Muxtape Monday: African Diaspora

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Editor's note: This muxtape no longer exists in its current form.

Have you ever heard of www.muxtape.com? Apparently, it’s this new site where you can share whatever songs you want legally. Or something. Apparently.

At any rate, I made my very first one today. Since the upcoming Houston International Festival honors Africa and the African diaspora, my muxtape does the same.

It’s here.

Here are the track notes:

1. Song: “Osain” Artist: Merceditas Valdes y el Grupo de Jose Maria Vitier Country: Cuba Album: I Am Time: Cuban Invocations

It’s always a bit startling to hear how closely linked to Africa some Cuban music is, such as this song, an invocation to a Yoruba god sung in Yoruba. I love the way “Osain” blossoms, slow and majestic as an orchid. If I ever rig up an alarm clock to play a song off my iPod, it will be this one, probably forever.

Here’s Valdes singing a different invocation:

2. “Appran La Vie” Super Jazz des Jeunes Haiti The Rough Guide to the Music of Haiti

Classy cocktail jazz to drink dark rum by.

3. “Yeah Yeah Ku Yeah” Bokoor Band Ghana Bokoor Beats

I loved this entire CD when it came out last year – Ghanaian high-life unfairly overshadowed by its Nigerian rivals. This tune is all about its James Brown-like groove, and in a rarity for African music, sports a harmonica as the lead instrument.

4. “Kinshasa Mboka Ya Makambo” Franco Congo The Rough Guide to Franco

Though the music sounds different, the vibe of this song and its performance totally reminds me of the American blues, and in the video, Franco reminds me of a Congolese Freddy King.

Most of Franco’s material is more upbeat than this. My first exposure to his music was odd, to say the least. In northern Alabama, in the towns of Arab, Albertville and Scottsboro, there are three thrift stores where all the nation’s lost luggage winds up. At one of those stores back in about 1996, I came across a giant bin full of people’s homemade tapes, which were on sale for about a dime apiece. I picked up about 20 or 30 of them at random. Most of them were crap, but one had this wonderful African music on it – some song that went on and on about the travails of a dude named Mario.

A couple of years after that, I was reading a travel narrative about Zaire, as the Congo was then called, and the author mentioned that everywhere she went, she kept hearing that same song, which she revealed was by Franco.

5 “Salam” Gigi Ethiopia Gold and Wax

I fell in love with this song at first listen a year or two ago. I love the warm bass and stately, dignified horns. Gigi’s voice is absolutely spine-tingling.

6. “Mpiarak Aomby” Dama & D’Gary Madagascar African Troubadours

D’Gary in New Orleans:

There’s a distinct Polynesian feel to this gorgeous acoustic guitar piece, which always makes me feel like I am snorkeling in a coral reef.

7. “Madiba Jabi” Dembo Konte and Kausu Kuyateh with Abdul Tee-Jay Senegal and Gambia Jali Roll

Simply put, this is one of my favorite pieces of music of all time: Konte and Kuyateh interweave twin koras, with Tee-Jay laying in the cut until he glides in with a splendid acoustic guitar solo. I have seen two people weep on hearing this the first time. One of them was the late mountain dulcimer champion and Vanderbilt adjunct professor of music David Schnaufer, who told me that some musicians who played in very much this same style were taken to 18th century Germany where they were heard by and an influence on Johannes Sebastian Bach. I know it sounds corny, but the last three minutes of this sounds like the music of angels.

8. "When You Come Back" Vusi Mahlasela South Africa African Troubadours

After hearing this, you’ll wonder why Mahlasela’s wish – that African music would sweep the world, and Africa could give back more than it takes in as aid – has yet to come true. On the video, he gives a mesmerizing performance of it at Live 8.

9. “Book of Rules” The Heptones Jamaica Rockers (Soundtrack)

Amazingly great mid-’70s reggae with one of my favorite lines ever: “Each is given a bag of tools, shapeless mask, and the book of rules.”

10. “Sénégal-Brésil” Cheikh Lô Senegal/Burkina Faso and Brazil Lamp Fall

Cheikh Lô was born and raised in Burkina Faso to Senegalese parents. He recorded this song with this rolling thunder Carnaval drum ensemble in Bahia, the northern Brazilian state with the most people of African heritage. With the horns and backing singers, it sounds like it would be quite the spectacle live.

11. “It Ain’t My Fault, Parts 1 & 2” Smokey Johnson New Orleans It Ain’t My Fault

Big Easy drum master quite simply bends the laws of rhythm to the breaking point here. Syncopation City. In this video, New Orleans drum ace Johnny Vidacovich plays the beat and calls it his favorite ever.

12. “Cool Sticks Beat” Ambassadors of Soul Houston, Texas Funky Funky Houston

I love the jazzy guitar chords and the galloping beat on the toms. The song, which originally came out on Skipper Lee Frazier’s Ovide label, sounds the way a boiling pot of gumbo looks and smells. And that is fonk-y. Don’t put in the shrimp until you hear the horns.

-- John Nova Lomax

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