A few readers of this blog may have noticed that I’ve not done my usual ‘end-of-year’ round up of the year’s favourite ten albums. 2013 has been a tough year on several fronts and there were times when I didn’t listen to much music. Or, when I did listen I didn’t pay much attention. I was distracted by the necessities of the daily round. So there wasn’t a lot of music that sprang quickly to mind when I looked back over the past 12 months.
But to celebrate the passing of (almost) of the Year of the Black Snake (as referred to by the Chinese zodiac) I’ve collected 30 songs from Africa that I’ve really enjoyed since last January. A bit of old mixed in with several contemporary African sounds.
Happy New Year! And thanks for visiting The Washerman’s Dog.
01 Apako Nyingi [Joseph Hellon] A bit of Swahili jazz to open the account. Joseph Hellon is a Kenyan Jazz musician who was due to be a presidential candidate in the 2013 Kenyan Presidential candidate for the PlaCenta Party of Kenya which is under the leadership of Quincy Timberlake. As well as being a well known live performer in Nairobi’s jazz scene he teaches music. Get it on: The Great East African Trip.
02 Arm1 X (Auntie Flo Remix) [Auntie Flo] Brian d’Souza aka Auntie Flo hails from Goa by way of Glasgow, but now resides in London where he is a resident for Huntleys & Palmers and Highlife. He mixes his own beats on top of African music as well as creating his own Afro-Euro-Asiatic sounds. Get it on: 14 Tracks Afro beats
03 Atomic Bomb [William Onyeabor] 2013’s African re-discovery sensation. Biafran tribal chief, filmmaker, synth-music pioneer and reclusive retiree. Very little is known about this man except that he had a great gift for music before turning it all over to the Lord. Get it on: Who is William Onyeabor?
04 B’Oba Ya L’Oni [Rev. Zinsou et les Black Santiago] A deep Beninese laid back religious track from the mid-1970s. Ignace de Souza founded Black Santiago in Accra in 1966 and at the Ringway Club was an early ‘founder’ of Afrobeat with Fela Kuti and Geraldo Pina. He returned to his native Benin in the 70s where Black Santiago continued to make music with local and Ghanian musicians. De Souza is credited with importing Congolese soukous to Benin. Alas, little is knowable about the Rev. Zinsou himself. Get it on: USS Sound Vol. 1
05 Bamayo [Paul Ngozi] Paul Ngozi, born Paul Dobson Nyirongo, was a popular Zambian musician. He rose to the top of the Zambian music scene in the 1970s and 1980s. He first became popular as the band leader of the ‘Ngozi Family’, a band which made a mark as a top local rock group and was one of the first groups to have its music classified as Zamrock. That unique African style is exemplified by this guitar driven groove. Get it on: The Ghetto
06 Bamba Version [Jeri Jeri] Jeri-Jeri is the stunning, spectacular collaboration between the renowned Berlin-based producer Mark Ernestus and a griot clan of Sabar drummers from Kaolack / Senegal, led by Bakane Seck, along with guest mbalax musicians and vocalists — including many mainstays of the bands of Baaba Maal, Youssou N’dour and more of the country’s leading musicians. Get it on: Ndagga Versions
08 Circle Circle Circle [Occidental Brothers Dance Band International] Chicago’s Occidental Brothers Dance Band International plays classic Central and West African dance music-specialising in soukous, Highlife, rumba, dry guitar and other delights from the great continent. The multi-racial band mixes their backgrounds in traditional African music, jazz and underground rock to bring these classic sounds to life. Get it on: Odo Sanbra
09 Dholey [Dur Dur Band] A Somali pop/rock band from Mogadishu, now settled in Ohio. “In the beginning, we used to sing and dance with American music, and later on, we decided to shape our own music in such a way that it is comfortable enough for people to dance with it — for people to enjoy it.” Shifting gears paid off: The band’s unique pairing of Somali songs with the rhythms of Western funk and soul made it a crowd favorite in Mogadishu. Sahra Dawo one of the band leaders, says one song in particular, Dooyo, could be counted on to whip the room into a frenzy. Get it on: 14 Tracks Afrobeats
11 Doomou Ndeye [Pepe Fall et l’African Salsa] Legends of Senegal, Pepe Fall et l’African Salsa have played and promoted Afro-Cuban sounds on the continent for 50 years. This is a lively number that takes us on a tour of West Africa. Get it on: Artisanat
12 Esin o wewu [Roy Chicago and his “Abalabi Rhythm” Dandies] A top Highlife band from Nigeria in the 1950s and 60s. Unlike his contemporary Victor Olaiya, Chicago infused his music with Nigerian rhythms and talking drums. Winner of the 2013 Best Band Name! The man never got within 1000 miles of Chicago! Get it on: Afro Rhythm Parade 5 featuring Roy Chicago and his “Abalabi Rhythm” Dandies
13 Feqer Aydelem Wey [Dub Colossus] Nick Page – aka Dubulah – first travelled to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa in 2006 to collaborate with musicians and explore traditional Azmari styles, 60s Ethiopian pop, Ethiojazz and 70s Jamaican dub reggae. There he came across some amazingly talented artists – female vocalists Tsedenia Gebremarkos, a fine, soulful performer and highly successful African pop star, and Sintayehu ‘Mimi’ Zenebe who runs a nightclub in Addis and has been described as ‘Ethiopia’s Edith Piaf’, extraordinary young pianist Samuel Yirga, veteran saxophonist and jazz exponent Feleke Hailu and Teremage Woretaw, a traditional folk singer, an azmari, an exponent of the one-stringed messenqo violin – Dub Colossus was born. Get it on: Addis Through a Looking Glass
14 Flowers Of The Nation [Jonas Gwangwa] A majestic anthem of African pride. Jonas Mosa Gwangwa (born 1941 in Orlando East, Soweto) has been an important figure in South African jazz for over 40 years. He first gained significance playing trombone with The Jazz Epistles. After the group broke up he continued to be important to the South African music scene and then later abroad. In the 1960s he began to gain notice in the United States and in 1965 he was featured in a “Sound Of Africa” concert at Carnegie Hall. The others at the concert included Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, and Letta Mbulu. Despite that, he was not seen favorably by the apartheid government so left his homeland in the early 1970s. Get it on: Music Safari: The Best of South African Jazz
16 Hwe hwe mu na yi wo mpena [K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas] An icon of Ghana’s music explosion of the 1970’s, K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas released several albums that fused James Brown and Fela Kuti and Highlife. Groovily infectious. Get it on: K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas
17 Injuria [Jose “Zeca” Neves] Not much is available about this Cape Verdan crooner which is a pity. But this song drips with that Luso-African lacksidasical feel. Get it on: Putamayo Presents Cape Verde
18 Komokosaka Te Na Basi [Jojo with Orchestre OK Jazz] Rare soukous from 1960s Kinshasa, at the time one of THE happening musical cities on the globe! Get it on: The Sound of Kinshasa: Guitar Classics from Zaire
19 Lil Lil Ya Sidi Aamara [Hamid Zahir] Hamid Zahir does not play the oud of spacious, thoughtful taqasim or subtleties of touch. This is jamming, percussive, rhythmic, driving oud, and nobody does it to death like Mr. Zahir of Morocco. Hamid Zahir got his start playing on the Djemaa el Fna plaza in Marrakech. If you subtract the oud from the mix here, you’re left with your basic Marrakchi dkitikat percussion band: darbuka, ta’rija, bendir, and to turn up the heat, some qarqaba’s. Zahir‘s oud playing fits right in with the non-stop call-response propulsion of this type of music. Get it on: Hamid Zahir EH 1099
20 Liwa ya wech [Franco et le T.P. OK Jazz] Early 60s recordings from the seminal Congolese band TP OK Jazz, led by guitar wonderman Franco. The influence of Cuban Rumba sounds were still strong in this early soukous music. Liltingly lovely. Get it on: OK Jazz Authenticite 1
21 Lokoko [Thu Zahina] In the late 1960s a new wave swept over Kinshasa’s music scene which went on to flood the whole of Africa with the style of guitar music now known as soukous. Thu-Zahina were the group responsible for that upsurge and the missing link between the classic and the new rumba. This is rumba on the cusp, as the stately big-band style is infiltrated by the raw groove of folk and funk before being overwhelmed by orgiastic solo guitar licks. Comprised of college students aged between 17 and 19, Thu-Zahina made their debut in 1968, giving them two years’ headstart on Zaiko Langa Langa whose career they helped launch. The Congo-Zairean rumba culture was based firmly on the two strands evolved by Franco on one hand and Kabasele/Rochereau on the other. Add to these ingredients the instrumentation and dynamic presentation of American rhythm and blues and the wildest excesses of Western rock, with the cosmopolitan influence of Los Nickelos and the result is a refreshingly raw and energetic sound. In the six years of their existence Thu-Zahina instigated a total revolution in the most exciting genre of African popular music. Get it on: Coup de Chapeau: The New Wave hits Kinshasa 1969-74
22 Long Street [Dva, Big Space] Long Street features a collaboration with South African producer Big Space, and echoes the sound of early UK bleep and bass with a stern melody, breaking down into swirling Detroit-like chords, while shuffling along on a crisp, scissoring rhythm. More exciting sounds from 2013 Africa. Get it on: DVA Fly Juice
24 Marcelo Tozongana [Max-Sinatra & l’Orchestre Veve] A funky Congolese band that came together in the wake of James Brown’s 1971 African tour. Max Sinatra was a pseudonym for Bonghat Tshekabu and this version of the band morphed into a smash Trio Madjesi after the leader of l’Orchestre Veve sacked Sinatra and others.
25 Maria Tebbo [Sam Mangwana] Sam Mangwana is one of the last of the great Zairean soukous vocalists. A former member of such seminal groups as Tabu Ley Rocherau’s Africa Fiesta and Franco’s TPOK Jazz, Mangwana has steered soukous from the hard-edged sounds of his predecessors. While his former employers were the masters of the relentless, springy, soukous music of Central Africa, Mangwana employs a lighter, more acoustic, more Caribbean, sound. Get it on: Maria Tebbo
26 Mariama [Rokia Traore] Rokia Traoré is an award-winning singer, songwriter and guitarist, born in Mali. Her father was a diplomat and she travelled widely in her youth and was exposed to a wide variety of musical influences. Members of the nobility, such as Rokia, are discouraged from performing as musicians, even though there exists a strong griot tradition among her people. Rokia attended lycée in Mali while her father was stationed in Brussels and started performing publicly as a university student in Bamako. Unusually for a female musician in Africa, Rokia plays acoustic guitar as well as sings, and she uses vocal harmonies in her arrangements which are rare in Malian music. In 1997, she linked with Ali Farka Touré and won an Radio France Internationale prize as “African Discovery” of 1997, an honor previously won by Mali’s Habib Koité in 1993. As well as guitar she plays ngoni (lute) and balafon. Get it on: Bowmboi
27 Mutoridodo [Hallelujah Chicken Run Band] The Hallelujah Chicken Run Band is legendary as the group in which Zimbabwean musician and activist Thomas Mapfumo got his start. Founded during the brutal, racist colonial regime of Rhodesia, the group came together when the white-owned Mangura Copper Mine hired them as a pick-up group to perform for exhausted miners at the end of their shifts. This music evolved in chimurenga, the so-called ‘soundtrack of the Zimbabwe Revolution’. Get it on: Hallelujah Chicken Run Band Take One
28 N’hoca [Tony Von] Another slice of Luso-African pie from the Angolan Tony Von, about which so little is known at least by people outside of Angola. Apparently still active (up to a few years ago) in various festivals. Get it on: Soul of Angola: Anthologie de Music Angolaise 1965-1975
29 Save Me [Docteur Nico] Nicolas Kasanda wa Mikalay popularly known as Docteur Nico, was one of the giant pioneers of soukous. He graduated in 1957 as a technical teacher, but inspired by his musical family, he took up the guitar and in time became a virtuoso soloist. At the age of 14, he started playing with the seminal group Grand Kalle et l’African Jazz, led by Joseph “Grand Kalle” Kabaselle. He became an influential guitarist (Jimi Hendrix visited him while on tour in Paris), and the originator of the ubiquitous Congolese finger-picked guitar style, acquiring the nickname “Dr. Nico“. African Jazz split up in 1963 when he and singer Tabu Ley Rochereau left to form L’Orchestra African Fiesta, which became one of the most popular bands in Africa. He withdrew from the music scene in the mid 1970s following the collapse of his Belgian record label, and made a few final recordings in Togo, not long before he died in a hospital in Brussels, Belgium in 1985. This selection is completely oblique, sung in English in a garage rock style. Get it on: Docteur Nico et l’Orchesta African Fiesta
30 Sabah Lala [Group Doueh] Group Doueh play raw and unfiltered Saharawi music from the former colonial Spanish outpost of the Western Sahara. Doueh (pronounced “Doo-way”) is their leader and a master of the electric guitar. He’s been performing since he was a child playing in many groups before finally creating his own in the 1980’s. Doueh says he’s Influenced by western pop and rock music especially Jimi Hendrix and James Brown. His sound is distorted, loud and unhinged with an impressive display of virtuosity and style only known in this part of the world. His wife Halima and friend Bashiri are the two vocalists in the group. Saharawi songs are from the sung poetry of the Hassania language. The music is based on the same modal structure as Mauritanian music, however, Doueh’s style is a looser appropriation infused with a western guitar scope, one that relies, in his words, as much on Hendrix as it does traditional Sahrawi music. Get it on: Group Doueh Guitar Music from the Western Sahara