Archive for April 29, 2012
An Open Letter To Carlos Mena
Several BEMBE enthusiasts surveyed the decorated room of cloth banners hanging with “THAT GYRL Inc.” posters and judged, “The crowd was light.” In fact so light, more pockets of empty spaces danced than people. For sure that would all change once the night’s headliner dressed in an ochre Ocha tee would take to the musical controls. Disappointedly that would not occur. “So, where were the people?”
Being BEMBE’s second installment in the minimal establishment the attendance had dismally plummeted like second week music sales determined by SoundScan. Yes, other events were held at the same time in various fractions of the city. Yes, there was a massive party taking place in the restaurant next door. However, none of these conditions justified the ebb. Please be mindful, this disturbing trend plagues many monthly parties across the city. Throw the debut party and everyone including their momma’s show up. Throw the sophomore installment and the audience falls flat. Many DJ’s swear they’d rather service five esoteric than five-hundred obtuse but as we know in this current club environment successful parties must meet the demands for dollars via front door cover or bar tabs. Proof exists a DJ’s A game heightens with superfluous support compared to bare necessities. And that scenario seemed to play the night. Not to say, Omar’s, “As Long As You Believe” (Layabouts Future Retro Mix), Bob Marley’s vs. Dennis Ferrer’s vs. Sunburst Band’s, “Exodus” (Adam Auburn Mix) and MJ’s, “Thriller” didn’t bring the heat. Surely they did. Even your jocular phrases, “Should we skip the foreplay and get to straight fuckin’?” and “I’ve got two Rum and Cokes!” brought out several laughs. Nonetheless, there seemed to be distractions; a music set challenged. A mask of disappointment hung on the party promoter’s visage as she rescued a flameless candle that had once burnt bright. Even the dancers played support; armed with combustible energy thrown at the DJ stage that at times felt muddied. In the world of party promotions such grief speaks without words. Sorry for the night. Sorry for the lack souls. Don’t give up on us. Truly we appreciate you and your efforts for bringing BEMBE the monthly installment to this hungry city. So, cheers to a much larger more jovial crowd next month. Seriously, “WE HOUSE HEADZ HAVE NOT TIRED OF CARLOS MENA.”
A Deep House Head
Photography by AJ Dance
“Tell me. The Sound Table has an upstairs,” mentioned friend number one to friend number two gathered at a burger joint for Sunday brunch.
“Why yes but the upstairs is used for dining purposes only.” Explained friend number two.
“Oh my,” friend number one gasped. “You all dance in that tiny space?!?”
“As We Rejoice/Clap Your Hands,” sang Zakes Bantwini and Xolani Sithole into the ears of the chosen few already writhed in mid-dance. The restaurant’s elongated dining tables and wooden dining stools served as wall holders as happy feet graced contortionists appearing to kiss and dry hump the floor. Chicago native/Atlanta resident Ramon Rawsoul of House In The Park fame warmed up the crowd with musical selections from ATL’s Miranda Nicole’s, “Kissing You” (Duce’s Wild Vox) and South Africa’s Culoe De Song’s, “The Bright Forest.”
The clock read 12:30 AM when the night’s headliner, Chicago’s own Glenn Underground pulled the plug on Black Coffee’s global unified theme, “We Are One.” From the sound system roared thunderous, “vrooms” as if a motorcycle chain gang zoomed down I-90 to Chicago’s south side. After 60 seconds of the maddening intro the motorcycles came to a stop at South Side Disco. That is the cacophony gave way to a disco four-count with hissing snares that bounced off speaker tops, elongated tables and wooden chairs. The GU moniker would offer not one but THREE consecutive tracks more of less the same. Was it 1979? Hell Naw. While some appreciated yesterday’s nostalgia, others shook their heads in abandonment, as some braved the classics panting for disco’s bastard child; house music.
With a slide of the CD player’s pitch control the beats picked up pace. Boisterous thumps fell from the speakers to jolt the heart. A steady climax rushed rubber soles to dance faster and jump higher. There it was again, the “vrooms,” leaving South Side Disco, taking off to some unknown underground warehouse while a cant reminiscent of Dr. MLK Jr. directed its destination. The spoken word’s volume was amplified so till it echoed with a distorted hiss. The making of the musical journey proved a bit off putting.
What followed next delivered music to the ears and brought what the people came to hear a proper instrumental house music track built on a steady four-count thump, equipped with swirling keys and melodic chords that justified a true house experience. Transitioning from a music track to a song with vocals proved a no brainer as a male vocalist proudly proclaimed, “I ‘am Superman” to warm cheers. The crowd’s enthusiasm was kicking in high-gear perhaps due to alcohol.
Over the course of songs, hearts pounded with joy as additional musical offerings of the house and disco kind played at the Sound Table’s alter. The crowd had swelled to gigantic proportions. The tiny restaurant could no longer contain the substantial crowd packed tight like an African slave ship. Shirts came off, hairdos fell flat and sweaty musk became le parfum du jour.
Sometime later from the recesses of a track played chirping guitars beeping vibrantly underneath warm orchestrated strings. The soft melody had that of an old Chicago soul. Yes, indeed it was the interpretation of Timmy Regisford’s and Adam Rios’ execution of Chicago’s soul maverick Peven Everett’s, “Burning Hot.” However, this accompaniment came equipped with a smooth saxophone providing opening credits. WOW! What an exclusive goodie. After two minutes of sax filled bliss Peven’s vocals sung, “Gotta Keep It Burning Hot.” Throughout the shoebox shaped restaurant hands flew up in praise as the people lost their minds all the while providing additional vocal support. The producer took the track even further by killing the bass to warp the highs that caused additional pandemonium.
The Midwesterner gave a shout out to the east coast with Blaze’s 1999 cut, “Wishing You Were Here” remixed by U.K.’s moniker Joey Negro. Then came the steady transitions to afro-house, then to 1980’s Chicago house and then to disco. The night capsized with Chicago’s vocal sensation the late Loleatta Holloway’s, “Dreamin.” The CVO (Chicago’s Very Own) was at his best in his element delivering a stunning overworked vocal take on the classic. “What’s Mine Is Mine/What’s Yours Is Yours/You See I Don’t Want Nothing That’s Yours.” Loleatta’s scat and Holy Ghost “whoohs” were pitched, looped and allowed to scream till the hairs on the neck stood acute and chills surged up the spine. Even if not a fan every heart had to admit, “This was REAL music.”
There’s just something about that Chicago soul. That soul that can’t be faked, funked, or forgotten. That soul that can’t be caged copied or formulated. The kind of soul that reaches its arms back in time across deep musical waters. The soul that can be heard on African slave ships, heard on Mississippi’s slave plantations and heard in Chicago’s south side housing projects. That Chicago soul be it blues, jazz, disco, house or rap that makes happy feet two-step. That kind of soul slaps the approval of blackness in your face. That kind of soul makes you dance and shout in circles filled with the Holy Ghost. That soul will make you throw your arms in the air and cry, make your heart dance out of its chest cavity and make you jump on and dance on restaurant tables in public. Glenn Underground brought that type of soul to the Soul Table uh-hmm the Sound Table. That soul was crafted from the deep, transported through the trenches and delivered to the underground masses. Some may not understand the soul. If one allows their eyes to close, taking a deep breathe and plunging backwards into the sweet serene waters they will no doubt be baptized into the soul. Be it young, old, black, white, Jew, gentile this soul is for you.
All Photos by AJ Dance
Even Andy Warhol showed up to party.
The room was dark. But far from silent. Afro-house music played background soundtrack as hazy oxidations danced in a faint orange spotlight. The special guest DJ with tattooed sleeves stood before a folding table. In his hands were five exclusive playing cards. Would he fold? Or would he continue to play to win?
“He doesn’t look comfortable,” suspected Tambor’s graphic designer with drink in hand.
DJing can be a bit like playing poker. You don’t know what type of hand you hold. Or more precisely you don’t know what type of music you hold. It takes a whole lot of betting that you’ve got a winning hand and you’re going to play the proper music that will win the audience over. Precious time, calculation and thought groom a party’s playlist. A guest DJ must know if or when to follow the prescribe pattern set by the predecessor DJ, when to stand ground with his/her musical manifesto and mixing style or when to be agile and limber. Like a professional poker player a professional DJ knows how to strategize a winning formula. A whim of spontaneous flexibility has to be assumed.
For two straight hours that spontaneous flexibility was muscled by the night’s guest headliner via Chi-town. DJ Terry Hunter played five rounds of five cards-Chicago style. From South Side disco, Chicago house, afro-house, deep house to classic soul. After a switch killed the music, a vibrant soprano resurrected from the dead sung, “You Better Believe It.” Terry silenced his opponents by dropping the queen of hearts; the late great Whitney Houston’s, “Love Will Save The Day.” The heart pounding four-count floor- thumper made feet stomp, hips gyrate and soul claps. The tribe went belligerent dancing in chaotic bursting bubbles greeted with agape smiles. After another brief moment of silence the Chicagoan withdrew from the deck a 10 of spades and threw it into the mix. The T’s Box latest release, “Inspiration To Me” (2012 Classic Club Mix) with love vocals by Eric King kept feet leaping in the air and ears open for what was to come. Matthew 18:20 came next riding over snappy percussions driven by afro-tinged subterranean. BAM!!! Terry dropped a jack of diamonds. After all where would Chicago be without Jack? Certainly it would be void of Chicago’s legendary Farley Jackmaster Funk’s, “I’m A House Head” with Billy Monroe bringing the vocal funk. The producer/remixer kept his catalog up front and personal with Chicago’s soul sister Terisa Griffin’s, “Yes” (Bang’s Sunday Club Mix). With the launch of the deep sexy sounds the critically acclaimed, “legendary” dropped a black Queen of Hearts to the delight of sexual auras. YES!!! The tribe of Tambor was in sensual hands. To follow suit the in demand producer adroitly dropped two kings of house. The first, Ruffneck’s, “Everybody Be Somebody” screamed for attention and that it received as the crowd chanted in return even after the song’s end. The classic king of spades played over a choppy walloping two-count that brought out hip-hoppers popping and locking on the baby powdered dusted floor. After another four-count floor-thumper driving dancing bodies mad with joy, the second king arrived. Staccato jabs of synths syringed the air. Screams penetrated the heavens, bodies leapt into the atmosphere as arms crushed through sound waves. The king of clubs; Lil Louis’, “Club Lonely” with house mainstay Joi Caldwell showing vocal support caused the uprising. The fierce dub sped through the speakers to answer the call, “Miss Thang/There Is No Guestlist/Tonight,” with a finger snap. Somewhere in the loft space floated the flesh of DJ Roland Clark as his recorded spoken words wondered on Agev Munsens, “The Thing About Deep (Can Drum).” Unbeknownst to the crowd wrapped up in divine interpretation a red king of hearts would close out the night. Chicago’s Lil Louis’, “Fable“with its uplifting strings and keyboard swirls served a questionable end.
Hands down, DJ Terry Hunter won the game with a full house; a “Three Full of Pair.” There sat on the folding table a red king of hearts, a black king of clubs, a black king of spades, a red queen of hearts and a black queen of clubs. This a champion knows best; how to work the crowd and win over the crowd with various music statements. It was apparent from the start that the man with a plan was out to rule with an iron hand. At one point the second generation Chicago DJ went deep, so deep dancing bodies writhed in diabolical bondage. The seasoned sensation worked the crowd dropping the bass and scorching the highs with such intensity the entire room fell prey to Hunter’s hunt. From where the track with the blaring sirens, vocoder demonic filter and the dramatic build-ups and devastating drops came from was anyone’s guess? Then there was the disco. The disco that caused even the most obdurate DJ’s to dance. Then there was disco house and on and on and on…..need anymore be said on the topic? By the party’s final hour when DJ Stan Zeff assumed musical lead to close out the night the loft space resembled a government declared, “Disaster Zone.”
Photography by AJ Dance
“In order for this to be a real BEMBE party, I need at least FIVE drinks,” announced Carlos Mena over the microphone on the platform DJ stage behind the DJ equipment.
Much can be said of an intoxicated DJ behind the music decks. While some DJs under the influence BOMB their sets-train wrecks, pressing the incorrect control knobs and spewing explicitness at the audience-others are functional and can hold their ground. For example, alcohol doesn’t prohibit CASAMENA Recordings label owner and founder, Carlos Mena from dropping BOMBs on the lovers of black music. As a matter-of-fact, alcohol naturally seems to enhance the dynamic musical makings of the Yoruba priest blessed with regale, handsome looks and Puerto Rican flair. Dressed in a sharp white stripped collared shirt that enhanced some serious black locks of hair, the amiable personality wasted no time announcing over the microphone to those gathered, “I’m drunk. If I mess up……Then I mess up.”
Sure Carlos that’ll be the day.
Underneath the hat and behind the bandanna the night’s opening music selector DJ Ausar’s two auspicious eyes watched over the capacious room. From the front door with the bar to the right-a folding table stacked with various liquors-to the exposed brick and mortar and stained walls that hid mahogany African masks in its many nooks and crannies that led to the room’s inner workings; a platform DJ stage. On the platform stage in the room’s rear DJ Ausar watched and played music for the handful of gatherers. The wooden platform panel was positioned diagonally and was half the size of that from the previous night. A set of black speakers and black subwoofers were firmly positioned between Asuar and his audio hardware. Behind the makeshift stage an Ocha Recordings and a “THAT GYRL” banner hung side by side above crimson drapery. Ausar fired off several consecutive rounds of deep house shots at the scattered crowd, clipping the dancers into bolts of shock. Their writhed bodies-possessed by the groove-two-stepped and tumbled in trance as their stunned visages announced these were the beginnings of an arrested development.
Something was abuzz in the air, a blithe force leftover from DJ Ausar. The hilarity caused zaftig rumps to shake, a wig to fall off a head and Carlos to yell, “Security get her.” When Carlos Mena took the stage to address the crowd with a humorous dissertation the attendance of souls had already grown beyond belief. The amount of bodies trapped in the space dancing in heat produced sweat that progressed to malodorous scents provoking one visiting DJ to joke he stood in one spot and smelled, “Onions! The kind [onions] that come from Vidalia in south Georgia.”
The spirit of Carlos’ acumen manifested in the musical achievements he unleashed upon the crowded room of dancers, spectators, by-standers and the curious of minds; all sojourners in the movement called house music. Musical highlights of BEMBE included; Mena’s Ocha label partner Yoruba soul priest Osunlade’s, “Envision” (Ame Acoustic Mix) accompanied with an additional undertone afro tinged beat followed by another Yoruba classic from the British dames Floetry with their commercial release, “I Want You” (Yoruba Soul Mix) successfully reworked for the underground clubs.
The night’s ambitious undertaking arrived courtesy of a series of trumpets pronouncing a chilling fright. The intro to the late great Michael Jackson’s blockbuster epic, “Thriller” had entered the room like zombies raised from the dead. A reluctant aura assumed the mass that hung balanced in the air. The people hesitated. Should they embrace or neglect the commercial appeal? The boogieman tune may have crept out from the shadows of the dark unannounced but leave it to Mr. Mena to drop some commercialism to throw everyone off their game. Anyhow underneath the surging of trumpets played a choppy afro-beat interacting with the slabs of the original song’s rhythmic guitar that made for happy feet. From the recesses of the crowd came scores of cheers, shouts and screams as voice by voice joined the outpouring of love. Vocals from the late actor Vincent Price rapped and were looped over the afro groove adding extra clairvoyance signaling this was “Thriller” (The Vincent’s Dub). Several bars later in mid-song Carlos gradually raised the mixer’s volume as Vincent’s famous cackle burgeoned into a hypnotic terror as the sounds of spiraling synths roared like diesel engines that finally climaxed to a cacophony so catastrophic the crowd could not contain themselves. People’s heads spun around in circles. Mouths spewed green goo. Eyes popped out of sockets. Naw, just kidding. However, the people jumped up and down and waved their hands in the air in frenzy formations with contortionist facial gestures. This was the real power of soul music penetrating the depths of hearts. At the heart of the scene the beat slammed to a halt and returned with the choppy percussions slicing the jabs of the rhythmic guitar. Once again the people fell back into fits of dance. From there the afro-beat rode off into the jungles of the “Bright Forest” the South African anthem from up and comer Culoe De Song. The song reaped additional havoc in the room. One skilled dancer dropped to the floor while others screamed, “Stop! I can’t take no more.”
Please, give the people a breath of fresh air. And some water please. Really? Like that was going to happen. More barrage ensued from Honeycomb Recording’s Josh Milan titled, “Your Body” (Louie Vega EOL Mix) and of course Carlos’ own remix of Nina Simone’s, “See Line Woman” (CASAMENA Basement Mix).
The night had its share of hiccups. Hiccup number one: sometime earlier during the energized set a speaker on the left side of the stage blew out. Not that anyone really noticed except the unequivocal Mr. Mena that admitted the acoustics weren’t all that great. Hiccup number two: right in the middle of a smooth jazz house number the music abruptly came to a halt. The intoxicated priest had accidently hit the wrong button and apologized, “Oops. I fudged up. My bad.”
Another choppy break beat bounced underneath razor sharp synths that sliced the room in two. From the mouths of babes shrilling squeals besieged the bedlam environment. The punchy sounds of west coast houser Fred Everything featuring Canadian vocalist Wayne Tennant’s, “Mercyless” the Atjazz Mix wreaked additional decadence to the bellies of the already overstuffed househeads.
“Atlanta, are you still with me?” announced the eclectic dynamo as he threw rock outfit Depache Mode’s, “The World In My Eyes” (Jask Deep Burnt Sky Instrumental) into the mix. Lastly, those that were left able to dance or stand sung U.K.’s Shaun Escoffery’s anthem, “Days Like This” (DJ Spinna/Tickla Mix) at the top of their lungs. “I hate this song!” Carlos joked with a devious smile.
“But you all sound so great singing it,” and with that the song started over.
Photography by AJ Dance