Category Archives: South Africa

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Toejam” by Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela first came to my attention in the late 80’s/early 90’s. During that time,local oldies radio would often play his original instrumental version of “Grazing In The Grass”,complete with cowbell followed by the vocal version by Friends Of Distinction. Both versions were recorded only a year apart. And what caught my attention most was the fact that Masekela’s version was a lot slower-with a strong Latin/funk flavored soul jazz flavor about it. To this day,exploring Masekela’s rich and varied catalog of music hasn’t been nearly as a high a priority on my list as it should be. So today is the beginning of remedying that musical oversight to a degree.

The South African flugelhornist is turning 77 today. In the mid 90’s my father played for me the second song I heard of his-a heavy jazz/funk number from 1975 entitled “The Boy’s Doin’ It”. It was from an album of the same title,which marked the beginning of Masekela’s three album/two year stint on Casablanca Records. With Parliament being signed ot the label,P-Funk was entering it’s peak on the same record label during the same period. And Masekela gave up plenty of his own funk there as well. His final album for the label was 1977’s Melody Maker. And it contained one of these funk numbers he made entitled “Toejam”.

Yaw Opoku’s phasered ascending/descending bass line and Papa Frankie Todd’s slow,funky drumming starts out the song. Then Adaloja Gboyega’s electric piano comes in to play the bass accents. Throughout the song he also plays some bluesy synthesizer riffs as well. Percussionist Isaak Asante plays rhythmic chimes off the intro-as well as on the instrumental breakdown which showcases Masekela’s horn playing the descending melody. On the second refrain,Masekela plays a full  flugelhorn solo thats full of sustained improvisations.  Before the songs final chorus,the percussion rolls into the drum / bass/ keyboard intro before fading out entirely.

What really stands out about this song is how succinct the funk of it all is. A band consisting of a good bassist,drummer,keyboardist and horn soloist could almost take a school lesson based on how it’s construction. Most of the solos find each instrumental element taking their turns that are singled out whilst also playing in grooving unison. Also even with the presence of Afrocentric percussion,this song is straight out of the jazz-funk school of the Headhunters and Crusaders of the time. With a filtered bass line that also continues with P-Funk’s love of scaling melodic bass lines,this was also a good closeout jam of sorts of Masekela’s period on Casablanca.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Casablanca Records, drums, Flugelhorn, Funk Bass, Hugh Masekela, instrumental, jazz funk, P-Funk, percussion, South Africa, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove for 6/12/2015: “Tomorrow” by Nicolay

It was through his collaboration with Phonte on the latest album by The Foreign Exchange that got me interested in the music of Matthjis “Nicolay” Rook. Now this is a Dutch native who has been creating both solo albums and different collaborations within the funkiest side of the electronica/hip-hop/soul spectrum of music. His emphasis on live musicianship with his acumen as a multi instrumentalist is a big part of his artistic appeal for me personally.

Over the past decade,Nicolay has released a series of solo records in his City Lights series. Generally weaving them directly in between his released as a member of The Foreign Exchange. I’ve never had one of these albums. Yet the newest volume of this was subtitled ‘Soweto’-as a tribute to the South African township of the same name. And through online streaming? It was it’s opening song “Tomorrow” which caught my ear the most.

Beginning and ending with the voice of what is perhaps Bantu language conversation in the back-round? The song begins with a round bass synthesizer chord-accompanied by breezy orchestral electronics. Suddenly a burst of intense percussion kicks in for the main rhythm of the song-with congas,high hat and other Afro-Latin percussive sounds. On the bridge of the song a high pitch,and still round toned series of synthesizers play a horn like jazzy riff before gearing down into a higher pitched synth scaling up and down. All before the song ends with a light Ebonic vocalese.

One of the things I enjoy about this song is some of the same quality I heard on “If I Knew Then” from The Foreign Exchange. This song is of course far faster and electronic in straight up instrumental tone. That being said? Nicolay borrows a lot of his technique from early/mid 80’s Prince. In the sense that he is a master programmer and creator of live rhythmic and warmer,brittle bass lines with electronic drums and keyboards. It also helps greatly that he’s also an electric bassist and guitarist as well. He therefore understands the importance of a fat,rhythmic groove. Whether or not it’s produced organically. Along with it’s similarity to 1980’s Miles Davis and Weather Report? This song brings out the link between funk and contemporary electronica very strongly.

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Filed under 2015, Afro-Latin jazz, electro funk, Electronica, Fusion, Jazz-Funk, new music, Nicolay, Nu Funk, percussion, Phonte, South Africa, Soweto, synth funk, The Foreign Exchange