“Listen to the drums, to the rhythm. It all seems very close to us!”

Over a couple of drinks last night, I got talking with a friend about the grim subject of lost music and lost generations – his son lives and works in Cambodia – and it got me thinking about the heartbreak of recordings which capture a single moment of exuberant, in-the-moment now-ness, and which have now become somehow all the more vivid for the gathering darkness that was to follow.

(Lest you think that West Country pubs are generally packed with earnest, gloomy individuals discussing their mortality over a pint of Mild, I should probably mention that conversation also touched upon pub crisp flavours; showing off at Sports Day (and hurting yourself); the cynical idiocy of Boris Johnson and Arsene Wenger’s new contract…)

But lo, I find myself this evening, back on this and feeling more than a little maudlin…

Amara Toure

Amara Toure was apparently a Guinean musician who moved to Senegal and then Cameroon in the sixties to make music.

And, well… that’s pretty much the entirety of what I know about him. Oh yeah, he may apparently have had something of a lisp, which he could only overcome when singing. But then that really is it…

This is not, for once, just me showing the habitual levels of Dianne Abbot-like research for which I imagine I’m known. On this occasion, not very much is actually known about the man, even by proper writers, who do their research and stuff. This includes his whereabouts or even whether the man is still alive. He has disappeared from view completely and leaves behind the scantiest collection of recordings. Fortunately, the peerless Analog Africa has gathered together in one place these ten songs (plus a scant biography), and even more fortuitously, it makes an absolute belter of a package. It’s put a smile on my face, all day, as I drive about my business. Absolutely loving it…

The first six songs were recorded with a group of gents known as Ensemble Black & White in Cameroon and released as three singles between 1973 and 1976. They feature Toure’s majestic, harsh vocals and some gorgeously abrasive honking from the Ensemble’s slightly ungainly brass section. Spidery guitars and Latin rhythms weave elegantly about in the darkness, but front and centre, the relationship between Toure’s voice and the clutch of saxes, rasping all over the recordings, like some sort of sprawling Dexter Gordon freight train, is damn near irresistible.

You can stream the album from Analog Africa, and I’d heartily recommend giving at least “N’nijo” a good listening to:

 

The songs that followed the first single blended his Senegalese rhythms with the Cuban sounds that were arriving in West Africa at the time, and caused something of a stir at the time for this very reason. Toure himself couldn’t see what the fuss was about, regarding African and Latin rhythms as having the same source. He sang these sides in Spanish and by all accounts started something of a blizzard of furious Cuban stylings in the clubs and bars of Dakar and Yaounde.

Later on he moved onto Libreville and teamed up with another group of like-minded souls, L’Orchestre Massako, and released an LP with them, which makes up the rest of the Analog Africa collection. These tracks are a little more up-tempo and not quite as darkly groovy, but still with lots of brass, and Toure’s distinctive vocals; and still very, very exciting.

And that was that.

By 1980, Toure had moved on again, only this time he seems to have stepped from the podium altogether. His whereabouts are still apparently unknown, the trail is very much cold. The only things he leaves are these ten exhilarating snatches of a bold time, and the memory of his voice.

A great, great voice, the voice of a king.

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