Hopefully things are starting to heat up in your part of the world, and there's nothing more potent than some scorching hot music to fan the flames. Whatever it is that may be ailing you, don't let it keep you down~ just sweat it out, kids. Like my grandmama used to always say, sometimes you gotta blaze up if you wanna stay lifted.
Be easy, fam...Scholar
"Funky Hi-Life"---CK Mann & Carousel 7 (LimeLinx)
"Funky Hi-Life"---CK Mann & Carousel 7 (YSI)
CK Mann (aka Charles Kofi Amankwaa Mann) is a renowned Ghanaian musician whose profound impact on the evolution of highlife music has made him a beloved and highly influential artist not only in West Africa, but in many other parts of the world as well.
A self-taught guitarist, Mann's illustrious career began in the 1960s, when he joined Moses Kweku Oppong's band Kakaiku. Once he had fully established himself as an artist, he struck out on his own to form the Carousel 7 , swiftly garnering success with a mega-hit called "Edina Brenya".
I won't torture you by rambling on about the complex history of highlife~ I'm pretty sure that a good many of you snitches are content in believing that the Black Eyed Peas constitute "world music" (although seriously, having an appreciation for "lovely lady lumps" doesn't necessarily make you sophisticated, playa). It's still important to note, however, that highlife music's relevance and viability was greatly threatened in the early '70s by the increasing popularity of the funk and disco movement. It was at this critical juncture that Mann began to innovatively fuse core elements of osode (a music sung by Ghanaian fishermen in the west of the country) and highlife with heavy, funkdafied basslines, effectively saving the genre from extinction.
One of the best records to emerge from this stylistic fusion was undoubtedly "Funky Hi-Life". Originally dubbed "Asafo Beson", this irresistible groove first appeared as the intro to a 1975 album-long party LP. The handclaps, footstomps, and vocals harmonies are reminiscent of highlife's origins, while the thunderous bass and whirling organs gave the track a more contemporary vibe that was favored by the younger generation.
This has long been one of my favorite summer records. Hopefully it will have a similar effect on all of you and get you hoppin' around on your feet and shit. If you've been sprawled out on your couch all winter, it's probably a good time to burn off some of that excess baby fat anyway, children...
"On And On (Deep Focus Remix)"---Erykah Badu (LimeLinx)
"On And On (Deep Focus Remix)"---Erykah Badu (YSI)
Deep Focus (aka Robin Andrews) is an unsigned producer from the UK who is extraordinarily masterful at creating lush electronic soundscapes. In addition to reworking tracks from a variety of genres, he's also dropped quite a few of his own beats on MySpace and his YouTube channel (be sure to check out his joint "Heavy Metal"). While his music is loosely categorized as drum & bass, the majority of his compositions bear a chilled out, relaxed vibe that you won't need copious amounts of amphetamines to appreciate. This reworking of Erykah's classic should serve as a proper introduction...
"Strange Fruit"---Ohene ft. Greg Soundz (LimeLinx)
"Strange Fruit"---Ohene ft. Greg Soundz (YSI)
As strongly as I believe that reinventing, remixing, and reimagining soul music is crucial in maintaining its relevance to coming generations, I get more than a little nervous when anyone tries to fuck around with Nina Simone. My reverence for her artistry runs deeper than I could possibly explain with words, and hacking away at her material to produce lame rap joints or shitty dance tracks is nothing short of blasphemy in my opinion. Consequently, the odds were greatly stacked against me appreciating...let alone endorsing...Ohene's magnificent tribute to the High Priestess of Soul.
What makes this project so outstanding is that Ohene is capable of channeling the same revolutionary spirit that made Nina one of the most impassioned, engaging, and socially conscious artists of all time. Dividing time between his homes in Philadelphia and Ghana, West Africa, this young griot's insightful storytelling and uncanny wisdom are undoubtedly rooted in his unique global perspective. Almost every line he utters is worthy of quotation, introspection and profound meditation, which has led to his work being analyzed and deconstructed in several university classrooms around the United States.
Although it may be challenging for Ohene to survive a climate where meaningful lyricism is progressively falling from grace, his music and message will undoubtedly have a strong and lasting impact on anyone who's willing to openly listen. His tribute to Nina Simone scratches the surface of his capabilities, but he's got several other releases you may want to look into as well. Be sure to cop his new free mixtape, The O Files, via Hip Hop Linguistics.
Dig deeper... (Ohene's MySpace)
"My Love Will Never Die"---Johnny Jenkins (LimeLinx)
"My Love Will Never Die"---Johnny Jenkins (YSI)
Johnny Edward Jenkins was born in 1939 in a rural area east of Macon called Swift Creek. His love for music was nurtured by the country and R&B music he heard playing on the radio, and at age 9, the self-taught guitarist built himself a crude version of the instrument with a cigar box and rubber bands that he played left-handed and upside down. His first performances were held at a gas station nearby, where he honed his skills while attempting to hustle the locals for tip money. After his sister bought him a real six-string, Jenkins grew to be quite a flashy guitar player, and his ostentatious and acrobatic antics had a seminal influence on a young Jimi Hendrix, who was profoundly affected when he saw him perform.
Despite Jenkins' own prodigious talents, the musician is perhaps best known for his somewhat rocky relationship with Otis Redding. After seeing Redding perform at a talent show, Jenkins invited the vocalist to join forces with his blues group, The Pinetoppers. By most accounts, Redding was primarily cast in the uneviable role of running errands and acting as the group's chauffeur.
However, the tides began to turn in Redding's favor when The Pinetoppers were invited to record an album in 1962 for Stax Records in Memphis. The sessions were reportedly disastrous and ended sooner than expected, but history was made when Otis asked if he could use the remainder of their studio time to sing some of his own selections. "These Arms Of Mine" was one of the tracks Redding recorded at that time, featuring Jenkins on guitar and Steve Cropper on piano. The song would, of course, become Otis' breakthrough single, and he alone was subsequently offered a recording contract.
It's often said that Jenkins was invited to join Redding's band, but declined the offer due to an intense fear of flying. However, Jenkins was known to occasionally make unkind remarks about the soul singer, including that he was "hell to get along with" and a bully.
Jenkins recorded a solo LP called Ton-Ton Macoute in 1970, accompanied by Duane Allman and other members of The Allman Brothers Band. Although the album was well received by critics, Jenkins grew weary of the trappings of the music industry and didn't release another solo record until Blessed Blues in 1996. He released two subsequent LPs in the new millenium, Handle With Care and All in Good Time, before dying of a stroke in the summer of 2006.
To be honest, I never checked out any of Jenkins' releases from the second phase of his career, but Ton-Ton Macoute remains a permanent staple at the core of my music collection. His cover of Dr. John's "Walk On Gilded Splinters" is easily the album's masterpiece, and the only reason I didn't offer it at this juncture is because I'm planning to feature it for an episode of a themed post in the near future. "My Love Will Never Die" more than holds its own, however, as a soulful, bluesy ballad that strikes right at the heart of Jenkin's inimitable flamboyance and enviable musical dexterity.
"Days Of Fire"---Nitin Sawhney ft. Natty (LimeLinx)
"Days Of Fire"---Nitin Sawhney ft. Natty (YSI)
Soul children in the UK are likely already well-versed in the versatile and creative talents of Nitin Sawhney, but for my peoples in the U.S., the genre-bending artist is still far from being a household name. It's difficult to observe an economy of expression when describing Sawhney's numerous achievements, but suffice it to say that this award-winning musician has garnered much worldwide acclaim as a multi-instrumentalist, DJ, songwriter, composer, and producer. Having worked with artists such as Paul McCartney, Sting, Jeff Beck, Brian Eno, and Sinead O’Connor, Sawhney has managed to not only establish himself with his growing fanbase, but also with many of the music industry's most high profile celebrities.
His most recent offering, the 2008 London Undersound LP, has largely met with praise and commendation, although the album has also been panned by a handful of the armchair critic elite. Inspired by the bombings of 7/7 and eventual shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the recounting of these tragic events understandably resonates rather deeply with many listeners. The undertaking of this stirring subject matter has, in fact, sparked a bit of controversy that's led to a array of unyielding opinions. Perhaps nowhere is this divergence of sentiment more evident than on the album's opening track "Days Of Fire", sung by Natty, who witnessed the 7/7 bus bombing and was in the Stockwell tube station at the time of the De Menezes killing. Here are a few examples that illustrate the dissenting public viewpoint on the track:
"Opening with hip-hop vocals by DJ Natty over folksy guitars and background samples that mimic half-heard train announcements, 'Days Of Fire' is the kind of first track that makes you both want to smack Sawhney for being so clever and bow down before the fact that he is, as he deftly mixes English and international influences in achingly modern protest songs for the 21st century."~ Music OMH
"Sadly, I can think of no worse start to an album than 'Days of Fire'. Featuring reggae-soulster, Natty, the track describes how Natty got caught up in events on the day Charles de Menezes was fatally shot in Stockwell. Where to begin? Perhaps the general inaccuracies of the story, or maybe just the plain, abhorrent insensitivity of using a tragic murder and miscarriage of justice to bolster your personal point-of-view. The plainest thing that comes to light is the complete selfishness of Londoners; there is no art in a smug exploitation of art masquerading as moral explanation."~ Drowned In Sound
"Natty's opening commentary on the shooting is impassioned but his Marley-lite voice can't convey the true horror."~ the BBC
"Starting with 'Days of Fire', reggae singer Natty speaks of somber realizations about how the citizens of the capital, and himself personally, have been affected by 7/7 and other disasters. The lyrics of the songs describes how things changed after the terror attacks. Natty sounds honest as he progresses with his description - one of the best on the album."~ Radioandmusic.com
"Natty’s gravelly delivery is strained in places, hinting desperation, to a deeper, lower approach, sounding somewhat detached and desensitised. In other places, he jaunts along as he talks us through his actions and his frame of mind throughout. Instrumentally simplistic and repetitive in its acoustic arrangement with only Natty traversing verbally, it only serves to effectively heighten his emotional state in his vocal tonal changes thus being extremely lyrically aware."~ DIY
There you have it, kids. Since there's a fair amount of geographic distance between myself and these dreadful events, I couldn't possibly weigh in on the intricacies of the song's merits in any meaningful way~ my goal, as always, is merely to provoke thought and emotion on the part of my readers. As a fan of Sawhney's work, I would implore you to explore his discography, but as far as how you receive it...well, that part's up to you.
"Love Is Pretty"---The Lovelites (LimeLinx)
"Love Is Pretty"---The Lovelites (YSI)
The Chicago-based Lovelites' foray into music began when three high school girls~ Patti Hamilton, her sister Rozena Petty, and Barbara Peterman~ joined forces in the 1960s. In 1968 Peterman left and was replaced by Ardell McDaniel, a year before the group scored a fairly impressive hit with "How Can I Tell My Mom & Dad". The song's lyrics seem to imply the theme of teenage pregnancy, a subject still widely considered as taboo at the time of the record's release.
On the strength of this one single, the vocalists were afforded the opportunity to found their own label, Lovelite Records, in 1970. The group endured further line-up changes and enjoyed success on the R&B charts with "My Conscience" in 1971, but by 1973 their label had folded and the members had gone their separate ways.
The Lovelite Years compilation passes over a few gems from their canon of works, but for the most part, it's a fairly solid retrospective. "Love Is Pretty" is so endearing, you can't help but embrace its syrupy optimism. Released as the flip side of the "Bumpy Road Ahead" single, the song's sentimental flavor is bound to satisfy your cravings for something sweet with absolutely no worries about tooth decay.
"Where Is My Boy?"---Faultline ft. Chris Martin (LimeLinx)
"Where Is My Boy?"---Faultline ft. Chris Martin (YSI)
Faultline is the moniker for DJ/producer David Kosten, an electronic musician whose affinity for synthesizers was cultivated after he burst a lung while playing clarinet for the National Youth Orchestra. This experimentation with new sounds ultimately led to the release of his Closer Colder LP in 1999, followed by Your Love Means Everything in 2002. The latter album was re-issued a couple of years later by Capitol/EMI, bearing a slightly revamped tracklisting.
Your Love Means Everything is a magnetically charming LP, imbued with a quiet melodrama and fragile ambience that allows for a thoroughly intimate listening experience. While the album boasts a number of accomplished guest vocalists, the main selling point is undoubtedly its spellbinding synthesis of gripping emotion and musical innovation.
I only find myself skipping through a couple of tracks on the album, but only one stays on repeat~ Chris Martin's profoundly haunting tale of lost innocence known as "Where Is My Boy?". This song, as well as the title track, were recorded by Martin before Coldplay became the worldwide juggernaut that it is today, and perhaps that's part of why it sounds so plaintive and honest. It must become exceedingly difficult to convey heartbreak and desperation when you're filthy rich, playing at packed arenas, and choosing baby names from the fruits and vegetables category...but what the fuck do I know?
Kosten apparently has nothing but positive regard for the Coldplay frontman: "With Chris, it wasn't a huge leap to imagine major success happening. So it feels good to be right, but more to the point I’m really happy with what he did on the record – it still stands up."
Martin apparently doesn't share these same warm and fuzzy sentiments about the collaboration. He's been quoted as saying that he's doesn't like "Where Is My Boy?" and is embarrassed by his performance on it. He obviously has a right to his opinion, but then I'm also entitled to think he sounded far better before he plummeted into such shameless douchebaggery. Just joking, kids...settle down.
"Shook (Sigur Rós vs. Mobb Deep)"---Emancipator (LimeLinx)
"Shook (Sigur Rós vs. Mobb Deep)"---Emancipator (YSI)
This mash-up was first released about 100 years ago (okay...maybe more like three), but for some inexplicable reason, it's been spreading across the internets like wildfire for the past couple of months. Which really makes me wonder, kinda like swine flu~ what's the pig deal all of a sudden? (Awwwwwww snap...that was cheap)
I first came across this bizarre phenomenon while checkin' to see if Emancipator had dropped any new projects or remixes lately. My query elicited an extraordinary abundance of search results for blogs and websites that were featuring this timeworn mix, and since I was at work (the only respectable place on Earth to kill time), I was actually bored enough to count how many times this track had been featured since April. I think I stopped at about 253, when I finally buckled under the glare of my boss' freaky evil eye.
What made this whole exercise in monkey-see monkey-do especially weird was that a large number of these posts were prefaced by a desperate-to-be-the-popular-kid disclaimer, such as: I know I'm late to the party, but I hope that you still believe in the weak-ass powers of my uber-geek hipsterdom and blahhh blahhh gurgle boo hoo blahhh.
Accordingly, there are a few life lessons to be learned here, children:
1) 99.9% of people are actually just sheeple in disguise.
2) Never apologize for being late to a party. If you have the right swagger, you can pimp limp into that bitch 40 years after it's over, and still look mad fly doin' it. Those jive turkies who had their mommies drop them off early might be supermad that you're superbad, but screw it...
3) Emancipator truly is an amazing talent~ it's not his fault that 253 of his fans are silly fucks. 254 if you rightfully include me in the mix...
Dig deeper... (Emancipator's MySpace)
"Get Down (Nick James Remix)"---Nas (LimeLinx)
"Get Down (Nick James Remix)"---Nas (YSI)
One of my most highly anticipated upcoming releases won't get any of the fanfare showered on mediocre major label artists, but it's destined to be one of the hottest efforts to drop this summer. Oakland producer Nick James is in the process of wrapping up his John Coltrane Project, a collection of instrumentals featuring samples of the jazz legend's finest material. Himself the son of an avant-garde jazz musician, James' production is heavily influenced by many of the genre's most accomplished artists, including Miles Davis, Archie Shepp, Ahmad Jamal, and McCoy Tyner. Combine those sensibilities with a penchant for Prince, Outkast, Talib Kweli, Jimi Hendrix, Madlib, Nina Simone, Pete Rock, Al Green, and J Dilla, and you have a production wizard who's drawing from the best possible pool of musical influences to craft his supreme beats.
This Nas redux is just one example of James' limitless artistic capabilities. Keep up with him via MySpace and The Free Experience: A Subsidiary of Nick James Music where you can freely download his remix projects, as well as some of the original material he's sampled on them.
Word From Your Moms:
"If there is a transmigration of souls then I am not yet on the bottom rung. My life is a hesitation before birth."
"Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate... but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins."
"We all have wings, but they have not been of any avail to us and if we could tear them off, we would do so."
~All above quotes by Franz Kafka