20 Xmas Gift Ideas For Crate Diggers: World Music & Easy Listening (Part 4 of 5)
This entry in our ongoing Xmas vinyl-buying guide concentrates on ethnographic folk curios that are generally combined under the slightly derogatory term of “world music” and some of the most intriguing artifacts from the ‘mondo bizarro’ of obscure easy listening and exotica.
Omar Souleyman “Dabke 2020 (Folk And Pop Sounds Of Syria)” 2013 | Sublime Frequencies (Originally released on CD in 2009)
This year is bound to become the pinnacle of Souleyman’s career. Well deserved after years of churning out cassettes of now familiar, but no-less insane combination of Syrian folk music aided by rudimentary drum-patterns and opulent synth-freakouts courtesy of genius keyboardist Rizan Sa’id. Following the seven years worth of releases on Seattle’s brilliant ethnographic music research operation Sublime Frequencies, seemingly unending tour of Western capitals and festivals as well as high-profile remixes for Bjork Souleyman & Co have finally completed transformation from Middle Eastern musical curiosity via the object of worship for worldwide hipsterati and into a veritable rock star.
One would be hard pressed to imagine such turn of events even a couple of years ago, but in the world where “Homeland” is simultaneously the best-loved and critically acclaimed TV entertainment it may be seen as a logical progression.
The singer is now signed to Domino’s sub-label Ribbon Music and saw his latest album “Wenu Wenu” produced by the long-time music press darling Kieran Hebden, most known for his electronic and dance music productions as Four Tet and various collaboration work with musicians as disparate as Burial and late jazz drummer Steve Reid. Taking into consideration that Sublime Frequencies has been instrumental in making it possible for Souleyman to reach the wider audience in the first place it’s hard to reprimand the label for an obvious attempt at capitalization, which comes in the guise of 1st vinyl pressing of the “Dabke 2020” compilation that have initially served as a kind of their breakthrough record.
Although originally a follow-up to already hugely successful “Highway To Hassake” released a couple of years earlier, “Dabke” cemented the project’ s reputation with such instant hits (and future concert staples) as a one-time Youtube video favorite “Lansob Sherek” and the existential lament of the show-stopping opener “Atabat”. Production here is a far cry from Hebden’s hi-definition studio mastery (which many fans apparently dismiss as somehow less authentic), so there may be no usual justification of the collection being pressed on wax. It’s NOT been remastered either and is presented in its gritty original form. But if only for the enlarged version of now iconic artwork of the audiocassette kiosk era Souleyman it’s worth every penny.
Wally Badarou “Echoes” 2013 | Island (Originally released in 1984 on Island)
Another synth-wizard gets his due share of recognition beyond his session gigs with better-known acts. This Paris-born keyboardist, thanks to his affiliation to Island records, ended up working on some of the biggest records of the 80s. Being primarily session musician Badarou also ended up on a fair share of leftfield oddities, such as Lizzy Mercier Descloux no wave era mutant disco epic “Mambo Nassau”.
In terms of his rare solo work his style is most readily identified with the long-term association with Grace Jones. Keyboardist is prominently featured on the definitive “Warm Leatherette” and “Nightclubbing” albums and by extension some of the releases by her then producers Sly & Robbie.
When dropping the needle “Echoes”, undoubtedly Badarou’s best solo achievement, you instantly recognize the signature viscida and ultra-vivid synth textures that animated Jones’ world-conquering early 80s singles.
All of the machinery responsible for the era’s sharp pop-sounds can be found here: Linn Drum, Synclavier, future trance music “abuse tool” Prophet 5 and, obviously, Moog. Although all these are mostly deployed for a slightly more downtempo styling then what was usually required from his bombastic session turns. Almost any of the material here could end up being perfect backing tracks for Grace’s sloganeering.
If something is a bit jarring to the modern ear it’s a slightly tacky Afrika-lite melodies that sometimes venture too far into the Animal Planet safari footage soundtrack territory. In the same vein as musician’s other effort for hugely celebrated “Speaking In Tongues” by Talking Heads.
With it’s slow motion proto-house rhythms, odd melodies and laidback groove “Echoes” firmly fits into the camp of records that came to be commonly described as “Balearic” these days. It definitely seems like this album have anticipated the deep house nocturnes of Larry Heard aka Mr. Fingers by at least a couple of years. “Echoes” irrefutable influence on modern dance and electronic music scene is pretty much set in stone with the album serving a kind of a samples pool. One of the most famous examples is Massive Attack setting their classic “Daydreaming” off their époque-defining “Blue Lines” to the beefed-up version of “Echoes” highlight “Mambo”
Penny Penny “Shaka Bundu” 2013 | Awesome Tapes From Africa
Another cultural hero with origins in the lands of the Limpopo Province most recently musically exoticized by the eye-opening compilation “Shangaan Electro” on Honest Jon’s. The story behind this record is suitably epic. The son of traditional healer with 25 wives and 68 children Penny went through his fare share of misery in life that involved family’s forced resettling from their homeland, starting hard work when 10 years old, not having any sort of education, going through the harsh cycle of odd hard labor jobs and settling into seemingly dead-end janitor position in the local recording company.
Chance had it that somewhere around 1994 Penny encountered Joey Shirimani, the producer of Tsonga disco (term used for any sort of locally-produced dance music). Preceding this momentous meeting Penny secretly spent nights playing around with the recording equipment of the studio he worked in. Shirimani got interested in the bizarre character stalking around the studio just in time to save Penny from loosing his job when he eventually got caught at one of these nighttime sessions.
The producer was also the one to give Penny an opportunity to record the demo tapes under his supervision, which subsequently led to the album deal with the same label.
From the interviews with the musician it becomes clear that instead of local flavors of folk and disco music Penny was much more keen on the polished commercial dance pop of the early 90s: Michael Jackson, London Beat and MC Hammer being the favorites. Nevertheless his own production on the debut LP “Shaka Bundu” is most reminiscent of the piano-driven house pop of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”-era Saint Etienne.
Being a South African record “Shaka Bundu” and the rest of the material on the album has a very particular sound with its wide application of steel drums, the absence of verse-chorus structures, lots of organ and Penny’s ‘Fela Kuti goes hip-hop’ half-sung half-spoken incantations with female response counter singing.
The album launched Penny into the realm of local pop stardom while simultaneously becoming a sort of paean to the ‘official’ end of apartheid. His subsequent transfiguration into a famous politician is similarly impressive, but not at all crucial to the sheer enjoyment this record brings
Arawak “Accade A…” 2013 | Golden Pavilion (Originally released in 1970 on Squirrel)
Now this one is a real treat. Rare as they come. Universally wanted by serious collectors and out of print for 40+ years.
The stroke of genius brought to you by Italian library music composer and pianist Luciano Simoncini who apparently dedicated his life and career working as a sound engineer and score composer for TV and radio. The genre that saw its stock rising over the past couple of years with such high-profile anthologies as “TV Sound And Image” on Soul Jazz, Parry Music Library collection on Public Information and innumerous releases associated with ongoing excavation of BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the work of its engineers.
Things get progressively less travelled when it comes to Continental Europe. With library music from Italy we are mostly limited to the cult of Egisto Macchi and the work of selected horror soundtrack auteurs such as Riz Ortolani, Fabio Frizzi, Claudio Simonetti and pre-epics early Morricone.
Portuguese label Golden Pavilion travels as far away as possible from this perverted bunch into the sunlit and dreamy territory of pure early 70s easy listening, lush exotica and weirdo funk. Most appropriately organized as a sort of highlife travelogue “Accade A…” is one of the few known artifacts from Simoncini’s court back-catalogue that not only managed to survive up until this point, but also to unexplainably acquire the ‘connoisseur-approved’ status. Just don’t expect any serious statements here. Only irresistible and breezy salon grooves of what’s essentially an openly weird jazz funk record and a pre-cursor to such modern equivalents as “Silent Movie” by crate-digging Quiet Village.