Africa continues to reveal its incredible wealth of musical talent and the CDs that we feature in this edition of Africa Calling represent the very best of the latest widely-available releases. Our spotlight group this time out is Afrika Mamas, a seven-woman a cappella group from South Africa. The ladies are all single mothers with 11 children between them, and no doubt those lucky kids have amazing lullabies sung to them all the time!
Afrika Mamas – (Self-titled) – ARC Music
The old gospel chestnut “Robe and Crown” opens this effort and the ladies infuse the song with a healthy dose of ‘60s-style soul; follow-up track “Uzilibonge” is not sung in English but it is also about praising God and language barrier aside, the song’s reverential tone is palpable. As with several songs here, “Uzilibonge” is not strictly a cappella; it employs a bit of percussion which brings out the song’s African-ness. Shades of Billie Holiday permeate the lead vocals of “Tonny,” making the song an interesting juxtaposing of jazz and background vocals that are distinctly South African. Thanks to the CD’s liner notes we know that the song is about a guy who loves his woman and tells her on a regular basis that he appreciates “her curves.” “Qathaka” on the other hand has no meaning; it is a “click song” where the women have fun with Q and C sounds. About half way through the album Afrika Mamas revisit the western gospel sound with “Who’s Gonna Help Me,” once again doctoring the song up a bit, this time quite appropriately for an a cappella group, with some sweet doo wop. Three bass, three soprano and one alto singer provide the truly dulcet tones here. Release date: March 25
“They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile” – Various artists – (Knitting Factory)
This is the soundtrack to the documentary film of the same name featuring original music written by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and with contributions from a host of Saharan Africa’s most popular performers. Songhoy Blues, the current darlings of Malian music, check in with seven of the 32 cuts on offer here and clearly they got along just fine with Zinner; they even perform a brief but blues-rocking version of a tune they call “Nick.” The band continues to dole out their music in snippets throughout; both the moaning “Bamako Ballade/Solent” and the haunting “Horei” clock in at under a minute. Highlights include the sparkling guitar work of Ali Farka Toure on “Karanda,” the Sahara-meets-the-American Southwest “Imuhar” from Tuareg guitarist Bombino and the understated psychedelic blues of “In the Blue Room” by Khaira Arby. For his part Zinner is on the mark too, especially on instrumental cuts like “Algeria” where you can almost feel the Saharan sun putting its own unique warp on the song. Release date: Available now.
“Music of Morocco: From the Library of Congress” (Various artists) – (Dust-to-Digital)
Fans of Moroccan music can rejoice over this box set of vintage material, recorded in 1959 by Paul Bowles. Some songs are noted as being by an “unidentifiable ensemble” and that’s okay; certainly these musicians can’t be tracked down now anyway almost 60-years later. Bowles does indicate where each piece was recorded though, and one can only imagine his state of mind as he recorded the nearly 30-minute opening instrumental track, quite possible surrounded by hashish-smoking locals. For sure many listeners will find this music best enjoyed with an altered consciousness. Release date: April 1.