REVIEW/FEATURE
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA




Various  Artists  ‘Hidden Music Volume 4:  Abatwa (The Pygmy): Why Did We Stop Growing Tall?’
Glitterbeat Records,  18th August 2017

Renowned producer (and author of some note) Ian Brennan, yet again probing the furthest, most inhospitable and outright dangerous places in the world to record marginalized voices, journeys to the post genocide borderlands of Rwanda on the latest volume in Glitterbeat Records illuminating Hidden Musics series.

Taking the unmarked, haphazard, road (less traveled) to the edges of Rwanda, avoiding the animosity and embers of vengeance that still burn and remain between the country’s minority Tutsis and majority Hutu communities, Brennan visited and recorded for posterity the Abatwa tribe’s seldom heard lament, anger and incredible soulful, if raw, blues.

Though not directly involved in the ensuing genocide that followed on from the country’s apocalyptic civil war in the mid 90s – officially and despite much skeptical revisionism over the years, this genocide was started by the Hutu and carried out with terrifying savagery upon the Tutsis, the population of which, depending on the source you use, was decimated by up to 70% (that equates to between 500,000 to a million murdered, all within a matter of three months) – the Abatwa both lost around a third of its own tribe and carried out some of the attacks.

If the Abatwa name is remains mostly unknown outside Africa, that’s because, due to their limited growth, we know them better as the ‘Pygmy’. A derogatory name loaded with infamy, yet preferred by the very people it derides, the tribe rather that put-down than (as Brennan puts it) “the official PC mouthful/post-genocidal replacement: The people who were left behind because of the facts of Rwandan history.”

In part, those size limitations have were shaped and made worse by the fact that traditionally the tallest women in the Abatwa attracted outside attention, and were taken as wives by other tribes – one answer to the album’s rhetorical title, “Why Did We Stop Growing Tall?”


Local comedian Simbuvara photo by Marilena Delli




In this environment – described in linear notes with the signature frank, un-PC, highly informative and entertaining Brennan travelogue style – peppered with teenage breakdancers that ‘could out-battle any South Queens sidewalk challenger’, a enervated surreal ‘tag-team lounge duo playing an off-key Bob Marley medley’, and plenty of anecdotes to dispel a rafter of myths and assumptions – the hands-off field recorder finds both inspiring and veracious acts of endurance and survival.


Patrick Manishimine photo by Marilena Delli




There are a number of themes that run through both this, volume four in the series, and the previous three documentations, Hanoi Masters, Khmer Rouge Survivors and Paul Chandler’s phenomenal Every Song Has Its End: Sonic Dispatches From Traditional Mali (all of which made our albums of the year lists): including the saving of traditions and voices of communities under attack from the onslaught of modernism and erosion of cultures outside the mainstream; and drawing attention to the legacy of problems arising from war and insurrection. But there is also similarities sound wise between all four volumes; namely a form of atavistic, primal, and in my opinion the best kind, of blues, that is eerily echoed in what is one of the genres birthplaces, Mali, but can also be found ringing in the deltas of Cambodia.

Sitting in for, and one of the progenitors no doubt to the six-string, are the ragtag assembled instruments of tradition: the one-string ‘Umuduli’ and eleven-string ‘Icyembe’. Practitioners of these two stalwart attenuate instruments can be heard on the scratchy, tangled spring-y Rwanda Nzizza (Beautiful Rwanda) paean by the great soulful voiced Emmanuel Hatungimana, and the caressing, peacefully played Ihorere (Stop Crying Now) duet lament by the wife and husband duo Emmanuel Habumuremy and Ange Kamagaju.

A kind of boxed canoe turn surfboard with strings the icyembe stands almost as tall as those who pluck its reverberating, sharp spindly quiver. It’s umuduli counterpart, both far less cumbersome and mobile, does despite only having the one string and repetitive scratchy twang, provide a suitable, evocative rhythm.


Emmanuel Habumuremy (husband) & Ange Kamagaju (wife) photo by Marilena Delli




Make no mistake; this is performance in its most deconstructive raw form. Devoid of embellishments and overbearing production, recorded in situ with only the rudimentary elements and atmosphere for company, it sounds great.

And so you hear some of the most stripped and revelatory of performances that make their equivalents back in the West sound sterile and bloated in comparison. Artists such as the 19-year-old female rapper Rosine Nyiranshimiyimana who improvises vividly on the stylophone clickety-buzzing sassy, take-it-to-the-yard R&B Umwana W’umuhanda (The Child From The Streets), and the sublime but humble Beatrice Mukarungi, who leads her ‘sons’ on the spiritual chorus plaint Urwanikamiheto (War Song), perform somehow different and askewer fresh takes on the music we find familiar.

Battery powered electronics and rusty, ramshackle dusty instruments come together in hybrids that evoke ritual, the ceremonial but equally the blues, soul and hip-hop; all played with an undeniably emotional Rwandan verve and lilt.

 

Once again Brennan highlights the forgotten musical legacy and voices of a traumatized community – alcoholism and depression rife in their isolated communities; allusions made by Brennan that draw similarities with the pre-casino era American Indian reservations -, recovering in the uneasy truce of one of the 20th century’s worst genocides – and as we are all aware, it had some stiff competition in those stakes.

Hidden Musics has become an unmissable and equally important series; field recordings of hope and recovery in the face of despair.





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ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona


 

Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘White African Power’
Six Degrees Records, 2nd June 2017

If anyone is perturbed, fear not as the man behind this slightly ironically entitled White African Power album, guiding hand and producer extraordinaire Ian Brennan, puts us straight:

“As one of the most persecuted groups on the planet, when a member of the Albinism community in Tanzania – especially one who has been relocated by the government for his own physical protection – asserts his “power”, it should not be denied. And if anyone has earned the right for the use of irony, it is those that have suffered such atrocities and ostracism from birth, yet still manage to endure.”

In so many respects a “spiritual follow-up” to Brennan’s Grammy Award-nominated Zomba Prison Project and follow-on from the equally evocative and raw Hanoi Masters sessions, White African Power attentively and respectfully draws out the repressed voices of the Albino community in Tanzania. Brennan’s productions often serve as a kind of hands-off form of creative counseling and healing; helping people to overcome trauma, such as the survivors of Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia. He’s renowned for being the most inconspicuous of in the field and on location producers, letting the atmosphere and elements, the moment if you like, and even serendipity bleed into the performances he captures for posterity. And the production methodology used for this latest project, recording the songs of the standing Voice Community of Ukerewe, is no different.

As superstitions still prevail in many parts of east Africa, none more so than in Tanzania, the albino community are ghoulishly hunted down or ostracized. If they’re lucky, they make it to sanctuaries such as the Ukerewe Island retreat: dumped for their own safety by families and the government but also abandoned. If they’re unlucky than they will find a much more horrendous fate is in store for them, pursued, murdered and dismembered for their limbs by those who believe that an albino’s body parts have magical properties. However you look at it, albinos in Tanzania are shunned and persecuted: one of the most common insults being that they, “belong to the whites”, or worse, that they are demonic.

A safe haven, Ukerewe, where Ian travelled to in 2016 to document their plight, is the largest inland island in Africa, only reachable by a four-hour ferry ride. Its community is, hardly surprising, haunted by their experiences. Self-conscious, avoiding eye contact, it proved a difficult task for the producer to encourage his subjects to open up. But open up they did, and the results are often surprisingly melodious, poetic, and diaphanous if raw and emotional. Far from a harrowing catalogue of despair and pity, the 23 recordings on this collection prove illuminating.





Though sung in the “discouraged and censored” (following unification in 1964) dialects of Kikirewe and Jeeta, the English translated song titles will leave you in no doubt as to each one’s message and lament: from disbelief at their treatment, on the Casio keyboard preset backed alternative 80s, sweet but troubled, The World Has Gone Mad, and the double-bass trembled Stop The Murders, to the hope and calls for normality on the mysterious sounding electric-guitar blues I Will Build A Home, Someday, and the harp-plucked music box serenaded Happiness.

Another indictment if needed on those perpetrators and a population that have harassed and murdered them, other titles sadly reflect tragic insights into their lives: Stigma Everywhere, They Gossiped When I Was Born, Standing Voices (Once, I Was Abandoned). And as though any right-thinking decent human being needed it, there’s a jolting reminder that Disability Is Not A Curse.

 

Fitting no obvious style, these amorphous performances do however resonate both with the delta blues of Louisiana and the stark, stripped down and earthy blues of South East Asia. Touches of raw African dusty tradition do appear, ascending and descending alongside gospel and soulful voices, naturally echoed, sighed and open-heartedly sung with a pure vulnerability. They’re accompanied either by stark lo fi electric guitar performances, that range from scratchy, straggly proto-punk to slower scrabbly emotive twangs, or an acoustic backing of rubber-band and bottle shaking percussion. Standing out production wise though is the classical – imagine Brahms on harpsichord transferred to East Africa in the 80s – reverberating cradling deep soulful ballad, Never Forget The Killings.

 

Ian Brennan coaxes another startling, eye opening, set of recordings from the victims of trauma; one that proves every bit as impressive as it does plaintive and sad. The collective will astonish, if not surprise listeners, those suppressed voices, thankfully released and given an international platform, sound emotionally honest and revelatory.

Released just ahead of the U.N.’s International Albinism Awareness Day on June 13th, the voices of White African Power can also be seen at this year’s WOMAD festival this summer (July 27-30th).


NEW MUSIC REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona




Featuring: Sergio Beercock, The Bordellos, faUSt, ANi Glass, Duncan Lloyd, Carlo Mazzoli and Mount Song.



Back from a recent sabbatical in Palermo and catching up with all the most interesting releases of the last month, this edition of my regular Tickling Our Fancy revue features an assortment of albums/EPs and tracks from both April and May. An unofficial sort of house band for the blog, St.Helens’ greatest lo fi, les miserable, export The Bordellos have featured on this blog countless times over the years, I take a look at their latest sampler EP, Debt Sounds. There’s also the latest art-attack protestation from the infamous faUSt, a vitriol extemporized road trip across the States with friends entitled Fresh Air, and the latest cathartic songbook from Jacob Johansson, under his latest moniker Mount Song, the second Duncan Lloyd outing, IOUOME, from the Maximo Park guitarist/songwriter, the latest EP from the Welsh siren of the most ethereal and danceable protest rousing electronic pop ANi GLASS, and two new showcase albums from Italian-based bards/troubadours Carlo Mazzoli and Sergio Beercock.

faUSt  ‘Fresh Air’
Bureau B, 26th May 2017


 

Belligerently sharing the Faust moniker, splitting into a moiety of founding member versions of the original group that so terrorized the 70s underground music scene, the glaring capital letter “US” in this incarnation is used by founding fathers Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner “Zappi” Diermaier.

Still banging the cement-mixer drum and manning the barricades after forty odd years in the business, the, at its most base drummer/percussionist and bassist-come-tormentor of sound, duo’s latest protestation is a sort of art-provocateur road trip of the USA, featuring an abundance of locals and internationalist artists and musicians, picked-up on the way through New York, Texas and California: A counter-cultural agitation travail from coast to coast.

Featuring the usual Faust totems and that workmanlike methodology of extracting sounds and evocations from machinery, found objects, debris and the architecture – even Péron’s front door hinges from home make an appearance – Fresh Air is an urgent gasp for relief from the polluted, choked, environment. It’s also a highly convoluted attempt at transforming geometrical forms and abstractions into a sonic score. Three of the tracks on this album take their inspiration from a faux-workshop at the highly regarded California Institute of the Arts. A session that includes the loony 23-second vocal exercise symphony Partitur – defined loosely as “a sort of Dadaist choir, a musique impressionniste’ by Péron –; the loose Slits do souk jazz, camel ride Chlorophl, which features Barbara Manning “sneaking” in word association sketches alongside Zappi’s own strange utterings; and the saxophone squalling, motoring Lights Flicker, which again features Manning, bridging the role of Laurie Anderson and Patti Smith, repeating an agitated mantra over a quasi art-dance backing.

From the east coast Jersey City leg of their travels, viola player Ysanne Spevack adds a stirring, Jed Kurzel like harrowed drone to the album’s title track. A seven and a half minute opus, building from the narration of a poem, written by a French school friend of Pérons, to a struggle for life, Fresh Air shows that the spirit of ’68 and hunger for transforming and tearing down the destructive political environment hasn’t diminished in all those years. It’s bookended with a soliloquy-like Péron narration on, among other tropes, the confusing, alarming change from childhood to young adulthood on the album’s curtain call, Fish. Tidal washes and suitable transitional analogies on the soul and growing pains profoundly roll over another viola drone and minimal bass drum accompaniment before entering a noisy cacophony of oscillations and sonic crescendos.

Passing through Austin, faUSt capture the Birds Of Texas, merging their crowing calls with a suitable enough mirage-y, Peyote-induced desert peregrination, and open up an interstellar box of tricks to create a space-funk, Teutonic swamp performance – not a million miles away from Can – on La Poulie.

Continuing with their signature agitation, often menacing, call-to-arms whilst also sonically turning the abstract into something audible, Péron and Zappi can still be relied upon to create provocative statements, five decades on from when the original Faust dynamic barraged audiences with the most confrontational and experimental sound ideas. Struggling like the rest of us, but finding a comradely with another generation of artists and musicians, they look for hope in the miasma.



Mount Song  ‘Mount Song’
Suncave Recordings, 5th May 2017

Previously garnering plaudits in his native Sweden for his debut album under the appellation of The Big Monster (no less heralded as the Swedish debut of the year in 2014 by the country’s biggest music publication), the longing singer/songwriter Jacob Johansson is back to contemplate all of life’s harsh lessons and trials on this latest venture, Mount Song.

This self-titled songbook of ambitious poetic campfire musings and inner turmoil spun yearnings is simultaneously both intense and intimate; mixing a catharsis of emotions with a soundtrack of acid-folk, country, psych and alternative pop. As the accompanying notes and music itself testifies, Johansson was “brought up on grunge.” And throughout the album this American export leaves its indelible mark with hazy languid lingering traces and washes of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. Far from slavishly recreating that grunge sound, our philosophical troubadour and his band merely hint at its presence and influence with a certain panache.

More to the point, it’s that 90s demigod of plaintive despair and torment, Jeff Buckley, who imbues Johansson’s vocals and sound the most. Most obviously and unabashed you can hear an unmistakable melody sequence three quarters of the way through the light and shade softened crescendo Here It Goes. As for that genius fluctuating vocal, from Latin choirboy to candid outpourings of grief, Johansson goes for it on the skipping backbeat psych-grunge Make Up with a falsetto and almost trembling howled vocal performance.

The opening melodrama Halo, which wells up from subtle jangled acoustic guitar to a deeply atmospheric synth and repeating thudding drum punctuation of sorrow, deals with one’s demons in the manner of a sober, more somber Jose Gonzalez and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – two more important influences for Johansson.

Though there’s plenty of sadness and even wallowing, Johansson can hardly be accused of drawing copious amounts of melancholy from the well of self-pity. There is hope after all. And a certain, if naïve at times, call for peace, even a protest song of disarmament in the fashion of the Thunderclap Newman does New Radicals protest anthem, All Over The World.

You can’t avoid, sidestep the multiple political storm clouds amassing overhead, and with all those “inner demons” in tow, not feel anxious and dare say despondent. Though whether the sun will shine through the miasma is another matter, but Johansson handles all this swimmingly, in a gauzy sound space of dissipated crescendos and attentive melodies. Mount Song will take time to unveil its, often languid, subtleties, but is an album with more than enough push and direction.





Duncan Lloyd  ‘IOUOME’
Afternoon In Bed Records, 26th May 2017

Seeing as I’d never previously had the inclination nor desire to listen to a Maximo Park record, finding not much of worth and interest in their second-generation Britpop with attitude sound, it’s hardly surprising that the solo career of one of the “driving forces” behind the Newcastle upon Tyne group, guitarist/songwriter Duncan Lloyd, has so far alluded me.

Cut loose of that band I’m happy to reveal that Lloyd has not only stepped out of the – if ever there was a poisoned chalice of validation – Mercury Music Prize nominated stars shadow but creatively blossomed on his own terms.

A fair weather friend, I’ve arrived late, Lloyd having already built-up a considerable catalogue of releases under numerous titles (Decades In Exile, Nano Kino) with various labels (Warp, PIAS, Crash Symbols Tapes). His latest solo outing (the second album released using his own name) is a melodic guitar led mix of gauze-y looseness and swimming longing.

With Maximo drummer Tom English in tow, the IOUOME album travels back further for its inspiration, recalling Postcard Records less fidgety and more hazy offerings, and the early 80s sound of Manchester. Candidly wistful nuanced twanged songs such as You Seem Confused’ bare traces of The Cure and even The House Of Love, underpinned with the limp gait of The Smiths, whilst the halcyon rays through a downpour Steel Pin Raindrops rumbles along to a Joy Division-esque toms beat and disheartened romantic synth. However, our cousins across the Atlantic can be heard on the loose but controlled enough and attentive Tomorrow Fires, as an imaginary Postcard era The Byrds share the melodic sonic landscape with early R.E.M and Midlake.

“Being Frank”, as one of the album’s song titles suggests, is what Lloyd is all about. Not so much a case of moping around in his softened layers and sprawling, relaxed but accentuated network of guitar riffs and lines, our protagonist faces all his emotional turmoil and strife with a songbook of composed observations and intimacy. Written on the road, usually at the end of the day, as ideas become less concrete and evolve instead into something more challenging, these yearnings on “ailing relationships, division and self-destruction” are executed well, both the songwriting and guitar playing subtle but memorable with a real depth of character.



The Bordellos  ‘Debt Sounds Sampler EP’
Small Bear Records, Available now

 

If sales and general acknowledgment amongst the masses is considered validations that a band is entering the general psyche, all my previous efforts to propel St. Helen’s greatest musical export The Bordellos beyond a small circle of appreciative followers and critics have failed dismally. Still mining the pit face of unashamed discordant lo-fi irritant indie after decades, The Bordellos is it seems fated to be forever ignored by the general public.

A hard act to sell granted; knocking out disgruntled low-key underground releases that barely register ad hoc style and keeping a creditable distance from the rest of the music industry. Like a band perpetually mourning the age before Spotify, plugged-in to a continuous John Peel session from a time when it seemed a group of miscreant family band members could take on the world, they seem totally adrift of the times they live in. And all the better for it: if “modern life” was “rubbish” the “tech age” is plain fucking awful.

Even cheaper than The Fall, the group’s tools of trade are usually brought from Cash Converters or Poundland. Their abundance of EPs and albums are created in a rush, often recorded in one take in the shabbiest of mockup home studios. Plucked from a 2009 LP, the group’s third full-length release, the four-tracks on this latest Bandcamp platform broadcast from The Bordellos demonstrate this method well.

Stripped down and raw, Debt Sounds originally vanished as soon as it appeared. Previously, for many obvious reasons, unavailable online, originally sold as a limited run on CDR and snubbed as unsalable by their label at the time, Brutarian, Debt Sounds is a 17-track encapsulation of moping romanticism fueled by late night drinking and whatever else did the trick sessions and self pity. Setting themselves the most restrictive and loony perimeters, including no overdubs and one-take vocals, each song on the album had to be recorded within the same week it was written – and at a nocturnal hour by the sounds of it.

A quartet of tunes, the strain of which helped to break up two relationships, are almost randomly taken from that album and collated under the Sampler EP suffix title; the first of which, Fading Honey sets the My Bloody Valentine on Mogadon, despondent love-sick, bordering on sinister, mood. In a late hour atmosphere of whining plugging-in amp socket hum and low emitting fuzzy static The Bordellos pour out their hearts.

A meeting of generations, the youngest member of this unhappy brood Dan was only seventeen at the time and elder statesman Brian considerably older and cynically wiser, Debt Sounds pits teen angst against a midlife crisis; both appearing to meld in the intimate shared, Inspiral Carpets on a budget, You Better Run and elsewhere.

Really flexing those “outsider” credentials, the next song, Seal Head, is a surreal melodica derangement that languidly emerges then submerges into a slumberous mad-hatter state of weirdness. The most ominous, stalkerish even, is saved until last. Honeypie is an unhinged, electric guitar thrashing and pumped-up bass line session on the psychiatrist’s couch, which features a druggy-drowsy female chorus that sounds like the protagonist’s girlfriend singing it is more captive than willing participant. A lost Jesus And Mary Chain grinder meets stoner garage punk malaise, Honeypie slumps over a sorry state of romantic affairs.

Re-released by the Isle of Man independent label Small Bear Records, you can now appreciate or ignore some lowlights from Debt Sounds album once again; a lost triumph from the band’s rebellious back catalogue that stakes a claim to the real spirit of rock’n’roll. It acts in any case as a bridge between new releases; The Bordellos threatening to release their next album this summer on the Welsh label Recordiau Prin. In the meantime get your lug holes around this underground lo fi down and out.






Sergio Beercock  ‘Wollow’
800a Records, May 2017

 

Quite by chance Sergio Beercock is the first of two artists in this revue to hail from Italy, or rather in his case the strongly independent minded Island of Sicily.

Enjoying a slow revival in fortunes; open for business and tourism after a tumultuous period of inter-war between the Island’s most destabilizing blot on the landscape and psyche, the costra nostra, a tough but fair mayor in the shape of Leoluca Orlando has over several terms in office transformed the capital of Palermo, putting away a huge swathe of Mafioso and funneling their ill-gotten gains into rebuilding the infrastructure and reputation of the city and Sicily as a whole.

Overshadowed for so many decades by this miasma, the capital of Palermo is enjoying a boom in visitors and interest, as I’ve seen firsthand myself after a recent holiday there. With much still to be done, the migrant crisis for one thing – Sicily’s position as a stepping stone between the north African coastline and Europe attracting record numbers – and the staggeringly high unemployment figures, especially among the young, there are still optimistic signs of a resurgence: culturally and musically. Recorded at the 800a collectives multipurpose Indigo Studios in the city, Beercock’s new minimal and bucolic switched-on folk meets acoustic-electro Wollow album is evidence of that optimism.

Half British, half Italian, the Kingston-upon-Hull singer/bard moved to his mother’s homeland at an early age. Working, quite successfully it seems, in both music and theatre the bi-linguist Beercock has built a name for himself in Italy. Wollow though has its sights firmly set on the UK market, with the troubadour presently promoting and showcasing his talent at a number of events and festivals across the country – only last week performing live on London’s Resonance FM and playing spots in Hull, Oxford, Liverpool and at the Wood Festival.

Almost entirely sung in English, except for the final stripped and stark a cappella version of the Argentine singer Pedro Anzer’s stirring Silencio, which is delivered in Spanish, the Wollow album is a pastoral, bordering on Elizabethan at times, and quaintly English “metaphorical journey” through the travails and sounds that have inspired Beercock. The opening gently-plucked entwining Reason – which introduces us to the bard’s impressive though peaceable vocal range -, reverent like misty veils of Canterbury Tor, guitar picked swirling beauty, Naked, and the tumble-in-the-fields-whilst-the-old-man’s-not-looking weary parable, The Barley And Rye, are all unashamedly submerged in the English tradition.

You could say the mix of song covers and original material is of a “timeless” quality. Redefining folk and the atavistic tales of forewarning and life in the manner of such artists as James Yorkston and many others.

Breaking it up however with more ambient instrumental soundscape passages and soaring evocations, Beercock also sails towards the Americas; using a Bolivian flute and the atmospherics of The Andes and Amazon to lift and elevate both An Exaggerated Song and Jester from the less than exotic and magical tempered atmospheres of Northern Europe.

Using a mostly acoustic range of instruments (and even his own body) and his voice – which sounds at times like a chamber-folk Jeff Buckley – our troubadour ups the ante on occasion with a few surprises, launching congruously throughout into energetic, twisting, stretching and straining cello and double bass slapping and avant-jazz like dance beat liveners.

Probably the first time many of us will have heard the Sicilian-based troubadour, Wollow is an attentively as any crafted showcase introduction to a burgeoning experimental folk talent.





Carlo Mazzoli  ‘Avalanche Blues’
Available now

 

The second artist in this revue from Italy, the founding member of folk-rock band Dead Bouquet, Carlo Mazzoli branches out on his own with this self-produced solo effort, Avalanche Blues. Billed as the most intimate of his releases so far, this ambitious songbook flexes Mazzoli’s talents as a yearning blues songwriter and performer troubadour; equally at home romantically flourishing and cascading through a Freddie Mercury like rousing ballad on the piano, as donning the mantle of Neil Diamond and Springsteen on a steel-pedal waning Nashville love tryst.

Singing in English, influenced by a UK/US axis of blues, balladry, country, folk and 70s songwriting inspirations there’s no reference, except a hint in the burr, or signs of Italy to be found. This is after all an international affair musically and thematically, full of the age-old tropes of sadness and joy that are common to all of us.

If there were, however, a leitmotif, an aching bond of familiarity, it would be in Mazzoli’s penchant for the dusty old west trail. There’s certain overtures made to the stoic reflective journeyman and cowboy of that old west lore on Steel Rail Blues, on the rougher-hewn King At The End, and on the Dylan-esque, tremolo twanged love-pranged Goin’ Astray. Flirtations, executed impressively with attentiveness and lyricism, with the mosey-on down blues, Nilsson, Grant Lee and even Elton John – on the closing gospel meets 70s rock radio piano anthem On The Horizons.

From the cynical wells of despair and pity (“It might be the darkest place but it’s not the bottom of the sewer.”) to mountain climb metaphors, Mazzoli flows between crescendo splashes of anguish and saloon dive barreling swank throughout. The field is crowded but there’s more than enough talent and a certain unique style to set Mazzoli out from the legions on Avalanche Blues. As I’ve said before, this is an ambitious album, but also expansive, delving as it does into a myriad of musical styles with a certain ernest elan.





ANi GLASS  ‘Ffrwydad Tawel’
Recordiau Neb

Credit: Ani Saunders

 

Part of a groundswell of artists and bands supporting the use, and by that preservation, of the Welsh language (and Cornish too, but that’s another story for another time), electronic siren, photographer and artist Ani Saunders, better know musically as ANi GLASS, uses what is a most phonetically poetic dialect beautifully. Even when it’s used as a rallying cry on the opening glassy-visage labour of love Y Newid, which weaves the lingering ruminants of a rousing speech by the Socialist activist and Labour councilor Ray Davis with Ani’s breathy defense of the trade union movement, her voice sails close to the ethereal. Echoing even the most amorphous exhaled sighs, utterances and vocal sounds alongside the pronounced, Ani’s Welsh protestations and longings for “change” always sound passionate but disarming.

The obvious impassioned themes of keeping the Welsh heritage alive, of reconnection with that heritage and country, and the hope of building a more stable fair society in the face of such hostile uncertainty runs deep throughout. Inspired by the use and mix of bleak colours and destruction by fellow Welsh contemporary artist Ivor Davis’ 2016 major exhibition at the National Museum Cardiff, Ani’s latest EP reflects that show’s despondent expositions of society in Wales. Later invited to perform with Davis as part of this extended vision, Ani’s resulting material can be heard channeled through the – perhaps most beautifully performed protest song of 2017 – lamentable panoramic closing track Cariad Cudd, which charts the “cruel” decline of Welsh industry.

Elsewhere on this six-track collection, she traverses Baroque new romanticism on the breathy echoing Y Ddawns – last year’s single included once again in this package -, Alison Goldfrapp whispery Dietrich candy strobe light meets Grimes on the cool reflective pulsing Dal I Droi, and a Valley-girl Madonna riding over sine waves on the Moroder-esque Geiriau. It all sounds quite Europhile – in fact Y Ddawns is a prime Eurovision entry in waiting – and glowing, straddling the serious with crystal synth pop.

Critics are always finding the most tenuous evidence and links for trends or movements in music, but Ani is the second former Welsh member of the twee doo-wop girl group The Pipettes to make the shift into electronic music, following her sister, the rising and critically lauded Gwenno, in honing a solo career. Both sisters arrive on a wave of a renaissance in Welsh electronica, with mostly unassuming artists and bedroom mavericks producing some of the best and interesting examples of the genre in the last five or so years; from the avant-garde and techno of R. Seiliog and the Cam o’r Tywyllwch radio show to the Ritalin-starved hyper sample electro-punk of The Conformist.

Ani Saunders is another impressive advocate of the Welsh spirit and artistic confidence, producing some of the most danceable and evocatively politically, socially charged electronic pop in 2017.





ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona



Vieux Farka Touré  ‘Samba’
Six Degrees Records,  12th May 2017

Lucky enough to have witnessed firsthand the erudite guitar majestic skills of one of Mali’s leading artists last year, as part of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival line-up, I still find myself decidedly jealous of the intimate small audience that were invited to Vieux Farka Touré’s Woodstock Session later that same year in October. A studio recording with a difference, played out and developed live in front of just fifty lucky people in Saugerties, N.Y., Touré’s latest blurs the boundaries between performance and the processes of making an album.

Ever the consummate maestro and backed by an equally accomplished band of musicians, there was some initial apprehension on Touré’s on allowing an audience in to the studio. Though we have the finished product, free of any mistakes, restarts and disagreements, it seems this audience far from unnerving the band, egged it on, with the results sounding effortless and natural. There were overdubs of course and one of the songs was recorded back home in Mali – the calabash driven Ni Negarba. But far from cutting corners or relying on the back catalogue, Touré has fashioned an entirely new songbook of vocal and instrumental material for Samba. Some of which amorphously touches upon unfamiliar influences, including reggae on the unapologetically roots-y swaying Ouaga.

 

Still a commanding presence, though he makes it look easy and so serene, emanating almost uninterrupted waves of phaser-effect guitar permutations and nuanced fretboard noodling, Touré continues to languidly merge his own lyrical form of worship and goodwill with the blues, rock and R&B. Often alluded to as some kind of Saharan Hendrix, his heritage and reputation is actually linked to the more urbane capital of Bamako in the southwest of Mali, which has its very own amalgamation of styles and unique history. Still, those desert blues styles, synonymous with the Tuareg especially, do crossover and can be detected in Touré’s music.

 

Touré is as the Songhai title of his new album Samba translates, the second son of the late Ali Farka Touré, a doyen of the Mali music scene himself who left an indelible mark. If we expand on the title’s meaning, “Samba” is a byword for “one who never breaks”, “who never runs from threats, who is not afraid”. It is even said that those adorned with the name are “blessed with good luck.” Inspired by his ancestry, imbued with three generations, Touré’s album is suffused with special tributes to his family. In the mode of a praise song, the spindly weaved heartfelt Mariam pays homage to the last born of the family, his youngest sister, but is also by extension a paean to both the women of the Peule and “all sisters of the world”. Samba Si Kari, based on a song Touré’s grandfather used to sing to him as a child, pays a reflective impassioned tribute to his parents. Expanding the goodwill further, to those outside the ancestral line, he’s also penned, what sounds like, a hoof-cantering percussive camel ride with celestial desert sky illuminations keyboard – courtesy of old pal Idan Raichel –, sweet dedication to his manager and friend Eric Herman’s daughter Maya. The press release offers a further subtext to this particular song, one of multifaith cohesion; Touré a Muslim and Herman a Jew, spreading a message of tolerance.

 

Outside the family sphere, Touré confronts both Mali’s recent Jihadist takeover – only stopped and defeated by the intervention of the country’s former colonial masters, France – on the radiantly rippling, chorus of voices, funky blues number Homafu Wawa, and environmental issues on the dexterously nimble-fingered bluesy rock, Nature.

 

The almost never-ending efflux, the constant lapping waves of textures that Touré plays, which offer a cyclonic bed on which to add the deftest licks, have never sounded so sagacious and free flowing. This ain’t no Saharan Hendrix at work, this is something else entirely, and better for it. This is the devotional, earthy soul of Mali, channeled through a six-string electric guitar.

 

Originally scheduled for 2015, the Woodstock Session would have still been a revelatory showcase and classic, but with that extra year, with the travails of being in constant demand on the road and the rapid turn of events Samba in 2017 makes even more sense, resonating with a message of respect, peace and tolerance.





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