Blick Bassy has been one of my greatest finds this year. His latest album, 1958, grounded in both melody and voice, is what happens when making music actually matters. The album, done in Bassy’s native language, Basa’a, is a eulogium for Ruben Um Nyobè. The depth in which he sings is remarkable and so are his compositional skills; a blend of African and Latin musical influences.

Ngwa is a work of memory; it starts with a cello solo before Bassy brings us up to speed with the ghost of Um Nyobè. Both the song and the visuals stimulate a sense of foreboding; something so vivid yet beyond, something perhaps after a war. Maqui and Lipem, both limpid and graceful, remember the freedom fighters (maquisards) and unsung heroes of Cameroonian independence. Certainly, all those who fought to preserve the independence and exclusivity of our nations ought to be revered.

Mpodol happens to be my favourite track on the album. Drawing from Nyobè’s nickname ‘Le mpodol’, I cannot think of a more fitting tribute. Performed with a fine supporting cast; Clément Petit on the cello, Johan Blanc on trombone and Arno de Casanove on the Trumpet and keyboard, mpodol lends a wonderful and compelling story of he who carried the voice of the people.

Alcohol, often misused as a sedative, reduces our anxieties and wills us to forget our worries and fears a while. And yet, what happens when a country is drunk with fear? In Woñi, Bassy talks about the fear and timidity that we still bear following the stark colonial years. Delivered in a style reminiscent of Cesaria Evora (whose birthday we celebrate today), Woñi highlights the volatile influence alcohol has on a community where heavy drinking has become a way of life.

Regardless of whatever virtues they may possess, there is a lot to be said about people who sabotage their countries. In Pochë, Bassy condemns political Judases like president Ahmadou Ahidjo; who protected the interests of the French during the Franco-Cameroonian struggle. In Ngui Yi and Sango Ngando, he criticizes the ignorance and indifference towards our histories. Lamentably, going by how much has culturally changed, Africa’s obsession with the West is likely not abating soon.

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Inviting us for a more critical stance, 1958 is a very noteworthy album; not only for the opportunity it affords us to hear the music and history of Cameroon but also for instigating us to look back at our own. There are many lessons to be learned here and much more so, let it be remembered that the past is never really past.

The more behindhand I get, the more music and musings I accumulate that I have to write about; so many that the sheer thought of them all might render none of them writ. Nonetheless, I have to, today, feature this one enduringly beautiful album by a woman I have come to adore – her personality, quiet confidence and masterly ear for Manding which she sings and plays with a consummate professionalism.

It cannot be emphasized too much that I am a great fan of Sona Jobarteh, the first female kora virtuoso to come from a jeli family. In fact, any impression that may point otherwise must be rubbished in an instant. It has been a great pleasure to speak of, to play and to sample her music. Sona’s inception album, Fasiya, is a medley of mellow tunes embodying the kora, nyanyeru, karinyan, drums (sabar, djembe, dunun), balafon, riti as well as the acoustic and electric guitars.

The album opens up with Jarabi where delicate strings and vocals announce a contemplative metaphor for the love of one’s country, culture and people. The kora stands out without undue exaggeration as does her vocals. A good deal of hope and inspiration comes from listening to Musow – a track very well bolstered by percussion. Ever the woman who has broken barriers in a male-dominated familial tradition, Sona focuses on encouraging and empowering women to keep up the fight to achieve what they so desire.

Within the context of what seems a threnody, there is more to Saya than just emotional engagement. The tambin (a Fulani flute) draws attention, deservedly so, with its elegiacal melody that predicates on images of loss and dissipation. Most impressive of all was the serenity the singer managed to achieve throughout. In Mamamuso, the music and words spring together freely in a greatly satisfying rhythm in which the kora’s melody wafts upward complemented by the balafon and percussion. Andante espressivo and with a fullness of tone, both Mamamuso and Mamaké are in honour of her grandparents (mother and father respectively)

Hand on heart, Fatafina and Suma are some two of my favourite tracks on the album. On the one hand, the former’s flow feels lighter and the texture brighter while the latter is a rueful and rather moving song revelling in the dignity of it’s meaning. The titular track Fasiya, opens with a virtuosic kora solo before extending to a short impressive narration. The song keeps an excellent balance whose great momentum lies in the dununs.

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Fasiya, I’d like to believe, is a labour of love and there is no doubting Sona’s mastery as evidenced in the composition and production of tracks herein. So too is her extraordinary emotional depth and commitment to the music. That, I find admirable if not enviable. My respects to Sona Jobarteh.

It is a truth universally known that artists are hardly celebrated at home, but what a difference a feature or sampling makes! I confess that, although a great enthusiast of African lore, I have yet to pay homage to a lot of my favourite Kenyan musicians. Ayub Ogada, whose 1993 album En Mana Kuoyo I’m featuring today, is one such artist.

Born Job Seda in 1956, Ayub Ogada’s music career peaked in 1979 when he co-founded the African Heritage Band. Prior to this, he had first played with the Awengele band and later with Black Savage both of which drew their influence from soul, funk, R&B and psychedelic rock. Ogada’s easy and greatly sensitive vocals, backed by the Nyatiti is the one element that keeps his music alive to date.

Obiero is a song casting a dull shadow about the state of Kenya’s extra-judicial killings. The song, Ayub says, is a dedication to his brother who was murdered in cold blood by the police. Right from the opening chords, Obiero gives an appropriate inflection of the situation and it is propelled firmly by the *ngara and the *djembeDala is delivered in smooth enunciation. With the recurring phrase “ang’wen ero gichodho wuoth gi mako yo“, Ayub speaks of the importance of togetherness – the security, the belonging and support it entails. There’s an admirable trait in the song’s resonance that I find quite engaging.

Wa Winjogi Ero, a folk anecdote recounting how a herder came home without his cattle, has a well-judged tempo with what seems to me a playful and rather curious foundation. I really like how the dominant phrase “wa winjogi ero” is dispatched. While a monophonic quality remains Thum Nyatiti‘s core, Ayub adds on to the textural spectrum of the song with leg bells and percussion. Composed purely for instruments, Thum Nyatiti is a showcase that this 8-stringed lyre is indeed the ‘voice’ of the Luo.

Kronkronhinkro‘s vocalism is admirable as Ayub takes to singing this celebratory piece in honour of a great African woman – Nana Yaa Asantewaa, Ghana’s Warrior Queen. If the long phrases registered low his breath control, he makes up for it with a whistling stunt that adds to the song a fine dimension. The initial impact of Chiro is that it borrows from a famous benga tune which I, unfortunately, can’t seem to find the title. Here, Ayub gives an upbeat Swahili melody whose instrumentation is in excellent form – I must admit though that the horn wasn’t really given much room to evolve.

Undoubtedly the most popular of the 10 tracks, it’s safe to say that Kothbiro has established its course – both the singing and instrumentation are of distinction. There is a charming touch to this recit which also involves cattle herding; but, where Wa Winjogi Ero is notable for its tempo and embellishments, Kothbiro is, in addition to an undemanding tempo, marked by a cool luxuriate tension.

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En Mana Kuoyo – some of whose music has been used as film soundtracks and sampled by musical greats such as Kanye West – is an unfussy album with an undeniably calming effect. There are distinct changes in compositional techniques that are well produced as a whole. However, I can’t help but think of how static the overall thematic identity is.

I am, right now, euphorically happy after having seen a tweet that reminded me of Mory Kante – the product of a family of Mandinka griots from Guinea. Mory’s is an interesting musical journey ever since he was first sent to Mali to learn folk lore and kora playing. He was only 15 when he later joined the Bamako Rail Band whose members and associated acts include Salif Keita, Djelimady Tounkara, Lanfia Diabate and Cheick Tidiane Seck.

I have grown up listening to Kante’s 1987 Akwaba Beach – a mesmeric record album of 8 tracks spinning a little shy of 40 minutes. Thanks to Ye Ke Ye Ke, Inch’Allah & Nanfoulen, it took me so short a while to warm up to Mory Kante and, at the time, my little self couldn’t help shouting ‘Yepe peee‘ to the rousing chorus whenever the former came about. Additionally, it is these three tracks that inspired my love for West African music.

Firstly, I confess to being emotionally invested in Ye Ke Ye Ke. Delivered with passion, the song has a beautiful timbre and Mory performs it with such unflagging energy. His voice too is a treat – bright and strong – which he employs with a relentless focus. The production that is Deni is a hoot!

Inch’Allah is a well polished track whose dynamics take the listener through a devout chant delivered in admirable attention and beautiful coloration. Similarly, the chords convey an equal intimacy of devotion. My enjoyment of Tama is elevated by the fact that Kante captures the vibrations of soul music with beautiful flourishes of the kora and percussion. Can you imagine that some two Indian music directors (Laxmikanth-Pyarelal and Bappi Lahiri) have infringed on Kante’s copyright to this song and have, matter of fact, been in battle as to which of them owns the original? Talk of a lack of shame!

Africa 2000 is a track with a firm sense of purpose – perceptive and expressive of the hope of a united African continent. The melody’s transits are marked by interesting vistas from the kora, keyboard, trumpet and saxophones. Dia is a master stroke! A fast paced rivulet of sound where the strings are wonderfully fortified by the various other instruments to bring life to one’s feet! The quality of the overall performance in respect to how it ends ranges from honourable to excellent.

The opening of Nanfoulen is such a treat for me with the distinctive ebb and flow of the kora that is later to be embellished by the winds! The movement is appreciable and the vocals, not essentially the focal point, are significant in expanding the melody. In the titular track Akwaba Beach, Kante’s bright-toned tenor is solid and as impressive as are the instruments, each distinctively individual. There is not much dynamic nuance but the guitars, both charming and agile, give it a nice gravitas.

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In addition to Touma (1990), Akwaba Beach remains, to date, one of my favourite of his works – the sweep of the music, its energy, rich harmonies and the unmitigated musicianship unfolding with elegant precision! Truly, the overall effect of the album is an uncompromisingly beautiful feel.

It is the sultriness in Shekhinah’s voice that initially spurred my consideration for her – I first listened to her at the Blankets & Wine festival held in December 2017. Thus, with the cheery sass of a hopeful lover, I recently listened to Rose Gold, her debut album released October 2017.

The album quality is good enough that should appeal to anyone who bubbles over contemporary RnB and boom-bap infused with minimalist electro beats. At best, the real strength of this production lies in simplistic melodic repetitions in tracks that I found relatively static. The vocals, albeit smooth and beautiful, quite plainly play their role.

In an interview with South Africa’s Channel24, Shekhinah is reported to say that the sound of the album is a combination of everybody’s sound. Quite, the album does have a compositional quality to it and if there is a concept, it is of love, empowerment and coming of age. However, compositional quality is not an end in itself and as such, the cumulative effect is that Rose Gold is not only lacking in depth and dynamic contrast, its overall structure is also not very convincing.

In the mainstream, Shekhinah is undoubtedly casting a fresh eye. With a nicely balanced pulse and confident staging, her music is so far supple and introspective to a great degree. This comes out particularly clearly in the titular track, Different and Thirsty.

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Rose Gold has elicited strong reactions out here. Still, I am wont to point out that I will not acquiesce it out of a sense of collective benevolence. The album has not had that much of an effect on me and it falls short of outstanding.