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?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Session 16: Roland Alphonso & Phoenix City

Pic: Vespa Club Lonigo
Roland Alphonso
Ska has featured in Jamaican music since its shady roots in the 1930s, born from a blend of the indigenous calypso and folksy mento styles with the jazz and R&B from the neighbouring USA. Whether the distinctive beat of ska was influenced by weak radio reception or was a genuinely Jamaican response to the new sounds, we'll never know, but once the new rhythm took hold, Jamaica never looked back.

Popularised by the mighty mobile sound systems that began in Kingston ghettos during the '50s, ska became the signature sound of the two sound system titans: Duke Reid and Clement Dodd, better known as 'Coxsone'. This adoption was primarily due to the intense competition between the sound systems - new music was key to success, and the American single release schedules just couldn't keep up with the voracious appetite of the Jamaican groovers. So Coxsone and Reid turned to record production, recording local talent and to make unique music for their systems.

These magician musicians soon outgrew the US source material, and ska was truly born, an upbeat sound with its soul on its sleeve. This birth coincided with a new dawn for Jamaicans, having just gained their independence from the United Kingdom in 1962.

Ska was to evolve with its sister music, slowing down in tempo in the late 60s to match the new smooth soul from America. But before that, the heyday of quick tempo ska generated some ultra fine music.

Which brings us to today's selection. Roland Alphonso's 'Phoenix City' occupies a special place in King of Bongo's affections. in 1985 a friend opened the King's ears to old ska, which he had somehow missed during the 2-Tone ska revival in the UK. After listening to a C90 cassette (remember those?) chock-full of '60s sounds recorded from the friend's collection of treasured 7" ska singles, KoB underwent a cathartic musical taste revolution. So intense was this that you can believe that the tape is still in the King's possession, 21 years later! Unplayable though...

Track number 2 on this cassette of infinite joy was 'Phoenix City', a driving sax and brass groove replete with shouts and prototype human beatboxes. 3 minutes long, and not a second wasted - an almost perfect tune. And one that's going to be shared with all you good people.

Rolando "Roland" Alphonso made his name with the Skatalites, and in his half-century career was instrumental in many Jamaican musical developments. Involved in the recording of Theophilus Beckford's "Easy Snappin" in 1958 (some say the first true ska record, and to be featured on King of Bongo at some stage in the near future), multi-instrumentalist Roland was one of Coxsone's founding session musicians and chief musical arrangers. Any record collection would be blessed with an addition from Roland's huge achievements.

Sadly, Roland passed away in 1998 after suffering an aneurysm, aged 67. RIP.

Friends, please enjoy Roland Alphonso: Phoenix City (1965) [mp3 | 03:01 mins | 192 kbps | 3.1 MB] - it'll put a smile on your face, and a skip in your step!

Phoenix City: A History of the World's Greatest Ska Buy "Phoenix City: A History of the World's Greatest Ska" featuring "Phoenix City" by Roland Alphonso by from Amazon
File under: Uptempo Ska Beats

[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to rapidshare where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 10 days allowed! If you like the music, please support the artist]

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Session 15: The Librarian, the Hit Man, and The Upsetter

Susan Cadogan
Minister's daughter Alison Anne Cadogan was plucked from the obscurity of a library job at the University of the West Indies by maverick Jamaican sound sorceror Lee 'Scratch' Perry after she made an impromptu appearance at his legendary Black Ark studios in the late summer of 1974. Anne blew the mad doctor away with her voice after she had been coaxed to sing one the song 'Love My Life' written by her dj boyfriend Jerry Lewis. Scratch had for some time wanted to release his take on Millie Jackson's saucy hit 'Hurt So Good', and Anne's appearance at the Ark was a fortuitous event. For a shy librarian, she had one hell of a seductive voice, and the ambiguous lyrics left little to the imagination.

Once the track was laid down (with Boris Gardiner on bass), Lee took the liberty of changing Anne's name to Susan Cadogan, as he thought that sounded more sexy. Already having been diverted from the straight path, Anne happily aquiesced. This minister's daughter had embarked on a life of disappointment at the hands of music men...

For the next few months Anne/Susan arrived at the Ark every Sunday, and by Christmas she and Perry had recorded over a dozen songs. The fact that keyboardist Glen Adams was on hand might have influenced this burst of creativity, as the newly-named Susan and he were 'involved' for a time.

'Hurt So Good' was not initially a success in its homeland, however in the summer of 1974 Londoners went wild over Anne's song when it was aired at the annual Notting Hill Carnival by Clifton 'Larry' Lawrence, one of Perry's London contacts from the late '60's when he acted as unofficial road manager (read: 'party organiser') for the Upsetters. However, Lawrence missed this boat, as the official UK release was handled by Jamaican immigrant and Manchester University graduate Dennis Lascelles Harris, who had established the DIP label in South East London. Scratch, ignoring his contractual obligations to Trojan, dealt with Harris directly, and 'Hurt So Good' gained its first official UK release

Pete Waterman pictured with Michaela Strachan The DIP release (of 2,000 copies) proved popular, and paved the way for the next musical Svengali to take advantage of young Cadogan. Aspiring pop-music producer 'Hit Man' Pete Waterman (pictured here with Michaela Strachan) heard the song playing in a record shop, and took a copy of it to the Magnet label. Magnet licensed the song from DIP and Magnet launched it; by April 1975 'Susan' Cadogan's take on 'Hurt So Good' was at No 4 in the UK charts, propelled by an appearance on influential pop show Top of the Pops by a bewigged and bewildered Anne, whisked out of Jamaica under the nose of the Mighty Upsetter.

Scratch heard that his protogee had been whisked to England, and his iration was high. Flying to England, he confronted Cadogan in her hotel room, and threatened that should she sign anything with Magnet he'd make sure she'd never get a cent.

Feeling indebted to Magnet for her flight and accommodation in the UK, Anne nevertheless signed a contract with Magnet, for which she got £3,000. Interestingly, sales for 'Hurt So Good' were excluded from this arrangement, and Anne soon found that her air fare, hotel accommodation, food and clothes were all deductible from this payment, so she ended up indebted to Magnet.

Pete Waterman wasn't so unlucky. For his pains Magnet bought him a new Jaguar, and he began his mercurial rise to the top, on the back of a song that inexperienced Alison Anne Cadogan had sung at the Black Ark almost a year before. Magnet told Anne that she didn't need a car as she couldn't drive... The £3,000 she received from Magnet would be the only money she would get from 'Hurt So Good' until its re-release in 1998, and incredible 24 years afterwards.

In June 1975 Anne was summoned to a meeting at Magnet to discuss who had rights to the hit. Alone she was faced with the Magnet legal team, Perry and his lawyer, DIP and their lawyer, and even a representative from Warner Brothers who owned rights to the song. The outcome was to order Susan to record material with Pete Waterman. Waterman's unerring pop sensibilities (or vibrations from outer space) directed him to accompany Anne on a version of 'Would You Like To Swing On A Star With Me' to the backing of the London Symphony Orchestra. To everyone's great surprise, this didn't become a hit...

Perry, on the other hand, waited until the Magnet debacle was over to release the material he and anne had recorded. 'Susan Cadogan' finally surfaced in the UK in November 1977. Only the single 'Nice and Easy', with backing from Jimmy Riley, ever got anywhere. Eventually Anne dumped the name Susan, and went back to work at the Library. Pete Waterman emerged to become one of the powers behind the rise of such 'talents' as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Rick Astley in the '80's.

This sad tale has a sort of happy ending - Anne still likes to sing, and once in a while can be found leaving her desk and going on stage with the likes of Toots Hibbert and Boris Gardiner in her Jamaican homeland. And God's blessing on her.

KoB won't post 'Hurt So Good,' but one of Alison Anne Cadogan's other Lee Perry tracks, the sublime 'Nice And Easy,' a smooth slice of reggae, easy on the ear and gladdening to the heart. Ladies and Gentlemen, for your enjoyment:
Susan Cadogan: Nice and Easy (1975) [mp3 | 03:17 mins | 192 kbps | 4.62 MB]

Buy "Hurt So Good" by Susan Cadogan from Amazon
File under: Music Industry Exploitation

[Click on the link and you’ll be taken to rapidshare where you can download the track. First come first served people, only 10 days allowed! If you like the music, please support the artist]

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P.S. - Much of the material for this feature on Susan Cadogan was gleaned from the indispensible guide to Lee Perry and the Black Ark, David Katz' 'People Funny Boy; the Genius of Lee "Scratch" Perry.' Buy It!!!

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sonic Dragnet #4: Matt Yanchyshyn and the soul of Africa

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

Benn loxo du taccu: Matt Yanchyshyn's (mostly) African music blog

He's a long way from home; currently footloose AP journalist and Canadian exile Matt Yanchyshyn is based in Paris after a lengthy stint in West Africa.

Kicking off in September 2004 with some cutting comments about Lagos, Benn loxo du taccu can claim to be one of the earliest blogs around dedicated to African music. Keeping up an impressive schedule of regular posting, Matt easily blends acute observation with an almost infinite knowledge of the West African music scene: Nigerian palmwine highlife? Go here, or what about old-school West African pop rock, or maybe some Senegalese Hip Hop?

In the time since 2004 we've been treated to an ever broader array of music from Africa, as Matt widens and deepens his explorations - reading the blog is like a modern version of a Victorian travelogue, as intrepid Musical Explorer Yanchyshyn discovers more sounds and uncovers more of the soul of Africa. However, Matt has sympathy and empathy with Africa and Africans, unlike many (most?) of the Victorians. He goes back in time to discover 60s Ethiopiques, he casts his net into the Indian Ocean, fishing out accordion music from Île Rodrigues, and he shares his love for the clear,sweet female voices of Zainaba Rasha and the stunning Amina Alaoui.

Every music blogger, and their audiences, owes a debt of gratitude to Matt, who has an open mind, open ear and open heart about the music and countries/cultures he loves. Why? Because bloggers can learn from Matt's integrity and obvious enthusiasm for his subject. And because audiences should be grateful for having their cultural horizons expanded. African artists as well may be pleased at having their music and stories shared - maybe some people would even buy music from them they never would have bought before, because of Benn loxu du taccu.

From King of Bongo research on the internet:

"Matt took a post-college trip to Dakar, Senegal essentially on a lark. While there, he met someone who helped him find a job with Associated Press. This job has allowed him to travel through many African countries where he fell in love with (originally) funk and soul music from Nigeria and Ghana. All this happened only 3-4 years ago. I’m amazed that he’s amassed such extraordinary expertise in this field in such a relatively short time."

Relocating to Paris in May 2005 hasn't dented the Benn loxu du taccu productivity level - this Yanchyshyn guy must have a laptop welded to his chest, an iPod screwed into his ears and an audio ripper secreted somewhere, well, secret. In the last year, Benn loxu du taccu has gone from strength to strength, spreading music and culture all over the internet.

Matt knew that while based in Dakar he "was in a unique position to take advantage of a wealth of local music available in Senegal and post it for those who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to it." Much of his motivation for starting Benn loxo du taccu was to raise awareness of African music. You could say he's done a good job....

Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand for Mr Matt Yanchyshyn!

PS, what does "Benn loxu du taccu" mean? Go to his website to find out, already!

Friday, June 02, 2006

It's Forbidden to Forbid - Tropicalia

A potted timeline of events in Brazil in the 60's is needed to appreciate the balls of the people behind the Afro/psychedelic/bossa nova/folk music 'Tropicalia' (aka 'Tropicalismo') movement...

1964: Almost 20 years of political instability in Brazil leads to a military coup under Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, who deposes the left-wing president João Goulart on March 31.
Washington immediately recognizes the new government, stating that "democratic forces" had defeated the influence of international communism in Brazil
Castelo Branco purges Congress and expands presidential powers, but steps down in 1967.

1967: Marshal Artur da Costa e Silva takes over control of the government. Although using the expanded presidential powers as a basis for authoritarian rule, he maintains some vestiges of democratic process.

1968: Hard-line top brass in the military 'force' Costa e Silva into promulgating the Fifth Institutional Act on December 13, granting dictatorial powers to the president. Congress and state legislatures are dissolved, the constitution is suspended, censorship imposed.

And now, a more human look at concurrent music events in that unhappy country:

In 1967, musicians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, both 23 years old, inspired by the Beatles and other English-language rock musicians, move on from bossa nova and begin to produce songs with politically charged, socially aware lyrics. 'Tropicalia' is born, a fusion of the smooth bossa style, with rock, Bahia folk music, African music and the melancholy Portuguese 'fado' sea shanties. At the same time, a cadre of Brazilian directors launch 'Cinema Nova', focusing hard-hitting films on the many Brazilian poor.

Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil [Pic: EuropeJazz.net]

During '67 and '68 the Tropicalia crowd record several albums, successful in Brazil but ignored in much of the rest of the world. Gil and Veloso are joined in many of their outings by Os Mutantes (The Mutants), an inventive and innovative rock band from São Paulo. Times were heady - the people were responding to what was happening to their country, and one of the few true counter-cultural movements of the '60's was beginning to flower. These guys not only were musical; they were articulate, angry and had integrity. They took it upon themselves to test the unwanted boundaries imposed upon their freedom of expression from above.

Caetano Velosol
Caetano Veloso [Pic: Dusty Groove America]

Things, predictably, got heavier, and in December 1968, fresh from the suppression of constitutional rights, the authoritarian government cracked down. Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were arrested in December, and held in jail for several months as 'anti-governmental activists.'

On their release in 1969 the duo hightailed it to London. Gil began playing with the UK rock crowd - Pink Floyd and Yes - whilst continuing his solo career. He returned to Brazil and helped introduce reggae to his homeland with a cover of Bob Marley's 'No Woman, No Cry' in 1980. Veloso returned to Brazil in 1972, but always lived under the wrathful eye of the Brazilian military government until its fall from power in 1985. However, both artists now had an international following by now, which protected them somewhat.

A fitting capstone to Gilberto Gil's career came in 2003 when newly-installed President Lula da Silva chose Gil to serve as Brazil's new Minister of Culture. In 2002 Caetano Veloso published an account of the Tropicalia movement, Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil.

So today, King of Bongo urges us all to spare a thought for all people suffering under the yoke of restrictions to their freedom of expression, and to enjoy the joyous sound of people who, whilst repressed, knew they were going to prevail. Ladies and gentlemen:
Gilberto Gil & Caetano Veloso: Bat Macumba (1968) [mp3 | 2:37 mins | 213 kbps | 4.13 MB]
File under: Forbidden Music

Soul Jazz Records Presents Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound Buy Soul Jazz Records Presents Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound featuring 20 tracks including 2 versions of 'Bat Macumba' from Amazon