They must be feeling nostalgic in the office as an email was recently sent round asking about our best-loved ‘retro’ albums.
If I wasn’t having to listen to new music all the time, I would spend a lot more time listening to favourite music from the past. I think for most people ‘retro’ isn’t retro but simply music that people like and is often connected with particular friends or times.
Orchestra Baobab’s Pirates Choice (recorded in 1982 I think) is a favourite of mine. Is that retro? Not like listening to the Stones’ Undercover. Pirates’ Choice is just good music, full of character, great to listen to late in the evening. Perhaps the term ‘retro’ just works for Western popular music which is so fashion conscious. Is Beethoven retro? No. But maybe Karajan’s Beethoven is.
I just saw the veteran Turkish singer Zülfü Livaneli in New York and recognising half a dozen songs in his sold-out set, I went back to a favourite album from the early 1980s. I played it a lot and Turkish friends even helped me learn some Turkish from it. It featured Livaneli and Greek singer Maria Farantouri singing his songs together – a political statement at that time. The LP was simply called, in French, Maria Farantouri & Zülfü Livaneli Ensemble. They did two big concerts in Istanbul and then Athens, followed by a 30 date concert around Greece. The album was recorded in Athens in 1981 and became a big hit in Greece, Turkey and beyond. The LP I bought (priced £6.25 in the early 80s which was probably quite expensive) was produced in Germany.
In New York on Jan 20 when Livaneli sang a lot of these songs the largely Turkish audience knew every word. He would just start and the audience would take up the words. And it felt great to be part of it. My £6.25 was never so well spent. Listening again the music is glorious. ‘Retro’, I don’t think so.
Here are some of the favourites of other Songlines Team members:
Editor Jo Frost
My favourite ‘retro’ album from last year was Kosher Nostra, Jewish Gangsters Greatest Hits (Essay Recordings). Not only was it probably one of the more intriguing album titles of the year, but its tracklisting of classic Jewish hits from the 1920s to 60s is a wonderful nostalgia trip back to a time when Jewish culture was leading the way in the popular music scene in the US. And where else are you going to hear Welsh singer Tom Jones sing ‘My Yiddishe Mamme’?
Assistant Editor Sophie Marie Atkinson
Black and & White, Recorded in the Field, by Art Rosenbaum. This was an album that I just randomly picked out of the thousands that line the walls of our office, and I instantly fell in love with it. Art Rosenbaum is musician, folklorist and retired professor of art who spent many years seeking out and recording traditional music in the Deep South, and this double CD is extracted from his enormous collection. The musicians are nearly all unknown, playing for their own enjoyment and to entertain family and friends in living rooms, on back porches or under shady sweetgum trees. This is, for me, more like a visit to the musicians’ homes than an album.
Art Director Ben Serbutt
I’d have to go with Baby How Can it Be: Songs Of Love, Lust & Contempt From The 1920s & 30s for the great subtitle and lyrics. They make you realise that human emotions and relationship challenges haven’t really changed that much in nearly a century, which is reassuring!
Subscription Manager Alex Petropoulos
I’m a huge fan of East African jazz bands, so my pick would be Tanzania’s Western Jazz Band and their album Songs of Happiness, Poison & Ululation (Sterns). A kicking collection of dance club music from the 70s – really gets me grooving.
Intern Louise Ungless
Hmmm, I can’t think of an album – can it be a song? If so, then it’d have to be ‘Armee Guineenne’ by Bembeya Jazz National. I’m a fan of the West African dance band era and this is my most favourite track. I love the guitar from Sekou Diabate (‘Diamond Fingers’), the percussion and the vibrant horns. The song is a typical example of President Sekou Toure’s Cultural Authenticity program after Guinea’s independence, where Cuban music was mixed with local traditional instruments and melodies. This one’s based on ‘Douga’- used to encourage warriors.
What are your favourite ‘retro’ albums?