Cumulative Index of African Music CD Reviews
In Africa, music occupies a central role in human existencefrom birth to death, from somber ritual to joyous celebration. Traditional African music has passed from generation to generation over hundreds of years; because master musicians occupy a very prominent position in society, their art serves many roles. Instruments, forms, and arrangements go back before recorded history.
But upon the arrival of European colonists, everything changed. The occupying forces brought with them a new collection of traditions, ranging from church-derived choral music to marching bands and various other ensembles. Africans began to assimilate these sounds; traditional music was well along in giving way to popular music. And when jazz flooded America, it became a prominent cultural export to the African continent. So did the traditional forms of Cuba, Jamaica, the Antilles, Brazil and other areas. What resulted was a musical collision of epic proportions, which is still evolving in very unexpected and sometimes profound ways.
This page collects and archives individual reviews of African music which have been published as CD reviews at All About Jazz from 1998-2007. It excludes material reviewed elsewhere within the African Jazz column, as well as reviews of South African jazz, which have been archived separately.
- Prince Nico Mbarga, Aki Special (Rounder, 1997)
Nigerian star Prince Nico's 1977 record was his masterpiece, hugely popular all over the continent: tunes for dance and celebration. The big hit single celebrated motherhood, a revealing fact about Nico and his listeners.
- E.T. Mensah and the Tempos, All For You (RetroAfric, 1998)
The kind people at RetroAfric compiled 20 singles recorded by E.T. Mensah in the '50s. Mensah more or less invented highlife, a jazz-influenced style made popular in Ghana and exported to and developed in nearby regions, including most notably Nigeria. Highlife has remained a distinctive style ever since.
- Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Music is the Weapon of the Future (Exworks, 1998)
Out of Fela Kuti's immense discography, this disc is representative material. Fela is credited with the invention of Afrobeatalong with his essential drummer, Tony Allena broad synthesis of African drumming, jazz improvisation, and deep funk (among many other things).
- West African Highlife Band, Salute to the Highlife Pioneers (Inner Spirit Records, 1998)
Alumni from some of West Africa's greatest groups come together for a contemporary reinvention of highlife, a style which dates back a half century to roots in Ghana and Nigeria.
- Toumani Diabate with Ballake Sissoko, New Ancient Strings (Hannibal, 1999)
The kora, a 21-stringed harp-like instrument whose history dates back centuries, is featured here on a series of duets. These two masters bring traditional forms to life through delicate interaction and tasteful improvisation.
- Mor Thiam, Back to Africa (Justin Time, 1999)
Senegalese drummer Mor Thiam, who has spent some time working with the World Saxophone Quartet and Don Pullen, returned to Dakar to record this combination of pure drumming pieces and uplifting Afro-pop. Drumming, not surprisingly, lies at the core of nearly the entire album.
- Youssou N'Dour, Joko (The Link) (Nonesuch, 2000)
Afro-pop star Youssou N'Dour, the most popular and influential musician to come out of Senegal, conveys positive energy and an uplifting message. His mbalax style relies on a rich percussion section, lilting melodies, and his own distinctive voice.
- Asante, Ohene Kesee A Ebin (Wildchild/Mapleshade, 2000)
Asante, who comes from a family of drummers in Nigeria, made this recording at the sonically superior Mapleshade Studio in Maryland. In addition to a suite of pure drumming pieces (in which Asante "plays all five parts of the traditional African drum group" by himself), the drummer invites special guests on saxophone and piano to round out the recording.
- Various Artists, Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of Funky Lagos (AfroStrut, 2001)
For listeners curious about what happened when funk collided with highlife, this set is the answer. AfroStrut put together over two hours of music representing key artists from '70s Nigeria, plus a documentary CD on the music with narrative, samples, interviews, and more. Absolutely priceless.
- Baaba Maal, Missing You (Mi Yeewnii) (Palm Pictures, 2001)
The masterpiece of Senegalese singer Baaba Maal's otherwise consistent output is extremely potent, cohesive and emotionally affecting. The most amazing thing about this record is that it was recorded in Maal's literal backyard, and the intimacy and chemistry of that setting comes through bright and clear on record.
- Master Musicians of Jajouka, Master Musicians of Jajouka Featuring Bachir Attar (Point Music, 2001)
A very unusual but effective combination of traditional Jajouka music from Morocco with modern electronic production by Talvin Singh, who worked with Bachir Attar for a decade before this recording was made.
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