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Tuesday 31 January 2012

African Rap

Last night I was at the Barbican to see Orchestre Baobab. Once they got into their groove a couple of songs in they were excellent, but if it hadn't been for the bass player and rhythm guitarist keeping things going it might have been a bit of shambles as the rest of the gang ambled around at the beginning of each number while mulling over whether to sing, bang something or disappear all together. This peaked during the encore when the designated drummer decided to abandon his post and wander off stage to take a call on his mobile. The rest of them just kept things bubbling until he came back.

Support was from Belgium-based Congolese rapper Baloji and his band. He caused a bit of excitement late last year with his album "Kinshasa Succursale", on which he goes back to the Congo and hooks up with the likes of Zaiko Langa Langa and Konono No 1. The mix of rap and more local sounds works pretty well on the whole but it is hardly new, as the next two selections from "The Rough Guide to African Rap" demonstrate. K-Melia are also from the Congo, Mabulu from Mozambique.

That compilation also features African rap pioneers Positive Black Soul from Senegal. In 2010 one of their former members, Didier Awadi, released "President's d'Afrique", an album about many of the leading figures from the African independence movement. He pulled in some great guest musicians from all over the continent and, with all due respect, it knocks Baloji into a cocked hat. Today's selection features a sample of Thomas Sankara, former President of Burkina Faso, and the vocals of fellow Senegalese Noumoucounda Cissoko.

"Congo Eza Ya Biso (Le Secours Populaire)" - Baloji

"Na N'Ko" - K-Melia

"Karimbo" - Mabulu

"Oser Inventer L'Avenir" - Awadi

We finish with the Baobab boys from ten years ago. A disappointing lack of ambling in this clip.

Sunday 29 January 2012

And What Do You Know?

In a desperate attempt to pad out the 27 Leggies Sunday Supplement, we rang up a few celebrities and asked them the question "What do you know?" Here are the answers - some amusing, some enlightening and some sad.

If Barbara George is reading this up in Soul Heaven - Barbara, you're wrong.

"I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)" - Barbara George

"I Know My Train's A Comin'" - 17 Pygmies

"I Know Where You're Coming From" - Sam Dees

"I Know What I'm Looking For Now" - Tift Merritt

"I Know Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well" - Bull Moose Jackson

"Joy (I Know It)" - Odyssey

Tift may not yet have tracked down what she is looking for, but at least she knows what it is. So she is at least one step ahead of The Chimes (yes, I know it is a U2 song but I am allergic to B*n* and this version is miles better anyway).

Friday 27 January 2012

King Joe Is Back

As promised last time out, to set you up perfectly for the weekend, here are some brand new sounds from Joe Shirimani. As regular readers will know, Joe is a bit of a hero of mine. Despite the healthy competition for the title, I consider him still to be the main man on the Tsonga/Shangaan scene.

2011 was a bit of a come-back year for Joe, after taking some time off from music to train as a sangoma (a traditional healer). And he came back with a vengeance. Early in the year he released  “Joe Shirimani na Bangoni Bandawu”, which I have not yet heard in full but a copy of which is waiting for me in Cape Town and I'll pick it up at Easter. The album was a smash and won best Xitsonga disco album of the year at the MLFM awards. Putting his producer hat on he launched the career of his latest protege, Benny Mayengani, who won best male vocalist at the same awards thanks to his hit single "Tiba Ben", which we have featured here before.

Fuelled by the enthusiastic response Joe got back in the studio with his younger brother Prince Rhangani (whose own solo album is also waiting for us in Cape Town), Benny and various other guests to produce the album "Banana", which was presented to an expectant and grateful public in November, credited to Joe Shirimani na Vana Va Ndonda. It is, as you would expect, a bit of a corker. Joe has incorporated some elements of the Shangaan electro sound that is proving so popular with the hipsters in Brooklyn and Brussels but without moving away from his own signature sound. Here the two opening tracks.

Many thanks to Bram (aka DJ LeBlanc) for fixing me up with this album. I owe you one.

"Hi Nghenile" - Joe Shirimani na Vana Va Ndonda

"Banana" - Joe Shirimani na Vana Va Ndonda (featuring Rose Chabala)

We've shown this clip of Joe many times but, until some new clips are available on YouTube, we'll have to keep showing it. Which is hardly a hardship.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Get Ready For Freddie

Attention all you Tsonga Disco fans out there. Make sure to tune in later in the week when we will be sharing some brand new tracks by the Shangaan Svengali himself, Mr Joe Shirimani. To warm you up for that, here is some top quality 1990s South African pop from Freddie Gwala.

Freddie is a bit of a Svengali figure himself. He started out as songwriter, co-producer and founder member of the band Pure Gold, who were big in the 1980s. He went solo in the early 1990s and had a massive hit with 'Amadamara' which we have featured here before. This was followed by a string of successful singles and albums, and his solo career continues to this day.

Ten years or so back he discovered the band Platform 1 and again took up production and songwriting duties to guide them to success. He has also written songs for the likes of Brenda Fassie. Somewhere along the way he found time in his busy schedule to serve eight years in jail for car theft. And he has recently taken Zimbabwean dance troupe Amavithikazi under his wing in an attempt to work his magic with them.

I have his first five solo albums in my collection. Here is one song from each of them, including his touching tribute to Ms Diana Ross. Whether Diana has returned the compliment and recorded a track called 'Freddie Gwala' is not known.

"Iyajikajika" (from "Amadamara") - Freddie Gwala

"Shikisha" (from "Amadamara 2: Shikisha Mahala") - Freddie Gwala

"Diana Ross" (from "Amadamara 3: Disco Mshini") - Freddie Gwala

"Amaphalazo" (from "Amadamara 4: Gumba Faya") - Freddie Gwala

"Usisi Rose" (from "Amadamara 5: Ngiboshiwe") - Freddie Gwala

I thought about having a Diana Ross clip here. But then I thought, no, let's have something decent instead.

Sunday 22 January 2012

ReviewShine Round-Up

It is time for our monthly round-up of records received via ReviewShine. And we start with a sort of low-key version of a super-group. Freedy Johnston, Jon Dee Graham and Susan Cowsill are all artists I have admired for many years. I have been lucky enough to see a couple of them live, Jon Dee here in London and Susan in Raleigh NC on the same evening that I had a peculiar encounter with a lady fishmonger and ate hush puppies for the first and only time. Now the three of them have got together under the name of The Hobart Brothers With Lil' Sis Hobart and produced an album called "At Least We Have Each Other", due out on 6 March on Freedom Records.

As you would expect with the pedigree of the people involved, it is a strong record, with songs apparently inspired by their early days when they each had to take menial jobs in restaurants to make ends meet. Many of the songs sound like the solo work of whichever the lead artist is - that is not intended as a criticism, just an observation - but I think my favourite tracks are those that blend their different styles to come up with something slightly different, like today's selection. As a bonus I have added one each from their solo work so you can make your own judgement about how well they have blended.

"I Never Knew" - The Hobart Brothers With Lil' Sis Hobart

"Kings" - Jon Dee Graham

"Nanny's Song" - Susan Cowsill

"The Lucky One" - Freedy Johnston

 Dear Sister are a trio from Toronto, who released their eponymous album which came out last month. Bri Salmena and Raven Shields are the singers and principal songwriters, while Aaron Comeau arranges most of the songs. The sound could loosely be described as a mix of Gillian Welch style Americana and the 1970s Laurel Canyon school. It is worth checking out for the harmonies alone, although there is a lot more to it than that. My personal favourites include "Hallelujah" (not that one), recorded live at Levon Helm's place in Woodstock, and this next one.

"Sailor's Daughter" - Dear Sister

I can tell you nothing at all about Railroad Fever other than that they are a four-piece band from Philadelphia whose debut album, "Things You Lost", was issued earlier this month. The first time I listened to the album it sounded pleasant but slightly washed over me. Then this track popped up on my iPod shuffle and I was stopped dead in my tracks, since when I have had another listen. The album is definitely a grower.

"Saint Dorothy's Shame" - Railroad Fever

We finish with a bit of an oddity. In 2008 Brian Francis Slattery released a novel going under the snappy title of "Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America". According to the blurb it was "a surreal road trip of a novel". Now Brian has got together with some of his mates, who he has called the Slick Six Five, and put extracts from the novel to music.

The resulting album is called "Pictures of a Liberation", and came out ten days ago on Venture Joint Records. The lyrics are mainly spoken, but occasionally sung, and set to all sorts of musical styles - mostly rock or country but venturing into funk and Afropop as well. What you make of it will largely depend on what you make of Brian's voice and whether the words engage you. To be honest it doesn't always work for me, and the words and music don't always fit together. But when they do they really bring the scene to life, none more so that on this track which I find utterly entrancing.

"We Left; You Should Too" - Brian Francis Slattery & The Slick Six Five

We end where we began, with Susan Cowsill, who first entered the music business as the youngest member of The Cowsills, the family ensemble that were the real-life predecessors of the Partridge Family. You can just about make her out in this very poor quality clip of them doing one of their biggest hits in 1969 - that's her singing "and spaghetti" at 2:08.


Friday 20 January 2012

He's Got To Be-ee-ee-ee-ee...

Last time out we treated you to Barry White's bizarre reggae version of 'Volare'. Have a listen to this. Is it just me but do the first twenty seconds lead you to think you are about to get a bizarre reggae version of 'Quando Quando Quando'. Fortunately it soon settles down into a decent Congolese rumba, but it is a scary moment.

"C'Est Mon Mari" - Carlyto Lassa

We will stick with the reggae a little longer. Over the last few days I have been listening obsessively to 'Hand Cart Bwoy' by the modestly named Perfect. Here it is with another one of his tunes, on which he is assisted by one Jeffrey Star. "Star" I like - it's aspirational like "Perfect" - but I do think the effect is diminished when used after "Jeffrey".

"Hand Cart Bwoy" - Perfect

"Ready When You Are" - Perfect (featuring Jeffrey Star)

We finish up with a short tribute to the mighty Etta James, who sadly died today.

"Watch Dog" - Etta James

And at the risk of overdoing the 'Hand Cart Bwoy' thing, here's the video. All together now: "Down the market me juggle pak choi...".

Monday 16 January 2012

Reggae Country

We like a bit of reggae here in the East End. I should qualify that by saying that we like a bit of reggae as long as it is UB40 or it was a hit in the 1960s or 1970s. You can't go into a pub on a Saturday night round here without hearing 'Kingston Town' or 'Everything I Own'.

So it came as no surprise when I was in Roman Road market recently (or "dahn the Roman" as we call call it) to find a dodgy geezer selling bootleg reggae CDs for £2 a pop. I picked up a handful of them, including a compilation called "Reggae's Gone Country" which came out last year.

Most of it is pretty tame stuff to be honest and there are a few duff choices - does the world really need a reggae version of 'Wolverton Mountain'? But on the plus side it does include covers of three of my all time favourite songs in any genre: 'He Stopped Loving Her Today', 'El Paso' and 'He'll Have To Go'. They are all decent enough, though none come close to the majesty of the originals, with Luciano's tribute to Jim Reeves probably the pick of the bunch. So that is what you are getting.

Of course there is nothing new about reggae artists covering country songs. Take for example Toots & The Maytals' stomping version of 'Take Me Home, Country Roads', which is infinitely preferable to the original. And the influence goes both ways. Toots popped up a few years' back on Willie Nelson's "Countryman" album, on which Willie reinterpreted his back catalogue in a rub-a-dub style-e - and produced one of the best records he has made in ages as a result.

Today's final selection has nothing to do with country music but I felt compelled to share it with you. Let me put three propositions to you:
  • There is a reggae version of 'Volare'
  • Barry White has done a version of 'Volare'
  • Barry White has made a reggae record
You would probably look at those and say the first was inevitable, the second conceivable and the third unlikely in the extreme. But now put them all together: Barry White has done a reggae version of 'Volare'. It's true. It's not good. But it's true.

"He'll Have To Go" - Luciano

"Take Me Home, Country Roads" - Toots & The Maytals

"Something To Think About" - Willie Nelson

"Volare" - Barry White

It would be kinder really to remember Barry doing what he did better than anyone.


Saturday 14 January 2012

Fireside Favourites

It's a chilly old day here in London, the sort of day where I wish I had a nice log fire I could settle down next to. But you have to be careful with fire, because if you play with it you might get burned. So you need to make sure you have something or someone you can turn to if things get out of hand.

And that is sort of the story of these songs.

"Sitting By The Fire" - Gordon Haskell

"Fire Burning" - Bob Andy

"Fire Burning" - The Rockets

"Play With Fire" - Barbara & Ernie

"Fire Don't Care" - One Wolf

"How Do You Fight Fire?" - Dirk Hamilton

"You're My Fire Extinguisher" - Sir Victor Uwaifo

"Mr. Fire Coal Man" - The Wailing Souls

And if it does get out of control and they try to work out who was responsible, you can be sure everyone will be pointing fingers and passing the buck.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Start The Tsonga

Recently we have not really been living up to our mission to bring you the finest in Tsonga Disco. Today we start trying to put that right with some smooth Shangaan sounds from 1993.

But first I want do what I believe the young people call a "shout out" to my new friend Bram, better known to fans of cutting edge sounds as DJ Leblanc. Bram has very kindly sent me a copy of "Banana", the brand new album by the mighty Joe Shirimani, with Vana Va Ndoda. You can expect to see some selections from that up here pretty soon. Bram has also sent over a mixtape he did of some CDs he picked up in Giyani - the home of Tsonga/ Shangaan music - a little while back. You should definitely give it a listen.

I am extremely jealous of Bram as he has recently come back from a trip to Joburg where he got to hang out with such luminaries as Patson Chauke and Mr Jambatini, as you can see from the photos he has put up on Facebook. Apparently it was our feature on Mr J 18 months ago that led Bram to track him down. It is nice to know we played a small part in bringing them together.

Anyway, after all that introduction, let's get back to that 1993 CD I mentioned up the top. It is by a band called Magayisa - but billed as Magayisa C. Khosa on the sleeve, Chris Khosa being the lead vocalist - and is called simply "Shangaan Disco". It is that very rare thing, a Shangaan album that had an official US release - what a shame it wasn't the start of a Tsonga Invasion of the US charts.

The first couple of tracks are a little tame but they slowly ratchet up both the Shangaan and disco elements of the sound and by the time they get to tracks 5 and 6 things are really starting to cook. As you can hear.

"Nwana Wosaseka Watsakisa" - Magayisa

"Xinepe" - Magayisa

And if you are wondering why the name Magayisa sounds familiar, maybe you are thinking of this track by our old pal Loaf Boy.

"Magayisa" - Loaf Boy

We are going to forego our usual finish of a naff Top of the Pops clip from the 1970s for something special. The fact that you lot tune in here at all clearly means you are people of impeccable taste, so it follows that you must be fellow supporters of The Arsenal. I was at the Emirates last night to witness the return of God. I haven't stopped smiling since the 78th minute (or 1:50 as they call it on this video of the edited highlights).

Sunday 8 January 2012


My eldest niece Hannah has just spent a few days with me, having arrived to spend the next twelve months or so working in England. As you would expect of a Goggins she is an absolute delight, as are my seven other nieces. Here is a song for each of them, although I should emphasise that my niece Emily is a highly respectable young woman and not at all like her namesake of whom Gypsy sings.

"See Alice" - The Mummers

"Anna" - Arthur Alexander

"Brimful Of Asha" - Cornershop

"Ella" - M. Ward

"Emily" - Gypsy

"Hannah" - Hal Trotter

"For Jessica" - Jordan Klassen

"Maya" - Arik Einstein & Shalom Hanoch

Apropos of nothing at all, this is something that has to be seen to be believed (although even having seen it I am not sure I believe it).

And that is not the only reference to pretzels in Elvis's work. They crop up in this old standard as well.

Friday 6 January 2012

A Nod To Niamey

We had our first visitor from Niger today so, as a tribute of sorts, here are a small selection of tunes from Nigerien artists - mostly but not exclusively in the 'Tuareg Blues' style. I think we now have Chad pretty much surrounded, but the buggers are still holding out.

"Ile Elan" - Atri N'Assouf

"Liedernan" - Etran Finatawa

"Innulamane" - Toumast

"Yacouba" - Mamar Kassey

Speaking of Mama Cass, I still believe her finest achievement was her performance as Witch Hazel in H R Pufnstuf.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Ivan The Terrible?

A belated welcome to 2012. I am just back from a week in Sorrento and Naples, and very nice it was too. For fans of skulls, I would particularly recommend a visit to Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco in Naples. It must be one of the few Catholic churches with a practicing death cult in the basement. This here is Lucia, the patron of young brides.

I even managed to catch a gig while in Italy, by Raphael Gualazzi, the Italian Jamie Cullum and runner-up in Eurovision 2011. It was not really my sort of thing, but he puts on a good show. It was also notable for a bizarre attempt by the organisers of the Sorrento Jazz Festival (whose event it was) to impose a photo ban at a free concert held in the main square. I bravely defied this ban to bring you this exclusive photo of Raphael in action.

I have never really hit it off with modern Italian music. The old stuff is a different matter. One can only agree with Jeff Lynne that Puccini knew how to lay down a tune, and I enjoy a good burst of 'Volare' as much as anyone. But what I have heard of the more recent stuff usually leaves me cold. Needless to say, I did not let that stop me buying loads of it. You will be lucky enough to share it I am sure.

We start with one Ivan Cattaneo. According to the automatic translation of his Italian Wikipedia page he was born in Bergamo in 1953, was thrown out of the Italian army for "extravagence" and released a number of independent albums in the mid to late 1970s, before signing with a major label and striking it big with his hit single 'Polisex' in 1980, which "soon became a sort of hymn of the so-called alternative in Milan during the eighties". He effectively turned his back on music to take up painting in the mid 1980s and has only made a couple of albums since.

The CD I bought, in the seminal "I Grande Successi Originali" series, features his 1970s recordings. Some of the titles looked promising - "Sexo!", "Bimbo Assassino" ands "Il Bambino E Perverso" for example. On the whole it is pretty tame stuff though. Here are a couple of the better numbers.

"Boys & Boys" - Ivan Cattaneo

"Psico Fico" - Ivan Cattaneo

I will leave you with this old Italian standard, the chorus of which happens to be exactly what I said to the security man in Sorrento who tried to stop me photographing Raphael Gualazzi.