DJ Fitz alias John Fitzgerald is a musical oddball, who keeps finding beauty in records from all over the world. His love for world music can be defined by the way he picked his records for this Liner Notes podcast by Red Light Radio and Sonos, covering an amount of releases which are all classics in their own and unique kind of way. This time, we dig deeper within the meaning and origin of all songs involved and get to know the true rationale of the artists.
His mix contains loads of appreciated gems within all wide ranged genres, whilst Fitz takes us on a musical journey through many countries, touching on psychedelics, dub, African gems, French chants, bosso nova and more. As Fitz’s biography already points out: “if a Turkish disco diva, a Nigerian record producer, and a Brazilian cabaret dancer all got together circa 1976, Fitz would be playing their party. And he’ll play yours, too.”
- Track 1Iya Me Dji Ki Bi NiOrchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou
Kicking off with Orchestra Poly-Rhythmo De Cotonou, Fitz immediately jumps into a warm bath of African sounds. Orchestra Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou formed in 1966 and are originally hailing from the West African nation of Benin. Most of their work has been released on Albarika Store, but new labels as Analog Africa have been re-issuing their early records the last couple of years.
One of them is ‘Iya Me Dji Ki Bi Ni’, which got re-issued in 2009 and is part of their wanted compilation ‘"The Vodoun Effect" 1972-1975’. Fitz explains his adoration for the band: “It’s the most prolific band I’ve heard from the African continent. They made loads of records in wide ranging styles across many decades and are still active and touring in 2016. They would give any youngster a run for his money. First heard them in early 2000's through the now legendary and pioneering compilation album "Africa Scream Contest.”
- Track 2DikaloManu Dibango
Elaborating on his African gems, Fitz puts on his Manu Dibango record up next. The Cameroonian saxophonist, vibraphone and classical trained piano player Emmanuel "Manu" N'Djoké Dibango was born in 1933 as the son of a fashion designer and civil servant. After starting his career in Brussels and Paris in the 1950s, he later on moved to Congo to become a member of African Jazz.
Ever since 1961, Manu has released over more than 60 albums and 80 singles. His unique sound of jazz and his mix of fusion of afro-beat and funk is what made him incomparable. ‘Dikalo’ was released in 1974 and kicks off with a sax riff that translates in overall catchy and positive funk vibes. Fitz: “Without a doubt the most important musician to have emerged from Africa in the last 50 years. This was his follow up single to ‘Soul Makossa' (the first afro-disco track ever), and is pure fire. Found this record through the legendary Turkish DJ-group Ses Beats.
- Track 3EstarabimErkin Koray
Slowly moving to the more psychedelic sounds, Fitz puts on a classic from Turkish musician and highly anticipated musician Erkin Koray. Around the 1960s, Koray was one of the first musicians who introduced rock and roll in Turkey, playing covers of artists such as Elvis Presley.
Koray is praised for loads of records he released during his lifetime. His song ‘Estarabim’ was released in 1975 and covers the story of Koray falling in love with a woman that no one seems to be comparable to. The word ‘Estarabim’ isn’t Turkish, which makes it hard to say if it’s either made up or actually has a meaning. Fitz: “Koray put Anatolian rock/psychedelics on the world map with his amazing blend of Eastern and Western rhythms; this is Turkish psyche 101. Found this single under a fishbowl at a bazaar in Istanbul in 2006, where they sold fish, wigs and all kinds of other junk.”
- Track 4Lambaya Puf DeBaris Manço
Fitz stays true to his Turkish songs and puts on another Baris Manço classic, and let’s be honest: Manço doesn’t need that much of an introduction anymore. His 1975-song ‘Lambaya Puf De’ (which means: ‘shut down the lights’) seems to be another love song from Turkish grounds, but nothing is less true. Manço is referring to the time that alcohol and smoking were both banned in the country. Manço describes the way a woman gets caught by the officers whilst drinking, because she left her curtains open and lights on as she was too drunk shut down and close both.
Fitz: “Manço is one of Turkey's great singers; he’s a legend in his homeland, made many great records, wrote several other fantastic songs for others and had a famous 70s TV-show, which was EPIC. This track was sampled heavily in the Turkish hip-hop scene in early 90s, and it’s easy to see why. I bought this on the same trip as where I found the previous Erkin Koray track.”
- Track 5TuaregGal Costa
Gal’s ‘Tuareg’ is about the African population named the Toeareg, who are Muslims and live in between Algeria and Libya. This song might cover the situation in 19th century, when France started taking over their grounds to make it part of their colony. The song, which is written by Jorge Ben, perfectly matches her second studio album ‘Gal’, which was released in 1967 and shines through loads of Saharan harmonies and instrumentation. Her psychedelic rock with an edge of Latin is what makes her music so special.
Costa was born in 1945 as the daughter of a father who owned a record store. Later on, Costa joined the Brazilian Tropicalismo group where she was one of the political activists who fought for music. In this period of time, Brazil censored music that deviated from their opinion and Costa was one of the people who was against this. Fitz: “This is the first record I ever listened to that made me realize that there was epic music out there that was not sung in English. I was living in New York in the late 90s and found this record at a second hand shop that sold African music. It actually was deep in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, which was a very different neighborhood back then. This song is so good – it’s almost impossible to describe.”
- Track 6UmbabaraumaJorge Ben
As one once beautifully said: “There’s Brazilian music, there's African music, and then there's the occasional genius that can fuse the two.” Fitz: Jorge Ben is to Brazil what Manu Dibango is to Africa. He made loads of great records throughout his career, wrote some of the most inspiring jams of all time and is a living legend throughout the world.”
To the soccer fans, the bosso nova legends’ record ‘Umbabarauma’ should be a special one, as it’s a direct link to the Portuguese soccer chant. The song relates to dribbling the ball past opponents. Fitz: “I found this on his Africa Brazil album in the early 90s, again in New York, after Gal Costa introduced me to the wonders of Brazilian jams.”
- Track 7Jimmy-Renda SeTom Zé
Another man who has been important within this genre is none other than Tom Zé. Zé, now 76, was born in a small town in the state of Bahia, Brazil, but has lived in the Brazilian largest metropolis, São Paulo, for a long time. His international break through was in the 1990s, through the hands of David Byrne (Talking Heads).
His song ‘Jimmy-Renda Se’ was released in 1970. Zé about this track: “It had a confusing path. I had some doubts about the final result, I wanted to change it, but I left as it was made. The recording was being played here and there and covered in several countries.” And it was a good thing, because it got known as one of the most popular tracks of Zé, even appearing as the soundtrack of The Man From Uncle. The song contains a mix of English and Portuguese words, and most of them mean actually nothing. He was kidding after similar pronunciation of these languages, as you see in Jimmy renda-se (literally means ‘Jimmy, surrender’, but sounds like ‘Jimmy Hendrix’ in Portuguese), Bob Diga (Bob Dylan) and Jani Chope (Janis Joplin). Fitz: “I discovered this through David Byrne's 90s compilation of Brazilian music, which was released on Luaka Bop records.”
- Track 8GhazalKourosh Yaghmaei
Moving on to psychedelic rock way ahead of its time. Kourosh Yaghmaei was a unique artist, who’s voice even got banned for more than seventeen years after 1979, after pop music was virtually eradicated from Iran after the deposition of the Shah and the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini in power. Fitz: “Yaghmaei is one of the most dynamic figures in Iran and throughout the Middle East. He has been making music in Tehran for a long time, through several regimes and tough political times and is still standing tall. He is a brilliant guitar player and songwriter as well.”
But it all started for him at the age of ten, when his father gave him a Santour (a Persian traditional string-percussive / dulcimer). His talent got revealed, and after five years of practicing he gained precious knowledge of Iranian traditional music alongside playing excellent Santour and eventually started playing the guitar and forming his own band. Fitz: “First discovered this on the great Pomegranates Iranian Compilation album from the early 2000’s."
- Track 9Roc AlpinCatherine Ribeiro + Alpes
Released in 1972, the French experimental progressive group with Portugese born singer Catherine Ribeiro put out this massive four-tracker. Their music was a crossover of psychedelics, avant-garde and space-rock elements and even featured instruments made by themselves. Fitz: “French/Portuguese Dark Diva, Made some really deep Jams in the 70s, this is from the LP ‘Paix’. I fell in love with her music in the 2000s and found this record in Southern France at a record store in Bordeaux.”
- Track 10PatriarcatAreski-Brigitte Fontaine
“Another legendary chanteuse from France. She made some inspiring and crazy music”, says Fritz. Brigitte Fontaine was born in 1939 in Morlaix, the Brittany region of France. Her first jazz album was released in 1965, and in 1970 she started working with multi-instrumentalist Areski Belkacem. Fontaine was a popular underground singer who employed multiple genres such as rock and roll, folk, jazz, electronica, spoken word poetry and world rhythms and worked together with many appreciated artists.
Areski-Brigitte Fontaine alias Areski-Fontaine is the collaborative project of Areski Belkacem and Fontaine. Their double LP ‘Vous Et Nous’ was released in 1977 on RCA Victor from the USA, where artists such as Elvis Presley found a homebases as well. Fitz: “I actually found this by the side of the road in the UK at a car boot sale in the 90s, when nobody even knew what records were good for.”
- Track 11Dub of RightsKing Tubby
From the sounds of France we go all the way back to Jamaica with one of its most famous celebrities: King Tubby. Osbourne Ruddock was born in 1941 and unfortunately died at the very young age of 48. The musician was known as a Jamaican electronics and sounds engineer and worked on multiple pieces with artists like the legendary Lee “Scratch Perry. King Tubby’s influence on dub was heavily present, as he was one of the peers who had a big impact on the development of dub in the 60s and 70s.
‘Dub Of Rights’ was released in 1996 in his and Prince Jammy’s compilation ‘Dub Gone Crazy: In Fine Style 1975-1979’. True reggae and dub vibes in this one, brought to you with excellence. Tubby had a massive influence on Fitz as well: “Without King Tubby there would be no Fatboy Slim, no rave, no techno, no edits, no remixes - simply nothing. Ever! He is the best studio trickery wizard of all time. Hands down. I bought so many records of his throughout the years in several places.”
- Track 12Dub OrganizerLee"Scratch"Perry
Fitz sticks to his dub-vibes and puts on another legend’s music: Lee Scratch Perry’s ‘Dub Organizer’. Up until today, the well-known musician, producer and singer is still alive and kicking it. Already on his CV of people he worked with: Bob Marley, The Wailers, Junior Murvin and more.
Regarding to his private life, there is very less known about his early days. Whilst he was born into poverty and decided to move to Kingston (Jamaica) later on, that’s where he gave a professional twist to his musical career. It’s there that he apprenticed at Studio One and eventually made his passion his work, launched his label Upsetter Records and produced many, many records. Fitz: “Perry was another legend of Jamaican music, who burned down his studio (The Black Ark) in the 70s, because it was possessed by evil spirits. I bought this record in a dollar bin on long island in 1996, in the town of Syosset, where I used to work for an electrical engineering company. Don’t ask me why.”
- Track 13Racional CultureTim Maia
“Out of all the Brazilian artists who came to the fore in the late 60s/early 70s Tim Maia was the one that embodied the rock 'n' roll spirit the most.” And Tim Maia sure did. It was in July 1974 that Maia read a book (Universo em Descencanto by Manoel Jacinto) at friend’s home that would change his life forever. A couple of days later, he rang his guitarist Paulinho for an emergency band meeting to discuss the book he had just read.
Jacinto’s book contains all the teachings of a sect better known as ‘Rational Culture’. It reflects that there are no miracles in life, and that everything’s natural. This, and all the other things that come with this sect, seemed to inspire him and his band so much, that Maia changed his direction with the songs. Maia wanted to change all the lyrics to reflect his new faith. The influence of Maia’s new believes are reflected in his studio album ‘Racional Culture’, which was released in 1975. His message to buy or read the book is heavily present in this album, and his lyrics of ‘Racional Culture’ are the perfect example of them. For example: “ Read the book, the only book, the book of good, universe in disenchantment and you’re going to know the truth.” When reading this, you should know what Maia wanted to make clear with his album.
- Track 14Yaz Gazeteci YazSelda
Fitz wraps it up with the song that has been a favorite of many selectors. Ask any Turkish family about political activist and musician Selda, and they will for sure know her songs. Bagcan was arrested and put on trial nine times and imprisoned three times, all for singing songs that sided with the poor and powerless, and also for being associated with the Left. One of these songs that caused trouble for her was ‘Yaz Gazeteci Yaz’ (‘write it down journalist, write it down’). What might sound as a pretty up-tempo and happy song has been one of the most prolific songs for poverty in Turkey.
In her song, Selda is referring to all journalists only writing about the rich, whilst she’s asking them asking to pay attention to the poor (the ones who live in the village, had worked hard and die without medical care) as well. Selda wasn’t afraid to speak out loud, and this was one of this reason she got arrested for almost ten years. Fitz: “She is all you need to know if you need to listen to one Turkish song ever only in your life, this is it. I found on my first ever visit to Turkey in 2006 in a dark, musty old bazaar.”