Tag Archives: Africa

Anatomy Of The Groove For 2/20/2015-Andre’s Pick: “African Eyes” by Sister Sledge

Philadelphia’s original sisters of soul Kathy,Debbie,Joni and Kim Sledge took their beautiful traded vocal leads and harmonies into the public consciousness in 1975. Five years and two albums later they began a hugely successful period with Nile Rodgers’ Chic organization-churning out songs that,among many excellent ones,include the anthem “We Are Family”. After 1985 the group had an eight year hiatus from recording  to emerge as a trio,produced by the British acid jazz outfit Incognito, while Kathy pursued a solo career.

Another seven years later the group re-emerged,again as a trio, with a brand new album called African Eyes. It was independently released,self produced,self written and the only reason I ever heard about it was because of my mother. She very much enjoyed hearing new music at the now defunct Borders Books & Music listening stations during the late 1990’s. This particular album seemed to not only surprise but very much excite her,which I know from experience is somewhat rare in this case. When I heard the title song for this album later that day? I completely understood her enthusiasm for it. And thanks to my friend from Kiev, Ukraine Andrew Osterov? I can now present this song to you.

The song begins with a pounding drum call before one of the sisters shouts out a declarative dialog in what sounds like Portuguese or Spanish. After this the percussive drum parts,speeding up and slowing down with each vocal refrain, breaks out into an intense uptempo frenzy accented by first by a steely slap bass pop from Kevin Mauch on the body of the song,and than joined by a jazzy improvised muted trumpet melody courtesy of Jessie Maguire on the choruses. The bridge of the song returns to a much cooler variation of the percussive drumming-juxtaposing the sounds of children playing with a full solo from that muted trumpet and an African flute before returning to the chorus as the song fades to a close.

Never before or since I heard or even conceived of the Sledge sisters as creating music that was so instrumentally and thematically Afrocentric. The song musically embraces the strong ethnic identification inherent in the original 70’s funk era-with it’s percussive rhythms and jazz oriented horn voicings. Even the solos and harmonies of the Sledge’s vocals have a totally rhythmic freedom in their projection. Lyrically the song boldly encourages young black American’s to see the beauty in their African roots-even declaring “civilization started near the Euphrates,when Adam and Eve started creating babies with those eyes”. Even evoking the chorus of their hit “We Are Family” with a new cultural context on the bridge of the song. To me this is the epitome of Sister Sledges musical journey. And impressed the music world so much that the African Eyes album was nominated for a best produced CD Grammy. The result is a high water mark for them in terms of funky cultural identity.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 1990s, Africa, Afrocentrism, Debbie Sledge, Funk, Incognito, Jazz, Joni Sledge, Kathy Sledge, Kim Sledge, Nile Rodgers, percussion, Sister Sledge, slap bass, trumpet

Seeing The Music: Andre’s Guide To Funk,Soul & Jazz Documentary Essentials!

SONY DSC

                   During the time I was growing up,the majority of men  around me were mainly interested in watching sports on television and action films in the movie theaters. From adolescence onward, the one thing that moved me in both media were musical documentaries about the black American musical spectrum that I was then absorbing like a sponge. The understanding of rhythm and harmony I received from seeing these musicians perform,speak of their histories along with the music they made provided me with a full sensory experience far beyond what I could’ve received from the limited literature of the era I was receiving.

                        Initially I was going to combine documentary films with biopics in the same blog. Since dramatizations  are a completely different medium of film making technique? Decided instead to break them up in separate but related blogs. Also because I received a very different level of education from them as well. Before hand,some of these documentaries are very hard to find even on YouTube. Many have never even been issued on DVD. Yet I highly recommend seeking all of them out if you are looking to seek out a first hand education on the soul,jazz,funk and R&B musical spectrum.

rock-n-roll

        This aired on PBS in 1995. The eighth part of it focused specifically on the genre of funk and it’s development from James Brown on through George Clinton. The final volume focused on hip-hop. The names of Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash first came to me through watching this documentary. Not to mention the knowledge of rap’s musical roots in Jamaican reggae DJ’s such as Kool Herc. While some of the narrative commentary shows a limited understanding of the connectivity of black American music’s connectivity? The insights of interviewees such as Maceo Parker,Alan Leeds,George Clinton,Afrika Bambaataa and Chuck D are extremely insightful to what drove the music forward.

record row cradle of rhythm and blues

Narrated by the late Chess Records icon Etta James,this documentary not only opened my eyes to understanding the history of blues,soul and funk in 60’s Chicago. But was also the first glimpse I got into the idea of black American financial empowerment. Jerry Butler explained it best in this when describing how Curtis Mayfield starting his Curtom label,taking control of his publishing,took the Chicago scene into the funk era by closing down the era of people such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker functioning as “musical sharecroppers”.

The strong emphasis this has on United Record Distributors,the only black American record distributors  in their time run by the Leaner brothers,proved extremely significant in my understanding of black America’s experience with capitalism for years to come. And the level of communication in the civil rights era through the iconic radio station WVON,such a significant force in the city that if an artist wasn’t on their play list,record stores would not stock their music. Possibly my favorite musical documentary all told.

motown40

It was this epic documentary mini series,hosted by Diana Ross that really allowed me to understand the internal workings of Motown records. From it’s foundational years when Berry Gordy,having failed as a record store owner in Detroit,began writing songs for Jackie Wilson. And then borrowed $800 from his family to start what become an American musical institution. A black American institution. The interviews follow Motown’s changes from it’s salad period in the mid 60’s,through the funk and disco era when the artists had the most creative control,on through Berry deferring ownership of the company in the mid 80’s through it’s resurgence with vocal boy bands and then Puff Daddy Combs remixing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. A very complete and thorough history on The Sound Of Young America.

jazz-show

Overall I’d apply the same viewpoint to this documentary as I would apply to PBS’s  Rock ‘N’ Roll from seven years earlier. It’s understanding of musical connectivity,absolutely key to jazz,is more limited to the participants (such as Ken Burns  and Wynton Marsalis) perceptions of the music than it is lacking. Yet the decision to weave an internal documentary on the life and career of Louis Armstrong as a key figure in jazz is double edged: it didn’t quite succeed in term of historical continuity but did showcase how the aspect of modern black American musical might’ve derived from Armstrong’s approach. I learned about important sociological figures in the music such as Buddy Bolden,James Reese Europe and Sidney Bechet here as well. With the help of my father’s asides,this helped complete my historical understanding of jazz.

Scratch

Went to Portland Maine to see this movie,in a little movie theater underground of a local clotherie. It was actually a suitable environment for this film. It traces Grand Mixer DST’s pioneering turntable work with Herbie Hancock on his “Rockit” project. It than goes on to discuss the fine art of crate digging for used vinyl by hip-hop scratch artists. There was no irony to the fact that I was myself crate digging myself,only for my personal listening pleasure and musical enlightenment,less than an hour after seeing this in the used record stores of the city of Portland. One of those films that was both influential and validating exactly at the time I saw it.

Earth Wind & Fire Shinning Stars

Probably the one documentary I was the most excited to learn about upon it’s release. It follows the ascension of Maurice White from his childhood in Memphis to switching his college major from premed to music and playing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio before forming his first and second incarnations of Earth,Wind & Fire. The fact that bassist/trombonist Louis Satterfield,saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk,drummer Ralph Johnson and guitarist Al McKay go deeply into their own insights on how music functioned in terms of being a member of Earth Wind & Fire during it’s prime period.

Stevie Wonder Classic Albums

In terms of the Rhino Classic Album series? This now very hard to find DVD interviews all of the musicians involved in the long winded and dramatic recording sessions to what is considered Stevie Wonder’s shinning musical pinnacle. Stevie demonstrates the double keyboarded Yamaha GX-1 (known as the Dream Machine)- a polyphonic synthesizer I find sonically and visually impressive. Another favorite part is where Stevie showcases how his musical acumen allowed him to cover over for a harmonic solo at the end of “Isn’t She Lovely” that a harmonica player of his caliber shouldn’t have made. Hearing the musical insights of this mans inner visions was a hugely important musical milestone for me.

Marvin Gaye Life & Death Of

Marvin Gaye’s history has,especially in the hands of author David Ritz,was generally depicted for me literarily in extremely magisterial terms. This BBC documentary,one that came my way through a life changing act of barter in itself,really did a lot to put more of a human face on the complexities of Marvin Gaye’s musical and personal life. Through interviews with the artist himself and penetrating reenactments of the even of his childhood? I’d recommend this as the best available visual documentation on Marvin Gaye.

Tom Dowd

Tom Dowd is probably listed as the producer of more albums than anyone in American music history. This man started out working for the Manhattan Project on the atomic bomb. And his career as a producer extends throughout both the black music and rock era spectrum-an array of artists as diverse as John Coltrane to Lynyrd Skynyrd. The amazing about this documentary isn’t merely the musical history. But Down provides an inside look,right at the mixing board,onto how he instrumentally layered songs such as “Layla”. A key story for understanding the intricacies of the musical creative process.

Bob Marley

For many years Bob Marley was mainly known to me as a superficial icon of a certain local stoner culture,one that tended to feel sociopolitical change derived solely from drug use and how it changed the consciousness. This story chronicles the complex wheel of Marley’s musical life-starting from his childhood in Trenchtown,Kingston in Jamaica through his near assassination attempt in 1976 through his passing on from Melanoma in 1981. This really broke it down exactly what about his back-round and viewpoint on the Jamaican music industries corruption that motivated the sociopolitical consciousness of the reggae music he helped to pioneer and export the world over in his lifetime.

Respect Yourself

It was thanks to Netflix that I found out about this documentary about Soulville USA! Stax Records were both the rival and opposite to Motown’s business model during it’s mid 60’s heyday. This is extremely thorough on it’s representation of Stax literally rising back from the dead following the double cross of Jerry Wexler’s Atantic Records ownership over Stax’s catalog following the death of Otis Redding, the labels burgeoning social consciousness embodied in Isaac Hayes,the Staple Singers and Wattstax during the early 70’s and financial bloating bringing the label down mid decade. Than Stax came back decades later-with a music school for young musicians to boot. Especially following the creative managing of Al Bell and interviews with many of the artists from Stax’s heyday? This is the essential story of Southern Soul from when Stax really bought the funk into the music.

Michael Jackson Life Of An Icon

Michael Jackson’s story has been re-purposed in the media so many times? It is nearly impossible to approach his life story with total objectivity. Thus far,this is one documentary that does the best job of doing so. For one,it concentrates on Mike’s late teens and early adulthood in terms of his musical development. And by interviewing everyone from Bobby Taylor,who first discovered the Jackson’s performing onto 80’s era manager Frank Dileo? It strips away some of the overbearing adulation and downright hero worship that this distinctive and funky musical talent found somewhat responsible for his own end. An end that came far too soon. Probably the essential Michael Jackson documentary thus far.

unsung_logo2012-wide

Unsung is an unprecedented documentary series on the cable network TV One. The reason for it’s importance is that it profiles an often underrated musical icons from within the soul/funk spectrum. And does so with a great level of care and compassion. As of now I’ve not been privileged to see every episode of the series. Yet the stories of people such as Tammi Tarrell,David Ruffin,Donny Hathaway,Full Force,Angela Bofill and Heatwave lead singer Johnnie Wilder provided an excellent insight into artists either misrepresented or not even spoken of broadly in other media circles.

Finding Fela

It was a reference in Paul McCartney’s documentary Wingspan that first gave me indication to the name Fela Anikulapo Kuti. This story probably brings my understanding of the African American musical spectrum near to it’s final stages. My conversations with blogging partner Rique are consistently referencing Kuti. And this film really expands on that understanding. The understanding of Fela as the Nigerian James Brown,whom he in fact was very highly influenced by through travelling through America during the years of black power in the late 60’s.

While the man bought the sound and social consciousness of total rhythm into his combination of African Highlife and jazz-funk?  He also set upon living a lifestyle of breaking down conventions,largely coming out of the corruption that led to tragic events such as the murder of his own mother. This really embodies the full spectrum of emotion a life can have-from pioneering,to humorous to tragic. And it also helps bring out peoples understanding and misunderstanding of what African culture is really all about.


Sometimes when I try to encourage people to watch more documentaries,they often respond by saying that they find them boring. At the end of the day they say? They want to escape,not learn. What I’ve personally come to understand is that knowledge functions as both a destination and an escape. Just depends on how you receive it. Being lectured at about topics by a teacher isn’t always the idea method of education. Yet through documentaries on a favorite subject? One can experience first hand,sometimes comic history,joy and tears from the viewpoint of all involved.  And for me? These have all provided the ultimate in learning while being simultaneously entertained.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1990s, Bob Marley, Chicago, crate digging, Earth Wind & Fire, Etta James, Fela Kuti, Funk, George Clinton, Heatwave, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Jazz, Ken Burns, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Maurice White, Mavis Staples, Memphis Soul, Michael Jackson, Portland Maine, reggae, Stax, Stevie Wonder, Tom Dowd, Unsung series, Vee-Jay

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/25/14 Andre’s Pick: “Jerk Ribs” by Kelis

Harlem native Kelis Rogers comes from the area of New York known for its black cultural renaissance of the 1920’s. She comes from a background of both fashion and music-her father Kenneth being a jazz pianist. Over time she developed a flamboyant personality that,while stereotypically getting her in some trouble at different points in her life,has also given her a somewhat rare understanding about the vitality,soul and groove of the music she’s done. Making a name for herself in the millennial transition produced by Pharrell Williams/The Neptunes on songs such as the hugely successful and influential “Milkshake”,Kelis has continued to move forward towards a musical sound that would successfully fuse the music she listened to and loved growing up with contemporary production elements. Realizing perhaps the frustration in trying to achieve that musical fusion, Kelis has opted this time around for the full on live band for her newest album Food and its lead off song release “Jerk Ribs”

It all starts out with this slow,shuffling percussive groove with a bass line that’s lifted directly of the influence of James Brown’s early 70’s musical innovations. In a chocked,dreamy tone of voice,Kelis paints an autobiographic picture of a life growing up where-even during the more difficult late 20th century in Harlem,  the very streets seemed to be wrapped up in musical rhythms. She spoke with great veneration for her father-singing the moving line of “He played the notes and keys/he said to look for melody in everything”. Before each chorus, her horn section plays a melodic fanfare that seems to be calling out to the listener to physically participate before scaling strings introduce the chorus illustrating “it feels just like it should”. As the song goes on, Kelis sings of the bass (note she mentions that first),the brass and strings vibrate through her-stating of it all that “I love everything”. By the end of the song,her happily nostalgic state elevates even to her present day as the fanfare of the horns keeps up steadily until the groove finishes off.

One of the most important things about this song is that it strongly emphasizes the influence on James Brown’s funk music style from Ghanaian “highlife” music from that era. The joyous sounding fanfare of the horns that instrumentally help define this song drip alternately with precision and a strong appreciation for the Afro-Pop interpretation of the blues. The bass line is,as is a signature of funk in general mixed up very high. Its clear Kelis wants it to be known strongly that the electric bass is a key factor to keep a fat bottomed groove strong and vital. In a way this song more eloquently extends on themes her former producer Pharrell has recently coined on his enormously successful “Happy”-the idea that being in a state of joy is a source of strength. In the case of Kelis,the source of her joyful strength comes from the joy of music that was always with her from childhood. Her picturesque imagery of music itself in these lyrics make musical sounds seem like a tangible thing one can wrap themselves around like a blanket. It is the funk/soul groove as a source of love,joy and inner peace. And the more I hear it? The more I realize this song just has to resonnate with many other people on that level-the way it does with me. Truly Kelis’s most powerful musical visitations upon humanity this far.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, Africa, Blues, Funk, Funk Bass, Kelis, Pharrell Willaims, Rhythm, Soul

The Anatomy of ‘Happy’- Rique’s outlook: An Anatomy of THE Groove Special Presentation Part Duex

 

 

 

Pharrell Williams recent triumph with an infectious ditty about human joy and the movements of the human spirit is one that fills me with tremendous joy and that I  identify with very personally. I see it as the culmination of a career spent highlighting the spirit enhancing aspects of Black music at a time when darkness was accepted as the norm.

Back in my high school days, my main friends who I referred to as my brothers,  Jesse, Osceola, and Frank use to spend our time before, after, and sometimes during school hours at OC’s house, eating gumbo, cooking, playing bass and discussing and debating how we were to make it in the world.  Often times we looked at the current culture around us, in the days of bling rap and very ignorant music as inadequate to the views we had of ourselves and how we wished our lives to be, not to mention the attitudes we’d inherited from our well meaning parents. The late 1990s seemed to be an extremely long ways away from the vitality we associated with other days of black culture in particular.

Outkast was the closest of any group at the time to who we felt we were. There were many other groups we liked bits and pieces of, but no one captured it as well as them. Then, at some point in 1999 we started to hear another groove. It was electronic, sparse, and FUNKY. It was heard on records like Mase’s “Lookin at Me”, ODB’s “Got Your Money” and “Recognize” and especially Kelis’ “Caught Out There.” Then one day out of nowhere, we heard that same beat but we got some vocals, on a track called “Oh No” by Nore, we saw a handsome, carmel skinned brother with throwback aviator shades on, giving an old school hip hop chorus in a falsetto voice. Osceola, ever the sharp eyed visionary, said simply, “I like that dude.”

As the milenium turned, the hits rolled in, like Mystikals James Brown influenced “Shake Ya Ass”, Nelly’s “Bustin Loose” influenced “Hot in Herre”, and several records that referenced The Vanity 6’s eternal Purple Funk classic “Nasty Girls” (“Milkshake”, “Slave”, etc). Pharrell and Chad Hugo, the Neptunes, could give you aural images of Run DMC’s “Sucker M.C’s” on a track like the Clipse’s “Grindin'”, and recall both Cameo and Slave on Snoop Dogg’s “Lets Get Blown.” And Pharrell’s own “Frontin”, may be one of the few R&B love songs that came out in the last decade that I truly identified with, not just as music, but as experience.

The Neptunes music took the black historical sound of funk, and edited it, filtered it through hip hop, and presented it as the hottest party sound of the new milenium. Pharrell’s falsetto, used in the beginning simpy to guide singers on demo’s, recalled Eddie Kendricks, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and many other legends, who I’ve heard him all reference in interviews. I was always amazed at Chad and Pharrells skill at interpolation, building new funk off old funk and making an ahistorical young urban audience accept it as THE THING.

This past year has been one of special triumph, with Daft Punk’s directly late ’70s influenced “Get Lucky”, Robin Thicke’s “Got to Give It Up” tribute “Blurred Lines”, and now, the ’60s get back in the alley groove of “Happy.”

In the black church, the moment of the utmost jubilation, when people speak in tounges and do the holy dance, and the organ and drums begin to vamp, is called “Getting Happy.” Pharrell mentioned on his interview with Oprah that after 9 tries at nailing down a song to represent the joy of the villian on the film “Despicable Me 2”, he finally hit on this groove. He said the chords were gospel, because that’s the aim of gospel music, to get people “happy”, on a profound spiritual level that gives a glimpse of the eternal joy that all religions promise, with the goal of getting people through an often rough existence on this here earth.

Pharrell accomplishes this in the most spiritual, profound way on this song. He has always aimed to make people happy, his litany of dance hits is proof of that, but this  one hits on another level. The ’60s back beat, straight out of the book of Benny Benjamin and Uriel Jones, is matched with a low down electric piano and bluesy tone. The blues scale is an actual rarity in “R&B” music these days, it seems black musicians RUN from that historic tone. But the triumph of blues music borne of the black experience is the ability to acknowledge sadness while promoting joy. That is why it is universal, because all of humanity seeks that, the combination of reality and hope. Pharrell embraces a bluesy, funky sound with an uplifiting beat that will make your backbone slip into the jerk, the mashed potatoes, and the monkey if you let it!

The R&B singer Tank, when asked about the struggles of R&B in recent years, made some very illuminating comments. He basically said R&B’s obssessive focus on sex and love have limited it. He mentioned “Happy” in particular as a type of song that “used to be R&B.” And it makes me proud that an artist primarily associated with hip hop laid this on the world. The reason is, for all the bad rap (pun intended) hip hop often takes (and gives), I do feel hip hop is the repository of black musical history and musical history in general that no other music is. Songs like “Hey Ya” by Andre 3000, “My Umi Says” by Mos Def, “Sexual Eruption” by Snoop Dogg, even Ol Dirty Basterd’s rendition of “Coldblooded”, reference the past and the fun spirits of past musics in a way few contemporary R&B artists ever attempt.

But the true genius of Pharrell is in his vision and his uniqueness. Pharrell and a handful of other artists, have always made me feel it was okay to be myself and pursue my own path. They brough the spirit I admired in Miles Davis, James Brown, George Clinton, Stevie, Sly, Marvin, etc, into the present day, when most of my peers would tell me, “That was back THEN.” And it is an amazing act for a black male artist at this time to stand up and make the whole world dance singing a song that says “I’m Happy.”

From the beginning, Pharrell understood this song was the people’s song.  I was amazed when he created the worlds first 24 hour music video, with people uploading their own videos dancing to the song, a truly democratic and positive use of current technology! And his song has become so big that the U.N used it as their theme for their “International Day of Happiness.” The video I posted is from Liberia, my mothers home country and a country both of my parents love dearly. Liberia’s main image currently is one of 19 years of one of the most brutal civil wars seen in recent memory.  But this was a country founded as a country of hope for individuals who were not allowed much in their home land. But Pharrell’s song and the “Happy” video show that the human spirit lives on, as it always has. My mother, who usually does not dig the message of many current musics, actually asked me to bring home Pharrell’s album for HER the other day. I often bemoan the fact that todays black music, in contrast to a song such as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, is not often something kids and grown ups can share together. How can a consciounable parent bring their kids out to dance at 2 am to “All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe?” But “Happy” is most definitely a song that makes both me and my mother dance. I heard another young lady say that she plays that for her kids in the morning when she’s taking them to school. At that, I’ll say Pharrell has made quite a contribution in his time to the never ending, always elusive human quest, and for 3 mintues and 53 seconds at a time, he plants his flag on that tall and distant summit of joy.

2 Comments

Filed under Motown, Music, Music Reviewing, Pharrell Williams

Welcome To A New Year And A New Blog!

2014-Numbers-free-Happy-2014-New-Year-Image-Wallpaper

    I would like to welcome everyone to Andresmusictalk,my newest blog here on WordPress. This blog is going to serve as a collaborative effort between myself and Henrique Hopkins-a main inspiration for creating my first blog here The Rhythmic Nucleus. For those of you who familiar with that blog,it was primarily focused on funk music and its many tributaries. Since of course my own personal musical pallet of interests is very eclectic,the topics on that blog began to drift into different musical territories.

          The purpose of this blog is to expand the level of dialog regarding the full spectrum of music. Regarding its history,creation,generational potency and anything else of interest in that regard. Just about every musical form on Earth bleeds into each other over time. The “rhythmic nucleus” of it all likely began in Africa. But it has spread across the world over millennium after millennium in a symphonic gumbo-with each subculture of humanity making wonderful new contributions as it goes. If that sounds like a big deal,it is. And music grows into even more of a big deal as time progresses.

           The levels of experience and perceptions of music between Henrique and myself have many similarities. Yet our environments have shaped them in very different ways between us. This will be an important element in our two literary styles that will be presented here. And to paraphrase one of Henrique’s own quotations,this will also serve as a possible springboard for broader articles that might one day find they’re way into the realm of professional publication. So as the two of us continue to grow as human beings,so will go the breadth and scope of our writing here.

               On some occasions,I would like to see the two of us engage in call and response type writing-wherein myself or Henrique create a blog post here in direct response to the others. Not only would that reflect the spirit of the soul/funk music we love,but help us grow as writers and continue that educational experience. In this age where the “less is more” adage has perhaps been too readily applied to human conversation,it is actually in our dialog that we learn most from. And the best forum to give and receive our knowledge. So enjoy what is to come! Many exciting things to read,see and hear await you!

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Blogging, Dialog, Earth, Funk, Humanity, Literacy, Music, Rhythm, Soul, Time