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CD reviews: New sounds, stories from Africa

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesBenin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke has released the album, "Mwaliko."
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Lionel Loueke, a 30-something guitarist from the West African country of Benin, crosses American jazz and African rhythms and sounds on his second album for Blue Note. It is an ear-catching blend, sophisticated but rootsy. Loueke’s musical personality is soft-spoken; there is a hushed nature that runs throughout “Mwaliko,” especially on the solo guitar piece “Intro to L.L.,” and the early part of “L.L.,” which features the rhythm section of bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, whom Loueke met while a student at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. “Mwaliko” gets a dynamic quality from three guest vocalists – Loueke’s countrymate Anglique Kidjo; Richard Bona, from Cameroon; and American Esperanza Spalding – as well as the occasional forays into more explosive forms of jazz. Not for nothing was Loueke featured in Herbie Hancock’s band.

Bassekou Kouyate descends from a line of griots – musicians who carry on the Malian tradition of telling ancient stories through song. The title refers to a traditional ethnic group spread across West Africa, and the language they speak. But there is nothing musty-sounding about the album; instead, it sounds as if it is built on the significance of a centuries-old history. Kouyate plays the ngoni, an ancestor of the banjo, and his picking is fabulous; check out the solo on “Musow – For Our Women.” Kouyate is joined by some of the best-known West African musicians, including Toumani Diabate and Vieux Farka Tour, as well as Amy Sacko, Kouyate’s wife, as the primary vocalist.Bassekou Kouyate and members of Ngoni Ba are featured in the Bla Fleck Africa Project concert Friday at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House.

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Nigerian musician and political agitator, is big news these days, 13 years after his death. “FELA!” the musical is a smash on Broadway. Now Knitting Factory Records is in the process of re-releasing all 45 of the singer-saxophonist’s album, beginning with this greatest-hits package that includes two CDs and a DVD that features concert footage from the Berlin Jazz Festival, a segment from the film “Music is the Weapon,” and an interview with Bill T. Jones, choreographer and director of “FELA!” It’s notably generous treatment of the catalogue given the state of album sales, but Fela’s music – a mix of American groove-jazz and Nigerian highlife – was a force in Africa during his lifetime, and deserves to be heard.stewart@aspentimes.com

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Nigerian musician and political agitator, is big news these days, 13 years after his death. “FELA!” the musical is a smash on Broadway. Now Knitting Factory Records is in the process of re-releasing all 45 of the singer-saxophonist’s album, beginning with this greatest-hits package that includes two CDs and a DVD that features concert footage from the Berlin Jazz Festival, a segment from the film “Music is the Weapon,” and an interview with Bill T. Jones, choreographer and director of “FELA!” It’s notably generous treatment of the catalogue given the state of album sales, but Fela’s music – a mix of American groove-jazz and Nigerian highlife – was a force in Africa during his lifetime, and deserves to be heard.

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Cesaria Evora, a singer from the island nation of Cape Verde, has been likened to Billie Holiday. But Evora is proving to have a far stronger constitution and survival instinct than Holiday, who died at the age of 44, in decrepit shape, from the effects of booze and drugs. The 68-year-old Evora suffered a stroke in 2008, but comes back with this pleasing effort, her deep, almost masculine voice in strong shape. Cape Verde is off the coast of Senegal, but was a Portuguese colony, and the influence shows. “Nha Sentimento” has much in common with sounds from Brazil (another Portuguese-speaking former colony), even though the album was recorded in Cairo, with Egyptian musicians.stewart@aspentimes.com


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