Bibi Msomi - Viking Of The Sky (Jordan Valley Records, 2020)
On their 5th release, Jordan Valley revisit the beautiful grooves and melodies of musician Bibi Msomi, with the music found within some of the finest and most well executed 80s SA boogie you will ever hear.
Good grooves, bountiful harmonies and delightful interplays will never go out of fashion, and to still see masterful records continue to be re-released for the benefit of all remains a wonderful thing indeed. In a world where looking back has become more frequent, certain labels have taken it upon themselves to reach backwards and grab a hold of some very excellent records indeed, and along the way look to tell the tales of the musicians who made said records with honesty and respect. It's a process of showcasing incredible music but also the narratives that surrounded its creation, an emphasis placed on not just the compositions but the context in which these songs were constructed around. When this approach is made, the music is presented to us in a well rounded and meaningful package, where the info relating to the musician is as bold and well presented as the music itself, connecting us even further to the minds who made it happen. The albums feel like treasure troves that continue to give over to us, a snapshot in time that comes before us as a piece of music that suddenly feels timeless, linking understandings between the past and the present, with the dots joined and the crossroads very much navigated. From 90s techno through to early 2000s ambient CD only releases, delicious 45' soul and funk through to Balearic and AOR compilations, and delightful Zouk, Boogie and Italo, there's no end to the amazing material and effort that goes into making these albums sing again, with their role in furthering the boundaries of music extremely difficult to quantify into words. In the pre-internet age, many incredible pieces of music fell by the wayside, not for lack of the quality found within but simply due to less exposure than what was being released on international labels. We read so often that some records were pressed 200 times and handed out to friends, or that records were pressed on one time labels or released by one record artists, and this creates a near mythic feel around certain imprints and individuals. It also drives a demand for those who come across certain records that contain some phenomenal music indeed, with their seeming rarity fuelling the flames of desire more, as reissue labels inevitably come knocking. But in many ways its not just about the music that lies within, its the story that comes with that record, and the best reissue orientated labels make it their goal to go above and beyond in not just licensing the music but reaching out to the artists involved and talking about the hows and whys of these records' creation. It helps to create less distance between the year when the record came out originally and today, but also shines a light on the context of that record - what drove its creation, what are the meaning of the songs, who is the person behind it all. It fuels a level of engagement that goes above and beyond simply reissuing a record and perhaps briefly mentioning the artist, the year and the style, as we become involved in the flows and decisions that helped give rise to the experience we are now involved within, and perhaps experience is the appropriate word to use when discussing these labels. Experiences drive our knowledge and understanding of music, and even though we live within a very different world to 30 years ago, the music from that time is still making people move, groove and feel alive in every sense of the word. Some things just never go out of fashion, and many records deserve their time once again, to fuel dance floors, to soundtrack our quiet moments, and to encourage our astral projections.
One imprint that has certainly presented to us experiences and narratives each and every time within their short but incredible discography is Jordan Valley Records, who have curated a collection of some of the finest Boogie and funk tunes ever released. Since their first release in 2015, JV has always presented the record alongside a story, with wonderful interviews sitting alongside the music on their website as a means to showcase to us the full picture of the context and passions that saw projects come to life. This provides us with so much more than simply the music, its original year and the content within, as we learn all about what inspired the record, who worked on it and the depths of instrumentalism and creativeness which were injected in every stanza. Not only that, but the depth and scope of the music released is superb, with the variety of sounds operating within the colourful spectrum of 80s boogie and funk, with each record offering up a slightly differing vibe, tempo range and melodic outlay. As a collection of records, it doesn't get much better, and we recommend that you go and check out all of their previous works, which include the incredible, era defining Gospel fuelled boogie piece 'The Way U Make Me Feel' by Clarity; the mesmerising and jaw droppingly good 'Nite Time Melody' record by Skytrane and Madeleine Davis; and the breezy sublimeness of the 'Fear Not/Spaces' double tracker from Hillary & The Unbelievable Two. Seriously, if you're into your 80s boogie, then look absolutely no further than this wonderful label!
For the past two releases, JR have turned their attentions to South African musician William Msomi, who released some of the country's best examples of melodic driven boogie during the 1980s. Msomi, who released music under the Bibi Msomi or Bibi 'The Kid' Msomi names, was greatly inspired by the sounds of fellow South African musicians Phillip Malela and Masike Mohapi and US acts like the Gap Band, Shalamar and Brothers Johnson, and after a period of performing cover songs with his band he would go on to record a number of LPs and EPs, with a plethora of talents popping up on his albums, some of which featured as members of his band Satari. Msomi's vision is very far reaching, with his incredible voice leading the line over impeccably produced music that was filled to the brim with musicality, depth and tone, along with lyrics that decried the Apartheid regime in South Africa at the time and shed light on the colonial period in the African continent. It was music with many angles and meanings, driven by Msomi's passion in creating funky music but also conveying messages about the social and political context at the time, with both elements working together to create a powerful sound indeed. Each release he oversaw reflected a continuation of a goal to combine both factors together, with the music found within moving us on the dance floor but also providing a commentary that linked into the narratives that prevailed during the 1980s in South Africa. The flavours of each record shift so elegantly too, with slow burners combined effortlessly with up tempo soul groovers, with plenty of long play compositions thrown in for good measure that showcase the depth and diversity of the musicians that Msomi was releasing music with.
As a means to encapsulate his excellent discography, Jordan Valley hand picked some of the best cuts from his LPs and presented them in two volumes, the first of which, 2019's 'Colours of the Rainbow', featuring tracks from the 1985 LP 'Searching' and the 1987 album 'What Kind Of Love is this?'. The record was a wonderful first look at Msomi's incredible discography, with the blend of musicality matched by the diversity in sound and the intuitiveness in which songs unravelled and progressed onwards, with such intent placed on harnessing the essence of the groove. The second volume, which is the subject of today's review, is entitled 'Vikings of the Sky', with the tracks featured on this release taken from the excellent 'Whisper In The Dark' LP from 1986, that was jointly released by Bibi and Satari, the 1984 LP 'Ngayibamba', and the 1985 Maxi Single 'Viking Of The Sky'. Much like with the first volume, the record is filled to the brim with brilliance, showcasing once more the full range of Msomi's musical explorations, with the lyricism and vocals soaring high above a set of instrumentals that represent some of the finest ever achieved within the genres it represents. Beautiful, tender and groovy, there's much to marvel at in this record, and we for one are very excited to jump into it and get going - so, on that note, lets dive into this beautiful piece of music.....
Up first comes 'Emagcekeni', a track that was written about the many issues that arose from colonialism in Africa. The track begins with the rolling drums interspersed with some inspired melodic work occurring on top, with the ensemble allowed a few bars to spread its love before the breakdown occurs, which sees a whole range of gorgeous key work getting us in the mood for the next few movements. This arrives as the drums arrive back into view, this time sticking to a more straight up rhythm which works wonderfully in building a foundation for the melodic work to really drive forwards. The verses are particularly powerful here, with their presence spreading across the track in a passionate display, which contrasts very well indeed with the softly spoken verse vocals that speak of a time before. The track takes little time to pause and reflect, merely rolling onwards in providing an incredible rhythm to us, with the vocal work stepping up a notch around the 3 minute mark as we see the full range of those involved, with the guitar and key lines diverting from their usual spaces to provide continued momentum. A wonderful start indeed. Up next comes 'Kwateba', and this one begins in the grooviest of places. The bass meanders deep within the foundational drums, as delightful guitar work operates on both sides of the scope, with the vocals coming right through the middle, rising high above the pool of sublimeness to really capture our attention. The ensemble of sound is intoxicating to the ears, keeping us locked in as the groove rocks underneath with the vocal lines spiralling in and around our immediate view, providing wave upon wave of vibrancy and lusciousness. The structure of the track switches it up impressively with the chorus, which moves the swinging groove into a non-stop rhythmic overload, with all the elements reaching for the sky in terms of tone, texture and application, the overall feel one of emphaticness that we come to know and love from this genre. The switch back into the original composition is very neatly pulled off, with the ever present vocals continuing to impress with their vibrancy and feel, as the instrumentals keep on going on at a mighty pace, and before long we arrive into one final showing of the chorus, which fades into the night sky to leave us with only memories of what came before. Beautiful work. Up next comes 'I Just Can't Believe You', and this one wastes no time at jumping right into proceedings. The beat is up tempo, the keys float downwards in a silky smooth manner, the vocals that arrive soon after just add more into the mix, its an unbelievable opening salvo that continues to grow as time passes by with the sax that arrives just after the vocal line. The chorus line then arrives to a eager audience, with the floor moving and swaying in unison to the groove and feel that abounds from this track, with the flow continued as we move into the melodic-less break afterwards. This gives the track time to build up once more, with flickers of keys and vocals moving in and around the ever present drum loop, and before long we are greeted by the first solo of the record, which comes in the form of a gorgeous reverbed cosmic key line that just keeps growing and growing, its weaving presence keeping our minds firmly involved in everything that goes on. The key line then removes itself from the soundscape to provide space for the sax line to re-emerge once more, with the drums once again provided some space but we are then greeted by the vocal line. The way in which this song unravels is so beautifully done, with elements moving in and out of space and time to craft a binding connection to the track, our hearts and minds completely in awe of the journey we are going on, with the key solo returning once again to keep our vision firmly focused on the dance. The key solo keeps going onwards and upwards, adding in further rhythmic elements as time passes by as the track sees itself out the door, ready to take on any crowd in the world. Phenomenal, honestly!
The title track arrives next, and this one begins with a series of very funky sequences indeed. The key lines take the lead in moving our eyes across the spectrum to take it all in, as the guitar plays little lines on both sides of the pan to a very special degree, and before long we arrive in the vocal mix, which compliment the instrumental work going on underneath beautifully. The track then moves back into the opening arrangement, with the movement into a particularly cosmic section then into the verse again very effective indeed at getting the blood flowing. The addition of percussive melodic elements continues to mesmerise, with the groove unstoppable at this point, with the addition of the sax the icing on the cake of a melodic masterclass. The track just continues onwards with this vibe, easily moving between intricate interplays and rhythmic pulses, with the feeling on display one of masterful musicianship and a peerless dexterity when it comes to laying it down. Superb stuff. Up next comes 'Where Is Your Love', and this one takes us right back to the dancefloor. The track opens up with a sense of immediacy, with the rising chordal line weaving its way around a killer percussive structure, with the opening segment building then building some more to arrive at the chorus line, that expertly conveys the meaning behind the track. The movement into the verses sees the vocal work at the top of its game, beautifully navigating the groove with a seismic presence that keeps the blood pumping to no end, leaving us on the edge of our seats as we shift between chorus and verse with ease. The double layer in the mid section choruses are particularly effective at lifting spirits, with the movement into the adjacent instrumental section seeing the track rebuild itself from the bottom up, as the keys continue to dazzle as the vocals come swinging right into view, moving from the chorus line into the verse again with a fluidity only reserved for the most euphoric of dance floor moments. Brilliant. To wrap things up, we have 'Walking in the Park', which was released alongside Satari, and begins with the uplifting key work to get us going. The initial key line is quickly joined by the up tempo drumming pattern and a wide array of melodic features that do much to fill the view with a plethora of feeling, with the vocal line that emerges from within keeping the vibe going very much onwards and upwards. The key work on this track is mesmerising, keeping us constantly in awe at the abilities within the band and Msomi himself, and its a final reminder of just what he was all about, his visions, his creativeness and the powerful meanings that reside in all of his cuts. A brilliant track, to cap off a brilliant record.
There are many narratives that have played out in the history of music, some of which are considered to be of great significance and are almost universally beloved by all. There are perhaps even more narratives that never shone quite as brightly, and that isn't due to the quality of the music, but barriers at the time and indeed history itself sees many incredible pieces of music confined to their time and place. William Msomi and his music is a narrative that deserves to be played out and enjoyed by everyone, such is the mastery that goes into every track he conjured up, be it a melodically driven funk fuelled groover or a up tempo boogie number that would set floors alight with passion, there's something for everyone in his discography. Jordan Valley have oversee two fine records of his works, with this second one continuing on from the vibrations found in the first volume with all the danceability you could wish for. Its an audial experience that comes with so much attached, and its one that feels very personal and deeply meaningful, and we cannot recommend it enough. Sublime, from start to finish.
Be sure to check out the fantastic Jordan Valley records website here, where you will find interviews with the artists they reissue:
And you purchase both the Bibi Msomi records direct from JVR too! link below, use the discount code ENDLESSGROOVES to get 20% off!