Ash Koosha, Beyonce, Anohni, Roma brass bands and militant jazz … June’s tracks of the month

By Martin Smith | 19 June 2016
Iran, music and rebellion. Pic from Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Iran, music and rebellion. Pic from Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A plethora of amazing albums was released last month. Here are a few of my favourites…

Ash Koosha I AKA I (2016 Ninja Tune) CD/LP

In Iran, there’s music called the “authorised music”. It has to go through the permit system from the Ministry of Culture, who decide what’s OK to be performed or released. And yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that’s being released in Iran, but it’s pretty controlled. I don’t call it music — it’s just an imitation.
—— Ash Koosha

Ash Koosha (Ashkan Kooshanejad) is an Iranian musician and visual artist.

He doesn’t produce “authorised music”. In fact the Iranian authorities banned his art. He was even arrested and jailed for 21 days for organising a music festival in Iran.

If you want to know more about the Iranian underground music scene check out the brilliant film No One Knows About Persian Cats – Ash is one of the main actors in the film.

Ash left Iran and now lives and records in London.

I AKA I is Ash’s second album. It’s unique, intense and complex sonic music. He breaks down samples into unrecognisable shards of sound and then layers them into waves of melody and rhythm. There are faint traces of Iranian classical music wafting through his compositions.

I was fortunate to see his performances at the ICA the other week. It was a mesmerising mix of sound, virtual reality and visual art.

In one interview for Dazed Digital he said:

There’s something in my head when I’m making music on my own — I see sound. I try to make shapes out of them. Physical values are attached to sound; there’s geometry and colour to it. You can deal with it as you would with sculpting.

Beyoncé Lemonade (2016 Sony Music) CD/LP/Download

Beyoncé’s Lemonade is one of the most anticipated albums of 2016 and it does not disappoint.

The CD takes the form of a traditional recording but included is a DVD – a short film highlighting her songs and putting them in context. It is Beyonce’s second visual album.

The music can be broken down into three main elements. The first four songs are aimed at a cheating husband – her cheating husband, Jay Z. But Beyoncé songs are not soul clichés: she is no victim, she is fighting back – watch the film and you will see what I mean.

The second element is the ubiquitous collaborations, but they are not pop fillers. They add real weight to the album. But it is the third element, the openly political songs inspired by the Black Lives Matter campaign, that shine.

Don’t Hurt Yourself is perhaps the most important track on the album. Rock legend Jack White samples Led Zeppelin on the track and the video depicts a number of black working class women – the usually faceless and ignored. The song samples Malcolm X’s 1962 speech Who Taught You to Hate Yourselves. In it he says:

The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.

Beyonce knows her history. Malcolm made the speech at the funeral of Ronald Stokes, a young black man shot in the back by police from the LAPD despite holding his hands up in the air in surrender.

The track Forward is Lemonade’s most powerful moment. James Blake’s haunting voice lifts the mournful track to new heights. The accompanying video depicts the mothers of the Black Lives Matter movement holding photos of their murdered sons. There is Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Gardner, Leslie McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin’s mother.

Beyoncé has recorded a remarkable album.

(Unbelievably there are no free videos of Lemonade)

Anohni Hopelessness (2016 Rough Trade) CD/LP/Download

If I killed your father
With a drone bomb
How would you feel?

If I killed your mother
With a drone bomb
How would you feel?

If I killed your children
With a drone bomb
How would you feel?

If I tortured your brother
In Guantanamo
I’m sorry

—— from Drone Bomb Me

Anohni is an English-born, America-based singer, composer and visual artist. She is best known as the lead singer of the band Antony and the Johnsons. Anohni is transgender and uses feminine pronouns.

Hopelessness is her fifth album. If you have heard any of Anohni’s previous albums, especially I am a Bird Now then you know what to expect – beauty, pain, anguish and gut wrenching vocals – and there are the ambient soundscapes. The album is co-produced by Anohni, Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, who have between them created a more punchy electronic sound.

Lastly there are political messages. The opening track Drone Bomb Me is sung in the voice of a young Afghan girl, begging for death since her family are all gone. On tracks such as 4 Degrees and Marrow Anohni looks at the climate crisis through a feminist perspective and Execution is a modern day Strange Fruit.

On Obama Anohni castigates the US president who promised so much but delivered execution without trial and the punishment of whistle-blowers.

This is beautiful protest music.

Fanfare Ciocarlia Onwards to Mars! (2016 Gema) CD

Roma weddings are a thing to behold. The party starts in the early afternoon and goes on into the next day or day after. The heart and soul of many Roma weddings is the brass band. It plays a mixture of traditional folk songs, pop standards and full on brass workouts.

The 12-piece Romanian Roma band Fanfare Ciocarlia is arguably one of the best. Fanfare Ciocarlia sound like an Eastern European version of James Brown’s band meeting the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Fanfare Ciocarlia have taken their big band groove to concert halls across the globe. This album is a great introduction to their repertoire. This is fierce Balkan funk at its best.

Mtume Umoja Ensemble Land Of The Blacks (Live At The East) (1972 reissue 2016 Strata East)

My curveball this month is the hyper-Afro spiritual jazz offering by Mtume Umoja. It’s an amazing document of the pure fire of black nationalist free jazz.

I discovered this album 20 odd years ago and spent a small fortune acquiring it. Now it’s been reissued and is available to all.

The ensemble was lead by James Mtume, a percussionist who during this period was playing regularly with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Pharoah Sanders.

He released two albums as a leader. Both are great representations of 1970s New York free jazz, and of one of the best large free jazz ensembles. Alkebu-Lan – Land Of The Blacks was recorded at The East, a radical venue in Brooklyn which famously did not allow white people to pass its doors.

Mtume left the world of jazz in the late 70s and went on to have a successful career as a soul artist most noted for the track Juicy Fruit, which was famously sampled by Notorious B.I.G.

This free jazz album is a long musical journey away from his later soul recordings.


1 comment

  1. Alan Fair said:

    Listening to the Mtume track, reminded of the wonderful baritone voice of Joe Lee Wilson who, of course, contributed so passionately to Archie Shepp classic, ‘Attica Blues’ especially on the transcendent ‘Steam’..for years I lived in Brighton (UK) without realising he was also a resident, all that time he was playing little advertised gigs in the vicinity. In the end I happened upon him by accident in a small club in Kempton. Great, great voice. Thanks for the track by the way, beautiful..peace, alan

    27 June 2016 at 5:12pm

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