Fofoulah: Bene Bon EP (Loop Records, 2013)
This 29 minute 6 song EP by a band out of London combines hand drumming with elements of Afrobeat and Senegalese singing. The drumming is really great, the guitar player sounds like he’s listened to a lot of the Edge from U2, but Edge’s long lost black brother from Africa. The singer is very good but doesn’t stand out as much as the drumming. The spirit of the music is neither Afrobeat or Afropop.
The second song (the title track) is my favorite, my least favorite is the fourth song but these guys definitely bring a different recipe to their African music.
Dave Arner Trio: A Take On It All (N/A, 2015)
I put this record on my to listen to list years ago — so long ago in fact that it has either disappeared from the streaming services or is on Spotify and not on the Apple Music (and its ancestors).
Availability aside, this is some stylish free jazz trio playing with piano, bass, and drums. I refuse to bloviate about jazz because it puts folks off and I’m an anti-bloviator, but these guys are really listening and playing with each other and I find this to be very fresh and spontaneous and satisfying listening.
I’m giving myself a gold star because this is some ultra-obscure music but that has very little (or anything) to do with quality.
Orquestra Baobob: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (World Circuit, 2017)
This band has been around for decades but this record introduces a kora player and brings a sweeter African salsa sound than some of their classic burning jams (and I do mean straight up, dome cracking burning). Feel free to check out Pirate’s Choice and other classics, those are incredible records as well.
Midtempo jams with super flavorful horn lines and beautiful singing.
Divanhana: Zukva: Sevdah from Bosnia’s Finest (ARC, 2016)
This is the kind of band that can play in the dark with one hand and it will sound great. They have crazy playing skills. The female singer has a strong and beautiful voice — she does none of the annoying things a bad singer can do.
The only reason this record is not in the best of year section is that after the first three songs it slows down. I wanted it to be smoking all the way through. I’ve clipped two of the first three tunes below so you get a sense of what these guys can do when they put the pedal to the metal.
The instrumentation is vocal, piano, accordion, bass guitar, drums, and percussion. I hear some tuba, nylon string guitar and clarinet in some of the tunes so it’s not fixed. I dig the accordion player and the singer the most.
Neurosis: Fires Within Fires (Neurot, 2016)
This band is on a 30+ year arc and the playing on this record reflects that. It’s not a bunch of dudes standing and blasting full on raged out metal, although there are some epic head blows to be found here. They’re tight, the arrangements are tight, and the playing is lean seasoned with heavy doses of old school punk, noise, and of course, metal.
The mood is dark but three dimensionally so — some nice ambient sections, a few contemplative less dynamic and even a bit of mainstream rocking. The singer is neither standard metal pissed or shredding his throat. Let’s just call him disgruntled. Just a taste below.
Tinariwen: Elwan (Anti-, 2017)
Is this the best Tinariwen record in their discography? I don’t have the time to make that judgment. Is it going to be one of the best African records of the year? Definitely. Nobody gets the hypnotic guitar/hand drumming groove going like these guys. There are other indisputably great African bands working now but these guys have a slot and they work it hard.
Check out this slow jam below and tell me who does it better:
I like the slower jams the best.
If you’ve heard these guys before you’ll enjoy this record. The guitar playing is top notch AND world class. If you haven’t heard these guys before, shame on you.
Acid Arab: Musique de France (Crammed Discs, 2016)
A timely shot of Middle Eastern electronica that goes out to that racist fucker Marine Le Pen in France and our very own homegrown piece of shit, Donald Trump.
Heavy club beats with modern bass sounds and Arabic melodies over the top. A little like Omar Suleiman but less manic. Guest singers but just shots of vocals not verse-chorus, etc.
I’ve clipped one of my favorite tracks below.