Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Voice of the People



Cape Verdean musician Abel Lima (above) graces two recent excellent collections of music from that island nation - Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed (Analog Africa AACD 080, 2016) and Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands 1973-1988 (Ostinato OBT CD0002, 2017). 

He was born in 1946 in Curral Velho on the island of Boa Vista. At the time Cape Verde, along with its sister countries Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique and São Tomé & Principe, were under the heel of Portuguese colonialism, and over the years armed resistance movements grew in opposition. Cape Verdean men over the age of 16 faced conscription to fight in these wars, so at the age of 13 Lima emigrated illegrally to Ivory Coast, where he took up typography. Moving on to Senegal, and then to Paris in 1969, he joined the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), a liberation movement devoted to the independence of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, and began his career as a musician. The lyrics of Lima's songs in this period are marked by his devotion to the liberation of Cape Verde and African people, for instance "Cabral 1924-1973," dedicated to the memory of Amilcar Cabral, the assassinated founder of the PAIGC.

The liberation movements in Portugal's African colonies were successful to such a degree that they brought about the collapse of the Portuguese government itself, the Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974, and independence for the African countries. Abel Lima returned to Cape Verde in 1974 to participate in its renaissance, and here recorded "Corre Riba, Corre Baxo," a stinging denunciation of the exploitation of African exiles in Europe. Unfortunately, family and economic necessities forced him to return to France.


It was during Lima's second French sojourn that he hosted a radio program, "Prends l'Afrique et Tire-Toi," and recorded today's offering, a 1983 LP by the same name (Radio Rivage AL 07). The backup band, Voz di Povo, draws on the ample supply of African musicians in Paris, including Congo's Maïka Munan, Ballou Canta and others. The result is a unique blend of Cape Verdean sounds and soukous. Delightful!

Over the years Abel Lima made a living in the printing industry in France while recording a number of albums as an avocation. After retiring in 2003 he returned home to Curral Velho, where he passed away in October 2016.






Download Prends l'Afrique et Tire-Toi as a zipped file here.



Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Couple of Rochereaus



Just about everyone in the United States who started collecting African music in the 1970s and '80s is familiar with the productions of Brooklyn's African Record Centre, with its labels Makossa, Star Musique and others. Back in those days it was pretty much the only source in the US for authentic African music, by which I mean the sort of stuff that's listened to in Africa itself. The ARC licensed many recordings by Fela Ransome-Kuti (later Fela Anikulapo-Kuti), then only known to a small but devoted coterie. It released a raft of funky Ghanaian guitar-highlife records, recordings by Franco and other "Zaïrean" artists, 12" benga records produced by Kenya's indomitable P.O. Kanindo, and an amazing series by the US-based Sierra Leonean group Muyei Power, some of which have been gathered into a retrospective by London's Soundway Records. 

These recordings would make their way through obscure distribution channels to record stores throughout the land, where perplexed clerks would stash them in the "International" bin along with records by Nana Mouskouri and Heino. "World Music™" had yet to be born!

By 1983 I had already been a fan of Fela's for a while, King Sunny Adé had made a splash, and in 1981 and '82 Mango Records had released two compilations of African music, Sound d'Afrique and Sound d'Afrique II: Soukous, both of which were revelations but especially the second, which showcased the music of the Democratic Republic of Congo, then called Zaïre. So, during a trip to New York City I had to make a pilgrimage to 1194 Nostrand Ave. in Brooklyn, this Mecca of African sounds.

I have to say the store was everything I'd hoped for, crammed to the gills with not only ARC's own productions but even more mysterious imports actually pressed in Africa! I wasn't exactly flush with cash at the time - I could only afford five LPs. I got a couple of Sunny Adé Nigerian pressings, and a French reissue of Fela's Coffin for Head of State. What would the fourth and fifth ones be? I liked the Zaïrean music I'd heard - could the clerk make a recommendation? It turned out Makossa had just released a number of recordings from that country, including the one the clerk handed over - Kele Bibi: Rochereau Vol. 8 (Disco Stock Makossa DM 5001, 1982), by an artist I'd never heard of - "Seigneur Tabu Ley."

I'll admit I looked at this record with some skepticism. Who was this middle-aged, rather paunchy fellow in a cheesy Elvis-style white jumpsuit and cape? But when the clerk put the record on the turntable I was sold! I got that one and a second record, Mpeve Ya Longo: Rochereau Vol. 7 (Disco Stock Makossa DM 5000, 1982), this one featuring Tabu Ley and a female singer, M'Bilia Bel:


According to Wikipedia, Pascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu was born November 13, 1937 or 1940 in Bagata, in what was then the Belgian Congo. He came by his nickname "Rochereau" after correctly naming the French general Pierre Philippe Denfert-Rochereau in a quiz at school. In 1956 he joined African Jazz, the musical congregation of Joseph Athanase Tshamala Kabasele, or Le Grand Kallé, considered the father of modern Congolese music, and notched a number of hits with the group before leaving with Nicolas Kasanda wa Mikalay (known as Docteur Nico) in 1963 to form African Fiesta. This group split in turn in 1965, Rochereau forming African Fiesta National, renamed Afrisa International in 1970. Around this time he also took on the stage name "Tabu Ley" as part of President Mobutu Sese-Seko's Authenticité campaign.

During the '70s Afrisa International vied with Franco's TPOK Jazz and other groups to popularize Congolese music around the world, making it the most widespread and popular style across Africa. During this period Afrisa performed at the legendary Zaïre '74 concert, during FESTAC '77 in Lagos, and at the Olympia Theater in Paris.

It was Rochereau's lovely voice that made him a star, instantly recognizable on such classic tunes as "Afrika Mokili Mobimba" and many others, but it was his stage show and musical innovations that kept him on top for many years. Elvis, of course, was an inspiration, but so were James Brown and other American R&B stars. He even did a cover of the Beatles classic "Let it Be"

M'Bilia Bel (born Marie-Claire M'Bilia M'boyo in Kinshasa in 1959) got started as a singer and dancer with Abeti Masikini. Here she was spotted by Tabu Ley and invited to join his female backup group, the Rocherettes.She performed with them for a few years before making Mpeve Ya Longo with Ley, her recording debut. She was an immediate hit and soon cut a solo album, Eswi Yo Wapi (Genidia GEN 102, 1983), with more recordings, solo and with Tabu Ley, to follow. The pair were soon married, with Bel as the junior wife in Rochereau's polygamous marriage.

The two albums showcased here, Mpeve Ya Longo and Kele Bibi, come at an interesting inflection point in the careers of the two artists. The following year, 1983, would see the release of several recordings on Rochereau's Genidia label that catapulted the pair to international fame, with more to follow over the next few years. A compilation on the Shanachie label, Rochereau (43017, 1984) introduced them to US audiences. A few years ago Sterns Music released The Voice of Lightness Vol. 2 by Tabu Ley (STCD 3056-57, 2010) and Bel Canto by M'Bilia Bel (STCD 3037-38, 2007), which showcase the best music of the Genidia years.

The sound of Mpeve Ya Longo and Kele Bibi is subtly different from the Genidia recordings. I don't know if it's because of different recording engineers or what, but the mixes here are looser-sounding, less polished and push the vocals to the forefront while making way for some really inspired instrumental jams. Truly infectious!

After several years and one child together, the personal and professional partnership of Tabu Ley and M'Bilia Bel came to an acrimonius end in 1987, allegedly over disrespect shown by Bel to Tabu Ley's senior wife, Mimi Ley. Whatever the reason, Bel's career on her own, after a promising start with 1988's Phènomené (Mbilia Production MCB 001), has declined over the years, although she continues to record and tour.

Following Bel's departure, Rochereau hooked up with two new female singers, Faya Tess and her sister Beyou Ciel, and continued to record and tour internationally. After the fall of Presidnet Mobutu Sese-Seko in 1997 he took a cabinet position in the new government of Joseph Kabila and followed that up with several other positions over the years. He passed away on November 30, 2013 in Belgium and was buried in Kinshasa after an official mourning ceremony.

Here is Mpeve Ya Longo: Rochereau Vol. 7:





Download Mpeve Ya Longo as a zipped file here. And here is Kele Bibi: Rochereau Vol. 8, the record that made me fall in love with the great Tabu Ley:





Download Kele Bibi as a zipped file here. I have Vols. 5 and 6 of this series also, and I might post them in the future.While researching this post I came across this rare video, which reunites Rochereau with his old partner, Docteur Nico. I suspect this was recorded in the early '80s, shortly before Nico's death, but he's in stellar form! Turns out this was uploaded by Stefan Werdekker of the excellent WorldService blog. Thaks, Stefan!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

More Coastal Sounds From Kenya?



Here's an LP that my old friend Steve Kamuiru brought me from Kenya back in the early '90s. I have been unable to find out anything about Aziz Abdi Kilambo, but from his name and style of dress I would speculate that he is from the coastal area of Kenya. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong! Likewise Orchestra Benga Africa's sound has a more languid (coastal?) rumba feel to it. Talanta (Polydor POLP 615, 1991) is an enjoyable excursion indeed!

Aziz Abdi Kilambo & Orchestra Benga Africa - Talanta




Download Talanta as a zipped file here. Other recordings by Aziz Abdi Kilambo are available for streaming on Amazon, Spotify and other platforms.


Friday, September 7, 2018

Fifty Years of Xalam



About ten years ago I devoted a post to the Senegalese jazz/funk group Xalam, then celebrating their fortieth anniversary. It seems that Xalam is still around, and going strong! So next year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of this very influential combo.

Xalam has been a home for many Senegalese musicians who have gone on to acheive fame as solo artists and session musicians. Among these are founding members Seydina Insa WadeIdrissa Diop and Cheikh Tidiane Tall. As well, the group has opened for Western acts including Crosby, Still and Nash and Robert Plant. Xalam's percussionists were featured on the Rolling Stones' 1983 LP Undercover.

Here's a video of the group with the legendary Senegalese percussionist Doudou Ndiaye Rose:



And here for your listening pleasure is Xalam's 1993 cassette Samanka. Enjoy!







Download Samanka as a zipped file here.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Pat Thomas's False Lover



I posted four tracks from Pat Thomas's 1974 album False Lover (Gapophone GAPO 02) almost ten years ago. Recently a reader asked that I post the whole LP. Pat's been experiencing a career renaissance lately, and he's been a mainstay of Likembe, so I couldn't think of a good reason why not!

False Lover was Thomas's first solo LP after stints with the Broadway and Uhuru Dance Bands. As he states in the liner notes of the retrospective, Coming Home: Original Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1964-1981 (Strut STRUT 147, 2016):

...I was planning to go to Europe but the Cocoa Marketing Board in Ghana got in touch and wanted me to form a new band. So, I went back to recording and writing music with Ebo [Taylor] and formed the Sweet Beans. The album featuring the band, False Lover, was my first album under my own name and it was very special for me. Reggae was "on" at that time and Jimmy Cliff was the top singer so I was trying reggae in his style on tracks like "Revolution" and "False Lover." I was open to all styles, though, and would always try whatever sounds were coming in. False Lover was a big album in Ghana ...
The first four tracks of False Lover are indeed reggae, but the rest of the album is straight-ahead danceband highlife, and very successful. Enjoy!

Pat Thomas & the Sweet Beans - Revolution

Pat Thomas & the Sweet Beans - False Lover


Pat Thomas & the Sweet Beans - Set Me Free







Pat Thomas & the Sweet Beans - Eye Wo Asɛm Ben

Download False Lover as a zipped file here.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Between Man and Money



I've been posting some of the many Hausa cassettes from northern Nigeria in my collection with a bit of anxiety. It's not a genre I'm terribly familiar with - most of the documentation online is in Hausa. In terms of rhythm and orchestration, let's just say this music is not terribly ostentatious. Hausa music's attractions seem to lie in the quality of the lyrics, which I'm told can be poetic, legendary and amusing. But since I don't know Hausa or anyone who does, I can't tell you anything about them, other than what I can glean from the internet.

Still, Google Analytics and download statistics from Mediafire tell me that my Hausa postings have garnereed a fair amount of interest, so I'll keep putting them up here. Maybe someone reading this who knows Hausa can help fill in the blanks for us.

Today's featured artist, Alhaji Audu Wazirin Danduna (above), was one of the more popular Hausa bards. He passed away on July 6, 2013 after a long career marked by many beloved songs, including "Alhaji Abubakar Sarkin Karaye" ("Great King Abubakar") and "Dan Adam da Kudi" ("Between Man and Money"), both of which are included on our featured cassette, Harka Sai Da Kudi (EMI Nigeria HMV 032). The second song is the subject of a scholarly paper by Aminu Ali at Bayero University in Kano, "Money and Social Interaction in Simmel’s Philosophy of Money and Audu Wazirin Ɗanduna’s Ballad Tsakanin Ɗan'adam da Kuɗi," which you can download here. Ali writes:

...Wazirin Ɗanduna, in this ballad, Tsakanin Ɗan’ adam da Kuɗi, portrays his perception of the character of money in modern society. His skilful vignette of the character of money and analysis of how it transforms social relationships was similar to Simmel’s philosophy of money. He, like Simmel, sees money as a component of life that aids an understanding of the totality of life. He is of the view that reification, cynicism, a blasé attitude, and impersonal relationships and individualism characterized social life in a money economy. Wazirin Ɗanduna repeatedly narrates, in different stanzas, that money creates and expands social networks among individuals and its possession is inevitable for an individual’s continuous social existence. For instance, he sings:

Hausa:
Wazirin Ɗanduna: Yanzu ba ka mutane sai kana da kuɗi
’Y/Amshi: Tsakanin Ɗan’ adam da Kuɗi

English:
Wazirin Ɗanduna: People relate with you only if you have money
Chorus: Money and a man

Hausa:
Wazirin Ɗanduna: Yanzu duk wata harka sai kana da kuɗi
’Y/Amshi: Tsakanin Ɗan’ adam da Kuɗi

English:
Wazirin Ɗanduna: Every deal nowadays is traced to money
Chorus: Money and a man

In the two stanzas above, Wazirin Ɗanduna also expresses the tragedy of culture; people indispensably need money (the objective culture) in order to relate with others and be functioning members of society, which paves the way for self-reflection and development of self-consciousness (the subjective culture). This means that money has assumed a life of its own, exerting independent influence on the humans who created it.

The impersonal nature of money has also been stressed by Wazirin Ɗanduna. He, like Simmel, affirms that people are connected only by an interest that can be expressed in monetary terms. He also indicates in the stanzas following that money, rather than individuals’ personal qualities and social ties, shapes our everyday dealings with others. In other words, it depersonalizes relationships between individuals; it makes an individual’s personal attributes, other ties, etc. immaterial. For instance, when he says ‘no deals without money’ and ‘every deal nowadays is traced to money,' he underestimates the influence of blood and social ties or, more precisely, envisions them as withering away in modern time. Wazirin Ɗanduna says:

Yanzu ba wata harka sai kana da kuɗi
‘No deals without money’

Yanzu duk wata harka sai kana da kuɗi
‘Every deal nowadays is traced to money’

Akan so mummuna saboda kuɗi
‘Someone ugly is desired because of money’

Ka ga ana ƙin kyakkyawa saboda kuɗi
‘And someone beautiful is rejected because of money

Wazirin Ɗanduna was also interested in analyzing the reification that characterized a money economy. He identifies certain attributes that were hitherto non-monetary, but are nowadays treated as if they are concrete or material things. He specifically emphasizes respect, truth and love as abstract things that are tied to money in the stanzas quoted beneath:

Ko girma ma sai kana da kuɗi
‘Prestige is only tied to money’

Kuma akan yi rashin girma saboda kuɗi
‘And one falls from grace because of money’

Ana ɗaukar magana saboda kuɗi
‘Command is obeyed because of money’

Ana ƙin magana saboda kuɗi
‘And command is disobeyed because of money’

Ana raba ka da girma saboda da kuɗi
‘You can be snubbed without money’

Ҡaramin yaro saboda kuɗi
‘A boy with money’

Ana masa ban girma saboda kuɗi
‘Is respected because of money’

Ana take ƙarya saboda kuɗi
‘a lie is often covered-up because of money’

In the stanzas above, Wazirin Ɗanduna explicitly shows that respect and disrespect are associated with money. He also shows that lies can be covered up and treated as truths because of money. This means that respect and truth are treated as if they are commodities that have prices. To further illustrate this point, he narrates that:

Ko Alhaji ya zo sai ka na da kuɗi
‘Alhaji’s presence is recognized only if he is affluent’

Alhaji ko baya nan don saboda kuɗi
‘Alhaji’s absence is noticed because of money’

In the preceding stanzas, he shows that Alhaji’s (used in this context to refer to a head of a family) presence or absence is recognized even by the members of his family only because of money. This means one’s position in the family does not determine the respect accorded to him or his influence on other members of the family – what determines these things is his or her material position.

Wazirin Ɗanduna also shows that reification has resulted in a blasé attitude; people are unperturbed by certain virtues, they are rather concerned with excessive materialism. To stress this, he, like Simmel, uses marriage for material gain as an example. Wazirin Ɗanduna demonstrates that material consideration assumes more prominence in choosing a marriage partner than genuine personal affection, state of health, temperament, physical appearance, and other non-material virtues possessed by the chosen partner. Wazirin Ɗanduna explicitly shows this in the stanzas below:

Ana auren gurgu saboda kuɗi,
‘A paraplegic is often married because of money’

Ana ƙin mai kafa saboda kuɗi
‘And yet a healthy person is disliked because of money’

Ana son mummuna saboda kuɗi,
‘Someone ugly is desired because of money’

Ka ga ana ƙin kyakkyawa saboda kuɗi
‘And someone beautiful is also rejected because of money’.

The aforesaid stanzas indicate that physical deformities, ugliness and beauty are ignored or, to put it differently, are less important in selecting a partner. What is most important is the material status of the partner. This means money has made people develop a blasé attitude with respect to these virtues (beauty, truth, temperament, fitness, etc.)...
I hope Dr. Ali won't object to me posting this extensive extract from his paper. I think we're all interested in putting the music we listen to into context.

Alhaji Audu Wazirin Danduna -  Alhaji Abubakar Sarkin Karaye / Duniya / Ibrahim Tahir

Alhaji Audu Wazirin Danduna - Dan Adam da Kudi / Garba A.D.

I will continue to upload music like this if people are interested. Download Harka Sai da Kudi as a zipped file here.


Monday, August 13, 2018

"Expensive" Jùjú



Olubi Taiwo, under his stage name "Expensive Olubi," was a midlevel jùjú star in '70s Nigeria. Other than that, I can't tell you anything about him. My wife Priscilla obtained a cassette of this record, Vol. 2 (MOLPS 5), while visiting the offices of his record company, Ibukun Orisun Iye, in Lagos in 1998. It's apparently a factory-issued cassette and not a dub of the vinyl presssing, but doesn't have a factory-printed label (see below). There was no inlay card for the cassette either. I got a scan of the LP cover from Discogs.

Recorded in the early '70s, this is fast-paced jùjú in the style that was popular then, and quite similar to the recordings of King Sunny Adé from the same era. Enjoy!



Download Vol. 2 as a zipped file here.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Bird of Sankaran



At first I thought the title of today's featured recording, L'Oiseau de Sankara (BGDA 91007, 1992), was a tribute to the late President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, who was martyred in 1987. Apparently, though, it was a typo by whoever designed the cassette cover, one that has been repeated in several reissues since! The artist involved, Kerfala Kante, apparently hails from the village of Sankaran in northern Guinea. The title, therefore, should be L'Oiseau de Sankaran, "The Bird of Sankaran." This was the first solo outing for Mr. Kante, although thankfully not his last!

Like many musicians from this part of West Africa, Mr. Kante is a hereditary griot, and began playing balafon (traditional xylophone) at an early age, later transitioning to the guitar. He joined the Tropical Djoli Band de Faranah in 1980 and Balla & ses Balladins in 1984. Unfortunately, this latter move coincided with the collapse of the Guinean music industry following the death of President Sekou Touré. So he was without a musical home for a few years.

Released in 1992, L'Oiseau de Sankara is a great example of the sort of "New Guinean" music we've discussed here earlier, by artists like Kadé Diawara and Yaya Bangoura. It takes as its starting point the traditional sounds of Guinea. However, rather than the full compliment of guitars and brass instruments that distinguished the country's music in the Sekou Touré era, it utilizes a more stripped-down sound, with maybe one electric guitar, bass and synth supplemented by traditional instruments like the kora and balafon. Unfortunately the inlay card for this cassette does not credit these fine musicians! Some of Kerfala Kante's more recent recordings are available for sale and download on various sites. Enjoy!

Kerfala Kante - Kaniteya

Kerfala Kante - N'na Djassana



Download L'Oiseau de Sankara as a zipped file here.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Four "Cultural" Stars From Ethiopia



In Ethiopia, Ambassel Music and Video Shop perservered throughout the bitter '70s and '80s - through political repression, curfews and civil war - to produce some of the most memorable artists and music of the time. In the early '90s, after the fall of the Dergue regime, it emerged intact to issue this great selection of Ethiopian "cultural music" - 4 ባህል አንፀባራቂዎች  - 4 Bahel Anshabarakiwoch ("Four Cultural Stars").

All four of the musicians featured here are well-known in Ethiopia, but only one, Rahel Yohannes, has been the subject of a previous Likembe post. Once again, Likembe's good friend Andreas Wetter of Berlin, Germany has come through with translations! He has also provided phonetic transliterations of the Ge'ez script, but I'm including the more common renderings as well. Here are the liner notes of the cassette, translated by Andreas: 

4  ባህል አንፀባራቂዎች
4 bahəl anṣäbaraqiwočč
4 Cultural stars 
ልዩ የባህል ዘፈኖች በካሴትና በቪዲዮ ክር ከአምባሰል
ləyyu yäbahəl zäfänočč bäkasetənna bävidiyo kərr kä-ambasäl
Extraordinary traditional songs on cassette and on video cassette from Ambassel 
ይርጋ ዱባለ
yərga dubbalä
Yirga Dubale 
ራሔል ዮሀንስ
rahel yohannəs
Rahel Yohannes 
ዳምጠው አየለ
damṭäw ayyälä
Damtew Ayyele 
ማሪቱ ለገሠ
maritu läggäsä
Maritu Leggese
From a YouTube posting from February of last year about Yirga Dubale:

Yirga Dubale, an iconic masinko player, raconteur, and poet, left a lasting musical legacy when he died from nerve damage last week aged 82. Over the course of his career, which spanned more than 60 years, Yirga strived to broaden the exposure of Amharic folk and patriotic music with an intensely communicative style. With current of lyricism that expresses solidarity with the poor, he had an active role in preserving and promoting the Gondar’s Azmari tradition. 
Born in Koza Belesa of Gondar region in May, 1929, Yirga developed an interest in music at an early age. His father, Likke Mekuas Dubale Negash, was a celebrated music player who demonstrated to his son the deep pleasure of music. Yirga started playing maskino (a violin-like instrument) at an early age of ten. At twelve, he left his family and headed to Gondar town, beginning an itinerant life. Over the next few years, Yirga honed his skills and began to make a name for himself performing in cabarets and public places.  
In 1947 the young musician came to Addis Ababa and joined the Armed Force Band but he was disappointed by the low pay and went back to Gondar. However, he was caught and made to return. He once said in an interview that despite all this, he was well-liked by members of the army and the imperial regime. “I was showered with gifts of guns and colts which I later sold for Humera and Metema merchants,” he said. 
Years later, Yirga spent a year in Asmara, singing at a bar in what soon became a popular draw on the city’s music scene. Among the audience members was a military general, Aman Mickael Andom, commander of the Third Division in the Emperor’s Army. He liked Yirga so much that he soon had him in a mission to inspire and cheer the fighting forces of the country. Yirga was taken to the far battle fields of Eritrea to chant for the army, receiving applauds. Days later, to his surprise, he found himself performing in front of the Emperor who came to greet the army in Mitistwa. The occasion was broadcast by radio and brought him tremendous fame. In 1971, Yirga was awarded the King’s First Class Order of Merit Award from Colonel Tamrat Yigezu. One of his achievements was forming a musical group in Gondar town, the Fasiledes Musical Group. As a much-loved teacher for years he taught many of today’s leading musicians.
With the coming of the military regime, Yirga left the country and moved to Israel. The departure proved a fruitful move for the musician as he soon found himself performing in Israel, Europe and America for the expatriate Ethiopian audience. 
In 1991 he was back in Ethiopia to begin a gentle climb through the national music. He’s had many appearances in grand events. Unfortunately, a nerve breakdown eight years ago left the masinko player paralyzed, which he blamed on a betrayal of the business partner when he was trying to open a club in Haya Hulet area. 
A likeable man with a disarmingly easy-going manner, Yirga retained a large fan base. He was recently awarded Lifetime Achievement Award by the Gondar Development Association. He is survived by his wife, to whom he was married for 46 years, and his six children.
Andreas writes about this song, "Gojjam Endet Nesh (ጐጃም እንዴት ነሽ)": "'Goğğam Әndet Näš" - 'Gojjam, How are You?' Gojjam is a province northwest of Addis Ababa, in one of the Amhara provinces (although there are also other minority groups such as the Awngi)."


Another one by Yirga Dubale, "Yaberr Awdemma (የብር አውድማ)" Andreas writes, "It must be 'Yäbərra Awdəmma,' but the final vowel a of the first word is assimilated to the first vowel of the following word. I asked on my FB wall about the meaning and got a good answer. In fact, the whole phrase is 'anči yäbərr awdəmma' which means that a woman ('anči' is the female form of 'you') is compared to the bright or clear day when threshing is possible. The threshing place is usually in the open field. Thus the metaphorical meaning is that the girl compared to such a lucky day (when threshing is possible) is a very special one, a girl/woman who has been looked or searched for."

Yirga Dubale (ይርጋ ዱባለ) -  Yäberr Awdemma (የብር አውድማ)
Maritu Legesse (ማሪቱ ለገሠbelow) has been dubbed Ethiopia's "Queen of Ambassel Music" and this song, "Zomawa (ዞማዋ)," is one of her most popular. According to Andreas, the title means, "Her wavy and long (i.e. beautiful)  hair"



Rahel Yohannes (below), was the subject of a previous post on Likembe. She has released many recordings in Ethiopia. The title of this song, "Tsaflenye Sälamta (ፃፍልኝ ሰላምታ)," means "Write to me a greetings."



"Wägäne (ወገኔ)" = "My companion/kin/relative“


The legendary Damtew Ayyele, whose career dated to Haile Selassie's time, passed away in Ethiopia on July 4, 2014. He had spent the previous eight years in Norway. Over that time he was an ambassador for Ethiopian culture and performed numerous concerts throughout Europe. When he was diagnosed with a terminal disease, he determined to die at home, and with the help of the International Organization for Migration he was able to do that. The title of this song, "Däse Lay (ደሴ ላይ)," means "In Däse," Däse being the capital of Wollo Province:


"Anchin Alamnem (አንቺን አላምንም)" (Ančin Alamnəm) = "I Don’t Believe You."


"Abet Abet (አቤት አቤት)" = "Oh Dear, Oh Dear!


Andreas: "መራዥ ይወዳል" must be "Märraž Yəwäddall Hode," meaning literally "My Stomach Loves a Poisoner." But "Märraž" has the meaning of "hero" or "brave man" in this context. "Hode," meaning "my stomach," refers to the person himself. The correct meaning is therefore "I love a brave man/hero."


"Yekätalsh Ayne (ይከተልሽ አይኔ)" (Yəkkätələš Ayne) = "Should my eye follow you?"

Yirga Dubale & Maritu Legesse (ይርጋ ዱባለ & ማሪቱ ለገሠ) - Yekätalsh Ayne (ይከተልሽ አይኔ)

Download 4 Bahel Anshabarakiwoch  as a zipped file here.


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Ghana Highlife - The London Connection



Over the last few months I've been posting a disproportionate amount of sweet Ghana highlife from the '80s. I just happened to digitize quite a bit of this music a while back and I'm sure you don't mind!

I've discussed here also the circumstances that led to so much of this music being recorded and produced outside of Ghana - an economic crisis that resulted in many musicians finding refuge in West Germany, Canada and other far-flung places, including the US. I present today a product of the thriving Ghana music scene in the United Kingdom. Of course, because of their shared colonial history, Britain has always been a destination for citizens of Ghana, economic crisis or not!

I've been unable to find out anything about this musician, Nana Budjei. The album, Afrikaman (KBN 02, 1989), is a great example of the sort of sparkly, innovative highlife that was being produced in London during this period. Especially notable is the soukous-flavored guitar work of Sierra Leonean  Abdul Tee-Jay. Very nice! Nothing much else to say. Enjoy!

Nana Budjei - Afrikaman






Download Afrikaman as a zipped file here.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Little Orphan of Jos



Together with Barmani Mai Coge and Alhaji Maman Shata, Dan Maraya Jos was a leading exemplar of the traditional music of the Hausa people of northern Nigeria.

Alhaji Adamu Wayya (his nickname "Dan Maraya Jos" means "the little orphan of Jos") was born in Bukuru, a suburb of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria in 1946. As both of his parents died when he was young, he was adopted by the Sarkin Hausawa, or Emir, of Bukuru, for whom his father was a court musician. It was under the tutelege of the Emir that Adamu Wayya made the acquaintence of local musicians, traveling and becoming a master of the kuntigi, the Hausa one-string lute. His Wikipedia entry states:

The kuntigi is a small, single-stringed lute. The body is usually a large, oval-shaped sardine can covered with goatskin. Dan Maraya and other kuntigi players are solo performers who accompany themselves with a rapid ostinato on the kuntigi. During instrumental interludes they repeat a fixed pattern for the song they are playing, but while singing, they will often change the notes of the pattern to parallel the melody they are singing. 
Like most professional musicians, the mainstay of Dan Maraya's repertoire is praise singing, but Dan Maraya singles out his personal heroes rather than the rich and famous. His first, and perhaps still his most famous song is "Wak'ar Karen Mota" ("Song of the Driver's Mate") in praise of the young men who get passengers in and out of minivan buses and do the dirty work of changing tires, pushing broken down vans, and the like. During the Nigerian Civil War, he composed numerous songs in praise of soldiers of the federal army and incorporated vivid accounts of scenes from the war in his songs. 
Dan Maraya's music promoted family and social values as well as national unity. He campaigned for polio vaccination and was politically active as well, performing on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan's People's Democratic Party in the 2015 elections. He passed away June 20, 2015 in Jos. On the occasion, his good friend Ladan Salihu, Director General of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, declared:

Inaa Lillaahi Wa Innaa ilaihir raaji’un. One of Nigeria’s foremost Hausa musicians, poet, philosopher and philanthropist, Dr Adamu Danmaraya Jos has answered Allah’s call about an hour ago. He died in Jos after a protracted illness. When I visited him two weeks ago, he spoke passionately about the Unity of the North and of one Nigeria. We shared many moments. He was to me a brother and a friend. I am devastated. But I am proud he lived a very useful life, transforming society through music and silently through Islamic endeavours. May Allah grant him Aljannatul Firdaus. Jos was a poet and griot, and his music was often laced with philosophy and drama.
Here's a musical offering from this immortal poet, the 1986 LP Kudi Masu Gida Rana (Polydor POLP 151). I'm unable to tell you anything about the songs or their lyrics. I hope you'll enjoy it.







Download Kudi Masu Gida Rana as a zipped file here.


Update: Many thanks to Richard Graham for bringing this to my attention:



Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Controversial Sounds of "Burger Highlife"



The genre known as "Burger Highlife" originated among Ghanaian musicians living in Germany in the early '80s. Lauded and excoriated in equal measure, it has had considerable influence on Ghanaian popular music to this day.

How to characterize this controversial style? In the May 26, 1986 issue of West Africa magazine, Nii Laryea Korley wrote:

The past few years have seen the release of a spate of highlife recordings by Ghanaian musicians based abroad. A major and common characteristic of these recordings is the strong infusion of funk rhythms and the utilisation of a plethora of modern electronic gadgets. A number of these musicians, including George Darko, Kantata, Rex Gyamfi, Allan Cosmos Adu and Charles Amoah, are based in West Germany and this had led to the music being labeled "Burgher" highlife. In Ghana a "Burgher" refers to one who has lived in West Germany for a while. 
It is difficult to define what is "correct" highlife because the music has over the years been open to new approaches and innovations although usually in a certain context. One can safely say, however, that be it the palmwine bar style of Kwa Mensah and Kaikaku or the big band treatment of Uhuru and Ramblers, the music has always posessed that loose, free-flowing and lilting quality that always makes it easily identifiable. 
Local acts like Sweet Talks, Pat Thomas, C. K. Mann and Precious Jewels, especially in the 1970s, flirted with the strict, constant beat mainly associated with American funk music, but even there the highlife feel dominated, and it was abundantly clear what line they were toeing. George Darko's 1983 release "Akoo Te Brofo" had the trappings of a highlife tune but leaned much more towards funk and that became the real trailblazer. Musicians who have recorded material in the highlife-funk vein, apart from the ones mentioned earlier, include Dan Davies, Andy Vans, Asafo and Julius Antwi. 
Describing his own approach to the music, George Darko said: "As a guitarist trying to fuse highlife with other styles I think it is necessary for me to utilize the indigenous 'Yaa Amposah'style of picking the strings because if the keyboard is doing strictly jazz or funk, the guitar cannot tread the same path. The drums and the bass can be made to play anything but the guitar and the vocals must always bring out the highlife feel".... 
....In an interview on Radio Ghana, Kwabena Fosu-Mensah, a music journalist based in Britain commented: "I feel that they (the Burgher highlife exponents) are more popular here in Ghana for various reasons. One of the reasons is that I think the whites, especially in UK, want authentic African music that is properly recorded. Wheras here [in Ghana] it seems that people are going for George Darko-style, Rex Gyamfi-style and so on." 
Some amount of adverse criticism has been aired around the "Burgher" highlife trend. Producer Mohammed Malcolm Ben said: "It is only our fascination with American funk music that makes us think that we have to make highlife sound like funk to make it sell abroad...If we encourage the trend of highllfe music that is going on now, I mean the fusion with the funk rhythms, there would soon come a time when the original highlife as handed down over the years would be dead and that would be very, very unfortunate." 
Another producer, Faisal Helwani told the Mirror newspaper that "some of  them play straight funk, add Akan lyrics and call it highlife ... Our radio stations are not encouraging traditional highlife anymore. Everyday, all one hears is this kind of 'Burgher' highlife." 
Paa Kwesi Brew, a disk-jockey on GBC-2, reacted to Faisal's comments by saying: "As DJs we play tunes, both old and new, to liven up the station. We can't play only the old approaches to highlife and leave the modern ones. Highlife has many branches. The root is there but there are many branches to make up the canopy." 
The "Burgher" highlife is a trend that is still developing. A number of the exponents currently sound alike but this is likely to change as the style gradually becomes more clearly defined and consolidated. It may bloom and it may wither, but for the moment it is here, and to turn deaf ears to it would be like strangling a newborn, healthy baby.
Today's featured artist, George Darko, as mentioned in the above article, was a pioneer of Burger Highlife who was quite popular in the 1980s. Ending up in West Germany like so many other Ghanaians as the result of an economic crisis at home, he set out to make a new sound that combined the music of his homeland with modern studio technology. John Duke wrote in the March 14, 1988 issue of West Africa:

... George Darko says he is a jazz fanatic at heart but he also has a great love of highlife. His dream is to see highlife develop and achieve universal status as reggae has done. He feels it needs to be packaged in such a way that it becomes acceptable to the European market. He realises that roots highlife itself, tends to be too heavy for those who are not thoroughly conversant with African music. Even Africans sometimes get bored with the monotony of the rhythms although the music can be infinitely beautiful. 
The compromise was to find a middle ground for Europeans - giving them the kind of music they are familiar with and at the same time introduce them to the originality and the scope of highlife. Afro-fusion, as Darko calls it, was the result ...
Darko scored big with the song "Akoo te Brofo" from his first LP, Friends (Okoman DA 1) in 1982. His followup, 1983's Hi-Life Time (Okoman DA 2), was even bigger, propelling him to the world stage and sparking denunciations from purists. Elizabeth Sobo, a columnist for the US music magazine The Beat, flatly declared it "not highlife," and other reviewers sniffed at its synth-driven, modern ambiance.

Time was when I would have numbered myself among the detractors, but my views have moderated. There's no arguing with success, and the Burger Highlife sound has proven itself not only in Europe, the region of its birth, but among Ghanaians in Ghana itself. When you really get down to it, African music shouldn't be defined by some set of strict criteria - it's just music by Africans, for Africans. Afro-funk, Afro-disco, Afro-fusion - it's all good! And othodox highlife or not, there's no denying that Hi-Life Time, featured here, is awfully catchy. Thirty years after the first time I heard it, the title track is an ear-worm that I haven't been able to get out of my head!





Download Hi-Life Time as a zipped file here. Over the years I've written several posts featuring Burger Higlife, which you can access here. A future post will highlight the group Kantata, featuring the vocals of Lee Doudou, who sings lead on Hi-Life Time. And who knows, I might have another one from George Darko also.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Yéplé Jazz!



From the little I've been able to find out about him, Abel Yéplé of Ivory Coast has had a long career. I suspect he may have passed away recently. I don't know enough about Ivorian music to situate his sound within the panapoly of musical styles there: Ziglibithy, Polihet, Zoblazo, Zouglou and so forth. Judging by today's offering - 1992's Adji Aka (EMI NH0013) he borrows a little bit from all of them. Whatever you want to call it, it's fine, fine music!







Download Adji Aka as a zipped file here.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Dynamic Duo of Ghana Highlife



The two stalwarts of Ghana highlife, Pat Thomas and Ebo Taylor, have both been experiencing career revivals lately, thanks to new recordings and reissues of old material. As a team - with Taylor as guitarist and arranger, and Thomas contributing his golden voice - they've been together on and off for more than fifty years. I've written about Pat Thomas and posted his music before. Ebo Taylor has recorded with all manner of Ghanaian musicians as well as being a session musician for the very influential Essiebons label.

Today's offering, Oye Odo (Dannytone 002, 1984), recorded in Ghana and mastered in the Netherlands, showcases these two giants at their peak. Enjoy!





Download Oye Odo as a zipped file here.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

More Military Sounds from Kenya



Kenya's Maroon Commandos have been featured here on Likembe a couple of times. In March I posted their LP Mwakarabishwa na Maroon and more than ten years ago a great 45 by them, "Liloba."

The Maroons are the offficial band of the 7th Kenya Rifles of the Kenyan Army, based in Langata Barracks, Nairobi, and were led for many years by Habel Kifoto. Composing and singing lead on many of their biggest hits, including "Liloba," was bassist Laban Ochuka, who at some point hived off and formed his own band, Ulinzi Orchestra, who give us today's musical offering, 1991's Sina Uwezo (Polydor POLP 610). From the very sketchy info I've been able to dig up on the internet, Ulinzi also have some affiliation with the Kenyan military. Google Translate (not always dependable, I know) renders "ulinzi" as "protection." Maybe it could be "defense?" So if the group is army-related, that would make sense.

Ulinzi in this album go for a more forward-facing, disco-inflected sound than the Maroons. I don't know about any other recordings by them, but they seemed to be extant for a number of years after Sina Uwezo and may still exist. Ochuka left the band in 2003 to sing gospel music, but returned in 2005. Sadly, he passed away in 2006 and was laid to rest at his home in Bunyore, western Kenya.




Download Sina Uwezo as a zipped file here.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Ancestral Voices of Dade Krama



With their politically-charged version of traditional Ghanaian sounds, Dade Krama were a sensation in Britain back in the mid-1980s. Kofi Hagan Jr. describes a typical performance in the June 23, 1986 issue of West Africa magazine:

The sensational quintet, Dade Krama are storming Britain's major cities with their soothing, sometimes cheering or even inciting, yet elusive ancestral music of Africa. At the time I caught up with them on their travelling programme, they had already enlivened London, Leicester, Leeds and Birmingham. I decided to find out what their fans in Manchester had been missing. 
...Dade Krama were ready like the artistic warriors they are to take on the old industrial city... "Enua num na adofo (brothers, sisters and fans)...Dade Krama." The group promptly launched into an Asafo war song, "Ena ena-aa, ena ena, aboa bi seo-o djata bi seo-oo..." - an order for the thumping charge of Atumpan, Atsemevu, Prempensua and other percussive instruments all in martialled formations. The music finished in a screech... 
...Word got around that the great big-band highlife maestrro, E.T. Mensah was in the audience (he is in Britain for a medical check up). The next song had to be dedicated to him: "Wo se gye shun noni ete- noni eba-ye" - "we've come from afar, what has gone, what has come we endure." The song was so heavy-handedly nostalgic that it made one want to reach out for a steaming meal of kenkey, a giant hairy-legged land crab steamed to a red-brick colour with hot Kpakpo shitor (pepper). A bottle of real unadulterated akpetechie would have been great!
 By now the audience had unravelled into a crowd. Whistles, catcalls and general uproar drowned the handclaps. In the intermission the group was assaulted with goodwill... 
I spoke to Nana Tsiboe and Dada Lamptey: what strategy did the group have in getting across the ancestral music of Africa, considering that Western audiences may find the instruments, lyrics of music strange? "We believe, and to some extent have found out that only by the use of a creative format on the basis of a traditional platform can our music develop. For a long time African musical instruments, for instance, developed without the interruption of Western instruments. With regards to the lyrics, our songs could not be sung in English - the feelings come across with minimal translation. 
"...People hesitate to appreciate the proper context within which our music is realized. I can only comment on what we are doing in the sense that we try as much as possible to project our African culture so that it is appreciated in a proper perspective. We are now more than a music group, we are a way of life. Our music fits into our way of life - it is a lifelong thing. It demands, we are aware, a very delicate kind of exposure, care, thought and presentation." 
What is Dade Krama's position on blacks here in Britain and elsewhere in the West? "It is essential for every black to know he or she is black. We try to advance this basic consideration through the medium of our music -  that is total glorification of our own musical culture." 
In the light of existing arguments here in Britain for a sound basis for Black Arts heightened by Kwesi Owusu's book on this, The Struggle for Black Arts in Britain (Comedia; 1986, ₤14.95) what contribution is Dade Krama making? "We've worked a lot within the struggle for Black Arts here. We have participated in concerts, workshops, etc, to popularise Black Arts. But we are only making our art. It is the system that creates the struggle. We can appreciate the fact that African people must have arts in this country but nothing will be given to you without a fight...
"...There are African people fighting and infiltrating on other levels - we can help by producing .a very bigh level of our art and linking up. It is like a call to all black people to say, hey look this is what you are made up of!" 
Will the group continue to be im England? "No, presently England needs to be used to popularize our music. It is also important to make our music audible. We have to rely on the technology of this part of the world.
All members of Dade Krama have backgrounds in Western music or have used Western instruments. When was the break? "It is the instruments that broke us - we can't rely on electric current to make music for our audience. It is only efficient musicians who can play African music. In getting together, we all had the same interest and decided to share our instruments communally. " 
You make your own instruments? "We make some of the instruments like Gonje, Brekete and Gai. We attempt to repair our damaged instruments and in the long run make them ourselves." 
How is the group's debut record faring? "The'LP is three weeks old. We would say it has sold to a fair percentage of' our audience at performances. Also response in the form of write ups, and radio interviews has been great." 
Dade Krama comprises: Nii Noi Nortey - former saxophonist and flautist with Misty in Roots and African Dawn; Nana Tsiboe - formerly with Jazz Africa, High Tension and the Afro-Rock group Ojah (which he led); Dada Lamptey - a filmmaker/graphic designer (he designed the sleeve of Dade Krama's new album), who played with Watusi and Eneaben V; and Kweku Gabrah, who worked with the highlife group. Carousel 7 and has since been a sought-after session percussionist. Afari Aboagye, a professional agricultural economist, administer them.
When the lights of our ancestors dimmed, the crowd called for more. Afari routinely pleaded with them to come back. They did, but not with instruments: they formed a circle and with sleight of hand clapped a tune from our youth: Sasakroma (the hawk) out of each other's hands in the ecstatic manner of a group that had had a truly successful evening. 
Brilliant! 
Dade Krama's uncompromising approach to their music was admirable at a time when many African musicians felt the need to "cross over" - water down their art in hopes of commercial success. Probably for that reason their following was somewhat limited. Discogs lists only two releases by them - Ancestral Dance (Round Music ROCD 9601), which came out in 1996, and their debut, the one we're going to hear today, 1986's Ancestral Music of Africa (Akoben AK1). Descriptions of the songs are taken from the above-cited article by Kofi Hagan Jr.

Dade Krama - Tete Nantye

"...Using the Mbira (hand piano), Gonje, rattles, etc., Dade Krama performed 'Mutani N'Africa' - a Hausa tune and 'Magana Chiki' in a medley..."

Dade Krama - Mutani N'Africa / Magana Chiki / Aninwula Dagbon

Dade Krama - Inkululeko / Ye Azania

"...'Touba,' a mobilizing arrangement employing the use of Atenteben (flutes) and percussive instruments in an increasingly rapid rendition of a Northern Ghana tune..."

Dade Krama - Touba

"...'Brothers, sisters and fans, two years ago Reagan invaded Grenada and stifled the revolution. A few weeks ago he dropped bombs on Libya with the assistance of Thatcher. Two days ago with the knowledge of Reagan and Thatcher South Africa invaded Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe...We dedicate this song to all freedom fighters.' Wild cheers of approval from the audience. The song, 'Alkebu Lan,' - the original name of Africa, started with a bee-like droning sound from a pipe horn. Then the solitary whine of the Algaita - the instrument snakecharmers use, reared its lethal head and gave a lightning strike at the real cradle of State Terrorism. The recurrent sombre thums of the Brekete and Fomfomfron drums merely beat a warning to weakened hearts..."

Dade Krama - Alkebu-Lan

Dade Krama - Kronkohinkoo

Dade Krama - Adowa

Dade Krama - Wo See Dze Shonn

Dade Krama - Anukuo Nsele


Download Ancestral Music of Africa as a zipped file here. A few words on the inscription "Direct Metal Mastering" that appears on the sleeve. This technology appeared in the waning years of the analog era, probably in competition with digital recordings, which were then appearing on the market. I'm generally unconvinced that analog recordings are superior to digital (at least these days; a lot of the early CDs did sound awful!), but this record makes a good case! I was struck by its remarkable clarity while digitizing this disc. Something to look for if you're really into vinyl records! For more information on the process check out this Wikipedia article.