Comments and reviews of RetroAfric CDs gleaned from
all parts of the world, on websites and the printed page.
Kita Mata ABC (RETRO18CD)
"The sound of the Stukas is distinctive, with echoic vocals and some beautifully fluid spaced-out guitar solos that spiral off with frantic vocal animations interjected by shrieks, whistles and clattering snare drum patterns. Carefully structured but with a magnificently anarchic sound, Stukas are a great example of hardcore Kinshasa music. Lovers of the early sound of Pepe Kalle's Empire Bakuba, Papa Wemba's Viva la Musica recordings or ‘belle époque' Zaiko Langa Langa will be delighted to discover the Stukas Boys."
Songlines, July/August 2005
Heavy Heavy, Heavy (RETRO20CD)
"Coming out of Sierra Leone in the mid-60s, Gerald Pine was the man who gave funk back to Africa. ‘After that guy came to Lagos in ‘66, he came in a big way," acknowledged Fela Kuti. ‘After that motherfucking Pino tore up the scene, there wasn't shit I could do in Lagos.' Real praise. After falling so far off the radar since, this reissue of two albums of mid-70s funk show just how tough to follow the Heartbeats were. Heavy on the wah wah pedal (Power to the People takes on Shaft), heavy on militant lyrics (Born to Be Free, Africans Must Unite), heavy on polyrhythms (the title track) but ultimately a dozen tracks to get anybody with a pulse on their feet. Fela might be the main man, but this is the connoisseur's choice.'
Mojo, March 2006
'The Divine Drummer' RETRO16CD
A strange, idiosyncratic and thoroughly wonderful album from one
of the great pioneers of African and American music. Guy Warren,
later to rename himself Kofi Ghanaba, began as a founder of the
Tempos highlife band. he took a complete armoury of African drums
to Chicago in the mid-50s, played with Charlie Parker, Thelonius
Monk and John Coltrane. bewildering all as he strove to inject African
idioms into jazz, his fusionistic ideas foreshadowing much of what
was to follow. Erroll Garner asked him to join his band, but Warren
instead released several highly successful albums of his own, including
African Speaks, America Answers, which sold over a million. The
tracks here, recorded in London in 69/70, have not previously been
released and show a brave man moving from the wild exuberance of
African drumming, chanting and flutes to odd, highly intimate and
personal music that owes little to any obvious antecedents. He uses
solo piano, bullroarer, mouth organ, marimba, vocals and a great
variety of percussion played with deep conviction and equally deep
whimsy. Ordinary categories don't begin to cover his adventurous
explorations. He even uses clearing his throat as punctuation between
free-form lines of simultaneous flute an voice. Did Roland Kirk
ever manage that? Simply as a drummer Warren/Ghanaba makes ordinary
jazzmen sound pretty wispy. His are fertile rhythms in themselves.
They are music, not backing, not rhythm track, but the starting
point for a spiritual and musical feast, from a man not afraid to
be himself. Freedom lovers step this way.
Rick Sanders, fRoots magazine. December 2002.
E.T. Mensah & The Tempos
'All For You' RETRO1XCD
Though he hailed from Ghana, E.T. Mensah was a musical ambassador
for the world. During the '40s, swing had made its way across the
Atlantic and planted itself in the popular dance culture of West
Africa. For musicians trained in the European (imperial) tradition
of marching bands, early jazz bore obvious appeal--and big bands
rose to bear its standard. E.T. Mensah, trained on saxophone and
trumpet, joined a group called the Tempos in the late '40s. By doing
so, he committed himself to a new kind of musical integration which
would be termed Highlife. Rather than adopting only the styles of
jazz and European music, his group turned toward other New World
and African sounds. The instrumentation of the Tempos included congas
and claves; their song forms came from Brazil and the Caribbean.
Mixing these styles with jazz improvisation and an African approach
to rhythm and song, the Tempos came up with something truly new.
And West African music was never the same. Mensah was the undisputed
King of Highlife. All For You, the first of two '50s Mensah compilations
put out by RetroAfric, features twenty tunes that originally appeared
on 78 rpm records. They're all just under 3 minutes in length, so
there's no extended improvisation or vocals--a stark contrast to
the seemingly endless jams that came later as highlife matured!
Half of the group (around ten members total) are drummers, which
means that the rhythm section here has a critical mass. In general,
the tunes start out with a swinging theme on the horns, followed
by brief vocals (in pidgin English or Ghanaian languages), mixed
with improvised solos. Tossed in among the mostly highlife tunes
are a couple of sambas and four calypsos, which sound perfectly
in place in this cultural melting pot. The improvised solos sound
literate and inspired, clearly aiming to reinforce the music's role
as fuel for dance. It's hard to overestimate the importance of this
group in the development of West African music. Mensah managed to
assimilate sounds from Africa, Europe, America, and the Caribbean,
and in the process he helped create a new musical form. Later on,
guitars would begin to creep into highlife and eventually dominate
the music; popular American rock and funk styles would also go into
the melting pot. But not at this point in the '50s, which makes
All For You a brilliant snapshot of culture in progress.
Nils Jacobson. November 2002
Super Eagles: Senegambian Sensation
A big name from a very small country, Super Eagles from the Gambia
released several singles (from which we get four tracks on this
CD), and one LP "Viva Super Eagles" (Decca WAPS 29 - included
here in its entirety). It seems they were highly popular across
West Africa in the 1960s, and this is borne out by a description
by Papa J Mensah, quoted in the booklet notes, of his memories of
seeing them perform live in Accra, Ghana in 1968, the year before
they made their album. One of their trademarks seems to have been
the breadth of material they could offer, and Mensah describes enjoying
how they played "a repertoire of all styles with unquestionable
precision". The breadth is reflected in the music included
here, which encompasses Latin and Congolese sounds alongside highlife,
soul, R&B and even a Beatles cover. Super Eagles were evidently
something of a variety show.
Even so, it's quite clear that they also represented an important
stage in the Africanisation of their indigenous pop music, infusing
the miscellaneous material with original melodies and lyrics in
their own language, as well as making subtle use of local rhythms.
Several tracks, including the beautiful "Mandal Ly", take
us some way down the road towards the sound of Etoile De Dakar,
as heard on the reissues of their early material with Youssou N'Dour
on Sterns Classics, or Orchestra Baobab, again as shown on their
twofer CD on the same label - all of which was recorded much later.
Other tracks do show their versatility. Not surprisingly, the guitar
music of Congo/Zaire is a key factor, and they handle songs in this
idiom like "Tagu Nein Lein" and "Bada Tourey"
superbly. Much more unusually, "Dohi Gudi Bahut" is very
close to the guitarband highlife of Ghana, but again is highly effective.
To Western ears, it's the soul and R&B material that risks
sounding most dubious, but while "unquestionable precision"
might perhaps be to overstate the case, Paps Touray's voice
could handle it better than most of the other innumerable wannabe
James Browns and Percy Sledges of the day.
Some songs, like their theme tune "Viva Super Eagles"
or the pan-African political "Gambia Zambia" mix different
influences (appropriately enough, in both cases) and do it very
successfully. All told, then, this collection offers a great deal
to enjoy, and plenty to reflect on - and it only improves with repeated
listening. But if it was their versatility that gave them their
most successful calling card in 1960s West Africa, it is likely
to be more their early efforts at carving out a distinctive Senegambian
contemporary music - in songs like "Aliou Gori-Mami" or
"Gail Gain Chi Rabi" or the delightful melodic "Aduni
Poti Ndaala" - that will draw modern listeners to this very
welcome reissue collection.
Orchestre Veve: Vintage Verckys
Publication:STRAIGHT NO CHASER, 2001
Vintage Verckys Formed in Kinshasa, Congo in 1969 Orchestre
Veve was the brainchild of Verckys Kiamuangana Mateta, former saxophonist
in chief of Franco's mighty OK Jazz. Taking their cue from
the wailing saxes of US soul as much as the rolling, guitar-based
local styles, Verckys and his band created music which, with its
shaking cavacha beat and improvised sax led instrumental sections
(sebenes), is recognised as a forerunner to the modern Congo sound.
As the excellent sleeve notes point out, Verckys was a true character
a showman, producer and music biz wheeler dealer. Vintage
Verckys is a tribute to this forgotten star of the Congolese scene
and a showcase for some timeless music. [Jamie Renton]
Publication: RHYTHM DOCTOR
While I've been lamenting the dearth of anything new and exciting
from Africa, there are always classic reissues, many of them of
previously hard-to-find or even totally unknown artists.
RETROAFRIC in their calm methodical manner have now notched up 15
titles in their series of classic African oldies (www.retroafric.com).
VINTAGE VERCKYS is a bullseye as well as a long-overdue tribute
to a man I think of as the Lee Perry of Africa (in that he is unique,
an important producer, and totally insane -- in the nicest sense).
Verckys' musical career started as a youth playing sax in a church
fanfare band. Soon he discovered King Curtis and began honking out
his own version of the gutbucket style of American soul and R&B
saxophony. At 20 he was recruited to OK Jazz to play second sax
to Isaac Musekiwa and soon became Franco's right-hand man. As the
liner notes (unsigned, but probably by Graeme Ewens) say, "For
the next few years he brought some raucous excitement to the OK
Jazz repertoire with his modern interpretation of Kongo folklore
rhythms and provided visual entertainment with his hippie clothing
and frenetic dance routines."
While Franco was away touring Europe, Verckys took the core of
the band into the studio and cut several of his own sides. Franco
demanded a percentage so Verckys went solo and set up his own Orchestre
Vévé. The appeal of Vévé is in the sebene
where you normally have an electric guitar solo, but now you get
a sax improvisation. His popular cavacha dance was a direct precursor
of soukous. Verckys was also a successful talent scout and producer
and built an important label (You can often spot a Verckys band
by the doubling of the name: Bella Bella, Lipua Lipua). Among his
biggest successes were Empire Bakuba and Les Grand Maquisards and
the next generation beginning with the Langa Langa clan. In that
later sound, however, the saxophone was sadly eliminated. Several
of my favorite Verckys tracks are included here: "Baluti,"
"Mama Djele," and "Bilobela." Most of the others
are new to me. Amazingly there's no "Mfumbwa,"-- a Mombeta
rhythm which was a huge hit in West Africa; also no "Nakomitunaka,"
an exquisite ballad which asks "Why are all the statues in
the church white?" I guess they'll be on volume 2. . . These
tracks are undated but undoubtedly come from the late sixties and
early seventies when Congolese music was in flux. Singers were trying
to relate to James Brown through grunting and exhorting the musicians
but English was an alien language to them while Johnny Halliday
no longer seemed relevant. There's a restraint bordering on nervousness
in the guitar mi-solo just hanging back behind the vocals waiting
for the bridge to kick into high gear, overmiked acoustic bass,
skittering percussion, close harmonies and Verckys wild honking
sax sounding like he's using a very frayed reed. But the overall
sound is assured and relaxed. You can imagine the crowd grooving
to this on a hot night at the Vis-à-Vis club, and most of
the tracks follow the A-side B-side formula clocking in at ten minutes.
The sound is raw in places, but the music has a sophistication for
all its earnest innocence and speaks directly to the heart of the
Congolese joie de vivre.
(c) 2001 by Alastair Johnston firstname.lastname@example.org
Fundi Konde:Retrospective Vol 1
East Africa has a less rich musical heritage than West or Southern
Africa but Kenyan guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer Fundi
Konde was one of its pioneers. Born in 1924 he grew up near Mombasa
and learned to play flute and clarinet on a repertoire of hymns,
waltzes and foxtrots at school. He went on to learn guitar from
a Bert Weedon manual, and after World War Two was the first guitarist
in East Africa to use an electric pick up, and became one of the
region's earliest recording artists.
These 17 tracks, recorded over a ten year period in Nairobi and
Dar es Salaam, perhaps lack a truly distinctive East African character
and are largely derivative, based on styles borrowed from the Caribbean,
particularly calypso and Cuban son. But Konde was an innovator in
that he added not only Swahili lyrics sung in his deep, relaxed
voice but subtle traces of the local sengenya rhythm. The results,
with Konde's guitar accompanied by accordion, clarinet and
percussion, have a charm and engaging simplicity.
Franco and OK JAZZ: Originalité
This is really where it all began, and without the marvelous classic
sounds of Franco and OK JAZZ, this website, www.africasounds.com,
wouldn't exist! Taking the previous RetroAfric Music album
of Franco classics and expanding it with four additional uncovered
tracks, remastering it to newfound clarity, and adding some interesting
liner notes and photos, this is an excellent item for the Congolese
music collector. People interested in hearing the original
hits "On Entre OK, On Sort KO" and other arrangements
by the tight ensemble need look no farther. An absolute must
for your collection.
Publication:STRAIGHT NO CHASER/ AUTUMN 1999
Originally out on vinyl in 1987 and now remastered and boasting
four extra tracks, Originalité features the first recordings
by the godfather of modern Congolese guitar pop and the original
line-up of his band from 19656-57. It's impossible to over-emphasise
the historical importance of these recordings to the development
of African music but, more importantly, they sound wonderful. All
rolling rhythms, mellow horns, rough but sweet vocal harmonies and
chiming guitars. The extra tracks are well up to standard: check
the stinging guitar on Tcha Tcha De Mi Amor and the almost ska-like
horns on Ah Bolingo Passi. What's more the quality is excellent
throughout. This is the music that rocked a continent and you owe
it to yourself to find out why. (JR)
As beloved a figure as Fela was, however, his charisma and influence
were outstripped by Congolese/Zairean guitarist, singer, and bandleader
Luambo Franco and his band O.K. Jazz, which may well be 20th-century
Africa's most popular group. Franco is also the century's most important
African musician, essentially inventing modern Afropop guitar on
a series of sublime early '50s sides that laid the blueprint for
soukous, the region's leading pop style. (He retained his popularity
for nearly 50 years before succumbing to AIDS-related disease in
1989.) Franco's highly lyrical style--which borrowed heavily from
the African-descended Cuban dance rhythms sweeping West Africa during
the early 1950s--meshed rhythmic finesse and melodic invention into
a propulsive whole, and his mark can still be felt in the playing
of modern soukous guitar giants Rigo Star and Diblo Dibala. His
discography is somewhat unwieldy, though, even for fans: some 200
albums recorded during his lifetime, much of it out of print and
even more only available on indifferent packages.
So begin at the beginning, with RetroAfric's exquisite Originalite,
which contains O.K. Jazz's first 20 sides; recently remastered and
reissued (a shorter version appeared in the late '80s), this is
Afropop's Sun Sessions. . .
hear how Franco's innovations were advanced upon in turn by getting
your hands on Zaiko Langa Langa's raw, scalding Zaire-Ghana 1976
(RetroAfric). Zaiko began as a group of high school students who
were as influenced by Otis Redding and the Rolling Stones as they
were by Franco or Rochereau; the group used as many as five drummers
in addition to the two or three guitarists on hand at any given
time. Zaire-Ghana is exciting as hell, solid from beginning to end,
and contains their greatest hit, the outrageously catchy "Zaiko
Ghana was the home of the great trumpeter, singer, and bandleader
E.T. Mensah, who was as important to his genre--highlife--as Franco
or Zaiko were to theirs. Actually, "genre" is unfair--as
RetroAfric's superb pair of compilations, Day by Day (1991) and
All for You (originally released in 1990, and remastered and extended
for its 1998 reissue) prove, Mensah was as adept at calypso (Beach
Boys lovers will want to listen for All for You's "John B Calypso")
and samba as he was at highlife. Not that you'll necessarily notice
the difference--or care, since the frisky '50s and early '60s sides
cut by Mensah and his band, the Tempos, still sparkle with wit,
snap, and unhurried vigor.
Franco & O.K. Jazz: "Motindo Na Yo Te" (3:08), from
Originalite (RetroAfric; originally released 1956) and E.T. Mensah:
"Nkebo Baaya" (2:32), from All for You (RetroAfric '98;
originally released 1952). Frisky and smart-stepping, the Franco
[has] 20 wonderful tracks that profoundly changed the face of popular
music without seeming to strain a muscle. Mensah wasn't quite as
major a figure, but he came close enough, and his breezier music
may be easier to approach for Western ears: tunes that absorb in
on first listen, straighter rhythms, arrangements that hew closer
to '30s and '40s dance band music.
Thu Zahina: Coup de Chapeau: The New Wave hits Kinshasa
King Bruce and the Black Beats :Golden Highlife Classics
Publication:WANDERLUST OCT/NOV 97
"New releases from Africa include fabulous and lovingly documented
early Congolese soukous on Coup de Chapeau: The New Wave hits Kinshasa
1969-74, with THU ZAHINA, the short-lived but immensely influentialteenage
combo from Kinshasa formed in 1967 (RetroAfric) "
Publication:WANDERLUST Aug/Sept 97
"Lastly, in the lastly department: a superb introduction to
the sound of Ghana forty years ago King Bruce and the Black
Beats play Golden Highlife Classics from the 1950s and 1960s'
VARIOUS ARTISTS 'African Cavalcade'
Publication:WANDERLUST Feb/Mar 97
"Equally deserving of that record token is VARIOUS ARTISTS
"African Cavalcade (RetroAfric) a superb compilation
of classic African pop, ranging from the Congolese rumba combos
OK Jazz and Ry-Co Jazz to the delicate tones of fifties Kenyan singer-guitarist
Fundi Konde and Zambian guitarist and archivist Alick Nkhata, killed
by Rhodesian soldiers in 1974. Only problem is deciding which of
the albums sampled here you simply must have: almost every Retroafric
release is highly desirable."