Author Archives: Jim Thomson

TVD Ticket and 7″
Vinyl Giveaway: The Meridian Brothers at Tropicalia, 6/18

It’s not every day that Washington, DC gets a visit from an experimental psychedelic band who blend tropical elements like cumbia and salsa into their mix, so when we heard that The Meridian Brothers from Bogota, Colombia were playing Tropicalia on June 18, we got a little excited.

And for the record, there’s no actual brothers in the Meridian Brothers. The group is a experimental-tropical music project, active since 1998 and lead by Frente Cumbiero’s guitarist Eblis Alvarez. Stripped of conventional and convenient genre tags, this group maintains an intricate balance between highly experimental instrumentation and deep-rooted tropical rhythms of the ’60s and ’70s, integrating elements of Colombian and Peruvian Cumbia, Highlife, as well as Latin-American and Argentine Rock.

The band has released over 7 albums of material. We first encountered the group’s distinct sound through some 7″ singles released on the New York label Names You Can Trust and the British label Soundway records in the last few years, but that was all we got. The promise of a tour or a chance to see them in the US was slim based on the fringe marketability of weirdo music, but the believers at Barbes in Brooklyn moved some mountains and the group’s doing a brief US tour in June with a stop in DC.

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TVD Ticket Giveaway: Hailu Mergia and Low Mentality at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 11/22

Beloved DC-based Ethiopian musician and superstar Hailu Mergia and his backing band from Brooklyn, Low Mentality, will grace the Atlas Performing Arts Center stage in Washington, DC this Saturday, November 22 for a rare appearance. Following his critically acclaimed reissue, Hailu Mergia’s Shemonmuanaye/ Classical Instrument reissue on Awesome Tapes From Africa last year, the legendary keyboardist and accordion player has had quite a busy year performing on stages across Europe and North America to very warm receptions.

Hailu started making headlines again when another reissue from his past, Tche Belew, featuring The Walias Band, was released in October, 2014. The album is significant in that it represents “a critical chapter in Ethiopian popular music, taking place during a period of music industry flux and political complexity in the country,” not to mention that original pressings can fetch upwards of $4,000 on online record auctions.

On Saturday concertgoers will be treated to Hailu Mergia’s music as he takes center stage at Atlas surrounded and supported by his current co-conspirators, Low Mentality from Brooklyn. Expect to hear many of Hailu’s Ethiojazz classics reworked and delivered with funk-laced enthusiasm by this younger cast of musicians that he’s been working with in the last year.

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TVD Ticket Giveaway: Osaka Monaurail at Tropicalia, 10/31

Showmanship. James Brown set the bar pretty high for most of us and made it look pretty easy while doing it, but it doesn’t come easy. The Godfather of Soul virtually defined showmanship for the 20th century. His bands were always dressed to the nines and danced together with tight, choreographed moves, while delivering the most irresistible in-your-face funk and soul of the century. The stage is about ownership. Once you step up there, it’s time to testify. Most bands get about an hour to deliver their sermon and it becomes the intersection of passion and artistry.

Enter Osaka Monaurail from Japan. Rolling nine-deep in matching suits, spinning trumpets, and a lead singer doing the Mashed Potato, they’re known as Japan’s premiere funk orchestra and have been burning up stages since 1992. If you want to get a taste of what a classic soul revue might have been like in the ’60s then check out this video for their song “(She’s A) Riptide.” The group is currently on an exclusive 3-city US tour with a stop in Washington, DC on October 31.

Osaka Monaurail’s frontman, keyboard player and bandleader Ryo Nakata talked with us about his band, his favorite artists, who he’d love to work with and what we can look forward to on their first ever show in Washington, DC at Tropicalia on Halloween with Black Masala.

Please tell us a bit about Osaka Monaurail and what you do?

Osaka Monaurail is a Japanese funk band. I don’t mean we play Japanese funk, but we are Japanese and we play funk! We got together in 1992. So, it’s been more than 22 years. We are currently a nine-piece band. And I am the lead singer in the group.

You’re on your first US tour, right? Does playing Washington, DC, aka “Chocolate City,” have some particular significance for you? It’s the home of so much jazz, soul, and rare groove. The venue where you’re playing, Tropicalia, is located near the U Street Corridor, Marvin Gaye’s old neighborhood and Duke Ellington’s childhood home.

Yes, this is our very first tour ever in the U.S., and I am very excited. It will be my first time visiting Washington, DC. I heard and read much about the U Street District, Howard University—of course Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack attended it. Go-go music, etc. But I think I haven’t studied enough. I gotta learn more. Oh, one more thing, Mr. Sir Joe Quarterman is from Washington, DC, and we played the same night a few years ago in England. His song “(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind” is almost like a rare groove anthem. Is this song big in DC? His album is now available on CD for Japan on my label!

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Posted in TVD Washington, DC | 2 Comments

TVD presents Respect the Architects: An All Vinyl Odyssey Mapping Future Funk ft. Jahsonic & John Murph at Den of Thieves, 9/18

For the our third installment of our monthly all-vinyl residency at Den of Thieves we present Respect the Architects: A Vinyl Odyssey Mapping Future Funk featuring two of DC’s most prolific and ubiquitous selectors: Jahsonic & John Murph. We issued the DJs a challenge to take listeners and dancers on a sonic odyssey mapping the family-tree of “Future Funk” using their extensive vinyl collections to map the course.

Funk is like an apple and there are tens of thousands of varieties of an apple. Enter “Future Funk.” Who is its daddy? How does one define it? Ask any funk expert and you will receive a variety of answers based on subjective tastes. Certainly you could get an academic ethnomusicologist to explain it but how fun would that be? The musical genre called “Future Funk” is so vast and means so many things to different people that it’s hard to pinpoint the mouth of the river from which it springs. So, for our purposes we turn to our topographic DJs—Jahsonic and John Murph—who will map our course at Den of Thieves this Thursday.

There was a plethora of technical innovation for keyboards and guitar effects in the ’60s and lots of musicians jumped right in. I often hear that Sly Stone sits near the source of “Future Funk” with his early ’70s output, specifically on There’s a Riot Going On and later on Fresh. Is it the drum machines? Miles Davis was supposedly inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s wah-wah pedal and put it to use on much of his funk/jazz explorations. Herbie Hancock never shied away from electronic gadgetry and synthesizers but always kept it funky. Noted jazz musician Eddie Harris spawned hits playing his sax with a Varitone effects unit in the late ’60s, but rather than playing bop he was definitely blowing a more groovy funk sound.

If someone were to ask me what an example of “Future Funk” is, I’d probably point to Stevie Wonder’s Clavinet-drenched mega hit, “Superstition” and the futuristic aesthetics of Funkadelic and Sun Ra. Where does “future funk” begin for you?

Murph: I think funk began well before we called it “funk.” You can hear traces of it in black American blues, gospel, and jazz. And certainly in a lot of Afro-Latin and West African music. Just listen to Johnny Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillun,” Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot” to hear clear evidence. Then there’s the inherent funkiness of compositions by Count Basie, Fats Waller, Mario Bauza, Sun Ra, Machito, Charles Mingus, and many others.

Jahsonic: Like most people, I’m going to have to say at the twin poles of Sun Ra and Parliament Funkadelic.

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TVD at Den of Thieves welcomes Analog Soul Club, tomorrow, 8/21

The third Thursday of every month The Vinyl District curates DJs for all-vinyl sets at Den of Thieves. This Thursday we’re excited to present the Washington, DC collective known as Analog Soul Club with founding members Mettabbana and Sir Ramases on the decks. Chances are you won’t hear anything you’ve ever heard before and that’s not a bad thing. These guys aren’t in the game to be esoteric. They’re eager to share their booty so you can shake yours.

Sir Ramases, aka Ramases Harnett, is the founder of a research collective called Afro Ritmo Records which focuses on what he calls “the music of the original African man’s vintage past.” His keen focus on vintage global sounds embedded to vinyl have him very busy in 2014 with DJ gigs stretching from Venezuela, Surinam, the Dominican Republic, Panama City, as well as select dates in the US and Canada.

Besnik Hyseni’s (Mettabbana) musical journey began with collecting international music, 8-tracks, cassettes and vinyl as a teenager in his native Kosovo. Today his sets include melding vintage and raw analog and urban electronic music from Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and his native Balkan homeland.

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TVD Ticket Giveaway: Charanjit Singh with Protect-U at Tropicalia, 8/7

True musicians are organic transmitters of culture, like a bridge that spans our past, present, and future. The terms visionary and pioneer are often tossed around by music critics to distill the description of an artist whose artistic breadth is like trying to fit the ocean into a bottle.

Enter one Bollywood demo musician based in Mumbai, Charanjit Singh, who many allege is the unlikely founder of acid house music because of his 1982 release, Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat. The record certainly showcases all the trappings of acid house and subsequent styles: the Roland TR 808 drum machine, the Roland TB 303 audio oscillator and bass generator, synth tones galore, and a percolating, incessant 4/4 disco groove, but the clincher for me is that it’s set to ancient classical Indian musical raga scales.

Therein lies the rub: what makes this record a peculiar masterpiece and Charanjit Singh a living legend are all of these disparate elements coming together as one sonic anomaly.

I can’t claim to have been ahead of the curve on this one. I picked up the 2010 Bombay Connection reissue as soon as I heard a sample of the track, “Raga Bhairav” in an Other Music newsletter. It was like Giorgio Moroder met up with Kraftwerk in a basement in Mumbai to score a Bollywood musical.

Still, I found it hard to believe that this record never showed up in any family tree diagram of house music or that it was never cited by other music luminaries and writers like Aphex Twin, Simon Reynolds, or Daft Punk. It almost seemed like a ruse, too good to be true.

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Posted in TVD Washington, DC | 4 Comments

TVD Vinyl Giveaway: Cheick Hamala Diabate, “Prudence” EP

Master griot from Mali, Cheick Hamala Diabate gets “mixed-up” by some of the finest purveyors of groove on the planet—NYCTrust, The Whiskey Barons, Daytoner, and Jon Kennedy.

Destined to become a world-class burner, Prudence highlights an ancient-to-the-future aspect of Cheick Hamala’s breadth as a genre-bending experimental artist who has one foot firmly planted in tradition and roots, but also a keen, focused eye on the limitless possibilities of cross-cultural exchange via global collaboration with artists outside of his legacy as a griot.

Cheick Hamala Diabate is a musician and a historian in the West African griot tradition from the Republic of Mali. Born into a griot family in Kita, Mali, he absorbed 800 years of Malian history and from a young age he learned to play the ngoni—a stringed instrument related to the American banjo—for which he is recognized as a world master.

Now based in the cultural crossroads of Washington DC, where he teaches and represents West African culture, Cheick Hamala continually pushes beyond the boundaries of tradition, collaborating and experimenting with multigenerational musicians, producers, and incorporating electronic technology into his music.

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Posted in TVD Washington, DC | 3 Comments

TVD Ticket and Vinyl Giveaway: Bio Ritmo at IOTA, 6/26

Blazing a trail by playing some of the hardest hitting and far-reaching modern salsa for 23 years now, Richmond, Virginia’s Bio Ritmo, have grown into one of the most exciting and unpredictable Latin dance bands in the world.

They have done this on their own terms with a DIY ethos that pervades their attitude and style, releasing their music either by themselves or on indie and hip hop labels like Merge, Fat Beats and, Electric Cowbell. They convert the skeptics who only know the overly commercialized, tacky veneer of Latin music. They cite Stereolab and Brazilian psychedelic music as influences along with Ray Barretto, Fania records, and obscure Greek and Turkish love songs. They are true salsa revivalists who defy being pigeonholed.

On Thursday June 26 Bio Ritmo play a record-release party for their new record Puerta Del Sol (release: June 9, 2014), at IOTA in Arlington. The album is being released on the Spanish reissue label, Vampisoul, which is mostly known for releasing lost Latin music across such genres as: Rock en español, Spanish Soul, Latin funk, chicha, and salsa.

The premier single and video from the new album, “La Via,” showcases a glorious legacy of attitude, quality, and classic style that fits right in with one of the hippest and most respected reissue labels on the planet.

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TVD Ticket Giveaway: Los Master Plus with Empresarios & DJ G-Flux at Artisphere, 5/16

Based on my own research, it takes approximately two minutes to realize the awesomeness of Mexico’s Los Master Plus.

Usually I start by showing my subjects pictures of the group, segue into a Youtube video, then it’s game-over. It’s a harder phenomenon to explain with words. This is experiential stuff. I like to watch my subject’s facial expressions go from “Wtf?” to the joyful realization that something amazing has just entered their “I’ve seen it all” lives.

I was the booking agent for the global dancehall, Tropicalia, in Washington, DC, when I got an email from a friend that had “book these guys” in the subject line with this link among others. Like a good bag of potato chips, I couldn’t just eat one. I went down the rabbit hole and decided to book the band, not knowing who would turn up for the show. The band didn’t even have a proper full-length album out or the promotional support of a label.

In the end it took only a few posters showing the mustached duo and some Youtube posts of the group doing digitized cumbia-inflected covers of Dr. Dre, Kings of Leon, No Doubt, and Daft Punk to sell the show. The results were a wake of joy. I had people coming up to me after the show saying, “I don’t really know what THAT was, but  IT was awesome!”

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TVD Recommends: Alsarah and
The Nubatones at
Tropicalia, 3/28

If East African retro pop is your thing then you need to check out Alsarah and the Nubatones immediately. If you like good music you should do the same.

Their debut record, Silt, was released March 11 on Wonderwheel Recordings, which is run by NY-based producer and frequent ESL collaborator, Nickodemus. It’s a record largely influenced by Nubian folk songs (Songs of Return) from the region of northern Sudan that was flooded after the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. The flooding caused a massive exodus of people from their ancestral homes and consequentially a loss of identity for a culture. Alsarah and the Nubatones are finding new ways to sing the songs of the Nubian Diaspora.

Alsarah hails from Sudan originally. Her heart and soul are rooted in Nubia, a region along the Nile. Like a river whose waters eventually reach distant lands, her journey has led her to a degree in ethnomusicology and brought her to the shores of Brooklyn, where she and the Nubatones are based. The band is an only-in-New-York kind of multicultural phenomenon that includes members with roots in Egypt, Togo, France, and Armenia. Alsarah’s confident and sensual voice takes center stage but the stage itself is buttressed by a tasteful blend of pentatonic harmony, virtuosic oud playing, and Nubian rhythms.

Alsarah and the Nubatones have selected to only play a handful of album release dates for Silt. This Friday, March 28, they bring their East African retro pop to Washington, DC for a performance at Tropicalia. We were able to get Alsarah to take a few questions from the Vinyl District in anticipation of her arrival to the nation’s capital, what she calls “Little East Africa.”

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Hailu Mergia: A Funky Jewel in our Midst

It reads almost like a great comeback story: Beloved Ethiopian musician rediscovered after 30 years of driving a cab after reissue of old recording resurfaces. Moreover, less than a year after the reissue, the same musician is playing his first gig in over 30 years with a band in his adopted hometown of Washington, DC at the Kennedy Center.

Enter keyboardist/accordianist Hailu Mergia. He landed in DC in 1981 with the hottest and most renowned Ethiopian group at the time—Walias Band—a  jazz and funk outfit who held an 8-year residency at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa and included many of the lions of the Ethiopian music scene. One of their only records-if you can find it-fetches some of the highest bids amongst vinyl collectors on Ebay.

The band’s sound was at once gritty, funky, and soulful-a la Maceo Parker and Junior Walker-but also rooted in some traditional Ethiopian rhythms, melodies, and scales that sound evocative and exotic to Western ears. Upon the band’s arrival to the US they toured briefly and played to mostly Ethiopian audiences but dissolved after several members returned to Ethiopia. Hailu Mergia stayed in DC, took some music classes at Howard University, eventually started driving a cab, and dabbling in home recording.

In 1985 Hailu recorded and released a cassette of Shemonmuanaye—later titled Hailu Mergia and His Classical Instrument—which was reissued by Awesome Tapes From Africa in vinyl and digital formats last summer. The release struck a nerve and was one of the most talked about reissues of 2013. Josh Harkavy, the owner of Red Onion Records in DC, said it was one of the store’s best sellers last year. Perhaps the vintage charm of 80’s-era drum machines, Moog synthesizers, and accordion combined with traditional Ethiopian songcraft and Hailu Mergia’s artistry are what make this release so special.

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