OK, maybe that's overstating it a little... It's called Groove Network (that's what that skinny new header at the top of the site is all about) and its more like a modest (but growing) community of individuals who love music, music-making and/or nice warm valves; and are well-versed in the black arts of Teh-Blog.
Currently, the brethren of our Ancient Lodge includes the following Exalted Ones:
Noise Addicts (our spiritual leader who can rightfully refer to his exceptional site as an online magazine without fear of being called a wanker);
OddInstruments (who captivates us with fantastic instruments from around the world and fills us with unhealthy amounts of envy);
Duck and Cover (who are masters of indie reviewry and will probably be rich and famous before the rest of us can the find the stairs that lead out of our basements);
Contrapuntist (who writes long, thoughtful posts about music and things other than music, and damn well deserved to be on Huffington Post. Bastards!);
USO (who are Matteo Milani and Federico Placidi, who are accomplished and well-respected digital/electroacoutic musicians);
Bleepology (who arouses us with write-ups and images of come-hither-patch-cable modular synths and barely mounted hardware);
DIY Audio Projects (who are the kings of crackling vacuum tube hi-fi boffinery);
Frequency Blog (who are the gearhound's gearhounds);
Waveformless (who is Tom, a professional electronic musician with impeccable taste in eBay gear-porn and a passion for Ultravox.)
And me (who well... um, not sure why I'm here... 50 Cent remixes of Czech folk songs, anyone?)
Our favourite alt-ethnography label, Sublime Frequencies, has a new record out and – surprise! surprise! - its another absolute corker. This time round, its an all-too-brief survey of the vibrant roots of contemporary Algerian rai called 1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Underground.
If you had even a vague interest in world music during the early 90's, then you probably would have heard of rai music, a style of North African pop that was notable for the rough but hypnotic wailing of male vocalists like Cheb Khaled. But even if you missed that, then you might have heard Desert Rose, an insufferably bland piece of car-commercial music by Sting that became an international hit in 2000 and featured golden-throated young rai star, Cheb Mami, whose contribution was sufficiently over-produced to render it innocuously exotic.
For much of the history of rai, though, "innocuously exotic" is probably the last thing you would have accused it of being... The genre began life in the 1920's when rural Bedouin peasants, who had been robbed of their land by French settlers, moved to the port city of Oran to work in the factories there. They naturally brought their traditional songs with them and fused them with those of the local cabarets to produce the musical bastard that became known as rai.
From the start, its lyrics focussed heavily on the lives of its urban poor audience, and often broached subversive or taboo subjects like drinking, police harassment and forbidden love. Such subject matter ensured that rai would remain officially banned until the 1980's.
Its birth in cross-pollination also meant that rai musicians were always amenable to absorbing influences and instruments from elsewhere. This started with borrowings from the music of the French colonisers and was followed, in the latter half of the century, with the incorporation of elements from Western rock and pop.
1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Underground focusses on this last stage of rai's development prior to it becoming acceptable and going mainstream. It showcases eight tracks from the “bad boys” of the time, who were injecting a raucous, rockin' sound into the genre and using Western instruments like trumpets and electric guitars with wah pedals. The following track, by one of the godfathers of modern rai, Messaoud Bellemou, is typical of the sound of the time – boisterous trumpet (courtesy of Bellemou), clattering rhythms, droning organ, and vocalist, Sheikh Benfissa, wailing over the top of it about... owning a car. No slick production values here, just wildly infectious frisson and fun.
The album which is only available as an LP at the moment, can be purchased from Forced Exposure (scroll down to the bottom of the page).
While I was researching the recent posting on Taraab, I unexpectedly stumbled upon the MySpace page of Russian hurdy-gurdy maestro, Andrey Vingradov. I've been intrigued by this instrument ever since I first heard Keiji Haino bend it to the service of his stark experimentalism. Upon hearing the mournful gorgeousness extracted from it by Vingradov, I am irrevocably sold. His droning compositions are truly a wonder to behold and, as an added bonus, he sings like an older Slavic Thom Yorke. (Not on the featured track, though, that's instrumental. Go here to hear him sing.)
There is nothing you might love in this world that cannot be made more awesome with the addition of a little Jozin z Bazin. The Prodigy? Check! 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg? Check! Polish disco? Well, maybe less so... But the kids in Polska have still been going mental over the disco-fied version of this classic slab of Czech silliness
Jozin z Bazin, which tells the story of a bog monster from the sticks who eats city snobs and can only be defeated by a crop-duster (?!), was a domestic hit in the late 70's for the Ivan Mladek Banjo Band, a kind of Czech equivalent of the novelty skiffle bands that were all the rage in 50's English music halls.
The performance from Czech TV that has gained notoriety via YouTube is memorable for Mladek's louder-than-bombs plaid jacket, a bearded, less-drug-fucked prototype of Bez from The Happy Mondays, and a human non-sequitur who appears at the 2:00 mark and... well, just see it for yourself.
FURTHER MLADEK FUN FACT: This guy apparently invented a guitar-shaped synthesiser called the guitarino.