Orlando Julius – SUPER AFRO SOUL.

I dropped some bucks on this album quite some time ago and went into the whole listening experience with some extremely narrow expectations based solely on the album’s title, the cover and a picture of Orlando Julius sitting with James Brown on the inside. Upon first listen, I found myself disappointed due to my perceived the lack of “soul” in the music. The James Brown threw me off.

Jagua Nana – Orlando Julius & His Modern Aces

Ise Owo – Orlando Julius and His Modern Aces

This album immediately registers more as Afrobeat than any form of soul on my radar. I have to confess that my World Music cache is quite unimpressive. To be perfect honest, besides the random gems/jams in my catalogue, the only African musician that I am really familiar with is Fela Kuti. With that in mind I thought it might be helpful for me to use Kuti as a comparison specimen until I began to deconstruct what I was actually listening to and realized that I was being too literal for my own enjoyment.

My ear looks to recognize genre from an American perspective and I think I sometimes miss the nuances and just focus on the traditional, polyrhythmic percussion whose roots are traced back to West Africa. This album was released in 1966 in Lagos, Nigeria five years after both Nigeria and Ghana were granted their independence from Britain. Literally, what you’re hearing is liberation music but technically what you are hearing is the lovechild of two different influences.

The first is a branch of Nigerian music called Highlife, supposedly West Africa’s first popular music genre. This genre is most identifiable by it’s guitar-based sound that Africanizes the European-influenced society bands and military marching bands. The next influence comes from the traditional worship music which incorporated ‘kokoma’ beats. An anecdote about Orlando Julius paints him following priests and worshippers around to their performances to observe and later mimic their music.

In 1964, Julius formed the Modern Aces and released their first single “Jagua Nana” the following year. When the soul from the States began invading the airwaves acts like Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding and the rosters of influential labels like Motown, Atlantic and Stax began being incorporated into Julius’ sound.

Overall, it’s an interesting listen with mild echoes of recognizable elements of American soul music but is obviously more closely linked with more traditional West African sounds. Definitely worth a listen.

Better Than Gold.

I was misinformed. I knew Santogold was good, but I didn’t realize how good she was. I sat down with a friend yesterday and listened to the entire album the whole way through. It was a satisfying geek session to a degree I haven’t had the delight in engaging in for far too long.  It’s so cheesy to say, but I think a lot of people who view music as sustenance not just entertainment, distraction or pleasure have needed Santogold to make this album. I did, anyway. 

[BUY THIS ALBUM]

At first listen, it transcends the suffocation of direct classification by being a cohesive compilation of her musical capabilities. She offers eleven fully-actualized songs that really display her ability as a craftsman and her loyalty as a music lover. The key is subtlety and precision. She writes songs that have texture and range that combine key elements that betray her as a songwriter with the passion to mold a niche into an expertise full of technique.

For people who are only [or mostly] familiar with Santogold from the tracks on her myspace and the few Stiffed tracks floating around here and there [refer back to “I Believe. I Do.“], her album falls somewhere between the two extremes and everywhere in the outlying areas as well. She hyperspeeds through eras and genres with grace and respect, giving notable nods to classic acts, beloved tones and timeless approaches to melding melody by bending them all to her likeness.

It’s reminiscent of what I originally understood it to mean to be called “indie.” When I was first introduced to the genre, it was classified as such based on its difficulty to classify it as much else. Because rock ‘n’ roll borrowed it’s basic structure from rhythm and blues and a lot of indie music was deviating from the structure of rock ‘n’ roll it became this huge gray area for a lot of musicians to play in. 

Some tracks like “Lights Out” remind me of The Breeders. “My Superman” reminded my friend of Siouxsie and the Banshees. “Unstoppable” is a grimy dubfest with sparce percussion and thinly stacked vocals. There’s even a track that’s almost a mix of Bow Wow Wow, The B-52s and another era-specific sound I can’t identify after rifling through my sonic rolodex.

The bottom line is that this woman knows what she’s doing and does it well. Besides The Roots, I think Santo’s album is the first that I’d genuinely be interested in hearing the songs that didn’t make it on the final pressing. Her album is an occasion, a reason to sit down, listen and appreciate one of the few music makers who deserves to be the melody floating around in your brain.

Book Worm.

Aaron Copland’s book was first published in 1939 and was aimed towards listeners of American and European Classical music. He makes a lot of references of very specific music pieces by both commonly-heard and obscure composers even going as far as recalling specific movements. If these things don’t bother you or if you can read around them, I think there’s a good amount of music theory that might actually influence the way you listen to music and what you start hearing in it.
The book is broken into chapters, the most important of which beginning with the fourth. Rhythm, melody, harmony and tone color are interesting chapters that introduce the more technical aspects of music-listening like meter, pitch and how notes and harmonies are formed.
I recommend it to anyone who wants a little brain workout. It’s not organic chemistry, but unless you already have a basic understanding of music theory it might make you stop and think for a little bit. If you do want to read something that will really make your brain stretch, I’d go for Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, a book about the intersections of music, art and mathematics.