Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Africa: Drum, Chant & Instrumental Music

This is another stellar entry in the incredible Nonesuch Explorer series of "world music" recordings, in which Stephen Jay traveled to Niger, Mali and what was then called Upper Volta, now known as Burkina Faso to record musicians in all kinds of social settings.

The nine selections represent a wide array of music from energetic street music by the Hausa people of Niger, a hypnotic Tuareg medicinal chant from Mali and Songhay gulu drummers, also from Niger.  One of the most interesting pieces is by an eight-year old boy from the Djerma tribe in Niger performing a solo on the kountougi, a one-stringed lute-like instrument.

A fascinating percussion performance by a group of a half-dozen griots or drum masters from Niger is an 11 minute tour-de-force at a public dance in the city of Niamey and another highlight is the kouco (another lute type of instrument, but with five strings consisting of two melody and three drone) performance by Yacouba Bukari from Mali, who shows his skill in plucking melody strings with two fingers while also creating a drone by strumming other strings and tapping on the instrument's body for rhythmic accompaniment.  At about 2:30, Bukari goes into a riff that has a fantastic rapid repetitiveness and almost sounds rock-like in its hypnotic power, but his overall use of themes and variations is continually interesting.

Also very cool is the Songhay Kombi and Ettebel, in which a trio of Songhay perform on the kombi and ettebel drums, while a lead vocalist chants with a metal disk angled near his mouth to change to tone and volume level and the other two perform backing vocals.

Jay's notes are very helpful in understanding the performances and there are some great photos of musicians, performances and instruments by his wife Barbara Bouman Jay.  This 1976 album was one of the first "world music" recordings this listener obtained in 1990 when broadening musical horizons and it continues to be an inspiring and fascinating journey into some of the music performed in western Africa.

Africa:  Drum, Chant & Instrumental Music (Nonesuch, 1976)

1.  Hansa Street Music  3:27
2.  Bounkam Solo  3:49
3.  Kountougi Solo  3:31
4.  Djerma Dundun Drummers  11:12
5.  Tuareg Medicinal Chant  6:57
6.  Lodagaa Wilks and Gulu  3:53
7.  Songhay Kombi and Ettebel  3:22
8.  Kouco Solo  4:37
9.  Songhay Gulu Dimmers  1:49

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