Welcome to Mali
Amadou and Mariam
We say: The commercially acceptable face of Mali music, but pleasingly risk–taking this time.
Despite the enormous diversity of innovative music coming out of Mali, it has been this blind couple who have captured the most international attention for their easy on the ear and somewhat polished smooth songs. Those of us who prefer the more earthy sounds have always thought of Amadou and Mariam as the Fleetwood Mac of Mali, or perhaps the Tuck and Patti.
There is still evidence here to support that view, but this time out, despite the studio sheen, there is a sense that the duo are upping the energy levels and digging in a bit deeper on some tracks, especially on the bristling "Masiteladi," or "Djuru" which rides waves of thick percussion and features the great Toumani Diabate on kora. Damon Alban of Blur produces the enticing opener "Sabali," but the best material is stacked towards the end and this collection has a definite upward and tougher trajectory.
If this is indeed a welcome to Mali it is inviting, but once inside you'll find more rewarding music and more inventive musicians.
Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970s Funky Lagos
We say: A welcome reissue of funk, pop, and embarrassments from steamy Lagos
Even in the years before the death of the great, if controversial, Fela Anikulapo Kuti in 1997 there was a chasm of disinterest in Afrobeat, until perhaps the arrival of his sons Femi—and latterly Seun—on the world music scene in the mid Eighties.
Tony Allen, percussion player from Fela bands kept the flag waving but largely it was as if Afrobeat was going to be a forgotten period in African music. In recent years however there have been excellent compilations such as Heavy Heavy Heavy, which scooped up the pre–Afrobeat of Geraldo Pino from Sierra Leone, and the double–disc collections High Life Time (Nigerian and Ghanaian music of the Sixties and early Seventies) and Lagos Baby (a wrap–up of Fela's early years, 1963–69).
And now we have the reissue of this free–wheeling double set from 2001 which includes the big names—Fela with Africa 70, Tony Allen and his African Messengers, Gasper Lawal with the hit "Kita Kita" and King Sunny Ade with Ja Fun Mi from his international breakthrough album of '83 Juju Music. Plus we get those names perhaps marginalized by history: Monomono Tire (with the staggering, barbed wire guitar sound on Loma Da Nigbehin), the haunting sound of Tunji Oyelana, the pop–funk of Sir Victor Uwaifo and his Melody Maestroes, and the Coltrane–referenced The Quest by Afro Cult Foundation.
Lagos at this time was a blotter for musical ideas from Britain and the States so here you can find elements of James Brown funk alongside British prog–pop, country music, jazz and the blues. Not all of it works of course, but that means this a fair overview of the period, and a welcome addition to the small but growing body of reissues from that exciting and productive era.
Solo dal Vivo
We say: The language may be unfamiliar but the raw sentiments are universal.
This may well be one for Italian speakers only, but this singer–songwriter has such a compelling, bruised, and resonant voice that its ineffable sadness and intimacy may appeal more broadly, just as the songs of Jacques Brel and Carlos Gardel have done. Music is an international language, of course.
On this, his first live recording, Testa sounds emotionally naked and as if sitting in your company but playing entirely for himself. It makes for wonderful listening and the audience in Rome is so hushed as to be an inaudible but supportive presence. Testa has come a long way in the past decade and—as with Brel, Leonard Cohen, Marianne Faithfull, and a few others—is possessed of a vocal range which may initially seem narrow but is so deeply inhabited that it transcends its limitations. And the flashes of humor are readily conveyed.
Time to brush off your Italian, or just submerge yourself in these spare, heartfelt songs.
Oana Catalina Chitu
We say: Tango with a Balkan twist
Just as the wonderful and woozy sound of Cuban music has had a global reach (Cubismo from Croatia, anyone?), so too has Argentinean tango, the sometimes melancholy but melodic and sensual music of the dance. Romanian tango of course is a slightly different animal, and the decadent sound which had flourished between the wars (notably thanks to Jean Moscopol) had no place in the new socialist regime.
Berlin–based singer Chitu who grew up in the Seventies recalled the tango songs of her Romanian childhood and although she and her band have previously played Balkan music, the sound of Bucharest tango kept coming back to her.
Here with her hot little band—which brings undeniable Balkan influences—she serves up a moving (and sometimes vibrant) collection of songs, most associated with Romanian star Maria Tanase (1913–63).
Soulful—and sometimes seriously rockin'—tango from an unexpected source.
Graham Reid is an award–winning New Zealand travel writer, music writer and journalist. His book Postcards From Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year award, and his website www.elsewhere.co.nz features travel stories, photos, rock'n'roll reminiscences, and a weekly music review in which he posts tracks from albums which have often gone past radio programmers and other reviewers.