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Retrospect
newsletters from the recent past

NEWSLETTER WINTER 1996




Old news is good news

RetroAfric, one of the smallest specialist labels in Britain, marks its tenth anniversary this October with a mid-price compilation CD titled African Cavalcade [RETRO11CD]. This follows widespread acclaim for the latest release, Rumba'round Africa by Ry-Co Jazz, [RETRO1OCD]
See quotes below.

RetroAfric's search for rare grooves has un-earthed some of the classic material which has moved generations in Africa - the original 'Land of a Thousand Dances'. Concentrating on popular hits of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the emphasis is on dance, romance and ambience, generated by artists whose influence was truly pan-African, reaching far beyond national boundaries, often to Europe and America. Ten years ago, when African music was making its presence felt in Britain, those who looked into the background soon realised that Highlife and Congo-rumba had been the main roots. The undisputed King of Highlife, E.T. Mensah, was the first artist to be signed by RetroAfric and an album of his original 1950s recordings, All For You [RETRO1CD], was launched in 1986. Mensah, a multi-instrumentalist and bandleader from Ghana who sadly died in July this year, had provided the most popular dance music in West Africa during the independence era. His smooth and seamless blend of swing, calypso, Latin and local rhythms has a timeless quality which continues to please. A second collection of 1960s material followed, titled Day By Day [RETRO3CD]. The only other figure of equal stature, but with a more prolific career, was the legendary Zairean guitarist, Franco & OK Jazz. Credited with some 150 albums, Franco's earliest 1956 recordings were thought to be long lost, but RetroAfric tracked down the sessions, released as Originalité [RETRO2CD]. Other releases followed from the Zambian pioneer Alick Nkhata, Shalapo [RETRO4CD], and a roster of Congo-Za_rean guitar wizards, including the pre-eminent new-generation band, Zaiko Langa Langa [RETRO5CD]. Their producer, the maestro Henri Bowane also cut his only album at the same time, Double Take [RETRO6CD]. Fellow country-man Mose Fan Fan cemented his career in East Africa before arriving in London. RetroAfric's Belle Epoque [RETRO7CD] traces his epic journey through the 1970s. A decade earlier Ry-Co Jazz had set out in the opposite direction on a tour which lasted 14 years, taking their exciting vision of African ambience through West Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. African Cavalcade include a bonus track which does not appear on Rumba'round Africa. The Congolese influence on African pop cannot be over-emphasised, but other regional forms also established themselves in the 1950s. In the East, Swahili culture was enhanced by the Kenyan singer/composer Fundi Konde, the first East African to play electric guitar. RetroAfric collected some of his memorable songs on Retrospective [RETRO8CD]. Konde's career was recently revived with the Tanzanian band, Shikamoo Jazz, a showcase of talent with more than 300 years of musical experience. Their 1995 release Chela Chela [RETRO9CD] was followed by a European tour, which included Konde, Fan Fan and the extraordinary 96-year-old Bi Kidude. This powerful taraab singer from the island of Zanzibar is yet another legend who appears on the 14-track RetroAfric compilation.

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