Various Artists

Africa: The Music of the Dan

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Hugo Zemp was the ethnomusicologist behind this album, part of a UNESCO-sponsored series collectively entitled An Anthology of African Music. Zemp did an incredible amount of recording around the Ivory Coast and Liberia, among other exotic places, and the results have been made available on several different collections over the years. The Baren Reiter series of albums can't be faulted for packaging. Every title includes liner notes in English, French, and German, along with interesting black-and-white photography and sometimes even musical transcriptions. Zemp's selections here have the feeling of having been made out of frustration, as in having too much material available to fit onto two album sides, even with the playing time going up to nearly 50 minutes. Some of the subjects of this anthology could easily become the focus of an entire album. There are almost five minutes of the Trumpet Orchestra, whereas 30 minutes would have been more satisfying, especially since one can stare at the picture of this weird group for at least that long. Fans of the lovely thumb piano, known under a variety of different names in Africa, will fall under the trance of the "Sanza" track here, but it lasts less than a minute. There is a batch of songs that are tied into different events, including a wrestling match, a sword dance, a mask race, a group circumcision, and a rice harvest. The album opens on a proud note with the lively and even disorienting "Festival Music," and concludes in the same spirit with a set of hunters' songs. Even these final tracks jump around all over the place, including a small village band, a soloist playing a sweet-sounding six-string harp, and a group of elderly performers playing calabash rattles and tortoise shells. The most interesting and certainly strangest track is the demonstration of the "Mask Baegbo," a traditional mask that is an instrument in itself, utilizing bird bones and spider webs to create sounds that are a little bit like a kazoo. Zemp's offerings here are totally valuable from a historical and educational perspective, yet could have had a deeper musical impact if presented just a bit differently.

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