African Blues (World Music Network, 1998)

«Blues? That’s American Deep South stuff, right? Well, not only. The quest for “authenticity” in music has taken so many spurious turns in recent years that it has perhaps managed to overlook the overarching patterns. It’s these patterns that have made up the blues, that inimitable form of misery set to music that’s as vibrant today as ever. It has a long history – musicologists have traced the origins of blues from India to Arabia to Spain, through to Africa, the Caribbean and America’s southern states.

African Blues, a valuable and exhilarating record, contains 15 songs ranging from Egypt’s Hamza El Din to Cape Verde’s unsurpassable Cesaria Evora. The Stayin’ Home With the Blues series, meanwhile, features vintage recordings with American blues artists such as Freddie King, Big Bill Bronzy, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Memphis Slim.

Although blues has its origins elsewhere, it’s the American records, made mostly in the 1940s and 1950s, that sound spare and dour. It’s impossible to say the same of African musician Ismael Lo’s “Talibe” with its sweetly sad vocals and lilting rhythms, or the mesmerizing progression of Oumou Sangare’s “Saa Magni”. But listen more closely and the connections become clearer: there’s something of Otis Redding about Kante Manfila and Balla Kall’s “Kankan Blues” from Guinea, and there’s a distinct doo-wop groove in the oldest track on the disc, Zambian Alick Nhata’s “Maggie”.

Turn to Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Sad news from Korea” – a 1950s song which shows how well the old blues format adapts to accommodate new subjects – and we begin to hear the same kinds of empty spaces, quivering with expression, as in songs like “A Va Safy Va Lomo” from Mozambique’s Orchestra Marrabenta Star.

Blues has its sound roots in the music that the American slaves brought from Africa and its emotional roots in the experience of captivity. And African Blues is fascinating because it traces not only roots, but is made by musicians who have already been exposed to American Blues, especially in its soul and R’n’B incarnations.

But how authentic is that typical no-good-woman blues sentiment that the Stayin’ Home album has in abundance? Without knowing the languages it’s difficult to know whether misogyny prevails in African Blues. But it is intriguing to reflect on Cesaria Evora, the barefoot diva who slugs back whisky and smokes with the best of them, and who has by virtue of her Portuguese-language songs been enlisted into the ranks of fado – Portuguese blues – singers. Whatever the roots of blues, its routes through the world continue apace.» (New Internationalist)

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Radu said...


swine said...

Looking forward to exploring this. Thanks, Radu.

Charles said...

Thanks for this. World Music Network releases are always interesting. Great blog in general.

Sarra said...

I'm looking forward to this, too. If it's anywhere as good as the Taj Mahal/Toumani Diabate collaboration, I'll be thrilled.

Anonymous said...

thanks for that wonderful blog!!! wonderful work...

Kill.Waas said...

thank you for the work on your fine blog! you present a very special music.

thank you also the african blues.

may your day be happy : Kill.Waas