South African quartet Urban Village joins French label No Format to announce a debut album with the single “Sakhisizwe” along with a contagious live recording.
Feet steeped in tradition and head bowed toward the future, the Soweto based group Urban Village creates a unique melding of Zulu guitars, indie-folk, South African choirs and jazz and dazzled with an insane energy and charisma.
Lead by singer Tubatsi Mpho Moloi and his spellbinding voice, Urban Village crafts songs with a wide range of colours – sometimes powerful, sometimes gentle, always airborne.
Today, they release “Sakhisizwe” (To build a Nation), the first single from their new album, due to release in 2020 on french label No Format. It’s a joyous tune, buoyed along by catchy Zulu guitar riffs, a melodic flute that cuts across the rhythm, and chants of hope in Zulu and English. The single contains powerful lyrics in which “the young Urban Village generation consult ‘the ancients’ to rediscover a coherence, to trace a new and luminous path forwards and to build a new Nation together”. In the current context of South Africa, where fear of the other has far from disappeared, the song resonates with the times.
Urban Village appear at Afropunk in Johannesburg on 31st December 2019.
Following the success of his debut track ‘Kwele’, French artist and producer James BKS shared ‘New Breed’ and it arrives with an animated video.
The first artist signed to Idris Elba’s label 7Wallace, ‘New Breed’ comes as James BKS works on his debut album. Son of the legendary Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, James BKS who grow up in the US produced for Talib Kweli, Snoop Dogg, and Mr Eazi as well as French music icons Booba and Soprano.
An ode to Africa and empowerment, ‘New Breed’ perfectly merges James music DNA with Cameroonian roots and urban beats enhanced by the lyricism of hip-hop legend ‘Q-Tip’, multi-talented actor and artist Idris Elba, and Mercury Prize-nominated rapper Little Simz. Speaking of the collaboration James explains: “Little Simz, Idris Elba, Q-Tip and me strongly and proudly represent the New Breed movement, it’s not only the name of the track but the new modern way to approach music with no borders, no judgment, no labels. We have learned from our past mistakes and victories and our eyes are on Africa, while in the meantime we embrace our own personal paths, respectively in the UK for Little Simz and Idris Elba, in the US for Q-Tip and in France for me”.
James chronicles his search for balance through his music,”the Cameroon percussions and rhythms are the lungs of my tracks, the hip-hop bass their spine, and the Swahili gospel chants their heart”.
After more than a forty-year absence, Ayalew Mesfin is back on November the 8th with the Debo Band, for a big concert at the Le GuessWho? festival in Utrecht, Netherlands. For PAM, the Ethiopian funk legend revisits prison time, the superstar era and a life filled with musical activism, from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Denver, USA.
Although extremely popular in Ethiopia in the 1970s, Ethiopian funk has remained rather hidden to the rest of the world until 1996 when Francis Falceto began his Éthiopiques compilation series (Buda Musique): a priceless catalog compiling hundreds of the wonders of Ethiopian and Eritrean music from the 1960s to the 2000s. Some major artists such as Mulatu Astatke, Mahmoud Ahmed or Getatchew Mekurya enjoyed almost instant international success following their (re)discovery, however the time had not come yet for Ayalew Mesfin, although he was featured on the Éthiopiques’ 8th volume as early as 2000, and again in 2009 on Golden Years of Modern Ethiopian Music, 1969-1975.
Among the twenty-one tracks of the album, it is only “Hasabe” that features fuzzy guitars and wah-wah effects, composing a funk hit that James Brown himself could have easily written and performed. The song caught the attention of a few North American diggers, including Stones Throw Records’ team and Madlib’s brother Oh No, who immediately sampled the singer’s vocals on “Ethiopium”. That very fuzz guitar, and in particular its author, Eothen Alapatt – aka Egon – tracked them down for over ten years. Until 2018 when – victory! – the boss of Californian label Now Again finally reissued a compilation of Mesfin’s greatest hits, fittingly titled “Hasabe (My Worries)”. He explained: “I like to think that our reissues are more than just records; they are puzzle pieces to rebuild history and perhaps do justice to those we have erased from official books.” This is also the case for Ayalew Mesfin, who added: “This reissue was for me the most beautiful of rebirths.”
A MODERN MUSICIAN
Born in the ’40s in Weldiya, in the north of the country, Ayalew Mesfin soon gave in to Addis’ advances in order to realize his “deepest dream: to become a modern musician” in the footsteps of Tilahun Gessesse or Tamrat Molla who he was listening to on loop on the radio. Defying his father’s authority that condemned his musical profession, Ayalew Mesfin was 11 when he settled in the Ethiopian capital. In order to survive he successively held the position of waiter, doorman and cashier in chic restaurants before losing sight of music to opt for a military career. He became a member of the Ethiopian Republican Guard, dedicated to the protection of “His Imperial Majesty” Haile Selassie I. “It meant you had to be highly trained, qualified and respected,” recalls Ayalew Mesfin. “I did not want to disappoint my father.” Except on one evening, while passing by the monumental Arat Kilo (a sort of obelisk in central Addis that commemorates the end of the Italian occupation), Ayalew Mesfin ran into one of his idols in the middle of a rehearsal session, and thanks to a good shot of nerves, found himself immediately hired by Gétatchèw Kassa and his Soul Ekos Band.
The adventure did not last very long, however Ayalew Mesfin would never change his path: he left the army and opened a venue, The Stereo Club, then a shop, the Ayalew Music Shop, where he sold records, instruments, state-of-the-art sound systems and recording equipment directly imported from Germany. “I was 24 years old and I was so happy! We were pioneers at the forefront of modernity,” he recalls. “It was phenomenal! I was selling the records of my idols – Mahmoud Ahmed, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Sayed Khalifa, Jimi Hendrix, Fela Kuti, James Brown – to both local and international customers,” he continues, referencing the Organization of African Unity (OAU) founded in 1963 by Haile Selassie and other countries’ heads of State, and the unique atmosphere of “Swinging Addis” and crazy times of electric nights in an Ethiopia emblematic of a then independent and non-aligned Africa.
In 1973, Ayalew Mesfin founded the Black Lion Band and he proved to be a real showman. Dancing and screaming a la James Brown, and his afrobeat-infused psychedelic funk was contagious: the band performed a great deal of sold out shows all around the country. “People were offering us gold, jewelerry, coffee, honey and so much love… what a time!” exults the musician. He may put traditional Ethiopian instruments aside – such as washint, krar and kebero – and substituted them with brass, electric guitars and drum kits, Ayalew Mesfin never forgot where he came from. “Ethiopia has plenty of original rhythms that range over the last 2000 years, since Saint Yared and his pentatonic reggae riddims, and we have our own kinds of bossa, boogie, salsa, and the tizitas too… [t/n: one of the Ethiopian music modes, loaded with melancholy] So I did not have to imitate anyone,” he says proudly. But the golden age of music turned sour on September 12, 1974 when, after months of famine and insurrection, Emperor Haile Selassie is overthrown by a military junta, giving way to fifteen years of bloody dictatorship.
I USED TO LOVE YOU
Ayalew Mesfin now lives a peaceful life in Denver, USA, where he has been doing his best to bring “unity, love and peace” to his community for over twenty years. “But I miss my soul, happiness, integrity and heroism: all are buried there in Ethiopia,” he sighs.
The phone line crackles, Mesfin’s voice seems to dwindle, and fades out.
We were so naive,” admits Ayalew Mesfin. “We wanted a change, but no one imagined what would happen next. I indeed initially supported the Derg revolution, but when they slaughtered sixty intellectuals and started the genocide, that became unacceptable.” Did he think about exile? No way.
From then on, the young man entered in resistance, “my only weapon my music, still I was ready to do everything to defend my flag, my nation and my people”. Under the cover of love songs, Ayalew Mesfin cheerfully criticized the terrorist regime of Colonel Mengistu Haile Maryam and his government. Paradoxically, it was also the Black Lion Band’s most prolific period, a backing band with which he would record dozens of hits such as “Libe Menta Hone” (“My heart divided”) and “Ewedish Nebere” (“before I loved you”) at Kaifa Records, among other labels. But the artist-activist became trapped in a vise.
Ayalew Mesfin would spend three months in prison and thirteen years under house arrest, his music was banned from radio airplay, and every single Addis Ababa’s music venue and record shop: from 1977, the singer was silenced for having begun the distribution of 4000 anti-government propaganda audio cassettes. Betrayed by one of his best friends – “a double agent” in fact –, the musician still considers himself “the luckiest man in the world: they exterminated people for far less than that: raising their eyes to the sky was enough. Thank God, they did not kill me, but I still do not know why.” Could his past in the army have saved him? Despite his misfortune, Ayalew Mesfin continued to take risks: in a secret studio he does not want to reveal anything about, he recorded the work of protest musicians he does not want to say anything about either – ”patriots,” he validates.
At the fall of the Derg in 1991, the Red Negus left behind a bloodless Ethiopia, after fifteen years of authoritarian and murderous “socialism”. Ayalew Mesfin was released but did not find peace: the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (EPDM) rose to power but was democratic in nothing but name, according to him. Ayalew Mesfin buckled down to the preparation for ሰላም ለኢትዮያ – Peace for Ethiopia, a record just as virulent as the previous ones and went back on stage for a unique concert in Nazareth (Ethiopia). There, a new dramatic turn of events: in the middle of the show, the singer received a high voltage electric shock through his microphone.
“3500 watts! Fortunately, the microphone had just escaped my hands two seconds earlier,” says Ayalew Mesfin, laughing bitterly. ”Otherwise the EPDM would have succeeded in its mission, and I would have died fried on stage in front of thousands of people. I was bothering too many people, it became really dangerous.” Then cornered, a heartbroken Ayalew Mesfin eventually left his country in 1998.
“I have forgiven everyone who betrayed me, imprisoned me, tortured me. My life and my career could have been on a different scale, that’s for sure, but I have no regrets,” he says. Today if his musical activities have nothing to do with his former life as a protestor-superstar in his native country – especially because a large part of the Ethiopian diaspora lives in Washington DC, and not in Denver like him –, the almost 80-year-old Ayalew Mesfin seems very far from surrendering. First because he is still at war. ”Francis Falceto bought the rights for the recordings from Amha Records and Kaifa Records for his Éthiopiques series, but I never received a single penny: this is theft! It makes me very sad but you will see, one day, the judgment will come,” he exclaims, before adding, “I hate YouTube too”. In response to the accusation, a somehow surprised Francis Falceto formally denies having bought any of the aforementioned rights: “I was only a go-between, I own nothing, I own none of the rights on the masters published in the Éthiopiques. The licenses, he says, were directly signed between Amha Records, Kaifa Records and Buda Musique.”
Since the release of Hasabe (My Worries) on Now Again, Ayalew Mesfin can move forward, at last, especially as he’s working on a new album! Except that with the recent inter-community violence – between the Gumuz, Sinasha and Amhara ethnic groups in particular – and the military attacks at the Eritrean border, both events that have already caused the death of dozens of civilians since the start of the year, the musician cannot give resistance a miss. “ ‘Hasabe’ means ‘my worries’ and, believe me, this song is still very actual when I see that Ethiopia can not find peace. So on my next record – the most beautiful of all – I will lash out at Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, and at all the incompetent African leaders who steal their own people to get rich themselves.”
Since our conversation, Abiy Ahmed has received the Nobel Peace Prize but that day, Ayalew Mesfin concluded by saying: “I am still an activist and the struggle continues.” At that moment, the translator and first fan of the singer burst into tears, as if carried away by Mesfin’s panache and asked me: “Don’t you think he looks like Mandela, Luther King or Buddha?” Check for yourself on stage at Le GuessWho ? festival!
Le Guess Who? 2019 will take place from November 7 to November 10 at various venues across Utrecht. Day tickets for Le Guess Who? are on sale now. Tickets for the Thursday program are €43; tickets for Friday, Saturday and Sunday are €48. 4-Day Festival Passes are available for €148. All prices include service costs. For more information, head over to the Le Guess Who? website.
If you are familiar with THE ISLEY BROTHERS, then you know Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, CHRIS JASPER, an integral member of THE ISLEY BROTHERS during the 1970s and 1980s—their gold and platinum years—from the 3+3 (1973) to Between the Sheets (1983) albums. These were the years when THE ISLEY BROTHERS were a self-produced, self-contained group.
If you are familiar with THE ISLEY BROTHERS, then you have heard the music of CHRIS JASPER, who was primarily responsible for writing, arranging and producing all of THE ISLEY BROTHERS music during this time, including such beautiful love songs as “For The Love of You” and “Between the Sheets” and uptempo funk such as “Fight the Power.” His arrangements and instrumentation as a classically-trained musician, and his expertise on the keyboards and synthesizers, are the foundation of the legendary “Isley Brothers Sound.” When the six members of THE ISLEY BROTHERS disbanded (1984), Marvin and Ernie Isley joined CHRIS JASPER and formed ISLEY-JASPER-ISLEY. Without this crucial musical component, THE ISLEY BROTHERS were no longer a self-produced, self-contained group.
CHRIS JASPER brought his “unique sound” and musical talents to ISLEY-JASPER-ISLEY, and topped the charts singing lead vocals on “Caravan of Love” (1985), a song that was covered by English recording group, the Housemartins, an international #1 pop hit. “Caravan” was also used in commercials as part of a Dodge Caravan advertising campaign. He was also awarded a CEBA Award For Excellence for a Miller Brewing Company commercial. The music for that commercial formed the basis for “Brother to Brother” from the “Different Drummer” album, which supported the anti-apartheid struggle going on in South Africa at that time. His music has also been used in radio and television commercials, including “Who’s That Lady” (Swiffer) and “Between The Sheets” (L’Oreal).
When ISLEY-JASPER-ISLEY disbanded (1987), CHRIS JASPER brought his “unique sound” to his own solo projects, topping the charts with “SuperBad,” a song promoting the value of education. CHRIS JASPER has continued to write songs and produce his own R&B and Gospel music, as well as other artists, for his independent record label, Gold City Records.
CHRIS JASPER’s music has been covered and sampled by hundreds of new and established recording artists, including Whitney Houston, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Gwen Stefani, Fantasia, Will Smith, Alliyah, Queen Latifah, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Natalie Cole, Jaheim, Kendrick Lamar, and the list goes on and on. His music has also been used in many movie and television soundtracks.
In 1992, CHRIS JASPER, along with the other members of THE ISLEY BROTHERS, was inducted into the ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME and in 2014, received a GRAMMY LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD. In 2015, CHRIS JASPER received the German Record Critics Lifetime Achievement Award ("Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik"). In 2016, Chris was awarded the National R&B Society Lifetime Achievement Award. Chris also received the BET Lifetime Achievement Award and numerous ASCAP awards.
BACKGROUND AND EDUCATION
Chris Jasper was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on December 30, 1951, the youngest of seven siblings. While growing up in Cincinnati, Chris studied classical piano starting at the age of 7 years old. After graduating from high school in Cincinnati, he moved to New York to study music composition at the Juilliard School of Music.
Chris received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in music composition from C.W. Post College in New York, where he studied under noted jazz pianist and composer, Dr. Billy Taylor. He subsequently received a Juris Doctorate degree from Concord University School of Law.
THE JASPER/ISLEY CONNECTION
The Jasper and Isley families lived in the same apartment complex in Cincinnati, Ohio. Chris’s older sister, Elaine, married Rudolph Isley. The three older Isley brothers, Rudolph, O’Kelly and Ronald, formed a vocal trio (“The Isley Brothers”) and relocated to Teaneck, New Jersey.
While temporarily living in New Jersey as a teenager, Chris and the two younger Isley brothers, Marvin and Ernie, formed a band, “The Jazzmen Trio”, that played locally in New Jersey. Chris played keyboards, Ernie played drums and Marvin played the bass. Along with Chris, Ernie and Marvin also attended C.W. Post College in New York. While in college, Chris, Marvin and Ernie played on the older Isley Brothers recordings, including “It’s Your Thing”.
THE ISLEY BROTHERS YEARS
In 1973, Chris, Marvin and Ernie brought the songwriting and musical component to the older brothers vocal trio, making The Isley Brothers, a self-produced, self-contained six-member group. Their debut release as a 6-member band on their CBS-associated label was the 3+3 album.
Although all 6 members of the Isley Brothers are credited as songwriters on the music from this era, this was a business arrangement and does not reflect the creative reality. Chris was the primary songwriter/musician, producer and arranger of The Isley Brothers music from 1973 (“3+3”) through 1983 (“Between the Sheets”), with contributions by younger members Ernie and Marvin Isley. Chris’s arrangements and instrumentation as a classically-trained musician, and his expertise on the keyboards, synthesizers and other instruments, have been credited as the foundation of the legendary “Isley Brothers Sound.” In 1984, the 6-member group disbanded due to internal problems.
In 1984, Chris, Marvin and Ernie formed Isley-Jasper-Isley, a self-produced, self-contained trio, with Chris as the lead singer of the group, continuing his role as the primary songwriter/musician, producer and arranger. Isley-Jasper-Isley recorded 3 albums on their CBS-associated label, and earned recognition with their #1 hit, “Caravan of Love”. “Caravan” was covered by English recording group, the Housemartins, who made the song an international #1 hit.
In 1987, Isley-Jasper-Isley disbanded and Chris embarked on a solo career. Chris formed his record label, Gold City Records, and released two albums as a CBS-associated label. His debut single, “Superbad” reached #1 on the R&B charts. Eventually, Marvin and Ernie returned to record under the Isley Brothers group name, and Chris continued his solo career, releasing a total of 15 solo albums to date, including 4 urban contemporary gospel CDs.
Chris has also produced a number of artists for his Gold City label, and has worked with such notable artists as Chaka Khan, writing and producing a song for her CK album (“Make It Last”). Chris’s music has been covered and sampled by numerous new and established recording artists, including Whitney Houston, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Gwen Stefani, Fantasia, Will Smith, Alliyah, Queen Latifah, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Natalie Cole, Jaheim, Kendrick Lamar, and the list goes on and on.
Chris works closely with his son, Michael Jasper, who released his debut album “Addictive” on the Gold City label at the age of 16 in 2010. “Addictive” was written and recorded by Michael, and co-produced by Chris. In 2017, Michael released "Make It" from his forthcoming CD “Dreams.” Chris and Michael are currently working on a film score for an original screenplay by Michael Jasper.
Chris has received numerous gold and platinum albums and music industry awards, including the BET lifetime achievement award and many ASCAP awards for his songwriting. In 1992, Chris, along with the other members of The Isley Brothers, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and in 2014 received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015, Chris received the German Record Critics Lifetime Achievement Award ("Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik"). In 2016, Chris was awarded the National R&B Society Lifetime Achievement Award.
Chris and his wife of 36 years, Margie, live in New York.
ISLEY BROTHERS YEARS
3+3 (CBS) 1973
Live It Up (CBS) 1974
The Heat Is On (CBS) 1975
Harvest For The World (CBS) 1976
Go For Your Guns (CBS) 1977
Showdown (CBS) 1978
Winner Takes All (CBS) 1979
Go All The Way (CBS) 1980
Grand Slam (CBS) 1981
Inside You (CBS) 1981
The Real Deal (CBS) 1982
Between The Sheets (CBS) 1983
Broadway’s Closer to Sunset Boulevard (CBS) 1984
Caravan of Love (CBS) 1985
Different Drummer (CBS) 1986
Superbad (Gold City/CBS Associated) 1988
Time Bomb (Gold City/CBS Associated) 1989
Praise the Eternal (Gold City) 1992
Deep Inside (Gold City) 1994
Faithful & True (Gold City) 2002
Best of Chris Jasper…With Love (Gold City) 2003
Amazing Love (Gold City) 2005
Invincible (Gold City) 2007
Everything I Do (Gold City) 2010
Inspired (Gold City) 2013
Thank You Jesus (Gold City) 2014
The One (Gold City) 2014
The Essential Chris Jasper (Gold City/Sony Legacy) 2015
Share With Me (Gold City) 2016
Dance With You (Gold City) (July 2018)
For The Love Of You (Gold City) (October 2019)
Vicious & Fresh (Liz Hogue) (Gold City/CBS) 1989
Out Front (Out Front) (Gold City) 1995
Brotha 2 Brotha (Brothaz By Choice) (Gold City) 1998
Make It Last (Chaka Khan “CK” album) (WB) 1989
Addictive (Michael Jasper) (Gold City) 2010
Harvest For The World (Average White Band) (Average Enterprises) (2017)
Make It (Michael Jasper) (Gold City) (2017)
FOR BOOKING AND MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
GOLD CITY MUSIC
Chris Jasper’s Official Website: ChrisJasper.com
Chris Jasper on Facebook: Facebook.com/Chris.H.Jasper
Chris Jasper Fanpage: www.Facebook.com/CHJasper/Twitter: @RealChrisJasper
Gold City Music Website: GoldCityMusic.com/
Gold City Music Facebook: Facebook.com/GoldCityMusic