11.08.2005

'Reebop' Kwaku Baah & Ganoua, Trance

TRANCEfrnt by you.

Here is an album that bridges English avant-pop music and something approaching ethnomusicology. It is also an artifact of a now-distant time, when hippies with an intellectual bent could pilot Land Rovers around Africa looking for both new sounds and a proprietary buzz to go with the music they'd discovered.

Steve Winwood plugged an important component into the second iteration of his group Traffic as the '70s began: a Ghanaian percussionist he found in Sweden, Anthony 'Reebop' Kwaku Baah. A merciless conga player, a good cook by all reports, most certainly an all-stops-out hedonist, Reebop made the front line of Traffic much fun to experience in the glam '70s, an era captioned by Traffic's Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys. He countered the band's innate tendency to experiment in concert and so meander; I will borrow Brian Eno's phrase and describe Reebop as Traffic's direct-inject anti-jazz ray gun. Reebop was also, to reiterate, a hedonist. By the time Traffic wound to a halt in mid-decade, as Winwood recalled, "[Reebop] was so out of it, he insisted on singing during every song." The band gave Reebop an unplugged microphone.

After Traffic, Reebop joined the German avant-garde group Can for the one album (without Can founder Holger Czukay) that Can enthusiasts still avoid discussing. However, "Masimbabele," a fantastic single recorded with two Cologne musicians calling themselves The Unknown Cases, turned up on the Rough Trade label in the early '80s. Reebop takes the lead vocal on this record and his singing comes off, surprisingly, as likeable. "Masimbabele" was later issued as part of WOMAD Talking Book Vol. Two: An Introduction To Africa. Reebop died in 1983, probably from the condition author Eve Babitz identified as over-boogie. Reebop had also worked on a solo project, unfinished at the time of his death.

In between his stints with Traffic and Can, Reebop Kwaku Baah entered into collaboration with musicians from the Ganoua (or G'noua), a mystical sect resident in North Africa whose roots may be traced across the Muslim diaspora to the Sudan. The album resulting from that collaboration, Trance, bookmarks the waning moments of an era when a pop record label of significance (in this case, Island Records) could issue foreign language songs played jointly by an African drummer and some hill people from Morocco.

The project was conceived and brought to fruition by Mim Scala, one of the 1200 or so humans who actually got to live the 'Swinging London' lifestyle during the mid-'60s. Scala had been a manager and agent and record company A&R, had socialized with artists and pop stars and gangsters (as one does); a high diver of the low life, Scala specialized in being wherever one was supposed to be in the halcyon days of rock stardom. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was a friend (comparisons between Scala and Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham are inevitable). Having returned from Morocco with tapes of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Jones confided to Scala that music from other mystical sects lurked elsewhere in the Atlas Mountains. Subsequently, Jones died in 1969. His much-remixed tapes would eventually surface as the first release on Rolling Stones Records some three years on. In '69, Mim Scala ducked out of a London coming down from its high and hit the pot trail. What followed remains the stuff of hoary cliché: the Land Rover, the spiritual quest, the exotic girlfriend, the antipodal terrain, the fabulous dope, the amazing connections...

The notion of recording ritual music in Morocco stayed with Mim Scala. In 1975 Scala, then a shaggy itinerant but ever the scenemaker, coordinated a recording date in Tangiers involving both Reebop and a select group of Ganoua musicians. Several photos documenting the occasion may be found on Scala's cob-website, including one framing a topless blonde lady of fairly happening mien traversing the sand dunes next to Mim. He seems oblivious to her presence. Priorities being what they were back in the day, Mim is carefully toting his hookah to the next tent.

The sessions comprising Trance, like Brian Jones' recordings from Jajouka, were initially made on a four-track tape machine (Jones used a Uher; Scala, six years later, employed a Teac) then mixed to stereo in a London studio. The results were not overtly psychedelic, as with the phase-shifting and non-linear audio content of the album produced by Jones and engineer George Chkiantz. Still, Trance exudes its own druggy miasma. Those listeners with a past, as I'll euphemize, will probably experience sympathetic cottonmouth by the end of the title track, which spanned one side of the original vinyl pressing. The album whose sound best compares with today's offering — a signature laminate of moist reverb, off-mic incantations and other artifacts of reoriented consciousness —is probably Gris-Gris, the 1968 debut Atco label lp by Dr. John the Night Tripper. Though Dr. John had been a session player for Phil Spector, the New Orleans pianist's entrée into making records for hippies sounded like an arcane rite conducted in a graveyard…after a flood. He, too, knew the meaning of value added entertainment.

Trance, like Gris-Gris, is equal parts smoke and rising damp, music as chimera. The congas telegraph their presence seemingly several feet down a tiled hallway. Chants kick-start, then fade into rhythmic mumbling. Most of the album's five songs peg their mysteries to the buzzing gimbri, an acoustic bass guitar made from wood and leather, with metal resonators, that forms the melodic spine of Trance. Every one of these tracks is charged with subdued intensity, which in turn gives way to naked intensity.

TRANCEbk by you.

In his notes, Mim Scala offers "The album Trance is the music of a separate reality. I hope to see you there." There may be no 'there' there anymore, not as Mim might have experienced it then, not in today's world. There is, however, a near-tangible reminder of Mim's 'there' in each fuzzy note and conga pop of Trance. He did get that much right and as such is owed a debt of gratitude by the proprietor of NCIP and its readership. Messages and potent imagery are embedded in this music. The Ganoua believe that music can have external meaning. This notion embarasses ethnomusicologists, but doesn't trouble the musicians. They believe that the gimbri speaks to them, and to the spirits surrounding them. Appropriately, Trance can trigger synesthesia, even at a remove in time. Listen closely and you may smell hash oil, kif smoke, roasting goat meat, estrogen, sweat and the vapors of petrol leaking from a crashed Land Rover.

Trance mesmerizes as great liturgical music should, even as it stains the air with a palpable sense of loss and evanesence. Writing in his best collection of short stories, Jesus' Son, author and fifth-gear hedonist Denis Johnson nailed the feeling with a scant few words:

That world! These days it's all been erased and they've rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it?

TRANCE

20 Comments:

Anonymous drspace said...

A wonderful evocation of lost times, Count.

3:53 PM  
Blogger footless said...

Count, you took me to the place and the sound of my north African memories...thanks as always--no left foot

12:21 PM  
Anonymous strictlyrockers said...

excellent stuff!
many thanks

i don't suppose anyone out there can upload 'masimbabele'?

as you say… a fantastic tune

8:32 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

Linked to you from Metafilter. Hope you don't mind.

7:50 PM  
Blogger mehdi said...

THANK YOU!

3:23 AM  
Blogger Mim said...

Hey Count Rasheed, Thanks you for your article on the charismatic , hedonistic, itinerant king of the gongas, Rebop Kwaku Baah. As you know I had the enviable task of seducing him to chase his drums to Tangers so that we could record the great man with the Ganoua. It was the most magical six weeks of music rythum smoke and magic. as you point out, rebop was to some, out of it. after the demise of Trafic. Personaly I thought he was actualy into it. His drumming at this point was as good and as inspiered as any congo player including the greats. The Ganoua sessions produced evenings of music that sent waves over the kasbah, People would gather in the street outside the Hiafa house when Rebop was in full throttle. We were a little before our time trying to give "world Music a rightfull place in the catologue of the magor record companys. I like to think that Brians JaJouka and my Trance at least broke the ice to make way for the big ship Womad to load up, and explore. WE did our best for posterity with our two track recirdings. What we would have given for a pocket sized digi 48 track. However what was short on technology we made up for on Vibe . That magical feeling of exploration , Fear of the unknown. The Ganowa have powerfull Magic. and I shall be ever gratfull to them for letting me in.
So Thanks again for digging trance up
Nice

Mim Scala

8:58 AM  
Anonymous itsmo said...

Where can I get a copy of Trance on CD - or for download? I haven't heard it for more than 20 years and I remember it being magical. TIA

5:20 PM  
Anonymous radiocitizen said...

Thankyou so much for the link to download "Trance"! I have been looking for it ever since I foolishly got rid of my vinyl copy over 20 years ago. Really: many, many thanx again.

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you SO much for sharing the download !! You have provided me with a Valentine's Day present for my man !! He's been looking for this for YEARS . Thank you thank you thank you xx

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow! thank you! now if i could find a copy of the 73 album he did in sweden i'd be in heaven, anyone??, :-) email me at LJM65@aol.com if anyone can help

2:45 PM  
Anonymous itsmo said...

Thanks so much - Got it now and it's better than I remember

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Count,

Wow, I appreciate this more than you know. In 1976, Reebop(who was called Kabaka) was working on a solo album for Island Records. I was brought in after basic tracks were recorded for re-mix and post production. I imagine this is the "solo project) you spoke of that was unfinished at his death. I do remember some great times in Nigeria with Kabaka, who got more out of his 38 years than many do out of three score and 10. Does anyone out there have any of the unreleased Island tracks from the mid-70's???

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted the last as well. One correction, Reebop(Kabaka) always told me he was a Prince of the Kaduna region of Nigeria, but, regardless of his Royal lineage, he was definitely Nigerian and not Ghanian.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Håkan said...

Try to forgive my sprlling.
I try nott to lett itt hinder me to express.

I vas working with Rebop before he died at Fatt Records he made a recording att the Matrix studio with swedish base player Jonas Hellborg any one know if itt has been relised. Meting with Antony and trying to estavlish this rekord company wass a grait time. And i will never forget his personalety. Unfortunetly he died before we managed to akomplish any thing. I atended his funeral in sweden and it was a sad hut butifol moment.
Rebop never got the credit he deserved and itt is a shame too see how typickli the working black musishians newer getts the same credd ass the stars. The Reebop storry tell me we must not forgett the littel man ore womman. Hee vas bigger than his rebutashion and thiss in a progressiv musik era. Still forgotten and nott akredited for vat he acomplisht. He told me that he wass velkomd upp to jamm in on stage in Jazz Clubbs but he still wsa mad pay att the dor.
Let oss ohnner Rebop by lissening to more nusik of mainstrem and atend meny lokal music events.

I like to obtain information om Rebop musik that is availibul.
Håkan.

3:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hakan,

I wrote the piece about traveling with Kabaka-Reebop in West Africa in 1977. I have a music project in Los Angeles called the Kabaka Gnawa Project dedicated to the healing music he played and witnessed. If you or anyone else is interested in more info, e-mail
KGP@thealsaisgroup.com.

Kabaka lives.

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what are some people's favorite gnawa trance music around here?

8:24 PM  
Blogger Skinasanas said...

Maâlem Mahmoud Ghania is brilliant, he cut a record with Pharaoh Sanders called 'The Trance of Seven Colors'. Hamid El Kasri is another current musician still playing classic Gnawa trance.

For a more modern fusion rooted in Gnawa trance but with other 60's and 70's influences check out Nass El Ghiwane. Its awesome stuff, and whenever I hear it I am instantly back in a smoky Chefchaoene cafe looking out over the hills. JilJilala and Lambacheb are two other interesting groups from the 70's and 80's. Gnawa Diffusion is a current modern Gnawa-fusion group
with heavy reggae and world music influences. Not really trance.

Honestly, any tape shop in Fes can pull out some classic trance for you, theres a lot of it out there, and now that Ryanair flies to Morocco for 20 euros from France and Spain, whats your excuse?

I'll be in Marakech in 6 days!

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Tom said...

Nice post, gotta listen to this album! I worked with Reebop over 5 or so years at Matrix studios, where he virtually lived. Mad times they were too. He was one of the great conga players of all time, his energy was incredible, his playing sublime. He was definitely Ghanaan folks!

1:13 PM  
Blogger John Schaefer said...

Thanks for sharing the album. I shared a copy with a group of Gnawa in Tangier and we listened to it together--a very nice time for all. Abdelcada Zef Zef just died three or four years ago--he last appeared Gnawa Home Songs (2006) http://www.musiquesdumonde.fr/GNAWA-Home-songs
The other two Gnawa musicians have since stopped playing.

5:34 AM  
Anonymous radiocitizen said...

Fantastic album !! I used to own it many years ago but foolishly let it go... Thanks so much for letting me hear it again.

9:05 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home