Searching For Sugar Man: How Nigeria’s Joe King Kologbo Lived The Highlife

Joe King Kologbo

From the dapper highlife rhythms of Aba to the fiery psychedelica forged in Lagos, funky guitarist and composer Joe King Kologbo was a senior figure in Nigeria’s happening rock scene of the 1960s and ‘70s. Yet, like a lot of music forged in the West African nation, his name almost slipped through a crack in time forever.

Music became a casualty of a bloody Civil War that broke out in 1967. During the conflict, records were eradicated. Bands fractured as their members were forced to scatter and flee for their lives. A lot of the music that was cut in Nigeria during that era has never been released outside of the country. LPs were boxed up and left to decay in abandoned lock-ups and warehouses.

But in that period of relentless sonic inventiveness, Kologbo never stood still. His axe got hips swaying on the hotel and nightclub dance floors across Nigeria’s most vibrant cities. He hit the studio with a diverse clutch of artists, and used his position as an elder statesman of highlife to mentor younger musicians.

Still, Kologbo’s name has been scarcely mentioned outside of his home nation. His songs are rarely featured on the reissues that have streamed out of Africa over the last 15 years. But with three-track solo album Sugar Daddy recently reissued by London-based Strut Records, Kologbo’s work is deservedly enjoying brand new shine.

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King Woman’s “Spiritual, Intuitive” Hard Rock

King Woman

When in doubt, open big. “Utopia,” the first track on King Woman’s debut album does just that, with Kristina Esfandiari’s somber voice coexisting alongside a huge boulder of a guitar riff. The song is heavy as hell, and has the swing of the best doom anthems.

Created in the Image of Suffering navigates a path between the crushing ambiance of atmospheric metal and the filigreed mood of shoegazey Goth—this won’t surprise fans of producer Jack Shirley, who helped birth Deafheaven’s Sunbather and Oathbreaker’s Rheia.

But what makes King Woman stand out is the magnetic, composed Esfandiari. She somehow finds the time to anchor two bands (Miserable is the other one) and keep a live schedule that’s intense in every way: Last summer, King Woman and Wax Idols signed up to open the Pentagram tour, only to quit due to “an overload of bullshit” from the headliners’ grizzled singer, Bobby Liebling. Esfandiari has since moved on in every way, including a relocation from the Bay Area to Brooklyn. Then again, she’s used to transcending hardship.

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A Brief Guide To House Shoes’ Street Corner Music

DJ House Shoes

DJ House Shoes

If you follow DJ House Shoes, you know two things about him. First: he’s outspoken about hip-hop. And second: he doesn’t have patience for musical mediocrity. Known for his bluntness, Shoes explains why his label—Street Corner Music—mostly releases beat tapes: “A lot of it is instrumental because a lot of this rap shit is fucking trash these days.”

Named after the Detroit record store where he started working after leaving college in the mid 1990s, Shoes launched Street Corner Music in 2013 to give his favorite producers a platform to shine. “It started as a vessel for exposing talent,” Shoes says. “I created SCM to give records to people that deserve records, both the artists and customers.”

In the 11 years since J Dilla’s pivotal Donuts, beat tapes have become something of a hip-hop subculture. Street Corner Music exists to further validate instrumentals as their own separate art form. Giving back to those who trust both his word and well-earned reputation for breaking under-the-radar acts, House Shoes says, “The same way I use my platform to let you know how I feel about things, I’m using this to let you hear what I love and respect.”

After steadily releasing vinyl over the past few years, SCM has adapted to the digital age, now making much of its back catalog available to fans online. With 25 releases on Bandcamp (and plenty more in the stash to come this year), our guide is designed to catch you up to speed on what the label has to offer.

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Album of the Day: Mind Over Mirrors, “Undying Color”

 

Though Jaime Fennelly is the sole figure behind the Mind Over Mirrors handle, years of performance projects in the Chicago experimental/improvisational music scene have revealed him to be a natural collaborator. The personnel that contributed to his latest LP, Undying Color, might be best described as a Chicago avant-garde dream team; their own achievements aside, each individual contributor is known as a long-standing ensemble member of the city’s interlocking musical community. Fennelly’s rotation through these circuits connected him with Haley Fohr (Circuit Des Yeux), Janet Beveridge Bean (Freakwater, Eleventh Dream Day), Jim Becker (Califone, Iron & Wine), Jon Mueller, Mike Weis (Zelienople) and Cooper Crain (Bitchin’ Bajas), all of whom are present here.

The seven compositions on Undying Color are anchored by Fennelly’s Indian pedal harmonium and synthesizer; the harmonium, especially, is preeminent across Fennelly’s discography. The device’s distinctly droning reeds have fascinated him to the extent that he has spent nearly 12 years bending, shifting and filtering it in veneration.

With Undying Color, Fennelly emerges with a sequence of pieces that interweave traditional European ceremonial forms with modern corollaries in experimental electronic and ambient directions. While opener “Restore & Slip” could be mistaken as a bagpipe-led Scottish battle hymn and “Gray Clearer” could be its consequent funeral march, Fennelly sounds positively German kosmiche on “Glossolaliac,” overlaying Becker’s fiddle and Fohr’s rhythmic murmurs on a bedrock of treated harmonium lines.

Fennelly’s twined interpretations of ancient and modern disciplines have been a signature of his Mind Over Mirrors project over the course of five albums, each one gaining greater clarity and prominence than the last. He furthers this course on Undying Color, broadening his range via collaboration and reconstructing classical concepts with a modern palette of sound.

—Joseph Darling

Chico Mann and Captain Planet: Night Visionaries

Chico Mann and Captain Planet

Chico Mann and Captain Planet by Azul Amarel

Known for their love of Latin funk, Afrobeat and Caribbean-inspired rhythms, LA-via-New York globetrotters Captain Planet (née Charlie B. Wilder) and Chico Mann (née  Marcos García) make quite the pair. Their first collaborative full-length, Night Visions, demonstrates their prowess at forging infectious tropical grooves to soundtrack nights full of endless possibilities. Buoyed by Wilder’s knack for funky, cross-continental beats, and García’s warm, lively croon, the duo crafts songs that could power dance floor activity into the wee hours, while also offering cunning socio-political commentary.

Take “Vamos A Batalla,” a glowing, multi-layered production that doubles as a call to action to create a better world. Over a backdrop of whirling pan flutes, the kuduro-inspired “Ya Te Toca” encourages all people to stand in solidarity with women. The xylophone-driven “Tumbo Paredes” argues for creativity as a way to resist oppression. “I try to be suggestive, rather than hitting you over the head with anything,” says Garcia, over the phone from his downtown LA studio. “I don’t feel like it has to be pedantic. It’s a matter of raising consciousness, and we can do that in a subtle way.”

We caught up with the pair, who enlightened us on what it means for them to embrace their personal night visions.

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