A friend recently sent me and others a mail asking what sort of music we liked. As opposed to taking up a mail thread with my list, I decided to preserve one here for posterity. Read on:
What’s currently in my compact disk collection
- The Indestructible Beat of Soweto. This is a definitive introduction to mbaqanga, kwela, marabi, shangaan and other musical forms of South Africa. This stuff often gets lumped together under the heading of township jive.
- The Heartbeat of Soweto (Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume III). More goodness from South Africa with some jit and chimurenga influences from Zimbabwe mixed in for good measure.
- South African Rhythm Riot (Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume VI. Spot a theme here? Anything in this series is more than worth the money!) Mostly recent music from South Africa, more techno and synth mixed in with traditional influences. Even still it really kicks and isn’t gutless like synths might imply.
- Township Jazz and Jive. So where did this wonderful music come from? Well listen to this album and find out. Note all the influences from the United States (Jazz, swing, doo wop and early rock and roll) and the Caribbean (Ska, mento and calypso.)
- West Nkosi: Original Sax Jive Hits. This guy was a major influence of shaping the later muscial forms of mbaqanga and umoya. He took the sounds of early rock and roll fused it with native forms.
- Putting on the Light: Mahotella Queens, Mahlathini and Other Stars. Very early recordings of the Queens and the Lion of Soweto. The sound quality of this recordings is mixed but still worth it for completeness.
- Only the Poorman Feel It. Another compilation of recent music from South Africa. Yes, I have a lot of music from South Africa. Really, it’s some of the best music in the world. If you don’t believe that, your’s is a very sad and gray life.
- The Rough Guide to the Music of South Africa. Holy Cow! More music from South Africa, old and new! Can I ever have enough? Just listen to Noise Khanyile and the Jo’burg City Stars–go on, just listen! Any musician named Noise scores major points in my book.
- The Lion Roars. Mahlathini goes solo and teams up with other musicians on this one. The best tracks are when he teams up with Amaswazi Mvelo. I’ve been planning to get more stuff with just the The Queens because they are much, much more than backing singers.
- I think that’s it, but I still wish I had more. South Africa makes the best music in the world.
- The Best of Thomas Mapfumo: Chimurenga Forever. Thomas is one of the best known pop musicians of Zimbabwe. He more or less invented the pop form of chimurenga which combines elliptical melodies of the mbira (thumb piano.) and Shona music with more Western forms. This music was and is often used for cautionary tales and political protest.
- Thomas Mapfumo: The Singles Collection, 1977-1986. More Mapfumo–the deeply inspiring stuff he wrote during the independance war that brought an end to the racist regime of Rhodesia.
- Robson Banda and the New Black Eagles. There are other musical forms aside from chimurenga. Jit is another form. Banda and the Eagles are early examples of jit. Jit, in general, is faster and less somber, reflective and politically charged then chimurenga.
- The Bhundu Boys: Absolute Jit! Live at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. This is another jit band from Zimbabwe. I am sorry I don’t have more of these cats. They are good.
- Virbrant Zimbabwe. This is a large compilation of reggae, jit, chimurenga from Zimbabwe. Tracks 3 and 8 by Ephraim Joe, despite being laments of the trials of daily life, are certain to chase the blues away. Man-soul-jah’s protest reggae would almost certainly land him in prison now, given Mugabe’s sad turn towards tyranny.
- I just wish I had more music from Zimbabwe to share here.
Zaire, Congo and Surrounding Regions
It’s no secret that the lands surrounding the huge Congo river valley are the most war torn and chaotic in the African continent. Perhaps it’s not surprising that some of the most beautiful music in Africa comes from these countries. People need something, right? The music that’s often associated with this region is soukous. Soukous is a sort of nonstop, highly melodic trance and dance music. There are vocals, even long, involved lyrics, but mostly the music is paramount. Soukous pieces tend to be very long. Live performances tend to last until the wee hours or until the band drops from exhaustion. The whole rave scene in the West could learn a thing or two from these folks.
- Soukouss Virbration. This is a French compliation of Dr. Nico’s music. Nico’s band is very modern with lots of synths and full mixing backing it up.
- Compliation/Orchestres de la Generation “Bella-Bella” 1970/1972 Another French compliation of congolese pop music forms that came before soukous crystalized into a style.
- Jeunes Orchestres Zairois 1971/1973/1974/1975 Still another French compilation I have of the roots of soukous. I really need to get more recent soukous music, but when I discover a pop form I like, I want to know where it came from.
Are we sensing a theme here? Africa, Africa, Africa, Africa! I haven’t even got to North Africa yet! What can I say? It’s very hard to find decent music pop music in the West these days. Anyway Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and has many musical forms, which I’ve only just started to scratch. Two of these forms are fuji and afrobeat.
- Fuji Time: Adewale Ayuba. Fuji music derives it’s name from Mount Fuji in Japan. How this connection is made is probably a very interesting story. Anyway, fuji is built from huge bands of musicians, 12 being the small end. Most of them play traditional Yoruba drums and percussion instruments. Fuji is often accompanied with steel or electric gituar and perhaps keyboards.
- Fela. This is actually an illegal bootleg I have. Fela is dead now but he left a huge legacy, single-handedly inventing the style of afrobeat. Almost every one of his pieces is a protest song against the succession of military juntas in Nigeria. Sung in Pigeon, the music is very similar to James Browns best funks. Fela Kuti was deeply inspired by James Brown.
- I had another compliation of African music that actually had a lot more music from Nigeria but I seem to have misplaced it.
Algeria, Morocco and North Africa
Anyone who wants to begin to understand modern Arabic, Middle Eastern and Islamic culture should listen to rai music. This music is banned by reactionaries on the left and right end of the political spectrum in the Arab world. It goes on about sexual escapades, jilted and lost love, drinking all night, slumming it in the dangerous parts of town, taking drugs, political protest against repressive governments of the Middle East, railing against the policy of the post-industrial world and religious ecstacy and mysticism. Rai music doesn’t have many friends in the Establishment of the Arab world, but the people, when they are free to listen to it, love it. It’s played constantly in the Algerian communities of France and has in recent years been used to protest French racism and policy in the Middle East. An example of rai music that many people may have heard was in the science fiction movie, The Fifth Element. In that scene where Bruce Willis hurtles his air cab through the hyperdense buildings of a future New York, Cheb Khaled is belting it out in the background. That was one of Khaled’s milder tunes, but it kicked, didn’t
- Rai Rebels. This is a compliation of rai music from the mid Eighties, so it’s rather dated now but it’s a good introduction to this form of music. I had another CD that had more rai music but
I lost it. Darn shame.
- Trance: Hassan Hakmoun and Zahar. Gnawa music is not rai but there are some similarities that may have been shared in the earlier forms of folk music carried with desert nomads of North Africa. The third track was what sold the disk to me.
I’ll assume that most of you have some idea what ska is. In the last 6 or 7 years I’ve been collecting original or “first wave” ska. Most folks are familiar with the Second Wave. The Second Wave was part of the punk and new wave sound that came out of the UK in the late seventies and early eighties with bands like Madness and UB40.There is also the Third Wave “almost revival” of the early to mid Nineties. But rather than turn this into a musicology lecture, I’ll just cite what I have.
- Roots of Reggae, Ska, Volume I. If you want to know where the UK’s Second Wave sound came from, listen to this.
- Intensified! Original Ska 1962-1966. Another compilation of the roots of ska. The Solomon Gundie and Teenage Ska tracks alone are worth the price of the complilation.
- More Intensified! Original Ska 1963-1967. Basically this whole series is utterly worthwhile. I wish there was a third, forth and fifth volume!
- Latin Ska Volume II. I guess this could be classified as third wave ska. Basically it’s a compliation of ska tunes from all around the Romance speaking world–Italy, Venezuela, Argentina, Basque Country, Barcelona, etc. Ska mixed with the forms of Latin America, Spain and the Latino communities of the United States seems to work astoundingly well. What can I say? Ska is undying. SKA WILL BURY US ALL.
Don’t really know what title to give this music. Surf revival I guess. The surf guitar sound of the early Sixties had a strong influence on the West coast punk and new wave scene of the late Seventies and early Eighties. Just listen to Billy Zoom in X and you’ll hear it. Listen to early Devo (which isn’t the West Coast scene but whatever.) and you’ll hear it. Anyway, in the mid Ninties there was a surf revival of sorts and I bought some disks during that time:
- Man or Astro-Man? Experiement Zero. This stuff took me back to the way Devo used to sound like before the drum machines and cold electronica. Man or Astro-Man? (Always remember that question mark!) uses a lot old-fashioned electronics to make their weirder noises. Reminded me of Mothersbaugh’s earlier experimental days.
- The Amazing Colossal Band: Laika and The Cosmonauts. This is a surf band from Finland and I love them and wish that I could find more of them.
- What Remains Inside a Black Hole: Man or Astro Man? This is a compliation of some of their live stuff and more obscure recordings. I don’t know but I think it’s not surprising that a nerd like me likes MoAM?.
- Is it… Man or Astro-Man? Another compilation of live and B-side stuff.
Music from Other Parts of the World
- Asik Veysel. This is a Turkish compliation of traditional music by a saz player named Veysel. Veysel was a minstrel, an asik, and part of long bardic and poetic tradition in Turkey.
- Deep in the Heart of Tuva: Cowboy Music from the Wild East. Tuvan throat music may sound very strange and dissonant. It’s an aquired taste I guess. Anyway this is a sampler of many of the Tuvan forms both traditional and some with Western pop influences. Just listen for the tracks at the end that mix the blues with throat singing!
- Lee “Scratch” Perry and Mad Professor: Black Ark Experryments. If you are familiar with reggae at all, you know how Lee Perry is.
- Mazaruni: The Jungle Dub Experience. Dub music, to oversimplify, is a form of techno/electronica that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960’s with introduction of high-quality recording equipment. Jungle music is the latest incarnation of dub that’s heavily suffused with sequencers, drum machines and synthesizers and meant for house parties and dance clubs. Of course that’s probably an old definition since things change so quickly in electronica, these days and they invent a new name every 6 months.
Tapes that I own
This collection is smaller and a little more embarrassing to me, to be frank. It’s mostly Western music on major labels here, but I cite it all for completeness.
- Make Way for the Indian. This is an album by Apache Indian. Apache lives and records in the UK but was born in Pakistan. The style of music is ragga. Ragga is a mixture of hip hop and dancehall style reggae with a little qwali thrown in for good measure. This is not Apache’s best work in my opinion and is not to everyone’s taste.
- Doppleganger. Dance/techno from the early Nineties by group called Curve. Vaguely similar to Lush, Cocteau Twins, Danielle Dax or Souxie and Banshees.
- International Times. This is by a group called Transglobal Underground. They’ve done better. I’ve heard their better stuff on the station formerly known at KCMU.
- Dummy. This was the album that made Portishead famous. The sad thing was all their later stuff sounded exactly the same.
- Nozdiv 30 and Toney, The Gathering. These are two tapes of extremely obscure techno from the early Ninties from local DJs in Washington State.
- Four-Calendar Cafe. This tape effectively bookends the interesting part of the Cocteau Twins fame in the 1980s. Sorry, but it’s true.
- Duty Now for the Future and Question: Are We Not Men? Answer: We are Devo! Devo’s best. Everything after these two, I ignore. I am still proud to have and play this.
Music I wish I had
- Hip hop. Yes, more hip hop. Once you sort out all the repetitive, boring dreck, there’s some great stuff in there. I guess the only reason why I don’t have more of it to play is because it’s embarrassing for a white guy at the age of 40 to be seen listening to it.
- Electronica by SeeFeel. They broke up years ago but I wanted to listen to their stuff one more time before I get sick of it and move on.
- More music from Mali. Lord Odinmank just recently helped me to rectify this.
- I’ve been compiliing lists of tunes I liked from KEXP’s playlists over the years. Perhaps with file sharing I can finally do something about it.
Music I don’t want
Any music belonging to nostalgic revivals of decades I actually lived through. If I never heard it before, count me interested. If it’s piped into supermarkets or places trying to be hip, I am not interested. They are planning to revive the music of the Eighties. Argh! Please someone kill me now! I am sick of the nostalgia for decades yet to come!