An omnibus review of four CDs from Africa

Badenya les Freres Coulibaly’s Seniwe
Macire Sylla’s Maya Irafama
Rasha’s Let Me Be
Various artists’ Live from Oba Idemili & Nri!

Big Earl Sellar wrote this review.

Cover art for SeniweWhen one invokes the term “World Music,” instantly the sounds of Africa come to mind. Africa is a fertile bed of music: some fantastic, some less than stellar. I recently received four discs in this genre, all worthy of some words (either good or bad).

First up is Badenya les Freres Coulibaly, a relation-based (brothers, niece, nephews) ensemble of traditional griots (musicians entrusted to carry on musical traditions) from the Bwada tribes. The music of Seniwe is a percussive wash of the most incredible rhythms I have ever heard! More than willing to play with tradition, the band plays far more “in-your-face” than many similar outfits, probably with the understanding that playing in this manner makes them more appealing to a wider audience. “Haira” is a great case in point; the opening flourish, led by duelling balafons (a type of xylophone), eases into an addictive groove with a somewhat freeform call-and-response accompaniment. “Yandebi” uses higher pitched drums to the same effect, setting up a polyrhythmic tour-de-force than just makes you want to dance. Badenya are joined on this disc by keyboards and bass on a couple of tracks. While I really didn’t find it necessary, the additions are harmless. A fantastic disc: the soundtrack to the intrinsic desire of human beings to dance.

cover art for Maya IrafamaMacire Sylla is a singer embracing the Afro-pop style so popular in Europe right now. An electric version of Soko, mixed with American pop and R&B styles, this disc almost screams for radio play. Sylla has a wonderful voice, very full and joyful. “Aidara” shows off her vocal prowess rather nicely, with a heavy groove and some great layered response vocals. Although there’s nothing terribly original in her style, she has a far better voice than many mining this market. And she does make you want to dance! Although the production is a little iffy (it’s the almost obligatory thick, somewhat muddy mix that mars much of Afro-pop), the musicians carve out some original ideas, and play with a great deal more enthusiasm than most in this genre. A decent Afro-pop disc worthy of repeated listenings.

cover art for Let Me BeI wish I could say the same about Rasha. A Sudanese singer currently living in Spain, her debut album Let Me Be shows some promise, but not excessively so. Her voice is weaker than many I’ve heard singing in her Afro/Arabic-pop vein. Although she does get in some nice parts, like on “Afta’h Alhab,” overall her vocals are a tad flat. The music is frankly unoriginal, mining the same small bag of licks that permeate African Pop music styles (much the same way all American or Thai pop music sounds similar). Her biggest mistake here is the title track, whose Arabic inspired licks played on a saxophone(!) is her voice’s sole accompaniment: it sounds so much like something off a bad TV travelogue it’s funny. Which is a shame: Rasha’s lyrics are interesting enough. Perhaps with a bit more time to polish her skills, she may make something a bit more engaging than this disc.

Live from Oba Idemili & Nri! is the last disc up, and, frankly, it’s a dud. It is basically a Walkman recording of music from the Ani na Agwu festival in Nigeria. Released in “Enhanced Simulated Stereo” (read: two-channel mono), it features some distant sounding recordings of tinny percussion, shaker bells, and out of tune whistles, with the odd voice discernible in the din. Frankly, it sounds like you’re standing about 250 metres away from where the action is. Perhaps in person it’s fascinating, but as an audio document, it’s strictly has enthomusicological interest. Take a pass on this one.

Over all, the only crucial disc of these is Seniwe; the rest have some high points, but only Badenya les Freres Coulibaly left a big impression on me. It was foreseeable that as more artists from Africa get recorded, some lesser lights would be released. But this is truly a fantastic band, and I heartily recommend their disc.

(Trace, 2000)
(Trace, 2000)
(Nubenegra/Intuition, 2000)
(Klarity, undated)

Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.

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