Review: Baloji & Fatoumata Diawara at Rich Mix 18.07.11

Photobucket

I say "review" but technically "gushing outpouring of unbridled adoration" is probably far more accurate so I'll try to keep it brief.

I'd heard very little about Fatoumata Diawara which is strange considering what an incredible specimen of the human race she is. An electric guitar playing, mind altering beauty, 'human firework' dancing, limbs like a moving sculpture specimen to be more precise. Her style of singing was something I hadn't come across before, a beautiful tone and range but so expressive - one minute full of dry laughter and the next heavy with sincerity. At one point Fatoumata proffered an inviting description of how to get to her village and proceeded to take us there with her casually masterful band, which just intensified my longing to visit Mali - if ever there were a successful advert...  

Photobucket

I admit, I whispered "I would NOT want to have to follow that!" before Baloji and his Orchestre De Katuba took to the stage. How wrong I was. I think the brilliance of some of Baloji's videos (Karibu Ya Bintou, Tout Ceci Ne Vous Rendra Pas Le Congo) left me imagining he couldn't possibly be as exciting in person. As Orchestre De Katuba filed on stage looking every bit as slick as the Indépendance cha-cha video my hopes were raised, and when Baloji appeared in a shiny red tuxedo jacket with an aura of confidence so evident it was neon, I realised the videos were just the appetizer as they launched in to a set fueled by African funk that could have launched a jet.

Photobucket

Perhaps what struck me most (and there was a lot of striking, the band were incredible), was Baloji's mastery on stage. Every movement and moment seemed calculated and choreographed without losing any of the excitement - the attitude on stage was one of gleeful anticipation, *we know what's coming next and trust us you're going to like it*. The mood switched from playful to serious to steamy to jubilant but the barriers really came down when Baloji announced "they call this 'world music', but this is our music". From that moment on we all danced like the palm wine was flowing at an African wedding.

Photobucket

I'm not sure Baloji falls in to the traditional heartthrob category but the women to my right started squirming and screaming "tomber la chemise" as the jacket came off and the sleeves were rolled up with unmistakably suggestive intent. There's definitely something iconic about the man - I had that same feeling of intense absorption and awe you get when you watch one of the greats, as your soul pledges to return at every chance just to experience it all again.



Review: Quadron Live at the Queens Head (London)

Photobucket

I really thought I was a fan of Quadron. I thought they were a really good band with a quirky approach to songwriting and a lead singer (Coco) who had a lovely tone. I had no idea. Turns out Quadron are one of the most talented bands I've been blessed enough to stumble across in the last 10 years.

After an advance call to the venue we arrived at 9pm ready to see the band - who didn't go on stage until almost two hours (and two support acts who might have been dragged kicking and screaming from the nearest secondary school) later. It's always great to watch an act who have no need of nervy introductions, and Coco hopped on stage to join the boys, grabbed the mic and proceeded to deliver one of the most impressive live sets I've seen this year. You could sense from the start that the crowds expectations were being thoroughly trounced by a band whose music made so much more sense and became so exciting live, especially the rousing chorus of Jeans.

The thing about Coco is she is a huge star in waiting, with a very attractive mixture of firm confidence and genuine humility. Nothing on the record really suggests her vocal ability is as impressive as it is - her beautiful cover of Michael Jackson's Baby Be Mine is infinitely more beautiful live, and she began Pressure with an acappella similar to the incredible moment right at the end of this version with Rebekah Raff. Dru from Plug Research warned me that she would give me goosebumps but I found myself trying to physically keep my brain and heart inside my body. The band seemed surprised that the audience refused to stop applauding for minutes after every song, but I can't imagine anything else - we were being converted from fans to devotees. For our part we all refused to leave until they came back for an encore, providing the venue manager with the choice of potentially losing his job or dealing with a riot. Quadron obliged us with a quiet version of Herfra Hvor Vi Står, but I think a lot of us were secretly hoping when they said they would sing in Danish for this from the recent Boom Clap Bachelors EP [iTunes link]...


Boom Clap Bachelors - Løb Stop Stå from Plug Research on Vimeo.


*Update 18th May* Boom Clap Bachelors have just released an adorable new video so I thought I'd update here.....


Boom Clap Bachelors - Falder Ind Og Falder Ud from Plug Research on Vimeo.
 

Review: Mara Carlyle Live at The Forge [Camden Crawl]

Photobucket

I've long loved Mara's album The Lovely (which admittedly I may not have heard if I didn't work with the label it came out on - you can listen in full below), so perhaps this afternoon's performance shouldn't have come as such a shock to me, and yet somehow it did. I had wrongly assumed that the vocal perfection on that recording was impossible to recreate live, and that no singer would dare. I was incorrect.  



As you can hear above, Mara's music is exceptionally classy, so her humble charm
and joking familiarity in between tracks feels a bit like being snapped suddenly out of a dream you don't want to end by your practical sibling. The moment she picks up her saw (she plays the saw and guitars of varying sizes) and begins to sing everything in the room changes. From a technical standpoint the woman is a marvel and her vocal range is extraordinary, but that's not really the point. We traveled with her through the most incredible range of emotions, from agonizing lament to soaring afternoon delight (Baby Bloodheart is about an orgasm), to a stunning Vietnamese folk song Mara somehow seamlessly mixed with... Amerie "One Thing".

Photobucket

At various points I found myself slack-jawed, misting up, and I think my heartbeat became worryingly irregular when she performed a single verse of Pianni. Some of Mara's band also seemed equally amazed by her (including the gorgeous double bass player Arista of the Guillemots, who when off-stage made faces of varying incredulity). It seemed odd until Mara explained the band had only met each other 20 minutes before the show, a fact I am still trying to get my head around. They really brought the album to life with such stunning vibrancy and layered depths.

Photobucket

Possibly the most exciting part of the show was the announcement that Mara's second album Nuzzle, which has been completed for at least three years and suspended in major label purgatory, is finally coming out this July. We await with baited breath.

Preview: Jamie Woon "Mirrorwriting"

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension

A dear friend with laser beam eyes and ears asked me what I thought of Jamie Woon's new album "Mirrorwriting" yesterday, so I write this knowing if I hold back because I'm in public I won't get away with it.

I began by telling aforementioned friend that I really like it, but that Jamie could sing almost anything (probably even Rebecca Black's Friday) and I would really enjoy it. The gift of a voice like that could easily make an artist a really lazy songwriter, much like a man with an oversized appendage or a beautiful girl in the sack (or so I'm told). Luckily for us Jamie remains deeply introspective, hardworking and humble - he asked permission to send it to me so I really don't think he quite understands what's happening yet.

It takes a long time to erase the original version of a song you've loved, and after years as an official Onetaste Collective stalker (the mythical birthplace of Jamie, Portico Quartet, Tawiah, Polarbear, Tanya Auclair, Jono McCleery, Stac, Inua Ellams and so many others) it's hard to let go. The stripped down looper and guitar versions of songs like Night Air and Shoulda made me fall for Jamie back then, and I was sad to find Robots didn't make it on there, but that doesn't detract from what is a lovely album you want to listen to all the way through. If a couple of perfect lilys sprinkled near the start must be gilded with some club-friendly synths and keys, he has certainly succeeded in keeping hold of his beautiful harmonies and subtlety.

A couple of tracks in and Jamie does what he does best - pouring his heart out and tearing yours up simultaneously on Shoulda. I couldn't even begin to pick a favourite, though Gravity has reduced me to tears a few times, and the added layers of production noticeably heighten the intensity and atmosphere both here and on Spiral. Spirits gets an awesome choir effect worthy of early 90s pop-soul (Kenny Thomas would be so jealous, in a good way), TMRW and Middle are more up-tempo classics, and you could imagine a Jamie Woon/ Bill Withers duet on Waterfront (the highest honour I can accord a human).     

It's strange critiquing something you've yearned for years to have, it feels ungrateful, because my most overriding feeling about this album is honour and privilege to listen to such a beautiful voice and spirit whenever I like.         

Mirrorwriting by Jamie Woon is out on iTunes now

#CurrentlyListeningTo

Photobucket

I was feeling slightly daunted by the number of individual reviews I need to write, so I narrowed it down to my favourite releases and went for the 140 character(ish) approach in no particular order. *I realise it looks like a lot but if you read this blog I would really recommend any of them, especially... no, I really would recommend them all.

Windy City - Let Me Ride [1977, Discogs link]
Awesome 70s Chicago funk/ soul favourite of a friend, so positive at times it might have been written for Sesame Street, but with a healthy dose of heartache.

Yult ft Tanya Auclair - The Animal Inside EP [21st Feb 2011, Video link]
Cinematic and strange electronic lushness, equal parts unnerving and erotic, exotic and beautiful like a disinterested Amazonian warrior.

Money Making Jam Boys - The Prestige Mixtape [Feb 3rd 2011, Free Download link]
Sounding more like a good album than a mixtape, Black Thought leads an all star Philly team down a delightfully grimy path.

Bill Withers - 'Justments remastered [1974/ 2010, iTunes link]
I found this when ?uestlove tweeted about the re-release, it's such a beautiful forgotten gem you should add to your collection of classics.

Ghostpoet - Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam [Feb 7th 2011, iTunes link]
Most excitingly distinctive British lyricist I've heard since Ty & Roots Manuva, melancholic & introspective but bashy & beautiful - MUST have album. Full stream here. *Disclaimer: real speakers/headphones only, no laptop, doesn't work at all.

Toro y Moi - Underneath the Pine  [21st Feb 2011, iTunes preoder link]
This guy gets so in touch with his inner child on this album, you can't help but leave your cool at the door and act the total fool - the ultimate in happy music.



James Blake - James Blake [7th Feb 2011 iTunes link]
Believe the hype.

Stateless - Matilda [21st Feb 2011 iTunes pre-order link]
Kidkanevil's oriental joy running full pelt at Damian Taylors bursting heart = a brilliant album apparently. *Hits repeat.

Gil Scott Heron & Jamie XX - Were New Here [21st Feb 2011 website link]
Very cleverly, Jamie has managed not to ruin it! The remixes sound both respectful yet unafraid.

Kutmah - The New Error [19th Jan 2011, Big Cartel Link]
Rammed full of exclusives, a hilarious Mobb Deep remix, and the kind of beats that will fully replenish your attitude should you ever lose it.

   KUTMAH "The New Error" Vol. 1 (sampler) by HIT+RUN

Eric Lau - Quadrivium [25th Feb 2011, Bandcamp Link]
Eric told me to listen before going to sleep. Eric was wrong, you can listen to this anywhere. Lushness with heavy drums that will make rappers mad they didn't buy the beat.

Homebase Presents Live At The Clubhouse Vol 1 EP 
Heavy features list (Blu, Homeboy Sandman, Freddie Gibbs, Coco, Recess, F.Stokes) and yet it's the production that really shines. Love it so much, listen below.

Review: Fela! The Musical



Last week I went to see Fela! at the National Theatre, after procrastinating since November for no good reason. (I would highly recommend if you've been doing the same you grab one of the last remaining tickets since it ends on Jan 23rd).

Part of me was dubious, mainly because it was difficult to imagine a form of theatre as Westernized as a musical being able to adequately portray with integrity the political and cultural views of a figure who was so against European cultural imperialism (in a theatre sponsored by Shell Oil and other companies who might feature in a 2011 version of ITT!). Despite that all of the feedback I'd heard from my fellow Nigerians was overwhelmingly positive, and as I discovered rightly so.

The show is set at The Shrine, as though we were watching Fela live in concert. As you can see from the video above the casting, music and choreography was impeccable, Sahr Ngaujah's performance is uncanny at times, though his version of Fela was more vulnerable and excitable than the laid back and supremely confident man in the film Music Is The Weapon. Probably because he wasn't actually smoking weed (though the puff puff pass banter with the audience whilst sitting in the National Theatre was an unexpected and delightfully naughty moment).



The central theme the musical kept returning to was Fela's simultaneous desire to stay and fight the government or to give up the fight and leave Nigeria when the going got tough, always tempered by the warrior-like strength of the women surrounding him, who bore much of the brunt of the punishment (his omnipresent mother Funmilayo being thrown from a window to her death, and the numerous unimaginable atrocities inflicted on the wives who lived in his compound by the soldiers who destroyed it).

It was interesting that the story of Sandra Smith, a Black Panther Fela met in LA, was heavily incorporated, at first as a key inspiration for his political awakening, and then as a kind of translator as she dueted on many of the songs. This was the only point of contention for me, as she felt like a hangover from the Broadway version of the show and was one of the few showy, obvious musical theatre elements which seemed like overkill when there were projected subtitles. The other more Western elements that appeared seemingly to spice things up mainly came through the choreography (barrel jumps and occasional jazz hands), and so were less noticeable to the untrained eye, keeping the feeling distinctly African.

There is something particularly exciting about the fact that Fela's story lives on as legend, not just in Nigeria or in Africa, but in the heart of the cultural institutions of countries whose dealings in Africa he so railed against. I wonder if it is a testament to our commitment to freedom of expression, or a confidence born of the knowledge that little can touch the status quo. Either way, the spirit of revolution felt alive and well. It will be interesting to see what will happen if the show does manage to travel to Lagos as is rumoured, a city where popular music and politics have diverged recently, and yet over a million people attended Fela's funeral just 14 years ago.          

#CurrentlyListeningTo: Cody ChesnuTT "Black Skin No Value"

Photobucket

I should probably substitute #CurrentlyListeningTo for #Can'tStopListeningTo Cody ChesnuTT "Black Skin No Value" in the above title. There wasn't a big campaign or fanfare in the lead up to this release, but I trust that the most powerful thing of all - word of mouth - will spread it far and wide. I read an article with Mr ChesnuTT in the Fader and was intrigued by this part in particular -


So how does that new energy sound in your new work? Why make a new EP now?
I made Black Skin No Value as an alarm. We’re still dealing with issues of our value as human beings even in this generation. I think the stock value of dignity is low right now, people are caught up in a lot of illusions and I feel that’s an emergency. I wanted to make something alarming that spoke to the culture of the last 10 or 20 years and what we’ve faced as a people in that time. The title is ironic, but it can be mapped on literally to actions of presidents we’ve had, our legal system, and what happens in media and pop culture. What we watch on TV shapes our imaginations, affects our personal values and personal perceptions. Hopefully this music and these thoughts will help people find a moment of pause. I don’t know if all the men out there with who have a platform for communicating with an audience realize that they’re shaping their communities. People define manhood in different ways, but I think first and foremost it’s taking care of yourself, protecting your family and trying to make your social environment as healthy as possible. I hope in the next decade men are really on guard, watching to make sure that a healthy way of living is being protected and prioritized. I would like to think that people are starting to think about more things right now other than clubbing all the time. So I’m trying to touch on all that and our education system, police brutality, but I’m trying to frame that whole experience, this whole moment, in less than 12 minutes


Read more
 
Whilst I have the feeling this EP will be preaching such a message to the converted, I love the sentiment of honesty and personal responsibility both in the interview and in the EP. Cody Chesnutt's vocals are so intensely beautiful that even if you believe in the exact opposite to his values I can imagine he could woo you, but that is beside the point. This EP is a stunning, and of course characteristically quirky, addition to the very best kind of soulful, heartfelt and political music. 

I'm not putting up a link to download a snippet of a song, it's £4.49 on iTunes (just buy it).

Review: Matthew Herbert & The London Sinfonietta "One Day" Live at the Royal Festival Hall

                   

I work with Accidental Records and wasn't at all surprised to hear Matthew had decided to take on another slightly bonkers sounding project - to turn a copy of The Guardian newspaper in to a musical score with the London Sinfonietta as part of the London Jazz Festival. In six weeks. What I was surprised by was the extent to which he pulled it off.

From the very start the audience became an integral part of the performance, as we were all given a copy of September 25th's paper and had to quickly familiarize ourselves with various sections in order to follow the action and help provide the sound. The lights even remained up, which was strangely disorientating. Matthew's uncannily provocative ability to make you extremely uncomfortable whilst overwhelming you with beauty, yet never losing a sense of humour about the whole thing set the tone for the night...

We smelled the recipes from the food section being cooked live on stage whilst reading an article on global food shortages and launching paper airplanes from adverts for the foods with the highest number of airmiles in to the rest of the crowd (all cheered when one landed on stage). Matthew & co played a cover of Status Quo's "We're In the Army Now" from The Guide, as we watched a house complete with garden being built live on stage with people inside it watching music videos from the Review section, whilst we read an article about illegal settlements in Gaza, and jingled our own house keys when the conductor instructed us. Eska made several incredible appearances and broke every heart in the house singing an obituary poem, jazz musician John Taylor made a special video appearance as his birthday was listed in the paper, and a particularly irreverent jazz quartet containing Finn Peters showered us with their music and superior paper planes from a box above.

What left me so impressed with the event was the layers. Every song, every moment, felt carefully planned to evoke a personal and active response. It was political without losing humour or humanity, it transformed the newspaper from something informative to read in to a collection of stories from around the world that we are all a part of, and it did so without sacrificing the stunning musicality that would stand up as a beautiful recorded album without all of the live spectacle. Matthew Herbert is truly a tightrope master.