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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.