Farewell, Bra’ Hugh

The world lost one of it’s greatest musical ambassadors of Pan Africanism the day it lost Hugh Masekela, known as “Bra Hugh” in South Africa and much of the world. One of my best-received blog postings on “riquespeaks” dealt with the history of Masekela in Liberia during the 1970s. As exciting as that period was for me personally, it was only one small portion of the truly incredible life Bra Hugh led.

Hugh’s South African origins put him in a unique position to understand the African diaspora, and he parlayed that into one of the most unique bodies of work in musical history. His musical journey through life started in South Africa and took him to the United States, both New York and Los Angeles, Lagos, Nigeria, Ghana, Zaire, Guinea, and many other points along the Transatlantic world. He parlayed this unusual cultural fluency into a songbook that covers a wide array of Pan African experiences, such as “Stimela”, “”African Secret Society”, “Grazing in the Grass”, “Bring Him Back Home”, “Mama”, “Mami Wata”, and many others. He utilized his fellow South African natives such as Philemon Hou (the composer of “Grazing in the Grass”), as well as Los Angeles by way of Houston, Texas musicians The Jazz Crusaders, and at other times, the Ghanian musicians who made up Hezbollah Soundz. Truly I can not think of too many other musicians who have covered so many points on the African diaspora as Bra Hugh.

It all began as a young jazz loving man in South Africa. Hugh, born in 1939, was a youth during the years that the Apartied system began to become more strictly codified into law. The Apartied system itself was inspired by the Jim Crow system in America, and also had many things in common with the suppression of Indigenous people in the States. One of the insights I got from his autobiography that surprised me was that, looking at American movies that featured Black people way back in the ’40s and ’50s, Hugh and his compatriots viewed the United States as a progressive place where Black people had freedom, as the thought of white Boers making movies that featured Blacks was totally inconceivable at that time. He would soon get the chance to come to America and see the strain of racism that influenced that of his country.

Masekela grew up in the unique position of being an African who had a strong connection to the culture of African Americans, through the language of jazz music. He was a huge Louis Armstrong fan, in addition to following the newer be bop school as represented by Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. He actually received a trumpet from Louis Armstrong himself, mailed all the way from the States to South Africa. Eventually, he was sponsored by Harry Belafonte to come to the States to study music, and he would come to be mentored by Dizzy Gillespie, another one of his childhood trumpet heroes.

Of course, now would be the perfect time to mention his relationship to Mama Africa, Mariam Makeba. Mariam was actually several years older than Hugh and it seems their relationship was more of an infatuation on Hugh’s part in the beginning. But Miss Makeba played a pivotal part in Hugh’s life, setting up his connection to come to America, housing him when he got here and in general, teaching him about the facts of life. Eventually, this would include their famed marriage, which also put him in a rarefied jazz club, along with great artists like Max Roach and Miles Davis, in terms of being a jazzman and having a wife that was a well renowned creative force in her own right.

Makeba facilitated life in New York City for Hugh, where he studied music on scholarship from Belafonte and immersed himself in the early ’60s jazz scene. The early ’60s was a fertile creative time for jazz, although not the absolute height of the music’s popularity commercially. During that time period, representatives of every school of jazz existed, from New Orleans trad, to Swing, to Be Bop, to Free Jazz, Soul jazz and the different schools that would dominate the ’70s, including fusion. It was a somewhat daunting environment to learn in, with the music existing and yet going through so many changes. It was Miles Davis, himself a searcher for new forms who told Masekela, “Don’t try to play the shit we playing here. Take what you learn here and do what you know from over there (Africa) and do some shit that NONE of us can play.”

That is exactly what Masekela did when he recorded Philemon Hou’s “Grazing in the Grass.” The lazy, funky instrumental, replete with cowbell and a beautifully soulful melody, became one of the signature hits of the late 1960s. Masekela took that success and hit the very heights of the entertainment industry from a social standpoint, marrying Cab Calloway’s daughter and hobnobbing with stars like Sly Stone.

Masekela was in a very precarious position however, and as the open nature of the ’60s passed on, it was very hard for him as a South African banned in his own country to sustain hits in the United States. He covered all the bases, and yet lacked a base of his own at the same time. And his music began to become more and more political after the feel-good triumph of “Grazing in the Grass.”

So he took his music to Africa, and what he did there was very unique in its time and even today. He left the United States and put his musical celebrity behind trying to bring African music more to the forefront. His ban in his home country of South Africa facilitated his development as a Pan Africanist musical impresario, as he began to focus on West Africa during the ’70s. He worked with Fela Kuti and recruited bands from the West African region. The albums he recorded during the ’70s with Hezdollah Soundz, and on his own record label with Crusaders producer Stewart Levine, Chisa, are all worthwhile Afro Funk workouts that could easily satisfy modern crate diggers.

Hugh also cast his personal lot in Africa at that time, living in Guinea and Liberia. He also was instrumental in organizing the concert that paired with the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight, featured in the movies “Soul Power” and “When We Were Kings.” The concert was even more of a Pan Africanist festival in its planning than what it eventually turned out to be, as the list of artists that didnt make it included Fela Kuti, Stevie Wonder, Barry White, Miles Davis and Aretha Franklin. Hugh was cheated out of the proceeds of that concert by Don King, but the achievement of putting it on still looms large in Pan African history.

Hugh never again had a hit like “Grazing in the Grass” but that does not negate the body of work he made that was largely autobiographical, especially when you listen to songs such as “You Told Your Mama Not To Worry”, and “The Boy is Doin’ It”, which detail his long life away from South Africa. As the tide was eventually turned against Apartheid, Hugh was a key musical fighter in those battles as well. Re-examining his body of work will unearth a treasure trove of musical bounty.

His autobiography “Still Grazing” is one of my absolute favorite books and one I recommend to any fan of his, lover of music, Pan Africanist, historian of the ’60s-80s, and every bibliophile and lover of a good story. One of the things that struck me was the similarities his life had to that of his hero Miles Davis, although their personalities were rather different. But they had many interesting parallels and points of intersection, from Miles advice to play a mixture of American Black and African music, to their marriages to powerful female entertainers that they both tried to downplay ( Hugh to Mariam and Miles to Cicely), their drug addiction, the turn they both took away from pure jazz into a music that fused R&B and rock with jazz, and they also had many points of intersection in New York City, even dating some of the same women, and the impact Hugh had on Miles during Miles silent period, playing at the Nightclub Mikell’s. It also has much in common with that other jazz trumpeter who made it big, Quincy Delight Jones. All of these make for complelling reading and a story that brings a wider view of Jazz and popular music in the changes of the 1960s

Mainly, when I think of Hugh’s life, I’m happy for him more than I’m sad that he passed. He survived both Aparteid and the pain of being away from his country for 40 years while also making music and recieivng love from many people. And he lived long enough to see majority rule return to South Africa and to serve as a respected cultural ambassador for his country, spending the last 20 plus years at home in South Africa. It all adds up to one of the most incredible lives imaginable and one we should be happy was set to music.


Hugh Masekela and Swinging Seventies Monrovia : Liberian Stories 2

In memory of the great Hugh Masakela who just passed away


The section of Hugh Masekela’s epic 2004 biography, “Still Grazing”, which takes his wildin’ journey through music, sex, drugs, politics and life to 1970’s Monrovia, Liberia, is Section III, entitled “Africa.” Masekela’s return to the African continent found him at a bit of a crossroads in his journey. After leaving his native South Africa in the early ’60s, Masekela had married and divorced the great singer Miriam Makeba, released albums that flopped, studied music in New York City, met and be friended most of the great names of BeBop, Hard Bop & Soul Jazz, made love to scores of attractive women, and become both a role model and a patron of young South African musicians and students in exile in the United States. In 1968, Masekela’s recording of South African composer Philemon Hou’s song, “Grazing in the Grass” went to #1 on the pop charts, becoming an international smash. Masekela…

View original post 1,779 more words

The '87 Sound

Barry White/Miles and Prince 1987 into 1988-2017 into 2018

Well, I’ve had a fantastic time chronicling some of the best records of 1987 on Riquespeaks, and just as 1987 moved into 1988, 2017 is moving into 2018. I still have a few lose ends to cover in the music of ’87 that I will complete this January, including talking about Stevie Wonder’s wonderful, “Characters” album. But for New Years Eve 2018 I wanted to bring something a little special from New Years 1988. Two of my favorite artists, Barry White and Prince, did very special shows on NYE 30 years ago. Barry, bouyed by his comeback album, “The Right Night & Barry White, performed a concert in one of my absolute favorite places, Paris, France on NYE ’88. I’m including a clip of it here, but the full concert can be enjoyed on YouTube.

Prince also played a New Years Eve show on the last day of 1987, at his own, then brand spanking new Paisley Park complex. The concert was notable, coming off the triumph of his 1987 “Sign O The Times” album. Also, the audience that night was graced with the presence of the great Miles Davis, resplendent in a Purple suit and playing on top of Prince’s brand of Purple Funk!

I share these concerts in appreciation for reading Riquespeaks in 2017 and in partying anticipation of an even better 2018. Here’s to health, prosperity, and funk!!!!

Here is Barry White’s triumphant ’87 comeback single, “Sho You Right”, live from Paris

Miles and Prince Jamming over music from Prince’s “Madhouse” album!!

The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “Just That Type of Girl” by Madame X

“Just That Type of Girl” is for my money, at the very top of funky grooves to come out in 1987! Madame X was a group produced and overseen by Bernadette Cooper, drummer and vocalist of the band Klymaxx. Klymaxx themselves stand out in the terrain of ’80s music as one of the few popular female Funk bands. The Black female bands/female instrumentalist led groups I can think of off the top of my head would be A Taste of Honey and the New York No Wave Band ESG. There were also scattered female instrumentalists throughout the Funk era, including Shiela E and Chaka Khan herself, but Klymaxx made a unique mark as a female funk band. Madame X was a vocal group hand picked by Bernadette Cooper. In a rather unusual move for the era, Cooper selected the members, chose the name, and wrote and produced the songs. This is something that has usually been done by male svengali’s such as Rick James, Prince, George Clinton, James Brown, Berry Gordy, Phil Spector and Ike Turner, to name a few. The result was their self-titled debut album, released in 1987. The group consisted of Iris Parker, Valerie Victoria, and Alisa Randolph. “Just That Type of Girl” was that funky song by that group I never knew the name of growing up, a marvel of Afrocentric, tribal, deep, heavy dance funk played in a slow pace, with lyrics that harken back to the best end of ’80s, ‘What you doing for me”, sex and materialism, reminding me somewhat of a heavy Vanity 6 type of vibe.

The song begins with a very funky drum roll, though it may have been played by a drum machine, the roll is much more subtle, and with a nicer touch than to be expected on most drum machines of the day. After which a deep tribal funk groove kicks in, with a deep, low bassline that is wedded to the kick drum of the song. That’s only the beginning as Cooper lays a stew of rhythms all around it, including handclaps on the 2 and 4, occasional Hi Hat accents, a go go bells, and conga drum parts. The whole thing results in a slow-burning funky rhytmic machien that sounds like it could go on by itself until the end of time. The singer goes on to sing about a guy who “lends a hand.” And talks about prefering “Platinum American Express cards.” It’s really nothing to trip on because she’s “Just that type of girl.”

After the chorus a trippy ’80s synth part layers the top of the groove as the rhythm machine keeps pumping underneath. The whole groove comes to a bizarre break that breaks down to nothing but handclaps before going into the next verse. She comes back hard, saying “Gossip from some girls/says I am promiscuous/that’s why no man takes me home to meet their mother/but the real story is/my green eyes are fit to kill/and I’ll take their man/they’ll have to get another.” As the song goes into the next chorus, a synth hammer on backs up the girls chorus vocals. This leads to another interlude and a rhythm break to support chants of “Turn it Up, Crank it!” backed up by some extra kick, after which one of the girls says “Only the sexy people are gonna dance to this groove.” The song goes out on some extended grooving and jazzy/funky scatting.

“Just That type of Girl” is the type of slow, sweaty, grinding funk with an Afrocentric base that I live for. The lyrics made me think the dating game would be very hard by the time I grew up. Thankfully it represented just one type of girl out there in a world of many. But I still admired the sass and attitude displayed in a world of music that was full of so much male braggadocio at the same time. This is the type of joint I can imagine driving dancers on the funky dance floors of the nation wild in 1987. When I mentioned it to one friend, he said, “Oh yeah, that was the type of stuff P Funk should have been doing at the time.” Another said, “That’s some Prince type of stuff.” So Bernadette Peters and Madame X really created a prime piece of funk here, and I hope it becomes more appreciated and recognized as we continue to push music forward!

"This Might Offend My Political Connects" A little Hip in your HOP Appreciation The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “Bring the Noise” by Public Enemy

One of the most interesting facets of Public Enemy’s 1988, “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back” for me personally, is the way it took shape. As we mentioned in discussing P.E’s “Rebel Without a Pause”, the musical innovations of Eric B & Rakim and Boogie Down Productions, featuring lead rapper KRS ONE, made the crew dissatisfied with the sound they achieved on their debut, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show”. Public Enemy got moving quickly, creating the “Rebel” single and giving their career new life. “Bring The Noise” would be their next single in ’87, which would make two key cuts released as singles before “Millions” was finished and released in 1988. A third single, “Don’t Believe The Hype” would also be released in 1988, several months before “Millions” was released. These singles laid out P.E’s brand new bag and set the stage for what many call the greatest Hip Hop album of all time. In the case of “Bring the Noise”, the song was composed for the Def Jam soundtrack to the movie “Less Than Zero”, which was a popular book and film in its time that told the story of rich kid cocaine dealers. “Bring the Noise” was a mission statement for P.E and has gone on to become an anthem in the repertoire of the band.

The song begins with a Malcolm X sample saying, “Too Black too Strong.” Which is followed by a very noisy horn sample of Marva Whitney’s James Brown produced “It’s My Thing” (an answer record to The Isley Brothers “It’s Your Thing.”) “It’s My Thing” provides several musical elements of the track. Right alongside that is a thunderous drum kick playing insistent 16th notes, as Flavor Flav delivers the type of hype man energy that secured his place in Hip Hop history, “Yo Chuck, these Honeydrippers is still frontin’ on us/show em that we can do this/cause we always knew this.” After which he lets out an epic “Yeah, Boyeeee!” as the snare drum hits on all fours and a bass fill leads up to the verse. Chuck D booms out the lines which have become so well known in the years since, “BASS! How low can you go?/Death Row?/What a Brother know?/once again/back is the incredible/rhyme animal/the Incredible!/D!/Public Enemy Number One/Five-O said “Freeze!?And I got numb.” Underneath that The Bomb Squad concoct an amazing track of sampled riffing JB’s horns from “It’s My Thing.” Greg Tate remarked at the time the horns sounded like “Decaying kazoos.” Underneath that Terminator cuts up Funkadelic’s “Get off Your Ass & Jam”, focusing on the trippy, alarm sounding guitar solo that ended up being very close to DJ scratching. So right there, the track combines the two pillars of funk, J.B, and P-Funk. A loud guitar sample from “Get off Your Ass” loops, with its guitar solo peak energy sounding more like an alarm than music. Chuck D goes on to describe a scenario where he is literally persecuted for his music, put in jail because of the Pro-Black stance the group espouses. Which would almost literally happen to rappers such as 2Pac, Ice T, Ice Cube, N.W.A and many others in the next few years after this song.

The chorus gets even noisier musically, with D proclaiming, “Turn it Up!/Bring the Noise!!!” Vocal samples, scratches, and horn blasts mix as Flavor says, “Yo Chuck! They sayin we too Black man!” The next verse was always super unique to me for the early triplet based cadence Chuck used. The rhyme is supported by a sample of Clyde Stubblefield playing on James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, but The Bomb Squad don’t leave it naked, they lay a heavy stomping drum kick over the top of it, for Chuck to lay down his flow, “Never badder than bad/but the brother is madder than mad/at the fact/thats corrupt like a Senator/Soul on a roll/but you treat it/like soap on a rope/cause the beat and the lines are so dope.” After which the arrangement returns to the original verse. Chuck D also calls out Black radio at the end of the verse, “They call themselves Black but we’ll see if they play this.” Chuck spends the last verse praising his D.J and talking about music more generally, defending the artistic merits of Hip Hop compared to artists like Yoko Ono and Anthrax (which would lay the groundwork for P.E to redo this song with Anthrax in 1991). The song goes out with a sickly sounding “Transformer” D.J scratch routine.

“Bring the Noise” was a musical marvel that was the second step in paving the way for the classic P.E sound. It utilized a unique combination of samples and placed all that “noise” within a context of song structure, with an intro, verses, a bridge where the beat changes, and D.J solo space as you would give a musician. All of this was the perfect music to match with Chuck D’s stentorian baritone, and he laid down a great rap that broke new ground for Rap, in so much as it was bragaddocio, but it was strong, defiant and bold about political situations and the world at large, as Chuck took on both his critics and the critics and naysayers of Hip Hop and Rap music as a whole. He achieved 3 different unique flows by taking three verses he had from different songs and combining them here. With the creativity of Chuck, Flav, The Bomb Squad (Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler) and Terminator X all in play, “Bring the Noise” was another important 1987 step to P.E’s 1988 triumph.

The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “Same Ole Love” by Anita Baker

Anita Baker’s 1986 “Rapture” album, as well as her entire career during the 1980s, were defining highlights for the Black music of the era. The “Rapture” album sold over 8 million copies worldwide, with 5 million of those sales coming in the United States. Anita, supported by her musicians and producers, helped define the sound of adult-oriented, R&B/Soul during the decade, alongside her contemporaries such as Sade, Luther Vandross, Jefferey Osbourne, Peabo Bryson, Freddie Jackson, Patti LaBelle and many others. She did this with one of the most beautiful pure vocal instruments seen in Popular music, backed up by sprightly, maturely funky, jazzy, grooving mid tempo music. This song, “Same Ole Love”, is a great example. It was a single from her album that fell on the 1987 side of the fence. Of course, my father being a big fan of great female voices, as well as jazz, was a tremendous fan of hers at the time, as were most adult Black music fans I knew. My mother thought she was a woman of great class in her musical presentation. For me, her music was adult and slightly out of my grasp, but I went for the heavy hypnotic grooves of tunes like “Angel.” “Same Ole Love” is one that grabbed me, through a combination of Anita’s rapturous, joyful vocals, and the steady, super funky bass playing of Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, an Oakland/Los Angeles bassist who also played the memorable bass line to Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots”.

The song begins with two bars that modulate through different keys before finding the key the song will be performed in, a very jazzy accompaniment technique. The most prominent instruments are a piano playing chords, with single note lines answering the strong beat chords, and Washington’s monster bass. When the arrangement lands in the right key, the groove is started, which is basically a four chord arrangement with the bass playing a one-note, percussive, rhythmic slap line and then popping a note on the upbeats. Washington moves this line through the different chord changes of the song. It’s a four bar groove, with funky muted rhythm guitar also having its say, and glued together by stable, pad like keyboard chords. The groove plays for 8 bars and then the drums set up Ms. Baker to tell her story.

“Flashbacks of the times we had/some made us laugh/and some made us sad.” She tells a story of a long standing relationship that has its ups and downs. She says when she thinks about getting someone new, that idea ultimately falls flat, which leads us to the chorus, “From beginning to end/365 days of the year/I want your same old love.” The music behind this chorus section is really what got my attention back in the day, as Washington lays down a funky slap and pop bassline, while Ms. Baker’s vocals contain a kind of bouncing joy I’ve heard from few singers. I especially remember always being touched by her line, “All I want to do/is spend my life with you/I want your same ole love.” She’s backed up on the chorus by what sounds like a vocal group of mixed gender.

“Same Ole Love” is one of those songs that shows how much groove was still present in so called “Urban Contemporary”, adult Black music during the ’80s. Anita Bakers vocals of course, were excellent, and demonstrate why she is seen as one of the best vocalists in popular music. I also appreciate the fact that she still possessed the ability to sing over the top of music as rhythmically strong as what Freddie Washington laid down on this song in particular, as that has become somewhat of a lost art in R&B. “Same Ole Love” does an excellent job of mixing the somewhat world-weary sound that Quiet Storm music can often have, with a spry, funky, frisky vibe on the chorus sections. It also proved to be yet another hit from the “Rapture” album, reaching #8 on the R&B charts, and #6 on the Adult Contemporary charts. The video is also very noticeable, showcasing her native Detroit, and its musical landmarks, such as the Hitsville, Motown studio house and the famous nightclub, Bakers Keyboard Lounge. All of which make Anita Baker’s “Rapture” album, and “Same Ole Love” another part of my fabric of 1987, though they were released in ’86, they are pieces of music that filtered over into the next year and on and on into the present day.

Music Matters The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “System of Survival” by Earth, Wind & Fire

By 1987, Ronald Wilson Reagen had been serving as the 40th President since January of 1981. He’d already enacted several major tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, while slashing social programs and increasing military spending. And it seemed for a brief moment in ’87, during the Iran Contra trials, that the evidence existed to bring Reagen down for good. That was not to be and Reagen would hold on to pass the baton on to his Vice President in 1989 to continue what Chuck D called, “12 years of R&B (Reagen & Bush).

The effects of Reagen’s rhetoric and political policies were not lost on musicians during the ’80s, though the decade is typified as having less musical social commentary than the preceding ones. Many songs such as Run DMC’s “Hard Times” focused on the challenges of making it for the average working person in the Reagen era. Earth, Wind & Fire, one of the most musically and socially inspirational groups of the 1970s joined this discussion in ’87 with their R&B smash hit, “System of Survival.”

EWF was due for a comeback by ’87. Their prior album, “Electric Universe”, was considered a disappointment by many fans of the group, in particular, because most felt that the electronic orientation of the music smothered the group’unique musical personalities.

“System of Survival” is a song that EWF came by through unusual means. While recording in San Francisco, a songwriter named Skylark placed the demo tape for the song on the front of Maurice White’s Cadillac. Liking what they heard, the band recorded the song. “System of Survival” would prove to be EWF’s biggest hit in many years, hitting #1 on the R&B and Dance charts. Again, proving how alienated the pop charts were from many veteran Black Funk/R&B artists during the ’80s, this #1 R&B song charted at #60 pop.

The song begins with an announcer’s​ voice saying, “The biggest unanswered​​d question is where is the money.” A statement that could relate to any number of socio-political​ problems! After which, a serious electro funk groove kicks in. The groove has the typical big ’80s drums, but the snare is much more live sounding than most drum parts of the era. The main key to the groove is the main rhythmic/melodic element, a lead synth line playing a rhythmic pentatonic figure. That figure is played on several synths and delayed, so that it creates a hyperactive, jittery wall of sound. Its also backed by funky rhythm guitar playing that accents the busy synth groove. The song title, “System of Survival” is sung by Maurice and Phillip, but also supported by a Vocoder voice.

The song goes on to lay out the common man’s plight during the ’80s, with Maurice singing “The Human race/is running over me”, with Phillip awnsering, rather unusually at that time in his lower voice, “I punch a clock at 9 to 5/just tryin to make a living.” “A plastic face/on satellite TV/says life is full of give and take/he’s taking and I’m giving.”

Maurice goes on to say “So I dance!” Which is answered,​ “It’s my system of survival!” The band here affirms dance, and music, as a survival strategy, a thought that goes very deep into the heart of Black experience in America. The metaphor could also be extended to anything which one enjoys and does well, which reaches the aesthetic and spiritual condition of dance. Philip goes back into his classic falsetto to sing “At times it’s the only way/Im gonna make it through this day.” After which EWF demands “Everybody get up!!! Do your dance! Stay alive!!!”

After that call, the groove shifts to a funky interlude, with bass being introduced. Prior to this the groove was skeletal, based on drums and the trebly sounds of the synths. In addition to the newfound bass, EWF’s new horn section schorches the top of the jam with a funky horn line, while Sheldon Reynolds, the new member, laid down a funky sustained, “Chicken Grease” guitar part of steady sixteenth strums.

The next verse goes on to find the band singing about the unsafe nature of the streets, after which the bass makes its presence felt once again. The song goes out on a long jam with more political news snippets, and a raging, fiery saxophone solo, backed by a more full band sound that includes bass and guitars while pushing the insistent synthesizer sequence more to the background.

1987 would see an increasing number of Black groups rekindle the fire of past years in talking about the social issues that grip the world. It was big for Earth, Wind & Fire in particular, a group that had always represented spirituality, togetherness, a strong sense of ancestry and history, as well as love, to come out so hard with “System of Survial”. The amazing thing for me about the song is the way they seemed to speak for the common, adult middle-aged​ person in the changing world of that day. They spoke for people just trying to work and get by and deal with all the B.S while still trying to enjoy life and hold on to some sense of hope. That’s why this song stands out as one of the most realistic and pratical in the entire EWF song book. And their usage of music and dance to get through rough times validates the reason for the groups entire existence.

“System of Survival” was a favorite of my Dad in particular, and I always think about him when I hear this track and watch this video. And the video is one of the best of its day, featuring people of all ages and walks of life doing the dances that they know and that bring them joy. “Touch the World” was a wonderful comeback for EWF that returned them to their positon as socially conscious yet musically wonderful Funkmasters. And this song itself became a part of many people’s “Systems of Survival” back in ’87, as proven by its chart and sales success!

The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “Don’t Disturb This Groove” by The System

“Don’t Disturb This Groove” by The System is another one of the defining tunes of 1987 in my book. The mellow but strong synthesized groove and clever title hook seemed to serve as a soundtrack to many of our long drives and excursions for about three years after it was released. And like the unhurried synth groove concocted by group members David Frank and Mic Murphy, the song took a long time to build up to the summit of the charts, seeing a release in January of ’87, hitting the top of the R&B charts in May, and making it all the way up to #4 pop by July. It seems that as the temperature warmed up, the appeal of the mellow yet potent synthesizer track became more and more irresistible. And in the end, the song became the biggest hit for one of the defining musical entities of the ’80s, in influence if not massive sales. Keyboardist David Frank was a key figure in ’80s R&B synth programming, besides his own records, contributing to records by groups like Kleer, Chaka Khan, and Phil Collins. It has also been expressed by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis that The System’s records were very influential on their own technological jams. “Don’t Disturb This Groove” stands out as a highly synthesized song that grooves in as human a manner as possible.

The song begins by musically setting up the groove that the title tells us not to interrupt! A highly melodic yet grooving digital Clavinet part gets it going over a big fat drum machine part. The bass line of the piece was always very interesting to me, large intervals played in an almost robotic, machine making calculations manner, on a fat analog synth patch while moving through the tune’s pretty chord changes. Funky muted guitars add to the groove as digitally synthesized bell tones play lazy arpeggios on top of the track. The track begins with a long interlude of music as singer Mic Murphy ad libs just a little, “I’m in heaven.”

Murphy asks his girl to excuse him for a moment, he’s “In another world.” He goes on to describe an idyllic romantic situation, saying “With Venus/and with Cupid/the picture’s very clear.” The song then hits a break for him to sing, “Hang a sign up on the door/it says don’t disturb this groove.” At which the synthesizer bass groove gets more active, agitated, aggressive and in a word, funky! A Female voice comes in to sing with Murphy on the active chorus section, which ends rather shortly and unusually, putting all the momentum back into another verse.

“Don’t Disturb This Groove” is a song that personally makes me feel as good as any other good piece of music I can think of. It’s unique, slow crawling , deep and funky synthesized soundscape, matching depth with airiness, seemed to serve as a near perfect aural metaphor for some of the best days and feelings of my youth. But this song is by no means limited to those days, because it took until I became an adult to truly experience the feeling expressed in the record! Which when you add it all up, makes this record one that stays in heavy rotation on my charts!

A Riquespeaks Curation FUNK The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “Tina Cherry” by Georgio

One of the defining features of the R&B sound during the 1980s is the absorption of the musical innovations of Prince. The year 1987 was no different. “Tina Cherry” by Georgio is a fine example of the type of Funk that was inspired by Prince and The Minneapolis sound. Georgio Allentini is a Bay Area native, to the extent that one of my best friends went to High School with him. The word is that Prince pursued him for Paisley Park, which is a rumor many Prince fans vehemently deny but those close to the situation confirm. He ended up signing to Motown and seeing success on the dance charts with his album “Sex Appeal.” The influence of Prince is reflected in “Tina Cherry” through the synthesized dance groove topped off with an incredibly funky, furious guitar lick. It’s also reflected in the title characters name, “Tina Cherry.” So much so that when I was a kid and used to hear this on local Bay Area radio, I thought it was Prince! At that time I did not know “Funk” was a musical genre of its own, but I did know the word “Funky” and I knew what was “Funky” when I heard it! And this song definitely passed the funk test and has remained in my memory banks from that time till now.

Coming out as it did during the heyday of the 12″ club mix, there are many versions of “Tina Cherry.” But the one I selected here is the one I first heard on the radio all those years back and the one I feel brings the funk the hardest. The song begins with a big drum beat that has lots of air around it. On top of this they give us a phat ’80s horn stab, which revs up like an organ before slapping the groove. Also prominent is a cowbell methodically marking out all four beats of the groove. Georgio tells the doorman or his handlers to send her up to his room on the intro. When the whole beat comes in, its marked by a busy synth bass line, and those guitars, a high up the neck, hammer on and off funky blues guitar lead supported by a chocked chicken scratch that brings the funk to your face.

Georgio uses that funky base to tell a story about a girl whose name is Tina that “plays a cherry game.” He sings about how she “Works and works”, her hair, eyes, clothes, everything she has in the name of sex appeal. The guitar takes over on the chorus to the point that it sounds like Georgio is singing in support of the funky guitar. Georgio goes on to tell us that Tina is a Creole woman, which of course, in Black American folklore makes her a very dangerous woman in as many ways as you could imagine! Over the dance groove he goes on to spit double entendre like, “Tina baby/Dont make it hard/we’re almost there/let me park my car.”

This jam has fond memories for me because of the mesmerizing guitar groove. I can also recall a commercial for Georgio doing an in-store appearance at a now defunct local record shop, the Black owned “T’s Wauzi Records.” As it is “Tina Cherry” is a great jam from a lesser-known artist that exemplifies state of the art funky dance music in 1987, made under the influence of Prince and the Minneapolis Sound. In a decade of the ’80s that had few funk bands that were strong and was touched by the influence of emerging musical technologies and new genre’s, it was no small thing to bring the funk, and Georgio did it very well on this song and his album “Sex Appeal.” Definitley one to check out from ’87 if you’re unfamiliar with it!!!!

Here is the video for “Tina Cherry” which featured the song with a different mix, the guitar part is still there but the overall groove doesn’t work for me as much as the one I heard on the radio back in the day

The '87 Sound

The ’87 Sound: “Sign Your Name” by Terrance Trent D’Arby (Sananda Maitreya)

Terrance Trent D’Arby (who now goes by the Buddhist name of Sananda Maitreya)’s 1987 LP, “Introducing the Hardline According to Terrance Trent D’Arby”, was one of those albums that totally rocked the International musical community in its time. D’Arby’s skillful mix of Funk, Soul, Rock and Pop flavors seemed to introduce an essential new artist, and D’Arby himself was not afraid to let you know this. When I was young, not knowing the full story, just by listening to the music and observing the artist, I thought him to be a part of the wave of UK Soul coming back to America from across the pond, along with groups like Loose Ends, Five Star, Central Line, and the great Sade. And this 1987 classic, “Sign Your Name”, has all the deep, brooding lovelorn groove of Sade at their peak. The writer Nelson George began to identify a style of music he typified as “Retro Nuevo Soul” during the late ’80s. This was the first stirrings of a Soul/R&B music that attempted to recapture the songwriting and sound of the classic soul records of the height of the ’60s and ’70s. D’Arby’s music was one of the prime examples of this impulse, and it would be seen again during the 1990s with the “Neo Soul” movement of D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and others. But “Sign Your Name” and the rest of D’Arby’s album would be a very early warning shot in 1987 of a return to a Black musical impulse deeply rooted in instrumentalism and songs of great emotional depth and substance, otherwise known as Soul.

The song begins with an irresistible groove, with a synthesizer bass patch laying a bass part based on an Afro Latin Clave rhythm, outlining a two bar chord progression. Underneath this bass groove is a grooving Conga drum pattern, and over the top is a synthesized string type of sound playing a deep blues, pentatonic melody. What’s amazing is that I always associated this song with being played live, but when one listens to it, you discover its actually a spare, human sounding, and very funky usage of synthesized instruments. The bass and groove modulate to some tense chords to lead you into D’Arby’s singing verse.

D’Arby sings his song in that unique vocal tone I remember from way back then, full, rich and chesty while also being fairly high up in the register. When he reaches the lead in line to the chorus, “We started out as friends….” the arrangement moves to those tense, questioning chords that sustain and decay on top of the Afro-Latin rhythmic break, to be picked up by the chorus, “Sign Your Name/across my heart/I want you to be my baby”,on which D’Arby and producer Martyn Ware lay down two parts of D’Arby singing in different octaves. The song progresses from there with D’Arby delivering impassioned, earnest vocals, and his vocal performance rising in intesity over the same sensous, undulating rhythmic groove.

“Sign Your Name” is one of my favorite songs from ’87 and it seemed to herald a new artist at the time. D’Arby seemed to be another uniquely talented artist in the mold of Prince, who could deliver Afro American music with the kind of idiosyncratic pop-rock edge that could attract a wide pop audience. And he did, with “Sign Your Name” in particular going all the way up to #4 on the U.S pop charts and his album selling platinum in a mere three days. D’Arby, like Jackie Wilson and James Brown, had a background as a boxer, and it showed in his physical, acrobatically macho performance style, in particular when he’d perform soul-funk classics such as “Soul Power” during his shows. D’Arby’s album was one that seemed to satisfy all sides at the time, from the contemporary fans to some of the old soul heads, to the critics, to the teen idol crowd, to the general pop crowds. Such success would not last for D’Arby, and he would take his life in a more spiritual direciton while also continuing to do music. Though he was not British himself, he did spend time there and end up crossing back over to the states by recording in British studios with British musicians, which in itself represented a unique crossover of American Soul, from an adopted country back to its homeland. So no matter what other intersting turns the career of Sananda Maitreya has taken, “Sign Your Name” still stands tall for me as one of the most passionate and deeply rooted Soul songs we were introduced to in the year of 1987!