Friday, January 30, 2009

The Superpowers have a new album!

Check it out - great band - kind of like Nomo - instrumental afrobeat, jazz & afro-funk inspired orchestra based in Boston, MA. Have not heard the new one, but make sure you listen to them on the web or better yet, go see them live. Great band for dancing. A track by them is on the upcoming release, The Rough Guide to Afrobeat Revival, put together by DJ Andujar  & DJ Bongohead. I had the pleasure of playing chekere with the band once in concert and I was very impressed.

If you are in Boston this weekend, this is the show to catch:

From the MySpace:

Internationally recognized afrobeat group THE SUPERPOWERS have been hailed by critics as a "poly-rhythmic juggernaut."

Originally formed as the Boston Afrobeat Society, having won the 2007 Phoenix Best Music Poll and 2006 Boston Music Award for Best World Music Act, this 21st-Century Dance Band has been blasting off in the Northeast. They have since relocated to Brooklyn where they have nurtured a monthly residency at Zebulon, one of Brooklyn's most well-respected music venues, for 2 years! They have played packed houses throughout the Eastern U.S. and shared the stage with internationally renowned artists including Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, John Browns Body, Aphrodesia, and NOMO.

In the past year they have played nearly 100 shows at festivals, bars, clubs, farms, and community events, rallying to end the violence in Darfur, raising money for development projects in Zambia's Meheba refugee settlement and supporting Fair Trade in South America. THE SUPERPOWERS also toured for 2 years using a WVO (Waste-Vegetable-Oil) powered School Bus, dubbed "the Green Monster." Members of the Superpowers can also be seen around the Northeast performing with Baye Kouyate, Amayo's Fu-Arkestra, The Mobius Band, Cuddle Magic, Rubblebucket Orchestra, BQEZ, and Dead Cat Bounce. They are currently working on their second full-length record entitled Trance-for-Nation featuring Claude and Rudy Gomis (Orchestra Baobab). It is expected to be out by the end of 2008. Their first record, Revival Time is available on iTunes.

BTW, their first album was designed by Nate Duval, a friend who does excellent art and graphic design - check out his posters, illustrations, and designs on line at You can check him out at the various alternative craft fairs around the country as well - his silkscreens are great. His partner, Jen Skelley, is a very talented designer and artist too - I have several of her silkscreen prints and they are KILLER!
Nate's cover:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Two Collectors Choose Some Of Their Favorite Album Covers

OK, so I asked two guys I respect a lot, musician and music store owner Josh Burkett and musician/writer/disk jockey Brendon Rule (a.k.a. DJ Andujar of WMUA fame), if they could pull a few albums, from their vast collections, that had cool covers. I got the impression that for Andujar, at first this whole 'cover art thing' was kinda new, but that now he was getting into it. He had done some posters and 'zines, and was of course used to flipping through a lot of records due to his activities as a DJ, collector, and seller of vinyl. But the covers never really grabbed him until I asked him to take a second look. Then, after careful consideration, he proved to have a great eye for wacky & cool cover art. Josh, on the other hand, is a natural connoisseur of cover art, being visual artist as well as a collector, seller, & of course, maker of music, and there is even one cover here that he made himself (Vermonster) & the really beautiful album he commissioned, with a front & back that have no text but are really colorful and quirky. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little gallery from their collection. You can visit Josh at his store in Amherst, Mass., Mystery Train Records, and you can check out Andujar's radio show, "clandestino' on WMUA. So, without further ado, here are the covers...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

More Classic Cover Art by Charlie Rosario

Charlie Rosario always brings a sense of humor and playfulness to his work. Here has invented a great title for the record - putting together two Spanish words that describe the music and the band: 'tipica" and "picante" - what a goof! He ended up illustrating it with a mix of flying orchestra instruments from the typical charanga set up, and a bunch of very hot looking chili peppers!

Like every Charlie masterwork, this album comes with a long story about how the custom plexiglass lettering and the plastic violins were made - and how Charlie came up with the idea. Suffice it to say it involves the chance meeting of a cousin in the street who had a violin under his arm and something to do with a sign shop. Anyway, as usual, the artists was thinking outside the box - waaay outside the box! This was before Photoshop could give you all sorts of 3-D effects - so you had to just go out and construct your type in real dimensions if you wanted it to look like this.

Charlie knew a lot of musicians back in the day (still does) and one of them was the talented singer Tito Allen. This cover - Tito cooking up Superman in a skillet over a "fire" of Kryptonite - is a satirical take on the story of how Allen left Ray Barretto's group (after the album "Indestructible" that depicted Barretto as mild-mannered Clark Kent beginning to change into Superman). "Maldades" are those nasty little things people do...

This one just oozes funky 70s New York apartment life - it's like Marero, a sexy crooner, has a second apartment where he takes his part-time lovers while the wife's back home. Looks like the start of a sleezy porn flick you'd love to see - just for a little history lesson, a la "Deep Throat."

This one is just so cool. Again, before Photoshop effects, it was all done with actual lighting and lense effects - imagine that!

Charlie was so into this band he wants you to experience the power in all it's 3-D glory - too bad 3-D glasses didn't come with it! Looks a bit Andy Warhol.

Charlie actually carved this head out of a tree stump and then set it on fire. It's still at his sister's in Brooklyn, holding up a table in the kitchen. Somehow this manages to capture the wildness and rebellion of the "cimarron" - a runaway horse or slave in Colonial Spanish lingo.

Speaking of burning, this reissue of the Marin record employs a photo Charlie took of a fire down the street from his place. The original LP cover displayed a silly picture of Marin as a fire man - this one feels a lot more real - including the singed bit at the upper corner. Charlie himself suffered the trauma of an apartment fire where he lost just about everything, including a lot of art. I asked him if he took pictures of that fire and he said no way, it was in the middle of the night and way too scary!

This was another reissue. Interesting how he takes the old time image of Machito and makes it look modern. The tracks on this are from an old Roulette release of Latin Jazz, but Charlie's design goes a long way to fooling you into thinking it's current material.

Raphael Ithier, leader and pianist of El Gran Combo, told Charlie that this is the album that revived the band's sagging career in the 80s - and the intriguing and humorously titled cover helped sell it in no small measure. Once again, Charlie also named the album. This time, he had been photographing interesting shadows and light in his apartment and he liked how a just painted chair looked in the light coming from the window. Later, designer Chico Alvarez, who was doing work for Combo Records, called him up and asked Charlie if he had any nice art or pictures to put on the latest EGC album cover. Charlie showed him this and Chico was into it right away. Charlie mentioned that the music is so hot, no one will want to sit down - just like on the chair with wet paint! Chico laughed, and was inspired to creat the beautiful script logo for the title.

This is one of Charlie's freaky photo/paint collages, done with some amazing pre-computer visual tricks. Again, this album was a case of a label - Harvey Averne's Coco - attempting to sell old product in a new, "hip" package. Charlie was just the man to see. The original cover, on the Mary Lou label, is actually quite nice as well, but very dated. But this one still looks fresh and somewhat bizarre, in a good way!

Now this was a contoversial cover for some - a stinky, paint-spattered pair of old Champion sneakers on the cover of a brand new Cortijo album? What were they thinking? The label eventually did away with the cover art and stuck the portrait of Cortijo (that was formerly on the back cover) in its stead. The audacity of Charlie is demonstrated here, and it really pays off. Because the shoes may look dirty and old, but they are actually just regular work-a-day, humble tennis shoes spattered with the artists's paint, evidence of humility and creative activity - just like Cortijo. He might have been old, out of favor, without much of a career while his old band, El Gran Combo, rose to new hights. But Raphael Cortijo was actually making music that was much more cutting edge at this stage of his life, and at the same time much truer to his Afro-Boricua roots than EGC (who had forsaken bombas for just straight salsa). Thus the Champion sneakers - it's like how Jackson Pollack used to paint his drip paintings to Machito and Dizzy Gillespie albums!

Ah, Andrea, que linda eres! So, this is just a classic - great photo by the Italian former monk, Dominique - who mysteriously disappeared, owing Joe Cain a lot of money - and some nice type work and layout by Charlie.

That's it for now. I hope to have more art soon to show you all. If you want to contact Mr. Rosario for comissions, design work, exhibitions, or album cover art, please do so. The man is blessed with talent and an unbeatable spirit. Call him at: 787-529-6114.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Alex Wilson's Mali Latino

Please check out pianist Alex Wilson's new project, "Mali Latino". Not since the 2 seminal "Songhai" projects has there been such an exciting fusion of Griot/West African music and forms from the Spanish/Latin tradition. Alex is an amazing pianist and all around genius who has put out ambitious Latin and Jazz recordings in the past, but his versatility goes way beyond these categories. Now he is mixing the traditional griot music of West Africa with hot Afro-Cuban forms and Nuyorican salsa, with a jazzman's sense of swing and the sensitivity of an ethnomusicologist. He's collaborating with two fabulous musicians from Mali, Ahmed Fofana and Madou Sidiki Diabate, joined by another musician from Mali and two of Alex's UK-based band-mates, and they are all really cooking together in a fusion that seems like it just sprung whole from Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). Sounds to you like Africando, but it's not: it's a more organic, integrated approach, with equal weight given to the African part of the music, and from the looks of it, it's less glossy and commercial. There is a 3 part documentary ("First Steps") about the making of the 'Mali Latino' project - so please watch it if you are curious. I know I was - Alex never ceases to blow my mind with his wild juxtapositions and fresh ideas (I licensed some great music from him for 3 of my Rough Guide compilations over the last few years - RG to Salsa, RG to Salsa Clandestina, and RG to Latino Nuevo). He is currently looking for funding (a small group of investors) to make the studio recording of "Mali Latino," and perhaps a label to put it out. Anyone willing to help fund this incredible recording can contact him through his Alex Wilson website at:

The musicians on the video are :

Alex Wilson piano
Madou Sidiki Diabate kora
Ahmed Fofana balafon / guitar / flute
Michael Mondesir bass
Davide Giovannini drums/timbales
Will Fry congas

You can also listen to the beautiful track "Remercier Les Travailleurs" at that same site.
OK - that's it, just wanted to hip you to my man Alex. In case you don't know, he is a very creative man with his heart in the right place. I know the ancestors are smiling down on this project, the spirits of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Bronx, Mali, Senegal, and The Gambia are all dancing together. You can praise whoever, praise Allah, praise God, Yahweh, Buddha, Mohammed, praise Obatala, Chango, and Ochun, Mami Wata and all the Saints. or you can just say: well done.
Help this project get recorded if you can. Invest what you can afford. Go see Alex perform the music live if you are able this May in England.
DJ Bongohead

You can also support him now by buying his albums too:

Afro Saxon - 1998
An auspicious debut, I remember hearing this on the radio, on Amherst's WMUA (thanks to Glenn Seigel and Brandon Marger), and going: wait a minute, this is wild, this is different, all over the place. I got to check this dude out! A decade later I am still learning from Alex. ¡Gracias, maestro!

Anglo Cubano - 2000
A very CALIENTE record - before I knew Alex or anything about his artistic mission, I used to play the title track to this little disc, and a few others from it, at Latin Night when it was still at Bar 19 (before it moved to the Iron Horse),and the dancers went crazy, though they didn't know what hit 'em. I knew from then on that Alex was my man, was a force to be reckoned with, and that he was going to provide me with innovative salsa that would open people's minds but also keep them moving their feet on the dance floor. Was I wrong? No way. Read on...

R&B Latino - 2002
What I wrote about the title track:
I am not one to wallow in nostalgia, so it is typical for my set to move from the traditional to the ultra hip in a heartbeat in my DJ sets. The whole atmosphere of Latin dance parties in general is multi-generational, and in the US, often multi-ethnic. It was this multi-cultural ambiance of breaking down the barriers that appealed to me when I first began to DJ in New York in the late 80s, and that’s what attracted me to the local scene in my current digs. The futuristic fusions of the UK’s own Alex Wilson and his CD “R&B Latino” are equally attractive for their wide ranging experimentation, where electronic DJ effects, beat loops, and techno sounds mix with blasting analog trumpet, a hot jazzy piano solo, and authentic Cuban vocals. When describing this particular project, Alex put it this way: “…you have R&B loops, programmed by Craig David’s musical director Frank Tontoh, combined with Puerto Rican salsa, and also elements of [Los] Van-Van influenced music [i.e. songo] which put together provides the backdrop for R&B Latino.” By the age of 30, Alex had already played jazz piano with some of Britain’s best, among them Courtney Pine, Roberto Pla, and Gary Crosby's Nu-Troop. " I'd spent a year in Courtney Pine's band playing not only jazz but everything from drum'n'bass to hip-hop. After that I felt equipped to try something different.” Seems Wilson had been hearing records by people like Sisqo and Destiny's Child on the radio, and “was struck how much the drum programming borrows from the Caribbean." He goes on to say: "So there's a direct link to Latin music. Rhythmically r&b is very sparse and Latin music tends to be very busy. But they both fitted like a glove. I could have easily made another salsa piano album. Latin music is so seductive it sucks you in. But I wanted to create my own sound." When asked if he’s ever experienced any problems playing Latin as a non-Latino (a silly question because you don’t have to be an African-American to play jazz!), Wilson answers matter-of-factly: “As a mixed race, British/African with a complexion very similar to many Latinos, I have made a point of not pretending to be anything else other than myself — I hope this reflects in my playing and my music productions.”

Aventuras - 2005
This is a really heavy jazz album that I highly recommend. It has elements of Latin, African, Funk, and modern instrumental avant guard music. full of moments that are both lyrical and dark, mature but loose, natural yet sophisticated. As usual, Alex's piano is the backbone and shimmers through out. Some great vocals by Mary Pearce too. Pick it up today!

Inglaterra - 2007
What I wrote about the track "Oh Kuri" from the album Inglaterra:
Sometimes it takes a gifted visionary interpreter from outside a culture to bring fresh perspective into a tradition. The freedom to dispense with convention so as to produce rich re-interpretations often needs to come from a different but parallel place. Alex Wilson, born to British parents of Sierra Leone background, and raised in Africa, the UK, Switzerland, and Austria, is just that courageous person, inhabiting a special world that finds him comfortable in many modes of artistic expression. In one way his music reflects the cosmopolitan experience of living in one of the world’s great cities; in another way, it is evidence of a restless spirit that travels at will between the real and the imagined. And thank goodness his imagination never gets trampled by the realities being a struggling independent musician. On “Oh Kuri,” Señor Wilson hops several boundaries at once, but the leap of faith seems quite logical and feels very natural in the end: mixing Asian (specifically from the Indian Subcontinent) with Caribbean music has been done before (think eclectic Bollywood filmi music, or Trinidadian chutney, and of course the UK’s own bhangra), but not this way! It’s as if Willie Colon’s menacing herd of stampeding trombones rushed forth from the Bronx and collided straight into a wedding ceremony in New Delhi. Alex has teamed up with vituoso tabla player, composer and record producer Kuljit Bhamra, and Shahid Abbas Khan, a young vocalist “who is seriously going places,” to create a first: salsa dura bhangra. Bhamra is one of the most influential musicians working behind the scenes in British Asian music today. He has composed, produced and recorded more than 700 songs to date - many of which have been international hits on the Asian music circuit, some featured in popular movies such as Bhaji On The Beach. The lyrics of “Oh Kuri” describe the adoration of a girl's beauty - in a very pure (and non-suggestive) way. The song was originally entitled “Gee Sakde” before it was adapted to the bhangra-salsa format. But don’t categorize it too swiftly; like a lot of the music on this compilation, Alex Wilson’s albums defy niche parameters; suffice it to say this jam will get both salseros and Asian Underground dancers going. According to Alex, “I had been writing and pre-producing the song with Kuljit for some 6 months beforehand so everything was prepared. We put the four percussionists in the room and they [just] played! It took some meeting in the middle - salsa is a 'straighter' feel and the bhangra is very swingy/triplety, but the musicians were able to combine to make a unique sound. That moment when I went back into the control room to listen, I honestly felt like it was a very special moment! “Oh Kuri” fits very well into my music as a whole as my philosophy has always been to produce a flavor of Latin music that reflects where I come from - which is the exciting, open-minded, musical melting pot of London. I am also working with Kuljit on producing more Indian-Latin tracks with a possible launch concert/album next year.” Until then, savor the spice of “Oh Kuri” and be glad Alex is so fearless. - Pablo E. Yglesias for The World Music Network.

What I wrote about the track “Subelo”:
Inglaterra is London-based keyboardist Alex Wilson’s fifth release, and his most ambitious take on salsa to date. Colombian rapero MC Magico and the sexy Criolla provide the party vocals over the reggaetón beats, while Wilson and his brass players keep it real, blending tasty acoustic mambo licks with the programmed loops to form an organic whole. This style of salsatón has been popular in Puerto Rico and New York for a while now, but Wilson brings the dancehall flava full-circle to the UK in his own inimitable fashion. In a way Alex’s entry into the reggaetón market is a round about return to his roots because as a younger musician he played with West Indian saxophonist Courtney Pine and ska-boppers Jazz Jamaica.

Salsa Con Soul - 2008
One of DJ Bongohead's Top 10 Picks for 2008
What I wrote about Alex's new album, "Salsa Con Soul," for
"Alex Wilson’s new album has it all - hard driving salsa, funky Latin Soul, and modern fusions of Latin with gospel, r&b, Brazilian, and contemporary jazz flavors - plus great vocals (in Spanish and English) from multitalented guests and sizzling piano courtesy of the master, Alex Wilson. The two stomping Colombian themed salsa dura scorchers will blow you away; there is also a very tight and tasty instrumental salsa number that is perfect for dance lessons. No stranger to trying something new, in the past Alex collaborated with Jamaican and African musicians, as well as Cubans and South Americans, jazz players and a reggaeton artist. He has also created intriguing fusions of Nuyorican style salsa with Indian music (specifically bhangra), and worked with some hot young urban r&b producers to bring in electronic beats and diva vocals. This time around he tweaks the collaborations in favor more of gospel, and it’s an interesting mix, perhaps not one that you might have though of yourself – and that’s why we have the gifted Mr. Wilson! If you don’t know this African/British composer yet, this is a good place to start. Somehow, it all makes sense under Alex’s spirited, capable leadership, and though you will want to dance to the infectious uptempo numbers, you'll also want to listen deep to the mellower grooves, because this salsa has soul!"
Very highly recommended. (Pablo Yglesias, 2008-09-25)

Alex wilson, a man who's music is a gift to us all.