Sunday, July 29, 2012
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
What is REAL music? For my money it is music that comes straight from the inner part of the human soul where there is no self-consciousness, only joy. It comes through the heart and tumbles out of the mouth and doesn’t even need instruments. You hear it in religious chants, work songs, tribal celebrations and even when the drunks stumble home early in the morning. In India I heard it in the voice of the blind beggars who sang for alms.
It has nothing to do with polish or production. Only soul and closed eyes are required. The album we highlight tonight is about as close as you can get to the bone without killing the singer. It is pure music, unadulterated, simple and very complex and absolutely non-negotiable. Though it is sung by ‘uneducated’ probably, barely literate people who are unafraid to laugh, cough, growl and shout as they sing the music they make sounds as if it came out of the very first volcano on earth. It is hot, cutting and unrelenting. So uplifting and moving too.
It is a collection of gospel ditties, sea shanties and parables from the Bahamas sung by itinerant preachers, pick up guitarists and very powerful speakers of truth. Many of the songs are sung by various members of the Pinder family about which I was able to find this lovely portrait.
The Pinder Family lived in the Bahamas and were descended if not in blood then certainly in spirit from a long line of Island musicians.
Joseph Spence played the guitar and sang, if you can call it that. It's hard to say exactly what he did.
He made low guttural noises, and then would suddenly break into a demented scat.
He would be singing along and his English would descend into complete nonsensical gibberish.
Sometimes he almost sounded like Popeye. But whatever it was he was doing*, you could tell he meant business.
They say he looked like he was going into a trance when he played. The man was almost certainly filled with the Spirit.
And his guitar playing was phenomenal.
Sometimes even to this day while listening to him I wonder if my ears might be playing tricks on me.
Paired along with his voice, his guitar playing could weave incredibly complex rhythms and produce some of the most intriguing music I've ever heard to this day. His lackadaisical and carefree (almost irreverent) style is guaranteed to lighten any mood, and to hear his laugh always puts a smile on my face. Most people unfortunately would dismiss this sort of music offhand, if not because it seemed strange and exotic (and perhaps even frightening!), then because much of it was gospel. But any musician, or anybody with an ear for good music for that matter should immediately recognize its value.
*Actually, the Bahamians refer to this style of singing as "rhyming", and it could almost be considered a precursor to modern rap.
The Pinder family often accompanied Spence, and together they were nothing short of a veritable music machine. Edith sang in a powerfully deep and throaty tenor that reminds me of a Jamaican reggae singer. Her husband Raymond provided a deep and rich bass, while their daughter Geneva warbled along in a flighty treble. You just have to hear them to understand, but I'm telling you it's unbelievable stuff. They sang with an incredible intensity that at times can be almost overwhelming to listen to. The music is simple, but the complexities are astounding. It's truly a wonder to behold. If you've ever heard The Incredible String Band or The Grateful Dead performing their versions of "I Bid You Goodnight" then you've heard their tribute to the Pinder Family. These groups heard the song on an album called The Real Bahamas, a 1965 Nonesuch Records release which has since been re-released. Other musicians who claim Joseph Spence as an influence include Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal, both of whom had the pleasurey to meet and play with him before his death in 1984. (http://spence.bryandeno.net/)
This is where the blues came from. Where almost every form of music in America came from. This could be 1760 rather than 1960. Phenomenal!
01 We'll Understand It Better By And By
02 Sheep Know When Thy Shepherd Calling
03 I Told You People Judgement Coming
04 Don't Take Everybody To Be Your Friend
05 Sailboat Malarkey
06 Up In The Heaven Shouting
07 Won't That Be A Happy Time
08 Out On The Rolling Sea
09 I Am So Glad
10 Come For Your Dinner
11 God Locked The Lion's Jaw
12 Great Dream From Heaven
13 My Lord Help Me To Pray
14 Numberless As The Sands On The Seashore
15 I Ain't Got Long
16 I Bid You Goodnight
17 Mary And Joseph
18 Peter, You Need The Lord
19 Jesus Promised Me A Home Over There
20 Troublesome Water
21 Kneeling Down Inside The Gate
22 Jesus Your Name So Sweet
23 Take Me Over The Tide
24 When The Leaves Turn Red
25 That Glad Reunion Day
26 The Great Coronation
27 The Captain Go Ashore
28 Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold God's Body Down
Monday, July 23, 2012
A while back I posted Thank You Very Quickly by the American-Kenyan group, Extra Golden. A few days ago I found their first album OK-Oyot System going for a song in yet another struggling retail outlet. I grabbed it and have been listening to it all weekend. This is a record that places the electric guitar front and center, whether it be the languid plucking of shantytown Luo rhythms or elongated swathes of American stoner rock. Sound weird? Not at all. These guys work up an entirely pleasurable aural feast that ploughs a deep, but always gentle, groove. That it was recorded in one afternoon session is a wonder to behold.
Some of the other sounds that came to mind as I listened: 3 Mustaphas 3, Black Keys, Cornershop!
Recorded in Kenya under a canopy of personal hardship, sacrifice, and loss, Ok-Oyot System has the type of compelling backstory that seems as though it should automatically translate into a powerful listening experience. The album is a collaboration between Otieno Jagwasi and Onyango Wuod Omari-- both members of the Kenyan group Orchestra Extra Solar Africa-- and Ian Eagleson and Alex Minoff of the D.C.-based group Golden. It's a collaboration that began when Eagleson went to Kenya for a year to conduct research for his doctoral thesis on benga-- a jazzy, guitar-centric strain of dance music popular in Kenya since the 1960s.
As guitarist and vocalist for Extra Solar Africa, Otieno provided much assistance for Eagleson's research; ultimately, Extra Golden were assembled in April 2004 to create and record their unique benga/rock hybrid. Along the way the musicians were forced to overcome numerous obstacles, including a costly run-in with the corrupt Kenyan police force and the effects of Otieno's severe physical ailments. Suffering from kidney and liver diseases that were complicated by HIV, Otieno's health continued to deteriorate after this recording session. He passed away in May 2005.
The title Ok-Oyot is derived from a Luo phrase that means, "it's not easy." This expression is used regularly as an exclamation in benga songs, and needless to say it seems a particularly apt descriptor for Extra Golden's all-too-brief collaborative experience. Yet considering the misfortune that seems to have plagued the album's creation-- and the political nature of some of its lyrics--the music on Ok-Oyot System is not particularly freighted with angry defiance, outward gloom, or self-conscious poignancy. Instead it's an album that sounds very much like what it is: Four talented, enthusiastic musicians playing together as a group for the first time, patiently working through ideas to determine a common musical vocabulary.
The bulk of the album was recorded in a single afternoon, a spontaneous approach that perfectly complements the exuberance of tracks like the opening "Ilando Gima Onge". In the hands of Extra Golden, benga seems an especially malleable genre, one that coarsely blends Indestructible Beat of Soweto propulsion with fluid, almost Cuban-accented rhythms and miles of complex, interlocking guitar figures. On the opener, Otieno adds some appealing, laid-back vocals, but the 11-minute song is dominated by the ambitious dialogue between his guitar and those of Eagleson and Minoff. Both the title track and the deceptively sunny anti-Bin Laden cut "Osama Rach" were written in the studio, held together primarily through Omari's agile, inventive drumming and the group's obvious sense of camaraderie.
01 Ilando Gima Onge
02 It's Not Easy
03 Ok-Oyot System
04 Osama Rach
05 Tussin and Fightin'