Tis’ the season to remember the joys of Christmas music. Here are 5 international Christmas songs to celebrate the holiday season to. Happy holidays to you & yours from Weekend Family Music Hour.
Toots & Maytals, “Happy Christmas”
Spending the holiday season in Jamaica or the tropics seems like a happy Christmas in the sun. Recorded in 1972 as a 7 inch and released on the Jaguar label, “Happy Christmas” has been featured on many holiday compilations.
Johnny O’ Bazz, “Xmas Eve”
Obscure Nigerian Christmas boogie reissued 2017 on the Duomo comp by Odion Livingstone. This two record set features Xmas Eve originally from O’ Bazz’s lyabor album.
Francis Bebey, “Forest Nativity”
Francis Bebey’s song dramatization of a forest nativity scene. Originally released on Bebey’s amaya LP on Ozileka. Reissued on a Bebey sanza compilation on Born Bad Records.
La Pandilla, “Jingle Bells”
Formed in the 1970s, La Pandilla was a teen music group from Spain. La Pandilla was Spain’s answer to the Beatles and Beatlemania mimicking fan hysteria in product placement to market goods such as notebooks, posters, magazines and school supplies. Jingle Bells is from La Pandilla’s En Navidad album from 1976 on Alegria.
Karin Stanek, “Santa Hallejulah”
Karin Stanek was a Polish beat singer who was popular in Poland in the 1960s. She emigrated to Germany in the 1970s where she started singing in German and English. Her holiday song, “Santa Hallelujah” is available on a compilation highlighting her life’s work Karin Stanek, Autostopem z Malowana Lala (Hitchhiking with a Painted Doll) on MTJ from 2011.
I discovered Benjamin S from receiving his album Kompor Meluduk for Christmas from my partner a couple of years ago. Upon hearing it, our minds were blown from the juxtaposition of soulful, funky eccentricity with psychedelic fuzz rock, plus some swinging duets with a woman vocalist, Ida Royani. Since there was zero information on the sleeve, I was inspired to ask, “Who in the world is Benjamin S?”
Benjamin Sueb, a.k.a. Benyamin S, Bang Ben, or Babe (March 5, 1939-Sept 5, 1995) was a prolific Indonesian comedian, singer/rapper, radio producer, director and actor who produced 61 films and 312 songs, which included 165 singles and 147 duets. He also produced 5 comedy albums, 2 soundtracks, and 10 compilations. Sueb was of Betawi descent. The Betawi are Islamic native peoples from Indonesia who are from mixed race marriages and blood lineages, including Chinese, Arab, Portuguese and Dutch colonies, from various tribes in Jakarta. Sueb was the youngest of eight siblings, born to parents Siti Aisyah and Sueb in the Utan Panjang Kemayoran village. Unfortunately due to poverty, the Sueb-Aisyah siblings lost their father when Benjamin was two years old, and he took it upon himself to be an entrepreneur at the age of three, busking in his village to pay school fees and buy/barter food to help feed his family. Entertaining may have come naturally to Sueb, being influenced by grandfathers Saiti, who played clarinet, and Haji, an Ung Dulmuluk player who performed at Indonesian folk theaters in Dutch colonial times (Wiki).
Sueb was a charismatic, curious and inspired child who had many friends. His small appearance enabled him to attract audiences from an early age. He formed a “canned” orchestra with his brothers in third grade, where they would bang on cans using stems from kebabs and biscuit tins. Once in high school, he joined a school band named the Melody Boys. The Melody Boys played song styles which included dangdut (traditional pop derived from Arabic, Hindustani and Malay) and gambang kromong, a Betawi gamelan music played on a ukulele-type instrument, and also a type of off beat/pentatonic scale music played by orchestras in Indonesia, with two ukuleles, guitar, cello and bass. He also played Western music incorporating cha-cha, jazz, rock and blues imported by Indonesian musicians such as Bill Saraghi, Jack Lesmana (guitar player), and Rachmat Kartolo (singer/actor). Sueb performed with Saraghi and Lesmana at the Hotel des Indes, singing Western hits such as “Blue Moon,” “Unchained Melody,” and “When I Fall in Love.” In the 1960s, the Indonesian government issued a ban on Western propaganda and routinely interrogated artists who played Western songs and failed to conform to societal standards. To navigate the sociopolitical ban on Western influences in Indonesia, Sueb maintained he was contributing to keeping Betawi culture alive through his own compositions. Sueb’s songs often mirrored James Brown’s soul sound or John Mayall Bluesbreakers’ blues, with synthesized rock, funk, gambang kromong and dangdut sounds.
In 1968, Sueb composed the songs “Nonton Bioskop” (Watching a Movie at the Theater), “Hujan Gerimis” (Drizzle), “Endeng-Edndegan” and “Ada-Ada Saja” (It Is What It Is) for Indonesian singer/actor Bling Samet. All became big Indonesian hits. From 1968-1971, Sueb recorded and released no less than 50 albums, including the bestsellers Si Jampang (1969) and Ondel Ondel (1971). He also starred in 54 films, until 1976. He was honored by the Indonesian Film Festival, winning the Citra trophies for Best Main Actor in, Intan Berduri (1973) and Modern Doel Anak (1976). In 1977, he wrote a song for the Indonesian government named “Pungli,” which translates to “Extortion” in English, perhaps to help inspire positive citizenry and promote social order in Indonesia, which was suffering from corruption.
Sueb’s intersectionality growing up in poverty may have contributed to his prolific career. He often created his works from the standpoint of marginalized populations, his stories connecting and resonating with his fellow peoples due to “commoner” contexts. Sueb was propelled to superstar status in Indonesia by starring in films that focused on local archetypes: tukang (or “handymen”) in Tukang Solder and Tukang Becak; waria (or “transgender persons”); lovesick partners; bohemians; artisans; and eccentric horror movie characters. He formed a film company, Jiung Film, and produced works such as Musuh Bebuyutan (Arch-Nemesis; 1974), Benyamin Koboi Ngungsi (Benjamin the Refugee Cowboy; 1975) and Hippies Lokal (Local Hippies; 1976). He also starred in 11 films with his name in the title, like Benyamin Biang Kerok (1972), Benyamin Brengsek (Benyamin the Asshole; 1973) and Benyamin Jatuh Cinta (Benyamin Falls in Love; 1976) and others (Revolvy).
In the 1980’s, Sueb starred in Betty Bencong Slebor (Betty the Frightful Transvestite), an important film that openly presents waria (transgender) and homosexual behavior in Indonesia. Unlike neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia, which were influenced by British colonial rule, Indonesia did not criminalize homosexuality. Sueb’s character Betty challenged the moral ideals propagated by Suharto’s “New Order” beginning in 1966, to control the social order by limiting Westernism in Indonesia and promoting Muslim ideals based on gender ideology. Suharto’s rule, a.k.a. ibu-ism, promoted men as being “productive” beings and women as “reproductive” beings. Suharto promoted concepts of gender conformity. In order to be a “whole” person, Indonesians must conform to gender roles according to heteronormative family principles. Men are the head of the household, with woman as wife and raiser of children, all aligned in harmony with Islam. The government pushed heteronormative conformity through public campaigns that reinforced the expectations for women to reproduce and be obedient mothers/wives because this was their God given “destiny” (kodrat). Morally, homosexuality was seen as contradictory to God’s nature for Muslims in Indonesia, even though Indonesian indigenous language and culture acknowledged transgendered and homosexual behavior and allowed it to play a part in religious rituals (Munir, 2014).
Betty Bencong Slebor stars Sueb playing a waria servant who serves the wealthy Bokir family, owners of a recording studio. In modern Indonesia, a waria is an indirect term derived from abbreviating wanita (woman) and pria (man), or “men with women souls.” LGBTQI+ Western binaries do not translate to Indonesian traditional societies, where ethnolocalized identities parallels links between professions with homosexual and trangendered behavior, e.g. gemblak-warok partnerships participating in the reog drama rituals in East Java, and male-to-female priests, or bissu, conducting religious rituals and rites in South Sulawesi neighborhoods. Betty is a jobless young man who becomes waria for employment much like ethnolocalized reog drama rituals of bissu, rather than becoming waria to conform to sexual/gender identity. Betty Bencong Slebor also challenges how social concepts in stereotyped gender binaries shape feminine and masculine traits that are attached to sexual identity. Betty dresses with make-up and wears her hair in a bun to appear attractive or “feminine.” She is a subservient maid who takes care of the family she serves. Betty also exudes toxic masculine traits by mocking a weak male pedicab driver because he cannot transport her up a hill in his pedicab. She sees him as weak and takes her aggression out on him by ridiculing him and throwing him into a field. Afterwards she squats in the field to pee, imitating women’s urinating behavior. Betty Bencong Slebor intelligently contrasts the fluidity of maleness and femaleness coexisting, although the concepts are not always fixed and mutually exclusive (Munir, 2014). Unfortunately Sueb closed his film company after he made Betty Bencong Slebor due to financial difficulties.
Before Sueb’s untimely death, he founded his radio station Ben’s Radio, on March 5, 1990. Ben’s Radio’s purpose is to spread awareness for Betawi culture by transmitting Betawi culture through dialogue and musical programming. The radio station, located at 106.2 MHz FM in Jakarta and streaming online, is currently operated by Sueb’s children. The Sun City Girls wrote a song called “Ben’s Radio,” released on their album Funeral Mariachi on Abduction in 2010.
The song opens with samples in Betawi taken from Ben’s Radio transmissions. Sun City Girls’ fans know members Charles Gocher and Richard and Alan Bishop often synthesized ethnic musics from South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America with jazz, rock, prog and experimental music. It makes me happy to think Sueb’s music has influenced legendary cult bands like Sun City Girls.
On Sept 5, 1995, Benjamin Sueb passed away from a heart attack after playing soccer. He was 56 years old. He is survived by his nine children and his wife, all of whom continue his legacy in keeping the rich Betawi culture alive. Indonesia continues to celebrate Sueb through Ben’s Radio as well as an autobiographical musical, Babe, performed by the Jakartan theater troupe Teater Abnon, in 2017. There is also continuing speculation among Sueb’s children and the Indonesian government about converting their father’s residence into a museum commemorating Betawi culture and Sueb’s unique life, a life cut short too soon.
Munir, Maimunah (2014), Challenging New Order’s Gender Ideology in Benyamin Sueb’s
Freeform Show Name: Pillbox Tales (formerly The Upstairs Room)
Freeform Day/Time of Show: Friday nights/Sat mornings 12:00am – 2:00am
Interview by: DJ Beanie
FF: What’s the premise of your show, and what do you want your show to communicate to the listener? Plastic Passion: I like the challenge of having themed shows. I find that it allows me to be creative with my sets. I try to play pretty eclectic music: Post-punk, experimental, 80s r&b and 80s Japanese pop, shoegaze, soundtrack/score, etc etc etc (and The Cure, obviously). I’m getting ready to do another Lowrider Oldies themed show soon. I just want the listeners to find something they really dig.
FF: Where did you grow up and what influence did your upbringing have on your passion for music? Plastic Passion: I’m originally from Tucson, AZ but i spent 20 years living in NYC and it definitely had a big impact on the music I listen to and love. My parents also had a big influence on my love for music. My dad was a bit of a beatnik when he was younger and used to sing “Barber Shop” by Tom Waits to my brother and I when we were getting ready to go to bed. We also listened to a lot of bossanova, jazz, Mexican music, and r & b.
FF: What’s your favorite music-related film or documentary? Plastic Passion: I love 30 Century Man about Scott Walker, Fugazi’s Instrument, Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back, The Cure’s In Orange…
FF: What do you like to do when you’re not at the station? Plastic Passion: I am a docent at the Portland Art Museum and work in equity and inclusion, so art/equity is very important to me. I read a lot of non-fiction, listen to podcasts, make art, and listen to a ton of music.
FF: What’s your favorite thing about being a part of the Freeform community? Plastic Passion: Oh man, what a rad bunch of people we have in our radio family. I love meeting the DJs and learning about what they like/do/make. I’ve never had a bad encounter. Everyone is super friendly and unpretentious. It’s great to be a part of such a caring & positive community who love Portland and have such a passion for all kinds of music. I’m really thankful to be part of Freeform Portland.
Michael and Maia Gersten opened Speck’s Records and Tapes in March 2017. The family owned shop is inviting, unpretentious, and a cozy place to spend rainy days browsing for hidden treasure. Speck’s offers a little bit of everything, without any focus on a particular genre. You’re sure to find some of the essentials as well as a few rarities in the new wave, electronic, rock, and reggae crates. The “tapes” portion of the namesake includes obscure world recordings and spot-on compilation mixes. Speck’s also carried a curated collection of refurbished audio equipment including record players, amps and speakers. On Sundays, live DJs spin in the shop and often the space hosts release parties and other community music events. Speck’s has quickly become a celebrated gem of the Kenton neighborhood, visit them daily 12-7pm.
I have a confession to make. Actually, I have two confessions. Both of these confessions are difficult for me to admit, but I feel it’s time to clear the air.
1) I’d never been to the Star Theater before. I guess I generally don’t spend time in that part of town due to traffic and parking. I’m happy to confess, having finally gone behind the doors of this venue, that it’s amazing! The look, the vibe, and the sound… incredible! I’ll never again turn my nose up at a show at this club. The entire staff, including the bartenders and security, were all super friendly and on the job!
2) I’d never seen Tango Alpha Tango before! I know, right? How is it possible that I’ve been in the dark about this band for so long?
Okay, in my defense, I’ve been a fan for about 4 years. This band sent me their music for airplay and I was instantly hooked. Getting out to see them in concert, however, has always been a problem. Usually it was due to the fact that I had too many other options for live music in Portland on the same night they were playing. Other times I was out of town when they had a gig. Finally, there have been two opportunities that I had to see the band, I showed up, and the venue was sold out!
Thanks to a friend with an extra ticket, I was able to make it to this show, and I’m happy to say that this band lives up to the hype. I got myself a nice spot right in front of the stage and prepared myself. I really hoped that they’d be as good as my friend had built them up to be. The crowd was a mixed bag of young hipsters, middle aged rockers and some folks who looked like they could have grandkids. Many have probably been following this band for years. As a first timer, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The lights dimmed, and the band made their entrance.
From the first few bars I was already bouncing in my shoes. The rhythm section comprised of Joey Harmon on drums and Mirabai Carter-Trueb on bass set an infectious groove, and guitarist Nathan Trueb effortlessly flowed above it. There was an immediate energy that filled the room. The first song ended, and I turned to my friend and uttered one word. “Wow”. He responded “Dude, they’re just getting started”.
I recognized the song “Kill & Haight” during this set, but the rest of these songs were new to me. It didn’t matter. Each song had a unique flavor, and Nathan’s unmistakable voice never let’s you forget who you’re listening to. The band performed some “B Side” songs that were new to their set, some favorites that the audience clearly had heard before, and some incredible jam sessions that took over the room like a cyclone of sound.
Visually, this band delivers like few can. Joey Harmon is a solid force behind the drum kit. Mirabai is almost stoic in her delivery. This leaves plenty of room for Nathan to roam, jump and roll all over the stage…and into the crowd.
Freeform DJ: DJ Bubble Tea, DJ Devil Child & Karen
Freeform Show Name: Weekend Family Music Hour
Freeform Day/Time of Show: E/O Saturday 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Interview by: Beanie
FF: How did Weekend Family Music Hour begin?
DJs: Ayler- Weekend Family Music Hour began by mom asking us if we wanted to be on the radio.
Opal- I thought it would be fun to play music that we like & express my music interests to people.
Karen- My friend Jeffory told me that there was a new radio station starting that was inspired by X-Ray so I signed up because I thought it would be a good family activity for us. It’s a privilege to enable my kids this experience at young ages. We went to early meetings before launching & it was great to be part of the beginning process. I thought it would be fun to have a ethnic family music radio show who played diverse music & talked about kids stuff & things related to what we deal with.
FF: What is your favorite part of being a DJ?
Ayler- My favorite part of being deejay is being a character I can create. I like being funny & talking in different voices.
Opal- My favorite part of being a deejay is I learn a lot about music & I am always excited to hear new stuff. I feel like my music interests have expanded more, I found I like more rock music. I really like Guided by Voices, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Velvet Underground & Lou Reed these days.
Karen- My favorite part of being a deejay is sharing in the experience of having a radio show with my growing kids. I’m so grateful for the privilege to have my kids involved with radio & learning the aspects of radio broadcasting. I think if children are enabled experiences they can participate in, where they can listen to their contributions, it builds a sense of confidence which can benefit them in their later years.
FF: How do you decide what to play on each episode?
Karen- I make a lot of the playlists & ask Opal & Ayler if they want to add any songs. We usually focus on current events that are enraging us & will build off a theme for that week. Or we focus on the upcoming holiday if it’s important to the kids. Most of the time I make playlists based on ethnic musics. We like adding Happy Birthday shout outs to friends by adding- Luke Skywalker’s “It’s Your Birthday.”
Opal- Mom makes most the playlists, I recently made a small playlist & I recommend songs to her to put in the playlists, whenever you hear David Bowie, that was me. I’m making a playlist for David Bowie’s bday on Jan 8th.
Ayler- I have played some Japanese 45s like Jun Mayazumi on our Asian Lunar New Year Show, our stepdad Jim was also on that show. He is part of our family so he is part of Weekend Family Music Hour sometimes.
FF: In what other ways does music inspire you?
Ayler- I don’t know….
Opal- Music inspires me by making me feel better when I’m sad. It also distracts me from my problems…I don’t really have any problems except homework, school & not having ice cream or bubble tea.
Karen- Music is a coping tool for me to deescalate from crisis work from talking to people with real world problems. Music makes me happy & it also impacts others to feel happy as well, if only for as long as the song is playing. I think if a medium can change someone’s behavior or emotionality to a more positive state in an instant when the song is heard, that’s a powerful thing.
FF: What do you like to do when you’re not at the station?
Ayler- I like to chill, read, play video games & draw. Sometimes I’ll skateboard.
Opal- I like painting, drawing, photography, playing with my dog & skateboarding.
Karen- I like to watch David Attenborough nature documentaries & hang out with Opal, Ayler & Jim. Jim & I deejay out to enable eating out money for us all. We usually deejay under Center for Cassette Studies & spin records.
FF: Why do you think Freeform Radio is an important part of our Portland community?
Opal- Music is important because different songs appeal to different people. It gives everyone a voice when people don’t have a voice sometimes. Freeform Portland is important because it promotes diversity, we are kids who are half Chinese & white.
Ayler- we got something to say!
Karen- Freeform Portland is important because it’s as grass roots as can be. No one is paid & being an all volunteer run station you have a lot of passionate folks who are music nerds coming together for the purpose of community radio. Given the volunteer aesthetic there’s a lot of diversity that comes through. Everyone is given a chance to have a show regardless of experience because there is a deejay that was trained prior to new deejays teaching them. People are really nice & folks are dedicated to a common good without hierarchies that could be skewed by economic factors or ego. I like to think we’re all equal here & share a purpose of radio being fun. Freeform Portland is how inclusive community can be built.
Freeform Day/Time of Show: Thursdays 6:00 AM – 8:00 AM
FF: What’s the premise of your show, ‘Planetary Motion?
Wynter: I play mainly shoegaze, Nugaze, dream pop, ambient, experimental, and coldwave. My show aims to give people and easy and dreamy way to wake up in the morning. Occasionally I read reflections, poetry, or talk about astrology.
FF: What do you hope to communicate to the listener tuned into your show?
Wynter: My aim is to support music, artists, and my community through my love for DJing and music. I hope to communicate to the listener that some of the noisiest music can be the most beautiful.
FF: Have you seen any standout shows in Portland this year?
FF: What do you like to do when you’re not at the station?
Wynter: I like to bake bread, cook for people, drink beer and red wine, and play bass guitar. I try and do a bit of everything.
FF: What do you think makes Freeform stand out in the realm of community radio?
Wynter: I’ve never met so many kind people in my life. Freeform is my family. Radio has become apart of my weekly schedule, and I’ve learned so much. I’m so proud of all my fellow DJs, and grateful for the community surrounding us.
Francis Bebey (July 15, 1929-May 28, 2001) was a Cameroonian-born father, musician, artist, filmmaker, author, musicologist, anthropologist and composer. He was born in the city of Douala, where he attended college, played in a band and studied mathematics. Bebey is considered the father of African music, educating inquisitive minds and ears to African culture, musical songs, rhythms, sounds, history and theory. In the mid 1950s he moved to France to study at Sorbonne University. In Paris, Bebey was influenced musically by Spanish guitar player Andres Segovia, who played there often and specialized in concert flamenco and classical guitar. Bebey also loved jazz artists like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, stating he bought Armstrong’s records like he was buying cigarettes. Bebey sang, played Pygmy flute, African sanza thumb piano and guitar in his younger years. In 1960, after attending New York University, Bebey settled in Paris where he worked at various radio stations, broadcasting shows and educating listeners on different forms of African music and culture. He was eventually hired by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to document and research African music. Throughout this time Bebey continued to work on his own music. He eventually left UNESCO to focus on composing, playing and blending Latin American, Western, and Asian influences with African music (Kisliuk, 2003).
Bebey was a multifaceted artist who immersed himself in every aspect of musicology. He went through a “colonialist” period fusing Western technology with African rhythms to promulgate any preconceived notions about African rhythms being “primitive.” To facilitate this he sang traditional African songs and ballads in French, English and Douala. He also yodeled (Kisliuk, 2003). In the 1970s he integrated synthesizers, drum machines, harps, flute, electric keyboards, guitar and electrified sanzas, overdubbing all of the instruments on his albums Fleur Tropicale, La Condition Masculine, Heavy Ghetto, Sanza Nocturne and Un Petit Ivoirien and other releases on his label Ozileka. Ozileka studio was a spare room built onto his apartment where he recorded and released over 20 albums between 1975 and 1997, not counting 12 or more on other labels.
Bebey’s artistic manifesto was spreading information about African music. Throughout his life he was focused on regenerating African art. From an interview with Bebey by Chris May in 1982, Bebey wrote, “Many of the foreign influences that have penetrated Africa will be incorporated into a new form of black African art. This form of initiation may be deplored by those with deep-seated conservative or racist tendencies, but far from resulting in a bastardised and damaging modernism, we believe this mutation will breathe new life into African art and will demonstrate the triumph of humanism and universality over esoteric sterility….It is imperative that the future of African music be based on the idea of development and not merely upon preservation.” Focusing on preservation would be tokenizing African music much like exhibiting pieces in a museum, concluded Bebey (The Vinyl Factory, 2018). The “world music” movement hounded Bebey for much of his career. He challenged colonialist views about African musics’ “authenticity” perpetrated upon African music from audiences who are Western. Many Western audiences questioned “foreign” influences in African music, implying racist beliefs that African music cannot modernize without changing qualities. This inspired President Sekou Toure in independent Guinea, and other post-colonial African countries later, to support traditional African arts while also embracing avant garde creativity and experimentation (May, 2018). Bebey coined a term “amaya” in English, which stood for “African modern and yet authentic” as an umbrella descriptor to explain his work (Winders, 2006).
As an example of Bebey’s modernization of African music, Bebey yodeled in Pygmy vocal style, refashioning Western style song structure. From his book, African Music: A People’s Art, Bebey explains how the human voice is the most widely used instrument by Africans. Voice is used by Africans in differing nuances, such as manipulating appendages to produce modulating timbres similar to yodelling. Like a modulator, voices can be reconstituted by pinching the nose, fluctuating the tongue, plugging the ears, or singing through a repository. Bebey asserted that the West’s definition of a “beautiful singing voice” is a subjective notion that applies to the standards of melodic pitch, perfection and purity in tone, all based on Western criteria. A “beautiful” African voice, according to these criteria, could be a tonal accident in traditional African music. Music in Africa is used every day to delegate life, nature, beliefs and rituals where the context of “beauty” is secondary in maintaining a constant purpose. African life requires musical adaptation, preserving a collective aspect where no one is ruled out as being a “bad singer.” Anyone who has the urge to sing or make their voice heard have the liberty to do so, and singing is not a grandiose or beautiful affair. Africans use musical affirmations to fill conversations when retelling indiscreet affairs with a husky voice, or using a mocking tone to produce a satirical account of a circumstance. It gives people a rite to preach, pray, validate, settle affairs, and execute their actions in pronounced verbalizations. Voice is a common language that all African ethnic groups can understand to reframe life banality with philosophic wisdom (Bebey, 1969).
Bebey’s song “Divorce Pygmee” exemplifies his feelings about African voice as an instrument. Translating the song in English from French, Bebey is singing about a failed Pygmy marriage; or more specifically, a wife’s treatment from the husband’s standpoint, where she is asking for a divorce. He sings, she does not tell him nice things anymore, after everything he has done for her to change her from a thin “small leaf” into a beautiful “fat” woman (being a thin woman is considered less attractive by African standards). Bebey yodels after each song segment which adds a satirical inflection on the catastrophic circumstance of divorce. In addition to entertaining, he is also educating listeners about the process of marriage in African communities, where giving gifts such as elephant tusks to the bride’s parents is ceremonial in Pygmy culture, much like a dowry, mirroring marriage ceremonies in Asian cultures.
Bebey was an experimental African music visionary, ranking with legends such as Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, Franco, William Onyeabor, and Odion Iruoje. Like Bebey, Iruoje believes that Africans should be proud of their musical innovations and aimed to integrate these sounds into his production and arrangement for EMI Nigeria throughout the 70s and 80s. He is currently reissuing some of these records with deejay Temitope Kogbe on their reissue label, Odion Livingstone. Given the global north’s colonialist history of unauthorized bootlegging of African records, it is important to see a Lagos-based label taking ownership of what is theirs.
Bebey was prolific, releasing 25 albums, authoring 9 books, radio broadcasting, lecturing about musicology and African culture, plus performing his music globally. His albums have been compiled by numerous labels, highlighting different periods of his career. John Williams composed a tribute piece honoring Bebey, named “Hello Francis.” The piece is based on the Makossa dance rhythm from Cameroon documented and performed by Bebey and other African musicians. Arcade Fire also has paid tribute to him through their song, “Everything Now” which includes the flute melody from Bebey’s “The Coffee Cola Song” played by his son, Patrick. Bebey passed away on May 28, 2001 and is survived by his wife, a daughter, and two sons: Toups (saxophonist) and Patrick (keyboardist) Bebey who continue his father’s legacy of “amaya.”
Bebey, F. (1969) African Music: A People’s Art.
Kisliuk, M. (2003). The Pygmy: Hunter, Gatherer, Survivor, and Yodeler: The yodeling and hocketing of Pygmy singing has served as an icon of social and musical utopia. In Platenga, B., Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World, chapter 6 (pp. 137-149). Routledge, New York, NY.
May, C. Cameroonian trailblazer Francis Bebey https://thevinylfactory.com/features/electric-futurism-francis-bebey/
Winders, J. (2007). Paris Africain: Rhythms of the African Diaspora. Palgrave MacMillan, New York, NY.
As I look back into the railroad tunnel of my past, I can not recall ever not loving music. But logic suggests that this must not be true, or at the least of it, music must have been difficult to come by, considering the manner in which I was raised.
Neither of my parents were musicians. Neither of my parents were singers. Neither of my parents purchased or collected records with any regularity.
The music of my youth came from the radio. And the only radio I can recall would have been in the car that my parents drove. They probably had several cars, and I have no memory about their details, their wheels, interiors, or headlights. Transitions were the only constant. As a family we had several homes. We were always renting, and during my elementary school years, we seemed to move every year. I changed schools at least 4 times between kindergarten and fifth grade. Nothing was ever the same.
Would the radio have been a source of my some grounding then? Music might have been something I could claim as my own. Neither of my parents were too concerned or seemed to ever notice songs as they were broadcast from the tinny dashboard speaker of their AM radio. Neither of them reached out to the volume knob to turn it up, should a favorite song come on. I don’t believe either of them ever had a favorite song.
Although later in life would find this to be untrue. My Dad once told me that he liked Creedence Clearwater Revival, and that he had seen Ike & Tina Turner perform. The details behind these admissions do not exist for me. Our lost conversations leave me with a vague voice in my head, his few words reciting over and over.
I do however recall a brief moment in which my Dad remarked to my Mom that I knew all the words to songs on the radio. I must have been in the backseat, mumbling and singing along. I wasn’t impressed by my Dad’s realization, as song lyrics tended to rhyme, and it was often easy to figure out the next line.
Life moves forward in a way that does not often lend itself to perfectly encapsulated polaroid moments. Memory is a function of associations. The five senses working in tandem. And with myself, music is a doorbell by which those gates open.
My first memories of records around the house are after my parents divorced. My family consisted of my Mom and Brother, a friend of my Mom’s from work, and her daughter. There was always change. Rooms changed. Houses changed. My route to walk home from the school bus changed. But the few records in our living room seemed to be the same. There was a copy of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon,” a live album by Black Oak Arkansas, The Greatest Hits album by Simon & Garfunkel, and “Of Cabbages & Kings” by Chad & Jeremy. These records had been garnered from Record Club mail order offerings. They were the records I would play often and with which I became quite familiar.
The constant change in my life may have made me socially awkward. I spent a lot of my time alone. Listening to music. Drawing pictures. Making my own comic books. I barely remember playing outside.
As a teenager, I became aware of Rolling Stone magazine. By going through its pages, I discovered new music, and in that discovery, found a better version of myself. I began to seek out music, rather than settle for songs as they spilled out of the radio.
I dug into Devo & The Doors. I perused record stores. I learned about musicians, bands, producers, and people who master records. I made choices on future purchases based on what I had read in reviews or interviews with bands, and also what I had gleaned from records that I owned.
A daisy chain then: U2 to Tom Verlaine, Television to R.E.M., The Velvet Underground to Patti Smith, Echo & The Bunnymen to The Sound, and so on.
Nothing made me happier than breaking the plastic wrap on a new record with my fingernail, hearing the cover creak as I pulled out the record, placing the needle down to hear that first rush of new sound. The energy in such an act was palpable. I was addicted and remained so for many years.
Music was the subject of or the underlying subject of every conversation I had. I made jokes, puns, and connections to lines of conversation based on recalled bits of song lyrics. I learned about politics, geography, religion, and all subjects in general from song lyrics. Music provided a wealth of knowledge that was rarely discussed or reviewed.
In the context of certain situations then, I would have appeared perfectly normal, an adult male, amongst other adult males and females, interacting and acting friendly. But outside of my peer group, I felt nothing but socially awkward, and rather than stepping forward into the situation, I would retreat to silence. More often than not, at a party for instance, moving to a room that contained the comfort of books or records.
The addiction remains, with softer edges now. As I mentioned in a prior blog piece, my music collection is digital now. I no longer have a room overflowing with records and cd’s. Instead I have a virtual ever-expanding space from which I draw certain designated songs and albums to be included on my iPod. A device that never leaves my side, to which I am plugged into close to ten hours a day, five days a week.
I often walk under starlit skies with a song in my ears. And when I am sure I am alone and unobserved, I raise my arms up as the music reaches a crescendo, the physical result of a churning joy in my heart and body. It’s this embrace of music that I love most of all.
Noah Fence hosts It’s a Nice World To Visit – Punk, Post-Punk, Garage Rock, Psych…A mix of new tracks and old favorites. On Freeform Portland Radio.
Fans of country-rock won’t be strangers to Clarence White’s name. In addition to earning the distinction of second longest-serving member of the Byrds – just after Roger McGuinn – White’s driving guitar and mandolin graced dozens of essential ‘60s and ‘70s albums. He can be heard alongside everyone from Lee Hazlewood to Linda Ronstadt to Phil Ochs to the Everly Brothers, often wielding the Telecaster he modified with a mechanism designed to simulate the sound of a pedal steel.
But the strangest credit on his extensive discography is a 1969 private press LP called Housewife, written and recorded by unknown artist Mary Afton. Performing as “Mistress Mary,” Afton appears on the album cover in languid Old Hollywood pose, with handwritten liner notes that label her music as “country-western, some soft-soul, some whatever.” How Afton got one of the greatest session guitarists of all time to play lead on her first and only record remains a mystery – but the quality of White’s playing elevates each unconventionally sexy, often drily funny song and makes Housewife rise above other private press recordings of the era.
“And I Didn’t Want You” is the standout track, although “The Bible Says,” “Praise Me A Little Bit” and “Dirt Will Be Yer Name” hold up well and capture Afton’s wry tone and unconventional vocal stylings. It’s a debut that showcases a distinctive artistic vision, and you can easily imagine Afton evolving in a way that would have earned her a more recognized place in the LA country-folk canon. Instead, she walked away from the music industry after Housewife to teach car mechanics, self-defense and belly dance classes for women before making a successful living as a disco dance instructor.
Housewife surfaces occasionally on Discogs for $200-$300 – it’s hard to say if any of those copies are the one Afton sent Elvis personally. For those of us on a more limited budget, Light In The Attic reissued the record in 2016 after the Numero Group included “And I Didn’t Want You” on their compilation of private press country recordings, Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music.
Afton’s liner notes identify her as a “wife – mother – civic leader – etc. – artiste” (with accompanying glamour shots), but Mistress Mary can be remembered a songwriter above all. Whether Housewife would have its cult status without Clarence White’s involvement is debatable, but fans of freak folk, Americana and Laurel Canyon will do well to give it a spin.
Rachel Good is a Portland writer, singer and DJ. As DJ Stonebunny, she can be heard on Freeform Portland every other Saturday from 6-8pm with “High Rollers in Sin City,” an exploration of weird psychedelic country and folk from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
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