African releases enchant

African releases enchant

Pape Nziengui reissues the historic Kadi Yombo as the haunting voice of Malian singer Rokia Kone captures a country in turmoil

The World Beat desk has been inundated with new releases over the past few weeks as record labels begin to get back on track. Three exceptional African albums play regularly on the World Beat sound system: Kadi Yombo (Awesome Tapes From Africa) by Pape Nziengui; Jacknife Lee’s Rokia Kone and Bamanan (Real World); and The Strings Of Sao Domingos (Ostinato) from the Ano Nobo Quartet.

Pape Nziengui is a Bwiti harp master from Gabon. The Bwiti harp is used in rituals by the Tsogho people, who live in the heavily forested central region of Gabon. In Libraville, the capital, Nziengui was renowned for his playing. He performed with local stars and foreign musicians like Papa Wemba and Manu Dibango. In 1988, he became the first harpist to release an album, a cassette produced by the French Cultural Center, and he formed a group, Bovenga, with the aim of creating modern versions of his traditional music.

In 1989 he released Kadi Yombo on CD, which became an instant national hit. His group combines traditional music (harp, musical bows, jew’s harp, drums and percussion) and choral singing with electric bass, guitars and keyboards. He toured Gabon in the late 1980s and began to take his music to international audiences. Gabonese music is little known outside its region of origin and Nziengui is one of the few Gabonese musicians on the international circuit.

Kadi Yombo sold out quickly and is hard to find, even in Libreville. However, thanks to the remarkable work of Awesome Tapes, this unique music is available again after a 33-year hiatus.

The album’s 10 tracks feature an irresistible trance-like groove, propelled by Nziengui’s harp, buzzing rattles, jaw harp and soaring vocals; some music reminded me of the early work of Thomas Mapfumo. There are many stars, but Bossogho Aketi Na Missingui is my favorite track. The album will be released on April 8. Strongly recommended.

Malian singer Rokia Kone, member of supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique, has teamed up with producer Jacknife Lee (U2, Taylor Swift) for her new release bamanan. The album is a tribute to the Bambara people of southern Mali. Lee provides the sweeping synths that complement the traditional percussion and Malian strings.

Kone was inspired by hereditary praise singers – called jalis or griots – and the importance of ancestral history, as presented in a trilogy of songs, Anw tile, Bamboo N’tji and Soyo N’galanba. These songs praise the great kings of the Ségou region and Kone adds to this a song she composed to praise Malian female heroines like the singers Ramata Diakité and Fanta Damba.

The album is worth it just for the first single to be released, N’yanyan, which features Kone’s soaring voice accompanied only by electric piano – it’s a haunting song that was recorded in one take the night a coup was launched in Mali. The album will be released on February 18.

Ostinato Records has released several excellent compilations of the 11 islands that make up Cape Verde, an archipelago 600 km off the West African coast: Synthesize the Soul, Quente Funana and Pour me a toddy. The latest chapter in the record company’s journey into the heart of Cape Verdean music is a start, as it features contemporary musicians.

The story, like the Gabonese exit, dates back to the late 1980s when a burly soldier called Pascoal was stationed in East Germany. He was there when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. His nickname “El Bruto” (The Brute) refers to his prowess as a guitarist and his time as a Cold War-era soldier ( who was part of the independence movement in Cape Verde) took him to Cuba, the Caribbean and even the Crimea, and he immersed himself in the music of each of these places.

Eventually he returned home to the island of Santiago and he created the quartet Ano Nobo (named after Cape Verde’s most famous composer) with fellow guitar maestros Fany, Nono and Afrikanu – the new version was recorded in different places on the island. The quartet’s take on the popular genre of Koladera is a little different from what international audiences know of the work of late legend Cesaria Evora. It has influences from several sources, from Brazilian samba to Jamaican reggae, including tango, Mozambican marrabenta and even some American blues (every time I listen I discover new influences). And the mixture of different musical influences seems to reflect the Creole nature of the archipelago.

The overall feeling of the album is one of the lushness of the quartet sound, the smooth, melodious swing of the groove and the haunting, sometimes sad vocals. It’s music that quietly clings to your heart. Discover the first single, Mocindadi Society, to start your trip to Cape Verde. The album will be released on February 25.

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