Various Artists

Africa: Musiques du Pays Lobi

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The cover is still printed on luxurious, glossy stock, but someone must have been cutting budgets at this label by the time the 50th release had rolled around, as there is no longer a thick booklet inside and no photography at all except for a small black-and-white of dudes playing a xylophone on the front cover. Almost a decade passed from the recording of this music until this album was released, but some of the tracks were published in 1962 as part of the collection Haute Volta on SOR. The music was all recorded in the region of Gaoua in what was known as Southwest Upper Volta in the '60s. The Lobi people are featured on the first side, playing 14-key xylophones known as elong. The calabash resonators give these instruments a gentle, lulling sound. The steady but fairly low-key rhythms, at least by African standards, make this a pretty easy side to tuck into. There is also some interesting percussion on these tracks, including metallophones known as kpapka tioro that are played with the fingers and a tubular drum accurately known as the bambam, which is played with one stick and one hand. A female chorus checks in for the final track on the first side, adding yet another pleasant element to the proceedings. On the second side we start with the Gan, who use completely different instruments. A farmer named Diotoure Hien does a great piece singing and accompanying himself on the kankarma, a type of mouth bow. This piece, no matter how strange it sounds, is actually a love song. Next up is an ensemble of women accompanied by whistles, rattles, metal sticks, and three different drums. Good background music for dinner preparation is provided by the Dagari and a ballad sung by women grinding millet. Men from this same group perform a fascinating song including backup from xylophones, kettle drums, and the tinkling metal rings known as pira. These xylophones are known as djil, and one of the players creates a great effect by grunting along with what he is playing. The final track is an example of Birafor music, featuring a farmer playing the exquisite sounding salan, a forked harp with six strings and a kalabash resonator. Although somewhat lacking in the type of musical examples and detailed information this series is known for, this is still a collection of African music recordings that boast superior musicianship, performances, and concepts, as well as many stimulating instruments. Fans of traditional keyboard percussion instruments may be particularly interested.

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