KFJC 89.7FM

Music Reviews

Ondekoza, the – “Ondekoza, the ” – [Jvc Musical Industries]

Thurston Hunger   7/23/2005   CD, International

So I used to think that the world would end in a war between
Pepsi and Coke, but now I think it’s going to be two different
multi-national corpse (sic): Sony versus JVC. The actual warriors
waging battle will be Za Ondekoza versus Kodo. Fuck the Yakuza,
these people run marathons and then beat their souls out on
gargantuan drums…while wearing diapers. The fluid synchronicity of
the drumming is beyond tight, you know that sound of a quarter
wobbling and settling down…well imagine a quarter the size
of Taiwan. Sonic thunderheads have been forming for centuries.
This album also showcases shamanic shamisen’s death rattle and
dervish (#3,#2), rattle-snake shakuhachi poison darts (#5,#1,#2),

I’m ready to enlist in Za Ondekoza Nostra.

Ghana Soundz Vol. 2 [coll] – [Soundway Records]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, International

Soundway label boss and musical archaeologist Miles Cleret comes correct with another outstanding collection of funky, obscure sounds from 1970’s Ghana. It’s hard to pick out favorites on a collection as rich as this one, but I’ll give it my best shot. First up, there’s the previously-unreleased and criminally-short ‘Olufeme, – an Afro-beat love song from Oscar Sulley, who’s making his return appearance here on Volume 2. On a jazzier tip, you’ve got guitarist Ebo Taylor, also returning from Volume 1, this time with the track ‘Atwer Abroba.’ Next, Ebo Junior gets even funkier than his daddy, with some help from Wuta Wazutu, on ‘Mondo Soul Funky.’ One of my favorite keyboard sounds, the Farfisa, shows up all over this compilation and features prominently on The Sweet Talks? ‘Kye Kye Pe Aware.’ Highlife makes a token appearance on ‘Aboagyewaa? by K. Frimpong & Vis a Vis, though it’s a strikingly unusual and moody take on the genre. The fourth and final side of wax brings us a classic James Brown funk workout, courtesy of The African Brothers? ‘Sakatumbe,? and Marijata’s enthusiasm on ‘No Condition is Permanent? appears to be quite a challenge for those African VU meters in the recording studio. In a market seemingly glutted with Afro-funk compilations, let us pause and give thanks to Mr. Cleret, who continues to unearth and expose some of the most valuable music never heard outside of Africa. Please sir, I want some more!

Caribbean Sampler [coll] – [Rounder Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Another cruise through the Lower Antilles with Alan Lomax, circa 1962. This set of field recordings includes 31 selections from Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Carriacou, St. Lucia, St. Barthelemy, Anguilla, Trinidad, and Nevis. Recorded at a time when many of these islands were achieving independence from the British Empire, it was Lomax’s hope that by finding cultural commonalities among the peoples of the Caribbean, he might contribute to a postcolonial Caribbean unification. Lofty ambitions for a guy with a tape recorder. What he found and documented included a myriad of musical styles with roots in African, French, English, Celtic, Spanish, and even East Indian cultures. A remarkable musical survey with excellent liner notes.

Wimme – “Gierran ” – [Northside]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Wimme (“Vim’ -may”) Saari sings in a style known as yoik, a traditional style of unaccompanied singing from Finnish Samiland. But this CD is FAR from traditional. As on his previous (debut) album, Wimme has again collaborated with members of the Finnish ambient techno band RinneRadio to produce a totally compelling hybrid of folk and electronic music. The Samis have strong cultural ties with Native Americans, resulting in a curiously alien-but-familiar quality to the vocals. The opening track is perhaps the most dramatic, featuring shamanic chanting against a backdrop of thudding electronic beats. Other highlights include: the propulsive “Rainbow,” which recalls the sound of a jew’s harp; the aquatic dub of “Destiny;” and the 10-minute ambient opus “Angelica Archangelica.” Scattered throughout the CD are short acapella tracks which serve as a more traditional counterpoint to the experimentation elsewhere. Another stunning release from Wimme.

Pharoah’s Daughter – “Out of the Reeds ” – [Knitting Factory Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Pharoah’s Daughter creates one of those global fusion vibes that makes it hard to pinpoint origins. Suffice it to say that this sounds…exotic. Elements of Indian, African, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European traditional musics intertwine via some lovely female vocals (mostly in Yiddish), various percussion instruments, strings and reeds. Produced by Anthony Coleman, it’s “tasteful” enough to be a hit on NPR! An uncharacteristic release from Knitting Factory.

Ferrer, Ibrahim – “Ibrahim Ferrer ” – [Nonesuch]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Without a doubt, the most affecting performer in Wim Wender’s documentary of the “Buena Vista Social Club” was the 72-year-old singer Ibrahim Ferrer. Not only was his vocal talent a major musical revelation, but Wender’s footage of him reflecting on his life, as well as coming to terms with his newfound success, was especially poignant. For this first solo album, Ferrer is rejoined by producer/guitarist Ry Cooder and many of the musicians on the original “Buena Vista Social Club” album. The result is a triumphant success, a transcendant recreation of Cuban music from a bygone era.

Evora, Cesaria – “Miss Perfumado ” – [Nonesuch]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

One of the great divas of modern times, Cesaria Evora hails from the Cape Verde Islands, a former Portuguese colony off the coast of western Africa. Her specialty is the morna, a melancholy song of nostalgia, sadness, love and longing, sung in a Creole- Portuguese dialect. Nicknamed the barefoot diva, Cesaria has been compared to Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday for her world-weary style and technical mastery. MISS PERFUMADO is Cesaria’s fourth recording, originally released in 1992 to international acclaim. It is indeed a brilliant album, and not half as depressing as one might think. The music is a unique blend of styles, recalling Portuguese, Brazilian, and even American ragtime influences. And the simple arrangements (acoustic guitar, cavaquinho, and piano on most tracks) highlight the beauty and expressiveness of Cesaria’s vocals. Out of sorrow comes a stunningly beautiful album for the ages.

Bila, Vera & Kale – “Kale Kalore ” – [Tinder Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Vera Bila has been dubbed “the Ella Fitzgerald of gypsy music” and that moniker seems entirely apt, because this second album by Vera and her band Kale swings like a mother! No stodgy traditional folk music here; this stuff is alive and kickin’. The album is filled with original compositions, steeped in traditional gypsy music but sounding quite contemporary. The band shares vocals (and some incredible harmonies) with Vera, and back her with guitar, bass, and a whole mess of tamborines. Given the sadness of the (translated) lyrics, it’s ironic that the music is so uplifting.

Allen, Tony – “No Accomodation for Lagos ” – [Strut]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, International

Drummer Tony Allen is the most significant figure in the development of Afrobeat outside of Fela Kuti himself. A member of Fela’s band from the early days on up through the late 70’s, Allen developed the rhythmic patterns that lay the foundation for Afrobeat. This recording from 1978 was the third and final solo release that Allen recorded with Fela’s band, Africa 70. Musically it’s as strong as any Fela record, but vocally Allen falls short of the master, as he talks his way through both side-long tracks. The title track is a 17-minute political statement about a mishandled government relocation effort that occurred in the 70’s. “African Message” is a more intimate rumination on the uplifting power of African rhythms. While lacking the impact of Fela’s best work, it’s still great to have this significant and fairly obscure musical document back in print.

Afro Cuban All Stars – “Distinto, Diferente ” – [World Circuit]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Thanks to Wim Wenders’ wonderful film portrait, the world has fallen in love with the members of the BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB. And for once in a blue (Havana) moon, mass popularity and quality music are not such strange bedfellows. This second album by Juan de Marcos’ Afro Cuban All Stars features BUENA VISTA regulars Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Omara Portuondo, and others, along with younger musicians who give the record a more modern sound. Extremely danceable and extremely elegant.

Totem ?Totem? [Vampi Soul] (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   6/28/2005   12-inch, International

Totem, from Uruguay, released their first and eponymous album in 1971. Originally on De La Planta, it was re-relased in 2004 by Vampi Soul, an interesting label that has been re-releasing vintage music – often out of print – from the 60’s and 70’s (check the insert in the album).

The genre of this music is ‘candombe-beat? a fusion of Western pop and the native Afro-Uruguayan rhythms of candombe (pronounced can-dome-bay). Candombe is played with three drums (or tambores): piano, chico, and repique. The beat came to Uruguay by way of African slaves.

The music is definitely a product of its time and the production sounds slightly dated. But they are rocking out with the extra percussion and rhythm guitar. The singing is smooth, bordering on crooning.
–Hunter Gatherer

Rough Guide to Afro-Peru [coll] – [Rough Guide]

Hunter Gatherer   6/4/2005   CD, International

Another excellent release from the Rough Guide series. This time it is a collection of music that was brought to Peru by slaves from West Africa and continues to evolve through their descendants.

This CD can only present us with the music, but it is important to realize that this sensual music cannot be separated from the dances that accompany it, such as The Alcatraz (track 14) in which dancers have a piece of red paper between their legs that other dancers try to ignite with a lit candle. These dances were so threatening to the Spanish colonialists that they were outlawed along with all drums.

This explains why a large wooden box, called the cajon, is the one of the important percussion instruments on this CD. The instruments are acoustic: guitar, bass, some brass. There are many different types of percussion instruments (including my favorite, the vibraslap) marking complex meters. It combines the best elements of African and South American music. Check it out.
–Hunter Gatherer

Music of the Ashanti of Ghana [Ethnic Folkways]

outlier   4/21/2005   12-inch, International

Recorded in 1976 by Verna Gillis, 2 stellar percussion pieces, 5 perc w/ women’s voices and one outstanding guitar and perc song that brings the heart of Ghana to your ears. Historical relevance is obvious but the performances are timeless. All pieces are short and
have a lively sound that will uplift any accompanied selections. Rhythm is some high odd number over 4 with substantial butt-moving influence and the pieces carry emotion of a narrative of generations of people.
3w:African Heart Rhythm
– Outlier

World Psychedelic Classics Vol. 3: Love’s A Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds Of West Africa [coll] – [Luaka Bop]

Hunter Gatherer   3/28/2005   CD, International

In this amazing compilation released this month (3/2005) from David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, we are treated to music recorded in West Africa in the early to mid-70s. While the music is surely African in origin, it is under the heavy influence of the Western pop and rock sounds of the previous decade. The result is like hearing James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Latin and Cuban rhythms held up to an African aural fun house mirror.

Of course the very deepest roots of most Western music have origins in the cultures of Western Africa, and maybe this is why these twelve tracks sound so natural and strange and familiar all at the same time. The liner notes do a great job putting this in context, but the gist of it is that cheap record players, imported vinyl, and cheaper studio technology all came together to make this music possible.

All tracks are strong, so picking a track at random is not a bad way to decide. I particularly like 1 (check out the video on the CD, too), 3 (lots of yelps and call-and-response), 7 (in which a bunch of countries are scolded: ‘Do you think this world is yours? Better change your mind?), 8 (this is one of the ‘funky and fuzzy’s referred to in the title), and 10 (a little surfy and with steel drums). 4 is an instrumental.

–Hunter Gatherer

Lekan Animashaun — ?Low Profile (Not For The Blacks)? — [Honest Jons] — (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   3/20/2005   12-inch, International

This is classic Nigerian Afrobeat music by baritone sax player and then leader of Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, Lekan Animashaun. Originally recorded in 1979, this LP was re-released by Honest Jons Records in 2004. Copies of the original album are exceedingly rare because harassment from the Nigerian government delayed its release and when it was finally released it wasn’t promoted very well.

The release contains two songs about 11 minutes long, one on each side. Both tracks settle into a groove with scads of horns, scads of percussion, bass, guitar, and organ. Different instruments step forward to add their thoughts and then recede back into the music. Then some lyrics are shouted by men and answered by a female chorus. Rinse and repeat.

The lyrics are translated into pidgin English, which is to say enough English to get the point across.

The first song Low Profile (Not For The Blacks) is a reference to a statement by General Obasanjo. Commenting on a rise in robberies by armed bandits, he helpfully suggested that people keep a low profile.

Se rere is an exhortation to be good and act right, similar to what Dr. Laura does at the end of her show each day.

Three word review: Nigerian Soul Stew

–Hunter Gatherer

The Secret Museum of Mankind Vol. 5 [coll] – [Yazoo]

jack soil   3/6/2005   CD, International

24 ethnic musical masterpieces spanning the globe – stops include Peru, Italy, A
rmenia, Finland, USA, India and more. Artists range from small girls choirs, to
soloists to elaborate village orchestras. Instruments include: fiddles, porcelain
cups tuned with levels of water, voice, zither (boxed harp), and syrinx (pan
pipe). Each track was remastered from 78s (with a little work done to get rid of
surface noise – fortunately, some of the surface noise character remains. The
time frame is similar to the last installments 1925 – 1948. This is another
excellent collection and definitely deserves to be in the KFJC library. Nearly
extinct old world sounds for a not so new world order.

Cambodian Rocks [coll] – [Parallel World]

Mac   3/5/2005   CD, Format, International

In the mid 60’s the American music scene was invaded by the British. By the late 60’s America was invading Cambodia. Surf, psych, pop, rock, and soul found their way into the country and out came the Cambodian flavored songs on this CD. Mad guitar riffs, catchy melodies, and weird vocals (all the singing is in Cambodian) go beyond mere imitation. Though inspired by the American greats, they manage to find their own sound, and it rivals the best garage bands America had to offer. The various rock sounds merge in ways no Americans explored, and the high pitched female vocals on half the tracks and occasional odd instruments add a truly Cambodian sound. None of the artists are named and no liner notes are given. The tracks were collected from old cassettes (see story on back). Highlights include the covers of Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman (T5) and Them’s Gloria (T13). Burned forever into my mind is the hilarious imitation of James Brown on T8. In a place with war just across the border and a political coup at home, these musicians found in rock music a way to escape and have some fun. The passion with which they play is reflected in their music, and it can blow you away. Sit back and have a rockin’ good time, courtesy of Cambodia.

Molam : Thai Country Groove from Isan [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Thurston Hunger   2/21/2005   CD, Format, International

Wham bam thank you Molam…by way of Sublimers
Bishop and Gergis. The inviting splashisness
of the package exceeded only by the sounds on
this. “Husband Drunk, Wife Drunk” is amazingly
intoxicating, the first time I heard it, felt
like a 20 min track, I just dove into it. It
has the short of hypnotic shuffle of reggae,
with banks of secret-spy keyboards and the
spousal vocal interplay works towards a great
yet brief harmony. “khaen” appears throughout
(#1,4,5,10,12-4) like a call to a coronation.
That and the crazy soap opera shout-abouts
were both featured in the most recent Neung
Phak/Sun City Girl “event” The shout-abouts
are #2,8,11. #11 has an accidental hiphop
intro giving way to brittle flying guitar that
has the energy of a classic garage legend.
This is music spawned of the crossroads but
having taken its own true root. You can listen
and hear: ska, ethiopian funk, bachelor pad
keys, driving psych… This may just be the
sublimest of them all (so far…).

Andersen, Steindor “Rimur” [Naxos World]

Thurston Hunger   2/13/2005   CD, Format, International

Centuries old Viking-style old skull rap…or “rime.”
Instead of braggadiccio, the Nordic tack is to denigrate
one’s skills (poetic and amorous) before launching into
the tale. See liner notes for more details. To today’s
American ear, these vocalizings will sound vaguely like
gregorian chants, but with more “wobble” to ’em (maybe
the rhyming?) Tracks 16 and 18 are softened by strands
of harp. #12 floes over an icy bed of subdued (subzero?)
digeridoo. #14 is the only duet, sure wish there more
it was my favorite. One for the ages…and Sigur Ros
fans as well (that group has helped revive interest
in these form of expression.

At the Court of the Mwami – Ruanda [SWP Records]

Thurston Hunger   2/13/2005   CD, Format, International

Back in 1999, Andy Moor of the Ex turned me on to this
label, we did an on-air special on it and interviewed
Michael Baird back in Holland…Michael was born in
Zambia, and through luck and labor had obtained access
to the International Library of African Music which was
founded and largely stocked by Hugh Tracey. Hugh traced
almost all of Africa and did so over 50 years ago, he
returned with recordings that are unbelievably pristine.
You can hear his voice on the throw-away first track,
then a dry flood of drums. Pretty amazing dropping in
and out of beat. Listen to #5, that’s no simple rhythm.
Vocal pieces are even more fulfilling for me, often
a chorus gets a wobbly drone to it (recall Tenores di
Bitti esp #19, one thought is that the Tutsi’s largely
featured here did come down from Ethiopia, hmmm?). Men
and women both are recorded by the way, though I’m not
sure if ever together. #15 has a musical bow, like the
berimbau or kalimboo or whatever the Gnawa Hawa play,
it jabs a song along so well! Drums return towards the
end, this time with Hutu’s doing the honor.

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