TALKIN’ ALL THAT JAZZ: Millions of sounds to keep you up when you’re down….

Talkin’ All That Jazz: Millions of sounds to keep you up when you’re down….

Tamar Osborn -In The Studio /The Search : Pho- Gavin Mills

Tamar Osborn -In The Studio /The Search : Pho- Gavin Mills

Musically, the summer of 2017 is looking good. Very good! Especially when it comes down to the emergence of an inspiring new generation of powerful young women players. It was impossible not to feel inspired following the most recent sold-out Church Of Sound session. Sadly, I missed most of the first set where Collocutor paid tribute to the works of Yusef Lateef but the second set, which took us through the whole of their forthcoming album, ‘The Search’, took us on a memorable and mesmerising journey. Led by baritone saxophonist/flautist Tamar Osborn the Collocutor ensemble featured two horns, trumpet, two percussionists, contra-bass and electric guitar and the combinations morphed and changed in a wonderfully democratic fashion as the set evolved. The rapt attention of the fresh, young audience encircling the ensemble was punctuated only by the odd, spontaneous, burst of mid-solo appreciation. According to Pete from On The Corner ‘The Search’ is set to drop in the next couple of days and it will hopefully pave the way for a whole series of live sessions.

Collocutor: Live @ Church of Sound

Collocutor: Live @ Church of Sound

Talking about LIVE sessions – following on from Shabaka & The Ancestors bustin’ loose at NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge in January, London’s nu-jazz generation are currently poised to dent this year’s SXSW Music Festival in Texas – one of the largest and most influential global music industry events of the year. After 18 months of hard work and endless meetings Adam Moses and Justin McKenzie have just announced that Jazz:refreshed is curating and organising the official British Underground Jazz Re:freshed Showcase at SXSW and it will feature Moses Boyd’s Exodus, Yussef Kamaal, Shabaka Hutchings, United Vibrations and Native Dancer. Add to that crew special guests Go Go Penguin and Sarathy Korwar (thoroughly enjoying his evocative and multi-layered album on Ninja Tune) and we have a boundary breakin’ line-up that is guaranteed to create a rumpus.

Sarathay Korwar - Day To Day LP

Sarathay Korwar – Day To Day LP

Following on from Shabaka’s appearance at SXSW the saxophonist and his South African brethren hit the road in March. Along with a hugely anticipated Jazz Cafe/London performance they will be traversing the whole of Europe. Personally, I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from the Shabaka & The Ancestors playback and Q&A (thanx Teju) – way back when – when Shabaka told the story of how he’d excluded the piano player from the rehearsals and also put him in a separate booth during the recordings in order to get him to respond in totally spontaneous way to the music he was hearing. Deep stuff. Powerful album!


Another live session I was fortunate to check was Nérija at the Total Refreshment Centre. Following on from a discussion between the band members and journo/broadcaster Erica McCoy the ensemble – which consists of mostly women musicians – took the floor to deliver a tight, energised set that was built around the self penned compositions on their brand new 5 Kickstarter funded track CD. Packed to capacity the standing only crowd surrounded band in a tight semi-circle and were fully engaged with an feiry front line of Sheila Maurice-Grey on trumpet, Cassie Kinoshi on Alto, Nubya Garcia on tenor and Rose Turton on trombone. Shirley Tete bubbled away on guitar and drummer Lizzy Exell had feet shufflin’ and heads noddin’. How could you not buy the EP after that?



The female-led 7 piece Afrobeat ensemble Kokoroko – “be strong” in Urhobo – is another crew to watch out for. They join Yaaba Funk at the Jazz Cafe’s tribute to William Onyeabor – Atomic Bomb – on the 3rd March!

On a slightly, different tip, though staying live I suggest you put Freedom!The Art Of Improvisation in your diary for the 13th March. It’s hosted by Orphy Robinson, Cleveland Watkiss and Tori Handsley – I play the tunes between sets – and its at the Vortex in Dalston. Basically, it’s pure improvisation…no standards…and it consist of varied combinations of amazing musicians who happen to be in the house and up for the journey. Sadly, the next session collides with the Ezra Collective’s tribute to Dave Brubeck at the Jazz Cafe – but hey, different strokes for different folks!

Watch out for a forthcoming album from the “Freedom!” session’s resident space cadet and harpist (pedal & electric) /pianist Tori Handsley. Her “trio” includes the mighty Moses Boyd on drums, electric bassist Ruth Goller and vocalist Sahra Gure .. it’s recorded… so, next up… the mix!

Tori Handsley @ Freedom! Photo: Steve Cropper

Tori Handsley @ Freedom! Photo: Steven Cropper

astral-weeks-sqWHOOPS… nearly forgot an amazing project I’ve been involved with since day one with Colm Carty!… Orphy Robinson’s wikkid Third Eye Ensemble who take on the quest – the serious challenge – of interpreting Van Morrison’s classic, majestic ‘Astral Weeks’. This is an essential session taking place in the shadow of St Patick’s day – don’t let it get lost amid all the album cover sessions that are dropping at the moment. The Ensemble is … Orphy Robinson – Vibes-Marimba / John Etheridge – Guitar / Rowland Sutherland – Flute / Justina Curtis – Keys / Dudley Philips – Bass / Mark Mondesir – Drums / Kate Shortt – Cello / Joe Cang + Sahra Gure – Vocals. NICE!

“If I ventured in the slipstream between the viaducts of your dreams…”

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DAVID RODIGAN – A Life in Reggae: “Roddy! You A Dubwise S’m’ody!”


DAVID RODIGAN’S My Life in Reggae illuminates the journey of the thespian, broadcaster and cup-winning dancehall sound clash veteran.

David Rodigan and I are the same age and though we developed a passion for the music of Jamaica via slightly different trajectories we, for a number of years, travelled parallel paths. When David Rodigan arrived on the air via BBC Radio London waves I was scribbling articles on roots reggae for whoever would print them. Occasionally, I would make the journey to an open air market in Clapham Junction where John MacGillivray and Chris Lane ran a stall to supplement the cultural life-line that was the excellent Dub Vendor mail order, and I believe it was there that I first became aware of this devotee from Oxford.

In ’78, without Rodigan’s knowledge his girlfriend wrote a letter of application on his behalf applying for a position at BBC Radio London left vacant by their ‘Reggae Time’ presenter, Steve Barnard. To his amazement he got an audition and on the back of his 15 minute tape secured a job share with Tony Williams, a Jamaican who was also presenting a Soul show. The pay was £12.50 each! For me, as a regular listener to their show Rodigan – as a selector – always had the edge. It was his time – it was post punk, Rock Against Racism was on the move against the National Front and a militant new generation of UK Rastafari orientated reggae artists like Aswad, Steel Pulse, Black Slate, Cimmarons and Misty In Roots emerged to compliment the mainstream break through made by the JA vanguard of Bob Marley and The Wailers. Alongside the roots scene, certain sound systems like Sir George were building a following for what became known as Lovers Rock and the national chart success of artists like Janet Kay added fresh momentum to David Rodigan’s broadcasting and journalistic career.

King Tubby & David Rodigan

King Tubby & David Rodigan

On his first trip to Jamaica in ’79 with fellow enthusiast and photographer Dave Hendley he not only cemented a relationship with sound system and dub master King Tubby but also encountered cult JBC broadcaster Michael Campbell aka Mikey Dread – “The Dread At The Controls”. From my perspective, Mikey Dread, in terms of his jingles and use of dub plates, re-defined what could be done as a radio DJ – if you want a taste of that touch down on the ‘African Anthem’ album that Dave Hendley released. Without doubt Mikey Dread’s approach to broadcasting had an impact on how Rodigan was to construct and structure his own shows. Sadly, the book reveals that Rodigan’s relationship to Mikey Dread eventually soured leaving a particularly bitter taste. The musical community that Rodigan was engaged with had a potentially volatile dimension to it. For example, he clashed with the sound system operators who didn’t like him playing advanced dub plates – which traditionally they would have aired first – on his show. A threatening and potentially violent scenario emerged when the so called Black Music Protection Squad produced flyers showing the DJ with a noose around his neck while accusing him of “the Rape Of Black Music”.

It’s therefore not surprising that the DJ/broadcaster and his co-author Ian Burrell prefer to move rapidly through these years. My Life In Reggae is an easy read. In fact, I’d say it’s lightweight from a literary point of view. If you are looking for genuine depth and writing that is evocative of the places and scenarios he’s experienced you might be disappointed. I notched up two thirds of the book in a couple of days while gaining a somewhat matter of fact, surface-like impression, of his life as broadcaster, club DJ and actor. The man has trod the boards of the theatre, worked with a Toucan in a Guinness TV ad campaign and battled Doctor Who as Broken Tooth. He moved from Radio London to Capital Radio – where presented the legendary Roots Rockers Show – and eventually found a musical home for 22 years with the dedicated crew of former the pirate radio station Kiss100 FM before finally landing back at BBC 1Xtra.

Rodigan - live & direct!

Rodigan – live & direct!

It has to be said that in recent times I’ve met many a person who came across David Rodigan for the very first time on You Tube in a sound system clash. Inevitably they came away both bewildered and confused. “Who is this white guy?” they asked. They were not sure whether to be embarrassed or entertained. Fortunately, for the readers of ‘My Life In Reggae’ the book is at its strongest when he moves into the realm of the sound clash. It’s here we find Rodigan at his most enthusiastic. We actually get a deeper insight into his approach, into his role as an entertainer and musical selector. The sound clash for him is pure theatre – you win some you lose some. But in reality he wins more than he loses. He is an edutainer. His knowledge of the music is deep. Having dallied in the world of reggae music myself I freely admit to being in awe of his ability to craft a show that can win over a musically and culturally sophisticated audience whether in Kingston, Bermuda, Brooklyn or London. He can compete with supa-skilled sound system operators like Stone Love, Killamanjaro or Mighty Crown and at the end of the day can still lift that cup! David Rodigan is a phenomena and as this biography comes to a close it’s clear that the somewhat reluctant self publicist remains as enthusiastic as ever about both the roots of the music that inspired him as a teenager and its natural evolution in the UK via jungle, drum & bass and dubstep. His role today is as an musical elder but there’s little doubt that when he steps behind those turntables and picks up the mic he seriously enjoys himself… “In January 1979, I took my first trip to Jamaica and met King Tubby, Bunny Wailer, Big Youth, Gregory Isaacs and Marcia Griffiths….. ”

Rodigan, Scratch & Blackboard Jungle

Rodigan, Scratch & Blackboard Jungle

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Volatile Times: The Year OF The Fire Rooster

As we were going through our regular early Sunday morning training session in the Ba Me Da Xuan tradition in a misty Clissold Park I couldn’t help my mind wandering to the turbulent year ahead. I’ve long been a fan of Ted Mancuso and Debbie Shayne at Santa Cruz based Plum Publications and their comprehensive annual Chinese Astrological analysis by Narrye Caldwell is always a splendid read. As this year looks particularly volatile and we could all do with a little guidance I couldn’t resist reprinting it here, making it available to all those who feel that Ancient To Future connection – despite it saying that, as a rabbit, I should basically run for cover and hide in 2017!


fire-year-of-the-rooster-20161229-02_c82eb22dc85643119edbd68b20a19707YEAR OF THE FIRE ROOSTER – January 28, 2017. All Chinese wisdom traditions, including medicine, divination, astrology, and feng shui, are systems of pattern identification that guide us in adapting gracefully to change. A world in flux is assumed; it is the one constant feature of life. Astrology is best viewed as a tool to discern where we are in the shifting cycles of time so we can adjust our expectations accordingly and therefore, from the Chinese point of view, cultivate longevity by not wasting our qi trying to swim against the current.

Last year’s current schooled us all in crisis management as the Fire Monkey’s erratic impulsiveness and dramatic flare produced an unprecedented bit of theater in American politics.
(Yes, Monkeys love to play spin doctor in the political arena.) But as writer Isak Dinesen once said, “Anything in life can be born, as long as it can be seen as part of a story.” Fortunately, a new chapter of the story is about to begin with the arrival of the Fire Rooster on January 28, 2017. This chapter might be titled: “Application: how to walk your talk and follow through.”

In the Chinese zodiac the Rooster is the tenth of the 12 animals. It is associated with the Metal element which correlates to the time in autumn when qi condenses and the life force turns inward, right before sinking into the stillness of winter. So Metal expresses the essence of a thing with perfect clarity. Think of a tree in autumn, stripped of its foliage, its true shape so cleanly visible. People born in the year of the Rooster tend to be focused, task oriented, ambitious, confident, and very clear. This latter quality is what gives Rooster people their reputation for being abrupt and tactless. But it’s a mistake to consider them rude. Rather, Roosters just see things clearly and are decisive in their assessments. They are what we might call “plain speaking.” They also can be incorrigible critics, lacking the patience required to wait for others to come around to the clarity which comes so readily to them.

When you couple these qualities with the Fire element, you have an interesting potential for drama. Fire is erratic, intense, passionate, expressive, and dynamic. Fire embodies the warrior archetype. Fire Roosters tend to be brave, powerful, unyielding, opinionated, and determined. And in the Chinese Five Element cycle, Fire controls Metal. So the image here is of a sword tempered in a forge—sharp, strong, and dangerous in the wrong hands.

... or dangerous in the right hands?

… or dangerous in the right hands?

That brings us to the possibilities for 2017. This year’s theme is “application.” The Rooster has one special super power—the ability to delay gratification and focus on the long term goal. Roosters can actually separate the reward from the work required to get it, and they can do this over long periods of time….like years. So whatever feelings you may have about the upheaval created in the Monkey year, the qi will now support you to focus and apply yourself to the task at hand with discipline and diligence. Set aside your emotions and focus on long term goals. Stay focused. That’s right, see beyond the current situation and keep your eye on whatever it is that you value in the long run; just keep chipping away without wavering. Apply yourself. That’s what this year is all about.

How each of you will be able to digest this type of qi depends on your animal sign with its particular characteristics and nature. Below is a brief comment on how each of the 12 animals can best use this year’s qi.


RAT: You have a talent for research. In your world, every detail counts. During the Monkey year you were valued and rewarded for your obsession with ferreting out every angle, then selecting the precise pathway to the cheese. But Rooster arrives at clarity without your help, and your careful research may even be dismissed as perseveration. Pay no mind and don’t lower your standards. Devote yourself to personal creative projects. Conserve your energy. You’re not in a position of power this year, so apply yourself to private endeavors that are totally within your purview. This will fulfill you, keep your considerable skills honed, and ready you for the Pig year (2019) when you are likely to be tapped for an important advisory position.

OX: Though you may have been annoyed by the irreverent escapades that marked the Monkey year (which you viewed as undisciplined folly,) you have a thick skin and a penchant for the long view. Now this perspective is given the respect it deserves and you will be able to partner with Rooster to accomplish your long term agenda. Finally, someone who understands! The energy of this year is perfectly suited to support hard work in the service of long term goals. Roosters excel at this. You are in perfect accord here. The only difference between you and Rooster is that you actually like to apply yourself every day (putting one foot in front of the other to plow a nice straight furrow,) while Roosters, though valuing achievement, can get irritable about the daily work required to accomplish it. So have at it. The qi is running smoothly at your back. Just keep going.

TIGER: Well, the best I can say is, bravo for you if you are still standing after the Fire Monkey year. You must have been doing something right. Now, I’d love to tell you to take a year off and lie around on the riverbank. But unfortunately the Rooster requires you to shake off your near hysteria and focus now. The trick here is to get back in the game but with one clear agenda. Doesn’t really matter what it is, just make it one (OK, maybe two) things that you can skillfully apply yourself to. The qi this year supports deft application in a clearly articulated area. It’s sort of like being the kicker on a football team. You know, the guy who only knows how to kick, but does it perfectly every time. For most of the game he just sits on the bench, but when needed, he walks out on the field and, with perfect clarity and grace, sends that ball right over the goalposts to win the game. That’s you.

rabbitRABBIT: Two words: run away. You, being the psychics of the zodiac, are WAY too sensitive for this Fire Rooster. The Rooster is your opposite sign. What other people see as candor, will feel like attack to you. There will be conflict all around this year, partly because of the Fire/Metal tension inherent in the year, and partly because of this Rooster’s “take no prisoners” approach to holding power and moving its agenda forward. Though you are a warrior in your own right (a trait that can come out in a staggering display of fierceness when cornered,) you dislike conflict and are better off retreating to the sensual luxury of your cozy home. In other words, stay out of it. Conserve your qi until the Pig year, when you will be in charge of seating arrangements at the party.

DRAGON: OK yes, you are special. After a stellar Monkey year playing politics, with Monkey as your spin doctor, you now get to continue your alchemy during the Rooster year. Rooster appreciates your power and flare for leadership and daring. You appreciate Rooster’s laser focus and ability to apply itself to the task at hand. Together you can actually create magic. But skillful means are required. Now is not the time for hubris and rash impulse. I suggest you read the first hexagram of the I Ching. This hexagram should be your talisman for the year. It perfectly describes the transformations of the celestial dragon from quiescence to exuberance. Heed the wisdom here. Dragons can either be blustering egotists, or agents of celestial wisdom. This year you get to choose which path to embrace.

SNAKE: You and Ox are the Rooster’s natural partners. I call this trio the “achievement” team. Rooster supplies the ambition, Ox the endurance, and Snake the knowledge and philosophical frame. Together these three can deliver results. This year you will feel valued. People will consult you on important matters and heed your sage advice. You are in a unique position of power and able to operate from behind the scenes (your preferred introverted strategy,) rather than suffering the exposure of center stage. Hint—Bernie Sanders is a Metal Snake. Had the election been held in the Rooster year instead of the Monkey year, we may have been looking at a very different scenario. Just saying.

HORSE: You share some traits with Rooster so you may get caught up in the current of achievement this year. Horses are ambitious, courageous, active, love to work, and have the noble heart of a warrior. So this should, in theory, be an ideal year for you to succeed beyond your wildest dreams. But here’s the caveat: Horses are easily distracted. And remember, this year is all about focus and application. The minute you shy away from the plan and skitter off in another direction, you will get nailed by that critical Rooster qi; you risk being dismissed as unreliable and unpredictable. The best strategy for success this year is to collaborate with a steady friend, which you can think of as an experienced rider with calm hands. Let’s see…..not Dog (who is in conflict with Rooster,) not Tiger (too erratic and exhausted,) and not Ox (you can’t bear the stubborn traditionalism.) So I think that leaves Sheep, the Horse’s natural stable mate!

SHEEP: Your artistic sensibilities and collaborative management style are at odds with the Rooster’s singular focus on achievement. The Rooster’s pride, self-confidence, and keen abilities just look like arrogance to you. Relationships and diplomacy are central to your world view but of little importance to the Rooster, whose only concern is “what will get us to the goal most efficiently?” So, this is a good year to keep your head down and stay out of the argument. You are way more sensitive to criticism then you let on, and this year you’re wearing a target on your back. Since the annual qi supports focused application of your skills, consider cooking, crafts, hobbies, woodworking—just please don’t attempt to apply your considerable management skills to the prideful Rooster. You can do it, but the stress and hurt feelings will shorten your life.

MONKEY: Time’s up, you’re done. The Rooster is now stepping on to the stage to clean up all the broken china from last year’s shenanigans. Now is the time you get to show up as the true magician you actually are. People who don’t know you well, may suspect that you are only interested in chaos. We know that’s not true. We know that you have a true heart and are capable of being a loyal friend. Your natural element is Metal, so you do know how to see through the confusion and discern the underlying order of things. Use that talent now, and apply it to compassionate service. This is the essence of magic.

ROOSTER: Not everyone benefits from the qi of their own year. It’s like being in the front row of the classroom. You’re always the one who gets called on—no coming to class unprepared and hiding out in the back hoping to avoid getting noticed. But Roosters are perfectly suited to this command position. It’s an opportunity to shine! So have at it. You are now the one who holds all the cards, has all the answers, and can finally move the whole class forward. No slackers allowed. No need to hold back and feel frustrated by the clueless masses. This promises to be a successful year for you in all ways. No need to tell you to stay focused; just be yourself. Eyes on the prize!

DOG: You and Rooster both have a strong work ethic, but don’t mistake this for compatibility. You have very different motivations. Dogs are willing to work hard out of a sense of loyalty and guardianship, while Rooster qi is all about achievement for its own sake. This fundamental misalignment will make you grumpy and exhausted if you try to join up with Rooster and press forward with your goals. So, since focus and application are supported this year, best use of this qi for Dogs is to clear away everything you no longer need, release old habits that don’t serve you, and simplify your life in preparation for the Earth Dog year in 2018 which promises to be a time of renewal for you. Use this upcoming Rooster year to prepare, so you aren’t burdened by excess baggage when your time comes.

PIG: Though your nerves are understandably a little frayed from coping with the mind boggling twists and turns of the Monkey year, it’s important now to maintain your calm and forgiving nature. The qi this year has a sharp edge to it; it may seem to you like the world has gone slightly insane with ambition and overwork. Your job is to rise above it all. Remember that no amount of money or status means anything without the warm glow of family and friends, elegant food, a glass of wine, and an evening of good conversation. Your job is to be a constant reminder of this for the rest of us. Focus on balance; apply yourself to hospitality. Good manners are your super power.

Narrye Caldwell is a Licensed acupuncturist with a private practice specializing in pole star astrology, classical feng shui, and shamanic healing methods. She teaches Tai Chi and Qigong at the Academy of Martial Arts in Santa Cruz, is on the faculty at Five Branches University, and teaches workshops in core shamanism for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Narrye’s Pole Star astrology readings are available via Skype or at her office in Santa Cruz. See her website for information about how to schedule a consultation.

If you are interested in Chinese martial arts and philosophy the PLUM PUBLICATIONS website is a treasure trove of books, vcds and dvds along with Ted Mancuso’s own thoughts and insights into the arts.

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Yeah…apologies, been absent for a spell… just a case of real-life-runnings and the task of finishing the words for the forthcoming design tome – Swifty Funky TypoGraffix.

Spot the TOME!

Spot the TOME!

Yes, we’re pretty much done… just the cover now! The rest has gone off to the printers. It’s been one hell of a journey – the last 12 month have just flown by – a journey and Swift has rinsed out his loft (and other people’s), diggin’ for those elusive originals. Though we started out thinking we might not need many words that’s not how it turned out! Swift’s work is rooted in the culture and, when it came down to it, that’s the context we felt we obligated to illuminate.

Mode2 - That's How It Is - Bar Rumba

Mode2 – That’s How It Id – Bar Rumba

For those of you involved in the design world this book spans the transition from the analog, pre-internet, cut’n’paste era to 100% digital output. In the designer mix are interviews with Malcolm Garrett (Assorted iMaGes), Neville Brody, David Crow, Mode2, Futura, Stash, Tyler Askew, Ebon Heath, Mitch, Fred Deakin, Robi Walters, Kam Bhogal.

Meanwhile on the clubland/music front there’s myself, Neil Spencer, Kath Willgress, Gilles Peterson, Paul Martin, James Lavelle, Janine Neye, Joe Davis, the Okino brothers, Jonny Kiat, Robert Trunz et al. You can’t look at Swift’s work without witnessing the evolution of a rich, shape shifting underground culture.

The journey begins in the Eighties with Swift moving from post punk Manchester to The Face. After launching his Swifty Tyopgraffix studio behind Hoxton Square with Straight No Chaser we get to encounter Talkin Loud, Mo Wax, Far Out, Especial, Kyoto Jazz Massive and then journey west to Studio Babylon and That’s How It, MELT2000 is and Fosters Ice/Street Art.  Anyone who peruses this book will gain access to the physical transition from MacSE to Imac to IBook; from floppys to Syquests to email; from Quark Express to InDesign. You also get to appreciate those old skool skills from screen printing to etching. Swift is deep into the craft and has serious hands-on skills. At 300+ pages – it’s phatter than Mo’Wax’s Urban Archaeology.  Expect to be immersed in a huge body of  work and become attuned to an intuitive dynamic that continues to fuel Swift’s restless and relentless innovation. This book needs to be in every art school / graphics dept. library and needs to be checked by all students of contemporary cultural studies.

Swifty funky Typo-Graffx

Swifty funky Typo-Graffx


swift-looking-at-bookFootnote: I’m sat in my yard live steaming the new Tribe Called Quest LP: ‘We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service’ and I’m feelin’ it. It’s right on the button. A blast of deep’n’fresh NYC creativity rising phoenix like above the rotten stench of that US presidential election. But anyway, more on that in the future when I’ve had time to soak up the lyricsm of post Phife Dawg Tribe.

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From the Cabo Verde archipelago we travel to Haiti with Paris based Nigerian master drummer Tony Allen for another Afro Futurist meltdown before heading off to Cuba…

A.H.E.OThe Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra‘s album is a meeting of minds and deep rhythmic connections. Seven-and-a-half thousand kilometres of cold ocean separate West Africa from Haiti. But music can cover that distance in a heartbeat, crossing the Atlantic to reunite the rhythms and religion of people torn from their homes to be sold into slavery.

The concept for this project started with Corinne Micaelli, the director of the French Institute in Haiti. She wanted to bring drummer Tony Allen – the riddimic power behind Fela’s Afrobeat experiments- to the island to do a performance with Haitian musicians at a major public concert. Tony agreed, and Erol Josué, a singer, dancer, Vodoun priest, and director of the Haitian National Bureau of Ethnology, helped to recruit local percussionists and singers.

Musicians were drawn from a cross-section of the country’s foremost bands – Racine Mapou de Azor, RAM, Yizra’El Band and Lakou Mizik. They had just five days to compose and rehearse a set of music they’d play in the main square of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and broadcast live throughout the country.

According to guitarist Mark Mulholland recalls, “Putting it together was complete chaos. Madness. We were all in this tiny room, playing. We had 10 percussionists from all of Haiti’s top bands. Then there was Tony, Olaf Hund on keyboards, and Jean-Philippe Dary, an old friend of Tony’s on bass. He became the de facto musical director. The sound was overwhelming. Honestly, I don’t think any of us knew what to expect when we began.”

The plan was to record the event but on the night technical problems kicked in and it didn’t happen. It seemed that the music which had emerged from those long, hot sessions would be no more than a fleeting memory.

However, Mulholland couldn’t accept that. He decided to go through the multi-track recordings from the inspirational and adrenaline fuelled rehearsals to see see what he could find. Subtle polyrhythms bridged centuries and cultures. Relentless grooves emerged as the foundation for soaring, modern melodies like the swirling, electronica-fuelled ‘Salilento’ or the Afro Vocoder ritual sound of ‘Yanvalou’. Mulholland was convinced they had achieved something important that deserved to be remembered and before leaving Haiti for his home in Bamako they re-recorded all the vocals with Erol Josué, Sanba Zao, and the other singers.”

It was in Bamako that Mulholland Glitterbeat’s Chris Eckman and told him about the Haitian experience and Tony Allen’s involvement. He was hooked. They mixed a couple of tracks and it rolled on from there. The results are on this Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra album and Mulholland proudly declares, “It’s anarchic and energetic. And I really believe it’s good, it’s honest, it’s new. It’s different. It was an experiment that worked.”

lakou cdOnce you’ve checked out the unfettered sounds of the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra may want to get a taste of more traditional but modern Haitian sounds and for that you need to look no further than Lakou Mizik’s ‘Wa Di Yo’ on Cumbancha. Lakou Mizik is a multigenerational collective of Haitian musicians formed in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake. The group includes elder legends and rising young talents, united in a mission to honour the healing spirit of their collective culture and communicate a message of pride, strength and hope to their countrymen and to the world. This ensemble have produced a warm rootical 12 song set propelled along by uplifting vocals that take you deep into the heart of the community. Expect to be transported to yard on a balmy star lit Caribbean night and be lifted gently by layers of percussion, a racy snare, fluid bass lines, a sensual accordion and guitar and volleys of life affirming blasts from those Haitian Rara cornets.

Ricahard Bona

Ricahard Bona

Staying in the Caribbean, Richard Bona’s Madekan Cubano Sextet deliver an album which taps into the ‘Heritage’ in fine style. This is the first Afro-Cuban recording from the Brooklyn based Cameroonian bassist and it’s a gem. Bona’s sweet vocals do remind me of Lokua Kanza and that’s one mega recommend on my part. Over the precise percussion of Luisito and Robero Quintero and we get crisp muted trumpet from Dennis Hernandez and muscular trombone from Rey Alejandre. Pianist Osmany Paredes dazzles throughout. From delicate ballads to tracks guaranteed the set a dancefloor alight multi-instrumantalist Bona shines brightly. Shame I missed them when they recently played Ronnie Scott’s.

PM over400x400Just as President Obama has relaxed relations between Cuba and the US we seem to be experiencing a steady flow of musical collaborations. Since arriving on the NYC scene in 1998 the 25 year old percussionist/corista Pedrito Martinez has established a powerful rep. On this ‘homecoming’ album – ‘Habana Dreams’ – he pulls together 3 sets of collaborators. There’s the Pedrito Martinez Group, then there’s the honoured guests – Wynton Marsalis, Ruben Blades, Isaac Delgado, Angelique Kidjo, and finally, Pedrito’s Cuban family. As Ned Sublette puts it in his excellent sleeve notes this album is Pedrito’s return to “the dense urban world – of santeros, paleros, ecobios, rumberos, professional musicians, and strivers of all kinds, to say nothing of ancestral spirits – that is the Cayo Hueso neighbourhood, part of the teeming, treeless sprawl of Centro Habana.” This CD is musically diverse but well grounded. It’s a test of Martinez’s songwriting skills and amazingly his quartet have mastered how to play timba – a tough, modern, cutting edge dance style normally restricted to big bands. Well worth a listen.

Pedrito Martinez

Pedrito Martinez

MACFinally, on a more “straight ahead” jazz tip we touch down on the masterclass offered up by saxophonist David Murray, pianist Geri Allen and drummer Terri Lynne Carrington. ‘Perfection’ is a moving homage to their friends and mentors like Ornette Coleman (‘Perfection’), Wayne Shorter (‘Samsara’), Marcus Belgrave (‘The Nurturer’), Charlie Haden (Barbara Allen)and Mary Lou Williams (For Fr. Peter O’Brian). As to be expected this a trio at the top of their game – inspired, uplifting and powerful.

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Caine Prize 2016 - CoverWhat a splendid way to spend your birthday – taking in a few readings and a discussion with five nominees from this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing. As I passed through the subterranean corridors of London University’s School of African, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies in search Khalili lecture theatre the sound of drums transported me back the Adriano Adewale’s pandeiro class at a previous SOAS summer school. It felt good. Outside the theatre I was able to purchase a copy of the book we had come to discuss – The Daily Assortment Of Astonishing Things – and sip on a couple of glasses of red wine while awaiting the arrival of the writers and panel host Dr Gus Casely-Hayford. This was the first of a series of London based events aimed at connecting the writers with potential readers and there was a warm sense of anticipation in the room. Hearing people talk about the context and the process of how they work and experiences of writing is always illuminating.

Now in its 17th year, the Caine Prize for African Writing aims to bring African writing to a wider audience. It doesn’t get the props that the Booker or Whitbread get but the Caine Prize gives a much welcome helping hand to both known and emerging writers from Africa. Along with the book of short stories which they publish annually the Caine Prize deliver a series of events that successfully bring together readers and those writers who have made the shortlist for the prize of £10,000 plus a few other perks. The prize has alerted the publishing mainstream to talents like Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo (‘We Need New names’ was terrific!) and given readers like myself an enticing trail to follow.

The annual Caine Prize writers’ workshop moves from African nation to African nation and this year’s workshop took place on an exclusive game reserve in Zambia. It sounded amazing and in discussion we learn the workshop is the primary source of the stories in the anthology. The six short-listed writers on the panel at SOAS all read a modest passage from their own story and talked about their respective aims and the impact of their own environments, whether in Africa or the US. In the mix was Abdul Adan from Somalia/Kenya who wrote the offbeat ‘The Lifebloom Gift’; Lesley Nneka Arimah, a Nigerian writer living in Minneapolis who penned futuristic ‘What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky’; DC based Nigerian and 2014 Caine Prize winner Tope Folarin (Nigeria) who offered ‘Genesis’ – a tale based in Utah!; Zimbabwe’s Bongani Kona who is a journalist and editorial contributor to Chimurenga who dropped the deep ‘At your Requiem’ and finally, South African writer, filmmaker and photographer, Lidudumalingani, who conjured up ‘Memories We Lost’.

I’m still working my way through the array of short stories in The Daily Assortment Of Astonishing Things but the diverse reflections of those writers on the panel, whether still living on the continent or approaching life from a diasporic perspective, continue to resonate. Reading their stories informs and enhances the reader’s own world. They diffuse myths and stereotypes and offer insights and a touch of magic. Seek out the Caine prize anthologies and the works of previous winners – many of whom, prior to discovering these anthologies, I’d sadly never heard of!

STOP PRESS: Lidudumalingani wins seventeenth Caine Prize with “multi-layered, gracefully narrated story”.

The Daily Assortment Of Astonishing Things Caine Prize Anthology is published by New Internationalist in the UK and publishers in eight African countries including, Jacana Media (South Africa), Cassava Republic (Nigeria), Kwani? (Kenya), Sub-Saharan Publishers (Ghana), FEMRITE (Uganda), Gadsen Publishers (Zambia), ‘amaBooks (Zimbabwe) and Langaa (Cameroon).

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STORM WARNING: Kate Tempest’s ‘The Bricks That Built The Houses’

STORM WARNING: Kate Tempest’s ‘The Bricks That Built The Houses’ is out now via Bloomsbury/Circus

kate1When I came across a review copy of Kate Tempest’s debut novel in my local second hand bookshop I was both happy and nervous. I’ve long sung the praises of this South London poet having been mesmerised by the riveting delivery of her one woman play ‘Brand New Ancients’. Her self published book of poetry/CD – Everything Speaks In It’s Own Way – is little gem and the ‘Mouse In The Lion’s Hair’ is a poem that I love to bits. I am less of a fan of the Mercury nominated LP, ‘Everybody Down’, which she dropped via Ninja Tunes, but that’s just my finely tuned – sometimes wrong – musical sensibilities kicking in. ‘Everybody Down’ definitely has it’s moments and, in reality, I should be giving thanks that the LP and the live gigs have carried her words to audiences who would never have handed over a few quid to check a poetry reading.

‘The Brick That Built The Houses’ is modern day tale and reading it while the increasingly rancid BREXIT campaign gathered momentum, fuelled by lies and divisive racist rhetoric and imagery (I shall not forget that Enoch Powell inspired UKIP Poster!) threw me back on my own roots. Ironically, the referendum which now instructs the Tory Government to get us out of Europe hinged on the votes of the people in those forgotten, marginalised former industrial working class heartlands of Britain. It was a cry of FUCK YOU! to the powers that be – whoever you are – and that’s where Kate’s book takes us. South London is not Barnsley but in this divided land we do not have to go far to find poverty and a spirit diminishing sense of daily disillusionment where drinkin’, smokin’, snortin’ and poppin’ whatever is just how it stays.’The Brick That Built The Houses’ drops us into a fraught but tender and revealing encounter between two families somewhere around SE13… Lewisham-Deptford runnings… and it’s focussed on the lives and dreams of two women in their early twenties, who sail below the radar, operating in dangerous subterranean worlds that respectively deal with sex and drugs.

Kate Tempest Photography by David Levene

Kate Tempest Photography by David Levene

A dancer and a dealer, despite being careful, clever and discreet, get ensnared by a twist of fate and are tugged reluctantly into a potentially deadly spiral of events. As a regular thriller reader (Moseley, Pelecanos, Hiassen et al) I was curious as to how Kate’s poetic flow would transfer into a 400 page novel. Initially, I wasn’t sure. I stopped reading in fits and starts on buses and tubes and opted to notch up a bunch of pages in one sitting. It paid off. I was drawn into the story which grows as you empathise with its characters, with their frustrations, fears and intuitive search for something better than the mundane daily existence of those around them. As I read I could feel her flow, her unique sense of rhythm which springs from her choice of words. Kate Tempest gives voice to those who have no voice in the ofter brutal inner cities of this nation and for that we are all better off. Support your local visionary.


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