Monday, February 27, 2006

Comfort Food and Rare Groove

I was recently re-reading Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa by Fran Osseo-Asare - a book I've been meaning to review since it came out last year. Briefly, it's nothing less than a comprehensive overview of the culture and history of food in Africa. It covers the continent, dipping into all the regional flavours. There's lots of historical insight about the types of ingredients used, the crops, animals, fisheries etc. It's one of those books you can open at any page and find lots of to chew on (pun intended, tongue in cheek etc). Most culinary books concentrate on recipes but this goes beyond that into the cultural and social significance of food (from who prepares it, traditions surrounding it, special meals etc). Anyway I'll return to it at length shortly, shall we say that it deserves a fuller digestion. I'm rather concerned in this note with rare groove.

Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa

As normally occurs when matters literary and gastronomical coincide, my salivary glands began to do their thing after barely 5 minutes of reading. Much like that recent article on street food in Ghana, my immediate reaction was to think of smells, sounds and kitchens. Oh the smells! As my mouth started watering, my mind started wandering and I was thinking about Auntie Becky's roadside kelewele (fried ripe plantains) in North Labone which is the first place I head to when I land in Accra. Auntie Becky has been cooking outside a house for thirty odd years and has a devoted and international following. Indeed she married the owner of the house which is one way of romancing I suppose - Like Water For Chocolate as they say. The marriage got her the hookup to household gas replacing the previous charcoal fires... In any case, my lunch companions were 20 minutes away thus to distract the incipient hunger pangs, I dipped into my musical library and compiled the following menu of comfort food and rare groove. Hope you enjoy it.

A Hungry Playlist (Listen here)

Chef's Specials

  • Common - The Food
  • Herbie Hancock - Cooking Session
  • Stephanie Mills - Ain't No Cookin'
  • Amadou & Mariam - Sénégal Fast Food
  • Omar - Confection (ft Mica Paris)
    (see also Tasty Morsel for bite-sized portions)
  • Horace Silver - Cookin' At The Continental
  • Charles Wright - Cooking Session
  • Goodie Mob - Soul Food
  • Miles Davis - Steamin'
    (Note: album sized, you may substitute Miles Davis - Cookin' if you prefer)


  • Charlie Parker - Salt Peanuts
  • James Brown - Mother Popcorn


Main Course

  • Charles Mingus - Eat That Chicken
  • Anthony Hamilton - Cornbread, Fish & Collard Greens
  • Kruder & Dorfmeister - Lamb, Trans Fatty Acid
  • Booker T & The MG's - My Sweet Potato
  • Jimmy Smith - Pork Chop
  • Musical Youth - Pass The Dutchie
  • Cannonball Adderley - Afro-Spanish Omlet
  • Dwele - Flapjacks
  • Freddie Hubbard - Cold Turkey
  • Kenny Burrell - Chitlins Con Carne
  • Lee Morgan - Cornbread
  • Roy Hargrove - Greens At The Chicken Shack
  • James Brown - The Chicken
  • Soul Runners - Grits 'N' Corn Bread
  • Miles Davis - Fishermen, Strawberry and Devil Crab
  • King Curtis - Memphis Soul Stew
  • Ohio Players - Jive Turkey
  • Jimmy Smith - Back At The Chicken Shack
  • Prince - Starfish and Coffee
  • Main Source - Live at the Barbeque
  • MC Serch ft Chubb Rock, Nas - Back To The Grill
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong - Crab Man
  • Meshell NdegeOcello - Oysters
  • Rufus Thomas - Funky Hot Grits
  • The Meters - Chicken Strut


  • Sade - Cherry Pie
  • Dexter Gordon - Cheese Cake
  • Herbie Hancock - Watermelon Man
  • Mtume - Juicy Fruit
  • Duke Ellington - Arabesque Cookie
    (from the Nutcracker Suite no less)
  • Charlie Parker - Scrapple From the Apple
  • Charles Mingus - Song With Orange
  • Dave Bruebeck - Tangerine
  • Hugh Masekela - Strawberries
  • The Time - Ice Cream Castles
  • Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit
    (also available Cassandra Wilson or Nina Simone style)
  • Wendy & Lisa - Fruit At the Bottom
  • Erykah Badu - Appletree
  • The Brothers Johnson - Strawberry Letter 23
  • Prince - Raspberry Beret
  • Amel Larrieux - Berries and Cream
cake goodness

Secret Ingredients

  • Loose Ends - A Little Spice
  • Lizz Wright - Salt
  • Booker T & The MG's - Green Onions
  • The Time - Chili Sauce
  • Lou Donaldson - Nice 'N' Greasy
  • Marlena Shaw - Spice of Life
  • D'Angelo - Chicken Grease
  • Count Basie - Honeysuckle Rose
  • Booker T & The MG's - Soul Dressing


  • D'Angelo - Brown Sugar
  • Cassandra Wilson - Tupelo Honey
  • Kool & The Gang - Chocolate Butter Milk
  • Cameo - Candy
  • Nina Simone - I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl
  • Jill Scott - Honey Molasses
  • Johnny Hammond - Los Conquistadores Chocolates
  • Bob Marley - Guava Jelly
  • Lo-Key - Sweet On You
  • A Tribe Called Quest - Butter
  • Parliament - Chocolate City
  • Beres Hammond - Sugar You Want
  • Ohio Players - Sweet Sticky Thing


  • Fela Kuti - Water No Get Enemy
  • Jimmy Mcgriff - Blue Juice
  • E.T. Mensah & The Tempos - Tea Samba
  • The Roots - Water
  • Thelonious Monk - Tea For Two
  • Kelis - Suga Honey Iced Tea
  • Duke Ellington - Chocolate Shake
  • The Manhattan Project - Old Wine, New Bottles
  • Duke Ellington - Sugar Rum Cherry
  • UB40 - Red Red Wine
  • Tha Alkaholiks - Only When I'm Drunk
  • Tony Rich Project - Red Wine
  • Snoop Doggy Dogg - Gin and Juice
  • Busta Rhymes - Pass The Courvoisier
  • Bennie Maupin - Water Torture
  • Lester Young And Oscar Peterson - Tea For Two


  • Baby Cham - Vitamin S (Fiesta Riddim)
  • Booker T & The MG's - 'Mo Onions

Liner Notes

  • Do not listen to this playlist on an empty stomach or you may have a case of jazz-funk Water Torture ala Bennie Maupin.
  • On matters of etiquette, feel free to use your hands when partaking of toli comfort food, remember though that it is best to use only one hand unless it's chicken or ribs of course. The only other advice you'll need is Musical Youth's, namely "Pass The Dutchie 'Pon The Left Hand Side".
  • Surpisingly there isn't much else on food culture and, no, Charles Mingus' The Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife doesn't count. Neither does Scratch's hilarious 3 Barstools Away, might I add.
  • From the evidence of this playlist, it is clear that the chicken came before the egg. The earthy music I tend to listen to tends to celebrate our hens more than their eggs, other than the one Afro-Spanish omelette, the chickens rule the roost. (I discarded Disjam's Softboiled for being imprecise. The Time's The Bird, The Roots' Duck Down and Bob Marley's Three Little Birds were disqualified for the same imprecision).
  • Prince's Starfish and Coffee comes with "Maple Syrup And Jam, A Butterscotch Cloud, A Tangerine, A Side Order Of Ham", he is a special one. His Sticky Wicked collaboration with Chaka Khan and Miles Davis is only available on the adult menu as is R Kelly's Chocolate Factory, positive id is required. Oscar Peterson's The Honeydripper is discounted for reasons of messiness.
  • Of course I've noted before that eating people is wrong thus with a track like Miles Davis's Fishermen, Strawberry and Devil Crab, you don't get the fishermen. Sorry, but I believe in truth in advertising. I omitted The Coup's Fat Cats, Bigger Fish out of similar cultural sensitivity.
  • Surprisingly for a playlist heavy on soul food, there aren't too many stews, gumbo or fish on the menu and unfortunately we're out of soup in the toli kitchen; as Troop would have it "I'm Not Soupped". You might also ask, where's the beef, goat or black sheep? The answer is that my musical collection isn't that extensive.
  • The artist historically most concerned with food is strangely unrepresented in this food playlist. Jill Scott punctuates almost every song with lyrics about grits, collard greens and the like yet it's only Honey Molasses that I'm highlighting. However her Family Reunion song about barbecues deserves an honorary mention as does Joy and Pain by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly which comes with most backyard grills.
  • Memphis's finest band Booker T and the MG.s contribute the most tracks to the menu and no wonder, they live in a melting pot.
  • An update: as pointed out in the comments, I completely missed a meal and it is rather Louis Jordan and his Tympany 5 that take the cake. Well that's what happens if you have Five Guys Named Moe, I suppose.

Yesterday, after lunch of course, I listened to this almost 6 hour multi-course meal and it all fits together remarkably well, a balanced diet of soul, jazz and funk (metaphor overload: "a cornucopia of extra-sensory nuggets"). It put me in an anticipatory mood for dinner which I wolfed down voraciously - gusto was written all over my face. There's a lot of humour in all the music since food culture is mostly celebatory - the funniest track being Mingus' Eat that Chicken - what a chorus. I've been told that my musical obsession is far out, or as Eric Dolphy would have put it, I'm Out to Lunch but bear with me and, above all, enjoy your meal. As always menu suggestions are welcome.

See also: "We Eat First With Our Eyes" her take on Ghanaian Cuisine. In my case, I eat first with my ears.


Comfort Food and Rare Groove, a playlist

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Anonymous said...

This article is included in the Carnival of the Vanities

Anonymous said...


Six hours, you say. Good grief.

May I lobby for Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five?

They have prepared such delights as Salt Pork West Virgina; Saturday Night Fish Fry; A Chicken Ain't Nothin' But a Bird; Cole Slaw (Sorghum Switch); Beans and Cornbread; Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens; Petootie Pie; That Chick's Too Young to Fry and Boogie Woogie Blue Plate. And then there's Knock Me a Kiss, which is basically a sweet selection. In fact most of their tracks involve food even if it's not in the title.

Excuse me, I have to go to eat something.

Anonymous said...

The more I read your blog, the more convinced I become that you are one of the best new writers I've encountered. This food-music post is perfect!

Dudu Green said...

Now my ears are hungrier than my mouth...

Suggestion: Organized Konfusion "Who Stole The Last Piece of Chicken"

I Love ur BLOG!