The New Sounds of Africa

African Guitar Summit
African Guitar Summit
The African Guitar Summit CD (CBC Records TRCD 3014), released last year by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, integrated several of the best African guitarists living in Canada. The beauty of the project is that the guitarists that jam together represent diverse traditions. The guitarists, who come from
different parts of Africa, featured come are Madagascar Slim, Pa Joe, Donné Robert,
Alpha Yaya Diallo and Adam Solomon. Accompanying the guitarists are other African heavyweights in Canada: Mighty Popo on bass and guitar, and percussionists Kofi Ackhah and Naby Camara.

The enjoyable selection of melodic guitar music includes Highlife, Malagasy songs, Congolese rumba in Swahili, Afro-Latin sounds, Inanga music of Rwanda, Kavacha music, Manding melodies, and Fulani celebration music.

Doreen Thobekile, a South African singer based in London, has recorded London Zulu. As the name implies it is an album with Zulu influences. However, don’t expect the Gospel choirs western audiences are accustomed to. Instead, the music is edgy and danceable, incorporating electronica and kwaito as well as a wide assortment of acoustic percussion and mbira. The album is really appealing and it’s no surprise as the producers are world beat masters TransGlobal Underground.

Double Check by
Stella Chiweshe presents the music of one of the innovators of mbira music. Chiweshe stands out because she was one of the first women to play the mbira, an instrument dominated by men in Zimbabwe. This double CD celebrates the long career of Chiweshe by featuring new recordings and re-releasing earlier ones.

The first CD is called Trance Hits. The new recordings centers on an all-acoustic traditional sound, featuring vocas, mbiras and percussion. The music sometimes is percussive. Other times it is dreamy and hypnotic. The classic CD includes songs in a more modern style, incorporating drums, guitars, bass, and other instruments.

Ivorian keyboardist Azouhouni first came to my attention when he produced the debut album by Malian singer Buru Djoss. His spectacular keyboard work left me wondering about his background. A few months later, Azouhoini’s solo album, I Gotta Go (Zohoré Records) , came out.

Azouhouni Adou is clearly influenced by the style of Joe Zawinul and American jazz. On I Gotta Go he plays keyboards and also sings lead vocals in English. The album drifts from jazz to R&B and Afropop. Azouhouni is at his best when he includes African rooted music. That is what distinguishes him from the numerous jazz musicians playing nondescript jazz, who many times sound repetitive.

The great sound of Congolese rumba guitar is represented by Young Bakuba Band, a group formed by seasoned Congolese musicians living in South Africa. On Sacrifice (Vibrations Studio), they provide a selection of traditional Congolese rumba pieces. The band is formed by Domingos Wankebulua
“Big Sammy” (drums), Manuel Salakiaku Nsingi “Elvis” (guitar) and Zendongola Nsunda “Small Sammy” (vocals).

Another group of Congolese expatriates in South Africa have recorded Afro Fiesta. The lively music ranges from Latin influenced Congolese dance music to salsa sung in one of the native Congolese languages.

South African Judith Sephuma’s latest recording is New Beginnings (Giant Steps/Sony-BMG CDSTEP110, 2005). Sephuma is gifted with a beautiful voice. The music on her album is well crafted, although there is little evidence of South African roots in the first songs. The first six songs sound like American R&B and modern Gospel. With song 7, “Re A Lotsha,” things improve by adding South African elements. The best song is “Kupedza Nguva,” which features Oliver Mtukudzi as a guest singer and guitarist.

Nigerian sax player Papa Latty performs funky roots reggae led by sax and a powerful brass section. He has two recent indie recordings available, which are primarily instrumental, Afro-Reggae – Africa’s Problem and Afro-Reggae II. His CDs are available through CD Baby.

Ugandan multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Samite has a captivating new recording, Embalasasa is soft and gentle, based on hypnotic drums, delicate vocals, flute, trance-like kalimba, acoustic guitars and piano. The cozy and calm feel of Samite’s music is a good contrast to the louder sounds from other parts of Africa.