Thursday, November 29, 2007

Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) Live at the Smithsonian Institution

I rescued this recording from the "bulk" pile at WYMS-FM many, many years ago. It was made as part of the "American Jazz Radio Festival" program. Unfortunately I have no recording information - not even a set list. I presume it was recorded around mid-1985. "Date Recorded" on the tape box is 10/12/85, but that's probably the date it was recorded from the satellite feed.

I've never been particularly "into" Abdullah Ibrahim, but I know many people are, so I hope they'll enjoy (I compressed the file at 320 kbps rather than my usual 192 for the audiophiles).

Coincidentally, Matt over at Matsuli Music has posted for a limited time another Abdullah Ibrahim album here. Get it while it's hot!

Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) - Live at the Smithsonian Institution

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ethiopian Honey

I'll never forget the first time I heard Ethiopian music. I was in a restaurant called The Blue Nile in Tribeca around 1982 or '83, long since closed although I believe there is now another restaurant by that name in Manhattan. There was a scratchy, much-dubbed cassette playing on the sound system. The instrumentation was pure American R&B, but the vocals, well, the vocals were something else entirely. It was hard to explain but the overall effect sent chills up and down my spine. Other people have since told me that they had the exact same reaction the first time they heard these enigmatic sounds.

In 1985 I started doing "African Beat," a weekly program for WYMS-FM in Milwaukee, and through the show started to come in contact with Ethiopians living in town. Most of them described themselves as political exiles, Ethiopia at that time being ruled by a military dictatorship, the Derg, that called itself "Scientific Socialist." Of course I nagged them mercilessly for music from their homeland, and they were happy to comply. They loaned me about ten cassettes, and my love affair with Ethiopian music was rekindled.

The music industry in Ethiopia in the 1980s was in a state of meltdown. Shortly after the fall of Haile Selassie in 1974, production of vinyl recordings ended, and the political turmoil of the time, with the Derg and its rivals engaged in a bloody civil war, meant a more or less permanent curfew and the resulting disappearance of nightlife.

But Ethiopian music persevered. There being no record pressing plants or professional cassette-duplicating facilities, the various music shops - Electra, Ambassel, Kaifa and the like - took matters into their own hands. Musicians were contracted with, master tapes were recorded, cassettes were dubbed one-by-one on cheap boomboxes, and distributed throughout Ethiopia by the hundreds of thousands.

Francis Falceto's Ethiopiques series on Buda is justly renowned for bringing to light the classic Ethiopian recordings of the Imperial Era. In the liner notes of Ethiopiques 20: Either/Orchestra (Buda 860121, 2005), Falceto decries the current state of Ethiopian music for its lack of adventurousness and reliance on junky synthesizers, as contrasted with the artistic expermentation and professionalism of "The Golden Years."

I certainly don't disagree with Falceto's assessment of the current state of the Ethiopian music scene, but I just can't buy his implicit dismissal of the Derg years as a musical desert. Keep in mind that it was during this era that the renowned singer Aster Aweke began her career, as did Efrem Tamirru, Hamelmal Abate, Martha Ashegare and a host of other artists. Moreover, the great singers of the classic period - Tilahun Gessesse, Mahmoud Ahmed and the like - did some of their most memorable work under the Derg (Ere Mela Mela, anyone?).

One of the singers who got her start in Addis Ababa in the early Eighties is Kuku Sebsebe, whose cassette Munaye (Electra Music Shop, ca. 1985) ranks as one of the greatest Ethiopian recordings ever. I would rate it, actually, one of my ten favorite African recordings of all time. Like many Ethi
opians, Kuku lived in exile in Washington, DC, and recorded several CDs there. She is said to have returned permanently to Ethiopia in 2003.

My fervent hope is that someday Munaye will be reissued in the format that it deserves, remastered from the original master tapes. Until that day I present it to you now, digitized from one of those homemade Ethiopian cassettes. I have also included three tunes by Kuku Sebsebe from the compilation tape Ambassel Bidiyona Muziqa Mdbere (Ambassel Music Shop, ca. 1985). In case you want to make your own CD, I've provided front and back covers.

Kuku Sebsebe - Benafeqote Newe

Kuku Sebsebe - Hodiya

Kuku Sebsebe - Yagere Watat

Kuku Sebsebe - Feqreh Beretabenye

Kuku Sebsebe - Munaye

Kuku Sebsebe - Bleby Gwadana (Instrumental)

Kuku Sebsebe - Bleby Gwadana

Kuku Sebsebe - Iny Webe Qonjo

Kuku Sebsebe - Sayehe Dese Yeloale

Kuku Sebsebe - Yanene Yegy Uga

Kuku Sebsebe - Dany Belewe

Kuku Sebsebe - Instrumental

Kuku Sebsebe - Ugawe Glegamy

Kuku Sebsebe - Iaregale

Kuku Sebsebe - Klete Igy Mewe Dede

Not knowing even a shred of Amharic, I transliterated the song titles from the cassette track listing (right), using a table of the Ge'ez Syllabary. The results don't look quite "right," so anybody with knowledge of the language is warmly invited to correct me.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Somali Mystery Funk

(Note: This post was updated considerably on November 29, 2007. The MP3s were replaced with new stereo versions on November 30, 2007.)

I've said this before, but I'll repeat it: The coolest blog out there is Frank Soulpusher's Voodoo Funk. Frank travels throughout West Africa digging up old obscure soul and funk records by local musicians. He posts mixes of his discoveries that usually have me dropping my jaw in wonderment. . . Whaaaa?

Of course, West Africa wasn't the only place that was obsessed with American-style R&B. Every African country had its own practitioners, some of them quite original. Ethiopia in particular created its own fusion of soul and traditional music that has drawn international acclaim.

Twenty years ago I thought that Somalia was immune to the funk virus. There was one recording of Somali music on the market, Original Music's Jaamila (OMA 107, 1987), recordings of oud, flute and voice that were interesting but not especially funky. Somali friends loaned me static-filled cassettes of artists like Sahra Axmed and others that were in a similar vein. There was a wildly-popular genre of home-made cassettes of recitations of Somali poetry. I began to wonder if there even was such a thing as modern Somali music at all.

Then my friend Ali handed me a cassette, an over-the-counter Sanyo stamped "Iftin." No case, no track listing; Ali couldn't even tell me anything about the group Iftin. He thought they may have been from northern Somalia, possibly from Djibouti or the Somali-speaking part of Ethiopia. But they definitely made modern Somali music.

Since this was first posted, we have heard from a Mr. Saanag, who provides much valuable information on Iftin. He writes:

Iftin ("Sunshine") was a big hit in Somalia in the 70's and 80's. Initially, they made theaters & schools "unsafe" with their brand of (slow) dance music and later discotheques & marriage ceremonies were conquered. It's one of the bands initiated by the Ministry of Education and Culture and they were based in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, where most of the band members originally came from. The lead singer with the "Woweeee!" hair is a Somali of Yemenite origins (does his Yemeni ancestry shed a little light on your remark?). He's called Shimaali and some of his solo efforts are on YouTube.
Before I gave the tape back to Ali I dubbed it onto a 10-inch tape reel at WYMS-FM, where I used to do my radio program "African Beat." When I stopped doing the show in 2001 I had no way to listen to it, until now. I recently rented a reel-to-reel tape deck and have digitized it, so now I can give it to you!

Keep in mind that this cassette was produced in the do-it-yourself spirit that is common throughout Africa. It was no doubt duplicated on a boom box, so the sound quality isn't terrific. I think you'll agree, though, that the quality of the music outweighs this technical drawback.

This post is entitled "Somali Mystery Funk" because when I first wrote it I had no idea what the titles of the songs were or what they meant. Sanaag writes:

I think I've recognized all the tracks but keep in mind that many (old) Somali songs don't have an original title and the name of many others is unknown to the public. No-case-and-no-tracklisting is/was the daily pot-luck you just must take or leave in Somalia. So, each song gets several popular names.
So, here are the song titles in Somali & English, thanks to Sanaag.

"Gabar ii Noqee" ("Be my Wife") aka "Ohiyee Ohiyee" ("Yeah, Yeah")

Iftin - Gabar ii Noqee

"Codkeennii Kala Halow" ("Our Voices Have Lost Each Other")

Iftin - Codkeennii Kala Halow

"Haka Yeelin Nacabkeenna" means "Don't Heed Our Enemies" (or those who are against our love).

Iftin - Haka Yeelin Nacabkeenna

"Lamahuraan" means "Love is Indespensible." This song is also known as "Sida Laba Walaalaa" (like two siblings) or "Qays & Layla" ("Romeo & Juliet")

Iftin - Lamahuraan

"Weynoow": "My Great (love)" aka "Ciil Kaambi": "Sorrow and Bitterness (due to frustrated love)"

Iftin - Weynoow

"Jacayl Iima Roona" means "Love is Not Right for Me (now)"

Iftin - Jacayl Iima Roona

"Hir Aanii Dhowyen ma Halabsado" means "Longing to Bridge the Big Distance." This song is also known as "Ruuney" - "Oh, Ruun (a Somali female name)."

Iftin - Hir Aanii Dhowyen ma Halabsado

"Caashaqa Maxay Baray?" "Why Get Acquainted With Love?" or in other words, "I'm too young to take the burden of love on my shoulders." The same song and singer, Sahra Dawo, are featured with another band, "Durdur," on this YouTube video.

Iftin - Caashaqa Maxay Baray?

"Baddaa Doon Baa Maraysoo": "A (fragile) boat is rocking on that ocean"

Iftin - Baddaa Doon Baa Maraysoo

Nowadays, there's a thriving modern Somali music scene, centered in Toronto (conditions in Mogadishu these days obviously not being too conducive to recording and distribution). For a sample of what young Somali musicians are up to these days, go here and here. Sanaag also recommends: Banadir City, and The Real Africa.

Here are two videos of Iftin performing in the Eighties. Check out the hair on the lead singer in the second one. Woweeee!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wayward Girls, Greediness and Fancy Hotels

When Nigerian highlife king Stephen Osita Osadebe passed on May 11 of this year, it could reasonably be said that an era died with him. Apart from Victor Olaiya, Osadebe was the last important exponent of "dance band" highlife in Nigeria, and the only significant Igbo artist working in that genre. His contributions to Nigerian music were incalculable; not only did he carry the torch of classic highlife to the very end, his compositions became evergreen classics beloved by millions: "Sisi Kwanangida," "One Pound No Balance," "Nri Sports di Uso," "Osondi Owendi," "People's Club Special" and many, many more.

Over the course of his fifty years in music, "The Doctor of Hypertension," or Osili, as he was fondly known, put out at least sixty LPs and numerous 45s. Some of the best of these recordings were included in 2001's compilation disc, Sound Time (IndigeDisc 495 001), and many others have been reissued on CD in Nigeria, although these are very difficult to obtain (try Sterns). Some years ago I compiled a discography of Osadebe, which you can find here.

One of my chief aims in establishing Likembe was to promote and explain the Igbo music that I love so much, and toward this end I hope to post as many recordings by the great Doctor as I possibly can. We're kicking things off with selections from four LPs issued in the early 1970s: Uju Special (Philips 6361 015, 1972), Egbunam (Philips 6361 024, 1972), Osadebe '75 (Polydor POLP 001, 1974) and Osadebe '76 (Polydor POLP 004, 1975).

Of course, Osadebe had been making great music since the 1950s, when he got his start with Zeal Onyia's band, and released his first single, "Adamma," in 1958. It was following the defeat of the Biafran war of independence (1967-1970), though, that he really began to make his mark
on the national and international scene. These four albums, massive hits all, played a major part in cementing his reputation.

"Uju Special," the opening track from Osadebe's LP of the same name (left), concerns Osadebe's sister Ononuju. Uju's husband and in-laws treated her poorly because she couldn't conceive. Osadebe and his family begged her to return home - "Ononuju nwannem ngi kam na kpo," which she did. She remarried, and gave birth to many children.

The closing, "Okwu fa kwulu ya dili fa na Uju difu o," proclaims "in spite of everything they said Uju is still here!"

Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Uju Special

The derisive song "Sisi Kwanangida," also from Uju Special, concerns young Igbo women who sought the company of the Federal troops who occupied Eastern Nigeria following the end of the Biafra war. "Kwanangida" is actually a Hausa term and was applied generally to these soldiers whatever their ethnicity. Osadebe remonstrates with such women for pursuing these men and their money, and predicts that they will be disappointed in the end: "Sorry-O. Kwanangida no go marry you! Baby Kwanangida now you go tire!"

Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Sisi Kwanangida

"Baby One Pound No Balance," also from Uju Special, similarly addresses the subject of what might be called "wayward women," in this case a prostitute who states her non-negotiable price: "One Pound, no balance!"

Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Baby One Pound No Balance

In the early '70s the Matador Hotel in Onitsha was the destination for nouveau riche gentlemen to eat, drink and show off their girlfriends. I presume Osili was given a bundle of cash by the owners to record "Matador Special," from Egbunam (right), and it was a big hit for him. He asks, "Onye ma mbosi anwu?" "who knows the day they will die?" In other words, have fun while you can!

He further asks, "What does Osili want? Number one, that he will eat well. Number two, that he will have the most enjoyment. Number three, that he will wear the most beautiful attire. Number four, that he will have a beautiful lady by his side while he enjoys himself!" Of course, all of these things may be found at the Matador!

Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Matador Special

"Ezi Ogolidi" ("Husband's Sweetheart"), also from Egbunam, is a love song. Osadebe pleads, "Onyeoma (beautiful one), you've done it to me again, but you've also done it to yourself ('aye aye ni ime onweyi'). Who is Osili going to go to now? Osili loves you. Must I kill myself for you to know? A woman can be beautiful on the outside but have a heart like a stone. A woman can be ugly but have a heart like a mirror. It is best to have the one with the beautiful heart."

(I apologize for the poor quality of this recording. If I can find a better copy, I will post it.)

Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Ezi Ogelidi

Side 1 of Osadebe '75 (left) is a three-part medley that showcases the virtuosity of Osadebe's backup group, the Nigeria Sound Makers (unfortunately, as on all of Osadebe's albums, these musicians are uncredited.) "Onu Kwube" basically means "let people talk" and is more or less a collection of proverbs: "A child cannot go before his father. After a race, you will see who ran faster. Let no one wish each other death. Let mine be mine ('Nkemdilim')."

The title of part two of this sequence, "Ejim Ofor Aga," means "I keep my hand straight in everything I do." "What does the eye see that it cries blood? Let nobody kill each other."

Commander in Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Onu Kwube / Ejim Ofor Aga / Instrumental 1

Another killer double-header, from Osadebe '76 (right), closes out our survey of Osita Osadebe's early Seventies recordings. "Ome Ife Jide Ofo," a common Igbo proverb, means
"whatever you are doing, make sure you are doing right." In this song Osadebe addresses intra-family disputes: "Anger between brothers and sisters doesn't go to the bone. A sister and brother will not eat together and not trust each other." The title of part two, "Anya Ukwu Dinjo," literally means "big eyes are bad," or in other words, "greediness is bad." The song states that anyone who is used to greediness is in big trouble, that greediness is unholy, an abomination, etc. etc.

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & his Nigeria Sound Makers - Ome Ife Jide Ofo / Anya Ukwu Dinjo

Once again, many thanks to my wife Priscilla for patiently translating these lyrics for me. We tried to render them in vernacular English as much as we could, but because of differences in dialect, etc. there may be some discrepancies in interpretation. Feedback, as ever, is appreciated.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pre-Festival Lagos 77

Contrary to the impression you might get from the title of this post, this one is not about Nigerian music (but I promise I'll be putting up some more of that soon!). Rather this is dedicated to an LP issued in Guinea prior to the legendary Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, or FESTAC '77, which was held in Lagos in 1977.

Drawing on my very rudimentary French-language skills, I take it that the groups featured on this recording, from various Guinean locales, were in competition to be their country's representative at the Lagos festival. The album (Syliphone SLP63), has never been reissued to my knowledge, nor have any of these wonderful recordings been featured on any of the recent compilations of classic Guinean music.

Télé-Jazz de Télimélé - Sensenko

Simandou-Jazz de Beyla - Bounika

Sonsornet Rythme de Boké - En Tout Cas. . .

Nimba-Jazz de N'Zérékoré - Babaniko

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Points of Light

In my last post I described the last twenty years as the "Dark Ages" of Congolese music. I'll admit that this isn't my main area of interest or expertise, and the stuff I have heard is mostly from Paris-based Congo musicians, but I stand by my judgment for the most part. What has the Paris-Congo axis produced in the last two decades? Mainly endless posturing and rehashing of past glories (cf. Soukous Vibration!). Please prove me wrong!

I do concede that there have been a few bright spots in Congo music lately. Of course, I loved the two Congotronics releases on CramWorld. Another artist who redeems Congo music for me is the great Bozi Boziana.

Bozi got his start in Zaïko Langa-Langa, the first and most influential of the "New Wave" bands that burst onto the Kinshasa scene toward the end of the '60s. From there he journeyed through a veritable "Who's Who" of the Congo music world: Isifi Lokolé, Yoka Lokolé, Langa-Langa Stars and the Choc Stars, finally establishing his own Anti-Choc about twenty years ago.

Anti-Choc's first releases were decent enough party music but I think Boziana realized something was missing because around '88 he started teaming up with a series of spunky female vocalists - notably Joly (or Jolie) Detta (with Bozi Boziana, above) and Déesse (or Deyess) Mukangi, and the results were nothing less than sublime. The best of his recordings with these two stellar singers were gathered in two compilations issued around 1997 by Ngoyarto, now sadly out of print.

Here are two recordings from Anti-Choc's early work, enjoyable if rather formulaic examples of the Kinshasa/Paris sound as it existed in the late '80s, featuring light-fingered guitar playing and noteworthy vocals marred by rather irritating synthesizer work. "Adieu l'Ami" is from Anti-Choc (Sterns 1022, 1988):

Anti-Choc - Adieu l'Ami

"Pot Pourri 18 Ans de Succes," from 18 Ans de Succes (Mualaba Lukusa SIC 003, 1988) is a medley of tunes Bozi Boziana recorded with various groups throughout the Seventies and Eighties. The complete playlist is as follows:

1. Tshala (Choc-Stars)
2. Touou Muana CFA (Zaïko Langa-Langa)
3. Diana Ya Mama (Zaïko Langa-Langa)
4. La-Mignone (Langa-Langa Stars)
5. Alena (Choc-Stars)
6. Sandu Kotti (Choc-Stars)
7. Sisina (Choc-Stars)
8. Expplication Sisi (Anti-Choc)
Bozi Boziana & Anti-Choc - Pot Pourri 18 Ans de Succes

Now here's where I prove my point that the collaboration of Bozi Boziana, Déesse Mukangi and Joly Detta marked a quantum leap forward for Anti-Choc and Congo music in general. Bozi Boziana has one of the sweetest, most plaintive voices in African music. Of course, I don't understand Lingala, but he usually sounds like he's hurtin'! But listen to Bozi when he teams up with those two sassy ladies, Joly and Déesse. Talk about synergy! The interplay between the voices, guitar and synthesizer in these tracks is unequaled. The first three tunes here are taken from The Collection Bozi Boziana Vol. 1 featuring Jolly Detta & Déesse (Ngoyarto NG 020), the last two from The Collection Bozi Boziana Vol. 2 featuring Déesse, Scola Miel (Nza Wissa) & Betty (Ngoyarto NG 021):

Bozi Boziana & Anti-Choc w. Joly Detta - La Reine de Sabah

Bozi Boziana & Anti-Choc w. Joly Detta - Evelyne

Bozi Boziana & Anti-Choc w. Déesse - Ba Bokilo

Bozi Boziana & Anti-Choc w. Déesse - Fleur de Lys

Bozi Boziana & Anti-Choc w. Déesse - Lelo Makambo Lobi Makambo

It makes you wonder why more African bands don't make use of female vocalists. Of course, Tabu Ley and Afrisa International had M'Bilia Bel (before their rancorous falling-out), and Franco and TPOK Jazz made use of Joly Detta herself on one memorable recording, but this great cultural resource has generally been underutilized.

Déesse has made a couple of solo recordings (Little Goddess on Sterns [STCD 1040, 1992] was a standout), while providing backup vocals on a number of recordings. Joly Detta, sadly, has kept under the radar, but you can view her in a wonderful recording with TPOK Jazz here.

Discography of Bozi Boziana & Anti-Choc