Saturday, February 27, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - February 24/10

Couldn't resist posting about yet more cumbia this week. According to the Twitter/Facebook grapevine, Austin-based DJ Orion Garcia was passing through New York to guest on various radio shows and in clubs that I hope to visit someday (spoken like a true Torontonian). I wasn't familiar with his music before; I'll certainly be following him now.

These are re-edits for the most part, with additional drum machine programming pasted on top for extra bounce. One of the first descriptors attached to the music is Baltimore club, which, despite its notoriety for the last decade, I don't know a thing about, except that any music that uses the "Sing Sing" and "Think (About It)" breaks is OK by me on at least some level. What's more intriguing is when these breaks collide with Cuban bata drumming, which meshes well with the tambores of cumbia. Add to that some effective use of rave-inspired keyboard sounds and the soundscape is a potent blend of coolness and caliente.

But it all comes back to the excitement of the original tunes, which are massaged by extending loops, fade ups and downs, filter-swept and resampled. I've always maintained that whenever one comes across a form of music anywhere in the world with some kind of inherent boom bap head-nod-ability (cumbia being one of the best examples, but gnawa, bossa nova and Balkan brass music are others), if you're going to remix it, it's best just to magnify the implicit elements which provide such rhythmic gravitas. That's what Orion does. The drum machine sounds (808's for the most part) are closely mapped to the original rhythms, but when those samples drop, they are both generically useful for DJs the world over and situationally excellent.

Download your own copy of DJ Orion's Carajo Colombia here - just name your price!


raindrops - jackie shane (caravan)
window shopping - sharon jones & the dap-kings (daptone)
silky pete - john heartsman and circles (jazzman)
negus negast - the souljazz orchestra (strut)
into the wind - shawn lee & bei bei (ubiquity)
raw cuts #6 - motor city drum ensemble (faces)
velorio - hermeto pascoal (warner brothers)
incidental 2 - mike olson (henceforth)
doun doun/the crux - mutamassik (sa'aidi hardcore)
ammar - gaida (palmyra)
mal creada - dj orion (raw word)
seven - jean martin/jim lewis/andrew downing (barnyard)
far far west dub - lerobot (cccltd)
constant - j kenzo (scion)
hear me - martyn rmx by zomby (3065)
release the chains mix 1 - centry & the music family (conscious sounds)
the message - henry & louis (bsi)
do unto others - bush chemists (conscious sounds)
clear murk - dubloner (skor)
sobredosis de sabor - cumbiampiro (no label)
bionic skank - maxie (silver camel)
chant inna dance - lion youth (freedom sounds)
jah is coming (dub) - carl mcdonald (makdon)

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Gil Scott-Heron Against The Elements

Two big features on newstands right now: my retrospective of Gil Scott-Heron's career, and the improvised community of The Element Choir.

In Exclaim, I jumped right in to the career of Scott-Heron, whose notable silence of the last 25 is contrasted by the first dozen years of his artistic output which produced so much material that only a few nuggets have stood out from consistent excellence. It was a treat going through all the albums and videos I could to get a much fuller picture of the man than I'd had before. Unfortunatlely, that picture isn't very pretty right now, but the new album is still vital listening, despite/because of its contrast with almost everything else he's recorded.

In Eye Weekly, I finally got a good opportunity to write about vocalist Christine Duncan. And what an opportunity: the Element Choir is 50 strong, backed by an ultra-polyphonous pipe organ. The combination will make a joyful noise in Christ Church Deer Park.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bassekou Kouyate Interview

photo: Thomas Dorn

In this month's issue of Exclaim I wrote about ngoni master Bassekou Kouyate. His recent album I Speak Fula is a joy to behold, and he's about to undertake a major tour through North America (with only one Canadian date scheduled so far, I believe).

Thanks to his manager, Violet Diallo, I was able to send some questions to him in French, and she transcribed his answers. A few quotes appear in the story, but here's the whole interview. It wasn't intended as a conversation, rather I wanted to ask him questions about the state of Malian music, its infrastructure, and how he fits into it - not to mention his views on the international perception of his music.


Were you mindful that this disc would be the most important in your career thus far? Did you feel pressure? Was the recording process the same as always or was it more complicated?

Yes I was aware. Our first album (Segu Blue, Out Here Records 2007) laid the groundwork for raising awareness of the sound of the ngoni in Africa and elsewhere, which was little heard before then. After that, and a tour that started in Portugal in 2006, people caught on to the ngoni and now with this second album, it’s up to us to showcase how the ngoni can link traditional music to modern sounds, and be danceable ! I Speak Fula was therefore a big challenge. I definitely felt it. But we are all professionals who have been playing this music since childhood: the challenge was also a pleasure.

The recording process was normal with producers and guests who knew the music like we did: people like Toumani Diabate, Zou Tereta, Kasse Mady Diabate and Vieux Farka Toure. It was the same studio where (the previous album was made) – Studio Bogolan in Bamako - with the same producers and engineers. I don’t think it was any more expensive than last time. All the same, there was a tense period around the end of the recording process and the mixing sessions in England, and the release date in September 2009. We held our breath, but mercifully, critics were even more enthusiastic than they were for Segu Blue. We thank the public who took the time to get used to our music.

Do you think more people are aware of Malian music these days?

I think so, there’s such a huge richness of Malian music. Before Ngoni Ba, the ngoni music of the Bamana people was little known. There are still musical discoveries to be made about this country!

In Bamako, there’s a good deal of hip hop and rap – do you listen? Is it much of an influence on the city (and the country’s) music? What about your own music?

Yes, like everywhere, it’s the music of youth, and more than 50% of the population is younger than 24. Sure, I listen to it sometimes, just as the youth listen to Ngoni Ba. It’s clear that this music is everywhere in the city and inspires youth, and even very good musicians, to play. But to say that it influences the country’s music, I don’t think so, because we know and love our own styles too much.

During the 80s, Malian musicians traveled to Ivory Coast or Paris to record or tour – is it still like that?

Some still go to Ivory Coast, Paris or London, but we have many good studios in Bamako – Bogolan, Sedona, etc. What’s changed now is that with the internet, we can change the results of recordings once there are parts that are too tricky to finish. We can work in synergy with specialized studios in Europe and North America.

Do Europeans and Africans react differently to your music?

Yes! Africans throughout the west and centre (of Africa) know different styles of music. Once one plays "Jonkoloni" or "Jaro", for example, the Malians understand it all, and are connoisseurs of our way of treating these songs. On the other hand, Europeans or North Americans generally don’t know our music, and it takes a little time to react to the same songs. We had the chance to play Zanzibar and that was interesting because East African folks had a hard time figuring out Ngoni Ba because it was African, but not their tradition. But everybody loves music.

You seem to want to make an impression on rock audiences. Is that why you added the wah pedal to your setup?

I noticed during Ngoni Ba’s first tour that kids enjoy dancing, what better to dance to than rock and roll? I added the wah wah pedals to get into that ambience! But not on every song, and we are always holding on to traditional music, even if it’s got modern lyrics.

You are part of a griot family, how do you balance playing traditional songs and styles with innovation? It seems to me that most of the reaction has been positive, have you ever faced criticism?

My father was an innovator; he introduced a four-stringed ngoni and more, but remained a leading figure of Bamana traditional music. I’ve also experimented with innovations, such as picking the ngoni up instead of resting it on the ground, but I’ve stayed anchored in Malian music. It’s therefore a family affair and poses no problems for me.

In fact, I’ve never heard any criticism or a less than positive reaction about these innovations! The old griots, the guardians of our ngoni instrumental tradition, congratulated me for drawing attention to this music which was slowly dying. It would be interesting to talk about this with critics – I’d very much like to meet some!

In North America, we tend to hear a lot about musicians who are griots. Are there famous Malian musicians who aren’t griots? Is it more difficult for them to find success?

Yes there are certainly some major Malian musicians who aren’t griots: Fula singer Saly Sidibe, and big stars like Salif Keita and Oumou Sangare. At first they faced difficulties because for the Malian public, anybody who sings in public is marked as a griot, and it wasn’t cool when the family name showed that they weren’t. The solution was to adopt the term artist which legitimized a singer’s career

But it’s still not acceptable for non-griots to sing the sacred music of these families in public gatherings or in (non-griot) family ceremonies. That is the exclusive province of griots!

How did Toumani Diabate help shape your attitudes towards your music, and how has he helped Malian music in general?

Toumani is an instrumentalist par excellence. He has changed public attitudes by placing emphasis on instrumental prowess. I’m have benefitted from his success. He also created a habit of visiting modest spaces which are part nightclub and part cultural space, where the Malian public and visitors to Bamako can listen to very good music and provides an environment for very good musicians to play in front of an informed audience. In a basic, kind of rustic looking space, with Toumani as the MC, the public danced and fraternized with artists. This space was the Hogon: it was open air and ran every weekend, it was one of the best memories of the 90s and a gift that Toumani offered to a generation of musicians, in that he popularized them and they were appreciated on a social and artistic level.

Are you excited about your upcoming US tour? Not many African musicians have toured this extensively in the US.

I know it's a great opportunity. It will be a pleasure to meet audiences well known for their generosity and their taste for African music.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

I Got Mine: The Story Of Jackie Shane - A CBC Radio Documentary

It's been a long time coming for this. I'm proud to have helped Elaine Banks put together this story of a lost chapter of Toronto music history.


CBC Radio's Inside The Music presents I Got Mine, the story of the soul and R&B singer named Jackie Shane.

Shane was one of the most popular singers in Toronto's thriving R & B scene of the mid-sixties. He was a remarkable figure for his day: he was openly gay and a cross dresser with a flair for fashion. Shane's magnetic charisma and passionate performances made him a favourite of a generation of Toronto club goers.

This first-ever biography sheds some light on an important figure and time in Toronto's music history. Interviews with Jackie's friends and band mates detail his influence on a generation of musicians and performers, and speak of a legacy which extends beyond the realm of music.

I Got Mine: The Story Of Jackie Shane airs Sunday February 28 at 3PM Eastern Time on Radio 2 and 9PM on Radio 1. Please spread the word! It is not scheduled to be podcast at this time.

Written, produced and narrated by Elaine Banks.
Editing and sound design by David Dacks.

How to listen:

In Canada:

On FM radio: find your frequency here:
On Sirius satellite Channel 137:

Everywhere else:


Or: - go to "listen now" in the right-hand column

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - February 17/10

It's the big comeback for Martin and Lewis.

But seriously, if we're talking about Jean Martin, dude never goes away for very long. As the proprietor of the Farm studio and Barnyard Records he's always got a ton of work. Having spoken to him recently, he mentioned he's got twenty projects on the boil...

This trio recording is one of the more conventionally jazz oriented releases on the label. Lewis reminds me of Kenny Wheeler - he's very melodic and abstract, but has a stronger, less breathy tone and some intriguing barking noises in his repertoire. Downing is a surprise to me here - I know him most from his recordings with Lina Allemano, and here he is brutally to the point with his technique. Together with Martin on drums, they suggest grooves without actually developing them, almost as if the three of them were playing hide and seek with linear song ideas.

Hopefully, Barnyard will continue to be active - especially when it is mounting large scale craziness like their upcoming triple CD release. The label released many projects supported by the Canada Council's Specialty Music Recording grant, which was eliminated last fall. When will the Tories learn that 'specialized' music is not marginal, it brings new people and retains veteran participants in the network of those who work in music, from artists to studios to labels. Popular music grants pay for marketing and costs that artists can afford anyways. Bring that grant back, Mr. Harper...


cloud hands - the element choir (barnyard)
flight delayed - swifty lazarus (wired on words)
universal band silhouette - jan jelinek (scape)
220 v spectral - jaga jazzist (ninja tune)
goodbye confidential - fantastic tchico (sonafric)
pass it - mike longo (mainstream)
the other one - anthony shakir (rush hour)
adzaki - kofi ayivor rmx by streamer pilot (no label)
sinking - mary halvorson & jessica pavone (thirsty ear)
friday the 13th - glen halls and glen charles halls (quiet design)
six - jim lewis/andrew downing/jean martin (barnyard)
break through - the whitefield brothers (now again)
when the saints go marching in through all the popular themes - dub spencer/trance hill (echo beach)
lead us jah - killawah feat jah warrior (no label)
dyreryg - mikkel metal (statler & waldorf)
polar cap dub - teledubgnosis (wordsound)
ganja syrup - maxie (silver camel)
new civilization - burning spear (studio one/heartbeat)

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - February 10/10

The third time is the charm for Drumheller.

This band - and it is a band with stable membership, surely a phenomenon that's increased over the past ten years - brings many flavours of musical experience together, but eschews grandstanding in favour of what, by album number three, has become a unique group sound. I've heard that, a rule of thumb for the group is that nobody takes a solo in a composition they've written themselves (how Canadian is that?). Drumheller records and releases records like an indie rock band, this time around employing indie art locale 6 Nassau as an off the floor recording space and as always, putting it out on guitarist Eric Chenaux's Rat Drifting label.

The band's chemistry is at an all-time high, with Nick Fraser and Rob Clutton creating bedrock, soulful grooves or the most wispy, absract sketches at will. Doug Tielli is unafraid to contrast microtonal plunger mute work with big bold 'bone, and Brodie West is so sweet that you don't notice him going way out. But Eric Chenaux's guitar is really a welcome surprise. Those who have followed his career know that he played loud and noisy back in the day; this album finds him that way again, but in equal parts to his finely developed sense of phrasing and melody. "Sketch #14" is one such example where he sounds like he recorded surf guitar with wonky electronics over a telephone - not your typical jazz voicing.

This is a fantastic release, and they're even better live. See them if you can as they're touring Canada soon.


wale numa lombaliya - the rail band (sterns)
give me the chance - donnie & joe emerson (enterprise & co.)
embers - praveen & benoit rmx by david last (music related)
shoreline gold - last step (planet mu)
crankin' - curtis fuller (mainstream)
sketch #14 - drumheller (rat drifting)
sun touch - a made up sound (a made up sound)
oh yeah - ld (scion)
gumby's night in cuba - alexis k (no label)
cinco en uno callejero - grupo folklorico y experimental nuevayorkino (salsoul/charly)
cumba del sol - cumbias en moog (peerless)
the burning earth - andy haas/cyro baptista (tzadik)
absolute uncertainty - geordie haley (no label)
verspielte zeiten - irene schweizer/gunter baby sommer (intakt)
water - pit er pat (thrill jockey)
free rhodesia - jack ruby & the black disciples (heartbeat)
whip it - derrick harriott (hawkeye)
ram jam session - carlton livingston (roots)
mek wi dance - josey wales (prestige elite)
stepping out - alborosie & david hines (vp)
one of us - meditations (easy star)
feed back dubstyle - scientist (silver camel)

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Just Putting It Out There

It's been too long since I posted links to recent works in print and on the web, much less updated my sidebar. Here's a selection:

At Exclaim, I've had the pleasure of several interesting interviews over the last couple of months. "Conversations" include Western Saraha's Group Doueh, future-bashment wizards South Rakkas Crew (which IMO is a landmark release for the GTA), and the indie-faithful Wavelength Crew.

For Eye Weekly, the last several months have contained features on Getachew Mekuria & The Ex and David Amram, as well as reviews of Viviane Houle, Hardal and Mahala Rai Banda.

On I wrote about Toronto's avant-dancehall/soul stars Bonjay and Kid Koala's hard rocking The Slew.

I've been doing some writing for Musicworks, & in their current issue wrote about the New Music Marathon, which was an event at Yonge Dundas Square in 2007-8 but unfortunately cancelled last year. Their new issue will be out shortly and I look forward to seeing a couple of pieces published.

There have been quite a few interviews on the Abstract Index lately. If you haven't caught up on the archives, chats with the Wavelength Crew (unedited! unrestrained!) and soul/rock/etc. singer Saidah Baba Talibah are still available.

And now - I'm off to generate more content! Tonight, I'm pre-taping an interview with awesome guitarist Mary Halvorson to air on next week's Abstract Index.

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - February 3/10

Checking in on nueva cumbia these days yields fantastic, diverse results. In the whole spectrum of global urban/booty/whatever beats, cumbia always stands apart because there's no mistaking the classic guacharaca skank. The midtempo-ness to cumbia always appeals to me as well. This is not a music to spastically bounce to, you have to ease into it and grind just a little bit harder.

Though the digicumbia revolution wrought by Argentina's ZZK is still going strong, the continued hybridization of cumbia means that a steady stream of cumbia innovation continues to make its mark around the world. Sergio Elmir of Dos Mundos Radio and I are digging into the growth and spread of cumbia for a documentary to air on CBC Radio's Inside The Music some time this year. Check back to this blog for updates on our progress...

As always, there's a ton of music to be checked out at Generation Bass, and that's where I was introduced to Mexican Dubweiser. He's from Monterrey (the home of rebajada, aka the sound of Huelepega Sound System) and, based on the freely downloadable album/compilation at GB, Sonidos Hoy Y Siempre, he isn't content to plow the same furrow twice.

As the name would suggest, there are quite a few airy and psychedelic touches to his productions, it's not all about concisely slamming beats at all time. The Jorodowsky-graced track heard this week plays out over Policarpo Calle's rootsy, accordion-driven vallenato, a subtle breakbeat and shimmering delays. Tunes by other artists broaden out the sonic space - Texan El Cumbiampiro brings a slow, minimal synth driven collage to a surprisingly grungy guitar conclusion, and Dubweiser's "cumbiastep" mixes pretty much speak for themselves, but thankfully aren't over-wobbled. Not everything is gold here (Double-time Celso Pina? He slows down better than he speeds up...) but you can't argue with the price.


the road to nowhere - john heartsman and circles (jazzman)
monday morning - spiteri (vampisoul)
zila - dudu pukwana (jika)
jamana de diya - bassekou kouyate (sub pop)
lay back (in the cut) - anthony shakir (rushhour)
vildgolia (deaf dumb and blind) - gil scott-heron and brian jackson (arista)
cucumelo - juan data & dub snakr rmx by fungus (no label)
cumbia del mexicano artista - mexican dubweiser vs policarpo calle feat alejandro jodorowsky (no label)
el abanica - wganda kenya (discos fuentes)
el diablo - dave da gato (tru thoughts)
mikono kweney hewa - muthoni (penya africa)
(s)cream - saidah baba talibah (sony)
lotus flower - souljazz orchestra (strut)
emmanuel god is with us - dennis brown (blood and fire)
right right time - johnny osborne/earth, roots & water (light in the attic)
luv n liv - subatomic sound system feat u roy (no label)
antigravity - shlomo (friends of friends)
acheron - fleck (no label)
rasta man chant (live) - bob marley & the wailers (island)

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