Dominic Valvona’s Roundup

The Shorts (videos, tracks, singles)

Stephanie Santiago ‘Activa Tu Cuerpo’
(Movimientos Records)

Soulfully lucid with a tinge of jazzy R&B and a reverberation of Cumbia, the London-born ‘Colombianx’ burgeoning sensation Stephanie Santiago entrances with another vision of her Latin roots. Growing up as the daughter of Colombian musician parents – her father an accordionist, her mother a singer –, in a home filled with the joyous, sauntering music of South America, Stephanie embraced the ancestral vibes but lent them an expanded eclectic mix of sounds: from soul to jazz, reggaeton and even punk.

Via the Latin contemporary Movimientos Records label, Stephanie continues to find her place, sense of community in the bustled melting pot of London. From the Alma Carnavalera EP, and most recent single, the Monolith Cocktail is spreading the good word and happy to share the funk-dripped bass and dreamy rich ‘Activa Tu Cuerpo’.

Celestial North ‘When The Gods Dance’

A magical, softened driving gallop over Celtic folklore and hillsides, the diaphanous voiced Celestial North dreams big, dancing with the gods, on her new enchanted and cinematic swelled gauzy single. From our side of the border here in Scotland, but based in the splendor of the Lake District, the soloist counters turbulence and drama with atavistic veils from a mythology to create a whole new entrancing fantasy.

Orryx ‘Ifera’
(ZamZam Records)

The titular evocation from the Bristol-based artist Christelle Atenstaedt’s new EP, ‘Ifera’ sounds like it’s been woven from the ether. As a repeated chime rings out suffused atmospherics envelope a yearned vocal. Materializing from the vapours, a trance-y beat finds a sort of traction and drive. Under the Lovecraftian guise of Orryx, esoteric and Byzantine stirrings draw the listener into a slowly powerful world of gothic-pop and electronica.

Christelle combines ethereal vocal loops with a selection of hardware synths, samplers and effects pedals on the EP’s quartet of original tracks – the fifth being a remix from dark wave techno duo Fever 103°. Delve in, and succumb to the mantric powers of this hypnotic artist.

ALBUMS/EPs

Black Mango ‘Quicksand’
(Gusstaff Records)

Transforming Mali’s world-renowned signature blues sound – from the city streets, back lanes of the Bamako capital to Tuareg roaming desert regions – the visionary producer Philippe Sanmiguel has been instrumental in fusing that sound with rock music, atmospheric mirages and electronics.

Based in the capital for the last sixteen years, Philippe has amassed an enviable roll call of productions for such icons and talents as Samba Touré, Anansay Cissé, Tartit and Mariam Koné. During that time he’s enjoyed a creative partnership with the Glitterbeat Records label and its founding partner Chris Eckman. Alongside his foil Hugo Race (who appears on this album), Eckman’s Dirtmusic band was drawn to Mali a decade ago, recording sessions for both the Troubles and Lion City albums whilst in Bamako with Philippe.  

An integral part of the scene then, I’m guessing it didn’t take much persuading to get most of those artists to appear on his new showcase, Quicksand.

Under the Black Mango alias, Philippe opens up his own compositions to the great and good of Mali, and admirers alike. Produced over several years in various recording sessions, each collaborator has been given “free range”. The results of which are equally as searching as they are dreamy: even hallucinogenic. The opening heat bending, dub-y ‘Bakeina’s Dream’ straddles both; melting in a desert setting as the earthy soulful vocals of Bocar Sana Coulibaly drift through from some mirage oasis. Bocar, a member alongside Ali Traoré (both also nephews of the late esteemed Ali Farke Touré) of Espoirs de Niafunké, makes a second appearance later on, joining the brilliant guitarist and artist Anansy Cissé on the meandered, spoke-plucked and gauzy ‘The First Stone’.

Pretty much one of the most popular and gifted guitarists to emerge from Mali, Samba Touré adds a sustained flange of bended notes and expressive lines to the Phantom Band meets Belgium alt-rock ‘Are U Satisfied’ – Philippe’s voice on this one almost channels Michael Karoli of Can’s languid lyrical, questioning malaise. Samba plays some nice electric-blues and semi-classical tones in harmony with the mandolin and harp-like airy spirals of the ngoni on the infinity ether R&B flavoured ‘Mad Girl’. Offering up the R&B, the soul on that same track is the celebrated Malian songstress, music teacher and Les Amazons d’Afrique super group member Mariam Koné. Mariam can also be found lending a searching cosmic gospel vocal on the Flyodian, astral and progressive tumultuous ‘Minamba’.

From Samba’s regular band setup the ngoni and tama (a hour-glass shaped talking drum, the pitch of which can be tuned mirror the human voice) maestro Djime Sissoko gets to let loose on the percussive heavy, spacey ‘Bankoni’. With buoyant drums, bottle taps, ricochets and buzzes this scrapped and scuttled finale marks a mysteriously veiled ending to a Mali traversing psychogeography of both magic and the all too real consequences of the violence that’s plagued, and continues to plague, the country and its borders. 

Talking of those fraught, violent themes, the already mentioned Hugo Race moodily channels his Dirt Music calling on the bleeding ‘Heaven Sands’. Part swamp gator blues, part outback Mick Harvey, Hugo leads us across a much troubled, metaphorical landscape towards better days. Though Philippe’s dub-y, Terry Hall-like ‘Quicksand Blues’ has far more ominous, political references to a desert storm of terrorism, immigration and blood-soaked sand dunes. ‘Ghost Sand’ meanwhile is just that, an instrumental passage of haunted lingers, traces of those both missing or forced to abandon the deserts of Mali for the cities; out of displacement, conflict or poverty.

There’s a far greater talent pool involved on this album, which transcends Mali’s extraordinary legacy as arguably one of the true homes of the blues and rock genres. Quicksand marks a sagacious yet experimental achievement for the producer-musician and artist in his own right. A showcase for his own talents, his friends and for the country itself; roots music taken to another level and given a contemporary lift.

Further Reading::

Dirtmusic ‘Lion City’

Samba Toure ‘Gandadiko’

Anasay Cissé ‘Anoura’

Private Agenda ‘A Mannequin’
(Lo Recordings)

A sophisticated mood board of veiled, gauzy electronica with hints of real tinkered piano, A Mannequin is the second studio album from Berlin/London portal Private Agenda: the languorous sonic partnership of Sean Phillips and Martin Aggrowe

Conceptually using each song and shorter breather, pause, to reflect particular character traits, and in doing so, asking certain questions about the ‘dichotomies’ that define us, this duo play around with a soundboard of synth-pop, nu-soul, ambient, downtempo, new age, chillwave, new wave, AOR gold and house music.

A fantasy with spells of starry, shimmery tinkled magic and more hazy, vaporous plaintiveness, this mostly dreamy, relaxed album glides or drifts through twelve degrees of being; starting with the ambient turn, the Air-like mirage ‘Irresistible’. I haven’t made my mind up if this is about holding a mirror up to narcissistic self-love or a complete 360 degrees turn, and in fact dreamily cooing for ore of it.

‘Neo-Nostalgia’ not just a track in itself, could be a perfect description for the whole record, with its constant lingering traces, the essence of 80s songwriter and synth pop, electronica, disco and yacht rock. The duelist ‘Gemini’ seems to lushly brood through Tokyo 80s glowing new wave, the Balearic new age, and yet also fit within the perimeters of the music of the cult Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter Ned Dohney.

There’s a change in musical mood, instrumentation by the fourth lovelorn song, ‘Touching’, which features an eloquent spell of classical light piano. It returns later on with just a hint of distant birdsong and a synthesized pre-set on the interlude-like ‘Purity’.   

Elsewhere those floated ethereal vocals – which are never pushed, never sang in anger or even loudly – are wrapped in relaxed funk, castaway tropical percussion, neon-lit drama, opulent gauze and airy filters. With nothing strained, no real tensions, the music glides through a swirl of pre-Miami Vice Jan Hammer, Vangelis, Groove Armada, Spaceface, and on the finale, ‘Substance’, an exotic laidback pan-pipe hint of South American trance: As they’ve coined it, a ‘musical hyper-realism’.   

Despite that laidback, even disarming if saddened at times production, the personality is seriously mined to create a fantasy come lyrical expression of who we truly are. A voyage of self-discovery you could say.

Saturno 2000: La Rebajada de Los Sonideros 1962 – 1983
(Analog Africa)

Once more landing on South and Central American shores Analog Africa airways celebrates the obscure ‘Rebajada’ phenomenon with what must be the only, if not first, compilation of its kind dedicated to that trippy, slowed-down form. Originally asked by Analog’s founder Samy Ben Redjeb back in 2010 to come up with an idea for a collection, noted DJ expert Eamon Ore-Giron (stage name DJ Lengua) offered up the Rebajada Mota Mix, which as a real slow-burner took time to reveal its magic. And so more then a decade on, this proposal now sees the light of day on a dedicated 15 track survey, taking in a twenty-one year period from ’62 to ’81.

First though, a little background. In a nutshell, ‘Rebajada’ is a well-coined name that literally translates as ‘to reduce, or to lower’, in this case slowing down the continent’s famous Cumbia and, to a lesser extent, Porro rhythms. Cumbia, a catch-all for a Latin American amalgamation of rhythms and folk dances drawn from the indigenous, enslaved African community and Spanish colonial cultures, and Porro, a style originally seeded in the Caribbean facing region of Colombia that evolved into a ballroom dance played by brass heavy bands and orchestras, are both simmered down with the speed and much of the gallop taken out so as to produce sometimes crazy but often sauntering, more relaxed dances. It’s a sound that allows the listener to drink it all in.

Brought to Mexico by ‘the sonidero’ (sound-system operators as they were known), tunes from Peru and Ecuador were by accident or luck transformed into a new style that sent the audience wild. Two cities and groups of people lay claim to initiating it though. In one corner the catalyst Pereas and Ortegas brothers, who travelled across Latin America crate digging before returning home to Mexico City. They sold their wares, finds to various sound-systems on the hunt for something new and fresh to blow away the competition. A number of which, in trying to match the beats of each region with that of Mexico City’s own styles began experimenting. One such maverick, Marco Antonio Cedilio of the Sonido Imperial fame, created a ‘revolutionary’ pitching system that could slow records down. In the opposing corner, the northern Mexican city of Monterrey and Sonidero Gabriel Dueñez, who by happenstance set in motion a chain of events that would see the city, lay claim to inventing the ‘Rebajada’ style. By escaping electrocution at the hands of a short circuit spark that nearly set his turntable on fire, the revolutions were slurred and slowed down by the damage, playing Cumbia at much reduced bpm and so creating this new rhythm and dance sensation. Another well-known sonidera, Joyce Musicolor, as mediator puts it best: “Rebajada, and the equipment to perform it, is from here [Mexico City] but it was Monterrey that popularized it.”

Contentious to this day, no matter what the truth, a new sound was born that grew and grew, yet remains relatively unknown outside Latin America. Here then is a survey of that scene, with a majority of the songs sounding unlike the originals; notable exceptions being the few classics composed by Polibio Mayorga, or rather the Ecuadorian Junior Y Su Equipo, and the Mexican Los Dinners group’s scrappy, tinny shuffled percussive and giddy-horse canter, bounding drum saunter ‘Sampuesana’.   

Although we’ve heard a lot about Mexico, the lion’s share of choice selections are drawn from Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. Well, there’s actually only one apiece from both Venezuela and Colombia; the tremolo quivered Western themed reverberation of Duane Eddy, if produced by Joe Meek, ‘Infinito’ by Hugo Blanco Y Su Arpa Viajera, and the rattle-y percussive chapel squeeze-box, organ stuttered ‘La Danza Del Mono’ by Lucho Gavilanes

Obviously when taken down a notch of two in the speed stakes it produces some funny as well as odd subgenres, and with the elements of low rent tech makes some tracks sound like 8-bit zappy and warbled versions of Andean pipe music. In that category you can include the oscillating ghost-synth like filtered Ecuadorian Junior Y Su Equipo group’s ‘La Borrachita’ and their second contribution, the googly, high-pitched and fluted ‘Bien Bailadito’.

From Peru, Los Santos’ cosmic futuro entitled ‘Saturno 2000’ (borrowed for this compilation’s title) sounds like a slowed fusion of Porro and Highlife with its raised and suffused blasted horns, galloped hand drums and distinct tropical Latin lilt. Monolith Cocktail followers and Analog Africa aficionados will recognize one name from the list, the Peruvian cat Manzanita. A compilation of his influential music was released only last summer by the label. Here, in a very different guise is his bottle-rolling duet of the slurred ‘Paga La Cuenta Sinverguenza’, and, with Su Conjunto, the more strung-out gangly guitar wondering ‘El Jardinero’

Back to where it all got so peculiar and relaxed, the Mexican outfit Conjunto Tipico Contreras turn in a shunted, scrappy and concertinaed vision of a epic exotic film score from the MGM studio heydays; a record that has both a mix of the Mayan jungles and fertile crescent. The beat is destined, if not already, to be sampled.

Could Rebajada be the sound of this summer? It’s certainly a contender, just because it’s often so strange and hypnotising. You kind of hear the process, the slowness, yet it works as a sauntering, relaxed yet somehow still busy tropical shuffle. Having constantly documented all the best African nuggets, Samy and his partner on this compilation, Eamon, have put together an essential guide to a Latin American treasure trove. 

Ethan Woods ‘Burnout’
(Whatever’s Clever Records)

From out of the rustic idylls of Western North Carolina emerges a cabin essence songbook; a disarming pastoral lilted and psychedelic melt of connectedness, and yet, also yearning heartache. Ethan Woods and friends absorbed the meandered thoughts that take shape when disconnected from the newsfeed roll of social media and bustle of the city, out on a summer balm encased porch, and under a wooded canopy.

First conceived back in Brooklyn between 2015 and 2017, Woods fine-tuned his collection of dreamy, mesmerizing songs when he moved to Asheville, North Carolina a year later. Created in-situ at the foothills of the Appalachians, but brushed-up upon returning to Brooklyn once more with added parts recorded at the now defunct Fort Briscoe during the pandemic, the fruits of Woods and his sympathetic ensemble is let loose just in time for the summer of 22.

From beginning to end Burnout unfolds over the course of a day, following the sundial’s shadow until nightfall drops. That’s when the nocturnal soundscape collage, performed in part by the electronic experimentalist Aaron Smith, opens up a whole new evocation of nighttime camouflaged hoots, insect chatter and an Americana ether of obscured sounds.

Apart from Aaron there’s contributions from Woods partner Lauren Gerndt, percussionist Matt Evans, Trevor Wilson, Sarah Goldfeather, Finn Shanahan, Karl Larson, Jude Shimer and Alvin the rooster. Yes that’s correct, a credit goes to the rooster, who sets the alarm and atmosphere. No contribution is too small: from Gerndt’s read out one-liner about teddy bears to helping in the development of the arrangements themselves.

In the press notes, as an ample description, we’re told to think Alan Lomax recording a super group of Sufjan Stevens and The Books. I’d suggest led by David Byrne with Paul McCartney, Animal Collective, Galaxie 500, Ladybug Transistor and Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah vibes. In all, a sort of ebb and flow of psych, troubadour, soft rock and enervated dirt music country.

Characters from childhood, like ‘Mrs. Moo’, are accorded a lo fi swim of the sentimental and playful, with humble spells of honesty.  Never quite straight up, always melting in with the arable outdoors on waves and oscillations of marching drumbeats, cymbal splashes, distant snozzles, tinkled piano and lax acoustic guitar. Music finds form and a rhythm; an either melancholic or romantic emotive tune in untroubled and unguarded song forms. Most of which bleed into each other, almost like a continuous recording.

Woods pastoral retreat proves a most magical, heart rendering, if sometimes pining, place to spend an hour or two. I’m really impressed by this slow-burning trip that drops The Books off for the weekend in a log cabin for a soliloquy session of candid therapy.   

Misha Sultan ‘Roots’
Gustavo Yashimura ‘Living Legend Of The Ayacucho Guitar’
(Both Hive Minds Records) 6th May 2022

Nearing the label’s fifth anniversary (see my future purview celebration later this year) with no signs of flagging, Hive Mind Records are stepping up with two releases on the same day. Both cassette and digital albums couldn’t be more different too; with organic and global electronica from the Russian artist Misha Sultan and Peruvian Andes guitar evocations, flourishes from the Ayacucho-imbued maestro Gustavo Yashimura.

It shouldn’t really be that surprising, the eclectic richness of this dual release, as the label has previously traversed an electric Atlas Mountains, celebrated the colourful rituals of Gnawa music, and stopped over in Java, Highlife Western Africa and tripped out with the Acid mothers and Reynols.

The first of these showcases brings together the work of the multi-instrumentalist Misha Sultan, collecting pieces from 2015 to 2022. Hailing from the heart of Siberia, and industrious city of Novosibirsk, Misha was forced to leave his homeland.

The so-called ‘Chicago of Siberia’, on the banks of the Ob River, a crossing point of the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway and historically an important flashpoint of the civil war, informs, inspires some of the recordings. A geographical behemoth that sits between the Ural Mountains and Northern Asia, touching the Pacific Ocean in the East, Siberia isn’t just the exiled, infamous hardened remote atelier of literature, art and politics but a beautifully diverse landscape; the Eurasian melting pot as it were. Mirroring that diversity, Misha’s music travels to the Congo, Bali and Arabia whilst absorbing bits of kosmische, ambient, trance, washed-out psych, 90s chill-out, breakbeat and dub. 

Real instruments, such as bubbled and shuttled mallets, flighty and dreamy flute and bamboo and metal percussion melt into synthesised waves, rays and atmospherics; some of which, on the odd track, are provided by the mysterious Mårble and Dyad. ‘Ant Invasion’ sets the tone, the scene, with a peaceable-like meadow field recording of hedgerow birds and tranquil washes of Mythos and Andrew Wasylyk. A shuffle of hand drums kick in and vague Ash Ra Tempel prompts take us towards more far eastern fringes. ‘Sand Ashram’ wobbles and bobs to Richard H. Kirk’s red sands invocations, Warp Records early Artificial Intelligence series, Banco de Gaia and the chill-out vibes of Liquid and William Orbit. ‘Why Are We Here?’ meanwhile could be either set in an Finis Africae vision of the Amazon, or indeed, Western Africa, whilst the railway station inspired ‘Beloostrov’ offers a fluted and drifting piano daydream aboard a train bound for the Finnish border. ‘Slow Flow’ with its shooting stars and whistles floats into spacey dub Orb territory, and the banjo-like radiance of ‘Bubbles’ moves from Indonesian evocations to Japan; well, something like that.

The final two tracks journey to the Congo and Bali; with the latter settling into a meditative mood amongst the New Year celebrations of the Balinese day of Silence.

Misha sonically travels the world, bringing together interesting references, emotions and atmospheres. He remains however rooted, connected to that Siberian topography and mood.

The second showcase of the Hive Mind set this month assembles a collection of adroit but also intensely skillful acoustic guitar music by the rather obscure champion of the Ayacucho Peru culture, Gustavo Yashimura.

Picking up the guitar in 1987, Gustavo travelled onto Uruguay to study, later on journeying to Japan where he played a classical style. He’d return home however in 2004 (still eager to learn and study) and would later take up the Andean style of guitar with the onus on the proud Ayacucho region of Peru. His teacher during that period was the 80-year-old veteran Don Alberto Juscamaita Gastelú, known famously as just Rahtako. It seems Gustavo learned much; straddling both the classics and more frantic modern styles.

In trying to reclaim the pre-colonial Spanish Ayacucho folklore and culture, these nimble and busy performances incorporate an age-old yearn.

A number of tracks (‘Dandé Te Fuistes Paloma’ and ‘Negra Del Alma’ being two of them) feature a heartening, aching female vocal: not quite Fado, but certainly on the lamentable side. Beautifully sung, expressive, they prove my particular highlights on this compilation.

Gaucho western horizons, ancient symbols on the plains, romantic flourished and dalliances stream forth from an incredibly fluid style; a mix of Spanish and the indigenous. Dainty, sizzling, blurry at times, Gustavo’s skills prove magical. Well worth adding to an eclectic collection. Better still buy both albums.

Ghost Power ‘S-T’
(Duophonic Super 45s)

Two of the Duophonic Super 45s mail order label’s roster combine forces this month for a cult sounds coalesce of library music, soundtracks, psych and trip-hop. Serial offender in all things cultish, the kosmische universe and beyond, Stereolab’s Timothy Gane bounces nostalgic trips off his foil, Dymaxion instigator Jeremy Novak, under the newly minted Ghost Power guise.

Imbued by all that’s gone before them, recorded between sessions in both Berlin and New York (and remotely), the duo evoke a cosmology of cool and obscure mavericks on an album of fantasy (see the reference to Joseph Delaney’s witch assassin ‘Grimalkin’) and kitsch.

Matmos on a bum ride bubbles up inside a lava lamp with Bruno Spoerri and Arto Lindsay on the opening ‘Asteroid Witch’, whilst ‘Panic In The Isles Of Splendor’ could be the sort of obscurity dug up by the Finders Keepers label: that and a nocturnal insect rhythm of Alex Puddu and timpani soundtrack rousing piece of nonsense.    

A transmogrification of an enviable record collection, in which Giallo schlock shares space on the shelves with space-disco-trance, 60s backbeats and Nino Nardini scores. Ghost power is a very knowing experiment in art for art’s sake; a knowledgeable take on library and cult sounds, with a few contemporary surprises. 

Exterior ‘Umbilical Digital’
(Hobbes Music)

Without losing touch with rhythm and melody, the latest album from Edinburgh producer Doug MacDonald (under the guise of Exterior) is an experiment in texture, club sonics and live-sounding instrumentation. A largely percussive tapping, drum-skidding and bouncing affair, Umbilical Digital channels some quite eclectic tastes, with an array of both bpms and styles; from ambient scores to coarse abrasive guitar techno fusions.

The titular track, and opener, is a sophisticated metallic chrome propulsion of Basic Channel, Euro-trance and heightened warbles of something almost quivery and spooked. Yet by the second track, ‘Menu Diving Olympics’, the filters are subdued and more cosmic, the bass deeper, the beats like rattled ricochets, and the direction progressive. ‘Orthodox Dreams’ seems to have been partially lifted from the 90s: a bit of Sabers Of Paradise, a little Future Sound Of London. Yet it knocks and shakes, zaps and reverberates, to a contemporary mix of electronics.

The bottle, metal and tin rhythm tapping and pneumatic alarm clock bell chimed ‘Populist’ has a funky techno bent; reminding me of Psycho & Plastic and International Pony. ‘The Unbearable Shiteness Of Indie’ is less a polemic on guitar bands – MacDonald himself wielding one on this album; all feedback whines and caustic contouring – and more a floated, tunneled and slightly tropical merger between Sven Vath and Andy Weatherall.

The acid effects are subtly turned on for the trance-y geometric and soft thumped ‘Adoption’, and the Aphex Twin is sent down a flume on the slower beat-crunched, reversal tubular, robotic-stuttered ‘Tyranny Of Choice’.  Carrying a certain weight, the finale, ‘Load Bearing’, goes all ambient and mysterious; a sort of soundtrack evocation of smoke forming on an otherworldly lake scene: creeping, sad with haunted, apparitional voices. As a last chill, it could be a lost Brian Reitzell score.

Synthesised music with a human touch, this album loses none of its experimental luster; still honed for the dancefloor as well as the head, whilst turning steel into something far more melodious. This is techno, electronica with a heart and purpose.  

    

The Staple Jr. Singers ‘When Do We Get Paid’
(Luka Bop) 6th May 2022

Revived five decades after its original, localized released in 1975, the good folk at Luka Bop make good on their incredible, enlightening compilation of obscured gospel and soul, The Time For Peace Is Now, with a dedicated reissue of The Staple Jr. Singers rarity When Do We Get Paid.

Pressed by that extremely young family unit themselves and sold at shows and on their neighbors front lawns, this rarefied showcase is finally getting an international release, prompting a number of live dates for the trio: their first in forty years!

From the banks of the Tombigbee River, honed in the family’s hometown of Aberdeen, Monroe County, the salvation searching, baptismal liturgy of Southern gospel gets an injection of conscious political soul, R&B, funk and delta blues. From the name you may have assumed that this trio were scions, the offspring perhaps of the divine stylers the Staple Singers. Without doubt a chip off the old block, the group’s moniker is purely used as homage in honour of their idols. Far younger, the Brown family of beautified and expressive soulful vocalists Annie and A.R.C. and guitarist Edward were in their teens when they recorded this, their sole, album in ’75. Yet despite being so young, the travails of the civil rights movement, social issues of the day, run throughout the trio’s equally earthy and heavenly soul music.

This was a sound touched by the afflatus yet grounded in the wake of Southern desegregation, unrest, the Vietnam War…the list goes on. So whilst Annie soars in full baby Staples mode, and with a vibe of Eula Cooper and Shirley Ann Lee about her, there’s plenty of attitude and sass to go around. Gospel music remains central however, with plenty of standard Bible belt exultations, paeans and passionate plaints. Some of which, no matter how familiar, seem to have some pretty unique and idiosyncratic rearrangement going on. Bolstered on the original recordings by bassist Ronnel Brown and Drummer Corl Walker, we’re treated to s Stax-like revue of reverence, the venerable and just down-country soulful funk. Echoes of Sam Cooke, Lulu Collins, Crusade Records, Chairman Of The Board and Nolan Porter follow humbled sermons on the soul train to Galilee. An electrifying songbook, When Do We Get Paid proves that this family trio possessed a raw talent, and could hold their own in a field packed with such incredible voices. It also proves there’s still much to learn and hear from that era of Southern soul and gospel. Great job Luka Bop.   

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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Dirtmusic   ‘Bu Bir Ruya’
Glitterbeat Records,  26th January 2018

Ushering in the New Year with a lament to the ongoing refugee crisis, the ambiguous blues nomads Dirtmusic grapple in the most traversing of ways with soundtracking and encapsulating the Levant diaspora on their new, and fifth, album Bu Bir Ruya.

The unofficial house band and catalyst for the much-acclaimed (especially by me) award-winning Glitterbeat Records label, the band have taken the blues genre on a polygenesis odyssey over the last decade – from the dusty porches of the American south to Timbuktu. Expanding and inter-changing their core of experimental guitarists Chris Eckman and Hugo Race, picking up desert blues and urbane Mali (a country that Eckman and Race have a special affinity with) legends such as the great Samba Touré and Ben Zabo on route, each and every one of their albums has been inspired by the band’s travails.

 

Setting up camp in the turbulent atmosphere of Istanbul, recruiting label mate and helmsman of the Bosphorus-spanning metropolis legendary psychedelic dub outfit Baba Zula, Murat Ertel, Eckman and Race add a ‘saz’ heavy modern and atavistic Turkish dynamic to their vaporous, drifting and plaintive blues resonance. Recording at Ertel’s converted mechanic’s garage studio in the city, during a period of extreme anxiety as Erdoğan’s Turkey – leaders at the top of Amnesty International’s table for most imprisoned journalists; a country worryingly drifting from Europe and NATO towards Russia – slowly turns into a quasi Ottoman caliphate, Bu Bir Ruya captures the distress and political realities of not only Turkey but Syria and North Africa: the desperate flight of millions of refugees, looking for sanctuary in Europe, escaping from a civil war apocalypse.

Obviously encouraging sympathy and putting forward a compassionate sonic plea for a borderless welcoming continent, Dirtmusic’s sentiments will go largely unnoticed where it counts, as even Germany, now plunged into its own governmental crisis as the previous ‘safe hands’ Merkel struggles to form a working coalition after the recent elections in Germany, her majority arguably weakened and hindered by the resettlement policy of a million Syrian refugees, takes time to mule over that decision – with hardline right wing leaning parties calling for some refugees to be returned and the welcoming committee to be disbanded in favour of tighter restrictions. EU neighbours and outlier states, from the Balkans to Norway, have thrown up both theoretical and physical walls of obstruction; the future looking bleak for access to European soil from the North African and Middle East.

In no way at an end or at least not a solution most of us in the West feel happy with, the Syrian war is reaching a conclusion, and ISIS look to be defeated – well, the idea of a caliphate has been destroyed for now at least; fighters for the course have slipped away in their hundreds to take up the fight in the Sinai and Nigeria, or in Europe, with many starting to return back home, still indoctrinated, still dangerous. Libya continues to be an unstable tumult, the coastal launch for millions of refugees and migrants hoping to reach the outer islands and asylum of Italy, yet recent reports would suggest that this ebb and flow is being hampered, with far less managing to travel across. In five years time we may even see a return as reconstruction takes hold – if Assad stays or not is anyone’s guess, the Russians already announcing that they will be pulling out soon (though they have eyed up a foothold in the country, a strategic port, and so it remains to be seen if they ever completely pull their forces from Syria) and contracts have already been divvied up between those who supported and held up the wretched regime.

Still, millions have fled, many stuck in a limbo. And it’s this ‘limbo’ that Dirtmusic hypnotically and ominously guides the listener through.

That journey begins with the Levant blues and exotic cinemascope Bi De Sen Söyle, which drifts with a certain fluidness through Baba Zula style souk candour rhythms, clattering danceable percussion (nod to Ümit Adakale for that), Ry Cooder transient blues meditations and distant Arabic wailing (courtesy of Brenna Mac Crimmon). A Leonard Cohen if he was harmonizing with Blixa Bargeld and Tom Waits style narration, both whispery deep and serious, lingers over the entire proceedings to bring both desperate and almost cynical, resigned atmosphere to the refugee plight and absence of humanity.

The monotony of facing-off against the physical borders and the ‘unwelcoming’ committees of closed minds is reflected in the psychedelic buzz saw saz trance-y The Border Crossing, the main appeal of which is to help a brother/sister in need. A club bass underpins the amorphous guitar riffs and searching plaint Go The Distance, and guest Istanbul psychedelic siren (and another fellow Glitterbeat artist) Gaye Su Akyol adds a serious swoon and ululates to the multi-veiled dreamy Byzantine Love Is A Foreign Country.

Accentuating a myriad of dispossessed voices and anguishes, Dirtmusic’s churning tumult and gauze-y multilayered grinding and transient blues doesn’t offer solutions but empathy and compassion. Though vocals, whether cooed or somewhat huskily resigned to fate, even pissed off, leave us in nod doubt as to the band’s feelings – though the original intention was to produce an entirely instrumental soundtrack.

With Ertel’s Istanbul psychedelic dub elements adding an exotic Middle Eastern, Ottoman flavor to the Malian heavy blues signature of Eckman and Race, a border-hopping hybrid of wafting congruous musical soundscaping is combined in a force of solidarity. Despite the plight and toxic whiff of authoritarianism in the air, Dirtmusic’s Turkish adventure lingers, suffuses and even grooves over the symbolic contours of a miasma. Not quite their best effort yet, but certainly in the top three, and a serious musical visionary start to the year.


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