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African Jazz

Old World/New World

By Published: February 12, 2003

Antibalas, otherwise known as the Antibalas Orchestra, has surmounted each of these obstacles. The New York collective draws its members from around the world, and each musician brings something unique to the group. Talkatif represents a logical progression from the group's previous record, Liberation Afrobeat (Ninja Tune, 2001). It has the same rhythmic freedom, drawing from Cuban and other Latin American styles in addition to the West African concept of interlocking beats. The underpinnings remain deeply rooted in funk, and a strong jazz element creeps in through the instrumentation and voices of the melody instruments. James Brown, anyone?

But what distinguishes this record is its coherence. The rhythm section, such as it is, has a fine-tuned sense of balance. Repetition, which occurs everywhere on this record, exists to serve a greater goal: providing a skeletal framework on which to hang the melody and shake the booty. Each instrument in the rhythm section (which at times can be every instrument!) makes itself known through crisp, carefully placed notes. When the horns step in to assert fanfares or harmonized themes, they seem completely logical. Guitarists toss in angular lines that accrue an unstoppable momentum. And as instrumentalists soar into solo space, their travels never lose sight of the ground.

Notable musicians on Talkatif include trumpeter Jordan McLean and keyboard player Victor Axelrod, each of whom improvises memorably across groove space. The percussionists, who can be quite difficult to resolve, have a knack for filling the right spaces and leaving holes where they sound right. But in the end, this is a group thing. Whether playing horns, drums, guitars, keyboards, or voice, every player is part of a greater whole. And that's the magic of Talkativ.

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Saka Acquaye and His African Ensemble
Ghana: High-Life And Other Popular Music
Nonesuch
2002

With all the sophistication that accompanied highlife's ascendancy as the popular music of West Africa, its roots remain somewhat obscured. Highlife, born in Ghana, incorporates rhythmic styles and instruments from Cuba and the Caribbean, jazz styles from America, and traditional music from West Africa. In the '50s, it was a revolutionary mix. By the '60s, highlife was rapidly becoming an institution.

This record offers an unusual snapshot of highlife in its rawest form. Saka Acquaye, a multi- instrumentalist who formed his African Ensemble in the '50s, leads the group of eleven musicians featured on this reissue from 1969. Up to five players are busy at the drums at any given time, which imbues the music with an assertive polyrhythmic texture. "Drum Festival," a percussion-only piece, showcases the ways this group can assemble a vehicle from moving parts.

While the styles and approaches vary from piece to piece, the common theme is elaboration of images, moods, and morals through song. The opening track, "Sugar Soup," digs deep into West African folk music to tell the story of a girl who goes overboard preparing a soup for her lover. The vocals here betray their West African roots, with distinctive call-and-response units based around a simple repeated theme. "Saturday Night" opens with a horn fanfare, bringing Cuban drums and the unusual voice of the vibraphone to the fore. A popular tune at the time, it has a very catchy swing feel.

"Concomba" highlights the cultural collisions that resulted in highlife: basically a calypso tune, the piece features chord changes and a nice vibraphone solo, plus (of course) a richly textured rhythmic foundation. As a reflection of highlife's origins, it also points toward the direction the music would subsequently head.

Saka Acquaye's ensemble does a nice job of tying things together. This music has a raw feel, unlike a lot of the highlife that was coming out of Nigeria at the time. It's simpler, more organic, and—significantly—more African. Its back-to-roots approach might make it difficult for Western ears to appreciate, but if you're open to raw culture, this record is a fun ride.

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Tracks and Personnel

Specialist In All Styles

Tracks: Bul Ka Miin; Sutukun; Dée Moo Woor; Jiin Ma Jiin Ma; Ndongoy Daara; On Verra Ça; Hommage a Tonton Ferrer; El Son Te Llama; Gnawoe.

Personnel: Balla Sidibe: vocals, timbales; Rudy Gomis: vocals, maracas, clave; Ndiouga Dieng, Assane Mboup, Medoune Diallo: vocals; Bartholemy Attisso: vocals, solo & rhythm guitars; Issa Cissokho: tenor saxophone; Thierno Koite: soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones; Latfi Ben Geloune: rhythm guitar; Charlie Ndiaye: bass guitar; Mountaga Koite: drums & congas. Guests: Ibrahim Ferrer: vocals; Youssou N'Dour: vocals; Thio M'Baye: sabar drums.

Talkatif

Tracks: Gabe's New Joint; Talkatif; Hypocrite; World Without Fear; War Is A Crime; Nyash; N.E.S.T.A. 75.



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