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Sunday, December 4, 2022

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Arts + CultureMusicUnder the Stars: 'Natural Brown Prom Queen' Sudan Archives...

Under the Stars: ‘Natural Brown Prom Queen’ Sudan Archives takes The Independent’s crown

Plus: SF Philharmonic meets corridos tumbados, and the gospel magic of Pastor Champion.

Under the Stars is a quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, opinions, and a number of other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes, thinking outside the margins.

We’re excited about the booking of the Melbourne-based band Mildlife on September 29 at The Independent. Why? Our favorite DJ Mike Bee will be opening for these (yep, I’ll say the phrase again) “daring musical gamblers.” Bee is a former music journalist, club promoter, the current owner of Vinyl Dreams—one of the best record stores in California. He was a buyer for Amoeba SF’s electronic music section for six years, and worked at the store for 13 years in total. And of course, he’s been a proper music presenter since the 1990s.

The man is a walking musical encyclopedia, a straight killer behind the decks, and a facts dispenser.

Listen, I’ve been waiting for the Melbourne-based Midlife to make it to the States, and specifically to the Bay … but this gig just got better.


Home. That is the main topic of discussion on Sudan Archives’ new long player Natural Brown Prom Queen. Out on Stones Throw Records, its 18 songs feature open lyrics about Sudan’s adopted hometown of Los Angeles and her hometown Cincinnati. The release dives into themes of race, womanhood, and the fiercely loyal, loving relationships at the heart of her life. It speaks to everyone. I’ve lost count of the number of texts and social media messages I’ve received from friends of all genders and colors about this new project.

The project began six years ago as a whim, mixing the violin-playing style of Northeast Africa with electronic beats production, and has evolved into a singular wing of Brittney Parks’ avant-garde Black music. It’s an expression that always seems to arrive on time.

You can purchase Natural Brown Prom Queen here. Purchase tickets for her show at The Independent here.


David Byrne—yes, that David Byrne—’s imprint Luaka Bop started working with Pastor Champion a few years ago. When you take in the video of track “Storm of Life (Stand By Me),” you understand why the label was stuck on Champion’s presence. From his most humble setups come the deepest messages. Hearts don’t lie, especially when it’s coming from a gospel church tradition.

After the Luaka Bop team found a video of Champion that was filmed at the 37th Street Baptist Church in Oakland, and set up by Pastor’s Bishop Dr. W.C. McClinton, the label decided to work with the musician on an album. The result, I Just Want To Be A Good Man, was recorded live on a two-track, all-analog Nagra reel-to-reel in the style of traditional gospel recordings. Within two evenings Champion taught his band—musicians who had never played together before—a handful of songs that he performed regularly.

Known as a traveling preacher, carpenter, and father of four, Champion made a name for himself visiting congregations and people’s homes with his electric guitar from San Jose to Shreveport, Louisiana.

After many scrapped ideas about how to make the album sound more polished, and innumerable refusals from Champion to be interviewed for liner notes, the label decided to go with the raw version that they had recorded in two days. Essentially, they let a gospel album sound stay true to the church setting in which it was recorded. It’s raw, and perhaps more honest, this technique of allowing some of the imperfections to remain.

Anyone who has grown up in the Black church, who attended a Sunday service, would call this “the spirit working through,” and then say “amen.” Champion, who unfortunately died following a short illness in late December 2021, made this one and only album a moving tribute.

Purchase it here.


Jessica Bejarano, an influential and groundbreaking conductor, is presenting a special night of performances this weekend. The Tecate-sponsored “Alta Sinfónica” concert will blend hip hop, corridos tumbados, and dancehall for an evening of wide-ranging harmonics than blends traditional and contemporary sound.

Bejarano was one of 12 female conductors chosen from around the world to attend and conduct at the International Women’s Conference in New York City, and she serves as musical director for the San Francisco Philharmonic. She’ll share the stage with San Jose’s own Latin Grammy-nominated rapper Snow Tha Product, Bay favorites Los Rakas, and Mexican regional music star Oscar Cortéz.

Purchase tickets here.


It was more than 20-odd years ago that Rupert Parkes a.k.a. Photek released his transformative album Solaris, which had the drum and bass community up in arms … for a second. Parkes seemed dead set on making another type of electronic music. So when he hooked up with the legendary Robert Owens for the crusher of a house track “Mine To Give,” all the rave-y big-pant large-talkers had to shut up.

That drum and bass, a lil’ sneaky low-end pressure, with Owens flowing with his instrument over the deep and dark bizness? It all made sense. Photek produced an all-time model for future music, stretched into a 4/4 presentation.

Dominick Martin a.k.a. Calibre is another steadfast drum and bass producer who has explored a wide range of sound—for over two decades. He sampled mostly house records in the beginning of his career, which explains the soulful energy those releases exuded.

Calibre has opted for dubby squelches, sinister breakbeat jams, and other outside-the-box arrangements on the stellar Double Bend release. “Rare Groove” is the closest thing here to a drum and bass cut, and it feels like goth walk-on music. Martin has always had a handle on merging different styles into foreign beatscapes. But the mood board here, that murky funk? Off-the-charts dense.

Buy the album here for the actual “Savory Skank” (sounds like a weed strain, right? It’s a track off the release) that it is.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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