When listening to CDs like this one, it's not difficult to divine why Peter Gabriel and a faction of the 70s progressive musicians favored such distinctively non-European work. First of all, there's a quality to African percussion that's vastly different from Western instruments, a sound Jamie Muir (King Crimson), Bill Bruford (likewise after Yes), and others picked up on, and that cats like Colin Walcott were intensely concentrated upon. Then there's the flow of the music per se, rarely martial like so much of the Euro-American canon, much more given to harmonic smoothness. The serial and rondo leanings in such native vocals and choruses are likewise fascinating, trance-like, often punctuated by keening wails energizing everything to a level higher. But one also sees very clearly why practitioners of samba, bossa, and the latin modes, as well as the sparkling Putumayo label which has featured "the dark continent" prominently, really went for African sounds: the warmth and humanity of the region's sonorities carry deeply into psyche and soul.
A Rwandan native, Jacques "Popo" Murigande, 'Mighty Popo', chose the title Gakondo to indicate his land's reference to tradition. The gent plays a gourd guitar he crafted with his own hands, sings, and then rattles a bit of percussion too. The songs' lyrics are encanted in his native tongue, actually a benefit for the Western listener unfamiliar with the language. Not grasping the meanings of the words in such instances can be very helpful in heeding not just the inflections and shadings of the human voice better, certainly the case here, but also an appreciation of vocal flow purely as one instrument among many. In that, Mighty Popo is quite versatile, graceful, and very expressive.
I've been enamored of Ladysmith Black Mambazo for some time now, ever since Paul Simon brought them to everyone's attention, and Popo's music is not dissimilar in a number of ways, though Joseph Shabalala, leader of LBM, is much more melismatic in all he does; few groups posses that oceanically soothing susurration Ladysmith so deftly purveys. Popo is folkier; where Shabalala might be said to craft an African vision of Gregorian chant, Murigande cleaves closer to what generated such elements as black American call and response music. Then there's the delicious slide work of Vince Halfhide in "Kamananga", Doug Cox providing the fluid instrument on several other cuts, as well as an array of talented other musicians peppered throughout.
Once again, the Canada Council for the Arts has supported an excellent artistic venture of a stripe all too rare in the NorthAm quarter of the globe, urther abetted by the Borealis label which also distributes True North Records releases (the latter home to many past and present great Canadian musicians, Bruce Cockburn foremost). I may slightly "injure" the staccato vocals of songs like Impangaza, the rawer side of Popo, when I say this, but Gakondo is largely verrrry pleasant music with many rootsy and composer-installed modern nuances making the entirety very acceptable to the West, especially among the ilk of reader-listener frequenting the F.A.M.E. site. Yes, there's an ample providence of stimulating songs as well, but when you need to mellow out while pondering life's questions, this is an awfully good way to do it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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