Afro-Beat Soul Sisters
The Lijadu Sisters
We say: Give the drummer — and bassist and guitarist — some.
Because words like "Afro-beat", "soul" and "psychedelic" now tend to mean just what the person using them means, we might rightly be suspicious when they all implode in a product description of this 13 song compilation from four 70s albums by identical twins Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu out of Nigeria. There's no denying the whistling organ parts, sky-piercing electric guitars and bobbing bass aren't too removed from the axis of Hendrix/Doors/Cream and so on — or can call down a lightweight version of classic Fela-styled Afro-beat, as on "Orere-Elejigbo." But too often the sisters themselves — despite some nice harmonies and politically alert lyrics — aren't especially distinctive. As a result you tend to listen past them and into those boiling grooves ("Bayi l'ense"), snap-funk bass, and guitars which sometimes lean towards the mercurial juju of King Sunny Ade ("Erora"). That's where the real magic happens: fuzzy guitar solos, talking drums mixing it up with jazzy piano ("Gbowo Mi"), moody Yardbirds-like pop ("Amebo"), light but good-foot funk with primitive synths…
Patchy, but when sampled selectively it's the very impressive musical backdrops which are the real oil.
We say: Un nouvelle et plus fort voix outta Belgium and its former African colony.
Although born in the Congo, Baloji grew up in Belgium where he was part of a hip-hop outfit. In more recent years he has made regular trips to his homeland, notably to record the Hotel Impala album with local musicians. He's back on the ground for this diverse, often viscerally exciting album where he teams up with Konono No. 1 (the Delta blues-meets-Francophone rap on "Karibu Ya Bintou") and lets things roll out with three remixes.
There is a ragged but right feel here where songs like the vibrant "Congo Eza Ya Biso" (with the joyous singing and ululations of La Choral de la Grace) and the relentlessly guitar chipping of "A l'heure d'ete — Saison Seche" (with Larousse Marciano) sound like they were thrown down fast to capture the urgency of the moment. The brief and percussive "Genese 89" pulls the pace back a little (as does the soulful treatment of Marvin Gaye's "I'm Going Home" with Detroit's Amp Fiddler singing the title hook), but the punchy "Tout ceci ne vous rendra pas le Congo" hits a midground between classic Manu Dibango and electrifying fusion.
Part angry hip-hop and part socio-political Kinshasa rock, this one deserves serious attention although for most it will fall, as did France's MC Solaar and Assassin, at the first hurdle: It is almost exclusively in French. But listeners to world music are used to not understanding many lyrics so … Check it out, if you fink you is 'ard enuff.
We say: Less breathy ba-da-be-dah and more bouncy bebop on a fine overview of Brazilian sounds of the 60s
The reissue label Soul Jazz again delves into Brazilian sounds of the late 60s/early 70s for a double disc which includes famous names like Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Dom Um Romao, Sergio Mendes, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Baden Powell among others. And of course they were all young back then. Subtitled "the birth of hard bossa, samba jazz and the evolution of Brazilian fusion", this well-annotated collections sets its sites high and wide, and the jazz end of the spectrum — often recorded in the States during this politically volatile period in Brazil — is especially well served. The material is often woozily exotic, full of seductive flutes and shifting rhythms, classy piano playing, fiery organ work and driving saxophones.
This is some distance removed from the soft bossa shuffles for cocktail hour. Airto and Purim will be a major discovery (or rediscovery) for many as they meld Latin beats, her cloud-skimming vocals and vigorous bop energy, but everywhere here is vital music which ran parallel to, and after, the revolutionary Tropicalia movement back home. But that's another and very different story (which Soul Jazz has also documented).
Graham Reid is a New Zealand-based writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His new collection The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through amazon.com. He also hosts his own music/travel/arts website www.elsewhere.co.nz .
See Graham's last round of world music reviews here.