Author Archives: Dulani Wallace

Needle Drop: Flex Mathews, Hi, I’m Flex Mathews

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”Ralph Ellison

Hi, I’m Flex Mathews is part elegy, part magical realism, and part tale of survival in Washington, DC. In the city with a rapidly shifting demographic, the local emcee flexes some lyrical muscle countering the new cultural norms in the land of taxation without representation.

On his debut album, Flex assembles his verses like a supply chain worker on caffeine. In the track “We Mean BizNess,” the lyricist volleys some tactical wordplay against those of the rap ensemble FAR EXP. Together like stonemasons, the words stick with mortar, solidified along a myriad of colorful jazz breaks, rambunctious scratching effects, and urban sound effects.

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Nine tunes that will scare you shitless.

You’re alone in the dark, and the only voices of reason you have are your thoughts. Don’t be fooled; darkness is not a place of solitude.

Sounds that are ordinarily mundane, like a dripping faucet or a creaky wood floor, become amplified, grabbing your undivided attention. If you’re devoid of light for too long, these sounds might completely betray you. Welcome to the sadistic and moribund world of Halloween. Below we’ve compiled a list of song with lyrics and situations that will make you look behind your back and perhaps leave you scared…shitless.

Megadeth – Go To Hell | Don’t fear the reaper? That’s nonsense when your soul is wagered on a game of eternal blackjack. The Charon, the ghastly oarsman who shepherds souls, bears little comparison to the fateful entity that has dominion over the realm of fire and brimstone. Uncorrupted minds everywhere—if you hear Dave Mustaine’s verses, rebuke them immediately. Or damnation will be upon you.

Audra – You’re So Pretty | The acoustic scales over the chamber alone are chilling. The sequence of the four-note motif cycles in this tune like the seconds along a clock. What’s the fate of this woman trapped in the basement? What will happen to her? Only time will tell.

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Needle Drop: Sriram Gopal, The Fourth Stream

The “third stream” is a term for musical compositions that embody a little bit of jazz and a little bit of classical according to Gunther Schuller. If your ear is tuned to that, DC-based percussionist Sriram Gopal invites you to lend one to The Fourth Stream.

The Fourth Stream is the debut album featuring DC-based jazz musicians under the helm of drummer Sriram Gopal. The album is not so much an exploration of varying musical styles as it is a fellowship of sounds. It is a collection of harmonies from various parts of the world that find common ground in this delightful piece of work.

The album is a fusion of crossover jazz, post-rock, bebop, classical, and South Asian devotional music. “Stream” might be the type of mystical composition found among Joe Harriott and John (not the pop singer) Mayer’s library of works, set in a framework designed for improvisation.

Tracks on the album include “Bapuji,” “Nadia,” “Bengali Dhun,” “Something Good,” “Why? Because I Can,” and “Almost Spring.” “Bapuji,” the album’s first track, is both argument and reconciliation among Bobby Muncy’s lounge-room sax against gatling-speed drum breaks. “Nadia” is a get-up-and-move tune with more than a few bars of EWI playfulness.

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5 vinyl gems that inspired the sounds
of Alma Tropicália

For all you here in the mid-Atlantic with the winter blues, let Alma Tropicália bring you some sunshine. The psych-rock band, heavily influenced by the Brazilian counterculture movement recently released a two-song single that recalls the sounds of the aforementioned era. The band plays at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club this Sunday, February 22.

Opening for a range of acts such as Jorge Ben and DC’s own Chopteeth, Tropicália features jazz vocalist Elin. With her bandmates Elin creates an experience that highlights an alternative rhythm within the DMV’s musical ecosystem. Founder, and drummer, Ben Takis took a moment out of his schedule to share 5 albums that inspired the samba and dream-pop that resonates from Alma Tropicália’s stage.

O Bidú – Silêncio no Brooklin – Jorge Ben (1967) | There’s no higher figure in Brazilian music than Jorge Ben, and nobody we idolize more (opening for Jorge Ben at the Howard Theatre in November 2013 was surely one of the highlights of my life). Although this is not Jorge’s best album, I’ve always been fascinated by it, particularly the final track “Si Manda” (a misspelling of what should be ‘Se Manda’ in Portuguese).

Caetano Veloso (legendary tropicália balladeer) dedicated several pages of his memoir to this track, as it was hugely influential to the up and coming tropicálistas for how it combined MPB (Brazilian pop) with American rock and soul. You can hear Jorge evolving past his initial “Mas Que Nada” period in this album, and inspiring decades of Brazilian rock to come.

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Hidden Prospects:
Vinyl Sales in 2014

In 2014, the demand for new music in the form of vinyl met hot and cold results. While the retail numbers are optimistic, production challenges stunt the growth potential of the LP. With the decline of music downloads and the rapid rise of streaming, however, the desire for a physical format is a clear-cut reflection of music consumer preference.

Back in November 2014, data journalist Felix Richter at Statista reported LPs, globally, reached $218 million in annual sales. If you compare that figure to the cost of a show at the 9:30 Club, it can be significant, but otherwise it is not influential to capital. Statista reported by the first half of the year, 4 million units sold. This month, the Wall Street Journal touted Nielsen’s reports of 9.2 million units moved, a 52 percent increase from 2013. The downside of this phenomenon: vinyl records only make up 2 percent of US music sales, despite the digital decline.

One of the champions of annual LP sales is Third Man Records, Jack White’s label. With his evengreen bent for self-promotion, White’s latest effort, Lazaretto, sold 40,000 vinyl copies in its first week and 87,000 cumulatively. White rallied his fanbase during Record Store Day when he recorded, pressed, and released the “boutique” album in less than four hours.

Last years sales were also boosted by artists such as Beck, Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, and Lana Del Rey. Classic albums Abbey Road and Legend held their own in top 10 collective sales of LPs in the United States.

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Congo Sanchez, seeing 20/20 on the new Dealin’ With This

Percussionist. Producer. Humanist. Congo Sanchez has many issues on the dome. He uses his musical talent as an unapologetic way to speak to the social maladies of recent times. And the facts will inevitably outweigh the opinion. Listen to his latest effort, Dealin’ With This, in its entirety. It’s a very introspective album that challenges ideas of social exclusion, isolation, and marginalization.

Dealin’ is the first full album released under Sanchez’s label Herb Records. On it he assembles a crew of talent that represents the signature diversity of the District.

Sanchez oversaw the production of Dealin’ under the spiritual influence of talents such as Beck and Pink Floyd. Further, he says he views Miles Davis as an inspiration. About Miles, “his licks on the trumpet were the same, but he surrounded himself with musicians with different styles.”

On the subject of varying styles, the album features the vocal talents of band members Flex Mathews and Haile Supreme. Sanchez maintains a solid, fraternal relationship with the two vocalists. He says of the two, “We respect our musical intuitions very much, and there is no beating around the bush.” Mathews and Supreme’s mix of respective hip-hop and ethereal vocals are the center of the album’s narrative. In the track “Stand Beside Yourself,” Supreme’s meditative voice encourages the listener to look at DC from the outside-in.

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TVD Recommends: Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad at Tropicalia, 9/12

The music of Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (GPGDS) flips roots reggae upside-down and shakes free traces of perceived Americana. Their sound is a derivative of island rhythms, although some listeners might, first, recognize their blues influences.

Later this month GPGDS or Panda, is releasing their first album since 2012. The album, Steady, breaks from the clinical sounds of a jam band, but the men of the band gleefully stick to archetypes of the grand genre of Jamaica—rocksteady shin-kicks, protest lyrics, and herb-smoking. Coming off their previous album Country, Tony Gallicchio, Chris O’Brian, Dan Keller, James Searl, and Dylan Savage infuse their latest with American folk motifs. Steady is an indirect study in musicology, particularly the relationship between reggae and working-class American music. They perform on Friday, September 12 at Tropicalia.

Singer-bassist James Searl took some time out of his schedule to humor me with questions ranging from re-animated dead folk singers to song title references from Steady. The album will be released on Easy Star Records, September 30. Panda, already mid-tour, continues through the US until early October. 

If your music was packaged with a mission statement, what would it be?

Music is healing. Let’s rock and let’s groove to this rhythm.

Tell me how you got in cahoots with Easy Star Records?

Dub Side of the Moon was a profound recording. We used to play it as the house music before all of our shows back when we started playing out as a band that was focused on spreading reggae music to the future. One thing about reggae that we all recognized was its miraculous ability to sound ancient and futuristic all at once.

Easy Star seemed to understand how powerful of a concept that was in their reinterpretation of the classic album Dark Side of the Moon, of which Panda was familiar with every note of the Pink Floyd version. We kept doing our thing, and they kept doing their thing, and after a while, the meet up was inevitable. There have been so many natural connections that have brought us together. It feels very special. Their support has certainly given us the confidence to know that we are on the right track in our lives and that reggae music is the truth.

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Seun Kuti,

Afrobeat, I believe, is the gift that Fela shared with the world.
—Seun Kuti

Seun Kuti is the heir to a special musical and cultural throne. The youngest son of Afrobeat pioneer and human rights activist Fela Kuti, Seun traverses the West-African style… to the millennial psyche, globally. As the world gets smaller culturally and political discourse resounds to the hilt, Afrobeat explodes as a voice of consciousness and social responsibility. Check him out at the Howard Theatre, Wednesday, June 11 with the Egypt 80.

Seun speaks with the same cadence as his father. He could easily be confused for a politically conscious UC Berkeley grad student. In short time, he talked with us about sounds, influences, and vinyl. 

How would you describe Afrobeat, musically and culturally?

I believe it’s the most expansive of African musical experiments. It’s the most forward-reaching, evergreen, pan-African sound.

Your album is not only of Afrobeat, there are hip hop motifs as well. How’d you get acquainted with rappers M1 and Blitz the Ambassador who both appear on the album?

Blitz and I linked up via our managers and shared some good vibes. Blitz is a very good musician. It’s interesting, we spoke a few times on the phone and met for the first time in the studio. He’s been my boy for a while now, since 2009.

M1, I heard on TV that he loved to work with me. So, I hit him up on Twitter, “I want to work with you too!”

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TVD Live: The Wailers at the 9:30 Club, 5/29

PHOTOS: ERIKA HORN | On a clear night in late May, the vibe within DC’s 9:30 Club motioned like a Caribbean cruise. The Wailers channelled the spirits of late originators Bob Marley and Peter Tosh with selections from Confrontation, Catch a Fire, Natty Dread and Exodus.

The group, officially led by bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett, shepherded timeless roots reggae to a crowd that undulated in perpetuity. The lead vocalist Dwayne Anglin channeled the playful energy of Marley with a slightly accelerated version of “Stir it Up.”

Cegee Victory, the backing-vocalist, lent her powerful mezzo-soprano to the dreamy echos of the classic single. Meanwhile, Barrett and Audley Chisholm kept the flow with tightrope bass lines and a galloping skank rhythm.

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Eleven records that influenced the Cousin John Band

The Cousin John Band charms its audiences with a homespun, Heartland stroke and feel. Their new album Broken Heart Tattoo is a collection of frank-and-earnest rock and roll riffs that play well amid outdoor gatherings and other public places.

This Saturday, May 3, CJB will officiate the release of Tattoo at McGinty’s Public House in Silver Spring, MD. They’re the type of band that gets children and adults alike out of their chairs.

The guys from the band took a moment out of their schedules to share 11 albums that influenced their down-home flavor.

Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin | The bandmates unanimously came correct on the impact of Zeppelin’s sixth studio album. The magnificent volume and elegant technique of Zeppelin are a major inspiration to the Cousin John Band.

“[Graffiti] hits like a musical reality shift! The sound was so different and so enchanting,” says the band. “It made us crave… this heavier sound and [their] great songwriting!”

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Ten vinyl singles that influenced Davidson Ospina

At first listen, Davidson Opsina’s production work might reveal he studied the sounds that defined underground club music. Ospina grew up in Queens in the 1980s where music was its own ecosystem. Influences such as Latin, breakdance, and hip-hop filled out the hierarchy of sounds in urban NYC. Music was experimental, self-referencing, and lent itself to universal access, more or less.

Ospina was the proverbial kid in a candy store.

He’ll be a special guest deejay at this month’s 1,001 Beats event presented by DC’s transformational art collective, Meso Creso. Because he is such a fan of vinyl and the golden age of house music, I couldn’t let him pass through the District without sharing his favorite singles.

1. “Voodoo Ray” – A Guy Called Gerald | Recorded over 2 days in the late spring/early summer of 1988, “Voodoo Ray” was one of hottest singles of its year.

The squelch-heavy groove was released on 7-inch and 12-inch vinyl formats, on the Rham! label. Conceived at Moonraker Studios in Manchester, Rham! pressed 500 copies of the record that sold out in one day, solidifying Gerald’s reign as important figure in the acid house sub-genre.

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Talkin’ and Poplockin’ with Westcoastin’s Ronnie Hudson

Ronnie Hudson might not necessarily be a household name, but you certainly know his work. Post-Motown boomers and golden-age hip-hop enthusiasts alike remember the hook “California knows know to party” from the electric bass-rich funk classic “West Coast Poplock.” And most folks who know what N.W.A. stands for might know an interpolation of the famous verse in the Dr. Dre and Tupac hit, “California Love.”

Originally from DC, Hudson is a contemporary of the late Troutman brothers (of Zapp) and mid-Atlantic legend Chuck Brown. He once worked for Isaac Hayes at Stax Records in Memphis as an in-studio player (notably on the Shaft theme.)

The bassist and singer-songwriter recently remastered the 1982 West Coast anthem and released Westcoastin’, an extended remix of the funk hit, with the help of DJ Flash. The mix features talent from the L.B.C. (Snoop Dogg) to Oak Town (Too Short). Hudson took a moment out to talk about his career and latest projects.

Tell me about your musical roots?

Actually, I was born and raised in Anacostia. At the age of 13, I took an interest in music and used to bang around on the guitar some. Later on, I became a bass player by way of a friend named Charles Harrington. From that point on, I became a pretty popular musician around the DC area.

You worked with Chuck Brown while in DC, yes?

When I started working with Chuck, he was coming up with the song “Bustin’ Loose.” I did part of the recording, but I never completed it.

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Thomas Blondet,
The TVD Interview

Being a musician and making a living at it ain’t easy, and there’s no better person to dish out advice than Thomas Blondet. Originally a DJ, then producer, Blondet is set to release FutureWorld on the Rhythm and Culture label. It’s officially out tomorrow, March 4.

He is also the co-founder of Rhythm and Culture, co-created with Farid Nouri. Nouri, too is a resident with the label and one of the founders of Eighteenth Street Lounge and Red (a dance club in DC from 1997 to 2005). The label’s mission is to inspire the community with “sultry infusions of soulful and exotic melodies.”

If he’s not DJing, he’s producing. If he’s not producing, he’s on an audio engineering project. But he was gracious to take some time out of his schedule to talk FutureWorld as well as some caveats that go with the tough business of being a musician.

Where does your affinity for global sounds come from?

I grew up all over the East Coast. I grew up in New York and Queens. And then I lived in South Florida, and we moved here to Virginia, the DC area, when I was 16, and now I live in DC, in Dupont.

So, we can conclude you have some colorful influences from moving around.

My mom is Croatian, so I hear a lot of that kind of music in the house. And I have other friends who were of different ethnicities and different nationalities growing up.  Hanging out at their house, we’d be upstairs with the parents in the living room listening to Indian music or Persian music. We’d go upstairs and listen to hip hop or house music.

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The Perfect Valentine’s Day Make-Out Mix, Volume 3

The brain is certainly a complex organ. It can both store songs that melt your heart and associate these songs to your romances past and present. The brain-heart dynamic is manipulative, in love-hate fashion. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

This year’s Make Out Mix (codename M.O.M.) is not about love and loss. It’s about love and lust and how the two feelings may co-exist. It’s literally about the art and science of kissing, canoodling, making out, or whatever you choose to call it.

Valentine’s Day can’t take over the world without a beat, snare, and sensual lyrics. Therefore I give you a playlist of 10 songs with respective kissing styles you can practice and perfect with your sweetie. 

The Wake Up Kiss | What’s a better way to wake up in the morning? Shoegaze. Bedside partner. Before your partner wakes up, lean over and kiss their cheek and move over giving soft kisses until you reach their lips.

To the tune, courtesy of the Glaswegian post-rock band, this type of kiss might encourage a daily occurrence with your partner.

The Single-Lip Kiss | To give your sweetie a single-lip kiss, take one of their lips between yours and gently tug or suck on it. LA-based soul duo Rhye makes a dutiful post-pop track to go along with this fun kiss. 

If you do it right, you’ll make the blood rush up and down your sweetie’s spine.

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TVD Recommends:
The (Vinyl Only) Heavy Rotation at Liv, 2/8

I don’t know about you, but I see more wax-deejaying parties popping up faster than condominium projects in AdMo, CoHim and NoMa combined. That’s largely due to the rise of the wax-enthusiast and ultimately a winning streak in vinyl sales. But whatever becomes of vinyl in the future, it’s not slowing down event promoters like Thelonius, a DC-based event promotion team.

One part of the team is Martín Miguel, who gleefully balances the roles of event producer and deejay. With Thelonius, the young deejay will host “Heavy Rotation,” a vinyl-only party happening at Liv on Saturday, February 8.

The lineup includes Roz, John Jazz, and Rusty B, from All Good Funk Alliance. The DJ-event producer already has a small body of musical work brought to the fore by his mentors at Fort Knox Recordings. At first glance, you might see him as the dude with a prototypical kid-down-the-block demeanor. But measure the playlist, not the list player.

Martín Miguel lent some of his precious time to talk about “Heavy Rotation,” his budding interests, and the growing fanbase within the DC vinyl-party scene.

How did “Heavy Rotation” come to be?

The idea originally was to throw an all vinyl tribute to the year 1993—meaning the release date of any cut played had to be 1993—with emphasis on rap releases. We couldn’t find a date or place, and so I reformulated the party into “Heavy Rotation.”

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