Frances Bebey's "Psychedelic Sanza"
Shared by Kamala
Welcome to our first issue of On the Record!
I’m excited to be starting our series with one of my favorites: Frances Bebey’s Psychedelic Sanza (1982-1984). This is actually a compilation album from Born Bad Records, released in 2014. It brings together many of Bebey’s experiments in fusing traditional African instruments with funk and is a really great introduction to Bebey’s work… in fact, it was how I first became familiar with him!
I stumbled on this record while crate digging at Concerto, the fantastic (and gigantic) record store in Amsterdam. My experiences at this store have invariably followed the same format: I walk in, become briefly overwhelmed by the size and selection of the store, and make a beeline to the International section. Which is where I first stumbled on this record.
I didn’t know anything about Frances Bebey at the time, but I was intrigued as I’d recently been listening to a lot of Mulatu Astatke and Tinariwen and wanted to learn more about the African rock and jazz scenes. So I took a chance and bought this record without listening to it first…. And I’m so glad I did!
This album as a whole is this really delicious combination of groovy bass lines with the spangly timbre of the sanza (also known as the mbira or kalimba). But each individual track also features its own explorations of sounds not typically found in a funk tune. For example, “Bissau” features the sound of the Hindewhu, a type of Ba-Benzélé flute played by alternating between blowing into the flute and singing (it’s the inspiration for the Herbie Hancock tune “Watermelon Man.”) Later in the track, Bebey’s voice moves into an extreme vocal fry– extended vocal technique on a funk album!
We get the smooth timbre of Bebey’s speaking voice on the track “Forest Nativity,” accompanied by his experimentation with the sound of electronic drums and touches of the Hindewhu. “African Sanza” features duet by a pair of very buzzy instruments that sound to me like they could be transverse horns (unfortunately, the liner notes don’t specify).
This is one of the few albums in my collection that I am always in the mood for. It’s strange and wonderful with a deep pocket, and I hope that you enjoy listening!
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