“Something Is Wrong”


Something Is Wrong: Vintage Recordings From East Africa (Honest Jon’s Records)

by Paul Vernon
Honest John’s are doing a superb job of mining EMI’s priceless collection of early world music. This new release is the best yet, a double CD of thirty five recordings made on sight between the 1930’s and early 1950’s by visiting European engineers, capturing the music of various East African cultures at a time when it was still essentially traditional, but beginning to undergo the first transformations brought about by records and radio.

There is a stunning intensity to many of these performances that emotionally, if not stylistically, reminds me of early Delta blues. People are singing directly from unfiltered souls and giving it all they have. Like the early blues singers, they probably understood that this was their one shot at immortality. There are songs here covering topics as varied as murder, drunken fighting, tirades against the rich, loneliness and other issues that all humanity experiences.

Honest Johns are using essentially unplayed file copies of these extremely rare records. EMI had the foresight to archive a mint copy of every 78 they pressed in a library-quality waxed storage sleeve. What this means for the listener is that the sound is simply incredible. Originally distributed copies of these discs are now almost impossible to find in any condition except at EMI. The format of this issue is a hardback CD sized booklet with 26 pages of in-depth and informative contextual essay, illustrated by vintage photos. The only thing remotely like it is Yazoo’s “Music of East Africa” issue in their “Secret Museum of Mankind” series. If you have that, you know you want this. If you don’t, then you will once you’ve absorbed this thoroughly recommended new release. Timeless, beautiful music presented in the manner that it deserves.


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