Monday, June 24, 2013

P Susheela and TM Soundarajan | Iruvar Ullam and Pale Pandiya

Reupped by reader request here.

While Chennai-based Tamil-language cinema shares many elements of its Mumbai/Hindi counterpart, anyone who has heard a lot of Bollywood music is going to find that of Kollywood a bit off -- in a really, frankly, awesome way. For one thing, the voices are more, how to say, "wobbly." Whereas 1930s-40s Bollywood boasted smooth-voiced, hard-drinkin' KL Saigal, Kollywood from roughly the same period was exploiting straight-edge Carnatic diva MS Subbalakshmi. Which is not a slight to Saigal, who was one of the 20th century's greatest singers ... but.

By the early sixties -- which is when the soundtracks for the two films included here were recorded -- P Susheela had well-established herself as the Lata Mangeshakar of the southern subcontinent; TM Soundarajan was something akin to her Kishore. I have no idea how important either of these films were in the Kollywood scheme of things (although I did note that both seem to have been recently remade -- or, at least, their titles were borrowed), but the music, half a century later, is still nothing short of delightful.

I found this CD in an as-yet-to-be disclosed location last weekend. I'm hesitant to tip my hand at this point because, while I picked up several Tamil recordings, there is still a good-sized batch there that I'd like to revisit this weekend, if I have time. If I'm lucky, and snag it all, we'll have tunes here for, like, ever. [Update: I've pretty much vacuumed every last Kollywood CD from the place, which is on 74th Street in Jackson Heights. I'll be posting previously unposted material from that haul in the weeks to come.]

Sravanti Mazumdar | Aay Khuku Aay

Get it here.

Found on 73rd Street in Jackson Heights a couple of months ago -- an admittedly completely random "Let's see what this is all about" purchase. Mazumdar is Bengali, and I believe she is originally from Calcutta and now living on the Isle of Man. I don't know anything more about her, or this music, which seems a lot like film music (in the Indian sense of film music), though it's just as possible that it's pure pop.

But what pop! Listen to the awesome sample above, composed by V. Balsara, who reputedly began his music career at age four and gave his first solo performance (for a packed house) at age six, and save me from feeling the need to emphasize that this is an absolute must-have item for any and all Bodega regulars. (FWIW, the last song on this record, as best as I can tell, is a Bangla version of "Seasons in the Sun." Just sayin'.)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Zeina | Delila

Reupped in 320 kick-ass kbps here.

Found several years ago at Princess Music in Bay Ridge. I miss Princess Music. I believe they finally closed their doors in 2009.

Without being hyperbolic, I can honestly say that Zeina, to my mind, is the single most awesome pop singer to come out of Lebanon since Najwa Karam. Forty seconds into the first track of this album, see if you agree. It's an opinion based on nothing more than the strength, and frankly the aggressiveness, of her voice. Where most other Lebanese pop stars exhibit a light sweetness, Zeina is gritty and tough. 

Here's rare live footage of her (warning! terrible sound):

Super Negro Bantous + Super Five International | "Super Duo"

Reupped by popular demand here.

[Originally written September 9, 2012.] I like to think of the Bronx as the birthplace of what more or less defines contemporary popular music, not just here in the U.S., but all over the world. It's an insane proposition, of course, and I know that. But if we can all agree that hip-hop has in a way become global pop's lingua franca, then it's not, like, KRAZY-crazy to think along these lines, is it?

Whatever. This is merely a fancy way of saying that I spent a good chunk of time today in the Bronx, walking up White Plains Road from the intriguingly named Gun Hill Road to 232nd Street, stopping in African DVD stores, drug stores selling DVDs and CDs, and two black-music focused record/CD/cassette stores: Moodies Records (3976 White Plains Road) and Millennium Records (4045 White Plains Road).

My first stop--where I found the CD above--was a combination drug/variety and DVD/CD store. The idea of combining one's music, movies and remedies all in one place is not unique to a single culture--there is, for instance, Tu Quynh Pharmacy in Manhattan's Chinatown, where I found at least one Vietnamese CD I've been meaning to add to the shelves here.

"This music is in African language," one of clerks helpfully reported to me as I bent down to dig through the two-three dozen CDs they had relegated to about half of one side of the store's middle aisle. I wanted to say something clever in reply, something like, "Music is the universal language of mankind," or better yet, "Music is the language of the soul, and yet the soul can never translate it!"

Instead, I looked up, met his warm smile with one of my own, and said, "That's exactly why I'm here." It turned out to be the perfect answer and he left me to my digging. Several minutes later, I stood back up, now holding five promising-looking CDs in hand.

"How much are these?" I asked.

"Five dollars," he replied.

"See?" I said. "They're totally speaking my language."
This album, contrary to what the title suggests, is not a collaboration between Super Negro Bantous (who may have originally been from Camaroon) and Super Five International. Rather, it's a compilation containing three SNB songs and seven by SFI (including the sample above, "Do Me I Do You"). It is, as you'll soon discover, a totally kick-ass record.

And, in case you're wondering, the answer is yes. Yes, I did get a number of other Nigerian CDs I'll be upping this week or next. As well as things from Ghana, South Africa and Jamaica. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Unemployed Drifter | JAKAJAAAAAN!!!!!

Get it here.

I discovered Unemployed Drifter's first album, I Wanna Be Your Beatles!!! at the Tower Records superstore in Shibuya, Tokyo, in 2010, and immediately fell in love. While this follow-up album is not as solidly great, I'm not going to sit here and tell you I don't like it. I do. (It made my top 10 albums of 2011 list.)

Anyway, I hadn't actually ever posted it to the bodega shelves; though I had linked to copy I'd found elsewhere on the web. A reader alerted me today that that link is now dead, asking if I could post -- which I've just now done. 

Unemployed Drifter | I Wanna Be Your Beatles!!!

I have reupped this upsettingly great CD here.

[Originally written and posted on June 6, 2010.] Back in Brooklyn after two weeks in Japan. Found the thrilling CD above not in a bodega but in the last remaining Tower Records on Earth, in Shibuya, Tokyo. An amazing 7-story CD store with a dozen or more listening stations on each floor.

I spent about five hours over three days listening to music from around the world, mostly J-Pop. When I pressed the button to hear the above album by post-punk girl-band Unemployed Drifter, I fell instantly in love.

Too exhausted to say anything more, but the sample song should speak for itself. Will be back when I'm rested to upload a number of other things I found in Tokyo, Kyoto and the mountains of Gunma.

Hanan | Bahebak

Get it here.

According to this biography, 1980s-90s Egyptian Al Jeel superstar Hanan has released "over six albums." That's, what? Like ... seven albums? 

"Hanan is simply a veteran artist that has a great experience," the bio continues, unperturbed by our western sarcasm. "All her albums are labeled « Slam’s » or hits by the releasing house and that is due to her great voice and unique celebratory style." Mm, yes, indeed -- you can see the word "SLAM!" in glorious teal, right there at the bottom of the CD cover. 

So, wait; let's back up a moment. What is "Al Jeel," anyway? Well, according to Bahebak's liner notes:

"Frustrated youngsters, without their own kind of music, had to wait until the eighties to satisfy their appetites for their own music culture. 

"In Cairo, the centre of major political, economic and cultural trends in the Middle-East, a new sound was born. Mohamed Mounir opened the way with his warm Nubian songs without altering their oriental authenticity."

(God knows one wants one's warm Nubian songs authentically oriental.)

"Soon Hamid el Shairi, the composer, music arranger and singer, began to dominate the scene in Summer 1986, alongside Hanan and Ala abdel Kahalek. Hamid's sense of humour and dedication to his work combined with a gift for melodies and rhythms inherited from the Bedouin and Saidi environment lead 'Al Jeel' music to the top.

"Today more than 100 million young people from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf listen to the voices of Hanan, Ihab Tawfic, Moustafa Amar and Hakim and dance to the rhythm of the Jeel music."

So, there you have it. Questions?

I found this sublimely trashy CD at the Nile Deli on Steinway Street maybe a year ago. Listening to it last night after work, I realized that you simply had to have it. Trust me, you do. You really, really, really do.

So, there. You have it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

K.B. Sundarambal | Kalathil Azhiyatha Kaviyam

Get this unimpeachably great record here.

I've got a lot to say about this album, or at least about all of the south Indian cinema related CDs I picked up at a certain media store on 74th Street in Jackson Heights a month or two ago, but I've got to finish getting ready for work so I can get in early. Born Kodumudi Balambal Sundarambal in 1908 in Erode, Tamil Nadu, the "Queen of the Indian Stage" was a legend in south India. She was also active in the independence movement and the first Indian film star to enter state legislature.

Expect more from this region in the coming days; I've gotta go pack my lunch.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mar Mar Aye | Ein Shin Ma

Reupped by reader request here. (And thanks to Peter Doolan for the image above.)

[Note: Since this post was written last year, Mar Mar Aye did in fact return to perform in Myanmar. See video just below.]

Honestly, I can almost not stand to listen to "Achi Yei" from this album, it is so devastatingly beautiful. There are only a handful of songs that can still make me feel this way, what with goosebumps rising on skin, eyes tearing up, fingers poised at keyboard as though I might be some digital age Lester Bangs readying myself to pour heart out into 1,000 heavy, soulful words on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks:
  • A mawaal by Najwa Karam, "Baladeeat," from her first album
  • Kazim Al Saher's "Waneen"
  • SD Burman's "Jaye To Jaye Kahan" from the Taxi Driver soundtrack, sung by Lata Mangeshkar.
  • Fairuz's "Mush Qasah Hay" 
So, as I've been hinting at lo these last few days, my Burmese connection, Zaw, recently called me, intoning our mutually agreed upon code phrase ("the hibiscus-secreting pink top in Pixie Hollow is circumscribed in invisible 'chaw-NEE-naw' ink") followed by the pound sign (#), to let me know that the artists whose CDs I requested he burn for me (@ $1.50 ea.) were ready to be picked up. Wait, no, I fucked that sentence up. The artists weren't ready; their CDs were.

Where was I? Oh, right; Astral WeeksSo when I arrived at the magical, mysterious Thiri Video, Zaw stepped forward to greet me and usher me across the hardwood floor of what, essentially, is his and his wife's apartment, past the kitchen, to the computer table near the back door, from which he scooped up a stack of SONY CD-R 700 MB discs in white sleeves (the image on the right being the very one you're downloading now). "I got everything I could by Mar Mar Aye," he explained--a dozen albums, as it turns out. He also burned three Poe Ei Sans and six Ni Ni Win Shwes. It's so symmetrical--12, 6, 3--I worry, frankly, though Zaw assured me that was a coincidence. (By saying absolutely nothing about it because, to be honest, I didn't ask him anything about it.)

Making the trade (cash, CDs), we exchanged our secret handshake (facing each other, each with right arm extended, bent upward at elbow to make an L, hands waving back and forth) and bid each other a pleasant afternoon, as I walked back out into the greatest city in America, Lester Bangs's "Desolation, hurt, and anguish are hardly the only things in life; they're just the things that we can most easily grasp and explicate" weaving in and out of my memory.

Postscript: Several days ago, a Burmese poet and Facebook friend posted to let us know that, after years in Exile here in the U.S., Mar Mar Aye will soon be making her first trip back to Myanmar.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mayumi Kojima | Blues de Cecile

Reupped by popular demand here.

While Blues de Cecile lacks the sophistication and musical intricacies of Kojima's later work, it's pure Shibuya-kei rockin' fun. Rarely listed among other Shibuya-kei stalwarts like Flipper's Guitar and Kahimi Karie, there's no question that Kojima draws from similar roots: namely 50s and 60s music from the Americas and Europe. When she was 18 years old, while still in high school, high on 50s American pop, she recorded her first demo, securing a contract soon after. Though she's recorded some of the most thrilling pop music to have come out of Tokyo in the last 15-odd years, the well-meaning folks at Pitchfork have apparently been too busy following every mutton-chop-sporting, three-word-named band from Sacramento to Eugene, to have noticed. 

Not that it's entirely their fault. Now 40, Kojima hasn't put out a record in more than two years, not since 2010's Blue Rondo. I was fortunate enough to have stumbled onto tonight's record in 2010 in Tokyo--in a cramped but well-stocked used CD store in, you guessed it, Shibuya.

And now you can say you were fortunate enough to have stumbled upon it here.

Oum Kalthoum | El Atlaal

Reupped in 320 glorious VBR here.

"El Atlaal," or "Traces" "The Ruins," with music composed in 1966 by Riyad al-Sunbati and lyrics derived from two poems by Ibrahim Naji ("El Atlaal" and "El Widaa," or "The Farewell"), would prove to be one of Kalthoum's most popular songs. Virginia Danielson devotes several pages of The Voice of Egypt to this song, describing how Kalthoum mashed up Naji's two poems, turning the quatrains of the first into triplets. She also describes some of the song's  specific resonances:
Several of the climactic lines took on political meaning: "Give me my freedom, set free my hands! I have given freely, I held back nothing. Ah, how your chains have made my wrists bleed. ..." In 1966, these lines were perceived by some as addressed to the repressive measures of 'Abd al-Nasir's government. After the Egyptian defeat of 1967, they took on a wider meaning, suggestive of the bondage in which many Egyptians felt the entire Arab world to be held. The lines were repeated 'everywhere,' as listeners assigned them new meanings. Over time, Umm Kulthum and her listeners moved the poetic meaning between romantic and political themes.
This toggling of meaning between the romantic and the political in popular music is not unique to Kalthoum and her audience. Cui Jian still maintains that "Nothing to My Name," which served as an anthem for the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989. (Ironically, Cui Jian was one of them, despite his own protest that the song had no intrinsic political meaning.)

This CD, which I've had for some time, was likely found at Rashid Music at its last location, on Court Street in Brooklyn, though it could have also come from Princess Music in Bay Ridge. Given it's status of one of the diva's most beloved of songs, I thought I'd top off the evening with it. I've more of her recordings and, perhaps tomorrow I'll up a few more--or may save them for another day.

Here's one performance of several available on YouTube:


And here she is singing the song in Paris in 1967:

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Nagat | Eyoun El Qalb

Grab it here.

I have wanted to post this -- one of my favorite Arabic records of all time -- for years, but I was convinced I had lost the disc. The jewel case, which I fortunately held onto, was empty and it was not until last weekend while doing a massive spring cleaning that I found it, slipped in between a couple of other CDs.

I first found this album, a good decade + change ago, in cassette tape form, in one of the half-dozen Arabic music stores I used to frequent in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I was still on the fence about digital media, continuing to buy mostly Arabic, Turkish and South Asian music on cassette (and Bolly- and Lollywood films on VHS) well past 9/11.

Speaking of which, right before 9/11 -- and I swear on all that is holy that I am not making this up -- I remember seeing, in South Asian media stores on Coney Island Avenue, references to "Terrorist Rap," which I assumed might be the bhangra equivalent of "Gangsta Rap." They disappeared shortly after the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon, although it was around that time that I found a copy of what became one of my most treasured cassettes: DJ Aps's Got the World in Fear

I just assumed that the album was a response to 9/11, and quite possibly an example of this "terrorist rap" I saw here and there, though I'm guessing this is a (fortunate or unfortunate) coincidence. According to this page (where you can also listen to each track), GTWIF was released in 2010, but that's obviously wrong, as I picked up my copy in late September/early October 2001. Alas, I no longer have any of my cassettes, not even this one. (That image above is from the Internet.)

But, back to Eyoun El Qalb. From the moment I loaded Nagat's 1980 Soutelphan-published cassette and crunched the PLAY button into gear, I was in love. The first song, "Bahlan Maak," was sweet and wispy, but with a slight almost ironic edge -- think Velvet Underground & Nico's "Sunday Morning" -- at least that's how I felt after hearing the next two songs on the tape. 

"Fakra" and "Ana Bashak El Bahr" are unlike any Arabic music I had ever heard -- then, or since. At the time, I remember getting a whiff of Their Satanic Majesty's Request off of the two bass-heavy psychedelic plodders; but Nagat's breathy voice gave them an even more dangerous-feeling edge. 

Years later, after I had finally upgraded to digital media (and perhaps there ought to be scare quotes around that word "upgraded"), I brought Nagat's cassette into Rashid Music Sales at its last incarnation on Court Street and asked the woman behind the counter (who I just assumed was the wife of one of the Rashid brothers) if she could help me find this music on CD.

Not only did she find a copy, but when I explained that I was mostly getting it for the three aforementioned tracks (which appeared first on the cassette, but last on the CD),  her eyes lit up. It turns out that the composer of "Fakra" and "Ana Bashak El Bahr" was unlike any other in Egypt at the time -- Hani Shanouda founded two of the first pop-music bands in Egypt, including Les Petits Chats, with Omar Khorshid, Omar Khayrat, and Sobhi Bedeir, and, in 1977, Al Masriyyin (The Egyptians), which reunited briefly in 2010.

The other two songs on this album are fabulous live recordings of more traditional Arabic classical pop, although -- and I don't mean to disparage these other two tracks -- it almost feels like two distinct albums. 

"Hani Shanouda is unique in Arabic music," the woman told me. "But unfortunately, this is all that I know of in print by him now. I am so happy this is going to someone who will really appreciate it," she said, smiling at me.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Karem Mahmoud | Karem Mahmoud

Get it here.

Found in the Nile Deli on Steinway Street today after very long, satisfying bike ride.

You've gotta love an Egyptian classical pop superstar whose last words, to his surgeon, were "Guard my vocal cords." Mahmoud was just shy of 73 years old at the time. He didn't make it through surgery, alas, though his voice, if not the physical presence of breath through the twin infoldings of mucous membrane stretched horizontally across his larynx, "lives on," as they say.

Their having said that, the truth is, today was the first time I'd ever seen the name Karem Mahmoud; I had no prior knowledge of his existence and thus not the slightest inkling of what the man could do simply by vibrating certain of his mucous membranes. Fortunately, the Nile Deli occasionally still orders CDs, even things as old as this one, which was burned into polycarbonate plastic by Digital Press Hellas in 1989. (Nile Deli also ordered just about every single Amr Diab CD from the 1980s-1990s and, yes, I snatched all 11 of them up -- sit tight, my pretties, all in good time.)

According to his English-language Wikipedia page, Mahmoud was known as the "Melodious Knight," which frankly, in English, has a vaguely unseemly ring to it, at least to these ears, perhaps because it's so close to the "Malodorous Knight." But, then, I'm the one who brought up mucous membranes, so, you know -- grain of salt, or whatever.

My uncalled for and no doubt inappropriate bias aside, this nearly forgotten gem is a quiet (one might even say quite a quiet) revelation. Well worth a listen. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Siamese Ghetto | Siamese Ghetto

Freshly reupped here.

[Originally published June 30, 2012. The NY Times piece never materialized.] Last night after work I met up with a writer who is interested in developing a story around music blogging and/or bodega digging in New York. He lives in Woodside, a couple of neighborhoods to the south east of me, and we decided to meet at Thailand's Center Point (63-19 39th Ave). I'd never eaten there and was told that they sold CDs. Given that my other sources for Thai CDs have all dried up, I showed up 15 minutes early so I could dig through the goods. (Plus, it would give the writer an opportunity to see the obsessed music collector in his element, forehead sweating, hands shaking, fingers slowly becoming black from the grime-and-soot-covered cellophane CD & VCD wrappers.)

We had a great time over dinner; for one thing, the writer brought along a six-pack of Brooklyn Summer Ale, which we quickly sucked down between entrees, each hotter than the last. (The entrees, not the ales.) When at last a dish arrived that neither one of us was able to take more than two or three bites of, it was so intensely spicy, we settled the bill and I went back through the CD stacks looking for something interesting. Given that everything was half-off ("CDs no longer sell," the waitress working the register told me, a fact underscored by my once-again blackened fingertips), I was admittedly a bit liberal what with the purchasing.

Once outside, we both noticed, on the next block and across the street from Sripraphai, a smallish Thai grocery store. I gave my dinner companion a quizzical look and we marched over to check out the goods. And there, in the glass casing beneath the register, I spotted the CD above.

I know nothing about Siamese Ghetto, other than that this CD appears to be their one-and-only full-length album and that they sound a bit like Thai hip-hop superstar Joey Boy, but with some of the playful, satiric energy of Hong Kong's Fama

Whether or not the article works out, I owe my near-neighbor in Woodside a thank you for a wonderful night of beer, ridiculously spicy food (which I'm paying for at the moment, if that's not TMI), great conversation ... and for leading me to this utterly fabulous album that you, in your gentle but persistent wisdom, dear reader, will have no doubt finished downloading by the time this sentence is complete.

Various Artists | Warszawa


Reupped in 360kbps by popular demand here.

[Originally posted June 4, 2011.] Found at Music Planet near the Nassau G stop near the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Music Planet is a Polish CD and DVD store that I discovered a couple of weeks ago with friends as we wandered around the neighborhood, waiting for a table to have brunch. Somehow, I was able to talk them into stepping inside, after which I took note of several things, this all-Polish tribute to Joy Division among them.

Today, I returned to the neighborhood and picked up this, and "Woda, Woda, Woda" by the punk band Sexbomba. I think all of us assumed Soxbomba would be the clear winner; we were wrong. This is actually one of the best tribute records I've ever heard, in great part due to the range of responses, including an original song in Polish inspired by Joy Division. (This is, as it turns out, one of numerous Joy Division tributes recorded around the world.)

When I returned today I managed to find this immediately, but not the Sexbomba (a sign?). As I stood there, scanning the stacks, one of the clerks, dressed more like a pharmacist than a guy selling CDs, asked me what seemed like a very long question in Polish as he walked by me. Assuming he was asking me the obvious, I blurted out "Sexbomba!" He stopped, wheeled around and, again saying something that sounded incredibly long and complicated, pointed out the Sexbomba section. I thanked him in English.

"You like this band?" he asked, without skipping a beat. He seemed impressed.

"Mm, thanks for finding it for me."

"That's what I'm here for!" he replied, disappearing into the back of the store as I made my way to the register.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Phương Dung | Hoa Nở Về Đêm

Reupped (though in its earlier 192kbps state) here.

For a long time, the most popular CD on this site, at least in terms of downloads, was Phương Dung's Khúc Hát ân Tình. (Will reup that one in must a moment ...) A lot of visitors here connected on some level with Phương Dung, though if truth be told, many of those visitors were routed here thanks to the great Doug Schulkind's linking to it via his enormously popular Mining the Audio Motherlode.

In any event, I was thrilled last night to note, while scanning my CD shelves, that I happen to have, lo and behold, a second Phương Dung selection, most likely plucked from one of the bins at my favorite Vietnamese media shop on Argyle Street in Chicago, and that, after giving it a quick listen ... well, it turns out to be just as fabtabulous as the first one.

Phương Dung's career began in 1959 when she was just 12; the next year she recorded her first album. By the time she was 21 she had recorded more than 300 records and was, until the mid-70s, one of the most popular singers in Vietnam.

Alex Oriental Experience | Die Gunst Der Stunde

Reupped by special request here.

While riding my bike down Steinway one unseasonably warm January day, I noticed a second-hand store on the west side of the street. I can't for the life of me remember what it was, but something compelled me to pull over, park and lock the bike, and check the place out. Was I looking for something, maybe cheap dishes or a vintage shirt? I don't remember. I do remember that I found loads of things in the $2-each CD section, including Die Gunst Der Stunde (Windows of Opportunity).

Recorded in 1997 by Alex Wiska (saz) and Reinhold Görlitz (drums) and released on Wiska's Wiska Records label under the name Alex Oriental Experience, the six tracks on this stripped-down minor masterpiece showcase not Wiska's Kraut-rocked-out electric saz--which is phenomenal, even this late in his career--but an interplay between his saz and Görlitz's drums that feels both brain-meltingly complex and yet so tightly wound together that you almost register the duo's feelers of sound as though emerging from a single instrument.

Read more about Wiska and his relationship to the German and Turkish psych scenes at Mutant Sounds.