Music

Sir Victor Uwaifo: Guitar Boy Superstar 1970-1976

This ekassa sits on a borderline between the tightness of West Africa’s acoustic dance bands, and loose-limbed rock.


Sir Victor Uwaifo

Guitar Boy Superstar 1970-1976

Label: Soundway
US Release Date: 2008-07-08
UK Release Date: 2008-07-21
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Guitar Boy Superstar is one of those retrospective compilations that, like the albums in Samy ben Redjeb's Analog Africa series, is made by someone who loves the music deeply and wants you to love it too. Miles Cleret's booklet notes radiate genuine awe.

"The word 'superstar' only really fits a handful of artists and performers … Victor Uwaifo is perhaps one of the most dynamic and charismatic artists you are likely to meet anywhere in the world … his life is punctuated with so many achievements that for him [the music on this album] was only one of the steps towards a greater vision …"

The awe is so baldly stated that the temptation is to discount it, particularly when you're looking at it in tandem with Uwaifo's website, its gallery of photographs showing the man himself flexing naked slabs of proud torso, or the page at Nigeria-arts.net which boasts that, "Victor Uwaifo's wealth of experience is unlimited," and credits him with the invention of the double-neck guitar. It even congratulates him on books he has written but not had published.

Listen to the album though, and you can hear that there really is something here worth respecting. Guitar Boy is an overview of Uwaifo's ekassa period, falling between the bestselling highlife singles that made him famous in the 1960s, and a swing towards more reggae- and disco-oriented sounds that affected him at the end of the 1970s and on into the '80s. In its original incarnation, ekassa was coronation music, performed only when the Benin empire crowned a new king. Uwaifo sexed it up, added electrified guitar to the traditional drums, and shot to the top of the charts.

"I decided that it was crazy that the ekassa music could only be heard a few times every generation, maybe less," he clarified for Cleret. "I took the dance as the basis of the new style and added modern highlife instruments and put many of our traditional Benin fables and folklore to the music." Here he was building on earlier successes he'd had with dance band reworkings of traditional stories and melodies. He'd already earned the first of his twelve Nigerian Gold Disc awards for "Joromi", a musical retelling of an anecdote about a fabulously powerful, perhaps mythical, wrestler. The songs on Guitar Boy all lead back likewise to regional culture, the lyrics referring to a local style of cloth, to witch doctors, to the area's kings and gods.

The sound of this pop-ekassa sits on a borderline between the tightness of West Africa's acoustic dance bands and the loose-limbed rock that had filtered into the country from the Anglosphere. The guitars shift from the gem-hard precision of the highlife and rumba guitarists to a more insolent, softer, teasing sound, the soggy-stringed psyche-boing and wakka-wakka bwow of the '60s and '70s. The old Cuban influence is still present, now combined with other foreign influences, newer ones. "Agho" starts with the blunt charge of funk-rock chords and carries on into a combination of rock and highlife before closing with a quotation from the Champs' "Tequila". Bursts of jazz swing by in other songs. The way Uwaifo presents himself when he sings in English on "Mother Witch -- Shu'husu'hu" seems to owe something to black American performers of the same era: his voice has a hip roll and swing that sounds more American than UK-based, never mind the position of Britain in its role as Nigeria's ex-colonial power.

The tracks Cleret has chosen make the point that Uwaifo's range went beyond the dance music that he is known for in the West. He has included "Iye Iye Oh", a tender rendering of a story about an independent orphan, along with the atypical "West African Safari" instrumental, a B-side released only in Ghana. There is also "Happy Day from Me to You", a song that sounds like the lovechild of highlife and the Osmonds, regarding its audience with the solemn-eyed devotion of a basset hound. It's a pity that the time frame the album adheres to doesn't allow for the inclusion of "Joromi", or 1965's "Guitar Boy and Mamiwata" with its wonderful wolf-whistle guitar, but the man has had such a long and varied career that it would be difficult to come up with a one-disc retrospective that could do justice to it. You'd need two, at least.

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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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