Los Angeles-based DJ/producer Charlie B. Wilder (a.k.a. Captain Planet) has a voracious appetite for music. Over the years, his passion and curiosity have led him to explore a myriad of musical genres from all over the world. The global influence is at the forefront of his productions, remixes and DJ sets that fluidly celebrate hip-hop, electronic, Latin, African, dancehall and reggae.
In June, Wilder released his fifth album, NO VISA (Bastard Jazz). It’s an adventurous 13-track collection of songs whose musical vibes transcend borders. What follows is a track by track breakdown from Wilder explaining the fascinating origin of each song on the album.
1. Fireflies & Palmwine
This song was inspired by a particularly potent memory of surrender and beauty. My brother Wilson and I (both teenagers at the time) were in a tiny village in Southern Guinea, in the jungle by a river and thousands of fireflies lit our evening walk down a red dirt road. We drank palm wine with some friendly men out of plastic gasoline tanks and were graciously welcomed into one of their homes to spend the night.
2. Big Man
“Big Man” is like a classic hip-hop boast song, flipped on its head. While writing this song with Shun, we were trying to do two things at once: picture what we would be doing if we were in charge and if we had the crazy money that these mega billionaires have, while at the same time pointing out the ridiculousness of power and wealth disparities, to begin with.
The beat has the deep 808 knock of so much hip-hop music that I love, but it’s also in 6/8 time signature and is rooted in West African balafon music. I feel like “Big Man” is especially relevant right now, while this worldwide pandemic is highlighting how differently people with fewer resources are being affected. The disease can spread anywhere, even infecting the British royalty, but it’s the folks on the margins who are going to be hit the worst, not just by the disease, but also from the economic fallout, increased racism and xenophobia. And when we still have black men in America being lynched, with police and district attorneys all playing their part to cover it up, a line like “dem crooked policemen, I’m gonna arrest them” sure feels good to sing out loud.
3. Patty Cake
Sometimes a song is simply a good groove! That’s pretty much what’s going on here. I was initially inspired by trying to teach my own daughter the Pat-a-cake nursery rhyme, but then I just started building rhythms with sounds that I love and seeing where they take me. The goal is to be dancing in my studio while I’m working.
Me and Marcos (Chico Mann) have known each other for years now. He was a guest on my college radio show way back when his first EP came out. We collaborated several times and then when he moved to L.A. we agreed we should do a whole album, and we recorded the whole thing in a couple of months. That was NIGHT VISIONS in 2017. I always love how he works and what he brings to the music, so I knew I wanted him to have a place on this new album. “Rebosando” (“Overflowing”) is truly spilling over with feeling. Chico’s affirming devoted vocals weave throughout a driving beat, which mixes syncopated house music chords, Afro-Latin percussion and a heavy Moog bass. The result is a song that manages to simultaneously pull your heartstrings and summon you to dance. It was actually one of the last songs I recorded for this album, we did it right as the pandemic was beginning in the U.S. in mid-March. So I haven’t been able to see him since recording day!
5. Body Yako
In this era of social distancing, “Body Yako” delivers the much-needed, vibrant, uplifting sounds of Tropical Africa directly to your living room dance floor. The second single from the new album, “Body Yako” (or “Your Body”) is a perfect embodiment of the global collaborative process employed throughout the entire album.
Longtime friend and collaborator Thornato provided some guitar licks he recorded from Ghanaian maestro OT Woode (instrumentalist on Ed Sheeran’s Grammy-winning album ÷), then Captain Planet went to work building and arranging the beat, which fuses older elements of West African highlife and Soukous with the more modern aesthetics of current Afrobeat and Afro House. The track was then sent to mutual friends Kongo Elektro down in Cape Town, South Africa, where the vocals (sung in Swahili & French) were laid and sent back to Captain Planet in Los Angeles for more mixing and arranging. The finished song is an instant shot of Summertime vibes, irresistibly danceable and sure to lift the spirits of listeners from California to Cape Town and beyond!
6. Ghost Dance
The inspiration for this song comes from a powerful Native American ritual that was popularized by a spiritual leader named Wovoka in 1889. He had a prophecy of all Native people coming together peacefully and dancing, summoning the ghosts of their ancestors, and that this would stop the expansion of white men into their lands. It was a beautiful and hopeful vision in a desperate time. Unfortunately, the ghost dance is also associated with the killing of Sitting Bull at Standing Rock when white soldiers feared he would promote it and rile up the Lakota. It was also being practiced by Lakota when the Wounded Knee Massacre began, where hundreds of Native Americans were slaughtered. So there is a truly tragic remembrance here that I feel is important to share. U.S. Army members were given medals of honor for murdering innocent men, women and children. Sometimes when I am making music alone at night, I still try to summon the help of ancestral spirits to guide me. We need all the help we can get right now!
7. Fly Where You Want
I was super excited to be able to work with Jesse Royal. We spent three days recording last summer when he was in town. We have some other great material that I hope makes its way out eventually too. I don’t want to speak for him too much, but I know that the basic idea behind this song was to uplift Black youth, reminding them that they can “buy what they want, fly where they want” and basically be successful and proud and whoever they want to be. The chorus also ties in so perfectly with the album title and concept about music traveling freely and spreading culture, even when politicians build walls or try to separate people with borders. Music can’t be stopped and doesn’t need a visa.
8. Mi Poni
Out of all the artists on this album, Zuzuka Poderosa is the one I have known the longest. When I got one of my first regular DJ gigs at a Latin club in Brooklyn many years ago, Zuzuka was the bartender serving caipirinhas! We’ve been friends since the beginning. She has put out so many dope songs that I play in my DJ sets, and we always talked about working together, but it just took a long time for it to finally align. When I made the beat, I hadn’t talked to her in a long time, but I called it something like Zuzu because I knew I wanted her on it. And when I sent it to her, she told me she was coming to Los Angeles the following week. So much depends on timing. This is our first official song together, hopefully, we make more. She is a true badass.
The first artist that really blew my head wide open to the world of African music was Thomas Mapfumo, “The Lion Of Zimbabwe.” He rose to prominence as one of the most outspoken voices in the political revolution for Zimbabwe’s independence in the ’70s and helped create a new style of music — Chimurenga — which transposed traditional Shona thumb piano melodies onto electric guitar. Years later I found myself working with him and members of his band directly while staying at his house with his family. “Makubenjalo” is a direct interpolation of his classic “Nyoka Musango,” featuring his guitarist Gilbert Zvamaida, along with South African vocalist Ongx and songwriting help from Epplesauce. The song is a celebration of gathering together. In Xhosa, the title means “Let It Be.”
“Yalla” is a truly unique song that could only have come from someone as equally unique as KarenBe. Pull some inspiration from ’70s Lebanese records, mix with some J Dilla swing, add a little sprinkle of ’90s R&B vibes and then you’ll start to taste the sauce. I met Karen in Maui years back when Nadi brought me to do some shows and jump off very tall waterfalls. We had been meaning to finish this song for so long, but then finally the timing was right and it all aligned perfectly. Extra visual flavors come courtesy of Libyan maestro Ahmed Fakroun.
11. Come Along
This song actually began as a lullaby for my first daughter that I played on mbira (thumb piano). I was developing it as an instrumental but then I randomly ended up with Sye Elaine Spence in my studio and she was vibing to it. She’s also a mother so I asked her to kind of envision a song that she would sing to her kids to reassure them that it will be okay, despite all the craziness and hate and negativity and fear, despite global warming, we will be alright. I’m going to take care of you no matter what. She nailed it.
Alsarah is an artistic force of nature. She has a super-clear vision and powerful confidence. We’ve collaborated several times in the past and I knew I wanted her to be a part of this project. I sent her several beats, but they weren’t right for her. Then she sent me a voice memo of her singing something, and I basically brought that into ProTools and built a track up around it. She re-recorded vocals and we did the whole thing through the internet. It’s such a simple and beautiful song, much less produced than some other songs on the album.
13. New Story
This is the first song I recorded after converting my garage into a home studio. It felt like a new beginning, and it was! I was still going through major growing pains as a new father and figuring out how to build a new life for myself with a whole new set of responsibilities. I hadn’t been making music for months due to changing diapers and trying to learn how to juggle doctor visits and making baby food, and then moving to a new house! It’s a super happy sound on here, but that’s how I was feeling. And when things get really difficult I often remind myself that we write our own stories, and we can re-write them or start a new story at any time. It’s on us, we have that power. Big up to Randal Fisher who plays flute and sax on here. It really added another dimension to it.