Over the years I’ve managed to get a small collection of African music together. It’s not something I really ever focused on, and almost never play these songs when I DJ, but there’s some great music here I’m excited to finally share. First of all, apologies - “African music” is an almost completely useless way to categorize this music, just as useless as saying “American” music; it communicates almost nothing about the music. So many people, cultures, languages and unique musical styles come out of Africa. Unfortunately my knowledge of this music is fairly limited. I love to explore new music and I buy what I like. So I’m not the guy that can drop real knowledge on you today - but let me share what I do know.
The first track is from Nigeria’s “Chief Commander” Ebanezer Obey, known for his pounding Jùjú style music. The name comes from a Yoruba word "juju" or "jiju" meaning "throwing" or "something being thrown." All I can say is the man can throw down a hell of a groove. This is only a small snippet of a longer piece (“Lekeleke Gba Mi Leke”); a continuous bit of music that strings together a number of smaller themes on side two of the of his self-titled LP from Decca in ‘78. Honestly usually I’m not a guy for long jams but this I think is excellent. Love the guitar, so I had to let the song play long enough to experience a guitar-heavy section.
The next track in the mix is Afronational Band, titled “Gbaunkalay”. The band hails from Freetown, Sierra Leone, the flip is in Creole but this is sung in Mende. This band is pretty well-known and I’ve come across their tunes a few times here in NYC.
Next track is “Lily” from the man himself Manu Dibango. Hailing from Cameroon, his tune “Soul Makossa” was a massive hit, judging by the number of cover versions I come across it was THE go to party jam for a period. Also, he sued because Michael Jackson borrowed a line for “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” - it was settled out of court. “Lily” is another upbeat jam of the same LP.
Track four is the Afro-funk classic “Wanna Do My Thing” from Matata. From the President label’s website, “the band has its roots in the Congo although it formed in Nairobi in the mid-sixties, not long after Kenya gained Independence.” These guys were supposed to be the next big thing in African music but split after only a couple of albums, some going to work on other projects like Chosen Few or Sawar.
Next up is an American band, Zafari, with “Addis Ababa”. This dizzy and hypnotic groove is defintely a shout to Ethiopian giant Mulatu Astatke. His Ethiopian Jazz style has influenced countless acts worldwide. This tune was released on Brooklyn’s own Soul Fire label, started by Phillip Lehman in ‘99. I’d love to know about this band, so my local heads please shoot me a line if you have any to share - if I had to guess, this was a short-lived studio project with some of the musicians Phil knew from Desco Records.
Next up is William Onyeabor’s “Hypertension”. Onyeabor’s music has gotten a ton of recognition the last few years from labels like Luaka Bop, re-releasing William’s infections grooves which rocked Nigeria back in the 70s and 80s. In ‘85 he got the religion and turned his back on music for decades, disappearing from the scene. Around 2014 he finally tip-toed back into the spotlight, doing an interview on BBC. Unfortunately, William Onyeabor passed a few years later, in 2017.
Next up, “Celia”, the title track from Théo Blaise Kounkou’s LP released in 1980. I don't know much about this one. Sung in French, believe this is soukous style music and Théo hails from DR Congo.
Track eight is “Ebiamo” from (Bobby) Pieterson & His Combo. The single on Decca is labeled as Highlife style, and believe hails from Ghana. To my ears, stylistically this really reminds me of Calypso.
And last but not least, the final track is from Hirut Bekele and called “Atetfa Kefite”. This was released on the Kaifa Records, an Ethiopian label. I actually picked up this record at a shop in Bangkok a few years ago. Bekele was well-known in Ethiopia, and believe this is sung in Amharic oromiffa language. My record is not in the greatest shape, but hope you’ll still enjoy her tremendous voice.
Thanks and hope ya dig it folks.