Wednesday, 21 October 2020

FRANCO & T.P.O.K. JAZZ - Salima

 (JS)

Fran├žois Luambo Luanzo Makiadi and his band TPOK Jazz released this song in 1975. This is from his mid period, having started playing guitar in 1955 and continuing until 1989. According to his biographer he produced over 80 albums and he is credited with inventing the Congolese Rumba which this is a classic example. In the West music is structured around the pattern of the bass and drum parts, with guitar offering rhythmic emphasis and melodic counterpoint. Rumba reverses this. The guitars form the bed of generally a two part piece, a slower toast followed by a faster section. Drum, brass and vocals are the leaves on the tree of the trunk of the guitar. In the last section of the piece the guitar master syncopates a surprise melody  within the structure imposed by the companion guitarist. I encountered Franco initially on the recommendation of Rise Kagona of the Bhundu Boys who explained to me after a gig he had performed in Whalley Bridge Civic Hall, that if a white man was ever going to understand African Music I should seek out the music of Franco. I initially couldn’t get past my colonialist processing and interpreted the music as backing music from a James Bond Carribean adventure. Youtube allowed me to deepen my exposure. The song is about a woman called Salima but also a celebration of Franco poaching a rival guitarist from the band Afrisa who were beginning to eat into Franco’s sales. This song was written by Michelino Mavatiku Visi ( the one with the big Afro). He performs the first solo and Franco performs the second. The three part vocal harmony is traditional and was performed by Josky KiambukutaNdombe Opetum and Wuta Mayi. The music is always interesting and the guitar rhythm is difficult to imitate because it leads the song. Music should offer the listener a familiar territory and a surprise and Congolese rumba reminds us it always important to listen to the end even if it is just to see who comes to the party and we discover what wonders they bring.


(MS)

 

Africa speaks and I listen. This band hit a very intoxicating groove on this tune, which actually seems a lot shorter than it’s 9 mins or so. The repetitive guitar picking floods into the sub-conscious and the choral vocals immerse you trance-like. It’s a big band sound with trumpet fills familiar across the musical diaspora, I hear the Caribbean, I hear Gilberto Gil’s Bahia tropicalia, there’s a lot of Mexicana in those horns too, almost Herb Alpert tooting away on the Andy Williams Show at times. The little saxophone fills remind me of Sonny Rollins calypso “St Thomas”. Overall it’s a fairly easy listening experience (not a bad thing I hasten to add) but the guitar picking keeps it interesting. On the live version I love the descending riff at 8.05 which makes me think they’re about to tackle “Corn Rigs” from the opening Wicker Man credits. I admit I find it more exotic than essential and would need to study the genre a little more to really appreciate what I’m actually listening to. I mean is this a good example of this music  or a very good example? Repeated listens reveal the layers and changes but ultimately my immersion into the ambience doesn’t pull too hard on my obsessively Western-centred thoughts.

 

(CG)

Franco, or to give him his full name, Fran├žois Luambo Makiadi, was one of the giants of African music creating a brand of Zairean (the nation known as Zaire between 1971-1997 but now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) music which conquered the continent and then captivated the remainder of the world. Franco, born in 1938, started out as a local musician at 15 years old in what is now Kinshasa, the capital of the nation. In 1956 he became part of the O K Orchestra, transforming into Franco and the OK orchestra and then adding the additional initials T P Tout Puissant (all powerful) to the O K as its profile massively expanded. It was one of a handful of new innovative bands drawing on musical forms that had travelled to the new world and back multiple times throughout the twentieth century. Rumba music with its Afro Cuban roots had become very popular in the USA and South America from the 1930s onwards and this form was taken up as part of the insurgent modernism of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This accompanied the approach of decolonisation from the long and heavy history of Belgian occupation, firstly as a fiefdom of Emperor Leopald II known as the Congo Free state and then in 1908 taken over by the Belgian nation state in order to mitigate, but not desist, the massive and brutal extraction of resources, including rubber, from the Free State. This extraction led to the genocide of local populations to such a scale that even other European colonial governments considered the Free State of the Congo to compromise the entire colonial project.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the rumba as a joyous global form that drew on Africa and the new world was taken up and developed within Congo contexts as an innovative shift in urban music. Indeed it became a popular musical form along the Atlantic coast of Africa from the Congo to Senegal and articulated the new possibilities that the prospect of decolonisation heralded. Moreover it moved away from the musical forms of French and British domination as an alternative  that chimed with the longstanding ideas of Pan-Africanism and the Negritude movement (that emerged in Paris in the 1930s onwards where African and Carribbean intellectuals and artists wrestled with the shared commonalities of colonial domination, discrimination and racism).

The relatively tight melodic structure of the rumba was taken up by Franco and other bands in the DRC but were stretched out, especially in live performance to an appreciative audience in the clubs of Kinshasa. The tight melodic patterns were repeated to generate rhythmic pulses that linked to local traditions and modes of drumming and whose tempo could build up through a song. Counterpoint rhythmic patterns could be woven in to finesse the tune while layered horns added to the mix. As Franco’s profile developed in Kinshasa, they were also sung in local languages with a resurgent confidence. 

It was a new music that heralded the modernity of postcolonial DRC and Kinshasa, although the new nation state emerged with high costs such as the usurpation of its first democratically elected prime minister Patrice Lumumba. Mobutu Seko, commonly known as Mobutu, was the head of staff of the army who took power after having Lumumba executed supported by an intervention by Belgian troops and the UN who were responding to the dictates of the then cold war between the USA and the Soviet Union and seeking to retain political influence over the DRC and its mineral resources. Mobutu held power until 1997 as a dictator organising the DRC as kleptocracy for his personal benefit. Franco as the celebrity musician, who dominated all others, had an ambiguous relationship with Mobutu, offering occasional critiques but also paeans of praise to him in his songs. However many commented on everyday life and its difficulties and struggles for those trying to make a daily living. A celebratory aspect of this was the attention paid in some songs to romance and the joys of the clubs where music featured. Salima is one such classic song by Franco which starts as a conventional rumba in the attention given to the lyrics which seem to determine its progression at the outset. However this transitions to a masterful interlocking of different elements underpinned by the rhythmic melodic patterns of the guitars which play out counterpoints to the main structure with the horns having the last say. A masterpiece!

(PS)

A few bars into this beautiful song and I'm no longer in a small Kent village on an overcast autumn day: I'm on a small boat setting out from Cuba 20-odd years ago, going to a tiny nearby island for the day. Part of our ticket includes fruit, free flowing Havana Club rum and a small band of musicians who play rhumbas for us on the way there and back. It's magical, the close harmony singing melts my heart (probably aided by the copious amounts of rum) and my love for the music is cemented. 

Here the vocals come in and the wonderful close harmonies are there in perfect unison, but of course this being a Congolese rhumba it's not Spanish - I assume it's Lingala? Forgive my ignorance if I'm mistaken. 

There's another difference, the rhythm seems more fluid here: although it's constant, there's less of an accent on the syncopated beat as with the Cuban version, its more of a suggestion and you have to find your own 1,2,3&4. And vocals come in on the 4th or the 2-and-a-halfth beat, so the effortless feel of a flowing current keeps you moving downstream... Left guitar overlapping with right guitar, beautiful clean tones and rolling motifs with the bass just bobbing along softly... 

Then the tempo seems to change from a strolling 4/4 to a much more upbeat 2/4, although the bass hardly wavers - this feels to me more like a Cuban rhumba for the rest of the song. Now it reminds me of the open air nightclub we went to down the road from our hotel, where beautiful, elastic-spined locals twirled each other with ease while we sunburnt stiffs looked on in envy and soused our egos with endless rum. Glorious


Wednesday, 7 October 2020

GLORIA ANN TAYLOR - Love is a Hurtin' Thing

 (CG)

For many years long after its release in 1971 and subsequent mix in 1976 for the rare groove scene, this was a tune coveted by many who paid highly to acquire it on vinyl. It was initially the first release of the Selector label set up 1971 by Gloria Ann Taylor, her producer husband Walter Whisenhunt, and her younger brother Leonard as vehicle for Taylor’s songs. Love is a Hurtin’ Thing had been a hit for Lou Rawls but the trio stamped a distinctive style on their version with a complex mix of sounds from smouldering gospel R&B vocals to a Spector influenced layered approach to tune-making, incorporating orchestral strings that echoed the Philly soul sound and soul imbued psychedelic guitar work. However its production was more complex and adventurous than this characterisation. As Andrew Jervis points out in his liner notes for the recent release of the album (Love is a Hurtin’Thing, Ubiquity Records 2015), Taylor and the band played live, where encouraged by Whisenhunt, they would jam improvisations during the performances. Extensive time was then spent in the studio with the musicians brought together by Whisenhunt (who had worked with James Brown, Bootsy Collins and notable Motown acts and other session musicians) often reworking the same songs across a recording session and incorporating variations developed from the live performances. These different cuts were dubbed together in creative and original mixes to produce the final recording with the  vocals layerd at the last moment.



Gloria Ann Taylor had grown up in Toledo and sang in churches in the nineteen fifties from childhood onwards along with her brother Leonard (who developed as a musician, song-writer and producer) and performed with two gospel ensembles. In 1966 she left church music to sing R&B in Toledo clubs where she garnered an enthusiastic local following. It was here that she was introduced to Whisenhunt and they started to collaborate musically. Among her early releases was You Gotta Pay the Price which gained a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal performance in 1970 and won that year by Aretha Franklin for Chain of Fools which highlights Taylor’s vocal peers. In the 1970’s Columbia took her up but did not promote her enough to advance her career and Whisenhunt ended the contract prematurely. As the marriage fizzled out Whisenhunt released in 1976 the EP with three tracks Deep in Your Eyes, What’s Your World and Love is a Hurtin’ Thing extended and remixed. Love is a Hurtin Thing in this extended version has overdubbed drumming and mixes in, or perhaps more accurately blends in, other Taylor tunes with panache and creative flair. This EP was released in small quantities due to a lack of funds which reduced its impact but with time became one of the stand-out rare groove records, celebrated both for its musical originality and scarcity

Discouraged perhaps by the initial nearness of success and then it’s recession by the mid nineteen seventies, as well as the breakup of her marriage, Taylor withdrew from the professional music scene to solely sing in church. But Love is a Hurtin’ Thing and her other notable tunes, such as Deep Eyes, What’s Your World, and even a cover version of Dolly Patton’s Jolene, compare favourably with far more famous R&B and soul vocalists and her distinctive vocals underpinned by dynamic tunes and innovative production have an originality and brio that asserts a unique creative perspective, perhaps engendered by the collective collaboration with her then husband and brother as well as participating musicians (Ed.That’s a long sentence). Her records and Love is a Hurtin’ Thing in either version are well worth a listen for soulful classic yet innovative takes on R&B that, despite lack of recognition, has stood the test of time and stand out.

Ref.Andrew Jervis, liner notes, Love is a Hurtin’Thing, Ubiquity Records 2015.

(JS)

For every little kiss there's a little teardrop

For every single thrill there's another heartache

The road is rough

The going gets tough

Love is a hurtin' thing

Oh, love is a hurtin' thing

When you're in my arms I'm a king on a throne

But when we're apart I walk the streets alone

One day happiness

The next day, loneliness

When love brings so much joy why must it bring such pain

Guess it's a mystery that nobody can explain

Maybe I'm a fool to keep on loving you

'Cause there may come a time you'll break my heart in two

But I want you so

I want you though I know that

Love is a hurtin' thing

Oh, love is a hurtin' thing

Cover of soul standard by Gloria Anne Taylor and Husband producer Walt Whisenhunt. Released in 1973 to a different audience. Taylor, touted as another Aretha Franklin, clearly has strong gospel roots in her lyrical delivery and singing style. Walt Whisenhunt clearly has other influences. Having discovered Gloria, he proceeded to marry and move her to California whereby her career stalled by 1977. The intrusive psych guitar wig out which introduces the song is recorded at a louder level than the vocal. The verse remains sweet, but the chorus gets buried in the mix and the song ends with another guitar excursions to somewhere west coast. When compared to the original the song doesn’t really make sense any more. The individual parts are all there but they don’t belong together. Music’s loss was the Ohio chicken industry’s gain. Taylor saw a brief revival in 2010 during the vinyl mining boom.

(MS)

This is a stunner. It takes me back to those sweaty nights at “The Twisted WheeI” that I never had and those long nights on the Piccadilly Station forecourt I had far too often. Missing trains, eating chips, sleeping out. It kicks off like Link Wray getting tangled up in his own strings, then almost immediately Eddie Hazell-like stuff, fresh outta “Maggot Brain” comes bubbling in. In fact I believe Parliafunkster Bootsy Collins is actually on this session. A great session, pretty lo-fi but ambitious too. Was the orchestra in the bathroom and the horns in the wardrobe? Rawls and Axelrod did the original back in 1966 and that’s good but this is something else. (Ed*.Axelrod did a great version with David “Man From Uncle” McCallum on French Horn at the same time.) Listen to those frenzied ejaculations at 1.13 and 1.38 where she lets riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip. It’s 72-73 an interesting time for black music – paradigms shifting – funk morphing towards something

else. Wobbly strings suggesting a veneer of high-heel glitter ball sophistication,, the lank sweaty fringes of the fruggin’ mutton-chop Manc teens suggesting something else. What an ending, with that long guitar coda picking itself  from South Central all the way down Great Ancoats Street, carried home by a chip and curry sauce stagger, pissed and high. There’s a longer 7minute session but for me the 3.23 version is the one. So good it passes in a heartbeat.

*(Ed. But I am the Ed)


 

(PS)

Hmmmmm. 

I hadn't heard of Gloria Taylor before hearing this, and I can sort of see why. A quick spin of her 1969 hit You Got to Pay the Price was welcome - disciplined, catchy, memorable, if unspectacular - but this from a few years later is frankly a bit of a mess. 

It starts with a sprawling bit of sub-Jimi fuzz guitar which has no apparent connection to the orchestration which comes directly after, and I struggled to get a hook on the song at all. It's a bit like an over-complicated soup and you can't work out which is the main ingredient. 

After a couple of minutes one of the singers (can't tell which one) says "oooh can't you feel it?" and before I could answer "not really", a lovely bit of echoey guitar came in to rescue it for me - and then moments later, all the reverb suddenly drops off and it sounds like he's moved out of the hall and into the control room - and I can't tell why the producer would do that, it just detaches him from the rest of the players. Dry guitar solo to fade, a bit more oooh-ing and that's that. 

It's clearly recorded live in a massive room, with dozens of musicians and no apparent overdubs - fair play there - but because the voice is competing with strings, piano, backing vocals and guitar for the same part of the stage, they all get mixed up in the same mush. You can let it all hang loose with fewer people, but the more you bring in, the tighter the rein needs to be. 

Artist and producer should be applauded for attempting to mix different styles together, but a more disciplined and focused approach would have worked better than just chucking it all in and hoping for the best