(by Dave Hucker, "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 16, Number 2, 1997)
Our world is a funny place, or should I say: Our place is a funny world. Personally I'm not quite sure given the amount of craziness that is taken for normal out there at the moment. But one thing is for sure. Sure as sure, Well, sure as sure can be, given what some smart-alec know it all said about it, there are three things alleged sure in this world. "Birth, death andpaying taxes".
But you can be sure, that the Berlin based [pi'ra'nha] label's devotion to the exposure and development of modern northern Sudanese music is solid. They started off a few years ago with Mambo El Soudani, which dipped into the Northern African Pan Mediterranean sound. They followed it up with Salamat Meets the Musicians of the Nile, where they started to develop the artists with new recordings. Now their latest mega wonderful release is Salamat Nubina.
Producer Dr. Hijaz Mustapha pulled together all his artists into Cairo's El Arabi studio at Ramadan. Which he claims in the sleeve notes meant "we dug deep and you can feel it". All the stars were there, from the father figures like percussion master Selim Sharawi. Who celebrates by going back to his first love, singing. Of course there is the sumptuous Salma whose exceptional voice cuts an slice of pure passion with a very free flowing and chunky rhythm called "Yanos Baridouh." Right through to the young guard like Aboud Saleh. Where his subtle melodies hang around on the street corners of your memory, including his "El Zekra (Pt One)" which curiously bears more than a passing resemblance, in a constructive way, to Etta James's R&B classic "I'd Rather Go Blind". With its gospel sounding keyboard and Aboud's impassioned vocals. Very strange. Part Two continues with a tearful story about suffering from a bad case of love lost. Dare I describe it as Nubian delta blues? Yes, I think so.
This is very deep music, the rhythmical interplay, the lightness of the arrangements and the fantastic vocals take this latest excursion into major territory. Also as a bonus there is huge amounts of potential loops and samples in here for someone to do some really creative de- and reconstruction work.
After almost a year, I've left much modern Zairian music completely alone. One reason being I had found myself getting bored with recent recordings. Not much new stuff really got my juices flowing. I had continued to find solace in the oldies, like seventies and early eighties Sam Mangwana or Pablo Lubadicka. But new stuff, no thanks, even old favourites like Koffi Olomide failed to excite me. Personally I was not too worried about this fickle ebb and flow in my musical taste. I have found over a period of time you drift into a music out and then come back to it. It can coincide with fallow period in a music, or you just get sick of it. For example I haven'tf ound any interesting new cumbia recently, I do not even play the old stuff out much these days.
But I decided it was time to catch up on the African. Also I was starting a new club night on a Saturday, playing what I would call a "Middle Ground" Tropical selection, i.e., music that would try and appeal to both a nonspecialist and specialist crowd. Or to put it another way, music that was good and attention grabbing enough from our side of the street to appeal to a "out on Saturday night" crowd used to the well trodden sidewalk over the road in Generalsville. I anticipated that lots of big thumps, lively music and a few well known big hits would be needed.
I was taking over a Saturday night that had previously been hardcore House and Garage. The challenge was to entertain the passing crowd with a selection that was for them fresh new and interesting, and also bring in your own people and develop and build up a groovy scene.
So I felt I needed some new big banging soukous to mix in when I'm doing the big heavy pounding beats bits. So on a flying trip to Paris at Christmas I stocked up at my favourite shop, Anvers Music. My buying spree snapshot of what was hot and new provided me with a few goodies. Best of the bunch is Bluff Wabalonzo and Viva La Musica's Fille Unique [Benedicta Edition]. Papa Wemba and Bozi Boziana join in Bluff on vocals. Nice ruff-tuff rumba rhythms bound out with the inspiring singing. Best track for mixing the beats together is "Sebene". Where the up tempo sebene bit crashes in from the beginning with a drum roll which starts off a pounding beat. Though it does fade toward the end when it gets a bit repetitive.
Another provider of stompers is Shimita El Diego et Le Groupe Zaitoum with Mystic [Sonodisc]. Whereas Zaiko Langa Langa's Sans Issue [Sun Records] at the moment is too subtle and sophisticated for crossover play. Great music it may be, but I'm afraid often all ideas about quality and depth, sometimes just take a stroll out of the window, when you are entertaining the masses.Though it must be said that the masses response to African music is getting a bit curious these days.
The new music for the ads for Heinz Baked Beans features a specially written song by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Now this peculiar English delicacy is considered part of our cultural make up. Andwhen the ad people after very extensive consumer research claim they got incredible reaction to L.B.M. And said it was the natural choice. Then something must be up. So maybe things are moving on a bit. But what next?,Will soap powder commercials feature Youssou N'Dour? Maybe I will be able to play Koffi Olomide tunes to the middle ground soon.
While we are dealing with the masses, the soundtrack to the film of Nelson Mandela's life is just released here by Mango, and I have to say I am very pleased to report it is a proper movie soundtrack. The real thing, an old fashioned style release that features bits of the score specially written by Hugh Masekela and Cedric Samson . You also get ambient sounds from the film and a blinding selection of well known and less well known songs. Some of which relate directly to Nelson, like The Special AKA's anthem "Free Nelson Mandela" and Johnny Clegg's "Asimbonanga (Mandela)." In its 26 tracks you get oldies from the sixties like The Skylarks, Manhattan Brothers, Jazz Dazzlers, a song from the original cast of King Kong through to modern offerings from Brenda Fassie.
Producer Jonathan Demme is well known for his impeccable musical taste and fascination with Haitian music. So it was inconceivable that the soundtrack to one of 20th centuries most important people would be bad. Whereas today most Hollywood soundtracks are a just a bunch of popular hits strung together to cross publicise the movie. This is a truly a fitting accompaniment to Nelson Mandela's life. I look forward to seeing the film.
There is so much fantastic music coming from Cuba these days. It is not hard to argue the point that it is again a Latin powerhouse after so many years of musical isolation. Big for me recently has been Bamboleo's Te Gusto O Te Caigo Bien. [Ahi-Nama]. The first release from a new star band in the making. The title track is a late night bumper of great power. It starts off slowly with lovely vocals then builds in intensity with a fragmented jazziness in the arrangement until the groove peaks and the break drops, giving the dancers the chance for the serious pelvic thrusts and moves o nthe floor. Another standout track on this beautifully recorded release is a storming version of Bemba Colora. This is the new new wave of Cuban music.And it's got soul.
La Sonora Carruseles are a band playing old fashioned music. Featuring many top studio musicians in Colombia, along with the likes of local star killer timbales player Diego Gale. They specialise in playing the old style of what is know known as salsa. A generation ago, like music everywhere in theworld, salsa was more bumpy, wilder, less calculated. La Sonora Carruseles have absorbed all the agitated air and vibration emanating from the music ofthe last 40 years that had been collected as a conscious memory in the brick and woodwork of a million bars and dance halls the Latin world over. They feed back the vibes to us on their latest cd Con Mas Salsa [DiscosFuentes]. Swinging jumps up like "En Buenaventura" vie with completely madcap speedy blasts like "Frederico Boogaloo". Nice Vibes as well, now I'm talking about the vibraphone player.
While from Montpelier in Southern France comes Fatal Mambo. Their Rumbagition release [Tinder records] is a wonderful concoction. Described as a salsa La Negress Vertes, this bunch of musical anarchists chops up and undermines the Latin area with a rampant sense of humour. Proudly existing in what can only be described as a state of anarcadia, meaning revelling in astate of anarchy. For example, the title track which starts off in a ska/cumbia vein, then rapidly freaks out with a story about a man who finds himself afflicted with a strange addition to Latin rhythms. His friends and family can't take his constant banging, so he consults a doctor who diagnoses a bad case of Rumbagitation, a common form of psychosalsa.Hilarious and very, very good music as well. French speakers who understand the subtleties of the language fall about on the floor with laughter when they hear the lyrics.
Popular on the dance floor for me has been "Ma Boussole" which opens up with flamenco handclaps, before the montuno groove kicks in and the attractive melody line rolls out. Flamenco guitar drops back in and a timbales break punctuates things. It is not often that humour and music mix so well. This works so well because the music is so strong. France at the moment is a funny place. You can nip over there and eat good food in relaxing circumstances, chug a few beers in a bar and still play pinball. Revel in what remains of the "frenchness" of the place, most of the time with out ever seeming to touch on the raw nerves that currently demonize this beautiful country. As much as I applaud the idea of the French's attempts to roll back the all persuasive English language invasion that they see as corrupting and diluting their culture. Sometimes I wonder. Their latest wheeze is talking about insisting by law that everything that comesf rom France on the Internet must be in French.
The right wing in France, like everywhere, has been very active, hi-jacking the argument about Frenchness. The right wing scored what they think is a substantial victory, when they jailed members of a French rap band. Who got three months and a six month performing ban for "insulting the police" at a concert in Toulon. The real story is an attack on feisty multicultural youngsters, the Algerian kids and the white French who have adopted the hard core USA hip hop music and attitude. Only being French they have to be seen as harder and tougher than the Yanks. Personally I do not like any kind of hip-hop,wherever it comes from. Especially from a French group whose name translates as Fuck Your Mother. But to jail them?
You might have remembered a few issues ago I babbled on about a character called Jephte Guillaume. He is Haitian and made a tune called "Lakou-a" for a NY label called Spiritual Life Music. Which I probably incorrectly described as "Gentle Haitian house". Now this tune has remained steadfastly popular with me. I still play it after over six months. I even heard a well respected Soul music dj playing it on the radio the other day. It has obviously penetrated all sorts of areas. While we are waiting for Jephte's cd due in the late spring. He has a some previously unreleased versions of songs on a 12" sampler from the label. Titled the Spiritual Life Music minisampler. His "Kampe" is a very seductive flute led blow through a funky jazzy soundscape. And a haunting a capella track featuring Boukman Eksperyans, Marjorie and Daniel Beaubrun. About which I would say if the mixing djs are dropping this kind of deep Haitian in there, then indeedt here is hope for the world.
Other interesting things on this 12" are an out take of "Mixed Moods" by Mateo & Matos. A moody jazzy number and what is described as a "unreleased reprise version" (whatever that means) of African Jazz's "Stubborn Problems." An out there percussion workout. There is something going on with this label, something is happening. A definitely positive blurring of the traditional barriers in a creative way is occurring here. Keep an ear open and an eye on them.
If you are in London and you fancy hearing the music I play, I can usually be found at Cuba, 11 Kensington High St. W8 every Wednesday and Saturday from ten p.m. till two a.m. And Villa Stefano, 227 High Holborn WC1. (Next to Holborn Tube station) Sundays from eight till midnight.
Would you like to get in touch directly and get more information on the musical policies of the various nights? Want to get on the guest list? Talk to me? Or complain?. Then e-mail me at email@example.com
So, my true persona is exposed by Bob Tarte (see Huck, The Magic Amphibian). I have to admit it, it's a straight cop guv'ner. It's all true.