This week we kick off with a lockdown playlist from journalist, DJ and broadcaster Charles Leonard. Charles Leonard is New Frame’s podcast editor. He’s also an obsessive record collector, journalist, broadcaster and before Covid-19 a passionate DJ playing everything from jazz to soul, reggae to funk, dub to electronica, and beyond. Read our playlists from Maria McCloy here and Mr Vinyl here.
There must be a name for the phobia I have. The fear of not having enough music when going on a long road trip. As a music obsessive my enough meant if the trip is six hours long, I’ll have 20 hours of mixtapes, plus original CDs from all my favourite genres – jazz, soul, reggae, hip-hop, funk, dub and beyond.
Strangely enough there has been none of that kind of trepidation about what I’m going to listen to now with the Covid-19-induced self-isolation. My answer lies in what jazz genius Louis Armstrong said: "There is two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good kind."
That’s more or less how I choose now: I listen to the good kind. That’s of course personal. I ensure that I listen properly to those good ones – I’ve picked new ones, but also followed the advice of LA Times’s music writer, Randall Roberts. In a recent lovely article entitled “The lost art of deep listening: Choose an album. Lose the phone. Close your eyes”, he suggested that you pick three full albums, committing to “deeply listening” to all of them.
The phrase “deep listening” was coined by experimental musician Pauline Oliveros, who defined it as a “radical attentiveness”. She wrote: “I differentiate to hear and to listen. To hear is the physical means that enables perception. To listen is to give attention to what is perceived both acoustically and psychologically.”
So, full attention coming with deep listening it will be.
Roberts reckons plug into whatever the best sound is you have at home. “Stoners will probably tell you to consume an edible an hour prior,” he added. “Scotch is wonderful. (LSD is illegal.) None of it is necessary. Mindfulness is essential. Light a candle or not. Doesn’t matter, but dimmed light will change the environment for the better.”
With enforced WFH (work from home) you’re fortunately not limited to listening at night – music drifting into the garden or over your suburb is just as rewarding (ask the neighbours, if of course you have a great taste in music). With time kind of unlimited in these uncertain early Corona days, I’ve decided to pick 10 albums to give the deep listening treatment; a mix of old and new and across genres.
Miles Davis – In A Silent Way
20-odd years ago, when our kids were little, we used to play jazz maestro Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue to calm them (and us) through “magic hour” before they finally succumbed to sleep. All versions of Miles, up to just before he covered Cyndi Lauper, still have a calming influence on me and I’m going to listen to all his albums, starting with this gorgeous one. Oh, and watch the Miles doccie on Netflix too.
José Alejandro Delgado – Algo (2016)
I was fortunate to be on a week-long workshop in Mexico with left-wing cultural workers like José at the end of January. Not only is the young Venezuelan a superb singer-songwriter, but he’s also a wonderful human being. He recently did a free show in an urban space for working-class residents who cheered him on from their balconies – you can see a snippet here on Instagram.
Letta Mbulu – Naturally (1973)
I’m going to listen to my records by the South African greats, Abdullah Ebrahim, Harari, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, David Kramer, Johnny Dyani, Dudu Pukwana, Johnny Clegg, Jabula, Louis Moholo and of course the undersung Letta Mbulu. A recent acquisition is Naturally which she recorded in exile in the US, with the Adderley brothers, Cannonball and Nat, plus her husband,
Lee "Scratch" Perry – Rainford/Heavy Rain (2019)
My last pre-Corona DJ set was a reggae one in the East Rand township, Katlehong last Sunday. It’s really sad to say but I don’t know when I will get a chance again. As always, I played some Lee "Scratch" Perry. He epitomises longevity, consistency and supreme out-there-ness. At 83, Scratch last year created a reggae masterpiece in Rainford, with a deep dub companion, Heavy Rain.
Penguin Café Orchestra – Broadcasting From Home (1984)
With my day job being the podcast editor, you’ll forgive me for choosing an album with this title because that is what I have to do now with my colleagues. The Penguin Café Orchestra were a genre-busting minimalist classical ensemble that always let the sun into their music.
Alice Coltrane – Journey In Satchidananda (1971)
Perfect for these times, I’ll certainly be diving deeply into the cosmic gorgeousness that was created by both Coltranes, John and Alice. The online music magazine Pitchfork accurately described Journey In Satchidananda as “a marvel of spiritual jazz, an album overflowing with transcendence, harmony, and grief”.
Shabaka And The Ancestors – We Are Sent Here By History (2020)
Last year I attended one of my best concerts ever. British/Barbadian jazz saxophonist Shabaka Hutching with his collective of South African musicians, Shabaka And The Ancestors, played a scorching set at Untitled Basement in Braamfontein which I attended with my son and one of my best mates – it was just after they had recorded this new album. I need to listen if this brand new album is as a good representation of that exhilarating mind blast.
The JB’s – More Mess On My Thing (2019)
There’s a long list we can’t do under lockdown. Dance is not one of them. So, if you need to shuffle around a little bit, this smothering piece of funk history is the thing for you. Towards the end of last year the Now-Again record label released an album that many didn't believe existed. It was the demo that bassist Bootsy Collins and his band recorded for the godfather of soul, James Brown, in 1969. More Mess On My Thing was recorded but shelved, the LP carries all the hallmarks and roots DNA of funk as we know it. It won them the title The J.B.’s – Brown’s backing band – and helping to provide the blueprint for funk, in the process changing the course of popular music.
Sarathy Korwar – More Arriving (2019)
This multi-layered album fused jazz, hip-hop, Indian classical music, found sounds and radical politics fused into an album for the ages. It was my record of 2019 and I can’t wait to delve even deeper, spending time to discover more gems from what has been an already rewarding More Arriving. Furthermore, it appeals to a progressive like me who wants his music politically aware of its society. As Korwar said: “This is a modern brown record. The kind of record that a contemporary Indian living in the UK for the past 10 years would make.”
De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
If I’m ever forced to list my top five albums of all time, 3 Feet High and Rising, will most certainly be one of them. This was the hip-hop trio De La Soul’s debut, unlike any rap record heard before, sampling artists as diverse as Johnny Cash, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates and The Turtles. It’s sunny, trippy, uplifting and out there. I’m listening to it again as I’m writing this and their skits remain really, really funny. This is actually hippy-hop, perfect good vibrations when we need them most. Oh, and they even have a brief little Corona-chasing song called “A little bit of soap”.