A brief summary of African Popular music

by Piero Scaruffi
excerpted from The History of Popular Music

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During the 1980s, the West rediscovered the folk music of Africa. Afro-rock started with commercial groups based in the west, such as Osibisa.

The cross-pollination took place in both directions: western popular music adopted elements of African music, while African music adopted elements (particularly the studio techniques) of western music.

During the 1980s, the styles and genres of the various African countries, such as South Africa's "mbaqanga", Zimbabwe's "jit", Zaire's "soukous", Nigeria's "juju" and Ghana's "highlife", had a chance to develop and proliferate around the world.


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African music of the 1950s
African music of the 1970s
Afro-pop of the 1980s

During the 1950s, when they experienced rapid urbanization and a relatively booming economy, the two French-speaking colonies of the Congo area (capitals in Brazzaville and Kinshasa) witnessed the birth of an African version of the Cuban rumba played by small American-style orchestras (called "kasongo", "kirikiri" or "soukous") with a touch of jazz and of local attitudes: Joseph "Grand Kalle" Kabasselleh's African Jazz (that counted on vocalist Tabu Ley, guitarist "Docteur" Nico Kasanda, saxophonist Manu Dibango), Jean-Serge Essous' O.K.Jazz (featuring the young Franco), Orchestre Bella Bella, etc. Each orchestra became famous for one or more "dances" that they invented. So soukous (as Ley dubbed it in 1966) is actually a history of dances, rather than one monolithic genre (Ley's definition originally applied only to a frenzied version of rumba). A guitarist named Jimmy Elenga introduced "animation": instructions yelled to the crowd in order to direct their dances. Animation eventually became part of the dance, delivering both the identity of the dance, the (ethnic) identity of the band and a (more or less subtle) sociopolitical message. As dictators seized power in both Congos, musicians emigrated to other African countries, to Europe and to the USA, thus spreading soukous around the world, while in Zaire (Congo Kinshasa) soukous bands were used for Maoist-style propaganda purposes ("l'animation politique").

A key figure was "Franco" (Francois Luambo Makiadi), the guitarist who in 1958 evolved the O.K.Jazz into the 20-member T.P.O.K.Jazz (including saxohpnist 'Verkys' Kiamanguana Mateta) and was largely responsible for the relaxed, sensual, languid version of soukous that became predominant, before the 1967 arrival of guitarist Mose Fan Fan led to a more lively sound. His collaboration with Tabu Ley, Omana Wapi (1976), contained only four lengthy dances. The other star of the TP OK Jazz band, hired by Franco in 1984, was vocalist and composer Jean "Madilu System" Bialu.

Tabu Pascal (aka Tabu Ley Rochereau) formed African Fiesta in 1963 (initially with Dr Nico, who co-wrote the classic Afrika Mokili Mobimba) and then renamed it Afrisa in 1970, with vocalist Sam Mangwana (and later heavenly soprano M'bilia Bel) and guitarist Huit-Kilos Bimwela Nseka. From the beginning, Ley played the Latin rhythms on the drums of rock music, thus merging (at least ideally) rumba and rock. His Fiesta also turned the soukous concert into a happening that was reminiscent of the sexy shows of Parisian cabarets.

The generation of the 1970s included the orchestras of Papa Wemba (Jules Shungo Wembadio Pene Kikumba), whose Zaiko Langa Langa of 1969 featured electric guitars instead of brass instruments, and whose Viva La Musica of 1977 (a name inspired by Puertorican star Ray Barreto but the music is equally inspired by Otis Redding's sweet soul) is best represented by Mere Superieure (1977), Ana Lengo (1980) and L'Esclave (1987), and then Kanda Bongo Man, with Amour Fou (1984), Dr Nico, Zaiko Langa Langa, plus Orchestra Veve, founded by Franco's disciple 'Verkys' Kiamanguana Mateta, with Lukani (1975), Orchestre Virunga.

Congolese keyboardist and musicologist Ray Lema Ansi Nzinga relocated to France, where he achieved the rumba, rock, funk and reggae fusion of Kinshasa- Washington DC- Paris (1983). His adult phase was instead devoted to merging African rhythm and western classical harmony, particularly on introspective albums of piano music such as Tout Partout (1994).

On the contrary, Brazzaville's singer-songwriter Pamelo Mounka, an alumnus of Tabu Ley's Afrisa, remained faithful to the traditional Congo sound on L'Argent Appelle l'Argent (1981).

Albums by westernized singers from Congo in the 1980s also included Kanda Bongo's Amour Fou (1984) and Souzy Kasseya's Le Retour de l'As (1984).

Raised in Europe, fluent in the musical traditions of the Middle East and of African-Americans, Congolose vocalist Marie Daulne founded Zap Mama (1), an all-female a-cappella group, to sing tunes inspired by the music of the world, such as on Adventures in Afropea I (1993).


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Ghana, the first African country to win independence from a European colonizer (in 1957) and the economic miracle of Africa at the end of the century, was the birthplace of highlife music. Originally the name given by blacks to the music of the white social elite, it evolved from the fusion of rural "palm-wine" music for guitar, percussion and concertina, church music, Latin ballroom music, military music and African tribal music. The black bands that used to play at parties of white people started playing also for black people, and their sound became more and more Africanized. The guitar-based fusion was mature in the 1930s, when it was interpreted for the masses by Jacob Sam (his Yaa Amponsah dates from 1928), heavily influenced by the Cuban orchestras. In the 1950s, especially after independence, highlife bandleaders Emmanuel Tettah Mensah (leader since 1948 of the twelve-piece orchestra Tempos, the charismatic archetype of the highlife dance band), King Bruce, Jerry Hansen, Stan Plange, E.K. Nyame, leader of the most popular guitar-band, drummer Guy Warren, Nigerian trumpeter Victor Olaiya, Nigerian guitarist Bobby Benson, were influenced by American swing bands. The Tempos exported highlife to Nigeria in 1951, and Nigeria soon became to rival Ghana for highlife supremacy.

In the 1960s American soul and rock music prevailed, and in 1971 the "Soul to Soul" festival helped bridge the worlds of American black popular music and of highlife, thus returning the supremacy to guitar-based bands: Nana Kwame Ampadu's African Brothers International Band, that cut Ebi Tie Ye (1967), Okukuseku, Noble Kings, Ashanti Brothers, Nana Ampadu, City Boys, Hi-Life International. In Nigeria, the most influential highlife bands included: Rex Lawson's Mayors Dance Band, Celestine Ukwu's Philosophers National, Osita Osadere's Soundmakers International, Oriental Brothers International Band, Orlando Owoh's Omimah Band, Oliver Akanite de Coque's Expo '76 Ogene Super Sounds.

The fad of Afro-rock started with a group from Ghana based in London, Osibisa, formed by Teddy Osei, that struck gold with Music for Gong Gong (1970) and Sunshine Day (1976). Highlife was then quickly corrupted by rock, reggae and hip-hop. Notable albums of the 1970s included Party Time With CeeKay (1973) by Charles Kofi Mann and The Kusum Beat (1976) by Alfred Benjamin Crentsil's Sweet Talks. In Nigeria, Nico Mbarga's Sweet Mother (1976) was a turning point in the fusion of highlife and makossa.

In the 1980s Ghanian acts George Darko and the Lumba Brothers (Charles "Daddy Lumba" Fosu and Nana "Lover Boy" Acheampong) who had emigrated to Germany launched a brief local fad, "burgher highlife".

Ghana's percussionist Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng (1) delivered the imposing intricate and hypnotic polyrhythmic maelstroms of Awakening (1998).


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Nigeria, the most populous country of the African continent, was always at the vanguard of world-music.

Nigerian hand drumming virtuoso Babatunde Olatunji (1) shocked the USA with Drums of Passion (1959), a collection of traditional Nigerian music for percussion and chanting. (He would continue to pursue his aesthetic of drumming-induced trance with the The Invocation of 1988 and the 21-minute Cosmic Rhythm Vibrations of 1993).

Nigerian saxophonist, pianist and vocalist Fela Anikulapo Kuti (4) coined a new style of music (Afro-beat) by combining James Brown's funk music, highlife and jazz. In 1966 he joined the Highlife Jazz Band. In 1968, after visiting the USA and being influenced by the "black power" movement, he also added sociopolitical lyrics. Persecuted by the Nigerian government, he became the voice of the oppressed. At his best, Kuti concocts lengthy improvised jams of bebop saxophone lines, Frank Zappa-esque horn fanfares, call-and-response vocals, and wild polyrhythms led by Tony Allen's spectacular drumming. His recordings include: London Scene (1970), still very derivative of James Brown, Gentleman (1973), one of his most popular albums, Zombie (1977), Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (1987), Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (1990).

Nigeria (particularly the Yoruba region) is also the homeland of juju music, the African equivalent of American folk-rock: tribal polyrhythm wed to electric guitars. In the 1920s juju music was born (like the blues) as a music of the rural poor, but in 1958 Isaiah Kehinde Dairo began to transform it into an urban phenomenon, and in 1960 he introduced accordion into the ensemble.

Ebenezer Obey (1) further modernized juju by drawing on highlife, and his lengthy jams (underpinning a spiritual longing) turned it into an exercise in trance, for example on Mo Tun Gbe De (1973).

On the surface, the intricate dance suites of Nigerian juju vocalist and guitarist "King" Sunny Ade` (1) simply wed African percussion, call-and-response singing and western-style arrangements of guitars and synthesizers. But, often, the roles of guitarists and percussionists were swapped, as the latter drove the melody and the former drove the rhythm. The production emphasized the techniques of Jamaican dub, and sonic details often harked back to other ethnic traditions, such as the twang of country music. Ade`'s stylistic mixture reached maturity on Juju Music (1982).

Later, juju fused with other styles (both African and western) in the work of Dele Abiodun, who came of age with Beginning Of A New Era (1981), and Segun Adewale's Superstars International, that reached their best synthesis on Endurance (1982).

The Yoruba region's "fuji" music is closely related to Islam, although its origins are purely African. It is performed by ensembles of vocalists and percussionists. During the 1970s, the style was popularized by Sikiru "Barrister" Ayinde, Ayinya Kollington and child prodigy Salawa Abeni.

South Africa

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South Africa had a melting pot of its own. In the black urban centers where different tribes met, and met with foreign slaves, a dance style called "marabi" evolved. It was originally a humble form of music, but it became similar to the jazz music played by swing bands in the USA when it was adopted by the relatively wealthy and free blacks of Sophiatown, a suburb that had become a sort of Johannesburg's Harlem. In 1955 it was destroyed by the white racist government, an event that led to the radicalization of South African jazz music.

The most influential phenomenon in South-African music was the evolution of Zulu township music, or mbaqanga (originally the name of a soup of the 1950s), a lilting style that relies on driving rhythm. Early South-African songs include Solomon Linda's Mbube (1939), the base for The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Much of South-African music of the 1950s was born at the crossroads of jazz and folk music. In fact, an important moment for the emancipation of the local scene was Todd Matshikiza's musical King-Kong (1959), that exported a fusion of classical, jazz and African idioms, and that featured both trumpeter Hugh Masekela and vocalist Miriam Makeba.

Miriam Makeba, an activist in the civil-rights movement of the USA, recorded in a pop-jazz style, often accompanied by her husband Hugh Masekela.

Trumpet player Hugh Masekela (1) fused the South-African tradition of work and church songs (the South-African equivalent of the American blues and gospel) and Zulu mbaqanga rhythms with the structure of jazz and pop-jazz music, on albums such as The Lasting Impression (1965).

Possibly the greatest of the South-African groaners (sarcastic singers in a croaking/growling/roaring register), Simon "Mahlathini" Nkabinde (1) created an exuberant brand of mbaqanga music on albums such as Putting on the Light (1975), backed by female singers the Mahotella Queens (heirs to the "smodern" tradition, which was a sort of Tamla soul adapted to Zulu's polyphonic choirs) and boasting the rock instrumental arrangements of producer, saxophonist and pennywhistle player West Nkosi (leader of the Makgona Tsohle Band with Marks Mankwane on guitar).

Joseph Shabalala's Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a vocal group that specializes in the a-cappella harmonies called "mbube" (and its more refined version "isicathamiya") that originated in the golden mines of South Africa. The early albums, such as Ukusindiswa and Umthombo Wamanzi (1982), focused on call-and-response structures.

Other significant South-African acts include the mbaqanga combo Soul Brothers, popular in the second half of the 1970s, and the instrumental combo Boyoyo Boys (whose melodies are played by saxophones or pennywhistles).

White singer-songwriter Johnny Clegg collaborated with South African black musician Sipho Mchunu to form Juluka, whose Scatterlings (1983) was South Africa's version of folk-rock, and then formed Savuka to craft the more cosmopolitan mix of Third World Child (1987).

Ermelo "Lucky" Dube, who had already become a successful singer-songwriter with Lengane Ngeyetha (1982) and Kukuwe (1984), became the first reggae star of South Africa with Rastas Never Die (1985), bringing down the house with his third reggae album, Slave (1987).

Madagascar's Tarika (1) is led by female vocalist Hanitra Rasoanaivo who is on a musicologist as well as sociopolitical mission to rediscover the roots of her land on albums such as the bleak (but no less rhythmically upbeat) concept Son Egal (1997).


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At the turn of the century, the port of Oran, or, better, its decadent milieu of sailors, prostitutes and artists, experienced a boom in music that could rival New Orleans or Kansas City. The "cheikhs" and "cheikhas" (young male and young female performers) created a new style that fused Berber, Bedouin and Spanish elements. Conservative clerics disapproved, but Algeria was a colony of France. In the 1930s that music was called wahrani and had already embraced political overtones. This time it was the colonial oppressors who disapproved. Cheikha Rimitti was the first star, the best known of the "shaabi musicians" who became the soundtrack of Algeria's independence war.

In the 1960s, trumpet player Bellamou Messaoud coined a westernized form of rai, replete with elements of flamenco, blues, rock, jazz and funk, arranged with guitars, saxophone and accordion. He replaced wahrani's qasbah flute with the trumpet. He was appropriately nicknamed Le Pere du Rai (1989).

In 1967 the Algerian government banned rai (as well as alcohol). This sent the music underground, and producer Rachid Baba Ahmed became its reference point, helping the chebs and chebas, who took the place of the "cheikhs" and "cheikhas", record cassettes that spread around the country and Europe despite the official ban.

Cheba Fadela was the first pop-rai queen, enjoying unsurpassed popularity with hits such as Ana Ma H'Lali Ennoun (1979) and N'Sel Fik (1983), which are fully westernized (even synthesizers).

A typical French-style maudit and bohemien artist, Cheb Khaled (1) took the sound of the Algerian revolution and transposed it into the punk era. Rai became the voice of the poor and the oppressed, and, in the years of the Civil War, the voice of the anti-fundamentalist westernized youth, as documented by the slick synthesized production of Kutche (1989).


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Mali is the land of the griots (the French word for the native word "jeli"), the bards of the Sahara who accompany themselves with the kora harp, the balafon xylophone and the ngoni lute, descendants of a century-old tradition. Mali, or, better, the swamps of the Niger river, might also be the homeland of the blues. Traditionally musicians come only from some families: the job of musician is hereditary.

The first major recording of the acoustic music of the "Manding" region (roughly Mali to Guinea), characterized by sweet singalong melodies, was Yasimika (1983), conceived by Guinean kora player and vocalist Jali Musa Jawara, accompanied by balafon and guitar.

The first national voice of Mali was Boubacar Traore (1), a vocalist and guitarist who played an African version of the blues. He didn't record his music until Mariama (1990).

Mali's vocalist Salif Keita (1) was (1969) a co-founder with Tidiane Kone' of the Super Rail Band and (1972) a member of horn-band Les Ambassadeurs, that cut the epic Mandjou (1979). His first solo album, the dramatic Soro (1987), incorporated rock arrangements and took advantage of western studio techniques, while remaining faithful to his African roots.

Kasse` Mady Diabate, the voice of the National Badema orchestra, who moved to Europe in 1983, followed in Keita's footsteps with Fode (1988) but then returned to his roots with Kela Tradition (1990).

Mali's virtuoso of the kora harp Toumani Diabate (1), son of the Sidiki Diabate who recorded the first album ever of kora music, Ancient Strings (1970), introduced elements of minimalism, psychedelia and blues into his solo kora album Kaira (1987).

With the album Ali Farka Toure (1988), Mali's blues guitarist Ali Farka Toure (1) carved a niche in the territory of Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, but then returned to his roots with the elegant Savane (2006).

Guinean kora player Mory Kante, who succeeded Salif Kečta in the Rail Band in 1973, adapted Mandinka music to the dancefloor and produced Yeke Yeke (1987), the first ever African single to sell over one million copies.

Maham Konate's percussion ensemble Farafina, from Burkina Faso, delved into African polyrhythms on Bolomakote (1988).

Mali remained the leading scene of Africa in the 1990s.

Malian guitarist Djelimady (or Jalimadi) Tounkara of the Super Rail Band has developed a style that evokes the sound of the kora harp, the balafon xylophone and and the ngoni lute.

Habib Koite' (1), who played guitar in the band Bamada (Cigarette A Bana) since 1990, fused griot philosophy, the trancey folk music of the desert (he plays the guitar like a ngoni lute) and the blues jamming of the forest on Muso Ko (1995).

Issa Bagayogo updated the traditions of Mali to the age of electronic dance music (house, techno, hip-hop, dub) on Sya (1998) and Timbuktu (2002).

Powerful vocalist Kandia Kouyate, a sort of Aretha Franklin of Mali, was first immortalized in the 1980s on Kandia Kouyate & the Ensemble Instrumental. On Kita Kan (1999) she alternates between the western orchestra, the rock combo and the African folk ensemble, whereas Biriko (2002) is a traditional, acoustic effort.

Mali's female singer-songwriter Oumou Sangare (1) single-handedly revolutionized African music with Ko Sira (1993), devoted to feminist issues from the perspective of a young African woman, sung in a majestic register, and accompanied by danceable music for violin, lute and percussion.

Lobi Traore' (1) bridged distant ages on Bambara blues (1991) and Bamako (1994) by harking back to the original feeling of the blues while adopting the burning guitar riffs of hard-rock and underpinning them with frantic ceremonial percussion.

Rokia Traore' (1) expressed her anguish in a gentle tone on Wanita (2000) over hypnotic rhythmic patterns based on the kora harp, the ngoni lute and the balafon xylophone, but rather neutral in terms of ethnic origin.

Originally from Mali but formed in an Algerian refugee camp, Tinariwen, a desert-blues band of Tuareg nomads with electric guitars, were the main musicians to emerge from the first "Festival au Desert" that was held in january 2001 at Tin Essako in the Sahara of northeastern Mali. The Radio Tisdas Sessions (2002), Amassakoul/ Traveller (2004) and Aman Iman/ Water is Life (2007) documented the music they had been playing since the mid 1980s.


African psychedelic-rock was particularly significant in Zambia, whose Hendrix-influenced "Zam-rock" scene produced: Chrissy Zebby Tembo's My Ancestors (1974), Witch's Introduction (1973) and Lazy Bones (1975), Musi-O-Tunya's Wings Of Africa (1975), fronted by guitarist Rikki Ililonga, Amanaz's Africa (1975), Ngozi Family's 45,000 Volts (1977), led by guitarist Paul "Ngozi" Nyirongo and working mostly as Tembo's backing band, plus Nigeria's Tirogo Float (1977).


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Zimbabwe's jit music is a percussive dancefloor style that weds Shona melodies, thumb piano, and guitar-driven rhythm'n'blues, something halfway between Zaire's soukous, Ghana's highlife, and South Africa's mbaqanga.

Zimbabwe-Shona minstrel Thomas Mapfumo (2) specialized in the genre of political songs (chimurenga music) that was in vogue during the civil war. Substituting electric guitar (Jonah Sithole) and drums for the mbira thumb piano and hosho rattlers, Mapfumo created his own personal hybrid of African and western music on albums such as Gwindingwi Rine Shumba (1980), while Chimurenga for Justice (1986) opted for a mellower sounds and introduced a languid fusion of soul, rock and reggae.

The Bhundu Boys popularized jit in the Britain with the effervescent Shabini (1986).

Zimbabwe's guitarist John Chibadura was the virtuoso of jit. His albums Mudzimo Wangu (1985), 5000$ Kuroora (1986), and Sara Ugarike (1987) were among the most popular of the genre. When he went reggae, Chibadura was equally successul with Zuva Refuka Kwangu (1988). He died in 1999.


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Cameroon saxophonist Manu Dibango (1), who became famous thanks to the proto-disco groove of Soul Makossa (1972), fused African rhythms and melodies with reggae, notably on Gone Clear (1979), and funk, notably on Waka Juju (1982).

Dibango also started a vogue for makossa (basically, highlife with a steady rhythm), that from Cameroon spread to nearby countries. In Ivory Coast, singer-songwriter Tou-Kone Daouda fused soukous and makossa on Mon Coeur Balance (1978). Nandipo (1974) combined western and African instruments and confronted sociopolitical issues.

Symbolically, disco-music returned to Africa with Discolypso (1979), an electronic calypso-tinged dance sung by Sierra Leone's Mack Bunny (Cecil MacCormack), and later with Rikiatou (1982) and African Typic Collection (1983), dancefloor makossa numbers by Cameroon's Sam Fan Thomas.

Ivory Coast's singer-songwriter Alpha Blondy (Seydou Kone) became the first African star of reggae with Jah Glory (1983).

Jean-Marie Ahanda's Les Tetes Brulees took Cameroon's music into the punk age, with a provocative attitude and a demented and energetic sound. Hot Heads (1991) offered ancient bikutsi rhythms of the rain forest replacing the balafon xylophone with the electric guitars of rock music.


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Orchestra Baobab (1) was the most famous of the Senegalese combos that mixed Cuban music and African music, for example on Pirate's Choice (1982).

Senegal vocalist Youssou N'Dour (3) became a teenage sensation with the band Etoile De Dakar, whose Xalis (1979) established mbalax (Cuban music performed with western instruments and augmented with African polyrhythms) as a major form of dance music. The formidable Immigres (1985) proved what kind of force of nature N'Dour's ensemble was, especially when coupled with the Middle-eastern inflection of his tenor. The stylistic Babel of Set (1990) was perhaps his most emotional and most intricate statement.

The Senegalese band Toure Kunda (1) pioneered the African invasion of Europe with the fusion of western-style melodies and Middle-eastern or reggae rhythms performed on traditional instruments of Freres Griots (1979).

Senegalese vocalist Baaba Maal (1) mixed traditional African instruments with the western aesthetics on Baayo (1991).

Arabs: Maqam

While widely imitated around the world, the classic "maqam" Islamic style, that basically modulate a monophonic melodic figure, was rarely heard outside the Arab world. This musical system, one of the most intricated modal systems in the world, harks back to the heyday of the Arab empire and was organized during the Ottoman empire. The system (which is not an equally-tempered intonation system, and based on roughly 17 notes to the octave, with plenty of regional variations) prescribes a number of maqamat, that can be used either as finished compositions (typically for solo vocal performances) or as blueprints for composition. The maqam scale has, of course, an influence on the tuning of instruments. There are five makamat for the five daily calls to prayer, but there are also dozens of regional maqamat: Turkey's makam system lists more than 200 distinct modes. It is likely that the Ottomans simply unified a body of styles that they collected from Greece to Central Asia. Maqam was best represented by Egyptian girl prodigy Umm Kalthum, who first recorded in 1925, and by Lebanese Nuhad "Fayrouz" Haddad, who first aired in 1950.

Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Riad El-Sombati were the most influential composers of the more traditional music for classical poems. The latter composed several of Umm Kalthum's most ambitious songs: Salou Qalbi (1946), a rendition of Omar Khayyam's Rubayyiat el Khayyam (1950) and Al-Atlal (1966). Among Wahab's collaborators was the Egyptian singer and multi-instrumentalist Abdel Halim Hafez, who rarely recorded. He employed the quasi-psychedelic Egyptian guitarist Omar Khorshid, who later also played for Umm Kalthum.

North Africa

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Morocco's gnawa music is a kind of folk music that originated among the Gnawas, descendants of black slaves. It retains central-African characters such as propulsive syncopated beats and pentatonic melodies, and employes instruments such as the sintir lute and the karkabas castanets, besides the human voice. The music usually accompanies ceremonies of healing based on creating an atmosphere of trance. The cult (which is probably related to the voodoo of Haiti and the macumba of Brazil) is centered in the city of Essaouira. A distinguished gnawa musician is Maleem Mahmoud Ghania, who collaborated with jazz giant Pharoah Sanders on Trance of Seven Colors (1994).

Hassan Hakmoun (1) plays the sintir lute and concocts fusion tracks of trancey gnawa, lilting rock and American dance music on albums such as Trance (1993).

Maleem Abdelah Ghania, a virtuoso of the Moroccan guimbri guitar, released the trancey Invocation (2000).

Egyptian-Nubian oud and tar virtuoso Hamza El Din (2) concocted a mesmerizing sound on Al Oud (1965) and Escalay (1971), that displays the haunting interplay of the oud's gentle strings, the extended percussive range and overtones of the tar and his subdued vocals.

Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy (1) drew from the rituals of Arabian Bedouin tribes and from the belly-dance rhythms of the Middle East for Source of Fire (1995).

With Sudaniyat (1997) Sudanese singer-songwriter Rasha (1) concocted a mishmash of jazz, pop, reggae and American dance music that achieved pan-ethnic pathos in the tracks arranged with an orchestra of violins, accordion, saxophones, oud and percussion.

The classic "maqam" Islamic style was best represented by Egyptian girl prodigy Om Kalthum, who first recorded in 1925.

Somali oud virtuoso Hudeydi, aka Ahmed Ismail Hussein, who moved to Britain in 1973, was influenced by rock'n'roll as much as traditional folk music.

Ethiopian Music

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Ethiopia, one of the world's most ancient nations, was virtually obliterated (both as a people and as a culture) by the communist dictatorship of Mengitsu between 1974 and 1991. The Ethiopian music that was recorded between 1969 and 1978 was unknown in the rest of the world until the late 1990s. Indeed, the Ethiopian scene of the 1960s was one of the most lively scenes in the world. The country that will later be identified with chronic famine was actually experienced a moderate boom. The soundtrack of that boom was played by countless swing bands in countless night clubs. The censorship and persecution of the 1970s scientifically destroed that scene, and the massive economic collapse that followed Mengitsu's communist reforms sent the few survivors into exile. In 1978, Mengitsu officially banned all vynil recordings of music, and Ethiopian music went into hibernation until the 1990s.

Ethiopian virtuoso vocalist Mahmoud Ahmed, accompanied by the jazzy Ibex Band, penned a form of dance-pop that drew from both African, western and Middle-eastern sources on Ere Mela Mela (1986), that compiled some of his hits from 1975-78.

Ethiopian vocalist Aster Aweke, who relocated in 1982 to the USA, adapted her extraordinary voice to a repertory of soul-jazz-rock, at times gritty like Aretha Franklin at her best, and at times soporific like Sade, on Aster (1990), which actually summarized her eleven Ethiopian cassettes, and Kabu (1992).

Middle-Eastern Music

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Lebanese oud virtuoso Rabih Abou-Khalil (1) combined jazz improvisation and his Middle-eastern folk traditions (intricate rhythms, ornate melodies) on albums such as Between Dusk and Dawn (1987).

Yemeni-Israeli vocalist Ofra Haza became a star by singing traditional Jewish psalms arranged for the disco by state-of-the-art producers on Yemenite Songs (1987).

Turkish sufi multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek sold out his traditions to the new-age crowd on Whirling (1994), Mystical Garden (1996), Crescent Moon (1998) and One Truth (1999).

African music of the 1950s
African music of the 1970s
African disco music
African music of the 1980s

Recommended Discography (7/10 and higher)

  • Cheb Khaled: Kutche (1989)
  • Hossam Ramzy: Source of Fire (1995)
  • Hamza El Din: Al Oud (1965)
  • Hamza El Din: Escalay (1971)
  • Hassan Hakmoun: Trance (1993)
  • Manu Dibango: Waka Juju (1982)
  • Baaba Maal: Baayo (1991)
  • Salif Keita: Soro (1987)
  • Rasha: Sudaniyat (1997)
  • King Sunny Ade`: Juju Music (1982)
  • Thomas Mapfumo: Gwindingwi Rine Shumba (1980)
  • Thomas Mapfumo: Chimurenga for Justice (1986)
  • Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Gentleman (1973)
  • Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Zombie (1977)
  • Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (1987)
  • Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (1990)
  • Youssou N'Dour: Xalis (1979)
  • Youssou N'Dour: Immigres (1985)
  • Youssou N'Dour: Set (1990)
  • Toure' Kunda: Freres Griots (1979)
  • Orchestra Baobab: Pirate's Choice (1982)
  • Jali Musa Jawara: Yasimika (1983)
  • Ali Farka Toure: Ali Farka Toure (1988)
  • Toumani Diabate: Kaira (1987)
  • Babatunde Olatunji: Drums of Passion (1959)
  • Ebenezer Obey: Current Affairs (1980)
  • Hugh Masekela: The Lasting Impression (1965)
  • Mahlathini: Putting on the Light (1975)
  • Franco & Tabu Ley: Omana Wapi (1976)
  • Zap Mama: Adventures in Afropea I (1993)
  • Boubacar Traore: Mariama (1990)
  • Oumou Sangare: Ko Sira (1993)
  • Rokia Traore': Wanita (2000)
  • Habib Koite': Muso Ko (1995)
  • Tarika: Son Egal (1997)
  • Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng: Awakening (1998)
  • Tinariwen: The Radio Tisdas Sessions (2002)
  • Rabih Abou-Khalil: Between Dusk and Dawn (1987)

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