The Original Sound of Cumbia
We say: The time is right for dancing in the street
Through numerous reissues and compilations, Colombian music was in danger of becoming this year's fado, but a collection like this double disc — which puts the word "phonograph" back into circulation for the download generation — is doing God's work. These 55 tracks come subtitled The History of Colombian Cumbia and Porro as told by the Phonograph 1948-79 and the subtle syncopated rhythms, lazy horns behind slightly urgent vocals, and the shuffle beat are powerfully seductive, even over the long haul.
Compiled by the assiduous researcher, multi-instrumentalist and Colombia-based British DJ/producer Will Holland (of the Quantic Soul Orchestra), most of these obscure songs from old 78s, 45s and LPs have rarely been heard outside of the homeland, so naming the artists is perhaps pointless.
But from the dramatic drum roll and call of Gaston which opens proceedings, through the frantic horns of Santander Flores, the hyperactive accordion and drums of Los Alegres Bucaneros, to the collar-grabbing dance rhythms of Alberto Pacheco and country'n'western accordion sound of Miguel Duran, this is quite some musical travelogue.
And it goes right back to African village drums with Celia Estramor y su Grupo de Baile Cantao towards the end.
Live in Amsterdam, Netherlands
We say: Unadorned vocal and guitars which transport you to an after-midnight backstreet bar in Lisbon
And speaking of fado . . . In the past decade this highly emotional, heart-tugging, late night music out of Portugal went global with a new generation of singers like Mariza, Katia Guerreiro and Uxia. They extended the contract into new areas and took it to world music festivals. Fado became something of a world music fad, like cajun was in the 80s.
Branco was one of that emerging generation when, in 1997, she performed in Amsterdam where this, her debut album, was recorded.
Previously only available in Portugal, the album now gets long overdue international release and her crystalline, assured voice which quivers with emotion is showcased in the spare setting with just longtime accompanists Custodio Castelo on fado guitar (like a 12-string lute) and guitarist Alexandre Silva. In places Branco reaches that achingly abandoned place where Edith Piaf sometimes lived ("Que fazes ai Lisboa" is outstanding) and at others she offers cathartic release (the subtle and seductive "Nevoeiro").
When the small and attentive audience claps after the songs you may feel like spontaneously doing the same. Branco pulls you right in so you actually forget yourself.
The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Africa
We say: Mixed bag of old and new Africa under a loosely applied product description
As we have previously warned (link to January 2012), the word "psychedelic" has a fairly flexible definition these days, and the opener "Let Yourself Go" here by guitarist Victor Olaiya's All Stars Soul International band is more James Brown cranked-up funk than Jefferson Airplane astral flight rock. And later there is some fine but not unfamiliar high-life.
However, the more consciousness-altering tracks are here too: The sublime cosmic-juju of the (uncredited) guitarist in singer Celestine Ukwu's group; the languid trumpet and mercurial, distant guitar on the heavy-lidded "Kadia Blues" by Orchestra de la Paillote; and the legendary Rail Band weighing in with their 13 minute laid-back "Wale Numa Lombaliya".
The liner notes claim "far-out psychedelic-sounding rock mixed with a thick dollop of deep funk and soul became the sound of a generation" during the 60s and 70s in West Africa, so it seems odd this collection would include material as recent as the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo's 2011 track "Pardon" (which is bubbling post-Fela funk) and the re-formed Orchestra Baobab's "Nijaay" from their 2007 album Made in Dakar.
These — and Ghanaian guitarist Ebo Taylor's 2010 "Nga Nga" — are fine, but a more convincing argument for the influence of Western psychedelic music on the region would have focused on that vibrant period when the parameters of African popular music were originally being eroded and influenced by American rock.
Still, this collection does come with a terrific bonus disc by the legendary Ghanaian guitarist Sir Victor Uwaifo from 1971 — and that track "Kadia Blues" really is tripped-out.
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 www.amazon.com. He also hosts his own music/travel/arts website www.elsewhere.co.nz .