Tabla Beat Science - Tala Matrix (2000)

«The North Indian drums know as the tabla were said to have been invented in the 13th century by Amir Khusrau, a disciple of the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizemuddin Aluya. At the time, Khusrau sawed a pakhawaj (a single two-headed wooden drum) in two. Though no one may never know exactly why Khusrau felt it necessary it to saw a pakhawaj in half, his act gave birth to the tabla. Since that time, the tabla have been conceived to accompany vocalists and such instruments as the sitar (a multi-stringed lute), bin (a seven-stringed tube zither), venu (a side-blown cane flute), saord (a lute with a parchment soundboard and metal frets), and the sarangi (bowed lute).

The late Ustad Alla Rakha, who played for many years with Ravi Shankar, is widely credited with having expanded the repertoire and the role of the tabla. Thanks in great part to his ingenuity and determination, today the tabla is no longer considered to be merely an accompanying instrument. In honor of his impressive contributions to the world of tabla, the musical consortium known as Tabla Beat Science has dedicated their debut CD, Tala Matrix, to the memory of Ustad Alla Rakha. By asking some of the most highly regarded tabla players in the world to play with a variety of musicians and programmers, producer and bassist Bill Laswell has essentially appropriated the ancient tradition of the tabla and fused it with contemporary electronica studio wizardry. Tabla Beat Science is comprised of Ustad Alla Rakha's son and tabla superman Zakir Hussain, venerated sarangi player Ustad Sultan Khan, Indian and jazz percussion innovator Trilok Gurtu, New York drummer Karsh Kale, bass and drum visionary Talvin Singh, music programmer Brad Somatik, and producer/bassist Bill Laswell. Laswell, who “conceived and constructed” the CD, acts as the catalyst for the outfit, adding the bottom end with his dub basslines and the overall aesthetic with his studio prowess. More of a consortium than a full-blown collaboration, not one of the songs on Tala Matrix features all members of the group.
Zakir Hussain's many tracks are among the best on the album, though Trilok Gurtu's funky Big Brother and Talvin Singh's Don't Worry.com are both extremely compelling. The often zombie-ridden doldrums of electronica should benefit immensely from this experimental union with tabla. An excellent CD that deserves to be heard many times by many people, Tala Matrix manages to be innovative without loosing sight of tradition.» (AMG)

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Lokua Kanza - Wapi Yo (1995)

Pascal Lokua Kanza was born in Zaire, the first of eight children. After his father died tragically while captaining a ship at sea, Kanza helped provide for his family by taking part-time jobs while he was still in school. Setting aside a few hours each day to teach himself guitar, he soon began playing with friends in local bands. As he got older, his approach to music grew more serious. After studying at the Kinshasa Music Conservatory and performing with Abeti in Zaire, Kanza moved to the Ivory Coast for a fresh start. For three years, he played guitar and handled vocal duties for a handful of African bar bands. After being accepted to Paris' prestigious CIM, Kanza moved there to study jazz and was given the opportunity to perform with many of his role models. Working with Franky Vincent, La Mafia, Ray Lema, and Papa Wemba, Kanza continued to carve out his own style while making valuable connections. In 1991, he joined the Soul Makossa Gang after adopting his middle name as his performance moniker. 1992 saw Kanza debut his own material, first in a performance with Angélique Kidjo and later on his first solo offering. Intent on honoring his musical heritage, Kanza crafted an album of honest and intimate songs in a small studio, while keeping post-production to a minimum. The accolades that followed helped Kanza attract the attention of Youssou N'Dour, who invited Kanza to sing on Womat. In 1994, he reunited with Papa Wemba at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios to lend his talents on Emotion. His experiences that year culminated at the African Music Awards when in December, he was awarded Best African Album for his solo debut. In 1995 Kanza released his second effort, Wapi Yo. After working with Geoffrey Oryema later that year, Kanza picked up his second African Music Award. In 1998, he appeared on Natalie Merchant's Ophelia and began work on his third album. 3 expanded where Wapi Yo left off, featuring a broader, more orchestral sound. In 2002, he returned to subtlety, releasing Toyebi Te'. Although the folk-tinged album was a more restrained affair than 3, Kanza brought in a variety of guests to lend their talents.» (AMG)

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The Roots of Chicha - Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru (2007)

An amazing compilation! Guaranteed: you’ll love Chicha!

«Chicha started out in the late 60’s, in the oil-boom cities of the Peruvian Amazon. Cumbias Amazonicas, as they were first known, were loosely inspired by Colombian cumbias but incorporated the distinctive pentatonic scales of Andean melodies, some Cuban guajiras, and the psychedelic sounds of surf guitars, wah-wah pedals, farfisa organs and moog synthesizers.
Chicha, which is named after a corn-based liquor favored by the Incas, quickly spread to Lima. It became the music of choice of the mostly indigenous new migrant population – mixing even further with rock, Andean folklore and Peruvian creole music.
Very much like Jamaican Ska or Congolese Soukous, Chicha is western-influenced indigenous music geared toward the new urban masses who wholly identified with the new hybrid . Chicha is at once raw and sophisticated -–and until now, it had never been released outside of Peru.» (Barbés Records – click for many more infos)

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Jean-Luc Ponty - Tchokola (1991)

«Every eight years, it seems, Jean-Luc Ponty picks himself up, gives himself a good shake, and switches direction. In 1967, he made his first life-changing visit to the U.S.; 1975 found him going solo permanently as a jazz/rock icon; 1983 marked a switch to sequencer music; and in 1991, Ponty discovered African music. Taking advantage of the huge interest in African music in France, Ponty recorded his electric violin over the churning, hypnotic grooves of a coterie of visiting West African musicians in Paris, and the results, on Tchokola, are delicious. In one sense, not that much has changed, for while Ponty has thrown out the sequencers and electronic gizmos, his music remains grounded in repeated ostinato patterns – those provided by the Africans. Ponty dabbles in all kinds of grooves – the Nigerian juju, Cameroon's makossa (there is an especially swinging example of that on "Mouna Bowa"), the Afro-French Caribbean zouk, the sabar from Senegal, West Africa's mandingo, and a few others. On top of these, Ponty imposes his own distinctive melodic ideas on acoustic or electric violin, gingerly negotiating his way over the bumps of the tricky rhythms. At times, one feels that even this endlessly pliable virtuoso is not quite comfortable with these exotic idioms, but the music is so infectious that it usually sweeps him – and us – right along.» (AMG)

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Le Palm-Jazz de Macenta - Les Palmes du Succes (1979)

A great and very hard to find Syliphone (SLP 73) release from Guinée-Conakry. More to come!

«Guineans celebrated the dawn of a new era in 1958, waking up to their newly won independence. But once the celebrations had died down, President Sékou Touré was faced with a harsh reality. After years of French cultural influence, the former colony had totally lost touch with its musical heritage and its own cultural roots. When President Touré wished to organise a grand musical gala in Guinea, he had to call in ET Mensah, the Ghanean king of high-life, because no local group had ever developed a repertoire based on traditional home-grown songs and rhythms.
In a bid to turn this disastrous situation around, President Touré instituted a government initiative based on reviving authentic Guinean culture and creating a popular style of Guinean music by modernising tradition. President Touré saw in this cultural initiative a vital means of forging an all-important sense of national pride amongst his compatriots.
National orchestras were set up in Guinea and members automatically acquired the status of civil servants. Meanwhile, each individual region of Guinea organised its own federal orchestra. The orchestras were encouraged to compete on a regular basis, coming together at a national contest which involved pre-selection auditions across the country before a grand final in Conakry.
Meanwhile, the state-owned label Syliphone played a supportive role in this elaborate national structure. Syliphone was responsible for releasing 33rpm and 45rpm recordings by the best groups in the land. These were made in the studio of the national radio station which dipped into these precious music archives to fill its programmes, Western sounds having been banned from the airwaves.» (More at RFIMusique)

Radio Africa’s Complete Illustrated Syliphone Discography here.

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