October is Black History Month, celebrating the social, cultural, economic, and political progress made by Britain’s Black community. On the back of the long-standing Black Lives Matter campaign, and especially with reference to this summer’s events here and in the US, there probably has never been a more important month in the 33-year history of the celebration.
First track up this week is from 2018, but found its way to my ears via a compilation put out last month by Belgium’s underground sound system Rebel Up! in support of Black Lives Matters and individual various (inter)national NGOs, anti-racism advocacy groups and organisations of black initiative in several countries around in Europe and in south America. Belgium, with its own history of African colonialism, has been vocal in support of Black Lives Matter and with many musicians from African countries finding their home there, the potential for cultural collaboration has been significant.
Ayuune Sule is from Bolgatanga, in northern Ghana (which ought to perk up a few British ears), and he plays a two-string lute called a kologo. He has a warm soulful voice and his established musicianship has clearly taught him the importance of what not to play in building a song. Hear him here on ‘How To Get There’, accompanied by little more than the insistent rhythm pumped out on his kologo, judicious handclaps, a faint hint of a tambourine and gorgeous, but restrained, backing vocals:
Here on #WorldTeachersDay, the song celebrates the importance of staying in school as the answer to the question posed in the title whether you want to be a president, teacher, lawyer or even just a daddy. Ayuune Sule’s album – also featuring the intriguing ‘What A Man Can Do, A Woman Can Do More Better’ (with a little more electronica) – can be picked up via Crevette Records, his label; while the RebelUp! compilation – where you can hear all 28 tracks, including ‘How To Get There’ – is available via their bandcamp page where you can also choose which black initiative you want to support.
My second track this week is a familiar one from the 1990s given a fresh treatment. Sade’s Diamond Life was indeed one of the Sounds of the 80s, but ‘No Ordinary Love’ came from the band’s 1992 album, Love Deluxe. By that point, the sound had palled a little for me and, anyway, I was more interested in seeking thrills from the guitars and horns in Congolese soukous. Consequently, with Sade’s ‘smooth jazz’ sound somewhat washing over me, I rather missed out on ‘No Ordinary Love’, in particular what is a quite extraordinary lyric.
No such opportunity on the version by Birmingham, Alabama’s St. Paul and the Broken Bones where there is no hiding place from the emotional power of the words. ‘No Ordinary Love’ was cut over the summer by four of the band’s usual contingent of eight and was performed and engineered by the band working entirely remotely. It changes the dynamic completely to hear the song sung by a man, and Paul Janeway, vocalist with St. Paul and the Broken Bones, compels you to listen to every single word as his pained and tortured vocal, alternatively broken and halting, and then more gruffly assertive, makes its anguished, broken-hearted way through his desperate plea to his lover. You’ll believe a man can cry.
‘No Ordinary Love’ – part of Quarantine Covers, a four-track EP of cover songs – was released on Friday. There’s no YouTube video, so you’ll have to make do with catching up with it via the band’s bandcamp. Please do. It’s not an easy listen – Paul (who has a tough life behind him, growing up as a liberal in a red household in a southern US state) leaves nothing behind in his cry to be heard and not to disappear, invisible. It’s a wringer.