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: 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: 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.
Mahmoud Ahmed - "Aynotche Terabu" (with Equators Band) (4:02)
Girma Beyene - "Ene Negn Bay Manesh" (2:24)
Review: The Afro 45's / Mr Bongo lineage has produced some of the hottest, most sizzling funk reissues from around the globe, and this tasty two-header from Mahmoud Ahmed - who has appeared heavily on Portland's monumental Mississippi label - and Girma Beyene, two greats of the African soul / funk heritage. Ahmed's "Aynotche Terabu" is backed by the Equators Band, and the man's voice rides like crispy waves over the dusty percussion and charging trumpets of the outfit; Beyene appears with a less moody but equally brilliant jazz-leaning piece named "Ene Negn Bay Manesh", bringing through the spirot of greats such as Mulatu and the rest of the African luminaries.
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: German imprint Pingipung has been doing a great job in re-introducing the world to the music of Umeko Ando, a Japanese folk singer who spent decades championing her native Ainu culture before passing away in 2004. Pingipung has already reissued her rare debut album, 2000's "Ihunke", and here gives a deserved first single release to that set's closing track, "Atuy So Kata". Her beautiful and haunting original version - all handclaps, traditional instrumentation and her sublime vocals - nestles on the A-side, with Patric Catani's remix on the flip. His version is drowsy, foreboding and fuzzy, with the remixer expertly mixing Ando's vocals and instrumentation with crunchy electronic drums, psych-rock guitars and all manner of out-there noises.
Review: Destination '77: Nigerian troupe The Apostles lay down their third album Banko Woman. And, with it, this widescreen vibe excursion that's been a go-to for Afrobeat diggers since it was released on Love Day 40 years ago. "Banko Woman" is a firing, energetic funk jam layered with vibrant levels of instrumentation that gradually strip back at points to let you feel the raw tempo of the groove. "Faith Luck & Music" is at once both more bluesy, thanks to the sliding, melting guitars, and spiritual, thanks to the traditional rhythm and chords. A rare and long-awaited reissue.
Review: The Mushi 45 label doesn't release all that much, but what it does put out is invariably insanely good. For the avoidance of doubt, this two-track missive sits in that category. It serves up two rare, sought-after 1970s gems from Rinsyoe Kida, Akira Ishikawa & Count Buffaloes, who made some of the tidiest Japanese funk, jazz-rock and jazz-funk of the period. A-side "Tan To Setsu" is superb, with the assembled players brilliantly blending traditional Japanese style melodic motifs - played on traditional instruments - with a riotous, high octane funk backing track rich in heavy bass and fiery horn lines. "Jongara Bushi" is similarly inclined and every bit as raucous.
Review: Copies of Francisco Aguabella's 1977 album "Hitting Hard" are not only extremely hard to come by, but also suitably pricey when they do come up for sale online. Fret not - Dynamite Cuts are here to help. They've decided to reissue two of the Afro-Cuban jazz/funk fusion set's most potent track, thus saving us the need to fork out the best part of 800 pounds. A-side "Ramon's Desire" - a cover of a Ramon Robes song - is suitably breezy, jazzy and positive, with glistening guitar and vibraphone solos combining wonderfully with a soulful vocal. Flipside "Casa Fuerte", on the other hand, is an all-action, high-tempo Afro-Cuban jazz dance treat, with high-octane piano solos rising above a Tito Puente style rhythm track.
Review: Awesome Tapes From Africa surely scored one of the best reissues this year with the vinyl and CD edition of Obaa Sima, a quite startling album from Ghanaian musician Ata Kak that covered highlife, rap, pop, and more. The fact the discovery of the original tape was ATFA founder's Brian Shimkovitz original reason for starting the label made it all the more special. With copies of that album no longer in press, Awesome Tapes From Africa have tempered demand with a series of 12" releases featuring cuts from Obaa Sima. Here the title track makes the transition, pressed nice and loud at 45rpm (do try it at 33 too for a different vibe), whilst the slower electro funk-edged bliss of "Adagya" lines the B-side.
The Devil Made Me Do It (The Invisible Cosmic Echoes version) (4:51)
The Devil Made Me Do It (The Invisible Astral Wave version) (4:30)
Review: Like many drummers, Alex Puddu has long been inspired by the work of Tony Allen. He pays tribute to the legendary Nigerian sticks-man on "The Devil Made Me Do It", a sumptuous dose of groovy downtempo Afrobeat laden with Allen-style polyrhythms, Africa '70 horns and lashings of eyes-closed electric piano solos. On the flip you'll find two different interpretations from Puddu. The first, subtitled "The Invisible Cosmic", doffs a cap to the Afro-cosmic world of Daniele Baldelli while retaining much of the warmth and musicality of the original mix. "The Invisible Astral" version is an altogether more spaced-out dub, with Puddu smothering the drums and horns in copious amounts of tape echo.
Review: Although best known as the lead singer of well-regarded Japanese funk-soul band O.A.S.B, Amy Akaoka has long dreamed up recording a salsa album in the style of '60s and '70s pianist and bandleader Larry Harlow. This tasty two-track 7" single is her first release in the style - the album will appear later in the year - and is as summery, breezy and life affirming as you'd expect. She begins with "Tu Jamas", where male backing vocals, jaunty pianos and her own passionate lead vocal ride a sweat-soaked salsa rhythm. Turn to the B-side for the horn-heavy delight that is breezy salsa shuffler "Solo Tu Amor". Naturally, both are hugely authentic to the style of salsa championed by Harlow.
Review: "Der Say Ah" has long been a banger on dance floors tuned into international sounds. It's the sort of bouncy afrobeat and sax-laced classic that has been fetching huge amounts online. DJs like Gilles Peterson and Nightmare on Wax have been playing it for yonks and now, after many years of it being out of print, it is back courtesy of Push The Fader. The Akoya Re-Rub mix here was mixed by Ben Kane who worked on D'Angelo's Black Messiah, so this sounds beyond good. The 7" version comes from DJ Spinna with extra keys from Ticklah, psyched out bass and extra dub feelings.
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.
Review: These days, Mulatu Astatke is widely considered to be the "Godfather of Ethiopian jazz". Yet when he recorded the two-part "Afro-Latin Soul" album in 1966, he'd just left music college in Boston. As this fine reissue proves, Astatke was years ahead of the game. While rooted in American jazz from the period, all 19 tracks (both albums have been compiled on to a single disc for this edition) draw heavily on Cuban jazz, in particular, as well as Ethiopian musical traditions. In truth, the latter aspect doesn't come through quite as strongly as you'd perhaps expect, though some of the album's highlights - the brilliant "Soul Power" in particular - draw more heavily on the percussive polyrhythms of Africa. Regardless, this is a superb set of forward-thinking global jazz that delivers high quality entertainment from start to finish.
Review: Initially released in South Africa in 1982, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley's sophomore set is now regarded as a boogie-era Highlife classic. Here issued on CD for the very first time via Mr Bongo, the album features the Ghanaian star brilliantly joining the dots between driving disco-funk, jazz-funk, intoxicating slow jams, calypso, dub reggae and his beloved highlife. Highlights come thick and fast throughout, with standouts including heavy percussion jam "Simigwa", the boogie-dub skank of "Adwoa", the down-low grooves of "Walking Down The Street" and the killer disco highlife anthem "It's High Life". Simply essential.
Review: 1975's "Simigwa" album not only launched the career of Afro-funk fusionist and eventual Highlife great Gyedu Blay Ambolley, but also inspired a Ghanaian dance craze. The album was co-produced by another Highlife great, Ebo Taylor, and has long been exceptionally hard to find on vinyl. For this official vinyl reissue on Mr Bongo, Ambolley's landmark set has been fully re-mastered for the very first time. It sounds spectacular, with great clarity on the ear-catching brass solos, serious weight to the bass and superb stereo separation. Highlights include - but certainly aren't limited to - the Afro-blues brilliance of "Toffie", the jaunty dancefloor fuzziness of "This Hustling World" and the heavyweight swing of ear-catching opener "Kwaakwaa".
Review: According to Brownswood Recordings, Dayme Arocena took a conscious decision to opt for a more "stripped back" sound on her latest album, which marks her fourth full-length excursion for Gilles Peterson's admirable imprint. That's certainly the impression given by the opening track, "Nangareo", which sees the Cuban singer layer her own spoken and sung vocals over the sounds of lapping waves and moody, elongated synthesizer chords. It offers a striking introduction to an Afro-Cuban jazz set that smartly incorporates elements of both samba and the distinctive drum rhythms associated with her home country (as well as some superb chanted vocals). As a result, "Sonocardiogram" has an ear-pleasing vibrancy that encourages repeat listens.
Room Enough For Us (feat Ray Lugo - Terrificos mix)
Review: The Alma Afrobeat Ensemble is a ten-piece outfit from Barcelona created, in part, to pay tribute to the pioneering work of Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, amongst others. It's Time is their third full-length, and comprises both new material, and fresh remixes of previous work. In the former category, you'll find the thrilling, horn-heavy brilliance of "It's Time", and the slower, organ rich thrills of "Lost". As fine as these tracks are, it's the dancefloor-ready reworks that arguably hit home hardest. Highlights include DJ Quiet's low-slung, broken beat influenced interpretation of "DWB Breakdown", Los Kalakos killer dub rework of "Lost", and the subtle Afro-house infusions of Terrificos' remix of "Room Enough For Us
Review: The Highlife party by Brian d'Souza (aka Auntie Flo) in his hometown of Glasgow has been integral in establishing a new style of club music - merging electronic and world influences. He joins the Brownswood roster to deliver his third and most ambitious album: a natural companion piece to his Radio Highlife show on Worldwide FM (run by Brownswood boss Gilles Peterson) and the club night which he co-founded - known playing music from West Africa and Latin America. Contributions on the album come from a globetrotting cast of friends, including the inimitable Andrew Ashong, Laurie Pitt of local outfit Golden Teacher, Senegalese multi-instrumentalist Mame Ndiack and Cuban percussionist Yissy Garcia.
Review: Rotterdam is one of the many big port cities around the world that welcomed a high number of Cape Verdean immigrants. In the 1970s, Americo Brito was one of them and he soon got involved with the local music scene and found an ever larger community of likeminded talents. He took to the stage with his band and made for a buzzy little scene that found them tour with their own sound system. Here he works with Rotterdam local Arp Frique to serve up Cape Verdean music old and new with plenty of traditional Funana and Coladeira sounds next to jams influenced by wave, disco and funk, jazz, reggae and Latin pop.