Hello electricjive readers – warm greetings from a Glaswegian music nut!
Firstly, I must thank Chris, Nick, Matt and Siemon not only for their wonderful posts over the years - but for allowing me in as a hijacker! I’ve been a keen follower of the blog for some years - a veritable tour-de-force in the promotion of Africa’s rich musical heritage, and surely world leading when it comes to the priceless preservation of South African treasure in particular?
You’re probably wondering how it comes to be that we Westerners come to be so heavily into African music. For me personally, and, I suspect, for many others, it’s all down to my musical hero – the great BBC DJ, John Peel.
I listened to his nightly shows regularly from 1983 until his untimely death from a heart-attack on 25th October 2004, taping highlights and following them up wherever possible.
During the course of his shows, John Peel brought the Planet closer together, with a weird and wonderful mix of all that was musically interesting – there were no borderlines in his musical world.
Even since before my time, Peel was playing Osibisa, Sipho Bhengu and Fela Kuti way before they were “trendy”.
Over the 21 year course of my listening timespan, I was thrilled by the rush of the Congolese sebene, exhilarated by the dance rhythms of the Zimbabweans, and captivated by the exotic chanters, percussionists and instrumentalists from all over the continent. The nuances of chimurenga, mbaqanga, highlife or soukous were all on the agenda!
I would make up mix-tapes packed with gems from the Soul Brothers, Papa Wemba, the Harare Mambos, Diblo Dibala, Shalawambe, Pépé Kallé, Mahlathini, John Chibadura, Thomas Mapfumo and countless others – it was a pleasure and an education, and it fuelled a lifelong passion.
At the tenth anniversary of the passing of the great man I feel the time is right to acknowledge the huge influence made by John Peel – his support may not have suddenly turned any of those African musicians into mega-millionaires (alas, the world’s tastes are not so well developed) but at least it opened eyes and ears. Thanks to John Peel (and of course his wonderfully entertaining friend and DJ colleague, Andy Kershaw), doors were suddenly open to possibilities - tours were well attended, and thousands of new fans were made where none previously existed. Kershaw continues to be the BBC’s African specialist ‘til this day.
The tunes on this compile were mostly featured in the John Peel show at some stage, although I have allowed myself to include tracks which were discovered by my own adventures. After all, my explorations were as a result of my musical education via the “wingding”, as we John Peel fans liked to refer to his show.
To ensure that my tribute does not demonstrate bias towards my favoured hotspots of Kinshasa, Harare and Johannesburg, I have laid down a simple criterion for the selections – no country can repeat. Apart from the special "bonus track" end selection ;-)
For John Peel and for the love of Africa, I hope you will join me in my celebration!
The Jukebox Rebel
1. Hiran'ny Tanoran'ny Ntao Lo - Oay Lahy E (Traditional)
Recorded in Paris in the 1930s and originally issued on 78. Remastered on the album “The Music of Madagascar: Classic Traditional Recordings of the 1930s” (Yazoo 7003, 1995).
Translates as “Oh Dear Friend”. Recorded evidence of Africa's musical power and beauty has available for well over a hundred years – our fine opener, several decades old, originates from one of the remotest parts of the continent, and serves as an exhibit for the case. Whilst the exact recording / release date for this piece is not known, an enthusiastic collector who goes by the name of jw (Jonathan Ward) (at excavatedshellac.com) provides a lot of great information.
Although recordings were being made in Madagascar from 1929, this particular piece was recorded in Paris, and is believed to have been primarily marketed to the French, in the slipstream, no doubt, of the Colonial Exposition of 1931. You're hearing the unforgettable sound of the valiha, the traditional Malagasy plucked tube zither, pronounced vahLEE, together with a leading lady singer, and her small, but perfectly formed, vocal backing cast. Stylistically, this music is called “kalon’ny fahiny”, or “songs of the past” – with a song type deriving from theatrical Malagasy operetta.
jw notes: “Malagasy music varies across the island nation, and has been influenced from so many sources – East Africa, Europe, Indonesia, and even Yemen. Compared to other traditional music from Africa, it is often described as more melodic, or “lyrical,” because of some of these influences. Kalon’ny fahiny songs certainly fit that description. The style is primarily from the high plains of the country, and the theatrical tradition is still practiced today in major cities of Madagascar.”
2. Lourdes Van-Dúnem - Ngongo Ya Biluka (?)
Recorded in 1972. Original release unknown. Compiled on “Angola 70's: 1972-1973” (Buda Musique 82992-2, 1999).
This legendary songstress was born in Luanda, and rose to stardom in the 1960s with the group Ngola Ritmos. She recorded her first album, “Monami”, with this group. She toured several times in Portugal, Algeria, and Brazil, in addition to performances in her homeland. After her first album, most of her career was spent with the group Jovens do Prenda, and it’s they who provide the backing on our featured track. Angola’s first recording studio only opened in 1969 – what had we been missing out on ‘til then I wonder? Who can resist this easy style of Semba? Samba without the sweat - yes please! There’s a sense of hope within this tune but Angola, yet a colony, could not fully settle during these troubled times. She died in 2006, aged 70, of typhoid fever, just as some degree of stability was returning to the Republic. The President of Angola, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, attended her funeral, recognising her outstanding contribution as a cultural ambassador for Angola.
3. Jali Nyama Suso - Kedo (Traditional)
Field recording in February 1974 in Bakau Village, The Gambia. First issued on the LP “African Journey, Vol. 1” (Sonet 666, 1975).
Samuel Charters was the compiler of the above mentioned western release. On the original LP he notes: “These recordings were made during extended journeys among the peoples of West Africa [namely The Gambia, Senegal and Mali] whose lives and culture have become part of the Cultural history of America.”
Mohamadu Lamin Suso (born circa 1925; died 1991) is heard here singing and playing the kora, this being the ceremonial instrument of choice for his folk – a 21-string bridge harp used by the Mandinka people of north-western Africa. On this track, there’s an immediate intimacy between listener and performer – a hypnotic warmth which is not easily generated by just one man and his stringed instrument. There’s something about Jali – he’s a soul stirrer.
His was an eventful life – he lost his leg at the age of just 16, but did not allow this to prevent him from making the most of his time. By the mid-1960s he had become an extremely popular figure on Radio Gambia. By the time of recording his first album in 1971, he was teaching at the University of Washington. In the 1980s he toured in England, France, Germany, and Sweden, as well as working on TV soundtrack music. He was trusted to do an arrangement for the Gambian national anthem; such was his level of respect. In 1991, he died of tuberculosis after several years of illness.
4. Marijata - Mother Africa (Pat Thomas, Kofi Addison, Bob Fischian, Nat Osmanu)
Formed from the ashes of the Sweet Beans, this Ghanaian highlife crew were smokin’ hot. Core members were Pat Thomas (vocals), Kofi ‘Electric’ Addison (Guitar), Bob Fischian (Organ) and Nat Osmanu (Guitar). I’ve long regarded the JBs as the world leaders in the art of the hard and fast funk trance-out but, as you can hear, Marijata run them all the way to the wire.
5. Boyoyo Boys - Son Op (Johnson Mkhalali)
Accordion jive of the highest order, completely exhilarating from start to finish. It’s easy to hear why these boys topped 70s Township Jive charts with gold records galore. On the worldwide stage they will, of course, forever be renowned as the inspirational catalyst for Paul Simon’s excellent “Graceland”. Hey, at least Paul Simon paid them their dues. Unlike that cad Malcolm McLaren. Peel continued to play the new Boyoyo Boys material all the way throughout the 1980s.
6. Kanda Bongo Man - Amina (Kanda Bongo Man)
After a somewhat innocuous beginning, this piece lifts at least thrice, and, before you can say “Congo Bongo”, you’re embroiled in an intoxicating swirl of head-spinning brilliance.
Having played together back home in Zaire with Bella Bella, it was quite natural that Kanda Bongo Man should once again team up with his old friend when, at the start of the 1980s, both ended up in Paris. The fact that Diblo Dibala was probably the hottest Soukous lead guitarist on the planet was an added bonus for Kanda. Not for nothing is “Diblo” the most famous mid-recording shout-out in all of African music.
In 1992, John Peel and Andy Kershaw, on learning Diblo was making an appearance at Stern's African Records, raced there to get his autograph. Dibala repaid the compliment by giving name checks to both of them on “Matchatcha Wetu”. This is why we love these DJ’s – zero pretence; they are music fans first and foremost!
Speaking in regards to a live Diblo concert, Peel said “believe me, to hear Diblo singing your name on stage is one of the greatest things that's happened to me in my entire life… I know it's an amazingly stupid thing to say that somebody is the best guitarist in the world, but if there is such a person it could well be Diblo Dibala.”
In June 2003, the performance of Kanda Bongo Man at Glastonbury Festival so enthused John Peel that he was to be heard waxing lyrical about it on TV and Radio at every available opportunity in the days that followed. Not that this was some idle, casual fling with the exotic. He had been doing the same thing on his Radio Show for nigh on two decades.
7. Amayenge - Mao (2 X 2) (Traditional)
Recorded 1985. Original release unknown. Included on the v/a compilation “Zambiance” (Globe Style ORB-037, 1989).
The name Amayenge is derived from a dance frequently performed by the Lamba people in the Copperbelt region of Zambia. This dance is traditional and involves vigorous hip movements in line with the drumming. It is always performed by the Lamba people when they have something to be happy about it. Not that this group are at all associated with any particular region of the country – quite the opposite is true in fact. Whilst “Mao” is sung in the Tonga tongue, I’m hugely impressed by the fact that they’d be just as likely to sing in any one of Zambia’s mind boggling array of language variations - up to 78 of them according to whose count you believe. Especially impressive is the fact that they are well respected across all the tribes in this regard, and are thought of as authentic all over the country. I am reliably informed (from “Zambian Music Legends” by Leonard Koloko) that the celebratory tone of their music often belies a tendency towards socially conscious lyrics, something which further endears them to me.
In 2003, when the group’s leader, Chris Chali, passed away, a glowing tribute was paid to him by Zambia’s ambassador to Japan, Godfrey Simasiku. Part of it read:
“I wish to pay tribute to a fallen hero, our very own Chris Chali of the Amayenge Cultural Ensemble. None other than Chris himself founded Amayenge. The group became one of the best-known ambassadors of Zambia through their vibrant, indigenous music. They took the U.S.A. by storm and mesmerised the Russians not far from the Red Square in Moscow. Their kalindula music vibrated, as many a patron gyrated in Zambia and beyond. Yes, the Amayenge became a national cum regional household name.
Chris Chali motivated and inspired his recruits and initiates into Amayenge Cultural Ensemble when the rewards in our own indigenous music were peanuts. Yes, over the years a prophet has been recognised in his own land, so was Chris. He composed music in all the Zambian languages and translated into it vocal vibrations that few would fail to respond to. He took the Amayenge to all corners of the country either through hundreds and thousands of live shows or on cassette and compact disc. We remember “Be Helena”, “Ten Kwacha”, “Munise Munise”, “Fili Uko Tuleya” and dozens of new compositions.
Chali was a gentleman, a diplomat, and a family man who interacted with many kinds of people in his life. Chris earned the respect of everyone he met in his various roles in society. He cut across tribal barriers with his infectious smile and trademark chuckle or laugh.”
Good old determination and perseverance has held the band together ‘til this day under the stewardship of Chris’s wife, Alice Mwenge Chali, and Fraser Chilembo.
8. The Four Brothers - Ngatipindukewo (Marshall Munhumumwe)
From their LP “Rudo Chete” (Kumusha/Gramma Records KSALP-124, 1988).
Any track. Any album. The Four Brothers never let you down. This one features the “classic” line up of Marshall Munhumumwe (drums, lead vocals), Never Mutare (bass, vocals), Aleck Chipaika (guitar, vocals) and Frank Sibanda (guitar). It seemed like John Peel played every track on “Makorokoto” when he got his hands on it, and the band were perennial favourites for as long as I can remember. I rate “Rudo Chete” as one of the ten greatest albums in my own collection – and this is no mean feat as, in doing so, it beats off competition from nearly ten thousand others!
Peel famously rated the track “Pasi Pano Pane Zviedzo” as his second favourite of all-time, in conversation on “Desert Island Discs”, broadcast on Radio 4 in January, 1990. Later, in the Guardian newspaper in 1997, he included “Makorokoto” in his all-time Top 20 album list. On more than one occasion he has been quoted as describing The Four Brothers as “the best live band in the world”. Yes, it’s fair to say this was real old-fashioned doe-eyed fan-worship – and who could blame him?
Quite often, John Peel’s home in Suffolk would become a bit of an unlicensed social club – there’d be much pouring of wine, inevitably centred around a musical happening of some sort, often with hilarious results broadcast on his Radio 1 show. Magically, late in the summer of 1989, The Four Brothers made it all the way from Harare to Great Finborough or, to be more precise, “Peel Acres”, to indulge in one such party.
Writing in “Margrave of The Marshes” (the half-finished autobiography which she bravely finished after her husbands’ premature death), Sheila Ravenscroft offered some lovely insight into the couples’ fondness for Africa, and for Zimbabwe in particular:
“Our most memorable and enlightening trips were those promotional jaunts organised by the BBC to promote the World Service. These were wonderful times, and often dramatically illuminating, such as our visit to Sierra Leone, which Dave Tate from the World Service arranged in conjunction with the British Council. John visited the university, and did a question-and-answer session with the students, who were all very charming and shy.
The British Council did some splendid work in the country, and John enjoyed engaging with the people there, despite his own shyness. But it was quite an upsetting trip; we witnessed a level of poverty that left us feeling physically shaken. After a while, we realised that we hadn’t seen any elderly people on our travels. That’s when our guide explained that few people lived beyond forty.
Our favourite trip had been another joint venture between the British Council and the World service, this time to Zimbabwe in 1988. John’s role on this occasion was to open a pop-music exhibition in Harare, though he was careful to remind himself that he had only been asked after Dave Lee Travis had turned it down. “I’m only here because Dave Lee Travis couldn’t be” – that’s the kind of thing that will always keep a man from getting ideas above his station.
Dave didn’t know what he was missing. The trip was a complete joy from the moment we touched down in Zimbabwe; by the time we left, John was seriously considering moving there. We spent a lot of time travelling into the townships to sample the local music scene. There was dancing everywhere. In one bar that we visited just outside Harare, an elderly man approached John and asked why he wasn't dancing. John replied, “I don't like to”, to which the man responded by proffering the bottle of beer he was clutching. “Have this and you’ll feel like dancing”, he beamed.
Another night, we went with Biggie Tembo to see a local band, the Four Brothers, who were performing at the Saratoga Club. John first met Biggie when Andy Kershaw took him to see “New” Biggie’s band, the Bhundu Boys, in London. Halfway through the gig, Andy turned to John and realised that he had plump tears cascading down his cheeks, so uplifted was he by the music. Much the same can be said for the Four Brothers. John and I felt so exhilarated by their songs; they could lift you up on the darkest days. I danced with Biggie during three numbers, and when we left the dance floor there was enthusiastic applause; John said afterwards that he felt rather proud.
When the Four Brothers had finished, John said wistfully that he wished they could play at his birthday party. And they did. I arranged for them to perform in our garden, and even as John was entering the marquee on his fiftieth birthday, he had no idea which band he was going to find there. It had been quite an effort keeping it a secret. John and I had been at the Reading Festival a few days before his birthday, where the Bhundu Boys were playing - and where Biggie babysat for Thomas, who insisted on pronouncing his name as Big Ears - and friends kept approaching me and asking me about the party. But when John set eyes on the Four Brothers in the marquee, he was completely surprised, as well as speechless.
That trip to Zimbabwe was also important because we got to visit Victoria Falls, which John had always wanted to see ever since he saw a photograph of it as a child. There were four places, in fact, on this wish list that he had compiled in his youth. As well as Victoria Falls, he got to see the Taj Mahal, and he also visited the Pyramids, where he had his photograph taken riding a camel - a pose that he'd wanted to replicate since seeing a picture of his father doing the same. The fourth place on John’s list was Machu Picchu.
Our excursion to Victoria Falls was memorable for more than just the grandeur of the location. Once we were there, we hired bicycles and rode by The Falls; the spray was momentarily cool and refreshing on our faces, but it dried in an instant in the thick heat. We cycled on to what was formerly the Zambian border with the intention of crossing to see The Falls from the other side. The border guards didn’t seem too keen to let us pass until John commented that he was hoping to go into Livingstone to buy some records. One of the guards wanted to know which records, and when John mentioned a few names, he seemed suddenly interested. “Do you know “Samora Michel” by Shalawambe?” he asked. “Of course!” replied John. And after he'd duetted with the border guard on a few verses of the song, we had our passports stamped and were waved cheerfully through.”
9. Orchestra Marrabenta Star de Moçambique - Tsiketa Kuni Barassara (Conjunto Boa Vontade)
From their LP “Independence” (Piranha pir-12, 1988).
Two things struck me when I first heard this – i) there is utter joy within these souls and ii) what tempo is THAT? Of course, these immediate feelings are all very well to the uninitiated. Beyond that, why was this recorded in Harare? Why did they call their album “Independance”, 13 years after the event? Like so many other African nations, the joy of independence was short-lived in Mozambique, as unrest and civil war ravaged the hopes and dreams of the people in the following decades. The back cover of their CD quotes from “Nhimba Ya ‘Dota”, a song written by the groups’ leader Wazimbo, who lays down his thoughts thus: “Is it natural that the rich people with big stomachs own and decide everything? Is it natural that it was decided that Africa is the poorest of all continents? With the great World Wars the other continents took the chance to grow and rule the world. And we Africans, we live at their back and pass the years lamenting.”
Which just goes to show – never judge a record solely by its cover. No fewer than fifteen of them, dressed for carnival, looking bright eyed and funky. Whatever they’re all about, there’s no denying this brilliant music. Lively percussion and horns, unusual rhythms and great vocalists, with Wazimbo (m), Mingas (f) and Dulce (f) rotating lead duties. In the case of this chosen track, it’s Dulce who takes centre stage to charming effect.
10. Les Têtes Brulées - Za Ayi Neyi (Jean-Marie Ahanda, Martin Maah, André Afata, Théodore Epeme, Roger Bekongo)
From their album “Ma Musique a Moi” (Bleu Caraïbes 82803, 1990).
Les Têtes Brulées (The Hot Heads) were founded in ’86 by music critic Jean-Marie Ahanda as a counter-reaction to the flashy, gold-studded style pervasive throughout the dominant zouk dance music scene. Unlike the extravagant Cameroonian stars that preceded them, Les Têtes preferred a stripped-down, rough edged sound. Their rapid-fire performances at the time were based upon the rural traditional music known as Bikutsi, an ancient rhythm from the rainforest region of western Cameroon. Bikutsi is the music of the Beti tribe, traditionally played on a balafon (African marimba) and danced by the clan’s women in a jerky, hypnotic fashion.
Their take was fresh – and their image was striking. Whilst many zouk and makossa artists went for costumes and a very Western look, Les Têtes Brulées sported shaved heads and tribal body paint, with the intent of evoking traditional Beti scarification. Their songs contained lyrics which addressed social issues – but they didn’t forget to have fun. Virtually every live concert would involve a football being kicked or thrown all around the venue between group and audience. This feel-good tomfoolery was recognised by “The Lions” and Les Têtes Brulées were invited along to the World Cups of 1990 (Italy) and 1994 (the USA), their riotous nature being seen as a key ingredient in keeping spirits high within the camp. It worked too – who could ever forget the exploits of Roger Milla leading Cameroon to within tantalising distance of the World Cup Semi-Finals? In his mind, he was dancing to Les Têtes Brulées at the corner flag! Pam Pam Cameroon!
The group burnt out though and Jean-Marie Ahanda would later lament: “We've never been able to make a living from our music. We had great highs when we were out on tour, but the rest of the time we found ourselves battling against this impossible contradiction - there we were, the most famous group in Cameroon, but we didn't have any work and we were basically 'persona non grata' wherever we went! The bikutsi system totally rejected us. I eventually decided to call it quits, but other members of the group insisted on going on, looking for venues where they could play and express themselves no matter what. That only seemed to do more damage in the end because a series of bad experiences eventually tore apart the remaining core.”
11. Alan Namoko and Chimvu Jazz - A Namoko Akulira (Alan Namoko)
Who can resist this raggle-taggle pounding? Not me, that’s for sure. There’s something about this humble ensemble that gets you – something magical which transcends language.
Alan Namoko was a thoroughly inspirational character. Blind from birth, he was an underdog from the very start. He literally developed his own unconventional style and was the world leading authority on his own home made banjo cum guitar, of which he was complete master. Picks, rhythms, sub rhythms, bass lines, you name it, he could produce from it, song by song, in any which way that took his fancy. And what a wailer - the blues from his moans were tangibly loaded with soul, and his lyrics, delivered in a well themed Chewa and Nyanja inclined vocabulary, tore out the hearts of many.
On our chosen song his wails translate: “Namoko is in mourning for his grandmother, she is gone to the graveyard on one of those one-way journeys, dear brother, Namoko is in mourning, his grandmother has deserted him, she has gone on a one-way trip to the grave.”
The rootsy, lo-fi ensemble was complete with tea chest percussion from his brother Laisani and cousin Rabson Matiya, the trio usually dubbed Alan Namoko and Chimvu River Jazz Band, a name borrowed from the river a couple of kilometres from the Namoko’s home.
Alan was only 7 when Malawi gained her independence in 1964. For the vast majority of his life he knew only one system – and Banda’s authoritarian single party state in Malawi meant that a lot of musicians could not fully express themselves. Lyrics of a political, controversial, or sexual nature in a largely conservative country would almost certainly result in a jail term.
The recording industry in the country was low key to the point of being almost inconsequential – his only route to eking an existence of any sort was to play at the road sides and rely on the kindness of strangers.
Soon, they came to realise that perhaps there was another way – perhaps if they could gain support and recognition from the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) they could receive regular royalty cheques if they could impress enough to gain sufficient airplay?
Namoko and his band got wind that the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation in Blantyre, the only radio station in the country, had arranged for recording sessions with acoustic artists at the then Kudya Entertainment Centre.
On one of the recording days, Namoko and his companions set out from their Thyolo homes and headed for Kudya, over 30 kilometres away. Upon their mistimed arrival, the sessions were about to wind up - but Namoko was not ready to let his opportunity pass so easily!
After his insistence and pleas for a chance, the recording team Davies Mussa and the late Merkas Munthali and the late Lawson Chaluluka gave him a try and the rest is history.
“He did pieces like “A Unyolo” and “Che Phuwela” and the place went wild” recalled Mussa who worked with MBC for a time long enough to know how to separate wheat from the chaff.
They had secured a future of sorts – they could now queue regularly at the radio stations’ royalties issuing window and gauge how popular their latest tunes had been with the selectors / public via the size of their pay cheque.
It’s commonly told that they were the Number One act in the 1970s and 1980s – yet still the royalty payments were barely enough to get bye.
In 1990, Namoko and company flew to Europe for a whistle-stop three-week tour of the mainland. It was reported that, in one Finnish venue, they sold more tickets than The Beatles who had played their nearly 30 years earlier!
These highs always seemed temporary – and never lucrative for Alan or his group.
According to his relatives, it was on November 20, 1995 that Namoko passed on after a failed battle with tuberculosis, still a pauper.
As fate decided it, Namoko died a man laden with poverty and want. It would take a dozen long years before his grave could be acknowledged with a tombstone.
Amid pressing poverty after the demise of their bread winner, there was very little that his family could do to honour a fallen soul; they had to struggle to smooth the way of the souls still living.
In 2007, Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) came to their rescue and took care of Namoko’s grave, as well as the graves of Laisani (who died in 1994) and Rabson (who died in 2001): “The reason why we are building this tombstone, which we are calling the Allan Namoko Memorial Tower, is because at ZBS, we believe that as much as Namoko came from an ordinary background, he was not an ordinary man. It was within our belief that there are so many people out there that have achieved big things but have not been recognised, one of whom is Allan Namoko” Zodiak’s managing director Gospel Kazako told Society.
“We strongly believe that Allan Namoko can still be honoured because our culture tells us that we can still respect the dead. In our view, Allan Namoko does not deserve to sleep in a leaking house, or in no house at all as was the case” he said.
Kazako remarked that the gesture reflects Zodiak’s desire to respect art and talent in Malawi.
“For us, it only makes sense for a pure Malawian radio station to put up a memorial tower for a true Malawian legend. We wish we had all the money so that we could have done memorial towers for Daniel Kachamba, Robert Fumulani, Maikolo Yekha or Black Paseli” he said.
Note: I’m indebted to an internet article entitled “Pain of Namoko's penniless legacy” by Herbert Chandilanga (2007), for the source of most of this information.
12. Le Zagazougou - Allah Ma Diana (Korotoum Kamara)
Recorded in Abidjan, April 1992, included on their self-titled debut album (ACSB-001, 1992), a local cassette-only release.
Cote d’Ivoire? Halfway to Colombia by the sounds of it! If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my African adventures it’s that all pre-conceived notions about the region’s music do a great dis-service to the creative talents that are lurking within every corner of the continent. For every Womad-led snooze-fest with jaded session musos, there’s a fresh, sparkling ensemble just around the corner, waiting to be discovered. Of Le Zagazougou, All Music Guide have this to say: “Formed in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in 1990 by the sons and nephews of Mamadou Ouattara (who, having been given an accordion by a missionary, had introduced the instrument into the traditional music of Cote d’Ivoire), Le Zagazougou continued to develop the role of the accordion within the music of their country. They created a brand of fast-paced, acoustic roots pop which also featured vocals and massed percussion. Led by Ouattara’s son Bakary, a.k.a. Abou Ouatt, and featuring up to 15 instrumentalists and singers, they soon became the most popular roots-based group in Abidjan.
Their debut cassette for the local market outsold more commercial African and Anglo-American releases on its release in 1992 to become the Cote d’Ivoire’s bestseller of that year. This was something of a coup for traditional-based music, hence the title of their debut international release “Zagazougou Coup”, which featured tracks from that initial release alongside material recorded in Abidjan a year later.”
13. Magic Black Men - Can 2002 (?)
An inventive trio who answer to the names Don Mizero (Hamidou Cissé), Philosophy (Attino Doumbiaand) and Titi (who has managed to retain anonymity). Their originality is widely applauded by the Malian public. They all speak the dialects of Mali as well as several foreign languages – you will get an immediate sense of this on our selected track, which was played by both John Peel and Andy Kershaw. They somehow manage to stylistically bridge their sound to incorporate Rap, Ragga, Soul, Zouk, Salsa, the traditional, and even a little bit of Rock n Roll. Now that’s magic ;-)
14. Béla Fleck and Ateso Jazz Band - Jesus Is The Only Answer (Traditional)
From his album “Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3: Africa Sessions” (Rounder 0634, 2009).
Rounder Records press release tells the background: “Throw Down Your Heart chronicles banjo virtuoso and 9-time Grammy award winner Bela Fleck’s musical journey to Africa to explore the little known African roots of the banjo. Bela’s boundary-breaking musical adventure takes him to Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Mali, and provides a glimpse of the beauty and complexity of African music. Using his banjo, Bela transcends barriers of language and culture, finding common ground and forging connections with musicians from very different backgrounds.”
There are simple joys at every second turn of this set – a must have for any collection. Who needs a £100,000 studio when the people’s park of Jinja is available for free? What a charming adventure...
15. Soweto Gospel Choir - Asimbonanga [live dec. '13] (Johnny Clegg)
I finish off this mix-tape with a song which was originally written and performed by Johnny Clegg and Savuka, away back in 1987. Johnny Clegg was an artist given great support by Andy Kershaw and John Peel, since way back in the 1970s, when he played with Juluka.
Peel’s politics were in line with Mandela – he too was a social democrat. A firm supporter of the anti-apartheid movement, his shows were suitably littered with words and music aligned with the cause for as long as I can recall. His listeners voted “Free Nelson Mandela” as one of the best songs of the year in 1984, with Peel wryly commenting afterwards, “Should have been higher, brothers and sisters.” In June 1988, Peel attended the “Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert” at Wembley Stadium, and followed up with encouraging words on air aimed at solidifying the significance and meaning of the event beyond pop music. From Zambia, Amayenge arrived in London the following month to play in session, and included their own song, also titled “Free Nelson Mandela” – the hour was nearing at last.
Mandela was “the one man on earth that I would really like to meet” said Peel on air – a wish unfulfilled, although Andy Kershaw did get to meet him briefly at the “46664” concert in London in 2008.
As for our chosen version of “Asimbonanga”, The Soweto Gospel Choir had been singing this song in their repertoire for many years, usually bridged wonderfully with “Biko”. The choir had been booked to appear at a Woolworths store on 7th December 2013, where, as part of the store’s “Operation Smile Xmas campaign” they would perform James Brown’s “I Feel Good” and hand out flowers to the customers. The idea was that they would be incognito, posing as shop workers, and suddenly burst into song from out of nowhere, to the surprise of passers-by and anyone else who happened to be in the store at the time. So it came to be that in Woolworths Parkview Store in Pretoria, Saturday 7th December 2013, 10:15am, they duly performed – but with a late change to the planned track selection! Rolihlahla Mandela had passed away the night before last and an appropriate dedication was in order!
Asimbonanga (we have not seen him)
Asimbonang' uMandela thina (we have not seen Mandela)
Laph'ekhona (in the place where he is)
Laph'ehleli khona (in the place where he is kept)
Sithi: Hey, wena (We say: hey, you)
Hey, wena nawe (Hey, you and you)
Siyofika nini la' siyakhona (when will we arrive at our destination)
I was very proud that my own hometown honoured Rolihlahla Mandela with the Freedom of Glasgow in 1981. Prouder still when St George's Place in our City Centre was renamed as Nelson Mandela Place in 1986. At Glasgow City Council HQ in George Square we have a plaque bearing words from his infamous speech / statement dating back to 20th April 1964:
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
These words from Mandela’s defence statement during the Rivonia Trial in 1964 were repeated during the closing of his speech delivered in Cape Town on the day he was released from prison, on 11 February 1990. He was a brave, selfless and noble man who broke the supremacists through sheer will and determination. He never changed for South Africa. South Africa changed for him.
Rolihlahla Mandela, with my fist clenched and right arm aloft, I salute you.
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