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Tuesday 26 September 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 14 - Democratic Republic of Congo

After a month's IT enforced break, our African Odyssey is back on the road and our latest destination is a big one in every sense. 

It's the second largest country in Africa after Algeria. With a population of 112 million it is the most populous Francophone country in the world. And with an average of 4.3 sparkling guitars per head (according to 2019 data) that creates an enormous musical legacy.

I am of course talking about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC for short), birthplace of the rumba sound that has enchanted the region and later the world since the 1950s. 

There is so much good DRC music to choose from that I have decided to break my self-imposed rule and include seven not five audio tracks. Even doing that I have had to leave out many excellent acts - Pepe Kalle, Koffi Olomide and Kanda Bongo Man to name just three. In the Barbara Kanam video at the end she runs through many more.

The two undisputed giants of Congolese music are Franco and Tabu Ley (aka Rochereau) and their bands, OK Jazz and Afrisa International. OK Jazz were founded in 1956 and and are generally considered the first rumba or soukous band, so it is only right that we kick things off with a tune from their pioneer days. 

The Tabu Ley track actually features lead vocals from Mbilia M'Bel with the great man on harmonies. It is taken from their 1985 album "Boya Ye". As possibly the finest female singer ever from the DRC I could not leave Ms M'Bel out.

Her main rival for that title is Tshala Muana, who pops up next (it is almost as if this was planned). I had originally selected "Amina" from 1981 but there is some fault with the file so I have replaced it with something equally splendid but a lot more recent. The stand-in dates from 2009 and can be found on the album "Sikila".

One of the DRC's biggest bands of the last 50 years are Zaiko Langa Langa. Founded in 1971 by Jossart N'Yoka Longo and still going strong, this track is from their 1995 album "Avis De Recherche".

Papa Wemba was part of the original Zaiko Langa Langa line-up but left in the mid 1970s to set up Viva le Musica. Among its many members were the aforementioned Koffi Olomide and King Kester Emeneya, who went solo in the early 1980s and is a personal favourite of mine. This slightly atypical track comes from his 1997 album with Safro Manzangi.

Moving into this century, as I suppose we must, we have a band I was lucky enough to see play live ten years ago when they were promoting the excellent "Hotel Univers" album from which today's selection comes. Ladies and gents, we present Jupiter & Okwess International.

Which finally brings us to the Mandatory African Reggae and one of the highlights of this post, if not the entire series. Back in the late 1970s, the Congolese singers Seskain Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo rocked up at the Black Ark Studios in Jamaica to work with one Lee 'Scratch' Perry (who he?). 

The resulting album, "Roots From The Congo", came out briefly in 1979 and then promptly disappeared until 2020 when it was reissued by the bright sparks at the Planet Ilunga label in Brussels. It is an amazing record and I could happily have chosen any of the tracks. You really need to buy it - just click on the title and it will take you to Bandcamp.

Enough of me. Here's the music.

"Radio Trottoir (Parts 1 & 2)" - Franco & l'OK Jazz

"Shawuri Yako" - M'Bilia Bel with Tabu Ley & Afrisa International

 "Fimbo Ya Bakandja" - Tshala Muana with Meje 30

"Zekira" - Zaiko Langa Langa

"Wiseman" - King Kester Emeneya & Safro Manzangi

"Mwana Yokatoli" - Jupiter & Okwess International

"Moto Ya Motema" - Seskain Molenga & Kalo Kawongolo 

That's it from me for this week. See you next week, hopefully with a bagful of Croatian psychedelic tamburica albums to share.

Monday 25 September 2023

Kids Of Today

Just a quick one for you today. I am off on a work trip to Zagreb at the crack of dawn on Wednesday and have much to do before then.

"Hey People!" was the only album by The Beautiful New Born Children, a side project of German musician Michael Beckett, best known (if known at all) for the records released as kpt.michi.gan and his occasional work with Schneider TM.

Released in 2005, it didn't change the world but made a splendid racket.

In other news, the African Odyssey will return tomorrow.

"Left, Right, Forward" - The Beautiful New Born Children

"OK, Alright, Fine" - The Beautiful New Born Children

Friday 22 September 2023

Yemenite Dynamite

Welcome to the second and final part of our catchily titled new series "Compilation Albums Of Middle Eastern Music Beginning With The Letter D Friday". 

Last week we brought you 'Dabke - Sounds Of The Syrian Houran'. This week it is the turn of 'Da'asa - the Haunting Sounds of Yemenite-Israeli Funk 1973-1984'. As the title hints at, 'Da'asa' features the music of Tel Aviv's Yemenite Jewish community - music which mashes up traditional Yemeni rhythm with the funky modern sounds of the 1970s. Very groovy it is too.  

Released in 2017 on Fortuna Records, the full album is only available on vinyl these days but you can download a sampler on Bandcamp. Neither of these tracks are on the sampler, but I sneakily have the whole album in mp3 format. I can't remember how I acquired it, but they say if you can remember 2017 you weren't really there.

"Shedemati" - The Amranim

"Eshmera Shabat" - Duo Tsafri

Further enquiries revealed that there is modern successor to the acts featured on the album. Bint El Funk are an eight piece from Jerusalem. This splendid video features a track from their 2020 album "The Great & Glorious Yemenite Funky Thing".

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Roger Whittaker RIP

I have always had a soft spot for Roger Whittaker, who left us last week at the tender age of 87. He was one of my Dad's favourite singers so we heard him a lot growing up, and Dad used to sing a few of Roger's songs on the rare occasions he could be persuaded to dig out his guitar. 

It was pretty inevitable that Roger would feature at my Dad's funeral, the only unexpected element being that it wasn't "The Last Farewell". Instead we went for "You Are My Miracle", which he used to sing to my Mum much to her public embarrassment (but private delight).

While a lot of Roger's stuff was pretty bland he had many fine songs over the years. And as for the whistling - incredible. RIP Mr Whittaker.

"Steel Men" - Roger Whittaker

"The Book" - Roger Whittaker

"Swaggy (Australian Whistler)" - Roger Whittaker 

Monday 18 September 2023

Mr Gil From Brazil

Apologies if any of you are tuning in hoping for a new installment in the much delayed African Odyssey series. I am still dealing with the fall-out from my desktop exploding, taking everything on iTunes with it, and my storage drive getting corrupted. I'm hoping to be able to resume normal service next week. 

In the meantime, here are a couple of tracks from the fabulous Gilberto Gil. Mr Gil is still recording and touting at 81, and not just surviving but positively thriving. The first number is from most recent album "Em Casa Com Os Gil", which came out last year. The second is from "Um Banda Um", released exactly 40 years earlier.

"Realce" - Gilberto Gil

"Banda Um" - Gilberto Gil

I was lucky enough to see Mr Gil live back in 2019. It was a real treat. I can't find any clips from that show, but here he is a few weeks after that in Switzerland sounding decidedly groovy.

Friday 15 September 2023

Dabke Dancing

You lot are a hip and happening crowd so you will no doubt be familiar with the frenzied, flailing sound of the famed Syrian singer Omar Souleyman. It turns out that when it comes to crazed Syrian wedding music Omar is just the tip of the iceberg (or whatever the Syrian equivalent of that metaphor is - the tip of the sand dune perhaps?). 

Back in 2012 the Sham Palace label released a compilation starring singers from southern Syria titled "Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran" - Houran being the region and Dabke a sort of Levantine line dance for which this music provides the accompaniment.  

I am not remotely capable of describing the sound they make, so let's just crack on with it. Get ready to leap around with abandon.

"Ma Dal Anouh" - Ahmad Al Kosem

"Mili Alay" - Mohamed Al Ali

If you are planning a wedding reception but are looking for something that is a bit more understated on the dancing front, you could do worse than turn to Bollywood for ideas.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

NYC/CT Sounds

I'm back from my break in New York (city and state). I very much doubt you are interested in my holiday snaps but if you are you can find them on Flickr.

I managed to get to a couple of gigs while I was over there. First up was the pop-country sounds of Ms Lola Kirke. I did not know much about her, but of the gigs I researched on the nights I was in the city she looked to be the pick of the bunch. It also gave me a chance to visit the far-famed Bowery Ballroom.

It turned out to be a good decision on all counts. The Ballroom is a great little venue, and Lola's live show was a treat. The set was mostly a mix of tracks from last year's "Lady For Sale" album and others that might feature on her forthcoming record, "Country Curious". I was particularly impressed by the new stuff, which tilts the balance of pop and country more towards the latter.

The second gig was at the other end of the country spectrum, and several counties away. From my cousin's place upstate we hopped over the border to the town of Ridgefield in Connecticut, home of the Nod Hill Brewery. 

The evening's entertainment was provided by local bluegrass combo Hitch & The Giddyup, who were much better than we had a right to expect of a free gig in a small town pub. Their 2020 album "Another Gig In The Bag" does not really do them justice but as a 'name your own price' offer on Bandcamp it is worth a listen. And you should definitely go to see them in the perhaps unlikely event they are playing round your way.

Here is a track from each of the albums I've mentioned, plus Lola's video for the lead single from the new record. At the gig she described it as her George Strait tribute, but I don't think George would ever get up to this sort of shenanigans.

"Stay Drunk" - Lola Kirke

"Heartbreak County Line" - Hitch & The Giddyup

Friday 1 September 2023

The Massed Ranks

Here are six slices of reggae to ease you into the weekend. All the acts have something else in common. I did think about setting a quiz but the connection is so cryptic even Rol would reject it as being too unfair. I'll give you a clue - it is something to do with their names.

This will be my last post for a couple of weeks as I am off to New York on Sunday. I have a few days in the city followed by a few more with my cousin who lives Upstate, where we will no doubt be getting up to a bit of Upstate Top Ranking.

"Liberated Woman" - Ranking Ann

"Wah-Go-A-Africa" - Ranking Dread

"Step It Down Shepherds Bush" - Ranking Joe

"Why Can't You Leave The Dread Locks Alone" - Ranking Tiger

"Rub A Dub Style" - Ranking Trevor

"Lemonade" - Ranking Youth

For the second part of today's non-quiz, see if you can spot the odd one out.