by Opiyo Oloya

Popularised by Youssou N'dour in the 1980s, Senegal's mbalax rhythm is not for the faint of heart- it is calculated to flush out the dance demon in you. Yet, through much of the early 1990s, the dirty, gritty hard-driven specimen much loved by the Senegalese was softened in favour of the mellow type preferred by the international audience.

Thanks to Lemzo Diamono's latest album titled Marimbalax (Stern's), mbalax is waking up the neighbourhood again. This relatively unknown but uncompromising group led by guitar ace Lamine Faye, formerly of Super Diamono de Dakar, blends poetry, chants, fiery horns and devilishly sweet drums with evastating results. Listening to the rapid fire delivery of the cuts "Atterrissage Force", "Marimbalax" and "Taaw Bi", one concludes that rock-n-roll has finally found a home in African music.

But there is more to it than that. There is soul to this music, a fusion of dust and blood; Even as your body itches for action, reggae-based tracks like "Chance", "Migration" and "Dougou Dougou", cool you down just enough to catch your breath before being yanked back into the frenzy.

My only advice is to (please) put away all the delicate furniture and fine china before playing this album.

Meanwhile, Caprice Records has repeated its music-from-the-street magic with another 3 CD set titled Music from Tanzania and Zanzibar, Vol 1-3. As in the previous release which featured music from Uganda, this set is a bonanza for traditional nuggets from all over Tanzania. Volume 1 captures the carefully aged voice of legendary singer Saleh Ramadhani Mwinamila leading the National Cultural Troupe while crack drums beat a hole into the night. Then there is the indomitable drumming group known as Nyati whose brisk celebratory performance is enough to get a wedding party rolling in the dust.

Music from Tanzania and Zanzibar, Volume 2 though packed with many talents, is most notable for two fabulous entries. The first is Nyota, which performs delicate and very delicious Taarab music from Zanzibar. The second, is the dry guitar-style of Patric Balisidya whose tune "Malewo" can only be described as brilliant. There has never been a better dry-guitarist since Congolese legend John Bosco Mwenda passed away in early 1990s. When thinking acoustic guitar from East Africa, Balisidya is the man to keep your eyes on.

Music from Tanzania and Zanzibar,Volume 3 is a recording of poetry singing by children and youth of Kilimani Muslim School. While this is oral history at its best, sung with all the innocence of youth, one laments the lost opportunity to use part of the album for modern club music. What happy days it would have been had Caprice gone into Tanzanian smoky night clubs to capture the big dance sounds like Juwata Jazz Band and Marquis Original. Oh, just the thought of that is enough to make one salivate.

South Africa's Soul Brothers new album Born to Jive (Stern's/Earthworks) cooks pure Saturday night joy with doughy mbaqanga straight from the townships. Forever fun-loving, the Soul Brothers still send the guitars galloping and zig-zagging as they play tag with the saxophones. The result is a fine dance album boasting eleven bristling tracks plus four additional tracks recorded live at BBC Radio One Session for Andy Kershaw. Each tune is preceded by the obligatory wailing of the Hammond B3 Organ, followed by hip-thrusting, foot-stomping rhythm. The tracks "Indaba", "Imali" and "Ngixoleleni" celebrate what has made the Soul Brothers famous worldwide, namely-they promise and deliver a good time.

Meanwhile, South African talent Lizzy Mahashe's debut album Africa Belongs To Me (Festival Dist.) finally allows the world to hear what many Toronto club patrons have enjoyed for the past 3 years. From the opening track "Thulani" through to the lullaby "Lala Sana", Mahashe's powerful voice raises the possibility of finally looking beyond pioneers like Miriam Makeba and Leta Mbuli.

Backed by the flickering guitars of Aron Niyitunga and Ian De Souza and the flaming drums of Ghanaian Kofi Ackah, Mahashe serves township mbaqanga a la jazz, soul, R&B and plenty of funk. She bursts upon each song with fresh vitality and originality even when working around the raps of Niyitunga as on the track "Trust Them". The title song is spiked with pure fun, jest and the kind of raunchy defiant that would make fellow jivers like the Soul Brothers proud. You cannot take the township out of this artist- it is there on every track, powerful as any that ever came out of South Africa.

Finally from Cabo Verde (Cape Verde), the land of spice, sunshine and Cesare Evora, comes an album that will likely send you scrambling for the world atlas. The enchantress (is there such a word?) Maria Alice's international debut album D'zemcontre (Coeur de Lion/Lusafrica), breathes life back into amorous songs. Her voice accompanied by a full throttle of horns and a jumping piano, is a multi-coloured butterfly flirting from one bright tropical flower to the next, alighting only briefly before gliding to the next. But, this is not just sugar and spice, there is hot pepper on the tracks "Crumuxa", "Falso Testemunho", "Velha Bichica" and "Nesosofre". Move over Cesaria Evora. - Opiyo Oloya

The previous edition of Afrodisc is available

Opiyo Oloya is the host of the radio program Karibuni on CIUT 89.5 FM Radio, Toronto. The show airs on Saturday 4:00 PM- 5:00 PM.

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