For the collector of vintage African sounds, the prospect of a new Analog Africa release is always a gift, and often a good one. Hamad Kalkaba and the Golden Sounds 1974-1975 is no exception, a lo-fi collection of fuzzy Cameroonian funk rock from one of the hottest bands you’ve probably never heard of.
A synthesizer flourish and spoken lyrics open the album on “Astadjam Dada Sara”, a song heavy on clear horn melody and north Cameroonian gandjal rhythm. This opening sets the tone for the whole compilation; each track is made up of complex instrumental phrases, repeated over and over again and powered by the strength of Kalkaba’s leadership and the entire band’s coordination.
It’s the aforementioned complexity that makes the Golden Sounds worth the time Analog Africa spent tracking down each obscure single (and the less obscure man behind it all; Kalkaba has served in multiple public capacities in Cameroon since his bandleading days). The gandjal itself is a rhythm requiring multiple layers of percussion. It traditionally comes into play during wedding ceremonies and other festive events, and as such, carries with it an energy that translates well into the Golden Sounds’ club-worthy arrangements. Call-and-response vocals and a little added brass make for a dance party on brighter compositions like “Touflé” and “Gandjal Kessoum”. Elsewhere, those same elements lend the music some serious soul; “Fouh Sei Allah” and “Tchakoulaté” take it a little slower, but are no less effective – the latter, in particular, doubles up on horns for added power.
Near the middle of the album comes “Lamido”, arguably the standout track of the album. Here, a majestic introduction – horns bellowing a single melody in different octaves, a spoken start that sounds like a proclamation – electric guitars introduce a cooler element into the music, and the singers let loose, alternating between singing and shouting out. At five and a half minutes, “Lamido” is the longest track on the album, and deservedly so, an action-packed masterpiece from start to finish.
There isn’t much of the Golden Sounds, unfortunately; the group’s career was a brief one, and Analog Africa’s compilation includes only six tracks. What does exist, though, is rich. Colonel Kalkaba himself helped the label put together photographs, lyrics, and other information included in the liner notes. Such firsthand information tends to be rare in the realm of world music reissues, to the consternation of many thoughtful consumers. Kalkaba’s direct involvement and stamp of approval should offer some reassurance to those who ponder the ethics involved in commodified cassette stand rediscoveries. To those who already put their trust in the minds and working hands behind Analog Africa, the artist’s contributions mean added depth to the release, a multisensory feast for the interested brain.
Analog Africa has long proclaimed its goal as being one of exposing listeners to the often overlooked (at least by so-called Western ears) diversity in African music. That they have released the music of the Golden Sounds, so different from much of what makes it to the global Afropop market, speaks volumes. That Kalkaba himself was involved in directing the project may mean even more.