/ 22 November 2023

While you wait for André 3000

Holy Church Hi Res
Holy Church, a multi-artist album of funky spirituals.

In 1986, American experimental rock artist Frank Zappa released a live album titled Does Humor Belong in Music? My reply has always been a qualified “yes”. 

If it is really funny, but not just fart-joke funny, has decent music, and can therefore endure repeated listens, I’m all for it. So, it needs to make me feel better and be musically sound too (lame pun, unfortunately intended).

That’s why it lifted my spirits when I saw an article on Pitchfork about Outkast member American rapper André 3000’s debut album due to be released this weekend. 

Titled New Blue Sun, this record has his first original music since the 2006 release Idlewild

And — alright this is a bit of a stretch — this album has a South African link too. It was born out of jams André 3000 had with the percussionist and producer Carlos Niño, who has worked closely with our own jazz star, pianist Thandi Ntuli, on her just-released album Rainbow Revisited. See, innocent by association?

Back to the Outkast man’s surprise and flute-driven record. New Blue Sun has brilliantly wacky track titles such as I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album But This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time, Ninety Three ’Til Infinity and Beyoncé and That Night in Hawaii When I Turned Into a Panther and Started Making These Low Register Purring Tones That I Couldn’t Control … Sh¥t Was Wild

The latter track was based on an ayahuasca trip during which André 3000 turned into a panther … 

New Blue Sun was inspired by Laraaji, Brian Eno, Alice Coltrane, Steve Reich and Pharoah Sanders, according to the Pitchfork article. That made me salivate, with those being some of my favourite artists.

Mr 3000 is, of course, not the first artist to dabble with odd song titles. Here are just a few favourites: folk-rock singer-songwriter Paul Simon’s A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission); Scottish band Snow Patrol with Get Balsamic Vinegar… Quick You Fool!; You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly, by the country stars Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty; Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) by soul band Sly & the Family Stone; American rock muso Warren Zevon’s If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Somebody Who Will and the quirky American indie band They Might Be Giants with Shoehorn with Teeth.

Until we can hear the new André 3000, here are some of my favourite things — new records that made me put my dreaded cellphone down and turn the volume up.

IzangoMa – Ngo Ma

First stop is Pretoria, where the 15-piece ensemble IzangoMa are from. Ngo Ma is their multi-layered, creative and highly original debut on the esteemed UK-based label Brownswood Recording. 

According to their Bandcamp page, the collective’s roots stretch back to the meeting of Sibusile Xaba (vocals/keyboards) and Ashley Kgabo (synths/snare drum/drum machine) in 2016.

In an interview with the Pan-African Music website they said the band’s name is “a celebration of feminine energy — Iza-Ngo-Ma”. 

“We’re celebrating women and empathising with their struggles.”

Ngo Ma is also the best of South African roots music, in the rich adventurous traditions of Malombo, Batsumi and Malopoets, the avant-jazz of the Blue Notes (one track is even named after their brilliant bassist Johnny Dyani), and the loose-limbed party styles of pantsula and bubblegum. 

Sometimes music like this can meander, but IzangoMa are tight and incredibly musical too, with pleasant musical surprises on every track.

As their Bandcamp entry says: “This is rhythm music; it spills into crevices ever-evolving, and revolts against a revolution yet to be finalised.”

And it simply chases the blues away.

Various Artists – Holy Church of the Ecstatic Soul: 

A Higher Power Gospel, Soul & Funk at the Crossroads 1971-83

Who said Old Nick has all the best music? This double LP — mine is a flames-of-hell-red vinyl — of funky spirituals draws upon the extensive links between black American gospel music and soul music.

As the fascinating inner sleeve states: “So many artists’ careers are interwoven between gospel and soul — either starting in one world and switching to the other, or vice versa, or running parallel — that it seems incredible that one would ever consider them as separate genres.”

They cite obvious examples such as Al Green, Little Richard, Whitney Houston, the Staple Singers and Aretha Franklin.

This album discusses how important the links between the black church and soul music were in creating soul music and spotlights some of the many important (and also little-known) gospel artists who walked this line between sacred music and soul, funk and disco in the 1970s and early 1980s.

My favourite track on this rockin’ compilation is the Meditation Singers’ Trouble’s Brewin’, so pulpit-shakin’ funky it will make even the most godless brothers and sisters confess.

Leon Keïta – Leon Keïta

This is how the record label Analog Africa’s Samy Ben Redjeb describes a pivotal moment in 2006 when he was in Bobo Dioulasso, the second-largest city in Burkina Faso: “Midway through the Mandingue groove inferno that is Dakan Sate, Korotoumi I knew I had found a gem. Hypnotic guitar solos, heavy bass riffs, psychedelic organ lines, and funky horns … what more could you want?”

Hearing that track eventually led to this record’s recent release — it’s included on this compilation of joyful 1970s West African music by guitarist Leon Keïta.

Guinean Keïta was a fixture on the Malian music scene. But he first worked as a teacher, organiser of cultural festivals and accountant for the National Tobacco and Match company. 

During this time he also wrote reports for the Malian president, and at the end of meetings he would sometimes entertain the delegates with a song or two.

In 1970, Keïta helped to found the legendary Rail-Band, which became a celebrated mainstay of Bamako’s nightlife and launched the international careers of Salif Keita, Mory Kanté and many others. 

When he was ready to visit the recording studio, he invited his friends from Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux to serve as his backing band; the collaboration yielded two records, both released in 1978 on the Papa Disco label. 

This new compilation consists of five rare sides recorded during Keïta’s fabled late 1970s sessions. This groove-driven record, with elements of funk, Afrobeat, jazz and Afro-Cuban music, is pure audio sunshine.