I’m doing a one hour set at the Bel-Air fundraiser party at Alphville on 2/21. An hour is super quick so I threw a bunch of disco records in the bag to sort out what I want to bring. It needs to be an hour of power – straight burners. So this is the rough set that I will be playing, with some records being taken out and others added. And, being the first run through, the mix, ahem, has a few flaws. But listen to it, get the vibes, and come down on Saturday.
Abasakwazi Nokupumula (They Cannot Rest)
Dawn Breaks commentary
Here We Are/Khaya Bakulindile (Here We Are/They Are Waiting for You at Home)
Kea Rona (It Is Ours)/Basoba Nansi Indodemyama (Look Out, Here Comes the Black Man!)/Closing Remarks
Records are, for the most part, lenses by which you can view the past. Usually what can be discussed is genre, music styles, or cover art. The Radio Freedom album gives a look at how radically South Africa has changed in the past twenty eight years. When this album was released in 1986 by Rounder records, people caught listening to the ANC’s radio station, broadcast from several countries outside of South Africa, could be sent to prison for eight years. This is also a time where Mandela was still in prison, COSATU was recently formed and engaging in mass action, the townships were in revolt, and Apartheid still had a firm grip. The tracks are a sampling of the cultural and political milieux of the moment.
And that is was intrigues me. Instead of a backward looking document highlighting certain points of the struggle, it feels much more like a window into what was happening in the moment. The tracks themselves are set to bleed into each other as if part of a single radio broadcast, with commentary, rallying cries, and songs integral to the revolutionary culture. I suggest zooming in on the photo of the back cover as it goes into the backstory in depth, however, I am struck by a section on the end:
During our brief stay, we heard Bob Marley’s Blackman Redemption, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Jimmy Cliff’s Struggling Man, Oku Onuora’s Wi A Come and assorted tracks by an eclectic variety of others.
As people in Jamaica, England, or the United States could be inspired by the bravery and steadfastness embodied in the culture of the Anti-Apartheid struggle, they too were being motivated by other nodes of cultural resistance.
The Appendix blog has a good background article contextualizing the album.
-Power in Our Rhymes
There is a surprising dearth of information about the Boston Goes Def! compilation online, and given how small the Boston scene was (and is), it is also surprising that none of these groups seem to have the faintest existence outside of this album, although Edo.G might be on there with FTI Crew, but the date of his joining the group and when the recording was made might not match up. The Old School Hip-Hop forum does shed some possible light on the situation:
I grew up in Boston (actually Newton Centre which is right outside of Boston) and I can remember when this album was being put together. I used to listen to a show called Lekkos Lemma (sp?) They would promote this album on the air and accepted demo tapes from local acts. The guys name was Magnus. He would play demo tapes from up and coming acts. They all sounded low budget compared to the stuff that was coming out of New York at the time.
That pretty much sums the good and the bad about this album. It isn’t as good as other rap cuts from the time, in fact, some songs just sound like lesser versions of other songs. So it doesn’t seem that critical of a record to have stashed in the collection outside of regional identity based interest. But then again, when I listen past the Whodini and Run-D.M.C. aping it does have some nice moments. And after knowing the hyper-local and humble origins, it starts to be endearing.
Also, I am a bit fascinated by what is implied by this compilation – namely that given Boston’s demographics, some, if not many, of the artists are likely to be white. And while in 2014 this is nearly a non-issue, I can only think that in 1986 Boston it would only be one. The rappers here would have been young children during the Boston busing crisis. I think its a bit heartening that other issues aside, just nine years after the start of racist violence an integrated rap compilation could come out of those very neighborhoods.
The group that wears its name most obviously, the White Boy Crew, has some interesting connections to hip-hop history:
John Dorff, a.k.a. The M.C. Popeye, with rhyming roots in Mission Hill (Boston) and Four Corners (Dorchester, MA), founded The White Boy Crew when he teamed up with Seth Trafford, a.k.a. The Beat Box Spinach. For most of the 2 year career of the group it was just John and Seth, who earned considerable local respect by performing live, competing in talent shows, and getting airplay on 88.1′s Saturday afternoon underground hip hop show hosted by the Magnus Johnstone, the now legendary radio deejay credited with being instrumental in breaking the underground hip hop scene in Boston. Soon they were scouted to appear on the Boston Goes Def Boston Goes Def! compilation. The White Boy Crew did have a deejay as part of the act at two different points – first was Mike Dee, of the original Boston based Gangstarr (Keith Elam ‘The Guru’ later took Gangstarr to NYC but left Mike behind), and later Sean Gillis a.k.a. DJ Steady a.k.a. DJ Shamrock.
So despite the flaws there is a little more to this record than the first drop of the needle suggests.
UPDATE: After publishing this post I came across an article in Wax Poetics about the Lecco’s Lemma radio show and the origins of Beautiful Sounds record label. It is an interesting look at the Boston rap scene and the handful of artists, like Edo-G and Guru, who developed out of it. Wax Poetics is such a great resource and I should have known better and went there first.
Paul and I will be playing records again on Bel-Air internet radio on 11th of September at 8pm
Playing some records while you shop, with XDrewCrewX
Port Authority Bus Blues
I suppose a Navy recruitment squad masquerading as a funk band is a good way to get people to join the military. I have no idea if the armed forces field such groups now as an official recruiting tool but I can imagine that some image softening might have been needed in the post-Vietnam 70′s. Each of the armed forces divisions had bands and many were recorded and pressed to vinyl. The most legendary example is the East of the Underground records, which has been repressed in a box set by Stones Throw if you don’t want to spend a bomb on an original press.
I copped Port Authority a while back at Iris Records in Jersey City. There is a bit of surface noise but nothing that stops me from listening. The LP is 3/4 original material and a handful of covers, including The Letter by the Box Tops, one of two songs with vocals. There is a nice drum break on Port Authority Blues but nothing that’s going to send Ultimate Beats and Breaks calling.
High Heel Sneakers
This is a record that calls to be judged by its cover. It even comes with a recipe on the back for curried soul that is an actual dish!
Turns out that Moe Koffman was a Toronto based jazz horn player who often incorporated pop into his repertoire. This album is one of those 1970s instrumental-covers-with-a-smattering-of- originals records. There is a real Memphis soul influence on this Buddah Records release.
Here we get Curried Soul which is a bit of a mish-mash with sitar bits and a horn line echoing Edwin Starr’s 25 Miles , a cover of Donovan’s Sunshine Superman and a nearly unrecognizable Hi-Heel Sneakers