Outside of Fela Kuti and his ever-popular Afrobeat sound, African music as a whole is hard for a lot of novices to understand and, furthermore, purchase. There's so much of it, spread out across 53 countries on one giant continent, that you need a guide — a Rough Guide, perhaps — to help discover it all. World-music labels like Rough Guide and Putumayo have bridged the gap considerably in recent years, and it's helped countless pioneering musicians like the late Ali Farka Touré (and his son Vieux), Kenge Kenge, Cesaria Evora, Oliver Mtkudzi, and others gain a wider fan base along the way. With the success of these musicians, who are now going into studios and capitalizing on world music's popularity, it's prompted Rough Guide and Putumayo to dive even further into the streets and release similarly themed compilation discs that could have been companion pieces had they not been on rival labels.
Putumayo Presents African Party opens with a sexy, Congotronix-style dance remix of Sekouba Bambino's "Famou," which should get picked up by more open-minded DJs around the world. Also notable on the ten-track disc is Oliver Mtukudzi's "Kunze Kwadoka," an upbeat tune taken from his recently released greatest-hits disc, Wonai, and the Latin-tinged "Rhumba All the Way" from Angola's Louis Mhlanga.
Rival world-music labels release solid new African compilations
For Rough Guide's African Street Party, the compilers opted to explore not only the music of African musicians but also those whom the continent has touched in one way or another, such as Venezuela-born Luisito Quintero, who collaborates with Cameroon's Francis Mbappe for the uptempo "Gbagada, Gbagada, Gbogodo, Gbogodo," a bilingual tune with a salsa beat. Another example is "Prima Donna," a Latinesque tune by Congolese musician Ricardo Lemvo, whose percussion-rich music draws inspiration from Cuba. Listen also to Cape Verde's La MC Macriado, mixing hip-hop tendencies with native beats, alternately singing and rapping in their native Portuguese Creole.
Each disc is enjoyable in its own way and cannot really be compared or ignored. On both compilations, the indestructible urban beat of Mama Africa is alive and vibrant. An idea would be to upload both to your MP3 player, set it to shuffle, and let the festive musical discovery begin.