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Radio LBB: Roots Vol. 25

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Adelphoi Music's Jonathan Watts returns, taking us on another eclectic journey of old, new, overlooked and lesser known tracks that have musical roots in Africa

Radio LBB: Roots Vol. 25

Now into its sixth year and the 25th edition. For the uninitiated the Roots playlist showcases an eclectic range of music from across the globe of unfamiliar, forgotten, or recently discovered, to the most upfront sounds of now, all with the common theme of being rooted in Africa.

Some of the highlights this time round include:

La Retreta Mayor - Zambo

La Retreta Mayor was the brainchild of influential Venezuelan guitarist, Alexandro Rodríguez. Born in Caracas in 1952, Rodríguez studied classical guitar in his youth, played electric guitar in various bands and eventually became known as one of the country’s most important jazz guitarists. He formed La Retreta Mayor, enlisting trumpeters Lewis Vargas and Jose Diaz, saxophonists Nelson Hernandez, Benjamin Brea and Rolando Briceño, trombonist Rodrigo Barbosa, drummer Edgar Saume, pianist Eduardo Cabrera, guitarist Alex Rodriguez and bassist Oswaldo De La Rosa. The group recorded a jazz fusion masterpiece - their self-titled album, which was released in 1976 - but it proved to be a flash in the pan, and they disbanded shortly after. Zambo is one of its undisputed highlights, with melodious horns and sax duelling solos alternately between sections of tight unison, while tripping intricate rhythms play out between the drums, piano and Rodríguez’ rhythm guitar.

Zito Righi e Seu Conjunto - Poema Ritmico Do Malandro

This psychedelic Brazilian stunner is a bit of a slow burner, with a 20 second intro giving way to a steadily chugging midtempo groove, which builds subtly throughout. Appearing on the 1969 album, 'Alucinolândia' by Zito Righi e Seu Conjunto, the track draws on samba, MPB, and bossa nova, but with more than a nod to the wave of psychedelia that prevailed over popular music at the time. It’s a reference that’s found emphatically in the album’s artwork, which features two hands holding eyeballs, against a vibrant polychrome background in pastel textures. Composed by Zito Righi aka Isidoro Righi, the Brazilian saxophonist, instrumentalist, conductor and composer, who brought together an illustrious cast for this masterpiece, including the much-loved vocalist Sônia Santos. Santos’ vocal delivery propels the track as it accrues latent energy, building a vibe that’s guaranteed to heat a dancefloor. We’re fortunate to have had a reissue this year from the tireless Mr Bongo, as asking prices for original copies have sat over £1500 in recent years.

Eunice Collins - At The Hotel, Pt.1

This is a really special track! It feels tragic when you hear those gorgeous tones, but this is the only track Eunice Collins ever recorded. Written by Collins and produced by LeRoy Hamilton, At The Hotel was released on a 7” by Chuck Sibit’s Chicago-based Mod-Art label. The b-side includes a brilliant flute-led instrumental, but Pt.1 is all we’ll ever hear of this stunning voice. It’s a real gem of modern soul, that mid-70s moment when soul began to morph into disco. At The Hotel is a lush, downtempo number with a low-key rhythm section featuring a rhythm guitar, electric bass, and hand drums, and a smooth sequence of two jazz chords, reminiscent of Erik Satie’s iconic Gymnopédie No. 1. The lovelorn lyrics have a heart breaking quality, speaking of unrequited affection and the bitter sense of being used. Absolutely stunning music.

Marehemu George Mukabi - Asante Kwa Wazazi

George Mukabi was a short-lived trailblazer, cutting a similar figure in Kenyan music to the blues legend, Robert Johnson, in the US: with a grizzly life story to match. Born in 1930, he was one of the nation’s first recorded musicians. Influenced by Malawian 'Nyasa' bands, he set out to play Kenyan folk music in a finger-picked style, influencing important players like John Mwale, and his followers in the rural Omutibo genre. He recorded fewer than 30 songs in his lifetime, before being killed in 1963. On returning from a gig in Nairobi, Mukabi assaulted his second wife, following a dispute in which she smashed his guitar, a prized possession he’d been gifted by an English guitarist. Friends of her father retaliated with machetes, jembes and rungus, pursuing Mukabi across the River Yala before dismembering him and delivering his limbs to a local hospital. In spite of all this, the song is really beautiful - uptempo but emotive, finding an ambiguous line that’s both sun kissed and positive, with a wistful undercurrent.

Rogér Fahkr - Dancer On The Ceiling

This is a genuine gem unearthed by aficionados of Middle Eastern music, Habibi Funk. We’d highly recommend reading the lovingly written blurb on their band camp page, detailing how they came across Fakhr’s work, which can be found here. Rogér Fakhr is one of those shadowy cultish figures, unknown to the many and with no digital footprint to speak of (until recently), but spoken of in reverent terms by the most important musicians of a certain generation in his native Lebanon. He came to Habibi Funk’s attention via repeated mentions during their years spent working and conversing with musicians in Beirut. His work sits in the dreamlike world of west coast psychedelia, drawing on folk styles but entirely written by Fakhr himself. On first reaching out, the reclusive musician sent them his album, “Fine Anyway”, which he’d released in a run of 200 cassettes in the late 70s, but declined their offer to reissue the album, saying he had no interest in doing so. Thankfully, they reached out a second time a few years later and we’re incredibly fortunate to finally have a full reissue on CD and LP. 

Rob - Just One More Time

This one’s something of a classic among Afrobeat collectors, at this point. The Accra-born pianist and singer’s self-titled album was released in 1977 and along with Make It Fast, Make It Slow, released the following year, would become one of the most sought-after albums in the history of African music. Influenced by American musicians like Otis Redding, James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Ray Charles, Rob would try to replicate their funk heavy style on the piano while studying at a music school in Cotonou, Benin. He would later hone his skills as a member of the iconic group, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, as well as the Black Santiagos. He recorded his solo albums in Accra, upon returning to Ghana. Sadly, his work dried up by the early 80s as disco boogie came to predominate, consigning the afrobeat sound to history, but both albums have been favourites of DJs ever since, seeing endless runs of reissues in the last 10 years.

​​These are just some of the highlights in what I hope is an enjoyable musical journey that spans across continents, generations and genres…

A huge thanks goes out to labels such as Now Again, Light In The Attic, Numero Uno and Luv N’ Haight, Analog Africa, Music From Memory, Africa Seven, Far Out Recordings, Strut, Mr Bongo and Soundway, who continue to unearth some of the most unique and amazing music that may have otherwise never seen the light of day.

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Adelphoi Music, Thu, 22 Sep 2022 14:50:45 GMT