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Wadada Leo Smith (and N'Da Kulture, and Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited), 'Dreams and Secrets'
This is not normally something I would purchase out of choice, as I had never heard of the artists, but from the first play there is something intriguing about Dreams and Secrets. It becomes clear that this is not something that you can dip into and come back and listen to; it really needs to be listened to as a whole.
Much like a dream there are lots of different levels to it. And much like a secret you're never quite sure where it started or where it's going! Each track segues into the next with vocal tracks and instrumentals creating a whole and complete feeling with the album rather than separate tracks put together.
It has a distinct African rhythmic feel to it (check the earthy feel of Regai Tione / Jealousy) - and this would probably have it filed under “World” music in a music shop. That would not do it justice - because it could quite easily be Jazz, Blues, or Funk (albeit with different packaging!). There is some searing guitar playing reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix!
In fact the musicianship across all the tracks is intense. The rhythm section is tight and provides a foundation for the more experimental moments (check Anoa's Prophecy). The tracks twist and turn - stand outs for me included the dark grooves of Lamar and N'Dasia Steppin' and the opening lazy feeling of Dreams - New Delta Blues.
This album is certainly evocative and captures the feeling of something modern and something ancient: South Central LA sounds quite gentle on the surface... but listen a bit more deeply and there is a darker heart there. Big in America has a happy bouncing rhythm but with it's ironic dig at US culture: We want to live in America/ Money is Good in America/ don't talk about it/ it's an American way it left a smile on my face!
In fact this theme permeates the whole album. It is very much a “scratch-the-surface-and-you-will-find-more” piece of music. Despite the edgy undertones it is a relaxing listen because each track is given time to grow and subside - which I very much like. My mum - born in Kenya - liked the feel and rhythm and said, “Dad can play guitar like this!” (He was born in Uganda.)
The only criticisms I make of this album is its lack of something easy for the ear to grab, and the track listing and structure meanders around a bit - much like a dream or a secret! This might make it hard to get into for some people, as it does require patience, but it leads to a genuinely satisfying listen. If I had to think of a phrase to characterise it (as most people want from a review!) the one that springs to mind is “Intellectual Party Music” - but throw that out and give it a few listens!