Ayana Contreras Shares Her Mid-Year Best of Chicago Music 2019

Ayana hosts Reclaimed Soul on Vocalo and WBEZ and co-produces Sound Opinions on WBEZ. She also can’t stop digging…

Top Chicago Releases of 2019

This has been an incredible year for Chicago music, so far. Here’s a short list of releases I’ve fallen for:

a2808259986_10.jpgThe Oracle – Angel Bat Dawid (International Anthem) This woman’s bright and powerful spirit is all over this record, as is her connection to the deep well of spiritual jazz that has come before her (particularly out of Chicago). The record feels very immediate, and was for the most part recorded and dubbed by Angel on her phone while touring. She is of this time, but out of this world. 

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Resavoir (International Anthem) A tight collective of musicians led by Will Miller, this album is absolutely refreshing. With features by Knox Fortune, Sen Morimoto and Brandee Younger, this album is full of freshness while steeped in a jazz-funk tradition that rings true to me.

 

VF330_Outer_3mm-1FurthermoreTheaster Gates & The Black Monks (Vinyl Factory/Black Madonna) Blending field hollers, gospel, preaching, and thumping house, Furthermore flies a flag for the Southern-ness at the core of Black Chicago culture.

IARC0025_ARTWhere Future UnfoldsDamon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble (International Anthem) I first heard this album driving down the 405 in Los Angeles. Lushness and sky just beyond the road. It feels open like that. The record gives me flavors of Eddie Gale’s outstanding jazz-with-voices, wed with Damon’s inventive use of sampling and 808 programming. It feels huge and hopeful and keeps ringing in your head long after the songs are over.

Intellexual (Fantasy) – Nico Segal and Nate Fox deliver a laser-sharp, intricate mashup Intellexual_Coverof yachtrock, hooky jazz and hip hop… which may sound strange to the uninitiated, but is perfect like guava and cheese empanadas. More please.

cover_1545236225874346LEGACY! LEGACY! – Jamila Woods (Jagjaguwar) This album is both rumination and celebration of a wide variety of artists of all stripes, from MUDDY to BASQUIAT to ZORA. Extoling dimensional emotion, she plays with mood like a painter plays with color. And it bumps. The sonic palate pulses with a continuously fulfilling groove.

Stomping Off From Greenwood – Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade (Greenleaf greg ward rogue paradeMusic) This record might be situated off Greenwood, but it’s also at the delicious intersection of slightly glitchy art-rock and cinematically scaled bebop.

 

you can see the full list (including artists from around the globe) on vocalo.org

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Devin Mays of Rebuild Foundation on the lasting legacy of black media giant Johnson Publishing

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Reclaimed Soul host Ayana Contreras in conversation with Devin Mays of Rebuild Foundation about the legacy of Ebony Magazine, Jet Magazine, & Fashion Fair Cosmetics, as well as A Johnson Publishing Story (an exhibit at Stony Island Arts Bank). 

Ebony January 1968For more the legacy of Ebony Magazine (and its parent company, Johnson Publishing Company), click here. For information about events at the Stony Island Arts Bank, visit rebuild-foundation.org/events/site/s…nd-arts-bank/

Reclaimed Soul airs Thursdays at 8pm with a rebroadcast on Sundays at 8am on Vocalo 91.1fm or stream live vocalo.org/player


Linda Clifford and Richard Steele on Reclaimed Soul Live 2018

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A tribute to classic Chicago radio station WJPC (Ebony/Jet’s radio station) hosted by Reclaimed Soul host Ayana Contreras with former WJPC program director Richard Steele, an interview with Chicago disco/soul legend Linda Clifford (“Runaway Love”, “If My Friends Could See Me Now”).

We hear vintage WJPC audio including Richard Steele back in 1974 and Linda Clifford’s interview with Wali Muhammad from 1978. We also hear classic music and deep cuts from Ms. Clifford as well as her own story.

Below, Linda and Richard pictured in 2018 and in  1978, respectively.41810859_2212461328783202_5081003610326695936_n

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm and Sundays at 8am (CST) on vocalo.org/player or over the air on 91.1fm (CHI)


1968: In Wake of King’s Slaying, Black Chicago was Cloaked In Grief, In Song

In April of 1968, an uprising lit up the West Side of Chicago in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Black Chicago had a special connection to the civil rights leader: Dr. King lived on the West Side in 1966, fighting along with the Chicago Freedom Movement for open housing.
Reclaimed Soul host Ayana Contreras takes us back to April of 1968, when a few Black Chicagoans turned on tape recorders, laying their grief down in song.

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org/player or over the air on 91.1fm (CHI)


Reclaimed Soul: Cuba / Chicago Connections

 

On my recent trip to Cuba, I learned a lot. But it was a bowl of okra in the hills of Baracoa that tied everything together.
Okra made the Trans-Atlantic journey on slave ships alongside human cargo. The fact that the fuzzy green seed-laden vegetable is eaten by black folk in the United States is a miracle. A vegetable umbilical cord.
But to see okra in Cuba was a metaphor for a very particular shared narrative. One of survival. One of connections.  Okra, hambone, the clave, the percolator and much more tie Black Chicago to Cuba.

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 91.1fm


Maggie Brown on Oscar Brown, Jr. and The Opportunity Please Knock Chorus

Reclaimed Soul’s Ayana Contreras spoke with Jazz vocalist Maggie Brown, daughter of Oscar Brown, Jr. Maggie is passionate about preserving the legacy of her father’s community-engaged artistry.maggiebrown-684x384

The Opportunity Please Knock Chorus (a creative collaboration between singer/writer/playwright Oscar Brown Jr. and the notorious Blackstone Rangers street gang) premiered 50 years ago. Mr. Brown stated in 1967, “They’re not too disillusioned to work hard-if they ever had and illusions at all. It is up to us to give them a better picture of reality.”

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As we look for solutions to quell today’s violence in our communities and to get kids off the streets, this is a notable model of artist intervention from Chicago’s past.

This was recorded at a live event at Thalia Hall in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

click here for more on the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus.

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 91.1fm


Ayana Contreras of Reclaimed Soul talks with Emily J. Lordi, author of Donny Hathaway Live

Soul singer/Songwriter Donny Hathaway’s life and untimely death are both shrouded in mystery.
Though artists like Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, and Aretha Franklin have called him an influence, there is very little biographical work about him. I sat down with Emily Lordi, author of “Donny Hathaway Live”. Lordi’s recent book uses the album of the same name as a jumping off point for uncovering Hathaway’s legacy and his unique contributions to 20th century popular music.

Listen to Part Two of this conversation here: https://soundcloud.com/vocalo/ayana-contreras-of-reclaimed-soul-talks-with-emily-lordi-author-of-donny-hathaway-live-part-2

 


Donny Hathaway in Chicago.

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Donny Hathaway was born in Chicago and raised in St. Louis. Early in his career, he returned to Chicago. During that time period, roughly from 1968 until about 1971, Donny was very prolific. In this hour of Reclaimed Soul, Ayana Contreras explores Donny Hathaway’s early work arranging and writing for other artists in Chicago: from Albertina Walker, Syl Johnson, and Curtis Mayfield, to The Five Stairsteps and Little Milton. We’ll also hear some of his classics, compositions, and some of his very first recordings.

For more on Donny’s career, check out the recently published book “Donny Hathaway Live” by Emily J. Lordi.

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 91.1fm

 


Blind Man: Little Milton’s hooked and he can’t let her go.

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One of my very favorite Chess Records from the 1960s is “Blind Man” by Little Milton, released on Chess’ Checker subsidiary. Below is a rare televised performance from January of 1966 on a show called “The !!!! Beat”. “The !!!! Beat” was a program that was hosted by Nashville disc jockey Bill “Hoss” Allen.

The song itself was originally released by Bobby “Blue” Bland, who does a jazzier rendition. But Little Milton’s version is all heart and glowing grit. Chess Records session blind-manmen on the Little Milton version put in a characteristically stellar performance, as well. It’s beautifully brassy Chicago blues-soul of the highest order.

Notably, neither version of “Blind Man” was a hit. But the song was covered later in the 1960s by British rock-jazz group Traffic. A live recording of their version was released in 1969, after the original lineup of Traffic broke up.

But this is Little Milton. He’s hooked and he can’t let her go. Of this, I am wholly convinced. Jive on.


Dance Chicago Dance.

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Back in 1980, Chicago was still a national hub for music (like LA, Nashville, and New York are today). During that time, Producer/Promoter/Entrepreneur Eddie Thomas ran the influential Dogs of War DJ record association. Based out of Chicago, they were a record pool famous for breaking a number of seminal disco recordings.

Essentially, a record pool is a service that DJs either subscribe to or otherwise sign up for. New records from participating labels are distributed to the DJs as promotional copies. Dogs of War primarily worked with DJs that worked at black clubs on the South Side of Chicago. In the day, they were frequently mentioned in disco write ups in industry papers such as Billboard.

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picture courtesy / Bernie Howard’s Facebook Page

Together, Eddie & the Dogs of War Association produced a TV program pilot called “Dance Chicago Dance”. According to Director Bernie Howard Fryman:

“The year was 1980 and disco was the thing. This is the pilot of the Chicagoland dance show that I shot and directed in cooperation with executive producer Eddie Thomas and “The Dogs of War DJ Association”.

This show was created to feature new music and was to be shot from various discos in the Chicago area.

This show never aired and was dubbed from a Betamax demo of my show. We even cut in a few commercials for realism.”

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Featuring a theme song by Al Hudson and One Way, and hosted by radio personality LaDonna Tittle (then at WJPC) and Lisa Hunter (a member of the Dogs of War), the program was an all-star affair. This pilot also features two performances featuring Chicago’s own silver lame-clad disco artist Captain Sky. His extravagant costumes are worth the price of admission. The pilot was shot in suburban Naperville (!) at Valentino’s Disco. It features, notably, a racially mixed crew of dancers.

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picture courtesy / Bernie Howard’s Facebook page

The “Dance Chicago Dance” pilot was shot in 1980, well after Steve Dahl’s infamous “Disco Demolition Night” that occurred on July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park. The disco scene in Chicago was a well oiled machine in many ways because Chicago’s Black music scene had dwarfed the rock and pop scenes for much of the mid-20th Century in terms of record sales, record label prominence, and distribution. It was easy to get the music out there.

From the Electrified Delta Blues of Chess Records to the sweet soul of Brunswick Records and Curtom Records (and many labels in between), the baton was passed to disco, and eventually to house. It’s arguable that the prominence of disco music over rock music (often considered to be “white music”) in Chicago (mixed with some good old fashioned racism & homophobia) churned up the Disco Demolition. By 1979, disco had become a universal juggernaut; but its roots were in black and brown communities, as well as in the gay community (a fact that disco shares with house music).

About 50,000 people showed up to the event, during which radio shock jock Steve Dahl was to destroy audience supplied disco records in a massive explosion on the baseball field. But to illustrate the inherent racism, Vince Lawrence, who at the time worked at Comiskey Park as an usher, noted that many of the records were not disco at all. According to an NPR piece, there were:

 “Tyrone Davis records, friggin’ Curtis Mayfield records and Otis Clay records,” he recalls. “Records that were clearly not disco,” but that were by black artists [from Chicago].

Regardless, this video documents clearly that Disco Demolition Night did not, in fact, demolish disco in Chicago. In many ways, disco was just about to get started as something new: House. And that usher at Comiskey Park during the Disco Demolition Night wound up co-writing what is credited as the first truly House record (as opposed to a disco record played in house music clubs), 1984’s “On and On”.

He picked up a lot of good records that night, too. So Dance, Chicago, Dance. Jive on!