MAGIC MIX

latin . african . world

WEEK STARTING 1 Sep

Genre pick of the week Cover of Liital by Aby Ngana Diop.
Senegalese griot Aby Ngana Diop was famous for her taasu, a form of oral poetry spoken to the rhythmic accompaniment of sabar and tama drums. Taasu is typically created and performed by griot women (a class of poets, storytellers / musicians), with a lead taasukat (practitioner of taasu) performing her distinct style of heightened, rhythmically declaimed speech in call-and-response with a small chorus of female vocalists. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Diop developed a reputation for being one of the most sought-after taasukats in Dakar, performing with her backup singers, dancers and drummers at parties, weddings and baptisms of the Dakar elite, including government officials and dignitaries. Aby Ngana Diop was undisputedly the best taasukat of her generation!

In 1994, the Dakar diva released her one and only studio cassette recording, 'Liital', to the Senegalese market. 'Liital' was groundbreaking in the history of Senegalese music because it was the first commercial recording to feature a traditional female taasukat performing to the modern accompaniment of mbalax, Senegal’s quintessential pop genre. The combination of Diop and her backup vocalists with their powerful taasu, along with the driving, complex rhythms of the sabar and tama drums, mixed with key elements of mbalax (such as the syncopated, polyphonic marimba sounds played on the Yamaha DX7 keyboard) was something the Senegalese public had never heard before. But it wasn’t only because of the fusion of taasu with mbalax; unlike in other mbalax tunes, the musical arrangements on this cassette are instead peculiarly minimalist and almost trance-like, with static harmonies and melodic figures playing more of an atmospheric role.

The cassette became a huge hit, propelling Diop to a new level of superstardom. It could be heard blasting from taxis and from loudspeakers at house parties, weddings and baptisms for years to come. 'Liital' bridged the gap between the more traditional taasu and the modern mbalax sound, thus appealing to all generations of the Senegalese public – and they simply couldn’t get enough of it! When Aby Ngana Diop died unexpectedly on July 4, 1997, the country mourned her passing, but continued to celebrate her music. Other artists such as Cheikh Lô, Thio Mbaye and Lamine Touré released recordings based on some of Diop’s taasu and accompanying drum phrases, paying further tribute to her musical legacy. Although this cassette has caught the attention of some African music aficianados who have stumbled upon it in recent years, it remains largely unknown to the wider world. Hopefully this re-release from Awesome Tapes From Africa will change that.

Fela Kuti

Confusion

Fela Kuti's 1975 "Confusion" shows him and Africa 70 at the heights of instrumental prowess and ambiguous jibes (the stabs are about to get a bit more direct and heated with 1977's "Zombie"). "Confusion" begins with an unusual free jazz interplay between Fela on organ and drummer Tony Allen that has the presence of 2001: A Space Odyssey in its omnipresent drama. Then the group falls into a lengthily mid-tempo Afro-funk that plays with a sureness that only comes from skilled musicians and a dictator-like leader; here is the formula that had made Fela a genius: Once he has the listener (or the crowd - as all of his songs were originally meant to entertain and educate his audiences at the Shrine) entranced in his complex (and at the same time, deceptively simple) arrangements of danceable grooves, he hits them with what he wants to say. "Confusion" is a comment on the general condition of urban Nigeria (Lagos, in particular). Fela uses traffic jams, no fewer than three dialects, and a multitude of currencies that make trading difficult to complete the allusion to the general post-colonial confusion of a Nigeria lacking in infrastructure and proper leadership. "Confusion" is a highly recommended 25-minute Afro-beat epic.

"Expensive Shit" is arguably one of Fel Kuti's best releases. In addition to its burbling percussive groove, infectious horn melodies, and Fela's inspired vocal performance, the anecdote behind the title cut is an amusing tale, and another that shows up the corruption of the Nigerian police. Seeking to frame Fela Kuti, the police tried to plant a joint of marijuana on him during a gathering at his home. Wise to their plan, he quickly swallowed the joint. However, the police threw him in jail to wait for the evidence to make its way through his system. With some wily plotting Fela escaped charges and subsequently produced this opus mocking the police for wasting resources on hassling him instead of furthering justice in Nigeria. Opening brass sounds give way to interplay between Fela’s narration about the episode and responses from his group of female singers.

On the flipside we get the equally classic keyboard-and horn-dominated instrumental "Water No Get Enemy".


It's hard to go wrong with Fela Kuti's work from the 1970s, and "LIVE!", which features the Afro-beat innovator backed by his powerhouse band Africa '70 and ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker, is no exception. Like all of Fela's recordings from the era, "LIVE!" consists of just a few tracks, each of which approximates or exceeds the ten minute mark.

Yet the arrangements are so dynamic on these tracks, the criss-crossing polyrhythms so absorbing, and Fela's incantatory vocals so entrancing that the long running times never seem a factor. Every cut crackles from beginning to end with its mixture of funk, jazz, and traditional Nigerian music, underscoring once again Fela's revolutionary, indelible contribution to world music. Fans of Ginger Baker will want to take note that the drummer is not showcased except on a bonus track, which pairs the drummer with Fela percussionist Tony Allen for a smokin' sixteen-plus minute drum solo.

FORMAT INFORMATION

Ltd CD Info: CD is presented in a deluxe digipack, with booklet including Fela’s biography and track-by-track commentary from Afro-beat historian Chris May.

Fela Kuti

Finding Fela OST

    The soundtrack to the documentary film ‘Finding Fela’ which tells the story of Fela Kuti’s life, his music and his social and political importance.

    This in-depth look at the man who created Afrobeat (the fusion of jazz, traditional West African rhythms, funk, Highlife and psychedelic rock) includes 17 of Fela’s classic tracks plus a never-before released live version of ‘Colonial Mentality’, recorded at the New Afrika Shrine in Fela’s hometown of Lagos and featuring Fela’s son Femi Kuti on saxophone.

    With his audacious music and much courage, Fela helped fight corruption and autocracy in freshly democratized Nigeria.

    'He Miss Road' combines the sound of James Brown-style 70s funk with a stripped down Afro-beat performance. Ginger Baker produced this ethereal, nearly psychedelic album with Tony Allen on drums, backed by Fela’s Africa 70 band. The title track refers to the ways in which people have lost their way - and the ensuing chaos it causes. Through call-and-response lyrics, Fela illustrates a few ways in which someone has “missed the road”, including a gorilla who runs out of the jungles and into Lagos, and a musician who sings only for the deaf. This last example is a caustic personal attack on a fellow Lagosian musician who had stolen one of Fela’s girlfriends - the attack extends even onto the original album cover, where this point is literally illustrated.

    "Sorrow Tears and Blood" book-ended the Nigerian army's deadly raid of the Kalakuta Republic, Fela Kuti's self-appointed independent state domicile, and Kuti's hostile feelings toward upper-class Nigeria are prominent on this session. The first recording released after the Kalakuta's capture, the album is fierce; the band's sound almost seeming to drip blood. Slower and more persistent, the ominous grooves here no longer bother with metaphor, crying out bluntly, 'some people lost some bread, someone just died...them leave sorrow, tears, and blood.' Alongside Woody Guthrie's "Struggle", this is as stirring as musical social protest gets. "Sorrow Tears and Blood" boils over with Fela's singing and the frantic call-response of horns and chorus; the scattering sounds of people fleeing a police-and-army attack. And "Colonial Mentality" calls for a united Africa to stand up against its widespread leftovers of imperialism. The entire collection is chock-full of Kuti's distinctive polyrhythmic orchestra-funk in top form.

    Sinkane

    Mean Love - Bonus Mix CD Edition

    With roots in the rich musical history of North America as well as Africa, Sinkane provide a new perspective on what soul music is, and what it can be. Sinkane’s 'Mean Love' rolls like an emotional, existential history of the artist. Ahmed Gallab has created an altogether unique compound of sound, stylistically nostalgic and ultramodern at the same time. From Gallab’s childhood in Sudan there is a Pan-African influence of popular Sudanese music and haqibah, as well as distinct horn and synth arrangements more common to East Africa. This background merges with the lessons learned from Ahmed‘s stints with obsessive craftsmen such as Caribou, Yeasayer and Of Montreal, and especially the monumental task he underwent as musical director of ‘ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor.’ Gallab excavated and arranged a treasure trove of lost classics from the West African synth-pioneer to put together a now legendary series of performances. 'Mean Love' is an album with an open door invitation, and gets deeper with every listen. You hear it right away in the blistering opening track, “How We Be”. An instant classic, sounding like a lost gem of soul funk, a sweetness of voice alongside honey bass lines, the tune grips you and makes you wish for a dancefloor, while enticing you to stay for the whole journey of the album.

    FORMAT INFORMATION

    LP Info: Includes 23 track bonus compilation CD while stocks last.

    CD Info: Includes 23 track bonus compilation CD while stocks last.

    Wax Poetics

    #59 (Aaliyah / Kelela Cover)

      eteran music journalist Michael A. Gonzales looks back twenty years on Aaliyah’s debut album, the controversy with R. Kelly, and the follow-up album with Timbaland that changed the landscape of R&B. Includes never-before-published photos of Aaliyah by photographer Jonathan Mannion. Novelist T. P. Carter interviews newcomer Kelela and runs down the L.A. electro-bass scene.

      Producer, songwriter, and organist Edwin Birdsong is the anonymous genius behind some of jazz-funk’s most cosmic moments. Influenced by Larry Levan and the New York club scene, Birdsong’s left-field boogie anthem “Cola Bottle Baby” would become fodder for both Daft Punk and Kanye West, and his bare funk breakbeat track “Rapper Dapper Snapper” would nod hip-hop heads for years, bringing Birdsong’s grooves to a new global audience.

      Rinder and Lewis had a knack for creating commercial, crossover disco, hiding behind various monikers like El Coco and Le Pamplemousse. Ultimately, they chose to reveal their true identities on a string of records that would allow them to realize a more artistic vision of disco that played to their strengths—stripped-down drum-and-synthesizer tracks that pioneered the cosmic dance.

      Terry Reid passed on the opportunity to become the front man of Led Zeppelin, choosing to carry on as a solo act that never paid off with the heights of fame and fortune of his musical pals, yet he recorded two soulful folk-rock masterpieces and has become known as an artist’s artist.

      The story of the notorious NYC bathhouse Continental Baths is the story of disco. The Baths would birth the careers of dance icons Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles, two young DJs who were soaking in the nascent disco scene of the early ’70s—and who soon got their own shot behind the decks, ultimately influencing the dance scene in immeasurable ways.

      As one half of production duo Flyte Tyme Productions, Jimmy Jam, along with partner Terry Lewis, changed the landscape of popular music and the sound of radio forever. The duo’s attention to their craft and changing times saw an evolution in their sound through the latest technology, yet their secret to success was unique, tailor-made productions for each artist.

      Contents:

      Aaliyah
      Kelela
      Edwin Birdsong
      Rinder & Lewis
      Terry Reid
      Jimmy Jam
      Continental Baths
      Chromeo
      Blu
      Kaytranada
      BadBadNotGood
      Com Truise
      Doug Shorts


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