Tag Archives: Louis Rastelli

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An Interview with Christopher Kirkley from Sahel Sounds

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Christopher Kirkley is the founder of the Sahel Sounds record label based out of Portland, Oregon and the man responsible for bringing Les Filles de Illighadad to Montreal during the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival in June 2017.

Louis Rastelli, director of ARCMTL (Archive Montreal) and resident CKUT DJ (Montreal Sound Ark on Fridays 3 – 5 pm), invited Kirkley for a conversation at Archive Montreal’s archive centre in the Mile Ex district a few days after the Filles de Illighadad concert on June 21.

There is a local connection to the Sahel Sounds label by way of the old underground record co-op Backroom Records, which ran from the mid 2000s until 2015 in a back alley just south of the train tracks in the Mile End. That’s where Warren Hill, local record collector and Backroom Records founder, began putting out cassette and LP compilations of old blues, gospel and music from around the world on the Mississippi Records imprint. Around 2009, Warren began visiting Portland regularly to coordinate Mississippi Records releases with the local record store of the same name. A chance meeting in the shop with Christopher Kirkley led to the first Sahel Sounds releases. Just a few years later, the label boasts a catalogue of around 50 albums, documenting dozens of Sahel musicians and acts whose music would not likely have ever been preserved otherwise. Among the best loved of these records are two volumes called Music from Saharan Cellphones, compilations documenting independently produced musicians and bands whose recordings were mainly shared through memory cards on cellphones.

Rastelli spoke to Kirkley about how this all began and about how he discovered Les Filles de Illighadad. By the way: don’t forget to catch them on their second swing back in Montreal this Wednesday June 28 at Sala Rossa!

L: I’m curious about the challenges you face dealing with the kinds of artists you work with. For example, all the stuff that you copy off of people’s memory cards, it must be a huge range of digital files?

C: Yeah, I try to copy as much as possible, and I use that to source a lot of material for the albums, because a lot of time they only exist as MP3 and there’s no higher quality version. When I was first doing that for the Saharan Cellphone compilations, they were basically found MP3s. I thought I’d find the artists and contact them to get the master files, but there were no master files.

L: Were you able to contact a lot of them?

C: Yeah, everything on there was fully licensed and I was in touch with everybody, which presented its own difficulties — just finding people based on an ID3 tag on an MP3. Nobody was putting their phone number out there, which they really should be… If you don’t exist on the internet but you’re using this underground network of distribution, it needs some sort of tag or some way to verify that your name is attached to the file. What would happen is you’d have local cyber cafes, and they were the most savvy ones because they knew how to use computers, they would take out the ID3 information and replace it with the name of their own cyber cafe, so for a long time I kept zeroing in on the cyber cafes.

I spent about two years travelling around West Africa writing the Sahel Sounds blog. I was over there on a one-way ticket just travelling and recording without any commercial angle. When I got back to Portland, that’s when I walked into the Mississippi Records shop with a bunch of CDs of recorded music that I was passing around, and I dropped one off at Mississippi Records, primarily because I wanted it in the store and I saw that they were selling music from that part of the world, some of the Sublime Frequencies releases for example. And I thought, “what do these guys know about West African music? Here’s a CD…” But I wasn’t really looking for any label or anything, I was just looking for people to share the music with and talk about it with. Continue reading

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Concert Review: PJ Harvey @ Metropolis

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I’m not sure PJ Harvey has set foot in Montreal since she opened for U2 in the early 2000s — a show I would have loved to see if it weren’t for the fact that U2 was on the bill. At the time I’m sure U2 was trying to give her somewhat stalled career a boost, but this time she returned at a level where many people who’ve barely heard her work since her early ‘90s breakout feel obliged not to miss her. It sold out fast and a second show was added; I heard great things about both, and was quite moved by what I saw at the first of her two Montreal dates.

However, this praise doesn’t mean it was a show for the ages, or even Polly Jean at her peak. While she and her band played an undeniably great set, the lush arrangements didn’t always serve the songs and I was left still craving a song just by PJ at the piano or guitar after the encore.

Yet – it was an important show, sure to make many year-end best-of lists even though we’re not even halfway through 2017. PJ Harvey doesn’t exactly breeze through town each year. Montreal was lucky to be a stop on her 1993 tour, when she played to 100 people or so at Club Soda when it was on Park Ave. Her next visit was a much more expensive ticket at the Olympia in 1995. Although it was just two years later, those were two very different shows. 1993’s raw power trio driven by her outsized wail was replaced with a larger, more composed band and a blues-based set of songs that was surprising after Dry and Rid Of Me.

I was reminded of those shows Friday, not least because Polly Jean moved to a large band format and went back to the blues after forging a more goth-influenced sound. Her latest offering, Hope Six Demolition Project, includes actual samples of blues songs and civil rights march chants. She’s back to mostly singing with the booming voice of her first few albums, though she did (thankfully) play songs from White Chalk and Let England Shake. The new album’s songs, which made up most of the first half of the 90-minute show, include some undeniable gems mixed with some songs that don’t ever seem to quite find themselves. But overall, she’s been on a roll over the past few years and the audience reacted enthusiastically each time a newer song began.

I got the sense that she’s an honest songwriter and performer who put the new prestige and success she’s had in the past few years, including winning the Mercury Prize in Britain, straight back into her music; however, the oversize band cloaked her at times like an ill-fitting suit, a little too clumsy and unwieldy. Some songs, like the unexpected throwback 50 foot Queenie and To Bring You My Love, benefited from a somewhat stripped down arrangement, but I’d have preferred to have just Jon Parish, Mick Harvey and one drummer all through those. But I’m being picky – she actually played 50-foot Queenie and To Bring You My Love!

In the end Polly Jean seemed to be enjoying herself, smiling broadly every time the audience cheered when she spoke a few words in French, enthusiastically introducing her many band members and working the stage like a pro. Hopefully she’ll keep on enjoying it enough to tour a little more often — it’s clear she could sell out Montreal like this every year.

– Review by Louis Rastelli