News, reviews and commentary on afrobeat and related music from Africa, The Caribbean and The Americas

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"AFRICAN REGGAE" by Putumayo

By David McDavitt

Music’s universal language is often most interesting with an accent. Thus lies the brilliance of Putumayo’s latest release: “African Reggae.” This collection is in part an homage to Bob Marley, marking the anniversary of his 64th birthday (Feb. 6th). This is fitting given the boomeranging influence of the music of the African Diaspora.

Just as the Congo powers the world’s cell phones with tantalite metal, precious bits of Africa energize most popular Western music. Even reggae evolved as a fusion of jazz & R&B (both inventions of Africans in the Americas), with roots Afro-Jamaican folkloric music. Fittingly, the roots rock reggae of Marley’s era resonated strongly back in the motherland, inspiring a reggae renaissance in Africa.

At its best, fusion music’s sum is greater than its addends. Fortunately this is the case with “African Reggae.” Like early African reggae artists Lucky Dube, Alpha Blondy, & Toure Kunda, the artists on Putumayo’s, “African Reggae” tantalize with catchy songwriting, and seamlessly integrating African elements into a neo-Afro-roots reggae stylee. This is a enrapturing album brimming with soul-stirring reggae representing many diverse influences. This CD powerfully augments the body of reggae with inspiring new sounds. Rockers mon!

Bottom lines:
* This album is hot- buy it now. It’ll get feet on the dance floor.
* Best fusion of Africa/Jamaica: “Krebo Cheo,” “Magno Mako,” “Vision”
* Best Jamaican style reggae: “Steppin' into Zion,” “Bo Ten Qu'Luta',” “Congo Natty”
* Best non reggae: “Jabulani,”
* Artists whose CD’s you will seek out: Ismael Isaac, Mo'Kalamity, Zoro, Nino Galissa, One Love Family

Track details :

“Magno Mako,” by Cote d’Ivoire’s Ismael Isaac is a catchy roots rock song pleasantly reminiscent of Lucky Dube’s tenor voice, whistling keyboards, and instrumental melodic responses to vocals calls. Melodic elements also suggest Cote d’Ivoire’s Meiway [Zoblazo music]. Isaac grew up in the “Treichtown” (named after Trenchtown) neighborhood of Abidjan, and has polio like Jamaica’s beloved Israel Vibration. A massive 15 piece band, creates tremendous energy. Crucial.

TRY to walk away not humming Mo'Kalamity & the Wizards’ “Vision.” Hailing from France (but born on the Cape Verde Islands, off of Senegal), Mo'Kalamity has a unique , vaguely Cameroonian sound (think Ras Sally Nyolo), mixing afropop & reggae. The band is killer! Mo'Kalamity sings of the irony of human spiritual isolation despite urban overcrowding.

“Congo Natty,” by Burkina Faso’s Bingui Jaa Jammy is a heavy rasta roots song with tasty horns, dub arrangement, and nyahbinghi repeata drum.

“Jabulani,” by Zoro (South Africa) is more R&B soul than reggae, but definitely a stand-out tune! The groove ebbs & flows like the tide, the bass, keys, and African finger-picked guitars weave beautifully around each other. Gorgeous- masterfully played by a crack outfit. Melodic runs by a melodica (blown keyboard) are rootsy & attention grabbing. "Don’t let the problems get you down." Yes I.

I love “Krebo Cheo,” by kora player/griot Nino Galissa (Guinea-Bissau). Sparse heavy reggae bass, a two drop rockers beat, growling organ, timbale, tight Francophone horn arrangements, and sparkling kora ornamental responses. In praise of women who lend support in times of need. Eloquent. Fusion at its height.

“Bo Ten Qu'Luta',” by One Love Family (Cape Verde) is wicked straight up rockers reggae. The band has some of the best reggae rhythm sections out there. Period. Cho! Catchy as the flu & expertly arranged, this is a track you’ll definitely repeat. I bet this family rocks live.

Kwame Bediako’s [Ghana], “Steppin' into Zion,” sounds most like Bob Marley. It has very sophisticated rhythm section & arrangement, built upon one of Carlton Barrett’s (Marley’s drummer) skipping polyrhythmic beats. “Steppin into Zion” has a Rasta theme, and a wonderful low raspy vocal style. Expect to seek Bediako’s CD.

Ba Cissoko never disappoints. And “On Veut Se Marier,”(with reggae artist Tiken Jah Fakoly) is no exception. While not really reggae (save for the upbeat guitar skanks), this track is compelling Afro-fusion. A tight electric Mande griot sound bubbles at several polyrhythmic layers, with call & response vocals & rolling kora flourishes floating atop. Simultaneously foreign & embraceable.

“Jah Libile,” by Serges Kassy (Cote d’Ivoire) is a funky big-band horn reggae tune. Hints of Alpha Blondy & Jamaica’s Burning Spear shine through.

Raw live drumming & masterful horn soloing crown “Man of Sorrow,” by Nigeria’s Majek Fashek. As much afrobeat as reggae, “Man of Sorrow,”is an anthem for hoping for better times ahead. It is catchy but does not reach the heights of Fashek’s earlier, “Beware,” or “I Come from the Ghetto.”

This is a generously diverse collection, offering entertainment, education, and inspiration. Unsparing in tooth & generous of claw, this is a mean release sure to delight fans of African music & proponents of reggae. 1% of all CD sales go to HOPEHIV, benefiting orphans of Aids in Africa. Music’s universal language is often most interesting with an accent.

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