Thursday, April 23, 2009

Album Review: Extra Golden-Thank You Very Quickly

Extra Golden is a powerfully vivacious Kenyan-American ensemble that fuses Kenyan Benga and American rock. They are currently touring in support of their latest release, Thank You Very Quickly, an album composed in the wake of Kenya's post-election violence in 2008 and released March 19, 2008 on Thrill Jockey Records.

Singing in both English as well as Swahili and borrowing guitar riffs from everyone from Jerry Garcia to Djelimady Tounkara, Extra Golden has a unique sound. All six tracks on Thank You Very Quickly are rough and fierce. Using time signatures like 12/8 and employing a distorted, bluesy guitar style, Extra Golden breaks the mold of most African guitar bands. Unlike the clean sound of Congolese Soukous or more traditional Kenyan Benga, Extra Golden sounds dirty and rugged.

Extra Golden was born during 2004 when Ian Eagleson, Alex Minoff and Otieno Jagwasi began fiddling with each other’s compositions in an apartment in the Buru Buru neighborhood of Nairobi. Eagleson was completing Ethnomusicological field work in Kenya at the time, and what started as casual jam sessions have evolved into three albums and an international touring schedule.

Extra Golden go about their work with a few simple goals in mind: to write songs that tell stories of life, love and loss; to praise people and places that are dear to their hearts; and, most of all, to create a sound that people of different backgrounds and generations can enjoy.

If you like to rock regardless of where you're from, I highly recommend Extra Golden's third album, Thank You Very Quickly.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Album Review: Staff Benda Bilili-Tres Tres Fort

My favorite record label in the world, Crammed Discs, has introduced another world class talent to the international music scene from the Congo. Staff Benda Bilili are a truly unique ensemble. Composed of a group of paraplegic street musicians who live around the grounds of the zoo in Kinshasa, Congo, they achieve tight harmonies and rhythmic melodies that convey a melancholy nonchalance. Their voices convey a storied, unique identity.

At times they're similar to Cuban son, other times they're more like Jorge Ben. They display a lot of versatility on their latest release, Tres Tres Fort. Their title doesn't false advertise. They are extremely powerful. Four senior singer/guitarists sitting on tricycles, occasionally dancing on the floor of the stage, arms raised in joyful supplication, are the core of the band, backed by a younger, all-acoustic rhythm section pounding out tight beats. Over the top of this are weird, infectious guitar-like solos performed by a 17 year-old prodigy on a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can. They are definitely unique.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Album Review: Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit-Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit Are the Very Best

Speaking in superlatives is not always smart, but sometimes it's the safest way to be succinct. Maybe that was the line of thinking at Green Owl Records when they titled their mixtape, "Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit are The Very Best." Honestly, they're not the very best, but they're pretty damn good. Esau Mwamwaya is a singer from Malawi who's making waves for his remix of MIA's Paper Planes internationally among the musically informed. This mixtape showcases his versatility as he sings over remixes of everything from Vampire Weekend's Kwassa Kwassa to Architecture In Helsinki's Heart It Races.

Esau Mwamwaya was born in Mzuzu, Malawi. He grew up in the capital, Lilongwe, where he played drums with various groups, including the Masaka Band. He was a good friend of the legendary Evison Matafale and they played together for several years before Matafale was killed in Malawi police custody in 2003.

In 1999, Esau moved to London, England and has, until recently run a second-hand furniture store in Clapton, East London. Esau's shop was on the same street as Radioclit's old studio, and after the Radioclit boys bought a bike from Esau, they invited him to one of their housewarming parties. Soon after, Esau and Radioclit became good friends and they started working on music together. Two years later, the project has a name, The Very Best.

Download the mixtape for free here

Book Review: Foundation

Foundation: B-Boys, B-Girls, and Hip-Hop Culture in New York is an in-depth academic exploration of one of hip-hop culture's most globally expansive exports that sets the record straight on where b-boying comes from and what it means. Incorrectly known the world over as breakdancing, b-boying is a form of Afro-diasporic competitive dance that developed in the Bronx and Brooklyn, NY in the early 1970s. Schloss sets the record straight on b-boying's roots by interviewing hip-hop historians and practitioners and getting down and hitting the floor himself.

Schloss has an authentic credibility that informs his narrative and gives his readers an insiders' perspective. He differentiates between correct and incorrect terminology, and tracks specific dance styles back to specific neighborhoods and even further back to dancers' African roots. Schloss gives hip-hop culture the scholarly credibility it deserves. I highly recommend this book to anyone with at least a passing interest in hip-hop culture, but I must warn you, after turning a few pages, you will want to break out your adidas running suit and start popping, locking, and hitting the floor to some breaks yourself.


Buy it on Amazon!