Various Artists

Echoes of Africa: Early Recordings

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As vintage recordings go, this is like striking gold: some remarkable music -- studio recordings, not done in the field -- from the late '20s to the early '50s, from all around Africa. Of course, the 24 tracks here aren't even the tip of a very extensive iceberg, since a great deal of recording was done in Africa throughout the period, and music industries developed in plenty of countries, especially South Africa, which is well represented here, not only with the concertina bands (Will Gumede is a special delight), but also a pair of 1938 tracks from the unfortunately named Darktown Strutters, who offer some superb harmony singing in a Mills Brothers style over sparse piano accompaniment. There's also plenty of material from West Africa, with the vocal dexterity of Hadji Amusa & Hadki Mustafa a particular delight. They were recorded in Lagos, as were the classily monikered Lagos Mozart Orchestra (real name: Calabar Brass Band), who sound as if they've spent time with the Salvation Army. But connections are part of the joy of this record -- the fiddle and banjo accompanying Al Ustadh Umar Awadh Ban's recording sound far more Appalachian than East African. The Arabic musical influence in East Africa is obvious in several of the tracks here, never more so than on those by singer Sitti Binti Saad, a remarkable talent who deserved to be more widely heard, exploring the taarab tradition. The range covered is incredible, the quality of the music is high throughout (a good job on the remastering too -- the crackles are at a minimum), and this disc offers a tempting introduction to what must be a thrilling archive of African music.

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