Since we were just talking about Jamaica, I can’t help but share a song that has been haunting me off-and-on for a couple weeks. Authentic Jamaican Folk Songs is a collection of “work” and “spiritual” songs from the internationally acclaimed choral group, Frats Quintet. While their song Mongoose (or any of their work for that matter) doesn’t fit my usual dance floor-focused flavor, their rich vocal range and playful lyrics are comforting and somehow familiar.Give it a listen, and see if it’s not stuck in your head for at least the afternoon! – Smokestack
For me, half the fun of searching for old vinyl records is found in the unforeseen stories and experiences that unravel with every new record digging adventure. One could argue that hunting for music online similarly uncovers some interesting artifacts, but scour your local flea market or try finding the last remaining record store in town while traveling the globe and you’ll find the computer just doesn’t compare! Here’s a short list of surprises that have turned up in the last year while in pursuit of my next blog entry….
- Someone’s family photos from the 1920’s, in a record sleeve
- Hand written song lyrics and love notes, also in a sleeve
- A toilet plunger used as a 45 rack! (the seller said the plunger was unused)
- Unopened bottles of whiskey from the 60’s
- Met an original recording artist from a local funk band from the 70’s, and helped him fix his broken keyboard
And, of course there’s the life stories that every old collection you’re flipping through has to tell. For example, what exactly is going on when you find a sealed copy of a local funk EP in a collection full of country records? Or, how about the lone cumbia 45 that was trashed and buried in a pile of Broadway show tunes in pristine condition? Here’s a more recent discovery that surprisingly turned up in a pile of weathered jazz albums.
None Shall Escape is an independently released collection of excerpts, largely from a forum on Caribbean politics, held in San Francisco in 1983. According to The Anarchist Library, the edited commentary belongs to former frontline organizer and workers union activist Fundi. The site features Fundi ‘s writings and includes the following introduction…
The basis for his (Fundi’s) critical analysis of Grenada and the English-speaking Caribbean comes from a history of first-hand experiences with collective revolt in Jamaica.In 1967 he worked as a refrigeration mechanic at Western Meat Packers in the parish of Westmoreland. This area of Jamaica has the largest meat packing plant and the largest sugar refinery in the Caribbean outside of Cuba. Fundi was one of many workers who started the first strike in the history of Western Meat packers when a woman co-worker was fired for refusing to stand in a puddle while working on tile assembly line.
By Jamaican law and institutional practice, workers must keep working while the dismissal of a Co-worker is being challenged. But in this instance, tile meat packing workers spontaneously shifted the fate of rebel workers from union office negotiators to instantaneous strike action.Later in 1968, Fundi again became involved in a six week strike of sugar workers at the West Indies Sugar Company. This led to the formation of a broad-based Sugar Workers Council which took the government and unions by surprise.
The ongoing conflict between autonomous workers action and union/state representation has been detailed by a group of Caribbean Situationists in the LP recording “None Shall Escape.” In that album Fundi describes the resistance against hierarchical, representational forms of organization by Caribbean radicals:
From the start we saw through the fraud of the “independent” unions that ground up the meat packing and sugar factory workers. We decided that the union bureaucracy must stop; that there should not be any mediation between us and the boss for this has been responsible for suppressing confidence in ourselves to take up the total task of ending capitalism. So we took control of our union dies. We developed the capacity for instant strike action. We had meetings on the factory compound and the farms during work hours against the wishes of the boss and traditional unionism. We took control of the canteen. Such actions are the bedrock of direct participation which stands in truth against the lies of centralized leadership.
Wow, we really went down the rabbit hole! If you’ve made it this far, perhaps you now want to hear Fundi speak for yourself?…
I like the new year’s resolution, Pozole! I’ve also been feeling like it’s time to turn up the heat around here. Luckily Pozole and Smokestack have been doing just that for a while, but it’s time to do my share. Here are two records I’ve been meaning to track down for a couple of years (without paying a fortune for them), and finally got a hold of.
We keep coming back to Fruko; we’re neither the first ones nor the last ones to pay tribute to him. You probably know El Preso. Classic! But the man is behind so much more of our favorite Colombian music (Michi Sarmiento, Corraleros de Majagual, Wganda Kenya, Afrosound, Joe Arroyo, Latin Brothers…) and was pretty fundamental in shaping the sound of Colombian salsa in the 70s: rooted in the cumbia tradition, and incorporating a Nuyorican style horn section, a punk rock attack, and a good dose of flower-powered experimentation.
Fruko y sus Tesos started out heavy with “Tesura”, of which supposedly there are only 400 copies. How’s this for an introduction?
One of my new years resolutions was to post more of my favorite records. I was reviewing my posts over the last 2 years and I was disappointed that I’ve only posted 1 kompa record (Gemini All Stars de Ti Manno). I have a decent collection of classic Haitian groups many of which I listen to on a daily basis. I’m now determined to post more of my favorites over the next few months.
To start off, I’d like to spotlight one the most beautiful kompas you’ll likely ever hear. Franz has previously featured Les Shleu Shleu‘s 1974 release Toujous Le Même 4-3, but I’d like to go back to their fourth album from 1969 Tête Chauve. I know, that cover is jarring, yet hard to look away. Tete Chauve means “Bald Head”, and the title song is Tete Chauve A New York so it makes sense, but maybe not. Anyway, the song I’d like to highlight here is Timidite. It’s an amazing piece of music that features Georges Loubert Chancy on sax. What comes out of his instrument is pure magic, specifically half way through the song where he enters in with a melody that somehow manages to simultaneously give you both joyful soothing tones and bitter remorseful ones at the same time. Combined with those reverb guitars and Kompa style chanting make a stunning piece of music. Enjoy!
Timidite by Les Shleu Shleu
Speaking of African guitar stylings, music compilations, and John Storm Roberts….here’s another noteworthy compilation from his Contemporary African Music Series from the 80’s – the first of the series, I believe. At the time I found this and still today, I know very little about any kind of music from Kenya. No worries! All you need are open ears and an open mind!
The Nairobi Sound celebrates two contrasting, but equally soulful popular 60’s-70’s guitar styles from Nairobi’s bustling streets – “River Road” music referring to an area of town rich in recording facilities and the “dry guitar” or acoustic style reminiscent of the village musician. Storm Roberts, an accomplished journalist, author, and record producer, devoted his life to studying Afro-latin folk music traditions. Here’s what he writes about his experiences in Kenya in the Nairobi Sound liner notes.
…Unlike Ghana’s highlife or the all-pervasive music of Zaire, this was not primarily a dance style. Nairobi’s nights are too cool for the open-air dance halls that nourished so many musicians elsewhere, and Congolese refugees got most of the jobs in the few joints there were.
That left the record companies: store in front, studio in back, tiny loudspeakers outside. The musicians – even the best known – were too poor to own their instruments, but mostly too much musician to hold down other jobs even if other jobs were to be found. So they hung out in the studios, and jammed, and dreamed up songs to reflect the dusty realities of the streets outside….
…There was also an acoustic style mysteriously known as “dry guitar”, that was more rural in origin and practice. Dry guitar – two guitars in its classic format, backed by percussion that usually consisted of two Fanta bottles – was an extension of what you could hear played by a man sitting on a corn sack waiting for a bus on some remote roadside. It tended to be more varied than River Road music, perhaps becasue the singers were closer to their traditional roots, and certainly because they often sang in Kikuyu (Wanjiru Wanjiru) or Luo (Elias Odede), or any one of Kenya’s 40-plus languages, rather than in Swahili…
And now hear are a few tunes from Nairobi Sound that I can’t get enough of, two of which come from unidentified musicians. Check the vocals on Chemirocha, so good!!!
To read more about OG RECORD DIGGER JSR check out this interview he did with the good people at Perfect Sound Forever.
Thum nyatit solo – Unidentified
Elias Odede – Dick Ngoye & Party
Once upon a time I couldn’t be bothered with compilations. Why not go straight to the source, I thought. Well, that shortsightedness eventually gave way as I found myself listening to large dosages of Ethiopian Jazz around 2003. With no plans to go record digging in East Africa and being too poor (and uninterested) in shelling out $100 plus for a single piece of vinyl on Ebay, the Ethiopiques series was my next best option!
Since then my eyes have opened to the ever-increasing number of compilations that are released each year, documenting even the smallest of musical niches, say like…cinematic Pakistani Psych-Pop or Peruvian Psych-Rock. Who knew such genres even existed?!
While finding original vinyl pressings remains hard to trump, over the years my appreciation for carefully crafted compilations has continued to grow. Just within the wild resurgence of West African music in recent years, labels like Sound Way, Strut, and Analog Africa have dedicated countless time to researching, locating, remastering, and releasing lost and forgotten music from a large part of the African continent. My favorite of these comps are chalked full of incredible artwork, photos, history and interviews with the original recording artists!
While earlier compilations of African music that came out during the 1980’s “World Music” awakening may not compare to the sleek packaging and dense liner notes of today’s comps, the musical content is often just as deep. Check out for example, The Sound of Kinshasa, an early 80’s compilation highlighting the influence of acoustic “Spanish” guitar and Latin rhythms on traditional Congolese music. Compiled and released by the British-born ethnomusicologist John Storm Roberts on his own mail-order label Original Music, The Sound of Kinshasa does an excellent job exemplifying the connections between Latin dance music such as rumba, chachacha, and salsa with Congolese rhythms like kirikiri, soukous, and boucher.
Featured here are 4 of my favorite selections from The Sound Of Kinshasa. Enjoy!