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V/A - Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda 1968-1976

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Artist: V/A

Album: Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda 1968-1976

Label: Analog Africa

Review date: Dec. 2, 2010

War is hell, and 40-odd years of it have made Angola one hell of a place. The war its citizens fought to eject their Portuguese colonial occupiers was a mild dress rehearsal. A horrifically brutal civil war was elongated beyond belief by the influence of major cold war players; eight years into the peace, their economy is a rapidly expanding mess distorted by the influences of Chinese credit, oil and diamond mining. How many places in Africa could someone go with the express intent to track down composers and performers and pay good Euros to license their tunes, and here the words “What you are paying is nothing here?”

When Samy Ben Redjeb, Analog Africa’s proprietor and the compiler of eight other collections of African and South American groove music, went to Angola’s capitol city to clinch the deals necessary for Angola Soundtrack to exist, he encountered exactly that situation, and others just as daunting.

If he ever felt like quitting, I imagine that playing back the 18 tracks that made it to this set might have kept him hanging in there. They’re that good. Located south of the Benin-Tog-Ghana-Nigeria-Congo crucible that has forged so much great music, Angola’s sonic treasurers come from relatively modest circumstances, but they’re none the poorer for it. The guitar players here aren’t mind-boggling virtuosos like you’ll find playing Congolese music; their grooves aren’t as funky as the Ghanaians or Nigerians. But they get down to business with economy and verve. The crosshatched matrix of scraper, hand drums, and guitar rhythms by Mamukueno’s that kicks off the record sounds like a cross of Cuban and Brazilian street beats, gritty yet absolutely joyous. The Portuguese had tried to win hearts and minds during the war for independence by supporting the development of a neighborhood-rooted network of festivals, and the players on this record honed their chops keeping the attendants of those wartime parties dancing; they knew how to get a crowd up and moving. They may not have had the money or gear of certain of their inspirations, but they had guitars, drums, and plenty of opportunities to figure what to do with them. The music feels at once familiar, rooted in patterns lifted from records that circulated back and forth between the Caribbean, Africa and Rio de Janeiro, and distinct because of the homegrown grooves which performers like Os Bongos and Santos Júnior added to the mix.

Angola Soundtrack‘s accompanying 44-page booklet carries on the Analog Africa tradition of personalized immersion in the record hunt that went into its creation. You learn not only about the players who lived and the ones who died, but the fried fish that nearly laid Redjeb low during a record-purchasing expedition and the visa and lodging travails that nearly put paid to the whole project. His annotation makes a strong case for the music’s worth, but it’s what you hear that proves the point.

By Bill Meyer

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