Kadongo Kamu from Uganda

Posted February 5th, 2008 at 12:47 am (UTC-4)

Kadongo Kamu, or ‘one guitar music’, is a style of narrative song from central Uganda that dates back to the early 1950s. Over the last fifty years the genre has gone through many transformations, but has never strayed from its central purpose: communicating traditional wisdom and morals through anecdotes, stories, and social commentary. The earliest ‘Kadongo Kamu’ musicians accompanied their stories only with the Endongo (the bowl-lyre of the Baganda people), while later generations have turned to drum machines and electric guitars.

Although Kadongo Kamu has always attracted listeners in Kampala, it was, and as far as I can tell, remains, more popular in rural areas. When performing for appreciative audiences, Kadongo Kamu performers- especially in the past- would devote fifteen to twenty minutes to the telling of a particular epic; stretching and embellishing them as narrative twists caught the attention of their listeners. Some of the early pioneers of the genre were Christopher Sebadukka, Elly Wamala, and Fred Ssebatta. One of the few Kadongo Kamu performers to be noticed outside of Uganda was Bernard Kabanda, who passed away in 1999.

The 1970s were, for Kadongo Kamu performers, and most Ugandans, a difficult time. Idi Amin Dada’s repressive regime did not encourage political commentary by popular artists, and Kadongo Kamu musicians, for the most part, turned to singing love songs. But if the Kadongo Kamu recordings of the 1970s do not represent the genre’s poetic golden age, there are plenty of singles from the era that are very musically satisfying. We have quite a few of these 45s in our archive and I’ve picked out a few of my favorites. This is music for listening, not dancing, and the clear, repetitive guitar parts have a restrained charm.

In ‘Namusoke’, recorded in 1975, Chrizestom Ssebuziba announces: “I have a secret to reveal”, and goes on to tell the story of how he met the woman he loves.

The B-side of the single is ‘Ndowoza Suzanne’. Chrizestom tells the story of Suzanne: she abandoned him and now he wastes his time thinking about her, he doesn’t where she went or what to do with himself.

This single is my favorite of the bunch. In ‘Nakabiri’, Gerald Kaboggoza sings about one of his girlfriends. She is annoyed by his frugality. The moral of the story is ‘you should be generous to those you love’. It must not have worked out with the girlfriend in question.

The musicians accompanying Gerald Kaboggoza (Gerald may be one of the guitar players) remind me of Bern Nix, Charles Ellerbee, and Jamaladeen Tacuma when they were the heart of Ornette Coleman’s great 1970s Prime Time band. Every time I listen to ‘Anyize Lwa Butamuwa’ I hear parallels to the harmolodic interplay of Nix, Ellerbee, and Tacuma: pay attention to the guitars in the intro, and to the bass player-Jamaladeen could be playing those lines!! Interestingly, both this single and Ornette’s Prime Time masterpiece ‘Body Meta’ were released in 1975.

We have a handful of singles by Leo N. Ssekamanya. These next tracks are my favorite sides. He seems to drive his musicians a bit harder than Kaboggoza and Ssebuziba.

Our final selection always gets a nice response from our more nostalgic radio listeners in Uganda. It is by the late great Eclas Kawalya. It is not, however, Kadongu Kamu music. This is an example of the dance-band music that was played in the clubs of Kampala in the 1960s.

Eclas Kawalya had a very long career and just passed away several years ago. His daughter Joanita inherited his musical gifts and has recorded many songs with the Afrigo Band. In ‘To Nyiiga’, which translates roughly as ‘don’t be annoyed’, Eclas tells the story of ‘Esther’ who, although they are not married, gave him a ring. Every time he looks at the ring he things of Esther. Eclas sings: ‘Esther, it is difficult for a man to shed tears.’

Unfortunately, I have not been able to learn anything about the three Kadongo Kamu singers featured above, or about the Mukwano record label. Please, if you know anything about the record label or the singers , get in touch!!

Tendé from Niger

Posted January 28th, 2008 at 11:40 pm (UTC-4)

One of the great pleasures of working at the Voice of America is the letters, pictures and cassettes that our listeners send us from throughout Africa (in the future I’ll devote a post to some of the home-recordings we have received). Last week I saw this beautiful snapshot of a listener from northern Niger on a colleague’s desk: on the backside he wrote “I’ve got two radios in case one break’s down.”

My first thought was, “I wonder what kind of music he listens to on his two radios?” This train of thought led to me to rummage through a box of cassettes from Niger and pull out a few of my favorites to share with you.

Abdou Salam is one of Niger’s best-selling artists: he is also popular in Northern Nigeria. He was born on June 6, 1976 in Tahoua (which is 300 miles northeast of the capital, Niamey). He grew up next to a military camp and his earliest musical memories are of listening to the camp’s guards sing and play music during their idle hours. Day after day he would return and listen, spellbound.

Abdou started his first group in 1991, when he was still a student at the University of Niamey. Determined to become a professional musician, he traveled to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, where he studied music at the Ecole Nationale Supérieur, Arts et Lettres. In the mid-1990s he returned to Niamey and started his group Les Tendistes, who take their name from the Tuareg drum and rhythm of the same name, the Tendé. Abdou and his Tendistes have released six cassettes and are getting ready to put out their seventh. Abdou composes all the group’s songs, and also plays the guitar, bass, Tendé, and the Gouroumi (a four-string Hausa lute). He sings in Hausa, Beri-Beri, Peulh, Tamachek, Toubou (his native language), and French.

In ‘Takayallah’, which is a great example of Abdou’s Tendé rhythm, he sings of the impatience of children in his village, who beg their parents to let them dance to the Tendé beat in the village square with their elders.

This next track is a response to one of his earlier hits. In ‘An Marmaké’ he sings of all the ways in which women must serve men: the earlier hit described the ways in which men served women. It all evens out in the end; men and women depend on each other.

One of my favorite groups from Niger is Boureima Disco and his Super Bonkaney. The bandleader, singer, and primary composer, Boureima, was also born in Tahoua, on July 9, 1967. He made his musical début when he was still a schoolboy, beating traditional rhythms on empty cans to get his classmates to dance. His first musical passion, however, was Hindi film music. He would sing his favorite theme songs over and again. He started singing professionally in the late 1990s, when he joined Eric Pancho’s group, a popular singer at the time. Boureima started the Super Bonkaney at the beginning of this decade.

The group has released two cassettes and is very active on Niger’s wedding scene. In 2004 Boureima took the Super Bonkaney on their first international tour, performing throughout Ghana and the Cote D’Ivoire. Asked how he got the ‘Disco’ suffix attached to his name, Boureima explained, that before he started singing, he was known throughout Niger for his dancing skills. Whenever he would walk into a party the crowd would call out ‘Boureima Disco!’

These two tracks are off ‘Gaham Bani’, the Super Bonkaney’s first cassette. The first cut on the cassette is ‘Bassitray’, in which Boureima praises, in the Zarma language, the solidarity that exists between ethnic groups in Niger. He sings about the ties between the Kanori and the Fulani, the Songhai and the Zarma, the Yoruba and the Gobi-rawa. Enjoy the funky drum machine and wicked guitar playing of Mamoudou Seyni!!

In ‘Guimbiya’, Boureima sings, again in the Zarma language, of women who have the courage of warriors. Make sure you listen until the end, the band kick into a wonderful double-time groove to ride out the song!!! A tough rhythm!!

I’ve saved the best for last. As their name indicates, the ‘Tasko d’Agadez’ is from the town of Agadez in northern Niger. They have released two cassettes, and recorded 96 songs that are in the ORTN (Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision du Niger) archives. They are frequently invited to play at weddings, baptisms throughout Niger, and especially by age-grade associations (called ‘Fada’). All of the songs are composed by Sani Mani aka ‘Anto’, who was born in the town of Maradi, in 1960. He writes the songs and then works out the arrangements with the rest of the group.

The song ‘Kaka Tare’, sung in Hausa, praises the affectionate relationships that exist between grandparents and grandchildren in Niger.

The next track ‘Matan Kasa’ is more politically engaged. The ‘Tasko d’Agadez’ call on the women of Niger to become more politically involved. They sing; ‘during electoral campaigns all the candidates fight for our votes. Women of Niger, have you noticed? Once they are elected, these politicians do not appoint women to serve in their governments. We are tired, we have to organize to make sure we are not taken for granted.’

This final track is an untitled guitar romp hidden at the end of the A-side of the cassette. The group’s Tendé beat whips the guitarist Ahamed Maman into shape. This song is a tribute to Ibrahim Oumarou, the sultan of Agadez.

All of the above artists are on the traditional end of the Nigerien musical spectrum. The country has also got an vibrant hip-hop scene. If you enjoyed these tracks, stay tuned for a future post featuring my favorite roots hip-hop from Niger.

The music of Mauritania, Part One.

Posted January 23rd, 2008 at 12:12 am (UTC-4)

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is where West Africa and the Maghreb meet- a huge, sparsely populated, country-stretching between Morocco and Senegal, Mali and the Atlantic ocean. The country’s name comes from its dominant ethnic group, the Moors (Maures in French), and it is their nomadic traditions and culture that give Mauritania its unique character. The Moors, or Beydane (as they call themselves), are very proud of their music. One of the country’s great music aficionados used to tell me, “music is the only thing we have ever taken the time to develop”.

Nouakchott, the capital city, is home to the majority of the country’s most talented musicians. Moorish music can be roughly divided into ‘folk’ music and ‘classical’ music; the first category consists of lullabies, work songs, game songs, courting songs, shepherd songs, and religious praise ‘songs’, and the second the music of the Iggawen, or griots. Mauritania has no music industry; there are no nightclubs or record labels, there are no publications devoted to music, Moorish musicians rarely give public ‘concerts’, and the first professional studio in the country opened in 2003. The iggawen, much as they did a century ago, perform primarily at weddings and private recitals. And although (like Wolof, Manding, Pulaar, and Soninke griots) they often sing praise songs, they are above all appreciated for the aesthetic refinement of their poetic and musical skills.

I am obsessed with Mauritanian music and am always trying to introduce curious listeners to its addictive charms. It is not, however, a welcoming music. Like the country, the music of the Moors can seem very austere and dry. It does not meet you halfway, like the Congolese Rumba or Ghanaian Highlife, but instead demands that you take the time to adjust your ears to its modal subtleties and rhythmic pulse.

One of the easiest points of entry is Jakwar, a style of music that was created in 1976 by Jheich ould Abba, a blind musician from Atar, in Northern Mauritania. Named after the fast French fighter jets that often flew over northern Mauritania during the Saharan war, Jakwar is dance music. Jheich amplified his tidinit (the traditional lute) and brought the rhythmic drive of folk music to classical Moorish melodies. This next track (like virtually all recordings available in Mauritania) is a cassette-dub of a private recording that was sponsored by one of Jheich’s patrons. The quality leaves much to be desired but his music comes through. Stick with it.

  • [audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/projects/african_music_treasures_blog/jheichouldabba.mp3] Jheich ould Abba

Today, Jheich’s musical legacy is kept alive by his son Idoumou ould Jheich ould Abba. He is the only one of his Jheich’s five sons to have learned the tidinit, and is today one of Nouakchott’s most solicited musicians.

It is very difficult to capture the power of Jakwar on tape. This music requires the active participation of the public. At a typical wedding, as soon as Idoumou starts to play, the women in the crowd start clapping interlocking cross-rhythms, and the louder they clap, the harder Idoumou plays. As the groove picks up steam the largely female crowd-which is arranged in an oval around an open dance space, with Idoumou at one end of the oval-starts to sway, and then rock, hard. One at a time individual dancers will jump into the oval, cover their faces with their veils, and undulate their shoulders to the beat. This next track is a recording I made, in April of 2003, of Idoumou playing the ‘Guera’ rhythm from Atar. The recording does not capture the ‘surge’ of a wedding but gives you a good idea of Idoumou’s flanged-out tidinit.

The next big change in Mauritanian music came when iggawen started playing Jakwar on the electric guitar. Hammadi ould Nana was the first to take the leap.

Inspired by Jakwar’s rhythmic drive, Hammadi realized that the sonic qualities of the electric guitar (sustain, controlled distortion) made it the ideal instrument for Jakwar music. In July of 2000 I invited Hammadi to perform for a few friends. I made this recording on a Sony Professional Walkman using the cheap microphone I had at the time. The sound is not great but this track has got a nice live feel.

  • [audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/projects/african_music_treasures_blog/hammadi.mp3] Hammadi ould Nana

Jakwar’s ecstatic repetition is what first got me hooked on the music of the Moors. But the more I listened and learned about ‘classical’ Moorish music the more I became addicted to the microtonal intricacies of slower styles; in particular to what I suppose you could call ‘salon’ music. This is a style of classical music that reached its pinnacle with the 1980s recordings of Dimi mint Abba, and which have nothing to do with her internationally released recordings.

These next two recordings feature the singers Nora mint Seymali ould Hamed Vall and Sidi ould Seymali ould Hamed Vall. They were both trained by their father Seymali ould Hamed Vall, who was the first Moorish musician to formally study music; he spent several years in Iraq studying at a music conservatory in Baghdad. Both Nora and Sidi were also, at different times, part of Dimi mint Abba’s group; their father Seymali was Dimi’s first husband.

First up is Nora accompanied by her husband Jheich ould Chighaly.

This is a recording I made in their living room after midnight on March 28, 2003 as a sandstorm punished Nouakchott. This is a song that they perform frequently at weddings. This recording gives you a great idea of Jheich’s slippery guitar playing and Nora’s warm voice (the heat of the sandstorm was making her voice crack). Look closely at Jheich’s guitar in the picture above…check out his customized microtonal fretboard.

Nora’s younger brother Sidi is one of my favorite singer’s in Nouakchott. Although he still pretty young (25 years old) Sidi is getting invited to perform at more and more weddings. In this next track he takes his time with ‘Lebteyt’, my favorite of the five modes that are the building blocks of Moorish classical music. This was recorded just before sunset at the house I was renting on the outskirts of Nouakchott. Sidi accompanies himself on guitar. (In fact, the recording is almost ruined by a loose contact in Sidi’s guitar; you’ll hear the clicking. I love his vocal performance so much though, that I decided to post the song in spite of the offending noise.)

The final track I’ve got for you brings together everything I love about Moorish music and Mauritania. This recording features two young sisters, Hudho mint Abba (16 years old) and Guine mint Abba (14 years old), accompanied by their mother Mukhtara mint Nana on Ardin, an eleven string harp, and their cousin Idoumou ould Jheich ould Abba on Tidinit. This recording was made in a small blue-walled room at 11 pm. You can hear one of our friends preparing and pouring mint tea if you listen carefully!!!

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed the music!!

If you would like more detailed information about Mauritanian music in general and the history behind this music in particular, send me an email, and I’ll happily send you a more detailed article I’ve written on the music of Mauritania.

Unreleased recording of the Cuban Marimba Band

Posted January 14th, 2008 at 11:39 pm (UTC-4)

In early 1973 the Public Affairs Officer at the United States Information Agency office in Tanzania received a request from David Wakati of Radio Tanzania. Mr. Wakati had previously worked at the Voice of America in Washington D.C. and later became the director of broadcasting at Radio Tanzania, from 1979 to 1991. Radio Tanzania needed help organizing its tape library and Mr. Wakati was hoping that the Voice of America could help. So in April of 1973 USIA (which at the time governed the VOA) dispatched Leo to Tanzania to help Radio Tanzania organize its tape library, and to record Tanzanian music for VOA programs.

Leo remembers walking into the ‘tape room’ at Radio Tanzania and finding stacks of open-reels piled on the floor. After days of working with Radio Tanzania staff members the piles of tapes on the floor were transformed into a catalogued collection, with a Radio Tanzania staff member designated as the tape librarian. This done, Leo hit the road with two colleagues from Radio Tanzania; a technician and a journalist/broadcaster (whose names he unfortunately doesn’t remember). From Dar they traveled West to Lake Victoria, stopping along the way in Morogoro, Dodoma, Tabora, and Mwanza. Leo made several recordings during this trip (copies of all the recordings were deposited in the Radio Tanzania tape library). One of the most interesting reels features the Cuban Marimba Band.

Leo remembers the recording session taking place in mid-morning. The group was set up on the stage of an open-air nightclub. There was no rehearsal and no second-takes. Leo set up his equipment and the band cranked their way through seven tracks. The recording was captured by at least 6 microphones (we don’t have an exact number) running through a 12 input Sony Mixer into a two-track binaural Nagra tape machine. Leo mixed the channels live to tape as he recorded.

The famous leader of the Cuban Marimba Band Salum Abdallah died in a car accident in November 1965 and, according to Werner Graebner, the singer Juma Kikaza then became the bandleader. We don’t have any documentation accompanying this reel other than what you see above. So we don’t know who participated in this recording. Any and all help in identifying the line-up would be very appreciated!! The guitar player has adopted several of Mbaraka Mwinshehe’s guitarisms… check out his chicken-scratching during the breakdowns.

Halima is a love song that features some gloriously out-of-tune horns and some very nice guitar playing. Halima is driving the singer crazy… “Halima, my love I’m calling you. My love is overflowing. My love, I’m suffering. I can’t sleep. I’m hurting’.

Next up is a tribute to the late great Siongo Bavon aka Bavon Marie Marie from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the bandleaders of the popular Orchestre Négro Succès, Bavon Marie Marie was also the younger brother of Le Grand Maitre Franco Luambo Makiadi. He died in a car crash in the early morning of August 5, 1970.

We continue with Zaida, another love song. As the singer says to kick things off “I takua ngumu” which can be roughly translated as “it will be difficult”… and this is a tough tune! I love the echoplex on the guitar.

The band seemed to pick up steam as they worked their way through their repertoire. I think the last two tracks on the reel are the best. This one features some wonderful guitar playing.

The last track on the reel is my favorite. The horns are punchier, the guitars have more bite and the rhythm section is throwing it down. This song is somewhat of a riddle that I am hoping those of you are understand Swahili can help solve. The more or less literal translation of the words is ‘Oh Subiana… you’ve come to suck again. You still want to suck? Then you have to go to Karatu, you can go and suck there too. Eh Subi, eh Subi. I’m sucking, I’m sucking. I am warning you not to play with Subi Subi. You can’t manage Subi it sucks your blood.’ So… who or what is Subi? Could ‘Subi Subi’ refer to a politician who is ‘sucking the life’ out of the people?

I hope you enjoyed the music!

Music from Burkina Faso

Posted January 7th, 2008 at 11:36 pm (UTC-4)

Today I’m going to take you back to the 1960s (and early 1970s) with some great music from Burkina Faso.


Let’s start with L’Harmonie Voltaique, the group that was founded by Antoine Ouedraogo in 1948. They were the first group created to play ‘modern music’ in what was then the French West African colony of Upper-Volta. In early 1948 Antoine Ouedraogo was working for the French colonial administration in Mali (which at the time was called the French Sudan). That spring he returned to Upper-Volta and, tired of having to bring groups from the Cote D’Ivoire whenever he wanted to organize a ‘soiree-dansante’, Antoine decided to create the colony’s first modern orchestra. The group was officially born, with the approval of the Colonial Governor of Upper-Volta, on April 8, 1948. Their early repertoire consisted of French Songs (especially the ballads of French crooner Tino Rossi), and latin rhythms (for e.g. the cha-cha, and bolero). The repertoire started to change in 1964 when the multi-instrumentalist Maurice Sempore (tenor sax, flute) became the bandleader. It was under his leadership that the group started to perform songs in ‘Moore’ (the language of the Mossi people).

Although recorded in 1970, these next two tracks give some idea of their earlier repertoire. The first track ‘Killa Naa Naa Ye Killa’ is an instrumental, composed by Maurice Sempore. The group categorizes this song as ‘Jazz’. The title refers to an onomatopoeic phrase in Moore that is taught to children to help them with their pronunciation- the equivalent of ‘sally sells seashells by the seashore’. The B-side of the 45 is a Bolero-Cha-Cha that was also composed by Maurice Sempore. It is the story of Therese Baba, a young woman whose parents were very strict. They did all they could to prevent Therese from going out at night to dance, but even though she never left the house, they could not prevent her from getting pregnant.

In the late 1960s Maurice Sempore started to change L’Harmonie Voltaique’s repertoire. He started to write modern arrangements of traditional rhythms.The A-side of this next 45 is a good example.

In ‘Biig be Noore’, which is built on the Wissé rhythm of the Mossi (from Koudougou in the center of the country), Maurice Sempore sings the story of a boy who travels with his father and embarrasses him by talking too much. The B-side, composed by Henri Tapsoba, is a lament for a friend who has passed away.

Next up is the Volta Jazz a group that came together in 1964 in Bobo-Dioulasso, in the Western part of the country. The group was led by the guitar player Kone Idrissa and in 1967 they won the ‘Premier Grand Prix du Premier Cercle d’Activites Literaires et Artistique de Haute-Volta’- which was the country’s most prestigious cultural award. We have got a couple of their 45s in the archives.

The song ‘Fintalabo’ was composed by Kone Idrissa, and is sung in the Djula language. The refrain goes ‘Power is not enough for you, Kings of Kings, you are never satisfied’.

One of my favorite Volta Jazz tracks is ‘Mama Soukous’. I assume that the title refers to the Congolese Soukous rhythm/dance that was popular in the late 1960s. The music, however, doesn’t sound much like Congolese Soukous. The track starts with a verse by singer Sanon Seydou and then is pretty much a rave-up featuring the raucous guitar playing of Dieudonne Koudougou.

This last track from Burkina features another group from Bobo-Dioulasso. This is Coulibaly Tidiane l’International Dieliba and the Orchestre Dafra Star, a group that was formed in 1975 and included several former members of the Volta Jazz (Dieudonne Koudougou, and singer Siaka Ouattara Elvis).

This track “Bombossi” is built around the balafon (wood-key xylophone) playing of Drissa Diabate Tchai and Mama Kone.

Hope you enjoyed the music… if so, stay tuned, I’ll be pulling out more forgotten 45s in the weeks to come.

Orchestre Bantous rarities from 1961

Posted December 27th, 2007 at 12:50 am (UTC-4)

Today I have got a few tracks from one of my favorite recordings in our collection for you. The tape (reel) in question was sent to the Voice of America by the US embassy in Brazzaville back in October of 1961. A memo accompanying the tapes (the Bantous reel was accompanied by an Orchestre Novelty reel) explains that these recordings were ‘graciously provided’ to the Voice of America by ‘the Director of Radio Congo, Brazzaville’.

I have always found Congolese recordings from the late 1950s and early 1960s frustrating. I have listened to lots of the earliest recordings of the African Jazz, the Bantous, the O.K. Jazz, and the Rock-A-Mambos and, while I love much of the singing, the ensemble playing and the compositions, I’ve often thought that these recordings sounded somewhat inhibited. Maybe it was the time limits imposed by the 78 rpm and 45 rpm-single format, or maybe the awkwardness of playing in a recording studio. When listening to these old recordings I have often wondered what the groups would have sounded like live… playing through the night in one of Kinshasa’s (which was Leopoldville at the time) or Brazzaville’s open-air dance halls. I have always wished I could have heard these great groups of the early 1960s stretch out their legs and take a few extra laps.

The tracks I want to share with you today maybe the closest I am ever going to get to being transported back in time to one of Brazzaville’s bar-dancing, circa 1961. Unfortunately, our Bantous reel did not come with track or personnel listings, and I haven’t yet been able to identify all the tracks or the exact lineup of the musicians featured on the recordings. The group probably was the lineup that included singer Edo Ganga, bassist, Daniel Lubelo aka “De la Lune”, Nino Malapet on tenor Sax, Nedule Papa Noel playing the guitar and the clarinet and alto sax of the bandleader Jean Serge Essous. This first track is a nice mid-tempo rumba.

Of all the great Congolese guitar players of the 1960s I have long found Papa Noel one of the more elusive. If you listen to O.K. jazz recordings of the early 1960s you can already hear Franco’s personality coming through in his guitar playing, the same goes for Dr. Nico. Papa Noel, on the other hand, always seemed to get swallowed up by the Orchestre Bantous horn section. In this next track, however, he jumps to the front and drags the rest of the group behind him!! Also check out Jean Serge Essous’s clarinet playing.

Like most musicians, Congolese modern musicians have been, and still are, musical omnivores. Over the course of the last seventy years they have digested many different genres; from the Cuban Son, Martiniquian Biguine and Polka Pique, to French Ye-Ye, North American Soul and Funk, through Psychedelic Rock and most recently Rap. Each of these styles has been incorporated, at various times, into modern Congolese music. There have been many questions, however, about if and/or how much influence Jazz had on the Congolese musicians of the 1960s. Were the names of the groups African Jazz, Ry-Co Jazz or O.K. Jazz intended as tributes to Duke Ellington? Did they indicate a passion for Louis Armstrong? Or, as many have reasonably argued, was Jazz simply a word that the Congolese at the time associated with ‘modernity’? All of the commercial recordings of the early 1960s seem so well arranged, so scripted that it is hard to see any evidence of a jazz influence. On the other hand, Orchestre Bantous of Brazzaville were big enough jazz fans to have worked up this arrangement of Thelonius Monk’ s composition ‘In Walked Bud’.

If you enjoyed these… sometime in the future I’ll post some of the tracks from the Orchestre Novelty reel.

Recent nuggets from the Cote D’Ivoire

Posted December 17th, 2007 at 10:40 pm (UTC-4)

Over the last several years it has been difficult to escape music from the Cote D’Ivoire. Throughout all of West Africa, and much of the rest of the continent, it seems like every nightclub and radio station has been going heavy on the Coupe Decaler and it’s many offshoots (the grippe aviare, the decaler chinois, the decaler Drogba and- most recently-the fatiguer fatiguer). Although I find many of the tracks released by the Cote D’Ivoire’s prolific DJs irresistible, over the last year my interest in the genre has started to flag. My impression is that a lot of the spark and novelty of the music has been extinguished by these innumerable DJs- working with their home computers and drum machines- who have jumped on the Couper Decaler bandwagon. A recent trip to Abidjan,however, resurrected my interest in Ivoirian music. As I had hoped, I discovered a lot of terrific music that never gets heard outside of the Cote D’Ivoire… in fact much of it doesn’t get much attention outside of specific regions of the Cote D’Ivoire. I thought I’d share three of the more interesting groups I heard.

From the N’zi Comoe region of Eastern Cote D’Ivoire (more precisely from the town of Mbatto in the state of Bongwano) comes the group the Peteple Ahossi D’Ahounan. They are one of the region’s more popular Agni ‘tradi-moderne’ groups… that is they perform modern arrangements of the traditional rhythms and melodies of the Agni people. The Agni are a branch of the Akan people from neighboring Ghana who moved west into what became the Cote D’Ivoire in the middle of the 18th century. The group Peteple Ahossi D’Ahounan was formed back in 1962 by the guitar player Kwami Nguessan (who is still with the group). They specialize in the Ahossi rhythm and are much in demand for Agni weddings, funerals and harvest festivals. Here are a couple of cuts off their third and latest cassette. If you enjoy classic Ghanaian highlife you should enjoy these tracks.

Next up, also from Eastern Cote D’Ivoire is the group Ahiwo International. Their guitar-driven music (that has deep roots in the traditional rhythms of the Attie people) has recently been giving the much-loved Zouglou rhythm some serious competition in the Cote D’Ivoire’s nightclubs. The group is from the town of Adzope and has been together for 11 years, and they have released one cassette a year. If you live in France, keep your eyes open, their manager told me they’ll be spending the month of April 2008 in Paris.

Their latest hit is ‘Minkofinloe’, in which they sing ‘think before you act, that way you’ll never have regrets’.

And finally a few golden oldies from a group that is no more… from the center of the Cote D’Ivoire this is the Yeple Jazz. Led by Abel Yeple, and inspired by the rhythms of the Gouro people, the Yeple Jazz had several big hits in the 1970s.

These two tracks are good examples of their ‘Gahou’ beat.

  • [audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/projects/african_music_treasures_blog/yepledriboh.mp3] Yeple Jazz “Dribou”
  • [audio:http://www.voanews.com/MediaAssets2/projects/african_music_treasures_blog/yeplebessoh.mp3] Yeple Jazz “Bessoh”

Welcome to the Blog…our first treasures from the Archive

Posted November 30th, 2007 at 7:33 pm (UTC-4)

Over the last year I have gone through a lot of African music blogs and discovered a lot of forgotten African music, and this collective effort of dozens of netizens has inspired me to share our large collection with other music lovers (to read more about the collection, and see some pictures, click on the ‘about’ & ‘picture gallery’ tabs in the upper right corner). After going through hundreds of recordings I decided to kick things off with one of my favorite artists…

About a year ago I was going through a crate of assorted cassettes and was excited to find a dozen Rwandan recordings, among them was one by Bizimungu Dieudonne. I immedialy loved evertyhing about his music.

As I listened to his music, I started asking Rwandan colleagues, journalists and musicians about him. It seems that today Bizimungu Dieudonne is largely forgotten. His music is no longer played on Rwandan radio and he has faded from popular memory. Here is what I have learned about him. Bizimungu Dieudonne was a Rwandan civil servant who loved music, a passion he inherited from his father (who may have performed religious music). Bizimungu usually performed, throughout Kigali, with his wife Agnes Uwimbabazi. In 1994 they were both killed (along with many of Bizimungu Dieudonne’s family members) by Hutu militias during the Rwandan genocide.

The song “Tabara Ryangombe” is a masterpiece. This song was recorded in the late 1980’s (I don’t have an exact date). In it Bizimungu asks Ryangombe (the spiritual father of the Rwandan people) to save the young. He sings “the children of Rwanda no longer respect the values of their ancestors. They want red lips and fingernails. Ryangombe bring back the pride of our lost families. Oh, our God that looks over Rwanda come save your palace. Parents, pray that we don’t lost our culture. And you, the young ones, obey your parents “.

Check out Kagambage Alexandre’s stuttering guitar playing!!

This is another great track off the cassette with a fairly typical Rwandan beat.

While we’re in Rwanda…check out these tracks by several of Rwanda’s greatest dancebands of the 1980s. The first track is off a reel we have of recordings, made by Rwandan national radio in the early 1980s, of several of great bands. My favorite cut on the reel is ‘Umuco Nyarwanda’ by the Orchestre Umulili of Kigali.

One of the things I hope to do with this blog is feature groups that are very popular in particular African countries but whose music remains unheard and unknown internationally. Here’s a track by the Orchestre Impala de Kigali. They were probably the most popular Rwandan band of the 1980s. This track is off their second cassette.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the music and if you know anything more about Bizimungu Dieudonne, please… get in touch!!



Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

The Leo Sarkisian African Music Collection >>

Latest Selection

Sidebar Playlist

Listen to Archived Music from 2007-2013