The Hustle of Alice Russell

Guest blogger DJ Mogpaws, aka James Bamberger, is a musical treasure hunter, Pan-American multi-linguist and tropical traveler. He is the DJ for the third annual Community Cultural Fair at this year's festival. He is also a giant fan of Alice Russell, and here are his words and video selections as her Toronto show approaches. -- Ed. There are many talented vocalists on our fair planet, but not a single one of them sounds like Alice Russell.  Her distinctive tone, cadence and power immediately latch onto your brain the moment she comes at you from any of her numerous recordings.[soundcloud url="" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]Alice RussellAs you should know by now, she will be alighting on our fair town as a part of the Uma Nota Festival on Friday, October 18. The Garrison is the venue, and missing this show would be a heinous act worthy of a stern rump hiding with a cricket bat.There was a moment whilst baked back in 2002 when I came home from Play de Record with a copy of Quantic’s album Apricot Morning that Jason Palma had demanded I procure.  It featured Alice Russell on two of the tracks and upon listening, I began to weep like a small schoolgirl being teased for her braces as I’d never heard such a voice on electronic-based music prior to that. It’s been 11 years since then and that whole time she’s been releasing forward-thinking, soulful music that is snuggled in the collections of humans with taste across the globe.From here, it would be easiest to copy and paste some biographical/discographical facts from Wikipedia or the official Alice Russell website, but aren’t you already on the Internet? (For now, we implore you to keep reading and spelunking the wondrous caves of the Uma Nota blog.)As a fellow who grew up on The Simpsons, the fact that Alice had Harry Shearer  -- the voice of Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders, Lenny, Smithers and other characters -- slowly cross-dress into herself in the video for Heartbreaker was a special moment of cultural hybrid for myself and quite a few other Earth residents.Alice RussellAnd although that particular song wasn’t my favourite from her recent To Dust album, the remix by Falty DL is a sincerely nice slab of naughty, bass-heavy beatsmithing that demonstrates Ms. Russell also has a great ear for producers who can take her work and expand it into new, diverse territories.It would be a joy to now ramble on about the world going bonkers for her cover of 7 Nation Army, or how some people actually shat their pants with joy while dancing one Saturday night at Footprints to Music Takes me Up, a smashing collaboration with Mr. Scruff.  But I shall refrain.It’s a rare treat to have one of modern soul music’s greatest contributors on a Toronto stage.  (If I’m not mistaken, the last time she was here was in 2009 while touring her Pot of Gold album.) Who knows when you can catch a glimpse of her here next, so come out on October 18 for Lady Russell with her high-calibre six-piece band, as well as Phil Motion & the Easy Lo-Fi, Marques Toliver, and the man whose butt we all wanna squeeze, General Eclectic.Here’s a recent live performance worth checking out from KEXP in Seattle a few months ago:-- DJ Mogpaws (James Bamberger)Alice Russell performs at the World Soul Party on Friday, October 18, with Phil Motion & Easy Lo-Fi, General Eclectic and Marques Toliver. Co-presented by World Famous Music.  More info and tickets here. Facebook event page here.

The Soul Motivators funk up Toronto with their debut EP release

If you're a lover of funk and soul music and you live in Toronto, the chances are you've already heard of The Soul Motivators. The nine-piece band has been together only a short time, but has hustled and sweated and played tirelessly to appear in numerous funk shows, festivals and special events around town in the one year-plus since they've been together.  These eight guys and one soulful mama don't miss many chances to do their thing.  What's most impressive is that the band has kept up the pace of their many shows, all while spending months in the studio recording their debut self-titled EP, which drops this March 2013 with shows in Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.Soul MotivatorsThe Soul Motivators, as their website bio describes them, are "here to restore your faith in funk." Their sound, guitarist and co-founder Voltaire Ramos explains, harkens back to something of a bygone era. Why do they want this sound? "It’s nostalgia for honest, authentic, non-commercially-driven music," he says. "It’s music from the gut ... you can really hear the gritty honesty just oozing out of '70s funk. I think the sound we love is driven by something other than chasing dollars and commercial success."That analog, one-take approach from their favourite '60s and '70s records remains a driving inspiration for their sound. They even limited themselves to eight microphones in the session, to "create that retro style and sound."Ramos notes that the band's members all came to funk -- along with influences like classic hip-hop, soul and Afrobeat -- in a number of ways. In his case, it was growing up in the '80s near Trinity Bellwoods Park and in the '90s in Rexdale where his crate-digging tendencies came about. "I was surrounded by hip-hop the whole time. I loved the fat bass lines, the drum breaks, the scratchy rhythm guitar, and the horns that were all over the samples they’d use," he says, citing the likes of Pete Rock & CL Smooth, NAS, A Tribe Called Quest and others as early references. "I started exploring the music they sampled and pretty much found a treasure trove of awesome music: obscure soul, funk, jazz – music that you would never hear on commercial radio."He also mentions that through the late-'90s Movement parties in Toronto, helmed by DJ Jason Palma, he learned to see the connections between different styles of music as diverse as hip-hop, house, Afrobeat, Latin, blues and soul. Other members of The Soul Motivators may have different trajectories for finding the music they wanted to make with this project, but they've ended up together in a formation that allows them to produce the sounds they love.The band formed in 2011 after Ramos, drummer Doug Melville and keyboard player James Robinson decided to change up the funk approach from a previous group they'd been in (Ambassadors, circa 2009).  "We wanted to explore a rawer, grittier sound." They soon connected with bassist Marc Shapiro of King Sunshine, and added him on, along with the three-man horn section of Nathan Dell-Vandenberg (trombone), Dominique Morier (saxophone) and Thomas Moffett (trumpet). Next came vocalist Lydia Persaud and finally, percussionist Nigel Pitt on congas, bells and other fun rhythmic elements.The Soul Motivators - Gravy Train from Orange Peel Pictures on Vimeo.Soul Motivators caught the attention of Toronto's CBC Radio One early on: Until the Sun Goes Down was a track of the week on the afternoon show Here and Now, and Gravy Train, another signature tune, received a fair bit of airplay. After we heard Gravy Train, we had to ask about the story behind the song, and its composer, keyboard player James Robinson obliged:"As a songwriter, I wanted to pay tribute to James Brown's soul divas - Lyn Collins, Marva Whitney et al. They'd sing songs of empowerment after being messed around by a no-good man. There's a universality to that, just as many of us have been hard done by in the recent economic downtown. So it's a two-fold response to those two scenarios. Of course, you can infer a little 'local flavour' if you wish (not naming any names; nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more). This song gets a good reaction at shows because lyrically it appeals to Toronto. But more than that, its a soulful 12-bar groove you'd find on a dusty, old 45. A rare gem from the bottom of the crate. And it makes you wanna move!"Of the many gigs they've played in their year or so together, the band counts high-profile opening slots for the likes of Lee Fields and Afrika Bambaataa (this past fall 2012) among the highlights, but they have also played memorable happenings like Footprints' Halloween jam last October and parties at the Great Hall such as CirQlar's Shag in February 2012 and Jen Orenstein of Maracatu Mar Aberto's recent My Funky Valentine bash. (They also maintain a monthly residency at the Orbit Room every second Thursday of the month.) And while it may surprise those who think of Toronto as a cultural hotspot, Ramos gives the prize for most memorable audience to a gig in Hamilton (then again, this may not surprise anyone who's been to a (non-Uma Nota) show in Toronto in the last, oh, several years)."It was only about 150 people but the reception was crazy, it was rammed, " says Ramos. "People were literally jumping in the air, kicking their shoes off, pouring out this intense energy to us. We had no choice but to pour it right back." For pure electricity at a show, he says nothing has quite touched that night in Hamilton so far.But with the EP release coming up, the band has a few special treats in store. For one, they will perform never-before-heard originals along with a slate of new cover tunes, as well as their other original tunes from the album. They will also try a DJ-live band collaboration, starting from a vinyl track and using it to transition to the live band performance, a first for the Soul Motivators in concert.Get ready to motivate yourself onto that dance floor, if you know what's good for you.The Soul Motivators Toronto EP release takes place on Friday, March 15, with the Soul Motivators live alongside DJs Andy B. Bad and Voltaire (of the Soul Surrender series). Venue: Bite, 423 College St. Tickets: $10 cover at the door.  Doors: 10 p.m.  More info: Soul Motivators websiteFacebook event pageCover art for the Soul Motivators' self-titled debut EP