With Christmas coming up, take note of three essential guides to contemporary African music. For the committed fan, or the merely curious, read on! For the latter Africa Oh-Ye! (Graham Ewens, Guinness £13.99 ) scores full marks not least of all for its attractive visual presentation which grabs the attention and, stuffed full of pictures of the faces and places that matter, the book gives a feel for the subject matter covered so well in the text. For behind the visual gloss, this is still a book of substance that serves well as an introduction to African music stars and styles, north and south of the Sahara. All three books contain excellent selected reading lists and discographies. African All-Stars (Chris May/Chris Stapleton, Quartet £6.99) covers similar ground, albeit in somewhat greater detail. With both books, the journalistic style is easily accessible and fun to read, yet still retains a rigorous sense of history and context. For the African music fan bamboozled by the proliferation of diverse styles and name tags either will prove to be something of a revelation. The evolution of the continent’s major regional styles is looked at in some detail. All-Stars also examines the influence of music from the black diaspora, notable Latin, soul, reggae and zouk, on African music. Invariably the process involves a certain re-Africanisation of African derived music. The wheel completes a full circle. It also, as with Sterns Guide to African Music (Ronnie Graham, Zwan Off The Record Press £12.95), contains pertinent chapters about the state of the African music industry on the African and European continents. Plenty of food for thought especially for those naive enough to believe good music will always find a way through to the top of the pile. The Sterns Guide is less of an introduction to the subject, more like an encyclopaedia. As such its easily the most exhaustive reference book available and a must for anyone who can’t get too much of a good thing. Here’s your chance to track down that elusive album. Painstakingly researched and written with authority. Take your pick, or invest for the future and buy all three.
Brian Parsons aka Zuppa Inglese