Jan 31, 2014
Seun's new album "A long way to the beginning" will be out on February 24th.
02 African Airways
03 Higher Consciousness
04 Ohun Aiye
05 Kalakuta Boy
06 African Smoke
07 Black Woman
Labels: Seun Kuti
Jan 29, 2014
Unfortunately I cannot find any information about the band and also do not own the album ... if someone has it please feel free to contact me ... honestly really appreciated!
|1||Music Is The Answer|
|2||Lets Work Together|
|3||Search Out! Watch Out!!|
|4||Road Man (Mystic)|
|6||Loving To Sing For You|
|7||Lover Man's Bullet|
Labels: Mighty Flames
Jan 27, 2014
Guanabana Afrobeat is a quasi-orchestra of local talent that combines a diverse range of musical styles under the umbrella of afrobeat, a relatively unknown genre they are helping to bring to the porteño public one performance at a time.
The 12-person group consists of drummers, saxophonists, trumpeters, trombonists, guitarists, a keyboardist, and more, and it makes up a part of a movement of bands and musicians that are introducing Argentina to Afrobeat. Despite a number of established Afrobeat-influenced acts that have come out of Argentina, including Morbo y Mambo and La Antropofonica, Afrobeat as a genre remains relatively unknown amongst Argentines.
“When we say we play Afrobeat, people don’t know what that is,” guitarist Cristian Lacroix tells me. “They hear ‘Afro’ and think that maybe it has something to do with drums, but in general it is something completely new for them.”
While several Guanabana band members come from a ska background, the band’s current sound brings together other influences from across the musical spectrum.
“I began playing music centred around African percussion along with the funk I had been playing, which was further influenced by Latin American music – from Cuba, Peru, Argentina, and more specifically, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian music,” says Lacroix.
When some people hear Guanabana’s music for their first time, they may recognise what seem like Peruvian, Cuban or Puerto Rican influences, an example of the role African beats and sounds have had in the development of Latin musical traditions. Guanabana’s songs build off this synchronism with African sounds and further incorporate the elements of jazz and funk that make Afrobeat what it is.
The chief influence on Lacroix and his bandmates is Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician and activist who first coined the term Afrobeat in the 1970s. Kuti took elements of North American Jazz, such as the emphasis on the saxophone, and combined them with aspects of Ghana’s Highlife genre and his native Nigeria’s Yoruba music, a drumming-intensive style from West Africa prevalent in Afro-Caribbean music.
Kuti’s legacy – that of a musician as well as of a radical, political figure – contributes much to Guanabana’s identity as a band. In addition to their own material, the band covers Kuti classics, including the nearly 13-minute-long ‘Mister Follow Follow’, a warning against blindly following corrupt leaders.
For members of Guanabana, Fela Kuti is to Afrobeat as Bob Marley is to Reggae, only “much more radical” – Kuti was a socialist, Pan-African activist who, at one point, even attempted a presidential candidacy. His influence on the genre is obvious: Buenos Aires’ first Afrobeat festival, on 15th December, bills itself as a tribute to Fela Kuti and even has a name that reflects his influence, the Festival Latinomericano de Afrobeat (FELA).
At a recent meet, conversation topics between Guanabana members ranged from discussions on the technical features of Kuti songs or about his efforts to use music as a force to “decolonise” Nigerian minds in the face of an oppressive government.
With a reputation to never play a song the same way twice, Kuti had a knack for improvisation, a freedom Afrobeat gets from its jazz roots. Guanabana also likes to set aside parts of their performance to highlight its talent, such as an improvised trumpet or bass solo.
Kuti was also famous for his long compositions; sometimes a song would take 15 minutes to get to the first verse. The members of Guanabana appreciate this form of music making, valuing the love they have for performing over the need for a commercially packaged four minute tune.
However, much as they draw from Kuti, Guanabana still do things their own way. While Kuti was a trained orchestra director and directed his band throughout a performance, Guanabana finds it unnecessary to have a director or leader. In their weekly rehearsals – no small feat for a band with 12 people – the group talks amongst one another and plans how a song will play out in front of an audience.
It is this kind of collaboration, highlighted by a lack of ego and unadulterated love for performing, that makes Guanabana Afrobeat such an exciting band to keep an eye on.
Get some info and check out some sounds
Jan 26, 2014
The band is from Mali, recorded and released in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
|A2||Mali Ato Le|
|B2||Bla Ye Ya|
Jan 22, 2014
Primer disco de la grandiosa orquesta de afrobeat. Conformada por músicos de distintos lugares del país, hacen bailar a todo el mundo con sus ritmos afro, orquestaciones psicodélicas, y solos volados de todos sus integrantes! Saxos, trombón, trompetas, percusiones, guitarras, bajo, batería, piano y voz. Incluye dos versiones de Fela Kuti.
First record of the great afrobeat orchestra. Made up of musicians from around the country, make everybody dance with Afro rhythms, psychedelic orchestrations and flown alone of all its members! Saxes, trombone, trumpet, percussion, guitars, bass, drums, piano and voice. Includes two versions of Fela Kuti.
Check out @ soundcloud!
- colonial mentality (f.kuti)
- gentelman (f.kuti)
Jan 21, 2014
We first came across The Lijadu Sisters a few years ago on an afro psychedelia compilation and they quickly became a much-loved favorite of ours. We were therefore incredibly excited when we discovered that Knitting Factory Records last year started re-issuing the sisters’ four long out of print albums – and even more excited when we recently got the chance to ask Knitting Factory’s Tim Putnam about the sisters, their unique story and the long process of bringing their fantastic music out of obscurity. Read the interview and listen to some Lijadu tunes below. Then check out Alex Petridis’ great review of ”Afro-Beat Soul Sisters” and buy your Lijadu albums here.
How did you first come across Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu?
I was introduced to the Lijadu Sisters by Will Glasspiegel who was working with the sisters at the time. He approached me as our label was in the process of rereleasing the entire Fela catalogue along with Seun’s and Femi’s records as well. He thought we’d have interest since the sisters are Fela’s cousins and the music is so engaging. I then got to meet the sisters who were living up in Harlem. I had never in my life met two people so closely tied together on every level as Taiwo and Kehinde and was drawn to them.
What made you want to take them out of obscurity?
The music, the incredible story, and ultimately getting to know the sisters themselves.
How did you manage to convince the sisters to re-issue their albums? I’m sure you where not the first ones to try your luck in this.
It wasn’t me who convinced them. I don’t think anyone convinces them of anything. They were the ones who decided over a long period of time what they wanted to do. It was the better part of two years between meeting the sisters and them wanting us to release the albums before we were able to come to an agreement. That is really its own story altogether.
Their records have been out of print for years. But are there other factors that might explain why it has taken so many years for the sisters to receive the reserved recognition?
The sisters did receive recognition when the albums were first released, but their music ultimately became obscure and increasingly rare in physical formats reserved for collectors and enthusiasts. The practicality of what often happens to so many musicians over time doesn’t lessen the quality of lasting relevant music. As you said, the records were out of print and very difficult to get. We had to locate good copies of vinyl to master from which was a painstaking task as the original reels / tape no longer exist. We still have never been able to locate the very first album they released called Urede. I found an old print ad for it so I know it exists, but I have as of yet never been able to find the album. Bringing this music back to life simply allowed people to recognize the sisters once more for what they are as two beautiful and unique songsmiths.
Their story – two independent female artists in the 1970s Nigeria – seems quite unique as does their intriguing mix of disco, funk, reggae, highlife and psychodelic rock etc. Do you see them as being something of an outlier compared to mainstream Kuti-dominated afrobeat?
How have the sisters reacted to their reemergence after decades on relative obscurity?
I can’t really speak for the sisters on that point. I will say that the sisters have always looked towards the future and the music they want to make, not just the music they have made. Hopefully this will allow them to move forward with their career.
Any chance of seeing the sisters back on stage?
I hope so. They played a benefit show for a school for the blind last year in NY which made for a very special evening and gave me hope that they will continue to perform. They have sung to me many times in the past. It is both spiritual and deeply moving. I really hope others get to see them sing live again on their terms with the right mix of musicians. They are very particular about who they play with and there aren’t Yoruba drummers on every corner in NY.
The trend of DJs, vinyl diggers and labels from ”the West” traveling to Africa to (re)discover old vinyl gems has started to receive some criticism for being ”neo-colonial” in focusing mainly on artists within funk or rock that fit well into the exotic musical story expected from Africa and ignoring the more traditional music. Is this a fair point in your view? And how do you see the Lijadu Sisters fitting into this picture?
I don’t think that is a fair point of view. As far as we know, we’re all from Africa originally and so is all of our music. It has just evolved over the last several tens of thousands of years constantly splintering and changing into what it is today. People have lost perspective on what it is to be human and how we are all related. Neo-colonialism simply doesn’t apply to finding relevant music and sharing it with other people. The Lijadu Sisters have many traditional elements in their music far beyond just being funk or rock. Keep in mind as well, a lot of this music has a political and social element which have resonating themes today as much as it did when it was written. That is a large part of the lasting appeal.
Danger and Mother Africa have been reissued in the past months. What’s up next? Any other African musical treasures up your sleeves?
We have two more Lijadu records as well with Sunshine and Horizon Unlimited. We just released Fela Live In Detroit 1986 which is the first new Fela release in a number of years as well. Hopefully they’ll be much more to come.
Labels: The Lijadu Sisters
Jan 16, 2014
Our favorite globally-minded Canadian virtuosos have finished up a new recording for 2014, and it’s a real scorcher! Inner Fire, the latest from Pierre Chrétien & co. sees The Souljazz Orchestra perfecting their global music fusion, and treading some extremely funky territory while they’re at it.
Recorded using the Orchestra’s signature analogue techniques at their studio HQ in their home city of Ottawa, the new set continues the band’s expansive musical journey as they effortlessly fuse intricate Eastern influences, Afro beats, Egyptian jazz, Latin styles and spiritual elements into their unique musical melting pot.
The secret to the band’s sound remains a true openness to global music of all kinds and the individual experiences of the Orchestra’s band members. “We all have very wide tastes, we’re always digging for new sounds, and we’ve had the chance to work with master musicians from all over, from Nigeria to Rwanda, from Cuba to Haiti, so each band member ends up bringing different vibes and ideas to each of our albums,” explains keyboardist Chrétien.
On Inner Fire, the different vibes come thick and fast, burning through afro-jazz stompers, highlife flourishes, Cuban bolero sounds, smoldering salsa dura, and even scorching personal rendition of Gary Bartz NTU Troop’s 1971 classic, “Celestial Blues.”
Inner Fire will be out on February 24th, 2014, and the band will be undertaking a Canadian tour in February, followed by a full European tour in March and April.
Our friendly Canadian afrogroovists The Souljazz Orchestra are back with a new album to be released on Strut Records late february! The record is called 'Inner Fire' and after hearing some inspiring works in progress last summer, while working with one of their horn players Zakari Frantz on Paris DJs' 4th afro/tropical compilation, we had the chance to listen to the finished piece in its entirety… And the verdict is quite an easy one: keep on buying the band's albums because they keep on improving each time, or at least do they try some new surprising directions that will put a smile of instant approval on your face!
The Souljazz Orchestra come from Funk, Jazz and Soul, as the 'Uprooted' album from 2005 suggest. They quickly became one of the hottest Afrofunk/Afrobeat bands on the planet with the 'Freedom No Go Die' and 'Manifesto' albums from 2007/2008, and started opening new musical doors in 2010 with the acoustic afrojazz of 'Rising Sun', before opting for a raw, greasy, vintage 1950s sound on 'Solidarity', while adding touches of latin, West indies funk, samba and reggae to their usual afrobeat and spiritual jazz musical landscapes.
This new full length follows that logic of going forward in new directions, with some big band or gospel arrangements and Eastern Jazz influences! They've now reach a point were their music can't be classified anymore. Blending afrobeat, Cuban or Egyptian jazz, bossa, highlife, bolero, soul-jazz, this LP is killer from start to finish - exactly the kind we're after at Paris DJs: right in the margins, hard to pigeonhole! This should go big on this summer's festivals stages.
2. Kingdom Come
3. One Life To Live
4. As The Crow Flies
5. Black Orchid
7. East Flows The River
8. Sommet En Sommet
9. Celestial Blues
Labels: The Souljazz Orchestra
Jan 13, 2014
Flying to West Africa, northern Latin America, and the Caribbean looking for rare records to create re-issue albums with great aesthetics and brief histories of your favorite periods in musical history is a pretty sweet job. That's what Miles Cleret does to earn his crust with his Soundway record label. In his travels Miles has documented whole cultures on the brink of extinction, as well as entire histories of musical experimentation, one-hit wonders, and sky high egomania.
Miles insists on clarifying, however, how dull 95% of his job is, but we can be sure that the other 5% is probably a bunch more fun than you have 100% of the time at your job.
Vice: How did you turn something that a lot of people consider an obsessive but recreational hobby into flying all over the world pretending it’s a job?
Miles Cleret: I grew up in a house full of records. My dad was a big record collector and I remember how magical it was discovering new recordings and holding them in your hands. The essence of this whole crate-digging—call it what you like—the inspiration comes from looking for music to present to people who don’t know it, and I suppose the label and everything that happens with it is just an extension of that.
So what made you go from there to reissuing such specific eras?
Recordings from the periods that we tend to reissue are in real danger of dying out from being neglected and overlooked. There is a tendency for people to think that something made in the 70s will never be endangered, but that's not always the case. Some of those records were pressed in really tiny numbers, sometimes only two, three, four hundred copies, and 95% of them lie smashed in pieces on the ground or scratched to high hell, or were never sold and melted down to make the next record. So, there’s a real chance these records will never be heard again unless somebody puts them out or focuses on them. It’s a kind of audio conservation I suppose.
Is it working?
Well, 15 years ago some records were absolutely impossible to find. They were just these weird little things that might turn up in tiny second hand record stores in New York, London, or Paris. Now they are easier to get a hold of, and the more people that get into them the bigger the market becomes for those kind of records. Record dealers respond to that. The more compilations that people like myself do, the more people who are solely in it for financial reasons see an opportunity to sell records.
So basically you just wanted to find and release stuff that people didn’t already have.
You've taken crate-digging to its logical conclusion. Some people must be green that you get to do that all day.
I guess so, but there’s always a tendency to romanticize it. Hunting for records is actually a pretty dull thing. You get taken into some pretty odd areas, and some places are pretty risky, but to be perfectly honest 95% of it is extraordinarily frustrating. You spend hours hot and bothered, going through the process covered in sweat and dust, day after day, often with very little reward and lots of mosquito bites. But the other 5% of it is really fun and makes it all worthwhile.
What constitutes that 5%?
Just finding great records. I think it’s inevitable that there will be a new generation of people who don’t give two shits about the actual record and the sleeve. They just want the music. But for me, that’s what it’s all about.
Despite the fact that many of the scenes and genres you have documented are all over the world, many of them seem to have occurred at around the same time.
Well, we are doing one from Colombia, which is 70% 80s, but it’s no secret from looking at the records I’ve put out that the music I’m into is generally from 1955 to 1980. It was a very prolific time--it was before music became disposable and easily digitised, but after it was very much controlled by a small select few. From ‘55 to ‘80 lots of small runs of obscure records in different styles came out and people really got a chance to experiment before the music industry, digital technology, piracy, and cassette tapes came in and killed it off. If I were to go to outer Mongolia looking for 60s and 70s records I wouldn’t have much luck.
Going to the countries themselves makes you understand the way the music moves, intertwines, and goes back and forth. West Africa, the Caribbean, northern Latin America--all the big musical movements of the 20th century developed in an intertwined manner. So Latin music has its roots in African music, but that music went back to Africa in the 40s, 50s, and 60s and, in turn, influenced African music, and then went all the way back again. Similarly, Colombian music in the 80s was influenced by sailors from Nigeria and Ghana bringing records back to Colombia so that they could be played on Colombian sound systems. Jamaicans did the same with American R&B records, and scratched the labels off of them to see if people could tell the difference. That influenced ska, which in the 70s massively influenced music in England. So it just goes back and forth.
How does sourcing obscure records vary from country to country?
In Latin America old music is very much alive. In Colombia they have much more of a culture of sourcing old music. But in Ghana or Nigeria, a lot of people have sort of wholesaled, cancelled, or dismissed old music. It stops with the people who were around at the time. If you meet them, sometimes they’ve got stories, but quite often they’ve forgotten them or they get the stories wrong, or they're just gone. The truth exists in the record.
But records that no one wants anymore.
Not in Nigeria. In Colombia you will find young guys in their 20s who are just as into finding old records as I am. There is a ravenous DJ culture in Colombia, especially for old African music. So when word got out that I had a bag of African records I was willing to trade for Colombian records, I was mobbed. My phone didn’t stop ringing, people turned up to my hotel and followed me around when I was out.
Are there actually that many stores, or even crates to look through in places like Bogota?
There are virtually none in Africa anymore, but there are still a few in Colombia. There are some people who sell records from their garages, and there's still one or two collectors who sell off stuff that they don’t want anymore. There are guys on the street who have these little stores just set up on the pavement. I tend to just turn up in a place and start asking around though. One thing tends to lead to another.
When you're on the hunt, do you prefer finding the artist or the record?
The record. Records don’t always phone you asking for money. Some artists are great, but some are a pain in the ass and have a much bigger sense of their worth than is realistic. People somehow can’t quite believe that you are only selling X amount of records. They just assume that their music must be selling hundreds of thousands of copies and you owe them money.
Sir Victor Uwaifo: Guitar Boy Superstar checks pretty much all the boxes as far as album titles go. Which category did he fall into?
He is one of the small few that fall into the category of being everything I hoped he would be and more. He’s a national hero--he’s regarded as a real keeper of Benin culture, a true ambassador for highlife music, and has managed to be a superstar at the same time.
Was he still a superstar when you met him?
Well, he picked me up from the airport and drove me to his house. He lives in a house called Superstar Highgate on 1 Victor Uwaifo Avenue.
Sounds pretty starry.
The first room you go into is the Victor Uwaifo Hall of Fame. So you have this big room covered in pictures, bits of memorabilia, newspaper clippings, records, and guitars--even the bicycle he used to ride to school--all in this room in his own house. You go from there to the Nigerian History Room, which is a tour through the history of Nigeria and its leaders over the years. That’s followed by the Chamber of Horrors.
What, like a carnival ride?
No, we sat down and watched notorious armed robbers being shot by a firing squad. Then he took me into his concrete airplane he had built onto the side of his house. It was exactly like being in a real airplane--there were windows all down the sides. But in the cockpit there was a piano. He just sat in the cockpit and played for me as we sat and drank beer. It wasn’t your ordinary day.
Surely a lot of the records you find are in unsalvageable condition.
Sadly, yes. They are often not just broken, but the recording is so terrible that it’s unusable. With technology being what it is today, you can actually take out the noise and scratches, but you can’t add anything that wasn’t there. Your hopes rest with the record.
So if it’s broke, you can’t fix it.
Yeah, you can try and pull out what's there as much as possible, but if it’s not there you’re stumped. There are records that I’ve been desperate to find clean copies of for years that I just haven't found.
There’s a 45 by The High Grades called Jumping Cat that I’ve been looking for for about ten years now. I’ve got a copy but it’s far too mashed to do anything with.
Is that your Holy Grail?
One of them.
Jan 10, 2014
An Interview with Awesome Tapes from Africa’s Brian Shimkovitz
It has been an exciting year for ethnomusicologist/blogger/label owner Brian Shimkovitz. His blog Awesome Tapes from Africa has spread like wildfire among music enthusiasts intoxicated by the heady mix of cassette music from across the continent, salvaged from obscurity and presented as full-length streamable albums. Off the back of the blog’s success, which he is proud to say has become more of a ‘public project’, Brian has started a label, reissuing whole albums (rather than compilations) on vinyl, the first of which La Grande Cantatrice Malienne Vol. 3 by Malian singer Nâ Hawa Doumbia came out in late 2011 to widespread critical acclaim. With a second release, Bola – Vol. 7, hitting the shelves as we speak, we caught up with Brian to get deep into what lies behind this incredible project.
How did you first get into the whole scene?When I went to college I had the chance to study abroad. I was interested in African music and rhythm and jazz and I knew a little bit about Ghana and I saw that there was a chance to do an arts and culture project there, so I spent 4 or 5 months there the first time in 2002. It was studying hip-life and youth culture and the way that globalization and technology have made it possible for this new movement to happen and how the youth are doing to it to make jobs and to do their thing and to express themselves. I went back second time in 2004/5 and I stayed for a year and just did tons of interviews with rappers, DJ’s and record producers. I collected tons of tapes and asked a lot of questions and went to a lot of different places around Ghana and I also had the chance to also travel to Mali and Togo and Burkina Faso.
Where would you get the tapes from?
It’s a combination. In Accra, the capital of Ghana you have everything from a wooden kiosk on the corner of a street lined with tapes, or massive markets. Or you just have a guy with a bicycle with a wooden thing attached to the back and he’s got 30 or 40 tapes. Sometimes people would give me stuff, or you’d be on a trip in a public bus and a guy would be playing music he’d show you where you could go to find these kinds of things.
Were people interested in what you were doing?
Well it’s weird, because I wasn’t doing this Awesome Tapes From Africa thing – I didn’t start doing that until after I moved to Brooklyn. What I was doing was learning how to speak Twi, the main lingua-franca there, and I was learning about Ghanaian music and so if you’re a foreigner and you’re really interested in the Ghanaian music then most of the people were just really excited that you were interested, so they wanted to share things with you.
Why do you think tape culture has persisted so much? Is it an economic question?
It was at first. It was also a means to an end, of sort of just getting the music out there. Initially tapes are really helpful in piracy, which is not a good thing, but also piracy also helps the music spread further because not everyone was buying tapes. When CD’s and mp3’s came into play they still just weren’t as accessible and the prices were kinda high.
The tapes also persisted because of the environment. You have a lot of second hand buses and cars that still have tape decks and tapes seem to last a while in that environment so long as you keep them a little bit out of the sun. A CD can get scratched up with all the dust and all the passing around, because things get shared a lot within the household or within the neighborhood.
I know that everyone is trading music with their bluetooth links and stuff like that even out in the Sahara Dessert these days but I also know that cassettes are still being made for almost every release that comes out.
How many tapes do you own?
I own more than 4000 tapes. I have a storage space in Brooklyn. I was living in Manhattan for a few months and my apartment had boxes and boxes almost to the ceiling on one side.
And this is older stuff as well as new releases?
It’s everything. I wanted to find old stuff because I initially came to Ghana interested in highlife music, but then I found out on the very first day I arrived there in 2002 that highlife was almost dead, in the form that we know it as with acoustic instruments and what not. So everything, the brand new stuff and also certain reissues where you can sometimes hear the crackle of the record and someones just set the tape record next to the record player.
How do you recognize something potentially interesting?
Coming from Chicago, I was already familiar with the concept of digging [vinyl] like that and going to all the record fairs. If I came to a town that I hadn’t been to before I would ask around my friends or I would go into a shop and I would just ask. And then also there was a lot of that thing that people do when they digging in foreign countries and you just see a crazy cover and you say “I have to see this”. It’s the same thing with record collecting though; sometimes the most amazing cover is a tape that’s not so interesting.
Where do you get your new tapes from now?
These days I get them from neighborhoods in Paris, places in New York where they have them, and I’ve been really lucky because people email me a lot and say “hey I got some tapes, I’ll send them to you”. I think it’s all part of the sort of public project the blog has become.
In what way has it become a public project?
You’ve probably seen on the blog – and this is the thing that I’m almost the most proud of in terms of the blog itself – is that when I post something that I know nothing about after several comments there is this whole crowd source story of information and links and this is what the internet is all about.
Do you also use the internet to archive the tapes?
I’m not archiving stuff apart from just what you see on the blog. The longer term plan is to make some sort of archive – maybe partner with a museum or some kind of institute, but copyright is an issue and I am giving away peoples music for free, which is a complex thing. So what I feel at the very least is that what you see on the blog is being “saved” in a certain way.
I don’t wanna say, “I’m this foreign guy who is adding value to this music by saving it.” The reality is that a lot of these recordings, especially the ones that people have given me that they’ve bought in the 80’s or the early 90’s, you can’t really find them anymore in that place, some of them are quite rare there. I feel like it’s a good idea to digitize them and put them online.
Are you in contact with the artists you showcase on the blog?
I’m not in contact with the artists. Most of the people whose music is on my blog don’t even know that it is there, for a variety of reasons. Be it shortage of bandwidth or maybe they are not even alive any more or maybe when they go to the internet cafe like most of my friends in Ghana, they’re not looking for African music, they are going on Facebook and they looking at stuff from other places, because the web is a portal for these folks who live in remote areas to really be connected with stuff.
The negative thing that has come up over the years is that people sometimes either explicitly or implicitly express that they want Africans to stay in their little box and make the music the way that they have always made it and [for us not to] “don’t pollute what’s going on there” and that just seems lame.
Having studied ethnomusicology, where do you stand in relation to the debate about cultural colonialism? Even though Awesome Tapes presents the music in a very pluralistic and unpretentious way, how do you avoid this accusation?
Historically, a lot of white people have gone down to Africa and done sketchy things with the music. A lot of African musicians who I have spoken with have felt that in the past they’ve been exploited. In the digital age with blogs the way they are, every band wants to get big and to get big they send music up promotionally through the mp3 blogs. I feel that if the playing field has been leveled technologically and globally – it’s still not level, but it’s getting closer – then the amount of promotion that an artist can get through being featured on the blog which reaches more than 30,000 unique visitors every month can outweigh a lot of the other complexities that come into play.
But I do realize that it is a bit of a catch-22. As an ethnomusicologist you feel like you are taking, because people spend a lot of time and share a lot of stuff with you and at the very least, I wanted to find a way to give back, to show people what Africa can really be like, filled with talent not just war and famine and trouble.
In parts of Ghana different communities are distinguished by their drum rhythms. I was wondering whether there are political tensions between these groups and whether this is reflected in the music?
It’s really hard to generalize even within a specific genre. For example hip-life; some of it can get a little bit political, or it makes oblique references to stuff that’s happening in parliament or amongst the people in society. But a whole bunch of it is just about love and relationships and growing up and being cool, the way that a lot of American hip hop can be.
In other types of popular music, highlife has often been very political but in a really artful way using proverbs. There is a lot of internal tension all over the continent from what I can gather which has a lot to do with the way that colonialism divided up the nations into these bits where communities that have different languages and different customs are forced to be part of the same nation-state.
With this split in languages and customs in mind, and aware that talking even about West Africa is to generalize hugely, what are the repercussions of calling the blog Awesome Tapes From “Africa”?
I know I feel really lame about that, because I don’t even like to say the words “in Africa this or that”. I’m really glad you mention that because I think it’s really important to be sensitive to the fact that Africa is not this monolithic thing, and even Ghana I have a difficult time speaking about because there are 100 language groups in that one relatively small country. And dudes in Mali aren’t listening to records from South Africa in large part.
There are certain musical genres in Africa that have currency across several nations, especially amongst the Francophone countries, for example like Soukous music. There’s very few artists in Africa that are famous or well known or listened to in each country. But it’s not because there is tension I think it’s just to do with language and distribution systems.
The influence of the internet probably also means that musical influence goes both ways – that we are interested in music coming from Ghana, but that Ghanaian’s are both interested and heavily influenced by music coming from America or the UK – especially with regards to hip hop for example.
Yeh, that’s a really important thing to point out. What happened really in the early 90’s in Ghana was that they privatized the airwaves which allowed less restrictions on what percentage of foreign music could be played. So ever since then every young guy in Ghana loves Tupac and loves Biggie. Hip hop there is ubiquitous.
Why do you think there has been such a boom in compilations [Shangaan, Ethiopiques, Soundway Records, Sublime Frequencies, Strut Records] from specific African regions over the last few years?
Mainly it’s that we as listeners have opened our ears, we as listeners want to keep finding new stuff, we as listeners are constantly looking for inspiration, we as listeners can just go on Google and find a lot of other stuff. So it just makes sense that intrepid diggers would make their way into corners of the world to try and find micro-movements and subcultures. This proliferation of compilations is only going to continue.
The thing that is a little bit annoying to me sometimes is that a lot of the compilations just take one or two really crazy tracks from a record that don’t really sound like what the rest of the artist was actually doing. They put those in a compilation and then it creates this image, when maybe it wasn’t really quite like that. My approach is to show what the music would sound like if you were in this particular place at that particular time.
And that is pretty much the idea behind the label isn’t it, putting out full albums rather than compilations?
Absolutely, that’s a huge part of what I do, from almost the very beginning on the blog. I don’t want to select, I don’t want to decontextualize or disembody these statements.
But you are in contact with the artists whose records you are bringing out?
Yes. My ideological, lofty goal is to hopefully take inspiration from the great labels like World Circuit from London who work together closely with the artists and do everything legitimately. I’m licensing recordings, so this is an economic boost in a small way for an artist who has already spent the money on the record that they made. “Here’s some more money upfront to show that I’m serious and you’re going to get this distributed worldwide in an efficient way and any money that I make back, you’re going to get 50% of after the costs are fulfilled”.
What’s the reaction been to the first release by Nâ Hawa Doumbia?
The reaction has been very very positive. I fell in love with this record immediately. Here’s a really great artist who is super accomplished, she’s been around for several decades and this is a really great snapshot of what she was doing pretty early in her career and the production sounds really rich and organic and beautiful.
It’s out on vinyl, it’s out on limited edition tape and it’s on CD – the dying format. If you put out really great music, people are going to respond to it, and this an album that is just absolutely amazing and so it’s gotten the attention it’s deserved.
You also DJ with tapes. How does that work out for you?
It’s been really fun, it keeps me busy on stage and it works out fine for the most part. Every once in a while a tape gets a little funky in the middle and starts to fuck up but I don’t plan the stuff in advance. I typically go with whatever the vibe is and what I feel like playing. You know there is a bit of beat matching, more and more because I know the tapes better and better.
Do you have a box of pencils at the ready to wind them back up in emergencies?
No, you see there’s a misconception that the tapes get chewed up a lot, it’s not even that, I think it just gets worn out play after play. But I feel like life is too short. I can’t go around Europe playing copies of tapes. The tapes themselves sound shitty enough. If I made copies of them it would sound pretty bad.
How many tapes would you take on tour with you?
Around 75 or so, and then I always also have my laptop set up so I can play mp3’s of tapes, but I’ve always kept it limited to tapes because there is just too much music out there. You have to give a limitation somewhere.
Jan 7, 2014
It is hard not to be distracted by the striking graphic art on this great album cover. I am not sure that the 1969 launch of Apollo 12 remained uppermost in the minds of South African music lovers in 1972, but the local urban fascination with many things American is very much in evidence here.
Marketing and imagery aside, Abafana Basekhaya (The Home Boys) deliver a clean, almost contemplative, stripped-down and catchy collection of languid saxophone-driven instrumental mbaqanga. This album is very much in the mould of this earlier minimal mbaqanga posting on the same Number One label - Sea Water.
All the tracks on this album are credited to Tom Vuma and P. Manthata, except the first, "Apollo No 12", which is credited to R. Sathige. The band members are not identified.
"Apollo No 12" and "Going to the Moon" are perhaps my favorite tracks, for their looping, lilting, sassy swaying effect - kind of, I have consumed too much to dance too energetically, but these tunes do keep me wanting to keep on shuffling on.
The price of this record in 1972 was R1.99 - or $2.60 at that time (with the rand being stronger than the dollar 1:1.33). At the current exchange rate (10:1), the cover price of this record would cost just 20 U.S. cents. What goes up must come down? Who knows?
I might yet make myself a t-shirt with this cover image, and the "Moon Fever" cover to follow in the future. Many thanks Burgert for giving me this album. Do Enjoy!
Thanx goes to
Labels: Abafana Basekhaya
Jan 6, 2014
The legendary Zambian band’s disco/boogie years, contains the entirety of their two rare albums: 1980-1984. Out now on Now-Again Deluxe, 2CD on 01.21.14.
Regular visitors to this site are no strangers to the Zamrock movement from Zambia’s early to mid ’70s, from issues of the likes of WITCH, Rikki Ililonga and Musi-O-Tunya to our association with the Shadoks, Strawberry Rain and Mississipi Records reissues of Paul Ngozi and the Ngozi Family, Amanaz and Salty Dog.
Left out of our Zamrock investigation, for stylistic reasons as well as logistical concerns, were albums released after Zamrock’s heyday, when the music of ‘80s Zambia came to be influenced by disco and rhumba from neighboring Congo. Bands that didn’t adapt sounded outdated. Thus even Zamrock’s greatest band, WITCH, splintered, with a skeleton crew of core members embracing younger musicians to record and release two albums that found the band replacing fuzz guitars with whirling synthesizers and trying their hand at soul, disco and boogie.
The band privately issued two albums – Movin’ On in 1980, Kuomboka in 1984 – in small quantities before a dearth of gigs and the large ensemble’s overhead caused them to disband, sometime in 1985. Though but a decade separated the first and last WITCH albums, the recording capabilities of most nations in sub-Saharan Africa by 1984 had caught up with the rest of the world. Finally, fans of the WITCH’s arch can listen to, and acknowledge, the breadth of this great band and assess for themselves the recordings of both of WITCH’s incarnations.
Here's a preview from our next release (ICE-005), Zambian band Witch's early 80's rarity Movin' On. Known for their psychedelic fuzz masterpiece Lazy Bones, this is another side of Witch. This time around the band created another masterpiece, but this time with a whole new sound capturing the spirit of the early 80's, and changing political atmosphere in Africa with a perfect mix of MJ/Jake Solo boogie, and Fleetwood Mac AOR moves. This is an album in the fullest sense, a snapshot of the group at their creative peak, with stellar musicianship, blending American and African influences and peerless production and synthesizer work by the great Patrick Mwondela. This is the African/Balearic boogie version of Band On The Run:
|A2||I Can Do Without You|
|A3||Believer Ma Lover|
|B2||More Sweat Than Sweet|
|B3||I Wanna See The Light|
|B4||Jah Let The Sunshine|
Tracklist: "Movin On"
|A2||To Be Felt||4:48|
|A3||It Was You Boy||4:43|
|A4||I'm Comin' Back||4:14|
|B2||You Are My Sunshine||3:58|
|B3||It Feels So Good||5:29|
|B4||Lets Get Together||5:50|
Labels: The Witch
Jan 3, 2014
Jupiter & Okwess International’s international debut album Hotel Univers takes you right into the heart and onto the streets of modern day Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a politically and economically troubled country. Band leader Jupiter Bokondji is the charismatic and outstanding representative of the innovative scene of street musicians in Kinshasa, a scene which became internationally well-known through the success of Staff Benda Bilili, a band who they share close ties with. His idea is to reactivate the forgotten rhythms and melodies of Congo, by injecting the urban groove of the city. “At independence in 1960, the country was in good condition, utilities worked. But our parents were unable to pass the idependence “test”, they blew it, they were given the chance but they messed up
and they created a sacrified generation”, Jupiter says, “but I’m not interested in the past. What matters now is to lay the foundations for our children and grandchildren.”
When Jupiter wants time off from the daily hustle on the streets of Kinshasa, he rents a room at Hotel Univers. There he can hide from the noise of the streets and seek new inspiration. Many of the ideas of his songs were made up between his room and the bar where he drinks whisky and meets the characters that roam the streets of Kinshasa at night. The song “Magerita” is dedicated to the dangerously attractive women in Kinshasa’s nightlife. It became an immediate hit in Lemba, the area on the outskirts of Kinshasa where Jupiter is from. He identifies with this place where many better educated people stay still struggling to find a job.
The middle class is small in Congo and many of the country’s riches leave the country immediately or end up in the hands of a small elite. “Bapasi” has become a common expression for the daily life struggles of the community in Lemba. It is a catchphrase people use to search for new motivation in order to tackle their daily difficulties – for instance when the public cleaning service doesn’t work, the people in Lemba decided to take care of cleaning up the streets themselves.
Jupiter, who refers himself to be the ‘rebel general’ of Congolese music, doesn’t see the richness of the country in its mineral resources of coltan and diamonds but in the undiscovered talents. “The material is but an elution,“ he sings in the song “Bakwapanu”, “but only the spiritual remains eternal”. Unlike many of the commercial successful Congolese pop-stars, he doesn’t want to praise the ones in power, but relies on the musical richness of the county. To him big musical stars like Kofi Olomide or Werrason often wash down the musical heritage, when their connection to the ones in power as well as their fancy dresses becomes more important than the music itself. Jupiter knows that he won’t be at the top of mainstream music in Congo, a place that is quite conservative when it comes to pop music. But he has a brighter vision.
Through his music Jupiter tries to encourage people to take the future into their own hands. Instead of seeking a better future and immediate wealth by emigrating to the west, common expections shown in many local pop music video clips, he wants people to draw from the talents they already have. “I saw how immigrants struggled in Europe and didn’t want this for my life. I wanted to make something for my country. I realized that it is my mission to bring a new sound into the Congolese music.”
Jupiter has indeed seen this himself. In 1974, as a young boy, he left the Congo to go to East Germany with his father who was appointed executive assistant for the Congo’s embassy in Germany. There he spent his adolescence and discovered Europe and its vibrant music scene, and artists such as the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple and James Brown. He set up his own rock band called Der Neger (The Negro) with fellow young Berliners. Their sound was a strange cocktail of Mongo percussions and Zeppelin-esque guitar. The song “The world is my land (Deutschland)” he captures the experiences of this period of his life.
At the age of 20 his father’s mandate ended, and Jupiter went back to the bubbling 80s Kinshasa, his head full of dreams, glory and sounds unimaginable to most of his friends. He left the family home, earning a living singing at funerals and playing percussion in several local orchestras. “From 18 to 20 years, I have lived as a street child. To earn some money, I was doing music in traditional ceremonies. I worked with families from all ethnic groups in the country, this is how I was able to discover the richness of our heritage.” He started developing his own unique style, surrounding himself with musicians from Europe. He named this explosive mix ‘Bofenia Rock’ and in 1983, succeeded in forming his first orchestra, Bongofolk. Then in 1990 he founded his own band: Okwess international. The band developed a vision of a new Congolese sound experimenting with the musical heritage of a nation with more than 450 different ethnicities.
In early 2004, Jupiter met two French travellers, Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye. The connection was immediate, so much so that the Barret and de la Tullaye returned to record the songs of Okwess International and other groups surrounding Jupiter, such as Staff Benda Bilili. “I knew something like this would happen, I was convinced.” Jupiter’s Dance, a film documenting his musical exploration was released in 2007. On screen, we see his slender silhouette exploring the various districts of Kinshasa, discovering talent artists undiscovered and unknown by the rest of the world. Little Jupiters, he calls them. “Today, there are plenty of young bands who are like me to do music research, dipping into our historical resources. My mission is accomplished transmission. Even if I disappear today, I achieved my goal.” The film became his international introduction and worldwide recognition. Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame worked with him on several projects including the electronic album DRC Music – Kinshasa One Two (Warp). Albarn also invited him to perform at the 2012 Africa Express tour in the UK. Jupiter and his band also toured the world with Amadou & Mariam.
Labels: Jupiter And Okwess International
Jan 2, 2014
This Tunisian butcher's shop has a sideline in cassettes.
Photograph: Guenter Rossenbach/Corbis
It's been six years since Brian Shimkovitz last visited west Africa, and yet this bespectacled resident of New York has done more than most in recent times to uncover a seam of mind-boggling music from the continent – operating chiefly out of his bedroom. Shimkovitz is the driving force behind a blog called Awesome Tapes from Africa, a repository of cassette tapes from artists who remain almost wholly obscure in the west but are screaming out for greater attention. Visitors to the site are greeted with the scanned images of the cassette artwork and links to MP3s of all the music, as well as Shimkovitz's own pithy commentary.
One week it might be the squelchy Kenyan disco of Prince Khonjo, the black-and-white sleeve of whose album Binadamu Hatosheki shows a figure in feathered headdress (the prince himself?), who might have stepped out of one of east London's hipster hang-outs. "File under: bizarre/mind-blowing," Shimkovitz notes. "This simple dance of drum machine and determined vocals generates something particularly ill." Or it might be an eponymous release from a singer called Ouobraogo Charles, from Burkina Faso ("On a scale of dull to wild I'd give it a 'bananas++'"), or a cassette of hunters' music from Mali by Sékouba Traoré ("The tape swings harder and rawer than most").
It's easy to see why none of these recordings have previously surfaced outside their primary markets: for one thing, the production in most instances is incredibly raw, with none of the polish that bestselling world music albums enjoy. And before the web with its long tail came along, who could have known that there'd be an audience for such stuff, never mind a means of distributing it? One nice irony is, of course, that Shimkovitz needs the internet, but in one way his blog is a homage to a very analogue object.
"I've always been a tape guy," he says. "It's a more durable medium than the CD, and I prefer the quality of the sound, plus cassettes have their own aesthetic quality. The only advantage that a CD has is that you can skip the tracks, but I think we should all be more patient in our listening anyway."
The 30-year-old Shimkovitz grew up listening to the Grateful Dead ("on cassette") and was studying ethno-musicology at Indiana University when he was played some Fela Kuti and "it completely changed me". So much so that in 2002, he hightailed it to Ghana to research highlife music. The dominant sound on the streets of Accra and elsewhere was, however, hip-hop – not just the likes of Tupac and Biggie Smalls, but locally produced examples of the genre, the existence of which came as a complete surprise to the budding musical explorer. On a subsquent trip to the region in 2004-2005, he discovered an even greater mix of genres, often bizarre hybrid creations that saw indigenous styles trammelled through cheap electronic equipment or which seemingly bore the influence of the latest western sounds, even if the protagonist had arrived at that point after a parallel journey.
Returning to New York with piles of cassettes, he asked himself, "How can I do something with all this?", and as blogging was becoming increasingly popular – this was 2006 – he decided that he'd simply put it out on the internet. "And the positive response I received just overwhelmed me," he says. The first cassette that he posted on his blog as a series of MP3s was by a singer called Ata Kak, which he'd picked up on the street in Cape Coast in Ghana. "I knew nothing about this guy, and I still don't, really… but there was something about that tape that grabbed me, because it sounded almost like Chicago house music. It's still one of the cassettes that people ask me about most."
For some time, running the blog was just a hobby. By day, Shimkovitz worked as a music publicist in New York, working with acts on the World Circuit label such as Orchestra Baobab and Toumani Diabaté, and also with the likes of Peter Frampton and Pat Metheny. But gradually, he became consumed by the project, and now he devotes himself to it full-time, first by DJing around the world ("It can be problematic: people like the novelty, but not many clubs have a cassette deck in their back-line set-up"); now, in what might amount to an aesthetic volte-face, by releasing records the old-fashioned way, through a label of his own. This month, he is putting out on vinyl and CD and as a digital download – and inevitably as a limited edition cassette – a record by Malian singer Nâ Hawa Doumbia called La Grande Cantatrice Malienne Vol 3 made in Abidjan in Ivory Coast in 1982.
In this, Awesome Tapes is emulating other independent labels to have championed maverick sounds from around the world such as Sublime Frequencies, Analog Africa and Soundway. The latter's Miles Cleret, whose latest release is a batch of recordings of Afro rock and funk from "Nigeria's soul brother number one" Joni Haastrup, describes the challenge of rescuing such material from obscurity. "It can be a minefield," he says. "The contracts are lost, old squabbles start again, the labels have disappeared, the artists have disappeared… I've gone door-to-door in Ghana, trying to find who owns the rights to a particular record. But if you're doing something commercially" – as Shimkovitz is now – "you've got to try to do it legitimately."
One second irony that Cleret points out: forget the internet, it was the advent of the cassette in the 70s and early 80s that wiped out a lot of labels in Africa – making his detective work harder – because it made copying music so easy. "I imagine that a lot of the artists whose recordings have surfaced on Awesome Tapes from Africa never made a lot of money from them anyway – they've always been used to piracy. So the idea that someone somewhere else is bootlegging their material: it's not new to them. But they'll recognise the benefits of any exposure."
Sensitive to any suggestion that he has exploited artists through releasing their material without permission, Shimkovitz says: "When I travelled in Africa, I was struck that every artist, however big or small, wanted more than anything to know whether anyone had heard of them abroad. It's not, in the first instance, a question of getting paid – which is a good thing because I've not been able to pay the artists whose music I've posted online." There is, instead, a simple message on his site: "This is music you won't easily find anywhere else – except perhaps in its region of origin. But if you're an artist/etc and wish for me to remove your music, click above and email me."
"It's not a way we could ever work," says Nick Gold, boss of World Circuit and producer of classic albums by the likes of Ali Farka Touré. "We work closely with our artists and we can only release two or three records a year, whereas there's a mass of material on Awesome Tapes. But Brian is still really picky – there's some incredible music there. I love its complete immediacy."
It is with the release of La Grande Cantatrice Malienne that Shimkovitz is moving to a more professional footing: proceeds from the record will be split 50/50 with Nâ Hawa Doumbia. And while Shimkovitz says she was initially surprised that anyone should be interested in such an old record – Doumbia is not entirely unknown in the west, with several albums available on iTunes, even if she's never enjoyed the profile of her peer from the Wassoulou region of southern Mali, Oumou Sangaré – she has warmed to the project. (Unfortunately, Doumbia, who "lives a ways from Bamako and doesn't speak much French", was not available for comment on this article.)
One example of what might be achieved: no one had much heard of Syrian dabke singer Omar Souleyman outside the north-east of the country, and the bulk of his albums were recordings made at weddings and presented to the married couple before later being copied and sold at local kiosks; but then Sublime Frequencies chanced upon him, and the resultant compilation Highway to Hassake became a slow-burn success, so much so that Souleyman has played Bestival this summer and remixed Björk's last single.
Shimkovitz is warm in his praise for all these competing labels, and is friends with other ethno-musicologists engaged in similar pursuits, such as Christopher Kirkley, who runs the blog sahelsounds.com, an account of his exploration of music in the Sahel region of Mauritania, Senegal and Mali. (Last year, Kirkley posted on his blog a compilation of tunes that he'd collected from cellphones in that part of the world, where swapping music on Bluetooth is common.) "It's an increasingly crowded field," he says, "but the more the merrier."
One advantage is that Awesome Tapes is a crowd-sourced enterprise: some of the tapes he celebrates are ones he's found himself ("via an excellent grocery store on Flatbush Avenue" in Brooklyn, in the case of Introduction by Nigerian Abass Akande Obesere); others are sent to him by those who've met him or stumbled across the blog. For instance, one tape was given to Shimkovitz by someone called Malene whom he met in Copenhagen, the cheaply printed cover of which showed a man in outsized convict garb.
Shimkovitz couldn't read the accompanying script. What he did know was that this tape was, as he described it on the blog, "full of leftfield soulful insanity, the kind for which I live". If anything, he undersells the strangeness of the recording: it's bananas+++ music. "Doing this blog might never get old if I keep coming across gems like this," he continued, and posted the plea: "Please help me identify the tape."
On the blog, Malene came back to him to identify the artist as Kweysha Seta, adding: "When I showed the tape to my friends in Addis Ababa, they told me that he is still alive and he is begging in the streets. A friend of theirs has a copy shop in the area Piazza, which he visits regularly and they always buy him food and take care of him." Another correspondent, writing from Ethiopia, provided more information: "A quite sad, but funny story for many people down here is from when Kweysha Seta was offered a contract for this album. Being illiterate, it was said he was fooled into signing it, not understanding that he would only earn 500birr (about $100 in 1991, rough guessing) for it. It became a big hit, maybe even bigger than expected, and the cover was reprinted several times."
I suggest to Shimkovitz that this could be a contender for his next official release. Possibly, he says, but first he must go back to Africa in person. "This interest in this sort of music from around the world that at first sounds really wacky, it could just be a passing trend," he says. "But it's still what gets me excited." All the time? "Well, I have pretty catholic tastes," he admits. "I love Tchaikovsky and the Wu-Tang Clan. Sometimes I do just want to dance around my bedroom to Lady Gaga."