Sunday, August 12, 2007

Le Demón de la Musique Africain

Once upon a time many thought that Ali Baba would be the next big thing in African music. With his flashy stage show and eclectic, cosmopolitan style it was thought that he could give King Sunny Ade and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti a run for their money. His premier disc Ali Baba '85 drew a lot of attention, and an appearance in London later that year seemed to herald bigger and better things.

In the end, though, not much came of it. King Sunny Ade lost his contract with Island Records and Fela stayed more of a cult figure, at least until his death in 1997.
The "African music boom" of the mid '80s turned out to be more of a "boomlet." And Ali Baba returned to his native Cameroun, where he continued to make music that was appreciated by many until his death on May 15, 2004.

Amadou Baba Ali was a a Hausa, a nationality of 30-35 million that is centered on Northern Nigeria and the Republic of Niger, but has members throughout West Africa. He was born in 1956 in Garoua, northern Cameroun. From 1980 to 1984 he achieved great fame and skill as a dancer with the National Ballet of Cameroun and in 1985 recorded Ali Baba '85 in Paris.

Frank Bessem's Musiques d'Afrique states that Ali Baba suffered a crippling stroke in 1993 that made it very difficult for him to get about, yet achieved a miraculous come-back later in the '90s. He founded a production company, Soul Gandjal, with the aim of promoting artists from northern Cameroun.

What I find interesting about Ali Baba is that for many years he was one of the few Hausa musicians performing in a modern, contemporary mode. In the recent period hip-hop and other styles have made their influence felt in Hausaland, but for many years Hausa music was performed almost totally in traditional styles utilizing instruments like the talking drum, goje, kontigi, and kakakai.
There were only a couple of Hausa highlife musicians and no Hausa equivalent of syncretic, modern Nigerian styles like juju or fuji.

Here's the music:

Around 1984 or so, Ali Baba contributed this tune to the deluxe 3-LP set produced by the Société Camerounaise du Droit d'Auteur (SOCADRA), Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun (Afrovision FMC 001/002/003). Here he's backed up by the National Orchestra of Cameroun.
Fleurs Musicales, by the way, is an anthology that is just crying out for reissue. I'm planning to post more tracks from it in the future:

Ali Baba & l'Orchestre Nationale du Cameroun - Aourgo

From Ali Baba '85 (Kappa SAS 056), two tracks that perfectly exemplify Ali Baba's wondrously inventive style:

Ali Baba - Waioh

Ali Baba - Hadiza

Finally, from 1989's Condition Femenine (Editions Haïssam MH 14), Ali Baba's tribute to the great Nigerian Hausa praise singer Alhaji Mamman Shata. In the future I will post music by Mamman Shata and other Hausa musicians from Nigeria and Niger:

Ali Baba - Alhaji Mamman Shata


Juan Carlos said...

good beginning for this blog ,surely that we will learn much of you ,I am very loving of the music of igbo ,if someday you can comment something of the Oriental Brothers or Kabaka , Warrior , Opara ,etc I thank for much to you.

Juan Carlos
Barranquilla - Colombia

Analog Africa said...

Very Nice to have you around John. I heard of you while in Tokyo two years ago..the world is really getting small. I´ve just added "Likembe" to my Blog. Samy

Pieter said...

Hi John,

I've got some Remmy tracks you'd like: a cd version of "mambo kwa soksi", a long rap about the utility of condoms. I also have a live cassette version (about 30 minutes long). The song was never released officially in TZ as the government-owned radio studio didn't deem it worthy. It's a great example of Remmy's talent of tuning in to what's living in the streets (at least in the 1980s) before he was born again...

John B. said...

Hey Pieter,

If you don't want to use it on your blog, I'd love it! You can contact me directly at beadlejb at yahoo dot com.

slj3 said...

Hi, Many many thanks for all the good music you provide us with!"Alhadji Mamman Shata" file seems to be deleted : could you please reupload?Best regards. Stéphane from french guiana.

John B. said...


Well, I was wondering who in French Guiana was tuning in!

The links has been corrected. It should play OK now.

w said...

Hi John, thanks for your great job. its a pleasure to read and listen. i would be grateful for more HAUSA music you were announcing at Ali Baba & L'ochestre national du Cameroun report. Just recently the famous musician (and member of Bori possession cult)from Niger Saadou Bori died in a motor accident in northern Nigeria, so i was hoping if you could post something from him. me myself i have a tune but only on tape, which i bought in Kano in 1996.

Haza wasalamu, Allah ya kiyaye!

Ni ne Malam Bala

Mary said...

Hi John,
We are practically neighbors as my hometown is far north Chicago Suburb.
I have collected world music for over 20 years and am delighted to have found you!
As far as Ali Baba goes...I first heard him on a Rykodisc compilation. Out of Africa which I purchased back in 1988. His Keya Renia is an great Afro Funk listen. Percussion is amazing, as are the horns.
I look forward to exploring your blog and of course the music.

w said...

hi john, just wanted to ask if you could post more tracks from Ali Baba or similar Hausa Disco or Hausa Funk music, which is really difficult to find elsewhere.
thanks a lot
malam bala