African Recording Reviews Archive #5

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THE BHUNDU BOYS were one of my passions in African music in the mid eighties. The first singles sent by friends in Harare and the European debut album Shabini showed a band with inexhaustible energy and joy. Their jit music mixed the circular melodies of Zimbabwe's music with the guitar sparkle of soukous, tossing off hints of South African jive in the rhythm section. It was irresistible. It also didn't last. The band moved to England, and slowly developed a sound more concerned with crossover and major label appeal than their own roots. Coupled with disaster and defections, the band slowly faded from international sight. Now they are back and posed for another try with Muchiyedza (Cooking Vinyl). It might succeed. Although guitarist Rise Kagona is the last original member of the band, this new ensemble, recorded back home in Harare, shows a lot of the original spirit and a willingness to return to their roots to build their new band. Older and a little more subdued, they rely a little more on style than raw energy. This album still sparkles with intertwined melodic lines (although its more often a duet of guitar and keyboard than those great double guitar lines of old) and most importantly, seems to have rediscovered the simple joy of it all. Are The Four Brothers next in line? - CF


SÉKOUBA BAMBINO Kassa
Stern's

The inevitable comparison to this album is going to be with Salif Keita's watershed release, Soro. Sékouba Bambino (he seems to have dropped the Diabate surname, perhaps to lessen the confusion with western audiences?) has a voice that is both sweetly evocative and yet can get right to the edge of shouting when the effect is needed. His roots are still in an Afro-Latin sound that could easily be traced back to Super Rail and Les Ambassaduers. His use of technology is blatant, proud and intelligent. His exec producer is Ibrahima Sylla, who is responsible for the signature sound of so many contemporary African hits.

Sékouba Bambino is both a hereditary griot and a singer, a Guinean who served an apprenticeship with Bembeya Jazz and has therefore earned the chance for major stardom in the African music scene, and with some formidable help, Kassa could give him this. Who could ask for better than a team of producer arrangers like Yves Ndjock, Boncana Maiga, Jean-Phillipe Rykiel and Paulinho Vierra. The music is a mix of acoustic folk and high-tech, using balafon, kora and acoustic guitar on one track, followed by a full arsenal of electronics on the next, merging local rhythms with rock and Latin, played by some of Europe and Africa's best artists. Like Keita, he has some musical tendencies that always seem close to sinking him in a sea of pop triviality, but that voice saves him every time.

There are plenty of fine moments on this record, from the pulsating title track with its electro-drums, its R&B horns and angelic chorus to the spacy openness of "Damasána," that has Sekouba's voice drifting slowly around Vierra's acoustic piano (one of the great interpretations of African music on a non-African instrument I have heard in a long while). There is funk, folk and straight-out dance ambiance here, and the approach of having so many different arrangers has given this album a showcase feel, giving us a chance to hear a great singer in a wide variety of moods and settings. He succeeds in each one. This is likely to be one of those albums we still talk about 10 years from now. - CF


The Kampala Sound: 1960s Ugandan Dance Music
Original Music
The irony of this collection of Ugandan vocal music is that it owes so much to the music of Tanzania, Kenya and the Congo. These countries had thriving music industries, with production and recording facilities that were unavailable in Uganda, so the backing bands tended to reflect the styles of the studios' locales rather than the home of the singers. Add the awful political instability that has traditionally plagued this country, and you're left wondering "what its" way into the night. But in spite of all this, or possibly because of it, these cuts from 1964 thru 1968 reflect an unusual sweetness and beauty. And the uniqueness of Ugandan music owes its roots to the fact that one ethnic group, and therefore one language, dominated the capital, giving voice to a singular singing and lyrical style that never happens in many of the larger, more fragmented African nations. "Nawuliranga" by Charles And Frida Sonko, is a strangely western- sounding piece that comes out completely unique. Two pieces by Freddie Kigozi And The Hodi Boys feature great whining sax solos- "Amazima Lona" has an almost country and western flavor, while "Fumbira Abaana" is a gentle dance song with a bit of the twist in it! "Hamadi" is a 1966 cut that is probably the most unusual on the album, sounding at times vaguely Arabic, but nothing like the Kenyan and Congolese tone of the rest-this one song might best describe where The Kampala Sound was headed. "What if ... ?" - CF (1989)


PASCAL DIATTA AND SONA MANE Simnade
Rogue Records, UK, 1989
With the music of Senegal reaching American ears by the thousands this year, the chance to hear this record was an incredible joy. Pascal Diatta is a most unusual guitar player. He plays a beaten Ovation guitar, a gift from a Western admirer, in a finger-picking style that owes more to the percussive sounds of the balafon than the melody of strings. He claims no influences, and living the simple life he does, it is almost believable that he owes this music to his soul alone. At times he sounds like a strange blend of Ry Cooder, merengue and too-fast ragtime picking. He taught his wife, Sona Mane, to sing in a style specific to the songs he writes, and the close har- mony of the voices tied tightly to the guitar lines makes for a strik- ing and different-sounding music. I couldn't begin to recommend a particular cut on the album, but rather that you follow Pascal and Sona's advice: "Simnade-Listen!" - CF (1989)


Sally Nyolo Tribu
Tinder Records

A peaceful yet incessant voice in a field of sparse, percussive instruments and a women's chorus that invokes the most natural sounds of the Earth with an overtone of heaven. This is the sound of Sally Nyolo's debut album, Tribu. Nyolo, from Southern Cameroon, has lived in Paris since the age of thirteen and sang with several popular African artists. She was a member of Zap Mama for a stint, and the connection is very apparent in her own album.

Sally Nyolo's compositions are so focused on her voice, the minimal instruments would seem an afterthought, except that they augment the pure sound so naturally. She sings in her native language, Eton, but the storytelling tone of her voice could evoke a narrative sense to anyone. Fans of Zap Mama will feel right at home with Tribu, and it should appeal to Afropop fans and traditionalists alike. It held a steady place on the World Music Charts Europe already, and can be expected to do at least as well with the domestic release. - Paul Harding



Cesaria Evora Cabo Verde
Nonesuch

Hailing from the Cape Verde Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, Cesaria Evora is affectionately recognized as "the barefoot diva" of the morna - a slow, nostalgic, lyrical form of music similar to the depth of American Delta Blues. A cigarette-smoking, liquor-drinking grandmother, Evora claims to have sustained many romantic pitfalls in her lifetime. Now adamantly independent and in control, she carries her national music, the morna, around the globe.

A Portuguese colony for hundreds of years, Cape Verde sustained economic neglect, poverty, and countless natural disasters. With great endearment for her homeland (she now resides in Paris, where she is a superstar), Evora performs barefoot in remembrance of those left behind in the impoverished interiors of the island.

Cabo Verde, the follow-up to 1994's highly acclaimed Cesaria Evora, again features Evora's gorgeous, smoky voice, which knowingly slides notes like the slow passage of time. Evora smiles brightly in frisky Martha Stewart hues as her Portuguese lyrics paint simpler pictures for the average listener than "Cesaria Evora." Fate, love, gossip, nostalgia, courage, odes to mama, etc., are the lyrical basis for "Cabo Verde," as opposed to meatier topics like war, exile, dark saints, and sorrowful serenades for her homeland on Evora.

The majority of tunes, arranged this go-around by Bau, another Cape Verdean star, feature bubblier beats and loftier strings. Despite a change in production and shuffle in musicians, very little has altered her classic sound. Spare acoustic accompaniment, including 10 & 12 string guitars, violin, piano and accordion, lend a warm, breezy backdrop that sways like an ivory dress in the warm island breeze.

While Cabo Verde will undoubtedly satisfy listeners who "got the blues" from her previous effort, Evora doesn't deliver tunes with quite the same hushed intensity. As an artist in her sixties, she is obviously enjoying her new-found success with great delight, which makes it hard to find fault in her smile. - W. Todd Dominey


KHALED Sahra
Island
Once again, a favorable review for a recording I should by all rights dislike for it's cheesy synths, its pure pop sensibility and its bow to a dozen western European trivial pursuits. Yet, like all the Khaled albums before, it transcends all of these "failings" and in fact makes these very factors the reason for his success.

Khaled is a long way from the "cheb" rebel image he stormed the music scene with a decade ago. His voice is mellowed and yet lost none of its punch. Rather than continue on the same track though, he has expanded the whole rai genre, making it a pure pop form of great potential, and he is one of the few artists to fulfill that potential. Sahra has hints of everything imaginable, from Latin pop (heavy influence this time around) to Algerian folk, from Euro-trash to rock thrash, all of it thrown together in unlikely combinations to serve the songs and the singer. There are trivial touches, to be sure, but like some of the better Brazilian pop recordings of the last few years, there are treasures buried in these tracks, subtle surprises and some down-right lunatic touches (the kazoo solo in "Oran Marseille" should make it an instant classic on the world-weird circuit).

Yes, I want to hate this record for all of its pop pretensions, but I just can't. That voice, those musicians, the arrangements that sneak up on you; all these factors make it a fine pop record with deep roots and an irresistible diversion. - CF


HUKWE ZAWOSE Chibite
Real World
It's both a blessing and a pity that Hukwe Zawose has been the only traditional musical voice from Tanzania to regularly get heard around the world. For decades he has carried on the tradition and expanded its range, using the same vital tools that the musicians before him have; the thumb piano, fiddle, flute and voice. He is a musicologist, musician and educator. And an innovator, having taken this ancient music and without varying the impact has made it available to the world.
Chibite is continuation of this mission. He and Charles Zawose use these simple instruments to achieve centuries of complexity and beauty. He sings, like the musicians before him, of his own life and times, against the trend of singing in French or English to gain international reputation and appeal. In his won words: "IN Africa, many people look with disdain upon traditional musicians... A person who sings in English is regarded as superior... [but] English is just another language and any language is just a means of expression. I can best express myself in the language of my people..." There is not doubting the impact of his music, and Cibite is just one more example of how well he does express himself, with enthusiasm and energy that rings true in any tongue. - CF

CESARIA EVORA Cabo Verde
Nonesuch

If you haven't seen her live, you may listen to her recordings and wonder what it is that makes this wonderful singer get so deep under the skin of her devoted fans. The coolness of morna, the mix of blues, jazz and Portuguese folk that is the national passion of Cape Verde is subtle and sweet, floating on a gentle cloud of caviquinhos and guitars, a bit of piano, an occasional and surprising burst of reeds, and the lightest touches of percussion. It is not the stuff that normally drives listeners crazy, and the loyalty of her fans (count me one) comes from a smoky voice, a persistent undercurrent of well worn sensuality, an amiability that might turn any moment. Evora has it all. On stage she dances slowly in bare feet, slumps in a chair, smoking and drinking during the instrumental passages, and then moves back to center to sing another verse in a strange combination of passion and weariness. There is no major revelation to this record, but it is no less a thing of beauty for its continuity of her career. Cesaria Evora is the embodiment of contradiction and her music is a message of joy and sadness, of simplicity that is supremely difficult and pleasurably complex. - CF



YANDÉ CODOU SÈNE Night Sky In Sine Saloum
Shanachie

Following some phenomenal duets with Youssou N'Dour, we now get to hear the pure and amazing voice of Yandé Codou Sène in her own context, with drums and kora, local guitars and fiddle, and voices, layers and layers of incredible voices from Senegal. Produced and recorded in streamlined, acoustic and unfettered style by Musa Dieng Kala (in sessions predating her N'Dour associations), she is the voice of a nation and a voice for the world.

Now well into her sixties, this master of the Serer vocal style is seeing her first full recording release. For decades she was known as the personal singer to Leopold Sedar Senghor, one of the founders of modern, independent Senegal and it's first leader, and it was not until N'Dour recorded with her and took her on tour that the rest of the world got to hear her. We're grateful, because she is a voice to reckon with, sweet as ripe fruit and yet as strong as steel. Given the first rate band and production she has on Night Sky In Sine Saloum, she will be remembered favorably even if it take another 30 years to record again. - CF


FEO-GASY Tsofy Rano
Les Nuits Aytipiques, 8 Place des Carnes, 33210 Langon, France
Lest all the other fine artists of Madagascar get lost in the flood, I would like to introduce you to another legendary Malagasy artist, Rakoto Frah, and his band (new to me as well), Feo-Gasy. Rakoto Frah first came to attention outside of Madagascar when he was the first solo album to be released from the Globestyle recording trip of 1985 (Rakotofra, Flute Master of Madagascar). Born in 1925, Rokoto Frah learned to play the sodina (an end blown flute) as a boy herding cows. He was supporting himself by age ten as a musician, and eventually became a favorite of both the pre-60s colonial leaders and then the new independent government. The 1985 recordings featured him with a small percussion and kabosy troupe.

This 1995 recording is sweet and sophisticated, guitars and valiha supporting a deep, massed vocal sound in counterpoint to the high flute notes. Perhaps the high point of the album comes in "Rakoto Frah," a tribute from one master musician (Erick Manana) to another, a gorgeous flute and vocal piece held aloft by harp and guitar. The band members are superb and include the guitarist Jean Colbert Ranaivoarison (who you may have heard on the Shanachie set The Moon And The Banana Tree). No flash, no crossovers, Tsofy Rano offers straight contemporary folk music played with joy. - CF



Ngoma - Music From Uganda
Music of the World

Ndere Troupe is a music and theater group based in Kampala, Uganda. They have been reviving and reinventing the music of the many ethnic groups of Uganda, and bringing it to the world through their recordings and performances. But they have also been actively involved in recording and preserving these many cultures, and this album (and a video that should be out in the Fall) is the document of those field trips.

The musical sounds on Ngoma are widely mixed, from the raw raspy rhythms of gourds struck with metal fans to rich orchestras of harps and voices. It is this diversity of tone that struck me as I listened to the recording for the first time. But further listenings reveal far more than just unique sounds. There is an essential energy to this music that belies its seeming simplicity. Ndere Troupe's own contribution to African blues jumps to mind, "Eanga." Using just voice and a zither called enanga, they show the north African (Ethiopian) roots of some of Uganda's music. This piece is a marvelous example of how music moves and grows through cultural exchange. Many of the pieces demonstrate how a solo instrument grows into an orchestra. The Nebbi Community Adungu Group demonstrate this with the adungu harp of the Alur people. This mass of voices and instruments ranging from small sopranos to a large bass harp is a powerful and beautiful piece of local rhythm music.

The entire set of songs is a solid reminder of how alive the world's roots music still is. It is surviving war, famine and even commercial mechanization, stubbornly growing, changing and remaining true to the people who make it.



Zekuhl Amon
Les Disques Bros, Quebec, Canada, prodbros@microtec.net
Now here's some "world music" for you to ponder. Manu Njock of Cameroon plays guitar, sings and leads this band based in Canada. Rodrigo Bustamante from Chile adds the other guitar with a Latin flavor. A German, Bertil Schulrabe, plays kit drums, Cameroonian Guy Lange adds bass. Then there are the recording guests; percussionists from Cameroon, Senegal, and Guinée-Bissau, Canadian keyboards and singers and strings from Algeria.

Amon is Afro-rock in the tradition born of makossa and bikutsi; hard edged rhythms with harder edged guitars, a solid steady groove and a lot of funk. They move from rootsy traditional percussion vamps to full-throttle rock and roll full of fuzz-guitars and Ginger Baker drum fills without a blink. They can also turn a sweet ballad, as they do at the close of the album with "O Doctor," a prayer to the future and the unavoidable end of life played on a swirling acoustic guitar and some infectious, easy-going percussion. Founded in 1991, Zekuhl are now here with an album that should help them reach a good sized audience if they keep the faith and don't stray onto the pop territory they constantly border on.


BASSI KOUYATÉ Songs of the Bambara Griot
Buda Musique, France
He is from a griot family, moves in the same musical milieu as Ali Farka Toure, and here he presents a deeply reverential look at the music of Mali, played on the acoustic guitar with little fanfare and lots of soul. Not quite 30 years old, Bassi Kouyaté is third generation griot, son of an n'goni master and the only pro in the family. he grew up playing tama drum, then n'goni, and then discovered the more western guitar, and after a stint as a traditional musician, headed off for Abijan to become famous. Well, famous he may not be, but wonderful he is. This is straight forward folk music; acoustic guitar, a warm, mellow voice. Occasionally he reverts to the flatter, rootsier sound of the n'goni, or sings accompanied by the tama drum. His mastery of the guitar is undeniable, and a listen to "Sunjata Faasa," a traditional Malinke praise song, played without singing on a twelve string instrument should convince you.


Senegalese singer ISMAEL LO has returned with another mellow recording in Jammu Africa (Triloka). Just as Youssou N'Dour blazed onto the scene with his hard rocking mbalax music and then slowly moved into more and more of a pop-overdrive, Lo started with a voice to die for and a daring vision of a modern Senegalese sound and has slowly turned it into an almost somnambulant mix of western folk and pop. To add to the confusion, this album seems to be a mix of tracks off older recordings and some new things. With such a voice, it is frustrating to once again hear him buried deep in reverb and sleep-walking through some powerful songs. But what do I know... radio reporters put this one at the top of our charts for weeks on end. CF


Two views:

Compilations of music by African women is nothing new, but Holding Up The Sky (Shanachie) offers something different. It includes well known names like Miriam Makeba and Angelique Kidjo alongside lesser known, but equally talented artists like Kine Lam (Senegal), Malouma Mint Miadeh (Mauritania), Aicha Kone (Ivory Coast) and Ami Koita (Mali).

The mix allows for a truly vibrant variety of voices and musical styles ranging from Cape Town to Cairo. In the process, Holding Up The Sky, reveals what few people know, namely that African music is often initiated and crafted by women before men take over to claim credit.

Whether it is Tshala Muana's Mutuashi or Stella Shiweshe's Mbira Jive, this album offers a rich flavour for new fans of African music. Veterans who already know the field, will still find this eclectic selections worth every penny. - O.O.

View Two:

While most of what is on Holding Up Half The Sky (Shanachie) is the usual compilation of readily available material, there are a few hard-to-find voices here worth looking into. In the pure pop vein is Malouma Mint Miadeh from Mauritania. She has a voice of silk, and isolated to one track the sweet, sly musical accompaniment does not detract from an incredible singer. Tarabu singer Malika also makes an appearance on the album. Again, the canned track fails to destroy a great voice. The rest of the album is a collection of pop stars like Angelique Kidjo and The Mahotella Queens, and lesser known but worthy roots queens like Ami Koita and Kine Lam. - 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. - CF


MANDINKA Independence
JVC

I should really dislike this recording. It has all the elements: too many synths, too much "style" and too many Euro-American grooves. It is clearly marketed to sell to someone outside of the African diaspora and is unrepentant for this. Maybe it's the honesty with which ex-Keita guitarist Mamadou Doumbia plies his trade that makes me give this one the benefit of the doubt. He lives in Japan, has a Japanese band who contributes picture perfect imitations of all the hottest Afro-pop licks (and not a trace of Asian sound anywhere). He readily admits he does not want to play "African" music but rather "world music." He sees his position of musician as one of potential; he can maybe have some small modicum of power back home in Mali by becoming a star outside. He chides his fellow Africans for falling behind the rest of the world, and uses his success as an example of where they might want to go. But all of this aside, here's an album that takes Afro-pop to the limits, and where it succeeds, it flourishes. The band is tight, the guitar playing top-flight, and their side-trips into salsa, merengue and soukous only amplify their goal. If you need a dose of pure pop from an African source, skip the dozens of repetitive soukous stars flooding the airwaves and try this out. It ain't Africando, and it sure isn't real African roots, but it has a snake-like charm, something that grabbed me in spite of my aversion. Go figure.



MAMADOU DOUMBIA WITH MANDINKA Yafa
JVC

In the second release by this Malian guitarist in Japan I find many of the same misgivings and fascinations as in the first. He's a great guitarist and a good composer, but his own pop tendencies seem to once again get the better of him. His band of primarily Japanese musicians are quite adept at recreating many African styles, and on a few of the more acoustic tracks make a joyful noise that is as rootsy as it gets, full of funk and local flavor. The horn section is great, the percussion solid. The backup vocals run from African grace to cheesy pop nonsense, and the general sense is of a brilliant Kodak moment, not quite like being there, but close. Why even tell you about such a record? Because on the few tracks where it hits the mark, Mandinka is a formidable band that makes great Afro-pop music. They just need a more consistent aim. - CF

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 from 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.



We're up to volume three and counting on the reissue of Youssou N'dour and El Hadji Faye's seminal work with ETOILE DE DAKAR. Lay Suma Lay (Stern's Music) is the 1981 line-up, still chunky, raw and well shielded from the techno-pop to come. This is the real sound of mbalax from the period (and the band) that established it as a national form in Senegal. N'Dour's voice is not yet as potent as it was to shortly become, but the band was at its best, and the Latin tinge was still ruling the groove.
MALANG MANÉ Balanta Balo: The Talking Wood Of Casamance
Village Pulse
Here is the balafon music from the Balanta people of Guinée-Bissau and Senegal, taped in a coconut grove along the Casamance River. The music is made by two men, hammering on a single instrument made of carved wood stretched over gourds. "Bird calls appear on some tracks," the liner notes tell us. From these simple elements master balafonist Malang Mané and his former student, singer/balafonist Oumar Sadio create forty-five minutes of mesmerizing music; two men, four hands, two voices joined into a singular enterprise. They sing praises to generous neighbors, tell news of a politician falsely imprisoned and now liberated. They warn of the dishonesty of a Gambian customer, they even sing of the exchange rate. But deep below this is the insinuating sound of the balafon, it's rumbling undertones and almost imperceptible overtones are almost impossible to separate as the two musicians act as one of the instrument. If you are already captured by the interlacing strings of the kora of west Africa but have yet to discover the bala, then you will find this music immediately captivating.


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.

In the barrage of compilations coming out are two fine ones from the recordings of Paul Hostetter, both focusing on one instrument each. Resting Place Of The Mists (Shanachie) looks at "new valiha and marovany music from Madagascar." The valiha is a bamboo harp or zither, usually made with steel strings, occasionally bamboo, and is the acknowledge "national instrument." This album features some stellar performances by some names we haven't seen out here in the western world before, including a duet by Ratovo and Remi on the two different kinds of valiha that creates a remarkable sound, an alluring simplicity that is the embodiment of the instrument. Strangely, in spite of the subtitle, there are only a few tracks featuring the more subtle sound of the box-zither, morovany. For that, perhaps you should look to The Marovany Of Madagascar (Silex, via Harmonia Mundi in USA), last year's stellar release of music that includes some stunning tracks by marovany mistress Madame Masy.

The guitar players of Madagascar have made huge strides in popularity thanks to the playing of D'Gary and Dama, the current heroes of Malagasy acoustics. But, as The Moon and The Banana Tree (Shanachie) shows, there are plenty more waiting in the wings. Perhaps the standout on this set is Solo Razaf, whose electric guitar is sophisticated and sweet. He has been recorded with Miriam Makeba's band, and has a heavy European and Brazilian influence that makes him unique on the Malagasy scene. If you like your guitars acoustic and rootsy, then Colbert is the player to hear on this set. There are also new tracks from more familiar names like D'Gary, Dama and Johnny (the guitarist in the current Tarika Sammy line-up). - CF


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