Tag Archives: message songs

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Me See Your ID” by Artists Against Apartheid featuring Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Duke Bootee and Gil Scott-Heron

Kurtis Blow, starting life in 1959 Harlem as Kurtis Walker, graduating from becoming a student of communications and ministry to becoming the first major hip-hop MC to have a substantial hit with 1980’s disco based rap classic “The Breaks”. He had a string of hits in from the early to late 1980’s. By 1994, he’d become an ordained minister. He was also noted as an early example of hip-hop interpreting itself when Nas made a cover version of Blow’s “If I Ruled The World” in 1996. It was Blow’s strong pro black stance against racism that led him into perhaps the most socially significant projects of his career.

In 1985, E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt put together an album project called Artists Against Apartheid, which featured over 50 musicians,singers and rappers in protest against the oppressively racist South African government. Artists such as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and percussionist Ray Buretto signed on. Along with rappers Grandmaster Melle Mel, Kurtis Blow,Duke Bootee,the late Nigerian musician Sonny Okosun and also late iconic jazz/funk poet/singer Gil-Scott Heron got together for a massively topical collaboration from this album “Let Me See Your ID”.

The percussive drum machines and turntabling of the late Jam Master Jay begin this song-with Melle Mell and Blow’s rapping before Miles’s impressionist trumpet textures plays over Gil Scott Heron’s poetic sections of the song. By this point in the song, Miles’ bassist of the time Doug Wimbish throws down some heavy duty funk slap bass. During the bridge of the song, Sonny Okosun sings his own lyrics while the conga’s of Ray Buretto come in and provide an extra rhythmic kick to the song for its final versus and chorus before it all comes to a stop.

“Let Me See Your ID” is one of the most superb early jazz/Afro-pop/hip-hop collaborations of its time. Musically, it showcases how vital heavy rhythm is linking all of these elements together. As for the songs lyrical cause, it has Melle Mell and Kurtis Blow earnestly rapping against racist government systems. Whereas Gil Scott-Heron’s poetic narrations provide his mixture of down home scholarly wit to the lack of knowledge many Americans have of the third world itself-never mind its problems. Its a song that, especially in light of today’s political climate, should be gone back to in a serious way.

 

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Exodus At 40: Remembering The Year Bob Marley & The Wailers Really Got People Jammin’

Bob Marley is a figure whom I’ve never covered on Andresmusictalk. Reggae is a musical genre that grew out of ska,an Afrocentric style of rock n roll, as well as from Marley’s own interest in funky soul artists such as Curtis Mayfield. And the idea that Afrocentric music could carry strong political and spiritual messages. By the mid 70’s, Marley & The Wailer’s had already more or less defined reggae with standards such as “Get Up,Stand Up” and “No Woman,No Cry”. During my life time, Marley and reggae in general was embraced by what seemed to be stoner rock fans. There’s another way to look at it too.

After seeing the 2012 documentary Marley, it became clear how important reggae and the music made by Marley and the Wailers made was to the black community around the world, and not just to punk musicians or other rock people. Marley had nearly been assassinated for advocating a specific political candidate in his own country not too long before the Exodus album came out. And with his pan Africanism-being inspired in his “Redemption Song” by a speech given by Jamaican pro black activist Marcus Garvey, Marley made total sense to me upon reviewing Exodus on Amazon.com.


One could never say Bob Marley wasn’t charismatic. By the time the 70’s was drawing to it’s concluding years,the music he was making with the Wailers were not only a rallying cry and inspiration to every from Stevie Wonder to The Clash. But his devotion to his cause was even beginning to have the power to affect political change in his native country.

However badly needed that was Marley’s position as a cultural icon began to have an effect on his life,as violence and death threats loomed on a man whose stance was primarily about peace. So he did what he always did-reached out with his music to bring in a yet larger audience in some surprising ways.

In many ways this album found it’s huge commercial success by representing reggae achieving it’s most fullest flower. If that’s what one is looking for “Natural Mystic”,”So Much Things To Say”,”Guiltiness” and “The Heathen” sure have a lot of that. Bob’s recent experiencing with the continual political corruption in Jamaica were spoken very loudly here.

And by the time we get to the monstrously churning,funky title song he’s yearning yet more for Rastafarian redemption yet again. On the next half there are concessions towards the more commercial.”Jamming” might be Bob’s most popular and one of the poppiest reggae numbers but a great one. And one of my favorite Bob Marley tunes.

“Turn The Lights Down Low” add some light electronics to the sensual flavor of the tune and the albums ends with two more unforgettable Marley anthems in “Three Little Birds” (another of my favorites by Marley) and a medley of “One Love/People Get Ready”. This self produced effort had the strong effect of both remaining true to the music Bob Marley popularized but also using some contemporary production and musical elements to add extra musical seasoning to his sound.

I’ve heard some hardcore Bob Marley fans say that they feel this album is a little too commercial for their tastes. From what I’ve heard I don’t think Marley had anything to do with being commercial. Popular?For sure. But commercial no. And because of his willingness to expand musically to get his message across,I think albums like this actually play a good part in helping the audience understand that difference.


The musical legacy of Bob Marley was already carved in stone long before Exodus came out. But when the album did come out 40 years ago last month, it helped break reggae into the mainstream just as the same thing was happening to the concurrent musical movements of punk and disco. Viewing the contents of albums such as this as having a basis in soul and funk also makes sense. Since much of disco had the same origin points as well. So this strong example of strong and unique “people music” coming from a strong pro black stance makes Exodus a vital part of the late 70’s musical landscape.

 

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There’s No Place Like America Today: Reflections Into This 1975 Curtis Mayfield Album On Independence Day

Curtis Mayfield’s message to America’s black community is a hard one to overstate. As Jerry Butler stated, Mayfield witness the financial exploitation of many an (often illiterate) blues musician in Chicago as he was coming up in the world. He arrived into Record Row in the late 50’s as a teenager-witnessing these “musical sharecroppers” (as Butler referred to it as) basically having to “sing for their supper” by gigging just to earn a living. As the 60’s came in, Curtis Mayfield became one of the first black American musical figures to change that for himself. And as an example for others to come.

Half a century later, America is still in many ways a developing nation. Its still an autocratic nation in many ways. With many marginalized people remaining so in a nation that should have plenty for all of them. For thoughtful people such as myself,this might make Independence Day difficult to celebrate these days. In 1975, Curtis Mayfield released There’s No Place Like America Today-an album that addressed such concerns.  Its cover art is based on a photograph of black flood victims in 1937 by Margaret Bourke-White. Here’s my review from a couple of years ago about the album.


From what I’ve heard of the man from the beginning of his solo career onward? Curtis Mayfield’s music focused on sociopolitical matters from the point of view of a storyteller. He’d basically tell the tale in his poetically strong manner, and than make either make passing observations or ask a rhetorical question. Always with the idea of setting things up for positive change.

After the events of Watergate and the ensuing oil crisis in the mid 70’s? Curtis’s thematic focus was beginning to change from one of implied optimism to one of the need to face the harsher realities head on, and as they were. From the cover artwork re-imagine a famous photograph onward? This album exemplified the change of focus in Curtis’s music.

“Billy Jack” is a thick,boiling over the edge yet spare jam defined by melodic wah wah bass-with a crying blues guitar backing it up and carried along rhythmically by conga’s and other percussive elements. “When Seasons Change” keeps the that same sound fully intact with a lot more reverb on this very hollow around the middle,but still beautifully crafted hard funk ballad.

“So In Love” brings in the close horns,organ and pretty orchestral strings for a shuffling mid tempo soul ballad. “Jesus” throws down a tick tocking drum with a high liquid bass and yet more organ for a gospel/soul ballad. “Blue Monday People” is another mid-tempo ballad full of that round,reverbed wah wah sound along with the typically powerful melody.

“Hard Times” brings all the elements of the opener for a hard funk number with a strong blues flavor while “Love To The People” brings in both this heavy echoed rhythm section with the orchestration together for a swelling,horn filled mass of funky soulfulness. Over and over again? This album brings in a spare,very glossy funk sound that stands on near perfect ground with the lyrical focus. And of course it finds Curtis taking a look at the darker side of his one conceptual vision.

He is seeing the inequities of racial privilege for exactly what they are. And makes it clear over and over that the black community will have to turn more and more inward to move forward. And that stands on both creative and social grounds as well. Of course with musicians like Phil Upchurch and Henry Gibson as part of Curtom’s backing band of the day? Curtis Mayfield was in just the right place to take his funk to a musically broader and lyrically less certain place.


The idea that America should celebrate its birthday based on unconditionally positive ideas is probably a destructive one. Every year as knowledge becomes broader, American’s learn not only truths of its history. But the less than savory circumstances on its founding. Yet America is also a nation where its democratically based…messiness (as my friend Henrique said once) allows for a lot of positive things to be accomplished.  There’s No Place Like America Today takes this well rounded view of outward and inner human politics and brings it all to the table. And in Curtis’s own funky eloquence too.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Yellow Light” by Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams has had four years since the summer of 2014. That was the summer that almost every town in America had people making YouTube videos to his stripped down soul jazz styled dance number “Happy”. Thus far,its likely the anthem for the 2010’s. And a somewhat unexpected one at that. Since that time,Williams has immersed himself in supporting social causes along with his usual production work. Among them was the 7 continent ‘Live Earth’ concert done with Al Gore to help raise awareness of and pressure governments to act on climate change.

Considering the recent global climate change conferences and the phenomenal response to “Happy” four years ago, Williams is fast proving the cynics wrong. That music can actually change the world-one song at a time. Recently Universal has released the sequel film Despicable Me 3. The 16 song soundtrack is set to feature seven songs from Pharrell Williams. One of them is a song which I heard via a Vevo search, for the very first time, just a couple days ago. And something about it just hit me over the head. The name of the song is “Yellow Light”.

Williams’ vocals popping along to the popcorn style synthesizer make up for the intro. The then main body of the song comes in. For the most part,its made up of a brittle and funky drum machine beat with a number of fills-accented on the final beat with a hi hat sound. In between that is a thick, bassy wah wah style,higher pitched synth wobble. Between each section of the song, there’s a break where an electric rhythm guitar accompanies William’s gospel like vocal shouts exactly. A vocal sample of someone saying the word “yo” fades out the song.

Musically speaking “Yellow Light” speaks to Pharrell Williams putting his special touch on his ever growing musical fusions. His basic style here is based on 80’s electro funk/hip-hop: instrumentally condensed and focused directly on the groove. At the same time, non of the mans soulful passion and love of humanity is lost on the song. Its an anthem for what he calls  “the united states of uncertainty”-praising sunlight as the “best disinfectant”-even throwing subtle shade at modern Hollywood with the line with “everyone’s overdosing the blue light use”. All and all,another one of Pharrell’s finest.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tin Foil Hat” by Todd Rundgren featuring Donald Fagen

Todd Rundgren has been one of those DIY singer/songwriter/musician/producer’s who was successfully able to meld his many talents into collaborative projects. Coming out of The Nazz into his own solo career,through Utopia and onward. Yet it wasn’t until his most recent solo album White Night,released just over a month ago. The majority of the album concentrated on collaborations with a diverse range of artists. Among them old friend Daryl Hall and one particular partnership that really got me personally interested: one with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen.

This particular collaboration came during a time when America and to a degree much of the Western World is in great turmoil. It was turmoil that actually stopped me from writing this blog for a week or so. Unlike the post 9/11 years happily, very few American artists have any fear in challenging the disastrous presidency of Donald Trump. In fact,Rundgren made news (even on Fox) regarding his desire not to have Trump supporters in his concert audiences causing trouble.  All of this is presented as part of his collaboration with Fagen entitled “Tin Foil Hat”.

A bluesy,vibraphone like two note keyboard line opens the song unaccompanied. Following that,electronic drums come in playing what seems to be a slow jazzy swing in 6/8 time. After that another keyboard comes in playing an organ type part-with that opening line assisting a swinging bass keyboard and guitar (or guitar like) tone. On the choruses,the chord changes to a slightly higher one before descending back into the refrain via a brief re-appearance of the organ style solo. By the final choruses, a bluesy piano joins the affair before the songs comes to an abrupt stop.

“Tin Foil Hat” is a song that addresses the entire Trump fiasco so well. Instrumentally,its a classic R&B/jazz/blues shuffle in Fagen’s classic style-with Rundgren’s vocal effects and own musical touches going right alongside it. Presented here is an accompanying music video,which has the songs wry and biting humor but also has a mild dire element of conspiracy theorists in high positions constantly foreseeing a coming apocalypse. Its an example of a funky,bluesy and soulful type song in 2017 delivering a message for the American people with both humor and effective social commentary.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sneak You In” by Bassel & The Supernaturals

Funk represents quite a lot more than just music. The elements of jazz,rock and soul within it expresses the 60’s era social changes that became more mainstream in the 70’s. Bassel & The Supernaturals are a superb modern example of this. Bassel Almadani, the bands lead singer and (from what I can see) founder, is a Syrian American who sees the Supernaturals’ jazz/funk/neo soul sound as holding an ethnic and social identification with the the immigrant refugee issues that are now becoming a major problem for the world. This is refreshing when so many no longer feel that music can change society.

I found out about Bassel & The Supernaturals this past Monday via local community radio station WERU’s night time funk/soul/jazz show Upfront Soul,hosted by a DJ who calls herself Sanguine Fromage. WERU often plays artists with progressive political causes to push forward. And Bassel & The Supernaturals are involved with nationally-acclaimed SXSW showcase ContraBanned: #MusicUnites- which showcases musicians from the diaspora of the countries targeted by Donald Trump’s travel ban. The song I remember Sanguine Fromage playing by them is called “Sneak You In”.

A swinging shuffle starts out the song-with a glistening electric piano and wah wah guitar in unison with a bouncing,equally shuffling slap bass line. The represents of the refrains of the song-each of which caps up with a hi hat heavy breakdown at the end. Horn charts accent the melody at its strongest points within every aspect of the song. The refrain builds,grows and changes in chord progression-in between two bridges that showcase more percussive drum fills and a jangling Latin rhythm guitar solo. The second such bridge builds up to a horn filled outro that drum brushes the song to a close.

“Sneak You In” has a rhythmic and melodic structure that brings to mind the neo soul friendly jazz/funk song structures of musicians such as Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding. Bassel has a beautiful,clear vocal style that relies on sustained phrases and controlled pauses. Conveys a lot of emotion along with the instrumentation’s probing, exploratory groove. In this song, Bassel sings of romantic love as a source of strength. And in the most poetic manner I can imagine. From hearing this, Bassel & The Supernaturals have the potential to be a leading voice in present day jazz/funk.

*You can download Bassel & The Destroyers full length debut Elements here. Every donation to purchase this download from $10 or above goes to the Karam Foundation’s humanitarian efforts for Syrian families. Including the family of Bassel Almadani. https://www.basselmusic.com/store/

*More about the Karam Foundation here: https://www.karamfoundation.org/

 

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Anatomy Of The Groove: “Every Ghetto,Every City” by Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill might’ve started out singing with her musical family in South Orange,New Jersey. But initially,she was a child actress appearing on As The World Turns and Sister Act II: Back In The Habit. During high school her friend Pras Michel convinced her to join his band-followed soon by her cousin Wyclef Jean. The Fugees was born,and the young singer/rapper/songwriter was on her way to a solo career with her one and only solo album thus far in 1998 entitled The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. I posted my Amazon review of this album here already. Yet there was an incomplete part of the picture.

Lauryn Hill and her solo debut has been a consistent conversation point between myself and Henrique Hopkins. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill is often considered the beginning of the neo soul sound. At the time it came out, the original funk music of the 60’s,70’s and 80’s said more to me personally than even Hill and artists like her’s best efforts. Yet I noticed Henrique was planning on doing an article on a song called “Every Ghetto,Every City”. He doesn’t generally write on Andresmusictalk talk anymore. But he likely won’t mind me giving my own spin on this song.

A clapping,dripping intro starts the song off with a swirling Clavinet solo. Once Hill’s vocals-doing her own lead and backups pop up,the ultra funky drum shows up along with the hardcore bass popping along. This represents the majority of the song-both the refrain and chorus-separated mainly by differences in key.  The two refrains break the song down the clapping intro and the bass line-accompanied by a light organ swirl. That is basically the same way in which the song fades into its home recording type outro-with Hill’s second chorus leading the whole way.

“Every Ghetto,Every City” is essentially a 5+ minute mini autobiography of Lauryn Hill. She talks about the fun,inspiration and later difficulties she lived with growing up in the hood during late 80’s/early 90’s. Lyrically and musically,it shares many similarities to Stevie Wonder’s 70’s approach to funk-with its slow burning Clavinet based groove. She even references his song “I Wish” in the lyrics. Even though the use of the word “nigga” irritated me (I agree with Maya Angelou that even in baccarat crystal,poison is still poison), Lauryn Hill delivered on some seriously powerful funk for the late 90’s here.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Greatest” by King

King are an LA female trio who seem to be getting a lot “magazine time” in Rolling Stone, The Fader, Spin and The New York Times. The core of the trio are the Strother sisters Paris and Amber as well as Anita Bias. This gives the group roots in Minneapolis as their late uncle was twin city bluesman Percy Strother. Its the sister Paris who produces the music,while the songwriting is a collaborative effort between all the members. There sound is a mixture of dreamy,funkified 80’s style “Afr0-Chill” as it were-with a strong Afro Caribbean influence in their heavily rhythmic electronic approach to music.

Since the release of their debut EP The Story in 2011,they appeared on the HIV/AIDS benefit tribute album Red Hot+Fela a couple of years later-doing the song “Go Slow”. Right in between that,they collaborated with contemporary jazz maestro Robert Glasper on the song “Move Love” from his Black Radio. Their 2016 debut album We Are King was nominated for best urban contemporary album at this years Grammy’s. That inspired me to seek out and purchase the CD of it. So far in my listening,the song that speaks and sings to me most is the Muhammad Ali tribute entitled “The Greatest”.

An electronic Afro Latin conga drum percussion stomp opens the album,as the main rhythm of the entire song. A synth riser brings the vocals in on its sonic wave. This is accompanied on the ethereal vocal harmonies on the song with song tingling,high pitched melodic synthesizers. There’s also a more brittle synth spike right in the middle of the arrangement-which solos right before the second refrain. As the song progresses,further stabs of arpeggiated synthesizers rise up to the same aural level as the lead vocal before the song fades out.

“The Greatest” is an amazing tribute to late champion Ali. It talks about the man being a fighter both in and out of the boxing ring. Have to congratulate the Strother sisters and Anita Bias for focusing on such a strong African American hero at a time when anti black racism continues to rear its ugly head. The music of the song never loses focus of its strong Afrofuturism. The rhythm is full on Afro Caribbean. And its complex, jazzy melodies are sung in meditative,chant like harmonies. King prove on this, and what I’ve heard of their debut album,to be a strong contemporary African American musical voice.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Family” by Nina Simone

Nina Simone’s personal biography is a long and complicated one. She was for sure one of the most complex female personalities of black American music in the mid to late 20th century. She was also one of the major innovators of what I refer to as “people music”-utilizing the jazz,blues,soul and funk spectrum of music to speak directly to the ideas of civil rights and black power. A journey from “Mississippi Goddamn” to a move to Liberia (the African nation founded by former American slaves) in a decades time showcases the complex arc of life had by North Carolina native Eunice Kathleen Waymon.

After the mid 70’s,Simone took a hiatus from recording. Though she continued performing,the quality of her shows continued to be extremely erratic. A lot of this could be attributed to the mental illness she learned of in the late 80’s-along with family/marriage discord. During a particularly rough spot in her life living in Brussels,she recorded the album Baltimore on Creed Taylor’s CTI label. She bemoaned having little creative input in the project-such as writing and arrangement. Yet it did produced one of her strongest grooves in a song entitled “The Family”.

Jim Madison’s four beat drum hit,Gary King’s scaling up bass line and the crying guitar of Eric Gale open up the song with the CTI string section for a heavy bluesy vibe. Nina accompanies her vocal lead with a like minded piano as the refrain builds back into itself. The horns,strings,guitar and Nina’s piano all provide alternating call and response bars of melody to each other-including the backup vocals on the choruses that bring in a more funky,danceable rhythm. After Gale takes an extended guitar solo on the bridge,that call and response refrain/chorus extends itself for the remainder of the song until it fades.

Written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins ,”The Family” actually reminds me of exactly the type of song that suited Nina Simone in the late 70’s environment. It possessed the down home bluesy jazz/funk sound of the Crusaders with the orchestral elements that CTI brought in. The gospel vibe of the lyrics,plus Simone’s curtly soulful delivery of them,add to the tale of poverty and the conditions it can bring upon human beings can negatively impact on family relations. It was a fine example of Nina Simone in a studio setting during a time that may not have been personally good for her. But still creatively potent.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Go Up Moses” by Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack,a North Carolina native,had a somewhat complex beginning in music. A classically trained academic who represented the epitome of the college educated black mentality of civil rights era. Musically,she began as a student teacher and then a music teacher. It was jazz/funk innovator Les McCann who first discovered Flack performing in a  Washington DC nightclub. The result of their meeting was her debut album First Take in 1969. She covered McCann’s song “Compared To What” on it. The album later on provided her with her first standard in “The First Time Ever I Saw His Face”.

Today she is best known for two things. One being her iconic collaborations with the late Donny Hathaway that produced songs like “Where Is The Love” and “The Closer I Get To You”. Her sound is noted for its vocal and instrumental nuance. As well as its strong and complex songwriting. It also tended towards the slow and most adult contemporary end of balladry as well. Therefore,uptempo soul/jazz/funk has seldom been a huge priority for her. Yet when she comes through with funkiness,its often some of the strongest music the genre ever produced. A great example is her 1971 song “Go Up Moses”.

Drummer Bernard Purdie,plus percussionists Ralph McDonald and Grady Tate hold down the chugging Afro Brazilian beat. And session bass maestro Chuck Rainy provides an in your face rhythmic bass line to the musical affair. That describes the basis of the entire song-with Hugh McCracken providing bluesy rhythm guitar accents after each bar or two. Flack sings the refrains herself,and is accompanied by a bass singing choir on the choruses. She also provides a spoken recitation over them on the bridge. Richard Tee’s gospel drenched organ brings the song back home as it fades away.

This song lyrically and musically an extension of the centuries old spiritual “Go Down Moses”,with Flack collaborating with jazz flutist John Dorn for the musical aspects and the Reverend Jesse Jackson for some of the lyrical content. Its definitely in the vein of the more spiritual end of the “people music” message songs that were beginning to emerge very strong during the later period of the funk process in 1969-71. It was also the opening song to her third album Quiet Fire. Flack’s earlier albums generally opened with a bluesy funk uptempo number. And this is one of the finest of the bunch.

 

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