Throughout our conversation, Hama referred to his synthesizer as a piano. This is telling. The Niamey-based musician insists that his music is, all in all, traditional Nigerien music – despite the futuristic quality that the vibrant synth tones and processed drum-kits lend to Hama’s latest album, Torodi. It’s perhaps this play on the ancient-future that has brought Hama such critical acclaim across The Republic of Niger and the countries that surround it; however, Hama’s music was virtually unheard of in the United States until Sahelsounds, a record label founded by ethnomusicologist Christopher Kirkley, which features the music of 50+ musicians whose music Kirkley came across during his travels in West Africa.
About the futurism of Hama’s Torodi, Kirley says, “I would say it's futuristic in the sense of the innovation, being the first person to do this – programming the traditional rhythms on the drum machine. I don't think he's necessarily composing with that in mind – the songs are really folk guitar songs that he has worked out versions of on the piano.” Hama’s thoughts are similar. He calls his compositions “modifications” on music he has heard and collected over the years, including traditional music, but ranging from contemporary American pop music to Detroit techno.
In many senses, my coming to hear the album at all was a matter of serendipity. “Sahelsounds became a record label by chance,” says Kirkley. “I had lived in West Africa for two years and was back home in Portland. I had a blog, but no intention to turn it into a label. I met the folks at Mississippi Records who suggested releasing a record. After time it's turned into a label, somewhat reluctantly. There's a demand for the music, people in West Africa can get exposure, get paid, and I can finance trips back to West Africa and have a part in releasing what I think is important and overlooked music.”
When I first called Hama, he expressed being quite happy that I’d taken interest in Torodi. I, on the other hand, was surprised to find that no one had yet interviewed him about it. The compositions, to my ear, are significant insofar as they provide a point-of-reference for modern American Afrofuturism. Though I may be alone in drawing such comparisons, when I tune into Hama, I can’t help but hear the synth drums in the intro to Kelela’s track “Cut 4 Me” or certain elements of FlyLo’s “Turkey Dog Coma.” Or even, reaching in a slightly different direction, Phil Cohran’s “The Dogon” from the 2010 album, African Skies.
Hama and I spoke in a mix of French and English, each of us struggling to overcome the language barrier. (As a result, I’ve translated the parts of our conversation that occurred in French into English.) In many ways, it is a conversation I am still processing. I wonder, in particular, whether music can do the work of Afrofuturism without doing so deliberately. I wonder whether it is misguided to hear the future in something that insists that it is, in fact, traditional. Nonetheless, Torodi is an important release for its innovation, regardless of whether that innovation seats itself in the past or in the future.
Retro Promenade has really carved out a special name for itself. As a compilation label fixated on late 80s pop archetypes and the synthiest of synths, it does indeed seem promenade and parade around unabashedly, trumpeting this love.
We've covered them here before because of their affiliation with The Boy & Sister Alma; this series, however, is very special for probably all of us. Introducing the Next Peak series, a multivolume compilation of retro pop bands both covering and reinventing Badalamenti's original and captivating score for Twin Peaks – and it's just in time for the 25th anniversary! I remember several years ago when I listened to the soundtrack over and over: I was in love or something spooky like that, where it felt really good to soak in a foggy bath of evocative tunes like that. Take a listen to volume three below, and be sure to especially enjoy The Boy & Sister Alma's slightly comical "One Eye, One Arm, One Man." Also check out the totally awesome posters and t-shirts for purchase.
Our favourite alt-pop lady returns, with the first glimpse of her very exciting new record. Ela Orleans doesn't seem to be constrained by the same ideas of pop music or what's 'cool' that most of us labour under. Her vision is widescreen, and style elastic, encapsulating noirish piano solos, lo-fi keyboard malfunctions and opera. But "The Sky and the Ghost" is perhaps her best produced, most positive music so far. Like all her output, there is a bewitching torsion here: a ghostly choir pepped up by rambunctious breaks, maudlin lyrics skewered by spritely synths. All underpinned by deceptively expert songwriting and that captivating, unplaceable voice, of course. It is, in her own words, a movie for the ears.
Ela's Upper Hell LP is out soon on Howie B Recordings.
Split between Seattle and Los Angeles, Nuearth Kitchen appeals to a special type of joviality. Jeremy Grant and Cody Morrison combine their acutely complementary tastes to inform a discography that inspires harmless wildness, urban flare, and a well-rounded thirst for rhythm. As their seedling label Nuearth Conservatory prepares for blossoming, NEK is likewise gearing up for further ripening with the third solo release from Jon McMillion, polished off with remixes from Orson Wells and Fred P.
Submitting to the housey yet devoutly underground charms of NEK, I got in touch with Cody and Jeremy to try and understand where they are coming from a little better. Here's how it went.
It may seem somewhat bizarre that the academic International Conference on Cartography and GIS Mapping resulted in the formation of musical act. Luca Lorenzi and Massimiano Santoni met at the academic conference in Italy and found themselves bonding over their love of electronic music. Under the name To You Mom, the pair create a brand of pop built on digital productions, propulsive percussion and Lorenzi’s gentle vocals. We Are Lions, as the title suggests, is a proud declaration of their arrival and sound. To accompany their new single, "Charming Karma", the duo have made a visual focusing on a couple’s communication through sign language, as they try to solve their differences. The dramatic chorus of the song and the monochrome palette are absorbing and draws the viewer into its interpretation.
Writing a song is making a pattern and fitting it together in a greater pattern. Making an album is piecing those songs together, pattern by pattern, until circular consonance. The releases that resonate with us the greatest are those that skillfully echo this human experience of pattern-making: revisiting trauma and creating symbols that return to reveal some sort of hope or despair. The Offer by Yowler, the solo project of All Dogs frontwoman and Saintseneca member Maryn Jones, is one of these records. It is dizzying misery with ‘water’, a motif echoed in each track, overflowing. How is it still that we aim for linear growth when it’s so obviously circular? Put this on repeat.
The Offer by Yowler is out now. Order it here from Double Double Whammy.
NFOP is happy to present a new music event series at Kreuzberg's Monarch, YOU DONT REALLY KNOW ME, which will kick off on Wednesday with a DJ set by our favourite Phoebe Kiddo. Read more about the night's concept below:
Berlin is rich with local electronic music producers and DJs. Privately though not all of them are exclusively listening to electronic music or the kind of music they make themselves. So what else is inspiring them?
Once a month Monarch Berlin invites a producer, artist or DJ to play music he/she would usually not play in a club: music that informs the roots of their styles, obscure songs they love, guilty pleasures, analogue or digital, danceable or not.
Phoebe Kiddo, RBMA alumn and sound art graduate with a penchant for odd rhythmic intentions, will inaugurate YOU DON'T REALLY KNOW ME this week. Positioned somewhere between her rave and club heritage, eerie atmospherics and rhythmic anomalies, Kiddo's MBF project maintains a uniquely delicate perspective on modern club music.
Things start at 9pm. Get more infos on the event's Facebook page.
Dark Energy is not for the faint of heart. While it would be possible to place the album in the context of legendary footwork producers such as RP Boo and the late DJ Rashad, it would be more accurate to say that Jlin, an up-and-coming producer from Gary, Indiana, has blown apart the foundations of footwork in order to make space for her own uniquely relentless sound. Each of the eleven tracks on Dark Energy subverts expectation at every turn, toggling back and forth between percussion-heavy urgency and equally urgent periods of spacious subtlety. Jlin’s quick transitions are both inescapable and unpredictable, making Dark Energy exemplary of the most controlled and skillful form of pure pandemonium.
Jlin’s debut album will be released on 23 March by Planet Mu. In the meantime, I sat down with the producer and together, we delved into Dark Energy.