Young, Gifted and Black1987 July 26, The Observer, page 21, by JOHN PEEL
There are times - are there not - when the animal passions are so engaged that you cannot understand why the breath heaving from your flaring nostrils fails to set your shirt alight. We are talking here about sex.
I am not myself, I reluctantly admit, much given to or sought after for Hunnish practices - an estate agent attempting to interest clients in my oh-so-subtle charms might write something like 'Rural property in need of modernisation. Delightful views. Some damp.' But the music of Bembeya Jazz National, visiting the Africa Centre in Covent Garden from Guinea-Conakry last week, struck me as being impudently erotic.
You will, without doubt, recollect previous jottings on the subject of African music in these pages, how hardly a year passes in which we are not assured by some authority or other that the aforementioned African music is poised - I think that is the word they use - to make significant inroads into mainstream pop. It never happens, of course, and it never will, but during 1986-87 Zimbabwe's Bhundu Boys, followed by Jonah Moyo and the Devera Mgwena Jazz Band and Real Sound, have, in conjunction with a range of home-grown bands, made the less entrenched British audiences at least aware of the sound of African music by the simple means of playing it often and playing it well.
'African music' is clearly as meaningful or as meaningless as 'European music' or 'Asian music,' but there are common characteristics, principally and obviously a considerable but flexible rhythmic drive and an abundance of free-flowing electric guitar playing. At the Africa Centre, Bembeya demonstrated both of these characteristics marvellously well.
Bembeya Jazz National is, even by local standards, a well-established band. Sekou Diabate, known to admirers as Diamond Fingers, was adjudged Africa's best guitarist in 1977 and the equipe itself, if my translation of the French so recklessly employed on the sleeve of a recent LP is correct, has been at it since 1961.
Fielding two trumpets, a tenor sax, guitar, bass, rhythm guitar, drums and percussion, along with three singers decked out in sporty red-and-white matching outfits, Bembeya played to a disappointingly small crowd in Covent Garden. However, those in attendance were not down-hearted. The Guineans play music which has evolved, I am assured, from West African Mandinka rhythms and is called mbalax, a fact which I derived some obscure pleasure communicating to my radio audience, and as they do it and melody upon melody flows from the guitar of Sekou Diabate, the overall effect, as I shamefacedly suggested above, hits below the belt.
In Bembeya's music, as in all the best music whatever its source, there is a considerable sense of space. Rhythms are implied rather than relentlessly stated and somehow the listener's heartbeat seems to fill these gaps. Yet again the pages of my reporter's notebook remained unsullied as I closed my eyes and cursed my inability to dance. Is hypnotherapy a possible solution here?
|Sekou Diabate from Bembeya Jazz playing|
1987.Jul.08 in Melkweg, Amsterdam
More about Bembeya Jazz and John Peelinfo from peel.wikia.com/wiki/Bembeya_Jazz_National
John Peel has played at least two tracks by Bembeya Jazz in his radio shows (both just before the publication of above review):
- 1987.Jul.14: Sukabe
- 1987.Jul.22: Koumba Tenin
both tracks from LP 'Bembeya Jazz National' (1986, Disques Espérance #ESP.8430)
note: recordings of both broadcasts only available at the British Library
Couldn't find exact date of concert, nor any pictures of it, so here a picture from a concert they did 1987.Jul.08 in Melkweg, Amsterdam.
To my knowledge no recordings of above concert made.
And personally still desperately looking for live recordings from Bembeya Jazz made in the 1980s...
The Africa Center in Covent Garden seems still going strong...