This week’s Music Monday is full of incredible finds and, as you may notice, it’s a tad harder in some places than usual. We start the set with the incredible “Underdog” by Sly and the Family Stone, a classic that still holds up with every listen. From there, we move onto the South African musical collective Fantasma. The group mixes hip hop, Zulumaskandi music, shangaan electro, psych rock, South African house and punk — a perfect quilt of sounds representing a nation of complex history and many cultures, both native and otherwise. From there, we move north to Algiers, a politically charged, trans-continental indie trio based in both NYC and London. Algiers blends post-punk with roots, gospel and blues to create something simultaneously modern and retro.
Y La Bamba is an indie band based in Portland, Oregon. Led by Luz Elena Mendoza, the gifted songwriter blends traditional Mexican folk sounds with acoustic and electric elements, creating beautiful desert dreamscapes with her words and the band backing her. A first-generation Mexican-American, Mendoza was born in San Francisco but grew up in Southern Oregon, spending her summers with family in the San Joaquin Valley of California. It was there that she learned much of the folklore and stories told through traditional Mexican folk songs sung with her family. After taking a three-year hiatus, Y La Bamba has released its first new single, “Ostrich,” which you can hear in the video below. “I am thankful for all of my hardships,” Mendoza says in the album’s liner notes. “They have guided me to find rest in my soul, time after time. Over and over again.”
Mbongwana Star, the Congolese band from Kinshasa, creates incredibly danceable polyrhythmic grooves. Composed of seven members, two — Coco Ngambali and Theo Nsituvuidi — were from the legendary Staff Benda Bilili, a group of musicians who were mostly homeless and rehearsed at the dilapidated Kinshasa zoo. Several of them were parapalegic, having survived polio. Ngambali and Nsituvuidi joined forces with Liam “Doctor L” Farrell to produce their dazzling debut, From Kinshasa. Mbongwana Star has been the recipient of tremendous critical praise and is currently touring internationally, with August dates in the U.S.
Shila Ray is the torchsong-singing Desi-by-way-of-Brooklyn singer-songwriter you might never have known you needed in your life until now. Her husky vocals are evocative of Stevie Nicks, but darker and more modern. Laid over bluesy punk, Ray infuses her work with Indian harmonium, which she learned as a child, along with piano — in part because Western music was banned in her Indian household. The outcome is definitely not your average blues-rock. We have featured “Burning Bride” in our mix, but below is the video for “Nocturnal Emissions.”
Ray outlines the absurdity of the anti-abortion movement and legislature by showing a world in which fascist women believe “every sperm is sacred” and force men to procreate against their will. In a 2011 interview with NPR, she commented about being a female artist: “I think feminism in America went through a huge backlash during the George W. Bush years. We are now going through a cool Renaissance. There are tons of amazing female musicians and artists on the scene with something to contribute and it’s not cheesy, kitschy or female-centric. It’s universal.” She continues, “The hardship of being an artist in this country is gender neutral. Own yourself, what you do, how you live and don’t worry about the end results.”
Barli is an incredible new voice from London who creates beautiful electronic ballads. She spoke to Hunger last year regarding the release of “Stole.” Barli grew up on her father’s collection of jazz and soul, and credits those big voices as well as the huge personalities of Grace Jones and David Bowie as inspirations. She collaborates with musical partner Ton Epoch, who taught her piano, which allows her to create incredible melodies as well as take on the primary songwriting duties. When Hunger magazine asked about her writing process, she responded, “(I approach writing) with pure honesty and no shame. Lyrics for me usually come in one sneeze or not at all. It’s usually a train of thought for me, like a conversation. Always from personal experience and feeling, although not always from my point of view in any given situation. I listen a lot. More than anything I listen to people — their hopes, heartbreaks and hangups. Some of these feed into a line here or there as something I relate to.”