The new sound of Soundway Records - Indigenous and international
Soundway Records, the fantastic UK label led by DJ and record explorer Miles Clevet, has built in only 12 years, an extraordinary back catalogue of reissue releases. The label’s initial releases came about as a result of Clevet’s early travels in Africa and what started as any normal DJ's past time of searching for interesting music has led to one of the most respected labels for international music worldwide.
What makes the label stand out is it’s commitment to releasing music that is simply great from all corners of the world, regardless of its dance floor status, style and origin.
Genres include soul, funk, rock’n’roll, afrobeat and jazz through to lesser known genres in Europe; Cumbia, Champeta, Biguine and Molam. This open approach to curating is refreshingly wide as the label draws upon a wide range cultures particularly from the African nations, the Tropics and South America. In a music world where small record labels often tend to focus on musical niches that are increasing granular, it's great to encounter a label that is broad in its taste whilst being simultaneously specialist in its approach.
What is so interesting about soundways and similar labels such as Strut and Soul Jazz is that they are creating important historical documents that often capture a point in history and provide important historical records of music, culture and concerns of the past. Considering this, what is baffling, is the lack of formal recognition for the important historical work that labels like Soundway choose to do. If they were dealing with precious objects, no doubt they would have the support of a major museum. In reality these are labour of love businesses that are preserving music history.
Music in most cultures around the world during the 20th Century was the dominant art form. It is strange that the artform is not recorded and valued in the same way as other signifiers of culture such as art or furniture. Maybe this is because popular music was often the domain of the common man. For generations in almost every part of the world, music has been the tool of counter culture, a weapon of protest and means of communication in societies that are not free. Very often there is connection between the great museums of the world and the ruling classes, which historically set the agenda and formed the culture of the museum. Soundway’s back catalogue of reissue releases and similar labels should not be considered niche providers for the discerning music customer, but musical museums of the 21 Century, documenting, curating and researching a very relevant and not so distant history.
The history of Soundway Records is nicely documented here in an interview for Canadian site Exclaim and an audio interview for The Hungarian Soul Cure podcast.
Soundway is now a teenage in business and seems to be approaching a new stage of maturity. Having established the label on reissue releases, they are now supporting a new generation of musicians that have a distinctly indigenous sound.
I recently trawled the internet for African hip hop and I was surprised at how few artists reference the music of their culture, be it a sample, vocal style or rhythm, many have a generic international sound. This is a stark contrast to US hip hop that has a long history of sampling and referencing Soul, funk and disco from the USA. The nature and Origin of Hip Hop, is indigenous music borne out of indigenous music.
Music has become increasingly international in part due to the digital revolution and musics global media exposure which in many cases has resulted in artists adopting similar international styles. Whilst the global spread of a style or art form in essence is not a bad thing (hip hop can be found almost anywhere and adopt almost any style) the effect of this can be that indigenous sounds and styles cease to progress. The new generation of Soundway artists are producing contemporary music that is linked to cultural heritage whilst still remaining fresh.
Drawing a parallel to food in Europe, over the last 20 years influential chefs and food writers such as Giorgio Locatelli, Antonio Carluccio, Furgus Henderson and Gary Rhodes have specifically looked at the indigenous food of Italy and The British Isles respectively and developed new interpretations of the ingredients and recipes relevant to contemporary culture, whilst being highly influenced by detailed knowledge of the past.
Considering this parallel, there are surprisingly few labels that are placing emphasis on this approach of curating fresh, contemporary and often dance floor music with an indigenous historical reference whilst remaining progressive.
Here is a taster of recent releases:
Fantasma, the latest project of South African innovator and creative pioneer Spoek Mathambo have unveiled a new song from their forthcoming EP and announced details of their first ever UK headline show at the 100 Club in London on 18th November. - See more at:
FUMAÇA PRETA’s hard hitting, free-wheeling debut LP brings together elements of tropicalia, psychedelic rock, fuzz funk, musique concrete, acid house, radiophonic electronics, hair metal, voodoo and African, Brazilian and Latin rhythms. Beaming down from another planet and sonically stretching across decades, ‘FUMAÇA PRETA’ will be released on Soundway Records on 29th September. - See more at: