African Archives: Page 7

Telling Stories To The Sea
Luaka Bop

Volume three of Adventures in Afropea takes us to and from the Atlantic shores of Africa, from Angola to Cape Verde, tracing the strange journey that music can make. It has hints of French café culture, Portuguese and Brazilian pop, Cuban grooves and central African moves. Perhaps epitomized by the recent popularity of Cesaria Evora, the Verdean folk diva, this music is as complex a stew as the last half century of Brazilian music, mixing the most sophisticated melodies with the most raw sounds and emotions. This set introduces us to some nearly impossible to find treasures by Cape verdean, Angolan and other Afro-portuguese artists. Angolan singer Vum Vum is perhaps my favorite, with his energetic voice, persistent, straight rhythms and earthy electric guitar. There are contributions from Evora (divine, of course), and some luscious pop rock from her younger neighbor Jacinta Sanches. There is precious little one could add to this album except a French cigarette, a strong drink and a warm night. - CF

Sam Mangwana
Galo Negro
Putumayo Artist (

A surprising treat from west Africa and Paris! Sam Mangwana has been at the cutting edge (and occasionally the dulled limit) of the crossover and fusion movement in African music, with the grand masters like Tabu Ley and Dr. Nico and then with Franco's TPOK Jazz. His rich voice has carried many a cool rumba and fiery soukous groove in his various solo recordings to follow, but few have delved so fully and acoustically into cross Atlantic Latin roots as this new album.

To start with, we get a wonderful ensemble backing him. Lots of small percussion, some rock solid and occasionally brilliant guitar playing by Papa Noel, a constant melodic squeeze from the accordion of Regis Gizavo and fellow Malagasy music, Justin Vali even makes a guest appearance on valiha. It's all very "folky" and simple, punctuated by straight-forward bass lines and simple choruses. There are pan-African rhythms, a hint of Columbia and Venezuela, Portuguese melodies, touches of everything in between. It's deceptively understated. Which is all to the best, because Mangwana has one of those direct, unpretentious voices that my ears crave more and more these days. - CF

Alula / Nube Negra (

Those of you beguiled by the music of Abdel Gadir Salim and some of the "big bands" of this nation will find this album both familiar and enlightening. Singer and percussionist Rasha hangs on tight to the old songs of romance and passion that are the hallmark of the Sudanese sound. On this album she mixes both the more familiar folkloric pieces and orchestral works with accordion, ouds, horns and strings with a more slimmed down contemporary, easy jazz sound that works quite nicely with the material. (Special note goes to the bass playing of José Miquel Garzon for part of this success.) There's even a reggae tune that works amazingly well using the full orchestra for a unique take on the Jamaican groove. She's a fine singer of the Nubian style, mixing African and Arabic elements into a seamless and Sudanese sound. Sundaniyat is subtle and successful. - CF

Warda Warda

Not much Middle Eastern popular music gets released in the states, but when it does, it often makes a refreshing treat. The new album by Arabic star Warda is no exception. Her popularity has been understandably expanding for over 30 years, especially in Egypt.

Warda grew up in Paris above her father's Arabic night club, sneaking downstairs to listen to the bands and singing to herself. At the age of eleven she was discovered and put on French radio. Later she lived and performed in Lebanon, Egypt and eventually back to her father's home of Algeria.

Warda's self titled release is a collection of some of her works from the first half of the nineties. Her passionate vocals work as perfectly with the soaring orchestral strings as they do with upbeat synthesized accompaniment, between which the album carries a delicate balance. Known as "The Rose of Algeria," Warda at the same time coaxes emotions with her voice and compels physical response with her Arabic dance rhythms. - Paul Harding

Le Voyaguer

Wemba was one of the "authenticators" in Zairean pop a number of years ago, fighting to make soukous an reflection of Zaire's traditions and music. He has since moved to Paris and become one of the city's most notorious sapuers, snappy dressers who set the trends and buy the threads that say "I have made it!" Having moved closer to the international sound of Mory Kante, Pepe Kalle and Peter Gabriel, his music is less regional in identity, but still interesting. Le Voyaguer is a lesson in excesses, every trick in the digital array being used to the fullest, at times burying the most important element on the record, a voice that melts hearts and stirs more intimate places. When it fights its way out of the 24 track morass, it is fantastic. "Le Voyaguer" is a prime example of the beauty that lies beneath the onion skin. Silken lyric and roughshod choruses slink between lush saxophone lines and a barrage of synthesizers. Compare this to the thinner production of soukous numbers like the superb "Madilamba" or the choral highlight of the album, "Jamias Kolongo" and you see the possibilities that were lost here. Papa Wemba deserves the fame he has accrued over the years, as an innovator of the genre, as a fighter for the expansion of Zairean music. He also needs a year or two out of the bright lights of Paris. - CF

Break The Chain
(This Side Music, c/o R. Hill, 225 Winthrop Avenue, New Haven, CT 06511)

My bias towards this New Haven band should in no way be construed as unfounded local boosterism. I have been waiting for (gnawing on, even) this group to put out a new album for a while now, and the wait is well worth it. The title, Break The Chain, aptly describes not only their politics, but their music. Influenced by the drums of Ghana, the groove of zouk, the soul of New Orleans, the guitars of soukous and the voice of Cuban son, this is still every bit an American ensemble, with a local message to a worldwide audience. Mikata is a ten piece group with backgrounds as varied as their influences: black, white, and Hispanic, male and female, professional musicians, teachers, dancers, and singers joined together to send a message that percussionist and composer Richard Hill describes as "the politics of dancing." In fact, that is at the heart of Mikata, that politics are art, and vice versa. They see their mission as bringing together people like themselves (that is, everyone) to dance and acknowledge their connections rather than their differences. What better way to to reaffirm our "Power" against the networks, industry and the government than through a Caribbean groove rife with horns, timbales and and the phenomenal vocals of the three women who front this cut. There's funky R&B ("We Do Peace"), zouk ("Paradise), and spacey Afro-jazz ("War Cries"). But comparisons to everything from Kassav to Motown, while easy, are inadequate. Like other recent releases by bands like Zulu Spear or Earth Island Orchestra, this is a world view filtered through an American experience. From the funk and rap of "Don't Buy It" to the New York Latin sound of "People Don't See," Mikata express a musical vision that is rooted in the the world's traditions and the human condition. If you are lucky to live in the northeast, check this band out live, and watch as your feet, heart and mind find the groove and go. - CF

Ismael Lô
Ismael Lô Mango
Ismael Lô has one of the sweetest voices in Africa; smooth, expressive and commanding. His familiarity with European classical and popular music and his devotion to the complex rhythms of Senegal make him a formidable composer and arranger. Born in Niger, he moved to Senegal when he was a boy. As a member of the seminal Super Diamano band during the late seventies, he honed the popular Afro-pop of Dakar into something uniquely his own. He lived in Spain, where he picked up a different perspective on the acoustic guitar, and in subsequent solo efforts, especially Diawar (Stern's), and Xiff (Syllart) he began to make a new kind of electro-acoustic folk music for Africa.

His fusion of sounds and ideas is best evidenced in one of the simpler works on this new album, "Fa Diallo." Strumming guitars, subtle electronic effects and an uncredited (or synthesized?) harmonica beautifully underscore his multiple voices and rhythmic lyrics. "Rasciste" accents his arranging skills, bringing in a full band of guitars, drums and horns for a sinuous line of melody and riffing. "Jiggenu Ndakaru" is full tilt African rock that will be familiar to fans of N'Dour. But here Ismael Lô really shows his vocal difference from the king of mbalax. He never reaches for that pyrotechnic scream, but uses his voice in a slow burn of passion and grace, allowing the amplified instruments the privilege of power. In either context, full blown pop or sinewy folk, this album will find a long term listenership, one that will grow every time you hear it. When so many of the fads have passed, I think people who really care about African music will be remembering the great album Ismael Lô released back in 1992. - CF

Ketama, Toumani Diabate, Danny Thompson

This project pulls together a diverse group: Spanish pop flamenco band Ketama, kora wizard Toumani Diabate from Mali, and acoustic bass master Danny Thompson from England, whose work with Pentangle and Dizrhythmia has explored the furthest reaches of world music. The mix isn't as unlikely as it first seems, after all, the influence of North Africa on flamenco is evident in its rhythms (the strait of Gibraltar is pretty narrow). The guitar is the dominant instrument of Spain, and the dominant invader into the African music world, and the passion of flamenco is easily matched by the power of the African griot singers. But it's where these different forms clash that the music really takes off, as in Diabate's "Africa," with its chanting voices, its almost arguing exchange between guitar and kora, and the eerie bowing of the bass. The slightly less African "Mani Mani Kuru" exhibits some of that same tension, and translates into a storm of strings and voices. Less successful are the more obviously flamenco-influenced pieces, which sometimes fail to take off. Toumani Diabate is a young newcomer to the Mali music scene, son of famous griot Sidiki Diabate,, but he is already making waves with his modern guitar-style playing on the African harp. This is only the third record I've heard him play on, and each one has produced better and better fusions of north and south, while still avoiding bad pop cliches or a loss of roots. If there's a sequel to this one, watch out! - CF
(and now there is,
Songhai 2)

Congo is the land of the rumba, from the gritty, drum-driven dances to the silk lined, lush pop of Wemba and Olimide. Classic Swede Swede (pronounced sweat-ay, it means "mouse tunnel") fall in the center some where. The lineup is unique, six singers front a band of drummers and two harmonica players. (The wheezy free-reed sound strikes!) Based on the traditional vocal polyphonies of the Mongo region of Zaire, they have spirited this tradition into the city, spiced it up with not-too-subtle sexual innuendo (in-you-end-o) and created an exciting hybrid that is totally local, accessible to the urbanite without playing to the Michael Jackson factor. Banned on national TV for their hit song and dance, "Sunduma" (Bend Over), they developed into a cult, and then a phenomena. Toleki Bango is their first studio recording, on Cramworld-Belgium. Sophisticated, yet street-wise, Classic Swede Swede will move your feet.

Jive Soweto - The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto, Volume 4

It seems like a century since Volume One of this series first turned our ears to the music of South Africa. The hard driving basic rock line-up of mbaqanga (guitars, bass, drums, voices and horns on occasion) has become a staple ever since, brilliantly quoted, blatantly plagiarized and often softened beyond recognition. Volume One offered a look at the churches, union halls and neighborhoods of Soweto in a mix of studio recordings and looser street tapes. Subsequent releases featured Mahlathini and The Queens and luminaries of what is now mainstream in South African pop, and this issue focuses in on The Soul Brothers, one of the biggest acts in the country, along with Sipho Mabuse and Mbongeni Ngema (the composer of Sarafina). It's the usual compilation mixed-bag, some of it slick beyond compare, but some cuts raw and wonderful. Surprisingly in the latter category is one of the best Mahlathini and The Mahotella Queens tracks I've heard in a while. Their "Jive Makona" is performed with a fabulous trash-nasty sound that will shake your bones. Most of the Soul Brothers cut are adequate, a few are special ("Heyi Wena"). A welcome rootsy sound comes from the two tracks by incomparable shouter Ihashi Elimhlophe, and from political "rapper" Mzwakhe Mbuli, whose Freedom Is Resistance is also on Earthworks. Volume 4 is an excellent overview of what's been going on in South Africa over the last decade. - CF

Super Rail Band de Bamako
Indigo / France

If you have an ear for Salif Keita, Mory Kante or other Afro-rock stars of the north-west, than you can't get by without this band, the progenitors of Mandingo rock in the seventies. Mixing the Zaire- to-Cuba rhumba with American rock and soul, and filtering it through a distinctly Mandingo groove, this band is still pounding out some of the hardest pop music on the continent. This twelve piece band of guitars, horns, drums, bass and singers has ignored the glitz of Paris in favor of the grit of Bamako, and the results are inevitably satisfying. The uniquely local melodies of electric guitarist Djelimadi Tounkara dominate the set, fluid re-voicing of the kora in the time honored folk process. Super. No lie... Retailers take note: Indigo is another label (along with folks like World Circuit, Piranha, and Riverboat) that Stern's is exclusively distributing at near domestic prices, and includes albums from Albania, Algeria and Argentina.

Madagaskar 3: Valiha
Feuer und Eis

Volume three is a collection of the harps of this island nation. The valiha is a small zither-like instrument usually made of a hollow bamboo log of varying dimensions, surrounded by strings on moveable bridges. The word itself gives you an idea of its importance; valiha is the word for "musical instrument." The music is quiet, but can be highly rhythmic. The album features solo performances, duets with voices, and ensemble pieces and include some of the better known folks like Rossy and Mama Sana. Moving from music-box delicacies to swirling, percussive torrents, the twenty three tracks here offer a simple view of a rich culture unfiltered by any technological tricks or contemporary cleverness. If you need convincing, listen the funeral song "Safa." With only valiha, voice and drum, it evokes a thousand moods and literally raises the spirits. This is living, breathing folk music, evolving, yet always the same. - CF

Touré Kunda
Dance Of The Leaves: The Celluloid Recordings, 1983-1987

The digital Brothers Touré, and worth the trouble for one cut, "Ninki Nanka," one of the more powerful vocal pieces ever put to tape. This and 2 other pieces on this collection are from their 1984 masterpiece album, Casamance Au Clair De Lune, and they are absolutely mesmerizing in this far improved digital mastering. The 18 cuts on Dance Of The Leaves offers a fair view of Toure Kunda, the three brothers from Casamance, Senegal who revolutionized Paris Afro-pop in the late seventies and eighties, moving between rootsy balafons to funk inspired rock and African R&B, giving you both the brilliant highlights and a few of their lesser hit-seekers. I could pick nits about what's missing, but you can't complain about the searing rhythm and sax of "Salya," the spirited vocals of "Babacady," the intense percussion/vocal interplay of "Mamadiyo," or their stunning dedication to late brother Amadou, "Amadou-Tilo." Add the live version of "Sidi Yella" and you see their beauty unfold. For the uninitiated, this is an honest assessment, for the fan, a chance to hear anew some of their best tracks. - CF

Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Underground System
Stern's (1991)

He coined the phrase, he made the noise, and for better or worse, the once dangerous radical Fela is still the father of Afro-pop. And as this is written he's in jail once again, held in connection with a murder at his Afrika Shrine nightclub in Nigeria (with a hearing set for March!). Fela Anikulapo Kuti does not live a dormant lifestyle, and controversy is a constant companion on his left and his right. Enter his latest bit of sax induced diatribe, Underground System. It's the usual Fela recipe of horns, drums and voices in rock and jazz grooves supplied by the 30+ ensemble Egypt 80. Musically smoking, as always, and lyrically Fela still surprises, even as he continues his message of pan-African unity. The center of Underground System is the late president of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) Sankara, whose radical anti-colonial stance kept him at a distance from the rest of west African political society, eventually leading to his murder by members of current regime. To honor Sankara, and revile the powers that be, he invokes the names of past pan-African heroes like Kwame Nkrumah (first president of Ghana, died in exile in Rumania in 1972), Sekou Toure, first president of the Republic of Guinea, whose death in 1984 led to a military coup), Patrice Lumumba (first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire), killed in 1961, most likely by Belgian supported army members under Col. Mobutu Sese Seko), famed (infamous?) Ugandan nationalist, the late Idi Amin, and South Africa's Nelson Mandela (still standing, at last word). A 28 minute chant against the internal corruption and external pressures ensues in classic Fela style, chorus shouting, horns wailing, a frenzied call for justice and dancing. It's Fela, he's back, he's mad and he's in jail. The world turns as it always does. - CF
See also: a
Fela remembrance and complete discography.

Les Ambassaduers Iinternationales
featuring Salif Keita


This is the sound I always go back to, the mid-seventies Afro-Cuban grooves of Mali and Senegal, bands like The Rail Band of Bamako, Orchestra Baobab, and now, The Ambassaduers, the musical birthplace of so many great artists, including Salif Keita. This is mellow, slithering music, almost psychedelic at times, with sixties electronic effects like electric organ and fuzz guitar (listen to "Seidou Bahkili"), but it is mostly the great African version of soul music. It is Afro-Cuban, but it is also clearly Malian, the sound of the tradition an intentional influence the band used to help create a uniquely national sound. The guitars did the kora riffs, and then the muted trumpet added the popular Latin sound. Over all of this is the sound of the griot, the voice of Salif Keita (and Minx, his replacement on one track) weaving that sinuous call and response. It is straightforward, unadorned, free of the electronic trappings of Keita's more recent solo efforts. It is less mystical than Soro, more earthy. Twenty years later, it is still fresh, still beautiful.

Eric Agyeman
Highlife Safari
Stern's Music

This classic 1979 album is one of highlife's great moments, a record that straddles the guitar sound of Zaire and the Ghanian big band highlife of the sixties. This was a time when the sounds of black America were beginning to dominate the African music world, when James Brown was everybody's idol. The sounds of this album reflect that in the cheesey, vibrato rattled organ parts and the tight, riffing horns. But is also an album unique to the artist. Ageyman was a master of the shimmering Zairean guitar lick, but he was also a revivalist of sorts. He took the music of the Ashanti, a style dominated by the acoustic guitar and calabash, and brought its elements into his brand of highlife. The results are singular. Over these basics pieces he added lots of horns, bass and kit drums. There are plenty of great examples of this new breed of highlife, but Ageyman's has a special charm, a slightly twisted sense of scale and tuning, a solid sense of American soul music from the heat of the godfather to the cool of Booker T., and sometimes unusual arrangements that always kept an edge on things. For the slightly skewed (and that grand frommage organ), try "Abenaa Na Aden?" and for the classic groove-that-won't-quit, "I Don't Care."

Rhythms of Sudan
Blue Nile

Blue Nile offers an interesting if somewhat mixed bag of tracks. Almost all are a studio produced combination of synth strings and acoustic instruments, and unfortunately, because of the mass-production style, have a sameness that can drag over the course of this recording of instrumental tracks. Musician Ahmed M. Osman and producer/arranger Mohamed M. Elomrobi have some interesting ideas, and would do well to explore the whole idea in a deeper fashion, get away from the mechanical rhythms and generally humanize the approach. Right now what they have is a great "sound" with no real content, giving it the feel of a Sudanese pop factory. - CF

Ethiopia goes Paris on two new releases, Spirit Of Sheba By Netsanet Mellesse and Addis Ababa by Alemayehu Eshete (both from Shanachie), sub-titled New Beat Music From Ethiopia. Very little of the pop music of Ethiopia has surfaced outside the country, aside from the work of American resident Aster Aweke and the lone album of 70s psychedelic pop by Mahmoud Ahmed. These two albums represent two generations of new music from northeast Africa. Alemayehu has been a figure in the scene there for twenty years, producing tapes that ranged from slick soul a la James Brown to satin-jacket pop in the vein of Wayne Newton. I was fortunate to have a friend who had tapes of Ethiopian TV, and videos by this generation gave a new meaning to the word "groovey," very sixties, very silly, with absolutely marvelous music under all the sunshine, flowers and leisure suits. Netsanet is the current generation of young Ethiopian popsters, with a slightly stronger influence from non-African sources of rock and jazz. Her voice is a wonder of dipping and diving melodies and percussive trills. Each of these records has a lot in common, including the backing of The Wallias Band and the production talents of Parisian Francis Falceto. The emphasis here is jazz, with great horn arrangements, wild riffing, and some truly unusual arrangements that would make Henry Threadgill proud. In spite of all the tricks what results is a beautiful interpretation of north African rhythms and feel, those multilayered beats and melodic lines enhanced rather than straightened out. Don't just toss these in some world music bin at your station. These records belong in your jazz and rock collection, and anywhere else you stake a claim to innovation or "alternative." - CF

Zap Mama
Adventures In Afropea 1
Luaka Bop/Warner

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. - CF

Antoninho Travadinha
The Violin Of Cape Verde
(Buda Records / France)

Occasionally an unexpected gem spins onto a reviewer's desk. That is the case with Antoninho Travadinha's exposition of the old time music of the Cape Verde Islands. Once a Portuguese colony and a staging area for the Atlantic slave trade, this recent nation features yet another Euro-African music mix, one in which the melody still predominates and the accompaniment is the kind of rhythm that is a grandparent to today's Caribbean pop styles.

The effect is exotic, yet familiar, with echoes of 19th century "parlor music." The Verdean morna and coladera on this CD are reminiscent of a combination of Argentinetango, Portuguese fado and the kind of Cuban charanga on sound tracks of black-and-white Hollywood movies from the 1940's.

Travadinha's playing is sparse, with many sad, little down slides. His improvisations of the short motives of these tunes are embellished with spasms of a wide range of dynamics and a distinclty non-Western-art-music vibrato on what sounds to be an electric violin. He is accompanied by a "classic" combo of several styles of Portuguese-Brazilian small guitars and percussion.

This is quality mood music without the stigma of muzak and elevators. - Stacy Philips

Angélique Kidjo

Kidjo has one of the greatest voices in pop music, no matter what the sub-genre or origin. She is vibrant, aggressive, totally in control and completely spontaneous-sounding; in a word, brilliant. Every album she makes I want to proclaim "great," and every album she makes heads more in that direction. The songs are solid, lyrically hip numbers, the production full of great hooks and clever phrases. As a singer, she has never sounded better.

But once again Kidjo and her producers have chosen to take the pop-path, steering again and again back to cliched riffs and easy turns that make her record sound more like one by Debbie Gibson or Whitney Houston. In fact, I fear this really is what they are looking for, to make not a great record first, but a popular one. Too bad, because she has all the right stuff to be both. But I fear the pop music industry will never accept her because she isn't American or Brit, and clearly the "art" audience will expect more effort from the production and writing. VH1 will eat this up (although I'll bet on some late night "world beat" ghetto program of some sort), but Kidjo is capable of SO much more than a simple pop hit. - CF

Ami Koita
Songs of Praise
Stern's Music

The story goes that upon hearing her Ami Koita sing, the famous patron of Malian music was so impressed he handed her the keys to a Mercedes. You may not have a German luxury car to spare, but you will be singing her praises after hearing this remarkable singer. in the tradition of Mali's women singers, she has a special voice, one that is both sweet exaltation and searing presence. It's no wonder she has developed into one of the nation's most revered and popular performers. This album is actually two recordings, one made in Abidjan, the other in France. Strangely, it's the European recording that is the more rootsy, eschewing the popular digital drums and synths for a more acoustic sound that includes balafon, kora and guitars. The African sessions, though, have an alluring power, static silicon rhythms not withstanding, with some interesting touches on the synths, and some great, high-life inspired horn parts. It's mostly irrelevant, because the music is just a vehicle for her voice, and her voice will fill you with wonder and joy, no matter how many slick effects try to get in the way. - CF

Nahawa Doumbia
Stern's Music

What can I say? For me the voice of Africa has always been the voice of the women of Africa, from my earliest introduction to Miriam Makeba through the onslaught of "world beat." And of all the African voices, those of Mali cut deepest. Nahawa Doumbia is one of the premier members of a musical elite, a singer of social songs, free of the restrictions the male griots must adhere to. In a voice as sharp as a razor and as sweet as a river of honey, she sings of the life and times of her people, their relationships, work and religion, as well as in general praise of the wonder and beauty of Africa. This may well be her finest recording, a perfect blend of high-technology and roots, courtesy of the ever expanding production genius of Ibrahima Sylla, who is discovering that beauty of the real sounds (even if they ARE sampled) overwhelms the easy synth effect and quick rhythm track. The swirling guitars, the layers of rhythmic melody, the balafon-like percussive effects, all create an air of earthy mysticism. That music this gorgeous exists anywhere in the world is testament to humanity's right to exist for a while longer. - CF

Volume One: Trovador
Stern's Music

It's got a million names. Afro-Caribbean. African rhumba. Cuban-Yoruban. Nuyorafrican. Soukous. It's got a thousand champions on both sides of the equator, like The Rail Band, Tito Puente, Papa Wemba, Super Etoiles, Franco, Los Munequitos, Mario Bauza. After decades of the Latin sound getting a more African groove and African music returning the favor, three of the great voices of African music have united with some of N.Y.'s hottest session musicians for the last word in Latin. The cast is a who's who of power and musicianship: Medoune Diallo, vocalist for Orchestra Baobab, one of the most Latin bands in Africa, Pape Seck and Nicholas Menheim, stars of the Senegalese Latin sound. That's just the vocals. The rest of the band is a N.Y. dream band, with Papo Pepin and Pablo Nuñez on percussion, Mario Rivera on trumpet, and an endless list of strings, horns, flutes and percussion. But beyond the novelty of African singers meeting Latin superstars, this is the real thing, this is the salsa groove that new York is famous for, ripe with Cuban and Puerto Rican soul. It's one step beyond the infamous Baobab sound, diving full tilt into the Caribbean Ocean. There's nine winning tracks (out of a possible nine!), but not to mention the steamy Diallo composition "Gouye Gui" or the roaring charanga of Pape Seck's "Lakh Bi." Solid arrangements by Boncana Maiga and featuring Ibrahima Sylla's New York production debut, Trovador is a must if you've got feet to dance with or any soul worth saving.

Aïcha Koné And The Alloco Band
Mandingo Live From Côte d'Ivorie
Welt Musik - Germany

This is that pan-African sound that is praised and blasted in the press every day, a mix of west, north and east African grooves that could be just so much pudding if it wasn't for the incredible talents involved here. Their resume includes work with Manu Dibango, Ismael Lô, and Alpha Blondy. Aïcha Koné has a voice that will rank her with some of Africa's best. Her roots are Manding, but her idols are Aretha Franklin and Miriam Makeba, and it all shines through. The Alloco Band is a hybrid of many West African countries, and its sound stretches from the west to south, using synths, horns, guitars, various percussions and kora. One minute they lope along like a South African jive ensemble, the next moment finds them in a hard Senegalese talking drum groove. Mali, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon are all clearly evident, yet it never seems scattered. On the contrary, the whole album is a vision of unity, cultural and musical. It jumps, it dances and it sings. - CF

Ricardo Lemvo And Makina Loca
Tata Masamba
Mopiato Music (

Zairean singer Lemvo and Afro-Cuban band Makina Loca absolutely burn up the tracks of this new release. From cool jazz horns to rocking hot soukous, they mold it all into an irresistible groove that will set dance-floors afire, and put your ears on edge. (Am I being a bit too prosaic here or just florid?) Having guests stars like Bopol, Sam Mangwana and Syan M'Benza doesn't hurt, to be sure, but the core band of Nono Jesus Alejandro on flute, keys and bass, and Nengue Hernandez' percussion could have carried it all beautifully with Lemvo's streamy vocals as their guide. Little of the cliche ridden contemporary soukous scene seems to stick to this music. It's original, hot and total groove.

Bachir Attar
The Next Dream
CMP Records

The solo album by a leader of The Master Musicians Of Joujouka offers splendid new ideas based on the trance inducing drums and ghaita, the double reed instrument that makes the music so distinctive. But instead of the mass assemblage of the Joujouka troupe, Attar has opted for a small studio duo or trio that could explore and expand the Moroccan music. To that end he joined forces with producer Bill Laswell, Senegalese percussionist Aiyb Dieng and on three tracks, American horn player Maceo Parker, to make The Next Dream. In stark contrast to the large ensemble, this music is spare, almost sparse at times. Most tracks are simply (simply?) drums and ghaita, or drums and gimbri (a three-string lute), recorded relatively dry and in the face of the listener. Rather than the soothing pudding of new age "trance music" you get vital, stimulating, liberating power music. The trio pieces with Parker are exceptional. All three come from vastly different cultures, and yet each has found some common urban ground in cuts like "Mixed Cultures." Parker's sharp edged style is particularly fitting, adding a choppy edge to the drone of the reeds and the steady throb of the drums. But perhaps most revealing of all is the lengthy "1001 Nights." The spacey murmur of the metallic percussion against Attar's lute is seminal acoustic music that gives birth to a sense of vastness through the most basic technology. - CF

Marhaba offers another new view of where world music can go if left unfettered by political maps and cultural roadblocks. - CF

Sali Sidibé
From Timbuktu To Gao

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.

Geoffrey Oryema
Beat The Border

The Real World recording weeks in 1992 yielded some wonderful music. One result of that international convergence is Beat The Border by Ugandan/Parisian musician Oryema. This is as close as you'll come to "world" music. It is a seamless blend of European pop, African folk and touches of traditions from around the world, from the western Celts to the eastern reaches of Asia. It's lushness, scope and orchestral beauty is only comparable to one other musician I know, and that's another Paris based African, Pierre Akendengue. Beat The Border is also unique in that has established a unique voice, a rare accomplishment on a fusion recording these days. Rather than run scattershot through the encyclopedia of sound, every thing comes back to three elements: Oryema's voice and lukeme (thumb piano), and the guitar work of his partner Jean-Pierre Alarcena. All the other contributions, and they are many, are wrapped around this unified voice. Ayub Ogada offers a rhythmic bass line here, a harp solo or backing vocal there. Notable's Brian Eno and Manu Katche make subdued appearances, and a larger cast of African and European musicians add color without overwhelming the central vision. As the world contracts and the music expands, many artists are trying to cram it all into a small space. Oryema and company are taking a different tack. - CF

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