Africa Gets Axed

Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends
The Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends (World Music Network RGNET 1259 CD, 2011)

A recent music-themed issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine featured a list called “The 50 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” (or something like that). Despite many admittedly great players from the worlds of rock, jazz, blues, fusion and beyond making the cut, not one African guitarist was included. Such oversight is laughable at best, downright sad at worst.

I really should have read the fine print to see who compiled that list, because they’re in desperate need of this new Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends, if for no other reason than to hear what they’ve been missing.

Globally minded guitarists and African music lovers in general will find it most enjoyable as well. It’s only a glimpse of the vast range and artistry of guitar-based African music, but a mighty sampler all the same, split pretty evenly between solo and group pieces.

Beginning with a snappy Latin-tinged acoustic number by Djelimady Tounkara of Mali’s Rail Band, the disc continues in unplugged mode as Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi laments the passing of loved ones while picking out plaintive notes and a track from Ali Farka Toure’s final album Savane demonstrates his impeccable desert blues style.

Then it’s dancing time with Eric Agyeman’s palm-wine Ghanaian highlife and back to the desert courtesy of early Tinariwen stripped down to a pair of hypnotically intertwined electric guitars.

Congolese music -long a popular favorite across Africa and the world- gets three of its many moods represented by Jean Bosco Mwenda getting along beautifully with only acoustic guitar and voice, Franco and OK Jazz’s percolating rumba and Syran Mbenza leading Ensemble Rumba Kongo in a soukous-straddling Franco tribute.

Recently-deceased Zulu maskanda master Shiyani Ngcobo follows, his urgently twanging riffs and raw vocals showing rural South African music at its best as assuredly as Henry Makobi translates traditional Kenyan sounds and Kante Manfila does the same for Mali on the tracks that come next. The CD ends back on the dance floor as Sunny Ade, King of Nigerian Juju, weaves slipping, sliding riffs throughout the dub version of his classic “Ja Funmi.”

Now put that disc back in the sleeve and whip out the bonus CD (a means by which the Rough Guides have lately been sweetening the pot). Another hour of hot Congolese sounds await your ears in the form of the entire Syran Mbenza and Ensemble Rumba Kongo album Immortal Franco. Enjoy as Mbenza, one of Congo’s many guitar greats, fronts a cast of top players and singers tearing into music inspired by Luambo “Franco” Makiadi, arguably Africa’s greatest Guitar God.

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