Thursday, March 29, 2018
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
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
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
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
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
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.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!
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.)...
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!
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.