And so, with the last thirty years’ ‘crate diggers’ having thoroughly explored the ‘golden ages’ of recording in Mali/ Senegal/ Guinea and Congo/Zaire and the bottom of the barrel marked ‘Afrobeat’, the current wave of African music archivists, enthusiasts and crazy obsessives seem to have turned their attention to the hitherto more neglected North East.
We are blessed. With obvious exceptions, an ‘80s/’90s CD re-issue would probably have been in a cheap-looking plastic box with very little in the way of sound enhancement, information for the bewildered or design values. Nowadays, many extra miles are gone: both of these are double CDs housed in lovingly designed hardback digipacks with extensive notes – entering the realm of artefacts you want to own even before you’ve heard the music. And both utilise the mastering and restoration skills of Michael Graves of Atlanta’s Osiris Studio – as does the third great East African re-issue of the year (according to our Critics’ Poll), Dust-to-Digital’s exemplary Listen All Around. So they not only look good, they sound great too.
Chances are some of you will have first pricked your ears up to Dur-Dur Band on last year’s Ostinato Somalian set Sweet As Broken Dates. In common with, for example, Mali’s famed Super Rail Band, they were a hard-working hotel band who took the international music that the guests and elites grooved to and many hours of playing had fine-tuned, used it to re-invent local folklore in local dialects, and found themselves massively popular as it resonated with a new generation. Dur-Dur’s musical schooling was in funk, disco, soul and reggae, with choppy wah-wahed guitar, ‘green’ organ and brass, but their three singers anchor everything locally. And they can do catchy as well as funkus-maximus. It’s no surprise to read that Yabaal (Blossom) sung by Sahra Dawal was the hit off the first album, or the loping reggae-tinged Diinleeya (Riddle) off Volume 2. Apparently there’s still a Volume 3 to come.
The Dur-Dur Band notes by Analog Africa’s digger-in-chief Samy Ben Redjeb, the Banksy of world music, are his gripping tales of research trips, plus there’s a lengthy interview with one of the band’s singers, Shimaali Ahmed Shimaali. Two Niles’ notes also extensively interview singers, but the thrust is very much more about putting the music in the very difficult and sometimes downright dangerous context of Sudanese politics and religious restrictions, not to mention local copyright laws.
Back in the ‘80s in the UK, thanks to the efforts of Arts Worldwide’s Anne Hunt, we were very lucky to get visits by a number of Sudanese stars, particularly Abdel Aziz El Mubarak (who is included here) and Abdel Gadir Salim. Mostly they came with smaller, acoustic ensembles but occasionally we’d get – when funding allowed it – the full Arabic orchestral monty with strings, some electric instruments, keyboards, saxes, percussion. Spectacular gigs, when huge numbers of Sudanese (and Egyptians, Ethiopians and Somalis too) – vastly outnumbering our little pockets of ‘world music’ interlopers – would appear out of nowhere and interact with the singers, jumping on stage to have photos taken in their best clothes, and generally party. This fabulous set feels like it’s the soundtrack to such events back home.
Not for nothing did the assembled panel of Critics vote these into the top Re-Issue/ Historic albums of 2018, with the Dur-Dur Band the overall winner. They know their stuff!
Photo credit: Jak Kilby