Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tanzania Hit Parade '88




Note: This post was updated on September 20, 2008 to incorporate a translation of the song "Marashi ya Pemba" by reader/listener Xodi.

Judging from the feedback I've gotten on the last couple of Tanzanian posts it seems that people just can't get enough of the classic Muziki wa Dansi sound - massed horns, a subtle yet propulsive beat, vocals to make you cry - and who can blame them? I present to you, then, four of the bands that made it happen in Dar es Salaam back in the '80s: Mlimani Park, Vijana Jazz, Maquis Original, and two versions of the International Orchestra Safari Sound (Duku Duku and Ndekule), from the LP Tanzania Hit Parade '88 (Ahadi AHDLP 6005, 1988).

Like those Mlimani Park tracks I posted a couple of weeks ago, this is a Doug Paterson production, and Doug has a great background article on the artists by Werner Graebner over on his site. Enjoy!

Vijana Jazz Orchestra - Mundinde

Maquis Original - Clara

Reader/listener Xodi writes: "Marashi ya Pemba - this brings back lots of memories - my translation is probably not the best nor is it quite complete but I think it conveys the essence of the song:

at dawn the sea breeze hit me
i saw the star in the east
to live on an island mama has its own sweetness
mafia pemba zanzibar - our islands

the day I get to pemba
the wife of the sultan shall organize
that I get to explore all its sections - till the last

the perfume of Pemba
Cloves!

I will not be left behind - I will get on a plane to Pemba
I hear it is very nice (there)
that in the evening there is a seabreeze/light wind
that it smells strongly of cloves
International Orchestra Safari Sound (Duku Duku) - Marashi ya Pemba

International Orchestra Safari Sound (Ndekule) - Christina Moshi

Vijana Jazz Orchestra - Chaurembo

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Hasira

Update: You know what would be really nice? If someone who knows Swahili could fill us in on what the lyrics are all about. C'mon! I know you're out there!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nigeria's Unsung Prince of Juju


Most people who have a passing acquaintance with African music are familiar with juju music from Nigeria, and its most famous practitioner, King Sunny Ade. If they've done a little more exploring they've probably come across the music of Ebenezer Obey, I.K. Dairo or Dele Abiodun.

Chances are, though, that they've never heard of "General" Prince Adekunle, which is a shame, because he's easily among the first rank of juju artistes. I have been unable to find out anything about Mr. Adekunle personally, or where he may have served his musical apprenticeship. He seems to have made his first recordings in the late 1960s (I suspect he adopted the moniker "General" as a tribute to to the controversial "Black Scorpion," General Benjamin Adekunle, who played a critical role on the Federal side during the Biafra War.)

During his 1970s glory days Adekunle's Western Brothers band (later renamed the Supersonic Sounds) was the proving ground for numerous juju musicians, notably Segun Adewale and Sir Shina Peters, who have acheived far more fame internationally than their mentor. He issued numerous popular recordings during that decade, his output slowing during the 1980s. After 1990's People!!! (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 118) little has been heard from him. His decline in popularity seems to parallel the declining fortunes of juju itself.

In the hopes of giving more attention to this unjustly neglected artist, I present here a sample of recordings by Mr. Adekunle, all from the late '60s or 1970s. With the exception of the 1975 selection, these are taken from cassette reissues rather than the original vinyl. The sound quality, though, isn't too bad, and I think you'll agree that the musicianship more than compensates for any deficiencies.

Our first three tunes are from a cassette entitled Good Old Music of Prince Adekunle (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 72), which compiled a number of 45s made by Adekunle at the beginning of his career, probably in the late '60s. "Bisimilai" is notable for its use of the trumpet, almost unheard of in juju, while "Ko Sore Bi Jesu/Ofofo O Da" pays tribute to Victor Uwaifo's "Joromi" in its opening bars:

Prince Adekunle & his Western Brothers - Bisimilai


Prince Adekunle & his Western Brothers - Se Rere Fun Mi

Prince Adekunle & his Western Brothers -
Ko Sore Bi Jesu/Ofofo O Da

1972's General Prince Adekunle in the United Kingdom (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 6), finds Adekunle & the band in an expansive mood, in one of those 18-minute jams that had by then become de riguer for any juju band:

General Prince Akekunle & his Western Brothers - London Special

By 1975 the Western Brothers had become the Supersonic Sounds, and had developed an even spacier, more "psychedelic" sound. Although Side A of You Tell Me That You Love Me Baby (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 30) is one of the more exciting, danceable sequences in the juju canon, check out the groove Adekunle & the band get going on this, the B side:

General Prince Adekunle & his Supersonic Sounds - Aiye Nreti Eleya/Aropin Ni T'enia/Eni To Lohun o Fe Tiwa/Awon Ma Wo Won Bo/Ota Ile Dehin Lehin Mi

One thing I find especially charming about juju recordings of the '70s is the musicians' penchant for dropping into the mix anything that catches their fancy: church hyms, Broadway show tunes, what have you. Catch Adekunle's quotation from Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's "Gentleman" late in this medley from 1976's Awodi Nfo Ferere (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 32):

General Prince Adekunle & his Supersonic Sounds - Omo Niyi Omo Nide/A Ki Nromo Ra Loja/Ma Se'ka Iwo Ore/Esan Nbo Wa

Discography of Prince Adekunle

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Aster Aweke Live in Addis


I just came across this - real Ethiopian music the way it was meant to be heard, played on real musical instruments and not cheap synthesizers:


Thursday, September 20, 2007

By Request: Mbaraka Mwinshehe




A reader/listener requested some music by Mbaraka Mwinshehe, and I'm more than happy to oblige! Mwinshehe was the great Tanzanian guitarist and vocalist who thrilled East African audiences from 1965 to 1979 with the famous Morogoro Jazz Band and then with his own Orchestra Super Volcano. He tragically perished in an auto accident in January 1979.

Mbaraka became known to many outside of Tanzania and Kenya in 2000 with the release of Mbaraka Mwinshehe & the Morogoro Jazz Band: Masimango (Dizim 4702-2). Polydor Kenya had previously released at least ten volumes of Ukumbusho (or "remembrance"). This LP series gathered together many of the singles and LP cuts that Mwinshehe made over the course of his career.

Unfortunately, the Ukumbusho volumes do not provide information on the individual recordings and seem to jumble together tracks from various points in Mwinshehe's career. Of the five songs featured in this post, "Daktari ni Mimi" (from Ukumbusho Vol. 3 [Polydor POLP 542], 1983) and "Mama Chakula Bora" (from Ukumbusho Vol. 4 [Polydor POLP 550], 1985) were apparently recorded with Morogoro Jazz, while "
Vijana wa Afrika," "Jasinta" and "Mtaa wa Saba" (all from Ukumbusho Vol. 2 [Polydor POLP 537], 1983) were probably made with Super Volcano.

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Daktari ni Mimi

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Mama Chakula Bora

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Vijana wa Afrika

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Jasinta

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Mtaa wa Saba

Several months ago our friend Zim Bida was kind enough to send me rips of almost all of the Ukumbusho volumes that I don't have. Would you believe that I haven't even had time to listen to them all yet? Rest assured that I plan on posting more of this great music in the future!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ikenga Super Stars: Kickin' Ikwokilikwo!




The Ikenga Super Stars of Africa, led by Victor Okoroego, weigh in here with a funky slice of Ikwokilikwo. The Ikengas were born in 1973 as "The Nkengas" when they split from bandleader Osita Osadebe, in the process hijacking the master tape that became the legendary Nkengas in London (Orbitone OTO 06, 1973). This was but a prelude, though, to the group's massive hit, 1975's Ikenga in Africa (Rogers All Stars ASALP 2).*

The band continued kickin' it at least until 1984, when its output seemed to trickle out with the rather weak War Against Indiscipline (Rogers All Stars RASLPS 065)
. In the meantime the Ikengas established themselves as one of the most beloved Nigerian groups of all time, not only in their homeland but across Africa and in Europe as well. African music fans were delighted when a collection of Ikenga recordings, Great Hits Vol. 1 (Rogers All Stars RASCD 018), was finally issued on CD a couple of years ago.

Side 1 of this LP, Late Celestine Ukwu Special (Roger All Stars ASALPS 12, 1977), pays tribute to the great highlife musician Celestine Ukwu, who died in 1977 in an auto accident. It opens with the refrain "ariri," meaning "grief" and continues, "...we go about our lives but we don't know how close death is... Life is pleasurable but death spoils everything... The death that took Celestine Ukwu did something terrible to us." "Ego di Nogwu" on Side 2 is actually mis-spelled. It should be "Ego di Nugwo" ("There's Never Enough Money"). The refrain repeated throughout the song, "Ego siri ike, ego di nugwo," means roughly "Money is hard to get, there's never enough money." The song continues in that vein, stating approximately, "I'm not going to steal for money, I'm not going to kill for money... Make sure your hands are clean."

Neither of these tunes is on Great Hits Vol. 1. Enjoy! And once again thanks to my wife Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics.

Ikenga Super Stars of Africa - Late Celestine Ukwu Special

Ikenga Super Stars of Africa - Ego di Nogwu

* W
hich you can download here. And in case you were wondering, Ikwokilikwo (or Ikwokirikwo) refers to a fast-paced form of highlife popularized by Oliver de Coque and Godwin Kabaka Opara (of the Oriental Brothers and later Kabaka Guitar Band) in addition to the Ikengas. A product of the confluence of Congo music, benga from East Africa and the Igbo cultural renaissance that took place following the Biafra war, Ikwokilikwo was quite the rage in Nigeria in the late '70s. A discography of the Ikenga Super Stars is available here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Dakar Divas Pt. 2: Daro Mbaye




Although I love the new generation of female vocalists out of Senegal - ladies like Viviane and Aby Ndour - there's still a special place in my heart for the "first generation" of singers to break into the masculine world of mbalax back in the late '80s and early '90s.

Although Kiné Lam is generally acknowledged to be the "queen" of mbalax, if she has one rival for the title, it would probably be Daro Mbaye, who has a vocal style that is even wilder and more over the top than that of the great Kiné. I can't tell you a whole lot about her. She is from the city of Luga in the north of Senegal, and like Kiné Lam has been a member of the Sorano National Theater in Dakar. Daro has toured throughout the world, both on her own and with Doudou Rose Ndiaye's acclaimed percussion company.

Unlike a lot of cheapo Senegalese cassette productions, Daro Mbaye's debut Doylu (Ibou Touré 121056, ca. 1990) was recorded with a full compliment of wind instruments in addition to the requisite guitars, percussion and synthesizer. Unfortunately, it seems my copy is a pirate edition, so in addition to being oddly jerky and sped up all of the instruments sound like synthesizers anyway. No matter: I once drove to Chicago in the middle of a snowstorm with it cranked up full-volume on the sound system - a strange, surrealistic experience! Here are four tracks (out of seven) from Doylu - blow your own mind!

Daro Mbaye - Doylu

Daro Mbate - Diongoma

Daro Mbaye - Ndiabour

Daro Mbaye - Yaw Lay Djin

Like most sequels, Wal Jotna (Génie Music AM 77, 1992) on average doesn't totally measure up to its predecessor, but there are a couple of peaks that surpass it, notably these two tunes:

Daro Mbaye - Wal Jotna

Daro Mbaye - Cheikh Samba Jaara Mbaye

Finally, a couple of tracks from Jongoma (Talla Diagne, 1994), featuring Daro Mbaye in neo-traditional mode. Information on the backing musicians is sketchy; notably, the xalam player is not credited. She's put out a couple of cassettes since this one in the same style, which I unfortunately don't have:

Daro Mbaye - Jongoma Yeewul

Daro Mbaye - Beugue Yaayam

Daro's career seems to have gone on hiatus in the last few years, although she occasionally performs in Spain, where her son
Sidy Samb lives. He's a rising musical star in his own right. You can see some videos by him here, here and here.

Discography of Daro Mbaye

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sikinde Ngoma Ya Ukae!




With our laptop out of commission for a while, the household is down to one functional computer, which the kids have commandeered for their own uses. I've been working on several posts at once, but I just haven't had time to rip some of the tunes I've wanted to use. Fortunately, I have a fair number already digitized. So this will be a quickie, but a goodie.

Like just about everybody, I love the Tanzanian band DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra, led by Michael Enoch (above). We were very fortunate indeed when a wonderful "Best of" compilation of their hits was released some time ago (Sikinde [Africassette AC9402] in the U.S.). I believe it may still be in print. One CD, however, just isn't enough to embrace all of the "best" of this prolific congregation. Fortunately, I have in my posession the two-volume Best of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra issued in Kenya and produced by our friend Doug Paterson of the East African Music Page.

So, here are five tunes from those LPs. "Mume Wangu Jerry" and "M. V. Mapenzi 1" are from Best of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra Vol. 1 (Ahadi AHDLP 6002, 1986). The other songs are from Best of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra Vol. 2 (Ahadi AHDLP 6006, 1988).

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Mume Wangu Jerry

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - M. V. Mapenzi 1

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Matatizo ya Uke Wenza

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Majirani Huzima Radio

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Naheshimu Ndoa

Discography of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Some Recent Tunes From Ghana


If you're a homesick Ghanaian who's hungry for the taste of Banku, Kenkey or Shito, Makola Super Market in Chicago (1017 W. Wilson Ave., 773-935-6990 or 773-878-3958) is the place to go. In addition to its culinary offerings, Makola has a nice selection of Ghanaian DVDs and CDs, almost none of them available through the usual World Music™ sources.

I've been wanting to do a post on Ghanaian music, and since I'm a bit pinched for time, it seemed easy enough to rip some tracks from a few of these CDs. I got these the last time I was in Makola, which must have been four or five years ago, as they're all dated around 2002. So, they're not the very latest thing from Ghana, but they do give one a decent idea of what's been going on musically in that country recently.

Those hoping for the sophisticated sounds of classic dance-band highlife ala the Ramblers or Uhurus, or the down-home guitar stylings epitomized by the African Brothers Band are in for a disappointment. These tracks are all in the synthesizer-heavy "Burger highlife" style that started among Ghanaian musicians in Germany twenty years ago and has been so popular of late. I'm a bit distressed about the eclipse of the classic Ghana guitar sound myself (and if it hasn't been eclipsed, please school me; I'm not as up to date on these matters as I should be!), but I have to say that for synth-pop, these tunes pretty much hit the spot for me. The cheesiness quotient is low, the arrangements are top-rate, and the vocals are mighty fine indeed.

I can't tell you much about the artists, nor anything about the lyrics. If anyone out there is familiar with Twi or whatever language(s) these are in, please enlighten us!

Nana Tuffour is the only one of these musicians that I was familiar with. He is said to have been born on Valentine's Day 1954 and has been recording since at least the 1980s, having released numerous LPs, cassettes and CDs. "Abeiku" is from his CD of the same name (Owusek Productions OW 66-2, 2002). The prolific Oheneba Kissi has been recording since 1990 and has put out 13 albums. I was kinda knocked on my heels by the opening notes of "Wogya Me Ho A," a fine tune from his 2002 release ABC of Love (Owusek Productions OW 65-2).

Nana Tuffour - Abeiku

Oheneba Kissi - Wogya Me Ho A



It just goes to show how out of it I am that I'd never heard of Kojo Antwi - he's released at least a dozen CDs. His voice has been compared to R. Kelly's, and he looks a little like him, too. "Eva," aka "Sista Sledge," accompanies him on "Odo Ano Wappi," from Densu (Freedom Family Music FFM08152002-12, 2002). I can't tell you much about Nana Acheampong other than he was one of the famous Lumba Brothers back in the '80s before going solo
. He has issued numerous cassettes and CDs on his own and recently re-united with his partner Daddy Lumba (Charles Kwadwo Fosu) for a Lumba Brothers reunion tour. "Gyegye Meso" is from XXL (Owohene Productions MOR 0210).

Kojo Antwi - Odo Ano Wappi

Nana Acheampong - Gyegye Meso



London-based Kwaisey Pee has several CDs to his credit and has been making inroads in the home market. "Enye Agro" is from Krokro Me (New Era Productions). I was quite impressed with Kaakyire Kwame Appiah's Eye Gye (Tropic Vibe Productions 2002-2003). Not only does Mr. Appiah pay tribute to Nico Mbarga's "Sweet Mother" in this tune, "Kono Saa," he also references the Mahotella Queens' "Kazet" on another track, "Shubidu." Catch the video here.

Kwaisey Pee - Enye Agro

Kaakyire Kwame Appiah -
Kono Saa



If you're interested in obtaining any of this sort of music, try Ghana.co.uk. I've not had any dealings with them, so I can't say how reliable they are, but their website features an excellent selection.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Cross-Dressing Fun with Area Scatter




I've recently learned that several years ago the Igbo traditional musician Area Scatter was killed in an auto accident. Area was a performer who achieved renown throughout Ala Igbo, and even drew some international notice. One of the more memorable sequences in the acclaimed television documentary series Beats of the Heart came during "Konkombe," the segment on Nigerian music. It featured Area Scatter, who had a performing style that was unique, or unique for Nigeria, anyway. Let's read the description of him in the book Beats of the Heart (Pantheon Books, NYC, 1985):

". . . we headed off into the forests to the hut of an infamous 'witch doctor," or shaman, called Area Scatter. His home was filled with bones and skulls and paintings of the power of good and evil. A muscular, humorous man, he explained how, after living through the civil war, he had gone into the wilderness for seven months and seven days and had reappeared transformed into a woman. The day we visited him he headed off, dressed in white smock, polka-dot skirt and a shamanist bone necklace, to the residence of his Royal Highness Eonunnoke to play for the local king and queen.

"Area Scatter was a highly accomplished performer on his thumb piano which was decorated with a distinctive skull and crossbones. When the king and his wife ceremonially entered and seated themselves on their thrones, Area Scatter bowed deeply and started to sing in a soft, rich voice. . ."
Of course, in the United States there are well-known transvestite performers like Ru Paul or Divine, but I understand that this sort of thing is rather odd for Nigeria, at least among the Igbo. I'm not aware of any tradition of theatrical cross-dressing in Nigeria (as for instance in Chinese opera or during Shakespearean days), nor should we assume that Area was gay. While homosexuality in Nigeria is certainly not unheard of (a reading of Hints or any of the other Nigerian "True Confessions" - type magazines should dispel that notion!), it is surrounded by so many layers of scandal and condemnation that the idea that any Nigerian would flaunt his or her gayness is, frankly, mind-boggling. So let's just say that Area Scatter was a guy who literally marched to his or her own drummer, and leave it at that.

Uchenna, from With Comb and Razor, was kind enough to rip that segment from Beats of the Heart for us, and here it is:



When my wife, Priscilla, returned from Nigeria a few years ago, she brought back an actual Area Scatter LP, Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter (Namaco ENLPS 56), excavated from a used-records shop in Ajegunle. The name of the group, "Ugwu Anya Engbulam" means roughly "The Evil Eye Will Not Kill Me." I was originally going to put up just one track from it, then decided that posting the whole album would give listeners a better feel for the talent of this unique artist, Area Scatter.

In the first song, "Uwa Marala Okaa Ome Nwachukwu," or "the well-known Nwachukwu does what he says he'll do," Area Scatter sings the praises of a certain Mr. Nwachukwu, who built a big house, who helps widows, and who pays the tuition for needy students, among other things:

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter - Uwa Marala Okaa Ome Nwachukwu

The title and refrain of this song, "Nwa Nnem Uwam Gbulam," means "my brother, my sister ["nwa nnem," literally "my mother's child"], I am just fed up with this world":

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter - Nwa Nnem Uwam Gbulam

This is a long testimonial to the "Great Chief" ("Eze Ukwu") of Ngwa-Ukwu, a township near Aba. The final part of the song apparently deals with a love triangle - there was a struggle, police were called, etc:

Ugwu Anya Egbulam Musical Group led by Area Scatter - Ajelele Eze Ukwu of Ngwa-Ukwu / Akwa Goddy Uwalalula

Many thanks to Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics. Albums of Nigerian traditional music like this are not rare - thousands of recordings of Igbo traditional music alone were issued during the '60s, '70s and '80s. What is unusual is to find any of them outside of Nigeria. To be honest, I just love the stuff, so I will be posting more of it in the future.

If you would like to see "Konkombe," or any of the other episodes of Beats of the Heart, you can order the DVD here.