Thursday, July 31, 2014

Renegade Violin: Nigel Kennedy with Kroke and "Kukush"

My day escaped from me today so I won't be able to give you a thoughtful essay related to today's artist and song. However, perhaps I will get a chance to explore the idea of being a renegade and rebel in the near future on another post. In the meantime, please enjoy today's tune, Kukush by Nigel Kennedy and Kroke.

Nigel Kennedy is a British violinist and violist who started in the classical tradition and later took up jazz, klezmer and other genres. As a child musical prodigy, he was invited to play with Stéphane Grapelli in a concert at age 16. He later played with classical luminaries Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubenstein. He recorded classical music based on rock songs by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and in the early 2000s began exploring klezmer music with the Polish band Kroke. He is often criticized for his approach to classical music and for what some see as an abrasive personality.

He plays this song with Kroke, a Polish band founded in 1992 that started as a klezmer band with strong Balkan influences and which currently draws on a variety of ethnic music and sounds of the Orient. Their music has brought them to the attention of people like Steven Spielberg, Peter Gabriel and Nigel Kennedy, with whom they wrote and recorded this song, Kukush, for their collaborative album East Meets West (released 2003), which consists of traditional material and original compositions drawing from Central and Eastern European traditions and Arabic influences.

Kukush showcases Kennedy's electric violin playing. Take a listen and feel like a renegade or rebel yourself!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pure Poetry: Kiran Ahluwalia and "Vo Kuch"

At one time, I wrote poetry. While I enjoyed wordsmithing and using image and metaphor to bring out beauty and joy, and pain and suffering, the form that I really loved to work with was the sonnet. I really enjoyed trying to fashion words into the required form - getting the meter right, making rhymes work, and coming up with a theme or topic that could coherently fit the sonnet's structure. And I was relatively good at it, as far as I went with it. I won an award in college for a set of three poems I wrote, one of which was a sonnet, and over the years I occasionally pick up my pencil and try my hand again.

Today's tune, Vo Kuch, reminds me of my efforts at poetry because it is a ghazal sung beautifully by Kiran Ahluwalia. A ghazal is an ancient Arabic form of poetry, originating in the 6th century, and has a strict structure that recalls to mind the requirements of a sonnet, particularly in its meter, rhyming couplets and a refrain. Just as a sonnet was demonstrated to be a wonderful form to express the joy and beauty, sadness, pain and suffering of love, a ghazal traditionally expresses the pain that comes from loss of love or separation and the beauty in that pain. I do enjoy the beauty of melancholy, and a ghazal seems to be very at home in that sweet sadness.

For me, the most accomplished poetry sounds like music when you hear it. A year or so ago I was reminded of that when I went to hear local Albuquerque poets Hakim Bellamy and Carlos Contreras perform their show Urban Verbs. As they shared poems drawing upon their experiences as minorities in America and their hip-hop and rap influences, they brought the words alive in such a way that it was almost like being at a concert. I also feel that the best musicians, especially singer-songwriters, make their music sound like poetry. A well-crafted song brings together so many elements into harmony, including instrumentation, rhythm and lyrics, that when they all fit together you describe the musician as a poet. There are a few musicians that I've considered to be the poets of their craft and nearly always their songs bring me to a higher plane of awareness and understanding.

While I don't understand the lyrics as Ms. Ahluwalia sings them and can only rely on a translation, I can hear the sweet sadness of her words and her music, and I feel like I'm experiencing the ghazal:

He has completely gripped my emotions

as if taken hold of my thoughts.

On the path of love I tread alone

so I can save him the anguish.

Rumour has it that he has fallen out with my rivals.

This has brightened my light of hope.

Tahira why should I complain against the world

when I can myself bear this grief happily.

Kiran Ahluwalia not only only sings ghazals, she also performs Punjabi folk songs. She was born in India, raised in Canada and now lives in New York City. She immersed herself in Indian classical music and ghazals from age seven and spent a decade of deep and intense study with her guru in the 1990s. Her music has developed and provided innovation of the ghazal music genre, often through the introduction of non-traditional instrumentation and styles such as the Portuguese fado guitar, sub-Saharan percussion, Celtic fiddle, Pakistani qawwali vocals, Afghani rhubab and African blues. She has also collaborated with other world artists such as Rez Abbasi, Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq and electronica group Delerium. Vo Kuch is from her eponymous 2009 release, and can also be found on the compilation album Putumayo Presents: India.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Smooth Operator: Fatoumata Diawara and "Bissa"

One of the first artists that may have signaled the end of my musical adolescence with its preoccupation with what is now called "classic rock" and my evolution into different types of music was Sade. I always had the urge to explore, and in my early teens I found myself loving the funk-influenced sounds of Earth Wind and Fire, for instance. But I never strayed too far from my beloved progressive rock and art rock and just plain rock. Unfortunately, I came later on the rock scene, so by the time I was listening rock bands seemed to be obsessed with concept-type albums. It was also beginning to transition into heavy metal, and there were a lot of hard rock, metal and the hybrid "hair bands" dominating the airwaves. I got tired of hearing a lot of the same things on the radio, and then Sade came.

Her voice was sensuous, her songs mellow and yet there was something about them that I really connected with. Sade led me to a new type of music and led me to explore on one hand the R&B in which she was steeped and on the other hand, the singer-songwriter. With a new openness, I was willing to listen to other musicians that new friends were suggesting. Without that initial shock of recognition that music was more than hard guitar riffs, but could be sensual, understated, and complex in a meaningful, not technical way I might not have gotten to the point where I could be open to world and global music.

I think of all this right now because today's artist, Fatoumata Diawara, reminds me a lot of Sade, with a little bit of Tracy Chapman thrown in. Fatoumata Diawara is a Malian musician born in the Ivory Coast and currently living in France. She initially moved to France to try acting, but later took up guitar and began composing music that mixed her native Wassalou music of southern Mali with international influences. She has appeared in eight films, has released one solo album, Fatou in 2011 and has collaborated with artists such as Bobby Womack, AfroCubism and Dee Dee Bridgewater. The song I present to you in this post, Bissa, can be found on her Fatou CD, and I'm curious...who does she remind you of?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Serbing Up the Beats: Shazalakazoo and "A Fistful of Deutschmarks"

I've got a short post for you today because I am traveling and don't have a lot of time to put together a well-crafted essay. One of the joys of learning more about world music has been to hear music that I never thought I'd like presented in ways that really amaze me. Balkan music has been one of those discoveries. I always thought that Balkan music, especially with its focus on brass instrumentation and what I considered ponderous pacing, was something that just didn't interest me. At least, that's what my limited impression of Balkan music was like. However, some of the new music combining electronic manipulation of the music and my own discovery process in learning more about Balkan music and the rich folk traditions that it comes from has changed my mind. There is a lot of action and liveliness in what is coming out of the Balkans, and especially in getting people up and moving to the beats.

Today's song is one indication of what I'm talking about. A Fistful of Deutschmarks is an electronic and Balkan-brass number with a club beat. The group that put this together, Shazalakazoo, is a duo from Belgrade, Serbia, and they mix bass music with what they describe as Balkan aromas and naturally identical aromas of Latin American, Africa and the Middle East, creating a blend of music they call "folkstep." Shazalakazoo has been around since 1998, and recording since 2005. A Fistful of Deutschmarks can be found on the compilation A Balkan Club Night, Vol. 2, released in 2011.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sweet Ardor and Misery: Ani Cordero and "Macorina"

How many of us look back on our young days with some longing? Everything felt so much more alive then, because we were so young and our bodies were overflowing with chemicals and hormones! The loves and losses that I had when I was a young man were the loves and losses that I felt strongest - everything had such a black and white quality to it. Every love was the greatest, and every loss was the keenest.

Those memories were sweet, and something that we can look fondly back upon and remember those strong emotions, but I'm not sure that I would want to go back to them. You can only have your heart broken once to have those callouses and protective barriers grow around you. Once your innocence of love and loss is compromised, there isn't any going back to those sweet days when you felt so much and were willing to give so much to keep those feelings of love going and going as long as possible, and the feelings of melancholy and sadness also. Because I will admit it - I reveled just as much in the sadness and melancholy of loss as I did in the first buds of a crush, or the first attentions of a new love. Now, at my ripe age of 50, it's hard to feel that kind of excitement and those rapid swings of emotion again, and frankly I think I'm better off for it. But sometimes, I look back and remember the passions of youth and wonder what it might be like to feel them in all their sweet ardor and misery once again.

Today's song is a reinterpretation of a classic Latin love song song by a rising star in the Latin music world. Macorina by Ani Cordero, was originally sung by Costa Rican singer Chavela Vargas, and its lyrics bring me back to those heady days as a young man and promises of love that each of us directly or indirectly experienced. Ani Cordero is a Puerto Rican-born musician who started her music career in Tucson, Arizona fronting a band bearing her own last name, Cordero. In 2000, accompanied by her husband, musician Chris Verene, she moved to New York and reformed the band and toured nationally with Calexico and Los Lobos, among others. By 2005, she had become quite well known in the New York rock scene, and she joined a new Latino pop and folklorico group called Pistolera. Macorina is from her first solo album Recordar: Latin American Songs of Love and Protest, in which she sings eleven songs of political and social significance in Latin America. It was released in April of 2014.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Little Gnawledge Never Hurt Anybody: Gnawledge and "Qanun al Tarab"

Qanun Al-Tarab by Gnawledge on Grooveshark

It's taken me awhile to learn what is truly meant by the term "world music." Or should I say, what I think the term "world music" really means, and how it is different than the term "global music" that characterizes the show on which Megan and I present tunes from around the globe. However, all of this is up for debate, and the debate is often rigorous.

Megan and I take a broad definition to the term "global music," which can include pretty much most types of music from around the world. Thus, our Global Music Show is pretty wide open, and you'll a mix of styles, including pop and rock music, from different places around the world and mostly focused on music from outside the United States though we will play some music from inside the U.S. as well, particularly if it is Cajun or Native or comes out of a distinctly global character.

"World music" is definitely somewhat more defined and was explained to us by fellow DJ and concert promoter Neil Copperman, who if I remember correctly felt that world music had to be anchored in local, traditional music. It might be fused with modern genres and styles, but the base, he felt, had to be local and traditional. In truth, this is where Megan and I find the most innovation going on today. At the risk of sounding like my grandmother, who once told me bluntly in the 70s that the music that I liked sounded like a bunch of chimps jumping up and down and screeching, I don't find much innovation in the pop scene today, and I haven't found much of interest in the indie scene either. That's probably just me and my tastes being left behind by a younger generation. What I do find exciting, however, are these fusions of genres and styles in world music that have opened up an entirely new aural playground for my enjoyment. I've been partial to some of the mixing of electronica and modern rhythms to all kinds of different folk musics. Megan has been more specific in seeking out fusions of seemingly unrelated musics, such as Celtic with African for example. Regardless, these adventurings of musicians young and old, who are willing to work with each other to explore vast new landscapes of sound, have resulted in some phenomenal work and have opened my perceptions to what is not only possible, but what I thought I could like.

Today's tune is a product of this type of exploration. Qanun al Tarab is off an album called Granada Doaba which was the product of a musical exploration by DJ and producer Canyon Cody of Gnawledge Records. On the strength of a demo CD, he received a Fulbright and used the money to go to Spain and construct a recording studio over a flamenco guitar shop in Granada. There, he and rapper and producer Gnotes worked with 16 local musicians to create a flamenco/hip-hop collaboration. Not content to stop there, Gnawledge Records made Granada Doaba available for free download on their website with the instructions to share and remix. It is this type of collaboration and willingness to share to allow others to create that seems to define world music and most fully brings to life the old adage that "music can unite the world." In these last few days, as turmoil roils the Middle East and Eastern Europe and casualties are reported daily, the world could use something to unite it, and music is as good as anything.

Friday, July 25, 2014

(Im)Permanence: Mike Marshall and Darrol Anger with Väsen on "Egypt"

In New York City, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sits the Egyptian Temple of Dendur. A casualty of the construction of the Aswan High Dam, it was given as a gift to the United States by Egypt and brought to New York in 1963.

If you walk around to the side of the Temple, you'll see a bunch of graffiti from multiple time periods on the side wall. That in itself is the subject for an essay - the human impulse to leave its mark on anything and everything it encounters. Look closely at the graffiti and you'll see the name of a man who lists his residence as Brooklyn, New York and the date sometime in the 1800s.

I thought long and hard about this little irony when I first saw that graffiti at the Temple. In the 1800s, when this man came by on an expedition or as a tourist, he wrote his name on the Temple wall like others before him thinking that for thousands more years the temple would stand alone and that the few others who braved the Egyptian desert to reach that lonely outpost would see his name. Little did he know that one day, an endangered temple given as a gift would put his name in an art museum in the very place that he came from. He affixed his name to what he thought would be a permanent marker in Egypt until the end of time. The impermanence of everything in the universe now has guaranteed that his name will be visible, perhaps in s better state of permanence and perhaps not, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As I am visiting my mother, who is in her early 80s and is in the early signs of dementia, I have been thinking about the permanence and impermanence of things in our lives. Of course there is the issue of my mother's life and eventual death, but also the life she had, full of memories bad and good, which seem to slip away little by little like a slow leak in a bucket. As the poem Ozymandias proclaims, even the mighty end up "colossal wrecks" in "lone and level sands" that stretch far away. But you don't have to be mighty to realize that all that we have been and all that we were are thralls to impermanence. I won't leave a huge shattered visage in the sand to mark my passing, but the result will be the same.

So, with that melancholy thought, a downtempo reflective tune for you today in the form of Egypt by Väsen with Mike Marshall and Darrol Anger. Väsen is a Swedish folk band formed in 1989, who created a different sound for Swedish folk by adding some modern guitar work over the traditional Swedish styles. As they have evolved, they have moved away from playing traditional tunes toward their own compositions. They maintain a busy international touring schedule, have released 15 albums, and often collaborate with American musicians Mike Marshall and Darrol Anger. Marshall is a mandolin player and multi-instrumentalist who has recorded in a variety of genres and has collaborated with artists such as Béla Fleck and Mark O'Connor. Darrol Anger is a violinist who also has performed with some of contemporary music's most accomplished musicians, and currently leads a group called Republic of Strings which uses classical, jazz and folk as its springboard. Egypt can be found on the 2007 CD Mike Marshall and Darrol Anger with Väsen.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

You're Not the Boss of Me: Systema Solar and "Quien es el Patron?"

I've had bad and good bosses. Mostly good, but the bosses that I've had that are bad or at least had bad tempers usually came with the food industry. My first job in high school was at a restaurant in my home town. The owner was a guy who was jolly and boisterous at times, but could really start yelling at you, in your face type of yelling, at others. He could be generous, and he often was. But if you did something wrong or something he didn't like, you would want to be prepared for a lot of verbal abuse.

Years later, when I moved to a new city later in my life, I was working on a PhD and needed some work to contribute to our income as well as give me something to do outside of writing my dissertation. I took a job with a chef who was running a catering business. This guy was an awful person. He was insecure, he was a belittler and a yeller, verbally and mentally abusive, and he did other things that were less than ethical. I eventually quit, but not after reliving some PTSD from a dysfunctional childhood.

These two guys were obsessed with the question "Who is the Boss?" They wanted you to know that they were the boss. If you didn't give them enough obeisance, they were going to make you pay for it. In contrast, the people who have been the best bosses in my life were those who assumed that you knew their place, didn't feel insecure about their position, and used their positions to help you learn and to get ahead with your own goals. Luckily, I work for a couple of people like that now. Who is the boss? The best bosses are the ones who don't have to ask you that question.

Now, if you ask me who's the boss at home...that's another story. Megan, you're the boss!
Systema Solar asks that very question in our song for today. Made up of some of Colombia's most well-known DJs, MCs, producers and percussionists, Systema Solar is influenced by all things Afro-Caribbean. Their name is a reference to large sound system parties called pikos. In concert, they call their shows Berbenautika, and they dress like space voyagers while they play South American rhythms such as champeta and cumbia, among others, overlaid with hip hop and electronic beats. They revel in the music, adding socially conscious lyrics that they hope unites Colombia and the world through music. This song, Quien es El Patron? (Who is the Boss?) is from their 2010 eponymous debut CD.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Honest Fakery: Playback Singing in "Ainvayi Ainvayi"

I remember when the biggest scandal in American music was the Milli Vanilli lip-synching controversy. For those of you too young to remember, Milli Vanilli was a pop and R&B group in the late 1980s and early 1990s who won a Grammy for their first album only to be outed as frauds when a Los Angeles Times journalist reported that the voices on the album weren't those of band members Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, but different singers. The Grammy was withdrawn and Milli Vanilli faded into obscurity.

I once had an argument with a German friend of mine in the early 1990s. She told me that Robin Williams was her favorite actor at the time. She cited his humor and acting skills. However, I learned that American movies in Germany were usually dubbed into German. Specific voice actors would be attached to an American star, so that Robin Williams voice was always dubbed by the same German voice actor. I asked my friend if Robin Williams was her favorite actor, or the German voice actor who dubbed him. She insisted that it was Robin Williams. "But how do you know?" I asked. She continued to insist that it was Robin Williams she liked, even as she admitted his voice was dubbed by someone else.

Indian movies often bring me back to this argument, because lip-synching is common. It is rare in Indian movies for the stars to sing their own songs. A whole industry has risen around the need to dub actors in Bollywood movies...that of the playback singer. A playback singer is a singer that dubs for Indian actors in song and dance numbers, and many playback singers have become stars in their own right. One of the most famous playback singers is Asha Bhosle - a song paying homage to her, A Brimful of Asha, became Fatboy Slim's breakout hit.

Of course, one might argue that in today's pop climate of auto-tuning, where a person with marginal singing skills can become a star thanks to digital manipulation, and where lip-synching is common in pop concerts, who really cares if one's voice might not be one's own. What I like about the Indian take is that it is upfront and acknowledged. There is no attempt to deceive. But if I listen to the landscape of American pop, I always have to wonder if that is truly the voice of the person I hear singing, or an electronically manipulated facsimile.

Today's song is joyfully, gleefully the product of playback singing. Ainvayi Ainvayi is a song and dance number from the 2010 Bollywood movie Band Baaja Baaraat (translation: Bands, Horns and Revelry). It is a romantic comedy about a woman who dreams of being a wedding planner, and a man who dreams of her and who goes into wedding planning to be near her. The film stars Anushka Sharma as the female lead, and Ranveer Singh, who had no prior acting or movie experience, as the male lead. The playback singing on this number is performed by Salim Merchant and Sunidhi Chauhan. The film garnered many positive reviews and awards, and did very well at the box office. The song is a fast paced and uptempo dance number, with some rock flourishes, and a lot of energy by both playback singers and stars.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Listen to Them Drone: The Didge Project and "Resolution"

I am not much good at meditation. Part of it is that I haven't really tried it all that hard, so I really have not had the practical experience of applied meditation. I can certainly get meditative - those times when I daydream or occasionally just sit for an hour, lost in thought, feel like meditative experiences to me. But when I actually go to apply meditation, weird things happen. For instance, I've done a meditative exercise called a "body scan" where you spend time consciously examining your body through your awareness, covering it from head to toe. I start out at the top of my head, and by the time I've hit my torso I'm usually fast asleep, which certainly isn't meditating. When I am in a church or a temple and the situation calls for meditation, I am at once bored and thinking of all kinds of other things when I know that the situation calls for me to either be thinking of one thing or not thinking at all.

Something that helps me reach those meditative states is often music. If I get lost in some music, where my mind focuses on the beat, the rhythm, the melody, or the lyrics, then I can approximate something of meditation. It is this type of wholeness of music and states of mind that led A.J. Block and Tyler Sussman to found The Didge Project in 2008, which promotes the droning, bass vibration of the Australian aboriginal didgeridoo as a path to health and wellness. A couple of jazz musicians, they became convinced of the meditative properties of the didgeridoo and even the therapeutic benefits of playing it. The distinct sound of the didgeridoo has been used for ceremony and ritual to create an atmosphere of meditation and healthy living. Playing the didgeridoo also has many health benefits including allowing one to focus on breathing and breath. They argue that it helps alleviate sleep apnea, drawing on 2005 research published in the British Medical Journal. They also noted that the didgeridoo has become an increasing presence in world music.

The Didge Project has released two albums and has played numerous events and venues around New York City. They also opened for Deepak Chopra in 2012, and performed in TEDxBrooklyn. The Project has a comprehensive website where you can find out where they will perform, and how you can get involved in listening to and learning to play the didgeridoo for your own health. This song, Resolution, can be found on their 2011 CD release As One.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Jazz Anew: Gabin and "Sweet Sadness"

About a year ago, I made a world music CD mix for my cousin. Later, I asked her if she enjoyed the music. She replied that she liked it very much, except for the song with bagpipes on it.

My cousin is of Italian heritage. "But that is your heritage!" I exclaimed. I told her that the band using the bagpipes was Italian, and that the bagpipes were a particular type of Italian bagpipe, and the song itself was an old Italian song and that if she listened, at the end she'd hear a clip of an old man singing the original version. (By the way, the song was Girometta by Fiamma Fumana)

I don't think I convinced her that she should like the song, but once again, listening to music from around the world has at least given me an appreciation of the breadth of music that can be found in various countries. I suppose that once, when I was less exposed to world music and relatively ignorant, I really thought that the world was divided into two musical genres. There was pop, which sounded like pop all over the place, and then the traditional music of each area. And I had an idea of what the traditional music of each area or country sounded like. For Italian traditional music, I suppose I had an idea that it sounded like music from The Godfather, with accordions.

In truth, Italian music encompasses all that and more. There is a lot innovation going on in music and Italy is no exception. Traditional music is being blended with all kinds of influences in Italy, creating some great music both based in traditional Italian styles and also taking far afield our concept of what Italian music means. If you would like to hear some of the different Italian music styles, I have put together a mix of Italian music that you can access online.

This song, Sweet Sadness, is by the Italian duo Gabin, who practice a style of music called nu jazz. Nu jazz is a style of jazz developed in the 1990s that blends other styles such as funk, electronica and soul with free improvisation. The band's name, Gabin, references the most popular French actor of the 1930s and 40s. They have collaborated with other artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater and Latin dance leader Nicola Conte, and their music has been used in film and television. They have released seven albums. Sweet Sadness is from their 2002 self-titled debut album.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Poetic Justice: Joy Harjo and Poetic Justice with "For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash"

I grew up in a small town in Northern California and in that town, about as far away from Native American culture as could be. There is an embarrassing photo of me, about 8 or 9 years old, dressed up in a handmade Indian headdress carrying a spear and whooping. The only thing I knew about Indians was conveyed by television - either that they were the bad guys in all Westerns or that they saved the Brady Bunch kids in the Grand Canyon.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Megan and I began to branch out in our experiences. Being Catholic, and living in Milwaukee at the time, we heard about a Native American Catholic Church and went to attend one day. We liked it so much we adopted it as our unofficial parish. At the time they met in an old firehouse, with a Polish priest named Ed who served them as pastor and who had been adopted into the tribe. Megan and I ended up being married by this priest and incorporating a small element of the ceremony we watched performed each week, the prayer to the four directions, into our own ceremony.

Through this church, we were introduced to the vibrancy of Native culture and spirituality. Fr. Ed brought the readings alive to us, because he would explain the readings to the congregation in the context of the tribal life that the parishioners experienced, relating it to the tribal life of the early Jews. We only scratched the surface, but we became aware of both the wonderful things about Indian culture, and the challenges they faced on a daily basis brought about by their shared history with that of the United States. It was a wonderful experience.

This song, For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, is part of the hard history of Native Americans. Even as organizations rose in the 1970s to fight for Native rights, human failings so present in all of us also were also at work, and the murder of Anna Mae Aquash was not one of the shining moments of Native American activism. But who better to bring poetic justice to the death of Anna Mae Aquash than Joy Harjo, Native American poet and author? Harjo is a Muscogee Indian from Oklahoma. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, and also played alto saxophone with her band Poetic Justice. She is credited with being a leader and force in what has been termed the Native American Renaissance of the late 20th century. The song is an homage to a member of the American Indian Movement who died under mysterious circumstances on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1976. You can find For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash on the Joy Harjo and Poetic Justice album Letter from the End of the 20th Century, released in 1997.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Transcendence: Youssou N'Dour and "Allah"

Even though I was raised Catholic and still attend Mass, I consider myself open to pretty much most religious beliefs and practices, and especially if there is a beauty that surrounds it. There are not many religions that don't have some type of beauty, so that means I can usually find something in everything. Occasionally, I can find a transcendent experience. One of those experiences came in Turkey when, as I was walking through a bazaar next to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the call to prayer came over the speakers, and I stood there for the length of time the call to prayer lasted, grinning like an idiot because of the beauty of moment. Currently, I've been working my way through the Ramayana, and I'm amazed at the mix of history and mythology in that epic work. Yesterday, Megan and I were in San Francisco and we stopped into a Russian Orthodox church (ironically after coming out of a bar) and the inside was stunning in its iconography and its stained glass. Religion has served as an essential inspiration behind so much art that even the most irreligious or anti-religious among us cannot deny its influence.

I count today's song among those pieces of beauty that come out of religion. Youssou N'Dour is already a giant among African musicians. A singer, songwriter, composer, percussionist, actor and politician, he is one of the most visible personas of Senegal. A man born in a griot family, he didn't take the traditional griot path but he is considered a modern griot anyway, who was the driving force behind the popular Senegalese music called mbalax. He came to world notice thanks to his collaborations with Western musicians like Peter Gabriel, but his music stands on its own. This song, Allah, is from his 2004 CD Egypt. The album combines West and North African music, as well as instrumentation in its use of the West African kora and the Arab oud. It promotes the tolerance of Senegalese Islam, and the album won a Grammy award.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Germany Funks It Up: LaBrassBanda and "Western"

Western by LaBrassBanda on Grooveshark

Last weekend I watched with astonishment as, in the waning moments of a tense soccer match, a German soccer player named Goetze took a perfect pass from a teammate streaking down the left side of the field, stopped it with his chest and in one fluid moment, before the ball it the ground, sent a screaming kick to his right past the Argentinian goalie and into the right side of the net. Of course, he and the German team celebrated wildly, knowing that the kick sealed their World Cup Championship. I had never really liked the German teams in past World Cups. They were efficient and ruthless, a machine-like soccer team that didn't win with flash or style but just ground their opponents into the dust. But this team was different. They had flashes of very un-Germanlike play, in which the team had more show than in the past, yet they had all the right elements from the past teams - extremely efficient passing, a coterie of players who could score yet an emphasis on teamwork, and that same wear-the-other-team-down-with-patient-play strategy. I liked them and what they showed in the World Cup.

While I have a lot of experience with Germany and Germans, and love the country and have people I consider very good friends there, I always considered Germans to be a serious people. They love to discuss weighty matters whether they are in a business meeting, a political event or a party. Even their fun seemed serious, and their music onced seemed serious me too. Yet as I have been getting more into the global music scene, it has confirmed what I have already known...Germans can get funky with the best of them. One of my favorite discoveries was the rap and hip-hop band Die Fantastichen Vier, who were one of the first groups to rap in German and who create fun, engaging pop and hip-hop music.

For one show, Megan put a call out to our Facebook friends - send us a group or song you'd like to hear and we'll try to include it in our set. A friend in Germany suggested something by LaBrassBanda, a group I'd never heard of. I looked them up and listened to some of their music. Once again, a pleasant surprise was provided. Their music was fun, full of brass, and they could easily go between Eastern European brass to some pretty funky stuff. They appear to be fantastic showmen.

LaBrassBanda is from Bavaria, and their name is a mashup of the Italian "la banda" and the English "brass band." They were formed in 2007 and became well known after their tour from their hometown to Vienna. the venue of the 2008 European Football Championships. They ended their tour on mopeds and performed a public concert from the trailer of a semi. After that they were invited to play in other places around Europe, and in Harare, Zimbabwe at the International Festival of the Arts organized by the German embassy. They also played the famous festival at Rothskilde, Denmark. They currently have released four albums. This song, Western, is from their 2013 release Europa.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Simply "Mouthwatering" Music: Serge Gainsbourg and "L'eau a la Bouche"

Facebook has a neat little tradition called Throwback Thursdays. Every Thursday a number of my friends post pictures of themselves or friends and loved ones from sometime in the past. When I do these little posts, I also make an even shorter post on our KUNM Global Music First Monday Facebook page with the same video that I post here. The black and white, old looking television quality of this video identifies it from sometime in the 60s (1960, to be exact), as does the fact that the guy singing takes several deep puffs on a cigarette as the music starts and he gets ready to sing. Some things remain the same - it's obvious that he's lip synching to the words. But what gets me is his look at the camera. It's the look of a cocky, self-possessed guy who knows he has plenty of talent and isn't afraid of letting you know it.

This same guy, about seven years after this video was taken, would have a short affair with Brigitte Bardot, so I guess the cockiness was justified. In fact, he is now considered to be a legend in France. But I had no idea who or what this man was until I saw a movie trailer of a documentary about his life, and then not long after a friend gave me a song on a mix-CD that was by him, and my curiosity led me to check him out.

Serge Gainsbourg was a French singer, songwriter, pianist, film composer, poet, painter, writer, actor and director. He was regarded as one of the most important figures in French popular music, and covered an astonishing array of musical styles. His songs were known for their wordplay that ran the gamut from humorous to satirical to subversive, and in his career he wrote over 500 songs. Born in Paris as the son of Russian Jewish emigrants, he was profoundly haunted by the treatment of Jews in World War II, which influenced his later work. His relationship with English actress Jane Birkin produced the actress Charlotte Gainsbourg. His early work was in French chanson, but he also experimented with and moved into jazz, pop, funk, rock, reggae and electronica in the course of his career. He also made over 50 films. He died in 1991 of a heart attack, and in the years since his death his music has reached legendary proportions in France. This song, L'eau a la Bouche, is typical Gainsbourg. The title refers to a watering mouth, and the song is a song of seduction as these sample lyrics attest:

I will take you gently and without restraint
What are you afraid of, now then don't be scared
I beg you don't be shy
When my mouth waters

L'eau a la Bouche was composed by Gainsbourg and Alain Goraguer for the film of the same name directed by Jacques-Doniol Valcroze.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pull Out That Squash and Play Me Something: Adama Yalomba (feat. Piers Faccini) and "Djamakoyo"

The more I listen to music from Mali, the more I am convinced that music influences through time and space in ways that ultimately surprise us.

Why do I write that? One cannot listen to Malian music, for instance, without often hearing tunes that sound vaguely familiar, or styles that seem to have hit one's ears before. Then, it hits you. You are hearing some of the blues. Perhaps, you think, that this Malian player was influenced by listening to Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker sometime in the past. And you may be right. The world is getting smaller, and a lot of music passes around the globe and gets picked up in the most unlikeliest of places. While traveling in rural Bangladesh, for instance, I had to listen to the continual play of Aqua's Barbie Girl because my translator and guide loved the song so much. I still hate that song to this day. So, it is conceivable that a particular Malian singer was influenced by bluesmen from the United States. And that certainly doesn't disprove our theory that music influences through space.

But through time? What if you are listening to "traditional" Malian music, performed by Malian musicians who most likely have not had exposure to the blues and yet, their tunes still ring familiar and the styles still seem to fit? What if a band like Tinariwen, a Touareg group from Northern Mali that was formed in 1979 and that plays hard-driving bluesy electric guitars, emphatically denies that they ever heard the blues until they traveled in the United States for the first time in 2001? Then, we're talking about musical influences through time, and specifically African influences that traveled with slaves over in slave ships to the United States, and dispersed around the South as slaves were bought and sold. Eventually, those influences along with others picked up by generations of African Americans became a new American music, partly born in Africa and partly in the hot, steamy, oppressive South of the time.

I can go on and on about this. About how, in some of the Eastern European/Central European/Northern European songs, you find rhythms, songs and styles that are similar to Celtic music. Which all makes sense when you think about it because though not really related, most European cultures migrated from the east and it is not far-fetched to think that remnants of the Indo-European culture that birthed them stuck with them and echo their past one-ness throughout time.

It is finding these similarities or perceived similarities that drives the creativity of artists who create this "world music."

Today's randomly selected song is performed by Adama Yalomba, with some help from Piers Faccini. A Malian singer, instrumentalist and composer, Yalomba plays guitar, n'goni and dan. He learned to play the dan, an instrument with 6 strings on separate brackets mounted on a calabash squash gourd, from his father. He released his first cassette in Mali in 1995 and it was well-received. He made two other cassettes before releasing a full album in 2000. Since then, he has performed at the Festival au Désert and at WOMEX, has been featured on Putumayo Presents: African Blues and has toured internationally.

Piers Faccini is an English singer, painter and songwriter who first appeared on the London music scene with the band Charley Marlowe. He left the band in 2001 to pursue a solo career and released his first solo album in 2004. His followup in 2006 featured Ben Harper. He has released seven solo albums and has collaborated with musicians such as Rokia Traoré, Ben Harper, and Ibrahim Maalouf among others.

This song, Djamakoyo, is from Adama Yalomba's 2010 album Kassa, and can also be found on Putumayo Presents: African Blues.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It All Started With Mix Tapes: Mexican Institute of Sound and "OK!"

Ok by Mexican Institute of Sound on Grooveshark

One of the wonderful things about living in Albuquerque is that every September, over two usually beautiful weekend evenings, it is the setting for a premier world music festival called Globalquerque. I have been going since its second year in existence, and to date I have had a fantastic time at each year's festival. It is a little secret in Albuquerque. Held at the grounds of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, it utilizes a theater, a large plaza, and a courtyard to give three very different venues for music. The festival staggers the start times for each band, so that if one wants to see the start of a band, they can spend 20 or 30 minutes at one venue and then wander if they wish. You can see each band partially to get a flavor of everything, or you can stay in one venue for one band's concert. You pay for one weekend what you might pay to see one concert for any of these bands in another city. Yet it is not as well attended as it could be. I don't know if Albuquerqueans don't know about, or don't think they'd like it, or what. I have tried to persuade people to go and gotten the usual complaints about cost (it's actually cheap) and the "I don't know any of the bands" (so open your horizons) and other excuses. Yet the people who I have persuaded to go have loved it. And people I know from out of town who have come have asked me if I realize how lucky we are to have such an event (believe me, I do). I have never seen anything I didn't like, though some of the acts have challenged me. And I've seen some fantastic performances and surprises. Last year, when Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha came on stage, they blew the theater audience away with their energy, their costumes and their amazing mix of Ukrainian traditional folk and jazz and even hip-hop.

One of the pleasant surprises for me at Globalquerque a few years ago was the Mexican Institute of Sound. The music was in the courtyard area of the festival, and when we got in it was clear that it wasn't your usual courtyard music. The courtyard is usually reserved, though not always, for quieter music and acts but we came in on the middle of the set and the joint was jumping. Camilo Lara was rapping, there was a DJ and scratcher going at it on an electronic turntable, and people were jumping up and down like it was a rave. It was easy to see why it was so infectious. The music was fun, and it was conducted in a mix of Spanish and English which, if you live in New Mexico, touches both cultures. And the music was from Mexico and those guys know how to party. I think that by the time Mexican Institute of Sound was done, we were all sweating and happy because we had danced and jumped so much. I hope that the Mexican Institute of Sound comes back to a future festival.

Created by Mexico City DJ and producer Camilo Lara, Mexican Institute of Sound is an electronic music project that fuses folk and traditional Mexican music with modern sounds. Lara started his music project by creating holiday mixes and remixes of popular songs for friends, which he labeled Mexican Institute of Sound. After awhile, he began to put together his own compositions and creations, which have developed on his albums to be carefully crafted and constructed collages of music and electronica that is intended to open a window into Lara's life, experiences and impressions of Mexico City. He officially founded Mexican Institute of Sound in 2005, and in 2006 released his first album, Méjico Máxico, which received critical acclaim. He has since released three more Mexican Institute of Sound albums, with a fifth due in 2015. This song, OK!, can be found on the first Mexican Institute of Sound album, Méjico Máxico.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Searching the Desert for the Blues: Tinariwen and "Ere Tasfata Adounia"

There have been relatively few times in my life when music has stopped me dead in my tracks. By dead in my tracks, I mean so astounded me that I become obsessed with a song or a group and just HAVE to get that song or album, or everything by that group. In the past 30 years, in my slow acquaintance to all things world music, I can think of only three times it has happened.

The one earliest in time I have related in a different post, but here it is again. My girlfriend Megan (now my wife) persuaded me to attend the Milwaukee IrishFest. For those of you unfamiliar with Milwaukee, each summer brings a huge music festival called SummerFest. After that finishes, a number of weekends of the rest of the summer are filled with local ethnic festivals. There's IrishFest and PolishFest and Indian Summer and PrideFest and Festa Italiana and GermanFest and so on. Well, a good portion of Megan's ethnic heritage is Irish, and so we went to the IrishFest. She told me it would have music and activities and booths where one could by Irish themed and Irish made stuff. I wasn't all that enthusiastic about the music portion because my experience with Irish music was mostly warbly tenors singing Danny Boy or other melodramatic songs, and I just wasn't into that type of music at the time. But we walked in to the Maier Festival Park, and were right near a stage which was sparsely attended but a band was up there just killing it. They had a tin whistle and guitar and bodhran, and keyboards and bass and a woman whose voice was just incredible, and they were singing in a language that I could not recognize. Megan explained to me that they were singing in the original Celtic language, and we watched the whole show. I thanked the band afterward...the lead singer was really nice...and we bought a record (yes it was that far in the past) that I listened to over and over and over again. I've since lost that record, which is sad to me because it is out of print. The band was Capercaille, and since that time they've become international sensations on the Irish and world scenes, and their lead singer, Karen Matheson, is a star in her own right and has performed her music in movies. I still can't listen to a Capercaille song without remembering that feeling.

The second time I was blown away by global music was in an unlikely spot - driving on I-10 late at night to San Antonio, where Megan and I lived. We were coming back from a Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen concert at Floore's Country Store. It was probably close to midnight, and a local world music show was on the public radio station. Suddenly, a riot of music poured out of our speakers. I didn't recognize it, but it was fantastic. I could hear fiddle, accordion, possibly guitar, but I couldn't identify anything else. The music sounded Eastern European to my untrained ear but man, was it great! I waited eagerly after the song finished for them to announce the artists and was rewarded just before we arrived home. The band was Värttinä from Finland, the song was Vihma, and once again I just had to go out, find their CD and play that damned song over and over. I also ended up playing that album over and over, because almost every song on it was wonderful.

A time in the recent past involves our band for today, Tinariwen. I didn't even discover the song that so entranced me. Megan had found it. We were hosting KUNM's Global Music Show, and Megan had put together some songs that she was going to play. Suddenly from the speakers came this rollicking song, with a distinctive minor key, that sounded like a cross between the blues, a hard-rock song and the voice of some middle-Eastern muezzin. The electric guitars were playing the same melody over and over but even without a ton of variation, it still really worked. The bass provided a perfect under-layer for the guitars to pick up on. It sounded like the birth of the electric blues. I sat there with wonderment on my face. Who was this band? "Tinariwen," Megan said. The song was Tenhert. A half year later, Tinariwen appeared on The Colbert Report, and are generally considered to be the new stars of the world music scene. I think that had I heard other songs by Tinariwen, I would have noted them but not had that same reaction. Tenhert really turned me into a fan.

Tinariwen (the band's name means "deserts") is from the Saraha desert region of northern Mali. They were formed in 1979 in Algeria by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who witnessed his father's execution at age four, and have been called by Slate "rock and roll rebels whose rebellion, for once, wasn't just metaphorical." Alhabib built his own guitar as a child out of a tin can, a stick and bicycle wire and started to play old Tuareg and modern Arabic tunes. In the late 70s, he started exploring chaabi music, Algerian raï and western pop and rock. In the 1980, Ghadafi wanted to build an elite force of Tuareg fighters and issued a decree for all Tuareg living illegally in Libya to join the Libyan army. In military training camps in Libya, Alhabib met other Tuareg musicians, and the result was a collective they began calling Kel Tinariwen (People of the Desert) later shortened to the band's current name. They moved to Alhabib's home country of Mali in 1989, and a Tuareg uprising against the government led to a peace agreement in which the members of the band were able to leave fighting and devote themselves full time to their music. They began to receive international recognition in the late 1990s, and performed in the touring Festival au Désert as headliners and performed at WOMAD in 2001. They began to tour regularly, and in 2010 represented Algeria at the South African World Cup. An Arabic uprising in Mali in 2012, and their denunciation of "Satan's music" led to the brief abduction of one of Tinariwen's members. Many fled to the Southwestern US to evade capture and record a new album. Their music is "assouf," basically traditional Tuareg melodies and rhythms with traditional Tuareg instruments, Berber music, Algerian rai, traditional Malian music, regional pop music, and Western rock. You can hear the desert in their driving electric guitars and chanting style. You can also hear the electric blues, though the band is adamant that they never heard the blues until they began touring the US. This song, Ere Tasfata Adounia, can be found on their 2009 release Imidiwan: Companions CD.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Where's Your Daddy? Old Blind Dogs and "Young Edward"

Randomness is strange thing, especially when it doesn't seem so random. In my previous post, I made mention of murder ballads. Today I did my random selection of a song for the day, which is kind of an elaborate process. I use a random string generator to come up with a random letter of the alphabet. With that letter, I go to my iTunes and I count the number of songs I have that begin with that letter. Let's say "E" has 252 songs. I then generate a random number between 1 and 252, and whatever that number is (let's say 136), I count from the first song in the "E" list to song number 136. If the song isn't a world song, I pick the world song nearest to it. It's a pretty random process. But when I mention murder ballads the day before, and a murder ballad comes up as the next day's song...I'm versed in statistics and probability as a political scientist but say what you want, the randomness argument seems weird. Did I influence events by thinking about murder ballads? I don't know.

What is a murder ballad? Murder ballads are traditional songs that describe the event of a murder. In particular, they often have a lead-up, a reveal, and the aftermath. Some are told from the point of view of the murderer. For example, one that Americans may know is the traditional ballad Banks of the Ohio, where a young man describes how he has taken his true love for a walk on the banks of the river, murders her for refusing his marriage offer, and then is taken away by the sheriff the next day as he laments killing his one true love. Or, Americans might remember Tom Dooley, sung by the Kingston Trio, about a man sentenced to hang for the murder of a young woman. Others tell the tale from the victim's point of view. The genre started in England, Scotland and Scandinavia, and later American versions of the same ballads started popping up, for example the American-Appalachian murder ballad Knoxville Girl came from the Irish Wexford Girl, which in turn came from the English Oxford Girl. New murder ballads are still being written and can be performed by almost anybody. Two of my favorite murder ballads are new - Lyle Lovett's LA County is a murder ballad about a man jilted by his lover and the horrific consequences when he shows up to her wedding. On the world scene, The Chieftains did a murder ballad on their holiday album The Bells of Dublin, with Elvis Costello singing the lyrics, called The St. Stephen's Day Murders in which a pair of sisters named Dawn and Eve Christmas do in their entire family with poison on the day after Christmas. Humans have always been both revolted and fascinated with murder, its motives and its consequences, and I like to think that the traditional ballads were both the soap operas and the moral lessons of their day, s sort of Grimm's Fairy Tales for adults to warn us of our baser natures and of the toll it takes on us and the wider world when we give in to those hatreds and jealousies.

So the murder ballad you are being presented with today is Young Edward by Old Blind Dogs. The ballad begins with a mother questioning her son. Why do you have blood on your sword, she asks? He goes through a whole set of excuses before finally revealing the bloody truth. The great thing about this ballad is that there isn't one revelation, but two! The mother questions her son closely about what he will do now, and at the end asks what will happen to her, to which Edward replies... Oh, but listen to the song and read the lyrics that are on the YouTube if you click the About link.

Old Blind Dogs were formed in 1990 when the three founding members met on a "buskers holiday" in the Scottish Highlands. The band was originally distinctive as it represented the music and traditions of Northeastern Scotland and sang in the dialect of Aberdeen and the region. The band focuses on traditional Scottish and Celtic music, with influences from rock, reggae, jazz, blues and Middle Eastern rhythms. Young Edward can be found (as Edward) on their 1999 CD The World's Room, and a live version (as Young Edward) can be heard on their 2005 CD Old Blind Dogs Play Live.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Welsh Roundup: Julie Murphy and "Cowboi"

I've recounted my initiation to Celtic music in a recent past posting. To continue that thread, I've been not only really amazed by the breadth of Celtic music, but also by the ability of Celtic music to interact with other musical traditions around the world. If we look at music just within the Celtic tradition, one can look at the differences between Celtic musics of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, plus Celtic music traditions in Brittany, and parts of Spain and France where Celts settled and lived. The differences between these musics can often be subtle, but they are there. Listen to Fiona Ritchie's excellent show The Thistle and Shamrock and you will get a sense of the range of Celtic music through its regional varieties and also its evolution through time.

Not only can one see these differences in traditional Celtic music, but also the influence it has had on other musics we know. Take American music for instance. Because of the wave of Scottish, English and Irish immigration in waves throughout American history, Celtic music was the basis for what evolved into Appalachian folk songs and other regional music in the United States. There isn't much difference between an Irish or English murder ballad and an Appalachian murder ballad. They often tell the same story, with only slight differences. Celtic music in America became the basis for what we now call bluegrass, and contributed with blues to American country music.

However, Celtic continues to grow and merge with other musical traditions. A past post featured the Afro Celt Sound System and their melding of African rhythms with Celtic melodies. Other musicians have experimented with fusions of Celtic and flamenco, Celtic and North African raï, Celtic and reggae, Celtic and Indian music, Celtic and salsa, and numerous other traditions. Even other musicians, notably the artist Loreena McKennit, have tried to trace Celtic music through the past as the Celtic peoples made their way from the Middle East and Eastern Europe to their lonely outposts in the British Isles.

Such a rich tradition, and one that goes way beyond my initial impressions as a young man that Irish music could be summed up in Danny Boy! Today's song, Cowboi, is in the more traditional camp of Celtic music. The artist, Julie Murphy, has risen in the past 15 years to the upper echelons of British folk. Her debut solo album was named 1999's Folk Album of the Year by Mojo Magazine and earned her a spot as the opening act for Robert Plant during his concert tour that year. She has collaborated with such diverse musicians as Ayub Ogada of Kenya, the Welsh hip-hop band Tystion and ex-Velvet Underground instrumentalist and vocalist John Cale. Since 1996 she has performed with her Welsh folk band. A native of Essex, England, she was initially drawn to R&B artists such as Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, and while attending art school she played with a punk band, but after moving to a Welsh-speaking village she became fascinated with traditional Welsh music. She formed a duo with Nigel Eaton in 1994, Whirling Pope Joan, and then worked with an early music ensemble called Sinfonye on an album of songs by mediaeval composer Hildegard von Bingen.

Cowboi can be found on the Putumayo compilation, Women of the World Celtic II.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday is a Carnival: Un Solo Pueblo and "Macoklis Mango"

Macoklis Mango by Un Solo Pueblo on Grooveshark

I have been to New Orleans Carnival every year since 2005 except for 2013, yet my first Carnival was experienced in a foreign country. In the late 1990s, I traveled to Europe for the first time and spent a lot of time in Germany. I was there February and March, and my visit coincided with Carnival and Easter. For those of you who are as yet unacquainted with the general idea of Carnival, the idea is pretty simple. Lent is coming, and with it a period of fasting, attention to spiritual matters, and reflection on the life of Christ and his sufferings, as well as our own faults and sins and a striving toward cleaning up our own lives. However, until Lent begins, one should celebrate, consume, and party until they have to be good. Carnival can certainly be equated with excess, but more often it is a celebration of the things we have, and an acknowledgment that life is fleeting and death around the corner (until Lent reminds us that the reward for our good lives is heaven).

At the time I was in Germany, I didn't know any of this. Of course I had heard of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but I didn't really understand it. It was just a big party in my mind. So I was intrigued by the Carnival I found in Germany. There were strange customs - people dressed in costumes during the day, a band of women roamed one town and if they found a man in a tie they would symbolically snip the tie with scissors. There were parades, both large and planned and small and spontaneous. A lot of the costumes and themes seemed to be politically and socially satirical. And everywhere was candy, food and drink. Candy was thrown off of floats to spectators lining the street (I remember one particularly bitter cold day in Bonn when a pretty young woman in front of me got brained in the head by a heavy bar of chocolate. "O danke!!!" she exclaimed when I picked it up and gave it to her, flashing me a pretty smile before turning back to the parade. It seemed like the season never ended - every day there were parades and balls and costumes. Germans were of two minds about it. Some were really, really into Carnival and waited the entire year for it to happen. Others hated it, wanted to leave town or avoided it as much as possible.

Later, when I lived in New Orleans, I became one of the lovers of Carnival. After all, I could be my introverted, staid self for an entire year, but for at least one week, I could be silly, dress up (and especially bend genders - I have been known to go out on Fat Tuesday dressed in women's clothing), and simply make a mockery of myself, my life and in doing so, be less serious about it and have fun at my own and others' expense. In addition, New Orleans had its own unique music associated with Carnival, particularly that of the Mardi Gras Indians. I have been in love with it ever since.

Today's song brings me back to that yearly event. Carnival is a worldwide celebration, taking place wherever Christianity took root. Brazil has a famous Carnival with its own traditions and customs, as do many Latin American countries. Venezuela is also home to a Carnival with flavors of both Latin and Caribbean styles, and the song Macoklis Mango captures the joy and essence of the music that accompanies such carnivals. Macoklis Mango is by the band Un Solo Pueblo, a Venezuelan band formed in Caracas in 1976. A large band, consisting of 20 some members that is known for passing the lead back and forth through the company between and within songs, they are credited with helping rescue the genre of Afro-Venezuelan music. In the 1980s, they grew to include a horn section and began to incorporate influences from other Latin and Caribbean countries. Their longevity and body of work has led to their designation as an essential Venezuelan cultural treasure by the government. They have released 19 studio albums, and have 5 compilation albums. I couldn't find the original album that Macoklis Mango is on, but you can find it on the compilation album Putumayo Presents: Carnival!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New Aging Gracefully: David Arkenstone and "The Fairy Ring"

Some of the first "world" music I ever heard could also be classified New Age music. And some of the earliest world music I ever heard could also be classified as Irish or Celtic music.

When I was in high school and college, some of the first music that took me outside the realm of rock music was music that was generally described as New Age. George Winston, the New Age composer and pianist, was the biggest selling artist on a label called Wyndham Hill Records, and in high school and college that music was great study music and just hanging around and reflecting music. While George Winston wasn't necessarily a world music artist (though he introduced me to Professor Longhair long before I ever knew I would live in New Orleans and become a big fan of its unique music) others in the New Age category sometimes were. A tape of the recently passed Paul Horn, a jazz flautist that was an early pioneer of New Age music, came into my possession as a gift from a friend. The album was Inside the Taj Majal, and Horn played against the echoes of his own flute in the Taj Mahal, creating harmonies with himself. The music wasn't necessarily Indian music, but it had a world feeling to it. I think that stepping outside of my rock and roll comfort zone was greatly facilitated by New Age music, and with it, my path to becoming an enthusiast of world music was assured.

The other branch of that path was through Celtic music. I was introduced to real Celtic music by Megan, then my girlfriend and now my wife and the official host of our global music show. She grew up in an family of Irish/Welsh descent, and quickly disabused me of the notion that Irish music was warbling tenors singing Danny Boy. We were living in Milwaukee at the time, and I still remember going to the Milwaukee IrishFest. We came upon a band, Capercaille, that stopped me in my tracks. It was Celtic music on steroids, with a modern beat, keyboards, and yet the fiddle, the bodhrán and the beautiful voice of Karen Matheson. I was hooked. I took up tin whistle, played around with a group of pickup musicians, and still to this day consider Celtic music one of my favorite music loves and another path toward my musical openness.

Today's randomly picked song and artist brings me back to those times, because it also skirts the edge between world, specifically Celtic, and New Age music. David Arkenstone is a Grammy-nominated composer and producer who specializes in instrumental music. He has written for the World of Warcraft video game series, and for the NBC broadcast of the Kentucky Derby. He was influenced by the music of Kitarō, one of the pioneers of New Age music, as well as classical music and progressive rock bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Deep Purple and Yes. He was also influenced by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and Ian Fleming. He has learned to play an astonishing array of instruments, including the bazouki, mandolin, guitar, bass guitar, harp, cello, flute, electronic keyboards, piano, Turkish saz, pennywhistle, melodica, pan pipes, drums and percussion, and says his creation of music has been vastly aided by technology. He is involved in the band Troika...they have a similar sound to his solo work and though they remain anonymous, the compositions on their albums are credited to Arkenstone. He has released 48 solo studio albums, 5 albums with Troika, and a live album and is featured on 5 compilations. He has also composed 4 soundtracks.

This song, The Fairy Ring, is the second song on his 2003 release Spirit of Ireland.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Speaking in Tongues: Blick Bassy and "Donalina"

Not being able to speak another language often makes many people not care about other traditions, other cultures and other peoples.  That's been a salient criticism of the United States - our citizens tend to not speak other languages and therefore we take a very Ameri-centric view of the world and don't place a lot of value on cultures and peoples that aren't like us.  Of course, it doesn't hold in all instances.  Germany and France and other European cultures have their share of nationalism and xenophobia, not to speak of the rest of the world.  But it seems to me there is an expectation in most countries that they will learn more than one language.  Many people in Africa speak French as well as their own native language.  Many in Europe speak more than one language, even if the second language is English.  Yet in the US, speaking a second language is hardly the norm unless you are an immigrant who has to learn English.

Language, however, is the key to understanding and learning about cultures different than our own.  The reason that so many other cultures seem so cosmopolitan, at least to me, is that they have the understanding of other cultures and countries that comes with knowing other languages and being generally open to other experiences.  When a language is lost, or worse, a language is denied, then a wealth of understanding is lost.  Blick Bassy, who is the artist behind Donalina, our song of the day, addresses this problem in an interview he did in 2012 with National Public Radio.  Bassy, who is from Cameroon, sings specifically in his native language Basso.  Basso is one of 250 or so languages that is spoken in Cameroon, and Bassy is doing his contribution to keep the language alive.  The interviewer, Guy Raz, asked Bassy (who now lives in Paris) if he would ever make an album in French (his second language) and he said no.  It struck me that here is a man who is raised in a language, learns French (probably because he had to) but also does his interview in English!  How much cultural knowledge he must have - and as a musician he probably is doing himself and his career a favor by having that knowledge that comes from language.

Some more information about Bassy.  He was born in 1974, and formed in first band, The Jazz Crew, in 1996 at the age of 22.  He then went on to help form the band Macase, which went on to win numerous African music awards.  He released his first solo album, Léman, in 2009 and his second solo CD, Hongo Calling, in 2011.  This song, Donalina, is from Léman and is also included on the compilation CD Putumayo Presents: Jazz Around the World.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Remembering Rwanda: Afro Celt Sound System and "When I Still Needed You"

It's hard to believe that just over 20 years ago, we all were waking up to the fact that something terrible was happening in Rwanda.

Genocides are probably not exclusively a 20th century phenomenon, but it sure seemed that way.  If you look at a list of recorded genocides in world history, a very disproportionate number happened between 1900 and 1999.  Because I was a young adult, and it was so much in the news, Rwanda was the one that caught my notice.  At the time I was living in Milwaukee, about three months from moving away from that city.  I was working for a religious order of Catholic priests and brothers called The Pallottines, and 20 years later, as I was doing some background for today's randomly selected song, I ran across their name connected with this terrible chapter in Rwandan history.  In Gikondo, Rwanda a mission church run by Polish Pallottines was the scene of a massacre of Tutsi civilians by Hutus.  As two UN observers and two Pallottine priests protested, two Hutu officials told them that cockroaches were infesting the church and when the Hutu militia arrived, they began hacking people to death with machetes and clubs.  UN peacekeepers were called and begged to come to the church, but declined.  Afterward, the Pallottine priests and nuns administered to the wounded and buried the dead in a mass grave because of the swiftness of decomposition in the heat.  A few days later, in a private Pallottine chapel neighboring the church, another 11 Tutsis who had been given refuge and supplies by a Polish Pallottine were burned to death inside the building after militia members learned that some had survived the initial massacre.

Today's song, When I Still Needed You by the Afro Celt Sound System and sung by Rwandan singer Dorothee Munyaneza, references that tragedy.  The Afro Celt Sound System was started in 1991 by British music producer Simon Emmerson and Afro-pop artist Baaba Maal after Emmerson noticed the similarities between an Irish air and an African folk song.  Members of Maal's band came together with a group of Irish musicians to collaborate on the initial project.   The group produced their first album after recording the initial tracks in a week's span, and the resulting sales were so good that they continued to record together.  The group fuses Irish and West African traditional music with elements of techno and electronic dance rhythms.  They have since released seven albums, and are considered something of a world music supergroup as they have often performed and recorded with a number of superstar musicians, including Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Sinead O'Connor, Ayub Ogada, Shooglenifty, and Altan.  In 2010, the band went on hiatus, but to the delight of their fans they recently erected a new web page and announced plans for an upcoming new album called Born.

When I Still Needed You is from their 2005 CD Anatomic.

Did You Miss Our Show? Hear It On the KUNM Two-Week Archive!

We had an event-filled show last night! Megan put together a set exploring freedom, and we also played some of the newest world and global releases. We had a little glitch with a defective CD and some defective cords, but otherwise all was good!

If you wish to hear the show, please catch it on the KUNM Two-Week Archive. Just enter July 7, 2014 at 10 pm and let the player do its thing.

If you want to see the show's playlist, you can find it here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Klezmer? I Hardly Know Er'! Sherele Klezmer Jazz Band Innovators and "Polka Dot Blues"

In my formerly limited world of music, I know that I heard klezmer music before.  But, I didn't know it had a name.  I had heard some of the Jewish traditional music from Eastern Europe, or fancied I did, through such things as Fiddler on the Roof, occasional holiday songs, and in other places.  In New Orleans I think I first heard the word klezmer, and it took me a while to associate it with those types of music, full of clarinet and violin and brass and performed in minor keys, that I thought of as Jewish.

The interesting thing about klezmer is that this traditional music originating mostly in Romania but also other eastern European areas and originally termed for its instrumentation, and then later used as a pejorative for the performers, came to the US shores and assimilated American jazz styles.  Much of the klezmer music we hear now in the US is this hybrid form of the traditional music and jazz.

So today's randomly selected song, and the group that performs it, is doubly interesting.  The Sherele Klezmer Jazz Band Innovators hail from Guadalajara, Mexico.  The ethnic makeup of the band is French, Mexican and Argentine and therefore they stand somewhat unique in the musical landscape of Mexico.  As such, the band feels that it represents the universality, diversity, and strength of human values and cultures through their music.  While starting from a traditional klezmer base, they incorporate jazz, Central and South American folklore, and rock music into their music, much as the first klezmer artists in this country coupled jazz with their traditional styles.

This song, Polka Dot Blues, is on the group's 2009 CD release Oy Mame Shein, Pickles Chiles and Jrein.  It was also included on the compilation CD Putumayo Presents: Jazz Around the World.