Strut present a brand new edition of Oneness of Juju’s Afro-jazz classic ‘African Rhythms’, originally released on Black Fire in 1975 and first reissued on Strut in 2002.
For bandleader James “Plunky” Branch, ‘African Rhythms’ marked a significant return to his home town of Richmond, Virginia after a politically charged five years based on the East and West coasts. His personal journey had taken him from activism at Columbia University to San Francisco where Zulu musician Ndikho Xaba used theatre to “resurrect” Afro-Americans with a new African identity. The first incarnation of Plunky’s band, Juju, drew attention to the struggle in South Africa under apartheid, layering heavy Afro rhythms under uncompromising avant garde jazz.
Back in Richmond, Plunky tapped into the mid-Atlantic preference for Southern R&B and gospel: “Juju had always been blues-based and it was a natural progression to add R&B and dance rhythms. It didn’t change our message.” Produced by Jimmy Gray of Black Fire Records, the new sessions included the title track (“We wanted a song to dance to with a message – ‘you are dancing to African rhythms’”), the positive message of ‘Don’t Give Up’ and political commentary on ‘Liberation Dues’.
Originally just a regional hit on the East coast and in Washington DC specifically, the album gradually spread, influencing the nascent DC go-go scene. The UK revived the album during the rare groove era of the late ‘80s and the title track has since become a soul-jazz favourite worldwide.
Remastered from the original sessions and featuring rare photos and extensive liner notes, this new repress also features Part 1 and Part 2 of the original 45 version of ‘African Rhythms’ and the previously unheard ‘Afrobeat’, recently unearthed from the original tapes. Out on Strut now.
Strut present the first ever compilation series to access the archives of one of the greatest of all French Caribbean labels, Disques Debs out of Guadeloupe. Set up by the late Henri Debs during the late ‘50s, the label and studio has continued for over 50 years, releasing over 300 7” singles and 200 LPs, covering styles varying from early biguine and bolero to zouk and reggae. Debs played a pivotal role in bringing the créole music of Guadeloupe and Martinique to a wider international audience.
Volume 1 of this series marks the first decade of the label’s existence and takes in big band orchestras, home-grown stars, touring bands and a new generation that would emerge at the end of the ‘60s.
Early releases were recorded in the back of Henri’s shop in Pointe-a-Pitre, from his own sextet playing percussive biguines to young saxophonist Edouard Benoit, leader of Les Maxels and regular arranger for Debs bands. Other artists ranged from big bands like Orchestre Esperanza and Orchestre Caribbean Jazz to poet and radio personality Casimir “Caso” Létang and folkloric gwo ka artist Sydney Leremon. Debs also capitalised on recording foreign touring artists visiting Guadeloupe during the early ‘60s including Haitian trumpeter Raymond Cicault and Trinidadian bandleader Cyril Diaz.
Compiled by Hugo Mendez (Sofrito) and Emile Omar (Radio Nova), ‘Disques Debs International’ is released in conjunction with Henri Debs Et Fils and Air Caraibes. The package features a host of rare and unseen photos from the Debs archive with both formats featuring extensive sleeve notes and interviews with Philippe Debs and Max “Maxo” Severin of Les Vikings. Volumes 2 and 3 follow in 2019. It’s out now.
Strut continue their work with the “Godfather Of Ethio Jazz”, Mulatu Astatke, with the rest of official reissues of his early classics ‘Afro Latin Soul’ Volumes 1 and 2 from 1966, recorded as The Ethiopian Quintet.
Arriving after Astatke’s life-changing years studying at Berklee College in Boston, the albums were the rest experiments in his pioneering sound, fusing Ethiopian cultural music with Afro Latin and jazz forms. “I have always felt a deep connection between Latin and African music,” he explains. “I travelled to Cuba and listened to their musicians; the tempo, rhythm and feeling was very similar to different African forms. In the mid-‘60s, I formed a band called The Ethiopian Quintet in New York comprising Ethiopian, Latin and Afro-American musicians – the band included trumpeter and pianist Rudy Houston who later played with Yambu and Felix Torres who played with La Sonora Poncena.”
Supported by Worthy Records’ Gil Snapper who offered to record the quintet, Astatke began to experiment during two separate sessions: “We created a different feel and different arrangements. On the rst recording, I played an adaptation of an ancient Ethiopian warrior song, ‘I Faram Gami I Faram’ – the lyrics were translated so that the singer could sing it in Spanish. Some compositions were important steps for me: ‘Mascaram Setaba’ (‘Summer Is Coming’) ‘Shagu’ and ‘Almaz’. With the second album, a personal favourite is ‘Girl From Addis Ababa’ which worked very nicely as a fusion of Ethiopian modes and R&B rhythms.”
Astatke would start to perfect his Ethio jazz sound on his later album for Worthy in 1972, ‘Mulatu Of Ethiopia’ (STRUT129) but the two volumes of ‘Afro Latin Soul’ stand as important recordings documenting his early career. “It was a very interesting time to be in New York during the mid-‘60s. I was there at the same time as Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Fela Kuti and we each tried to play our part in putting Africa on the map of contemporary jazz.”
‘Afro Latin Soul’ Volumes 1 and 2 come in their full original artwork and are painstakingly remastered by The Carvery. All formats feature personal liner notes by Mulatu Astatke. It’s out now and available on Strut.
“The new album is complete fire – right in the moment.” – Gilles Peterson
Strut presents the brand new album from cosmic jazz travellers The Pyramids, led by saxophonist Idris Ackamoor, ’An Angel Fell’. “I wanted to use folklore, fantasy and drama as a warning bell,” explains Ackamoor. “The songs explore global themes that are important to me and to us all: the rise of catastrophic climate change and our lack of concern for our planet, loss of innocence and separation… but positive themes too, the healing power of music, collective action and the simple beauty of nature.”
Produced by Malcolm Catto of The Heliocentrics, the album was recorded during an intense week at Quatermass studios in London and is one of the deepest, richest works yet from a band reaching their highest creative peak since the early ’70s. Some of the many highlights include the poignant title track depicting a fallen angel in purgatory, outrage and grief on the powerful, hard hitting ‘Soliloquy For Michael Brown’ and the lilting, beautiful album closer, ‘Sunset’.
The Pyramids originally came together in 1972 at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio where teachers included renowned pianist, Cecil Taylor. After forming in Paris and embarking on a “cultural odyssey” across Africa, the group recorded three independent albums, ‘Lalibela’ (1973), ‘King Of Kings’ (1974) and ‘Birth / Speed / Merging’ (1976) and became renowned for their striking live shows, mixing percussive, spiritual and space-age jazz with performance theatre and dance. After migrating to San Francisco, they disbanded in 1977. 35 years later, the band reunited in 2012 following growing demand for their music from vinyl collectors. German label Disko B released the freeform album ‘Otherwordly’ and in 2016, they released their first album for Strut, the acclaimed ‘We Be All Africans’.
‘An Angel Fell’ is released on Strut on 11th May 2018 and features full hand-painted artwork by Lewis Heriz. It’s out now 2LP, CD and digital formats.
Strut presents the definitive reissues of two all-time classic Caribbean soul and funk albums, The Beginning Of The End’s ‘Funky Nassau’ (1971) and ‘Beginning Of The End’ (1976). Both are available now.
Emerging from Nassau in the Bahamas in 1971, the band was formed around the Munnings brothers (Ray, Leroy and Frank) and the first song they recorded, ‘Funky Nassau’, became a No. 1 Billboard R’n’B hit, selling over a million copies. “We wanted to create something new,” remembers Ray Munnings, “something that was truly Bahamian. We loved funk but wanted to include elements of junkanoo, the indigenous music of The Bahamas.” An album was written within a week and recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami. “We brought in more Bahamian themes, like ‘Monkey Tamarind’, a wild fruit that grows there.”
By the time of their second album in 1976, the band was managed by Don Taylor, also Bob Marley’s manager. “Don took us to Byron Lee’s studio in Jamaica and used Teddy Randazzo (Little Anthony & The Imperials) to direct the sessions,” recalls Munnings. “He gave us more of an uptempo jazz funk sound with Chicago-style horns.” The album led to a run of incredible bad luck. Booked to support Marvin Gaye’s ’What’s Goin’ On’ tour, the US Musicians Union stepped in and ordered a US group to fill the slot. They were then added onto a major Bob Marley tour in 1976 before he injured his foot, cancelling all dates.
These definitive official reissues of ‘Funky Nassau’ and ‘Beginning Of The End’ are remastered by The Carvery from original tapes and feature full length tracks from the studio sessions. Both albums feature a history of the albums and the band by vocalist Ray Munnings, alongside rare photos. ‘Beginning Of The End’ appears on loud- press 2LP for the first time. The CD edition features both albums + all extra singles recorded by the band.
Strut and Art Yard present another exclusive from the vast catalogue of cosmic jazz pioneer Sun Ra: a previously unreleased radio session most likely recorded at the WXPN FM radio studios in Philadelphia, 1974-5.
This newly discovered session features a new version of Ra’s earlier ‘Island In The Sun’, a raucous rendition of ‘Unmask The Batman’ and the first studio recording of ‘I’ll Wait For You’ There is no bass player on the sessions and Ra’s left hand beats out a rhythmic bass pattern on the piano. All tracks are remastered directly from the original tapes.
Recently discovered in the Sun Ra archive, the recording forms part of a series of sessions that Ra and the Arkestra recorded for WXPN-FM between 1974 and 1980. The ‘Antique Blacks’ album was recorded there in ’74. Based on the campus of The University of Pennsylvania, WXPN’s station manager Jules Epstein and music director Russ Woessner were instrumental in the exposure and recording of The Arkestra in their broadcast production studios. Geno Barnhart, founder of The Empty Foxhole concert collective, Jules and Russ broadcast an on-going series of jazz concerts covering a wide spectrum. The Arkestra performed at The Foxhole in Philly many times from 1974.
Of Abstract Dreams is out now on LP, CD and digital.
Strut presents the new album from the modern day leader of Afrobeat, Seun Kuti. The youngest son of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti is as incensed by injustice as his father ever was and, with his mighty new album Black Times including features from Carlos Santana and Robert Glasper, he honours the revolutionaries who have gone before and rallies the torch-bearers to come. It’s out now on 2LP, CD and digital formats.
Black Times is the fourth album by Seun and Egypt 80, the extraordinary dance orchestra created by Fela Kuti as a conduit for the common people. Inherited by the 14-year-old Seun in 1997, the younger Kuti has been building to this, his most accomplished and honest album yet.
‘Black Times’ is the fourth album by Seun and Egypt 80, the extraordinary dance orchestra created by Fela Kuti. Inherited by the 14-year- old Seun in 1997, the younger Kuti has been building to this, his most accomplished and honest album yet. “Black Times is a true reflection of my political and social beliefs,” says the singer, bandleader and musician, 34. “It is an album for anybody who believes in change and understands the duty we have to rise up and come together. The elites always try to divide the working class and the poor people of the world. The same oppression felt by workers in Flint, Michigan is felt by workers in Lagos and Johannesburg.”
Strut present the first ever new international studio album by one of the all-time great African big bands, Orchestre Les Mangelepa. “Last Band Standing” is out now! Comprising Congolese musicians who settled in Kenya, Les Mangelepa helped drive the East African evolutionary spur of one of the greatest musical artforms, African rumba, during the 1970s.
Developing a regular residency in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park at the Park Inn, Mangelepa began to draw huge crowds. Their early recordings helped them to establish their authority, released on contemporary labels like Jojo and Tobina. Alongside a spectacular horn section they were known for their tight vocals and bittersweet, poetic lyrics and, during the late ‘70s, Mangelepa’s stage shows were an unsurpassed breath-taking circus. They held a wide appeal across a spectrum of Kenyans; Congolese (Lingala) music was hugely popular and Mangelepa’s Swahili lyrics used the genre and brought Kenyans together across ethnic divisions. The popular music of Kenya at that time included Benga from the shores of Lake Victoria and Chakacha from the coast; Les Mangelepa became skilful and adept songwriters, harnessing the energy from these other music styles.
The band’s fame spread across East Africa, scoring household hits in Kenya with songs like ‘Maindusa’ and ‘Embakasi’. In the late ‘70s, under George Opiyo’s management, they embarked on lengthy tours of Uganda and Malawi and returned to their long-running Nairobi residency at Garden Square. In 1982 they headed to Zimbabwe via Tanzania and Zambia and, after breaking into two factions, made several acclaimed albums including ‘Safari Ya Mangelepa’ and ‘Madina’ for PolyGram.
In 2016, Les Mangelepa finally made it out of Africa, touring Europe including the Afrika Festival in Hertme, Netherlands. This new album, recorded by No Nation’s Guy Morley, encapsulates some of their best-loved material, re-recorded and brought up to date using the current personnel of their Nairobi Vibro residency. They represent a wonderful era of African music and justifiably warrant the title ‘Last Band Standing’.