The Rough Guide To The Music Of Cuba
Cuba is an island full of music. I am lucky enough to have visited the island and enjoyed sitting in tiny bars in Havana listening to music such as appears on this album played live by ordinary, amateur musicians. It is incredibly atmospheric. Cuban music is not all The Buena Vista Social Club, although that album is certainly reflective of some Cuban music. There are serious salsa influences, and jazz ones too as well as Cuban folk music. All those styles are represented on this truly excellent compilation.
Some of my favourites are the infectious salsa of En Casa Del Trompo No Bailes by Orquesta Riverside; the gloriously Cuban Santa Barbara by Celina Gonzalez; more intoxicating salsa from Descarga En Faux by Ritmo Y Candela; the fetching voice of ageing vocalist Ñico Saquito on A Orillas Del Cauto; the effervescence of Los Van Van on Amiga Mia and the magnificent, rhythmic Cuban jazz of Bellita Y Jazztumbata on Oyelo Sonar.
Cuba also has had a long standing "big band" tradition, and this is reflected in Mario Bauza's Mambo Rincon. Sierra Maestra's addictive Dundunbanza and Chico O'Farrill's Descarga No. 2 are both impressive examples of upbeat Cuban music. In fact, the whole album is full of such material, to be honest. It is most enjoyable.
This is another highly recommended album from Rough Guides showcasing music from a country that just lives and breathes music in its very DNA.
The Rough Guide To Lucky Dube
Reggae Man/Slave/Together As One/Truth In This World/Prisoner/War And Crime/House Of Exile/Crazy World/It's Not Easy/Keep On Knocking/Victims/Feel Irie/We Love It/Crime And Corruption/The Way It Is
Lucky Dube was the "king of South African reggae". He unfortunately lost his life a few years ago, which was a tragedy because he was a true reggae great.
His music combines traditional reggae sounds with the lilting, melodic music of the South African townships to great effect. What a beautiful, uplifting combination. His voice is intoxicating, full of personality. He uses female backing vocalists a lot too, the closest Jamaican artist to compare him to would be Peter Tosh. Lyrically, he is politically observant, passionate and sensitive.
Personal highlights are Slave, Prisoner, Truth In The World, Feel Irie, We Love It and the moving House Of Exile, about Nelson Mandela.
I remember playing that while on holiday in South Africa, looking out at nothing but the countryside and the hills. An experience I will never forget.
The Rough Guide To The Music Of South Africa
South African "township jive" is some of the most vibrant, uplifting music you will ever hear. Plenty of it is included on this incredibly enjoyable compilation. If you want evidence of the captivating nature of this music, check out the irresistible Groovin' Jive No. 1 by Noise Khanyile and the Jo'Burg City Stars. It is literally impossible to keep your feet still as that infectious drum kicks in, backed by that trademark lilting guitar sound and those rubbery, mellifluous bass runs popularised on some of Paul Simon's Graceland album.
Other highlights are the growling voice of Mahlathini (& The Mahotella Queens), the wonderful, upbeat and sheer liveliness of Yvonne Chaka Chaka's celebratory Motherland and Udlame by The Soul Brothers. The well-known vocal talents Ladysmith Black Mambazo are present on here as well with Kangivumanga.
As well as township jive, South Africa has a distinct style in is jazz - as the township melodies and joie de vivre mix intoxicatingly with traditional jazz styles. Examples on here are My Kind Of Jazz by Teboko and Jive Township by The African Jazz Pioneers. More experimental, jazz-wise, is the extremely impressive improvisations of Celebration by Bheki Mseleku.
There is also South African reggae in the presence of the much-missed "Father of South African reggae", Lucky Dube, whose wonderful, evocative voice and a reggae style that merges township guitars with classic reggae skanking. The song included here is the mighty House Of Exile, about Nelson Mandela. Overall, this is a highly recommended album reflecting some of the vivacious, ebullient and varied music of South Africa.
The Rough Guide To The Music Of West Africa
West African music is deliciously melodic and catchy, full of lilting guitars, rhythmic drums, often nasal high-pitched vocals all underpinned by a throbbing but deeply tuneful bass guitar. Saxophones and trumpets often interject the sound most effectively. The music also has an influence from Islamic Sufi-style music too, particularly in the acoustic based music of Mali. Music from Senegal and The Gambia tends to be more drum and guitar-driven, less stark, and fr more "danceable". Then there is Nigeria, with its infectious "high-life" guitar and saxophone music. The latter really gets treated as a genre in itself, however, and does not feature on this album. The thumb piano is often used to great effect too, particularly in Malian music, along with that special acoustic guitar sound (the kora) they have. Then, of course, there are the roots of the blues, which are deeply embedded in traditional West African music.
Foliba by Mali's Super Rail Band is a great way to kick off the compilation, although it is far more Senegalese or even Nigerian sounding than Malian, with its use of saxophones, pounding drums and throbbing bass lines. Toumani Diabate's Djelika is far more instantly recognisable as Malian, with a wonderful kora sound, together with a marvellously evocative thumb piano. It really is a most seductive sound. Roucky by Ali Farka Touré is a gruffly sung, slow song over a bluesy acoustic guitar sound. If you want the roots of the blues, they can be found in material like this. It is as bluesy as you will find.
Toro by Moussa Poussy is a more contemporary number with modern synthesised drum backing but it still has a traditional vocal and some fetching backing vocals. It reminds a lot of Salif Keita's Soro album. M'Bote by Sona Diabate is a folky, female voice very ethnic and traditionally folky sounding number. It has some sumptuous guitar joining it at the end. Djama Kaissoumou by Oumou Sangaré is a gently insistent, rhythmic Sufi-influenced haunting number. It has a delicious bass line throughout. I Ka Di Nye by Bajorou is another acoustic, folky song, this time with a plaintive male vocal. 205 by E.T. Mensah is completely different from anything else on the album so far, however, being a jaunty, brass-driven upbeat number that sounds almost South African in places. Another different one is the almost jazzy, laid-back blues of Utru Horas by Orchestra Baobab.
Basically, overall, this album is far more dominated by the "kora"-driven sounds of Mali than most other musical styles, the lively, danceable opener of The Super Rail Band's Foliba is not representative of what is to come. It is a very atmospheric, laid-back album of the highest musical quality.
Also highly enjoyable are many other Rough Guide compilations, which introduce the delights of Kenya's rhythmic, guitar-driven music; the lilting guitars of Zimbabwe and Mozambique; the even more vibrant Congolese Soukous and Dominican Republic's Merengue; the Muslim-influenced hypnotic rhythms from Mali and the swirling Sufi-styles of North Africa. This is not to forget the captivating grooves of Nigeria and Senegal.
Then there is more from Cuba, Afro-Peruvian fusion and Haiti's voodoo-influenced drum sounds.
The Rough Guides series also extensively covers the sub-genre of Salsa, whose irresistible rhythms can be heard in many parts of Latin and Central America, as well as anywhere that the Latin diaspora has made home, such as New York City. I have all the compilations below and again, putting their tracks on random makes for an excellent serving of Salsa.
Another interesting and comparatively recent phenomenon is that of "psychedelic" influences on traditional styles such as Samba, Salsa and Indian music. There are several fine collections covering this too, where the recognisable sounds are often augmented by swirling rock guitars and weird, spacey sound effects. The Cambodia collection is particularly intriguing.