Here is another Geoffrey Oryema song, which I initially considered skipping over for fear of redundancy. But then I discovered some good quality video of the artist performing at Woodstock ’94. That was thing, and I think it’s gone down as one of those ill-advised mildly embarrassing things from the 90’s, like hacky sack and No Fear t-shirts. But they did book Geoffrey Oryema to play in front of several thousand people, so that’s a positive. You would think that Oryema’s music is too intimate to translate well to festival stages, but it actually sounds surprisingly good. If the audience seems somnolent, well, I assume they’re all deeply, deeply stoned, and honestly, that sounds quite pleasant to me. I mean, festivals are exhausting, and you get subjected to a lot of mediocre acts desperately trying to play to the back of the crowd, and opportunities to just sit back and enjoy some fine musicianship are actually pretty rare. So yeah, that looks like a good time to me.
Is there such a thing as intense relaxation? If that is not too much of an oxymoron, then this is the most intensely relaxing music. Too call Geoffrey Oryema’s music ‘exotic’ would be cliche (and racist) but I have to call it something, so I’ll go with otherworldly. Oryema’s Exile is a unique offering. Thanks to the production of the all-powerful Brian Eno, it avoids the tropes of the ‘world music’ market. No aggressive drumming, choral ululation or happy platitudes. Oryema has also made albums with Peter Gabriel, and the difference is striking. Gabriel, though honorable of intention, belongs to the school of production that sells African artists to Western audiences only in ‘African drag’, marketed by uplifting backstories of struggle, as if their artistic achievements can’t be taken seriously on their own terms. Oryema, of course, has his backstory; his family fled political persecution in Uganda. Exile is the name of the album, and it is a state of being. The album is an emotional meditation, a sustained atmosphere of bittersweet nostalgia. Almost none of it is in English, and it doesn’t need to be. It is rather experimental in that sense; it doesn’t sell its story, it implies it.
“Peace and love in the north, peace and love in the south, peace and love in the east, peace and love in the universe”
Please? Even if you’re suffering from idealism exhaustion, even if you’ve dismissed the concept of peace (world or local) as a childish pipe dream, you might still feel a little lifted up. Black Uhuru does that. It’s music for positive mobilization. Remember that peace is not an abstract concept; it’s built on simple things like freedom, justice and equality. So motivate yourself to fight for those things, piece by piece.
It sounds like a reggae party next door is pretty cool happenings even if you’re not invited to it. I mean, if I had Rasta neighbors who threw parties all night, I’d be pretty okay with it. And if you’re throwing your own reggae party, this is your jam, because Black Uhuru is the best party music. When it comes to classic reggae, they are among the very greatest, and about due for a revival, I think.
In 2008, the underground rapper M.I.A. officially ‘crossed over’ (a phrase with loaded meaning for an immigrant and child of political activists.) She brought her unique diy aesthetic into the mainstream and created one of the hits of the decade. If she turned out to be too weird for the mainstream, too outspoken politically, too unhappy with the boxes she was stuffed into as a woman and a person of color, too unique in her music and her style….well, good for her. The world doesn’t need another ‘fun’ pop star with a little flavor; M.I.A. is all flavor and it’s the kind of flavor you find in neighborhoods you’re afraid to go into because all the signs aren’t in English. She’s been offering a view into that world for over a decade – not always hitting the bullseye, but never not interesting. Her music is for everybody, but it’s not about everybody. That may be hard for some people, but that is what great artists do.
I just can’t get enough of Angelique Kidjo. I’d temporarily forgotten how much I love this record. I have to say that one of the reasons I have such a soft spot for Kidjo is because she was one of the first artists I discovered for myself as a young adult (back in the days when you could go to the neighborhood record store and find samples and recommendations.) That’s always a special feeling, when you discover something that nobody else in your circle knows about. Kidjo’s records have been a constant for me ever since. She is someone I can listen to at any time, listen to all day, and always feel good listening to.
How about something uplifting? Angelique Kidjo duetting with American R’N’B star Kelly Price, perhaps? One of Kidjo’s great talents is seamlessly putting together seemingly disparate musical styles, and this is no exception. She and Price sound great together, and the African and the American sides fit together in one funky whole.