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Dancing music in the C20: funk (1965-67)

Featuring : James Brown + The Bar Kays

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“The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing,” is James Brown’s most famous quote, and is certainly the most germane to our interests. (Well, apart from maybe “Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things he’s got it all. “)

James Brown was a rare instance of a first-class showman who was also a real-deal innovator – the missing link between Louis Jordan, who influenced him, and Prince, who he influenced.

Unlike Prince, who, almost off the blocks, seemed little like anything else, James Brown had spent 12 years in the industry as a consummate R&B professional before he dragged into the world his most famous creation: funk.

Brown’s The Famous Flames had rushed into filling the space vacated by their idol Little Richard when the flamboyant rock ‘n’ roller retired from secular music in the 1950s (quite literally – the young group were booked to replace Richard on tour following his sudden conversion to preacher following a near-death experience while flying over Australia).

The group’s slick combination of R&B, soul, doo wop, and rock ‘n’ roll co-existed alongside Brown’s solo career in the early part of the 1960s. If the transition from vocal quartet leader to dance music innovator can be pinpointed with any accuracy to one event, then it would probably be the release of the Out of Sight/Maybe the Last Time single in 1964.

Both sides were composed by Brown under his publishing pseudonym of ‘Ted Wright’, but while the gospel-y Maybe the Last Time represented the final recording from the Famous Flames, Out of Sight was a solo Brown recording that gestured towards a new evolution in his sound.

Brown said of the recording:

“Out of Sight was another beginning, musically and professionally. My music – and most music – changed with Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, but it really started on Out of Sight… You can hear the band and me start to move in a whole other direction rhythmically. The horns, the guitars, the vocals, everything was starting to be used to establish all kinds of rhythms at once… I was trying to get every aspect of the production to contribute to the rhythmic patterns.”

Funk was just around the corner. Out of Sight was built around a stuttering, looping rhythm and blasting horn refrain. The recording marked the first collaboration between Brown and the man who would be one of his funk generals, saxophonist Maceo Parker. Though not featured on the recording, you can see the Flames slicing some furious rug to this dance tune in this legendary 60s TV clip:

Brown had tentatively tried out a similar sound, two years earlier, on the b-side to his 1962 R&B hit Three Hearts in a Tangle. This b-side, I’ve Got Money, is a sort of loose sketch of a could-be funk. In his 2012 biography of Brown, the writer RJ Smith describes the tune as:

“…a song whose time has yet to arrive, and it’s barely a song. It’s like a blueprint of some uncanny object. It’s an assemblage of parts: a scimitar guitar chord coming down on the One, a show band horn chorus quoting Judy Garland‘s “The Trolley Song,” and [Clayton Fillyau’s] stampeding drums. The parts are arranged in a line, one beside the next – an incomprehensible rebus.”

Both songs were experiments in a different way of thinking about rhythm in American chart music. They were repetitive, aggressively danceable, and ride heavily on an African-influenced groove.

Brown would return to Out of Sight a year later, recasting it as the even more groove-insistent Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag

James Brown – Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag

“Papa’s Bag was years ahead of its time,” Brown wrote. “I was still called a soul singer, but … I had gone off in a different direction. I had discovered that my strength was not in the horns, it was in the rhythm. I was hearing everything, even the guitars, like they were drums. Later on, they said it was the beginning of funk. I just thought of it as where my music was going. The title told it all: I had a new bag.”

Funk had arrived, and it was a new kind of musical fury.

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Brown would spend the next 10 years honing this style to the point of perfection, abandoning it only when the rising force of disco represented too much of a threat to his career to be ignored.

But in the 1960s, funk was a white-hot force – political, danceable and capable of transmuting social disenfranchisement into ass-kicking grooves.

One of the main musical tweaks that Brown had made to his music in order to accommodate his new rhythm vision – and which became one of the defining quirks of funk – was to put an overwhelming emphasis on the first beat of the measure. You can hear this in Papa’s Bag, and Brown would drill his band to kick into this rhythm with the famous command “on the one!”

In compositional terms, what Brown had done was switch from the shuffle rhythms and 12/8 time signatures of his earlier work to 4/4. But whereas 4/4 in soul music traditionally had a one-two-three-four backbeat, Brown’s funk had a one-two-three-four kick, with electric bass, syncopated guitar and Afro-Cuban drum patterns clicking into interlocking parts rather than accompanying each other in traditional harmony.

Or, to put it another way, by making each instrument in his band into a drum, Brown had reorganised his music into a percussive grid, where each musical voice was required to make simple but precise contributions in order to keep the all-important rhythm rotating.

This early funk would often just require players to blast one- or two-chord vamps at appropriate intervals, rather than contribute fluent melodic lines, and although this sounds like a simplification, it was a musical transition that even musicians of the James Brown Revue’s calibre struggled with.

There is also some contentiousness around the extent to which Brown can claim authorship of these compositions. Famous Flame Bobby Bennet claims that “James Brown did not write anything,” and that he aggressively stole writing credits from his band and musicians around him, alleging that even Papa’s Bag had been penned originally by Brown’s former cellmate and occasional Flame, Johnny Terry.

It is true that Brown couldn’t play any instrument particularly well – although he drummed in an early iteration of the Flames – and that most of his composition consisted of issuing sometimes unorthodox verbal instructions to his band as they were playing.

Brown’s bandleader and arranger during his most solidly ‘funk’ phase of his career – the late 1960s – was saxophonist Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis , who remains more enthusiastic about Brown’s songwriting process, which involved a kind of structured group improvisation:

“The improvisation was designed by James Brown. He chose who he wanted to improvise, and mostly, it was Maceo. The guitar player had a little room, and I had a solo once in a while. But most of this stuff was designed by James Brown. He decided how a song would be formed, and what would take place within the song. If he felt comfortable with it, he would stretch it out, so he could grunt and do his dances and so forth.”

“The band was disciplined,” Ellis added, “and we could interpret his movements. If you were on a section of a song, it wouldn’t change until he did a particular movement that signalled the change. So we would just stay there and roll on.”

This band figurehead-as-author approach would be replicated by many of the bandleaders who followed in Brown’s wake, most notably Fela Kuti, who Ellis claims Brown also admired.

Brown’s vocal contributions were also largely spontaneous – his screams and grunts were deployed using the same ‘everything is percussion’ logic that drove the polyrhythmic band. It was new, exciting and bizarre enough to white and non-American audiences that, by 1966, Pete & Dud had attempted their own parody of Papa’s Bag:

Spotify playlist: early funk (1965-67)

Though Brown was the eminent leader of the new funk sound, our playlist of funk’s origins demonstrates how musicians like Jackie Lee, Don Covay (formerly of the Little Richard Revue), future Beatles keyboardist Billy Preston, Rufus Thomas, Jr. Walker & The All Stars, Laurel Aitken, Leon & The Burners and – perhaps most notably –  The Bar-Kays were significant early adopters.

The Bar-Kays – Knucklehead

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Over the coming decades funk would splinter into an assortment of child genres, some of which have retained credibility (p-funk, electro) while others are considered aberrations (funk metal, funk jam). We’ll take a look at some of these in coming Dancing music in the C20s!

Guest mix: KETSUEKI SAKURU

Featuring : Ketsueki Sakuru + Podcast

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This weekend’s mixtape comes courtesy of Giallo Disco’s mysterious superstar producer Ketsueki Sakuru!

His recent Blood Meridian EP was an appealing piece of nastiness contrived as a homage to Cormac McCarthy’s epic 1985 Western.

However, it moves with a cyborg swagger that reminds more of some anime remake of Westworld – all glitchy, synthy grit and grain.

Ketsueki explained a little about his mix for us:

“I have excellent news for the world There is no such thing as Synthwave. It does not exist. It’s a figment of a lame cunt’s imagination. There was never any such thing as Synthwave. It was the polite thing to say when you were trying to explain you were not into the boring old retro-dance but you didn’t dare to say Disco because you were afraid to get kicked out of the fucking party and they wouldn’t give you coke anymore. There’s New Beat, there’s House, there’s EBM, there’s Italo, there’s Electro, there’s Techno, there’s Balearic, there’s Spacesynth. But Synthwave doesn’t mean shit.”

Ketsueki Sakuru – Myst II Mixtape

“Ketsueki Sakuru is a mystery from no place in particular. He, (for it is a he) has only done one DJ set before, he played mostly electro. It is unlikely this will ever happen again. When word was passed down from Giallo Disco HQ, instructions to try and define a certain set of influences and / or clues were required. Much like that search for the golden hare in the book Masquerade. More clues. Soundtracks for 3D rendered outerworlds, screwgaze technobangers and don’t-dare-call-it-synthwave.”

Vangelis – Spiral
Muslimgauze – Mullah Said
Ketsueki Sakuru – Ignition Takeshi
Mike Simonetti – The Magician
Franz Falckenhaus – The Europa Judgement
Mater Suspiria Vision – Witchcraft 69
S U R V I V E – Hourglass
Power Glove – Street Desire
Com Truise – Sunspot
Jade 4U – That Boy
Vercetti Technicolor – Phantom (Ketsueki Sakuru Remix)
Schicksal – 24 hours
Timothy J Fairplay – Cleopatra Loves The Acid
Unit Black Flight – Not Named
Vercetti Technicolor – Death Wish
Aphex Twin – Vordhosbn (Really Slow)
Antoni Maiovvi – Resonator
Drvg Cvltvre – Dakar
Miami Nights 1984 – Ocean Drive
Vangelis – Spiral

Buy Blood Meridian from Giallo Disco here


art is by Zone Patcher

Dancing music in the C20: northern soul (1960-64)

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The term ‘northern soul’ was reportedly coined in 1968 by music journalist and owner of the Covent Garden’s Soul City record shop, Dave Godin.

The handle would not become commonplace until some 5 years later when the northern soul scene took root in a handful of nightclubs scattered across the north of England. Godin’s terminology wasn’t an attempt to christen a burgeoning musical genre, but simply to describe a purchasing behaviour he’d observed among soul fans from the north who expressed a clear preference for obscure, Motown-descended mid-60s soul 45s over the harder modern funk sound.

As Godin explains:

“I started to notice that Northern football fans who were in London to follow their team were coming into the store to buy records – but they weren’t at all interested in the latest developments in the black American chart. I devised the name as a shorthand sales term. It was just to say ‘if you’ve got customers from the north, don’t waste time playing them records currently in the US black chart, just play them what they like – ‘Northern Soul’.”

Reminiscing on his days in the 1970s as a northern soul boy in The Guardian, Channel 4’s political correspondent Paul Mason acknowledges that “Today you would call northern soul an act of curation. By the time we danced to it, the music was already old.”

Given that the music was already a decade out of fashion, and these peculiar acts of devotion to the black dance music of Detroit were occurring in northern English nightclubs, half the world away from the sound’s authors and largely without their knowledge, it is technically wrong to consider northern soul as a musical genre. More accurately, it was a subculture and a parochial nightclub scene – a way of dressing and dancing, a code of behaviours.

Nevertheless, as music fans, when we see the words ‘northern soul’, we hear an immediately recognisable sound in our heads  – a formula distinct from other soul music with heavy, syncopated beats, fast tempos, major seventh chords, call-and-response choruses and keening, gospel-inflected vocals that seemed simultaneously sexual and spiritual.

These records became known on the northern soul scene as “stompers”.

The northern soul DJ Ady Croasdell suggests the first single to embody the musical aesthetics of northern soul was The Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) in 1965, but that its blockbuster success makes it ineligible for admission in the northern soul canon, which prizes rarity above all else.

However, our interest in this series is in the bursts of innovation that prompt certifiable change within dance music, so  – digging deeper – we can detect stirrings of this sound in earlier recordings.

For instance, Martha Reeves & The Vandella’s Heat Wave pulled the same tricks as I Can’t Help Myself, but two years earlier.

Martha Reeves & The Vandellas – Heat Wave

Both of these soul stompers were written by the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting engine that powered the Motown hit factory.

Northern Soul

So were Holland-Dozier-Holland the architects of the northern soul sound? Certainly the 130 or so sides that the trio penned for Motown and their own Invictus and Hot Wax labels between 1962 and 1973 share common DNA with the ‘stompers’ that became staples at northern soul nights, and some of their uptempo dance tracks – such as R. Dean Taylor’s There’s a Ghost In My House did acquire new identities on the northern soul scene.

Spotify playlist: Holland-Dozier-Holland (1962-73)

But providing a soundtrack to dancing was just one component of the multifaceted Holland-Dozier-Holland approach to documenting the teenage experience. They were industrious professional songwriters who wrote ballads, musicals and bubblegum-ish pop hits alongside their stompers, always with an ear tuned to whatever was happening on the radio at the time.

Probably the first ‘northern soul’ record was a single by The Distants, in 1960, released appropriately enough on the Northern Records label!

The Distants – Come on

The Distants would later morph into Holland-Dozier-Holland-associated act The Elgins, before transitioning finally into the soul institution The Temptations.

The point worth observing here is that no one artist or songwriting team can lay claim to patenting what we recognise now as ‘the northern soul sound’, and that the curatorial aspect of the movement should be emphasised.

The northern soul categorisation arose from DJs identifying a set of common traits from specific records culled from a range of artists and labels whose repertoires demonstrated a broad variety of styles.

Spotify playlist: early northern soul (1960-64)

Author Chris Hunt identifies this commonality as ‘the Wigan sound’ and he argues that it was shaped by the very specific requirements of the Wigan Casino as a venue – the ballroom that formed the spiritual home of northern soul.

The Wigan Casino was the biggest of the northern soul dancehalls, comfortably housing 2,000 revellers across its two rooms and their balconies. As such, it needed the biggest tunes.

Hunt writes:

“Wigan’s dancers were demanding and the music had to be just right or they would walk. There could be few experiences worse for a DJ than standing behind the turntables on the stage of the Casino’s main ballroom when the mighty, heaving, Wigan dancefloor cleared in a show of spontaneous musical disapproval, revealing that vast expanse of sprung wooden flooring to the watchers on the balcony. With those kind of pressures dictating the playlist, Wigan’s unique circumstances were shaping the music that was played, enabling the club to develop a style of its own, often out of keeping with what was happening elsewhere on the ‘Northern’ scene.”

The Casino reportedly had superior acoustics to the other main northern soul venues – The Mecca in Blackpool, The Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent and The Twisted Wheel in Manchester – and its sheer size allowed dancers the luxury of really showing off. Flashy spins, twists, kicks, backflips and daring balcony dives became part of the vocabulary of Wigan’s dancers. The doors to the northern soul night didn’t open til 2am (though as the club had more than 100,000 members at its height, patrons would begin queuing hours earlier) and, given Britain’s licensing laws at the time, alcohol was prohibited. This seems like an unusual pretext for a dance night by modern standards, especially given that the club would run for a marathon 8 hours!

These circumstances saw an influx of prescription amphetamines into the northern soul scene – the only way hyper-energetic ravers could keep their balletic moves up until daylight in a dry environment –  creating the first symbiotic relationship between narcotics and dance music in the 20th century.

“Northern Soul’s legacy was to give birth to the modern dance club,” Paul Mason agrees. “When the rave scene started in the 1980s, ex-Northern Soul DJs (and drug dealers) recognised it as a kind of second coming. And today if you want to experience some of the mania, working-classness and speed-enhanced goodwill, a Gabber night might come close, although there’s a deathly absence of humanity inside the music.”

To keep this mass of speed-fiends moving, the Wigan DJs had to play fast, frenetic and stomping records at a tempo that eclipsed the pace of rival nights.

And although Mason is correct to link northern soul’s appetite for whizz to twinned motivations of ecstasy and house music in the coming decades, there are some notable differences. Firstly, the soul music that the denizens of Wigan Casino and The Twisted Wheel got high off was not made for the express purpose of being administered with drugs, unlike techno and house.

Though full of energy, the music itself was resolutely ‘undruggy’, and this quality – combined with the no-alcohol policy of the all-nighters – contributed if anything to a sense of purposeful clear-headedness. The anomaly of mid-60s obscuro Detroit soul singles being rediscovered and galvanised by the amphetamine dancing of working-class white kids in Wigan a decade later isn’t simply a mangling of context. Those exhilarating balletic dance moves could never be executed with precision by a drunk person, and would even be unappealing to anyone rushing on the mongy ‘lost in the rhythm’ bliss-fog of ecstasy.

Those who used speed at northern soul all-nighters did so for expressly functional purposes, so when other, more recreational drugs are taken out of the equation, you are left with a dance fervour that seems less like a nightclub and more like a devotional experience, more like the singing, dancing and clapping of African-American Pentecostal church services (clapping too, was an important feature of the northern soul experience – when a roomful of dancers synchronised a handclap in the Casino the sound ricocheting off the wooden interior was said to resemble the crack of a pistol being fired). Or when you factor in those beautiful quadruple spins of northern soul dancers, you might even think of the graceful, persistent twirls of whirling dervishes communing with their God through the music of the Sufis.

As we mentioned before, the kind of soul popular at northern soul events featured gospel-like deliveries and spiritual overtones, but it also had an ecstatic buoyancy all of its own, that when combined with soulful ruminations on the healing, obliterating power of love, seemed like it was describing some transcendent level of realisation. Combined with the mass transference of energies in the northern soul all-nighters, the overall effect was convincingly that of super-charged humans brimming with light and a new kind of clarity.

Despite the communal euphoria recalled by scene veterans, the best northern soul dancers were fiercely competitive and highly discriminating.

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Overly “commercial” sounds were frowned upon, so the DJs were forced to hunt down the rarest small-pressing stompers from niche American labels. In clandestine efforts to keep tracks exclusive to their nights, DJs would lay faked names and track titles over the centre labels on their 7″s or even buy up and destroy copies of a prized record to prevent other DJs from obtaining them.

The obsessive nature of the scene ultimately conspired to make its longevity untenable. There were only so many obscure mid-60s fast soul records to discover, so the Casino and other nights attempted to thwart over-familiarity by introducing disco, funk and even novelty pop records – a tactic that alienated the core soul audience. Alarmed by the drug-fuelled nature of northern soul, the scene became heavily infiltrated by plain-clothes police officers. And with any scene in which drugs form a centre pillar, disintegration began to set in.

“Northern Soul was not some isolated cultural quirk,” writes Paul Mason, who posits northern soul as an act of youth-orientated resistance against the ascendant racism and sexism of the National Front-sympathising 1970s Britain. “It was the crest of a wave of working-class culture: rising literacy, social mobility and solidarity. We had no idea all this was about to be destroyed – by mass unemployment, the criminalisation of poor communities and industrial decline. But I think we sensed we were at the high point of something.

“For me Northern Soul is not about nostalgia for the past. It’s nostalgia for life as it could be lived in the future, if people in towns like Wigan and Detroit ever throw off all the poverty and criminalisation that got imposed on them in the decades inbetween.”

 

 

 

 

 

Guest mix: BADLANDS

Featuring : Badlands + Podcast

Badlands

Malmö-based producer Catharina Jaunviksna has just dropped her first full-length album as Badlands. Locus is a deeply atmospheric album that comes on like a synth-soundtracked night-time drive through a sci-fi suburbia.

“To me Locus is like watching a distant supernova through a telescope in a Spielbergy teenage room, that thing of peeking from a secure distance,” Catharina recently told The Line of Best Fit about her work. “I’m inspired by safe suburbia with a twist, and I strive to look at the world through a 35mm soft glow filter with a just-enough-eerie mystery to solve.

“That fragile balance appeals to me, and I think I need it to channel the thoughts, emotions and observations in which Locus evolved from.”

We asked Catharina to provide 20JFG with a guest mix. Read what she had to say about this excellent collage below!

Badlands – Memento mix

“Memento is a snapshot collage consisting of the work of friends, old heroes, Soundcloud/crate finds and new pioneers and sources of inspiration. I won’t go into each tune, but Freur’s ‘Doot Doot’ has been a big fave ever since I was a little kid. Not only have I cried countless teenage tears screaming into the pillow to this song, but I also used to end my mixtapes with it, and a couple of years ago I picked up on that tradition again. The song works as a reminder of who I am, and why once I started making tunes. It’s all about saying things that can’t be said, so let’s just take off together.”

TRACKLIST

Intro (Badlands)
No Mans Land – Tangerine Dream (Hyperborea album, 1983)
Oslo – MoTER (OmegaDriver EP, 2016)
Panic About Love – Wounded Healer (Panic about Love EP, 2015)
Lift – Oneohtrix Point Never (Garden of Delete album, 2015)
The Oldest Mind – Jape (Ocean of Frequency album, 2011)
Evensong – Zachary Cale (Duskland album, 2015)
Black Hole – Monoganon (Lost Cat 002 EP, 2014)
Ballad – Vangelis (Spiral album, 1977)
Gold Slaw – Sasparilla (Slave To the Cat Gang album, 2010)
Planet FX – AWITW (Still 80’s album, 2016)
Under the Chandelier – CMB (André Obin remix, 2016)
Pulse of Joy – Somadrone (The First Wave album, 2013)
Nucleotide – Michael Shrieve, Klaus Schulze & Kevin Shrieve (Transfer Station Blue EP, 1984)
The Four Horsemen – Aphrodites Child (666 album,1971)
Purest Heart – Badlands (Battles Within EP, 2012)
Doot Doot – Freur (Doot Doot album, 1983)

Buy Locus by Badlands from Bandcamp

Bass Jam

Featuring : Lone

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Today we bring you the celestial Jungle jams from Lone (courtesy of his album Levitate).

Lone – Backtail Was Heavy

Backtail Was Heavy is the soundtrack to Sonic’s Casino Night Zone if only a few specks of neon were left on and the stars were allowed to sing to our spiky blue avatar.   A headlong rush that only pauses briefly as you fall through the inky black night, before blasting forth once more.

Blacktail Was Heavy is the sound of raves, if raves involved techno-pagans actually getting their shit together and opening up portals to the minds of vastly higher beings.  Who also happen to be at a rave.  Like Being John Malkovich except with amen breaks and your mind existing as a moment of pure energy before being crushed by superior intelligences.

Levitate came out last Friday on R&S and you can get get it right here.

Dancing music in the C20: Yoruba music (1951-68)

Featuring : Babatunde Olatunji

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“Trying to illustrate the importance of dance in the Yoruba culture will be almost like trying to illustrate the importance of food in human existence,” explains the Nigerian dancer and drummer Adebole Olowe.

“Dancing, drumming, singing—they’re important for every aspect of life. If you’re a fisherman, you have special dances that you do and special drumming and songs. If something happens—you have a baby—there are special dances and songs that are performed. At kings’ coronations there are special dances and songs that are performed. Every aspect of people’s lives has special dances and songs that are performed.

“It’s really hard to even find areas of the Yoruba life where you wouldn’t have singing and dancing and drumming.”

Yoruba music is, put simply, the music of the Yoruba people of West Africa. The Yoruba are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, and are largely centred around Nigeria, where they comprise 21% of the population.

In general terms, yoruba music could encompass legends like Fela and Femi Kuti and King Sunny Ade, modern singers like Angelique Kidjo, and even Sade and Seal – as all are considered part of the Yoruba diaspora, not to mention the central role that drumming and dancing has played in Yoruba culture for thousands of years.

What we are investigating here though are the first recordings of Yoruba music, which did not emerge until the 1950s and 1960s, and consisted of an intriguing mix of Folkways-style ethnomusicological sound studies of traditional Yoruba music and the LPs by modern Yoruba that formed a sonic precursor to highlife and afrobeat.

Spotify playlist: early Yoruba recordings (1951-68)

The traditional musics that were recorded around this time were often functional rather than recreational – made to accompany rituals, sport, funerals, marriages, births, war or the dances of the famous Yoruba masquerades.

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Occasionally, though, these ritual musics would take root in the popular imagination and spawn a genre free from the associations of their function. One such example is Ekassa, which had been originally been devised as a royal dance in the 16th century.

In traditional Yoruba culture, music – usually drumming – is almost inseparable from dancing, and genres were typically classified and differentiated according to the purpose of the dance rather than the musical ingredients. When music was fashioned for purposes other than dancing, it was less drummy – more thumb-piano-y – and used instead to convey narratives; griot oral traditions.

Nigeria: The Yoruba – Orishanla, Sacred Drumming (from Folkways’ African And Afro-American Drums)

Although violin-type instruments can be found in Yoruba music, like gamelan, Yoruba music is really all about the percussion. A wide array of percussion instruments – from cowbell-type drums to kettle-drum-type drums, drums that spark high-pitched tones, drums that belch out low-pitched tones, and most magically, talking drums. The famous talking drums of Yoruba are hourglass-shaped instruments whose pitch can be regulated to mimic the tone and linguistics of human speech, and in particular, the Yoruba dialect.

The ‘talking’ is facilitated by squeezing and relaxing the drum while it is being played, which varies the tension on the drumhead. Using these techniques, the pitch, volume and rhythm of human speech can be emulated to such an accurate degree that Yoruba phrases could be translated from the drum patterns. Talking drums could therefore be used for neighbouring villages to communicate with each other, as the sound can reportedly travel for up to 5 miles!

Probably the biggest influence traditional Yoruba music bequeathed to its descendent genres – and to music as a whole – is its capacity for complex, conflicting cross-rhythms. The Afro-Cuban musician Mongo Santamaría would popularise the Yoruba cross-rhythms and hybridise them with jazz, first with his 1959 composition Afro Blue.

Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis would all develop their own interpretations of this Cuban-Yoruba jazz.

At the same time, a similar mix of Yoruba rhythms and Afro-Cuban jazz was also mined by the New York-born musician Tito Puente.

However, neither of these musicians – fine as they are – were part of the Yoruba people. In the 1950s, the leading modern Yoruba musician was Babatunde Olatunji.

Babatunde Olatunji – Akiwowo (Ah-Key-Woh-Woh) (Chant to the Trainman)

Olatunji was born in a Nigerian village in 1927, but like Puente and Santamaría, he spent the 1950s in New York. Unlike those two, he wasn’t there to make it big in the music industry, but to study public administration. While in New York, he started a percussion ensemble to help fund these studies. Somewhere along the way, Olatunji ended up performing with the Radio City Music Hall orchestra, which led to an album deal with Columbia records.

Babatunde Olatunji – Shango

Olatuji’s Columbia records introduced not just America, but the world in general, to Yoruba music for the first time. His first LP, Drums of Passion, even spawned a multi-million-selling hit single! The group at this time consisted of three male drummers and eleven female singers and dancers, though the Drums of Passion ensemble would swell to a drum orchestra featuring more than 20 percussionists.

Olatuji worked with many of the greats, from Cannonball Adderley to Stevie Wonder, and – more than a decade before Fela – he made a name for himself  as an impassioned social justice activist.

Rememberance of times blast

Featuring : Koban + RENDEZ-VOUS

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Our younger selves would have loved Rendez-vous, whose propulsive cold-wave sounds like The Rapture if they had re-prioritised Hot Snakes over P.I.L., or Nitzer Ebb after a mostly unsuccessful holiday in the cyberpsychosis clinic.

Yes, our younger selves, all spit and spunk and skinny trousers, would have lost their shit to Rendez-Vous’ nuclear air-raid guitar sirens, disciplined party drumming and crypto-romantic exhortations, really-really immersed in the blinding confusion of the chemical dancefloor.

We would have dropped Workout right after Les Savy Fav’s The Sweat Descents, and watched the world burn.

Rendez-Vous – Workout

Obviously, our current, stabilised and settled selves also love Rendez-Vous, but in a way that is not as pure. Get their excellent Distance 12’’ from AVANT Records.

koban

Koban blaze slower, but with equal power. Their tools and tropes may be those of the minimal wave insurgence, but their spirit is anything but cold. Instead, they shake and coil furiously like a synthetic reincarnation of Crass thrashing in the vats of Haas-Bioroid corporation.

We find Illusion particularly engrossing, a children’s mobile from Eraserhead whose weird facets spin in impossible synchrony: a macabre cha-cha-cha, a primeval rumble full of Death Valley ‘69 threat, holograms of Bettany West hovering above the storm like a mutant seer with psychic blade fingers.

We don’t think it is of this world. We don’t know where it draws its energy from. We just know that it was here, and then it’s gone, and we’re like, wha.

Koban – Illusion

Get Koban’s Abject Illusions from AVANT too.