1 Mandamentos Black 2 Just For You 3 Andando Nos Trilhos 4 Esse É O Nosso Black Brother 5 Swing Do Rei 6 Hereditariedade 7 Foi Um Sonho Só 8 Uma Chance 9 God Save The King 10 Blows
I’m wasn’t planning on writing at length about this album, but November is ‘Black Consciousness Month’ in Brazil. I’m running out of time to post a record in solidarity, and recent events in AmeriKKKA have left me feeling pretty shitty today. So why not spread some cheer? Mind you, it is kind of ludicrous that there even *needs to be* a “Black Consciousness Day” in the one country that has the most people of African descent outside the continent of Africa, but there you go… The actual holiday was November 20th, to mark the date in 1695 when the ex-slave and quilombo leader Zumbi of Palmares was beheaded. The commemoration itself wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for some serious grassroots mobilization that went on in the 70s. In short, it means different things to different people, it has its problematic aspects, but it’s definitely worth some respect.
One could say the same about Gerson King Combo, actually. I sometimes think I’m in the minority in my opinions about Gerson King Combo, but then again at some of my friends share them so maybe I’m not such a freak. Let me start by saying I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Gerson perform live four or five years ago at the Mercado Eufrásio Barbosa in lovely Olinda, and the guy is still quite a showman and force of nature. I have no regrets about making that show, none at all.
But his actual records present an uncomfortable thing for me – I often find myself wishing I could just listen to the Combo swing their thing without Gerson singing on top of them. The band is tight as hell and the arrangements are smart and engaging. But as someone who’s been a big James Brown fan since I was twelve years old, it’s hard not to break out laughing when I hear Gerson shouting “good God!!!”.. Most of the funk jams on the record don’t feature him singing so much as vocalizing, occasionally bursting into exclamations of “aaachk-ck-ck-ck-ck-ck-aaaack owww!!” To me it almost begins to seem like a parody, as if Gil Brother was fronting a band in the 70s. Oddly enough when he does some soul ballad crooning, like on “Foi um sonho só,” he’s not a half bad singer at all, even if he’s certainly no Tim Maia. But on the dance-floor rump shakers, I find his vocals kind of distracting and in constant danger of giving me a case of incurable giggles. I think it’s fair to say that Gerson King Combo’s importance lay more in the role he played in iconography of the Black Movement of the time, whether as a performer or as an immediately recognizable sound when a DJ put on one of his records at a baile. He cut an imposing figure, and it’s a case where the attitude and image were inseparable from the music.The significance of that shouldn’t be underestimated, but his recorded output and legacy does not cast the long shadow that many of his peers can claim.
The opening cut, “Mandamentos black,” is a classic of the genre. And there is lots of other fun stuff here (Swing do Rei, Hereditariadade, Uma Chance are all winners), and some socially conscious lyrics in the middle of it all. Even my ears eventually “adjust” to Gerson’s voice when I’m in the mood for this album. But still, if anyone uncovers a tape of the all-instrumental mixes, please send me an email, okay?
Since I recently took a long break from blogging after being called an imperialist gringo pig spreading misinformation about cultures and countries that aren’t mine. So it may be a while before I begin posting lengthy pontifications again about whatever records happen to be tickling my earhole on any given week. Let me be perfectly clear that I am not from Trinidad andTobago, Barbados, Brooklyn or the Bronx and can make no pretense of authority on this music. In fact I only started collecting it a few years back. I could extrapolate on how I am interested in the ludic, carnivalesque aspects of it from a cross-cultural perspective, its place in the black musical diaspora and Caribbean history and sugar production, it’s cutting and off-color humor…
Or I could just stay that I’m drawn to it because it’s groovy.
This blog is about the discovery of music. Sometimes for you and sometimes for me as well. I started this blog in 2008 as just a fun way to kill some time when I was ‘between jobs’, so to speak, and while it has grown into something else I still like to think I’m approaching it the same way, as a genial way of sharing music about which I’m interested and usually at least a little enthusiastic, and about which I try to be informed to some degree. I have no problem with somebody chipping in to the conversation to drop some knowledge about an artist or a genre or a supporting musician if you’re inspired to do so, and if I’m mistaken about something, I’m generally happy to be enlightened. But if you come here to one-up anybody, to talk down or diminish with your conspicuous hipness, well then fuck you and the sanctimonious horse you road in on. Especially if you’re just here to spout some cultural nationalist horseshit about how foreigners can never understand your music and they should all stop listening / enjoying / talking about it. And especially when you haven’t even read the whole post I’ve written and just want a soapbox for your insensate hostility. The minute you open your mouth and that sort of drivel comes out, you’ve proven yourself an idiot.
And take note, because that’s about the only time you’ll hear me say that. I may be opinionated about some of the records I post, and sometimes curmudgeonly in my tastes, but I will never call someone an idiot for not agreeing with me about whether a song, record, or artist is good or great or awful. (OK, so if I’m completely honest with myself, this has sort of happened at least once in 6 years that I can remember. It involved somebody who was repeatedly slagging off Tim Maia because they “hated that disco stuff.” Perhaps I would be more diplomatic in my snark today than I was then..) Some of you will surely say I ought to have a thicker skin, and you wouldn’t be the first to say so. But sometimes I think it’s a rhinoceros typing in front of a computer on the other end, which would explain all the typos. To stop blogging on account of a handful of clueless asshats might have seemed unfair to the “fans” of this blog, and I know that those fans do exist. Guys and gals, sorry about the unexpected break. But you know, I’ve quit salaried jobs with good benefits and a pension and given less notice than I did for this blog. Maybe that impulsive attitude accounts for some of the mess in my life, but I have no qualms about moving on to something more interesting when things become a drag and harsh my mellow. So now before I go to play my bongos on the beach, let me tell you about this great calypso record I found.
Then & Now
1974 Camille Records LP-9039
1. So Sweet
2. Old Youth
5. Stella (Jump Up Records, JU-527)
6. Sugar (National Records 101)
7. Itch (Dem Boys Records DB-101, CAB records 107)
8. Garrot Bounce (previously on an LP by National Recording Company N.R.C. 01-1, and most likely as an early-60s single too) 9. He And She (1960s recording, I can’t find release info)
Produced by Camille E. Hodge
Photography – Woodie Wilson Cover design – Murray Sincoff
Flabbergasted rip. Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; Click Repair; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
All the tracks on side 2 are monoaural recordings, collected from various singles on different labels. I did a stereo to mono fold-down on this side of the record.
One of the great calypsonians here, Lord Nelson aka Roberto Nelson aka Nelo, always brings the bounce. From what I can tell, this album is one side’s worth of “new” material, and a second side comprised of songs previously released as 7″ singles. The album should really be called “Now and Then”, because the first side is stuff that definitely hails from the early 70s, with little wah-wah guitar licks and somewhat funky arrangements, while Side Two shows more of the huge jazz influence in early 60s calypso. Lord Nelson had made records for the Camille label in New York since the mid-60s, most notably with Milo & The Kings on “Dove and Pigeon.” But these tracks are a bit earlier, and had all been released on labels like Dem Boys Records, Stateside, and National Recording Company. These labels were all based either in Trinidad and Tobago or in the UK. The LP’s failure to explain any of this possibly means the recordings weren’t being licensed through the proper channels, but presumably since Nelson was putting out full LPs on Camille in the mid-70s, this was fine with him. I guess that puts this album in the long tradition of “we don’t have enough new material for a full album, so lets scrape together some old chestnuts with those couple of new tracks you have.” Like a lot of genres, calypso was more of a singles market until the 70s anyway. Although the difference between the two album sides is definitely noticeable, the end result is less of a patchwork than it sounds and really a very enjoyable listen. As I said above (c.f.”rant”), I’m sort of new to collecting this stuff, but a lot of 70s calypso LPs seem to have a few really strong tunes or maybe even a fistful, but also some filler. Whereas previously there would be a surge in singles released for every carnival, now artists were putting out full LPs. This one, though, is all killer. It’s got a lot of really clever and funny stuff on it. Calypso is famous for its unsubtle double entendre, but Nelson excells at weaving narratives, like the wonderful “Immigration” which basically describes the results of someone jokingly shouting that word on a boat full of West Indians on the Hudson River, with an aftermath the equivalent of the proverbial “shouting FIRE in a crowded theater” scenario. This was a different time in the United States, when wry jokes and colorful stories could be told about flouting immigration laws, long before the massive deportations, draconian laws, and creepy wall-building of today.
“Garrot Bounce” is one of Nelo’s signature tunes. I’m confused about the provenance of this recording. I’ll presume it is the same version that appears on an N.R.C. long-player of the same name released in 1965. But there is a 1969 version on Youtube that is about six minutes long, the second half of which is one big jam. It appears to actually be the A and B sides of the 45 edited together flawlessly by the uploader. For the A side it cold almost be the same recording as this one (except in stereo). Anybody want to play spot the difference? Ain’t nobody got time for that. The backing group is Milo & The Kings and I suppose they had played this crowd-pleaser thousands of times, so an essentially note-for-note rendition shouldn’t surprise me. But flip the 45 over, and the song breaks down into this monster jam. I almost wish I hadn’t heard it, because the original is fantastic, but this version with an instrumental bridge has blown my mind. Anyway, check it out as it will give you a taste of Lord Nelson, but don’t get too excited about the awesome jam at the end because it’s not on it. I don’t see the 1965 version up on the ‘Tube (there is even a version up there falsely attributed to Nelson that is totally not him).
So, the first side of the “Then And Now” LP is cool and should titillate the soca fans out there and for people like myself who enjoy anything from the early 70s regardless of the genre, but the real gold here is on Side Two. “Stella” is another classic and wonderfully silly, not quite wacky enough to get played by Dr. Demento but it’s pretty funny. “He and She” manages to get in some observations on gender double-standards alongside some good jokes about ugly babies, and “Itch” is probably about VD.