AfroDisc
by Opiyo Oloya


Nigeria's Jubilation     

There was a time in Nigerian music when the musician was not just the man with the guitar, but a deliberate artist who slowly built the tempo toward the sweet climax with everyone grooving happily. That was the time of Chief Ebenezer Obey whose cool brand of juju music from the 1970s has just been reissued under the title Ju Ju Jubilation (EMI).

Obey is an innovator with an ear for the esoteric and percussive ambiance of Yoruba traditional music which he deftly translated into highlife music he called the Miliki system. Everything in his composition is deliberately understated (or should we say, underplayed), allowing the music to radiate a warm, yet very relaxed sound. The idea was- and it's still applicable today- to get everyone swaying to music.

Check out "Operation Feed The Nation", "I Am Black and Proud" and " Edumare a Dupe" (all three songs are close to 20 minutes long) with their vibrant guitar, titillating percussion and spirit-lifting shekeres shakers. The voices are simply cool.

Too bad, they don't make beautiful music with long play-time any more.

But sometimes, truly good music comes in short fresh bursts as is the case with So Kalmery's debut album Rasmi (Buda Musique/Coeur de Lion - bbp@istar.ca). In songs averaging three to four minutes long, Kalmery (originally from East Africa and now lives in Australia) strums away at his acoustic guitar while singing in Kiswahili, English and French. His lyrics are simple, but his strong voice reverberates with life. There is no mistaking of fun in the tunes like "Mama Liza", "Rasmi", "Dm Crazy" and "Brave Margot"

Even when he is accompanied by an assortment of instruments including the didgeridoo, flute and sax, Kalmery manages to evoke the image of the musician as a troubadour, providing wholesome outdoor entertainment to the town folks.

With Rasmi, So Kalmery has joined a growing list of African artists like Henri Dikongue (Cameroun), Geoffrey Oryema (Uganda), Ismael Lo (Senegal) and Lokua Kanza (Congo) who are raising spartan acoustic guitar arrangement to a new height.

 

The Somali Safari

mursal But just in case you think electric guitar and drums are passe, listen to Maryam Mursal's (she is the lead vocal for the Somali group Wabeeri) solo album, The Journey (RealWorld - www.caroline.com). The album is an example of what can go right (as opposed to wrong) when African traditional music is carefully marinated and doused with urban sound. The Journey is meant to raise a lot of sweat and Mursal does not disappoint. Her rugged voice is well complemented by an earthy urban ambiance of blaring horns, scattering drums and seasoned piano. Moreover, the electric guitar shines alongside the oud zither and tabla. Check out the tracks "Kufilaw", "Hamar, "Qax", "Nin Hun"- all of which cut bright swaths through the urban landscape with their catchy Somali ballads.

Yes, there are occasional flaws as over enthusiastic horns and piano threaten to bury the traditional Somali rhythm under the rubble of urban junk, but mercifully, these are few. In the final analysis, Mursal has done well. And one would hope that her next album will take less than two decades to brew and serve.

Meanwhile down south in Zimbabwe, Patience Mudeka steps out smartly into the arena with her debut solo recording Tafadzwa (Zimbob / zimbob@prairienet.org). Listening to Mudeka's clear signal, one may wonder how a "neophyte" could grind out so many well-rounded hits. But wonder no more; Mudeka is a seasoned performer who learned the ropes from some of Zimbabwe's best known performing groups including Idwala Elikhulu Theatre and Dance Troupe. Moreover, for this album, she had plenty of support from members of Thomas Mapfumo's Blacks Unlimited and Ephat Mujuru's band- Spirit of the People. Mujuru himself plays the mbira on two tracks- "nyakvnatsa" and "rova ngoma".

Weaving between traditional chimurenga (with the mbira as the central instrument) and pop chimurenga with electric guitars in full flight, Mudeka leads a full choir of eager voices from one hot dance track to another. To her credits, Mudeka deftly avoids the pitfall that afflict chimurenga- that of sounding as if the same tune is being repeated over and over. On this album, each tune has its own angle, its own way of getting you to the floor.

 

Mozart Lives in Egypt

Finally (or should I say at last), there's an album that successfully blends European classical music with traditional African music. Produced by Hughes de Courson, Mozart In Egypt (Virgin/EMI) is a rare work of genius that other producers could only dream about- that of marrying African sound to European classical music. Earlier attempts- Bach to Africa, African Sanctus and many others- ended in disaster because the African tune floated off the European classical melody like oil on water.

But Mozart in Egypt works so beautifully because Courson carefully kneads the different polyphony of classical sounds into the Egyptian landscape. He is so successful as a match-maker that you literally move from one mode to the other without recognising that a change has taken place. Before your ears, Mozart's melody vanishes into the oriental mosaic and becomes a part of it. Take, for instance, the Double Quartet in E Flat written for clarinet, violin, viola and violoncello. By themselves, they sound so common-place. Yet, they suddenly acquire the rugged nomadic edge with the addition of the arghul (single-reed, double oboe), rababa (two-stringed bowed instrument), kawala (flute), tabla, daff (flat drum) and sagat (small cymbals attached to the finger-tips). So it is with the other tracks like "Thamos, King of Egypt", "Double Quartet in F", Papageno's Aria", and "Egyptian Symphony No. 25"

But, my favourite is "Dhikr/Requiem" which features the mind-boggling solo of the young Bulgarian girl, Vanina (10 year old) who, in turn, is answered by the purest voice of a young person ever recorded this century- that of little Monica ( 8 year old).

If you ever hated classical music (for whatever reason), this is your chance to be broken in gently. I was.


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@ican.net


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