Thursday, March 27, 2008

Culinary Adventures, Senegalese Pirates

I've recently returned from something that's become a ritual for many parents of high school juniors: The Spring Break College Tour! My daughter Aku and I visited a number of esteemed institutions out East this past week, and were suitably impressed. It's going to take us a while to process everything and decide on a place where she can best pursue her studies in the years to come.

Enough of that, though.
Some of you may be familiar with Chris Meserve from his frequent auctions of African vinyl on Ebay. Chris gave us some excellent advice on where to stay in New York City (just a couple of blocks from his house in Woodside, Queens), and Aku and I spent an hour or so with him and his delightful two-year-old daughter Koko at Sri Pra Phai, a wonderful Thai restaurant in the neighborhood.

I was first introduced to Thai food 35 years ago when I lived in Los Angeles. The cuisine then was almost completely unknown to the general public and L.A.'s Thai restaurants were patronized pretty much exclusively by immigrants. The food was fresh, uncompromising and usually fiery hot. Over the years as Thai food has become more popular in the US the inevitable bastardization has occurred. Every one-horse town now has its Thai joint dishing out mountains of sickly-sweet Pad Thai and "Volcano Chicken." There are a few standouts, notably Sticky Rice and Spoon Thai in Chicago, but I've generally despaired of finding the Thai food that I came to know and love in California. I'm happy to report that Sri Pra Phai is the real deal, and it's been acclaimed as such by just about every restaurant critic in New York City. So, check it out the next time you're there.

Unfortunately there wasn't time to explore Chris's legendary African music collection. But no matter - Monday, after visiting NYU and Columbia, Aku and I paid a visit to Manhattan's Little Senegal along 116th St., and just steps from the subway discovered Africa Kiné, the most impressive of the neighborhood's many Senegalese restaurants. Here we enjoyed a repast of Thiebou Yapp and Dibi, washed down with homemade ginger beer, and while I don't think Africa Kiné reaches the exalted heights of San Francisco's Bissap Baobab, it's certainly highly recommended.
I regret that we weren't able to visit more of New York City's African restaurants, which cover a wide swath of territory: Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria, Guinea and Ethiopia, as well as Senegal. Another day, perhaps!

The most serendipitous discovery in Little Senegal, though, was a storefront offering hundreds of pirated Senegalese CDs at $3 a pop.
All of the big names were represented, and lots of the little ones, too. In the back room we could see people busily copying CDs and stuffing them into slim-line cases along with crudely-copied liner notes. My reservations about contributing to this dubious enterprise were offset by the chance to obtain hard-to-find music at hard-to-beat prices. How could I resist? To hear some of the music I copped scroll down to the bottom of this post.

Having heard much of Caffe Adulis, a legendary "Eritrean/Mediterranean" restaurant in New Haven, I was looking forward to a visit. The chef here has aspirations to broaden the parameters of Eritrean cuisine by incorporating influences from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, certainly a noble endeavor. Aku and I both enjoyed the "Adulis Appetizer," described as "seared shrimp sauteed with tomato, scallions, cabbage and garlic, served in a spicy, light cream, parmesan, basmati rice sauce." Perhaps to get a better feel for what Adulis is all about, we should have ordered a couple of the more adventurous entrees, but we wanted to sample the "Traditional Eritrean Dishes," lamb and chicken Tsebhe. What a disappointment! Both featured bland chunks of meat in an insipid, watery sauce, like Eritrean food from a can, if such a thing exists. I certainly can't claim to have tried every Ethiopian or Eritrean restaurant in the US (the two cuisines are almost identical), but judged by its execution of the standards, Adulis doesn't even make the top ten. For what it's worth, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant of all time continues to be Chicago's Ras Dashen.
Here's some of the music I picked up from the aforementioned pirate shack. I also obtained an almost-complete collection of the recordings of Viviane N'dour, who will be the subject of a future Dakar Divas.

I confesss that I tuned Youssou N'dour (Viviane's former brother-in-law) out about twenty years ago, but he continues to make good music, if you're willing to explore beyond the World Music
™ ghetto at the local Best Buy. Here's a track from his live release Bercy 2004 Vol. 2 (Jololi, 2004):

Youssou N'dour & le Super Etoile - 4.4.44

Here's another tune by Youssou taken from a bootleg compilation, Mbalax Supreme 13 by DJ Zacharia:

Youssou N'dour & le Super Etoile - Boolo Leen

I think most people in the know would agree that the three top male vocalists in Senegal are Youssou N'dour, Thione Seck and Omar Pene. To say one of these is "the greatest" is to miss the point; that's like comparing apples, oranges and kiwis. Still, I've always had a soft spot for Thione Seck, veteran of Orchestre Baobab, whose soulful voice thrills me like no other. From another bootleg release, Best of Thione Seck, here are a few representative tunes:

Thione Seck & le Raam Daan - Mane Mi Gnoul

Thione Seck & le Raam Daan - Yaye Boye

Thione Seck & le Raam Daan - Yeen

Didier Awadi was a founder of Senegalese hip-hop group Positive Black Soul and has been a solo artist since 2002. Here's a selection from his second CD, Sunugaal (Studio Sankara,

Awadi - Djow Sa Gaal

If you've been around here long you know I'm just crazy about Kiné Lam. Unfortunately I'm not aware of anything she's put out since 2003's Cey Geer (Jololi) but I'm happy to report that I've obtained a CD rip of that cassette, from which the following two songs are taken:

Kiné Lam - Jullig Geejgi

Kiné Lam - Nafissatou

Finally, here's a tune from one of Senegal's new crop of female vocalists, the lovely and talented Ami Collé. This is from her CD Defar Ba Mou Baax. Click here for a video:

Ami Collé - Dieng Salla

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Technical Matters

A brief note to let you know that I'm back from vacation and hope to be posting regularly soon. Problems with my internet service provider have made it almost impossible to upload sound files. They will have a technician out tomorrow to take a look at things and I hope to be back in business shortly thereafter.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Pamba Moto, Sikinde, Duku Duku & More

In the last week I've been afflicted not only by writer's block but by a mild yet persistent case of the flu. So let's make a virtue of necessity - less talk, more music! Here's another helping of Muziki wa Dansi from Tanzania, one of the more popular entrees on the Likembe menu. Let's kick-start things with a classic 45 by the reigning kings of the big-band Swahili sound, DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra. This is AHD 02 in the Ahadi catalog, released in 1983:

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Matatizo ya Nyumbani Pts. 1 & 2

Here's another great track from the excellent 1986 collection Best of DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra Vol. 1 (Ahadi ADHLP 6002):

DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra - Clara

I'm not sure if Orchestra Vijana Jazz is still on the scene, but it was formed in 1971 and has undergone numerous personnel changes over the years, suffering a major loss in 1990 with the death of its leader Hemed Maneti. Here's a rollicking 45 from 1983, Ahadi catalog number AHD 03:

Orchestra Vijana Jazz - Mama Njiti Pts. 1 & 2

Now we have this 45 from 1983 or '84 (Ahadi AHD 04), credited to Ndala Kasheba ("Freddie Supreme") and Orchestra Safari Sound (Dar). Werner Graebner writes that the OSS was dissolved in 1985 by its owner, businessman Hugo Kiisima, who then set up the International Orchestra Safari Sound, led by Muhiddin Maalim Gurumo and Abel Balthazar. So, did Kasheba keep the "old" OSS going? The release Tanzania Hit Parade '88 (Ahadi AHDLP 6005, 1988) lists two IOSS bands, subtitled "Duku Duku" and "Ndekule." Mysterious and mysteriouser:

Orchestra Safari Sound (Dar) - Dunia Msongamano Pts. 1 & 2

Here's the song that, as I've written earlier, launched my love affair with Swahili music: Remmy Ongala's ethereal "Mariamu" (Polydor POL 554, 1983). In my opinion it's superior to the
version that appeared on 1989's Songs for the Poor Man (RealWorld 91315-2), with these heartfelt lyrics: "Love burns like a fire . . . I cry for the wrong that I have done. Pity me, there is nothing I think of more than you. I am thin like a coconut palm, for the love of you. At night I dream, the whole day I can't eat. My heart is boiling, my body and blood dried-up. With the love that's burning within me. My Mariamu, my lover, you come today, you go today. I am suffering in my heart, and you are my heart":

Remmy Ongala & Orchestra Super Matimila - Mariamu Pts. 1 & 2

Finally, here's a group that I'm not actually sure is from Tanzania. Orchestra Super Sound, led by Kalala Mbwebwe, could very well be Kenyan. Their sound is closer to the sort of pop confections that were popular in the Nairobi music scene ca. the mid-'80s. But since this 45 was released on the Ken-Tanza label (KT (C) 055, to be specific), which as far as I know, released Tanzanian artists exclusively, I'll assume they're from that country. Enjoy!

Orchestra Super Sound - Fantaar Pts. 1 & 2

The picture at the top of this post is "Drummer Girl"
(2006) by Tanzanian artist Maurus Michael Malikita. Efforts to get in touch with Mr. Malikita by email to ask his permission to reproduce were unsuccessful, so I took the liberty. I apologize to Mr. Malikita for this, and if he would like me to remove it, he can get in touch with me via the comments or write me here: beadlejp (at) yahoo (dot) com. You can view some of Mr. Malikita's work at the above link (or click on the picture). Please drop in, and consider buying one of his paintings.
At the end of this week I'll be heading out East to do the college-tour thing with my daughter. We'll probably meet up with a couple of fellow African music fans that I've been in touch with, and I'm hoping to check out some African restaurants. Chances are I won't have access to a computer, so this will probably be my last post for awhile. If your musical cravings become too unbearable, please check in with some of the fine purveyors over in the left-hand sidebar. Ciao!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

More Mbaraka

I have a number of posts that are just on the threshold of going up, but I seem to have been gripped by an inexplicable and debilitating case of writer's block. Still, I feel the need to put something online. So, here goes: Back in September, I posted some tunes by Tanzania's late, incomparable Mbaraka Mwinshehe, with a promise of more to come. Thanks to our friend Cheeku, here they are: Five more tracks from the Ukumbusho series, pressed by Polygram Kenya in the 1980s (Polygram's successor, Tamasha, has recently reissued them in CD format, but as far as I know these are unavailable outside of E. Africa). Typically, these compilations feature no personnel listings or information on the original recordings. I suspect, though, that these tracks are from Mwinshehe's career with Super Volcano rather than his earlier band Morogoro Jazz.

"Shida," from Ukumbusho Vol. 1 (Polydor POLP 536, 1983) has already been featured on at least two other blogs,
Benn Loxo du Taccu and Steve Ntwiga Mugiri. Still, it's such a great song I couldn't resist putting it up again. Enjoy, and if you've heard it before, enjoy it again:

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Shida

East African musicians don't seem as given to fawning praise songs as Nigerians (paging Oliver de Coque!), but they do produce enough of them, including, I assume, this one, also from Ukumbusho Vol. 1. Don't know if it's fawning, though. Love the guitar that kicks in toward the middle of the song:

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Dr. Kleruu

Here's a scorcher from Ukumbusho Vol. 7 (Polydor POLP 566, 1988). The guitar work and vocal banter are exceptionally free and easy but what closes the deal is the wild "Hugh Masekela-ish" (is that a word?) trumpet playing toward the end:

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Nipeleke Nikashuhudie

As I said before, the Ukumbusho series was assembled haphazardly, with tunes from various points in Mwinshehe's career thrown together willy-nilly. Although "Baba Mdogo" is from Ukumbusho Vol. 8 (POLP 575, 1988), it's similar in tone to "Shida" from Vol. 1, above. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they were recorded at the same time. We adjourn this session with "Mashemeji Wangapa," also from Vol. 8, which echoes Orchestra Simba Wanyika in its overall ambiance.

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Baba Mdogo

Mbaraka Mwinshehe - Mashemeji Wangapa

For more music like this, check out Buda Musique's excellent Zanzibara Vol. 3: Ujaamaa, or this earlier compilation of music by Mbaraka Mwinshehe.
In the course of researching this post, I came across this polemic, in regards to the above-mentioned Zanzibara 3, by Alastair Johnston, who is responsible for the essential Muzikifan site:

". . . Now I don't want to start ranting in the middle of this panegyric but I have an issue that needs to be raised: the tendency of (mostly white, I suspect) people to treat this music with a colonial mentality. "It's great, so let's just put it on the net for anyone to hear." This devalues the music. I am not saying it should be the exclusive province of people with great wealth who can buy the copies that turn up on EBAY, I am saying this music should be respected. Before throwing it onto a blog it should be researched and properly documented. Optimal copies should be tracked down. Anyone downloading should pay nominally for the privilege and the money should be put in escrow to go to the descendants of the composers. Then there will be some parity with Western artists who get their royalties. I am sick of seeing sites with crappy-sounding singles ripped from cassettes and a note saying, "This is cool, I don't know anything about it but look here..." and a link to my pages. I've given up asking these clowns to respect my copyright, but ultimately they will kill the demand for CDs (& their crucial liner notes) and there won't be anyone, like Budamusique, taking the trouble to produce a magnificent package like this. You have to buy this, for the music, for the package, and to safeguard the future of the music!"
Alastair raises a valid point here, and I hope people can respond to it in the comments. I often feel very conflicted about posting the music I do on this site, for exactly the reasons Alastair brings up. I won't knowingly put up music that is available through the usual outlets: Amazon, Sterns, iTunes, Calabash or even the lesser-known World Music™ purveyors. And I'd like to recompense the artists in some way, but how? (Needless to say, I'm not making any money myself from this site.) It seems to me, though, that when I post stuff like these tracks by Mbaraka Mwinshehe, or the earlier Somali Mystery Funk, or some exceedingly rare tunes by Area Scatter, it has the potential to sell more CDs or downloads in the long run. In other words, there will be no market for the music if no one even knows that it exists. That's what I think, anyway. Your thoughts?