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BONGO JOE

For the casual fan of Nigerian music, certain names immediately come to mind at the mention of the phrase “Igbo highlife” - internationally recognized stars like Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Celestine Ukwu, Oliver De Coque, and The Oriental Brothers. Intermediate students of the genre might cite less universally lionized but still tremendously influential players like the Ikenga Super Stars, Mike Ejeagha, or Goddy Ezike. The true aficionado, however, is likely to chatter enthusiastically about someone like Franco Lee Ezute, and how he was the avatar of a spirited new take on the style that revitalized and redirected the genre in the 1970s and 80s.

To this contribution to the conversation, the purist might counter that Ezute, and others of his ilk (King Ubulu, Ali Chukwuma, Rogana Ottah, Bob Fred, Mmadu Osa International Band, etc.) despite singing in what appears to be the Igbo language and utilizing Igbo cultural motifs, technically do not qualify as Igbo highlife at all. Instead, they should be categorized as Anioma sound.

But what exactly is Anioma sound? Well, that can often be a complicated to quantify as the concept of “Anioma” itself, and both continue to stoke passionate debates: Is Anioma music simply a variety of Igbo highlife, or its own unique genre? And are the Anioma people Igbos… or something else altogether?

The word “Anioma” is an acronym encompassing the names of four language groups in present-day Delta State, Nigeria: Aniocha, Ndokwa, Ika, and Oshimili. The tongues spoken in these regions are generally considered to be mutually intelligible with standard Igbo, and are frequently counted among the over 30 distinct dialects of the Igbo language. Over the years, the Anioma peoples have variously been described as “Western Igbos,” “Bendel Igbos” and “Delta Igbos.” But many indigenes of this area stubbornly maintain that despite speaking variations of the Igbo language and bearing what sound like Igbo names, they are not of Igbo descent culturally or genealogically. Contemporary Anioma historians have popularized the theory that they are descendants of the Bini peoples in neighboring Edo State who migrated to the western border of Igboland and took on much of the language and culture. While there is not much substantial evidence to support this narrative, it’s one that is easy to believe when you listen Anioma music—specifically the highlife produced by the natives of the Ndokwa (or Ukwuani) area. On the surface it sounds like Igbo highlife, but something about it is… different.

Ukwuani highlife features Igboid lyrics, and the same kind of mellifluous, laidback guitar lines you’d expect to hear from the likes of Osadebe, but the rhythm section is often much harder. The basslines are deeper and more insistent, the percussion more aggressive and animated. In short, the rhythm is more reminiscent of Bini musicians like Sir Victor Uwaifo, Osakpamwan Ohenhen and Osayomore Joseph. This fusion of Edo and Igbo elements creates a sound of a particular intensity, one that brought new life to highlife at a time when it was sliding into the doldrums. Many players participated in this infusion of new energy, and one of the most influential was General Franco Lee Ezute.”

"June 2017, France. It’s 40° both inside and outside. At Studio Black Box, in the Haut Anjou, it is as if you were there, in Madagascar. And when the tape recorders start rotating, the musicians’ imagination feeds off the guts of their music : Malagasy bush, tropical heat, red dirt, sand, drought, corn, cassava, cockcrow, mooing zebus, lambahoany (fabric), leaf hut, fotaky house (mud), dust, portable generator, music, rhum, bodies frantically dancing whether in the dark or under the blazing sun…Tsapiky.

The album shall be named "Valimbilo". Bilo is a disease which strikes one’s mental health, depression is what western societies call it. When one is diagnosed with « voany bilo », a precise medical treatment is engaged and performed without doctors, nor medicine. To vanquish bilo, one has to use music. The sorcerer solely decides upon the “good” day (the day which gathers the most positive aspects of the astrological conjuncture) to operate: the extended family hosts a ceremony ruled by many taboos, which can last up to a few days, and in which only one remedy is applied in high dosage : some Tsapiky.
They are “doctor” musicians whom talent is source of the cure.
They play for the patient, who has to be facing the orchestra : all of their attention is focused on the bilo, dancing in the sick person’s body : It has to be awaken, seduced, surprised and attacked from every angle before it is pressured, pressured until KO, until it can’t take the it anymore, stuffed with music. Then the patient is relieved, discharged, and the ceremony is over.

During the entirety of the ceremony, the patient picks a person who helps him/her get the bilo out of his/her system, this is what we call “valimbilo”, literally “husband/wife of the bilo.” "

Altin Gün’s take on the Erkin Koray classic 'Cemalim' is modern and accessible without losing the feel and melody of the original track, while groovy bass and synth lines make this uptempo number even catchier than the 1974 version. Previously unreleased track 'Vay Dünya' on side B combines tribal drums, catchy synths and wah wah guitars with more traditional folk vibes resulting in a definite dance floor filler!


STAFF COMMENTS

Mine says: Both 'Cemalim', lifted from one of my albums of the year, and new song 'Vay Dünya' could hardly be any catchier. Groovy bass lines, cosmic synths and wah wah guitars - what's not to like?!

Following in the footsteps of psych-funk pioneers Baris Manço, Selda Bağcan and Erkin Koray, Dutch group Altin Gün (‘Golden Day’) kick open the doors of perception with a hefty set of frazzled nuggets for Bongo Joe. 
On their debut album "On", the band show what happens when you trace a line between Turkish folk songs which were passed on from generation to generation on the one hand and a dirty blend of funk rhythms, wah-wah guitars and analogue organs on the other. The Amsterdammers who come from various backgrounds (Turkish but also Indonesian and Dutch) comfortably create their work in the adventurous no-man’s land that exists between these two worlds. Sticking a saz into the mains socket, our tripped out troubadours harness the far out sounds of mid seventies Turkey, which even today sounds rich, danceable and (alright then!) heavily mind bending.
Though Manço, Bağcan and Koray have all influenced Altin Gün, but their foremost inspiration is Neşet Ertaş, a Turkish folk musician whose musical legacy is invaluable. Many of the songs he wrote have become standards in Turkey, national treasures which are cherished up until the present day. Altin Gün retain the lyrical and thematic structure of Ertaş’s songs, though they often alter their time signatures and add fuzzy bass sounds, sweltering organ sounds and raw saz riffs. Ertaş wrote the majority of the songs on the album even if these are hardly recognisable after all the work Altin Gün have done on them. The songs have universal themes such as love, death, desire and destiny. It is touching music that makes you want to move and massages your soul all at once. Music that sounds familiar but different. Music that’s deeply emotional even for someone who doesn’t speak a word of Turkish.
Let Altin Gün open that door for you and get ready to indulge in their fresh and beautiful sound.

STAFF COMMENTS

Sil says: ++++ Absolutely mind blowing album +++ folk, psychedelic rock, funk and plenty of soul. This is made with love and it has taken us all by surprise. Far east melodies, sensual vocals and plenty of psychedelia. This LP definetely IS already one of the albums of the year. Shame it has had zero air play that I am aware. But it does not need it. If you do not have time in your hands to pre listen to all these gems, at least go for 'Cemalim'. Those keys!! Simply speaking, every track is a killer. Buy on sight!

Switzerland's Bongo Joe continue to shun extravagant PR strategies and drawn-out, multi-volume campaigns for a succinct and widescreen picture of underappreciated musical microcosms. The fruitful synth wave and post-punk scene of Spain is next to be inspected. Specifically from 1980-86, "La Contra Ola" covers the striking DIY diversity that swept the country during this time. A blossoming time of creativity, with new technologies and digital instruments striking their mark across moods ranging from paranoid and claustrophobic to sleazy, sexy and the darn right ridiculous. If you've enjoyed some of the Dark Entries output and the minimal wave scene of San Fran, then you need to move your attention over to these European pioneers. Much like the Italian scene, there's obviously SO much to discover here, and even just scratching the surface of some of the bands mentioned reveals a wormhole of digging and further exploration required. Basically, if you like your circuits scorched and your mind bent and the impending sense of society's collapse makes you want to ruin machines, then this is surely the compilation for you! 5 stars!

The Bongo Joe onslaught continues with Damily's "Very Aomby", a set of new, furiously exhilarating Tsapiky music from the south-west of Madagascar, beside the Mozambique Channel. A rough, electric, rural take on the classic Congolese, Kenyan and Mozambican urban dancefloor styles of the 60s and 70s — hyper-fast interplay between pumping bass and clattering drums, overlaid with cranked-up high-life guitar — nourished with the musical traditions of local villages, especially in the singing and other passages of acoustic respite. Ace.


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