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Monday 27 May 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 36 - Mozambique

I like to spend some time in Mozambique. The sunny sky is aqua blue. And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek. It’s very nice to stay a week or two. 

So sang Bob Dylan back in 1976, which was probably the only year in the 1970s when it would have been a good time to visit the country. The war of independence against Portugal that had started in 1964 ended in 1975 when the country got its freedom. There was then a brief lull before a devastating civil war kicked off in 1977 that lasted another 15 years.

The simplest way for you to experience the culture of Mozambique is to visit your local Nando's, which has come a long way from its origins as a Mozambican takeaway in Johannesburg run by ex-pats. But if you are looking for a more immersive multimedia experience, come with me.

We start with one of the greats, Xidiminguana, who hopefully is still with us today. He certainly was as of 2021 when he celebrated his 85th birthday. This article covers the occasion and tells you more about his long and distinguished career. There is nothing more recent on Google so fingers crossed no news is good news. Today's selection comes from his 2015 album "Xikona", released when he was a slip of a lad of 79. 

Almost as venerable as Xidiminguana is Mofene David Sitoe, the man behind Banda Six. He had some songs played on local radio as early as 1964 but his recording career proper did not start until the early 1980s by which time he was living and working in South Africa. A mutual friend introduced him to Lucky Monama, the main traditional music producer at Gallo (the biggest record label in South Africa at the time). Lucky for us that Lucky took a shine to Mr Sitoe. This track is from his 1982 debut album "Mbilwini Yamina".

Marrabenta is a popular style of local dance music combining traditional rhythms with Portuguese folk music. One of the finest proponents are Ghorwane who formed in 1983 around about the same time Banda 6 were getting into their stride. It has been a while since they released a new album but they are still touring, including a set at George's local festival last year. "Txongola" is from their 1997 album "Kudumba" which is available on Bandcamp.  

We'll move over to the distaff side now, starting with a woman who has featured on these pages before, way back in the early days when my mission was to tell the world about Tsonga disco. Zaida Chongo was a glittering star who lit up the Mozambique and Tsonga music scenes in the 1990s before her tragically early death in 2004 aged just 33. If you are willing to consort with the tax dodgers you can download a fine compilation album called "Homenagem a Zaida Chongo" on which this track features.

Next up we have Helena Nhantumbo, about whom I been able to find out absolutely nothing. But she has a fine pair of pipes and this track from her 2015 album "Niwawena" makes good use of the penny whistle, which is always a plus point.

This edition's Mandatory African Reggae slot is filled by one Ras Skunk. Mr Skunk is a man with a mission whose Bandcamp blurb for his 2018 album "Born In Africa" tells us that "he sings reggae as a ‘Gospel’, in the hope of healing the hearts of the black movement and to encourage peace, love and liberation among all nations". Let's hope he succeeds. 

"Djoni" - Xidiminguana

"Uvuya Uyo Shama Tihamela" - Banda Six

"Txongola" - Ghorwane

 "Alfandega" - Zaida Chongo

"Ahinyoxeni" - Helena Nhantumbo

"I & I In Foundation" - Ras Skunk

Here come the videos. Brace yourselves before watching the last one. Nothing can prepare you for the excessive emoting of Elsa Mangue.

That brings us to the end of a long line of Ms. I'm going to take Bob's advice and stay a week or two, dipping my toes in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, before heading due west to start on the Ns.

Friday 24 May 2024

Squirrel Invasion

Just a quick one today. I have been away for a few days and have some catching up to do.

I hope shortly to have one of my irregular round-ups of some of the new music that the nice folks in Promoland send me. To tide us over until then today we will focus on just one name that might by new to some you - Squirrel Flower (Ella Williams to her Mum and Dad).

Ms. Flower has just started a North American tour to promote her most recent album "Tomorrow's Fire" which came out on Polyvinyl late last year. She will be following that up with gigs in the UK and Europe and to encourage us all to go along Polyvinyl have shared this video of Squirrel and friends performing Neil Young's epic "Cortez The Killer". It can't compare with the original (nothing can) but it is still pretty splendid.

To go with the video we have a track from each of Squirrel Flower's two preceding albums, "I Was Born Swimming" (2020) and "Planet (i)" (2021). All three albums and much more besides can be found on her Bandcamp page.  

"Street Light Blues" - Squirrel Flower

"Deluge In The South" - Squirrel Flower

Monday 20 May 2024

Ångströms In My Pangströms

The other day The George and I were corresponding about an excellent bargain price compilation on the Bongo Joe label called "Black Voices: Solidarity Compilation", which I would heartily recommend (and I think George would too).

In the course of the correspondence George noted that "I am delighted to see a backing band on Track 8 called The Ångströmers, after a unit of measurement I used to work with". Here is Track 8. Chouk Bwa are a six piece from Haiti who regularly team up with The Ångströmers, a Belgian production duo. If you like this there is plenty more at their Bandcamp page.

I have paired "Negriye" with an old favourite from the man they call 'the Italian Van Morrison'. I think it works thematically but no doubt Teacher will correct me if I am wrong.

"Negriye" - Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers

"Lunghessa d'Onda" - Furgone di Piufiglio

Friday 17 May 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 35 - Morocco

The juggernaut rolls on and this week we reach Morocco, a country that I've been lucky enough to visit a number of times over the last 20 years or so. 

On my first visit me and a couple of pals got the ferry from Malaga to Melilla and made our way east along the coast to the Algerian border. On my most recent one in December 2019 I visited Tangier, Tetaoun and - as a treat to myself on Christmas Day - spent one night in a fancy hotel in the seaside resort of Martil. This was the view:

Tangier has been home to many interesting characters over the years, including the American writer and composer Paul Bowles who lived there for over fifty years. He was one of the first people to make field recordings of traditional local music, and our first track by Moqaddem Mohammed Ben Salem from 1959 is one example. You can find it on a compilation of Mr Bowles' recordings released on the Dust-to-Digital label.

I have chosen a more recent field recording next. This one comes from an album called "Ecstatic Music Of The Jemaa El Fna" (the main square in Marrakesh) recorded in 2005. If you have ever been to Marrakesh you will know that all human life and much more beside can be found in Jemaa El Fna of an evening - snake charmers, shysters, sellers of snail-based snacks and musical groups. Troupe Majidi are one of the latter and may perhaps dabble in the others as well for all I know.

I don't know whether the music of either of those acts would technically be described as gnawa music  but it shares some of the characteristics. Gnawa is probably Morocco's biggest contribution to global music and is still influential today. The most prominent of the current wave of gnawa inspired bands is Bab L'Bluz. Their new album "Swaken" came out last week. This track is from their previous album "Nayda!".

After that carefully curated first half things go a bit haywire now. First we have some frenzied Arabic rhythm 'n blues from Fadoul, the James Brown of Casablanca, courtesy of the estimable Habibi Funk label. This track is on the "Habibi Funk 007" compilation but there is a whole album devoted to Fadoul's work which you really need to get.

Also hailing from Casablanca around the same sort of time is "bachelor hairdresser and composer" Abdou El Omari - an odd blurb but that what it says. It goes on to describe "Nuits D'​É​té", the album from which this track comes, as being "an Oriental psych monster from the organ king of Casablanca, combining traditional rhythms with spaced out modern sounds", which sums it up nicely. Vocals by local diva Naima Samih.

We rounds things off with some MAR from Cheb Kader. Kader was one of the pioneers of the modern rai sound and while he has not enjoyed the same level of success as the likes of his friend Cheb Mami he has been extremely influential. "Reggae Rai" comes from his 1986 album "El Awama" and can also be found on the "A Moi La Liberte" electronic rai compilation which I raved about when we kicked the tour off next door in Algeria a year ago last Wednesday.   

"Third Zqel" - Moqaddem Mohammed Ben Salem & Ensemble

"Afriquiya" - Troupe Majidi

"Gnawa Beat" - Bab L'Bluz

"Bsslama Habiti" - Fadoul

"Zifaf Filfada" - Abdou El Omari

"Reggae Rai" - Cheb Kader

As some of you may have spotted we had Eurovision last weekend. I had not realised until I started what passes as research for this series that Morocco once participated Eurovision. They could probably do so again if they wanted to as the national broadcaster is a paid-up member of the European Broadcasting Union, but clearly they decided once was enough (and who can blame them).

The year was 1980, the song was called "Bitakat Hob", the performer was Samira Bensaïd, and they came second to last. They were robbed.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Liza & The Lollipop Man

There are many unbelievable stories that have come out of Hollywood. This is one of them. 

It concerns the great Telly Savalas, who first found fame in the 1960s in films like "The Dirty Dozen" and "Kelly's Heroes" before going on to attain superstar status in the 1970s with his portrayal of lollipop-loving TV cop Kojak.

When the original run of "Kojak" ended in 1978 Telly found himself a bit of a loose end. Thinking back on his chart success with the spoken word smash "If" in 1975, and reflecting on Robert Mitchum's reinvention as a calypsonian in the 1950s, he decided to head to Jamaica to try his hand at toasting.

Once ensconced in Kingston, Telly teamed up with leading producer Joe Gibbs and over the next five years or so put out a steady stream of top notch singles. Many of them featured one or other local female vocalist, all of whom were called Liza on the records. 

You can find a few of the Kojak & Liza singles, including the two below, on a great compilation called "Joe Gibbs Presents Dancehall Stylee 1979-1981" which came out on Cherry Red last year.

Now I have to concede that you probably won't find this story elsewhere on the internet. Wikipedia would have you believe that the 'real' Kojak was one Floyd Anthony Perch who was a big fan of the TV series and so adopted it as his stage name. But as we all know Wikipedia is woefully unreliable.

"Hole In The Bucket" - Kojak & Liza

"Sky Juice" - Kojak & Liza

And now, some of Telly's finest work...

Monday 13 May 2024

Vive La Diff'rence

It has been a while since we had some soul music on here. We are here to put that right with the late great Esther Phillips and a couple of tracks from her excellent 1975 album "What A Diff'rence A Day Makes". 

Many of you will be familiar with the title track which was a Top 10 smash in the UK and crept into the Top 20 in the US (and if you are not you will be shortly). It is a top tune although not representative of the album as a whole.

My assumption is that the home Esther wants the person to whom the first song is addressed to return to is the not the hurting house that she describes in the second one. But I may be wrong. She had a complicated life, old Esther, so who knows. 

"You're Coming Home" - Esther Phillips

"Hurting House" - Esther Phillips

Friday 10 May 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 34 - Mauritius

Before we get to the post proper, a public service announcement. An anonymous commentator on the last African post asked "when you've completed this musical odyssey, how or where will we be able to find the complete 27 Leggies African playlist?". 

I promised them I would put up a link to the audio clips for the whole series when it finally ends. But that is a still a long way off so if you want to catch up in the meantime you can find the first 34 instalments here.

Now on with the tour. We leave the sun-drenched deserts of Mauritania on the Atlantic coast in the west and head to the eastern-most country in Africa, the equally sun-drenched Indian Ocean tropical paradise that is Mauritius. 

Today's post is heavily dominated by 'sé​ga', a traditional music that is believed to have originated among the slave populations of Mauritius and Réunion back in the 19th century. It is thought to be a fusion of music from Madagascar and Europe, and the shuffling beat is certainly reminiscent of dances like the waltz and the polka.

By the 1970s, when we pick up the story, sé​ga was being further fused with other styles like soul, jazz and zouk. There is even a variation called 'seggae' - you can probably work that one out by yourselves. 

The first I heard of sé​ga was back in early 2016 when my friend and former colleague Tulsee, a model Mauritian, tipped me off to a newly released compilation on Strut Records called "Soul Sek S​é​ga". It then briefly seemed to become a thing. A few months later the Bongo Joe label put out "Soul Sega Sa! Indian Ocean Segas From The 70s" and then followed it up with a second volume in 2019. 

We start with two tracks from the Strut compilation, including the one that gave the album its name. It is a tribute to James Brown delivered in fine style by Ti L'Afrique (Roland Fatime), one of the pioneers of the funky sé​ga scene. Dig those crazy moaning keyboards (or at least I think they are keyboards).

He is joined by one John Kenneth Nelson who, according to Strut, "called heavily on séga's rural roots for his guttural vocal style and folk arrangements and was a part of a leading Mauritian musical family alongside two brothers, Harold and Eric (who was known as the local Jimi Hendrix)". I assume that is Eric wrangling away from the 1:42 mark.

Now we hop over to the second volume of the Bongo Joe series where we find Cyril Labonne with this cover of a song by Ti Frere, considered by many to be the father of Mauritian music. I have not found out much about Cyril other than that he was born in a place called Curepipe and released his first record in 1969 at the age of 18. 

There is a lot of overlap in the artists on the three compilations. Cyril is also on Strut and John Kenneth and Mr L'Afrique both pop up on Bongo Joe Volume 1, where we also find ace percussionist Lélou Menwar (real name Stéphano Honoré). Later in his career he chose to be known just as Menwar, which apparently means 'dark hands'. This comes from his 2016 album "Vwayaz Ar Mwa". 

We finish things off with two fine slices of Mandatory African Reggae - or more correctly Mandatory Mauritian Seggae - one old and one new. The old one can be found on yet another Bongo Joe compilation and comes from Ramone whose T-shirts are inexplicably popular with the Mauritian youth. Disappointingly it doesn't start with either "Gabba Gabba Hey" or "1-2-3-4". 

The new one comes from a band called Zilwala. At least that is what they were called in 2017 when they recorded their album "Idantite". It seems they have had some line-up changes since then and these days are known as Zilwala Renesans. Either way this track is a tribute to the late Joseph Reginald Topize (known as Kaya), the seggae pioneer who died while in police custody in 1999.

"Soul Sok Séga" - Ti L'Afrique

"Z'Enfant Misère" - John Kenneth Nelson

"Roseda" - Cyril Labonne

"Ti Lele" - Menwar

"Soul Reggae Prisonnier" - Ramone

"Seggae Mo Lamizik" - Zilwala

We'll sign off now with many thanks to Tulsee and Bongo Joe, without whom etc etc.