31 July 2006

Monday's mp3: The Paripatetic Ray Lema

I ran into my Congolese friend Mayal yesterday, and along with the news about Congo's first democratic election in 40 years yesterday, the nation is on my mind.

I haven't yet been to DR Congo (formerly Zaire), but its music is well known to me. It has produced a huge number of well-known artists, including Mbilia Bel, Sam Mangwana, Pepe Kalle, Franko, Tshala Mwana, Awinlo Longomba, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Papa Wemba, Wendo Kolosoy... and that's just a start. The nation's music is particularly rich in Afro-Cuban influences.

For whatever reason, however, another side of Congolese music is in my mind today. We spoke recently of the great collaborator Bill Laswell. Sharing Laswell's interest in diverse projects is Congolese multi-instrumentalist Ray Lema.Ray Lema with Chico Cesar

Biographers make much of Lema's being born aboard a train, since he has continued to travel widely in musical influences. Among those with whom Lema has collaborated are Moroccan group Tyour Gnaoua, Bulgaria's Pirin Ensemble, Stewart Copeland (of the Police), the Mahotalla Queens, and Chico Cesar. Lema is also active with the anti-censorship group Freemuse. You can read a long bio of Lema at RFI Musique.

Lema seems disinclined to include song notes or lyrics in his album notes, leaving the listener to absorb the sound more with heart than with head. As one who strives to understand the context of music, I find this practice annoying. Why not use that print real estate to at least extol the cultures and musical traditions being celebrated? Well, while I wage that battle, you can sample Lema's wares. "Allal" features Abdeslam Alikkane on the three-stringed guembri lute, which seems to me akin to the West African ngoni. It's a traditional song, but with clearly modern Lema influences (particularly the keyboards).

[mp3] Ray Lema with Tyour Gnaoua: "Allal"
from the album Safi
Ray Lema mp3 downloads
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