A NA­tive Amer­i­cAN BANd & Some Blo

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

QUITE LIKELY you haven’t heard of broth­ers, Pat and Lolly Vasquez-Ve­gas. I wouldn’t have ei­ther if I hadn’t ended up lis­ten­ing to Witch Queen of New Or­leans, a song that ref­er­ences New Or­leans’ sto­ried voodoo cul­ture. And that’s how I learnt about Pat (bass and vo­cals) and Lolly’s (gui­tar and vo­cals) band, Red­bone. The two broth­ers are na­tive Amer­i­cans trac­ing their an­ces­try to Yaqui and Shoshone tribes, which makes their band the first na­tive Amer­i­can rock band when Red­bone was formed in 1970. I heard Witch Queen... quite ran­domly on a pod­cast and on an im­pulse de­cided to check out Red­bone. For starters, I played a 1971 al­bum by the band with the same name, Witch Queen of New Or­leans. The orig­i­nal cover of the al­bum de­picts a 19th cen­tury scene show­ing na­tive Amer­i­cans on horse­back with a large clus­ter of teepees in the back­ground in what is clearly a set­tle­ment of Amer­ica’s orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants who were dis­pos­sessed of their land and liveli­hood sys­tem­at­i­cally by Euro­pean colonis­ers and later the Amer­i­can govern­ment, of­ten with vi­o­lence. The Witch Queen al­bum doesn’t have it but Red­bone have a song ti­tled We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee. Those hav­ing some fa­mil­iar­ity with Na­tive Amer­i­can his­tory will know about the 1890 mas­sacre at Wounded Knee Creek in a reservation in South Dakota, when a US cav­alry reg­i­ment shot and killed 150 men, women and chil­dren and in­jured many more. The in­ci­dent was a con­tro­versy that raged for years, and only a cen­tury later in the 1990s did the US govern­ment – well, ac­tu­ally I’d say rock that is al­loyed with funk, soul and other in­flu­ences. But the na­tive Amer­i­can spirit al­ways guided the band. Front­man Pat Ve­gas has said Red­bone was not just a band but a move­ment to give a voice to Amer­ica’s in­dige­nous peo­ple.

The sec­ond re­cent dis­cov­ery came from my truf­fle-sniff­ing friend, He­mant (a man who’s been ref­er­enced more than a cou­ple of times in this col­umn). First, a bit about him. An in­vet­er­ate au­dio­phile, He­mant does things that could make you won­der how thin the line be­tween san­ity and in­san­ity that he treads is. He has more than a dozen am­pli­fiers – from vin­tage tube amps to wooden 40-year-olds to stuff that has been cus­tomised and so on. He has more speak­ers than he has amps, of course, and makes it a point to per­mute, com­bine and play all of this as part of his nor­mal reg­i­men. Oc­ca­sion­ally, He­mant sends me a new band or mu­si­cian that he’s sniffed out and what he sends is in­vari­ably a great dis­cov­ery. Last fort­night, it was an al­bum by a band I’d never heard of, Blo. They were a Nige­rian band, ac­tive for 10 years: 1972-82. If Red­bone were the first na­tive Amer­i­can band of their kind, Blo were quite likely the first band to come out of Africa that played 1970s rock with strong psy­che­delic in­flu­ences. I read that lead gui­tarist Berkely Jones, drum­mer Laolu Ak­in­tobi and bass gui­tarist Gbenga Odu­mosu were in­flu­enced by bands such as The Grate­ful Dead but also that be­fore form­ing Blo the trio was part of drum­mer Gin­ger Baker’s short­lived rock-jazz fu­sion project, Salt. Of course, we all know Baker – the famed drum­mer of Cream and Blind Faith and other projects. Blo’s Phases 1972-82 (the al­bum He­mant e-gifted) was an eye-opener. I had no idea that this was a band do­ing what it was do­ing dur­ing that decade, that is, play­ing bril­liantly trippy rock. Funky beats, fan­tas­tic gui­tar so­los and a sound that ought to have made them soar to the top. On Preacher Man, funk meets 1970s-style Bay Area psychedelia; on Miss Sagit, a vo­cal-less ad­ven­ture, the gui­tar as­cends heights that should have eas­ily net­ted fame for the band. Sadly, that didn’t hap­pen. Not find­ing suc­cess out­side of Nige­ria de­spite a lot of tour­ing, Blo ex­per­i­mented with other gen­res, disco even, be­fore they dis­banded. Pity. But the al­bums are there to ex­plore.

For some strange (and I bet prud­ish) rea­son, iTunes’s store in In­dia doesn’t let you buy Frank Ocean’s Blonde. So one had to pur­sue other meth­ods to get hold of his muchawaited al­bum. Blonde had been awaited fever­ishly by the R&B sen­sa­tion’s fans. His pre­vi­ous al­bum Chan­nel Orange was un­con­ven­tional and ec­cen­tric but a huge hit and be­fore Blonde came out, so­cial me­dia and the In­ter­net were abuzz with ru­mours, teasers and red her­rings. Now that it’s out, was it worth the wait? Well, Blonde is as un­con­ven­tional as Chan­nel Orange was but in a dif­fer­ent way. Its drum­less 17 tracks can sound more in­ti­mate, emo­tional and in­tri­cate. And, like the pre­vi­ous al­bum, it’s a grower.

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