In my ongoing search for great music on tape that’s legitimately and legally produced, I’ve come across several very interesting niche labels and artists. In fact, by its very nature, music on tape is niche – or, to quote Michael Fremer, “a niche within a niche within a niche”. Still, the best things in life are rarely the most commonplace, eh!
Before I let you in on my latest ‘find’, you’re going to have to indulge me slightly as I share a little bit of a personal backstory (they don’t call me the rambler for nothing y’know…).
The story goes back some 40-ish years so let’s rewind for a moment back to 1980, in which a just-turned 16-year old Dave Denyer goes to his very first live concerts (remember that – the thrill of your very first live gig? Happy days!). In this case the gigs in question were (in order): Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Steve Hackett, Jon Anderson and Yes. So if you’re into prog (progressive rock) you’ll notice a very obvious theme here! And if you’re not, just to clarify: Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel are both ex-Genesis members and Jon Anderson is ex-Yes. So yeah, admittedly back then my music listening had a pretty limited repertoire. And there I was at 16, suddenly getting to see all my heroes play live back-to-back – and cooler still, I met everyone of them except Peter Gabriel. Happy days indeed! (And yes, I got the t-shirt – autographed, until my mother put it in the laundry – you can’t win ‘em all).
The intervening years have seen me broaden out my musical tastes, first into a much wider selection of prog and then far beyond, reaching into pretty much every musical genre (with the possible exception of the harder end of hard rock / heavy metal, and most dance music). Big swathes of my record collection span folk, world music (which in many cases could probably be described as international folk) and jazz. I listen to a heck of a lot of jazz these days.
So (and here’s the part where all of this comes together)… imagine my surprise when, one day while losing hours of my life on Facebook (as one does when supposed to be doing something more constructive, or something that demands more concentration that one’s in the mood for) I saw a post linking about a 7.5ips, 4-track tape for sale, of music by a jazz/folk/world music outfit called Djabe, with none other than Steve Hackett. What? Really? That Steve Hackett??! I think I may have actually shouted ‘what’ out loud, jaw dropping as I clicked on the link. I mean, it’s the dream right – one of your favourite ever artists: on R2R tape.
I hadn’t heard of Djabe until that moment, although a bit of online research soon revealed that they’re pretty big in their native Hungary. Djabe means “freedom” in the African Ashanti language. The band bill themselves as jazz fusion / world artists, which sounds fine and dandy to me but, flipping heck – yes, it’s true – they’re recording with that Steve Hackett. Woah! Steve Hackett was the guitarist with Genesis throughout the band’s heydays. From 1971 until 1978 Steve’s guitar was the guitar that any Genesis fan would think of as the definitive Genesis sound.
I only have a couple of Hackett’s solo albums, but having seen him live twice back in the early 1980s, there’s no doubt that I’m a huge fan of his sound. So I head straight to YouTube to check out samplers of some of the tracks on the Djabe tape (the album’s called ‘Back To Sardinia’) that they’ve recorded with Steve. Wow, it really brought back memories of ‘Lost Time in Cordoba’ and other tracks from Steve’s much earlier solo albums – albums I bought at an early age and have loved for around 40 years. And now, hell’s teeth, this stuff is available on tape…!!
An enthusiastic email or two later and I was in conversation with Djabe’s band leader, founder, manager and guitarist Attila Egerhazi. It turns out that Steve Hackett has been a regular special guest for well over ten years now and appears on several Djabe albums. And another quick search on YouTube reveals that Genesis and Hackett’s solo material is often played at those Djabe gigs at which Steve is present. Oh man, pass me the list of tour dates…
Even without Hackett, the Djabe tracks are 100% my cup of tea… an exuberant fusion of jazz and world music with an unmistakeable Hungarian flavour, and topped with a healthy dollop of prog. Bloody marvellous!
In total there are eight Djabe albums that include Steve Hackett, though not every one is available on tape. But in addition there are at least three Djabe albums which are on tape that Steve didn’t play on, and another seven or so that are analogue recordings and hence which could, maybe, end up being released on tape… (note to self: ask nicely, don’t nag / badger / beg).
I discovered that the band’s virtuoso bass player, Tamás Barabás, is also their musical arranger and recording engineer. The man is clearly an audiophile (whether he admits to it or not) since extracts from the albums I’ve heard sound audiophile-grade sensational, and there’s no doubt that the musical arrangements are of a very high quality. And of course the fact that the band’s recording largely in analogue, and releasing albums on tape also points to there being audiophile ‘in the house’.
I’m also delighted to report that Djabe are being very accommodating with their tape releases. Each tape is made from the master or multi-track so is, in essence, a ‘real’ master – as much of a master as the tapes the band send to Abbey Road to be used to manufacture their vinyl releases.
Prices are really very reasonable: around €150 for a 15ips, 2-track single reel album and around €250 – €300 for a two-reel album. What’s more, they even provide for the four-track fan, and these are even more of a bargain: a mere €63 for a four-track album, recorded onto one 7” reel of RecordingTheMasters tape.
So for this old progster who’s grown into a lover of all things world, jazz and folk, Djabe may well be the most exciting thing so far in my quest to find new contemporary music on tape. I’m planning to order an album or two sometime in the new year and will, of course, report back when I’ve had a darned good listen.