alive.
SAM CHEGE'S ULTRA BENGA Kickin' Kikuyu-Style
Original Music, 418 Lasher Road, Tivoli, NY 12583 914-756-2767 orimu@aol.com

We have heard little of the Benga style of late, so leave it to Original Music to bring the music back to the fore, and bring an almost unheard of style when they come. In an unusual release for this label (usually devoted to the early roots), here is recent material, recordings made in the 90s, by a musician from Kenya's largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu. Like most local-language music, the Kikuyu style has a unique melodic and rhythmic feel that leads right back to the sound of the words. Chege's band pulls together the expected mix of southern African, Nigerian and Zairean musical sounds, then gives them his own unique local twist. Chege is well educated, well travelled, a journalist. This gives his mucic not only an international feel but a certain wit and depth that shows through every track. But at its heart, this is jumping dance music with an incessant groove, with so much more character than the usual Paris-pop releases we're grown used to. Crisp, no-frills production keeps it rootsy, and Chege's voice, while not one of the great ones, has plenty of strength. Top notch.

HANK JONES, CHEIK-TIDIANE SECK AND THE MANDINKAS Sarala
Gitanes/Verve

We've had the good fortune over the years to hear American jazz artists not only emulate African traditions, but delve into them, deeply immersing themselves in the music, learning the tradition and working with the musicians of a region, searching not necessarily for a "new" sound so much as new inspiration. Don Cherry met Foday Musa Suso and produced some music that is still fresh. Randy Weston's encounters with the gnawa musicians and music was not only a major turning point in his own career, but heralded a renewed African sensibility in jazz.

Now comes Hank Jones' encounter with western Africa. His interest in the music led him to Cheik-Tidiane Seck, a well known producer, arranger and keyboardist. After months of intensive study and research, Jones and Seck assembled what has to be considered a "super-group" if ever there was one: flautist Aly Wagué, Sékou Diabate on bass, Ousmane Diabate's guitar, Djely-Moussa Condé on kora, and percussionist Moussa Sissokho are just the beginning of an incredible band of African musicians that form the backbone of this project. The guest stars are also impressive: Manfila Kanté on guitar, Amina, Kasse-Mady and Tom Diakité on vocals. All of this would be enough to make this fusion of ideas important, but they take it further. This is no simple "add the famous American" stock recipe. Jones got down to it an really learned the music, it's odd syncopations and rhythms, its graceful melodies and intricate percussivness. There are moments where his piano seems to become one with the kora, rippling down the keys with the same grace and fluidity. Jones is just one member of an incredible band, a truly African band of which he is just one honored and valued member.

To pick out cuts that should catch your ear is tough, they are all so good. But take a listen to "Soundjata." Here is where it all comes together; Manfila's signature guitar riffs, Lasiné Kouyaté's rippling balafon lines over Seck's gospel organ chords, Wagué's breathy, vocalized flute, all set off by Jones' sparse jazz piano parts, and then the angelic backing voices making way for Kasse-Mady's frontline chants. In a tribute to the founder of the Mandinkan empire, Soundjata Keita, they extol musically the virtues his name has come to be associated with: integrity, respect and dignity. This album has all of these in abundance.



TABU LEY ROCHEREAU Africa Worldwide (Rounder)
Celebrating his band's 35 years together, this giant of Zairean Soukous has recorded new versions of his hits. Recorded immaculately in the States, where he is now based, the songs all have a beguiling languorous swing. Sweet vocals and silvery guitar solos float over the gently insistent breezy beats, giving the music an easy-going tropical flavor. Informative liner notes help make this a perfect intro to Zaire's infectious dance music. - Marty Lipp

DJELI MOUSSA DIAWARA Sobindo
Melodie/ France, via Qualiton-US

Another west African stunner from kora master and smooth-singing Moussa Diawara comes drifting through the door. All of the hallmark sounds that have always made him a favorite of mine are here; acoustic guitars ripple though each kora line, angelic backing voices punctuate his own sweet, rich voice, bright touches of flute and punchy plucks of ngoni add color and light to the percussive under pinnings. If this was all there was to say, it would be enough, but Sobindo offers so much more. He learned his music in his home in Guinea, and then from the pop music of his brother Mory Kante playing guitar in his band in Abidjan. He grew into a musician who seemed to understand both worlds, the excitement of pop innovation and the sublime satisfaction of tradition.

Diawara made his mark in the world with the release of his 1983 masterpiece Fote Mogoban (most recently reissued as Yasimika on Hannibal a few years back). His blend of primal Guinean folk music with a more bluesy, contemporary feel made this one of those desert island classics. Sobindo moves ahead. Here the edge is a little more defined, the sound more original, the arrangements a little tighter, but never as a sacrifice to the gods of hitdom. Most striking is the more obvious Latin influences on many of the cuts, coming to a frothy head with his stunning pas de deux with pianist Abdoulaye Diabate (and driven along by guitarists Ibrahima Somano and Moussa Kouyate), "." This is a rocker, a stirring big band salsa groove without the horns, just dozens of strings twisting and turning around an unrelenting percussion groove.

Not that he has forsaken the ethereal feeling of his earlier classic. Those songs abound here, and pieces like "Fatim" manage to have both the lightness of tradition and the surge of modern composition and production that make it remind you of some of Salif Keita's recent work. An excellent new work is presented here, one that should stand the same test of time that Diawara has so completely passed for almost two decades. (CF)


PIERRE AKENDENGUE
Maladalite
Melodie/ France, via Qualiton/US

While the Sony reissue of his amazing Lambarena made a big spash in the press, this Gabonese poet and musician has always been busy at his work, and with Maladalite we find Pierre Akendengue in an all acoustic framework that is in some ways a stark contrast to his more famous work. But this structure also offers he and his collaboratuer Hughes de Courson some opportunities to expand their vision, and they take them.

Akendengue is a non-conformist, with neither a strict tie to tradition nor a slavish addiction to pop music, and he searches and finds a unique artistic vision in his music. As a poet, he understands frugality and spareness, and uses both in Maladalite to great advantage. Each note is carefully measured, each silence vital and alive. When he uses large ensembles, usually groupings of voices or similar instruments, it is as ambiance rather than power. He never over reaches, and never trips over a cliché in his effort to incorporate all he hears into his music, Latin, African and European. Akendengue the composer is superlative.

Akendengue the singer and musician is more notable here than on Lambarena. His sweet tenor and his guitar playing punctuate rather than override the rest of the tracks, always right but never conspicuous. He is joined by a wonderful group of African and French musicians and singers, notably soukous guitarist Maika Munan along with Courson's string players and arrangements. For fans of the grand Lambarena, this album offers a gentle reminder of the power of acoustics.


HAMZA EL DIN
Lily Of The Nile
Water Lily Acoustics, PO Box 91448, Santa Barbara, CA 93190

Nubian musician, collector and scholar Hamza El Din has been at the forefront of a movement to bring the music of Andalusia, Arabia and Persia back to where he feels its roots are, in the north of Africa, along the Nile River. As singer and oud player, he has rubbed elbows with both major classical musicians and pop stars, preserving the old music and making new music, unafraid of what "tradition" might call for, yet ever respectful of those traditions. Lily Of The Nile is a superb example of his art in five original works composed by he and lyricist Muhyi Al-Din Sherif. They are performed solo, just voice and oud or tar (frame drum), in performances that might fall somewhere between the grit of urban blues and grace of European art song. Wonderful performances are all the better because of the care taken to record them in a pure analog, live setting.


CHIEF STEPHEN OSITA OSADEBE
Kedu America
Xenophile/Green Linnet
With the rash of cute Afro-pop and juju-lite recordings kicking around lately, it's a pleasure to find a new recording of highlife music that is neither lite nor cute. Here is the Nigerian brand of highlife played by one of its best known proponents, and played with fire. Heavy on the guitars here, this new recording has a lot of guts, a ragged edge and a relentlessness that explains Osita's unofficial title as "Doctor Of Hypertension." Here is the highlife experience distilled into 9 tracks, some a tad short, others given full room to blossom, all of them steeped in that confusing mix of traditional African drumming and Caribbean melodies. In fact, the Latin influences here are splendid, and the horns in particular absolutely sparkle with Cuban tinges. It all comes nicely together in "Nyem Obi Gi" with its fuzzy guitars, rich horn lines and persuasive call and response singing. The sound is natural, unforced and nicely under-produced, a tribute to the band's skill and their determination to do the whole album in one day, a goal they achieved. Nice, very nice. - Cliff Furnald



MADAM MUJIDAT OGUNFALU AND MADAM COMFORT OMOGE
Yoruba Women Of The Drum
Original Music orimu@aol.com)

Once again the folks at Original find something truly unique, this time from the vaults of the African record label Afrodisia. Here are two singers who, with their troupe of drummers and back-up singers, have been making "hits" in their Nigerian home for decades, yet because of the stripped down, rootsy nature of this music, have never had any international note. Ogunfalu comes from a Muslim tradition, and her group plays a music called waka, played on drums and small tin percussion. Omoge works in a "Christian" style called ashiko, again just drums and voices, sung with an unusual lilt vaguely reminiscent of Brazilian samba schools. These 4 extended studio recordings (seemingly from the late 70s or early 80s... the liner notes evade the issue) a real gems, rich in texture, highly melodic for being primarily drumming, and full of small surprises. An excellent introduction to a style that is big in Nigeria and unheard of here. - CF


SAMITE Silina Musango
Xenophile/Green Linnet (grnlinnet@aol.com)

There is a strain of contemporary African music that has always fascinated me. It is the music of the ancient instruments like mbira (thumb piano, kalimba, etc.) and marimba, placed in the hands of innovative artists like Pierre Akendengue and Francis Bebey, where their innate poetry can come through unfettered by strict traditional structure. Ugandan-born, American based musician/composer Samite is from this school. Perhaps a little less adventurous then Bebey, a little more restrained by tradition than Akendengue, he nonetheless has found a deep and abiding peace and quiet energy in these ancient instruments.

Samite grew up in an Africa teeming with new ideas and cruel revolutions, an Africa in the 60s and 70s that was both a hotbed of new music and a wasteland of war (the latter particularly in his native Uganda). What makes his music so special is that he seems to rise above all of this and music that is deep, quiet and sweet, a praise piece for his home rather than a rejection of or lament for his country. His music slips carefully along a path laid down by the repetitive motion of the thumb piano and the swoosh of shakers, punctuated by drums (Mar Gueye) and guitar, and on this third Samite album, some touches of accordion and some bass from Bakithi Kumalo. The whole is definitely more than the parts here, as each piece obtains a larger life from simplicity of the instruments and voice. There are no "stand-out" tracks to recommend, as the entire album seems to flow effortlessly from a single source.


TOURÉ KUNDA
The Touré Kunda Collection
Putamayo

Touré Kunda is one of those secret passions of mine. They are slick, over-produced, often way too influenced by the Parisian pop that surrounds them, and yet every album has one or two songs that REALLY click, that really grab me. This collection is a truncated version of the brothers Touré recent album, Sili Beto, with a couple of tracks from the less than wonderful Toubab Bi and two excellent tracks from Salam. Interestingly, the compilation does of good job of showing off the band in both its splendid roots style and its far less desirable hyper-pop mode. It cranks open with "Wadini," an over-funkified toss-off from Toubab Bi, then rolls through two tracks from Salam, a keyboard soaked, Salif-Keita-style "Ndoungou" and then "Guerilla," one of their best pieces, a homage to the children lost to war, full of great Brazilian and Latin touches and some soulful vocals. Most of the rest of the album is selected tracks from Sili Beto. These tracks are some of the best the band has done in years. Clearly under the influence of the music of Keita, they are using that blend of high-tech synth strings and horns that will drive many a listener to distraction, but that with the right songs and the right singers seems just right. Touré Kunda have both, as evidenced in the driving Mandinka rock of "Cira" or the romantic sounding "Akila" (which is actually a warning to enter into voudou only with deep commitment) with its painful synthetic accordion (forgiven because the rest of the arrangement is damn fascinating). The liner notes are the usual "collection" pap, including an apology for not including the names of the musicians and singers, although they did find plenty of room to mention all the other Putamayo collections, contacts for sales of both CDs and clothing, and of course, a nice white border around the name of the "producer" who bought the rights to the songs these musicians, singers and album producers worked so hard to make.


SALI SIDIBÉ first graced our ears here in America on two tracks of Stern's The Wassoulou Sound in 1991. Now you can hear her in all her glory, From Timbuktu To Gao (Shanachie, 37 East Clinton Street, Newton, NJ 07860 / 201-579-7763). The sound is an ancient/contemporary blend of old ideas and new instruments (mostly acoustic). Her base is the didadi tradition of the Wassoulou, but this is truly modern music, with a mix of African rhythms under the original Mali sound. There is a hint of big bands like Super Rail and The Ambassaduers, but here the sound of the spike fiddle and the balafon dominate rather than enhance. True, there is the ubiquitous drum machine here and there, but it serves rather than dominates, all but lost in the lush carbon acoustics of most of the album. Just try "N'daya International" for all the kick of high tech with none of the flaws, or cruise into "Muso Nyebaio" for the more folky kora and balafon groove. All of this, and a truly marvelous voice! Typically, Sidibé's lyrics are of social concerns rather than praise and payback, but you'll never know it from the non-existent notes. Shanachie could do better than this, but they often don't take the time or care this great music deserves. Also note that on your copy of the CD, her name may be misspelled.
ZAP MAMA
Adventures In Afropea 1
Luaka Bop/Warner

With very few changes this is essentially the 1991 Crammed Discs album I have raved about endlessly on this page. Which only means you now have no excuse for not making this the number one record in the country by the time this issue hits your desk. Zap Mama bring together diverse vocal traditions in a wondrously unique way. The obvious comparison would have to be Sweet Honey In The Rock, except that instead of American gospel, the roots come from closer to their homes, the streets of Brussels and the roads and forests of Zaire. What comes of all this is something that is thoroughly their own invention, neither African, American or European, but dripping with aspects of American soul and funk, Zairean rhythm, and European folk and classical. Zap Mama is all vocals, with only a clap of the hand or a hit of the drum to accent it. It is often an unexpected mix, where Babenjelé pygmy songs are suddenly given an Al Green swing, an Arabic wail or a Zulu groove, but it never fails to be enticing to the ear. The best music is impossible to describe, and impossible to resist. Zap Mama: indescribably irresistible.


ABDOULAYE DIABATE Djiriyo
Stern's Music

More high-tech folk roots pop music from Mali comes from Abdoulaye Diabate and his band. Unlike the more familiar and popular (in the west, anyway) Mandinka musical culture, this Diabate's roots are in the Bambara culture of Segou. You have heard its sway over Wassoulou singers like Oumou Sangare, and Djiriyo follows much the same pattern as her work, mixing the gut-strings of the ngoni with the silicon chips of Yamaha, backed by a chorus of voices from the gods, swept with horns and heavy bass riffs. This album is compiled from 2 Mali market cassettes and one European CD release, two of which were arranged by Boncana Maiga, rapidly becoming one of the names I most admire in popular African music for his brilliant understanding of both the allure of the new and the need for roots.

Diabate's voice is a more raw sound than that of the Sangare and Keita school, not exactly rough, but bordering on the challenging. Perhaps that's what so charmed me about him. He is at once a folk singer and a pop singer, moving between the two with grace and style. The music matches these challenges, fusing balafon sounds with keyboards and programs, integrating the two, or allowing the conflict to prevail. Looking forward and looking back, the music of Mali continues to grow.


return to rootsworld