Various Artists: Roots of OK Jazz

The sound quality of these remastered 78s is excellent and the compilation bears eloquent witness to the development of Franco's guitar style, from brief blasts of sound to the more fluid lines that would become his signature.

Various Artists

Roots of OK Jazz: Congo Classics 1955-1956

Label: Crammed Discs
US Release Date: 2010-08-10
UK Release Date: 2010-07-12

This is a reissue of a 1993 album compiled by Vincent Kenis, the man behind the recent success of Konono No. 1, the Kasai Allstars, and Staff Benda Bilili. Roots of OK Jazz, now revamped as part of Crammed Discs' "Congo Classics" series, is especially welcome in the wake of the two outstanding recent compilations put out by Sterns Africa of the work of Franco Luambo Makiadi (known to fans of African music simply as Franco) and his band, the Tout-Pouissant Orchestre Kinois de Jazz, or OK Jazz for short. Franco would be responsible, from the 1950s until his death in 1989, for some of the most influential popular music of the African continent, especially the Congolese rumba and soukous sounds that would dominate much modern African pop.

The collection gathers material from the period before the official formation of OK Jazz and features a number of the group's future members, including Vicky, Rossignol, Essous, De La Lune, Dessoin, Roitelet, De Wayon, and Nganga. The records put out by these musicians, all of whom are credited as leaders on at least one cut, appeared on 78 RPM discs, many of which did not survive due to their continued use at dance events. As Kenis notes, recording technology had been used by European colonists in the Congo as an extension of "His Master's Voice", delivering orders for curfews among other "public services"; the HMV discs containing these Latin-inspired pop songs, by contrast, signaled an assertive sonic reclaiming of public space.

The Latin influence on Congolese music has been much discussed and has also been the focus of other compilations, such as last year's Cubanismo from the Congo on the Honest Jon's label. As would later happen with rock, funk, and hip hop, Congolese musicians in the metropolitan centers took the latest imports and made their own mark on them. And, as with those musics, the cosmopolitan was made more appealing by recognizing styles in which African music had played a defining role, which was clearly the case with the music of Cuba and other Latin American countries. Once the musicians were able to afford them, the horns that acted in such effective counterpoint to Franco's liquid guitar runs would also parallel the sounds of classic rhythm and blues, that fascinating period where jazz gave way to rock and roll and the honking sax still retained a dominant role.

Kenis notes the contemporaneous developments in popular music in the USA of the 1950s but is keen to downplay any actual sonic influence. The young rebels of Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) or Brazzaville may have been known as yankees for their modern cosmopolitan ways, but their musical tastes remained primarily Afrocentric and they were quick to localize foreign influences, for example by using a multi-pitched frame drum (the patenge) to replace the double bass. At the same time, modernization and contingency were key drivers of style and so an electric organ might be used instead of the accordion favored by previous generations (this can be heard on "Nabosani Ndako" on this collection) or to replace wind instruments that were beyond the group's miniscule budget. As for the Spanish used on tracks such as "Maria Antonia", it was largely strung together from random sentences found in language books.

Despite a note in the booklet that claims the CD "might not do justice to the glorious analog" of the original recordings, the sound quality in this collection is excellent, especially with regard to the clarity of Franco's guitar. The exquisitely understated Spanish guitar fills found in the romantic "Oyo Elengi Motema" are notable beneficiaries of this clarity; so too is the sustained electric guitar attack that adds drama to the closing section of "Mabele Yo Okanisaka". The compilation bears eloquent witness to the development of Franco's guitar style, as his solos move from brief blasts of sound to more fluidly evolving lines. Such fluidity would be a notable element of Franco's mature style and it is fascinating to hear its early stages.

The booklet contains historical notes about the recording industry in the Congo and the early days of OK Jazz, as well as personnel and lyrics for each song. In his notes, Kenis also recalls his meeting with Franco's biographer, Graeme Ewens in 1989 and their discovery that they were both intending to release early recordings by the star. Fortunately, they were in possession of different recordings, meaning that the compilation that appeared on the RetroAfric label in the 1990s (Originalité) acts as a continuation of the story contained here rather than an overlap. The story of Franco's later years, meanwhile, is best heard on the two Sterns collections.

Ironically, the music that these musicians created helped to forge a modern cosmopolitan Congolese popular music that later groups such as Konono No 1 and the Kasai Allstars would react against. It's good to know that Vincent Kenis is involved in telling the various sides of this story, not least because it should be noted that the music developed by these yankees is as deserving of historical treatment as the more "traditional" music of Kasai.

Indeed, one of the more poignant moments to be found on Roots of OK Jazz is the lyric of "Mabele Yo Okanisa" ("Earth, You Took"), De Wayon's lament for two deceased singers in which he also ruminates on the transience of the music he is playing and on his own fate. The singer urges his listeners to take photos of the musicians so that they will be remembered and wonders who will remember him when his moment has passed. It's a lyric worthy of Jorge Luis Borges and, like Borges's writing, contains its own answer. The recording, of course, will remember him, as long, at least, as we keep playing it.


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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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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