Bembeya Jazz National – The Syliphone Years (2004)

Sterns Music

Bembeya Jazz National
The Syliphone Years
Recordings from the 1960s and 1970s
2-CD Anthology released by Sterns Africa 2004
Liner notes in French and English by Graeme Counsel


1. Republique Guinee
2. Sabor de guajira
3. Armee Guineenne
4. Dembaty Galant
5. Air Guinee
6. Guinee Hety Horemoun
7. Montuno De La Sierra
8. Waraba
9. Dagna
10. Doni Doni
11. Camara Mousso
12. Super Tentemba
13. Mami Wati
14. Alalake


1. Beyla
2. Fatoumata
3. Moussogbe
4. Sou
5. N’Gamokoro
6. Ballake
7. Mussofing
8. Dya Dya
9. Sino Mousso
10. N’Temenna
11. Telephone
12. Petit Sekou

I don’t usually like to just cut and paste reviews from other places in lieu of my own thoughts and commentary. But not only am I running around trying to settle a nasty visa issue this week, but I have also been sitting for months on a stack of amazing compilations from the likes of Sterns and Analog Africa and it’s about time I shared one of them. Since this one has a nice, well-written review from BBC, why not let them do the talking while I sip my morning coffee? I will just add: this is great music.


BBC Review
“‘..its hard to fault this superlative and long overdue re-issue,which commemorates a truly golden era in African music.”

Jon Lusk 2004-12-21


The music made in Guinea during the first two decades after independence from France in 1958 represents some of the most sublime and influential that any West African nation has ever produced. Backed by Sékou Touré’s socialist government, groups from every region of the country were encouraged to modernise their ancient musical traditions and were given the financial assistance to do so. And of all the musical riches that this policy unearthed, those of Bembeya Jazz National were the finest.

If you weren’t quite convinced by the band’s 2002 comeback album Bembeya, and the recent Guitar Fö from their mighty guitarist Sékou Diabaté, this 2-CD compilation really shows what all the fuss was about. It’s a thorough selection of their best work for the national Syliphone label, which began releasing local music in the mid 1960s. For those already familiar with compilations like Mémoire de Aboubacar Demba Camara -at least half of which is reproduced here -the first disc, which includes many early singles previously unavailable on CD, will be a revelation.

Highlights? Pretty much the whole damn thing, though it depends on your mood, such is the variety of styles they experimented with. All the ingredients that made their music so wonderful are there on their first single “République Guinée”; the trademark off-key brass section, grooving percussion, Sékou Diabaté’s exquisite guitar and the distinctively savoury vocals of Demba Camara. Apart from updating the griot songs of their largely Maninka heritage, the band revelled in outside influences.

Titles like “Sabor de Guajira”, “Montuno de la Sierra” and the rumba-flavoured gem “Dagna” illustrate the passion for Cuban music which they shared with many West African musicians of their generation. Likewise, “Mami Wata” is an affectionate nod to Ghanaian highlife, and “Sou” takes a short trip to Cape Verde. The compilation brings us as far as 1976, three years after the death of Demba Camara, by which time their sound was beginning to take on a soukous flavour.

Those who are fussy about sound quality should perhaps be warned that some of the recordings are copied from vinyl rather than the original master tapes, but also that this music is about ambience, not accuracy. The only major omission is anything from the epic Regard sur le Passé, probably because as Graeme Counsel’s excellent sleevenotes explain it consists of a single song spread over two sides of vinyl, and is best heard in its entirety. Otherwise, its hard to fault this superlative and long overdue re-issue, which commemorates a truly golden era in African music. If the brooding, majestic grace of Ballake doesn’t give you goosebumps, you should probably see a doctor soon. – Jon Lusk, BBC

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Silvio Rodríguez – Al final de este viaje (1978)

Day Three of the Revolutionary Music Experiment


Silvio Rodríguez
“Al final de este viaje 1968/70”
Released 1978

1. Canción del elegido
2. Familia la propiedad privada y el amor
3. Ojalá
4. Era esta pariendo un corazon
5. Resumen de noticias
6. Debo partirme en Dos
7. Oleo de mujer con sombrero
8. Aunque no este de moda
9. Que se puede hacer con el amor
10. Al final de este viaje en la vida

Silvio Rodríguez was a driving force behind the nueva trova movement of folk song in Cuba, the counterpart to the nueva canción music happening elsewhere in Latin America. But unlike artists like Victor Jara and Mercedes Sosa, I spent far too long of my life being unaware of his greatness. I have two theories on why this might be, which are not mutually exclusive. 1) I have an allergy to most music recorded after 1980, and since that is the decade when Silvio really became a huge international success, it’s possible I was just avoiding him for purely medical reasons. Or, 2) the fact that I am a citizen of a country that tried to destroy his and, failing that, suppress it in any way possible.

Whatever the case, I am thankful to a dear friend and a card-carrying member of the American Socialist Party for turning me on to Silvio, as well as other things. By which I just mean music, of course. Like helping me to finally “get” Charlie Garcia by dropping some Sui Generis on me. It’s friends like that who make this journey worthwhile.

Although this is Silvio Rodríguez’s second LP, all of the material on it was written while he was working on a fishing boat in 1969 and, according to him, writing more than 10 songs a day or something like that. Unlike his first album “Días y flores” which had a backing band on it, this record is just Silvio and his guitar. The result is a pretty stunning experience. Although song titles like “La familia, la propiedad privada y el amor” make you expect heavy-handed paeans to Engels, his songs are much more subtle than that and force the listener to hear them as personally as the writer felt them. His intimacy and romanticism are, in that sense, not terribly different than what Robert Wyatt (yesterday’s featured artist) does in his best work. His particular way of reminding us that the personal is political develops even further on his next record, Mujeres.

“Ojalá” is easily his most famous composition and its anthemic tension makes it pretty easy to see why. If you go and look around Youtube you can find clips of him playing this live before audiences that are singing every word. Kind of boring to watch, actually, as I’d much rather hear the man himself. This reminds me, I have a third theory in this blog post. 3) If the Domino Theory had been anything other than a bunch of jingoism, the opening guitar figure of Ojalá would have taken the place of the opening stanzas of Stairway to Heaven as the most overplayed guitar part in popular music. “Resumen de Noticias” is also wonderful and rich with strong melodies as is the epic “Debo Partirme en Dos”, although the latter has a “b” part with a chord progression that annoys the living hell out of me for some reason, and song goes on about one minute too long. “Que Se Puede Hacer con el Amor” is f-ing gorgeous as well, and the the last track is good enough to name a whole album after it.


Silvio Rodríguez – Al final de este viaje (1978) in 320kbs em pee tree

Silvio Rodríguez – Al final de este viaje (1978) in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO