I love discovering unusual and odd stories behind my favorite songs. Take, for example, “Aaj Shanibar” from Rupa Biswas, which was released in 1982 on the LP, “Disco Jazz.”
“Aaj Shanibar” is an incredible song — a one-of-a-kind mixture of Sarod and synthesizer, a perfect fusion of East meets West. Admittedly, the track is “barely disco and hardly jazz,” as Numero Group recently said. The label has just reissued “Disco Jazz.”
But let’s talk a little more about “Aaj Shanibar” and the wonderful Rupa Biswas…
The stunning track, like the rest of the LP itself, was recorded at Calgary’s Living Room Studios by a combination of Indian and Canadian musicians. While nothing else from the era sounds like quite it, the record did not achieve commercial success. Apparently, music listeners weren’t ready for melodies intrically played on the sarod atop a disco beat and synth playing.
“Aaj Shanibar” languished in obscurity until Internet fame beckoned.
It was only when Ruba’s son, Debayan, searched for her record online that they found it had been uploaded to YouTube, that original copies of the record were selling for more than £500, and that it was being reissued by the US label Numero Group.
It had earned new fans, such as Dan Snaith, AKA Caribou and Daphni, who brought it to wider attention after including the track Aaj Shanibar in his DJ sets. That track has now had more than a million streams on YouTube.
Anyone who has been a passenger in my car or listened to one of my DJ sets over the past 12 months has likely heard a singular slice of Nigerian pop magic that I am OBSESSED with — Steve Monite’s 1984 single, “Only You.”
What is it about this track that I find so captivating? In a word – everything.
Let’s start with that Moog Bass guitar synth line. Once you hear it, it’s impossible to get out of your head. And that beat — it’s driving, insistent and unusually fresh sounding for a track released in 1984.
Then there are those tantalizing Fender Rhodes guitar chords, which seem perfectly married to the Moog Bass synth. Why can’t every band pair these sounds together?
The icing on the proverbial cake is the devastating voice of Steve Monite himself. There’s an irresistible cool to his delivery, but also a palpable wink and a smile. As he sings “Only you can put out this fire,” you can tell he’s not just seducing someone, he’s having fun.
As someone with a natural predilection for odd and unusual sounds, my ears immediately gravitate to the idiosyncratic beeps and swooshes that punctuate the song’s rhythm. “Only You” is catchy and appealing enough to please the masses, but just odd enough in its nuances to keep fans of more left-of-center sounds smiling ear to ear.
How did a track like “Only You” get made? Context is key — around the early 80s, African artists were drawing inspiration from electronic sounds making their way over from Europe. When combined with the funky sound of Nigeria, the result was some truly dazzling creations — the height of which is arguably “Only You.”
Interestingly, “Only You” was largely rescued from obscurity thanks to Frank Ocean, who performed a cover of it at 2017 FYF Fest. More recently, Theophilus London teamed up with Tame Impala to cover the song.
Before those covers, Soundway Records helped raise awareness of “Only You” by including it on its superb “Doin’ It in Lagos” compilation from 2016. The comp collected Nigerian pop and club culture tracks from the late 70s and 80s.
The strength of the original version of “Only You” is a tribute not only to Steve Monite, but Nigerian music producer Tony Okoroji.
The track first appeared on the album bearing the same name on EMI Nigeria in 1984. The record is extremely rare — if you are lucky enough to come across an original pressing, it’s going to cost you. It has fetched as much as $1,300.
To unearth a track as singularly brilliant as “Only You” is indeed a rare thing. It makes you wonder — what other lost Nigerian treasures are waiting to be rediscovered?
Every once in a great while, the Internet coughs up a head scratching surprise that puts a smile of delight on even the most jaded middle-aged hipsters in Williamsburgh.
That once in a great while became earlier this week when someone named Denis Cullum posted an extraordinary 16mm film clip of a young and scrappy Scritti Politti in the studio circa 1979. The “pop promo” in question is for the track “P.A.s” — taken from the band’s classic “4 A Sides” EP.
Scritti Politti is something of an anomaly, even by the wildly inventive standards of late 70s/early 80s U.K. post-punk.
Formed in 1977 in Leeds by the Welsh singer-songwriter Green Gartside, Scritt Politti started out as — to quote Acute Records head honcho Dan Selzer — “the coolest, most DIY and post-punkiest post-punk band of the era.” The band, driven by Gartside’s creative restlessness, couldn’t stand still. The group evolved into a stylish new wave band with grade A pop song writing smarts. Just listen to “The Sweetest Girl.”
From there, Scritti embraced the mainstream, dabbling in blue-eyed soul, hip-hop and melancholic folk — never standing still.
Over the years, Gartside’s talent has attracted some pretty impressive names to his roster of collaborators, including Miles Davis, Robert Wyatt and Roger Troutman.
But every great artist has to start somewhere, and with Gartside it was those early Scritti recordings. What’s particularly amazing about this inexplicable 16mm clip is it gives us a sense of how those recordings were made. We get shots of the recording process, the record pressing, the packaging — hell, even the kitchen.
Questions abound. Where did this video come from? Who shot it? Why has it been hiding for so long? And does our new friend Denis Callum have any more where that came from?
For now, these questions will likely remain unanswered. But let’s celebrate this stunning discovery now that we have it.
DC’s underground music scene is brimming with inventive bands and talented risk-takers. So much so that it’s all too easy for stellar acts to get lost in the flurry. One band that absolutely should not be relegated to the pile of forgotten brilliance is DC synth quartet Br’er.
Br’er initially began as the solo recording project of Philadelphia native Ben Schurr as a means of completing several unfinished songs he began for another project.
It sounds crazy, but Br’er ended up in DC after Ben and bandmate Gabi hit a deer on the way to a playing a show at The Paperhaus in 2013. Once Ben arrived in DC he never left. He helped start a label (Blight Records) and music production house (The Blighthouse).
To date, Br’er has released four full-length albums – Br’er (2007), City of Ice (2011), Masking (2015), and Brunch is for Assholes (2017) – with multiple EPs and singles interspersed while touring extensively on the DIY circuit throughout North America.
The band doesn’t stick to one musical style. On “Help Me Live,” Br’er turns its focus to moody, silky synth sounds with an undercurrent of dread. It would be the perfect left field, late night 80s college radio tune, if said 80s college radio show was programmed by David Lynch.
Regardless of how you describe “Help Me Live,” there is no denying the immediacy of that beguiling hook. And those gorgeous synth chords…it’s no wonder I keep returning to this track again and again.
Reason number 3,465 to love RhizomeDC — the celebrated DIY house show venue is once again hosting the Seventh Stanine Festival, the annual live music festival curated by DC’s avant-psych pop weirdos The Caribbean.
The festival is happening Saturday, July 15th from 2:00pm to 11:00pm. I’m not going to tell you how to spend your precious weekend hours, but you really should consider going if it’s not already on your radar. The previous two were phenomenal and this year’s event looks equally impressive.
Attendees will get to see performances from Tristan Welch, Jon Camp, TONE, Kamyar Armani of Time Is Fire, Chad Clark & Erin Nelson of Beauty Pill, Mike Shirley and of course, The Caribbean.
Speaking of Mike Shirley, not only will he perform live, but his 24 hour-long “Tetracosa” will play continuously throughout the festival in an upstairs room, in a completely immersive environment.
Usually I’m not a fan of music festivals. I don’t like big crowds or festival venues. Seventh Stanine is the music festival for people who don’t like music festivals. The lineups are always idiosyncratic and interesting. The attendees are there for the right reasons. The vibe is chill and relaxed. It’s a great opportunity to hang out, make new friends and hear some amazing music.
Thank you Matt Byars, Dave Jones and Michael Kentoff for showing us all the right way to put on a music festival!
Few tracks have captured my imagination like Twin Jude’s “lvr bby blu.” The track begins with the sound of ocean waves crashing against the shore. Then the melody kicks in. Is that a guitar or a keyboard that sounds like a guitar? I love that I can’t tell.
Her music immediately strikes me with a gentle power that is both haunting and wistful. This is music that seems to have been created inside a dream — literal “dream pop.” At first, it strikes me as a bit Cocteau Twins-esque (latter period Cocteau Twins, but I digress…) and then — Jude’s gorgeous vocals arrive. Hearing her coo softly, then shift effortlessly into a singing style that’s intimate, emotional and filled with longing — pulls me in further. I just want to listen to this again and again and again.
I started to wonder about the person who made this music. What is she like? What’s her story? What inspires her to make such extraordinary sounds? I wondered if she might be an intimidating person. I had nothing to worry about. When I met Jude at a DIY music and arts show in September 2018, she couldn’t have been more approachable and easy to talk to. Of course, one of the things we talked about was the possibility of Twin Jude playing WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE.
It took a while for the stars to align, but they finally did in June 2019. To my absolute delight, Twin Jude will be playing tonight’s WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE. Our mutual friend Hannah Burris, who plays viola for TEETHING VEILS, COVEN TREE and now TADZIO, will be guest djing. It’s going to be an incredible night of music, friendship and celebrating DC’s underground arts community.
Leading up to tonight’s show, I had the opportunity to find out more about Twin Jude via e-mail in our 5 Questions feature. As you can see, Jude has a lot of interesting things to say about her creative process, what it’s like making music in DC as an LGBTQ person of color, and where her creative muse is taking her…
1) The music of Twin Jude has an ethereal, dream-like quality – it’s almost like a soundtrack for that strange period where we drift between being awake and sleeping. What draws you to such wonderfully moody and atmospheric sounds?
Jude: First, this feels like such a lovely compliment for me, so thank you. I think my inner world feels like much of what you described. As a child (and still as an adult), I had a very engaged imagination and found myself feeling in between worlds at times. My personal connection with the natural and spiritual world feel intertwined. When I am required to be immersed in just one facet of being (i.e. the material world as we know it, especially interpreted through capitalism) I feel cut off from who I actually am, and have to find some way to return back to this place or realm of my own creation. Something about the outer world around me always felt a bit off and “unreal” to me. I think I’ve always been searching for something more than what western society at large has presented to us. These atmospheric, dream-like sounds feel like inner-ruminations and searchings for what is beyond the veil to a world unknown.
2) Can you tell us a little about your creative process? What’s it like for you to put together a track like “lvr bby blu”? Do you usually start with a vocal melody?
Jude: I have several processes actually. It usually depends on the resources and tools I have available at the time. Often, I’ll have a melody stuck within me, drifting in and out of both my sub-conscious and conscious mind, and have an almost compulsive need to flesh it out. Other times, I will start by creating with my synth first. Layering patterns and sounds and finding someway to challenge myself in terms of melody instead of more traditional rhythms and vocalization.
“lvr bby blu” actually has several versions, and is actually much older than most know. The version released on “MĒM” was formed through collaboration, and is a complete recreation of one of the OG version taken much further. Originally I was working with one of my friends named Ainsworth. He creates amazing sounds in a duo called “Cruza.” He created much of the foundational sounds of “lvr bby blu.” A year and some change passed between us working together, I wanted to flesh it out a bit more than it’s previous state. My friend Machell André helped me recreate much of the song by implementing more samplings of my voice and rhythms completely altering the atmosphere. I don’t have many people that I am able to work with to be honest, but in this collaboration, I felt very supported and encouraged to articulate some of the sounds I wanted to shine through that I may not have had the language for at the time.
3) What’s your take on DC’s underground music and arts community? As a woman of color and member of the LGBTQ community with a unique sound, how has your experience been so far?
Jude: In my opinion, DC’s underground music and arts community is very nuanced and layered, and I am completely in awe and in love with this community as a whole. I wish more folks knew what a treasure we have here of individuals pushing themselves and their work forward into the unknown. I feel that especially the Black and brown folks in the scene are actively pushing to create a culture where we can celebrate each other, hold each other accountable, and build intimate connections and infrastructure of support for each other.
As a Black and gender-noncomforming individual, my experiences within the community have varied depending on the setting. All-in-all, I have found myself among some very loving and open people. There are times when people’s outward perceptions about my race or gender presentation have created polarizing situations for me.
Larger institutions have definitely let me down and showed me that no matter how “progressive” these institutions like to appear, there is still much work to be done in terms of accountability, equality and respect to Black, brown, and queer creatives in DC, and the distribution of resources to the beings that are literally giving their life-force so these same institutions can have “diverse programming”.
The community itself is growing and changing continually. Currently, there are some people within this community that I am so proud of and completely believe in. I feel that more people are finally showing up for black women, showing up and becoming more educated on how to support transgender individuals, holding each other accountable and requiring a certain level of transparency amongst each other.
4) You recently took some time off from playing live to focus on writing and recording – what was that period of time like for you? I know you released a new track in April.
Jude: It has felt like womb of development. I’ve grown so much. I’ve changed so much. My sounds have transformed and informed me of how I have internalized and processed certain experiences that have happened over the past year. At times, certain things that I’ve created have even surprised me, and cause to really reflect on what we call frequency and sound. I feel much closer to my most authentic self and my loved ones though, and very grateful for that time.
And yes, in April, I released a work called “Palm.” It is actually a re-work of “té”. This re-work came about as I was preparing to open for Yaeji last year at Flash with No Intimate. It really struck a cord, and I wanted to be able to release it into the world as I was still developing and exploring other sounds.
5) What’s next for Twin Jude? Are you looking to make a full-length album in the near future? Or will we see more individual track releases and/or EPs?
Jude: I’m actually very excited to be releasing some new works as part of a collection very soon…I think I’d much rather have the work speak for itself in the manner that it decides to come out. 🙂
Here at the Big One blog, we’d like to think EVERY edition of DC’s monthly left-of-center music night WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE is special. However, this Friday’s WFTBO is why the word special was invented.
For starters, the enigmatic and magical TWIN JUDE is playing…
Who is TWIN JUDE? In the words of the artist herself, TWIN JUDE is “an experimental, interdisciplinary artist continually moving throughout the portal that is Washington DC.” In the Washington City Paper’s 2018 People Issue, Matt Cohen referred to TWIN JUDE as “one of D.C.’s most innovative artists.”
Pop over to TWIN JUDE’s bandcamp page and click play. It’s immediately apparent that TWIN JUDE occupies a unique aesthetic and vibe all her own. The track “lvr bby blu” encapsulates her appeal — evocative melodies that drift in and out of the sonic ether, leaving an aroma of erotic sensuality, melancholy and longing.
TWIN JUDE has been taking a break from playing live to focus on making new music. This Friday’s show marks a welcome return to the stage for her. Watching her performance from the cozy confines of the Marx Cafe will be next level awesome.
And then there’s the records. What would WFTBO be without records? Brandon and I are bringing loads of new and old favorites to play, and we’re especially chuffed that HANNAH BURRIS (Teething Veils/Coven Tree/Tadzio) will be joining us behind the turntables.
HANNAH is best known in DC’s underground music scene for her unmistakable artistry with the viola. She has become an integral part of every music project she is involved in — whether it’s adding layers of emotion to Greg Svitil’s stellar songwriting in TEETHING VEILS, partnering with the talented Alexia Gabriella in COVEN TREE to weave together viola, cello and electronics, or providing an extra level of majesty to the dazzling sounds of TADZIO.
But here’s the thing — HANNAH is one of us. She’s a record geek. Every time she djs, I learn about an amazing record I hadn’t heard before. Brandon and I can’t wait to hear what she’ll be playing Friday night at the Marx Cafe
Won’t you join us?
Friday, June 7
WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE
& guest dj Hannah Burris
3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW
10pm – 3:00am
NO COVER 21+ FB event page