DJ Rita Ray's African tracks: From techno to trance via thumb pianos

Top: artwork for Kondi Band (L) and Konono No 1 meets Batida (M). Bottom: Tay Grin (L) and Headbug album artwork (M), Right: DJ Rita Ray Image copyright Various

In her regular column about African music, DJ Rita Ray delves into back-to-the future sounds from Sierra Leone, Congolese funeral techno and jazz and samples some Malawian-Naija Afropop.

  • Artist: Sorie Kondi Track: Belle Wahallah Album: Kondi Band (Strut Records)

Belle Wahallah, meaning "Belly Pain", is an acoustic dance track about alleviating hunger and poverty, from Sierra Leone's thumb piano virtuoso Sorie Kondi.

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Media captionListen to a sample from the track Belle Wahallah

Born blind and with no formal education, he learnt the kondi, a type of thumb piano rarely played in Sierra Leone, to make his living as a street musician and adopted the name of the instrument as his surname.

His road to commercial success has been tortuous and his life experiences have influenced his socially conscious lyrics. His first opportunity to record an album came when he sought refuge in the capital, Freetown, during the country's brutal civil war but the master tapes were lost during a rebel assault on the city.

"Sorie Kondi may be playing an acoustic folk instrument from Sierra Leone, but he thinks about music as if he were a techno producer," says his US producer DJ Chief Boima, who also has Sierra Leonean roots.

Their collaboration, mixed with electronic sounds, brings the sound of the kondi to the club scene.

  • Artist: Ray Lema Quintet Track: Headbug Album: Headbug (One Drop/Rue Stendhal)

Congolese pianist Ray Lema's latest album is a tight melodic jazz exploration that manages to successfully combine Afrobeat, samba funk and other styles into an enjoyable listen.

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Media captionListen to a sample from the track Headbug

Internationally hailed and a sought-after musician and composer, Lema's grounding is in classical music that he learnt at a Catholic seminary when he was planning to become a priest, in what was then the Belgium Congo.

The experience shaped him as did his time as director of the National Ballet of Zaire, discovering the diversity of the country's musical heritage and its inherent rhythms.

And this album has a treat for fans of Manu Dibango, who swaps his sax for the mirambas.

It's a testament to Lema's admiration of the Cameroonian saxophonist, whom he regards as one of the architects of Congolese Rumba.

  • Artist: Tay Grin, featuring 2Baba Track: Chipapapa

Chipapapa is a playful feel-good song inspired by a Malawian children's clapping game.

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Media captionListen to a sample from the track Chipapapa

It's the latest release from award-winning hip-hop artist Tay Grin, who has fulfilled his prediction - made aged 14 - that he would be a music sensation and entrepreneur.

Image copyright Tay Grin

The prophetic artiste collaborates with 2Baba, the Nigerian Afrobeats superstar formally known as 2Face Idibia, to produce a joyful celebration of African music, fashion and dance.

  • Artists: Konono No 1 and Batida Track: Nlele Kalusimbiko Album: Konono No 1 meets Batida (Crammed Disc)

This album will be a dance-floor favourite with fantastic beats and wacky lyrics.

It's a collaboration between Konono No 1, Congolese musicians famous for the unrelenting rhythms of their DIY electro thumb pianos, and Angolan-born Portuguese artist Pedro Coquenao, known as Batida. It's a marriage made in heaven.

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Media captionListen to a sample from the track Nlele Kalusimbiko

Kinshasa-based Konono No 1 are world festival favourites, inspiring cutting-edge musicians as wide ranging as Icelandic singer Bjork, experimental US rock band Deerhoof and Radiohead's Thom Yorke.

Yet at home in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is mainly at funerals that their trance music is played.

It originates from a region that straddles the border between DR Congo and Angola, home to the Bakongo people, and from where Batida largely draws his inspiration, adding in the sounds of Lusophone urban music scene

Together their musical energies are fruitful and surprising.

More from Rita Ray:

Fusing sounds across the Sahara

From alien futures to temptation tales

Top 10 for 2015

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