Ave Africa: The Complete Recordings 1973-1976


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Ave Africa: The Complete Recordings 1973-1976 Review

by Paul Simpson

Strut's 2016 release Ave Africa collects the complete recorded works of Sunburst, a Tanzanian band influenced by several African traditions as well as Western music styles such as rock and funk. The group's members were born in different countries and spoke different languages, and their music had a very diverse range, encompassing blues, soul, jazz, and Latin music. They originally formed in the early '70s as a cover band, playing tunes by the likes of James Brown and Santana. As they began writing original compositions, their lyrics reflected themes of black pride, unity, and freedom, with titles such as "Black Is Beautiful" and "Enzi Za Utumwani" ("Slavery Days"). The group's only full-length studio recording, Ave Africa, was actually recorded late in their career, and wasn't released until 1977 as the band was breaking up. Despite having a few hit singles and being regarded as one of the nation's best bands, they barely made any money and couldn't afford to continue as a band. The songs on Ave Africa are as strong as they are diverse, with joyous, empowering numbers fitting alongside aching soul and blues ballads, and complex yet easily flowing full-band arrangements incorporating trombone, violin, and electric keyboards. Opening instrumental "Kitoto Sound" (the group's description of their style) is bright and jubilant, with polyrhythmic percussion interacting with funky guitar licks, trombone, and organ. "Your Day Will Come" has a perky guitar line that comes close to sounding like ska, and the lyrics joyfully proclaim that "music makes you smile." However, the album's production generally sounds muddled; there's no bass, and everything seems cluttered together at the bottom of the mix with no room to breathe. The compilation's second disc compiles the group's singles (issued between 1973 and 1976 by Kenyan label Moto Moto and Tanzanian imprint TFC) as well as the 1973 Tanzanian radio session that launched the group to stardom. While these recordings understandably don't have the highest fidelity, they're more vibrant than the group's studio album, with clearer sound and more adventurous production touches. Reverb adds a bit of depth to songs like "Kipato Sina," and the instruments (particularly the drums and keyboards) have much more of a sizzle to them. These sessions seem like a far greater representation of the group's live powers. After listening to the entire collection and reading the liner notes, one can't help but admire Sunburst; they had great songs and were incredible, versatile musicians. It seems like there was unrealized potential, however, so the collection suggests what could've been as much as it celebrates what the band accomplished.

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