It's time to make one of those definitive statements that some of you so object to:
There are two African albums of the year: Salif Keita's 'M'Bemba' and 'Congotronics 2' And what I find most exciting - and promising for the future - is how different these two albums are in every respect.
Salif Keita's 'M'Bemba' is a finely honed, carefully structured piece of work where every song has been placed in its perfect setting - exquisitely arranged and sublimely played. Even better than 2002's 'Moffou'? I here you ask. Absolutely! Where as 'Moffou' was a breath of fresh air following too many albums marred by nasty keyboard sounds etc, 'M'Bemba' builds on that wiping of the slate clean, and adds some more distinctive arrangements and even stronger songs, whilst reintroducing the subtlest use of electric instrumentation and affects. Thus satisfying the back to basics brigade and those who like their African music to push the sonic envelope a little
And then we have 'Congotronics 2' As you probably know, the original Congotronics album which came out earlier this year was devoted to the band Konono No1 and their thumb pianos played through battered old amps using their own home-made microphones to further warp the sound created.
This second volume has only one track by Konono No 1 - a live recording finishing the album - and excellent it is too. But fear not. Everything else here is couched in the same rusty, ramshackle sound that made Konono No 1, so different and appealing, but much else besides.
Instead of just thumb pianos being made to sound like rock guitars (which I always thought was a rather nice twist on Mapfumo's taking of thumb piano riffs and having them transcribed to the electric guitar) the guitar itself is back and sounding positively punk rock on some of these tracks.
So in essence Congotronics 2 is a raucous rumbling dose of anarchic noise that could function as a reminder to contemporary rock musicians of what there bloody job is! Songs - for want of a better description - go on for six minutes without choruses - as such, middle-eights or solos, and yet hypnotise by their sheer exuberance and hypnotic power, to the extent that you won't want them to end. As far as I can tell these were probably just lengthy jams which probably went on all night, before then being edited down into song-sized chunks. But if contemporary western rock sounded anything like this, it could be excused for still being around.
M'Bemba is out 10th Oct. Congotronics 2 on the 24th Oct.
I wrote this earlier on another thread ...although I added a bit to this one at the end.
"Well I'm confused, I was in HMV and I heard M'Bemba, thought it was very good and so I bought it before I was arrested for loitering. I loaned it to one of my colleagues who loved it and he immediately went and bought it on the internet (yup cheaper than me!!) but here is 'the rub' his copy is different to mine! On my copy, 'Ladji' has an introduction, where Mr Keita is asked to 'talk to the people'.... on his copy this is n't on. His hearing is better than mine and he says that there are also other differences. Both CD's look exactly the same, the same numbers etc. The only notable difference, other than the sound, is mine has a sticker on the front with the names of the featured artistes."
So are there two versions ????? and if there are which one did you review????
Maybe we should take this surprise opportunity to revive the general idea of "The Two African Albums of the Year" for 2010 as of late June?
Hah! I've just realized that they probably haven't been released yet 'cos the chances are that they're AfroCubism and the new Cheikh Lo, Jamm. Well, besides those two.
I'm going to suggest the already much lauded Issa Juma and Super Wanyika Stars with World Defeats The Grandfathers and . . . I'd so love to suggest a new recording rather than a reissue, but . . . could it be Konono No. 1's Assume Crash Position? Shamefully, I don't know 'cos although I've had it on my hard drive almost a couple of weeks I haven't managed to listen to it all the way through! It is time now for that!