Freitag, 26. Juni 2009

Moonwalking in Space

Michael Jackson R.I.P.
For a great personal account of the whole thing, I'd like to refer you to Combat Jack.

As you might (or might not) know, Michael Jackson learned most of his dancing from Jeffrey Daniel - including the legendary moonwalk. Jeffrey Daniel started his career as a dancer on the TV show Soul Train and later became became known as a member of the disco/dance group Shalamar. Here's Jeffrey Daniel performing Shalamar's biggest hit "A Night To Remember" on the British show Top of the Pops in 1982:

Check out the first appearance of the moonwalk on TV, at about 1:40 into the video. When it comes to breaking, I have always been a big fan of the West Coast styles: popping & locking & slides & glides, i.e. all that pantomime and robot stuff that you see Daniel performing. He was probably the first to bring that street style to popular attention.

Needless to say, it was up to Michael Jackson to perfect it ... but if you review his dancing you will be surprised how many breaking moves he actually incorporated. The moonwalk is taken from the legendary Bucharest performance:

Ironically, there is a second person who claims to have taught Michael Jackson the moonwalk: Michael Chambers aka Boogaloo Shrimp. While that claim might not be 100% true, Boogaloo Shrimp is possibly the only dancer who could hold up against Michael Jackson: His liquid style was just incredible. As an L.A. native, he was also influenced by West Coast popping & locking. After appearing in "Breaking & Entering", a documentary on early 80s L.A. breaking and hip hop, he had his commercial breakthrough starring in the 1984 Hollywood production "Breakin". Here are 2 of my favorite scenes:

Here's a fun fact about "Breakin": If you carefully watch the following scene and resist the temptation to only look at Lucinda Dickey, you will spot an extra in a black bodysuit, busting some of the wackest moves ever seen. Yes, it really IS Jean-Claude Van Damme:

P.S. As I am writing this (2 a.m.), somebody is blasting "Beat it" in the street. YEAH!

Sonntag, 21. Juni 2009

African Weeks on Cosmic Rock: N.E.P.A.

If you are talking about African music you have to talk about afrobeat. Invented by Fela Kuti - charismatic Nigerian bandleader, lauded for his muscial creativity & political achievements, criticized for his misoginysm and homophobia -, afrobeat is a mixture of American funk & jazz with traditional African elements.

My favorite piece of afrobeat is Tony Allen's 1985 ep "N.E.P.A.". If you are following this blog and like the kind of music I am writing about, I am sure you will love this. Tony Allen was Fela Kuti's drummer and much of the beat in afrobeat is due to him. "N.E.P.A." is an acronym for "Nigerian Electrical Power Authority", the official Nigerian electrical supplier. Since that agency is notorious for its unreliability and somewhat erratic services, Allen flipped the meaning to "Never Expect Power Always". And of course, even if you don't know that background, it can still be understood as a political statement.

While Fela Kuti's songs can be 20 minute epics, Allen cut the fat and imposed a rigid framework on his music. He tightened up the songs' overflowing quality, reduced the jazzy improvisations and turned them into repetitive patterns that are very reminiscent of modern dance music. The sound is also quite modern: hard hitting drums and a fat, punchy bassline provide the backdrop, while occasional brass stabs slice through the mix. The African polyrhythm is still audible, but it has transformed into a real beat: kick and snare now assume a much bigger role than in traditional afrobeat where they were equal to all other percussion instruments.

The ep has two songs and their respective dub versions. There is one bonus track that wasn't featured on the original release but on the 2002 CD reissue which has also been out of print for some years now.

1. N.E.P.A. (Never Expect Power Always)
2. N.E.P.A. Dance Dub
3. When One Road Close (Another One Go Open)
4. When One Road Close Dance Dub
5. Olokun


Last but not least, some shameless self-promotion: I stole was inspired by the beat of "When One Road Close" for one of my own songs, the mystic "Ruwenzori (Mountains of the Moon)". You may decide for yourself if I succeeded in creating that deep spiritual vibe I was aiming at:

DOWNLOAD Ruwenzori

Sonntag, 14. Juni 2009


Sorry to all my readers for the lower frequency of posts lately ... blame it on the summer. Here's some miscellaneous stuff before I return to substance.

- As you might have guessed from two of my previous posts (here and here), I have been a long-time fan of Glass Candy. I got to know them in an indie rock context and they seem to be mainly catering to that crowd, so it was great surprise to see that they made it into the latest issue of Wax Poetics.

- Also in that issue there's a long article about the legendary Roger Troutman of Zapp fame. It got me browsing through some talkbox videos on the tube where I found this gem:

- I've been spinning the new Lee Fields album a lot lately. I'm no expert in that genre but I like how Fields (and his backing band, The Expressions) channels the old school vibe of soul's glory days without sounding deliberately "retro":

- And last but not least, if you have a lot of time on your hands check out Phunkula's blog. This is my favorite site on the web when it comes to electro and old school hip hop mixes. Featuring many classic and sought after mixes and Phunkula's own wonderful "Boombox" series.

Sonntag, 7. Juni 2009

Changes & Subtleties in 35 years of Pop Music

Isaac Hayes - Hung up on my Baby (1974)

Geto Boys - Mind playing Tricks on Me (1991)

2nd II None - If You Want It (1991)

Glass Candy - Geto Boys (2008)

P.S. Bad luck for 2nd II none that "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" flipped that sample a bit better and became the anthem of 1991 while they stayed largely unnoticed. Their 1991 debut album (produced by DJ Quik) is a soulful and funky piece of pre G-funk West Coast gangsta rap ... highly underrated. Check out the first single off that album which is sampling another classic ... Curtis Mayfield this time.