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Juan Wauters cured my January blues last Friday as his humble Uruguayan-cum-NYC melodies were characteristically delivered to a doting Dalston crowd. Stating over a cigarette before the show that “it’s cool that people came”, from the outset the evening had a familial feel. Asked to play whilst on holiday in Europe, his unassuming self thoroughly jollified a packed Waiting Room made up of a small but affectionate following, smitten with his easy-going, almost apologetic style. Decked out in baggy bomber jacket, he jovially played through his second and most recent album,  Who Me? : a collection of 13 songs, most of which are less than 3 minutes long. Highlights came through the nasally ‘She Might Get Shot’   and an audaciously long singalong to ‘Todo Terminó’ . With a catchphrase of “oh yeh” seeming to emerge with a Hispanic twang, his image (and reality) of a humorous traveller performing a pleasing rendition of his recent work worked perfectly in the venue – a home from home for musically meandering East Londoners. Joined on stage by friends from Réunion and the UK on skittish drums and needed bass, it was less of a concert, more of a campfire twiddling.   In order to paint a rounded picture of the former Beets frontman, with his basic folk-pop and anecdotal lyricism, you need only hear the anecdote behind the cover of  Who Me? . Standing on the hood of a car with the Manhattan skyline in the background, he ironically dwarfs the buildings whilst shying away from the camera. He says he looked uncomfortable because they had to stop traffic in order to take the shot. Being in the way isn’t really his way. He left the audience with the sweet ‘Goo’   from his first album, before which he reminded us that “I’ve played 45 minutes already - I’ve got a life!”. Pitchfork’s Mike Powell appropriately refers to Wauters’ vibe as ‘music that takes on smallness as a cause’. The album and his gigs may not be different. They may not say much. But they are enjoyable. Just the ticket for some lazy listening on a summer’s day in Brockwell Park. Perhaps whilst sipping a cold  Nortena  discovered in a nearby crafty aleshack.   JtM more
Flamenco fans young and old descended on the Barbican last week for an exquisite early Christmas present in the shape of a tribute concert to Paco de Lucía - the undisputed father of modern Flamenco. Thanks to Paco de Lucía’s collaborations, from jazz to classical, his songs not only gave new leases of life to other genres but rejuvenated Andalusian-born music, spawning  nuevo flamenco . Introducing the Peruvian cajón, the saxophone and fretless electric bass, would anyone else have been to absorb such an eclectic mix into flamenco without it representing more confusion than fusion? Paco managed to stay absolutely true to flamenco’s passionate soul whilst bringing it to new horizons – a sentiment reflected in his tribute concert this week. Niño Josele and Chano Dominguez kicked off ‘Beyond the memory’ with a collection of pieces from their new album,  Chano y Josele , and songs crafted by the master himself. The duo proved to be exemplars of the abiding influence of Paco de Lucía. Both growing up steeped in flamenco blood and surrounded by the countryside of its coursing, their magisterial piano and guitar fingerwork transfixed eyes from the outset. Achingly beautiful covers of Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Because’ and de Lucía’s ‘Cancion de Amor’ blurred the lines perfectly between homage to the father of modern flamenco and a lover’s dance in the streets of Seville. It encapsulated Paco’s and flamenco’s ability to create an immediate, visceral impact even though the means to it are full of complexity. With the audience still clinging to each resonating note with ecstasy and melancholia as the interval ended, the second half delivered a collective of key members of the Paco de Lucía ensembles. After guitarist Jose Maria Bandera, bassist Carles Benavent and percussionist Pirana warmed up the feet as well as the hearts of the audience, all nine musicians came together and the murmurings of Hispanic hysteria started. The soulful sounds of Jorge Pardo’s flute tangoed with the bluesy twang of Antonio Serrano’s harmonica, whilst the wailing of flamenco cantaor Duquende pierced through the booming tones of Pirana’s and Rubem Dantas’ cajónes. The musicians’ semi-circle, rejoicing in the music of de Lucía, combined an intimate feeling of them playing in a living room as cries of ‘Vamos’ from the crowd echoed throughout what might have been the Bernabeu. The lightning-footed Farru provided the night’s el baile flamenco, revelling equally in the night’s music and the audience’s ovation, whilst covers of ‘Entre dos aguas’ and ‘Zyryab’ were interspersed with clips of the forthcoming documentary on de Lucía entitled ‘Beyond the memory’. Written and directed by his son and daughter, the snippets delivered far more footage of the master than previously expected. However a highlight of the evening came in a brief chat and  taranta  performed by the intensely talented Jorge Pardo. Taught the  taranta  by Camarón de la Isla and Paco, Jorge described its origin as a deep blues from the mines of Cartagena and Almería. His performance of ‘El Barranco del Tesoro’ echoed magically and sorrowfully. The title of the night, ‘Beyond the memory’, proved correct. It pointed to how de Lucía was the renaissance man of flamenco music. It pointed not only to how the night was a tribute to the songs, the skills and to the man himself, but pointed to the beauty that will be created throughout Spain and beyond thanks to his inspiration. The night demonstrated how the master has left mastery through others; how he forged a legacy through the musicians he encouraged and the genre he redefined.   JTM more
Do good albums come to those artists who wait? Returning from an extended period of research and experimentation in Malian communities across Paris, Ludovic Navarre, or St Germain, certainly waited. His new eponymous album comes as only his third selection in 20 years, demonstrating a profound shift in tone, and genre hybridisation. From representing a previous pioneer in blending jazz and house,  St Germain  instead represents a dabbling in the semi-saturated sounds of electronic Afrobeat. Is it unfair to expect another redefining masterpiece from Navarre? Should  St Germain  be judged in relation to other African experiments today or be critiqued against his former brilliance? Whilst his recent instalment is crafted with the same intelligence and fine brushstrokes, analysing the album from both these perspectives left me impressed, yet not bowled over. At its core, St Germain is still an album built around deep house basics. Yet whilst the shuffling tempo and reliance on repetitive, gradually hypnotic grooves confirm that you’re listening to the same artist calling upon various schools of mellow electronica, funk, jazz and R&B, as he did on his 2000 world-wide breakout hit  Tourist,  on every other layer Navarre is exploring new territory. House rhythms are largely absent and are instead replaced by a blend of jazz rhythms and Malian instrumentation. These are complimented by samples of piercing moans, key vocal phrases and guitar bits by African-American blues legends as a counterpoint to the infectious electronic environment. Most tunes on  St Germain  are organized around short recurring guitar riffs and bloblike single-note bass textures. Their predictable steadiness inspires the others to go in the opposite direction, shattering the poised setting with impassioned vocals or equally raw guitar cries. Navarre has tapped into core ideas that have served African musicians for generations. The highlight of the album for me, and perhaps why I believe it could offer so much more, is the first track  Real Blues . A truly blues-anguished Lightnin’ Hopkins vocal sample is brought together with a brilliant balafon solo, drums plucked from Afrobeat and Navarre’s signature slow rolling introduction of synth.  Real Blues  states from the outset that even in his reinvention, much remains from St Germain’s previous work; now, rather than dig for rare groove jazz for his source material, he’s dug into the music of Mali. It wets the appetite. Yet your appetite is only partly-satiated. Two songs to get your teeth stuck into are  Voilà  and  How Dare You .  Voilà  shows how St Germain exploits the contrast between the momentary disruptive event and the steady ongoing loop. As the track winds down, there’s a stunning whirling-dervish guitar improvisation from Kouyate, a moment that feels solidly African. Right after that, Navarre brings up the percussion, catching up with a half-sung, half-chanted vocal from Malian singers Nahawa Doumbia and Fanta Bagayogo. And when the tune ends we’re a continent away, at a festival of shakers and rattles that feels lifted directly from a Rio samba parade - the percussionist, Jorge Bezerra, is Brazilian. The kora then takes the lead on  How Dare You , paying homage to Mississippi’s R.L. Burnside by nodding to his inimitable take on the twelve-bar blues pattern. Across  Boulevard  and  Tourist , there was evidence for the blues being Navarre’s first musical love, and he toys with the genre on  St Germain . It is no surprise that tracks with these injections of blues in  St Germain , a continuation from previous albums, represent the picks of the bunch. Yet, in places, these combinations feel too crowded, failing to balance immediacy with depth quite as effectively as Tourist. So whilst  St Germain  can be seen as an intriguing yet hit-and-miss departure from his previous duo, how does it line up in a growing line of Afrobeat “experiments”? Since 2000, Western all-sorts have flown first-class to Mali or elsewhere in western Africa to collaborate with artists like Tinariwen and Amadou & Mariam. From Damon Albarn and Brian Eno, to Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Amp Fiddler, many have sought this fusion. However, in burrowing into the music of West Africa, and spending time in the Mailian communities of Paris, Navarre has created something different. Drawing on the talents of kora player Mamadou Cherif Soumano, the fleet-fingered guitarist Guimba Kouyate, and Brazilian percussionist Jorge Bezerra, St Germain has discovered a way to do something quintessentially St. Germain. He has managed to devise loops that serve as a backdrop for heated instrumental ad-libbing from Kouyate’s guitar, and traditional Malian instruments like balafon and kora. He’s said it took him six years of full-time work to create this eponymous new album. Whilst it hasn’t fully worked, it is inspired. Depending on your taste, as with  Tourist  it is possible to feel the combinations in  St Germain  are a little too smooth. It is also possible to feel uneasy about a European appropriating African musical styles. But Navarre is clearly a conscientious producer with an ear for detail, and the music here is rich and can neither be defined as exploitative, nor patronising. Because it is a different fusion, the opposite of run-of-the-mill, Navarre is more the maverick apprentice to the likes of Kouyate, rather than the dreaded music mugger. Fifteen years ago, Ludovic Navarre brought jazz and house music together in a way that was easy to listen to and difficult to get out of your head. Yet trends in dance music have moved far beyond the realms of nu-jazz and downtempo and Navarre recognised that he couldn’t simply return to his nascent atmosphere. St Germain needed  St Germain  for this reason. The maestro has not lost his touch, but not everything that he turns his hand to here comes off. Yet when the blues and Mali happily marry mellow electronica, funk and jazz in certain snippets, the results are characteristically spectacular, doing more than enough to preserve St Germain’s reputation as an electronic musician of rare complexity. A long-standing criticism of loop-based music has been that its repetitions rarely elevate, much less soar. Continuing to pull off convoluted ideas with crispness and flair, St Germain’s  St Germain  elevates at times, and when it does, it soars. more
With shimmering hooks, sugary harmonies and breezy song writing, Boogarin’s second instalment Manual  is an assured, intriguing collection of songs that constantly changes direction. Formed by high school friends Fernando Almeida and Benke Ferraz 5 years ago,  Manual , or to give it its full title  Manual, ou Guia Livre de Dissolução dos Sonhos  ( Manual, or a Free Guide to the Dissolution of Dreams ), comes as the bands second selection after their breakthrough album. Created during their 2013 world tour,  Manual  continues their inspiration from the sunny weirdness of ‘60s Brazilian Tropicalia pop. However, whilst their first album  As Plantas que Curam  could be seen to transplant these Brazilian influences into the decidedly more D.I.Y. context of teenagers recording songs on borrowed gear, their new conception represents a more assured, tighter experiment into Tropicalia psych-art. With ‘Avalanche’ causing the monolingual Englishman to immediately sing along to words he doesn’t understand, Boogarin’s creamy guitar riffs leave a sweet taste in ones ears from the outset. And as one progresses through the album, an expression of travel comes to mind, an embodiment of their first worldwide tour. This idea of travel can be seen specifically in ‘Tempo’. With harsher riffs punctuating the bands gently teased out caramelodic guitaring, the song points to the sweet respite of travelling between the intensity of their gigs. Boogarins’ enjoyably sunny rhythms are out for all to hear in their first single off the album, ‘6000 dias’. With flowing, slurred vocals accompanying the catchiest chorus, the band show here that they are more than catchy jingle merchants; a juicy instrumental within demonstrating their musical maturing. Even the accompanying video is also a tour diary of sorts that begins by following the band as they travel across the States – through rolling country fields, New York streets and cacti-filled deserts. Then, like the song, it tumbles and swells, performance shots layered with scenes from an art exhibition and the glare of bright lights. The whole thing then closes on, first, a shot of the sun setting over calm waters and then, frothing waves crashing against each other. It’s an accurate abstract of the band’s two modes of attack.  Furthermore, in ‘Falsa Folha de Rosto’, Almeida sings, “viver virou sonhar” (living became dreaming), in reference to the epic journey the band has made in the last two years. Growing from teenage pals recording lysergic tropical pop in the Brazilian city of Goiânia, the band is now a four-piece with the addition of a solid rhythm section. Playing a rare London show at the start of November, their gig was a potent display of fragrant song writing and blissed out guitar effects. One was whisked away by the rhythms, riding on balmy Brazilian clouds. Yet, whilst the band’s teenage years involved listening to western psychedelia and digging out records by Os Mutantes or Caetano Veloso from the ‘60s Tropicalia movement, can their songs be categorised as “protest”? It is tough to listen to the slightly out-of-time opening riff on the opening track 'Lucifernandis' on their first album and not recall Os Mutantes.   Singing in Portuguese, it is evident that Boogarins wanted to create music that spoke to the people that they most identify with. This is especially admirable when you put into account that most of the lyrics are politically charged. ‘Avalanche’, for example, reflects the unrest surrounding the World Cup, when there were complaints at the way facilities for tourists had an impact on working-class Brazilians. This is delivered in a cheery style reminiscent of the albums from the birth of the Tropicalia Movement, particularly by the likes of Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil. Yet, whilst many describe Boogarins as the best example of the living legacy of the original Tropicália artists and have won acclaim for their warm, sly homage to '60s and '70s psychedelia, Ferraz appreciates but doesn’t entirely endorse these references. Ferraz states that the music of another outsider, Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, was a bigger influence. “We were not trying to be a Tropicalia revival,” he says. “We aren’t particularly political. We are playing art for art’s sake, and… Tropicalia had a historical strength that I don’t think we have. But we love what we are doing and we have already gone further than we ever thought we’d go.” With the revolutionary Tropicalia movement challenging Brazil’s dictatorship in the late '60s with music that blended indigenous influences, psychedelic and progressive rock, Boogarins should be seen as a progression, not a reversion. With  Manual  representing a more assured album, the band may have lost its original rawness, but they continue to be themselves. The album is a sun-kissed trip with layered overdubs, shimmering guitar inter-play and a sense of wanderlust. If MGMT and The Mighty Boosh tickle your fancy, then prepare to laugh your pants off with  Manual .   JTM more
Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa Shunning the respectful approach taken to most African music, Mbongwana Star’s From Kinshasa represents one of the most original Afrobeat albums in recent years. On November 1st I was lucky enough to experience Mbongwana Star at Oval Space, London. Somehow harmoniously delivering an abrasive sound barrage of heavily distorted rumba grooves, accompanied by post-punk guitar slashings, the Congolese crew performed an intoxicating mix of frantic rhythms that left a smile on my face all the way to next Sunday. Irish-born, French-based producer Doctor L (Liam Farrell) aggressively noodled his bass towards the rear of the stage sometimes dropping to his knees in search of distortion. Lead guitarist R9 provided crystal clear guitar solos alongside a powerful high voice. And up front, wild-child vibes man Sage, and Coco and Theo (two paraplegic ex-Staff Benda Bilili members) roused the crowd to match the fervour of their sound. With all distinctive individuals in superb balance, Mbongwana Star captured the hearts as well as toes of the East London world beats brigade. However, From Kinshasa conjures more than just a fascinating blend of punk attitude and spacey electronics. In bringing together tradition and contemporary unlike any previous Euro-African collaboration, Doctor L’s involvement in From Kinshasa raises interesting questions about what School of Rock describes as “creating musical fusion”. Previously a hip hop producer and collaborator on Tony Allen’s 1999 Black Voices , Doctor L was drafted in by band manager Michel Winter. Hiring a small house, generator and recording equipment, the band’s recording in the DRC was described at first as an exercise in joyful chaos, with friends and neighbours all joining in. Doctor L later returned to his Paris base, and whilst familiar Congolese hallmarks remain throughout, they are eroded and inverted by L’s production. He adds subtle, as well as not so subtle, layers of noise and distortion, alongside a throbbing bass presence and post punk reverb. In a recent interview, Doctor L stated that “To me, music means bridges. I produced it in the direction of the people that I met, so it’s been created from my point of view but for them.” “Damon Albarn’s [Kinshasa One Two] project, I don’t really get it – you could stay at home taking samples from the internet and do the same thing. You don’t need to go there to do that. I’m not saying it’s bad, but we already have that music. It doesn’t make a band. That’s more about taking the vibe of that music to make something of your own. It’s a different kind of involvement compared to this project, where I’m trying to do everything for the guys – all the imagery and videos, making it easier for them to communicate.” However, whilst Liam sees himself as a communicator, an ad libbing translator, has Farrell taken over? Is this a classic case of white saviour complex? Or is he simply helping the Kinshasa artists find their new direction and – crucially – a means of making money from their art? In a recent Guardian piece, for example, interviewer Tim Jonze doubts the collaborative nature of the album, advising Farrell to relax and let his bandmates tell their side of the story. Yet Farrell believes that it is disrespectful to “go to Africa and listen to things, knowing it will go nowhere over here, and then leave it how it is”. Furthermore, there’s the humanitarian argument. These people need to make a living and you’re helping people to help themselves, while making art at the same time. Do Mbongwana Star, “Mbongwana” itself meaning “change”, therefore instead embody a higher form of multiculturalism? Or is this a return to simple cultural seizure and commodification? These are interesting questions I happily ignore in listening to the album. Malukayi, the first single and the opening track on the second side demonstrates this cultural mingling; Doctor L’s fractured loops in direct contrast to the natural sounding vocal delivery. It is my favourite track. But From Kinshasa is nevertheless clearly a record with a Congolese heartbeat. ‘Coco Blues’ is a slow, hazy montage of dominant soukous and overdubbed vocals. Yet for much of the album the soukous guitars are pushed into the background. They call out like the murmurs of a distant carnival, harking back to a revolutionary period which gave birth to one of Africa’s trademark sounds. With a lazy rap on ‘Masobélé’, a funky keyboard riff on 'Kala’, the sunshine vibes of soukous are cleverly balanced with the gritty reality of life in a Kinshasa slum. Overall, with vocal exchanges enriched by resonating woody echoes and the versatile drums thumping out hypnotic rhythms, Mbongwana Star have made one of the most listenable albums to emerge from Kinshasa’s rapidly evolving music genre.   JTM more
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Independent World Music Commentator, based in London.