music is math…

World Music

Something a Little Different: Kasai Allstars

“In the 7th moon, the chief turned into a swimming fish and ate the head of his enemy by magic”

Believe it or not, the opening line of this post is actually the title of Kasai Allstars’ debut album, described as featuring ‘some of the wildest and most unusual sounds on the planet‘.

Kasai Allstars are a collective of Congolese musicians, bringing together disparate sounds from the five ethnic groups, or “tribes”, of the Kasai region. You can listen to their album here (if you have Spotify) or alternatively, head to your online music retailer of choice as it’s well worth getting hold of a copy.

As you may have guessed from the regularity of my posting here, I’m not currently interested in writing big long articles so I’m trying a new approach to this blog. Listening to music is all about interpretation, and for those interested in exploring these sounds more deeply, there are far more authoritative and interesting people out there.

So, from me, it’s time for something a little different… Check back for more soon.


South Africa’s Farewell

As the World Cup final kicks off in Johannesburg, regardless of the result on the pitch, the tournament will certainly be remembered as one of the most interesting and vibrant off it.

From the FIFA World Cup Kick-Off Concert (featuring the likes of Tinariwen and Amadou & Mariam) to the record amounts of media coverage, the lively music of South Africa (and the continent beyond its borders) has been a welcome addition to the spectacle.

With the World Cup’s first venture onto African soil, South Africa’s culture and history have been on show alongside the football. Those who feared the tournament might not even have taken place have been proved wrong and the whole world has been treated to a truly special event.

In celebration of everything we have seen over the past month, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring everything from Hugh Masekela to the Mahotella Queens.

No musical tribute to this World Cup would be complete without K’naan’s ‘Wavin’ Flag’, a tune so good that it deserves a place in a playlist of South African music despite its singer being from Somalia.

Although it was a shame to see the home team go out early in the competition, South Africa have proved they are a country capable of hosting a modern global event on this sort of scale and, best of all, done it in their own spectacular style.

Window on the world: Jamaica

Part I: From Roots to Reggae

In the summer of 1962 Jamaica achieved its independence from Britain and the new nation celebrated in typical fashion. Soundsystems on the streets of Kingston blasted out the latest local musical phenomenon, ska music, as Jamaicans partied through the night.

Ska was a mix of the popular American R&B songs and more traditional Caribbean sounds such as mento and calypso, resulting in an energetic style of music perfect for the dancehalls of Jamaica. American music was everywhere in Jamaica in the 1950s with a demand for live bands in the tourist clubs and the US Navy making frequent stops on the island.

However, as more studios opened and producers began making records using local talent, this tiny Caribbean island was in the process of creating one of the most powerful musical cultures of the 20th century.

Producers like Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid and Prince Buster were instrumental in creating the careers these early stars. Dodd’s Studio One label was home to The Skatalites, Delroy Wilson, The Wailers, Toots & The Maytals and many more, earning it the nickname “the Motown of Jamaica”. One of the best pieces of early ska to come out of the studio was the 1963 number one hit ‘Simmer Down’ performed by The Wailers and The Skatalites.

The Skatalites went on to define the sound of ska and continue to tour the world to this day (albeit with a very different lineup). This Studio One cut is by the band’s trombonist Don Drummond who, like many other ska musicians, learnt to play music at the Alpha Boys School in Kingston. ‘Man in the Street’  carries all the recognisable traits of the ska sound, particularly the horns blasting a catchy hook over an offbeat rhythm.

The celebratory mood of post-independece Jamaica did not last long and by the mid 1960s, unemployment and street crime in Kingston had given rise to the culture of the “rudeboys”. Derrick Morgan’s ‘Tougher Than Tough’, a song he was apparently threatened into writing for a notorious rudeboy, sums up the situation on the streets and the authorities’ hopeless efforts to bring them to justice.

As society changed, so did the music, and the slower, more mellow sounds of rocksteady began to overtake the popularity of ska. Groups such as The Maytals, The Melodians and The Paragons became popular for their use vocal harmonies, shuffling basslines and unusual chord sequences. The Federals’ ‘Shocking Love’ is a beautifully romantic example of the new sound that swept Jamaica in the late 60s.

The influence of the Rastafari community also grew during this period, and out of rocksteady came the style known as reggae. Rocksteady’s more thoughtful sound was a perfect base for the meditative Rasta lyrics, as demonstrated by The Heptones’ ‘Cool Rasta’.

The transition away from rocksteady was helped by the addition of new instruments, notably the recognisable organ shuffle now synonymous with reggae and African percussion. With the sound developing, all reggae needed was an icon…

Spotify playlist available to download here featuring 31 tracks from the origins of ska, through to rocksteady and early reggae.