(by Dave Hucker, from The Beat, Vol. 24, No. 6, 2006)
Colin Mozart said it was like Mark Twain talking about the Bronx.
Sporting a T-shirt stating "I'm up and dressed. What more do you want?" he was getting very philosophical about things. He had already explained that he blamed his father. Looking into his eyes I half expected him to put it down to Wolfgang Amadeus. He explained his father had constantly played the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band which had diverted and culverted Colin's subconscious. Due to what his father had inflicted upon him at a vulnerable age, Colin was suffering from an obscure affliction -- an addiction to humorous bands. He was an early member of the fan club for Welsh hip-hop pisstakers Goldie Looking Chains and was a regular contributor on a chat forum for Kid Creole and the Coconuts. He also had every 45 rpm and lp release from '60s English parody humorists the Barron Knights -- including the Woolworth's own label Embassy knockoffs.
However, in evoking the name of Mark Twain, Colin was actually talking about Yerba Buena.
The second release from these musical pranksters was agitating Colin greatly. Well, as much as someone like Colin could be agitated, though he was always very, very enthusiastic. Colin had absolutely no reason to be paranoid about enjoying Yerba Buena's Island Life (Razor & Tie). I totally agree with him, the second offering from these nutty boys 'n gals is most certainly very much more than just good humor, good ideas and good grooves. Yerba Buena's particular understanding of micro-operatic, mercurially fessed-up excavations into the musical unconscious shows them as talented shape-changers. Taking the normal, turning it upside down, twisting it a bit and sharply stretching it out.
I would put money on Manu Chao being a big fan of Andres Levin and the products of his fevered imagination. Yerba Buena knows exactly where the line is drawn between truth and parody. Then they smudge and blur that line a little bit to create some stonking music. Their 2003 debut President Alien, described as an investigation into modern Latin soul and boogaloo, provided them with a massive European-wide summer hit in the shape of the big thump "Guajira." As for Island Life -- well, what island and in exactly what sea are you talking about? The answer is another matter entirely. Andres himself makes claims for the island once known as New Amsterdam and its close environs but I leave that to the limits of your imagination and the reality of your belief in a pan-Caribbean union of island musical commonality.
Thinking outside of the cat tray Yerba Buena, along with their many many friends and good acquaintances from previous Andres involvements like the Fela Red Hot and Riot anti-AIDS release, construct a very real and believable musical view of the world that is rooted a considerable distance to the left of center. Like craftsmen they take music and use and relish the riddims, just like a master sculptor will work the texture of marble or a carpenter will use the grain of the wood. A "narration" is strung by long-wave radio phone-in doctor, one Aneub Abrey, who with his island blues cures with tips on things like how to lose your accent. "Sugar Daddy" has actor John Leguizamo joining French chanteuses Les Nubians and a sampled Celia Cruz -- at least her copyright address was credited to "heaven."
The big hit so far off this release seems to be "Belly Dancer" which has Dominican Republic merenrap stars Fulanito coming over all Turkish. This track is great fun, a big-thump extravaganza with loose violins and a tight groove. Speaking of Fulanito, it's a shame, they deserved better, they are funny, sharp and had the knack of hitting things on the head. But lately they seem to have fallen between various stools, they were never Latin hiphop/ rap or Latin house, and merenrap was a bit of a dead end in itself. Also they were way ahead of the dreaded reggaeton. I've not written them off yet and I'm very happy they did "Belly Dancer."
"La Candela (Prendela)" is a drum-laden tribute to Juan Formel and Los Van Van involving Orishas which has a creative denseness mixed with intricate patches of rhythm as it ends up quoting Los Van Van's hit "Te Pone La Cabeza Mala." "Corazon Bandalero" takes a flamenco sound and moves it on. The ribald "Bilingual Girl" (two tongues are better than one!) features vocals from Mr. Latin Soul himself, the very legendary Joe Bataan. This is a chunky jazzy mover infused with Bataan's unique voice. In his early days leading the boogaloo and Latin soul movement of New York in the '60s, Joe was called the Latin Curtis Mayfield as he did many sweet-sounding covers of Curtis' tunes. The fact Joe Bataan was persuaded to show up is amazing in itself. But when King Yerba Buena calls -- none can deny him.
Violinist Alfredo De La Fe makes a useful contribution to this track. "Fever" has rapper M1 riding a deviant Afrobeat that clatters along with a roller-coaster twist and groovy Fela-esque sax from Ron Blake. "Bla Bla Bla" is a mutant son that muscles into dub via Alfredo's violins. Talking dirty, it strip mines out the sedimentary layers with a joke every couple of bars, and shows itself as unflattering to the current American president. "Cityzen Citysoy" is a pretty little mover in a Mexican cumbia style and "El Burrito" is a good-looking, slightly Brazilian vehicle that could equally be Cape Verdean or Spanish or... This long-awaited release proves that creativity is still alive and well in parts of the world that some people had given up on. Yerba Buena and main man Andres Levin have the ability to laugh at themselves while making music with style, panache, originality and a hearty chuckle factor. Jolly well done various chaps, chiquitas and friends. This is music that genuinely brings the world together.
Cheikh Lô shows no sign of a diminishing talent. His first new recording in five years, Lamp Fall (World Circuit) is packed full of it, talent is bubbling out under the lid and dripping down the sides. He takes us on a journey through, and recorded in, West Africa, Northeast Brazil and East London in the presence of some very deep percussion. Listening to some songs you might say there is a search for a big popular tune. But hey, I am not complaining at the moment when the creative juices are flowing so freely, allowing Burkina Faso's finest to stretch his wings and experiment.
The album is in some way about stitching together prehistory. It's as if the great super continent of Gondwanaland, after breaking up and spreading Brazil, India, Australia and Antarctica all over the place, has now been reunited by Cheikh's music with Brazil snuggling up back next to West Africa. Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania are reunited with India. Madagascar and Australia scrunch back together nesting up by Mozambique, while Cape Town becomes part of North Antarctica. The music on Lamp Fall is very strong and dense. Regular contributors to Cheikh's music like horns ace and James Brown musical director Pee Wee Ellis and Hammond master Bigga Morrison are back into the fold, alongside long-time associate talking drum player Samba N'Dokh, top Senegal guitarist Lamine Faye and Cameroonian bass player Etienne M'Bappe. In Brazil Cheikh utilized the services of top producer Ale Siqueria, 40-piece bloco band Ile Aiye and various other local heros like guitarists Davi Moraes and Adson Santana. The album starts off with "Sou," recorded in Bahia, a gentle accordion-led mover, which is sung in Bambara and is a version of song made famous by Bembeya Jazz. It is very pretty indeed.
The title track rips off with stinging guitar in a tribute to Cheikh's religious mentor Cheikh Ibra Fall. "Xalé" was recorded in Bahia and Dakar: The first half features an eclectic choice of instruments, acoustic guitar, sitar, tambura and balafon. The second half was recorded in Dakar with his working band. It is a nice little mover with nebulous bass. "Kelle Magni" is a thumping, swirling Afrobeat piece worked out of exquisite quarried marble featuring rock-solid picky guitar stratification, thickly veined with tama and riffing accordion. The theme of this track is peace and love/ stop the war. This is a good one with depth and texture, while Cheikh's impassioned vocals grab you by the ears and pull you along. A big tune on the popular floor.
Recorded in Bahia with Ile Aiye, "Senegal Bresil" is a bloco tour de force. Fabulous, funky and fully fitted with firing Pee Wee horns and very ferrous guitar. This is a great tune as Cheikh thanks the people of Brazil for their music and hospitality and his pure voice indicates his feelings. Two Latin-influenced songs are up next: "Sante Yalla" is a slow-burning guajira, with a smoking guitar from Lamine Faye, while "Toogayu M'Bedd" has light sparkling horns and a sweet groove suggesting 1980's Beninois Gnonnas Pedro, who sadly died last year but the government of Benin did have a state funeral for him. "N'galula" has Cheikh singing in Lingala as he elegantly takes on a classic Congo groove with this 1972-73 love song by Orchestre Elegance Jazz. "Bamba Mo Woor" is a true rockers roots groove. Cheikh should schedule a day in the studio with Burning Spear and band. A duet with Mr. Spear and himself, now that would be interesting! The one pure mbalax track here is "Fattaliku Demb" and it is a corker with Lamine's sharp guitar harrying it along, tight and beautifully crafted. Cheikh tops out this outstanding new release with a pure percussion devotional song, "Zikroulah." Lamp Fall is a major release from one of the most intriguing and interesting musicians out there in the world at the moment. The very humble Cheikh Lô has moved on a bit but not only is he still keeping to his roots but is growing new ones as well.
A new young star tipped for the top is Daby Balde. In his native Senegal the Casamance-style music with fiddle, accordion and flute and those central West African rhythms has become very popular. His debut cd Introducing Dalby Balde (World Music Network) is a very engaging production -- full of little touches and deft details. Daby's voice is full of feeling and he tells emotional tales, his guitar playing is good, the music is well textured and the backing vocals are lovely. If he gets the recognition he deserves it will be a welcome moment for the long-neglected Casamance music scene.
There is a good honest cd from Cuban sonero Aramis Galindo, Tiempos Que Cambian (Pimenta). It shows that this ex-Adalberto Alvarez y su Son singer is now up there in the middle regions of the first league of Cuban musicians. This tight, swinging effort recorded in Havana has crisp memorable tunes and Aramis is always entertaining with his voice. This cd is not going to change the world, propel Aramis to international stardom, reverse climate change, purge the world of evil dictators and reduce poverty. But it is straightforward solid, true and good value, an example of finely drawn, well-engineered music with a precise comprehension of what the density of a song needs to be and exactly where it needs to be. "El Susodicho" is a punchy thumper with good coro, while "Divina Silvia" features a nice piano and "Me Voy Pa' Beté" sounds like a cumbia track from Colombian oldster Peregoyo. But then cumbia is popular at carnival time in Santiago. Aramis is the consummate singer who can happily deal with every musical form pouring out equal amounts of storytelling and emotion for each song, whatever it is from bolero to guaguanco.
The times are indeed a-changing but there always will be a need for music featuring a good mixture, range of styles and rhythms. There always will be an urgent need for songs that are crafted together with attention to detail and a definite quality control. There will always be a space in the world for Aramis Galindo. If he's ever down my way I shall make sure I'm there. But in December myself and Hey Mrs. Music will be driving around Cuba so you never know, I might come across him there.
Two young bods on the Eastern Seaboard salsa block called Juicy and Eric have been taken under the wing of Isidro Infante, maestro piano player and who in the '80s and early '90s was the man to get to do your arrangement and production.
The result is Huracan (Diamond) which is a bitza release -- you know, bits of this and bits of that. I was taken by the names chosen by these two young percussionists obviously ploughing a different furrow. The thump of this release is a typical New York mix -- part bomba pop, part modern-pop-latin/thumpy (stroke whatever).
There are a few interesting riddims like the title track Huracan. Ten to three will getcha that a track off this release will appear at some point on a compilation titled LNYS MMV i.e., Lost New York Salsa 2005. Or Eric and Juicy could find stardom -- not going to put any folding on that though.
I should not be reviewing the double cd Freeness Vol. One (Icebox/Blacktronica) for a number of reasons. It is "promotional," with only 2000 copies available for free at a certain few record shops. Although this groundbreaking release does not exclusively contain much of the music that I would normally cover I wanted to talk about it for its importance as a platform for unsigned young musical talent of England.
It is a project from one of the main players of the young British art establishment: Turner Prize winner Nigerian-born Chris Ofili, who famously did a series of paintings featuring elephant dung. Recently the new musical talent of England has been under his gaze. Supported by Arts Council England and the Observer newspaper he organized a three-month audition tour inviting singers/musicians/producers to bring unreleased songs for the double cd. Three thousand tracks were submitted, from straight-up r&b, garage, grime (a very localized London music), hiphop, Zimbabwean folk, Ugandan soul, Cuban percussion, African gospel and Indian classical music.
What emerged provided a fascinating insight into the diversity in the world of music that exists outside the commercial industry. Personally I liked blues singer/ songwriter Mellow Harmony and Norwich's Samia Malik's modern take on Pakistani ghazal style, "Jaago Wake Up," while Birmingham's Nihiliss'sis shows real talent with her "Bounce." Sheffield's Bare Knuckle Soul is gritty jazzed-out-ness while Derby's Corey Mwamba's vibraphone takes the jazz another way. London's grime is represented by Novacaine's "Expectations." It takes someone like Chris Ofili with an artistic eye to put together something like this. Freeness Vol. One (there are plans for volume two) is a very illuminating look at the outstanding musical talent that is out there in England. The trickledown effect and the democratization of recording abilities means no money goes a long way but imagination goes further. Limited numbers of cds were available, and I'm sure you will find the cd on Ebay, but you can download at www.freeness.co.uk .
Ray Barretto is one of the greatest of modern Latin -- well, over 40 years in the arena if you call that modern -- percussionists today. We first knew Ray from his 1963 pop hit "El Watusi" and later through his membership in the Latin supergroup the Fania All Stars and more of his own solo releases. Despite such an illustrious history in salsa, Ray's first musical love was jazz and recently has mainly made Latin jazz music. Time Was -- Time Is (O+) is his new cd and it is a peach. Delicate swinging from his six-piece band takes you on a journey into Latin bebop and beyond. There is top-quality playing from all involved like piano man Robert Rodriguez and guest percussionist Bobby Sanabria. If you like beautiful svelte Latin jazz packed full of meaning, depth and various musical textures and rhythms then I recommend you take a look at Time Was -- Time Is.
If you cannot get enough of funky '70s West African beats then Geraldo Pino's Heavy Heavy Heavy (RetroAfric) should be at the top of your shopping list. You should already own the title track which became a dj staple on the Afrofunk circuit. Sierra Leone-born Geraldo (AKA Gerald Pine) made a huge impact on the Nigerian and Ghanaian music scene when he toured there in the mid '60s, including gobsmacking a young Fela Kuti who was completely blown away by him. Geraldo's mix of American soul and funk and West African music was pretty radical at the time. He had formed his band the Heartbeats in Freetown in 1960-61 playing cover versions of English and American hits which he also gave a pachanga and cha cha twist to, which is how his name changed from Pine to Pino. Included also in the musical mix was the other main popular West African force, Congolese rumba.
This is great music that could only have come from a finely and precisely defined time, period and place, a moment of Afros and Black Power. By the way, the vinyl versions of the original lps from which the tracks on this compilation are culled have been re-released at the same time by the Soundway label. Heavy vibes man.
The Gangbe Brass Band from Benin (but based in Belgium) and their Whendo (World Village) caught my eyes and ears. I like the off-the-wall-ness of them. I was brought up with brass bands: My father played euphonium in the Gresley Town Band. So I have a liking for brass bands -- Oh no, I'm talking like Colin Mozart. I appreciated Gangbe's joyfulness as they played with music, for example, "Remember Fela," a perfect interpretation of his style, and the jazzedout "Segala," AKA "Night Train." There is some very entertaining music here as they juggle vocals, drums and metal. Also there are a few bits on some of the tracks that could be looped up if you were a mixing dj of that musical persuasion. Unusual and, dare I say it? Amusing? Benin via Belgium might be seen by someone like Colin Mozart as funny.
If you fancy sitting down relaxing and enjoying some light, delicate but rocking music, for example, a live concert cd from Curaçao superstar Oswin Chin Behilia, then Live (Otrabanda) is exactly what you are looking for. The gentle lilt of those rum-soaked vocals, the pulse of the supple, firm rhythms, the persistent percussion and gutsy guitar, flighty flute and pliable piano are irresistible reasons to slip this one on. Or if you are one of those people tasked with compiling cds with titles like Cool then there's something here for you. The rest of us will luxuriate in the fine Caribbean fusion rhythms of Oswin. [www.otrabandarecords.com ]