Music is the healing force of the Universe”
This quote taken from Albert Ayler’s spiritual jazz masterpiece perhaps never sounded so accurate as it did in 2020. Most of us searched for solace in music in even deeper ways than ever. I for one spent even more time than usual consuming music, digging, seeking out, researching, and most importantly, listening. This landmark year proved radically different for everyone, on a global scale and on so many aspects, and I’d argue this reflected upon our music habits (it did on mine for sure). Many more people opened their ears and minds to ambient, new Age and transcendental music(s) as a way to heal and escape from the constant assault of toxic world news.
Since I started doing these end-of-the-year retrospectives (2012), the focus always seemed to be much more on singles (12”s and 7”s), and there were years where I’d even struggle to find 5 (new) albums I’d listened to more than a couple times. Surely there was not enough time to spend on new LPs as opposed to dance music singles, but I also believe that there was much less on offer. What quickly became clear while doing this review is that 2020 saw a radical shift both in the way I listened to music and in what the labels were offering. Never did I buy so many albums in a year, and so few singles. In fact this could well be the first year since I started DJing properly (say 1999) that I bought more LPs than singles (if not it is very close).
A true reflection of a year where parties quickly disappeared and suddenly there was little need for dance music – at least not the club focused kind. As a result many dance music labels postponed their club related projects, while others more focused on artists and full length releases were given more space to develop. If there is one positive thing to keep from this global pandemic it is how we were not only allowed but forced to follow LKJ’s advice: to spend more time for pleasure, more time for contemplation, more time for deep listening (hear more from LKJ at the bottom of this article in the “rewinds” section)!
None of this however was enough to compensate for the loss of power usually brought by communal dancing – there was arguably nothing we missed most in 2020. On that very topic here’s an essential blog post by Jeremy Gilbert inspired by Nietzsche’s famous quote “I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance”.
“the joy of dancing in groups is an intense expression of the inherently creative capacity of the social relations that always constitute all of our being: what I call the ‘infinite relationality’ of existence. The cosmic dance of matter, the multiplicity of the multitude, the creative power of complex groups: to acknowledge the god who dances is to acknowledge them all.”
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These observations might very well prove a one off as live gigs and club culture slowly become a (real) thing again in 2021 (or not), though I do believe that this doomed year will impact our music habits in the long term for the better. Even more worrying than the pandemic however, and all too real already, is the dreaded Brexit and its disastrous consequences on future cultural exchanges between UK and the EU. What a huge leap backwards for humanity…
Time shall tell, but for now here’s how 2020 sounded like à la casa.
PS: I’ve mostly used YT links for practicality reasons (also because everyone – bar DJ Sprinkles! – uses YT), but in a year where Spotify was rightly called out by pretty much everyone as the big evil corporate company that doesn’t care for artists, especially the underground, it is essential to be aware that the only way to support your favourite artists and labels is to purchase the goods (be it downloads or vinyls) via Bandcamp and independent record stores.
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(TOP 3 then in random order)
Sélène Saint-Aimé – Mare Undarum
If I had to keep one album from 2020, Mare Undarum would be the one. The double bassist, singer and poet of Martinican heritage has delivered a most original work of art, showing incredible maturity despite her being only 25 years of age (!).
Navigating between contemporary jazz, classical and poetry, Mare Undarum was recorded with Saint-Aimé on double bass and vocals, Guillaume Latil on cello, Mathias Lévy on violin, Irving Acao on tenor sax, Hermon Mehari on trumpet, and Guadeloupe’s Sonny Troupé on ka and drums.
The music, a unique blend of classical music with Afro American jazz (both Steve Coleman and Ron Carter acted as her mentors) and Afro Caribbean rhythms, displays incredible vocal flexibility (in a made-up tongue) and exudes total freedom on the double bass.
A fantastic album from start to finish, with the highlights being “Mare Undarum Part II” and especially the Heitor Villa-Lobos composition “Valsa – Choro“ on which Saint-Aimé sings and ad libs in in breathtaking fashion. I for one haven’t heard anything more original and more beautiful last year. “Feuillée et Beer” with Saint-Aimé duetting with Guillaume Latil isn’t even 2 min long yet is better entire discographies of many artists.
The instrumental piece “Cum Mortuis In Lingua Mortuis“, which features Irving Acao on tenor saxophone on a composition by Modest Mussorgsky closes this faultless album, which will surely become a staple in years to come.
Most importantly with such delicate and magnificent music, a lot of effort has been put into the quality of the recording, and the vintage sounding production is spot on. Warm, open and natural, you can clearly SEE the musicians playing in your living room. The ears of renowned producer Antoine Rajon are behind Komos, a label which can be trusted blindly. Check also the reissues of Nakãra’s excellent Nakara Percussions lp and of Cheick Tidiane Seck’s cult Diom Futa, as well as his recent Timbuktu album and their latest bijou Y Pati.
Cleo Sol – Rose In The Dark
All of 4 albums released by Sault in the last 2 years (which have trusted the top spots of pretty much everyone’s the end-of-year lists) have somehow manage to elude me, but at least I didn’t miss Rose In The Dark, the definite soul album of 2020. Cleo Sol (who also sings in Sault) has made her own masterpiece, a classic soul album which sounds instantly familiar but whose depth seems to increase with every listen. The state of the art production by Inflo is what strikes you from the very start: sparse, organic and with a lot of space; it naturally exudes warmth and calmness. So soft! It took me many listens to fully appreciate his nostalgic production of Michael Kiwankua‘s Kiwanuka album from 2019, but on Rose In The Dark it was instant.
Cleo Sol’s velvet voice jumps at you from the opening lines of the very Badu meets Raphael Saadiq “Why Don’t You” and it caresses you throughout with hooks and melodies aplenty. Like on Kiwanuka, the tracks smoothly blend into each other, her intimate musings on love, faith and finding strength in moments of darkness showing an equal love for vintage soul jazz (the title track “Rose in the Dark” ) and 90s neo soul (the beauty “When I’m In Your Arms”). On my personal favourite, the closer “Her Light”, she even manages to sound like cross between Minnie Ripperton and Ricky Lee Jones.
Last but not least, this is the best sounding new vinyl I have bought not only in 2020 but for as long as I can remember. Unbelievable sound!! Loud and clear and soft and open and warm and detailed and…what a jewel!!
Gigi Masin – Calypso
Gigi has been a perennial favourite since MFM released a comp of his early work a few years back. His two LPs Wind and The Wind Collector are prized treasures which I regularly revisit whenever I need some peace and healing in my life.
Natural elements and especially water are an integral part of Gigi’s inspiration, and it’s no surprise to hear that his new offering, Calypso, is a tribute to the Greek island Gavdos, the southernmost point of Europe which also claims to be the island of Ogygia where the goddess Calypso kept Odysseus prisoner in Homer’s Odyssey. Promising premises which translated into a stunning, expansive (nearly 90 minutes) journey that explores the many shades and styles of ambient music: new age, balearic, downbeat, blissful, soothing, evocative, impressionistic…It’s Masin’s most ambitious work to date and, yet again, an absolute masterpiece. This is “music of the gods, goddesses and heroes, subliminally capturing all the celestial beauty, awe, romance and adventure of an epic saga.”
Tracks like “Nefertiti” (reminiscing of Jon Hassell), “Coraline” or “Demons and Diamonds” (featuring Ben Vince on saxophone, the only song with a guest musician) are summits of what can only be described as heavenly music; however what this truly deserves is an immersive listen from beginning to end. You shall then find yourself on a near desert island of such stunning beauty that the notion of time dilates into an infinite bliss.
Shabaka And The Ancestors – We Are Sent Here By History
Shabaka Hutchkins’ 2nd album with the South African / transatlantic outfit The Ancestors is also their debut on the legendary Impulse label. Despite its spiritual leaning, the premises of this LP are pretty dark: “a meditation on the fact of our coming extinction as a species. It is a reflection from the ruins, from the burning, a questioning of the steps to be taken in preparation for our transition individually and societally if the end is to be seen as anything but a tragic defeat”. We Are Sent Here by History is a concept album looking back in time from a not-too-distant future, and the fact that it happened to be released at the start of the pandemic made it sound all the more prophetic, like a sonic time capsule narrating the cataclysm that was about to hit us.
From opener “They Who Must Die” through to the final “Teach Me How To Be Vulnerable” this opus has to be listened as a whole to grasp the Ancestors’ vision on how humans should act post apocalypse: “An act of destruction becomes creation (…) music is the seed from which new world must grow”. Despite its ominous tone the mood stays hopeful, as the band draws as much inspiration from the spirituality and cosmicality of Pharoah Sanders, John Coltrane and Sun Ra as they are attracted by the dance floor (the rhythm section of Ariel Zomonsky on double bass, Tumi Mogorosito on drums and Gontse Makhene on percussions is especially heavy).
“Behold The Deceiver” (with Shabaka on the clarinet), “You’ve Been Called” and “Teach Me How To Be Vulnerable” (both featuring Thandi Ntuli on keys) are all excellent in their own ways, but the real highlight to me (as well as being the most optimistic track) is the heavily dub influenced, Rastafari praising “’Til The Freedom Comes Home” which has cosmopolitan London written all over it. In one of the rare parties we had in 2020 this sounded extraordinarily fresh and just like Zara McFarlane’s “Roots of Freedom” these are prime examples of how vital and essential Caribbean culture in general and dub in particular are to the UK jazz scene today.
Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson – Chicago Waves
Carlos Niño has been a huge favourite of mine since the days of Ammon Contact, The Life Force Trio and especially Build An Ark (a band I’ve been revisiting a lot too last year, especially the Love Part 2 LP), and I’ve always followed his many projects and endeavours. The 2009 cover of Slum Village’s “Fall In Love” he did with violinist and long time collaborator Miguel Atwood-Ferguson is one of the many treasures to be found in his discography.
Niño’s world and message is all about love, transcendental love, spiritual love, and he’s been forging his own path spreading those love vibrations for the last two decades. I last saw him behind an ocean of cymbals and an incredible assortment of percussions of all kinds, woodwinds, wind chimes, gongs and the likes when he shared the stage with Laaraji as part of the Frue festival in Shuzuoka, Japan (Nov. 2019). Hippier than Carlos and Laaraji you cannot find.
Chicago Waves is the recording of a live performance which took place in Chicago in Nov. 2018 where Atwood-Ferguson accompanied Niño on a cosmic New Age and spiritual jazz journey. The stunning suite, divided in 8 parts, abounds with African, Indian and Far eastern influences and was almost entirely improvised. At the conclusion of their set that night, Carlos spontaneously dubbed the piece “Chicago Waves.” It’s all about those vibrations.
Huw Marc Bennett – Tresilian Bay
I knew of Huw Benett as the producer of the excellent Susso project (whose LP Keira was a highlight of 2017) and it is no surprise that Tresilian Bay became a bit of a staple at home during the hot and sticky days of the first lockdown. The vibe is tropical, the mood uplifting and softly psychedelic, and the hits are aplenty. “In My Craft”, “Risk of a New Age” and “Not Around” (all featuring Myriam Solomon on vocals) plus “Llew the Lion” and “Afon Colhuw” are all especially nice. The influences are wide and to be found in jazz, Afrobeat, dub and electronica, which give the album a real wide palette.
Apparently the concept was born out of a live session at our beloved TRC with Bennett on bass alongside fellow musicians from the thriving UK jazz community: Chelsea Carmichael (of Seed Ensemble fame) on sax, Nerija’s Rosie Turton and Shirley Tetteh on trombone and guitar, and Jake Long of Maisha on drums. Sounding modern and vintage at the same time this is full of warmth – a real little treasure.
Becker & Mukai – Time Very Near
(Big tip from my good friend Atemi of Wood Records in Nantes).
While I was somehow unaware of Jean-Gabriel Becker’s pedigree, I knew of Susmu Mukai as the man behind Zongamin, though the last time I’d heard of him was for his “Tunnel Music” tune from 2001. The music on Time Very Near is super fresh and hard to categorise (always a good thing), fluctuating between various electronic genres, from trip hop to nu disco to techno, while showing a lot of depth and spontaneity. I have never been an acid house head but if all tracks were as deep and original as “Spice War Part One” and “Stellar Stuff” I certainly would! Can’t wait to play this at 4am somewhere on a big sound system! Other highlights include “Dark Fields Of the Republic” (which has just been remixed and stretched out to 18 min of Endless Summer bliss by Dreems as part of a double pack of remixes) and the late night underwater sounds of “More Eyes” but this is a rewarding listen from start to finish, filled with so many ideas and a strong overall acid influence. Tip!
Double Geography – The Indoor Gardener
Another tip from Atemi and another superb discovery. I hadn’t heard of Duncan Thornley before, though a quick research shows that he is one half of Weird Weather who released on both Going Good and Emotional Response – the right kind of credentials. The opener “Yucca” is easily one of the best tracks of the year, a warm late night groove which I’m sure will still be played and relevant in years to come. Deep, hypnotic and groovy, the sound clean and crisp – it’s a beauty.
The rest of the album is more suited to the kind of trippy home listening you would call for after indulging in a few drops of mighty mushroom oil. During a late night private session at home with Silvia I mistakenly played “Dracaena” instead of “Yucca” which turned out to be one of those happy mistakes – what a deep, cavernous beauty! The dance is cosmic, the secret life of plants is revealed (part 2) and the cycle of Nature is flowing.
What a year for Greg Foat with the release of not one but two fantastic LPs (well almost three I would argue!). The first one, Linkwood & Greg Foat, the fruit of the collaboration between two of my favourite producers/musicians in recent years is a superb mix of ambient, downtempo, jazz and organic deep house. A perfect match for some late night travelling. Conceived and released by the ever surprising Athens Of the North label, this is flying music of the highest order that goes from balearic (“Es Vedra” and especially “Sa Talaia” which seems to sample Frankie Harris & Maria Marquez’s “Down By The Rio”) to full on cosmic (“Bentley 101”) to what was possibly my favourite deep house track of the year (“Pressure”).
The 2nd LP, Symphonie Pacifique, which sees Foat in a more familiar (jazz) territory (with a huge line up to boot), is even more spectacular and probably the best work to date from the gifted pianist/composer/producer. The composition, production and most importantly the sound are absolutely right on top. Unlike many of the recent UK jazz releases that unfortunately sound quite poor on vinyl, the vinyl mastering and pressing here is exceptional. One of the best sounding records I bought this year. The fact that it was released as a double LP shows not only the importance given to the sound quality, but it also allows Foat to divide this project in two (the effect isn’t the same with digital files), with the 2nd vinyl being a lot more reflective and introspective (and better imo).
There’s a lot to love here, from the vintage Blue Note sound of “Nikinakinu” to the cosmic jazz funk banger that is “Man vs Machine” (with Moses Boyd on drums) to the entirety of side C and D. Majestic (“Mother’s Love”, “Lament For Lamont”), dreamy, new age (“After The Storm”), beatless psychedelic free jazz (“Three Tenors”), this is absolutely stunning, and perfectly matched by the cover artwork based on the work of early 20th century French/Algerian painter Henry Valensi.
Paradise Cinema – Paradise Cinema
Jack Wyllie is the saxophonist ex member of the fantastic Portico Quartet (whom, for the story, I first heard busking in the early 00s on the banks the Southbank Centre just before their first self released LP), and Paradise Cinema is his first solo project. Recorded in Dakar in March 2017 with local musicians but with additional production added in 2020, this was definitely one of the most original album and the year.
Jack Wyllie is a musician, composer and electronic producer who draws on influences of jazz, ambient, and the trance-inducing repetition of minimalism. Here percussive Mbalax rhythms are layered with atmospheric textures to create this dreamy, transcendental fusion reminiscing of Jon Hassell’s 4th world, on “Casamance” and “Paradise Cinema” especially.
Other highlights such as “Digital Palm” have a strong cinematic feel, like the dreamed soundtrack of Dakar at night. In fact it sounds exactly like Wyllie’s self described experience of being in a hypnagogic state of aural consciousness: “I had a lot of nights in Dakar, when the music around the city would go on until 6am. I could hear this from my bed at night and it all blended together, in what felt like an early version of the record.”
‘Paradise Cinema’ is also informed by notions of hauntology – a philosophical concept originating in the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida – on possible futures that were never realised and how directions taken in the past can haunt the present. And while it contains rhythmic references to Senegal, it combines these elements with ambient and minimalist music to produce a sound that sits outside of any tradition – an attitude to music which I fully embrace. The kind of record I would dream of listening from the sweet spot of a pitched dark room surrounded by 4 Klipschorns to get the full paradise cinema effect.
This album was released by Gondwana Records, the label headed by Matthew Halsall who himself released a sublime album at the tail end 2020, Salute to the Sun, on a Don Cherry meets Alice Coltrane tip.
Christina Vantzou – Multi Natural
With anxiety levels to the max, the thirst for immersive ambient/new age music has never been so strong, a visceral need to help us ease our minds and soothe our souls. Though not purely meditative (unlike the works of say Laaraji or Brian Eno), the music on Multi Natural is weirdly atmospheric and has the depth and power to do some deep healing.
You need to be fully immersed in Vantzou’s earthy soundscapes in order to really enter her rich tapestry of multi layered field recordings and evocative landcapes. Silvia and I had one such #deeplistening experience in the summer when we both had the time and space to go there. Though mostly serene the trip is always eventful, even verging towards ominous territory at times. The overall experience however is deeply cinematic, ultra organic, and nicely psychedelic.
Lyra Pramuk – Fountain
Pramuk is a performance artist / vocalist-synthesist who experiments with layered vocals and effects, in a similar way to Cucina Povera. Fountain was created entirely from sampling her own voice, which she then used and transformed to create this celestial, multi dimensional opera she described as “futurist folk”.
This took me a few listens to be fully converted, but, believe me (sic), this is quite spectacular once you’re in. Pramuk plays with the perception of music, rhythms, speech, body, and the relation between technology and humanity. Echoes of Art Of Noise’s “Moments In Love” come to mind (”Witness”) as well as Laurie Anderson’s “Superman” (“Gossip”), while she explores a post-human, non-binary understanding of life. Feelings can go from enveloping and comforting (“Tendril”) to occasionally terrifying if you’re just playing Fountain in the background.
Yet again this is music than asks for your time and your full attention but you’ll be rewarded with one of the most uplifting and vivifying experience in sound. One that will change and improve with every listen (headphones recommended).
Anthonius feat. Tidiane Syla – Itoigawa
Itoigawa is the project of a Spanish producer, Anthonius, who teamed up with two musicians from Guinea Conakry to “revisit their music folklore”. I found very little information on the genesis of this album (not sure where and how this was recorded) but the result sounds like the fusion of Anthonius’ 80s electro pop beats and synths mixed with the organic sounds of Tidiane Camara on percussion and Aboubakar Syla on vocals.
Clocking at only 6 tracks it’s a relatively short album but one that I’ve enjoyed playing a lot. Two tracks are by Anthonius only, but the best are the ones where everyone is involved; “Mara Fanyi” especially being the one that I played the most – a truly addictive and majestic groove. The production is quite minimal and simple but the result is somehow unusual and extremely efficient. I kind of wish that Camara had been given more space to go wilder on the percussion but I guess the whole idea was to keep everything tight and tidy – and it totally works like that. Looking forward to hear what these guys have in store next.
Jacques Coursil – Hostipitality Suite
Martinique’s Jacques Coursil, the brilliant trumpet player, renown linguist and intellectual was one of the many artists who left us in 2020. From his late 60s free jazz productions alongside the likes of Sunny Murray, Arthur Jones and Anthony Braxton on the cult BYG label, via a gap of 30+ years dedicated to literature and theoretical linguistics, to his come back to music in 2005, Coursil lived the extraordinary life of an all round intellectual and genius artist, excelling in every field.
His essay ‘La Fonction Muette du Langage’ remains a reference work in linguistic, the field which would later shape Coursil’s musical output, as Cam Scott explains so well in this excellent tribute. Coursil was able to interrelate between different domains, music and linguistic, translating the spirit of Glissant‘s “tout monde” concept, as can be heard on his two masterpieces albums Minimal Brass and Clameurs, on which Coursil duets first with himself (thanks to overdubbing and circular breathing) then with the texts of Antar, Glissant, Monchoachi and Fanon.
“Hostipitality Suite”, his very last LP which was released posthumously in 2020, is more like a piece of contemporary sound art based around the concept of “hostipitality”. Coursil’s trumpet, and his words borrowed from Derrida, Leninas and Glissant are only accompanied by some extra minimal synth arrangements by Jeff Baillard. It’s a rewarding experience which requires full attention and high fidelity in order to get all the nuances!
Full points also for the object, the liners inside and the superb artworks by Hervé Yamguen. Truly a unique piece of art.
Dumama + Kechou – Buffering Juju
This debut album by the duo of South African Dumama (vocals, uhadi and baby synthesiser) and German-Algerian Kechou (bass, guitar, synths, drum machine and Xhosa percussions of all kind) was definitely one of the best discovery of the year (thanks Atemi!), one that was played on repeat to accompany the sun rays warming up our souls at the start of the first lockdown. The self described nomadic future folk music, which narrates the spiritual journey of a woman’s release from prison, expertly blends together electronic and acoustic instruments, while also acting effectively as a merger between northern and southern African heritage.
Having all tracks linked to each other (no gaps in between) makes the listening experience more akin to a soundscape, one that navigates through electronic music, jazz, and traditional African music while vibrating love and healing energy. After countless listens I don’t have a personal favourite on here, or rather all of them are. Full points.
(Of note the appearance (on “Uveni“) of free jazz clarinettist Angel Bat Dawid, whose own album The Oracle was a big highlight of 2019).
Guy Buttery & Kanada Narahari – Nādī
Although this album came out at the tail end of 2019 I’m including it here as I didn’t discover it until way into 2020, and also because it’s such an essential release. In 2020 I could count on one hand the parties we’ve had, and at 2 of these the man like Pol Valls played “Sonokota” through a wall of Tannoys as the sun was rising around 6-7am. If heaven was a song, Sonokota would be a strong contender. Absolutely sublime and worth the price of this album alone, even though the rest of it is also very nice.
Fusing eastern and western sounds, this project is the meeting of cult South African folk guitarist Guy Buttery with the classically trained Indian sitar player Kanada Narahari. For the story, Buttery initially reached out to Narahari because he was suffering debilitating bouts of fatigue and needed an Aryuvedic doctor. Narahari infused the healing of Indian Classical music into his practice and prescribed Buttery a strict diet of daily ragas. Buttery soon healed and the Nādī project was born soon after. Music is, indeed, the healing force of the Universe.
Upsammy – Zoom
This offering from Dutch artist Thessa Torsing sounds like a throwback to the playful spirit of classic IDM, often treading the line between adventurous beats and the beauty of life’s tiniest details. Beats and the beauty, beauty and the beats. Though Thessa’s sound has some obvious roots in ambient this is not exactly an easy listen. There are no straight lines as she loves to throw you off guard.
Both “It Drips” and “Growing Out of The Plastic Box” remind me of early Warp and especially all time favourites Plaid, the masters of electronica, of perky melodies that sometimes goes wonky.
Her world is clearly inspired by nature, from the melting rocks in a block of ice on the cover to the enchanted forest she’s inviting us into. Tracks like “Subsoil” and “Overflowering” both have this subterranean quality of some of early Aphex Twin with rich textures and melodies and an ever-present aquatic feel. I can only imagine how magical a long run through Epping forest could be with this album in the earphones – one nice goal for 2021.
Sven Wunder – Wabi Sabi
Sweden’s Swen Wunder had done his interpretation of Turkish rock on his previous LP, and on Wabi Sabi his focus is now on Japan, as he mixes traditional Eastern sounds (flute, Wurlitzer electric piano, guzheng) into a sonic canvas of library jazz music. Wabi-sabi is the name of the Japanese art of appreciating beauty in a naturally imperfect world; a buddhist philosophy I fully adhere to: perfection in art doesn’t exist (Sun Palace’s “Rude Movements” being a notable exception) as beauty lies in imperfections. Perfection is boring and so Wunder’s aim with this project was to “concentrate on asymmetries” in a retro-futuristic way.
Though perhaps not for everyone, this should please the aficionados of vintage library recordings, psychedelic breaks and far Eastern jazz-funk psychedelia…but not only. I for one was conquered by the incredibly dynamic and punchy overall sound of this album, with the highlights being “Shinrinyoku”, “Bamboo and Rocks” and its main melody somehow strangely reminiscing of the Balek Band’s “Bayoyo Sou”, and the psych jazz funk beauty that is “Kachōfūgetsu.” Not perfect (!) but rather impressive stuff nonetheless.
Bryce Hackford – Safe (Exits)
Spring Theory is a label I was familiar with since their release of the excellent Scented Trip EP by Project Pablo back in 2017, but Safe (Exits) was my first insight into the world of the Brooklyn based producer. This immersive work, which comes in the form of a double LP, is a collage of snippets and reworks of the recordings Hackford did with some of his musician friends during a residency at Margate’s PRAH Foundation.
The pace is largely unhurried as it goes from slow-mo house to cosmic ambient to flat-out horizontal (the closer “Harbor” with its dubbed-out Rhodes set against a backdrop of street noise and the occasional seagull). It’s a heady, freeform trip where time is stretched and dilated (the highlights “Einmal” and “After Sun” clock at 13 and 14 min), in a very psychotropic manner, not unlike someone like Superpitcher. The mood stays mostly contemplative and dreamy, on the warm side but somewhat on the edge of menacing. Psychotropes a must, but in microdoses.
I could imagine this as the soundtrack of a slow drive through an infinite American desert around magic hour, or failing that through the headphones on a solitary countryside walk at dawn.
«-(¯`v´¯)-« ♪ »-(¯`v´¯)-»
12”s and 7”s
(TOP 2 then in random order)
Zara McFarlane – “Roots Of Freedom”
Coming out halfway through a year which saw glimpses of a collective positive change following George Floyd’s racist killing and the rise of the BLM movement awareness across the world, Roots Of Freedom was hands down the defining song of 2020, the one that embraced the zeitgeist.
The song is the highlight of an album where McFarlane, born in London of Jamaican parents, explores themes of Black heritage and history, Black womanhood, and contemporary issues of empire, colonialism, race and identity. Though the album uses a rich palette of electronic beats, with its nods to a vintage Sly & Robbie sound, Roots Of Freedom is the song the most directly indebted to JA dub. A proper sound system tune that is calling for a 7” release.
“We hold the roots of freedom, freedom, within our hands
We hold the roots of freedom, freedom, within our hands
We hold the roots of freedom, freedom, within our hands
In harmony, you will see how we can grow
In time, you will see how we can flow
In harmony, you will see how we can grow
In time, you will see how we can flow
We step onto the stairs of revolution
To reach the start of elevation”
Hadn’t Roots Of Freedom been so strong…and were it not for the disappointing vinyl pressing, I would have included McFarlane’s LP Songs Of An Unknown Tongue in the best album category. Regardless of the (impressive) quality of the album as a whole, some songs sound unfortunately much too compressed on wax. “Roots of Freedom” fortunately is not one of them.
Joaquin Cornejo – “Komorebi feat. Wabi Sabi“
Komorebi was only the highlight of a spectacular streak of releases by the brand new Earthly Measures label (born out of the London party of the same name) that showcased newcomers aplenty and some real high quality control. Latin, tropical and dub influences permeate most of these tracks, alongside a healthy dose of psychotropics. Komorebi is an incarnation of all of this and already a modern classic in my book. Deep, warm, psychedelic, with a wide open sound and an insane change of direction just after the halfway mark – this soundtracked many a morning trip in 2020.
Elsewhere on Earthly Tapes vol 1, Janax Pacha’s “Ama-zona” delivers a superb slice of deep, chuggy tropical house music. No surprise that EM decided to dedicate their next 2 releases to both of these artists – the modern tropical dub of Joaquín Cornejo’s Las Frutas feat. Alex Serra already being a firm favourite. Full respect to everyone involved.
Siti Muharam – “Machozi Ya Huba“
The label On the Corner has become a very reliable source of fresh discoveries over the past few years, and 2020 was no different. I was especially curious by this release as I don’t think I had heard any music from Zanzibar before, and it didn’t disappoint.
The taarab music genre (taarab means “joy by music” in Arabic) which is popular across East Africa is a truly unique and hybrid mix between influences from Egypt, Persia and India and a more African sound. In Zanzibar it was popularised by “the mother of taarab,” Siti Binti Saad, who also established the genre as a mouthpiece for women in East Africa. Now it’s the turn of Siti Muharam to pay tribute to her great grandmother’s legacy, with this modernised, stripped back, percussive update of a taarab. Rooted in tradition and yet in perpetual movement. The whole EP is a real treat (check also “Nyuki“); hybrid music in the best sense of the word.
Emma-Jean Thackray – “Movement”
I’ve only started to be aware of Thackray via her appearance on the 2019 Neue Grafik Ensemble mini LP for TRC (“Dedicated to Marie Paule”), though she’d been around for a few years already most notably playing for Nubya Garcia and Ezra Collective. On this Rain Dance EP she plays not only the trumpet she’s trained for but also the flugel, the trombone, the drums, the bass, synths, Rhodes. And sings too. And produces. And makes beats. On the EP’s highlight, “Movement” she does all of this (for real – check this video for more insight on Emma-Jean multiples talents).
“Move your body, move your mind, move your soul”
…is the motto here and we couldn’t agree more. It’s a banger – too short but a banger still, with (impeccable) influences ranging from Miles Davis to Moodymann to MF Doom, Georgia Anne Muldrow or Nujabes. Very much looking forward to what’s in store for the years/decade to come!
Byron The Aquarius – “Space & Time (Jam Session)”
I’ve been following the Aquarius since his superb “High Life” 12” released on Sound Signature in 2016. The Atlanta based producer and keyboard player has found his sound in a heavily jazz-influenced form of house music, hailing keyboard wizards Herbie Hancock and Lonnie Linton Smith as his masters.
His new (2nd) LP Ambrosia, which came out on Jeff Mills’ Axis label is filled with the same organic live feel, a jazz funk induced form of house music featuring most notably veteran Lil John Roberts on drums, Sheldon Ferguson on guitar and Chocolat Costa on bass. Though a nice listen I don’t quite feel that Ambrosia works best as an album but rather as individual tracks that can be played separately. The big one for me is “Space Time (Jam Session)” with its samba feel and effortlessly cool groove – should work a treat on the dance-floor.
Ludwig A.F. – “Blissful Lie“
Had there been any raving in 2020, “Blissful Lie” would no doubt have been massive thanks to its crossover appeal: an amalgamation of IDM, breakbeat, techno and house influences, with an obvious love for early trance and melodic indulgence. Extra emotional, reminiscing of dreamy ’90s moods a la Aphex Twin circa “Analogue Bubblebath” – a sound that transports you instantly to a muddy field with all your mates. As a bonus the warm ambient nuggets that is “Cloud Walker” is exactly what you’ll be craving for when coming down at sunrise a few hours later.
Hidden Spheres – “Ruhani“
I remember enjoying Hidden Sphere’s EP By & Bye released on Distant Hawaii in 2017, but that’s pretty much all I’d heard from the Mancunian producer until Breathing Deep, his most recent output. Released on a new label, Oath, it’s got 3 nice tracks, with my favourite being the acid laden (in both lysergic and 808 meanings) jazzy, broken groove that is Ruhani. To some extent this reminds me of Carl Craig’s Desire, in a machine-got-soul kinda way. I obviously haven’t tried it out but I can imagine this sounding big on a proper system.
Lord Of The Isles feat. Ellen Renton – Whities 029
Scotland’s Lord of the Isles has long been a huge favourite since the Pacific Affinity EP right through Parabolas Of Neon EP which was one of my highlights of 2017. His new release for the cooler than thou Whities started with Ellen Renton’s “Passing“, a poignant poem about climate change which moved him so much he felt compelled to create music around it. The resulting EP is a thing of beauty, an ode to Nature which finds the right balance between spoken word and sound, between drama and beauty.
LOTI’s music has always had cinematic qualities, and here probably more than ever, each piece evoking of Scotland’s rough and open spaces, whether with words (“Passing”) or without (“Waiting In Arisaig”), like the dream soundtrack to an imaginary short film.
Alpha Steppa feat. Pupajim – “Dear Friend”
Dub culture in the UK has always been huge thanks to cult sound systems (Aba Shanti, Shaka, Channel One), but also through the UK dub tradition of bands like Joshua, Zion Train or Alpha & Omega. The producer Alpha Steppa comes directly from that scene, and Raise The Ark, his latest album released in 2020 featured an impressive roster of international guests. On the anthemic Dear Friend it’s Pupajim stepping over the mic, warning us about global warming in pure and conscious vocal dub tradition. Proper sound system tune which was released on a 10” dub plate complete with 4 different mixes. Pupajim is part of the mighty Stand High Patrol trio from Nantes for whom Belle Bete and I recorded an exclusive dub influenced mixtape over the summer.
Sable Blanc – “Les Hirondelles de Mai“
“Amour Gris”, the EP’s opener, is a nice jazzy drum’n bass tune, but had there been any parties in 2020 I believe it is “Les Hirondelles de Mai” which would have fired up the dance. A smooth and friendly broken house rhythm, a nice jazz sample and a catchy chorus that rings so true in these oh so uncertain times.
“Yes I still have faith in people”
Though written rather prophetically before anyone even knew about covid and its many implications (empty shelves, conspiracists agogo, but also a genuine reborn sense of solidarity), this kind of positivity is just what the dance-floor needs. Saving this one for the first party in 2021!
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(In Alphabetical Order)
Admas – Sons Of Ethiopia
If you’re going do a reissue do it the Frederiksberg Records way! In terms of overall production (sound, packaging and liner notes) this was the most spectacular release of 2020 (alongside Jacques Coursil’s and Cleo Sol’s).
Sons Of Ethiopia originally came out in 1984 in Washington, the sound of Ethiopian exiles having fled the military junta that ruled the country between 1974 and 1987. For a full low-down on the historical context surrounding the making of this album, the label founded in New York by Andreas Vingaard has done some serious research (!), and included a lush booklet with insightful and exhaustive liner notes.
This fully instrumental album bears influences ranging from funk (“Kalatashew Waga”) to jazz to highlife, samba (“Samba Shegitu”) or reggae (“Wed Enate”), and doesn’t strike instantly as what (we think) we recognise as Ethiopian. With a strong synths/organ/Rhodes combo the overall vibe is a full cosmic fusion of all these elements, the sound reminding me at times of the USAries and much of what can be found on that (fabulous) Personal Space (Electronic Soul 1974-1984) comp released a few years ago.
African Head Charge – Songs Of Praise
The mighty AHC have always had their own immediately recognisable sound, a heavily spiritual mix of dub, African chants and percussion complete with electronic wizardry. Songs Of Praise, by all accounts their masterpiece was stunningly reissued for the 30th anniversary, in a double LP that includes tracks that previously only came out on cd. Contrary to some previous AHC reissues, the sound here is rather spectacular, warm, detailed and punchy, just perfect to enhance the psychedelic and shamanic experience that is Songs Of Praise.
AHC was a joint creative venture between Adrian Sherwood and the percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah, the music constructed of sampled chants and praises (taken from Alan Lomax’s vaults) layered on top of original AHC rhythms: bastardised dub with African & Nyabinghi percussion. The result is a unique and incredible journey through African dub, heavy on the voodoo and spiritually uplifting.
Not a weak track on here, only fire with the mighty “Dervish Chant”, “Gospel Train”, “Ethiopian Praises” and “My God” leading the hypnotic, tribal dance.
Ahmed Ben Ali – “Subhan”
Big find here for Habibi Funk with this instant hit, a killer reggae cut from Lybia. Impossibly contagious!
Outside of the incredible Ahmed Fakroun, I admit to not knowing much at all about the musical output of this country. It was fascinating to read in the liners that not only reggae has some strong rhythmic similarities with the Libyan folk music Zimzamet, but also that Lybian reggae is not a gimmick but a very popular genre in itself. When I think of it in hindsight this makes a lot of sense, as I’m reminded of a killer Arabic reggae cut by the cult Algerian band Abranis (Avehri). Full points to Habibi Funk for unearthing this and looking forward to hear more of such discoveries in the future.
Fairouz – Maarifti Feek
Fairouz, who recently turned 85, is the Arab world’s most celebrated living voice, whose music I heard pouring from the streets and cafes from Tunis to Ramallah, acting as a trait-d’union between countries and generations. As the proverb goes, “Lebanese people disagree on everything, except Fairouz.”
Her song “Li Beirut”, an ode to the city where she was born and still lives, sounded ever so poignant in the aftermath of the terrible explosion which destroyed part of the city in September last year. Previously almost impossible to find on vinyl, this song had become available again thanks to We Want Sounds reissue of the seminal Maarifti Feek album, following on to the no less essential Wahdon the previous year (the album which contains “Baatilak” and “Al Bosta”, my two favourite tracks of hers). Both albums were produced by her son Ziad Rahbani, the genius producer who introduced jazz and funk arrangements to Fairuz repertoire when he took over from his dad Assi Rahbani (Fairouz’s husband and one half of the ‘Rahbani brothers’) as the singer’s musical director and composer. Just listen to the enchanting beauty of “Version 1” and be forever conquered.
Maalem Mahmoud Gania – Aicha (Hive Mind) / The Trance Of Seven Colors (Zehra)
The Gnawa are the descendants of sub-Saharan African slaves who originally came to Morocco in the 16th Century, which explains their status as spiritual outsiders. The central ritual of the Gnawa is the trance music ceremony, with the purpose of healing or purification of the participants. Those ceremonies can last up to 24 hours, and feature heavily percussive rhythms, repetitive bass lines, handclaps, hypnotic singing and acrobatic dance moves. When the dancing is particularly masterful, it’s a sign that the baraka (spiritual blessing) is circulating and that the Gnawa can harness it.
Mahmoud Gania (whose ancestors came from Mali) was one of Gnawa music’s maalem (master) and one of the first to record and commercially release Gnawa ritual songs. These were released exclusively on cassettes until the label Hive Mind started to put some of these out on vinyl for the first time, first with Colours of the Night in 2017 and then Aicha last year. Though these are both excellent, the true gem to seek out is The Trance Of Seven Colors, the album Mahmoud Gania recorded with Pharoah Sanders in 1994 and which was produced by Bill Laswell. It was lovingly reissued by the German label Zehra in 2019 for its 25 year anniversary. The hybrid connections did work some magic, as you can hear on “Boulandi Samawi” and throughout the album, showing once again that movement in music is always the way forward.
Worth remembering here the fantastic James Holden remix of Mahmoud Gania’s track “Bania“, one of my highlights of 2015.
Of note the same label Zehra also reissued the cult album Apocalypse Across the Sky by the Berber Sufi trance musicians Master Musicians of Jajouka, of whom Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones, free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and William S. Burroughs were all big fans of (check “Middle Of The Night”).
Beverly Glenn-Copeland – Transmissions: The Music Of Beverly Glenn-Copeland
Those of us who got introduced to Glenn-Copeland’s otherworldly masterpiece Keyboard Fantasies a few years back via the Seance Centre reissue will certainly need no further persuasion. His music has the kind of transcendental quality that sounds like a gift from the Gods. The very definition of ethereal. Incredibly the selection on this comp spans 5 decades, with tracks recorded between 1970 and 2019 (not that you could tell). I could write an essay about Glenn-Copeland’s heavenly folk and new age incantations, but the best is for everyone to watch the incredibly moving Keyboard Fantasies documentary, before heading straight to the (2019) live version of “Colour Of Anyhow”. No additional words needed.
“Look into my eye, the country of anywhere. The roads will take you there any time”
Jon Hassell – Vernal Equinox
Jon Hassell’s name came up as reference in quite a few of these 2020 reviews above and below (Gigi Masin, Paradise Cinema, Jacques Coursil), and this should come as no surprise.. As the father of Fourth World, the music genre he invented by mixing jazz, ambient and world music, Hassell’s music has found its way into pretty much every music genre from jazz to pop to balearic, the most significant of all arguably being Brian Eno and David Byrne’s 1981 seminal My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. As Eno writes in the liner notes of this new reissue,
“All of us were interested in collage, in making musical particle colliders where we could crash different cultural forms with all their emotional baggage and see what came out of the collisions, what new worlds they suggested.”
Released in 1977 Vernal Equinox must have sounded like nothing else at the time, as is still the case today. This is meditative music of outstanding beauty. Alongside Hassell’s trademark sound of an electronically treated trumpet and a drone tuned to 256Hz (Pandit Pran Nath’s fundamental tone), Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos, and synth player David Rosenboom created the 4th world template which Hasselll would further explore on a number of albums, most notably Fourth World Vol 1: Possible Musics, his 1980 collaboration with Brian Eno.
The notions of time and space seem to disappear as Hassell’s trumpet floats through landscapes of electronics, drones and Indian and South American percussion. Hassell, who had studied raga with Pran Nath and played trumpet on the first recording of Terry Riley’s minimalist masterpiece In C, naturally embraced the notions of repetition and perpetual movement in music, as can be heard through the album, and on “Blues Nile” in particular. This bijou reissue, which has been fully remastered from the original master tapes, sounds absolutely gorgeous. Essential release!
Larry Heard – Sceneries Not Songs, Volume One
Playing “Dolphin Dream” at peak time in the Giant Steps oasis at the 2017 Houghton festival is one of those memories I will treasure for life. Perfect crowd, pure vibes, incredible sound system, timeless house music – just what dreams are made of. I played it off the Young Marco Selectors 002 comp which was nice enough, but with this long awaited reissue we can now finally all enjoy the experience of owning (and playing!) the real thing.
Lovingly spread on a double LP (contrary to the original where all tracks were squeezed on one vinyl) the sound is crisp and pristine. Sceneries Not Songs, Volume One is Larry Heard’s first solo album and the perfect synthesis of ambient, jazz, downbeat, deep electronic textures and of course the deep house sound he was instrumental in creating. Mr Fingers can do everything and better than everyone.
Outside of the aforementioned “Dolphin Dreams” look no further than “Midnight Movement” to find deep house perfection, and to “Snowcaps” for a summit of chilled and cosmic ambient bliss. If you don’t have this yet, one of the top electronic albums of all times, the crown achievement of arguably the most talented deep house producer ever, then you need it badly. In terms of electronic deepness this is as good as it gets – a timeless beauty and a must have in every discotheque of every music lover.
Ibrahim Khalil Shihab Quintet feat. Mankunku – Spring
On Spring, Shihab’s 1968 debut, the pianist and bandleader paired with one of South Africa’s then superstar, the saxophonist Winston Ngozi aka Mankuku, whose Yakhal’ Inkomo LP had been released a few months earlier and was the top selling black album at the time (it was reissued by Jazzman a few years ago). Both “Spring” (though a shortened version) and Mankunku Quartet’s “Dedication (To Daddy Trane And Brother Shorter)” were included on the fantastic compilation Next Stop…Soweto vol.3 released on Strut in 2010, but the sound on this new reissue is far superior, despite the lack of original master tapes – thanks to a wonderful audio restoration job by Frank at the Carvery.
The session was recorded in Johannesburg in one take (!), at a time when most progressive SA artists had either been forced in exile or been silenced by the apartheid police state. Jazz, however, was huge amongst black artists, and creativity was high. In addition to Mankuku, Shihab’s brother Philip plays the double bass while Gilbert Matthews (who would later found Spirits Rejoice) is on the drums.
The majestic piece that is “Spring” is the epitome of that freedom sound coming out of Cape Jazz in the late 60s / early 70s, a sound that owes as much to John Coltrane and Art Blakey as it does to the vibrant yet super underground SA jazz scene. More than 50 years on, the healing powers of this masterpiece are intact, and in such depressing times this is an essential antidote to uplift our spirits.
Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985-1997
Artists of Maghrebian heritage have always played a big part in Lyon’s underground culture, Carte De Séjour and Rachid Taha being only the most visible tip of a flurry of artists and (often short lived) acts coming out of the Guillotiere and Croix-Rousse neighbourhoods in the 1980s.
The great record stores / labels Bongo Joe and Sofa records (Sofa’s shop front in Lyon being situated in rue d’Algérie, right at the heart of where some of those cross cultural Franco-Maghreban exchanges took place) have compiled and put some of these tracks on vinyl for the first time. The medium of choice at the time was cassette because it was the cheapest way to produce and release music, which explains both the prolific output and the lo fi quality of most of the music selected here.
Music made within the context of immigration and displacement is always fresh and unexpected, freed from any form of purism and a reflection of cultural cosmopolitanism. Here traditional pop sounds of the Chaoui, Raï and Staïfi rhythms collide and mesh with the Western aesthetics and technologies of the era. 808 drum machines and (cheap) synths replicating hand claps, accordion lines (Cheb Rabah El Maghnaoui’s “Amayna Alik Anti”) and many of the traditional Algerian instruments are at the heart of all these tracks. Sometimes synthesizers or drums were even added in post production without the artists’ permission, rendering these sounds even more hybrid.
Nourredine Staïfi provides the 2 killer tracks on this comp with “Zine Ezzinet” and especially “Goultili Bye Bye”, the psychedelic fusion of Staïfi rhythms with digital Funk. The latter one had already been reissued on a 12” by Versatile and validated with high acclaims as a late night classic on the BATB dance floor. So modern it stills sounds futuristic 35 years after its original release.
Mega Wave Orchestra – Mega Wave Orchestra
Libreville is one of those reissue labels I trust blindly both for their taste and for their care and attention to sound restoration (and packaging!). As with their previous release by Albert Alan Owen, Mega Wave Orchestra was a new entry to me. The project was the brainchild of Geneva’s Christian Oestreicher who conducted seven keyboard players (!) like a multi media electronic big band. Musique concrete, chamber music, jazz, classical, psychedelia, Meredith Monk, early 80s pop even – the music on here has ingredients from all of these and yet is still hard to describe – all the better for it! Lots of really cool tracks on a cosmic and dreamy tip.
“Mosquito” with its wordless vocals is quite different from the rest and is truly one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard all year. Worth the price of the album alone.
“On sent une odeur de sucre. Puis de miel trop brilliant. Du miel soufflé. Comme la morsure de bougie sauvage.”
Gratien Midonet / Time Capsule
I’ve already posted elsewhere about the release of the Midonet comp, a labour of love which kept me sane throughout the first half of 2020. Read a nice review here by the ever reliable Dr Rob. The label Time Capsule has once again gone from strength to strength, with all its releases receiving critical acclaim, the reissue of Endless Waves Vol. One, the cult recording from the 5Rhythms creator Gabrielle Roth being a particular favourite. Lots of exciting projects in the pipeline for 2021 and beyond, stay tuned!
Miguel Noya – Canciónes Intactas
This compilation of the early works of Venezuelan electronic-ambient artist Miguel Noya got a lot of plays in 2020 as the soundtrack of many a (cosmic) late night. The name was previously totally unknown to me and pretty much everyone outside of his home country (his solo releases mostly only came out on limited cassette runs), though the exceptional quality of the music on this collection should help recognising Noya as a bona fide master of ambient-electronic soundscapes.
With degrees in Electronic Music and Digital Sound Synthesis from both Berklee College of Music and MIT, the pioneering early synthesist added a new branch to the cosmic tree that goes from Tangerine Dream and Eno to Hiroshi Yoshimura, to the recently rediscovered Portuguese duo DWART. Cosmic is an adjective I arguably use way too often to describe music and life events in general, but for once, with titles like “Megabrain Focos Part 1” (!) or “Huellas Circulares”, the term is 110% appropriate.
These calming, transcendental tracks were all recorded between 1986 and 1989 as a reaction to the oppressing climate created by a corrupt government, hyperinflation and violence in the streets. In the no less suffocating global climate of 2020 the ethereal quality (“Contemplación”) and distinct naturalism (the mesmerising “Huellas Circulares”) of Noya’s soundscapes resonated once again as the perfect antidote.
Jeannette Ndiaye – “Makom Ma Bone”
In a year deprived of parties, most dance music labels have either postponed or delayed their most dance-floor orientated releases, and it is fair to say that bangers such as the anthemic Makom Ma Bone were few and far between. The ever inspired Kalita label however has nevertheless chosen to give us this fantastic reissue of this Cameroon Afro disco / funky Makossa bomb from 1981, and no one complained. Well, only that it was too fast for 2020 and that we can’t wait for the first full on party in 2021 to play this one out, loud.
Pub – “Summer“
These 16 minutes of immersive ambient techno originally released in 2000 by Scottish producer Pub have just been lovingly remastered and reissued on a glorious yellow marbled vinyl. If you don’t have this, believe me you need this in your life. At the crossroads between IDM, ambient and dub techno this is liquid deep, cosmic oceanic territory – think Chain Reaction meets Boards Of Canada in a liquid techno bliss. Bliss out material for sunset AND sunrise.
On the B side ‘Fragile Root’ is a new track and almost equally sublime, a downbeat piece of ambient dub techno evoking a cross between Moritz von Oswald of the best of Plaid and AFX circa early 1990s. Essential release.
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Here are 2 mixes which include most of these tracks:
– Pt1 (contemplation): What are we passing on?
– Pt 2 (the cosmic dance): We grow in symphony
(No Particular Order)
The Floyd Family Singers – “That’s A Sign Of The Times”
Part of the incredible gospel comp The Time For Peace Is Now released by Luaka Bop, this irresistible tune from 1980 became 40 years later the unofficial anthem of a world ever so lost and desperate for peace and spirituality.
The Revolutionaries – “Kunta Kinte”
One of the most spectacular feat achieved by the Steve McQueen’s Small Axe bbc series (centred around the trials and tribulations of the West Indian community growing up in the UK) is that it brought tunes like the heavy underground dub stepper “Kunta Kinte” (and the whole culture around it) bang into the mainstream consciousness thanks to an extraordinary extended blues dance scene – realer than real and arguably the best dancing-scene-in-a-movie of all time.
LKJ – “More Time“
As an anthem to the zeitgeist you couldn’t find a better suited song that LKJ’s 1998 classic.
“More time fi leasha
More time fi pleasha
More time fi edificaeshun
More time fi reckreashun
More time fi contemplate
More time fi ruminate
Gi wi more time”
Keeping with LKJ, a rewatch of his 1981 Dread Beats an’ Blood documentary about UK police brutality was perfectly timely in the midst of a global rise of the BLM movement.
Asha Puthli – “Right Down Here“
That voice, that groove, those lyrics (a reinterpretation of JJ Cale’s original from Asha’s point of view)…late night soul music at its very best. Reissued by Mr Bongo and a seminal Silvia Gin classic.
Both the Coup De Tête (1981) and Vertical Currency (1985) LPs were played on rotation in 2020, for no other particular reason than the rediscovery of Hanrahan’s genius melting pot of downtown NYC meets Afro-Cuba. “Sketch From “Two Cubas”” and “Shadow Song (Mario’s In)” became huge personal faves , while Silvia rightly pointed out the dance-floor credentials of the life affirming “Whatever I Want”!
Lyrics Born – “Hott People”
This throwback from 1999 and the end my days at Radio Campus Clermont-Ferrand somehow resurfaced 21 years to soundtrack summer 2020. A total rip-off of J.P. Rodgers Jr – “I Enjoy Your Love” which didn’t age one bit.
“To the people, the people
To the people, the people
To the people people people
To the people (You’re hot)”
Family Of Percussion & Archie Schepp – “Here Comes The Family”
One of the most articulate member of the free generation steps onto the mic for the first time ever. Can’t think of anything cooler than this. This one goes out to the (music) family.
Youssou N’Dour – “Diongoma”
This early masterpiece from Youssou N’Dour was the highlight of an all too rare all night house party in 2020. A driving, hypnotic, cosmic groove which is just impossible to resist.
Dao – “Chenn La”
An extraordinary piece of music, the fruits of years of research by Guadeloupe’s Darius Adelaïde and up there in the gwoka moderne pantheon. I was lucky to be granted two extended and incredibly insightful discussions with Darius in Paris in 2020, and I’m proud to say this will be part of a comp to be released in the next few months, a collab between Time Capsule and Seance Centre.
Jobby Valente – “Coup De Main”
Outside of two BATBs and one AOF at the start of the year, the only proper party I was part of was in Paris in September, in between lockdowns. Dancers were hungry, the vibes were right, and this cosmic gwoka/bele disco monster from Martinique sounded rightly insane. Pure fire.
Twin Seven Seven – “Shandoroko”
A relentless and totally insane piece of Afro cosmic synths (sic), one which we got to experience in its full glory during one of those much too elusive 2020 house parties. This psychedelic monster was part of 2000 minutes (so YT tells me) of music I uploaded on the tube in 2020.
Karin Krogg – “Just Holding On”
One of the best discoveries of the year for me, thanks to Jack Rollo’s liner notes for the Mega Wave Orchestra release. Freestyle, the album this song is taken from, is a truly unique take on contemporary jazz, with the trippy Indo jazz of “Just Holding On” being one the most infectious songs of the year, its title and lyrics resonating with pretty much everyone in 2020.
“Sliding off the wheel of life is rough and it gives you no warning”
Meredith Monk – “Do You Be”
When humanity fails, you can always count on the bird woman.
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Roll on 2021!
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