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Hailu Mergia

Pioneer Works Swing (Live)

    It’s been a little over ten years since Hailu Mergia re- emerged on the international music scene. Following the first in a series of his classic recordings reissued in collaboration with Awesome Tapes From Africa, Mergia assembled a band and began performing live again after many years driving a cab in Washington, DC. His first show back appeared on the front page of the New York Times along with a stellar review and he took off from there performing his flavor of Ethiopian jazz all over the world in the years since, including Radio City Music Hall and Montreal Jazz Festival.

    Finally, we have a recorded document of the keyboard player’s powerful DC-based trio—which practices each weekend in his basement—featuring Kenneth Joseph on drums and Alemseged Kebede on bass. Beautifully captured at one of their fiery live shows at the venerable Brooklyn non-profit cultural center Pioneer Works on July 1, 2016, the concert was recorded by PW staff and mixed by Ted Young with mastering by ATFA’s expert audio extraction collaborator Jessica Thompson. The performance clarifies what many people across the globe already know: in his fifth decade of music-making Hailu Mergia continues to push the boundaries of his remarkable abilities.

    Mergia and his veteran band energetically and playfully unpeel layer after layer of harmonic and rhythmic interest out of a spectrum of Ethiopian repertoire. Modern jazz demands constant reinvention and improvisation, night after night creating new works out of known modes and classic standards. This band is unstoppable when it comes to turning age-old melodies (like “Tizita” or “Anchihoye Lene”) upside down and inside out until they emerge as molten new works, often spontaneously. Mergia’s original compositions (like “Yegle Nesh”) shine brighter than ever here as well. Moving from keyboard to organ to accordion to melodica, he deftly switches instruments—often during the same song. Mergia at 77 years old seems to be working harder than musicians half his age.

    Pioneer Works Swing (Live) brings into focus the kind of onstage group improvisation and deadly solo passages that reach for places Mergia and the band have never gone, on festival and club stages across four continents.

    Now that Mergia has released two new recordings along with four classic reissues, he is eager to let everyone hear what he’s been doing on the road since he re-took the global stage for his victory laps. So much more than an old act from yesteryear, Mergia balances his legendary Ethiopian recordings with good old fashioned sweat-soaked live concert triumphs such as the one we have here.


    1. Yegle Nesh (6:22) €

    Gibraltar Drakus

    Hommage A Zanzibar - 2023 Reissue

      No shortage of colorful characters emerged from Cameroon’s bikutsi scene in the 1980’s and early 90’s. Gibraltar Drakus is one of the most enduring and enigmatic of the artists who helped transform bikutsi into a beautifully endless fabric of triplet rhythms that eventually reached ears around the world.

      Following the advent of Cameroon Radio Television in 1987, bikutsi began to supplant makossa and soukous for domination of the local airwaves and the attention of cosmopolitan, thrill-seeking residents of Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé and beyond. Biktusi perfectly fused Beti traditional music and increasingly electronic, highly rhythmic guitarbased bikutsi. Mimicking the sound of village-based xylophone music by rigging a mute to electric guitar strings, bikutsi artists provided a relentlessly energetic dance format for those with a taste for music steeped in their hometown sensibility (countering the popular makossa that many felt sounded less indigenous).

      By the early 1990’s, Les Tetes Brûlées were indisputably the most famous and influential artists in bikutsi, due in part to the innovations of their incendiary guitarist Théodore Zanzibar Epeme. Following their first European tour in 1987, the band blew up internationally but Zanzibar tragically, and mysteriously, passed away, which nearly brought an end to the band completely. In hindsight, the consensus among most Cameroonians is Zanzibar’s contributions to biktusi were transformational and immeasurable.

      “Zanzibar is the one who taught me how to compose a song, and I learned a lot from Zanzibar musically. We spent whole nights working on methods and other approaches to compose beautiful songs. I owe half of everything I have today to Zanzibar!”

      Swept up in all this was Gibraltar Drakus, who was the youngest member of Les Têtes Brûlées and was also the protégé of his biggest supporter, Zanzibar. So it was fitting that he dedicate his 1989 debut to their groundbreaking late guitarist who had meant so much to him. Drakus literally exploded from his first album Hommage A Zanzibar (1989), which sold over 100,000 copies despite rampant piracy. For the recording, Drakus made sure he engaged prolific producer Mystic Jim to record and mix the album. The innovation musically rests both within the guitar interplay and the discipline in the orchestration, which result in a mind-bending clockwork of cross-rhythmic harmony.


      1. N'nom Wom (Mon Époux)
      2. Exode Rural
      3. O Zanzibar
      4. Mekeya A Dzal (Retour Au Village)

      Roger Bekono

      Roger Bekono - 2023 Reissue

        Long out-of-print release available digitally for the first time. Extensive notes by a local writer in English and French. Previously unpublished family photos. Urbanized traditional music at a dance-floor-friendly tempo. The very definition of an "Awesome Tape From Africa". Roger Bekono made a deep mark in the contemporary history of Cameroonian music through the four-on-the-floor, ribald intensity of bikutsi. The Ewondo-language dance-pop style that forms an undulating tapestry of interlocking triplet rhythmic interplay came to international prominence in the European "world music" scene as the 90s began. But the relentless sound of bikutsi developed in Yaoundé at the hands of Bekono and many others, as it developed from a village-based singing style performed mostly by women into a cosmopolitan music force that rivaled the popularity of established musics like Congolese rhumba, merengue and makossa. With his unique—some say suave—voice, Bekono contributed much over a period of more than 10 years as part of the evolution of this traditional rhythm-turned-urban dance movement. Bekono worked with legendary producer Mystic Jim, who had built a prolific home studio along with a crack team of musicians. They joined as part of the production of his self-titled album, which became known locally as "Jolie Poupée," the name of the album's lead single and most popular song. For "Jolie Poupée" Mystic Jim programmed the kick or bass drum, adding effects to have a heavier bass. Overall the album represented a new level of finesse and professionalism for his second release. In the middle of 1989, Jolie Poupée was released by the label Inter Diffusion System and aggressively hit the radio, discos and national television. The music video for the title track was on loop on TV. It felt like everyone was talking about it, even artists in adjacent music scenes like makossa. The album came out on vinyl and cassette and remains Bekono's best-selling recording to this day. With Jolie Poupée Bekono finally made an impact outside Cameroon as the record captured listeners in some Central African countries like Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo and Sao Tome & Principe. In these countries, we find the Fang or Mfan people (also known as Ekang), Bantu-speaking ethnic groups that are also found in Cameroon. This umbrella language group includes the language in which bikutsi is mainly sung. Most of Bekono's songs are in French, Ewondo (of which Beti is a dialect) and Pidgin. The four songs on Jolie Poupée are all considered bikutsi classics. On September 15, 2016, Bekono died of a long illness at the age of 62. In the wake of his passing the media published a wave of tributes, thanking him for what he did for Cameroonian music. He was an admired musician, songwriter and guitarist, and some of his old colleagues and some of the new generation of performers showered Bekono with vibrant tributes via social media, many of which noting something to the effect of: "The artist dies but his works remain." 


        1. Jolie Poupée (7:26)
        2. Etam Mot (7:29)
        3. Enying Moni (7:29)
        4. Ye Wo Kombel (7:52) 

        DJ Black Low


          Follow up to widely acclaimed debut. First release sold out first pressing before street date. Builds on first release with more vocalists. RIYL: Jlin, DJ Rashad, DJ Maphorisa. There’s more than a hint of ambition on the double LP sophomore effort from Sam Austin Rabede, the producer known as DJ Black Low. Pretoria, South Africa-born and based, the young man makes amapiano with new ways of expressing this local turned-global style of dance music. In DJ Black Low’s musical imagination, the songs manage to smoothly vacillate between dreamy and firmly-grounded. Adorned with vocalists across most of the twelve tracks, there’s a new dimension to Black Low’s now-signature approach to abstract, angular deconstruction of the rhythmic developments in his songs.

          The album references influences and ambitions in its song titles and lyrics while the music itself is anthemic in its sonic and structural aspirations. On many of the songs a slow-burning tension transforms into something unexpected until you’re somewhere else as the track concludes. There is an emotional and compositional maturity that builds on his earlier work. Vocals and lyrics are in focus. Production collaborators among Black Low’s Gauteng Province circle add to the constantly churning array of ideas that populate this consistently surprising release. Despite being a relative newcomer, DJ Black Low is onto something here. 


          Matt says: Awesome Tapes shines a light on modern amapiano producer DJ Black Low. Thick with that South African haze, full of elevating vocal melodies, and peppered with gently intricate beats; this is a invigorating high watermark of the genre featuring a wealth of vocalists and talent.


          1. Thando (feat. Black R, K.Dalo And Lah Presh) (4:18)
          2. Akulalwa (feat. Black R, K.Dalo & Frego) (4:55)
          3. Bo Mbali Leboh Palesa (feat. Dea Rebbedy) (5:00)
          4. Dlozi Lam (feat. Jay, Frego & Gentow) (4:23)
          5. Lepiano (feat. Black R, K.Dalo & Frego) (4:57)
          6. Lovey (feat. Black R, Frego & Keenly) (6:26)
          7. Mekete (feat. Thapzin Statah & Preshy Dee) (4:57)
          8. Mjolo (feat. Golden Krish & Black R) (5:45)
          9. Oskido (feat. Sphiwe, Black R & K.Dalo) (6:17)
          10. Qhude (feat. Black R, K.Dalo & Frego) (5:09)
          11. Umshato (feat. Black R, K.Dalo & Frego) (6:08)
          12. Drive Through (5:04) 

          Teno Afrika

          Where You Are

            Teno Afrika's 2020 debut "Amapiano Selections" drew an international wave of support sparked by the producer's deftly minimal take on the emergent style. Amapiano combines the South African predilection for deep house alongside a melange of endemic influences like kwaito, jazz and gqom. The 20-year-old's new crop of songs "Where You Are" expands on his rhythmic subtlety hooded in warm bass adorned by amapiano's telltale shakers, hi-hats and mid-tempo shuffle. Lutendo Raduvha hails from Pretoria, South Africa, where he produces music incessantly and DJ's parties around Gauteng province. He hangs with a crowd of musical friends, many of whom join him on "Where You Are." For his second album Teno Afrika brings more vocalists into the sonic picture, unlocking an emotive and timbral escalation to his rapidly mushrooming catalog of work. Singers Leyla and Kaycee feature on the title track and "Fall In Love," respectively. Regular cohort Diego Don joins for two driving, pad-propelled works of significant vibrancy, "SK Love" and "AK Love." The album's dramatic closer "Duma ICU" features another returning collaborator, Stylo Musiq, who helps bring an icy, almost cinematic conclusion to a slice of the sound Teno Afrika is pushing at the moment. There's a palpable feeling of not knowing where the young producer might go next. 

            TRACK LISTING

            1 Teno Afrika Ft Leyla “Where You Are”
            2. Teno Afrika & Diego Don “SK Love”
            3. Teno Afrika “Bells”
            4. Teno Afrika Ft KayCee “Fall In Love”
            5. Teno Afrika “Gomora Groove”
            6. Teno Afrika “Halaal Flavour”
            7. Teno Afrika & Diego Don “AK Love”
            8. Teno Afrika Ft Stylo MusiQ “Duma ICU” 

            DJ Black Low

            Uwami II

              First time on LP for 5 songs from last year’s acclaimed Uwami CD. Blazing a new trail in amapiano. First pressing of debut LP sold out before street date. Features new song “Gijima”. DJ Black Low burst on the international scene last year with Uwami, a collection of his early, downright avantgarde amapiano work. The young producer and DJ makes electronic music that sounds like nothing else: glitchy and fierce while smooth and soulful, all under the rubric of South Africa’s most-exported dance music movement to date. Now comes Uwami II, which features the rest of the tracks from the acclaimed debut plus a new song “Gijima.”

              The Pretoria, South Africa-based artist has more work in the pipeline as we present these inimitable songs for the first time on vinyl. The song “Gijima” is a previously unreleased track Black Low chose to include in this collection as cremates more work at a furious pace. Quotes : “This is essential listening from a 20 year-old star.”—Resident Advisor Best Tracks of 2021 // “Uwami keeps an adventurous spirit at its core and pushes far beyond genre conventions in the process.”

              TRACK LISTING

              Side A 1.

              1. Alone In A Dark (4:54) [+ Mr. Perfect Feat. DJ La Bengwa]
              2. Sbono (Vocal Mix) (6:10) 
              3. Down The Road (Original Mix) (4:53) [feat. DJ La Bengwa]

              Side B

              1. Vula Vala (5:24)
              2. 60 Days No Sleep (5:43)
              3. Gijima (Vocal Mix) (4:07) 

              Papé Nziengui Et Son Groupe

              Kadi Yombo

                Kadi Yombo, published in 1989, is the most successful album in the quest for a fusion between tradition and modernity in Bwiti harp music of the Tsogho people of Gabon. Combining beating rattles with a layer of synthesizers, Papé Nziengui blends in a contrapuntal dialogue characteristic of harp playing: male song in appeal and female choir in response, male voice of the musical arc and rhythms of female worship. But above all it’s Tsogho ritual music and modern studio orchestration. The result is an initiatory itinerary of 10 musical pieces which are all milestones likely to be simultaneously listened to, danced, meditated on, and soon acclaimed. In the years since, Nziengui has traveled he world from Lagos to Paris, from Tokyo to Cordoba, from Brussels to Mexico City to become a true icon, the emblem of Gabonese music.

                Like Bob Dylan, "electrifying" folk and Bob Marley mixing rock with reggae, some purists have criticized Nziengui for having distorted the music of harp by imposing a cross with modern instruments. They even went so far as to claim that Nziengui was just an average harpist covering his shortcomings with stunts that were only good for impressing neophytes; like playing a harp placed upside down behind his back or playing two or three harps simultaneously. Sincere convictions or venomous defamations, in any case, Nziengui never gave in to such attacks, imposing himself on the contrary to pay homage to the elders (Yves Mouenga, Jean Honoré Miabé, Vickoss Ekondo) while instructing the maximum of young people. He is thus the promoter of many young talents, the most prominent of which is certainly his nephew Jean Pierre Mingongué. In a conservative society where the sacred is confused with secrecy, exposing the mysteries of Bwiti in broad daylight can be punished by exclusion or even execution.

                Papé Nziengui has always claimed that he faces such risks because he never felt enslaved to a community that governs his life, that regulates his conduct, that has a right of censorship over his activities. Like Ravi Shankar, the famous sitarist, Papé Nziengui is a man of rupture but also of openness, a transmitter of culture. As proof, he has established himself in Libreville, Gabo’s capital, as the main harpist for sessions and concerts, accompanying the greatest national artists (Akendengué, Rompavè, Annie-Flore Batchiellilys, Les Champs sur la Lowé, etc.) as well as foreign artists (Papa Wemba, Manu Dibango, Kassav', Toups Bebey, etc.). In 1988, he was the first harpist to release an album in the form of a cassette produced by the French Cultural Center (Papé Nziengui, Chants et Musiques Tsogho). At the same time, he created his own group (Bovenga), combining traditional music instruments (musical bow, drums, various percussion instruments, etc.) in the framework of a true national orchestra, which gave the first concert and the first tours of a traditional music that was both modern and dynamic, thus "democratizing" the harp, to the dismay of certain purists.

                On the other hand, in modern music, dominated by the logic of profit or even commercialism, artistic creation must often be adjusted for a specific audience based on reason rather than heart. But instead of allowing himself to be distorted, Papé Nziengui has always tried to produce music that is not a caricature, worthy in its expression as in its content, of the sacredness and transcendence of the music of the Origins. This is what makes Nziengui not only the musician, but the man someone whose age hasn’t altered any of his freshness or authenticity

                TRACK LISTING

                1. Kadi Yombo (5:44)
                2. Gho Mitsaba Na Voko (6:07)
                3. Bossogho Akéti Na Missingui (6:54)
                4. Moghogho (6:11)
                5. Gho Minongo (5:52)
                6. Ngondé (5:05)
                7. Popedaka (6:52)
                8. Niaghauliano Ghuni (5:18)
                9. Kudu (5:19)
                10. Gho Boka Nzambé (5:02)

                Native Soul

                Teenage Dreams

                  It wasn't long before Awesome Tapes would snaffle up some more hot amapiano sounds. the genre seems to have well and truly exploded from its native South Africa and has hit a massive point of global adoration. I'm sure other cities and urban areas must be replicating what's happening here in Manchester too - with the sound a constant up-and-coming soundtrack with the youth, trend setters and club goers alike - keen for new sounds with authentic heritage; and like its predecessors kwaito and gqom it comes with style in abundance.

                  Hitting a cool 110BPM territory, gliding in on Reese basslines and punctuated with 808 subs; tense strings and dark synthlines make up this midtempo, late night dance music which glows with dipped neons and oozes electronic soul.

                  19 and 18 respectively, Kgothatso Tshabalala & Zakhele Mhlanga (DJ Zakes) are born after the onset of democracy ('ma2000') and ride a wave of youthful excitement and creativity around the Gauteng province of SA where many believe amapiano was first birthed.

                  "Teenage Dreams" is twelve tracks which capture both the sound of amapiano, the energy of late teenage South Africa and the excitement of merging modern production technology with fierce creative spirit. It's no wonder everyone from your mate down Moss Side, to the hippest DJs on NTS are championing this sound right now. It's fully genuine, a little bit gangsta, and is aimed squarely at the hips - a pocket rocket of fresh fire for the clubs, jeeps and yards. Check! 

                  TRACK LISTING

                  1. The Beginning (7:44)
                  2. Way To Cairo (6:12)
                  3. The Journey (7:51)
                  4. Teenage Dreams (7:12)
                  5. Rejoice Feat. TapSoul (6:51)
                  6. Ambassador Feat. Ubuntu Bros. (6:05)
                  7. Long Lasting (8:20)
                  8. Dead Sangoma (6:57)
                  9. Burning Desire Feat. Blaq K (6:22)
                  10. United As One (7:25)
                  11. Letter To Kabza De Small (5:36)
                  12. End Of Time (5:57)

                  Mujuru was Zimbabwe’s foremost mbira (thumb piano) player who brought Shona music to the world. -Available outside Zimbabwe for the first time. All-acoustic, calming music for these times. Mbira importance grew with the struggle for independence and became a key symbol for the country after colonial period. Audio extracted from LP as master tapes were destroyed. Ephat Mujuru exemplifies a unique generation of traditional musicians in Zimbabwe. Born under an oppressive colonial regime in Southern Rhodesia, his generation witnessed the brutality of the 1970s liberation struggle, and then the dawn of independent Zimbabwe, a time in which African music culture long stigmatized by Rhodesian educators and religious authorities experienced a thrilling renaissance.

                  Under the tutelage of his grandfather, who was a respected spirit medium and mbira master, Ephat showed an early talent for the rigors of mbira training, playing his first possession ceremony when he was just ten years old. By then, guerilla war was engulfing the country and his grandfather Muchatera tragically became a victim of the violence, a devastating blow to the young musician. In the midst of the liberation struggle, mbira music became political. Eventually, the Rhodesians were defeated, but rather than return to the past, the nation of Zimbabwe was born and a new future unfolded.

                  Ephat threw himself into the spirit of independence, singing of brotherhood, healing, and unity: crucial themes during a time when the nation’s two dominant ethnic groups, the Shona and the Ndebele, were struggling to reconcile differences. Ephat’s band would eventually follow the popular trend and add electric instruments. But before that, he and Spirit of the People released two all acoustic albums, and they may well be the most exciting and beautiful recordings he made in his career. Mbavaira, the second of these albums, was released in 1983.

                  As the independence years moved on, there would be fewer and fewer commercial mbira releases. But for the moment, Ephat had the required stature and reputation. Also, with the energy and drive we hear in these recordings, the album could easily rival the pop music of its day. Within a few years after the release of Mbavaira, it and albums like it became harder to find in Zimbabwean record stores. Ephat adapted to the times and formed an electric band. They recorded more albums over the years but none of them have the particularly delicious energy of Spirit of the People in the first years of Zimbabwe’s independence.

                  TRACK LISTING

                  01. Mbavaira 05:54
                  02. Kuenda Mbire 05:48
                  03. Mudande 05:58
                  04. Nyama Musango 05:19

                  Hailu Mergia And The Walias Band


                    From their genesis as members of the Venus club in-house band in the early 70s, Hailu Mergia and the Walias Band were at the forefront of the musical revolution during an era where modern instruments and foreign styles superseded the traditional fare to become the staple sound of Ethiopia. No one would argue that the Walias were the trailblazing powerhouse of modern Ethiopian music. They were the first band to form independently without affiliation to a theatre house, a club or a hotel; unprecedented and risky as they had to raise all funding for expenses by themselves including buying equipment. They were the first to release full instrumental albums, considered to be commercially unviable at the time. They opened their own recording studio, with band members Melake Gebre and Mahmoud Aman doubling as technical buffs during sessions. They were also the first independent band to tour abroad. In short, they were the pioneers every band tried to emulate; some more successfully than others. Odds are, any Ethiopian over the age of 35 who had access to TV or radio by the early 90s, will instantly recognize the sound of Walias. What is not a given is, how many would actually identify the band itself.

                    Barely a day went by without hearing the Walias either in the background on radio or as an accompaniment to various programs on TV. This Tezeta album, the band’s second recording, released in 1975, is one of those that have been impossible to find for nearly three decades. Sourced by Awesome Tapes From Africa and expertly remastered by Jessica Thompson, its unique and funky renditions of standards and popular songs of the day are so quintessentially Walias, flavorful and evocative. Hailu's melodic organ, unashamedly front and center in every track, makes even the complex pieces accessible. Profoundly engaging; it's an immersive trip down memory lane for those of us getting reacquainted with it, while also an enthralling and gratifying experience for fresh ears.

                    TRACK LISTING

                    01. Tezeta 04:30
                    02. Endegena 05:00
                    03. Zengadyw Derekou 03:40
                    04. Gumegum 04:26
                    05. Nefas New Zemedie 03:34
                    06. Atmetalegnem Woi 03:39
                    07. Mestirawi Debdabe 04:36
                    08. Ou-Ou-Ta 03:23
                    09. Aya Belew Belew 04:24

                    DJ Black Low


                      In many ways, DJ Black Low’s debut album, Uwami, shows the signs of an artist’s first offering in any musical genre. Showcasing fluency in a broad range of styles and stuffing a number of ideas to the record’s brim is the 20 year-old producer’s attempt to both introduce himself to a wide listenership and stamp a recognizable sound in their minds. In other ways, somewhat out of the young South African producer’s control, Uwami goes against the grain. The album comes at a time when South African electronic music is being fundamentally disrupted. Amapiano, the electronic music movement which first gained popularity with a small, core group of followers, now dominates the mainstream. Well-known and pervasive, amapiano borrows from a diverse palette of musical styles which are popular in South Africa’s largely Black townshipsjazz, kwaito, dibacardi, deep and afro house among them.

                      Instead of pandering to the seemingly insatiable local appetite and growing global penchant for amapiano though, on Uwami DJ Black Low seeks out the limits of the sound du jour and tries to stretch them. On his solo productions, he uses the samples and compositional norms that make amapiano hits the bedrock on which to experiment and improvise. With collaborators, DJ Black Low improvises within the boundaries of listener-friendly grooves. The sound he creates has foundations of what could easily have progressed into captivating amapiano songs on their own. But he uses improvised but structured electronic percussion and distortion sounds to drive the tracks in a particular direction. What remains is something like a deconstructed amapiano.

                      For a young producer living in the townships of the greater Pitori area of South Africa’s Gauteng province, there were few avenues available for Radebe to pursue a career in music. His trajectory shows the vulnerability of this pursuit. “I had started producing in 2013 and it so happened that I lost my equipment in 2014. I couldn’t afford to buy equipment. In 2017, a friend of mine who had been making music found a job and decided to quit music. He gave me his equipment and I was able to start producing again. That’s when I started getting back to it. I tried to pick up where I had left off, with hip hop and commercial house but I found that amapiano was the popular music. I liked it, so I started producing it.”

                      TRACK LISTING

                      1. DJ Black Low & Hapas Music Feat. DJ KS & Patna “Jaiva Low”
                      2. DJ Black Low & Tap Soul Feat. Licy Jay & Eto “Emcimbinii”
                      3. DJ Black Low Feat. DJ Saxo Boy “9 Days”
                      4. DJ Black Low & Kapzela Feat. Licy Jay & MLG “Emonate Oe Bethela D Vosho”
                      5. DJ Black Low “Downfall Revisit”
                      6. DJ Black Low “Stiwawa Quitter”

                      CD Version Also Includes:

                      7. DJ Black Low & Mr Perfect Feat. DJ Labengwa “Alone In A Dark”
                      8. DJ Black Low Feat. DJ Labengwa Licy Jay & Menate Entertainment “Sbone (Vocal Mix)”
                      9. DJ Black Low Feat. DJ Labengwa “Down The Road (Original Mix)”
                      10. DJ Black Low “Vula Vala”
                      11. DJ Black Low “60 Days No Sleep”

                      Nahawa Doumbia’s new album Kanawa concisely captures this current moment in Malian history. The singer, whose storied career spans more than four decades, reflects on the immigration crisis from the Malian perspective in the title of her new album Kanawa. Across eight songs recorded in Bamako with a band including traditional and modern instruments, Doumbia merges her early work that relied on a spare expression of her trademark didadi rhythm with the bombastic range of contemporary Malian pop. The beautifully complex musical accompaniment that results is courtesy of the large ensemble she pulled together with producer and arranger (and day one collaborator) N’gou Bagayoko.

                      The band features two highly expressive Malian string instruments, the ngoni and the slightly smaller kamalé ngoni, as well as a variety of percussion, drum programming, karignan (a metal scraper) and acoustic and electric guitars. Doumbia’s daughter, a celebrated singer with her own group and busy concert schedule, Doussou Bagayoko sings on “Adjorobena,” a song about patience, tolerance and living in peace. Doumbia weaves together a roadmap of her psyche when it comes to the good and bad life has to offer. She talks about marriage and women leaving home to join another through the metaphor of a tree in the garden; she includes gunshot samples in the song “Foliwilen” to honor the bravery of hunters, soldiers and other courageous people; she uses a bird in “Djougoh” to talk about lazy people; and, in “Ndiagneko” she advises people to ignore critics, just do you. Mali has gone through an intense period of regional strife and terrorist incidents over the last ten years and Doumbia roots the album in tragic local concerns with deep global implications. “The meaning of Kanawa is so simple. We see our children trying to cross the ocean all the time. I said that many of our children die in the ocean and some of them die while crossing the Sahara.

                      But I ask them why do they leave their country? They said that they leave because of the family situation or problems like poverty and unemployment. I ask them to stay and work in their country. I call on the UN and African leaders so that we can coordinate our efforts to find a solution, to create jobs for them so that young people stop leaving. That’s why I chose it as the title of my album so that everybody can learn from it and also so that there is a reduction in the number of people emigrating. So that some will hear the message and stay home and grow the land. Leaving is not the only solution. My message is to help the youth find jobs.

                      STAFF COMMENTS

                      Matt says: The ever-reliable and constantly working Awesome Tapes From Africa defy cross-national travel restrictions and beam to our willing ears the warm and invigorating sounds of Mali.

                      TRACK LISTING

                      Blonda Yirini

                      The rags-to-riches chronicle of Penny Penny's life would be remarkable if he had only released his smash debut Shaka Bundu and packed houses for a few years. But the inimitable South African singer and dancer known for his trademark top ponytail and emphatic anthems was no one-hit wonder. In the aftermath of Shaka Bundu's nationwide explosion, far beyond his country the album resonated with ever bigger audiences. He performed up and down the continent, building fanbases in more than a dozen countries. So his sophomore album Yogo Yogo - released in 1996 - solidified Penny Penny's standing in pop music nationally and provided new energy to his pan-African stadium-filling adventures. "I was very busy between Shaka Bundu and Yogo Yogo. Shows every week, local and outside the country. There was no relaxing from 1995 until 1999." The album also reflects the era in which it emerged. If Shaka Bundu arrived triumphantly amid newfound political freedom in South Africa with the end of Apartheid and Nelson Mandela's election, Yogo Yogo was a next level expression for the maturing artist. He wanted to get a message out.

                      Composed with Joe Shirimani, who also produced the album, the sound and compositional style echoes the earlier recording but the topical nature of the lyrics became more deliberate, more didactic. In the song "Ingani" Penny proclaims, we are all one people even though we may speak different languages, we are all Nguni—a larger historical grouping that includes many of the ethnic groups in modern South Africa. "Kulani Kulani," which means grow up, urges young people to say no to drugs and yes to education. Ama Owners, referring to the public transport drivers involved in violent rumbles, asks the nation's drivers to relax because we need them for our safe arrival. Penny's success as a Xitsonga artist should not be under-estimated in the context of popular music at the time in South Africa.

                      "When I started with my own style and image, first time in Shangaan we had artist like me," Penny explains. "Our music was traditional before. But I brought a mix of rock and disco and it became the bomb. Every star won't be popular without your own style." It took them eight days to finish album, writing the songs in the studio. Penny says, "The songs just happened. Joe is very good at listening and producing, he has lots of patience. When he played the keyboard I would sing, standing behind him once he finished the rhythm, I would sing it all in one take, non-stop. We were not using computers to record, we were singing live. And we pressed the music on cassette and vinyl - not CD - back then."

                      TRACK LISTING

                      01. Ibola Aids
                      02. Ingani
                      03. Amarumasi
                      04. Kulani Kulani
                      05. Hai Kamina
                      06. Dodomedzi (CD Bonus)
                      07. Yogo Yogo
                      08. Ti Samaboko 
                      09. Ama Owners
                      10. Kulani Kulani (Remix) CD Bonus

                      Hailu Mergia

                      Yene Mircha

                        From a young musician in the 60's starting out in Addis Ababa to the 70's golden age of dance bands to the new hope as an emigre in America to the drier period of the 90s and 2000s when he mainly played keyboard in his taxi while waiting in the airport queue or at home with friends. More recently, with reissue of his classic works and a re-assessment of his role in Ethiopian music history, Mergia has played to audiences big and small in some of the most cherished venues around the world.

                        With 2018's critical breakthrough "Lala Belu" Mergia championed himself and consolidated his legacy, producing the album on his own and connecting with listeners through the sheer creative power of his version of modern Ethiopian music. His subsequent performances revealed an artist who is in no way stuck in the nostalgia for the “golden age” sound. The press agreed, including the New York Times, BBC and Pitchfork, calling his music “triumphantly in the present” in its Best 200 Albums of the 2010's list. Mergia's new album "Yene Mircha" ("My Choice" in Amharic) encapsulates many of the things that make the keyboardist, accordionist and composer-arranger remarkable—elements that have persisted to maintain his vitality all these years, through the ebb and flow of his career.

                        The rock solid trio with whom he has toured the world most recently, DC-based Alemseged Kebede (bass) and Ken Joseph (drums), forms the nucleus around which an expanded band makes a potent response to the contemporary jazz future "Lala Belu" promised. "Yene Mircha" calcifies Mergia's prolific stream of creativity and his philosophy that there is a multitude of Ethiopian musical approaches, not just one sound. Enlisting the help of master mesenqo (traditional stringed instrument) player Setegn Atenaw, celebrated vocalist Tsehay Kassa and legendary saxophone player Moges Habte from his 70's outfit Walias Band, Mergia enhances his bright, electric band on this recording with an expanded line up on some songs. Mergia produced the album which features several of his original compositions along with songs by Asnakesh Worku and Teddy Afro.

                        An artist still reinventing his sound every night on stage during his marathon live sets, this 74 year-old icon refuses to make the same album twice. The album feels as urgent and risky as his concerts can be, pushing the band to the outer limits of group improvisation and back with chord extensions during his exploratory solos. "Yene Mircha" captures this live experience and fosters an expansive view of what else could be in store for this tireless practitioner of Ethiopian music. CD features bonus “Dibik Fikir”. 

                        TRACK LISTING

                        01. Semen Ena Debub 06:02
                        02. Yene Mircha 04:42
                        03. Bayne Lay Yihedal 05:10
                        04. Abichu Nega Nega 05:41
                        05. Yene Abeba 06:35
                        06. Shemendefer 06:27

                        Antoinette Konan

                        Antoinette Konan

                          It makes sense that Antoinette Konan’s eponymous album features nothing more than her ahoko on the cover. The deceptively simple traditional percussion instrument transformed Ivory Coast’s Baoulé music scene when Konan deployed it against a roaring electrified backdrop of synth, bass guitar and drum machines. Released in 1986, the album is a veritable UFO of instrumental force and contemporary pop sensibility landing in a boiling pot of diverse, creative characters inhabiting Abidjan, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire). Known as the “Queen of the Ahoko” among Ivorians, Konan singlehandedly put the central-Ivorian instrument on the map when she gave it a 20th-century re-introduction. The three-piece wooden idiophone is handmade from a thin, ribbed, flexible stick, against which a smaller chunk of wood is rhythmically scraped.

                          A hollow nutshell held in the non-scraping hand amplifies and manipulates the resulting overtones. Despite the ahoko's diminutive appearance, Konan and her powerful voice have remained at the forefront of Ivorian music for decades now, in an extremely diverse country—approximately 70 indigenous languages—with a competitive, internationally-recognized music industry. Music plays an important role in Baoulé cultural life, heard and seen in festivities, funerals and more. They are the largest ethnic group in Côte d’Ivoire and descend from Akan peoples who migrated from presentday central Ghana. Baoulé vocal music is characterized by polyphony, melodies built on parallel thirds and call-and-response. All of this can be heard in Konan’s music. Konan’s fingerprints are all over Antoinette Konan, she says, as it was meant to be a highly personal recording. She wanted to portray the suffering, injustice, frustrations, humiliations, personal career struggles, experience of child birth and poverty she sees in society. Taking on the producer role for the first time, Konan was the architect of her dancefloor-ready neo-traditional sound. But crucial to the recording was arranger Bamba Moussa Yang. A creative and versatile musical mind who was known for his work with legendary Ivorian singer Ernesto Djedje, Konan met him in 1986 after she had already released two albums.

                          Yang brought a touch that matched Konan’s expectations, she says, because he knew her work so well. As she reflects on her long career today, Konan remembers Yang as her favorite arranger. Over the years Konan’s popularity grew to the upper echelons of Ivorian society: Ivory Coast’s first president Felix Houphouet Boigny’s would regularly invite Konan to perform at official ceremonies with foreign dignitaries. Through her charity and advocacy work on behalf of female musicians, Konan is still a force in the country’s music community. You can see her performing or speaking on television and around the country all the time—yet she still maintains several entrepreneurial projects in the farming sector. Konan has recorded more than 15 albums so far and plans more recordings soon

                          TRACK LISTING

                          01. Kokoloko Tani
                          02. M’ackô
                          03. Enfants Du Monde (Version Baoulé)
                          04. Abidjan Adja
                          05. Evignen
                          06. Yalé 

                          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 now releases Doumbia's debut recording “La Grande Cantatrice Malienne Vol 1”, 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, is 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.

                          TRACK LISTING

                          01. Kourouni 07:34
                          02. Tou Dibile 02:32
                          03. Tjefouroule 04:46
                          04. Djankonia 08:09
                          05. Nianimanjougou 04:49
                          06. Sokono Woulouni 04:52

                          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.

                          TRACK LISTING

                          1. Say You Love Me
                          2. Make Me Your Lover
                          3. Crosslines
                          4. Enjoy It

                          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.

                          TRACK LISTING

                          01. Tche Belew 05:01!
                          02. Yemiasleks Fikir 04:04!
                          03. Yikirta Lemminalehu 03:35!
                          04. Musicawi Silt 03:49!
                          05. Lomi Tera-tera 04:07!
                          06. Woghenei 03:58!
                          07. Ibakish Tarekigne 04:00!
                          08. Birtukane 05:30!
                          09. Eti Gual Blenai 04:59!
                          10. Yenuro Tesfa Alegne 01:46!

                          Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument


                          Hailu Mergia is a one-man band. In 1985 master accordionist and veteran Walias Band leader / arranger / keyboardist released the Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument 'Shemonmuanaye' cassette. The tape is a nostalgic effort to bring back the vintage accordion sound of his youth. Hailu was already celebrated for his work with the industry-shifting Addis Ababa ethio-jazz and funk outfit the Walias Band, and he pressed forward using new tools to reshape the popular sounds of the past. Adding a Moog synthesizer, Rhodes electric piano and rhythm machine to the harmonic layering of his accordion, he creates hauntingly psychedelic instrumentals. These songs draw from famous traditional and modern Ethiopian songs, as Hailu matches Amhara, Tigrinya and Oromo melodies to otherworldly flavors soaked in jazz and blues. The result is a lush, futuristic landscape, balancing Ethiopian music's signature pentatonic modes and melodic shape with beautiful analog synth flair.

                          Hailu Mergia was born in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia in 1946. He went to school in Addis Ababa and then joined the army music department. He was later singing in small bars as a freelance musician when he joined a casual band, touring across the Ethiopian provinces as a singer and accordion player for almost a year. After the group broke up, he started performing in nightclubs across the city. He and his mates formed Walias Band and did something no other band in Ethiopian nightclub history had done: they started buying their own musical instruments. Until then the club owners were supplying the instruments and had the power to fire musicians at will. Following eight years playing at the Hilton Hotel, Hailu and Walias Band went to the United States and toured widely in 1982-1983. Despite breaking ground as the first private band to tour the States and play state dinners at the Derg government palace, some of the band stayed in America while others went back to Addis. After settling in America, Hailu made a one-man band recording with accordion for the first time, mixing in Rhodes electric piano, Moog synthesizer and a rhythm machine. That was 1985. This recording was inspired by the early memories of his first instrument, the accordion. Nowadays he's making his living as a self-employed taxi driver at Dulles International Airport while continuing to record and practice his music as often as possible.

                          The reissue of this recording brings back a moment when Ethiopian music was shifting from acoustic-based performances to recordings using more and more synthesized elements. While the resulting sound of that shift has its critics Hailu Mergia's initial experiments with "switched-on" solo instrumentals based on Ethiopian folk and popular music captures a singular feeling dripping in ambiance and a very human emotional energy.

                          TRACK LISTING

                          1. Shemonmuanaye 06:41
                          2. Sewnetuwa 05:52
                          3. Laloye 05:53
                          4. Wegene 05:24
                          5. Hari Meru Meru 06:01
                          6. Amrew Demkew 06:22
                          7. Anchin Alay Alegn 06:24
                          8. Ambasel 03:45
                          9. Hebo Lale 04:20
                          10. Belew Beduby 04:22
                          11. Shilela 03:40

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