COMPILATION REVIEW: DOMINIC VALVONA



Hugh Masekela   ‘’66-‘76’   Wrasse Records,  20th April 2018

Masekela as the exile. Masekela as the trumpet maestro. Masekela as the bandleader. Masekela as the activist. Masekela as the colonial revisionist. Masekela as the angry young man. These are just some of the many faces of the South African titan of jazz and African musical fusions Hugh Masekela that can be found inside the latest essential collection of the late great polymaths’ back durable catalogue, ’66-’76. Put together especially by Masekela and his good friend, producer and collaborator on a number of projects together, Stewart Levine, just before he passed away in January of 2018, this three disc spanning collection features key tracks from many of his most iconic and experimental albums (two of which are included in their entirety). What makes this especially appealing to collectors and fans alike, is that many of these albums were never officially released in the UK and Europe before. Progressing in the chronological order they were recorded, we follow Masekela’s journey not just musically but politically across his most formative decade and his collaborative partnership with Levine.

Originally crossing paths in New York in 1961, a year after Masekela first arrived in the States after narrowly avoiding arrest in his native South Africa for breaking the apartheid system draconian ‘pass laws’, Levine, a Bronx native, met the aspiring horn player as he searched for a decent break on the American east coast jazz scene. They both enrolled that same year into the Manhattan School of Music, sharing a room together. In the years to come this hotbed, an incubator for some of the greatest jazz musicians of the last five decades, would turn out countless additions to Masekela’s changing lineup of recording sessions and live backing groups. But during those initial years, Levine and Masekela would, after graduating, split and go their separate ways, pursuing different pathways: Masekela, emulating the jazz doyens that inspired him to move across the Atlantic, and Levine, choosing production.

Years later, in ’66, and sharing not only a bond of friendship but love of Africana and American music, the pair reunited to setup a production company, the intention being to make records that combined jazz, the dancing Township sounds of South Africa and the grooves and sounds of Rhythm and Blues. This partnership, fortunately funded by seed money from some generous benefactor, quickly moved its operation to the West Coast and L.A. in the fall of that same year. Christened Chisa Records, the inaugural album, The Emancipation Of Hugh Masekela (which starts off this whole collection) featured the hybrid signature sound that the company and Masekela himself would be celebrated for. And as the title makes clear, would not shy away from black consciousness issues and struggles: not only in his native homeland, but also in his exiled home of America.





Dressed up as a smiling Abraham Lincoln on the cover, this quite withheld and effortlessly played album features the ‘working group’ of Manhattan School luminaries of musicians that backed him at club spots in the infamous Watts and on Sunset Strip: Harry Bellefonte’s (who will crop up again in this story, and have much to do with Masekela through the civil rights movement) travelling bass player at the time, John Cartwright, joins congas legend Big Black, drummer Chuck Carter and pianist Charlie Smalls, whose unique and open style of playing brought gospel and a lilt of Brazil to the set up; especially on the opening sumptuous Felicade. Over seven tracks, this live recording soaks up sauntering big band Highlife (Why Are You Blowing My Mind?), calypso via Soweto, trumpet heralding lullaby (Do Me So La So So) and yearned Sun Ra breaks bread with the Last Poets hippie jazz (Child Of The Earth).

Moving on with a rotating cast of players, only Carter on drums remaining an anchor on the next trio of albums, another New Yorker, saxophonist Al Abreu, would come into the fold – a member up until his untimely tragic death in car accident just a couple years later in ’69 – joined by Cape Town pianist Cecil Barnard and L.A. local jazz bassist Henry Franklin on the dynamite live ‘67 Alive And Well At The Whiskey. As the title suggests, lighting up the Sunset Stripe institution, the Whiskey A Go Go, Masekela’s altered troupe –changed after appearing at that year’s Monterey Pop Festival – fused a lively but controlled suite of Savoy jazz meets Motown poetic lamentable peace and love; the two featured tracks here, Son Of Ice Bag and Coincidence posing the chance of a better future.

That same group, and similar theme, appears on the next album, the phenomenally successful The Promise Of A Future. Recorded in less than an hour, the defining lulled cowbell-ringing track on that album, and as it would turn out most popular selling record of his career (more than three million copies; hitting the number one spot on the American pop charts), Grazing In The Grass helped Masekela reach a bigger audience commercially but also ended up hindering him long term; the expectation to follow up its success sending the cold footed doyen of fusion towards the insular and more experimental, refusing outright to repeat the same formula. Sampled excessively by the Hip-Hop fraternity, and so once again made popular for a new generation, the recognizable candour and busyness of this track, featuring the soft yielding licks of Bruce Langhorne, would be avoided on the darker, more direct and politically motivated barbed soul Masekela LP that followed it.





Already unique, incorporating the soul of South African music with jazz, rhythm and blues and South American grooves, The Promise Of A Better Future featured some fine iterations including the tribal Pharoah Sanders spiritual longing of These Are Seeds To Sow, and Caribbean swayed Vuca.

Whilst Grazing In The Grass was enjoying its popularity in the summer of ’68, America’s civil rights movement was hit, literally, with a double tragedy. In April Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, mortally wounded on a motel balcony in Memphis, and just two months later, Bobby Kennedy joined the fate of his brother, and was shot dead at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Riots lit up across the country and to all intents and purposes it looked like a concentrated effort was being made to off the civil rights leaders and friends, and to top it all the Vietnam War. In this incubator of inflamed passions, Masekela produced an album suffused with the stench of teargas and mace. Certainly angry, yet his statement of protest and succinctly named Masekela album was far from a blistering howl of rage. Closer to his peers own cathartic jazz albums of the same era, a sense of trying to work out just what the hell was going on, it resembles a gospel lament, a bluesy funk and most cooing experiment in despair.

Covering the escalating Vietnam protests (Mace And Grenades), the gold greedy excavating harsh realities and sorrows of the a South Africa miner, and the black majority’s uneasy struggle with the Boer colonists (Gold, Boermusiek), and famous controversial figures from the Black Panther movement (Blues For Huey), Masekela was a commercial failure on its release; spooking an audience familiar with the hit record, which evidently despite its lightness and catchy feel has origins in the townships of Masekela’s native homeland. It led to an amicable but nevertheless a split with the distributors, but allowed the Masekela and Levine partnership the freedom to continue pursuing the agenda they envisioned. It’s a good place to end the first CD on, as the next chapter opens on a move towards spiritual rejuvenation in Africa.





CD number two begins with Masekela and Levine’s 1970 ‘autonomous’ distribution deal with Motown. As part of this deal they’d also record albums with the South African singer Letta Mbulu and the Texas troupe The Jazz Crusaders (also known as The Crusaders). This would prove handy; as both went on to appear on Masekela’s own records.

The inaugural Motown album, Reconstruction, features a varied songbook of Pharoah Sanders spiritual rolling jazz (Salele Mane), languid veldt swooned and sweetly laced balladry (Woza) and the most delicious sounding of earthy soul covers from the Motown cannon (You Keep Me Hangin’ On). Featuring a heavy rotation again of players and backing singers, the album showcases Masekela’s subtleties and eclecticism; merging as he does the music and soul of two continents into a most peaceable fusion.

Keeping the political language conspicuous, if anything Reconstruction concentrates on setting the vibe, the messages echoed in the diverse nature and continuous exploration of his roots.

The next album in this collection brought Masekela together with two of his fellow compatriots, Jonas Gwangwa of the Johannesburg formed Jazz Epistles and the composer and singer Caiphus Semenya. The title says it all: Hugh Masekela And The Union Of South Africa. And the music is, as you’d expect, heavy on these influences. Yet the album features those unshakable R&B licks and southern gospel organ dabs, ala Billy Preston. This is in part down to the inclusion of the Texan soul group The Crusaders, manning the rhythm section.

It’s a beautiful communion between melting funk and elliptic rhythms of South Africa; another successful crossover; rasping yearns accompanied by the snozzled affectionate and caressing trumpet of Masekela, unmistakably South African but enriched with southern funk and soul.





Returning to his jazz roots, and once again emulating two of the artists that first inspired him, Masekela’s next record would take a pause and lean heavily towards the romantic Savoy and early Blue Note jazz of Horace Silver and Art Blakey. The Home Is Where The Music Is LP is only represented by one track. But what a track it is! With Larry Willis, another Manhattan School of Music luminary, invited to add virtuoso piano; South African jazz great Dudu Phunkwana brought in on alto saxophone (Masekela especially moved operations for this record to London, home of this South African exile at the time) and future Bill Evans band member Eddie Gomez on bass, this consummate set-up created fertile ground for a diaphanous and deep suite of romantic and thoughtful jazz meditations.

Lifted from that album, Minawa showcases the cascading flow and gestured pianist skills of Willis (a member of Masekela’s first group in ’65; featured on the live album, The Americanization Of Ooga Booga), who carries the deft track for some time before Makaya Ntshoko’s tumbling and staggered drums appear and Masekela’s lilting accentuate trumpet fluctuates over the top. Gradually it builds with motion and increases in tempo and volume until striking home; the busyness calmly retreating and pace, intensity dissipated.

His next album would be very different however. Another change in direction (of a Sort), the jazz fading for a more African feel. Bound for a ‘spiritual journey back to Africa’ after spending thirteen years in America, Masekela travelled from Guinea to Liberia and Zaire searching for inspiration and the musicians that would back him on his next musical adventure. Preempted by fate, an invitation from Nigeria’s Afrobeat progenitor and lifetime ruler of the self-invented Kalakula Republic, Fela Kuti, brought Masekela to Lagos in the spring of ’73. Though enjoying his time at Kuti’s compound kingdom, he accomplished little creatively. A tip from Kuti about a must-see act, a perfect fit for Masekela’s brand of African fusions, the Ghanaian-based Hedzoleh Soundz, did however pay off.

Joining his Nigerian guide, who brought a cortège of his wives with him, Kuti took Masekela to Accra to see for himself this adulated young outfit. Catching a midnight killer set at The Napoleon Club, he was instantly hooked. And so began a congruous collaboration between the two that would last in varied formats across the next three albums.

Introducing marked that initial dynamism; Masekela channeling what would be a month-long partnership, the South African virtuoso playing with the Soundz every single night. Kuti arranged a recording session for them both at the E.M.I. studios back in Lagos in the summer of that same year. The results of which, featured in their entirety on the second CD of this collection, combine the lilting soul of South Africa with the busy tribal percussion of West Africa: The atavistic talking drums, floating flute and relaxed but tight percussion traversing Afro funk and roots music brilliantly.

Wowing those back in the States, the group would be brought over for a special tour, beginning with a performance in Washington D.C. in January of ’74, finishing with a sold-out fortnight at the famous Troubadour club in L.A.





The final section of this triple CD set opens with Masekela’s ’74 album I Am Not Afraid. Recorded immediately after the successful stateside tour with the Soundz, the cross-pollination was once more mixed up with the inclusion of Crusaders Joe Sample and Stix Hooper: Invited in to mix their infectious Texan R&B and jazz lilt with the Soundz soulful funky tribal percussions to make, what would become, a great pop record.

Included in its entirety (the second of only two such privileges), I Am Not Afraid is considered by Levine to be one of the highlights of his time producing Masekela’s most formative albums. And he’d be right. Encapsulating all the various strands thus far, the album is both a fearless but beautifully accessible work of art. The highly popular grassland hymn, come sweeping grand minor jazzy-soul opus, Stimela, is just one highlight from what is a bright African odyssey. Setting moods perfectly, following on from a theme and location that has been used time and again by all the titans of jazz, Masekela transports the listener to mysterious nights in Tunisia, the bustling kaleidoscopic ‘market place’, and tempts us through a the meandrous jungle. The swansong, Been Such A Long Time Gone, is almost a reprise of all the previous songs; a connecting final lyrical geographical journey in the sweltering heat through history, one that takes in the sight and sounds of North and West Africa; ending up drifting down the Nile towards the Fertile Crescent.





In the same year, 1974, Masekela and Levine set up the famous musical jamboree to celebrate Ali’s titanic grudge-match with Foreman in Zaire. Part of a campaign and African revolution in directing their own affairs, with now more or less every former colony of the European powers independent, the pair were, with good intentions, drawn into a feverish Zaire renaissance. The abhorrent truths of some of these regimes, notably Zaire’s own Mobutu, would years later put paid to the general optimism, but at the time in striking a coup with hosting one of the most anticipated clashes of the century the country’s capital of Kinshasa became the hottest ticket on the global stage. The same label behind this compilation also released the fruits of Masekela and Levine’s musical stage show, the Zaire ’74 soundtrack, a while back: a collection with the emphasis on the all too forgotten African acts who performed at the three day extravaganza, previously overshadowed by the stars of America, such as James Brown, and all but erased or featured sporadically in subsequent documentaries.

Returning to the states in the fall of ’74, temporarily settling in the capital, Masekela hit the ground running, assembling his new African band; first recruiting two Hedzoleh Soundz members, percussionist Asante and bassist Stanley Todd, his drummer brother Frankie and fellow Ghanaian, shekere player Odinga ‘Guy’ Warren. Recent arrivals from Nigeria, O.J. Ekemode, Yaw Opoku and Adelja Gboyega and another Ghanaian, conga maestro (famous for his turn on The Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil) Rocky Dzidzornu boosted the already dynamic and highly talented ranks. Taking this new troupe out onto the road in ’75, wowing audiences wherever they went, Masekela was soon lined-up for another recording session. Old pal and boss of the then new label Casablanca signed them up after witnessing one of these infamous performances; making them the label’s inaugural signing. The Boy’s Doin’ It is the result. Serious but funky, given a Casablanca label sheen, yet still rustically bustling and earthy, there is some very bright serenading going on: especially on the lilting homage to Mama. Masekela, as an aside, would open for the funk progenitor George Clinton on his ‘insane’ tour: the sounds of the motherland going down well with those fans of the Funkadelic and Parliament icon.

Dressed as the captain, mocking the European explorers that stamped their name and ideals on the ‘so-called’ new world, on the cover of the last album in this three-disc spanning collection, Masekela intelligently and ironically channels the Colonial Man of the title. Musically crisscrossing the slave routes from Africa to the Americas, he takes his intrepid troupe (now assembled under the OJAH moniker) on a tropical sauntered voyage.

Hardly a raging post-colonial diatribe or resented seething tide of angry protest, the album was still seen as high risk, though Casablanca gave it their blessing. Commercially it bombed. Yet it is a fantastic album. Certainly, and quite rightly, the themes of colonization, enslavement and stripping a country’s wealth had until recent times been missing the victims and poor unfortunates experiences. A vocal activist on both sides of the Atlantic (though he believed that unlike South Africa, the black population in America would always struggle for parity whilst the population was majority white European; he had more optimism for overcoming apartheid in his native homeland, returning there in the 80s), Masekela eases through the themes on this most sophisticated, longing album.

From the salty sea foam lullaby sauntering of making it ashore on the Brazilian coast (A Song For Brazil) to liltingly cutting a passage through the interior of Africa, following in Dr. Livingstone’s footprints, weaving in the ivory trade and Conrad’s Congo (Witch Doctor), this fusion of continents is a clever, poetic purview of colonization. It is the perfect end to a great collection.





Probably by now much of the material has become available in some format or another, yet for fans and casual interested parties alike it proves a wonderful, enlightening compilation; and in the wake of Hugh Masekela’s death earlier this year, a brilliant tribute to one of the greats. Not to do a disservice to his dear friend, label co-owner, producer and partner on many projects together, this is also a welcome reminder and celebration of Stewart Levine; the guiding force behind so many of Masekela’s richest albums. 66-76 will prove to be both an essential collection of a most creative period, and a great introduction to those who are not so aware of this great legacy.

 

Dominic Valvona

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Our Imaginary Radio Show Playlist
Selected By Dominic Valvona 





In danger of repeating myself, but for newcomers to the site here’s the premise of my playlist selections. Previously only ever shared via our Facebook profile and on Spotify our regular Monolith Cocktail Social playlists will also be posted here on the blog itself.

With no themes or demarcated reasoning we pick songs from across a wide spectrum of genres, and from all eras. Reaching a sort of milestone edition, selection #30, chosen as always by me, Dominic Valvona, features one of our favourite troubadours, Michael Chapman, all manner of explosive, spiritual and traversing jazz and soul from Arthur Lee, The Rwenzori’s, Abdou El Omari, Bobby Callender and Wayne McGhie, plus golden era Hip-Hop treats from The Jungle Brothers, KMD and D-Nice, and a tribute to the late great Holger Czukay who sadly passed away recently. Intermittent amongst that lot are tracks from The Hunches, R. Stevie Moore, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, East Of Eden, Jade Warrior and many more.


Tracklist:

Norma Tanega  ‘Treat Me Right’
Michael Chapman  ‘Landships’
Vanusa  ‘Mundo Colorido’
Paulo Diniz  ‘Piri Piri’
East Of Eden  ‘Ain’t Gonna Do You No Harm’
Arthur Lee  ‘Love Jumped Through My Window’
Arrogance  ‘Peace Of Mind’
Jade Warrior  ‘Telephone Girl’
Byard Lancaster  ‘Dogtown’
The Rwenzori’s  ‘Handsome Boy (E Wara) Parts 1 & 2’
Rene Costy  ‘Scrabble’
Idrissa Soumaoro et L’Éclipse de L’lja  ‘Nissodia – Joie de l’optimisme’
Abdou El Omari  ‘Raksatoun Fillall’
Jungle Brothers  ‘Tribe Vibes’
Intelligent Hoodlum  ‘Back To Reality’
D-Nice  ‘Crumbs On The Table’
KMD  ‘Who Me? (With An Answer From Dr. Bert)’
Metropolitan Jazz Affair  ‘Find A Way’
Lion  ‘You’ve Got A Woman’
Denis Mpunga & Paul K  ‘Funyaka’
El Turronero  ‘Las Penas – Las Canas’
Holger Czukay  ‘Cool In The Pool’
T. Rex, The Reflex  ‘Light Of Love (The Reflex Revision)’
Charles Earland with Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson  ‘Warp Factor 8’
Koen De Bruyne  ‘And Here Comes The Crazy Man’
The Knights  ‘Precision’
The Hunches  ‘Swim Hole’
R. Stevie Moore  ‘The Bodycount’
The Brian Jonestown Massacre  ‘Open Minds Now Closed’
Bobby Callender  ‘Shanta Grace’
Wayne McGhie  ‘Take A Letter Maria’
Little Ed & The Soundmasters  ‘It’s A Dream’


PLAYLIST
Selection: Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms





An encapsulation of the Monolith Cocktail’s tastes and a showcase to reflect our very raison d’être, the ‘quarterly revue playlists’ feature an eclectic selection of tracks from artists and bands we’ve enjoyed, rated highly or believe have something worthwhile to offer. Chosen by Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver and Ayfer Simms this latest collection includes both recordings featured on the site, and a few we’ve either missed or not had the room to include.

Though we try to offer the best listening experiences, ordering tracks in a certain way for highs and lows, intensity and relief, we don’t have any particular concept or theme in mind when putting these playlists together. Yet by accident we have selected quite a few moody, meditative and often contemplative tunes this time around; from the most brilliant (corners) exposition and vivid experimental jazz suite and beat poetic descriptions of John Sinclair and Youth‘s recent Beatnik Youth Ambient team-up, to the Slovenian peregrinations of Širom. We also include however more upbeat, if in protest, Afrobeat flexing from the Chicago Afrobeat Project (featuring the original rhythm provider legend Tony Allen, who as it happens appears twice on this playlist, on both the Chicago collectives What Goes Up collaboration and on his own solo album debut (proper) for the illustrious Blue Note label, The Source); and at opposite ends of the spectrum, the cool kids aloof post punk of Melbourne’s mini supergroup Terry. We also include tracks from the sauntering laxed smouldering grooves of Africa Analog’s Bro. Valentino reappraisal Stay up Zimbabwe, Hive Mind Record’s debut re-release of Maalem Mahmoud Gania‘s Colours Of The Night, and a host of ‘choice’ hip-hop from The Green Seed, Skipp Whitman, The Doppelgangaz and Tanya Morgan.

Circumnavigating the globe and beyond, the third playlist of 2017 is as eclectic as ever and also features music from India, South America, West Africa and Sweden. See below for the full tracklist and links.


TRACKLIST –

Chicago Afrobeat Project & Tony Allen  ‘Race Hustle’  Review
Golden Teacher  ‘Sauchiehall Withdrawal (Edit)’
Msafiri Zawose  ‘Chibitenyi’
Tony Allen  ‘Moody Boy’
Bro. Valentino  ‘Stay Up Zimbabwe’
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble  ‘One Hunit’
Chino Amobi  ‘BLACKOUT’
Nosaj Thing (ft. Kazu Makino)  ‘How We Do’  Review
Beans (ft. Elucid, That Kid Prolific)  ‘Waterboarding’  Review
The Green Seed  ‘Revolution Ok’
Tanya Morgan  ‘Truck Shit’  Review
Skipp Whitman  ‘Downtown’
Room Of Wires  ‘Game Over’  Review
Sad Man  ‘Birman’  Review
Tyler The Creator (ft. A$AP Rocky)  ‘Who Dat Boy’  Review
Open Mike Eagle  ‘My Auntie’s Building’  Review
The Church  ‘Another Century’
Co-Pilgrim  ‘Turn It Around’
Martin Mânsson Sjöstrand  ‘Waiting’  Review
Vukovar  ‘The Clockwork Dance’  Review
Liars  ‘Cred Woes’
Candice Gordon ‘Nobody’  Review
Hajk  ‘Magazine’  Review
Gary Wilson  ‘You’re The Girl From The Magazine’
Terry  ‘Take Me To The City’  Review
Pale Honey  ‘Get These Things Out Of My Head’
Trudy And The Romance  ‘Is There A Place I Can Go’
CHUCK  ‘Caroline’  Review
Modern Cosmology (ft. Laetitia Sadier)  ‘C’est Le Vent’
Diagnos  ‘Reflections’  Review
Sebastian Reynolds (with Anne Muller, Mike Bannard, Jonathan Quin and Andrew Warne)  ‘Holy Island’
Teonesse Majambree  ‘Umuyange’
Maalem Mahmoud Gania  ‘Sadati Houma El Bouhala’  Review
Nicole Mitchell  ‘Timewrap’
Clutchy Hopkins & Fat Albert  ‘Mojave Dervish’
Širom  ‘Just About Awake’  Review
Deben Bhattacharya  ‘Raga Bageshri In Teentaal’  Review
Yazz Ahmed  ‘Bloom’
Hermeto Pascoal  ‘Casinha Pequenina’
John Sinclair  ‘Sitarrtha’  Review
A Lover & Cairo Liberation Front  ‘Level 1’
The Doppelgangaz  ‘Beak Wet’  Review
Ill Move Sporadic & Big Toast  ‘Do Wat Sunshine?’  Review
The Menagerie (Professor Elemental & Dr Syntax)  ‘Only A Game’  Review


NEW MUSIC REVIEWS
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA





This latest roundup of the imaginative, exploratory, venerable and refined musical discoveries includes a second collection of film and field recordings from the late legend ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya; the third peregrination from Glitterbeat Records’ new imprint tak:tile, Širom’s Slovenian soundscape odyssey I Can Be A Clay Snapper; a rebooted soul-in-the-machine electronica collection from Nosaj Thing; and the latest ambient soundtrack from Odd Nosdam.

But first of all we have a reenergized Afrobeat collaboration between the genre’s doyen rhythm guru, Tony Allen, and the eclectic, protest driven, Chicago Afrobeat Project, called What Goes Up.

Read on…

Chicago Afrobeat Project Feat. Tony Allen   ‘What Goes Up’
September 15th,  2017


Starting life as a shifting collective of musicians jamming in a artist’s loft, channeling the fervor of Afrobeat’s progenitor Fela Kuti, the Chicago Afrobeat Project initially covered the Nigerian icon’s back catalogue before developing their own variant style. Transducing the sound of downtown Lagos and the Afro-Spot nightclub via the rich musical heritage of their own native metropolis, the group, now settling with a regular lineup, open the studio doors to embrace the city’s famous blues, soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, house and hip-hop culture.

Expanding on and playing with the Afrobeat foundations but staying true to the roots of the African fusion that first merged the popular Ghanaian Highlife hybrid with funk and soul, the project members invite a number of vocalists and rappers from the area to enthuse, lead and prompt the music towards the political; reinforcing the main message and activism behind much of Kuti’s own, often dangerous, protestations and rebellious denouncements.

As if it wasn’t already enough, the Afrobeat ante is upped with the appearance of Kuti’s wingman and rhythm guru, Tony Allen. Showing those youngsters a thing or two, Allen brings certain levity, a craft and connection to the source, to this ten-track album. Flown in especially from his home in Paris, Allen, who’s also recently recorded a tribute album to Art Blakey (which he says fits in well with the Chicago Afrobeat Projects What Goes Up), doesn’t just turn up to add a roll and drum flair here and there, he plays on all the tracks, laying down the foundations, leading the way and rattles off his trademark polyrhythm shuffles, jazz timed syncopations and, most important of all, infectious grooves: the fight against injustice has never rarely so funky.

The elder statesman of Afrobeat, sounding almost effortless with his limbering and relaxed drumming, brings a sagacious quality to What Goes Up, though his comrades bring the bright and heralding horns, laser zappy synths, church organ and sunny Hammond sustained rays to the get-down.

Guests, of which there are many, on this sweltering and sauntering conscious album include a new jack swinging, bordering on gospel house style hook, protesting JC Brooks (Race Hustle and Sunday Song); an Igbo lullaby and Afro-futurist meets atavistic soul of Western Africa Oranmiyan (Cut The Infection, Must Come Down and Afro Party); the soulfully sassy, tumbling R&B songstress Kiara Lanier (No Bad News); and a metaphorical conversationalist style Rico Sisney and Maggie Vagle (as sparring partner) of Sidewalk Chalk (Marker 48).

As Rico Sisney puts it on the skit for environmental justice, Marker 48: “Something’s gotta change!” And over the course of the album the collective tackle every kind of current injustice filling up the newsfeed: from the alarming murder rate in the inner cities, including Chicago’s own widely publicized tragic rates and by extension the Black Lives Matter campaign; racial profiling and harassment; tensions between communities; and of course, Trump.

Speaking Kuti fluently, channeling the Afrobeat totems and the most hustling, hot footing rhythms, the Chicago collective offer a unique take on the genre under the watchful eye of Tony Allen. Bridging two generations, adding some fresh licks and eclectic sounds from their own backyard, they do more than most in reenergizing the Afrobeat blueprint.




Nosaj Thing   ‘Parallels’
Innovative Leisure,  8th September

 

An urgent rewire; a forced reboot; the fourth album from the Los Angeles-based electronic producer/composer/performer Jason Chung, under his Nosaj Thing alter ego, focused the mind like no other project before. As a warning to us all that backing up your hard drive is not only vital and reassuring but also a security precaution, Chung lost three years worth of demos, sketches and compositions, many of which were destined for this LP, in a robbery whilst out on tour with Warp Record’s signing Clark.

Losing all his equipment and a number of precise hard drives, all of which were never backed-up or saved anywhere else, meant that Chung would have to start from scratch, and as it has proven, reexamine not only his methods of storage and quality control but also his process of creativity.

Parallels is in fact billed as some kind of “epiphany” for Chung; a journey into “uncharted territories” for an artist renowned for his collaborative fusions with Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi and Chance The Rapper. Changing direction and playing to it to his advantage, Chung uses this as an opportunity to explore deeper expanses. Far from wild and edgy however, Parallels is a quite vaporous but controlled soulful listening experience. Counterpointing various succinct philosophical questions (‘Dystopia or Paradise’, “Love or Regret?’) and themes (‘Emotions vs. Technology’, ‘Soul vs. Machines’) Chung’s electronic suffusions linger in a woozy sometimes haunting fashion between his many juxtapositions, yet always remains connected with a touch of humanity: from the resonating visages of a taped conversation with a security guard watching over the Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time exhibition, to the trio of varying degrees of ethereal and soulful vocal contributions from guests Kazu Makino, Steven Spacek and Zuri Marley.

Emerging from the ether, Chung opens the album with a veiled drone rumble, piano arpeggiator and ring of articulate beats before hooking up with London producer/singer Spacek on the haunted broody lament, set to a Polygon Windows meets minimalist R&B pop, All Point Back To You. A precursor, a taster, of what you can expect to hear on the future Makino/Chung collaborative EP (released we’re told at some point later on in 2017), the breathlessly whispered cooed and chilled suffrage How We Do, adds a ticking drum beat and Japan style ice-y synth to the gauzy shoegazing Blonde Redhead signature. Nocturnal dreamy downtempo house, ambient meditations and finely-tuned kinetic soul-in-the-machine meanders follow, before reaching Marley’s rich soaring to lilting contour hovering past love affair ruminations on Way We Were.

Finely chilled, articulated electronica, amorphously floating between escapism and dystopia, Parallels never quite settles on either. And despite a number of equations that pitch technology and the machine against humans, Chung’s music has a real soul and yearning.






Odd Nosdam  ‘LIF’
Sound In Silence

 

Few have changed the direction of hip-hop and modern ambient soundscapes like David P. Madson, the co-founder of both one of rap music’s most experimental outfits, cLOUDDEAD, and the seminal Anticon label. Forging a post millennium course with a number of collaborators, including Dose One, Yoni Wolf and Jel, Madson deconstructed, eviscerated and then rebuilt a more avant-garde, strung-out and expansive vision for hip-hop.

Under the Odd Nosdam title, inspired by the minimalist composers, and on this latest soundscape immersion, the degrading in quality traces and language of sound/video artist and composer William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops IV, he delves ever deeper into the ambient sphere.

Informed by a prolonged spell of “nonstop rain” in his native Bay Area home, the LIF album transduces the West Coast of America’s winds and rains weather patterns into an analogue controlled, filtered and manipulated field of ebbing and flowing pulsing electricity. The capital three lettered titles (codes? Abbreviations?) fade in and out; like passing through a cloudy overcast or static resonating wave, which eventually dies out. Subtly alluded to, drizzling downpours are simulated, falling on glass, on the slight Japanese sounding RAI, and detuned TV set feedback accentuated moiety KEI I and KEI II. Whilst far gentler droplets fall like notes on the enervated rasping vignette AIN.

Prompts and themes of loneliness – and when listening to the varied ambient passages, you’ll find plenty of space to ruminate in isolation -, love and fear are key to unlocking, or at least perhaps deciphering, these ten mood compositions: articulated at times through subtle plucked out notation, bellowed harmonium, dreamy ascents above the clouds and floating lingers of melody. Refining emotion from a pylon hum, showers of rain or generators, Madson’s minimalist soundscapes traverse the Kosmische and ambient genres with a contemporary feel and movement.






Deben Bhattacharya  ‘Musical Explorers: Krishna In Spring’
ARC Music,  25th August 2017

 

In praise of the field recordists, leading world music label ARC continues to champion the music and film recordings of the late ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya in its latest series venture, Musical Explorers.

The project was launched back in June with Bhattacharya’s 1950s and late 1960s spanning Colours Of Raga, which included an introduction and illuminating set of notes from Songlines editor-in-chief, author of the “rough guides” to world music, Simon Broughton, who once again offers context and insight on this, the second volume in the series.

A self-taught producer, recording not only the sounds of his native India but also the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Bhattacharya travelled extensively cataloguing rare performances, bringing his exotic wonders to a his adopted British home and audience via various BBC commissioned documentaries and radio programs.

As the title suggests, Krishna In Spring is a paean of instrumentals, dances and venerable verses dedicated to, perhaps, the most venerated and famous deities in Hindu mythology. Demon vanquisher, protector of the common people, the mischievous incandescent blue portrayed god represents the “spirit for life” and for his tumultuous love affair with Radha. Said to have the common touch; never happier than when cavorting and leaping and springing about with milkmaids in his role as humble cow herder, Krishna is often depicted flute in hand, amongst the earnest folk. Almost every love song in the Hindu songbook is in his honour or at least references him. The diaphanous articulated Indian bamboo flute, the Bansuri, is even used as a colloquial signature and evocation of his presence.

Taking the full extended performances, seen and heard briefly on the soundtrack, from the title’s twenty-five minute documentary come public information film (first aired in 1969), Bhattacharya captures a panoply vision of the famous Holi Festival: the “festival of colours” that ushers in the Spring, dedicated to the deeds and spirit of Krishna, or as Bhattacharya himself puts it, “…to surrender oneself to the spirit of life. That is the message of Krishna in Spring.”

Humongous sized drums; bicycle-pump tie-dye abandonment; women browbeating their menfolk with broom handles, enacting Radha’s stormy love affair with Krishna; silky clothed flag carriers and joyful communion, the Holi Festival footage, even in its scratchy washed-out by time and quaintly narrated form, encapsulates a vivid, chaotic worship. It is a festival steeped in tradition and seems out of time with modernity, but as we are told in the album’s accompanying notes, continues to be practiced in the exact same way today.

Glimpses, as I said, of the evocative drones, syllabic ‘bols’ speak and poet exultations are played-out in their entirety on this collection’s eight sweet and beautiful audio recordings. Half of which feature the backing of R.K. Bharati laying down elegant melodies and drones on the short-necked Indian fiddle, the ‘sarangi’, Hidayat Khan taping out various coda and frenzied sophisticated patterns on the tabla, and Chiranjilal planting atmospheric brassy drones foundations.

Touched with the afflatus, there are fine examples of dusky hour pentatonic scale flightiness and serenaded flute pulchritude to Krishna throughout, including Suraj Narayan Purohit and Indermall Mathur’s Raga Bhupali, the adulating voiced incantation to the many names and trials of the beloved deity Devotional Song Of The Ballabh Sect In Praise Of Krishna performed by Amarlal, and the lengthy lyrical prose turn conversational drama, based on the late 14th century poet Chandidas’ original and the subsequent additional litany of poet contributions throughout the ages, Mathur, performed by singers from the Mitra-Thakur family.

Every bit as revelatory, especially to those unfamiliar with India’s multifaceted belief systems and extraordinary musical heritage, as the first of Bhattacharya’s collections in the Musical Explorers series, Krishna In Spring does however offer an even deeper and varied window on classical Indian music: A celebration of sounds that traverse Rajasthan, West Bengal but above all the holy.



Širom  ‘I Can Be A Clay Snapper’
tak:til,  8th September 2017

 

With an unspecified, but as the name suggests, emphasis on the “tactile”, Glitterbeat Records new imprint label gives a welcome platform to entrancing experimental tonal performances (launched earlier this year with 75 Dollar Bill’s Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock and Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society’s Simultonality albums) and sonic polygenesis traverses alike. In the latter camp is this Slovenian peregrination suite from the landlocked, Alps nestling country’s visceral sonic conjurors, Širom.

Evoking memories and feelings, both real and imagined, with a soundtrack thick with atavistic connections, the trio of punk and post-rockers turn experimental folk and acoustic instrumental cartographers convey a personal relationship to their homeland, on their second album together under the Širom banner.

Though part of a litany of Empires, including the Habsburgs, Italian and either through their own forced amorphous cultural, ancestral ties with neighboring regions and peoples, became part of the Croat-Slovenian and Yugoslavian annexations at one time, Slovenia has despite its size and battle for independence, maintained a distinct identity. In less glowing terms but pretty accurate, the writer Simon Winder in his Habsburg travel saga Danubia, described what we know as the modern Slovenia as being, “[…] stuck together from the rubble of the [Habsburg] Empire’s end, with its core made up from the Duchy of Carniola with bits of Styria, Gorizia, Istria and a small piece of the old Hungarian county of Vas.”

One of the central themes of I Can Be A Clay Snapper, and amongst the country’s most richly abundant resources, is water; the leitmotif of which appears throughout the album’s five odysseys, evoking mountain streams, lazy lowland meandering rivers and the mysterious vanishing water of Karst through a sonic transcription.

Revisiting a number of locations held dear, including some that proved very difficult to reach, Samo Kutin, Iztok Koren and Ana Kravanja travelled to locations as diverse as the bright yellow turnip rape fields of Prekmurje to the snowy mountain top of Kal above the village of Čadry to channel their inspirations and compose from improvisations this, often, meditative peaceable experience. As if the music didn’t quite signal the intentions and psychogeography well enough already, the trio have also made a film, Memoryscapes, to document this landscape surveying experiment: each, the album and the film, influencing and informing the other.





Though all three of Širom have different varied experiences to share, with both Kutin and Kravanja citing punk rock as a starting point, both playing apart in various bands in the Slovenian capital before eventually crossing paths at an improvisational music workshop and forming the kalimba-based Najoua duo, and Koren meanwhile, feeling a peculiar shame at listening to music during his childhood, but making it up for it ever since, serving in a succession of metal and post-rock bands, they manage to accommodate each other’s particular strengths, personalities and depth. Which can’t be easy especially when you glance at the scope of instrumentation used; each band member a deft practitioner of instruments as cosmopolitan and eclectic as the balafon, banjo, mizmar, lyre, ribab and as humdrum – but when put to good use and made into a impromptu device for making a rhythm or unusual sound – as common everyday objects such as a pair of drawers and household junk.

Yet whatever the backgrounds, traces of North Africa, Adriatic and the middle East, and individual influences, the performances sail scenically through a dreamy otherworldly representation of Slovenia: Oriental, alien and Balkan visions permeate the plucked, malleted, chimed and purposefully played compositions, which subtly and rather cleverly build up complicated layers and various overlapping time signatures during the course of their journey.

Theremin like siren voices drift in and out, enacting the myth and seraph, whilst on the watermill turning Everything I Sow Is Fatal Sun Ra travels with John Cale and Pharaoh Sanders on a pilgrimage to Samarkand. The most recurring sounds however pay testament to the Balkans ghosts. The folkloric stirrings, lulls and yearning of Slovenia’s past bordering both a pan-Europa of migration and grief – stretching back a millennia – are transduced into often haunted vistas and metaphysical passages.

Changing tact so to speak, following the first two and ahead of a fourth re-issue (a second volume of Jon Hassell’s pioneering Fourth World ambient evocations is to be released just a few weeks after Širom’s LP), I Can Be A Clay Snapper is the first tak:til imprint to meander into south central Europe. And what an impressive and expansive inaugural Balkans travail it is too; different from the previous two releases, yet keeping to the tactile, accentuate and imaginative remit; whilst conjuring up mystical new soundscapes.



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).


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