Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Anguile & the High Steppers – La Sagesse du Roi/Wisdom of the King

African roots reggae on the spiritual tip. Gabonese-American-via-Paris frontman Anguile delivers unpretentiously soulful meditations on several popular reggae themes: racial equality, respect for the earth and family, African liberation and the need for world peace among them, perhaps underscored by the fact that Anguile comes from a mixed-race background. Some songs switch between French and English, with several in either one or the other: Africans are famously multilingual. The riddim tracks are pleasantly oldschool with bubbling organ, rattling percussion, trebly 1970s style guitar, vocal harmonies and the occasional horn chart.     

The cd kicks off with Sur les Cotes de l’Afrique (On the African Coast), a percussive Ras Michael style number, whirling layers of of synth in the background adding a dizzying effect. Oh Africa sounds like a rootsier Francophone version of what Luciano was doing ten years ago. For Anguile, Negre Blanc is something of a theme song, a triumphant announcement of transcendence over racial stereotyping. A couple of the songs here, Party Party and Cocol Gnam Bi (Forgive Us, Lord) have an Afrobeat vibe, the latter, a Steel Pulse-ish number,  asking forgiveness for the Africans who collaborated with the slave traders and left sixty million dead. Nebukanetzar addresses the price of vanity, the ominous tale of a fallen dictator.

The rest of the cd alternates between the spiritual and the secular, notably Change Ton Pas (Change Your Ways) with its eerie, recurring synth motif. There are also two alternate versions and a dub version of Negre Blanc. This fits right in with the new wave of soulful reggae coming from African shores: in a sense, Marcus Garvey’s words really have come to pass, at least as far as music is concerned. Watch this space for upcoming New York area shows.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Anguile & the High Steppers at Shrine, NYC 5/9/09

Good times and good vibes in Harlem on a Saturday night with African-flavored roots reggae by Anguile & the High Steppers. The band was excellent, bass and drums holding down a fat riddim, excellent percussionist with a dubwise feel, terse Telecaster player running his guitar through a watery chorus effect, jazzy keyboardist and bandleader Anguile, from Gabon via Paris, out front. He’s a big guy with a casual, comfortable stage presence, singing in both French and English, sometimes both in the same song, decked out in a white robe over a black t-shirt and fatigue pants. The band jammed their way jazzily into what seems to be their theme song, Negre Blanc – this being a multiracial band, the song is not sarcastic but simply explanatory. Anguile’s lyrics fit the traditional roots mold: respect for all races and mother Africa, with considerable emphasis on the spiritual. But the most fervent ones were always set to the catchiest, most upbeat tunes, keeping everything irie.

A call for racial equality (titled Afrique, Ecoute-Moi maybe?) had a punchy, Exodus-style intensity. Anguile related that how when he was a child, he asked his grandmother where his name came from. She replied that the original Anguile was a slave trader. He was happy to announce that through some internet sleuthing, he eventually learned that Anguile was the Gabonese leader who freed the slaves there.

Cocol Gnom Bi grooved along on a jazzy two-chord vamp reminiscent of vintage Aswad. Dieu Connait Ton Nom (God Knows Your Name) was bouncy and bubbly, as was the aptly titled Party Party (not the Costello song), spiced with carefree solos by the keyboardist and then Anguile, who would pick up a melodica from time to time. Their best song was the slow, hypnotic, trance-inducing, Burning Spear-inflected Change Ton Pas (Change Your Ways). They closed their first set with their darkest number, building from an eerie organ intro to a ominous four-chord verse that would have worked as well in a mid-70s British art-rock song as it did here. Finally at the end (this band’s songs are long!) they cut loose with the drums and the wah-wah guitar kicking up a storm. Anyone who loves roots reggae, the old or the new or just any kind of hypnotic, psychedelic music ought to check these guys out.

May 10, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment