Now into its sixth year and the 28th edition. For the uninitiated the Roots playlist showcases an eclectic range of music from across the globe of unfamiliar, forgotten, or recently discovered, to the most upfront sounds of now, all with the common theme of being rooted in Africa.
Some of the highlights this time round include:
Marijata – No Condition is Permanent (1976)
Marijata have been a standout reissue among afro funk collectors in recent decades, unearthed by Soundway Records for the now legendary Ghana Soundz Vol. 2 compilation in 2004. The short lived band, formed in the mid ‘70s by Kofi Addison (guitar), Bob Fiscian (organ) and Nat Osmansu (guitar), made a name for themselves as the backing band for the legendary highlife singer Pat Thomas. They released three records, with the second, ‘This Is Marijata’, an instant hit and timeless classic, commanding upwards of £800 on the second hand market, until a much needed reissue brought it back into the hands of the public in 2011. It’s a killer album, but ‘No Condition Is Permanent’ is the one to listen out for, with an infectious low slung breakbeat and brazen horn riffs clashing with a powerful vocal delivery and funk-laden rhythm guitar.
The Reality Band and Show – Gangster Boy (1977)
This incredible bit of modern soul was incorrectly attributed for years to Wanda McDaniels & Ultimate Choice, doing the rounds on a white label acetate in the hands of highly dedicated soul collectors. Scottish DJ and reissue saint, Euan Fryer, who runs the tireless reissue imprint, Athens of the North, tracked down the co-producer Ronald Crawley, the brother of Wanda McDaniels. It turned out that the band were in fact The Reality Band and Show, from Newcastle, Pennsylvania, who as far as we know don’t have any other credits to their name. There was some backing from Wanda McDaniels and members of Ultimate Choice, but nothing is remembered of the incredible lead vocalist other than the name Gladys. The track has an indolent groove, with lush funk licks and a calm and steady backbeat. The chorus backing vocals have a hauntingly romantic effect, singing ‘you make me feel so real’, but the real treasure is the lead: virtuosic, powerful, but restrained.
Light Touch Band – Chi – C – A – G – O (Is My Chicago) (1982)
Very little information is available about the Light Touch Band, who released one single in 1982, with the incredible A side track, ‘Chi – C – A – G – O (Is My Chicago)’. The track was written and produced by the prolific Lenny LaCour, who moved from Louisiana to Chicago in 1950, wrote several hits from rockabilly to soul and founded the labels Busy Bee, Score Records, Magic Touch Records and Dynamic Sounds. This track is a long way from his rockabilly origins, the kind of blissed out proto-balearic funk that only the early ‘80s could give us. Opening with a hard as nails slap-funk bassline, it isn’t long before the track is joined by shimmering sun-kissed guitar leads and funk rhythms, uplifting early hip hop vocals, and meanders into reverb drenched piano breakdowns, which keep the track moving and flowing for a whole eight minutes, without losing interest. Amazing stuff.
Alkibar Gignor, Alkibar Jr – Adouna (2022)
In our own days, with the all-pervasive internet granting us access to practically everything that exists under the sun, it’s hard to imagine a level of obscurity that characterises some of the previously mentioned music, with lost credits, bands dropping singular 7” stunners and dropping right off the map, and years of work dedicated to unearthing this music and making it available to the public. But sometimes something brand new comes along that feels revolutionary in the way it brings something wholly unexpected to light, dependent in itself on our modern technological condition. The Music From Saharan WhatsApp compilation released by Sahel Sounds is one of those moments. The label issued a callout on Whatsapp, to which a whole host of musicians from the Sahel region responded with recordings of live performances captured on mobile phones and sent back via Whatsapp. It’s an incredible and innovative use of the technology, using it to capture the sounds of a region populated mostly by semi-nomadic peoples. Alkibar Gignor and Alkibar Jr.’s stunning Adouna is an energetic track driven by raucous breakbeat drums, jangling guitars and chorus vocals.
Marcos Valle – Não Tem Nada Não (1973)
One of the better known names in this list, Marcos Valle is legend of Brazilian popular music, fusing the traditional sounds of bossa nova and samba with psychedelic rock, funk, and jazz, gathered during his prolific international touring schedule from the 60s on. This outstanding track comes from his amazing 1973 album Previsão Do Tempo, and was a favourite of beat scientist and renowned crate-digger, Madlib, who included it in a compilation of Brazilian beats for his Medicine Show mixtape series. It’s a really stunning tune, backed by Azimuth, another huge name in the canon of Brazilian music. The backing music is incredibly tightly wound and emanating an impossible level of energy with totally restrained elements. The percussion drives a linear beat while a rhodes piano and low key funk stabs hit individually in their own perfect place in the arrangement. The incredibly tight verse sections give the held jazz chords in the chorus a sense of lush beauty, while Valle’s vocals are both rhythmic and indolent. Incredible!
Mark Barrott – Kyoto (2022)
Back to the current century, this one comes from the prolific producer Mark Barrott, whose journey started with drum & bass in the ‘90s, but who has since become known among the wave of neo-Balearic artists who came to prominence in the last decade, as the reissue craze unearthed tons of amazing and forgotten music from across the world. Kyoto (京都) wears its inspirations on its sleeve, sitting comfortably in the sound world pioneered by Japanese ambient artists such as Midori Takada and Hiroshi Yoshimura in the early ‘80s. Its lush synth soundscapes are combined with a rhythmic counterpoint influenced by traditional Japanese drum music as well as the American minimalism of Steve Reich and Terry Riley, which in turn drew its inspiration from a multitude of polyphonic drumming styles from Africa, as well as Indonesian gamelan music. A gorgeous and shimmering track, providing a soft landing to this selection.
These are just some of the highlights in what I hope is an enjoyable musical journey that spans across continents, generations and genres…
A huge thanks goes out to labels such as Now Again, Light In The Attic, Numero Uno and Luv N’ Haight, Analog Africa, Music From Memory, Africa Seven, Far Out Recordings, Strut, Mr Bongo and Soundway, who continue to unearth some of the most unique and amazing music that may have otherwise never seen the light of day.