on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2017 6 Nov


von: Manafonistas Filed under: Blog | TB | 12 Comments

Where do old times start when wild things run fast like life does anyway? What. Repeat. Where do old times start when wild things run fast like life does anyway? And what kind of future is prevailing if some artists and acts had created strange, possible musics long before these sound worlds became part of a general consent. Sometimes the futuristic sound worlds of past decades even recurred on older „schools“.

The most magical 2017 reissues from Japan and Spain came on the heels of American minimalism, but informed with a different cultural climate. And speaking of New York City: who thought this autumn would reveal a lost power pop masterpiece of sorts linking the clever anarchism of David Byrne‘s band with the heartfelt spontaneity of Jonathan Richman. Yes, The Necessairies with Arthur Russell, a record that only makes sense when you listen to the whole album in a row. Addictive.

And isn’t it funny so many re-discoveries or first discoveries this year came out of the generally disrespected ´80s and that era’s secret laboratories, from the Grant Avenue Studios in Hamilton, Ontario, to some some really desolate home studio facilities? And one of the most beautiful reissues of this year and the years before this year is one I really missed when it happened. I heard it a week ago for the first time ever, and I thought, well, let‘s talk again about old times and a different version of the future. Halt and catch fire!

So what‘s your favourite reissue of the year. Easy to name the Beatles, Eno, Hassell, or Radiohead. Or some ECM classics from Garbarek to Brahem. But what is the peak at the margins, the hinterland / underground stunner, the ancient, future-caring work crossing your ears as something out of nowhere. Hard choice to make, for me it is an album I will probably quite excessively play in the „Hörnum Jukebox Hour“ during my radio night at the end of December.

“M’Pasi Ya M’Pamba,” the first track on Hector Zazou and Bony Bikaye‘s 1983 collaboration Noir et Blanc, sounds like few other songs in pop music history. It buzzes, hisses and clangs like vintage industrial, its groove something like a higher fidelity take on The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette,” or a technologically advanced Suicide. But add to it the hypnotic vocals of Congolese singer Bikaye, and it takes on entirely different context—a composition with one foot in African pop and the other in a post-punk electronic avant garde. It’s not an obvious fusion, conceptually, but it works brilliantly.

Noir et Blanc, reissued by Crammed Discs more than three decades after its original release, has become an underground cult favorite since its inception on its balance of seemingly boundless experimentation and undeniable accessibility. Released after Talking Heads had introduced mainstream American audiences to Afrobeat and before Paul Simon would find similar inspiration in African music, Noir et Blanc—featuring a band of avant-rock veteran collaborators, CY1—built bridges to heretofore undiscovered territory. It’s music that finds celebration in pulling musical preconceptions apart.

To hear it from the label, the sessions that spawned the album were something like science fiction. “Wall-sized analog computers,” operated by screwdriver-wielding technicians, wires and cables creating an intricate network of spiderweb infrastructure, peculiar linguistic descriptions to drive the direction of the sounds—it all adds up to a strange kind of tech wizardry that was no doubt unusual for the time, and seems even more foreign from an era in which albums can be made on iPads. Yet the sound of the record only amplifies that imagery of wild laboratory experimentation. The eerie bounce of “Mangungu” gallops into outer space, while “Mama Lenvo” is at once a chorus of mbiras and frantic synth arpeggios.

The experimental spirit of Noir et Blanc, unbound by mainstream expectations, is what makes it so consistently thrilling. The abrasive guitar scrapes and persistent percussive stomp of “Dju Ya Feza” creates a weird mutation of industrial, whereas the steady lurch of “Lamuka,” complete with a glorious chorus of saxophones, is one of the album’s most compelling grooves. Not that the album as a whole ever loses its wild, psychedelic allure. When the album’s musicians were committing these tracks to tape, they often sent them through effects and took on an unpredictable, trial-and-error approach.

The final tracks, however, are some of the most vibrant and innovative to have been released in the 1980s, which later translated into a funkier electronic touring band approach after the album’s release. Zazou, Bikaye and CY1 brought a spirited sense of discovery and exploration to their studio sessions that are easy to hear on the finished product, an album so forward thinking that we still haven’t caught up to it, three decades later. (It‘s out now, on vinyl, remastered, new liner notes and comments included.)


(written  by Jeff Terich & Michael Engelbrecht)

This entry was posted on Montag, 6. November 2017 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. ijb:

    I don’t think I have any overwhelming tips for newly discovered, previously unknown treasures, I’m afraid. First thing that comes into my mind mind, though, is Tony Visconti’s remix of the Bowie „Lodger“ album (1979). An adequately great mix of this album had been on Bowie’s and Visconti’s minds for decades (Bowie, in 2001: “I think Tony and I would both agree that we didn’t take enough care mixing. This had a lot to do with my being distracted by personal events in my life and I think Tony lost heart a little because it never came together as easily as both Low and ‚Heroes‘ had. I would still maintain, though, that there are a number of really important ideas on Lodger.”), and this one was apparently done with Bowie’s approval, even though he did not hear all the finished tracks before he died.

    My opinion also was that the album was mostly not as well-liked because of its final mix. It’s quite different from „Low“ and „Heroes“ and can very well stand on its own merits. But this new remix to me presents the album in its definite version, its true greatness.

    Visconti writes: “It has been well documented that David and I always wanted to remix Lodger but there never seemed to be a good time to do that. In 2015 we were making Blackstar together and David was also busy with his musical Lazarus. There were short periods when David wasn’t in the studio, yet I was in a high state of creativity. I opened up Fantastic Voyage and started to mix it and after a few hours I left it in a better state than I had found it (I did more tweaking later on). A few weeks later I tackled African Night Flight and Move On. Then I knew this album could sound great. After I had mixed Yassassin and Red Sails I surprised David with the results. He was extremely pleased and gave me the green light to finish mixing the entire album. Because we were still working on Blackstar that year I never got a chance to complete it until later in 2016 due to my other production commitments and Holy Holy tours.”

  2. Michael Engelbrecht:

    I only liked two tracks of it – African Nite Flights and Yassassin. But a new remix is a a new encounter. Hope it will get a separate release. Without the box. So, you don‘t know this Zazou collaboration?!

  3. uwe Meilchen:

    Re Mastering issues re: new Bowie boxed set: / parlophone-hold-its-hands-up-to-bowie-box-heroes-issue-and-takes-action …

  4. Peter:

    Always stays with me. Found this:

    „Noir Et Blanc is a signature record for Crammed Discs, the Belgian label that has curated an eclectic roster of artists from around the globe since 1980 (Tuxedomoon, Konono No. 1, Arto Lindsay and more). Originally released in 1983, Noir Et Blanc marks the first collaboration between Algerian-born / French-resident Hector Zazou and Congolese singer Bony Biyake, joined by an interesting cast of characters including analog synth duo CY1 (Claude Micheli and Guillaume Loizillon), Fred Frith, Marc Hollander and (future producer of the Congotronics series) Vincent Kenis.

    Within this inspired marriage of Central African music and post-punk electronics, Zazou’s arrangements are kept minimal, yet funky through his supple sequencing. Amidst the choppy, art-rock guitars and mechanized polyrhythms, Noir Et Blanc always turns its focus back to Biyake’s marvelously rich voice.“

  5. ijb:

    No, I did not know about this Noir et Blanc album until now. As it seems, this being released in 1983 the album was apparently unknown to most people, and so it was a bit before my active time as a buyer of music. I listened a bit to it on their bandcamp site and it seems highly interesting. Very cool stuff. However, I first have to pick up that Necessairies LP. Too many expensive items out there at the moment.

  6. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Hector Zazou was a very interesting composer. I have (had) several of his records that covered quite some ground. But not this one, and it‘s soooo good. He even did one witz Harold Budd :)

  7. Olaf:

    My favorite Reissue is Through the looking glass, which has been my most immersive listening experience so far this year. But I have the feeling that Music for Nine Postcards is a strong rival … but that hasn’t been sent to me yet.

  8. Lorenz:

    the first time Hector Zazou caught my attention was with „Sahara blue“. His Rimbaud Project with fine, selected musicians and collaborators. A great record as well as „chansons des mere froides“ and „glyph“ together with Harold Budd.

    For me he seemed a kind of project producer assembling these fine musicians, speakers, actors for special topics similar to maybe Kip Hanrahen, Hal Willner and Jun Miyake.

    I would like to recommend „les nouvelles polyphonies courses“. Corse Choirs, also produced by him with an astonishing guests (Jon Hassell, Manu Dibango, John Cale, Richard Horowitz, Steve Shehan, Ryuichi Sakamoto).

  9. ijb:

    Not really a reissue, but the 5 cd box „Day of the Dead“ is among my 20 favourite releases of the year. I never knew where to start listening to the Grateful Dead, so I never knew any of their songs or albums – until I bought this box with 59 of their songs reinterpreted by many great artists, often backed by members of National (who curated this collection), such as Lee Ranaldo, Lucinda Williams, The War on Drugs, Flaming Lips, Vijay Iyer and many others.

    After that I finally bought a few Grateful Dead albums, one after another.

  10. Michael Engelbrecht:

    So, this is your cover album of the year :)

  11. Michael Engelbrecht:

    „Noir et Blanc was released in 1983, yet it still sounds like a broadcast from the future. The work of Congolese and French musicians using analog synthesizers, strange effects, stranger time signatures, and acoustic instruments—steel guitar, clarinet, kalimba—and singing over them in Swahili, Kikongo, Lingala, and pidgin French, it reappears now not so much as a reissue, but as a boomerang across space and time. The title, which translates as “black and white,” doesn’t do justice to a collision of sounds and ideas that yields something more like an iridescent spray of color, like a firehose shot across a beam of sunlight. Far from binary opposites, its composite parts break down into a thousand dynamic shades of grey. It is an album that unseats assumptions.

    Most records this influential inspire reams of imitators, sometimes entire genres. That this one did not might come down to the uniqueness not just of its sound but also its circumstances. Kinshasa’s Bony Bikaye was living in Belgium, working on an album by a Congolese soukous band, when he told the French composer Hector Zazou of his interest in krautrock and Stockhausen. Zazou made some introductions, and Bikaye was soon in the studio with the electronic musicians Guillaume Loizillon and Claude Micheli (collectively known as the duo CY1), who laid down knotty sequences and gurgling metallic textures while Bikaye multi-tracked his voice in warm, woozy layers. This reissue makes five of their demo recordings available for the first time, and they sound wonderfully alien: weird, vine-like tangles of arpeggiated synthesizer and sweetly harmonized vocals, robotic and ghostly all at once.

    Zazou played the demos to Crammed Discs, a Belgian label with post-punk roots and globe-trotting tastes, who liked what they heard, and the group reconvened in a Brussels studio to record a proper album, assisted this time by a handful of collaborators. Crammed co-founder Marc Hollander played clarinet, and Vincent Kenis, his bandmate from the group Aksak Maboul, contributed spidery guitar—shimmering harmonics, desert-blues pedal steel. The British progressive-rock legend Fred Frith contributed scraping violin to a few tracks. Lithe, raindrop-like pulses alternate with convoluted rhythms in 5/8 time, and drums related to Jamaican Nyabinghi drumming link up with sounds found on Depeche Mode’s earliest recordings. The record’s time-traveling powers are apparent in its very few bars, which sound for all the world like brisk, blippy dancehall reggae from two decades hence, and from there, all bets are off. Congas run through ring modulator erupt into soft bursts of white noise; Hollander’s clarinet traces a Balkan melody, while Bikaye playfully explores the depths of his gravelly baritone.

    At times, it’s difficult to tease out exactly what is electronic and what’s acoustic. In the liner notes, Kenis describes how Konono Nº1, whom he had discovered around that time, inspired his use of guitar effects, and in “Mangungu,” his guitar bristles with harmonics, while vine-like synths wrap around a convoluted rhythm. In “Eh! Yaye,” a dry, flat drum machine is garlanded with pings, chimes, and even a bicycle bell, while Bikaye’s voice is spun into an entire chorus. Kenis’ guitar solo here—a tribute to to Demola Adepoju, King Sunny Ade’s steel guitarist—is among the album’s most electrifying moments.

    “Dju Ya Feza” comes closest to the period’s post-punk: The grinding beat sounds almost industrial, and the dissonant, hardscrabble guitar glows red hot. Perhaps it’s because Bikaye’s almost comic style of sing-speaking here is so seductive, but no matter how hard you listen, you can’t quite catch everything that’s going on in the background: chirping birds, flying sparks, the whine of ricocheting bullets. “Munipe Wa Kati” explores the same idea to more dulcet ends, weaving plucked kalimba and electronic birdsong around a synthesizer pattern that leads the ear away from conventional notes and toward the realm of pure texture. For these musicians, making sound was a kind of sleight-of-hand, and electronics were alchemical tools for turning familiar sounds deeply unfamiliar.

    Adding to the strangeness of it all was the fact that the names on the record’s front cover—ZAZOU/BIKAYE/CY1—obscured more than they revealed. There was little indication that CY1 was a duo, for one thing, and even less that Zazou didn’t play a lick of music on the record. It was a trio masquerading as a quartet masquerading as a trio, basically: Bikaye, Loizillon, and Micheli shared writing credits, while the record was “directed” and arranged by Zazou, according to the fine print. (This was Zazou’s M.O.; in 1993, The Wire described him as “a convener” in the mold of Bill Laswell or Peter Gabriel: “a strong attractor, the hub of a conferencing system through which musicians of the world meet.”)

    The record wasn’t entirely without precedent. Two years earlier, Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts had run non-Western sounds through Anglo-American art-rock and electronic processing. That same year, Craig Leon’s Nommos had channeled Malian mythology into all-electronic compositions whose metallic machine beats anticipate the sound and texture of CY1’s rhythms. Still, the sound of the record was wildly anomalous for the period. Even today, with modular synthesis arguably more popular than it’s ever been, CY1’s twitchy oscillations sound like a transmission from another planet, and it’s hard, if not impossible, to think of another record, then or now, that combines such far-out beats with such hypnotic Central African melodies.

    Whatever accounts for the magic that created the album, it was a one-time thing. CY1, Bikaye, and Zazou would tour together, but the full group never put out another record; there’s nothing else in CY1’s discography at all. And Zazou and Bikaye’s subsequent albums Mr. Manager and Guilty !, with their garish gated snares and comparatively conventional electro-funk flourishes, only underscore how remarkable Noir et Blanc was, and is. Thirty-four years later, its quicksilver palette sounds as joyously original as ever.„

    Philip Sherburne, Pitchfork

  12. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Crammed Discs is famous for releasing eclectic global oddities, but even by their standards, Noir et Blanc is something special. Originally released in 1983, the album is a collaboration between cult French composer and record producer Hector Zazou, Congolese singer Bony Bikaye, and electronic composing duo CY1. Vincent Kenis, who would later helm the Crammed Discs Congotronics series is also on board. The result is an album of glorious Afrofuturist electronic bleep and bump which sounds like it was transmitted from an alternate universe by funky retro-mainframes.

    Sometimes, collaborative world music albums discover one new vibe and stick with it from beginning to end. By contrast, Noir et Blanc keeps spinning endless new variations on African boogie. “Dju Ya Feza” is a new wave rave-up reminiscent of a more metal-tinged, sweaty Talking Heads, with Bikaye growling and ominously declaiming the lyrics like a cross between Dracula and Cookie Monster. “Munipe Wa Kati” couldn’t be more different—a gentle lyrical tune with bird whistles set against electronic bloops and what sounds like a sawed violin. “Lamuka” is built on a foundation of repetitive, stiff keyboards, but adds in languid Afrobeat horns and Bikaye’s easy vocals; it’s “We Are the Robots” if the robots in question were AI implanted in flesh. The final track, “Woa,” is a joyful celebration of cross-cultural compatibility; the melody sounds a bit like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but the echoey percussion of this collaboration avoids Graceland’s terminal preciousness.

    The real revelation of the album, perhaps, is the balance it strikes between natural and artificial. Kraftwerk is often seen as a definitively European band, despite its huge influence on hip-hop and funk. But the ease with which Congolese rhythms fuse with echoes of “Trans-Europe Express” suggest that maybe the Germans had a computer-enhanced ear turned to another continent. Thirty-four years after it was released, Noir et Blanc sounds like the cyborg future we were waiting for the whole time.

    —Noah Berlatsky

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