Sunday, July 1, 2018
The two stalwarts of Ghana highlife, Pat Thomas and Ebo Taylor, have both been experiencing career revivals lately, thanks to new recordings and reissues of old material. As a team - with Taylor as guitarist and arranger, and Thomas contributing his golden voice - they've been together on and off for more than fifty years. I've written about Pat Thomas and posted his music before. Ebo Taylor has recorded with all manner of Ghanaian musicians as well as being a session musician for the very influential Essiebons label.
Today's offering, Oye Odo (Dannytone 002, 1984), recorded in Ghana and mastered in the Netherlands, showcases these two giants at their peak. Enjoy!
Sunday, June 24, 2018
Kenya's Maroon Commandos have been featured here on Likembe a couple of times. In March I posted their LP Mwakarabishwa na Maroon and more than ten years ago a great 45 by them, "Liloba."
The Maroons are the offficial band of the 7th Kenya Rifles of the Kenyan Army, based in Langata Barracks, Nairobi, and were led for many years by Habel Kifoto. Composing and singing lead on many of their biggest hits, including "Liloba," was bassist Laban Ochuka, who at some point hived off and formed his own band, Ulinzi Orchestra, who give us today's musical offering, 1991's Sina Uwezo (Polydor POLP 610). From the very sketchy info I've been able to dig up on the internet, Ulinzi also have some affiliation with the Kenyan military. Google Translate (not always dependable, I know) renders "ulinzi" as "protection." Maybe it could be "defense?" So if the group is army-related, that would make sense.
Ulinzi in this album go for a more forward-facing, disco-inflected sound than the Maroons. I don't know about any other recordings by them, but they seemed to be extant for a number of years after Sina Uwezo and may still exist. Ochuka left the band in 2003 to sing gospel music, but returned in 2005. Sadly, he passed away in 2006 and was laid to rest at his home in Bunyore, western Kenya.
Download Sina Uwezo as a zipped file here.
Sunday, June 17, 2018
The sensational quintet, Dade Krama are storming Britain's major cities with their soothing, sometimes cheering or even inciting, yet elusive ancestral music of Africa. At the time I caught up with them on their travelling programme, they had already enlivened London, Leicester, Leeds and Birmingham. I decided to find out what their fans in Manchester had been missing.
...Dade Krama were ready like the artistic warriors they are to take on the old industrial city... "Enua num na adofo (brothers, sisters and fans)...Dade Krama." The group promptly launched into an Asafo war song, "Ena ena-aa, ena ena, aboa bi seo-o djata bi seo-oo..." - an order for the thumping charge of Atumpan, Atsemevu, Prempensua and other percussive instruments all in martialled formations. The music finished in a screech...
...Word got around that the great big-band highlife maestrro, E.T. Mensah was in the audience (he is in Britain for a medical check up). The next song had to be dedicated to him: "Wo se gye shun noni ete- noni eba-ye" - "we've come from afar, what has gone, what has come we endure." The song was so heavy-handedly nostalgic that it made one want to reach out for a steaming meal of kenkey, a giant hairy-legged land crab steamed to a red-brick colour with hot Kpakpo shitor (pepper). A bottle of real unadulterated akpetechie would have been great!
By now the audience had unravelled into a crowd. Whistles, catcalls and general uproar drowned the handclaps. In the intermission the group was assaulted with goodwill...
I spoke to Nana Tsiboe and Dada Lamptey: what strategy did the group have in getting across the ancestral music of Africa, considering that Western audiences may find the instruments, lyrics of music strange? "We believe, and to some extent have found out that only by the use of a creative format on the basis of a traditional platform can our music develop. For a long time African musical instruments, for instance, developed without the interruption of Western instruments. With regards to the lyrics, our songs could not be sung in English - the feelings come across with minimal translation.
"...People hesitate to appreciate the proper context within which our music is realized. I can only comment on what we are doing in the sense that we try as much as possible to project our African culture so that it is appreciated in a proper perspective. We are now more than a music group, we are a way of life. Our music fits into our way of life - it is a lifelong thing. It demands, we are aware, a very delicate kind of exposure, care, thought and presentation."
What is Dade Krama's position on blacks here in Britain and elsewhere in the West? "It is essential for every black to know he or she is black. We try to advance this basic consideration through the medium of our music - that is total glorification of our own musical culture."
In the light of existing arguments here in Britain for a sound basis for Black Arts heightened by Kwesi Owusu's book on this, The Struggle for Black Arts in Britain (Comedia; 1986, ₤14.95) what contribution is Dade Krama making? "We've worked a lot within the struggle for Black Arts here. We have participated in concerts, workshops, etc, to popularise Black Arts. But we are only making our art. It is the system that creates the struggle. We can appreciate the fact that African people must have arts in this country but nothing will be given to you without a fight...
"...There are African people fighting and infiltrating on other levels - we can help by producing .a very bigh level of our art and linking up. It is like a call to all black people to say, hey look this is what you are made up of!"
Will the group continue to be im England? "No, presently England needs to be used to popularize our music. It is also important to make our music audible. We have to rely on the technology of this part of the world.
All members of Dade Krama have backgrounds in Western music or have used Western instruments. When was the break? "It is the instruments that broke us - we can't rely on electric current to make music for our audience. It is only efficient musicians who can play African music. In getting together, we all had the same interest and decided to share our instruments communally. "
You make your own instruments? "We make some of the instruments like Gonje, Brekete and Gai. We attempt to repair our damaged instruments and in the long run make them ourselves."
How is the group's debut record faring? "The'LP is three weeks old. We would say it has sold to a fair percentage of' our audience at performances. Also response in the form of write ups, and radio interviews has been great."
Dade Krama comprises: Nii Noi Nortey - former saxophonist and flautist with Misty in Roots and African Dawn; Nana Tsiboe - formerly with Jazz Africa, High Tension and the Afro-Rock group Ojah (which he led); Dada Lamptey - a filmmaker/graphic designer (he designed the sleeve of Dade Krama's new album), who played with Watusi and Eneaben V; and Kweku Gabrah, who worked with the highlife group. Carousel 7 and has since been a sought-after session percussionist. Afari Aboagye, a professional agricultural economist, administer them.
When the lights of our ancestors dimmed, the crowd called for more. Afari routinely pleaded with them to come back. They did, but not with instruments: they formed a circle and with sleight of hand clapped a tune from our youth: Sasakroma (the hawk) out of each other's hands in the ecstatic manner of a group that had had a truly successful evening.
Brilliant!Dade Krama's uncompromising approach to their music was admirable at a time when many African musicians felt the need to "cross over" - water down their art in hopes of commercial success. Probably for that reason their following was somewhat limited. Discogs lists only two releases by them - Ancestral Dance (Round Music ROCD 9601), which came out in 1996, and their debut, the one we're going to hear today, 1986's Ancestral Music of Africa (Akoben AK1). Descriptions of the songs are taken from the above-cited article by Kofi Hagan Jr.
Dade Krama - Tete Nantye
"...Using the Mbira (hand piano), Gonje, rattles, etc., Dade Krama performed 'Mutani N'Africa' - a Hausa tune and 'Magana Chiki' in a medley..."
Dade Krama - Mutani N'Africa / Magana Chiki / Aninwula Dagbon
Dade Krama - Inkululeko / Ye Azania
"...'Touba,' a mobilizing arrangement employing the use of Atenteben (flutes) and percussive instruments in an increasingly rapid rendition of a Northern Ghana tune..."
Dade Krama - Touba
"...'Brothers, sisters and fans, two years ago Reagan invaded Grenada and stifled the revolution. A few weeks ago he dropped bombs on Libya with the assistance of Thatcher. Two days ago with the knowledge of Reagan and Thatcher South Africa invaded Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe...We dedicate this song to all freedom fighters.' Wild cheers of approval from the audience. The song, 'Alkebu Lan,' - the original name of Africa, started with a bee-like droning sound from a pipe horn. Then the solitary whine of the Algaita - the instrument snakecharmers use, reared its lethal head and gave a lightning strike at the real cradle of State Terrorism. The recurrent sombre thums of the Brekete and Fomfomfron drums merely beat a warning to weakened hearts..."
Dade Krama - Alkebu-Lan
Dade Krama - Kronkohinkoo
Dade Krama - Adowa
Dade Krama - Wo See Dze Shonn
Dade Krama - Anukuo Nsele
Download Ancestral Music of Africa as a zipped file here. A few words on the inscription "Direct Metal Mastering" that appears on the sleeve. This technology appeared in the waning years of the analog era, probably in competition with digital recordings, which were then appearing on the market. I'm generally unconvinced that analog recordings are superior to digital (at least these days; a lot of the early CDs did sound awful!), but this record makes a good case! I was struck by its remarkable clarity while digitizing this disc. Something to look for if you're really into vinyl records! For more information on the process check out this Wikipedia article.
Sunday, June 10, 2018
I promised this one a while back, and here it is! Tanzanian/Kenyan superstars Les Wanyika give us another scinitillating slice of Swahili Rumba, 1989's Nimaru (Polydor POLP 598). Nothing much to say about this one, so I'll let the music speak for itself. Enjoy!
Les Wanyika - Nimaru
Les Wanyika - Mama Watoto
Les Wanyika - Mumu Wangu Waniteza
Les Wanyika - Shemeji Agnes
Download Nimaru as a zipped file here.
Monday, June 4, 2018
Ghanaian highlife superstar Alex Konadu, or "One Man Thousand," was the subject of a previous post here on Likembe, and the indefatigable Moos over at Global Groove has a wealth of recordings by him. Sadly, since our last visit with him Mr. Konadu passed away on January 18, 2011. A Ghanaian website had this to say about him:
....Alex Konadu was born in 1950 at Adwumakase Kese in the Kwabere No.3 District of Ashanti. Konadu started singing at an early age, and became the leader of the Kantamanto Bosco Group before moving on to the band of the well-known Kwabena Akwaboah. He honed his artistic skills there after three years moved to the Happy Brothers Band.
After two years Kwabena went 'solo' for some time, composing and practicing until he invited Mr. A.K.Brobbey -record dealer and producer- to listen to his rehearsals and he got signed and Brobbey organised a band. With their new, very uptempo guitar Highlife they had instant succes.
His ability to draw crowds wherever he went gave Konadu the appellation "One Man Thousand." Withstanding the vicissitudes of fame and fashion, and staying true to his vision of pure, unadulterated highlife music, he became an inspiration to Ghanaian musicians for years. While Konadu issued many wonderful recordings over the decades, Asaase Asa is still considered one of his most noteworthy achievements.
The 1976 album Asaase Asa (Brobisco KBL 016) was a breakthrough hit for Alex Konadu, establishing him as Ghana's foremost exponent of "roots highlife." The title song was based on a true story about Mr. Asaase Asa, who lost both his wife and sister when they were killed by a falling tree. It is dedicated to all who have lost their loved ones. Alex Konadu carved a special name for himself dedicating most of his songs in praise of the dead and his music is a must-play at any Ghanaian funerary.....Today I present an Alex Konadu record that I haven't seen on any of the other African music sites, recorded during a Canadian sojourn - 1992's Da Bi Wo Behunu (BlackSounds RTLP 003). This is classic Konadu - Ghana highlife stripped down to its propulsive, infectious essentials. Enjoy!
Alex Konadu - Da Bi Na Wo Behunu
Alex Konadu - Agya Ata Wuo Part II
Alex Konadu - Pa Pa No No
Alex Konadu - Yen Anya Aba Na Yen Ko Ye Mu
Download Da Bi Wo Behunu as a zipped file here.
Wednesday, May 30, 2018
We conclude our overview of DiscAfrique's Zimbabwe Hits compilations with Volume 3 of the series - Advance Kusugar! (DiscAfrique AFRI LP 006, 1988). Some of the biggest names of late '80s Zimbabwe music are here, and some lesser-known talents as well.
Jonah Moyo founded Devera Ngwena ("Follow the Crocodile") in 1979 to entertain the workers at Mashaba Asbestos Mine, which became their sponsor. Their combination of Congolese rumba and indigenous sounds immediately became a sensation, the group waxing numerous singles like "Solo na Mutsai," "Taxi Driver" and many others, including this offering, "Karekita"."What's your problem? Love can't be bought. It floats like the wind."
Explorations of the mbira, or thumb piano, by Master Chivero, about whom I've not been able to find anything. "Get on your bike and go after the sweet one. Marry her and do not lose her."
R.U.N.N. Family was made up of members of the Muparutsa family. The song is a tribute to the then-recently-departed President of Mozambique, who died in a plane crash under suspicious circumstances, probably the work of South Africa. He is compared to other African freedom fighters: "Someone keeps stirring and heating the pot. [Herbert] Chipeto, [Steve] Biko and now Samora Machel. They kill our friends. We can only pray to God and remember the inheritance of Samora Machel. Our life is the struggle."
Here are the Jairos Jiri Band, whom we remember from Take Cover!, the first volume of Zimbabwe Hits. "Chiedza is so beautiful. Her face is like a snake's egg. The sun is rising and she is my morning. I love her and will marry her."
More friends from Take Cover! "Business in town. 'Father, my business has failed. I do not want to steal. I will join the service economy. The gift of business, alas, I did not have it."
"Nehanda, the grandmother of the ZANU people prophesied that one day they would rule themselves in a happy and free Zimbabwe."
"Ndicheni" is possibly in the Chewa language, and might be about a woman who abandons her children to go drinking in town.
"Mother, father, welcome your son. I have killed a buck and a kudu."
"I love you more when you are happy."
"Speak! Talk! Say what you have to say. The disadvantages of polygamy. How many women can you offer the sun and moon? How many wedding dresses will you spin from the flowers and trees? Will they believe you and how do you expect to be treated? Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned."
"Friend, the beer hall or the church? Choose your road. Remember that to drink is a sin against God."
Download Advance Kusugar! as a zipped file here. Researching this post I found the book Roots Rocking in Zimbabwe by Fred Zindi (Mambo Press, Harare, 1985) very helpful. Descriptions of the songs were provided by the liner notes of Advance Kusugar!.
Thursday, May 24, 2018
We continue our exploration of the rockin'sounds of '80s-era Zimbabwe with Goodbye Sandra, the second volume of the Zimbabwe Hits series (DiscAfrique AFRILP 05, 1988). In contrast to the first outing in the series, this one features only four artists, but they're all great. Let's go!
We remember John Kazadi from Volume One of Zimbabwe Hits - Take Cover! John was originally from Lubumbashi, Congo, and here covers the lovely song "Le Bucheron" by the Congolese singer Franklin Boukaka. "Evoking the ancestors and those who died for liberation. It's time to enjoy the fruits of freedom and rejoice.":
Many reading this need no introduction to Oliver Mutukudzi. Apart from Thomas Mapfumo, he's probably the best-known Zimbabwean musician in the world, and no wonder - his deep, soulful voice is unparalleled. "Nzara" recounts the hunger and suffering during a drought:
During the Zimbabwe War of Liberation musician Simon Chimbetu fled into exile in Tanzania, where he joined the Zimbabwe African National Union and entertained its troops in exile. Shortly after Independence he joined with his brother Naison to form the Marxist Brothers. The brothers split in 1988, Simon forming the Dendera Kings and Naison forming the Gee 7 Commandos. In "Goodbye Sandra" the singer is bidding adieu to his foreign girlfriend and returning home to Zimbabwe:
The Sungura Boys were the band of John Chibadura (John Nyamukoko). Chibadura was born in 1957. Orphaned at an early age and forced to abandon his schooling, he worked a number of menial jobs before distinguishing himself on the guitar and founding the Holy Brothers with his friend Shepherd Chinyani. After a number of personnel and name changes the group became the Sungura Boys. At some point (either 1983 or 1985) John left to form his own band, the Tembo Brothers. Sadly, John Chibadura died in 1999. "Soweto" is "a song about suffering, pain, hardship and death in the struggle for freedom":
"Love is blind. If only it could stay that way."
"Africa" is "about the liberation of all Africa as the struggle for decolonization continues":
"A disease that has killed the singer's sister and uncle now afflicts his grandmother. Leaving the city to join her, his train breaks down":
"Tungamira" is about a young friend "who dies without a chance to say goodbye. He is asked to lead the way to heaven (or peace)." I will be posting more music by Oliver Mutukuzi on Likembe in the future:
A sarcastic song about Abel Muzorewa's hapless "Zimbabwe/Rhodesia" regime, which held sway for only a few months before Independence in 1980. "How can a country possess two names?" I will be posting more music by John Chibadura on Likembe in the future:
A dub version of the opening tune:
Download Goodbye Sandra as a zipped file here. Researching this post I found the book Roots Rocking in Zimbabwe by Fred Zindi (Mambo Press, Harare, 1985) very helpful. Descriptions of the songs were provided by the liner notes of Goodbye Sandra.
Friday, May 18, 2018
Take Cover! Zimbabwe Hits Vol. 1 (DiscAfrique AFRI LP 01, 1986), and its sequels, Goobye Sandra: Zimbabwe Hits Vol. 2 (DiscAfrique AFRI LP 05, 1988) and Advance Kusugar! Zimbabwe Hits Vol. 3 (AFRI LP 006, 1988) capture a magic moment in African music - the optimistic years immediately after Zimbabwean independence in 1980. Thomas Mapfumo and the Bhundu Boys are familiar artists from this period, but these collections highlight musicians who aren't as well-known outside of Zimbabwe. I'm pleased to offer Take Cover! today, with the other two volumes to follow soon.
The Jairos Jiri Band has been one of the leading musical congregations of independent Zimbabwe. It is the official orchestra of the Jairos Jiri Rehabilitation Centre, which for six decades has worked to to rehabilitate and integrate into society Zimbabweans with disabilities. All of the members of the band are "disabled" in one way or another, and Paul Matavire, who led the group for a number of years, was blind. Matavire left the band in 1995 and died in 2005. Following a period of inactivity, the Jairos Jiri Band was recently revived under the leadership of Stewart Njodo."Take Cover" refers to the privations Zimbabweans suffered during the bitter struggle against white minority rule:
Ephat Mujuru (1950-2001) was well-known to African music aficionados in the US, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, where he was resident for many years at the University of Washington in Seattle, lecturing and teaching the mbira (thumb piano). Mujuru founded his first musical group, Chaminuka, in 1972, renaming it Spirit of the People after the fall of the Rhodesian regime in 1980:
The Family Singers, led by Jonathan and Shuvai Wutawunashe, were a leading Zimbabwean gospel group of the '80s. "Tarira Nguva," their first single and a smash hit, shows the clear influence of American country-western music. Shuvai Wutawanashe sings, "All Christians must work hard to uphold Christianity, as the devil is working hard to destroy us.":
The O.K. Success had their origins in Congo, but since their arrival in the former Rhodesia in 1960 they have become thoroughly Zimbabwean, both in personnel and in the subject matter of their music. The lead singer of "B.P.," James Chimombe, got his start with Thomas Mafumo's Acid Band before moving on to O.K. Success, and later recording with the Huchi Band and Ocean City Band. In 1990 he became the first prominent Zimbabwean musician to die of AIDS. The lyrics: "To err is human my friend. We all make mistakes at some stage in our lives":
Over on the Electric Jive blog Tony Hunter describes his first encounter with Africa Melody: “...I had a friend who lived in Kwe Kwe and I stayed with his family. There was a band that’s sound captivated me. Africa Melody was led by a guy called John Kazadi who I think came from Lubumbashi [Congo]. The few references to the band describe it as sungura music but to me it had less of rhumba feel and at times more of country rock sound with the guitars right upfront...." "John Waenda" is about a widow whose husband died, leaving her no money to look after her children:
Born in the late '30s, Safirio Madzikatire ("Mukadota") became well-known as a comedian with his own radio program, "Mhuri Yekwa Rwizi." He soon transitioned to making music with various musicians, including the Brave Sun Band, led by his son Elijah, the Mukadota Family and this group, the Sea Cottage Sisters. In this song a man named Dickson apologizes to his girlfriend for letting her down and begs her to take him back:
In this song, a man named George leaves his long-time girlfriend for a nurse who buys him a car:
I'm not sure if there is any relationship between this Super Sounds and another group called the Ndolwane Super Sounds. In "Chipendani" a young man inherits a fortune from his father but soon squanders it. To survive he is forced to make his living as a herder:
A tribute to the late Jairos Jiri, founder of the Jairos Jiri Rehabilitation Centre, which has worked for six decades helping disabled individuals who have been abandoned by their families:
BBC Radio host John Peel described The Four Brothers band as "the best live band in the world." From 1977 to the early 2000s they were a mainstay of the Zimbabwe music scene, finally succumbing to the death or disablement of the founding members. There have been efforts to revive the group, with limited success. "Wapenga Nayo Bonus" decries the practice of people spending their yearly bonus unwisely:
"Katarina" was one of the biggest hits in Zimbabwe during the '80s. A young man desires to leave his home because everyone is jealous of his relationship with a beautiful dancer named Katarina. Later he decides he will ignore the gossip and stay at home:
Enjoy this video of Mukadota and the original "Katarina":
"Amayo" is in Chewa, a language spoken in neighboring Malawi. A young man objects to the woman his mother has picked for him to marry:
Download Take Cover! Zimbabwe Hits Vol. 1 as a zipped file here. Researching this post I found the book Roots Rocking in Zimbabwe by Fred Zindi (Mambo Press, Harare, 1985) very helpful. The translations of the lyrics are taken from the US edition of Take Cover! (Schanachie 43045, 1987).
Saturday, May 12, 2018
Nigerians are known for songs extolling their mothers, notably Prince Nico Mbarga's famous "Sweet Mother." In honor of Mothers' Day 2018, here is Mamma (Ivory Music IVR 057), a cassette by jùjú maestro Dayo Kujore, who was featured a few months ago on this blog. Enjoy!
Dayo Kujore - Toju Yeye / Iya Lolugbowo Mi / Omo Unmoti / Iya Mi Ose / Mother
Dayo Kujore - Fi Wa Jomi / Oruko Jesu / Awa De / Darling My Lover / Fans' Rhythm Special
Download Mamma as a zipped file here.
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Ọdun Nlọ Sopin, by the Good Women Choir, has been one of Likembe's most popular recent downloads, at least according to Mediafire. Now brace yourself for some more feel-good Yoruba gospel music from Nigeria, this time courtesy of Sister Dunni Olanrewaju, or as she is often known, "Opelope Anointing," after her biggest hit.
Sister Dunni was born December 2, 1960, in Alabata, Oyo State. She was called to the gospel at an early age, as her father was a cathechist and her mother a Deaconess in Christ Apostolic Church. She began singing in the choir at age 9, and dropped out of secondary school to pursue her passion for music, much to the consternation of her mother.
Dunni Olanrewaju & Golden Voices - Ayo Re Mbo
Download Ayo Re Mbo as a zipped file here. Unfortunately the sound quality of this cassette is not the best. I hope you will agree with me that the quality of the music outweighs this technical limitation.