Eartha Kitt

🏷 Singer, actress, dancer, and activist from North, South Carolina

This week, Ecléctico features music from essays by writers we love reading.

Today, we listen to Eartha Kitt, then go deeper with an essay by Latria Graham.

"C'est Si Bon" by Eartha Kitt (1955)

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Oxford American: When I turned on my car, Eartha Kitt’s voice poured out of the stereo and covered me like smoke—an aural vapor, a remnant of the hot, fast-moving fire that the cabaret singer embodied when she was alive. A chorus of trumpets, with their tinny nasally brilliance, announces the start of “C’est Si Bon,” and seven seconds later Eartha slides in on the breath. With one long glance in my rearview mirror, I left my driveway and went in search of the performer’s alter ego, who went by the name Eartha Mae.

I wanted to see where Eartha Mae came from, to travel the roads she walked upon. Her hometown is two hours southeast of mine, so I drove, letting the singer play me into the town of North, South Carolina. By then, Eartha Kitt had been dead for a decade, but as I listened to her voice, she was alive, wry and spry, her trilling voice singing about her champagne tastes, which happen to be out of the price range of her potential suitor, who only has beer bottle money.

I needed to get to the root of the longing that spawned Kitt’s signature purr—and the heartache behind the growl that audiences know so well. I wanted to better understand Eartha Mae, who set out from her hometown hoping to find something better than picking cotton on the plantation where she was born. My goal was to see through the innuendos she used as a distraction and focus on the woman behind that controlled vibrato who wrestled with who she was and where she was from. Eartha Kitt was a diva—outspoken, provocative, seductive, and sophisticated. I believed Eartha Mae was a chameleon—becoming whatever the world needed her to be in order to survive.

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Outkast, The Bats, Stevie Wonder, Pet Shop Boys, Chaka Khan, and music from Madagascar, Argentina, Japan, Pakistan, Wales, and more.

Roxy Music

🏷 British art rock band

This week, Ecléctico features music from essays by writers we love reading.

Today, we listen to Roxy Music, then go deeper with an essay by Simon Reynolds.

"Amazona" by Roxy Music (1973)

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The Guardian: There's a certain sort of glam-rock fan who never ceases to be blown away by the fact that Bowie played a character, the imaginary rock star Ziggy Stardust. That same certain sort of glam fan never stops being thrilled by the nerve and verve of Roxy Music giving a credit on their debut LP to the person who did their clothes, hair and makeup. Supposedly this was a dissident blow against rock's anti-fashion stance. Cutting through the stale dope-smoke fug of the hippie hangover, Roxy were "the first true band of the 70s". But they also prophesied the 80s, their celebration of posing and artifice anticipating postmodernism, the new romantics, the Face, pop video and self-reinventing superstars like Madonna.

Which isn't untrue, but isn't the whole truth either. It's hardly the case that Roxy or Bowie invented the idea of image or were the first rockers to have close relationships with designers and stylists. Most 1960s British bands took an interest in clothes and hair. Nor were Bowie or Roxy's Brian Eno the first flamboyantly androgynous figures in rock. On the record sleeve and in the promo film for Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?, the Stones wore women's clothing four years before Bowie put on a frock for the cover of 1970's The Man Who Sold the World.

Still, it is true that around 1970-71, rock got awfully drab looking, with countless denim-clad blues-bore and boogie bands, dressed-down singer-songwriters and country-rock outfits, and virtuoso players too wrapped up in their endless soloing to bother with stagecraft. "Everything went flat," recalls Phil Manzanera, the guitarist who responded to Ferry's "avant rock" ad and eventually got the job. "A lot of musicians were getting strung out on heavy drugs," he tells me. "They were out of it, so they weren't even bothering to wear kaftans or other hippie stuff, which had been stylish in their own way." Then, with the emergence of Roxy Music and Bowie in 1972, "suddenly there was colour and exoticism and the spirit of rock'n'roll again. We supported Bowie at the Greyhound in Croydon in June 1972: Bowie in his full Ziggy Stardust gear and us in all our regalia, performing to just 150 people in this little upstairs room. It was a tiny stage but it had theatrical lighting, so you had to wear make-up because that's what theatre people do, otherwise you look washed-out."

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Outkast, The Bats, Stevie Wonder, Pet Shop Boys, Chaka Khan, and music from Madagascar, Argentina, Japan, Pakistan, Wales, and more.

Sankomota

🏷 Band from Lesotho mixing soul, rock, and traditional south African music

We end our below-the-equator trip around the world this week with a visit to Lesotho in southern Africa.

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"Uhuru" by Sankomota
(1983)


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Music in Africa: The history of Sankomota is as long as it is interesting. It is a dense tale punctuated by varying degrees of bad timing, bad decisions and bad luck. Starting out in 1975 under the name Uhuru, copyright claims from the Jamaican Michael Rose’s Black Uhuru meant that they had to re-focus their musical energies as Sankomota. It was no easy feat considering that Uhuru was already well-known across the Southern African region. Adoring followers in both Lesotho and South Africa could not get enough of their groove-oriented African melodies, skilled musicianship and ‘get-up-and-dance’ dynamics.

According to [Frank Mooki Leepa, guitarist and frontman], Sankomota was the name of a Pedi warrior who lived during the times of King Moshoeshoe. The band adopted it, re-imagining the moniker as a symbol of unity, regardless of one’s tribe. Notions of belonging were overlooked in favour of a more inclusive sound. The lyrics often contained entire verses sung in Zulu, Pedi, or Sotho. The music – stark and dense in equal measure – carried elements of the band’s influences: melodies criss-crossed mbaqanga’s technicality, jay-walked on reggae’s combustible street-corners, and shaved off jazz music’s jaded vision to form an amalgam of what Frank referred to as “malo” (spirit/soul) music. This is a band that has served as my sanctuary whenever pop music seemed to lose track. Leepa’s erudite arrangements, complemented by Tsepo Tshola’s moving vocal incantations, are excellent from any vantage point.

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To me, Sankomota represents memories of a childhood well spent: the tapes on long trips, the lazy Sunday afternoons, and the constant rotation of ‘Stop the War’ and ‘House on Fire’ on the radio. Sankomota’s music was significant in that it seemed to unify an entire nation. Their concerts are remembered as celebratory occasions with multiple encores. They reportedly even outshone American jazz giant Dizzy Gillepsie when he performed in Lesotho in the late 70s.

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Liner notes from the Shifty Records website.

Nomusa

🏷 Afro-Uruguayan pop singer and artist from Montevideo

This week, Ecléctico is traveling the world below the equator. Today, we cross the Pacific Ocean and land in Uruguay.

"Oxígeno Diatómico" by Nomusa
(2020)


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Inspired Traveler: Nomusa is another entity. “I invented it, but it is moving further and further away from me,” explains the Afro-Uruguayan artist [Camila Cardozo] about [their] alter ego baptized with a double meaning: an African name that can be understood as “I am not your muse,” a clue to begin to decipher everything that coexists in this figure conceived between family legacies, innate talent, inequalities and strong convictions with a hunger for justice.

[Their] musical creations are essentially nourished by hip hop, nu jazz and afrobeat, but [they are] also influenced by an eclectic cocktail: post punk, waltz, progressive rock, krautrock, Uruguayan popular music, candombe beat, Bossa Nova, Cuban Son, Pop and Glam Rock. After a lifetime linked to creativity – from theater and dance to painting and fashion – and an EP that [they] released in 2017 under [their] birth name, this brilliant young woman found the supreme voice of [their] artistic identity on Nomusa and presented…last December F.A.T.U.M, [their] debut LP. “It is an album that in concept questions the phenomenology of time,” in [their] words.

Note: I changed the pronouns to they/their in the copy above for consistency. The copy on the website appears to be a rough translation from Spanish to English with an inconsistent use of her/she and him/he pronouns. -AB

The Bats

🏷 Eighties jangle pop from Christchurch, New Zealand

This week, Ecléctico is globe-trotting below the equator. Today we jet over to New Zealand.

"Made Up In Blue" by The Bats
(1987)


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Only Solitaire Blog: The accompanying assumption is that The Bats loved their homoplastic relatives The Byrds, and everything that had to do with folk-pop jangle in general. Subsequently, they did not exactly invent what is informally known as «Kiwi pop», but they very much defined it and helped substantiate its stereotypic «nice and jangly» image — and they themselves were never nicer and janglier than they are on this here LP debut.

Few things are simpler than the Bats formula — maybe the Ramones, but then, punk thrives on simplicity, whereas folk-pop need not necessarily be as one-dimensional as Daddy's Highway. Steady, danceable rhythm, usually taken in mid- or fast tempo for optimal effect; two guitars — one with lower pitch, one providing the jangly flourishes; quiet, relaxed vocals, either solo or with doubled harmonies, always keeping fairly low in the mix; [unobtrusive], usually introspective, lyrics that are not meant to be paid serious attention to.

If you really like this sound as such — and, for all its minimalism, it is a pretty seductive sound, and it must have been even more seductive, coming on the airwaves in the synth-pop dominated 1980s — Daddy's Highway may appear to you as an endearing sonic masterpiece.

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