Music, Records

New Mulatu album and Analog Africa Vol 5

There’s been a major revival of African music of the 60s and 70s in recent years. Labels such as Strut, Soundway, Analog Africa, Honest Jon’s, Vampi Soul, Buda Musique, Oriki Music and others have been at the forefront of this revival. Taking multiple trips to Africa to go digging in dusty humid conditions to unearth “forgotten” gems, followed by the lengthy process of tracking down the original artists and license holders to get the rights for reissue and to make sure the artists get paid. A read through the liner notes on a Soundway or Analog Africa compilation underlines the passion and hard work that these guys are putting into getting this music heard again and, most importantly, they’re doing it properly.

One of the highlights of this revival has been the rediscovery of Ethiopian Jazz and Funk from the 60s and 70s, compiled by Francis Falcetto on the stunning Ethiopiques series. When I first heard this music playing in a record shop in Dublin it stopped me dead in my tracks and had me asking “wow, what the fuck is this??”. It’s been amusing to hear serious collectors like Giles Peterson say the exact same thing! Yes, it’s jazz, yes, it’s funk, but there’s that unique Ethiopian sound that just sounds foreign to Western ears on first listen. It hints at Arabic music but that doesn’t quite cover it either, it’s truly unique. The father of Ethio-jazz is Mulatu Astatke who studied music at the Trinity School of Music in London and then became the first African musician to study at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston. (There’s an interesting interview with Mulatu by Giles Peterson on Red Bull Music Academy Radio where he talks about these early years and his time in England and America.) Mulatu originally studied science and his approach to music is, he says, quite scientific. It’s experimental and he likes to mix and match different elements to see what works and what doesn’t to come up with new and interesting fusions. He’s especially interested in revitalising ancient Ethiopian traditional musics and rural bush music and modernising them. Adapting old traditional instruments to modern usage and so on. He recently completed a Fellowship at Harvard University on this subject.

And this is the type of approach he has taken for his brand new album with The Heliocentrics due out on Strut soon as part of their Inspiration Information series. In addition to the Heliocentrics he brought in a number of London based Ethiopian musicians to play traditional instruments on the album resulting in a fresh new Ethio-jazz-funk hybrid. It will be released in the next few weeks on Vinyl, CD and download. In the meantime go to the Inspiration Information website for samples, videos and information. There’s also an interesting video up on youtube about the making of the album.

There’s also another compilation of Beninese music coming soon from the fantastic Analog Africa label, who brought us the African Scream Contest compilation which I’ve mentioned on the blog previously. Analog Africa Vol 5- Legends of Benin will focus on music recorded between 1969 and 1981 by 4 important Beninese composers Gnonnas Pedro, Honoré Avolonto, El Rego and Antoine Dougbé. Many of the tracks are also backed by the legendary Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo one of the great big bands of African music. The music is Afro-Beat, Afro-Funk and Afro-Latin styles and is full of dancefloor friendly killers. It also comes with extensive liner notes and archive photos and is officially licensed. It’s scheduled for release in May on CD and Vinyl. You can listen to samples on the Analog Africa blog.

15 Comments

  1. pipecock says:

    can’t wait to hear that new Mulatu, his albums are in constant rotation on my ipod. dood is a genius for sure.

  2. gmos says:

    yeah, the more I read about him, the more respect I have for what he’s done and how he represents his culture to the rest of the world. he’s a great ambassador for Ethiopia as well as just being a bad ass musician!

    it’s always a worry though when these legends go back into the studio after many years, but I’m really impressed by the clips, seems like the Heliocentrics really understand his music

  3. clom says:

    i’m really looking forward to picking this up.
    caught the Heliocentrics live a few years ago and was absolutely gobsmacked. if you see them on a bill get there to see them!

    i really loved that Analog Africa 4: Orchestre PolyRhythmo de Cotonou so that Legends of Benin is on the ever-lengthening “must purchase” list!

    gmos, have you checked last years Proto-Rai collection from Sublime Frequencies? I was a little unsure about it at first, as far as I’m aware SF aren’t as ethical about tracking down musicians as Analog Africa and co but it’s an absolute gem- the first track on the (unfortunately sold out) LP is like some weird North African/Cuban/Skatalites supergroup jamming about how fantastic it is to own a car.

  4. gmos says:

    hadn’t come across that label before, no. looks pretty interesting, but it seems that they are indeed unlicensed bootlegs. wouldn’t mind hearing some of that stuff all the same

    still haven’t got Analog Vol 4, waiting on the delayed vinyl release. but was talking to Samy recently and he says they’re definitely coming soon. I’m such a sucker for the vinyl 😉

  5. gmos says:

    oh and that Buari “repress” doing the rounds is a bootleg too

  6. Louis says:

    All this ethiopian music surfacing is fantastic. I was gutted I had to miss Mulatu last year here in Dublin, was away for it.. Those Ethipiques comps are soo good. Just got the Mulatu 10″ with Yekitir something on it the other day..brilliant

  7. ballyhoo says:

    sublime frequencies have a reputation for exploiting artists… not the most ethical label out there, but their releases can be pretty wild.

    the group doueh and group bombino LPs are good. two contemporary bands worth checking out.

  8. clom says:

    gmos: “oh and that Buari “repress” doing the rounds is a bootleg too”

    Really? Fuck, got it last week, the pressing isn’t the greatest. I mainly bought it because that cover is the funniest thing this side of the insert of “anotha black sunday”. It’s pretty good. I also picked up the repress of the Panache album, you’re going to tell me that’s a bootleg too now aren’t you?

    Sublime frequencies are doing a tour with Group Doueh so I would expect that there’s at least some money coming their way.

  9. gmos says:

    small labels that have been dormant for decades don’t just pop back up again to reissue one obscure album or 12″, anything like that and I’m instantly suspicious. don’t know about the Panache, but I’m skeptical

  10. gmos says:

    hi louis, great name for your blog!

    I was at the Mulatu gig, wasn’t all that to be honest. the sound was poor for a lot of it and nearly ruined Mulatu’s performance. The Ether Band aren’t as good as the Heliocentrics either, lacked an edge at times I thought. It picked up later on with some of the other guys though, and Mahmoud Ahmed was seriously good, amazing vocalist, so it was worth going to in the end.

  11. ballyhoo says:

    that’s good these bands are getting paid for their music. the naughty things the label did was outed in like 04-05, so hopefully they’re making a more conscious effort these days to make sure the musicians are getting their due.

  12. Pete White says:

    Hi. Just to let people know – Samy Ben Redjeb will making his first UK appearance this Friday in East London playing stuff from his next release and recently dug treasures. Please email info@racubah.co.uk for details.

  13. gmos says:

    the Mulatu & Heliocentrics is out now, and it’s absolutely brilliant!

  14. sandra says:

    does anyone have any other leads about world music labels that (allegedly) exploit the artists (re: sublime frequencies) … i don’t want to give them money in that case.

  15. gmos says:

    well, as far as I know Sublime Frequencies do some legit stuff as well. I mean they’re doing tours with some of their artists so that must all be above board. I think they just started off with a few unlicensed comps/reissues but got caught out and have now sorted themselves out (hopefully). Mississippi Records have also put out some unlicensed stuff, so watch out for them

    it’s pretty hard to keep tabs, whenever I see something that I’m suspicious about, I try and google as much info as I can. but often it’s hard to come up with any info at all!!

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