Review for Genesis: African Renaissance Blues III
Genesis: African Renaissance Blues III
On this one, the reigning boss of Afro-fusion guitar roots around in the West African contributions to the blues. Then he places those foundations in a Canadian context connecting the Niger delta with the Muskoka sands and the soukous sounds percolating just below the surface of multi-culti Toronto.
The results can be startlingly original, as on “Your Love Drives Me Crazy” and the thematic variations of “Babe Show Me You Care” push the envelope in a jazzy direction. For the most part, Solomon’s meld sounds natural, easy, breezy, as befitting its unabashedly romantic nature.
So what we have here is a feel-good acoustic blues album, with chord changes all about Delta blues and lyrics heavy on romance and summer nights.
The album opener, the soukous charged “H.E. Barack Obama” is a high stepping, proudass shout out to one Kenyan from another and should win Solomon a spot on the inaugural show in D.C.
Featuring sparkling and deft finger picking throughout, this is perfect ambient music for fighting off the January grays. And February blues too.
Reviews for "Tree of Life (Mti wa Maisha)"
In Mti Wa Maisha (The Tree of Life), Professor Adam Solomon, who is featured on the Juno-award winning CD African Guitar Summit (CBC), combines the best guitar tradition of the early 1960s with modern East African big band sound from Congo, Tanzania and Kenya, and beautiful lyrics from Mombasa, to create a most original style best described as Afro-Soul Rhumba.
Indeed, instead of running for the easy Soukous music that defined most of the 1990s, Solomon dips deep into the roots of rhumba that have nourished dance music in East and Central Africa since the early 1950s. He deftly resurrects the flickering fiesta guitar style pioneered by Henri Bowane and elaborated by Nico Kasanda on the tracks Rehema, Shemegi and Maneno Mengi. But for the purists who deify Kasanda as a guitar music legend, the sweet fiesta instrumental track appropriately titled Kasanda Remembered is to be savoured again and again.
However, what defines the originality of this album is Solomon’s gift as a singer-songwriter. Where he once allowed his guitar to do the singing, his voice has come ashore, weaving the threads that stitch tradition and modernity. On the tracks Mapendo, Rikata and Huyu Niliye Naye, he finds soulful melodies on the shores of the Indian Ocean among the Swahili fishermen and the traditional farmers eking a living out of the soil. Retaining the simplicity and spontaneity that characterize communal songs among the Swahili, his voice breaks free from the shackles of being one of the best guitar talents from Continental Africa.
In Mti Wa Maisha (Tree of Life), Solomon employs his beautiful guitar style to infuse life in the roots music, touching a new vibrancy, intimacy and range never embraced in his earlier recordings. The age of Afro-Soul Rhumba is here—dance away to your hearts’ content.
It is a joy to hear Adam Solomon return to the full band sound of Tikisa. Music fans across Canada have scuffed dance floors to the sound of Adam’s guitar since the early days of the great Afronubians, and the music on this CD will have them jumping in the aisles again. While the roots of Adam’s music run deep (no-one plays fiesta like the “Professor”), this tree has truly taken root in Canada and reflects its nurturing: from the Ethiopian restaurants Adam played when he first arrived in Toronto, through cross-country tours, to the massive audiences he has performed in front of with African Guitar Summit and others.
Producer, African Guitar Summit (CBC)
This is the long-awaited release from one of Canada’s premiere African guitarists/songwriters, Adam Solomon and his band Tikisa. Mti Wa Maisha (Tree of Life) is a delectable sampling of styles from the African continent. The fruit of the tree includes classic Congolese rhumba, soukous and the fiesta style pioneered by Congolese innovator Dr. Nico, along with a fusion of various genres, some that could be described as Afrobeat/soul. However the music is described, each genre is expertly woven into a tapestry of songs deeply rooted in Africa. Mti Wa Maisha is guaranteed to leave you uplifted, excited and delighted.
Reviews of Tree of Life CD Release Party:
"Last night was great. The music energy and vibes in the room
were fantastic. Thanks for a great night" -- John Leeson
" Thank you for a wonderful evening of entertainment! You put
all your heart and soul into your performances. My friends and I
enjoyed it immensely...everything was swell: the dancing, the
door prizes, and the energy, energy, energy." -- Lynn Golding
"The music was sooo good, and the energy was amazing. I've
not enjoyed myself so much in a long time. It was amazing to
hear and watch Tamsir, and the fun you were all having.
It was a fantastic evening..." -- Barbara Scantlebury
Adam Solomon and his Kenyan Roots
Issa Juma and Super Wanyika Stars
World Defeats the Grandfathers: Swinging Swahili Rumba 1982-1986
Keith Richards and Mick Taylor. Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. Duane Allman and Dickie Betts. Johnny Marr and himself. Add to this brief and selective roster of great guitar duelists Adam "Adamu" Solomon and Abbu Omar Prof. Jr. Who might they be, you may reasonably ask, and why am I including them among the ranks of stellar axmen?
Adamu and Abbu are the guitarists featured on most of the tracks on World Defeats the Grandfathers, a compilation of recordings made between 1982 and 1986 by Issa Juma, a Tanzania-born vocalist and bandleader who became a star in Kenya. Juma, a key figure in the creation of Kenyan Swahili rumba, scored numerous hits with the band Les Wanyika. After leaving the band in the early 80s, he led a number of successful ensembles, all with some variation of Wanyika in their names - Wanyika Stars, Super Wanyika Stars, Waanyika, Wanyika Super Les Les.
Whatever the band name, Issa Juma stretched the boundaries of Swahili rumba, adding Congolese flavor and elements of Kenyan benga to the mix. Still, the tracks collected on this delightfully, if puzzlingly titled collection, don't vary greatly in format or style, despite having been recorded in five different sessions with varying personnel. The sound is rhythmically supple, guitar-driven, and relaxed; every track runs eight to nine minutes, giving the players generous (and sometimes excessive) space to stretch out.
And it is the ensemble sound that's the main draw, more than the titular star. Some have likened Juma's voice, a husky baritone, to that of reggae's Toots Hibbert. I don't really hear it, but regardless, Juma, who died in the early 90s, was a strong vocalist who grounded his bands' lengthy workouts, weaving in and out of the dense mix of guitars, bass, percussion, horns, and backing vocalists. The songs, with their simple, two-part harmony melodies, serve mainly as launching pads for the band's improvisations.
World Defeats the Grandfathers focuses on Juma's later recordings with the Super Wanyika Stars, which accounts for the consistency of the sound, despite the fact that the tracks were recorded in different sessions. Musicologist Douglas Paterson, whose other efforts include the essential East African collection, The Nairobi Beat, compiled the album. He has selected a number of Juma's biggest hits, as well as some previously unreleased recordings. Kudos to him and also to Sterns Africa for a superb job of restoring and digitizing the vinyl originals so that the tracks sound clean and free of surface noise but not sterile or compressed.
The opening track, "Barua" (The Letter) highlights the finger-picked guitars that provide much of the album's pleasure. At about two and a half minutes in, Juma drops out and the fretmen take over for the rest of the ride. On the surging "Ma Eliza" (Mother Elizabeth) - one of the heretofore-unreleased numbers -- an (uncredited) saxophonist takes a bleating, whinnying solo but he's swallowed up in the warp and woof of the unstoppable twin guitars.
"Mpita Nija" (A Passer-by), from 1982, distills all the best elements of the Juma sound - the leader's earthy vocalizing, the distinctive percussion combining high hat rhythm patterns with conga beats, and, oh yes, those tremendous guitars. "Utalia na nani" (Who Will You Cry With") makes its theme literal with the sound of a crying baby, a distraction that, though annoying, doesn't (entirely) ruin the performance. "Mony," the plaint of an abandoned lover, abandons its warm, folky melody at about the three-minute point for an extended call and response vocal section that segues into an exhilarating pas de deux between guitarists Adamu and Abbu.
There's a lot of dazzling music on World Defeats the Grandfathers, especially if you love the sound of two great guitarists working in tandem. But at nearly 80 minutes, with every track running eight to nine minutes, it can be a bit wearying over the long haul. For me, aural fatigue set in about halfway through. But even if you don't take it all in at one hearing, this compilation of "swinging Swahili rumba" has so many glorious moments that it qualifies as a must-have for African music aficionados.