April 27, 2009


You may have been wondering why I haven't posted anything in the last couple of days. I can assure you that lack of material is not an issue (and won't be in the foreseeable future). I have been forced to take it easy, after walking -rather stupidly- into a glass wall nearly a week ago.

I promise you I'll be posting more singles very soon, and I haven't forgotten about Franklin Boukaka or about Le Vieux Lion, but for the moment here is a very short post.

Here is an lp filled with tracks that are bound to bring smiles of recognition on the faces of those who have a reasonable amount of knowledge of the music of Guinea. It contains versions of great tracks like "Apollo" (which Sekou Bambino Diabaté turned into a hit), "Diamaraboy" (which was called "Djama ba labo", when performed by the Horoya Band) and "Moi ça m'en fou", which you will recognise as a track covered by Balla et Ses Balladins, but which according to Graeme Counsel is likely to be a track originally from Côte D'Ivoire.
I leave you to figure out why the other tracks sound familiar.

The artist of this wonderful lp is Kouyaté Sory, who featured on the second volume of "Assalam Aleikoum Africa", - and is not to be confused with Kouyaté Sory Kandia. Listening to the music this is not very likely: this Sory is no belcanto vocalist, but rather a one-man-band on the electric guitar.

By the way: note that this appears to be the first record on the Sacodis label!

Sacodis LS 1-77

April 20, 2009

Black stars and comets

Continuing the singles posts, here are two from Ghana.

Now, as I've indicated before, I am no expert on highlife music. So I am hoping you can help me out with this first one. I have very little information about the artist of this wonderful single about the "Ghana Black Star Line". He is called B.B. Ossei, and I strongly suspect he was at one point in charge of the Noble Kings. I love these sung adverts, and listening to the sad commercials of today I sometimes wish we could go back to this format. The A-side of the record contains a highlife version and the B-side a lovely calypso version. It's hard to say which version I prefer, - they're both great.

Ambassador BSL 100

There is more information about the artist of the second single. When I write "more", I mean the same information can be found on a lot of sites... Apparently some members from the later crossover band Osibisa were involved in the early 1960s with this orchestra, The Comets. "Mac Tontoh's first band, known as "The Comets", was based in Kumasi and led by his elder brother Teddy Osei (who he later collaborated with in Osibisa). The Comets cut their teeth playing in Kumasi clubs such as The Jamboree, Kismet and Hotel de Kingsway. They became very popular in Ghana and Nigeria during the early 1960s for highlife and jazz, and Mac soon emerged as one of the leading and most progressive Ghanaian hornsmen, fusing the modern jazz styles of trumpeters such as Miles Davis and Clifford Brown with West African highlife." (The quote is from this site, but is repeated in various variations by others). Apparantly this orchestra was founded in 1959 by Teddy Osei, who in 1962 moved to the UK. I've read somewhere* about a link with the Stargazers Band, and listening to the music this doesn't surprise me. Both tracks are labeled as "Osibi (highlife)", which may explain the name of their later band(?).

Philips-West African-Records PF 325

*but I've forgotten where

April 19, 2009

Do Me Justice

In the next few weeks I am planning to share some singles with you. I'm thinking of posting two at the time, but I may change my mind.

I would like to start with two very remarkable singles by a man who is best known as S.E. Rogie, but who on the first of the two singles is called "S.E. Rogers". On the A-side of this -unfortunately rather scratchy- 45 he is accompanied by His Morning Stars, and on the B-side by his guitar. The A-side is a highlife style song, and sounds like it was recorded in an empty factory. The B-side starts with a comical dialogue between husband and (presumably) wife. The 'justice' of the title refers to conjugal rights.

Rogie R.20

The second of these two singles is even more remarkable. Both sides contain an ode to President Sékou Touré, one sung in English and one in French. On the English side S.E. Rogie explains that the songs were composed at the request of a Mrs. P.A. James. In the song Rogie "heartily" congratulates Sékou Touré with the independance of Guinea.
If you think this is too much, just wait 'till you've heard the French side! I won't spoil the surprise, but I can reveal that a slide guitar is involved.......

S.E. Rogie - Sekou Toure

April 16, 2009

Assalam Aleikoum

A double helping this time. These two volumes were compiled from singles originally released by the Société Ivoirienne du Disque (SID), a company founded in 1974, only two years before the release of these lp's. There's quite a bit of information on the back covers, so I'll concentrate on the music.

If you listen to these albums you won't be surprised when I tell you I prefer the second volume. It's not just because I am not looking for "songs ranging in influence from jazz styles ... to rock .. to the songwriting skills of rock's poets .. to soul, r&b and reggae". I got bored with that at about the same time when these lp's were released.
It's also because the second volume has far more variation in styles than the first.

Having said this, I would like to add that there is plenty to enjoy on the first volume. I like the ballad by Guéhi Jean et les Super Banty's de L'Ouest, and I love the two songs by l'Ivoiro Star, especially the jumpy "Dogbo Zo N'Wene". "La Guerre Et La Paix Ne Sont Pas Pareilles" by Théodore Boumbhé is amusing rather than nice (although I like the guitar), but it helps if you don't listen to the French lyrics.

Antilles AN 7032

The second volume gets off to a great start with a great track by Amadée Pierre and his Ivoiro Star. Amadée (who also featured on the Ivoire Retro lp I posted earlier) is one of those artists who has few weaker songs, and I will certainly post more of this Ivorian star in the future.
Besides artists from Ivory Coast the album contains four tracks by stars from other West African countries: Moussa Doumbia from Mali with his version of "Samba" titled "Yeye Mousso" (I love the shouted chorus), Guinean guitarist Kouyaté Sory (more of him coming up soon!), Nigerian butcher (I'm not kidding!) Yekini Aremu and his apala group (no match for the likes of Haruna Ishola...) and Guinean (?) singer Fanta Sakho.

The remaining tracks - all from Ivory Coast - are also very diverse: there is a great Ghanian style ballad and a contrasting track in an uptempo typical Ivorian beat, both by Bony Pascal & Les Cantadors de la Capitale and a track in lingala by Jean Raph et Les Zoulous, who have clearly listened to a wide range of Congolese bands.
The last two tracks are traditionals taken from Bété folklore, - but also two very different songs.

Antilles AN 7033

PS: I'm not too sure about the relevance of the album titles in a country with less than 40 percent Muslims....

April 14, 2009

The Mapfumo's

A few months have passed since I posted music by Thomas Mapfumo. There was some discussion about the choruses in "Marehwarehwa", and even suggestions that the singing is off-key. Comments on "Moyo Wangu" focused mostly on guitarist Ashton 'Sugar' Chiweshe, and the reasons Thomas Mapfumo had for sacking him. And in the first part of a series on the partnership between Thomas Mapfumo and the inventor of the mbira style guitar*, Jonah Sithole, you could hear the late guitar master talking about his early career with Thomas.

This is more of an intermediate post, with two 45s. Or to more precise two remarkable maxi-singles. Both feature Thomas Mapfumo with Jonah Sithole.

The first was recorded in London in 1985, and contains three tracks. The track on the A-side is a remix of a track recorded for the album "Chimurenga for Justice", but far more noteworthy are the two tracks on the B-side: versions of "Pidigori" and "Hwahwa", recorded in one take at Capital Radio. I have posted the last track before, but I am sure there is no harm in posting it again...

Both these tracks are kicked off Jonah in his typical understated guitar style, and vocally Thomas is in great shape. But I would like to draw your attention to the conga playing and the handclapping in these tracks. Handclapping is very much a part of traditional Shona music, and the conga is the modern replacement of the traditional ngoma drum. I assume Thomas' brother, Lancelot Mapfumo, is playing the conga, and Thomas is doing the clapping. Both are brilliant.

But on the B-side of the second single, "Guruwe", released in Zimbabwe a few years later (probably in 1989 or 1990) on Thomas's own label and also featuring Jonah on guitar, I suspect Lancelot is doing the handclapping. I have seen him doing it lots of times during concerts, and have watched him several times with great attention, and I have come to the conclusion that the man has taken handclapping to another, higher level. Clapping as an art form....

RTT 190
TM 02

*and I am quoting both Jonah and Thomas!

April 12, 2009

April 11, 2009


I don't have the sleeve of this cassette, and there is reason for this.
I first heard this cassette by the great singer Molobali Keita (of whom I posted his fourth volume earlier) in Mali in 2000. I already had a few of his later cassettes and, although I had to get used to the drum kit which he had introduced to complement the traditional instruments, these had slowly but surely grown on me.
But that sweaty night in Bamako, listening to his second volume I heard for the first time the Molobali I subconsciously always had known existed. It was one of those rare moments that people, place, ambiance and music synchronised.

It took some effort to get a copy of this cassette, but I think you'll agree it was worth it. Technically it certainly isn't Molobali's best recording, but the vibes on this cassette are incredible. I advise you to play it late at night, outside - if you can - or when the house is empty.

All the tracks are traditionals from the Sikasso (or Kénédougou) region, and more particular from the region around the town of Sikasso, which is the source of an incredibly rich balafon tradition.

Super Sound SS 42

To give you an idea of what this music looks like, here is a video from Malian television. I assume it is from approximately the same time as the cassette. The line-up is at least very similar. The round gourd drum is a type of 'bara' (which comes in different sizes). The title on this video is "Shinyana foli", but on Volume 3 the same track is called "Signana Tolo" (and I suspect the latter is the correct title).

PS: There is another (and much better quality - especially in HQ) video featuring Molobali & Mama Keita here (thanks Scott for reminding me).

April 07, 2009


Faustino Oramas was a sonero from Holguin, Cuba. "Was", because he died in March 2007, at the age of 96, and after a musical career of 81 years. He was nicknamed "El Guayabero", a reference not to his profession (guayabero = vendor of guava), but to a village halfway between Holguin and Santiago de Cuba, where Faustino as he stated "went to earn a living and almost encountered death". He was attacked by the husband of a brownhaired girl who flirted with him, and had to run for his life. On the way back home, the musicians travelling with him sang a song by Pacho Alonso, "En Guayabero", to tease him.

Known in Cuba as 'el rey del doble sentido', his lyrics are full of Cuban idiosyncrasies, of mishaps and -understandings. "Everything about me is serious", he once claimed, "I don't say what the people think I'm saying. I am very respectful, although I can sing one thing and the public will understand another".

He didn't start composing until he was forty, and has not recorded as many records as the length of his career would suggest. In fact, in Cuba I could hardly find any of his recordings, while everybody knew him and could sing his songs.

Here is one of his lp's, released in 1987. I won't attempt to translate tracks or dissect the meaning of the songs. Even if one doesn't (fully) understand his songs, there is plenty to enjoy. For one, Faustino's dry singing style, combined with the thoroughly Cuban sons.

Siboney - Egrem LD-342 (new link November 10, 2012)

April 06, 2009


I am informed that one of the great experts on highlife music, John Collins, will be visiting this country (the Netherlands) this week to present his new book "Fela, Kalakuta Notes". I am not going to write about this book, or about Fela.

I don't consider myself an expert on highlife music, and there are other blogs that can give you far better information about this great African music (Akwaboa, of course, at Highlife Haven, John at Likembe, and at Comb & Razor blog).
I am just using this as an excuse to post this, in my opinion absolutely essential, highlife lp from 1974. No collection should be without this classic by Dr. K. Gyasi and his Noble Kings. What's surprising to me is the full sound, with only ten musicians. Eric Agyemang excels, rewriting the book about the role of the lead guitar. But the same goes for the rest of the orchestra. I would like to mention the bass player, Ralph Karikari, Thomas Frimpong on drums and vocals, and the whole of the (four strong)percussion section.

To me the part where the shivers start running down my back is the beginning of the B-side, and to be more precise the bit when the horn section joins the party. It never fails to get me right where it counts.....

Essiebons EBL 6117

April 05, 2009


Although he was born at the other side of the Congo river, Franklin Boukaka's first serious move into a musical career was made in Leopoldville. In Brazzaville he had helped to form the Negro Band, and when the band started recording at the Esengo label he came into contact with the Rock-a-Mambo/African Jazz clan and Joseph Kabasele (a.k.a. le Grand Kallé), who was at the time the Big Star of Congolese music. He joined Rochereau and Jean Bombenga in Jazz Africain in 1960, when Kallé was at the Table Ronde.
Gary Stewart states that Boukaka joined Bombenga and Casino Mutshipule in forming the first version of Vox Africa in 1960, but personally I think Jazz Africain was not abandoned so quickly, - although Rochereau left when Kallé returned.

Around 1963 or 1964 Franklin returned to Brazzaville to join Cercul Jazz, the band of the cercle culturel* in the Bacongo quartier of Brazza. It was with this orchestra that he moved away from songs about love and nature (as Ntesa Dalienst once described it), and started singing about social matters, and even politics (which finally cost him his life - but that's the subject of a later post).

And that brings us to this great lp from the Merveilles du Passé series on the African label, released in 1986 and claiming to contain tracks from 1967.
This is likely to be true for the tracks with the Cercul Jazz. The most famous of these two tracks is "Pont Sur Le Congo", in which Boukaka calls on the two Congos to unite (a translation of part of this song can be found in Gary Stewart's "Rumba on the River"). I don't want to go into the lyrics of this song.
What strikes me with this song is the vocals, with a strong influence of African Jazz - and more precisely Jean Bombenga - in the duets.
My favourite tracks on this lp are, however, the two tracks of Franklin Boukaka with the Negro Band. In every aspect in the style of Franco's OK Jazz, including the great guitar picking, which must be by (the strangely unknown) Willy Stany. Both songs are composed by the other singer on "Journal Dipanda", Démon Kasanaut.

The B-side of this lp contains four nice (but not as nice as the A-side) tracks by Franklin Boukaka and Negro Succes, composed by Bholen and Bavon Marie Marie.
If all these tracks were recorded in 1967, Franklin Boukaka must have had a busy year. Because in the same year he founded his ensemble which he named "Franklin Boukaka, ses sanzas et son orchestre Congolais".

I'll be posting more of Franklin Boukaka in the very near future, starting with more of Franklin and the Cercul Jazz.

African 360.153

*a centre set up by the French after World War II to educate the population (i.e. mainly in the French ways...)

April 03, 2009

Who is missing?

Graeme Counsel has pointed out a mystery on the covers of the two lp's by Orchestre de la Paillote on the Syliphone label. According to the cover the orchestra has nine members (including Keletigui).

Both covers, however, only show eight persons!

So the question is: who is this man: David Camara or Djigui Touré?

I am hoping there is someone who can identify this man, and in doing so, can provide an answer to the question: who is missing?

April 02, 2009

More Kebendo!

A few months ago I posted the first of the two lp's on the Tempo label by the wonderful Orchestre de Danse de Gueckédou, better known as Kébendo Jazz. They are among my favourite orchestras in Guinea, and that's saying a lot considering the fierce competition (I refer you to that amazing Boum à Conakry lp I posted a few weeks ago).

I have always wondered why this orchestra was never nationalised. They were the first orchestra ever to win the 'Orchestre' competition of the Festival National des Arts et de la Culture. This was in 1963, a year before the Orchestre Bembeya Jazz from Beyla won the competition and immediately became Bembeya Jazz National.

What did they do wrong? Were they 'sidetracked' because of a lack of 'patriotism' (i.e. loyalty to the P.D.G.)? It can't have been their musical qualities, because at the time of these recordings at least they were musically far superior to Bembeya Jazz, and I have found no evidence that the quality of their music went downhill from then (on the contrary, as you will be able to judge for yourself in a later post).

This lp is brilliant, although maybe not as brilliant as the first. Personally I am great fan of the dreamy vocals of Mamady Traoré, and he has only song on this lp, "N'na gnalen". This track is of outstanding beauty, and at least as good as his two songs on Tempo LP-7013. I also love the first track "Plan triennal", the version of "Soumbayaya" (made even more famous by Jardin and by les Balladins), and the music-to-lie-down-and-gaze-at-the-sky instrumental "Yagou sagou".
What tips the scales in favour of Tempo LP-7013 however is the fact that that lp has two more tracks.....

Tempo LP-7014