Jun 3, 2013

Madlib - Beat Konducta In Africa

Beat Konducta in Africa is an instrumental hip-hop album produced & mixed with Madlib, featuring J. Rocc. This album bases itself on the obscure vinyl gems from the afro-beat, funk, psych-rock, garage-rock & soul movements of African countries as diverse as Zambia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Botswana and Ivory Coast. 


Reviewing Beat Konducta in Africa is a daunting task, mainly for two reasons. First and most obvious is the sheer amount of material present here: while digital fans of the Konducta may be used to his volumes being 40+ tracks, I’ve always opted for the separated versions. Much like the continent to which Madlib is paying tribute, Beat Konducta in Africa is a sprawling, seemingly endless locomotive of sound and vision. Secondly, Beat Konducta in Africa is not exactly a typical Beat Konducta album, and so it’s taken me a while to figure out whether I’m disappointed or not and, probably more importantly, just how listenable this release is.

If you’ve heard Madlib’s crate digging exercises such as Speto do Rua, you’re probably a little better equipped for what occurs on this disc. Th album unfolds fairly slowly, as the first four or five tracks leading into “African Voodoo Queen” and “Jungle Soundz” sound more like soundtrack music with various samples explaining what Africa is, how it came to be and where it could potentially go than hip-hop instrumentals. The samples appear to come from informative videos in the ’50s and ’60s, but one can’t really be sure. While beats remain the focus after they start appearing, there are still a lot of moments where Madlib drops in a high-life track, cues up some tour guide samples and takes a rest for a moment. Most of these interludes are interesting the first few times through the album, but like the first volume of his Medicine Show I feel they start to get a little tiring over repeated listens, and would rather he just give us the beats straight up.

However, it does seem obvious that Beat Konducta in Africa isn’t meant to be taken as a strictly beats album. This isn’t Oh No’s Ethiopium, the younger Jackson’s already covered that base. Instead, Madlib has written a love letter to his mother continent as only he could write it, covering a complex and multicultural musical history as comprehensively as he can with two turntables and 80 minutes of disc space. There’s endless amounts of the sort of funk found on “The Struggle to Unit”, but the real excitement comes when he weaves in shades of African proto-punk like “The Show (Inner View)”. Moves like that go a long way towards displaying the hidden variety present in African culture, something American media all too often ignores or fudges in some way. And I don’t think there’s any refuting the stunning quality of stuff like “Chant 2″, “Obataive” and “Umi (Life)”. For the most part, Madlib definitely brought his usual quality seal.

Still, the main issue that has stuck with me since I received this album a few weeks ago is a quote from the mid-section of the disc, in which an interviewee explains the mindset of most African musicians. For them, he says, “eighteen minutes is not enough”. He also argues that the “musical masturbation of the West” has stunted its audience and musicians’ appreciation for complex and elongated musical styles. And in hearing that, I can’t help but think that the massive heft of this release not only represents the immensity of Africa, but also the eagerness and fervor with which current American musical society skims over music as though it were simply sound and not culture as well. The Bonus AFRICA section drives this notion home for me; “R” and “C” are dope but it is mostly just more of the high-life we’ve already been subjected to for an hour. I’m not sure that a Beat Konducta in Africa trimmed by 10 or 20 minutes would be so distinct and comprehensive, but I feel positive that it would ultimately be a more enduring release and feel like less of a guided tour and more like a heartfelt journey into the heart of Madlib’s musical journey. Beat Konducta in Africa is no doubt another very good release from the Madlib camp, and so far my favorite of the Medicine Show. But it’s also yet another not-quite-great Madlib record, an album with as many tiny negatives as big positives. Definitely cop, but understand what you’re getting into.



There's a sense of tongue planted firmly in cheek when the Beat Konducta makes use of samples from a narrator of what sounds like an apologist American documentary about Africa for elementary school students.

It isn’t very often that a producer is willing to, or even capable of, releasing a 12-disc instrumental series that is of consistent quality and varying influence. But here we have Madlib, trying to do just that. With his third entry in the “Medicine Show” series, Beat Konducta in Africa draws its sounds from – you guessed it – African music dating back to the '70s.

Comprised of samples borrowed from African Funk, Rock, Afrobeat, and some more obscure origins Beat Konducta in Africa is essentially a trip through a few of Madlib’s countless crates. “Afritronic Pt. 2” is a funked-out collusion of chants and keyboards, while “Red Black and Green Showcase” teases with a Hip Hop vocal sample over a distant horn loop. “Kanika” provides insight as to where Boom Bap may have originated, and “The Show (Inner View)” is African Rock & Roll. Aside from chopping and mixing the samples, it sounds as though Madlib touches up various qualities on most, if not all on the tracks. As an example, there’s no mistaking the added thumping bass on “Freedom Play.” Theses added qualities serve to accentuate the existing music, and fortunately do not overpower it.

There is more to this album than just Madlib’s instrumentals. There’s a sense of tongue planted firmly in cheek when the Beat Konducta makes use of samples from a narrator of what sounds like an apologist American documentary about Africa for elementary school students. “Yafeu” juxtaposes the narrations with an African chant highlighted by varying percussions and whistles. Madlib provides more food for thought with “Blackfire,” as it uses vocal clips that offer a critical view of the western world’s use of African music. Is it with self-deprecation that Madlib includes vignettes that refer to his craft as “musical masturbation,” or does he count himself among those who promote authenticity?

As an overall package, Beat Konducta is very cohesive – an astounding feat given that it spans 43 tracks. Every track purposely has a “made-in-the-garage” feeling that you might find on an early Wu-Tang cut, which serves the samples well. A pristine and mastered version of this album would be counterintuitive given its content. What is presented here is a window into African music of the past 30 years – one that provides a very versatile listening experience.

Given the ever-changing sound of the 78-minute album, it is excellent background music that’ll keep the head nodding. But heads that are looking to give the record a closer spin will find hidden lessons, and B-boys will have a blast trying to pick out masterfully-flipped samples (even Dave Chappelle is thrown in there, somewhere). The flexibility of this release is what makes it a great addition to any music fan’s collection.



If you don't know who Madlib is, here's a brief bio: born Otis Jackson, Jr., his dad is a musician and his brother is producer/rapper Oh No. He first made his name as part of the Lootpack crew in the early 90s before going solo later that decade. He's collaborated with J Dilla (2003's Jaylib album), MF DOOM (2004's Madvillain album), and produced tracks for Percy P, Guilty Simpson, Erykah Badu, and Talib Kweli. He has more aliases than a gun runner, rapping as Quasimoto, doing jazz as Yesterday's New Quintet, and doing collaborations with Brazilian artist Ivan Conti as Jackson Conti. He puts out several albums a year, and in 2010 is putting out one a month as part of his "Medicine Show" series. March's entry is his fourth Beat Konducta collection, comprised of beats made from African music.

This is one of the stronger Beat Konducta albums in terms of creating a groove, owing mostly to the source material. Drums are a central element in African music, and they feature prominently here. While Madlib does use a drum machine at times, most of the album features samples and loops of live drums. Hip hop is rooted in the beat, so taking it all the way back to its roots makes sense, and results in some of the most banging beats Madlib has created in a while. Madlib's subdued spaciness is still present, but the music he's sampling creates a steady rhythm that propels the album along.
In many ways, "Beat Konducta in Africa" is a tribute to the continent, with voice samples spelling out the accomplishments of Africans, and the music samples showing their sonic achievements. The line, "THIS is Africa!" is repeated throughout the disc, always to a different instrument or a different type of music, making a point about how multicultural the continent is. Tracks range from tribal drumming on "Yafeu" and "Afritonic Pt. 1" to the cooking African funk of "The Struggle To Unite (One Africa)" and "Afrosound Panorama." As with all Beatkonducta albums, Madlib chops and mixes the samples like a master chef. He cuts native instruments with programmed boom-bap on "Chant 2." "Spearthrow for Oh No" is a jumble of drums, guitar, and a vocal sample of an American musician shocked at the crowd at a gig on an African tour.

There is a certain narrative to the disc. "Tear Gas and Bullets for Freedom," captures the chaos and violence that have troubled Africa for too much of its history. "Red, Black, and Green Showcase" highlights the struggle for African unity and self-determination. Madlib samples African musicians talking about their craft on "Blackfire," and clips of African-Americans talking about the experience of returning to the Motherland on "Kanika." In some sense, "Beat Konducta in Africa" is a tour through Africa and its history. It's also a tour through African music, with Madlib sampling everything from high life to Fela Kuti to more traditional music. As someone who enjoys African music, but doesn't have a very deep collection, I appreciated the guided tour through Madlib's vinyl.
None of the tracks are longer than three minutes, and most of them clock in around 1:30. There is a propulsive energy to the disc, and Madlib manages to maintain a groove for the entire 78-minute running time. I found myself loving this in 20-30 minute increments, but it's a lot to digest all in one sitting. If you are a Madlib fan, an African music fan, or a you love drums, you have to get this. He probably could have edited it down to less than an hour, but even in its expanded form it's remarkable. Most importantly, it supplies some serious head-nod.



01 – Motherland
02 – The Frontline (Liberation)
03 – Raw Introduction To Afreaka
04 – African Voodoo Queen (Drama)
05 – Jungle Soundz (Part One)
06 – The Struggle To Unite (One Africa)
07 – Mandingo Swing
08 – Endless Cold (Lovelost)
09 – Chant 2
10 – Afrosound Panorama
11 – Hunting Theme
12 – Yafeu
13 – Afritonic Pt. 1
14 – Afritonic Pt. 2
15 – Tradition
16 – Spearthrow For Oh No
17 – Tear Gas And Bullets For Freedom
18 – Heritage Slip
19 – Land Of The Drum
20 – Red, Black And Green Showcase
21 – Blackfire
22 – Obataive
23 – Warrior’s Theme
24 – Mtima
25 – African Map Watch
26 – Street Hustler
27 – Kanika
28 – Chant 3
29 – The Show (Inner View)
30 – Brothers And Sisters
31 – Freedom Play
32 – African Bounce
33 – Umi (Life)
34 – Natural Sound Waves
35 – Jungle Sounds Pt. 2
36 – Mighty Force
37 – Unika (Outro)
38 – Bonus A
39 – Bonus F
40 – Bonus R
41 – Bonus I
42 – Bonus C
43 – Bonus A (Amanaz)

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