Category: 1980s

Now known as the Federal Republic of Somalia, Westerners view the country as being a lawless, dysfunctional and broken country, split and reeling for a brutal and bloody civil war, and while that has been true over the past 25-30 years, what most people have forgotten is that for roughly a millennia, the Eastern African nation was one of antiquity’s major trading posts with several power Somali empires dominating regional trade, including the Ajuran Empire, the Adal Sultanate, the Warsangali Sultanate, and the Geledi Sultanate. And as a major trading post, the cultures of the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, India, Southeast Asian and China, all of whom conducted trade with the Eastern African nation, managed to influence and slowly worked their way into Somalia’s rich and unique musical culture.

The British and Italian empires through a series of treaties with Somalia’s historical empires and sultanates during the late 19th century gained greater control of parts of the coast, establishing the colonies of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland while Mohammed Abdullah Hassan’s Dervish State fought and defeated the British four times before a crushing defat by the British in 1920. Italy acquired full control of the northeastern, central and southern parts of the country after defeating the Majerteen Sultanate and the Sultanate of Hobyo — and their occupation of the country lasted until 1941 when the British took over with a military administration. British Somaliland would remain a protectorate of the British while Italian Somaliland became a United Nations Trusteeship under Italian administration, the Trust Territory of Somaliland.

In the 1960s, independence movements across the continent helped redefine the map with Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland uniting in 1960 to form the Somali Republic under a civilian government. Sadly, democratic government didn’t last long; by 1969, the Supreme Revolutionary Council led by authoritarian Mohamed Siad Barre seized power and established the Somali Democratic Republic. Now, here’s where things musically for us begin — in 1988 on the eve of bloody, two decade civil war Siad Barre launched a series of punishing air strikes in Somalia’s northern section, now known as Somaliland in an attempt to squash a rumbling independence movements in the region. Unsurprisingly, one of the targets Siad Barre targeted was the regional radio station Radio Hargeisa, as a way to prevent the organization of further resistance. Knowing that an attack on their radio station and their hometown was imminent, a handful of radio operators, tastemakers and historians recognized that they needed to preserve more than 50 years of modern Somali music — and it meant finding a way to remove thousands upon thousands of cassette tapes, records and master reels and then dispersing them to neighboring countries like Djibouti and Ethiopia, sometimes burying the tapes deep under the ground to protect them from airstrikes, fire, and so on.

The Somali Civil War broke out in 1991 and Mohamed Siad Barre’s government collapsed and as a result a number of armed factions began fighting for influence and control, particularly towards the south. And because of the absence of a central government, Somalia began to be known as a failed state, wth residents returning to customary and religious law in most regions. There were a few autonomous regions towards the north, including Somaliland and Puntland. The early part of the millennium saw the creation of several fledging and sputtering federal administrations including the Transitional Federal Government in 2004, which reestablished national institutions as as the military and in 2006 with the assistance of Ethiopian troops, assumed control of the Eastern African nation’s southern conflict zones from the Islamic Courts Union, which eventually splintered into several radical groups such as Al-Shabaab. Al Shabaab in particular continued to battle the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) for control of the region.

By 2012, insurgent groups had lost most of the territory they had seized and a political process providing benchmarks for the establishment of a permanent democracy was launched, and it included a provisional constitution, which reformed Somalia as a federation. The end result was the Federal Government of Somalia, the first permanent central government in over 20 years was formed and a period of reconstruction began in Mogadishu.

Remember those buried audio recordings I mentioned earlier? Well they were excavated and recalled from their foreign shelters very recently, Some of those recordings are now kept in the 10,000 cassette tape achieve of the Red Sea Foundation, the largest known collection of Somali music and cassettes in the world in Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa. Ostinato Records, best known for the preservation, digitalization, and distribution of obscure world music was able to digitized a significantly large portion of the Red Sea Foundation’s archives, choosing 15 songs as part of their latest compilation of African music Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa. And while revealing the diversity of styles and sounds of Somali musicianship, the compilation also provides a glimpse of life in Mogadishu in the 1970s and 1980s, when the coastal capital was referred to as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean.” At the time bands like Iftiin, Sharero and Dur Dur played at some of East Africa’s glitziest nightclubs, while Waaberi Band played packed to the rafter sets at the national theater.  Nightlife, music, culture and art were enormous — and interestingly while there were renowned male vocalists like Mahmud “Jerry” Hussen, Somali music of the 70s and 80s were best known for beloved female vocalists Faadumo Qaasim, Hibo Nuura, Sahra Dawo and a collection of truly empowered, prolific women; in fact, half of the compilation features songs sung by and written by women.

Strangely enough, this cultural and musical golden age occurred under a socialist, military dictatorship, which effectively nationalized the country’s music industry. The state owned a thriving scene and essentially music was recorded for and by national radio stations, and it was on distributed and disseminated through public broadcasts or live performances. Privately owned labels were non-existent and the work of a generation of artists was never made available for mass release — and until recently, hadn’t been heard outside of Somalia and its immediate neighbors. Adding to a rather strange period of history, during the height of the Cold War, Somalia had been supported by the Soviets and then US in the Ethio-Somali War — and with a decade of US backing, American soul and funk captured the imagination of Somali youth and musicians.

The Ostinato Records team then spent the better part of year traveling to Mogadishu, Hargeisa, Djibouti and across the Somali Diaspora in parts of Europe, the US and the Middle East to track down the musicians, songwriters, composers, government officials, scenesters, radio personalities and other folks, who had played a role during the 1970s and 1980s and got their stories down in a 15,000 word liner note booklet.

As the folks at Obstinato Records explain in press notes ” Alongside the story of Somalia’s music before the civil war, the selection is also focused on the pan-Somali sound. Spread over much of the Horn of Africa, Somali language and culture transcend arbitrary borders. Somali singers from Djibouti were at home in Mogadishu.” They continue by saying that “this compilation  seeks to revive the rightful image, history, and identity of the Somali people, detached from war, violence, piracy, and the specter of a persistent threat.”

The compilation’s first single Danan Hargeysa’s “Uur Hooyo (Mother’s Womb)” feat. Mohamed “Huro” Abdihashi was recorded and released in 1987, and the breezy and summery track manages to nod at the trippy psychedelia of 70s dub and soul as a shuffling rhythm is paired with explosive and expressive horn blasts, synths that possess a cosmic sheen, and a strutting bass line. And if there’s one thing the song does evoke is a far simpler time of laughter, constantly flowing wine and beer, of dancing until the sun came up and walking home in a drunken and elated shuffle with arms draped over the shoulders of your comparisons softly singing the songs you heard in the nightclub throughout the night. The language, the scales and the melodies may be somewhat alien to many Westerners, but it’s the wistful tone — albeit in retrospect perhaps? — that should feel familiar. It’s the sound of youth before inevitably being altered permanently by life’s complexities, ambiguities and horrors.

 

 

 

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New Video: Real Gone Music to Re-Issue a Two Critically Successful Paisley Underground-era Albums

Founded in 1981 as The Sidewalks by founding members and college roommates Matt Piucci (guitar, vocals) and David Roback (guitar ,vocals) Rain Parade expanded to a quintet with the addition of Roback’s brother Steven (bass, vocals), Will Glenn (keys, violin) and then Eddie Kalwa (drums). And with the release of their debut single “What She’s Done to Your Mind” in 1982, the members of Rain Parade quickly established themselves within Los Angeles’ Paisley Underground psych rock scene in the early 80s, a scene which also included The Bangles, one of the more famous and commercially successful bands of the entire scene.

Building on the attention they started to receive, the members of the quintet released their debut effort 1983’s Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, an album that renowned music critic Jim DeRogatis would later write in Turn on Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock that “Emergency Third Rail Power Trip is not only the best album from any of the Paisley Underground bands, it ranks with the best psychedelic rock efforts from any era,” as the band’s sound was largely inspired by The Byrds, early Pink Floyd, and others, but with dark and introspective themes.

Shortly after Rain Parade’s debut, David Roback left the band to form a new band Opal, and the band continued as a quartet, releasing 1984’s mini-LP Explosions in the Glass Palace, an album which NME would later praise for its “mind-meltingly beautiful guitar sounds, employed sparingly and dynamically amid dark, dizzy tales of murder, madness and drug paranoia.”

Eddie Kalwa left the band after the release of “You Are My Friend” and was repalced by Marc Marcum (drums) and John Thoman (guitar, vocals) was recruited to fill out the band’s second lineup, just as they were signed to Island Records. The reconstituted quintet released two more albums — Beyond The Sunset, a live album recorded in Japan and 1985’s Crashing Dream before breaking up. And unsurprisingly, the various members of the band went on to other creative pursuits with David Roback later forming Mazzy Star with Hope Sandoval.

In 2012, members of Rain Parade’s original lineup, Matt Piucci, Steven Roback and John Thoman, along with Mark Hanley, Alec Palao and Gil Ray, formerly of Game Theory played a reunion/comeback gig at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco and that lineup played a number of live shows over the next two years, before Gil Ray’s departure due to cancer. Stephan Junca replaced Ray, who died earlier this year.

Almost 35 years after their initial releases, Real Gone Music will be re-issuing Rain Parade’s seminal and critically applauded first two efforts — Emergency Third Rail Power Trip and Explosions in the Glass Palace both digitally and on CD, with “Look Both Ways,” a track that was cut from the original Stateside release. Remastered by SonicVision’s Mike Milchner and approved by the band’s Matt Piucci and Steve Roback, the remastered re-issue is the first remastering of both efforts since they were initially released on CD back in the early 90s. And along with that the re-ssiue will include expanded liner notes from Paisley Underground critic and history Pat Thomas based on interviews and reminisces from the band’s founding members.

The re-issue’s first single is the jangling and anthemic “This Can’t Be Today,” a track that manages to be anachronistic — while we may know that the band was inspired by 60s psych rock, and it was released in the early 80s, it feels as though it could have been recently released by a contemporary act — i.e. Elephant Stone and others; however, its served with a sobering reminder of the fact that for every Susanna Hoff and The Bangles, there are countless bands, who receive some relative level of success before quickly disappearing. Should Rain Parade have been bigger? Perhaps but the re-issue is a key document of what was going on in the Paisley Underground scene. 

Initially known as a vocalist and keyboardist in NYC-based pop act Strip Darling, Jacque Ryal is a singer/songwriter and pop artist, whose career began crafting Portishead-inspired trip-hop; however, along with producer and collaborator Aaron Nevezie, Ryal, who writes, record and performs under the moniker RYAL, the duo have received attention for a soulful synth pop sound that while seemingly inspired by Prince and 80s synth pop, is also reportedly inspired by Solange, The xx, Bjork, Kendrick Lamar and others while paired with deeply personal lyrics rooted from her own experiences.

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past year or so, you may recall that I caught RYAL perform during the eclectically curated Festival 8 at C’mon Everybody last summer and although I haven’t personally written about her in a little bit, the New York-based singer/songwriter and pop artist has been rather busy, recording a sultry and soulful yet minimalist and subtly atmospheric-leaning rendition of one of my favorite George Michael songs “Father Figure.” And while being fairly straightforward, RYAL’s version manages to have a swaggering vibe, thanks to big, tweeter and woofer rocking beats.

 

 

 

 

 

Preview: Living Colour at City Winery 3/13/17

Currently comprised of founding members Corey Glover (vocals), Vernon Reid (guitar, synths, backing vocals) and Will Calhoun (drums, percussion, keys, samples, backing vocals), with Doug Wimbish (bass, drums, guitar, programming, backing vocals), the New York-based rock quartet Living Colour originally formed in 1984 and they quickly received attention for a sound that meshed elements of heavy metal, funk, jazz, jazz fusion, soul, prog rock and alternative rock with lyrics that frequently focused on the personal and sociopolitical, frequently commenting on and attacking Eurocentrism and racism in America. The quartet’s original lineup, featuring featuring the founding trio of Glover, Reid and Calhoun with Muzz Skillings (bass) cut their teeth and honed their sound and live show playing shows at CBGB’s.

Interestingly, the band found an unlikely champion in The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, who took the band under his wing, produced a demo, which caught the attention of Epic Records. And with the release of 1988’s commercially and critically successful full-length debut Vivid, the band’s original lineup, quickly rose to attention with their smash hit “Cult of Personality,” which won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance; they also won the Best New Artist Award at 1989’s MTV Video Music Awards. Adding to a growing international profile, The Rolling Stones had Living Colour opened for the rock legend’s Stateside leg of the Steel Wheels tour. They quickly followed that up with 1990’s sophomore effort Time’s Up, which also won a Grammy.

After releasing three full-length albums with a number of major and minor hits, the band split up with the members focus on a variety of creative projects; in fact, Wimbish, Calhoun and Glover had teamed up with Glover in a project called Headfake, which played frequently in the New York City area. And as the story goes, in late 2000, Headfake played at CBGBs with Reid joining them, leading to rumors of a Living Colour reunion. Of course, those rumors proved to be true, as Living Colour went on their first tour together n six years the following summer.

The members of the band have since released one of their most experimental efforts to date, 2003’s Collideøscope, followed by 2005’s rarities and B-sides compilation, a few live albums, 2006’s Best of compilation, Everything Is Possible: The Very Best of Living Colour and 2009’s Chair in the Doorway. And over the past couple of years, the band has been on a rather busy touring schedule, touring to support the 25th anniversary of their seminal effort Vivid.

As a personal note, as a music obsessed boy, I’ve almost always listened to a wildly eclectic variety of music, and in the 80s metal was a big thing. I loved Metallica, Def Leppard, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue and the like; but when I watched their videos and concerts, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me — and even in my 8 year old mind, I knew that I couldn’t be those guys. I was black and from Queens. However, seeing someone who looked like me with guys who came from neighborhoods that I knew or had family in, kicking ass and taking names was a revelation. And it made them heroes to me.

Sadly, I was too young to catch them back then; however, I have since seen them twice — once at Afropunk during their Vivid 25th Anniversary Tour and later at Brooklyn Bowl, and I’m thrilled to know that the band is playing tonight at City Winery.

New Video: The 80s MTV-Inspired Visuals and Sounds of Rudie Edwards’ “Lover Like You”

Rudie Edwards is an up-and-coming Dover, UK-born, Kent, UK-based singer/songwriter and producer, who has been influenced by a wide range of music including disco, Joy Division, gospel, Ray Charles and others. And like a lot of musically obsessed kids, living in small towns, Edwards realized that she had to leave her small town to make something of herself. “I knew I had to move out of there,” Edwards says in press notes. “Music was the easiest way for me to escape. My sisters and I were the only mixed race kids at school. It’s a beautiful place, but i knew it wasn’t where i was going to be spend the rest of my life. I was bursting at the seams. I needed more. I wanted more. I was longing for the stage. I had to get to London.”

Edwards eventually relocated to London, where she attended the renowned BRIT School, the alma mater of Adele, Amy Winehouse, Imogen Heap and others. By 2012, Edwards’ music career had started in earnest as she was splitting her time between Los Angeles and London, writing for CeeLo Green, Erik Hassle, Beatrice Eli and others. And with her later single “Lover Like You,” Edwards reveals that as a solo artist, her material is fueled by a sensual, bold confidence and a sassiness that’s reminiscent of I Feel For You-era Chaka Khan while simultaneously drawing from 80s synth pop, disco, soul and contemporary synth pop in a similar fashion to Escort’s Adeline Michele. Sonically the song reveals a slick and seductive production featuring layers of arpeggio synths, electronic bleeps and bloops, a sinuous bass line, a blistering 80s guitar solo, stomping beats and a rousingly anthemic hook to give it all a shimmering, club rocking feel. And in some way, the song sounds as though it’s the sort of song you’d expect people to shout along with lustily at the club as soon as they hear it.

The recently released video manages to visually draw from 80s synth pop and pop videos while being shot through a slightly faded VHS meets Instagram filter with a fittingly coquettish, fun-loving air.

Best known as a member of renowned Swedish, electro pop acts Djustin, Club 8 and Acid House Kings and as the head of Stockholm, Sweden-based electro pop label Labrador Records, Johan Angergård has released two full-length solo albums under the moniker The Legends — 2009’s noise pop-leaning self-titled debut and 2015’s It’s Love, which featured lead single “Keep Him.” Interestingly, last year was a prolific and very busy year for Angergård as Djustin and Club 8 released albums — and he released two singles, “Cocaine” feat. Maria Usbeck, “Summer In The City (Living Is For Somebody Else)” and a cover of The Chainsmokers smash-hit “Roses” feat. Rozes which not only reflect a decided change in sonic direction for the Stockholm-based label head, producer and electronic music artist but are also marked the first three singles off his sixth, full-length effort as The Legends, Nightshift,  and with those early singles, Angergård  has developed a decidedly swaggering, neon colored, retro-futuristic sound and aesthetic that channels early 80s Giorgio Moroder, The Man Machine and Computerworld-era Kraftwerk, classic house and Holy Ghost!’s Crime Cutz as heavily vocoder-processed vocals are paired with tweeter and woofer rocking 808s, processed cowbell and layers of arpeggio synths.

Unsurprisingly, Nightshift‘s fourth and latest single “Cash” continues on a similar vein, complete with a cocksure, infectious hook straight out of 1983 and a boom box meets dance floor friendly sound.  And in some way, the song should serve as a reminder that even in our incredibly difficult sociopolitical times, that sometimes you need to have some mindless fun on the dance floor — and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

 

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Currently comprised of founding member Mike Score (keys, vocals), Joe Rodriguez, Michael Brahm and Pando, the British new wave/synth pop quartet A Flock of Seagulls initially formed in 1980 — and with their most famous and longest running lineup featuring Mike Score, his brother Ali Score (drums), Frank Maudsley (bass) and Paul Reynolds (guitar), the quartet had some of their biggest success, including a string of international hit singles including their smash hit “I Ran (So Far Away),” “Space Age Love Song,” and “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You),” all released in 1982 and 1984’s “The More You Live, The More You Love,” an anthemic pop song featuring angular guitars played with tons of reverb and delay pedal, an equally angular yet funky bass line, and a soaring hook.

 

Recently, JOVM mainstay artist Rhythm Scholar remixed A Flock of Seagulls’ 1984 hit single and his remix of the 1984 hit song, as futuristic bleeps and bloops, radio transmissions and feedback, along some distorted vocals during the song’s intro, bridge and coda and bigger, more forceful drum programming while retaining the angular guitar chords with reverb and delay, the equally angular bass line and the soaring hook of the original, essentially giving the song a subtle space-age feel — but space-age from what we would imagine 2017 would look like and feel like in 1984.