The artists at Daptone, such as Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Antibalas, Charles Bradley, Menahan Street Band and The Sugarman 3, to name but a few, were at the tip of a steadily rising wave of a new generation of soul artists. The Dap-Kings even found themselves working for a time for the late Amy Winehouse. They recorded most of “Back to Black” with her and producer Mark Ronson in the studio and performed with her as her stage band on many occasions.
The stature of an artist like Winehouse coupled with the general misunderstanding of soul music as a product of a bygone era provided Lipsky with some challenges when she set out to write “It Ain’t Retro.” She initially wrote the book as a scene study of soul music but had a difficult time selling it to a publisher.
“After working on that for some time, it turns out it was too broad and too niche,” she explains by phone. “No one wanted to buy it and I had to pivot. A lot of the time, the people that are making these editorial decisions, be it in publishing or in journalism, this really isn’t their bag. Soul music is Motown and it’s oldies and that’s pretty much it. Then there was Amy Winehouse and that’s pretty much it. My experience was that a lot of folks didn’t really think that there is a market for telling these stories.”
My latest for KCET is my interview with a half-dozen artists who are part of a new wave of souldies artists. Souldies, a.k.a. Chicano Soul, has a distinct flair and sound that’s also connected to a specific cultural context, which I write briefly about in the story.
The familial connection to the music and the culture is one shared by nearly all the artists involved in this resurgence of oldies music. Samano recalls his parents putting artists such as The Delfonics and Brenton Wood on heavy rotation during his childhood. Lane grew up on gospel and studied “the pillars of northern soul” while studying music in college. Garcia’s father had a record collection that included Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells and Brenton Wood plus dozens of doo-wop artists.
The same goes for Vicky Tafoya, founder and singer of Vicky Tafoya and the Big Beat, who grew up surrounded by the sounds of doo-wop, big band and Motown. As the youngest of 12 children, she inherited the vinyl records that each one of her siblings left behind as they moved out. She became completely enamored with the music and had a life-changing experience in 1989 when she joined The Doo-Wop Society of Southern California. It was there that she would spend years watching and even performing acapella doo-wop on the same stage as the artists she listened to obsessively at home: Vernon Green and The Medallions, The Teenagers, The Six Teens, The Chantelles and many other legendary artists.
We’re past the one-year mark of this horrid and frustrating pandemic. Those initial months filled with angst & fear from the (somewhat slightly still) unpredictable nature of the novel coronavirus forced me to make numerous changes in my life, including to my thesis, that set me back at least half a year but, hey: boats against the current and all that!
The good news is that it all appears to be coming to an end. I received the first dose of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine already. Many of my family members & dozens of friends (some of whom survived COVID though a few their loved ones, friends, & co-workers did not) have received their doses as well.
Music played a role in getting me through it all (as it did last year). There weren’t any live shows to enjoy but plenty of new releases to listen to! Here’s a shortlist of artists/music I’ve listened to recently. May it captivate you as it captivated me in this continually strange time!
Antifragile – Abraxas
Antifragile is the first “artist” and first release at Spirit Bomb, a record label whose founders want to build a roster of “digital” artists. In this case, Antifragile is a weird, goat-headed creature that bears a slight resemblance to the Icon Of Sin from the DOOM franchise whose music is composed by Eye Contakt (Autry Fulbright and Mark Pagly).
Costa Rican producer Barzo has been incredibly busy for more than a year now. He released an album with numerous singles & videos last year, many of which were collaborations with other Latin American artists: Nakury, La Dame Blanche, El Individuo, and Un Rojo Reggae Band, to name a few. His latest is also a collaboration: Bahía feat. Pahua a.k.a. Pau Sotomayor of Sotomayor. Their track is an electronic banger that is a hypnotic and psychedelic tropical banger for the hopefully mostly pandemic-free summer that awaits us.
Bomba Estéreo – Agua
“Agua” is the first single off Bomba Estéreo’s upcoming new album, Deja. The duo of Simón Mejía & Li Saumet. Check out the single on Spotify which comes with two additional tracks: “Deja” and “Soledad.”
Also of note is their work on the documentary film Sonic Forest (which you can watch below), which “showcases the inspiring journey of Simón Mejía, founder of Latin music sensation Bomba Estéreo, as he travels deep into the jungles and mountains of the Colombian Pacific to discover the richness of Earth’s most megadiverse places through its local music and its people: indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities who work every day to preserve their territories.”
When I say that this album is heavy, I mean it both sonically and emotionally. It’s political, instrumental drone/doom metal courtesy of Takiaya Reed (Black & Tsalagi [Cherokee]) & Sylvie Nehill (Māori) that they create “to undermine and destroy the white supremacist colonial framework and to fight for Indigenous Sovereignty, Black and Indigenous Liberation, Water, Earth, and Indigenous land given back.”
There’s also a bit of spoken-word poetry on “Did You Have Something To Do With It” by Minori Sanchez-Fung that lays it all out on the table:
This is our time The legacy of greed has grown from its seed To infiltrate every place Every face
Releasing a suffering recorded in Stone And in bone So old that language can’t console it
This was the blow which we struck At first without knowing how deep it would grow. It would grow Into a frightening history that fractures hope
First, by attacking the body And then, by distorting the mind
It would grow And force us to question if we are a part Of this world or its affliction.
Whether our addiction to power will consume the beauty that was once our birthright
This is our time What is certain, is life Growing out of itself greater than the moment before Within us, around us, in spite of us.
Proving we can’t control The thing that brought us up from the cold and will press us back like flowers into the mold. We are tethered to a circuit that excludes nothing a song the dead can hear. Something resilient forming all Something that makes time small. So old, that language can’t dispose of it
Still gold over the violence. Don’t forget, this too, this too, is our time Our spirit is not weaker, it is waiting on us to decide What it is, that we will honour while we are alive.
Listen/watch the single “Denial” shot by Amber Beaton:
LASTMONDAY – YOUNOWUTÁMEAN
Another artist who hasn’t slowed down throughout the pandemic is the Bronx Dominican LASTMONDAY who stays killing the game with his beats, flow, and bilingual Spanglish rhymes! He released a slew of singles, videos, and a mixtape, Yo, Tigerito!, throughout the pandemic last year. This latest song/vid was shot in Atlanta a year after dude & his crew were stuck in Miami during the first lockdown.
La Vida Boheme – Fr€€$$r
Last year saw the quartet from Caracas (long since based in CDMX) release nearly a half-dozen tracks that were ultimately compiled into the EP titled Fr€€$$r. The album shows off the group’s range and the sonic territory they’ve covered since their debut. The album is also the first in a planned release of trilogy of EPs
The band also unveiled a 40-minute concert film titled Tiempo Compartido composed of live & alternate versions of seven songs from their repertoire:
Mexican Institute Of Sound – Distrito Federal
This latest work by Camilo Lara, head honcho creative of M.I.S., is an ode and soundtrack to Ciudad Mexico (Mexico City) formerly known as the Distrito Federal; hence the album title. Speaking of which, y’all ever eaten a pambazo? I recommend ’em!
Below is the lyric video to “Se Compran,” the opening track on the album:
I also recommend listening to the interview between Lara and Felix Contreras at Alt. Latino.
Miki Gonzalez – ZAP XXXX
a.k.a. Juan Manuel González Mascías. This guy has a long history recording and performing music that began in the rock scene in the 1980s. He started blending electronic music with Andean & Afro-Peruvian music in the mid-aughts & hasn’t stopped since (this track a case in point!).
Mogwai – As The Love Continues
The Scottish (mostly) instrumental rock band is back with As The Love Continues. The album arrives on the band’s 25th anniversary.
The best/easiest way to get acquiainted with the group (besides diving headfirst into their discography) is to read Andrew Parks’ retrospective piece on the band: A Guide to 25 Years of Mogwai.
“They aren’t always meant to be funny,” explains Braithwaite. “More random than anything else. I think being Scottish, we have a real aversion to pretentiousness, and it’s so easy to slip into that realm making instrumental music. We’ve always been wary of doing that. I think after a while people stop thinking about the words in song titles and just think of the song itself. I do anyway.”
Watch the video for single “Ritchie Sacramento” below:
Vudufa – South American Loa
Vudufa is the other musical project of Peruvian Hip-Hop duo Pounda & Nomodico who are continuing in the new tradition of Cumbia Darks aka Afro-Peruvian Dark Electronic Cumbia (a mouthful if there were ever one!) in the vein of Dengue Dengue Dengue, Animal Chuki, Deltratron, Tribilin Sound, & others.
Math-rock is back…or it never left? I honestly don’t know but I’m always happy to listen to some new math-rock. Such is the case with “Desierto,” the latest song by Peruvian group Wanderlust. It’s an uplifting anthem written specifically for these times. Listen & feel your anxiety float away!
I have a new article up at KCET about a collaborative music project that I also partook in. The project by Joshua-Michéle Ross is titled The Adjacent Possible: An Evolving Communal Orchestra and is a collaborative work of art between anonymous collaborators that, as I explain in the story, is an “experience [that] feels like equal doses of guided meditation, creative collaboration and a space for introspection and relaxation.”
From my article:
The project’s name comes from the work of Stuart Kauffman, a doctor, theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher, who coined the phrase “adjacent possible” in 2002. His theory is based on his work in biological evolution and is concerned with how organisms and biological systems, which he also refers to as “autonomous agents,” evolve into larger, more complex systems/organisms by seeking out numerous possibilities within their environment. His theory has been adapted in other fields, including the arts.
For Ross, the theory describes “how human beings, as parts of a very creative universe, are always pushing at the boundaries of what’s possible and how the aggregate choices that we make from that creates the kind of world we live in. It’s kind of how the future gets made and the idea of how the small choices that we make and bring to things, despite constraints, how those choices add up the reality we live in.”
Ross brings this theory to life through a communal orchestra. Up to 20 people gather to perform at each event. Ross serves as the event guide and conductor, speaking slowly, softly and deliberately as he shifts everyone away from the Zoom call where everyone first gathers and onto a website designed specifically for the experience.
Clouds Hill Notes announced today the acquisition of the catalogs and masters of musician Omar Rodriguez-López’ vast musical library. The acquisition includes the catalog of works published under Rodriguez-López Productions, including dozens of solo albums. Clouds Hill Notes, in partnership with Wise Music Group, will also handle the catalog publishing of The Mars Volta.
It’s about the right time to announce the acquisition of the RLP catalog and The Mars Volta publishing now. After being Omar Rodríguez-López’s friend and business partner for such a long time, I am honoured and proud that he decided to also entrust me with this catalogue. Our HQ in Hamburg is now responsible to push this unique catalogue back into everyone’s minds.
Johann Scheerer, Music Producer, CEO/Founder of Clouds Hill Group
The acquisition comes months after Clouds Hill released a trio of albums ORL recorded with the label: The Clouds Hill Tapes I – III.
I hope this means that many of the albums/projects ORL worked on from 2004 – 2013 under various names (The Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Quintet, The Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group, The Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Quartet, El Trio de Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, El Grupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, etc.) will see the light of day once again via official streams and reprints of physical media. This man wants a copy of Mantra Hiroshima!!
Other groups that were part of the RLP imprint include De Facto (another project I hope gets republished asap!), the dub group before TMV, and Antemasque, the band that reunited ORL with long-time friend & collaborator Cedric Bixler Zavala following the dissolution of TMV. I also hope Zechs Marquise, the defunct group from El Paso that featured ORL’s siblings, is included in the catalog as well.
Clouds Hill Notes is the publishing arm of the Clouds Hill Group, a company that includes a record label, a recording studio, a film production company, and a boutique pedal company.
The first order of business following this announcement will be the release of TMV’s Tremulant EP on streaming platforms this Friday, Feb. 26th!