From the ashes of burnt-out beats, Africa rises
The continent is becoming hot stuff as traditional instruments take over dance floors across the world.
The world music market has never cared more about African music than it does at the moment.
However, Africa’s musicians believe that their music is still ghettoised under the “African music” tag and are fighting to stand their ground with the best in the world on their own terms.
Veterans such as Salif Keita are energising their careers with fresh new sounds and new stars such as Sinkane and Bassekou Kouyate are recording at the prime of their careers. Africa’s music legacy is being reappraised and reissued with a new collection from Ghanaian disco king Kiki Gyan hitting shelves and French jazz musician Barney Wilen’s mind-blowing recordings in Africa in the late 1960s finally being released.
24 HOURS IN A DISCO 1978 – 82
Kiki Gyan (Soundway Records)
Kofi “Kiki” Gyan had an illustrious career, which was somehow overshadowed by his life of excess and addiction. However, he leaves a body of work that is hard to beat.
24 Hours in a Disco 1978-82 captures Gyan at the top of his game, with seven banging disco anthems.
He dropped out of school at a young age and headed to Accra to make his fortune as a musician. Here, Gyan was picked up by supergroup Osibisa as a keyboardist and got to tour the world.
He would soon leave the band to go solo and work as a session musician.
From the first track, Disco Dancer, to the last, Loving You, 24 Hours in a Disco 1978-82 is all funky basslines, disco rhythms, mesmerising keyboard work and soft harmonic vocals, beamed straight from the sweaty dance floors of Accra as the 1970s bled into the 1980s.
It’s hard not to want to be transported back to that time and place.
When Gyan really gets going on that bass you are going to need to be held back — it’s funk heaven.
Pretty Pretty Girls has an infectious step, a fun little shuffle of a disco tune that has an almost hip-hop swagger, like a precursor to P-Funk bleeding into G-Funk.
Sexy Dancer is more of an Afro-rock stomper, with some great metallic-funk riffage to send it interstellar. Prince would get down to this.
Disco Train, which features a bluesy growl intro, is another dance-floor boogie crowd-pleaser. “Let’s party, on the disco train”, indeed.
Gyan may have burnt out, but he burned brightly and we have these spoils to prove it.
Mars is just one of those almost perfect albums, combining West African desert-blues guitar and bold percussion with krautrock rhythms and free-jazz horns.
It’s a truly global psychedelic indie pop record that worms its way under your skin and into your heart.
Whether it’s the psych funk of Running, the rolling desert-blues groove of Jeeper Creeper or the bombastic intergalactic funk of Making Time, Mars is a winner.
The man behind Sinkane is Sudanese-born Ahmed Gallab, who paid his dues sitting behind the drum kit for indie darlings Caribou, Of Montreal, Born Ruffians and Eleanor Friedberger.
Technically the man has been operating under the name Sinkane since 2008, when his debut album Color Voice was released on Emergency Umbrella Records.
But it is only since he released Mars, his bold psychedelic third record, on the DFA label in late 2012 that Gallab started to get some major attention.
Born to freedom-fighter Sudanese parents who operated in the academic and journalism fields, Gallab’s family fled to the United States when he was five to escape the burgeoning political violence of the late 1980s.
“I would spend summers in Sudan until I started university,” he says. “We never really settled.”
Rebelling against his parents’ music, Gallab sought out hardcore punk rock.
“I wanted something fresh that I could relate to,” he says. “Now, as an adult, I feel more connected to Sudanese music than any other kind of music. Then, it was so familiar to me that I didn’t care to take it seriously.”
Salif Keita (Universal)
Who would have thought that pop-punk stars the B52s and Salif Keita would ever meet?
Well, on Keita’s new album Talé they do — and the track Samfy steals the synth riff that drives the band’s Planet Claire.
It’s a bizarre, somewhat surreal moment, but in a way it says a lot about this global sound clash of an album.
This is Salif Keita with guidance from Gotan Project’s Philippe Cohen Solal as producer, stretching out, finding new palettes with which to paint his global sonic footprint.
“I’ve had enough of playing it safe and being labelled as just another African musician. I never like music to repeat itself, but this time I really wanted to take the plunge,” says Keita.
“Philippe’s approach suited me; he loves traditional instruments, so we kept that sound but injected a new flavour.”
Solal’s production is banging: dub treatments galore and live instrumentation riffing for its life.
C’est Bon, C’est Bon is an early highlight that features British hip-hop star Roots Manuva. From the opening wail and the call to “the people of the world”, this song has global pop hit scrawled all over it.
This is music made for the global dance floor; everybody get down.
But the real highlight on Talé is Après Demain, a dubby dance-floor conqueror.
Keita’s core band on Talé consists of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’s Hagar Ben Ari on bass, Bumcello’s Cyril Atef on drums and Mamane Diabaté on balafon. There are guest appearances by Bobby McFerrin and Manu Diabango.
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
(Out Here/Planet )
It’s only onwards and upwards for this n’goni-slaying guitar hero from Mali.
His debut album Segu Blue won a BBC Radio award and his follow-up, I Speak Fula, was nominated for a Grammy. Then there is the AfroCubism supergroup that he formed with other musicians, and appearances on the United Kingdom-based African Express project.
Now Bassekou Kouyate’s back with Jama Ko, a scorching album of blues.
Kouyate began recording the album the day Mali’s president, Amadou Toumani Touré, was overthrown in a coup. As the recording progressed against the backdrop of political insecurity in his homeland, Kouyate says the album naturally progressed towards an address to his countrymen and women; a call for peace and unity.
New album, new band — Jama Ko was recorded with Kouyate’s two sons, Madou and Moustafa, and n’goni ace Abou Sissoko.
Ne Me Fatigue Pas is a beautiful masterpiece that touches on garage rock, Celtic folk, Congolese rhumba and Jimi Hendrix psychedelia, all in one song.
Kele Magni features Kouyate’s wife Amy Sacko and the “nightingale of the north”, Khaira Arby, who is the first Malian women to record an album in the north of Mali.
Sacko is never far off when there’s an album being recorded, and she stars on the downtempo Madou. I’m guessing that it’s about her son. There is a song written about Moustafa too, except he penned it. It brings the album to a stirring close and is once again sung by Sacko.
It looks like the Kouyate family is branching out, taking their infectious brand of Afro-blues to the world with a united front.
Barney Wilen with Caroline de Benden (Sonorama Records)
Bored with his bebop past, French jazz musician Barney Wilen packed up and headed to Africa for two years with his then girlfriend, Caroline de Bendern, in 1969.
Travelling across Morocco, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal, Wilen recorded mad acid rock and spiritual jazz epics with African musicians he met along the way.
Now, for the first time, Sonorama Records have released the recordings on the album Moshi Too.
Incorporating elements of the cosmic spiritual jazz of John Coltrane or Pharaoh Sanders, with acid-rock jams and ambient sound and recordings of African traditional musicians, Moshi Too is a melting pot of sound in which the deep tenor saxophone, funk guitar, bass and drums are in a trance-like flow, amplified by the chanting and percussion of numerous African tribes the French musicians encountered on his journey.
The 13-minute Serenade for Africa begins with a sample of a grumpy old man yelling and a dog barking, before Wilen’s mournful saxophone enters the fray.
The saxophone’s gentle blues are a great counterpoint to the frenetic African instrumentation riffing in the background.
Disturbance has a distortion-laden intro that segues into a funky wah-wah pedal jam that will have the most reluctant pair of feet tapping away, and the primal minimalist funk of Wah-Wah, which struts like a blues standard, is something that truly needs to be heard.
Moshi Too is an enchanting documentary soundscape of a time when American jazz came through Europe and met African rhythm, to create dark hypnotic blues with psychedelic flights of fancy.