(by Dave Hucker, "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 17, Number 6, 1998)
I am pleased to see that Bob Marley's long-lost brother has been discovered, still working the family farm in Ethiopia that Bob left all those years ago when he emigrated to Jamaica. But before Prof. Steffens, the holder of the world's greatest collection of Bobknowlegeology, falls off his perch, charges out down the corner and gets some yardie boys to come and have a quiet talk with me, let me say I am merely the innocent conduit, just relaying the information, just passing it on, guvnor.
I came across this momentous fact on one of the cds in the fantastic series of Ethiopian anthologies on the French Buda label that everybody is raving about, not only the roots fiends, the avant garde jazz buffs, the folk fans, the obscure music bods and the African lovers, but people across a very wide spectrum of musical interests. I am absolutely no exception in espousing this incredible series. Compiled under the sure hand of producer Francis Falceto, Ethiopiques Vols. 1-4 is a stunning collection from a musical history that is virtually unparalleled in its compactness of time and the (small) volume of music recorded.
From volume two, Tétchawét!, the modern recordings, Adanéh Téka is the buffoon singer with the "Bob Marley" track, which segues wildly between various versions of Bob's songs. Another of my faves off this one is Tigist Assafa's raunchy "Toutouyé." A highly charged and open description of sex, it is one of the most outrageous pieces I have heard since La Lupe's feral orgasmic screams on her tune "Canta Bajo."
From volume three, Golden Years of Modern Ethiopian Music, the Police Orchestra of 1975 sounds deeply funky. On top of the Eastern scales and horn of Africa melodies, they pour on great fat globules of jazz and r&b. so it comes out as a sort of James Brown and Willie Mitchell meet Sun Ra.
If any proof of the depth and character of this music was needed, you need not look any further than the range of Beat commentators who have flipped out over this series. But I came across another example. I was asked to do some sleeve notes for a compilation called African Funk (Harmless), which features things like Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango and a whole heap other weirdo obscure stuff that is big on the English club-based jazz and jazz-funk scene, and what do I find tucked away on this compilation of many giants of African music? None other than the great Mulatu Astatqe and his track "Netsanet" from Ethiopiques Vol. 4. I was very pleasantly shocked and sort of not surprised. If Mulatu's unique style of Latin/jazz/funk Ethiopian style is getting them all juiced up in the generally conservative jazz-funk world, then you had better believe this stuff is very deep and radical. Basically everybody will find something for themselves in what is certainly one of the releases of the year.
A top man on the English Latin/jazz scene is percussionist Snowboy. He is rated as one of the top two conga players in the kingdom (the other is the person who taught him everything, Robin Jones). Snowboy is from Essex, an area which since the 50s, has been a residual sink hole home to all kinds of American black music right from r&b and soul to jazz. As an area it spawned a variety of the famous English "real" r&b groups like Doctor Feelgood, the Gravediggers and r&b punk outfits like Eddie and the Hot Rods.
Snowboy and his group the Latin Section have been around for about 10 years. During that time he has recorded and played with a lot of different musicians, including his own releases for the Acid Jazz label. He also sits in and fleshes out the rhythm with his heavyweight conga style for various groups like Hammond organ revivalist group the James Taylor Quartet, soul singer Lisa Stansfield and the best male English soul vocalist Noel McCoy. He has also produced about 15 singles, including one of my all-time faves, the 1991 El Nuevo Latino (Big Life 12"), which is one of the best big-thump percussion workouts of this decade. This tune tears along with scorching trombone from the Latin Section horn section leader, Joe De Jesus.
Snowboy has toured all over the world with his band, and he has become a prolific and well-respected dj on the jazz dance scene as well. His Hi Hat Sunday afternoon club at London's Blue Note has become a well-known legendary session. Many of the serious jazz dancers go there to spar on the dance floor with the other guys, work up a sweat showing off their footwork and moves, then move on to my Sunday evening session to relax and dance with the women. Snowboy is one of those people whose music has spread throughout the world to settle down in all kind of strange places. I remember hearing one of his Acid Jazz releases in the bar at a lodge in the middle of nowhere in Namibia. With the percussion echoing out into the dark night, I wondered how much of the animal kingdom there are Snowboy fans now.
Now his popularity is likely to increase in other areas as he has signed to San Francisco's Cubop, Ubiquity's Latin jazz imprint. His first album for them is titled Mambo Rage. Snowboy describes it as being closest to the sound he has always been looking for. Charging rhythmically and sonically out at you are tracks like "Mambo for Max," a hard-edged up-tempo raw rocking mambo/jazz blast, vintage early 1958, with a fiery trumpet that scorches your ears before the Hammond organ swirls in over the bass and percussion. The full range and history of most the Latin/jazz movements since about 1943 are incorporated in the music. The playing is fantastic, horn man Joe De Jesus is on top form, punching over Snowboy's fluid percussion. If you like old-fashioned rip-roaring Latin jazz then this is certainly for you.
In a short time Jesus Alemañy and Cubanismo have carved out a space for themselves as one of the hot expat Cuban bands. Their previous releases were quickly noticed and highly regarded. Now for their latest, Reencarnación (Hannibal), they are joined by the great Rolo Martinez on vocals. He has fleshed out the vocal lineup, the band is tight and firing, Jesus trumpet is sounding better and better. Given the number of mambo tracks on various records recently it would seem the mambo is going to be big (again). On this release Jesus gives us "Mambo U.K." which breaks down into a swinging piano solo from Ignacio "Machito" Herrea. Then the classic "El Paso de Encarnacion" gets an invigorating outing. Orlando "Maraca" Valle contributes a stinging flute solo after the trumpet and horn section have blasted away. "Donde Esta Coto?" is the dance-floor hit for me as it rolls out its staccato rhythm patterns and impassioned vocals from Jean "Coto" De La Cruz before the tres stabs in and the horn section comes charging out like an very annoyed hippo. Reencarnación is another top-class release from Alemany, putting him firmly in the top echelons of Cuban music.
A beautiful example of the circular nature of Afro-Cuban music and what goes round comes round is on a cd by veteran Cuban charanga band Orquesta Aragon. Quien Sabe Sabe (Lusafrica) features a version of Africando's "Yay Boy" which they have copied phonetically from the Wolof original. So you get a Cuban group copying a African group copying Cuban music, although in reality it was more a case of continuing the tradition because Aragon had toured extensively throughout West Africa in the 60s. The rest of the music on the cd is straight-down-the-line violin-led charanga. Standout grooves among some of the classic tunes on display here include "Si Sabes Bailar Mi Son" that opens with a fluid bass line before the piano drops and the violins saw in, then the flute joins in. On "Hay Que Saber Comenzar" the son montuno swings sweetly along for seven minutes. The mambo rears its head with a version of the great Perez Prado's "Patricia." I found this release on a recent trip to my favorite Paris record shop, Anvers Music, to stock up on new releases.
Other ones I rate from this haul include a release on the French Musica Latina label called New Salsa Vol. 2: Con Sabor a Colombia, a fine selection of recent Colombian music. It features a whole heap of goodies including tracks from Orquesta Canela, the ever-reliable La Misma Gente and tropical players like Juan C. Coronell and El Nene, who used to be the piano player for Joe Arroyo. Also from the Musica Latina stable is Grupo Gale's International. Top Colombian percussion and timbales player Diego Gale runs a tight musical ship. Crisp salsa riddims blast out here while the two-trumpet and three-trombone brass section punches hard. Very nice, and big on the dance floor. Sonora Carruseles are another of the firing Colombian bands at the moment. Their Al Son de Los Cueros (Musica Latina) has a few mosaicos, where famous tunes get worked together, first one is a tribute to the boogaloo, one is a cumbia mixup, the other features songs by one of the godfathers of Cuban music, Miguel Matamoros, while Joe Cuba's popular "El Pito" gets an makeover. Best track is a boogaloo-style reworking of Tony Pabon's "Micaela."
One of my most interesting finds is an incredible compilation from Congo songstress Abeti Masikini. Souvenirs, Souvenirs (Declic) covers her musical history and hits from 73 to 86. I know her 80s music but the 70s stuff I had never heard and is a complete revelation to me. "Miwela" from 73 starts with a Link Wray rockabilly-style guitar before she comes in with the powerful vocals and then what sounds to me like a mutant r&b (rumba & blues) rhythm blasts out. From 1974, "Likayabu" is stunning: It starts off with her earthy soulful vocals. Almost talking at times, she builds up the intensity while a sparse rhythm section of clattering conga and chiming guitar sit in the background. She really is an incredible singer and the 70s tracks with their weird rock music influences wedded in the rumba are quite amazing. Essential, not to be missed.
A real curiosity comes courtesy of the Triple Earth label. Carmen Gonzalez and Koral y Esmeralda's Andarele. This was recorded in a makeshift studio built in an old storehouse by Carmen and pianist and musical arranger Omar Sosa down by the sea in Esmeralda s province on the coast of Ecuador. Here, like in parts of Peru, there are pockets of deep Africanism, the result of slaves escaping from shipwrecked galleons and settling there in the 16th century. A very subtle and sophisticated celebration of modern Afro-Latin musics, this thought-provoking cd mixes the traditions and musicians of the area into a potent modern brew. Carmen's singing is spine-tinglingly pure, the music is fantastic, and even the very feel of the region is captured by snatches of ambient sound.
A really interesting listen all the way through. I found the new release by Cuban new wave traditionalists Arte Mixto, Virginia (Ahi Nama), a lot more relaxed and less precious than their previous outing. Musical director and violinist Alexis Corres leads the way, sawing ahead for stunning vocalist Iris Sandra Cepeda to shine, especially on Compay Segundo's "El Chan Chan." Her soaring vocals are one of the many high points of this rich release. But you should not to forget the other vocalists, Erisbel Lopez and Julian Urquiza who perfectly complement her. Recommended.
The Spirit of Cape Verde is the latest offering from the Tinder label of the Cape Verde sound. All top-quality tunes from a wide range of artists, trad to modern, are featured. Among my faves are Maria Alice's "D Zemcontre" where her smoky voice envelopes you with passion and the epic "Simentra" by Raiz, where a whacked-out horn blast heralds the beginning of a flowing ethereal multilayered song that builds in gentle intensity. Magical.
I have been attracted to the recent release by Kassav vocalist Patrick Saint-Eloi, Lovetans (PSE), which sounds like old-fashioned Kassav style but with a bit of an experimental edge. As a percussionist Patrick knows how to make the drum machine work for him. I do get very annoyed by the repetitive programmed drum sound in zouk. I remember a few years ago when the conversation turned to soca, people would often moan about the repetitious drums. I agreed, but soca has moved on. Now it is a bit different: The drum machines sound like they are being better used, the rhythm feeling a bit more freer. I hope zouk moves on as well. Of course the drum machine is never ever going to go away, but as far as I can see it's all down to what you do with the damned black boxes.
From Senegal's Sedihou Band comes a superdupa cd recorded this year with a very "live" sound in Studio 2000 in Dakar. Africa Kambeng (Africassete) is an exciting release from one of the oldest established bands based in the southern region of Casamance. I have always had a soft spot for this unique area of Senegal--not only the beautiful countryside, but also the music. In Casamance the music drops in a different way to the hard-edged northern mbalax sound. Although you still get the chunky rhythm patterns, the music is quite decidedly West-Central Africa. These purveyers of the more central West African Manding groove caught my attention some years ago, indeed, some where around spring 91 you will find a review of one of their cassettes I did for this col. It is a cracking release that shows the talents of this group off to perfection. "Lansana" is the big mover, a fantastic tune.
Finally from Bogota via London comes some Latin drum and bass. Logozo
by Sidestepper (Apartment 22), a pretty successful mixing of the
styles. There is a melody line and singing as well as the deep bass booms.
I have been playing this tune at my Saturday night club to good effect.
Other tracks on this six-track cd vary between the dubbed up d&b and
thick deep d&b with a Latin tinge, and lots of drum.
Copyright 1999 Dave Hucker