Review: For their latest deep dive into forgotten and sought-after African music, Mr Bongo has secured the rights to reissue Togolese singer Akofa Akoussah's eponymous 1976 debut album. Akoussah was already something of a scene veteran when she recorded the set for Paris-based Sonafric, having made her vinyl debut in Togo 11 years earlier. The set remains something of a classic, with Akoussah variously delivering sweet vocals over local rhythms and guitars, bass, horns and Moog synth parts that showcase her Western funk and soul influences. There are some suitably heavy dancefloor workouts throughout (not least superb opener "Tango") as well as more laidback and stripped-back cuts. Curiously, the echo-laden production makes it sound like it was recorded in the mid '60s rather than the 1970s, but that's no criticism; it just adds an extra edge of intoxicating fuzziness.
Review: Initially released in South Africa in 1982, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley's sophomore set is now regarded as a boogie-era Highlife classic. Here issued on CD for the very first time via Mr Bongo, the album features the Ghanaian star brilliantly joining the dots between driving disco-funk, jazz-funk, intoxicating slow jams, calypso, dub reggae and his beloved highlife. Highlights come thick and fast throughout, with standouts including heavy percussion jam "Simigwa", the boogie-dub skank of "Adwoa", the down-low grooves of "Walking Down The Street" and the killer disco highlife anthem "It's High Life". Simply essential.
Review: Last year, Strut reissued the earliest albums in Mulatu Astatke's catalogue - 1966's "Afro-Latin Soul Part 1 & 2". This quality collection from Buda Musique picks up the story three years later, when the man who would become known as the "Godfather of Ethiopian Jazz" was beginning to establish himself as a true pioneer. The compilation draws on work recorded between 1969 and '74 in Boston, New York and London, most of which explores Astatke's unique and distinctive fusion of turn-of-the-'70s US jazz, dancefloor-friendly jazz-funk, Afro-Cuban rhythms and traditional Ethiopian music. While some of the recordings are fiendishly fuzzy and lo-fi, there's no arguing with the quality of Astatke's composition, playing and production. In fact, it's a near perfect introduction to his now familiar "Ethio-jazz" style.
Review: In 1970, 23 year-old Brazilian vocalist Celia Cruz headed into the studio with legendary producer and arranger Arthur Verocai to record the first of four eponymous albums that would go on to become "MPB" classics. Here, Mr Bongo offers up a timely reissue of that highly regarded debut, a set that giddily flits between soaring, orchestrated samba-pop ("Cheia Durango Kid", "David"), sun-kissed ballads ("To Be"), tributes to the songwriting prowess of the Beatles (see "Abrace Paul McCartney", whose strings tip a wink to "Eleanor Rigby", and the brassy, up-tempo beat pop of "Lennon - McCartney") and carnival-ready workouts ("Fotograma").
Review: She may be best known as a TV and radio presenter, but Nigerian star Julie Coker also enjoyed a short but successful music career. She released two albums of note - highlife-focused 1976 debut "Ere Yon (Sweet Songs)" and 1981's more disco-centric "Tomorrow" - both of which now fetch eye-watering sums online. This fine retrospective showcases cuts from both of those sets, with the many highlights including the spacey, delay-laden highlife cheeriness of "Re Hese", the Clavinet-sporting disco-funk-goes-pop bounce of "It's All For You", the low-slung but rising, gospel influenced brilliance of "Gossiper Scandal Monger" and the heavily percussive, off-kilter goodness of album closer "Iyo-Re". You might also notice the intro of 'Ere Yon', which was recently sampled to great effect in Anderson .Paak's "Saviers Road"!
Review: Last year, long-serving "global pop" innovators Deep Forest (now a solo project by co-founder Eric Mouquet) returned to action with a collaborative album co-penned by fellow "Worldbeat" veteran Daniele Gaudi. Here Moquet presents the first solo Deep Forest set since 2015, a breezy and sun-kissed set inspired by the music of Brazil. What you get is a dreamy and effortlessly melodious blend of indigenous rhythms, electronic instrumentation, dreamy chords, heartfelt vocals (in this case largely in Portuguese), ambient atmospherics and slow-motion synth-pop sensibilities. There are few surprises, but then you wouldn't expect them: after all, Mouquet is a master at producing this kind of accessible pop. If you're a fan of Deep Forest, you'll love it.
Groove Ma Poule (feat Djeuhdjoah & Lieutenant Nicholson)
Daddy Sweet (feat Pat Kalla)
Li Dous Konsa
Sa Ce Kado
Shake It & Rise Up
Nosso Carimbo E Do Mundo (feat Pinduca & Nazar Peirera)
Se Nou Menm
Boug Bagay La
Penda (feat Emma Lamadji & Kandy Guira)
Review: Under the Guts guise, instrumental hip-hop beat-maker turned tropical soul enthusiast Fabrice Franck Henri has become one of Heavenly Sweetness' most reliable artists. "Philantropiques" is Henri's first album for three years and could well be his most expansive and adventurous to date. The set's 15 tracks are as colourful and musically rich as you'd expect, with the storied producer and a range of vocal collaborators conjuring up tracks that draw influence from a myriad of Central American, Caribbean, South American and African styles. The results are uniformly excellent, with highlights including the tropical shuffle of "Mucagiami (feat Vum Vum)", the sun-kissed French Caribbean funk of "Daddy Sweet (feat Pat Kalla)", the Afro-Tropical rush of "Kenk Corner" and the synth-powered brilliance of "Shake It & Rise Up".
Review: Famed for their thrilling, dancefloor-friendly fusions of West African funk and disco, American electrofunk and post-punk pop, Ibibio Sound Machine is one of the most exciting and essential bands of recent times. It's for this reason that "Doko Mien", the Eno Williams fronted band's first album for two years, is so hotly anticipated. Happily, we can confirm that it's another stunning set, with Williams and company charging through a set of sizzling songs that wrap kaleidoscopic synths, rubbery bass, fiery horns and off-kilter funk-rock guitars around grooves that variously doff a cap to '80s electro, Italo-disco, jazz-funk, Tony Allen and thrusting, mind-altering mutant disco. In other words, it's another must-have collection of cuts from the London-based band.
Review: Originally released in 1975, "Back To Rhythm" is one of the crowning glories of Akira Ishikawa's glittering career. The Japanese drummer turned his hand to countless wonderful records over his career, but this one was surely one of the best. Mr Bongo seem to think so, and they're giving it a proper reissue treatment. There are funk breaks galore embedded in this joyously upbeat, irresistibly groovy sound, where the horns parp with clarity and the guitar licks cartwheel through airy mixes. Managing to be both fulsome and loud without coming over too heavy, Ishikawa's sprightly take on instrumental funk has never sounded better than on this release.
Review: It would be fair to say that Kokoko! are not just dragging the music of the Democratic Republic of Congo into the 21st century, but also pushing it forwards towards the future. That much is proved by this essential debut album, a set full to bursting with thrilling fusions of Kuduro style electronics beats, lo-fi analogue electronics, traditional Congolese instrumentation, hand-played percussion polyrhythms and basslines so weighty they could crush an average-sized person. It's an arresting audio blueprint that guarantees thrills from start to finish. Highlights include the hot-stepping dancefloor sleaze of "Azo Toke", the foreboding, polyrhythmic 21st century punk-funk of "Malembe" and the intergalactic brilliance of "L.O.V.E.".
Special Occasion - "Flyin' To Santa Barbara" (12" version)
Parenthese - "Come Back"
Russ Long - "Never Was Love"
Pacific Dreams - "Mellow Out"
Miller Miller Miller & Sloan - "Key To My Heart"
Scott Cunningham - "Blues Take You Over"
Review: On his fourth exploration of the world of global "Adult Oriented Rock", French crate-digger Charles Maurice focuses on the period between 1977 and '86. That means a greater emphasis on synthesizers, dusty drum machines and the kind of sparkling melodies that would once have drifted from daytime radio at an alarming rate. There's much to enjoy throughout, from the dewy-eyed synth-soul of Arlana's "When You Call My Name" and the breezy boogie of Omega Sunrise's "Too Hip", to the sparse Balearic bliss of Isabelle Mayereau's "Orange Bleue", the flute-laden easy listening hum of Fernando Toussaint, the sax-happy '80s sleaze of Special Occasion's brilliant "Flyin' To Santa Barbara" and the jaunty Latino jazz-funk of "Mellow Out" by Pacific Dreams.
Review: During the 1980s, Nkono Teles was one of West Africa's most sought-after producers - a studio don called upon when an artist or label sought a modernist, synthesizer and drum-machine heavy sound that had the potential to cross borders. Teles was also a talented multi-instrumentalist, as his brief solo career proved. The highlight of his own artistic endeavours was "Party Beats", a sought-after set that's here reissued by BBE for the very first time. Featuring delay-laden drum machine rhythms, sweet and chiming synthesizers, jaunty fretless bass, glistening guitars, lead vocals by the man himself and a nine-piece Nigerian choir on backing vocals, it's a brilliant set that giddily joins the dot between synth-pop, electro, South African style "bubblegum", highlife and U.S style '80s soul slow jams.
Review: For the latest exotic outing on their Tak:til offshoot, Germany's World Music inspired Glitterbeat crew has turned to South Korean fusionist Park Jiha, an artist whose occasional releases combine traditional instruments with contemporary electronics and production techniques. There's plenty to enjoy from start to finish, from the exotic, mind-altering string motifs and intoxicating aural textures of opener "Arrival", to the fuzzy sunset bliss of "Thunder Shower", delicate piano motifs and reverb-heavy plucked strings of "Philos" and the slow melodic bob and swirling field recordings of "Walker: In Seoul". Best of all, though, is the childlike wonder of bittersweet standout cut "When I Think Of Her", in which Jiha's improvised vocals play a starring role.