Niger sceneAfroDisc

Mamar Kassey | Bernard Kabanda | Congolese Hits | Ricardo Lemvo

AfroDisc: March 2000

Kabanda steals the limelight on world stage

cd cover Bernard Kabanda, a Kampala dry guitar master, has debuted on the international scene with the album titled Lugendo (Realworld). Known as dry-guitar, this style dates back to the turn of the last century when sea-faring Liberians known as Kru-men combined traditional African music and European style, and came up with the precursor of highlife music. The genre attained continental fame in the 1950s with recording of such luminaries as Alex Nkhata of Malawi and Mzee Fundi Konde of Kenya, but it was legendary Congolese guitarist, Jean Bosco Mwenda Wa Bayeke and Sierra Leone's Sooliman Ernest Rogie (best known for his chart-topping, "My Lovely Elizabeth") who took the style to the world stage. The seductive, warm and spacious sound of the genre influenced the music of Americans like Pete Seeger and Happy Traum.

On Lugendo, Kabanda hits hard from the opening track titled "Abakazi be kibuga" on which his sweet voice and the pleading guitar are interwoven into heady melody. On "Olugendo lwe bulaya," a story about his trip overseas, the Uganda artist lets fly the kind of blues music that would turn heads in Louisiana, USA. My absolute favorite is "Ettaala ya bbulu" (Blue Light) which is not only funny, but confirms Kabanda's place among the world's great dry guitarists.

Congolese Rumba Lives Forever

Those seeking enlightenment and pure enjoyment should consider two new rumba grooves fermented and brewed in the Congo. The first, East of Africa (Dakar Sound) is a reissue of classic rumba from the era of Grand Kalle and guitar wizards Docteur Nico Kasanda and Francois Luambo Makiadi aka Franco. It thrills and mesmerizes precisely because technology cleans up and packages anew what was recorded almost four decades ago. The tracks are short, sweet and filled with imagination and color. The result is pure joy that oozes from every track on this 15-song album. Grand Kalle leads the pack with three pre-independence songs; "Mama Tsheba," "Ngai Mobo Aye" and "Mama Kwela."

Next up is the upstart Negro Success, which enjoyed a short life under the leadership of Bavon Marie Marie (Francos younger brother who died in a mysterious car crash) and Bholen. They were the modernists of their era, incorporating fulsome drums, scratchy horns, cool guitars and fruity voices on the tracks "Majo" and "Vie Ya Kinduma."

The meticulously researched album also turns up a very rare, young and reckless Manu Dibango sporting a hot sax on the rowdy tune "Madou Whiskey Soda." Listening to it all, one is transported to the time when African artists were just beginning to find their voices, and it is pure magic.

cd cover Following closely in the footsteps of these rumba pioneers is US-based Ricardo Lemvo and his band Makina Loca. This Kinshasa born singer has released his much awaited second album, Sao Salvador (Putumayo). He carefully blends Afro-Cuban roots with classic Congolese rumba, which some might argue is one and the same thing, except that Lemvo extends the genre by allowing veteran Congolese guitarist Bopol Mansiamina plenty of room to maneuver the sound. The mix is Congolese rumba at the precise departure from Afro-Cuban sound with a sharp soukous edge. "Ave Maria" is so well crafted that it could have come straight from the pen of Grand Kalle himself. But Lemvo smartly veers away from the classic to the hot merengue, trailing behind a hornet-nest of saxophones. On Sao Salvador, he brings the music alive with a touch of Angolan morna while the Latin rumba sound stays at a respectful distance-- this is the music of love lost and found.

Innovative and forever exploring new sound, Lemvo goes AWOL into pygmy rap while Bopol accompanies him on the guitar. It's all quaint, hip and fun.

The Fury from Niger

cd cover From the edge of the dry-hot Sahel of Niger comes fury in the name of Mamar Kassey. Led by singer-songwriter Yacouba Moumouni, the five-year old band has debuted with the attention-grabbing Denke-Denke (Daqui- France). The album has a driving modern/traditional rhythm similar to the popular Wassoulou sound of Mali, but distinct because of the unusual assortment of instruments including the one-stringed kountigou, two-stringed komsa, three-stringed molo, calabash and other local sounds.

"Lelli Yoro"
Summoning the frenetic energy of the late Alou Fane of Mali's Djatta Band, Denke-Denke unleashes a relentless dance music that stays hot from the opening notes to the very last moment. Moumouni's voice, shaking and rattling like a dry-gourd, is sweetened by the melodic female chorus that pours like warm honey. Acoustic and electric sounds collide and melt into an authentic mix guaranteed to fill the dance floor any day, any where. - Opiyo Oloya

"Lelli Yoro" from Denke-Denke: © 1999 Daqui / France
Song used by express permission

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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