Monday, March 19, 2018

Welcome to Maroon!

Mwakaribishwa na Maroon! That's Swahili for "Welcome to Maroon." It's also the title of today's featured recording (Polydor POLP 600, 1989) by Kenya's legendary Maroon Commandos. The Maroons have been around since 1970, founded by Habel Kifoto (that's him on the left above) as the offficial band of the 7th Kenya Rifles of the Kenyan Army, based in Langata Barracks, Nairobi. 

The Maroons' modest goal in the beginning was to tour the country entertaining homesick troops, but it wasn't long before their infections blend of rumba, benga and traditional music caught on with the general public. Their first hit was "Emily" in 1971, and then an unfortunate traffic accident in 1972, which killed one member, sidelined the group for several years until they came roaring back in 1977 with "Charonyi ni Wasi," which is included on the collection Kenya Dance Mania (Sterns/Earthworks STEW24CD, 1991). Written by Kifoto in his native Taita language, it is a sad melody of nostalgia and hard times in the big city. I shared another great song by the group, "Liloba," in an earlier post. That one, by the way, featured the vocals of Laban Ochuka, who later founded the Ulinzi Orchestra, the subject of a future post.

About a recent performance, Daniel Wesangula wrote in the Daily Nation newspaper:

Three nights a week 20 Kenyan soldiers take a break from the rigorous routine that defines their military life from sunrise to sunset. On these nights they let another side of their personalities take over as they mingle with civilians through music. Hands trained to hold weapons hold guitars, trumpets, drumsticks and microphones. Feet accustomed to marching in formation and jumping in and out of trenches tap lightly, keeping beat to the music. 
Voices conditioned to bark out orders in military drills croon words that have entertained generations. And the faces that seldom crack the faintest of smiles soften and become warm. During the two hours on stage there are no ranks, no obligatory salutes. During this rehearsal, united by their common love of music, they are all equal.
After a ten-year recording hiatus, the Maroon Commandos returned to the scene in 2007 with a new album, Shika Kamba, and have continued to entertain East Africans up until the present. I was saddened to learn while researching this post, though, that Habel Kifoto passed away in 2011. He had retired from the Army in 2009, passing on leadership of the band to Diwani Nzaro and subesquently Sgt. David Kombo. Kifoto remained active in music, however, and is said to have recorded a new album just before his death.

Enjoy Mwakaribishwa na Maroon!

Download Mwakribishwa na Maroon as a zipped file here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Groovin' with Touré Kunda

In the early '80s, Touré Kunda, founded by brothers Amadou, Ismaïla and Sixu Touré in the Casamance region of Senegal, were slated to be the next World Music™ sensation. For a while it looked like they might make it. Albums like E'mma Africa and Casamance au Claire de Lune were well-received. The group embarked on a number of world tours, one of which produced the excellent live 2-LP set Live-Paris-Ziguinchor (Celluloid CEL 6710/11, 1984).

Some of my more purist-minded fellow African music fans looked down their noses at Touré Kunda. Their sound, not as hard-edged as the product coming out of Dakar, seemed suspiciously affable. Were Touré Kunda just a marketing gimmick? Were they an African version of The Monkees?

Not so! Touré Kunda's easy-going, less angular sound is deeply rooted in the Casamance, a region that was under Portuguese rule until 1888. And what's wrong with being likable and popular, anyway? Despite some ill-advised tech flourishes on their mid-'80s albums I've always appreciated Touré Kunda.

The 1992 cassette Sili Béto (Irema CB 521) dispensed with the "World Beat" excresences and was a welcome return to form for the group. I've always loved their take on reggae, and the Portuguese-influenced vocals are great as usual. I hope you'll enjoy it also!

Touré Kunda - Hadidia

Touré Kunda - Fatou Yo

Touré Kunda - Casalé

Touré Kunda - Akila

Touré Kunda - Soppé

Touré Kunda - Ké Diaré

Touré Kunda - Fiança

Touré Kunda - Téria

Touré Kunda - Cira

Touré Kunda - On Verra Quoi? Ça!

Touré Kunda - Oromiko

Download Sili Béto as a zipped file here.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Funky Jùjú Highlife From Ondo State

Who is Tayo Jimba? I have no idea. I do know that I enjoy this 1988 LP, Ise Aje (Leader LRCLS 65), a great deal. The label lists the musical style as "Jùjú/Highlife," and that sounds about right. It is actually quite similar to recordings I've posted here before by Adé Wesco and Orlando Owoh - a funky, rootsy, less-cluttered sound that takes us back a few decades to the point where jùjú and  highlife music were less differentiated.

The label also lists the language as "Yoruba/Ikale." Ikale is generally considered a dialect of Yoruba rather than a separate language, and since Ikale speakers are concentrated in Ondo State, western Nigeria, it's reasonable to surmise that Tayo Jimba is from there also. Reader/listeners are invited to tell us more.

Enjoy Ise Aje!

Tayo Jimba & his Black Shadows - Ori Mi / Oro Owo / Oro Nigeria

Download Ise Aje as a zipped file here.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

First-Generation Zouglou

Over the last few months we've been exploring the origins and development of zouglou music in Ivory Coast, and listening to some representative recordings. The website Music in Africa describes the style's origins as follows:

The musical roots of zouglou lie in the local Ivorian musical styles tohourou and aloucou from western Côte d’Ivoire, which became popular in the urban centres in the 1960s and 70s. The direct musical base of zouglou music grew out of what is known as ambiance facile or woyo: chants to percussive music on improvised instruments such as metal scrapers, glass bottles and of course drums. This music grew out of the songs that accompanied sports competitions in Côte d‘Ivoire‘s schools during the 1980s. Groups of students that called themselves “supporters committees” would accompany sports teams to the games and make up songs to encourage their teams. As school teams and their supporters committees travelled to matches against other schools across the country, they picked up new melodies and rhythms along the way.

Ambiance facile
and woyo music sessions also became a popular past-time in Abidjan’s working class (popular) neighborhoods. In these multi-ethnic neighborhoods, children and teenagers would teach each other songs from their home regions. This mostly unrecorded leisure music is still popular across Côte d’Ivoire. Through the sports matches and neighborhood sessions, ambiance facile drew on rhythms and melodies from many different regions of Côte d’Ivoire. Zouglou music also drew on these rhythms and melodies and thus became the first musical style that was considered to be multi-ethnic and nationally representative of Côte d’Ivoire.

In 1990, zouglou was invented first as a dance among university students residing in the Yopougon student accommodation at the University of Cocody in Abidjan, now known as Felix Houphouet-Boigny University. This dance consisted of throwing one’s arms in the air with angular movements, mimicking an imploration to God to help the university students that were suffering under the budgetary cuts in the education sector (fewer scholarships, inadequate student housing, catering and transport, etc.)...
The musical group Zougloumania, founded by the duo Poignon and Bouabré in 1990, was the biggest of the "First Generation" of zouglou groups. Its first and apparently only release, Zomammanzo (EMI E028991-4, 1991), hit the scene like a bombshell, becoming the greatest hit of the zouglou era, exceeded only by Magic System's "Premier Gaou," released in 1999. Listening to it, it's not hard to understand why - every track on Zomamanzo is a scorcher!

After this auspicious debut, Poignon and Bouabré went ther seaparate ways, bringing an end to Zougloumania. Bouabré moved to France and Poignon remained in Abidjan, becoming a solo artist as well as performing with Les Doyas, a trio composed of Poignon, Alan Bill and Yodé Côcô. He has lately been afflicted with facial paralysis and is in need of proper medical care. Let's hope he recovers soon!

Enjoy Zomamanzo!

Zougloumania - Zomamanzo

Zougloumania - Elle a Bu Degue

Zougloumania - Djaba

Zougloumania - Zito

Zougloumania - Ah Ma Soeur

Zougloumania - Tchicala

Zougloumania - Kapa

Zougloumania - Zomamanzo (Instrumental)

Download Zomamanzo as a zipped file here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Coastal Sounds From Kenya

I think the Pressmen Band, described as "teen sensations" in their heyday, are still extant and catering to the tourist trade around Mombasa, Kenya. Today's offering by them, Dash-Dash (CBS (N) 034), is from the late '80s and features the chakacha coastal sound that they helped to popularize along with  bands like Them Mushrooms and the Mombasa Roots Band, who were featured in an earlier post.

The opening tune, "Musenangu," was a big hit for the Pressmen. It's in the Chonyi language and is about two lovers who are parting ways. Although this sort of music isn't exactly my favorite, there's no denying its popularity, not only among tourists but among Kenyans of all walks of life. Enjoy!

Thanks to the commenter "Sashahon" on YouTube for transcribing and translating the lyrics to "Kadogo":

We kadogo nakupenda
Nikuone uwe wangu
Na mimi sina mwingine
Nimpendaye kama wewe
Usingizi siupati, Nikifiki ulivyo
Fanya hima tuonane, tuelewane pamoja
We kadogo..
Waniacha mi naponda, kwa kufikiri wewe
Moyo wangu wateseka, vile nakupenda you
We kadogo.. 
Kadogo I love you
I want to marry you so you'll be mine
I don't want anyone else
That I love as I love you
I can''t sleep thinking about you
Try we meet so we come to agreement
We Kadogo...
I yearn for you in my thoughts
My soul suffers for loving you
We Kadogo...

Download Dash-Dash as a zipped file here.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sounds of Soweto

There was growing interest in South African music during the 1980s. The initial impetus came from the Soweto uprising of 1976 and the surging freedom movement against the racist apartheid regime. In 1983 the compilation Zulu Jive: Umbaqanga (Earthworks ELP 2002), released in Britain, was the first exposure many of us outside of the country had to the down-home, funky sounds of urban South Africa, and its sequal, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (Earthworks EWV 14, 1985), kept the momentum going.

Indisputably, though, the event that really put Black South African music on the map internationally was the release in 1986 of Paul Simon's LP Graceland. Initially quite controversial, it was recorded in part in Johannesburg with veteran studio musicians. Graceland brought international fame for the a capella singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and ensuing tours by Simon with Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba revived their careers as well.

Of course, the success of Graceland meant that record companies were in a rush to put out more product for the growing international market. Most of these releases were on smaller independent labels, but the bigger companies got in on the act also. Among the most notable of these latter releases was the double LP set Sounds of Soweto, issued in the US in 1987 by Capitol Records/EMI (CLB-46698).

Sounds of Soweto got such widespread distribution at the time that I was surprised to discover that it has long been out of print. Apparently it was never reissued on CD and is not even available through downloads or streaming services. What makes this oversight all the more notable is that Sounds of Soweto highlights a style of music that, while lacking the rough edges of  umbaqanga and other earlier styles, was wildly popular in South Africa at the time - the synth-driven and disco-inflected "bubblegum music" of artists like Brenda Fassie and Condry Ziqubu. This music is being rediscovered through the efforts of people like Dave Durbach ("DJ Okapi") and his Afro-Synth blog and record store in Johannesburg. I'm happy to present Sounds of Soweto for your listening enjoyment today. The descriptions of the songs are taken from the liner notes of the album. You will note that for all the upbeat sound of these tunes, their lyrics are hardly frivolous.

"A song about drought and the suffering it brings. It tells of a time when mealie (maize) meal, the staple diet of the majority of South Africans, was in such short supply that the people were forced to eat inferior grades to which foreign substances had been added, turning it yellow in colour."

Lumumba with Condry Ziqubu - Yellow Mealie Meal

"Most black South Africans live without access to electricity for cooking, lighting or heating. Amalahle (coal) remains a prime commodity in the townships and the coal vendor an important community figure."

Amalahle - Brenda & the Big Dudes

"Life in South Africa's black townships is lived against a backdrop of violence and conflict, a situation powerfully reflected in the Zulu chant which runs through the song. It translates as: Confusion everywhere, everthing is burning."

Condry Ziqubu - Confusion (Ma Afrika)

"An old story - naïve country boy leaves home for the bright lights of the big city, falls in love with slick city girl who breaks his heart and takes his money. Penniless and disillusioned, he sings 'Mali Kuhaba' (there is no money) and longs for the sinple rustic existence he left behind him."

Kaputeni - Mali Kuhaba

"Great quivering chunks of joyous funk. Pure celebration."

The Winners with Lionel Petersen - Wedding Day

"A shadowy figure in Soweto legend, the Gorilla man employed a henchman who would abduct beautiful women of the street and deliver them up to his master's brutal pleasure."

Condry Ziqubu - Gorilla Man

"An instrumental whose title means 'What are you doing to me?' Unclassifiable, but undoubtedly African, undoubtedly danceable."

Rex Rabanye - O Nketsang

"Dark street, bad night, bad town. This time it's some lawless piece of Soweto. But it could be any city - the feelings remain the same."

Thetha - Dark Street, Bad Night

"This is a tribute to Nelson Mandela and others who have made tremendous sacrifices in the struggle for a free and just South Africa."

Johnny Clegg & Savuka - Asimbonanga

"Light-hearted, yet moralizing. A song about a rich old woman slaking her appetites on young men."

Lumumba with Condry Ziqubu - Kiss Kiss (Sugar Mama)

"A cheeky love song directed at a young woman glimpsed on the street. The title means 'Sweetheart,' and this is followed by increasingly risqué wooings as the courtship progresses, township style."

Supa Frika - Manyeo

"The message, one of spreading love and harmony through music, is hardly new. But it has seldom been more relevant than it is in South Africa today."

The Winners with Lionel Petersen - Feel Free

"Third World Child desribes the forced route march that Third World cultures have experienced in order to survice both colonization and modernization."

Johnny Clegg & Savuka - Third World Child

"Although on the surface it is a song of admonition directed against a woman who fails in her duties towards her husband and child, Ramasela nevertheless has biting political overtones; it is after all the apartheid system which has put black family life so much at risk."

Sankomota - Ramasela

"Textures of township life, this time a warning to a gangster, who, while pretending to look into shop windows, is actually sizing people up for mugging."

Mara Louw - Brother Joe

"Speaks for itself, doesn't it?"

Supa Frika - Love is on Our Side

Download Sounds of Soweto as a zipped file here. The zipped file includes complete scans of the album cover and liner notes, which feature information about the artists. Also, if you enjoy the music in this record, I can't recommend the blog Afro-Synth enough. Its proprietor, DJ Okapi, has compiled a number of great compilations of South African "bubblegum music" of the '80s and '90s.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Return to Ihiagwa-Owerri

It's about time we returned to Ihiagwa, just outside of Owerri, capital of Imo State, Nigeria and home of the Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group, led by Madam Maria Anokwuru and featuring the stellar vocals of Rose Nzuruike!

On January 24, 2010 I posted their hit LP Nwanyi Ma Obi Diya (Onyeoma C.Y. Records CYLP 016, 1984), one of the biggest-selling Igbo records of all time. I've since found out more about the group and its star, Madam Nzuruike (thanks, internet!). A collective endeavor by all eight of the villages that comprise Ihiagwa township, the group was founded in 1979 as the Ndom Ihiagwa Dance Group. Mrs. Rose Nzuruike was selected from her village, Umuemeze. She initially demurred as her husband had recently passed away and she had young children to care for. However, she reconsidered when her late husband Remy came to her in a dream and urged her to perservere. She was then judged the best, and hence lead, singer of the group, a role she has fulfilled ever since.

I now present Ezi Nne (Onyeoma C.Y. Records CYLP 047), a further exploration of Igbo roots music, Owerri style!

The insistent beat of the udu (bass drum) leads off Side One and the song "Ezi Nne" ("Good Mother"). Mrs Nzuruike sings that there is no substitute for one's mother, whether she is good or bad, and the chorus joins in agreement. In the second song, "Onye Egbula Onwe Ya" ("Don't Kill Yourself") we are implored not to stress over money problems and so forth, we'll only get sick and it won't solve the problem:

Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group - Ezi Nne / Onye Egbula Onwe Ya

"Anala Nwa Ogbenye Ihe Ya" ("Do Not Take Advantage of the Poor and Weak") opens Side Two. "Jehovah, come help us. To sin is human. Please help us." The second song is "Enyere Ibe Nyem" ("When You Give to My Peers You Give to Me Also"):

Obi Wuru Otu Dance Group - Anala Nwa Ogbenye Ihe Ya / Enyere Ibe Nyem

By the way, Onyeoma C.Y. Records, which issued these two Obi Wuro Otu albums and at least one other, Aku Ebi Onwu (CYLP 028), was one of the more interesting smaller Nigerian labels, specializing in roots music like this as well as Ghanaian highlife bands resident in Nigeria. In 1995 I paid a visit to their office in Onitsha with the intention of perhaps licencing music for release in the US. No one was there, so I left a note under the door. Several months later I received a letter from the proprieter of the label, who was definitely interested! However, lacking the proper entreprenurial spirit, I suppose, I never pursued the idea. Oh, well!

Download Ezi Nne as a zipped file here. Many thanks as usual to my wife, Priscilla, for interpreting the lyrics. The website of Ihiagwa Township is a fascinating resource which was quite useful in researching this post.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Jùjú Music in the '90s

I've been collecting Nigerian music since the 1970s, but never actually made it to the country until 1994 and 1995. By then it was apparent that the music industry was going through a crisis, or at least big, big changes. The Nigerian affiliates of the two international record companies, Polydor and EMI, had been sold off and changed their names to Premier Music and Ivory Music respectively, while Afrodisia, formerly Decca West Africa, had gone inactive. A few LPs were still being pressed, but most "official" music distribution was via low-quality cassettes. The industry was suffering a death by a thousand cuts as pirated cassettes swamped the market.

By the mid-'90s in southwestern Nigeria jùjú music had been eclipsed by fújì and other styles, as I've discussed earlier. King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey were still on the scene, though with lower profiles. Their more laid-back, philosophical brand of jùjú had given way to a frenetic, materialistic version, epitomized above all by Sir Shina Peters, who sang of the good life and conspicuous consumption.

"Wonder" Dayo Kujore, born in 1958, is another exponent of the new jùjú sound. Like Shina Peters, he served his apprenticeship in the band of Prince Adekunle, playing lead guitar on some of the maestro's biggest hits. Kujore soon left to form his own group, but it wasn't until the early '90s that he really made a mark with albums like Super Jet, Easy Life and today's offering, 1993's Sọkọ Xtra (Ivory Music IVR 039), one of his biggest hits ever.

The basic elements of the 1990s jùjú sound are all here: the punchy, forward-driving rhythms complete with electronic drum pad, synthesizers and no pedal steel guitar to be found. And check out the Paul Simon reference in the opening bars of "Eko Ayo!"

I've always preferred "Old School" jùjú myself, but newer productions like Sọkọ Xtra have their attractions. Enjoy!

Download Sọkọ Xtra as a zipped file here.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Mystery

The cassette Wika Ô Ma (ALPHA 003, 1992), by N'Gosséré Ballo, is the kind of down-home traditional music that is found throughout Africa, but seldom gets much attention outside of it. I don't know anything about Ms. Ballo. Wika Ô Ma was recorded in Abidjan and released on Alpha Blondy's label, so I'm assuming she's from Ivory Coast, but maybe not. The title track was featured on a 1995 compilation entitled Coleur Mandingue, so I'd guess she is a member of one of the many Mandé ethnic groups descended from the old Mali Empire who live throughout West Africa (see map below).

Can anyone out there tell us more about this wonderful artist? Not just her lovely voice but the percussion and backing vocals on this recording are all first-rate. What a shame this is apparently N'Gosséré Ballo's only release!

N'Gosséré Ballo - Wika Ô Ma

Download Wika Ô Ma as a zipped file here

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ethereal Sounds

Nwamara (Tradition TRAD 001, 1984), by the Nkelebe Brothers, is like no other recording of Igbo music I have ever heard. I don't know if these ethereal, polyphonic vocal stylings are unique to the group's area - Isiala Ngwa North LGA (county) in Abia State, Nigeria - or if this mode of singing is found throughout Ala Igbo. After all, there are many Igbo records I haven't listened to!

The Ngwa people, from whom the Nkelebe Brothers hail, are an Igbo sub-group about whom there are many tall tales. The word nkelebe itself describes a type of Igbo praise-singing, although I haven't been able to find out much beyond that. I can say, though, that this six-member group, utilizing only their voices and basic percussion - Udu (pottery drum), Samba (square drum), and Mpaka (sticks) - produce deeply moving music that reminds me of the contrapuntal vocals of central Africa, although there is probably no direct connection.

The title of the first song, taking up all of Side One, means "A Well-Behaved Woman is a Gift":

Nkelebe Brothers - Agwa Nwanyi Bu Oji

"Ole Ndi Bu Eze" - "Where Are the Kings?":

Nkelebe Brothers - Ole Ndi Bu Eze

"Akwukwa Bu Ogu" roughly translates as "Your bad intentions won't hurt me because my heart is pure":

Nkelebe Brothers - Akwukwa Bu Ogu

You can download Nwamara as a zipped file here. Many thanks to my wife Priscilla for translating the titles of the songs.