Archive for July 18, 2011
Bright sunrays bounced off high-definition glass windows that sprinkled beams of translucent light to the lobby’s 16th floor. From the hotel’s lift and making a quick left in front of RELAX; the spa lies the entrance to the air conditioned almost too cold SPLASHBAR. “Welcome,” stated the statuesque burly caramel complexion gatekeeper with a friendly face full of intelligence that checked I.D.’s and granted entrance to the pool’s bar. Scoping the relaxed site there seemed to be more souls ordering hand crafted liqueurs, caught up in artful conversations than people basking in the sun drenched waters of SPLASH the all-weather covered rooftop pool. Actually, there couldn’t be more than twenty hipsters hugging SPLASHBAR as the soundtrack of soulful house music mixed and mingled with the chattering. The absence of warmth felt strange. Once upon a time SPLAH, SPLASHBAR and the patio’s small dance space in front of the DJ table were packed with diversity which begs the question, “What happened to the Soul?”
Two summers ago, the debut of the pool party was met with brilliant fanfare and whimsical hype. Party people from all walks of life frequented the wet spot to get their dance, swim and drink on. Sculpted hard bodies balanced on the zero-edge pool while curvatious creatures suntanned to the beat. Fully clothed dancers wearing sneakers gathered on the patio’s open space to sing and bust moves in one inch waters that overflowed from the pool. Those scantily clad in designer bathing suits and Bermuda swim trunks posed for flashing cameras with pearly white veneers underneath pseudo expensive stunners for the city’s elite photo-philes. Pretty in pink dressed drinks topped with real fruit and blood orange cocktails kept the hunks and hotties behind the bar a pouring. The sound of water splashes combed with the sight of mini-tides greeted out of town hotel guests as local visionaries played an array of dance, house, reggae and other underground sounds. Yes, this was the perfect place to be on a Sunday afternoon. All went well for the remainder of the season.
By the following summer the cosmopolitan environment somewhat transformed. Rather be it the hotel management, hotel staff or the progression of the pool’s party direction, something felt incoherent. The attraction succumbed to the ideal see and be seen spot. Thongs swallowed by big butts and wife beaters with sagging trousers became the du jour while numerous requests for mainstream urban and commercial hip-hop went unfulfilled. No one danced to the “uhms, uhms, uhms” falling from the digitally enhanced overhead sound system, instead the reluctant preferred sun basking with an up tipped nose in the air. In return, the house heads stopped coming out. Many of the city’s photographer’s cameras were closed shut in leather cases as the hotel management preferred their own “paparazzi.” Suddenly, a different image took shape, one of less diversity and one more oriented towards the youthful waxed guidos and blonde ambitions with hair extensions. Think Jersey Shore meets boutique hotel. The demographics became sticky as the ebony population played at the left side of SPLASH while the ivory population played on the right side. This segregation never occurred the previous year which begs to mention something was up. Hotel security beefed up tighter control of SPLASHBAR and sent regular patrols mimicking the secret service with hi-tech ear gear and black shades. Gone were the snapshots where dancers met swimmers and exchanged brief transactions of small talk. Even the music had lost its edge. Gone was the scheduled line-up of eclectic DJs known for rocking off kilter music statements. Somewhere along, “stepping backwards” the soul was lost for a more exclusive looking package.
Fast forward to present day. At the worthy suggestion of a close friend, one of Chicago’s famed house music DJs was booked to play SPLASH. House music trail blazer Rafael Rodriguez a.k.a Lego of Pootin Muzik was in the house. Let’s be real people, LEGO is the man. Having secured the longest running night- Monday nights-in house music history at Chicago’s famed Boom Boom Room, Lego is no joke. Sadly, only three people dancing on the wet space welcomed Mr. Rodriguez to the decks. Everyone else could have cared less. There was a group of fifteen tan bodies seated on the zero-less pool‘s edge enjoying the view of vertical giant metal steel beams decorating downtown’s skyline. Two gay guys worked on tans, fully reclined in two separate lounge chairs, one with his eyes closed while the other read a book. What the heck, reading a book at a pool party. This was not the private pool at the senior citizen’s resort. Then there were the, “I’m too good to dance” hotties stretched out in long white lounge chairs. No one from the indoor bar took note. They all kept glued to their petty small talk about the latest whatevers. Please people, shut up and dance.
Lego started off the music just right with that Latin house sound akin to west coast Om Records and Naked Music. After a couple of starters Everything But The Girl’s, “Corcovado (Quiet Night of Quiet Stars)” the Knee Deep Classic Club Mix segued into Lego’s very own creation, “El Rito De Verdad.” Lego took the few dancers bouncing about on a wonderful Sunday afternoon ride through the towns of latin, soulful, deep and even funky house. The get down vocals of the late Loleatta Holloway’s, “Love Sensation” played over a snazzy groove of soft drums and acoustic guitars that welcomed Yoruba Record’s “Change For Me” (Joey Negro Mix) with Errol’s soul-stirring vocals that had the dancers singing at the top of their lungs while the non-house heads seated by and swimming in the pool nodded heads with white smiles of approval. With temperatures hovering in the upper 80’s a feel good wind blew through the air that made hearts merry not with wine but with house music. This was the true spirit of house music that uplifted souls and put smiles on faces. Other spirited offerings included a discoesque, “The Light” by inspirational sensationalist Michelle Weeks. Seems Lego is primed as one of those uplifting DJ’s because later Soulmagic’s & Ebony Soul’s, “Get Your Thing Together” with gospel diva Ann Nesby played from Purple Music’s catalog. There was the latin-tinged “Star” by U.K.’s Reel People with hair raising vocals from Tony Momrelle that had Lego with head-tilted upwards and eyes close lip-syncing, “You’re Like A Star/Perfectly Shining So Bright.” Lego even made a splash into the deep sparkling waters-not the pool’s waters but the deep waters of deep house music with “Headphone Silence” from Henrick Schwarz via Dennis Ferrer’s Noizy Edit. Wow, what a way to remind the dancing people about this forgotten gem. Soon, Jazztronik’s Spanish sensation, “Dentro Mi Alma” stripped to the bare bone courtesy of Osunlade thumped with bass until mid-song when the record skipped in repeated stutters. Oops. Anyways this type of sound distraction occurs, normally if the CD is not cleaned or scratched, but a veteran DJ knows how to come back with another sure fire track. Depeche Mode’s, “World In My Eyes” (Jask’s Deep Burnt Sky Mix) had all the makings for the perfect summer thumper. With arms stretched in mid-air and mouths screaming, “Yessss” there was no stopping the soul from being drenched on the peoples. The screams were so loud they had to be heard three blocks away across the city streets down below. Yes, this was house music that made complete strangers pay attention. Once again, courtesy of Jask, neo-soul crooner, Maxwell’s, “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)”(Jask Soul Suite) pounded the heart with a killer four-count that topped off the event with a round of warm goodbyes and several heartfelt thank-yous. As the souls cleared SPLASH there was no wonder to the question, “Where was the soul?” Lego put the soul back into the sunny side pool event. Unfortunately, the lack of souls missing missed the momentous occasion.
Photography by Chris Marley
It’s a weekend of all things Africa when there’s a week long black arts festival, a West African DJ Diaspora and a South African playing at Tambor. The weather of overcast skies, light rains and mild temperatures were not enough to quench the sweet scent of incense that burned across the city. The city’s soundtrack, afro-house echoed its sweet sentiment from Marietta Road to Moreland Avenue. There were enough dreads, head wraps and dashikis in town to clothe an African village.
Well let’s dive into the deep waters of all things deep; that is pure unadulterated afro- beat/deep house music. The party jumpstarted with the kind of soul that made the mouth drool with saliva. DJ Stan Zeff took control of the knobs and bombarded the gathering tribes with a house vignette worthy of legends. The journey started off deep with congos played over soft finger snaps. The minimal tracks with afro chants pronounced the coming of the spirit. The deity Yemaya; the mother goddess, the essence of motherhood and a protector of children arrived through Lou Gorbea’s and Chris Perez’s featuring Nina’s lead vocals on “Babalu Aye Y Yemaya.” Yemaya greeted the dancers with a nurturing embrace as they danced into her arms. Keeping on the spiritual side of matters, SuSu Bobien’s, “You Bring Me Joy” (Guy Robin Remix) brought church to the club. The gospel diva’s vocal rifts sputtered about like fire and brimstone but in a great way. The dancers screamed at the top of their lungs, with fists pumped in the air and heads shaking from left to right as if the Holy Ghost had made a surprise guest appearance. Elements of Life’s, “Into My Life (You Brought The Sunshine)” featuring vocalists Lisa Fisher and Cindy Mizelle, continued to uplift the soul when all of a sudden, from out of nowhere, the room fell silent with a unexpected hush. The music had stopped. However, the people didn’t. “You Brought The Sunshine/Sunshine In My Life/And When You’re Near Me/It Feels So Right,” sang five beautiful ladies at the top of their lungs. Even without music these lovelies kept the song going-acapella style. And boy could they sing. For the next minute or so, DJ Stan scrambled to find the solution but there wasn’t one to exactly pinpoint. So with the punch of a button the dance anthem started over from the beginning. The people cheered and danced with more energy than previously seen. From this point forth the party would, “Touched The Sky” as Dennis Ferrer’s featuring Mia Tuttavilla’s dub pounced from the JBL’s to heartfelt cheers and fluttering feet. Other highlights included Hosanna Littlebird’s chill-laxed vibe, “Can Love Again.” The Temple Movement Club Mix threw out heart grabbing synths and dropped bass that steadily crescendo into clashing cymbals that banged like African drums and fell on the crowd like the soft showers that fell outside the club. In anticipation for the “invasion of South Africa” Stan dropped a number from South Africa’s Queen Of House, Bucie titled, “Not Fade.” With the clock ever so ticking closer to 1 am many wondered where was the party’s special guest headlining DJ.
At the drop of a hat, out of nowhere South Africa’s Culoe De Song appeared on stage, ready to slay the tribe with unfiltered afro-beat/deep house. Who is this Culoe De Song? Well, he just might be the largest import from the motherland since uhmmm, let’s say, Black Coffee. With a knack for producing titles ranging from, “100 Zulu Warriors,” “Webaba” to “Gwebindlala” and possessing a laundry list of remixes from the likes of Black Coffee to Claude Monet it’s easy to hear how Culoe De Song has paved Africa’s vibrant deep house soundscape. For as there might be a hundred reasons to dismiss this young man as a deep house leader Culoe proved a thousand reasons more why he is deep house music’s newest and one of its youngest ambassador. Let’s take a deeper look into the soul of Mr. Culoe De Song.
There hails a young man by the name of Culolethu Zulu from the land of South Africa that embarked on his first United States tour. Culolethu’s first stop on the map was at the electrifying Tambor party. Having remixed his name to the shortened Culoe with addition of De Song translation; Culoe of song, Culoe De Song brought his brand of unfiltered afro-house to a hungry mass of overseas music lovers. Here to promote his latest release, “Elevation” several cuts from the album were played for the adoring fans. The young man wearing wide frame black glasses, a fedora and inked with a treble clef on the right bicep appeared smart, confident and determined to conquer the land in the west.
One with an acute ear would recognize several of Culoe’s new cuts played in unadulterated fashion. There was the recent Webaba EP digital release of “Far Away” with its haunting pulse. Cape Town’s Electro-Jazz live DJs the Gold Fish’s, “Call Me” with Monique Hellenberg on lead vocals had all the ladies heads spinning around in circumferences as if possessed by strange forces. Guys do your lady a favor and make sure to call her back. By evidence in the room there seemed to not be a whole lot of that happening. Culoe De Song’s featuring Shota, “Yini Negawe” sung in native tongue was another crowd pleaser that enhanced the afro fever. Durban raised, Johannesburg resident, singer and songwriter Ternielle Nelson’s, “African Woman” the Culoe De Song remix with folk guitar and live melt in your ear violins is the new ladies anthem. You go Culoe for taking “girl power” to new heights. Also, the uplifting “Hold On” with vocals by famed Zano had the crowd counting their blessings and holding on and being strong despite adverse circumstances. Talk about the perfect prescription pill per doctor’s order.
Not to be ostentatious, the humble Culoe showcased hits from other genre defining house makers as well. Culoe’s buddy Black Coffee (former Tambor guest) with siren Thiwe’s haunting vocals on “Crazy” (Manoo & Francois A Deep Journey Mix) took the crowd in deep tribal waters. Sure enough the journey went deeper as Kenny Bobien’s voice elevated the crowd to new atmospheric heights. Osunlade singing, “Envision” worked over Afefe Iku’s, “Body Drummin” made the perfect deep-tech thumper. The whopping finale Culoe’s own, “The Bright Forest” blew the roof off the hinges. The crowd which had lost their minds ages ago lost it even more so when the stripped down power anthem played.
By 2:50 am the loft space was packed. No one wanted to leave. No one could sit still. Even with the house lights at full beam, everyone danced and kept dancing as though no cares of the world existed. Plastered bodies on the sweat drenched walls were scrapped off. The only thing amiss was emergency paramedics carrying people stretched out on gurneys.
The night marked the celebration where African rhythms and sacred drums transcend into a deeper consciousness. Tom drums kicked on three-count intervals. Finger snaps marched over maracas where two-count notes meet. Hand claps traded spots with hissing hi-hats as crashing cymbals clashed on every eight-bar intervals. Bongos from the congos thumped deep with tech effects in perfect harmony. This South African treat was rarely experienced on U.S. soil. Where did this music come from? Africa. And what was this music called? Afro-Beat? Afro-House? Deep Tech? Or Progressive House? Whatever the categorie(s), no nomenclature could contain such a diverse music portfolio. This intersection where soul syncs with progressive proved successful during the uber-experience of avant-garde afro art. Furthermore, Culoe De Song’s humbled spirit and Africa’s deep house rhythms were cemented in the psyche and stamped on the hearts of every man and woman in attendance. Yes, Africa was here to stay.