Various Artists: Africa Remix: Ah Freak Iya

Dave Howell

Art and music join together to form an interesting and attractive recording from an exotic land.

Various Artists

Africa Remix: Ah Freak Iya

Label: Milan
US Release Date: 2005-03-07
UK Release Date: Available as import
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This CD is being sold under false pretenses. And that is probably for the best. The title, "Africa Remix", makes it sound like one of the many remix projects of World music that keep appearing. This disc however, has been released in connection with an art show called "Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent". To quote the CD sleeve: "Remix can also be seen as one more step in a long standing approach to the creative process�" In other words, this CD is simply a good compilation of African music.

Remixes tend to emulate modern dance music with heavy beats. Although modern African musicians use electric bass, there is nothing like the electronica type bass "booming". And American dance floor music tends to simplify the beat. This is the opposite of African music, which is based on subtle polyphonic rhythms.

African music has some elements that can be enhanced by modern studio techniques. The track "Mama" by Mory Kante is an example. The kora is known as a harp but looks more like a guitar, having twenty or so strings stretched over a gourd. It is not very loud naturally and is problematic when played in live performances with other instruments, yet its beauty comes through on this recording.

Another example is the kalimba, or thumb piano, heard on many cuts on this CD. The instrument is prominent across much of Africa, but is very soft sounding. Even when it is amplified, it does not have highs or lows or very much sustain to compete with other instruments.

Some of the tracks are by well-known artists, such as the superstar Youssou N'Dour and Orchestra Baobab, both from Senegal. Others are by artists that are names in their own countries but virtually unknown here, such as Mariem Hassan from Western Sahara and Ghorwane from Mozambique.

"Fanya Tena" is Kenyan hip-hop. The other songs are traditionally based but taken from albums recorded in this century, with two unreleased tracks. They have familiar elements like the call and response vocals, which are the basis of much of African music. Some use traditional instruments. They are all well produced, modern recordings, even the few that were done in mobile studios.

The one actual remix on this CD that does not work well is "Djorolen (remix)"; it adds bass and drums that sound like a preset on some piece of equipment, taking away from the uniqueness of this song.

Ah Freak Iya" does not seem to have a musical theme; instead it acts as an introduction to the music of the continent. It was mastered at Paris and features singers from French speaking countries. None of the vocals are in English.

It is surprising that with all of the continent's problems, African music is uplifting and optimistic. For anyone unfamiliar with it, this CD would serve as a fine introduction to it. As it really sounds. With only one remix.

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