Whether you have an African adventure already in the works or whether a trip to the continent remains on your wish list, the sound of authentic African music is something that always inspires wanderlust. We’ve picked out a few of the year’s best recordings to tell you about here and you just might want to grab your suitcase and passport after a listen.
Insingizi is an a cappella vocal trio from Zimbabwe, singing here primarily in that country’s Ndebele language. For the listener though “African Harmonies” is really performed in the language of harmony as the three voices blend flawlessly on cuts like the reverential “Africa” and the gentle “Imilayo” which is sung almost as a lullaby, and with good reason; the song is a cautionary advisement to children to behave, stay away from bad influences and respect others. Clocking in at over six minutes and twice as long as other songs here, “Sugar Daddy” is also aimed at youth, urging behavior that will diminish the risk of contracting HIV. Unless you speak Ndebele though, all the songs here can be about whatever you want, or more likely about nothing at all other than the sheer beauty of the singing. Most Americans first heard this style of singing via Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s work with Paul Simon and fans who enjoyed that music will also like Insingizi, whose members have been perfecting their art for more than 25-years.
Touré is a native of Mauritania but he has lived in Paris for more than half of his life, so while he sings in West African languages like Wolof, Fulani and Soninke, his folky pop music is also informed by western music. Album title “Amonafi” translates to mean “once upon a time” and the set here lyrically addresses some of Africa’s social concerns (CD booklet offers song synopses in English) including emigration, a subject close to Touré’s heart since he himself left Africa for France, something he’s not so sure is the best thing for today’s youth since Africa needs her brightest to continue the development of the homeland. Even when a song is a lamentation there’s little audible despair; “Oma (Call Me)” is about a Parisian beggar but it bounces along to a joyful reggae lilt. British newspaper The Times has likened Touré to both Nick Drake and Cat Stevens and indeed you can hear flashes of both artists throughout this very enjoyable album, perfect for play on a carefree afternoon.
Modou Touré & Ramon Goose
“The West African Blues Project”
This collaboration between Senegalese singer Touré and British blues guitarist Goose presents African music in a bit of a different light and is by far one of the most interesting of the year’s African releases. Touré is the son of fabled African vocalist Ousmane Touré, a former singer for Senegalese band Touré Kunda, and here he shines of West African jams like “Believe” as well as western blues numbers like the John Lee Hooker-flavored “Lolambe.” Highlights include the haunting Afro-blues of “Dune Blues” and an eerie encounter on “Satan” as well as the percussion-happy “Journey to Casamance.” Fans of both the blues and African music will find plenty to like here and come away hungry for more.