In a perfect world every Ghetto Palms should connect at least three disparate dots on the map, and today’s multi-colored thumbtacks are puncturing the dread capitals of New York, Kingston and Addis Ababa.
Sizzla, “Hard Ground”
Nas & Damian Marley, “Afro Beat”
Mulatu Astatke, “Metche Dershe”
Beenie Man, “Woman” (Weapon Riddim)
Tifa, “Holding Power” (Weapon Riddim)
Vybz Kartel, “Wine Pon Me” (Weapon Riddim)
Download: Ghetto Palms Ethiocentric Blend
The fire-starter was “Afro Beat”—Nas’ collabo with Damian Marley which just leaked in a truncated snippet version. Featuring Nasir and Junior Gong alternating bars over a chop-n-quench of Ethiopian soul pioneer Mulatu Astatke, it manages to spear all three birds in one track even though it is barely a minute long. Luckily the original, a ’60s Ethio-jazz monster that foreshadowed the fusion experiments of Fela, is long enough to carry both of them. That gave me a framework to cut together a couple other Ethiocentric joints—beats that are so idiosyncratic they don’t even blend, exactly, but are so much on the same vibe it doesn’t even matter, really.
First up there’s Sizzla’s “Hard Ground” from his classic Black Woman & Child LP—along with “Kings of this Earth,” maybe the first Sizzla joint I truly loved, probably because the riddim is so completely off the reservation. It has a definite Orchestra Baobab/Congolese rumba feel. I have no idea what the source is, but given the fact that it is Sly & Rob they are probably licking back something exotic.
Capping it off is a new-ish Beenie joint on the Weapon riddim, another odd bird from Jamaica. It sounds like an update of a minor-keyed ska or mento thing from the Ocean’s Eleven era, but it speaks eloquently to others. This actually leaked a while ago but just now came out on a limited riddim run with tracks from Vybz Kartel and TNT’s Tifa, which is kind of key because as a DJ, what the hell else are you going to do with a beat like this unless you have some other versions to play with? Tifa’s “Holding Power” exploits the “Put a Spell on You” spookiness of the riddim especially well, which kind of highlights the Ethiocentric quality, in a weird way. Somebody could probably write a whole thesis on the way in which African musical elements survived in the New World only by being channeled into songs with devilish, voodoo-that-you-do type themes to make them sensible in the Christian West. Hell, what do I know, somebody probably already has.
Bonus: Nas and Damian Marley speak about Distant Relatives at the Grammy Museum.