World Circuit Presents Echu Mingua and Boulevard De l'independance

Nenad Georgievski By

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Manuel "Anga" Diaz
Echu Mingua
World Circuit

Miguel "Anga" Diaz's debut is one of those special recordings that transcend genres. Although Echu Mingua is deeply rooted in his Afro-Cuban heritage, Diaz devilishly injects a healthy dose of tempered anarchy that easily escapes the confines of tradition. The title comes from the conga player's patron saint, a deity from the Yoruba religion. Even though the emphasis is overwhelmingly weighted towards percussion, the band moves into exciting territory where traditional Afro-Cuban music seamlessly fuses with jazz, electronica, hip-hop, dub and funk.

An all-star cast of international musicians—bassist Orlando "Cachaito Lopez, French DJ Dee Nasty, flautist Magik Malik, Malian griot Baba Sissoko, and pianists Chucho Valdes and Ruben Gonzalez—help Diaz find such rich moods, textures and overall symbiosis that the album overflows with their rich contributions in an organic stew of worldly fusion. It's a journey through a different kind of Cuban music, like Bill Laswell's Imaginary Cuba, but the approach is much bolder and the music is richer.

With plenty of percussion laying down thick and delicious grooves, Echu Mingua sizzles from start to finish with danceable music. The album kicks off with "San Juan y Martinez," a lush, sensuous Afro-Cuban feast for the ears. "Rezos" follows with tight polyrhythms that snap and clap along with syncopated piano clusters and call-and- response chants. "Tume Tume" is a nice mixture of Malian and Cuban styles featuring Baba Sissoko on vocals and sharply plucked n'goni, while the clever, understated use of samplers, turntables and breakbeats on "Freeform" demonstrates a forward-looking approach to total madness.

Some may find it strange to see jazz standards like Monk's "'Round Midnight" and Coltrane's "Love Surpreme" here. But they're consistent with the leader's background. Diaz made a name for himeself with Irakere, leading a Cuban jazz band, and playing in groups led by Steve Coleman and Roy Hargrove. This ensemble adds a distinct Cuban flavor to the two classics.

With Echu Mingua, an engaging experience, Anga Diaz steps forward as one of the shining talents of the new Cuba.

Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra
Boulevard De l'indépendance
World Circuit

Many times things—music included—don't always turn out the way they were initially planned. Sometimes they turn out positively and sometimes not. Nothing may be happening or going as intended, but then you might also find a flood of ideas and positive energy.

Something like this happened during the sessions at Hotel Mande in Bamako, Mali when, during a brief period of time, three albums were recorded. During the sessions for the late Ali Farka Toure's new album (with the working title The King Of The Desert Blues Singers, scheduled for release in 2006), Toumani Diabate—a master of the kora—was invited as a guest. But, fortunately, that session sparked a connection between these two musicians, and in two three-hour sessions they cut an unplanned record (In the Heart Of The Moon) which was awarded a Grammy for a best world music album for 2005.

The third album was Boulevard De L'Independance, a culmination of ten years of experimentation and another walk on the edge by Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra. Supported by a group of musicians who provide him with assured backing, Diabate delivers a groove-driven, dynamic Afro-pop album with sparse arrangements and cool moods. This recording stands in pure contrast to last year's duets with Toure, which were minimalistic, acoustic and calm.

This music stands at the intersection between Mali's traditional and contemporary sounds—something which can be seen from the band's name, which implies balance between these two contrasts. The musicians come both Mali and neighboring countries, thus embodying Diabate's idea of cultural equilibrium and reflecting the stretch of the medieval Mande Empire through present-day Senegal, Guinea, the Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso, with Mali as its centre.

This album has some incredible music which is diverse in its instrumentation and range of rhythms, exciting in its vocal exploration. For the most part, it has a melody-based sound, and the melodies certainly are infectious and beautiful. Boulevard opens with "Toumani, an homage to the leader that's sung passionately by vocalist Soumalia Kanoute, with percussion that sparkles and pops underneath and funky horns, courtesy of Pee Wee Ellis. The title track is based on an old Mandinka griot song, but it is reworked and rearranged into a more contemporary cut. "Ya Fama is a personal favorite, with its ecstatically joyful rhythms, group chants and delicate kora runs.

"Mali Sadio" has some beautiful kora melodies and a spacious feeling induced by the almost hip-hop rhythm, while the singer's tone resembles Baaba Maal's raspy voice. "Salsa is the funkiest track on the album, with danceable crisp and pushy rhythms. This is definitely the climax of the record. There are moments when the music seems to be falling into the same category as hits from '80s Afro pop (a genre already flogged to death), but on repeated listening it's not hard to discover things that make it special and different.

Overall, Boulevard De l'indépendance is a successful adventure in the world of contemporary African music. In a way, its beauty lies in its ability to explore the future while staying true to its roots.

Tracks and Personnel

Echu Mingua

Tracks: San Juan y Martinez; Rezos; Pueblo Nuevo; Tume Tume; A Love Supreme; Gandinga Mondongo Sandunga; Dracula Simon; Round Midnight; Jerry's Tune; Oda Maritima; Freeform; Conga Carnaval; Closing.

Personnel: Anga Diaz: congas; Baba Sissoko: vocals; Magic Malikon: flute; Manual "Guajiro" Mirabel: trumpet; Davida Alfaro, Ruben Gonzalez, Roberto Fonseca: piano; Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez: bass instrument, background vocals; Dee Nasty: turntables.

Boulevard De l'independance

Tracks: Toumani; Boulevard de l'indepdendance; Ya Fama; Mali Sadio; Salsa; Wasso; Mamdou Diaby; Tapha Niang; Single.

Personnel: Toumani Diabaté: kora, karignan, musical director; Fanta Mady Kouyaté: lead guitar; Alhassane Kanouté: rhythm guitar; Ousseïn Tounkara: bass & guitar (9); Amadou Guitteye acoustic guitar (9); Mamadou "Santiago" Kouyaté: acoustic guitar (2); Fodé Lassana Diabaté: balafon; Adama Tounkara: ngoni; Bassékou Kouyaté: ngoni; Ganda Tounkara: ngoni; Sekou Kanté: bass; Etienne Mbappé: bass; Mamadou Fofana: keyboards, Peul flute; Alex Wilson: piano (5); Fodé Kouyaté: drums; Brice Wassy: drums; Yaya Faye: sabar; Souleymane Faye: sabar; Mamadou Tounkara: sabar; Mohamed Coulibaly: sabar; Mahamadou Kouyaté: ntama; Bandiougou Kouyaté: ntama; Dramane Coulibaly: djembé; Lamine Toukara: dundun, bell; Roberto Pla: timbales & mc. (5); Olalekan Babalola: congas & triangle; Soumaila Kanouté: lead vocals & chorus vocals; Kasse Mady Diabaté: lead vocals (3,7); Mangala Camara: lead vocals (4); Tiecoro Sissoko: lead vocal (7) & chorus vocals; Moussa Diabaté: lead vocals (5,8,9) & chorus vocals; Morissanda Kamissoko: lead vocals (6); Mamadou Kouyaté: chorus vocals; Mamadou Camara: spoken voice (9); Ramama Sylla: chorus vocals; Koumba Avian Tounguino: chorus vocals; Fatim Sylla: chorus vocals; Pee Wee Ellis: tenor & baritone saxophone, horn arrangements; Mike Smith: tenor & baritone saxophone, horn arrangements; Matt Holland: trumpet; Chris Storr: trumpet; Byron Wallen: trumpet; Sid Gould: trumpet; Trevor Mires: trombone; Matt Colman: trombone; Fayyaz Virji: trombone; Simon Hale: string arrangements, conductor; Gavyn Wright: violin; Perry Montague-Mason: violin; Patrick Kiernan: violin; Julian Leaper: violin; Bruce White: viola; Dave Daniels: cello.

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