Suzanne Ciani :: Welcome To Xenon

Pinball machines were the original arcade games. Although today have been declined to the point of near extinction, pinball machines are still beloved by those who remember them.
Electrical wonders, invited you in an unreal world. Back in the 80’s, they were not digital.

An elongated, slightly sloping table covered with a strong glass. Under that glass, were surface-mounted obstacles with tires, holes, flashing lights, moving plates and open lane passageways. The player position was in front of the table, opposite to the flashing scoreboard.

On the right side was a spring piston which popped-out a steel ball at the top of the table, which due to its inclination, rolled downwards until it’s lost in a hole. The steel ball bounces the various obstacles, enters corridors, pass through doors, rails, tunnels and when it touches any of that, an electric circuit turned on flashing lights and activated sounds while a tube send away from the “balloon” a moving spring until inevitably, due to the player’s wrong move, the ball fall in the hole again.

You could even cheat by slightly shaking the table to divert the ball from its course – but if you moved it too much, everything was gone, the word tilt was appeared on the scoreboard, ball was lost and everything was suddenly extinguished. The only way to resurrect the machine and restart the game was to throw a coin into the machine’s voracious belly.

Xenon pinball machine was manufactured by Bally Entertainment and hit the market and the end of 1980. Designed by Greg Kmiec and art directed by Paul Faris, Xenon was something different. It maintained a high level of complexity and sophistication. It was the first pinball game to innovatively combine features, like an elevated ball path, multi-ball and a mirrored double back glass with some infinity lighting…something that made it to look awesome in dark rooms and late night sessions!

Also it was one of the first games that had the transformer and power supply board at the bottom of the caboinet, instead having it in the upper front. This created space for large sound boards and helped made the sound even better.

You couldn’t resist in Xenon, consisting of dominant blue artwork, blue bumper caps, plastic posts and bluish out of this world lights that gave the game a futuristic theme.

“Try Xeeeeenon….” a seductive female robot voice was inviting you to the world of Xenon, while you were walking between pinball machines trying to choose where to spend your coins. Once you placed the coin inside the slot, the speakers unleash a cold robot voice saying “Welcome to Xenon”… The game has just begun!

Bally Entertainment hired Suzanne Ciani, an Italian-American pianist, composer and sound designer pioneer, who found early success with innovative electronic music, to produce sound effects and music for Xenon. Suzanne spent some research time at an arcade to come up with an approach in sound that would make Bally’s new game unique. She couldn’t help noticing the reactions of players while playing the pinball machines. She presented to Bally the idea of making the new pinball game react back to the player. Her voice and music, that she composed especially for the game, were first recorded at the Ciani/Musica studio, crammed with Buchla synthesizers (founded by Don Buchla), amplifiers and computers.

​ She had a grouping of voice processing gear that she designed into something she called the “Voice Box”. This included a Harmonizer, a Vocoder & various filters and processing modules. She modified her own voice with the Voice Box to produce all of the voices. Next, her music and sound data were encoded into a special computer voice chip and a music chip. The game was pretty hi-tech for its era with high quality speech samples and a spooky minimalistic dystopian soundtrack that speeds up and builds suspense as you rack up a score on one ball.

Xenon was not only the first speaking pinball machine, but it was also the first game with a female voice, that of Suzanne Ciani. Xenon is now considered as one of the most popular and sought after pinball arcade games, achieving something a cult status between pinball aficionados. This is due to the combination of it’s great theme, stunning artwork and Ciani’s efforts on the sound and voice effects. Her work and knowledge in sound technology helped creating a new chapter at the arcade, coin-operated game industry.

Suzanne never generated sound for another pinball game, though she did work in sounds for Atari and composed commercials scores in TV for corporations such as Coca-Cola, Merrill Lynch, AT&T and General Electric.

Besides she creates unbelievable music (new age, electronic, avant-garde), with special skills in reproducing sound effects on the synthesizer, that audio engineers had found extremely difficult to record properly. The sound of a bottle of Coca-Cola being opened and poured was one of Ciani’s most widely recognized works, and was used in a series of radio and television commercials. Such was the demand for her services, that at one point she was doing even up to 50 sessions a week.

Audio logos as the Coca-Cola pop and pour, video game sound effects and many more parts of her work appear on the album Lixiviation along with the only currently available excerpts from her 1975 Buchla Concert.

Game over.

Shadow :: Sweet Sweet Dreams? Time Will Tell!

We are in the 1950‘s, a young boy growing up in his grandfather’s farm is listening to a mysterious American broadcast on the radio. The protagonist of the show is described as a dark, brooding man who stalked the night. Scary, spooky and discordant music introduced each episode of the serial, followed by sinister laughter (even Orson Wells gave his voice). In the boy’s hands is a magazine depicting a strange figure of a man wearing a black cloak with red lining, a high collar and a broad black hat. Suddenly the narrator’s voice makes the introduction: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? …The Shadow knows”.

Master of hypnotism, an invisible avenger, a fighter against crime, a defender of science, simply the man who knows how to be in others people minds, was the description for Shadow, one of the most famous adventure heroes of the 20 th century. What impression gave this sinister, ominous, dark character to the young Winston Anthony Bailey?

Seems to be, at least, half part of the inspiration from which Bailey made his enigmatic persona sometime in the late 1960s. No other singer is more enigmatic, mysterious or controversial in the calypso music than him. He had chosen a nickname by himself for his upstart career when other calypso artists received their nicknames from more senior members of the calypso family (like receiving a title from a closed guild or brotherhood). Another big influence, for the young Winston, was the raw style of Mighty Spoiler (Theophilus Phillip, 1926 – 1960), one of the most popular singers in Trinidad, the great exponent of humorous and imaginative calypso.

The name Shadow is enough to make the eyes whirling of any true calypso fan. A “Bassman” who came out of hell to play with your mind, the dark rider of the carnival rhythms, the offbeat magician, the synthetic fiber between darkness and happiness.

Born on the 4 th of October 1941 in Belmont, a suburb of port of Spain, in Trinidad, but grew up in Les Coteaux, Tobago, with his grandparents. He sold his soul into music in an early age, began composing at nine, though his grandfather had different plans, he wanted him to become a lawyer.

Winston had made his decision, music has to be his moon walking , he joined the group Fire Sticks that provided backing vocals at Mighty Sparrow’s tent (calypso tents are venues in which calypsonians perform during the Carnival season), appeared solo there at 1970 but forgot his lines! Then he joined Victory tent led by Lord Blakie and moved at 1973 to Kitchener’s tent for three seasons. He won first and second place in the Road March contest in 1974 with “Bass Man” and “Ah Come Out To Play”, breaking the stranglehold on the title kept for eleven years by Kitchener and Sparrow. He reached Calypso Monarch final at 1974, but despite having the crowd in his hands with “Bass Man”, he was piped by Sparrow. Tunes “King From Hell” and “Rap To Me” from “King From Hell” album got him into Calypso Monarch final. Moved to Sparrow’s tent at ‘76 and released “Constant Jammin” and “Shift Yuh Carcass” which get him into Monarch final again. In 1977, during the Carnival off-season, he released “Dreadness”, where song “Jump, Judges, Jump” was an attack on the judges of the Calypso Monarch contest, concluding their “degrees in stupidity”. One year later he moved to the Kingdom of the Wizards calypso tent. “De Zessman” album included Road March contender “Sugar Plum”.

In 1979 he headed his own Master’s Den tent. “If I Coulda, I Woulda, I Shoulda” from the same year is probably his best album, included the calypso-soca bomb anthem “Dat Soca Boat” . Ironically, even If his being recording and performing every year and also appearing on many TV shows, he never get the reputation he deserved. Though, he became famous for his unique dance in which he jumped to the tempo of his music in “skip-rope style”, with two hands stuck on the body and both feet in the air at the same time.

But let’s get in the subject of this article, sweet sweet dreams…“Sweet Sweet Dreams”, came out in 1984. The enigmatic cover can fill you with questions about the sound, a shadow of a man, almost like a statue, thinking about his favorite pursuit, music, having behind him a melancholic purple sky as thoughts pass by like clouds, sweet sweet dreams. Never know. Time will tell.

Opening track of the record is ‘Way Way Out’, the bass drum and the hi-hat creating an indefinite step followed by an unstoppable hard hitting on a woodblock as the bass moves through the rhythm and an electronic stroke, made by synthesizer, appears in every two bars. Second comes the monster cosmic disco dancefloor tune, a synth cross genre anthem, ‘Let’s Get Together’, that can stuck to your mind, like a chewing gum on the sole of your shoe, once you hear it, you can’t go too far without think of it. Next is ‘Dreaming’, a synth driven song, sound like a frog croaking and jumping around the rhythm section, and ending with an amazing solo on keyboards. Side b starts with ‘Let’s Make It Up’, the beats go higher, Shadow yelling “Yeaah” as singing “we‘re gonna have a party” with the help of the chorus. The wobble rhythm dominates the atmosphere, as amazing drummer Errol Wise (Wild Fire, Arrow, Eddy Grant, Andre Tanker, Merchant) flaming on the snare drum and moves his hands between offbeat hi-hat and the toms, a soca rhythm lesson. A monotony heavy bass phrase is here, as we try to make a step in the ‘Moon Walking’, imagine Sarlo try walking in the moon with the help of an open umbrella. Sounds echo friendly! Last song is ‘Without Love’, Shadow is preaching and the bass sends the message deep in your spine, like a godsend present for the dancefloor. Easy to say, an experimental electronic soca disco funk reggae album, far ahead of its time.

In 1984, when this outstanding album came out, music aficionados described it as unique. However it never reached the market. It was buried by critics and held on the dusty shelves of old record stores and inside the record collections of few music lovers.

Album has been reissued last year in two different versions. One by the german label Analog Africa and another by the French, Jamwax. Try it. Now you know. Time has shown. Sweet sweet dreams is pure pure magic.

Francis Grasso :: Father Of The Club DJs

Francis Grasso born in 1949, in Brooklyn. At an early age he started playing drums, guitar and saxophone. After injuries in several motorcycle accidents he had, doctors advised him that dancing would be the best way for recovery. Soon, he became a Trude Heller’s go-go boy and started dancing with a live band on a Greenwich Village’s small platform while on daytime he was managing a clothing store.

A Friday night he went to club Salvation where the staff knew and liked him from Greenwich Village. The disc jockey, Terry Noel didn’t show up for work so the staff and owners of the venue asked him to give it a try. The club had a Reco-Cut fader placed between two Reco-Cut turntables and of course records! He knew what to do. He was familiar with music and already a dancer. The crowd responded immediately and soon he started getting his first regular gigs.

Club ”Manhattan South”, circa 1965, later named ”Salvation”

Grasso perfected his techniques in New York clubs, such as “Tarots” and the famous “Sanctuary”, a former German Baptist church. He was the first DJ to require headphones as part of his setup, which allowed him to preview a record on one turntable while playing for the people on the other.

Using headphones in combination with slip-cueing, changed the art of DJing. It needed skills and good ears to mix those records for more than a few seconds and Grasso took that to longer and longer sequences.

He didn’t stay on that. He knew how to get the vibe of the dancefloor, so he slowly began to retool the job of the DJ. He didn’t took his job as simply putting records on, he had to keep the dancefloor busy. The best way to do that was to make one song sound as stretched on forever. This helped create the notion of the disc jockey, as artist and live remixer. Working with two 7inch singles at first, he would start a new track on the same beat (beatmatching), which ended the previous song by holding the record still as the turntable spun below it, a technique known as slip-cueing. Later, he began matching the beat of records, trying to keep two songs playing simultaneously for as long as possible. An extremely difficult task, since most turntables back then lacked conveniences like pitch control.

There wasn’t really DJ’s before Francis Grasso. Nobody managed to keep the beat going. They’d get them to dance, but when the song ended you had to catch the beat again. It never flowed. DJ’s back then couldn’t develop an atmosphere and make the crowd dancing non stop. Francis djing was like an experience, an unstoppable flow of music going up and down. He could pick up the energy of the crowd and sent it right back with the next track.

He spread the art of mixing and passed his skills to later DJ’s, by giving birth and teaching technics Dj’s use today. In early 80’s he quit DJing and later occupies himself with construction works.

A pioneer who never got his due, but sent into hospital by the Mafia when he decided to leave a residency. Francis Grasso passed away on March 20, 2001.

Francis Grasso / Venue images source:

Lemi Ghariokwu :: An Afrocentric Pop Artist

Emmanuel Sunday known as Lemi Ghariokwu was born in Agege, Lagos, in December 1955. He is a self taught artist, illustrator and graphic designer mainly renowned for providing many of the original cover images for the records of Fela Kuti. He borrowed his name from a comic character called Lemi Caution.

His father wanted him to be a mechanical engineer, so he attended Yaba College of Technology Secondary School, where he studied technical and science subjects. This is where his school attendance ends. He decided not to go to school but train himself to master his style of art. Although his formal academic journey ended there, education did not. He studied, constantly practised and developed his art skill alongside.

He grew up listening to reggae music and studying metaphysics. His maturity into self and social consciousness was facilitated by Fela Kuti, Peter Tosh, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, Steve Biko & others. In the post colonial Nigeria, his afrocentric illustrations was one of the keys that unlocked the door for Fela and Afrika 70 to pass into Western audiences. Lemi illustrated twenty six of the sixty four albums Fela released during his career, helping the pan-africanism revolutionary iconography of the musician. And it started like this…

In early fall of 1974, the owner of a bar near Lemi’s house asked the young artist for a portrait of Bruce Lee, taken from the character of the film Enter the Dragon. Days before that Lemi made a painting inspired by Fela’s album ‘Roforofo Fight’ just to empower his portofolio.

Babatunde Harrison, a journalist and friend of Fela’s was a patron in the bar where Lemi did the Bruce Lee character. He saw the paintings and asked him to see more of his work. So, Lemi showed him his version of the ‘Roforofo Fight’ album cover and Babatunde asked Lemi for a portrait of Fela.

Lemi did the painting the same night and when Babatunde saw it, asked to follow him to Fela’s place. A dream came true. ‘Goddamn’ Fela said, while he was holding the painting on his hands. He wrote a check for 120 naira (the basic monetary unit of Nigeria), while young Lemi used to take 30 for his paintings. Lemi refused to take the money, so Fela cut out a piece of paper and wrote him out a free entry pass for all of his concerts.

On November 23, same year, police attacked and arrested Fela in “Kalakuta Republic”, Fela’s commune (not the known attack by 1000 armed soldiers, which result the death of Fela’s mother, who was an active and respected member of Nigeria’s earliest political party, but that’s another story). He was accused for “corruption of minors and possession of cannabis”. Lemi and Babatunde went to the hospital to see the condition of the singer. Inside the hospital room they started talking about some ideas Fela had, to write a song to satirize the police. The name of the song was ‘Alagbon Close’ (a classic Fela afrobeat lesson) and was the name of the street, a dead end actually, where the police station is in Ikoyi, the most affluent neighborhood of Lagos. Alagbon is a Yoruba word meaning coconut tree.

Fela asked Lemi to do the cover art. The 19 th year old artist grabbed the opportunity and began working feverishly. He cut out the Fela image from his painting of ‘Roforofo Fight’ and pasted into the new sleeve.

He thought,”I have to make a cover that celebrates Fela’s victory over the police”. The idea came. Fela is standing in front and protecting the “Kalakuta Republic”. A police patrol boat is getting overturned as a whale (the force of nature?) coming out of the water supporting Fela’s will for freedom while the chains break between his hand and the jail of the Alagbon street…

Lemi’s work involves a variety of styles, often using vibrant colors and individuated typefaces of his own design. His art is said to be rebellious, comical, political, even erotic but most of all he is a genius in pictorial narration, realism and iconicity. Many of Ghariokwu’s cover images echo and sometimes comment on the work and politics of the recordings that they accompany, serving a consciously integrated meta- textual function. He is famous for his captivating and intricate record sleeves designs and he never fails to give life to lyrics through his pictorial images. He also designed covers for Osita Osadebe, James Iroha, Bob Marley, Kris Okotie, Lucky Dube, Gilles Peterson, Miriam Makeba and about a hundred other musicians across the globe. In the early 1980s, he was the consulting album cover designer for Polygram records in Nigeria for 11 years. He has designed over 2000 album covers and facilitated art workshops abroad. During his solo exhibition in the UK in 2004 he was stuck the title “King of Covers”.

Artist Page:

Salah Ragab & The Cairo Jazz Band :: Egyptian Strut

How would you felt if someone was telling you that there is a record that can be described somehow like “Leftfield space age jazz with a marvelous Middle Eastern feel played by a big band!” – Can actually something sound like this? The answer is a positive yelling and the name of the record is “Egyptian Jazz” made by Salah Ragab and The Cairo Jazz Band.

The Cairo Jazz Band was Egypt’s first big band, mixing American jazz with Arabic music, combining jazz instrumentation and musical style with indigenous melodies and instruments, like the baza (ramadan drum) and nay (bamboo flute). The coordinator of the band was Salah Ragab, drummer and multi-instrumentalist, a central figure in the history of jazz in Egypt. A Major in the Egyptian Army through the 1960’s and Jazz aficionado.

Ragab first attempted to form a jazz band in 1964, with American saxophonist Mac X. Spears. The group didn’t really got far, as Spears left Egypt right after its formation. In December 1966, Ragab met Hartmut Geerken and Eduard Vizvari at a reception following a Randy Weston Sextet show. The three decided to form the Cairo Jazz Band.

Ragab was soon, (early 1968), appointed chief of Egypt’s “Military Department of Music” and had at his disposal a vast staff of musicians, almost three thousand, all versed in the aural language of marches and national anthems, but with little knowledge of contemporary jazz.He had to choose around thirty or so musicians and held crash courses in jazz history for them – while Geerken and Vizvari would arrange and compose for the group. From the drums’ stool he directed the newly formed orchestra and with his co-founding of the Cairo Jazz Band created a sonic canvas which on the one hand was the traditional of big jazz bands and on the other, was the tradition of Arabic music. Such musical crossover was not unusual in itself. American musicians from Sun Ra to Yusef Lateef had long been fascinated by the music of Islam, incorporating the musical forms of the Arabic world into their work. But here the angle of view he created is quite different, the West does not go to the East but the opposite. Cairo’s Jazz Band stands firmly on its feet and finds the way through a topsy-turvy perspective. The mood is a religious tract with Islamic hymns and spiritual approach and the sound full of pattering rhythms, stomping percussions, ribald horns, throbbing brass. The band weaves a magic carpet full of arabesques that is ready to take off on an astral journey through space and time.

Cairo Jazz Band’s debut performance occurred at Ewart Memorial Hall of the American University in February 1969, and included compositions from all the founders of the band as well as arrangements of works by Nat Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and more. There were many other concerts in various prestigious places such as the Old Opera House, The University of Alexandria and appearances on Egyptian TV Jazz Club Weekly. The group drew large audiences in Alexandria and Cairo, and with Ragab drumming, they recorded in the early ’70s, including Ragab’s compositions such as “Oriental Mood” and “A Farewell Theme” which was a tribute to Gamal Abdel Nasser. Songs included in “Egyptian Jazz” were recorded in Heliopolis Egypt between 1968 and 1973.

Ragab met Sun Ra on Arkestra’s first visit to Egypt in December, 1971. Sun Ra had come at Geerken’s invitation, and his performances included a session in the host’s living room. When Sun Ra returned in May 1983, Ragab joined Arkestra on drums and congas and recorded two of Ragab’s compositions named “Egypt Strut” and “Dawn”. The Sun Ra Arkestra was back next year, and Ragab sat in on their performance at the Il Capo Jazz Club and accompanied the great band on a tour in Egypt, Greece, France and Spain in 1984. The live performance on Praxis festival in Athens, in February 1984, imprinted in three records. Arguably, one of the best and extraordinary concert of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, with the Greek audience going crazy.

Salah Ragab died in July 2008 in Cairo at age 72.

Manuel Göttsching :: Electric Guitar Pioneer, From Krautrock To Techno

Manuel Göttsching was born in Berlin on September 9th, 1952. As a child, Manuel would stay up late at night with the radio on, listening bands like The Four Tops and the Temptations…

“Many people listened to the forces network radio station. That was the channel where you could listen to very different music that you would never hear in Germany. A lot of this music, though I found out only later, was black music. It was African-American music. I was young and I listened to it on the radio. I just loved the rhythms. This surely has influenced me, of course”, Manuel says.

Started his career in music at a young age, with various Berlin pop and blues bands in the late 60’s. Studied classical guitar from early childhood, but wanted to play drums at the age of 15, so he and his best friend Harmut Enke created their first band named “Steeple Chase Bluesband” where Manuel ended up as the singer of the band. A year later he studied improvisations with a famous Swiss avant-garde composer, Thomas Kessler and he managed to have access to Beat Studio in Wilmersdorf, which was set up by Kessler. Alongside Göttsching’s early blues rockers, it provided a place of rehearsal and musical fermentation, to future bands as Tangerine Dream and Agitation Free. But compared to those other bands, they did not have anything special.They were just another rock band. So, Enke left for England searching for his fortune and really showed him the way…

It was the long cool summer of 1970. The Beatles had just split up and the Isle of Wight Festival was around. Enke was spending his time downtown London amazed at the variety of equipment on display in the music shops, compared to a still- isolated Berlin. He decided to spend the few money had on his pocket. Such luck, in the music store that came in, Pink Floyd’s roadies were selling four huge WEM speaker cabinets. Set up in 1949, Watkins Electric Music was a British company founded by brothers Watkins. It was the first choice for any band in search of huge volume. The Who had used WEM. The Stones in the Park outdoor festival was powered by WEM and even Miles Davis’s electric band would be blasting through WEM cabinets at the Isle of Wight. He came back in Berlin and they realized that they had the biggest equipment of all the bands there. They were…loud!

When Göttsching and Enke, rocked up to Beat Studio with their new gear, Klaus Schulze, had just left Tangerine Dream and was on the lookout for a new band. When he saw those WEM amps piling through the studio load in doors, he knew he had to be a part of whatever sound they were making. One of the most notable German groups of the 70s was formed, Ash Ra Tempel. They were giving about three gigs per week, everywhere. After a year everybody in Berlin knew Ash Ra Tempel. The group was quickly signed by OHR label, releasing their self-titled debut LP recorded in Hamburg by famous Connie Plank.

As electronics began making a bigger and bigger impact on the German progressive scene (Krautrock), Ash Ra Tempel emerged at the vanguard of the new technology, acquiring new equipment with seemingly each passing performance, the group even played live in Switzerland with Dr. Timothy Leary, a collaboration which yielded 1973’s “Seven Up”. By the following year both Schulze and Enke had left the group, however, with Göttsching moving forward as a solo artist now working simply as Ashra.

Around this same time he issued “Inventions for Electric Guitar”, a groundbreaking album which is still forward looking, almost 45 years later and greatly furthered his experiments with electronics.

It was a breakthrough, played in one continuous uninterrupted rhythm precise like a metronome. Manifested Manuel’s significant style. He keeps the name Ashra going and participates in other projects like soundtracks, fashion show live performances, music for radio shows and theater acts.

Manuel records in December 1981, in an one hour session,”E2-E4″ . A masterpiece often cited as the first electronic dance album, released three years later on the label Inteam Records. One of the most extraordinary things about this album is that it took as long to record as it does to listen. No overdubs, no edits. This recording gained a great deal of attention at the end of the 80s in the house, techno and dance-floor scenes and was remixed as well as sampled by dozens of bands and DJs. Larry Levan made the record a regular part of his sets for a time at the Paradise Garage and three Italo producers approached him about re-working the tune in 1989. Under the name “Sueño Latino”, a 12″ released and became an international hit. Later in 1992 a remix by the Detroit based producer Derrick May brought the music full circle.

There were no mistakes, no incomplete ideas. It wasn’t too loud or too soft or imitative. For one magic hour, fly into a stellar cloud inside the perfect sonic experimental music that floats in space, inviting listeners to admire an unfamiliar environment which can draw cosmic thoughts and feel universal.

The other amazing thing about E2-E4 is the story of formats. When Göttsching first thought of releasing it, he realized that its 58-minute length presented difficulties. It was conceived as a single flowing piece, but an hour was generally considered too long even for a single LP, if someone wants it to sound good. A skilled disc cutter was able to get a 30+ minute side down in 1984. Great care was taken in getting the cut right. The 31-minute side, though at a relatively low volume, is clean and clear, even in the inner grooves. An artifact for the vinyl culture!

Krishnanda :: Spiritual Quests

“O circulo da vida…De onde viemos e o que ainda somos na escala” .

These words can be found on the cover of “Krishnanda”, meaning “The circle of life…Where we came from, and what we are still on the scale”. Written circularly, around an image of a gorilla while a Neanderthal watches him.

Our species have an endless hunger for knowledge. For as long as we have been around, we have sought to uncover the mysteries of our existence using whatever tools have been available to us. Observation, storytelling or music was among the first of those tools. Origin stories attempt to explain who we are, where we came from and where we might be heading. In a way, origin stories seek to shed light on everything – each animal, plant, planet and rock that we are aware of.

I certainly do not know what Pedro Santos was thinking when he was recording Krishnanda but it’s that kind of album who talks to your mind and soul. For sure you can’t have many records that groove like this one while dealing with big questions of morality and existence.

This is an album in the truest sense of the word – a spiritual, psychedelic Brazilian masterpiece from begging to end – honored by everyone from Seu Jorge and Kassin to Floating Points, Madlib, Quantic, Gilles Peterson and DJ Nuts.

Pedro Santos born in 1919, in Rio. He was a highly spiritual man, regarded as a philosopher by many. A percussionist, composer and inventor of instruments that apparently included oddities such as the Tamba (electrified bamboo drum) and the mouth berimbau whistle. Nicknamed as ‘Sorongo’ after the rhythm he invented, which appears throughout Krishnanda.

He worked with great artists including Baden Powell, Elis Regina, Maria Bethany, Elza Soares, Sebastião Tapajós, Roberto Ribeiro, Milton Nascimento, Clara Nunes and Arthur Verocai, playing on his legendary self-titled album and Paul Simon’s LP, The Rhythm Of The Saints.

Pedro “Sorongo” Santos, TV Appearance, circa 1962​

Krishnanda came out in 1968 on CBS, Brazil and it’s the only solo work from Pedro Santos. It was produced by Tamba Trio’s drummer Helcio Milito (same year he produced Orquestra Afro-Brasileira’s second album, another holy grail worth checking out) and arranged by Joppa Lins (codenamed Pacheco Lins ). Musically diversity of the album is huge, there are many types of percussions, horn arrangements from samba rhythms, Latin and Eastern almost the same time. Animal sounds, an ambience of a forest, a psychedelic organ, a guitar with similar to a zither, xylophones, cuica, other regional elements and handmade instruments…even slapping of water becomes the main source of percussion in track ‘Aqua Viva’.

Album touches afro-brazilian culture and folk psychedelia, plus added effects with a lyrical depth and diversity to match but never in a way that slows down its terrestrial energy. The lyrics are very poetic and transcendental and the album stands out among his contemporaries to be a concept album that features continuity and consistency. This guy was on some next level spirituality right here.

Santos’s Krishnanada despite the genius of the inventiveness of his percussive sound and the influence that it had on musicians at the time that came out, had no great impact and fell into obscurity.

Original copies are super rare to find, but Mr Bongo recently reissued this gem and set it ready for a new aural discovery…
One of the most unusual records ever made. Fantastic!