Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Guitar Paradise of East Africa (Kenya)

Though at least three of the artists came up in Zaire, this classic compilation comprises six four- or five-minute Kenyan dance hits and five eight- or nine-minute Kenyan dance hits. So I guess it's benga, a beat/genre/label even more all-embracing than the soukous it cheerfully lifts. Though at times the guitaristics billow like Kinshasa, they're gentler, quirkier, more rural--and they're not definitive, because this is a song album. Nasally conversational or breathily musical, the voices get catchy to impossibly fetching melodies, and though only one band can afford horns, that band comes up with a great chart--a great cheesy chart. Intensely pleasurable up till cut seven, Orchestre Super Mazembe's atypically dark, typically gorgeous "Shauri Yako." After that, five consecutive tunes make you sit up and exclaim, "Oh boy, that one." Destructible, I suppose--persuasion, not power, is the idea. But if this is one world, undeniable. A+
Robert Christgau

Drawing deeply on the rhumba and benga rhythmic traditions that are so important to the popular music of Kenya, Guitar Paradise of East Africa gathers singles by such local legends as Daniel Kamau, H.O. Kabaselleh, and Orchestra Super Mazembe. The selections all feature vocals prominently, but as the compilation's title indicates, the guitar plays a central role in every song; rippling, cascading guitar lines flow throughout each track, and in some cases multiple lines bounce off each other contrapuntally. This latter tendency is especially apparent on Kabaselleh's "Achi Maria" and on the remarkable "Odesia," a song by Les Mangelepa that features a Latin-tinged horn chart along with complex duo guitars and a throbbing, syncopated bassline. Most of these recordings come from the mid-'80s, and the sound quality isn't always top-notch, but the musical quality is amazingly consistent. Highly recommended.

Now that Kenyan music is a firmly-established genre we see it shading off into distinct Benga, Luo and Swahili styles, and there is the pervasive influence of Soukous. Zairean expatriates Orchestre Virunga had their VIRUNGA VOLCANO rereleased on CD in 1990, a soaring set of incendiary music from East Africa. But Kenya stems the tide of Zairean bands with its own brand of energetic guitar music. Issa Juma & Les Wanyika Stars SIGALAME 2 and Super Mazembe GREATEST HITS were licensed by Discafrique from Kenyan companies and remixed for Western ears. Both are outstanding. Quavery vocals, dissonant harmonies, jagged spindly guitar lines and brisk hi-hat and snare drumming are the earmarks of Swahili pop, which is recorded with an echoey dance-hall sound. Some of the bands, like Les Wanyika, hail originally from Tanzania, a country which is only beginning to realize its musical potential, with a state-run contest this year to identify the top bands. GUITAR PARADISE (& its companion KENYA DANCE MANIA) is an introduction to some of the less prominent bands, but includes Super Mazembe's monster hit, "Shauri Yako," (originally by Nguashi Ntimbo) one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Another characteristic of Swahili pop is a long drawn-out bridge where the music gets very spare so the recording can be sliced to make an "A" and "B" side, and of course the second half is not so much a reprise as an excuse to cut up the rug and leave the ends frayed.

Guitar Paradise of East Africa
REUP 11/11/14: zippyshare or
66mb, 128kbps
1. Sukuma Songa - Sukuma Bin Ongaro
2. Achi Maria - H. O. Kabaselleh
3. Mumbi Ni Wakwa - Daniel Kamau
4. Odesia - Les Mangelepa
5. Wana Wanyika - Simba Wanyika
6. Mama Kamale - Sukuma Bin Ongaro
7. Shauri Yako - Orchestra Super Mazembe
8. Ndia - Peter Mwambi
9. Harare - Les Mangelepa
10. Ndiretikia Ni Nii - The Famous Nyahururu Boys
11. Mwendwa Jane - Kilimambogo Brothers


  1. i love this ... thanks a-plenty!! ;)

  2. Thank you - Thank You - Thank You-

    And Thank You very very much.

    God is good.

  3. Thank you for daring to post this. As one of the compilers of this release it does my heart good to see that others enjoy this music as much as we did, sitting in dark rooms for months arguing which are the essential tracks to include. Viva Earthworks!

  4. To David:

    Best Record Ever and Life changing.


  5. David, thank you for your comment and of course thanks for this record.
    There was a link to this one from an african forum (Zimbabwe, I think? - too bad I can't locate the discussion), but the poster was saying what a great comp it was... so I guess you are giving this music back to the people :)
    Thanks for your open-mindedness in regards to the file-sharing, too. I hope this will serve to make people aware of other great releases on Earthworks, as well.

    I agree with your favorite bands picks - I love Bembeya and Les Freres DeJean, although I still think Orchestra Baobab are better, and Attisso will be in my top three best guitarists who ever lived.

  6. I became a guitarist because of this album.

  7. Can you re-upload this? Thanks!