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Wednesday 30 August 2023

Of Gigs And Gigabytes

The communication breakdown continues. I now have a new PC but they forgot to deliver the new monitor, which is needed as the old one is not compatible. In addition, my external storage drive appears to have been corrupted somehow and is denying me access to some of my music and most of my photos. All very irritating.

To soothe my soul I have been enjoying some live music, with three gigs in the last five days. Life at the moment is a mixture of gigs-a-go-go and gigabytes-a-gone-gone.

First up last Friday was a solo set by Bruce Cockburn at a barely half-full Shepherds Bush Empire. The low turnout was a shame but the fact the cheap seats were over £40 probably had a lot to do with it - I was only there because I had wangled a discount ticket. Bruce himself was very good and the set was a nice mix of old favourites and tracks from his recent album "O Sun O Moon".

Sunday afternoon was spent in trendy Clerkenwell at a free festival in a little local park. There were several acts on the bill but we were only there for the headliner, the great Wreckless Eric. Another solo set, he was excellent as always, mixing tracks mostly taken from his new album "Leisureland" and its predecessor "Transience" (2019) with a selection of expletive-laden anecdotes that I am sure were appreciated by the small children and dog show contestants in the audience.

It wasn't just small children and dogs though. Among the celebrities in the crowd were Spizz Energi, Gaye Advert, Helen McCookeryBook and Old Bob from Tenpole Tudor. It truly was a night of a thousand stars,

By last night we had made our way from trendy Clerkenwell to drizzly Dalston for another open air gig, this time by the Madalitso Band from Malawi. Undoubtedly the finest table-based band I have ever seen, they score highly on most other criteria as well. I would recommend catching them if you can, you are sure to leave with a smile on your face.

I will save the audio clip of the Madalitso Band until our delayed African Odyssey reaches Malawi, but here are one each from Bruce and Eric. Both were highlights of their respective sets. Bruce's track comes from "Big Circumstance" (1989), Eric's from "Transcience". 

Readers of a delicate disposition should note that Eric's track includes blasphemy and obscenity, in one case in the same image.

"If A Tree Falls" - Bruce Cockburn

Friday 25 August 2023

Dead Or Dusty

An update on the IT situation reported in my previous post. Despite installing a new hard drive and numerous attempted restores, resets and reboots, doctors have declared the old desktop PC officially dead.

A new one is on order and should be up and running early next week, but until it is I won't know how much of my music on iTunes (which is where I construct the posts) has made it through. If it hasn't then posts that require planning like the African Odyssey series may be further delayed.

In happier news, I'm off on holiday at the end of next week (New York - a mixture of NYC and the rural idyll upstate where my fab cousin lives). So one way or the other what passes for normal service here is not likely to resume until mid-September.

In the meantime we will continue with the hopefully short-lived series of forgotten sounds found on my storage drive. The two criteria are: the 'date accessed' must be at least ten years old, and if you were to ask me if I had ever heard of these acts I would say "no".

Today we have delved into the S folder, and to very good effect I think. Some of these will definitely be moving up to the A List when everything is working again. In order, we have vintage sounds from Peru and Haiti, something from the 1971 solo album by the former lead singer of Black Cat Bones, and Mick Jones from Foreigner before he was Mick Jones from Foreigner (and even before he was Mick Jones from Spooky Tooth).

"Guayaba" - La Sonora de Lucho Macedo

"Controleur" - Webert Sicot

"Always Another Train" - Brian Short

"I Know" - The State Of Micky & Tommy

Also found in the S folder, Southeast Engine. They don't meet the "who they?" test but they are here because I have a ticket to see their former member William Matheny while I'm in NYC. More on that in due course no doubt.

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Rare And Retrievable

The hard drive on my desktop died over the weekend. A replacement is on its way but until repairs have been completed much of my digital music collection is inaccessible, and all the downloaded stuff on my external storage drive can only be played one track at a time on my laptop's media player.

Being a gurning fool I have decided to see this as an opportunity rather than the enormous pain in the arse that it really is. For my own listening pleasure I have been grooving to some old CDs I have not listened to in years, using the primitive technology of a portable radio/CD player. And I'm going to try a similar approach here.

For today's post I have been digging around in the gloomier corners of the storage drive finding things to bring blinking into the light. The two criteria I have applied are that the 'date accessed' must be at least ten years old, and that if you had asked me whether I had heard of these acts I would have said "no". 

There is an obvious risk, which is that if they made no impression on me at the time I downloaded them it may be because they aren't especially memorable. But let's give it a go. Here are three acts I dredged out of the G (for Goggins) folder. See what you think.

"Hey Katy Hey! " - Alex Gruenberg

"I've Been Losing" - The Ghost Hotel

"Wheatfields" - Jon Gant

If you like Jon Gant or The Ghost Hotel they have Bandcamp pages (just click on their names). In Mr Gant's case some things are available on a 'name your price' basis. Jon is still going strong, and is quite prodigious, with his latest album released last December. 

There have been no releases from The Ghost Hotel for ten years but judging by their Facebook page they are still sort of together and doing the occasional gig. Look out for them if you're in Perth (Australia).

A search for Alex Gruenberg reveals that he became lead singer of Best Behavior - also on Bandcamp - but they haven't released anything since 2017. After that the trail goes cold.

Let's finish off with another, better known, G from the folder.

Monday 21 August 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 13 - Côte d'Ivoire

On with our African Odyssey, and after a couple of weeks where it was a struggle to find five artists to represent their countries Côte d'Ivoire presents a different challenge. If all the music I have from there was laid end to end it would nearly cover the floor of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, the largest church in the world, built to glorify Félix Houphouët-Boigny (and, to a lesser extent, God). 

I could easily have filled the post with nothing but Mandatory African Reggae without any drop off in quality. Indeed, MAR's own Alpha Blondy is probably the best known Ivorian artist globally. But I have left him out on the grounds that a sophisticated bunch like you will have his stuff already. Instead we are treating you all to Ismaël Isaac for the audio and Tiken Jah Fakoly for the video. "Joe Bleck" comes from Ismaël's 1996 album "Treich Feeling". Both are top notch dudes in their own right and both are still going strong.

Between 2015 and 2020 Mr Isaac was married to our next artist, the great Aicha Koné, making them briefly the power couple of the Ivorian music scene. Ms Koné has a familiar origin story. Her parents forbade her from pursuing a musical career so she ran away from home and enrolled at the National Institute of the Arts in Abidjan. She released her first album in 1981 and like her ex-husband is still active. Today's track is from her 2006 album "Farafina Miria". 

Not long after Ms Koné got started the Ivorian music scene lost one of its greats, Ernesto Djédjé. He died in 1983 aged only 35, officially from an untreated ulcer although there are claims of suspicious circumstances. Mr Djédjé pioneered a musical style he called ziglibithy, and as you will hear it is a decidedly funky thing.

"Zadie Bobo" can be found on an excellent compilation album called "Ivory Coast Soul" released by the Hot Casa label. For some reason it is not available on their Bandcamp page but you can pick up Volume 2 (which is almost as good). If you then skip over to Analog Africa's page you can find an EP of other recordings by Ernesto.

There are a number of styles of pop music that have developed in Côte d'Ivoire over the last thirty years that bear the influence of Ernesto and his fellow pioneers. Ziglibithy begat zouglou in the 1990s, then zouglou had its head turned by flashy DJs and begat coupé-décalé. 

The best known act from that scene are Magic System, who have had numerous top ten hits in France, but for the audio I have opted for "Souzana", the 2004 smash by Erickson Le Zoulou. Like Magic System, Mr Le Zoulou was one of the first wave of coupé-décalé stars; sadly, like Ernesto Djédjé, he left us way too soon, passing away in 2020 at just 41.

We round off the audio selection with someone I was lucky enough to see live back in 2011, Dobet Gnahoré. On that tour Ms Gnahoré was mainly promoting her 2009 album "Djekpa La You", from which this track comes, and also her 2010 collaboration with India.Arie which won her a Grammy - the first, and I think only, Ivorian artist to do so. Somewhere there is a photo of the two of us after the gig - I'll spare you that, but here is one I took on the night.

"Joe Bleck" - Ismaël Isaac

"Bembalisso" - Aïcha Koné

"Zadie Bobo" - Ernesto Djédjé 

"Souzana" - Erickson Le Zoulou

"Côte d'Ivoire" - Dobet Gnahoré

Friday 18 August 2023

O Vanessa Where Art Thou?

I dug out my copy of Vanessa & The O's "La Ballade d'O" for the first time in a while the other day. It seems like only yesterday they were being pushed as the next big thing, but it is actually getting on for nearly 20 years. What happened?

Future big thingness seems unlikely at this point, at least for the O's. Vanessa has been keeping herself busy with Allez Pop! and the like but there has only been one further album from the O's, and that was ten years ago ("Stories For Watering Skies"). Never mind, we'll always have "La Ballade d'O".

"Bagatelle" - Vanessa & The O's 

"NY Hotel" - Vanessa & The O's 

PS After writing the meagre paragraphs above I discovered that Khayem did an Imaginary Compilation Album on Vanessa a few years back, so I suggest you direct any follow-up questions to him as he is more likely to know the answer. For example, he would know whether it is true that the O's were so called because Vanessa is an avid supporter of Leyton Orient FC.

Wednesday 16 August 2023

Reggae Cymraeg Gorfodol

It is time for some Reggae Cymraeg Gorfodol (Mandatory Welsh Reggae).

Who better to provide it than that stalwart of the Welsh music scene, Geraint Jarman - a man who has had some reggae in his repertoire since the 1970s. In all that time he has never succumbed to the temptation to change his surname to Jahman, for which we should all be grateful.

The first track comes from his 1998 album "Eilydd Na Ddefnyddiwyd", the second is from a single that he released last year. You can find the single on the Ankst Musik site on Bandcamp, which I would encourage you to explore further while you are there. There are lots of interesting Welsh language new releases and reissues.

"Rheda Dy Ruthr Nefol Ras" - Geraint Jarman

"Gweld y Miwsig" - Geraint Jarman

This still might be my all time favourite slice of RCG/ MWR though. 

Monday 14 August 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 12 - Congo

From Comoros to Congo, or the Republic of the Congo as it is officially called. The country is also sometimes referred to as Congo-Brazzaville to distinguish it from its burly neighbour to the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC for short). 

Musically there is a lot of cross-pollination between the two countries - perhaps not surprising when the two capitals (Brazzaville and Kinshasa) are five miles apart, separated only by the Congo river. The soukous sound that originated in Kinshasa is also very popular over the water, and the musicians from the two countries often team up.

Our first act is a good example. Loketo were a Brazzaville band led by the great Aurlus Mabélé, who sadly died in 2020 of a combination of cancer and Covid-19, but the man who provided the sparkling guitar work was Diblo Dibla from Kisangani in DRC. Today's selection comes from their 1988 album "Trouble" and was requested (and very kindly provided) by The Inimitable George.

In case you found Loketo a little mellow, we will turn things up a notch with Extra Musica. The original line-up were all-conquering between 1993 and 1998 before they split due to musical differences - some of them wanted the guitars to be sparkling and the others wanted them to be very sparkling. 

For a while there were two versions of the band, Extra Musica Zangul (led by the main man Roga Roga) and Extra Music International. In time the Zangul version triumphed and reverted to the original name. It is them that provide today's tune, the title track from their 2004 album. 

Rounding off our soukous selection is Tchico, or Tchico Tchicaya to give him his full name. Perhaps I should call him Mr Tchicaya so you don't confuse him with Chico. Mr T is one of a number of artists we will meet in our travels who get referred to as the Golden Voice of Africa. Today's track comes from his 1983 album "La Voix D'Or D'Afrique" on which he asserts his claim to the title. 

If you like this track - and why wouldn't you - you might want to pop over to Global Groove where the mighty Moos has recently shared Mr Tchicaya's "Special 1990" album. For anyone who enjoys African and Latin music of a certain vintage (mostly 1970s to 1990s), Moos is the main man.  

For our last two choices we have two very different takes on the more traditional sounds of the Congo. The first is from Papa Kourand who is a master of the sanza, a traditional thumb piano which is very similar to the Zimbabwean mbira, and a fine singer as well. This track comes from his 2012 album "Tout Restera Ici-Bas" which you can find on Bandcamp.

Les Mamans du Congo are an all-female collective set up in 2018 by singer and percussionist Gladys Samba to revive the old lullabies of the Congo. Some bright spark had the idea of teaming them up with French electronic and hip-hop producer Rrobin and the result was an excellent eponymous album that came out in 2020. You can pick up a copy on Bandcamp, and while you are there you can pre-order their new album "Ya Mizolé" which comes out in October. I have.

"Pour Toujours" - Loketo

"Obligatoire" - Extra Musica

"Loango" - Tchico

"Pointe Noire" - Papa Kourand

"Meki" - Les Mamans du Congo & Rrobin

And now the videos. Special thanks to Jah Thiano for bringing the MAR. Apologies for the ropey quality of the Les Ry-Co Jazz video but I really wanted to include them as they are considered the founding fathers of modern Congolese music and this was the only one I could find. 

Friday 11 August 2023

If You Knew Suzi

No, not that Suzi - Suzi Chunk.

What do you mean, Suzi who? The Suzi Chunk whose only album, "Girl From The Neck Down", is a rather splendid slab of 1960s style retro pop, that's who. You can get yourself a copy from the Groovy Uncle site on Bandcamp.   

Up to date information about Suzi is hard to come by. Her page covers her story up to the release of the album in 2012. After that she was a featured vocalist on a number of Groovy Uncle albums but does not seem to have been involved with them since 2017. 

Suzi's LinkedIn page says she is or was lead singer with Knitwear Junkees (last spotted playing Merthyr Rising and other Welsh festivals in 2019), Canute Funk Collective (Facebook page last updated 2016) and Get Ready! (of whom there are many including a former Belgian boy band - posibly one for Rol's Namesakes series).

Wherever Ms Chunk is I hope she is thriving. And in the unlikely event that she reads this, thanks for a very nice little record.

"Girl From The Neck Down" - Suzi Chunk

"Big Screen" - Suzi Chunk


Of course we can't let the moment pass without a little something from Suzi Uno. After all, this is a woman I have had a crush on since before I could spell 'hormones'. It hasn't worn off yet and by this stage I suspect its not going to. So here is an oldie followed by the lead single from her brand new album with KT Tunstall. 

Thursday 10 August 2023

Robertson And Rodriguez RIP

Yesterday we learnt that we had lost both Robbie Robertson and Sixto Rodriguez.

Robbie Robertson is obviously best known for his work with The Band and for composing the soundtracks for many Martin Scorsese films, but he also made a series of interesting solo albums. Spookily, I bought one of them in my local second-hand record shop yesterday morning before the news broke.

"Contact From The Underworld Of Redboy" was released in 1998 and saw him reconnecting with his indigenous roots (he was half Mohawk on his mother's side). The title of the opening track seems appropriate.

Most of the world only belatedly discovered Sixto Rodriguez through the 2012 documentary "Searching For Sugar Man", but those of us who grew up in South Africa in the 1970s have known him for much longer. I have worn my way through several copies of his debut album "Cold Fact" over the years. The follow up "Coming From Reality" - from which this track comes - is almost as good.

RIP Gents.

"The Sound Is Fading" - Robbie Robertson

"I'll Slip Away" - Rodriguez

"Whispering Pines" - The Band

Wednesday 9 August 2023

Unscheduled Newness

I mentioned on Monday that while I was in Paris last month I picked up the Mwezi WaQ album in the Montparnasse branch of FNAC. From the same shop I also bought "Ago", the newly released debut album by Nana Benz Do Togo.

I had originally intended to hold that one back until we reached Togo in our African Odyssey, which at the current rate isn't going to be for the best part of a year. But I have decided it would be doing you (and them) a great disservice to wait until then. I have fallen madly in love with the record and I want you to do so as well.

The blurb on their Bandcamp site explains the band's history better than I can, but their sound draws on the band members' Voodoo heritage (the PR person who wrote the blurb describes it as 'electro-voodoo-soul'). It comprises three female singers, a Korg keyboard, a home-made drumkit and a man whacking bits of PVC tubing. And it is brilliant. 

Here are a couple of tracks to warm you up - "NBT" kicks the record off and may be the most joyous opening to an album I have heard in years, while "Tite" is just one of the many highlights that follow. Now go and buy the record. At only €7 for a digital copy you would be mad not to.

"NBT" - Nana Benz Du Togo

"Tite" - Nana Benz Du Togo

I will also take this opportunity to give a quick plug to two other new albums by female artists, both of which I picked up on Bandcamp Friday last week. I have not listened to either of them all the way through yet but I like what I've heard so far.

The first is "They Live In My Head" by New York no-wave stalwarts Bush Tetras. They are doing a very brief mini-tour this side of the pond in November and I have already grabbed my ticket for their London gig. 

The second is "Beautiful Dreams" by Acantha Lang, from Louisiana via London with a sound that could have come from Memphis or Muscle Shoals. I think this will be a grower.    

Monday 7 August 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 11 - Comoros

Today is Stage 11 of our African odyssey, and the first of four visits to island nations in the Indian Ocean. If you want to find the Comoros go to the northern tip of Madagascar, head due west towards Mozambique and there they are.

The Union of the Comoros (to give the country its full name) and the Comoros archipelago are not the same thing. Three of the five islands declared independence from France in 1975 but the other two, which together comprise Mayotte, preferred to remain under the yoke of the oppressor. 

For the first twenty years or so after independence the poor Comorians suffered as a result of some appalling behaviour by France, apartheid era South Africa and the man who would be king, Bob Denard. If you are not familiar with the story it is worth reading up on.

Enough of that sort of stuff, on to the music. Compiling this post made last week's post on Chad seem an absolute doddle, but we got there.

When I started this series my collection of Comorian music consisted of two tracks from an album called "Hallé" by a gent called Chébli Msaïdie. When updating my spreadsheet I discovered to my great surprise that I featured the other one way back in February 2011. Despite twelve years of constant questing since I have been able to find out no more about him, but it is only right that he kicks things off.

The Comorian ball really started rolling when I went to Paris last month and I popped into the Montparnasse branch of FNAC. I came away with the their entire Comoros section - a single album, "Le Blues Des Sourds-Muets" by the band Mwezi WaQ, which came out last year.  

It is clear that Mwezi Waq are not fans of the state of the nation. The album is a mixture of songs by Comorian artists from earlier eras who were "silenced" and original material that reflects on "a country where consumerism and the law of probability lead us to believe in the fable of the tamed man". Don't believe the hype, folks.

After that, diligent digging on Bandcamp and the tax-dodging website respectively unearthed Ahamada Smis (just this track) and Ouvoimoja (an album with local guest artists called "Sings 4 Comoros Forests"). As with our old chum Chebli, no further information is available on either of them.

Our last selection may technically be cheating as M'Toro Chamou comes from Mayotte rather than the Comoros. But he sings about revolution in the Comoros islands and his 2016 album goes by the excellent name of "Punk Islands", and that is good enough for me. 

According to a brief bio, Mr Chamou is now based in Réunion which is where "Punk Islands" was recorded. Apparently the album addresses "the chaotic situation on Mayotte and the Comoros, between the influence of neo-colonialism and modernisation on the one hand and losing their cultural identity on the other". It sounds like him and the Mwezi WaQ gang would have a lot to talk about.

"Ulaya" - Chébli Msaïdie

"Ankipwa" - Mwezi WaQ

"La Route" - Ahamada Smis

"Walozi" - Ouvoimoja

"Revolution" - M'Toro Chamou

One of the silenced artists covered by Mewzi WaQ is Boul des Iles, who they described as the jewel of the 1980s folk scene in Comoros. I was pleased to discover that he is still going strong, as you can see in today's first video which was posted in June. 

Friday 4 August 2023

Taylor's Tales

Today we feature one of the finest soul singers ever to walk the earth. No further build up is required. Ladies and gentlemen, the late great Mr Johnnie Taylor.

"Love Bones" - Johnnie Taylor

"We're Getting Careless With Our Love" - Johnnie Taylor

"Party Life" - Johnnie Taylor

Wednesday 2 August 2023

It's Twinkle Time

Some midweek reggae for you today courtesy of our old favourites The Twinkle Brothers. 

Back in the 1980s the Twinkles released five albums in what they called the 'Dub Massacre' series. While I was in France recently I picked up a CD containing Volumes 3 and 4 -  that is to say, "Dub It Inna Roots Stylee" (1985) and "Killing Zone" (1989). Here is a track from each.

I just need to track down "Inna Murder Style" (1982), "Killer Selection" (1983) and "Lion Head" (1990) and I will have the full set. Something to add to my 'to do' list.

"Every Drop Of Blood" - The Twinkle Brothers

"Hunger & Starvation" - The Twinkle Brothers

As a special treat, here is an hours worth of the mighty Norman Grant and the lads live back in 2017.