19th November 2020:
From the loss of Ennio Morricone to the exploration of the South African phenomenon of Amapiano, July has been a wild musical journey. Here’s part one of our four-part monthly recap.
July 1st – 7th 2020 – Musicians Featured:
Gil Scott Heron – Kokolo – Chicago Afrobeat Project – Chopteeth – Ami Faku – Walter Trout – Vampire Weekend – Ennio Morricone – Lee Clayton
1st July 2020: We started with a mini-feature on the Black Bob Dylan and the Godfather of Hip Hop and Rap, the late Gil Scott Heron.
His unique style and sound during the ‘70s influenced the future of many African-American music genres and released a total of 16 albums in his 40-years in the industry. Born to an opera singer mother and Jamaican footballer, Gil ‘The Black Arrow’ Heron (who became the first Black man to play for the Celtic Football Club in Glasgow), he showed his writing talent early in life when he won a full scholarship to the prestigious Fieldston School in New York, after impressing the head of the English Department with one of his writings.
The second track I featured was from his 1974 ‘Winter in America’ album, and a powerful song that addresses the social issue of alcoholism and alcohol abuse; The Bottle.
Alcoholism and its linked abuse have always been a huge problem, especially in lower-income African American communities and this was one of the first songs of the time to address the issue.
Gil Scott-Heron remained active in music and the community until his death. In 2010 he released his first new album in 16 years, titled ‘I’m New Here’.
To try and cover this man’s remarkable contribution to music and human rights is impossible in a few social media posts, but his life is well documented and I urge you to not only listen to some of his music but find out more about this remarkable man. As he says in this closing song, “I’m the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.” 😎
2nd July 2020: We then head off to the States for some Afrobeat fun with Kokolo. When Nigerian Fela Kuti coined the term Afrobeat back in the ‘60s I doubt if he had any idea how far-reaching this fusion of West African rhythms and Jazz/Funk would be in influencing future musicians of all genres.
In 1995 while running Underhanded Studios, Kokolo’s founder, Lugo met and was influenced by the team that spearheaded the City’s (and soon the world’s) Afrobeat revival, producing the early albums for groups like Daktaris and Antibalas. He infused what began as the traditional Afrobeat sound with a spikey Punk / Reggae feel that was designed to work the audience into a frenzy.
We then followed the Afrobeat trail to Chicago and the Chicago Afrobeat Project (CAbP). They began life in 2002 and became popular on the World Music festival stages. This popularity is supported with the five studio albums that they released between 2005 and 2017.
The members bring with them a deep knowledge of various styles of music including Afro Cuban, Rock, Jazz and Jùjú. A highpoint of their career came in 2013/14 when a collaboration with Tony Allen (Fela Kuti’s original drummer) for a series of performances and recordings resulted in the album What Goes Up.
As the final Afrobeat track saw us heading off to Washington to join the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band. The variety of musical styles and languages that the members of this outfit bring to the Afrobeat world is astounding. Highlife beats from Ghana, Senegalese rumba, Jamaican Ska, Mande Giot music, the dance drums of Ewe… and so it goes on. Chopteeth truly catapults Afrobeat into the realms of World Music. 😎
3rd July 2020: Our first taste of local music for the month came from sultry-voiced Ami Faku and a selection of tracks from her debut album that was released late 2019, Imali.
This Eastern Cape talent rose to prominence as a contestant on The Voice South Africa 2017 when she had a 4-chair turn-around for her version of John Legend’s Ordinary People. Remarkably, this was the first time she had appeared on stage and although she didn’t win the competition she did make the top 16. Starting the Ami Faku selection is the lovely song, Oh My My.
Our second track from Ami Faku came from the superb collaboration with the brilliant DJ, Sun-EL and the song ‘Into Ingawe’. It became one of the most played songs on the radio and hit over one million streams within three weeks of its release. As most of you know, South African House Music is huge, as is DJ Sun-EL. The combination of his distinctive rhythms and Ami’s voice creates pure magic and has helped propel her he career ever upward.
In the final Ami Faku song, Tshomi Yam, we hear more traditional African rhythms and harmonies being used than the previous tracks, and it is beautiful.
When she started in the industry she had an idea of the sound she wanted to achieve but had no idea how to get there. She listened to and took references from the artists she admired and admits that it was a mixed bag of styles. She also admits that her harmonies are influenced by the Bollywood movies she grew up watching.
With the success of her debut album, the future expectations are high. Her interaction with fans at her live shows is well known and loved and I’m hoping that, once the COVID-19 situation is over, she has her turn to wow international audiences. One thing is undeniable; Ami Faku is a singer whose music demands to be felt. 😎
4th July 2020: On the rocking front this week I was happy to see the pre-release single from an upcoming album from one of the old guard of great blues rockers, Walter Trout. His new album ‘Ordinary Madness’ will be available on August 28, but the track is too good not to share immediately. In addition to the new track, I have included two songs from his long career along with a little bit of background info on this legend.
Now 69-years-old, Walter Trout spent over a decade playing the guitar behind big names like John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton before being asked to replace Bob Hite in the group Canned Heat in 1981 where he stayed for four years. He then joined the line-up in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, following the footsteps of Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor who kickstarted their careers in John Mayall’s legendary band. It was when he was standing in for Mayall one night that a Danish concert promoter spotted him and offered to finance a solo tour. And so after paying his dues and years in the background, his solo career was born.
Walter Trout left The Bluesbreakers in 1989 to form the Walter Trout Band. He developed a huge following in Europe, especially in the Scandanavian counties; this was possibly due to his concert financier being Danish.
Walter Trout’s first album, Life in the Jungle, was named “the greatest album in the history of the Blues-Rock genre” by The Times in their review. Between 1990 and 1992, his first two albums sold over 100,000 copies which was an impressive achievement in those days. It was 1998 before he released his self-titled debut US album under the name Walter Trout and the Free Radicals. Over time the name was shortened to Walter Trout and the Radicals, and then to simply Walter Trout!
2006 saw the release of ‘Full Circle’ that saw his dream come into fruition of creating an album with some of the musicians he admired most. John Mayall, Coco Montoya and Jon Bonamassa were among the star line-up and I’ve chosen a track from this album as our second track for today. Here’s Mr Trout and Mr Bonamassa with Clouds on the Horizon.
In closing our Walter Trout feature I have chosen a track from his 2019 Survivor Blues album. Trout had been battling with health issues for some years and finally underwent a liver transplant in 2013; a climatic way to celebrate 25 years in the industry. When he was well enough to tour and record again he released the aptly named ‘Battle Scars’ album, followed by ‘We’re all in this together’, again, with guest spots from John Mayall, Jon Bonamassa, Randy Bachman, Warren Haynes etc; a gathering of the truly great and enduring musicians.
Five decades of making music later and Walter Trout, despite his precarious health, is still going strong and has tour dates lined up for later in 2020 and 2021 (restrictions willing). The 2019 Survivor Blues album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart and went on to spend twelve weeks in the top ten. The album is an interesting compilation of songs from some obscure blues artists. One of the more well-known is Ray Dawkins, and we leave today with his song, Me, My Guitar, and the Blues – ala Walter Trout. 😎
5th July 2020: I was rapped over the knuckles a while back when I referred to Indie Rock as a music genre. It was pointed out that all Indie means is that a band independently produces their music and therefore can cover many musical styles. I stood corrected! On checking this out I not only found it to be true but also that the term was coined in the 1920s to describe independent film producers.
I was going to tell you that today we’re featuring an Indie Rock outfit, but in light of the above info, I am happy to tell you that today’s ‘alternative music’ band is the remarkable Vampire Weekend and their 2019 album Father of the Bride.
Although they didn’t get the recognition they deserved here in South Africa, they certainly made waves in the UK and US when their first album, Vampire Weekend was released. Formed in 2006 they quickly shot to attention with their clever fusion of world rhythms into their music. Propelled by the power of the blog they embarked on a hard-working but rapid ascent to fame. While recording the first album they were holding down full-time jobs, playing gigs and recording at the same time.
In 2014 the band took a hiatus for six years but came back last year with a remarkable album packed with clever songs delivered in the easy-listening style that is a part of their deceptively simple appeal. I have got to know this album well over the past few months and am happily sharing a couple of my favourite tracks, including a live clip to end today’s selection with. To start with is the song Harmony Hall with an opening guitar riff that will worm its way into your happy place. I love this video. I can’t make up my mind if it is strangely normal or normally strange.
Between 2007 – 2009 Vampire Weekend was everywhere. Rolling Stone named the self-titled debut album in the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Quite a debut! Four singles were released from the album and received wide airplay in both the UK and US. A second and third album was released in 2010 and 2013 winning critical acclaim and a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 2014.
In an interview with the founder, Ezra Koenig, he explained the necessity to take a break at the time he did before the whirlwind of the rise to fame and the resulting pressures became too much. During this 6-year hiatus, he got in touch with what was important to him, including becoming a father.
The new album is the band’s first to include collaborators and guest vocalists. In a Rolling Stone interview, Koenig said “We’ve had three albums of the same voice over and over again. I like the idea of opening up our world a little bit”. He also commented that he was looking at basing his future tours on the jam-band style. The second track from Father of the Bride today is the catchy ‘This Life’ complete with a rather compelling video.
Today’s final clip from Vampire Weekend is a live performance from Austin City Limits in 2019 and another song from the Father of the Bride album, Sunflower. This video shows just how clever the band is at crossing genres, but never jarring the ears in the process.
Those who remember Vampire Weekend’s earlier albums will happily welcome them back with open arms. For those of you who are new to the band, you’re welcome. It always makes me happy to share good music. There are some people who will never open a link to a band they’ve never heard of before. I hope you’re not one of them. This band is just too good to miss out on. Here’s Sunflower.
Thanks for spending some of your precious Sunday time loving some music with us. May your upcoming week be the best you’ve had in ages. Catch you soon. 😎
6th July 2020: Today the music world received sad news at the passing of renowned composer, Ennio Morricone. If there is anyone out there who doesn’t know his name, it is most likely that you have seen a film where he has provided the film score, of which he wrote over four hundred. This was apart from the 100+ classical compositions and numerous TV shows he worked on.
Morricone’s life is well documented, and it would be impossible for me to try and cover his 92-years on the planet in a few posts. Most of you will have favourite pieces from the maestro, but I have chosen to honour his memory with a choice of three compositions that are special to me To start, here’s the song that set the sound of spaghetti Westerns forever. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Today we are honouring the life of Ennio Morricone. For today’s second composition I have chosen the piece that was used for the closing credits for the 2000 film, Meléna.
It is beautifully shot film directed and written by Giuseppe Tornatore that captures the era that Italy entered WWII and tells the story of a young boy and a beautiful woman who lives in a small village, and the fates that befall them. It is not one of Morricone’s best-known pieces but shows the sensitivity that the maestro brought to his craft.
In closing our tribute to the great composer, Ennio Morricone, today I have chosen a very special piece of music. The film, The Mission (1986) is a period drama telling the story of a Jesuit priest in 18th century South America.
Every aspect of the film; story, acting, subject, score, locations, images…the works, made a huge impact on me when I first saw it and the soundtrack soon became a part of my life. Here we join the Maestro himself, Ennio Morricone, conducting the Munich Radio Orchestra with the Main Theme from The Mission.
Thank you in joining me to celebrate the life of a man whose musical legacy will be remembered and loved for many decades to come. As I said in the opening, to try to cover his life is beyond the scope of a few posts, but I hope you enjoyed my personal selection of Morricone favourites. I do hope this new week will be kind to us all. Catch you soon. 😎
7th July 2020: While doing some research last night I went down a YouTube rabbit hole (as one can) and came across someone I haven’t heard since the early ‘80s. Lee Clayton’s Naked Child was a favourite of one of the management team at the Cape Town restaurant where I worked and he would play it at full volume every night when we were cleaning up for the night. I loved the album but with the whirl of the ‘80s he seemed to disappear.
Lee Clayton wasn’t very well known, and like many good musicians, never seemed to get the breaks he deserved. He’s made eight albums in his career and tonight I’m featuring two of my favourites from his Naked Child album and one form his 1981 release, The Dream Goes On.
He uses his Folk/Country Rock style to perfectly match the mood of his lyrical storytelling. For those of you who have never heard of him, he is well worth a listen. For those of you who remember Lee Clayton, when last did you hear this?
I’m featuring a much-underrated musician today, Lee Clayton, whose 1979 Naked Child album was possibly the pinnacle of his career. He had released two albums prior to this; Lee Clayton and Border Affair. The second album gained critical recognition but wasn’t a commercial success.
On the success of Naked Child, he embarked on a successful world tour and it seemed his future was set. Unfortunately nothing else reached this level of recognition during his career. We visit the Naked Child album again for the second track for today with the song 10,000 Light Years / Sexual Moon.
The last song from the hugely underrated Lee Clayton for today comes from his 1981 release The Dream Goes On. The album had a harder feel than his earlier recordings which wasn’t a bad thing and, although it contained some good tracks, it never made the impact that Naked Child had.
An interesting snippet of info is that U2’s Bono said that the only Country singer that ever influenced him was a “pretty well unknown fellow” named Lee Clayton. I’m glad that Bono and I share similar tastes! In closing, here’s the song, ‘Industry’, from The Dream Goes On.
I like visiting musicians that have slipped through the cracks of the industry occasionally and hope you enjoyed hearing some Lee Clayton as much as I enjoyed compiling the mix. Have a wonderful day music lovers. 😎
This article was first published on the Design Train website for Loving the Music
Words © Andrew Knapp
The author does not own the copyright of any of the videos used in the article