Out of Africa: the 20 must-have albums

Music is woven into the fabric of Africa - from traditional song to cutting-edge hip hop. To celebrate the wealth of the continent's music, we present, in association with Songlines magazine, the essential records
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1 Khaled (Algeria): 'Khaled'

(Barclays/Universal, 1992)

The Barclay label's Pascal Nègre had a hunch that rai could appeal to audiences beyond the North African musical "ghetto" and that Khaled, was the man to take it there. Khaled made music with the kind of quality that pop-rai had been dreaming of for years. AM

2 Youssou N'Dour (Senegal): 'Immigrés Earthworks'

(Stern's, 1984)

Recorded for a tiny fraction of the budget Virgin Records subsequently threw at him for the overproduced The Lion. Essentially a remix of a Senegalese cassette release with his band, Super Etoile de Dakar, it's a thrilling collection of high-octane but sophisticated mbalax dance tunes, supple and loose-limbed with explosive talking drums and sung in a voice of rare passion that lies somewhere between the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer and Otis Redding. NW

3 Cesaria Evora (Cape Verde): 'Miss Perfumado'

(Lusafrica, 1992)

It has been more than a decade since Cesaria Evora, brought her chanson-style songs to European and international acclaim. She was fortunate in the production and superb accompaniment on this breakthrough album, with a terrific all-acoustic ensemble.ME

4 Salif Keita (Mali): 'Soro'

(Stern's, 1987)

The album that introduced one of Africa's greatest voices to the wider world still sounds as dynamic as ever. Listen in wonderment to the bold riffs of brass and the invention of Jean-Philippe Rykiel's keyboards on the opener "Wamba" or to the taut balance between modern synths and deep Malian moods on "Sina" - but above all marvel at Salif's soaring, soulful vocals. Soro created a template that virtually dictated the way many African records would sound for years to come. NW

5 Orchestra Baobab (Senegal): 'Specialist in All Styles'

(World Circuit, 2002)

Orchestra Baobab were the stars of Dakar until Youssou swept in. Their Pirates Choice recording from 1982 was an all-time classic, but then something even more incredible happened. World Circuit's Nick Gold reassembled the band 20 years on and the magic was rekindled. SB

6 Oliver Mtukudzi (Zimbabwe): 'Tuku Music'

(Earthsongs, 1999)

Oliver Mtukudzi has been the top figure in Zimbabwean music for a decade, but he's not yet made it huge on the world stage. Quite why is a mystery, for this is an artist and a band who define African soul with their swirl of acoustic and electric guitar rhythms, overlaid with gospel-like, often a capella, female chorus. ME

7 Mory Kanté (Guinea): 'Akwaba Beach'

(Barclays, 1987)

Thanks largely to its opening salvo, "Yeke Yeke", Akwaba Beach helped turn millions of Westerners on to world music. Having one foot in Mande culture and another on the dancefloors of Europe helped. Kanté's tenor soars over a mix of brass, synths, polyrhythms and electric kora, vies and blends with his high-pitched female choir. JC

8 Amadou et Mariam (Mali): 'Tje ni Mousso'

(Universal, 1999)

"Is this blues music as cool and original as The White Stripes?" I ask unenlightened music fans. All crumble before this blind duo - she sings lead, he sings backing and plays guitar - and their compelling, harmonic songs. They sing in French and Mande, but it's the storming, stripped down sound that leaps out. ME

9 Fela Kuti (Nigeria): 'The Black President'

(Universal, 1999)

The Black President is the most accessible introduction to his uncompromising brand of Afro-beat with its fecund mix of thunderous rhythms, huge stabs of brass, call-and-response vocals sung in pidgin English and insurrectionary politics. NW

10 Busi Mhlongo (South Africa): 'Urban Zulu'

Melt 2000 (2000)

A solid rhythm section drips heavy beats on the borderline of jazz, rock and funk and Mhlongo's voice oozes the raw emotional power of a soul songstress. The beads and bangles of South African styles such as maskanda, mbaqanga and marabi are all in here, sown on to strictly streetwear. KL

11 Sekouba Bambino (Guinea): Sinikan

(Sono, 2002)

The opening title-track is an infectious, action-packed ride driven by Arabic strings, fizzing guitar and an athletic bass line, that imitates the violin. Punchy horns, delicate kora, ngoni and balafon, and swinging female backing vocals. KL

12 Salif Keita (Mali): 'Moffou' (Universal, 2002)

Salif brought West African music to international attention with Soro in 1987. It was followed by somepatchy releases until this acoustic return to roots. SB

13 Tinariwen (Mali): 'Amassakoul'

(Independent Records, 2004)

Displaced Touaregs from the Sahara, with their desert robes and electric guitars, the nine-piece Tinariwen combine visual charisma with hypnotic music. This is desert blues of the deepest, most devastating kind. NW

14 King Sunny Ade (Nigeria):

'Juju Music'

Island (1982)

With its hypnotic rhythms, scintillating guitars and pounding drums, Juju Music launched the modern African music boom. NW

15 Baaba Maal (Senegal):

'Djam Leelii'

Yoff/Earthworks (1984, reissued 2003)

While 2001's Missing You is his recent highlight, this unassuming album of vocal and guitar duets by Maal and Mansour Seck caused a quiet storm upon its first release, and has remained a favourite of Maal fans ever since. KL

16 Rokia Traoré (Mali):

'Bowmboï'

Tama (2003)

Rokia Traoré appeared on the world music scene destined to transform African music with her whispered vocals and graceful presence. Bowmboï is a polished collection.KL

17 Daara J (Senegal):

'Boomerang'

Wrasse (2003)

An ingenious artistic imagination presided over this marriage of African and Cuban elements, hip-hop attitude and reggae vibes. KL

18 Malouma (Mauritania):

'Dunya'

Marabi (2004)

This debut album by Malouma is one of the best-kept secrets of West African music. A stunning mixture of traditional Mauritanian music, rock guitar and pop aesthetics. KL

19 Kandia Kouyaté (Mali): 'Biriko'

Stern's (2002)

Kouyaté's second international release is a compelling acoustic work that conjures up images of the mighty Malian empire in its 13th-century prime. KL

20 Franco DR (Congo):

'The Rough Guide To Franco World Music'

Network (2001)

The best compilation available of the Congolese guitarist and bandleader spans tracks from the Fifties to recordings made shortly before his death in 1989. NW

Reviews by Simon Broughton, Jane Cornwell, Mark Ellingham, Katharina Lobeck, Andy Morgan, Martin Sinnock and Nigel Williamson. The full text appears in the July/August issue of 'Songlines', out now priced £3.95, or, plus p&p, online at www. songlines. co.uk or by phone on 01753 865342

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