• The story of highlife and Afrobeat legend Ebo Taylor, in his own words

    By | March 22, 2018

    Ebo Taylor’s new album, Yen Ara, marks the Ghanaian highlife and Afrobeat legend’s 60th anniversary as a professional musician. He talks to Chris May about hanging out with Fela Kuti and the Beatles in “swinging London”, the importance of jazz in shaping his style and the changing fortunes of West African highlife.

    Confusion surrounds the exact chronology of Ebo Taylor’s lengthy career, and over the years he too has been flexible with dates and events. A lot of water has, after all, passed under the bridge. There are some certainties, however. Taylor was born in 1936 on Ghana’s Cape Coast, where he still lives, in Saltpond City. Around 90 road-miles west of Accra, Cape Coast is home to a string of fishing villages where traditional Ghanaian music continues to be part of daily life and where Taylor grew up listening to the roots highlife that has always been at the heart of his style.

    Tayor came of age during the golden years of highlife, an era dominated by the pioneering saxophonist and trumpeter ET Mensah and his band The Tempos. After leaving college, Taylor joined the Stargazers, a highlife band led by saxophonist Teddy Osei and drummer Sol Amarfio, who were among the founding members of the hugely successful British-based Afro-rock band, Osibisa. When Osei and Amarfio broke up the Stargazers to form the Comets, Taylor played with, and arranged for, a succession of highlife bands on the Cape Coast and in Accra.

    From 1962 to 1965, Taylor lived in London, where he studied at the Eric Gilder School Of Music. In 1965 he returned to Ghana, where he set up the New Broadway Dance Band, leaving them in 1970 to form the Blue Monks. Both bands, at various times, included the singer Pat Thomas, another alumnus of the Stargazers, who was soon to find fame across West Africa with his own band, the Sweet Beans. Taylor and Thomas have since frequently recorded together. In the early 1970s, Taylor also became the in-house guitarist, arranger and producer for Dick Essilfie-Bondziea’s prolific and influential Essiebons label.

    Among Taylor’s uncommon attributes is his affinity for both highlife and Afrobeat, which have traditionally existed in near-parallel universes. It is likely that Taylor developed this talent while working at Essiebons, which recorded a wide variety of West African musics, from Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Guinea and elsewhere. His cultural inclusiveness began, however, in London in the mid 1960s….

    The Eric Gilder School of Music was then located in Soho’s Wardour Street, bang in the middle of London club land (the Marquee club moved into the building immediately next door to the school in 1964). Like the Nigerian saxophonist Peter King and (then) trumpeter Fela Kuti, who were also studying music in London and both of whom he soon got to know, Taylor learnt more about music by listening to, and sitting-in, with club bands in Soho and Notting Hill – then countercultural and socially marginalised areas on different planets than they inhabit today – than he did by attending college lectures. “There was one particular Soho club called the Abalabi which featured highlife,” says Taylor. “Fela and I used to go there and jam a lot.” Both musicians also absorbed a lot of live jazz.

    “It was fun to be in London,” says Taylor. “It was the swinging ’60s and I hung out in clubs with musicians like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. They were good times. But highlife music wasn’t popular with English people then. They enjoyed calypso and ska but not African music. I think they thought that, unlike Trinidad and Jamaica, Africa was primitive, with people living in trees in the jungle. They didn’t come across African music in their social life and they weren’t interested to seek it out, so they never really heard it. But highlife was very popular with Africans in London! It was a powerful reminder of home.”

    Living in London in the 1960s, did Taylor ever dream that African music would break out of its niche and gain a wider audience? “I had hopes that it would catch on with English people, but I never really thought it would happen,” says Taylor. “Twenty years later world music changed all that though. English people started having more interest in records from Africa. Today there may be more Afrobeat bands in Europe than there are in West Africa. It is remarkable.” (Today’s crop of mixed-ethnicity Afrobeat bands was actually preceded by similarly inclusive highlife bands in London in the mid 1980s, when the world-music movement was emerging. Among the most prominent was Hi-Life International, who recorded for the label run by the specialist record shop Sterns.)

    In 1964, the year before he returned to Ghana, Taylor formed by Black Star Highlife Band, which included his onetime Stargazers bandmates Teddy Osei and Sol Amarfio, who were also studying music in London. The Black Stars fused highlife with elements of jazz. “Fela used to say to me, ‘Why are we Africans always playing jazz?’,” says Taylor. “He said jazz was for the Americans and we should be doing our own thing. But of course jazz later played a big part in Fela’s Afrobeat, just like it did in my music.

    “Fela often came to my flat in Willesden and we would spend hours playing records by people like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker and analysing them. Jazz has been a big influence on me, especially guitarists like Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Chuck Wayne – I actually named one of my sons after him. Also Kenny Burrell, he has so much soul. I feel like I’m still playing jazz but with Ghanaian rhythms. There are American influences in my music but there is African culture behind it. Along with jazz, James Brown and funk brought changes to my music. Fela introduced it to Nigerian music and I did the same sort of thing in Ghana.”

    Alongside today’s ever-increasing interest in West African music, says Taylor, a new generation of Ghanaian musicians are rediscovering traditional highlife. “It is still a minority of people who are interested in traditional music,” he says. “Most young musicians in Ghana are getting their ideas from overseas, and maybe mixing in some highlife or Afrobeat. But some people are looking back into earlier forms of music. There’s a new wave that is related to the highlife of the ‘40s and ‘50s. All the older styles got forgotten or ignored during the colonial era, especially in big towns like Accra, where you mostly music from Britain in the clubs.

    “That attitude continued even after independence. But in Saltpond City, and all along the Cape Coast, they have never forgotten the traditional music. You can still hear the fishermen singing the songs while they mend their nets on the beach. I do believe that it is important for music to progress, otherwise it just becomes something for museums, but you have to know your traditional culture before you start adding things to it.”

    A balance between tradition and innovation was what Taylor aimed for when recording Yen Ara with his group, the Saltpond City Band. There are roots in highlife and Afrobeat, but also elements of jazz and European dance music. “The intention was to follow the path of African music, which our ancestors left for us and which we should not forget,” says Taylor. “The album offers a variety of African music. It’s not all Afrobeat or all highlife. It is designed to show the full scope of authentic West African music – which must not stop.”

    At age 81, Taylor has no intention of stopping either. He hopes to carry on performing and recording for years yet. “By the grace of God and physical exercise,” he says.

    Ebo Taylor’s Yen Ara is released on 6th April via Mr Bongo.

    Main photo: Tom Herbots

  • Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 announces new LP Black Times

    By | December 19, 2017

    Fela’s son returns with his fourth studio album, shares first single.

    Seun Kuti and his dance orchestra Egypt 80 are releasing their new album, this March via Strut.

    Read more: Music Is The Weapon: 10 essential Fela Kuti records

    Seun is the youngest son of pioneering afrobeat legend Fela.

    Black Times is a true reflection of my political and social beliefs,” shares the Seun. “It is an album for anybody who believes in change and understands the duty we have to rise up and come together.”

    Pre-order a copy here ahead of its 2nd March release, listen to first single ‘Black Times’ and check out the track list below.

    Tracklist

    1. Last Revolutionary
    2. Black Times featuring Carlos Santana
    3. Corporate Public Control Department (CPCD)
    4. Kuku Kee Me
    5. Bad Man Lighter
    6. African Dreams
    7. Struggle Sounds
    8. Theory Of Goat and Yam

  • Erykah Badu curates new 7xLP Fela Kuti box set

    By | October 16, 2017

    “Fela Kuti is a Fucking Genius. Please listen to these tracks, preferably with a nice blunt.. with a nice slow burn.”

    Seven Fela Kuti LPs are being remastered and reissued in a new box set, selected by Erykah Badu.

    Read more: Music Is The Weapon: 10 essential Fela Kuti records

    Felt Kuti Box Set #4 includes LPs Yellow Fever (1976), No Agreement (1977), J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop) (1977), V.I.P. (1979), Coffin For Head of State (1980), Army Arrangement (1984), and Underground System (1992).

    The release is the four instalment in a series of box sets curated by famous musicians, following Brian Eno, Ginger Baker and ?uestlove.

    Each album has been remastered from the original recordings, alongside cover and vinyl artwork recreated from each LP’s first release.

    Limited to 3,000 worldwide, the package also comes with a 16”x24” poster from frequent Fela Kuti artist Lemi Ghariokwu, and colour booklet with essays from Badu, journalist and Vinyl Factory regular Chris May, song lyrics and exclusive photographs of Fela Kuti.

    Felt Kuti Box Set #4 is out 15th December 2017 on Knitting Factory Records.

    Pre-order a copy here, and listen to Badu favourite ‘Coffin for Head of State’ below.

  • Inglan is a bitch: 10 songs in solidarity with migration

    By | August 24, 2017

    One the eve of another Notting Hill Carnival, Chris May looks at the broad musical legacy left by the movement of people over the last eighty years.

    The clearest evidence of musical migration to Britain is London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival. What began as a small party for Britons of African-Caribbean heritage has grown into a mass celebration enjoyed by people of every ethnic background. Carnival is irrefutable proof that a multi-cultural society is more fun than a mono-cultural one – and a happy society is a productive society.

    Sadly, in 2017 it is no longer possible to make a statement like this and then, as the lawyers say, rest your case. Bigotry is resurgent across the Western world, and with the rise of nationalist demagogues such as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage comes the demonisation of minority groups. Confronted by complex social issues, populist politicians offer simplistic solutions which invariably involve the scapegoating of “immigrants.” This dehumanizing collective description includes people fleeing tyrannical regimes to so-called “economic refugees” seeking better lives.

    This selection of records dealing with migration spans rap, reggae, calypso, acoustic folk music, rock and Afrobeat. The artists performing them are similarly diverse. Some are migrants or the children of migrants, their singing and songwriting informed by personal experience of migration. Others are observers, offering friendship and support to their new countrymen and women. What binds them together is a shared sense of humanity, where diversity is understood to be a plus rather than a minus, and justice is the entitlement of all.

    The 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke famously wrote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Fortunately, there are many good men and women who are doing plenty, and so long as the will to resist exists, the battle with modern demagoguery is winnable. Here are ten spins on migration – international, internal, compelled and self-propelled. It begins, appropriately, with a calypso, the Notting Hill Carnival’s original soundtrack.


    Lord Kitchener
    ‘London Is The Place For Me’
    (Melodisc 78rpm single, 1951) (Reissue pictured)

    Listen / Buy

    An atypically upbeat opener…. When the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury in June 1948, ushering in the post-war boom in Caribbean migration to Britain, among the travellers was the Calypsonian Lord Kitchener. A Pathé News film crew were on hand to interview the new arrivals and Kitchener improvised ‘London Is The Place For Me’ for them. Three years later, he recorded an extended version of the song. Today, Kitchener’s lyrics sound more than a little naïve, but they reflected his experiences. “The English people are very much sociable/They take you here and they take you there/They make you feel like a millionaire.” By 1958, the year of the Notting Hill white-on-black race riots, a more layered reality had dawned.


    Woody Guthrie
    ‘I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Any More’ from Dust Bowl Ballads
    (RCA Victor 3x78rpm box set, 1940) (Reissue pictured)

    Listen / Buy

    Woody Guthrie was among the first American folk singers to focus on migration and to dignify migrants. ‘I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Any More’ was part of a body of work in which Guthrie sang about the dispossessed share-croppers of the US Mid-West who, after the region’s once-fertile land had been turned into a dust bowl by wind erosion, had to abandon their homes and migrate elsewhere in the country where they received a far from universal welcome. “Was a-farmin’ on the shares, and always I was poor/My crops I lay into the banker’s store… Rich man took my home and drove me from my door/And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.”


    The Byrds
    ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)’ from Ballad Of Easy Rider
    (Columbia LP, 1969)

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    Written as a poem by Woody Guthrie in 1948, ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)’ pays tribute to 28 Mexican migrant workers who were being deported from Los Gatos, California when the plane they were on crashed, killing everyone on board. Guthrie was outraged by the way their deaths were reported. In all, 32 people died, but US media stories gave only the names of four white people, referring to the other passengers collectively as “deportees,” as though their deaths were less important. “The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,” wrote Guthrie, “a fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills. Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves? The radio says, ‘They are just deportees.’” The Byrds’ is among the best of many cover versions.


    Burning Spear
    ‘Slavery Days’
    (Fox 45rpm single, 1974)

    Listen / Buy

    The trans-Atlantic slave trade was frequently addressed in Rastafarian-informed reggae during the 1970s, but rarely with as much power as here. “The big fat boat/We pull it/We pull it/We must pull it with shackles round our necks… Do you remember the days of slavery?” The track was included on Burning Spear’s 1975 Island LP Marcus Garvey, but with a remix intended to make it more palatable to European ears. Even in that form it remains stirring stuff, but the original Jamaican single packs a special punch.


    Fela Kuti
    ‘Johnny Just Drop’ from JJD: Fela Live At Kalakuta Republic
    (Afrodisia LP, 1977)

    Listen / Buy

    In ‘Johnny Just Drop,’ Fela Kuti lampoons Nigeria’s “been-tos,” people who had been to Britain or the US to work or study, and then returned home with an inferiority complex about African culture. This was a recurring theme in Kuti’s 1970s albums, and had already been touched on in Gentleman and Before I Jump Like Monkey Give Me Banana. Look how these JJDs dress and talk, says Kuti, they are trying to deny their ethnicity. they are trying to deny their ethnicity. The chorus respond with the single word “original,” a reference to Kuti’s hook line on ‘Gentleman’ – “I no be gentleman at all-o. I be Africa man, original.”


    Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson
    ‘Alien (Hold On To Your Dreams)’ from 1980
    (Arista LP, 1980)

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    1980 was the swansong of the recording partnership between Gil Scott-Heron and keyboardist, arranger and co-producer Brian Jackson. It was a blinder and ‘Alien (Hold On To Your Dreams)’ was a stand-out track. Like ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos),’ the words address the treatment of migrants from Mexico to the US, which, three decades on, had become a national scandal. Scott-Heron tracks the journey of one migrant, from successfully dodging US search helicopters while swimming across the Rio Grande, to becoming a victim of de facto debt bondage.


    Linton Kwesi Johnson
    ‘Inglan Is A Bitch’ from Bass Culture
    (Island LP, 1980)

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    Thirty years after the optimistic arrival of Lord Kitchener in Britain, dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson offered an alternative view of African-Caribbean life in the country. ‘Inglan Is A Birch’ is presented as the remembrance of a Windrush-generation worker who has been made redundant and, in the middle of a recession, is unable to find another job. Johnson’s words reflected the decades of racism which African-Caribbean migrants had faced in Britain. “Me do day work an me do night work/Me do clean work an me do dirty work/Dem say dat black man is very lazy/But if you see how me work you woulda say me crazy.”


    Manu Chao
    ‘Clandestino’ from Clandestino
    (Virgin LP, 1998)

    Listen / Buy

    Manu Chao was born in Paris to parents who had migrated from Spain to escape General Franco’s fascist dictatorship. Migration has been a frequently revisited subject in Chao’s music, in particular US-bound migration from Central America, where he has travelled extensively. Sung in Spanish, ‘Clandestino’ takes a more global view: “Running is my fate/In order to deceive the law… I’m a just a ghost in the city/Lost in the heart of the great Babylon/They call me the Clandestine/Because I don’t carry any identity papers/Algerian Clandestine, Nigerian Clandestine, Bolivian Clandestine, Black Hand, Illegal.”


    Bruce Springsteen
    ‘Matamoros Banks’ from Devils & Dust
    (Columbia LP, 2005)

    Listen / Buy

    Like Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Alien (Hold On To Your Dreams),’ Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Matamoros Banks’ tells the story of a migrant worker crossing the Rio Grande. In the later song, however, the protagonist dies in the attempt. The lyrics track the man’s journey backwards, from a body in the river, through the long walk across the north Mexican desert to the banks of the Rio Grande and US border. The stripped-back performance – Devils & Dust is an acoustic album – gives the lyric something of the air of a memorial prayer.


    M.I.A.
    ‘Paper Planes’ from Kala
    (XL 2xLP, 2007)

    Listen / Buy

    A literary and sonic masterpiece. M.I.A. adopts the character of a gun-toting street hustler in a US inner city largely peopled by migrants. Evading border police, acquiring false visas, selling crack and much more figure in the lyrics, which M.I.A. wrote to satirise negative stereotypes about dark-skinned migrants supposedly threatening US society. Trump, and Farage would probably love ‘Paper Planes,’ but for all the wrong reasons.

    Illustration by Gaurab Thakali

  • A rare afrofunk album from Fela Kuti protégée Kingsley Bucknor Jr. is being reissued for the first time

    By | July 27, 2017

    Beautiful 1970s Lagos sounds.

    African Woman, the second album from Kingsley Bucknor Jr., aka the Black Isaiah of Africa, is being reissued on vinyl for the first time by Hot Casa Records, remastered by The Carvery.

    Read more: Meet the designer behind Fela Kuti’s riotous record sleeves

    Kingsley, a disciple of Fela Kuti and member of his Kalakuta Republic communal artists compound, recorded and self-produced the LP in 1979 at EMI’s Lagos studio, with the help of a 16-piece band called the Afrodisk Beat Organisation, plus 10 backing vocalists.

    The record was originally released by Nigerian independent label Grandstar Records, an offshoot of the Shannu Olu imprint, both of whom put out records from Nigeria’s finest like Tony Allen.

    African Woman‘s limited-edition vinyl package also features photographs and interviews.

    Order a copy here, and listen to track ‘Mr. Debtor’ below.

  • We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang: 10 protest songs that stood up to the state

    By | February 21, 2017

    Protest songs are only as confrontational as the events and individuals they oppose. In an age where Trump-style populism is infecting political discourse, Dorian Lynskey remembers ten songs that went further to challenge totalitarians and autocrats across the world.

    Donald Trump is not a dictator but he thinks like one. With his admiration for strongmen like Putin and Erdogan and his contempt for democratic institutions such as the free press, independent judiciary and the right to peaceful protest, he is instinctively closer to fascism than any previous occupant of the White House. Accustomed to having complete control over employees and Apprentice contestants, he is clearly enraged by the constraints that are essential to a functioning democracy and if he can bend or break them, then he will. He invokes the will of the people (I want to say volk) only in order to justify his gut desire for unlimited power. In short, he’s exactly the kind of man the Constitution was designed to save America from.

    In the same way that the rise of Trump revokes Godwin’s Law, the axiom that says the first person who compares a political opponent to Hitler has lost the argument, it redefines the parameters of hyperbole for songwriters. You might argue that describing Nixon, Reagan or either Bush as fascists was too much but Trump himself is too much. We’ve seen people like him take charge of more vulnerable countries and poison them to the core, so comparisons to these national nightmares are not irrelevant. When the opposition movement is calling itself “the Resistance”, when Russian-born journalists are sharing lessons they learnt from dealing with Putin, when decades-old dystopian warnings like Nineteen Eighty-Four and It Can’t Happen Here are bestsellers again, it’s time to look beyond the standard protest songs and consider more extreme scenarios. Here are ten songs about totalitarians, autocrats and fascists, and the people who resisted them.


    Scott Walker
    ‘The Old Man’s Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist Regime)’ from Scott 4
    (Philips, 1969)

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    Scott Walker didn’t usually write topical songs but he made an exception for the violent, Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia to oust reformist leader Alexander Dubček in 1968. Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev’s new wave of repression felt like a throwback to Stalin, so Walker spliced realistic vignettes with nightmarish visions of Stalin as a kind of evil ghost, returning to fall across Eastern Europe like a shadow. Walker’s later songs about dictatorships, ‘The Electrician’ and ‘Clara’, used dissonant music to mirror the horror of their subject matter but ‘The Old Man’s Back Again’ is ominously beautiful, with its strolling bassline, cinematic strings and swelling choir. The unwieldy parenthetical reveals Walker’s desire to ensure nobody misunderstood the message.


    Stevie Wonder
    ‘Big Brother’ from Talking Book
    (Tamla Motown, 1972)

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    The lyrical ferocity of Wonder’s anti-Nixon songs (cf ‘You Haven’t Done Nothin’’) is underrated. This deceptively sunny folk-soul groove imagines Tricky Dick as half Orwellian tyrant, half conman, promising “I’ll change if you vote me in as the President of your soul.” Released during Nixon’s reelection campaign, before the Watergate break-in, the last lines are uncannily prescient: “I don’t even have to do nothing to you/You’ll cause your own country to fall.”


    Inti-Illimani
    ‘!El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido! (The People United Can Never Be Defeated)’ from Inti-Illimani 2 – La Nueva Cancion Chilena
    (I Dischi Dello Zodiaco, 1974)

    Listen / Buy

    The musicians of Chile’s Nueva Cancion movement were loyal supporters of President Salvador Allende’s embattled socialist government. When composer Sergio Ortega and the group Quilapayún wrote this song in June 1973, Allende was still hanging on despite mounting opposition from powerful right-wing forces. But that September, General Pinochet led a military coup that claimed the lives of hundreds, including Allende and Nueva Cancion star Victor Jara. Jara’s friends Inti-Illimani were lucky because they were touring Europe at the time. Scared to go home, they began a 15-year exile which they sardonically called “the longest tour in history”. Their stirring version turned the song into an anthem of resistance, later adapted by artists such as Charlie Haden, Anti-Flag and Big Sean as well as protesters around the world. A song rewritten by history.


    Elvis Costello
    ‘Less Than Zero’ from My Aim Is True
    (Stiff Records, 1977)

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    Once skinheads began to infiltrate the punk scene, anti-fascist songs became commonplace but Elvis Costello took the long view on ‘Less Than Zero’. Outraged by seeing the unrepentant 1930s brownshirt Oswald Mosley interviewed on the BBC, he wrote what he called “more of a slandering fantasy than a reasoned argument”, its reggae influence an implicit rebuke to Mosley’s white supremacism. Costello’s preoccupation with fascism past and present soon reared its ahead again on Goon Squad and Night Rally: “You think they’re so dumb, you think they’re so funny/Wait until they’ve got you running to the night rally.”


    The Dead Kennedys
    ‘California Über Alles’ from Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables
    (Cherry Red, 1979)

    Listen / Buy

    Jello Biafra sensed America’s latent appetite for fascism but identified the wrong vessel in the form of California Governor Jerry Brown, the hip, charismatic, staunchly liberal Democrat whom Biafra hyperbolically described as “Big Bro’ on a white horse”. Two years later, the band’s anti-Reagan sequel ‘We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now’ admitted that he’d had his eye on the wrong man, and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’s 1992 cover version retooled it for Republican Governor Pete Wilson. But Biafra and his friend John Greenway’s frenetic satire of a New Age dictatorship is so viciously funny, with its “suede/denim secret police” and “organic poison gas”, that it endures regardless. Hysterical in both senses of the word.


    Fela Kuti & Africa 70
    ‘Coffin for Head of State’ from Coffin for Head of State
    (Kalakuta Records, 1981)

    Listen / Buy

    Nigeria’s government in the 1970s wasn’t a dictatorship but it wasn’t reluctant to use state violence to crush dissent. Fela’s mischievous provocations, including musical critiques like ‘Zombie’ and ‘Expensive Shit’, enraged President Obasanjo and his troops. In February 1977, hundreds of soldiers ransacked Fela’s compound, the Kalakuta Republic, beating and raping the residents and burning the buildings. One victim was Fela’s mother, who was thrown off a balcony and later died of her injuries. An extraordinary 22-minute journey through rage, grief, pride and rebellion, ‘Coffin for Head of State’ refers to Fela delivering a life-size replica of his mother’s coffin to Obasanjo’s official residence. In trying to silence Fela, the authorities had only made him bolder.


    Heaven 17
    ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ from Penthouse and Pavement
    (Virgin, 1981)

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    Having just left the Human League, Heaven 17’s Martyn Ware wanted to beat his ex-bandmate Phil Oakey to the punch with a giant hit. Unfortunately, Radio 1 declined to play a record that labelled President Reagan “a fascist god in motion”, however appealing its mechanised James Brownisms may have been. A heroically strange record on every level.


    Pet Shop Boys
    ‘In the Night’ from Disco
    (Parlophone, 1985)

    Listen / Buy

    A keen student of history, Neil Tennant is unusually interested in the psychology of totalitarianism. On the recent Pet Shop Boys song ‘The Dictator Decides’, he got inside the head of a reluctant hereditary tyrant who feels like a prisoner of his own regime. Three decades earlier, he considered the moral plight of those who live under dictatorships, specifically the Zazous, a youth cult that emerged in wartime France. The Nazi occupiers considered these jazz-loving existentialists degenerate while the Resistance thought them criminally apathetic: “There’s a thin line between love and crime and collaboration.” The title has a sinister double meaning, with the night as the setting for both hedonistic escapism and a knock on the door from the secret police. Set to dystopian electro, it’s a stunning blend of empathy and menace.


    Ice Cube
    ‘When Will They Shoot?’ from The Predator
    (Priority Records, 1992)

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    1992 was the year that David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, ran for President in the Republican primaries and LA residents rioted after the acquittal of the four LAPD officers who were filmed beating Rodney King. The angriest man in hip-hop kicked off his third album The Predator with a jaw-dropping, fist-swinging assault on Duke (“Now the KKK wear three-piece suits”), the police, his critics and America itself: “To us, Uncle Sam is Hitler without an oven.” DJ Pooh’s production swings like a wrecking ball.


    Green Day
    ‘Holiday’ from American Idiot
    (Reprise Records, 2004)

    Listen / Buy

    Trump’s contempt for democratic norms manages to make even George W. Bush look reasonable but after the deceitful fiasco of the Iraq war, Bush felt like a new low for the presidency. Fusing their roots in Berkeley’s politically militant punk scene with arena-sized ambition, Green Day made American Idiot, a blockbuster concept album about a country gone awry. In the context of a Grammy-winning, sextuple-platinum album, Holiday’s ferocity is breathtaking: “Sieg heil to the President Gasman/Bombs away is your punishment/Pulverise the Eiffel Towers/Who criticise your government/Bang bang goes the broken glass and/Kill all the fags that don’t agree.” In 2017 it sounds grimly relevant again.

  • Afrobeat by XOA

    VF Mix 72: Afrobeat by XOA

    By | November 10, 2016

    Afrobeat by XOA

    From past to present.

    Nick Tyson, as XOA, draws on the sun-drenched, oft political, vintage sounds of golden era afrobeat in his contemporary productions that “sizzle” with analogue synths, guitars and percussion.

    Following a debut release on Dan Shake’s Shake label earlier this year, XOA strikes again with a six-track EP featuring remixes by Bryon The Aquarious and Orchards. Ahead of the EP release, due 21 November via new label One House Records, we invited XOA to dig through his envious afrobeat collection for a one hour vinyl-only excursion, from past to present.

    Tyson says: “The mix starts with some amazing King Sunny Ade from the Nigeria 70 compilation on Strut, right through to new releases from O’flynn, XOA and On The Corner Records, highlighting the influence of Nigerian afrobeat pioneers from the ’70s on the South London music scene.”

    Find the compelte tracklist below.


    Tracklist:

    01. Sunny Ade and His African Beats – Ja Fun Mi (Instrumental)
    02. Tumblack – Caraiba
    03. Archimedes Badar & Afro 70 – Kila Mtu
    04. XOA – Storm Windows feat Anthony Joseph
    05. Ikestra – Dan Y Coed
    06. Arologic ft Aremu, Temi Oydele & Wuru Samba – Omede Mewa
    07. Unknown – (Brown Label edit)
    08. O’Fylnn – Spyglass
    09. XOA – Aiye Le feat Dele Sosimi
    10. Sofrito vs Tabou N2 – Tabou For The People
    11. Shelters edits 001 – Phoukie Musick
    12. Fela edits? – B side
    13. Rich Thair vs Group As Salaam – L’burgh L’burgh

  • Meet the designer behind Fela Kuti’s riotous record sleeves

    By | October 15, 2016

    Lemi Ghariokwu is the visionary behind dozens of Fela Kuti‘s album covers. Like the music, the sleeves are socially conscious, calling out corruption, political oppression, police brutality, skin bleaching and more in a anarchic mix of photography, paint and illustration.


    Words: Emma Tucker


    The relationship between Nigerian designer Lemi Ghariokwu and Fela Kuti goes beyond that of creative collaborators. Working with the musician, Ghariokwu has been responsible for almost 30 sleeves of politically and socially motivated illustrations, collages and oil paintings. In turn, he says Kuti encouraged his self-directed artistic education and gave him unparalleled liberty when it came to designing artwork – often approving sleeves with a single trademark phrase: ‘wow, goddamn’.

    The partnership also launched Ghariokwu’s four decade-long career, which has seen the designer create thousands of sleeves for other artists, and invent his own creative movement called Afro Art Beat. Now 60 and contemplating writing his memoirs, Gariokwu still sells portraits, often of Kuti, in his home city of Lagos.

    The artist created his first cover for Kuti’s Alagbon Close album in 1974, following a meeting with the musician he describes as “a great eye opener”. A portrait of Kuti created by Ghariokwu had already attracted the singer’s attention, but despite being offered four times the payment he’d typically receive at the time, the artist turned down the offer in favour of a hand-written gig pass.

    “I believe in pre-destination,” he says. “I met him at 18, but I was prepared for the role I eventually played with him because I already had my African consciousness.”

    “We became like family immediately,” he adds.

    18-year-old Ghariokwu was firmly politically engaged, citing the Black Panthers in the US as heroes, alongside civil rights activist and singer Miriam Makeba. His awareness of social issues was already being translated into artistic endeavours, with early work by the designer including an illustrated depiction of Black Panther George Jackson – who was shot by a prison guard while in LA’s San Quentin State Prison.

    This determination to create social commentary also found its expression in the Alagbon Close cover, which shows a police boat being capsized by a whale and Kuti escaping from the chains of a burning jailhouse. Ghariokwu created the artwork after visiting Kuti in hospital – where he was recovering after being arrested by police in his Kalakuta Republic commune in Lagos.

    “This was my first ever chance,” says Ghariokwu. “I came up with my cover art and it’s instructional in the sense that it signalled what I was going to do eventually on his covers. I actually illustrated it not directly relating to the lyrics – my cover art was totally abstract.

    “It was the first time in Nigeria that when the album was released they rave reviewed the music, and they also reviewed the album cover art too,” he adds. “That was the beginning of the dynasty of album cover art.”This dynasty, as he calls it, spans 26 sleeves, which covers an enormous array of styles that reflect Ghariokwu’s own periods of experimentation.

    People are often the focus of the designer’s work, placed alongside freehand type and an unrestrained palette of colours. Ghariokwu’s approach is visually riotous, with photography mixed into painting and illustration, and details packed into the 12 by 12 frame of the album sleeve.

    No Bread, the second cover he created for the musician, was created after Ghariokwu’s first experience of marijuana – encouraged by Kuti himself. Taking around two weeks to finish, the oil piece features a jumble of painterly faces leering out from the cover, interspersed with small sections of lettering. According to Ghariokwu, the design was an attempt to incorporate the notebook full of ideas he recorded while in a post-marijuana haze into a single square space.

    Unafraid to tackle controversial issues, Ghariokwu addressed skin bleaching with his 1971 Yellow Fever cover, which featured an unabashed portrait of a bare breasted African woman, while the 1977 Fear Not Man sleeve saw hand-drawn type and letters made from cut-out faces of Nigerians, pasted over photography.

    The artist didn’t shy away from depicting the controversy that often surrounded Kuti, illustrating the first police attack on the musician’s Kalakuta commune in 1974 for the cover of Kalakuta Show, which features the musician’s face looming over the blue shirts of a swarm of officers. The cover is a grim foreshadowing of what would come in 1977, when Kuti’s compound was completely destroyed by soldiers.

    The artist also showed a willingness to take risks, portraying demonic versions of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan on the cover of Beasts of No Nation, alongside images of rats dressed in Nigerian army uniform. In an interview with CNN, Ghariokwu noted the hazards that came with this, describing it as “a dangerous cover”.

    “I’ve been lucky because the powers that be don’t take visual art too seriously; they don’t know the power that it has, so that’s why I escaped getting arrested,” he said.

    On occasion, Ghariokwu took a less political and more personal stance, with the designer referring back to some of his favourite reggae album covers with 1975’s Everything Scatter with a photomontage of Kuti’s youth movement Young African Pioneers.

    Completely self taught, his approach is so varied that he says journalists often express disbelief that he’s responsible for such a range of artwork.

    “My style became very eclectic,” he says. “It depended on how I was feeling, or the vibe towards a particular song, and that determined the style I would use for the cover. Sometimes this was photomontage or collage or caricature, sometimes I did oil painting or illustration.”

    Despite the variety of his approaches, Ghariokwu’s work remains united by his belief in art’s ability to address social and political issues. Speaking on the phone the designer describes feeling a social responsibility as an artist – a way for him to address the world with the same ‘warrior spirit’ as Kuti.

    The partnership between the two, however productive, hasn’t been without its moments of conflict. The 1977 artwork for JJD saw Ghariokwu sneak an initially rejected oil painting of a man in jeans dropping from an airplane onto the back of a double sleeve album – a decision Kuti apparently considered “below the belt”.

    Despite this, the pair’s relationship has been characterised by a remarkable level of understanding, with Ghariokwu given complete creative freedom when it came to dealing with artwork. The designer was able to respond intuitively to albums, either using the lyrics as a source of inspiration or creating artwork that functioned as a ‘megaphone’ for the wider message Kuti was trying to convey.

    The longstanding relationship between the two also allowed the designer to include his own ‘designer’s comments’ column on the backs of covers. Here, Ghariokwu included written pieces that provided a supplement to the music, as well as a commentary on his own work – a rarity considering how frequently designers are lacking even the most basic credit.

    “That’s one of many things that I will never forget Fela for,” says the designer. “I’ll always be eternally grateful for the opportunities he gave me. I was like a comrade in arms with him because I shared the ideology in totality.”

    “When I met him I became an acolyte and he was my master,” he adds. “I just imbibed all that.”

    It’s precisely this relationship that makes Ghariokwu’s work so compelling. The artist’s uncompromising approach is a mouthpiece for Kuti’s own militant message, communicated loud and clear in paint and photography. Even decades later, the designer’s fiery colours and striking subject matter still sears into the brain, with contemporary cover designers offering little in the way of comparison.

  • An introduction to unsung synth pioneer Wally Badarou in 10 essential records

    By | July 26, 2016

    One of the most significant, if not recognised, musicians of the decade, Wally Badarou’s fluid fingers played keyboard runs on classic ’80s records by Grace Jones, Herbie Hancock, Talking Heads and Tom-Tom Club. We asked the man himself to help tell his story in 10 essential records.


    Words: Ben Murphy


    “I was only doing my music all the way through, the eclecticism of which happened to fit many styles and genres,” says synth pioneer and musical polymath Wally Badarou. You can say that again: this French electronic wizard made an indelible mark on many of the most significant records of the 1980s.

    Working with Grace Jones, Black Uhuru, Tom Tom Club, Gwen Guthrie, Robert Palmer, Herbie Hancock, Manu Dibango and Marianne Faithfull, a member of British jazz funk band Level 42, and author of some hugely influential solo records, Badarou’s personality is intrinsically part of ’80s music, his characterful keyboard runs and dreamy pads running like a flawless seam through an immaculate pastel green suit.

    A law student before being bitten by the music bug, the Parisian Wally — born to physician parents originally from Benin, West Africa — had no formal musical training and taught himself how to play when a piano was introduced to his family home. Starting out as a session musician, he quickly became an integral player and musical contributor on many key tracks and albums, which would have sounded quite different without his subtle style.

    With Grace Jones’ classic Warm Leatherette LP just reissued through Island as a deluxe edition vinyl box set — an album on which Badarou lent his charismatic flavor — we decided to get in touch with the elusive musician and find out more about his journey, while guiding you through some of the key records he’s played on.


    M Pop  Muzik

    M
    ‘Pop Muzik’ from 12″
    (MCA Records, 1979)

    Listen / Buy

    One of the earliest tracks on which you can hear Badarou’s distinctive playing, this funky synth-pop classic is probably one of the best known tracks he’s contributed to. Listen closely, and you can detect that inimitable synth brilliance all over this archetypal, proto-’80s piece.


    Grace Jones - Private Life

    Grace Jones
    ‘Private Life’ from 12″
    (Island, 1980)

    Listen / Buy

    Appearing on Grace Jones’ classic album Warm Leatherette (and the follow-up Nightclubbing) was career-changing for Badarou. Though his sublime keys and ethereal synths lift the entire record, there are few moments more perfect than the reggae/post-punk conflation of ‘Private Life’. Grace in insouciant form; Sly & Robbie pulling influences from all contemporary sources; and Wally adding those somnambulant electronic touches, sounding astonishingly futuristic — and Balearic — for the time.

    “It was unreal,” Wally says. “One day I was sessioning in Paris, France, usual stuff. The day after, I was meeting Barry Reynolds (of Marianne Faithfull’s Broken English fame) on board the plane that was to land in Nassau, Bahamas, to record then disco diva Grace Jones’ next album, with the likes of reggae aces Sly & Robbie, under guru Chris Blackwell’s direction. Unreal, from start to finish. Needless to say, I didn’t think I really belonged to the picture at first. It took ‘Private Life’ to start making things a bit more real. But even today, I still can’t figure out how we managed to make it all happen, so little was my understanding of what was at stake back then. We just went for the situation, and so did Grace, gracefully.”


    Level 42 Starchild

    Level 42
    ‘Starchild’ from 12″
    (Polydor, 1981)

    Listen / Buy

    They later became known as a pop band with big UK hits such as ‘The Sun Goes Down’ and ‘Lessons in Love’, but Level 42 started out very much imbedded in the jazz funk dance scene. Wally Badarou was an irregular member of the band, and his funky, futuristic and metallic keyboard work is all over this club hit, helping it ascend to suitably celestial heights. Today, Wally sees his work with the band as being just as important as his solo records.

    “I will not compare what my own music – all of it, no favourite, and Level 42 included – means to me, to what does any other contribution. One is my spirit, flesh and blood, and the other, well, as successful as it may have proven, is just a contribution, as honorific as having been a part of it may stand today.”


    Lizzy Mercier Descloux - 'Lady O K’ Pele'

    Lizzy Mercier Descloux
    ‘Lady O K’ Pele’ from Mambo Nassau
    (Philips, 1981)

    Listen / Buy

    Spirited away to Nassau to work with a crack team of musicians at the legendary Compass Point Studios must have been a tough gig for Wally Badarou. Not. Combining with Sly & Robbie at the recording complex opened by Island Records’ impresario Chris Blackwell, Wally played on this wonderful cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Sun is Shining’ by French post-punk kook Mercier-Descloux, embellishing the keyboard flourishes of the original with an even more Gallic, almost chanson flavour.

    “It was a strange combination of relaxation and a hardworking situation [at Compass Point],” reflects Wally. “All within Chris Blackwell’s catalystic and mesmerising environment, that made everyone want to surpass themselves. We hardly expected it to represent what it represents today.” The Compass Point sound, typified by these sessions, was a rich roux of reggae, funk, disco and subtle synths. It was the must-have sound for many artists in the’80s, who upped sticks to appealing Caribbean climes to cut records there.


    Black Uhuru - Chill Out

    Black Uhuru
    ‘Chill Out’ from Chill Out
    (Island, 1982)

    Listen / Buy

    As if to prove the influence of that studio – and its expert in-house band – this lead track from the Black Uhuru album of the same name offered a fresh take on reggae. In its digital production, it’s early dancehall really, but Wally’s funky keys lend it that Grace Jones vibe, setting it apart. The album was actually recorded in Jamaica at Channel One, but with Sly & Robbie providing the rhythm, it’s definitely got that Compass Point stamp.


     More Images  Gwen Guthrie ‎– It Should Have Been You

    Gwen Guthrie
    ‘It Should Have Been You’ from 12″
    (Island Records, 1982)

    Listen / Buy

    Another disco diva to record at Compass Point, the late, great Gwen may have been a little more conventional than Grace, but she had more than her share of essential cuts. This number from her self-titled album is a glorious boogie cut brought to vivid neon life by Wally’s sparkling, funky keyboard licks and soothing pads.


    Wally Badarou - Echoes

    Wally Badarou
    ‘Mambo’ from Echoes
    (Island Records, 1984)

    Listen / Buy

    Badarou’s classic solo album Echoes has been a best-kept secret for a long time, though that’s beginning to change. Todd Terje opened his Essential Mix with the track ‘Voices’, and Massive Attack sampled the breezy ‘Mambo’ for Blue Lines standout, ‘Daydreaming’. Characterised by its drum machines, and layered melodic interplay, the Bristol group pretty much lifted the track wholesale, which says a lot about how far ahead Badarou was before the ’80s were even halfway through.

    In its entirely electronic makeup, Echoes pre-dated the electronic dance music revolution that was around the corner, while bearing little resemblance to the synth-led boogie or electronic disco tracks that were around at the time. As to the track being sampled, Wally is completely in favour of the practice, providing it’s with the artist’s sign-off.

    “On the legal side of things, it was all done with my negotiated approval, nothing wrong with that, to the contrary: I view it as a tribute, and complaining would be the last thing I would think of. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sampling, as long as the creator’s approval has been sought and duly acquired.”


    Wally Badarou - Echoes

    Wally Badarou
    ‘Chief Inspector’ from Echoes
    (Island Records, 1984)

    Listen / Buy

    In truth you can pick every track off Echoes as a highlight of Badarou’s discography, but we can’t ignore this one. Contrary to the rest of the record, ‘Chief Inspector’ is a dancefloor cut, albeit an idiosyncratic one. Prized by jazz funk and rare groove dancers and DJs on its release, the glimmering iridescent sheen of the synths on this cut, combined with its slinky, lowdown electroid bass and thumping 4/4 beats, make it sound like the product of a deep Detroit techno production session rather than something from the mid-’80s.

    “The beauty in music – instrumental music especially – is, there is no limit in how it can be interpreted,” Wally claims. “It is, as such, an ‘open work’, as [acclaimed novelist] Umberto Eco would brilliantly put it. It can be quite flattering to realise Echoes is being viewed as a classic, whatever genre fans believe it belongs to. My gut feeling is, it belongs to none, and never pretended to belong to – nor pioneer – any. The primary motivations were never to set a cornerstone in forthcoming dance, acid, cool, Balearic or the likes. As with the rest of my instrumental work, it had more to do with a soundtrack of an imaginary movie really.”


    Fela Kuti ‘Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense’

    Fela Kuti
    ‘Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense’ from 12″
    (Philips, 1986)

    Listen / Buy

    Badarou isn’t just a gifted musician. He turned his hand to production too, perhaps none more brilliantly than with his work on Nigerian funk king Fela Kuti and Egypt 80’s album, Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense. Bringing a great clarity and spaciousness to the brilliant band leader’s performance, the title cut (one of two mammoth tracks on the record in traditional Fela style), imparts a dreamy, horizon-chasing vibe that has Wally written all over it.


    Wally-Badarou-Words-Of-A-Mountain

    Wally Badarou
    ‘Wolves in the Urals’ from Words Of A Mountain
    (Island Records, 1989)

    Listen / Buy

    New age music was deeply uncool for many years but that’s changed lately, with many newer electronic acts such as Oneohtrix Point Never extolling the virtues of the scene, and labels including RVNG Intl. reissuing classics of the genre. As such, Wally’s 1989 album Words of a Mountain is ripe for rediscovery, full as it is with deep synth atmospheres. Wally, a synthesizer wiz from the beginning, has always loved the endless possibilities afforded by the most magical keyboards of the 1980s, and just recently has been creating preset synth sounds for music software company Arturia, and their series of virtual recreations of classic ’80s outboard kit. Just as new age music – and Wally’s later music does conform to this category – has passed back into fashion, so have synths themselves, the favourite analogue kit of past decades fetishised by young producers keen to recreate their timeless sound.

    “Synths have endured a love/hate situation from the beginning, only to be now openly accepted as one instrument, here to stay aside their venerable acoustic predecessors,” Wally says, sagely. “Like any genre in music, there is now room for everything, and it is all for the better.

    “Regarding the synths of the ’70s-’80s, we could call it vintage-mania. I myself do not indulge in it, and I only kept a very few of them, mainly for ergonomic reasons: the musicians I admire are those capable of creating fantastic music out of any instrument. So I’m quite happy with plug-ins nowadays, they sound better and better, even though prone to obsolescence, like anything in the computer world. To finish describing how mixed everything is, I was thrilled to be recently contributing to the design of Arturia’s new Synclavier V plug-in, the re-computerized version of one of the first computer-based synths in history, at a microscopic fraction of the size and price.”

  • Rare Fela Kuti tracks get limited 10″ release

    By | March 9, 2016

    Knitting Factory prepare two afro-beat polemics for Record Store Day.

    In February 1976, Nigerian forces working for the military regime raided and destroyed Fela Kuti’s home and creative commune Kalakuta Republic leaving much of his Afrika 70 band homeless.

    Caught in a royalties dispute with his record label Decca, Fela saw the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, squatting the label’s offices with several members of the band. It didn’t go down well. Decca halted all Afrika 70 releases, before all the master tapes were seized by the police ostensibly investigating the royalties case. ‘Frustration’ and ‘I Go Shout Plenty!!!’ were among were them.

    Not released until the mid ’80s, both tracks have been collected on a special new 10″ release for Record Store Day on April 16th. Afro-beat historian and Vinyl Factory contributor Chris May picks up the story:

    “Frustration” (original working title: “Frustration of My Lady”) has its origins in the song “My Lady Frustration,” which Fela wrote for his American girlfriend Sandra Izsadore and recorded with Nigeria 70, Afrika 70’s immediate forerunner, in Los Angeles in 1969. The earlier version is a gritty blend of highlife and rhythm & blues, with minimal vocals, and is a fine example of Nigeria 70’s proto-Afrobeat. The 1976 version drops the vocals but retains the song’s signature horn-section riff, and introduces the classic Afrobeat rhythm-pattern in place of the earlier highlife/R&B hybrid. There are extended solos from Fela on organ and Tunde Williams on trumpet and, probably, Christopher Uwaifor on tenor sax. Williams’ solo includes references to Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way,” which he first heard in Los Angeles in 1969, the year Davis’ album of the same name was released.

    “I Go Shout Plenty” is taken at a faster pace and includes a lyric, sung by Fela in call and response with the Afrika 70 back-up vocalists, in which Fela asserts his right to raise his voice in opposition to the Nigerian authorities. There are three, relatively short solos, again on organ, trumpet and tenor sax, and some catchy interplay between tenor guitar and rhythm guitar.

    Fela Kuti’s ‘I Go Shout Plenty’ b/w ‘Frustration’ will be released in a limited edition of 1000 on Record Store Day. You can peruse the full list here and or head straight to our pick of the best and worst releases here.

    Read next: 10 essential Fela Kuti records for your collection

  • The rise and fall of Nigerian rock documented in new double album and book

    By | January 28, 2016

    Civil war, Fela Kuti and psychedelic fury.

    Now-Again Records will conclude a decade-long investigation into the rock music of Nigeria in the 1970s with a two volume LP and book release.

    Exploring the effects of war on the country’s cultural scene, Wake You Up: The Rise & Fall of Nigerian Rock sets the rise of Fela Kuti to international stardom against a backdrop of unrest, providing the pre-history to Fela’s long-running stand-off with the newly installed military regime.

    As well as Fela though, the books track down Nigeria’s forgotten musical resistance, the musicians who struggled against upheaval and conflict to create some of the most urgent, psychedelic rock music anywhere in the world. All the more remarkable when you contrast the three years of war in Nigeria between ’67 and ’70 with the same period in the West.

    Listen to Ify Jerry Krusade’s ‘Everybody Likes Something Good’ below:

    Written and researched by Nigerian musicologist Uchenna Ikonne – previously responsible for bringing the story of William Onyeabor to life with Luaka Bop – Wake Up You! takes the form of two 100+ hardback page books (with a CD), or a double vinyl LP with a soft cover book.

    Volume 1 is to be released 15 April 2016, with Volume 2 to follow in May. Click here for more info.

  • The 10 best vinyl releases this week (19th Oct)

    By | October 19, 2015

    19 Oct

    We select the 10 most essential vinyl releases of the last 7 days.

    Fela Kuti, Doug Hream Blunt and Gregory Isaacs – top up your record collection with a seminal reissue this week.

    Then sample the influx of new releases, as Courtney Barnett returns on Third Man, Joanna Newsom breaks a 5-year hiatus and Marcel Vogel corrals the troops for a double pack of fresh edit heat. And for the adventurous amongst you, there’s a mysterious single-sided 12” that was passed into our hands with a nod and a wink.

    Scroll down for our definitive across-the-board rundown of the week’s new vinyl releases as selected by The Vinyl Factory’s Chris Summers, Patrick Ryder and James Hammond. 5 singles and 5 LP’s every 7 days that are unmissable additions to any collection.


    Singles


    tmr321_cb_bs_front_cover_hires

    Courtney Barnett

    Boxing Day Blues (Revisited)

    (Third Man Records)

    Listen / Buy

    The Third Man blue series returns with possibly it’s finest release to date. With Jack White at the controls, Australia’s finest Barnett delivers a captivating return on the “Boxing Day Blues’ track from her last amazing LP. It’s not only her lyrics but the way she delivers them which turn her tunes upside down, none more so than this one right here. Flip it for ‘Shivers’ for a perfect example.


    universal-togetherness-band-my-sentiments-bw-missing-you-1

    Universal Togetherness Band

    My Sentiments

    (Numero Group)

    Listen / Buy

    A fine addition to Numero’s ongoing Eccentric Soul 45s collection, the recently excavated Universal Togetherness Band are back from the vaults for 2 more choice cuts. Active from 1979-82 and the brainchild of Andre Gibson, the band took advantage of Columbia College’s offer of free studio time and set off on ‘a five semester recording bender’. With the full LP of these archival recordings released earlier this year already being one of the disco reissues of the year, this is another fine addition to the group’s previously non-existent discography.


    IMG_1381

    Eye

    Crushing Leaves

    (No Label)

    Listen / Buy

    A second release for the mysterious Eye, this single-sided 12” was pressed into our hands with a nod and a wink by a knowing authority with a proven track record. But who are we to spill the beans? ‘Crushing Leaves’ spirals around woozy lo-fi vocals and a skewed riff that seems to shift dizzyingly beneath your feet, part psych dreamscape, part avant pop anomaly. The sleeve is hand-drawn, the b-side scrawled in turquoise POSCA pen and their numbers are severely limited. Don’t ask ay more questions, just grab this now before it’s worth a fortune.


    CS590510-01A-BIG

    D Ball

    Guidance / Transistions / Manifestations

    (Ourtime Music)

    Listen / Buy

    In the thirteen years since we last heard from D Ball, we’ve seen three governments, two recessions and the collapse and rebirth of the whole vinyl market. It’s amazing then, that the mysterious producer shows no sign of ring rust, dusting down the hardware and unleashing a trio of motor city inspired cuts which transcend anything as trivial as hype. From the Carl Craig meets Inner City stomp of opener ‘Guidance’ through the Drexciyan electro of ‘Transitions’ the quality is sky high, and once we arrive at the melodic techno masterpiece ‘Manifestations’ on the B2, there’s no doubt that this is something special.


    R-1881747-1269800463.jpeg

    Gregory Isaacs

    Rock On

    (Observer)

    Listen / Buy

    Blazing roots reggae from ’80, finally reissued 35 years on. ‘Rock On’ is presented in its complete 12” glory – Gregory exquisite as ever, Vin Gordon rocking that trombone back and forth, and heavyweight production by Niney the Observer. Turn it over for Dennis Brown and Dillinger on a burning skank thing. Dub heads you need this…


    LPs


    doug hream blunt

    Doug Hream Blunt

    My Name Is Doug Hream Blunt: Featuring The Hit ‘Gentle Persuasion’

    (Luaka Bop)

    Listen / Buy

    Luaka Bop’s much-anticipated follow up to their stratospheric William Onyeabor reissue of 2013, My Name Is Doug Hream Blunt captures the lost legacy of the nurse’s aid and self-taught guitarist, who assembled a hospital band in the ward where he worked to record and privately release an album that never saw the light. Promoted via ad-hoc performances on public access television, Blunt’s work as remained in the shadows until now, the preserve of informed collectors and a growing cast of high profile admirers like Ariel Pink, Dam Funk and Jamie Lidell. Skewed, serpentine funk jams propelled by insistent piano vamps and Blunt’s Hendrix-inspired solos, the record sounds like it was written to soundtrack a drive round Sunset Boulevard in Blunt’s white Cadillac. We don’t need much persuading – expect to hear much more from the maverick as Luaka get into gear.


    MEDWAY2-1500

    Kyra

    Here I Am, I Always Am

    (M’Lady’s Records)

    Listen / Buy

    You can thank Billy Childish, Bruce Brand and Damaged Goods for this little nugget being available again in all it’s limited 500 worldwide copy glory! This is easily one of the most unique, original and totally amazing rock n’ roll records ever with tracks like ‘Anna K’ and ‘It’s a Stick Up’ to name but two. Guitars set to 10 and tunes set to stun – this is a killer.


    artworks-000131732865-cqecyc-t500x500

    V/A

    From Hell With Love

    (Lumberjacks In Hell)

    Listen / Buy

    Since the inaugural release in 2010, Marcel Vogel and his Lumberjacks imprint have reliably supplied the frontline jocks with a plethora of floor filling edit action. After enlisting the cream of the current disco crop for previous compilation ‘Chicago Service’, home to Jamie 3:26 and Cratebug’s massive ‘Hit It N Quit It’, Marcel corrals the troops for another double pack selection of fresh edit heat. Regular hands Vogel and Boogie Nite deliver solid cuts, but it’s the Lih debuants FYI Chris and Dan Shake who steal the show.


    51jikdc4IKL

    Fela Kuti

    Roforofo Fight

    (Knitting Factory)

    Listen / Buy

    Following a documentary and a swathe of reissues in recent years, the Felabration continues with Knitting Factory bringing six seminal albums back, each in an individual vinyl colour. All essential but if pushed, we’d take this one. Title track is something of an Afro-house forerunner; poetic and political in equal measure, with Fela the storyteller recounting a fight in the streets of Lagos. Delivered in broken English, a message for Anglophone Africa at large, it’s a song condemning violent and intolerant behaviour. Things shift down a few gears on the flip with the grinding 17-minute epic ‘Go Slow’, which explores the human psychology of a traffic jam. It’s just like being in prison is the conclusion – you feel incapacitated, aspirations slip away and frustration settles in. As ever, wise words and hella funky beats.


    JoannaNewsomArt

    Joanna Newsom

    Divers

    (Drag City)

    Listen / Buy

    Breaking a 5-year wait since 2010’s extraordinary triple LP Have One On Me, Divers may be a more conventional beast in terms of its length, but the density of song arrangements and ideas is no less ambitious. Make no mistake – as with her best work this is one for repeated listens, with intricate nuances in lyricism, instrumentation and the production revealing themselves over time, and out of what might appear as overblown on the first impression. Fitting to the title, this one dives deep, and finds some true pearls of her song-craft along the way.

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