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Monday 30 October 2023

Hightone Silver Lining

The other week I popped into our local second-hand Buddhist bookshop, It is the books not the Buddhists that are second-hand, although they may be too if they have been reincarnated.

The reason I popped in was to take advantage of their permanent '3 for £1' offer on CDs. Usually there is not much to admire but occasionally you strike lucky, and I did on this occasion. Doubly so, as not only did I find three good CDs but when I got to the counter I was told they were knocking 50% all purchases to try to clear some space. So I ended up paying 50p for the three of them.

The CDs concerned were an early Rosie Flores album, an On U Sound compilation - both of which may feature in the future - and today's record of choice, a double CD anthology from Hightone Records called  "Rockin' From The Roots". It came out in 2007, around about the time the label stopped releasing new material. At 17p for 30 tracks, it works out at less than a ha'penny a song.

I know some readers will be familiar with Hightone. Between the mid 1980s and the mid 2000s it was one of the leading labels for American roots music, a sort of Bloodshot for grown-ups. The artists that released records on Hightone included the likes of Robert Cray, Dave Alvin, Joe Ely, Tom Russell, Buddy & Julie Miller, Dale Watson and many more.

All of the above feature on ""Rockin' From The Roots" but I have selected tracks by two acts that I was not previously familiar with. As a bonus I have added one by the magnificent Gary Stewart, in my view one of the three greatest country singers of all time along with George and Merle.

"Can't Let Go" - Randy Weeks

"Truck Drivin' Man" - The Twang Bangers

"Brand New Whiskey" - Gary Stewart

Some of you might recognise "Can't Let Go" from the version by Lucinda Williams on "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road" or the later cover by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Until now I had always assumed it was a Big Lu original, so fully does she inhabit the song, so many apologies to Randy for failing to recognise his excellent work for far too long. 

Friday 27 October 2023

The Houseboat Of Dread

Back at the beginning of the month Khayem over at Dubhed shared one of his customarily excellent mixes featuring the works of African Head Charge.

One album that didn't feature in his otherwise comprehensive selection was "Heart", the 1982 solo album by AHC main man Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah under the name Noah House of Dread. We are here to plug the gap.

"Heart" is available from the On U Sound Bandcamp page for a very reasonable price. As the blurb notes "it shows a more harmony-driven and rootical side to his music, in contrast to the heavily experimental soundworlds that his main band were exploring at the time". Nothing wrong with that, I say.

"Children Of Misery" - Noah House Of Dread

"Revelation Time" - Noah House Of Dread

1982 was also a good year for artists from the poppier end of the reggae scene. Our videos feature the 6th and 11th largest selling singles in the UK that year (although for context, Tight Fit and the Goombay Dance Band were both in the top 10 and Renee & Renato were just one place below Musical Youth). 

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Schlager Sunday

Ernie writes:

Guest post for you today folks. A few weeks ago in the comment section of this blog George asked Mister F to provide a guest post extolling the virtues of German schlager music. Mister F then sent me the material below. Neither of them seemed to think that I needed to have any say in the matter.

It was originally intended for next Sunday, hence the title of the post. You are getting it early because either (a) it is too good to keep you waiting; (b) I was away and am now under the weather with the result that I have not got round to preparing anything; or (c) both.

Enjoy! Or Endure! As  the case may be.

Mister F writes:

What is “Schlager”? Sometimes called Germany’s most embarrassing musical genre, it is hard to define exactly. Yes, there are simple repetitive patterns of music (often using a one-two oompah beat) with lyrics that are on romantic themes whilst shying away from anything controversial - but that is a broad category. 

And it travels far beyond Germany - ABBA are sometimes classified as schlager or, at least, as heavily influenced by it. Indeed, many countries entering the Eurovision Song Contest have frequently entered schlager style songs in the past, although this has been dying out more recently.

So, to start with, we have Joy Fleming representing Germany in ESC 1975 with “Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein” (A Song Can Be A Bridge) - she came seventeenth out of nineteen countries. Despite its low placing Joy’s enthusiastic performance made this a favourite with Eurovision fans who mourned her death in 2017. Lyrics by Michael Holm whom we shall hear more from later. 

[Ernie notes: If Joy sounds familiar it may be because last year we featured the excellent "Daytime Nighttime" by her 1960s group Joy Unlimited here.]

Next up is the Greek-German singer Costa Cordalis with “Anita” which was top ten in Germany, Switzerland and Austria in 1976. Costa had other talents too: he was a gifted cross-country skier and was Greek national champion twice. In 1985 he even participated in the Nordic World Ski Championships for Greece. Sadly he passed away during 2019 aged 75 in Mallorca.

Drafi Deutscher’s best known song was "Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht" (Marble, Stone and Iron Break). Nineteen-year-old Deutscher had ad-libbed the tune during an audition at Musikverlag music publishers by humming the melody and only singing the characteristic chorus line of "Dum-Dum, Dum-dum". 

Asked by songwriter Christian Bruhn what he intended to do with it to turn it into a complete song, Deutscher replied, "Det machst du! ("You do that!"), so Bruhn and lyricist Günter Loose subsequently completed the song and wrote the German lyrics to the melody. It became one of the most popular German hits ever with an English version becoming a million seller world-wide. 

Udo Jürgens, was an Austrian-born composer and singer of popular music whose career spanned over 50 years. He won the ESC in 1966 for Austria, composed close to 1,000 songs, and sold over 104 million records. “Griechischer Wein” (Greek Wine) is a song, produced by Ralph Siegel, which describes the longing and homesickness of Greek guest workers in the Federal Republic of Germany of the 1970s.

Ralph Siegel was also responsible for writing "Dschingis Khan" performed by the group Dschingis Khan at the 1979 ESC held in Jerusalem. It came in fourth place, but here is the group with a more disco-oriented version of schlager and the song “Moskau” which has had quite a long life resurfacing periodically such as during the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow. The choreography in the video below is frankly amazing, get your dancing shoes on.

[Ernie notes: The frontman Louis Potgieter was actually South African, but is unlikely to feature in my African Odyssey series.]

The second video brings us more up to date with the current Queen of Schlager, Helene Fischer, and her most famous song "Atemlos durch die Nacht" (Breathless Through the Night), showing that schlager continues to evolve and survive. 

But before that we leave you with two classic earworms: first Michael Holm in a non-Christmas mood - “Tränen lügen nicht” translates as “Tears don’t lie” - and then Henry Valentino doing some stalking of the woman in the car upfront.

Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein”  - Joy Fleming

"Anita" - Costa Cordalis

"Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht" - Drafi Deutscher

Griechischer Wein” - Udo Jürgens

Tränen lügen nicht” - Michael Holm

"Im Wagen Vor Mir" - Henry Valentino

Thursday 19 October 2023

Some Guys Have... (Refrain)

In last Friday's post I mentioned that me and my pals were off to see Lene Lovich that evening. This created a great deal of interest - well, two people commented but they were people of taste and distinction - so I thought I would report back on  how it went.

It was great fun. Lene was everything you would hope for, still belting it out at the tender age of 74. The entire set was good but I particularly enjoyed her version of "Supernature", the Cerrone smash for which she wrote the lyrics a few years before becoming a star in her own right.

In her comment on the previous post C described Lene as a one-off, which is true but not for the lack of trying on the part of others. Both of the support acts, Das Fluff and SHH, had female singers whose look and sound were heavily influence by Lene. The evening could perhaps have been billed as 'The Three Lives of Lene Lovich'.

Emboldened by this adventure, me and Mr F decided to take a punt on a mystery gig at the Shacklewell Arms in London's fashionable Dalston on Tuesday. For £7.50 we were promised two support acts - Healthy Junkies and Rats-Tails - and some "very special guests" as headliners.

We genuinely had no idea who the mystery headliners were until we got to the gig, and I was delighted to discover it was Girl Ray. They were getting in some last minute practice before flying out today to start a 13 date US tour. If any of our readers happen to be near the Sultan Rooms in Brooklyn tomorrow (Friday) I recommend popping in to see them.

I have been a fan of Girl Ray since their debut album "Earl Grey", which was one of my albums of the year back in 2017. With each successive release their sound has become less indie and more pop, with parts of the new album "Prestige" sounding a lot like old school disco to me. If I was forced to choose I would abide by the Music Bloggers' Code and say I prefer their earlier stuff, but I do like the new record a lot.

Here is a track apiece from the two headliners. The Girl Ray tune comes from their 2019 album "Girl", Lene's from "No Man's Land" (1981).

"Show Me More" - Girl Ray

"Savages" - Lene Lovich

That's me done for the week. I'm off at the crack of dawn tomorrow to spend a long weekend in Amsterdam with my nephew and his girlfriend who have recently moved there. 

I'll be back on here mid-week next week. The Africa series will be back the week after as there is still some digging to be done on the next couple of destinations. Until then, I'll leave you with videos featuring most of the acts mentioned above (I couldn't find SHH). 

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 17 - Equatorial Guinea

We are just shy of one-third of the way through our tour of Africa - so much done, so much more still to do - and we have arrived in Equatorial Guinea. Not one of the best known African countries, but one with some distinctive features.

For example, it is the only country in mainland Africa where the main European language is Spanish. It is also the only country predominantly on the mainland with a capital offshore. The mainland province (known as Rio Muni) contains 90% of the surface area and 70% of the population, but the capital Malabo is on the island of Bioko.

It also 'enjoys' the distinction of currently having the longest-serving president in Africa. Teodoro Obiang has been running the place since 1979 when he deposed and killed his uncle in a coup. He himself was the subject of an attempted coup in 2004 which was allegedly backed by Mark Thatcher - probably the last time that Equatorial Guinea made the news here in the UK.

Before the series started I only had two records by local artists, but I thought I only had one because the members of Hijas Del Sol are based in Spain and I was under the impression that was where they originated from. In fact they are an aunt and niece duo who had been performing together back home but only started recording after moving to Spain in the mid-1990s. Today's selection is from their 1999 album "Kchaba".

The band I was sure about is the Malabo Strit Band (there is a clue in the name). There is not a lot of information available about them but it seems from the Nubanegra Records website that the band was created at the instigation of the label in order to ruthlessly exploit them provide local musicians with a platform and a greater profile. It worked for me. This track is from their debut album "M.S.B" which came out in 2003.

With those two in the bag I then turned to the not exactly extensive Wikipedia entry for 'Music of Equatorial Guinea'. The section on popular music starts, encouragingly, "There is little popular music coming out of Equatorial Guinea". However, it then elaborates that "Pan-African styles like soukous and makossa are popular, as are reggae and rock and roll. Acoustic guitar bands based on a Spanish model are the country's best-known indigenous popular tradition". 

We will try to cover as many of those bases as we can in the remainder of the post starting with the act considered leading exponents of the Spanish influenced style, the brothers Desmali and Dambo de la Costa. They hail from the island of Annabon, the most distant and smallest province of Equatorial Guinea with a population of just over 5000. This is the title track of their 2008 album "Luga De Ambo".

Bringing you the soukous we have Mr Titoy Bolabote with the groovy title track of his 2016 album "Botaka". Once again I have been able to find out next to nothing about him. His complete entry on the normally excellent Afrisson website reads ""Originally from Baney, Titoy Bolabote is a songwriter marked by Congolese rumba, soukouss and bubi culture [no idea what 'bubi culture' is]. In 2013, he was nominated for the Kora Awards in the Best Central African Artist category". 

Unfortunately I could not find anything suitable to fill the Mandatory African Reggae slot but we have the next best thing - some Mandatory African Soca courtesy of Baron Ya Búk-lu. The Baron is known to his fans as "the king of rhythm", for reasons that will become clear when you turn on the track. 

The Baron hails from Micomeseng on the mainland near the border with Cameroon, which may explain the makossa influences that you will be able to detect alongside the Caribbean ones. He has been releasing records since the mid 1990s and today's selection comes from his 2006 album "Fanglosofia".

The Baron has a brand new five track EP called "Eyangá" available on Bandcamp - the only record by any of our featured artists that you will find there. To these inexpert ears it sounds like he has made a conscious effort to scale back the shiny sounds and reconnect with his roots. 

"M-30" - Hijas Del Sol

"Mobulu" - Malabo Strit Band

"Luga Da Ambo" - Desmali y Dambo de la Costa

"Botaka" - Titoy Bolabote

"Olé Olelé" - Baron Ya Búk-Lú

Monday 16 October 2023

Jugo Funk, I Go Funk Too

Today we pluck the second item from the bag of goodies I brought back from Zagreb, and it is one that I have been particularly looking forward to - "Jugoton Funk Vol. 1".

There are too many dull jazz-funk instrumentals on there to classify it as an essential purchase, let alone iconic or seminal. But there is also plenty of good stuff, as today's selection shows.

Our first choice today is especially for George. We know he likes the great Croatian singer Josipa Lisac. We know he likes prog flute. Let's hope he can cope with having both of them on the same record.

The second track, by Grupa Rok, might as well also be for George (and for Anita and Parsley). There is more prog flute and according to the extensive sleeve notes "Dva Jarca" means "two goats" in Croatian. They don't translate "Grupa Rok" though, so I can shed no light on what the band name means.

We finish off with an absolute cracker from 1970 by Sarajevo's finest, Pro Arte, featuring the mighty vocals of  Vladimir Savčić Čobi. The very long title translates as "he who bears eternal sorrow has the right to sing". And so say all of us.

"Ležaj Od Suza" - Josipa Lisac

"Dva Jarca" - Grupa Rok

I managed to find this rather splendid clip of Pro Arte in 1972. There is much to enjoy - the music, the guitarist's shirt, the brief glimpses of the organist's pudding basin haircut, Mr Savčić Čobi looking like he's come straight from the office to the karaoke, and the audience.

Friday 13 October 2023

Some Guys Have...

Its Friday the 13th, folks. Unlucky for some of our musical friends, but not for others it seems.

I hope you are all immune but to be on the safe side maybe stay inside well away from pavements, ladders and lonely magpies until tomorrow. And if you absolutely have to open an umbrella indoors, don't do it near a mirror.

"Hard Luck" - The Undertones

"Hard Luck Kid" - Beach Slang

"Bad Luck Natty" - Jah Lion

"Bad Luck Charm" - Lo Tom

"Bad Luck To The Rolling Water" - Lankum

And we'll round things off with the great Lene Lovich. I'm off to see her tonight - should be fun.

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 16 - Egypt

This week we are heading to the north-east corner of Africa to visit one of the cradles of civilization - Egypt. Before we start, can I make it clear that I will ignore any comments about that song by Jonathan Richman and the Mandatory African Reggae slot. I will also ignore any scomments about that other song by The Bangles.

Not speaking of which, our opening track is also the opening track from "Walk Like A Nubian", the 1991 album by the mighty Ali Hassan Kuban. Mr Kuban was known as the Captain of Nubian music, the Nubians being an ethnic group from Upper Egypt (which slightly confusing is the bit in the south).

I defy any of you to resist that opening bass riff. Play it loud! Scare the goats! Only if you already have goats, of course, don't go out looking for goats just for the purpose of scaring them. Not even if they are Anglo-Nubian goats.

We are sticking with the early 1990s Nubian sound for our second track, courtesy of Vicka. I have not been able to find out much about him, but this was evidently a massive national hit in 1992 and could be heard blaring out of roughly 62.4% of Cairo taxis at any given time. They must have played it at goat-bothering volume to hear it above the horns.

My copy of "Keda Keda Ya Terella" is on a compilation I picked up from somewhere called "Stars of Egypt: 80s and 90s". If you are willing to use the tax dodgers website you can find an album called "Nubian Legends" which includes this and five of Vicka's other hits.

While I have been bopping about to the likes of Ali Hassan Kuban and Vicka for a fair while now, until I started this series I was completely unfamiliar with recent Egyptian music. It turns out there is quite an interesting scene over there. You might want to check out the likes of Baskot, Maurice Louca and Islam Chipsy (named for his love of a local brand of crisps),

All of them made the long list for this post but in the end I opted first for the powerhouse sounds of Maryam Saleh - who rocks out on this track but whose 2012 album "Mesh Baghanny" contains a range of styles - and leading lights of the electro shaabi scene, Sadat & Alaa 50

Electro shaabi (you may know it as mahraganat) takes the traditional working class shaabi music and whacks it over the head with EDM and hip hop). The goats may not like it. I'm not entirely sure that I do really, but "Howga" undeniably packs a punch. And if you like it you can find more here.  

Finally, let's go back in time a bit and meet up with the Egyptian guitar king (or possibly guitar pharaoh) Omar Khorshid. You can read his full biography while buying a copy of "Guitar El Chark Vol. 1", a compilation of sessions recorded in Beirut between 1973 and 1977 that was released on Sublime Frequencies last year. Some of it is pretty freaky stuff.

"Om Shaar Asmar Medaffar" - Ali Hassan Kuban

"Keda Keda Ya Terella" - Vicka

"Kashf Asary" - Maryam Saleh

"Howga" - Sadat & Alaa 50

"Ah Ya Zaman" - Omar Khorshid

And now to the videos. I am grateful to Meshwar and their guest Ehab Tawfiq (the smartly dressed man who has his arms crossed defensively at the start) for providing the Mandatory African Reggae, and to DJ Sam for the endless stream of old Hamid El Shaeri videos.

I said there would be no Bangles or Jonathan Richman but I'm going to give Amazulu a pass. They have at least gone to the trouble of choosing an African name, albeit one from the opposite end of the continent. 

Monday 9 October 2023

The Zagreb Zeitgeist

We have the first fruits of my recent trawl round the record shops of Zagreb for you today, and we start with something of a landmark album. 

"Naši Dani" was the 1968 debut album by Zagreb band Grupa 220 and is generally considered to be the first Yugoslav rock album consisting of entirely original material rather than endless covers of Western hits. It is pretty decent with some nice psychedelic touches. 

There is even one six minute long number with an extended jazz-prog flute section. I can only think of one person who might enjoy that. Let me know, George, and I'll send it over.  

Drago Mlinarec was the main songwriter and lead vocalist for Grupa 220, and the guitarist Vojko Sabolović pitched in with a few songs of his own. Both went on to have solo careers in the 1970s (and beyond in Drago's case). 

I found a compilation of Vojko's solo material while I was browsing and snapped it up in the hope of more of the same. Unfortunately that was not what I got. Most of it was sub-standard schlager, but there were a few half decent tracks of which today's selection is the pick.

"Nešto Malih Stvari" - Grupa 220

"Besciljni Dani" - Grupa 220

"Suton" - Vojko Sabolović

Somewhat to my surprise I managed to find a promo clip of the Grupa Gang's first hit single from back in 1967, before they had recruited Branimir 'Mr Fingers' Zivkovic whose keyboards and flute would add so much to "Naši Dani". The second video features one of Vojko's songs from "Naši Dani".

Friday 6 October 2023

Triston Shout

 Some early 80s reggae to round off the week courtesy of Triston Palma.

"Joker Smoker" is the 12" version of the title track of Mr Palma's 1982 album produced by Jah Thomas. "Rub A Dub Session" is also from 1982 but comes from a different album called "Joker Lover" produced by Linval Thompson. There was clearly a lot of joking going on back then. 

"Joker Smoker (12" version)" - Triston Palma

"Rub A Dub Session" - Triston Palma

 Some of you may have connected the words 'reggae' and 'joker' and already asked yourself the question "He's not going to subject us to a dodgy overlong reggae version of 'The Joker' by Steve Miller is he?".

Of course he is.

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 15 - Djibouti

Back in 1967 French Somaliland became The Afars and The Issas. For the young Ernie who studied maps and yearned to travel it seemed to be a magical place - maybe because the name alludes to it being a far away land, or maybe I was just a strange child.

When the country gained independence in 1977 it adopted the name Djibouti. At that point it rather dropped off my radar for the next 40 years or so until in 2018, on a short visit to Addis Ababa, I learnt that the passenger train service between there and Djibouti had only just reopened after many years.

That really sparked my interest and I had started making tentative plans to make the trip when Covid came along and scuppered them. But I am still keen to go at some point in the future, not least because of the first two records we will feature today, both of which came out during the pandemic.

In 2020 the good folks at Ostinato Records released "The Dancing Devils Of Djibouti" by Groupe RTD, which quickly became one of my favourite records of the year. If you have not got it already you should pick it up from Bandcamp this Friday.

The story of how the record was made is almost as entertaining as the album itself. Groupe RTD (short for Radiodiffusion-Télévision Djibouti) are a state-funded band performing at official functions. After lengthy negotiations with the authorities, Ostinato got permission to have a three-day recording session with the band while they were off-duty. The album is the result.

Both sides were evidently pleased with the critical success of the record as Ostinato were given permission to root around in the RTD archives. This resulted in the release in 2021 of the snappily named "Super Somali Sounds from the Gulf of Tadjoura", a compilation of the works of 4 Mars - and another must have in my view.

4 Mars were active from 1977 to 1994 with a rotating cast of anything up to 40 actors, singers, dancers and musicians - Djibouti's answer to the Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, if you will, but with a wild and wonky skanking beat. Hopefully there is more to come from the archives.

The third selection today comes from an earlier Ostinato compilation, the Grammy nominated "Sweet As Broken Dates" (2018). The majority of the artists featured on the album were from Somalia, but there were also a handful from Djibouti including 4 Mars and Nimco Jaamac

Biographical details about Ms Jaamac are hard to come by. Also known (or perhaps just spelt) as Nima Djama, she was born in Djibouti in 1948, was heavily involved in the independence campaign back in the 1970s, and is currently believed to be alive and well and living in Ottawa.

The same sadly cannot be said for Yanna Momina, who was also born in 1948 but died in June this year shortly before she was due to appear at WOMAD for what would have been her first concert outside Djibouti. Her debut international release, "Afar Ways", came out on Glitterbeat last year and is another cracker.

Finally we bring you Abdallah Lee, who passed away in 2007 at the age of only 44, but who remains one of the most famous and popular singers in Djibouti. He is billed as Abdallah Lee Kaaqe on the bootleg album I found this track on. From what I can tell Kaaqe (or Kaqi) appears to be a nickname not part of his actual name, so I opted to cut the Kaaqe.    

"Iiso Daymo" - Groupe RTD

"Dhulka Hooyo" - 4 Mars

"Buuraha U Dheer" - Nimco Jaamac

"Honey Bee" - Yanna Momina

"Royan Baggi Raqi Yo Maaha" - Abdallah Lee

That's all the Ds done, folks. Next week we'll ease into the Es with Egypt.

Monday 2 October 2023

Croatian Culture Corner

I'm back from a mostly enjoyable visit to Zagreb. To be more specific, everything in Zagreb was good, the return journey was not. Thanks to the efforts of Lufthansa (although 'effort' seems the wrong word in the context) I finally got home around 2a.m. yesterday morning.

After I got the work bit of the trip done I was able to fit in some culture before beginning the long trek home. The Croatian Museum of Naive Art in the Upper Town became a favourite of mine back in the pre-pandemic days when I used to visit Zagreb regularly, and it was good to go back.

The main attraction for me is the room devoted to the work of the Ivan Rabuzin, but there are lots of other interesting exhibits too. Here are a couple of personal favourites from the current exhibition - the first from Mr Rabuzin, the other from Ivan Generalić  - and any art buffs out there can find some more over at my Flickr account.

The music side of the Croatian culture hunt also went well. It was good to see my pals in Free Bird Records - Zagreb's finest second-hand record shop - and as expected I picked up some bargains there. Less expected was the discovery of a brand new record shop in the city centre. 

Its called Croatia Records, and as the name suggests it specialises in local music - not just from Croatia but also other parts of the former Yugoslavia. It has a fine selection of vintage reissues from the old state-run Jugoton Records alongside all the current releases.

Between the two shops I came away with a decent haul. Here are just a few of the records you can expect to be subjected to in the near future if I don't get distracted. I am particularly looking forward to listening to the last one.

"Jugoton Funk" features a track by the great Josipa Lisac. I know Josipa has an avid following among the Portuguese goat herding community, so this goes out to them.

"Ti Si Genije" - Josipa Lisac

"Sreća" - Josipa Lisac