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Salif Keita: Soro (Released in 1987, Rating 4+)
Produced by Ibrahima Sylla
The short vocal appearance of Youssou N'Dour on Peter Gabriel's So (1986) raised international interests to the West African Music. First, N'Dounr's Nelson Mandela (1985) was internationally discovered. Then, came this incredible album.
This first album of Salif Keita from Mali was a great surprise. The sound is very modern, electric, and completely- produced album, very far from the image of African sound. On the other hand, music itself sounds very African, call & response main vocal and female chorus and very complex poly-rhythm. The voice of Keita is so powerful, with bright high tone.
Actually, many would choose this as the best album of Keita. I agree that this is really great album, but this album is full of tension; this makes me hear this not very often.
Salif Keita: Ko-Yan (Released in 1989, Rating 4)
2.Nou Pas Bouger (Don't Move Us)
3.Ko-Yan (What's Going On)
4.Fe-So (With Us)
7.Sabou (The Cause)
Produced by Fracois Breant
The second album was somehow slow-down album. But I like this album because the somehow unbearable tension in the first album is released. Morover, the rhythm pattern gets more complex. I was very much surprised how people can play and sing this complex rhythm. The sound became more modern, digital synthesizer sound. Because I don't like the artificial sound of early digital synthesizer and digital effects, my rating becomes 4. But, except for that, this is my favorite album.
Salif Keita: Amen (Released in 1991, Rating 5)
1.Yele N Na
7.N B'i Fe
Produced by Joe Zawinul
The third album of Keita is produced by Joe Zawinul! And Carlos Santana and Wayne Shorter appear. This was not good news for me. This should be a light commercial pop album. And Yes, this is the most commercial album of Keita; the sounds is brightest and lightest in his albums.
Still, I have to say this is the best of Salif Keita. Released from the high tension of his early albums, this album is joyous, danceable, smooth, and accessible. This album proves "light" music can communicate with much broader listeners without spoiling the essence of music.
This is the best introduction to Salif Keita.
Salif Keita: Folon (Released in 1995, Rating 4)
Produced by Wally Badarou, Jean-Philippe Rykiel
The cover is not of Salif Keita; This may be his niece. The presence of Salif Keita gets somehow faraway. The voice of Keita gets weak, his high tone voice is somehow clouded. But this album still has an big appeal. Thought his voice gets a little weak, his singing is persuasive.
Salif Keita: Papa (Released in 1999, Rating 3)
3.Ananamin (It's Been So Long)
5.Tolon Willie (The Party Is On)
9.Together (Gnokon Fe)
Produced by Salief Keita & Vernon Reid
Salif Keita's albums are all good, very well-produced. (Youssou N'Dour's albums are mixtures of good and bad.) Among them, this is the weakest album. I think this is not bad, but I only heard this once. This was nice, but didn't make me hear more.
Salif Keita: Moffou (Released in 2002, Rating 4+)
8. Ana Na Ming
Produced by Salie Keita, Jean Lamoot and Freddy Zerbib
I pick up Salif Keita's albums because his new album is so good. This is his best album in 10 years.
His beautiful high tone voice is already worn out and faded away. Instead, his singing became much deeper and introspective. The sound becomes very acoustic. This was the most joyous surprise. Salif Keita has been an innovative sound creator, with introducing synthesizers and modern electric instruments and devices, still making very African sound. Here, coming back to the original acoustic sound.
Original acoustic sound? I don't know it is true or not because I have not heard his works before Soro (1987). So, this might not be back-to-the-basic album. He might introduced acoustic instruments as a new innovation to his music.
Anyway, this album is very moving, intimate, smooth, and gentle. I think I will hear this again and again. Thank you, Salif!
King Sunny Ade: Juju Music (Released in 1982, Rating 5)
2.Eje Nlo Gba Ara Mi
3.Mo Beru Agba
4.Sunny Ti de Ariya
5.Ma Jaiye Oni
6.365 Is My Number/The Message
7.Samba/E Falaba Lewe Produced by Martin Meissonnier
When Bob Marley's Catch a Fire (1973) was released, people should be very surprised by its modern sound. It is very far from the public image of tropical music. It is not light, up, nor joyful; it is rather dark and wet. It is smooth and modern well-produced sound with a lot of new musical ideas.
This international debut album of King Sunny Ade gave me the same kind of surprise which Catch a Fire would have given to the people in the early 1970s. (I heard Catch a Fire in the late 1970s.) This is very modern and highly culture mixed sound, based on the very African musical essence.
Actually, this record was released by Island record which lost Bob Marley because of his death in 1981. This album was the strategic item to follow the success of Bob Marley and Reggae music. Marketing Idea; Reggae is out, and Africa is in. Whatever the marketing idea was, this record stands alone in the musical history. I have to tell the greatness of the music of King Sunny Ade.
Before I heard King Sunny Ade, my image of Nigerian music was that of Fela Kutti. King Sunny Ade's music has some similarity with Fela Kutti's music. It is a continuous groovy funk beat. However, while Kutti's music is very straight and aggressive, Ade's music is more relaxed, cool and smooth. The wave of the complex rhythm made by many percussions (particularly talking drum is impressive) and guitars takes us to far way without noticing. The vocal of Ade is quite gentle, and the steel guitar gave us the very trip feeling. This is not the music which strongly insists politics, but it guides us to get together and dance. (I don't understand the language, but the music sounds like this.)
When discussing the musical achievement of this record, we cannot forget the contribution of the French producer, Martin Meissonnier. I don't know why he was appointed as a producer of this record. This record was also the major debut album for Meissonnier. I think he introduced ultra modern sound effects and multi-cultural flavor. Particularly, the influence of the dub music is apparent. However, what is great about these things is not in its mixture. It is great because these modern multi-cultural sounds reinforce the charm and African essence of Ade's music.
King Sunny Ade: Synchro Sytem (Released in 1983, Rating 4+)
1.Synchro Feelings - Ilako
2.Mo Ti Mo
6.E Saiye Re
9.Synchro (Reprise) Produced by Martin Meissonnier
Songs and sound effects became simpler and stronger than Juju Music (1982). The beats get stronger and solid, too. (The sound of talking drum sounds louder, I guess.)
This album may be closer to Ade's record released in Nigeria. But this is not the back-to-the-roots album. While his first album gathered the songs originally released in Nigeria with the international sound production, this second album gathered the new songs. The tightness, solidness and compactness is different from the simple but much relaxed records in Nigeria. (Songs tend to occupy the one side of Nigerian LP.)
This might be the same position as Bob Marley's international second album, Burnin' (1973). Yes, this is also a great album as Burnin' is. Some might like this album better than the first one.
King Sunny Ade: Aura (Released in 1984, Rating 4)
6.Iro Produced by Martin Meissonnier
International third album again emphasizes the modern sound and multi-cultural mixture. (I am not sure how many records he released in Nigeria. I can only say many.)
First of all, we recognize the impressive usage of rhythm machine. The mixture of computerized rhythm and complex human poly-rhythm gives us an excitement about the new possibility of the rhythm. The introduction of the rhythm machine seems to reinforce the essence of African rhythm. After this record, the usage of the rhythm machine in African music and world music got popular. (Again, compared to Bob Marley, his third album Natty Dread (1974) also introduced rhythm machine in some songs, including No Woman No Cry. )
Second, we recognize the appearance of Stevie Wonder. He plays a harmonica in Ase. Not bad. Not so good. You can easily imagine what it is like.
Third, the songs became more traditional and more simple. They are not so catchy, but they are good to hear again and again.
After this album, Ade left Island record. His international release of album gets rare. I think his music is still good and attractive, but it lacks the luminescence of these three island records. After all, he could not become the second Bob Marley against the wish of the company. But I love King Sunny Ade more than Bob Marley.
I once saw his live performance in Seattle in the late 1980s, which was released as a live record by Ryoko disc. It was wonderful experience. (I expected the more than two hour non stop music, but it was a performance of one hour or so. I'd like to hear his non-stop live performance at home in Nigeria.)
King Sunny Ade: The Best of the Classic Years (Released in 2003, Rating 4)
1-5.Sunny Ti De (Medley: Sunny Ti De ~Bombibele Horojo~Oro Towo Baseti~No Salapata~African Beats Lu Nsere)
7.Ibanuje Mon Iwon
9.Ogun Party Part 1
10.Adena Ike Compilation Produced by Randall Grass
"Sunny was also a fantastic performer. The records don't catch that but they bring something else." (Martin Meissonnier)
A long awaited CD release of classic recordings of King Sunny Ade! Before the international debut, Ade released about 50 albums in Nigeria. And they are rare now. Because I am not a core listener of African music, I have only heard two or three Nigerian records of Ade in the record shop. So, this is the first serious hearing of Nigerian Ade records.
This compilation focuses the recording of the early years, around 1971~74. Thus, the sound is rather simple, compared to the later sound. The steel guitar does not appear. (Solo guitar mainly plays the role that Steel guitar later takes.) The tone of guitars is solid. The ensemble of guitars and percussion is less complex. (Of course, there is no synthesizers or rhythm machine or digital effects.) But, the essence of Ade's music is already very clearly heard here. It is a rough sound, but it is a diamond in the rough. It is a different pleasure from the international recordings polished by Martin Meissonnier.
Compared to the international recordings, the songs are much longer. Sunny Ti D Medley continues for 17:53. And the original version of Synchro System is 18:09! (The 1983 version of Synchro System is 6:27.) This seamless, endless waves of relaxed funky beats give me a continuous listening pleasure. (As for 1983 version, I think it reinforced the intensity by condensing the essence of the song in 1/3 length. It is another listening pleasure ) It is surprising that Ade already used the notion of "Synchro System" in the early 70s. It resembles The Police's "Syncronicity" (1983), and, more than it, it resembles the international syncronicity of World Music in the 80s and 90s.
This should be closer to the original Ade "as a fantastic performer". But I need to hear the recordings around 1980 in order to see what Martin Meissonnier brought in. So, I really wish that vol.2 of Classic Years series will be released soon. (Recently, I noticed that 6 CDs of Ade's Nigerian recording are released from different label in 2001. They might include the later recordings. But I don't have much information about it. )
Cheb Khaled/Safy Boutella: Kutche (Released in 1989, Rating 5)
8.Minuit Produced by Martin Meissonnier and Safy Boutella
This is another masterpiece produced by Martin Meissonnier. The instrumental parts are mainly made with synthesizers and rhythm machine etc. Ultra modern sound. This sound is the contribution of Martin Meissonnier and Safy Boutella. Upon this modern computerized sound, the Arabic strong voice of Cheb Khaled is featured. This was the dream album for Meissonnier.
However, Khaled did not like this record for its modern sound. He explained that he played with Safy Boutella because of political reason. Boutella was son of politician in Algeria. Khaled wanted to avoid the trouble. But I think that Safy Boutella's contribution to this album is great, and that Khaled himself might not understand the greatness of this album. I heard some of Khaled's albums, but this is simply the best.
So, where has Martin Meissonnier gone now? I don't hear his name recently. And where has the world music gone? Did we consume it all as a fad? However, this album sounds still great, and there are many things that we haven't consumed up yet.
Amina: Nomad - Best Of (Released in 2001, Rating 5)
2.Le Dernier Qui a Parle
4.Alla Ya Moulenah
7.Digge (Le Gong a Sonne)
11.Le Cercle Rouge
14.La Mauvaise Graine
15.Habibi 2 Produced by Martin Meissonnier et al
Amina Annabi was born in Tunisia, and grew up in France. Her music is the cultural mixture of Arabic, African and French Music. She sings with her strong Arabic voice in a modern contemporary electric sounds. Amina can be the good introduction to the Arabic music for non-world-muisc listeners. Her songs are catchy, strong, sexy and beautiful.
I first heard her voice in Andadura in Haruomi Hosono's Omni Sight Seeing (1989). I was immediately charmed by her voice. So, as soon as her debut album, Yalil (1989), was released, I bought it. It was produced by Martin Meissonnier. It could not be bad. Actually, it was a good album; I could hear Amina's strong voice fully in a modern electric sound made by Meissonnier. (He played guitars and keyboards in this album.) But, to tell the truth, I was a little disappointed when I first heard this album maybe because I was expecting more Arabic music. (Also, the electric sound sometimes sounded monotonous.) As I hear this album now, I can clearly understand what Amina and Martin Meissonnier was trying to do. They were not making fake Arabic world music, but they were trying to make their own music that is faithful to themselves. And I guess it was closer to private home recording production made in an intimate mood than the professional commercial production. This may be th reason of the seemingly monotonous sound. When hearing several times, I could find many interesting mucial attempts.
Her 1991 Eurovision Contest winning song, Le Dernier Qui A Parlé, was a big surprise for me. It was a absolutely flawless and stunning song with the complex and seamless mixture of North African, Arabic and French music. As I wrote before, she was the first North African who represented France. In the year of the "first" Gulf War, she represented Arabic people in France! With this song, she became a star in France. And she became a star for me, too, though Japanese listeners started to forget her since her debut album.
She is an actor as well as a singer, so her speed of releasing albums is not fast. There are two more original albums other than her debut album. They were produced more in a "professional" sound, and sounds more gorgeous than her debut album. I particularly love Annabi (1999) because it is the most sophisticated and smooth album with many beautiful songs.
This album, Nomad (2001), is her first best album. Because she only has three original album, you may think this "best of" is not very necessary. But you're wrong. This is the "must" album for all music listeners. First of all, this includes Le Dernier Qui A Parlé, which was not included in her original albums. Second, there are two newly recorded tracks. Particularly, opening song, Ya Baba, is a very strong Arabic (Egyptian?) song. Third, the song selection is very impressive. It is a different and intensive experience for me to hear this best album. When I hear her original albums, I hear them with relaxed feeling. But when I hear this best album, I have to concentrate on the music. They are so intense!
One of the highlights of this best album is the cover version of My Man, which is famous by Billie Holliday's absorbing singing. Amina's version is in Arabic or Ethiopian arrangement. She sings this famous song in her Arabic singing, with still reserving the original essence. It was a very successful mixture of multi-culture, and also a perfect mixture of experimental and classical essence. It is the greatest musical achievement as well as Le Dernier Qui A Parlé.
In this album, Le Cercle Rouge from her debut album is put before My Man. This song sings about an absent lover. The lyrics of this song reminds me of Billie Holiday's Lover Man and Don't Explain. (Red circle means lip stick in lover's shirt?) By the way, this is the only song from her debut album. I don't know why they didn't pick up the hit song, Belly Dance. ( And my personal favorite is Galloul!) Song selection of this best album is not even; there are many songs from Annabi (1999). Yes, the song selection and order of songs his my preferences very accurately.
Yalil (1989) Wa Di Ye (1992) Annabi (1999)
(The interview with Martin Meissonnier is here)
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