BEST AFRICAN MUSIC OF 2013
[Listen to the one hour audio of show from WBAI on Suncloud.]
1] TAL NATIONAL~KAANI~FATCAT
This is the CD we have been waiting for. This is what we have been highly anticipating. This is what we have been wondering since January. Will there be a truly great, brilliant, classic collection of #AfricanMusic this year and where will it come from? Our answer came in July with the release of KAANI on the Fat Cat label. It is a brilliant tour-de-force by the group Tal National of Nigèr. From start to finish, KAANI is a relentless wall of polyriddims, rocking guitar licks & impassioned vocals from a rotating cast of singers that never lets up. No lulls in the energy or excitement here. Indeed, I do not program my player to skip any tracks. As a matter of fact, KOUNTCHÉ & NOUVELLES usually get several repeats. Tal National’s KAANI, #1 for 2013
2] BASSÉKOU KOUYATÉ~JAMA KO~OUT HERE
I think this is his best CD yet. On the first two, I was disappointed by the background vocals. They were striving for a certain sound that I thought ended up sounding dull. That’s still in evidence here a bit. They could have gone for some big authentic voices. Also, I didn’t care for all this hype about playing the n’goni like a sex, drugs & rock & roll star. To me the instrument does not need that kind of false cachet to gain legitimacy. What makes this opus a delight are the contributions of Zoumama Téréta & Khaira Arby. Téréta, more known for his sokou sawing abilities, has an absolutely wonderful voice, as ancient as the massifs of Bandiagara. You hear it and it centers you, brings you back from where Kouyaté’s style wants to take you. KENSOGNI is just great. And KÉLÉ MAGNIN? A stimulating sonic palette of handclaps, ululation, Bassékou’s tinkling n’goni & Khaira’s keening vocals. And WAGADOU can not be overlooked. Ami Sacko’s vocals here are amazing.
3] JUPITER & OKWESS INTERNATIONAL~HOTEL UNIVERS~OUT HERE
This one was not at all promoted by the label and many may have missed it. It is the second international opus from this outfit. It’s filled with solidly constructed songs built on robust rhythmic foundations. Don’t expect to hear slick, saccharine soukous here. Congo is a country inhabited by more than 350 ethnic groups. And inspiration for making modern music can be found in 351 places. Traditional music from the Ekonda and Mongo peoples for example, form the base of some of the songs here. The first track is based on a rhythm from Bundundu, the natal region of Flammé Kapaya. And exploring beyond Congo, the group decided to include a lively uptempo reggae track [Bakwapanu] & into an already diverse mix. I was especially pleased to see that Yende Bongongo is still with the band. His voice, raspy when he wants it to be, gives an exciting fillip to any song or stage performance. Thankfully, the band employs all real instruments. No computers or synthesizers. And none of that one-stringed instrument on STAFF BENDA BILILI recordings, which make then so repellant and uninviting. What you will appreciate as much as I did was, once the groove is established, it’s continues to the end without breaking the mood. Great for the dance floor The bass & guitar interplay is especially impressive. Listening to the popular Congolese genres; soukous & ndombolo, and looking at the videos, a foreigner might come to the conclusion that popular artists ignore the cesspool of non-stop war, rape and tyrannical rule in which Congo has been mired for far too long. A situation that has made Congo an abject failure as a state. Jupiter and Okwess do not broach any of these topics either. The song entitled CONGO, with twangy guitar ostinati that reminds of Many Chao, looks past contemporary atrocity to speaks to Congolese independence, slavery & colonialism a half a century ago. Disappointing. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good song. But I would have loved to see/hear how the contemporary miasma would be approached. TSHANGA TSHUNGU features real Congolese drums and the lead guitar is running some really interesting sounding lines. Check out the tightly choreographed interplay of driving, propulsive bass & guitar on SOLOBOMBE. With staccato percussion, wow! What a groove. Great stuff. You’re really missing out if you missed this album.
4] FLAMME KAPAYA~BANNINGSVILLE~BUDA
Remember the days when soukous was fresh new and exciting? The heady days of Kanda Bongo Man & his queenly dancers? The days when the music used to get you out of your chair and on to the dance floor without the slightest resistance? And then the malodorous rot set in even while soukousers were touting the music as the most popular African music worldwide. [This is no longer true, if ever it was] Yeah, we got numb to the creative stagnation, the animateurs & their atalakous became more irritating & the gyrations of the skinny, naked, light-skinned dancers had an effect akin to watching a close-up porno gif over, & over, and over again. After a while, you don’t even want to fuck them anymore. And then I got this CD & put it in the machine. And I knew from the opening screams of rock guitar that I was in for something different, an experiment, an expression of a thinking, creative person. The only thing to access at the end of listening was, did it work? I am pleased to say YES. It did. Kapaya developed his skill & style for ten years working with soukous/ndombolo star Werrason, for about 10 years. However, as he says on the liner notes, the music on this CD has more of an influence from his ancestral area of Bandundu. And as I said, an experiment in orchestration & rhythmic & melodic arrangement. Fresh, exciting & successfully executed.
5] NEUZA~FLOR DE BILA~LUSAFRICA
No doubt some people have been wondering & longing for a “new Cesária” ever since her passing. It’s a revoltingly morbid idea of course. There can never be another Cesária. And there are so many new, young voices coming out of Cabo Verde still flying the morna & coladera flags but also that of funaná, batuku & kontradansa as well creating collections of more variety than Cize ever did. Many of these [mostly] ladies are young have not suffered a lifetime of disappointment, dashed hopes, lost love & betrayal to wring sodade & pain from every syllable in the lyrics of mornas to actually sing the songs with conviction that comes anywhere close to the great lady. Hell, some of them don’t even smoke! Neuza is a fresh new voice, clear as a bell and imbued with an irrepressible optimism. Her CD is filled with bouyant coladeras that will get you swaying in your chair from the first note. Check out TRABESSADO to see what I mean. This romping duet with Michel Montrond is one of the highlights of the album. Same goes for DJAR FOGO. And listen carefully to LEMBRANÇA ANTIGUA to appreciate the insistent rhythm created by afouche. Indeed the playing on the entire album is skillful. The employment of all acoustic instruments keeps the listener’s sanity intact. No cold synthesized sounds here. The mix of songwriting credits is impressive too. Paulino Vieira, Puchota, Mario Barbosa & of course, B. Leza are all represented here with songs carefully chosen to suit Neuza’s voice. I will be remiss is I did not point out the two contradansa styled tunes on here; the jaunty RABOLO & RABOLO DI MI CU MARIA. And finally, it’s not Cize quality, but Neuza does a creditable job on DEUZA.
6] FEMI KUTI~NO PLACE FOR MY DREAM~KNITTING FACTORY
Some of you may have seen the infamous video, which, as they say, went viral, in which the governor of Edo state, told a widow she should “go & die”. This as he was personally supervising his state police confiscating her small goods while a crowd of youth looked on. All because selling on the side of highways is illegal. This video, like nothing else, exemplified the nature of the relationship between Nigerian elites & hoi polloi. The contempt in the governor’s voice as he looked at the widow, it was as if he was addressing someone whom he saw as less than human. It was chilling. Frightening. Her cries & pleas to him were difficult to hear & watch without tearing. These are the people who Femi Kuti is singing about on this album. Corrupt elites, poor people & disfranchised youth. In fact, that widow reminded me of the woman depicted on the cover of the CD. This is a solid offering from Femi. The rhythms are great. The drumming is great. It’s the CD to put on to get you into the mood before your next internet curated flash protest march for jobs, equality & human rights in Nigeria.
The number of Kel Tamashek bands who have had releases on the international market since the advent of Tartit has increased manifold. And every world music label must have one of them. It’s become a thing. I can’t keep up. And I haven’t listened to most of them. Once you hear the droning rock guitars, you think you’ve heard them all. Frankly, except for Tartit, I find many of them boring. But white Europeans & Americans love them because in the music they see reflections of American rock music. This recording is not as extreme as some others. There are very pleasing melodies on here. The addition of a female vocalist helps to ease the testosterone overload a bit & sweeten the sound. TAKMA reminds of Tinariwen’s LULLA.
8] SIDI TOURÉ~ALAFIA~THRILL JOCKEY
I was taken in by this one from the start. The recording is crisp. The sonority of the traditional & acoustic instruments is captured very well. The overall sound of them harmonizing together in the orchestration is very satisfying. The playing is deft. And, on top of that, the background vocals of Leila walet Gobi adds a beautiful finishing touch. Sidi Touré’s voice is not as rich as Ali Farka Toure or as strong as Samba Toure, but it’s not a distraction. Another thing, in his composition of the lyrics, on many songs, he has the chorus sung in three languages. Looked at charitable, one can say it’s a means of communicating but it MAY also appear calculating. A great recording nevertheless.
TITINA~CANTA B. LEZA~STERNS [BEST RE-ISSUE]
Sterns is competing in the reissue market, mining for shiny African gemstones along exclusive purveyors such as Soundway & Analog Africa. Last year, my choice for reissue of the year went to their LA VOIX DE LA REVOLUTION. And they win again this year. Titina’s CANTA B. LEZA was an instant classic when it was released. It very soon went out of print and had been coveted by aficionados ever since. 25 years later, Sterns had the good sense to re-master & re-release this brilliant gem.
THE GARIFUNA COLLECTIVE~AYO~CUMBANCHA [BEST AFRICAN DIASPORA]
When the first album by the Garifuna Collective was being made, it was an experiment. Something new. A different recorded sound from the popular Garifuna genre of punta. There was every intention that the group was to be called the Garifuna Collective. But Andy Palacio, at that time, the undisputed king of punta, with his concern for a disappearing Garifuna language & culture, wanted to do something deeper. He kept stepping up, and stepping up. He kept leading with his songwriting, guitar playing, singing & arranging. The others in the group recognised his charisma & could not match what he was bringing to the table. Thus was born Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective and their debut CD WATINA. I remember it well. It came out to rave reviews & universal praise. I didn’t totally get it. And then, a year or so later Andy Palacio had a massive heart attack while on stage during a tour. He lasted about two days fighting. Ivan Duran, founder of Stonetree records, continued on with other projects. When UMALALI: The Garifuna Women’s Project CD came out, I was floored by the emotional impact it had on me. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe women’s voices made a difference. This CD too was universally praised. And this time I felt what they were talking about. I agreed UMALALI was an amazing document. Now, five and a half years after Andy’s death, Stonetree has released AYO by the Garifuna Collective. No one could fill Andy Palacio’s shoes. Not even Lloyd Augustine or Aurelio Martinez. So the group will remain billed as The Garifuna Collective. AYO, the title track, was written for Andy. It means GOODBYE in Garifuna. With this song, it seems the group has finally been able to move on from the paralysis of grief. There isn’t a bad track on this entire CD. But I must mention MONGOLU; a song about a parent’s investment in a child and their hopes & dreams of seeing them live & grow to adulthood. Very touching. I heard the music & felt verklempt even before I knew what it was about. I also like DUNGUA because it’s infective & joyous and I love any music with handclaps. AYO is dedicated to Andy Palacio but also to 2 other members of the collective who died since WATINA. One was shot to death in Belize City. The other died alone of a heart attack under a tree. This second one is the author of the last song on AYO. It is entitled SEREMEI BUGUYA, and in this song he eerily foresaw his own death.
VARIOUS ARTISTS~FRANCOPHONIE NOUVEAUX SONS~OIF FRANCOPHONIE [BEST AFRICAN COMPILATION]
Gone are the days when labels routinely released compilation CDs featuring great songs from one genre, or from one African country or even a mix of styles from all over. The days when a great compilation was an entry point to learn more about a particular style or artist. The days when you can blame a great compilation for separating you from hundreds of dollars as you began to build your collection. Those days are no more. Not even the labels which specialise in compilations put one out as good as this. Artists included on this collection include; Sia Tolno, Flammé Kapaya, Christine Salem, Diawara Fatoumata, Emel Mathlouthi, Oum, Mounira Mitchala, Alif Naaba, Maryse Ngalula & Charlotte Dipanda. The variety is broad & the quality is excellent. Too bad it’s not for sale.
ROKIA TRAORÉ [BEST LIVE SHOW] November 15th, LINCOLN CENTRE, NYC.
She has really honed her stage presentation to a sleek, streamlined, well-paced show. Her no frills personal style [plain black dress, no make-up, close cropped hair] fit well with the minimalist stage design [by which I mean there was none] and ordinary lighting. She’s mastered the timing & balance of presenting a set & hits all her cues with admirable aplomb. True professionalism. ZEN & KA MOUN KÈ got the most cheers. And off course, you all know she is not a dièli but simply a donkilidala. But she acted like one when she introduced her band in praise songs. That was exciting.
Listen to the one hour audio of show from WBAI on Suncloud.