Helemaal dancehall

Thought I’d been slacking?

Fat chance!

When I’ve had a free moment (usually after 9pm), I’ve been learning how to use Ableton Live. After a couple of weeks of watching youtube tutorials and playing with Ableton, this is the result: A remix mashup of The Partysquad’s “Helemaal naar de klote” (Totally fucked), featuring Ding Dong and Beenie Man.


John Barry is forever

The composer John Barry died yesterday. He was one of my favourite film composers, close behind Lalo Schifrin at number one. Barry’s music, especially between the mid 60s to early 70s, was exceptional; some of the soundtrack albums, for example Goldfinger, stand on their own merit as “concept” albums, and can exist independently of the original movie.

It is the Duane Eddy-style twang guitar riff that will be most associated with John Barry, recurring in the opening theme of every James Bond movie. Long-time band member Vic Flick was responsible for the unique guitar sound, although it was Barry who built the creeping orchestral theme around the guitar. (Actually, the ownership of the “James Bond theme” goes to Monty Norman … how complicated!)

Barry’s Bond work would have been enough to ensure his place in the pantheon of 20th century composers, but there are other tracks that are worthy of mention, my own favourite being the theme tune to that lame TV series with proto-Bondman, Roger Moore and Tony Curtis: The Persuaders.

In its report on Barry’s death today, the BBC mentioned only Robbie William’s recycling of You only live twice , but in my opinion, the best homages to Barry were by Fatboy Slim and Sneaker Pimps.

The complete list of samplers testifies to the strength of Barry’s legacy, although I feel that nothing, not even Dr D., can replace the original opening theme to The Persuaders.

The later years, replete with Oscars for Born Free, Dancing with Wolves and Out of Africa, leave no impression on me (I’ve never been interested in even seeing the movies)  — the lush strings wiped out the earlier innovations of cimbalom and the plunky Fender VI bass. Too bad.

Let’s enjoy the best of what he had to offer:

The Last Album

Yesterday I read that British dance duo Groove Armada were bringing out their last album (interview in Dutch). They clarified that they would continue to publish new music but only in single or EP formats.

“The album has no future. […]
People mostly only buy singles online […]
Writing 12 songs shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it cost us years off our lives.”
– Tom Findlay

All quite true. I hardly even listen to albums anymore; with a digital library, I set play to random or occasionally make a short playlist of a favourite artist.

And yet only a few years ago, the album was still the predominate music format. One of the reasons, IMHO, why downloading took off, was not simply getting something for free, but having the freedom to choose what you want without getting one hit and 11 dross. For writing 12 songs that hang together is an extremely difficult thing, but once done, and if it’s well done, it can become a timeless treasure.

Thinking about favourite albums, first albums seem to stand out; maybe because they capture the original spirit and energy of the group before they get too self-conscious and rehearsed, or sculpted into a corporate package deal.

Is this it? – The Strokes
Hatful of Hollow – The Smiths (not actually their first album, but still …)
“Banana” – Velvet Underground with Nico
The Doors – The Doors
Astral Weeks – Van Morrison (the first album Van knew about)
Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
I – Led Zeppelin
Grace – Jeff Buckley
Dummy – Portishead
77 – Talking Heads
Endtroducing – DJ Shadow

Mmmm … something of a pattern here. All white boys (apart from Nico, who sings lower than most men, and Beth Gibbons in Portishead).

Let’s try

Catch a Fire album cover
Marley & the Wailers' debut album (for a major)

Catch a Fire – Bob Marley and the Wailers

Curtis Mayfield's debut solo album
Curtis Mayfield's debut solo album

Curtis – Curtis Mayfield

Blue Lines by Massive Attack
Massive's debut album

Blue Lines – Massive Attack

Jorge Ben (1963)
Too cool for a stool

Samba Esquema Novo – Jorge Ben

Maria Bethania (1965)
A treasured vinyl

Maria Bethania – Maria Bethania

Googling around other “best debut albums”, I see that the lists are remarkably similar. I think that’s a reflection of the voters’ similar backgrounds and ages rather than a comment on the quality of the music; many musicians I love, such as Salif Keita, Soulwax, Garnett Mimms or Machito, I just don’t associate with particular albums.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how the number of entries tails off very rapidly after the punk/New Wave period. There seems to have been a golden period for top-class albums around 1965-1985.

Any more original or unusual suggestions?

Squeeze me baby, till I lose control

It’s odd coming back to this place that was once so familiar and now seems so … neglected and … quite frankly, dowdy. I reckon this blog could do with a makeover, a little nipping and tucking in the layout, minor facelift-like.

Since I stopped blogging regularly, I have maintained my presence in the cybersphere through occasional tweets, although I’m still not convinced that sending messages of fewer than 140 characters to largely unknown “followers” is the next big thing in communication. I still like reading long articles (sometimes on paper!) that give the writer the time to develop his arguments. I used to think magazines were a frivolous and decadent waste of money, compared with books, but I’ve changed my mind recently; I still have a few very overdue issues of The Atlantic, Esquire and The Economist from the Dakar International School library, and I’m still finding bits to read six months later.

One thing on this blog that is updated is my playlist of music in the right-hand sidebar. The big change is that I’m playing and uploading those files with our latest gadget: a logitech Squeezebox Duet.

It’s been years since we had any means of playing music at home. We had a crappy boombox system that I bought in Abidjan in 1998 and used until Rome in 2005. After that, we just listened to music on a computer. Kind of sad for people who have lovingly collected ten zillion vinyls, cassettes, CDs and digital files.

We kept putting off buying a music system because there was always something else that we needed more urgently (school fees, flights to Europe, rent, etc.), but last month we splashed out on a Bose 3*2*1 sound system … and it sounds great, even if the subsonic bass makes Mr B feel like a chav in a VW Polo. We didn’t stop with the Bose, however, because my dream was to have our massive audio library centralized, sorted and playable from the couch. We first bought a So-Smart drive from Dane-Elec, which turned out to be So-Dumb-and-Annoying because it had an unusable file management system (try searching for one track out of 26,000 only in alphabetical order) and froze unpredictably. We took it back to the shop, got our cash back, and bought a LaCie Internet disk. Very stylish, but it only allowed LaCie’s very basic software and would not run more sophisticated music management software such as Squeezebox; so back went the LaCie to the shop. With our cash back in our hands, we got lucky the third time with Logitech’s Squeezebox Duet. It’s basically a handset that allows you to stream wirelessly your audio files from a hard drive to an audio output. In our case, our music is on an external hard drive, USB-ed to an always-on laptop, and the audio output is through the Bose. Fantastic sound, and great fun rediscovering some blasts from the past.

And yet, I’ve come to realize that in the last month I’ve only played music for a few minutes on maybe six occasions. With four kids running around, one Wii-ing; another singing a new song from school; a third trying to demolish the furniture with her toys; and the fourth mewling and burbling … ANY music just comes out as unwanted noise, and so we shut it off quickly. Mr B reckons we’re just getting old and can’t handle lots of different noise. Maybe so, but we’re still going to make a conscious effort to LISTEN to our music now that we have the means to do so.

One of the downsides of having a new electronic gadget is that we now have another remote control to add to our collection. I will certainly agree with Mr B that it’s a sign of aging when one can’t work out how to access a TV programme without manipulating three different remote controls: TV control to set the input source, Bose control to control the sound, and the Humax decoder control to control the channel changes. After three weeks, we’re beginning to learn the correct sequence of commands, but still … sometimes we long for the days of just switching on the TV and nothing else.

(Oh boy. 1 a.m. again, with a feed on the way and an early wake-up call from toddler J at around 6:30.)

Sidi Mansour vs Ma Baker

Life in Kingston, Jamaica was sometimes like living in a war zone: occasional bursts of excitement — driving after dark through a ghetto zone, boarding up the windows as a hurricane approached — interspersed with long periods of boredom, for the city does not offer much in the way of amusement for a young family of unbelievers. By midday Saturday, we were already kicking our heels, wondering where to go. In fact the only option for non-church goers was eating out, which was fine, given the surprising variety of good restaurants: Japanese, Lebanese, Chinese, Swiss-French. I can firmly state that I have eaten the best samosas in my life (with plum sauce!) at the Indian restaurant in Marketplace, a great recent development by Mafoud senior.

Right next door to the Indian restaurant was another regular destination during our weekend outings, the Habibi Latino. As its name suggests, it offered a mix of South American and Arabic cuisine — I guess there was a mixed marriage involved. While we tucked into the hommos, fatoush, tabouleh and kibbeh, shivering slightly from the hyperactive air-co, the kids could crawl around the empty benches and dance to the CD of Arabic golden oldies. One of the songs reminded Mr B of his Baghdad days; for me, it brought back rainy summer days in a caravan on the Isle of Arran, listening to Boney M’s Ma Baker. We asked one of the Jamaican waitresses dressed in a black chador if we could copy the song, but this seemed to cause her great confusion and came to nothing.

We found the song again recently on a mix CD in my in-laws’ car, and since then … I have found myself forced into having to convince each family-in-law member, one person-in-law at a time, that Sidi Mansour is the inspiration behind Boney M’s 1977 hit. Maybe I didn’t need to go further than humming the relevant bits, but, well, I’m something of an obsessive musical listener — I may not remember the lyrics, but I reckon I have something of a photographic ear (you know what I mean). Result? Three hours on Acid (Pro) mashing up Saber El Robaey’s version of Sidi Mansour with Ma Baker.

[audio:Sidi Baker – remix.mp3]

The first reaction I got was typically Dutch in its laconic understatement: “Okay, you convinced me just a bit. nice.”

What do YOU think?