At a time when globalization has led to increasingly homogenized “world” music, a return to the post-colonial, golden age of African music can be an exciting experience. Many classic African pop recordings are surfacing on the internet, as a few enthusiasts search dustbins throughout Europe and African for discarded or forgotten vinyl records, and then digitize them to share with the world. The Global Groove
link on the right is the best starting point to enter this expanding universe of sound. But digitized old records sound like old records, often with the pops and surface noise that drove people to CDs as the preferred music medium. That is why there is reason to celebrate when a record company collects some of this wonderful music, restores and digitizes the sound with the best tools available, and puts it out on compact disc.
Stern’s Music has been a stalwart evangelist-distributor of African music for decades, and their recent release World Defeats the Grandfathers is a fantastic collection of Kenyan hits by Issa Juma and Super Wanyika Stars. Issa Juma was a Tanzanian musician whose career blossomed in Kenya due to his rich baritone voice and brilliant ability to lead bands in innovative directions. Juma sang in Swahili, the common language currency of East Africa, allowing the music to flow widely across ethnic and national borders.
The songs collected on this CD capture Issa Juma at the apex of his career, in the early to mid-1980s. Powered by the bright, intertwined guitars and percolating rhythms typical of Swahili rumba, this release is a delight from beginning to end. The songs incorporate influences from Congolese and Tanzanian rumba, as well as more indigenous Kenyan pop styles, and Juma’s voice simply glides through the complex mix, grounding it and counterbalancing the extended dance instrumentals. The guitars are wonderful throughout, but superlative in the song “Maria.” I’ve posted a snippet of the song below to give you a taste of the entire mix. I especially appreciate the deft bass that provides the swinging foundation in “Maria” and the following track, “Muanaidi.”
This album was compiled by East Africa music expert Doug Paterson, and the complete liner notes of the album, with much more information on Issa Juma and his bands, can be found on Doug’s informative site. World Defeats the Grandfathers can be downloaded through iTunes, where it actually has a bonus track, but if you want the full fidelity to appreciate the total richness of this music (see my last post below), order the CD from Amazon, where today only four copies remain in stock. This great album has the power to brighten a gloomy day, and I recommend it highly for any day — or night. Enjoy!