Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 107)


Omar Souleyman, Wenu Wenu     (Ribbon)

Concerns that Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden bleached the grit out of this Ra’s al-‘Ayn wedding singer’s dynamite live performances are understandable given unyielding Western incomprehension in the face of Syrian culture both high and low. Still, I doubt Souleyman spends much time fretting over meddling producers, not with mass atrocities and a world-historical refugee crisis shattering his homeland while the leagues of nations detachedly stare on. Truth is, these rhythmically insistent minimalist blasts - voice, drums, tweedling keyboard - are folk music in the joyful manner of Jamaican reggae and Algerian raï, unimaginable outside the tradition yet fully cognizant of the corrupting pleasures of Western technology. It’s Souleyman who steamrolls over the competition, his wordless exhortations alternating with vocals growing more hoarse with each verse. But give it up for keyboardist Rizad Sa’id, a virtuosic noisemaker soloing so incessantly alongside the leader he brings to mind the proggy heights of Keith Emerson, although Emerson would never dare raise so unrelenting a din. So be glad Western capital helped introduce this standalone document into the marketplace. Just also be aware Souleyman’s 500-odd cassette albums circulating throughout the Maghreb might capture his unique qualities with even greater (although not literal) clarity. The shit P.A. systems, the hungry crowds, the leader himself tearing through cigarette packets between each passing synth run - all contribute mightily to the spectacle. But this will more than do.

DJ Rashad, Double Cup     (Hyperdub)

Chicago’s footwork scene so recently slunk onto mainstream radar that its creators are still getting around to releasing debut albums, and stateside at least the movement retains an incestuous veneer - fellow footwork ambassador DJ Spinn appears on so many tracks here he deserves shared billing. Despite the codeine/Sprite reference of the title track and ode after ode to “Drank, Kush, Barz” in all its many iterations, the general mood here is heavily caffeinated, fingersnaps and 808 madness making all sorts of 160 bpm detours across washed-out synths and chilly string snippets. But like a hypertrophied Theo Parrish, Rashad also knows his r&b, splicing human voices consistently into his grand arrangements, sampling hometown legends Fingers, Inc. over a frantic beat while a disembodied voice drawls out street prices for recreational psychoactives. Allow the experts to parse the appropriate intricacies, worrying over trap’s insidious influence or whether the oozing “Acid Bit” betrays a weakness for unreconstructed jungle. The rest of us may well come away impressed by tempos so varied we’re more confused then ever before as to what constitutes footwork proper, and no less satisfied for that.


AfroBeat Airways 2: Return Flight To Ghana 1974-1983 (Analog Africa)

The liner notes frustratingly detail how the majority of these mid-1970s Ghanian funk tracks hail from the B-sides of singles, a little Afrobeat filler to round out the highlife hit. And while this project’s compilers never come out and insist that those unworthy highlife hits unfairly consigned Afrobeat gold to obscurity, you get the sense they wouldn’t mind if you came to that conclusion on your own. So good thing we have the evidence in hand - aside from Tony Sarfo’s killer instrumental “I Beg” and relative superstar K. Frimpong’s moody “Abrabo,” these are middling Afrika ’70 knockoffs, up to and definitely including Complex Soundz’s “God Is Love,” recommended to anybody curious what a sluggish Fela Kuti might sound like offering praise unto Jesus. Sure do wish I could hear those A-sides.

Kiki Gyan, 24 Hours in a Disco 1978-82 (Soundway Records)

After being turned loose by worldbeat supergroup Osibisa and before succumbing to a sad end brought about by cocaine addiction, this Ghanian keyboardist/singer managed a handful of singles and maybe two albums, most of them consciously aimed at the Western disco market rather than any West African radio station. And the title track of this compilation did briefly chart in Europe - perhaps the lack of interest in Accra is one reason we now hold this fairly inconsequential artifact. Rather thin sound, plenty of solid bass playing from Gyan himself, some Maurice White-styled harmonies on “Keep On Dancing,” and that’s about it.


DJ Khaled, Suffering From Success (Cash Money)

You’d hope for a bit more pan-globalism from a Miami-based Palestinian-American producer, but maybe Khaled figures why fuss with a winning formula. And this latest installment conforms to product: grandiose title (previous efforts include Kiss The Ring, Victory, and We The Best Forever), adolescent art (lots of burning buildings and the clutching of heads), Dirty South professionalism, polite guests stacked up like cordwood. Topics under discussion: problems, blackmail, middle fingers, suffering, lawyers, child support, haters. High point: 2.44 from head-of-his-class Lil’ Wayne, who drawls out “I’m a lover not a fighter / I can’t find my lighter” before scurrying off.