Thursday, February 28, 2013

Vichitra Vatavaran: Strange Atmosphere from the SubContinent

Walk through a bazaar on the Indian sub continent on an evening and your senses will be assaulted. The smells of freshly frying foods sizzle and smoke, animal dung mixes with the acrid exhaust of poorly maintained engines, the bouquet of freshly plucked roses and gladioli piled like mountains on the side of the road, ready for gifting to the gods.  Colors swirl before your eyes though many are dressed in simple white dhotis and black burqas. Gods with bright orange faces dance, green flags flutter before green walls of a mosque, pink,yellow and blue lights flash from shops, from trucks, from temples as the darkness moves in.  And then there are the sounds.

Ah the sounds!  At first it is perceived as a wall of noise. Screeching cacophony, nothing more. Everything is at high volume. The film songs, the call to prayer, the beggars singing for alms, the man reading the paper for those who cannot read but are interested in the ways of the world. A brass band pushes its way through the thronging traffic stopping for the trumpeter to take a solo as dancers flail arms and bodies in return for currency notes. From a laneway religious music, could be qawwali, could be a bhajan, could be a hymn wafts into your consciousness but as you turn to look, a rickshaw with loudspeakers attached swerves to miss you. Its blasting the latest songs from the newest film running for the 45th straight ‘House Full’ week at the cinema down the street. 

Vichitra Vatavaran: Soundz of the Subcontinent Vol 17 is the Washerman’s Dog’s attempt to capture, in 30 tracks, a bumper crop of musical sounds of the sort you might encounter in a busy bazaar. Music in all of its glory, from the sublime to the salacious. From the finely controlled to the manically feral. With one eye especially open to the jittery, electric and brash, Vol. 17 is slightly lopsided in the favor of pop and film music but includes other sparkling gems such as street music, hotel-jazz and slick folk music.   

Sit back, light a cigarette or crack open a Kingfisher or Murree Beer. Prepare to be pleasantly pummelled. The atmosphere (vatavaran) is about to get distinctly weird (vichitra).

Part 1
Sharaabi (Pashto Film Song; Pakistan) With rumbling dhol and electric keyboard runs worthy of an over-zealous agit-prop department, this rollicking disco number comes from the mean streets of Peshawar where a raunchy form of low-brow cinema struggles for survival in a time and place spoiled by the bloodless Taliban. The song’s title Sharaabi literally means ‘boozer’ but also has the connotation of a happy soul. Someone who loves to drink, but also to dance, laugh and love too.

Tickle Me Not (Chic Chocolate; India) Chic Chocolate was born Antonio Xavier Vaz in Goa, the tiny Portuguese enclave south of Bombay, established by Vasco da Gama. Vaz was one of India’s premier jazz trumpeters who learned very meaty chops as a star in various Bombay jazz bands, some led by expatriate African-American jazz leaders like Teddy Weatherford. Chic Chocolate styled himself as the sub continental Louis Armstrong, making sure he always carried several white handkerchiefs on stage to wipe away the sweat, just like Satchmo. By the 1950s he, like many of India’s legendary jazzmen were finding work mainly in the Hindi film studios of Bombay.  This wonderful little piece comes from an EP put out the year after he passed away in 1967. 

Raga Megh Malhar (Charanjit Singh; India)  From deep in the cavernous film studios of Bollywood in 1981 emerged a record of syntho-pop based on classical Indian ragas. The composer and performer was a session musician and wedding band leader by the name of Charanjit Singh who had recently laid his hands on some Roland and Jupiter electronic keyboards. He doodled and fiddled then recorded the new sounds, many of which were souped-up versions of traditional ragas. The album that followed sank like a Tata bus into a Himalayan ravine, no more to be heard until it was hailed by critics in Europe as being an early sample of acid-house music! Singh had used a thing called the TB-303 (Roland bass synthesizer) which was the staple sound of acid house. His album, from which this monsoon season raga is lifted, Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, reigns today as a much revered cult classic.

Nashe Diye Wich (Punjabi film song; Mala; Pakistan) In the socially conservative South Asian countries scenes which involve men drinking to excess, in a nightclub, watching a voluptuous vamp shimmy and shake signal villany ahead.  But the nightclub scene has given the public some of the snappiest and most memorable filmi songs of all time.  Mala, (Nasreen Nazli), was born into a family of singers and enjoyed considerable celebrity and popularity in 1950s and 60s Pakistani cinema. This sexy number is from the 1973 hit film Jeera Blade.

Ghalib ka ek Khat (Urdu prose reading; Zia Mohyiddin; Pakistan)  Generally regarded as the greatest Urdu language poet in history, Mirza Assadullah Ghalib, the 19th century writer, was renown for his love of wine, passion for his city, Delhi, and a sometime sublime, sometime acidic use of the mellifluous Urdu language. In addition to his many beloved poems Ghalib, was an artful and prolific correspondent.  Zia Mohyiddin, one of the sub continent’s greatest theatrical voices, gives an exuberant reading of one letter in which the poet bemoans his poor economic circumstances, which among other things means he is unable to enjoy his beloved Tabrizi wine as often as he’d like.

Tum Mere Pass Raho (Urdu ghazal; Nayyara Noor; Pakistan) If Ghalib takes the honors as greatest Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, is regarded as the greatest Urdu poet of the 20th century.  And among the many Pakistani and Indian singers who have sung his lyrics, Assamese-Punjabi chantuese Nayyara Noor is among the most loved. A natural singer from a merchant’s family, Nayyaras graceful singing of ghazals made her an instant icon in the 1970s. This rendition of one of Faiz’s most famous poems (Stay Close to Me/My Murderer/My Darling) is a private home recording from the early 1970s.

Kan Pesum Varthaigai (Tamil film song; Karthik; India) 7-G Rainbow Colony was one of biggest Tamil films of 2004, winning national and regional dramatic and music awards.  This song illustrates that, though less well known than Bollywood, south Indian cinema is no slouch when it comes to music or cinematic sophistication.  The soundtrack was recorded live using a 40 piece orchestra.  A bit of southern class from Chennai! 

Saigal Blues (Hindi film song; Chetan Shasital; India) A surprise hit in 2011 the film Delhi Belly was a black comedy which had the critics applauding but the gatekeepers of morality whispering, ‘tauba tauba’. This improbable success included an improbably excellent song, Saigal Blues, a tongue-in-cheek homage to Kundan Lal Saigal, considered one of the greatest voices of Hindi cinema. Vocals from a by-gone age mix with outstanding and moody modern blues-rock backing to make it truly one of kind. 

Bana Re Bagan Mein (Folk song; Shyam Brass Band; India) The brass band holds a huge place in South Asian music. Attendant at every wedding, political rally, public holiday and religious celebration, the Indian brass band operates to the same principles Indian traffic does.  Seeming chaos, fast pace, unrelenting and slightly dangerous meanderings pull up at the last moment into a coherent piece of joy and relief.  The Shyam Brass Band is from Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Voice From The Inner Soul (Garage rock; Confusions; India) A true rarity, this cut comes from one of more obscure chapters of Indian music, garage rock.  In the early 1970s, the makers of Simla Filter cigarettes sponsored a national Battle of the Bands which brought all local latent Jimi Hendrixes out from their bedrooms and  the railway clubs of towns across India to compete for a chance to be recorded and hailed as India’s best rock n’ roll band.  Confusions hailed from Madras (Chennai) and won the 1970 contest with this ever so heavy rocker, Voice From the Inner Soul.

Hello, Madam Disco (Urdu film song; Naheed Akhtar; Pakistan) Had Naheed Akhtar been born in India she would have undoubtedly been as big as Asha Bhosle.  With a strong cheeky voice she epitomized the sound of Pakistan’s Lollywood film industry throughout the 1970s.  This disco number from the long forgotten film Mohabbat ho to Aisi Ho, is a stone cold classic. Catchy to a fault you won’t  be able to stop greeting every woman you meet with Hello, Madam Disco, for a week to come.

Pyasa Hai Mera Dil Pyar Dekhade (Urdu film song; Naheed Akhtar; Pakistan) In which Naheed Akhtar tears a leaf from the Donna Summers handbook of style and demands amidst a few mighty orgasmic groans that someone show her love. How did this stuff get past the censors? 

Sorry Sorry Sir (Love Letter) (Hinglish pop song; Bappi Lahiri; India) The irrepressible, some would say, tasteless, human jellybean Bappi Lahiri ruled the roost in Bollywood during the disco era. Never one to shy away from sampling far and wide Bappi was a man bursting with energy and ideas and glittering with bling. This H(indi) (E)nglish song is from a double non-filmi pop album called Music Lover.

jhoom Jhoom Nachen (Pakistan International Airways Inflight Music; M. Ashraf; Pakistan)   M. Ashraf one of Lollywood’s great music directors (whose creative alter ego was none other than Naheed Akhtar) also wrote instrumental reworkings of folk songs, many of which, such as this, were picked up the national airlines.

Kaliz Boom Bang (Konkani pop song; Aurvile and Trisca; India) The Goans of India’s west coast have produced some of India’s best jazz and classical musicians.  This is a re-make of the 1969 hit originally sung by Chris Perry.


Part 2

Kriti-Baroque (Semi-classical fusion; Laszlo Hortobagyi; Hungary/India) Indian classical music has always attracted western classical and jazz musicians. Laszlo Hortobagyi is a Hungarian composer who fell under the spell of the sitar and surbahar and like a junkie remained hooked to his drug throughout his life.  This track must be the first-ever recording of a harpsichord interpreting an Indian raga.  Handle with care!

Tera Pyar Menu (Punjabi folk; Saida Begum; India) Punjabis are an exuberant race. Saida Begum provides non-Bhangra evidence of same on this lively, drum driven folk love song.

Yeh Lal Rang (Instrumental; Van Shipley; India) The Methodist guitar slinger from Lucknow was also pretty good at playing the fiddle. Yeh Lal Rang, was a hit from the early 70’s hit film, Prem Nagar. Van Shipley’s lap-steel interpretation is representative of the sort of popular music you’d hear in cinemas at intermission.

Hindi Song (Impromptu street song; Unknown; India) One whole genre of music that is very sadly undocumented is this sort of impromptu soul tune, sung by a blind man in the Hindu holy city, Hardiwar.  He keeps rhythm on a plastic bucket and sends his vocals soaring heavenward asking the Lord, to come visit his house so he can have a vision of Him.  Stellar. Stunning.

Balochi Love Song (Folk music; Mureed Buledi; Pakistan) Baluchistan is South Asia’s Kurdistan. A vast expanse of desert and feudal tribes that stretch across parts of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Baluchis, like the Kurds, have spent decades fighting cultural isolation or assimilation. Not to mention political extinction.  Mureed Buledi is one of Pakistani Baluchistan’s best loved singers. Here he sings a famous desert love song.

I Married a Female Wrestler (English pop song; Unknown/originally by Ernest Ignatius; India/Sri Lanka) This is a cover of the wildly popular late 60’s hit by Indian/Sri Lankan singer Ernest Ignatius who sang on Radio Ceylon. A definite oddity but one that captures the humour of the Goan/Anglo-Indian community well.

Luki Luki Ankhan (Nepali pop song; Dhiraj Rai; Nepal) Nepal, India’s little neighbor to the north has sourced some great talent, starting with the Buddha, way back several millenia ago. In recent years, actresses, actors and playback singers such as Anuradha Paudwal, Udit Naryan and Manish Koirala. And in the jazz world there is the iconic and very un-Nepali named Louiz Banks.  This is a snappy little pop ditty by the singer Dhiraj Rai, of the sort you’ll be likely to hear next time you visit Kathmandu.

Natta (Carnatic jazz; T.K. Ramamoorthy; India) Definitely one of the strangest yet most delightful and rewarding fusion recordings to come out of India. Ramamoorthy of which little is known was a Tamilian music lover who in 1969 issued a record titled Fabulous Notes & Beats of the Indian Carnatic-Jazz. This has since become a sensation among cultists and collectors. This is one of the many lovely innovative but seldom heard tracks from that ground-breaking record. This is the roots of Kadri Gopalnath!

Khari Neem ke Neechey (Punjabi folk song; Tina Sani; Pakistan/Bangladesh) This is a beautiful, spare version of an old Punjabi folk love song about a beautiful girl. Tina Sani is Bengali but before Bangladesh was created was a hugely popular singer of ghazals and lokgeet in Pakistan. Alas, she still is, having recently just completed a triumphant tour of that country late last/early this year.

Naina Laagey (Electronica; MIDIval PunditZ; India) While you’re not likely to hear this song in the bazaar’s of India, you’ll definitely hear it on the FM radio or in Khan Market bars.  The electronica duo MIDIval PunditZ are accomplished leaders in the field and work largely out of Delhi.  Very cool and contemporary.

Bijli Bhari Hai (Instrumental pop; Tafo Brothers; Pakistan) These guys could be considered M. Ashraf and Naheed Akhtar’s studio backing band. Led by the Tafo Brothers of Lahore, this 6 man band composed and played the coolest backing tracks in 1970s Lollywood. Think of them as the Memphis Horns ala Indus!

Disco Jugni  (Urdu disco; Noor Jahan; Pakistan)  A wild ride through filmi disco by the Queen of all South Asian playback singers, Madam Noor Jahan. Jugni literally means ‘female firefly’ and implies a somewhat ‘loose’ woman who flits from one lover to the next. At the same time, the term has a deeply spiritual significance: the spirit of God.  You figure which one she is singing about! The film is Sahib Bahadur circa 1980s.

Kam Nahin Sharab Se Shokhiyan Shabab Ki (Hindi film song; Asha Bhosle; India) Asha Bhosle the younger sister of India’s ‘nightingale’ Lata Mangkeshkar had to spend years singing the songs her sister would never do, the fast, jazzy, disco and drunken songs.  When she finally broke into the superstar space it was largely on the back of these sorts of numbers, even though she found them artistically limiting.  It says a lot about her vocal artistry that she can make a song such as this sound so cool.  From the film Aag aur Daag.

The She I Love (English pop song; Mohammad Rafi; India) Mohammad Rafi, like most playback singers was required to sing in any number of languages; he recorded albums or sang in films in Hindi, Sindhi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali and south Indian languages.  But other than a few phrases he rarely sang a whole song in English.The She I Love by Kalyanji Anandji is a real rarity. It is not a film song and is strangely creepy but appealing at the same time. 

Toba Toba  (Urdu pop song; Salma and Sabina Agha; Pakistan/UK) This is  Hindi/Urdu cover of ABBA’s Mamma Mia by the sisters Salma and Sabina. Salma was another cross border beauty who took Bollywood by storm in the early 80s but little was produced by her sister other than this immensely rare album in which they sing the hits of ABBA in Hindi!


Old Posts/Links and Access

My old account with MF has been suspended. This means all posts prior to 2013 are no longer accessible.  I'm sorry about that and am unable to make any promises to re-up or restore them. Simply too many.

I will continue to do my best to respond to individual requests relating to specific posts and again, how quickly and how often I am able to respond will depend on other commitments.

I regret this. The 2.5 years up to 2013 were fun.  I know a lot of you enjoyed that stage of the Washerman's Dog's life as well and I thank you for your support and comments.  

I will continue to keep this blog alive using other storage facilities as are available. Is there much life in the old Dog?  Let's hope there is and that he can find a place to bed down safely.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Music, Loyalty and Death: Moses Taiwa Mololekwa

Moses Taiwa Mololekwa

I claim no expertise or special insight into South Africa but I am very fascinated with its music, and from the comfort of a Lazy Boy, I enjoy hearing about its politics.  So, unlike my friend Phillip, who is very much an expert on matters South African (music and politics) and who is also responsible for introducing me to today’s spotlighted artist, I enjoy the protection of the novice, which means I’m to be forgiven for making sweeping generalisations and broad judgments.

And my first such generalisation is this: there appears to exist within the South African soul an equal capacity for creativity and destruction. For art and violence. Sure, this is true for most human beings and societies at some level. But the two forces of violence and artistic imagination seem to find a unique hospitality in South Africa.

This thought came to me as I read an article about Moses Taiwa Mololekwa, the pianist/composer who died a dozen years ago. A death, not of natural causes or illness, but of violence.

Here is the article from the blog Africa is a Country

Moses Mololekwa and the loss of “new” South African innocence
Recently, I’ve found myself listening to more and more South African Jazz. In particular, I’ve been gravitating towards the late pianist and producer, Moses Taiwa Mololekwa. Now, I must admit that my appreciation for Mololekwa’s music did not come about immediately and I fully acknowledge that his music is not for everyone (especially his inaccurately-labeled ‘fusion’ work), but there is certainly something magical and profoundly important about his work.

The reason I chose to write about this now is that last Wednesday marked the twelve-year anniversary of Moses Taiwa Mololekwa’s death at the age of 27. On the morning of February 13, 2001, Moses was found hanged next to his wife, who had evidently been strangled, in their office. The circumstances of their deaths are troubling, to say the least, yet this should not obfuscate the significance of Mololekwa’s contribution to South Africa’s already impressive musical legacy.

Predominantly active in the 90s, Moses Molelekwa’s music fused an eclectic mix of influences such as Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, and Bheki Mseleku, among others. His compositions contain references to genres as varied as hip-hop, jungle, kwaito (in fact he produced a number of tracks for the legendary kwaito group, TKZee), and perhaps most notably, marabi. His ability to play around with and recontextualize marabi grooves was nothing short of spectacular and as such, his music should be considered the archetype or standard against which all bubblegum and crossover production and instrumental arrangement of the time should be compared. This is true more for albums like Wa Mpona and Genes and Spirits, than for his comparatively straightforward (yet equally brilliant) Finding One’s Self and Darkness Pass.

For many of those who listen to the former two albums today, the music may come across as rather kitsch. However, the sound Mololekwa crafted on albums like Wa Mpona and Genes and Spirits must be understood within a larger context. The particular moment in South African history in which Taiwa made his music was one of excitement and celebration, as the apartheid era officially ended and the popularity of the ‘new South Africa’ rhetoric reached its peak. From a musical standpoint, this was a moment of immense pride, where musicians were looking inward and trying to create sounds and aesthetics that were uniquely South African, thereby setting themselves apart from the rest of the world (people were attempting to define themselves largely in relation to their ‘South Africanness’). Hence, popular genres like kwaito and crossover emerged as this shift towards prioritizing and performing ‘new South African’ subjectivities picked up steam. To be clear, Mololekwa was not necessarily trying to create music that was uniquely South African in the same way that folks like Johnny Clegg and the Trompies were, but this sentiment and the sonic aesthetics of the time inevitably found their way into his compositions. In many ways, Moses Mololekwa’s music became emblematic of the ‘new South Africa’ and for some, his death signaled the loss of this ‘new South Africa’s’ innocence.

Today, it does not require much of a leap of the imagination to hear Moses’s influence when listening to much of the deep house music being produced by popular South African acts like Black Coffee and Culoe De Song.

What drives a man so full of talent and Spirit to kill his lover and himself? A man who is young and admired at that. What great darkness is so powerful as to extinguish one’s light with such finality?

There is a school of psychology and therapy which is founded on the belief that each individual belongs to a ‘system’ or more accurately, multiple systems; family, society, culture, class, country. And at an unconscious level she/he retains strong bonds of loyalty to the values of those systems and acts out what those systems demand. Healing is finally brought through awareness and consciousness. By consciously severing these bonds, one experiences liberation.

It seems as if many artists from South Africa (Oscar Pistorius, falls into this category, too. He’s an artist of the track) remain unconsciously but very loyally and mightily bound to the expectations of an apartheid society that was born and experienced in violence.  Art is never far from violence and death.

This recording is from 1997 when a 23 year old Moses Taiwa Mololekwa performed at the Nantes Fin de Siecle Festival. The music is thrilling. You can feel his talent and imagination. And at the end feel the sadness that he was unable to break the bonds of loyalty to a monstrous system.

            Track Listing:
            01 Biko's Dream
02 Matswale
03 Mountain Shade
04 Dance To Africa
05 Ntatemoholo
06 Spirits Of Thembisa

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is It?: Acid Jazz (Links restored)

Gil Scott-Heron once asked, is that jazz?

A bit later everyone was asking, so what exactly is acid-jazz?

It’s a British label founded by the DJ Gilles Peterson. True, but.

Acid Jazz Records specialized in a sound that mixed jazz with heavy slatherings of funky bass lines, groovy drumming, soul and R&B and hip-hop.  The label discovered and championed bands like Jamiroquai, The James Taylor Quartet, The Brand New Heavies and Stereo MCs. In my estimation it was the hippest sound of the early 90s.

Soon, other labels, mostly in the States, got into the act, releasing supposed acid jazz records by such icons as Yusuf Lateef, Bernard Purdie and Shirley Scott. People said Guru was pure acid jazz.  Others said, ‘Come off it man.  This is all just urban poetry put to music.”

Soul Jazz, another British label did not clarify the situation at all.

In the end, what does it matter? Acid jazz, whatever it is, is pretty cool and funky. And today we share a German double disc set titled, The Wonderful World of Acid Jazz.  It’s very good and covers many styles. It’s as good a definition of this very ambiguous genre as I can find.

Have fun.

Track Listing: (Disc 1)
1-01 5th Quadrant [Mother Earth]
1-02 One Way Street [JTQ]
1-03 Stay This Way [Brand New Heavies]
1-04 Bolivia [Ulf Sandberg]
1-05 Anarchy In The UK [Snowboy]
1-06 Peace & Love [Cloud 9]
1-07 Unsettled Life (lesson 3) [Emperor’s New Clothes]
1-08 Find It [Mother Earth]
1-09 Lovesick [Night Trains]
1-10 The Ladder [One Creed]
1-11 Let The Good Times Roll [Quiet Boys]
1-12 London England [Corduroy]
1-13 Stories [Izit]

Track Listing: (Disc 2)
2-01 Living In The Ghetto [Gamut of Crime]
2-02 One Of Us [Gazelle]
2-03 No Such Thing [Jazz Con Bazz]
2-04 Coming From The Heart Of The Ghetto [Cunnie Williams]
2-05 America [No Se]
2-06 Soul Vibration [Poets of Peeze]
2-07 Verve [Slop Shop]
2-08 Still As One? [Fanfan la Tulipe]
2-09 Fresh In My Mind [A Forest Mighty Black]
2-10 Ten Thousand Miles Away [Miriam Bondy]
2-11 You Got The Best Of My Love [“T” and Da ‘Flo’]
2-12 T.I.O. [Spice]
2-13 Encounter [Supreme Chord Jester]
2-14 A Dream [Step Three feat.  James B. More]

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Music for Mint Juleps: Mose Allison (link restored)

Witch Horse Mint Julep

Mose Allison was born in the smallest of towns in the southern state of Mississippi over 80 years ago.  It was a part of the United States that in summer sweltered in a humid heat and where mint juleps helped keep the races calm and the hours bearable.

This past week or more we’ve been enjoying (?) a long period of high temperatures. The nights are sticky and in the day the sun gnaws at your shoulders and arms.  Sort of like the Mississippi of my mind.

Since we haven’t heard the fantabulous Mose in many a month I thought this torpid weather would be an apropos time to reintroduce him into the Washerman’s Dog world. 

Mose Allison Plays for Lovers is a cheerily titled and somewhat hard to locate album recorded in 1958-9 but released in the mid 1960s.  Here is unadulterated Mr Allison at the keyboard.  No singing. No wry commentary. Just the wizard tickling the ivories and making them sing.  Indeed, it is exactly the sort of music one can imagine playing on the hifi as the amorous duo down a final mint julep before heading into the bedroom.

By the by, here is a mint julep recipe
4 fresh mint sprigs
2 1/2 oz bourbon whiskey
2 tsp water

Muddle mint leaves, powdered sugar, and water in a collins glass. Fill the glass with shaved or crushed ice and add bourbon. Top with more ice and garnish with a mint sprig. Serve with a straw.

            Track Listing:
01 I Thought About You
02 Somebody Else Is Taking My Place
03 How Long Has This Been Going On
04 My Kind Of Love
05 I Told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out
06 You Belong to Me
07 The Kissin' Bug
08 If I Didn't Care
09 It's Crazy
10 Strange