Rhythm and Roots

Two continents, ten cities, 50 musicians and 20 authors: the Ten Cities is an initiative funded by the Goethe Institute that explores and juxtaposes the club scene of global metropolises from Africa and Europe. At the heart of this music project is the question, what would happen if these scenes, their sounds and the artists behind them were to meet head on?

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Over the past ten years the international music media has sporadically raved about the latest bubbling scene from the ‘hip’ city of the moment, be it Montevideo, Bogota or Buenos Aires. These days when we talk about modern, underground Latin American music it’s not about disparate pockets or unconnected scenes but a thriving, diverse, border crossing movement of cross-pollination and global interaction. How we view traditional Latin American music has been turned on its head and these developments are having reverberations across the world.

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autonomousafricaIII_061314

Autonomous Africa return for the third edition of the afro-grooving, beat crunching, border crossing music project curated by Glasgow’s legendary DJ and producer, JD Twitch. This series of small run, independently released 12″s and the accompanying fundraising nights are raising money for the Mtandika Mission, a charity working to offer education and improve conditions in the village of Mtandika, Tanzania.

Musically, the EPs are distinctly dancefloor orientated, the producers taking the kick vs snare 4/4 structure and splicing it with grooving African infused samples and rhythms. Volume III features tracks from Midland (who grew up in Tanzania), Glasgow stalwarts Auntie Flo and General Ludd, alongside a tack by rather special track from JD Twitch himself.

The project also has a sharp political edge and a message to get across, best explained by Twitch himself

“An autonomous Africa run by the people for the people, where African land is predominantly used to feed African people and Africa’s vast wealth of resources is used to benefit the people of Africa seems the only logical way forward. Autonomous Africa’s goal is to highlight this message and here presents to you 4 tracks of African inspired grooves….Individually we have little power but collectively, the power is ours”

Volume III will be released in July / August. There are also plans afoot to release a full Autonomous Africa compilation featuring music made in Africa itself.

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Despite his limited output, Uproot Andy has made it on to my very exclusive list of reliable producers. Nearly everything (if not everything) the US based producer has released has a real quality about it. His productions have that rare combination of being melodically catchy, well produced, unique and absolutely killer on the dancefloor. This selection, the first release on Que Bajo Records maintains his reputation – 5 sure fire refixes of 5 different musical styles from 5 different countries. And they’re free.

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Denver Nights Volume 1

Denver Nights Volume 1

From the team responsible for Amsterdam’s rijsttafel of a club night Denver NightsDenver Nights Volume 1 is a glance into Amsterdam’s continously exciting and diverse electronic music scene and the producers behind it. Celebrating the club night’s two year anniversary, this compilation (available for free download) unites some of the artists that have graced the decks at Denver’s now regular Amsterdam haunt, Canvas. The result, much like the club night itself, is a mix of fresh styles, sounds and tempos – each with an eye for the Denver dancefloor.

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DJ iZem – EP2

DJ IZem - EP2 COver

Lisbon based French producer DJ iZem has been quietly bubbling away over the past couple of years as a producer on the rise. The few tracks and remixes that he has released have demonstrated a talented artist with a unique style blending tropical rhythms with funk influences, smooth synths with live instrumentation and deep basses with smooth vocals, epitomised by 2011’s brilliant Quiver / Debaixo D’Agua EP. He returns with his 2nd EP… EP2, offering another slice of quality, warm, soulful, topically infused electronica. What’s more, it is available for free download (!)

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Los Diablos Del Ritmo (Analog Africa)

I have been sitting on this wonderful album released by Analog Africa for a while but have only just got round to fully immersing myself in it. On paper this is another compilation celebrating the seemlessly endless resource of brilliant Colombian music. In reality, it is a collection of tracks meticulously chosen over a six year period representing a moment in history when the cross-roads between Colombian and African culture were at their height.

Back in 2007 label head Ben Redjeb travelled to Colombia’s Caribbean coast with a suitcase filled with two hundred 7-inch singles and around 100 LPs of African music. His aim: to meet local record collectors and exchange his collection with their own, collating an album that would  document the heyday of Afro-Colombian roots revivalism on the Caribbean coast in the 1970s.

Central to this scene were the Picó soundsystems and their DJs who would play rare African tracks brought by traders and sailors to eager crowds. The DJs’ reputation relied upon the exclusivity of the records they were playing – sleeves were thrown away and label stickers scribbled over to maintain the secreccy of these killer tracks. So, when Redjeb arrived with his suitcase of these exact same records  he was met with unexpected fervour from the collectors who instantly recognised the tracks but had no idea of the names or artists.

“African music was not ours and we didn’t understand the lyrics but we could feel our roots and the connection with our ancestors – that was beautiful for me.” Fabian Althona

Much as the African music that was being played in the 1970s was incorporated into the local scene, in a strange, 21st century, globalised way Redjeb was carrying on this cross-continental cultural tradition. A 21st century fusion of African rhtyhms with Colombian DJs via a German record enthusiast.

As he came offering such valuable goods, he was able, in turn, to collect thousands of rare records from the local enthusiasts and picóteros.  These were carefully whittled down to the 32 tracks on the album, offering not only a collection of rare musical gems but also a snapshot into the thriving and electric music scene on the Colombian Carribean in the 1970s.

“Diablos Del Ritmo” celebrates this fusion of rhtyhms and styles, the meeting of Afrobeat, Terapia and Lumbalú with Colombia’s own Gaita, Puya, Porro, Cumbiamba, Mapelé and Chandé. This is epitomised on tracks such as Alfredo Gutiérrez y sus Estrellas’ Pajaro Madrugado or Myrian Makenwa’s brilliant Amampondo.

The tracks not only mix the rhythms but also the language, incorporating words of African origins with Spanish and English. The 32 songs move between classic cumbias to reverb filled, Colombian Afro-beat and off into territory that you would never have associated with Colombian music. It is impossible to sum up the intricacies of this music and its historical context but the album comes with a rich 60 page booklet detailing the artists, the music and the story. A unique and highly recommended release.

BUYAnalog Africa

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Dengue Dengue Dengue! – La Alianza Profana

I am back from the land of the incredibly busy and catching up on the mountains of great music that has been awaiting my ear for the past month. Near the top of the list was the debut album from Peru’s masked cumbia viajeros Dengue Dengue DengueThe duo have been causing waves, not just in Peru, but internationally for their fresh take on digital cumbia and performances at Lima’s TOMA! fiestas. Their two mixtapes (Vol. 1 & Vol. 2) set a precedent for their fresh digital cumbia explorations, showcasing the producers’ talent for a good remix alongside their burgeoning production/dancefloor-science skills.

The culmination of these explorations is La Alianza Profana, one of only a few independent albums to emerge from the mass of tropical / digital /cumbia productions floating around Soundcloud these days. As much as I’d like to throw away the “digital cumbia” association, DDD’s album is threaded together with that rhythm in digital form making it hard to judge it as anything else. The album however shows why DDD stand out as two of the most interesting producers of their ilk, skilfully mixing influences from electronica, dubstep, dub, cumbia (of course) and god knows what else.

While El Remolón crafts multi-coloured ice cream nu-cumbia and Chancha via Circuito sounds like he’s drifting down a foggy rainforest tributary, DDD twist nu-cumbia into a much darker place. The basses are crunching, heavy and tight while the melodies are haunted and black. Simiolo and Chacalom (two peas in a pod) are stand out dancefloor killers while Chichon (personal favourite) is a hands in the air, heavy hitting slice of digital villera. Como Bailar la Cumbia manages to weave Funky House rhythms into cumbia, layering it with a floating melody that makes it sound truly fresh.

The album is clearly leans more towards the digital side than to rootsy cumbia but this is not to its detriment – it is DDD’s sound. It is clear that La Alianza Profunda is an album conceived, tested and made for the TOMA! dancefloor. It is also bluddy good ammunition for any budding digital cumbia DJ from Buenos Aires to Stockholm.

Listen – BuyMore info

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Mala in Cuba

This has to be one of the most anticipated releases this summer (if you can still call it that?) Jet pioneering bass scientist Mala to Cuba, stick him in a room with hugely talented local musicians (who provide him with 60GB of original material), fly him back to London, put him in a studio and wait for the end result. The end result? One of the most interesting and exciting albums of the year.

The whole thing was instigated by Gilles Peterson, forming part of his Havana Cultura project, and facilitated Mala to head out to Cuba and work with pianist Roberto Fonseca and a host of musicians.  The producer laid down simple 140bpm tracks over which the musicians would improvise, he then took these recordings back home and crafted the 14 tracks that make up the album. The end product is not however a simple transformation of Cuban music for the sound systems and dancefloors but rather a thoughtful homage to the island, its culture, its rhythms and melodies – as Mala puts it:

“I just had to make music how I feel it and this is how it came out. I can only bring what I do, so I guess the record is really me trying to translate my experience of Cuba.”

Mala in Cuba swings between Mala’s trademark heavy sub-laden tracks, incorporating driving Cuban percussion such as Changuito and The Tunnel (an absolute dancefloor killer), and more reflective pieces. For example, Tribal is more akin to the sound of Murcof’s classical-electronica than DMZ, its haunting piano echoing through dusty, forgotten Cuban ballrooms. Noches Suenos has a more stripped down dub leaning with great overlaid vocals from Danay Suarez meanwhile Como Como lowers down the tempo, incorporating thick bass, trickling snynths, echoing pianos and foggy vocals. The album has so many great tracks on it it is hard to pick out your favourites.

Since his early days as one of the dubstep pioneers at DMZ, Mala has always been a master of low end theory and this pitch perfect control of the sub frequencies is present throughout the album. However, Mala in Cuba pushes in a new direction and in doing so affirms Mala’s place as one of the UK’s most exciting and talented electronic music producers. I will leave you with this from the man himself:

“I felt really at home in Cuba, I really did. The people I met there do music for the same reason I do it—because they love it. They don’t do it because they think they’re going to be successful or famous, they just do it because its something within them that they have to do. That’s the beautiful thing for me about all of this. It’s not about finishing music or being able to sell a record. It’s just really about exploring and discovering new things. For me, that’s really where the joy is in all of this.”

You can download the album digitally now and buy on CD from next week via Brownswood Recordings. Unfortunately, it seems the vinyl has already sold out. Also worth checking out XLR8R’s feature on the producer and the album. 

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La Chamana – A Tribute to Chavela Vargas

Earlier this month one of Mexico’s most notorious and loved musicians Chavela Vargas passed away at the age of 93. Film maker and soul mate Pedro Almodovar described Vargas as “the rough voice of tenderness” and her drawling, sadness soaked ranchera renditions made her one of the country’s most unique voices.

She also became renowned for her fearless breaches of taboo subjects in 40s and 50s Mexico (singing love songs about women, wearing trousers, carrying a loaded pistol and crediting her recovery from polio to shamans) and heavy bouts of drinking, accompanied by fellow ranchera composer and singer José Alfredo Jiménez. Despite not declaring herself a lesbian until the age of 81, her music was adopted by Mexico’s gay and lesbian community and she went on to become one of the country’s most legendary figures and singers. You can find a short but well written obituary on Chavela Vargas from The Guardian.

In celebration of la chamana‘s life and music, a group of artists have recorded and released their own tribute to the singer. The whole album 21 songs (or 40 with the extras) is available for free download here. For those who, like me, are new to Vargas’ extensive work (over 80 albums!) this is a great introduction to one of Latin America’s great singers. Or you could also watch a few Almodovar films…

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