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Madilu System, Vieux Farka Toure, Orchestra Baobab

Chris May By

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Three ripe and fragrant albums taking in the modern and the post-modern, the venerable and the cutting edge. La Bonne Humeur is the last sonic will and testament of Congolese soukous star Madilu System, who passed shortly after recording it. Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako is a re-interpretation of tracks from the 2007 debut album by Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure, son of Ali. Made In Dakar is Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab's elegant follow-up to their comeback album Specialist In All Styles (World Circuit, 2002).

Madilu System
La Bonne Humeur
Sterns Music

Built to the same impressive physical proportions as the late Luciano Pavarotti, the Congolese rumba and soukous star Madilu System, who passed unexpectedly from what is thought to have been a diabetes-related illness in August 2007, bestrode central African music much like the Italian tenor bestrode opera.

Radiating beauty and good vibes through his voice and songwriting, he had been one of the best-loved personalities on the Congolese scene since the early 1980s, when—under his given name Jean Bialu Makiese—he joined the seminal rumba band T.P.O.K. Jazz, led by guitarist, singer and composer Franco.

It was Franco who gave Makiese his stage name, and his luminous high tenor shared the spotlight with Franco on many of T.P.O.K.'s biggest hits of the 1980s, including the title track from the epoch defining album Mario (Choc Choc Choc, 1985). Following Franco's passing in 1989, Makiese continued to work with T.P.O.K. until the mid 1990s, when he released his first solo album, Sans Commentaire (Sterns Music, 1994).

Lush and harmonious, packed with strong melodies and catchy hooks, La Bonne Humeur captures Makiese still at the peak of his powers, accompanied by an outstanding all-star band. The arrangements are built around the leader's voice—deeper and richer than it was back in the Franco years, but every bit as beguiling—in mesmerising call and response with a group of top-drawer back-up singers which includes fellow soukous stars Nyboma and Wuta Mayi.

Guitarists Fofo Le Collegien and Caien Madoko, working in mellifluous, in-the-tradition counterpoint, top the treble end of the mix, with vibrant horns and keyboards filling out the middle. Underneath it all, snare drum, congas, shaker and bass guitar lay down irresistible, rumba-derived grooves.

If La Bonne Humeur doesn't drive you onto the nearest dancefloor, it will certainly get you dancing in your head. A gorgeous farewell from a master of his art.

Vieux Farka Toure
Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako


Following in your father's footsteps isn't always an easy path. Comparison with an older master, while still on the threshold of your career, brings added pressure. Some scions of a royal line stumble. But others win out—one thinks of Ravi Coltrane, Femi Kuti, Jeff Buckley...and Vieux Farka Toure, son of the late Malian "desert blues" guitar master Ali Farka Toure.

On his debut album, Vieux Farka Toure (Modiba, 2007), Vieux sucessfully established his own voice, placing his chip-off-the-old-block electric guitar and songwriting in a more cosmopolitan context than his father's, one with overt references to reggae, rock and funk. The admixtures were applied lightly and organically, and the album worked because it sounded like the natural expression of a globally-attuned, 21st century, 25-year old.

While we wait for its follow-up, Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako revisits the debut album, with 11 remixes of 6 tracks, some of which Vieux has said he prefers to the originals. It is, however, a strikingly different affair, in which the loose-limbed rhythms and spacious arrangements of the source material are frequently overwhelmed by in-your-face, programmed, "tribal" drum and bass beats, and Vieux's serpentine guitar lines replaced by jazz and R&B-inflected horns.

Interestingly, and presumably intentionally, none of the remixes are of tracks which originally featured contributions from either Ali or Vieux's mentor, the kora player and bandleader Toumani Diabate.

The album is an enjoyable potpourri, even if it sometimes begs the question: when is a remix no longer a remix? DJ Center's "Sangare" so radically manipulates the original version—a raw, urgent, intensely Malian performance—that few traces remain. Late period Miles Davis trumpet, nicely played by Maurice Brown, replaces the original's guitar and flute, leaving only vocal samples for recognition. It's cool and comfortable where the original was hot and dusty. Nickodemus' remix is truer to the original, the powerful, Stax-like stabs of its added brass section enhancing the atmosphere rather than transforming it. Nickodemus' remix is likely to be one of the tracks Vieux prefers over its original version.

There are three remixes of "Ana," originally a loping, dancehall reggae-inflected skank. GOONDA's Tribal Dub adds pounding drum and bass which elbow the reggae traces aside and render the tune virtually unrecognisable. Captain Planet and Hisboyelroy up the dancehall ante by applying heavy echo to the vocals, but neither makes anything of the original's distinctive horn charts or deliciously crazy organ vamps, which must be a sackable offense.

As an addendum to Vieux Farka Toure's original statement of independence, Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako is to welcomed. Were it a literal road map to the future—which it almost certainly isn't—the welcome would be ringed with caveats.

Orchestra Baobab

Made In Dakar
World Circuit

The venerable Orchestra Baobab, elegant throwbacks to the "belle epoque" of Senegalese music in the 1970s, disbanded in 1985, as local audiences increasingly turned to the rootsier, more edgy and percussive mbalax style spearheaded by singer Youssou N'Dour and Etoile De Dakar.

Happily, while Baobab's stately Afro-Cuban style may have sounded anachronistic to younger listeners in Dakar, it attracted the growing overseas audience for African music which was emerging in the mid 1980s. Pioneering world music label World Circuit released an album of early 1980s tracks titled Pirates Choice (World Circuit, 1986, re-issued with an additional disc in 1989), and in 2001, fuelled by the success of Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit, 1997), encouraged the peak-era Baobab line-up to reform and celebrate its own legacy.

Baobab's Specialist In All Styles (World Circuit, 2002) is one of the great comeback albums of recent years. The good news is that Made In Dakar, its follow-up, delivers more of the same—a mixture of new tunes and re-arranged classic hits, performed by the same, apparently ageless, 11-piece line-up of singers and instrumentalists.

There are a few twists along the way. N'Dour, who guested on Specialist In All Styles, does so again on one track, and the overall mbalax quotient is enhanced by the greater prominence given to Thio Mbaye's insistent, whip-crack sabar drum, a defining ingredient of mbalax. One track, "Ami Kita Bay," is a rhythmic cross between mbalax and salsa. The up-tempo closer, "Colette," even takes in ska, with a convincing, out-of-Don-Drummond trombone solo from guest Jesus Ramos.

But Baobab's quintessential, sumptuously melodic vibe is unchanged—shaped by vocalists Balla Sidibe, Rudy Gomis, Ndiouga Dieng, Medoune Diallo and Assane Mboup, who share the harmonising and take turns with the songwriting and the leads; the King Curtis-meets-Sonny Rollins tenor saxophonist Issa Cissoko; and the spacey, shimmeringly tuneful riffs and solos of lead guitarist Barthelemy Attisso.

Joint winner, with La Bonne Humeur, of this month's Number One With A Mango Award.

Tracks and Personnel

La Bonne Humeur

Tracks: Melancolique; Kupanda; Aminata; Jalousie; Vincent; L'Heure C'Est L'Heure; Tonton Gigolo; Kamul Inter; Sydegi; Bruno Dika.

Personnel: Madilu System: lead vocals; Nyboma, Bandio Akalia-Bovick, Buana Nsingi Egueson, Ngumbu Buamosi Padjens, Makela Matumona Piroger, Matondo Mboma Samatoch: backing vocals; Fofo Le Collegien, Caien Madoka: rhythm guitar; Caien Madoka, Syran Mbenza, Daly Kimoko, Papa Noel: lead guitar; Flavien Makabi, Ngouma Lokito, Fiston: bass guitar; Nicolas Gueret: saxophone; Christophe Dutray: trumpet; Deba Shungu: congas; Komba Below: snare drum; Niawu: shaker; Manu Lima: keyboards and drum programming.

Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako

Tracks: Ma Hine Cocore (Yossi Fine's 3rd Bass Remix); Wosounbour (Chris Anibell Remix); Sangare (DJ Center Remix); Ana (GOONDA Tribal Dub Remix); Ana (Captain Planet Remix); Sangare (Nickodemus Remix); Dounia (Cheb I Sabbah's Africa Unite Remix); Wosoubour (Eccodek Remix); Ana (Hisboyelroy's Smooth Dub Remix); Courage (Fabian Alsultany's UFOs Over Bamako Remix); Ma Hine Cocore (Karsh Kale Remix).

Original Vieux Farka Toure Personnel: Vieux Farka Toure: electric and acoustic guitar, vocals, calabash, percussion; Ali Farka Toure: electric guitar; Toumani Diabate: kora; Issa Sory Bamba: vocals; Bassekou Kouyate: ngoni; Seckou Toure: vocals; Mamadou Fofana: bass guitar, flute; Adama Diarra: djembe; Tim Keiper: drums, percussion; Hassey Sarre: njarka; Mahamadou Kone: tama; Princesse Prisca Benita: backing vocals; Alou Coulibaly: calabash; Eric Herman: guitar, bass guitar, vocals, glockenspiel, percussion; Dave Ahl: organ, clavinet, glockenspiel; Matt Hilgenberg: trumpet; Reinhardt Schuhmann: tenor saxophone; Joe M. F. Wilson: alto saxophone.

Made In Dakar

Tracks: Papa Ndiaye; Nijaay; Beni Baraale; Ami Kita Bay; Cabral; Sibam; Aline; Ndeleng Ndeleng; Jirim; Bikowa; Colette.

Personnel: Balla Sidibe: vocals, timbales, drums; Rudy Gomis: vocals, maracas, clave; Ndiouga Dieng: vocals, congas; Medoune Diallo, Assane Mboup: vocals; Barthelemy Attisso: lead guitar, chef d'orchestre; Latfi Benjeloun: rhythm guitar; Issa Cissoko: tenor and alto saxophones; Thierne Koite: alto saxophone; Charlie Ndaye: bass; Mountaga Koite: congas, drums. Guests: Youssou N'Dour: vocals (2); Ibou Konate: trumpet; Sanou Diouf: tenor saxophone (3); Baba Nabe: rhythm guitar (3); Jesus "Aguaje" Ramos: trombone; Thio Mbaye: sabar drums; Assane Thiam: tama talking drum.


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