As you might expect from a vast continent consisting of a number of countries and thousands of languages, African music is not so easily categorized. Unfortunately, the tendency has been to bag it all together in much the same way we do African literature. Like the sameness of African book covers, we use Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Fela Kuti, and maybe Ali Farka Toure as stand-in representation for a continent that includes so much more than just them. It’s pretense. We haven’t seen or heard it all before because we’ve heard them.

Worse, we reduce our perception of African music to purely evolutionary terms – jazz and blues as its modern offspring – rather than seeing a two-way cultural inheritance. That is, John Lee Hooker or blues in general didn’t come from Farka Toure or the desert music of Northern Mali. What echoes between the two is a musical affinity; the sound of artists drawing from the same sonic well. This is something that Martin Scorsese seemed to forget in his documentary The Blues when he brought American musician Corey Harris to Africa in search of musical roots. What ended up being rediscovered wasn’t some ancient bluesy ancestor, but a multiplicity of cultural styles, a moveable feast.

Despite the fact musical trends are forever leaping cultural boundaries, we somehow persist in painting Africa in very broad strokes. In Teju Cole’s novel, Open City, there is a scene in which the (half-Nigerian) protagonist goes to see a late night screening of The Last King of Scotland, the film in which Forrest Whitaker eats up the screen as Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. After the lights go down, our narrator-hero observes how ‘the jaunty credit sequence featured music from the right time period, but not the right part of Africa: what did Mali have to do with Kenya?’ However, a little research shows that this song is in fact ‘Nakawunde’ by Percussion Discussion Africa, a Ugandan collective who have made a career out of fusing different African and Western elements. (I have a feeling Cole is actually thinking of a song later in the film, which does indeed sound like it comes from Mali, all lonesome guitar and guttural voice–although he’d be slightly wrong about this too, as the performer, Momo Wandel Soumah, is from nearby Guinea.)

For the past few years, a number of labels have, thankfully, been complicating the stereotypical view of African music by focusing their attention on distinctive funk, soul, and psychedelic sounds emanating not just from Nigeria, where Fela’s Afrobeat reigns supreme, but farther afield: from independent studios in Ghana and Togo, to dance halls in Angola and Ethiopia. As mentioned here previously, Analog Africa and Soundways Records are currently the best of these labels, bucking trends in World Music exoticism by documenting the huge variety of influences that African music (particularly African music of the 1970s) has had at its disposal.

The history of music, like any good lyric, begins with relationships: friendships, romances, and break-ups. In the case of African music generally, the sooner we begin to see it as an always fluctuating network of local and foreign influences—and not simply a fixed quantity, a stagnant stereotype—the sooner we can start rediscovering African artists like William Onyeabor who defy easy classification. Here are some others:

Akofa Akoussah :: I Tcho Tchassa

Having, at the age of 16, represented her native Togo at the 1966 World Festival of Negro Arts in Senegal, Julie Akofa Akoussah remained an icon of Togolese music until her death in 2007. The title of this track roughly translates as ‘Jazz Dance’ in Yoruba, but what we get before that dance is all aching, nourish soul.

Gabo Brown and Orchestre Poly-Rhythmico :: It’s a Vanity

Here, Gabo Brown is backed by Benin’s legendary Orchestre. The track is funky, of course, but executed with all the moody intensity of Can and all the rawness of a garage band from Minneapolis circa 1966.

Girma Beyene :: Ene Negn Bay Manesh

Those who have seen Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (the soundtrack of which featured Mulatu Astake) will have heard a similar blend of melancholy Ethiopique and organ-based jazz-funk. But this track is remarkable for showcasing the midnight, Morrissey-esque croon of songwriter Beyene who recorded just four songs as a vocalist. This one would appear to celebrate Ethiopia as a woman, and hides some rather risqué lyrics (to the degree that Amazon marks it as ‘explicit’ content).

K. Frimpong and his Cubano Fiestas :: Kyenkyen Bi Adi M’awu

A classic in its native Ghana and perhaps the quintessential recording in amidst all the 1970s reissues spilling out of Western Africa. Guitarist and singer Alhaji Kwabena Frimpong here is backed by the Muscle Shoals of Ghanaian music, a band otherwise known as Vis-A-Vis, here performing under a pseudonym, but still featuring the recognizably intense drumming of ‘Kung Fu’ Kwaku. Ask yourself whether American funk ever been this plaintive, this fiery with hurt. Then wait for the moment, five and a half minutes in, when Frimpong breaks it down: ‘Oh my brother, you see, because of money, somebody’s taken my baby from my hand.’ words / dk o’hara

Related: Fela Kuti, Feliciano dos Santos, Afrobeat & Western Interpretation

Realted: AD Presents :: African Women Sing (Ghost Capital V – A Mixtape)

HerculesAs Brett Ratner’s Hercules wallows in the steroid-spill of yet another summer blockbuster season, it’s an opportune time to think about the nature of myth. Sure, the classic image of Hercules is all brawn and virility, thrashing his way through obstacles—but myth is a flexible, amorphous thing forever being retold. New spins on old yarns.

Take for instance the hero of Allen Toussaint’s “Hercules” (1973). As embodied by Aaron Neville on the Toussaint-produced single, the character is a street-wise kid doing his best to steer clear of trouble. ‘Jungle rule, can’t be no fool/might get caught by the hook of a crook no time for cool.’ Neville’s sweet voice marks the character out as easy prey, vulnerable to his surroundings. He may sing, ‘I must be Hercules,’ but it sounds as if he’s trying to reassure nobody more than himself. The Meters back him up, keeping things tight and claustrophobic, everything held under the weight of the bass figure’s demonic grunt. There is room for little else, here, but fear and trembling (reflected in the icy organ and synth). In Neville’s rendering, the following lines come out a plea: ‘I can feel the pressure, from every side/If you not gonna help, don’t hurt, just pass me by.’

Aaron Neville :: Hercules

Just a year later, Boz Scaggs (who had already covered two Toussaint songs, “Hello, My Lover” and “Freedom for the Stallion” on his previous album) made his own cut of “Hercules,” and the difference is remarkable. Now we don’t have an Oliver Twist character huddled in a corner, but a cocksure Fagin. Scaggs opens the song up to strings and waka waka guitars that come straight off of Superfly. He struts his way through the verses, ditching Neville’s fragile falsetto for something more akin to a meaner Bill Withers. When he sings Toussaint’s lyric, ‘the pimp on the corner looks like the sharpest cat in town,’ he could very well be singing about himself.

Boz Scaggs :: Hercules

Both versions are valid. Both give us a meaty slice of urban desolation. But these are wildly different heroes (which is probably more than you can say about the last two—or five, or ten—Hercules movies). words / dk o’hara


King Tuff performing “Bad Thing” (last summer in the Galaxy Barn at Pickathon) at the Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, Oregon. This year’s festival is happening this weekend – August 1-3. We’ll be there again, DJing all three days. Advance tickets still available, here.


We last caught up with Roadside Graves via their 2011 LP, We Can Take Care of Ourselves, an eleven track song-cycle concerning S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. The band is back in early 2015 with a new record entitled ACNE/EARS. Roadside’s John Gleason on the album’s first taste, “Body”, in his own words, after the jump…


Lagniappe (la·gniappe) noun ˈlan-ˌyap,’ – 1. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit. 2. Something given or obtained as a gratuity or bonus.

I can’t think of a more fitting pairing than that of Hamilton Leithauser taking on Sinatra. Subtle solo piano renderings highlighting Leithauser’s vocals, the pair of covers dig into the ageless nuance of Sinatra’s music. The chairman of the board, indeed. Leithauser on Sinatra, in his own words, below…

Hamilton Leithauser :: All Or Nothing At All (Frank Sinatra)

There are so many versions of this song, I figured I could do my own without stepping on anyone’s toes, or setting myself up for an unreasonable comparison.  There’s also so many terrible versions of this song, I figured it wouldn’t be all that hard to not be the absolute worst.  It actually has a slightly odd chord progression for such a well-known classic, and it’s a fun one to play.

Hamilton Leithauser :: It Gets Lonely Early (Frank Sinatra)

A sad, dreary, slog that’s kinda fun to sink into. On of my favorites off The September of My Years. It’s a mid-album wallower. The only thing we were missing was like the funereal bell at the beginning.  But we’re plenty dreary. I love this song.

Leithauser gigs Thursday night, here in Los Angeles, at the Echo supporting his solo debut, The Black Hours. We have some tickets for AD readers, plus a deluxe copy of the LP. To land them, leave a comment with your name and favorite Leithauser vocal performance, solo or otherwise. Winners notified Wednesday night.

Lagniappe Sessions Archives / original illustration for aquarium drunkard by Ben Towle.

levon_Bob Dylan

Seven and half years off the road, Dylan returns with the Band. Oakland Coliseum Stadium Feb 11, 1974.

Bob Dylan And The Band :: Oakland, CA 1974 (zipped folder, external link)

unnamedGracious Calamity are Kate Lee and Kit Wallach, a duo based in Jamaica Plain, MA. They describe their music as Gospel, Melodramatic Popular Song, Healing and Easy Listening. The descriptions are apt. “Song That Grows Like a Vine,” which appears on their 2011 album Carefree Since ’83, is a borderline spiritual experience. But it’s a demo of the tune, originally appearing on the now-defunct Hooves on the Turf blog, way back in 2009, that truly has the power to transport.

Homespun and charmingly dusty, the demo does as its title suggests, changing throughout, though never requiring more than two voices, two guitars and a kick drum. Kate and Kit’s voices are earthly and heavenly alike, delivering their deceptively plainspoken lyrics with a mystical matter-of-factness, although an air of sorrow and doubt and lingers within the recording.


A retrospective journey through the ever-evolving world of Will Oldham – spanning the lo-fi, acoustic Palace recordings of the early 90s, to the polished country/folk of the very prolific Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

Palace :: A Retrospective
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy :: A Retrospective

david bowie at rest

Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 350: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ The Fall – Frenz ++ Josef K – Pleasant Heart ++ Ought – Pleasant Heart ++ Girls Names – A Second Skin ++ Modern Vices – Keep Me Under Your Arms ++ The Jesus And Mary Chain – Some Candy Talking ++ Mission Of Burma – New Disco ++ Wire – Ex Lion Tamer ++ Parquet Courts – Borrowed Time ++ The Smiths – What Difference Does It Make? (Hatful of Hollow mix) ++ Deerhunter – Desire Lines ++ David Bowie – TVC15 ++ Televison Personalities – Part Time Punks ++ The Raincoats – Lola ++ Jonathan Rado – Valentine’s Day (Paul McCartney) ++ Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread ++ White Fence – Anger! Who Keeps You Under ++ The Olivia Tremor Control – California Demise, Pt. 3 ++ Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Stick Figures In Love ++ Cate Le Bon – Sisters ++ Women – Black Rice ++ Here We Go Magic – Tunnelvision ++ Trailer Trash Tracys – Candy Girl (Demo Version) ++ The Jesus And Mary Chain – Teenage Lust ++ Beach Fossils – Time ++ Courtney Barnett – Lance Jr. ++ Atlas Sound – Walk A Thin Line (Fleetwood Mac) ++ Twin Peaks – Stand In The Sand ++ Times New Viking – Teen Drama ++ Guided By Voices – Titus And Strident Wet Nurse ++ Pavement – Unfair ++ Silver Jews – People ++ Pavement – Zurich Is Stained ++ Blur – Coffee And TV

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.