Dec 6, 2011
Bambara Mystic Soul - The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (by analogafrica)
As more and more compilations come out celebrating African music from the ‘70s, it gets harder and harder to make each collection unique. At some point, the market has to get flooded, and we seem to be reaching—or perhaps we’re already past—that breaking point. Despite that uphill climb, there are still labels digging deep to give us new sounds from a golden age in Afro-beat and Afro-funk music. Analog Africa has, for 10 years, been at the forefront of this musical exploration and given us some of the finest compilations to date: Check their Legends of Benin if you haven’t yet.
And now they’re celebrating their 10th anniversary with another strong collection, Bambara Mystic Soul. The set is a bit more obscure than other compilations, digging into the music of Burkina Faso. This area of Africa south of the Sahara is an arid stretch of land that runs between Dakar and Djibouti, but it produced some great music after gaining independence from French occupation. It’s a sound very much in line with sounds you’ve heard from other areas—Nigeria, Benin, Dakar—but it’s got its own unique mix of influences that make Burkinabe music unique and vibrant, and this collection reveals yet another gem in the world of African music.
The strength of this music actually came out in competition. Despite post-independence political instability, an urban middle class grew in Burkina Faso from which a glut of singers and musicians blossomed. Most importantly, perhaps, emerged two competing labels—Volta Discobel and Club Voltaique Du (CVD)—and in battling for the modern music in the region, they challenged good bands to become great. Judging from the collection here, the ones that were up to the task thrived, as did both labels.
The sounds here are pulled from a variety of influences outside of Burkinabe music. It distinguishes itself from Nigerian Afro-beat, for example, by sanding down the hard edge of that sound. Instead, there is an undercurrent of Afro-Latin sound, brought over from Cuba, that smoothes out many of these songs. They can go from lean, as on Amadou Ballake’s guitar-driven opener “Bar Konou Mousso”, to the rattling jams of longer tracks like “Mangue Konde Et Les Super Monde’s “Kabendo”, where the shuffling percussion shows the Latin influence most clearly. Other tracks, like Mamo Lagbema’s “Love, Music, and Dance”, show the ever-present influence of Western soul on the Afro-beat sound. Meanwhile, Afro Soul System’s “Tink Tank” shows a wholly unique and murky take on all of these sounds. The guitars here are downright psychedelic and off-kilter and excellent, and the rhythm section digs in and trudges forward with a scowling force. Even if you’ve heard 100 African music compilations in the past few years, Afro Soul System’s work will catch you off guard in the best way.
In the end, though, Bambara Soul Mystic belongs mostly to one man: Amadou Ballake. Of the 16 tracks here, Ballake is featured on six, and with good reason. He’s a national icon, and hearing his music here, you can see why. Ballake, working with different groups, shows a variety of talents that represents well the different sounds that make up Burkinabe music. The trickling melodies and rhythm of “Sali” owe as much to Asian and Islamic influences as they do to African music. “Johnny” uses more straightforward rock ‘n’ roll percussion, opening up holes for the wobbling guitars to ripple into. “Oye Ke Bara Kignan”, recorded with l’Orchestre Super Volta, merges the swaying Afro-Latin vibe with the hard-edged guitar sounds of Mali and Nigeria to brilliant effect. Through each of these sounds, Ballake also proves himself a soulful and charming singer, one that possesses as much impressive range as he does deep emotion.
While Ballake gets the most space here, proving his status as the most important figure in Burkinabe music, he also anchors what is a pretty impressive and diverse set of songs from a previously untapped resource. Bambara Soul Mystic achieves the consistency of some of the best Afro-beat comps out there—from Analog Africa and others—but what makes it great is that it also makes its own unique mark. It only takes one listen to see the new ground this music covers that like compilations don’t, and subsequent listens after only reveal more wonderful, tuneful surprises.
This latest collection from nugget unearthing specialists Analog Africa comes from deep in North Western Africa and features 16 tracks covering the golden age of Burkinabè music. The compilation follows the label's similar overviews from inspired times in Benin, Togo and Angola, amongst others. Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 represents perhaps the label's most underexposed region to date. Burkina Faso has produced very little exported popular music compared to its neighbors or African musical giants like Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. And records that have appeared on Western labels, such as Nonesuch's Savannah Rhythms and Rhythms of the Grasslands covered more traditional percussive forms, reflecting the music played in the rural landscape. Although those were recorded around the same period in the early 70s, the musicians on the tracks on Bambara Mystic Soul had travelled beyond the arid Sahel desert. Having absorbed a wide range of influences from across Africa, the sounds they crafted displayed a more cosmopolitan feel.
The record documents a time prior to the military coups in the former French colony that eventually led to the then Republic of Upper Volta, or Haute Volta, being renamed Burkina Faso (“the land of incorruptible/upright men”) in 1984. The groups showcased here were influenced by sounds coming from neighbouring countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, during the height of the Afrobeat revolution.
The impact of the music is immediate, and the sound timeless, as Amadou Ballaké et l'Orchestre Super Volta kick in with 'Bar Konou Mousso', laced with jazzy saxophone breaks and loose but punctual guitar lines. The lyrics reflecting on Ballaké's experiences as a musician playing in bars every night: “If you're musician, you're no one, my house is not paid, at the Independence Hotel, with the white man, It's 5,000 Francs". A prominent figure during this period, now regarded as a national icon, vocalist Ballaké led several pioneering orchestras from the capital Ouagadougou, and features on six tracks, variously accompanied here by Les 5 Consuls and l'Orchestre Super Volta. His career had begun outside Burkina Faso in the 60s in the night clubs of Bamako, Mali, as, like many other Burkinabè musicians, he sought better gig opportunities. This in turn led to the incorporation of wider and distinctive musical influences, like the guitar techniques and Mandingue melodies from Mali and Guinea, just one example of the wide breadth of ideas picked up from other African countries that helped inspire this rich blend of soul.
Existing in the dry savannah plains in hot Sahel climes, regularly facing drought, Voltaics would head to the neighbouring Ivory Coast to seek employment. Similarly, the country did not host adequate studio facilities, and many of these recordings were made outside of Burkina Faso. While visiting these studios the musicians made good use of their neighbours' studio knowledge. The musicians were also aided by the post-independence urban middle class, who were willing to invest in the Burkinabè arts, which included releasing the music. Labels emerged like Volta Discobel and Club Voltaique du Disque (CVD) to document the sounds for people at home, originally releasing many of the tracks included here. The recordings have a warm sound, and include a combination of traditional Islamic rhythms, as on Orchestre CVD's 'Rog Mik Africa', and a hint of Afro-Latin sounds introduced by visiting Cuban groups, featured on Mangue Konde et Le Super Mandé's 'Kabendo'. And where there is perhaps a bit of tape wobble, on Amadou Ballaké et Les 5 Consuls' 'Renouveau', and certain l'Orchestre Super Volta tracks, it adds a fitting haunting quality to the 35-year-old sounds.
Taking the soul blueprint of Ballaké's music, his younger contemporaries at this time followed with the additional influence of 70s Afropop and funk. Abdoulaye Cissé's 'Kodjougou' begins on a stomping riff like a more energised take on Bob Marley's 1973 'Get Up, Stand Up', with added psyche fuzz guitar soloing, rapid-fire trap work and menacingly urgent vocals, while the playful wah-funk of Compaoré Issouf's 'Dambakale', oozes a loose sensual swing, as the gently strained lead vocal is backed by a group of female singers on the knee-tremblingly seductive chorus. Mamo Lagbema's 'Love, Music and Dance' revels in a fun Zappa-like wildness. And an undeniably James Brown-styled wail leads into the shoulder shaking shimmy of Afro Soul System's 'Tink Tank', like Fela Kuti, using Pidgin English so the message could be understood by a wider multilingual audience, as the music builds up layer upon layer of polyrhythmic interplay to the endless heavy groove.
The re-discovery of these timeless “raw sounds” offers a tantalising glimpse into this vibrant scene, and a wider exploration into the back catalogues of the artists on Bambara Mystic Soul would certainly be welcome. It will be interesting to see what treats Analog Africa has in store next. For now, surrendering to the magic of this potent African mix as it casts a spell on the soul is just fine.
Check it out here:
Renouveau - Amadou Balaké et Les 5 consuls
Bambara Mystic Soul takes the search for rare 1970s groove music into rough territory. The landlocked West African nation of Burkina Faso, which was known until 1984 as Upper Volta, doesn’t top any lists besides the ones you don’t want to be on, like child mortality and the percentage of the population suffering from malnutrition. The country didn’t have civilian radio until 1939, and in the ’50s it took music from the U.S. a year to reach Voltan ears. But it’s not totally isolated. In the ’70s, when the music on this record was made, a large part of the population migrated to neighboring countries to do agricultural work. More recently despite the encroachment of the growing Sahara and collateral economic damage from civil conflicts in neighboring Mali, Niger and Ivory Coast, people survive and thrive.
Since 2006, the Frankfurt-based DJ has split his time between searching for vinyl in Africa and Latin American and fashioning compilations like this one that skim the best dance-floor fillers and soul-touchers from his collection. Your typical Analog Africa release not only serves up a world of new but approachable music, it takes you on a journey. Bambara Mystic Soul comes with a 44-page booklet that chronicles Redjeb’s record searches, as well as the smells and sights and illnesses he encountered whilst searching in Burkina Faso and other African countries for these records. It also introduces you, via recent interviews, to the people who made these records more than 30 years ago, and dishes dirt like the story about a government official who put paid to efforts to build a pressing plant in the capital city, Ouagadougou. If you’re inclined to geek out over stories embedded with trivia, Analog Africa has your back.
But records are for playing, not reading, and AA is on your side there, too. Redjeb is a DJ as well as a collector, and he has good sequencing instincts. His selections on Bambara Mystic Soul adhere to criteria similar to the ones he applied when assembling Legends Of Benin, Angola Soundtrack, and Afro-Beat Airways. He bypasses folkloric material in favor of music that reflects the influence of Latin American rhythms, U.S. soul music, and the burgeoning popular music industries of neighboring countries.
You can hear Congolese traces in the loping beat and fleet guitar figures of Orchestre CVD’s “Rog Mik Africa,” James Brown in Jean Claude Bamongo’s tonsil-inflaming screams on Afro Soul System’s organ-heavy “Tink Tank,” straight-up disco bass on Mamo Lagbema’s libidinous “Love, Music And Dance” (the only song in English), and a late-night Cuban swoon in Amadou Ballaké’s “Baden Djougou.” What you won’t hear is something that defines this music as essentially Voltan. Unless you have an ear that can distinguish the various Mosse, Fula and Mande languages or local French accents sung here, what stands out is the way these songs sound like a mix of Ivorian, Congolese, Beninese and Malian, as well as non-African influences. But you’ll also hear some mighty swell tunes full of liquid guitar licks, spidery organ runs, and singers who know how to make you pay attention even if you don’t know what they’re saying. Even in the best of times, living in Burkina Faso isn’t easy; if you’re surviving, you’ve got something to celebrate, and that’s the spirit this collection exudes.
It's official; the so-called developed world is drowning in DJ-curated repackagings of 35 to 40 year old Latin and funk-influenced West-African grooves. Many of these collections suggest scenes that may have never really existed, or their editors cherry pick particularly rare stylistic examples of sounds the bands themselves only dabbled in. In this way, they often decide what matters based on what a Westerner may truly be able to get with, due to a familiarity many us really ought to get past. Yet compilations and original LP reissues by the likes of the above label, Soundway, Mississippi, Vampi Soul, Strut and a growing host of others are also shining a spotlight on what was no doubt a fertile period in the region’s musical development, a post-colonial, pre-corruption-fueled fallout that, for a brief moment, allowed the arts to flower.
Perhaps Ghana and Nigeria documented this period most extensively, but then there was Benin, and especially the massive output of the country’s best-known band, Poly Ritmo (an ensemble who have been heavily, but hardly exhaustively compiled on Analog Africa, Soundway and Sterns Africa). Yet, it’s only natural that the interest would spill over into Ghana and Benin’s shared northern neighbor, Burkina Faso. And positioned as it is due east of southern Mali as well, its 70s-era pop sounds no doubt bear the stamp of that Sahelian musical powerhouse.
Yet this isn’t the first compilation of such artists as Sandwidi Pierre, Amadou Ballake and others to appear recently. There’s Savannahphone’s Ouaga Affair from 2 years ago (a compilation which has a number of track overlaps with this set), as well as a 3-year old Ballake reissue on Oriki. In fact, the discerning sharity blog surveyor will unearth hours of treasures from this landlocked African Nation. However, what sets this comp apart, is the massive attention to track choice label owner Sammy Ben Redjeb brings to any project, not to mention the exhaustive booklet with his own story of tracking this stuff down, artists’ telling their own bios and, in this case, a bit of Burkina music history courtesy of Ouaga Affair’s own Craig Taylor.
Like most of the other AA releases, Redjeb, who is also a DJ, has his finger on the dance-floor pulse, and, aside from one weak track, Mamo Lagbema’s “Love, Music and Dance,” this is compilation full of aggressively raw funk, proto-soukous and tracks brimming over with gorgeous Malian-style Cuban-influenced depth. Ballake’s “Sie Koumgolo” percolates with bottomless guitar-shimmer while the Afro Sound System’s “Tink Tank” is a definitive take on lo-fi funk nastiness so intense it seemingly defied normal recording standards. If there’s any real complaint about the set, it has less to do with the contents and more to do with this review’s opening statement. Nothing on this disc will be necessarily revelatory to the already initiated, but then that’s not the point. There is still a tremendous amount of this music rarely heard outside the country, including the sounds made by Bobo-Dioulasso’s state-sponsored orchestras. While we’re now hearing like bands from Guinea and Mali, there’s still a treasure trove to come from the former Upper Volta. Perhaps, Bambara Mystic Soul will help unlock some of what’s still presently obscure in this musically bountiful country.
01. Amado Ballake Et L'Orchestre Super Volta - Bar Konou Mousso
02. Abdoulaye Cisse - Kodjougou
03. Compaore Issouf - Dambakale
04. Amadou Ballake Et Les 5 Consuls - Renouveau
05. Traore Seydou Richard Et Les Vadou Du Flamboyant - Katougou
06. Mamo Lagbema - Love, Music And Dance
07. Amadou Ballake Et L'Orchestre Super Volta - Johnny
08. Coulibaly Tidiani - Sie Koumgolo
09. Amadou Ballake Et Les 5 Consuls - Baden Djougou
10. Afro Soul System - Tink Tank
11. Mangue Konde Et Le Super Mande - Kabendo
12. Orchestre CVD - Rog Mik Africa
13. Amadou Ballake Et L'Orchestre Super Volta - Sali
14. Mamo Lagbema - Zambo Zambo
15. Amadou Ballake Et L'Orchestre Super Volta - Oye Ka Bara Kignan
16. Sandwidi Pierre Et L'Orchestre Harmonie Voltaique - Tond Yabramba