AQUARIUS RECORDS…. AFRICA
V/A Zimbabwe: The African Mbira of the Shona People (Nonesuch) cd 12.98
Another excellent reissue from the Nonesuch Explorer series, this one originally released in 1971. The mbira, in common vernacular often called a « thumb piano », is any number of instruments consisting of a board in which metal prongs of different lengths have been attached, the plucking of which produces a beautiful muted bell-like tone. The core of the songs here are repeated melodic patterns plucked on the mbira. The mbira player is accompanied by a percussive rattle (hosho), while the two players together form vocal melodies derived from the pattern meted out by the mbira. The songs are wonderfully cyclical, with ever subtle inflections added to the melody by gradual turns. Lulling, elliptical and simply wonderful.
RealAudio clip: MARAIRE, DUMISANI ABRAHAM « Misorodzi »
RealAudio clip: MARAIRE, DUMISANI ABRAHAM « Ndini Baba »
V/A Zimbabwe: The Soul of Mbira: Traditions of the Shona People (Nonesuch) cd 12.98
Possibly the most highly represented ethnic group in this collection — at least in the African portion — the music of the Shona account for three separate albums in the Explorer Series. I suppose that may not be so surprising as the mbira — or as it’s more commonly called the « thumb piano » — has enjoyed a certain preferential treatment in the U.S. when it comes to exposure, due to its dulcet tones. And if there ever was a group who could lay claim to being masters of the mbira, I suppose it would be the Shona. And the backlash that follows is a lament that mbira music is the type of music you can give your grandma as a present without offending her. A built in nu-age predisposition. But, so fucking what. Yeah, sure, a lot of opportunistic world beat and nu-age artists have exploited the instrument’s disposition, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy an instrument for our ears. And hearing it played in a cultural context sans nefarious commercial interests ought to wipe out any negative associations. The Soul of Mbira was originally released in 1973.
RealAudio clip: ERICK & MONDRECK MUCHENA « Taireva »
RealAudio clip: MUCHATERA MUJURU « Nyamaropa Yevana vaVaMushonga »
V/A (ESHETE, ALEMAYEHU) Ethiopiques Vol. 22 : More Vintage! (Buda Musique) cd 15.98
When it comes to stunning consistency of excellence it doesn’t get much better then the Ethiopiques series. Twenty plus releases and they have yet to release a dud. Last time out they focused their attention not on the vintage era of the grooves of Ethiopian pop but instead it was a brand new recording of tender and solemn solo piano by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou, a record which we totally fell in love with. With volume 22 the series flashes back to the past for another big dip into the vaults of Alemayehu Eshete, one of the biggest stars from the golden-age of Ethiopian music who alongside Mahmoud Ahmed, Tlahoun Gessesse and Mulatu Astatke helped define that sound. In fact Eshete was previously the star of the ninth volume of the Ethiopiques series as well. But judging from this release, the man left a very sizable legacy, as this disc is filled with absolute treasures without a throwaway track in sight.
With instrumentation that’s so tight, and breaks that would make any lover of psych/kraut/rare groove’s jaw drop, this is a collection that we’ve already been spinning over and over ever since it came in to AQ. Eshete’s voice and presence feels so sure and confident, with a unique vocal style that’s been compared to an Ethiopian James Brown crossed with Elvis Presley. There are moments in these songs that catch such deep grooves and moments that sound like they could be pulled straight from a Can song. You just can’t beat the warmth of these stripped down analog recordings. You want to be in a room filled with smoke and candles when you listen to this. Eshete made such amazing songs that just drip with sweat, while oozing elegance too. Highly recommended!
MPEG Stream: « Tenageri »
MPEG Stream: « Yebeqanal »
VIEUX FARKA TOURE s/t (World Village) cd 17.98
There is a long tradition of famous offspring failing to achieve the same level of success and/or artistry as their more talented folks (Jacob Dylan, Lisa Marie Presley, Julian Lennon, Ziggy Marley, etc…) So you can understand why we might have had some reservations when we heard that the son of the late great Ali Farka Toure, was coming out with his own album. Those reservations disappeared the second we pressed play. We were immediately swept away by the soulful and richly melodic sounds of Vieux’s amazing music. There is no doubt that he was blessed with much of the musical talent his father possessed, and it’s obvious that this music needed to be heard. His dad had actually forbidden him to play music when he was growing up as he didn’t want him to face the same hardships that he did. Luckily Vieux rebelled, unable to suppress the music that clearly flows through is veins. This debut is so good! There is of course a deep similarity to the sound of his father, but in a way that feels so connected and yet with a soul of its own. Ali Farka actually appears on the record on two tracks, the last recordings he made before his passing last year. Toumani Diabate, the renowned kora master also plays on the record adding a layer of delicate beauty to Vieux’s songs. It’s funny how Vieux actually means old in French, and in so many ways when you listen to his songs, despite his young age there is a richness and quality and timelessness to his voice and music that has you feeling like you’re listening to the music of an old-soul. In many ways this is like a calmer side to the great new Tinariwen record we are still so in love with. A wonderful debut and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for Vieux!
MPEG Stream: « Sangare »
MPEG Stream: « Diabate (Featuring Toumani Diabate) »
MPEG Stream: « Wosoubour »
WERQU, ASNAQETCH Ethiopiques Vol. 16 : The Lady With The Krar (Buda Musique) cd 15.98
Reason #16 for sticking with the Ethiopiques series: ‘cuz just when you think you’ve got the series pegged, along comes something from way out in left field to kick your generalizing ass. And that’s exactly what Asnaqetch Werqu did to ours. So no, this is not another funk groove record — for those of you who may have had enough of that. Like the Harp Of King David (Ethiopiques #11) that was released back in 2001, The Lady With The Krar is more of a « traditional » Ethiopian music disc. Culturally though, the Krar is the polar opposite of the Beguena and considered quite literally to be « the devil’s instrument ». The performer of this demi-satanic instrument, along with holding the claim to fame of being the first actress to appear on the Ethiopian stage, arose against the odds to acheive super star status as a sort of Woody Guthrie meets The Bard political minstrel performer. This is because Asnaqetch Werqu was not born into a family of performing musicians, a caste known as Azmari. Instead she acquired her fame through sheer lyrical, improvisational and musical prowess. A five (sometimes six) stringed lyre with a gut resonator, the Krar sounds not unlike an old-time five string banjo; though with its creepy tuning it sounds closer melodically to something out of Java than the Appalachians. Werqu accompanies her vocals with the Krar, playing a semi-paralleling melody to her vocal line. The interweaving of Werqu’s soft, lilting voice and the percussive twang of the Krar is absolutely hypnotic. Andee almost immediately proclaimed this his new favorite in the series, to give you an indication of the magnitude of this recording. Highly recommended! Comes with a 30 page booklet with biographical liner notes, lyrics and historical photos. The 22 tracks included on this disc were taken from two LPs recorded by Werqu in 1974 and 1976.
MPEG Stream: « Mengedegnaw Lebe »
MPEG Stream: « Shemonmwanayewa »
X PLASTAZ Maasai Hip Hop (Out Here) cd 16.98
Included on the end of the Bongo Flava compilation (see AQL #216), X Plastaz are one of the biggest names in Tanzanian hip hop — hence the release of this disc, a closer examination of their music. You’d never know to listen — unless you can speak Swahili and Haya — but the music of X Plastaz is steeped in social and political activism. Criticizing corrupt politicians, speaking out against violence, theft and unemployment. And while the Tanzanian hip hop scene in its infancy certainly owed much, if not imitated directly, the hip hop music coming out of the U.S., the Bongo Flava groups take just as many cues from dancehall, Indian film music and — in X Plastaz case — traditional Maasai chanting. The latter is what makes X Plastaz stand so far out from the Bongo Flava crowd: including in their crew a Maasai warrior on vocals. The Maasai are rural people, who still live in tight knit villages and follow age old traditions long since foresaken by the modernized urban Tanzanian population. Further, the Maasai are seen as backward by the urban Tanzanians. So along with being looked down upon by older, more conservative Tanzanians for partaking in this « degenerate » musical form, they stand apart from their young, urban counterparts. Pretty damn punk rock when you consider it. As a bonus, two videos of X Plastaz are included on the disc.
MPEG Stream: « Masimu Kwa Msimu »
MPEG Stream: « Ushanta »
ZAP MAMA Ancestry In Progress (V2) cd 16.98
Zap Mama’s new album, Ancestry In Progress, moves further into full-on cohesion of Afro and Euro pop sensibilities brought about by the group’s leader, Marie Daulne. This album symbolizes a coping with personal trauma she endured as a young girl in strife-ridden Congo (then Zaire). Daulne notes that the songs on this album are crafted from common approaches to music-making shared by both African and African-American musicians. Starting out with loops, building on them, shaving away elements unnecessary, building, and so on, like sculptors of Euro-Afro-hip-pop. Zap Mama is the modern, urban Sade of our time.
MPEG Stream: « Sweet Melody »
MPEG Stream: « Vivre »
ZU Igneo & Remixes (Frenetic) cd 14.98
Italian hardcore jazz attack! We’re big fans of these guys, and were happy to get to see ’em play in San Francisco earlier this summer. A super intense performance indeed, with the saxophone practically used as a percussion instrument alongside the thrashing drum battery, and the electric bass being utterly brutal, this nimble instrumental « jazz trio » was almost metallically heavy, and definitely were mindblowingly tight and technical. It’s no wonder that the Steve Albini-recorded Igneo bears a dedication to The Ex. This new Zu is actually a 2001 album, at last brought out in the States by our pals at the Frenetic label, who have added on four bonus tracks, all of ’em creative remixes from a surprising quartet of remixers, from backgrounds as diverse as underground hip hop to experimental drone: DJ Olive, DJ Andy Moor, Dalek (who adds a rap vocal, that works in context), and Giuseppe Ielasi. Pretty neat. The album itself also boasts some heavy guests, well-known Chicago indie jazz cats Ken Vandermark, Fred Lomberg-holm, and Jeb Bishop. So if blitzkrieging (but beauteous too) free jazz / math rock is your thing (if you’re a fan of the likes of John Zorn, Alboth!, and the Flying Luttenbachers) and you haven’t heard Zu, this is the disc to get! And by the way, there’s a song here entitled « Solar Anus » — not a Skullflower cover, nor anything to do with the Japanese band of that name. Just another Bataille reference we must suppose.
MPEG Stream: « Eli, Eli, Elu »
MPEG Stream: « Muro Torto »
MPEG Stream: « Igneo Giuseppe Ieliasi Remix »
ZU Way of the Animal Powers (Xeng) cd 15.98
THIS IS CURRENTLY OUT OF PRINT OR OTHERWISE UNAVAILABLE TO US AT THE MOMENT, SO PLEASE DO NOT ORDER IT. SORRY.
Props to Brian Turner at WFMU for re-introducing us to this band. We always sort of dug Zu, a pretty cool weird sort-of jazz outfit from Italy. But hearing Zu’s « Tom Araya Is Our Elvis » on the radio knocked our blocks off. Woah! What kind of jazz group could come up with a track like that. A skronking sludgy punch to the guts. Hypnotically repetitive and all right, we’ll say it, HEAVY! Since when was it okay for a jazz group to channel Slayer and just CRUSH? Who cares! Zu is our ‘heavy jazz’ drug of choice now. And the title of the track that got us hooked? Perfect! Because Tom Araya IS our Elvis. This whole record is a dense tangled blast of downtuned artmetal deathjazz. Imagine Morphine, on, er, well, morphine. Dark and druggy, stumbling, convoluted and complex, a stuttering staggering drums, bass and horns battle royale. But this is not about skree as much as it is about the slithery lowslung skronk, liberally peppered with subtle scrabbly scattery percussive shuffle and moaning droning cello. So fucking great!
MPEG Stream: « Tom Araya Is Our Elvis »
MPEG Stream: « Anantomy Of A Lost Battle »