In the spirit of the season, I wanted to share some of my favorite releases of the year. Obviously not exhaustive; just some personal highlights. Quite a few of these are giant major label releases, so I’ll be taking down those download links quickly or leaving them off accordingly. Let me know if links are broken. Happy holidays!
The first of two full-lengths from Toyin Agbetu and Earl Meyers. Toyin Agbetu was the owner of four independent dance labels, including Intrigue, the label who released all of Soul Connection’s output; and between his work with these labels and his work as a musician and producer across a slew of groups, he’s been a defining figure of UK street soul. Still, his Wikipedia page doesn’t even mention his musical body of work, as he has risen to global prominence as a Pan-African human rights activist, artist, author, filmmaker, and community educator.
Rough & Ready is an unusual instance of ballooning rare record prices on Discogs that feel somewhat justified. It’s consistent and excellent all the way through, with slinky R&B grooves, housey drum loops, and slick vocals courtesy of Thomas Esterine. Some have called this an ideal makeout soundtrack, but personally I think it’s night time driving music: discrete, minimal, tasteful, monotonous (in a good way), and although it’s technically dance music, it never picks up too much speed.
Update: Thank you PAM for sharing a higher quality rip!
I spent the weekend after the inauguration at the New York Women’s March and finishing this mix. I wanted to use all American dance music as a way of recognizing the enormous creative debt we owe to people of color and the LGBTQ community. Since I’m not great at cross-genre mixing (yet!), this veers mostly towards disco. As such, I was also thinking a lot about the recently departed David Mancuso as I worked on it. I recorded this live, so I hope you’ll excuse some imperfect mixing and enjoy some very perfect songs. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version of it here. Thanks for listening!
1. GQ – Lies
2. Finis Henderson – Skip To My Lou
3. Scherrie Payne – I’m Not in Love / Girl, You’re In Love
4. Vincent Montana Jr. & The Philly Sound Orchestra – That’s What Love Does
5. Kenix ft. Bobby Youngblood – There’s Never Been (No One Like You)
6. Karen Carpenter – My Body Keeps Changing My Mind
Was on the fence about posting this one, as its origins are dubious, but it feels like the best full-length collection of Larry Heard’s genius, and if I had to pick one record to dance to tomorrow night, it might be this one. Happy new year!
Apart from the Discogs entry which lists its participants, I can’t find any information about this house-influenced 1995 release produced by Haruomi Hosono. It sounds as if it was stitched together from a month-long experimental jam session somewhere amazing. Synthesizers, thick references to Indian classical music, and feathery vocals dominate, with flute, sitar, thumb piano, and gentle samples drifting in and out. Ambient and dreamlike, with slow building of beats. Other notable participants include dip in the pool‘s Miyako Koda, vocalist Mishio Ogawa, and Yasuhiko Terada, a recording engineer who worked on countless Yen records releases. An underheard release from an under-celebrated but prolific era in the career of the great Haruomi Hosono!
We’re so excited to release this mix of experimental Japanese pop, up today on Self-Titled Mag.
“This is a mix of Japanese pop songs, most of them with a synth funk backbone. The most exciting aspect of this era of music, though, is how unafraid these musicians were to push the limits of genre: They loved Van Dyke Parks, Kraftwerk and Martin Denny, but they were never confined by any one sound, nor were they afraid to poke fun at western constructs of the ‘oriental’ or Japanese fascinations with Western cultural novelties.”
Read more HERE, and if you like it, download it HERE.
We were deeply saddened to learn that Indian musician Charanjit Singh suddenly passed away at home in Mumbai this morning, at 75 years old. His death came just a few months after the passing of his wife, Suparna Singh.
Over the past few years, Singh’s story has been told hundreds of times, attaining mythological status. It started as whispers on the internet in 2005, rumors of a record of frenetic acid house renditions of traditional Indian ragas–but it was the record’s release date that left listeners in disbelief. Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco beat was purportedly recorded in 1982, a full three years before Phuture wrote “Acid Tracks,” generally acknowledged as the pioneering acid house track.
It took another five years for Synthesizing to be reissued, instantly cementing it as an electronic cult classic. Singh surfaced and started playing shows, largely thanks to the efforts of Rana Ghose. With Singh’s reappearance we learned that he had been a Bollywood session guitarist, that he had bought his Roland TB-303 in Singapore shortly after its introduction in late 1981, and that Synthesizing had come about through at-home experimentation. Singh recounted:
There was lots of disco music in films back in 1982, so I thought, why not do something different using disco music only. I got an idea to play all the Indian ragas and give the beat a disco beat–and turn off the tabla. And I did it! And it turned out good.
We were fortunate enough to have Charanjit play at Body Actualized Center last August (photos below) and it was one of the most memorable musical experiences of our lives. The show was packed and sweaty, with Charanjit shredding through a long and ecstatic set on his Jupiter 8 in a suit jacket, unfazed by the heat. As was their tradition, his wife Suparna was seated next to him smiling the entire time.
Ghanaian musician A Yaw Atta-Owusu, aka Ata Kak, recorded and self-produced Obaa Sima in 1994 in his home studio while living in Toronto. In spite of only 50 cassette copies being produced, the tape has enjoyed cult status over the past decade. Still, scouring the internet turns up virtually no information about him, which will change today. Awesome Tapes From Africa‘s Brian Shimkowitz has finally tracked him down after years of searching, and is restoring and rereleasing Obaa Sima on all formats, 21 years after its original release.
Obaa Sima lies somewhere in between highlife, house, hip hop, new jack swing, and electro, produced rough and dry. Without wanting to suggest that this is a kitschy bedroom-tape artifact (it’s not), what makes this so exciting is its rawness and deliberate playfulness. Ata Kak seems to have exploited his minimalist production methods on purpose and clearly had a lot of fun doing it. The music feels pixelated and hyper-saturated at the same time, like playing Pacman through 3D glasses.
Ata Kak is a wicked rapper, and his hopped-up flow takes center stge, sometimes backed by pitched-up backing choruses of what sound like his own voice. The result is joyous and strange, a window into something that children of the internet will never be able to experience firsthand–this having been made in 1994, right before dial-up became ubiquitous in America and the world began to shrink. Obaa Sima is the end of an era, the end of (global, if not local) anonymity and microcosms, the last of glee and spontaneity. It’s a vibrant moment that presumably happened without documentation, leftfield and DIY to its core. Obaa Sima has a lot more going on than just nostalgia, though–it’s warped and frenetic and a little scary in its relentlessness. We’re looking forward to reading more about Ata Kak Yaw Atta-Owusu. For whom did he make this music? Was he homesick? How much did it circulate in Ghana? We like to imagine that he was dancing as if no one was watching, because no one was watching, and that was totally fine by him.
Preview the anthemic, blazing “Daa Nyinaa” below. It belongs on every summer mixtape, ever. Side note that this amazing video footage is unrelated to the song and there’s a bit of mastering on the audio. If you want to hear the original recordings, they’re all over YouTube.
In 1990, Mustafa Ali had little under his belt before he began recording his sole 8-track LP as the perfectly suited nom-de-plum New Age Dance. Predicting several of the new decade’s themes and tones for Detroit, it’s not hard to imagine this as the precursor to Drexciya’s subaquatic sensibilities; here, however, synth washes that would be reserved for diving instead mimic interstellar flight. Displaying an otherwise distinctly American sound for a British record, Dawn of a New Age cameod his native isle’s bleep techno before Warp established a serious audience. It was prime for reissuing on Rush Hour, following the like-minded Virgo Four, Larry Heard, and Dream 2 Science.
On Dawn of a New Age, disillusionment with the modern world, primarily its spiritual state, runs rampant. Each composition opens and repeats a bar emulating archaic visions of cosmic technological disclosure in sound, strewn with a variety of samples from dinosaurs to the day the earth stood still. Tracks like “Everything Seems Different” and the eerie coda “Let There be Light” emulate the hauntingly simple NES sci-fi side scrollers. “Soul Search” delivers even bleaker synth waves, yet also draws attention to how N.A.D.’s narration co-dependently pairs to its musical counterpart: his repeated mantras weave in and out of the track’s minimal flourishes.
Much of this album plays like a disaffected, dystopian sermon in one’s own private diary. At its end, Dawn of a New Age leaves you exasperated, carnal, and dispirited. While the masses may never sip this brew, part of Dawn‘s ambitious thesis has triumphed by predicting spiritually imbued curation all throughout dance music culture. Mustafa left behind the sense he’d die more than happy pouring his soul into this recording, placing it as an unknown artifact never to be found again. Lucky for us that wasn’t the case.