South African Classics | Griot Time | Fallou Dieng | Manhatten Brothers

AfroDisc: July 2000

An African Renaissance, yesterday and today

cd cover African Renaissance, Volume 1-5 (Eagle Records / is by far the most comprehensive compilation of South African roots music spanning four decades from 1959 to 1994. Compiled by David Alexander, a South African music producer, the whopping 10 CDs offer a treasure trove of stellar recordings from the archives of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). These recordings include music from all the major ethnic groups in South Africa and, ironically, were made as part of the apartheid policy of racial segregation whereby each race was supposedly free to develop its own cultural identity. But the music in African Renaissance has the opposite effect of uniting different cultures through its sheer beauty, authenticity and honesty.

cd cover Whether you are listening to Zulu Music in Volume 1, Venda Music in Volume 2, or Xhosa and Swazi in Volume 4, African Renaissance offers a variety of music that includes the explosive mbaqanqa, gumboot chants, Mbube--the vocal acapella style made famous by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and dry guitar music. And yes, here you will find the music by obscure groups with names like the White Mambazo, Moving Stars, Durban Home Defenders, Glendale Sugar Mill Team and Love Inspirations.

cd coverPerhaps most importantly, the series exposes rarely heard music like the minority Venda people from the northern part of South Africa. Influenced by music from neighbours including the Shona of Zimbabwe, this is great dance music with echoes of Mapfumo's chimurenga.

Perhaps the only annoying aspect of African Renaissance is the absence of specific notes about the artists and the exact dates of recording. After all, this is not just music, but part of the missing history of South Africa which deserves proper documentation. That said, these superb collections of South African traditional and urban music offer hours of unparalleled listening pleasure.

Editor's Note: These CDs are available by special order from at cdRoots.
The cover art for the series is from an interesting artist named Nico Prins.

The Manhattan Brothers Return

M.B. Another piece of South African music history not to be missed is the Best of the Manhattan Brothers (Stern's). Using the best technology, the music formerly recorded for 78 rpm in the 1940s and 1950s is carefully re-mastered to expose the silky voices of the first African jiving superstars: Nathan Mdledle, Joe Mogotsi, Ronnie Majola and Rufus Khosa.
"Thaba Tseu"
Considering that this was the time when apartheid was at its most oppressive, and Africans were denied any kind of voice, it's incredible to listen to the joyful, stylish and elegant sound of the Manhattan Brothers ( who were not blood brothers). The ecstasy spills out in song like "Malayisha" (1951), "Thaba Tseu" (1954) and "Ntylo Ntylo" (later recorded by Hugh Masekela). The quartet is joined by a young beautiful skylark named Miriam Makeba who is heard on the tracks "Tula Ndivile," "Baby Ntsoare," and "Ntylo Ntylo."

There is a timeless element to these recordings; sweet, funny, sad, hopeful and just plain wholesome fun. They stay with you long after the music has stopped playing. The impeccable liner notes are the icing on this very delicious cake.

Senegal's Mr. Cool Is Very Hot

cd cover His name is Fallou Dieng, and he is the perfect protege for Youssou N'dour. First heard on Streets of Dakar (Stern's), Dieng debuts with the stunning Medina (Stern's). Dieng's richly-layered voice displays an expansive range of deep emotion and bright colours. It is as soulful and suave as it is heart-stirring. Listen to the opening of the track "Jog Leen," where the voice beckons you to discover everything good in Senegalese music. What word can describe that?

"Walo walo"
The strong vocal display is backed by the crack mbalax ensemble of Le DLC featuring the indomitable Siam Thiam on tama and Aziz Faye on Sabar. For sheer energy where the sabar crackles like thunder in the savanna, try the tracks "Walo Walo," "Koleure," and "Withiaxou." But, cerebrally, the most satisfying pieces are those on which Dieng's voice rolls out like sweet honey in the tracks "Biri Biri" and "Beusseum-Bi." These laid-back songs are few because Dieng packs the rest with everything he has got in his percussive arsenal, forcing you to jump up to do the jig rather than listen.

Banning Eyre, the American music writer, broadcaster and African music aficionado, has compiled In Griot Time - The String Music from Mali (Stern's). This impressive CD brings to life the characters and music that fills the pages of his recent book, "In Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali" (Temple University Press).

Eyre's refined ears pulls together the best music by famous Malian griots like Kandia Kouyate, Lobi Traore, Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate, Oumou Sangare, Habib Koite and Salif Keita. But the central protagonist around which the book (and the CD) revolves is the charismatic guitar maestro Djelimady Tounkara, lead guitar of the legendary Super Rail Band of Bamako. In Tounkara's hands, hugging closely the timeless sounds of the kora and ngoni, the acoustic guitar weaves the most confounding and beautiful music. Characteristically, like a painter with the finest touch, Tounkara opens with a single stroke and then adds layers upon layers of pure joy. Hear the track "Kouyate" on which Tounkara is accompanied by his nephew Adama Tounkara on the ngoni. It is poetry in motion.

cd cover The only serious shortcoming of In Griot Time, is not what is included, but rather what is excluded. Eyre incorrectly assumes that the listener would not be interested in the live recordings he made in the streets of Mali while taking guitar lessons from Tounkara and others. As a result, he teases with snippets like the tracks Sunjata (0:38 secs), Diguisse (1:19 secs), Toubaka (0:42 secs) and Lanaya (1:28 secs), thus denying us, the listeners, some of the best, most authentic and spontaneous music ever to come out of Mali. Who would not want to hear the extended version of "Diguisse" which opens with a French conversation between Eyre and his teachers? Could we possibly have the rest of this rare stuff later in another album? One would certainly hope so.

But Eyre is forgiven this omission when one realizes that he has distilled of the creme de la creme of Malian griot music into this exceptional compilation.


Manhatten Brothers: © 2000 Stern's Music
Fallu Dieng: © 2000 Stern's Music
In Griot Time: © 2000 Banning Eyre / Stern's Music

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
E-Mail: [email protected]

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