Womad Festival / Records: An A to Ze of music: Andy Gill selects the 20 essential albums that should form the backbone of any serious collection

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
King Sunny Ade and His African Beats

Juju Music

(Island ILPS 9712)

THE first of three excellent albums of light, sparkling Nigerian music: gentle, shuffling rhythms, talking drums and delicate guitar work, plus pedal steel guitar - evidence of the crossover that made Jim Reeves a posthumous superstar in Africa.

Mahmoud Ahmed

Ere Mela Mela

(Crammed CRAM 047)

ETHIOPIAN star fronting a kind of jazz-blues sextet in which organ and saxes riff hypnotically over deep, rolling rhythm figures, while Ahmed's poignant, soulful vocals follow scales reflecting the proximity of the Arabic diaspora.

Ofra Haza

Yemenite Songs

(Globestyle ORB 006)

FOR THAT touch of Eastern promise, house remixers invariably turn to the distinctive voice of the Yemenite-Jewish disco diva (most recently heard on the Sisters Of Mercy's Top 10 hit 'Temple of Love'). This album contains the original tracks sampled for such landmark remixes as MARRS' 'Pump Up the Volume', presented in their full indigenous glory, with plenty of spectacular metallic Yemeni percussion.

Kanda Bongo Man

Non Stop Non Stop

(Globestyle ORB 005)

THE biggest star of soukous, the fast, skittering guitar pop of his native Zaire that powers along on up-tempo rumba rhythms originally imported from Cuba. This 1985 album showcases the nimble- fingered lead guitar work of Diblo, one of the continent's instrumental giants.

Salif Keita

Soro

(Sterns 1020)

A GIANT leap forward for world music in 1987, matching the serpentine soul vocals of the Malian griot singer with complex jazz- rock arrangements.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Shahen Shah

(RealWorld RWCD3)

PAKISTAN'S leading exponent of Qawwali, a devotional music in which vocal lines of great length and complexity are harnessed to multi-layered percussion.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Black President

(Arista SPART 1167)

A PERPETUAL thorn in the side of whoever controls Nigeria, Africa's most articulate denouncer of post-colonial corruption and leader of perhaps the world's finest big band - an outfit of staggering power and drive, heard at its best on this album's 'I T T (International Thief Thief)'.

Baaba Maal & Mansour Seck

Djam Leelii

(Rogue FMSD 5014)

AN UNDERSTATED gem of an album - an acoustic collaboration between blind guitarist Mansour Seck and Senegalese bandleader Baaba Maal, with a country-blues flavour.

Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens

Thokozile

(Earthworks EWV 6)

IMAGINE Howlin' Wolf backed by the Beverly Sisters in native dress. This 1988 album captures township jive at a peak of exuberance, and is hard to match for sheer enjoyment.

Abdel Aziz El Mubarak

Abdel Aziz El Mubarak

(Globestyle ORB 023)

A SORT of Sudanese jazz with Arabic flavourings; violins provide the dominant instrumental colour, accordion lends a subdued cajun flavour, and tenor sax joins El Mubarak's voice up front.

Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares

(4AD CAD 603)

THE distinctive diaphonic harmonies of Bulgarian choral singing, since heard in all sorts of places, were first brought to wider attention by this album, one of the original classics of world music.

Youssou N'Dour and Super Etoile de Dakar

Nelson Mandela

(Rough Trade/Earthworks ERT 1009)

THE Senegalese soul singer is the closest to an international superstar that African music has produced, thanks to his appearance on the Amnesty International tour with Springsteen, Gabriel and Sting. This 1986 album features the classic tribute title-track, plus his elastic version of the old Detroit Spinners funk number 'The Rubberband Man'.

Mari Boine Persen

Gula Gula

(RealWorld CDRW13)

THE traditional forms of Lapp music adapted to deal with contemporary issues (pollution, feminism). Gentle drones and restrained percussion allow Persen's forthright vocals to dominate - something like a Scandinavian cousin to Sinead O'Connor.

The Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare de Bamako

New Dimensions in Rail Culture

(Globestyle ORB 001)

Another early African pop classic, from 1982, by the multi-talented Malian band once fronted by Salif Keita - the first to receive government sponsorship.

Various Artists

Cumbia Cumbia

(World Circuit WCB 016)

CUMBIA is the dance music of Colombia, easily as addictive as the country's other notable underground export. Halfway to reggae, it features a cantering rhythm over which a variety of instrumental colours, including trombones and accordions, skate with slippery ease.

Various Artists

Hurricane Zouk

(Earthworks CDEWV 2)

AN OVERVIEW of Zouk, a blend of African and Caribbean rhythms and sounds indigenous to the Antilles islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Various Artists

The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto, Vol 1

(Earthworks CDEWV 14)

FEATURING Mahlathini and the celebrated vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, this 1985 compilation was instrumental in popularising the mbaqanga music of Southern Africa shortly before Paul Simon unleashed Graceland.

Various Artists

Sound D'Afrique I & II

(Island ISSP 4003 & ISSP 4008)

FOCUSING on the music of French-speaking countries such as Mali, Zaire and Senegal, these 1982 compilations were the first attempt by a major label to open up new areas of musical interest.

Nana Vasconcelos

Bush Dance

(Antilles AN 8701)

PERHAPS the greatest of Brazil's many notable percussionists, on this 1986 album blending complex rhythm figures with jazz instrumentation and pop melodies to make his most accessible work thus far.

Tom Ze

Brazil Classics 4: The Best Of Tom Ze

(Luaka Bop 7599-26396)

THE most irreverent and ironic interpreter of the Tropicalismo cultural movement, one of several artists turned up by David Byrne's excursions into South America. On this selection of Seventies tracks, he adapts native Brazilian forms to his own experimentalist approach.

(Photographs and map omitted)

Comments