28 February 2011

Monday's mp3: African Axes

I am legend.

Okay, not really. But the guys* on the new Rough Guide to African Legends? Legends, big time. Most of them, at least.

The CD starts out with perhaps the best guitarist in the world, in my estimation: Djelimadi Tounkara. I expect he could play pretty much any style, though he is known for his kora-style fingerpicking, emulating the astonishingly quick runs for which that West African harp is known. The track "Fanta Bourama" starts off with a classical-sounding bit before launching into a delicious acoustic masterpiece.

From West Africa we head to southern Africa, and the unique style of Oliver Mtukudzi. The track Andinzwi is pleasant enough, but it honestly shows off his distinctive vocals more than his formidable guitar skills. It's an odd choice for inclusion on this compilation.

Any lover of guitars and/or African music will find much to love in the twelve tracks on this compilation. I'll separate the remaining musicians fall into two groups:

Group One: The No-Brainers. These are guitarists you can't go wrong with, having established a distinctive style, a global following, or both: Ali Farka Toure, Tinariwen, Franco, Shiyani Ngcoba, and King Sunny Ade.

We'll take a quick musical break here to listen to the track from Ngcoba, since the sad news is that he passed on Feb. 18, and left us with only his album Introducing Shiyani Ngcoba to remember him by.

[mp3] Shiyani Ngcoba: Yekanini
from the album The Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends

Okay, on to Group Two: "I'm sorry, who?" These guitarists have largely flown under my radar to this point, though I'm happy to hear more of them: Eric Agyeman, Jean Bosco Mwenda, Syran Mbenza, Henry Makobi, and Kanté Manfila.

I'm not entirely certain why a track from Congolese musician Syran Mbenza is included in the compilation, since the companion CD provides twelve more tracks from him and his Ensemble Rumba Kongo. No complaining about his musical prowess (the BBC's Andy Kershaw says "Eric Clapton isn't fit to tune [his] strings"), just that I would have freed up that song slot for another deserving guitarist.

Ah, yes, the omissions. Call them Group Three: Omissions. Compilations are, of course, as much about availability and licensing as ideal selections, but there are more than a few deserving musicians left off. South African guitarist Louis Mhlanga is one of the most lyrical players out there, and his countryman Philip Tabane plays some stunning jazz. Heck, I'd even consider Hannes Coetze for his unique slide-guitar style. Then there are Senegalese sensations El Hadj n'Daiaye and Jim Mbaye. And what about Malagasy guitarist D'Gary? And surely there must be some guitar players in Arabic North Africa....

*Then there's the gender issue. Where are the guitar-toting African women? Aside from Rokia Traore, few leap to mind. Please leave comments below to help remedy my ignorance on this point. And send a copy of your comment to World Music Network for their next African Guitar compilation.


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