The term Niyabinghi means "black victory" (niya = black, binghi = victory). It was first used to describe an East African possession cult located in the areas of south Uganda and north Rwanda in 1700 AD (Hopkins 259). Early missionaries and anthropologists named the Uganda/Rwanda clans, the Niyabinghi Cult, because their culture was based on the veneration of the goddess spirit, Niyabinghi. The Niyabinghi Cult is said to have thrived due to the possession of the goddess Niyabinghi through dance and religious seances. (Wikipedia)Niyabinghi today is entwined with Rastafarianism, and its musical roots arguably sprouted into musical styles including ska, rocksteady, and reggae. Which brings us to Steer Town, Jamaica. Keith Richards befriended musicians in this village and for 25 years nurtured these friendships, visiting when possible, until in 1995 they decided to record some of the music they'd been making.
That recording emerged as the album Wingless Angels, released in 1996 by Islands Jamaica, a subsidiary of Island Records. The album has the raw energy and rootsy feel of an Alan Lomax field recording. We could be listening in on an authentic church service without the artifice of a recording session ... except for Richards' subtle guitar woven through the chanting and drumming.
Fast-forward 15 years. Justin Hinds has left the other musicians, having passed on in 2005. Yet some unreleased recordings of his singing exist, and Richards incorporates those into a new release, adding a few new musicians and much higher production quality to create Wingless Angels II.
Released by Mindless Records last week, the new album is packaged with the original recording as a double-CD set. The two albums sound alike...and worlds apart, as the new recordings are clearer, sharper, crisper, and more present. They also feature more instruments, with vocals, guitar, and violin very prominent in some songs, with the drums accordingly scaled back. The contrast is stark, even though the songs come from the same source material -- many from centuries-old Protestant hymns. In fact, one can make a direct comparison on two songs that are repeated on the new album: "Rasta Army" and "Zion Bells."
[mp3] Wingless Angels:
from the album Wingless Angels II
It's not that one album is superior to the other: They are really very different creatures, both enjoyable. The first sounds like a field recording, the second a studio recording. On both, deep spiritual roots give the songs weight despite their musical simplicity.
"They play deliberately at just slightly under heart rate," Richards explains. "The drumming goes deeper than your bones. It’s marrow music."
More Wingless Angels:
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