Various ‘African Voices Anthology’ (Lusafrica) 3/5

Certain parts of Africa tend to predominate in European hearts and minds when it comes to the musical output of the continent and so it is pleasing to know that one label, Lusafrica, has strived to promote some of the lesser known countries and artists, particularly (though not exclusively) from the lusophone-speaking part of Africa such as Angola and the Cape Verdean Islands. Operating out of Paris, Lusafrica has had its pulse on some of the key historical musicians as well as some of the potential stars of the future. They are showcased here on this generously timed compilation which is an ideal way to discover some of the less publicised sounds. Among the major names Angolan singer Bonga is probably the longest serving musician on the label here (though not the oldest overall) and he offers a typically breezy number with ‘Kaxexe’. Congolese (formerly Zaire) crooner Wendo Kolosoy has been plying his trade since the 1950s and if it is classic soukous you are after with stunningly beautiful harmonies, then Yesiba banganaga’ will tick all the required boxes. Cesaria Evora needs no introduction and some of her early back catalogue has recently been re-issued via Lusafrica. However, here she pairs up with upcoming singer Lura, also from the Cape Verdean islands, and together they combine on the excellent ‘Moda bô’. One of the joys of anthologies is to make new discoveries, and on this CD there are some fine new names to unearth. Gabon is virtually unknown to all but a few, yet Pierre Akadengue is truly a seminal figure in the development of modern African music, having studied at the Sorbonne, and using his knowledge of poetry to become one of the foremost singer-songwriters in his native Gabon. His contribution with ‘Afrika Obota’ is a compilation highlight and surely his classic 1974 album ‘Nandipo’ should be due for a re-issue at some stage. Strictly speaking Reunion is not on mainland Africa, but Nathalie Nabiembé can be immediately forgiven because she offers a real change of atmosphere with the accordeon and vocal only ‘Ttangza pa tro for’ sung in Creole and ideally one would like a whole CD devoted to this fascinating island. Singers from Chad are seldom heard because a combination of continuous internal conflict and strife have rednered any semblance of a commercial music industry impossible. However, Mounira Mitchala is a very talented young singer who delivers the beautiful intimate sound of ‘Al sahara’ and there must surely be other musicians of standing who deserve to be recognised outside this nation. One quibble with the packaging and notes. While the overall visual and sound quality is excellent with clear presentation of which albums individual songs emanate from and even pictures of CD covers, there is only the most basic of information on the artists themselves and that is a pity. One would like to know more about music from Chad, Gabon, and the island of Reunion to name but threee countries showcased here. Elsewhere it is unclear among other artists precisely which nations they originate from, especially from the Maghreb and neighbouring countries, and there should be greater attention spent on imparting this essential knowledge to the listener and reader. Otherwise some gorgeous music and new styles to discover.

Tim Stenhouse