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Monday 31 July 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 10 - Chad

After a couple of weeks resting in the Ubangi delta, we've got back on the bus and are continuing our African adventure. However, this leg of the journey is a fairly short, as we are popping over the northern border of the Central African Republic into neighbouring Chad.

Chad is the 20th largest country in the world but most of us (including me) know next to nothing about it. I have done a bit of research and let's just say that while Chad no doubt has its charms it may not be an obvious holiday destination. The capital N'Djamena is the most polluted city in Africa, and because of the distance from the sea and its largely desert climate Chad 'enjoys' the nickname 'the Dead Heart of Africa'. 

It is also the seventh poorest country in the world, but as home to over 200 ethnic and linguistic groups I imagine it is culturally rich. Having said that, it has been a real struggle to find five acts to feature in this post. The problem isn't a lack of quality - they are all rather splendid - just a lack of availability.

Browsing through the limited number of websites with information on Chadian music three band names crop up most frequently - Chari Jazz, L'International Challal and Groupe Tibesti. We have a track from each of them for you.

Chari Jazz are considered to be the first modern musical group from Chad, having formed under the patronage of then President François Tombalbaye in 1964. It appears that the President packed them off to DR Congo to learn from rumba masters like Franco and Rochereau, with clear instructions not to come back until they were good. I imagine he welcomed them back with open arms when he heard "Kag N'Dil".

L'International Challal and their main man Maître Gazonga developed a big local following in the 1980s. According to a badly translated French Wikipedia entry, when the band played in the villages they accepted payment in the form of food which they then bundled into their truck and sold at the market back in N'Djamena. Very enterprising.

Groupe Tibesti (or sometimes just Tibesti) were formed in 1994 in the region of the same name. This very short bio tells us that "their music explores the traditional Sahelian rhythms with a preference for Chadian Sai". When you look up 'Chadian Sai music' all it says is that it is a style popularised by Tibesti, so we are none the wiser really.

Moving forward in space and time we meet up with Mounira Mitchala, also known as Sweet Panther (which is what Mitchala means in Chadian Arabic). Today's selection is the title track from her 2008 debut album and her signature tune. Wikipedia tells us that her sister is Chad's first female cartoonist. Clearly a talented family.

Rounding things off, and bringing us up to date, are Pulo NDJ whose aim is to explore traditional Chadian music but add an electronic twist. This track is on their 2019 debut album "Desert to Douala" which you can pick up over at Bandcamp where you will also find an informative bio.

"Kag N'Dil" - Chari Jazz

"Les Jaloux Saboteurs" - L'International Challal

"Pa-Sei" - Groupe Tibesti

"Talou Lena" - Mounira Mitchala

"Taroum (de Moundou)" - Pulo NDJ

Before we get to the videos, a big thanks to Placide Ayreh for coming to the rescue at the last minute with some Mandatory African Reggae. It is much appreciated.

Friday 28 July 2023

Newness Abounds

Yes, it's the latest edition of our occasional series featuring the best of the many freebies that the lovely people in Promoland have sent me in recent months. From them to me to you, here we go.

You have probably heard of the first act, an up and coming beat combo called Dexys. I'm a long-term fan and had been planning to buy "The Feminine Divine", their new album which comes out today. The money saved will no doubt be frittered away on something else instead.

"The Feminine Divine" is Dexys' first album of new original material since 2012's "One Day I'm Going To Soar". Musically parts of it sound more like they did back in the very early days. Lyrics apart the opening sequence could be off a Chairmen Of The Board album. Which is a good thing.

We had some French rock here last Friday and we're trying again today. I know a number of our readers were underwhelmed by Téléphone, but perhaps they will warm to Les Lullies. Their album "Mauvaise Foi" came out in May and is available on Bandcamp

The band describe the album as "no-frills and fast-paced punk rock with a few power-pop jabs every here and there", and who is to say they are wrong. Normally I do no more than tap a toe or two, but I was jumping up and down until the people downstairs complained.

We go from an album in French to one in Sm'algyax, the language of the Ts’msyen Nation who can be found mostly in northern British Columbia and southern Alaska. The album is called "G̱al’üünx wil lu Holtga Liimi" and it is by Ts’msyen artist Saltwater Hank

Hank has released a number of records in English but on this occasion wanted to show the power of creating in Indigenous languages. He has made a very good case for doing so. The album came out earlier this month and is also on Bandcamp.

We are sticking with roots music for today's final selection, "Imaginary People" by Viv & Riley (Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno to give them their full names). It is a very nice record and I love Viv's voice, which reminds me a bit of Laura Cantrell. The album does not come out until 15 September but you can pre-order it on Bandcamp and pick up their earlier albums as well while you are there. 

Speaking of Laura Cantrell, she has a great new album out called "Just Like A Rose" which I have not included here as it wasn't a freebie but which I heartily recommend. The same can be said for "Careful Of Your Keepers" by This Is The Kit, so I have added videos featuring tracks from each to whet your appetite.

"The One That Loves You" - Dexys

"Mauvaise Foi" - Les Lullies

"Ba'Wis" - Saltwater Hank

"The General" - Viv & Riley

Wednesday 26 July 2023

Flogging A Dead Hedgehog

You can blame that Rol character for this. 

In yesterday's edition of his acclaimed and entirely original Namesakes series he featured an act from the stalwart but long forgotten 1980s label Dead Hedgehog. I mentioned in the comments that back in 1984 I had discussions with the Dead Hedgehog Head Honcho about including one of my bedroom band's tracks on one of their compilation cassettes. Unfortunately the label went the same way as the hedgehog shortly afterwards so our 15 minutes of fame was snatched away from us.

The track in question was "Do The Torvill and Dean", a totally shameless attempt to cash in on their then recent success at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Rol made the mistake of asking whether a demo of "Do The Torvill and Dean" still existed. It does, so here we are.

We called the band A Cuddly Pair, a name chosen from a photo of two kittens on my mate Simon's Mum's kitchen calendar. We would regularly visit the kitchen during breaks in our recording sessions for a cup of tea and some of her excellent home-made jaffa cakes. They were a very important consideration when choosing where to record and probably the only tangible benefit of being in the band.

Only one of the three of us could play an instrument properly and none of us could hold a tune in the bucket - these days of course you can get computer programmes to deal with that sort of minor detail. This made mainstream success unlikely but it meant that what critics have called the endearingly amateurish ethos at Dead Hedgehog seemed a natural fit for us.

The sound quality is very ropey - it turns out Woolworths own brand cassettes weren't designed to retain high resolution audio for forty years - but helpfully that masks the even ropier quality of the performance. The line-up on this track was AJ on vocals and boxes, Simon on guitar and me on jazz penny whistle. Enjoy! Or Endure!

One proper band that did go on to achieve more after getting their first break on a Dead Hedgehog compilation was Jesus Couldn't Drum. Their 1984 single "Even Roses Have Thorns" has long been a favourite of mine, and hopefully now it will be one of yours too.

I have also bunged in an Incredible String Band song for reasons that will become obvious. Their willingness to record themselves banging and blowing anything that makes a noise was a great inspiration to A Cuddly Pair. 

"Do The Torvill And Dean" - A Cuddly Pair

"Even Roses Have Thorns" - Jesus Couldn't Drum

"The Hedgehog's Song" - The Incredible String Band

Finally, here is some more from Jesus Couldn't Drum: 

Monday 24 July 2023

In The Jingle Jangle Evening

On Saturday night my pal Mister F and I ventured into London's Dalston for a gig. The headliners were Jeanines, whose album "Don't Wait For A Sign" was plugged here when it came out last year, and the main support act were Mt. Misery from exotic Hartlepool. 

I thoroughly enjoyed both sets. Jeanines specialise in very short jangly pop songs of the highest calibre, although there was one that lasted nearly two minutes. Once they cut out that bloated self-indulgence they will be even better.

Mt. Misery were a new name to me but I liked them very much and I think they would appeal to members of the Teenage Fanclub fan club and admirers of 1970s moustaches. They are working on their second album but while we wait I suggest you check out their 2021 debut "Once Home, No Longer". 

The two bands are touring the UK together for the rest of the week - Oxford tonight and then Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh. Jeanines are also playing in Glasgow as part of this year's Glas-Goes Pop festival. Get along if you can. 

Third on the bill in London only was Brighton's Garden Centre, or rather a solo performance by Head Gardener Max Levy. Not for me personally but he seems a nice chap and was polite (if somewhat bewildered) when I compared his vocal style to Gnidrolog. 

"Any Day Now" - Jeanines

"The Dreaming Days Are Over" - Mt. Misery

"Rotting Leaves" - Garden Centre

Friday 21 July 2023

+33 And A Third

I got back yesterday from a short trip to Paris and Troyes. I have been to Paris many times over the years but this was my first visit to Troyes. I liked it very much - lots of old timbered buildings to admire while you amble round town and a local delicacy, andouillette de Troyes, which is a must have for all fans of pigs' innards.

While in Paris I caught up with my old friends Jeni and Christoph. I think I may have mentioned here before that Jeni's sister has two sons who she rashly named Zepheniah and Coolie. Well, Coolio is now the father of a baby girl to whom he has gifted the name Nylon. This has made me ridiculously happy. Poor Nylon may not feel the same way when she is old enough to understand what has been done to her.

I found time for a bit of CD shopping in both places. Unfortunately many of the little shops around Boulevard Barbès in Paris that sold CDs from assorted parts of Francophone Africa alongside fabric and nick-nacks are no longer there. It was the same story in the Matonge district in Brussels when I was there last year.  

Despite that setback I managed to pick up a handful of albums that are likely to feature in my African Odyssey series at some point. In the case of Nans Benz du Togo that won't be until around this time next year. If they become world-renowned before then, remember you heard it here first.

A visit to the French equivalent of Cash Converters in Troyes resulted in me acquiring "Rappels", a compilation album by Téléphone. They were widely considered to be the best French band of the early 1980s but forty years on it is hard to see what the fuss was about. You probably had to be there.

Téléphone made five albums before splitting in 1986. We have the title track of the Martin Hannett produced second album "Crache Ton Venin" (1979) and something from their final album "Un Autre Monde" (1984).

"Crache Ton Venin" - Téléphone

"New York Avec Toi" - Téléphone

Legally you can't have a post mentioning French music and telephones without including this #35 smash from 1976.

Thursday 13 July 2023

Lanegan, Then Gone Again

This will be the last post here for ten days or so as I'm heading off for a week's break tomorrow. If you study the videos very closely there are some subtle clues as to where I'll be spending the first part of the week.

I wanted to leave you with something light and fluffy and what could be lighter and fluffier than Mark Lanegan? "Here Comes That Weird Chill" was a nine-track EP released in 2003 that served as a sort of preview for "Bubblegum", the 'proper' album that came out the year after, the songs having been recorded in the same sessions.

While "Weird Chill" might have been intended as a warm-up it is pretty good in its own right. Highlights include these two tracks, the first of which was the only one on "Weird Chill" that subsequently made it onto "Bubblegum".

"Methamphetamine Blues" - Mark Lanegan Band

"Lexington Slow Down" - Mark Lanegan Band

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 9 - Central African Republic

We are at Stop 9 on our virtual travels around Africa. It will be the last stop for a few weeks. That is partly because I have a week of real life travels starting on Friday and partly because Stops 10 and 11 will need a bit more research when I return (unless I happen to stumble across a record shop specialising in music from Chad and the Comoros while I'm away).

As disappointing as I know this news will be to you all, it does mean you will have longer than usual to savour the musical delights of this week's destination - the Central African Republic.

The Central African Republic (I'm going to call it the CAR from now on or I'll get a repetitive strain injury) is one of those countries most of us would probably struggle to find on a map. If it helps, it is bordered by six other countries - both Sudans, both Congos, Chad and Cameroon. 

Two-thirds of the CAR is in the Ubangi river basin, but don't even think of asking for "Ubangi Stomp". Instead we will start with real indigenous music courtesy of the Aka pygmies, whose singing is on UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This track comes from an album of field recordings called "Centrafrique: Anthologie De La Musique Des Pygmées Aka" that was originally released in 1987.

Sticking with traditional sounds, Jospin Pendere-Ye is a singer and player of the ngombi, a ten-string harp. He is of Mbaka ethnicity, which means he shares some roots with the Aka, and on his 2019 album "Tomboka! Tomboka!" he is backed by some Aka musicians. You can find the album on Bandcamp.

We'll go pop now with a couple of fellows whose sounds have clearly been influenced by the Congolese rumba creeping over their Southern border and into the nightclubs and international hotels of Bangui. 

Lea Lignanzi made a name for himself across the broader region, playing with the likes of the great Sam Mangwana, before he released his solo debut in 1982. The album was called "Dédé Priscilla" and it earned Lea a gold record - deservedly so, as I'm sure you'll agree when you hear the sparkling guitars on "Hamadi".

Sultan Zembellat started his musical career in CAR, where he was a founder member of the band African Lokombe, but like many others he emigrated to France during the 1980s due to the economic and political situation back home. In Paris he became a major promoter of other CAR musicians as well as making music himself, up until his untimely death in 2010 aged only 51. I found "Nova Africa" on a CAR compilation called "Les Fauves de Bazoubangui, Vol. 2". Imagine how good Vol. 1 must be.  

Bibi Tanga's family were also part of the CAR diaspora in Paris, moving there when Bibi was still in his teens. Today's selection comes from his album "Le Vent Qui Souffle" (2000) which he describes as "A poetic and urban work with jazzy, funky, soul, pop and blues colours" and which you can find on Bandcamp. He has made a number of albums since with his band The Selenites, most recently "The Same Tree" last year.

"Chant Pour La Retour De La Chasse (Nzombi)" - Pygmées Aka

"Vie Centrafricaine" - Jospin Pendere-Ye

"Hamadi" - Lea Lignanzi

"Africa Nova" - Sultan Zembellat

"Elle Fuse" - Bibi Tanga


Oh alright then...

Sunday 9 July 2023

Single Song Sunday

This corner of the blogosphere is normally untouched by human hand over the weekend. So if I am posting on a Sunday it can mean only one thing - it's time for another Single Song Sunday.

To be fair, you could also have worked that out from the fact that the title of the post is "Single Song Sunday".

Not for the first time, and very probably not the last, we are featuring a Holland-Dozier-Holland song. "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" was a hit twice on Motown, originally for Marvin Gaye in 1965 and then for Junior Walker the year after. Marvin brought the grace, Junior brought the groove.

Many years later Lamont Dozier himself had a go, on an album called "Reflections Of..." on which he reinterpreted his songbook. It's his song so obviously he can do what he likes to it, but personally I don't think slowing it right down suits the song.

Marvin had the bigger hit with the song in the US, reaching #6 on the charts compared to #18 for Junior (it was the other way round in the UK where Marvin barely scraped into the Top 50), but neither of them was the biggest. That honour goes to James Taylor, who took his version all the way to #5 in 1975. Now I'm partial to a bit of JT and it is a perfectly pleasant cover, but I would not consider it the pick of the bunch.

Probably my personal favourite version after Marvin and Junior is the one by a little-known British singer called Paul Weller. Originally the B-side to his 2010 single "Find The Torch, Burn The Plans", you can also find it on his "Will Of The People" rarities boxset which came out last year. 

Which brings us to Karen Dalton who released this sprightly rendition on her 1971 album "In My Own Time". Karen's voice is perhaps an acquired taste. I have acquired it, you may not. We then round things off with a French cover from 1967 by Herbert Léonard and the Mandatory Reggae Version courtesy of Mr Tinga Stewart.

"How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" - Junior Walker & The All Stars

Friday 7 July 2023

I Am The Kosmische - Or Am I?

The music we have for you today is either the product of one of the strangest tales you will ever hear or an elaborate hoax perpetuated by one Drew McFayden, formerly of Scottish band The Magnificents. We may never know.

Ten years ago the Unknown Capabilities label released the first volume of what it called "The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972-83". Since then four further volumes of this 'rediscovered' music have been issued, with the most recent volume coming out earlier this year.

You can read the full story here, but in brief we are led to believe that the music was created by a man called Martin Zeichnete and that it was done at the insistence of the East German authorities. We are told that they believed it would help to get their Olympic athletes in the right mental state to win (presumably as a back-up just in case the copious amounts of drugs they were pumping into the poor sods didn't do it).

Quite how these secret recordings ended up in the hands of a record label in Edinburgh that had not previously released any records we may never know. Just as we may never know why there aren't any photos or videos of Herr Zeichnete, just a single interview transcript. Perhaps he is a recluse. Or perhaps he is a figment of Mr McFayden's imagination. Maybe it doesn't really matter if you like the music. 

Here is a track apiece for Volumes 1 to 3. You can find all five of them on Bandcamp along with a few 'name your price' downloads. 

"Tonband Laufspur" - Kosmischer Läufer

"Morgenröte" - Kosmischer Läufer

"In der Stadt und auf dem Land" - Kosmischer Läufer

To round things off, some more running music from the 1970s. Or if you think the Kosmischer Läufer story is a hoax, here is a video that has no relation at all to the rest of this post.

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Mister Tom

Another week, another gig. Last Thursday my old pal Mr F and I went to see Tom Russell play the famour 100 Club in London's Oxford Street. The capacity is now much smaller than when an estimated 100,000 people all definitely saw the Sex Pistols there back in 1976.

I have lost count of the number of times I've seen Tom perform, but it must be close to double figures by now. We nearly didn't add to the tally as the Great Man had cancelled a couple of gigs earlier in the week due to ill health, but fortunately for us he was feeling sufficiently recovered by Thursday to go ahead. 

Tom was looking a little gaunt but that may just be down to his recent illness. His voice is still holding up well for a man of 76. And the songs, of course, were magnificent. We were treated to a mix of tracks from his most recent album, "October In The Railroad Earth" (2019), and some (very) old favourites. Here is one of each.

"Highway 46" - Tom Russell

"Veterans Day" - Tom Russell

Monday 3 July 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 8 - Cameroon

It's week 8 of the tour and we are back on the mainland after our brief visit to Cabo Verde. We are in Cameroon, one of the real powerhouses of African music in my humble opinion.

The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that we have six tracks for you today rather than the usual five. That is because we have a special request from Mr and Mrs Charity Chic. They have asked for the Les Têtes Brulées song in memory of Mrs CC's dear friend Brother John who spent many years teaching in Cameroon. You can read CC's very nice tribute to John here.

After that it was a real struggle to pick only five tracks. Obviously we had to have something by Mr Big Blow himself, the late great Manu Dibango. Equally obviously we had to include some Mandatory African Reggae. Sally Nyolo does the honours. That left only three slots to fill.

I have reluctantly left out the likes of Sam Fan Thomas, Francis Bebey, Ekambi Brillant and everything on Analog Africa's excellent "Cameroon Garage Funk" compilation, and opted for a trio of tunes that will get any party started.

First up is Lapiro de Mbanga. You might assume from "Jolies Filles" that he was just a good time guy, but he actually spent three years in prison after his song "Constitution constipée" criticised attempts by President Paul Biya to change the constitution to allow presidents to serve more than two terms. Lapiro sadly died in 2014, less than three years after his release from prison. Biya, on the other hand, is still President.

Next we have Elvis Kemayo, one of the world's top three Elvises in my view. He is happily still going strong as he approaches his 75th birthday in September. If you are keen to find out more, why not watch the 95 minute documentary that has been made about him. 

Last but by no means least we bring you Tala AM, the blind groovester who successfully sued James Brown for ripping off one of his tunes. You can read the full sordid tale while you are over at Bandcamp buying his excellent "African Funk Experimentals" collection, from which the track below comes.

"Des Hauts Et Des Bas" - Les Têtes Brûlées

"Abele Dance" - Manu Dibango

"Mamiwata" - Sally Nyolo

"Jolies Filles" - Lapiro De Mbanga

"Menzui" - Elvis Kemayo

"Gotam" - Tala AM