18 years after my tape copy was stolen from me ("borrowed" and never returned), I've finally found a copy of Jerome Prister's magical 12 inch single, Say You'll Be.
This is seminal soul funk. It was a massive hit for Ghanaians of a certain age one summer in the late 1980s. As I recall, it also did well in London clubs and was guaranteed to get people off the wall.
Sidenote: it's always interesting what crosses over from the US or the UK and becomes popular back home in Ghana. Thus I raved about Nu Shooz's I Can't Wait when I first tried out at WHRB and was embarrassed by the consequent clowning that DJ Zik sends my way to this day.
Jerome Prister is the definition of a one-hit wonder. He isn't even listed on Amazon or eBay. The entry on allmusic is pitiful: there's only a name. In recent years he has turned to the worst kind of euro hip-house and garage - the kind that throws in some allusions to Morocco in that "why can't we all get along" mode: so globalized that any authenticity or indeed musical integrity is lost. Unfortunately Say You'll Be hasn't shown up on any compilations (more precisely the one compilation is so rare that similar completetists bid it up to CEO salary heights). Thus it has been a long frustrating search, crate-digging in record shops, scouring eBay, Amazon and the like.
Instead, ever since the advent of Napster, I fire up whatever file sharing program I can (my current favourite is Gnucleus) and type in those fateful words "Say You'll Be" and sort through lots of Peter Frampton and Christine Aguilera in the hope that there is a like-minded soul somewhere. Anyway that kind soul finally put it online and I managed to complete a download to my great joy. If you see 2 copies online, you'll guess who is sharing it.
Now I've been known to spend $75 on a record, I write about musical obsession; you might see me embark on 12 step programs with fellow travellers like Nick Hornby as we work ourselves into frenzies arguing over the 10 best songs about irritation - I dare you to beat my list by the way (add your comments below). I know all the dusty groove "wreckastows" that exist - that last is an in-joke from Under the Cherry Moon in case you were wondering, from which said $75 was spent to obtain the original version of Prince's Old Friends For Sale - not the later version with insipid synthesized strings that showed up much to my disgust on the $60 Crystal Ball compilation in 1999 - like Bono said, sometimes His Royal Badness needs an editor, someone in the studio to give the occasional choice words. The folks at BMG and Columbia House keep me on first name terms with the mail men and UPS guys. Surely record companies could leverage the Long Tail and make something like this available. There is no reason for such a great song to be languishing in virtual asylum in the musical ether.
Next up on my crate-digging obsession list:
Shaniqua by Oran "Juice" Jones (of The Rain fame) from 1989.
I call The Juice a 3-hit wonder since he also did great work with Alyson Williams on the wonderful Raw which any soul singer ought to study before stepping out on stage (highlights include Just Call My Name, I Need your Lovin - especially if you can find the Soul II Soul mix, Sleep Talk and of course the other duets, We're Gonna Make It with Ted Mills from Blue Magic and I'm So Glad that she and Chuck Stanley take to church). The ballads alone might cause unwanted pregnancies and bring opportunist politicians into your bedroom.
The Juice is the prototypical P.I.M.P that the rappers are now emulating although his ostensible misogyny was a humourous pose. Per contra, I suspect the 50 Cents of this world really mean it. They don't realize that braggadacio was just that, they feel they have to live that cartoon life. (It was pointed out to me that writing per contra as I do reeks of Nabokovian pretensions but I digress - sue me)
Now mind you, I not looking for the album version of Shaniqua - that would be too easy, rather I'm in the hunt for the 12 inch Marley Marl mix featuring Big Daddy Kane. I can just hear my friends and I singing the chorus much to the dismay of english teachers and parents everywhere
You got me woked!
Spank me with your love
right after the Big Daddy finished his exhilarating verse (it's right up there with I Get the Job Done or Just Rhymin with Biz but just below Wrath of Kane and Ain't No Half Steppin').
I never quite figured out what woked meant. Was it a slang "hooked" or "whooped"? Perhaps someone can enlighten me. The song is ghetto soul nirvana nevertheless. It's been 15 years since I last heard it.
Lastly since I didn't post any musical toli this month, I leave you with some eye, or rather some aural candy. The best album of 2003 was by the fine ladies who go by the name of Les Nubians.
This is the sound of virtuosity, of young Africa mediated by hip-hop, lush Philly soul, a post-folk French post-colonial vibe, soukous ala Koffi Olomide, exuberant Jamaican reggae and most of all an affirmative vision. This is Congo meets Jamaica meets France meets Phildalphia with a Cuban twist thrown in. Les Nubians not only had the best album, they also gave the best live performance by far that year; even Zap Mama, who are no slouches themselves, must have hated having to follow them on stage. Common's amazing Electric Circus which is an musical Jimi Hendrix experience was incredibly beaten by these soul sisters.
Run to your record shops or do the Amazon or iTunes one-click thing and purchase (or as the case may be fire up whatever file sharing program you prefer).
El son Reggae is priceless. I preferred it even to the magical combination of Roy Hargrove, Erykah Badu and Q-Tip on Poetry on Roy Hargrove's Hard Groove, the other major achievement of that year. See the Toli Music awards for further picks like Donnie and Dwele.
J'Veux D'La Musique (Toute Le Temps...) reinvents The O'Jays I Love Music exquisitely. This is how you do a remake: don't be overly respectful but make it your own just like they did Sade's Sweetest Taboo (with a nice Roots remix to cap things off). Talib Kweli gives us Temperature Rising, Morgan Heritage brings Caribbean flavour to Brothers and Sisters. The ballads are heartfelt and, how to put it, "nice": Amour a mort, Que Le Mot Soit Perle and Unfaithful/Si Infidele. And if you want some techno or sheer dance try La Guerre which aims for Missy Elliot and Timbaland stylings.
And the title track, One Step Forward is African opera, unbelievable harmonizing and naked funk. Being sisters their voices really do mesh together. Add a little kora overtones and guitar ala Franco and they prove they are truly Princess Nubiennes descendants of Makeda.
Hmm... Come to think of it, there's also my 10 year search for a complete version of Chuck Stanley's The Finer Things in Life ("I want to show you the finer things in life / I want to show you that love can be so right") but that's another story (shoutout to Okoro). For now, I leave you with the head-nodding groove of Jerome Prister.
Say You'll Beeeee.
Say You'll Beeeeeeeeee.
Say You'll Beeeeee.
Say You'll Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
[Update June 2006]: A bonus for long-suffering toli readers: Chuck Stanley's The Finer Things in Life was finally delivered in that wonderful internet cloud as was Jerome Prister's Say You'll Be and Orange Juice Jones' Shaniqua (mp3s hosted at divshare).
File under: music, obsession, soul, One-hit wonders, funk, Completist Syndrome, history, Jerome Prister, Les Nubians, Prince, Big Daddy Kane, Oran "Juice" Jones, Alyson Williams, toli