by Opiyo Oloya

Orchestra National De Great Music

Orchestra National De Barbes self-titled album - ONB En Concert (Tinder Records / is a real blast. In fact, with one album, this African jewel buried in the heart of Paris has tamed formerly inaccessible North African music into something the mainstream can enjoy. Yes, there is still the unmistakable Algerian rai and Moroccan Gnawa buzz in the music, but this is music for the person in New York or Casablanca, Paris or Tunis. Indeed, the artists who are mostly North African émigrés from Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco approach their craft with unusual energy, transforming Arabic traditional ballads into rip-roaring urban spicy blend of blaring horns, clanging cow-bells and total ecstasy .

As you listen to the tracks "Hagda," "Savon," "Labou" and "Alaoui," it becomes apparent that ONB has only one thing on its mind- making fun music that everyone can jump up and dance to. What's more, these catchy tunes are reminiscent of Osibisa, another African band founded in Europe in the late 1960s which went on to wow the whole world with their happy-go-lucky approach to good music.

Even when the voice of front man Abdellaziz Sahmaoui surges into the open as it does on the tracks "Zawiya" and "Ma Ychali," a complete sense of balance is maintained to allow room for the roaming guitars and drums to embellish the landscape.

Without exaggerating, ONB En Concert is the first serious mainstream Afro-Arabic music ever to hit the world stage. Namely, while remaining true to its North African roots, this music goes out into the global village for a good time.

The Women Are Knocking At The Door

Coumba Gawlo, a thoroughly modern Senegalese female griot unlike any other, is making wave with her international debut album titled Yo Male (BMG). Unlike her slightly older compatriot Kine Lam, Gawlo is completely at ease belting out an Otis Redding ("Fa fa fa fa fa") or a Serge Gainsbourg tune ("Je suis venue te dire que je m' en vais") or even Miriam Makeba's "Pata Pata." But, this is mere "show-off" stuff to give notice that the twenty-something Gawlo has real talent. It's not needed.

However, Gawlo displays true gritty fireworks on original material written with the mbalax rhythm in mind. On the tracks "Xale Bi," "Amine," "Waxkat Bi" and "Yo Male," Gawlo voice combines the nightingale element of Ethiopian Aster Aweke, the liveliness of Yossou N'Dour and the immediacy of Baaba Maal, all rolled into one. Moreover, when she really pours out the emotions, she brings up images of the good old days when Miriam Makeba and Ami Koita ruled the airwaves. Could she be the reincarnation of the mermaid that used to live off the coast of west Africa?

There is no doubt that Senegal has finally found the female answer (and compliment) to Baaba Maal, Youssou N'Dour, Ismael Lo, et cetera. If you need any further convincing, listen to the tracks "Kor Dior" and "Fat Kine." Prepare to become a convert.

Kidjo's Beat Goes On

cd cover Meanwhile the indomitable Angelique Kidjo has a new album titled Oremi (Island) on which she continues to explore the limit of folkloric songs raised to urban pop. Oremi is well researched and slickly executed to produce the best mix of R&B, hip hop and dancehall music. Kidjo, alternating between English and her mother tongue, dominates center stage with her powerful voice while the instrumentation could not be better.

She especially shines on the tracks "Babalao" and "Orubaba," both of which skim plenty of energy from Benin folkloric music. The track "Loloye" is a classic lullaby croon which bubbles with freshness that is vintage Kidjo.

Artistically, though, Kidjo stays too close to the kitsch sound that sells albums. The problem with this formula is that while it accords Kidjo more popularity on the world stage, it has slowly removed her away from her Benin roots. Indeed, there is less and less difference between what she does with what American pop musicians are doing. By joining the mainstream, Kidjo may actually push the final barrier that will take her into oblivion.

Still, this obituary has been written before and turned out to be premature. For Kidjo, let the world be damned if she will allow anyone to control her artistic direction. With her, what you hear is what you get. Take it or leave it.

When Pigmy Yodel Meets Reggae, You Have Sally Nyolo

But where Kidjo is predictable, former Zap Mama singer Sally Nyolo continues to dazzle by keeping everyone off balance with her rich repertoires. With Multiculti (Coeur de Lion/Tinder -, her second album in as many years, Nyolo has cemented her reputation as a shrewd composer/arranger of traditional music into pop music.

She explores a range of rhythms that extend from reggae, bikutsi, rap, Pigmy-yodel, hip hop and makossa. Nyolo even revisits the Mama-style rap on the sultry title track "Multiculti" and "Solidarity", which she sings in English while retaining all the flavor of bikutsi rock. Then, mixing bikutsi and makossa, she trots off at a fast pace on the tracks 'Ibandouma", "Bingo Bingole" and "Djini Djome". She will make you dance whether you choose it or not.

As fun and playful as ever, Nyolo turns reggae on its ears with the jaunty track "Reggae in Japan" complete with wacky guitar and lazy drums. In between tracks, she adds snippets of 30 second "interludes" which are really Nyolo's way of saying, "relax, take it easy, don't get all worked up for nothing and enjoy".

She is going places, Sally Nyolo is.

And still more...

Guinean guitarist Alpha Yaya Diallo (now living in Vancouver, BC) has yet another great Manding album out. In fact, on The Message (Festival Distribution / 1-800-633-8282) Diallo returns to his sweet guitar style that made his first album Nene such a success. The doun doun drums are on cue and Diallo's voice is forever burning with emotion. This is certainly, his best album to date

Music In My Head (Stern's Africa / is easily the best compilation from the Golden Era of African Music (1970-1984) with some of the best artists of that time. The big names include Youssou N'Dour, Salif Keita, Franco Luambo Makiadi, Omar Pene and Etoile De Dakar. However, this album is a must-have because of the "small names" hardly known outside their own countries. Check out the knock-'em dead track "Miniyamba" by Coumba Gawlo (same as above) who is accompanied by Sekou Bembeya Diabate a.k.a Golden Fingers on acoustic guitar.

Then there is the quirky Alou Fane (who died young in 1994) with his supercharged kora piece "Fote Mocoba". And for those who cannot get enough mbalax, try a 10 minute dose from Thione Seck also known as the "Prophet of Dakar". The only trouble with this music is that once it gets into your head, you cannot get rid of it. - 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 Sunday, 6:00 PM- 8:00 PM. CUIT is now available via Real Audio G2 at

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