Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's December 30th... in south Minneapolis. There's salt scattered on the half-chipped icy sidewalk, the relatives have gone home and all is right with the world.

So, yeah, we're all making fun of those end of the year lists, but you noticed almost everybody did one, right? I could be a smart ass and say "Yeah, and I'm going to milk the concept for TWO WHOLE WEEKS!" Really, though, what's wrong with a little time for reflection, a little time to consider what music really moved you, or expanded your mind, or changed your frame of reference?

Last week, I gave you a handful of songs that I just wanted to listen to over and over and over. Just great tunes, even if the rest of the album was nothing worth writing home about. This week I'm going after one album that changed my frame of reference and one series of discs that made me dance and shout and sing, that made me want to discover the history and that made me so very happy that there is a mighty crate digger out there unearthing these gems for the rest of us.

There have been an amazing number of great collections of 1970's African music coming out these last couple of years. Why now? Why all of a sudden? I really don't know. Stern's Africa, Soundway's stuff including the Nigeria Special series, the Africa Gold series, the Orchestre Baobab re-releases and I'm sure many others have put out some great music but for my money the Analog Africa series trumps them all.

Samy Ben Redjeb has done the legwork, the homework, the phone calls and the emails and the handshakes and and everything else it took to bring a ton of West African vinyl from the 1960's and 70's into our digital 21st century tweens. He's listened to hundreds, or probably thousands of tracks, tracked down the original artists or their surviving relatives, got their permission and licensed the stuff so the whole world can join the party. His respect for the work of these artists is so evident in the care he puts into the big fat booklets of liner notes that come with each release and the fun tidbits and extras and goodies he puts on his blog.

At the end of the notes for Analog Africa 6 - Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Coutonou -Volume Two -Echoes Hypnotiques, Samy writes about some vintage promotional material from 1979 in which Poly-Rythmo leader Melome Clement lamented the piracy and other troubles the band was having in those late days.
"Having a passion for music means that you also have an admiration - in this case, affection for the people who created it. This project had become something personal. I thought that if a Poly-Rythmo compilation were to materialize, I would have to make sure it was something special. I hope I did."

I bought four of the six discs in the series in 2009 although #s 3 and 4 came out in 2008. (the first two are out of print. Dang! I'd love to get me some of that Green Arrows comp.) Each one is stuffed with killer tunes and features hidden tracks with interviews and secret jams. The booklets have great photos, images of lp and 45 rpm artwork, interviews and Samy's stories of how he tracked down the artists and the music.

Here's a quick run down.

#3 African Scream Contest - Artists from all over Benin - still my favorite. A party album for the ages.

#4 Le Voudon Effect - Orchestre Poly-Rythmo's work for several small labels, some wonderfully lo-fi and deliciously raw stuff.

#5 Legends of Benin - highlights a handful of tracks each from four different artists. Made tons of "Best of 2009" lists.

#6 Echoes Hypnotiques - Poly-Rythmo's work for the Albarika Store label, recorded in the EMI studio in Lagos, Nigeria - cleaner sound quality, less raw.

#7 Mambo Loco is on the way in early 2010. It will feature Anibal Velasquez y su Conjunto. "QUE VIVA LA FIESTA !" as one of Velasquez' YouTube fans put it. I also read he is "El Principe Del Acordeon." Don't know who this guy is, although he or somebody in his band plays a mean accordion (bandoneon?), they have plenty of cumbias scattered around the web and I think he's Columbian. You know Samy will pick out the hot tracks and fill us all in.

Thank you, Samy and keep them coming.

How can I write about how and why I love the Kasbah Rockers disc after all that? I can't. Not tonight. I'll put it up in a couple of days.

Happy New Year! Please take some time to just crank some music you love sometime today.