I met Charles Houdart in Harare, Zimbabwe a few years ago. His love for alternative and honestly brilliant local and international music manifested itself in the live events he carefully curated and the bursting talent he backed, brought together and ushered into global collaborations of the utmost originality.
Shortly after leaving Zimbabwe, Houdart and his friend Antoine Rajon founded Nyami Nyami Records. Named after the folkloric river god of the Zambezi that runs the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the label predominantly promotes music from Southern Africa but their enthusiasm for eclectic sounds and styles is far-reaching.
Their mission is to dig through the archives for hidden classics whilst keeping their ears firmly to the ground for new sounds and collaborations. Their releases have been shared by the likes of Giles Peterson who celebrated their latest offering as, ‘a new radical sound from South Africa.’
If one day I ever start the daunting, hip and less travelled road to building a record collection it would make sense to start from home. With that in mind I decided to catch up with my old friend to get his take on the top five African vinyl releases he’s come across while thumbing through everything from Sungura to Afrobeat.
Where it’s from: Cameroon
Label: DM records (1976)
Epic long trances from the Bamiléké musical traditions from Cameroon laced with traditional sanzas (an instrument similar to the mbira from Zimbabwe or the South African kalimba), percussion and xylophone.
Mbamou Antoine adds electric bass and a horn section to give a modern feel to ancestral rhythm without losing its profound originality. A solid grounding for your new vinyl collection.
Where it’s from: Senegal
Label: Akwaaba (2016)
A new sound from Dakar by Ibaaku – a producer, beatmaker & MC who explores electronic music fuelled with hip-hop and traditional patterns.
The kind of sound that could only be found in South Africa not so long ago and is now flourishing in Kenya, Senegal, Ghana and many other countries with millennial artists who form the avant-garde of contemporary creativity on the African continent.
The track below is a collaboration with fashion designer Selly Raby Kane, initially conceived as the soundtrack to her recent fashion show in Dakar. Find the full album at Akwaaba Music.
Where it’s from: South Africa
Label: Cross Culture (1989)
Our favourite album by the legendary South African guitarist but all his albums are worth listening to.
It’s a unique mix of South African musical traditions, his superior guitar playing ability and is accompanied by two incredible percussionists: Raymond Mpunye Motau and Oupa Mahapi Monareng.
The journey of guitar in South Africa would be incomplete without the contributions of Tabane. From his days with the Malombo Jazz Men in the early sixties, Tabane developed a signature style and, at 82 years old, he can look back on his career and be proud of the vital contribution he made to music in Southern Africa.
Where it’s from: Nigeria
Label: EMI (1973)
Hedzoleh (or Hedzoleh Soundz) bring a very organic brand of afro-rock sounds based on Akan and Ewe musical traditions from Ghana. This album has a unique story as there is another version of it with exactly the same songs, the difference being that the latter features South African icon Hugh Masekela on trumpet (it was released on the American label, Blue Thumb).
Whilst the second version may be more star-studded in its foundations and features (Masekela and Hedzoleh were introduced by Fela Kuti of all people) if forced to choose we would have to go with the original…sorry Fela.
Where it’s from: South Africa
Label: Nyami Nyami Records (2016)
Finally, a release of our own!
The music of Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness is part hedonistic trance, part weapon of political and spiritual liberation.
Artistic heirs to Philip ‘Malombo’ Tabane and Batsumi, they seek to give a contemporary voice to the ancestral traditions of indigenous peoples in South Africa. Jazz sounds of ‘70s and ‘80s productions have been replaced with hip-hop influences and a punk-rock energy.
That’s the alchemy of ‘Africangungungu’ (the name they’ve given to their ‘Afropsychedelic’ music), both on stage and on the album their songs refuse to be formatted.
Their incantations in Zulu, Sotho and English and their funky modulations extend over twenty minutes in a whirlwind of sound reminiscent of Fela Kuti’s afrobeat.
Here, make this the soundtrack to the rest of your day: