DISCO RECHARGE-TANTRA-THE COLLECTION.

DISCO RECHARGE-TANTRA-THE COLLECTION.

The name Celso Valli means different things to different people. No wonder. In just six years, seamlessly, his musical career was transformed. Having joined Italian prog rock band Ping Pong, in 1971, the transformation of Celso Valli began in 1977, when he released Pasta and Fagioli. This was one of the first Italo Disco singles. After that, Celso worked as a songwriter, arranger, conductor and producer. Soon,Celso Valli’s name was synonymous with Italo Disco. So much so, that Celso was crowned King of Italo Disco. However, for disco lovers, Celso Valli’s name is synonymous with Tantra, the studio band that released a trio of albums between 1979 and 1982. 

Tantra’s debut album was 1979s Hills Of Katmandu. It was released with little fanfare. Initially, only a small number of Hills Of Katmandu were pressed. They were snapped up, and soon word spread about Celso Valli’s latest musical creation. The same happened when 1980s Mother Africa was released. With Tantra’s reputation growing, Tantra’s first two albums were released as The Double Album on the Importe/12” label. Two years later, Tantra released their final album Tantra II. This was the post-disco era. Music had changed, changed almost beyond recognition. Celso realized this.

Refusing to stand still and forever the innovator, Tantra II was another album of cutting-edge, influential music. Tantra II-The Journey Continues was a fitting farewell from one of Celso Valli’s most successful projects. Since then, Tantra is regarded as one of Celso Valli’s finest projects. Innovative and influential, Tantra’s three albums will be rereleased by Harmless Records’ Disco Recharge imprint as Disco Recharge-Tantra-The Collection on 15th July 2013. Before I tell you about the music on Disco Recharge-Tantra-The Collection, I’ll tell you about Celso Valli.

Celso Valli was born in Bologna in 1950. Aged just sixteen, Celso became a student at Bologna’s prestigious Giovanni Battista Conservatory. Music seemed to come naturally to Celso. He was a talented student, who would make a career out of music.

By 1971, Celso Valli had graduated. He was about to embark upon a musical career. The first step on what would be and long and successful career, was when he joined Italian prog rock band Ping Pong. Their lead singer was Alan Taylor, who would play an important part in Tantra’s success. Alan wrote many of the lyrics, and would be a regular collaborator with Celso. He would also be a member of the next group Celso was in.

After Ping Pong, Celso and Alan Taylor became members of rock band, Bulldog in 1975. It was born from the ashes of Ping Pong. Bulldog released just one album, 1975s Doggy Doggy, and a string of singles. One of these singles was a cover of Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be), which was released in 1978. By then, Celso’s music had moved in a very different direction.

The first sign of the future direction that Celso Valli’s career was moving in the direction of disco, was Pasta and Fagioli. Released in 1977, Celso and Alan Taylor cowrote the tracks, which Celso arranged and produced. This was one of the first Italo Disco singles ever released. A year later, Celso arranged and produced his first album, Azoto’s 1978 debut album Music Makers Ltd. Celso Valli’s reputation as an innovative and influential musical figure was born. After that, there was no stopping Celso Valli.

1979 was to be one of the most important years in Celso Valli’s career. He was a member of the Adal-Scandy Super Band when they released their single Piranha. Celso also wrote the single Pick Pack for The Mandrillo and Muppets Band. Most importantly, Celso Valli arranged and produced Tantra’s debut album Hills Of Katmandu.

HILLS OF KATMANDU.

Back in the disco era, things started to change. What had been musical norms, were challenged. Studio bands were de rigeur, replacing the traditional band. Rather than bands in the traditional sense, the studio band comprised session musicians and guest vocalists. This had it’s good and bad points. With a studio band, you were able to bring any musician or vocalist onboard. Budget permitting, you could use the best personnel available. This also presented a problem.  Often, musicians or vocalists weren’t always available, so each album featured different lineups. A constantly changing lineup could affect the quality of music. Another change that occurred during the disco era, was albums comprising just two, three or four lengthy tracks. Hills Of Katmandu featured just two lengthy tracks.

Hills Of Katmandu featured just epic two tracks. The title-track which filled sIde one, was written by Celso, Anonnio Cocco and Brian Jackson. Celso and Brian then cowrote Wishbone, a sixteen minute epic which was spread over side two of Hills Of Katmandu. Recording of the two tracks took place at Stone Castle Studios, Carimate. Celso arranged Hills Of Katmandu, while La Drogueria Di Drugolo and Quilli Del Castello took charge of production. One Hills Of Katmandu was completed, it was released in 1979.

To say Hills Of Katmandu had a low key release is almost an understatement. Only a limited number of copies were pressed for release in Celso’s native Italy. By the time Hills Of Katmandu received an international release, Tantra had released his their sophomore album Mother Africa. Together, they were released internationally as The Double Album in 1980. When Hills Of Katmandu was released in the US as a single, it spent forty-five weeks on Billboard’s Dance Charts, reaching the top five. Given this was Tantra’s debut album, Hills Of Katmandu which I’ll tell you about, was the perfect way to start Celso’s career as a disco impresario.  

Opening Hills Of Katmandu, is the title-track. It has a pulsating Euro Disco beat. Propelled along by percussion and rocky guitars, washes of synths and ethereal harmonies provide a contrast. Frenzied and frantic becomes haunting, dramatic and urgent. The urgency comes courtesy of the female vocal, which later, becomes sweet and soulful. Bursts of evocative, haunting Eastern sounds, bubbling synths, a myriad of percussion and an express train of a rhythm section take you on a musical journey. By now, disparate and eclectic musical genres and influences are combining. This continues throughout this sixteen-minute epic. Everything from Euro Disco, funk, jazz, soul, world music and classic American disco play their part in this truly captivating and innovative musical journey.

As Wishbone unfolds, you feel Tantra are teasing you. You wonder what direction the track is heading. Just thunderous drums, percussion and a seriously funky bass combine. Washes of synths and mystical Eastern sound provide contrasts, while drums dramatically punctuate the arrangement. By now, Tantra have locked into a hypnotic, mesmeric groove. It’s so good, you want it to last the rest of this fifteen-minute track. Although it doesn’t, the punchy, sensual vocals are a welcome replacement. They’re then replaced by atmospheric Eastern sounds. From there, Tantra revisit what’s gone before. The result is a track that’s funky, dance-floor friendly and often gloriously repetitive. East meets West, while funk, disco, Euro Disco and soul join forces to create a timeless dance track.

What’s truly remarkable about Hills Of Katmandu, is that thirty-four years after its release, it still has a contemporary sound. It’s a truly timeless album, which is akin to a musical adventure. Over two epic tracks, musical genres, influences and cultures combine. Listen carefully, and you’ll hear everything from classic American disco, Euro Disco, funk, rock and soul. Add to that African and Indian music. It’s a multicultural musical adventure, one that’s innovative, inventive and imaginative. Hills Of Katmandu is totally different from anything that other producers were releasing. 

Indeed, Hills Of Katmandu was further proof that Europe was where some of the most innovative dance music was being produced. Having invented disco, the genres future was in the hands of producers like Celso Valli. Albums like Hills Of Katmandu were the future of dance music. American producers belatedly realized this. Far too many American disco producers were blindly recreating the music they’d been releasing since 1975. That’s something Celso Valli would never do.

MOTHER AFRICA.

When Tantra released their sophomore album Mother Africa, music had changed. It was the post-disco era. Euro Disco and boogie had picked up the baton from disco, whose popularity had plummeted during the second half of 1979. Luckily, Celso Valli was an innovative and inventive producer who constantly, was trying reinvent his style and sound. This he did on Tantra’s sophomore album Mother Africa.

Tantra’s followup to Hills Of Katmandu was Mother Africa. It was released in 1980. Many of the same personnel that worked on Hills Of Katmandu, worked on Mother Africa. One exception was Alan Taylor, who cowrote the six tracks with Celso. Alan and Celso went way back to their time in Ping Pong, so it’s no surprise he was brought onboard. Celso arranged what became Mother Africa, while La Drogueria Di Drugolo and Quilli Del Castello produced Tantra’s sophomore album. Just like Hills Of Katmandu, it was recorded at Stone Castle Studios, Carimate. That isn’t the end of the similarities.

Just like Hills Of Katmandu, when Mother Africa was released in 1980, it had a similarly low-key release. Again, a limited number of copies were pressed for release in Celso’s native Italy. Like Hills Of Katmandu, word soon spread about Mother Africa. Soon, it had a cult following in Italy, and much further afield. People who’d heard of Tantra and the mysterious Mother Africa, spoke about the album in hushed tones. With its slick production and soulful vocals, it’s no surprise Mother Africa was released internationally. Along with Hills Of Katmandu, Mother Africa was released as The Double Album. Quickly, Tantra’s music was providing the soundtrack to many a dance-floor and was the music of choice for discerning lovers of disco. You’ll realize why, when I tell you about Mother Africa.

Su-Ke-Leu opens Mother Africa, and is like a uplifting, spiritual call to dance. Percussion and deliberate drums accompany the joyous, semi-chanted vocals. When the vocals drop out, piano, synths and a pulsating, rhythm section propel the exotic, mysterious and captivating arrangement, before the celebratory vocal returns. It sets the scene for Mother Africa to burst into life. It’s a glorious fusion of soul, funk and disco. Bursts of blazing horns, lush dancing strings and a funk-laden rhythm section accompany the powerful, dramatic and soulful vocal. So do sweeping harmonies, which are the finishing touch, as the vocal becomes a vamp. Later, the arrangement is transformed. Best described as moody and broody, then eery and exotic. You wonder what’ll happen next? 

Hallelujah has a similar beat to Mother Africa before the piano and braying horns combine. Soon, the vocal takes on a celebratory sound. Sung in a call and response style, and accompanied by stabs of horns and handclaps, hooks aren’t rationed. Soul, gospel, disco, funk and jazz combine as the best track on Mother Africa unfolds. Joyous, celebratory and uplifting, it’s the best track Tantra recorded.

Get Happy sees the tempo drop and the arrangement take on a much more understated sound. That’s just briefly though. Just pounding drums, flourishes of strings and slapped bass accompany the heartfelt vocal. Cajoling and encouraging: “Get Happy” the vocal encourages. This he does against a backdrop of synths, grizzled horns and percussion, seventies soul, funk and disco combine to produce a smooth, classy and memorable dance track.

Given its title, it’s no surprise Get Ready To Go bursts into life. A compelling combination of influences include Euro Pop, Euro Disco, rock and funk. This is very different from the previous tracks. It’s also very dramatic. Bubbling synths, sizzling guitars, stabs of braying horns and a thunderous rhythm section accompany the urgent vocal, as Tantra Get Ready To Go and make their escape from Mother Africa. While the track sounds very different to previous tracks, it conjurs up visions of dramatic escape in the dead of night.

Not only does Top Shot close Mother Africa, but it sees the drama continue. Rocky guitars, pounding drums and a funky bass provide a dramatic, galloping backdrop for the urgent vocal. Banks of synths and keyboards join searing guitars and drums in building the drama. You imagine scenarios that fit the dramatic music. There’s a cinematic quality to the music, which like the previous tracks, is totally different from the first four tracks. Instead, it replicates the sound and drama of the previous track, as Mother Africa reaches a dramatic crescendo.

Mother Africa is a truly compelling album. For four tracks, Mother Africa is an uplifting, joyous album, where musical genres and influences seamlessly become one. Soulful and spiritual, funky and dance-floor friendly, describes these four tracks. That’s thanks to a fusion of African Roots, disco, Euro Disco, funk and soul. The result was four joyous, mesmeric, irresistible and hook-laden tracks. Then it was all change. 

After the first four tracks, Mother Africa was transformed. The music became dramatic. That’s thanks in part to rocky guitars. Then there was the Euro Pop influence. This came courtesy of the urgent vocals. While it was very different, this drama and sense of urgency painted musical pictures of escape and taking flight. It was as if Tantra were creating a film soundtrack. The final two tracks were the final two scenes in an epic film. You could almost picture the titles rolling during the last thirty-two bars of Top Shot. Tantra had done it again. 

Not only did they reinvent their music on Mother Africa, but they kept ahead of the musical curve. Tantra’s music was still relevant and innovative. Proof of this was their sophomore album Mother Africa, which was filled with numerous nuances, surprises, subtleties and no end of joyous hooks. Sadly, two years later, in 1982, Tantra II-The Journey Continues would prove to be the end of Tantra’s musical journey.

TANTRA II-THE JOURNEY CONTINUES.

Two years after the release of Mother Africa, Tantra released Tantra II in 1982. This would prove to be Tantra’s musical swan-song. Music was still constantly evolving. Since Tantra released Hills Of Katmandu, the musical landscape had been transformed. Established disco artists and labels had disappeared. Even labels like Salsoul had been transformed. The music they released was very different. It included boogie and Euro Disco. Another important musical genre was one Celso had pioneered, Italo Disco. However, Tantra II-The Journey Continues wasn’t an Italo Disco album. Instead, it’s the most compelling and eclectic album Tantra released.

Tantra II-The Journey Continues has similarities with Hills Of Katmandu. Both albums feature two lengthy tracks. Where Tantra II-The Journey Continues differs, is it comprises two suites of music. The first is Macumba (The Macumba Suite), a three part suite that explores the practices of the Macumba religious cult. It was written by Ceslo, Antonio Cocco, Archibaldo and Hugo Vereker. A Place Called Tarot (Tarot Suite) is a five part suite that’s akin to a disco tarot reading. Both are written by Ceslo, Antonio Cocco, Arcibaldo and Hugo Vereker. Recording of Tantra II-The Journey Continues took place at Stone Castle Studios, Carimate.

At Stone Castle Studios, Carimate work on Tantra’s musical swan-song, Tantra II-The Journey Continues began. Tantra’s lineup included Dino D’Autorio, drummer Ellade Bandini and guitarist Paolo Gianolio. They were joined by percussionist Maurizio Preti and Celso Valli played keyboards and synths. Celso also arranged and co-produced Tantra II-The Journey Continues with Antonio Cocco. Once recording of Tantra II-The Journey Continues was complete, the album was released in 1982.

Released in 1982, Tantra II-The Journey Continues was perceived as an intriguing, innovative album. It didn’t however, replicate the commercial success of Tantra’s two previous albums.  Tantra II-The Journey Continues is certainly an ambitious, captivating exploration of ritual set to dance, which I’ll tell you about.  

Opening Tantra II-The Journey Continues is Macumba (Macumba Suite). This three-part suite is a fourteen-minute, musical exploration of a Brazilian religious cult. They use sorcery, dance and fetishes as part of their rituals. Tantra put this to music. Broody, moody, bouncy synths accompany a vocal that veers between deliberate, to almost joyous. Chanted harmonies respond to the call, as the arrangement bounds along. Synths play an important part in the arrangement. Later, they’re joined by a myriad of percussion, a funky, bubbling bass and washes of synths. Add to this chanted vocals, stabs of growling horns, searing guitars and ethereal harmonies. The result is, a track that’s intriguing and captivating, but variously sounds sinister, dramatic and ethereal. 

A Place Called Tarot (Tarot Suite) sees neither a let up in the drama nor intrigue of the previous track. This is a five-part suite that lasts nearly sixteen-minutes. There are similarities in sound and style. A hypnotic, electronic beat is joined by chiming bells and buzzing synths. Vocals are deliberate, harmonies ethereal, and sometimes, haunting. Rolls of searing, sizzling rocky guitars add to the drama as the track reveals its secrets. Innovative and imaginative, it’s another reinvention of Tantra’s music on what was their swan-song.

There was no resting on their laurels for Tantra. After all, how many disco groups released concept albums which were musical explorations of Brazilian religious cults and tarot readings? Tantra did. Not only that, but they managed to make it work. The two tracks were variously dark and dramatic, ranged from ethereal to joyous and uplifting. They were also captivating, haunting, hypnotic, mesmeric and intriguing. Symbolism, fetishes and rituals are translated into music. That Tantra managed this in just thirty-minutes is quite an accomplishment and demonstrates music’s power and ability to tell a story, secrets et al.

What Tantra II-The Journey Continues also did, was see Tantra continue to reinvent their music. In doing so, their music stayed relevant and innovative. Tantra were still a group who influenced other groups and musicians. This is still the case thirty-one years after the release of Tantra II-The Journey Continues. Indeed, that’s the case with all of Tantra’s music.

Several generations of producers and musicians have been influenced by Tantra, the brainchild of Celso Valli. For those yet to discover Tantra’s music, then the release of Disco Recharge-Tantra-The Collection on 15th July 2013 is to be welcomes. This double-album contains Hills Of Katmandu, Mother Africa and Tantra II-The Journey Continues, plus eight bonus tracks, including Patrick Cowley’s remix. Disco Recharge-Tantra-The Collection brings together some of the most innovative, inventive and imaginative music of the disco era, music created by one of the most pioneering disco groups, Tantra. Standout Tracks: Wishbone, Su-Ke-Leu, Hallelujah and Get Happy.

DISCO RECHARGE-TANTRA-THE COLLECTION.

1 Comment

  1. Guillermo

    Very interesting review. By the way, this Disco Recharge release features the original Patrick Cowley’s remix, which sounds thrilling.

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