Various Artists: Rough Guide To The Music Of West Africa

- Over the last couple of decades, the Rough Guide series has been enormously successful at introducing music of the non-English speaking world to a broader audience with well-chosen compilations.

The newest addition to the series, the Rough Guide to the Music of West Africa, is interesting in that it doesn't really follow the formula. In 1995 the first Rough Guide to West African Music was released, and it was a selection you might expect: heavy with the titans of Malian griot music like Toumani Diabate and Ali Farka Toure along with legendary female vocalists like Oumou Sangare and Dimi Mint Abba.

This edition looks very different to that one. None of the same artists are present, nor are other prominent West Africans like Touareg desert rockers Tinariwen, Senegalese pop superstar Youssou N'Dour or the afrobeat of Fela Kuti and sons.

Whether this is due to licensing restrictions or intentionality I'm not sure but the effect is that this album is ideal for the listener familiar with some West African music. If you're seeking to delve a little bit deeper into the extraordinary musical traditions of the region, this is your record.

Difficult as it is to fit everything onto a single CD, both musically and geographically the selection here stretches out a bit beyond the well-known too. While that slow, loping blues of Malian griot music is still present from the likes of Samba Toure and Anansy Cisse and there's plenty of toe-tapping pop like the album's opener from Nuru Kane and and closer from Noumoucounda Cissoko, in between we get samples of different artists and styles from Ghana, Cameroon, Guinea and Niger.

Of these new discoveries, it is some of the more gentle and minimal tracks that really stand out: the gorgeous solo acoustic guitar and vocals of Amadou Diagne's Senegal being one example and Seprewa Kasa's Adowa (Otanfo) is another.  That artistic handle is derived from the Ghanaian instrument, seprewa, box shaped and looking a bit like a guitar but sounding like a harp. This track is an album highlight and the compilers deserve praise for bringing our attention to yet another remarkable instrument and musical style from West Africa.

Elsewhere the strikingly Cuban-sounding rhythms of Victor Uwaifo's 1971 track Ekassa 28 are a reminder of the cultural cross-pollination that has always expanded musical palettes. Bamako School for the Blind by their very presence, and Koo Nimo with his song directed at leaders who don’t respect their people, help us recall the hardship and poverty that much of this joyous music is made in.

Those factors, and the seemingly never-ending political turmoil in the region, make it difficult for these musicians to get their art out to the rest of the world, or even in fact to survive. All the more reason to celebrate this compilation and some more amazing music from West Africa.

- Andy Paine.


Album Details

Album Title: Rough Guide To The Music Of West Africa
Artist: Various Artists
Record Label: (Rough Guides)