by Andrew Mason
It’s a damn shame when quality music falls through the digital cracks in this worldwide web of hype and flavors-of-the-minute. But it’s pretty unusual when that’s coupled with it actually falling through a literal crack, which may have happened to hundreds of copies of this vinyl LP that disappeared from a Brazilian ship earlier this year. That (true) fiasco aside, this solid full-length debut from the anachronistic underground supergroup Ekundayo stubbornly resists classification, another impediment to mass recognition. No relation to the respected Atlanta rapper of the same name (that name being a Yoruba phrase for “the joy that comes from sorrow”), the Brazilian/Brooklyn/Chicagoan conglomerate Ekundayo features their own veteran of the rap subterra in the form of Mike Ladd. He’s joined on the mic by two MCs from the cutting edge Sao Paulo group Mamelo Sound System. But although there are moments when Ladd’s delivery coupled with sledgehammer beats arranged by producer Scotty Hard recall Brooklyn indie rock-rap pioneers New Kingdom, the music cannot be comfortably pegged as “hip-hop.” The percussion, handled by Brazilian giant Naná Vasconcelos (renowned since the ’70s for his collaborations with Don Cherry and Pat Metheny) is far more complex and nuanced than anything in the rap world, pushing the sound towards Brazilian jazz. Add the trumpet of Chicago Underground’s Rob Mazurek and certain cuts begin to sound like outtakes from In a Silent Way—or Bill Laswell’s ambient rework of the ’70s Miles Davis joint. Unfortunately for the hypothetical record store clerk trying to categorize this release, the addition of Black Rock Coalition/Defunkt bassist Melvin Gibbs skews things once again—this time hard in the direction of funk, as on one of the album’s strongest cuts, “Freak Rocker.” Ultimately, the confusion lies in trying to fit this unique and under the radar (over the radar?) release into a pre-existing box. Unapologetically musical and undeniably funky, it will be a shame if it goes unheard by discerning listeners just because it doesn’t play by the rules.