Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Avoid Shocks, Indeed!

You may have noticed that I have a soft spot for female singers with unique, over-the-top vocal styles. Kiné Lam is one. Daro Mbaye is another. I fell in love with Vonga Aye and her baby-doll voice the first time I heard "Bolingo Mobesu," her contribution to 1982's groundbreaking compilation Sound d'Afrique II (Mango MLPS 9754). I know she put out several LPs, and over the years I've searched high and low for more music by this idiosyncratic chanteuse, but all I have been able to come up with is 1984's Pare-Chocs (Veve International EVVI 25). But what an album it is!

People speak of "the Golden Age" of Congo music, but in reality there are several "Golden Ages." For some it is the early 1960s, the era of Grand Kallé, African Fiesta and "Afrika Mokili Mobimba." Others swear by the late Sixties and early Seventies, when Authenticité was the rage, Congo (Kinshasa) was rechristened Zaïre, and harder, more indigenous sounds displaced the old Latin paradigm.

To me, the real Golden Age of Congo music has always been the late Seventies and early Eighties, when the great Orchestres - TPOK Jazz, Bantous de la Capitale, Afrisa and Veve among others held sway on both side of the Zaïre River. Pare-Chocs is well within this tradition, although scandalously none of the backing musicians are given credit. I suppose they are drawn from the ranks of Orchestre Veve or others in that milieu (
Pare-Chocs sounds an awful lot like others on the Veve label). At any rate this is obviously a band that is used to working together. Sadly, the mid-Eighties marked the end of the big band era in both Zaïre (Congo-Kinshasa) and Congo-Brazzaville. As political chaos mounted and the economy went south, the musicians went north, to Paris and points beyond. And while there have been some bright spots, as far as I'm concerned, the last twenty years have been the Dark Ages of Congo music.

Given the title of this blog, it's about time I posted some Congolese music, so here it is in its entirety: Vonga Aye's Pare-Chocs, and for good measure I've thrown in "Bolingo Mobesu" as well!

Vonga Aye - Pare-Chocs

Vonga Aye - Yona Nani

Vonga Aye - Nazali Occupée

Vonga Aye - Mina Kupenda

Vonga Aye - Bolingo Mobesu

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mali Cassette Grab Bag: Two Mamadou Doumbias and More

This is the final installment of "Mali Cassette Grab Bag," and this one really is a mixed bag. We've got some highlife, some soukous, some kamalan n'goni and a Burkinabé ballad. Researching the artists has been an education for me. Among other things, I chanced across the website of Yaala Yaala Records, which is dedicated to releasing just the sort of music we've been listening to in the last few posts:

In 1999 I moved with my wife and young son to Bougouni, a town on the edge of Mali’s culturally rich Wassulu region. I’d listened to and enjoyed such Malian musical imports as Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Toure, Salif Keita, Toumani Diabite and Habib Koite while still living in the States and was excited to get to Mali to learn more about these and other artists.

I learned very quickly that there was a huge gulf between what many people out in Bougouni listened to and what was being exported to the West; many local Malians made dismissive sounds with their mouths when I mentioned the above musicians. Many of the cassette vendors I got to know stared blankly when I asked about certain artists.

I began to suspect that much of the music I’d heard back in the States was almost created for export rather than for local consumption, and whether or not this was objectively true did not matter. From my perspective it was true. Out en brousse, in the bush, on Radio Banimotie and blaring forth from battery-driven boomboxes and handheld radios carried by any number of people wandering through Southern Mali, there existed an entirely different world of music and sound that I found infinitely more interesting and exciting than the slick pop music made in French, British or Belgian studios.

Much of this music was home-grown music performed locally for little else beyond an immediate audience’s enjoyment; it was traditional or folk music but in the hands of the endlessly inventive and dynamic local musicians it exemplified the best qualities of the do-it-yourself attitude that I’d grown up with back home.

The name Yaala Yaala was taken directly from what many a Bougounian musician would answer when asked “Ça va?” (how’s it going?); “Yaala yaala,” they’d answer. Just wandering.

Yaala Yaala Records’ goal is to release this music, in addition to similar music from parts of the world, particularly Mali and West Africa, that you might hear if you were wandering yourself among the cassette stalls in Bougouni, Bamako, Kolondieba, Sikasso, Segou, Fez, Marrakesh, Cairo, Dakar.

We’re releasing this music for no other reason than we like it!

An attitude with which I wholeheartedly concur! This description of the music scene in Mali pretty much squares with my experiences in Nigeria in 1994 and '95: It wasn't that the average person didn't listen to Sunny Adé or Fela (who was still alive and performing then, a couple of years before he died; I could just kick myself for not catching an advertised concert in Lagos when I was there!) or the other official World Music™ icons. They respected them, but those guys were pretty much old hat. The common folk had a whole 'nother universe of sounds they were tuned into, which blared out of market stalls and taxicabs across the country: Igbo gospel accompanied by cheapo synthesizers and drum machines, wailing, warbling Islamic vocals, soul-thumping perscussion, Hausa praise-singing and hysterical guitar highlife. . .

But I digress. While researching our first four selections on the internet, I was presented with a bit of a quandary. I had thought that these recordings were all by the same artist, but it seems that they are by two different musicians named Mamadou Doumbia, one from Mali and the other from Côte d'Ivoire! And to further befuddle matters, there is yet another Malian musician named Mamadou Doumbia residing in Tokyo, who once played with the Rail Band and Salif Keita and has a band called Mandinka (not to mention an Ivoirian footballer by the same name, who as far as I know has no musical talent!)

I think I've got things sorted out now, so let's proceed: Our first Mamadou Doumbia, "alias Percey," was lead vocalist for Super Biton de Segou, one of Mali's foremost orchestras of the 1980s. When Super Biton fell apart, he struck out on his own, making at least one recording, 1992's outstanding Kelea Diougou (Camara Production 047), from which we take two tracks, "Momdole" and "Secheresse (Dabakala)." "Momdole" is unusual in that it is a melody in the Burkina Faso style.

Mamadou Doumbia alias Percey - Momdole

Mamadou Doumbia alias Percey - Secheresse (Dabakala)

Our next Mamadou Doumbia has apparently been around since the sixties, but that's all I can tell you about him. He gives us two highlife-style songs, "Mariama" and "Olonan," from his 1993 release Mariama (no label YR 07). As an Ivoirian, this Mamadou technically doesn't belong in a post entitled "Mali Cassette Grab-Bag," but who wants to split hairs?

Mamadou Doumbia & l'Orchestre Conseil de l'Entente - Mariama

Mamadou Doumbia & l'Orchestre Conseil de l'Entente - Olonan

And as for the third Mamadou Doumbia, I would love to put up some music by him, but unfortunately don't have any.

Abdoulaye Diabaté, born in Segou in1952, has been singing since he was eight and professionally since 1974, at first in Mali and later in Côte d'Ivoire, and has lately drawn international attention with a series of CD releases. "Fantanya" is the opening track of his casseette Namawou (Syllart SYL 83135):

Abdoulaye Diabaté - Fantanya

Yoro Diallo is from the Wassoulou region, which has produced so many wonderful Malian vocalists, and is a master of the kamalan n'goni, a relative of the kora. Awhile back Awesome Tapes from Africa posted a whole cassette by this artist, and the above-mentioned Yaala Yaala Records has released a CD devoted to his music. I give you here " Tognomagni" from his release Tjekorobani Vol. 2 (Camara Production CK7 157):

Yoro Diallo - Tognomagni

Finally, a track by Djelimadi Sissoko. There is a kora player by that name, who has made some recordings with the veteran maestro Sidiki Diabate, but this song, "Sory Kadia," from the compilation Sabougnouna (no label 7488) is so radically different in style that I'm wondering if this isn't another case of one name, two musicians. Anyway, "Sory Kadia" is ample proof that the wave of soukous that swept out of the Congo in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties did not bypass Mali!

Djelimadi Sissoko - Sory Kadia

As I mentioned earlier, "Mali Cassette Grab Bag" came about because I haven't had time to digitize a lot of new material, so I've been posting stuff that I've had on my hard-drive for some time. I've been working on digitizing some early '70s LPs by the late, great Stephen Osita Osadebe, and hope to have them up, with the requisite commentary, in the next week.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mali Cassette Grab Bag: Djeneba Seck, Tata Bambo Kouyate, Naïny Diabate, Yayi Kanoute, Djamy Kouyate

We continue our "Mali Cassette Grab-Bag," a series of clips drawn more or less at random from the recesses of my hard-drive. Next up: five wonderful female singers, some of whom are rather well
known, others about whom I can tell you very little. I included a track by Djeneba Seck on African Serenades Vol. 47b, which was featured on Matsuli Music a few months back (and I'm planning to re-post that two-part compilation here some time in the future; watch this space!). Listen here to "Kankeletigui," the title track of her debut release (EMI Côte d'Ivoire AM 92003, 1992) and "Malidenw" from her sophomore effort Konkankokônôni (Camara Production CK7 263, 1995). To learn more about this lovely vocalist, go here.

Djeneba Seck - Kankeletigui

Djeneba Seck - Malidenw

About Naïny Diabate and Djamy Kouyate I know absolutely nothing. Naïny contributes "Farafina Mousso" from her cassette of the same name (Camara Production CK7 030) while Djamy Kouyate gives us "Astou Damba" from her release Tamba (Camara Production CK7 032). Click on the pictures below to get a better look at the cover art.

Naïny Diabate - Farafina Mousso

Djamy Kouyate - Astou Damba

Tata Bambo Kouyate made a bit of a splash in the late '80s when two LPs by her,
Djeli Mousso (Syllart SYL 8360, 1988) and Jatigui (Globestyle ORB 042, 1989) were released in the UK. She comes from a family of jaliya, or praise singers, and first achieved fame at the 1969 Pan-African Music Festival in Algiers. The tune Tata gives us here, "Djeneba Diallo" from Oury Soucko (Samassa SAM 077592-4, 1992) amply demonstrates why she is considered a jali without peer in Mali. Yayi Kanoute plays a prominent role in Chapter 7 of Banning Eyre's book In Griot Time (Temple University Press, 2000) and his collection of field recordings In Griot Time (Sterns STCD 1089, 2000) features an outstanding tune by her. "Seremene" is from her first release, Djugu Magni (Samassa KBK 912, 1990).

Tata Bambo Kouyate - Djeneba Diallo

Yayi Kanoute - Seremene

I forgot to mention this in my last post, but I will now: If you like the music you've heard here, there's plenty more like it at Awesome Tapes From Africa.

Coming up next: Mamadou Doumbia, Abdoulaye Diabate and more!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Mali Cassette Grab-Bag: Zani Diabate

Since I started this blog I've been trying to post at least twice a week. Lately I've been so caught up in other things (namely "real life") that I just realized that it's been a week since my last submission. While casting about for something to write about I remembered that about a year ago I digitized a whole bunch of Malian cassettes that were lying in the bottom of a cardboard box in my office. So . . . what could be easier than to just slap them up here for your perusal? I was originally going to post a big number of clips today, but I've decided to space them out over several days. Today, Zani Diabate's 1991 cassette release Ni Zani Mana.

Robert Christgau, formerly of the Village Voice, calls himself "The Dean of American Rock Critics." Uh, okay. He had this to say about Diabate's 1988 LP Zani Diabate & the Super Djata Band (Mango MLPS 9814):

. . . What jumps out of the speakers isn't the Malian Jimi of the jacket copy but a groove harsher than Zaire's and more ferocious than Senegal's. There's lots of cheesy keyb[oard] in the mix; full-repeat call-and-response and mullah harangues stir up the hectic mood. It's on top of all this that you get the guitar, which sings and declaims and shouts out loud instead of just chiming or chattering. I find the hottest soukous relaxing. I put this on to wake up.
Diabate was born in 1947 and served his apprenticeship with the National Ballet of Mali before starting his group Super Djata. Graeme Counsel's Discography of Malian Vinyl Recordings lists nine recordings by the group (Ni Zani Mana makes at least ten) but the only ones I've actually heard are Ni Zani Mana (Oubien Productions OU009) and the aforementioned Mango release. I'd place Ni Zani Mana more toward the "mellow" end of the scale, but it's every bit as exciting as Super Djata in its own way. Diabate's obviously been listening not only to his Hendrix but to Wes Montgomery and who knows what else, but he's a true original. It's unfortunate that he isn't better known. Enjoy!

Zani Diabate - Ni Zani Mana

Zani Diabate - Ha Kili Maya

Zani Diabate - Doussou

Zani Diabate - Boolon

Zani Diabate - Himi

Zani Diabate - Monaitheban

Coming up soon: Djeneba Seck, Mamadou Doumbia, and more!