Ray Lugo and his groups have brought us some of the grooviest music on the planet! A well-traveled and fiercely independent artist, Ray's music have covered a lot of funky ground, from his Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra, his Boogaloo Destroyers to his soulful L.E.S. Express studio project and solo and remix work. Coming from the heart and soul, his tunes are uplifting and get the feet and hips moving. We just had to check in with him:
(Photo by Joseph Beeson)
Please give us some background about growing up, your early years and how you got into being involved in music.
I grew up on the Lower East Side of New York, but also lived briefly in Caracas and Puerto Rico as a kid.
I was a boy, around age 10 or so, I’d often spend long periods of time
alone as my mother was not in town. In those days, my neighborhood was
the infamous “Alphabet City”, and at night I would often find it hard to
sleep because I was afraid someone would break into the apartment while I
slept. Plus I wanted to drown out the sounds of the drug dealers and
people fighting that could be heard from my window. So I would listen to
every station from one end of the dial to the other on a small radio I
had. The last station of the night was always WBLS and this is how I
grew to love disco, R&B, funk and soul. The Chief Rocker Frankie
Crocker was my favorite DJ and I always looked forward to his show as he
always played the hottest tunes.
By age 11-12, I was a
B-boy and Hip Hop was the biggest influence in the way we looked at the
world. There weren’t that many actual Hip Hop records in existence at
that time, so we’d often tape-record the Friday night radio shows and
blast the same tape the whole week until the next show. We would also
just loop a break and bump it all the time everywhere we went on the
boombox. I remember Bob James’ “Mardi Gras” was one we rocked for ages.
90-Minute cassette tapes with just that ONE break on both sides! hahaha.
Those breaks always provided the atmosphere when we would bomb graffiti
in the train yards.
The Lower East Side at the time was a
place where you had Latin descargas going on in the East River Park on
Saturday afternoon, punk rockers coming to buy their dope dressed in the
wildest clothes as b-boys uprocked to Spoonie Gee. Everything was very
mixed in New York in those days and no one made a big deal of it. It was
all part of city life. I became intrigued by the punk rockers and
wondered what it was all about, so one day I decided to go to a show. It
was a Bad Brains show at the Jane Street Rock Hotel and my friends and I left the place with our minds
blown. I had never seen so much energy, camaraderie and vibes in one
room. These people had an “outsiders” club of their own and I wanted to
be a part of it. So I went deep in that direction during my teens.
What other sounds did you hear growing up that really got you jumping!
a child I primarily heard opera, as my mother is a lifelong fan. When
she was around, the works of Puccini and Verdi or anything featuring
Maria Callas would often be heard in the house, as she was one of my
Mom’s favorite singers. Opera didn’t get me “jumping” but I could tell
this was complex and well arranged music. We lived with my stepfather
for a couple of years and he was a huge Fania All Stars fan, so I was
exposed to a lot of Ismael Rivera, Celia Cruz and Hector Lavoe’s music
and I began to love it myself. The music that I would say changed my
life was early hip-hop. I remember as a kid how the Sugarhill Gang’s
“Rappers Delight” could be heard blasting at every block party, in every
house and in every
school dance in 1978-79. That one tune switched things into overdrive.
The Treacherous Three, The Funky Four + One More, and pretty much
everything Kurtis Blow was putting out at the time were also anthems we
would rock until the grooves started to wear out. Now THAT got me
jumping for many years.
From there I became drawn to
guitar driven bands and eventually landed on punk and hardcore music
because I could identify with a lot of its frustration and explosive
energy. So certainly, Bad Brains, Fear, Black Flag and bands like Minor
Threat, 7 Seconds and MDC caught my interest. What I liked most was that
these groups were really saying something lyrically, something
relevant. Not all, but many of the people making that music were
thinkers, they questioned the status quo.
At what point did you get involved with the NYHC scene? Could you tell us about those days?
got into the hardcore music in the early-mid 80s. One afternoon I was
loitering around Tompkins Square Park and struck up a conversation with
John Omen, who played bass for Warzone at the time. He invited me down
to The Pyramid club and introduced me to Raybeez who asked me if I would
like to work with them as a roadie and I accepted immediately. During
my time in hardcore I was fortunate to meet and share great (and some
very sketchy) experiences with a lot of great people from the scene. It
was an exciting period of time because there was a lot of “new” energy
around and groups forming all the time. I learned so much about the
world of underground, independent music during that period. Had I not
known any of this, Kokolo would have never been able to tour so many
countries, and I certainly would not be making music today. They taught
me valuable things: dedication, conviction and above all, tenacity.
Never let anyone tell you it can’t be done. Never let anyone dictate
your limitations. Based on these beliefs I taught myself how to write
and produce funky music I could only dream of as a kid.
in those days, the scene had been around for about 5-6 years as
“hardcore” but there were scant labels to be found and there was still
and air of innocence to be found as these musicians were doing it
because they HAD to, not because of a record advance, contractual
obligation etc. The fanzine Maximum Rock and Roll was sorta part scene
bible/part gossip column and served to keep all the scenes around the
country informed on the comings, goings and misdeeds/indiscretions of
bands or specific people. There was no internet then, so things were
done via actual letters and phone calls. Cassette demos were very
popular and you could just mail 3-5 bucks in cash and get your music in a
couple of weeks or so. Most bands scraped up the cash to record their
demos and sell them outside of CBGB’s during their Sunday matinees. I
think I still have my Sick Of It All cassette demo somewhere hahaha. New
York City bands at the time did not have the same marquee draw that
West Coast bands like Circle Jerks, Black Flag etc or even DC guys like
Minor Threat, but it didn’t take too long for the city to gain a strong
foothold nationally after bands like Cro Mags, Murphy’s Law,
Crumbsuckers and Agnostic Front began to release properly recorded,
distributed and marketed albums.
I remember the few
places that actually would give many of those bands a break in order to
play live were churches and VFW halls. It didn’t matter where they
played anyways, as the venue would often be filled, kids would know the
songs and we were just thrilled to be out of NYC.
(Ray & the Boogaloo Destroyers live at Nublu, NYC summer 2014)
led to your involvement with Underhanded Studios? How much studio
experience did you have at this point? What are some notable
projects that came out of there?
Around 1989, hardcore
began to transition into more of a heavy metal/rock sound as a result of
the rise in popularity and influence of Guns & Roses’ sound. I
began to sing in a hard rock group called Twin Barrels Burning at the
time. We released a 7” on Dutch East India to little fanfare. During
those days I was not the most reliable frontman, as my performances
fluctuated from great to unwatchable. We had worked hard to generate a
buzz in the East Village and we got word that Seymour Stein, president
of Sire Records, would be in attendance at our show that weekend. I’m
not sure if it was nerves or what but I drank too much before the show
and ruined the performance for my bandmates. The big record company
bigwig heard a song and a half and got back on his white limo and left.
Soon after, I deservedly got booted from the band.
then I decided never to let my actions ruin another opportunity and to
return to the DIY ethos I picked up from hardcore. One night I bought a
4-track TASCAM recorder from a junkie on St. Marks Street and locked
myself in my apartment reading over the instructions manual in order to
learn how to operate the thing. This is what inspired me to open up
UnderHanded Records on Ludlow Street.
I didn’t have a clue how recordings were assembled but had the good
fortune to befriend a fellow named Steven Walcott who did and together
we taught each other what the other lacked.
itself was moderately successful, but should have been more so. It was
quite eclectic sound-wise, ranging from Latin Ska to Industrial, Dub
Punk and Indie. This was at a time when small indie labels HAD to
specialize on one specific style because of the financial risk involved
plus the expectations of its buying public. I’m thinking of Touch and
GO, Dischord etc. Only major labels had the financial freedom to delve
into a much wider variety of genres at the time.
our most notable acts were the Latin-Ska band King Chango. They
eventually would go on to David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label and featured
Martín Perna, who would start Antibalas, as well as Fernando Velez, who
became Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings' conguero. I still have fond
memories of the fun nights recording those early songs.
at Underhanded, we befriended Phil Lehman and Gabe Roth when they first
began Desco Records, which would eventually morph into Daptone Records.
They cut their first two albums there along with a host of singles, and
seemed to always have a good time during the sessions.
What was your path into wanting to start Kokolo? What has been going on with it?
first time I ever heard Fela Kuti’s music was at Gabe Roth’s apartment
on Houston Street around 1994-95. His label partner at the time was a
French fellow named Phillip Lehman and together they had launched Desco
Records. Philip had been one of the first French B-boy and graffiti
writers in Paris and was a true connoisseur of funk, soul and African
music. One afternoon I stopped by their place and they were spinning
some Fela. The long ass solos and just general song length didn’t appeal
to me at the time. It took me a good 6 years for me to one day purchase
a Fela CD and discover the brilliance of his compositions. My ears had
to mature before I could appreciate his work.
point I wanted to challenge myself and see if it would be possible to
even attempt forming an afrobeat group given my limited playing skills. I
knew that rock’s formulaic structures no longer enthused me and I
aspired to become a better songwriter and arranger. Of course I knew I
would never touch the genius of Fela but I was convinced I could write
more complex music than I had ever done before. This became the idea
behind forming Kokolo. Now, 13 years after forming the band I feel it
was one of the best experiences of my life for I have had the incredible
good fortune to be surrounded by and to have met fantastically
accomplished musicians who have shared their talents with me over the
years. Some of the guys that have played with me are truly world class.
we are finishing up Kokolo’s fifth studio album, which will be out in
January 2015. We plan on doing an extensive tour in support. Most of the
guys in the band have been busy working on a variety of new music
projects for the past couple of years and it’s time to get on the road
I find it amazing that Kokolo has toured so much out of
the US (Europe, Africa, Asia). Why so few gigs in the States? Are there
any particular cities or regions (worldwide) that have given tremendous
When I started the band, I understood that it would
take between 10-12 years for the band to be known globally given the
fact that most of the recording, marketing and touring would be DIY and
that I was never going to seek a “Big” label for there was nothing they
were going to do for me, except lock us into a disadvantageous and
protracted contract. In addition, I have always been supportive of
nascent “afro” scenes and clubs in a lot of countries and they in turn
have repaid our support with logistics, shows and warm friendship. The
music I write with Kokolo is intended to make people dance. It’s hard
and it’s funky. In a way it is quite aggressive, in a seductive way.
This works well at many of the venues that have been kind enough to host
us, wherever in the world they may be.
In the United
States, we only play established “nights” in clubs or events where
afrobeat and afro-funk is already embraced and the crowd is built-in.
Indeed, Kokolo is quite capable of booking a 35 date Coast to coast US
tour, but the reality is that by the time we hit Detroit we would find a
lot of empty rooms. This would be de-moralizing and pointless. We would
go into serious financial debt just to pretend everyone in America is
into Afrobeat, which is not at all the case. Kokolo has never lost money
on a tour and this is what gives us the freedom to continue to bring
our live show to wherever it makes sense.
there are so many great cities, countries and events we have played it
is hard to pin down the top ones, but some that do stick in my mind
would be The Glastonbury Festival, The Montreal Jazz Festival, playing
on a floating boat club in Paris, Bullrings in Spain, the insane sound
system at Block 33 in Thessaloniki Greece, Gypsy spots in Romania,
Italian Beach Festivals and on and on. We got a lot of love from all of
those different types of crowds. If you are one of them and you are
reading this: Thank you, Merci, Gracias, Danke, Obrigado, Epharisto and
Could you fill us in on how Kokolo gets its music together? Are
you the chief songwriter? How steady is the crew of musicians?
write all of the music and lyrics for Kokolo. In the beginning, I
collaborated on a couple of songs with others but when the time came to
license songs for compilations, soundtracks etc problems arose. I didn’t
want to deal with that again, so ever since, I write everything and
things run smoothly.
All Kokolo songs start with a beat,
upon which I try to place the fattest and funkiest bass line I can come
up with. After those two are set I add the guitar lines, a tenor and a rhythm. Horn lines are then placed in specific places that will add
dynamics to the tune and gel with the vocals. I usually listen for a few
weeks to those elements and then come up with the chorus, it is only at
that point that I know what the song will be about and then I write the
lyrics and melodies.
During the first 4 years we had
many different musicians come through the door and it took an average of
about a year each to find permanent musicians who not only had the
skills to play the music as I envisioned it, but that also had stage
charisma as well as being pleasant and conscious people. The present
lineup has been together for about 6 years now, except for our
trombonist, Chris Morrow, who has been with me from day one. Kokolo
would not be going today if it weren’t for Chris’ invaluable input and
Could you explain the different
approaches you take to writing music for your various projects? When
something pops in your head and you start building it, do you have an
idea of which project you want it to be for?
have come from just bits and pieces I assemble from various sketches I
have lying around. From 2008 or so I began to envision more funk and
soul driven tunes in collaboration with female vocalists. I felt this material would be out of place within Kokolo and so I dubbed it “L.E.S.
Express”, which was the name of a roller skating crew from my
neighborhood when I was a kid. Same for the Boogaloo material, I thought
it was best to give it an individual identity, separate from the other
I had several sketches that were kinda finished
when I befriended Dusty from the Jazz & Milk label over in Munich.
After I sent them to him, he felt there was enough there for a proper
solo album and that’s how “We Walk Around Like This” came about. That
Jazz & Milk release was the one who opened the door for me to
explore a much wider range of influences than I had ever before.
am fortunate to write any style of music I like when the inspiration
hits me, as I believe there are only two kinds of songs: the ones that
make you feel something and the ones that do not. I try to keep on the
feeling side of things.
How often do you play the music of each of your projects live in concert? Has LES Express ever played live to an audience?
L.E.S. Express has remained a studio-only project for the moment. We
had discussed the possibility of jumping over to the U.K. for some shows
back when Roxie Ray was living there for a bit, but the logistics never
materialized and the opportunity faded.
With the rest
of the projects, it depends on promoter demand and whether it makes
sense. Currently I play with Kokolo, The Boogaloo Destroyers as well as
play solo shows and/or DJ. It just depends on what project works best
with a particular audience. We usually plan tours 5-6 months in advance
and try to go out for as many weeks as possible once or twice a year.
How many instruments do you play? Do you engineer all of your own recording?
play guitar, bass, congas, clave, and a tiny pinch of keys. I’m not
very advanced in any of these instruments but I play enough to convey
the general ideas, which are then enhanced by the real instrumentalists
in the band.
The first Kokolo album was engineered by
Gabe Roth at Daptone, and we had sporadic engineers sit in between the second and third albums. I engineered the fourth album, and the new one
was engineered by our guitarist, Jake Fader, in Cleveland. When it comes
to my solo music, I do some of the engineering with crucial help from
my friend, Ian Toole.
When you work with
vocalists like Roxie Ray and Elani, do they record their vocals from
afar or did you get together in the studio? I had never heard these
singers until hearing them on your LES Express records. How did you discover
It was funny, because I actually first met
Roxie Ray in person when I toured Australia in 2012, almost 3 years
after the music was released. I had first heard her voice singing lead
for Dojo Cuts, a great funk band and label mates of Kokolo on Record Kicks. We met for coffee in Sydney and the next night we did a radio interview together. She is a fantastic singer with soul for miles. The
way we worked together was great because, unlike many singers, she can
actually write her own lyrics and come to the table with concepts. I
would send her the rough instrumentals and she would reply with finished
hooks and lyrics. She rocks and is a pleasure to work with.
met Elani through Kokolo’s bass player, Kavin Paulraj, as he had spent
quite a bit of time in Brazil and is a dear friend of Elani. She had
never sung before and I was playing back the instrumental track when it
occurred to me that the tune would benefit from some Portuguese singing.
She agreed and we were able to track her and Kavin in just a couple of
takes. I love the spontaneity aspect of that tune because it all flowed
very naturally and chill, just like I wanted the tune to sound. Elani is
a beautiful soul.
Is there a basic philosophy or attitude that you generally convey with your music?
parallel to my music, my philosophy on life has evolved over time. I
used to believe that positive change could come through the collective,
in an orderly and cohesive manner. I now believe that change can only
come through the modest but continued actions of the individual.
once believed revolution was the answer, but now feel evolution is far
more important. I hope we can begin to concentrate our brainpower on
developing new models of living harmoniously not only among ourselves
but in cooperation with our natural world. Politics, nationalities,
money or status will be useless when there is no clean water to drink or
non-polluted air to breathe.
The artwork on every album I
have released contains a maxim I came up with many years ago: “Live
more, consume less, with more joy and less stress”, with this I try to
encourage listeners to collect experiences, not items.
have to ask: what goes through the Ray Lugo creative brain when he hears
a Duran Duran tune and decides to voodooize it? One of my favorites,
Most people think of Duran Duran as 80s pop icons,
but if you listen closely you will come to find out that those guys can
really play their butts off. I always liked the concept and bass line of
“Girls on Film”, so one night I thought “why not?” and rang up
the boys with the idea. We had a lot of fun tracking that one and was
happy when their bassist, John Taylor, posted Kokolo’s version on their
site a couple of years ago.
Who have been the most exciting artists you have heard in recent times?
There have been a couple that got me excited to check their music:
The Aggrolites are one. I found their “dirty reggae” to be the perfect mix of soul, reggae and punk attitude.
Stromae: Belgian dance artist. Great video concepts and lyrically exceptional.
Chet Faker: Really like what he’s been doing with his productions. Unassuming but deeply soulful. Good key works.
Phil France: Exceptional mood pieces. I think of him as a modern day Satie.
Kompa: Not a band, but this Haitian sound really gets me going these days. Too many brilliant groups to mention in one sitting.
Little Dragon: I understand they are currently the flavor of the month, but
really love how she places her vocals on top of the jangly rhythms.
What forthcoming projects can we look forward to?
Kokolo - Album #5 out early 2015
Los Terrificos - New Psychedelic Chicha/Spaghetti Western project Album out Summer 2015
New Solo Album – Out Early 2016
New remixes – Out Winter 2014/Spring 2015
Tours: KOKOLO/BOOGALOO DESTROYERS/SOLO/DJ throughout 2015-2016
Besides the music, what are some of your other personal interests?
like to read a lot of Eastern Philosophy writings, things like
Khrishnamurti, Osho and Buddha. I am also a beginner student of yoga.
have also recently gotten back into following sports after many years
away. I have become an avid fan of the English and Spanish soccer
leagues, as well as the NBA and NFL.
In addition I
volunteer as Director of a soccer program for kids with disabilities. I
have learned much from spending time with people that are so grateful
that you give of your time. Seeing smiles on their faces is a great
What have been your favorite cities you have lived in or visited?
I love different cities for many reasons, but some of my favorites are:
Paris: Because you can simply walk around at night and gawk at the amazing architecture and aura of the city for hours on end.
Tokyo: Endless things to see. Whole different way of looking at things!
Manila: One of the friendliest places I have ever visited. Down-to-earth and vibrant.
Sydney: Too pretty for words.
Rome: Another place where it pays to walk around the ruins at 4AM!
Marrakesh: Top food, deals on everything and exotica galore.
Could you recommend a few favorite current restaurants?
New York: Carmine’s for the best Italian meal.
Larios for awesome Cuban food on South Beach. And if it’s too packed,
you can scoop a sandwich from a window shop around the corner. Both
Nottingham: Chez Coor’s for the best Jamaican food.
Bangkok: Issaya Siamese Club. Mind blowing food served in a picturesque 100 year-old heritage house.
Name a few records that you count among your all time favorites.
Bad Brains – ROIR tape: --For many years
during the initial stages of American hardcore, the bad brains were
simply one of the most energetic, engaging and out there groups in the
country, both on and off the stage.
Ruben Blades –
Siembra: --In the early 80s, Ruben was looked up all across Latin America
as the “intellectual” salsero, the one who poetically voiced the
concerns of the everyman. This album forever cemented his reputation as
Tom Waits - Small Change: --After moving on from the
punk and hardcore scenes in the early 90s we began to play blues based
hard rock and began to delve deeper into artists like Thin Lizzy, Merle
Haggard and Tom Waits. Tom and Randy Newman are master story-tellers and
on this album in particular, I find Tom to be at his peak of conceptual
Chic - C’est Chic: --Bernard Edward’s bass
lines are the reason why I became interested in playing bass and much of
my music features many of Nile Rodgers’ funky guitar chords. I always
loved the sophistication of the arrangements and the incredibly tight
grooves. Was thrilled to bits when Kokolo got the chance to play with
Chic in Europe some years ago. They were still sharp as ever.
Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back: --The way in which
PE blasted upon the scene was absolutely thrilling. Their message had
never been delivered in such a funky and relevant manner before, their
live shows were real spectacles. The Ying and Yang provided by Chuck and
Flave were brilliant. I mean, it got to the point where we actually
began to believe a revolution was eminent! Bold, innovative, funky and
LIVE MORE, CONSUME LESS. WITH MORE JOY AND LESS STRESS.
Contact Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can reach Peace & Rhythm at email@example.com.
Post author: Andujar
Friday, September 12, 2014
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Here are a few items that have come my way that I have been digging so far this year. Almost all of these were promos sent or handed to me, either on vinyl, CD or digitally. A few were selectively procured on my independent whimsy. Keep on sending your music. Vinyl sent to me will get a review. No guarantees on the rest, but I will do my best. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: If you don't see the record you sent me here, don't fret. I will take care of it for the next column, of which will run soon and be smaller in size. I realize I take too damn long with these articles about shiny black wax. So more, but smaller. Coming soon.
And no, I am not giving out free music downloads here. Go and support, please.
-- I've been really digging this French project Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra for a few years now. Having found a home on top notch US indie Ubiquity Records, bandleader Masta Conga is free to whip up his personal vision of funk-jazz. The new album, Pulsion, was well worth the wait. Very soundtracky and legitimately psychedelic-sounding jazz, ALVO make the kinds of records that are a pleasure to listen to. More on the stoned vibe but with a lot of funk and rhythm to keep the limbs loose. This is gorgeous mind-massage nuttiness. It could likely pummel every "strictly library breaks" digger and leave them a lesson to remember. It's like they take all your favorite little elements out of all your favorite musical genres and sculpt them together into a solid hazy groove for head or body. A river of pleasureful sound!
--Bill Nace's Open Mouth has been releasing some documents of high art noise with cool graphics and presentation to match. Jake Meginsky studied percussion with Milford Graves and Joe Platz, is part of Slaughterhouse Percussion duo and DJs hiphop & other sounds. So of course here we get something completely left field. This new work, l'Appel Du Vide, opens with the most minimal of electronic sounds before we get to a hint of a melody transmitting from mars, a lightly percussive section around 8min and later there seems to be an old drum machine in the back. Side B begins with a warbling electro-something, almost like an arabic string instrument. 2nd section would fit with a Maya Deren flick, then minimal techno, sounds of crackly vinyl mastered into it. It'll remind you of that experience you had early morning on a pondside meditation and the next thing you knew you woke up in a hospital room and the sonic atmosphere around you became intoxicating enough you didn't even bother to ponder why you were there in the firstplace. Alien signals transmitting here. I am not exactly sure what is going on here but the whole outcome is quite good. I am amazed at the different sounds on that thing, even tape hiss sounds like it is under a microscope. Pretty exquisite stuff, I'll say. For my money I prefer the second side due to it displaying a bit more movement. This is the kind of ambient sound I can hang with. Highly creative and mysterious, this noise is music, executed with deep control of vision.
--From Santiago, Chile comes this wild group called Anarkia Tropikal! The strictly-digi album La Venganza de los Brujos is a left-field joy. The lyrics are way too fast for my brain to understand but I am really digging this group all the way around. Psychedelic cumbias, shaman-punk vibes, and general red-eyed evil with an ode to "Ayahuasca", and of course yet again some great sleeve art. This is your ticket. South America leads in a lot contemporary art and music that I like.
--Boomarm Nation (along with Sahel Sounds) presents Mamelon's "Koumba Fri Fri" 7", wicked youth-roots from Mali. Storming percussion and some fierce rapping. Kinda reminds me of a rougher cousin of fuji. The remix adds synth blurts acting as your guide, with some echo fuckery. And the El Mahdy Jr Räi Dubs 10" will alter your senses enough to be able to hear in a few corners of the world at once. Mahdy (an Algerian exile) collaborates with three other producers here on a war-weary platter with räi as a launch point and a trip through desert dub gone mad. Cut from similar edgy sonic territory as Muslimgauze, Mutamassik, etc. A couple more blasts of fresh ear from the Boomarm Nation.
--Jef Gilson et Malagasy box set (Jazzman)...French pianist Gilson has long been a legendary name to jazzheads like myself but I never heard the man's music until a few years ago. Possibly because he is European and I grew up in the States (where jazz artists used to grow on trees), but more likely because his albums run several hundred dollars a pop. A few reissues later and voila! I can now attest to the supreme music he made. This set by Jazzman offers his trio of albums (+live stuff) from the period that he was in Madagascar (late 60s/early 70s). I am really into jazz that has distinct african flavor and this has that. If ya dig Randy Weston/Don Cherry/Lloyd Miller ethno-jazz vibes then you are strongly encouraged to seek this material out. And there are plenty of soul-jazz & bop grooves as well. Some of this stuff came out originally on Gilson's Palm label and here's hoping some reissues of Saheb Sarbib and Khan Jamal would be in the cards. That would be greatly appreciated, universe.
--The (Riverhawk) Party Band are a punky, funky brass band from Lowell, MA that is inspired by Claude Debussy. Not sure how his theories relate to the musical styles on the Transcendenta LP (Nice Bass Productions), but maybe some day I will be clued in. But they give a little rap about him on one tune, and not only that but give him some prime real estate on the front cover of the record. The Party Band is a name that suits these guys, because this really is party music. "Home Grown" is my fave cut, someone should release it on a 45. "Slipstep" is another great one. What a fun LP! Get one direct from the group. Every town should have a band like this.
--I've been quietly enjoying the music of Mo Kolours the past couple of years. And now there's a debut album (One Handed Music) from the Mauritian-Brit. This music is truly eclectic softie-ish bedroom-producer stuff but with some real creativity at work. Overall it is collage-like in a way that sounds like it could've come out on DJ Olive's the Agriculture label. Stoned and funky but quite laid back on the whole. Some hand percussion, keyboards, samples (hello Curtis), steel drum, Cymande nod. And hints of dubby hiphop for added love. Interesting listening.
--Big Mean Sound Machine are a 13-piece gang from Ithaca NY. It's a funk/afrobeat thang and wordless like so many others. The music is crackin' though and I hear they are too heavy for most stages. I dug their 2012 LP (Marauders) and this brand new one Contraband is even better. Awesome grooves and some horns to learn you something proper. The band resembles a small village and yet they fit the team into a studio for a mostly live affair. Good stuff again from this upstate posse. The LP is on white vinyl. Website here.
--My ears have been liking The Shaolin Afronauts from Australia via their catalog on Freestyle, including the brand new one Follow The Path (as well as the related "Ojo Abameta" 12"). An appealing blend of afrobeat and 70's-influenced soul jazz, with a touch of highlife, Ethio and other. The guitars can be forceful when needed or sinewy. This is a top notch ensemble, crisp and tight. Even during the loosest sections the focus is there. "Baie de Sangareya" is a particularly delightful tune. I love the cover art (see above). The 12" has a few album cuts plus two more killer afro jams, worth its own admission. Three albums in and they are sounding better than ever. 'Nauts' bassist Ross McHenry released Distant Oceans, an album under his leadership (First Word Records). Really it is from late last year but I didn't really sink my brainbuds into it til this season so it'll pass, also very 70s's with a lot of keyboard action and some tasty reeds work. Some of the sections run a little too much on the smooth side for my ears but this is largely a good one. Not sure about the personnel crossover (if any) but I like a lot of the groovy music I hear coming out of Australia.
--Ikebe Shakedown have always brought its listeners a slamming groove to dance to. The formula on the new full length Stone By Stone (Ubiquity) largely remains the same: horns & percussion driven instrumental funk with a lot of afrobeat influence. As such, "Rio Grande" stands out with a spaghetti western intro and some nice vibes. And "Dram" is a dark funk number with some guitar at the end that oddly gives me a Spacemen 3 flashback. I do wish they'd add vocals to some tracks though. That would put them over the top. A 12" and 45 add some remixes, as well as an unreleased B side. I've seen them a couple times too and they are very groovy, with a lot of cover tunes from all over the globe.
--This Jazzman anthology of a little known Chi-town group called Master Plan, Inc. is a cool soul item that spans the street-fi funk of "Heartbreaker" to the smooth harmonies of "Something to be Done" to the obligatory social-conscious cut "Younger Generation". The groove on "Bag Up" reminds me of Syl Johnson ca '70, except with a female vocalist. This does well in capturing a lot of different moods & shades of 70s soul. Swanky horns, male & female vocals. Some of it sounds pretty raw. LP has 10 cuts, digi-forms have more. The bonus cuts offer some lesser later grooves and rough demos. This is Chicago soul of a lesser known name. But if you like this bag, jump in.
--Salsa is getting exciting again. There may never be a time quite like the golden era of the 60s/70s in latin music when the scene was as diverse as it got. You had rock/hippie influence, deep exploration of afro-cuban rumba traditions, social criticism, prison albums, funk, heavy metal-inspired sleeve art, LSD-soaked jams and a deep dip into disco culture. By the time the 80s rolled around the music had gotten stale. The freaks in Colombia kept things interesting for much longer, but the kings of New York discovered that kingdoms fall hard and fast. And while Miami and Santo Domingo have continued to make bank, their brands of tropical salsa and merengue were too polished on the records for a weirdo like me to really give a shit. Ya really can't blame barrio kids in the 80s for choosing rap and punk over salsa romántica. The last 15 years or so has seen a renewed dedication to the salsa dura and there has been a slow and steady climb in delivering the kind of nutty salsa that could actually rope in that kid in the corner. This conservative of genres is finally letting its hair down again and there are a few standout groups among those making their mark for the nueva generación of salseros. Here's a short profile of the champion sound: Richmond, VA's "salsa machine" Bio Ritmo have been at it since their first 7" on Merge Records appeared in the mid 90s. Ten albums later they stand at the forefront of the scene, having garnered a cult audience all over the world. This is a tight and professional band with one of the most expressive vocalists in the music (Rei Alvarez, who doubles as the band's art director) and the crazy keyboard runs of the gifted Marlysse Simmons. The band sprinkles in a wide range of flavors in their salsa: Cuban, Puerto Rican, Middle Eastern, cumbia, danzón, funk and everything else. The Puerta del Sur album has a lot of those elements. There's something for every dancer or head-nodder on this platter. Incredible hornsmanship, otherworldy keyboards and impeccable rhythms propel an album that sounds like it is destined to come out on top of all the rest come awards time. The second side is generally a little "weirder" (to my delight), but the whole record has plenty of great music to offer. And there is a song for every desired taste here. "Se Les Olvidó" meshes Cuban and Puerto Rican elements. "La Via" is a funky salsa jam. "Codeina" is a bolero in Middle Eastern flavor, with an added string quartet. I like to call this type of band "prog-salsa", given the new directions the band creates. The first side will have mom & dad dancing to their evening's content. The second side has the party (post-joint) getting freaky into the night. Bio Ritmo have never been afraid of bringing something new into their salsa every time out, something the likes of Alex Wilson, Jose Conde and another growing few oblige us with.
----La Mecánica Popular are a NYC band that plays salsa with gorgeous guitar, a lot of effects and synths. Self-proclaimed "psychedelic salsa" is an appropriate description. Hip enough to be appreciated by gringos looking for an entry into new music, while also showing massive love to the Fania generation of yesteryear when salsa had more soul and creativity. And of course you can dance to it. Descarga, bolero, guaguanco, guajira. It's all here. A band to watch out for. Names You Can Trust has the goods. Pass the joint.
--And we're pleased to announce our involvement in the co-op 7" release of Orquesta El Macabeo's latest ("Macacoa"/"No Sé Cuando Llegué"). A salsa unit from PR with a bunch of metalheads in membership that has captured the attention of the island and beyond, but this is no gimmick. A sick band (although no metal present). Contact us if you'd like to get yer mitts on it. Peace & Rhythm label catalog # 001, super limited pink vinyl copies available as well, collector scum.
--Oh Pancho! Oh Cisco! The latest in the Let's Boogaloo! series (Record Kicks, this is vol. 6) offers up a mix of party grooves of the late 60s/early 70s, from the "spookaloo" by Los Africanos (the silly-psychedelic "Monster Party") to well-loved tropical groove nuggets by the likes of St Vincent's Revolution ("The Little You Say", which while being a great tune still feels a bit out of place here.) That one would make a great 45 with St Maarten's Rolling Tones "It's A Feeling", another classic from 70s Caribbean disco on the flip. Bobby Marín's "Mr. Skyjacker" is about as fucked a piece of music that boogaloo has ever produced. Acoustic guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums, and some fucking great lyrics. Bobby Marín used to roll with the genious Louie Ramirez back in the daze. This set has many soulful flavors to offer, from bugalú to disco to descarga to funky soul. Lots of cover songs too! "Skyjacker" is also available on a snazzy new Rocafort 45.
--Trio Valore "Crazy" single (Record Kicks)...Some Paul Weller associates play an instrumental Hammond jazz-funk version of one of my favorite pop tunes. I'll take it. (Yeah, I'm guilty).
--Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath (Ubiquity) is the highly publicized Black Sabbath tribute from members of Brownout and Grupo Fantasma. I have seen both of those bands several times and have been continually amazed by their tight live shows with swingin' horns and rippin' grooves. This record is fucking great, a sonic dream come true. If you are a child of heavy music like I am then you may find excitement in Sabbath tunes played with batá and funk horns. "Iron Man" in particular is given epic treatment here. "Hand of Doom" thrills like a good horror flick, pushing you into madness. "Planet Caravan" is a smoky trip. The best part about this awesome concept is that it remains very Sabbathy, not some gimmicky funk bullshit trying to make someone else's music what it is not. The guitars are still heavy (Beto said he started playing guitar because he wanted to be in a metal band: this is the closest he's come.) This is very clearly a work of appreciation, not novelty. And perhaps making it lifestyle might be the ticket to better understanding the black (or brown) arts. The LP, the 10" ("Hand of Doom"/"The Wizard") and the live show are all evil. (This review is shortened from my bigger piece here).
--While I was not as high on the Darondo album as many others were, I always found it's most loved tune, "Didn't I", to be my favorite in its sweet simplicity. Part of the Ubiquity Records re-edit series, this 12" pays tribute to the recently-passed Bay Area soulman. The new versions are totally respectful to the vibe of the OG, generally the editors pitch the tempo to the times, loop some sections and add some effects. All versions solid, with Dave Allison's being my fave. The Let My People Go LP got a limited re-press too, on green vinyl.
--Let's enjoy another groovy set from NYC's Ray Lugo & The Boogaloo Destroyers. Ray's been through punk, latin, hard funk, afrobeat, solo records, remix work and more. Here he delivers yet another LP (Que Chevere!--Freestyle Records) from his band The Boogaloo Destroyers and the party rages throughout this one. My ears hint to me that this could include members of Ray's other band (Kokolo). Some suave trombone and steppin' timbales action. The lyrics are direct and the boogaloo is joyously jumping. This is very much a retro 60s sounding thing paying tribute to a time & place and style. Latin soul! Descarga! Jala jala! Shingaling! One of the leaders of the bugalú revival, right here in your ear. Excellent party band in a live setting too. There's also a 45 with two joints from the album.
--Tumi Mogorozi's Project ELO (Jazzman) is a pretty cool jazz album from a young South African drummer who sounds like he's been listening to his Strata East and Impulse records. It's got some Trane influence, especially in the sax paintstrokes on tunes like "Gift of Three". The guitar-playing is nice n fluid. The operatic choir is a very cool idea and reminds me of not-dissimilar ideas by Mary Lou Williams and Max Roach (check here and here) in decades long before Tumi's birth. The solo vocal on "Thokozile Queen Mother" is nice. But the real star for me is the trombonist, who really slays here. This album is impressive, especially given that it is a live-in-the-studio affair (no overdubs). At times I was wishing that the music would get a bit more "out", but it is well worth a listen if you dig this kind of jazz.
--Here's a shout-out to Alliance Upholstery for the minimalist beauty of the Jacques Renault rmx of Greeen Linez "Hibiscus Pacific" that provides the most mysterious thrill for me on this 12" (Alliance Upholstery) of baleric/disco stuff, styles of which I know little about. For Upholstery service contact here.
--The highlights for me on Jazz & Milk's Footprints comp are Todd Simon & friends (Mulatu-influenced latin jazz), Bad Jazz Troupe (nu-afrobeat), Sam Irl (minimal soul loop), Dusty (jazzy electro), Karl Hector & the Malcouns (dark afro funk), Mr Chop (roughneck breaks-very cool!) and Ray Lugo & Kira (lovely soul!) The corny uptempo version of Andy Bey's "Celestial Blues" by Deep Jazz was disappointing, however. But there are many flavors available here. Another wide-appealing release from Dusty's Jazz & Milk imprint. There's a 12" version of the 15-track full length that contains six cuts.
--A DJ/video crew from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Systema Solar seem to have a big following in South America. This wicked 45 (Galletas Bailables) includes a couple of bangers for your electro-champeta party. "El Botón del Pantalón" was recorded back in 2012. And the Eddy Grant nod of "El Pikó Electrikó" is an absolute stomper! Hot and authentic pico sound. (Image above from a diff. release).
--I heard a previous reissue of Haitian keyboard virtuoso Henri Pierre Noël and it was memorable enough but I find One More Step to be funkier with a little more grit to his finger-dancing jazz with some tropical flavor. The song titles do not lie in describing the styles within. You'll find latin jazz, JB-inspired funk, blues and even some classical influence. I bend my ear to this marvelous record. Wah Wah 45s' label full length reissue of the early 80s OG on Reveal.
--The Impellers hit the deep funk notes with their new album My Certainty (Légéré). Nothing terribly innovative here but a solid set of soul grooves, and it is hard to go wrong with stuff like this. Hard driving with some cool bari sax. The title track has a nice acoustic approach to vary things. "Put The Man In Egomaniac" and "The Last Dance of The Moai" are gritty hard funk gems. And lucky you, the LP comes with a CD. Also from that same German label comes the new one from The New Mastersounds, Leeds, UK funkateers. The new full length Therapy is not always as hard as some of my favorite early tunes from them, but the band does kick up a quality racket. Lots of melody present on the album. Among the flavors we hear some jazzy riffing on "Morning Fly", the "Monday Meters" jam (which of course sounds like a Meters tribute), the fonky "Soul Sista" (which could be a lost JB divas track). "Stop This Game" shimmers with a fine male vocal lead and some Rhodes. "WW III" is not at all doomy like its title. And I could have done without the smooth jazz cover of Bruno Mars that closes the album. These guys have been cleaning up on the US festival circuit the past few years. I wonder what Keb Darge thinks of them now? Légéré Records have been holding their own in the funk game the last few years.
--While there seems to be an army of purists out there telling us that Fela's influence should've never left Africa, a citizen like myself actually appreciates the reach it has made. How much further from The Shrine can you get than to Warsaw, Poland? How Ubiquity finds folks like the Warsaw Afrobeat Orchestra is beyond me but the 12" for "Only Now" has a nice funky original with some Bosq magic in the alternate versions. The tune features a trio of female vocals that remind me of the Lijadu Sisters in delivery. Bosq's remix ups the ante, albeit with the vocals a little lower in the mix. The emphasis on his version is to bring it into afro-disco territory. He actually added a lot of extra elements, like organ and more sax. The Whiskey Baron of Massachusetts has had some hot hands lately, with his additional re-touch for The Spandettes (modern sweet soul with a female vocal), his Stevie edits 10" as well as working on a new album.
--Another bright young artist from Massachusetts, Kristen Ford is the definition of a true road warrior. Still in her 20s, she has already toured the US about a dozen times as well as a solo tour of Europe. (Not too mention an appearence at Fenway Park already on her resumé!). Her Kickstarter-aided self-released full length Dinosaur brings us some of the finest folk-infused indie rock tunage out there. The album includes, in spots, some lovely strings, a couple of Neil Young-ish leads (check "Bulletproof") and a driving delivery. "Internet" may very well be the best tune ever written about the subject. The vibe is fun and honest, yet focused. In a live setting (I have seen her many times) she can unleash some power that leaves the listener feeling like a best friend. Performers with this kind of confidence often find a path to stardom. Catch KFo on her never-ending tour. Here's her Bandcamp page.
--My favorite book in awhile has to be Eilon Paz's Dust & Grooves: An Adventure In Record Collecting. Or in Eilon's case An Adventure In Photographing Record Collectors because that was the goal. He set out to capture his subjects "in the most intimate of environments--their record rooms." This is the kind of thing that brings out the record nerd in all of us. No matter some subjects have specific interests (old 78s, girl groups, holy grail funk 45s) or others collect it all, there are a number of settings we see the collectors thriving in. It could be some diggers in dusty old corners of forgotten buildings, highly paid DJs on their knees in their own living rooms or smiling faces at the turntable from Africa to England. The photos are gorgeous and capture the joy of the game in all its revelry. There is one dude who displays an evidently complete collection of Sesame Street items. There are also people who get a kick out of records being vandalized by messages written on the sleeves by past owners. Another pic is one of Afrika Bambaataa's record collection getting ready to go into a museum. Other snaps show families enjoying the records together. The objects proudly displayed in subject hands range from the rarest of the rare to the most bizarre oddities to cherished favorites. Its no wonder people get that Fever. There is so much out there to love.