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Various Artists: Africa: Ceremonial & Folk Music

Album Remarks & Appraisals:

Japan only collection part of Warner's world collection series. 2008.

Album Notes

This album was originally titled AFRICA: CEREMONIAL & FOLK MUSIC.

Recorded in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Originally released on Nonesuch (72063). Includes liner notes by David Fanshawe.

All tracks have been digitally remastered.

This is part of the Nonesuch Explorer Series.

This release was one of several in which this label used colorful and evocative cover art by Don Brautigam, as opposed to the often bland packaging used for the company's initial release schedule of low budget world music recordings. Although many record store owners from the '70s confess to have possibly damaging their memory for such details, it is also extremely likely that the label's series of price increases began around this time as well. Although the use of color is superb, the nature of these illustrations hasn't really dated that well, especially considering the multitude of other possibilities one might have when assembling graphics for a collection of African music that is as vague and all-encompassing as this one. Ceremonial and Folk Music from Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania? It is pretty big territory, musically and geographically. So a listener unfamiliar with this release may jump to the conclusion that it doesn't have much to offer, or might even be cheesy. The latter would be an unforgivable thing, because when all is said and done, one thing African music never needs to be is cheesy. And that is one thing this record is not. Producer David Fanshawe has put together a collection that includes some absolutely amazing tracks. The opening "Acholi Bwala Dance" has a bass drum groove going that just about beats anything, but DJs or bands shouldn't feel bad; there are supposedly some 100 people performing, including some making weird squeaks on bone and horn whistles. The vocal technique known as "ululating," which one might hear at a Tunisian or Egyptian wedding or other significant ceremony, is also demonstrated here wonderfully. Then we move on to the "Aluar Horns," recorded on the border of Uganda and Zaire, a part of the world that has seen its share of grief to be sure. The 60 musicians involved in this piece are hereby invited to come into town and take over the classical music department; they have invented or inherited their own system of music, which they execute with perfection, making everything else seem almost irrelevant. The album continues with regular musical peaks such as this, as the cuts chosen are all special and in many cases, unlike much of what is available on various collections of African music. Other highlights come near the end, with the contributions of the Wagogo people, whose name is musical in itself. The duet featuring players on the 11-string "zeze" is a blast and includes imitations of wildlife, always a good thing in any genre of music. "Wagogo Marimba" is the final track, ending the album literally on a buzz, in this case an instrument-building trick involving a spider's web placed over a hole in the soundbox. Which is at least one thing they won't be able to say Robert Johnson thought of first. So, look past the goony looking native on the front. This is an album that offers much pleasure to both the avid collector or the listener that wants just a concise yet vivid glimpse of this musical universe. Just don't expect to see anyone flashing any IDs, since none of the performers are identified by name. ~ Eugene Chadbourne


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