Awesome music from Africa | Bleader

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Awesome music from Africa

Posted By on 12.01.11 at 03:45 PM

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In this week's paper I review two colorful, absorbing multidisc collections that aim to enrich listeners' understanding African music and African-American gospel. The task of broadening and deepening musical history is work well suited to obsessive devotees, and when it comes to African music, one of the hard-core fans who's made it easier for his followers to comprehend developments over the past three decades or so has been Brian Shimkovitz of the invaluable blog Awesome Tapes From Africa. For most of that time cassettes have been Africa's primary music format, and Shimkovitz posts MP3s of tapes that most of us would never encounter unless we made a trip there ourselves.

Earlier this fall he started his own label, also called Awesome Tapes From Africa, with the release of La Grande Cantatrice Malienne Vol. 3 by superb Malian singer Nahawa Doumbia (though on this release she's identified as Nâ Hawa Doumbia). The album was cut in 1982 in Abidjan, the biggest city in the Ivory Coast, and released on vinyl (once it went out of print, the cassette version was presumably the only way to get the music). This was well before she became known in the West as one of the best exponents of Wassoulou music, though she's still overshadowed by Oumou Sangare. She's made a handful of good albums for the French label Cobalt, starting in the late 90s—including her most recent effort, Diby, which was seven years ago. It took releases on Cobalt and other world music labels as well as involvement with French electronic music producer Frederic Galliano (on his generally good Frikyiwa anthologies, which came out in 2000) for her to reach a non-African audience.

Doumbia's powerhouse voice is supported by guitar, piano, n'goni, and percussion, all woven together and cycling hypnotically. As lovely as the music can be, the instruments are clearly there simply to provide a backdrop for her plush, tensile singing, whose forceful attack combines subtle melodic variation and masterfully rhythmic phrasing. Below you can check out a song from the album. Another reissue is due on Awesome Tapes From Africa early next year, though the title hasn't been announced yet.

Nâ Hawa Doumbia, "Kungo Sogoni"

Today's playlist:

Javid Afsari Rad, Afarinesh (Jazzland)
Tomaz Grom & Seijiro Murayama, Nepretrganost (Zavod Sploh/L'Innomable)
Jon Hassell, Earthquake Island (Tomato)
Davy Graham, From Monkhouse to Medway 1963-1973 (Hux)
Janusz Muniak Quintet, Question Mark (Polskie Nagrania)

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