Riff Raff

Basuki Bala, Kevin Dabbs, and Jim Ryan

Get the Funk OutAs a composer, bandleader, sax and flute player, and percussionist, Basuki Bala has gotten around a lot. He's been playing in bands since the '60s, moving up from Los Angeles to the East Bay in 1971, and these days he plays in the Afro-Caribbean All Stars. Shortly after moving to the Bay Area, he spent a year and a half in West Africa, performing with Afropop legends like King Sunny Ade and the late Fela Kuti, playing in indigenous areas with instruments hooked up to generators.

Through the '70s and early '80s, however, Bala's main gig was with the Sons and Daughters of Lite, a Bay Area collective of jazz and funk musicians. Willia Gray, chairwoman of the East Palo Alto Municipal Council, wrote the group a fawning letter of praise after they played at the California Black Caucus Conference. "The mellow sounds you brothers provided were a righteous end to a long day," she wrote. "I am sure all those attending the conference will speak highly of your performance. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Keep on push'n."

In 1978, under Bala's direction, the band recorded and released Let the Sun Shine In. It was the group's only record, an ingenious blend of Afropop, Latin-tinged percussion, and groove-driven funk, jazz, and R&B. Electric pianos and congas are constantly percolating underneath the album's six lengthy tracks, countered by Bala's own mellifluous sax and flute playing, particularly on the anthemic title track. The background singers are all striking -- particularly Jeanne Cuffey's soaring vocals on "Ju Ju's Door" and the gospel-inflected growl of Lakiba on the frenetic "A Real Thing." The record sounds a bit dated today -- the "mellow sounds" Gray spoke of happen to include summery lyrics about being "bright as a star" and weaving "a spell of peaceful dreams." But the disc is dated in the same way the Isley Brothers' '70s music is: It's old news in the pop firmament, but great on its own terms.

About 1,000 copies of the record were pressed, the release seemed to meet its market, and normally, that would've been the end of that. But songs from the record began creeping into sets by groove-happy DJs scavenging for something new to work with; British DJ Gilles Peterson, who arguably all but invented acid jazz, was playing the title track regularly, and the record soon turned into a collectible -- particularly overseas, where it was commanding upward of $500 a copy. At that point San Francisco's Ubiquity Records -- which usually knows a good archival groove when it hears one -- got wise and bought the rights to the album, using one track, "Darkuman Junktion," for its 1997 Soulfulcompilation and licensing other songs for other comps. And last week, Ubiquity released a remastered Let the Sun Shine In on its Luv N' Haight imprint. "It makes me feel that it withstood the test of time," says Bala. "It still sounds kind of current." Bala is looking into getting some of the original band members together for a reunion; he also goes into the studio later this year to record a second Afro-Caribbean All Stars disc.

Kevin Dabbs Is a Star Back in December, Riff Raff got a call from a segment writer at MTV who was trying to get in touch with air-drumming Canadian Kevin Dabbs. Dabbs, you may recall, got his 15 minutes of fame last year when he became the accidental star of the underground tape Metallica Drummer!, which, in all its grainy home-taped glory, showcased his skills at air-drumming to Metallica's worst album. We passed along Dabbs' e-mail address and didn't think too much of it.

It turns out, however, that Dabbs is now in regular rotation on MTV 2, MTV's satellite channel that broadcasts -- get this -- music videos. Snippets of the air-drumming footage were incorporated into a promo spot for MTV 2's "Videos A-Z" project, in which the channel has been broadcasting every single video in its library in alphabetical order by song title since the beginning of the year -- all told, about 19,000 clips. "We were thinking about what sort of image we can use to show this passionate music stance," says MTV's Eric Eckelman, who helped put together the spot. "This random tape falls into our lap, and we said, 'This is it, right now.' After that, it just became a quest to track him down."

Dabbs says that he received $2,000 for providing the footage. "That works out to about 3,000 Canadian frogskins," Dabbs explains. "Three thousand bones for a one-take, shit-quality, nobody-behind-the-fucking-camera videotape of a stoned metalmeister rhythmically thrashing to his favorite tunes." Still, he wouldn't have minded more airtime. "There's only about 15 seconds of pure air-thrashing" in the clips, he laments.

New New MusicLast week's item on the Starry Plough cutting back on the Wednesday-night creative music performances there ("New Music, Same Old Story," Jan. 19) has something of a happy ending. Plough booker Misty Gamble says she felt bad about having to tell Jim Ryan that the new music shows were hurting the club's bar total, so she assisted in helping the performances find a new home. Last week Ryan and Gamble landed on Gallery 23Ten at 2310 Telegraph Ave. in downtown Oakland. The gallery will host shows twice a month beginning March 10 with a bill featuring Ryan's own Triptych ensemble; future dates and times are yet to be determined.

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to Mark.Athitakis@sfweekly.com, or mail them to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

 
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