Friday, 17 November 2017

Lil Peep

Today I would be preparing the second part of the Euro Disco story. But a few minutes ago, I read about the death of a young man, only 21, a few hours earlier. The young man who is sadly no longer with us is emo rapper Lil Peep, who, a few months ago, came out, with a simple Twitter statement: "I am Bisexual." Unfortunately, he was also a drug user and suffered from deep depression. So - change of plans - today's story belongs to him.

Lil Peep was born Gustav Åhr on November 1, 1996, in Long Island, New York, and was raised in Long Beach, New York. His father is a university professor and his mother is a first-grade teacher in Long Island. He was of German, Swedish and Irish descent.

After dropping out of High School, he took online courses to earn his diploma. Shortly thereafter, he began posting the music he made on YouTube and SoundCloud. In 2015, Åhr released his first mixtape, Lil Peep Part One which generated 4,000 plays in its first week. The opening track, Praying To The Sky, contains the verse:

"I hear voices in my head, they tellin' me to call it quits
I found some Xanax in my bed, I took that shit, went back to sleep
They gon' miss me when I'm dead, I lay my head and rest in peace
I'm prayin' to the sky and I don't even know why"

On November 15, 2017, Åhr was found unresponsive on his tour bus when his manager went to check on him in preparation for that night's performance at a Tucson, Arizona venue. Emergency responders rendered medical aid at the scene but were unable to revive him. His death was confirmed First Access Entertainment CEO Sarah Stennett, who released a statement claiming that his mother "asked [Stennett] to convey that she is very, very proud of him and everything he was able to achieve in his short life". Detectives of the Tucson Police Department found evidence which suggests "that the rapper died of an overdose of the anti-anxiety medication Xanax".

On the same mixtape is the song The Way I See Things. It contains the verse:

"I don't feel much pain
Got a knife in my back
And a bullet in my brain
I’m clinically insane
Walking home alone
I see faces in the rain"

Also on this mixtape is Veins, one of his earlier songs:

Another Song begins with "If I'm going to die - if I'm going to kill myself, I should take some pills":

The last song on the mixtape is a haunting song called Shame On U:

Shortly thereafter, he released his first extended play, Feelz; this is the title song:

His next mixtape was Live Forever. It opens with Angeldust:

It also contains Haunt U:

This is the title track, Live Forever:

From the same mixtape, here's 2008:

His next extended play was called Vertigo. From this EP, this is Come Around:

This was at the beginning of 2016. During that same year, he released 3 more extended plays and two mixtapes. From Crybaby, here's the title track:

His other mixtape was Hellboy. This is the title track:

This is OMFG. Here are some of the lyrics:

"My life is going nowhere,
I want everyone to know that I don't care
I used to wanna kill myself, came up still wanna kill myself."

This one's called Cobain. It features Lil Tracy:

One of his EPs was called California Girls. This is Beamer Boy:

From the same EP, this is Beat It:

Another EP was Teen Romance. From it, here's Suck My Blood:

Castles was an EP in which he collaborated with Lil Tracy. From it, this is White Wine:

The same duo collaborated on Castles II. From it, this is WitchBlades and this is one of its verses:

"In high school, I was a loner
I was a reject, I was a poser
Multiple personalities, I'm bipolar
I swear I mean well, I'm still goin' to hell"

This is Your Favorite Dress:

On August 11, 2017, Lil Peep released his debut album, Come Over When You're Sober. This would also be his only album... Peep came out as bisexual during the album's promotion.

From this album, this is Benz Truck:

... This is Awful Things:

... This is The Brightside:

... And this is Better Off (Dying):

Mere hours before his death, the artist posted an Instagram video in which he claimed he'd taken prescription drugs. "I'm good," he says in the footage. "I'm not sick."

In another Instagram post he shared the day before his death, he wrote, "When I die You'll love me."

Lil Peep has been described as the future of emo by Steven J. Horowitz of online magazine Pitchfork.

Other musicians paid tribute on social media after news of his death emerged; DJ and producer Diplo said: "Peep had so much more to do, man, he was constantly inspiring me. I don't feel good, man."

"Peep was the nicest person," wrote Dutch dance music producer Marshmello. "Hanging out with him, talking to him about music, the song ideas we were going to do together and touring was so amazing. Everyone will miss you, man."

Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz and rapper Post Malone were also among musicians who paid tribute to Lil Peep on social media. "No. Not Lil peep," tweeted Wentz, adding: "We have to talk about mental health in an open way."

Post Malone wrote: "In the short time that I knew you, you were a great friend to me and a great person. Your music changed the world and it'll never be the same. I love you, bud. Forever."

All I have to add to all these, as my own farewell, is this little story and his songs. At least, we have these...

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Euro Disco / African Disco

While discussing the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer, we specified that she began her career in Germany. While Disco music was chiefly an American genre, directly originating from R&B, there was quite a movement in the rest of the world too. Our story today concerns acts that originated from or created their sound in other countries than the US.

I decided to use the photo of the most famous of these acts, especially in Europe: Boney M. was a group created by German record producer Frank Farian (real name Franz Reuther). Originally based in West Germany, the four original members of the group's official line-up were Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett from Jamaica, Maizie Williams from Montserrat and Bobby Farrell from Aruba. With more than 150 million records sold, they are one of the best-selling artists of all time. Their first huge success was Daddy Cool:

Daddy Cool was written by Farian and co. But the group also covered older hits, giving them the Disco twist, like Bobby Hebb's R&B hit, Sunny:

... or the Yardbirds rock hit, Still I'm Sad:

... or Bob Marley's reggae classic, No Woman, No Cry:

They were also inspired by true people and events; like the legendary 1930s outlaw Ma Barker, although the name was changed into Ma Baker because "it sounded better":

... or by the controversial Russian monk, Grigori Rasputin, a friend and advisor of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family during the early 20th century.

... or by the political situation in Northern Ireland, in Belfast:

They also had big hits that sounded like children's songs, like Brown Girl In The Ring:

... or Hooray! Hooray! It's a Holi-Holiday:

Surprisingly, two of their biggest hits had religious origins. Rivers of Babylon is a Rastafarian song written and recorded by Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Jamaican reggae group The Melodians in 1970. The lyrics are adapted from the texts of Psalms 19 and 137 in the Hebrew Bible. Boney M.'s cover version was awarded a platinum disc and is one of the top ten all-time best-selling singles in the UK.

Mary's Boy Child - Oh My Lord was a 1978 Christmas single for Boney M., a cover of Harry Belafonte's 1956 hit, put in a medley with the new song Oh My Lord (Farian / Jay).

True, they were incredibly cheesy, but, the thing is, they ruled the European charts in the second half of the 1970s. By the way, their various CD collections are still popular, today.

Another German Disco group that made it big internationally was Silver Convention. The group was initiated in Munich by producers and songwriters Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze. Using female session vocalists Gitta Walther, Lucy Neale, Betsy Allen, Roberta Kelly, and Jackie Carter for their first recordings, they scored a successful single in the United Kingdom in 1975 with the song Save Me, which peaked at #30.

They were only a studio group; Levay and Kunze realized then that they would need to find professional entertainers for presentation to the public. Penny McLean, Ramona Wulf and Linda G. Thompson, three tall and slender performers, became the public face of Silver Convention.

They scored two major international hit singles. Fly, Robin, Fly, of which the complete lyrics consisted of only six different words (Fly, Robin, Up, To, The, Sky), maintained three weeks at #1 in late November and early December 1975 in the US, and won the group a Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc.

Their next success Get Up And Boogie, which also consisted of only six different words (Get, Up, And, Boogie, That's, Right), hit #1 in Canada on June 15, 1976, had 3 weeks at #2 in the US in June 1976, and also peaked at #7 in the UK, in May 1976.

Dschinghis Khan (known in some countries as Genghis Khan) is a German pop band originally formed in Munich in 1979 to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest with their song Dschinghis Khan. It only managed 4th place in the competition, but was a big hit all over Europe:

The band was formed and managed by Ralph Siegel. The only native Germans in the group were the bald-headed Karl-Heinz "Steve" Bender, and Wolfgang Heichel, who brought his Dutch-born wife Henriette (nee Strobel) with him. Louis Hendrik Potgieter, the impersonator of Genghis Khan, was South African. Edina Pop (Marika Késmárky) was a Hungarian who had started her singing career in West Germany in 1969. Leslie Mándoki, also Hungarian, had fled Hungary in 1975.

In 1979, the band released the single Moskau. In 1980, its English-language version topped the charts in Australia for six weeks, largely thanks to Seven Network using the song as the theme music for coverage of the 1980 Summer Olympics.

Arabesque was an all-girl trio formed at the height of the European disco era in 1977 in Frankfurt, Germany. The group's changing lineup worked with the German composer Jean Frankfurter (Erich Ließmann) and became especially popular in Japan and the USSR. Hello Mr. Monkey was a huge hit in Asia, particularly Japan and South Korea, spending weeks at number one:

Their follow-up, Friday Night, was big in Japan, reaching #9 on the charts.

Eruption was formed in 1969 as a school band in the United Kingdom as Silent Eruption and consisted of musicians of African and Caribbean origins. After some initial success in the UK in 1974, their fortunes decreased dramatically, so they looked for a better future in Germany, where they were discovered by Hans-Jörg Meyer who worked as a talent scout for Frank Farian (the producer of Boney M.) Farian signed the group with the Germany-based Hansa Records. Their cover of Ann Peebles' I Can't Stand the Rain was an international hit, reaching #5 in the UK Singles Chart and #18 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

One Way Ticket (a cover of Neil Sedaka's song) was another UK top 10 hit for them:

I don't think I need to introduce Abba, do I? The Swedish supergroup wasn't Disco per se, but some of their big hits were also huge Disco hits; like the song that started it all, Eurovision winner Waterloo:

... also their biggest international hit and one of the most perfect pop songs ever, Dancing Queen:

... Summer Night City:

... Does Your Mother Know:

... Voulez-Vous:

... and Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight):

The group is in a league of their own, having sold close to 500 million records worldwide and still being culturally relevant today, 45 years after their first hit.

Moving on to the Netherlands, here's another Eurovision winner which fits in the genre: the group Teach-In with the song Ding-a-dong:

In 1976, Dutch record producers, Hans van Hemert and Piet Souer, and manager Han Meijer decided to form a girl group, inspired by the German disco trio Silver Convention. They called the group Luv and in 1978 they had their international breakthrough with You're the Greatest Lover which sold one million copies.

Trojan Horse was another million seller:

Casanova was a top 10 hit in much of Continental Europe:

Ooh, Yes I Do was a big hit in Europe and also a #1 hit in Mexico:

Snoopy was a Dutch female disco duo. In 1978–1979 they had a hit with No Time for a Tango:

Disco took off in Spain after the death of the ultra-conservative dictator, General Franco in 1975, with artists such as Baccara. Here's the female duo with their biggest hit, a #1 in most of Europe, Yes Sir, I Can Boogie:

... and this is their successful follow-up, Sorry, I'm A Lady:

Let's now discuss African Disco. There were a few songs of the genre that became international hits and many more that were really good songs. We'll begin with one such international hit - one whose creator's own story is a celebration of national diversity. Afric Simone was born in Brazil, to a Brazilian father and Mozambique-origin mother, but at the age of 9 (after his father's death) he and his mother had to move to her motherland Mozambique on the east coast of Africa, at Xipamanine in the capital city Lourenço Marques, now Maputo. Once, when he appeared on stage in Maputo, his manager asked him to come to London.

While doing gigs all over Europe, he was lucky to be spotted by Eddie Barclay, the French record tycoon, who gave him a recording contract. His second single, Ramaya (1975), was a big hit in many European countries:

His next single, Hafanana, was also a hit:

Afric Simone speaks German, English, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and various African languages. He recently settled in Germany (in Berlin) and his wife is Russian. Which goes to show that borders are just lines drawn on maps.

Moving from Mozambique to Cameroon, we find Emmanuel N'Djoké Dibango, otherwise known as Manu Dibango. He is responsible, of course, for the seminal proto-disco classic, Soul Makossa:

... He achieved a considerable following in the UK with a disco hit called Big Blow, originally released in 1976 and re-mixed as a 12" single in 1978 on Island Records.

Also from Cameroon, this is Maloko with In The Midnight Hour:

Now, let's visit Ghana, where the leader of a very important band, Osibisa, comes from. The band was formed by Ghanaian Teddy Osei (saxophone), his brother Mac Tontoh (trumpet), and their compatriot Sol Amarfio (drums). In London they were joined by Grenadian Spartacus R (bass); Trinidadian Robert Bailey (keyboard); Antiguan Wendell Richardson (lead guitar & lead vocalist); and Nigerians Mike Odumosu and Fred Coker (bass guitar) and Lasisi Amao (percussionist and tenor saxophone). Their most iconic song was released in 1975 - and we all have danced to it at one time or another - the classy Sunshine Day:

A year later, Dance the Body Music was another fantastic Disco single:

Another artist from Ghana was Pat Thomas. One of his hits was called Yesu San Bra (1980):

Now we visit Kenya: Kelly Brown was born in Mombasa with the name Mohammed Abdulkadir Ali Bux and in the seventies, his career began when he toured through the hotels on the Kenyan coast. After spending some time in Europe (mainly in Stuttgart, Germany), he returned to Kenya. He had hits in the mid-to-late-70s, but they don't exist on youtube. In 1980, Higher was released and became an international hit:

Only You Can was also a big hit for him:

Brown, who took his name from his idol, James Brown, spent the 1980s commuting between Stuttgart and Nairobi. On February 3, 1989, he was found in his Stuttgart apartment, dismembered. His murder was never solved.

... also from Kenya, Okyerema Asante with Sabi:

... also from Kenya, The Reddings with ‎Remote Control:

South Africa also had a vibrant music scene. Here are some key tracks of Afro-Disco / Afro-Funk that were released between 1975-1985. These are Kabasa with Unga Pfula A Chi Pfalo:

This is Elias Maluleke & Mavambe Girls with Khombo Ranga (1981):

These are The Actions with Kokro-Ko (Hide & Seek) (1977):

This is Almon Memela with The Things We Do In Soweto (1975):

These are The Movers with Disco Sound (1977):

This is Damara with Mmamakhabtha:

This is Marumo with Khomo Tsaka Deile Kae? (1982):

... and this is The Drive with Ain't Sittin' Down Doin' Nothing:

With Nigeria being the most populous country in Africa (not to mention the seventh in the world) and Lagos being a truly international city, it shouldn’t be a surprise that so many dancefloor-orientated genres - Afrobeat, Afrofunk, and Afrodisco - flourished there in the 1970s and 80s.

This is Mixed Grill with A Brand New Wayo. Recorded in Lagos but mixed and mastered at Abbey Road, with an international release on Decca, Mixed Grill’s 1979 album A Cry for Peace and Love was obviously made with one eye on crossover potential. But even if they were aiming at an American audience, you can’t mistake where those drums come from.

These are the Lijadu Sisters, considered to be the West African version of the Pointer Sisters, with the song Come On Home:

Another Nigerian son, Tony Allen, as much as the charismatic Fela and Orlando Julius, was responsible for the Afrobeat sound. He was lionized – along with Klaus Dinger of Neu! and Clyde Stubblefield of James Brown’s band – by Brian Eno for inventing one of the three most important drum beats of the late 20th century. Fela claimed Allen’s ability to play four separate rhythms simultaneously made him feel like he had a quartet of drummers in his band rather than just one. This is Love Is A Natural Thing from 1979:

The Sahara All Stars were as happy playing reggae as they were jamming out long Afrobeat numbers and cutting crisp disco funk tracks, as Take Your Soul shows. They came from Jos, in the middle belt of Nigeria.

Joni Haastrup was born in Sierra Leone, but he grew up among Nigerian royalty and made his name – to a certain extent at least – on the dancefloors of his adopted country. The qualifier is necessary because despite being one of the most important musicians involved in the country’s highlife, rock, Afrobeat and disco scenes, he has remained relatively unknown. Perhaps it is understandable given that he recorded under a bewildering number of aliases and spent a lot of his career collaborating with other musicians and playing second fiddle in their bands. He was a member of the Ginger Baker groups Salt and Air Force; he provided the vocals on the first ever Afrobeat album, Orlando Julius’s Super Afro Soul, and he worked with Fela Kuti on other crucial releases. This killer slo-mo disco track from 1978 is called Greetings:

Orlando Julius came from Nigeria and had a solid grounding in many African musical styles and cultures, but he was also a true internationalist. He was a regular collaborator with the Detroit soul powerhouse Lamont Dozier, for example, and this adaptability left him well positioned to pull off this exquisitely balanced hybrid of languid disco and serotonin-drenched highlife, called Disco Hi-Life, in 1979.

The charismatic and rich-voiced Arakatula released Mr Been To in 1979:

Remember producer and songwriter Sylvester Levay who was one-half of the brains behind Silver Convention? His real name is Tee Mac Omatshola Iseli. Born into Nigerian royalty in 1948, he was packed off to Zurich at an early age after his father – a successful businessman and diplomat – was assassinated at work. However traumatic it was, the move would prove fruitful for Tee Mac because it brought him under the influence and tutelage of Jean-Pierre Rampal, a brilliant and internationally respected flutist. After 14 years studying the instrument, the 22-year-old Tee Mac returned to Lagos, where he formed a series of heavyweight psychedelic Afro-rock bands including Tee Mac and Afro Collection and the amazingly named Tee Mac and the Backing Band. The former outfit featured Berkley Jones on lead guitar, Joni Haastrup on keyboards, Friday Puzzo on congas and for a short time, Ginger Baker on drums, before Baker absconded with all the musicians bar Tee Mac to form his own group, Salt. The flute-playing prodigy wasn't fazed and recorded an 18m-selling single called Fly Robin Fly under the pseudonym Levay, which set him up financially for life. He then served a stint as Shirley Bassey's arranger and bandleader before relaunching himself as a disco musician with the Party Fever LP in 1976. From his 1980 album Nepa Oh Nepa, this is Talk to Me:

Eno Louis was a resident member of Fela Kuti’s Republic of Kalakuta compound until a notoriously vicious army attack in 1977 caused him to flee to America. Confusingly, he didn’t record his highly collectible Living in USA album until 1982, when he was back in Nigeria. The track Move! features his early experiments with the emergent rap scene, but Hot Love showcases his more disco boogie-leaning sensibilities.

We will end today's tale with a song that ties the story of African Disco to our next subject, the Disco scene in France/Belgium and Italy. Aie A Mwana is the best-known title of a song originally written by the French-Belgian writing and production team of Daniel Vangarde and Jean Kluger. It was first recorded in 1971 under the title Aieaoa on the album Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki.

In 1975, Belgian record producer Michel Jaspar - who had been born in what was then the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) - was contacted by Zairean singer Steve Banda Kalenga, who had formed a band with friends from Angola. Jaspar renamed the band Black Blood and, with fellow musician Ralph Benatar and with the encouragement of Kluger, produced the band's first single in Belgium. The A-side was Marie Therese, written by Jaspar, and the B-side was a version of Aieaoa which Jaspar re-wrote with lyrics in Swahili, apart from the words "Aie a Mwana" themselves which are meaningless. It was the B-side, Aie A Mwana, which became successful, reaching #1 in Belgium and France, as well as being a hit in other parts of the world.

There was also a Greek version; this is dedicated to my Greek and Cypriot friends with a wink and a smile. This is Lakis Jordanelli with Αγοράζω Παλιά:

Aie a Mwana was the first single released by Bananarama. Originally released as a stand-alone single, Aie A Mwana was eventually added to the group's debut album Deep Sea Skiving in a remixed and more polished version two years later.

That's it for today. We'll be back soon, with the rest of Europe.