Sep 28, 2018

" Commandments" by The Seven Ups

Melbourne's 7-piece afro-groove combo, The Seven Ups, are releasing their third full length album, Commandments, and are throwing a launch party at Howler to celebrate.

Building on the bands Funk and Afrobeat influences, the new album pushes the boundaries by adding elements of deep psych and fuzz rock. Whilst maintaining high energy grooves, the new tracks venture to the meaner and darker edges of the genre.

Sep 27, 2018

Sampler: Two Niles to Sing a Melody

Ostinato presents "Two Niles to Sing a Melody: The Violins & Synths of Sudan", a superb Afro compilation released on 3xLP Gatefold with 20-page booklet & 2xCD Bookcase with 32-page booklet ... In Sudan, the political and cultural are inseparable.

In 1989, a coup brought a hardline religious government to power. Music was violently condemned. Many musicians and artists were persecuted, tortured, forced to flee into exile — and even murdered, ending one of the most beloved music eras in all of Africa and largely denying Sudan's gifted instrumentalists, singers, and poets, from strutting their creative heritage on the global stage.

What came before in a special era that protected and promoted the arts was one of the richest music scenes anywhere in the world. Although Sudanese styles are endlessly diverse, this compilation celebrates the golden sound of the capital, Khartoum. Each chapter of the cosmopolitan city's tumultuous musical story is covered through 16 tracks: from the hypnotic violin and accordion-driven orchestral music of the 1970s that captured the ears and hearts of Africa and the Arabic-speaking world, to the synthesizer and drum machine music of the 1980s, and the music produced in exile in the 1990s. The deep kicks of tum tum and Nubian rhythms keep the sound infectious.

Sudan of old had music everywhere: roving sound systems and ubiquitous bands and orchestras kept Khartoum's sharply dressed youth on their feet. Live music was integral to cultural life, producing a catalog of concert recordings. In small arenas and large outdoor venues, musical royalty of the day built Khartoum's reputation as ground zero for innovation and technique that inspired a continent.

Musicians in Ethiopia and Somalia frequently point to Sudan's biggest golden era stars as idols. Mention Mohammed Wardi — a legendary Sudanese singer and activist akin to Fela Kuti in stature and impact in his music and politics — and they often look to the heavens. A popular story is of one man from Mali who walked for three months across the Sahel to Sudan because the father of the woman he wanted to marry would only allow it if he got him a signed cassette from Wardi himself. Saied Khalifa is said to be the one of the few singers to make Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie smile.

Such is the stature of Sudanese singers and the reputation of Sudanese music, particularly in the "Sudanic Belt," a cultural zone that stretches from Djibouti all the way west to Mauritania, covering much of the Sahara and the Sahel, lands where Sudanese artists are household names and Sudanese poems are regularly used as lyrics until today to produce the latest hits. Sudanese cassettes often sold more in Cameroon and Nigeria than at home.

But years of anti-music sentiment have made recordings in Sudan difficult to source. Ostinato's team traveled to Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and Egypt in search of the timeless cultural artifacts that hold the story of one of Africa's most mesmerizing cultures. That these cassette tape and vinyl recordings were mainly found in Sudan's neighbors is a testament to Sudanese music's widespread appeal.

With our Sudanese partner and co-compiler Tamador Sheikh Eldin Gibreel, a once famous poet and actress in '70s Khartoum, Ostinato's fifth album, following our Grammy-nominated "Sweet As Broken Dates," revives the enchanting harmonies, haunting melodies, and relentless rhythms of Sudan's brightest years, fully restored, remastered and packaged luxuriously in a triple LP gatefold and double CD bookcase to match the regal repute of Sudanese music. A 20,000-word liner note booklet gives voice to the singers silenced by an oppressive regime.

Take a sail down the Blue and White Nile as they pass through Khartoum, carrying with them an ancient history and a never-ending stream of poems and songs. It takes two Niles to sing a melody.


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Ostinato Recordsʹ latest release, "Two Niles to Sing a Melody", is not only a collection of sixteen songs from the peak period of the country’s popular music era, the 1970s, it also contains fascinating first-hand accounts from a variety of musicians who survived the purges during the subsequent clampdown on popular culture.

The contemporary history of Sudan is as fraught and complicated as any other post-colonial African nation, if not more so for having had three colonial masters before independence: the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and finally the British. This chaotic background has left a permanent mark on the social and cultural structure of the country and arguably caused the split into North and South Sudan. It also laid the groundwork for the country’s first coup in 1969 led by Colonel Gafaar Muhammad an-Nimeiry.

Charismatic and smart Nimeiry understood he had to win the hearts of his people to hold onto power. He actively encouraged the development of a popular music scene that would appeal to the masses. With the assistance of the Chinese and North Korean governments, theatres were built and musicians trained.

The music these new performers were creating didn’t just grow out of thin air. Sudan had a tradition of popular music dating back to the 1930s. However, the period under the rule of Nimeiry was when the music of the country flourished, especially in the new capital of Khartoum. According to accounts by people who lived there at the time, music was all-pervasive.

Political Islam gains the upper hand

Unfortunately this period of cultural activity was short-lived. With the emergence of extremist militant groups in the Islamic world, Nimeiry began catering increasingly to their intolerant views. In the end even the introduction of legislation censoring music lyrics was not enough to keep him in power. He was overthrown in a coup in 1986 that ultimately resulted in Sudan’s current leader, Omar Al Bashir, coming to power in 1989.

Musicians had begun to leave the country during the early 80s when Nimeiry was trying to hold onto power by appeasing hard-line elements. However, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the government began aggressively targeting music and musicians.

While restrictions during the 80s had been bad, limiting what they could sing about and where they could perform, the new laws were even more restrictive. Unless songs glorified the new regime or demonised the people of South Sudan, they were banned. Musicians were arrested and tortured for daring to step out of line and the trickle of exiles turned into a flood.

Documenting a legacy

Listening to Two Niles to Sing A Melody released by Ostinato Records, youʹll find yourself transported back into Sudanʹs music heyday. Most of the 16 songs were taken from recordings originally made in the 1970s in Khartoum. Unfortunately even the best restoration programmes in the world can’t make up for deficiencies in recordings from fifty years ago. However, the occasional wince at a distorted voice doesn’t prevent us from appreciating the quality and diversity of the sound these amazing musicians produced.

As the title of the album suggests, strings and synthesizers played major roles in the music, creating lush melodies for a singer’s voice to rise above. The percussion and rhythms of the songs are probably the first thing you’ll notice, however. Take the song which opens the recording. "Al Bareedo Ana" (The One I Love) by Emad Eldin Youssef. It opens with an infectious drum beat of such throbbing intensity, you can just imagine people throwing themselves onto the dancefloor.

Then the melody starts to play over the top, with strings and electric instruments creating their own waves of invigorating sound. With Youssef’s voice soaring above it all the cornucopia of music is almost overwhelming in its intensity. If you imagine yourself jammed into a hall with others, however, celebrating a wedding or simply enjoying the moment, youʹll find yourself beginning to revel in the song.

A celebration of resilience
Listening to the music on the album, youʹll pick up on influences ranging from Bollywood inflections to traditional sounds from the Arab world.

The former is especially noticeable in female singers like Hanan Bulubulu’s "Alamy Wa Shagiya" (My Pain and Suffering) and Samira Dunia’s "Galbi La Tahwa Tani" (My Heart, Don’t Fall in Love Again) whose voices soar over their accompanying music like birds in flight.

Two Niles to Sing A Melody (the title refers to the two Nile rivers, The Blue and the White, which surround Khartoum) is a valuable historical record of a vital musical scene whose influence spread across Africa and the Arab world.

To this day recordings of the musicians on this album are still some of the most sought after in the Gulf states. As music begins to make a comeback in Sudan, this compilation represents more than merely an historical document.

The nights in Khartoum are starting to come alive again with the sounds of musicians. Full bands, like those heard on this album are playing at weddings again – music wafts onto the streets from various events. Some of the music is being performed by voices from the 70s, but a new generation has taken up the torch as well. Let this album introduce you to the joys of Sudanese music and celebrate its resiliency.

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While the output of Ostinato Records is still small, through the guiding hand of founder Vik Sohonie the Grammy-nominated label has already unveiled a deeply researched wealth of enlightenment succinctly described by the endeavor’s mission statement: “Afrophone stories from the Atlantic to Indian Ocean.” Previously, they’ve delved into the sounds of Haiti, Cape Verde and Somalia, and in 2018 have continued to travel, with the excellent new compilation Two Niles to Sing a Melody: The Violins & Synths of Sudan Ostinato’s second release to focus on the country of the title. Available as a 3LP gatefold on 140-gram wax with a 20-page booklet and as a 2CD bookcase with 36-page booklet, it’s out now.

Ostinato isn’t one of those late-arriving cash-in-hand labels poised to simply scoop up and platter the results of others’ diligence while reclining back as the modest profits and larger plaudits roll in. No, the label’s driving force Vik Sohonie is a true world traveler holding the passion of a fan, the curiosity of an archivist, and the desire to share what he’s uncovered. To an extent, Ostinato reminds me of a cross between John Storm Roberts’ Original Music label and the info-rich approach of Smithsonian-Folkways, or more appropriate to the current moment, Atlanta GA’s Dust-to-Digital.

If you want to not just hear the music of various global cultures but understand its context, Ostinato is a still young but reliably solid resource, and Two Niles to Sing a Melody only deepens this circumstance. It documents the era in Sudan prior to the violent coup of 1989, a fertile period described by the collection’s co-compiler, Sudanese poet and actress Tamador Sheikh Eldin Gibreel as “a time for culture, writers, artists, sculptors, fine arts, the musicians, and the people in the theater.”

It was time under the rule of Gafaar Muhammad Nimeiry, who seized power in 1969. He instigated a long period of support for the arts, though it was a political maneuver that as hardline Islamists established a foothold in the mainstream, was also ended by Nimeiry; in 1983 he imposed Sharia Law in Sudan with matters only worsening after Omar Al Bashir took power in 1989 (a coup removed Nimeiry three years before).

The compilation begins with “Al Bareedo Ana (The One I Love)” by Emad Youssef (as with prior Ostinato releases, the titles are helpfully translated into English, which can, though obviously only partially, offer insight into the emotional thrust of the music’s power). While the name of this compilation highlights violins and synths, the focus here is on rhythm, guitar, accordions (or accordion-like instrumentation), and Youssef’s sturdy, expressive vocals.

It’s in Abdel El Aziz Al Mubarak’s “Ma Kunta Aarif Yarait (I Wish I Had Known)” that the strings emerge in a big way, and with a tangible Asian influence, specifically of North Korea, as the country’s investment in Sudan during this period was substantial. This doesn’t diminish the vitality of the sounds heard in this track and across the comp, to the contrary broadening it, as one won’t likely mistake the contents for any other archival release, African or otherwise.

Kamal Tarbas’s “Min Ozzalna Seebak Seeb (Forget Those that Divide Us)” combines the strings and accordions with wind instrumentation and a palpable groove (the bass is a treat), though it’s worth noting that Two Niles to Sing a Melody’s wares aren’t especially funky (or jazzy a la neighboring Ethiopia). Instead, the orchestral string lilt of Madjzoub Ounsa’s “Arraid Arraid Ya Ahal (Love, Love Family)” offers an atmosphere reminiscent of pop, though in the (shared) inclination to stretch out, another groove does take hold.

Fluid and up-tempo rhythmic intensity increases in Khojali Osman’s wah-guitar-tinged “Malo Law Safeetna Inta (What if You Resolve What’s Between Us?)” as the crisp strings and robust vocalizing remain. But as the selections unwind there is crucial diversity, with Zaidan Ibrahim’s singing in the live track “Ma Hammak Azabna (You Don’t Care About My Suffering)” somewhat smoother than his contemporaries, and Saied Khalifa’s “Igd Allooli (The Pearl Necklace)” offering enjoyable exchanges with backup vocalists plus an abundance of handclaps (always a good thing).

Taj Makki’s “Ma Aarfeen Nagool Shino! (We Don’t Know What to Say!)” kicks up some hand-drumming dust as the strings swirl (with more of that Asian flavor) and a sweet muted trumpet enters the scene late. With Hunan Bulu Bulu’s live cut “Alamy Wa Shagiya (My Pain and Suffering)” a strong female lead voice enters the comp’s portraiture, and it’s easily one of Two Niles’s standouts.
If one is wondering where the synths are in the equation, they emerge in Abdelmoniem Ekhaldi’s “Droob A Shoag (Paths to Love),” though it’s important to relate that the electronic keyboard-ish textures don’t bring a transition as much as added flavor to the overall scheme. It’s also not a constant element; with Samira Dunia’s “Galbi La Tahwa Tani (My Heart, Don’t Fall in Love Again)” the spotlight lands on another superb woman singer as the synths subside (but those violins, they do stick around).

The only artist to land two tracks on this release is Mohammed Wardi, and with good reason, as he’s cited as attaining a level of popularity comparable to Fela Kuti, though he doesn’t sound like the wizard of Afrobeat. No, Wardi’s “Al Sourah (The Photo)” and the set’s finale “Al Mursal (The Messenger)” are very much in league with what precedes it here, but with the string-sections a bit more full-bodied, the drumming a little deeper in the pocket, and the assured vocals backing up his stature as the tracks’ durations are the longest of the collection, nearing and eclipsing ten minutes respectively.

With Mustafa Modawi & Ibrahim El Hassan’s “Al Wilaid Al Daif (The Youth Who Came as a Guest)” the synths return in a big way, and then enlarge their presence in Ibrahim El Kashif’s composition “Elhabeeb Wain? (Where is My Sweetheart?).” It’s the only non-vocal entry on the set and at under two minutes in length, in comparison to the longer tracks it kinda impacts the ear like a fragment.

But it’s a damn fine short take that’s unlike anything else on Two Niles to Sing a Melody, and it helps to elevate the whole into another unreserved success for Ostinato. The notes in the booklet are exquisite, including numerous interviews with the surviving participants, and for anyone with an interest in the historical retrieval and highlighting of global sounds, this one’s pretty much mandatory.

Sep 26, 2018

Fela Kuti: Musical Genius And Activist

Sunday 18 October was the final day of Felabration; a weeklong annual musical jamboree to celebrate the life, times, music, and ideology of the phenomenon called Fela. Born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti on 15 October 1938, this scion of the popular Ransome-Kuti family of Abeokuta was a singer/songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. They gained worldwide popularity as a foremost Nigerian family. The family has put the country on the world map, being as popular for their musical heritage, as they are for their political activism.  Fela’s musical genius was never in doubt, and even in death, eighteen years on; his great body of work is still being studied, enjoyed, and reworked, finding a presence in every corner of the globe. An off Broadway production of Fela Anikulapo- Kuti’s life titled Fela, and a full length documentary titled Finding Fela have even been produced.

A cursory look at his family tree reveals that Fela was not an accident, in his case the apple did not fall far from the proverbial tree. This son and grandson of Anglican priests (popularly known as the musical priests) simply carried on the family tradition. The story begins with the Reverend Canon Josiah Jesse Ransome-Kuti; an Anglican priest responsible for composing many of the hymns sung in the Anglican Church, both within and outside Nigeria. He recorded a series of songs in the Yoruba tongue for the Zonophone record label in London. JJ it was who took the name Ransome, in honour of the missionary who converted him.

Next comes the Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, a priest like his father, he was an educationist who went to become the Principal of Abeokuta Grammar School, and also president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. His wife Funmilayo was an activist, and women’s rights campaigner, who received the Lenin peace prize in 1970. Mrs. Funmilayo Kuti’s marriage into the family brought political activism into the Kuti family. The couple had four children; Olikoye, Bekolari, Fela, and Dolupo. Olikoye; a renowned doctor, and Professor was at various times Minister of Health, and Deputy Director-General  of the World Health Organisation, Beko also became a doctor, and was Secretary-General of the Nigerian Medical Association.

As was usual with the offspring of the upper middle class Nigerian families of his day, Fela was a young colonial Nigerian male music graduate of an English university, playing a fusion of Jazz and highlife music charting a course for himself. In 1969, he went to Los Angeles on tour with his band, and met Sandra Smith, now Izsadore. Smith belonged to the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam, and was overjoyed to meet Fela as she hoped to learn more about African history from him. To her surprise and dismay, she discovered that he knew next to nothing about the history of Africa, thereafter she took him under her wing and opened his eyes to the vista of African consciousness, and the black power movement. They became lovers, and by the time Fela returned to Nigeria nine months later, his psyche, and music had changed. He left Nigeria a colonial relic, but returned a proud black man.

As radical as he was talented, Fela discarded the family name Ransome, saying it was a “Slave name”, taking on Anikulapo, which means “He who has death in his pocket”. He also turned his back on the Anglican, nay Christian faith of his fore bearers, preferring to return to his African roots. For the rest of his life, Fela would practice the African traditional religion. He entered the Guinness book of records for wedding twenty seven women in one day. The wedding was blessed by the chief ifa priest of Lagos. Fela was often vilified for licentiousness, but as his son, Seun puts it, “Fela was just a very open person, and lived his life as he wished. Many men were guilty of the things he did, they only tried to hide theirs. Many men have children showing up after they are dead and gone. Quite a number of people from all works of life smoke Marijuana, but prefer to hide it.”

Continuing the family tradition, albeit in his own way; Fela trained his eldest son in the age old way of the apprentice learning at the feet of the master. Residents of the John Olugbo axis of Ikeja, Lagos in the early eighties remember a father teaching his young son to play the keyboard; he would play a note, and ask the lad to do the same. It was no joke, only the already famous Fela taking the time to teach his heir the rudiments of the family business; unknowingly preparing him for the international stage and stardom. Although his father had a degree in music, Femi’s success and subsequent superstardom without a music degree are testimony to the genius of the afrobeat icon. Speaking to the Nation Femi said, “When my first international hit album broke, Fela asked me, ‘ Do you now see what I have been trying to teach you all these years? You can now feed yourself through music’. And I agreed.”

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was the matriarch of the clan, and was a great source of inspiration to her large brood. Her granddaughter; Yeni Kuti vividly captures this when she said, “My grandmother is my role model. She inspired me a lot. She once teased Femi about his laziness in rehearsing his saxophone, wondering how he could succeed as a musician without rigorously rehearsing. Femi never missed daily rehearsal ever since.” Fela was  a very hardworking musician as visitors to the shrine can testify. During his lifetime, Fela was known to play his saxophone into the wee hours of the morning; meticulously blowing his sax day in day in day out, year in year out. This acerbic tongued Egba woman was also known to be self-sacrificing as she was part of the group that campaigned for the abolition of women paying tax at the time. Why? Women were already overstretched, supporting their husbands in taking care of their families. As the wife of a middle class reverend gentleman, and educationist, she was financially comfortable enough to have buried her head in the sand, but chose to fight on the side of the oppressed.

A chip off the old block, Fela’s music was often critical of the different corrupt, and profligate Nigerian regimes; whether military or civilian. He churned out hit after hit; songs as aesthetically pleasing, entertaining, and thought provoking as they were full of acidic wit. Songs like Unknown Soldier, Soldier go soldier come, and Zombie ruled the airwaves during the military era, oftentimes causing him to be brutally beaten, his house and properties burned, in addition to being thrown behind bars. He quickly got used to going to prison. As his daughter Yeni puts it, “It was a challenging time for us because when we left home for school in the morning, we did not know if we would meet him on our return, or even when next we would see him”.

Dede Mabiaku paints a more graphic picture of the ire Fela’s songs drew from previous governments when he said, “How many people even know that the last time Kalakuta was burned that they beat the merciless bombastic element out of everyone there, to the extent that his mother was thrown out of the window, that is true, to the extent that they even tore somebody’s stomach open, and he held his guts in with his hands. Nobody told you about that, they wanted to jab Fela with a bayonet, and somebody flung one of the boys on top of him, so the bayonet pierced the guy’s stomach, and his guts came out. Let me paint a picture for you, they held his guts in hands to the hospital (the guy is still alive today). But that was not the issue, they stripped Fela naked, flogged him silly, broke his leg. He was bleeding all over profusely from being caned with whips, down to his privy . . . .”

Surprisingly, with their political activism, and patriotism one would have thought that one or the other member of the family would vie for political office. But as Yeni puts it, “As long as the political terrain of Nigeria remains as it currently is, I can never play politics.”She goes on to say, “I would never want to do anything to disgrace the name of my family.”

A down to earth and humble lot, they made friends with people from different strata of the social divide. Charles Oputa, a much younger artist to Fela has this to say about Fela, “When my friend; Tina Onwudiwe graciously paid two years rent for an apartment in the Gbagada area of Lagos for me, in a bid to encourage my movement to Lagos from Oguta, I was overjoyed.” Can you guess the superstar who visited him the day of his housewarming party? Yes, Fela. Charlie Boy continues, “When he showed up at my apartment that day. I was so shocked, because I usually visited him at the shrine, Fela was not known to visit musicians, and I felt honored to be the only one he visited.” That was not all, Oputa quipped, “Fela stayed the whole day, chatting and goofing around. I finally had to tell him, ‘Fela, a beg I wan sleep’ before he left late that night.”

Are the Kuti’s a lucky family, or is there something in their gene pool responsible for their success? What character traits stood them in good stead to continually conquer whatever stage they found themselves? What reasons can be adduced for their success? As Seun Kuti puts it, “Our direct fore bearers were so accomplished that we have to work hard to live up to their standards.” Speaking about the man Fela, Dede Mabiaku; his protégé has this to say about his late mentor, “He was a perfectionist.  He was one who believed that if something had to be done, it had to be done the right way. Fela scored his songs by himself, he scored notes for everyone and the instruments; for the guitar, the drums, the horns, the tenor, the alto sax, and gave everybody. So you had to rehearse it to his dictates”.

Tracing directly from JJ Ransome Kuti, to Reverend Oludotun Ransome- Kuti and beyond, the musical line directly continues through the late Fela, to his sons Femi, and Seun who have continued the family tradition on the world stage; the former with his Positive Force Band, and the latter as the helmsman of Fela’s band. Femi’s son; Made is the fifth generation of the musical family, and is presently in the UK studying music at his grandfather’s alma mater.

Like him or hate him, Fela was not a man you could ignore. When he died of an AIDS related complaint in 1997, Lagos state stood still to say goodbye to the man who bestrode the Nigerian musical, and sociopolitical terrain like a colossus. More than a million people comprising fans, friends, well-wishers, and even critics turned up for his funeral at the old shrine premises; Nigeria had never seen anything like it, and probably never will.

Sep 24, 2018

Polyrhythmics - Libra Stripes

Literally and figuratively, funk is a four-letter word. Through a process of reiteration and misappropriation, funk emerged from radically creative African-American empowerment and has since been diluted to its goofiest signifiers. Funk, in most quarters, is considered frivolous.

Yes, the adepts—James Brown, George Clinton, Sly Stone, Prince—are proponents of having a really good time. But they’re also dead serious about fun as a means to an end: Free your mind and your ass will follow. The destination is liberation.

I say all this because Libra Stripes is 40 minutes of real-deal, straight-up, hardcore funk. No platform shoes, star-shaped glasses or Afro wigs here. No retro-soul vocals or pat exhortations to fall back on, no venerable front-person singing a redemption song to earn your empathy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff—but this is something else. Polyrhythmics make dense, driving, instrumental dance music, living and pulsing and sweating, made by eight stellar musicians who are all business, and their business is making you move.

The members of Polyrthymics are part of a loose-knit scene of musicians who come together in and around the Sea Monster in Wallingford. This homey little place is Ground Zero for hard funk in Seattle; go when there’s music on and you will dance. The prime instigator is guitarist Ben Bloom, who also plays in Rippin’ Chicken and Unsinkable Heavies. But where those groups ply funk forms that are buoyant and bouncy or sinuous and jazzy, his Polyrhythmics are as heavy as a wrecking ball. They don’t fuck around. They play out frequently and have recorded a half-dozen or so highly collectible vinyl 45s for a couple of different U.S. labels. Libra Stripes brings to bear all their kinetic energy in a sustained, focused studio albums for the first time, and it smokes.

What you hear here is polyglot funk, postmodern and well-studied but not without unhinged moments. Various tongues are deployed in service of ambiance—Fela’s woozy Hammond organ, Joe Bataan’s conga-driven percussion, Bobbi Humphrey-esque flute, Family Stone-style horns, dubby analog effects, hip-hop-ish syncopation. Ambiance, in turn, serves groove. Combined, the two create an all-consuming sound.

Whether it’s the sauntering, Afro-Latin swagger of “Moon Cabbage,” the ’70s cop-show theme-song tension of “Bobo” or the Southern-fried soul of “Skin the Fat,” the music is simultaneously referential and wholly original. There is, after all, a long, star-studded legacy of funk, and these guys are wise to keep in touch with their forebears, both to provide technical foundation and to understand where and when to stray from established templates.

There’s nothing experimental or out-of-bounds here; that would feel like trying. Instead there’s only doing. Embodiment. Of the funk, and all the freedom it brings.

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I can only imagine what it’s going to be like November 2nd at The Crocodile Café when the Polyrhythmics release their new record, Libra Stripes. So much dancing – the corner of 2nd and Blanchard might register on the Richter.

The night, which will also feature the hip-swaying Picoso, will celebrate the new record, one of funky depth and force. But the songs on the album might be even better heard live! They have such a fine mix of low-end and bright horns, one can’t help but want to hear the music loud and on stage.

I have long been a fan of Polyrhythmics because they aim to get their audiences to dance, and dance often. It seems the band’s top priority. Upon listening to their newest album, the first thing I noticed was the backbone beat. Jason Gray on bass is subtle but voluminous and plays with impeccable timing and taste. Each song seems to be built in some way around him. Ben Bloom, front man and architect of Polyrhythmics, accompanies the rest of the band without self-indulgence. His eclectic guitar sneaks around the tracks, all while keeping precise time.

Maybe my favorite song on the 9-track Libra Stripes is “Moon Cabbage”. It almost sounds like a Beastie Boys beat. There is also an outer-space quality to it, while still being rooted in Gray’s stone-solid baselines. There are no vocals on the entire album, but we aren’t left wanting them either. On “Moon Cabbage” the horns provide the melody.

At The Crocodile for the album release show, the room, assuredly, will be packed. People, in the otherwise chilly November night, will be dressed in fine clothing, some even scantily! The energy will be loose and joyful. Moods will be brightened. Bodies will move. And the people will want more.

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Polyrhythmics began as an experiment amongst like-minded musicians in the Pacific Northwest. Having been seasoned players in various soul, jazz and rock collectives, Ben Bloom and Grant Schroff sought to make an EP of original afrobeat and syncopated funk songs. Recording led to performing, then touring; that handful of songs soon grew to sixty; a Canadian crate digger took notice. Following up their 2011 debut full-length, Labrador, Polyrhythmics return with their dance-oriented second LP, Libra Stripes, on Calgary's Kept Records. Whether it's the smooth guitar and ride cymbals that make up the groove of "Snake in the Grass," or the hyper horns stabs of "Bobo," Polyrhythmics have perfected the art of getting people moving, and the results are wonderful. If instrumental music isn't your thing, then yes, you should probably steer clear of this album, but folks who want to dance to an EDM-alternative will be well served by Libra Stripes. The art of digging has long been focused on finding that rare old gem, but Polyrhythmics prove that funk need not have a time stamp. 


1. Libra Stripes
2. Pupusa Strut
3. Moon Cabbage
4. Chingador
5. Snake In The Grass
6. Bobo
7. Skin The Fat
8. Retrobotic

Sep 19, 2018

Oghene Kologbo & World Squad - Music No Get Enemy

Oghene Kologbo, born in Warri (Nigeria) in 1958, has been an integral member of the legendary Fela Kuti's Africa 70 for the whole life of the band. This made his tight tenor guitar playing be a fundamental presence on all the masterpiece records that defined the sound of Afrobeat and brought him to play with people of the likes of James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Lester Bowie, Paul McCartney, to name a few. After leaving Lagos for good with other members of Fela's band, Kologbo lived in Berlin from 1978 and since then toured with King Sunny Ade, Tony Allen and Brenda Fosse, among many others. He also founded a number of successful bands such as Roots Anabo and projects with Adé Bantu and Xavier Naidoo.


Sep 18, 2018

Zamrock: Mike Nyoni & Born Free - My Own Thing

Zambian guitarist and singer/songwriter Mike Nyoni’s music is Zamrock only because he came of age during the country’s rock revolution. His preferred wah-wah to fuzz guitar, James Brown to Jimi Hendrix. His 70s recordings – often politically charged, and ranging from despondent to exuberant – are amongst the funkiest on the African continent. He was also one of the only Zamrock musicians to see his music contemporaneously issued in Europe.

This anthology collates works from his three 70s LPs – his first, with the Born Free band, and his two solo albums Kawalala and I Can’t Understand You – and presents a singular Zambian musician on par with celebrated artists Rikki Ililonga, Keith Mlevhu and Paul Ngozi.

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The latest release in Now-Again's deluxe Reserve Edition series: the first ever anthology of Zamrock musician Mike Nyoni's funky, psych-rock and folkloric 1970s recordings spread over 2 CDs. Zambian guitarist and singer/songwriter Mike Nyoni's music is Zamrock only because he came of age during the country's rock revolution. His preferred wah-wah to fuzz guitar, James Brown to Jimi Hendrix. His 70s recordings -- often politically charged and ranging from despondent to exuberant -- are amongst the funkiest on the African continent. He was also one of the only Zamrock musicians to see his music contemporaneously issued in Europe. This anthology collates works from his three 70s LPs -- his first, with the Born Free band, and his two solo albums Kawalala and I Can't Understand You -- and presents a singular Zambian musician on par with celebrated artists Rikki Ililonga, Keith Mlevhu and Paul Ngozi. The package also features an extensive, photo-filled booklet contains an overview of the Zamrock scene and Nyoni's story.

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Mike Nyoni and Born Free - My Own Thing - Now-Again Reserve

This 2 disc on revered label Now-Again's Reserve subscription series continues the label's fascination with the Zamrock scene and sound. It's obviously a labour of love for label boss, Egon, and the care and attention lavished on the package serves to do justice to the music presented.

The context given by the accompanying literature gives a great insight to the geopolitical landscape of the era, Zambia's position on this landscape, and the journey between now and then for both the country and the artefacts of this scene.

Focusing on Mike Nyoni, this compilation distils three albums of music, both solo and with the Born Free band.

The sound is much tighter and cleaner than you'd expect based on the previous releases in the series. The guitar work is clear and melodic, utilising a blues/funk scratch rhythmic interplayed with a pickier lead to great effect across the first disc. A hermetic rhythm section drives the tunes with fierce power, and steady, rather than frenetic pace, the quoted influence of New Orleans funk easy to hear.

No washing fuzz or reverb, no wig out moments, just tight arrangements overlaid on strutting grooves. Nyoni's voice, whether singing in English or languages local to his enforcedly nomadic history, oozes sincerity, both on the personal and political songs. Given the tumultuous environment he wrote in, it's unsurprising that political themes resonated with such emotional depth.

Disc one ends with Chikwati Chata, where wah is applied to a recognisably Southern African guitar groove and lead melody, and drum pattern that will be familiar to anyone well versed in the last decade's worth of Afro-insert-genre-here re-issues and re-works.
Sounds like a pivotal point?

Disc 2 is much more Nyoni's work with (The) Born Free band. Essentially their one album, with some singles from prior to this, the production is less sharp, the band looser, and the arrangements more open to freestyle sections.

The influence of Hendrix is more obvious - the instrumental Mad Man being a prime example of trio playing more to sections than strict structures. This is aligned more closely to the inspiration that Woodstock era 'classic rock'' had on the Zamrock sound overall, and documents the beginnings of an artist finding his place within a movement, before the further self-definition outlined on the previous disc.

Overall this is a great collection of works presented with an educational package worthy of inclusion on any official syllabus that you could align the outcomes to. The socio-political climate of the country, the region, the post-colonial upheaval, a nation's leader trying to exert independence and support the rights of Africans within their own countries to self-rule, the conflicts and hardships this caused for their people, and how a generation of musicians interpreted and expressed this through a lens of optimistic post-hippie ideals. Rock transported from the civil rights US to an independence seeking African country, funk born of this and forged with peacenik ideas, this is a story worth telling, and worth your time hearing.

Sep 17, 2018

African Scream Contest Vol​.​2 - Benin 1963​-​1980 (by analogafrica)

A great compilation can open the gate to another world. Who knew that some of the most exciting Afro-funk records of all time were actually made in the small West African country of Benin? Once Analog Africa released the first African Scream Contest in 2008, the proof was there for all to hear, gut-busting yelps, lethally welldrilled horn sections and irresistibly insistent rhythms added up to a record that took you into its own space with the same electrifying sureness as any favourite blues or soul or funk or punk sampler you might care to mention.

Ten years on, intrepid crate-digger Samy Ben Redjeb unveils a new treasuretrove of Vodoun-inspired Afrobeat heavy funk crossover greatness. Right from the laceratingly raw guitar fanfare which kicks off Les Sympathics’ pile-driving opener, it’s clear that African Scream Contest II is going to be every bit as joyous a voyage of discovery as its predecessor. And just as you’re trying to get off the canvas after this one-punch knock out, an irresistible Afro-ska romp with a more than subliminal echo of the Batman theme puts you right back there. Ignace De Souza and the Melody Aces’ “Asaw Fofor" would’ve been a killer instrumental but once you’ve factored in the improbably-rich-to-the-point-of-being-Nat-King-Cole-influenced lead vocal, it’s a total revelation.

The screaming does not stop there, in fact it’s only just beginning. But the strange thing about African Scream Contest II’s celebration of unfettered Beninese creativity is that it would not have been possible without the assistance of a musician who had been trained by the Russian secret services to "search and destroy" enemies of the country’s (then) Marxist-Leninist president Mathieu Kerekou.

Already familiar to fans of the first African Scream Contest as a mainstay of ruthlessly disciplined military band Les Volcans de la Capitale, Lokonon André vanished in a cloud of dust at Ben Redjeb’s behest with a list of names and some petrol money, only to return a few days later having miraculously tracked down every single name he’d been given. The source of this Afrobeat bounty-hunter’s impressive people-finding skills - his training with the KGB - highlights the tension between encroaching authoritarian politics and fearless expressions of personal creative freedom which is the back-story of so much great African music of the 60s and 70s. Happily, in this instance, Lokonon was tracking the artists down to offer them licensing deals, rather than to arrest them.

Where some purveyors of vintage African sounds seem to be strip-mining the continent’s musical heritage with no less rapacious intent than the mining companies and colonial authorities who previously extracted its mineral wealth, Samy Ben Redjeb’s determination to track this amazing music to its human sources pays huge karmic dividends. 

Like every other Analog Africa release, African Scream Contest II is illuminated by meticulously researched text and effortlessly fashion-forward photography supplied by the artists themselves. Looming large - alongside Lokonon André - in the cast of biopic-worthy characters to emerge from this seductive tropical miasma is visionary space-nerd Bernard Dohounso, who laid the foundations for Benin’s vinyl predominance by importing and assembling the turntables that would play the products of his Bond villain-acronymed pressing plant SATEL, a factory that would revolutionise the music industry in the whole region.

The scene documented here couldn’t have been born anywhere else but in the Benin Republic , and the prime reason for that is Vodoun. It’s one of the world’s most complex religions, involving the worship of some 250 divinities, where each divinity has its own specific set of rhythms, and the bands introduced on the African Scream Contest series and other compilations from that country were no less diverse than that army of different Gods. At once restless pioneers and masters of the art of modernising their own folklore, the mystic sound of Vodoun was their prime source of inspiration.

One especially irascible Vodoun-adept was Antoine Dougbe, who styled himself “The devil’s prime minister” while turning ancestral rhythms into satanically alluring modern beats. As Orchestre Poly-Rythmo songwriter Pynasco has observed sagely, “Evil is not elsewhere, evil extends into the house”. And African Scream Contest II is a gloriously cinematic road-trip through an undiscovered realm of music lore whose familiarity is every bit as thrilling as its otherness.  


Five songs into African Scream Contest 2 comes one of the greatest recorded screams I’ve ever heard.The Picoby Band D’Abomey have just begun to play “Mé Adomina,” a track built around a loping surf groove and a lazy shaker that suggests almost anything besides ecstatic fits of joy. And then the singer gets free. He lets loose a blood-curdling howl that immediately redlines the song and that’s probably still resounding in the Beninese city where it was recorded. It is a wild thing, a shriek of joy, truly an entrant in the hall of fame of great rock ’n’ roll screams. Move over, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

It’s such a powerful shout that it shakes you into realizing that it’s the first of its kind on this two-LP compilation of afro-funk from Benin. The modest yelp that caps the North African lullaby of Elias Akadiri and Sunny Black’s Band’s “L’enfance” notwithstanding, the contested screams here aren’t being laid down by the musicians; it’s that the musicians are competing to make the listener scream.
And there’s a lot to scream about on African Scream Contest 2, the sequel to the legendary 2008 compilation of the same name put together by ace crate-digger Sam Ben Redjeb, the former flight attendant behind the Analog Africa label. Like its older brother, 2 makes the case for the vitality and richness of the music scene in Benin, a country whose musical legacy is greatly overshadowed by its Nigerian neighbors to the east and, to a lesser degree, by Ghana to the west.

The sounds here are immediately familiar, but reveal unexpected complexities: Les Sympathics de Porto Novo kick things off with a zamrock-worthy lead guitar before segueing into a loose afrobeat pattern, l’Orchsetre El Rego spangles a stutter-stepping afro-cuban jam with tinny synths and soul-jazz organ, the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou play chanting Ghanaian disco from deep pocket grooves while the vocals shift into wispy calls-and-responses that sound more like Tuareg vocal melodies than the sounds typically associated with West Africa. It suggests that Benin’s musicians soaked up everything that came near them and then some, a kind of accidental melting pot of sound.

Not that this versatility should be all that surprising; the incredible variety of African records that have been reissued since the original Scream Contest long ago illuminated the level of interplay among the various music scenes of the region for Western listeners. But it’s a welcome reminder that that interplay wasn’t only happening in the cultural hubs of Accra and Lagos, that the contemporary sounds of Mali and Morocco were just as mobile as their West African counterparts, and, more than anything, that style isn’t the sole property of power centers; this music was being made and adored for its own sake long before anyone outside of Benin — let alone the United States — had ears for it.

All of which gives African Scream Contest 2 a sense of power all its own, one that’s made manifest on the comp’s second track. Ignace de Souza and the Melody Aces set “Asaw Fofor” rolling on a rockabilly groove. de Souza himself leads the band with all the smoothness of Cab Calloway or Nat King Cole, and the sax, rather than stab along to the song’s rhythm, sits back and waits, finally taking a long, warm solo before bowing out for the rest of the song. That sense of confidence, the willingness to luxuriate in a groove or a tone or a feeling without hurrying to an ending, animates all of the music here, and, maybe more than anything else, makes me wonder what was happening in Togo, and The Gambia, and Gabon, and everywhere else in African flyover country.

Sep 11, 2018

Dur Dur Band - Volume 1, Volume 2 & Previously Unreleased Tracks (by analog africa)


ollowing Analog Africa founder Samy Ben Redjeb's dangerous trip to Mogadishu in November of 2016, the label presents Dur Dur of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 & Previously Unreleased Tracks. Dur-Dur, a young band from the '80s, climaxed as a band in April of 1987 with the release of Volume 2, their second album. The secrets to Dur-Dur's rapid success is inextricably linked to the vision of Isse Dahir, founder and keyboard player of the band. Isse's plan was to locate some of the most forward-thinking musicians of Mogadishu's buzzing scene and lure them into Dur-Dur. Ujeeri, the band's mercurial bass player was recruited from Somali jazz and drummer extraordinaire Handal previously played in Bakaka Band. Isse also added his two younger brothers to the line-up: Abukar Dahir Qassin was brought in to play lead guitar, and Ahmed Dahir Qassin was hired as a permanent sound engineer. On their first two albums, Volume 1 and Volume 2, three different singers traded lead-vocal duties back and forth. Shimaali, formerly of Bakaka Band, handled the Dhaanto songs, a Somalian rhythm from the northern part of the country that bears a striking resemblance to reggae; Sahra Dawo, a young female singer, had been recruited from Somalia's national orchestra, the Waaberi Band. Their third singer, the legendary Baastow, who had also been a vocalist with the Waaberi Band, and had been brought into Dur-Dur due to his deep knowledge of traditional Somali music, particularly Saar, a type of music intended to summon the spirits during religious rituals. From the very beginning, Dur-Dur's doctrine was the fusion of traditional Somali music with whatever rhythms would make people dance: funk, reggae, soul, disco, and new wave were mixed effortlessly with Banaadiri beats, Dhaanto, and spiritual Saar music. The concoction was explosive. It initially seemed that Dur-Dur's music had only been preserved as a series of murky tape dubs and YouTube videos, but after Samy arrived in Mogadishu he eventually got to the heart of Mogadishu's tape-copying network and ended up finding some of the band's fabled master tapes, long thought to have disappeared. This set reissues the band's first two albums -- the first installment in a three-part series dedicated to Dur-Dur Band -- representing the first fruit of Analog Africa's long labors to bring this extraordinary music to the wider world. Remastered from the best available audio sources. Includes two previously unreleased tracks; Accompanied by extensive liner notes, featuring interviews with original band members. 

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A fantastic, hypnotic and funky compilation from the Dur-Dur Band of Somalia! This triple LP reissue of the band's first two albums -the first installment in a three-part series dedicated to Dur-Dur Band- represents the first fruit of Analog Africa's long labours to bring this extraordinary music to the wider world. Remastered from the best available audio sources, these songs have never sounded better. Some thirty years after they first made such a splash in the Mogadishu scene, they have been freed from the wobble and tape-hiss of second and third generation cassette dubs, to reveal a glorious mix of polychromatic organs, nightclub-ready rhythms and hauntingly soulful vocals. In addition to two previously unreleased tracks, the music is accompanied by extensive liner notes, featuring interviews with original band members, documenting a forgotten chapter of Somalia's cultural history. Before the upheaval in the 1990s that turned Somalia into a warzone, Mogadishu, the white pearl of the Indian Ocean, had been one of the jewels of eastern Africa, a modern paradise of culture and commerce. In the music of the Dur-Dur band -now widely available outside of Somalia- we can still catch a fleeting glimpse of that golden age.