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Sweet and joyful sounds from the first half of 1960’s Tanzania. Salum Abdallah and Cuban Marimba Band were at the forefront of “muziki wa dansi”, the emerging dance music scene influenced by Cuban 78’s, dance music crazes like the twist and cha cha cha, and the local sounds of their home country. Hailing from the smaller town of Morogoro, they rose to be stars across the country. Out of over 100 sides recorded for local labels, mostly Mzuri Records of Kenya, these twelve songs are the cream of the crop. Only a few of these have ever been re-released in any form, and that hasn’t happened for several years. Lots of toe tappers, smile enhancers, and downright dancers, with a few slower and simpler songs to round it out. Taken from 1961-65, these twelve songs shine a brighter light on an already bright light that was Salum Abdallah, taken away from this earth all too early at the age of 37. The 12 song LP comes in an old style tip-on sleeve with lyrics in Swahili with English translations on the inner sleeve.
Nigerién composer Hama presents a groundbreaking album of traditional electronic desert folk songs, hovering somewhere between early 90s techno and synthwave. Nomadic herding ballads, ancient caravan songs, and ceremonial wedding chants are all re-imagined into pieces seemingly lifted from a Saharan 1980s sci-fi soundtrack or score to a Tuareg video game. With a deep love and respect, Hama effortlessly takes back and re-appropriates fourth-world ethnoambient music.
One of only a handful of electronic musicians in West Africa, Hama a.k.a. Hama Techno follows in the footsteps of avant-garde electronic pioneers like Mamman Sani Abdoulaye, Francis Bebey, and Luka Productions. His debut release was a huge success on the underground mp3 networks of West Africa and was featured in The Wire, Pitchfork, and Rolling Stone. Hama continues with his signature digital folk with an expansion into computer-based compositions. Painstaking crafted on the spotty electric grid in Niamey with earbuds and a hacked copy of FruityLoops, Houmeissa is the result of remarkable passion. Inspired by diverse sounds spanning Tuareg guitar to second wave Detroit Techno, Saharan folk songs are transformed into atemporal works that defy categorization.
Hama builds patterns of varied time signatures and distinct polyrhythms, deconstructing and rebuilding ancient traditions on drag and drop virtual keyboards. Airy sweeping pads evoke the open desert while rumbling dark undertones warn of a coming dust storm. Instrumentals layer looping pentatonic melodies into a blissed-out trance, while soft synths and fake electric guitars cry out a call and response. The effect is charmingly unexpected, as the plastic sounds of early PC music are imbued with a new life. A singularly unique production, Hama's Houmeissa stands to be a future classic and an embodiment of the digital Sahara to come.
A long time coming, “Ilana” is Mdou’s first true studio album with a live band. Recorded in Detroit at the tail end of a US tour by engineer Chris Koltay (the two met after bonding over ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres”), the band lived in the studio for a week, playing into the early hours. Mdou was accompanied by an all-star band: Ahmoudou Madassane’s (Les Filles de Illighadad) lighting fast rhythm guitar, Aboubacar Mazawadje’s machine gun drums, and Michael Coltun’s structured low-end bass. The album was driven by lots of spontaneity – Mdou’s preferred method of creation – jumping into action whenever inspiration struck. The resulting tracks were brought back to Niger to add final production: additional guitar solos, overdubs of traditional percussion, and a general ambiance of Agadez wedding vibes.
The result is Mdou’s most ambitious record to date. “Ilana” takes the tradition laid out by the founders into hyperdrive, pushing Tuareg guitar into an ever louder and blistering direction. In contrast to the polished style of the typical “world music” fare, Mdou trades in unrelenting grit and has no qualms about going full shred. From the spaghetti western licks of “Tarhatazed,” the raw wedding burner “Ilana,” to the atmospheric Julie Cruise-ish ballad “Tumastin,” Mdou’s new album seems at home amongst some of the great seminal Western records. But Mdou disagrees with the classification. Mdou grew up listening to the Tuareg guitar greats, and it was only in the past few years on tour that he was introduced to the genre. “I don’t know what rock is exactly, I have no idea,” he says, I only know how to play in my style.”
Russell fans know something of the Corn sound from Audika’s debut release, Calling Out of Context (2004), which included four songs from these sessions: “The Deer In The Forest Part 1,” “The Platform on the Ocean,” “Calling Out Of Context,” and “I Like You!”
This new collection includes rhythmic alternate versions of “Lucky Cloud,” “Keeping Up,” “See My Brother, He’s Jumping Out (Let’s Go Swimming #2),” “This Is How We Walk on the Moon,” and “Hiding Your Present From You,” along with “Corn,” “Corn (Continued),” “They and Their Friends,” and the closing instrumental “Ocean Movie,” one of the most beautiful and curious Russell tracks ever to see the light of day.
With Corn, Audika reveals yet another side of Russell’s staggeringly diverse artistry, following the avant-electrodisco of Calling Out Of Context, and its companion EP, Springfield; the orchestral works “Instrumentals” and Tower Of Meaning,” compiled and released as First Thought Best Thought; the “Buddhist Bubble Gum Pop” collected on Love Is Overtaking Me; and Russell’s definitive solo masterpiece, World Of Echo.
GROUPER / YELLOW ELECTRIC RECORDS
Not long after recording her 10th album, Ruins, Liz Harris traveled to Wyoming to work on art and record music. She found herself drawn towards the pairing of skeletal piano phrasing with spare, rich bursts of vocal harmony. A series of stark songs emerged, minimal and vulnerable, woven with emotive silences. Inspired by "the idea that something is missing or cold," the pieces float and fade like vignettes, implying as much as they reveal. She describes them as "small texts hanging in space," impressions of mortality, melody, and the unseen – fleeting beauty, interrupted.
Helen is a pop group from Oregon. Liz Harris (vocals/lead guitar), Jed Bindeman (drums/tambourine), Scott Simmons (bass/guitar), and Helen (back up vocals). Originally started with the intention of being a thrash band, it turned into something else entirely.