Bembeya Jazz,
(World Village, 2003)

Wow! Where does any review of this CD begin? Bembeya Jazz was originally formed in 1961 in Guinea. They were certified as a national band in the mid-1960s and moved from their small town of Beyla to the national capital, Conakry. This certification meant that they could not perform internationally. During the '80s, economics forced them to seek other means of support, but the president did denationalize them so they could go international. They never gave up their music and now they are back with their first recording in 15 years.

What a recording it is! Every selection is superb. The band has been instrumental in bridging the gap between the older, traditional forms of Afro-Cuban music and modern technology and sounds. They have a big band, swing-type sound with heavy African and Cuban traditional influences. The only way to classify them is as "Afropop." They are a pleasing mixture of old and new, resulting in one of the three best modern Afropop bands in the world.

I could not select any one as a favorite. Maybe I am becoming fickle, but each one is my fave while it is playing. Then, the next captures my full attention, and my heart, as soon as it begins. This is dancing music in the finest form.

I really thought I was partial to the brass in "Sabou," especially the staccato triple tongue at the end. The next selection, "Gbapie," started and I was already rethinking that partiality. It features the Hawaiian slide guitar and begins with a distinctly Polynesian sound. That is put to rest long before they begin the percussion and bass guitar breakdown that will have you doing a shimmy around your living room. If you cannot shake your body to this part of the song, you simply have no dancing in your soul.

The members of Bembeya Jazz are Sekou Bembeya "Diamond Fingers" Diabate (guitar, arrangements), Mohamed Achken Kaba (trumpet, director), Koita Aboubacar (tenor saxophone), Dore Clement (alto saxophone), Conde Mory Mangala (drums), Papa Kouyate (percussion), Kaba Salifou (vocals), Youssouf Bah (vocals), Doumbouya Alseny (vocals), Conde Mamady (bass guitar), Kouyate Mamady (guitar), and Kova Bavogui (guitar).

If you enjoy a big band sound, you will receive a tremendous pleasure from this CD. It is an important recording both culturally and historically. This band is extremely deserving of far more recognition. They are fannnnnnntastic!

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 6 December 2003

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