Mar 31, 2014

"Dur Dur Band" from Somalia (Thanx, Likembe) (get it)

This is a cassette of Dur Dur, a group from Somalia which was very popular in the 1980’s. John at Likembe writes about similar experiences. He presents also a lot of more information about Dur Dur in a another posting.

Because of the civil war in Somalia the group had moved to Ethiopia where they published this cassette in the early 1990’s. As it was the practice at that time the cassette was published by a music shop. In this case it is a shop called Elham Video Electronics. The shop has two branches one in Negele, Borana and one in Addis Ababa. The first branch in Negele seems to be the main one. It is located in an area in southern Ethiopia, which is close to the Ogaden, i.e. the Somali region of Ethiopia.

The musicians

On the cover there are photos of four members of the group written in Latin and Ethiopic script: Zahra, Muktar, Abdinur and Qomal (or Komal). As with a lot of Somalian musicians and artists it is difficult to obtain mor information about them. Therefor I would be happy for further information and comments about the group, its members and its music.

To download the songs check out @ 


Originally published @likembe:

Back with a reminder of much, much happier days in Somalia, our good friend Sanaag passes on almost 80 minutes worth of music by the legendary Afro-funk band Dur Dur, who were among the most popular groups in Mogadishu back in the '80s. You may remember them from this post, and this one. I understand that after the collapse of Somalia in 1991, vocalist Sahra Dawo and other "newer" members of the group relocated to Columbus, Ohio, USA, where they have a presence on Facebook. Sanaag reports that the other members of the "old guard" featured here are scattered all over the world, except Muktar "Idi" Ramadan who unfortunately passed away a few months ago in Saudi Arabia.

As usual for Somali recordings of this vintage, the audio quality of these songs is not up to modern standards, but I'm sure you'll agree that their musical and historical qualities more than compensate. Here's what Sanaag has to say about them:

Durdur's songs are almost always drenched in love. To the best of my knowledge, they didn't address social or political issues during the military dictatorship and that's why their lyrics didn't make a lasting impression on me or flare up my interest in the band; hence my sketchy knowledge about their work and background. I was really delighted with the post-Siad Barre cassette Andreas posted at Kezira, in which they've several socially engaged tracks.

These songs are mainly in southern vernacular languages. I hail from about 1100 kms further up North and, though I understand the basics fairly well, I don't have the required baggage to fathom the linguistic and literary subtleties inherent to these dialects. Neither can I contextualize the songs since I don't know if, as was common during the military dictatorship, some of the songs were meant as protest double entendres, were adopted as such by the general public, if events were associated with them etc. That's why I'd rather not venture into summarizing, let alone publicly interpreting, the lyrics. Nevertheless, all the songs are conspicuously about love and I've tried to translate the tracktitles. Corrections are, of course, most welcome!
14 songs can be found here!

Mar 27, 2014

Mar 26, 2014

Soul Safari presents Township Jive & Kwela Jazz

Kwela jazz is frequently quoted as the defining sound of a more innocent time in South African history. A cursory wiki provides this somewhat sterile snapshot: ‘happy, often pennywhistle-based, street music from Southern Africa with jazzy underpinnings and a distinctive, skiffle-like beat’. That’ll do as a high-level view of the music itself but can never provide the sense of sheer exuberance that the music itself resonates.

The pennywhistle, that simplest of instruments, produces a distinct warm and vibrant sound and, when relentlessly underpinned by an upbeat skifflish guitar, will forever identified with the Golden Age of South African township music. Providing an engrossing echo of a different time, Township Jive takes a snapshot of the spirit of Sophiatown, Mamelodi (which takes its name from ‘Ma Melody’) and the proto-funk rhythms which will forever be associated with a time when cars wore white sidewalls, men wore brogues and women were called cherries. This is the time of the film ‘African Jim’ (otherwise known as ‘Jim Comes To Joburg’) and the louche jazz scene which made the many names that feature on this compilation, among them Miriam Makeba, Spokes Mashiyane and Lulu Sibeko. Resuscitated by the blog Soul Safari and distributed by Rush Hour Distribution, these gems produce a direct line to jazz-hands-in-the-air moments of naked enjoyment. This is the jive that set the night alight, before the raw dawn on Sharpeville cast a pale light that threw dark shadows.

Featuring a strong showing from the stand-out stars of the kwela scene during its seminal years of 1940 to 1960, there’s an innocence and enthusiasm in the music on this compilation which belies its age: this is pre-Sharpeville material, from an era before forced removals, when smoking was de rigueur, 78s played on platters and bobbysox graced every well-turned ankle if a girl wanted to stand any chance of being feted by a beau. It’s raw, it’s funky, it’s highly infectious and it’s entirely impossible to ignore as a sample of a more beautiful space in time. Selected from the International Library of African Music in Grahamstown, this is as authentic a sample as you can get, with all the tracks having been remastered. If there was ever a definitive sampler of this genre, this is it. Hats off to the Soul Safari blog for playing their part in putting the spotlight on these gems!


01 The Skylarks with Miriam Makeba & Spokes Mashiyane -Ekoneni 
02 Sophtown Cool Seven -Sophtown Special 
03 Lulu Sibeko & Sedgewick Brothers Tholi Bare 
04 The Skylarks with Miriam Makeba & Spokes Mashiyane -Inkomo Zodwa 
05 Spokes Mashiyane & His Golden Saxophone -Bothe Bothe 
06 Cowboy Superman & His Cowboy Sisters -Inhlizyiyo yam 
07 Abafana Flute Jive -Bra Zack
08 Doris Mkhize & The Cement Mixers -Nanku 
09 Abafana Flute Jive -7 Up Swing 
10 Josiah Khuzwao & His String Band -Emkhumbane 
11 Lulu Sibeko & Sedgewick Brothers Chaba Chaba  
12 Martindale All Stars -Thakane 
13 Harmony Crew Shirts -Amanye Madoda  
14 Richard Nombali -Kwela Rich 
15 Ndlovu Brothers -Anilale Namhla 
16 Sample Siroqo  -Baya Vuma 

Mar 13, 2014

Post No. 700: South African Jazz: Ndikho Xaba And The Natives (get it)

MULTI-instrumentalist, actor, composer and teacher Ndikho Xaba has led a remarkable life. Born in Pietermaritzburg in 1934, his adventurous musicianship and radical politics eventually took him into exile in the US: he jumped ship from the cast of the Alan Paton musical Sponono in 1964. But though he stayed close, socially, to the other well known US-based exiles of that time - Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Miriam Makeba - his musical direction was rather different.

Xaba's concern was to develop a musical practice that questioned conventions as freely as his politics did. That led him to the improvising lofts of Chicago and San Francisco and now, for the first time, a retrospective collection of some of the music he made in that context has been released. Sunsets contains two tracks from 1970s San Francisco; five from Chicago in the early 1990s; and, to bring the story up to date, two laid down with students when he returned to KwaZulu-Natal in 2003.


Privately Pressed holy grail Afro Spiritual Jazz on the Trilyte label out of Oakland, California. Incredible music in the same vein as Tribe and Strata-East. Thought to be the first ever appearance of Plunky Branch ; Plunky & Oneness Of Juju on a vinyl record. Extremely limited private pressing which is both beautiful & moving Spiritual Free Jazz. It features long groove based tribal jams with "Freedom" being an amazing bluesy soul stomp. The album features some really moving and inspired playing, and even some vocalizing (chanting, singing) J. Plunky Branch is an acclaimed Avant Afro-Funk Jazz saxophonist from Richmond. Bassist Ken Shabala (Kent Parker) came from Brooklyn. They met in college & formed a group called the Soul Syndicate with Kent Parker the lead singer. From 1966-68 they played the New York circuit until moving to San Francisco where in 1969 they met Lon Moshe (Ron Martin) creating this African-Avant-Garde group with Ndikho Xaba. They recorded this one lone lp, led by South African pianist/percussionist, Ndikho Xaba until soon forming Plunky & Oneness Of Juju releasing their first album in 1972 and relocating to New York.


1 Shwabada
2 Freedom
3 Flight
4 Nomusa
5 Makhosi

Mar 12, 2014

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Analog Africa , Soundway and Strut Records are lovers of African Soul , Funk, and often mentioned in the same breath . We chat with the operators of three houses and show that they are not so similar.

Text: Lukasz

Analog Africa : archivist of African youth culture

Samy Ben Redscheb was ten years ago as a DJ engaged in a Senegalese hotel as he discovers in an old chest plate a particularly groovy radio disc of Zimbabwe. Intrigued by this sound completely foreign to him so far , he decides to unceremoniously to fly in the South American country and to go in search of clues . However, research is proving more difficult than expected : Where to get old soul, funk and rock on vinyl ? He always gets only shrug in response . But the German - Tunisian does not let up , traveling several times to Harare , rattles local radio stations from , asks somewhat dated musician and taxi driver until he finally , after three years in the remote gold mining village Shishavani will find them , "They have opened the doors and there was a camp of 50 by 30 meters and all full of records. We stayed there for two days and our car so packed that the central axis is broken on the way to Harare. « The charge of old records is shipped with a container to Germany. From the raw material picks Ben Redscheb the beads out, does she remaster and presses it to the market in the northern hemisphere . A new label is born : Analog Africa.
The Digger Ben Redscheb is so hooked that he umkrempelt his life and his passion for making vocation : He throws his job as an instructor , hires the time being at Lufthansa as flight attendant and fly every few weeks to Lagos , Accra or Khinshasa . Storage and basements or verrümpelte terraces and backyards are for him to workplaces; Bazaars of recorded music a forgotten heyday of African youth culture. According to the Zimbabwe compilations Nigeria , Ghana, Benin follow . The world music community is thrilled : Cosmic Afro Soul from Togo and Ghana or psychedelic Voodoo Funk from Benin. In the northern hemisphere has hitherto hardly known that it also has a beat and hippie era was in Africa, in the distorted guitars , Hammond organs , pants and Flowerpower - shirts were in vogue .
The stories of this era and the biographies and interviews with musicians such as Amadou Ballaké from Burkina Faso , Rob Raindorf from Ghana or the Orchestre Polyrythmo from Benin we learn not only on the blog of Analog Africa . Each vinyl is always accompanied by a lovingly designed booklet and rare pictures . Label owner Ben Redscheb it is important these " added value " mitzugeben to purchasers of its disks : " This gives the listener an idea of what is really happening in a country. If you listen to music without knowing where the people come from, who they are and what problems they had , then you can love music . But you'll love them until you get to know these people . "
Soundway Soundway fishes in Caribbean waters

Miles Cleret , operators of Soundway Records, which celebrates its tenth anniversary in April , has never intended to start their own label . 2002 he was on holiday in Ghana and heard a local DJ a track from Ebo Taylor hung up. Taylor Afrobeat combines traditional Ghanaian music with elements of American funk and rock giants like James Brown or Deep Purple. His songs are based on popular rhymes from the gold mine of traditional Ghanaian music. The instrumental tools : electric guitars , bass, drum set and brass section are imports from the Western Hemisphere. Like so many children of the hip-hop generation begins in the nineties, soul, funk and jazz records to discover Miles Cleret who have served as sample treasure trove of hip-hop producer. The intersection of their own taste in music and the newly discovered exotic let Cleret in Africa find the soundtrack of his life. Rough soul and funk beads that do not have the technical standard of U.S. productions , but autrumpften by a particular experiment . "There was a spirit of optimism , a sense of self-empowerment. Most countries had indeed just a decade behind independence , "he explained. Fascinated by this original sound hybrid he traveled to Ghana for three years then compile the compilation " Ghana Soundz " . When interested in a label on the compilation , based Cleret Soundway . After ten years, he can now look back with pride on 40 Releases of singles, EPs , compilations and albums published again .
Unlike Ben Redscheb the focus of the label has moved away over the years of Africa. As Cleret one day buys on Ebay Calypso plates , he befriends the seller Roberto Gyement . A Californian with Latino roots , which then puts together a series of Panamanian and Colombian compilations for Soundway . Gyement shares Clerets career : his childhood heroes were Black Sabbath and Run DMC . But in 2000 he moved to Costa Rica for six years and slowly developed a sense of calypso, salsa and cumbia . To extend his visa , he must make a trip to neighboring Panama every three months. "I was looking directly into the border town on a radio station where I bought thousands of old LPs and singles. They had tons of records. " Gyement takes over the department Panama and Colombia and, together five fabulous compilations, which could be considered as a genetic code Panamanian and Colombian musical culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike Cuba or Jamaica, the Caribbean Grooves of the neighbors were never in the global focus. In this case, both countries have very own Styles: Panama's music scene was enriched in the sixties and seventies by Calypso by immigrants from Trinidad and radio American GIs . On the Caribbean coast of Colombia cumbia was invented ; those shuffling Smoky offbeat groove, which found its imitators in Peru and Argentina and now mixed with club beats as " Electro- Cumbia " celebrates his victory in the clubs of Buenos Aires to Berlin.
By Will Holland (aka Quantic ) Cleret and Gyement finally found the third Anglo-Saxon Plattennerd , with a penchant for Latin grooves . The English producer , multi-instrumentalist and record lovers lived for some years in the Colombian Cali and returns this year with 59 tracks of the six- vinyl » The Original Sound of Cumbia " a true legacy of rare Cumbia tunes the years 1948-1979 . But Soundway is by no means a pure lovers label for obscure B-sides and long-lost sound jewels. Because the house always expanded its spectrum . In April , with " Batida " the first time a modern club music a solo artist appeared . Behind Batida plugged the Angolan- Portuguese DJ Mpula aka Pedro Coquenão , the 70 -year samples from Angola mixed with electronic club beats and Kuduro rape . To this end sought Batida samples of his favorite tunes, verwurschtelt them with synthetic bass lines and crunchy electro kicks and sent these riddims to MCs from Angola and Portugal. Thus, the first based on file sharing and sampling album has arisen for Soundway .
Strut Records Strut Records : You are still hungry

The heroes of the African Swinging Sixties and Seventies Roaring incorporated into modern studios new , however, is the recipe of the English label Strut Records. This happened in the case of Ethiopian jazz vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke , the Ghanaian Hiplife Lions Ebo Taylor or the Benin native voodoo - radio operators Orchestre Polyrhytmo . _ " Many of these old artists are still alive and we must use the time we have left to pick them up . Above all, they are still great musicians and they are still hungry for live gigs , "says label manager Quinton Scott. And exactly distinguish Strut in comparison to Analog Africa and Soundway . The label is flying the old gentlemen to Paris ( Orchestre Polyrhytmo ), London ( Mulatu Astatke ) or Berlin ( Ebo Taylor ) and gives a studio. But above all, organized Strut a band of young local enthusiasts , which not only provide the backing for an album production, but then also tour with the gray Afro - rockers through the world. There are, indeed always musicians who are on this very analog sound , but the biggest challenge is there , so not to deliver Scott a poor imitation of the legendary old recording .
It is precisely the " original " sound the fans expect . When Scott , the young British jazz radio operator Heliocentrics Mulatu Astatke brought together with , doubted some specialist Simpler to the analog studio recordings. _ "The Heliocentrics are purists , the sound is very clean but there was no sampling or other trickery , one hundred percent analog ," Scott assured . The choice Relatives of Ebo Taylor and the young stars of the Berlin Afrobeat Academy was a brilliant move . As the first collaboration, published in 2010 " Love And Death " , mainly new recordings of old Afrobeat numbers Taylors concentrated , breaks these days, appearing second disc »Appia Kwa Bridge " tracks. All six of the eight tracks are new compositions . And guest musician Taylor's age group , such as Tony Allen , Oghene Kologbo or Pax Nicholas afford him the Generational Clash Protect assistance. »Appia Kwa Bridge " is different from the compilations with no original recordings set to music time machine , but a living encounter several generations of musicians of different countries in the Ghanaian Hiplife - Darling . Recorded in the Berlin Love Lite studios in the Friedrichshain neighborhood.

Originally published by Lukasz

Mar 7, 2014

From Somalia: Dur-Dur Band - Volume 5

One of the greatest gifts recorded music gives us is a little piece of life from places we may never otherwise know. There was a time when Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, was often referred to as the "pearl of the Indian Ocean." Before dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991 and the country plunged into civil war, it was a beautiful, cosmopolitan city with the nightlife and bands to soundtrack it. Today, it's a scarred place under persistent threat from the country's still-powerful religious militias and al-Shabaab suicide bombers.

In the 1980s, Mogadishu swung in spite of the country's oppressive leadership, and one of its best-known acts was the Dur-Dur Band. Awesome Tapes From Africa has reissued some of their other albums before this, but this release of Dur-Dur's Volume 5 is true to the label's name-- it's directly mastered from a cassette copy of the album, one of about 10 that the band recorded. As you might imagine, the preservation of master tapes has been low on the priorities list in Mogadishu for the last 20-odd years, so this is a case of making the best of what's available. For the most part, the sound is excellent. What hiss there is can easily be chalked up as part of the experience-- this music has never existed in a state of digital clarity.

Like many of the great African dance bands, Dur-Dur was a big, versatile group, with three horn players, four lead singers, three backing singers, two guitarists, a keyboardist, a drummer, two percussionists, and a bass player. The vocalists trade off from song to song, singing what the liner notes reveal to be mostly songs about relationship trouble (the novelty for Western listeners will be that a few deal with competition between wives in polygamist households), but unless you speak Somali, you'll be following the melody and not the story-- and the melodies are excellent.

The band's sound is funky throughout, with apparent influences from American funk and soul and possibly even West African music-- the static harmony of their heavy vamps is well matched to the modal, more traditional Somali vocal melodies. The group's one female singer, Sahra Abukar Dawo, also may have watched a handful of Bollywood films-- the edge on her held notes and the way she makes sudden leaps from legato to staccato phrasing is reminiscent of Asha Bhosle.

The songs on the tape were clearly not recorded at the same session, as the instrumentation and audio quality vary a fair amount. I wonder whether the musicians may have been updating their gear around the time they recorded this music-- some tracks feature meaty, old-school organ, while others feature tinny synth and what's either a drum machine or a very convincing approximation of one; the Caribbean-styled "Dholey" is replete with bendy synth lines and accent percussion that would sound at home on Phil Collins' No Jacket Required.

In the early 90s, unable to continue playing in their city, Dur-Dur Band broke up and scattered abroad. Their competition did too, and the cinemas, studios, hotels and theaters that once played host to their music closed, or were forced to. In 2006, Mogadishu was briefly dominated by Islamic extremists who attempted to outlaw music. The place where this music was made is still listed on the map as though nothing changed, but it's not the same city today as it was in 1987. This record is a superb glimpse of what was and what's been lost.

Somalia has long been one of those countries whose reputation in the West precedes it. Unfortunately, it’s almost never for the better: From the stiff Dervish resistance against British and Italian imperialists in the late 19th century continental scramble to Black Hawk Down and modern day Blackbeards in the Gulf of Aden that make Pirate Bay’s torrent junkies look like the petulant tweens they are, Somalia is rarely known for its positives if it’s known at all. Part of this can be attributed to generations of uninterrupted warfare spread across the last century and change that has long since erased the memory of a stable trading region, conflicts set off by the Berlin Conference and continuing through numerous regime changes, fascist and communist threats, decolonization and dictatorship. Part of it is laziness in knowing the convoluted history. What positives you usually hear or read about are framed politically with its strategic location near the Arabian Peninsula and on the cusp of the Indian Ocean; worse, you know it for uranium, natural gas, and a strong potential for oil; worst, you know it as being marginally less tumultuous than Sudan. 

This neglect extends beyond politics. Take a good look at the outernational compilations and assorted African rarities you’ve bought or downloaded (from Pirate Bay, probably) in the decade since Soundway’s definitive Ghana Soundz. Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso – almost every one of them is from the other end of the continent. Even Brian Shimkovitz, he of the essential Awesome Tapes From Africa blog behind Dur-Dur Band’s Volume 5, has had comparatively less success bringing Somali sounds back from his numerous ethnomusicological excursions to the continent. Singles are still possible to find thanks to a significant Somali diaspora in London, Minneapolis and elsewhere, but finding a complete album that isn’t Jamiila’s Songs From a Somali City or a beat-up dub from another beat-up dub ad infinitum is well-nigh impossible. 

Volume 5 is no exception since it, too, has been remastered from cassette. Still, this is a step in the right direction out of the blogging wilderness to give some institutional attention to a corner of the continent where extracting quality recordings has been notoriously difficult. 

As its title implies, 1987’s Volume 5 captures Dur-Dur after they had already established themselves as one of the country’s most successful acts. Originally (and briefly) named Bakaaka, the group was formed in Mogadishu in the late 1970s after its members had spent time in the company of a similar but more experienced group, Iftin. As Dur-Dur Band, they honed a modern kind of Afro-pop that drew from Fela’s Afrobeat and early ’70s funk and soul, as well as traditional Arabic and Asian intonation in the singing – I’m reminded of a lot of past Sublime Frequencies comps on Iraq and Cambodia, for instance.
An extra element of intrigue is added by the vaguely psychedelic qualities of the guitar on a song like “Fagfagley” or the barely noticeable phasing in and out of channels on all of these tracks thanks to the quality of the source material. I hear at least two horns, guitar and bass, drums, and shared singing duties on Volume 5, but I’m sure there is more I’m still not picking up on even after a month of listening. 

For those who can understand the lyrics, it’s worth noting that Dur-Dur eschewed the template of those artists typically funded by the government in avoiding political topics during their heyday (though that would change with a lineup revamp and official relocation to Ethiopia in the early 1990’s). Instead of getting pro-Siad Barre sloganeering, then, these songs mine personal grievances. 

The balance between the male vocalists and Zahra Dawo (a popular artist in her own right who also worked with Iftin and others) makes for fascinating listening. There is significant echo on each track that makes this sound older than it is and which sometimes obscures the vocals (as on “Aada Fududey Iga Ahow”). My personal favorites are the ones Dawo leads — her high pitch is attention-grabbing and the echo only serves to boost her powerful voice. To that end, my favorite track here is finisher “Doyoo,” which rides what sounds like a drum machine beat before tripping you up in preparation for verses that Dawo dominates. Along with “Tajir Waa Ilaah,” it’s also the most obviously catchy. 

In this day and age, nothing is too much of a mystery — you can find a lot of information on Somali music by just searching around, and even Shimkovitz admits Dur-Dur Band is no deep dig. Having a chat with band member Abdinur Dalji and Dawo herself isn’t impossible now that they live in Columbus. But from a place where the official government radio station has had to broadcast from an armed compound protected from its own and where Al-Shabaab’s media vendetta seems unending, Volume 5 resonates as a reminder of the ultimate positives life has to offer.

by Patrick Masterson @

Awesome Tapes From Africa is a label that doesn’t mess around — they give you exactly what they lead you to expect, uncovering unimaginably beautiful treasures from a lost past and often offering them for free through their site. This reissue brings us the fascinating Dur-Dur Band from Somalia, in the latest of several releases the blog-turned-imprint has had pressed to vinyl.

Despite the original cassette sourcing, the bass sounds fat and juicy in just the right way. This Somalian dance band from the ’80s is some of the happiest music I’ve ever heard. The sound changes throughout the album — songs vary in instrumentation, recording quality, vocals, and keyboard timbre, but that’s to be expected from an early band in a developing area, particularly one that started with four people before tripling in size. The progression we hear is a band striving to be bigger, badder, and ensuring that everyone has a good time. It’s a unique sound that is so natural you’ll wonder where these songs have been all your life, seamlessly blending folk with soul, funk and an indescribable joy that can only ever be heard in the magical African diaspora, from Calypso and ska to highlife.

The soundtrack to the Mogadishu nightclub scene was mostly Western music, after the military coup in 1969 opened Somalia up to electric sounds and American radio. Dur-Dur started in much the same vein, but decided to combine traditional Somalian songs with this fusion of funk and soul that was integral to the urban dance scene. In the early 1990s, the communist government collapsed under the strain of a civil war, many Somali musicians fled the country, and the Mogadishu music scene effectively died. For further historical context, have a listen to a fascinating interview on All Things Considered with some of the band members, now living in Colombus, OH.

Volume 5 resurrects a sound that refuses to die, a vibrant joy that rejects oblivion. We’re hearing the sounds of a Mogadishu that once was, and is now lost forever except in the memories of Somalians uprooted by conflict. With this LP, we have the opportunity to access something that could easily have been lost, and it isn’t just a historical peccadillo enjoyed by a few dilettante geeks; to a certain extent, it’s part of the joy we get from any aesthetic experience. The bass-lines sound intimately familiar, dancing their way between vaguely psychedelic guitar melodies, ecstatic horns, and crooning vocals that remind me of joyous Vietnamese soul. The sheer happiness contained on this album makes more sense in the dismal context that is Somalia: before the country’s fate took a turn for a worse, the 1980s were still a brutal time in which most musicians were forced to sing political propaganda. So-called “private” bands gave the Mogadishu night life a more convivial soundtrack, and had the privilege of singing about everyday topics at parties, dances, and weddings. Their relief at being able to express themselves freely is a joyful, soul-soothing, empowering experience to hear. The three lead singers (backed by three backup singers) trade off songs, mostly singing about relationship troubles (including, in case you were wondering, polygamous household dramas).

As African countries endured the violent anguish of post-colonialism through the 60s, music culture found itself in a struggle to define a modern African identity and the resultant sounds have taken decades to find occidental ears. Great strides are being made by some dedicated souls these days: Soundway‘s extensive discography spans the entire continent, while Now Again reissued Zambian blues-rockers WITCH (an amazing, raw parallel to the heaviness of Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Budgie et al.) Sublime Frequencies, based out of Seattle, unearths lost gems from all over the world in stunningly informative reissues, including many of my favorite African artists, and the Athens-based label Teranga Beat has reissued some crucial psychedelic funk from Senegal and The Gambia in the past few years. Awesome Tapes From Africa dredges up, well, awesome tapes from just about everywhere, including this album by Mogadishu’s pride and joy. Is this enough to reverse centuries of cultural hegemony? Could we see a day in which Dur-Dur Band, the Funkees, or Sinn Sisamouth are known just as widely as Parliament, James Brown, or Elvis? This incredible reissue is evidence that anything is possible.


A1 Dur-Dur Band Introduction
A2 Hayeelin
A3 Halelo
B1 Fagfagley
B2 Ilawad Cashaqa
B3 Garsore Waa Ilaah
C1 Aada Fududey Iga Ahow
C2 Tajir Waa Ilaah
D1 Dholey
D2 Amiina Awdaay
D3 Dooyo

Mar 4, 2014

When Tony Allen Met Fela Kuti ...

Originally published

"Without Tony Allen, there would be no afrobeat," Fela Kuti once remarked of his longstanding collaborator. The Lagos-born drummer introduced a style of playing to the African highlife scene which he modeled after American jazz pioneers like Art Blakey, creating an explosive concoction that fused the best of both worlds. In his 2007 Red Bull Music Academy lecture in Toronto, Tony details his initial encounters with Fela Kuti, whose groundbreaking band he would be an integral part of between 1968 and 1979. 

by Tony Allen

When the Blue Note records started coming into the country, I started listening to Art Blakey and I was like: "Wow! This one is different. It's not the same style like Gene Krupa. They were playing jazz, but it's not the same style. I prefer this one." I started to go towards this sound of Art Blakey, Jo Jones. Because Art Blakey doesn't sound like one drummer, he sounds like more than one. So on the record I was imagining, "Is this one guy playing those drums?" I said: "Maybe someone is playing the cymbals or the hi-hats for him?" If he was able to do that, then that means I have to go for that. He was my idol but I didn't know how I was going to be myself.

One thing I observed when I was playing was that most of the drummers right in front of me-- the so-called good drummers-- have at least four things there: you have two pedals, one for the hi-hat, one for the bass drum. I watched these drummers and they never play the hi-hat. It's closed and they play on top of it. I wasn't convinced. There must be another way of playing these fucking hi-hats, man. I was not convinced at all. Something was wrong here, it wasn't complete. The hi-hats weren't played. So I'm like: "How am I going to create with it?" So one day, you know the Downbeat magazine? It's a monthly magazine, I used to buy it every month. I bought it that month and in the middle of the page I saw just two pages teaching hi-hats. Ah! I saw that that was it! And I saw that what this guy wrote there I hadn't seen anybody doing it. So I say: "OK, that's the challenge for me now." I went back to my drums everyday, every afternoon. I was trying to fuse the playing of these hi-hats into how I was playing before, which wasn't being done. That took some time. When I discovered that and I was able to do that and say: "Yes, I'm manoeuvring fine now, no disturbance," then I became the drummer in town who all the other drummers came to watch.

They would say: "Tony! What the fuck are you doing? What are you doing, man?" "I'm playing." It's the same music that they were playing before. But all of a sudden, they start to hear something that wasn't there before. And so they thought I was crazy. It's OK for me, I got it. Even before I met Fela.
I met Fela when he came back from his studies. He was working as a broadcaster for the Nigerian Radio Corporation, and his program was to play old jazz records on Friday night. Being a musician, he really wanted to play jazz when he arrived in the country. Instead of him presenting the records, he decided to form a band that would play the records, interpret the records and make it live. They would go in and pre-record everything for the quarter. 13 programs, 30 minutes each, in like three days.

So Fela came, and I was playing in a steady band, you know? Fela was trying to do his jazz thing and he tried three different drummers and the funny thing was he tried these guys in front of me. I had worked with them before and they were good drummers. When Fela played with them he was like: "No, shit! There's no drummer in this country, man. You guys can't play drums." So the bass player was like: "No, no, no. You haven't checked this one person yet." And he said: "Who else? I've checked all the so-called best ones." This bass player said: "His name is Tony Allen, and we play together in the same band." And he checked me out.

He invited me to his house and then we went to the radio station where the instruments were set. He says: "Hey Tony, can you play 12-bar blues?" I say: "Yes, I can play 12-bar blues." He says: "Can you take solos? And share solos four four?" And I say: "Yes." So he takes his trumpet and I'm on the drums and he counts and we were away, 12-bar blues. After the third cycle he was like: "Stop, stop, stop!" So I stopped, maybe there's a problem. He said: "No." And then he looked at me and then looked at the guy in the control room and he said: "Hey! Are you listening to what I'm listening to?" The guy says: "Yes, yes." So he said: "Did you observe the first cycle that this guy rolled in? And then the second cycle and roll in again, and then third cycle roll in again? Have you ever seen that with the others?" And he says: "No." So: "Ahhh," says Fela, "OK, let's go. We're going to share solos now." He took his first four and I took my first four, and then he went for his second four, and I took my second four, and he said: "Stop! Where did you learn your drumming? Did you study in the States? Did you study in England?" And I said: "No, I did everything here." And he says: "It's incredible. The style you play one wouldn't even need a percussionist." So the first year like this I had my band playing steadily, and that's when I had my leave.

For Fela it was strictly jazz. I was doing these two things at the same time, until one year later, he decided he wanted to join the cycle of the others too. Living on the local music scene, the highlife, they lived like kings. So Fela says he wants to front the highlife band, but not play it the same way. I tell him: "Yes, it's possible, you can do anything you want to do." At that time, I was working. One night they drove down to the club and came in with this manager assistant-- they work together on the radio-- and he says to me: "Tony! Fela says you should resign from your job here." I say: "What?" "You should resign 'cause they are forming a new band." "Forming a new band? I don't even know where we are going yet?" So I was going to leave my steady job to uncertainty again. But I was able to be convinced because I thought, "Maybe I have to sacrifice something for something else?" That means that I might have to resign. So I said: "Wait, just give me 'til the end of the month, end my salary here and I tender them my resignation." They thought I was joking, but I knew that with him was what I really wanted to achieve as a drummer: be extraordinary which ever way. And I think it's only him that would let me reach that level. I had to gamble. So I took my salary and resigned. The manager of that club begged me to stay: "Do you want more money? I'll give you more money." "No, not a question of money now, it's a question of future. I'm tired of the band already because it's stagnant. I don't see how I can improve in this band." I told him I just want to be a musician. So I begged him, I said: "Please, sir, forgive me that I resigned." He said: "But you do know what you're doing?", and I say: "I know, but I just have to go and try it." And with Fela, I knew I was meeting a genius. Someone that I haven't seen anything like it before. So I bend my neck.

Mar 3, 2014

South African Jazz: Mankunku Quartet - Yakhal' Inkomo

 Chris Schilder Quintet featuring Mankunku - Spring

 Ah... at last it's done. I mean the recording of South Africa's number one tenor sax player, Winston "Mankunku" Ngozi. This is the LP that every jazz fan has been waiting for. Listen to it from side one to the last note on side two then you'll agree with me that this is jazz, dished out by the son of the soil in a soul/jazz bowl.

About the man himself. He was born on 21st June 1943 in Retreat, Cape Province. He started playing the piano at the age of ten and two years later bought a tenor saxophone. "Mankunku," as he is called, started to take music seriously in the early sixties. His first professional engagement was with Alf Herbert's African Jazz and Variety and thereafter with South Africa's greatest bassist Midge Pike of Cape Town, about whom he said "Midge was really the man behind my success. He really helped me a lot, I take my hat off to him, dad — I will always remember him." I asked him who influenced his playing. "Daddy Trane and Brother Shorter," he said. "Is that why you composed a tune called "Dedication?" "Yes dad, I feel like crying every time I listen to the music of these two men." I first heard Mankunku play in 1967, during the La Vern Baker/George "Stardust" Green tour. I am sure that many a jazz fan will agree with me that he was the star of the show.

On the first side of this LP is "Yakhal Inkomo" (one of his original works), literally translated "Bellowing Bull." The sound of a bull bellowing mournfully at the loss of one of his kind, is one from deep down in the heart. It is with this sound captured musically, that Mankunku expresses his deep grief at the loss of one of the greatest tenor players in the world, Daddy Trane, as he calls the late John Coltrane. If you listen to the early recordings of John Coltrane — for example "Blue Train," "Moments Notice" and Wayne Snorter's "Johnny's Blues" and "Noise in the Attic," you will agree with him that he was influenced by them. The second tune is also his own composition — "Dedication" (to Daddy Trane and Brother Shorter). It is a 4/4, which is so well arranged that I could hardly believe that it is his original work — with this tune he really plays his part. He plays himself. I remember during the recording session he didn't want anyone to move about because such movements disturb his feelings and concentration. The other tunes are his choice. From Horrace Silver's works he chose "Doodlin"' and from Coltrane's "Bessie's Blues."

About the trio that provided the background, he said "they are fabulous dad, they are with me all the time. When I reach the climax, they are there with me — I love working with them." That, I myself believe, because while recording "Yakhal' Inkomo" I saw tears rolling down his cheeks after Lionel Pillay's piano solo. Everyone there was thrilled to hear Lionel play with such feeling, a real down-to-earth feeling. The Early Mabuza Trio played and played — they deserve full marks.


Yakhal'Inkomo is a cry of joy wrapped in a package of protest. Tenor saxophonist Winston "Mankunku" Ngozi did not choose the title by accident: it refers to the bellow of the bull as it is taken to slaughter. Did the censors in Pretoria grasp the title's meaning? Doubtful. In 1968, life as a creative African musician in South Africa was a serious challenge, to put it mildly. But Mankunku manages to convey such an urgently joyful and revelatory sound that he transforms the message of this record to one of yearning and freedom. (Ironic in a deep way, that this massive hit record earned the artist almost nothing, since he was denied substantial rights to publishing. Mankunku eventually chose Nkomo as the name for his own label when he decided to rectify that situation.)

This CD reissue includes two records Mankunku recorded within four months: one with his own quartet (Yakhal'Inkomo) and one with pianist Chris Schilder's quintet (Spring). But his voice is unmistably imprinted everywhere. Mankunku occupies the higher realms of sound carved out by Coltrane in his later records, from Africa Brass through A Love Supreme and beyond. His style relies on deliberate exposition and development of themes, always keeping an eye on structure while stretching it to extremes. The one Trane tune ("Bessie's Blues") pays explicit homage, while the rest (mostly original by Mankunku and Schilder) drive home a similarly urgent message. "The Birds," for example, opens with an explicitly spiritual introduction. The saxophonist swings, blows, and blisters his way through these tunes, spurring his compatriots ever forward.

One gets an unmistakable sense of urgency from Yakhal'Inkomo from start to finish: part yearning, part celebration, part raw emotion, all wrapped together in one. The two groups on this record provide cogent, articulate support at a high level. Early Mabuza's drumming explores a wide range of colors without once losing the bliss of swing; pianist Chris Schilder adds an understated glow and a fine compositional sense.

Very few South African jazz records have come close to this level of creativity and emotive expression. One can point to the Jazz Epistles for an early antecedent or Zim Ngqawana for a modern update, but Mankunku has a rare talent for emotive expression. It's hard to give Yakhal'Inkomo the praise it deserves. Christ, the man was only 24 when he made this record!

Mankunku Quartet - Yakhal' Inkomo

Mankunku Quartet - Yakhal' Inkomo

01. Yakhal'Inkomo
02. Dedication
03. Doodlin'
04. Bessie's Blues
05.  Spring
06. Before the Rain and After
07. Look Up
08. The Birds
09. You Don't Know What Love Is