Nov 23, 2018

Mogadishu Airfield Arkestra

Unfortunately cannot find any information ...

Nov 15, 2018

Vaudou Game - Otodi

No one had been through those doors in years. Unchanged, seemingly untouched, just a guard watching over it- one wondered whether the place would ever see the light of day again. Built in the 70s by Scotch, there were only twenty such places in the entire world. Twenty studios, all identical. Most had undergone a digital makeover in the 80s, but not this one – situated in Lomé, this studio had stayed true to its original form. Silent and uninhabited but waiting for one thing, and one thing only: for the sacred fire to be lit once again. That of the Togolese Recording Office. Studio OTODI for those in the know.

Through thick layers of dust, the console was vibrating still, impatient to be turned on and spurt out the sound so unique to analog. That sound is what Peter Solo and his band Vaudou Game came to seek out. The original vibrations of Lomé’s sound, resonating within the studio space, an undercurrent pulsing within the walls, the floor, the entire atmosphere. A presence at once electrical and mystical, sourced through the amps that had never really gone cold, despite the deep sleep that they had been forced into. In taking over the studio’s 3000 square feet, enough to house a full orchestra, Vaudou Game had the space necessary to conjure the spirits of voodoo, those very spirits who watch over men and nature, and with whom Peter converses every day.

For the most authentic of frequencies to fully imbibe this third album, Peter Solo entrusted the rhythmic section to a Togolese bass and drum duo, putting the groove in the expert hands of those versed in feeling and a type of musicianship that you can’t learn in any school. This was also a way to put OTODI on the path of a more heavily hued funk sound- the backbone of which maintains flexibility and agility when moving over to highlife, straightens out when enhanced with frequent guest Roger Damawuzan’s James Brown type screams, and softens when making the way for soulful strings. Snaking and undulating when a chorus of Togolese women takes over, guiding it towards a slow, hypnotic trance.

Up until now, Vaudou Game had maintained their connection to Togo from their base in France. This time, recording the entire album in Lomé at OTODI with local musicians, Peter Solo drew the voodoo fluid directly from the source, once again using only Togolese scales to make his guitar sing, his strings acting as channels between listeners and deities…

Nov 14, 2018

Ebo Taylor - Yen Ara

Conquering lion of Highlife Music, Ebo Taylor has truly seen it all and done it all. The 83-year-old Saltpond based musician, songwriter and composer is just about to begin another world tour as he promotes his latest body of work. The 9-track album titled, Yen Ara, released via Mr Bongo in march of 2018, sees him translating various knowledge bases encoded in traditional Fanti music in contemporary Ghanaian highlife as well as experimenting with certain new rhythmic forms through signature, horn-dominated composition. The album, eagerly anticipated and brilliantly received so far is another stroke of Ebo Taylor’s genius.

At a very comfortable 41 minutes, the album begins with Poverty No Good, introduced by a solemn and choral admonition of poverty. The song, one of which Ebo Taylor composed and arranged, then roars into life with the rolling drum loops metronomed by a muffled conga and brazen horns sections, bridged by Ebo Taylor’s Pidgin English verse on the impossible nature of living with poverty. The charged tempo of the song counters the patient melody he creates with his voice and sets a tone of blending and mix which is consistent through the tape.

The next few songs, however, slope towards more polarized dance-friendly highlife and afrobeats. Mumundey for instance, feature this rousing war-like call and response refrain, sandwiched between rousing trumpet solos, one of Ebo Taylor’s well-known fatality moves. Track 3, Krumandey is more of late 70s disco and funk with a feel good atmosphere that slaps the rhythms onto listeners. The entire song rests on the strong shoulders of this punchy electrifying horns sections that season the vocals of Ebo Taylor’s son, Henry Taylor, whose strong voice rises above the cauldron of bliss on this song. It easily one of the stand out cuts on this tape.

Abenkwan Pucha, however, is the crown jewel of this album as it perfectly syncs the two critical phases of Ebo Taylor’s composition: i.e. the more traditional vocal highlife, brewed from Palmwine Music, to his jazzy funk phase which has become his signature in the African music pantheon. The song has this freshly ground feeling of warmth with yet again, the kinetic and tender horns section, as well as Tony Allen style drum pattern as Ebo Taylor in his aged, raspy voice appears to be using palm nut soup as some grand metaphor.

For casual or first time listeners, this project is by far a huge pool of highlife bliss to dive into as it partially traces the contours of this very Ghanaian genre, showing how the sound has evolved from the palm wine days, through funk and disco to the experimental, electro-based, burger highlife days. It also exhibits Ebo Taylor’s brilliance as a composer. The entire project feels well round with no gagged melodies and unessential phrases taking away from the overall sounds. Ebo Taylor along with the Saltpond City Band and producer Justin Adams, brilliantly engineered soundscapes for the narratives, with the trusted horn section as the pillar upon which the entire sonic architecture is arranged.

However, this is same compositional level, is where the magic that elevates this body of work happens. Despite having a uniquely homogenous sounds, certainly elements do stick out. A considerable chunk of the composition on this album have already appeared on previous bodies on work. In an interview with Afropop Worldwide, Ebo Taylor does admit to repurposing these classics and playing around with certain compositional element to make them fresh for today’s world. In the same interview, he also mentions the another chunk of the album came from songs sung by various Asafo troupes. “We try to get it into a danceable form, while keeping its history”, Ebo Taylor says in the interview. The Asafo, a group of warriors in Akan communities are one of the sub-set of Ghanaian culture that instrumentalize song. Ebo Taylor, shamelessly borrows some of their melodies and rhythms in composing this album. By so doing, he also documents and records this custom that seems to be fading away.

Yen Ara represent one of the final iterations on a quest to perfection. By dedicating his life to the music, Ebo Taylor has worked religiously to achieve what could be a near perfect sound. Not only does he achieve this on this album but he also pays homage to Fanti culture and how the communal use of music to lubricate daily chores is the main ingredient in his sonic composition. Through Yen Ara, the Asafo tradition of music remains alive, although it should make you pause and think about the current state of communal Ghanaian musical culture. 

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The horns breaking through the beautifully composed opening track is akin to the sunshine through a cloudy day. The effervescent jingles of the music is irresistible and blissful. Drenched in both hyper-energy and mellow grooves, Ebo taylor and his Saltpond City Band delivered one of his most albums in his catalogue.

The 81 year old indefatigable musician is a known pioneering figure within the afrobeat circles and highlife music in general.

”Yen Ara”, his latest project is a live recorded album produced by Justin Adams. The live recording session took place at the Electric Monkey Studio in Amsterdam. The themes on the album bothers on tradition, culture, life and heritage.

Here’s a track-by-track breakdown of the album.

Poverty No Good

A call and response song with a pidgin title. It carries a triumphant horn section with adowa rhythms bubbling across the song. ‘In this man’s world, life’s is how you make it, no 1 wants to be poor’; his old voice echoes before the Fante phrase ‘ohia be y3 ya (poverty will be painful) shut shop on the first verse.

Ebo Taylor sings in both Fante, English and pidgin. The poignant message in this song is: don’t be poor; strive for riches.

Mumudey Mumudey

Mumudey Mumudey is quintessentially a jama tune. It breathes the potency of Osode-a traditional highlife folk music popular amongst fishermen and carries enchanting grooves.

The song opens with a famous phrase made popular by Gyedu Blay on ‘Simigwa Do’. Ebo Taylor compares himself with the handsome and dapper character-who rocks good clothes and sunglasses- with himself and his family members. The afrobeat elements are as boisterous as ever.


From the lyrics, one is left thinking ‘Krumandey’ as a type of dance. He urges all ‘little children to play the game’. Perhaps it’s an old game popular during his young years. It’s sound like a plea to go back to picking some of the traditions of old as well.

Aboa Kyirbin

The uptempo tone of the three previous songs wanes, paving the way for this mid-tempo tune. Soulful horns open the song. The vocals are gentle and soft. This song talks of the need to cast away a spell with Aboa Kyirbin which he describes as a worm eating creature.

The song, like many highlife tunes carry a philosophical depth. Aboa Kyiribin refers to a type of poisonous snake. Employed as a metaphor to reference how the deeds of people is harming this country, Ebo Taylor calls for the snake that is now feeding on worms (a very strange happening) to be sacrificed to cast away the ills bedevilling the country.

This point is validated by these lyrics (translated from Fante): fellow citizens, we need to sacrifice aboa kyirbi (snake) to cast away a spell. This call elicit a response from his singers: ‘my country Ghana drenched in tears. ‘’Abro Kyirbin’’ qualifies as both a political and social call for the right actions to be taken to ameliorate the sufferings we have contributed in creating. Unlike other songs that plays to end, this ends abruptly.

Mind Your Own Business

This song picks up from the up-tempo vibrations of the first three records. You hear the emotive guitar works of Uncle Taylor who, after a minute of renditions of danceable rhythms, repeatedly sings ‘don’t let my business be your business because ‘I’m too strong for you. So please don’t judge me’.

He’s preaching about ignoring criticism and living your life: ‘All which you think is my downfall, but blessings dey drop like rainfall/music is my weapon and I’m doing what I want’. The guitar chords after the second verse and the horn section is as gentle as it can ever get.

The simple sing along chorus reminds me of another beautiful composition by now defunct Marriot International Band in the mid-90s with same title.


Song title translate from Fante to English as ‘lonely person’. Derived from a popular wise saying, he highlights the plight of the lonely person in this world as the lines of the song reveal: ‘I’m a lonely man, who’ll help or speak for me when I’m in trouble’. The lonely man doesn’t have friends or family to support him and mostly the society shuns him.

‘’Ankona’m’’ has a jazzy- highlife feel. His singing evokes a tone of sombreness. The instrumentation accompanying this song is mellow and swingy. The guitar riffs from Ebo Taylor whizzes across the soft percussion drums with grace. The pain in his voice can’t be missed.

Abenkwan Puchaa

Now, this song celebrates one of the most prominent soups on the menu list in many Ghanaian homes. ‘Abenkwan’ refers to palm nut soup. On the song, he describes a mouth-watering palm soup with beans, mushroom, akrantie, crab, snail, okro as essentials. This song validates the ‘fante-ness’ of Ebo Taylor- he loves good food.

Yen Ara

The mini-climax of the beat at the beginning; the bassline that reverbs across momentarily; the long solo horn section permeating across the serenity of the drums without any disturbance. All these coalesce to hand “Yen Ara”, the album title its grace.

“Yen Ara” (We) is an ode to his hometown of Cape Coast-a historic town in the Central Region with the crab as a symbol. It is said that, the 17 clans of Cape Coast (known locally as Oguaa) won a battle against thousands of men- a reference to their victories against the Ashantis during the colonial era.

It’s a song that reflect the history and formidability of the people of Oguaa. Yen Ara is the shortest song on the album. It plays for just 3 minutes 11 seconds.

Abaa Yaa

‘’Abaa Yaa, come here. She has a University education. Unbeknownst, she can’t speak Fante’’. These are the opening lines on Uncle Taylor’s closing song “Abaa Yaa”. He pivots two scenarios to capture what he thinks is an erosion of our tradition and culture, including our language. He cites how a lady-Auntie Lizzy- finished basic school yet can’t speak Fante (her local dialect). Abaa Yaa is actually a remake of an old tune with same title, found on his ”Life Stories: Highlife and Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980” release.

Contrasting these scenarios with the action of a proper Englishman who drinks tea with fried plantain balls. For Ebo Taylor, we should safeguard our culture and identity. This theme has been a favourite of his and seem to be borrowed from his song ‘Ohy3 Atare Gyan’.

“Yen Ara” is a well-conceived and excellently executed album with variants of musical influences he has been part of since he began some six decades ago. It shares elements of highlife, afrobeat, jazz and swings within the scope of mellow, mid-tempo and high tempo rhythmic detonations.

His style of blending his mother tongue of Fante with pidgin and English is indicative of his desire to keep it both Ghanaian and African as well as global.

The performance by his band, Saltond City Band- a handpicked group of musicians including two of his sons is as entrancing as the overall work on the album.

Oct 16, 2018

The unstoppable renaissance of Afrobeat

(Translated with googletranslate from German magazine WELT)

He was pastor's son, polygamist, pothead and the inventor of a novel style of music: with his Afrobeat Fela Kuti reconciled Africa and the West - at least on the dance floor. A tribute.

He would never die, said Fela Kuti. He had his middle name Ransome, a slave name, exchanged for Anikulapo, and this name means that he carries the death in his bag, so he could not harm him. When Fela Kuti died on August 3, 1997, at the age of 58, of AIDS, he was actually far more alive than in previous years. More than a million people populated the streets when his body was laid out in the Lagos stadium. No one went to work for two days, and for once there were hardly any crimes. Even the gangsters and petty criminals who loved Fela Kuti so much should all have been busy dealing with their grief.

There was the loss of a great musician, composer and rebel. In the early 1970s, Kuti invented Afrobeat, a synthesis of highlife, jazz and funk, and released more than 50 albums during his career. He headed two of the most influential bands in African pop music with Africa '70 and Egypt '80; He maintained a community in the middle of Lagos for his musicians, the family and all who wanted to be there, a commune he called the Kalakuta Republic and declared it an autonomous state territory.The amazing thing is that his fame has continued to grow steadily ever since. Jay-Z and Will Smith have produced this with a number of Tony's excellent Broadway musical "Fela!". Last year saw the wonderful documentary "Finding Fela!" By Academy Award winner Alex Gibney. And the New York label Knitting Factory makes Kutis music accessible again in all dosage forms. Questlove of the Roots, Ginger Baker and most recently Brian Eno have curated magnificent vinyl boxes. The label is currently releasing Fela Kuti's albums as new prints, also on vinyl.

He was Nigeria's public enemy number one and has been arrested more than a hundred times. After releasing his hit "Zombie" in 1976, which was not friendly with the military dictatorship, a thousand soldiers stormed Kalakuta, threw his old mother out of the first-floor window and set fire to the buildings.

Months later, when the mother died as a result of her injuries, he carried her coffin to the official residence of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and released the album "Coffin For Head Of State." But Kuti was also an avid stoner, smoking nonstop bags of gigantic proportions, as well as a zealous polygamist who married 27 women in a ceremony in 1978, which is said to have earned him a temporary entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

You could think of Fela Kuti as a particularly peculiar mix of Duke Ellington, James Brown, Bob Marley, Nelson Mandela, and Hugh Hefner, and would not even half-do it justice.

The legend of Lagos

Kuti is born on October 15, 1938 as Olufela Olusun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Abeokuta as the fourth of five children of a Nigerian middle-class family. His father Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti is a Protestant pastor, his mother Funmilayo a well-known political activist, winner of the International Lenin Peace Prize and first woman of Nigeria with a driver's license.

At 19 Kuti is sent to London to study medicine or law, but ends up at the conservatory and studies composition, trumpet and piano. When searching for accommodation, he experiences racism ("no blacks, no dogs"), gets to know the music of Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, founds his first band with the Koola Lobitos. In 1963 he returns to Lagos, but the high-life jazz of his Koola Lobitos does not really want to ignite the audience there, because jazz takes the high life momentum and people want to dance above all else. The necessary inspiration comes in the form of the records of James Brown, but only a ten-month trip with the entire band to America completes the music of Fela Kuti.

Because his new girlfriend, Black Panther activist Sandra Smith, introduces him to the writings of Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver, Kuti begins to develop African consciousness beyond Africa, and uploads his pieces with political content. As Smith, who now calls herself Sandra Iszadore, recalled in an interview, he previously sang songs about soup, among other things. If he had continued to sing about food, his career would probably have been calmer, but great artists are not only the product of their talents, but also the product of their time - and the times were not good.

Songs like circles

After Nigeria was released from independence in 1960 by the British Parliament, it experienced from 1966 an almost absurd sequence of military dictatorships. Constantly, new generals came to power, while the oil boom gave the country a wealth of which the people, thanks to its elite, had practically nothing. Nigeria was marked by corruption, mismanagement, poverty, and violence, and Fela Kuti felt called to take care of it.

But you can not imagine his protest songs as "Tell me where the flowers are" -song, which asks about the meaning of wars and is supported by the desire to be tolerated, please. Kuti was not an intermediary. He attacked. And so that everyone understood his concerns, he sang them in Pidgin English, which was common in the whole Anglo-African language area.

A kuti composition lasts about 18 minutes on average, but can easily be twice as long. It usually starts with a theme that is set by a few instruments, gradually adding other building blocks, with a single instrument never playing the full melody, but only a small part, resulting in the songs constantly moving but the whole thing remains in a tight rhythmic corset. The brass breaks in, the sound gets bigger, and if you think the song might be over, it's not even started yet.

At some point, half of the song is almost over, Kuti also turns on. He declares more than he sings, the chorus speaks up, there is a back and forth of voices, then again the brass, the guitars and the beat, which goes on and on. When the American singer Jim James of the band My Morning Jacket was interviewed about Kuti, he said that he always had to think about the setting of circles in this music. It turns and turns, and you do not want it to stop.

What a stage band, better than the Beatles!

The attraction of this music to other artists was enormous, especially on western ones. Almost every night Kuti played with his band Africa '70 in his nightclub "African Shrine" in Lagos and received among others James Brown. Stevie Wonder also came by and also Paul McCartney. He had fled to Lagos because he wanted to record the album "Band On The Run" with the Wings.

McCartney still remembers the evening at Shrine. In a video interview that can be seen on YouTube, he says, "It was the best live band I've ever seen." There, he also heard his favorite kuti song that he never found a recording of but he still remembers the reef. McCartney sits down at the keyboard and starts playing. It is the song "Why Black Man Dey Suffer".

Without ever having heard it since then, Paul McCartney still has it in his ear forty years later.

Originally published in German 

Oct 1, 2018

Hoodna Orchestra - NO A​.​C

Hoodna Orchestra, also known H.A.O, is an Israeli Afrobeat band from the south part of Tel-Aviv, formed in 2013. Inspired by the humming and clanging of carpentry and metal workshops.

Originally conceived as a traditional Afrobeat group, H.A.O quickly developed a far spikier sound, often played faster and more emphatically than many of their contemporaries. They have also proven adept at broadening their sound by incorporating influences from a variety of other genres. H.A.O.’s rousing live shows quickly attracted an enthusiastic following.

Debut EP: “No A.C.”

Sep 28, 2018

" Commandments" by The Seven Ups

Melbourne's 7-piece afro-groove combo, The Seven Ups, are releasing their third full length album, Commandments, and are throwing a launch party at Howler to celebrate.

Building on the bands Funk and Afrobeat influences, the new album pushes the boundaries by adding elements of deep psych and fuzz rock. Whilst maintaining high energy grooves, the new tracks venture to the meaner and darker edges of the genre.

Sep 27, 2018

Sampler: Two Niles to Sing a Melody

Ostinato presents "Two Niles to Sing a Melody: The Violins & Synths of Sudan", a superb Afro compilation released on 3xLP Gatefold with 20-page booklet & 2xCD Bookcase with 32-page booklet ... In Sudan, the political and cultural are inseparable.

In 1989, a coup brought a hardline religious government to power. Music was violently condemned. Many musicians and artists were persecuted, tortured, forced to flee into exile — and even murdered, ending one of the most beloved music eras in all of Africa and largely denying Sudan's gifted instrumentalists, singers, and poets, from strutting their creative heritage on the global stage.

What came before in a special era that protected and promoted the arts was one of the richest music scenes anywhere in the world. Although Sudanese styles are endlessly diverse, this compilation celebrates the golden sound of the capital, Khartoum. Each chapter of the cosmopolitan city's tumultuous musical story is covered through 16 tracks: from the hypnotic violin and accordion-driven orchestral music of the 1970s that captured the ears and hearts of Africa and the Arabic-speaking world, to the synthesizer and drum machine music of the 1980s, and the music produced in exile in the 1990s. The deep kicks of tum tum and Nubian rhythms keep the sound infectious.

Sudan of old had music everywhere: roving sound systems and ubiquitous bands and orchestras kept Khartoum's sharply dressed youth on their feet. Live music was integral to cultural life, producing a catalog of concert recordings. In small arenas and large outdoor venues, musical royalty of the day built Khartoum's reputation as ground zero for innovation and technique that inspired a continent.

Musicians in Ethiopia and Somalia frequently point to Sudan's biggest golden era stars as idols. Mention Mohammed Wardi — a legendary Sudanese singer and activist akin to Fela Kuti in stature and impact in his music and politics — and they often look to the heavens. A popular story is of one man from Mali who walked for three months across the Sahel to Sudan because the father of the woman he wanted to marry would only allow it if he got him a signed cassette from Wardi himself. Saied Khalifa is said to be the one of the few singers to make Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie smile.

Such is the stature of Sudanese singers and the reputation of Sudanese music, particularly in the "Sudanic Belt," a cultural zone that stretches from Djibouti all the way west to Mauritania, covering much of the Sahara and the Sahel, lands where Sudanese artists are household names and Sudanese poems are regularly used as lyrics until today to produce the latest hits. Sudanese cassettes often sold more in Cameroon and Nigeria than at home.

But years of anti-music sentiment have made recordings in Sudan difficult to source. Ostinato's team traveled to Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and Egypt in search of the timeless cultural artifacts that hold the story of one of Africa's most mesmerizing cultures. That these cassette tape and vinyl recordings were mainly found in Sudan's neighbors is a testament to Sudanese music's widespread appeal.

With our Sudanese partner and co-compiler Tamador Sheikh Eldin Gibreel, a once famous poet and actress in '70s Khartoum, Ostinato's fifth album, following our Grammy-nominated "Sweet As Broken Dates," revives the enchanting harmonies, haunting melodies, and relentless rhythms of Sudan's brightest years, fully restored, remastered and packaged luxuriously in a triple LP gatefold and double CD bookcase to match the regal repute of Sudanese music. A 20,000-word liner note booklet gives voice to the singers silenced by an oppressive regime.

Take a sail down the Blue and White Nile as they pass through Khartoum, carrying with them an ancient history and a never-ending stream of poems and songs. It takes two Niles to sing a melody.


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Ostinato Recordsʹ latest release, "Two Niles to Sing a Melody", is not only a collection of sixteen songs from the peak period of the country’s popular music era, the 1970s, it also contains fascinating first-hand accounts from a variety of musicians who survived the purges during the subsequent clampdown on popular culture.

The contemporary history of Sudan is as fraught and complicated as any other post-colonial African nation, if not more so for having had three colonial masters before independence: the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and finally the British. This chaotic background has left a permanent mark on the social and cultural structure of the country and arguably caused the split into North and South Sudan. It also laid the groundwork for the country’s first coup in 1969 led by Colonel Gafaar Muhammad an-Nimeiry.

Charismatic and smart Nimeiry understood he had to win the hearts of his people to hold onto power. He actively encouraged the development of a popular music scene that would appeal to the masses. With the assistance of the Chinese and North Korean governments, theatres were built and musicians trained.

The music these new performers were creating didn’t just grow out of thin air. Sudan had a tradition of popular music dating back to the 1930s. However, the period under the rule of Nimeiry was when the music of the country flourished, especially in the new capital of Khartoum. According to accounts by people who lived there at the time, music was all-pervasive.

Political Islam gains the upper hand

Unfortunately this period of cultural activity was short-lived. With the emergence of extremist militant groups in the Islamic world, Nimeiry began catering increasingly to their intolerant views. In the end even the introduction of legislation censoring music lyrics was not enough to keep him in power. He was overthrown in a coup in 1986 that ultimately resulted in Sudan’s current leader, Omar Al Bashir, coming to power in 1989.

Musicians had begun to leave the country during the early 80s when Nimeiry was trying to hold onto power by appeasing hard-line elements. However, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the government began aggressively targeting music and musicians.

While restrictions during the 80s had been bad, limiting what they could sing about and where they could perform, the new laws were even more restrictive. Unless songs glorified the new regime or demonised the people of South Sudan, they were banned. Musicians were arrested and tortured for daring to step out of line and the trickle of exiles turned into a flood.

Documenting a legacy

Listening to Two Niles to Sing A Melody released by Ostinato Records, youʹll find yourself transported back into Sudanʹs music heyday. Most of the 16 songs were taken from recordings originally made in the 1970s in Khartoum. Unfortunately even the best restoration programmes in the world can’t make up for deficiencies in recordings from fifty years ago. However, the occasional wince at a distorted voice doesn’t prevent us from appreciating the quality and diversity of the sound these amazing musicians produced.

As the title of the album suggests, strings and synthesizers played major roles in the music, creating lush melodies for a singer’s voice to rise above. The percussion and rhythms of the songs are probably the first thing you’ll notice, however. Take the song which opens the recording. "Al Bareedo Ana" (The One I Love) by Emad Eldin Youssef. It opens with an infectious drum beat of such throbbing intensity, you can just imagine people throwing themselves onto the dancefloor.

Then the melody starts to play over the top, with strings and electric instruments creating their own waves of invigorating sound. With Youssef’s voice soaring above it all the cornucopia of music is almost overwhelming in its intensity. If you imagine yourself jammed into a hall with others, however, celebrating a wedding or simply enjoying the moment, youʹll find yourself beginning to revel in the song.

A celebration of resilience
Listening to the music on the album, youʹll pick up on influences ranging from Bollywood inflections to traditional sounds from the Arab world.

The former is especially noticeable in female singers like Hanan Bulubulu’s "Alamy Wa Shagiya" (My Pain and Suffering) and Samira Dunia’s "Galbi La Tahwa Tani" (My Heart, Don’t Fall in Love Again) whose voices soar over their accompanying music like birds in flight.

Two Niles to Sing A Melody (the title refers to the two Nile rivers, The Blue and the White, which surround Khartoum) is a valuable historical record of a vital musical scene whose influence spread across Africa and the Arab world.

To this day recordings of the musicians on this album are still some of the most sought after in the Gulf states. As music begins to make a comeback in Sudan, this compilation represents more than merely an historical document.

The nights in Khartoum are starting to come alive again with the sounds of musicians. Full bands, like those heard on this album are playing at weddings again – music wafts onto the streets from various events. Some of the music is being performed by voices from the 70s, but a new generation has taken up the torch as well. Let this album introduce you to the joys of Sudanese music and celebrate its resiliency.

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While the output of Ostinato Records is still small, through the guiding hand of founder Vik Sohonie the Grammy-nominated label has already unveiled a deeply researched wealth of enlightenment succinctly described by the endeavor’s mission statement: “Afrophone stories from the Atlantic to Indian Ocean.” Previously, they’ve delved into the sounds of Haiti, Cape Verde and Somalia, and in 2018 have continued to travel, with the excellent new compilation Two Niles to Sing a Melody: The Violins & Synths of Sudan Ostinato’s second release to focus on the country of the title. Available as a 3LP gatefold on 140-gram wax with a 20-page booklet and as a 2CD bookcase with 36-page booklet, it’s out now.

Ostinato isn’t one of those late-arriving cash-in-hand labels poised to simply scoop up and platter the results of others’ diligence while reclining back as the modest profits and larger plaudits roll in. No, the label’s driving force Vik Sohonie is a true world traveler holding the passion of a fan, the curiosity of an archivist, and the desire to share what he’s uncovered. To an extent, Ostinato reminds me of a cross between John Storm Roberts’ Original Music label and the info-rich approach of Smithsonian-Folkways, or more appropriate to the current moment, Atlanta GA’s Dust-to-Digital.

If you want to not just hear the music of various global cultures but understand its context, Ostinato is a still young but reliably solid resource, and Two Niles to Sing a Melody only deepens this circumstance. It documents the era in Sudan prior to the violent coup of 1989, a fertile period described by the collection’s co-compiler, Sudanese poet and actress Tamador Sheikh Eldin Gibreel as “a time for culture, writers, artists, sculptors, fine arts, the musicians, and the people in the theater.”

It was time under the rule of Gafaar Muhammad Nimeiry, who seized power in 1969. He instigated a long period of support for the arts, though it was a political maneuver that as hardline Islamists established a foothold in the mainstream, was also ended by Nimeiry; in 1983 he imposed Sharia Law in Sudan with matters only worsening after Omar Al Bashir took power in 1989 (a coup removed Nimeiry three years before).

The compilation begins with “Al Bareedo Ana (The One I Love)” by Emad Youssef (as with prior Ostinato releases, the titles are helpfully translated into English, which can, though obviously only partially, offer insight into the emotional thrust of the music’s power). While the name of this compilation highlights violins and synths, the focus here is on rhythm, guitar, accordions (or accordion-like instrumentation), and Youssef’s sturdy, expressive vocals.

It’s in Abdel El Aziz Al Mubarak’s “Ma Kunta Aarif Yarait (I Wish I Had Known)” that the strings emerge in a big way, and with a tangible Asian influence, specifically of North Korea, as the country’s investment in Sudan during this period was substantial. This doesn’t diminish the vitality of the sounds heard in this track and across the comp, to the contrary broadening it, as one won’t likely mistake the contents for any other archival release, African or otherwise.

Kamal Tarbas’s “Min Ozzalna Seebak Seeb (Forget Those that Divide Us)” combines the strings and accordions with wind instrumentation and a palpable groove (the bass is a treat), though it’s worth noting that Two Niles to Sing a Melody’s wares aren’t especially funky (or jazzy a la neighboring Ethiopia). Instead, the orchestral string lilt of Madjzoub Ounsa’s “Arraid Arraid Ya Ahal (Love, Love Family)” offers an atmosphere reminiscent of pop, though in the (shared) inclination to stretch out, another groove does take hold.

Fluid and up-tempo rhythmic intensity increases in Khojali Osman’s wah-guitar-tinged “Malo Law Safeetna Inta (What if You Resolve What’s Between Us?)” as the crisp strings and robust vocalizing remain. But as the selections unwind there is crucial diversity, with Zaidan Ibrahim’s singing in the live track “Ma Hammak Azabna (You Don’t Care About My Suffering)” somewhat smoother than his contemporaries, and Saied Khalifa’s “Igd Allooli (The Pearl Necklace)” offering enjoyable exchanges with backup vocalists plus an abundance of handclaps (always a good thing).

Taj Makki’s “Ma Aarfeen Nagool Shino! (We Don’t Know What to Say!)” kicks up some hand-drumming dust as the strings swirl (with more of that Asian flavor) and a sweet muted trumpet enters the scene late. With Hunan Bulu Bulu’s live cut “Alamy Wa Shagiya (My Pain and Suffering)” a strong female lead voice enters the comp’s portraiture, and it’s easily one of Two Niles’s standouts.
If one is wondering where the synths are in the equation, they emerge in Abdelmoniem Ekhaldi’s “Droob A Shoag (Paths to Love),” though it’s important to relate that the electronic keyboard-ish textures don’t bring a transition as much as added flavor to the overall scheme. It’s also not a constant element; with Samira Dunia’s “Galbi La Tahwa Tani (My Heart, Don’t Fall in Love Again)” the spotlight lands on another superb woman singer as the synths subside (but those violins, they do stick around).

The only artist to land two tracks on this release is Mohammed Wardi, and with good reason, as he’s cited as attaining a level of popularity comparable to Fela Kuti, though he doesn’t sound like the wizard of Afrobeat. No, Wardi’s “Al Sourah (The Photo)” and the set’s finale “Al Mursal (The Messenger)” are very much in league with what precedes it here, but with the string-sections a bit more full-bodied, the drumming a little deeper in the pocket, and the assured vocals backing up his stature as the tracks’ durations are the longest of the collection, nearing and eclipsing ten minutes respectively.

With Mustafa Modawi & Ibrahim El Hassan’s “Al Wilaid Al Daif (The Youth Who Came as a Guest)” the synths return in a big way, and then enlarge their presence in Ibrahim El Kashif’s composition “Elhabeeb Wain? (Where is My Sweetheart?).” It’s the only non-vocal entry on the set and at under two minutes in length, in comparison to the longer tracks it kinda impacts the ear like a fragment.

But it’s a damn fine short take that’s unlike anything else on Two Niles to Sing a Melody, and it helps to elevate the whole into another unreserved success for Ostinato. The notes in the booklet are exquisite, including numerous interviews with the surviving participants, and for anyone with an interest in the historical retrieval and highlighting of global sounds, this one’s pretty much mandatory.