Unfinished Book on Blues Music in Texas Issued Almost 60 Years After its Inception
Stories of ‘lost’ masterpieces: unfinished works that showed great promise, but ultimately fell short of their creator’s vision, are common throughout music history. This is also true in the fields of ethnomusicology and music research, where dedicated scholars pore over written sources, interviews, artefacts, recordings and their own memory banks to piece together important historic documents of the music they adore, but occasionally, fall short of their target.
The Blues Come to Texasis one such ethnomusicological example. A collaborative project began between blues scholars Paul Oliver and Mack McCormick (Oliver based in England, McCormick in Houston) in 1959, its development continued well into the nineteen-seventies, with both men determined to make a definitive document of blues in the Lone Star state. However, what the Houston Press reports as ‘personal and professional issues and conflict,’ eventually put pay to their endeavour. Both men, who passed away in 2017 and 2015 respectively, were left with hundreds of documents: Oliver having been responsible for the academics and writing, McCormick the first-hand interviews and on-the-ground research — exchanging ideas and information by mail in the days prior to e-mail and International Direct Calling.
It wasn’t until 1996, when Alan Govenar, the scholar responsible for the definitive biography on Houston blues musician Lightnin’ Hopkins, reached out to Oliver about the lost work, that things got back on track. Now, finally, 23 years after Govenar made his first enquiries, the unfinished book has been published by Texas A&M University’s house press, complete with vital editorial work from Govenar and additional essays from both he and folklorist Kip Lornell. Find it here and listen to legendary Texas bluesman Mance Lipscomb below.
The Repeat Listen: KOKOKO! – Fongola
Tasting notes: Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa, Konono Nº1 Meets Batida – Konono Nº1 Meets Batida, Fofoulah – Daegarek, Paul White – Shaker Notes, The Mauskovic Dance Band – The Mauskovic Dance Band
Like the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, who received international renown from the film Landfill Orchestra, Kinshasa’s KOKOKO! have transformed unwanted items from the garbage deposits encroaching upon their neighbourhood, into one-of-a-kind musical instruments. The resultant sounds distinguish the group’s music from that of all other contemporary outfits.
Where KOKOKO! differ from the South American youth orchestra is in the application of their D.I.Y. instrumentation, which in their case, makes use of obsolete electronics as well as more common refuse items, such as bottles and tins. Their tekno kintueni sound: an energetic, electro-acoustic take on African and European dance music, is vastly different to the classical repertoire studied and recited by the Recycled Orchestra. Similarly, their self-fashioned instruments differ from those the orchestra’s are replicating: KOKOKO!’s creations referencing bass guitar and ngoni, balafon and drum set, as opposed to the string, woodwind and brass instruments commonly associated with orchestras.
While KOKOKO!’s ingenuitive upcycling does little to combat the waste issue in their home city (a report in December 2018 suggesting that: ‘Every day almost 9,000 tons of garbage accumulate in Kinshasa.’) it sends an important message to all of mankind — not least the countries whose ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to waste disposal sees them paying to ship it around the world to countries that may not have the infrastructure to adequately process it — about the practicality and value of the items we carelessly discard. In that respect, their music is some of the most vital in 2019, indicating to us all how we could change our attitude for the better.
Fongolais the band’s debut album, following an EP and succession of singles. As statements of intent go, it is a powerful and purposeful record, conveying the essence of what this band is about. Opening cut Likolo takes shape with a classic linear build up: tuned metallic percussion and processing from the band’s only member originating from outside of the DRC, producer and solo artist Débruit. It develops into a slow 4/4 groove, with polyrhythms weaving tightly, before making way for Makara Bianko’s arresting vocals.
Azo Toke begins with the familiar sound of a plugged-in jack cable making contact with the palm of the hand, establishing a fuzzy pulse for the track to build around. Call and response vocals, a menacing guitar lick and hypnotic clap/snare pattern carry the track forward, with the band displaying skill upon the instruments they’ve crafted, as well as an innate understanding of track structure — every subtle shift perfectly timed yet hard to anticipate. Malembe is one of the album’s standout cuts, with Bianko shredding his vocal chords to give it its raw and stripped-back power, yet preserving his emotive trill in the high register for the track’s melodic refrain. While Débruit does well to never stifle the unique characteristics of his bandmates’ voices and instruments, he produces some awesome vocal processing and synth lines on Zala Mayele, applying a crazy, rapid pitch-shifting effect to Bianko’s voice, that somehow makes complete sense in its sonic setting.
From top to bottom, KOKOKO!’s debut LP is a gutsy, high-energy and deeply impactful record, that makes the listener take a step back and reassess their thoughts about music production in the 21st century.
New Sounds and Visuals
Hip-hop mainstay Pete Rock has shared a new short film to accompany his recently-released beat tape, Return Of The SP1200. Written and directed by Hezues R, Shots Fired harnesses beats from the project within an ultimately positive narrative based upon school violence and political divisions. Check it out below.
Anglo-Nordic post-rock duo Belle Sonder have released Melancholy Love, the second single from their forthcoming debut album, Collected. The track hears lead vocalist Eirik Bøen Gravdal (Digvalley) brooding over a melancholic relationship, with layered guitars and electronic percussion feeding into the song’s subdued production. Stream the track on SoundCloud and catch them live at Manchester Psych Fest next month.
PYJÆN, the London-based quintet featuring Ezra Collective trumpeter Dylan Jones, released their new track Creation earlier this week. The track features lyrical bass work from Benjamine Crane and some fine, Zappa-esque horn lines from Jones and saxophonist Ben Vize. Check it out on Bandcamp.
The Broken Orchestra are to release their new album Pathways next week. Ahead of its release, you can stream the deep trip-hop cut Salvation on SoundCloud. The cut hinges upon a rich suitcase keyboard pattern, Emily Render’s aching vocals and subtle drums, creating a dark and contemplative groove.
Fans of minimal and melodic house music are in for a treat with the new track from Germany’s Move D, a gorgeous slow-building cut entitled Dots, from his forthcoming full-length, Building Bridges. If you dig the productions of Dorisburg and Floating Points, then we’re confident the vibe will sit well with you. Check it out below.
Trumpeter and composer Laura Jurd announced the imminent release of Stepping Back, Jumping In last week — an album which resulted from her tour of the same name, completed in March of this year. While Jurd brought her 14-piece ensemble to Band on the Wall on 6th March, the recordings that comprise this album were made at back-to-back recording sessions at the Sage Gateshead, two days before. Check out opening composition Jumping In below: a piece complete with banjo, dramatic horn parts and beautiful string playing from Ligeti Quartet.