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Radio LBB: Roots Vol. 26



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. 26

Now into its sixth year and the 26th 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:

Ethel Ennis - Who Will Buy

Ethel Ennis could have been a name known to everyone. A breakout star of the 50s and 60s, she was lauded by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, and received a personal call of encouragement early in her career from fellow Baltimore singer, Billie Holiday. At the height of her commercial success she performed with Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane, and headlined the Newport Jazz Festival. But as with most female (and particularly Black) singers, the price of music industry success was management to the minutest level, with record executives directing what she sang, who she performed with, how she looked, and who she formed relationships with. Too great a loss of freedom for an unwavering original like Ennis, she retreated from the limelight to do things her own way, in her hometown of Baltimore, where she was affectionately known as the First Lady of Jazz. This cover from Lionel Bart’s Oliver! shows off her voice at its powerful, vibrant best.

E. Jones - Beach House Summer

A fresh cut here still echoing in our ears from this summer. Eric Jones was set to move from his hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey, to play basketball at North Carolina Central University, until his basketball playing career was cut short by an injury. In his free time as a kid, however, he spent hours locked away teaching himself piano by ear and learning how to produce music inspired by Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Organized Noise, and others. His production career has taken him behind the scenes on records by Talib Kweli, T.I., Ludacris, and in a permanent role in 9th Wonder’s production team. But this solo release showcases Jones as a musician with a vision in his own right, sitting on the interstices of hip-hop, R&B, and the wistful, sun kissed ambience of lofi dream pop artists like Mac Demarco and Beach House (a deliberate reference?). It’s a lovely track.

Brief Encounter - Where Will I Go?

Digging for obscure records unearths so many thwarted possibilities, stories about careers lost, but also physical records, tapes and the material carriers of music, our cultural inheritance, lost to time due to coincidences, accidents, and especially the snap decision-making of capricious, all-powerful music execs. In the mid 70s, Brief Encounter were a band on the rise, touring extensively and successfully across the South West and West Coast appearing on the radar of the career-making major label, Capitol Records. In the end the question of signing the band came down to a head to head, with another up and coming band called Maze. More local to the California label and perhaps with a slightly broader, more easy appeal, Maze won the gig, going on to enormous commercial success and consigning Brief Encounter to a discography of small-run rare singles and private press releases. Thankfully in recent years the Edinburgh soul reissue imprint, Athens of the North, has worked tirelessly to uncover their work and make it available to the public. This gorgeous and much coveted ballad was never released officially, appearing on a Japanese bootleg compilation in 1988, but issued here at last with full approval from the band.

Jo Tongo - Funky Feeling

A theme of forked paths and life-changing decisions seems to be appearing in this list. Jo Tongo grew up in Douala, Cameroon in the 50s and early 60s, before moving to Paris to study Pharmacology. However, as his reissuers write on his personal Bandcamp page, ‘somewhere along the way the music in his soul eventually won out.’ Tongo quickly honed a sound characterised by jangling, rhythmic lead guitar, sweltering, syncopated basslines, rolling hand drums, and punchy synths and horn sections. With his powerful, ebullient vocal style, the total effect is insatiably danceable, and drips with the kind of funky feeling that inhabits the limbs. Funky Feeling appeared on his 1979 album, Those Flowers, combining a beat with lush, sweet strings. 

I-Roy - Space Flight

On occasions when I-Roy (aka Roy Samuel Reid) faced accusations of impersonating the iconic Jamaican reggae deejay U Roy, he’d respond: ‘Me name Roy Reid. U Roy name Ewart Beckford’. I-Roy began as an outlier on the reggae scene in 1970. He lived in Spanish Town, somewhat isolated from the musical hub of Kingston, and his musical career developed quite unintentionally, when he began working the mic at Soul Bunnies, a ‘Wednesday disco party’, as a mid-week relief to his accounting job at Customs for the Jamaican civil service. He soon gained a name for himself due to his studious approach, extensive vocabulary and dizzying breadth of cultural references, namedropping the Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael and Adam Clayton Powell, along with Alfred Hitchcock, Florence Nightingale, Dennis The Menace, and many others. His major breakthrough came when the legendary producer King Tubby was challenged to a soundclash in Spanish Town, by Tipperton Sound, and asked I-Roy to run the mic, forming a lasting relationship. He became a sought after name in studios across Kingston, and this stunning 1973 track, Space Flight, was produced by that other technical wizard, Lee Scratch Perry.

Marcia Griffiths - Children at Play

Unlike some of the artists here, Marcia Griffiths has had a glittering career that keeps moving, with a 2014 album celebrating her 50 years in the music business coinciding with a Jamaican Order of Distinction award, and the announcement in 2018 of an exclusive deal with New York booking agency Donsome Records. Appearing on stage first with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires in 1964, the West Kingston singer signed to Clement Dodd’s influential Studio One label the following day, where she recorded duets with Bob Marley, Tony Gregory, Jeff Dixon, and her later partner Bob Andy, as well as solo hits like Feel Like Jumping, Truly, and Melody Life. Children At Play is a gorgeous sun-kissed track from the aptly named 1974 album, Sweet & Nice. It’s twinkling synths and languid groove recall carefree days by the sea, an evocation of child-like play in an island paradise. 

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, Tue, 01 Nov 2022 15:25:33 GMT