Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Return of the Sweet Talking Man



Last month I gave you A.B. Crentsil's great 1985 LP Toronto by Night, with a promise of more sophisticated sounds from the king of '80s Ghana highlife. Well, here they are! Tantie Alaba (Earthworks/Rough Trade ERT 1004, 1984) was recorded at the Ghana Film Studios in Accra, and has more of an "organic" sound than Toronto.

Researching this series of posts devoted to Ghana music from the '80s, I've been digging through my archives, compiled back in the days before the internet, and came across issue #5 of Africa Beat magazine, published in London in Summer of 1986. It contains a most informative article, "Sweet Talking Man," about Mr. Crentsil, then on a European tour:

The dramatic plunge in the value of the Ghanaian currency, the cedi, has thrown up some stories. One of the most heartbreaking is the virtual death of the Ghanaian recording industry. The price of imported basics, like guitar strings or vinyl, has killed off virtually every full-time touring professional band. Some put the number of survivors as low as three. 
One man who has survived all this and a lot more is A.B. Crentsil, the 36-year-old singer whose mid-1970s band Sweet Talks was a germinating ground for some of the strongest talents to emerge out of Ghana during the last ten years - the Sunsum Band, Eric Agyemang and Thomas Frempong among them. But the figures even he throws out so casually are terrifying. He starts off talking about how his second band the Lantics were stolen away from the Atlantic Hotel by an extra 25 cedi a month - "100 cedi a month was a lot and we were happy to go!," he chuckles. Now he talks about paying his bus driver 10,000 cedi a day, a week, a month, whatever it takes to keep him. 
Even more scaring is his account of the break-up of Sweet Talks in 1979 and the court battle to get money out of the manager of the Talk of the Town Hotel who owned the band's instruments and in a lot of ways seemed to own their souls as well. "In court we heard that Phonogram had paid him 5.4 million cedis. Out of that we had seen 68,000 cedis." Needless to say there were dark doings in the background and A.B. is not a rich man - but her survives. 
And away from the numbers, back to the music. Throughout the 1970s A.B. played in the best hotel bands in Ghana - first the El Dorados, performing funk, reggae and James Brown material, the usual songs known as "copyright." The there was the Lantics, again tied to a top hotel but this time getting away to record the first album, Adam & Eve [as the Sweet Talks] in 1975. They had been spotted playing in the hotel by Phonogram MD Arthur Tay who swept them off to the 16-track EMI studio in Lagos which was quite a jump from the two-track they had used for three 45s earlier. 
The 75-venue tour of Ghana which followed built Sweet Talks into one of the biggest bands in the land. Throughout the string of LPs that followed - Kusum Beat, Spiritual Ohaia, Osode - it was all up and up, closer to dangerous temptations that lay in wait when Phonogram Holland took them to Los Angeles' Total Experience studio to record the best-selling Party Time [Hollywood Highlife Party]. It was then that they discovered that their manager was using their money to send a Thunderbird back to Ghana. It was when they got back they discovered they were broke, and broke up....
Which brings us up to 1984, and Tantie Alaba, recorded with Mr. Crentsil's reorganized Super Sweet Talks International, and the first of his albums to receive modest international distribution. Here's a nice video someone made of the title track, utilizing footage that apparently has nothing to do with the song itself, but, I'm sure you'll agree, matches up very well indeed!


A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Tantie Alaba

A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Akpêtêchi Seller


A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Odo

A.B. Crentsil & Super Sweet Talks International - Who is Free

Download Tantie Alaba as a zipped file here.


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!