Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Morning Star Group



Here's a mysterious Nigerian album, Idanre Makin (Idanre Makin EILP 002) I got not too long ago - by a Yoruba vocal/percussion group led by Francis Akinde called Ẹgbẹ Irawọ Owurọ, whose name translates, as best I can tell, as "Morning Star Group." A lovely moniker, if Google Translate can be trusted!

The label and liner notes say nothing about this congregation, and give little indication as to what "style" the music is. It's within the broad spectrum of Yoruba percussion styles that we've been exploring recently. Enjoy!

Ẹgbẹ Irawọ Owurọ - Okungba So Gba / Ọrẹ Ma Ba Mi Je / Ibi Aiye Tire Aomo / Fiwa Jaiye Mo Boni Mi Rode

Ẹgbẹ Irawọ Owurọ - Ọla Mẹ Lọ Si Igbo Bini / Ede Sun Mi Daiko / E Are Babangida / Awa Feni Sọrọ

Download Idanre Makin as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Jack of All Trades, Master of All



Footballer, guitarist and composer of many of the most memorable songs in Congolese music, Mayaula Mayoni (1946-2010) has often been overlooked. I posted one of his biggest solo hits, "Ba Chagrins", back in 2007.  The blog AfricOriginal ably summarized Mayaula's career in this post, which I reproduce here. Follow the link for pictures and further information about this well-respected musician. 
Born in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) on the sixth of November 1946, Mayaula passes effortlessly through primary school. In 1962 he completed secondary education at the College of Kisantu. The young Mayaula appears to be a passionate and good football player. Between 1968 and 1971 he plays at a high level as a left winger in the first team of "AS Vita Club" in Kinshasa. In this period he is also selected for the national team of Zaïre.

When his father is stationed as a diplomat in Dar es Salam, Mayaula follows his father to Tanzania and plays some time with "Yanga Sports". Then he leaves for Charleroi in Belgium where he follows a course in data processing. In Belgium his talent is also noticed and he plays professional soccer with "Racing Club de Charleroi" and "Racing Club de Jette"in Brussels. He also plays for some time in Switzerland with "FC. Fribourg". In this period he gets acquainted with the guitar through a study friend. Also musically he shows himself a talented student and soon he joins the Congolese student orchestra "Africana" as rhythm guitarist.

When he returns to Kinshasa, Mayaula makes a career switch from professional soccer player to professional composer and musician. Back home he immediately draws the attention of his former football president and band leader Franco, who asks Mayaula to join his band and adds his song "Cherie Bonduwe" to the repertoire of his TPOK Jazz.

The melodic and thematically rich song receives much attention, not in the least because the National Censorship Commission prohibits the song. "Cherie Bondowe" presented the life of a prostitute from her point of view and is considered by the authorities as a defense of prostitution. The song was first released in Brussels, and rapidly found its way back to Kinshasa, despite the ban by the government.

Although Franco requested him to join TPOK Jazz, Mayaula Mayoni has never been an official band member of the TPOK Jazz. "He was something of an independent oddity in the music business" writes Gary Stewart in "Rumba on the River". "He prefered to compose his songs and then offer them to whichever artist he felt they fit. Many of his memorable efforts like 'Nabali Misère' and 'Momi' found their way to OK Jazz".

In 1977 it was female singer Mpongo Love who scored with Mayaula"s composition "Ndaya," a song that tells the story of a woman happy in her marriage and confident of keeping her husband, despite the overtures of other women.

Many people mistakenly think that Mayaula was not only a gifted guitarist and composer, but a good singer as well. Although he sometimes acted as background vocalist during recordings and live performances, he has never presented himself as a lead singer. Probably this misconception is caused by a picture on the cover of the album 'Veniuza', on which we find Mayaula behind the microphone.In 1981 Mayaula leaves Zaire together with some musicians from female singer Abeti's band Les Redoutables, to try his luck in West-Africa. In the period between 1981 and 1984 he records several solo LP's in Lomé (Togo) for the record label Disc-Oriënt'. In 1984 he returns to Zaire where he releases the album 'Fiona Fiona' in 1986. In the same year female singer Tshala Muana gains success with 'Nasi Nabali', a composition written by Mayaula Mayoni. He records his next album 'Mizélé' with the help of musicians of TPOK Jazz and singers Carlito Lassa and Malage de Lugendo.

In 1993 he hits the charts again with the album "L'Amour au Kilo". It then lasts until 2000, before he comes with a new album, "Bikini". Not long after the release of this album, Mayaula settles again in Dar es Salam, where he accepts a job at the diplomatic service. In the years that followed he began to suffer increasingly the consequences of hemiplegia, a disease that may result in loss of speech and paralysis of limbs. In 2005 he returns to his place of birth, Makadi. As his condition continues to deteriorate his family decides in cooperation with the authorities to bring Mayaula to Brussels for medical treatment. After a long illness of several month"s he dies in Brussels on May 26, 2010 at the age of 64 years. During his impressive career, Mayaula Mayoni was repeatedly voted "composer of the year" in Zaïre. In 1978 for the song "Bonduwe II", in 1979 for "Nabali misère" and in 1993 for the song "Ousmane Bakayoko".
I present here Mayaula Mayoni's album La Machine a Tube (Tabansi/Africa New Sound WNL 405), recorded during his Togolese sojourn in the early '80s:

Mayaula Mayoni - Veniuza

Mayaula Mayoni - Mokili Makambo

Mayaula Mayoni - Omari

Mayaula Mayoni - Sauce Ya Bolingo

Next I offer this late '80s LP Motors (Sukuma SUK 001), with Mayaula on Side 1 and guitarist/composer Dino Vangu on Side 2. I don't think this is a true collaboration between the two, but rather something that was stitched together by a record producer. Vangu is another often-overlooked figure on the Congolese scene. He got his start in Sam Mangwana's orchestra Festival des Maquisards in 1969 and then moved on to a number of other musical congregations, notably Tabu Ley Rochereau's Afrisa International. His guitar work with Afrisa is featured in several posts here at Likembe.

Mayaula Mayoni - Motors

Dino Vangu - Bondumba

Dino Vangu - Pumaza

Dino Vangu - Ngole

Download
La Machine a Tube as a zipped file here. Download Motors as a zipped file here. Both files contain scans of the front and back covers as well as the labels.


Thursday, October 17, 2019

An Èwi Deep Dive with Lanrewaju Adepọju



Even if I weren't already a huge fan of Lanrewaju Adepọju, I would have bought this album for the cover art alone! Aláfọwósowópó (Lanre Adepoju Records LALPS 72, 1980) is a tribute to the cooperative movement in Nigeria: "The greatest weapon the masses have to fight the formidable forces of oppressive capitalism, mindless and the unconcerned attitude of few privileged rich overlords, is to form themselves into cooperative societies."

In a previous post, I wrote of Alhaji Adepoju and his mastery of the Yoruba poetic form known as èwi, of which this LP is a fine example. Many of his compositions deal with Islamic religious themes but apparently not the ones here. Although I know only a few words of Yoruba, I find his lyrical declamations thoroughly entrancing. And check out the instrumental breaks from 12:32 to 13:37 and from 16:01 to 16:46 in the first track. Somebody should sample those!



Download Aláfọwósowópóó as a zipped file here.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Raji Owonikoko's "Kwara System"



I just came into possession of a raft of great Yoruba recordings from Nigeria - lots of jùjú, àpàlà fújì, wákà, èwi, what have you - and I'll be sharing some of them with you over the next few months. For now we have on tap Raji Owonikoko, with his take on the venerable àpàlà genre, which he calls his "Kwara System." About àpàlà Christopher Alan Waterman writes in his excellent book Jùjú: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music (University of Chicago Press, 1990):

... Àpàlà, a praise song and social dance music, developed in the late 1930s in the Ijebu area, and was popularized by a musician named Haruna Ishola ... àpàlà groups generally included small hourglass-shaped pressure drums called àpàlà or àdàmòn, an àgídìgbo bass lamellaphone, several conga-type drums, and a metal idiophone such as an agogo or truck muffler (Thieme 1969). Like postwar jùjú, àgídìgbo and àpàlà drew upon Latin American recordings, preexistent popular genres, and deep Yoruba rhetorical devices. These social dance and praise song genres provided an urban-centered musical lingua franca, a set of stylistic coordinates for the construction of modem Yoruba identity. Each of them relied upon indigenous principles as a unifying framework for innovation... 
The rather sedate, philosophical sound of àpàlà, whose foremost practitioners were the late Haruna Ishola and Ayninla Omowura, gave way to the more frenzied sounds of jùú, fújì and the like, but it's never disappeared, and has been given new life in recent years by artists like Musiliu Haruna Ishola, son of Haruna Ishola, who was featured in a previous Likembe post.

Alhaji Mohammed Ahmed Raji Alabi Owonikoko, better known as Raji Owonikoko, is one of the musicians who have carried the àpàlà torch into the present day. At least judging from today's musical offering, Kwara System Originator (Olumo ORPS 58, 1977), his "Kwara System," named after his home state, adds a few uptempo fillips to the basic sound. In a 2012 interview with PM News (Lagos) he said:

...I hail from Kwara State. My father is a native of Buhari while my mother hails from Ijomu, Oro both in Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State. I was born in Oro that is why many people believe I am from Oro ... I grew up with elderly friends and contemporaries. I became more popular among them because I always sang during Ramadan fasting period, waking Islamic faithful in the community at dawn to observe Shaur [Suhoor] ... As a result of my talent, I became the leader of our musical group. Thereafter, I moved to Lagos with some members of the group where I recruited others to join my group. Along the line, I met King Sunny Ade, and Jide Smith, who was into music instrument rentals. I eventually changed to àpàlà music genre because of the love I had for the late àpàlà music sage, Alhaji Haruna Ishola, in spite of other types of music around then...
I hope you will enjoy this offering of àpàlà, Kwara style!



Download Kwara System Originator as a zipped file here.


Saturday, October 5, 2019

Master of the Ngurumi and the Biram



I present today four cassettes by Malam Maman Barkah, the Niger Republic's acclaimed master of two traditional instruments of that area - the ngurumi, a two stringed lute (pictured), and the biram, a five-stringed harp. Malam Barkah passed away on November 21 of last year to much sadness in Niger and the neighboring Hausa-speaking areas of Nigeria. Radio France International reported, "Great emotion this morning in Niger when the local press reported the death of musician Malam Maman Barka, immensely popular in his country and also well known in neighboring Nigeria. The popularity of Malam Maman Barka is explained by his mastery of biram, a very particular instrument, and also by his committed songs."

My understanding is that while Maman Barkah sang mainly in the Hausa language, he was a member of the nomadic Toubou people, born in Tesker, southern Niger, in 1958 or 1959. He started his professional life as a teacher and learned the ngurumi, a two-stringed lute common in the Sahel region, where it is known by various names. It was as a master of this instrument, and his incisive lyrics which addressed classical themes as well as current events and notable individuals, that Maman Barkah achieved fame throughout Niger and northern Nigeria. This led to many appearances throughout the world.

In 2002 Malam Barkah received a grant from UNESCO to travel to the shores of Lake Chad and learn the biram, a five-stringed harp played by the Boudouma (Yedina) people of the region. The instrument, considered sacred, had fallen into disuse. Before passing, the last living master of the biram, Boukou Tar, taught Maman Barkah the secrets of the instrument and gave him his own. Before his death Malam Barkah was the director of the Center for Music Promotion and Training (CFPM) "El Hadji Taya" in Niamey, the capital of Niger.

The four cassettes in this post are the result of two cassette-hunting expeditions: By me in Kano, Nigeria in 1995 and by my wife Priscilla in Jos, Nigeria in 1998. He was very popular throughout the region! All feature Maman Barkah on the ngurumi. Recordings of him playing the biram are available on the CD Introducing Mamane Barka (World Music Network INTRO114CD, 2009).

Labeling for the songs here is very confusing. Africa 1 and Africa 4 seem to be mispackaged or mislabeled, as the songs don't seem to correspond to listings on the inlay cards. Africa 2 and Republic Niger No. 4 do seem to be properly labeled. Not knowing how to determine the proper song titles I've just listed them as they appear on the cassettes, and the extra songs are just labeled "Song Title Unknown." I'd appreciate it if someone could clear the confusion up for us.

I confess I haven't paid these cassettes much attention since obtaining them in the '90s. However, repeated listenings in the course of preparing them for this post have given me a new appreciation for this music. I had always thought that the mysterious Korean lady who appears on the covers of three of the cassettes was Malam Barkah's wife, but apparently that picture was taken during a musical performance in North Korea!

Here is Africa 1:

Maman Barkah - Amerame

Maman Barkah - Gourmi Story

Maman Barkah - Iyani Mai Towo

Maman Barkah - Feronguila

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown

Maman Barkah - Massagui

Maman Barkah - Awa Sakehali

Maman Barkah - Zaman Duniya

Maman Barkah - Beghue Tunani

Maman Barkah - Arri Na Bin Tou

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown

Download Africa 1 as a zipped file here.


While digitizing these cassettes I realized that side 2 of the cassette Africa 1, apparently a reissue, actually contains the full contents of Africa 2! (There are around 45 minutes of music on each side). As the recording quality of Africa 1 is superior I've gone with that version:

Maman Barkah - Tabaraka Allah

Maman Barkah - Oubedatu

Maman Barkah - Massoyi da Massoya

Maman Barkah - Dabarabara

Maman Barkah - Maman Maki

Maman Barkah - In Nabaki Mikike

Maman Barkah - Beby Elinna

Maman Barkah - Archatelfara

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown (Instrumental)

Download Africa 2 as a zipped file here. I don't have Africa 3, but here is Africa 4. Who knows how many volumes were released?

Maman Barkah - Nahissa

Maman Barkah - Kidan Maman Daban


Maman Barkah - Aochatou Dogoya

Maman Barkah - La Six

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown

Maman Barkah - Mousha Shagaumu Talki

Maman Barkah - In Ada

Maman Barkah - We Day Hassour

Maman Barkah - Song Title Unknown

Download Africa 4 as a zipped file here.


The final cassette here, Republic Niger No. 4 (no connection with Africa 4 above), seems to be the most recently recorded:

Maman Barkah - Tankari Dan Garba No. 1

Maman Barkah - Rammá Ta Mirria

Maman Barkah - Tankari Dan Garba No. 2

Maman Barkah - Kar Ki Bami A

Maman Barkah - Delu El Fulani

Maman Barkah - Hawa Merama

Maman Barkah - Er Komatou

Maman Barkah - Tankari Dan Garba No. 3

Download Niger Republic No. 4 as a zipped file here.

Two CDs by Maman Barkah, Introducing Mamane Barka and Guidan Haya, are available from Amazon. Follow the links!

Here is a clip of Maman Barkah playing the biram in 2010:


Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Queen of Wassoulou




Kudos to The Lost Maestros for posting this wonderful video (from World Service's YouTube channel) of the Malian diva Coumba Sidibe. I have nothing to add to their summary of her career:

Mali's Coumba Sidibe was a pioneering force behind the evolution of wassoulou, the earthy, propulsive music that first captured the imagination of west African listeners in the mid-'70s. A singer of elemental power, she set the stage for a generation of artists including Oumou Sangaré, Issa Bagayogo, and Nahawa Doumbia, although their international fame consistently eluded her. 
Born in Koninko, Mali in 1950, Sidibe began singing at regional harvest festivals at the age of seven, following in the footsteps of her father Diara, a famed dancer and sorcerer skilled in the ecstatic percussion and dance tradition known as sogoninkun, and her mother, a vocalist of great local renown. 
The first female member of l'Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali, a state-sponsored orchestra created to represent the nation's folkloric traditions, Sidibe exited their ranks in 1977 to team with Alata Brulaye, the creator of the kamelengon, a six-string harp modeled on the sacred dosongoni, an instrument effectively off limits to popular musicians. 
The kamelengoni's funky, percussive sound quickly emerged as the foundation of the wassoulou aesthetic, a neo-traditional style that threatened the long-standing cultural dominance of Mali's jelis, the music-making caste whose roots date back to the 13th century. While the jelis performed traditional songs targeted to the wealthy and powerful, the so-called "kono" (i.e., the predominantly female "songbirds" at the forefront of the wassoulou movement) addressed contemporary themes like romance and feminism; hits like "Diya ye Banna" earned Sidibe the unofficial title "Queen of Wassoulou," and her backing group Le Super Mansa de Wassoulou was the launching pad for future superstars including Sangaré, arguably the most successful Malian artist of her generation. While a revered figure in her homeland, Sidibe never attracted the attention of the world music cognoscenti, and in the late '90s she and her family relocated to New York City, where she headlined a Sunday night residency at Harlem's St. Nick's Pub. Sidibe died in Brooklyn on May 10, 2009.
Today I present two cassettes from the early '90s by Sidibe. Here's the first, Wary (Shakara Music SHA 09032):

Coumba Sidibe - Wary

Coumba Sidibe - Mougoukan

Coumba Sidibe - Didady

Coumba Sidibe - Kana Kassi

Coumba Sidibe - Konyan

Coumba Sidibe - Nalena

Download Wary as a zipped file here. And here's the second, Dounouyan (Shakara Music/Syllart SHA 02901):

Coumba Sidibe - Dounouyan

Coumba Sidibe - Ninin

Coumba Sidibe - Baba

Coumba Sidibe - Tché Kani Wélé

Coumba Sidibe - Héé!! Ndanani

Coumba Sidibe - Ka Lonongon Yan

Download Dounouyan as a zipped file here.

More music by Coumba Sidibe is available on the Sterns compilations The Wassoulou Sound: Women of Mali (STCD 1035, 1991) and The Wassoulou Sound: Women of Mali Vol. 2 (STCD 1048, 1994), available through the usual purveyors. The Lost Maestros, by the way, is a wonderful effort to bring back to light some of the forgotten masters of Malian music. Read this article (in French) here, or go to the Facebook page here.


Friday, September 6, 2019

An Overlooked Obey Gem



I thought I had all of Ebenezer Obey's great LPs from the '80s, until I came across this gem in Dusty Groove in Chicago a few months ago.

It turns out that, while Gbeja Mi Eledumare (Afrodisia DWAPS 2252) was released in 1985, it was recorded in 1979. The reason I missed it before is that it was released on Afrodisia instead of the Chief Commander's own Obey label. Some time in the '70s, Obey's label, Decca West Africa, was "indigenized" and transformed into Afrodisia Records, most of its reference numbers retaining the old WAPS or DWAPS prefixes. Around the same time Obey, having obtained the rights to his archive recordings, began releasing them on the Obey imprint, again with the WAPS prefix. Newer recordings had reference numbers beginning with OPS.

So what I think happened was that Gbeja Mi Eledumare was recorded, never released and Afrodisia somehow retained the rights to it, only to release it a few years later. An excellent recording it is!

Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey & his Inter-Reformers Band - Gbeja Mi Eledumare / Olorun Oba Tiwa Dowo Re / Aiye Ju Daniel Si Iho Kinniun / Rere A Pe Ika a Pe


Download Gbeja Mi Eledumare as a zipped file here.


Saturday, August 31, 2019

"Live" at the Kilimanjaro



An often-overlooked item in the discography of Les Quatre Etoiles, 1988's Four Stars at the Kilimanjaro (Kilimanjaro International Productions KIP-006-88) purports to be a "live" recording at the Kilimanjaro Club in Washington, DC but is no such thing. While I'm sure Les Quatre Etoiles did perform at the Kilimanjaro, Side One of this LP is obviously a studio recording to which dubbed-in crowd noises have been added! This occasionally occurs in classic African recordings for inexplicable reasons. Sometimes, when the records are reissued, it has been possible to locate the original masters sans the additions. That's when we're lucky, but that usually isn't the case. Oh, well, at least Side Two of At the Kilimanjaro hasn't been defaced in this manner!

Les Quatre Etoiles (the Four Stars) are, of course, the Congolese super-group that was founded in the early '80s by Wuta MayiNyboma Muan'didoBopol Mansiamina and Syran Mbenza. They're still around and active! For whatever reason (probably visa-related) Nyboma does not appear here, and has been replaced by drummer Komba Bellow, a fine musician in his own right. That begs the question, though - without Nyboma, can this group really claim to be Les Quatre Etoiles? He's a pretty essential part of the ensemble, after all! Despite this, I think At the Kilimanjaro is an excellent recording, phony crowd noises and all. I hope you'll agree!

Les Quatre Etoiles - Kouame / Elena / Ayant Droit / Tuti / Zou Zou

Les Quatre Etoiles - Amerika

Les Quatre Etoiles - Djina

Les Quatre Etoiles - Dovi Dina

Download At the Kilimanjaro as a zipped file here. By the way, apparently when Syran Mbenza was in DC, he recorded another album, Africa: The Golden Years (African Music Gallery AMG 007), with some of the same musicians. I posted it many years ago here.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Ripoff Alert!



For some time now, a dubious operation called "Kipepeo Publishing," apparently based in Kenya, has been peddling on Amazon CDs made from MP3s downloaded, for free, from this site and others. Moos's Global Groove in particular has also been a prominent victim.

Now, I want to emphasize that neither I, nor Moos, nor any of our fellow African music bloggers own the rights to this music. We digitize old LPs that are long out of print, we clean up the sound quality as best we can, scan the covers and labels, etc. because we love the music and want to share it with others. Obtaining these recordings often entails considerable expense, travel and so forth (Moos in particular spends thousands of dollars at record fairs digging up these gems). In return we don't expect remuneration, but recognition and gratitude are appreciated.

We don't have much legal recourse against these shysters, of course. As I say, we don't own the rights to the music. It's disappointing to see Amazon party to this fraud, and supposedly there is an appeals process, which some people have already utilized, to little avail apparently. For my part, I see no point.

Here's a suggestion: If you're scanning Amazon for some classic African sounds and you see something you're interested in from this "Kipepeo Publishing," do a little internet search. There's a good possibility you'll find it for free here or on some other site. Save your money!

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Ladies of Missema, and Pamelo Mounk'a too!



The all-female Gabonese choral group Missema was founded in the 1970s, apparently with some official sponsorship, with the purpose of promoting Gabon's President and kleptocrat-for-life El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba and the ruling Parti Démocratique Gabonais. This is well-illustrated by today's musical offering, Omar Bongo 20 Ans (Missema Productions M 2005, 1986).

What makes this LP extra-interesting to me is the presence of Pamelo Mounk'a, an outstanding star of the '80s music scene in Congo-Brazzaville. Here Pamelo contributes not only his considerable vocal talents but his arranging skills and apparently many of the backing musicians. Omar Bongo 20 Ans is therefore a worthy and overlooked entry in Mounk'a's stellar discography.

Sadly Pamelo Mounk'a passed away, too young, on January 14, 1996. Omar Bongo managed to weather the political changes sweeping Africa in the early '90s, hanging on to power through hook or crook before dying of cancer on June 8, 2009. He was then succeeded in office by his son Ali Bongo.

Missema too have managed to hang on, at least until the last decade, and continue their praise-singing ways, as exemplified by this video:



Missema - Mbela Bongo


Pamelo Mounk'a w. Missema - Missema 10 Ans

Missema - Keli Bongo

Missema - Au Gabon la Vie est Belle

Missema - Josepha

Missema - Liboue la Bossi

Download Omar Bongo 20 Ans as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Kickin' Kikuyu!



Daniel Kamau's Kikuyu-language benga sounds a little different from the Luo, Kamba and Swahili versions of the music this blog has featured in the past. Together with the late Joseph Kamaru he was one of the great innovators and popularizers of the Kenyan sound in the '60s, '70s and '80s. In addition to addressing current issues in his music he participated in the political process as councillor of Gatanga ward north of Nairobi from 1979 to 1992. The Daily Standard of Nairobi had this to say in 2009, when the great maestro was 42 years into his career:

Daniel Kamau, popularly known as DK, proudly clings to the title of pioneer of Kikuyu benga music. At 60 and with over 1,000 songs to his credit, DK is unwilling to hang up his cherished guitar. He is scaling new heights by not only producing music videos of his past hits but also releasing new songs. 
When Sunday Magazine paid him a visit one afternoon, DK was busy working on a new video at a music production studio in downtown Nairobi. The soft-spoken man who meets us does not look like a celebrity but the large number of visitors seeking audience with him proves he is no ordinary person. 
"I am recording my 1,013th song and also editing videos for the song "Muiritu wa Nyiri" (Girl from Nyeri), which I released last year," he says as he ushers us into the studio. DK has been a leading figure in music ever since 1967, when he dropped out of Karatina High School while in Form Two due to lack of school fees. 
And so successful has his music career been that the artiste never regrets dropping out of school. At the time, he was already deeply entrenched in music as he had started to sing while in primary school in his home village of Mabanda in Gatanga District. He had learnt how to play the guitar at just ten. 
"I had three older brothers who were musicians and owned a guitar that they used to entertain people in the village. But they never allowed me to touch it as they feared it would spoil me and prevent me from pursuing my education," DK recounts. 
But determined to realise his dream of being a musician and satisfy his curiosity, DK says he would often sneak away with the guitar while his siblings were away and teach himself how to play it. "I would hide nervously in a thick bush behind the main house, praying that they would not come back home and find me toying with their treasured tool of work," DK says. 
He perfected playing the guitar and earned instant eminence when he finally performed in public for the first time. "On Madaraka Day in 1964, my brothers turned up for a public performance too drunk to perform. I offered to play the guitar, only to be become the talk of the village for a week as no one could believe a young boy could be so skilful," he says. 
After dropping out of school, DK says he just had one dream - to hear his voice on radio. He subsequently wrote a letter to a Voice of Kenya presenter, Mrs Kabeberi, requesting assistance so that he could produce his own music. 
"Mrs Kabeberi directed me to musician David Amunga who co-owned a production studio. He helped me release my first record in 1968," he recounts. The album contained the songs "Mami Tiga Guthura" (Mum don’t hate me) and "Kenyatta wa Muigai." DK went on to release five other records with hits such as "Surusuru ni ya ki?" (Why the gossip) and "Muiritu wa Thukuru" (Schoolgirl). But he felt short-changed when he was paid "a meagre Sh450" for all his toil. He shifted to Sokota Productions in 1969 and released three albums that fetched him Sh2,500. 
He used the earnings to establish his own studio, DK Nguvu Sounds, which was located near Tea Room in downtown Nairobi. It is in this studio that he recorded hit songs "Njika na Njika" (Tit for Tat) and "I Love You" in 1970, with the latter getting cross-ethnic approval. 
In the same year, DK made history when his maiden benga hit, "Kanini," sold 9,000 records. His studio became an instant hit, attracting then upcoming stars such as Kakai Kilonzo and Joseph Gicheha. After just over a decade in music, DK had become an irresistible darling of the people in his home village and, inevitably, he says, he found himself entrenched in politics. "I was under pressure to vie for the Gatanga Ward civic seat in 1979. I gave in to the people’s request, contested and won. I was thus forced to mix music with politics until 1992, when I quit politics to fully focus on music," he says. 
With the advance in technology that has made video production cheaper, DK has now turned his mind to shooting videos of his past hits, a move he says has been influenced by public demand. He has already produced five videos of his past music, featuring "Kanini," "Ningwite Nawe" (I have fallen for you), "Kamugunda-ini ka Mahua" (In the flower garden), and "I Love You." And looking over his shoulder, DK admits that he is today a worried man - all because of modern trends in the local music industry. 
He notes that while in the past he could only record four songs in one year, he is baffled to see some modern artistes enter a recording studio and come out with 12 songs in a day. "It took time to record music in the 1970s through the 1990s as we performed as a hobby and our greatest desire was to hear ourselves on radio. Today, music has been turned into a business and this has badly lowered the quality. It is no a surprise that you need a presenter to say whose song is playing. In the past, the music needed no introduction," DK states. 
He is furious about the high level of piracy in the country, saying he was recently shocked to learn that his music was being sold online to Kenyans in the Diaspora without his knowledge. He is also bitter that a local ring tones firm has been illegally selling some of his top songs to mobile phone users for over five years without his consent.
I'm happy to present The Best of DK Vol. 1 (CBS 026), which features some of DK's evergreen hits.













Download The Best of D.K. Vol. 1 as a zipped file here.


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Pumped-Up Makossa



As the title would have it, Turbo-Hits '89 (Editions Haïssam-Records MH 112, 1989) is a collection of remixed makossa (and a couple not-so-makossa) tracks from the house of Gabonese producer Moussa Haïssam.

Hilarion Nguema from Gabon leads off this set with an instrumental version of his tune "SIDA." Nguema is one of the biggest stars Gabon has produced, starting out with Orchestre Afro-Succès in the '70s before becoming a solo artist in the '80s.

Ben Decca from Cameroun has been on the music scene for 40 years and has recorded 25 albums and numerous singles. He is considered a paragon of the makossa sound and is the oldest of a musical family, including Grace Decca, who has also made quite a career for herself.

Dina Bell was a leading light of the Camerounian makossa scene in the '80s, scoring his first hit, "Yoma Yoma," in 1979. In the '90s his output slowed and he hasn't been heard from recently.

Moussa Haïssam was a leading producer of Camerounian music in the '80s and contributes the instrumental "Ipanema" here. His native country, Gabon, is not well known for its musical output, but wields an outsize influence across the continent and around the world through the pan-African radio station Africa No. 1. It can be heard on shortwave and online here.

Hilarion Nguema - SIDA (Instrumental)

Ben Decca - Amour a Sens Unique


Ben Decca - Tumba Longo

Moussa Haïssam - Ipanema

Dina Bell - Dilango Longo

Hilarion Nguema - Okone Yanem

Dina Bell - Muendi Mu

Download Turbo-Hits '89 as a zipped file here. The track listings on the album sleeve are inaccurate. I've followed the track listing on the label.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Kinshasa Acoustic: Ali & Tam's avec l'Orchestre Malo



Ali and Tam's together with Orchestre Malo wrap up our retrospective look at three interesting Congolese LP's released in the mid '80s by the Swiss label Plainisphare. Their contribution is Malo (Plainisphare ZONE Z-5, 1986), and it's arguably the most interesting and creative of them.

Aly Sow Baidy and Tamisimbi Mpungu were professors at the Institut National des Arts du Zaïre in Kinshasa and founded Orchestre Malo "...to revalue and to disseminate this authentic musical culture in the spirit of a broad openness to current movements of music." Toward this end they combined traditional Congolese instruments with modern ones "to give birth to new sounds while respecting traditional drives." In a review of the three Plainispare releases in Volume 6, issue 4 of The Beat from 1987, Elizabeth Sobo wrote:

...From the Switzerland-based Plainisphare label comes three novelty albums, all recorded in Kinshasa, Zaire, between July 1984 and October 1985, and none of which bears much resemblance to the well-known Kinshasa sound.  
Ironically, the first of these is titled Kinshasa, by Kawende et ses Copains. This production is not consistently great, but it does contain two selections that deserve praise. "Ekusulu" is gentle, guitar-dominated folk music, made special by a youthful-voiced female singer who delivers the Lingala lyrics in a manner quite unlike her classy, professional counterparts in Kinshasa, but who projects an innocence that makes her one solo appearance on this lp truly memorable. "Eh Ya Ele" is reminiscent of some recent material from the Zairean group, Somo Somo, differing from the standard Kinshasa sound both in language - it is done only partly in Lingala by a male lead singer - and in its generous use of percussions. The nine tracks on this album offer a variety of music not found on many other collections (though most have an emphasis on drumming and folk guitar in common) and a mix of languages from south-central and eastern Africa.  
While the Kawende disk at least presents a glimpse of some uncommon but authentic Central African music, Ali and Tam's Orchestre Malo on their self-titled lp can make no such claim. The group is apparently named for its two principals: Aly Sow Baidy (whose name strongly suggests a West African origin) and Tamisimbi Mpungu. The languages heard on the album are no help in categorizing this effort, and the music's rhythms, instruments and vocals are an odd combination that gives no hint of a dominant regional influence. Two tracks, "Tcheko" (you can hear a few words in both Lingala and Swahili here) and "Anita," include some nice horn playing. And the vocal on "Sougmad" is definitely intriguing — in fact quite likeable —but with a sound that is more like Khartoum than Kinshasa. "Tshikona," an instrumental cut, is a low point, a senseless and unsatisfying Fela imitation. This record has little to offer except its originality and even that runs thin at times... 
...If these recordings suggest a trend towards the promotion of music from places we seldom hear, it is a welcome change indeed. But they also demonstrate some of  the pitfalls of "mixed" music, which often ends up representing no particular region or style...
I must say I disagree with this assessment! Ms. Sobo's writings in the The Beat were often informative but just as often infused with an intolerance toward any sort of African music that didn't fit her dogmatic conception of what "African Music" was supposed to sound like. Heaven forbid that Congolese and West African musicians might want to record together, or make music that doesn't represent any "particular region or style!" In my opinion this disc by Orchestre Malo succeeds admirably. In the years since 1986, Congolese music, at least the stuff we've heard, has become hopelessly formulaic. One wishes that the example set by this disc had been taken to heart and emulated more.







Download Malo as a zipped file here


Monday, April 29, 2019

Kinshasa Acoustic: Orchestre Sim-Sim International



Here is the second of three "unorthodox" Congolese albums released by the Swiss label Plainisphare in the mid-'80s. Nsimba Vuvu was a former associate of Manu Dibango and assembled Orchestre Sim-Sim International from members of a number of bands then extant in Kinshasa. Apparently their only recording, Nasiwedi (Plainisphare ZONE Z-4, 1986) continues the casual ambiance of the first album in this series, Kinshasa!, by Kawende et ses Copains (Plainisphare ZONE Z-1, 1984), which I posted a few days ago. Apart from one electric guitar, Nasiwedi is also acoustic and refreshingly casual in its approach, almost like a recorded jam session.

Researching this blog I often have occasion to consult my collection of back issues of The Beat, an indespensible magazine that was published in the US from the early '80s to the early 2000s. Volume 6, Number 4 from 1987 contains a rather dismissive review of the Plainsphare series by Elizabeth Sobo, who did admit to enjoying Orchestre Sim-Sim's album:

By far the best of the three Plainisphare contributions is the one by Orchestre Sim-Sim. Its opening selection, "Nasiwedi," combines Congolese guitars reminiscent of the Le Peuple productions of years past, highlife-style horns, sharp percussion, a fascinating, catchy beat and two rather ordinary (but adequate) male voices. Perhaps the best track and the one closest to contemporary Kinshasa music is "Sekele," a captivating dance number sung in Lingala. "Kokiko," another welcome addition to the album, is slower, with an East African flavor and alternating male and female lead vocals. 
Sobo seems to have a rather dogmatic view of how "real" African music is supposed to sound. As I noted about Kinshasa!, these three recordings, while different from the Congolese music we usually hear, are undoubtedly authentic and probably representative of a whole stratum of sounds that is seldom recorded. In a few days I'll post the final entry in the Plainisphare series, an album by Ali & Tam's and Orchestre Malo.

Orchestre Sim-Sim International - Nasiwedi

Orchestre Sim-Sim International - Eh! Ya Ya







Download Nasiwedi as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Kinshasa Acoustic: Kawende et ses Copains



Kinshasa!, by Kawende et ses Copains (Plainisphare ZONE Z1, 1984), was the first of three LPs released in the mid-'80s by the Swiss recold label Plainisphaire. These pressings, all recorded in Kinshasa, in the country then known as Zaïre and today as the Democratic Republic of Congo, are notable for sounding not really very much like what is generally perceived as Congolese music at all! This is no reflection on their authenticy, though. I'm sure they're quite typical of the sort of genuinely popular Congolese music that is never recorded, or recorded but not considered "commercially viable" outside of the country.

The sound here is loose and unpolished, probably recorded in one take. The musicians are not slick but all the more affecting for that. I don't know who Kawende and his group are as the liner notes give little information. I'm sure you'll enjoy this!

Kawende et ses Copains - Kinshasa!

Kawende et ses Copains - Tshura

Kawende et ses Copains - Sawande

Kawende et ses Copains - Ekulusu

Kawende et ses Copains - Mtoto Mpotevou

Kawende et ses Copains - Kabibi

Kawende et ses Copains - Eh Ya Ele

Kawende et ses Copains - Tshingoma

Kawende et ses Copains - Sosange Mosi

Download Kinshasa! as a zipped file here. I will soon be posting the other two albums in this series, Nasiwedi (Plainisphare ZONE Z-4, 1985), by Orchestre Sim-Sim International, and Malo (Plainisphaire ZONE Z-5, 1986), by Ali & Tam's avec l'Orchestre Malo.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Reggae Senegal



Barry Allama Boy is a musician about whom I've been able to find nothing, and I mean NOTHING, on the internet or anywhere else. This cassette, Medina Larabi, was recorded in Ivory Coast, but I believe he is from Senegal, probably from the southern Casamance region. I like this indigenous Senegalese take on reggae music and I hope you will too!







Download Medina Larabi as a zipped file here.


Friday, April 5, 2019

Music For Ramadan



I just realized that Ramadan this year begins the evening of May 5 and ends the evening of June 4. It's a little early, but I thought it would be nice if we could listen to some music from Nigeria that is intended for this auspicious occasion.

There are two terms for Yoruba Islamic music used to arouse the faithful during Ramadan: Ajísáàri and wéré. Ajísáàri refers either to the style of music or the person who performs it. Ajísáàri is usually performed solo and wéré by ensembles. Ajísáàri and wéré are performed by men. A related genre, wákà, is performed by women. These popular Islamic styles are percursors of secular fújì music, which is quite popular in Yorubaland. Christopher Alan Waterman discusses this music in his essential study Jùjú: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Musc (University of Chicago Press, 1990):

Extensive Islamic conversion led to the development of musical genres performed during Muslim holidays (e.g., Ramadan, Id El-Fitr) and ceremonies marking the return of pilgrims from Mecca (àláji, m.; àlájà, f.). One of the earliest of these genres was wákà, sung by women and accompanied by beaten sélí or péréṣéké, pounded tin discs with metal rings attached. Another popular genre, wéré or ajísáàri, was performed by groups of young men during the Ramadan fast to wake the faithful for their early meal. Both of these genres incorporated aspects of Islamic cantillation — nasalized, tense vocal quality, melismatic text settings, microtonal melodic embellishments, and Qur'anic texts — into performances guided by Yoruba musical values and techniques. Wákà and wéré were associated with the high status of Islam in traditional Lagos and the continued vitality of economic networks linking the Yoruba to Muslim societies in the northern hinterland. 
Today's musical offereing, Itan Anabi Muhammad (Leader Records LRCLS 61, 1987), is one of a number recorded by the youth group of the Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Lagos. The Society itself is a fraternal and educational association founded by Yoruba Muslim notables in 1923. It was a response to the ascendence of Christian elites and had a reformist conception of Islam which sought to reconcile it with modern ideas.

Ansar-Ud-Deen Youth (Lagos Branch) - Yatarikan Li Solathi / Itan Anabi Muhammad

Ansar-Ud-Deen Youth (Lagos Branch) - Alhamdu Lil'Lahi

Ansar-Ud-Deen Youth (Lagos Branch) - Latarkanana Ilal Ahwah / Eje Ka Ronu Eyin Araiye / Bi Al Ouyaoma Ba De

Download Itan Anabi Muhammad as a zipped file here.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Back to the Village



It's time for another deep dive into the world of "Igbo Blues"- real village music from southeastern Nigeria!

I know nothing about Goddy and Achinkwa and their musical group. This LP, Anya Ukwu Adiro Nma (Nigerphone NXLP 014, 1989), though, is one of the best examples of this genre I've heard, displaying the full panoply of traditional bells and percussion - ogene, onye ekwe, igba and the like. Enjoy!

Goddy na Achinkwa Musical Group - Uchicha Melu Ife Ebolu Oke

Goddy na Achinkwa Musical Group - Ezigbo Omume Akaka

Goddy na Achinkwa Musical Group - Anya Ukwu Adiro Nma

Goddy na Achinkwa Musical Group - Lagos Special (Ego Igwe)

Download Anya Ukwu Adiro Nma as a zipped file here.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Purloined Master Tape



Back in the early days of online file-sharing, the 1973 album Destruction (Orbitone OT 005) by the Nigerian group the Nkengas achieved legendary status, traded far and wide and included on numerous funky mixes. When an official reissue came out in 2013 (Secret Stash Records SSR-CD-293), fans could satisfy their cravings legally.

The Nkengas released one other LP, Nkengas in London (Orbitone OT 006, 1973), which I feature here. It's apparent even from a casual listening that this is a radically different recording than Destruction. Every song save one ("Asa Mpete Special") features the vocals of the great highlife superstar Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe.

What's going on here? The story, as best I can piece it together, involves a number of sessions in London in the early '70s, which produced some of Osadebe's most beloved recordings. At some point in the process members of Osadebe's backup band, the Nigeria Sound Makers, led by Victor Okoroego, defected, taking a master tape with them and marketing it as Nkengas in London. Destruction, on the other hand, is pretty much pure Okoroego save for one track, "London Special," with Osadebe on lead vocals.

After Nkengas in London the group changed its name to the Ikenga Super Stars of Africa, who were to achieve fame and fortune with a number of chart-topping hits. "Asa Mpete Special" on Nkengas in London features Pele Asampete on vocals. This is a slightly reworked version of  the Osadebe hit "Ezi Ogelidi" from the album Egbunam (Philips 6361024, 1972). Asampete later left the Ikengas and did another version of this tune, "Ezi O Goli," on his solo LP (Rogers All Stars RASLPS 043). Pop/highlife star Chris Mba did still another remake in the early 1990s.






Download Nkengas in London as a zipped file here.