Music is human. And here, King of Bongo will show you the best music available on the internet. What you will find: a vibrant source of sounds and vibes, grooves and noise, some you will never have heard before. Are you ready to go on the journey?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Session 14: Hammond Heaven - The Music of Dr Lonnie Smith

Dr Lonnie Smith
Hammond B3 - mighty instrument of Jazz gods?
Turban-toting Dr Lonnie Smith (who must hate being confused with Lonnie Liston Smith) sure has a funky mojo. Currently busy with re-interpreting Scientologist rock twiddler Beck's oeuvre into a jazz groove (... why?), Dr Smith's pedigree runs long 'n' deep.

Rescued from practicing Hammond organ in music shops by none other than George Benson, with whom he cut four studio albums between '66 and '73, Smith also hung around with Lou Donaldson. It was from this partnership that the masterful 'Alligator Boogaloo' (or Bogaloo as spelled on the sleeve) was born in 1967.

The first slice of true funk for the jazz label Blue Note, 'Alligator Boogaloo' was an unholy blend of Donaldson's alto sax, and the good Doctor's screaming Hammond - he makes that beast shriek! The cats liked it too, and Alligator Boogaloo twisted Blue Note's A&R policy for a few years.

Such overkill on the part of the label of course created a backlash - the groove had to go underground, whilst the cats moved on. Some would say that Jazz never recovered from its meddling with soul and funk; fusion was the logical outcome, and jazz disappeared up its own arse for a while...

But, in August 1969, Dr Smith, Rudy Jones (tenor sax), Ronnie Cuber (baritone sax), Larry McGee (guitar) and Sylvester Goshay (drums) were possessed by a true funk groove - but slow 'n' dirty, the likes of which hadn't been heard too many times before. The album 'Move Your Hand' originally had 4 tracks, with one criminal omission, cut due to its inordinate length. 'Dancin' In An Easy Groove', a 12 minute grinding soul groove, had to be left on the floor.

This unfortunate event has since been rectified, and Blue Note have reissued the album complete with the extra track. But, King of Bongo has it here for you!

So, something extra special today - get ready for a blistering 16MB download (sorry 56k modem-heads!), of one of Dr Lonnie Smith's lost grooves:
Dr Lonnie Smith: Dancin' In An Easy Groove (1969) [mp3 | 11:54 mins | 192 kbps | 16.3 MB]
Lonnie Smith: Move Your Hand Buy "Move Your Hand (Live)" by Dr Lonnie Smith from Amazon
File under:
[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]
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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Session 14: Fania All Stars

Pic: El Nuevo Cojo
Fania All Stars
In the late '70's Johnny Pacheco's label Fania, suffering a disappointing distribution deal with Columbia Records, was coming to the realisation that much of the world was not ready for its 'salsa', (as the generic term for all music Latin).

Having enjoyed a meteoric rise from their roots in '68, in-house band Fania All Stars, fresh from wowing audiences in Puerto Rico, Chicago, Panama and New York, prepared to take the stage for the world-conquering appearance at Kinshasa in Zaire with Stevie Wonder, on the occasion of the Rumble in the Jungle: Ali v. Foreman. Fresh from this illusory victory, Fania entered into the afore-mentioned deal.

Figures didn't add up and ideas didn't gel in this relationship. A crossover album with a core group of All Stars and Steve Winwood resulted in something as bad as it sounds it would be (and, for God's sake, it couldn't have sounded like a good idea even in 1976), and several other projects continued in the same vein, with few highlights. Fania released a crossover swansong from 1979, Havana Jam, a live album featuring those authentic Latin stars Billy Joel, Rita Coolidge, and Kris Kristofferson....

And so at the start of the '80s salsa had run out of steam as a force in popular music, and Fania even slipped in the Latin music scene as merengue and other styles found favour. But nowadays much of the Fania All Stars output comes in for a friendlier reception, and reassessment shows that, hey, some of it wasn't so bad after all.

By way of a for instance, our selection today comes from one of the highlights of Fania's crossover dreams: Coro Miyare from 1978's Spanish Fever... The slow start belies the wild dance treasure within, as 'Coro Miyare' staggers out of a conga morass and subdued chant. Written by Pacheco, this beast of a track gets going after the first minute, with a delicious salsa piano/beat mezcla. Brass drives the groove, and dance floors magically fill up. Halfway point brings us a break, and then zipping into part 2 the cut gets deeper, the music wilder. Enjoy!

King of Bongo esta mucho feliz a presentarte:
Fania All Stars: Coro Miyare (1978) [mp3 | 6:08 mins | 192 kbps | 8.43 MB]
Salsa Caliente de Nu York by Fania All Stars Buy "Salsa Caliente de Nu York" by Fania All Stars from Amazon
File under: Salsalicious
[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]
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Friday, May 19, 2006

Session 13: If they push that button, you can kiss your ass goodbye

Pic: Fusion Anomaly
Sun Ra
To be in the music business for 60 years would be a life's work, but for Sun Ra it was a late-blossoming career move. After all, he had arrived on Earth in the year 1055 at the latest, and only moved into music just before 1932. Early in this career Sun Ra made a conscious decision to play to largely Black audiences. This may have been due to competition from Fess Whatley, who monopolized the White market in Alabama, where Sun Ra had been based since 1935.

Already a subtly different person, members of Sun Ra's band would recall his many journeys through several blocks White neighbourhoods, dressed in sandals and his tunic, to get to the music store to copy the sheet music for the latest hits.

Briefly imprisoned for objecting to being drafted in 1942, Sun Ra eventually gained his release on a physical disability: a hernia. Possibly the only alien hernia ever recorded in earthly medical history. However, his reputation in Alabama was now rock bottom.

1946 saw our hero move first to Nashville, where he cut his first disc, 'Dig This Boogie,' and then on to the big lights: Chicago. Here he spent a while in the undistinguished settings of seedy strip joints, where local enlightened mob bosses demanded that Black musicians play behind a curtain.

His past and the injustices he'd seen and experienced weighed heavily on this soul man. This period, possibly the lowest point of his existence, engendered in Sun Ra a time of introspection; even depression. His journey took him through the observation of spiritual things, the occult, Biblical interpretation, and the examination of racism and inhumanity.

In 1950, he began a period of rebirth. He launched the Space Trio, and became involved with Alton Abraham, member of an unusual Black Nationalism group that preached the importance of Space to Black men. Abraham went on to become manager of Sun Ra's Arkestra and head of his record label, but many rmember him being handy in pistol-whipping situations. In 1952 the rebirth was complete - Sun Ra (Le Sony'r Ra) was born.

Future King of Bongo blog entries will move the Sun Ra story on from here, but right now we're going to skip 30 years into the future. 1981, Philadelphia. Sun Ra, aged 66 Earth-years, worried by political tensions, Ronald Reagan entering the White House and his subsequent shooting in March, and the general raising of nuclear rhetoric (which would result in inconclusive talks between the US and the then-Soviet Union in November), writes a surefire hit - in his mind: Nuclear War.

An epic track, Nuclear War is Sun Ra's plea for humanity to think about what they were doing when considering the use of nuclear weapons. Driven to profanity for the first time in his recording career, Sun Ra chants

"Nuclear war, nuclear war, they're talking about nuclear war. It's a motherfucker, don't you know"

Rejected (almost predictably) by the Columbia label, Sun Ra had the track independently released, and thus condemned to obscurity. A real shame, as the song gets into your mind, and the incessant chanting paradoxically becomes an eloquent protest against the possible apocalypse. After all, if they push that button, your ass is gonna go. And what you gonna do without your ass?

Ladies and Gentlemen, King of Bongo proudly presents:
Sun Ra: Nuclear War (1981) [mp3 | 7:47 mins | 192 kbps | 7.13 MB]

Sun Ra: Nuclear War Buy "Nuclear War" by Sun Ra from Amazon
File under: Apocalypse Profane
[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Some thoughts on the "militarization" of the US-Mexican border

"Soldiers are trained to vaporize, not Mirandize"
- Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan

Advance warning: no apologies for the political nature of today's post. Next one will be more musical!

Fiction: 'Amigos del Otro Lado' is a story written for children by Gloria Anzaldúa about the friendship between Chicana girl Prietita and a young boy, Joaquin, who has illegally crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas with his mother. She makes friends with Joaquin after defending him from boys who have bullied him and called him mojado ('wetback'), and later she hides him and his mother from the Border Patrol. Joaquin's mother tells Prietita that they've come to America to improve their lives. It's a charming story of dignity and kindness in arduous conditions and financial hardship.

Fact: The American administration under George W Bush plans to deploy 6,000 National Guard to provide support to overstretched Border Guards at the porous US-Mexican border.

Fiction: 'Don Radio' is another children's story, written by Arthur Dorros about a young boy Diego and his family. they're migrant farm-workers - campesinos - who make their living picking fruit and vegetables in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington. Diego goes to school in Arizona, but basically he and his family travel from town to town in a truck, following the harvests. It's also a charming story, set against a backdrop of hard work, difficulties and also good times.

Facts: Illegal immigrants make up 3.6% of the US population, meaning some 11 million people are in the US without official papers. Over 8.25 million of these illegal immigrants are of Latin American origin.

An estimated 7.3 million of the total 11 million work. They make up 24% of the total workforce in the farming industry. Other sectors have the following proportion of illegal immigrants: cleaning (17% of the workforce), construction (14%), food prep (13%), production (10%), transport (7%), other sectors (2.5%). In all, the illegal workers in the US comprise some 4.9% of the total workforce, mostly working under the label 'unskilled labour'.

Although the typical illegal immigrant is often perceived as young, male and travelling alone, unauthorised migrants range from whole families, including children, to lone women.

(By the way, the source for all these figures: BBC News


In the run up to the Mexican presidential elections in early July, a proposal is made to send untrained National Guard - 6,000 at a time - to help secure the US-Mexican border against the influx of more illegal immigrants into the US. Many of these troops may have just come back from Iraq, where they're fighting insurgents and suicide bombers, and will be sent now to keep the peace between border guards and people who want to improve their lives. At the same time the US government is considering the erection of a $2.2 billion security fence on the border.


"It's always going to be risky to use troops to secure the border, especially if they include recent returnees from Iraq, who might have a different idea of what 'enemy' means. It might not be the best thing to have the border teeming with thousands of new enforcement people who might not understand what their proper role is."
- Andrés Rozental, president of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations


President Bush has proposed a guest-worker programme - which right now proposes to allow those immigrants who have spent more than two years in the US illegally the right to apply for legal residence permits, as a possible method of gaining citizenship. But there has been a history of programmes like this that tie workers to one employer and less rights than non-immigrant employees.


"We were hoping for a state of emergency. We need troops directly, physically on that border. We don't need more beds for detaining people. We need to deter them with a gauntlet, a formidable presence on that border."
- Chris Simcox, director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in Arizona


Fact: Mexican Foreign Minister Ernesto Derbez said that if National Guardsmen do end up detaining migrants or if human rights abuses occur as a result, Mexico will respond by filing lawsuits through its consulates in the U.S.

Previous deployments have been associated with tragic incidents. One (illegally armed) man (Cesareo Vasquez) was shot in the back by a Green Beret near Brownsville, and a teenager, Ezequiel Hernandez Jr, (also armed) was killed by a Marine in West Texas as he tended his family’s goats. Those incidents were followed by Pentagon announcements justifying the shootings, and official reports of the incidents that later proved to be false. The Vasquez incident came not long after the shooting of a Border Patrol agent nearby. The Border Patrol reported 151 assaults on agents along the Mexican border during 1996.


Are unemployed Mexicans really an enemy to the US? Fabiene Bennet, director of the pro-migrant Mexican group Sin Fronteras, says "the reinforcement of border control has only led to more deaths more accidents and also more money and more clients for [migrant] traffickers". These people are after a better life, and surely will in the long run benefit the US as well as themselves, through direct means (by working) and indirect (by paying taxes).

The US was built on immigration, remember? Amongst the facts, only the fictions above show the real truth about illegal immigrants: they're people too.

So, some music from Mexico, old and new:
Mariachi Vargas De Tecalitlan: El Mariachi Loco [2:55 mins | 2.68 MB | Try to Buy]
Some fine old style Mariachi from a 100-year-old band
File under: Mariachi Madness

El Gran Silencio/Libres y Locos El Gran Silencio: Libres y Locos [5:27 mins | 7.5 MB | Buy from Amazon]

El Gran Silencio are a rap/tradional Mexican/rock bunch, absolutely proud to be Mexican, and funky to boot. Remember, somos Mexicanos.
File under: musica buena

Monday, May 15, 2006

Session 12: Syl Johnson in the house

Syl Johnson Namechecked by soul sorcerer Mr Fine Wine in his last show as head guide at the Ponderosa Stomp's Stax Museum Tours, Syl Johnson is one of those fine soul acts still going strong.

Possessed of a gravel wailing shriek the like of which is rarely heard, Syl arrived on the scene in 1956 as sideman to Chicago's own blues harmonica genius Billy Boy Arnold. It took 3 years of hoofing to reach the stage of cutting his first single, 'Teardrops' - has anyone heard it? - and another long wait until his signing to Twilight (Twinight) in '67 for Syl to actually make it.

Employing his talents on both sides of the studio wall, Johnson released 'Dresses Too Short' (a pounding bag of fine high octane good time soul beats) in '68, and also produced several local artistes.

Ideas of Black empowerment and their associated backlash/suppression were heavy in the air in the dying years of the '60s. Like so many of King of Bongo favourite artists from this period, Syl's acute sensibilities created notably fine musical interpretations of what it was like to be Afro-American in the belly of the Beast at this time.

In 1970 he released 'Is It Because I'm Black?', an uncompromising selection of songs exploring many aspects of the lives of Syl and his family, friends and acquaintances. The classic title song encapsulated Syl's central message - you can hear the true ache in his voice when he sings

"Something is holding me back. I wonder: is it because I'm Black?"

A heart as big and clever as Syl Johnson's drives its owner to look at issues from more than one angle, and he gives us a taste of the joy of his life as well. Hearking back to the opening cut, today's selection, 'Right On' (Right on sister, right on brother), is a groovy, positive slice of sheer, throbbing, joyful funk. Syl tells us

"We can do anything that we wanna do, don't want nobody to tell me what to do."

Surely overlooked as one of the earliest examples of funk, 'Right On' is 7 minutes of unadulterated pleasure - Syl didn't spend 14 years in soul music up to this point to not want to exercise his musical power over the masses.

Listen to the last third, where he does his thing - the trademark wail, it cracks first time, which he duly makes up for by doing it twice more in scintillating, reverberating style. 'Right On' - a crucial cut.

Syl's biggest hit was yet to come, the 1975 classic 'Take Me to the River,' climbing to #7 in the R&B charts, and he still churns out a few collaborations with other members of the musically gifted Johnson family. Take some time out to get to know Syl Johnson, you won't be sorry.

Ladies and Gentlemen, King of Bongo humbly presents:
Syl Johnson: Right On (1970) [mp3 | 7:10 mins | 192 kbps | 10.1 MB]

Dresses Too Short/Is It Because I'm Black Buy "Dresses Too Short/Is It Because I'm Black" by Syl Johnson from Amazon
File under: Wail On Soul
[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Sonic Dragnet #3: Mr Fine Wine & Downtown Soulville

(An occasional dip into the sources of Music enjoyed by King of Bongo)

Last summer King of Bongo was spending some time down south in Elviria, near Marbella, Andalucia (KoB's usual residence is steamy Sevilla, hottest city in Europe), staying in a cool apartment in the mountains, 10 mins drive from the sea and local bar. Nice... but one of the few downsides to life in Spain is the radio. You have to dig a little deep to avoid pap like Kiss.FM (how many times do you need to hear Simply Red in one day - even one year?), but a good show can be found now and then.

Well, one evening during this extended break, KoB was driving to Estepona to meet his brother, and decided to try his luck with the radio. What do you know, a stonking soul tune comes on, complete with authentic scratches, deep down bass, and stabbing horns. Wow, what a surprise.

Next surprise is when the presenter, after a few words en español, starts talking English to his guest. He's pleased to introduce Mr Fine Wine, a DJ visiting from New York. It turns out this Fine Wine guy is a deep down soul excavator - he has his own radio show, Downtown Soulville, on every week where he plays 23 or so genuine soul 45rpm singles, even some promotional acetates from the '60s - also, Mr Fine Wine is a regular disc spinner at a few choice NY venues, and is generally seen as an authority on all things soul.

After several more choice singles, most unknown to him, KoB was hooked. Taking notes is difficult whilst driving, but he engraved in his memory: Mr Fine Wine - WFMU - Downtown Soulville. He wasn't going to miss this fine source of music.

A few things happened the week after that - the biggest was the news about Hurricane Katrina, which sort of wiped KoB's memory clean of that soulful drive and the classic sounds he'd heard. So it wasn't until October that he was back home and able to re-establish contact with the internet (no online access at that apartment), and a few weeks after for the memory to resurface.

Mr Fine Wine is a little hard to track down. The Downtown Soulville show is podcast every week (normally Saturday after its broadcast the preceding Friday, three or four times a month), but info on the man himself is hard to come by, at least on the web.

But King of Bongo won't let you down - Matt "Mr Fine Wine" Weingarden is a hugely respected writer, broadcaster and all round soulful Detroit-native, transposed to NY and almost single-handedly trying to teach the people about all the good music they've forgotten. His DJ skills and awesome record collection see him on regular trips to New Orleans and even further afield to Europe, and he is also known to compile a few collections on disc. Hey, he even writes for the New York Magazine. Is that enough to be going on with?

Back to the music - since last October King of Bongo has been religiously downloading Mr Fine Wine's WFMU radio show Downtown Soulville - and one hour on Saturday is spent in a blissful soul state. A weekly fix of beautiful sounds and vibes.

Here's a sample playlist (from yesterday):
Leon Mitchison Orchestra "Sho Nuff"
Billy "the Kid" Emerson "I Did the Funky Broadway (Pt. 1)"
Willie Baker "Hey Baby"
Clay Hammond "Twin Brother"
Carl Stewart and the Sonics "Say Y'all"
The Torques "Bumpin"
Archie Bell & the Drells "Dog Eat Dog"
Harvey Scales "Sun Won't Come Out"
Syl Johnson "I've Got to Get Over"
James Brown "In the Middle (Pt. 1)"
Duke and Leonard "Just Do the Best You Can"
Hannibal "I'm Your Man"
Toni Williams "Tearing Down My Mind"
The Themes "Bent Out of Shape"
Melvin Davis "I Must Love You"
The Birds of Paradise "Bossa Blue Port"
Brenda & the Tabulations "Little Bit of Love"
Spitting Image "JB's Latin"
Soul Chargers "My Heart Beats for You"
Soul Invaders Inc. "Careless Loving"
Lyn Taitt "Steppin Up"
Betty Lavette "You'll Never Change"
Larry Birdsong "Somebody Help Me (Find the One That I Love)"
Johnny Copeland "I Got to Go Home"

Every one a winner - and a genuine 45. Total respect is due to Matt "Mr Fine Wine" Weingarden, and his essential work. Thank you!

Get the habit - tune into Downtown Soulville, and tell 'm King of Bongo sent ya!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Ain't Now Stopping Us Now....

La Charanga 76 Fronted by hirsute vocalists Hansel and Raul (perhaps the hairiest men in Latin music), La Charanga 76 came into the world with a mission: to give disco music to the Hispanic market. Now, King of Bongo would maybe think that this would not be a worthy aim... his original opinion was Latin music needed disco like George W Bush needs a list of all your phone calls. But, there was something special in this idea. (And George obviously does need to know about those calls...)

La Charanga 76 spent the late '70s releasing a string of disco tracks translated into Spanish (e.g. Good Times [Como Vamos A Gozar] and We Are Family [Somos Familia]), and, hombre, fueron muy populares! Whilst poor John Travolta had to make do with Sylvester Stallone directing Staying Alive, real people were grooving on down to mega-extended Latinized cuts of some of the choicest sounds around.

Experiencing a resurgence of interest, possibly starting from when French lounge lizard Dimitri from Paris featured No Nos Pararan on his collection Disco Forever, La Charanga 76 had a reunion concert in November 2004 at Lehman College in NY. Hopefully things are in the pipeline, so watch out for a La Charanga 06 version of Get Ur Freak On.

So people, what do we have for you today?

Featuring a blistering flute solo from Andrea Brachfeld (First Lady of Latin flute) and delicious backing vocals, this 9 minute plus cut, No Nos Pararan, is one of La Charanga 76's finest moments, and is indeed momentous. A scintillating version of a MacFadden and Whitehead dancefloor classic, the Latinization imbibes the song with a new life, and a groove that reaches into your head, down your back and into your dancing feet.

Can you guess what the original song is by now?

Ladies and Gentlemen, King of Bongo is proud to present:
La Charanga 76: No Nos Pararan [mp3 | 9:43 mins | 192 kbps | 13.3 MB]
Buy "12 Originales 12" by La Charanga 76 from Amazon
File under: Quiero bailar
[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Session 11: an Upsetting vibration!

(Dedicated to Dixie, Rastafari from sunny St Lucia)

Lee Scratch Perry Now is not the time to summarise the life and output of Mr Rainford Hugh Lee 'Scratch' Perry - we have neither the time, space nor prodigious amounts of herbal influences in our bloodstreams needed to do justice to the man or his vibe. So, for now, just two instances where King of Bongo tries to shine the light of knowledge and insight onto the sometimes murky episodes of Scratch's ongoing life experiment.

Episode 1: Ark's End

In 1978 Mr Perry, overworked and overstressed, was existing on a diet of rum and ganga. Overwork: an unbelievable, high octane string of crucial quality output from his magical Black Ark studio, including work with the Heptones, Max Romeo and the Congos. Overstress: oppression in Jamaica was ever-increasing, having begun a new, heavier cycle following the notorious Green Bay Massacre in December 1977. 12 well-known rudeboy gangmembers had been lured to the Bay and mown down by what was possibly a renegade faction of the Military Intelligence Unit. Fear was high: word on the street was that the Jamaican government was no longer in control of its military. The event, and the Michael Manley government's subsequent (mis)handling of the perpetrators (who were never brought to trial), were feverishly immortalised in song by Perry, with collaborators Lord Sassafrass and Mikey Dread.

All through that year interested observers could see the cracks beginning to appear. Whilst the exterior of the Black Ark studio began to be daubed with painted handprints, Perry's output from the interior became less pleasing to the suits at Island Records - his major pipeline to the world outside Jamaica. When the label refused to release two new albums (Roast Fish Collie Weed and Cornbread and Return of the Super Ape), Perry snapped, and the relationship was history.

Things all seemed to happen at once. Perry's long-term partner Sister Pauline (Pauline Morrison) had had enough, and left for New York, taking their four children with her. Maybe the fact that Lee was doting on sweet young Debra Keese had something to do with this abrupt departure. Or it might have been Pauline's affair with Danny Clarke of the Meditations. Clarke was a dread, and no doubt this along with the break from the Congos hastened Scratch's decision to break with Rastafari, and clear his studio of anyone associated with the movement. By January '79, devoid of musicians and hangers-on, the Black Ark had virtually shut down.

In late January, Trojan A&R Dave Hendley and some associates arrived at the Ark:
"... there was no one around, we peered through the railings and you could see that he had covered the place, scrawled absolutely everywhere. That's the first thing that hit you, all the little crosses on the walls and all the elemental stuff..."

It took 4 more years for the Ark to reach its end, consumed in a fire, the cause of which has never been discovered. By that time, Lee's career was already elsewhere...

Episode 2: Hackney, London, December 2001

King of Bongo finally gets the chance to see Scratch live, at hip new venue Ocean in the middle of Babylon (Hackney). Though a memorable gig, KoB knew that what he was seeing was a mere shade of what Perry had been. A merge of performance with backing tracks, the soulless inner sanctum of an interior decorator's wet dream was possibly the worst place to hear classics like 'Curly Locks.' Although some say that Perry is the Black Ark, and takes it wherever he goes, but KoB thinks that when the physical Ark burned, a part of Lee 'Scratch' Perry went up in smoke as well...

For our selection today, one of the rare cuts that made it out of the frantic latter days of the Black Ark. Mysterous duo Shuamark and Robinson (KoB can find no good info on these guys) recorded two songs with Perry, one of which made it onto a single. This other track, 'Weak Heart Feel It' languished in obscurity until released on sub-par cash-in anthology 'Lost Treasures of the Ark.' Notwithstanding its new home, the cut is a vibrant disc-mix of stonking bass and luscious vocal harmonies, and needless to say drenched in Lee Perry's thaumaturgical wizadry. Enjoy!
Shuamark & Robinson: Weak Heart Feel It [mp3 | 6:15 mins | 192 kbps | 8.59 MB]
Buy 'Lost Treasures of the Ark' produced by Lee 'Scratch' Perry from Amazon
Lee Perry: Lost Treasures of the Ark
File under: Ganga Smoked Tapes
[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]

More Lee Perry to come! And Dixie, dedicatee of this post, operates a fine jeep tour of beautiful St Lucia, when he's not creating a smoke cloud around the mountains and espousing sharp political commentary with his compadres. Respect to you.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Session 10: The Vibes Ain't Nuthin' But The Vibes

Cal Tjader & Eddie Palmieri In 1966 vibesman Cal Tjader had already had his best years. Following smash-hit popularity with his Modern Mambo Quintet (including Mongo Santamaria on some cuts) in the '50s, and jazz respectability with his saving of the Monterey Jazz Festival in '59, his star began to wane after 1964's classic 'Soul Sauce'. Cal needed inspiration, and, never one for introspection, he looked again to Latin music, his first love.

He didn't need to look far. Eddie Palmieri, younger brother of Charlie (renowned 'Giant of the Keyboards') was midswing into his career as leader of charanga band La Perfecta, and had just the energy, Latin background, and jazz pedigree that Tjader needed. Negotians were started, and what resulted were two classic albums.

For Cal's label (MGM-owned Verve) was recorded 'El Sonido Nuevo (The New Soul Sound),' a beautiful collection of fluid 'n' smooth Latin/Jazz rhythms, intercut with Cuban elements, and as heavenly a collaboration of vibes and piano as could be wished for.

And then, in return, for Eddie Palmieri's Tico label, the duo recorded... something new, something different. Harder than any fare previously recorded by either Cal or Eddie, 'Bamboleate' is truly the dark side of Latin Jazz. Kicking off with the title track, a driving salsa beat, heavy on the percussion (which is pushed well up in the mix), you know you're in for a ride. Tjader gives a scintillating vibe counterpoint to the hypnotic, almost tribal chanting of the song title, and the scene is set.

Next up, Henry Mancini's melancholy 'We've Loved Before' is given several twists downwards. Shivers down the spine are created by the combination of low brass, vibes, subtle piano and congas. 'Resemblance' is vastly more jazzified, at the beginning sounding like an outtake from Schifrin's 'Schifrin/Sade' (recorded in the same year), it then kicks into gear, featuring solos from both artistes backed by a pure jazz rhythm. This track is 5 minutes of sheer pleasure.

Track 4 is King of Bongo's selection, 'Mi Montuno,' so we'll get to that later....

'Samba do Suenho' is a Brazilian-inspired cut, but bucks the Bossa beat with some delicious percussion and wily piano accompaniment in synch with the vibes. Top notch trumpet solo too! 'Guajira Candela' snakes back to the groove established at the beginning, with a splendid loping backdrop overlaid with stabbing horns and Mariachi vocals before a jazz digression fades the track.

We move on to 'Pancho's Seis Por Ocho.' Opening with a Dizzy Gillespie-style African village theme, Eddie & Cal duet a tasty scene setter, the cut transforms into one of the best blendings of Jazz and Latin music that King of Bongo has had the honour of hearing. Aspiring DJ's should note the extended percussion sequence in the last third of the track - might spice up your set a little?

The album closes with 'Come An' Get It,' a swinging jazz take, in much the same vein as much of Cal's other output. The weakest track on the album, but still a good closer.

Giving lie to Tjader's reputation as 'Latin Lounge,' and a fine addition to the Eddie Palmieri canon, 'Bamboleate' should be on your shelf now. What? It ain't? Well, people, King of Bongo instructs you to rectify that sad state of affairs.

Your selection today is the 4th track from this fine slab of vinyl: 'Mi Montuno.' Opening with a piano refrain, the first seconds give no indication of what's to come. A smoky double groove beat kicks off the rhythm, suddenly enhanced by percussion, piano and vibes. Mid-track comes a break, where the musicians get into another gear AND rhythm, and we're now in a Cuban groove, with Cal wigging out (as much as he ever could, but that don't matter) and moving on to a vocal backing. Along with many tracks on this album, 'Mi Montuno' was a little bit ahead of its time. KoB hopes you like it as much as he does.

Ladies & Gentlemen, please enjoy:
Eddie Palmieri & Cal Tjader: Mi Montuno [mp3 | 5:21 mins | 192 kbps | 7.35 MB]
Buy 'Bamboleate' by Eddie Palmieri & Cal Tjader from Amazon
File under: Scintillating Latin Vibes
[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]

Monday, May 08, 2006

Soaring Gospel Voices

Today King of Bongo asks you if you need healin'? I SAID, "DO YOU NEED HEALIN'?"

Well, if you're hurting, then KoB has just the thing for you: 2 fine mid-20th century gospel tunes, that'll lift your heart and raise your spirit.

Originally termed 'race records', music made for the Black American market gained a new name, 'rhythm & blues', from journalist Jerry Wexler in 1949. Even so, before then Gospel had been derived from 19th century sprirtual music, itself the descendant of Black music from the days of slavery. The two streams, Blues & Gospel, developed separately (although sung by the same people; Blues on Saturday night, and Gospel on Sunday morning) until the late '50s, when they melded together in one crazy relationship called soul....

Today's selections come from before the birth of soul, and though recorded before 1955, both retain a sparkling energy and power. These people had doors shut in their faces and endured years of toil and pain, yet musically they were free and joyous. Their memory deserves to be better honoured.

'Sister' Wynona Carr Wynona Carr was signed to Specialty Records in 1949, and dubbed 'Sister' in a bid to capitalise on the success of Sister Rosetta Thorpe. Never reaching the real heights of success, Wynona had to endure dominating parents, dubious marketing ploys, name changes ('Kitty Carr') and bouts of depression in her showbiz career. Beautiful, talented, and a gifted songwriter, she just didn't get the breaks. 'Each Day', where she sings of getting a little nearer to the Lord as time goes by, is a poignant reminder of her fate. She died almost forgotten in 1976.

You can buy Wynona Carr's Dragnet For Jesus from Amazon.

Rev. Anderson Johnson A happier tale than Wynona's: sharecropper's son Anderson Johnson first heard the Lord's voice before 1920, and in 1931 became a street preacher at the tender age of 16. Multi-talented and a born troublemaker, Johnson appended 'Reverend' to his name, and recorded a few songs guaranteed to stir up the outwardly strait-laced congregations ("I know you don't like my song / I spoke my sober mind / I won't take back a work I said"). Over the years a hidden artistic talent emerged, and he made a good living painting 'naive' portraits - and although partially paralyzed in 1985 he lived on to a ripe old age until 1998.

King of Bongo's selection is 'God Don't Like It', where Johnson takes moonshine-drinkers, short-skirted women and horny priests to task - The Rev Johnson sure knew how to make friends...

You can buy a 25-track Gospel compilation featuring 'God Don't Like It' and many more Re. Anderson Johnson tracks from Roots and Rhythm

Wynona Carr: Each Day (1949) [mp3 | 2:49 mins | 192 kbps | 3.89 MB]
Rev. Anderson Johnson: God Don't Like It (1953) [mp3 | 2:35 mins | 192 kbps | 3.55 MB]
File under: Sing to the Lord

Friday, May 05, 2006

Session 9: Johnny Pacheco

Johnny Pacheco
Sharp dresser Johnny Pacheco left sun-kissed poverty in the Dominican Republic for the seedy crime-ridden back-alleys of New York with his family in 1946, at the tender age of 11. His father, famed bandleader & clarinetist Rafael Azarias Pacheco, envisaged the move as a good thing for the Pachecos, but even he must have swallowed hard at his first view of the Bronx. Johnny joining a street gang couldn't have helped, but then again, integration is integration.

Music held the Pacheco family together. Johnny could play merengue songs on the harmonica by the age of 7, and, in his time out from gang activities, he continued his musical training at school, learning the sax and the clarinet.

Mambo was the thing in the early '50's. Johnny put together a band, featuring one Eddie Palmieri on piano, and played at weddings and functions. A key to their success was the tightness of their music - well it would be tight, seeing as the band rehearsed in a second-hand hearse...

Always versatile, Johhny was recruited by Luis Quintero as an accordionist, then by Willie Rodriguez as a percussionist. He played on the Johnny Carson Show, and became known as the only conga player who could read music. At this time he supplied beats for mambo king Perez Prado, and his musical instrument closet held a flute, cowbell, and several unidentifiable things accompanied by the sticks to hit them with.

By 1959, Cuba was left out in the cold by the US. Johnny, never slow on the uptake, saw the time was right to step into the newly-created Latin cultural and musical void, and created his charanga band with Charlie Palmieri. Things were on the up for Johnny Pacheco, ex-snotnose Dominican, now debonair musical maestro...

Skip forward now to the early '60s. Johnny Pacheco, freshly divorced, launches Fania Records with lawyer Jerry Masucci. It's here that he developed the typical Pacheco style - trumpets, tres guitar-style from Cuba, and tightly synchopated vocals, if possible sung as far up the nasal passage as possible. King of Bongo won't detail the hard slog over the years (maybe another time, eh?), but innovations like the Fania All-Star band (1968) are evidence for Pacheco's eye for an opportunity.

So the tape rolls on to the present. Still performing, Mr Pacheco has recorded with all the NY Latin greats, plus a few 'popular musicians' with more than a modicum of taste. A mantlepiece full of awards doesn't hurt either, and KoB would guess that he has more than a few suits.

For our tracks today, two personal KoB faves. Mariachi-style vocals are never far from King of Bongo's heart, and neither are slow canciones that build up to a stunning, brass-laden finale. So that's what you're gonna get.

First is "Son de Callejon" (Free KoB translation: "The Alley People"), 1985, featuring a tres intro, stabbing brass jabs, Pete 'El Conde' Rodriguez on vocals, and heartwarming Mariachi vocals, plus a sparkling piano refrain. Ace!
Johhny Pacheco: Son de Callejon [mp3 | 5:23 mins | 192 kbps | 7.40 MB] Buy "Jicamo" by Johnny Pacheco & Pete Rodriguez from Amazon
File under: Elegies to Alley Cats

Next is Pacheco's prize-winning collaboration with smooth vocalist Cheo Feliciano, "Canta," from 1976. Featured on a compilation called 'Perfect Combinations' (available from Amazon on import for a whopping $40! KoB paid £5 English for it in 1990...), this sad but uplifting song advises us to 'Sing if your love leaves you, Sing because another love will come.' Fine words, if a little cool on the sentiment. An epic track, clocking in at seven minutes, and beginning with a lush cha-cha, at the halfway point it kicks into high gear, with Johnny Pacheco on flute, backed with a deep-voiced Mariachi trio, strings and trumpets. KoB doesn't normally have favourites cast in stone, but "Canta" is always in the top 10.
Cheo Feliciano & Johnny Pacheco: Canta [mp3 | 7:10 mins | 192 kbps | 9.98 MB] Buy 'Perfect Combinations' (if you can afford it) from Amazon
File under: Sing to forget your pain

[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Session 8: Shuggie's Dreams

Shuggie Otis Obscurity covers Shuggie Otis like a shadow - whatever he could do now would never erase the truth that for an incredible quarter of a century one of THE greatest West Coast psychedelic soulsters was atrociously IGNORED and badly served.

Son of bandleader/impresario Johnny Otis (aka John Veliotes), Shuggie was a prodigy - he played in bands at the age of 12, disguised behind shades and 'tash (more obscurity!) to play in nightclubs, and at the precocious age of 17 he released his first solo album (1970's 'Here Comes Shuggie Otis'). Two more fine, razor-sharp albums followed in '71 ('Freedom Flight') and '74 (the delicious 'Inspiration Information').

And then - at the age of 21 - that was it. For 26 years....

Someone so gifted either makes it (Stevie Wonder, as a for instance), or it seems not only DOESN'T make it, but is doomed to struggle forever. Whatever personal demons or external circumstances that contributed to Shuggie Otis' disappearance from the scene, they were powerful and malignant enough to make him go and keep him gone. And apart from a blip or two (The Brothers Johnson's reached #5 in the Billboard pop chart in 1977 with Shuggie's classic "Strawberry Letter 23"), that's where he's stayed.

Apart, that is, from two significant instances. In 1994 ace hipsters Digable Planets released their second LP 'Blowout Comb'. Amongst the many choice cuts on that essential slab, the last track, 'For Corners,' samples 'Island Letter', from "Inspiration Information". That's the first time that King of Bongo saw the name Shuggie Otis. As always when he hears a sparkling refrain, KoB is on the hunt for the original -- but, in this case, zip. Nada.

Seven long years later, KoB is in a record shop in Camden Town, London, England, and, hearing a CRUCIAL tune on the PA, is amazed to hear that the track is called "Strawberry Letter 23" by, you guessed it, SHUGGIE OTIS man! Needless to say, that CD was in the bag, KoB was out of there, and that disc was in the cans.

Inspiration Information, by Shuggie Otis
Buy "Inspiration Information" from Amazon

Lovingly reissued by focused-weirdo David Byrne on Luaka Bop, and one of the KoB fave LP's, combining 'Inspiration Information' in its entirety, and four extra tracks from 'Freedom Flight', and essential purchase. It's purely inspiring, for sure, to hear some of the spaces that Shuggie made is own. Possibly THE first commercial appearance of a drum machine (just beating Sly's 'There's a Riot....'), lush orchestrations and close-up solo work, possibly it's only in hindsight that the visionary aspects of Shuggie's work can be appreciated. People, the LP sounds like it was recorded yesterday. And, whilst 'For Corners' is a fine, beautiful song, 'Island Letter' is a pure slice of genius. Genius.....

So today, King of Bongo is proud to present Shuggie Otis - long-neglected pioneer! And also, the track that started it all for King of Bongo - Digable Planets' 'For Corners'.
Blowout Comb by Digable Planets Buy

Shuggie Otis: Island Letter [mp3 | 4:41 mins | 192 kbps | 6.44 MB]
Digable Planets: For Corners [mp3 | 7:02 mins | 192 kbps | 9.66 MB]
File under: What Cool Breezes Do, What Warm Rhythms Make
[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to yousendit where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 7 days and/or 25 downloads allowed!]

PS - More Digable Planets to come!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Upa Neguinho - World's 2nd most-covered Bossa Nova song?

Edu LoboCredited by some with "waking up" Bossa Nova - that is, taking it off the beach and looking instead at the streets, Edu Lobo is one of Brazil's finest musicians. Marrying a vast knowledge of Brazilian popular music to the undoubted boom for bossa, he came up with some choice grooves, in contrast to some of the more workmanlike efforts by his countrymen and others (step forward Mr Schifrin...)

Concentrating on unfashionable (for the time) themes such as the northeastern peoples, the blacks, the Indians, and the disowned, Lobo offered another vision of Brazil - and a less optimistic one than presented by the Girl from Ipanema.

And, one one choice cut, "Upa, Neguinho" - variously translated as "Pretty Black One" or "Pretty Blackie" - Edu secured his fame. Written with Gianfrancesco Guarnier and covered by everyone and their dog, this song - one of King of Bongo's personal faves - carries you along on a wild wave of sound, opening a rich seam of music that many more were to mine and add their own polish to. KoB couldn't decide which version to post today, so as a special treat, here's 5 versions. See which one you like best!

Edu Lobo: Upa, Neguinho [mp3 | 2:17 mins | 3.15 MB | Buy from Amazon]
The (almost) original (recorded 1966) - more percussion-based than later takes, but possessed with an energy that makes it the version that KoB goes back to again and again.

Luiz Arruda Paez: Upa, Neguinho [mp3 | 2:36 mins | 3.58 MB | Buy from Amazon]
Collected on Blue Note's Blue Brazil comp, the biggest of big band versions of Upa, Neguinho. Vocal-free, which doesn't detract from the track one bit, and obviously influenced by all those Hollywood musicals and mambo parties... A killer, surprisingly recorded as early as '66.

Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66: Upa, Neguinho [mp3 | 2:56 mins | 4.07 MB | Buy from Amazon]
Sergio and his troupe present a typical Brasil '66 take of the song - along with Lani Hall's lush vocals (apparently sung parrot-fashion as she didn't speak Portuguese at the time) and Dave Grusin-orchestration. This was Brasil '66's biggest album, recorded 1968. Smooth cocktail-time, people!

Duke Pearson: Upa, Neguinho [mp3 | 2:00 mins | 2.75 MB | Buy from Amazon]
The wild card, jazzist Duke Pearson dipped into Latin-grooves as his career progressed - with patchy results. But, this version is a scorching slice of Jazz dance - keep still to this, and you must be dead, man, dead.

Nelsinho e sua Orquestra: Upa, Neguinho [mp3 | 2:25 mins | 3.34 MB | Buy from Amazon]
Another Blue Brazil cut, the mysterious Nelsinho gives with a brass-based version, but great piano and authentic bossa-guitar make it a winner. Halfway through the track vocals add an extra dimension. 1968 was the date.

File under: Bossa Cover Madness

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