An introduction to the music of West Africa, pt. 3: afrodisco / afrofunk

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Part 3 goes through songs 31-45 of our introduction to the music of West Africa, delving into the cosmic territories of Nigerian disco, Cameroonian funk and all-out dancing heat from the centre of the Earth. If you enjoyed this introduction, please let us know here or over on Facebook. You can find all of the tunes in a nice list for your streaming pleasure on Spotify / Youtube.

Afrodisco

As globalisation encroached following the independence of West African countries throughout the 1960s, cutting edge hardware like synths and recording units – all the stuff we consider ‘vintage gear’ today – began to fall into the hands of West African musicians. By the early 80s, ‘Afrodisco’ was taking urban areas by storm. Lagos became a massive hub for disco and funk experimentation. On the flip side, social unrest and military occupation in Accra sent Ghanian disco musicians fleeing to neighbouring countries – mainly Nigeria – or further afield; this is why places like Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin have become hotspots for diggers looking for the rarest afrodisco cuts.

Afrodisco provided – and continues to provide – a musical touchstone and a treasure trove of samples for tons of house music in the US and elsewhere. Its proximity to funk, pop and 4/4 rhythms embedded in the musical fabric of a certain generation in the West also makes it a convenient entry point to West African music. Despite this, though, we’ve left it until the last section. A little bit like a celebration. Get yr disco shoes on.

31: Shina Williams & His African Percussionists – ‘Agboju Logun’

One of the most recognised and revered afrodisco anthems. An incendiary 11 minute locked disco groove from Nigeria, with synthy overtones and funk elements. I say no more.

32: Rim & Kasa – ‘Love Me For Real’ 

You know this one. Maybe you didn’t know that it came from Ghana. Peak time dancefloor heat!

33: Steve Monite – ‘Only You’

What can you say about Steve Monite? Not much. Like William Onyeabor, Monite is a mysterious figure in the history of Nigerian music. There are a handful of tracks on his one and only LP, ‘Only You’, that blew my head off when I heard them. The eponymous track is the highlight – crackles, pops, strange asides, moans, masterful arrangement, heart-tugging hooks, and THAT bassline. Some say that Onyeabor and Steve Monite could be the same person. But here’s a level of soul that we struggle to find even in the deepest corners of the Nigerian cowboy’s back-catalogue. Steve, you are wonderful.

34: Oby Onyioha – ‘Enjoy Your Life’

Massive in Nigeria in the 80s. Apparently you would hear this everywhere. Better than putting the radio on today?

35: Basa Basa – ‘African Soul Power’

Recorded in Lagos at the height of the city’s afro-disco craze, ‘African Soul Power’ is a slightly darker addition to this list. When it takes off from its techno-esque interlude, it veers into all of jazz, soul and haunting psychedelia. The tension between the dissonant guitars and odes to unity (‘making music for the people / disco music for the people’) creates an eerie restlessness that can only be shaken off in dance. Fela Kuti once said that the Basa Basa twins from Ghana had ‘magic powers’.

36: Livy Ekemzie – ‘Holiday Action’

Fast NYC boogie style celebration from Lagos. David Mancuso probably dropped this at some point.

Afrofunk

Fela Kuti and other afrobeat pioneers that we looked at in part 2 took massive cues from US funk artists like James Brown. While afrobeat came to be synonymous with the music of the region, though, there were far more straight-up funk bands operating in West Africa during the late 1970s and 1980s. Instead of the dense polyrhythmic percussion exemplified by Tony Allen, many bands took the basic straight disco beat as a bedrock for a host of syncopated guitars and synthesiser explorations. A lot of these bands are only now coming to be recognised by a new generation of DJs, musicians and African music enthusiasts from the rest of the world. Here’s our top picks.

37: Christy Essien – ‘You Can’t Change A Man’ 

Easing you in gently is well-known Nigerian songstress Christy Essien, preaching over the lush disco-funk vibes. That bass.

38: Jimmy Hyacinthe – ‘Yatchiminou’

Perhaps the best introduction to the West African funk movement is Jimmy Hyacinthe’s ‘Yatchiminou’. Juicy bass, rolling horns and unyielding guitar, masterfully arranged for maximum dancefloor debauchery.

39: Steve Monite – ‘Things Are Falling Apart’

Straddling the line between disco & funk, the inimitable Steve Monite’s ‘Things Are Falling Apart’ is the second classic from his singular and single 1984 LP. Things Fall Apart was originally a novel by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, coming out on the eve of Nigerian independence in 1958. Achebe’s meditations on identity and decolonisation served to push the phrase ‘Things Fall Apart’ into a sort of common Nigerian ontology fit for the latter half of the 20th century.. Here, Steve gives us his own take on this perpetual state of difficulty. ‘What are we gonna do now?’ he laments. Maybe he couldn’t put out the fire.

40: Tala A.M. – ‘Arabica’ 

André-Marie Tala might be considered Cameroon’s answer to Stevie Wonder. Blinded at the age of 15, ‘Tala AM’ went on to create probably the liveliest funk and disco music in Cameroon. Fact: James Brown’s ‘Hustle’ is a direct rip of Tala AM’s demo ‘Hot Koki’ that was given to him on a tour of Cameroon.

41: Pasteur Lappe – ‘Na Real Sekele Fo Ya’

A mainstay of afrofunk, again from Cameroon. Great friends of Tala AM and Fela Kuti, Pasteur Lappe is an artist who is only just beginning to gain widespread recognition for his work in the 1980s.

42: Jon Haastrup – ‘Greetings’ 

The son of a Yoruba king, Joni Haastrup’s lively ‘Greetings’  lies somewhere at the intersection between afrobeat, disco and funk. His band featured Fela Kuti on trumpet at one point.

43: Ebo Taylor & Uhuru Yenzy – ‘You Need Love’ 

Highlife grooving with that slow-mo funk rhythm section. Soulful, breezy and gorgeous, ‘You Need Love’ shows the Ghanian guvnor Ebo Taylor at the height of his arrangement and performance skills.

44: Tirogo – ‘Disco Maniac’

Perhaps the mightiest drop in all of Nigerian Funk.

45: William Onyeabor – ‘When the Going is Smooth & Good’ 

Neither disco nor funk, neither here nor there. A universal message. The potent words, jaunty, open-hat beat and mesmerising synthscapes forged here by southern Nigeria’s enigmatic studio guru William Onyeabor sent Lagos into a frenzy in the mid-80s. Just look at the gear. It’s rare to hear Onyeabor waxing so much lyrical content in one track, and his almighty-preacher delivery is simply intoxicating. The oscillator sounds in this (particularly the entire sequence from 5:48 in this video) prefigured house and techno by about 10 years, and have been used as inspiration in contemporary recordings alike. Everyone from David Byrne to Daphni and Damon Albarn will sing the praise of this tune – hear it for yourself.

‘When they come back they have come back to help in knocking you down down down down down….’


That’s it for our introduction to the music of West Africa. There’s loads and loads more we could dig into, but a lowdown in 45 tracks should suffice – part of the fun is in exploring the deepest, dustiest crates and the vast expanses of the internet yourse,f. To recap:

Pt. 1, highlife, palmwine, Malian traditional pop and Afro-Latin

Pt. 2: afrobeat & psychedelia

The 45 tracks are also available to stream on YouTube and Spotify. You can also support 45turns by sharing this article and liking us on Facebook (click here or use the sidebar to the left).

Happy digging.

 

An introduction to the music of West Africa, pt. 2: afrobeat & psychedelia

In part 2 we head to the 1970s for a 15 track exploration of psychedelic sounds from West Africa. Here’s part one, in case you want to catch up on the first 15.

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Afrobeat

Borne of the musical chemistry between highlife musicians Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, afrobeat defined the mood of a 1970s Nigeria eager to throw off the shackles of its exploitation and move towards a united African continent able to take charge of its own rights and resources. Fela’s infernal cauldron of highlife, bebop jazz and heavy funk quickly took hold in Nigeria, spreading to the rest of West Africa and eventually to all of the Western world. Afrobeat craze sent Fela Kuti & The Afrika/Egypt 70 to the US, UK, France, Germany and massive festival appearances all over Europe. To this day there remains a huge appetite for afrobeat and its legacy, epitomised in the figures of Femi and Seun Kuti (the latter of whom still performs globally with the Egypt 80), the annual Felabration, contemporary afrobeat ensembles such as Antibalas, Newen Afrobeat and London Afrobeat Collective, and the ever increasing value of original Fela pressings globally, from San Francisco to St. Petersburg. Here’s a rundown of some of our favourite afrobeat tunes::

16: Fela Kuti – ‘Lady’

The moment where afrobeat came into its own to become the musical force that captivated hearts and minds across the world. Deep, dark and raw, ‘Lady’ is the epitome of Fela Kuti’s uncompromising call to arms for Africa to resist the excesses of Western pomp. A cornerstone in the musical development of afrobeat and one of the best instances of Fela’s enigmatic sermonising that has and will invite controversy from everyone from the Nigerian military to today’s misguided social justice fighters.

17: Segun Okeji – ‘I Like Woman’

Can’t really put it better than this video description: ‘” … Afro Super-Feelings led by Segun Okeji: Afro Super-Feelings (Comet/Awoko : 197? – r: 2001: Soul Patrol)

Good goddamn. Who is Segun Okeji and why is nobody talking about him? “I Like Woman”, is a funky, mid-tempo slow-burner in the Fela mold. It’s led by Okeji’s wandering sax– and, based on these horn arrangements, I suspect Okeji took a lot of his inspiration from the king of Afrobeat. Fela is good company to keep though, and Okeji’s take on Afrobeat is symphonic in scope and marvelously kinetic….”

18: Shango Dance Band – ‘Women Are Great’

As you might have noticed, female admiration is strong within the afrobeat sphere. The Shango Dance Band (Shango meaning ‘thunder’ in Yoruba) was formed by Ojo Okeji, previously the bass player in Fela’s Koola Lobitos, during his time in the Nigerian military. Their one-off and incredibly rare 1974 record has recently been unearthed by Comb & Razor with the thunderous afrobeat heavyweight ‘Women Are Great’. Check it…

19: Fela Kuti – ‘Shakara’

A classic from Fela in his signature slow-burner style. Let the flames of brass power and Tony Allen’s dense rhythms engulf you.

20: Fela Kuti – ‘Beasts of No Nation’

Or, if Shakara ends too soon, check out ‘Beasts Of No Nation’. At half an hour long, Beasts of No Nation embodies the spiritual obedience that Fela could evoke in his audience:

21: Vis-A-Vis – ‘Obi Agye Me Dofo’

Ghanian band bringing synthesizer elements into the traditional afrobeat sound- a prototype for the more electronic direction we’ll explore in the next section.

Pg. 2 – psychedelia –>

An introduction to the music of West Africa, pt. 1

Contrary to popular perception, the music of West Africa is anything but insular. Being on the North-Westerly Atlantic coast of the continent and thus integral to trading since the sixteenth century, West Africa has played host to a fusion of indigenous styles, French, British and Portuguese instruments, as well as ‘returning’ hybrid styles from the USA, Caribbean and South America. All this plays a part in an incredibly rich musical heritage that is often overlooked, or simply not acknowledged.

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European trade, conquest and colonialism brought instruments and styles to important Atlantic ports like Dakar, Bissau, Freetown and Accra; a returning New World diaspora, mainly descendants of slaves, brought already hybrid musical styles for further experimentation in their home countries; early 20th century Cuban and Caribbean influences were ubiquitous in the Atlantic coastal stretch from Senegal to Cameroon, diffusing inland and providing a framework for the incorporation of American styles such as funk and disco in the latter half of the century.

Some 36 million people scattered across 18 different states share in this musical heritage, with a large degree of fluidity within and between regions such as Ghana, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire, for example, or Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia, allowing for the use of the term ‘West African music’ to encompass the musical culture of this vast geographical region.

Instead of trying to pinpoint an essence or vein that runs through the entire region, we’ve opted to give 45 amazing songs that give a good representation of the massive musical spectrum in this part of the world. From delicate palmwine jeremiads to psychedelic funk and dancefloor disco heat, from Cabo Verde to Cameroon, we aim to give you an overview the sounds of West Africa in the 20th century. Here’s part one of 45turns introduction to the music of West Africa.

Palmwine & Highlife

Although influenced by European styles, palmwine and highlife are among the most traditional of West African styles that we have recorded evidence of. Originally played on Portuguese guitars brought into the Atlantic ports of Liberia, palmwine music was performed out in the street, often with makeshift instruments – whatever you could get your hands on – and was used as a form of social commentary and complaint, generally revolving around a lush, sweeping guitar.  Check out Kwaa Mensah’s ‘Kalabule’ and ‘Obra Ye Ku’ for some classic palmwine . Sunday evening hangover music.

1: Kwaa Mensah – ‘Kalabule’

2: Kwaa Mensah – ‘Obra Ye Ku’

Highlife in the 20th century (it’s important to distinguish this from the highly commercial sound of contemporary ‘highlife’) has more to do with jazz and Afro-Cuban music from across the Atlantic. It began in Ghana in the 1930s as a reserve of the affluent local elite who would watch bands play indigenous styles with Western instruments, eventually nicknamed highlife as a tongue-in-cheek jibe from the poorer folk who couldn’t afford the entrance fee to the clubs.

By the late 1950s highlife had spread to become the dominant form of popular music in coastal West Africa, from The Gambia to Nigeria. Here’s our pick of great highlife tracks:

3: S. E. Rogie – ‘Twist with the Morningstars’

Rockabilly-crossed highlife (!) with a calypso vibe from Sierra Leonean legend S. E. Rogie and his band, The Morningstars.

4: Dr. K. Gyasi & His Noble Kings – ‘Nye Mani Kan’

Ghanian highlife from Dr. K. Gyasi & His Noble Kings. Note the brass section, organ underpinnings and bluesy feel on this that nod to the conventions of mid-20th century US jazz.

 

5: Fela Ransome Kuti & His Kola Labitos – ‘It’s Highlife Time’

Here’s future afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti in his early days leading a highlife band. Fela’s highlife incorporated a seriously Latin jazz feel- we’ll hear more of this Afro-Latin crossover below.

Afro-Latin

The diaspora of West Africans in the New World – as slaves, indentured workers, explorers or even slavers themselves – engaged in processes of cross-cultural exchange for hundreds of years. Afro-Cuban music, for example, was a composite of Spanish traditional styles – which had in turn been influenced by Moorish musical traditions from North West and East Africa – and indigenous West African rhythms played by forcibly displaced slave populations in Cuba; in this sense, Afro-Cuban is a music that takes influence from each corner of the Saharan desert.

6: Orchestre du Bawobab – ‘Thiely’

As well as customs, languages and foods, freed slaves returning to West Africa brought new musical instruments and ways of playing. In this way, Afro-Latin music and its associate styles could be further developed within West Africa, giving birth to a whole range of new styles and possibilities. A characteristic feature of the Afro-Latin music brought back by the diaspora was the introduction of a brass section which could work with indigenous rhythms- thus the type of highlife music that Fela Kuti was experimenting with on his 1965 debut album. As you’ll see, lots of the music on this list call heavily on Afro-Latin styles.

7: Orchestre Laye Thiam – ‘Kokorico’

As an important destination in the material and cultural exchange between Cuba and Africa, Senegal was a hotbed for the development of Afro-Latin music within Africa. Kokorico is an Afro-Cuban gem from Senegal’s capital on the Atlantic coast, Dakar.

8: Val “Xalino” Silva – ‘Danca Danca T’Manche’

A much later example of Afro-Latin musical crossover. ‘Danca Danca T’Manche’ sings the indigenous Cabo Verdean funaná style in Portuguese and injects it with a heavy dose of the synthesizer sounds that were prevalent within the musical culture of the Cabo Verde islands by the 1980s. Head on to page 4 for some West African reggae, and a selection of tracks from Mali.

Reggae

Reggae sounds from Jamaica resonated strongly with West African musicians . It’s particularly popular today in The Gambia, where they like to call themselves true and faithful rastas.

9: Chief Checker – ‘Impossibilities’

The deepest track from a 1980s reggae album recorded in London by Nigerian musician Chief Checker. Big in Japan.

10: Theadora Ifudu – ‘Hello There!’

Reggae disco soul crossover from Nigeria. A treasure trove for samples.

Mali

Mali is one of the biggest countries in West Africa and home to a plethora of national styles. The prevalence of the French language here has been instrumental (pardon the pun) in opening up ‘world’ music to an international audience.

11: Oumou Sangaré – ‘Ah Ndiya’

Oumou Sangaré from Mali with the Ah Ndiya, performed in the highly traditional and largely female-only Malian folk style called Wassoulou. A music that, like palmwine, also performs an important social function.

12: Ali Farka Touré – ‘Al Du’

A folky number from Mali by the spearhead of ‘world’ music, Ali Farka Touré. Dig the African blues.

13: Fatoumata Diawara Fatour – ‘Sowa’

Another Wassoulou tune performed with a more contemporary café pop twist.

14: Salif Keita – ‘Madan’

Salif Keita, another Malian pop sensation.

15: Youssou N’Dour – ‘Médina’

Here’s Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour with Médina, a nostalgic ode to the district in Dakar where he grew up.


If you enjoyed part 1 of this introduction to West African music, please let us know or 45turns on Facebook (click here or use the sidebar to the left). In the meantime, enjoy the music. You can find part 2 below, where we go through the raucous sounds of afrobeat and psychedelia that took the Western world by storm.

An introduction to the music of West Africa, pt. 2: afrobeat & psychedelia

Sun Palace & Quadrant 77 – Sexx It Up [Downtown 304 US]

A 35-year in the making collaboration from Sun Palace, veritable legends of New York hotspots like The Loft and Paradise Garage, and Quadrant 77 aka James Reeno. Press release calls it ‘an early adventure in organic/electronic jamming fusion’. I call it blissed-out keys, stunning mazes of percussion and Larry Heard-esque synthesizer arpeggios. Like messing around with a drum machine, loop pedal and DIY mixer while your mates roll off the funk business on their strings.

 

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This new Sun Palace & Quadrant 77 is an essential release for the chiller variety of disco heads, perfect music for warming up, cooling off, sunrise or vice.
Sexx It Up comes on digital or on a sleek black 12″ disk via Bandcamp. Limited to 300 copies- pick it up now to glide into 2018 like its 1983. 

45turns top 10 LPs of 2017

2017 was an incredibly exciting year for music of the breezier, analogue quality that you’ll find on 45turns. So, in no particular order, here’s a rundown of my top 10 long players (plus a guest appearance from a 2016 repress) released on vinyl last year.

Lovin’ Mighty Fire

A hand-vetted selection of lost and exciting funk, soul and disco gems from 1970s Japan. The whole package is a roller-coaster double LP starting with the inimitable Haruomi Hanso. Ride the golden tones of these exquisite Japanese recordings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tornado Wallace – Lonely Planet 

A whirpool voyage into rainforest simulation textures and stunning balearic arrangements, Melbourne’s Tornado Wallace outdid himself with his hotly anticipated debut full-length.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outro Tempo: Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992

In 2017 Outro Tempo caused a stir amongst globally-minded music lovers, not least because it shook the perception of what ‘world’ music could be. Outro Tempo explores a period of intense creativity and innovation in Brazilian music, where analogue synthesizers and drum machines met with traditional instruments and oftentimes usurped them completely. These songs range from harsh and eerie to beautiful and ethereal, and are extremely deep. See 6am Ibiza moment ‘Kiuá’ for reference:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Joâo Selva – Natureza

The second Brazilian input on this list comes from French-based Joâo Selva, whose debut LP Natureza recalls another golden age of Brazilian music. Superb crooner sensibilities and craftsmanship meet with energetic Bossa and MPB – in a heritage passed down from the likes of Marcos Valle – and fresh & spicy production courtesy of Bruno Patchworks. Lush and evocative, this is an essential release from an artist poised to make big moves in 2018.

Akwaba Abidjan (Afrofunk in 1970’s Ivory Coast) 

The Côte D’Ivoire is a country whose musical output is often overshadowed by the likes of neighbouring Ghana and not-so-distant Nigeria. Oriki Music went some ways towards changing this last year when they brought out Akwaba Abidjan, a double LP collection of banging afro grooves from Côte D’Ivoire in the 70s. These recordings in their raucousness and imperfection offer up a glimpse of musicians experimenting candidly with new Western funky styles that is often lost in the overproduction of a Manu Dibango or Ali Farka Toure. More early Ebo Taylor than latter-day Fela Kuti, Akwaba Abidjan is a somewhat psychedelic romp through some of the enticing sounds of the Ivory Coast funky heritage. Check out ‘Secret Populaire’ at 13:16:

Crown Ruler Sound [STKLP 002]

From grooving afrodisco to sweet analogue swept balearia, Crown Ruler Sound compiled by Spacetalk’s Jeremy Spellacey probably takes the cake for compilation of the year. Each and every tune is a certified killer and most are rare as rocking horse shit. 7″s of these songs you will not get, but Crown Ruler Sound you just might.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beach Diggin’, Vol. 5

The final instalment of the highly respected Beach Diggin’ series slipped into 2017 at the last minute and nearly took the crown. I often wonder if there’ll be any music left to find once Guts & Mambo have completed their seemingly indefinite quest to travel the furthest-slung corners and sandiest beaches of the world for that sweet musical loot. Beach Diggin’ 5 was no exception to the consistently solid and starry-eyed selections we’ve come to expect from the series that always gets everyone excited. From Japanese jazz-funk soundscape ‘LA Nights’ To the incredibly moving closer, a blue latin jazz jam by Synchro Rhythmic Eclectic Language, Beach Diggin’ 5 delivered everything we’ve come to expect and more. Belter.

 

 

 

2017 ultimate beach party anthem, ‘Femmes Pays Douces’:

 

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

The coolest kids in New York came back and played some shows and made an album and all of it was a fantastic twisted variation on how everybody dreamt it would be. American Dream is the notable exception on this list in that it topped the US Billboard album charts. This says a lot about the group that made it: an album so steeped in ambient soundscapes and esoteric musical references and so foreign to the mainstream consumer can only top the American charts if everybody who knows even a little bit about good music turns around and says ‘I need to hear what this band brought out’. Maybe it was James Murphy’s master song-smith skills that did the trick. Or maybe LCD Soundsystem are one of those groups whose passion, ability and dedication to good music is strong enough to break down the walls in a musical climate failed by clickbait attention spans and synthetic cut-out dolls. American Dream is an album with a cover so bad you wouldn’t look twice at it if you keep your ‘favourite’ records on display because you’re part of the vinyl revolution, man. It’s an album that keeps the early 2000s New York effortless cool alive in the process of accidentally killing it off. It’s a killer and a dream that sounds like a 1980s nightmare, and I never thought it’d happen.

Maajo – Maajo

Disclaimer: Maajo first came out in October 2016, but I couldn’t grab hold of it until the reissue and it has, in lots of ways, embodied 2017 more than any other record.

Finnish group Maajo appeared out of nowhere and blew me away with their absolutely unique debut LP that gives West African stylings a huge dose of downtempo deepness and psychedelic, starry-eyed balearia. It’s like the Tony Allen and Andrew Weatherall collaboration that was so out there you didn’t even dream about it. There’s not much I can say about this record other than that it’s beautiful, immersive and cathartic, an epic tale of rainforest romance tinged with melancholy and told only through the medium of sound.

Harvey Sutherland and Bermuda – Expectations

Australian-born Mike Katz dropped this record under his Harvey Sutherland moniker back in March, just as the weather got a bit nicer and spring started to bud. Expectations is an analogue nu-disco record not only in the equipment used (mmm, Rhodes), but in that Sutherland’s band Bermuda do all the drums, synth work and bass completely live. I saw them do it on a sunny day at Glastonbury. Expectations whirs and purrs it’s way through six earthy tunes that straddle funk, soul, jazz and nu-disco influences.

 

 

 

 

Forward: 20 Years Rainy City Music 1996-2016

Rainy City Music is one of British dance music’s unsung heroes, as far as consistently different, home-grown labels go. Deepish house and Detroit influenced 12″s through the 90s and 00s have been as excellent as they have elusive- as it goes. In 2017, the label brought together eight unreleased tracks from the two decades of their existence for Forward: 20 Years Rainy City Music. From the hard sociopolitical assertions of opener ‘Detroit Is Black’ you’d never expect to find yourself in the mellow swing jazz terrain of ‘Butterfly’ that teeters on the type of UK broken beat popular in the 90s. The highlight, though, is the gorgeous closer ‘Lighter Shades of Blue’ – deep city diving at its finest.

 

 

As you might have noticed, the slight majority of the records on this best of 2017 list are from periods in the past; roughly, the late 1960s to the late 1980s. I’m inclined to argue that rather than painting a sorry picture of music in 2017, this fact represents something that we’re seeing more and more from the entire musical community. Young electronic producers are looking to the past not only for inspiration but for direct sampling – the sheer volume of 70s disco edits coming out on a monthly basis is testament to this. The so-called ‘vinyl revolution’ has facilitated a renewed interest in record shops and, by extension, the physical engagement of a younger crowd with a variety of rich musical heritages. At the same time, small and independent labels looking to snatch a share of the market from big-muscle companies churning out valueless reissues like dog food have looked to hidden corners and outermost precipices of the globe for ‘old’ new content. While the renewed surge of interest in vinyl might not be benefitting the people on the ground as much as it should do, it has by the same token prompted extraordinary feats of digging prowess and the presentation of a vast body of previously overlooked music to a growing vinyl crowd. With all this in mind, despite the lack of ‘new new’ releases on this list, we can see it as the endorsement of a different kind of musical discovery that, if anything, bodes nothing but good for the year to come. I’m definitely excited.


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Ezra Collective – Juan Pablo: The Philosopher

Having already broken into the local jazz consciousness with last year’s Chapter 7 EP and the Sun-Ra informed Space Is the Place single, London five-piece Ezra Collective have dropped their anticipated Juan Pablo: The Philosopher EP, a heady collection of new wave jazz tunes.

Ezra Collective are a good emblem for the revitalised London jazz scene that has become highly conscious of the interplay between the roots that soul and hip-hop have in jazz, including the late 2000s broken beat scene and the rediscovered (for the second time since the early 2000s) West African funky heritage.

The EP opens with a sunny, psychedelic keyboard trill that composes itself and morphs into the afrobeat-style brass refrain that forms the centrepiece of opening track ‘Juan Pablo’. It continues throughout its blissful 23 minutes with a full-throttled dissemination of funk, atmospheric disco-esque rhythm and late night post-bop.

The dynamism and craftsmanship on display here speak for an inner love of rhythm and jazz that’s been lacking in a scene saturated by real book purists and faux-pas cocktail bars. Juan Pablo: The Philosopher is bold, colourful and, dare I say, breakthrough: it’s something to get excited about. Ezra Collective are sure to be a solid reference point in UK jazz for the years to come.

You can get Juan Pablo: The Philosopher on Bandcamp. 45turns tip: keep an eye out for a repress before the end of the year. 


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Bruxas – Más Profundo [DKMNTL049]

I tried to catch Bruxas’ Más Profundo when it first came out in June, but it had already eluded me. This week, Dekmantel have pressed another batch of this transatlantic gem, a balearic Lusophone disco hybrid that is already going down as one of the best releases of the year.

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Title track Más Profundo recalls Ibiza beach whispers in sultry Portuguese female vox reels. This track, like the rest of the EP, manages to build itself around balearic sensibilities without ever dropping the tempo. Tropical birds perch on synthesisers; nature floats by in 4/4 time.  Sizzling, swirling and psychedelic, by the time it fades out, you wish it could go on forever.

Luckily, Tropicaçovas kicks it up a notch with the filthiest rhythm section this side of Bahia. Bruxas marry these traditional elements of Lusophone dance music with classic disco-era keys and arpeggiators to dazzling effect.

On the flip, Selva Cósmica stomps and trips along under Baldelli-style synthscapes, whisking you to the darkest of leaf-strewn Amazonian hideaways. Finally, Plantas Falsas digs into a cunning nu-disco workout as the sun drops low.

In 25 minutes of fuzzy balearic disco bliss, ‘Más Profundo’ sums up the entire 45turns ethos. An essential of 2017.

You can pick up ‘Más Profundo’ on 12″ vinyl at Dekmantel. Also like 45turns on Facebook for tons more next-level wax.