Music

Various Artists: Congo; Pont Sur le Congo / Sénégal; Echo Musical / Côte d'Ivoire; We

Trio Madjesi

The time period covered on these discs should be familiar territory to aficionados of African retrospective compilations, even if some of the bands have been so underexposed outside Africa that they feel like newcomers.


Various Artists

Congo: Pont Sur le Congo

Label: Syllart Productions/Discograph
US Release Date: 2010-02-09
UK Release Date: Import
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Various Artists

Sénégal: Echo Musical

Label: Syllart Productions/Discograph
US Release Date: 2010-02-09
UK Release Date: Import
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iTunes

Various Artists

Côte d'Ivoire: West African Crossroads

Label: Syllart Productions/Discograph
US Release Date: 2010-02-09
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

The time period covered on these discs should be familiar territory to aficionados of African retrospective compilations, even if some of the bands have been so underexposed outside Africa that they feel like newcomers. All three albums start in the 1960s and run forward into the '70s, the years when African reworkings of Cuban music were breaking in waves from the middle of the continent up.

Congolese rumba sat at the crest of this wave, and Congo: Pont Sur Le Congo is packed with it. The first of the album's two discs is characterised by a lightness that seems almost superhuman, the luminous quick speed of the guitars, the male singing voices that sweep forward in a shallow inverse parabola and then drift upward, the whole rhythm of things floating and swaying, and everything playful and sexual -- such as the singer in Trio Madjesi's "Photo Ya Majesi", who, smiling, coaxes his partner in English, "I'm sorry! Come on, my darling!", sounding as if he's not sorry at all, but in fact admires himself for whatever he's done and expects forgiveness as his natural right. Or "Koue Koue! Ebony Aboyi Ngaï" by Franco and l'OK Jazz, which runs along for three minutes on its guitars and then switches into something dark and brassy, a change of gear so complete that the end and beginning of the song could have been taken from two different eras. OK Jazz reappears later with "Regina", and Franco's brother Siongo, who went by the name Bavon Marie Marie, plays guitar next to some rough trumpets in "Ya Limbisa Bijou". This roughness comes in on the compilation's second disc, which is less heterogenous than the first. An African-American note, more unyielding than the Cuban-Lingala one, starts to push through on "Nakoko", sung by Franklin Boukaka, whose voice rings like a gong.

Senegalese music of the '70s has been given a huge overseas fillip by the successes of Orchestra Baobab, whose UK comeback at the start of the century boosted the musicians into retirement-age careers that most other musicians can only lust after -- in an interview with Pitchfork, Barthélemy Attisso revealed that he was not only engaged on international tours, but also continuing his day-job legal practice, which is a feat mad impressive. There's also Youssou N'dour, a human tendon of singing, whose monied benevolence has given other West African musicians various breaks: he sang with the resurgent Baobab and produced Cheikh Lô. Sénégal: Echo Musical is all treasures. Orchestre Guelewar de Banjul launched into "Kelefa Sane" and I said, "That's brilliant, it's not going to get any better than that," and then Xalem brought along a jelly-wet and intricate guitar for "Alal", and I said, "Xalem, you've got a point." Orchestre Guelewar de Banjul hit back with "Wartef Jigen" and Xalem matched them with "Yumbaye". Super Diamono objected with "ADama Ndaiye". I covered my face with my hands and said, "All right, you're all good" and gave up any pretensions to criticism. You people do your thing.

The marriage of Senegal and Cuba on this compilation is not like the marriage of Congo and Cuba on Point Sur. There's more percussion, for a start, while on Pont Sur the timekeeping role of a drum is often handed to a guitar. The Congolese style is a start-to-finish denseness of spangles, while the Senegalese bands on Echo Musical are more likely to leave spaces between the notes of one instrument and interleave the other instruments and singers in dabs. Etoile de Dakar's "Mbassa" is a structure made up of Impressionistic spots and darts, each musician providing a colour of his own, one guitar-coloured, one lead-singer-coloured, one chorus-coloured, and so on, all dotted around one another to constitute a song. If the Congolese discs are all about constant quickness, then the Senegalese ones are a kind of galloping slowness.

I expected good things from the other two as a matter of course, but Côte d'Ivoire: West African Crossroads was the collection that made me curious. The Ivory Coast is one of my many musical black holes. What does it sound like, aside from Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly? Why do I hear about musicians from Dakar and Kinshasa and not Abidjan? In the booklet that comes with the two discs, Florent Mazzoleni tells me that during the period covered by this compilation the country was an "island of prosperity." "All of the big names in African music, from Rochereau to Fela … mingle in Abidjan, an open city to the world and to new musical trends." A few of the tracks were taken from the early 1980s, but the rest come from the '60s and '70s, before the country was hit by an economic downturn. So poverty and lack of musicians were not the problem. Politics were one-sided, but apparently not hostile to the arts. This was not Ethiopia, there were no nightclub-wrecking curfews. President Houphouët-Boigny imported James Brown for a private show in 1968. Such are the perks of uncontested rule.

The compilation prompts speculation without giving any answers. There were Ivorian styles, notably the Bété-based ziglibithy of Ernesto Djédjé, but it sounds as if they were overwhelmed by the popularity of the rumba that dominates the second of Côte d'Ivoire's discs. (The Ivorian folk note in all of this seems to be a steady shuf-shuf-shuf-shuf.) Bailly Spinto shows off a handsome voice on "Taxi Signon", "Ntelesse", and "Nkenaplesso", but he hasn't become another N'Dour. He was "Inspired by Percy Sledge and Otis Redding," says Mazzoleni, and I came away with the impression that most of Côte d'Ivoire's popular singers were inspired by something outside Côte d'Ivoire. The impact of James Brown, which spread beyond his one-off with the president, surfaces here and there: in Jimmy Hyacinthe's "Amouin Souba", for example.

It was the eclecticism of this collection that struck me, after the inner unity of Congo and Sénégal. Not world-famous perhaps, but these Ivorian musicians are game. They'll try anything. "Nkenaplesso" opens with a roll of piano so baroque that by the time Spinto comes in, it's like watching Norma Desmond gesture herself down a staircase. There was another surprise too: the women. The other albums are, putting aside a tiny bit of female chorus contribution on Echo Musical, blokes from go to whoa. Côte d'Ivoire: West African Crossroads, on the other hand, has sunny Aicha Kone on "Aminata" and "Denikeleni", and Reine Pelagie, la Dame de Fer et du Feu, on "Biande". "Biande" is a terrific piece of 1980s pop: synthetic Futurist repetition topped off with Pelagie's adamant voice. There was some rumour on the internet of a Pelagie comeback. What happened to that?

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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