elevenshadows musicblog

 

music that makes my ears wiggle

---2005--

V/A, "Afro Baby:  The Evolution of the Afro-Sound in Nigeria 1970-79", 2004, Soundway
Ass-shakin' good fun.  Like the Nigeria 70 comp that I reviewed here on this page, this compilation chronicles the monstrous recording industry of Nigeria in the 1970s.  The fascinating collision of Western music such as funk, soul, and jazz on indigenous African rhythms and music are extremely well-documented here, as along with Nigeria 70, this is one of my favorite compilations of this energetic period in Nigeria.  The Sahara All Stars, Bola Johnson, the Mebusas, and others join the more well-known Fela Kuti and the Africa 70 on this collection. 

If you like endless variations on locked heady African dancefloor grooves, horn bleats, precise muted funk guitar, and various keyboards and other elements following one after another as you shake your body in spiritual ecstasy, you'll love this comp.  And if you don't like that thing, what the heck is the matter with you anyway?

 

Konono No 1, "Lubuaku", 2004 Terp Records
Here's something quite different.  Konono no. 1 orchestre tout puissant likembe, from Kinshasa, Congo, were founded more than 15 years ago by Mingiedi Mawangu, who plays the thumb piano, or likembe.  But this isn't really a "world music" CD release in the usual sense.  Although this group plays music in the tradition of the Bazombe, a tribe near the Angola/Congo border (according to the liner notes), they play it on instruments they built themselves.  They made pick-ups from hammering away at shreds of what were starters for automobiles and handwound with copper wire.  They made microphones and mic plugs from copper wire and branches.  And they made an amp out of a car battery and field speakers.  Conga players, cowbells, and a hi-hat made from metal plates, whistles, and passionate vocals singing about Congolese injustices round out the ensemble, led by the 70-year old Mr. Mawangu.

And if they have three thumb pianos, it must be dainty and pretty, right?  Not even close.  It's distorted, raw, & in your face.  It has energy, more like a sort of bizarre rock show, but with pounding African rhythms, African melodies and call and response, African energy. The thumb pianos occasionally sound like a strange cross between a distorted electric guitar and, well, a thumb piano, spewing energetic accompaniment and percolating rhythms and solos.  This CD was recorded at their first gig in Vera, Holland straight from the mixing console.  And it sounds fantastic to my ears.  Heck, yeah!

 

Ali Akbar Khan and Asha Bhosle, "Legacy:  16th-18th Century Music From India", 1995 AMMP/Triloka
As juiced as Konono No 1 (above review) is, this is easily as tranquil.  It features Ali Akbar Khan on sarod and Asha Bhosle on vocals, along with Swapan Chaudhuri on Tabla and Pakawaj.  And on this superb disc, Khan and Bhosle, two of the largest legends in music, lend a beautiful sense of lightness, air, and mystery to classic songs from the 16th-18th Century.  They both interpret these songs through a mysterious and difficult Indian music tradition known as a bandish, a fixed composition through the medium of which a singer or instrumentalist adds their own voice to a raga.  According to the liner notes, only someone deemed worthy and is initiated into the gharana can give form to the bandish.  Here, Khan's deft touch on the sarod, as exemplified in so many of his other Carnatic works and recitals, and Bhosle, one of the most legendary vocalists of all time and the most recorded vocalists in the world, produce what is one of the most beautiful Indian collection of songs I've heard recorded.  And since I record music, I should mention that it's lovingly recorded and completely supports the beauty of the songs.

 

I See Hawks in L.A., "Grapevine", 2004 Western Seeds Record Company
Moody poetic California country-rock with a bit of psychedelic twang and often, a real sweetness to the melodies and textures.  Some would undoubtedly describe this as having an undercurrent of "sun-drenched psychedelia" or some such thing, and maybe that's true, but remember, I'm someone who listens to Beyond The Calico Walls, so maybe I have to be whacked over the head with psychedelia to draw that kind of a musical buzz.  At any rate, the L.A. Weekly describes them as the best country band in Los Angeles, and I'd have to agree.  Great songs, great playing, particularly Paul Lacques' exquisite steel playing and Brantley Kearns' smooth fiddle, and beautiful harmonies.  While all the songs are outstanding, the lead-off song "Hope Against Hope," their ode to Mary Jane ("Humboldt"),  a trucker song ("Hitchhiker"), the lost-love ache of "I Stayed Away", and "Still Want You" (sample lyrics:  "Let's do it a little slower cause I'm hung over, but honey, I still want you.  We can do it a little longer when I feel stronger, oh, honey, I still want you.") really stand out for me.  They're relaxed, confident performers live, and well worth hearing.

 

V/A, Cambodian Cassette Archives:  Khmer Folk and Pop Music Vol. 1", 2004 Sublime Frequencies
Remember Cambodian Rocks, that fine compilation of old psychedelic and garage bands from 1960s and '70s Cambodia reviewed in these very pages several years ago?  Cambodian Cassette Archives makes the ultimate companion CD.  To quote from the liner notes, "this collection was culled from over 150 ravaged cassettes found in Oakland, CA at the public library's Asian branch.  As the subtitle suggests, most of these songs are more pop and less rock in nature.  But, man, are they catchy!!  And consistently so, all the way through the comp.

Some of the songs are listed simply as "unknown", while some have the title but not the singer.  They range from vintage classics to obscure cassette finds, as many times the originals are difficult to track down.  "Blue Basket", "Sat Tee Touy (Look at the Owl", and "Don't Let My Girlfriend Tickle Me" are ragingly catchy, and the "Srey No (Lady Named NO" with its male/female vocals and snaky rhythm and vocals and melody, are thoroughly enjoyable.  I prefer this compilation to two other comps that have come out around this time, the Cambodian Rocks Vol. I and Vol. II (although these two have outstanding information in their liner notes that were completely missing from the original Cambodian Rocks compilation put out on Parallel World).

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