Review: Exploring the sounds emanating from South Asia, Masaala is a new label with a fresh outlook. The first release features Manchester-based producers Raheel Khan and Adesi turning in some powerful edits that will appeal to anyone seeking invigorating sounds from further afield. Khan's twist on "Mast Qalandar" sounds like a striking version of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's "Mustt Mustt". Adesi offers up the lions share of the edits though, channeling South Asian sounds through grooves ranging from the fierce disco stomp of "Sansani" to the low slung funk groove of "Nah Nah Nah". "Kammata" has a more dense rhythmic complexity at its heart, and "Kuchi Kuchi" collides traditional sounds with contemporary broken beat to brilliant effect.
Review: The UK's Mr Bongo has been reissuing old music and putting out new tunes since the late 1980's, and the label is still going strong in 2015. This latest 7" features two of Ethiopia's greatest musicians, Alemayehu Eshete and Mahmoud Ahmed, in a head to head, split EP. On the A-side, Mr Bongo has resurfaced Eshete's "Tchero Adari Negn", a supremely funky piece with the man's own voice gliding effortlessly over hard drums and fuzy guitar riffs; "Bemim Sebeb Litlash" goes deeper and more psychedelic on the flip, and Ahmed's voice is a pleasure as always. Check their other material on Mississippi for a broader introspective.
Review: Comprised of Uhuru Dance Band members Ebo Taylor and Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, The Apagya Showband only delivered a handful of releases but they're all worth digging out. Mr Bongo have started the excavation with these two 1974 vintage licks; "Tamfo" is concentrated uplift with big horns and an unescapable highlife guitar lick. "Mumude" is a deeper, drum-heavy jam that switches suddenly with the help of big organ splashes and sermonised spoken word.
Review: Another weighty slab of Ethiopian music history from Mr Bongo... First up is the hugely influential fusionist Mulatu Astatke with the Latin-meets-Afro jam "Assiyo Bellema". Loaded with frenetic guitars and mesmerising drum work from Frank Holder, this was actually recorded during Mulatu's time in London. Flip for an equally influential force in Ethiopian music: Soul Ekos Band affiliate Teshome Meteku with a more traditional local sound, Teshome's yearning insistent vocals wrap around the horns and tight drums like fog around a mountain. Captivating.
Review: Afro 45's / Mr Bongo show no signs of stopping their tireless run of form and, 7" after 7", they just keep on producing the goods. There's yet more '70s goodness with this new little scorcher: the A-side is 1973's "Tessassategn Eko" by Bahta Gebre Hiwot, a pensive Ethiopian pop hit for all sorts of music fans to enjoy, but "Ayalqem Tedqem" by Alemayehu Eshete on the B-side is where it's at... just listen to that bass and you'll instantly recognize this wonderful little cover.
Review: For their latest deep dive into forgotten and sought-after African music, Mr Bongo has secured the rights to reissue Togolese singer Akofa Akoussah's eponymous 1976 debut album. Akoussah was already something of a scene veteran when she recorded the set for Paris-based Sonafric, having made her vinyl debut in Togo 11 years earlier. The set remains something of a classic, with Akoussah variously delivering sweet vocals over local rhythms and guitars, bass, horns and Moog synth parts that showcase her Western funk and soul influences. There are some suitably heavy dancefloor workouts throughout (not least superb opener "Tango") as well as more laidback and stripped-back cuts. Curiously, the echo-laden production makes it sound like it was recorded in the mid '60s rather than the 1970s, but that's no criticism; it just adds an extra edge of intoxicating fuzziness.
Review: Last year, Strut reissued the earliest albums in Mulatu Astatke's catalogue - 1966's "Afro-Latin Soul Part 1 & 2". This quality collection from Buda Musique picks up the story three years later, when the man who would become known as the "Godfather of Ethiopian Jazz" was beginning to establish himself as a true pioneer. The compilation draws on work recorded between 1969 and '74 in Boston, New York and London, most of which explores Astatke's unique and distinctive fusion of turn-of-the-'70s US jazz, dancefloor-friendly jazz-funk, Afro-Cuban rhythms and traditional Ethiopian music. While some of the recordings are fiendishly fuzzy and lo-fi, there's no arguing with the quality of Astatke's composition, playing and production. In fact, it's a near perfect introduction to his now familiar "Ethio-jazz" style.