(by Dave Hucker, from The Beat, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2006)
Back when the North Kensington section of London was a rundown slum area rather than the popular tourist destination that Portobello Road is today, it was also called the Haight Ashbury of London. It attracted the hippies, the crazies and the musicians -- Bob Marley recorded some classics at Basing Street Studios, local heros Aswad played community venues like the Acklam Hall in the '70s; other well-known W10 bands and musicians included Hawkwind, Mick Farren and the Deviants, Quintessence and Marc Bolan. Pink Floyd played their 20th gig on Sept. 30, 1965 at the All Saints Church Hall in a benefit for the local free school. This booking brought Pink Floyd to the attention of Joe Boyd, who was one of the people behind UFO, a wild experiment of a club first held at an old dancehall off the Tottenham Court Road, the first "happening" in England, and their gigs at UFO launched them to stardom.
Also involved in UFO was poet Michael Horovitz. Part of the free poet movement, Horovitz lives just east of Portobello on Powis Square W11, diagonally opposite the house used as Turner's place in the film Performance.
Down the road was a center devoted to black radicalism, visited by notables like Muhammad Ali and Sammy Davis Jr., set up by Michael de Freitas, the self-styled English Malcolm X. In fact he was an ex-"enforcer" and rent collector for infamous slum landlord Rachman before he went radical. Some said like a leopard, he never changed his spots and still was a con-man. Eventually he was deported back to Trinidad and suffered death by hanging for a murder there.
At 69 Horovitz still scrabbles a living with poetry: His latest work is a rage against the closure of local post offices. He is also organizing a large poetry reading on Sept. 25 celebrating the 1965 First International Poetry Incarnation which will be held at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring Patience Agbabi, Billy Bragg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Hegley, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Christopher Logue, Adrian Mitchell and Grace Nichols.
Michael's latest newsletter where you can get information about his poetry and buy cards of his post office poem with a David Hockney illustration -- ends up with the words "I hope to keep in touch with you as we proceed into a seemingly ever more dehumanized atmosphere dominated by the various official and unofficial world leaders' addictions to fundamentalist intolerance, violence, money, power mania, arms proliferation and war." (P.O. Box 9819, London W11 2GQ; I suggest you offer an donation.) In the '70s Linton Kwesi Johnson was part of my regular soundscape. I trekked across north, south, east and west -- the length and breadth of London -- to many different shows he did, from the Rock Against Racism gigs to poetical roots sessions in back rooms. I had not kept up with his recent stuff, so was interested when other Beaters raved on about how good LKJ's Live in Paris (Wrasse) release was.
So when it arrived through my letterbox I eagerly slipped it on. I was shocked by just how modern LKJ sounds today. The music really has matured with age, Dennis Bovell is still the total genial musical maestro and the usual guys who have played the music since the beginning have meshed together and got it down so tight. The songs have really progressed as well. "Sonny's Lettah" has certainly grown in stature, as has "Reggae Fi Radni" which has fleshed out very nicely emphasizing the Guyana touches. "Mekkin Histri" is still a slice through English social conflict of the last X number of years. Well done, Linton: It's good to see a man who maintains the standards.
But have the conflicts in English society that Linton talks about gotten better? No, they have not got better and the only thing to change has been where the people on the first rung of society come from. One time it was Irish, then West Indians, Spanish and Portugese, now it is Somalians, Sudanese, Congolese, Albanians, Romanians, Polish, Lithuanians, Ukranians. After listening to Linton I had to go and listen to Michael Smith's "Me Cyaan Believe It." Yes, it still sounded believable as well as relevant today. I did believe it.
Taking a route along the Harrow Road, then Lord's Cricket Ground and Regent's Park Zoo, I headed to NW1 and the former Irish enclave of Camden Town to catch DJ Dolores and the full Aparelhagem band promoting their cd. Fantastic stuff: Helder/Dolores stood stage left operating laptop, mixer and keyboard as he stacked up and stripped away his sparse bass 'n' beats. The guitar, sax and trumpet filled the middle ground while over on the far right the kit drummer/ percussionist laid a sharp counterpoint. But center stage was charismatic vocalist Isaar, an angelic face with astounding vocals both smooth and gentle and really pushy when she gets into her semi-rap singing.
Seeing him and the band in the flesh filled in the extra texture to the music. His pan-musical style with funky twisted beats has ideas, strength and depth that build with a great rush. Live the samba-reggae groove is very prominent. It is clear that Aparelhagem is going to be a big one and if Dolores is in your barrio then I strongly suggest you drop in on him.
A dj in a funky mood could easily move straight from a Dolores track to the Shukar Collective with one movement of the cross fader. These Romanian new-wave gypsies are bubbling along on a post-modernist pan-European beats jag and have it down pat.
Not only that but with Urban Gypsy (Riverboat) they seem to have managed to mix that with the trad gypsy style and created a somewhat dubbed-out equivalent of Slim Galliard AKA Mr. Voutyiness -- the '50s lingua hipster and poet. Urban Gypsy is unusual, original, pretty wild crazy stuff and originality is what we want. As with everything modern it is a pick 'n' mix approach -- take what you want and integrate in any way that makes sense or sounds right. There is so much grand larceny freely available here, though whether you want to listen to a whole cd of this at one time is down to you. It features a creative sound mix, while the vocals from Napoleon are a bit harsh at times, but then hey, I'm an old punk fan.
Linked into this bumpy area of the big thump groove comes a London production from a Nigerian vocalist called Yanju living in Blackheath, an area of Southeast London once known for its medieval plague pits. Iwa (Kadupe) is an interesting mix of African vocals with housey cut-up beats and oddball Nigerian elements which make some useful things to play out with. [www.yanjuonline.com ]
The Elephant and Castle is a confluence of major routes in South London where Neolithic tracks and Watling Street, the Roman road that ran from the south coast to London, meet the roads that skirted the higher ground above the southern marshes of the Thames. The Victorian buildings of this junction were pulled down in the 1950s to create one of the most ugly, scary, people-unfriendly places ever seen. The one survivor of the post-war redevelopment is a '30s Odeon cinema where I saw Cuban superstars Los Van Van recently. Now a rundown venue shaded by a railway bridge, no lights were on outside the building, and it looked like it was closed. Outside people hung around in the shadows. I have seen Los Van Van many times since 1986 and this was the first time they were without founder and bassist Juan Formell. Last time he had only come on for half the set -- he is ill these days. Van Van is one of the greatest bands of all time. Very few working bands come close to them as they generate those rolling sound waves where the peaks, troughs and undulating rhythms take you on a serious journey. For example I was listening to one song and my ears were hearing rockers reggae, but they were not playing that. They romped through new songs and their greatest hits with panache, good humor and utter professionalism.
They went on stage five minutes late and played a two-and-a-quarter hour set. Sam Formell's kit drumming harries them along like a snorting percussive bull pushing a heavyweight wall of sound. Female singer Yenisel has a quite fantastic voice. Last time I saw them she had not long joined them, and I had not really appreciated her range and timbre before, but she really shines. Meanwhile the latest recruit to the vocal line is Roberto "Cururucho" Carlos. Los Van Van will never be in the "twilight" of their years. They just keep on metamorphing and moving on. I was hoping to review their latest release Chapeando (Unicornio) but by press day it had not turned up.
Van Van has gone one direction but the other route has been taken by Cesar "Pupy" Pedroso -- Los Van Van co-founder and co-constructor of the style that made Van Van unique in not only Cuban music but the other musics of this planet as well. I meant to cover Pedroso's release Pupy El Buenagente (Pimienta) last issue but space and time did a runner on me. Its finely crafted, dense artistry stands out like a shining beacon in the world of modern Cuba. The deep and intelligent, structured, detailed songs and great singing are a fully satisfying musical meal filling the belly and the head. Pedroso's band Los Que Son Son are certainly the hottest band in Cuba at the moment. The pretty-boy bands have come and gone: Manolito Simonet still can cut it, you can never actually write off David Calzado despite his recent weak, thin Lite release. Even Paulito FG went a bit a bit runny on his last cd. The oldsters like Yumuri and Pachito Alonso still make tough music that should not be dismissed. But without a doubt the most interesting music is coming from Cesar Pedroso.
So I am happy to report that his new release Mi Timba Cerra (Egrem) is deeply fabbo as well with no let-up in the high standards. Opening with his signature tune "De la Timba A Pogolotti," the tone is immediately set with the complex drums and horn section that has layers of sound as solid as rock. The vocals from the line up of Arnando "Mandy" Cantero," Jose "Pepito" Gomez and Jannier Miyan are perfect matches and counterpoints of color and harmonies. There are no holes in the structures and progressions of the songs, every beat and nanosecond is filled with something.
The stories have real meaning and a poetical stance. Every one of the 11 Bass player with Aqua Ife and Fela Kuti biographer Michael Veal has a cd out: The Afro-Kirlian Eclipse Vol. 1 (Nektonic/Trans Hendrix). It is an creative Afro-jazz exploration that opens up with John Coltrane's "Sun Ship" given a pounding percussive Afrobeat. The music here is a powerful sonic explosion, deeply twisted and infused with a post-modernist Sun Ra meets Fela style. Very nice indeed.