Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Best of 2007: Africa Mix hosts select their top ten albums

This article appears in the January/February/March 2008 edition of the KALW Program Guide.

Though there are hundreds of African albums released in Africa and Europe, only a handful of artists have major U.S. labels that release their albums here. Our picks for 2007 are therefore albums of artists available here in the States. We hope you enjoy them!
—Pamela Brown & Emmanuel Nado

Africando: Ketukuba (Africa, Latin America)
The African super salsa band has no one to compete against but themselves. When musicians of Africando go into the recording studio, their only objective is to make an album better than their previous ones. On Ketukuba, which translates as “from the origin to Cuba,” Africando proved once more that the roots of salsa stem from Africa.

Colombiafrica The Mystic Orchestra: Voodoo Love Inna Champeta Land (Colombia, Africa)
The music of the Caribbean coast of Colombia in South America was very much impacted by African musical traits imported along with West African enslaved natives in this country over a period of several generations. It is natural that Colombia musicians take interest in the roots of their music. On this album Colombian Champeta singers Viviano Torres, Justo Valdez, and Luis Towers invited the cream of Congolese guitarists to help build new bridges between African and Afro-Colombian music and culture.

Dobet Gnahoré: Na Afriki (Côte d'Ivoire)
Abidjan, the bustling capital city of the Ivory Coast is the crossroad of African music because of its music infrastructures. It has been a springboard for many artists from other regions of the continent to stardom. However, aside from reggae star Alpha Blondy, the Ivory Coast has not produced a major international star with name recognition. Now comes 24 year old Dobet Gnahoré. She is the total package, beauty, voice, dance, thrilling stage presence, and charisma. Her latest album is packed with varied African music style. Singing in several African languages, Dobet is quickly becoming the new rising star of African music.

Habib Koité & Bamada: Afriki (Mali)
In his latest musical effort in six years, Malian guitarist/songwriter has once again demonstrated that his reputation as a guitar player has become almost mythical as his country’s traditional past. Afriki emphasizes acoustic sound with lyrics that follow traditional themes. It has a wide range of sounds, while remaining close to the rhythms of Manding music.

Vieux Farka Touré: Vieux Farka Touré (Mali)
In the griots' land, they say that one does not learn to be griot; it is a craft that is passed on through ancestry from father to son. Malian Vieux Farka Touré’s self-titled sterling debut is a testimony that the son of the late Ali Farka Touré has learned well from his father. The album both honors and extends the life work of his father.

Massukos: Bumping (Mozambique)
Not only is every track on this CD spectacular, but also the uplifting backstory of this band makes it worthwhile to pursue Massukos. They promote a clean water and adequate sanitation initiative for Mozambique while spinning off track after danceable track.

Oliver Mtukudzi: Tsimba Itsoka (Zimbabwe)
Oliver Mutukudzi's 49th album offers emotion and introspection. Lush, pensive, sweet, and soulful, the mostly acoustic sound is still the quintessential "Tuku Music" that he has pioneered.

Youssou N'Dour: Rokku Mi Rokka (Senegal)
This refreshing new album has only one so-so track, and even that's forgivable—the rest are top-notch. Youssou has harvested inspiration from the countries surrounding Senegal for some of the new sounds. Absolutely a five-star release. You won't be disappointed, unless you're expecting pure mbalax.

Andy Palacio & The Garifuna Collective: Wátina (Belize)
Released at the beginning of 2007, Andy Palacio went deep into his garifuna roots to release this richly acoustic gem. The tracks are by turns emotional, rich, rhythmic, and inviting. This release earned Andy Palacio the WOMEX (World Music Expo) prize in October.

Tcheka: Nu Monda (Cape Verde)
Offering something quite different from the usual Capeverdean funana and morna, Tcheka has a percussive manner of playing his acoustic guitar. His raw, slightly off-key singing voice adds sweetness to this innovative style. Sparse and thoughtful, every track is completely listenable.