By Opiyo Oloya

Zulu Dragon-Lady and Mali Queen

1998 was especially bountiful for female voices, with artists like Malouma Mint Maideh (Mauritania), Coumba Gawlo and Fatou Gewel (Senegal), Fantani Toure (Mali), Sally Nyolo (Cameroun) and Fantcha (Cabo Verde) all putting out notable records during the year. And just when you thought the well was dry, out come two female vocalists whose voices shake the hand of heaven: Malian pop queen Niany Diabate and Busi Mhlongo, the fiery Zulu dragon-lady.

cd cover Though they come from very diverse backgrounds and styles, these female artists share two things in common. First, they both deliver each song as if it is absolutely their very last one. Secondly, though relatively unknown in North America, each have a very large following back home.

UrbanZulu (MELT2000 /, Busi Mhlongo's second international release, is a potent cast away from the straight-up classical mbaqanga of Mahotella Queens and Miriam Makeba, which suits Mhlongo just fine. Hip-hop collides freely with pepper-hot township guitars and doughy bass. Entering the fray with a raunchy voice, Mhlongo transforms into a she-dragon, spitting Zulu fire onto the dance-floor. She beckons, roars and hangs her heart out on "Yapheli'mali Yami," "Nguye Lo" and "Ngadlalwa Yindoda." Then with a surprising sweetness she gives everything she has on "Yise Wabant'Abami," featuring Lokua Kanza on acoustic guitar. Then with the same joyful lightness, she fritters away to the rolling tune "Zithin'izizwe".

cd Meanwhile, on her innovative album titled Nafa (Stern's /, Niany Diabate, who made her stage debut with the renown Super Rail Band of Bamako in 1979, curry-flavours Malinke pop with makossa and soukous. With energy that explodes like cotton balls on a dry hot summer day, she puts other Malian female vocalists on notice.

Whether delivering a soft ballad or a floor scorcher, Diabate's voice retains a unique kinetic vibrancy that is, oh, so much fun. First, she preps you up with Mandingue classics like "Massassi" (a favorite), "Kono" and "Nafa". Then she hits you with hip-swingers like "Farafina Musso," "Mousso Dje" and "Fasso Kadi." All the while, the crack instrumental team of Lansana Diabate (balafon), Bassekou Kouyate (ngoni), Cheick Omar (guitar), Adama Diarra (djembe) and others work up a sweat. They are among the top musicians on the Malinke pop music scene today, and it shows.

Searching For The Music

Moses Molelekwa (South Africa), Djeli Moussa Diawara (Guinea) and Wasis Diop (Senegal), are three very talented young artists who always strive to try something new. On three new recordings, the results are mixed.

Moses Molelekwa, a piano wunderkind with the nimblest fingers since Dollar Brand, first rocked the international scene with his must-have jazz album In Search of Oneself (B + W). On Genes And Spirits (MELT2000 /, he fuses piano jazz with R&B and a good measure of hip-hop. The results are mixed. On the first three tracks, his towering talent is buried too deep under the techno sounds, but he awakens on "Itumeleng" to release his spell-binding genius on piano and keyboard. Now unable to keep his township experience under wraps, he becomes expansive and exuberant on "Sogra," "Genes and Spirit" and "Kwaze Kwangcono." By the time he hits the last three tracks on the album, the music is crackling with positive vibes.

Djeli Moussa Diawara has always sought to put a musical distance between himself and his famous brother Mory Kante. Where Mory is the show-man with heart-stopping agility on the 21-stringed kora, Diawara opts for a more soulful kora with powerful vocals. That effort brought him accolades on the 1984 album Yasimika.

It is no different on FlamenKora (Melodie) which, as the name suggests, uses the kora to tame the flamenco sound. The flamenco sound does not give itself easily to the 21-stringed kora, and Diawara sounds very moody and sad. Diawara often skillfully tempers this moodiness under a layer of luscious vocals. The kora finds good breeding ground on the tracks "Sabou" and "Sabary," but this is a vocal album first. On the haunting track "Kana Kone," Diawara throws away the kora altogether to deliver brilliant a capella work.

Which brings us to Wasis Diop, that master lyricist from Senegal, who delivers in perfect Parisian French, English, Wolof and who knows what other language. A cerebral artist, Diop toys with lyrics like a painter plays with brush. On previous recordings, he captured the perfect balance between his Senegalese roots and his western musical sensibilities. But on Toxu (Mercury/Coeur de Lion /, the emphasis is definitely on western pop with an R&B edge. Like a deft magician, Diop pulls it off, delivering off-beat bluesy tunes in his laid back super deep voice. With sharp ears for the esoteric, he even subverts Talking Head's "Once In A Life Time" into a Wolof dance number complete with tama lines and wacky drums. Then without as much as a drop of sweat, he ties together Algerian rai, Wolof lyrics and soul pop rhythm. It's all tres chic, effortless and very magical.

If It Ain't Broke, Don't...

cd Zimbabwe's Thomas Mapfumo pioneered the raucous chimurenga sound in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Over the two decades, Mapfumo has perfected a distinct sound featuring mbira, electric guitars and sharp chorus lines. But Chimurenga '98 (Anonymous Web Productions / extends chimurenga to embrace other musical styles notably Congolese soukous (and do I detect Malian pop on the track "Titambire?").

From the opening track till the very last, Mapfumo, backed by his perennial Blacks Unlimited, cook up a storm. My personal favorites are those tracks inlaid with overtones of other musical genres including "Titambire," Munongotukana (Congolese Mutuashi/reggae), Chikonzero (soukous) and Shumba Dzenhabvu (soukous/rock).

Meanwhile, from Toronto, Canada, soukous upstart Ado gives the genre a big boost with the hot album Extreme Joy (Ado Music, via Festival, Canada / Ado, whose fluid tenor voice and style are reminiscent of the heady days of Zaiko Langa Langa in the 70s, enlists the backing of soukous elite in Paris and local talents in Toronto. Opening each song with tender classic rumba, Ado's silky voice leads the pack that includes Nene Tchakou and Aaron Niyitunga on lead guitar, talented Koffi Ackah on drums and Nyboma and Lizzy Mahashe on chorus. Then the seben kicks in, sending dust in all directions.

And to think that some had already written the obituary for soukous.

- 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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