(by Dave Hucker, from The Beat, Vol. 25, No. 4, 2006)
Recently Mr. and Mrs. Music were in Zambia on one of our safari journeys. We spent time on the northern plateau at Shiwa Ngandu (Lake of the Royal Crocodiles).
Shiwa is a Italianate-styled villa built in the 1920s by Sir Stewart Gore-Brown. It was his third house on the land but his first brick-built structure. He imported carpenters and brickmakers from England to help construct it. We had previously visited Shiwa in 1998 when the house was at a very low point and the dereliction so extensive that we did not expect to see it standing for much longer. It had fallen into disrepair in the last 30 years, after the 1980s murder in Lusaka of Gore- Brown's daughter and her husband by the ANC. The family had threatened to go public with the fact that the ANC was smuggling poached ivory and rhino horn out from Zambia in diplomatic bags. Now one of the grandchildren, Charlie Harvey, has returned, moving a whole farm and workers from Lusaka hundreds of miles back up to the family house. He and his wife Jo have reclaimed the house and breathed life back into this remarkable building.
Gore-Brown was a man with many interests and he built up a fantastic library. Perusing the shelves, a book that caught my attention was African Dances by Geoffrey Gorer (Faber & Faber, 1935). This was one of those books that could/ would never be published today. It is a journey through West Africa in 1911 by Gorer accompanied by Ferel Benga, a Senegalese playboy from Paris. It is a wonderful fact-rich, quite intense journey -- when journeys were really journeys and not just whizzing from one place to another in aluminum tubes. It is a particularly English insight into the remnants of colonial life and a very detailed look at "Negro culture" of the period. Gorer was an early anthropologist among whose other published works was The Revolutionary Ideas of the Marquis De Sade. He compares MDS fetish concepts with the fetish dancers of Dahomey -- now Benin -- in their straw figures.
If Gore-Brown were creating his library today he certainly would have accumulated the works of novelist Giles Foden. The Last King of Scotland, Foden's biography of Idi Amin, is a classic: as is Ladysmith, a story set within the Boer War; and Zanzibar, a prescient novel set around the Al Qaeda bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi. His last book was Mimi And Toutou Go Forth, an incredible and true episode that occurred during World War I when the English shipped two armored speedboats up the railway from Cape Town. They then pulled them across country by a steam traction engine to Lake Tanganyika where they were launched to attack two German ships there. The German ships had been built in Hamburg, sailed to Dar, disassembled, moved over the railway to Kigoma and reassembled. One of the German boats still chugs up and down the lake every week despite having been scuttled in 1918.
In Gore-Brown's library I tried to find an original or early copy of Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck's My Reminiscences of East Africa (Battle Press). During the First World War Von Lettow-Vorbeck's running rings round the "enemy" were described as the German equivalent of T.E. Lawrence and he certainly fought a very successful guerrilla campaign against the English in German East Africa -- now Tanzania.
Von Lettow-Vorbeck's experience tells the other side of the Mimi and Toutou story and is an action- packed and far-from-dry read. A pragmatic military man who had been involved in suppressing the Herrera and Hottentot rebellions in German South West Africa (Namibia), he learned about the bush and so in the East African campaign he used his local Askari troops' knowledge to help him. His book is an informative read from the lucid first-person observations of someone deeply involved in a period of WWI colonial warfare largely forgotten about in the last 80 years.
Following the Honest Jons label's exploration of seminal highlife star Ambrose Campbell in volume three of London Is the Place For Me, they have returned to the diverse London musical mix in volume four, subtitled African Dreams and the Piccadilly High Life. This release is another exemplary selection going all over the place to find the cutting-edge groove. In its 15 tracks it pushes all the buttons, hits the nail perfectly on the head and kicks over the right stones to uncover the creative elements of rootsy Caribbean and African musical life in London during the 1950s and early '60s.
Making his debut in the LITPFM series is one of the important and groundbreaking late-period Nigerian bandleaders, Ginger Folorunso Johnson, who donates two tracks which open and close the album, "Egyptian Bint Al Cha Cha" and "African Jazz Cha Cha." The former is a total slinky masterpiece of very jazzy East-meets-West fusion, while the latter track shows exactly where the African musicians mixed it up with the West Indians and Latin Americans at a time when the predominant Latin rhythms of the day were the cha cha cha and the mambo. Ginger Johnson and his band opened up for the Rolling Stones at the Hyde Park memorial gig for Brian Jones in 196-whatever and also provided percussion on "Sympathy For the Devil."
There are quite a few Latin-influenced tracks here, explaining just what was going on in the musical melting pot. Shake Keen's "Mambo Indio" could be almost called mambo by stealth. It is a totally dense but delicate jazzed-out musical downpour lasting 2:37 -- phew!
However Lord Kitchener's "Alphonso in Town" is a major clattering percussion-led mover, a true mix of Afro and Afro-Caribbean elements. It is a masterpiece of honking saxes and wild riddims where a jazzy guitar brings a civilizing element. Make no mistake, this is a mega tune -- you djs could get away with this in the right place. Victor Coker's "Ilu Oyinbo Dara" is another highlife that seems to have a Latin tinge.
Making his first appearance in the series is Cab Kaye, born Augustus Kwamlah Quaye -- who has the sound of a singer-songwriter, just guitar and percussion -- with a Latinesque song "Don't You Go Away," a direct copy of any number of Latin love tunes from any period but done very delightfully.
"Everything Is Go" is a really interesting highlife about John Glenn ready to blast off to outer space. Cab Kaye has one of those musical bloodlines through West African and English music. His father Caleb was an acclaimed pianist and percussionist in the Gold Coast (Ghana) who played in London for jazz man Sidney Bechet in the early 1920s. Cab himself performed with leading bands in England in the '40s. One of his postwar bands featured two young English jazz stars -- sax man Ronnie Scott and pianist Dennis Rose. Three of his sons became musicians. Caleb Kaye worked with Elton John and Hall and Oates. Singer and percussionist Terri Naa-Koshie Quaye, and recently his youngest son Finley Quaye, have continued the family tradition.
Apart from the very raucous "Alphonso in Town," Kitch provides us with a salacious little ditty called "Rock N Roll Calypso." His "Is Trouble" is a percussive bottle-led tale with a swing and piano, as he makes the point that you should not be messing with Kitch at carnival time, while his "Piccadilly Folk" is a warning about some of the insalubrious characters (both male and female) that inhabited the West End of London at that particular time. He suggests you cross the road and keep walking in order to stay out of trouble. However after threatening to send members of the Trinidadian Police to hospital in "Is Trouble," I would have thought the delights/terrors of Piccadilly Circus would be no problem to such a man.
Young Growler presents us with another cricket tale in "V for Victory" which has more than a Latin tinge to it. Young Tiger's "Chicken and Rice" is a story of hunger and empty pockets: When presented with the bill at a Chinese restaurant, Tiger does a runner. What is very funny is the route he says he took to make his escape. The totally nonsensical route he describes via Westbourne Grove to Harrow Road, Sussex Gardens then the Bayswater Road, well, it does makes me chuckle. Dorothy Masuka gives us "Zoo Lake," a wonderful rich kwela with sweet chorus supporting Dorothy's delightful well-rounded voice. With "Highlife Piccadilly" the African Messengers take us for a deep jazzy pan-African trip with a sweet flute. Enoch and Christy Mensah with "Dakuku Dum" present a very lovely highlife that is groovy in extremis. London Is the Place For Me Vol. Four is another perfect selection from a period of music that displays real meaning and depth. The cover and notes are chock-full of great pictures.
West Coast roots Latin jazz percussionist extraordinaire Bobby Matos has produced a fantastic wide-screen excursion into his musical world with Charanga Chango (LifeForce Jazz). It is brimming with quality playing, ideas and creativity. This valuable release modulates successfully between sublime and very groovy jazzy out-there. "Nadie Baila Como Yo" opens the album with a charanga and montuno system of changes from slow to fast then slow and fast at the end with fantastically percussive liquid piano from guest pianist Latin legend Larry Harlow.
There are fabbo thick layers of swinging riddim and horns throughout this release, oozing out of every space and pore in the music. Standouts include the title track, which has deep flute and violin floating within rhythm, while "Oye Mi Querida" is a mega rough'n'tuff groove. A previous Bobby Matos cd threw up a minor hit on the London Latin dance floors with "I Don't Speak Spanish." The equivalent one-off on this cd is "Cuando Baila Ramon" with poetic vocals by Denise Cook. It's a good one.
Azucar Negra has been at the forefront of the second line of new bands in Cuba. Along with Bamboleo they have experienced high points of popularity and suffered troughs of personnel changes. But under the stewardship of leader Leonel Limonta they have kept going and their latest release Toque Natural (Egrem) is pretty good. They have a fantastic singer with Aylin Dalleras. She has one of those powerful and pure voices. The songs are well constructed, the play- ing flawless and arrangements are crisp and tight. The title track features contributions from guests including rappers Triangulo Obscuro, ex-Los Van Van singer Pedrito Calvo, Leoni and Leo from Charanga Habanera, Sur Caribe, and bits of Pupi y Los Que Son Son and Manolito y Su Trabaco. Toque Natural is certainly worth checking out if you are a fan of modern Cuban music.
The Pequeno Johnny cd Pasos Gigantes (Rumba Jams) I trailed last time has immediately jumped into many people's top 10s and become a hit on the more hardcore dance floors of the world. This ex-Sonora Poncena percussionist player enlists many old friends for his solo debut, dragging a veritable plethora of NY musicians to a studio in Brooklyn to create a very NY release -- including his previous employer, Sonora Poncena leader and pianist Papo Lucca. This release is packed full of tightly crafted tunes in that particularly classic New York salsa style. Well done, Little Johnny (or Vincente Rivero as his mother calls him).
Urban Asian (Nascente) is an excellent compilation of English Asian youth music. It contains 14 tracks hot from the streets of London, Leicester, Bradford and Birmingham. These hits have been proven by the fact they have been pumping out of countless car speakers and at Asian clubs recently. The trad and Bollywood samples are crafted into bhangra, hip-hop, grime and dancehall beats, even reggaeton supposedly gets a look-see. Top cuts include "Jab Chaye" which features MCs Partners in Crime and Cheshire Cat, the (white) Brum rapper who has been involved in the scene there since the early days of the Handsworth bhangra sound with Bally Sagoo. There is no way this can be called "pure" music. It is a mix-up of everything that is popular with the youth, especially dancehall. But that is what makes this music so unique it could not have happened anywhere but England.
Or "Terror Central" as I have to call it after this week's episodes. Thank you Tony Blair and George Bush. You have made the world a thousand times more dangerous than it was before. I'm going to have to go and live in somewhere peaceful like Belize in order to keep my blood pressure down. From Bakabush (Stonetree) is a lovely paranda and Garifuna extravaganza culled from the premier Belize label. It features a whole raft of great songs from the likes of Andy Palacio and dub poet Leroy Young whose "Que Sera Sera" is an intriguing cod mambo. Leroy also contributes to Mr. Peters Boom and Chime Band (what a great name) track "Behine Mi Back." There is so much gentle, creative and sublime music here and I am fascinated by the Creole language. Belize is on my must-visit-urgently list so I can experience the music first hand.
West African Gold (World Music Network) is a superb selection by our own Martin Sinnock, who with an expert's eyes and ears takes us through West African music in the "golden period" from the '50s to the '80s.
Starting off with E.T Mensah's "Ghana-Guinee- Mali" statement of African independence and finishing with Orchestra Baobab's "Boulmamine," during the journey we drop in on rarities like Dexter Johnson's "El Manicero" (featuring Labah Sosseh), No. 1 de Dakar with "Geej," Super Sweet Talks' "The Lords Prayer" and Eric Agyeman's classic "Abenaa Na Aden?"
I can see this release will spur on a Beat columnists' luvvie fest. I look forward to rave reviews all round for Bob Tarte's North American Bird Songs Dubs, and Chuck Foster's Tierra Del Fuego reggae compilations. My own Antelope Sounds series is out soon. The first cd is Puku Warning Whistles.
For lovers of modern Afrobeat comes Inemo's Afro Funky Beats (Black Mango). Now based in London, Inemo Samiana's musical pedigree goes back to the age of 18 when he formed a band called Jah Stix with a friend of early Nigerian reggae artist Majek Fashek. He had spent periods moving between London, Nigeria and Paris. Now settled in London, he has created some very nice firing Afrobeat grooves all doused with a jazzy quality and taste with big dollops of subtlety. With plenty of positive messages in the songs, this cd is an indication of great things to come from Inemo. Hmmm, an interesting one. Fela said music is the weapon of the future. Inemo is one of the warriors wielding that message.