waajeed’s ‘things’ reaffirms his detroit house roots

If you care at all about Detroit culture, especially it’s everlasting wing of soulful Black music, you already know that Waajeed has been ruling 2018 — and, actually, for a few years now. Though the renaissance man born Robert O’Bryant is not as well recognized as some of his contemporaries, heads know that Jeedo’s two-decades-long resume — working with everyone from J Dilla, Slum Village and Platinum Pied Pipers back in the day, to Theo Parrish, Carl Craig and Underground Resistance more recently — is enough to place him at the table of the city’s rich rhythm heritage. Yet launching his own Dirt Tech Reck label in 2013 seems to have given yet another spring to Waajeed’s  step, because the records he’s been dropping since have been uniformly fire. And “Things About You,” the second single off his upcoming album, From the Dirt, continues the sparks.

What begins with a kind a heavy-handed kick-drum, a mic-checking clearing of a throat, and a nasty industrial synth, unfolds into something less obvious and more emotional when the layered vocals (all of them courtesy great young Detroit singer, Asante, who also wrote the song) come into play. That it’s a variation of the city’s Future Soul musical foundation — at once emotionally rich and technologically enormous — seems both besides the point and exactly IT. Lornezo “Zo!” Ferguson adds rhythm guitar licks, Jeedo lays down Rhodes chords, and Asante sings through variation in scales and phrasings. Yet when at the chorus, Asante’s voices become a small choir and Waajeed’s incredible string arrangement kicks in, suddenly”Things About You” becomes a disco-house classic busy being born.

Pre-order Waajeed’s new album, From the Dirt, drops on November 4th on his own Dirt Tech Reck.

the seshen’s “eidolon” is a reminder to re-empower

It’s hard not to feel beat down a lot of the time right now. It can be harder still to find the will to keep fighting when you can’t see the results of your struggle. Or when the payoff is, at best, years down the road. But the sprawling Oakland collective The Seshen‘s latest track is here to remind you of your own power and give you the energy to cope.

Eidolon by The Seshen

Singer Lalin St. Juste and producer Akiyoshi Ehara twist together an electro-soul labyrinth that’s somehow both uplifting and angular. Over three minutes, the track grows from plea to anthem. One by one, the lost pieces fit in and then it evaporates.

In an e-mail, St. Juste explains the impetus for the song: “I’m here trying to cope. I wrote ‘Eidolon’ as a response to those who continue to use their wealth, political status, and influence for their own benefit and at the detriment of others. This song comes as a reminder that resistance is constant and that with every action there is a reaction. Make no mistake: the seemingly powerless are the most powerful.”

“Eidolon” is available on The Seshen’s Bandcamp page

premiere: makaya mccraven’s ‘suite haus’ swings hard

Count 2018 as one of those occasional years when jazz regenerates its context by stealing away from the rarefied and insular spaces of older crowds, straight towards the club and the young ears of people who’ll move to it — with London and Chicago among the movement’s hotbeds. On his new album, Universal Beings, Windy City-based drummer/producer Makaya McCraven creates collisions between the “new jazz” epicenters, recording a slew of tracks on which musicians from those locales (as well as Los Angeles and New York) initiate grooves, which McCraven then takes back to the lab Madlib-style, and chops up into dance-floor burners.

Universal Beings by Makaya McCraven

“Suite Haus” is one of the album’s London sides, and features an all-star line-up of the city’s exploding group of improvisers, with saxophonist Nubya Garcia, bassist Daniel Casimir and Rhodes player Ashley Henry rounding out the quartet. Led by Garcia’s deeply melodic tenor line and multiple loops of McCraven moving all over his kit, it smokes like a classic (but contemporary AF) re-edit of a Oneness of Juju or Osibisa track, the kind of thing crate-digging DJs and producers will flock to.

L-R: Nubya Garcia, Daniel Casimir, Ashley Henry and Makaya McCraven (photo: Fabrice Bourgelle)

It is also a perfect exemplar of McCraven’s process — take the raw parts of a great jam, and post-produce them into something greater — as well as an insight to how today’s improvisers engage with recordings versus live performances.

“The intro section [of “Suite Haus”]  was just Nubya playing a melody,” Makaya told AFROPUNK. “We were setting up a groove, an African kind of vibe with this triple kind of feel and rim-shots which gives it a woody, organic sound. And then when it flips to, like, a house track, that’s where there’s a lot of tight chopping and then a bit of overdubbing to develop the track. I called it ‘Suite Haus’ because after that first little triplet section, which sounded very sweet (major diatonic-y, and simple), the second section becomes a little more house, darker, grittier. That was really the meat of that piece, the house section, so to speak.

“When it gets to that second part, that’s when the track starts to bump, and you start to get that hard, looping feeling of contemporary sound of electronic music because of the tighter chopping, and after that we’ve kind of transcended into a different realm. Which is something I really like about that track.

“That’s the way I like to think of it: When you’re in the room with us, that’s an organic space. When I take that and re-contextualize it [with studio post-production], then what we’re listening to is not just being in the room with the musicians, but a world that doesn’t exist, a sonic space. That’s one of the challenges to performing this music. Unless you come and see me doing an electronic set, it will never sound exactly like the recording. From a jazz musicians’ perspective, now we’re gonna take the nuts and bolts of the thing that I produced, and we’re gonna reinterpret that through the lens of performing musicians.”

Welcome to jazz, circa 2018.

Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings is out on International Anthem on October 26th.

love blossoms ‘from the grave’ in militia vox’s latest

Just in time for Halloween, you say? Militia Vox is back with another haunting ballad, this time in the form of “From the Grave, From the Heart,” a brooding electro-industrial rock track.

The New York-based musician known for her darkly ambient grooves and industrial rock flair, Militia Vox brings heavy drama and theatricality to her engrossing musicality, and her latest is no exception. A ghostly visitation for Cupid, Militia Vox says the song came to her in a dream:

“I could hear the music and sounds so clearly. I saw my own death and my ghost came back
to tell a loved one not to be afraid, but that I couldn’t move on without them.”

“When I woke up, I had to put it down (record it) immediately. But there was an initial fear of writing like a swan song or Lacrimosa, because I have so much more to say and make. But I had to get this out of my head and share it.”

Photo by Kevin Vonesper

sampha produced & features on london singer rose gabor’s entrancing ‘illusions’

If you haven’t heard of Roses Gabor then it’s likely that you have heard her. The North West Londoner’s voice can be found featured on club/pop stylist SBTRKT’s biggest track “Pharaohs” as well as Gorillaz’s mammoth hit “DARE” live on tour with Damon and co. Gabor’s vocals have been making the round and in now in 2018, she is launching her solo career, sharing her own vision with the world with first single ‘Illusions’ featuring Sampha.

A child of Grenadian parents, Gabor’s musical upbringing consisted of “new jack swing R&B, classic Stevie Wonder, soca and the commercial sounds of Capital FM blaring from her carpenter father’s van driving through London.’ Her first musical love was Mary J Blige, which comes through in her distinct vocal timbre.

Sampha’s meditative production underscores the heady combination of his euphoric crooning paired with Gabor’s R&B soprano, delivering a track with surprises at every turn. The off-kilter digital ad-libs, piano and wistful voices in the background build a sonic landscape that gives us a taste of the individualistic sound we’re likely to experience from this songstress.

‘Illusions’ is out now.

premiere: afrodeutsche techno, made of heritage + emotion

Henrietta Smith-Rolla’s innate love of music was apparent the whole time she was growing up in Devon, on England’s southwest coast, playing piano at her friends’ houses. But it wasn’t until years later, when she moved to Manchester — and began exploring the personal identity that led her to her artist name — when she started making music. The electronic composer/producer and NTS radio DJ is unequivocal when crediting the city and the people she met there with giving her the courage to finally become a musician. Just as she’s equally blunt that it’s been the search for her father’s roots — he was Ghanaian, with Russian ancestry and a German background — which paved the way for her life as Afrodeutsche and for Break Before You Make, a debut album of thoughtful, Detroit-inspired techno that doesn’t forget to bomb with bass.

“I come from two different ways of making music,” Henrietta says. “One is completely emotional, a purge, something that I have very little control over, where it will just happen. And other times, I just want to dance.”

“Hiaea,” a track she recorded in the throes of a break-up and the first steps of rebuilding her life, features some of each. Conceived as she was putting together a set of IKEA shelves (one of the synth lines is “me crying all the way through this track,” she says), it features a pair of rolling beats that switch between electro pulses and handclaps, and a three-note counterpoint melody that her inspiration, film composer Bernard Herrman, would approve of. It’s a journey, and a wonderfully stark piece of music, pointing to a future built from an avalanche of feeling.

Afrodeustche’s Break Before You Make is out on SKAM Records in late May.

premiere: trip-hop icons morcheeba soar with anthem “blaze away” ft. roots manuva

Trip-hop pioneers Morcheeba have thrived for 20 years by never standing still. Though their music is instantly recognizable, they’ve never made the same record twice. For their latest single, Skye Edwards and Ross Godfrey have enlisted UK hip-hop icon Roots Manuva for the propulsive dub-inflected “Blaze Away.”
It’s one of the most hopeful songs of the band’s career, a hook-filled anthem about finding strength in love. We need all the self-care anthems we can get, and this is one of the best yet.

Morcheeba met Roots Manuva at a festival in Moscow. “We were backstage and all pretty smashed,” Ross tells AFROPUNK. “He is such a great performer and character, I invited him to my studio when we were both back in London. I sent him a beat and a riff for the song Blaze Away and he came up with some lyrics, then lost them. Half an hour before the recording, he wrote new lyrics that had such incredible energy that they completely changed the dynamic of the album. Roots said in rap what we had been trying to express more wistfully. He cuts straight to the chase, which inspired us to be more raw and forthright. The early Morcheeba records are really mellow and slow, which is nice when you’re chilling out. But right now, we’re plugged in to playing live, which means being more raw and upbeat. We’re not afraid to have big fuzzy guitar riffs or be a bit rough round the edges.”

“Blaze Away” the single drops April 27th and the full length of the same name is out June 1st. You can pre-order it on CD, digital, and limited edition vinyl here.

Photos by Nicole Vizioli

premiere: afrofuturist electro-soul artist alxndr london’s “jury judge executioner” is ear melting

“Sometimes I feel like a restless volcano; hot lava forever travelling. Jury Judge Executioner is me coming face to face with an understanding, and I’m one hundred percent at peace with it.”

Alxndr London’s music exists at the intersections of acute angles. Traces of neo-soul and electrofunk blend with his Afrofuturist aesthetic. On his latest single “Jury Judge Executioner,” Alxndr London bends his sharp angles into something unexpectedly smooth. Working with producer Haich, it’s an adventurous cut from an artist who is rarely anything less than adventurous. London describes his forthcoming 2023 EP as “an allegoric story arc where religious, political, satirical, spiritual, numerological and Afrocentric themes meet fantasy and science-fiction.”

The EP drops April 23rd. See Alxndr London live in London on April 25th at Oslo (Hackney).

rock out to post-punk band crashing hotels’ haunting album ‘exploration exploitation’

Fluttering synths, jagged guitars, and stripped down indie dance beats anchor Ao Anderson’s haunted vocals on Crashing Hotels’ irresistible new record. It’s a record that’s at once minimal and expansive, with tight riffs and wide open ambiances. On the band’s best tracks, they keep the party moving, riding tension before it feels like snapping. “Never More” and “Hardcore Cherokee,” feature Anderson’s strongest hooks and a subtle build that threatens to explode out of the band’s focused drive. This is post-punk as it was meant to be.

lose yourself in trip-hop/electro-soul band ghost & the city’s ‘time ep’ album

Anchored by standout-single “N.W.T.A.” Ghost & the City’s Time EP, is the kind of record that begs to be listened to on headphones. It’s a richly textured landscape buoyed by Kia Fay’s haunted hooks. Songs like “Steady Trippin” and “Run Run” find weight in the band’s deft arrangements and Fay’s evocative voice. The centerpiece though is their unexpected cover of Bobby Womack’s “Please Forgive My Heart,” which takes a cut from the soul legend and transforms it into the band’s own sound. The Time EP is the kind of record you ca get lost in for days.