Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Michael de Koningh's World Music Column (June)

Nas & Damian Marley: Distant Relatives
Nas & Damian Marley: Distant Relatives Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson Sweet Talks: The Kusum Beat Palenque, Palenque: Champet Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia 1975-91 Victor Deme: Deli Darra J Family: School Of Life Next Stop Soweto: Giants, Ministers And Makers [Double CD] Strut Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura - Remixed (Brownswood) Sierra Maestra: Sonando Ya

Welcome along to my regular round-up of what’s good and groovy that’s taken my fancy over the last month or so...

First up is maybe my album of the year. Rapper-chappie Nas and a junior Marley, Damien, have joined forces for an album, Distant Relatives (Island/Universal/Def-Jam) which basically takes a look at Africa, its history and problems; hence the album title reflecting the historical link between black America and Jamaica.

The pair first collaborated for a track on Damien’s 2005 smash CD Welcome To Jamrock. The said track was Road To Zion and easily a standout on a particularly strong album. Now a whole CD which I suppose could loosely be described as rap – or at least that’s where the puzzled staff in HMV would most likely stick it – but it’s far beyond the boof-bang chatting which seems to be the norm these days.

The opener and taster single, As We Enter loops Ethiopian jazz master Mulatu Astatke’s dance-floor filler Yegello Tezeta while Nas and Marley swap lines. You get touches of Jamaican dancehall on some cuts like the vibrant Nah Mean and plenty of more laidback contemplative tracks such as my personal favourite Friends, which starts off with an African chant before launching into a dreamy head-nodding rap from Damien prior to the chorus slinking in. It’s a solid album and one which will stand the test of time much like my other fave of the month, Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson’s stunning Winter In America (Charly/Strata East). I bought this album when I was nothing more than a young and ardent disco-goer and Robbie Vincent and Greg Edwards listener back in 1974.

It’s something of a concept album viewing life in the early 70’s for black Americans covering ancestral history on stunning pieces like Rivers Of My Fathers with a beautiful piano solo and Gil’s poetic words reflecting on black history, the more personal Song For Bobby Smith and Your Daddy Loves You where hope for a new day and family life is viewed, and one of the pro-to raps which made Gil a household name, H2Ogate Blues checking out Tricky Dicky and the debacle of Watergate. But of course the killer track has to be the classic The Bottle, a sure-fire dance-floor filler originally pumping out of the trendier jazz clubs before being adopted by the Northern scene. It matters little which group claim it as it’s just sublime foot-fodder with Gil’s vamping electric piano pushing out a relentless rhythm while he cascades lyrics regaling us of the horrors of alcohol abuse. If Winter In America is one of those albums you see about in various guises but never get round to picking up, perhaps you should do yourself a favour and grab it now. A similar statement could be made of Sweet Talks and The Kusum Beat (Soundway) except you’d need a small fortune to buy an original copy.

Pressed in Ghana in 1974, you can imagine that copies don’t exactly abound of this afro-funk gem. Sweet Talks were a very popular local band who even made it to LA where they recorded a couple of albums.

This album consists of six long tracks and really gets down to business on track two, Mapam Sukuruwe which is all highlife guitar and blazing brass and further in, the Funky Nassau-esque Eyi Su Ngaangaa with hypnotic rhythm and floor-shaking bass. The funk of Kyekye Pe Aware is perhaps the track for Dj’s with 70’s disco-speed hi-hat and plenty of ‘ooha-ooha’ chanting in true Michael Zager style. It’s a strong album and one that keeps my jaded feet tapping, likewise Palenque Palenque (Soundway), a compilation of afro-funk from Colombia. I must admit I’d never given a thought to countries like Colombia getting all low-down and dirty. Wow, how wrong I was with this groove-friendly compilation drawing tracks from the mid 1970’s to the early 1990’s. Apparently the country’s music scene was fed by Afrobeat, Latin and Funk so it wasn’t long before local musicians started to put out their own brand and it’s these tracks which Soundway have pulled together.

Early music such as Palenque from Aberlado Carbono could be described as more Latin in sound with brittle percussion and plenty of jangly guitar, but as the album progresses the sound gets heavier and more funky such as the mid-tempo lumpy-funky of Dejala Corre from the Banda Los Hijos de La Nina Luz with great call and response. No idea what they’re saying of course as it’s all Colombian to me!

Afrobeat rears its sweaty head with an-almost cover of Fela’s Shakara in the shape of Shacalao from Lisandro Meza and mighty fine it is too. By track 11, the title track of this compilation from Son Palenque, I’d kicked the chair aside and was thrashing round the room to the heavyweight blasting bass and Colombian chanting. A bucket of cold water from the long-suffering wife and I’m back at the PC. It’s a great album but beware glazed pictures on walls are pretty fragile should you slam into them doing a vague attempt at a spin.

In need of a little cooling off, or as my wife puts it, certifying, I chose the latest from Victor Deme, Deli (Naïve). This is Burkina Faso born Victor’s second album and for want of a better way of describing him to you dear readers, he sounds a bit like Salif Keita. With guitar and earnest vocals backed up by some very nice violin and breathy harmonies, the opener Hine Ye Deli Le La sets the scene for a gentle and melodic album. Track 5, Banaiba picks up the tempo but still retains the mellow vibe inherent in Victor’s work. He’s a very popular artist at WOMAD and deserves to be so.

Here’s an interesting one. Senegalese rap. Darra J Family, comprising of Faada Freddy and N’Dongo D, who have opened for Wyclef Jean and Mos Def plus appeared at WOMAD, arrive with their latest album School For Life (Wrasse). It’s an interesting mix of some sweet Senegalese music and vocals plus rapping which brings to mind French wordsmith MC Solar. Celebrate is a bit of a surprise with a distinct up-tempo 80’s feel as are a number of tracks, although I must admit in my old age I prefer the less strident cuts such as the mellower Temps Boy and Sun Afreeca where the rap is particularly fluid.

Talking of fluid, after a nice swig of Tizer I fancied some cool jazz so what better than Next Stop – Soweto Volume vol 3 (Strut). Focussing on the jazz recorded between 1963 and 1984 gives a pretty wide spectrum from cocktail hour tinkling grooves such as Little Old Man (Maxhegwana) from The Early Mabuza Quartet through finger-snapping movers by the likes of the Allen Kwela Octet with Question Mark to super-slippery funk in the shape of the swirling Joy from Spirits Rejoice – my favourite track old funker that I am.

Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura: Remixed (Brownswood) collects some modern Havana recorded tracks and then gives them a severe knob-twiddling from some of the most well respected remixers around such as Louie Vega and Carl Cox. I rather like it, although not having heard the original mixes have no idea how far from Havana these tracks are. It’s all very dance-floor friendly with some nice percussive Mambo from, of all things, a Latin version of Fela’s Roforo Fight fiddled with by Little Louie, while Chekere Son from Seji Rerub is all pounding 80’s House. Another old favourite, Donald Byrd’s Think Twice pops up from 4Hero and is a nice shuffling Latin number although I’m not sure about the rapping lady.

Still in Cuba we have Sierra Maestra with Sonando Ya (World Village), who play Son, an old form of Cuban music which had faded from view until Sierra revitalised it in the 70’s. They became very popular live, recorded a few albums and then slipped into a lull. Now still with five original members they’re back with a nice spicy bright album. It’s all up-tempo acoustic with voices in tandem and featuring a sharp trumpet leading much in the style of Herb Alpert. The subject matter of the songs both old and new is mainly affairs of the heart from broken love to love of a mother for her son – not that I would’ve known that as it’s all sung in Cuban, but luckily the expansive booklet covers each track in detail.

Last but not least, Fela Kuti's Anthology 2 (Wrasse) has arrived. Not much to be said as it’s a blazing 2CD set of tracks with the top band Africa 70. Covering the golden age of Afrobeat and Fela, 1975 to 1980, means all the favourites are present from Expensive Shit to Africa Centre Of The World, and if that wasn’t enough you get a bonus DVD of the great man live in Berlin from 1978.

That’ll do for this month as I’m not used to hard work and need a little nap now.

Take it easy
Michael de Koningh

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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