Summer sounds -- Music from Africa

Our roundup of the summer’s hottest releases continues with a look at the latest CDs from African artists.

ASA: Beautiful Imperfection
(Just Music)

Asa has released her follow-on album and, boy, have we been waiting for it. The Naija songwriter and singer shows once again that she is in a league of her own and sounds like nothing you’ve heard before.
Asa is individualistic and confident in her style—the proof lies in the fact that she never features anyone on her albums, deciding rather to go at it alone. The album, released on October 25, is on sale in France, Nigeria, South Africa and Switzerland, and like its title is perfect even with its imperfections. Asa has described the new album as more uplifting than the first one and it’s true. This album is more upbeat and brings out a more confident Asa who talks about herself quite a bit. Still, I am looking forward to hearing Asa collaborate with other Nigerian musicians such as Nneka, Ayo or even Laura Izibor.—Karabo Keepile

BOLA JOHNSON: Man No Die (Vampisoul)

Next in line from Vampisoul’s commendable series of Nigerian reissues comes a double-disc set collecting the late 1960s and early 1970s work of trumpeter Bola Johnson. Johnson may not be as well know as Fela Kuti or King Sunny Ade, but this collection shows that he was a vital member of the same scene and recorded across numerous genres including highlife, palm wine, Afro-blues, Afro-funk, Afrobeat and calypso. The collection can be divided roughly into two parts—the rough rootsier recordings that he recorded for the Philips West African record label in the mid-Sixties and the funkier tracks he recorded for the label in the late Sixties. Baby £1:10/- is an early highlight, a song about an encounter with a Lagos sex-worker, I can only assume. The rootsy palm-wine tune, Obiriko Aye Yilo, is another early highlight, but once you get to the soul/funk of Buroda Mase, Johnson’s true genius starts to show. Written as an angry retort to his record label which he felt wasn’t pushing his music properly, it features some great funk drumming and bass, and some cool wah-wah guitar too. Ezuku Buzo is another funky highlight with some great chicken-scratch guitar, and Lagos Special is a smooth funk track that will have the hips swaying. Kuti’s Afrobeat may have dominated Lagos, but this compilation shows that there was a lot more going on than just that.— LG

SIERRA LEONE’S REFUGEE ALL STARS: Rise and Shine (Putumayo)

The core of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars met at Sembakounya refugee camp in Guinea where they played shows. They eventually returned to Freetown where they released their debut album, Living Like a Refugee, in 2006. Since then the band has toured the world and perfected its sound, which is a fusion of roots reggae, Afro-pop and West African goombay music. Despite the horror of fleeing their country, losing limbs and seeing family executed, the band continues to make optimistic music that pushes a positive message. Recorded in both Sierra Leone and New Orleans, the amazing production is thanks to saxophonist Steve Berlin, who has worked with artists such as Angelique Kidjo and John Lee Hooker. There are songs in English and several other African languages. Original material is written by bandleader Ruben M Koroma and some songs are adapted from traditional tunes. Rise and Shine is a very impressive album.— KK

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Afro-Rock (Kurse Music)

Originally re-leased on the Kona label in 2001, Duncan Brooker’s compilation Afro-Rock Volume One is seen as the release that kick-started the quest to rediscover the lost music of Africa made during the 1960s and 1970s. Now reissued on Strut Records, for whom Brooker has recently compiled the three-part Next Stop — Soweto series and has collated some Nigerian compilations too, Afro-Rock Volume One is an interesting look back at an early African reissue compilation. Collecting work from Kenya, Zaire, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, Afro-Rock Volume One is a scintillating collection of 1970s funk and Afrobeat, including the James Brownesque Heavy Heavy Heavy by Geraldo Pino & The Heartbeats and Africa by Steele Beauttah and the band Air Fiesta Matata. But the real highlight has to be the 12-minute jam, Yuda, by Dackin Dackino, a previously unreleased gem from Zaire discovered on a discarded reel. The reissue features all the original tracks and a bonus—a dynamic unreleased psychedelic track by Kenya’s Ishmael Jingo. -- LG

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Ivory Coast Soul (Hot Casa Records)

It sounds as if it would have been fun to hit the Abidjan night-spots in the 1970s. This Afro-soul and Afrobeat set draws from tracks recorded between 1972 to 1982 and is a standout release among the slew of African compilations that have been released in the past few years. All 13 tracks were unearthed by African music expert Djamel Hammadi with the help of DJ Julien Lebrun after at least a dozen visits to Côte d’Ivoire. Most of the tracks are sung in French with smatterings of English, and the more soul-inflected tracks echo what was going on in the United States at about the same time. The epic Afro-beat number, Wazi Doble, comes in at more than eight minutes and approaches the trance-like state that Fela Kuti managed to work himself into. There’s also some cool organ that sounds a bit like it comes from The Doors. And even without a time frame, you can tell it’s the Seventies from the length of the sideburns of the vocalist on the cover. —Matthew Burbidge

VIEUX FARKA TOURE: Live
(Sheer Sound)

Following on from last year’s critically lauded album, Fondo, comes this new live album from Vieux Farka Toure. The son of Malian guitar legend Ali Farka Toure, Vieux sprung on to the international music scene in 2006 with his self-titled debut album. His second release, Fondo, was a smouldering album that owed as much to the work of his dad as it did to the blistering desert rock of bands such as Tinariwen and Terakaft. Fondo also established Vieux as a crossover artist who draws inspiration from both Western rock and blues and Jamaican reggae. South Africans had the brief opportunity to sample Vieux’s live show at the 2010 Fifa kick-off concert, even if it was very brief indeed. This live album shows that Vieux and his band are one of the best African rock acts plying their trade at the moment. The majority of the material is drawn from Fondo, but one of the live album’s highlights is a version of Maiga, a traditional song from Mali, which Vieux has not previously recorded. On the strength of this record we can only hope that Vieux makes another trip down south to wow us with his guitar skills.—LG

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