Myele Manzanza & The Goodness of Music

Music is one of the best medicines in the world. Agreed? It bring invaluable moments of euphoric goodness that at times can be hard to find in these lives of ours. True?

Like all of us New Zealand artist Myele Manzanza has a lifetime of positive musical experiences that are a part of his cellular memory. He’s been blessed with an entire life (albeit 27-years-short) surrounded by music and musicians, starting from his upbringing around his performing artist father Sam Manzanza - through to 6 years of Electric Wire Hustle gigs around the world – to his time in Red Bull Music Academy - to the production of his debut solo album One – to touring with Theo Parrish – and all the many musical collaborations and gigs in between.

Amongst the plethora of musical stories Myele Manzanza must have, I asked him in our recent interview to share one profoundly-affecting moment or experience which affirmed the fundamental goodness of music in his own life or in the lives of others.

Check out Myele Manzanza’s answer below.

Myele Manzanza

Myele Manzanza…

“There’s been loads of them – more than I can count. But the first thing that came to my head when you asked that was this:

There’s this pianist from New Zealand, a relatively nomadic character who travels a lot and does lots of interesting things. His name is Jonathan Crayford. He’s like the ‘musician’s musician’. Even though he’s never been as famous as lots of other New Zealand musicians, he was always the one everyone in the Wellington music scene knew “he’s the best”. Anyone would probably tell you that as far as pure musicianship goes, Jonathan Crayford is the best thing that came out of New Zealand, maybe ever.

Jonathan Crayford

Jonathan Crayford. Photo by Christopher Mavrič

When I was 19, I was very fortunate in being able to play with Jonathan. I was at music school at the time and we connected and started doing these duo gigs. Jonathan would play rhodes and bass synths and I would play drums, and we would just play. He would kind of improvise compositions as he went. His whole thought process is on an alien level, and his ability to create amazing compositions and improvisation is mind-blowing.

There was this one moment and we were doing a gig with no more than ten people in the room. As the piece went on, if memory serves me it might have been an A-suspended-fourth chord in the right hand and some ascending bass line in the left hand; but the way that he did it, was that the chord stayed there and every four bars or so the bass line kept ascending and ascending in relation to where the chord was. For some reason, the way Jonathan hit it and the way I happened to catch it was like this strange euphoric moment where everything made sense and I felt totally connected to what I was doing.

For maybe two minutes there was nothing that got in the way of this feeling of euphoria.

It was like the film called Limitless where Bradley Cooper’s character takes some magic pill that totally heightened his brain and sensory awareness to where he’s infinitely smarter and can more or less do anything. It kind of felt like that – this in-tune moment – which was just generated from some simple chord and bass line combination, but was something which opened me up to the mysteries of the world and the great profound effect that music can have. It was like a real, direct experience of that.

Even though it was only performing to ten people, it was one of the greatest moments of my life.”

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Catch Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic plus about 50 other global music and dance artists performing live at WOMADelaide 2015 next weekend; and at WOMAD New Zealand the week after. I’m quite sure there will be plenty of those magical, so-so-good-for-us musical moments to be had at the festival.

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Read the rest of my interview with Myele Manzanza and hear sample tracks from his debut solo album One here.

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The Cactus Channel – Wooden Boy

Fancy the feeling of being inside an awesome spy-action film? If so then Wooden Boy, the second album from Melbourne’s 10-piece instrumental soul group The Cactus Channel, is one you’ll want in your music collection.

The Cactus Channel - Wooden Boy (2013)

Can I describe the music on Wooden Boy to you? Sure I can, but I won’t. Because I can’t do it nearly as imaginatively as The Cactus Channel’s record label Hope Street Recordings do…

It’s soul music, baby, but not as we know it. The backbeat and the handclaps are still there and the horns still sound. The bass bumps, the organ screams and the guitars still twang, but the singer has left the room. Everything is shades of blue. This is soul music for the after hours. For the solitary dancers and the lonely hearts. The soundtrack to solitary headlights on a midnight highway. What to call it? Who cares. Can you dance to it? Just try not to. No one’s telling you to throw your hands up in the air, but no one would be surprised if you did. It’s dark here, so you can do your own thing.

The Cactus Channel…all born in the 90s and raised on the internet. Yet somehow, [Wooden Boy]…sounds like it could have been recorded in the 1970s, or possibly in the distant future. A timeless, placeless cinematic oddysey, Wooden Boy could have been an alternate soundtrack to Ghost Dog — if Lalo Schifrin and the Meters were collaborating on the RZA’s score. Or maybe Wooden Boy was what happened when Lars Von Trier got invited to direct an episode of Soul Train. What any of it may actually mean is left to the listener’s imagination.

Funk aficionados will hear shades of New York on this record, echoes of El Michel’s taking on Wu Tang, the influence of Budos and Menehan et al. But this is the Generation Z version; both more tempestuous and more introverted. Recorded analog in the digital era, presented faceless in the celebrity era, inexplicably ambiguous in the soundbite era, is this the album the world needs right now? Undoubtedly yes. In a world where the NSA can read the text message that dumped you, what does a person need more than sad soul music from the future? Wooden Boy, baby Wooden Boy.

The Cactus Channel

The Cactus Channel

Check out these two (mp3 only) sample tracks from Wooden Boy. If you’re into it, you can buy the real deal on vinyl or cd through Hopestreet Recordings or at your local, independent record store where you can…

The Cactus Channel - Wooden Boy (2013)

The Cactus Channel – Wooden Boy (2013)

‘Who Is Walt Duce?’ – The Cactus Channel – Wooden Boy

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‘How Did This Happen?’ – The Cactus Channel – Wooden Boy

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Look out for new music from The Cactus Channel this year. They say they’re working hard and it’s a coming…

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Soulfest 2015 – The Second Coming

Soulfest arrived last year, promoted as ‘Australia’s First Annual Neo Soul, Jazz & Hip Hop Festival’. Some teething problems in its inaugural year left people wondering whether there would be a second Soulfest in 2015.

Soulfest Australia poster

Most who experienced Soulfest 2014 were hoping the festival would come again. Because despite those initial teething problems, Soulfest had delivered to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane (+ Auckland) one day and night of back-to-back live performances by a super indulgent line-up of some of the worlds greatest living contemporary soul, R&B and hip hop artists.

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Soulfest 2014 Got D’Angelo

First and foremost, one of those Soulfest 2014 artists was the (up until recently) reclusive D’Angelo.

D'Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

His live Soulfest performances in Australia and New Zealand with The Vanguard were D’Angelo’s first in some time. Those shows also turned out to be D’Angelo’s last ones before the sudden December release of his new album – the divinely soulful, analogue masterpiece Black Messiah

By now you all probably have Black Messiah in your music collections on vinyl and/or cd yes? Or you’ve at least heard the album? Anybody living under a rock who hasn’t can check out these two [dirty mp3] sample tracks from Black Messiah then get yourself the hard-copy on vinyl or cd.

D'Angelo - Black Messiah (2014)

Black Messiah (2014)

‘Sugah Daddy’ – D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

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‘Really Love’ – D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

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D’Angelo & The Vanguard’s October Soulfest shows were also their last live performances before the next one just a couple of weeks ago on Saturday Night Live. Blessed were Australia and New Zealand punters to get the recent experience of D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest which D’Angelo fans all over the world now want – some lucky folks in Europe getting it right about now on his ‘Second Coming Tour’ which kicked off in New York last week.

D'Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

Check out these videos of D’Angelo & The Vanguard’s Soulfest 2014 shows in Melbourne and Brisbane…

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Much More Than D’Angelo

The live experience of D’Angelo & The Vanguard in 2014 was for me the absolute bomb of Soulfest 2014.

D'Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

But every other leading artist who performed at the festival, and every supporting band member on the main stage with them, were musical gifts of the greatest kind too:  Angie Stone, Leela James, Maxwell, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), Anthony Hamilton, Common, Musiq Soulchild and Aloe Blacc. So too were the Australian (or New Zealand) based artists who performed on the second Soulfest stage in Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland.

Melbourne                                                                    Brisbane

Angie Stone live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Angie Stone

Angie Stone live at Brisbane Soulfest 2014

Angie Stone

Leela James live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Leela James

Leela James live at Brisbane Soulfest 2014

Leela James

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maxwell live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Maxwell

Maxwell live at Brisbane Soulfest 2014

Maxwell

 

 

 

 

Mos Def live at Mellbourne Soulfest 2014

Mos Def (Yasiin Bey)

Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) live at Brisbane Soulfest 2014

Mos Def (Yasiin Bey)

Anthony Hamilton at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Anthony Hamilton

Anthony Hamilton live @ Soulfest Brisbane 2014

Anthony Hamilton

Common live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Common

Common live at Soulfest 2014 Brisbane

Common

Musiq Soulchild live at Melbourne Soulfest 2014

Musiq Soulchild

Musiq Soulchild

 

Aloe Blacc live @ Soulfest Melbourne 2014

Aloe Blacc

Aloe Blacc live @ Soulfest Brisbane 2014

Aloe Blacc

Aotearoa-New Zealand / Papua New Guinea / Australia represented at Brisbane Soulfest…

You can check out a heap of videos and more photos of those artists performing live at Melbourne and Brisbane Soulfest 2014 here: Brisbane Soulfest  – Melbourne Soulfest – plus these extra ones below pulled from the Beaver library…



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Soulfest 2015

It would be tough to beat the line-up delivered at Soulfest 2014. But praised be the Music Gods, the news for soul, R&B and hip hop music lovers around the world is that Soulfest say it’s going to try. The festival recently announced that a “bigger and better” Soulfest 2015 is coming – with news of the first round of artists to be delivered soon.

I’m still praying for a super-extra-special miracle that D’Angelo might extend his ‘Second Coming Tour’ to include a return trip to Australia to perform the Black Messiah songs Australia and New Zealand didn’t get at Soulfest last time around; and for the artist I consider to be the living Queen of Soul Music, Erykah Badu to come too.  One can only dream :) .

Register on the Soulfest website or keep an eye on its Facebook page to hear up-to-date news about Soulfest 2015.

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The Musical Evolution of Myele Manzanza

Myele ManzanzaDelve into the life of New Zealand artist Myele Manzanza and you’ll find that the blend of electro, soul, hip hop, jazz and Afrobeat music on his debut solo album One, makes perfect sense as a balanced reflection of his individual life lived and the various musical influences and experiences within it.

The Life of Myele

The son of Sam Manzanza, a Congolese musician and pioneering force in bringing African music to (and keeping it alive in) Aoetearoa/New Zealand, Myele Manzanza was born into a life surrounded by music and skilled musicians. Later in his life came the drum kit. Later again formal studies in Jazz Performance. All of it in Wellington – a place where many more artists than the wider-world knows about have been creating innovative musical blends of soul, jazz, reggae and electronica for a long time.

After six years drumming and touring the world with New Zealand’s successful electro-soul outfit Electric Wire Hustle, as well as going through the Red Bull Music Academy program, Myele left the trio in 2013 to embark on his solo music career and release his debut album One through BBE.

Myele Manzanza - One (2012)

One (2013)

Get a feel here (as best you can with a compressed mp3 version) for the life and sound of Myele Manzanza with One’s introductory track…

‘Neighbours Intro’ – One (2013) – Myele Manzanza

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Post-One, Pre-WOMADelaide

Consider then all of his musical experiences since the release of One and all-in-all, Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic are a perfect fit in the line-up of WOMADelaide 2015 where a diverse range of phenomenal worldwide artists will be performing.

Amongst those experiences is drumming on tour last year with a super-talented group of musicians and dancers put together by Detroit-based producer/DJ Theo Parrish – including funk legend Amp Fiddler on keys, and ex-Public Enemy guitarist Dumminie Deporres. Then there’s also that long list of prestigious gigs performed in New Zealand and abroad with the Myele Manzanza Trio, Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic, Miguel Atwood Ferguson and a host of other artists.

With less than one month to go until WOMADelaide kicks off in Adelaide, I caught up with Myele Manzanza to chat about his musical evolution up to and post WOMADelaide.

WOMADelaide 2015

Chatting with Myele Manzanza…

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Beaver:  You’ve played before at WOMADelaide – with Electric Wire Hustle right?

Myele Manzanza:  Yeah, we did WOMADelaide maybe 3 or 4 years ago. It was cool. I enjoyed my time there. It’s a beautiful venue and setting, and the programmers at WOMAD know exactly what they’re doing as far as the line-ups that they get. It’s a really interesting and exciting festival for me so I’m happy to be able to bring my own band over and be able to play my music at a festival that’s notoriously great.

Myele Manzanza Solo

Beaver:  Does your time with Electric Wire Hustle feel like a million years ago now, given everything that’s been happening in your life and solo music career since then?

Electric Wire Hustle

Myele Manzanza (L) with Electric Wire Hustle

Myele Manzanza:  It’s the first time I’ve really reflected on that so I’m glad you asked that question. It kind of does in the scheme of things. My last concert with them was about a year and a half ago, maybe a little bit more. In that sense, it hasn’t been that long.

But a lot’s happened and a lot is musically different to how it was 2 or 3 years ago in that era of my life.

Last year I did quite a lot of touring in the U.S. and Europe, Australia as well, which was fantastic. I’ve been steadily working on lots of different musical projects and producing albums for people, and also my own stuff which I’m sure will be gradually coming out over the next couple of years. I feel like I’m a lot different as a drummer, as a musician and an artist. I’ve grown a lot since then. So in that sense yes, it does feel like a long time ago.

I don’t think it will happen, but it would be interesting if I was to play with Electric Wire Hustle again. It would probably be kind of weird having gone in so many different directions since then.

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[B: If you don’t already know and love Electric Wire Hustle’s music, check out this sample Electric Wire Hustle track from their self-titled debut album…]

Electric Wire Hustle (2010)

Electric Wire Hustle (2010)

‘Experience’ - Electric Wire Hustle (2010)

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Musical Independence

Beaver:  How’s it been going for you in becoming the independent master of your own creative path and destiny?

Myele Manzanza:  In one sense it’s been great…because you’re able to set your own terms and define what your sound is, what your music is and what it is that you want to be doing with it.

But on the other side of that coin comes a far greater sense of responsibility because ultimately the buck stops with you and if you want your career to progress then ultimately you’re the one who’s got to put in the work, do all the hustling, be responsible for the art and…for making music that you can only hope at the end of the day resonates with people.

People have gotta relate to the music and reference it from something else that they’ve heard, that’s just natural. But at the same time you gotta make art that’s distinctive and original, find your own sound. While I’ve always been kind of aware of it, in going solo I’ve felt that pressure/challenge in being your own artist.

So it comes with the pros of being able to set your own tone and all of that, but also the greater responsibility and effort in order to make things happen; and with the spotlight being on you, you’ve got to deliver, so it’s just a little bit higher pressure. But it’s cool, the payoff is great.

The Myele Manzanza Supergroup

Beaver:  So with the freedom to create or be a part of any music project, which of any living artists in the world would you choose to put in the line-up of The Myele Manzanza Supergroup?

Myele Manzanza:  Herbie Hancock on rhodes and synths (‘Head Hunters’ 70’s era synths, not that Korg Triton stuff); Pino Palladino on bass; Gretchen Parlato on vocals; Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet; Zakir Hussain on tabla and Marcus Strickland on tenor saxophone.

Myele Manzanza

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Theo Parrish Tour

Beaver:  I’m a disciple of Amp Fiddler and Public Enemy - and an appreciator of Theo Parrish. I’m keen to hear about what the experience of playing music live on stage with those artists was like for you, and what you took away from it in terms of your own musicianship?

Myele Manzanza:  That was such a great tour. There were some really amazing shows and really great audiences. It was cool to be on a tour bus with a crew of musicians who were a few more levels above where I’m at now and have been in the game for a little bit longer; and to have been able to learn from them and their processes.

Theo Parrish Tour with Myele Manzanza

“those fundamentals of drumming”

I guess that the Myele Manzanza music that I’m doing and to some extent Electric Wire Hustle before that, drumming wise I was not exactly a jazz drummer, but more fluid. While obviously you’ve still got to hold the beat down and give people that solid thing to dance to, my mind’s eye was orientated more towards colours and textures; different rhythms and interplay; interacting and improvising; stretching, pushing and pulling with what I was doing – as opposed to being strictly the foundational rhythmic pulse that doesn’t move while everything else is built up on top of it.

In playing with Theo I had to go back to those fundamentals of drumming – being the engine room and holding it down for the band, keeping that steady pulse. So I had to go back to that and really push and develop that, figure out my place within it.

We rehearsed for 10-12 hours a day for a week prior to the tour, so it took a little while for everyone to figure out their place in the band and the band’s sound.

“the language of the dance”

There were four dancers that were part of the performance as well, and when we were rehearsing with them that’s when it kind of clicked for me: as opposed to getting too busy and trying to add all these different kinds of spices into it, needing to just be the onions and garlic, hold down the base, be the solid meat and potatoes that kept everything together – particularly for the dancers.

Because when I was watching the dancers I was recognising how they were literally dancing to what I was doing. So by keeping that repetitive thing going and giving them something consistent to work with, it gave them space to be somewhat spontaneous within that; and be able to hear my accents and to form their dances in a way which hit those accents.

For me that was a great learning lesson as well – performing with dancers and recognising how the drums relate to them specifically.

Myele Manzanza - One (2012)

Especially with Theo’s music because he’s a dance music producer and very idiosyncratic, but the way that he puts his rhythm together and his drum production is very specific. In working with the dancers I recognised the greater purpose for that specificity. As opposed to “Okay, that’s just a beat there with some flourishes there, and that’s kind of cool”, recognising that its actually a specific part of the composition and is important and integral to the meaning to that.

So in learning from that process and going into my music-making now, I guess I have a greater understanding of the language of the dance and the way that music (and rhythm in particular) relates to that. I kind of already knew it. It’s one of those truths that’s just there and obvious, but on that tour it kind of hit home for me that this weird, relatively esoteric thing called music has a solid, very real, very pertinent affect on other human beings.

“music…connects with people in some real way”

It’s interesting because music is a thing that you kind of can’t really see or feel or touch, but it connects with people in some real way. That was a first hand experience for me on the Tour and I’ll never let go of that in whatever it is that I’m doing – even if I’m not doing ‘dancing music’.

I’ll be more aware that whatever sound I’m generating or whatever sound a band is generating, relates to people on a human level; as opposed to like a music theory level or relating to musicians; as opposed to the general public and the different things in different ways that work and how different people think. Because a lot of the time musicians can get caught up in ‘musiciany things’, things that only musicians would really notice. It’s important to be able to step back from yourself and kind of try and figure out the greater affect that your music has on people, and try and think in a broader way.

Post-One Evolution

Beaver:  If One was a reflection of the life of Myele Manzanza lived up until its making, and given everything you’ve done since the release of that album, do you feel that your musical evolution has progressed further still?

Myele Manzanza:  There’s a lot of different tangents to it. I go through phases where I’m into some style of music, or really into drumming and practising a lot and working on being really proficient on the instrument: getting my speed up, or my chops up and articulation; the dynamics; the pure physicality of drumming. I’ll have phases of that. And sometimes I’ll have phases of doing a lot of beat-making and producing and composing.

Myele Manzanza

With the actual music I’m making, it’s still within those same influences, the various styles you were talking about (jazz, Afrobeat etc). I guess what I’m trying to do more and more (and it was something I was doing with One as well but think I’m getting further along the path) is finding a way to unify all of those different influences into one sound which is me –  rather than “now I’m playing Afrobeat”, “now I’m playing jazz”, “now I’m playing electronica” or “now I’m playing hip hop” etc.

As opposed to being able to play in all of the different styles authentically, I’m trying to meld all of them into a single style, which is easier said than done…At the one time I have to be highly aware of wanting and needing to do that, but at the same time I don’t know exactly what the end result would be. You can’t. No one can know. No artist could entirely know beforehand what their actual distinctive sound is. It’s a continual process of taking what’s come before, digesting it and putting it out as a new thing.

I’m more conscious of that process, even though as far as totally defining it, its perhaps impossible; and perhaps not even the point. Perhaps if I’m too concerned about whatever it is I’m doing next musically, it means I’m not concentrating on what it is that I can do musically now, in the present.

Post-WOMADelaide Evolution

Beaver:   Any insights into what’s next on your evolutionary path beyond WOMAD and WOMADelaide? Any new music projects brewing that you want to talk about?

Myele Manzanza:  I’ve got at least two albums backed up which are musically more or less finished. Definitely keep your ear out for some interesting stuff happening in 2015. As far as specifically what that will be, I’ll keep that close to my chest for now.

Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic Live at WOMADelaide 2015

Beaver:  You’re bringing your Dad [Sam Manzanza] and vocalist Rachel Fraser to perform with Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic at WOMADelaide. Which other artists will be joining you?

Sam Manzanza

Sam Manzanza

Myele Manzanza:  Another great singer called Lisa Tomlins. In New Zealand she’s one of the go-to vocalists. She’s performed with everyone like Fat Freddys Drop, Trinity Roots, Shapeshifter and loads of other bands. Lisa’s one of the ‘great’ Greats. She should put out an autobiography with all her stories cause I know she’d have billions of them.

On bass we have Marika Hodgson who plays with Rachel Fraser in a band called Sorceress. She’s a really talented musician from Auckland with a really bright future ahead of her. Daniel Hayles on keys. He’s great; very professional and very, very talented. We went to music school together. Also Daniel Ryland who was one of my teachers at music school. He’s my guitarist now and has a great sound, tone and aesthetic to what he does – very unique. Regardless of the style that he’s playing, he’s able to bring his own thing into it.

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[B: Check out 2 more sample tracks from One which feature Sam Manzanza and Rachel Fraser on vocals. You can buy the hard-copy album through BBE or better yet, get yourself to WOMADelaide 2015 and buy it from the Wo-Shop.]

Myele Manzanza - One (2012)

Myele Manzanza – One (2013)

‘On the Move’ – Myele Manzanza feat. Rachel Fraser

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‘Me I Know Him’ – Myele Manzanza feat. Sam Manzanza

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Live Elasticity

Beaver:  How much ‘elasticity’ can we expect to hear in Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic’s live show at WOMADelaide?

Myele Manzanza:  When I say ‘elastic’ [‘Afro-Elastic Soul Music from the Tradition of the Philosopher Kings’] that’s kind of referring to the improvisational element – which is like you’re in the moment and fluid – and whilst I’ve set the parameters of what the composition is, within those parameters you can take those raw materials of the composition and stretch, push, pull and play off of it – so its ‘elastic’ in that sense.

Then it’s also referring to some of the rhythmic things – that sort of J-Dilla-ish kind of feeling that’s steady but off kilter at the same time, and the rhythm is stretched in some interesting way.

That elasticity definitely comes into play a lot with Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic – even though it’s a bigger band and more of a steady sort of RnB dance thing as opposed to an abstract jazz thing. For me I find it’s a good combination of all of the aspects of music and all of the ways of playing that I’m into.

As we continue to play together we keep on getting better and better…I think the next round of WOMAD and WOMADelaide is going to be a really special time.

Beaver:  Well, different people I’ve spoken to about your live performances have all used the word ‘phenomenal’ to describe them, so I look forward to experiencing it myself.

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Catch Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic live at WOMADelaide 2015 along with the Buena Vista Social Club, Neneh Cherry, Sinead O’ConnorTheo Parrish, Jake Savona with Prince Alla and Randy Valentine – plus about 50 more diverse worldwide artists.

WOMADelaide 2015

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Myele Manzanza also shared some insights into New Zealand’s music aesthetic over recent decades – and the story of one of his life’s many euphoric musical moments…get the details here another day soon.

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Little Dragon Live Amongst The Lightsabers In Melbourne

Less than a week out from tonights Grammy Awards where they’re nominated for ‘best dance/electronic album’, Sweden’s electro-soul-synthpop group Little Dragon were playing the last of a string of sold-out shows on the other side of the world in Australia.

There I caught them live on stage at 170 Russell St, Melbourne: Fredrik Wallin on bass and synth; Håkan Wirenstrand on keys and synth; Erik Bodin on drums and Yukimi Nagano on vocals – all of them surrounded by a lot of intensely-bright lights akin to Star Wars Lightsabers.

Little Dragon live in Melbourne, Australia 2015

Little Dragon live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne – February 2015

For me the lightsabers were somewhat distracting. But when I managed to refocus my attention on what I was there for: to hear Little Dragon music being played and sung live by each of those four talented artists on their respective instruments, I was happy again.

Little Dragon live in Melbourne, Australia 2015

The happiest of those Little Dragon stage moments were hearing the sounds of Fredrik Wallin playing the strings of his bass guitar rather than the synth, and the times when the musicians jammed-out on tracks.

Little Dragon live in Melbourne, Australia 2015

Many more special moments came throughout the show when I focused my visual attention on Yukimi Nagano and her beautifully-theatrical stage presence.

Little Dragon live in Melbourne, Australia 2015

Throughout all of the songs performed from each of Little Dragon’s four albums, I was reminded again of the great, great goodness of hearing the chops of those musicians in a live environment – and appreciative to get the experience again.

Little Dragon live in Melbourne, Australia 2015

Check out this footage from Little Dragon’s Melbourne show plus a sample track from their most recent and Grammy-nominated album Nabuma Rubberband.

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Little Dragon - Nabuma Rubberband (2014)

Nabuma Rubberband (2014)

‘Killing Me’ – Nabuma Rubberband (2014)

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You can also watch videos from Little Dragon’s 2014 Sydney show and hear more Little Dragon sample tracks here.

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Flying Lotus Live In “Melben”

After flight delays from Wellington on Friday, folks in Melbourne had a long wait into the early hours of Saturday morning for their highly-anticipated live Flying Lotus experience.

By the end of his show that long wait seemed worth it for both the die-hard FlyLo disciples with their arms stretched out towards him on the stage during most of his set, and the curious appreciators of his music artistry alike.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne

With the use of some live tools, the art of making his studio music sound fresh, alive and entertaining on stage with just a laptop and some controls, is one that Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) appears to have mastered well.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Live Tools of the Electronic Art
A Visual Extravaganza

The most fundamental of those tools in bringing his music to life was the mesmerizing live 3D lighting and animation that surrounded Flying Lotus throughout his performance. That spectacular alone, made the live show worth experiencing.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Add to that the mask of glowing eyes worn by Ellison for the first part of his set, and the audience was well and truly in fantasy-land.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Movement

Witnessing Flying Lotus behind his laptop moving his body, raising his arms high to the sky and getting off on the music he was playing, helped the audience to get off on it themselves.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Diverse & Fresh Sounds

Creating a set of music melding older beloved tracks from the Flying Lotus discography, songs from his most recently released album You’re Dead! as well as some new ones all together, seemed to satisfy the tastes of everyone. His alterations to the original sound of those tracks, made them sound fresh in the live arena.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Sing It / Rap It

Picking up a microphone to sing or rap those parts of tracks recorded in the studio obviously adds that sought-after extra-special living element to the music. Flying Lotus did this a number of times at his Melbourne show – including singing his ethereal accompanying vocals on ‘Coronus the Terminator’ and rapping Captain Murphy’s part on  ‘Dead Man’s Tetris’.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Relate

For an artist to observe some native idiosyncratic thing about the people of the place they’re performing in, helps an audience to relate and feel connected to that artist performing in their place.  At his Melbourne show Flying Lotus achieved that by expressing both bemusement and amusement about the Australian way of pronouncing the city as “Melben” rather than “Melburn” or “Melborn”.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Tell a Story

An artist relating to the audience some more by telling a story about an experience they had when they last visited that place, makes that connection stronger again. Flying Lotus’ Melbourne story was about the gift of DMT given to him by a punter last time around, pre-empting an on-the-spot gift to him of something from an audience member this time around.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Make More Music

After making those live connections with his Melbourne audience, Flying Lotus got back behind his laptop and knobs to finish the show with more audiovisuals of the fantastical kind – and the job was done – the electronic art in the live arena mastered – and the people moved.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Check out these video snippets of the live Flying Lotus experience in Melben + samples of his studio works below if you’re not already familiar with them.



Flying Lotus - You're Dead! (2014)

You’re Dead! (2014)

 ‘Siren Song’ – Flying Lotus feat. Angel Deradoorian – You’re Dead!

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Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes (2012)

Until The Quiet Comes (2012)

‘Phantasm’ – Flying Lotus feat. Laura Darlington – Until The Quiet Comes

 

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

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E is for Electronic Music Infiltration

‘E’ in Beaver’s A to Z of Fusion goes to the sounds of electronic music for their like-it-or-not, rapid infiltration of almost every type of music in just about every part of the world since their beginnings at the end of the 19th century.

electronic music

A Shallow History of Infiltration

The history of electronic music is long and involved.  It’s not a story I’m qualified to properly tell, nor do I want to try. The over-simplified, short, sketchy version is this…

The Beatles - Moog SynthesizerFirst came the creation of electronic musical instruments like synthesizers. The Beatles weaved them into their music in the late 1960’s, as did artists before them. Pink Floyd did too, even Herbie Hancock, and countless artists since them.

The development of electronic music technologies continued, including digital audio to rapidly thereafter replace analog.

The creation of music using only electronic means became increasingly common.

Computer software advanced. Access to computers and other technologies became easier for most of the world.

electronic music

Certainly electronic music got its grips on ‘less-developed’ (ie. poorer) parts of the world sooner than the richer ones, but it eventually infiltrated just about everywhere. Seven years ago in Havana you can imagine my dismay when a young man in the technologically un-advanced, insulated Cuban bubble, proudly played me the reggaeton (an electronic-music-Evil) track he’d just finished making on his archaic equipment.

Some consequences of the world’s electronic music infiltration I’m into, some I am most definitely not.

Post-Infiltration

Nowadays it’s rare to find music made in the warm, living analog world. That’s a tragedy of epic proportions. Thankfully some artists still deliver it – most recently D’Angelo with Black Messiah, and regularly by Will Holland (aka Quantic).

Digital music consumption now dominates – another tragedy of epic proportions.

Nowadays and for a long time it’s been open to any man, woman or their dog with a computer to make music on it. It’s great that so much creativity is flowing from people around the world, but the truth is that I have little tolerance for listening to music produced wholly and solely in the electronic domain.

It’s not all doom and gloom though – the infiltration of electronic music has had its benefits too. Today some of my favorite music from around the world is by artists/groups who innovatively utilise and blend the sounds of electronic instruments into their musical mix whilst valuing and maintaining the living, human, conventional sounds.

It is the sounds of those instruments, and the people playing them, that is the living chi of music. They make the music sound and feel alive to me. They physically and emotionally connect me to the music. Without that living element, with purely electronic sounds, the music is a lost cause for my ears.

Infiltration Samples

Check out these sample tracks by a handful of contemporary artists from different countries who mix up the sounds of electronica and the living to produce killer musical results. Remember these are just super-compressed mp3 versions of the songs. Buy the music on vinyl where you can, or at least cd, to hear it in its full, living sound glory.

1. NGAIIRE (Papua New Guinea/Australia)

Lamentations (2013) - Ngaiire

NGAIIRE – Lamentations (2013)

‘Fireflies’ – NGAIIRE – Lamentations

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Check out more NGAIIRE music + footage from live shows here.

2. Flying Lotus (USA)

Flying Lotus - You're Dead! (2014)

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! (2014)

‘Never Catch Me’ – Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar – You’re Dead! 

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Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes (2012)

Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes (2012)

‘See Thru To U’ – Flying Lotus  feat. Erykah Badu – Until The Quiet Comes

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Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma (2010)

Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (2010)

‘German Haircut’ – Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

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Check out more Flying Lotus music here and stay tuned for a rundown of his upcoming live performances in Australia.

3. Will Holland – aka Quantic (UK)

Tropidelico - The Quantic Soul Orchestra - Tropidelico

The Quantic Soul Orchestra – Tropidélico (2007)

‘I Just Fell In Love Again’ – The Quantic Soul Orchestra – Tropidélico

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Check out more Quantic tracks + footage of his DJ set at WOMADelaide 2014  here.

4. Myele Manzana (Aotearoa/New Zealand)

Myele Manzanza - One (2012)

Myele Manzanza – One (2013)

‘Elvin’s Brew’ – Myele Manzanza  – One

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5. Hiatus Kaiyote (Australia)

Hiatus Kaiyote - Tawk Tomahawk

Hiatus Kaiyote – Tawk Tomahawk (2013)

‘Sphinx Gate’ – Hiatus Kaiyote – Tawk Tomahawk

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Hear more Hiatus Kaiyote tracks + videos of live shows here.

6. Sidestepper (UK + Colombia)

(pioneers in live/electro Colombian fusion)

Sidestepper live at WOMADelaide 2011

Sidestepper live at WOMADelaide 2011

Sidestepper - 3AM: In Beats We Trust (2003)

Sidestepper – 3AM: In Beats We Trust (2003)

‘In The Beats We Trust’ – Sidestepper – 3AM: In Beats We Trust

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7. Bajofondo (Argentina + Uruguay) 

(pioneers in Latin American live/electro fusion)

Bajofondo - Mar Dulce (2007)

Bajofondo – Mar Dulce (2007)

‘Pa’ Bailar’ – Bajofondo Tango Club – Mar Dulce

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Hear more Bajofondo tracks + videos from a live show in Bogota here.

8. Roberto Fonseca (Cuba)

Roberto Fonseca - Yo (2012)

Roberto Fonseca – Yo (2013)

‘Rachel’ – Roberto Fonseca – Yo

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Hear more Roberta Fonseca tracks + videos from his live performance at WOMADelaide 2014 here.

9. Electric Wire Hustle (Aotearoa/New Zealand)

Electric Wire Hustle (2010)

Electric Wire Hustle (2010)

‘Burn’ – Electric Wire Hustle

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10. Little Dragon (Sweden)

Little Dragon - Ritual Union

Little Dragon – Ritual Union (2012)

‘Please Turn’ – Little Dragon – Ritual Union 

 

Hear more Little Dragon songs + videos from live shows here.

Little Dragon live at Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

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So musical people, what say you about the infilitration of electronic music…like it, or not?

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D’Angelo – A Messiah of Sorts

Have you spent the last 14 years since D’Angelo delivered Voodoo - waiting, watching, desperately hoping for the artist then-dubbed the “R&B Jesus” to bring us new music, to deliver Black Messiah? Not me, or at least I didn’t think I was. Voodoo kept me in good company that whole time and still now gives me as much listening delight as it did 14 years ago. It will for the rest of my days.

Certainly for all those years I was waiting and hoping for the live D’Angelo experience. Fortunately I was finally blessed to get a double-fix in Australia a few months ago when D’Angelo and The Vanguard performed at Soulfest in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo and The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014 (w/ Angie Stone & Anthony Hamilton on back-up vocals)

Finally experiencing the incredible vocal and instrumental chops of D’Angelo and the other musicians on stage with him at Soulfest (including legendary bass player Pino Palladino and ex-Prince guitarist Jesse Johnson), was sublimely satisfying.

Pino Palladino with D’Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

Jesse Johnson with D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

The Coming of Black Messiah

Now that Black Messiah is here though; now that I’ve listened to it in hard-copy on the good sound system it’s meant to be heard on, over and over and over again; now that I reflect on the character and quality of r&b, soul and funk music created by artists throughout the last decade, reflect on all music made during that time period of rapid digitalisation, I realise something about D’Angelo and Black Messiah.

I might not have been in-waiting for his new music, but since the album’s turned out to be of the “crazy-amazing, gold standard” type that Prince sings about on Art Official Age; the type we don’t seem to hear as much of these days, D’Angelo’s most recent creation is a surprisingly refreshing and welcome relief from most new music offerings around.

D’Angelo - Black Messiah (2014)

D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

The quality, textures, flavors and sounds of Black Messiah have the glorious essence of old – a contemporary manifestation of all the crazy-amazing, gold standard soul, r&b, jazz and funk music artists we all know and love who came before, at the same time and soon after D’Angelo.

The composition of all Black Messiah’s diverse, layered, beautifully-blended sounds by multi-instrumentalist & vocalist D’Angelo, in collaboration with Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (drums), Q-Tip (lyrics), Pino Palladino (bass+sitar), Roy Hargrove (brass & horns), James Gadson (drums) and Kendra Foster (lyrics/vocals) are as brilliant as you’d expect from la crème de la crème of contemporary funk, soul, hip hop and jazz artists. Every note on the album is executed flawlessly by those and other talented musicians D’Angelo worked with in the studio (again including Jesse Johnson).

The honey-sweet lead and backing vocals sung by D’Angelo (also P-Funk’s Kendra Foster & others) sound as natural and improvised as could be, ooze tender emotion and would be impossible for any singer to replicate if they tried.

D’Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo

Kendra Foster with D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

Kendra Foster

Fundamentally too, this album is a rarity because it was organically recorded and mixed in the sweet, warm analog world, uncontaminated by digital manipulations.

All of those factors in Black Messiah’s mix equal a bouncing, grooving, funking, jazzy, swinging, occasionally rocked-out, absolutely soul-drenched album of sound delights from start to finish.

Long-Awaited Music Messiah

So even though D’Angelo has clearly stated he’s not professing himself to be the black messiah, the crazy-amazing music he’s created and just shared with the world in light of all music that’s come before it in recent years, means D’Angelo is now as he was 14 years ago, and will be for the rest of time, regarded by me and millions of others in the world as a saviour of sorts – a Music Messiah.

D’Angelo live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

The ultimate message I take from Black Messiah is one of hope for the future; confirmation that yes, this is the high-quality “crazy-amazing gold standard” that music can still meet; these are the sounds of music that music can still have.

Black Messiah at its Best

Giving mp3-only samples of Black Messiah feels dirtier than ever before, but here you have a couple of tracks. Get the album on sweet vinyl from 4 February to hear this music as it was meant to be heard. Get it on cd now if you don’t already have it. Familiarise yourself with the names of all the musical magicians involved in its creation. Enjoy the imagery, admire the photography.

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Most importantly “for best results”, listen on a good sound system “at maximum volume” as D’Angelo recommends in the linear notes, so you properly discover and appreciate the myriad of sounds on the album. Love all of Black Messiah forever after, I’m sure that you will. Amen.

D’Angelo - Black Messiah (2014)

Black Messiah (2014)

‘Back to the Future (Part 1)’ –  Black Messiah - D’Angelo and The Vanguard

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‘Prayer’  – Black Messiah - D’Angelo and The Vanguard

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D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

And Now?

With Black Messiah now here, people around the world are probably chomping-at-the-bit for something more; waiting, watching, desperately hoping for D’Angelo to start doing interviews. Not me. I say leave the man be. I’m just grateful for the artist D’Angelo’s delivery of yet another crazy-amazing body of music to delight in forever after. We still have Voodoo and Brown Sugar to keep us company too.

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I’m going back to waiting, watching, hoping for another live experience of D’Angelo and The Vanguard – the next time around playing Black Messiah tracks. Lucky peeps who can get to Europe in February and March for the ‘Second Coming Tour’ can have theirs soon. For a glimpse of the experience, check out more here on D’Angelo and The Vanguard performing recently at Soulfest Australia.

D’Angelo & The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

D’Angelo and The Vanguard live at Soulfest Melbourne 2014

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Fatima, Her Band & Alexander Nut

2014 was a momentous year for Swedish-born, London-based soul singer Fatima.

After some time lending her vocal talents to the music releases of other artists, Fatima got together with some Eglo Records producers and then some more (Floating Points Theo ParrishComputer JayKnxwledge –  Scoop DeVilleOh NoFlako) to record and release her own debut album Yellow Memories. By the end of the year Fatima’s solo album had the support of the very discerning and great-tasted Gilles Peterson, and was number 10 of Rolling Stone’s 20 Best R&B Albums of 2014.

Fatima - Yellow Memories (2014)

Yellow Memories (2014)

If her success in 2014 is any indication and if all is well with the world, 2015 should be even more momentous yet for Fatima.

Fatima started this year on Australian shores showcasing her musical blend of soul/jazz/r&b/funk/electro at Melbourne’s Let Them Eat Cake festival alongside producer, DJ and Eglo Records head Alexander Nut. Next up came their own gig at Brisbane’s Woolly Mammoth where they were supported by MKO, Vulture St Tape Gang and DJ Gavin Boyd.

Fatima & Alexander Nut live at Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane 2015

Fatima at the Woolly Mammoth

Alexander Nut + Fatima live at Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane 2015

Alexander Nut at the Woolly Mammoth

There I was at the Brisbane show, and there Fatima’s sassy and powerful performance got me on the dance floor and kept me there. I dug Alexander Nut’s chops on the decks during Fatima’s and his own set, for sure. But the talented Ms Fatima, well, she breathed life into every single beat with her gorgeous vocals and diva-like command of the stage.  With a full live band with her, the Fatima experience would be a super-special one.

Fatima and Alexander Nut live Brisbane 2015

Check out these videos of the tracks ‘Biggest Joke of All’ from Yellow Memories (2014) + ‘Family’ from 2013.

You can buy Yellow Memories (on vinyl too) through Eglo Records or at your good, local, struggling :(  independent record store.

May 2015 be a momentous one for Fatima, her band, Alexander Nut and Eglo Records.

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Tony Allen’s Film of Life – 2014 Music Supreme

“Thank you for listening to my music” Tony Allen says humbly in the opening track of Film of Life. The Nigerian-born, Paris-based drummer/composer/songwriter/musical director best-known to Afrobeat lovers as its co-founder and pioneer alongside Fela Kuti for a long time thereafter, continues ‘Moving On’ by reminding us of past album titles from his long and legendary music career which are (sadly) just as relevant today as then (No Discrimination for example). Tony Allen finishes his introduction to Film of Life by telling listeners to “Check it out”.

Tony Allen - Film of Life (2014)

In response to Tony Allen I’d say “Thank you for 50+ years of making and playing incredible music for the world to hear and enjoy for the rest of time”. Moving on more specifically to Film of Life I say to readers here “Check it out” you must. It’s one of the world’s most valuable musical creations of 2014 and the supreme of all albums added to my music collection this past year.

Ten tracks collaboratively written and performed by Tony Allen and other great artists (Damon Albarn - NefretitiAdunni - Kuku) and produced by French trio The Jazzbastards, means diversity. Afrobeat lovers will find music and vocals easily recognisable as straight ol’ (quality) Afrobeat. Flying Lotus fans could be forgiven for thinking some songs from Film of Life are collaborations between Steven Ellison and Tony Allen.  Folks into futuristic spy movies might sometimes feel they’re hearing the soundtrack to their favourite film. Lovers of all sounds funk get plenty of them all throughout Film of Life. Dub heads get their fix too.

Then there’s other bunches of different musical flavours again, like the albums first single co-written and performed with Damon Albarn (Blur / Gorillaz).

The consistency linking it all together is the very distinct-sounding and absolutely supreme chops of 74 year old Tony Allen on drum kit, perfectly playing his multi-layered polyrythyms better-than-ever before; and demonstrating again with Film of Life that in a globalised world of cross-genre music he never fails to drive his ‘Afrobeat Expresso’ into the current day and up front of the musical lane.

Tony Allen - Film of Life (2014)

Given the diversity of sounds on Film of Life two songs can’t properly represent what it is (especially in compressed mp3 version). Here’s a sample taste of its flavours anyway…

Tony Allen - Film of Life (2014)

Film of Life (2014)

‘African Man’ – Tony Allen – Film of Life (2014)

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‘Afo KunfFu Beat’ – Tony Allen – Film of Life (2014)

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If you like the samples, check out Film of Life in it’s highest sound quality version you must. Hear it on vinyl, or at least cd. Keep that and any past Tony Allen albums you can find in your valuable music collection forever thereafter. Amen.

And a happy new year of music to all! :)

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