23/01/2020: “Corre Riba, Corre Baxo” by Abel Lima

For some reason, Cape Verde hits well above its weight musically. It could be due to the diverse history and population of the islands, but it has more than one distinctive genre.

I’ve actually covered a song from this compilation before. But there’s so just many amazing tracks!

This is not part of that tradition – but it nevertheless retains a strong Cape Verdean flavour.

This particular brand of Cape Verdean funk is allegedly a result of a shipment of synthesizers washing up on a beach – seriously!

There’s a strong parallel to Cuban music, with a blend of African polyrhythms and Latin instrumentation. Although the influences are different, of course, there is more than a passing family resemblance…

The song is bass driven, with a prominent walking bass jamming along throughout. There’s some excellent guitar work too, accentuating the Latin vibe.

Vocally, the song is rowdy. Not only from his singing, which is great, but from the cacophony of backing vocalist.

The percussion is exquisitely engaging. The bongo rolls glance off the fluid rhythms of the drum kit, in a brilliant showcase of frenetic Cape Verdean style.

The song was released in 1977 on Nos Bida, but re-released by Analog Africa on Space Echo – The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed! in 2016.

Classic!

22/10/2019: “Tarraxo Everyday” by DJ Marfox

DJ Marfox is the undisputed pioneer of a particular style of music emanating from Lisbon. Often called the “ghetto sound of Lisbon”, the music is popular in the city’s poorer estates, combining sounds from Portuguese speaking countries in Africa such as Angola and Cape Verde with Western bass music.

DJ Marfox has so much credit for the genre that subsequent DJs have taken the -fox suffix as a mark of respect. There were other names in the short history of the sound – but there’s no denying the importance of Marfox.

“Tarraxo Everyday” is very catchy by the sometimes chaotic conventions of the genre. Often, batida songs have extremely busy polyrhythms, with no obvious melodic hook.

The drums here still have a definite clatter, but resolve into a pleasant bounce with a sunny tropical vibe.

The main melody is a dreamy synth arpeggio, twinkling with ethereal serenity. The sense of the space created by the juxtaposition of this treble laden, darting sound and the laidback bassline works fantastically.

The track was released in 2016 on the Chapa Quente E.P., on the Principe label. The Principe label has been the driving force for the recognition of the genre outside of its Lisbon heartlands.

21/10/2019: “Where I’m Coming From” by Lila Ike

Lila Ike is one of Jamaica’s up and coming big voices. With a dusky, soulful sound, she sings over roots music and modernised trap flavoured reggae with the same panache.

“Where I’m Coming From” definitely fits into the latter category. It’s bursting with a streetwise self-assurance – all the more convincing for its auto-biographical nature for its confident delivery.

At points, her natural singing voice shines through unaltered, and there’s no denying that she has a rare talent. Much of the song is performed in a style more similar to dancehall singjaying, where she also excels.

The instrumental blends digi-dub flavours with gunshot trap snares and a huge bassline, while the organ skank and lowkey horns keep it grounded in a roots style. It’s a perfect setting for her!

The song was released in 2019, her 4th single. Lila Ike was discovered by Protoje, with whom she has collaborated. One to watch!

20/10/2019: “Heaven & Hell” by Raekwon featuring Ghostface Killah

This is one of the finest hip hop songs ever penned. The lyrics and flow are on point, and the production is awe inspiringly brilliant.

Raekwon is one of the key components of the winning Wu Tang Clan formula. The dynamic flow is delivered slower here, bouncing off Ghostface Killah fluidly.

The production is a web of gossamer thin organ and rhodes, an intricate dance of keys balancing on a slow but extremely groovy drum loop.

Backing vocals are provided by Blue Raspberry, adding another layer of complexity and soul to the track.

Lyrically, the song moves from the typical gangsta hood story to a more philosophical take, saying that the idea of hell is meaningless to anyone living a miserable life full of pain and fear already.

The song was released in 1994 as the lead single from 1995’s seminal golden age hip hop album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx –Raekwon’s debut.

19/10/2019: “Wildflower” by Hank Crawford

The original version of this was a soulful 1972 smooth jam by Skylark. It’s a nice enough tune, if a little lacking in energy.

There are no such concerns with Hank Crawford’s 1973 jazz cover. His saxophone soars heroically over a dense thicket of buzzing drums and forceful guitars, with the occasional vocal embellishment, triumphant trumpets, and a little bit of Rhodes riffing thrown in for good measure.

The song has a tremendously colourful presentation, but also excels rhythmically. The slap bass makes good on its initial promise here, pulsing with bursts of energy throughout. The funky feeling created by this gives the song a measure of accessibility – along with the catchy sax lead hook.

It’s a great piece of soul-jazz, drawing out a more exuberant facet of the original.

Hank Crawford’s “Wildflower” was released on Wildflower, a 5 song LP mainly comprising sax driven covers.

18/10/2019: “As We Enter” by Mikey Dread

Why is this song so heavy? You can only assume that it is intentional; that the waves of bass which crash out of the speakers are the result of a conscious desire to make an earth shaking roots tune, rather than heavy-handedness at the mixing desk.

As you might expect, the low-end propels the song forward, but the hook is still a vocal one – and there’s able assistance from a guitar riff as well, providing a good deal of melodic staying power.

The lyrics, delivered in a gruff but positive manner, are a classic affirmation of Rastafari faith, of not being swayed by evil and being close to Jah.

The song was released in 2000, on the limited, self-released album World Tour. The release is a CDr, not a proper CD, and is on his own Dread At The Controls Imprint.

Mikey Dread was a true legend in the Reggae world, having been at the forefront of roots in the 70s. Tragically, he died in 2008 of a brain tumour.

17/10/2019: “All Good” by Illa J

This song is from an album which uses instrumentals which were produced by Illa J’s older brother. The album is 2008’s Yancey Boys, and Illa J’s older brother is J Dilla.

That’s probably why the main thing which jumps out on this song is the fantastic beat, even though Illa J is a gifted rapper in his own right. I actually saw him live once and was impressed.

The song feels profound, laying down a reflective vibe and some meditative lyrics.

The song samples “Look Of Love” by Ray Davies, a lovely 1967 tune. Listen to the original to get a sense of J Dilla’s genius. The trumpet becomes even more potent in its new iteration, backed up with a beautifully warm bassline and drums as crisp as a sunny autumn morning.

The song is about Illa J’s ethos and goals, which mainly surround staying positive and representing underground hip hop.

16/10/2019: “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits

This song was banned at one point from receiving airplay on Canadian radio stations, due to its homophobic language.

However, the song was written based on comments that Mark Knopfler overheard from delivery men who were complaining that rock stars had it too easy and it was just “money for nothing”. So the song reflects the less than enlightened attitude that was prevalent at that time.

At the same time, the protagonist of the song claims: “that’s the way to do it”, admitting that its a good lifestyle.

The song itself is incredibly groovy, with a killer guitar riff. The way the riff is used to kick the song off is one of those matchless musical moments which is instantly recognisable.

The bassline is simple, but adds a lot to the song through its driving force.

“Money For Nothing” features Sting, right at the start, who says “I want my MTV”. Sting’s record label naturally made sure that he was included as a songwriter for the track, even if he didn’t want that himself!

The song was released in 1985, a single from Brothers In Arms, and became the band’s most famous song, staying at number one in the U.S. for 3 weeks.

15/10/2019: “Jackie Blue” by The Ozark Mountain Daredevils

The intense folk vibes coming off of this provide a counterpoint to the Electric Light Orchestra-esque catchiness. As the name suggests, the band are from the South, and that Southern Rock heritage shines through here.

The almost falsetto vocals are provided by Larry Lee, the drummer – the first time he had sung lead vocals for the band.

The slightly psychedelic feeling of the song is down in large part to the wah-ing electric piano, and the reverb heavy guitar. Both of these add a nice emphasis to the song, which remains relaxed even as the pace picks up.

The song was originally about a drug dealer, but was changed to be about a shy girl who never leaves her room. It would’ve been a very different song otherwise…

The song was released in 1975, a single from the album It’ll Shine When It Shines. 

14/10/2019: “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Prince

This song has an interesting history. Although Prince did record the song himself in 1984, he didn’t release the song himself. Technically, the song was released in 1985 as part of Prince’s ‘The Family’ project, although this didn’t make much of an impact.

The song was initially popularised by Sinead O’Connor, who released a version in 1990 which became a hit.

Her cover is alright, but doesn’t have the same ‘Prince-ness’ as the original.

The Prince version is a slow jam, driven by guitar riffs and some particularly emphatic vocals.

As with all good slow jams, there’s a classy horns part – with the attendant guitar noodling excellence.

The backing vocals also add an extra layer of lushness, which is sorely missing in the 1990 cover.

After Prince’s death, his estate released his recording. This means that this gem was only officially released in 2018, 34 years after it was recorded.