A Look Back at

John Leeson

Horn of Africa @ Glenn Gould Theatre (Jan. 28)
A number of Canadian musicians from the Horn (Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia) play music not heard widely here. A real treat.

Afrafronto ("Palm Wine") @ NOW Lounge (Feb. 17)
The Ghanaian members of the African Guitar Summit put on a beautiful show of Palm Wine Music, and in an initimate setting helped create one of the best and most magical live shows I've seen in a long time.

Salif Keita @ Harbourfront Centre (Jul. 6)
The greatest voice in Africa in his first Toronto show in 6 years.

Solomon Burke @ Massey Hall (Jul. 8)
His presence, voice and warmth would be enough to make this a top pick. Joining dozens on stage with him, and having him phone my wife from the stage was just a bonus!

Afrofest @ Queen's Park (Jul. 8–9)
How could this not be one of the best shows of the year?
> go to report

Jamaica to Toronto @ Harbourfront (Jul. 15)
The great soul music of 1960's Toronto was largely created by Jamaican immigrants. Some of that music was re-released on a compilation CD this year (same title), and this concert featured many of the original performers. The soul and energy were still there.

Amadou & Mariam and Refugee All-Stars of Sierra Leone @ Harbourfront (Jul. 2)
Double-bill of the year

Thomas Mapfumo, Donné Roberts and Soul Influence @ Harbourfront (Aug. 14)
Triple bill of the year

K'Naan @ Harbourfront (Oct. 7)
His show was short (it was part of a multi-artist night), but it was a rare local appearance by the Toronto-based Somalian hip-hop artist who may be poised for stardom.

Wanda Jackson @ Cadillac Lounge (Sep. 29)

Bettye LaVette @ Lee's Palace (Nov. 4)
How is LaVette not a star?

I don't get to acquire or even hear enough of the CDs released in a year to make any definitive opinion of the year's 'best', however of those I am familiar with, these are my picks:

My Top Three

Nashville – Solomon Burke
Forty-five years on, that voice is just getting better, the soul even more soulful.

Savane – Ali Farka Touré
The final album by one of Africa's greatest musicians might just be his best ever.

Boulevard de l'Indépendance – Toumani Diabate & The Symmetric Orchestra
The world's greatest kora player, with 53 different musicians produces a stunning, rich and unique album. One of my favourite African albums in years.


Lamp Fall – Cheikh Lo
The Senegalese guitarist/singer adds Brazillian sounds (parts were recorded in Brazil with Carlinhos Brown).

You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker – Willie Nelson
The album shows Nelson's voice and song intepretation skills at their best in a tribute to one of Texas' great songwriters.

African Guitar Summit II – African Guitar Summit
Even better than the first.

Diwan 2 – Rachid Taha
For Taha, this one is a little lighter on the rock, a little heavier on the traditional sounds, with just the same energy.

Mish Maoul – Natacha Atlas
A rootsy return to her Arabic roots

Golden Afrique, Vol. 3 – Compilation
The Network label is producing one of the greatest series of African re-release compilations. This one showcases the 'golden age' from South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Full of glorious treasures, including the original (1939) "Mbube" which eventually was reborn as "Wimoweh".

CD Releases
Some great recordings, showcased by great live peformances for the release parties. A couple of these CDs were available in 2005. Chronologically:

Rhythm Was Born – Donné Roberts (Harbourfront, Feb. 11)
The album showcases his wide-ranging musical skills; his live performances keep getting better.
> go to report

Walasa – Chasaya Sichilima (NOW Lounge, May 19)
The Zambian-born performer brings great warmth and energy to his music (there sure was a lot at the release!)

Mti Wa Maisha (Tree of Life) – Adam Solomon & Tikisa (Lula Lounge, May 4)
"The Professor" and his new version of Tikisa, sounding better than ever, had Lula Lounge hopping. That fiesta-style guitar is gorgeous.
> go to report

Ba Ba Oh – Njacko Backo & Kalimba Kalimba (Gladstone Hotel, Jun. 16)
Njacko has added a Cuban feel to his music. The ballroom at the Gladstone was jammed, jumping and sweating.

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John Leeson
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