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Praise Singing

Comments and reviews of RetroAfric CDs gleaned from all parts of the world, on websites and the printed page.

 


Lita Bembo
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


Geraldo Pino
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


Guy Warren
'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
www.allaboutjazz.com.


 

Super Eagles: Senegambian Sensation

DUBCITIZEN:

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.

http://members.tripod.co.uk/dubcitizen/supereagles.html


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 poltroonpress@earthlink.net


Fundi Konde:Retrospective Vol 1

Publication:SONGLINES
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

Publication:AFRICASOUNDS:
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)

Publication:WWW.SEATTLEWEEKLY.COM
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 Wa Wa."

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.

Publication:MONTHLY MIXTAPE
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.

www.furious.com/perfect/mixtape9.html


Thu Zahina: Coup de Chapeau: The New Wave hits Kinshasa 1969-74/
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' (RetroAfric);"

 


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."

 


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