June 29, 2010

SERGE GAINSBOURG - Gainsbourg Percussions (1964)

Serge Gainsbourg created this, his first of many concept records, out of African and Carribean percussion rhythms.  Still relatively new to the scene in 1964, Gainsbourg's fanbase was mostly confined to Chanson-jazz afficianados.  Gainsbourg Percussions (1964) is a divergent path for the fated Dirty Old Man of France and an overlooked gem.  In the early 60s, the Chanson genre was on the decline as American pop took over French radio. Later in the decade, Gainsbourg jumped on the yé-yé  bandwagon, writing a slew of pop hits for notable French ladies. 

Besides a few boring Chansons thrown in for his original fanbase, Afro drums remain at the forefront, and Gainsbourg's gravelly drawl couldn't be more indifferent.  He even lists off the names of different buildings he saw on a vacation in "New York USA" (actually an appropriation of Babatunde Olatunji's "Akiwowo").  Females chant rhythmically in accompaniment, the best example being "Les Sambassadeurs" which ends with the sounds of riots in the street and automatic gunfire.

• I also recommend this kinescope for "Couleur Café ," Gainsbourg's only hit from the album.  

June 5, 2010

June 3, 2010

ግልጽ ያልሆነ ጉድጓድ: Tlahoun Gèssèssè

"Tlahoun Gèssèssè (ጥላሁን ገሠሠ), known across Ethiopia and Sudan as "The Voice," first came to stardom at age 18 when he joined the Imperial Bodyguard Band.  Passionate performances as lead singer for the band would often end with tears streaked across his face.  His thinly veiled protest songs put him in hot water with Emperor Haile Selassie and he was thrown into prison when the Imperial Bodyguard attempted a coup d'tat in 1960.  He was eventually released when growing opposition against the Emperor forced him to adopt a more tolerant attitude to the music and night life of the capital city. Tlahoun Gèssèssè went on to become Ethiopia's most popular singer in the "swinging Addis Ababa years" of the 60s and 70s.

•  More ጥላሁን ገሠሠ you crave here, here, & here.
The Ethiopiques series has made Tlahoun Gèssèssè's music widely available in the West for the first time.
Minyahel Tlahoun followed in his father's footsteps and became a star when he was still a teenager.

June 1, 2010

LA LUPE - La Era de la Lupe (1968) + Dos Lados De Lupe (1968) + Definitivamente La Yi-Yi-Yi (1969)

"A sado-masochist with a sense of rhythm." – Guillermo Cabrera Infante

La Lupe's act was an exorcism.  Her fans gave her the nickname, La Yiyiyi, for her ecstatic cries and wails.  On stage, she picked at her face compulsively, pulled her hair and bit herself, clutched her breasts, and tore her clothing.  She flung herself back and forth as she sang until her shoes, clothes, and wig were strewn about and her make-up smeared with drool. 

Guadelupe Yoli grew up in 1930s Santiago, Cuba under a strict father and a stepmother who hated her dark skin.  She skipped school one day to enter a radio contest, winning first prize and booking clubs immediately.  She caused a stir throughout Havana with her epilectic sex appeal.  Considered a poor role model and much too vulgar for the general public, she was also revered by other artists like Tennessee Williams, Hemminway, Sartre, and Picasso.  Deemed too risque by Fidel Castro himself, La Lupe was exiled first to Mexico, then to New York City, shortly after the Cuban Revolution.   

In New York, La Lupe's popularity soared when she partnered with Tito Puente.  It wasn't La Lupe's violent performances that proved too controversial for Tito Puente.  His career enjoyed a second wind due to their partnership.  Her raw boleros serve as an obvious bridge from the popular Big Band sound enjoyed by  America's middle class style to a barrio style that forged the New York City Salsa scene in the 60s and 70s.  But her public devotion to Santería-- which remained steadfast during even her greatest time of wealth and fame-- proved too provocative for Puente.  And he feared his association with La Lupe's dark arts might sully his squeaky-clean persona.  Divinations of evil spirits and bad omens caused her to behave erratically, even cancelling appearances at the last minute.  Puente abruptly ended their partnership by kicking La Lupe off their tour in 1968, replacing her with El Lupo (aka El Yiyiyo), a drag queen impersonator.

Though she continued to record throughout the 70s, she was nevertheless forced into obscurity.  Puente famously told their mutual manager: "I'm not working anywhere that that black woman plays."  Excessive payments to santeros and battles with drug abuse brought La Lupe to poverty.  In 1984, she suffered a severe spinal injury while trying to hang a curtain.   She was briefly homeless after an electrical fire destroyed her home.  Some years later, she was healed miraculously by an evangelist at a Christian Crusade.  She abandoned Santeria and briefly became a Pentecostal minister before dying at the age of 55.