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Friday 31 May 2024

Of Pigs And Pearls

Some Rapp music for you today. Tom Rapp that is. 

Mr Rapp was the presiding genius behind Pearls Before Swine, a band who released two albums of what would probably have been called acid folk if the term had been invented then on ESP in the late 1960s then four more on Reprise. The band only existed to provide a vehicle for his distinctive songs, so when he went solo in 1973 it really just amounted to a change of name.

After a couple of solo albums Mr Rapp packed in the music business to become a civil rights lawyer and apart from a one-off album in 1999 and the occasional live guest appearance with his son's band that was pretty much it. He died from cancer in 2018 but his legacy lives on.

I was previously only familiar with Pearls Before Swine's debut "One Nation Underground". It is quite a thing - the choice of Hieronymous Bosch's "Garden Of Earthly Delights" for the cover art perhaps gives you an idea of what to expect. But then last week I found in a charity shop a copy of the 1998 compilation "Constructive Melancholy" which includes highlights from the four albums on Reprise originally released between 1969 and 1971. Here are a couple of them.

"Rocket Man" - Pearls Before Swine

"The Wizard Of Is" - Pearls Before Swine

Bernie Taupin has admitted to being influenced by "Rocket Man" when writing the lyrics for his and Elton John's better known song of the same name which came out a couple of years later. Here are two contrasting cover versions of that song.

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Freddies Got Soul

Question: What does 4 x Freddie make? 

Answer: 100% Soul

Here are my workings if you want to check.

"Cuss The Wind" - Freddie North

"Are You Lonely For Me Baby" - Freddie Scott

"You Had It Made" - Freddie Terrell

"Singing A New Song" - Freddie Waters

I should qualify that by saying that the calculation may not work with all Freddies.

Monday 27 May 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 36 - Mozambique

I like to spend some time in Mozambique. The sunny sky is aqua blue. And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek. It’s very nice to stay a week or two. 

So sang Bob Dylan back in 1976, which was probably the only year in the 1970s when it would have been a good time to visit the country. The war of independence against Portugal that had started in 1964 ended in 1975 when the country got its freedom. There was then a brief lull before a devastating civil war kicked off in 1977 that lasted another 15 years.

The simplest way for you to experience the culture of Mozambique is to visit your local Nando's, which has come a long way from its origins as a Mozambican takeaway in Johannesburg run by ex-pats. But if you are looking for a more immersive multimedia experience, come with me.

We start with one of the greats, Xidiminguana, who hopefully is still with us today. He certainly was as of 2021 when he celebrated his 85th birthday. This article covers the occasion and tells you more about his long and distinguished career. There is nothing more recent on Google so fingers crossed no news is good news. Today's selection comes from his 2015 album "Xikona", released when he was a slip of a lad of 79. 

Almost as venerable as Xidiminguana is Mofene David Sitoe, the man behind Banda Six. He had some songs played on local radio as early as 1964 but his recording career proper did not start until the early 1980s by which time he was living and working in South Africa. A mutual friend introduced him to Lucky Monama, the main traditional music producer at Gallo (the biggest record label in South Africa at the time). Lucky for us that Lucky took a shine to Mr Sitoe. This track is from his 1982 debut album "Mbilwini Yamina".

Marrabenta is a popular style of local dance music combining traditional rhythms with Portuguese folk music. One of the finest proponents are Ghorwane who formed in 1983 around about the same time Banda 6 were getting into their stride. It has been a while since they released a new album but they are still touring, including a set at George's local festival last year. "Txongola" is from their 1997 album "Kudumba" which is available on Bandcamp.  

We'll move over to the distaff side now, starting with a woman who has featured on these pages before, way back in the early days when my mission was to tell the world about Tsonga disco. Zaida Chongo was a glittering star who lit up the Mozambique and Tsonga music scenes in the 1990s before her tragically early death in 2004 aged just 33. If you are willing to consort with the tax dodgers you can download a fine compilation album called "Homenagem a Zaida Chongo" on which this track features.

Next up we have Helena Nhantumbo, about whom I been able to find out absolutely nothing. But she has a fine pair of pipes and this track from her 2015 album "Niwawena" makes good use of the penny whistle, which is always a plus point.

This edition's Mandatory African Reggae slot is filled by one Ras Skunk. Mr Skunk is a man with a mission whose Bandcamp blurb for his 2018 album "Born In Africa" tells us that "he sings reggae as a ‘Gospel’, in the hope of healing the hearts of the black movement and to encourage peace, love and liberation among all nations". Let's hope he succeeds. 

"Djoni" - Xidiminguana

"Uvuya Uyo Shama Tihamela" - Banda Six

"Txongola" - Ghorwane

 "Alfandega" - Zaida Chongo

"Ahinyoxeni" - Helena Nhantumbo

"I & I In Foundation" - Ras Skunk

Here come the videos. Brace yourselves before watching the last one. Nothing can prepare you for the excessive emoting of Elsa Mangue.

That brings us to the end of a long line of Ms. I'm going to take Bob's advice and stay a week or two, dipping my toes in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, before heading due west to start on the Ns.

Friday 24 May 2024

Squirrel Invasion

Just a quick one today. I have been away for a few days and have some catching up to do.

I hope shortly to have one of my irregular round-ups of some of the new music that the nice folks in Promoland send me. To tide us over until then today we will focus on just one name that might by new to some you - Squirrel Flower (Ella Williams to her Mum and Dad).

Ms. Flower has just started a North American tour to promote her most recent album "Tomorrow's Fire" which came out on Polyvinyl late last year. She will be following that up with gigs in the UK and Europe and to encourage us all to go along Polyvinyl have shared this video of Squirrel and friends performing Neil Young's epic "Cortez The Killer". It can't compare with the original (nothing can) but it is still pretty splendid.

To go with the video we have a track from each of Squirrel Flower's two preceding albums, "I Was Born Swimming" (2020) and "Planet (i)" (2021). All three albums and much more besides can be found on her Bandcamp page.  

"Street Light Blues" - Squirrel Flower

"Deluge In The South" - Squirrel Flower

Monday 20 May 2024

Ångströms In My Pangströms

The other day The George and I were corresponding about an excellent bargain price compilation on the Bongo Joe label called "Black Voices: Solidarity Compilation", which I would heartily recommend (and I think George would too).

In the course of the correspondence George noted that "I am delighted to see a backing band on Track 8 called The Ångströmers, after a unit of measurement I used to work with". Here is Track 8. Chouk Bwa are a six piece from Haiti who regularly team up with The Ångströmers, a Belgian production duo. If you like this there is plenty more at their Bandcamp page.

I have paired "Negriye" with an old favourite from the man they call 'the Italian Van Morrison'. I think it works thematically but no doubt Teacher will correct me if I am wrong.

"Negriye" - Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers

"Lunghessa d'Onda" - Furgone di Piufiglio

Friday 17 May 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 35 - Morocco

The juggernaut rolls on and this week we reach Morocco, a country that I've been lucky enough to visit a number of times over the last 20 years or so. 

On my first visit me and a couple of pals got the ferry from Malaga to Melilla and made our way east along the coast to the Algerian border. On my most recent one in December 2019 I visited Tangier, Tetaoun and - as a treat to myself on Christmas Day - spent one night in a fancy hotel in the seaside resort of Martil. This was the view:

Tangier has been home to many interesting characters over the years, including the American writer and composer Paul Bowles who lived there for over fifty years. He was one of the first people to make field recordings of traditional local music, and our first track by Moqaddem Mohammed Ben Salem from 1959 is one example. You can find it on a compilation of Mr Bowles' recordings released on the Dust-to-Digital label.

I have chosen a more recent field recording next. This one comes from an album called "Ecstatic Music Of The Jemaa El Fna" (the main square in Marrakesh) recorded in 2005. If you have ever been to Marrakesh you will know that all human life and much more beside can be found in Jemaa El Fna of an evening - snake charmers, shysters, sellers of snail-based snacks and musical groups. Troupe Majidi are one of the latter and may perhaps dabble in the others as well for all I know.

I don't know whether the music of either of those acts would technically be described as gnawa music  but it shares some of the characteristics. Gnawa is probably Morocco's biggest contribution to global music and is still influential today. The most prominent of the current wave of gnawa inspired bands is Bab L'Bluz. Their new album "Swaken" came out last week. This track is from their previous album "Nayda!".

After that carefully curated first half things go a bit haywire now. First we have some frenzied Arabic rhythm 'n blues from Fadoul, the James Brown of Casablanca, courtesy of the estimable Habibi Funk label. This track is on the "Habibi Funk 007" compilation but there is a whole album devoted to Fadoul's work which you really need to get.

Also hailing from Casablanca around the same sort of time is "bachelor hairdresser and composer" Abdou El Omari - an odd blurb but that what it says. It goes on to describe "Nuits D'​É​té", the album from which this track comes, as being "an Oriental psych monster from the organ king of Casablanca, combining traditional rhythms with spaced out modern sounds", which sums it up nicely. Vocals by local diva Naima Samih.

We rounds things off with some MAR from Cheb Kader. Kader was one of the pioneers of the modern rai sound and while he has not enjoyed the same level of success as the likes of his friend Cheb Mami he has been extremely influential. "Reggae Rai" comes from his 1986 album "El Awama" and can also be found on the "A Moi La Liberte" electronic rai compilation which I raved about when we kicked the tour off next door in Algeria a year ago last Wednesday.   

"Third Zqel" - Moqaddem Mohammed Ben Salem & Ensemble

"Afriquiya" - Troupe Majidi

"Gnawa Beat" - Bab L'Bluz

"Bsslama Habiti" - Fadoul

"Zifaf Filfada" - Abdou El Omari

"Reggae Rai" - Cheb Kader

As some of you may have spotted we had Eurovision last weekend. I had not realised until I started what passes as research for this series that Morocco once participated Eurovision. They could probably do so again if they wanted to as the national broadcaster is a paid-up member of the European Broadcasting Union, but clearly they decided once was enough (and who can blame them).

The year was 1980, the song was called "Bitakat Hob", the performer was Samira Bensaïd, and they came second to last. They were robbed.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Liza & The Lollipop Man

There are many unbelievable stories that have come out of Hollywood. This is one of them. 

It concerns the great Telly Savalas, who first found fame in the 1960s in films like "The Dirty Dozen" and "Kelly's Heroes" before going on to attain superstar status in the 1970s with his portrayal of lollipop-loving TV cop Kojak.

When the original run of "Kojak" ended in 1978 Telly found himself a bit of a loose end. Thinking back on his chart success with the spoken word smash "If" in 1975, and reflecting on Robert Mitchum's reinvention as a calypsonian in the 1950s, he decided to head to Jamaica to try his hand at toasting.

Once ensconced in Kingston, Telly teamed up with leading producer Joe Gibbs and over the next five years or so put out a steady stream of top notch singles. Many of them featured one or other local female vocalist, all of whom were called Liza on the records. 

You can find a few of the Kojak & Liza singles, including the two below, on a great compilation called "Joe Gibbs Presents Dancehall Stylee 1979-1981" which came out on Cherry Red last year.

Now I have to concede that you probably won't find this story elsewhere on the internet. Wikipedia would have you believe that the 'real' Kojak was one Floyd Anthony Perch who was a big fan of the TV series and so adopted it as his stage name. But as we all know Wikipedia is woefully unreliable.

"Hole In The Bucket" - Kojak & Liza

"Sky Juice" - Kojak & Liza

And now, some of Telly's finest work...

Monday 13 May 2024

Vive La Diff'rence

It has been a while since we had some soul music on here. We are here to put that right with the late great Esther Phillips and a couple of tracks from her excellent 1975 album "What A Diff'rence A Day Makes". 

Many of you will be familiar with the title track which was a Top 10 smash in the UK and crept into the Top 20 in the US (and if you are not you will be shortly). It is a top tune although not representative of the album as a whole.

My assumption is that the home Esther wants the person to whom the first song is addressed to return to is the not the hurting house that she describes in the second one. But I may be wrong. She had a complicated life, old Esther, so who knows. 

"You're Coming Home" - Esther Phillips

"Hurting House" - Esther Phillips

Friday 10 May 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 34 - Mauritius

Before we get to the post proper, a public service announcement. An anonymous commentator on the last African post asked "when you've completed this musical odyssey, how or where will we be able to find the complete 27 Leggies African playlist?". 

I promised them I would put up a link to the audio clips for the whole series when it finally ends. But that is a still a long way off so if you want to catch up in the meantime you can find the first 34 instalments here.

Now on with the tour. We leave the sun-drenched deserts of Mauritania on the Atlantic coast in the west and head to the eastern-most country in Africa, the equally sun-drenched Indian Ocean tropical paradise that is Mauritius. 

Today's post is heavily dominated by 'sé​ga', a traditional music that is believed to have originated among the slave populations of Mauritius and Réunion back in the 19th century. It is thought to be a fusion of music from Madagascar and Europe, and the shuffling beat is certainly reminiscent of dances like the waltz and the polka.

By the 1970s, when we pick up the story, sé​ga was being further fused with other styles like soul, jazz and zouk. There is even a variation called 'seggae' - you can probably work that one out by yourselves. 

The first I heard of sé​ga was back in early 2016 when my friend and former colleague Tulsee, a model Mauritian, tipped me off to a newly released compilation on Strut Records called "Soul Sek S​é​ga". It then briefly seemed to become a thing. A few months later the Bongo Joe label put out "Soul Sega Sa! Indian Ocean Segas From The 70s" and then followed it up with a second volume in 2019. 

We start with two tracks from the Strut compilation, including the one that gave the album its name. It is a tribute to James Brown delivered in fine style by Ti L'Afrique (Roland Fatime), one of the pioneers of the funky sé​ga scene. Dig those crazy moaning keyboards (or at least I think they are keyboards).

He is joined by one John Kenneth Nelson who, according to Strut, "called heavily on séga's rural roots for his guttural vocal style and folk arrangements and was a part of a leading Mauritian musical family alongside two brothers, Harold and Eric (who was known as the local Jimi Hendrix)". I assume that is Eric wrangling away from the 1:42 mark.

Now we hop over to the second volume of the Bongo Joe series where we find Cyril Labonne with this cover of a song by Ti Frere, considered by many to be the father of Mauritian music. I have not found out much about Cyril other than that he was born in a place called Curepipe and released his first record in 1969 at the age of 18. 

There is a lot of overlap in the artists on the three compilations. Cyril is also on Strut and John Kenneth and Mr L'Afrique both pop up on Bongo Joe Volume 1, where we also find ace percussionist Lélou Menwar (real name Stéphano Honoré). Later in his career he chose to be known just as Menwar, which apparently means 'dark hands'. This comes from his 2016 album "Vwayaz Ar Mwa". 

We finish things off with two fine slices of Mandatory African Reggae - or more correctly Mandatory Mauritian Seggae - one old and one new. The old one can be found on yet another Bongo Joe compilation and comes from Ramone whose T-shirts are inexplicably popular with the Mauritian youth. Disappointingly it doesn't start with either "Gabba Gabba Hey" or "1-2-3-4". 

The new one comes from a band called Zilwala. At least that is what they were called in 2017 when they recorded their album "Idantite". It seems they have had some line-up changes since then and these days are known as Zilwala Renesans. Either way this track is a tribute to the late Joseph Reginald Topize (known as Kaya), the seggae pioneer who died while in police custody in 1999.

"Soul Sok Séga" - Ti L'Afrique

"Z'Enfant Misère" - John Kenneth Nelson

"Roseda" - Cyril Labonne

"Ti Lele" - Menwar

"Soul Reggae Prisonnier" - Ramone

"Seggae Mo Lamizik" - Zilwala

We'll sign off now with many thanks to Tulsee and Bongo Joe, without whom etc etc.

Wednesday 8 May 2024

Gospel Wednesday

Please do not be misled by the title of this post into thinking this is the start of a new series. It is not. I just couldn't think of anything clever to put there. Some days it comes easy, some days its a chore. 

The main advantage of taking the 'what it says on the tin' approach to post titles is George can't accuse me of trying to lure him in under false pretences as he did earlier in the week.

The gospel comes from a compilation called "No Other Love: Midwest Gospel 1965-1978" released by the estimable Tompkins Square label. They had a 20% off everything in their catalogue offer running on last Bandcamp Friday so I snapped up a copy. Very good it is too.

"Its Going To Pay" - Brother Randy Wilson

"Rocky Road" - Joanne & Sonny

Back in 2002 another album called "No Other Love" was released by the equally estimable Chuck Prophet. Here he is with the hit.

Monday 6 May 2024

A Case Of Case

Last Wednesday Mr F and I tootled over to not very leafy Leytonstone for an evening with Peter Case, who was ably supported by Sid Griffin (that's him standing on a chair in a rock 'n roll manner).

I have seen Mr Sid before but this was my first time with Mr Case. If you haven't seen him I would recommend checking him out. He puts on a great show, and is quite the raconteur. The stories were almost as good as the songs, with one involving Jerry Lee Lewis, Sheena Easton and the drummer from The Blasters backstage at the Grammys being particularly entertaining.

Mr Case's current tour of UK and Europe is notionally to promote his most recent album "Doctor Moan" although I think he only did a couple of tracks from it ("The Girl In Love With A Shadow" stood out for me). 

The rest of the set was a mixture of originals from across his career and old blues covers of the likes of Memphis Minnie and Sleepy John Estes. Today's selections were two of the highlights. The first has long been a big favourite of mine, the second hasn't but will be now.

"Entella Hotel" - Peter Case

"Ain't Gonna Worry No More" - Peter Case

Before he started his solo career in the mid 1980s Mr Case was the main man in The Plimsouls, and before that he was in a short-lived power pop band called The Nerves. They released one EP in 1976 then split. There the story might have ended if Jeffrey Lee Pierce (who starred in another of Mr Case's tall tales) had not included one of the tracks on a mixtape he made for Blondie. The rest is history.

Friday 3 May 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 33 - Mauritania

We took a break from our virtual journey around Africa while I made an actual journey to Africa, but now I'm back and we're ready to resume. Picking up where we left off in Mali it is just a short trip north-east on the information and real highways to our next destination: Mauritania.

Mauritania is a big old place but one of the least densely populated countries in the world, perhaps not surprisingly given three-quarters of it is desert. One third of the population live in the capital Nouakchott on the Atlantic coast, and most of the rest in the temperature regions south of there down to the border with Senegal.

Despite the relatively small population Mauritania has produced a lot of great music, as you are about to hear. None more so than that created by our first artist, Noura Mint Seymali. She comes from a distinguished musical line - her father Seymali ("mint" means "daughter of") composed the national anthem and her stepmother Dimi Mint Abba was known as "the Diva of the Desert". 

Noura herself has been performing since 2004 and has produced a series of stunning desert blues records since then. This track comes from her 2016 album "Arbina", released on the excellent Glitterbeat label. Today is Bandcamp Friday so if you are looking for things to buy you could do a lot worse than start with that.

We will stick with the distaff side of the Mauritanian scene for our next selection. Malouma is a performer, activist and politician (including a stint as an opposition senator in the national parliament). She has been recording on and off since the mid 1980s. Today's track is the opener on "Desert Of Eden" (1998), her first album released outside the region (on the Shanachie label in the US).

Some men for you now. Two of the three have "Ould" in their name, and using the clue above you can probably work out what that means. The first selection comes from a fantastic 2010 compilation called "Wallah Le Zein!" that brings together some wild and rough and ready sounds.

Featured artists include Noura Mint Seymali's guitarist (and husband) Jeich Ould Chighaly, but I have gone for something by Luleide Ould Dendenni, who carried out similar musical duties for her stepmother the Diva of the Desert. 

Next, some WZN for you. As you hip folks undoubtedly already know, WZN is an electronic take on traditonal music that has apparently become very popular in Mauritania, leading to much head nodding in Nouakchott. Jeich Ould Badu & Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla are among the leading lights of the scene - that's Jeich on the lute with phasers and Ahmed on the keyboards - and this track comes from their modestly titled album "Top WZN". 

"Top WZN" was released on Sahel Sounds who usually have a 'name your own price' offer every Bandcamp Friday so you may want to dash over there now. While you are in the Sahel Sounds site why not check out the eponymous album by L'Orchestre National de Mauritanie as well. 

The orchestra learnt its trade in Guinea under the tutelage of Bembeya Jazz (who we featured when we there), and was active from 1968 and 1975 when one of the many miltary coups in the country's history put an end to it at all. George may wish to note that the chosen track features some decidedly wonky flute. 

We round our visit off with some Mandatory African Reggae from Siré Camara, who describes himself as a storyteller, writer and musician. He has uploaded a selection of tracks to Bandcamp, including this one from 2022. Don't be confused by the title. Despite the spelling it concerns the Russian despot and not the popular Canadian dish of chips, cheese curds and gravy. Both inhumane but one much more so than the other.

"Ghizlane" - Noura Mint Seymali

"Ya Habibi" - Malouma

"Wezin" - Luleide Ould Dendenni

"Kenwall" - Jeich Ould Badu & Ahmedou Ahmed Lewla

"Kamlat" - L'Orchestre National de Mauritanie

"Poutine" - Siré Camara

PS In unrelated news, we lost the great Duane Eddy yesterday. I was lucky enough to see him live once. Top man. RIP Mr Eddy.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

People Are Struggling

While I was in Cape Town last week I took in a bit of culture and visited the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (or the Zeitz MOCAA as it styles itself). It is housed in a converted silo in the Waterfront District and is worth going just to check out the interior.

The building apart, the highlight was an exhibition of posters and other artifacts from liberation struggles of the 1970s and 1980s called 'Past Disquiet'. A lot of it was devoted to the struggle in South Africa itself and neighbouring countries but other parts of Africa and Latin America were also included.

One of the countries featured in the exhibition was Namibia, or South West Africa as it was known back then. Way back in 1985 Robert Wyatt teamed up with the South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) to record the very catchy tune below, perhaps hoping to raise the same level of awareness as The Special AKA had managed the year before. It didn't.

Perhaps fittingly, today is International Workers' Day. Mr Wyatt knows a song about that too. 

"The Winds Of Change" - Robert Wyatt & The SWAPO Singers

"Red Flag" - Robert Wyatt