09/28/15 Blog

Nohelani Cypriano created a 1979 Hawaiian disco cult-classic


Nohelani Cypriano

You can imagine how it happened: the confluence of the islands’ long history of musical output with the nightlife of 1970s Honolulu—think tourists, cocaine, and clubs pumping disco. Hawaii had always been a very musical place, and Polynesian culture as a whole was very rich musically. Hawaii has historically bred great musicians. There are near-lost treasures of Polynesian folk music that were recorded to 78rpm as early as we were recording blues and jazz on the mainland. Modern musical styles, such as slack-key guitar, came out of Hawaii. Vibist and exotica pioneer Arthur Lyman, who was born on Oahu, recorded Taboo 2 on the island with producer David Axelrod in 1959. But in the 1970s, there was a new Renaissance of Hawaiian recording happening in various studios. Some of these bands and musicians broke out and made a name for themselves in the States, like Kalapana and Seawind. But most of the records stayed on the islands, or barely made their way to California. There were rock records, R&B, funk, smooth AOR/blue-eyed soul, and disco. Hawaiian musicians were blending traditional Polynesian sounds with modern music that was coming from the mainland, and as the 1970s wound down, and disco filled Honolulu’s clubs (and continued into the ’80s), Hawaii produced some rare disco gems, like 1978’s Lemuria, written and produced by Kalapana cofounder Kirk Thompson.

Another such holy grail record is Nohelani Cypriano’s self-titled album, released the following year in 1979. A multi-instrumentalist named Dennis Graue had his hands all over the album, playing piano, organ, Clavinet, and synths like Arp’s Odyssey Bass, the Omni, and the String Ensemble. But it was producer Mike Cord who really helped shape the sound and success of the album. Cord, who was born in New York and raised in Vegas, moved to Hawaii in 1968,  played in some local bands, and later became an important Hawaiian-music archivist and reissuer.

Cord, who described Cypriano’s music as “nostalgic Polynesian funk,” released her first single, the amazing “Lihue,” on his own label, HanaOla Records. The song found its way to the mainland and beyond through the popular Hawaiian and San Diego, California, compilation series called Home Grown. It was because of this comp that DJs in England and elsewhere have been playing the track for decades, as the original LP was always very hard to come by.

“I really think that a lot of my opportunity in how I broke out on the music scene wasn’t just because of Home Grown and ‘Lihue’; it was really [Mike Cord],” Cypriano recently said after Cord’s death in May 2015. “Dennis and I were experimenting with the style, but it was also Michael’s suggestions of what he wanted to hear.”

In collaboration with our friends at Aloha Got Soul, London-based reissue label Be With Records has remastered and reissued Nohelani on vinyl. Be With has been on a roll lately. They recently released the impossible-to-find Prone as well as Hard Candy by Ned Dohney, and then they just killed it by reissuing the African disco/boogie holy grail by Letta Mbulu, In the Music… Don’t miss these releases.

09/11/15 Blog

Six Degrees of a G: The N.W.A Family Tree



Everybody knows Snoop and Kendrick are part of the N.W.A legacy, but did you know Coolio, the Black Eyed Peas, and MC Hammer are part of that family as well? In honor of the release of Straight Outta Compton, the fine team at Universal have put together an N.W.A family tree connecting over fifty artists and groups to the legendary hip-hop pioneers. Fully interactive with Spotify and YouTube links, you can select each founding member’s tree as well as find out how the various artists are related to the group. A dizzying mix of groundbreaking artists like Eminem and Rakim sitting alongside the likes of Candyman and Hoes With Attitudes, it’s no wonder we’re still feeling the influence of N.W.A in pop culture decades later. Check the tree here.

05/27/15 Blog

Watch Don Cornelius get down in the best Soul Train line ever


Don Cornelius

In what may be the greatest Soul Train clip ever, the late Soul Train impresario Don Cornelius boogies his way down the line not once, but twice! In his only appearance on the line in the history of the show, Don was evidently inspired by the Fred Wesley & the JB’s track “Doing It to Death” and the presence of the Supremes to bust a few moves to the delight of the crowd. A little investigative research reveals that the clip appears to be from the May 12, 1973, episode from the second season of the show. It makes sense, as “Doing It to Death” had just been released in April and was steadily making its way up the Billboard soul singles chart.

Soultrain.com has the full story, and it appears Mary Wilson of the Supremes really wanted to go down the line and asked Don if he would join her. After refusing at first, Don eventually caved in and even tried to bust the Funky Chicken at one point. He returns a second time with Supremes members Lynda Lawrence and Jean Terrell, and flails a bit trying to do some sort of split. Even Don cherished the moment decades later, calling the moment a “classic piece of tape.”


05/21/15 Blog

Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) reflects on the legacy of Malcolm X

Jamel Shabazz

Photo by Jamel Shabazz


To commemorate the 90th birthday of Malcolm X on Tuesday (May 19, 2015), Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) speaks on the significance of Malcolm X today, especially for those who Bey says are “…poor, or hungry, or hunted.”

Taken from an interview with Yasiin Bey shot in Paris with curator Sohail Daulatzai for the exhibit Return of the Mecca: The Art of Islam and Hip-Hop, and accompanied with the soulful boom-bap of beatmaker/MC Oddisee, Yasiin Bey poignantly reflects on the lasting influence of Malcolm X, whom he calls a “style icon, political thinker, and philosopher.”


More of the interview with Yasiin Bey is included in the 120-page commemorative book, which also features a commissioned essay by Chuck D, images from legendary hip-hop photographers Jamel Shabazz, Ernie Paniccioli, B+, Cognito, and Katina Parker, as well as album cover art, flyers and other ephemera.

Return of the Mecca: The Art of Islam and Hip-Hop is a traveling exhibit that showcases how hip-hop culture, from its very foundation until today, has been deeply influenced by its relationship to Islam. The exhibition debuted last October at the William Grant Still Arts Center for the city-wide Los Angeles Islamic Arts Initiative.

Rakim, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, the Roots, Ice Cube, the Wu-Tang Clan, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, and Jay Electronica are some of the biggest artists in hip-hop. Guided by figures such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, as well as the influence of Islam on jazz and the Black Arts Movement of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, and on to hip-hop’s Golden Age, and up until today, these Muslim artists and many others are connected to the larger world of Islam. Reflected in everything from LP and cassette artwork and titles, to lyrics and samples to advocating personal, social and political uplift, hip-hop has been deeply influenced by the Nation of Islam, the Five Percent Nation, and Islam in the African diaspora.

The exhibit showcases a chronology of items documenting a nearly 70-year history that at its root and beyond interweaves jazz, soul, hip-hop, and Islam. A central component is dedicated to hip-hop’s foundations of the jazz and spoken word artists from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, with materials on Yusef Lateef, Art Blakey, Ahmad Jamal, Gil Scott-Heron, Amiri Baraka, and others. A loop of Golden Age music videos, a never before seen short film of Jay Electronica at the Pyramids in Egypt and performing in the Middle East, as well as rare concert footage is also exhibited, curated with a focus on Los Angeles, but not forgetting contributions from important hip-hop centers Chicago, New York, and Philly. Over 200 album covers and cassette J-cards and shells are compiled wall-to-wall in a room dedicated to an assembled collection spanning the early 1980s through present. Foundational artists Gang Starr, Black Star, Brand Nubian, Queen Latifah, Poor Righteous Teachers, Jurassic 5, Digable Planets, Big Daddy Kane, and Intelligent Hoodlum are on display, along with recent contemporaries Freeway and Beanie Sigel, and current artists like Jay Electronica and Oddisee.

Check Wax Poetics Issue 61 for an article written Sohail Daulatzai that details the connection between hip-hop and Islam, and keep an eye out for an extended version of the piece online in the coming weeks.

For more info, visit returnofthemecca.com.

05/13/15 Blog

You call yourself a collector? Records are just the beginning.


Collector Eric Edwards

So you got a few records and some old games, and fancy yourself a collector? It’s a start, but for some of us records are just the tip of the iceberg. Case in point, former AT&T executive Eric Edwards. While he’s got 40,000 LPs in his Brooklyn apartment, he’s also housing a 1,600-piece collection of African art worth about $10 million. Documentary filmmaker Mark Zemel tells Edwards’s story in his new documentary short The Collector, which he hopes to turn into a full series about collectors.

With a collection accumulated over forty-four years from all fifty-four African countries, Edwards hopes to open the Cultural Museum of African Art in Brooklyn next summer to give his collection a proper permanent home. In the meantime, he’s more than happy to share his apartment with a collection that’s clearly part of who he is. “I live with my art,” he says. “It’s part of what gives me sustenance, and direction, and sanity. All of the pieces that you see around here represent my psyche.”

H/T Gothamist

06/25/13 Blog

Carly Simon

The Chic Makeover



Singer-songwriter Carly Simon had a prolific career during the 1970s with thirteen Top 40 hits, including “Anticipation” and “You’re So Vain.”

In 1978, Simon teamed with producer Arif Mardin and created Boys in the Trees, spawning a few blue-eyed-soul gems like “Tranquillo,” cowritten by her then husband James Taylor.