July 27, 2009

Regard sur le passé

To any connoisseur of West-African music the title of this post must at least sound familiar. And I am sure most will recognise it as the title of a classic album by Bembeya Jazz National, in which the legendary singer Aboubacar Demba Camara recounted the epic story of Sekou Touré's grandfather, Samory Touré, and his heroic struggle against the French colonial oppressors. The album was released twice on the Syliphone label, or three times if you count the live version recorded in Abidjan.
The success of the Bembeya tale provoke a lot of orchestras to follow the Regard formula, and evoke tales of other glorious and heroic pasts. The Horoya Band had its own versions with "Tunyalee" and "Boloba", and the Dirou Band follow suit with "L'Arbre Eternel".

The formula soon caught on in other countries, and more particular in the country with which Guinea shares culture and a large part of its history: Mali. Soon Malian audiences too were glowing with pride on hearing the musical accounts of the intrepid endeavours of Great Ancestors like Soundiata Keita, Da Monzon Diarra and Bakari Dian. I have been assured that most of these epics have never made it to vinyl (and certainly not the many regional versions).

But the great version of the epic of Bakari Dian, gloriously performed by Biton National de Ségou and masterfully recorded at the Radio Mali, did, - and was released on the first lp of Mali's own Mali Music label*.

Besides Biton the lp contains tracks by the Rail Band, the Orchestre de Gao and two tracks by the Tjiwara Band de Kati. Of these the track by the Orchestre from Gao offers another link to the Guinea of Sekou Touré with a song in the Regard style about the attack led by Portuguese officers on Novembre 22, 1970.
The Rail Band song is an ode to the band's founder and sax player, Tidiani Koné (see this and further videos).
The two tracks by the Tjiwara Band can perhaps not compete with the superior standard set by Biton and the Rail Band, but have become -over time- historic proof of the overall high level of Malian orchestras.

Mali Music Mali 1001

*"Da Monzon", albeit a comparatively short version, was also released on the Orchestre Régional de Ségou lp released on the Bärenreiter-Musicaphon label. I will post a version of this without the irritating applause later.

July 26, 2009

O.D.

I am not on holiday. I've been busy with other matters and have had little time for pleasurable activities, - like sharing great music with you. Hopefully the quality of the next few posts will compensate for the -perhaps disappointing- quantity.

This record is a bit of mystery to me. I copied it from someone who bought the record in Ghana in the 1970s. Like Akwaboa at Highlife Haven I love the "I've found my love" CD on Original Music label. On this CD S.K. Oppong, who is the subject of this post, has three tracks. The tracks are similar to those, and also different.

As I have mentioned before, I have only a very limited knowledge of highlife music. And I can find surprisingly little information about S.K. Oppong on the internet. Surprisingly, because he was a popular actor on Ghana Television (GTV). The Oppong Drama Group of which he was the leader changed its name to "Osofo Dadzie Group". The Osofo Dadzie series apparently achieved cult status. When it comes to his musical achievements I have little or nothing to go on. It is clear he had a background in the concert parties (like E.K. Nyame) and that his music is in the palm-wine guitar band style.

And that's where the tracks on this lp are similar to those of "I've found my love". The difference is in the sound. This "Akwankwaa Hiani" album, released on the Ambassador label, has a more fresh, acoustical sound. I am guessing guitar highlife went through an acoustical stage in the seventies.
It's a great sound, and together with the seemingly casual but complex vocals it's what makes this record into an evergreen.

Ambassador LPAM 015

PS: S.K. Oppong died on December 3, 2001 (according to this).

July 17, 2009

Boom boom boom

Two more singles in this post, and again from Benin. Although I don't know all that much about the music of Benin, I don't think the artists performing on these two records are typically Beninois.

In the case of the first, King N'Gom (whose first name is Meissa), this is not so strange. He is in fact from Senegal, and at one point worked with Dexter Johnson. The experience appears to have given him confidence. Shamelessly he uses quotes from Cuban son music, clearly without any idea of the meaning of these lyrics - or the Spanish language.... I love it. I have no objections to gibberish in any language, and certainly not when done with such fervour and passion. And King N'Gom has a great voice for it.

Editions Becoci EB002

At the start of the second record (which is rather scratchy I regret to say) you may fooled into thinking the track is going to be one of those broody ballads. But then the track takes another direction altogether, in a rhythm that reminds me a bit of that wonderful kaseko music from Surinam (if you don't know this music, it may be worthwhile looking out for it). The singer, Pablo Medetadji, obviously is an experienced singer. I like the casualness of his phrasing. And in the version of that ultimate worldmusic song "El Manicero" (which I suspect was covered more times in Africa than in the whole of Latin America*) he too demonstrates his fluency in hispano-gibberish. More please!

Medetassembo PM001

*hmm - this may be another good idea for a post....

July 12, 2009

Succes Zaïrois

The series of "Les Plus Grands Succes Zaïrois" is somewhat peculiar series of Congolese music collections. The title would suggest tracks from the time Congo was called Zaïre, - but all the tracks are from the 1960s, when Congo was still Congo. Furthermore at least one of the groups (Cercul Jazz) is from Brazzaville. And calling the songs selected on the three albums "les plus grands succes" can't have been based on their commercial success. It seems more likely that Sonafric got hold of some singles and decided to launch a series to compete with the L'Afrique Danse series of the African label. 'Research' into this matter reveals that all tracks have been at one point released as singles on the Ngoma label (see the list - there is one single I can't retrieve).

Despite the somewhat awkward title both albums offer a selection of rare beauties from the sixties. Franco and his OK Jazz, Verckys "et son ensemble", Kongo Vox and Cercul Jazz have four tracks each on these two volumes. The remaining are by orchestre Congolia (on Ngoma they are called Congolia 69) and Johnny Roger et son ensemble Cocorico.

Of the OK Jazz songs only the two of Volume 2 have (to my knowledge) been released on another lp. Both "Dix Makuta" and "Club 53" (renamed "Marie Mado") have been included on Volume 10 of the Kenyan In Memoriam series (GMFLP 0010). In both cases the Kenyan versions are significantly longer. In the case of "Dix Makuta" in the "Les Grands Succes Zaïrois"-version Franco has just achieved 'lift-off' when the song ends, while on Volume 10 we are allowed to enjoy full flight with captain Franco at the controls...
On Volume 3 the deficit is compensated by two superb and unique tracks. In "Ngai Na Boya Na Boya Te", a song in a rhythm half-way between rumba and bolero, Franco himself sings the lead, and in "Beyos" he subtly backs Vicky Longomba. Unfortunately I can't help but think that these two tracks too have been shortened....

In the four tracks from Verckys et son ensemble (which seems to indicate these tracks are of a pre-Vévé period) Franco's influence is still very much audible. While still in the OK Jazz Verckys made some records with (amongst others) Youlou Mabiala. It may be my imagination, but one of the vocalists on "Sasa Akeyi Congé" sounds suspiciously like Youlou, and also at the start of "Bawaka" my sensors detect some Mabiala. But it may be that Verckys intentionally tried to get Youlou-like vocals into his orchestra.

I don't know anything about the Kongo Vox orchestra. The fact that they are playing in the OK Jazz style suggests there is no link with Vox Africa (firmly rooted in the African Jazz school of Congolese music). Instrumentally and vocally they certainly stand out as a quality band. And they have the confidence to pull off a comical pause in "Ndoli Ya Mosapi" (should that be "ndoki"?).

Although he sounds slightly different than on the tracks I posted before, I think Franklin Boukaka is singing in at least three of the four tracks by Cercul Jazz. I especially like "Lily Komikosana Te" and "Na Sepeli Aline", both very melodic songs with nice harmonies (and a very nice rhythm guitar). But again I suspect songs have been cut short.

If I heard the ghost of Youlou Mabiala with Verckys's ensemble, with Johnny Roger I hear a voice with the same timbre as Kwamy. But in this case I am quite sure we are dealing with an imitator, and not with the 'real thing'. I like the two tracks, but I can also imagine they didn't stand a chance against the stiff competition of that era.
The same goes for Congolia: in any other period they could have become succesful, but the competition in those days was just too good, with bands like Conga Succes, Cobantou, Negro Succes, African Fiesta National, African Fiesta Sukisa, Vox Africa, Negro Band and all the other immortal bands of the late 1960s.

All in all, and despite my suspicions about shortening most of the tracks, I am very happy with these two albums, - as I am with the first volume*. But that the subject of another post.

Sonafric SAF 50043
Sonafric SAF 50044

* which reminds me: I have received the Docteur Nico book I wrote about a few days ago, and can now officially and wholeheartedly recommend it.

EDIT June 11, 2013: I have reuploaded the two albums to another server.

July 11, 2009

Perspective

To me this was a key album in discovering the music of Senegal. It opened a completely new perspective. I was happy to see this perspective later confirmed by the wonderful CD's on the Dakar Sound label, - and especially the volume with the Sorano Singers (DKS 002).

This record, credited on the back of the sleeve to the Ensemble Instrumental de L'A.C.A.S. (Association Culturelle et Artistique du Senegal??), features some of the Greats of Senegalese traditional music. It starts with the vocal power of Amadou N'Diaye Samb, a man who seems to come from a time before microphones and amplification was invented.

He is followed by Lalo Keba Dramé, kora legend from the Casamance. With his forceful, coppery voice he sings the classic Manding song "Alalake" ("If God wills (it)"). If you think kora music is sheepish music for dreamy types, listen to Lalo Keba Dramé, - he will change your view for ever.

The song that finished me off, when it came to the change of perspective, was the opening track of side B by the legendary Samba Diabaré Samb. Both instrumentally and vocally this song touches emotional strings left untouched by the vast majority of western music.

I'm not going to discuss all the songs of this great lp individually. I leave you to discover the wonders offered here. But with a promise of more, in a future post.....

N'Dardisc 33-11

July 08, 2009

Formidable!

Sali Sidibé is one of the great singers of the kamalen n'goni music. She has been active as a professional artist for nearly thirty years. She was a member of the Ensemble Instrumental National in the earlier 1980s, when she recorded this cassette. I have read somewhere* that she made her first cassette in 1989, but this cassette is proof of the inaccuracy of this.

Like many of the Wassoulou kamalen n'goni style Sali uses songs from the hunters' repertoire, but -while staying with the original theme - reworks them for others purposes, i.e. mainly to convey social 'instructions'. She warns of the risk of bush fires, advises not to judge people by their appearance, urges not to go for the short-term gain of the individual but for the long-term benefit of the community. Sali's instructions have at times been misinterpreted as criticism of certain politicians, but according to those who have worked with her it is very unlikely that the criticism was intentional.

Musically Sali Sidibé has stayed closed to her roots, incorporating traditional instruments in her ensemble. When I bought this cassette, I was told that Alou Fané was accompanying her on kamalen n'goni, but Alou himself later denied this. Others assured me Zani Diabaté was the guitarist on this cassette, but although the guitar style is similar to Zani's I don't think this is true either (I'll have to ask Zani about this one day...).

CMcalls STA 835

On later cassettes (and I'll post some of those later) Sali has used a wide scope of traditional and modern instruments, but the focus has always been on instruments that are also used in the traditional music of the Wassoulou region. In this video from the late 1980s (I estimate it is from 1987 or 1988) the sokou (bambara fiddle) plays a prominent role and is supported by bolon, bala and kamalen n'goni. Note (again) the wonderul dancing, this time by a male and a female dancer (and the rather comical attempt to copy this dance by an older man who looks a bit like Sidiki Diabaté).
Coincidentally, this track is also on the cassette. It is a version of a song by donso n'goni legend Toumani Koné in praise of one of the earliest (known or remembered) donso n'goni artist Ngonifo Bourama.


*Can someone remind me where I read this?

PS: The track order on the cassette sleeve is incorrect.

July 07, 2009

Bolongo

Continuing the series of singles, I have dug up three records by Docteur Nico and his African Fiesta Sukisa.
The choice is, however, not coincidental. It is partially motivated by the release of a booklet containing a discography of Docteur Nico. The author is Alastair Johnston, of http://www.muzikifan.com/ fame. And that also happens to be the place where you can order this monograph.

And for those critical or sceptical readers: I have no ties to muzikifan, and do not profit from the sale of this release. I have yet to read the book, so I can't even judge its contents. But going by the standard set by the muzikifan website, I think it is safe to assume that it will be at least interesting, well written and knowledgeable. Add the fact that very little has been written about Nico and his music and ... I leave you to decide.

And now for the music of this post.
The first of the three singles contains two compositions by two singers: Mizele Paul, also nicknamed Paulins, and Diongas Dominique, a.k.a. Apotre, who in the earlier part of the 1960s was known as a specialist of the cha-cha-cha. These tracks were originally released as Sukisa 89 (and re-released here on the African label in the Surboum Africaine series), and were followed by tracks like Nico's "Olga" (Sukisa 90, - available on Sonodisc CD 36516).

The second single (originally Sukisa 105) is on the Decca Congo label. Both sides are composed by Nico himself. The A-side is "Asala Malekoun" (!), which has been re-issued a few times, both on lp and CD. And the B-side, "Mbanda Peugeot", may be a reference Nico's skills as a mechanic and has a wonderful languid, and unusual, rhythm, with Nico occasionaly dashing out dots of cream on the cake.

The last of these three records (Sukisa 119), and my favourite, features singer Franc Lassan. And that's another Congolese artist who deserves to have a book written about him. I will try and gather some more information about him and will certainly dedicated a future post to his earlier work.
"Bolongo", the A-side, is a mid-tempo "Madre-Rumba" (and don't ask me what this means). The B-side, "Adios", is vocally even more interesting than the A-side, with some intricate vocal combinations, that seem to have served as an inspiration for artists like the late Ntesa Dalienst (who vocally has more resemblances to Lassan). Please note too the interaction between rhythm and Nico's lead guitar.
As far as I know these last two tracks have never been released on lp or CD.

Sukisa 89, 105 and 119 (combined) (new link Jan. 31, 2012)

July 01, 2009

Afro-Charanga

Amadou Balaké is, apart from a musical hero, an artist with more than average dose of authenticity. He can perform with any band and still be recognisable as Amadou Balaké. And not only that, but he can play the same song with another orchestra, and it will sound like a completely new song!

The proof of this is in this album from 1981. "Whisky et Coca-Cola" is a version of the track released on CVD 52, "Wariko" a reworking and re-arranging of a track on LS 7-78 (and was later reworked again on MGS 3120*) and "Voiture D'Occasion" ("second-hand car") is a cover of "Mobili Occasion" on CVD 59 and "Super Mobili Occasion" on CVD 008. But on "Afro-Charanga", accompanied by studio musicians from New York, these songs sound completely fresh and new, like they were composed just for this lp.

The other songs, "Zimbabwe" (introducing the 'new' Zimbabwe) and "Hayafam" (which I suppose is meant to be "Janfa ma", i.e. "I'm sorry"), are of the same unique Balaké quality.

In a time when hordes of people are running to the shops to buy Michel Jackson CD's, why can't this great classic lp by Amadou Balaké be the summer hit of 2009?

Zamidou Prod. 1582

* The relation with the track of the same name on CVD 008, however, seems unclear...