A few weeks ago, I made a promise to put out some new tunes that have been in my head for years now. Here's the first one - which actually came to me one evening after I made the promise - called Surrender (Where I Am Called). Here we go! :)
Part Two of Vinyl Memories (Part One is here) lists the other 10 records I grew up listening to over and over again. For some reason, all the African records ended up in this half of the list, because they all appear to have been released post-1984. As always, we're not big on archives - even in post-colonial contexts when the oral tradition excuse shouldn't apply any more; it's frustratingly difficult to access discographies and imagery for African music from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Anyway, here goes, starting with one of my favorite African musicians of all time:
11. Sam Fan Thomas - Makassi (1984)
I really, really dig this guy. This was perhaps his best known album, was recorded in Paris and yielded African Typic Collection which became an international hit.
12. Alec 'Om' Khaoli - Say You Love Me (1985 single)
Another odd find. South African dude who started out as a bass guitarist for Afrorock supergroup Harari (listen to his bass licks on one of their hits: the prosaically titled 'Party'). He went solo and released a bunch of albums. His songs were very sparse, not much singing - mostly grooves that unfold slowly. His most famous song is probably Sekuru (which I discovered much later), but I also really wore out this 1985 single - Say You Love Me:
13. Sam Fan Thomas - Neng Makassi (1985)
"Makassi, the new dance for the new generation!" Sam Fan Thomas, again. This was his fifth studio album - and from it came the title song Neng Makassi (which Kenyans know as 'Songea-ea-ea', or 'Compare Your Hair' if you're rude). My favorite song on this album eventually became Poma after many listens:
14. Phil Collins - No Jacket Required (1985)
I'm kinda embarrassed by this one, but whatever. No Jacket Required was Phil Collins' third solo album after quitting rock band Genesis, and was his most commercially successful album - which is probably how it ended up in a home in Nairobi. My mother bought this album because she really liked One More Night, so it kinda grew on me after hearing it a lot. Come on, that saxophone at the end is hella smooth:
15. Lionel Richie - Dancing on the Ceiling (1986)
Lionel Richie, one last time. He really must be commended for persevering with that moustache for most of his life (to date). Dancing on the Ceiling was Lionel's third solo album, after which he took a LONG break of ten years before releasing any more music. The title track - Dancing on the Ceiling - was made much cooler by the music video where they actually were dancing on the ceiling (courtesy of a rotating room rig) - which is still kinda cool now when we take visual effects for granted, no? Come on!
16. Sam Fan Thomas - Makassi Plus (1986)
This is the last Sam Fan Thomas, I promise. LOOK at that album cover! He's unstoppable, in his varsity jacket and tan leather pants. This was his fifth studio album, and it produced hits like Si Tcha and Noa, which features a very powerful smoke machine, and some of the smartest dancing I've ever seen in my life:
17. Tshala Muana - La Divine (1987)
This album could be here simply for that album cover ALONE. LOOK at the eighties, just exploding on her face! And those multi-level earrings! She wasn't playing. Tshala Muana comes from Zaire, and is one of the leading figures of the Mutuashi sound. La Divine was her third studio album, and it featured one of her most popular songs: Karibou Yangu:
18. Michael Jackson - Bad (1987)
Seventh studio album by Michael, and his last collaboration with Quincy Jones. Everyone was listening to this album, and there was some irreverent giggling about that opening line: "Your butt is mine". My favorite song in recent years is I Just Can't Stop Loving You - which isn't the most often-remembered song from the album, but who can forget that chorus? A duet with Siedah Garrett (who co-wrote Man In The Mirror - fascinating story, listen to that demo here), here's the original album version which features a (creepy) intro which Jackson recorded while lying in bed. Ahem. Cough, cough. Here goes:
19. Whitney Houston - Whitney (1987)
Whitney's 9x platinum second studio album - my favorite on this one was the first single I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), which was written by the same duo who wrote How Will I Know on her debut album (critics dismissed the song as How Will I Know 2 - the shade of it all!), but the public loved it, and the song won her a Grammy for the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, so whatever:
20. M'bilia Bel - Boya Ye (1987)
The Queen of Congolese rumba, M'bilia Bel was discovered by the late Tabu Ley, who she later married (their story is very interesting). Boya Ye was M'bilia's fourth studio album, and the title song Boya Ye is my favorite, just listen to that groove (that bass player was not playing):
And that's it! Those are my favorite records growing up, and they influenced my love for music till now. I wonder what kids are growing up to now?
I was the kind of kid who preferred to stay home and read or listen to music rather than mucking about outside. I had a lot of music to keep me company in the house courtesy of our trusty Panasonic record and tape player, and a massive collection of records which my mother had bought over the years.
Thankfully, my mother was very eclectic (and secular) in her tastes - so I was lucky to get a taste of all kinds of music. With my apologies for all the crappy cover images (some of them are hard to find!), I thought I'd share some of my favourite records that shaped my musical interests and stuck with me up to now (in order of year of release):
1. Nana Mouskouri - Greatest Hits (1973)
Yes, I know. Very odd. I don't know why we had this, but Nana Mouskouri is awesome. Born in 1934, has sung songs in Greek, French, English, German, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, Welsh, Mandarin Chinese, Corsican, and Turkish, has a crazy-long discography, is now 80 years old and still alive and singing. I was surprised to find the entire track-list up on YouTube, and my favourite song is Mon Enfant:
2. ABBA - The Album (1977)
I was a big ABBA fan growing up, and I won't be judged. This album is now responsible for the devastation that is Chiquitita playing EVERY DAMN DAY on Classic 105, but I loved the lush, childish-surreal, multi-page album artwork, and that bad-ass album title (The Album). My favourite song on this is What's The Name of the Game, which I remember had a surreal video with the four of them trapped in an elevator that just kept going, and going, and going. I can only find this lo-fi blah video that's on YouTube now. Maybe I was dreaming?
3. Donna Summer - Bad Girls (1979)
LOOK at that album cover. LOOK at that girl with suspect intentions just leaning on that lamp post in the background. Yes. Favourite song - Bad Girls, apparently inspired by an incident in which one of Donna's assistants was offended by a police officer who thought she was a street prostitute. Here's a video of Donna performing the song with a suspect pair of sunglasses and a trio of very awkward white-girl BGVs. I love it:
4. ABBA - Voulez-Vous (1979)
ABBA strikes again - this time looking much more sparkly and glossy. My favourite track here is the title track, Voulez-vous - which they wrote during a songwriting trip to the Bahamas, and recorded in Miami with members of the disco group, Foxy; vaguely threatening, devastatingly Scandinavian disco. Yes.
5. Lipps Inc. - Mouth to Mouth (1979)
LOOK at that album cover! The only reason I put this album here is because I used to stare at the artwork for hours. The only song I like here was Funkytown, which was a big disco hit and - again - the only reason people bought this album.
6. The Commodores - In The Pocket (1981)
My mother was a big Lionel Richie fan, so we had a whole bunch of his solo records and albums from the Commodores period. Favourite track: Lady (You Bring Me Up) - for which Lionel sang the lead vocal. This was one of the Commodore's last big hits before Lionel went all Beyoncé on them. That string section makes me very happy, especially that wonderful riff from about 3:04! All the yes.
7. ABBA - The Visitors (1981)
This is the last ABBA album here, I promise! Of the three ABBA albums here - this is my favourite. The Visitors was their eighth and final album, and was very different from all the rest. Benny and Frida had just announced that they were getting a divorce, and recording sessions were said to be 'frosty sometimes'. The album's sound engineer was also struggling with a shift to brand-new digital recorders which he complained made the sound 'too clean'.
All this drama could be why the album cover has them all standing apart. My favourite song on this (even though the album is full of great songs) is the opening title track, The Visitors, and it's quite possibly my favourite ABBA song, period. It sounded (to me) like the soundtrack to an alien abduction, quite a departure from ABBA's cheery sound until then.
I later found out that the song was 'a protest against the mistreatment of political dissidents in the Soviet Union at the time' - but I like the idea of alien abductions better:
8. Michael Jackson - Thriller (1982)
There's not much to say about this album that hasn't been said already. The music video for Thriller scared me so much when it finally showed on state-run VOK (about a year after its 1983 worldwide release, if I'm not wrong). I may have been about two or three years old at the time - and my dislike of horror films probably started then. Anyway, this album was wonderful and it was everywhere. My favourite song is the opening track, Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' - especially for that pulsing breakdown from 5:07 (which he got in trouble for with the 'mama-say mama-sa mama-ko-sa' lawsuit). Help me sing!
9. Imagination - In The Heat of the Night (1982)
All my love for fantasy, sci-fi, black futures, music and light came together in this album. I mean, just LOOK at that cover! I can't find a picture of the entire cover, but the illustration wraps around the back, and the piano keys stretch into the universe beyond... My God, the hours I spent just absorbing the details of this cover. This record is known for Imagination's most famous song, Just An Illusion, but my favourite song is Music and Lights - I want to live on whatever planet this song came from:
10. Lionel Richie - Can’t Slow Down (1983)
This was Lionel Richie's second solo album after leaving the Commodores - and from it came the now over-played 'All Night Long (All Night)', 'Hello' - beloved of budding piano players trying to make moves on impressionable girls, and my sappy-favourite, Penny Lover - which Classic 105 has thankfully spared us from listening to EVERY DAMN DAY. Here's the video, which I never knew existed until now. Shout-out to Lionel's industrial-strength moustache and that ridiculous 80s-video-fight that everyone started copying after Michael Jackson showed them how to:
That's it for Part 01. I'll list my next 10 favourite records which were released from 1984 onwards.
UPDATE: Part Two is here.
I love making music, but I absolutely hate having to be on stage to perform music.
I was 13 years old the first time I ever performed music in public - playing piano to accompany a school choir performance of 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen' - and it was TERRIBLE. I practiced for months, and I thought I was ready, but on the day of the performance, the kids got up on stage and sang TOO FAST!
I couldn't keep up with them, and had to stop while they plowed on without accompaniment. I waited for the second verse so I could try once more, and - again - it was still too fast. I messed up again. I decided not to try again and just sat on the piano bench until they finished the song. A couple of kids in the audience next to me giggled and pointed at me. Longest 7 minutes of my life.
Sometimes I theorize that this incident was the genesis of my super-intense stage fright related to anything musical. While I was a member of Just A Band, I'd spend weeks dreading every upcoming performance, I'd have sleepless nights in the days running up to every show, and I'd be nauseous and anxious when the day came. I never got used to it.
The rest of the band were OK with being up there, and after seeing me suffer so much they kindly allowed me not to come on stage for the performances. I opted out 90% of the time. I started attending Just A Band shows as an audience member. Awkward, I know.
This was one of the reasons I eventually left the band. I figured maybe my stage fright was the Universe telling me to focus on the visual projects. So I gave up on music. I gave away my guitar. I uninstalled all my music software. I threw away my little book of lyrics.
Since then, I have discovered that I am completely OK going up on stage to do anything else; question-and-answer sessions about a film? No problem. Panel discussion? Bring it on. Presentation about the NEST? No anxiety at all. Weird, no?
There's only one problem. The music didn't stop playing in my head. I still wake up with snippets of song in my head. I still really enjoy making music. Some of the tunes I've made since have ended up in the soundtracks to films I've made, and I've given some away to very cool musicians I love - then there's a couple that remain on my hard disk, taunting me.
So I think, "making music and putting it out aren't necessarily the same thing, right? I can just make music for fun and the songs never need to go out. There are enough musicians out there with WAY more talent and WAY better songs in this world and no one cares about some guy in Nairobi with a bunch of songs."
Every now and then I meet people who actually listened to the secret EP I put out in 2013 as Adeiyu, or the film soundtracks, or this happens, and it's SO COOL, and it makes me feel like maybe there's a point to all this, and maybe there's space in the world for some guy in Nairobi with a bunch of songs.
I don't know.
So, here goes. I'll just close my eyes, start from scratch and put out a couple of songs over the next few months, though I don't think this means I'll be jumping on stage any time soon. Over the next couple of months, I'll be sending my secret club of awesome newsletter subscribers preview tracks in advance, just to get some feedback. Want in? Sign up here. If there's anyone out there who likes the songs, that'd be really cool. If not, then at least I'll have a little more free space on my computer, right?
Thanks for listening! :)
May has turned out to be such a busy month! I'm very excited to announce that my first solo exhibition - Pagans - takes place this May 7 - June 13 at the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Seattle.
On display will be larger-than-ever new prints of works from the continuing Pagans series, as well as new video works created specifically for the show.
Concurrently, I'm delighted to be included amongst the list of 60+ artists appearing in the New York debut of the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair (May 15-17, 2015). New editions of some of my work from the continuing Pagans series will be on display. Do drop by and have a peep if you happen to be in either of these cities.