Sometimes when a musician bridges two styles, they do so to show off. When African singer/percussionist Amara Touré started tackling Cuban music, he didn’t see it this way: “Latin music, is it really foreign to us Africans? I don’t think so. Listen to the drums, to the rhythm. It all seems very close to us — it feels like it’s our own culture.” Similarities in music is one thing, but Touré saw a direct reflection of his very culture in Cuban music. The musician would go quite far with this cultural melting act. As a member of Le Star Band de Dakar, Amara Touré became part of the influx of live entertainment in Senegal’s capital, Dakar. Along the way, people began to notice that Touré could truly sing his ass off and that he had a special affinity for Latin music. As the ’60s gave way to the ’70s, Touré was recruited into a band called Black and White. After recording three singles in the mid-’70s, Touré branched out to record a heavily acclaimed album with Orchestre Massako. The resulting 1980 record Amara Touré Accompagné Par L’Orchestre Massako has enjoyed a reputation that appears to have swelled beyond legendary. Amara Touré eventually vanished. His whereabouts remain unknown.
The plainly titled 1973-1980 collects all of the aforementioned material and puts it in chronological order. According to liner notes authors Jennie Loiseau and Samy Ben Redjeb, finding first-person accounts of what the scene was like during the Black and White/Orchestre Massako days was difficult. Fortunately, a few leads do yield some anecdotes such as Amara Touré’s stuttering problem (which disappeared when he sang) and how the Black and White ensemble were hot off the heels of firing their egotistical yet popular lead singer when they hired Touré (“very few believed he could be replaced”, recalls acquaintance Moustapha Diop). Black and White’s busy schedule and enormous success for being a live act easily sealed a deal to record a handful of tracks. These singles make up the first six tracks of 1973-1980. The bridging of Latin and African musics was well underway at this point as Touré incorporated his dialect with the emotive melodies and swaying rhythms of “Fatou”, “Temedy”, and “N’njjo”. The recording quality sounds like it’s a bit behind the curve as far as the mid-’70s were concerned, but this doesn’t dull the attack of the guitars, saxophones, and Amara Touré’s ten-ton voice, the very one that got all the rumps of Senegal’s social elite moving when performing in Luna Parc.
The last four tracks of 1973-1980 represent the now-legendary Amara Touré Accompagné Par L’Orchestre Massako. Orchestra Massako’s bandleader Jean-Christian Makaya told Loiseau and Redjeb that Amara Touré was performing with the orchestra as late as 1996. No one knows exactly what has happened since. The record they made togther, however, is described by Analog Africa as “one of the very best African albums.” Wow, that’s quite a statement to pin to such a musically rich continent. Amara Touré Accompagné Par L’Orchestre Massako enjoys slightly better recording quality which enables a very fat sounding brass section. The songs are lengthier (four tracks giving you 33 minutes) and the sound is bigger. Opener “Salamouti” seems to slap you in the face with this fact, scolding you for almost bailing before the main course arrived. Within these cuts, the orchestra rides the groove for all its worth as Amara Touré takes his voice sky high. As catchy as the Black and White singles are, they feel almost embarrassingly timid next to the four vibrant songs recorded with Orchestre Massako.
Reading the liner notes of 1973-1980 reminds you that vibrant music reflects vibrant times. Yet for being such an important figure in the middle of a huge musical transition within Africa, many pieces of the story are being lost to history. Amara Touré was once the toast of Senegal. Now, no one is even sure if he’s still alive. There are some things that we can retain though, and Analog Africa do their past by distilling Touré’s career to the ten tracks you hear on 1973-1980.