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AWESOME TAPES FROM AFRICA

Nahawa Doumbia

La Grande Cantatrice Malienne, Vol. 1

    Nahawa Doumbia is one of Mali's defining vocalists of the last four decades. Her work journeys through progressive stages of musical evolution and sonic vogues, making it hard to summarize or even comprehend. She's played a part in popular music since the late '70s, as her version of Wassoulou music developed from vocals-and-guitar duo into full-scale touring bands packing a bombastic, electrified punch. As Doumbia puts it, "My music has changed multiple times to this day. The more I progressed in my musical career, the more instruments I have had accompany my songs." Awesome Tapes From Africa will release Doumbia's debut recording La Grande Cantatrice Malienne Vol 1 this August, building on the success of the label's first-ever reissue back in 2011, Doumbia's La Grande Cantatrice Malienne Vol 3.

    This seminal classic, which is still sought-after in Mali today, will finally be available for the first time internationally with remastered audio on LP, CD, Tape and Digital formats. The recording looks back to the beginning of Doumbia's long career, when she was performing in a simple voice and acoustic guitar format. This was before she added bass and drums, and finally the electric guitar and synths for which she became known more recently. Released in 1981 by the excellent Cote d'Ivoire-based AS Records, the singer was barely 20 years old when it was recorded. She was accompanied by her future husband N'Gou Bagayoko on acoustic guitar, whose style echoes the nimble runs of traditional kamele n'goni players. The stark simplicity of this highly intimate recording-the audible room acoustics, the occasionally in-the-red vocals-do not obscure the mature strength of her voice.

    On Vol 1 Doumbia performs her songs with the tenacity and hunger of a young artist on the cusp. "When I think about it, first, I am reminded of how long ago it was. It's one of the albums that I love most because it reminds me of my youth. I was so young and my voice was light and joyful. I still listen to some of those songs today. I am really proud of that first album because that's where it all began. It shows me how far I've come in my personal and artistic life; it gives me the courage I need to keep going forward, and makes me appreciate all the years of dedication and hard work I put into my musical career." These early songs are rhythmically built around Bagayoko's sensitive guitar, as his fingers brush the fretboard and gently outline the melodies. Although this record predates the singer's use of percussion, the driving skeletal didadi rhythm is apparent in the songs. Later albums like Vol 3 further prioritize her hometown didadi beat and the result made her famous



    Fresh off the label Awesome Tapes From Africa, Hailu Mergia brings us his first new LP in over 15 years. Modern Ethiopian jazz built on ancient scales and standards. Capping several successful years traveling the world performing to audiences big and small, Hailu Mergia’s ‘Lala Belu’ has been a long time coming and fifteen years overdue. His old recordings are cherished revelations for Ethiopian music fans; however, Mergia’s return to the stage has been just as inspiring and electrifying. Mergia’s vintage recordings are known for an inherently mysterious and worn-in quality, while his new recordings echo his band’s 21st century live show with modern instrumental interpretations of crucial Ethiopian standards and Mergia’s own original compositions. Tony Buck (drums) and Mike Majkowski (bass), who have backed Mergia on tour throughout Europe and Australia, form the bass-drums trio on the recording. Having played venues from Radio City Music Hall and the Kennedy Center to jazz festivals, rock clubs and DIY spaces all over North America, Europe and Australia, Mergia and Awesome Tapes From Africa document this moment in his landmark career with a snapshot of Mergia’s current sound. Since he emigrated from Ethiopia and built a life in Washington, D.C. around 1981—where he remains working as an airport taxi driver when he is not on tour—Mergia’s career has followed a humble trajectory. He made a few recordings in America but they didn’t easily reach fans back home. He kept making music on his own and with friends but after the early 80’s his gigs in the U.S. mostly dried up. It wasn’t until he began working with Awesome Tapes From Africa and putting together bands with the help of booking agents and musicians in Europe and the U.S., that he was able to chart a new path. With a broad audience of young listeners in diverse venues and distant locales, at age 71, Mergia is enjoying his comeback and is not slowing down.

    Though "Say You Love Me" wasn't "Om" Alec Khaoli's first solo recording, the 1985 EP solidified the bass player and songwriter's standing as one of South Africa's most consistently innovative pop auteurs. He built a career on ubiquitous rock, pop and soul hits with groundbreaking bands like the Beaters, Harari and Umoja. But Khaoli's seemingly endless fountain of music continued outside these ensembles, where he usually played bass and contributed songwriting and vocals. Khaoli released several successful solo works while he made records with Umoja and worked on other productions with friends.
    This creativity was aided by Khaoli's own recording studio. He was the first South African to have a privately-owned studio. As black artists were forced to record during lunch breaks and didn't get sufficient access and time in the white-owned studios, having his studio allowed Khaoli to develop in his own way. Hence his productive output during the 80's and early 90's, releasing 5 LPs with Umoja and 5 solo LPs, along with numerous singles and EPs. There's something broad and dynamic about the almost epic pop sound Khaoli creates on "Say You Love Me". Being the first South African to take control his recording process and thereby free himself from one of apartheid's many strictures, he took his vision of music to new realms and made timeless music for the dance floor in the process. 

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Patrick says: Another rarity reissued by the erm...awesome... Awesome Tapes From Africa, kicking off with the emotional pop of "Say You Love Me", a shoulder rolling love song which could easily have found its way onto the end credits of many an 80s buddy movie. "Make Me Your Lover" fuses a little Paul Simon style songwriting with traditional African styles (oh the irony), while "Crosslines" is an oddball synth funk freakout a la Herbie Hancock. Last but not least we feel the force of the show-stealing "Enjoy It", a dreamy bit a Afro-cosmic for the Balearic crowds.

    A monumental career in pop music isn't easy when the system is built against you. But South African songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist "Om" Alec Khaoli managed to do just that with his band Umoja. As apartheid reached its violent peak, Khaoli pursued an escapist form of dance music that resonated across his complicated country, influencing countless legends and releasing recordings across the world. Umoja, which means oneness or unity in Swahili, was clear in its message to the public. "Oriented towards society, advocating uniting of people. Race was the big thing," Khaoli says. "We wanted people to come together and unite and just form a oneness." Indeed the band's fanbase was mixed among black, colored and white fans. However, their lyrics were not overtly political. "If you wrote songs about apartheid, we would disguise them. If we used language as it was, we would get arrested." The band helped refine a commercially powerful emergent style, bubblegum, with the album 707 in 1988. "Bubblegum music was about escape," according to Khaoli. "If you had grown up in South Africa at the time, there was nothing more in your life than oppression. It was even in your dreams. Anything that was a way out was welcome... When this music was playing everyone just wanted to dance, just have a good time." 

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Patrick says: There's a special place in my heart for Afro-synth stuff, and this set of Bubblegum business from Umoja is right up my alley. Sparkling synthwork, cheesy melodies and uplifting vocals - what more could you possibly want from life?

    At the age of 28, Awalom Gebremariam arrived in the United States, following a years-long journey from Eritrea. He'd made it to a refugee camp in Ethiopia several years ago and eventually attained asylum status for passage to America. But before he left his hometown, Eritrea's capital Asmara, he made his first and only recording so far, 'Desdes'. In 2006, Awalom began to teach himself two of Eritrea’s most recognizable and important folk instruments, the wata and the krar. Although they have roots in traditional music, they are heard in most Eritrean folk and pop recordings. Awalom completed 'Desdes' in 2007, not long before he departed Eritrea. Because Awalom left after the recording he never received any money for cassette and CD sales. But he also didn't get to find out how much of an impact the songs have had locally. His songs appear to focus on love, but Awalom isn't speaking about romantic love per se. Much of the music Awalom heard growing up was intertwined with Eritrea's difficult and contentious split from Ethiopia. In 2012, during a trip to Switzerland to help promote a film about biking in Eritrea, ATFA was given a copy of 'Desdes' by fixed-gear bicycle athlete Patrick Seabase, the documentary’s protagonist. Seabase gave a copy to ATFA founder Brian Shimkovitz as a gift and it later appeared on the ATFA blog. A few years later Shimkovitz was contacted by some agencies in North Carolina, where Awalom had settled. Through a translator very one decided to work together on a reissue of his recording. It took many months to source a clean master but now the album is ready and Awalom’s goals are clear. He spent years waiting for the chance to escape economic and political turmoil at home. Now 29 and living in North Carolina, he works in a restaurant and plans to bring his music to Eritrean communities across North America as well as newer listeners with whom his powerful sounds and remarkable journey will deeply resonate.

    DJ Katapila makes Ga traditional music using electronic sounds instead of live percussion to create his own kind of what he calls house music. In the context of Ghana's pop music landscape, Katapila's music is singular. The uptempo, bass-heavy, Roland 808-rooted sounds echo early 1990's Detroit techno and Chicago acid house more than the contemporary hiplife productions blasting across Ghanaian airwaves currently. However, the structure of Katapila's sound directly descends from Ga musical lineage found around Accra. Neo-traditional dance music forms gome, kpanlogo and gyama are there. DJ Katapila didn't start producing music until he was 39 years old. Around 1998, began chanting and rapping in Twi and Ga during instrumental breaks of songs he was DJing. He added Yamaha DD11 electronic drum pads and sampler and invented new creations on the fly. Katapila then began experimenting with program beats using Fruity Loops on his laptop. His music reflects his love for the international dance pop that filtered into Accra's radio waves in the '90s: Inner City's "Big Fun"; C&C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat"; Crystal Waters' "Gypsy Woman"; even Rick Astley hits, among many others. Katapila mixed international tunes with highlife - JA City Boys and AB Crentsil - as well as hiplife, Ghanaian gospel, Jamaican dancehall, soca and regional Francophone hits. This blend helped set the stage for Trotro and the inspired yet minimalist dance music Katapila now creates.

    SK Kakraba is master of the gyil, Ghanaian xylophone made of 14 wooden slats strung across calabash gourd resonators. The buzzy rattle emitted with each note comes from the silk walls of spiders' egg sacs stretched across holes in the gourds, called paapieye in Lobi language. The gyil's earthy sound can be heard in parts of Upper West and Northern Regions of Ghana, as well as C'te d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso and beyond, where it goes by other names. The characteristic buzzing timbre might sound odd to foreign ears. But this distortion is just one of the beautifying sensibilities crucial to SK's gyil music, which he learned as a child from elders in his Lobi community in the far northwest reaches of Ghana. Although the gyil is sometimes played in pairs and with drum and bell, SK lives in Los Angeles these days and plays alone quite often. Songs of Paapieye surveys a deliberate snapshot of SK's hereditary Lobi repertoire heard through the lens of a stripped-down, and sometimes spare-sounding, solo gyil. The album focuses on a selection of SK's favorite song cycles, funeral dirges, improvised interpretations on traditional songs and original compositions - and combinations thereof.

    Ata Kak's cassette 'Obaa Sima' fell on deaf ears when it was self-released in Ghana and Canada in 1994. The music on the recording - an amalgam of highlife, Twi-language rap, electro-funk and disco - is presented with the passion of a Prince record and the DIY-bedroom-recording lo-fi charm of early Chicago house music. The astute self-taught song craft and visionary blend of sounds and rhythms has made the album a left-field cult favorite among adventurous listeners worldwide. Awesome Tapes From Africa founder Brian Shimkovitz found the tape in 2002 in Cape Coast, Ghana - one of only a few ever pressed - and later made it the inaugural post on the Awesome Tapes From Africa blog. Hundreds of thousands of downloads, YouTube views, music video tributes and remixes, as well as years of mystery regarding Ata Kak's whereabouts, culminate in this remastered release featuring rare photos and the full back story of one of the internet age's most enigmatic musicians.

    FORMAT INFORMATION

    LP includes MP3 Download Code.

    The acclaimed and highly sought-after LP by Hailu Mergia and the Walias, 'Tche Belew', an album of instrumentals released in 1977, is perhaps the most seminal recording released in the aftermath of the 1974 revolution. The story of the Walias band is a critical chapter in Ethiopian popular music, taking place during a period of music industry flux and political complexity in the country. Hailu Mergia, a keyboardist and arranger diligently working the nightclub scene in Addis Ababa, formed the Walias in the early 1970's with a core group of musicians assembled from prior working bands. They played Mergia's funk and soul-informed tunes, while cutting 45rpm singles with various vocalists. While the Walias performed at top hotels and played the Presidential Palace twice, their relationship with the Derg regime was complex, evidenced by the removal of one song from the record by government censors. Decades later, Hailu Mergia was surprised to see the album fetching more than $4,000 at online auctions (it helped that the most popular of all Ethiopian tunes "Musicawi Silt" appeared on the record). Now everyone has the chance to listen again - or for the first time - to this timeless pillar of Ethiopian popular music.

    FORMAT INFORMATION

    LP includes MP3 Download Code.


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