On Deck: Episode 3 - Afro Rhythms

Publish date:
on deck 3.jpg

On Deck was created to expose and promote the best, funkiest, most progressive dance music in the world. Throughout the conception phase, each of us grew more and more excited at the prospect of excavating such a cavernous (and seemingly never-ending) genre.

As you might have concluded already, we were in completely over our heads. This is a whale of an assignment, because the internet is fucking gigantic. Even the most well-staffed, well-informed and well-prepared music publications on earth aren’t equipped to cover every square inch of it, so the best we can really hope for is a semi-diverse focus group of content. I think we’re pretty close, which probably means we’re nowhere close.

However, the one completely uncontested facet of our mission—the Higgs Boson of dance music, the singular commonality—is its origin. Home is where the heart is, so this week, the boys and I are excited to take you to Africa, where Afrobeat gave way to some of the richest, grooviest sounds of the 80’s all the way to this very moment. Welcome to the source, then and now.

(Join us this weekend on a boat in NYC with German DJ Wankelmut for an evening of music and good vibes)

Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa

Originally released in 1972 by African saxophonist Manu Dibango, “Soul Makossa,” is cited by many as the very first disco track ever recorded. Michael Jackson sampled it in “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and James Murphy drops it into DJ sets whenever the mood strikes him, which is a lot. Where most dance tracks place emphasis on four-on-the-floor beats and rhythmic pomp, “Soul Makossa,” redirects to the hook, where Dibango delivers one of the most iconic sax solos known to man. A simple-yet-robust powerhouse of a track, “Makossa,” burns as bright as ever it did.

William Onyeabor – Fantastic Man

With the help of David Byrne, Money Mark and a slew of co-conspirators, the story of William Onyeabor is slowly becoming a formidable stitch in the fabric of pop culture. Unearthing early examples of today’s most prominent trends is nothing new, but discovering Onyeabor’s music for the first time is particularly gratifying because there’s just so much of it. His diversity as a musician and writer seems boundless at times, and for good reason; William Onyeabor might be the best ever at expanding and building upon his influences, of which there were hundreds. “Fantastic Man,” sets this mentality into motion, combining lofty vocals and a rumbling-yet-unfaltering bass line. It’s a go-anywhere groove that always plays well with others.

Floating Points, Maalem Mahmoud Guinia - Mimoun Marhaba (Original Mix)

Maâlem Mahmoud Guinia, by all accounts, is the visionary responsible for the traditional North/West African sound. His understanding of sonic subtlety is top-notch, and Manchester-based producer Floating Points makes all the right moves in capturing the best and brightest elements of the Moroccan mastermind. A glorious track for nearly any environment.

DJ Spoko - Motota Mutapa (Original Mix)

"Motota Mutapa," inflicts the kind of analog damage you'd expect from the soundtrack of a 90's-era South African video game. Monochromatic with jump-start percussion, DJ Spoko lets the rhythm do pretty much all the talking while carefully mining the contents of his mother country's newly termed "Bacardi house," aesthetic.

Jonny Miller, Cuebur, Okmalumkoolkat, Andyboi, Kid Fonque - Usangikhumbula (Original Mix)

"Usangikhumbula," might as well be a Who's Who of South African house scene, featuring the best producers from a country that is exploding with good producers. It'll only get better from here, which is an alarming observation given how tight and precise "Usangikhumbula," already is.

Black Coffee - Turn Me On feat. Bucie (Raw Artistic Soul Vocal Dub)

South Africa may not be the central hub for Afrobeat, but it's home to some of the genre's most potently evolved spin-offs. Arguably the most well-known of South Africa's producer scene is Black Coffee, and "Turn Me On," spotlights chill beats with slow-ascent depth. Raw Artistic Soul's Vocal Dub mix gives "Turn Me On," even more dimension with added layers you didn't even know you were missing.

B'utiza - Baphuma Ezulwini (Original Mix)

Truly brilliant and effortlessly authentic, B'utiza embodies the truest elements of the Zulu movement, and 'Baphuma Ezulwini' conveys the spirit of Zulu in truly beautiful ways. This vocal style is called Maskanda, a popular type of traditional folk from the region.

BUSCEMI - Jumila (feat Alexia Waku)

This 2007 release allows Belgian based producer BUSCEMI to go off in a hundred directions, while Congolese-born singer Alexia Waku showcases all the funk necessary of corralling it back into one static direction. This is a serious jam for every playlist.

Hugh Masekela - Ade [feat. The Union Of South Africa]

One of the most incredible, influential and popular jazz trumpet players, Hugh Masekela was a founding member of the first African jazz group to record an LP during the late 1950's. His catalogue of releases is stunning and broad. Read more about his truly inspiring life here.