Saturday, June 30, 2007

VARIOUS - Authenticité - The Syliphone Years (Sterns)

Guinea is the (relatively) small West African nation with a big musical pedigree, due to the griot tradition shared with its neighbours, and the post-independence policies of good-President-turned-bad, Sékou Touré. His go-it-alone economic stance was mirrored by the cultural aspiration - expressed through the title of this marvellous double-CD collection - to infuse the popular music of the ex-French colony with the musical roots of its Manding past.
The result: some of the most joyous, life-affirming and - in retrospect - heartbreakingly optimistic music to come out of Africa in the period covered here (1965-1980).
This is dance music forged from the desire to entertain patrons of restaurants and hotels, and to win the ultimate prize of state patronage through success at regional and national music festivals. Built from the familiar African orchestral template of percussion, bass, intermingling electric guitars, (splendidly off-centre) horn-sections and vocals (all male - no songbirds here), the music was underpinned by Latin rhythms and those increasingly ‘authentic’ polyrhythmic grooves, placing these invigorating recordings (exquisitely remastered from vinyl) neatly between the celebrated Congolese rumba sounds and grand Malian orchestras of the period.
At the heart of the collection are the four biggest ensembles and their offshoots. In their pre-nationalised incarnation (as Orchestra de Beyla) Bembeya Jazz National punch out raw, speedy Latin-tinged songs in praise of politicians and independence. But with nationalisation came increasingly sophisticated arrangements and a focus on more traditional themes, a pattern repeated by the other greats Orchestre de la Paillotte (who begat Keletigui et Ses Tambourinis), the majestic Balla et Ses Balladins and a typically brassy couple of tracks from Horoya Band National. Some revelations from lesser-known bands include Palm Jazz - full of invention and a refined, soukous-style verve - and Cameyenne Sofa, whose solid rhythm section, gorgeous vocal harmonies and simple yet seductive guitar patterns on Karamoko probably trump them all.
It’s all sumptuously packaged too, the accompanying booklet chock-full of evocative album cover reproductions and expert annotation from co-compiler Graeme Counsel. It fair makes you want to flick its enticingly readable pages in the face of every iPod-wired media bore that tries to tell us that musical hard copy is dead. Not yet, it isn’t – not when artefacts like this ooze such class from start to finish.

No comments: