Boubacar Traoré – The bluesman

I went browsing last week on my favourite world music shop,, to see what I might have missed out on since my last visit (children can put months between the things we used to do on a daily basis – happily!). I noticed that I haad missed out on an album that was in fact released two years ago. If you’re a fan of the late Ali Farka Toure, or just love the blues of John Lee Hooker, then come back to the place that Ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik cited as the birthplace of Blues.  The video on the right is taken from the Boubacar’s album Mali Denhou. Relaxing 🙂

Guinea: the old (part 1/2)

I’ve just been listening to a track by the Bembeya Jazz National (see the video on the right). A track from the 1960s needs some context so here goes: it was following Guinean Independence in 1958 that saw Guinean pride soar to new levels and numerous bands sprang up throughout the African country. Of those that appeared, one of the most noted was the Bembeya Jazz National, which won two awards at the Biennale festivals of 1962 and 1964. It’s when you listen to Bembeya Jazz that you appreciate that it’s sound is timeless and, unlike Europe’s modern day Biennale X-factor, by contrast Bembeya will provide people in future years with their musical awakening, and fuel a desire to learn about music from the African continent. The group was formed by Aboubacar Dembar Camara in 1961 and the group, which went on to include members such as lead vocalist Sekouba Mabino Diabate, and Sekou “Diamond Fingers” Diabate on electric guitar, specialized in modern arrangements of classic Manding songs. After Camara was sadly killed ina car accident in 1973 critics said the group lost its sparkle, despite continuing for a number of years before finally disbanding in 1991. So here on these pages we salute Camara and members of Bembeya Jazz National for the music and the passion of their grooves.

Cheikh Lo’s Jamm…Chill, and enjoy the groove

I can’t believe I missed this one, but miss it I did, and so for some of the readers this might be old news. But as I am trying to document the best in World music, I will not be deterred from writing about one of my favourite Senagelese artists, who’s album releases are a rarity to say the least – on average they come around once every five years!.

I first discovered Cheikh Lo while browsing a small world music stand in Camden Market, and I met myself 20 years in the future – a man so passionate about his music that all I could do was sit back and listen to him sell me the music.

What I got was my ears around an album (Bambay Gueej) produced by one giant of from the world music scene, Youssou N’Dour, and one from the masters of World Music production, Nick Gold. For me that album has always beent he benchmark for this wonderful artist, and since that original purchase I’ve always been an avid fan.

This album is more laid back and has less of a flamenco, brazilica sound, compared to Lamp Fall, although you do get reminders of that albums, in particular the rolling rhythms of “Sou” as featured on the new album under the name of “Dieuf Dieul”. The track “Ne Parti Pas” is one of my favourite tracks on the album as it has simplicity that I think works really well, great positive vibes and space for the Cheikh’s great voice, equally “Folly Cagni” is almost a Cheikh unplugged and very good track to finish the album up on. Don’t know if it’s me, but Cheikh seems to be sounding more and more like Horace Andy as the age catches up on him.

Ali and Toumani – their finest collaboration

I’ve just bought an album that has to go down as one of the most spectacular of the year, and it’s been carried off by two of my favourite artists: Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate. But you’re probably asking the question, how can Ali return from the grave to record an album? Well, this was his very last, recorded while he was suffering in his final days. For those familiar with these two virtuoso’s prior collaboration, In the Heart of the Moon which was released in 2004, this final recording session was made the following year, but clearly the release has been held back for an opportune moment.

I’m not sure quite how to express the impact that these two artists have had on my musical awakening. Toumani with the Kora, and Ali Farka Toure with his guitar. I think the fact that I do not understand the language being sung (on Ali’s other albums) creates a further distance between me and the artist. I’ve always been an instrumentalist, liking moods and passages creates by sounds and noise over lyrics trying to tell me a story.

The two albums are subtly different. With the former Toumani’s playing features much more strongly, the Kora has more attitude and takes a greater centre stage. It was Toumani’s first major performance on the international stage and Ali gave the protege the chance to shine. Since that first release Toumani has gone on to produce a further 3 albums and has appeared on numerous collaborative projects.

In ‘Ali and Tomani’ they are one. Even if just 12 months seperate the recording there is a perfect harmony and balance between the instruments. The Kora is less aggressive and blends seamlessly with Ali’s playing. For me, track of the album has to be “Soumbou Ya Ya”. It’s just pure Ali and Toumani sharing the love of their instruments. Not since Ali teamed up with Ry Cooder (‘Talking Timbuktu’) has there been such competiting collaboration.

Rest in peace Ali, you went out on the highest plateau.

Best of Bonga – Angola rocks the house

Angolan Legend Bonga
Angolan Legend Bonga

Since the 1970s Angola’s Bonga has featured prominently in the nations music and this is yet another epic slab to hit the World Music scene drawing on performances and works that span his 30 year career. For me Portuguese is one of the most interesting of all languages for music to be sung in, there is just something about its pronunciation and intonation that makes it fabulously interesting to listen to.  If you enjoy the sounds of Sara Tavares, Myra Andrade (who’s new album Storia Storia will soon be reviewed here too) or, the melodies of Madagascar’s Modeste, you’ll find that the Best of Bonga will sit comfortably in your collection.

Pickup a copy of the CD from Amazon here

Arabo-Muslim…the Great River tradition


If something sounds familiar about Afel Bocoum’s sound, you only have to look at who tutored him for clues. A member of Ali Farka Touré’s “ASCO” group from the age of 13, provides all the evidence one would need to pin the artist to the groove, but he’s grown beyond that and gone on to become a star in his own right.

Afel’s first album, Alkibar, was released ten years ago and it remains one of my favourite of all time. He describes his playing style as “Arabo-Muslim…in the Great River tradition” and this was certainly a sentiment captured on first album which meandered through the daily activities of life on the Niger river.

In the ten year period since the first release, Afel has collaborated on a number of music projects, most notably Ali Farka Touré’s last album, Savanne.

In Tabital Pulaaku, Afel takes us on a much broader musical journey. He still remains firmly within the African blues genre, but listeners of Tinariwen, Ba Cissoko and Viex Farka Touré are going to enjoy this album, as it’s much more accessible to the new African blues converts, when seen alongside the earlier work.

Melodies and harmonies across the instruments are much more defined in Tabital Pulaaku, and the album transmits a warm energy and timelessness that is, for me, a fundamental component of a successful African blues album.

One of the best tracks on the album is not surprisingly the title track, Tapital Pulaaku. In this we hear Afel’s distinctive voice pushed front stage, and then around the one and a half minute mark, a shift in tempo that reveals a head-bobbing groove, delivering all the expression and relief that African music provides to its fans.

This is an album to be savoured and enjoyed like a fine wine.

Take some African blues now