Not one to be shy of the odder side of recorded music I picked up this Arabic Christian collection of Easter hymns for 50 whole pence a few weeks ago.
I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of the picture of the crucified Christ on the cover with stacks of Arabic writing beside it (my copy paired with a big ‘Anita’ on the back in bold biro). It was crying out to be bought. It just looked so interesting and it is certainly that.
It is a collection of very down tempo hymns done in an almost East/West crossover. One can hear those church organs providing backing but Fairuz’s gorgeous faultless voice sings in a distinctive eastern manner using Eastern scales. She also works at times without instrumentation with a choir in what appears to be a call and response fashion
It says on the sleeve notes that Good Friday is remembered by Arabic Christian communities in a very sorrowful way and the songs apparently reflect upon Christ’s suffering on the cross.
Fairuz is a well known Lebanese singer active from the 1950’s and started her career in her local church. She became an international star in the 1060’s and continues to this day to sell out huge venues on the strength of her Lebanese popularity.
This is a meditative piece and becomes almost Gregorian at times. It would sound fantastic in the churches where it is meant to be heard with knee deep reverberation. On a record from 1962 you do loose a little depth to the sound and of course there are 50 years of crackles to contend with (but I never mind crackles – shows character)
All in all a fine piece of Eastern promise in a collection without enough of it and to top it all it turns out that this is quite sought after fetching between £15-20. Nice to know but I ain’t going to sell it now
Well there I was decanting my most recent home made wine and I thought mmmm, I know, how about some wine music. Oh yes some warm wine music. Some Palm Wine Guitar music.
Enter stage left Sooliman Ernest Rogers or SE Rogie as he was known in his native Sierra Leone. SE Rogie was a bit of a national treasure in Sierra Leone being the premiere exponent of Palm Wine Guitar music. He was active in his native land in the 1960’s and 1970’s with his band The Morningstars and with a variety of local musicians banging gourds, boxes, maracas, congas and all kinds of improvised percussion which of course you must do if you are short of instruments.
This is a record I bought probably in 1988 or 1989 and looking on the front got it for the bargain price of £1.99 in the Our Price sale. Unbelievably cheap for such gorgeous molasses sweet West African tenderness. I remember I had a cooking vinyl sampler at the time and recognised the name from that. I couldn’t believe my luck. This was a compilation done by the really eclectic Cooking Vinyl back then. Of course there was a bit of a African trend going on at the time with The Bhundu Boys, The Four Brothers, Kanda Bongo Man etc and I was really into all of those but this was a sound I had not come across. I was African music from a generation back. These days you could easily pay £20 for this original (1988…Ha!) version although I notice they have released another vinyl version at about £14.
I have alluded to the use of improvised percussion but I think the recording must have also been largely improvised because it all sounds like it was recorded in a toilet (solo) or in a village hall (with the Morningstars). This definitely does not detract from the quality here. All the better for it.
The album leaps off the vinyl with some massive chiming West African guitar chords and a driving bassline quickly joined by Mr Rogie’s great big fat baritone advising us to ‘Twist with the Morningstars’ I’m up for it Mr Rogers! This is a dance band playing to a hoard of slightly palm wine lightened Sierra Leonian teens in the local hall. You can see it. You can feel the heat off this record. Most of the rest of this side are more intimate numbers with SE and his wood banging chums. He has a seductive deep voice that makes every effort to pronounce his words fully. That seduction also gets a bit saucy at time as he asks his girls to do him Justice and the then get’s caught ‘…red hot’. He even offers excellent ‘Advice to Schoolgirls’. Now there’s a song title that wouldn’t go down so well today eh? He also does a fine job of romance with his most well know song ‘My Lovely Elizabeth’. I’m not sure if that’s her above on the cover. What a gal! And isn’t SE looking mighty dapper in his high waisters. He also notes that us guy’s ain’t very good at reading women on ‘Man Stupid Being’. This is a great track recorded in a Liberian Radio Store where he introduces all of his band members. It is one of my favourites with ‘Twist with the Morningstars’ ‘Baby Lef Marah’ and ‘Do Me Justice’
I reality all of these tracks are really top class mostly made up of SE Rogie’s primary sound of guitar and percussion immediately indicating the roots of that West African guitar. His melodious chord progressions go round and round complimenting his warm caressing tones occasionally punctuating the progressions with a little guitar break or indeed whistling.
Please listen to Mr Rogie. You wont regret it for its sheer joy. Unfortunately this album isn’t on You Tube but various tracks are. Here is my favourite Do Me Justice.
I particularly like the high woman voice, low man voice introduction and have heard this in many African tracks from the Four Brothers, Devera Ngwena Jazz Band and others. Goodness only knows what that’s all about