Sunday, October 01, 2006

VARIOUS ARTISTS The Rough Guide to the West African Gold World Music Network RGNET1173CD

Are we witnessing a golden age of compilations covering the golden age of West African music? This enjoyable collection, pulled together by writer and broadcaster Martin Sinnock, is a welcome complement to last year’s Golden Afrique Volume One. Although it covers a similar period - late 50s to early 80s – it has a wider geographical spread, adding Anglophone countries such as Nigeria and Ghana to the equation.
There’s an interesting parallel to be drawn between the subtle infusion of local musical flavours into the rhythm and blues and jazz of those nations, and the same phenomenon occurring with the Latin American and Cuban sounds prevalent in their Francophone counterparts, as the reassertion of African cultural identity swept across the region in the wake of independence in the 50s and 60s.
Many of the giants of the scene are represented - No. 1 de Dakar and Orchestra Baobab from Senegal, Orchestre Rail Band featuring Salif Keita from Mali, Guinea's Bembeya Jazz - but the real joy is in discovering the sheer depth of material available elsewhere during this fertile period.
Senegal’s seminal Star Band aren’t represented, but the band’s saxophonist Dexter Johnson appears with a delightfully ramshackle take on Peanut Vendor (Manicero), featuring some shimmering guitar patterns and Johnson's cool tenor work.
Nigerian Celestine Ukwu delivers a superb, soulful Ife Si Na Chi, the shades of steel guitar a precursor to that of King Sunny Adé years later. But Ekassa No. 34/Igiodo-Giodo by another Nigerian, Sir Victor Uwaifo and His Melody Maestroes, is probably the highlight. Starting with a rush of ska keyboard, Uwaifo's abrasive flute solo then competes delightfully with heavy mambo percussion and rhythmic chanting.
Elsewhere, the early stirrings of Afrobeat can be heard from Sierra Leone's Geraldo Pino and The Heartbeats, the development of highlife can be traced from some early E. T. Mensah calypso to Eric Agyeman's jaunty late 70s hit Abenaa Na Aden?, and Guinea's Horoya Band exemplify the horn-led dance music of the era. All thoroughly enjoyable and educational stuff.

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