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Monday 15 April 2024

Baltic Sewage And Funk

Last Thursday evening I was perched in the rafters of the Tamsta Club in Vilnius enjoying the musical stylings of local four-piece Kanalizacija (the Lithuanian word for sewage). They have a conventional line-up - guitar, drums, baritone sax and tuba - but don't let it constrain them.

The lads describe their style as "experimental rock with academic and country music sounds and free jazz moments", but I suspect by 'country' they mean 'trad. arr.'. There were a couple of numbers that sounded like they might be souped up folk tunes, but nothing that Don Williams could croon along to.

I enjoyed the gig but it isn't the sort of thing I'm likely to listen to much at home. If you think you might then head over to Bandcamp and check out their back catalogue.  

The next morning I had a bit of free time and so was able to combine a stroll around the lovely Old Town with a visit to Muzikumas record store. Prices were too high for my usual 'hit and hope' approach to acquiring local music so I settled for an album by what the proprietor assured me are Lithuania's leading funk ensemble. The band is called Gin'Gas, the album "O Kas, Jeigu Aš" and it came out in 2017. See what you think.

"Rubber" - Kanalizacija 

"Užupio Himnas" - Gin'Gas

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 31 - Malawi

I am taking two journeys today, one real and one virtual. In a couple of hours I'm off to Vilnius for a few days work, although I'll hopefully have time for some sightseeing and hunting for prog-flute LPs by Lithuanians with unpronounceable names.  

But first, the African Odyssey resumes. From Madagascar we catapulted ourselves 1000 miles west and landed slap bang in the middle of Lake Malawi. After a refreshing dip we are now dried off and ready to explore the local music scene.  

Before we start, I should mention a couple of acts that do not feature. I have excluded mainly on the grounds of over-familiarity The Very Best, whose "Warm Heart of Africa" swept the nation back in 2009 and whose singer Esau Mwamwaya is from Malawi.

More controversially, Enort Spear Mbandambanda and his magnificently titled "Sausage Yanga" did not quite make the final cut. Maybe Rol can use it in a future Top 10 Sausage Songs post.

With that out of the way let's get going. And we start with a band that I was lucky enough to see live last year. Madalitso Band are a duo who play the guitar, foot drum and an enormous babatoni (a one-string bass) while perched precariously on a table and create the sound of sunshine while doing so. Today's track comes from their 2022 album "Musakayike" and was a highlight of their set.  

Faith Mussa would consider the idea of a live duo excessive, performing as he does as a one-man band and playing traditional instruments like the badza, manjerenjeza and mbalule as well as his homemade guitar (and before you ask I have no idea what any of those are, apart from the guitar obviously). In the studio he rounds his sound out, as you can here on the opening track from his 2019 album "Kalilima".

Next up we have Katawa Singers who, according to the sleeve notes on the compilation album "Ufulu 1991​-​1997", "designed and delivered the electronic gospel sound that dominates the country ever since". I am told they listen to nothing else in the lounge bars of Lilongwe, and who can blame them.

Also keen on the groovy electronic sounds is DJ Kainga, who hails from the former capital of Zomba. He is from the Lomwe ethnic group and updates their traditional rhythms and melodies in a style he calls Lomwe Beat. The DJ is one of several Malawian musicians whose work is being promoted by the local Digital Indigenous label. The others are worth checking out as well. 

The oldest record by a Malawian musician in my collection in terms of both release and purchase date is "Feeling Good" by cool Afro-jazz dude Mr Sydney Banda. The album was released in 1987 and I picked up a cassette copy not that long afterwards, which accounts for the slightly ropey sound quality on this tune with a self-explanatory title.  

We end, as all things must, with some MAR. Isaac Liwotcha is a former accounts clerk who has been making sweet reggae music since back in the 1990s. Last year he reissued some of his old albums via Bandcamp. Today's selection comes from "Ungopalira" which I think may have been his debut album. 

"Jingo Janga" - Madalitso Band

"Ali Dere" - Faith Mussa

"Wela-Welako" - Katawa Singers

"Kainga Moyo Wanga" - DJ Kainga

"The Pennywhistler" - Sydney Banda

"Udzafabe" - Isaac Liwotcha

Monday 8 April 2024

Women In Revolt!

Last Friday I finally got round to visiting Tate Britain for the 'Women In Revolt!' exhibition - just in time as it closed yesterday. 

The sub-title for the exhibition was 'Art and Activism in the UK 1970 - 1990' and there was certainly plenty of both on display, with photos and magazine articles from the time alongside the art. Here are a couple of photos. If you are interested there are more on Flickr

The first piece is by Alexis Hunter and has the snappy title ''The Marxist Wife Still Does The Housework', while the second by Marlene Smith is about the shooting of Cherry Groce which sparked the Brixton riots in 1985. 

There was a section of the exhibition dedicated to the music of what we'll loosely call the punk era. While it was a bit strange to see records I bought in my youth laid out and labelled as historical artifacts, it was a reminder of how many excellent all female and female-led bands there were back then.

X-Ray Spex, The Slits, The Raincoats, The Au Pairs, Mo-Dettes, Delta 5, Poison Girls, Cosi Fanni Tutti and Ludus were all present and correct, as was one of the best pop songs of all time, "Going Nowhere Fast" by Girls At Our Best!.

There were a few favourites of mine from that time that were missing though, so I'm going to plug the gap. Sensitive souls out there should be warned that "Stereotyping" contains some obscenities. Even worse, in "Violence Grows" 15 year old tearaway Honey Bane tells a bus conductor to "push off". Shameful behaviour.

"Stereotyping" - Jam Today

"Violence Grows" - Fatal Microbes

"Danger Signs" - Penetration

Friday 5 April 2024

No Bongoes In Heaven

I held this post back from last Friday as I didn't want to diss Jesus on his big day, but the truth is while he may have been able to undo death and turn water into wine simple syncopation was beyond him.

That at least is the opinion of unsuccessful 1980s indie popsters Jesus Couldn't Drum. JCD (as they were not known to their fans) were a duo who hailed from Watford, recorded three albums between 1984 and 1986 and then disbanded. One of them joined The Chrysanthemums. The other one didn't.

I have featured their great single "Even Roses Have Thorns" here more than once over the years. Now, thanks to eBay, I have managed to get hold of a Canadian compilation of their work that was released back in 2001. I have no idea why the Canadians thought there was a gap in the market, but I'm glad they did. And so will you be.

"Autumn Leaves" - Jesus Couldn't Drum

"I'm A Train (Alternative Version)" - Jesus Couldn't Drum

To my great surprise I found a clip of Jesus Couldn't Drum playing live in 1986 on YouTube. The fidelity is lower than low but here it is anyway. For balance I have added a song about Jesus that doesn't dwell on his shortcomings.

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Le Pop Français

I have recently been digging the groovy sounds of 1960s France on "Pop À Paris: Psyché-Rock Et Minijupes", a double CD compilation released about twenty years ago which I rescued from a local charity shop.

All the big names of the era are present and correct - Johnny Halliday, Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Bardot, France Gall etc - but there are plenty of lesser known delights as well. Like these.

"Les Filles C'est Fait" - Charlotte Leslie

"Ecoutez" - Elsa

Monday 1 April 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 30 - Madagascar

The African odyssey resumes after a little break, and as it is Monday it must be Madagascar.

It is a big island, nearly three times the size of Great Britain, and ties with Burkina Faso for having the capital city with the best name. I can't choose between Antananarivo and Ouagadougou.

Madagascar is famed for its biodiversity, with an estimated 90% of all its animal and plant species found nowhere else in the world. The Malagasy music scene doesn't quite match that but it is pretty diverse in its own right - as you are about to hear.

Before starting this series I only owned two albums of Malagasy music, so we will kick things off with a track from each of them. First up is the band that was possibly Madagascar's most successful musical export in  its time, Tarika.

Tarika were led by two sisters Hanitra and Noro and made a name for themselves in the 1990s through their albums and live performances. In 2001 Time magazine listed them as one of the ten best bands on Earth. In the same year they released the album "Soul Makassar", which is the one I own.

Things have been fairly quiet since then, at least on the recording front. They took a break after which Hanitra relaunched the band as Tarika Bé but there have been no further albums as far as I can tell (at least none that have been released internationally).

The second album is "Alefa Madagascar", a fine compilation of soukous, soul and salegy - an electrified version of one of the local traditional musical styles - from the 1970s and 1980s that was released in 2019 on Strut Records. There are a lot of groovy tunes to be enjoyed, but after much deliberation I opted for Papa James. I learnt from Mama James's Facebook page that Papa recently celebrated his 74th birthday. Many belated happy returns, Sir.

If that puts you in the mood for quality Malagasy compilation albums then might I suggest you try "Feedback Madagascar"? It is a fundraising album that was released by the charity of the same name in 2014 and features local acts that were active at the time. Again there are plenty of goodies to choose from; I have gone with Zambey

Next we have Damily, a musician from the Tsapiky region of Madagascar who has been playing since the mid 1980s and whose first album came out thirty years ago. As the title suggests his "Early Years: Madagascar Cassette Archives" album compiles some of his recordings from back in those days. The comprehensive sleeve notes tell you more than you could ever want to know about him and the local scene at the time.

Moving nearer the present day we have The Dizzy Brains, a Malagasy garage rock band who cite The Sonics and Jacques Dutronc (of "Et Moi Et Moi Et Moi" fame) as their biggest influences. While not up to those standards they make a decent enough racket. Today's selection is the title track of their 2015 debut EP "Vangy".  

As always we end with some Mandatory African Reggae, on this occasion from Abdou Day, a man sufficiently well-regarded in reggae circles to have recorded with ex-Wailers Tyrone Downie and Earl 'Chinna' Smith among others. This track comes from his 2002 album "Libre". He still gigs regularly but almost exclusively in Germany it seems. Maybe Walter can pop along to a show and report back. 

"Koba" - Tarika

"Ngôma Hoe" - Papa James

"Tsy Hagnaligno" - Zambey

"Zaho Va" - Damily

"Vangy" - The Dizzy Brains

"Tia Hody" - Abdou Day

Friday 29 March 2024

One Careless Owner

A mere 31 years late I finally picked up a copy of John Hiatt's "Perfectly Good Guitar" album in a Belgian charity shop last week.

It turns out I have been a fool to myself. I was previously only familiar with the title track and today's first selection, but the rest of the album maintains the high standard set by those two tunes.

"Perfectly Good Guitar" was the first album Mr Hiatt made after his stint with Little Village, and today's second selection suggests that he picked up a bit of the trademark Nick Lowe bounce in the process.

"Buffalo River Home" - John Hiatt

"The Wreck Of The Barbie Ferrari" - John Hiatt

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Gigs A Go Go

I have had a little run of gigs over the last couple of weeks.

While I was in Brussels the Sunday before last I took the opportunity to visit the Centre for Fine Arts (Bozar as its known to the locals) to see Cécile McLorin Salvant perform her 'jazz opera' "Ogresse".

Ms McLorin Salvant is a three times Grammy winner with a great voice which she seems to be able to switch from Sarah Vaughan to Blossom Dearie on a whim. I would struggle to describe the show itself so I will leave that to the good folks at the Jazzwise website. Overall I enjoyed it and the final section was very powerful, but I must admit my mind wandered during some of the bits between the big set pieces.

Back in London the following Wednesday I joined the boys at the always reliable Shacklewell Arms in Dalston for one of their occasional free gigs. The headliners were Erotic Secrets of Pompeii from Bristol who were promoting their new album "Mondo Maleficum".

Their style was described by Mr F "like very early Ultravox before they sacked their first guitarist because he wasn't very good". I think it was meant as a compliment but may not be taken as such by the Erotic's guitarist. They weren't really for me but they put on a good show and I did enjoy the glam stomp of their 2022 single "Nemesis Please".

The support act were much more my cup of herbal tea, so much so I had a great big grin on my face from start to finish. Luiz Bruno is a London-based Brazilian hippy who has been churning out cassettes of his own unique sounds and whose songs tackle important issues like kids vaping on the bus and the inability to locate your fridge. His latest record "Chicken Dinner" comes out in late April and is available for pre-order.

Mr Bruno is backed live by the Adult Children and between them they put on a great show with lots of hot theremin action. They had huge fun and so did we. I am definitely going to see them again as soon as I get the opportunity and I suggest you do too.

Which brings us to Monday this week when we were at the Barbican for a concert marking the 25th anniversary of Songlines magazine. Top of the bill, and the man we were all there to see, was the Golden Voice of Africa himself, the mighty Salif Keita. He has a new acoustic album coming out later this year and we were told that this set was a bit of a preview.
He was accompanied by Madou Diabaté, brother of Toumani and a fine musician in his own right. The combination of his kora and Mr Keita's guitar was quite mesmerising, and the Great Man's voice is still pegged to the gold standard at the age of 74. All in all it was a pleasure and a privilege to be there.

The rest of evening comprised sets by the Balimaya Project, a large London based collective of mostly West African musicians; Divanhana, a sevdalinka (Balkan Blues) band from Bosnia & Herzegovina; and Le Vent Du Nord, a Francophone folk group from Quebec. 

I enjoyed them all in their different ways although probably not enough to dash off and buy their respective back catalogues on Bandcamp. You can though, just by clicking on their names.

Here is a virtual gig I have put together for you with a track from each of the artists mentioned above and a video from the two standout stars of the show. Its been a pleasure.

"Optimistic Voices/ No Love Dying" - Cécile McLorin Salvant

"Nemesis Please" - Erotic Secrets Of Pompeii

"Pest Control Man" - Luiz Bruno

"Tolon Wilile" - Salif Keita

"I No Go Gree" - Balimaya Project

"Emina" - Divanhana

"L'Auberge" - Le Vent Du Nord

Monday 25 March 2024

Duck Day Afternoon

Today we have songs about ducks. The post exists purely as a pretext to share the video, which is something rather special. 

At over nine minutes "Ducks On A Pond" doubles up as Monday's Lengthy Listen (copyright pending). 

To quote Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

"Nice Weather For Ducks" - Lemon Jelly

"Duck Hunting" - The Creekdippers

"Ducks On A Pond" - The Incredible String Band

"One White Duck/ O = Nothing At All" - Jethro Tull

Thursday 21 March 2024

Gimme Some Leuven

If you happen to find yourself in the fine medieval town of Leuven in Belgium, as I did earlier in the week, there are two reasons for visiting Bilbo Records on Ladeuzeplein. The first is the view across the square:

The second is the small but high quality bargain bin where you can find some real goodies for €3 a pop. I picked up a couple of African CDs. One of them is by an artist from a country that we have not yet reached on my African Odyssey, so I will save that one until we get there. The other is by a gent who has already featured in the series, Côte d'Ivoire's very own MAR superstar, Tiken Jah Fakoly.

The album is question is Mr Fakoly's most recent, "Braquage De Pouvoir", which came out in 2022. Very good it is too.

"Farana" - Tiken Jah Fakoly

"Gouvernement 20 Ans" - Tiken Jah Fakoly

Sunday 17 March 2024

Single Song Sunday

I'm off to Belgium later today for a work trip to Brussels followed by a day's sightseeing in Leuven. I'll do my best to scour some bargain bins and find a bit of Benelux bop and boogie to bring back for you.

Before that, though, we have the little matter of the first Single Song Sunday of the year. The song selected for that honour is "Blue Moon".

Written by the crack team of Rodgers and Hart, the tune first appeared called "The Bad In Every Man" in the 1934 film "Manhattan Melodrama" starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy. It was already on its third title and set of lyrics by then, and after one more rewrite became "Blue Moon" later that year.

The song topped the Variety sheet music sales charts in early 1935 but no recorded version would do so until 1961 when The Marcels hit the No. 1 spot in both the US and UK. That is why I am starting with them even though there are two earlier versions included - Elvis Presley (No. 9 in the UK in 1956) and Nat 'King' Cole (1957).

After that things start veering off all over the place. I am sure many of you will be familiar with the Cowboy Junkies' reinterpretation from 1988, but perhaps not the football chant version found on the On-U Sound' 1991 compilation "Pay It All Back Volume 3" credited to Barmy Army. Not one that is going to make the "Now That's What I Call On-U" hits collection I suspect.

Last month I posted about the 1986 album "Underworld Shakedown" by Greek band The Last Drive and mentioned that it included a remake of an old standard which I was saving for a future Single Song Sunday, This is it. In the interest of balance I have included a version from 1991 by Macedonian band Raketamagazin. The two countries don't see eye to eye on many things but maybe "Blue Moon" can bring them together.

Finally we have Guts McGeorge with the Mandatory Reggae Version. I know nothing about Guts. Apart from this 1970 single Discogs lists only one other recording which was the B side of a Lloyd Charmers single. Lloyd also produced this so maybe Guts was his imaginary friend.

"Blue Moon" -  The Marcels

"Blue Moon" -  Elvis Presley

"Blue Moon" -  Nat 'King' Cole

"Blue Moon Revisited (Song For Elvis)" - Cowboy Junkies  

"Blue Moon" -  Barmy Army

"Blue Moon" -  The Last Drive

"Blue Moon" -  Raketamagazin

"Blue Moon" -  Guts McGeorge

In England the football chant version is most commonly associated with petrochemical giants Manchester City who number Oasis among their celebrity supporters. I'm not a fan of either but we will start the videos with Oasis Jr to get it out of the way,

Friday 15 March 2024

Halo Can You Go

Today is Part 2 in a new series that I'm calling "Things I bought in the Buddhist Bookshop's 3 CDs for £1 offer Friday". There won't be a Part 3 in the immediate future as the third CD was a blues compilation which had a good track listing but the sound quality was so poor as to make it effectively unlistenable.

Last week we brought you Dickson Sings Dylan. This week its "Don't Tell Me Now" by The Halo Benders. They were led by Calvin Johnson (who has featured here previously in various guises including Beat Happening and Dub Narcotic Sound System) and Doug Martsch of Built To Spill (who hasn't).

The Halo Benders were a side project for both of them. They released three albums between 1994 and 1998 before deciding to focus solely on their day jobs. "Don't Tell Me Now" was the middle album and came out in 1996.

I find I'm partial to pretty much everything I've heard by Mr Johnson, and this album is no exception. It is rather splendid and there is a bit of a Silver Jews vibe in places (particularly evident on "Mercury Blues"). My mission now is to track down the other two Halo Benders albums and also to investigate Built To Spill who completely passed me by back in the 1990s.

"Mercury Blues" - The Halo Benders

"Bombshelter Pt. 2" - The Halo Benders

And now, lots of Brits bending on "Beat Club" in the 1960s. Ariel Bender not included but if you want to know what the visual equivalent of the dreadful sound quality on that blues compilation looks like type "Ariel Bender Skegness" into YouTube.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 29 - Libya

We have reached our third and final L country - Libya. I'm going to take a short break from the series after this to build up my strength before plunging into a run of seven Ms.

Today's post would not have been possible without the good folks at Habibi Funk records, who for the last ten years have been releasing interesting sounds from the Arab world. In the last twelve months alone they have released four albums by Libyan artists, all of which feature today. 

Without them there would not have been much here. For whatever reason I have found it more difficult to track down Libyan music than for most of the other countries in the series - just a couple of weedy crooners and the two bands that kick things off today (although see the PS below).

Weedy is certainly not a word you would use to describe Oydis, a death metal band from Tripoli. Death metal is not my cup of Libyan tea, but it seems to be almost as ubiquitous as reggae in some parts of Africa. This track comes from their 2019 album "As Humanity Falls", something it has a tendency to do with depressing regularity in Libya.

I know nothing at all about the next group. I'm not even sure of their name. I think they are called Groupe Amnar Awal but they may actually be Chaco, which is the name that Bandcamp has assigned to the album "Awal Akalin". Either way, the album came out it 2015 and might appeal to you fellow Sahel Sounds enthusiasts out there. 

The rest of today's tracks come courtesy of Habibi Funk. We'll start with Hamid Al Shaeri, one of the biggest stars of Arab music in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of his success came while based in Egypt but he was born in Benghazi and started his musical career there before moving to Cairo in his early twenties. "Reet" can be found on a compilation of his 1980s recordings titled "The SLAM !Years".

Heading backwards to the 1970s we find The Free Music, a band led by composer/producer Najib Alhoush (whose magical rendition of "Staying Alive" you really need to listen to). The 2023 compilation "Free Music Part 1" features some of their original material from around 1976.

We finish with not one but two big slabs of the finest Mandatory African Reggae. First up is the man known as "the Father of Libyan Reggae", Mr Ibrahim Hesnawi. That is also the title of a compilation of his 1980s recordings that Habibi Funk issued late last year. Then we've got one of his musical offspring, Ahmed Ben Ali. "Subhana" is a compilation of his works from the mid 2000s.

"Internal Strife" - Oydis

"Anar Asanagh" - Groupe Amnar Awal

"Reet" - Hamid Al Shaeri

"Law Yom Saalak Had" - The Free Music

"Watany Al Kabir" - Ibrahim Hesnawi

"Ya Ghalian Alakheera" - Ahmed Ben Ali

PS Since writing the post I discovered the first video and was inspired to track down a few recordings by leading Libyan funkateer of the 1970s and 1980s Ahmed Fakroun. I am enjoying them very much but none of them match the song in the video so we are sticking with that.

PPS I would not rule out the possibility that MC Mego is a Sacha Baron Cohen creation.

 

Monday 11 March 2024

Rodney With An A

Some early 1990s country for you today from the man who perennially tops my personal Top 10 musicians called Radney list, Mr Radney Foster.

Having had a string of country hits in the late 1980s as one half of Foster & Lloyd (a less cool version of Foster & Allen), the Radmeister went solo in 1990. 

His first solo album "Del Rio, TX 1959" - named for his place and year of birth - came out in 1992 and fitted in well with the New Country scene that was all the rage at the time. The likes of Albert Lee, John Hiatt, Kim Richey and Marty Chapin Carpenter all turned up and helped out.

It is a pretty solid album and included two songs that made the Top 10 in the country charts (to date still his only two Top 10 solo hits). These are them.

"Just Call Me Lonesome" - Radney Foster

"Nobody Wins" - Radney Foster

I think this video of Foster & Lloyd explains the reason why they split. Lloyd (without glasses) was clearly developed in a 1980s lab and, unlike Radders who could just cut his hair and remove his red braces, he was unable to be reprogrammed to be usable in the 1990s.

Friday 8 March 2024

Babs 'n Bob

A change of pace for you today. We are not so much surfing the zeitgeist as rolling our trousers up and taking a tentative paddle in the shallows. Ladies and Gentlemen, Ms Barbara Dickson.

I am still scarred by the Elkie Brooks episode many years ago so I want to make it clear that this will not be a Barbara bashing exercise. 

Her version of the old standard "Answer Me" was one of the first singles I bought with my pocket money when I was 12. She has made many more fine records over the years and counts movers and shakers like Mr & Mrs CC among her many fans.

I popped into our local Buddhist charity bookshop earlier this week and checked out the small selection of CDs that are always on offer at three for £1. After finding two that looked quite promising I filled the quota with this:


Released in 1992, this is Dickson Sings Dylan with the production values you associate with that era plus a guest appearance by Gerry Rafferty on "The Times They Are A-Changin'".  

It is a bit of a mixed bag. When they play the songs straight it generally works pretty well, but there are a few 'experimental' arrangements that might have been best left on the cutting room floor. Here is an example of each.

To use the official Charity Chic Classification (CCC) system it is probably not a keeper, but I'm glad I gave it a go. 

"Ring Them Bells" - Barbara Dickson

"Maggie's Farm" - Barbara Dickson

And now... Dylan Sings Dickson! Or possibly Frankie Laine or Nat King Cole, you decide. You also get some Richard Thompson as a bonus. 

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 28 - Liberia

We've over halfway, folks - 28 countries into our 55 country tour. At some point between Lesotho and Liberia we crossed a metaphorical Equator as well as the literal one. 

To mark the occasion I'm messing with the format a little. All the videos are from the same band, and that is the band that is probably Liberia's most successful musical export.

Soulful Dynamics relocated from Monrovia to Hamburg in 1969, and the very next year they topped the charts in many European countries with "Mademoiselle Ninette". You could not possibly tell from their hits that the band were from Africa - mostly they sound like a schlager version of The Equals - but they have some fantastically cheesy clips on YouTube.

Our audio selection starts with the woman rightly known as "the Golden Voice of Liberia", Princess Fatu Gayflor. Ms Gayflor (she's not a real Princess) has been recording since the mid 1980s. This track is on her 2014 album "The Princess Diaries", and my guess is that is is a tribute to Liberia's national arts ensemble, the Kendeja National Cultural Troupe, where she started her career.

Like many other Liberians she fled the country during the civil war that dragged on for nearly fifteen years (1989-2003). Having spent some time in refugee camps in Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea, she eventually ended up in Philadelphia where she is still based.

In 2013 the Princess was joined in Philadelphia by Marie Nyenabo, another fine female singer who had released three albums in Liberia before deciding to emigrate. Together they were founder members of the Liberian Women's Chorus for Change, who use traditional songs and dances to call attention to issues impacting the Liberian community in the US.

"Joya" can be found on the 2011 compilation album "Lone Stars Vol 1: Hipco & Gbema" (hipco being Liberian hip hop and gbema modernised traditional music). Also to be found on the album is the track from Junior Freeman which was apparently impossible to avoid in Liberia that year, even being adopted by the victorious Presidential candidate as her campaign song for national elections. 

2011 was evidently a good year for Liberian music because that was when the exotically named Kojato & The Afro Latin Cougaritas released their excellent "All That Jazz" album. Main man Kojo Samuels hails from Monrovia but the band were based in Germany. Who knows, maybe they included some descendants of the Soulful Dynamics. 

The influence of Fela Kuti is pretty obvious on "All That Jazz", which is perhaps not surprising when you learn that Mr Samuels played with the Great Man for a while after his previous group Kapingbdi broke up in 1985. A few years back Sonorama Records compiled some of Kapingbdi's previously unreleased recordings from 1979 to 1981 on an album titled "Born In The Night". Very good they are too.

We end as always with some Mandatory African Reggae (there is a limit to how much messing with the format I'm willing to do). A very warm welcome please to Nasseman, former winner of Best Reggae/Dancehall Artist of the Year at the prestigious Liberia Music Awards - where Kojo Samuels was deservedly given a Lifetime Achievement Award last year.

"Kendeja" - Princess Fatu Gayflor

"Joya" - Marie Nyenabo

"Dumyarea" - Junior Freeman & African Soldier

"Funky Man" - Kojato & The Afro Latin Cougaritas 

"Deadea" - Kapingbdi

"Justice" - Nasseman

Monday 4 March 2024

Scratch Patch

Because they're long and they're songs and its Monday here are a couple of tracks from Lee "Scratch" Perry's album "On The Wire" (which is not to be confused with "Scratch On The Wire", a compilation of his production work from 1979).This album was recorded in 1988 but not released until 2000. It was well worth the wait though as it is magnificent from start to finish.  

While both the selected songs clock in at over seven minutes they are actually among the shorter tracks on the album. There are three more between eight to nine minutes long and one that runs all the way up to eleven, as all good things should do.

"Yes My Friends" - Lee "Scratch" Perry

"Burn Funky" - Lee "Scratch" Perry

Mr Perry isn't the only thing you'll find on a wire if you go looking.

Friday 1 March 2024

Newness Abounds

Timed especially to coincide with Bandcamp Friday, here is one of our irregular looks at some of the freebies that the nice folks in Promoland have sent me over the last couple of months. Get your wallets out now.

For my tastes there have been two standout albums. The first, while technically a new release, was actually recorded about twenty years ago. The Children's Hour were a duo consisting of the warble-tastic Josephine Foster and one Andy Bar (presumably not this one). They released one album in 2003 and then teamed up with David Pajo (of Slint, Tortoise etc fame) to record a second which is finally seeing the light of day. 

The album is called "Going Home" and it is utterly charming. It came out last week and you can get it from Bandcamp - just click on the title (the same goes for the other albums featured below).

The second standout album comes from my favourite Welsh language Americana band (if that isn't a contradiction in terms), Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog. They have been around since the late 2000s and "Mynd â'r Tŷ am Dro" is their sixth studio album. It comes out today. 

Their sound on this album is a bit rockier than in the past, with the title track and the one below being particularly strong with a bit of a Neil & Crazy Horse vibe. If you enjoy this you might also appreciate their live album that was released last year.

I would also like to give a bit of a plug to two more new albums, both from artists based in California. The first is "Hideaway" by Breezers, the pseudonym of Evan apRoberts from LA. It is due out on 8 March and is not yet available on Bandcamp, although you can find his previous stuff there including his self-titled 2002 album.

The Umbrellas hail from San Francisco although you might be mistaken for thinking they are Scottish as they have clearly immersed themselves in the Postcard Records back catalogue. "Fairweather Friend" is their second album and it came out back in January. It is pleasingly chirpy.

"Dance With Me" - The Children's Hour

"Blodau Haearn Blodau Glo" - Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog

"Cemetery" - Breezers

"Goodbye" - The Umbrellas

To round things off here are some videos featuring songs from three more albums that came out in January and which are worth a listen: "Goose" by Mol Sullivan, "Alas" by Lily Seabird and "In The Midst Of You" by Brad Stank. Enjoy!

Wednesday 28 February 2024

Easy Peasy

For no particular reason I've decided today is the right time to honour the record that won the 1976 Academy Award for Best Song - "I'm Easy", written and performed by Keith Carradine and one of the highlights of Robert Altman's "Nashville". 

"Nashville" itself lost out on Best Picture to "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest". With "Dog Day Afternoon", "Barry Lyndon" and "Jaws" in contention as well it was quite a year for the fillums.

Randy Crawford did a decent cover version of the song on her debut album "Everything Must Change" which also came out in 1976. And then there was Cher...

"I'm Easy" - Keith Carradine

"I'm Easy" - Randy Crawford 

Monday 26 February 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 27 - Lesotho

We're back on the road again, and had I bothered to get on the road when I was in Johannesburg recently I could have visited this country in person not just virtually. Lesotho is about a four hour drive south from there.

Lesotho is located up in the Maloti mountains, which partly explains why it has been able to survive as a country in its own right even though it is entirely surrounded by South Africa. The country's greatest leader, King Moshoeshoe I, spent most of his 50 year reign fighting wars with first the Zulus and then the Boers to protect his territory. He signed a deal with Britain to provide military support which ultimately led to it becoming a British colony on his death in 1870.

The political scene has been pretty lively since independence in 1966 as well, with any number of attempted and successful coups and, in 2020, a prime minister who faced trial charged with murdering his ex-wife (he got off when a key witness mysteriously disappeared).   

Lesotho has also managed to maintain a distinct musical identity, with the local accordion-based famo music being very popular. Sadly it has become embroiled in gang wars in recent years, as this article with the unlikely headline 'The Deadly Accordion Wars of Lesotho' explains. But when done right the famo sound is a joyous thing.

One of the musicians interviewed for that article was Puseletso Seema, who with over 30 albums to her name is rightly known as the Queen of Famo. Today's track comes from her album "Khoro Li Majoe" and it is dedicated to England's own Queen of the Squeezebox, C of Sun Dried Sparrows fame.

Our other famo pioneers are Tau Ea Matsekha, who started out back in the 1970s and whose accordion player Forere Motloheloa co-wrote and played on "The Boy In The Bubble" on Paul Simon's "Graceland" album. Over to Bandcamp you can find "Mohlape Oa Litau", a compilation of their work from the 1980s and early 1990s. That is where I found this track.

We will round off our famo selection with something more up to date. Sefako Sa Menoaneng released the album "Lenyora La Metsi, Vol. 14" last year. The group is basically just Lebohang Letohla who has been recording with others and in his own right for around 30 years now (so not really all that up to date). Here is an article in which he introduces himself.

We are heading back to the 1980s next to feature what I think is the only band from Lesotho ever to have any degree of international recognition - Sankomota. I dimly recall seeing them play in London towards the end of that decade, although that may be my memory playing tricks on me. 

Their best known album was 1987's "Dreams Do Come True", but today's selection comes from their 1983 self-titled debut which is available on Bandcamp. You can also find it on the Shifty Records compilation that I featured in my previous post.

As always we conclude with some Mandatory African Reggae. This time it comes from one Sensi Rankin (or David Mongake to his mum) who rather audaciously claims to be the Afro Ragamuffin King. Judging by this track from last year I think those claims may be overstated. 

"Ngoetsi" - Puseletso Seema

"Maseru B.A." - Tau Ea Matsekha

"Ha Mantilatilane" - Sefako Sa Menoaneng

"Uhuru" - Sankomota

"Anebella" - Sensi Rankin

Friday 23 February 2024

Shifty Sounds

I got home yesterday after a couple of weeks visiting assorted Gogginses in South Africa. As evidence here is one of my holiday snaps. This is Kalk Bay, just south of Cape Town, and those are friendly seals in the bottom left of the photo.

I only bought one CD while I was there, but it is a goodie. The title is fairly self-explanatory: "Shot Down: Resistance Music from Apartheid South Africa". It features highlights from the first five years of the Shifty Records catalogue. 

Shifty was set up in 1984 to provide an outlet for artists banned by the national broadcasters and shunned by the established record companies. Some went on to have long careers and achieve some level of fame (at least locally), such as Kalahari Surfers and Vusi Mahlasela. Others like Mapantsula were never heard of again. One of them ended up working with my brother-in-law as a TV cameraman.

"Reasonable Men" - Kalahari Surfers

"Pambere" - Mapantsula

Shifty Records has a Bandcamp page where you can find many of the artists featured on "Shot Down" as well as "Shot Down" itself. I would particularly recommend "Change Is Pain" by the great poet Mzwakhe Mbuli and "Eet Kreef" by Johannes Kerkorrel's Gereformeede Blues Band - possibly the best Afrikaans rock album ever made (admittedly it is a small field).
 

Wednesday 7 February 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 26 - Kenya

Tomorrow I'm flying off to South Africa for a couple of weeks to visit the local Gogginses. If I had been making the journey 50 years ago on BOAC we would most probably have stopped off in Nairobi to refuel. Which makes it fairly apt that we are visiting Kenya in our virtual tour today.

If I was making that hypothetical journey back in the 1970s it would have been very tempting not to reboard the plane but stay on in town, because back then Kenya was a happening place. It was the regional hub for musicians and many flocked to Nairobi and Mombasa from DR Congo, Tanzania and the like to perform and record. 

That made it a bit complicated when it came to selecting tracks from that era. I went through the two excellent "Kenya Special" compilations put out by Soundway Records about ten years ago weeding out acts that were not predominantly Kenyan. But there were plenty of goodies still left, including the first three of today's selections.  

The tracks by The Mombasa Vikings and Ndalani 77 Brothers were released in 1975 and 1977 respectively and can both be found on the original "Kenya Special" album. The Rift Valley Brothers are on Volume 2. I have not been able to find out anything about any of them, so let's just lean back and enjoy the groove.

Not everybody was dazzled by the bright lights of Nairobi back then though. Way out west in Vihiga County, near Lake Victoria and the Ugandan border, the Luhya people preferred to do their own thing. In 2016 some bright spark at Raw Music International decided to collate some of the locally released singles from that era on an album called "Country Music of Western Kenya". This particular track features Brown Amukhoye, Shem Tupe and Justo Osala.

If you head south-west from Vihiga County you quickly find yourself in Siaya County, home of Ogolla Nyundo (Lazaro Ogolla Oloo as his dear old Mum knows him). Unlike all the other acts featured today I have been able to find out all about him thanks to a video interview posted on YouTube last month. So if you are interested in learning more about him, his music and the culture of the Luo people, head over there.

Back already? Then you are just in time for some Mandatory African Reggae. This time out we bring you Nile Dawta. Her complete bio reads "Nile Dawta is a Kenyan-based progressive musician, fusing roots and reggae music, with conscious chants to create a blend of uplifting and melodic African inspired vibrations: to educate, entertain and motivate towards social change". So now you know. This and the Ogolla Nyundo track are both from 2019.

"Mama Matotoya" - The Mombasa Vikings

"Nzaumi" - Nyalani 77 Brothers

"Mucang'ang'o Ugiraga Mukindirio" - The Rift Valley Brothers

"Namulia Ayilenia Wangu" - Brown Amukhoye, Shem Tupe & Justo Osala

"Caro Nyaugenya" - Ogolla Nyundo

"#Jeshi" - Nile Dawta

We start the video with the man who may have the greatest stage name of all time. It is between him and Tedious Matsito who may well feature when we finally get to Zimbabwe. That is still several lifetimes away.

Monday 5 February 2024

Bound To Last

More from the Athens record shop. Today it is the debut albums of two local bands who I subsequently discovered were connected.

The albums in question are "Underworld Shakedown" by The Last Drive (1986) and "Earthbound" by The Earthbound (2000). The common link is one Alex Kalofolias (Alex K to his friends) who was a founder member of both bands, setting up The Earthbound after The Last Drive broke up in 1995. The Earthbound broke up in turn in 2009, by which point Alex had already got the old gang back together. 

Of the two I prefer The Last Drive. They have a good old garage band sound with a bit of psychobilly and surf twang thrown in for luck. The standout track is a splendid reworking of an old standard which I will save for a future Single Song Sunday, but the whole album is good. Not for nothing were they considered one of the best Greek bands of the 1980s.

The Earthbound were less lively, at least on this album. They described their style as desert rock, the desert in question presumably being the one where the likes of Calexico live rather than all the fuzzed up Tuareg guitar bands. The album drags at times but has its moments, including this track and a moody extended tribute to Jeffrey Lee Pierce.

"Valley Of Death" - The Last Drive

"House Full Of Fear" - The Earthbound

Speaking of Mr Pierce...

Friday 2 February 2024

Have F.U.N. With F.F.N.

I was in Athens earlier this week. For obvious reasons I can't comment on the intense internet speculation (from Rol) that I was there for the purposes of international espionage, but I can share the view from the rooftop bar where I met my nemesis honey trap local contact.

Suffice to say that whatever I was doing it did not prevent me getting to my favourite record shop in the city. I acquired a small pile of goodies, including one I think might appeal to George if he ever tires of bands with the same name and instead decides to take an interest in bands with no name. Or 'Formatia Fara Nume' as they would put it in Romania.

The goodie in question was "Zece Pași", the 1975 debut album by top Romanian rockers F.F.N. (as they were known for short), reissued in 2013 with some bonus tracks by Italian label Eastern Time. I was  tempted to buy it even before I read the blurb on the back cover which referred to their "excellent guitar/flute interplay". After that it was inevitable.

We'll kick things off with the A-side of their debut single from 1974 and follow it up with one of the many flute infested tunes on what is, all in all, a pretty decent album.

"Chemare" - F.F.N.

"Speranţa" - F.F.N.

Here is a 1973 clip of the lads (plus two women in jumpers who don't appear to do anything). There are tantalising glimpses of a flute early on but it does not get played until right near the end. 

Friday 26 January 2024

Nuclear Powered Soul

Before we start, a quick service announcement. The announcement is that there isn't going to be much service round here for the next month or so.

On Sunday I am off to Athens for a few days' working, although I have cleared a space in my busy schedule to visit my favourite record shop there (and one of my favourites anywhere). Then I come back for a week before jetting off to South Africa for a fortnight to visit all the local branches of the Goggins clan. What passes for normal service will resume towards the end of February.

Now on with the show. Unlike some of those silvery-tongued devils who manage to produce interesting posts every day seemingly with ease, for me it is normally a case of 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. In the case of today's post replace 'inspiration' with 'lack of coordination'.

Yesterday afternoon I accidentally knocked over a stack of CDs while clumsily attempting a simple household chore. When I bent over to pick them up the one nearest my feet was "Something Extra Special: The Complete Volt Recordings 1968-1971" by Jimmy Hughes. I took it as a sign.

Mr Hughes is one of the innumerable number of fine soul singers to emerge in the 1960s who never quite received their due. Hailing from Leighton, Alabama like his cousin Percy Sledge, he had a Top 20 hit in 1964 with "Steal Away". But just seven years later he packed in music entirely, tired of the touring and the lack of promotion, and got gainful employment making parts for nuclear power plants. As you do.

"I'm So Glad" - Jimmy Hughes

"I'm Not Ashamed To Beg Or Plead" - Jimmy Hughes


Shortly before posting this I heard the sad news that Melanie Safka left us a couple of days ago. She was dismissed as a bit of a novelty act by a lot of folks after "Brand New Key" but she wrote some really good songs. Very much of their era but really good songs nonetheless. 

Two personal favourites are "Lay Down" which has powerhouse backing from the Edwin Hawkins Singers and "Peace Will Come" (here performed with a perhaps unlikely duet partner). RIP Melanie.

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Cover To Cover With Warren Zevon

I am pausing for breath between two gigs this morning.

Last night we went to The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington - formerly The Drop of Andrew Weatherall fame - for Sarabeth Tucek. It feels like I spent last chunks of last year banging on about her and her album "Joan Of All" (credited to SBT) so I won't dwell on the gig here. Suffice to say she was very good.

Tonight some of us are reconvening at the What's Cookin' club night in leafy Leytonstone to watch assorted stalwarts of the local Americana scene pay tribute to the late great Warren Zevon on what would have been his birthday. I'm not quite sure what to expect but one thing we can be sure of is that the songs will be excellent.

To get myself in the mood, here are some real Americans covering and being covered by Warren. If tonight's performers can come even vaguely close to matching Flaco and Dwight it will be a good evening.

"A Certain Girl" - Ernie K-Doe

"A Certain Girl"  - Warren Zevon

"Carmelita" - Warren Zevon

"Carmelita" - Flaco Jimenez (with Dwight Yoakum)

It's the same idea for the videos. Stick around for Mike Cummings, you are in for a treat. 

Monday 22 January 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 25 - Guinea-Bissau

This is the third and final leg of the Guinea mini-tour that forms just a small part of our overall odyssey. We sweltered away in the equatorial one back in October and called in at the 'no frills' the other week. Now we're bringing you some bangers from Bissau.

Possibly the only country in the world with a hyphen in its official name, Guinea-Bissau is mostly mangroves. It is bordered by Guinea and Senegal but probably most closely affiliated with Cabo Verde, 650 miles west over the waves. Both countries are former Portuguese colonies whose independence in the 1970s followed many years of joint struggle led by the revolutionary hero Amilcar Cabral.

Those of you who have been following the series so far will be expecting rumbling rhythms, sparkling guitars and the odd indigenous instrument or two. All that is present and correct, but first up we have a song that uses no instrumentation and is both ancient and new at the same time.

Just after Christmas a group called Associação Djorsom Garandi di Tina di Bolama released ten tracks on Bandcamp. They provided absolutely no information at all about themselves, but after a bit of digging around I discovered that Tina is a cultural tradition on the island of Bolama, one of the Bijagos islands off the coast of mainland Guinea-Bissau. 

A Portuguese NGO, Assistência Médica Internacional (AMI), is providing support to help preserve Tina, including setting up a recording facility. As one of the Associação's songs is called "Obrigado AMI" my guess is that they are one of the beneficiaries. Judging by this and their other tracks it is an excellent cause.

Another organisation doing its best to preserve the country's musical heritage is Radio Cobiana, and I heartily recommend their compilation featuring artists from the era before and after independence which has the self-explanatory title "Music Of Guinea-Bissau". From that album I have selected a track by Super Mama Djombo, widely considered to be the leading band from that period. If you like it, you might also want to check out their 1980 album "Na Camban​ç​a".

Also featured on the Cobiana compilation is the poet, musician and guerilla José Carlos Schwarz, who with his band Cobiana Djazz helped to provide the soundtrack for the fight for freedom. "Na Kolonia" is one of his best-known songs, and it represents the cry of an artist in exile thinking about the fate of his friends back home. You can learn more about him and his sad and suspicious demise here, then go and check out his album "Lua Ki Di Nos".

One of the indigenous musical styles that both the Super Mamas and Mr Schwarz drew on was 'gumbe' - not to be confused with 'goombay' music of the Caribbean, although the two are thought to be related, and most definitely not to be confused with the Goombay Dance Band who bear no relation to any recognisable form of music. In the mid 1980s Tabanka Djaz picked up the gumbé baton and are still running with it today. I've chosen the title track of their 2021 EP "Brincadera D'Nós".

Our penultimate featured artist is Kimi Djabaté, a singer and musician now based in Lisbon who has been making music for about 20 years. In 2019 his profile was raised when him and that Madonna recorded a song together. Called "Ciao Bella", it is a lot better than you think it is going to be apart from the bits where she spouts drivel. But I prefer his solo work and in particular his most recent album, last year's "Dindin", from which today's selection comes.

We end, as all things must, with some Mandatory African Reggae. I have had to bend the rules a bit for this episode, but then they are my rules to bend. Only one of the two performers on this fine track is actually from Guinea-Bissau. That is Spirit Mosiah, who is joined by Ras Damula from Angola. Listen out for the unexpected Mr. Humphries impression eight seconds in.

"Nô Uni" - Associação Djorsom Garandi di Tina di Bolama

"Ordem Do Dia" - Super Mama Djombo

"Na Kolonia" - José Carlos Schwarz & Le Cobiana Djazz

"Brincadera D'Nós" - Tabanka Djaz

"Alidonke" - Kimi Djabaté

"Kadiso Mudiso Ko" - Ras Damula Meets Spirit Mosiah

Friday 19 January 2024

Catch A Kaia

I got my first gig of the year under my belt on Wednesday when we went to Paper Dress Vintage in hip and happening Hackney (where else would it be with a name like that?) to see Kaia Kater.

Kaia is a singer, songwriter and banjo player from Montreal who released three very good albums back in the 2010s and has a long overdue fourth album coming out later this year. She has just kicked off a tour of the UK and Ireland on which she is accompanied by the double bass player you can see in the videos below. Here's the evidence...

This was the first time I have seen Kaia live and I was impressed. She has an engaging stage presence and the new songs sounded very good. If she is playing round your way I can recommend popping along.

Support was ably provided by Neev, who hails from Glasgow and whose Granny designed her album sleeve. Charity Chic is in all likelihood a family friend. Neev has a nice voice and some decent tunes, such as "Seawall" which features in the final video.

But before we get to that we have two audio clips and two videos from Kaia Kater. The audio is a track each from her first two albums, "Sorrow Bound" (2014) and "Nine Pin" (2016); the first video features a song that was one of the highlights of her 2018 album "Grenades" while the second is her brand new single.


"Paradise Fell" - Kaia Kater