I’ve been following African music for a long time, starting when I lived in Paris in the 1970s. I was music director of KCRW during the first big wave of African music, starting with Nigerian superstars King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti in the early 80s. Since then, Americans following world music have gotten a good dose of African music, both on the radio, in print media, and concerts.
Back when these recordings were made, African musicians sure got a big dose of American soul and R&B, also Puerto Rican salsa and Cuban music. You hear these influences in the music.
I must say that some of the older music just coming out now trumps many of the modern bands. Powerful groups like Poly-rythmo de Cotonou from Benin, griot-power from Dieuf Dieul and Sory Kandia Kouyate from Senegal, laid back grooves and cool basslines from Orchestra Super Mazembe from Kenya are utterly captivating. Never mind the muddy audio quality here, the music more than makes up for it. Most of this music was only heard in the countries of origin or African communities in London, Paris, or Brussells. It never made it to the U.S. until now. Some music, like the Super Mazembe band, was culled from 45 rpm 7″ singles and put on cd for the first time. Bibi Tanga named his band The Selenites after the moon men in an H.G. Wells futuristic novel.
The guitars have tons of reverb, and like the the keyboards, they were probably cold war era Soviet bloc knock-offs of Vox Continentals and Fender Stratocasters; they tend to give the music an otherworldly quality. And the distortion on groups like Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou gives the music an extra dose of urgency.
Here is a 7 song sampler of music from Benin, Central African Republic, Kenya, and Senegal. It’s powerful medicine, rhythm and dance-driven, and we’re lucky to have it available for our enjoyment. Thanks to Soundway, Analog Africa, Rough Guides, and Stern’s for putting these rare grooves out and packaging them so beautifully.
In this video of Orchestra Poly Rythmo de Cotonou (track #1 on playlist) you can see the influence of James Brown on the new African bands of the day. For newly-independent African nations, Brown’s 1970 hit “Say it Out Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” had huge resonance and influenced the sound and style of many groups across Africa. It put plenty of strut and swagger into the music.
Rhythm Planet Playlist: 5/30/13
- Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou | Houzou Houzou Wa | The Skeletal of Afro Funk 1969-1980 vol 3 | Analog Africa
- Bibi Tanga and the Selenites | Be Africa | Rough Guide to African Disco | Rough Guides
- Orchestra Super Mazembe | Mwana Mazembe | Mazembe @ 45 rpm | Stern’s
- Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou | Vi E Lo | The Skeletal of Afro Funk 1969-1980 vol 3 | Analog Africa
- The Rift Valley Brothers | Tiga Kurira | Kenya Special | Soundway
- Dieuf Dieul de Tries | Na Binta | Aw Sa Yone Vol 1 | Terangabeat
- Sory Kandia Kouyate | Minawa | La Voix de la Revolution | Sterns