(by Dave Hucker, "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 19, Number 3, 2000)
Bobo stands at the apex of cool. He was a tall, handsome guy who really knew how to dress, known to spend a $100 on a necktie (1950s-60s prices here), and wear $1000 shirts made of pure Japanese silk. He had two $50,000 rings, one on each hand. He irresistibly swept all women off their feet with his style.
Despite being generally unimpressed by exhibitions of conspicuous wealth, I am very fond of Bobo, a character in an obscure late '50s/early '60s New Orleans r&b song called "Jack That Cat Was Clean" by Dr. Horse. It is a monologue in which the good Doctor humorously tells Bobo's story, and delivers a stern warning to all the "so-called playboys" out there to get their women out of sight, as Bobo has "just bought a ship and is on his way over" and all the women will just melt at the feet of his mega-hip playboy friend.
A low-down dirty sax riff, a bass that walks the walk of the street, and sparse abstract piano pushes this slow shuffler along. This is one of the all-time great songs about clothes and cool.
I am reminded of Bobo by the Manhattan Brothers, who also stood at the apex of cool in South African music for 15 years during the '40s and the '50s. Their close four-part harmonies took their inspiration from American popular groups of the period like the Mills Brothers and the Inkspots. Putting out a string of 78 rpm hits, they introduced new stars like the 21-year-old Miriam Makeba to the world. They even created fashion styles that were de rigueur for every young male in the country
There is a fantastic compilation just out, The Very Best of the Manhattan Brothers: Their Greatest Hits 1948-1959 (Sterns), which digs deeply into the Brothers' incredibly varied repertoire, which spanned groundbreaking original songs, gospel and covers of American hits. Lovingly compiled by Rob Allingham, the voluminous and fact-packed sleeve-notes provide a detailed history of the band and the musicians who played with them over the years, and of their record label (Gallo) that had pioneered recording in South Africa.
All came from the same school in 1934; when they first started performing, their ages at the time varied from seven to 12. This compilation shows them at their best period in the '50s, their great voices seemingly melted together with crystalline sweet harmony, especially on "Tula Ndivile," one of the tracks featuring Miriam Makeba, where her exquisitely soulful young voice shows what a beautiful counterpoint she made for their deep and fluid vocals. These are again shown to perfection on the soaring gospel of "Sinners Are Welcome." A personal standout is "Malayisha," which gets its groove from a scraper while a flute darts in and out of the very pretty melodies. It's strange his tune almost sounds like a old-time calypso!
This is an essential compilation of fantastic vintage music from an area of South African musical archaeology that has not really been exposed much before. The Manhattan Brothers, career didn't just consist of all the classic music that they themselves made. They also contributed importantly to the first South African musical, King Kong, which went on to international fame and acclaim in the '60s, and were central to its whole creation and major critical success. Great stuff! Jive baby, jive jive jive.
Things have been a bit dry on the new Cuban front recently. So I was happy to get Olvidame... si puedes by Yumari y Sus Hermanos (BIS Music). I saw him a few years ago in Havana and was impressed with his vocals and the band's old-style groove that has a distinct Oscar D'Leon sound to it. Not surprisingly, one of the best tracks is a version of Oscar's famous hit "La Bomba." In all the tracks the music builds smoothly and subtly, no histrionics, no outrageous breaks, just solid dependable quality. "Y si la vuelvo a ver" is a case in point. You think it might be a romantico dribble from the opening bars. But no, the intensity gets ratcheted up a couple of notches and the groove cuts to the chase. Olvidame... si puedes is worth looking out for if you want something different from Cuba.
Dan Den are always trying to be different. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they do less well. Their Salsa en Atare was a hardhitting recording that gathered many close and regular friends, including me, as its popularity rolled round the world. I had high expectations for the newie. Holding it my hands I saw it was imaginatively titled Dan Den (Nueva Fania) Hmmmn! I looked at the cheap sleeve design, but then, I'm not worried about bad design. It's what's in the music that's important. I dropped the cd in the machine, pushed the lid shut, and out popped a mid-'80s synth riff and tinny Roland drum beats.
Oh no! It,'s all gone pear-shaped. But no . . . phew! The beat drops and things start to come together and make sense. First track, "Ojos Que Te Ven," starts off that way but the vocals quickly rescue it when it drops into into a sort of wailing (modern) r&b style, then the only way is up. The next few tracks only provoke frantic button-pushing as you forward, quickly tiring of the romantico-ish formula, till you hit number 6 and the full majestic sound of Dan Den in full flight hits you. "Para Seguir Creyando En Ti" is one of the two big tunes on this release, with its insistent, intricate powerful groove that drops all over the place by the time the fade calls time, gentlemen please.
The other gem follows directly next; "Te Creo Pero No Te Entiendo" is a down-right funky experience, from the bass which rips open the proceedings, dueling with Juan Carlos' keyboard bass line. Jesus Salas provides the great vocals. Finally things are strategically topped off with another fairly strong tune to finish, in the form of "Mecanica Guapa." So four killer tunes to play out on this one, which is about the same as the previous Salsa en Atare. When Dan Den are good, they are very very good.
There are not many new releases that just drop through the letter box, which you carelessly throw in the machine just to check it out, and then find yourself immediately bewitched and drawn into what is obviously a unique and very personal vision of music. Entranced, you find yourself playing the same song over and over again, time after time. Nava by Rodolpho "Nava" Barrera (RykoLatino) had this effect on me. Puerto Rican-born, he is a well-known top songwriter who has provided tunes for Gilberto Santa Rosa, La India, Yolandita Monge and Elvis Crespo, just to name a few. But this is his solo debut, and Nav is very impressive indeed.
Ambient sound is deftly incorporated, mixed into the front and backs of songs, making them appear to seamlessly flow together as if you are not actually listening to a collection of 12 songs, but are on a journey through life. The songs are beautifully constructed and sung. He obviously has kept back a load of his best and off-beat songs for this solo offering. Not only do you get good songs but you get a very deep, clear and complex sound arrangement that is built up in exquisite layers, while snatches of Rodolpho's tasteful guitar playing drift out to you. Even sitars wind their way in there.
Often it's the radical nature of the music that hits you: Vallenata and reggae gently fuse on the opening track "La Vaquita." But it is the way the tunes are actually used here that makes it so unusual, for example there is a merengue-ish song called "Hey You," which tops out the album. If it were done as straight merengue it could sound like pop-meren-star Elvis Crespo. But in the author's head it has come out moving in a totally different direction, almost a fuzzed-out jazz/rock song.
A comprehensive understanding of all of the music of the Caribbean permeates this superb recording along with a vision of how sound sounds. Nava is very unusual, certainly Grammy-award-winning unusual, for I'm sure this groundbreaking cd will be discussed at length both by me and other pundits in more depth in the following months. This one's gonna be around for a while and definitely is as great a symphonic listen as the last Manu Chao or Caetano Veloso offerings. I never thought I would ever say this, but one of the few genuine direct comparisons I can make with Nava is with the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.
I'm just passing on a gem of information which comes via Latin and Caribbean music expert John Child, whose personal e-mail tip sheet is always first with the hot news. Also check out his extensive and authoritative biographies of major Latin artists on the Descarga Web site, www.descarga. com.
To quote from John's info sheet, "Here's an inside report from Rick Davies, first trombonist and musical director with Wayne Gorbea's Salsa Picante, about their new cd Saboreando on Shanachie, the follow-up to their internationally successful cd Cogele El Gusto. I just wanted to write and let you know what's going on around New York right now. Shanachie now has the final mix of Wayne Gorbea and Salsa Picante's new cd Saboreando It contains 10 tunes and every cut swings including an almost-10 minute killin' remake of Eddie Palmieri's and La Perfecta's 'Estamos Chao.' The horn section includes me and Rafi Malkiel (who plays some great solos) and an Israeli trumpet player named Tomer Levy, who is an incredible (and young!!) soloist who feels completely at ease in the Cuban tradition. Mike Lewis also plays on a couple of cuts as does alto sax player Sam Furnace. "Arranger, composer, percussionist Ramon 'Ray' Rosado wrote some great songs and arrangements for the album. Ray wrote or arranged seven of the songs and I contributed three. I also created the solo monas for most of the songs on the cd including a rendition of Jose Rodrigues, mona set from Palmieri's 'Bilongo' on 'Estamos Chao.' One of my arrangements is a transcription of 'Guajira Inspiracion,' which was written and recorded by Chocolate. We also (in the tradition of 'Strut' from Cogele El Gusto) recorded one of my instrumentals called 'Calle Loca.' My other arrangement on the album is a version of the song 'Coco' which was recorded previously by the Cuban band Orquesta Ritmo Oriental. In addition to his own songs, Ray arranged 'Estamos Chao' and the Cortijo plena 'No Me Lleves.'"/P>
So the new Wayne Gorbea sounds a real supa-dupa release.
Don't Call Us Immigrants (Pressure Sounds), is a superb collection from the early days of English reggae. These were some of the cuts that made it all happen on the streets: Misty's ""Six One Penny," the great Lion Youth with his seminal "Rat A Cut Bottle." Black Slate's "Sticksman." One of my own favorites is "Tabby Cat," Kelly, who supplies the title song. Reggae Regular pop up with their "Where Is Jah." Matumbi/Dennis Bovell offer us "The Man in Me." Pablo Gad tells us about "Hard Times." Steel Pulse offers "Nyah Love," Aswad's is "It's Not Our Wish."
This is great, great music from a great formative time for English reggae. I remember it well: It seems only yesterday I was seeing Aswad, Matumbi and Steel Pulse on what seemed a weekly basis. Still sounds good. Authoritive sleeve notes from Adrian Sherwood.
You may see that I often refer to this green and sceptered isle where
I happily live as England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Not Great Britain.
We ain't so great, if we ever were. I do not even call it the United Kingdom,
because we are a most disunited nation these days. The Scots have their
own Parliament, the Welsh their own assembly, and the English just want
out of Whitehall. We want independence, full stop. We want to be left alone
to organize things the way we want them organized.
Copyright 2000 Dave Hucker