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Friday 19 April 2024

Repayment Plan

Just a quick post today as I am a busy bee floating from tree to tree in an effort to get everything sorted before I head off to Cape Town for the second time this year tomorrow.

I don't normally go this frequently but some gullible fool lovely person is paying to fly me there and back for one day's work, and it would seem rude not to stay on a bit longer to hang out with my dear old Mum and assorted other relatives. I'll be back on here at the end of the month. 

On to the music. I've recently been listening to some of my vintage On-U compilations. Here are just two of the many highlights from Volume 3 of their intermittent "Pay It All Back" series which dates from 1991. 

"Heart's Desire" - The Strange Parcels

"Jacob's Pillow" - Jesse Rae

I'll leave you with some more Jesse - the man himself with his greatest hit as a performer, then Odyssey with his greatest hit as a songwriter. 

See you soon. Until then, stay groovy.

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 32 - Mali

Welcome to Mali. For those of you who tune in for the music this will be one of the highlights of the series. But those of you who tune in for the spellbinding accompanying narrative are in for a disappointment. There isn't any.

There are two reasons. The first is that I just don't have the time at the moment, for reasons I will explain on Friday. The second is that trying to curate a six song 'set' that does justice to the fantastic variety of Malian music - from the griots with their koras in the South to the Tuareg guitar bands in the North - is probably beyond me anyway.

It is not just the quality but the quantity as well. I have totted up that I have music by more than 70 Malian acts in my collection, more than any African countries apart from Nigeria and South Africa. They include real giants like Salif Keita - who featured here a few weeks ago - Tinariwen and Ali Farka Toure alongside many who may be less familiar to you.

Rather than the usual format I have cut the commentary and doubled the number of tracks from six to 12. Where the artists have records on Bandcamp I have added a link on their name so you can explore them further if you wish. I have avoided the superstars although you may still recognise at least some of the artists. 

It is a woefully inadequate introduction to the rich and diverse Malian music scene but hopefully it gives you a glimpse into what is big in the bars of Bamako and top of the pops in Timbuktu. Rest assured, the old Mandatory African Reggae is present and correct. But it may not be the one that you think it is. 

"Anha Achal Wad Namda" - Tamikrest

"Black & White" - Moussa Doumbia

"Anlouka" - Adja Soumano

"Aïcha Talamomt" - Imarhan Timbuktu

"Middo Wara" - Hama Sankare

"Sinzin" - Nahawa Doumbia

"Alghalem" - Terakaft

"Dounia Tabolo" - Boubacar Traoré

"Djanfa" - Kandia Kouyaté

"Les Enfants" - Leila Gobi

"Rastaman" - Djadjé Cissé

"Circulation De Bamako" - Askia Modibo

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