Saturday, February 27, 2010

An Ethiopian Pearl




I suspect Mahmoud Ahmed needs no introduction here - he's arguably Ethiopia's best-known musician thanks to his momentous recording Era Mela Mela and other classics. He continues to tour internationally and record music at a prolific rate. Previously I posted his 1992 cassette Live in Addis Ababa. Here's Tezzetta Enqu (Ethio Music Shop), another one from 1991 or 1992. Although the cassette states 1984 as the issue date, I believe that is according to the Ethiopian calendar.

Andreas Wetter of Humboldt University in Berlin has very kindly transliterated the Ge'ez liner notes for us. Andreas writes, ". . .
I tried to translate them but some of the translations may be too literal, i.e. there may be meanings or readings I am not aware of. But you can't find these things in dictionaries. I once started to translate a list of old song titles with an Ethiopian friend and it became quickly apparent that many of the translations are quite tricky. . ." Andreas translates the title of the cassette as "Tizzita - The Pearl" or "Jewel," and further writes, ". . . Tizzita is one of the four tuning styles of Amharic music, and, by the way, the most used one in modern popular music. Mahmud Ahmed is said to be one of the best interpreters of this type of song. "

As usual, I've included the original inlay card at the bottom of this post.

"She Has It:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Allat Nägär

"Oh Her Tears:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Erri Embwa

"Appearing Abruptly:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Zäww Zäww

"Let Me Live With It:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Lenurebbät

"Kochämbi K
ärsädi/Alämäna" is in two different Gurage languages, Soddo and Säbat Bet (Mahmoud Ahmed is a Gurage), and Andreas was unable to translate it:

Mahmoud Ahmed - Kochämbi Kärsädi (Soddo)/Alämäna (Säbat Bet)

"Come (down) From the Highlands:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Näy Kädägaw

"How Should I Forget Her:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Endet Lersat

"Come (to a woman) on a Horse:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Näy Bäfäräs

"Who Can it Be?:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Man Yehon

"It (or he) Was:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Näbbär

You can download Tezzetta Enqu as a zipped file here.



Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lovers' Soukous for Soukous Lovers




It's no secret I'm not thrilled about some of the Congo music that's been coming out lately, particularly from the Paris-based bunch. For those of us who got to know it in the '70s and '80s, "soukous" is synonymous with the mellow, hot-yet-cool sounds popularized by the great Franco and Rochereau, Kosmos Moutouari, Pamelo Mounk'a, and of course, Lipua-Lipua and its many offshoots. That was real cuisine. The new stuff? Well, it's just fast food.

Of this crew guitarist/composer Papa Noël has always held a special place in my heart, although he's labored in the shadows of better-known musicians for many years. Born Antoine Nedule Montswet in 1940 in Leopoldville (today Kinshasa), he was nicknamed "Noël," having taken his first breath on Christmas Day.

In 1957 Noël made his first record (backing Léon Bukasa) and joined the group Rock-a-Mambo, which crossed the river in 1960 to the newly-independent French Congo and became Orchestre Bantou (later Bantous de la Capitale), a major force in Congo music for decades. In 1963 he returned to Leopoldville, and was soon asked by the great bandleader Kabaselle to join his Orchestre African Jazz. Here he played for five years, leaving to lead his own Orchestre Bamboula for a few years, and then to play with a succession of combos. In 1978, Papa Noël was asked by Franco to join his
Orchestre Tout Poussaint OK Jazz, where he stayed until the great man's death in 1989 (it was as a member of OK Jazz that Noël was jailed for 22 days in 1978 as punishment for Franco's notoriously filthy song "Jacky," a recording in which, ironically, he played no role).

During the years that Papa Noël toiled as a "musician's musician" in other people's projects, lending them his soft-spoken elegance and masterful guitar work, he occasionally made solo recordings to great acclaim. Two of these were Bon Samaritain (1984) and Haute Tension (1994), tracks from which are available on the CD Bel Ami (Sterns SDCD 3016, 2000).

In 1999 the family and I had the pleasure of hearing and meeting Papa Noël when he performed in Milwaukee as part of the backup group for Sam Mangwana, who had just released his CD Galo Negro and was touring the U.S. to promote it. Although Mangwana was the "star" of the show, these two great musicians were definitely co-equals in our eyes. I could tell Noël was pleased to have been recognized in his own right, and he seemed touched that I had brought two of his hard-to-find LPs for him to autograph. Here we are below:



Papa Noël's Allegria (Editions Provil PV 015, ca. 1987) is one of those "desert island" recordings, a masterpiece that I rank, along with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's Zombie, Kiné Lam's Galass, and Kuku Sebesebe's Munaye, one of the ten greatest African recordings of all time. See if you don't agree:

Papa Noël - Allegria

Papa Noël - Sem-Sem

Papa Noël - Nzoto Pasi

Papa Noël - Sante Pepele

Download Allegria as a zipped file here. Much of the information in this post was mined from Ken Braun's very informative liner notes for Bel Ami.



Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Heads Up




A big "thank you" to Zim Bida, who tipped me off to this great mix of classic Nigerian highlife (and one track from Ghana's Professional Uhuru Dance Band) from the Washington City Paper here. It's awfully tasty! The tracklisting:


1. Easy Life Dandies – “Oko Dotunla”
2. Godwin Ezike & The Ambassadors – “Gboli We”
3. The Magnificent Zeinians – “Ngozi Chukwu Ka”
4. Oriental Brothers International – “Ihe-Che-Nyerem”
5. Anyamel & His Okuato Band – “Uwa Ka Njo”
6. Eastern Minstrels Guitar Band – “Akwa Onwu”
7. Celestine Obiakor & His Entertainment Group – “Echendu Nwa Eze”
8. Godwin Ezike & The Ambassadors – “Mini Gown”
9. Eastern Minstrels Guitar Band – “Ogbu Nwa Ya Ogu Agarala Ya”
10. Easy Life Dandies – “Gbami Gbami Baba Gbogbo Oni”
11. Anyamel & His Okuato Band – “Jumbo Kedi Nnegi”
12. Professional Uhuru Dance Band – “Ewu Ngyadze”
13. Eastern Minstrels Guitar Band – “Aka Kpara Ngaji Uregbue Onu”
14. Celestine Obiakor & His Entertainment Group – “Piter Mighasi Nma Na Obo”
15. Cardinal Rex Lawson & His Majors Band of Nigeria – “Abasi Ye Enye”
16. Oriental Brothers International – “Uwa-Atualamujo”
17. Eastern Minstrels Guitar Band – “Echehula Nwa Nne Gi”
18. Easy Life Dandies – “Iyawo Madale”
19. The Magnificent Zeinians – “Good Luck To You My Girl”