by Opiyo Oloya

Sekouba Bambino's latest album Kassa (Stern's) is a momentous celebration of voice and instruments blended together with astounding results. The singer from Guinea who through the 1980s toiled in relative obscurity has found his voice, and boy what a voice it is- a hybrid between Salif Keita's powerhouse and Kasse Mady's rich and lush croon. With only a butterfly of a piano fluttering behind, Bambino threads lightly on the tune "Damasena" and on my absolute favourite track "Na Soumbou".

Sekouba Bambino Not long after, the singer goes fully red on the tracks "Iti miri Nma" and his signature tune "Kassouma Ma". When he sings- and this man can sing a storm- every word palpitates with life and passion of its own. Each instrument, meanwhile, faithfully clings to the peaks and valleys of emotion created by the singer, each accurately interpreting the mood and embellishing the lyrics as their pour forth.

On the strength of Kassa alone, it a safe bet that West Africa is witnessing the birth of a new star whose brilliance will be felt for many years to come. Consider this the year's most significant release from Guinea.

Meanwhile, Aster Aweke's Live in London (Barkhanns Records, 1997) album offers fans of the Ethiopian nightingale a slice of what her audience experienced one cold winter night in London. The live recording lists some Aweke's best known hits like Selale, Segno and Eyoha. However, while the raw emotions of the fans spill over at the opening and end of each song, a certain discord is evident between Aweke's lively ballads and her accompaniment on stage. Sometimes, the artist and the drummer seem to clash in a war for prominence. The guitars are equally unable to match the singer's passionate voice. Still, this is a worthwhile collection for Aweke's fans who cherish the galloping polyrhythm from the land of Queen of Sheeba fronted by one of the best diva ever to emerge from the horn of Africa.

By contrast, Mahmoud Ahmed's Soul of Addis (Stern's/Earthworks, 1997) is pure fun, filled as it is with raucous sax and plenty of kicking drums. This is dance music that blends Ethiopian traditional rhythm with modern funk, beckoning all to let go and get down to a serious dig on the dance floor. Though studio recorded, Ahmed remains a club performer per excellence, allowing his open-ended vocal to fill up the void so that he sounds here and now.

Ahmed opens at a brisk pace with "Titesh", followed by the bouncy "Bey Tirigne", before slowing down for traffic with the tune "Bechayen" and then roaring for the final dash with "Yedetnesh". All the while, Ahmed remains in control, leading the pack in call-and-response, before letting each performer take care of his/her own destiny. This album is surely the next best thing to being in the smoky night clubs of Addis Ababa themselves.

Equally noteworthy from East Africa is Malika's Tarabu (Shanachie), an album frothing with lilting music from coastal Kenya. This is the music of love written by poet Bakari Omari Abdi and sung in Kiswahili. This is also the music whose dominance at Swahili wedding parties dates back many decades. It is a traditional Arab roots music that is hewed for the modern ear.

On Tarabu, Malika offers a brooding mix straight from the heart, a potpourri rich in Arabic, Goan, Portuguese and Bantu languages. Twisting this way and that way, she tantalises the listener with the tip of a tongue that darts back and forth over the exotic beat of the tracks "Sibure Mambo" and "Poleni", "Ndugu Wa Faza". Things get truly hopping on the tracks "Mti Nillioupanda" and Nimeona Ishara". No wonder, with music like this we can all say, "Hakuna matata", let's dance.

Finally, Lucky Dube, the South African reggae maestro, has returned to the arena with Taxman (Shanachie). As never before, Dube's voice crackles with positive vibes throughout the entire set. But, though still clinging close to roots reggae as it was in the days of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, Dube has deliberately tamed the rough edges with deft piano openings, injecting female chorus and slowing things down to a heartbeat. On the track "Kiss no frog", Dube touches down in the township with fiery drums, heavy bass and a jaunty beat. Meanwhile in "Taxman" and "Take it to the Jah", the rasta man is mellow, slowly breathing meaning into the lyrics and, in the process, taking fans to the promised land of reggae ecstasy. In all likelihood, this is the best roots reggae anywhere in 1997.

- 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 Saturday 4:00 PM- 5:00 PM.
E-Mail: [email protected]

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