Sunday, August 31, 2014
Megan and I are still on our anniversary trip in Taos, New Mexico, so this will be a short post. Zoo Lake by Dorothy Masuka was recorded during her years of exile from South Africa. It hardly seems like it, but when I was in college, apartheid and South Africa was a huge issue, bringing college students out to protests as demands grew for US businesses to divest from South Africa, despite the fact that the Reagan administration was committed to propping up its South African government ally. Ultimately, business led the way to divestment, which forced the South African government to end apartheid, but not after the long hard work and sacrifices and matrydoms of activists and political leaders in South Africa paved the way.
Dorothy Masuka is jazz singer born in southern Rhodesia in 1935. Of mixed Zulu and Zambian heritage, her health necessitated a move to South Africa in 1947. She began singing, and by 19 she was touring South Africa with singers she admired as a girl. In the 1950s, she was a very popular singer, but then her songs began to take a more serious turn, and in the 1960s the South African government began to pay more attention and bring her in for questioning. Some of her songs were banned, and a song about Patrice Lumumba led to her 31 year exile. Masuka sings in both the Ndebele and Sindebele languages. This song, Zoo Lake, was made in London during her exile and can be found on the compilation album London is the Place for Me 4.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Just because Megan and I are taking an anniversary holiday in Taos doesn't mean our Global Music randomizer isn't working to bring you a daily tune. Unfortunately, for the second straight day it has picked a tune where I can't find any information on the artist. King Posse is a Haitian band, apparently active in the 90s, that has roots in Haitian carnival. But, I couldn't find a bio of the band, only testimonials about how great they were. This song, Retounen, is from 1997. If you know anything about King Posse, feel free to post in the comments!
Friday, August 29, 2014
The next few posts are going to be short and sweet, as Megan and I are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary this weekend and I may not have a lot of time to write until Tuesday. And, that's fitting because today's random song, Maria by Sulman, has occasioned one of those rare times that I cannot find any information about the artist. Sulman is apparently Spanish, as his song appears on the album Pure Spain: Tapas (2005). He made a music video of the song, but as much as I culled through the internet, I could not find any information on Sulman. Maybe he was a one-hit Spanish wonder. Maria is interesting - it has a definite R&B groove, some talk on it reminiscent of hip-hop or rap, and if listen very carefully you might hear a hint of flamenco or maybe the Moorish influence in Spain suggested by the artist's name.
If you have any information on the artist, please feel free to post!
Thursday, August 28, 2014
I was bogged down in meetings today and don't have time to write a post. But, here's your random tune for today. The Global Music randomizer seems to want Celtic again, so you've got it!
Eileen Ivers is an American fiddler whose parents were Irish born. She was raised in The Bronx and took up fiddle at nine years old, studying under Irish fiddler Martin Mulvihill. She first toured with the band The Green Fields of America. She later was a founding member of Cherish the Ladies and performed with them for several years. She joined the smash show Riverdance in 1985, replacing their original fiddler. She recorded an air used in the movie Gangs of New York, and she also appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Some Mothers' Son. She has released seven solo albums. This song, The Rights of Man, is from her 1996 album Wild Blue, and can be found on Putumayo's Women of the World: Celtic II.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
One of the reasons I love Celtic music is the ever-present melancholy that undergirds every song. It could be the most raucous song about dancing or drinking, or the most mournful air ever piped, and that same melancholy drives the song. Perhaps it's the instrumentation, or perhaps it is something more. I remember, when I was hitchhiking down the west coast of Ireland, feeling the weight of the history and geography of the island - the rocky fields that looked like a struggle to farm, the lonely towns appearing like they were just barely clinging to the earth, the stoicism of a people whose faces and postures and their general composures bore silent witness to the hardships they faced throughout their history. I remember reading a passage once about the music of the Irish, of the Celts in general, that remarked upon this mournfulness of a people who had wandered far and ended up on the last rock to the west - they could go no farther - and that their music bewailed their fate and their loneliness and solitude.
I take to melancholy quite a bit, and I find melancholy music strangely comforting. To me, the music of the Irish and Celts is a music that transcends centuries. It speaks of heights reached and lost, and lows fallen into and recovered from. It speaks of death and famine and war and oppression even at the same time as it speaks to joy and celebration and peace and plenty. It is hard, in this modern day, to find such complexity of emotion in music and therefore I value Irish and Celtic music for what it is - a representation of a human condition.
Even though it is gussied up a bit in modern instrumentation and , you can hear this complex melancholy in Maighread ni Dhomhnaill's rendition of Amhran Pheadar Breathnach. Each stanza of the lyric starts on an upnote, but quickly falls down into a minor downnote, and in fact the whole song is really in a minor key. The lyrics are also complex, telling the story of a mysterious man who appears on an island apparently running from something. A young woman accosts him, not trusting him, but wanting to know his story. They develop a relationship cemented over drinking together in a pub though there appears to be some danger for both of them to be together. The woman encourages him to sing for his drinks, and soon some other young men show up and begin singing with them, and the song ends on that up note. Here are the lyrics translated at celticlyricscorner.net:
Since I've been traveling
I have watched the sky
Chased 'round about the island
Like a doe chased by a hound
And everyone around the harbor said
When I arrived at the quay
"I can tell from your gloom
That you're a man being chased"
I met a nice young girl
But right away she spoke sharply
"If you're the man who molested young women
I don't think much of your kind
I saw a man on the mainland
Wandering around barefoot yesterday
And I think that you're the young fellow
Who has someone chasing him"
I answered the nice young girl
So she understood my story well
"Don't tease me anymore
As I'm not that kind of man
But come over here in front of me
And stop chattering that nonsense
Or I'll disappear in front of your face
And go back to the mainland right now"
When we got tired and depressed
I inquired of the quiet young woman
"Where can we get something to drink
That will take this sadness from us?"
"There's a little house on the side of the road
And there's always a drop kept there
Go and rap on the board
And you won't have to spend a penny"
When we went into the shebeen
We nervously sat down
For fear that we'd be found out
And the young woman taken from me
When we found what we wanted
I said we should take a walk
But she said, "Sing some songs
And it won't cost you a penny"
Oh I wasn't singing for very long
When the young men came to the shebeen
Every one of them with a jug in his hand
To accompany the two of us
There was plenty of drink to go around
Since not many folks in the countryside drink
But if I could drink a gallon of O'Donnell's
It would be easy to pay for my twenty drinks
There, in one song, is the complexity of Irish life...love, drink, mystery, hardship, survival, poverty...a mix of melancholy and hopefulness. And Celtic music does this over and over again. That is why I love Celtic music.
Now about the artist, who is a big part of why this song is so haunting. Maighread ni Dhomhnaill was brought up in as a native Irish speaker in Kells, County Meath and her family was a well known musical family and collectors of Irish music. She was part of the highly regarded group Skara Brae, which recorded only one album that is considered a classic of Irish music because it first brought pop and guitars to traditional Irish tunes, and the first to include vocal harmonization in Irish traditional songs. She gave up music for a while, studying nursing and raising a family, but has since come back to music, performing with the West Ocean String Quartet and joining her sister Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, Moya Brennan and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh as part of the Celtic supergroup T with the Maggies. Amhran Pheadar Breathnach is from her 1991 album Gan Dhá Phingin Spré (No Dowry) and can also be found on the CD Putumayo Presents Women of the World: Celtic.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Why the title for this post? And what does it have to do with Señor Coconut? It's all in the title of his song: La Vida es Llena de Cables. The first thing that comes to mind when I saw it, strangely, is the movie The Big Lebowski. In one scene, as The Dude is getting deeper into a mystery, Maude Lebowski shows him the beginning of a porn film. In the film, a woman in lingerie answers opens a door to reveal a strapping, long blond-haired German guy named Karl Hungus. "Meine dispatcher says there is something wrong with deine cable," he asks? Later, in the same scene, after being introduced to a topless Bunny who was there "to use the shower," Karl proclaims, "Mein name ist Karl, und ich bin expert." Or something like that. In any case, the fact that Señor Coconut is German and the word "cable" is in the title of the song just took me to that scene.
So, it's a stretch. What isn't a stretch is that yes, our world is full of cables, like the song title says. At times, I get sick of all the cables that sit on the floor, in the corners, tucked under furniture so as to not be seen. They can be hazards - how many times I have tripped over my computer cord while getting up from a table, endangering my health and that of my computer. They can be unsightly. They are ungainly - pulling a vacuum cleaner around a house while trailing a cord which catches on any corner is particularly frustrating. And yet we seem to like our cables and wires. For some reason, they make it seem like there is something going on. I remember looking up at telephone wires (back in the days before cell phones, kids!) and thinking of the myriads of conversations that were happening, all carried on low bursts of electricity through those wires, and thinking how grand the modern world seemed. Opening up some piece of machinery to see all the wires tucked into it was fun - pulling them out in all their myriad colors even more fun - and then leaving the machinery there because I couldn't get it back together. In a way, Terry Gilliam echoed this dependence on the methods of modernity in his classic film Brazil, where instead of wires the annoyance and symbol of modernity was the ever-present ductwork in every building, every dwelling.
I wish, and still hope, that energy transmission can be made wireless as Nikola Tesla envisioned. Imagine that vacuum cleaner without a cord! Imagine never worrying about the state of battery health in your computer - it just runs through transmitted energy! Imagine space freed up, the dust bunny gathering places gone, if we had wireless energy transmission! Apparently it's possible, but as always, the question of how people would pay for it gets in the way of its implementation. Electricity on a subscription basis? Perhaps!
Wow, all that from Señor Coconut! Senor Coconut is one of the performance names of German Uwe Schmidt (he also goes by Atom and Atom Heart). A German composer, musician and producer of electronic music, he is credited with the creation and development of electrolatino, electrogospel and aciton (acid-reggaeton) music. He started performing on drums, then founded his own label in the early 80s where he produced electronic groups for cassette release. He also produced his own work under the name Lassigue Bendthaus. In the late 80s in Frankfurt he became influenced by the emergence of pre-techno music, and he began to produce groups and his own work in techno and trance. After suffering some financial problems, he moved for a few months to Costa Rica in the early 90s, and became enamored of Latin music. The mid 90s saw him touring extensively and also developing the germination of an idea that became Señor Coconut, and he began to live permanently in Chile. In the 2000s he has remixed a number of popular artists and has continued to record as Señor Coconut as well as his other monikers. He has also written tracks and scores for movies, and has branched into other arts including photography. La Vida es Llena de Cables is from his 2008 album Around the World.
Monday, August 25, 2014
I have a secret. A dirty little secret that I keep way down in the depths of my psyche. It's a secret I tell no one, because I'm afraid that to do so would ruin my reputation, cause all my friends to leave me, and leave a black mark on my life that would never be erased. Up to this time I've never written it down, I've never fully spoken it. But let this just be between you and me, dear reader.
...I like disco.
There. I've written it. It's out there. Ever since I heard that driving steady drumbeat, the bass lines that were a tamed version of funk, and that minimalist electric guitar accompaniment, I like disco. I didn't really care who was singing or not, it was the instrumentation and arrangements that interested me. To me, it was a mix of the unbridled sexual energy of funk crossed with something that could be danced with a partner - a kind of ballroom style funk. And I ate it up. Le Freak by Chic, Donna Summer, A Taste of Honey and Boogie Oogie Oogie, all of these I really enjoyed. I still can't hear a disco beat today without tapping my feet, and sometimes even smiling. Even a Bee Gees song will do it for me.
But I can't give myself away. I have to tamp down my instincts and pretend, along with everyone else, that I hate disco. That I consider it an abomination of music, nothing that any sane, discriminating music fan would listen to. Yet disco is making its own insidious comeback. Witness Daft Punk and Get Lucky. Witness the continuing popularity of songs like We are Family by Sister Sledge and everything by Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive. And I don't think disco ever died overseas.
Today's song, Vivire Para Ti by Los Amigos Invisibles, is testament to that. Known for disco, acid jazz and funk mixed with Latin rhythms. Los Amigos Invisibles formed in the 1990s in Venezuela as an alternative to the hard rock, metal and punk that was popular in Caracas as the time. They exploded in the club scene in Caracas after their debut album was released and convinced a wide variety of people that one could dance to other types of music than salsa and merengue. In 1996 they were signed to David Byrne's Luaka Bop label after he found and listened to a CD they had planted in a record store in New York. They relocated to New York City and recorded a new album, The Venezuelan Zinga Son, Vol. 1, which is considered their masterpiece. After fulfilling their contract with Byrne's label, they started their own label and released a series of records, culminating with Commercial in 2009, which won a Latin Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album. Post-Grammy, they have released Not So Commercial, an EP of outtakes from Commercial, and in 2013 they released their latest album, Repeat After Me. Vivire Para Ti is from their Grammy winning album Commercial, and when released it debuted at #1 on the Venezuelan charts. This version was recorded live in a radio station studio in Seattle.
You can bet I it on and am dancing...in private and alone, of course...so don't tell anyone...
Sunday, August 24, 2014
I've told the story on this blog before. How I was persuaded to go to Milwaukee's Irish Fest by Megan back in the late 1980s. How I dissed Irish music in my ignorance, believing that all it consisted of was schmaltzy ballads sung by accented tenors. How we walked in to the festival grounds and I heard something that I'd never heard before - traditional music with rhythms that were almost modern. That band was Capercaille, at the beginning of their career which has now stretched almost 30 years.
It was Capercaille that really started me on the road to appreciate world music. Back then world music was, to me, Celtic music: the smattering of songs that Peter Gabriel put out that had African singers and rhythms (I didn't even know the name of the singer, Youssou N'Dour, on Gabriel's In Your Eyes nor of his fame until many years later), and Ladysmith Black Mambazo's contributions to Paul Simon's Graceland album. My music world was small, limited to 70s and 80s rock, new wave, pop and a smattering of disco and funk. I had no idea when I walked into the festival grounds that day that synthesizers, a bass groove and a modern guitar accompaniment over traditional Gaelic tunes would lead to a sea change in my openness to other cultures and other artistic styles. And, this change occurred gradually. But it happened, and I have Capercaille to thank for that.
Capercaille is a Scottish folk band formed in the 1980s. They are named after the Scottish wood grouse. Capercaille performs traditional Gaelic songs along with songs in English of their own composition or by others, and often mix traditional songs with modern recording techniques, rhythms and instrumentation. At first sticking fairly closely to traditional styles and instrumentation, in the 1980s they added funk bass lines, synthesizers and electric guitar to traditional songs. In 1992, their EP A Prince Among Islands was the first Gaelic language record to reach the top 40 of the UK singles charts They have since been moving back toward the more traditional while retaining a slight fusion sound. This song, Puirt a Beul/Snug in a Blanket, is from their 2006 album Crosswinds.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
One of the difficulties I often have is deciding whether something is world music. Megan and I tend to be a bit expansive on our show when we pick music. Our criteria usually runs this way: 1) Is the artist from somewhere other than the United States? 2) If not, is the artist fit loosely into a world genre? and 3) Do we like it or does it have some reason that it should be heard?
This still creates some conundrums. Should we play the Finnish rockabilly band covering a Johnny Cash song? Is that world? Or, just because some American pop artist puts a few words of another language in a song or even allows an artist from another country to sing on a song, does that make it a world song? What about foreign bands that play rock, or blues, or jazz? We usually stay away from reggae, because the station has a reggae show, but there is a lively debate on whether reggae is considered world music. We have played songs with reggae beats in them, but usually if they are infused with other genres. Folk music comes from all countries, but is American folk world music? We usually stay away from that because there are at least a couple of folk shows on our station.
So, what often happens is that we play it by ear. We stick fairly firmly to other countries but throw in some American acts that meet our subjective criteria. If the song is of a genre like rock, jazz or blues even though it is from a foreign artist, we listen to it, read about it, and make some kind of decision. After all, we don't want to be totalitarian over what is considered world and global, and ultimately our shows have a good mix that sometimes stretches the boundaries of what can be called "world."
While Wyclef Jean in some of his music would have us thinking about whether to include him, this song, 24 É Tan Pou Viv, would not make us hesitate. Wyclef Jean, despite his time spent in the United States as a part of the American pop music scene with The Fugees, is from Haiti and clearly identifies with his culture. He also clearly made this song to highlight Haiti and its culture. He is using a genre developed in the US, hip hip and rap, but he includes influences from the Caribbean and does his rapping in French creole (which I particularly like). So, we would (and did!) play this song on our show without any hesitations.
Multiple Grammy-winning artist Wyclef Jean first came to fame in the US music business, but this Haitian hip hop artist, actor, and politician is also a humanitarian who has established a foundation to aid his native country. Born in Haiti, he moved with his family to New Jersey in 1982. A founding member of The Fugees (their name was a reference to Haitian refugees), he rose to prominence with the rest of the band as they released highly successful albums in the 1990s. In the late 1990s, he embarked on a solo career and collaborated with other artists such as Youssou N'Dour, Earth Wind and Fire and Shakira. His foundation, Yéle Haiti, has aided in the aftermath of Hurricane Jeanne and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Additionally, in 2010 he made a bid to run for president of Haiti, but his candidacy was turned down by the Electoral Council because he did not meet minimum residency requirements. He has released 10 solo albums, with another in the works. 24 É Tan Pou Viv is from his 2004 album Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Today's random tune has the intriguing title of No Way Back Out From the Beginning. I'm trying to wrap my mind around that. This is a title that's translated from Chinese, so it may be an approximation, but it still has me thinking.
When I look at it, I think I see it as conceptualizing choice. In other words, in making choices, we stand usually at a metaphorical meeting of many paths. These paths stretch off into the distance and we can only clearly see what's just in front of us. Afterwards, it gets hazy and foggy until we can't see anything at all, just our path disappearing into the mists of the future. And that's all we have to go on when making our choices. This is the beginning referred to in the title.
But then, there's the concept of backing out which is negated in the title. The title says that there is no way to get away from the beginning. In other words, once you get there, you are stuck. The past is closed to you, and the future is unknown. I suppose that every minute of our lives is this way. There we stand at an infinite number of beginnings, with an infinite number of choices to proceed, some clearer than others for the short term, but all unclear in the distance. And every choice we make entails some risk. And then we choose, and start down the path, and another choice comes up. As I type, I am at the beginning, and every letter that appears is a choice, and then another choice is made and a new letter appears.
And there is no backing away. We always move forward, never back. Time does not allow us to reverse our steps or go back down the path whence we came. It's always forward into the mists and risk, the good choices followed by bad choices, followed by good ones again. When I think about it, our lives are sort of like living in a scary forest with frightening sounds behind us closing off the path, and the only way ahead is through the gloom and darkness as we seek light and safety. Most of us navigate it all right, but we all go through our uncertainties and fears.
Kind of amazing that a simple title of a song by a Taiwanese musician would cause so much mental gymnastics! Today's random tune is by A-Yue Chang Chen-Yue (also known as A-Yue and Ayal Komod), a Taiwanese aboriginal (Amis people) songwriter, singer, guitarist and dance music DJ who also goes by the name of DJ Orange. From 2008-2010 he was a member of Superband, but now he fronts his own band, Free Night (also known as Free9). He is multifaceted, and recently crossed over into hip hop on a song with rapper MC HotDog and then a subsequent album. He is also an actor, and his 1998 film Connection by Fate was shown at the Venice Film Festival. He has released fifteen albums over his career. No Way Back Out From the Beginning is from his 2004 album Useless Guy.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
I don't have too much to say about today's random selection, other than I considered whether I should include it and decided that we need some levity once in a while. I did a post previously on the languages. My problem is that I never learned a second language. I have a smattering of Spanish and a smattering of German, and that's it.
That's why I find this particular video so amusing. For one who doesn't know a language, it would be easy to sound ridiculous in it. Fortunately, when I spent a couple of months in Germany, I was able to delve right in and even though I probably annoyed some people, I learned enough to even have small conversations, despite the fact that I probably mangled pronunciations. But when you mix a beginner's skill level with trying to impress the opposite sex, well, that can be funny, especially with a language like French which is supposed to be the language of romance.
Our random tune today is therefore a little bit light and comedic. Foux du Fa Fa is by Flight of the Conchords, a New Zealand-based comedy band who once referred to themselves as "New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo." Consisting of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, the duo had a BBC radio series in 2005, followed by an HBO series on American television for two seasons starting in 2007. Premised around the idea that the band is trying to find success in New York City, the cast included Rhys Darby and Kristen Schaal, and often had at least one video-style montage where the band spoofed genres of music and even artists (a memorable one was an early series spoof of the Pet Shop Boys style of music). However, they were continually denied funding by New Zealand television, who deemed them too "Wellington," meaning that their humor would not travel outside New Zealand's capitol. The pair have since been working on their own projects, but there were plans for a reunion tour in 2012 and an eventual Flight of the Conchords movie. "Foux du Fa Fa" follows a scene where Clement tries to impress a young woman at a bakery counter with French, and consists of lyrics almost entirely in beginner French, replete with grammatical errors. Foux du Fa Fa was part of the first season's eighth episode, titled Girlfriends.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to see Yungchen Lhamo at our local global music festival, Globalquerque. I remember that her voice was captivating, and not only that, but she also was very engaging with the audience. she told the stories behind each of the songs she did. Since I had not had a lot of experience with Asian music, it was a great opportunity to become better acquainted with at least this branch of Asian music.
As a matter of fact, I have very little experience with Asia at all. I did go to Bangladesh, which is a country that not a lot of Westerners visit, and I stayed in Dhaka and in rural areas for upwards of a month, but the media I saw in Bangladesh was overwhelmingly Indian or Indian influenced. I realize that India is in Asia, but I always saw it as being something apart. On that same trip, I got to spend a few days in Bangkok, Thailand, and that has whetted my appetite to see more but, unfortunately, that was in 1998 and therefore it's been 16 years since I traveled there. Asia always seems to have a mysterious pull and at the same time, be a bit intimidating to me. Perhaps I feel that way because of language - Asian languages approximate nothing that I know or am familiar with. Whereas I could go to Europe and be able to read the Western script and pick up a bit of the languages and perhaps communicate a little in non-English speaking countries, in Asia I wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of the writing and I would recognize nothing in the spoken language.
Perhaps it's the expense. Airfares to Asia are a bit intimidating. A country like Japan, which I would love to visit, has prices that are astronomically high. Perhaps it's the crush of the cities that I see on television and print - Chinese cities where visibility is almost nothing because of smog and where people are crowded together like sardines in a can. Or perhaps it's something else. Whatever the reason, I have not really spent much time there and would like to. I often think of traveling in the less traveled and more remote areas, and it would be great to see a country like Tibet, with its temples, monks and lifestyle that is modernizing due to Chinese influence but also tenaciously tries to hold on to its old traditions. To see and experience in some way the struggles of people transitioning between the old and new, and trying to decide what to keep of each, would be very exciting.
Today's tune comes from a Tibetan exile. Born in Lhasa, Yungchen Lhamo fled Tibet in 1989 and after a pilgrimage to Dharamsala to meet the Dalai Llama, she was inspired to reach out to the world through her music so that others would understand the beauty of her culture and the situation in Tibet. After a period in India, she moved to Australia in 1993 and to New York City in 2000. Her debut album in Australia received a top award for folk/traditional music and led to her signing with Peter Gabriel's label. She has since performed with artists such as Natalie Merchant, Annie Lennox, Billy Corgan, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Sheryl Crow and Michael Stipe, and performed at Lilith Fair and WOMAD. This song, 9/11, is from her 2006 album Ama (Mother). Of the song she writes:
"....This song begins and ends with chants reminiscent of a puja for the people who died, with prayers to ease their passage to another world.... In order for this tragedy not to happen again, what are we going to do about it? We can only hope the experience has made all of us more human."
Yungchen Lhamo, as quoted in her Wikipedia entry
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Algerian raï has been a music of many surprises for me. I'll highlight a few of them here. First is the knowledge that raï is born of struggle and protest, much like western rock music. Largely developed as a combination of different types of music in the 1930s in Oran, Algeria, raï came up from below. Not officially acknowledged as music by Algerian governments that promoted Arabic classical music, raï was outspoken about social issues. Its name derives from a word that singers would use to signal that an opinion was being expressed. The government of Algeria, during French colonization and then after independence, saw raï as a threat to the political and social order, and would often ban it outright. Raï was blamed for several uprisings against the government. However, starting in the late 70s as Algerian governments began to relax their strictures on the music, the raï became more of a challenge to fundamentalist Islam. In fact, Islamic fundamentalists murdered a popular raï singer in 1994 for allowing himself to be kissed by women during a televised concert.
Second, raï is an amalgamation of a number of different musics, and in that way it is like a sponge, soaking up everything around it. Originating from music and songs, called zendanis, sung by poor people in the bars of Oran, it quickly incorporated elements of musics such as medh (songs of praise to Mohammed) and the music of cheikhas (songs with hedonistic lyrics sung by women in alluring dress) and often resembled a kind of Algerian cabaret aimed at the poor and working class. From there it began to pick up elements of Spanish flamenco, gnawa, and French cabaret. Unlike many other musics from Arab countries, women played a key role in raï's development and it also developed in conjunction with dancing. Raï continues to be a sponge. In the 70s, reggae added its voice to raï. As raï began to increase in international popularity, it began to absorb even more Western influences, such as funk, rock, hip hop and other genres in the 1990s. Some of the most interesting hybrids of raï developed as a result of this infusion of new styles, including folk raï, pop raï, and even the raï punk of Rachid Taha.
One might listen to one raï song and not realize that complex and interesting history. I sure didn't know the roots of raï, but having been raised during a time when music was a voice of protest, I can certainly appreciate the role it has played in Algerian society, both as a modernizing force and as the messenger alternately informing Algerians of their social situation and warning against governmental and religious oppression. One of the foremost voices in this latter stage of raï's development is that of a man often called The Prince of Raï, Cheb Mami. Cheb Mami is the stage name of Ahmed Khelifati Mohamed, who sang in a radio contest in 1982 at the age of 16. This was during a time of governmental oppression of raï and despite the fact that he was clearly the best, he was not allowed to win the competion. However he so captivated the audience that he was awarded second prize. It was there that he was discovered by a producer, and shortly after he began releasing cassette recordings. In 1985 he moved to Paris and began to develop his own style of raï, including incorporating elements of his musical idols such as Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding and French rapper MC Solaar. Continuing the raï tradition of fusion with other musics, he also incorporates flamenco, Turkish and Greek music into his form of raï. After a 1999 duet with Sting in the song Desert Rose, he came to greater attention in America with appearances on many of the top late-night shows, morning shows, the Grammys and even the Super Bowl. He then released a very successful album, Dellali, produced by Nile Rodgers.
This song, Tayo Tayo Adiani, is from his 2008 album Douni L'bladi.
Monday, August 18, 2014
Call me crazy, but I really enjoy bagpipes. I know that there are some people that literally feel like bagpipes are the musical equivalent of running fingernails over a chalkboard, and I can understand why. They are loud, they have this underlying hum that you can't escape, their upper registers can sound like cats screeching a tune. And yet...
One story I was always told about bagpipes is that they were used by Scots to frighten the enemy before battle. I don't know if this is true or not, but I can easily imagine that if you were camping and you heard a Scottish regiment marching with bagpipes blowing and a large drum pounding, you might think the gates of hell had opened upon you.
But, the bagpipes are not just a Scotch instrument. There are numerous types of instruments made that use the same basic design - air blown into a bladder of some kind is then squeezed and forced out through pipes that can be played. And, they've been used all over the world. They are found throughout Europe (I have a tune by an Italian group named Fiamma Fumana that uses a particular bagpipe native to Italy), Northern Africa (I have another tune by Algeria's Cheb Mami that uses a bagpipe that interestingly does not compete with his Arabic lyrics, they must have muted it a bit), and the Middle East.
Once about three years ago, the Battlefield Band appeared on our Global Music Show. We got them into the studio, and they started to get ready to play a tune. One thing I never realized was just how loud even one Scottish bagpipe can be. The guy playing the bagpipe moved over to the corner of the studio farthest from the microphones, and when he let loose on that thing, it left my ears ringing.
Scots and Texans probably don't seem to have much in common, but I think they do. They are both proud people, tend to value their independence and sovereignty, and their cultures are known for fierce battles and martyrdom. When I discovered a Scottish group in Texas that played the bagpipes, I wasn't surprised. The Rogues were founded in Houston by Lars Sloane in 1987. They released their first recording in 1995 at the Texas Renaissance Festival on cassette. They figured they needed to sell one cassette a day to break even, and they sold 140 on the first day. They have received critical acclaim since, and have shared the stage with the likes of Steeleye Span, The Battlefield Band and Natalie McMaster. They have also performed with the full Air Force Symphony Orchestra. They still travel the renaissance fair circuit and released their latest album, 3 Lbs of Rage, in 2010. This song, Pipes in Space, is from their 2003 live album Made in Texas.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Megan and I quit going to our church last weekend. We had been attending a Newman Center on the University of New Mexico campus which had been run for 64 years by Dominican priests. Megan and I felt very welcome there, and we had a community that we really enjoyed. We sang in the choir (though Megan is a much better singer than I am) But back in January, the Archbishop of Santa Fe told the Dominicans that they would have to leave by July 1st - he wanted to use the Newman Center to boost archdiocesan vocations. With one fell swoop, the Dominicans were gone, archdiocesan priests came in and, we think because they felt that there was some evil going on in the parish, they removed everything that belonged to the parish such as vestments, chalices and artwork on the walls and replaced it and sprinkled the whole church with holy water in a blessing ceremony that felt to us like an exorcism. Over the past month, parishioners have been making the decision whether to stay or leave, and most have left. Megan and I made our decision just over a month after the occupation...excuse me, I mean takeover.
One of the first longtime residents of the parish to leave was a large Virgen de Guadalupe painted by one of the parishioners and which had hung on the parish wall for many years. Rumor has it that the Archbishop thought the church's decorations were too "feminine." Rumor also has it that they were going to hang the Virgen on the wall of the parish hall, but the artist was so incensed by the takeover and the attitude of the new priests that she took it back home. I spent a lot of time looking at that Guadalupe. When I moved around the church, her eyes seemed to follow me. For a while, our choir was placed right under her, and I would often look up at her and study her. She seemed to see through me...all my failings were naked for her to see and she seemed to also forgive them. I'm not a very proper religious person, despite the fact that I attended this Catholic church for many years. I can do without the pomp and circumstance, which actually increased after the takeover. But there was something in her that resonated with me.
And now she is gone. It is said that in Mexico, the Virgen appeared to Juan Diego at Tepeyac and asked him in the Nuahaltl language to make sure that a church was built at that site. The archbishop there wouldn't believe him, as archbishops usually do, and told Juan Diego to go back there and return with a miraculous sign to prove that she was there. She appeared again and told Juan Diego to gather flowers from the hill. Even though it was December, he found Castilian roses not native to Mexico, and she arranged them in his cloak. When he opened his cloak for the archbishop, the roses fell to the ground and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin Mary.
I don't know whether one should believe the story or not, but I do miss the painting of the Virgen that hung for so many years in our church and which is now gone. When today's song came up through my random process, on the first Sunday that Megan and I count as our leaving the church we had attended, it seemed like she appeared again for a moment, to let me know that she was still around. It seems very comforting to me to know that.
Guadalupe is a traditional Galician song interpreted by The Chieftains with help in this video from American Latino group Los Lobos. The Chieftains are an Irish ensemble who introduced the wider world to Irish music. However, Guadalupe is an instance where they strayed off the beaten path to make connections between Ireland and other areas of Europe. After a string of successful albums of Irish music, The Chieftains decided to explore the music of the Galicians of Spain. Paddy Maloney remarked that Galicia "is the world's undiscovered Celtic country." The Chieftains were formed in Dublin in 1962 and played their music primarily around the distinctive sound of uileann pipes. They took their name from the title of a novel by Irish author John Montague. Besides releasing several critically acclaimed albums, they are just as well known for their collaborations with such artists as Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Sinead O'Connor and Roger Daltry. They have released 44 albums. Guadalupe is from their 1996 album Santiago.
Saturday, August 16, 2014
>br /> There's always holes in one's musical experience, and some of us make bigger holes than other. If you are strictly a country music fan, you probably have big, gaping holes in your musical experience. Some of us leave gaping holes because we want to. I know many people who don't like rap/hip hop (though I would venture to bet that many of those who don't like it haven't listened to much of it - I do like some of it but I admit my experience with rap and hip hop is not vast).
One of my big gaping holes is electronica. I have friends, both European and American, who love Kraftwerk. Why Kraftwerk was not a part of my musical landscape is something that I have no explanation for. Perhaps I heard them once and thought that the music was too repetitive and simple. I was more into the huge rock spectacles that progressive rock bands were doing in the 70s. Yet being a latecomer, I have become aware first of just how much artists that broke ground in electronica were revolutionizing modern music. One artist that I really like for instance, Todd Rundgren, was experimenting with electronica long before most of us knew what it was or what he was doing. And Kraftwerk! Well, according to Jude Rogers in The Observer, "no other band since the Beatles has given so much to pop culture." So how did I miss all this?
I wonder, because when I do a first hearing of a group like La Bien Querida and a song like 9.6, I almost have an instinctual reaction to turn if off, and I literally force myself to listen to it. But listen I do, and after I do, I realize that I like it. I realize that I'm drawn to the repetition, the fast, disco-like beat that carries me back to the 70s when, I hate to admit it, I actually liked some disco (and I'll defend a position that despite a lot of bad disco, there was good disco too - and it's coming back through elecctronica...if you listen to Daft Punk you are listening to a lot of disco-inspired music). As I get older, I find myself drawn to more to slower, more melancholy electronica but, my mood can change with just a click of the mouse or the change of a track.
La Bien Querida is a Spanish group that was formed in 2005 and is fronted by painter-turned-musician Ana Fernández-Villaverde and David Rodriguez. They recorded their first album in 2007. Unfortunately, I can't find a lot of information on them that isn't in Spanish. My Spanish isn't that good and Google Translate's translations are about as good as mine. However, they are described as having a sound reminiscent of the most innovative music of the 70s with the techno/electronica of Kraftwerk and the rock and the dance-electronica of New Order thrown in for good measure. This song, 9.6, is from their 2010 album Romancero.
Friday, August 15, 2014
One of my favorite holidays is now Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Growing up, I always knew this day as Halloween, but of course I never understood the significance of the ancient tradition. Halloween to my young self was a fantastical time when I dressed up in a costume and walked the streets, ringing doorbells and hoping that I would get free candy. It wasn't until I began living in areas with a significant number of Hispanic people that I began to understand the full significance of the holiday. And as a kid, how could I know the ancient antecedents of the holiday. My parents didn't know, and nobody I knew had that type of historical knowledge.
What appeals to me know about Halloween, and Day of the Dead, is the idea that for a brief period the lines between worlds blur and even disappear. In the Gaelic/Celtic tradition, as the days wind down to the end of the harvest, the boundaries between worlds grows weaker until, for a day, faeries can cross over into our world. Lest you think that faeries are small, good sprites, in Celtic mythology they take on a bit more of a complex character, and have been known to steal children and take them back to the faerie world. At this time, spirits and demons could also walk the earth, interacting with living people and causing havoc on occasion.
What I love about Dia de los Muertos is that it puts a more positive spin on this idea of spirits roaming the earth. In some ways, it seems that the theme of this particular holiday is that the spirits are lost because they have crossed back into our world. The spirits are those of our loved ones passed away, and instead of fearing them, we can lay guideposts for them to come to join us in a meal and see once again their precious possessions and family. Many families put together altars, called ofrendas, and sprinkle them with marigolds which are believed to be brightly visible to spirits from the other world and beacons to them. The ofrendas contain offerings of food and those objects that were important to the spirits when they were alive.
In Albuquerque, a very nice parade takes place in the South Valley. Named the Marigold Parade, participants march painted as skeletons, their faces painted as grinning death masks called calaveras. It is a reminder that death and life are very intertwined...after all we will spend most of the universe's existence in death. The parade ends at a community center which is filled with ofrendas that deliver social messages. I've seen those ofrendas take on environmental messages (death of the earth), commemorate people important in Albuquerque's and the South Valley's history, and one year a very moving and tragic one commemorating the newly discovered but previously forgotten victims of a unknown serial killer who murdered a number of Albuquerque women over many years and buried them in shallow graves on the mesa to the city's west.
Megan and I celebrate Day of the Dead on the KUNM Global Music Show during our first Monday of November by playing global songs referencing death, spirits, and Dia de Los Muertos or its equivalent in other cultures. We first happened upon NovaMenco's tune When the Dead Come Alive for one of those shows. NovaMenco is a family of musicians based in San Diego. Started in 1995, they mix jazz and Mediterranean-style music, and even more currently funk, rumba and classical music with flamenco, creating a modern, innovative take on traditional flamenco styles. They have performed in some of the heavyweight jazz festivals around the world, including the Newport Jazz Festival. I don't know why, but flamenco music like this in a minor key always reminded me in some way of a macabre dance, and I even sometimes think that actual flamenco dancing with its twirling and stomping and sexual suggestiveness somehow encompassed all of life and death, so it was fun to find a song that even referenced death in the title. You can almost picture, listening to When the Dead Come Alive from their 1998 album Flight to Paradise, the dead rising up again to dance in our reality in glad abandon on a late October evening until the curtain draws over them and conceals their world for another year.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Bollywood movies are often hard to write about in this blog because there's so much to them. There are the stars of the movie, who appear to be singing in the videos, and yet they aren't. Instead, there are playback singers. So what do I focus on? In most cases, I should focus on the playback singers because they are providing the music but I cannot completely ignore the stars and I have to put the video in the context of the wider movie.
So first I will give you an idea of the plot of the movie. Om Jai Jagadish is the story of three brothers named Om, Jai and Jagadish. They live with their mother, a widow, in a house. Each of the brothers have very different personalities. Om stays at home and provides the family with its income. Jai is ambitious and plans to create the world's fastest car, and his engineering education is paid for by Om who takes out a loan to do so. Jagadish is in college and great with computers.
The brothers have a clash of values. All of them marry women with very different values and goals as well. Om marries an Indian MTV VJ and Jai marries a wealthy woman. Jai is in love with a woman from another city, Bangalore. Jai and Om clash, and soon Jai moves to America. Jagadish gets in trouble for hacking and Om throws him out of the house. Om has trouble paying the house loan, and he and his wife and mother have to leave the house. This leads to a reunion of the brothers as they end up pooling their money to buy the house back. They are too short of money, but Jagadish had sold an anti-hacking program to a CEO of a company who turned in the winning bid for the house. Jagadish had made a deal with the CEO, selling the program for the price of the house. The brothers are now free to move back into the house together.
How do I relate to this? There are elements to this plot that I can identify with. My mother is widowed, and instead of two brothers I have two sisters. There is some dysfunction in my family. My youngest sister is staying home with my mom, balancing her life and relationship with the needs of my elderly mother. My other sister is pursuing her own life and she and I are currently estranged for a variety of reasons. I live far away and also try to pursue my own life even as I try to be responsible to my mom. There is no danger that she will lose her house, as it is paid for. But I just bought a house, my first, and so there is always that concern in the back of the mind of keeping a job to pay for the house, and any little change, such as my wife deciding to go half-time at work and make up some of the lost income through freelance work causes some stress and involves a lot of talking.
The three brothers are played by Anil Kapoor, Fardeen Khan and Abhishek Bachchan. The playback singers on Pyar Ka Matlab are Alka Yagnik, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Udit Narayan, and Sonu Niigaam. I discussed playback singing on an earlier post - essentially the stars in a Bollywood movie usually do not sing - their singing parts are voiced by professional playback singers who are often stars in their own right. I didn't get much information on how well Om Jai Jagadish did at the box office or any critical reviews, so I'll just leave this post at that and let you enjoy the music and the video.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Years ago, my first forays into world music were explorations of Irish, well...make that Celtic, music. I hit all the up and coming world artists of the day, especially The Chieftains. Megan took me one night to a concert by Cherish the Ladies, and I was instantly smitten by the auburn-haired bodhran player. Up until then, I had never seen an Irish band made up of all female members. Sure, I'd seen a band or two where there was a female fiddler, or perhaps a female piper. And there were lots of bands with female vocalists. But never a bodhrán player. Yet there she was, stroking and beating that goatskin with a sound that was indistinguishable from all the other males I'd seen play the instrument. And then, she came up to sing, and even her voice was lovely. It's fair to say that I was smitten.
That was my introduction to Cathie Ryan. I've seen her again, in Connecticut, doing her own solo work, and her first two solo albums are among the first albums of world music that I purchased. To this day, I still love her song A Mhaithrin, A'Leigfea 'Un An Aonaigh Me? (Mother, will You Let Me Go To The Fair), and she's done some remarkable collaborative work with other Celtic musicians.
Cathie Ryan is a second generation Irish-American who was born in Detroit and moved to New York City at 17 to attend Fordham University. She was raised on Irish music such as The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, the music of Johnny Cash and country by Hank Williams. In Detroit, she was also exposed to the music of Appalachia by migrant workers in the auto factories. A singer, songwriter and bodhrán player, in 1987 she joined the Irish group Cherish the Ladies, and in 1995 she began her solo career. She has five solo albums. A former teacher of literature and composition, she still loves teaching and gives workshops on traditional Irish singing and Irish mythology and folklore. This song, You and I in the One Bed Lie is from her 1997 album Cathie Ryan. I don't normally use a video from hand-held camera, but the quality of this one is better than most.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
At the ripe old age of 50, I sometimes look back at the things I wish I had done. I wish I had raised a child, for instance. I wish I had done a semester abroad in college. And sometimes I think about, in a wistful manner, a nomadic lifestyle.
I can imagine my younger self, sort of footloose, wandering through the United States like a modern Jack Kerouac, or Europe, or Asia or South America, hell maybe even Africa. Or settling into a berth on a freighter and going from port of call to port of call. I could see that young me stopping in interesting cities and working for a while, maybe living hand to mouth or on the edge, making just enough money to live and scrape together a small savings and then hit the road. I could see that young me meeting interesting people, having interesting conversations, and maybe even having a torrid romance with a foreign girl or three until it fell apart and then I moved on to the next city or the next port, the next group of people or the next romance.
Of course, that never happened. I was pretty conventional. I went to college, graduated without any idea of what I wanted to do, joined a volunteer program but stayed in the United States (albeit I volunteered in the inner-city so I bucked convention there a little). I then got a job, got married, got more education, and suddenly here I am, a middle aged, homeowning bureaucrat. Becoming a nomad would radically destroy what I've built up, end my relationship with my wife and probably with most of my friends. I can't do that, and yet...well, that's why we dream - we dream of those alternative realities, those other lives that we could have lived and didn't. Those lives we romanticize even though they probably would have been as hard and full of pain as they would have been transformative. Dreaming of a gypsy-like life is not the same as being an actual gypsy - and all one would have to do is ask a Sinti or Roma to learn that.
Which is why I must appreciate the siren-call that songs like Gypsy Rain by Gypsy Caravan while also resisting its charms. When I listen to the song, I almost want to run away with the gypsies, lured by that percussion beat and that mournful, calling violin. I want to join the campfires where the musicians sit around playing this music in the midst of the caravan while the women and men dance and I catch the eye of a young woman who seems to dance just for me, and I get up and join her and we dance far into the night together. But that is that other, imaginary life, nothing more than a dream by one who took risks, but maybe not enough?
Gypsy Caravan is an American band formed in 1991 by Bruce Beaton and Jeff Rees in Portland, Oregon. The band varies from four to 9 musicians, and sometimes fills in extra strings and percussion as needed. Their main focus is playing for the Gypsy Caravan Dance Company, and they play a variety of original music and tribal fusion for the company's productions. They also can be found playing in large musical productions and in smaller, more intimate venues. They have played WOMAD in Seattle in 2001 as well as hundreds of other festivals and gatherings. Gypsy Rain is from their 2008 album Migration.
Monday, August 11, 2014
One of the great things about co-hosting a global music show is the hope it gives me. Especially in the present, while I write this blog, I read about the forces of repression and oppression overrunning areas of the world locked in turmoil. Recently, a woman was stoned to death for adultery in Syria by forces belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). A few months ago, hundreds of girls were captured at a school in northern Nigeria, and while some have escaped, the leader of the group that captured them has threatened to sell them into slavery. International sex trafficking has risen to unprecedented levels. It seems as if everywhere I look, advances and gains that humanity has made over the past 50 years, especially women, is under assault by those who would roll back the clock to times just this side of barbarity.
And then, when I am at a low ebb, I come across Zeb & Haniya in my music collection. I had seen them in concert a couple of years ago and purchased a CD from them (which unfortunately didn't work when I got it home) and we've played them a few times on our show. Pakistan is not the hub of the most enlightened thinking in the world at times, particularly with the Taliban still controlling a lot of areas of the country. Yet Pakistan once, and still in many areas, was a country where women made many gains under more secular rule. To see two Pakistani women who, it is true, were allowed the space to develop their musical talents in the United States while in college but who, at the same time, have become popular for their talent in Pakistan and have pledged to bring happiness to Pakistan through their music in a time of extremism strikes me as extremely brave.
Zeb & Haniya's music doesn't fit one description, covering alternative, folk, blues and easy listening. Zebunnisa Bangash and Haniya Aslam are cousins who began writing music together when studying at Smith College and Mt. Holyoke College in the US. Zeb has sang from age 8 and studied under Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan. Haniya is a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. They began crafting music in the basement of Zeb's dorm between 2000 and 2003 with a rough version of their song, Chup. After an enthusiastic response from their college community, they recorded a version and another song titled Yaad. The songs spread on the internet and made it to Pakistan's radio airwaves. They released their debut album Chup! in 2008 and following the album's success began to do live performances. They have been hailed as one of the first, if not the first, all female band in Pakistan. They sing mostly in Urdu, and their songs, though often with a pop feel, draw on Pashto and Dari folk traditions and artists such as Suzanne Vega, Turkish artist Barış Manço and Muddy Waters. Rona Chor Diya is from their album Chup! (2010). This version is from their Coke Studio Sessions show in Pakistan and features Javed Bashir as guest artist.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Way back in 1995, my bride was embarrassed. It was our wedding night in Milwaukee, it was our wedding dance, and we didn't know how to dance. We faked it. Shuffle shuffle shuffle, kind of like two junior high school kids draped on one another like leaning trees. Megan declared at that time that we would learn to how to dance.
Fast forward a few months. We have moved to Texas, and Megan came home from work and told me that she'd enrolled us in ballroom dancing lessons. No discussion. We went to the classes, where a nice couple told us that they would teach us foxtrot, box step, waltz, two-step, swing, and even a little tango. I learned that I didn't have two left feet, could do the steps, and even look reasonably good doing them. Megan had to learn not to lead me, but to let me lead.
The hardest one was the tango. We only had time to learn a few moves, and I've since forgotten them. Those I didn't feel like I was very good at doing. I've spoken to my co-worker Adam, who has taken tango lessons and attended tango dances on a weekly basis. He assured me that it takes a LONG time to learn tango, and that at the dances, it is difficult to get practice because the good tango dancers don't want to dance with the beginners, and therefore the beginners are stuck trying to teach each other, like the blind leading the blind. I can still tear up the floor on a swing dance, though I'd like to learn some more moves, and I enjoy waltzing also. In fact, I try to tell all of my younger, single guy friends that if they want to have more dates than they know what to do with, they should learn how to dance, but they don't believe me. That's fine...I don't mind being the rooster in the henhouse that all the hens admire!
Today's song, Estrela da Tarde (Evening Star) is an interesting hybrid between a fado and a tango. You may remember the fado from past posts as being a melancholy song about longing for the sea or about those who are poor. Fado has a particular structure and therefore resembles tango in that way, which also has a particular structure. Both tango and fado can be associated with the underclass, in the case of the longing of fado for the simplicity of the poor life and in tango, the rise of the music and dance from the poorest sections of society, into organized crime, and finally into its association with sexual sophistication.
The person who sings Estrela da Tarde goes by the name of Liana, a young and rising singer in Portugal who started singing fado professionally at age 9 and has won 11 first prizes in fado competitions. In 2004 she released her first professional album, Fado.pt and followed it up in 2005 with her second, Sombra, in 2005. In 2007, she teamed up with Reem Kelani in a concert titled From Palestine to Portugal where she sang in Portuguese and Arabic. Not only a singer, she is also an award winning stage actress. She sponsors a child in Mozambique, is an animal rights activist and vegetarian and volunteers with the elderly in Lisbon. She currently has released five albums. Estrela da Tarde blends the very similar elements of fado and tango with electronica into a song of longing:
My love, my love
my evening star
The moon is rising and my body is waiting for you
I am not certain
if you are my joy or my sorrow
Estrela da Tarde can be found on Liana's 2004 release Fado.pt, and is included on Putumayo Presents: Tango Around the World (2007). This video is from her appearance on a Portuguese television show.
Saturday, August 9, 2014
When I went to Turkey, about 3 years ago now, I was amazed to stand at a crossroads of civilization. Both in the past and the present, Turkey served as an intersection of cultures and histories. Istanbul in particular struck me as a major crossroads in Turkey, one that has served that capacity in history and geography for thousands of years. One of the interesting things to do in Turkey is to watch its people. Today, just as in the past, you see almost all aspects of Turkey reflected in its people, and especially in its women.
Walk along a city street in Istanbul, and notice especially the dress of its women. Whereas men pretty much dress the same - slacks and shirts or jeans and shirts - its women dress in all manner of ways. There are women dressed very much in western styles, such as dresses or pants and blouses, with long flowing hair. You can also see women dressed in what has become a form of moderate Islamic dress, modest with flashes of design and color, featuring less colorful clothes that do not flatter the figure and hair covered with scarves. It is in the scarves that the fashion comes out - brightly colored with patterns. The scarf serves to frame and accentuate the face but nothing more. You may also see women dressed in more conservative Islamic dress - all in black with face covered. What is interesting is to watch childhood friends - two women walking alongside each other laughing and talking, one in complete Western dress and the other in moderate Islamic dress.
I am reminded of this aspect of modern Turkey because of today's artist. Ayrilik Günü by Göksel is a pop tune about a farewell to a lover. It's lyrics are very poetic:
My love, I have a scar of a wound on my heart
My love, strangers begrudged at our love
You were an unfading flower in the spring of my heart
You were more real than everything in this false world
Farewell, today is farewell day
Farewell, today is farewell day
Today is farewell day, let our tears drop
Our real love has turned into the world of mortality
One can not love without being loved, a dead (arid) tree wouldn't bend
Heart is creation of Allah(God), heart can never be touched
(translation by pinar85 at AllTheLyrics.com)
However, Göksel herself has, in the past, written songs addressed specifically toward women. One song, Taş Bebek (Doll), she cowrote with Ferman Akgül, Alper Erinç and Turkish rock star Teoman. It addresses the suffering of women to always have to be beautiful, and encourages them to focus on the beauty inside and the things that they offer rather than always dolling themselves up for men. When I read that, it reminded me of all of those aspects of women that I saw in Turkey.
Born in Istanbul as Göksel Demirpençe, Göksel initially studied philosophy, but quit university to pursue a career in music. She was a backup singer to Sezen Aksu and Sertab Erener, both very famous female Turkish artists. She released her first solo album in 1997, and has since had nine album releases (one of which was a best-hits album allegedly released by her record company without her permission or participation). She has challenged some other barriers in that area of the world by performing with Greek group Omega Vibes at a concert in Babylon (Turkey and Greece have been historic enemies). You can find Ayrilik Günü on Göksel's 2003 release Söz Ver and on Putumayo Presents: Turkish Groove (2006).
Friday, August 8, 2014
It was not long after I had visited Italy, and spent some time with a German friend, Ellen, who was employed as an au pair in Rome. Sometime after I got home, I received a mix tape from her (yes, a cassette tape, I'm that old). She had put on the mix a bunch of Italian music - this was in the early 90s, I would guess. Two of the songs that I really liked were by a guy named Paolo Conte. Of course, the internet was not that well established yet, and there was not a lot of opportunity for me to find information on Paolo Conte. I had my two songs that I played a lot, and that was it.
Over time and moves to different cities I lost the cassette tape. While living in San Antonio, sometime in the late 90s, Megan and I went to see a band called 8½ Souvenirs that we heard was really good. They were playing in a little place near the San Antonio River. A a few songs caught my ear - one called Happy Feet, one called No Lo Visto and one called Come Di. Two of those songs, I later learned, were covers of Paolo Conte songs, and the other was very much in the spirit of Paolo Conte. But at the time I didn't put two and two together. It wasn't until I began to delve into music from around the world I reacquainted myself with Paolo Conte, and made the connection. Because of those 8½ Souvenirs songs, and I really liked the Paolo Conte ones, I was introduced to a new area of music.
So, who is this guy? Paolo Conte is an Italian singer, pianist, composer and lawyer. Born in Asti, in the Piedmont region of Italy, he began his music career as a vibraphone player traveling in local and touring bands. He started writing songs early on in his career with his brother Giorgio but eventually began writing all on his own. His star rose in the 60s and 70s as he was the main creative songwriter behind hits of other well-known artists Italian artists. His solo career commenced in 1974.
His songs are known for being evocative of colorful and dreamy Italian and Mediterranean sounds. His music is often jazzy, reminiscent of South America and French singers, and filled with a wistful melancholy. His music has been used in many movies, and today's song, Come Di, was used in the 2003 film I Am David. Come Di is from the 1986 album of the same same, and this version was videotaped live.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
At age 7 my mom brought me over to Mrs. Cleary's house. Mrs. Cleary was our neighbor just behind and to the north of our property, and she was a piano teacher. I had been enrolled in piano lessons. I spent the next 8 years having weekly lessons with her, and then practicing in the cold back room of our house on an upright piano my parents had purchased. Scales and various songs. Often my fingers were so cold that I couldn't make them work properly. Of course, over many years, I got some proficiency at the piano, but it was all with sheet music. As I got older, I watched friends join bands and learn to play by ear without music, improvising from the songs they heard, and I wished I could do that. At 15, Mrs. Cleary felt I had outgrown her, so I started taking piano lessons with a man named Tyler about 10 miles south of my home. He was a concert pianist, and much more demanding, and I soon realized that my heart wasn't into the work it would take to become a better piano player that could put on concerts. Tyler sensed, and challenged me one day, and that was the last day I had a piano lesson.
I also joined both my junior high and high school bands, moving through a variety of instruments. I played bass drum, baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone, and one tough year, bassoon in concert band. I could hold my own, but again, I lacked the desire to become really good at these instruments, and once high school was over I drifted away from music. In my mid-twenties, I took a stab at piano again because I rented a place with a piano in it, but after I left that living situation my only contact with a piano was in various, random places where one would happen to be. I've lost a good deal of my piano skills since.
My last attempt with a musical instrument was with the Irish tin whistle. I became a fan of Irish music while living in Milwaukee, and I picked up a tin whistle while traveling in Ireland and began to learn how to play it. The problem for me with the tin whistle is all the flourishes - the little notes between the major notes that give Irish whistle playing its unique style. I still don't know how to do the flourishes very well, and so I have not been able to become a champion whistle player.
As I look at today's selection, Oresteia Furies Dance by Tom Teasley, I'm amazed that someone could take the time to learn so many instruments. Tom Teasley is a multi-instrumental performer who uses instruments from around the world to cross cultural boundaries in his solo performances. I've heard the term "Jack of all trades, master of none," but to my untrained ear it sounds like Tom Teasley knows what he's doing with the instruments. Perhaps he just intuitively understands them, or perhaps he doesn't know how to play them at all but simply gets the sound that he wants out of them. Even if he doesn't know them, the sounds he gets out of them are pretty good and better than I would be able to do if you put an instrument in my hand, especially the hanging thing with the bow.
As well as being a multi-instrumentalist, Tom Teasley is a State Department cultural envoy, and has given performances with indigenous musicians in various venues around the world. He also shares his experiences in speaking engagements. He has performed with an eclectic set of visual and performing artists, including Nick Cave, and at art museums around the world. The Percussive Arts Society International Convention broke tradition three times to feature his presentations. "Oresteia Furies Dance" is from his 2012 release All the World's a Stage.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
I've never been much of a party and nightlife kind of person, so any songs about my nocturnal adventures would be pretty boring. It would recount my adventures in cooking dinner, sitting at my computer, watching TV, maybe reading a chapter of a book or working some on a crossword puzzle, and then going to bed. I can't remember the last time I had an "epic" night that could be put to verse on the level of a Homerian epic. Well, maybe I can. In college I had a couple of epic nights that it would be best not to recount, and some years ago I enjoyed a most-of-the-evening romp through San Francisco with my good friend and then resident-of-the-city Rich. We went to a party, and then due to lack of transportation we walked most of the way back through the city to his apartment.
One thing I've noticed is that a city at night has a distinctly different feel than a city in the daylight. Of course the light and shadows plays a part in this difference, but so does the the ambiance of the city. The people out are different, with different agendas and goals (some of which aren't always on the up and up). The night makes some people more bold, some people more timid. You see people revel in the night, and you see people absolutely shrink from it, scurrying to get to the safety of their doorways. There's a sense of danger in the night, but also a world in the shadows waiting to be explored. And that's what we did that night. We explored the shadows, whether it was walking (trespassing really) through the grounds of the Presidio or wandering through the nightlife of the Castro District trying not to be too conspicuous in our heterosexuality. It was a fantastic night, and perhaps the epic night in my life that I could write a song about.
Today's artists, the Owiny Sigoma Band, use their song Lucas Malore to celebrate their own epic night. The song tells the story of a night that lead singer Joseph Nyamungu's spent out in London. The Owiny Sigoma Band is made up of musicians from Kenya and Britain. Their first album was based on traditional Luo folk songs from Kenya put to a more modern beat. They expanded their repertoire on their second album, Power Punch (2013), on which you'll find Lucas Malore. On Power Punch they introduced electronica and techno. One interesting fact about their music is that they highlight an instrument called the nyatiti, an 8 string lyre played with a violin-like bow. Lucas Malore is actually quite a simple tune - it starts out with an uptempo percussion beat with a plucked instrument like a guitar or some kind of stringed instrument, and then adds bass and more percussion in a rhythm that repeats itself, while Nyamungo provides powerful vocals over it all.