LOPING, LOPSIDED, LOQUACIOUS ... A CELEBRATION OF GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW Anyone familiar with the YHO way of working will be aware new music tends not to feature. Dusty corners can be far more appealing and revealing than the latest releases. It can be incredibly rewarding taking sounds from the past, placing them in a new context and making fresh connections which give artistic activities a whole new meaning. The sharing of instinctive responses to a piece of music is very tempting, but research and assemblage is much more fun. There are an incredible number of people writing about new music or new releases generally. There are very strong reasons why this is a good thing, and there are equally persuasive arguments about why this is not healthy. It is easy to get sucked into the politics of the music industry simply by reading about new music. It is easy to get drawn into the cycle of commentary surrounding new releases. All of which gets extremely draining. The pages of YHO do not necessarily reflect what is listened to, but they are pretty accurate snapshots. Writing about someone or something specific means immersion in a certain selection of sounds. There are times when getting emotionally involved with a new release would be a distinct distraction, and more practically an unwelcome drain of limited resources or reserves. But, inevitably, there are times when it is impossible to ignore new music: the return of an old favourite or a label that can be trusted, or better still something that seems to appear out of nowhere to startle and delight. Then, mock reluctantly, the listening routine is deliciously dominated by the new product, and it really feels as if that‟s the way it should be. Over the past six-or-so years it is Georgia Anne Muldrow that has been the most disruptive and distracting influence, persistently interrupting YHO activity with her remarkable output which has now built up into a shockingly impressive body of work. On occasions it has been difficult to keep up. By modern standards Georgia is astonishingly prolific. But, as she would argue, the forces of evil work around the clock, and there is so much to be done to counter the negative influences.
Georgia Anne Muldrow may not have had mainstream commercial success or common consensual critical acclaim, but she certainly has a passionate and dedicated following enthralled by her eccentric range of releases. How easy it is for Georgia to survive, independent and underground, is difficult to say, but her tenacity is as inspiring as her inventive and distinctive music. There are, undeniably, a number of elements in Georgia‟s recordings that will pique the curiosity of people with certain musical interests, and yet what she comes up with is now so unmistakeably her. Visually, it is the same story. And these are tough tricks to pull off successfully. This issue of YHO has been put together as a (very personal) celebration of Georgia‟s art. If it helps to stimulate interest in her records, then that would be brilliant. And if fellow devotees feel that this edition captures something of what makes G.A.M. so uniquely special, then that‟s a good thing. I would willingly concede that nothing you read here will match this quote from the excellent frolab site about first hearing G.A.M., which is a bit of a modern variation on the Eric Morecambe line about playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order: “When Cognito played me Love Again it struck me like a whiff of homemade apple pie walking by that had been turned upside down and had been made with pears instead.” - DJ Bobbito Garcia a.k.a. Kool Bob Love
nurturing. Georgia urges her listeners to activate their minds, rise up, meditate: familiar exhortations perhaps, but the sense of spirituality and positivity are welcome nevertheless.
SEEDS It seems sensible to start with Seeds, the record of the summer of 2012. It is an incredibly uplifting LP, and will as time passes win Georgia many new friends. It is at once gloriously Georgian, and better still it is sharp and to the point, refusing to outstay its welcome, leaving the listener hungry for more. It is, however, a new departure for G.A.M. Seeds is the first record she has made that‟s been produced by an outside party, and it may well have been tough to hand over the reins. Madlib, the cult DJ/producer, was at the controls for Seeds and looked after the musical direction. It is, I believe, the first time he has produced a full LP for a female singer. And it is a real achievement that the collaboration between Madlib and G.A.M. has resulted in something that sounds so unmistakeably like a Georgia Anne Muldrow record. But it is different. It‟s slightly more concentrated musically, maybe a little more unrefined. The opening song, the title track, is built around a sample of or the refrain from Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes‟ Where‟s The Concern For the People? from the 1977 LP Now is the Time. It is unusual for Georgia to be so explicitly referential, but it works: “People look around you. What do you see? Children going hungry, pain and misery.” It‟s as if G.A.M. and Madlib are saying nothing‟s changed, and simultaneously identifying themselves with the social commentary and musical magnificence of the Philadelphia International tradition, the O‟Jays‟ Ship Ahoy, and so on. The song itself focuses on themes close to Georgia‟s heart, specifically who‟s on the lookout for the seeds, as in children are our tomorrow and need
Best Love, another of the LP‟s highlights, also has something of a Philly feel, with a gorgeous little horns-led refrain and a joyously bouncy bass line, making it feel as infectious as the sweetest R&B confectionary, with the “we can make a difference if we try” line becoming a real earworm amid the topical references to Libya and the Congo. Similarly Calabash has an addictive afrobeat groove at its heart, underpinning Georgia‟s smart little nursery rhyme style lyricism with its moral of “why do we kill each other when we‟re all the same”. Musically my favourite track on Seeds is The Birth of Petey Wheatstraw which has a great funky guitar circular thing going on over a jazzy bass motif, and initially made me think of a Henry Cow/Fred Frith try at a James Brown workout, nice and raw but not intrusive, but I think Shuggie Otis‟ Inspiration Information (Not Available) is closer to the truth. In fact Inspiration Information is a pretty good signpost for anyone starting out to explore Georgia‟s music. The Birth of Petey Wheatstraw captures Georgia at her lyrical best too, telling a story, adding on a moral, getting spiritual in the process. She does it brilliantly on Wind, too, which has a bit of a Congos/Fisherman element to it, telling the story of someone who made their living from the sea and had passed away but whose spirit and wisdom lives on for those who want to follow in his footsteps: “Told his daughter life was like a tree, build a foundation so you can have something lasting centuries”. The first time I heard Georgia singing the opening lines of Kneecap Jelly I thought immediately of Carleen Anderson singing her words at the start of the Young Disciples‟ still astonishing Apparently Nothin‟, which is pretty high praise. And Georgia‟s own opening words are pretty striking, too: “Diggin‟ deeper for a change that I could trust forever, and to get by I will learn to fight and fuss more clever.” There are suggestions too of Abbey Lincoln at her fiercest. It is an incredibly powerful performance. And it provides an important
contrast to the Georgia more familiar through the evocation of her elders‟ cosmic echoes. One of Georgia‟s specialities is the ability to turn a phrase into a kind of chant or incantation through repetition and gentle manipulation. It‟s something that was employed by Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas on some of their great recordings like Prince of Peace from Izipho Zam on Strata East. And Georgia has maintained a very real connection to that era‟s concerns of universal love and raising the consciousness. The cover too taps into that aesthetic, looking like a long-lost LP that might be sorely sought-after by the kind of people that shop in Sounds of the Universe. And that‟s sort of where we came in ...
And the opening track still has the power to shock. Has a record ever started in such a dramatic way? “Murderer! Damager! Human life left alone to die”. And then the same song ending: “There‟s a freedom in the water that they don‟t know ... listen child don‟tcha know ... it‟s just my natural ebb and flow”. The song itself, New Orleans, was Georgia‟s response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the official response, Bush‟s role. But the song seems to capture so much, way beyond expressing justified rage. Within its swirls of sound the voices of the lost seem to cry out, seeking revenge, telling their stories. Atypically for Georgia the sound is cluttered and thus disorientating. Free sax playing adds to the sense of chaos and confusion. It really is a remarkable way to start a record. Generally Georgia‟s sound on Olesi is little more than a beat and bass, and as such sets the template for G.A.M.‟s wonderful work. Everything she does is indubitably rooted in hiphop, its music and culture, but her compositions shoot off in all sorts of directions and still surprise. At different times you want different things from her creations. At different times you hear different things in the music. Structurally much of Olesi is audaciously abstract, with her trademark self-harmonisation, which creates a woozy, gauzy effect, and a deliciously intricate pattern of voices.
OLESI: FRAGMENTS OF AN EARTH “Now personally I bought Olesi on account of its cover. It is just so right. The shadowy silhouette. Absolutely spot on. Actually I thought it was a rerelease of some long lost funk set. But I took a chance, and it totally blew me away. People have to hear that first track. It scares the hell out of me everytime I hear it. Wow protest lives. That‟s mad, dramatic stuff. Brilliant. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration, everything encapsulated there, the tragedy of lives lost in flood waters, the stories still to be told. It could have been so trite, but it is astonishing stuff.” -
John Carney, Shivers Inside, 2007
Georgia Anne Muldrow‟s first LP, Olesi: Fragments of an Earth, was released by the Stones Throw label in 2006. Georgia wrote it, performed it, recorded it, and produced it all herself. She was in her very early 20s at the time.
She can create sounds that are joyously, invigoratingly, funky, or as G.A.M. would insist fOnky. She maintains the fOnk will set you free. And often she passes the supermarket test: random hearing of her records in the fresh fruit aisle would have the listener skipping along involuntarily. G.A.M.‟s sound is Genuinely Accessible Music. Just try Wheels on Olesi. Just remember her little tics, like breaking into Stevieisms such as du duwop. The little details matter. Olesi contains plenty of examples of Georgia‟s wisdom and waywardness. I find the power of Georgia‟s poetry is in the way specific lines lodge in the mind. Do these lines work out of context? Oh yeah! Even the more abstract observations, the way the words flow, the sounds the syllables create: “Wheels stairs stars and stripes. Critical pay comrades niggas family ties. Color stories with ropes attached. Backbones bloodlines step up to bat.” And
then to balance that I think Speakavision does a pretty good job of defining Georgia‟s stance: “I was in a restaurant, couldn‟t see the light of day in there. They had all the shades drawn with a box of idiocracy calling me to stare. What was I to do now? The wizardry of propaganda froze me there. Thinking bout the babies already buying diamonds never taught to care”. But my favourite line comes in Frames: “”Time revolves in circles and not squares”. Around the time Olesi came out Straight No Chaser ran a vividly thrilling cover feature on Georgia. It was written by Amir Patel and starts with the G.A.M. quote: “Where‟s the melodic excitement today?” I guess S.N.C. was on its last legs at the time, so to stick an unknown artist on its cover was a bold move. But I bet they knew they were onto something special with this feature. It focuses quite heavily on Georgia‟s L.A. background, her dad being a jazz guitarist and her mother having sung with Pharoah Sanders and so on, the spiritual background they provided, the Afrocentric education, how she would wake up to Giant Steps as a kid but got into hip-hop, had her head turned again by J. Dilla etc. Georgia mentions other influences in the interview too, namely Milton Nascimento (this interview got me to buy Geraes, for which I remain grateful), Wayne Shorter‟s Native Dancer, Djavan. It was an intoxicating article, still is come to that, but I remember being a little wary about making too much of the cosmic echoes in her upbringing, fascinating though that angle was. It might have been that, or something specific in the music, that made me think what Georgia was doing was distantly connected to old personal obsessions: the post-punk West London bohemianism of The Raincoats, Slits, etc. on to Dick O‟Dell‟s Y Records (which includes Sun Ra releases, the June Tyson thing being a neat reference point for G.A.M.) and On-U Sound (again with the New Age Steppers there‟s the Neneh Cherry connection, but also I was thinking of Mark Stewart singing about high ideals and crazy dreams), and by implication all the Bristol blues and roots. It was just a connection I made, mentally, which is not at all the same thing as sounds like. More recently when listening to Olesi I have thought about another of my favourite periods in music, which was the mid-to-late „90s
Chicago underground thing, the whole Thrill Jockey/Soma sound of Tortoise, Sea and Cake, Sam Prekop, John McEntire, Bundy K. Brown, Casey Rice, John Herndon, Jeff Parker, Isotope 217, Directions in Music, through to Hefty and Prefuse 73 I guess. That may be something to do with the bass sound or the drums, the melodies, the musical openness, the spirit of adventure, the „let‟s give it a go‟ approach. It is probably just a fleeting impression. And I am trying to resist saying that compared to Georgia those guys can sound a bit “taut and tame”, which may be true but I like a lot of that music an awful lot, especially Sam Prekop‟s first solo LP. I would confess part of the reason I was attracted to Olesi initially, and bought it on spec, was to do with the Stones Throw label itself. I seem to recall it was on a bit of a high at the time, with J. Dilla, Madlib, Aloe Blacc. And it had for a long time a certain cool cachet. I‟m thinking further back, and this is relevant, the Funky 16 Corners collection, reading issues of Big Daddy, and the impressively researched Funk 45 Files where the archaeology work was carried out by Peanut Butter Wolf, Egon (Iothen Alapat) and Dante Carfagna. I was fascinated by that whole crate digging approach. And though the whole „collector‟ or „curator‟ thing makes me uneasy there was with the Stones Throw circle an enthusiasm about sharing, both the sounds and the stories behind them. There still is, with Egon being particularly active in exploring global sounds/beats. I didn‟t realise until later that Stones Throw had already released a Georgia Anne Muldrow EP, Worthnothings, which I believe started out as a DIY CDR affair, distributed by hand. But it is anything but a scrappy homemade production. There is more of an explicit debt to Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu, perhaps, but why not? After all, for some years R&B invention/expressionism had been the dominant creative force. If Worthnothings sounds deceptively conventional in the light of what was to come from G.A.M. then it is at least a fascinating snapshot. I think the song Larva says it all really, about developing, finding a unique voice, and transforming oneself. And there‟s a line in Lomein that I sing as: “Kiss me on a cold day, that would be enough”. That line is something special, because you know that when Georgia sings about love she means it.
It was what happened after Olesi where things got really interesting. The real fun began in the summer of 2007 when Georgia emerged with Sagala, a CD/EP on Ramp Recordings, the London-based beats & bass independent label. This time Georgia billed herself as Pattie Blingh and the Akebulan 5. The EP starts: “Peace is work, when there‟s a world filled with pain, I still search, trying to shove madness from out my brain”. She‟s accompanied by squelchy synth bass lines suggestive of Herbie Hancock, with added beats and bells. And it really is a powerful opening. Distortion and sweetness are the dominant forces at work on the EP, with extra electronic colouration and irregular beats. With Sagala it became clear Georgia was marching to her very own time signature. If you want reference points, then I would suggest the very great Nicolette and in particular her classic Life Loves Us LP or Syreeta when she was recording with Stevie. Some of the tracks on the EP have a dizzy hymn-like quality, with appropriate themes about the sun being all you need and finding love within. On Maafa: Transatlantic Dementia there is more of a black poetry tradition or feel in the spirit of Jayne Cortez or Ursula Rucker, with the wise words: “Remember, you gotcha own song, don‟t change for nobody else. Just be your lovely self”. There is almost incongruously on The Clearing, one of the highlights, some dubby drums and the guitar clang of early Scritti Politti. I think Green would like that. And once upon a time he‟d have been collaborating with G.A.M. in some form. Speaking of which ...
COLLABORATION AND ELABORATION Sagala features contributions or if you like guest rhymes from Eagle Nebula and Declaime. And what happened next was a phase where G.A.M. emerged as a serial collaborator, contributor, producer, mentor and role model. It was almost as if she was trying to submerge her own identity: collude to elude. And it was difficult to keep up with her scattergun approach, her diversionary tactics. The diversification of outlets and formats gave Georgia more opportunities to communicate, and it was as if she was building her own underground network. Georgia‟s partner in life as well as art is Dudley Perkins aka Declaime, a fine rapper/vocalist and by all accounts a real gentleman. It was in this period that the SomeOthaShip Connect organisation emerged as a base for their activities. SomeOthaShip, if you like, is a brand, a label, a way of life. As a partnership Georgia and Dudley are as potent a force as, say, Laetitia and Tim from Stereolab have been. Indeed, there was a SomeOthaShip podcast in 2007, highlighting Georgia‟s production skills, called Modular Lovedrum Safari which sounds wonderfully like a Stereolab title. The mix itself is a wonderful collage of abstract hip-hop
instrumental passages, occasionally jazzy or dubby but generally a functional soundscape on a beats & bass bedrock. It‟s easy on the ear, and ideal for gentle, active background music. The mood itself is carried over into the Beautiful Mindz mixtape/CD where Georgia and Dudley collaborated with the London-based DJ/producer 2Tall. As with Georgia‟s work 2Tall incorporates elements from everywhere to create a beautiful musical setting, the flute utilised on A Beautiful Mind for example is particularly effective, underpinned by the expected beat components. It was only sometime later that I learned more about 2Tall when I found a copy of his earlier Shifting Tides CD in a charity shop for 50p. It is another meticulously put together work, positively pastoral in places. 2Tall or Jim Coles is part of what I call the beats & bass eternal underground. Now he works as Om Unit, and has had some fun recently with his experimental Phillip D. Kick persona where he has reworked jungle/drum „n‟ bass classics in a footwork fashion, very effectively too it must be said. The main featured vocalist on Beautiful Mindz is Dudley, with Georgia only intermittently heard. I realise how close G&D are, and like Dudley/Declaime as a rapper. But this is one of the conundrums of collaborating. I want to hear as much of G.A.M. as possible. To hell with democracy and the guest principle, that old jazz thing of sitting-in on a session, now so much a part of hip-hop protocol.
Another G&D collaboration from that time is The Message Universa CD which has more of a balance between the two performers, and they do play off each other so well: the b-boy who‟s been around and the young cosmic warrior who can see within. The Message Universa has something of the playfulness and frayed edges of mixtape culture, with a number of skits and interludes which are pretty funny, almost Carry On like at times. And the music on The Message Universa is sharp, very sharp, and great fun. One, for example, is out and out party music, in the tradition of Prince and Funkadelic. Time is brilliant, too, with a real Cameo feel. And the title track is just incredibly beautiful, with its „love conquers all‟ theme, and Declaime doing that strange thing of his where he reminds me of Ian Svenonius bizarrely enough. But Georgia on that track is just divine. The cover of The Message Universa features the distinctive artwork of Tokio Aoyama. I think it was the first album sleeve he provided one of his wonderful paintings for. It was certainly the first time I saw his psychedelic/surrealist-inspired work. Tokio‟s art reminds me in a way of Robert Springett‟s work for Herbie Hancock which seems pretty appropriate. Mati Klarwein‟s artwork (for Bitches Brew, Live/Evil, particularly) I suspect is another big influence on Tokio‟s work. I really would not like to even guess at the number of collaborations, guest appearances, remixes, productions G.A.M. was part of during this period. Some were high profile, like working with Erykah Badu on Master Teacher. Some were more underground, like Wildchild, LMNO, Yann Kesz. Georgia‟s campaign to eliminate the ego did provide us with extraordinary musical moments, such as her production work on Eagle Nebula‟s Cosmic Headphones LP. Georgia put this record out through her own publishing company/imprint Epistrophik Peach Sound in late 2008, with a beautiful Tokio Aoyama cover painting, and it is a bit of a lost classic. Eagle‟s a spoken word poet/MC, and while she may be hip-hop through and through her approach is pretty unusual. She is brilliant at homing in on details of everyday life, in a funny and wise way. Georgia‟s production is incredibly inventive, and maybe distracts from
what Eagle‟s saying but a couple of songs really stick in the mind. One of these is Ether Cash about setting up an eBay store, and the other is Funny (Hip Hop) which lyrically captures something of the truly transformative powers of music, in the tradition of It Will Stand and Do You Believe in Magic? Funny (Hip Hop) also features on a SomeOthaShip compilation credited to Ms. One & the Gang. Ms. One is another persona adopted by Georgia, and the collection gathers up examples of her production work for a number of artists associated with SomeOthaShip/ Epistrophik Peach Sound. The real highlight of the set is Motivation by Stacy Epps, a beautiful cosmic soul ballad. Stacy featured prominently in the early editions of YHO, when her LP The Awakening was a particular favourite, and her single Floatin‟ felt like the future. By the time The Awakening was in circulation Stacy already had an impressive track record, working with Shape of Broad Minds, MF DOOM, Oh No, Flying Lotus, Madlib, and as part of the Sol Uprising duo. The Awakening should have propelled Stacy to superstardom, but things don‟t always work out right. The piece on Stacy in YHO managed to mention Martine Girault‟s Revival, Poor Righteous Teachers, Moonshake, Can and Alice Coltrane. It also draws an explicit link between Stacy‟s work and the Black Jazz outfit The Awakening, and indeed other artists on the label, in particular Doug Carn and Kellee Patterson. This was around the time the phrase „spiritual jazz‟ was being used widely, fuelled by compilations from Jazzman and reissues from Soul Jazz/Universal Sound, plus of course the many blogs sharing lost sounds. I like this paragraph that was in the second YHO: “So, yes, spiritual jazz, as it seems to have come to be known. The outward expression of the internalisation of the politically-charged fire music. A search for a deeper meaning, a higher power, a more profound truth. Something that‟s certainly there in Stacy Epps‟ music. And, well, in these days of moral bankruptcy, celebrity saturation, information suffocation, and consumer narcosis, that‟s got to be a good thing.”
I really thought at that time (late 2008) that Georgia and Stacy were part of something special: the children of Alice Coltrane and J. Dilla who might change the course of history. I loved the way they were producing thrilling hiphop/soul sounds, uplifting music, drawing on celestial inspiration and conscious roots. There seemed to be a cluster of artists who could breakthrough: Muhsinah, Pursuit Grooves, Brittany Bosco, Shuanise, plus producers like Flying Lotus, Ras G., Afta-1, and the whole OneHanded Music thing with Ahu, Paul White, Bullion, Floating Points. This new spirit of openness and adventure was absorbing, and it was a challenge to keep up with radio shows (Alexander Nut Saturday lunchtimes on Rinse FM) and a myriad of mixtapes posted here, there and everywhere. I have to confess I overdosed on beats and pieces around that time, and turned instead to more in-depth explorations of my own.
UMSINDO I lost track of what Georgia Anne Muldrow was up to, and completely missed her Umsindo LP when it came out in 2009. It took me some considerable time to catch up. By inference, I would argue the mainstream media in the UK did not give Umsindo, shall we say, „oceans‟ of attention. Now I think Umsindo may be the best thing G.A.M. has done: 24 tracks, 75 minutes of music, no padding, no skits, no guests, no obscenities, and no embellishments. All the music is written, arranged and recorded by Ms. One and her Ancestral Orchestra., and it is available on SomeOthaShip Connect. It is a
fiercely independent work, minimalistic tendencies.
The cover of Umsindo features a Tokio Aoyama painting of Georgia on the front, which draws heavily on the afro-futurism tradition. It appeared previously on the inner sleeve of the Eagle Nebula LP. The painting on the back is even better, just Georgia and her earrings with some clouds floating past, and if I had to explain what Georgia sounds like I would point at that back cover. I think it‟s fair to say Umsindo captures something that could be described as G.A.M. standing for Georgia Ancient and Modern. There is a very strong sense of Africa in the music and lyrics, particularly in the way she utilises tribal chants, harmonies and dynamics. This drawing on African traditions echoes what happened with spiritual jazz in the States in the early „70s and with music throughout South/Latin America. Jorge Ben in Brazil springs to mind, and Eduardo Mateo in Uruguay is another great example of how African musical forms could be integrated into progressive popular music. What‟s interesting about Georgia‟s approach on Umsindo is the way the African elements feel right up to date. She incorporates a sense of Africa into the realm of electronic beats & bass music, avoiding any of the traps of „world music‟ replication. This was music that sounded like it was made at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century when hip-hop and R&B were the dominant musical forms around the world. It was also music made before the Shangaan Electro sounds set many people‟s imaginations reeling. What Georgia does on Umsindo is slow and strip the music right down, to a tempo akin to early dubstep or pioneering hip-hop beat classics. And while the music is as stark as, say, that of Digital Mystikz, there are more of those very occasional bursts of unexpected early scratchy Scritti-style guitar. At times it seems Georgia also draws on other roots, with a very strong spiritual/gospel influence, and some amazing devotional numbers, like Idlozi and E.S.P. It is, however, on Roses where these elements really come through in an incredible way. It is a really special ballad, and tears me apart in the same way certain Laura Nyro songs do. And those words are something unique aren‟t they: “When
I‟m down I just draw some roses on a pretty piece of paper with my red Stabilo pencil. Halfway thru I feel so much better. I imagine happiness and it runs right through me. Such amazing beauty”. It‟s no wonder the venerable Mos Def fell in love with what has become Georgia‟s signature tune and insisted on adopting it and adding some thoughts of his own while leaving the song itself intact. Generally, lyrically, Georgia does the abstract/cosmic seeker of truth thing wonderfully well, but I really like it when she rolls her sleeves up and gets specific about an issue, like she does with US foreign policy on Caracas: “So ashamed of this country. So ashamed of this policy”. This is where Georgia disowns the U.S. and aligns herself with Africa. And then there‟s Kids where she appeals for parents to take care of their children, show up, be around, get to know them, share in the joy and pain, as if she‟s saying “I‟m on your side. I know the score. But take some responsibility”. There are all these different sides to Georgia, where on one hand she says “rage has never been a stranger”, but at the same time she is steeped in a struggle to get closer to natural elements, and free herself from materialism and mind-pollution. The danger is that the listener could be lulled into thinking Georgia is some impractical kook, whereas in reality she is incredibly smart, technologically savvy, and very determined when it comes to controlling her own destiny. Sure, she keeps it simple, but she keeps that simplicity complex. Another 2009 Georgia release I missed when it was released was the Early collection on Animated Cartunes which collects up home recordings she made as a teenager, well before the Stones Throw material was put together. It is a fascinating set because it turns the „traditional career trajectory‟ story upside down and inside out. I have other collections called Early (e.g. Scritti Politti, A Certain Ratio) and they tell a tale of strange beginnings and rough edges which gradually get smoothed out as the artist develops and becomes more experienced or accomplished. With Georgia it almost seems as if the reverse is true. The songs captured on Early are smooth soul/hip-hop creations, beautifully and intimately delivered in such a way that you
wouldn‟t feel absurd mentioning Deniece Williams. There are glimpses, nevertheless, of the eccentric direction Georgia would take, and eccentric is used here in a non-whimsical sense and instead in its strict irregular or off-centre meaning. These are the recordings, I believe, DJ Bobbito Garcia was talking about when he described G.A.M.‟s music being “like a whiff of homemade apple pie walking by that had been turned upside down and had been made with pears instead.” And it‟s easy to see what he means. They are sort of straight ahead soul sounds, beautifully sung and professionally put-together, but there is something there that feels out-ofplace, stopping things from getting too smooth, too comfortable, too easy, too sweet. It is a remarkable set, and I find myself thinking about a jazz musician paying their dues as a kid, learning the standards or something, and then when the foundations are in place taking flight and heading off in strange directions. In a way these Early recordings are incredibly important in any study of Georgia‟s development, where she‟s come from, and are particularly enjoyable in that context. But then again, as a discrete set of recordings it is of such a high quality that if any other artist came up with it in 2012, and put it out as a below-theradar release or underground mixtape, they might just be hailed as the future of R&B, and probably rightly so.
KINGS BALLAD Kings Ballad, released in early 2010, is by general consensus Georgia‟s pop moment. It was released on the Ubiquity label. And while Ubiquity is far from being a major label it has considerable clout. It certainly has the weight of history on its side, and any household without any of its releases of old or new classics should be viewed with suspicion. The sleeve is a classy portrait head-and-shoulders shot of Georgia, and it‟s got something of an early Roberta Flack look to it. The Ubiquity pitch was that the record was forged in a furnace where the flames were fuelled by the optimism surrounding the early days of the Obama administration (oh my, it‟s easy to forget), the death of Michael Jackson and its reverberations, and the birth of a son to Georgia and Dudley. Strong symbolism. But this is pop? Well, it‟s not pop in the sense of „gotta have a hit‟, „gotta crossover‟, „let‟s get the latest and hottest production team in‟, let‟s revamp the image, etc. And yet this is pop, yeah, yeah, in the sense that several of the tracks on Kings Ballad would have sounded amazingly good on the radio, and could easily have connected with people like, say, Alicia Keys‟ Fallin‟ or something. But Kings Ballad is in no way a compromise. Georgia (with Dudley) did everything, played everything. The sound is certainly plusher, there is slightly more in the way of instrumentation, and the compositions are more controlled. But there is an assortment of stranger moments, ones that instrumentally would not be out of place on a Hyperdub release. The big pop moment is very much the title track, Georgia‟s tribute to The King of Pop, which could be a minefield, mawkish maybe, but the gravitas of the music takes the song to a different level. I believe Georgia was playing around with the stately sombre melody when Dudley brought her the news about Michael‟s heart attack, and Georgia‟s words are a beautiful meditation on what made Michael special, and highlight how much he meant to people around the world. This is one of several great pop moments on Kings Ballad, though. Can‟t Stand Yo Love is a personal favourite, and it is nigh on impossible to hear this particular number without spending the rest of the week walking around squawking:
“Ooh wee baaaybay!” and breaking into daft dance poses involuntarily. Georgia and Dudley also get unexpectedly playful on Summer Love, a frivolously serious story of falling in love in the summertime, corny as they say but what the heck. And anyone who was a kid in the early „70s will take a certain delight in a Summer Love sensation being followed by an electro coda called Shang-a-Lang. More fun comes with Room Punk! which out-hotWires Wire by lasting less than a minute: “I took a shower and I dried off with a towel up in my room. Then I got dressed. Put one sock on after another in my room. Then I left my room to go to another room”. I am sure I read somewhere about Poly Styrene being one of the vocalists that has inspired Georgia, which makes perfect sense here. The preceding track, Live, is for me the highlight of the LP, with its moral: “You should never throw your dreams away”. It‟s incredibly beautiful, really rather like Suicide‟s Dream Baby Dream, which Neneh Cherry has since sung. Georgia‟s song, though, is one of those recordings I turn to when I need strength. Simple Advice is another wonderful moment on the LP with a bit of a Sly & Robbie dub disco feel and, yes, a simple message: “Take it from me, you don‟t want to be who you don‟t need to be”. On this LP Georgia is pretty direct lyrically, and doesn‟t make diversions into zulu chants or the scriptures. The sentiments are tough though. On Thrones, for example, her words seem to be about reclaiming rap from the uncreatives too busy talking about trying to have a good time and being encouraged by executives not to put together commentaries about what‟s going on in the world.
At the end of 2010 Janelle Monáe got the critical acclaim in the UK, and Rihanna got the commercial success. I love Janelle‟s music, but since signing to the Bad Boy corporation she‟s only released Metropolis – The Chase Suite EP in 2008, and the Archandroid Suites in 2010. Different artists work in different ways, of course. But in 2010 alone the independent G.A.M. released three significant sets. The second of these came out on SomeOthaShip Connect that summer, and it was G.A.M. adopting her Jyoti persona with a 30-minute instrumental collection, Ocotea, of what has been described as her experimental/jazz work. Ocotea is and it isn‟t jazz. When, on occasions, artists from a hip-hop background have put together jazz projects there has been a lot of emphasis on live instrumentation. Georgia‟s approach is different. There are plenty of crisp jazz percussion sounds and rhythms on Ocotea, but she lets synths, keyboards and electronics dominate proceedings. She does it all herself too. The music is credited, again, to Ms. One and her Ancestral Orchestra, rather than calling in favours from the jazz community with which she would have plenty of contacts through her parents. It‟s not out-and-out fire music, but it does brilliantly seem as if at times the spirit of the Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound people is at work which makes it even better. I love Ocotea. It provides a perfect 30-minute suite of purifying, revivifying active background music. It is not unprecedented, but I enjoy it in the same way, say, I loved what Kirk DiGiorgio was doing as As One on Mo‟ Wax in the late „90s. Jyoti is, I understand, Sanskrit for light, as in light of the sun. It‟s a name that was bestowed upon Georgia by Alice Coltrane, who was a friend of the family in California. And The Black Mother, the opening track on Ocotea, feels very much as if it is infused with the spirit of Alice‟s celestial music. Promotional material and reviews refer to Ocotea having been influenced by many things, including Alice‟s Monastic Trio, Henry Threadgill, Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix‟s Band of Gypsys, Charlie Mingus, Chick Corea, Eric Dolphy and Herbie Hancock. There are tracks that seem to be specifically named in honour of Alice, Stevie and Henry. And I like the idea that each of the tracks could be dedicated to someone in that list, rather like that Robert Wyatt End of an Ear record. There is actually a lot on Ocotea that would appeal to
fans of the Canterbury Scene. In fact, I would love to hear Robert‟s distinctively sweet voice singing over Georgia‟s/Jyoti‟s melodic invention here. After Ocotea Georgia had another ace up her sleeve to close 2010, which was Vweto, a 40minute collection of “astral instrumentals”, or perhaps more prosaically a beat tape on Mello Music. The title means gravity in Kikongo, and the sound is firmly rooted in the hiphop/electrofunk tradition. One title/track Zulu Bounce suggests an explicit connection to Afrika Bambaataa, but it would be an error to suggest this is a project that purely looks back for the perfect beat.
It‟s a terrible generalisation, but (personally) perhaps any real enthusiasm for instrumental hip-hop disappeared on leaving the 20th century. So, would Vweto appeal if it wasn‟t by G.A.M.? Oh, definitely. It would very much appeal, whoever it was by. It just so happens that the fact it is by Georgia adds to the sense of occasion - but it would be brilliant regardless. Would I listen to it, though, if it wasn‟t by G.A.M.? Well, perhaps the question should be more whether I would have heard it if it wasn‟t by Georgia. And the answer then would I confess be: “No, probably not”. Please excuse another horrible generalisation, but instrumental hip-hop can seem too much about clever collages, technique, trickery and the size of a record collection. Georgia‟s approach is completely different, and closer perhaps to the early electro spirit of Lotti Golden and Warp 9. The beats and bass are in place throughout Vweto, but over the top the keys sing, adding beautiful melodies, generating real warmth and emotion where in other hands the
effect could be too disjointed and disconnected, or seem arid and academic. It‟s tempting to think of earlier recordings by Alice Coltrane or Sun Ra where they let loose on the synths, and cast G.A.M. in an updated role. Vweto reflects what seems to have been for Georgia a growing interest in electronic music. But it‟s not all synths. The sound of piano playing is very much present, particularly on the beautiful Pad Kontrol, suggesting something I remember Georgia saying about hearing A Tribe Called Quest as a kid and wanting to play their tracks on piano straightaway. It‟s not directly related to Vweto but there is an evocative piece of film available of Georgia sat at the keyboard in front of a computer, her baby son asleep in her lap, and she‟s working on a remix of Untitled/Fantastic from Suite For Ma Dukes, the incredible orchestral project which reinterpreted the music of J. Dilla. The Suite For Ma Dukes tribute grew from an idea Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Carlos Nino came up with. Carlos I sort of know of from the West Coast hip-hop underground as someone very productive, being behind a variety of releases, as part of different projects, on a number of highly-thought-of labels, including Plug Research, Ninja Tune, Soul Jazz, Eastern Developments. His work as part of AmmonContact on the excellent Sounds Like Everything from 2003 is the record of his I‟m most familiar with. That one, plus the Hu Vibrational CD, Beautiful, on Soul Jazz. Actually Sounds Like Everything is actually a pretty good example of a precedent to Vweto in the way it takes hiphop as a base and instrumentally stretches out in all sorts of directions to create some genuinely beautiful music. The interesting thing about instrumental hip-hop is the change in usage in recent years. Where once it was a soundtrack for all the headz, with their backpacks, and the right t-shirts and trainers, nodding along in unison, now the music has evolved and is heard in all sorts of environments far removed from that where it was originally created or played. So, for example, music specially put together for tai chi/qigong exercise or meditation classes may sound suspiciously like something that might have been released by Cup of Tea Records out of Bristol or Dan The Automator in the late „90s. I have no idea if there has ever been a class that
has featured any selections from Vweto, but it would provide the ideal soundtrack for some pretty inspiring music and movement sessions.
bravery kicking up a fuss in front of a hall full of The Clash‟s fans? Or is it leaving your family and home to join up with fighters in Eritrea‟s mountain regions to participate fully in the struggle against Ethiopia‟s occupation of your country? I confess I would ordinarily be likely to read more about the Slits‟ adventures close to home than modern African history. But the clips of Eritrean revolutionary songs which I had been posting as part of the Anywhere Else But Here Today project had really captured my imagination. I was ashamed that I knew next to nothing about Eritrea and its revolution, while simultaneously finding these pieces of film so incredibly inspiring and uplifting. Very simply, these clips fired me up as much as, say, old footage of the Voices Of East Harlem or yeah the Slits. So I started reading up on my Eritrean history.
OWED TO MAMA RICKIE I lost track of Georgia Anne Muldrow again in 2011. I‟m not sure what happened. I probably lost track of lots of things in 2011. So I wasn‟t aware until recently that Georgia had an LP, Owed To Mama Rickie, out late that year, again on the Animated Cartunes label. I am not sure why I missed out. I was perhaps too absorbed with other forms of music. On the CD cover the artwork by Brian „Deka‟ Paupaw features a shot of Georgia that makes her look like a freedom fighter. Ironically when working on my global pop project I became completely besotted with what was surprisingly plentiful footage of Eritrean Revolutionary Songs. In a funny kind of way these made me think of Georgia Anne Muldrow. Here‟s something I wrote for the YHO site which I think is worth revisiting: As part of a tribute to Ari Up on his website Jon Savage wrote: “Very little in popular culture has ever approached this ferocity, and certainly almost nothing by young women. The things that then we took for granted now seem like the actions of a few, very brave (and/or foolhardy) young musicians ...” I love the Slits, and I understand what Jon means. The language, however, seemed absurdly incongruous having just finished reading Michela Wrong‟s I Didn‟t Do It For You and Amrit Wilson‟s The Challenge Road: Women And The Eritrean Revolution. Is
Michela Wrong‟s book about Eritrea and “how the world used and abused a small African nation” is a great read. She makes her subject matter accessible and, dare I say it, entertaining. Such great writing should not be taken for granted. Michela in a riveting way tackles the events leading up to the 30-year Eritrean struggle for independence, the war itself, and the way Eritrea has developed in recent years since it won its „freedom‟. She rightly wins a ringing endorsement from John Le Carré along the way.
I was struck how from a western punk perspective we have grown up on a musical diet of reggae, where it was usual to hear hymns of praise to Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia. At the height of roots reggae creativity the Eritrean People‟s Liberation Front (EPLF) was leading a struggle against the Ethiopian authorities which under Ras Tafari had annexed Eritrea with the tacit blessing of the West.
Ethiopia and Eritrea had been freed from fascist Italy control during WW2 but the subsequent conduct of the UK and US was pretty shameful. Then Haile Selassie‟s administration was overthrown by a Marxist coup, with the subsequent regime‟s resistance to the EPLF being backed by Soviet military might. It is little short of astonishing that the EPLF did win its struggle in true David v Goliath fashion. Michela gently mocks the „true believers‟ in the West who did fall under the spell of the EPLF‟s idealism during its struggle. But reading sections of her book it‟s hard not to become a „true believer‟. What the fighters achieved in their Spartan mountain strongholds is astonishing and inspiring, despite being dismissed by Washington as „commies‟ and by Moscow as irritating mischief makers. The focus on education, culture, health and equality was, for example, spot on. The fact that the revolution may not have created quite the sort of society today the freedom fighters might have dreamed of should not devalue the ideals. I think it‟s in Arnold Wesker‟s East End trilogy that there‟s a line about how it‟s people that go wrong not beliefs. The Challenge Road, the Amrit Wilson book on women‟s role in the struggle, was published in 1991 when the illogical victory of the EPLF was nigh. It focuses on some of the astonishing stories women had to tell about their activities as fighters in the mountains, undercover guerrillas in the cities, doctors, nurses, technicians, teachers and so on during this revolution. It is often reported how a third or so of the fighters in the revolution were women, and there is plenty of documentary evidence to bear this out. There is also a film that was made recently called Looking For The Sun about the way women in Eritrea participated fully in the struggle. This seems „braver‟ than confronting a macho punk crowd. Many of the clips on YouTube of Eritrean Revolutionary Songs feature the same female bass player, and many feature very powerful female vocal performances. And yet the role of music in the struggle hardly features in the books that I‟ve mentioned, which from a personal perspective is frustrating. I‟ve found very little on the internet on the subject, with the exception of an essay by Luwam Thomas on The Role of Music in the Eritrean Struggle for Independence. In it she writes: “One of the multiple functions
was that music was also an outlet for women and played a great role in the emancipation of women.” More generally music was used for propaganda purposes, to increase political consciousness, increase patriotism, and to raise morale. The music featured in the clips, I believe, was made by members of the EPLF‟s Cultural Troupe. Some of the singers are still active today. Others became „martyrs‟, dying as „tegadelti‟ or freedom fighters during the struggle. It would be fascinating to know more about how the distinctive music preserved in these film clips came to sound the way it did. There are, naturally, similarities with the Ethiopian sounds „salvaged‟ in the wonderful multi-volume Ethiopiques series, but this is wonderful, infectious music which I dearly wish could be „salvaged‟ in the same way. I understand a lot of these songs were issued on a series of EPLF cassettes, but I doubt many have survived. African music is very well represented on the web, but I have yet to find any of these cassettes posted. The title of this G.A.M. LP, Owed To Mama Rickie, suggests it is a debt repaid or a promise kept to her mother. Mama Rickie is Rickie Byars Beckwith, who has been close to Georgia throughout her recording career, and is an established artist in her own right. Most mentions you will find of Rickie BB refer to her current role as leader of the choir at the Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City, California. Agape itself has a „transdenominational‟ congregation, and in its own words has a vision “fuelled by the love of God, the One, indefinable yet unmistakable Presence whose vehicle on earth is the human heart and soul”. The Center‟s founder and spiritual director is Michael Beckwith, and together with Rickie BB he wrote four of the songs on the LP, and these share a similar devotional theme.
More generally the LP shows Georgia exploring her (soul/gospel) roots, which may be interpreted as a good thing by some and regarded with suspicion by others. It is understandable, perhaps, if there is not for example universal affection for the whole late „90s (and beyond) neo-soul thing, which some may regard as too studied or too tasteful, though personally there are records by the likes of Jazzyfatnastees, Jaguar Wright and Jill Scott that make me whoop with delight. So, on this record, perhaps G.A.M. does cut back on the electronics and the abstractions, but nothing is ever entirely straightforward. And whatever musical palette Georgia uses now is almost irrelevant, as the end result is irrefutably and unmistakeably pure G.A.M. Georgia‟s own songs are the highlights of this LP, inevitably, and the feel of the record can perhaps best by defined by the beautiful track More & More, where Georgia (unusually) is joined by soul singer Bilal. The „back to church‟ vintage funk files 7” thing is given a turn in the spotlight thanks to a fabulous remix by Terry Cole of Colemine Records out of Ohio. I have to confess I wasn‟t familiar with Terry‟s label until I heard this remix but the label‟s activities are really worth exploring. The reinterpretation of More & More perfectly showcases Georgia‟s gospel tones, and Bilal‟s contribution is beautiful. I guess this song is a good indicator of what was to come on Seeds. There are, it must be said, plenty of musical diversions on Owed. I love The Jump Rope Song, which taps into that old Iko Iko African percussion and playground chant thing beautifully, while the instrumental Dubby Time! is pure Jackie Mittoo Studio 1 ghetto organ. Whollyspirit, meanwhile, has more of a dub disco/deep house feel, and reminds me of something by Theo Parrish or that beautiful track Biddies by Mo Kolours which came out on OHM or One-Handed Music. Lyrically Georgia is at her best on Dr Feelgood, a cautionary tale about the attractions of money and materialism, and how going shopping can be a ride to nowhere. Georgia with her hand on her heart declares that being incorruptible can be uncomfortable and that this in turn makes exploitation all too possible. My favourite moment on Owed, and one of the most beautiful things Georgia has done so far, is
Moonsong Lullabye, a loping reggae/bossa flavoured song: “When the sun is up, I get up, I brush my teeth, make my bed, get clean. And when the sun goes down, I get down, in my pyjamas, on my bed, read a story, go to sleep”. You can just imagine her singing it to her kids: “Sweet dreams my love”. Lucky, lucky kids. As an aside, Owed To Mama Rickie was mixed and mastered by Earl Blaize which will interest old fans of Antipop Consortium.
COLLABORATIONS (A SLIGHT RETURN) I would be a liar if I suggested I had any real sense of the collaborations, productions, and remixes Georgia has been involved in over the past few years. A few names or projects from the underground have registered for one reason or another: Boog Brown, Sax G, J-Zen, J. Sands, Ishe & Hezekiah Project, Electric Wire Hustle, Eric Lau. And there was another brilliant pure G.A.M. collaboration with Eykah Badu, on Out My Mind, Just In Time from New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh. The one record of recent times where I am aware that Georgia was at the controls for a full-length set, and where I investigated it for exactly that reason, was fOnk Garden by LMNO, the second part in what was an ambitious project to release 10 LPs in 2010, which had the West Coast rapper working with a variety of producers and DJs. Reviews suggest the project was an impressive success, but I confess the appeal of fOnk Garden was the opportunity to hear G.A.M. at work behind the scenes. Unsurprisingly it‟s a great record, and yes that‟s as much to do with LMNO‟s delivery as the production. Perhaps unfairly I have LMNO tagged as one of the inveterate „hip-hop in opposition‟ stalwarts,
firmly against the commercial exploitation of the music that is for many a religion per se. The funny thing is, as with the Rock In Opposition progressives in the „70s, the oppositional sounds of people like LMNO and Henry Cow can be more accessible and appealing than the mainstream big-sellers. fOnk Garden, for example, is a genuinely warm, funny, thoughtful and uplifting record. And, you guessed, Georgia does a fantastic job in providing the right sympathetic production, without being too obtrusive or distracting, and there is a real art in that. Just to add to the fun LMNO made fOnk Garden a bit of a themed, almost conceptual record, celebrating nature, organic goodness growing from the soil, the joy of doing it yourself. It‟s not hard to see the analogy between organic gardening and what he considers hiphop should be. But I do like the idea of hardline rappers getting into digging vegetable gardens and tending herb gardens rather than digging in crates and smoking herbs. And that‟s as someone who these days gets more of a kick out of pottering around in his pocket-sized garden, sticking all sorts of seeds in pots and watching what happens with delight, than going to gigs or clubs. WHERE TO NOW? Well, at the time of writing Seeds still seems like the ideal soundtrack for the summer of 2012. And Georgia and Dudley have been playing dates across the States with Spoek Mathambo and Thundercat. As for the next G.A.M. related release? Well, perhaps there are clues on the SomeOthaShip: Connect 2011 sampler which is still available as a free download on the label‟s site. There are a whole host of excellent contributions from the extended Muldrow family and sundry SomeOthaShip fellow travellers, and I certainly would like to hear more from the likes of Miki Vale, Riff Raff McGriff, Kadence, Quazedelic, and Oji & the Ascension Team. The standout track, though, is Where I‟m At by Darryl Moore which is a stunning six-minutes-plus meditation on the state of the nation beneath the radar. It‟s an astonishing soul performance, deep as in Sam Dees, and manna for anyone who in recent years has fallen for The Daily News LP by the criminally underrated Donnie or the occasional Anthony Hamilton track that could melt the most hardened of hearts.
Georgia and Dudley/Declaime are well represented on the sampler. There is a great G&D track Popstopper, and another Georgia track Mystic Dancer which is ironically the most catchy thing she has done. There‟s a beautiful Jyoti track, which has a strong electric piano/jazz fusion feel, and is hopefully a taster for further Jyoti experiments/releases. And there is a track from Blackhouse which is a project by Georgia and DJ Romes. There is apparently an LP by Blackhouse due at some stage on Mello Music, which will show G.A.M. exploring more of an electro/house direction. It seems an intriguing prospect. Is it a case of Georgia upping the tempo and heading for the dancefloor? Or something stranger? There will be people out there who have dreamed of a collaboration between G.A.M. and Moodyman. And part of the fun of it with Georgia is the not knowing quite what to expect. As for Georgia‟s impact on the musical world, I think there will gradually be more and more people working in different areas who acknowledge her importance and inspiration. Closer to home I think there will be more singers and performers within the world of R&B and hiphop who choose to take the independent route, rather than endure the protracted agonies of dealing with major labels where the wheels grind excessively slow and the pressures and preconceptions are absurd if not downright demeaning. G.A.M. proves there is a different way of doing things.
With very special thanks to Per-Christian Hille for the cover art. www.yrheartout.blogspot.com www.yrheartout.tumblr.com