'While I remember...' Nickodemus says, reaching into his backpack. It wasn't the first time I've randomly run into the Brooklyn-based producer/DJ on a San Francisco street, though neither of us live here. He pulls out a copy of Moon People (Wonderwheel), his late-night counterpart to his previous Sun People, then runs off to say hello to my wife on the corner; his dining partner, DJ Smash, and I continue chatting about Nicko's workhorse nature, how neither of us could ever put in the miles of sky time and hours behind the turntables to pull off the career he has. That's just fine: there is only one Nickodemus, and only he could transition from 1990's-era Long Island house parties to becoming one of the most respected global dance music producers of our day.
Opening with a bouncy vocal dance track featuring former Radio Mundial frontman Jean Shepherd (now of Navagente), 'Under the Volcano,' Moon People explodes with sonic love for the dancers who have kept Turntables on the Hudson rocking until the dawn hours for over a decade. The late night is reserved for creative creatures; former collaborators Real Live Show jump all over the title track, which features an ominous Eastern mode guitar line and guest vocalist Kathrin deBoer, of UK-based electronica trio Belleruche. deBoer returns on one of Nickodemus's most far-reaching songs to date, the summery 'Peaceful Island Life.'
Starting with a two-minute, fifteen-second build of Jay Rodriguez's saxophone and steel drums, the ear has settled into an apparent instrumental when her dusky, sensuous vocals kick in. As with all Nickodemus's tracks, bass remains the most prominent featured guest, and the two closing tracks -- 'Los Tarantos,' a percussive/brass stomper with flamenco dynamics, and 'Vino People,' a romping homage to the beverage that best accompanies Nicko's other major passion (good Italian food), featuring in part a member of the inimitable Gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks -- are among the man's finest dancefloor smashes to date.
Arabic string sections appear sprinkled throughout Moon People, a certain sign that Nicko tapped longtime friend and labelmate Zeb. The two have played sonic yin and yang to one another for a long time; that the latter's album, Arabadub (Wonderwheel), released under his favorite moniker, The Spy From Cairo, has also just been released makes perfect sense. Nicko's album may pay tribute to the moon, but a certain lightness pervades all dozen tracks; with Zeb, his 13 edgier songs are devoted to his two passions: reggae, in this case more specifically dub, and Arabic music. The Italian-born artist grew up in a gypsy family filled with music, and so here his instrument of choice, the Arabic stringed lute, or oud, is joined with riveting performances on the chifteli and saz. These are just the sprinklings on top; Arabadub is driven by hard kick drums from the dub/hip-hop lineage, sturdy and dependable low-end, and strings reminiscent of Mohammad Abdel Wahab and the Al-Kuwaity brothers.
Truth is, Arabadub consists of sounds that such renowned composers would play if they were alive today, utilizing modern dance aesthetics, digital recording technologies and cross-cultural collaboration potential. Dub slides beautifully beneath most music, but there is something quite special about hearing it under throbbing and direct Arabic strings and percussion. The Middle East and Jamaica share longtime struggles between indigenous folk and greedy occupiers... the first, to this day. The sounds that Zeb creates speak to the heart of suffering and the possibility of overcoming it. The sharp keyboard stabs in 'Sons of Hannibal,' the pulsing percussion in 'Desert Tears' and the beautifully titled 'Thicker Than Hookah Smoke' are three of thirteen gorgeous examples of this man's capabilities. Where Zakariyya Ahmad and Mohamad El Qasabji meet Lee Perry and King Tubby, there stands The Spy From Cairo.
Jamaica is but a very long stone's throw away from one of the most musically interesting countries in the world today. Two new releases out of Brazil show what young producers are doing with a laptop and deep knowledge of their country's varied sonic histories. Curumin's JapanPopShow made the Sao Paolo native a hot international name. His third outing, Arrocha (Six Degrees), continues his quest for experimentation, weaving catchy Portuguese hooks ('Selvage' being the catchiest) into thick layers of drums and bass. On a Skype call with Curumin a few weeks ago, he told me that arrocha means "hold on with a lot of pressure. In Bahia it's a rhythm, a way of dancing where you hold your girl very close. There's many ways to read that title, but that pressure is a thing we feel here in the city [of Sao Paolo], because it's a very big city, you are always surrounded by people, and so you feel like this. This album I'm trying to do more sensual music speaking with a lot of feeling. The things you smell, touch, taste, see. It speaks to a lot of those things. I'm trying to get closer to the people with a sensitivity who listen."
That sensual side manifests not only in the lyrics of punchy dance tracks, but on the sweet 'Paris Vila Matilde,' an ode in which the singer reminisces of his love separated by an ocean and hemisphere, as well as 'Pra nunca mais,' penned by the great Brazilian poet and songwriter Arnaldo Antunes. His love for the aforementioned Jamaica manifests in two more upbeat tracks, 'Doce,' another great pop-oriented single with a lazy and patient beat and great melody, and 'Vestido de prata,' which features his friend and labelmate Ceu. The female singer is one of her nation's leading lights for a new generation fusing homegrown styles tinted with tasteful electronica, Curumin running side-by-side with her in the global ear.
There's reggae and there's ragga, and the latter is what Maga Bo has injected into his harder edge of capeoria and samba to create futurist dancehall. In fact, his latest record is dubbed Quilombo do Futuro (Post World Industries), throwing up street anthems for discerning international tastemakers. An adept of the slow, challenging capoeria angola (which I studied briefly; it's not nearly as dynamic and flashy as the more well-known regional, but much more grueling and demanding, in my estimation), Bo chooses equally slow-moving rhythms to spotlight his devotion to this now-world renowned marital arts form. Inviting an impressive list of guests -- Lucas Santtana, Marcelo Yuka, MC Zulu and Brooklyn's own Jahdan Blakkamoore among them - Bo weaves berimbau and Portuguese call-and-response chants into a tasty, refined dance aesthetic.
Quilombos were settlements for African slaves far away from the colonized world which were often attacked. Intelligent fighting techniques and an enduring drive to overcome injustice preserved these warriors in the face of adversity. Maga Bo has captured brilliantly his forward-gazing vision of such a gathering: hard and precise while inviting and approachable. A fine balance by an even finer producer.