Vinyl mix, loosely themed - African Gospel and music that feels generally devotional.
Starts with 2 tracks from the beautiful Missa Luba album recorded in the Congo in 1958 by a missionary priest in the Congo - this is a setting of the Mass to traditional Congolese music. Then we have 2 tracks from another album with a sort-of similar idea - various recordings of traditional African music mashed up with an English choir. We continue with the South African jazz of Dudu Pukwana - which feels very much somewhere between spiritual jazz and gospel. Ladysmith Black Mambazo make an appearance, of course, as does the wonderful Machanic Manyeruke. We end, as often, with a run of fine Afro-latin.
|Les Troubadours Du Roi Baudouin||Katumbo||00:00|
|Les Troubadours Du Roi Baudouin||Seya Wa Mama Ndalamba||01:41|
|David Fanshawe||Gloria - (Egyptian Wedding - Luxor, Islamic Prayer School)||04:01|
|David Fanshawe||Chant "Deo Gratias" (Sundanese Courtship Dance) - Credo (West Sudan)||10:47|
|The Ousmane Kouyate Band||Miriya||21:07|
|Ephat Mujuru & The Spirit Of The People||Dangu Rangli||23:35|
|Ladysmith Balck Mambazo||At Golgotha||27:10|
|Machanic Manyeruke And The Puritans||Ndofara||31:05|
|Machanic Manyeruke And The Puritans||MaSamaria Nema Judah||35:57|
|Francois Lougah||Bravo Sotra||40:12|
|Marc Bikanda||Cavacha Super Choc||47:46|
|Emeneya Emerite et le Victoria Eleison||Wabelo||52:43|
The first two tracks are from Missa Luba an album by an ensemble called Les Troubadours du Roi Bauduoin which is a setting of the Christian mass sung purely in a traditional Congolese manner. It is a beautiful work, very respectful of the traditions, allowing the African voice to sound untrammeled by European expectations - something unusual in the context of religious recordings.
Father Guido Haazen O.F.M. (Order of Friars Minor) (b. 27 September 1921, d. 20 August 2004) became director of Kamina Central School in what was then the Belgian Congo in September 1953. Within weeks he established an ensemble consisting of a male choir – about forty-five boys aged nine to fourteen and fifteen adults – and percussion. In 1957 he received royal consent to name the ensemble Les Troubadours du Roi Bauduoin in honour of the Belgian king Baudouin I.
(It's kind of jarring to find that a work of exceptional cultural sensitivity should be named in the most classic imperialist manner - after the colonialists reigning monarch.)
According to Discogs: "A 10-page booklet with an introduction in English and art prints is attached in the fold." Sadly this is missing from my copy. However I found what appears to be some liner notes from an different edition of the album - perhaps they are an extract from the booklet. The introduction is by the great Studs Terkel, showing a wonderful appreciation for the issues at stake - I'll quote at length because I agree wholeheartedly with his view and he puts it much better than I could:
...The ways of their ancestors were respected by this stranger, the white priest from Belgium. It is my understanding that Father Uudo Haazen came to the Congo in the early Fifties. Unlike most missionaries, this one came to learn as well as teach.
Thus, in gathering 45 young boys together, in forming Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, he was teaching Christianity in the manner of The Carpenter. In loving his teen-aged black neighbors as himself, he, in effect, was saying: "I honor your ways and those of your fathers. If you learn this Christian mass, please sing it in the manner of your people, not my way but your way." (An assumption on my part, of course, the rapport between this one shepherd and his flock. I can come to no other conclusion on hearing this remarkable performance.)
There can be no mistaking the origins and traditions of these young singers. Some less than Father Haazen might have envisioned a Vienna Boys' Choir or Little Singers of Paris or Obernkirchen kids in dark skin. He might have impelled European musical values upon the students of Kamina Central School as a house painter whitewashes a wall, obliterating whatever had been there before. Instead, he urged his young proteges to remember the Congolese rhythms and to freely improvise. The joy of being, the thrill of living, was italicized by the accompaniment: Congolese drums. Certainly, he recognized this music not as something "primitive," but as highly advanced. (It is time to put at rest the hoary canard that African music is primitive. A Nineteenth Century lie becomes a Twentieth Century obscenity. Any half-way enlightened jazz fan recognizes the complex nature of the rhythms that were brought to America by the kidnapped Africans. It is apparent even to the most tinny of ears attuned to this recording.)
In listening to this Missa Luba, I am reminded of another performance: a Harlem congregation singing out "Joy To The World." It was the only time I had heard this buoyant carol sung as it was meant to be sung with joy.
I am reminded, too, of a particular Sunday morning in South Africa. I was seated in one of the rear pews of the Anglican church in the township of Sophiatown. The good Father Huddleston had preached here and found himself in bad grace with the authorities. Yet, despite the courage and Christian goodness of this enlightened priest, I felt a vague sense of disappointment in the singing. The hymns were sung with what sounded to me undue restraint--in the manner of a white middle class congregation. True, there was a gentle swing; this could never be lost among the South African black people. It was the juice of native life that was missing.
Chief Albert John Luthuli, 1960's Nobel Peace Prize winner, has paid tribute to the missionaries who taught him ways of another world. At the same time, he criticized their lack of understanding the heritage of his people. He was speaking not only for South Africa but for the peoples of the whole throbbing continent.
I remember, too, Fela Sowande's reminiscences. Mr. Sowande is Nigeria's oustanding composer. He recalled the good and the bad of missionaries' impact on West Africa. He implored: "Respect the culture and the religions of my people, too. Teach, if you will, but do not impose. Even better, let us learn from one another."
The song, the South African song, "Wimoweh," has told us the lion is sleeping. Events now tell us the lion has awakened. It is no longer for the "white hunter" to decide the lion's fate. That terrible time has past. Another time, equally terrible, may await-unless we begin to understand. The Gun no longer works. Neither does the missionary's Book. Father Haazen appears to have been one of those rare men of God, who came equipped with more than The Book. Certainly not with self-righteousness. The young singers, whom he has guided, are uniquely themselves: artists of the Congo. Truly, theirs is a religious performance, not merely a "Christian" one.
(The mention of Wimoweh is ironic, and appropriate, it also being very much embroiled in issues of cultural appropraition, colonialism and power - see this long and detailed article. Some day I should compile a playlist of all the versions of this song.)
But still... this album was recorded 50 years after the end of the end of the personal rule of the King of Belgium over the Congo - a reign marked by exceptional brutality, even by the vicious standards of colonialism in Africa. Some of the older people in Kamina would have been able to remember the routine use of amputation as a punishment - sometimes the limbs to children were amputated in order to punish the parents without compromising their ability to work. The Catholic church was very much part of the colonial machinery,
About a decade after the release of Missa Luba it because a massive hit when some tracks were featured in the British move If.... - "Philips capitalised on the exposure the music received in If.... by releasing the Sanctus and Benedictus as a single, which spent eleven weeks in the British charts, peaking at No. 28 in March 1969." (Wikipedia) It was one of the best known "world music" records of the 1970's - for example The Clash reference the album in the song Car Jamming:
Now shaking single-engined planes trafficking stereos from Cuba
Buzzed the holy zealot mass and drowned out Missa Luba
And drowned out Missa Luba
And drowned out Missa Luba
And drowned out Missa Luba
Donal Dineen featured the album in his Sunken Treasures column for the Irish Times.
The following two tracks in the mix are from a similar but very different project called African Sanctus. Between 1969 and 1972 a musicologist called David Fanshawe traveled around East Africa with a portable tape recorder amassing a fine collection of local music. He then used this as the basis for a "composition for choir and African tapes" which was performed live at various times over the 70's. From the liner notes:
I felt, quite simply, that instead of just recording tribal music I could preserve and create my own music around it, thus adding many more colours and variations which would express my adventures and love of people in a composition where African music, African songs and dances, religious recitations and ceremonies would live within the heart of a work conceived along ‘Western’ lines in the form of a Mass. The driving force is one of ‘Praise’ and a firm belief in ‘One God’.
There is no denying that this was an innovative project - Fanshawe composed music that he believed responded to an integrated with the African recordings and he made arrangements for live performances featuring the recordings and a Choir together. As his website put it "The taped music from Egypt, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya is heard in counterpoint with the live chorus, soprano soloist and instrumental ensemble." In the early 21st century the concept of combining radically different musical traditions and technologies is no longer novel - sampling technology enables something like this to be put together with ease. In the early 70's the technological barriers were considerable, the geographical and physical barriers far more so - African Sanctus was the work of several years and was considered quite groundbreaking and foreshadows modern techniques like sampling.
...one of the main reasons why I wrote African Sanctus was that I felt, quite simply, that instead of just recording tribal music I could preserve and create my own music around it, thus adding many more colours and variations which would express my adventures and love of people in a composition where African music, African songs and dances, religious recitations and ceremonies would live within the heart of a work conceived along ‘Western’ lines in the form of a Mass. The driving force is one of ‘Praise’ and a firm belief in ‘One God’.
This is a far more divisive project than Missa Luba. There are many people who consider Sanctus a wonderful synthesis of different traditions. But for me... maybe the attempt to capture this live event on record missed something, but much of the record sounds like recordings of very different kinds of music mashed together - the English choir in particular sounds strident in comparison to the raw simplicity of the African recordings. A curate's egg.
For another point of view see this blog post:
David Fanshawe – only 68 when he died – created something new: he didn’t force European rules onto the African material, but found a way of creating a sense of real equality between the two traditions, a symbiotic relationship reflecting his humanist message.
Even the favourable Telegraph obituary feels obliged to mention that
While other adventurers returned from distant lands with lion skins or elephant tusks, the trophies from Fanshawe's odysseys were recorded ones
Although I suspect this is less of a condemnation in the eyes of The Telegraph than it is in mine.
Tina Louise Thielen-Gaffey in her Masters Thesis:
African Sanctus is a universal work whose impact is immediate, whose message is simple; the driving force is one of praise and a firm belief in one music – one God. It seeks to awaken in both listener and performer a curiosity about African music and itsrelationship to western polyphony. For David Fanshawe, there were no musical barriers.
Which is all well and good but the transcending of musical barriers is not necessarily a neutral proposition, or even a beneficial one when it concerns disparities of power and economics. As the Rolling Stone critic Jon Pareles said in his 1981 review of another landmark album at the interface between African and Europe:
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is an undeniably awesome feat of tape editing and rhythmic ingenuity. But, like most “found” art, it raises stubborn questions about context, manipulation and cultural imperialism.
The fact is that David Fanshawe went on to have a successful career based largely on African Sanctus - as Thielen-Gaffey says
It didn’t take long for the appeal of African Sanctus, finally published in 1977, to become popular. Its attraction has made it possible for Fanshawe and his wife, Jane, to spend their lives promoting and performing the work. Furthermore, its success has financially allowed Fanshawe the freedom to travel and catalogue additional music...
In addition to providing an introductory lecture, Fanshawe is also available for short-term residency in which he works with percussionists, soloists, choirs, tech engineers, and conductors who perform the work. If residency is not financially feasible, Fanshawe may supply the performing ensemble a prerecorded message regarding the performance of his work and explanation of the technical aspects that may be necessary. Fanshawe is also available to cue the raw tape in performance and/or play the piano sonatina in “V. Love Song
The thing is that none of the performers received any benefit from this - Fanshawe only learned the names of a handful of them, was even unsure of the ethnicity of several and some he even recorded without their knowledge.
These are all issues that Endeguena Mulu, better known as Ethopian Records has commented on at length. Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with djmag.com where he outlines the thinking behind his approach to an indigineous electronic music which he calls Ethiopiyawi Electronic:
Ethiopiyawi Electronic defies the colonialist idea that the cultural (and monetary) value of African art increases only when Westerners pay attention to it. “I worry about appropriation and gentrification because the West.. [has had] a very abusive relationship with my continent,” Mulu says. “I also worry about this attention we are getting [from the West], like African people worry about their raw materials and lands. I think the only way for Africans to be safe here is for people from my continent to take ownership of their cultural evolution. I don't just mean [that] musically or artistically... I am [also] talking about financially, structurally, and professionally.
“People from my continent, and especially my country, need to understand that culture isn’t just something that's in a museum, to be entertained by,” he continues. “Without self exploration, funded and spearheaded by ourselves, there is no future.”
The thing is it's all pervasive. As a lover of African music living in a "first world" country (as if we can create an ordering of worlds) I am constantly aware of the massive disparities in power - especially purchasing power. Every time I buy a classic African record on ebay for a price that could feed a family for a week in many countries I am exporting part of someone's cultural heritage - and the odds are that someone could not outbid me. (Not that I'm a high roller - I don't pay more for a record on ebay than I would pay for a new record in my local shop.) Especially in the case of the many records that have never been digitised (making them even more desirable to a DJ). The founder of Ostinato Records, Vik Sohonie, discusses this at length in a great essay on the Africa is a Country site:
Between 90 to 95 percent of Africa’s cultural wealth no longer resides on the continent. Yet, while calls are made to return the bronze statues of Benin, the masks of Cabinda, a range of artwork, and even the remains of rulers, one of the most powerful artifacts from the African continent, which circulates through online auctions and lines the shelves of private collectors in rich countries, has not figured in demands: physical recordings of African music from independence onwards, large catalogs of which are no longer on the continent.
In conclusion... there is no conclusion. After centuries of colonialism and imperialism (in which my own country was first victim then collaboarator) we had a few decades of political correctness, which led to little redress but much name-calling between middle-class white people. And the thing is that there is great wealth in the encounters between cultures if the balance of power is even. I really really love some of the albums that I have discussed above - Gracelands had a huge impact on me as a child, and without it this blog, and a lifetime of musical obsession would not exist. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a truly great record, as is Missa Luba. I'm not so sure about African Sanctus but that has made me realise that just because the other records are musically more sensitive to the source material it shouldn't mean I'm more willing to overlook the ethical issues.
That all said, don't think I'm coming down on the side of the cultural appropration warriors. Even when there is a disparity of power and economics there is still opportunity and potential benefit for the disadvantaged party. Vivien Goldman wrote a great article about all of this, especially as it concerned Jamacian music, called Art, Culture & Appropriation: Police and Thieves for frieze.com where he asks "How can the rest of the world ever repay the island, considering that – with the exception of Bob Marley – the majority of pioneers were ill-remunerated?" she recounts meeting Sly and Robbie in the early 1980's
I earnestly asked the duo if they weren’t at all annoyed about foreign white bands like The Police copping their licks and making more than they did. Both chuckled. The way they saw it, they dug the homage, respected The Police and felt that any success of theirs simply helped to create a larger market for their own label – which is exactly how it worked out.
Which highlights one of the major proplems I have with cultural appropraition warriors - their denial of agency to the supposed victims of appropriation. In fact Sly and Robbie are far from powerless and clueless, they are smart sophisticated operators who have been navigating the shark invested waters of the global music industry for many decades and have a very clear idea of the both the disadvantages and opportunities of their situation.
And secondly, from the point of view of the global music industry they were niche players, a useful source of new material, some of the musicians that were inspired by them were very respctful of the Jamacian musicial influences and worked to promote many artists. This made a big difference. Sly and Robbie may not have made Marley's millions but they did benefit from this.
The point being that it's important for artists and performers in Europe and America to give a little back and not just take. Acknoledgeing influences, not just treating these scenes as a source of raw material.
And it is not as if we have to just accept the situation the way it is. Yeah, a Spotify subscription is cheap, but hell... would it make a difference to your bottom line to spend some money on Bandcamp? Of all the music platforms this is probably the one that most benefits the original producers - and by a vast margin. Combine that with the vast difference in purchasing power between the Dollar or Euro and the curriencies in most countries in Africa, Asia, South America or wherever and you have a very good reason to make that effort to actually pay for an album from one of those places on Bandcamp.