Monday, December 31, 2007

East African Memories




Well, not my memories, as I've never been there, but today's selection of tunes is bound to provoke some nostalgia among those of the East African persuasion. As in my last post, these 45s, which were all issued in the early '80s, were excavated by myself from a cache of 10" tape reels that I dubbed more than twenty years ago, digitized and reprocessed for your listening pleasure. I think I got all of these recordings from my old friend Edmund Ogutu. Wherever you are, Edmund, thanks!

Sadly, Daniel Owino Misiani, founder of the influential Kenyan band Shirati Jazz (also known as the D.O. 7 Band and D.O. 7 Shirati Jazz), passed away on May 17, 2006, but he left a legacy of hundreds of memorable tunes. While Misiani and Shirati Jazz did not establish benga music, they did more than anyone else to popularize and codify that musical style.

"I'm Tired" (Bwana Otieno Weche PIC 3) is not at all representative of the Shirati Jazz style. It's a novelty tune, sung in Swahili and English rather than the group's usual Luo. I think that D.O. Misiani might not even be on it (the group occasionally recorded without him). In the future I'll probably post some more "typical" Shirati Jazz songs, but I'm sure you'll enjoy this one:

D.O. 7 Shirati Jazz - I'm Tired Pts. 1 & 2



The Maroon Commandos (above) were established by Habel Kifoto (center) as a military band from the 7th Batallion of the Kenyan Army, and are best known for their smash hit "Charonyi Ni Wasi," which was featured on the compilation CD Kenya Dance Mania (Sterns Eathworks STEW 24CD). The Commandos usually record in Swahili, but "Liloba" (African Beat PA 7226), which features Laban Ochuka on lead vocals, is sung in Luhya:

Laban Ochuka & the Maroon Commandos - Liloba Pts. 1 & 2

Tanzanian singer Issa Juma was a founding member of the group Les Wanyika in 1978, and graced their smash hit "Sina Makossa" (also available on Kenya Dance Mania) as lead vocalist. He soon split off from that group to form his own band, variously entitled Waanyika, Wanyika Stars, Super Wanyika, Wanyika Super Les Les etc. "Ateka" (Waanyikaa NYIKA 09), is an outstanding example of his work:

Issa Juma & Waanyika - Ateka Pts. 1 & 2

Les Volcano were originally the backup band for Tanzanian vocalist Mbaraka Mwinshehe. When he was killed in an auto accident in 1979, they continued under the leadership of Charles Ray Kassembe, and made a number of outstanding recordings, including "Uhangaika Bure" (Superphonics BOY 002):

Les Volcano - Uhangaika Bure Pts. 1 & 2


The Luhya people of western Kenya have produced a number of outstanding musicians, but the most renowned is probably Sukuma Bin Ongaro, who contributed a couple of tunes to the compilation Guitar Paradise of East Africa (Sterns Earthworks STEW 21), a few years back. Listen to "Mukamba Leya" (Upendo UPP 7-644) and you'll understand the reason for his popularity:

Sukuma Bin Ongaro & Sukuma Band - Mukamba Leya

The picture at the top of this post is from the Shirati Jazz release Benga Beat (World Circuit WCB 003, 1987).

Oh, and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Those Were the Days




I mentioned a while back that I recently digitized a number of 10" tape reels that I've had lying around for many years. I've been working through this material ever since, organizing it and processing the sound, and the result has been a number of recent posts. Today I'm putting up several 45s of classic music from the Congo (then known as Zaïre). These were all issued in Kenya in the early '80s.

Our first selection is by Mayaula Mayoni (above). Mayoni, formerly of Congo's Vita Club football team, was a member on and off of Franco's TPOK Jazz, played in other bands, and put out a number of solo recordings in the TPOK Jazz vein. "Ba Chagrins" was issued in Kenya as ASL Records ASL 3390:

Mayaula Mayoni et son Ensemble - Ba Chagrins Pts. 1 & 2

Speaking of Franco, if you're a devoted fan, I'm sure you've heard this one. "Tangawusi" is one of TPOK Jazz's most popular songs, and has appeared on a number of compilations and reissues. Naotaka Doi's excellent Franco discography at Forest Beat credits the song to Papa Nöel (right), which would lead one to think that he sings lead as well (an extra bonus, Papa Noël being one of my fave African musicians of all time). Here's the Kenya pressing (ASL records ASL 2318):

Franco & l'Orchestre TPOK Jazz - Tangawusi Pts. 1 & 2

Souzy Kasseya is best known as a backup musician, particularly on the recordings of Tshala Muana, but he has had a number of solo outings, particularly "Le Telephone Sonne" (left), which I understand actually "crossed over" in Europe and got some mainstream radio play. He was born in Lubumbashi in 1949 and bounced around among various orchestras including Vox Africa, the African Team and Mpongo Love's group. "Sulia Tantine" was issued in Kenya as ASL Records ASL 2328:

Souzy Kasseya - Sulia Tantine Pts. 1 & 2


Doug Paterson wrote in the British magazine Africa Beat in 1986: ". . . In 1984 the biggest selling single in Kenya was 'Amour Cherche Amour’ by Manana Antoine, a record with a French title and Lingala lyrics sung by a Zairean working in Cote D'Ivoire. It sold 30,000 and got universal radio airplay while the biggest vernacular record got heard only on its local district radio and sold 8,000. . ." Antoine, known as "Papa Disco," was a well-known musician in Côte d'Ivoire for a time, with his own record label, but he seems to have dropped from view in the years since. Here is "Amour Cherchez Amour" itself, from the Kenyan pressing (ASL Records ASL 2329):

Manana Antoine (Papa Disco): Amour Cherchez Amour Pts. 1 & 2


Lipua-Lipua was one of the many innovative new bands that arose in Zaïre in the early 1970s. While the label of this 45 (Editions Sakumuna SN 018) credits "Anifa" to Lipua-Lipua, the very informative Bolingo website lists a version by Les Kamale (on the LP Sonafric SAF 50087, right). Of course, Nyboma Mwan'dido was a member of Lipua-Lipua before splitting to form Les Kamale, sings on this version (although not lead), and on SAF 50087 is credited as composer. I've been unable to dig up another citation of "Anifa," and not having the Kamale LP, I can't say if there are actually two versions of this song or one version issued under two different names. Can someone clarify?

Orchestre Lipua-Lipua - Anifa Pts. 1 & 2

Update: Several reader/listeners have confirmed that there are two different versions of "Anifa," one by Lipua-Lipua and the other by Les Kamale. Thanks also to Ronald, who informs us that the lead vocalist on "Tangawusi" is Ntesa Dalienst, not Papa Noël (although Papa Noël did compose it).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Kabaka: Mangala Special




Nigeria's Oriental Brothers International were established in 1971-72 by Owerri innkeeper Chief James Azubuike, who needed a house band for his establishment, the Easy Going Hotel. To this end he recruited Godwin Kabaka Opara and Ferdinand Dan Satch Emeka Opara (no relation) of Owerri and Christogonous Ezebuiro Obinna ("Warrior") of Abor Mbaise. These three were soon joined by Nathaniel Ejiogu ("Mangala"), Lyvinus Alaraibe ("Akwilla"), and Prince Ichita, all freelance musicians in and around Owerri and Aba. Mangala died shortly after the founding of the band.

Although the Orientals in the early years were ostensibly "led by Godwin Kabaka Opara," Kabaka (above) walked out in 1977 to found the Kabaka International Guitar Band. The main reason was apparently a leadership struggle with Dan Satch, but there were probably artistic differences as well. Kabaka wanted to move the band toward the faster-paced Ikwokilikwo style then being made popular by the Ikenga Super Stars of Africa and Oliver de Coque, which Dan Satch and Warrior resisted. On the Kabaka Guitar Band's first recordings, its style is described on the label as Ikwokilikwo Kabaka.

Kabaka was joined by no one when he left the Oriental Brothers, but he was able to draw on a large pool of free-lance musicians in Owerri to assemble a first-rate guitar band. The group's first LP, titled Mangala Special (Deram DLPS 004, 1977, right) in honor of the late musician, caused an immediate sensation, and the group has enjoyed many years of success in Nigeria. In recent years Kabaka and Dan Satch, the two surviving founders of the Orientals, seem to have reconciled and have made videos together under the Orientals banner.

Want to know what all the excitement was about? Here, in its entirety, is Mangala Special:

"Izu Kanma na Nneji" more or less means "It's easier to agree with someone when you share the same mother." This phrase takes on added meaning in the context of the African practice of polygamy. Polygamous families often divide into factions based on the offspring of various mothers.

Kabaka International Guitar Band - Izu Kanma na Nneji

"Chukwu Kere Mmadu" means "God Who Created People": "God ('Chukwu,' literally 'Great Spirit') created everybody and he created rich and poor, but death ('onwu') intrudes. Death doesn't discriminate, death has no friends. Kabaka, my brother, let it go." This apparently alludes to a tragedy that had recently befallen Kabaka or someone in his family.

Kabaka International Guitar Band - Chukwu Kere Mmadu

The title of this song means "God, Drive Away the Devil": "God ('Chineke') is the 'king' ('eze') of heaven, and his wrapper ('ogudo') drags on the ground. Everything in the world is his creation. Please, God, use your powerful hand to protect us ('tukwasa anyi na ishi,' literally 'cover our heads'). God, forgive all of our sins."

Kabaka International Guitar Band - Chineke Wetuo Ekwensu

"Mangala Special" is a tribute to
Nathaniel Ejiogu, a founding member of the Oriental Brothers who died shortly after the founding of the group ('Mangala,' his nickname, literally means a type of dried fish!): "One doesn't know what someone else is looking for in life. Send a message home to Imo State that Mangala died a tragic death. He will no longer enjoy his cigarettes. He will not get married." The refrain "Mangala Sarawa" is hard to decipher. "Sarawa" is not an Igbo word. Possibly it is Hausa. Is this a slang expression?

Kabaka International Guitar Band - Mangala Special

One irritating feature of Igbo records produced in Lagos and outside of Nigeria is that the song titles often contain mis-spellings that change their meaning or render them unintelligible. Mangala Special features several incorrect spellings of this type. This song was entitled "Ichere Chi Amaghi Onye Iwu," which means "do you think the Creator doesn't know who you really are?" The title actually should be
"Ichere Shi Amaghi Onye Iwu," meaning "do you think I don't know who you really are?" The lead singer here calls out to various individuals with this phrase. Presumably it is meant as a compliment, but maybe it isn't.

Kabaka International Guitar Band - Ichere Shi Amaghi Onye Iwu

"Ajam Ashi-Mi" is an undecipherable phrase, possibly a regionalism. The lyrics themselves are hard to figure out. They literally seem to say, "Instead of telling me the truth, you told me you were going to park your car." But the song has a good beat!

Kabaka International Guitar Band - Ajam Ashi-Mi

Thanks once again to my wife Priscilla for interpreting the lyrics. Thanks also to Vitus Johnson Laurence, who provided much of the background information on Kabaka and the Orientals.

Discography of the Oriental Groups

Thursday, December 20, 2007

This One's For You, Jamie Lynn


(Note: This post was updated on December 21, 2007.)

The African Brothers Band International, led by Nana Kwame Ampadu I, are a Ghanaian institution, having been in existence since 1963, and have upheld the Guitar Highlife standard through assorted fads and vicissitudes. They are distinguished not only by their professionalism and innovation, but their lyrics, which often address social problems, as in this selection:

African Brothers Band - Teenage Pregnancy

I haven't heard much from the Brothers lately, but I believe they're still plugging away. "Teenage Pregnancy" is from their early '90s cassette release, Kukrukukru (Akuboat Music).

After first posting this, and listening to the African Brothers for the first time in a number of years, I realized once again how much I enjoyed their down-home vocals and simple, unaffected stylings. The Brothers are not unknown to African music fans who've been around for awhile. Several of their LPs were released by Makossa Records in the U.S. during the '70s and '80s, as was Me Poma
(Sterns 1004) in the U.K. in 1984. These are now all long out of print.

Here are two more African Brothers tracks, both from Tunes to Remember (Akuboat CAB 029), a "Greatest Hits" CD issued around 1992:

African Brothers Band International - Somu Gye W'akrantee Ntoaso

African Brothers Band International - Yenwiee Abrabo

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Merry Christmas!


As you would expect this time of year, things have been super hectic around here, and I just haven't had time to post. There's not a lot of African Christmas music out there, but I did manage to dig up a couple of tunes for your holiday enjoyment. Our first selection is by Kenya's Kilimambogo Brothers Band, "Shangilia Christmas Pts. 1 & 2," (Les Klimambogo LES 22). The second is side 1 of Ebenezer Obey's (left) 1972 LP Odun Keresimesi (Decca WAPS 62), also known as A Christmas Special From the King of Juju.

I'll try to get in another post in the next couple of days (I've got a couple in the hopper; I'm just working on the finishing touches), but if I don't: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, a festive Kwaanzaa, whatever!

Les Kilimambogo Brothers - Shangilia Christmas Pts. 1 & 2


Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey & His International Brothers Band - Odun Keresimesi / Irinse Lo Jona Obey O Jona / Irin Ajo / Ile Oba To Jo


Update: I just found out that Eid Al-Adha begins Thursday, December 20 this year. My very best wishes to all of our Muslim friends, and I apologize for overlooking this earlier.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

More Somali Funk: Sahra Dawo & Durdur




I wrote in my first posting that through Likembe I sought to educate but also hoped to be educated. The response to the post Somali Mystery Funk has certainly borne out that expectation - in fact it's yielded an embarrassment of riches. Our friend Sanaag, who so kindly provided information on the songs in that posting, has answered a number of questions I posed to him, which provide essential background on Somali music. I specifically asked about Sahra Dawo (above), who sang lead on two of those tracks by Iftin, and the group Durdur, which she fronted. I'm just going to let Sanaag speak for himself. This is the first of several postings.

Sahra Dawo was a pop star in the 80's and probably up 'til now. As the lead singer of Durdur, she was very popular with the younger generations, specially teenagers and twentysomethings, including me at the time. I am not sure how she did with the general public. As far as I know, she didn't strike a strong chord with the older audience probably because of the obvious dissonance between her lyrics (often emotional) and music (usually joyful with sometimes an over-the-top acts in live performances).

Durdur (rivulet, creek, streamlet...) was simultaneously Iftin's little cousin and rival; they started their career in the late '70s or early '80s and were quite influneced by Iftin which was founded about a decade earlier, I think around 1970. I vaguely remember that some of Durdur's musicians had learnt their craft as trainees with/friends of Iftin.

In "Juba Juba Aaka Aka Sholo Lob" Sahra Dawo & Durdur are singing about their mutual love in a Southern dialect that I don't understand very well as I come from the North, a + 1000 km walk. The title sounds like a sort of Somali scat singing without any specific meaning. Juba or Jubba is the biggest river in Somalia. It's also the name of a famous hotel in Mogadishu where Durdur often performed. I believe some/many of their videos were recorded there:



By the way, this kind of music is quite popular in Somalia. It's actually the transcription of shareero music on modern instruments. Shareero is an old Somali instrument:



In comparison with many/most contemporary bands, Durdur & Iftin were quite atypical in the sense that their lyrics were often simple, almost exclusively about (the pains of) love and totally non-political. Iftin also sang about the importance of education (a ministerial obligation, I suppose) as illustrated in this song, "Toban Weeye Shaqalladu" (The Ten Vowels):

Iftin - Toban Weeye Shaqalladu

For most Somalis, the lyrics are at the very least as important as the music. 'The Nation of Poets' is one of Somalia's nicknames; hence the wild popularity of poetry cassettes you referred to in your post. Moreover, art was one of the major channels - if not the major
channel - to ventilate dissidence during the [Siad Barre] dictatorship. Even when love was the subject matter, as was often the case in lyrics, the socio-political message was up for grabs beneath the surface. Iftin's (forced?) marriage with the authorities was probably the culprit for their political and poetic castration. I don't know why Durdur acted like an ostrich; as far as I know they were not sponsored by the Government.

"Ligligaan Jacaylkiii Hayaa" means "Holding On to Love With Tremors." It is also known as "Mays Af Garanaa?" - "Shall We Strike A Deal (and Become Partners)":

Sahra Dawo & Durdur - Ligligaan Jacaylkii Hayaa

"Wax la Aaminaan Jirin" - "Nobody to Confide In, Nothing To Trust." This is a parable for 'betrayed love and careless environment'. The girl is pregnant but the guy is shunning the responsibility and she's reluctant to talk with her family/friends as pregnancy out of wedlock is a social stigma:



"Gucliyo Orod" - "Trot and Gallop/Dawdling and Darting." I am hardly familiar with this song and the sound is so distorted that it's difficult to decipher what exactly she's saying:

Sanaag has more coming up on the veteran singer Sahra Axmed, as well as a few comments on one of the new Somali artists, Aar. If you didn't catch this before (I linked to it in the last Somali post), here's another killer video by Sahra Dawo & Durdur:



Saturday, December 8, 2007

It's Taarab Time!




Taarab, the intoxicating Afro-Arab-Indian music from the East African coast, has been surprisingly available lately, if you know where to look. John Storm Roberts opened our ears about 25 years ago with his Songs the Swahili Sing (Original Music OMCD 024), and then Globestyle Records in the '80s kept things moving with a series of fascinating releases documenting the styles of Zanzibar and the Mombasa coast. These recordings may still be found with an assiduous search. Recently Buda Musique has launched the ambitious Zanzibara series, which promises new revelations.

With everything else I've had going on, I'm just getting around to posting some of this music. I just finished digitizing about 24 hours worth of East African 45s that I've had stashed away on 10" tape reels, including a couple of taarabs. They were dubbed for me by Ron Sakolsky many years ago, and they're primo examples of the style.

The Black Star Musical Club, from Tanga, Tanzania, was founded in the 1950s, and played a crucial role in establishing the modern taarab sound. Werner Graebner writes in the liner notes of Nyota: Classic Taarab Recordings from Tanga (Globestyle ORBCD 044, 1989):

. . . It was the strong cross-fertilization between taarab and dance music, the interchange of musicians and instruments, which produced the excitement of the new style and made it acceptable to the broader public. the Black Star Musical Club introduced guitar and bass guitar into taarab, the guitar often being played in the style well-known through Tanzanian and Zaïrean dance music. The normal line-up of the group featured the following instruments: 2 guitars, accordion, organ, taishokoto, bass guitar, rika and manyanga. Influences on the rhythms came from dance music (samba and rumba) as well as from local ngoma (dances of the different ethnic groups resident in Tanga and the vicinity). . .
Werner credits Black Star vocalist Shakila (née Tatu Saïdi) with establishing a new vocal style shorn of the melisima and vibrato characteristic of classical taarab. Shakila and her husband left Black Star in 1971/72 to establish a new group, Lucky Star Musical Club, which is featured along with Black Star on Nyota.

Here are two recordings from 1973 by Black Star Musical Club, sides A & B of Melodica 7-6247. I don't know who sings lead on "Mno Nasubini," but I suspect the vocals on "Alpenzi Na Kiumbe" are by Sharmila (Jalala Rashid, above), who took Shakila's place in the band:

Black Star Musical Club - Mno Nasubini


Black Star Musical Club - Alpenzi na Kiumbe

Tupendane S. Club represents an older tradition in taarab, that of the big orchestras. I know nothing about the group or the lead vocalist, Mohamed Juma, but Ron Sakolsky suspects they are from Zanzibar. This tune is Sides 1 & 2 of the 45 Zombe ZM 4:

Mohamed Juma & Tupendane S. Club - Pendo ni Pepo ya Dunia Pts. 1 & 2

More taarab can be found at Sterns or on Amazon.