Sunday, February 7, 2010


Guinea was one of the monsters of West African music in the 60s and 70s. In the late 1950's, France proposed to its colonial holdings in Africa the loaded question of independence, and Guinea was the only country to split from France, in 1958. France quickly cut all political and economic ties with the newly independent country. At the same time, Sekou Toure, the Guinean president, sought to rid his country of French and European influence, especially in cultural areas like music. He instituted a program called Authenticite, which lended state support to the formation of regional and national orchestras that heavily utilized African rhythms and styles. These were the Guinean dance bands of the 60s and 70s such as Bembeya Jazz National, Balla et ses Balladins, Keletigui et ses Tambourinis, Horoya Band National, 22 Band de Kankan, etc. Although there was a heavy focus on more "traditional" African styles, the bands widely used the commonplace "western" instrumentation such as electric guitar and brass instruments, although appropriated to be used in an African style. The bands also had a great love for Latin American music, specifically Afro-Cuban, as they rightly recognized their own rhythms in the music from across the Atlantic, so some Cuban influence can be found in the music as well. Though Sekou Toure's state socialist regime in Guinea was unfortunately very repressive and an economic failure which set back Guinea for decades, it however produced a huge output of music through its Authenticite programs that kicked fucking ass. Some of my favorite music of all time.

Here are 2-cd compilations of two of the major bands of that period, Balla et ses Balladins and Keletigui et ses Tambourinis, considered rivals in many ways, mainly because they split off from the same band, Syli Orchestre National.

Balla et ses Balladins - the Syliphone Years
CD 1
CD 2

Keletigui et ses Tambourinis - the Syliphone Years
CD 1
CD 2

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

North Africa

Mahmoud Guinia

This one is perfectly hypnotic gnawa music from Morocco. Gnawa refers to both the ethnic group of blacks who originated as slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa, and a Sufi Islam religious sect. The music in gnawa is intended to invoke a trance, using the three-stringed lute-like instrument called the sintir and iron castanets called krakebs. I really love this album.

Get it here

Al-Qahirah - Classical Music of Cairo, Egypt

This is part of a fantastic and expansive box set called the Music of Islam. The classical Arabic music on this album represents modern performances of very old Arab musical traditions. Cairo has long been a major cultural center for the Arab world, including music. The Arab tonalities and scales are infectious, evocative of a very old and influential culture that wraps around the Mediterranean and beyond.

Get it here

Various Artists / Sublime Frequencies - 1970's Algerian Proto-Raï Underground

Raï literally means opinion but is colloquially used as an interjection along the lines of "oh, yeah!" It refers in this case to a form of folk music in northwest Algeria, specifically in the city of Wahran (Oran). In the early 1970s, a new group of singers and musicians were operating on the northwest coast, and what they pioneered was a sound that eventually reached worldwide status by the end of the decade; however, their names are relatively unknown to this day outside Algeria. Due to censorship and government-controlled music diffusion, this scene and lyrical style was forced underground and banned from broadcasts, yet slowly built a small following around the seaside cabarets of Oran. The sound is sort of a mixture of the Spanish influences of flamenco and cabaret, gnawa music from Morocco, and the music of Arabic nomads. Great.

Get it here

Monday, February 1, 2010

The term "Jeliya"

Jeliya is a Manding word meaning "musicianhood" and it refers to the hereditary caste of professional musicians, poets, and storytellers in West Africa. These people are also known as griots, jeliw, or jali. The jeliya were immensely important to the culture of West Africa, as they kept the oral histories of their tribes, and were expected to memorize vast amounts of information as well as be accomplished entertainers and musicians. They are crucial to the survival of West Africa's ancient musical traditions and the knowledge of their instruments, scales, keys, and songs. I decided to name my blog Jeliya after these people first because I admire them and have an immense respect for West African music and musicians, and secondly, because I want this blog to eventually be able to showcase the broad palette of music that is made in Africa, and share the gems that I find.


Kandja Kouyate et L'Ensemble Instrumental du Mali

This first one is almost supernatural. Traditional Malian instrumentation (including the kora in minor keys, with beautiful, mysterious female vocals. The sound is a bit hazy, which adds to the supernatural, otherworldly feel of this album.

Get it here

Boubacar Traore - Mariama

This album is a classic. Almost perfect in every way. Premier African blues, with that touch of the desert. This one is from brilliant guitarist and performer Boubacar Traore. Sounds like sitting along the banks of the Niger river, listening to a man bare his soul. Soul-cleansing.

Get it here

Various Artists / African Pearls - Mali 70: Electric Mali

The 70's were basically Africa's golden age of music, so much amazing shit came out of that time period, and of course Mali was no exception. This compilation collects some fantastic, hypnotic music. I can't say enough about the African Pearls series. I'll probably put more stuff by them up at some point.

Dusty Groove has this to say: "Magical music from the 70s scene in Mali -- work that's often quite different than some of the more familiar modes that have hit the mainstream in recent years! As you'd guess from the titles, a good number of these tracks have a strongly electric vibe -- mostly on the guitars, which are often played with unusual phrasings and rhythms -- but also on keyboards that are included on some tracks, handled in some cool spacey styles that are totally great! There's also lots of off-kilter horns -- played with weird tones and angular edges that remind us of 70s Ethiopian music -- and the overall range of material here is really strong, a surprisingly wide range of musical expression -- but all unified in its freshness and experimental sounds."

Get it here