Show #58: African Sax Kings

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Many of us know the great guitarists of Africa: Mali’s Ali Farka Toure, Guinea’s Sekou “Diamond Fingers” Diabate, the great bass players of South Africa (Bakhiti Kumalo who played with Paul Simon on Graceland, Sipho Gumede who worked with Dollar Brand and others). But we don’t know much about African saxophone players. I had to do some thinking about this too.

The impetus was a new reissue of Nigerian-born, Dakar-based tenor player Dexter Johnson. He came of age when Senegal and all of West Africa were into Cuban music, before newer styles shoved them aside. Hence we start the show with two cuts, the first one being the new reissue.

Then we turn to two South African classics recorded before apartheid was lifted in the early 1990s. The sax players are Basil “Mannenburg” Coetze on tenor, Kippie Moeketsi on alto.

We turn after that to the great Camerounian alto saxophonist Manu Dibango, the first African to reach the top 50 U.S. pop charts with “Soul Makossa” in 1972. Born in 1933 in Douala, Cameroun, Manu moved to Paris and heard Duke Ellington and other great jazz icons, which inspired him to become a musician. He was a restless experimenter not afraid of trying new things; his 1991 album Polysonik was the first African hip hop record. I love the sweetness of “Qui est fou de qui?”, which featured Manu’s young daughter Georgia in the 1970s recording. When Manu came to visit Cafe LA in 1995 after a Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concert, Georgia was with him, now a grown woman. I also threw a party and Manu came; he listened on the rooftop to Dexter Gordon, which I was playing especially for him. He said, “Ahhhhh, J’aime Dexterrrrrr.” It was a wonderful moment that I still savor in memory. His album Wakafrica is a magnificent album produced by George Acogny; it features Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Peter Gabriel, and others. The album cover is Manu posing as the African continent (see image below in the list of album covers below the playlist). His shoe is Madagascar. It’s brilliant and I highly recommend!

We return to South Africa with Dudu Pukwana, another alto player from an old 1988 Earthworks vinyl LP, In The Townships. Earthworks was the former world music sub-label of Virgin. We close the show with the exotic sounds of Ethiopia with Getatchew Mekurya, who was called the “Negus of Ethiopian Sax”. “Negus” is Amharic for “king”.

There may be some who question my not including Fela here: my reason was that Fela isn’t known as just a tenor sax player, but rather as a controversial, courageous artist who used music as a weapon against the entrenched corruption and cronyism that bedevils Nigeria past and present.

I forgot the late great South African zulu jive sax player Wes Nkosi and also the wonderful and obscure Congo-Brazzaville artist Elangui Aimé’s album TestamentOn, this 1999 CD is available for under $20.00. It’s a wonderful CD and I recommend getting it.

Hope you enjoy the hour you spend listening to this week’s show!


Rhythm Planet Playlist: 6/6/14

  1. Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star de Dakar / Guaguanco A Mantilla / Live a L’Etoile / Teranga Beat
  2. Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star de Dakar / Guantanamera / Vol. 1-Serie Sangomar / Teranga Beat
  3. Abdullah Ibrahim feat. Basil “Mannenburg” / Next Stop Soweto / African Horns / Kaz
  4. Kippie Moeketsi / TshonaAfrican Horns / Kaz
  5. Manu Dibango / Soul Makossa / Soul Makossa / Unidisc
  6. Manu Dibango / Qui Est Fou De Qui? (Chouchou) / Seventies / Soul Paris
  7. Manu Dibango / Biko / Wakafrika / Giant Records
  8. Dudu Pukwana / Angel Nemali / In The Townships / Earthworks
  9. Getatchew Mekurya / Yegenet Muziqa / Ethiopiques Vol 14: Negus of Ethiopian / Buda Musique

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