The Rummage

Tag: Africa

. issue XXIV : i .

. artist : k. frimpong & his cubano fiestas .
. album : blue album .
. year : 1976 .
. label : continental / secret stash .
. grade : a .

Blue Album

Alhaji K. Frimpong was a Ghanaian singer and bandleader who released six or so albums in the 1970’s and 80’s. His career bridged the time from when highlife was the dominant musical style in West Africa to when it was supplanted by afrobeat. Frimpong’s sound is roughly a halfway point between the two, a mixture of languid melodies and urgent rhythmic drive. He’s shown up on many of the most important West African compilations, and his original vinyl sells for premium prices. Now the folks at Continental and Secret Stash have reissued his self-titled 1976 album, one of the most awesome tapes ever featured on the “Awesome Tapes From Africa” blog and pretty difficult to find otherwise. Frimpong wasn’t the most popular artist in his own day, but his prominence has grown through time — it’s safe to say that this is some of the best music of an era full of great recordings. The band here (also known as Vis A Vis on their own sessions) is just superb; drummer Kung-Fu Kwaku is right up there with Tony Allen as a master of polyrhythms. Don’t miss this one.

by Bill Lupoletti

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. issue XXIII : i .

. artist : freedom family .
. album : ayentsoo .
. year : 2013 .
. label : academy lps .
. grade : a .

FreedomFamily

Frank Gossner (Voodoo Funk) and Academy LPs have another winner in this choice slab of Ghanaian Afro-funk. The Freedom Family was one of West Africa’s tightest combos, although this is the only LP they ever waxed under that name. As the Plastic Jims (named after the Sly & The Family Stone song) and the Heartbeats ’72, they spent several years backing up Geraldo Pino, West Africa’s first soul star and the man who gave Fela the impetus to invent Afrobeat. They made this record for EMI in Lagos in 1974, and it is first rate from beginning to end. Led by music director Chief Kwame Frimpong’s keyboards, the band featured a tasty two-man horn section, a killer rhythm section and charismatic lead singer Albert Jones. Every track here is excellent, but take particular note of “Holy Worshipping” (an instrumental) and “Yensuro (No Fears)” (a vocal) – they’re loaded with tuneful hooks like the best of Booker T & the MGs. And for a change of pace try “Love Affair,” which sounds like James Carr in Nigeria. Jones also contributes the lengthy liner notes chronicling the band’s ups and downs on stage, in business and in their colorful personal lives – it’s the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, West African version. Seminal if you dig Afro-funk.

by Bill Lupoletti

. issue XXI : iii .

. artist : the lijadu sisters .
. album : mother africa .
. year : 2012 .
. label : knitting factory .
. grade : b .

MotherAfrica

Here’s the second of four promised reissues by Knitting Factory of the Lijadu Sisters, twins who were among the few women fronting bands in Nigeria in the 1970’s. The first volume, Danger, had an American-influenced sound heavy on the funk, soul and rock. Mother Africa, originally released by Afrodesia in 1977, complements its predecessor with a focus on popular Nigerian, and especially Yoruban, styles. You get mellow acoustic guitar-lead palm-wine (“Iya Mi Jowo”), deeply soulful and grooving fuji (“Bayi L’ense”), and juju (“Orin Aro”) with its characteristic lilting melodies, relaxed but insistent rhythm, and twangy guitar solos. (As an aside, the Lijadus were part of juju superstar King Sunny Ade’s 1982 USA tour, which included a gig at Richmond’s Mosque Theater.) Instrumentation is fairly minimal, generally nothing but guitar, talking drums and shekere, leaving plenty of sonic room for the Lijadus’ voices, which are generally heard in close harmony or in unison. Two volumes in, this reissue series is proving to be most worthwhile — I can’t wait to hear what surprises volumes 3 and 4 have in store.

by Bill Lupoletti

. issue XXI : i .

. artist : janka nabay & the bubu gang .
. album : en yay sah .
. year : 2012 .
. label : luaka bop .
. grade : b plus .

EnYaySah

Ahmed Janka Nabay released a series of popular cassettes of what he calls bubu music in his native Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. Civil war drove Nabay into exile in the USA, where he formed a full band in 2010; this is their first full-length album. Bubu is based on the Islamic music of northwestern Sierra Leone, which is driven by percussion and bamboo flutes; in Nabay’s elaboration, drum machines provide the percussion while electronic keyboards sub for the flutes. What he’s making here is African “tradi-mod” music, with one foot in tradition and the other in contemporary electronica – Congotronics, South Africa’s Shangaan Electro sound and Ghana’s Bola are all working in a related direction. There’s a lot more than beats and blips going on here – the whole band (most of the members are affiliated with the experimental rock band Skeletons) riffs cleverly on this structure, Douglas Shaw channels some of the great African guitarists, and Boshra AlSaadi (a Syrian native) excels as the second vocalist. This is post-colonial hybridity you can dance to – looking forward to the next installment.

by Bill Lupoletti

. issue XX : iv .

. artist : le super borgou de parakou .
. album : the bariba sound 1970-1976 .
. year : 2012 .
. label : analog africa .
. grade : a minus .

Super Borgou

Following in the footsteps of Analog Africa’s archival work on Benin’s Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou, here’s a band with some striking similarities from northern Benin, part of the territory that label head Samy Ben Redjeb has begun referring to as the “Islamic Funk Belt” (a region that also includes northern Ghana, Togo and Nigeria). Like Poly-Rythmo, Super Borgou’s sound is rooted in the traditional rhythms of Benin — in the latter’s case, mainly those of the Bariba and Dendi ethnic groups (“Guessi-Guéré-Guessi” is an excellent example). As professional musicians, both bands were accustomed to playing what people wanted to hear, which helps explain why both were fluent in the Cuban-derived Congolese styles that were so popular all over Africa (“Bori Yo Se Mon Baani” and “Abere Klouklou,” for example). And as American soul and Nigerian afrobeat made inroads, their influences were added to the mix as well (“Gandigui” and “Bininhounnin,” respectively). The end result was a fully modern rural band, simultaneously local and global in outlook. They may have been overlooked previously (as far as I can tell, only one song of theirs had been reissued before now), but they won’t be any longer thanks to this excellent release.

by Bill Lupoletti

. issue XX : i .

. artist : the funkees .
. album : dancing time: the best of eastern nigeria’s afro rock exponents 1973-77 .
. year : 2012 .
. label : soundway .
. grade : a minus .

Funkees

The Funkees have been featured on three of Soundway’s Nigeria Special compilations; now that label presents a full-length retrospective of this fine band. Hailing from Aba in east Nigeria, the band’s future members fought on Biafra’s side in the Nigerian Civil War and were sponsored by the army after the war. They developed a hard-hitting Afro-rock sound, heavily influenced by American and British bands, and similar to that of Lagos-based bands like MonoMono and BLO. The band cut a series of singles, then relocated to London in 1973 where they released two albums and a few 45s before disbanding in 1977. This album collects all of the Nigerian singles, including their most famous song (“Dancing Time”), a superb War cover (“Slipping Into Darkness”), and a groovy jam (“Acid Rock”) that sounds like a perfect B-side. From the albums, you get heavy Santana-influenced rock (“Abraka”) and equally heavy social commentary (“Mimbo”) along with other goodness. This is a really well-curated compilation of a band that deserves the wider recognition it’s received in the last few years.

by Bill Lupoletti

. issue XVII : i .

. artist : sekouba bambino .
. album : the griot’s craft .
. label : sterns .
. year : 2012 .
. grade : a minus .

Bambino

Sekouba “Bambino” Diabate is best known for his years singing with Guinee Conakry’s number one band, Bembeya Jazz National, and for his work with pan-African salsa combo Africando. Arguably Guinee’s best-known musical export, here he is working in the classic Mande griot style that he learned in his youth. For my money, no living singer handles this genre better than Sekouba Bambino – his voice is powerful and just plain gorgeous. The band is all acoustic and large: three guitarists, two ngoni players and one kora, plus percussion and background singers. Legendary producer Ibrahim Sylla supervised this project, and it obviously had a big enough budget so that the job could get done in a first-class manner. Kudos to lead guitarist Djessou Mory Kante for his elegant, sophisticated arrangements. Believe it or not, this is the first record of this type (acoustic, string-driven Mande griot) that Sekouba Bambino has ever made under his own name. More, please.

by Bill Lupoletti

. issue XV : vi .

. artist : mamani keïta .
. album : gagner l’argent francais .
. year : 2013 .
. label : no format! .
. grade : b plus .

Keita

Mamani Keïta is a Malian singer who sang behind two of the greats, Salif Keita and Kasse Mady Diabate, early in her career, then moved to France in the 1980’s. She’s carved out her own niche, combining her classic Bambara vocals and traditional instruments like kora and ngoni with rock arrangements and electronic production. Her 2002 collaboration with Marc Minelli, Electro Bamako, was a pioneer in Malian fusion music; since then she’s made two albums with guitarist-producer Nicolas Repac, of which this is the second. Like her countrywoman Rokia Traore, Keïta’s is the sound of today’s multicultural West Africa, a world where the line between tradition and American/European pop music is increasingly blurred. And like her countryman Issa Bagayogo, Keita uses electronics to accent and enhance the essential Malian elements in her music. Both of those two artists are much better known (at least in the USA) than Mamani Keïta; that’s an oversight this fine album should help to address.

by Bill Lupoletti