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2012 – Reviews


African jazz in 2012: a glimpse of the future

Reviews archived from intuition online:

The Best of 2012

A series of articles about archaeology in African jazz

Archaeology: the biggest thing since bebop - Part one

Archaeology: Bantous, Tutu, Tete and Ellyngton - Part two

Archaeology: the new paradigm in jazz - Part three

book review:  “Africa speaks, America answers: modern jazz in revolutionary times” by Robin DG Kelly (Harvard University Press)

Jazz at the South African Music Awards

Lágbájá! knocks Femi and finds redemption in Fela

The best since Dyani

Congolese jazz part 1: Koffi Chante Lutumba

Congo 2012 Part 2

Unathi’s smokin’ hot kwai jazz

To see recommended recordings for 2012 click here

African jazz in 2012: a glimpse of the future

It’s been a busy year for African jazz. There were far more releases than in previous years. Compare, for example, the categories for saxophonists or piano/keyboards with the volume of releases in 2011 and 2010. The extent of knowledge about African jazz is increasing too as demonstrated by a quantity of recent books. Best of all, the quality of much of the music on offer has been excellent. What does this all add up to and why is it happening? What it adds up to is the stirrings of a paradigm shift in the world’s thinking about jazz. All of a sudden, it is the US jazz scene that is beginning to look ever so slightly parochial as the global jazz establishment slowly awakens to the fact that Africa is the real centre of the contemporary jazz world and may actually have been so for quite a while As one of the year’s best newcomers, Liberia’s Kojato, puts it in one of his songs:  “There is no jazz without Africa.” There are myriad new reasons why this revolution in the world’s thinking about jazz is gathering momentum, which include:

The previous ,often appalling, ignorance about the genesis and history of Africa’s jazz over the last half-century and more is rapidly fading and as people around the world actually start to hear and understand this wonderful music their appetite for it can only grow.

The overriding reason why this music is doing so well is that the truth about how good it is has begun to take hold more widely. Africa is moving towards becoming the centre of the world’s jazz scene where, arguably, it should have been for decades. It’s a truth that once glimpsed, can't fail to become more widely acknowledged.

Another question worth asking is: what specific trends were evident in 2012? The following are noteworthy:

The most notable trend is the predominance among the best recordings of older musicians and an ongoing fascination with and rediscovery of the glories of the past. Examples include fine releases from Les Bantous de la Capitale, Tete Mbambisa, Le Poète Lutumba Simaro, Moreira Chonguica and above all Getatchew Mekuria  This trend was explored in a three part article on this site about the theme of archaeology. Respect and veneration for elders and ancestors is a great hallmark not only of today’s African jazz; rather, it is part of the very fabric of the continent.

This trend is a major factor in the fabulous array of newcomers and rapidly rising younger stars, such as Herbie Tsoaeli, Lágbájá, Zamajobe with  Mpumi  Dhlamini  Shane Cooper, Concord Nkabinde, Erik Aliana, Tutu Puoane, and  Ferre Gola who are documented in the reviews below and this site’s annual roundup of recommended recordings.

Another trend is the rise of Ethiopian Jazz. In the twinkling of an eye, it has become the second type of African jazz, after afrobeat, to become truly global. The plethora of new music by artists around the world is astonishing. There are Ethio jazz acts not merely in Paris, London and the USA but in Japan, Australia, etc. too and the music is rapidly shifting from hip to mainstream. Francis Falceto’s two CD compilation “noise & chill out: Ethiopian groove worldwide” is a masterly introduction to this trend and demonstrates again what magnificent ears he has.

How long will it be before the same happens to Congolese jazz which was, for many decades, the dominant form of jazz across most of Africa? One could answer that it might happen just as quickly as has happened with afrobeat and Ethio jazz, but afrobeat traditionally has lyrics in English and Ethio jazz can be mainly or entirely instrumental. The emphasis on singing in Lingala in Congolese music make it more difficult to learn, copy and understand. On the other hand, the Congolese and their music’s devotees would argue that it’s more distinctively African than any other form of African jazz, as well as being an addictive and profound type of music which, once it finally catches on, is likely to come as a tidal wave that changes the landscape for the long term. There's also the issue of Franco: whose talent and achievements are so momentous that one can either say he is one of the greatest jazz musicians of all  or not a jazz musician at all. It doesn't help that his back catalogue is so vast that it's virtually impossible for us ordinary mortal or even great scholars to really get to grips with his legacy. In this respect he can be compared to Duke Ellington, the obvious difference being that Franco’s big band boasted numerous Billy Strayhorns.

Other notable trends in 2012 have been:

Of course, not everything that happened in the year is part of a trend and 2012 had its share of memorable one off releases too such as a mere “200 Million Mumu” and extraordinary live performances on DVD by Ray Lema in Brazil, Mbongeni Ngema’s mammoth musical about apartheid,  Albert “Dede” Nsounga’s solos and the guest appearances by Victor Ntoni and the Soul Brothers' organist Black Moses with  the gifted and remarkable single-handed DJ Black Coffee. It's also difficult to imagine a better clutch of releases by Southern African trumpet players (Lwanda,Gogwana. Peter Nthwane  and the peerless Bra Hugh Masekela), Sadly, 2012 will also be remembered for the deaths of some fine musicians, notably Ndombe Opetum whose track "Mawe" every self-respecting African jazz lover ought to hear, but ,all in all, it’s been a marvellous year for African jazz which can only whet the appetite for 2013.

Finally, looking forward to 2013 and beyond, it’s worth pondering another question. What does all the above mean for the future of jazz, especially in its revered African American heartland? Is the rise of African jazz an opportunity or a threat? The best answer to this question can be glimpsed in the glut of new fusion recordings , such as Ablaye Cissoko and  Simon Goubert’s excellent  “African Jazz Roots” which despite its rather misleading and slightly pretentious title is a genuinely innovative and forward-looking encounter between cutting edge jazz and Africa’s classical music..For the performers who participate, such projects offer a journey of musical delight and wonder. Another great place to start would be Robin DG J Kelly's wonderful book, "Africa speaks, America answers" which is about the relationship between jazz and Africa in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.For the more determined and adventurous , such a journey can surely also become an opportunity to contribute to the process of healing the deep wounds which caused the diaspora in the first place. This, perhaps, is the key challenge facing contemporary jazz. 2012 suggests that deep musical archaeology followed by open-minded and well informed creativity  is the way forward. Certainly, the ancestors will prepare a hero's welcome for the musician that achieves this - singing drums and talking horns that speak the truth and heal our planet’s wounded  soul.

December 2012

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Reviews archived from intuition online

The Best of 2012

It isn’t possible to say yet what is the best new African jazz release of 2012 for the simple reason that new releases are still coming out thick and fast - so that question can’t be answered definitively just yet.

I It is possible, however, r to assert with reasonable certainty that the best release of the year is Franco’s CD/DVD set ““En Live Les Annés 80” which was briefly reviewed on this site earlier in the year. This CD/DVD set is actually a reissue of a televised concert from about 1982 which marked Franco’s return to his hometown of Kinshasa after a lengthy stay in Europe. The set first appeared on DVD in 2005 as “Concert Inedit De Grand Maitre Luambo Makiadi des Années 80” on the same French JP Djamba label who are responsible for the current reissue which now also features several of these tracks on CD for the first time. Even in 2005, it wasn’t quite true to say that this material was previously unreleased. One song had appeared on CD ten years earlier: Franco’s composition “Kinshasa Mboka ya Makambo" (Kinshasa: Town of Problems) in which he pledged allegiance to his native city and publicly denied  rumours that he had earned his wealth by  trafficking marijuana into Europe Moreover, much of the same footage was released on a rival  DVD at about the same time (2005 or perhaps 2004) on the Salulumu Productions label with the title “Les Mervailles du Passe; Franco et le Tout Puissant OK Jazz Live.” It is also highly probable that some or all of this material had already been released on VHS often referred to in Francophone Africa as “K7”.

 The sound and picture quality of the new version are better than the Salumu version but perhaps not quite as good the initial JP Djamba DVD. On all versions there are blips in the sound and picture and the electric bass guitar (that of the great Decca Mpudi) is barely audible. Even so, for the most part the sound and picture quality are better than many contemporary Congolese DVDs and the accompanying CD which features about two thirds of the material on the DVD reproduces the same sound and is serviceable.

The track listings on all these releases are woefully inaccurate and this is compounded on the latest DVD by the fact that the order of the tracks has also been radically changed. In the rest of this review therefore the songs will be described in the order which they first appeared so that the listener can try to reconstruct the performance as Franco intended.

Following this logic it is best to start by playing tracks 10 to 14 on the new DVD the first of which is “Beyou” sung by Wuta Mayi which builds into a superb sebene (fast paced guitar driven chorus) which prompts a broad smile from mi solo guitarist Thierry Mantuika Kobi Kobi and ends with the band shouting in unison “Pajos:  lithe name of the superlative kit drummer Ntoya Fwala Pajos. By the end of the song it is apparent that the band, T.P.OK Jazz featured a six piece horn section (3 trumpeters,  two tenor saxophonists - one of whom was presumably the Zimbabwean born OK Jazz stalwart Isaac Musikewa - and the superlative Dele Pedro on alto, who takes the lion's share of the solos); an array of front line vocalists; the fabulous Gerry Dialungana on lead guitar; rhythm guitarist (initially Gege Yoka  Mangaya) a conga player and innumerable dancers. The next track (11 on the new DVD) is “Youyou” superbly composed and sung by the unmistakable Ndombe Opetum who died earlier this year in Kinshasa after singing with the band for 37 years.

Track 12, “Visi” is a duet between Wuta Mayi and a great Josky Kimabukata whose appearance signals that the show is really starting to warm up and the next track (13) “Manguta” (aka “Elongi ya Cherie”) composed by Nguashi N'timbo and sung by Josky is a full on crowd pleaser. This beautiful composition had been a major hit for Nguashi N'timbo and T.P.OK Jazz - indeed, it is probably its composers second greatest work after his phenomenal “Shari Yako” which remains today one of the best loved jazz standards in all Africa.

This treat is followed by another just as good because the next track (14) is “Liyanzi ekoti ngai na motema (Mouzi),” composed and sung by Ntesa Dalienst, is one of that great artist’s best. Note however that it is not his “Bina Na Ngai Na Respect” as stated on the DVD’s  track listing.

By this stage, the audience, the viewers and those hearing and seeing these wonderful performances for the first time are wondering if this show can possibly get any better. Then, the lights go down and the enormous figure of Franco appears in a a single spotlight for the first time. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic entrance and the mood of the music changes completely. Franco sings his new song slowly and with sparse accompaniment. The effect on the studio audience is spellbinding: he is alternately able to make them cheer and roar with laughter at the will. Then Franco, unquestionably Africa’s greatest ever jazz musician, asks for his guitar. His brown Fender is duly produced and he plays a staggering solo. No wonder this track, which is the first on the new DVD, was selected to appear on the “Rough Guide to Franco” compilation: “Kinshasa Mboka ya Makambo” is a work of pure genius, especially when seen and heard, like this in its original context.

Franco carries on playing guitar on the next three tracks too alongside Thierry Mantuika Kobi Kobi and Franco’s second-in-command, vice president Le Poète Lutumba Simaro who replaces Gege on rhythm guitar. The next track in the show (2 on the new DVD) is an up-tempo number “Proprietaire” composed and sung by Josky who is at his most electrifying. The next track (3) is the best known in the set: Franco’s hit composition “Locataire” sung as a duet with Josky together with more superlatives Franco guitar.

Franco’s final appearance at the show is as a guitarist on “Mamba” sung by Djo Mpoyi whose voice that day stood out as the best and most beautiful among T.P. OK Jazz’s dazzling array of vocalists.

It will astonish viewers and readers alike to learn that Franco felt no compulsion to reappear on stage for the final climatic four tracks of this historic performance but the truth of the matter is that he was right. Le Tout Puissant Orchestre Kinois Jazz (which roughly translates as the omnipotent jazz big band of Kinshasa) was so great that they didn’t actually need Franco on stage. Veteran vocalist Lola Checain’s performance of his composition “Meka Okangama” (track 5) whipped the tension back up to fever point and then Simaro, the best composer in the band, had his turn to present a song. He has Djo Mpoyi sing the best composition of the set “Mandola” in a manner that makes the hairs on the back of one’s neck stand up. The horn section is at its best in this superb number too. Dele Pedro’s alto is beautiful but it’s the way that all the horns play together that makes this the best horn section in all African jazz. When they play together they don’t play in unison: rather they improvise collectively making a sound of unparalleled richness, beauty and excitement.

In the final three numbers (track 7, 8 and 9 on the new DVD), the band romps home with Gege reverting to rhythm guitar and Ceskin Molenga,  who has alternated with Dessouin on congas, taking over on kit drums. “Heretier” (track 9) is one of Ndombe Opetum’s greatest creations; Wuta Mayi’s “Avant Droit” (track 10) still sounds like the hit that it was and the closer (track 10), sung fittingly by the great Djo Mpoyi is singer Diatho’s superb anthem “Bolingo ya Moitie-Moitie.”

The accompanying CD is not long enough to accommodate all the songs on the DVD which is nearly 2 hours long. Confusingly it also places the tracks in a different order. The ten tracks which appear on the CD correspond with the following tracks on the DVD and appear in the following order: 3,6,8,14,2,7,4,11,12,13!

Those wanting to hear studio versions of these tracks, complete with audible electric bass, are advised to check out the following Franco CDs where most of these songs can be found: “En Colere” Vol 1 & 2 and “3eme Anniversaire de la Mort du Grand Maitre Yorgho.”

The secret of Franco and T.P.OK Jazz’s omnipotence was that their band was better than everyone else’s in every department, making the job of jazz critics selecting the best release of the year ever so easy. From the advent of the LP in Africa in the 1960's until his death in 1989, the best African jazz release of the year was simply the best OK Jazz release of the time. It is hard to imagine any band on any continent in any genre replicating the extraordinary dominance that Franco and OK Jazz had in Africa during these decades.

Things aren’t quite that easy any more Ed, but one of the best of 2012 new recordings is undoubtedly the veteran Ethiopian saxophonist Mekuria Getatchew’s two CD set “Y’Anbessaw Tezeta” with the avant-garde Dutch punk rock band The Ex and friends. The new album which forms the first of these two CDs is probably his best since 1972’s classic “Negus” which was reissued about a decade ago as volume 14 of the Ethiopiques series   Anyone doubting Getatchew’s importance and stature is advised to listen to “Shellelle/Fukera” on the bonus CD that accompanies “Y’Anbessaw Tezeta” which features Getatchew performing in the early 1960's with Addis Ababa’s legendary Police Orchestra. After listening to the track, ask yourself a question. How would John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, etc. have reacted if they’d heard this track at the time? The answer is simple: they would have fallen to their knees in wonder. Getatchew would have been hailed as a genius and today’s jazz world would be quite different. But Getatchew remained virtually unknown outside Ethiopian circles for the remainder of the 20th century and it is only recently that the wider jazz world has begun to appreciate his astonishing achievements.

Getatchew’s explanation of what he does is equally simple: he plays Ethiopian music on the saxophone and was the first person to do so. This explains why his music sounds so organic and organised: what Getatchew gives us is not merely a new voice for the saxophone. He gives us an entire language with vocabulary, syntax, grammar, idiom, the lot. The effect when hearing him for the first time extraordinary because it is inconceivable that anyone operating in the African American jazz tradition could have invented anything so breathtaking in its scale and ambition. And because virtually no one outside the Ethiopian community was aware of this music until relatively recently, he didn’t influence anyone outside the Ethiopian community. Now that his music is emerging in the wider world, its effects are likely to be little short of cataclysmic: no self-respecting student of the saxophone will be able to ignore what this man has done.

Even in African jazz there is no saxophonist or horn player of any sort that has created anything remotely as fresh and important as Getatchew has. Even Kippie Moeketsi who is revered above all other South African jazz musicians did nothing on this scale. In fact it is virtually impossible to compare the two musicians whose styles of playing developed in complete isolation from one another. Kippie is credited with bringing bebop to African jazz but this would surely have happened anyway. His real achievement was to develop a voice for his alto sax and clarinet that expressed eloquently and sometimes with almost unbearable beauty the plight of his people under apartheid. Although undoubtedly a drunkard and a misfit , Kippie  was an enormously inspirational influence in South African jazz and a genuine figurehead for the music at home and abroad. His remarkable story, the trials and tribulations he faced and the gorgeous music he gave us mean it is likely that he will always be regarded as South Africa’s greatest jazz musician. But his impact outside South Africa is still largely unrecognised because it was mediated through the musicians that chose to work abroad in in exile, such as his fellow Jazz Epistles (especially Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and Abdullah Ibrahim) and the Blue Notes (notably saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and the pianist/bandleader Chris McGregor, both of whom had also worked with and revered Kippie).

By contrast, Getatchew doesn’t appear to have influenced anybody outside Ethiopia in the last millennium because no one had heard his music, but all that is changing now as Ethiopian jazz rapidly becomes part of the broader global jazz idiom. In the long run his influence and importance may well prove greater even than that of Kippie Moeketsi.

Musically, Getatchew has always had an adventurous and free spirit. He may not be as articulate as fellow Ethiopian Mulatu Astatke but he knows exactly what he’s doing and always has done as is evidenced in his earliest recordings. In the Dutch punk rock outfit The Ex he has undoubtedly found a kindred spirit. The whole point about punk was that it was bold: its proponents were people who weren’t afraid to say exactly what they thought and felt in their music, in their dress sense and in their politics. Their attitude and ethos is as potent and relevant today as it always has been as is witnessed by the impact that the all-female Russian punk band Pussy Riot has had both in Russia and beyond. In The Ex, Getatchew has found musicians that he can get on with. In the lengthy and excellent sleeve notes that appear with their various releases and in the interviews that form part of the “Ethiopunk “DVD the members of The Ex reveal that they feel a strong affinity with the boldness and sincerity of Ethiopian music. They also reveal themselves to be serious, knowledgeable and respectful followers of the Ethiopian music scene. Best of all they’ve now been playing with Getatchew for many years and it shows. One way or another they have learnt to play together extremely well. In this task one suspects that the fact that they are not lumbered with the difficulty and complication of reconciling what they do to the broader jazz tradition and the various conventional ways of playing jazz saxophone, has been an incalculable advantage. Together they make “Y’Anbessaw Tezeta” an unforgettable album.

Finally, our good Editor asks: who is the best newcomer of 2012? In African jazz, this is a straightforward matter this year and the answer is: Lwanda Gogwana, a South African trumpeter, composer and arranger, whose first solo CD “Songbook Chapter 1” was reviewed on this site earlier in the year.

1 December 2012

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Archaeology: the biggest thing since bebop - Part one

The wonderful new book "Africa speaks, America answers: modern jazz in revolutionary times" by the African-American revisionist historian Robin DG Kelly which is reviewed elsewhere on this site this month exemplifies a growing trend in African jazz: archaeology. The trickle of books, reissues musical tributes and documentary films that has sustained interest in Africa’s 20th-century jazz has now swollen to an unstoppable torrent. This, the first of  three articles on this theme, focuses on the music of Anglophone West Africa and Lusophone Africa.

The single biggest site for excavation in this trend, and indeed a key stimulus for similar endeavour right across the continent, is the life and music of Fela Kuti who's previously unreleased two CD set "Live in Detroit 1986" features mammoth versions of some of his most ambitious works.

Honest aficionados will quietly let on that an enormous proportion of Fela’s work isn't all that good. Much of his work was ephemeral, long winded and/or consisted of jokes that weren't quite so funny second time around. He is an artist who is best appreciated by listening to a good compilation rather than by ploughing through the complete works. Conversely, Fela’s best work is worth its weight in gold because when on song he was absolutely phenomenal. Into which category does "Live in Detroit" fall? The two CD set consists of four extended tracks spanning two and half hours. The recording was originally made as a bootleg and never intended for release. The sound, ‘though acceptable, is less than perfect. It was recorded, presumably by a member of the audience, onto C 90 cassette tape. Thankfully, the machine must have been a good one and the tapes were well looked after. The only obvious flaws in the sound are PA hum during Fela’s spoken introductions and slightly compromised top end which masks some of the subtleties in the percussion. That aside, the sound is pretty good and could be described as Mid Fi, better for example, than most contemporary Congolese DVDs. The music and performances are of a good standard throughout with notably good solos by Y.S. Akinibosum on tenor sax and Nwokorma Ukem on flugelhorn who form part of a magnificent horn section led by bandleader/baritone saxophonist Lekan Animashaun. The greatness of this baritone saxophonist, who joined Fela in the 1960's and still leads Egypt 80 today, now fronted by Fela’s youngest son Seun, is on display throughout this 1986 Detroit show.  Whenever Fela loses his way in these vast, complex songs, as he was apt to do at times under the influence, no doubt, of the large amount of cannabis the sleeve notes tell us he used that night, Animashaun can be heard blowing loudly on his baritone and steering the Egypt 80 juggernaut back on course.

Better still is Animashaun’s baritone when leading his horn section in call and response with Fela’s vocals. Here, Animashaun demonstrates that the most frequent criticism of Fela and Egypt 80, stemming , for example, from Michael E Veal’s otherwise definitive book on Fela, i.e. that the band and its soloists lacked virtuosity and finesse, misses the point. Critics revere saxophonists like Lester Young for the manner in which they could talk with their horn and that is exactly what Animashaun does. The difference is that between the conversation at a dinner party and a huge guttural roar of approval. No one in jazz has done the latter better than Lekan Animashaun and his thrilling horn section.

So far so good, but where do these four previously unreleased performances stand in Fela’s canon? A review in the New York Times of another concert in the same tour, read out to Fela by his young manager Rikki Stein in the documentary movie “Fela-Fresh from Africa,” singled out "Beasts of No Nation" as the standout number at that concert. Listening to the version on "Live in Detroit," it's easy to see why. In "Beasts of No Nation," Fela lampoons authoritarian politicians whose human rights record he compares unfavourably  with that of animals. In doing so he speaks and sings with the authority of someone who is experienced in the worst that authoritarian regimes can do to their citizens, notably, in this instance, to Fela’s mother who died of injuries sustained when thrown out of the window of his home by the Nigerian military. Fela,  just out of jail in 1986, was a veteran of numerous police beatings, assaults and blatantly unjust legal proceedings. No one ever sang protest songs with greater authority as this  performance “Beasts of No Nation” attests His performance and that of Egypt 80 are superb. This is Fela at his fabulous best. The power chord with which he finishes this number and the show simultaneously mocks and surpasses all his contemporaries in jazz, rock and African music and provides the definitive answer to those who complain that Fela and Egypt 80 lacked finesse. Was this Fela's finest hour? Perhaps not,  but "Beasts of No Nation“  is a dam fine 40 minute work which ought to be required listening for devotees and novices alike.

Antibalas, the longest lived of the Afrobeat revivalist bands are back with a beautifully packaged eponymous CD on the Daptone label. A sticker on the cover announces that this recording represents an attempt to go back to their roots. In practice this means they sound more like Fela’s much loved Africa 70 than ever. This is a great sound but the problem for Antibalas and all such revivalist bands is that their music pales in comparison to the original because the core combination of Fela and drummer Tony Allen in Africa 70 was so innovative and so strong that it is difficult to see how it can ever be bettered.

This was Fela's big problem in Egypt 80: that everything they did was compared unfavourably with what had come before. Tony Allen’s problem, post Africa 70 has been even worse. The sad truth is that much of his solo career has been a letdown. He can play his unmistakable Afrobeat drum sound standing on his head with his eyes closed and most of the time, in most contexts, he sounds bored and the musicians performing with him sound over awed as do the critics who review the recordings thus perpetuating what has turned into a vicious circle of mediocrity. His latest outing on the Ghanaian veteran highlife guitarist Ebo Taylor’s “Apia Kwa Bridge”CD is a case in point. The best tracks on the CD are those without a band, just featuring Taylor singing highlife and playing electric guitar. For a much better picture of Ebo Taylor, hunt down the recent two CD compilation of his material from the 70's and 80's titled "Life Stories".

Happily, Tony Allen has a far stronger release out this year in the form of "Rocket  Juice  & the Moon" which is a trio consisting of Allen ,  Flea on bass and that archetypal archaeologist of all things African, Damon Al barn on various 1970's synthesisers, etc. There are also guest appearances from the likes of Mali’s  Cheick Tidane Seck, Fatou Diawara, etc. Tony Allen is no stranger to working with British rock aristocracy.Hhe's been doing so for five decades right back to Ginger Baker, circa 1970. On this occasion the combination works: Allen sounds razor-sharp, switched on and fully in tune with the challenging music going on around him and his fellow musicians sound like they have sufficient talent and big enough egos not to be overawed by this great legend of a drummer. The result, to these ears at least, is one of Allen's most convincing post Africa 70 outings: right up there alongside his appearance on Manu Dibango’s "Negropolitaines Vol 2” album and his work with  the Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin.

Leaving archaeology to one side for a moment, another fine Afrobeat release is the debut recording by London based  Nigerian songstress Funmi Olawumi “Funmi Ti De” which features the cream of London's Nigerian musicians. The involvement of  Executive Producer Barbara Pukwana, widow of the legendary South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana, has long been a hallmark of quality in London's African jazz scene and this fine release is no exception. Funmi’s sound incorporates elements of juju, gospel and Congolese music as well as Afrobeat. The standard of musicianship especially that of the backing singers, numerous drummers, guitarist Lekan Sobiyi and alto saxophonist Mike Aremu is first rate as are many of Funmi’s compositions and her strong, earthy singing.  Her lovely, mellow “Mo Dupe,” “To Ba Di Lola”and the title track/dancefloor work out “Funmi Ti De” that closes the album are standout tracks. This is one of the best debuts in African jazz in 2012 so far and is highly recommended.  Funmi’s approach to reviving Afrobeat is much more promising and enjoyable than Antibalas and Ebo Taylor’s backwards looking “roots” approach which at times can be akin to looking to archaeologists discoveries in glass cabinets in a dusty old-fashioned museum.

Back in Fela’s Africa 70's heyday all was forward-looking and one of the most interesting branches of African musical archaeology is the work of vinyl junkies digging up long forgotten artefacts from the past. Much of what they unearth was justly forgotten at the time and is now only of interest because of its rarity value but occasionally the vinyl junkies unearth something genuinely interesting. “Projection One,” a forgotten 1973 album by the Ghanaian funk/rock/Afrobeat five piece band Edzayawa is a good example. Edzayawa were hired by Fela to work at his famous Lagos nightclub, The Shrine, as his support and listening to the album and its fresh music it’s easy to hear what it was Fela liked. This is a reissue worth listening to.

Lusophone Africa offers exciting opportunities to musical archaeologists of all kinds. Burkina Faso’s music especially has never been widely known .A new compilation of Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou “Bariba Sound 1970 – 1976” with the record label Analog Africa’s customary gaudy packaging and indigestible sleeve notes, opens a door on the music of northern Burkina Faso of that era. But the best and most sought-after Lusophone African release of the year will surely be Moreira Chonguica’s “Khanimambo: Tributes to Legends of Mozambique, Vol 1.” This gifted Mozambican saxophonist/ ethnomusicologist,  features a dozen of his country’s greatest artists n “Khanimambo” in new performances that are beautiful and accessible in equal measure. No wonder this recording was nominated for Best African Album at this year’s South African Music Awards cementing that country’s long love affair with Mozambican jazz and no wonder Moreira Chonguica currently works with Manu Dibango. Here is a talent to watch.

In fact, “Khanimambo” is one of the best releases of 2012 and a fine example of archaeology at its best. All over Africa, the great jazz of the past is being dug up, dusted down  and shown off to the world. As a result, the wider jazz world is slowly waking up to the fact that African jazz has been the biggest thing since bebop for well over half a century.

Next month, this archaeological survey will spread its wings across South African and Congolese jazz featuring artists such as the legendary veteran pianist Tete Mbambisa.

1 September 2012

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Archaeology: Bantous, Tutu, Tete and… “Ellyngton” - Part two

This second of three articles about archaeology in African jazz covers recent releases that exemplify this trend in Congolese and South African jazz. The archaeologists under consideration come in many shapes and sizes: there are experts, scholars, loggers, record collectors, older musicians proving just how good they are and younger ones eager to discover, reinterpret and draw inspiration from the past and, above all, an enthusiastic global audience, hungry for newly unearthed treasure.

n this regard, one recent Congolese release, Les Bantous de la Capitale’s “50 Ans” (DVD) stands head and shoulders above the rest involving, as it does, some of the finest older and younger musicians from Congo Brazzaville brought to us with the help of an expert in the field. The brief sleeve note by Clement Ossinonde, author of “Les Bantous de la Capitale: Les Rois de la rumba Africaine – Chronologie des 48 ans d’existence” explains that this previously unreleased concert footage was filmed in 2009 on the outskirts of Paris to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of this great jazz band, the oldest in Africa. Of the six distinguished elderly musicians depicted in photographs on the front cover, only one, Chef d’orchestra Jean-Serge Essous who died later that year appeared at the concert but the DVD also contains interview footage of many current and former members including the great saxophonist Nino Malapet whose death in January may well have prompted the issue of this fine release.

Jean-Serge Essous’ achievements are unparalleled: he was not only a founder member of Les Bantous de la Capitale but also of OK Jazz and, in a career dating back to the early 1950's, was one of the few musicians to have played with both the grand masters of Congolese music Le Grand Kallé (Joseph Kabasele) and Le Grand Maitre Franco (Luambo Makiadi). He also influenced a generation of Caribbean musicians as a member of the small band Ry-Co Jazz. For a fuller account of his distinguished career, see the study published this year by Joachim E. Goma-Thethet and François Roger Byhantot who are both academics at Brazzaville University. Essous’ pedigree and reputation didn’t necessarily mean that he could still make great music. Sadly, many outings by musicians of his age turn out to be empty exercises in nostalgia but happily this marvellous recording is an exception. Bantous de la Capitale’s performance is a revelation which shows that this great band could make much better music than their disappointing 2007 studio CD “Bakolo Naboka” suggested.

The circumstances were not auspicious. Surprisingly, for instance, there was little sense of occasion presumably because this concert was preceded by a more glitzy show at the Paris Olympia attended by Essous’ former colleagues Papa Noel and Manu Dibango along with the cream of the capital’s Congolese jazz fraternity including, , Josky Kiambukata, Dino Vangu and Ballou Kanta. By contrast, this follow-up date, held in a brightly lit sparsely attended venue which looks like a disused warehouse, doesn’t look like an event that could produce great music but Les Bantous de la Capitale hadn’t been in the business for 50 years for nothing and, undeterred, their musicians put in a sterling performance.

As at the heart of all truly great jazz bands, the core of Les Bantous’ sound lies in a superlative rhythm section. Rhythm guitarist Alphonse “Mpassi” Mermans who joined the band in 1963 explains in the accompanying interview that his style of playing is inspired by his predecessor Papa Noel and, when praised to the skies and asked how he composes such lovely music, he is self effacing and lost for words explaining, that he composes the arrangements with his guitar, plays rhythm accompaniment and loves the solos. Throughout the concert one senses that Mermens is the chief source of beauty in the music. Its propulsion, however, undoubtedly derives from drummer “Ricky” Siméon Malonga who, by contrast, is anything but self-effacing in his interview asserting that he joined the band in 1966 and, perhaps controversially, that he was the very first musician to use a drum kit in Congolese rumba. “Ricky” Siméon doesn’t look like the sort of person to pick a quarrel with, but when he has drum sticks in his hands, who would want to? Like Mermans, he is unquestionably a master musician and it isn’t difficult to hear why the band has employed him decade after decade. He doesn’t just swing- he swings the entire band and the audience too. His determination to delight and keep the dance floor moving is as self-evident as his success in doing so.

The pivotal position of bass player is occupied by Joseph “Ellyngton” Elenga who joined in 1991 and who, according to his interview, finds his primary inspiration in the work of the great OK Jazz bassist Decca Mpudi. Mermans’s subtle, sophisticated rhythmic patterns and gift for melody combined with Siméon’s emphatic swinging style leave little room for “Ellyngton” to create anything as distinctive and instantly recognisable as OK Jazz’s bass lines but it is his intelligent playing that make Les Bantous’ rhythm section coherent. Rather like his illustrious namesake, the great Duke, who was famous for his ability to get the best out of contrasting players and meld their playing into something melodious and unforgettable, this similarly thoughtful and diplomatic “Ellyngton” is able to meld “Mpassi” Mermans’ and “Ricky” Siméon’s contrasting styles into a sound that listeners never tire of hearing .This superb rhythm section is complemented by the subtle playing of veteran percussionist Robert Massengo on congas and by a mysterious guest bassist sporting yellow shoes and a tobacco pipe who appears on a couple of numbers.

The rhythm section is complemented by a fine horn section consisting of Samuel “Sammy” Malonga on trumpet who’s been with the band since 1969 and tenor saxophonist Franck Nkodia, an alumnus of Ntessa Dalienst’s Grand Maquisards,who has the unenviable task of making up for the loss of both Essous’ alto sax and Nino Malapet’s tenor. Three singers, joined by Essous himself on a couple of numbers, have the job of interpreting the various jewels on display from Les Bantous’ extensive songbook. Lambert Kabako, who joined in 1972, sings solo beautifully on his composition “Osala Ngai Nini” and is also composer of the lovely “Julie” which features delicate interplay between all three vocalists and gorgeous guitar work. Simon Mangouani, who joined a year later in 1973, stands centre stage throughout and seems to play a role analogous to “Ellyngton” in the rhythm section . Newcomer François “Fregh” Ganga (2006) features heavily in the Cuban style numbers such as “Guajira y Camara” maintaining the the band’s long-standing strength in the Afro Latin department. More than anything else perhaps, a band of this calibre requires supremely gifted soloists. One of the marvels of this extraordinary release is that the stars of this particular show were both younger, virtually unknown players. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us because a band that can thrive for five decades simply has to have an ability to renew itself, to constantly refresh and reinvigorate its sound. Most certainly, that is exactly what keyboard player Faustin Nsakanda and lead guitarist Albert “Dede” Nsounga do. Many lovers of Congolese jazz have come to dread the presence of a keyboard player and it must be said that, at times, Faustin Nsakanda emulates the dreadful cheesy synthesised sound of his peers, but whenever he sets his instrument to sound like an acoustic piano, he emerges as a fine player who will delight and surprise listeners. The star of the show, however,is Albert “Dede” Nsounga who, on the evidence of this recording, is a leading light in the new generation of Congolese jazz musicians. In the interview featured on the DVD he speaks reverently about his predecessor “Gerry” Gérard Biyela who played lead with Les Bantous from 1964 until 1988 and explains that his guitar parts are very difficult to play. Nsounga’s diligent archaeology exemplifies the trend that grips jazz scenes right across sub-Saharan Africa and in his case the results are little short of amazing: intricately interwoven with Mermens, yet seemingly effortless with mesmerising fluidity and eloquent solos that seem to float free like clouds above a landscape and elicit pure joy. He and Mermans are musicians of the very highest standard and together they will have you returning to this disc again and again.

Certainly, Les Bantous and their star soloist, Albert “Dede” Nsounga, keep the dance floor moving. Looking at the audience that night, it is noteworthy that it consisted almost entirely of middle-aged Africans who presumably form the hard-core of Les Batous’ Parisian fan base; who have adored this institution of a band all their lives and couldn’t miss the opportunity to see their idols perform live. This glorious and groundbreaking DVD offers a unique opportunity to see and hear the oldest jazz band in Africa from their perspective. Given the high quality of the music, it is an opportunity that should grasped with both hands. This is, without doubt, the best and most important African jazz release of the year so far By contrast, Le Poète Lutumba Simaro Massiya's new DVD “Show Noël.” featuring a largely new lineup of Bana OK, seems a humdrum affair. For a start, it is terribly sad to see him perform without Ndombe Opetum, the great veteran singer and composer who worked with Lutumba for 37 years until his death this year. Also the show is very low-key compared to Koffi Olomide’s recently released, extravagant and superb two-volume “Chant Lutumba” (2 X CD/DVD sets). Worse still, editors of the footage have inexplicably faded out most of the songs before the all-important sebenes and whoever was in charge of the sound allowed the keyboard player to drown out the promising looking three-piece trumpet section at almost every opportunity. On the plus side,Lutumba, as is his want, has hired promising new singers and, delightfully, a female lead guitarist who plays well on a cover version of the Mbilia Bel/Tabu Ley standard “Kenya.” Better still, and despite the fact that Lutumba must be the most filmed jazz musician in Africa, this DVD offers an unparalleled opportunity to see and hear him playing his ever crisp, elegant rhythm guitar because, unusually, he remains on stage and participates almost throughout. This invites comparison with Mermans and it is striking that their careers and the roles they have played in their great orchestras since the early 1960's follow remarkably similar trajectories and that both are supremely gifted. A 30 minute interview in Lingala completes the DVD and will delight the more serious archaeologist.

If one survives, or better still skips, the irredeemably dire "Saturday night fever" lyric on the first track,Mose Fan Fan’s “Musicatelana” (CD/DVD set) will deliver just that and is the best style jazz Congolais studio album since Mbilia Bel’s "The Queen." Fan Fan’s Franco-esque lead guitar is at its best throughout and is ably aided and abetted by several fellow OK jazz alumni: Malage de Lungendo on vocals and three saxophonists: Dele Isaac Pedro (alto), Verckys Kiamnuangana and Didan Daniel (both on tenor.)The sebenes where Fan Fan lets rip and especially those where the horn players respond in kind will have you on your feet all night if you play this disc over and over again at volume, as its makers intend you should.

Purists and anyone that dislikes string sections, symphony orchestras and adventurous crossover should avoid the Congolese pianist,composer and vocalist Ray Lema’s new CD/DVD set “Live” with Brazil’s enormous Jazz Symphonica de São Paulo conducted by Maestro João Mauricio Galindo. Those with a more adventurous disposition, on the other hand, may find that they adore this ambitious and genuinely innovative project which arguably forms Ray Lema’s best release in years. His piano playing and idiosyncratic vocals work well in beautifully arranged versions of some of his best compositions performed with a massive ensemble which is like an amalgam of a symphony orchestra, a jazz big band and a vocal chorus. Remarkably, this i vast ensemble swings when needs be and equally surprisingly is able to sound delicate when the arrangements and compositions require it. This gigantic and hitherto unknown school of Brazilian archaeologists of African jazz have done a great job unearthing some of the best of Ray Lema’s compositions and have given the rest of us a master class to demonstrate how very gifted a composer and collaborator he is. Highly recommended.

The latest clutch of releases from South Africa is dominated by pianists of whom one, like Les Bantous de la Capitale’s DVD, stands out as being very, very special. Tete Mbambisa’s “Black Heroes” is easily the best release by an African jazz pianist since Moses Taiwa Molelekwa’s posthumous “Live in Jo’burg Nineteen Ninety Nine” which came out in 2010 and, arguably, is one of the best solo piano releases in the history of African jazz. Tete’s playing is less cosmopolitan and perhaps less challenging than his better known contemporaries Abdullah Ibrahim and Chris McGregor but in no way less profound. In Mbambisa’s style, every note counts: his playing is sparse, rarely florid and despite his foot tapping and murmuring is more spacey and accessible than that of his peers. Above all, his sound is more intensely South African than Ibrahim’s and McGregor’s containing, as it does, more marabi inflected patterns than theirs but this isn’t to say that there is no African-American influence. On the contrary, his playing is brim full of Thelonius Monk like chords and one senses that he, much more than Ellington, is his primary overseas influence. Whatever the ingredients,Tete excels throughout this wonderful disc. The tracks fall into two distinct categories: for the bulk of the album he plays in this foot tapping marabi inflected style honed by playing live for decades to audiences who, even if they don’t actually get out of their seats, want to dance. The last two tracks have a more ruminative, after hours feel in which Tete eases back the tempo and plays in a more poetic style which is a spine tingling way to round off a truly great album. In 2006, fellow veteran master musician Jean-Serge Essous, then aged 71, was declared by UNESCO to be, roughly speaking, the musical equivalent of a World Heritage Site: it is high time the great Tete Mbambisa, currently 70, achieved a similar level of recognition. There simply aren’t many pianists on the planet this good. When he does so, as he surely will, we will all owe a great debt of gratitude to the British based scholar Jonathan Eato, whose work on South African jazz and exemplary sleeve notes for “Black Heroes” mark him out as an archaeologist par excellence.

New releases by fellow South African pianists Don Laka, Kyle Sheppard and Bokani Dyer pale by comparison but are all worth listening to. The pick of the bunch, to these ears, is Kyle Sheppard’s second studio album “South African History !X”which is even better than his promising debut “FineArt”. Sheppard is more than just a pianist and on this disc plays alto sax, xeru (one stringed mouth bow) and, on the last track, recites his own poetry. His fine small band features double bassist Shane Cooper, drummer John Sweetman and top flight tenor saxophonist Buddy Wells. On the track “Slave Labour” there is also what must be one of the very last recordings of the late lamented Zim Ngqawana on tenor sax. Throughout, Shepherd and his fellow musicians sound intent on an admirable mission to put The Cape back into Cape jazz. Sheppard, as the title of his album suggests, is an enthusiastic archaeologist and his CD will delight lovers of Abdullah Ibrahim, Robbie Jansen, Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee and the like. Also, along with Pops Mohamed and Hilton Schilder, Shepherd has a keen interest in more ancient forms of South African music. He blends these different influences skilfully in a coherent and enjoyable album which deserves to be widely heard. What it lacks, if anything, is a distinctive voice of his own but one can only admire his determination to understand and master the musical tradition in which he finds himself and over time this will surely enable him to develop music which is uniquely his own.

Bokani Dyer, whose second CD “Mirrors” perhaps isn’t quite as good as his superb debut “Emancipate the Story” is a more fluid and technically accomplished pianist than Kyle Sheppard. He too uses the excellent Shane Cooper on bass and benefits too from the presence of the fine new trumpeter Lwanda Gogwana on several tracks. Together his musicians produce a more outward looking, international sound than Kyle Sheppard’s intensely South African release. Influences like Abdullah Ibrahim and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa can be heard refracted, as though through a fragmented “mirrors” or a prism, in Dyer’s conception of music which, at its best on tracks like the lovely “Whisper,” is very much worth hearing. Bokani Dyer undoubtedly possesses prodigious talent and is an artist to watch. Don Laka, by contrast, is an established star, easily the most popular pianist in contemporary South Africa but he’s one of those musicians whose solo recordings don’t travel well. In point of fact, none of them have received much attention outside South Africa and it isn’t difficult to understand why. Often,his playing falls into the category of “smooth jazz,” a kind of upmarket Muzak. He sounds much better when collaborating with other major talents as on his excellent 2008 double CD set “Invitation” and on Hugh Masekela’s superb 2010 studio album “Jabulani,” which, coincidentally. is also a good example of archaeology consisting of rediscovered and reworked 1940's township wedding music. Despite the archaeological sounding title of his new release “Heritage,” Laka’s new album is much like most of its predecessors: the very thing for those that like South African smooth jazz; dreary hard work for those that don’t. Like Masekela's “Jabulani,” it is however a genuine piece of African jazz archaeology made up of rediscovered traditional compositions dating back to the time of the struggle against apartheid. Many of these tunes are beautiful, but the consummate ease with which Laka interprets them and his overdubs with synthesisers are a mixed blessing.

The superb Belgian -based trio (Ewout Perreux - piano; Nicolas Thys – bass; Lieven Venken - drums) who back Tutu Puoane on her new CD “Breathe” demonstrate that the days when you had to be South African to play South African jazz are over. Tutu herself is also at her very best: every note she sings is a like a well crafted gemstone. Listen for example to their cover versions of “Cape Town” Abdullah Ibrahim’s heartrending, exiles paean to his beloved hometown and “Through the Years” by Bheki Mseleku with words by Abbey Lincoln both of which continue a strand of archaeology begun by Tutu on her award-winning big band CD “Mama Africa.” The best tracks of all however are the uplifting opener “ Us" and the haunting “Moratuwa”- both of which constitute pure seduction from this by now unstoppable jazz diva who is well on her way to superstardom. This, her fourth album, was recorded in Brooklyn and has a lovely photographic portrait on the cover by the South African trumpeter Marcus Wyatt. Unusually, there are also photographic portraits of the studio engineers who, it must be said, have done a world-class job because the sound and ambience of the recording is exceptional. African jazz archaeologists of every type should welcome the reissue of recordings by the Johannesburg-based 1970's group Batsumi from their debut LP “Itumeleng” and its successor “Moving Along” now rereleased as an e eponymous CD. The reissue of these largely forgotten recordings which were not available outside South Africa have justly attracted rave reviews and blogosphere excitement around the world. With good reason because Batsumi’s CD is the best African jazz reissue of the year to date. The sleeve notes point out, rightly, that the group were inspired by and belong to a school of jazz pioneered by Philip Tabane and his group Malombo whose 2010 live DVD (also available as a double CD) demonstrated that he and his type of music have lasting appeal are a mainstay of African jazz. In next month’s article, the third and final part of this survey of the trend of archaeology in African jazz, attention will shift to the music of Francophone West Africa.

1 October 2012

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Archaeology: the new paradigm in jazz - Part three

This, the last in a three-part series of articles about the trend of archaeology in African jazz, focuses on the music of Francophone West Africa.

A pair of contrasting new albums, from the Guinea Conakry’s superstar and former Bembeya Jazz front man Sékouba Bambino, released to mark the first 20 years of his career, demonstrate that he remains one of Africa’s best male vocalists. Of the two, “Innovation” is done in a more Bembeya like style with a horn section and electric guitars updated with some reasonably tasteful electronica. The sepia like retro cover with its black and white photo befits the archaeological theme: the CD is a conscious effort to revitalise a sound rooted in the glories of the past. Its title “Innovation” refers presumably to the fact that Bembeya’s music was innovative for its time and is updated on this recording.

The more modern cover of Sékouba Bambino’s companion release “Diatiguyw” belies the fact that the music it contains is based on much deeper archaeological excavation. The instrumentation of this companion album, which seems to be more of a tilt at the “world music” market, consists of kora, balafon, traditional percussion, etc. and the compositions are in a more overtly neo-traditional style. The contrasting approach adopted in these twin simultaneously released CDs offers a fascinating insight into the strange aesthetic and commercial world in which Bambino and his fellow Malian and Guinean musicians find themselves. Their musical world is riddled with contradiction and dilemma much of which is rooted in the seemingly perverse whims of the “world music” market with its seemingly limitless appetite for something new but “authentic” from Francophone West Africa. Mali, Guinea Conakry, Senegal, etc. produce new music all the time and have vibrant internal markets for local variants of hip-hop, Naija jams and contemporary dance music. The problem for successful local musicians wanting to reach a global audience is that the “world music” consumer either doesn’t like hip-hop, etc. or has been conditioned not to like it when it comes from West Africa. What the “world music” sector is always on the hunt for is something new that draws more overtly on pre-electric local forms of instrument such as kora and balafon and on ancient or supposedly ancient traditions. At the same time, the “world music” consumer is not in the least averse to the inclusion of rock or blues like guitar licks especially if these can be traced convincingly or purportedly in back to the West African roots of the blues.

In this minefield of contradictory and competing demands in the local and international marketplace, Sékouba Bambino starts off with three incalculable advantages. Firstly, and unlike the vast majority of Francophone West African “world music” stars, he is a genuine superstar at home: little short of a West African Koffi Olomide. Secondly, having been a major star in Guinea’s respected and seminal big band Bembeya Jazz, he has an unimpeachable pedigree in the eyes of the critics: no one can belittle Bambino or approach his music with any attitude other than respect. Thirdly and above all, Bambino’s beautiful voice and masterly technique make him one of those rare artists who can silence his critics and audience alike with breathtaking, seemingly Godlike performances of unparalleled beauty. His superlative singing and deep understanding of Guinean musical forms are on display throughout both these new CDs. It is noteworthy however that only one of the two is being repackaged and re branded for the “world music” market: “Diatiguyw” is about to be reissued with a different cover and a more explicitly archaeological title: “The Griot’s Craft.”

Another Guinean with an unimpeachable griot’s pedigree is Mory Kanté who is an alumnus of Mali’s indispensable Rail Band who’s hit “Yeke Yeke” has made him a household name right across the French-speaking world. His new album “La Guinéenne” is an unashamed, unpretentious and largely successful attempt to recreate the glories of his past. Unlike so many kora players, who one senses are trying to dazzle their audience with virtuosity and profundity, genuine or otherwise, Mory Kanté seems to have set his sights on a more down-to-earth goal: he wants to entertain us, make us smile and make us dance. In the course of doing so, and indeed as an integral part of doing so, some extremely fine musicianship is on display but it never feels like it is there for show; on the contrary this feels like an expertly constructed album. His kora solos are relatively sparse but beautiful nonetheless; there is a good horn section; fine guitars and a purposeful rhythm section. Simply put, this is one of the African jazz party albums of the year.

Another worthwhile kora release is a duo concert recording made by The Gambia’s Sura Susso with the British violinist Max Baillie entitled “Live” which combines serious archaeology with innovative musicianship and sparkling wit.

Two releases from Benin’s jazz superstars, both recorded in New York, are rather less successful. Angelique Kidjo’s first live release “Spirit Rising” (available on both CD and DVD) is plainly designed to impress, featuring a stellar cast list including Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Dianne Reeves and Branford Marsalis. The set list includes covers of numbers by Bob Marley, Gershwin and the Rolling Stones all of which constitute archaeology of sorts. It’s all topped off with a string section, dancers from the hit musical “Fela!,” and, on the DVD, interview footage. The power of her vocals, technical skill of her musicians and musically ambitious thinking are on display throughout. The way she reworks standards such as “Summertime” with the addition of African lyrics and “Redemption Song” which is done convincingly in a soukous style are innovative and memorable with the latter, in particular, making for interesting comparison with Lágbájá’s afrobeat version of the same tune which was released earlier this year as the B-side of his “Knock Knock Knock” single. The DVD version of “Spirit Rising” is slightly marred by Kidjo’s unfortunate choice in metallic, pink lipstick; somehow symbolising the basic problem with this release which is that Angelique looks and sounds like she’s trying a shade too hard. Other symptoms of this are that the tempo of several numbers is on the fast side and sound forced; and that on the CD the order of the tracks is more or less reversed with the frothy, high-energy encore numbers appearing at the beginning. Angelique Kidjo is easily one of contemporary African jazz’s greatest divas who frequently puts on better live shows than this. Hopefully, one day she will have the courage to put out a live CD/DVD with a much smaller group of musicians that will show us just how good she really is. As it stands, anyone wondering who is the best: Mbilia Bel or Kidjo need look no farther than Bel’s excellent performance on last year’s live CD/DVD set “Bakolo Mindule,” recorded  in Kinshasa, at what  must have been a minute fraction of the cost of Kidjo’s overblown extravaganza. Anyone wanting to hear how good Kidjo really is, should check out her last studio album “  Õÿö-” made in partnership with guitarist Lionel Loueke who also hails from Benin.

Sadly, Loueke’s own new CD is also beset by problems none of which relate to the unquestioned ability and importance of this innovative guitarist who has already worked alongside  jazz greats such as Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. This, his fifth album under his own name, which just like the South African pianist Don Laka’s new album, which was reviewed in this column last month, has the archaeological sounding title “Heritage.”  Loueke’s “Heritage” is released on the historic and prestigious Blue Note Label,. The album is a dazzling workout with three of the finest younger players in the US: keyboardist Robert Glasper, drummer Mark Guiliana and bassist Derrick Hodge. Their dizzying virtuosity and the sterling reputations of all four players have resulted in a string of respectful, polite reviews by critics who sound like they feel they ought to be impressed by this release and who fear that they will appear stupid if they step out of line and dare to carp at such blatantly gifted and much vaunted young stars. It is striking however that no pattern emerges from the various reviews about which are the standout tracks on the album. Arguably, the same can be said of all four previous recordings made under Loueke’s name. The reason for this is that despite his self-evident virtuosity and unquestioned and genuinely noteworthy ability to rethink how his instrument should be played, Loueke has yet to develop into a decent composer. Those seeking recent African jazz studio albums with guitarist/composers centre stage would be better advised to check out Mozambique's Jimmy Dludlu, Nigeria’s Kunle Ayo, Malawi’s underrated Erik Paliani or the Congolese guitarist Olivier Tshimanga’s work on Bozi Boziana’s “Crise  Finncire” album. For those seeking something better by Lionel Loueke, by far his best work is to be found not on his own albums but on those where he performs with more gifted composers and bandleaders as for example on Kidjo’s last studio album referred to above and  on his duet with Richard Bona “Wishes” that appeared on the album “Mwaliko.” More recently the hauntingly beautiful track “Black Gold” with Esperanza Spalding on her 2012 release “Radio Music Society” simultaneously captures and pays tribute to Loueke’s sublime, gentle, subtle and understated guitar playing and vocals.

The current crop of jazz and jazz related releases from Cameroun highlights the diversity of music on offer from a country whose performers surely deserve more attention than they usually receive. Veteran Parisian expat and African Jazz alumnus Manu Dibango’s CD “Past, Present, Future” has received lukewarm reviews but is a thought-provoking and simulating release with an obvious archaeological dimension. Critics have singled out an admittedly awful reworking of Dibango’s evergreen hit “Soul Makossa” for particular derision and it can be said uncontroversially that the best thing about this track is that it appears towards the end of the album so one can confidently hit the stop button in the sure knowledge that one isn’t going to miss much apart from this dreadful track. In truth, “Soul Makossa” must have felt like a millstone round Dibango’s neck for decades: he is obliged to play this infectious, instantly recognisable slice of African funk every time he performs live anywhere: it is his signature tune. Perhaps inevitably, he habitually sounds bored playing it and his studio versions, apart from the irreplaceable original, are invariably dull. It would be a mistake therefore to write off “Past, Present, Future” on the grounds that it contains yet another unlistenable version of “Soul Makossa.” Thankfully, the rest of the album is characterised by interesting musical thinking and features some real gems such as the heart melting “Paris je t’aime d’amour” The idea of the album is to combine a bang up to date dance groove with Dibango’s timeless vocals, sax and vibes together with remixes of a few tracks from his back catalogue. As such this release is quite different from Dibango’s last two CDs which were his take on Sydney Bechet and last year’s supremely gentle chillax album “Ballad Emotion.” Whether any of “Past, Present, Future” can actually work on the dance floor is a moot point but it is difficult to think of any other 78 year old musician who would even dare attempt such a venture and it’s heartening that in his old age the super cool and great Manu Dibango is still taking chances and making challenging music that is a joy to listen to.

Dora Decca’s “Belalo” is also aimed, fair and square, at the dance floor; albeit Cameroun’s rather than that of Paris. Whether or not the title of the album is a conscious hommage to Mbilia Bel is unclear but either way they are kindred spirits and this collaboration with makossa superstar Sam Fan Thomas is a worthwhile release despite the preponderance of a particularly ugly synthesised pseudo-horn section.

Erik Aliana & Korongo Jam’s “Songs from Badissa” is the sort of release that grows on one with repeated listening. It features a more overtly archaeological and tradition orientated Camerounian style with subtle percussion, thumb piano (sanza/mbira) and beautiful multi voice arrangements featuring faintly Francis Bebey like guitar and compositions. Highly recommended.

Just as much as Mali and Guinea Conakry, the musical scene of Senegambia (Senegal and The Gambia) is marred or enhanced, depending on your point of view and with the obvious exception of Akon, by a disconnect between the demands of the “world music” executives and the tastes of African listeners. Happily, this wasn’t always the case and it is instructive that the “world music” aficionados and experts often refer to the era preceding the invention of the “world music” marketing tag as a Golden Age, a key characteristic of which was that no such disconnect existed. As if to illustrate the point archaeologists of the vinyl junkie variety have unearthed and remastered a series of tracks recorded in the 1970's by the band Guelewa who hailed from The Gambia. “Touki Ba Banjul: acid trip from Banjul to Dakar ” is an interesting release which will intrigue those who love the glorious music of Orchestra Baobab and the like.

Francophone West Africa doesn’t stretch to Nigeria for obvious reasons but it would be a serious omission not to mention the rather wonderful CD  “Contraband Mentality” made by the Paris-based group Les Freres Smith whose country of origin, etc. is left deliberately and delightfully unclear making a point perhaps that where great music is concerned, nationality and ethnicity are ultimately irrelevant. What is relevant is the the music’s quality which in the case of Les Freres Smith is excellent. They play afrobeat to such a high standard that guest appearances by Tony Allen and, Oghene Kologbo, one of Fela’s guitarists, work well and sound entirely appropriate. Better still, they play Ethiopian jazz in a style drawing on the likes of Mulatu Astatke to a high standard too. In fact this is a delightfully genre branding release, which even makes reference to Côte d’Ivoire’s continuing Coupe Decale dance craze which, is perhaps a first in African jazz.

It would be equally remiss to omit the similarly genre bending and undeniably rather camp Congolese former superstar Général Defao’s peculiarly titled new album “The Undertaker Vol 1.” This is easily Defao’s jazziest release since 1998’s excellent “Copinage” which featured a duet with Mbilia Bel on the hit title track and seriously good sax from Davin throughout. This time around, for “The Undertaker” Defao the archaeologist  has unearthed Congo jazzy elements in the form of two saxophonists and Dr Nico like guitar solos on several tracks but as always it is Defao’s smoochy vocals, which, jazz singer or not, clinch the deal because in this department he is in the same exalted league as Bambino. On this album, recorded in Kenya, where Defao has been resident for several years, he is also on tiptop form as a composer and presents us with a strong new lineup of his famous Big Stars with guest appearances from Papa Wemba and the legendary DJ Suke Chile, best known for his long residency at the Lusaka outpost of the matchless Chez Ntemba nightclub franchise. Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia have formed a major part of the market for Congolese music of all kinds for decades and, as has happened so often in the past when Congolese musicians head south or east away from the fashion crazy Kinshasa, the music becomes pared down and streamlined for the Eastern and Southern African beer halls and dance floor s. The result, in this case, is an irresistible release which will delight Defao’s long-term fans and newcomers alike.

This survey of the trend of archaeology in African jazz has taken us all over sub Saharan Africa and beyond to New York, Paris, London, etc.. Across Africa and across the world, there is a mounting sense of excitement in rediscovering and reinterpreting the great African jazz of the past. Every archaeologist’s dream is to make a find that necessitates a fundamental rewrite of history. Taken en masse, that is exactly what is happening in in African jazz in 2012: a new paradigm in the way the jazz world thinks about Africa is being forged and this constitutes the biggest revolution in jazz since the advent of bebop. In short, the jazz establishment is slowly waking up to the fact that the reason much of today’s best jazz derives directly from Africa is because African jazz, in all its many forms and variants, has a proud  distinguished history which has been consistently undervalued and often largely ignored for well over half a century. The new paradigm indeed necessitates a complete rewrite of jazz history. Hats off therefore to the African jazz archaeologists that fuel this unstoppable revolution: the musicians young and old, inquisitive music lovers, critics, scholars, blogggers, record collectors   even the dreaded “world music” executives.

Next month’s article will focus on a musician who can be said to embody this trend and its consequences more than any other: the stunning veteran Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria who has just released a definitive double album consisting of new material with the Dutch avant-garde punk rock band The Ex and archive recordings dating back to the early 1960’s.

1 November 2012

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book review

 “Africa speaks, America answers: modern jazz in revolutionary times”

by Robin DG Kelly

(Harvard University Press)

This book focuses on a period from the second half of the 1950's to the early 1960's, during which, the author argues, artists like the Ghanaian Guy Warren, Nigerians Bayo Martins and Zeal Onyia and DDR Congo's Joseph Kabasele were genuine and important modern jazz musicians. In doing so, the author focuses in particular on Warren (later known as Kofi Ghanaba) who recorded the first African jazz LP "Africa speaks, America answers" in 1956 and was cited as a jazz musician in a Time Magazine editorial of the era; on South African Sathima Bea Benjamin whose first recordings outside Africa were produced by Duke Ellington and on two African-Americans:  Randy Weston and Ahmed Abdul-Malik.

The book is so well argued, so well researched and so well written that a casual reader might wonder why i it needed to be written at all. Surely it's blindingly obvious that the musicians discussed by the author were bona fide, important jazz musicians? What has necessitated the writing of this rather wonderful book is that much of jazz establishment, consisting of academics, promoters, record industry executives, journalists, etc., and especially its often fiercely proud African-American custodians have been in denial about the existence and importance of African jazz for more than half a century. This absurd situation still holds sway in 2012. Anyone who doubts this need look no further than the entry for "African jazz" in Wikipedia which effectively states that outside South Africa, apart from a solitary Ethiopian pianist, there has never been any jazz in Africa. Even the seminal Congolese band  African Jazz led by Joseph Kabasele didn't play African jazz according to this bizarre but widely held view.

Kelly's good-natured but thorough scholarship drives a bulldozer through these absurd notions in such a manner that it is difficult to see how anyone can ever again ignore or deny the existence and importance of African jazz. As the author himself puts it:

"… we can no longer speak so confidently about jazz as an American art form, or render African jazz musicians outside the pale of the music's history." (Page 10)

The real importance of this groundbreaking book lies not so much in how well it is written and argued but rather in who it is written by and who he is addressing. The author, Professor Robin D.G. Kelly of the University of California is best known for his definitive book on the great Thelonious Monk and this current book is published by and derived from a series of lectures commissioned by Harvard. Its author is nothing short of Jazz establishment royalty and is by a considerable margin the most prominent African-American scholar ever to have written about African jazz. He is an opinion maker, one of the people who determine, in the long run, what sort of music people who profess to like jazz end up reading about and listening to. Of course, Kelly isn’t alone in his view, but with his backing and that of like-minded souls the view he espouses is set to become the norm. In a few years it will be inconceivable that anyone could study jazz or be a credible jazz musician or a knowledgeable jazz lover without developing a reasonable understanding of African jazz. Almost every university curriculum on the subject and every reference book on jazz will need to be revised and jazz lovers are going to find themselves delightedly filling in the gaps in their collections as their appreciation of this magnificent music develops.

While no praise is sufficient for this book it should be pointed out that the esteemed Professor Kelly isn’t entirely right about everything. His understanding of the relationship between African jazz and African American jazz outside the period he’s looking at sometimes appears a little hazy. In particular, he doesn’t seem to fully comprehend the relationship between big band swing and the music Guy Warren was playing with E.T. Mensah and the Tempos. This isn’t an obscure point because E.T. Mensah and the Tempos, of which Warren was a founder member and for which he is best remembered in Africa, are widely regarded as one of the most important bands in history of 20th-century Africa. The genre of music they played is often referred to as “danceband” highlife because much of its style and ethos derived from the British danceband scene of the 1930's and 40’s. This largely forgotten British danceband music was itself a watered-down version of American big band swing and this explains how and why the jazz element in danceband highlife sounded so unappealing to subsequent generations of West Africans (exemplified by Fela Kuti and Osibisa) who understandably dismissed danceband highlife as “colo” (colonial) and developed more explicitly Afrocentric variants of highlife.

This is a shame, because in most respects, Professor Kelly is exceptionally good at painting a picture of the historical context in which his subjects lived. His book would have been even better had he done the same regarding the relationship between pre-modern jazz and African jazz. A particularly glaring omission concerns the impact Louis Armstrong had before and during the period his book focuses on. Armstrong never recorded an African jazz LP like Guy Warren did, but he did  record what appears to have been the first African jazz track in the US in the form of the Southern African jazz standard “Skokiaan” which appeared on his 1954 LP “I Love Jazz.” Armstrong also performed at Ghana’s independence celebrations at what appears to have been, for that era, one of the biggest concerts in history. On arrival in Ghana, he was greeted musically at the airport by an array of highlife band’s lead by E.T. Mensah performing his composition “All for You” in Armstrong’s honour as can be heard on the recording made at the time and released on Armstrong’s LP “Satchmo the Great” together with Armstrong’s Ghanaian live performance for Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah of the Premier’s favourite jazz number “Black and Blue.” On this occasion and on his subsequent tours of Africa as Cultural Ambassador of the US State Department, Armstrong found that he was pushing at an open door wherever he performed and his influence on young musicians and on African jazz in general was incalculable and is unparalleled to this day.

It might also have been intriguing to consider the influence of portrayals of Africa in Hollywood film scores on Randy Weston and especially Ahmed Abdul-Malik’s earliest attempts at creating African music.

Finally, in the “coda” at the end of the book, where Kelly looks beyond the early 1960's forwards to today’s era of globalisation, he doesn’t spell out the obvious consequence of his argument which is that if musicians of the early 1960's, like Bayo Martins, Zeal Onyia and Joseph Kabasele were jazz musicians then so too, a few years later, were Tony Allen, Fela Kuti and Luambo Makiadi Franco.

Nevertheless, “Africa speaks, America answers” is arguably the most important book ever written on the subject and ought to be required reading for anyone that wants to truly understand jazz in its all its global glory.

1 September 2012

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Jazz at the South African Music Awards

As predicted in this column in December the superlative Mozambican guitarist Jimmy Dludlu has done well at the 2012 South African Music Awards being nominated for Best Male Artist , best engineered release  and winning the coveted Best Jazz Album award for his CD “Tonota.”

Up against strong competition, Simphiwe Dana picked up the Best Live DVD award for “An Evening with Simphiwe Dana” which is also available on Blu-ray and CD. For full reviews of both these award winning releases see  “Dibango, Dludlu & Dana deliver” published on this site in December.

As always the SAMA award nominee lists are a rich source of information about South African music and this article explores this year’s nominations from a from a jazz perspective. The dominance of Zahara, a Tracy Chapman-esque singer-songwriter, at SAMA 2012 who won no less than eight awards including Best Album, Best Female Artist and Best Newcomer combined with the amalgamation of the two previously dual separate jazz categories (contemporary and traditional) into a single prize has meant that there has been little space for South Africa's jazz artists to actually win awards but there are several strong new releases amongst the nominees.

Foremost among these is the fabulous composer/arranger/trumpeter  Lwanda Gogwana whose “Songbook – Chapter 1” was nominated for Best Newcomer, Best Male Artist and Best Jazz Album. His innovative, beautiful music announces the arrival of a major new talent and is highly recommended. His sound contains echoes of Hugh Masekela, Kwani Experience, Chris McGregor, Fela and especially Moses Taiwa Molelekwa as evidenced on the lengthy and moving jam session for this artist which appears at the end of the album on which Lwanda switches convincingly to piano. What makes this album especially convincing is not merely Lwanda ‘s  understanding and mastery of these diverse influences but his ability to amalgamate them into a distinctive style of his own. Standout tracks include “Meditation”: a Molelekwa like groove with a dense percussion arrangement; Fela like horns  and, at times, hints of the wildness and freedom of the Brotherhood of Breath and “Ekhaya” which showcases his ability as a trumpeter. The standard of musicianship from the 30 musicians on the album all of whom  gave their services free of charge (including Jimmy Dludlu) is superb and tells us much about how highly rated this young musician is in South Africa. The presence of the gifted young pianist Bokani Dyer, who won Standard Bank’s 2011 young jazz artist of the year award,  on one track seems especially significant and suggests that we are witnessing the birth of an exciting cluster of new talent in Cape Town.

The other nominees for this year's jazz album of the year are all worth checking out.  “ZAR” by trumpeter Marcus Wyatt’s quartet is beautifully performed and features particularly fine piano by Afrik Mkhize but the album is nowhere near as strong as Wyatt's previous release "Language 12."  Vusi Khumalo’s ambitious two CD set "Reasons for Seasons" has much to commend it too and features a glittering array of musicians in sometimes Gil Evans like arrangements which are well worth hearing especially on tracks like "African Mood" featuring saxophonist Barney Rachebane and  "Intro-Welcome/Africa Unite.” Many of the arrangements sound cloying at first but will grow on the listener with repeated listening. Harmonica virtuoso  Adam Glasser’s “Mzansi” is a lovely CD and an obvious nominee for the prize: checkout his spine tingling rendition of the Mackay Davashe standard “Lakutshonillaga” for instance.

The absence of any women on the shortlist for jazz category is puzzling butt a careful look through the nominees for the awards reveals that Unathi’s excellent "With Love" reviewed on this site in January was nominated for Best African album. Other nominees include   Swazi Dlamini’s “Gospel Meets Jazz- live in Durban" which features a few strong African tracks and superb improvised vocals together with a band that includes guitarist Sonnyby. Judith Sephuma’s  "I am a Living Testimony"  is nominated for Best Adult Contemporary album. It’s a promising sounding collaboration with the gifted Nigerian guitarist/composer Kunle Ayo but is marred by syrupy production and overly sentimental lyrics. Sephuma will never convert her popularity at home into prestige abroad with releases like this.

The best performance by one of South Africa's many jazz divas amongst this year's nominees however is a guest appearance by Gloria Bosman on Concord Nkabinde’s revelatory "Live in Jo Joburg” DVD recorded in 2006/7 but not released until now. Bosman isn't the only artist who excels on this surprising and exceptional release which focuses on Concord's very first live solo gig. Unusually Concord includes a running commentary on the meaning of his songs and his reasons for choosing to release a DVD of his first concert. Improbably this adds hugely to one's appreciation of Concord’s music - revealing him to be a sensitive intelligent and articulate young man who emerges as that rarest of beasts: a sincere and interesting world music act who is making a conscious effort for genuine artistic reasons to reach out far beyond his local audience. Thankfully his first-rate electric bass playing and beautiful high-pitched almost Gito Baloi or Richard Bona like vocals give him the tools to achieve his artistic goal and he is much assisted in this by superlative performances from fellow musicians notably Bosman and a keyboard player Xoli Nkosi. This DVD is so strong that one even wonders if the judges made a blunder in awarding the prize in this category to Simphiwe Dana. Both DVDs are unusual in that they are the best releases by either artist in any format and explain why they are rated so highly in South Africa. It is surely likely that if and when world music executives and jazz promoters see these DVDs, both artists will find themselves making more appearances abroad.

As always in music, categorisation is difficult. African sounds and jazz are especially difficult to put boundaries around and define. It is commonly the case, for example, that some of the most interesting music from a jazz perspective to emerge from the SAMA process is not categorised by the judges as jazz. 2012 is no exception: for example, lovers of Hammond organ should not miss the winner of this year's Best Traditional Music Album: Black Moses’ efforts with the Soul Brothers are always worth hearing and his playing on this year's award winner “ Amaphutha” sounds especially good. The Kalawa Jazmee record label’s two CD set "King Don Father 2.5” by Spikiri is even more noteworthy and was nominated for Best kwaito album and best collaboration. To these ears and from a jazz perspective this is the best kwaito release for a considerable period of time and is well worth seeking out. This is very definitely a kwaito release but the ingredients that make up Spikiri’s sound are strikingly similar to those heard in Lwanda Gogwana’s music: township jazz, afrobeat (on “Baqwa” for example) and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa whose masterly collaboration with Kabelo  “Akuna Niks”  is quoted ion “Skeem Sam.”). Jazz aficionados doubtful about the hip hop/kwaito connection are best advised to begin with the second CD in this two disc set (subtitled “Black” )which has a more laid back mid tempo feel than the more dance orientated ”Red” CD. For a flavour of both discs try the two versions of the lovely keynote track “Africa.”

The aforementioned Kabelo’s recent CD, modestly entitled "Immortal Vol 1,” which is another kwaito nominee, isn't quite in the same league as Spkiri’s despite featuring a hit track with Professor. But it's good to hear Kabelo again and this is the best CD he's made for several years:  better than the much vaunted but disappointing reunion with TKZee. At his best Kabelo is one of the most endearing artists in Africa combining irresistible melodies with delicate vocals and unique flights of fancy in almost nonsensical lyrics combined with a love of jazz and real expertise about what works on the dancefloor. Alongside this however one has to stomach a large dose of arrogance which may have been an asset when Kabelo was getting established but which becomes less and less appealing as the years go by. The best tracks on the new CD are the ones featuring Bez Roberts and Adam Howard on horns notably "The One That Saves Me" and "The Time is Now."

A review of “Khanimambo: Tributes To Legends Of Mozambique”  Moreira Chonguica keenly-awaited follow-up to his Moreira Project CDs will be forthcoming as soon as a copy can be tracked down. The fact that it was nominated for Best African Album and best engineered release at SAMA 2012 bodes well.

1 June 2012

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Lágbájá knocks Femi and finds redemption in Fela

As is he usually does, Nigeria's superlative Afrobeat maestro Lágbájá shows everyone else a clean pair of heels with his current digital download single "Knock Knock Knock"/"Redemption Song."

On the surface "Knock Knock Knock" is a catchy pop song with a clear, pleasing message about opening one’s heart to love. But as always with this great artist ,there are layers of thought-provoking meaning laced with Lágbájá’s customary wit and wisdom. For starters, “Knock Knock Knock" is a parody of Femi Kuti’s pan African hit "Beng Beng Beng." Biting satire isn't Lágbájá’s  style but his put down is all the more devastating for its subtlety. "Beng Beng Beng" is easily the best known thing Femi has done: songs and artists that have achieved the same pan African success as in recent years can be listed on the fingers of one hand: Magic Systems "Premier Gaou,” Awilo's "Karolina," 2 Face’s "African Queen" and Mafikizolo's “Ndihamba Nawe.” Femi might reasonably argue that Lágbájá’s name is absent from this list, but apart from " Beng Beng Beng," what has  Fela’s first born son Femi actually done? He hasn't had a hit or even a success in Nigeria for years let alone a pan African or global hit. Lágbájá’s stock by contrast is blue-chip in Nigeria and can only rise around the world. His is a major original talent as demonstrated in a string of releases notably "C’est un African thing” and the wonderful, slyly titled "Africano.” Femi on the other hand, sounds on his recent CDs as though he's lost his way. His voice and compositional ability sound shot and even his previously exemplary sax solos simply aren't there any more.

But Lágbájá!’s "Knock Knock Knock"” gives us more than a catchy single and a witty riposte of a rival: in contrast to Femi and his father  the song and its accompanying artwork constitute an accurate and extremely funny commentary on the dating scene and sexism in contemporary Africa. Better still, the music and performance are of Lágbájá’s usual high standard featuring a memorable scat vocal and a beautiful arrangement. Sadly there's no sax solo but perhaps that's just Lágbájá nonchalantly demonstrating that he doesn't even need to get his sax out of his case to debunk Femi.

The B-side, if that's the right word for the other half of an digital single, is a cover version of Bob Marley's “Redemption Song” performed in the style of Fela. This, as far as I'm aware, is the very first time in a career spanning a decade and a half that Lágbájá has recorded a cover version. As such, it's clearly a heartfelt tribute to two of the great musical masters of the African Diaspora. Only Lágbájá  could pull off the stunt of an Afro beat reworking "Redemption Song". It's also very rare to hear Lágbájá sticking so closely to Fela's influence. Interestingly, there were hints of Fela's music in some of later the recordings of Bob Marley's all too short career such as the 12 inch version of "Coming in from the Cold". Had Marley lived, it's tempting to speculate that this influence and crossover might have grown. One wonders what they think of Lágbájá! s “Redemption Song” in Jamaica? Certainly this is a version that deserves to be widely heard.

Sadly however, there isn't much else to report on the Afrobeat scene at the moment. There have been some notable and pleasing reissues from 1970's Nigeria: the long-lost LP "Orlando Julius and the Afro Sounders” on the Voodoo Funk label and a revival of interest in The Lijadu Sisters best exemplified by the highly recommended compilation "Afrobeat Soul Sisters."

New Afrobeat recordings on the other hand seem to be rather few and far between. There are Afrobeat tracks on Sia Tolno’s promising  Francois Breant produced, "My Life", but they’re unconvincing. This is designer Afro eat included, one senses, in the same manner that the Cuban style track was always included in world music CDs for a years after the "Buena Vista Social Club" phenomena. Perhaps this is where Lágbájá! should turn his ire next. The hints of Afrobeat on the eponymous jazz funk release from the Zimbabwean bassist  Mashasha sound more convincing. Here's a CD which is worth listening to, confirming a trend which has been notable for some years now: that some of the most interesting new Afrobeat tracks come from Southern Africa. How long will it be, one wonders, until we hear great Southern African music coming from Lagos? When Kunle Ayo, the phenomenal Nigerian born Wes Montgomery influenced post modern guitarist resident in Johannesburg, returns home, I suppose. A duet with Lágbájá! would be quite something.

1 May 2012


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The best since Dyani

Once in a blue moon someone releases a definitive album. From the moment you hear it, you know that the artist in question is going to be in demand for the rest of their lives and that every time hey perform the audience are going to be shouting out requests to hear tracks from that career defining release. The respected South African double bassist/composer/vocalist Herbie Tsoaeli’s superlative new CD is a case in point.  In a recent interview for South Africa’s Sunday World ,Herbie says it’s taken him years to put together his first solo album, jokingly titled “African Time,” because he wanted to find a formula that would speak from and reflect his musical soul. He’s pleased with what he’s done but worried that it might make him famous. His fear is entirely justified for two profound reasons: first, his core audience in the townships and raucous outdoor jazz festivals of South Africa are going to be dancing to and marvelling at   “African Time” for years until it is etched permanently into the collective psyche and it is only a matter of time before discerning listeners around the world catch up. Second, and equally importantly,the history of star double bassist/composers in Southern Africa is one of extreme tragedy and loss: Herbie Tsoaeli is absolutely right to be nervous about walking in the footsteps of Gito Baloi, Harry Miller and Johnny Dyani who all died  much too young and in horrible tragic circumstance.  In a world that seems to crave the shallow pleasure of celebrity more than all else, it’s hard to appreciate that it must have taken real courage for Herbie to step into he limelight: so much so that it ought to make all true jazz lovers around the globe pause for a moment, take deep breath and wish him well. For Herbie Tsoaeli and his glorious music are going to be famous alright: with “African Time,” he steps with understandable trepidation but decisively and permanently into the front rank of Africa’s greatest jazz musicians. His new music is so deeply felt, haunting and disarmingly beautiful that it leaves this  reviewer lost for words – just buy, beg, or borrow a copy at the earliest opportunity: it’s a decision you will never, ever regret.

As its tile wryly implies Herbie Tsoaeli has been playing professionally for a while – more tan twenty years actually. In fact, since Mozambique’s fabulous Gito Baloi was senselessly gunned down for his wallet in Johannesburg in 2004, Herbie has quietly emerged as Africa’s most prominent double bass player. He has worked with everyone who is anyone in South African jazz and has long been held in the utmost esteem by his peers. Like Baloi,he’s an accomplished electric bassist too but in a continent overflowing with world class electric bassists, it’s his work on double bass which marks him out. Only last year, for example, he worked on two of the year’s best releases: “Hugh Masekela Presents Songs of Migration” (CD) and “An Evening with Simphiwe Dana Live in Concert” (available on Blu-Ray, DVD and CD).

Herbie’s technique wouldn’t give a top virtuoso like Esperanza Spalding or the late Harry Miller any sleepless nights. He rarely records solos but his playing is much more than functional. Nor is it merely propulsive and soulful - what makes it special is that it is utterly South African.

The same applies to everything on this fine CD – there is no hint of the afrobeat, style jazz Congolais, salsa or “World Music” elements which are prominent elsewhere in, for example, Masekela’s work. The feel here is more akin to Abdullah  Ibrahim, Kippie Moeketsi,  Zim Ngqawana  and above all the Blue Notes at their most African. The long list of acknowledgements to South Africa’s greatest jazz musicians which appears at the back of the “African Time” CD booklet shows that Herbie is thoroughly steeped in this tradition and justly proud to be part of it. The fact that he is especially conscious of and indebted to the Blue Notes is demonstrated in tracks dedicated to Louis Moholo and Mongezi Feza. The track for Feza “Wish I Knew You” is a response to Feza’s gorgeous hymn like standard “You think you know me but you’ll never know me.”  It is genuinely poignant and many Blue Notes devotees will find it and Marcus Wyatt’s beautiful trumpet deeply affecting.

That’s what make this recording work: the bass playing is of Herbie’s customary high standard but it’s the aspects of his music that have been rarely heard before that make this recording so special:  his choice of musical collaborators, and his hitherto obscure skill as composer/arranger/ band leader and singer. His singing by the way could not be more unlike Baloi’s or Richard Bona’s – he has a deep, lived in, rather ponderous voice that works perfectly with his music.

 The musicianship is mesmerising from start to finish.  Herbie knows and is respected by everyone in South African jazz and on “African Time” he collects his dues in spades. Long term associates like pianist Andile Yenana – who comes of age as a recording artist on this CD - and saxophonist Sidney “Ace” Mnisi give of their best as do a host of less well known musicians especially trumpeter Sydney Mayundla and pianist Nduduzo Makhathini. Drummer Ayanda Sikande compliments Herbie’s melodic, muscular bass with loose limbed, spacey, sparkling drum patterns that swing intensely.  This rhythm section melds particularly well with the fine trombonists Malcolm Jiyane and  Jabu Magubane. All this makes it unlikely that this recording will stray far from your CD player or play list. This is the sort of set that will have you scurrying back to its sleeve notes for years to come to check out who the soloists are.

And that’s just the beginning because Herbie Tsoaeli has done much more than open an interesting window on Jozi jazz.  His compositions, arrangements and singing combine with his bass to create a compelling and coherent new musical world. The album consists of one standout track after another but if pinned to wall and forced to pick a current favourite otherwise… it would have to be “Asiyibambene Somke.” South Africa hasn’t had a double bassist/composer this good since the Blue Notes’  Johnny Dyani.

Happily, Herbie Tsoaeli’s new release comes at the same time as “Before the Wind Changes,” a previously unissued 1979 live set from the Blue Notes themselves. Unhappily it’s not one of their best recordings ,but it is notable that Dyani’s compositions predominate. His bass and vocals are strong and well captured but unfortunately, Louis Moholo’s peerless drumming is so prominent in the mix that both Dyani and pianist Chris McGregor sound rather buried in the soudscape which makes for challenging listening. As ever the Blue Notes repay the effort and there are interesting lessons to be earned from this recording. Especially so, from Pukwana’s sax  which can be heard to good effect and at length: for example on Dyani’s “Ithi Guru” the first track,  which is probably the best on the CD. It’s also intriguing to compare this CD with last year’s  “Spatial Knowledge and Grace” which constituted the first half of this show before McGregor, who was running on African time himself that night, showed up. This is fascinating because it offers an unparalleled opportunity to hear what McGregor's famously oblique leadership style contributed to the Blue Notes. He sounds slightly below par – perhaps a bit disorientated by whatever it was that caused him to run late. Nevertheless the other three Blue Notes sound noticeably more animated with him at the piano stool. Its also interesting to compare the Moholo/Dyani rapport with the Moholo/ Harry Miller workout  on last year’s superlative previously unissued 1981/82 live performances on the CD “Elton Dean's Ninesense Suite Becket/Miller/Moholo”. Perhaps the comparison is unfair because that Moholo/Miller recording is so exceptional but its difficult to avoid concluding tat there was simply no contest: by that time (late 70’s/early 80’s) Miller and Moholo had played together so much that their combo could run rings ‘round Moholo/Dyani. Where Dyani scored of course, much like Herbie Tsoaeli, was in his holistic approach to his own recordings where his music making was uniquely special. His best work is to be found on his solo albums  “Afrika,”  “Witchdoctor’s Son”and in his duets with Abdullah Ibrahim. Until the advent of Herbie’s “African Time” the only other person of similar calibre in this regard was Gito Baloi whose first solo album “Ekaya” was in the same league as Dyani’s best work and Herbie ’s wonderful “African Time.”

So if Herbie Tsoaeli is a latter day Dyani, does contemporary South Africa boast any obvious successors to Mongezi Feza, Dudu Pukwana or Chris McGregor? As mentioned above, Herbie gives us an answer to the question about Feza by inviting Marcus Wyatt to guest on trumpet for his Mongezi tribute track. Like Herbie, Wyatt has an extensive discography but anyone wondering where to start is advised to hunt down his excellent 2006 studio CD “Language 12.”

But what of Pukwana and McGregor? McCoy Mrubata and Paul Hanmer offer a resounding affirmative answer to this question  on their new live duo CD “The Boswil Concert.” Saxophonist Mrubata and pianist Hanmer have worked together extensively for more than two decades and have developed the same degree of telepathic musical understanding that the Blue Notes displayed at their best. Mrubata’s five SAMA (South African Music Awards) demonstrate that in South Africa he has the stature  Pukwana  enjoyed who was widely regarded as South Africa’s  number two saxophonist after Kippie Moeketsi before he went into exile in the early 1960’s. Likewise, in contemporary South Africa  Barney Rachebane is the only saxophonist with a bigger reputation than Mrubata. This concert recoding, made in 2009 to honour of his 50th birthday, provides a perfect opportunity to hear just how good he is. The comparison between Hanmer and McGregor is obvious too: a pianist, composer, arranger who has earned the respect of the South African jazz establishment – which a a major and creditable achievement. But Hanmer’s stature is much smaller tan McGregor’s. His “Trains to Taung” album is universally and justly admired but not much of his playing and composition on subsequent solo CDs has been as good and his playing can sound rather florid and meander.  On the other hand. one can forgive him anything when he plays genuine township jazz – his marabi inflected licks on “Tshona” on this new recording are as good as anyone’s. Kippie Moeketsi’s alto and Basil Coetzee’s tenor sax solos  on Pat Matshikiza’s original recording of “Tshona” are among the crown jewels of African jazz so Mrubata’s interpretation is a big moment in his career. Much aided by that Hanmer  left hand, Mrubata lives up to his reputation and delivers an interpretation of “Tshona” which ,while respectful of the original,adds insight and displays delicacy and poise. Their stripped down version of Moses Taiwa Molelekwa’s “Genes & Spirits” delights too with Hanmer playing what sounds like pipe organ but the standout track is Mrubata's “Face the Music” which is tour de force for both players.

This year’s SAMA judges are going to have their hands full when it comes to selecting this years winners. After perhaps rather loosing its way for a while following the deaths of Molelekwa and his protégé Moses Khumalo in the course of the last decade, the South African jazz scene has bounced back in some style and appears to be in great shape.

Correction: in the original version of this review I stated erroneously that the great South African pianist Paul Hammer is white. I am most grateful to Veit Arlt, Coordinator of the Centre for African Studies, Basel, for writing to inform me that "although these old racial categories should not matter in music: Paul is not white but coloured."

1 April 2012

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Koffi Chante Lutumba

For several years there has been widespread concern that Congolese jazz, historically the most popular and influential form of jazz in Africa has been slowly dying out. Only last month in my review of African jazz of 2011, I lamented the state of Congolese jazz. Happily a glut of strong new releases suggests that these concerns are misplaced. Foremost among these new offerings is Koffi’s “Chante Lutumba” (in two volumes each of which contain a CD/DVD set).

  Lutumba (Le Poète Lutumba Simaro Massiya)  joined Franco’s OK Jazz,  Africa’s greatest band, as a rhythm guitarist in 1961. He served as Franco’s Vice President for many years and took over as leader after Franco died in 1989. He carried on when the band changed its name to Bana OK in 1994 and continues in this position to the present day. Throughout a career which already spans more than half a century Lutumba has been recognised as one of Africa’s foremost composers.

Love or loathe him, Koffi Olomide is Africa’s biggest music star. His latest venture, this two volume four disc set is a a collaboration with and tribute to Lutumba consisting of a live recording and film of his interpretations of some of Lutumba’s best known compositions. In its scale, this tribute is both unprecedented in the history of African music and ambitious because the original studio recordings of these songs feature some oft he most revered vocalists in African jazz including Franco, Sam Mangwana, Madilu System and Ntesa Dalienst. Wisely Koffi does not try to imitate the definitive earlier versions of these songs but rather reinterprets them in his own unmistakable vocal style. At its best his singing on “Mabele” and “Kadima”, for example, has real power.

 The choice of musicians for this project was a critical one too because everyone in OK Jazz was a star in their own right. “Chante Lutumba” doesn’t include a list of personnel but Koffi refers on stage to Bana Ok and it appears likely from comparing the line-up with his other recent DVDs and Lutumba’s last release “Vivement Simaro” that the instrumentalists at this joint concert are made up, at least in part of, Lutumba’s current Kinshasa incarnation of his band Bana OK.

Like Koffi, the unidentified lead guitarist doesn’t attempt to sound like the peerless guitarists on the original studio recordings of these songs who include Franco, Papa Noel, Gerry Dialungana and Dizzy Mandjeku: rather he does his own thing. His playing, like that of the rhythm section is uncluttered but he uses more distortion than is usually heard n Congolese jazz – sounding at times almost like a member of Konono No 1. It’s a formula that works – his playing on tracks such as “Minuit Eleki Lezi,” “Affaire Kitkwala” and “Mbanzi ya Kumumdele” does full justice to these magnificent compositions and keeps the audience on the dance floor.

 Best of all there’s a simply glorious full five piece horn section (two trumpets, trombone, tenor and alto sax) who play in true OK Jazz style: deceptively loose but coordinated collective improvisation in a manner reminiscent of the parade bands and street fanfares of Kinshasa and New Orleans. OK Jazz and Bana OK have always had the most exciting horn section in Africa: listen here for example to “Inoussa” and “Mabele.” The moment Koffi wanders across the big stage of Kinshasa’s opulent Grand Hotel to hang out with these horn players is one of the highlights of the show. Koffi doesn’t often use horns in his own music and before he wanders over they seem a bit reluctant to cut loose. Koffi’s super star touch and obvious personal magnetism change that in a flash and the whole concert steps up a gear.

As ever, Lutumba Simaro’s own role in all this is elusive and self effacing. He plays characteristically crisp, elegant rhythm guitar on a couple of numbers and shares a jokes with Koffi but for the rest of the show he is nowhere to be seen. Those familiar with his concert DVDs and live performances will recognise that this is perfectly normal for Lutumba just as it was for Franco. His style of band leadership is utterly hands off and explains in part perhaps why there is always such a powerful sense of freedom in his bands. His long stint as Franco’s Vice President probably helps too in giving Lutumba a blue print for how to collaborate with someone with a personality as big as Koffi’s. They both look as though they are thoroughly enjoying themselves. The songs, many of which are Congolese jazz standards, are ideally suited to this kind of freewheeling big band. Once one has heard compositions like “Maya” and “Eau Benite” a few times they become part of one’s psyche and presumably the effect on the Congolese audience is further heightened by the power of his highly respected poeticism. It is a great shame that there are no translations of his lyrics.

That aside, this is a magnificent release. Given such a mouth watering array of ingredients it is no surprise to find that “Chante Lutumba” is a sumptuous feast for the ears, eyes and dancing feet: this music will wear your socks out.

Next month’s review will continue the Congolese theme with coverage of new releases featuring lead guitarists who’ve worked with Lutumba: Papa Noel, Dizzy Mandjeku and Olivier Tshimanga plus strong DVDs from singers Sam Mangwana and Mbilia Bel. Styl jazz Congolais is alive and well.

1 February 2012

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Congo 2012 Part 2

Connoisseurs of style jazz Congolais have known for more than 50 years that one of the music’s greatest exponents d is the guitarist Papa Noel who is an alumnus of African Jazz, Les Bantous de la Capitale and  Le Tout Puissant OK Jazz. Happily his illustrious career is alive and well, especially these days as a supreme acoustic guitar soloist. He can be hard at his best  on the veteran Senegalese singer Ablaye Ndiaye  Thiosanne’s eponymous debut CD where Noel appears alongside Orchestra Baobab’s sublime saxophonist  Thierno Kouate.

Noel aficionados and lovers of the Congo jazz style will delight in several other recent releases. Oliver Tshimanga established himself as lead electric guitarist of Bana OK a decade ago. Sine that time he has become highly sought after as a guitarist, arranger and composer in his own right. Like almost all Congolese instrumentalists, he rarely puts out recordings under his own name but is widely and correctly regarded as one of the best guitarists in Africa who’s every recoding is worth tracking down. On Ferre Gola’s three song maxi single “Avant Gout” (CD/DVD set) his acoustic playing is feature prominently on the second and third tracks on one of which he and Ferre pay homage to Tshimanga’s old boss and mentor Lutumba Simaro.  Perhaps Tshimanga’s playing here isn’t quite as good as it was on Bozi Boziana's  lovely CD/DVD set “Crise Financiere” or the “Madilu Forever” tribute album but it’s always a pleasure to hear him.

Another exceptional but unidentified style jazz Congolais acoustic guitarist can be found on Doudou Cpoa’s DVD “Concert Acoustique à Brazzaville.”

Lutumba Simaro himself can be heard and seen on two new reissues:  Franco’s “En Live Les Annés 80” (CD/DVD set) and on his own “Chaude Ambience” (DVD). Like Louis /Armstrong in African American jazz, Franco is the only undisputed genius in African jazz so any recording of his is worth hearing. He and T.P.OK Jazz are in fine form (eg Franco’s performance of his composition “Locataire” and Josky Kiambukata’s singing ) but this issue is flawed by the fact that the electric bass – a crucial part of the OK Jazz sound – is a barely audible throughout. “Chaude Ambaince”, on the other hand, consists of clips of T.P.OK Jazz’s final studio CD (“Chaude Ambiance”) and of an early Bana OK’s CD “Faute ya Commercant.” Both CD’s were excellent; the remastering on this DVD reissue is of a high standard and this issue is historically important because it shows definitively that e last incarnation of T.P. OK Jazz under Lutumba’s leadership and the first incarnation of Bana OK also under Lutumba’s leadership were one and the same band but for the loss of the vocalist Madilu System

A criticism which world music and jazz fans tend to level against today’s releases, including all of the above except Franco’s, is that they can’t stomach the synths and cheap sounding electric keyboards. Happily Sam Mangwana’s “Live à Paris” (CD/DVD set) is untainted by any keyboards of any kind. Moreover the musicianship here of the band Odemba under the leadership of the ex T.P. OK Jazz guitarist Dizzy Mandjeku is top notch.  Mangwana is widely regarded as Franco’s favourite singer and he has often performed with T.P. OK Jazz and Bana OK. Dizzy Mandjeku joined OK Jazz in 1882, and Odemba’s two fabulous female vocalists Nana and Baniel joined OK Jazz in 1986. There’s also a fine horn section consisting of Didon Dibwdi on tenor sax and the late Michel “sax” Yuma on alto who used to play with L’Orchestra Afri-Jazz, Les Grands Maquisards and Tabu Ley's Afrisa International. Papa Noel is interviewed on the DVD;  there is a snippet of footage of him playing his electric guitar held aloft behind his head but his playing isn’t seen on the featured live songs but seems to be present briefly on the DVD. Two fabulous bonus track are included: promo clips for Bana OK’s “Bula Ntulu” featuring Ndombe Opetum and Mangwana plus a lovely track from Karma Pa’s good 2003 album “Jem’appelle toi (love moi).” It appears that the Mangwana/Odemba live performance must date from the same period but was either never released or, if so, only very obscurely. Either way, Mangwana is in great form and this is the only way to hear or see a recording of Odemba who are one of the best contemporary style jazz Congolais outfits.

The second part of this two month roundup of Congolese jazz suggests the genre is alive and well. The plethora of younger, often unidentified, musicians on many of these releases is especially encouraging like a rush of seedlings and saplings in a fine old forest.

1 March  2012

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Unathi’s smokin’ hot kwai jazz

The Brothers of Peace (Bruce ‘Dope’ Seblito and Oscar ‘Oskido’ Mdongwa), a renowned South African kwaito/house duo and stalwarts of the influential Kalawa Jazmee label, don’ t perform on Unathi’s hit CD “With Love”. But she is one of their protégées who describes ‘Dope’ as her musical mentor and uses Oskido as Executive Producer. It is likely that Oskido had a big say in selecting the mouth watering assortment of young jazz musicians and producers who appear on the recording. These include the keyboard and sax maestro Moumi Dhlamini; Jimmy Mngwandi one of South Africa’s best bassists and Thandiswa’s guitarist Sunnyboy . It isn’t clear exactly what Bruce Seblito’s role as musical mentor involves but  the fabulous photo of Unathi with a rather large African pipe which appears in the jewel case behind the CD  ought to have been on the front cover.

 Unathi’s own agenda is stated clearly in the lyrics of the anthem “Woman” in which she sings:

“Before we die, we'll make 'Mama' the coolest word in the world."

This is absolutely laudable  but has Unathi got what it takes to deliver musically?

When writing an article at the end of 2010 about who was the new Mama Afrika following Miriam Makeba’s demise,I didn’t even mention Unathi. If you’d asked me at the time I’d have described her as a gifted singer/songwriter who was enjoying a career as a pop star but listening to “With Love” I find myself eating humble pie. It isn’t the presence of desirable musicians that makes “With Love” such an excellent listening experience – it’s what Unathi does with them. It’s as though she’s grabbed them by the scruff of the neck, dragged them to the middle of the best dance floor in Johannesburg and announced “We’re spending the evening her guys”. This is Jozi jazz at its sassy, streetwise best.

Unathi and her musicians are worthy additions to the vast array of talent that makes contemporary South Africa’s jazz scene even stronger than those of Kinshasa and Lagos right now. Four further releases by pre kwai jazz South African former exiles showcase sophisticated powers of arrangement and remind us that South African jazz scene has real depth. Caiphus Semenya is widely regarded as the greatest arranger in Africa and his DVD “Live at Carnival City “ shows us why. It’s a stunning release with strong guest appearances by vocalist Thandiswa, saxophonist Khaya Mahlangu and trumpeter Prince Lengoasa. Semenya is probably best known for his work with his wife Letta Mbulu who has perhaps the best voice and technique of all South African jazz singers of her generation. Happily she can be heard against her husband’s superlative arrangements on a recent reissue of “Naturally.”  This long lost 1973 LP is a masterpiece and a must have purchase for lovers of African funk or anyone tempted by a horn section consisting of Wayne Henderson with Nat and Cannonball Adderly.

The other great husband and wife duo in South African jazz perform together much less frequently which makes Bea Benjamin’s “Sathima sings Ellington” produced by her husband Abdullah Ibrahim a highly desirable reissue Sathima is best known as an Ellington specialist and Ibrahim is a devotee too. So this long deleted 1979 LP is a major landmark for both artists. Ibrahim doesn’t play piano here but the small band which backs Sathima is top notch, pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs included; the interpretations of the songs are peerless and the bonus tracks especially “African Songbird” are all excellent. It’s a fantastic disc. Ibrahim's latest release with his band Ekaya is surprisingly good too. Like Dibango’s recent “Ballad Emotion” this is a mellow disc with lovely arrangements and musicianship. I don’t rate many of the recordings Ibrahim has made without African musicians but this one works.

1 January 2012

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