Saturday, October 17, 2009


So, yeah, many thanks to Jim for sending me the 2-CD distillate version of this LP set (wh/ I kinda mentioned before):

It really is super-muff. All the stretched-out wah-wah n percussive action you might probably expect is present and correct, and the call-and-reponse vocals n horns, but there's much, much more to it than just the more Funk-orientated cuts: this is a musical microcosm, a cross-section thru an entire culture. A slice of history.

All sorts of unexpected things happen along the way. So while "Din Ya Sugri" by Uppers International might surf a bumpy B-movie Funk-vamp the surprise is Christy Azuma's almost thin, trebly-sounding vibrato vocals; they sound almost counter-intuitively Anti-Soul, almost folksy; if the record had been made in the US in the 70s then the vocals would have almost certainly been belted out/growled/howled - the 'performance' aspect of vintage Soul/Funk always taking great pleasure/pains to establish a clear direct linkage between authenticity of feeling and, uh, the vocalist's emotional-output knob.

If you ain't feeeeeeelin' the emotion then it ain't 'real'. Anything less than 10+ is bogus, but after a while it becomes a caricature; a form of acting. "When Smokie sings, I hear...nothing."

This sort of nonsense reaches its apogee with the nasal, novacaine-numbed self-parodic Unsoul of Beyonce n Co. Sixth generation vocal 'soul' tropes acted out w/out conviction or a clue. White-bread R n B. It doesn't even need autotune to robocise itself, to remove the last vestiges of humanity, gender, spirit.

Ms. Azuma side-steps Trad.US.Soul traditions - not because she doesn't care enough or can't sing - but because it's not her idiom, her mode of expression. And in doing so she creates something uniquely and refreshingly soulful - to my ears, at least.

And she's not the only vocalist here who will sound 'wrong' to Western ears muted by iPods and too much X-Factor - yes, they'll sound too 'understated', too reedy, too sharp or flat to fit our jaded classical notions of bullshit soulfulness. And, yes, the production lacks the 'fullness' - the frequency range you'd expect from 70's LA orch or seshguy recordings, or Trevor Horn, or [fill in your own name].

But fuck: that's a good thing. No, really. I've been listening to some early/mid-70s 7-inches of classic Philly Pre-Disco jams recently and loving the high-end action - the trebly strings and hi-hats; the harmonies - the 'thinness' and the lack of bottom-end action. It's kinda cool. No: is cool. It's counter-intuitive again, but it really works. Dance music without a bottom-end or a fuck-off bass-line. We'd just forgotten how great things are that sound, well, different. We'd got closeted and too comfy in our lil' bubbleworlds.

So, yeah, to listen to some of these Ghanaian jams you really need to check in yr expectations along with the hand-luggage.

I'm especially loving the tracks where the sounds seem to rub up against each other and create an unexpected dissonance; a vocal refrain might collide with a guitar-line, or scraped percussion seems to go slide in and out of time with the bass gtr or the backing-vocalists. Polyrhythmic drift, innit.

? and the Mysterions style organs surface in amongst a galloping pony-trot riddim - some distant, tinny-sounding take on a JB B-side - with the vocalist talk-singing like he might have just, possibly, once heard Dillinger's "Cocaine in my Brain" on a crappy transistor radio, the signal drifting in and out of range.

Some of the tracks are gentle - jaunty almost - catchy in some weird quiet little earworm way that makes you wanna hit the replay when you realise how much the track has lodged itself in yr brain, even tho you thought you weren't paying much conscious attention. Others have a lilting Caribbean flava, as if they're some vague, related-by-marriage cousin of Congolese Rhumba. The Ghana/Cuba Connection in full effect.

Check out "Obi Agye Me Dofo" by Vis a Vis with its uptempo Reggae/Ska-fluenced jump-up rhythm with woozy horns and a - yay! - synth solo. Awesome stuff and funky as fuck. On the final furlong the horns even sound like they're playing some (even more) twisted version of "Wheel Me Out" by Was (Not Was).

Elsewhere Fela Kuti puts in an appearance, but he could've stayed at home, to be honest - this album swings rather wonderfully without him.

"You hypnotise pulverise"

Great song; great album.

A hit!


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