Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Manu - Global Citizen.

Today the legendary Manu Chao will be playing a free concert in Phoenix, Arizona to publicise the state's anti-immigrant policies; policies that have given Phoenix the soubriquet "Capital of Prejudice". As the citizens of the USA merrily make a bonfire of their hard won rights and liberties, in much the same way as we have been doing in the UK, it behoves us all to pause for a moment and think about it. Currently a Federal judge is the only person preventing the implementation of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 and the imposition of police powers more akin to Syria or East Germany (when it existed).

The Western capitalist system is crashing, the exploitation of the developing world is coming home to roost and the extreme right is on the rise, particularly in the southern states of the USA. Good people need to speak out.

If I was anywhere close I'd be there, eating great food, dancing to brilliant music and partying hard for the good cause this represents.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bambara Mystic Soul

I have a very good friend. His musical taste is impeccable. In fact on many occasions he has introduced me to some blistering rock music that has never crossed my radar. Often we make compilation CDs for each other, laughing at our nerdom and flaunting legality. So last time I thought “here’s a man with taste, he’s going to love this African music”. Weirdly when he thanked me for the compilations he loved the reggae, the disco, the soul but he added “I couldn’t really get my head around the African tracks”. I was stunned. Mind you even my partner murmurs similar thoughts sometimes.

I cannot understand this. Not at all.

For me music, like the human race, originates in Africa. Well the music I like does anyway.

These days I look at a label like Analog Africa in the same way I look at Stax or early Motown, or Young Turks and 4AD. You can trust them. What you hear is always good, and if it doesn’t stroke your palate in the way that thrills it still resonates as interesting music; it makes sense.

Now AA have brought out a new compilation. As usual the boss man Sami Ben Redjeb has scrambled through piles of dusty tapes and archives to find more gems from the 70s, that’s the way he rolls. Then he polishes them up and brings out to all of us. The one thing, though, that continues to perplex me is this; why was the music in this area of the world during the 70s so vital and exhilarating? Was it to do with the early days of independence, before cynicism and sadness kicked in with the corruption that took hold with many of those early political elites?

Whatever it was I wish some of the British bands today could drink deeply from its cup of knowledge.

If you’re wondering where Burkina Faso is, it’s here in a pretty dry part of the world. Yet this corner of the world has brought forth some rich interdependent music where Afro-funk, Afrobeat, Islamic tradition and European sound has been mixed up and represented to us. Wherever you look the music speaks and with the appearance of those crazy Cubans during the Cold War a whole other musical flavour got added to the mix. Mmmmmmmm.

The compilation features Amadou Ballaké heavily, which is understandable given his ubiquitous talents. He appears with l’Orchestre Super Volta and Les 5 Consuls on tracks like Johnny and Baden Djougou, these tracks possess a sense of place to them, the spidery, mesmeric twisting figures with a vocal style that conjours up images of a dry, hot horizon. One of my personal favourites is Mamo Lagbema’s Love, Music and Dance. It has this urgency to it, echoes of the kind of music Kool and the Gang were doing around Spirit of the Boogie or The Chambers Brothers.

Compaore Issouf is another favourite. A scorching groove, almost Farfisa figures and this semi-falsetto voice. This wouldn’t have been out of place in some club playing rare groove.

Overall this album nails it. Makes it. I love it but then I’m biased.

Maybe I’ll try running this past my mate one last time.

This track isn't on the album but shit it's good.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Lost My Way

For someone who once made a living being creative the loss of the creative drive can be likened to the loss of vision or some other sense. Where once lyrics or phrases fell into the consciousness like falling leaves in autumn the mind now resembles the blasted, barren landscape of winter. No birds singing except for the crass snarl of the crow, almost mocking me across this waste land; everything seems pared back to the barest essentials. There is no fat of the land and we live in drought and fear.

I have spent so many nights trying to work out how I arrived in this place. All the obvious reasons seem just that; obvious. Made redundant in 2008 after a decade of the warm embrace of office life, of the to and fro of humour and the ebb and flow of friendships the idea that going back to a singular life did not seem so daunting. But those ten years had caused a shift. Writing had been for specific subjects, the safe cocoon of salary that meant never really calculating hard decisions; these had all been good in some ways but had led to an atrophying of the artist’s feral sense of survival.

I have always walked on the sunlit side of most streets, or at least tried to. As life gathered it dust around me, like a real life Peanuts Pigpen, your light steps become heavier somehow, but the things that are supposed to drag our feet, children and marriage, have brought me nothing but a lightening of the spirit. It is the loss of creativity that weighs heaviest. It erodes away gradually as the weariness of non-recognition starts to grind. In many respects I was lucky, luckier than many, but the late realisation that these companies and corporations that hold and control your copyrights were not prepared to do anything to actually exploit them to your advantage came to late for that burst of desire, of need to express myself through words and music. I found myself emoting into a void.

The release of writing about something tangible was initially wonderful. But like most pleasures in life after a while it dulls the senses and one moves from the joy of the new into the comfort of the mundane. Music played all the time but after a time one couldn’t really differentiate between the good and the merely OK and music became almost wallpaper, after being my all in all. Then nothing.

At first I assumed that finding some form of paid employment would not be too difficult, after all I’d made so many contacts at the magazine, all the PR companies wanted my attention, offered me lunch, invited me places. I’d forgotten this was the music business, I don’t mean that pejoratively, but we live in an ephemeral world where friendships are based upon gain and advancement. Too often the naïve think they are really making some actually bond with another person only to discover that this all evaporates in the heat of departure from the metaphorical stage. You are as popular as your last gig, song, by-line or review. That’s just the way it is (as Bruce Hornsby said).

But the silence and the humiliation of dealing with a benefits system designed to belittle and ignore scrapes another level of thought from your mind; the level that filters vocabulary into lines or sentences. There are moments when you think that the political class is talking about you when they redirect the public’s fear and loathing from this week’s scapegoat to the disabled and sick. The righteous political anger that fed a young band’s output turns inwards and thickens the spirit. All you can do is wait for it to pass.

Finally things start to lighten but what damage has been done? People look at you differently and somehow I feel different. I’ve been asked so many times in the last couple of years to become involved in things of a creative nature but the spirit has been weak. Now the time to start fighting back has arrived. To become involved politically, to find the words of songs and pluck them from the air and to rediscover music, to write again with the freedom of expression that you only have when you have nothing. People died and some of me went with them.

It’s time to rebuild.