Friday, April 20, 2018

Augustin's Messengers



Augustin Kouassi is an Ivorian musician who's apparently been around the block a few times. Discogs lists a couple of LPs by his band, Les Messagers de la Paix, apparently from the '80s. Other than that, I can't say much more about him and the group. How many times have I had to say that here?

I got today's offering by them way back when it first came out, along with a raft of other cassettes from Ivory Coast, and didn't pay much attention to it then. Man, was I missing out! Mambo Attoh Théophane (Carine Musique CAR 01, 1993) is one of the most addictive recordings I've heard in a long time. Everything about it is first-rate, from Gaiten Kouao's exquiste guitar work to the outstanding vocals (different members take turns singing lead, and the chorus is tight). Of course, Congo music is an influence, and the vocals have that sweet-and-sour quality you hear in West African music from Ghana to the Niger Delta. I'm tempted to label it "Soukous-Highlife," but that just doesn't do it justice. Let the music speak for itself!

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers - Mambo Attoh Théophane

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers - Kêgbè Piemin

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers -  Yié Koubê

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers - Boto Sopie

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers - Adja Ayo

Augustin Kouassi & Les Messagers - N'Douci Carrefour

Download Mambo Attoh Théophane as a zipped file here.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Wanyika Memories



The Tanzanian-turned-Kenyan orchestra Simba Wanyika gave rise to a multitude of offshoots, and offshoots of offshots, over its 25-year history - Orchestra Jobiso, Super Wanyika Stars, MAS System, the Mavalo Stars and so forth. It's all documented in a discography I compiled, along with Doug Paterson and Peter Toll, some years back.

None of these, though, have had the impact of the biggest splinter group of them all, Orchestra Les Wanyika, founded in 1978 by Simba Wanyika rhythm guitarist Omar Shabani and several other members, who were joined by John Ngereza and Issa Juma. A couple of smash hits ("Paulina" and "Sina Makossa") later and Issa Juma too had flown the coop to form his own band, variosly called Waanyika, Super Wanyika and Wanyika Stars.

Never mind. That was just a speed bump for Les Wanyika, who notched a plethora of hits over the next decade, including "Dunia Ki-Geu Geu," "Mbaya Wako Rafiki Yako" and "Naogopa," culminating with today's offering, the 1988 LP Nilipi la Ajabu (Polydor POLP 582), featuring one of their most popular tunes, "Afro."

Nilipi la Ajabu was followed shortly by Nimaru (Polydor POLP 598, 1989), which I will also be posting here soon, and several other albums including Amigo (Clifford Lugard Productions CLP 001, 1997) a collection of re-recorded versions of their hits that is Les Wanyika's only record to get widespread distribution outside of Africa.

Sadly, Omar Shabani died in 1997, and his longtime colleague John Ngereza passed in 2002, but their legacy is eteral through recordings like Nilipi la Ajabu. Enjoy!





Download Nilipi la Ajabu as a zipped file here.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Mind-Blowing Sounds from Mali



Since its foundation in 1970 as the official orchestra of Mali's National Railway Company, the Rail Band has occupied a prominent place in the firmament of West African music, and through its ranks have passed some of the most respected musicians in the region. The band's Affair Social (Sacodis LS-25, 1979) is such a spectacular, mind-blowing achievement that I figured one of the other African music blogs must have posted it long ago. But apparently not, so here it is!

Affair Social was recorded during a tumultuous period for the Rail Band, relocated to Abidjan, Ivory Coast from Bamako and rechristened the Super Rail Band International. Salif Keita, the group's lead singer, had decamped in 1972 to found Les Ambassadeurs du Motel and later gained world fame as part of the World Music™ craze. He was replaced by Mory Kante, an equally gifted vocalist, who by the time Affair Social was recorded had also departed for a solo career. Other members of the "classic" Rail Band lineup, among them founder Tidiani Koné, had similarly moved on.

Perservering, though, was Djelimady Tounkara, one of Africa's greatest guitarists, who reestablished the band with new personnel, none of whom, unfortunately, is credited in the liner notes of Affair Social. The Super Rail Band International have continued performing and recording to this day, still under the able leadership of Tounkara. Enjoy!





Download Affair Social as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

$850 for a Cassette? Oh, Come On!!!



Thanks to Andreas Wetter for apprising me of this offer on EBay:


Yes, that's right: Someone is asking $850 dollars for the cassette version of the 1972 LP Master Guitarist Vol. 5 (African Songs LPAS 8014) by Nigeria's Sunny Adé & his Green Spot Band!

I have long been astounded at the sort of prices some African music fans are willing to pay for scratchy old vinyl from the Continent - and in this case, not even vinyl, but a no-doubt-inferior cassette version of same! It puts one to mind of the 17th Century tulip mania.

But you don't need $850 to listen to this recording. The blog Snap, Crackle & Pop posted it a few years back and you may have grabbed it then (the link to the file is now broken). And now I'm posting it again. You can have it for free!

Strictly speaking, what I'm making available is not Master Guitarist Vol. 5 but another pressing that came out around 1984. What happened was, when King Sunny Adé caused a sensation internationally around 1982 with his African Beats band, some smaller record companies hoped to cash in on the craze by reissuing material that had been recorded years earlier in Nigeria. This fly-by-night company Imported Nigeria licensed Master Guitarist Vol. 5 from African Songs, which had been Adé's record company in the early '70s, and issued it under the title Vintage King Sunny Adé (Imported Nigeria K001).

What's doubly confusing is that the tracklist on Vintage doesn't even agree with that of Master Guitarist Vol. 5. In fact, the listings on the sleeve and record labels on Vintage don't agree either. But they are indisputably the same recording. In fact, I think Vintage is not even a "pirate" pressing - it was apparently officially licensed and legitimately issued.

If all you have heard of King Sunny Adé is his recordings from the '80s and later, Master Guitarist Vol. 5 may come as something of a revelation. The Green Spots were Adé's first band, founded in 1967 after he left Moses Olaiya's Federal Rhythm Dandies, and their sound is not as dense and "sophisticated" as that of the later African Beats. Sunny Adé's brilliant guitar work, of course, shines through loud and clear.

Here's Master Guitarist Vol. 5. I'm following the tracklisting from that pressing, and not that from the later Vintage King Sunny Adé. Enjoy!

Sunny Adé & his Green Spots Band - Late Dr. Nkrumah / Ka Ma Buni Lole / I. S. Adewale / Ololade Wilkey

Sunny Adé & his Green Spots Band - Sunny Special / Owo Ko Nife / Awon Ti Won Yo / Alhaja Bintu

Download Master Guitarist Vol. 5 as a zipped file here. I've included scans from Vintage King Sunny Adé also. The record sleeve scans of Master Guitarist Vol. 5 are from Snap, Crackle & Pop. Thanks!


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Mmmmmm . . . Sweet '80s Highlife Music!



I've been going through my record collection, pulling out and digitizing Ghanaian LPs that I got hold of back in the '80s when I was a regular customer of Sterns African Record Centre in London.  Most of these  were recorded in London, Berlin and Toronto, the economy in Ghana at the time having forced some of the biggest stars there to seek sustenace overseas. The result was a new, hybrid sound, marrying the standard themes and sounds of Ghana highlife with modern production values, synthesizers and drum machines. 

Over the next weeks and months I'll be presenting the results of my excavations, but I think it's only fitting to open with an LP that stands as a pinnacle of the '80s Ghana highlife sound - A.B. Crentsil's Toronto by Night (Wazuri WAZ101, 1985).

Alfred Benjamin Crentsil was born in 1950 and showed an early aptitude for music, forming with his friends in the mid-'60s a group called the Strollers Dance Band. A few career moves later and he founded, with Smart Nkansah, the group that would make his name, the Sweet Talks. Their fledgling effort, Adam and Eve in 1975, almost single-handedly rescued highlife music in Ghana, then under assault by assorted foreign styles. Many more hits - Kusum Beat and Hollywood Highlife Party (recorded in the US in 1978 when the band was playing backup for the Commodores) among others - and the Sweet Talks were at the top of their game.

As is often the case for African musicians, dissension set in and the classic Sweet Talks lineup was no more. Smart Nkansah left to found the Black Hustlers (later named the Sunsum Band) and Crentsil carried on with the Super Sweet Talks International. More solo recordings followed (among them the controversial Moses), and Crentsil found himself in Canada, where Toronto by Night, a certified classic, was recorded.

Crentsil has been back in Ghana for many years and is still recording. In 2016 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 17th Ghana Music Awards.





"I Go Pay You Tommorrow" is a rework of Crentsil's big hit from 1984, "Akpêtêchie Seller," from his LP with the Super Sweet Talks International, Tantie Alaba (I will be posting this album some time in the future). In it an alcoholic beseetches a seller of Akpêtêchie (distilled palm wine) to give him one more drink until payday:


Download Toronto by Night as a zipped file here. Ronnie Graham's article from the August 11, 1986 issue of West Africa magazine, "A.B.'s Highlife Humour," was extremely useful in researching this post.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

An Early Cassette by Cheikh Lô



Cheikh Lô has been a sensation on the World Music™ scene since the release of his album Né la Thiass, produced by Youssou N'Dour, in 1996. He was born in Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) to Senegalese parents and started his musical carreer with Volta Jazz, then a leading musical group in that country. He moved to Senegal in 1978 and later spent time as a session musician in Paris, the main center of the African music scene outside the continent, picking up various musical influences in the process.

Before Né la Thiass, Lô recorded at least two cassettes in Senegal. Doxamdeme (Audio-Video AVP 00010) came out in 1990, and today's offering, Dieuf Dieul (Audio-Video AVP 0013) was released in 1992.

Cheikk Lô's quiet, mainly acoustic take on Senegalese music, with nods to reggae and other styles, is deeply informed by his membership in Baye Fall, a sub-group of the Mouride movement, an indigenous Sufi Muslim order founded in 1883 by Cheikh Amadou Bamba. Baye Fall members are distinguished by their dress, dreadlocks, and dedication to hard work. Although I don't know for sure, I suspect several of the songs on Dieuf Dieul are dedicated to Cheikh Lô's religious concerns.

Recorded before Cheikh Lô's ascension to world fame, I've found Dieuf Dieul bears repeated listening. It's moving and infectious. Enjoy!


Cheikh Lô - Bambaa Bakh

Cheikh Lô - Niani Bañna

Cheikh Lô - Guney Senegal

Cheikh Lô - Babylone

Cheikh Lô - Saly

Download Dieuf Dieul as a zipped file here. If you like Cheikh Lô's mellow style, you'd probably enjoy this album by Seydina Insa Wade that I posted nine years ago.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Welcome to Maroon!



Mwakaribishwa na Maroon! That's Swahili for "Welcome to Maroon." It's also the title of today's featured recording (Polydor POLP 600, 1989) by Kenya's legendary Maroon Commandos. The Maroons have been around since 1970, founded by Habel Kifoto (that's him on the left above) as the offficial band of the 7th Kenya Rifles of the Kenyan Army, based in Langata Barracks, Nairobi. 

The Maroons' modest goal in the beginning was to tour the country entertaining homesick troops, but it wasn't long before their infectious blend of rumba, benga and traditional music caught on with the general public. Their first hit was "Emily" in 1971, and then an unfortunate traffic accident in 1972, which killed one member, sidelined the group for several years until they came roaring back in 1977 with "Charonyi ni Wasi," which is included on the collection Kenya Dance Mania (Sterns/Earthworks STEW24CD, 1991). Written by Kifoto in his native Taita language, it is a sad melody of nostalgia and hard times in the big city. I shared another great song by the group, "Liloba," in an earlier post. That one, by the way, featured the vocals of Laban Ochuka, who later founded the Ulinzi Orchestra, the subject of a future post.

About a recent performance, Daniel Wesangula wrote in the Daily Nation newspaper:

Three nights a week 20 Kenyan soldiers take a break from the rigorous routine that defines their military life from sunrise to sunset. On these nights they let another side of their personalities take over as they mingle with civilians through music. Hands trained to hold weapons hold guitars, trumpets, drumsticks and microphones. Feet accustomed to marching in formation and jumping in and out of trenches tap lightly, keeping beat to the music. 
Voices conditioned to bark out orders in military drills croon words that have entertained generations. And the faces that seldom crack the faintest of smiles soften and become warm. During the two hours on stage there are no ranks, no obligatory salutes. During this rehearsal, united by their common love of music, they are all equal.
After a ten-year recording hiatus, the Maroon Commandos returned to the scene in 2007 with a new album, Shika Kamba, and have continued to entertain East Africans up until the present. I was saddened to learn while researching this post, though, that Habel Kifoto passed away in 2011. He had retired from the Army in 2009, passing on leadership of the band to Diwani Nzaro and subesquently Sgt. David Kombo. Kifoto remained active in music, however, and is said to have recorded a new album just before his death.

Enjoy Mwakaribishwa na Maroon!





Download Mwakribishwa na Maroon as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Groovin' with Touré Kunda



In the early '80s, Touré Kunda, founded by brothers Amadou, Ismaïla and Sixu Touré in the Casamance region of Senegal, were slated to be the next World Music™ sensation. For a while it looked like they might make it. Albums like E'mma Africa and Casamance au Claire de Lune were well-received. The group embarked on a number of world tours, one of which produced the excellent live 2-LP set Live-Paris-Ziguinchor (Celluloid CEL 6710/11, 1984).

Some of my more purist-minded fellow African music fans looked down their noses at Touré Kunda. Their sound, not as hard-edged as the product coming out of Dakar, seemed suspiciously affable. Were Touré Kunda just a marketing gimmick? Were they an African version of The Monkees?

Not so! Touré Kunda's easy-going, less angular sound is deeply rooted in the Casamance, a region that was under Portuguese rule until 1888. And what's wrong with being likable and popular, anyway? Despite some ill-advised tech flourishes on their mid-'80s albums I've always appreciated Touré Kunda.

The 1992 cassette Sili Béto (Irema CB 521) dispensed with the "World Beat" excresences and was a welcome return to form for the group. I've always loved their take on reggae, and the Portuguese-influenced vocals are great as usual. I hope you'll enjoy it also!

Touré Kunda - Hadidia

Touré Kunda - Fatou Yo

Touré Kunda - Casalé

Touré Kunda - Akila

Touré Kunda - Soppé

Touré Kunda - Ké Diaré

Touré Kunda - Fiança

Touré Kunda - Téria

Touré Kunda - Cira

Touré Kunda - On Verra Quoi? Ça!

Touré Kunda - Oromiko

Download Sili Béto as a zipped file here.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Funky Jùjú Highlife From Ondo State



Who is Tayo Jimba? I have no idea. I do know that I enjoy this 1988 LP, Ise Aje (Leader LRCLS 65), a great deal. The label lists the musical style as "Jùjú/Highlife," and that sounds about right. It is actually quite similar to recordings I've posted here before by Adé Wesco and Orlando Owoh - a funky, rootsy, less-cluttered sound that takes us back a few decades to the point where jùjú and  highlife music were less differentiated.

The label also lists the language as "Yoruba/Ikale." Ikale is generally considered a dialect of Yoruba rather than a separate language, and since Ikale speakers are concentrated in Ondo State, western Nigeria, it's reasonable to surmise that Tayo Jimba is from there also. Reader/listeners are invited to tell us more.

Enjoy Ise Aje!

Tayo Jimba & his Black Shadows - Ori Mi / Oro Owo / Oro Nigeria



Download Ise Aje as a zipped file here.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

First-Generation Zouglou



Over the last few months we've been exploring the origins and development of zouglou music in Ivory Coast, and listening to some representative recordings. The website Music in Africa describes the style's origins as follows:

The musical roots of zouglou lie in the local Ivorian musical styles tohourou and aloucou from western Côte d’Ivoire, which became popular in the urban centres in the 1960s and 70s. The direct musical base of zouglou music grew out of what is known as ambiance facile or woyo: chants to percussive music on improvised instruments such as metal scrapers, glass bottles and of course drums. This music grew out of the songs that accompanied sports competitions in Côte d‘Ivoire‘s schools during the 1980s. Groups of students that called themselves “supporters committees” would accompany sports teams to the games and make up songs to encourage their teams. As school teams and their supporters committees travelled to matches against other schools across the country, they picked up new melodies and rhythms along the way.

Ambiance facile
and woyo music sessions also became a popular past-time in Abidjan’s working class (popular) neighborhoods. In these multi-ethnic neighborhoods, children and teenagers would teach each other songs from their home regions. This mostly unrecorded leisure music is still popular across Côte d’Ivoire. Through the sports matches and neighborhood sessions, ambiance facile drew on rhythms and melodies from many different regions of Côte d’Ivoire. Zouglou music also drew on these rhythms and melodies and thus became the first musical style that was considered to be multi-ethnic and nationally representative of Côte d’Ivoire.

In 1990, zouglou was invented first as a dance among university students residing in the Yopougon student accommodation at the University of Cocody in Abidjan, now known as Felix Houphouet-Boigny University. This dance consisted of throwing one’s arms in the air with angular movements, mimicking an imploration to God to help the university students that were suffering under the budgetary cuts in the education sector (fewer scholarships, inadequate student housing, catering and transport, etc.)...
The musical group Zougloumania, founded by the duo Poignon and Bouabré in 1990, was the biggest of the "First Generation" of zouglou groups. Its first and apparently only release, Zomammanzo (EMI E028991-4, 1991), hit the scene like a bombshell, becoming the greatest hit of the zouglou era, exceeded only by Magic System's "Premier Gaou," released in 1999. Listening to it, it's not hard to understand why - every track on Zomamanzo is a scorcher!

After this auspicious debut, Poignon and Bouabré went ther seaparate ways, bringing an end to Zougloumania. Bouabré moved to France and Poignon remained in Abidjan, becoming a solo artist as well as performing with Les Doyas, a trio composed of Poignon, Alan Bill and Yodé Côcô. He has lately been afflicted with facial paralysis and is in need of proper medical care. Let's hope he recovers soon!

Enjoy Zomamanzo!

Zougloumania - Zomamanzo

Zougloumania - Elle a Bu Degue

Zougloumania - Djaba

Zougloumania - Zito

Zougloumania - Ah Ma Soeur

Zougloumania - Tchicala

Zougloumania - Kapa

Zougloumania - Zomamanzo (Instrumental)


Download Zomamanzo as a zipped file here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Coastal Sounds From Kenya



I think the Pressmen Band, described as "teen sensations" in their heyday, are still extant and catering to the tourist trade around Mombasa, Kenya. Today's offering by them, Dash-Dash (CBS (N) 034), is from the late '80s and features the chakacha coastal sound that they helped to popularize along with  bands like Them Mushrooms and the Mombasa Roots Band, who were featured in an earlier post.

The opening tune, "Musenangu," was a big hit for the Pressmen. It's in the Chonyi language and is about two lovers who are parting ways. Although this sort of music isn't exactly my favorite, there's no denying its popularity, not only among tourists but among Kenyans of all walks of life. Enjoy!




Thanks to the commenter "Sashahon" on YouTube for transcribing and translating the lyrics to "Kadogo":

We kadogo nakupenda
Nikuone uwe wangu
Na mimi sina mwingine
Nimpendaye kama wewe
Usingizi siupati, Nikifiki ulivyo
Fanya hima tuonane, tuelewane pamoja
We kadogo..
Waniacha mi naponda, kwa kufikiri wewe
Moyo wangu wateseka, vile nakupenda you
We kadogo.. 
 
Kadogo I love you
I want to marry you so you'll be mine
I don't want anyone else
That I love as I love you
I can''t sleep thinking about you
Try we meet so we come to agreement
We Kadogo...
I yearn for you in my thoughts
My soul suffers for loving you
We Kadogo...



Download Dash-Dash as a zipped file here.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sounds of Soweto



There was growing interest in South African music during the 1980s. The initial impetus came from the Soweto uprising of 1976 and the surging freedom movement against the racist apartheid regime. In 1983 the compilation Zulu Jive: Umbaqanga (Earthworks ELP 2002), released in Britain, was the first exposure many of us outside of the country had to the down-home, funky sounds of urban South Africa, and its sequal, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (Earthworks EWV 14, 1985), kept the momentum going.

Indisputably, though, the event that really put Black South African music on the map internationally was the release in 1986 of Paul Simon's LP Graceland. Initially quite controversial, it was recorded in part in Johannesburg with veteran studio musicians. Graceland brought international fame for the a capella singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and ensuing tours by Simon with Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba revived their careers as well.

Of course, the success of Graceland meant that record companies were in a rush to put out more product for the growing international market. Most of these releases were on smaller independent labels, but the bigger companies got in on the act also. Among the most notable of these latter releases was the double LP set Sounds of Soweto, issued in the US in 1987 by Capitol Records/EMI (CLB-46698).

Sounds of Soweto got such widespread distribution at the time that I was surprised to discover that it has long been out of print. Apparently it was never reissued on CD and is not even available through downloads or streaming services. What makes this oversight all the more notable is that Sounds of Soweto highlights a style of music that, while lacking the rough edges of  umbaqanga and other earlier styles, was wildly popular in South Africa at the time - the synth-driven and disco-inflected "bubblegum music" of artists like Brenda Fassie and Condry Ziqubu. This music is being rediscovered through the efforts of people like Dave Durbach ("DJ Okapi") and his Afro-Synth blog and record store in Johannesburg. I'm happy to present Sounds of Soweto for your listening enjoyment today. The descriptions of the songs are taken from the liner notes of the album. You will note that for all the upbeat sound of these tunes, their lyrics are hardly frivolous.

"A song about drought and the suffering it brings. It tells of a time when mealie (maize) meal, the staple diet of the majority of South Africans, was in such short supply that the people were forced to eat inferior grades to which foreign substances had been added, turning it yellow in colour."

Lumumba with Condry Ziqubu - Yellow Mealie Meal

"Most black South Africans live without access to electricity for cooking, lighting or heating. Amalahle (coal) remains a prime commodity in the townships and the coal vendor an important community figure."

Amalahle - Brenda & the Big Dudes

"Life in South Africa's black townships is lived against a backdrop of violence and conflict, a situation powerfully reflected in the Zulu chant which runs through the song. It translates as: Confusion everywhere, everthing is burning."

Condry Ziqubu - Confusion (Ma Afrika)

"An old story - naïve country boy leaves home for the bright lights of the big city, falls in love with slick city girl who breaks his heart and takes his money. Penniless and disillusioned, he sings 'Mali Kuhaba' (there is no money) and longs for the sinple rustic existence he left behind him."

Kaputeni - Mali Kuhaba

"Great quivering chunks of joyous funk. Pure celebration."

The Winners with Lionel Petersen - Wedding Day

"A shadowy figure in Soweto legend, the Gorilla man employed a henchman who would abduct beautiful women of the street and deliver them up to his master's brutal pleasure."

Condry Ziqubu - Gorilla Man

"An instrumental whose title means 'What are you doing to me?' Unclassifiable, but undoubtedly African, undoubtedly danceable."

Rex Rabanye - O Nketsang

"Dark street, bad night, bad town. This time it's some lawless piece of Soweto. But it could be any city - the feelings remain the same."

Thetha - Dark Street, Bad Night

"This is a tribute to Nelson Mandela and others who have made tremendous sacrifices in the struggle for a free and just South Africa."

Johnny Clegg & Savuka - Asimbonanga

"Light-hearted, yet moralizing. A song about a rich old woman slaking her appetites on young men."

Lumumba with Condry Ziqubu - Kiss Kiss (Sugar Mama)

"A cheeky love song directed at a young woman glimpsed on the street. The title means 'Sweetheart,' and this is followed by increasingly risqué wooings as the courtship progresses, township style."

Supa Frika - Manyeo

"The message, one of spreading love and harmony through music, is hardly new. But it has seldom been more relevant than it is in South Africa today."

The Winners with Lionel Petersen - Feel Free

"Third World Child desribes the forced route march that Third World cultures have experienced in order to survice both colonization and modernization."

Johnny Clegg & Savuka - Third World Child

"Although on the surface it is a song of admonition directed against a woman who fails in her duties towards her husband and child, Ramasela nevertheless has biting political overtones; it is after all the apartheid system which has put black family life so much at risk."

Sankomota - Ramasela

"Textures of township life, this time a warning to a gangster, who, while pretending to look into shop windows, is actually sizing people up for mugging."

Mara Louw - Brother Joe

"Speaks for itself, doesn't it?"

Supa Frika - Love is on Our Side

Download Sounds of Soweto as a zipped file here. The zipped file includes complete scans of the album cover and liner notes, which feature information about the artists. Also, if you enjoy the music in this record, I can't recommend the blog Afro-Synth enough. Its proprietor, DJ Okapi, has compiled a number of great compilations of South African "bubblegum music" of the '80s and '90s.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Return to Ihiagwa-Owerri



It's about time we returned to Ihiagwa, just outside of Owerri, capital of Imo State, Nigeria and home of the Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group, led by Madam Maria Anokwuru and featuring the stellar vocals of Rose Nzuruike!

On January 24, 2010 I posted their hit LP Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya (Onyeoma C.Y. Records CYLP 016, 1984), one of the biggest-selling Igbo records of all time. I've since found out more about the group and its star, Madam Nzuruike (thanks, internet!). A collective endeavor by all eight of the villages that comprise Ihiagwa township, the group was founded in 1979 as the Ndom Ihiagwa Dance Group. Mrs. Rose Nzuruike was selected from her village, Umuemeze. She initially demurred as her husband had recently passed away and she had young children to care for. However, she reconsidered when her late husband Remy came to her in a dream and urged her to perservere. She was then judged the best, and hence lead, singer of the group, a role she has fulfilled ever since.

I now present Ezi Nne (Onyeoma C.Y. Records CYLP 047), a further exploration of Igbo roots music, Owerri style!


The insistent beat of the udu (bass drum) leads off Side One and the song "Ezi Nne" ("Good Mother"). Mrs Nzuruike sings that there is no substitute for one's mother, whether she is good or bad, and the chorus joins in agreement. In the second song, "Onye Egbula Onwe Ya" ("Don't Kill Yourself") we are implored not to stress over money problems and so forth, we'll only get sick and it won't solve the problem:

Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group - Ezi Nne / Onye Egbula Onwe Ya

"Anala Nwa Ogbenye Ihe Ya" ("Do Not Take Advantage of the Poor and Weak") opens Side Two. "Jehovah, come help us. To sin is human. Please help us." The second song is "Enyere Ibe Nyem" ("When You Give to My Peers You Give to Me Also"):

Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group - Anala Nwa Ogbenye Ihe Ya / Enyere Ibe Nyem

By the way, Onyeoma C.Y. Records, which issued these two Obi Wuro Otu albums and at least one other, Aku Ebi Onwu (CYLP 028), was one of the more interesting smaller Nigerian labels, specializing in roots music like this as well as Ghanaian highlife bands resident in Nigeria. In 1995 I paid a visit to their office in Onitsha with the intention of perhaps licencing music for release in the US. No one was there, so I left a note under the door. Several months later I received a letter from the proprieter of the label, who was definitely interested! However, lacking the proper entreprenurial spirit, I suppose, I never pursued the idea. Oh, well!

Download Ezi Nne as a zipped file here. Many thanks as usual to my wife, Priscilla, for interpreting the lyrics. The website of Ihiagwa Township is a fascinating resource which was quite useful in researching this post.



Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Jùjú Music in the '90s



I've been collecting Nigerian music since the 1970s, but never actually made it to the country until 1994 and 1995. By then it was apparent that the music industry was going through a crisis, or at least big, big changes. The Nigerian affiliates of the two international record companies, Polydor and EMI, had been sold off and changed their names to Premier Music and Ivory Music respectively, while Afrodisia, formerly Decca West Africa, had gone inactive. A few LPs were still being pressed, but most "official" music distribution was via low-quality cassettes. The industry was suffering a death by a thousand cuts as pirated cassettes swamped the market.

By the mid-'90s in southwestern Nigeria jùjú music had been eclipsed by fújì and other styles, as I've discussed earlier. King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey were still on the scene, though with lower profiles. Their more laid-back, philosophical brand of jùjú had given way to a frenetic, materialistic version, epitomized above all by Sir Shina Peters, who sang of the good life and conspicuous consumption.

"Wonder" Dayo Kujore, born in 1958, is another exponent of the new jùjú sound. Like Shina Peters, he served his apprenticeship in the band of Prince Adekunle, playing lead guitar on some of the maestro's biggest hits. Kujore soon left to form his own group, but it wasn't until the early '90s that he really made a mark with albums like Super Jet, Easy Life and today's offering, 1993's Sọkọ Xtra (Ivory Music IVR 039), one of his biggest hits ever.

The basic elements of the 1990s jùjú sound are all here: the punchy, forward-driving rhythms complete with electronic drum pad, synthesizers and no pedal steel guitar to be found. And check out the Paul Simon reference in the opening bars of "Eko Ayo!"

I've always preferred "Old School" jùjú myself, but newer productions like Sọkọ Xtra have their attractions. Enjoy!



Download Sọkọ Xtra as a zipped file here.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Mystery



The cassette Wika Ô Ma (ALPHA 003, 1992), by N'Gosséré Ballo, is the kind of down-home traditional music that is found throughout Africa, but seldom gets much attention outside of it. I don't know anything about Ms. Ballo. Wika Ô Ma was recorded in Abidjan and released on Alpha Blondy's label, so I'm assuming she's from Ivory Coast, but maybe not. The title track was featured on a 1995 compilation entitled Coleur Mandingue, so I'd guess she is a member of one of the many Mandé ethnic groups descended from the old Mali Empire who live throughout West Africa (see map below).


Can anyone out there tell us more about this wonderful artist? Not just her lovely voice but the percussion and backing vocals on this recording are all first-rate. What a shame this is apparently N'Gosséré Ballo's only release!

N'Gosséré Ballo - Wika Ô Ma






Download Wika Ô Ma as a zipped file here

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ethereal Sounds



Nwamara (Tradition TRAD 001, 1984), by the Nkelebe Brothers, is like no other recording of Igbo music I have ever heard. I don't know if these ethereal, polyphonic vocal stylings are unique to the group's area - Isiala Ngwa North LGA (county) in Abia State, Nigeria - or if this mode of singing is found throughout Ala Igbo. After all, there are many Igbo records I haven't listened to!


The Ngwa people, from whom the Nkelebe Brothers hail, are an Igbo sub-group about whom there are many tall tales. The word nkelebe itself describes a type of Igbo praise-singing, although I haven't been able to find out much beyond that. I can say, though, that this six-member group, utilizing only their voices and basic percussion - Udu (pottery drum), Samba (square drum), and Mpaka (sticks) - produce deeply moving music that reminds me of the contrapuntal vocals of central Africa, although there is probably no direct connection.

The title of the first song, taking up all of Side One, means "A Well-Behaved Woman is a Gift":

Nkelebe Brothers - Agwa Nwanyi Bu Oji

"Ole Ndi Bu Eze" - "Where Are the Kings?":

Nkelebe Brothers - Ole Ndi Bu Eze

"Akwukwa Bu Ogu" roughly translates as "Your bad intentions won't hurt me because my heart is pure":

Nkelebe Brothers - Akwukwa Bu Ogu

You can download Nwamara as a zipped file here. Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for translating the titles of the songs.


Monday, January 29, 2018

More Hot Dance Music from Côte d'Ivoire



I've been on a tear lately digitizing Ivorian cassettes from the early '90s. A few days ago we heard Ze by Gueatan System, and today I present another outstanding work, Zol' Paye by Claude Romy & le Wassiato (EMI E 2411292-4, 1992).

As is often the case, I've been unable to find out much about Mr. Romy or his group. At some point Les Wassiato evolved into Super Wassiato and Claude Romy was joined by Blé Marius as co-leader of the band. Mr. Marius doen't seem to be involved in this earlier incarnation of the group. Le Wassiato are members of the Wé ethnic group, who also live in Liberia, where they are known as the Krahn.

I'm sure you'll agree with me that Zol' Paye is an example of Ivorian dance music at its best. Enjoy!




Claude Romy & le Wassiato - Sagnonweti

Claude Romy & le Wassiato - Zolepahi

Claude Romy & le Wassiato - Deblehi

Download Zol' Paye as a zipped file here. More great Ivorian music from the '90s is on the way!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Yacouba Soukous from Ivory Coast



A track from Ivory Coast's Gueatan System was featured on the 1993 release Super Guitar Soukous (Hemisphere 7243 8 28188), a compilation devoted mainly to Congolese musicians. Their music is not really soukous, although there are definite influences in the guitar work, as in the music of other African countries. The group members are from the Dan, or Yacouba, ethnic group, who live in the western part of Ivory Coast, spilling over into Liberia. The Dan are world-renowned for their carved wooden masks and other artwork.

Other than that, I can't say anything else about Gueatan System other than that this cassette, Ze (EMI E0183492-4, 1992), is spectacular. Enjoy!

Gueatan System - Ze

Gueatan System - Dion

Gueatan System - Abiba


Gueatan System - Zolo

Gueatan System - Guelo

Gueatan System - Zemele

Download Ze as a zipped file here.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tigrinya Sounds



Here's an appropriate followup to our last post of Ethiopian "ethnic" music: 3tä Weräyat Naye Tegriña Däräfeti Beheberät ("Three Famous Tigrinya Singers Together"), a compilation of musicians from the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The date on the inlay card is 1985, but that's from the Ethiopian calendar. I'm guessing that would put it around 1992 or 1993, shortly after the fall of the the government of Mengistu Haile Mariam and (possibly) before the independence of Eritrea in 1993.

Although they were sundered by those events, Tigrinya-speaking people live on both sides of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, comprsing an estimated 55% of the population in Eritrea and 97% of the Tigray region of Ethiopia. I've written before about Tigrinya music. It's apparent from even a casual listening that it's quite different from the better-known Amharic-language music of the Ethiopian highlands, with a more insistent rhythm and greater use of the krar, a five-or-six-striged lyre. In recent years the krar has even been electrified, as demonstrated to great effect in this cassette.

Two of the artists here, Kiros Alämayahu and Bahta Gebre-Hiwot, were pioneers of Tigrinya music.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Kiros Alämayahu was a prolific singer and composer who was born in Saesi Tsaedaemba woreda (county), Tigray province in 1948. In 1982-83 he joined the Ras Theater in Addis Ababa, recording his first album around the same time. Again according to Wikipedia, he died of "intestinal complications" in 1994, but another, questionable, source attributes his death to poisoning by agents of the ruling EPRDF party. As in everything learned via the internet, caveat emptor.

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot was one of the outstanding composers, singers and stars of the "Golden Age" of Ethiopian music, amply documented in the Éthiopiques series. Born in 1943 in Adigrat, Tigray province, in 1961 he was recruited by the famous Ras Hotel Band in Addis along with Girma Bayene. After a number of recordings in the sixties, working with such luminaries as Mulatu Astatke, in 1972 he abruptly quit the music scene to become an accountant. But here he is twenty years later, bigger and better than ever!


What's notable about these and other recent recordings by Bahta Gebre-Hiwot is their enthusiastic embrace of Tigrayan aesthetics as opposed to his more sedate recordings of the Sixties, which were often in Amharic. In fact, the contrast is so great that I suspected at first that the producers of the cassette had him confused with another Tigrayan star, Hagos Gebrehiwot. But apparently not. This may be a reflection of the political and cultural upheaval brought about by the collapse of the Derg government in 1991. Keep in mind that this revolution was led by groups that had been sidelined under previous regimes, notably but not exclusively the Tigray people of  northern Ethiopia. Now, on paper at least, all nationalities in Ethiopia are equal. It may not be comfortable for all, but the new order has indeed created a situation where previously-marginalized groups feel more free to express themselves. There has been a backlash against "Tigray domination" in Ethiopia, but in spite of this Tigrinya music is quite popular all over the country.

I've been unable to find out anything about the third musician here, Tadesse Abreha, nicknamed "Wadi Koxäb," although he's well represented on YouTube.

Kiros Alämayahu - Tä'agas

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot - Ruba'aday

Tadesse Abreha "Wadi Koxäb" - Hayat Tawärewaray


Kiros Alämayahu - Hezenzen 

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot - Shemad Be'eray

Kiros Alämayahu - Nä'anado Lamerä

Tadesse Abreha "Wadi Koxäb" - Täbärabäre Hezebay

Bahta Gebre-Hiwot - Ayetegeray 'Ened

Kiros Alämayahu - Gado 

Tadesse Abreha "Wadi Koxäb" - Nefus Shäshame

Unknown - Bonus Instrumental Track


Download 3tä Weräyat Naye Tegriña Däräfeti Beheberät here. Thanks once again to Andreas Wetter for his help with this post.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Twelve "Ethnic" Songs from Ethiopia



Ethiopia in the popular mind is associated with the Amhara people, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the distinctive Ge'ez, or Ethiopic, script. In reality, the Oromo are the largest nationality in Ethiopia, though not a majority, and the Amhara come in second, with a multitude of other ethnic groups making up the remainder. While Orthodoxy is the largest religion, though not a majority, Muslims make up a third of the population and there are other versions of Christianity represented as well as traditional religions. In recent years the Oromo and other groups have begun to adopt the Latin alphabet.

Under Haile Selassie the non-Amhara ethnic groups were generally marginalized and excluded from any real power, and this practice continued, with some adjustments, under the "Marxist-Leninist" Derg regime, which took power in 1974 after Selassie's overthrow. The Derg itself was toppled in  1991 by the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front, an alliance of four ethnically-based political parties. Notable among these was the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front from the northern, non-Amhara province of Tigray. At the same time the northern province of Eritrea acheived independence after a decades-long struggle. Ethiopia is now a federal republic, with no ostensible dominant nationality and each one technically having the right to self-determination, as outlined in the map at the top of this post.

Ironically, many Amhara are now complaining about marginalization. As well, in recent years there have been protests among the Oromo people against the proposed expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, which was established in the middle of Oromia but is separately administered. These and other "national" struggles have combined with demands for democratic rights and fair elections to create a rather unstable situation that the government has managed, so far, to keep under control.

Over the years various non-Amhara musicians have acheived fame in Ethiopia. The famous singer Mahmoud Ahmed, for instance, is of Gurage ancestry, while Ali Mohammed Birra is a well-known Oromo singer who first recorded under Haile Selassie. Musicians from Eritrea like Tewelde Redda and Bereket Mengesteab have also been popular over the years.

Which brings us to today's musical offering, the cassette 12 Yätäläyayu Yäbeheräshäb Zäfänoch Kä'Ambassäl!!  - "12 Different Songs of Ethnic Groups from Ambassäl!!," "Ambassäl" being the company that issued the cassette. This is a collection of "ethnic" (mainly non-Amharic) songs by various artists. It was released in the early '90s, just after the fall of the Derg, when things were beginning to loosen up in Ethiopia. Unfortunately the inlay card for the cassette is not very informative. The songs are not credited (although the artists are listed) and languages are not indicated.

Very little information is available (in the English language at least) about these musicians, but they're hardly obscure in Ethiopia - many have videos online, and I've linked to these when possible.

As usual concerning things Ethiopian I consulted Likembe's good friend Andreas Wetter, and he was able to sort things out - not only matching artists to songs but listing the languages (and specific dialects!) and transliterating the Ge'ez script into Latin orthography. Thanks, Andreas!

Habtimichael Demisse's two contributions here are the only ones in the Amharic language. Unfortunately he passed away on October 9 of last year following a car accident in Addis Ababa. In his long career he was responsible for many popular tunes like "Jano Megen."

Habtemichael Demisse - Wəb Aläm (Amharic)

The Gurage people hail from the southwestern corner of Ethiopia, although many now reside in Addis Ababa and other cities. Mohammed Awwel is one of the better-known Gurage musicians, and is not to be confused with another musician named Mohammed Awel Hamza, who specializes in Amharic-language Islamic chants called Manzuma. Here's a video by Mohammed Awwel highlighting the distinctive Gurage rhythm and dancing.

Mohammed Awwel - Yaret Mot Närä (Gurage)

Tigrinya-speaking people live in both the Ethiopian province of Tigray and in the now-independent nation of Eritrea. Tareke Tesfahiwot is a leading Eritrean musician and has been called "the Stevie Wonder of Eritrea," apparently because he is blind. There are many videos by him on YouTube, including this one.

Tareke Tesfahiwot - Anä Məsaxi Wäläləle (Tigrinya)

The Oromo people are the largest nationality in Ethiopia, constituting up to 40% of the population. They have historically chafed under the rule of the central government in Addis Ababa, this sentiment taking the form of protests in recent years. I've been unable to find out anything about Tsägaye Dändana on the internet, but he has many videos there, including this one.

Tsägaye Dändana - Yadäme Tole (Western Oromo)

"Achara" is in Dorze, which is spoken by a rather small ethnic group who live in the southwestern corner of Ethiopia:

Taddese Kebbede - Achara (Dorze)

"Aman Täsh" is in the Harari language, which according to Andreas, "... is the original language of the inhabitants of the old, walled city of Harar, the old Muslim city in the eastern highlands. Today, most Harari speakers live in Addis Ababa and the diaspora (California, I guess), i.e. they are a minority in Harar now...As far as I know, Bitew Worku seems to be from Eastern Ethiopia. Maybe he is Oromo, though the name is a little bit unusual because Oromo from Eastern Ethiopia are generally Muslims. But he always sings Oromo songs from Eastern Ethiopia, and Harari, which is a Semitic language, is also spoken in that area which supports the idea that he represents the eastern part and culture...." Here's a nice video by Bitew Worku.

Bitew Worku - Aman Täsh (Harari)

Habtemichael Demisse - Firmanna Wäräqät (Amhara)

Another Oromo tune by Tsägaye Dändana here, which is featured on YouTube under the title "Yaa Abaabbiyyo."

Tsägaye Dändana - Dibabe Kiyya (Shewa Oromo)

Another song by Tadesse Kebede, this one in the Sidamo language, which is spoken in southwestern Ethiopia:

Taddese Kebbede - Saro (Sidamo)

Tareke Tesfahiwot - Ǝlaloy (Tigrinya)

Mohammed Awwel - Yäshurbi Qänezhəyä (Gurage)

Bitew Worku - Mägale Tiyya (Eastern Oromo)

Download 12 Yätäläyayu Yäbeheräshäb Zäfänoch Kä'Ambassäl!! as a zipped file here. Thanks once again to Andreas Wetter for his help.