Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Magic Basement

The magic basement?  Here's how it went down.

In case you weren't in the know, the VVers make a highly arted-out, physical version of this here blog which you can acquire in person at several stores in the DC/Baltimore/Chicago area as well as the DC Conspiracy Distro.  It's why we trekked to Brooklyn for the second annual Brooklyn Zine Fest (hosted by the awesome Matt and Kseniya, makers of I Love Bad Movies and other fine zine type books you should be reading).  BZF was going well -- many zines were sold and much coveted record prize packs distributed.  VVer #1 had invited an old friend from the 'hood to come visit, however, by the afternoon, the venue was so crowded that she couldn't even get in!  Plans were made to meet up that night post fest.

It's fair to state that the VVers like Brooklyn Zine Fest for a myriad reasons, but one nice perk has been the close proximity of a bar with tasty cocktails mere steps from our seller table.  Been to a zine fest before?  Often they are held in non-alco venues like churches and community centers so this is a real switcheroo.  Tasty libation aided us through the day-long onslaught of quirky zinesters.  By the time we were set to meet my friend and her guy we were both a little wobbly.  That in no way stopped VVer #2 from ordering several stiff drinks that evening at Extra Fancy (hey, we were on vacation and flush with zine monies!).  As we chatted about this-and-that it slipped out that the owner of the bar my friend worked at was moving to the west coast next week and was ... wait for it ... selling off his entire vinyl collection.  How nice ... WHUT!!!???!!!  The rest of the evening was pleasant enough.  Honestly though, interest was 100% focused on making sure the VVers would get a crack at that stash.  Via text we arranged to meet up in the morning for a look at the goods.  The brownstone was not hard to get to and our record fella escorted us down into a stark white basement set up like a mini record store.  Slap a few posters on the wall and a sign out front and there you go.  About twenty rows of boxes on tables were arranged by category against one wall and he explained that he had already sold some, but was looking to part with much of the rest before his big move.  We chatted for a minute and then it was head first into the crates.  VVer #2 lasted about two minutes before she started to show greenish gills and politely escorted herself out to the fresh air.

With nobody around to chat with, I embarked on a full on crate dig.  I sifted through the many DJ-type records, hip hop and other oddball mish-mash.  I walked out with a pretty solid stack and our record fella gave me half off his sticker prices which were already pretty reasonable.  As we had come to NYC with our record-centric zines to sell, it seemed pretty appropriate to leave with a stash of vinyl to listen to and write about.

The best of the bunch has been Revised Quest for the Seasoned Traveler by A Tribe Called Quest.  This 1992 release of rare remixes is chock full of unusual re-dos and weird-o clubby arrangements.  Interestingly, many of the remixes are by ATCQ themselves and the quality shines brightly on those tracks.  One stand out is the "Vampire Mix" of "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" with remix credits going to ATCQ, the Jungle Brothers and one Mr. Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim).  It's a head spinning, dubbed-out, Mexicali horns version that gives lots of breathing room to the goofy/alt lyrics.  Super catchy and a little evil.  Remixes of "Can I Kick It?" and "Scenario" -- classics in their original form -- are just as powerful here.  The "Young Nation Mix" of "Scenario" has an ominous bassline, horn bleats, ATCQ's usual flowing lyrics, and most importantly, Busta Rhymes' "oh-my-gosh-OH-MY-GOSH dungeon dragon" guest appearance.  Classy.  Not everything is funked-out though.  "Mr. Muhammad's Mix" of "Check the Rhime" is tinkly and very pretty sounding.  Not what you'd expect at all for this old school jam and somehow it works!  As a remix package it's lacking in the typical flow of a regular LP, but it's pretty tolerable in this regard.  This is a testament to the fact that ATCQ, unlike a lot of 90's hip hop, has really held up.  Even the mixes on here that are a little bit of a stretch sound great.  What a find!  Apparently VVer #2 in her impeccable state of mind looked at it and put it back.  Oooops!  Thank Brooklyn somebody was on point that morning and swooped this up.  Warning: the "Bonita Applebum - 12 inch Why? edit" that starts off the record has a lot going for it with 80's synths so you might not be prepared for the sex noises that close out the track.  Not for mixed company.

Other titles from that morning include Busta Rhymes and his unheralded crew Flipmode Squad The Imperial, GZA Liquid Swords, Star Wars Empire Strikes Back (not just the soundtrack, but the entire spoken movie crammed into one record...but not quite), The Goats Tricks of the Shade (since sold on Discogs), and some jazz record that VVer #2 insisted on getting before excusing herself and since can't remember what is was.

On the drive back to DC the VVers once again lamented the fact that we did not have an in-dash record player.  Bummer we didn't find that in the magic basement.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Manu Dibango - Soul Makossa - 1972

From the second the needle hits, till the last horn fades to nothing, it is awesome.  Maybe I feel this way because I had absolutely no background knowledge about the music or artist when I picked it up at Baltimore's quirky Own Guru Records.  I had been spending a lot of time spinning our small assortment of international records at home, and thought this could be a good addition.  What lured me in?  Reading the back cover tipped me off that the musicians were from Guadeloupe, the "River Congo," Cameroon, and France.  Interesting mix!  The back photo had something to it -- was it that the band was wearing bell-bottoms and playing in a tunnel?  I worked up the courage to ask the owner words of wisdom about this one to which he enthusiastically responded, "It's great, bring it over and I'll play it for you.  When I used to play this one at the clubs, it got everyone moving!"  The moment he got it spinning I understood why.

This album has all manors of percussion and rhythmic guitar.  The driving sound never lets up.  Frequent use of manic toumba (French for conga) action, echoing reverb, and low-tone chanted vocals is hypnotic.

The title track is noted for being one of the first "disco" records.  So if Mr. Dibango is from Cameroon, was disco born there?  More importantly, when disco was born, did baby angels weep glittery tears?  The title single is also credited as a direct influence for Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie," "Funky Stuff," and "Hollywood Swinging."  Three huge hits!  The use of repeated horn riffs is probably the most obvious influence, as is the funky rhythm bass combo.  (The VVers own Kool and the Gang's album "Wild and Peaceful," but it never really saw much playtime.  Upon listening to it after the Soul Makossa, there is a new found appreciation and it has been stuck in our heads all weekend!)  Horns on "Soul Makossa" simply take it to another level.  Manu Dibango sounds like he is rapping a bit; sort of spitting ideas left and right.  He's just dancing and jive talking all over the place (Makossa means dance in the Duala language of Cameroon).  The "Soul Makossa" single has been sampled a LOT, notably by Michael Jackson on "Wanna be Startin Something" from Thriller.  The music is so good that it's easy to see why it's been sampled so much... I want to go sample it right now!  It's surprising to find out that songs you thought were so original growing up were in fact deeply indebted to earlier music.  These unexpected discoveries have led to an interesting backtracking education.  "Soul Makossa" has been covered/adapted/sampled since its heyday so frequently.  Apparently, the French '72 pressing was such a limited run that a disco hungry public could not get their hands on a copy.  Before the inevitable repressing, "Soul Makossa" was aped and copied many times out of that intense musical hunger.  The people needed their disco!  Thus this reissue of the LP says "The Original" on it.

"New Bell" is full of chirpy, wailing horns reminiscent of sirens.  While "Nights in Zeralda" is full of bongos and horns with a Middle Eastern snake-charmer vibe.  Much psychedelic echo is laced through tracks.  In most cases the tempo is up and jumping, but not all.  The track "Hibiscus" on the tail end of side A is anything but that.  It's a psychedelic, slow, contemplative track dripping with melancholy.  The cadence and feel brings up thoughts of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, specifically "Time."  In fact the track so closely resembles some parts of that classic record that the VVers had to do a side by side comparison.  "Soul Makossa" came out one year prior... coincidence?  That's one of the best parts about discovering a record that influenced so many others.  Again, it's impossible not to notice other links to music you've known for years.

The VVers must admit that this has been a difficult-to-muster write-up.  The sounds and instruments have been challenging to describe,  probably because we just don't know enough world-music.  Perhaps you should just go listen to it yourself.  As the man accurately said "it got everyone moving."  Recently upon VVer #2 having surgery and the parents visiting, the men-folk of the house went out to run errands while the women were at home about to embark on their post-surgery, low-fi exercises (the mother also recovering from an unrelated surgery).  Exercises are always more enjoyable with music, right?  On went the recently purchased Soul Makossa!  It wasn't long before the women-folk threw out their ideas of stretches and reps and busted into an incredibly awkward dance party in the living room (mostly awkward because we were recovering from surgery, not because we are bad dancers (obviously!)).  It was so ridiculous that laughing led to more dancing and dancing to more laughing -- the music was so hip-shakin it was hard to stop!  Luckily the record side ended before the men walked in on the dance scene.  Quite a memorable mother-daughter moment -- brought to you by the Soul Makossa!