AfroDisc
by Opiyo Oloya


CD cover image From the new South Africa comes a posse of eager musicians ready to redefine the doughy mbaqanga of old. Forget the heavy bass, listen instead to the heartbeat of the drum, the flight of the kora, the trickling sweet sound of the mbira and the revving of acoustic guitar. Moreover, these artists will stop at nothing to score the perfect tune, even if it means trekking for days in the Kalahari desert. And to make it all happen, they teamed up with Robert Trunz, one tough former B+W loudspeaker maker who has turned his home in north London into a stable for young artists still hungry to experiment, create and make happy music for the masses. Alas, the result is pure ecstasy, sweet honey on the rock released on the MELT2000 label (formerly B+W label).

That's how Pops Mohamed conceived his latest album titled How Far Have We Come? (M.E.L.T2000). Shunning the "clean" sound of the studio, Mohamed journeys into the hot Kalahari desert for the rarefied voices of Khoisan people. He returns not only with the booty, but with inspiration enough to last a lifetime.

True to his multi-instrumentalist roots, Mohamed then throws in every possible instruments into the brew: kora, mbira, didgeridoo, piano and what not. The result is music as never heard before- lively, beautiful, and full of worldly sounds. On the opening track "Khoisan" an oldman's incantation is transformed into poetry in motion. This is extended on the track "Spirit" where the didgeridoo, the kora and other-worldly sounds interweave into multi-layed tapestry. Suddenly everything- horns, drums and all- explodes with violent bright colours on the tracks "Quandondo" and "Kalamazoo" sending you to a stratospheric musical high (Play these two tunes very loud and watch your neighbours assemble at the door).

And since everything is interconnected on this album, your return journey is assured by the piano and kora duet in the final track "How far have we come?" The answer is obvious.

Now sufficiently leavened, you must enter the sweet drums cafe of Mabi Thobejane whose international debut album Madiba (M.E.L.T2000) delivers what it promises from the opening tracks. Backed by a crack team of fellow South African artists including guitar wizards Madala Kunene and Doc Mthalane, Thobejane's sinewy hands beat a hole into an array of percussive instruments. This fellow can make you cry or laugh just by the way he touches the drum skin.

But watch out when the devil fever hits him as happens on the tracks "Segwangwa", "Thabo Tando Nico", "Shapedi" , "Mother", and "Madiba". Then, he unleashes a certain kind of fury that sends positive vibes all around the listener. Check out the delicate guitar and drum interplay on the tunes "Gae-way home" and "Madiba"; it surely must be the perfect non-verbal description of the flight of an African butterfly on a hot summer day. But before you wonder away, walk through the "Workshop", a 15 minutes long lesson in how to make absolute chaos from just about anything and yet come away looking good. That's Thobejane for you, no compromise, no frills.

And also from this stable comes the Cape Town group Amampondo whose innovative album Drums for Tomorrow (M.E.L.T2000) is grounded in traditional music-making. The group's minimalist approach demands vocal harmony, pared down drums and percussive instruments. Anything else is extra as the group stomps its way on the opening track "Gumboot dance". Check out the sheer vocal gymnastics in the solo tune "Vukani" and the acapella "Nobabheha" .

But the feast of the album comes from the kaleidoscopic marimba (xylophone) treats on the tracks "Cumbelele", "Ingxoxo, "Tchokola" and "Skhal'abantwana". (For further information on other great releases on the MELT2000 label, check out http://www.MELT2000.COM or e-mail Robert Trunz at this address: robert@themba.demon.co.uk).

CD cover Listen! From the other end of Africa, comes Morikeba Kouyate, a jali (storyteller) from one of the most distinguished griot families in Senegal. His international debut album "Music of Senegal" (Traditional Crossroads, tradcross@aol.com) combines the nimble sound of the 21-stringed kora, the embellishment of the balafon (xylophone) and a leathery journeyman's voice.

Kouyate is a skilful master whose absolute mastery of the kora is evident in the colourful opening of each tune with a classical manoeuvre, followed by a rolling momentum as he weaves fantastic melody on the ancient instrument. You get a sense of a group of travellers walking along a dusty road, instruments in hand as they praise past ancestors and hail all good spirits still to come.

The music maybe ancient, but Kouyate plays with truly modern breezy chutzpah as on the tracks "Jimbasengo", "Landing majang" and "Lambamba".

The only regret here is that the master is so good he out paces the accompaniments on the percussive instruments as they try ( to little avail) to catch up. But that's the beauty of creative music, isn't it?

And while still on the subject of creativity, the Somali group Waaberi has debut with a self-titled album Waaberi (Real World). Led by star singer Maryam Mursal, Waaberi is joined by Egyptian master percussionist Hossam Ramzy whose skilful handiwork on the tabla provides the driving rhythm to the soulful traditional repertoires. This is skin-tight music, where nary a sound is wasted, everything is dressed down to the bare essential. Meanwhile, the warm evocative voice of the lead singer is allowed to float freely, trailing behind numerous choral voices. In the end, regardless of whether you speak Somali, Waaberi enchants as well as provokes

Finally, you have another chance to catch Angola's most famous star, Bonga Angola in a new reissue titled Angola 72 (Tinder Records - tinder@worldmusic.com). The remarkable thing about Angola's ( the man, that is) music is that it is timeless. Listen to the remastered tracks and you could never tell that they come from the early 70s. The rough gravelly voice is still rough, still full of love, anger, fire and revolution.

Whether singing traditional pieces as on the tracks "Paxi Ni Ngongo" and "Mu Nhango" or shooting the rumba as he does on the tracks "Barcelo De Carvalho" and "Mona Ki Ngi Xica", Angola passionate pleas resonate with life and optimism. No wonder the man weathered the tough years of war of independence. This is a classic worth collecting.


Listen! Sound file of Morikeba Kouyate is supplied by Traditional Crossroads with the permission of the author.

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.
E-Mail: Stvincen@inforamp.net


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