African Electronic Music 1975-1982 (CM/F,comp.2012)***°°
I need to mention this release as well. I already knew Francis Bebey from one incredible and fantastic track on the “Yodeling” compilation, about a failed Pygmy marriage. What is so strong about it is the playing and the amusing take on realistic clichés in such a way they become recognisable and very human, the accompaniment on this track is with keyboards and drum machine and there’s some pygmy singing too. A French version of this song can be found on this album.
Francis Bebey was born in Cameroon from a protestant minister, but he was involved in different music forms since his early age. He moved to France to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, made it as producer/journalist at Radiodiffusion Outre-Mer with further involvement. He continued his studies shortly at New York University. Back in Paris he started to compose music for the guitar. In the meanwhile he made a living as a journalist, and as a radiomaker on the show “Jazz Train”, which led to another job for Unesco, tracking and researching traditional African music. He also wrote some novels.
The compilation might not have equally powerful tracks in terms of lyric ideas. The main qualities of several tracks are the power of the words, the tickling exposing and disarming humour, and the funny keyboard repetitions and chords. Often there are some guitar arrangements added to it. The first track, “New Trac” makes fun with the first cliché as if an African only needs a banana and some water to be happy and dance. “The Coffee Cola Song” makes fun with the white people from the village who feel more civilised while in fact they are behaving badly to earn their money and to get their cola and coffee. The few French songs are luckily with very understandable lyrics, simple French. Another song is about a man not recognising a child of his woman, but then he’s asked by the chief to adopt it because a child is a child. An one last song is about feminine rights making a mess with African cliché that a woman should simply obey the husband, take care for water, food and children. There are elements of thumb piano and pygmy flute here and there too. And we also have a few more serious songs like a love song, and a few well arranged and entertaining keyboard instrumentals. The compilation is not so perfect that it gives the same amount of surprise, smiles and swinging everywhere, but it brings us closer to the man which still is the African musician with most amount of humour I know of, it is an undeniable strong aspect of quality we should not deny.
This album focused mainly on his keyboard tunes. Francis Bebey wrote and recorded also music for guitar and thumbpiano.
Born Bad Rec. Francis Bebey : Psychedelic Sanza 1982-1984 (F/CM,comp.2014)****'
It feels like a pleasure to see a second compilation to be released by Francis Bebey, which, compared to the first one, shows a welcome rather conceptual difference, focusing more entirely on the powerful expression of music with the thumb piano called the sanza with some recognisable pygmy music relations. With nothing else but singing, some electric bass, some nose flute and a bit of percussion here and there, with songs in African language or English, or just improvising a few tracks without words, not much is really needed to feel like a complete expression. You can recognise some of these pygmy music elements, like the singing with nose flute, or via its extra high tones of rhythm (“Di Saegi”). Another surprise is “African Sanza” in which the duo flutes remind me of Latin American pan flute. A favourite song for sure is “Forest Nativity,” fitting that way best with the previous compilation, a serious song about the forest welcoming a new birth of a child. It is very effective bringing over its song / spoken word content through the exotic sounds of its sanza rhythms and flute. The last few tracks with extra bass rhythm bring improvisations over various African rhythms, and show the spirit of Africa in the heart of someone still connected despite living so often abroad, like a powerful messenger.