Soul II Soul: Back To Life (acapella mix)
From 12″ (Virgin, 1989)

Bonnie and Shelia: You Keep Me Hanging On
From 7″ (King, 1971). Also on New Orleans Funk Vol. 2.

Patti Drew: Stop and Listen
From Tell Him (Capitol, 1967). Also on Workin’ On a Groovy Thing.

Bobby Matos: Nadie Baila Como Yo
From My Latin Soul (Phillips, 1968)

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: If You Can Want
From Special Occasion (Motown, 1968)

Menahan Street Band: Home Again
From Make the Road By Walking (Dunham/Daptone, forthcoming 10/14/08)

Final Solution: I Don’t Care
From Brotherman soundtrack (Numero Group, 2008)

Freeway: Let the Beat Build freestyle
From ? (?, 2008)

Q-Tip: Gettin’ Up
From The Renaissance (Motown, forthcoming 2008)

Black Ivory: You and I
From Don’t Turn Around (Today, 1972)

It’s the end of another summer, alas.

Looking back over the summer songs season, I wanted to do the last post on the songs that ended up forming my personal soundtrack the last few months. To be honest, I thought this list would be a lot longer than it ended up being but I wanted to keep it to songs that I kept returning to over and over rather than something I found merely “good.”

Soul II Soul’s acapella mix of “Back to Life” came at me three different ways: Murphy’s Law dropped it at Boogaloo[la] and reminded me how cotdamn fresh it was, Greg Tate’s Summer Songs post made me revisit the Soul II Soul catalog and I finally saw Belly which makes incredible use of the song to open the movie. Personally, I grew impatient to actually get to where the beat drops so I edited my version down to about a 30 second teaser before the “Impeach the President” drums kick in. As ML showed me, it’s always a fun cut to play out.

The Bonnie and Sheila, I have to admit, I learned about first through a quirky youtube video[1] and I wondered how the hell I didn’t know about this earlier. Great little slice of New Orleans funk produced by the great Wardell Quezergue and released on King (the Cincinnati label most associated with James Brown). Words are insufficient to explain to you how much I love this song.

The Patti Drew I owe to Chairman Mao. When I interviewed him for Asia Pacific Arts, he mentioned “Stop and Listen” as an example of a great soul tune that doesn’t cost and arm and a leg yet sounds like a million bucks (not his exact words but you catch the meaning). I couldn’t agree more. Don’t sleep on the equally excellent ballad, “Tell Him” on the same album.

I had totally forgotten about the Bobby Matos and Combo Conquistadores song, “Nadie Baila Como Yo” (nobody dances like me) off the incredible My Latin Soul album until I heard the Boogaloo Assassins play it at their shows. This may very well elevate itself to my top 10 Latin soul songs given how it changes up chord progressions and tepos not once but twice – it’s like getting three songs in one; one of the marks of a superior son montuno. I can’t believe I slept on this track all these years.

I found the Smokey Robinson and Miracles song during my search through Motown’s catalog to find tracks to play out that wasn’t part of their Big Chill/Greatest Hits collection and I never failed to be amazed at the generosity of greatness that Motown provided over the years. For those who think Smokey is all droopy ballads, “If You Can Want” is a loud, proud wake-up call of funky power. How has no one ever done a 12″ edit of this?

I already wrote about the Menahan Street Band and Brotherman songs already but they’re so nice, I had to list ‘em twice.

Freeway’s freestyle over “Let the Beat Build” goes well with my official, beginning of the summer post where I nodded at Lil Wayne’s original. Free, who had one of the best albums of last year that few seemed to notice, murders over Kanye’s beat here. After, uh, a million subpar “A Milli” freestyles, I was happy to hear someone pick a different track to rip.

The last song is one I should have started the summer with. Late pass. Q-Tip’s had a rough, um, decade so far in terms of being able to get this music to the masses but I’m hoping “Gettin’ Up” does it right for him in preparation for his Renaissance album. This is, by far, the best thing I’ve heard from ‘Tip since this and without getting all misty-eyed for my halcyon teens and 20s, listening to Tribe, this song just f—ing sounds good in the way the best Tribe songs just sounded f—ing good. (No doubt, it helps that the sample source is also f—ng good: “You and I” by Black Ivory. Read more here.).

By the way, if I had to pick my absolute favorite song of the summer…surprisingly, it’d end up being Solange Knowles’ “I Decided.” Don’t ask me why but this has stuck with me the entire time through without ever ceasing to be pleasurable.

And with that…I bid all you adieu until next May but hope you keep the memory of summer in your mind alive until then.[2]

[1] Don’t laugh – he dances better than you.

[2] Unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere.


(word cloud of Soul Summer’s RSS feed made at wordle.net)



(Editor’s note: the penultimate summer songs post goes to Charlie Bethel, aka Captain Planet aka Chuck Wild from Captain’s Crate and the host of the fantabulous Toque party in Brooklyn. Charlie and his brother Wil (aka Murphy’s Law) are valued contributors to Soul Sides and I’m very happy to have him be one of the last voices for this fastly dwindling summer season. –O.W.)

The Playlist:

The Beatards : Big Bad Beat & It’s So Easy
sneak peak taken from the upcoming EP
“Big Bad Beat” on MixtapeRiot (2008)

Our new EP is done as of last week and will be back from the printers shortly! Don’t think you know what we sound like just from hearing these two tunes, we go all over the map and back again. Check us live in LA this week & next, or back in NYC in Sept. We keep our schedule updated on the myspace page.

The Virgins : Rich Girls (Beatards Remix)
CRATE EXCLUSIVE – can’t get this one anywhere else!

Atlantic records reached out to us, and then bailed cause they don’t know what’s good for ‘em.

Erykah Badu : Cleva (Captain Planet Remix) & Honey (Captain Planet Remix)
taken from the 12″

I posted these joints for limited time only downloads earlier on, but this summer they finally came out on wax. In case it isn’t already entirely clear, I’ve been going a little buck wild with vocoder and autotune experimentation recently. Feel free to hate, but I’m happily picturing myself chilling alongside Roger Troutman and T-Pain in the afterlife. Someone even liked my Honey remix enough to post it on youtube!

Captain Planet ft. Ako : On Yer Feet
taken from the upcoming EP on
Bastard Jazz

Ako is a young funky drummer and producer. He recorded a bunch of drum breaks and posted them online- I used one as the backbone for this beat. The rest of the EP is falling into place nicely and should definitely be out before the year is over.

Captain Planet : Lean On My Baby
just a sketch for now… we’ll see what happens

One of the many lil ideas I’ve hurriedly thrown together this Summer. I did this in an hour and a half, no lyrics yet, but I still love it and hope that it turns into something finished- who knows what.

Bonus beat: peep this music video, made by the group of High School students that I worked with in Sunset Park this summer. It was part of a competition to express why “I LOVE NY” in one minute or less. We didn’t win, but we had a bunch of fun regardless.

The Story:

Deeply embedded in my understanding of the world, is the belief that Summer is meant to be “time off”. There have been few moments, if any, in my life that approach the uncontrollable surging relief and freedom that I would feel every June getting off the bus after that last day of school. Looking ahead at the summer in front of me, the days of the week ceased to matter, and the passing hours that normally divided my laborious schedule into even blocks of responsibility and focus, blurred into a continuous quest for thrills. The goal of a day might take shape in the simple hunt for an ice cream cone, a new skate spot, a cute girl or a water-balloon fight and a place to swim. Perhaps nostalgia has amplified what I truly felt at the time, but this is how I will forever remember it.

2008 was my UN-summer: I’ve been working more than ever before, scheduling meetings and filling up two calendar pages beneath the present one. However, the fact that I’m doing it for myself, and spending time on what I love, has also helped me feel some of that same thrill I used to get from doing Super Soaker drive-bys on my bike. Instead of any “time-off” this summer, I spent nearly every free moment in my studio working on music or putting together live shows with my group The Beatards. In general, I really try not to blow up my own spot, but to be honest, these are the songs I’ve been listening to the most this summer. The tracks I’m posting up today are just a small fragment of all the music I’ve been making, so stay tuned for a lot more to come.

Now that summer is unofficially over (Labor Day still means back to school in my book), I’m finally getting a chance to take a break. Anyone who’s in the Los Angeles area should definitely come out to one of the events I’m doing in the next week & a half. Leave your preconceptions at the door and be ready to let loose.


The folks at Germany’s Soulkombinat.org did their own Summer Songs post. Should have linked to this weeks ago but better late than never. Some great stuff there; it’s a monster group post!

Soulkombinat Sommer Songs


(Written by Captain Planet)

Curtis Mayfield & The Staple Singers : After Sex
taken from the Soundtrack album
“Let’s Do It Again” on Curtom (1975)

Bill Conti : Reflections
taken from the soundtrack album
“ROCKY” on Capitol (1976)

Kool & The Gang : Summer Madness
taken from the album
“Light Of Worlds” on Dee-Lite (1974)

Shuggie Otis : Island Letter
taken from the album
“Inspiration Information” on Epic (1974)

Ok, so this is not my official “Summer Songs” post, which is now going to be a dog days affair, but I want to let everyone know that I’m not dead and am still in love with music. I’ve been going through some pretty heavy stuff lately (basically a divorce, even though we weren’t technically married), and working in the studio more than is probably healthy (you’ll hear the fruits of labor soon enough), but I’m getting back to the blog for real now. I love this place and the chance to sit down with a lil handful of songs like these ones I picked out today feels highly therapeutic.

I heard Curtis Mayfield’s “After Sex” (an old forgotten favorite of mine) yesterday at my friend’s spot, and as I lay melting into the wheelchair that he uses as furniture (superior by far to any lazyboy) I realized that the song was expressing the exact the sound inside me right now. I found myself pulling the needle back at least 10 times. Bill Conti’s “Reflections” came to mind next, as an extension of the same sentiment. I still remember watching Rocky for the first time (it was a hot Summer day then too) and loving the scene where he’s alone in his grimey little apartment and he drops the needle on a record… “Reflections”. It wasn’t until I later scooped Kool & The Gang’s “Light Of Worlds” that I realized Conti was doing what appears to be a pretty blatant knock-off track for the soundtrack (doesn’t really take away from my appreciation of it somehow). And then, to complete the vibe, I knew a little Shuggie was necessary. So here’s to a peaceful and uplifting moment of inner exploration. We all know the feeling.

ps- R.I.P. Isaac Hayes


Prince Mohammed: Bubbling Love
From 12″ (Job Gibbs, 197?). Also on Bubbling.

Derek Holtsma, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar: Reggae Strings
From 12″ (B-side of the Congos “Jah Is the Sweetest”) (Rasta Movement, 197?)

Junior Delgado: Fort Augustus
From 12″ (Taxi, 1979)

Gregory Isaacs and U-Brown: The Border
From 12″ (GGs, 197?). Also on My Number One.

Derrick Laro and Trinity: Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough
From 12″ (Joe Gibbs, 1980). Also on Hustle! Reggae Disco.

(Editor’s Note: I first became acquainted with Luc Sante through his writings on New York, namely his remarkable history of early New York, Low Life as well as his remarkable, bittersweet essay on living in the Lower East Side in the ’80s, “My Lost City”, which also appears in a fantastic anthology of Sante’s essays, Kill Your Darlings. As a novelist and modern “man of letters,” Sante covers a range of topics in his writing but music is a central interest and love (he has a Grammy from 1997 for his liner notes for the Anthology of American Folk Music). For his Summer Songs post, Sante reflects on hot New York summers and the sound of reggae sides floating atop the fog of heat. –O.W.)

Written by Luc Sante:

I grew up in various suburbs and now I live in a town on the edge of the countryside, but when I close my eyes and think of summer, the image that appears is always of summer in the city, specifically New York City, where I spent nearly every summer between the ages of 18 and 40. Summer meant poorly ventilated tenement apartments with no air-conditioning and no swimming pool. It meant an intense, slablike heat caught between brick walls in the motionless air, turning the asphalt liquid and the sidewalk reflective, settling a yellow film over the world, making everybody stupefied or murderous or both at once. But if you lived in that heat you had no choice but to surrender to it, and if you truly gave yourself up you could find a strange kind of euphoria in it. If you became one with the heat, it gave you a gift; it was as if your physical processes altered fundamentally, became more fluid, tapped secret resources of energy to remain upright and moving.

I did a lot of walking in those days, because it was better than sitting at home and because I was restless anyway all year round, and in summer the walk became like something between swimming and dancing, a sort of gliding lope I could ride like a wave through air with the consistency of blood. Naturally I had to have a soundtrack, and before the boom box and the Walkman the soundtrack would have to be provided by an internal jukebox. In the summer I especially liked to feed mine with Jamaican twelves, which provided the exact rhythm and mood for my walking purposes–they were after all products of intense urban heat themselves. And they were my principal secret reserve of energy. Whatever stamina my body couldn’t provide on its own would be supplied by the bass lines that lived on in my head.

The bass was paramount. It was fuel. I walked all day–and often danced all night–with power supplied by Robbie Shakespeare and Aston Barrett and Lloyd Parks and Boris Gardiner and Fully Fullwood and Leroy Sibbles and Flabba Holt and Ranchie McLean. The bass located a dynamo in the lower torso, about midway between the navel and the groin, which governed hips and legs and knees and feet. To contain those bass lines was to put on seven-league boots. I don’t know how anybody ever managed to make it through summers in the city without them.


(Editor’s Note: I met Karen Tongson through Josh Kun – she’s part of an impressive set of faculty talent over at USC working on issues around race, sexuality, identity, and of course, music. Like Christine Balance, Karen’s also part of the (un)holy trinity who run Oh Industry! and she’s got another blog for her intriguing, forthcoming project, The Inland Emperor. Appropriately enough, for her summer songs post, Karen examines the songs of her youth, growing up Inland. –O.W.)

Written by Karen Tongson:

    When I was recently asked to host a listening party about the suburbs, this phrase sprung to mind as I re-traced the soundscapes of my Pinay immigrant youth, through the stucco jungles of Southern California’s Inland Empire:

    Music from your room. In the Parking Lot. Fresh Off the Boat.

    Coordinates to and from nowhere in particular, and yet to everywhere you turn. It isn’t quite the So. Cal fantasy pimped nationally by our neighbors to the coastal west in Orange County. Our shiny OC rivals not only figured out a way to make Sun-In look “natural,” but they perpetually taunted us with their superior air quality, totally bitchin’ beaches, and bumpin’ teen clubs like Studio K at Knott’s and Videopolis at Disneyland.

    Summer in the I.E., meanwhile, meant smog alerts and creamsicle sunsets radiant with toxicity. On some southland days—110 fahrenheit garnished with the brown muck of a stage 2 alert—we weren’t even allowed to play outside. Instead we retreated to our rooms with our window units cranked to the max for full apocalyptic ozone effect, and let the music take us to the paradises we were promised to begin with: somewhere poolside with free umbrella cocktails, sunglasses at night, and gaudy flourishes of slap bass.

    Wham!: Club Tropicana
    From Fantastic (Columbia, 1983)

    While my tingly, proto-queer self was delirious with visions of a manscaped George Michael in a white Speedo, and delusional enough to believe Andrew Ridgeley was actually singing the airtight a capella lathered in reverb that serves as the song’s outro, my folks were in the next room learning how to play this:

    Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66: Pais Tropical
    From Foursider (A&M, 1972)

    Corny though it was with its unison co-ed verses, and call-and-response shout choruses, the folks actually preferred re-arranging Sergio Mendes’ A&M tropicalia to working out the Weekly Top 40 with their instrumentation (rhythm section with dad on the piano, 2 jazz trombones and mom on vocals). I preferred it too, especially after one particularly scarring Fourth of July incident at the Riverside Fireworks Spectacular staged at the football stadium at Riverside Community College. My folks were the headline act. At the age of 12, with my entire softball team of tough, pubescent girls watching (see previous remarks re: “proto-queer”), I had to endure the spectacle of my mom singing Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” while she danced in a sequined top. Dear reader, please remember this moment anytime you even THINK about envying a kid for growing up in a family of musicians…

    Now, with the “proto” plucked from my queer, and my folks pretty much retired from replicating Billboard smashes, I think about how the sound of those sedentary summers carried over into my other sonic worlds, into summers spent elsewhere. My penchant for the slightly amped gay cocktail jam a la “Club Tropicana” morphed into a love for the more languorous, hip-hop lilt that would close out the open-air dyke tea-dances on Sundays in the SF Bay Area. With the fog crawling over the Mission’s micro-climate, this song always signaled the transition from late afternoon to evening, from flirtation to whatever else all the pints of Red Hook ESB and “herbal infusions” would give you enough courage for…

    Queen Latifah: Weekend Love
    From Black Reign (Polygram, 1993)

    More recent summers have found me back in the parking lot, back in L.A. on what feels like a perpetual tailgate party in twilights thick with brushfires. In the book I’m currently working on, titled Relocations—the same book that’s keeping me from enjoying summer break at its fullest—I argue that there’s something tremendously creative about turning convenience into pleasure, about the acts of imaginative transformation that can turn a parking lot into a new socialscape without leaning on the crutch of “cool.” The artist Paho Mann’s work on rehabbed Circle K’s (featured in the image above) is just one example.

    Like an earnest, yet otherworldly cover version, these spatial improvisations take the familiar hum of someone else’s song and make them fulfill another purpose—make them speak to other places, bodies, desires. So in that spirit, I leave you now with four artsy girls from Brighton exploding a classic, daddy-drama slow-roller by Jersey’s (and for that matter, the U.S. of A’s) resident Boss. While Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” is all about the quiet tension of self-control, Electrelane’s rendition outruns discipline and threatens to come unhinged, (d)evolving into a queer, feminist YAWP.

    Electrelane: I’m On Fire
    From On Parade (Too Pure, 2003)

    And just like summer, it’s over too soon.


(Editor’s Note: I met Adam Mansbach through Jeff Chang, back when I was living in the Bay Area and Adam was moving to Berkeley. Besides mutual friends, Adam and I discovered all sorts of shared interests, from collecting funky blues LPs to arguing over race and the politics of hip-hop. We collaborated for the mix-CD for his Angry Black White Boy. Adam most recently published his latest novel, The End of the Jews. –O.W.)

Poor Righteous Teachers: Shakiyla
From Pure Poverty (Profile, 1991)

A smooth-with-the-roughness tribute to the black woman (remember when rappers did those?) from Trenton’s finest. I think it’s the hypnotic violin line – which PRT’s Jarobi/5 Foot Excellerator-esque do-little sideman (remember when rappers had those?) Culture Freedom pretends to play in the video – that makes this song so summery. It’s sort of reminiscent of the keyboard line to Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness,” and a perfect counterpoint to Wise Intelligent’s dense, medium-tempo chatting, almost Eek-A-Mouseian in its sing-jay stylings. This is the ideal song to play from huge speakers at an outdoor summer concert before A Tribe Called Quest comes on, as my man DJ Kebi did in 1995 at Columbia University; “Shakiyla” killed despite the fact that maybe fifteen of the ten thousand people listening knew the track. It was the highlight of the whole day, in fact – far more fulfilling that Quest’s “we’re contractually obligated to give you forty-five minutes, y’all, but we gonna show love and rock for forty-six” set.

Otis Redding: That’s a Good Idea
From Love Man (ATCO, 1969)

This exemplifies a musical category I think of as “songs that sound like they’re massive, classic, Burger King-commercial-status songs, but really aren’t,” which I mean as a compliment. This is an ideal song to play at a point in your all-day barbecue when energy seems to be waning due to prodigious and prolonged food/beer/weed consumption, the sun is beating down, and your cousin’s kids are pestering everybody to play whiffle ball. From the little RZA-ready breakbeat up front to the horn arrangement to the sweet, life-affirming lyrics, this is like Memphis in a bottle, a revivifying tonic that only takes about eight bars to make everybody perk up and decide yeah, what they hell, why not have another beer and pitch to a seven-year-old?

Mixmaster Spade and the Compton Posse: Genius is Back
From 12″ (LA Posse, 1988) Also available on The Ultimate Collection Vol. 1

One of my greatest regrets is that I never got to interview the dearly departed Spade, an elder statesman of LA hip hop who taught kids like King Tee and DJ Alladin how to rhyme and spin in his Compton garage. I’ve been obsessed with this dude since I heard this song on WERS in Boston in 1988, an obsession I share with such wise men as Jeff Chang and DJ Frane. Spade has one flow, a singsong baritone cadence that never varies whether he’s kicking cautionary tales (as on the equally-classic “Better Bring a Gun”) or murdering the “Genius of Love” beat. It doesn’t have to: it’s impossible to tire of. He’s loose, he’s charismatic, and if he’d been from the Bronx he would have been an old-school legend. This song works in any summer setting, but it may be best suited for pumping in the whip (top-down, if possible) while on the way to the liquor store or supermarket, pre-barbecue.

Grachan Moncur III: New Africa
From New Africa (BYG, 1969)

A long, mellow, sublime tune written by trombonist Moncur, who I wish had recorded more than he did. I forget who else is on this, and I’m 3000 miles away from my records right now, but this is a beautiful tune that might be categorized as ‘spiritual jazz,’ although I kind of hate that term (as opposed to what? Secular jazz?). It’s both propulsive and delicate, equally appropriate to listen to whether watching a purple-gold-pink sunset or basking in the first rays of a July morning.

Ahmad Jamal: Tranquility
From Tranquility (Impulse, 1968). Also on Complete Recordings.

It’s always pointed out that Jamal was highly regarded by Miles, and for good reason. He’s such a tasty composer and player that even the irascible egomaniac who never stopped insisting he bought Trane that soprano had to give up the love. You might think ten minutes is a long time to listen to a piano trio play one song, but this will change your mind. An irresistibly soulful tune that manages to be straight-ahead jazz, and yet so much more.

Faze-O: Riding High
From Riding High (She, 1977)

Super-obvious, but it might still be the joint you break your DJ rule for, and play twice in the course of that six-hour barbecue.

Smoothe The Hustler: Broken Language
From Once Upon a Time In America (Profile, 1966)

Summer in Brooklyn, when you’re grilling on a little-ass hibachi on your front steps, drinking a Heineken, and feeling simultaneously giddy and vaguely hostile. I still hold this down as perhaps the greatest hip hop song ever, as measured by pure lyrical energy and hungriness. You can’t fuck with the chemistry between Smoothe and his brother Trigga (whose Def Jam album never came out; anybody got that?), or the simple, dope, minor-key piano loop and snapneck drums provided by D/R Period. These guys invented a new diction on this song, most of their illest shit never came out, and they were so lyrically-focused that they thought this was a single! Sample line: “I run with/half a hundred/illegal funded/forty-five I gun with/five I run with.” Who’s fuckin’ with that? Special shout out to rugged-picture-poser Jon Caramanica on this one.

Melvin Van Peebles: I Remember
From As Serious as a Heart Attack (A&M, 1970)

Drunken politically-astute off-key warblings over a ridiculously dope six-minute-long drumbreak from the only guy who could get away with such things. This is one of those songs where everybody gets quiet when you throw it on, like ‘what’s that?’ And if you listen to the whole thing, you find Melvin getting truly heated about halfway through; he’s got some serious ish on his mind, and the band takes it up a notch too. This is for after the sun has gone down, on one of those days when, like Raekwon said: it feels hotter at night.”

Pharoah Sanders: Prince of Peace (a.k.a. “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah”)
From Izipho Zam (Strata East, 1969)

Leon Thomas (RIP) is the vocalist on this gorgeous, searching excursion, one of many early-seventies recordings that show why Pharoah really was the inheritor of Coltrane’s meditative, exploratory aesthetic. Anthemic and inspiring, perfect at about eleven in the morning when you’re making coffee, thinking about showering, generally getting ready for a long say of hot fun in the summertime and feeling hopeful about the universe.

Brigadier Jerry: Three Blind Mice
From Jamaica Jamaica (RAS, 1985

I feel like I’m opening a whole new can or worms by even getting into reggae. I could happily fill a summer with nothing else – rub-a-dub deejays all day long, dancehall at the club, dub while I’m working, early-nineties hip-hop reggae mashups (Bounty Killer over the “C.R.E.A.M.” beat? What!) as aural Red Bull, and so on. It’s always summer in JA, seen? Brigadier Jerry – the great Sister Nancy’s older brother – didn’t record as much as a lot of his contemporaries (Yellowman, Welton Irie, Lone Ranger, etc) but he got massive respect, as evidenced by the fact that his name is always the final one mentioned in everybody’s requisite list-of-every-deejay-ever “connection” song (the reggae version of the ‘hip-bone’s-connected-to-the…’ joint). Here, his great voice and magnetic personality transform an old children’s song into a classic rub-a-dub workout. Great horn arrangement, too.


(Editor’s Note: Roberto “Beto” Gyemant is an old friend around here (even if I only met him about a year ago); he’s becoming one of the leading chroniclers of Latin music in Central and South America thanks to his work on the Panama and Colombia anthologies. That just scratches the surface of where he’s headed (a Panama 2 comp is due out this fall) and wherever Beto leads, you know Soul Sides will follow. —O.W.)

Written by Roberto Gyemant:

When I think of summer songs, the first thing that pops in my mind is DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime”, or Mary J. Blige and Method Man’s version of “You’re All I Need to Get By”… For some reason I have this vision of driving down Monterey Blvd. in San Francisco, going toward the freeway past the liquor store where, if you turned left, you might get lost in the Sunnyside area that in my highschool years was one of a number of “rival” territories. That’s when San Francisco had ethnic and working class neighborhoods, and you had to watch where you went and who was walking down the street toward you. Not to romanticize that too much, but it had its charms.

Going back a little further, I think about my brother Towtruck George’s huge picnics in Golden Gate Park, barbecued hotdogs, cragmont drinks… Footballs whizzed through the air, caught by little puffy headed fools like me (with long curls past the collar), wearing either a Montana, Jerry Rice or Ronnie Lott jersey. Harleys were started and raucously revved. And blasting from a boombox was a Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”, ZZ Top’s “La Grange”, Malo’s “Suavecito”, War’s “Slippin Into Darkness” and anything by native son Carlos Santana.

Summers seemed to last forever then, but they go by so fast now (grumble grumble). Since I see many contributors have covered the R&B and Hip Hop territory, and know much more about it than I do, I’ll focus on a few songs I have been listening to lately, and am playing this summer at the Elbo room in SF (last Friday of every month: come by and enjoy).

For those interested, I played some related songs on KUSF’s Friday night session with Andrew Jervis a few weeks ago.

Catalino y su Combo: Tan Bella y Tan Presumida
  From Tan Bella… y… Tan Presumida! (Orbe Colombia, 1964)

This is Catalino el Negro de Barranquilla (Colombia). Catalino is great, really raw, tons of swing and attitude. Most of his covers have him straddled by two white girls in bikinis. This song, a big hit in the region in the mid ‘60s (Venezuelans loved it) is listed as a Tamborera, a bouncy, percussive folklororic form from Panama (which used to be “Colombia’s black province” before 1903). That Catalino executed it so well in Barranquilla is no surprise: look at a map, its just up the coast, and turtle fishermen made the circuit from Colombia to Panama and Costa Rica annually.

  What’s really interesting about this song, other than its’ hot hot heat, is pay attention to the beat… does it remind you of a form that’s flooding the airwaves right now, emanating from Latin America? I won’t name the form, you figure it out, but listen to this: that form, say those in the know, originated in Panama, not in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. So did the Tamborera. Wait, am I saying that that form came from or was influenced by the Tamborera? You decide.

Los Curramberos de Guayabal: Guayabita Colora
From Los Curramberos de Guayabal Vol.3 (Tropical Colombia, 1965)

Los Curramberos de Guayabal (note: different than Los Corraleros de Majagual) were a little vallenato-style cumbia supergroup from the Carribean coast of Colombia that included the likes of Alberto Pacheco and Anibal Velasquez. I love this song, and hear it as a perfect fusion of accordion-led Vallenato and hot Afro percussion. The diversity of Afro-Colombian music is mind-boggling. Colombia is somewhere between 20-40% black, with that population concentrated along the coasts, which is where the Cumbia, Porro and Vallenato all come from.

Ceferino Nieto y su Conjunto Bella Luna: Zum Zum Babae
From 7” (El Estilista Panama, 1967)

Ceferino Nieto is one of the greats of Panama’s Musica Típica scene. Ceferino’s cover of Zum Zum Babae highlights the link between Panama’s and Colombia’s Mestizo/Mulato/Afro country music culture, with its raw percussion and accordion mastery. It also points out how deeply Afro-Cuban music penetrated Panama, that those from the deep countryside were moved enough by this classic Cuban guaracha to spin their own version. Panama was always a critical center for the diaspora of Afro-Cuban music. Beny Moré and Perez Prado played (and were celebrated) there before they exploded in the US and Cuba. Even through the “salsa” explosion of the late 1970s Fania test marketed many songs in Panama, because if it could pass the fans there, it stood a good chance of being a hit in the wider “salsa” world.

Los Silvertones: El Baile del Araña
From 7” (DiscoMundo Panama, 1969)

This song is listed as a “bosanova”. Leave it to the musicians of Panama in the 1960s and 70s to take a bossa nova beat, marry it to a funk bassline, and blow funky yet very Caribbean hornlines over it. It occurs to me that there was a certain openness that came from living during that period and being a talented, bilingual Afro-Panamanian whose parents were English speaking Jamaican and Bajan laborers. The combination of being liminal to Panama, not quite accepted, brilliant, bilingual, and black: and exposed to Jazz, Afro-Cuban music, Brazilian music, James Brown, The Impressions, Carlos Santana… I don’t know. But it’s the only way I can begin to explain “El Baile del Araña”, which fittingly, composer Carlos Allen told me was just them messing around in the studio. Sigh.


Editor’s Note: It is difficult to imagine a more influential, contemporary music writer than Greg Tate. Since first emerging in the 1980s as part of the Village Voice‘s remarkable collection of talent, Tate has become the critical voice of a generation, especially for hip-hop and R&B obsessives, but his range is far beyond that of a “rap critic.” As insightful as he is incisive, political and polemical without being a demagogue, Tate was a major force behind ushering in a new era for rock and pop criticism. His collection of essays from the mid-1990s, Flyboy in the Buttermilk had a profound effect on me as a budding writer and a decade-plus later, he continues to inspire, including with his 2003 anthology Everything But the Burden. Tate is currently working on a biography of James Brown. For his summer songs post, he takes us back to 1989 – the number, another summer, hot damn – and the sound of Soul II Soul’s funky drubbing. –O.W.

Written by Greg Tate
    Soul II Soul: Keep On Movin’
    From Keep On Movin’ (Virgin, 1989)

    There are songs about summer and then there are songs that own summertime, in ways Gershwin would scarcely recognize and that Sly Stone used to epitomize. The last time i experienced a summer song as a full-blown cultural phenom was when Soul II Soul burst onto Gotham’s underground club scene in 1989 with “Keep On Moving”.

    Some of us thought we were at beginning of the next British Invasion–”Only This Time They’re Taking The Hood. ” “Keep On” was an instant classic if there ever was one and made a slow burn through the city’s soul-house dance clubs that winter. It remains one of those rare mid-tempo but guaranteed-to-rock-the-floor anthems, mainly because of Caron Wheeler – a then-new, amazing voice with a smooth and otherworldly Afro-diasporic attack–a kind of Black power action figure turned astral figure, skating above the beat in ways that seemed to fuse Sarah Vaughn’s lush and resplendent surface with Aretha’s aching and triumphant heart.

    It was also modern R&B’s first real answer to the call of Public Enemy, spiritually and sonically. Not in obvious ways mind you–but unless I’m way-all-kindsa-wrong, “Keep on Moving” was the first major R&B radio hit of its era to use a classic, sampled drum loop-(Oliver thinks it from Graham Central Station’s “The Jam”) to as powerful an effect as P.E. were around then. I also hear in Nelee Hooper’s crisp arrangement the embrace of Barry White’s lowdown symphonic love-funk. The lyrics were vague enough to be taken as just about dancing but any time Black people start talking about the sun and what time it is, I tend to smell revolution cooking in the air. Soul II Soul’s power-trio of dreads–Wheeler, ringleader Jazzie B and serpentine dance-weaver Wunmi, all silhouetted on the 12” single and on the album’s cover, made you wonder if something more incendiary was brewing behind those instructions to keep it moving.

    When it comes to #1 hits, 1989 was not a year big on racial uplift on the soul charts, nor big on hip hop. Only De La Soul’s “Me, Myself and I” coming atcha from the mean streets of Amityville, Long Island made the cut that year and even in Brooklyn, women in locks weren’t a preferred look for a sister in R&B drag. For those of us under the spell of P.E.,N.W.A., KRS-One, De La and Tribe more than Chuckie Booker, Babyface and – yikes – Jermaine Jackson (who also scored a #1 that year if you really want to put a bygone era in complete perspective), Soul II Soul loomed as the antidote from across the pond to the refried and over-synthesized black bourgeois light bedroom fare that R&B had become by then.

    If you found your soul release in clubbing back then you knew there was this thing called tribal house that was keeping the funk alive but Soul II Soul had opted not for house’s four-on-the-floor bacchanal. They chose instead a throwback to a more laid-back and lush moment when arrangers like Barry White and Gamble and Huff had perfected a groove for urban dance songs that privileged chill-syncopated-sensuality over hot-sexual-gymnastics. I remember the song being a balm and a lift to the assembled whenever it came on; Wheeler’s transcendent and insistent voice taking you back to an even more bygone moment in R&B history, the halcyon and honestly never overhyped 60s, when Sly, James ,Gladys, Curtis and Marvin made even their love and dance songs seem as galvanizing and topical as King’s dream of people getting to the mountaintop.

    The point at which I knew “Keep On” truly owned the city that summer was when I heard it rumbling full blast out of every crewed-up jeep that rolled through my crack house infested neighborhood, Harlem’s Washington Heights. The song’s loud and proud embrace by Harlem’s most thuggish was itself a throwback to the days before gangsta and rap machismo were smushed together and the roughest cats anybody knew favored the smoothest music around. By the time Soul II Soul was set to debut one especially humid late-summer night at NY’s old Palladium, the stage was set for a UK soul takeover. And as he jeeps barreled up and down 14th street blasting the song upon arrival from The Bronx, Brooklyn and uptown, the distance between the basement, the march, the church, and the pavement got obliterated.

    Unfortunately, by the time the band got to New York, internal strife had caused a split between Jazzie B and Wheeler; she wasn’t there, they took way too long to come on, air went out of our collective sails, et al. What should have been their triumphant Manhattan arrival was a major letdown. The Soul II Soul family wasn’t broken–the group went on to sell more records–but neither Wheeler, Jazzie or me ever had another soul-power summer moment like the one ‘Keep on Moving’ made jump-off.