Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Finnish It Up!: Värttinä and "Päivän Nousu Nostajani"

Do you ever have those time stopping moments when you are listening to music? I can honestly say that Värttinä provided me with one of those times. Megan and I were driving back to our home in San Antonio from a Lyle Lovett/Robert Earl Keen concert at Floore's Country Store in Helotes, Texas in the late 1990s. The radio was on, playing San Antonio public radio's version of a local world music show. Interstate 10 was busy as usual, despite the hour, and the music was nothing that was catching my ear (of course I didn't have a good ear for world music then). Suddenly, a riotous song that sounded like it was teetering between music and cacophony came on the radio. After a moment of "what the hell is this?" I began listening more carefully. It sounded almost Irish, but it definitely had an eastern flavor to it. I couldn't make out what instruments were being used - maybe an electric fiddle along with some crashing percussion. And the voices! Female voices singing in some language that I couldn't identify. And, it was amazing. It was one of those songs that had little elements that surprised you - where you expected something to happen something else did. It made sense and it didn't. And I loved it! It was one of those songs that I didn't want to end, and it did about four minutes after it started. I waited with baited breath to hear what the song was on the radio and when I didn't hear it, I called the radio station to find out what they had played. They couldn't quite tell but with about five songs that they gave me that they played roughly around the time I heard the song I managed to narrow it down to Värttinä's song Vihma. I immediately bought the album - it was my first non-Irish purchase of world music. Their album Vihma was just as fascinating and it was an album that almost ruined Värttinä for me, because I loved it so much other songs from other albums didn't seem the same. Vihma is still the only album by Värttinä I own, as if I am afraid to sully that moment by getting their other works.

Värttinä is a Finnish folk group founded in 1983 by sisters Sari and Mari Kaasinen, who had performed together reading poetry in the 1970s. In 1983, the sisters formed Värttinä and entered a youth arts contest with their poetry reading. They made it into the finals that first year, and the next year changed to singing and won the event. They brought on some male members in 1985 and entered the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, becoming known as the group that sings high and loud. Many children in their hometown were now eager to join the band, and finally Värttinä had to establish a new group for the youngest children to join. In 1987, at the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, they were chosen "Ensemble of the Year," and in 1988 they released their first album. In the early 1990s, they moved to Helsinki and began training at the Sibelius Academy and perfecting their skills. The band first performed traditional Finnish folk songs, but in the mid-1990s began playing its own original compositions. Over the years the band has had many forms and lineup changes, and is currently made up of three female vocalists and three acoustic musicians. They have performed worldwide to international acclaim and have released 14 albums, including 3 compilation albums and one live CD. This song, Päivän Nousu Nostajani, is from my favorite, their 1998 CD Vihma. The lyrics, hauntingly vocalized, are from the point of view of a traveling musician

Monday, September 29, 2014

Seeing Spooks: A Moving Sound and "Ghost Lake"

Try as I might, I have not been able to see a ghost. And I have tried. When I lived in Milwaukee, a friend and I went and sat outside a haunted school in Elgin, Illinois that I had read about in a book. The story was that the school was built over a graveyard and since then there were strange happenings at the school, including lights that turned on and off and screams. We hung outside for a while, but nothing happened. I have also driven down lonely, supposedly haunted roads hoping that La Llorona would flag me for a ride. Nothing. I took Megan up to Cimarron, New Mexico on one of our anniversaries to stay in a haunted hotel, the St. James. It may be the closest experience I've had. While a room has been sealed up because too many things were supposedly happening to guests that stayed there, and we investigated and didn't hear or see anything amiss, that night I woke up smelling smoke and thought that was strange but since I didn't hear any commotion to indicate that the old place was on fire, I went back to sleep. When I mentioned it the next day at checkout time, the concierge gave a knowing smile and said "Well, your room is right around the corner from what used to be the poker room." Hmmm...

Despite my failures and near misses, a bunch of people I know have told me their ghost experiences. Megan grew up with a ghost in her house that moved boxes around in the attic and occasionally scared the hell out of them at night by venturing downstairs - apparently only seen by their dog who would stare at nothing with his hair raised. Other friends told of ghosts in their basement or somewhere in their houses. My sister considers herself somewhat clairvoyant, and has told me she has seen ghosts on our property in my hometown and on other property that we own in Northern California. Yet I have seen nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing. Ironically, neither has my friend who spent that evening with me outside that school, even though he signed on to help film a local ghost-chasing show in Arizona and went to all kinds of supposedly haunted places.

I want to believe in ghosts. I love the idea that ghosts can exist, as I have explained in a post about Day of the Dead. I don't like that our experience of ghosts tends to have the implication that these spirits are somehow chained to this world because of regret or that they have become trapped here rather than moving on to something else. But I like the idea that veils can be cast aside between our reality and other realities. But I have yet to experience it myself, at least in the form of ghosts. And if there is anyone who should be haunted by ghosts, given my history, it is me.

All this has nothing to do with A Moving Sound's Ghost Lake, or does it? The song is about a young tribal girl in Taiwan who falls in love with a lake spirit, ignores her fellow villagers shouts and walks into the lake never to be seen again. It is framed as a story of true love - in this case the spirit is not unfriendly. There is a veil between the worlds, and just as spirits can come through to ours, we can walk through to theirs as well. Again, I find that fascinating, and a hopeful view of ghosts and spirits.

A Moving Sound consists of Mia Hsieh (vocalist and dancer), Scott Prairie (vocalist, zhong ruan and bass), I-Fang Chen (erhu) and I-Tung Pan (zhong ruan). The group was started in 2000 when Mia Hsieh met Scott Prairie in New York City with the goal of infusing Taiwanese traditional music with other Taiwanese and Asian styles and incorporating their unique creative vision. Their pan-Asian approach has garnered international attention, as has their use of traditional instruments to create contemporary sounds. They have released four CDs. Ghost Lake appears on their 2007 CD Songs Beyond Words and the compilation CD A Moving Sound (2011).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

He's the Bomb: Bombino and "Zigzan"

Zigzan by Bombino on Grooveshark

Not long, maybe a year, after I first heard the Tuareg group Tinariwen and was blown away by their song Tenhert, I heard Bombino. He showed up at Albuquerque's Globalquerque World Music Festival and played both evenings of the festival, one on the main stage and the other on a smaller, more intimate stage. He was fantastic - especially on the smaller stage where he kept people dancing for his entire set. The only thing I knew, previous to my exposure to him and to Tinariwen, was that the name Tuareg was used as the name for a car line. After Tinariwen and Bombino, I thought I knew the birthplace of electric blues. It wasn't Chicago, it was the deserts of Africa. Tinariwen would dispute that - they claim that they never heard the blues before they toured the United States - but given how musical styles have traveled from Africa to other places on the globe, and especially African musical contributions to the musical legacy of the United States, who really knows. All I know is that I like what I hear.

Bombino is a singer-songwriter and acclaimed guitarist from Niger. He sings in the Tuareg Timashek language and addresses political concerns of the Tuareg in his songs. Bombino taught himself to play guitar as a child in a refugee encampment in Algeria after his family had to flee Niger due to a Tuareg rebellion in 1990. While spending his teen years in exile in Algeria and Libya, he watched videos of Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler and other guitarists to learn their styles. In 1997 he returned to Niger and began his life as professional musician, but had to flee again in 2007 after another Tuareg rebellion erupted. The government banned guitars to the Tuareg, fearing them as a political weapon but Bombino declared that his guitar was not a gun, but a hammer with which to build a house of the Tuareg people. While Bombino was in exile in Burkina Faso, filmmaker Ron Wyman heard cassettes of his playing and found him, and produced Bombino's chart-topping world album Agadez. Bombino returned to Niger again in 2010, and he is the subject of the film Agadez, the Music and the Rebellion. This song, Zigzan, is from Bombino's 2013 album Nomad.

Globalquerque Video 8: Golem (Klezmer, United States)

Today's video captures a performance by klezmer band Golem from New York City, performing on the Plaza Mayor stage at the National Hispanic Cultural Center during Globalquerque 2014 on September 20th in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Golem was founded in 2000 by Annette Ezekial Kogan. They perform what they refer to as Eastern European folk punk, and their song are sung in Yiddish, English, and various Slavic languages. You can get a sense of their kinetic performance here.

I shot this on my Samsung Galaxy - good sound and video.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Getting Social: Buena Vista Social Club and "Chan Chan"

The random tune for today is from a breakout recording in the 1990s that brought the world's attention to music in pre-Castro Cuba. Chan Chan is a song from the Buena Vista Social Club, which centered on musicians who met and performed together at a popular club in Havana in the 1940s at a time when new Latin styles were being created. After Juan de Marcos González and Ry Cooder assembled a number of musicians that had played there and recorded them for a CD in 1997, they were invited to play as a full ensemble in Amsterdam where filmmaker Wim Wenders captured the performance on film and interspersed that footage with interviews of the musicians in a documentary called Buena Vista Social Club. The documentary went on to receive an Academy Award nomination, and made stars of the once forgotten musicians as well as reviving interest in Cuban music and Latin music in general. Chan Chan is in a "son" style, and was composed by Compay Segundo with Eliades Ochoa on lead vocals. It can be found on the 1997 CD Buena Vista Social Club. Interesting postscript - Ry Cooder was fined $25,000 by the US government for breaking the Trading with the Enemy Act in regard to the Cuban embargo.

Globalquerque Video 7: Rahim AlHaj and Liu Fang

Today's Globalquerque video is of Albuqerque's own oud master Rahim AlHaj and Chinese pipa master Liu Fang performing in the Fountain Courtyard at the National Hispanic Cultural Center during Globalquerque 2014 on September 20th in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Liu Fang was born in China and currently lives in Montreal. She is described as the "empress of pipa" and is considered one of the foremost players of the pipa and the guzheng. She plays both traditional Chinese songs as well as classical Chinese music and modern compositions from the East and West. Rahim AlHaj was born in Iraq and emigrated to Albuquerque as a political refugee. He has been playing the oud since the age of 9 and studied in Iraq under the greatest masters of the oud. His political activism against the Saddam Hussein regime forced him to leave Iraq in 1991, and he lived in Jordan and Syria before coming to the US. He detailed in the concert how he wrote songs for oud and pipa and found Liu Fang to play them - and this song is one of those that he wrote.

I shot this on my Samsung Galaxy and because I was using zoom the video is a little grainy. There is also a bit of background sound from cicadas, which Rahim Alhaj notes before they play.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Uking It Up: Jake Shimabukuro and "Less Cowbell, More Ukulele"

If I were to take up a string instrument other than guitar, I think it would have to be ukulele. It is light, small and therefore easily transported, and it looks like a lot of fun to play. I first began to see the possibilities of the ukulele when I heard and saw the Asylum Street Spankers. The ukulele seemed to fit into most of their music, providing a really nice higher stringed touch to their folk songs and adaptations of some modern songs.

Of course, Hawaiian music relies a lot on the ukulele, but modern Hawaiian musicians have been breaking it out of traditional Hawaiian music while showing an amazing virtuosity with the instrument. One example is Brittni Paiva, who at a young age has been distinguishing herself with her ukulele (as well as a variety of other instruments) in a multitude of musical genres. Another is Jake Shimabukuro, a fifth generation Japanese-American, who is redefining the ukulele through his virtuosity.

Known for fast and complex finger work, Shimabukuro mixes all kinds of elements into his music, including jazz, blues, funk, rock, bluegrass, classical, folk and flamenco. He is well known in his home state of Hawaii, but gained international recognition in 2006 for a video capturing him and his rendition of The Beatles' While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which was posted on YouTube without his permission and became one of the first viral videos. He has become very popular in Japan, where he tours often. He originally used effects pedals to alter the sound of the ukulele, but in the past number of years has relied on the instrument's natural sounds. He has won numerous awards, and has been declared a "music hero" by Rolling Stone. Less Cowbell, More Ukulele (also known as More Ukulele) can be found on his 2012 album Grand Ukulele. This version is a special in-studio performance he did for PBS Hawaii.

Globalquerque 2014 Video 6: Söndörgö (Hungary)

This video is of Hungarian Serb band Söndörgö (my best attempt at phonetics - SHURN-dur-gur) performing on the Plaza Mayor stage at the National Hispanic Cultural Center during Globalquerque 2014 on September 20th in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Focusing on the tambura, a stringed instrument of the Balkans, Söndörgö seeks to revive the once popular instrument through rapid-fire playing of traditional dance music and instrumentals.

This video was shot on my Samsung Galaxy, and the sound is good! Enjoy!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Osibisa and "Sunshine Day"

It is rare when my random selection process coincides with Facebook's Throwback Thursday meme, but today it happened, and it's a happy song about sunshine to go with our sunny and warm day here in Albuquerque as well. While I know that occurrences like these happen because of random chance, it still always seems slightly a miracle to me when things coincide so well. There have been days when I feel extremely melancholy, and that perfect melancholy song in my playlist pops up. Or when I am feeling happy, and Happy by Pharrell Williams or September by Earth Wind and Fire comes on the radio station I have been listening to. It almost feels like something was meant for me...like a divine hand or the guiding laws of the universe decided to remind me that even in the midst of randomness, that hiding in the midst of all the colliding variables, I was meant to experience that moment where life, earth, history, time, and the universe all coalesce into that one perfect point of unity around me.

Or perhaps I think too much of myself...

Anyway, Sunshine Day is a song by Osibisa. Osibisa was founded in London in 1969 by expat Ghanaian and Caribbean musicians and is considered a pioneer band in world music. They toured extensively in the 1970s, especially in Japan, Australia, India and Africa. With the advent of punk and disco, declining sales led to the band's decline and eventual disbanding. However, in 1996 they reformed and began reissuing past releases. The band tours only occasionally because of the effects of a stroke on founder Teddy Osei. The band's music has inspired and influenced many of their contemporaries and even the current generation of African musicians. The band has 27 albums (some unauthorized) and 17 compilation albums. Sunshine Day can be found on their 1975 album Welcome Home as well as compilation albums. This is a live version of the song. I have also included, just below, the studio version.

Globalquerque 2014 Video 5: Erkan Oğur's Telvin Trio (Turkey)

This video is of Erkan Oğur's Telvin Trio, a Turkish jazz ensemble, at Globalquerque 2014 on September 20th on the Roy E. Disney stage at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. This is a long video, but worth it. The trio does jazz with a Middle Eastern flavor. Oğur had already contributed something major to music - he invented the fretless classical guitar. A composer, he is also considered a master of the kopuz and bağlama lutes. This video was shot on my Samsung Galaxy phone - the video quality isn't great because my phone doesn't do zoom well, but the sound is pretty good!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dancing on Strings: Väsen and "Polska for Tom Morrow"

I often wonder how the first string instrument was invented, and who first plucked a string to notice that it makes a tune that can vary according to how tight it is wound. Or even better, who first drew something like a bow across a taut string to create that sound that we associate with the bowed instruments like violins, violas, and basses. Of course harps and lutes were the stringed instruments we most associate with antiquity, but how we went from a harp or lute to strings stretched over a box with an open hole to create a resonance chamber is fodder for the imagination as well. Did someone theorize that such an instrument, soon to become guitars/mandolins/ouds...all the myriads of guitar-like instruments.

One of the songs that fascinated me, back in my rock and roll only days, was Rush's 2112 Suite, specifically the Discovery part of the suite. In this part, a young man in another time period (presumably a future without music) discovers an ancient guitar and learns to play it, leading to the authorities to crack down on him and ending with his suicide and the fall of that civilization. The premise sounds a bit simplistic now (it is based on a very Ayn Rand-ian view of the world that doesn't really describe my views at all) but I was fascinated with the whole concept of someone finding something, having that moment of discovery, and having it open up his whole world. In a way, I feel that global music has done that for me. But that takes me back to the whole discovery process of music altogether, and the complex series of events, both planned and accidental, that have led to giant orchestras, small folk groups, electronic music, jazz, and whatever other music and instrumental arrangements that you can think of. It's astounding to me - human invention and happy accident. We truly dance on the strings of our own ingenuity and creativity and also a little luck and happenstance.

Speaking of strings, one group that we have highlighted in the blog before is Väsen, who randomly comes back up again with their Polska for Tom Morrow. Väsen is a Swedish folk band that has released 15 albums and has toured extensively in Europe and beyond. Due to the reluctance of one of their members, the percussionist André Ferrari, to tour they have been releasing more albums in a strings only format of nyckelharpa, viola and guitar. They also regularly play with Americans Darol Anger (violin) and Mike Marshall (mandolin). So here you get strings in all of their glory. Polska for Tom Morrow is from their 2013 CD Mindset.

Globalquerque 2014 Video 4: Oumar Konaté (Mali) and "Addoh"

Here is Globalquerque's September 20th opener, Oumar Konaté from Mali, on the Plaza Mayor at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Konaté's passion for music goes back to his childhood when he was impressing classmates performing on a bucket, helmet and drum and leading his own band outside his family's front door. He has performed in Mali's Festival au Desert and toured Europe and the United States with Khaira Arby and Vieux Farka Touré. He started with three songs on acoustic guitar - just after he played this song, he pulled out an electric guitar and really kicked it up a notch with some amazing guitar work.

This was shot on my Samsung Galaxy, and I like how the sound turned out on this particular one. The song is Addoh, which tells of the tears of a young girl as she is sent off to wed a man she does not love.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Beautiful Twilight: Mercan Dede and "Engewal"

Sorry folks...had an internet outage tonight so this is short. Today's tune is by a Turkish-French musician who draws inspiration from Sufi music for your listening pleasure today. Mercan Dede is also known as DJ Arkin Allen, and is a composer, player of the ney (a Turkish flute) and the bendir (a hand drum). He fuses traditional Turkish acoustic music and other eastern musics with electronic sounds, horns, dance beats and his Sufi spirituality. Engewal, (Twilight), is from his 2007 CD Nefes (Breath).

Monday, September 22, 2014

Globalquerque Video 3: Calypso Rose and Kobo Town (Trinidad & Tobago)

This video is of calypso legend Calypso Rose appearing with Kobo Town on the Roy E. Disney Stage at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico for Globalquerque 2014. Born McArtha Linda Sandy-Lewis, Calypso Rose has written over 800 songs and has recorded 20 albums. She dominated the Calypso Queen title for 5 years running (1972-1976) as well as garnering other awards and honors. Despite having health problems due to cancer in the 1990s, she still tears it up at 74 and, in the song after this one that I recorded, she actually twerked a little on stage. Kobo Town is led by Canadian-Trinidadian Drew Gonsalves, and the band blends calypso with ska, reggae, dub, rapso, zouk and hip hop, among other genres. Formed in 2004, the band has released two albums. The latest, Jumbie in the Jukebox, was released in 2013.

I recorded this video with my Samsung Galaxy on September 29th, 2014. I was sitting in the balcony to the left, so was able to get a wide shot. However, Calypso Rose kept moving out of the shot and one thing I've learned about shooting video is that it's best not to pan back and forth. The sound is okay, given that I was above the speakers. I hope you enjoy it.

Gypsies from Down Under: Barons of Tang and "St. Vitus' Dance"

The first Australian band to appear as the tune of the day is certainly an interesting one. You might have expected something by Aboriginal peoples and incorporating didigeridoos, or something that sounds like more in the spirit of Colin Hay. But what you are getting is a self-described "Gypsy deathcore" band who has been described (and this is a great description) "a band with too many instruments and too much creativity, like an Indian deity with option anxiety." I love that!

The fact is that Balkan music is hot right now. In New Mexico, a local band made good is Beirut which has succeeded partly on its Balkan-style music. Another band with local ties, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, has also received good reviews for its music based on Middle Eastern and Balkan music. A recent documentary, Brasslands, follows three bands (one from the United States) as they attempt to win the best brass band international competition at the Guča Trumpet Festival in Serbia. Balkan music has taken Europe by storm, especially as it has been remixed into club dance music. It seems that in the regrowth of the war-torn Balkans, their music has served as a major force in bringing together disparate cultures as a part of internal healing and for helping restore Balkan countries' international reputations. Balkan music has been incorporated into many genres, but perhaps the most driving and intense has been the punk movement. I first heard gypsy punk when I was introduced to Gogol Bordello and his music. Not long after, I discovered Barons of Tang from Australia while looking for music for the Global Music Show. While Balkan music for me has been an acquired taste, I have enjoyed the morsels I have gotten.

Barons of Tang started out in 2007 playing for local underground theater and circus troupes. They soon forged their "gypsy deathcore" sound that mixes tango, rockabilly, metal and gypsy music. They play nationally in Australia and more recently internationally, crisscrossing the globe with wild abandon. They are described as creating joyous mental bedlam. St. Vitus' Dance is from their 2010 CD Knots and Tangles.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Globalquerque Video 2: DVA (Czech Republic)

Here is an interesting duo from the Czech Republic called DVA, performing in the Fountain Courtyard at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 19th for Globalquerque. They are...well...I can't really describe them. They are unique, and interesting, and odd. They often sing in imaginary languages. All good things in my opinion. I don't know the name of the song, but you can see their kinetic energy in their performance. This video was shot by me on my Samsung Galaxy 4 phone. Apologies for video quality - but the sound is pretty good, though the female performer's voice gets lost a little bit at times. I think you'll get the picture.

Bagpipes in Latvia?: Auli and "Zenzeme"

This will be another short and sweet post, since I was out of town most of the day. Bagpipes! They seem to be all over the world. Some would consider that a great thing, and others not so much. I am in the camp that likes bagpipes, and have been very amazed at the breadth of countries that have them as part of their musical traditions.

One country that doesn't have much of a bagpipe tradition is Latvia, so leave it to a Latvian group to create one. Auli was formed in 2003 as a drum and bagpiping group. Some of its members came from the first drum and bagpiping group in Latvia, Dudinieki, which preceded them by 10 years. Latvia is not known for a tradition of drum and bagpiping, but Auli draws on folklore indicating that those instruments were frequently present in historical Latvia. Auli develops the sound of what they think Latvian bagpiping might have been, and combines it with drums including one of the biggest tree trunk drums in the Baltics. Auli started out playing dance and bagpipe melodies and incorporating tunes and drum pieces of other European peoples, but they have since branched out, developing their own melodies and style to set them apart from other mediaeval piping groups in Europe. You have to admire their creativity! Zemzeme is from their 2010 release Etnotranss.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Globalquerque Video 1: Lo'Jo on the Plaza Mayor Stage

The opening act of Globalquerque, Lo'Jo, kicked off the festival with a bang on September 19th at the Plaza Mayor Stage at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lo'Jo is from France, and was founded in 1981 in Angers by Denis Péan (singer/keyboards) and Richard Bourreau (violin/kora). They released their first album in 1993, and in 1995 added the members that make up their present lineup - Berber singer/saxophonist Yamina Nid El Mourid and her sister Nadia (vocalist). This brought them more recognition on the world music stage, and they were subsequently added to the WOMAD circuit. They have released ten albums. This video was shot by Michael L. Hess, edited with YouTube and is hereby presented to you. I don't normally post phone-filmed video but my phone seems to get decent sound. I don't know the name of the song Lo'Jo performed.

All Those Who Came Before: Afro Celt Sound System and "House of the Ancestors"

This will be a short post today because I am getting ready for the second day of our great global music festival, Globalquerque. A bonus for you for the next few days will be that I am taking some video of some of the great acts we are seeing and will be posting them up on this blog.

House of the Ancestors by the Afro Celt Sound System is a special song for us. Because we host the KUNM Global Music Show on the first Monday of each month, in November our show always coincides very closely with Day of the Dead. I believe, though don't hold me to it, that House of the Ancestors was the first song we played on our first Day of the Dead global show. We've done these for a few years now, and House of the Ancestors seems to make it's way more often than not on that playlist.

As I get older, I'm starting to lose people in my life - particularly the previous generation. My uncle died about half a year ago, and a couple of other uncles have gone in the past 3-4 years. My mom is in her 80s and feeling the effects of older age. The concept of Day of the Dead gives me comfort that for at least one day, my ancestors share this world with me before the curtain is drawn between their world and ours. I would like to think that they are still somehow present in my life, even if they seem gone.

The Afro Celt Sound System fuses modern electronic dance rhythms with traditional Irish and West African songs. They were formed by British producer Simon Emmerson and Afro-pop star Baaba Maal in 1991. Since then they've been proclaimed a world music supergroup, and have collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Sinead O'Connor, Robert Plant, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Ayub Ogada and many other pop and world stars. House of the Ancestors can be found on their 1996 debut release Volume 1: Sound Magic.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Walking Hand in Hand: Hapa and "Ku'u lei, Ku'u ipo"

Unfortunately, I have a full day at work and a full evening at Globalquerque, so this post is short and sweet.  A few years ago, my wife bought tickets to see a band called Hapa - she told me they were from Hawaii so I resigned myself to seeing what I figured was stereotypical Hawaiian music.  I had never really been interested in Hawaiian music but I figured I'd give it a go.

And to my surprise, I liked it.  I enjoyed Hapa, and part of it was their formula of mixing up the Hawaiian music with other genres.  So, the show that I dreaded didn't materialize. Instead, it was a varied show, with new takes on traditional Hawaiian music and some rock and roll, jazz and blues.  We bought a couple of their albums, and I've listened to them since.  And since, in a roundabout way they brought me around to listening to more Hawaiian music, recognizing my stereotypes and especially, in my introduction to musicians who play slack key guitar, realizing the incredible musicianship that goes into Hawaiian music.  This world music journey has done a lot to expand my experience and open my mind - and I can think of no better example than my former and current attitudes about Hawaiian music.  If we're not walking hand in hand, then I am at least touching fingers with Hawaiian music.

The name Hapa means "half," and indeed one of the members, Barry Flanagan, is a white guy from New Jersey who is currently paired up with native Hawaiian Ron Kuala'au. Flanagan has been with Hapa for 30 years, though his partnership has changed. Hapa started as a partnership between Flanagan and Keli'i Ho'omalu Kaneali'i, then with Flanagan and Nathan Aweau who eventually left for a solo career. Flanagan then partnered with Hawaiian chanter Charles Ka'upu, and Hapa's goal was described by Ka'upu as helping revive the Polynesian language and to totally change the way the world perceives Hawaiian music.  Unfortunately, Ka'upu died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2011 in his early 50s. However, in its new incarnation Hapa continues to draw from jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass, Latin, flamenco, rock, Irish music and slam poetry as well as traditional Hawaiian music. Hapa's debut CD in 1995 became the biggest selling album ever by a Hawaiian group, and they have since released eight albums. Ku'u Lei, Ku'u Ipo is from their debut release, Hapa.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Globalquerque Begins Tomorrow

Globalquerque, Albuquerque's yearly global music festival, brings seventeen musical acts from all over the world to our fair city over two evenings on three stages at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. For more information, please visit Globalquerque's website here.

Music That Makes You Happy: Nei Lopes and Dudu Nobre with "Fumo de Rolo"

One of the fun things about the new movie Guardians of the Galaxy is the central importance of a cassette entitled Awesome Mixtape #1. If you've seen the movie, the main hero carries this cassette around with him wherever he goes and plays it on a Sony Walkman. His mother gave it to him just before she died, and it's his one connection with her as he never knew his father. An article I read about the movie focused on this one prop, and the dying art of the mix tape. I remember doing mix tapes back in the 70s and 80s to give to people who were special to me so that I could share music that I found meaningful with them. The key to the mix tape was the order of the songs. Every song was specially chosen, sometimes around a central theme, and every song had its right place in the mix.

A nice website called 8tracks.com allows its members (it's free unless you want to buy bells and whistles) to make their own modern day versions of mix tapes. I created an account and since have had great fun putting together song mixes. You can upload songs from your own collection to the site, and then put together the mix which you can label as private so that you can keep it for yourself or for certain people, or you can label it as public and then other members of 8tracks.com can listen to it, mark it if they like it, or mark individual songs they like and create their own mixes. I've created about 20 mixes, some better than others - my most ambitious being a trip around the world through songs where the criteria is that the countries must either touch or have an unbroken connection over water. I start with the United States, and then head over to Europe and from there hit every continent. But, I've made two mixes of songs that make me happy - Happiness and Happiness Too - songs that bring a little light into my life, or make me smile, or make me want to dance or all of the above.

When I make a new mix for happiness, I think that samba will definitely have to be a part of it. When I posted today's song, a samba, to the Facebook version of this blog a person "liked" it and commented in Spanish that he was dancing with wild abandon in his office. Of the musics of many different countries, I find that at least for me, the happiest music seems to come from Brazil. This is funny to me, because Brazil also has some of the most melancholy music with their embrace of their "saudade." It's almost like there is no in between for Brazil. the music is either extremely happy or extremely melancholy, and they move effortlessly between the two. Of the happy musics, samba is certainly one of the happiest. I don't know Portuguese, so for all I know the lyrics could be about death and destruction or lost love and despair, but the music is so upbeat and lively I sincerely doubt it. I think that it there is a heaven, I'd like Brazilian happy music like samba to be on the speakers a lot of the time (sharing with big band swing and jump blues). A heavenly mix tape, if you will.

Today's song is Fumo de Rolo by Nei Lopes. Lopes is a 74 year old samba singer and composer who also happens to be a lawyer, writer and historian. Trained in the law by the University of Brazil, he abandoned his career in the 1970s to take up music. A partnership with prominent samba artist Wilson Moreira led to many compositions that are now recorded by almost all interpreters of traditional samba. In the 1980s, he was a leader of the "pagode" movement which brought traditional samba back to the radio airwaves after it had been briefly superseded by such new genres as bossa nova. Lopes has written extensively on Afro-Brazilian and samba themes and since 1995 has been working on his sweeping Brazilian Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora. Fumo de Rolo is from Lopes' 2001 CD De Letra & Musica and he is joined on the song by Brazilian singer and composer Dudu Nobre.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What's Your Sign?: Sa Dingding and "Capricorn"

What's your sign? That phrase is often satirized as a pickup line. I never felt comfortable with my sign. I'm a Capricorn, and I was always bored by my horoscope. Whenever I read my horoscope, and got to Capricorn, it always seemed that a Capricorn was the most boring person on earth! It seemed like all we were interested in was business. While it seemed like all the other signs were getting their groove on, finding love and getting involved in intrigue, all the Caps were interested in was the stock market, or the financial pages. I concluded that if I was a Capricorn, I was a very unlikely one. The only horoscope page I could read about Capricorns was Rob Brezsny's Free Will Astrology, which seemed a little more...I don't know...open and esoteric about astrological signs.

Sa Dingding makes you feel anything but businesslike. Beautiful and with a haunting voice, and appearing in a gorgeous video, it makes one feel like being Capricorn is sexy and exotic. A singer-songwriter of mixed Chinese Han and Mongolian ancestry, she was influenced early in her life by the folk music of the ethnic minorities of Mongolia and China, and she became interested in Buddhism and learned to speak many languages, including Mandarin, Sanskrit and Tibetan. She also created her own language to bring out her songs' emotions. Dingding released her first album at 18, and in 2008 she won the BBC Radio 3 World Music Award for the Asia-Pacific region. That award gave her the chance to perform for a western audience for the first time. She co-wrote a song in 2008 with Eric Moquet of Deep Forest to raise funds for the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake relief, and she has recently performed at WOMAD and at the UK's Harrogate Festival. She has also announced plans for a European tour. Capricorn can be found on her 2012 CD The Coming Ones.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

In an Aloha State of Mind: Ray Kāne and "Popoki Slack Key"

Popoki Slack Key by Ray Kane on Grooveshark

Can you believe I've never been to Hawaii? It's about the closest thing in the United States (besides New Orleans) that we have to a foreign country within our borders and I've never been able to drag my rear end there. I lived on the west coast of the United States, and I never got there. A Hawaiian girl liked me in college, and I never got there.

My Jesuit-run university, Santa Clara University, had a relationship with a couple of Jesuit High Schools in Hawaii so we had a lot of Hawaiians, white and mixed or Native, that came through their pipeline. I learned a little about the state and its people. I learned that "haole" can be a derogatory term for white people, but I've never been there. A person who was in high school band with me lives in Hawaii, and I've never been there.

Part of the reason is that I never felt a real need to go there. But as I grow older, and the number of people who have been there tell me of their adventures, particularly those adventures in the less populated area, I start to feel like I'm missing something. I think that it might be time for me to go to Hawaii.

And, I'm starting to like Hawaiian music. In the past, I associated Hawaiian music narrowly with Don Ho or like performers. But the Global Music Show has introduced me to lots of different types of Hawaiian music, and the mellow sounds of slack key guitar playing. One of those artists is Ray Kāne. Kāne's middle name, Kaleoalohapoina'oleohelemanu, loosely translates as "the voice of love that comes and goes like a bird and will never be forgotten." A deceptively simple guitar style, coupled with unique ways of brushing and plucking or hammering on and pulling off the strings resulted in his "nahenahe" or sweet sounding music that he always felt should be played or sung from the heart. He was one of the first slack key masters to play public concerts and tour widely. He made his first recordings in 1961. In 1987, Kāne was honored as a national living treasure by the National Endowment of the Arts. Ray Kāne died in 2008, but his music lives on. Popoki Slack Key is from his 1998 CD Wa'ahila.

Monday, September 15, 2014

String Theory: Bassekou Kouyate and "Jama Ko"

One of the interesting things about doing the Global Music Show on KUNM is that it has exposed me not only to a wide variety of music, but also a wide variety of instruments. While the ngoni played in our song for today is less exotic than some - think of instruments made with sheep bladders or those that make strange noises with different arrays of holes, baffles and other things. I suppose anything can become an instrument...for example, a music professor at the University of New Mexico used wind blowing through cactus needles as an instrument. I've been at parties where bags of rice, glasses and spoons, and other things become instruments yielding to hours of rhythmic enjoyment.

But one thing that is always fun is listening to different kinds of stringed instruments. I think I like them because I have always thought of picking up a stringed instrument that you strum or pick, and I just have never done it. I seem to like the sound of them all, however. When I listen to the ngoni, it sounds like ukelele and other small guitar-like instruments, but with it's own personality and probably it's own quirks as well. I always envied the players of stringed instruments. They pull them out at parties and everyone loves it. I have never gotten the same adoration when I pull out my tin whistle. So, one of these days before I day, I'll learn to play a guitar or something, however badly, and wait for the women to swoon.

Today's random song is Jama Ko by Malian musician Bassekou Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba. Kouyati is a ngoni player. The ngoni is a stringed instrument made of wood or calabash and has been in existence for at least 800 years. Kouyate released his debut album in 2007, has collaborated with Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté, and in 2010 toured with noted banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck. In 2013, Kouyate appeared at the BBC Proms, a series of daily concerts held at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He has released three albums with his band, was a contributing artist to The Rough Guide to Desert Blues (2010) and received the 2008 BBC 3 Radio Award for World Music in the categories of Album of the Year and African Artist of the Year. Jama Ko is from his 2013 album of the same name.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Certainty: Liber Terán and "Es Cierto"

Unfortunately I have a ton to do today and won't be able to write something deep about this song. Reading a bad translation of the lyrics, Es Cierto appears to be about a love that is lost, sung from the perspective of a person who knows it to be true. We've all been there, especially at that moment when one hangs on the edge of wanting something to still be there, and knowing that it isn't...that sweet agony of the heart just before one turns and walks away forever.

Liber Terán is a founding member and former lead singer and guitarist of the Mexican band Los de Abajo, which focused on Latin ska, rock, salsa. reggae, cumbia, Son Jarocho and banda sinaloense. As a solo artist, Terán has expanded his repertoire to explore classic rock and roll and Balkan influences. Es Cierto is from his 2008 CD El Gitano Western.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Police Brutality: Charanga Cakewalk and "El Ballad de José Campos Torres"

El Ballad De Jose Campos Torres by Charanga Cakewalk on Grooveshark

Today's song, El Ballad de José Campos Torres, sounds deceptively mellow - like a song one would like to relax to on a Saturday evening while playing a mix of similar, low-key music during a sunset. And maybe that's the point, because the name of José Campos Torres symbolizes anything but mellow and relaxing times.

In 1977, Houston police picked up José Campos Torres, a 23 year old Vietnam veteran, on a disorderly conduct charge. They took him to a waterway called Buffalo Bayou, where they proceeded to beat him and inflict serious injuries. After the beating, they took him to the city jail, but the jail refused to admit him due to his injuries. The cops were ordered to take him to the hospital, but instead they took him back to the bayou, handcuffed him and dumped him into the water. One of the cops supposedly said "Let's see if the wetback can swim." After a trial of the police officers on state murder charges, they were convicted of negligent homicide, given one year of probation and fined $1 each. A year later, they were brought up on federal civil rights charges and convicted, with each serving 9 months in prison.

The story attached to this song hits close to home, given that I live in Albuquerque and our police are under investigation by the Justice Department. Since 2010, officers of the Albuquerque Police Department have shot and killed 27 people. These shootings and the investigation into the police have been covered by Albuquerque media, including KUNM, and by national media as well. The most notorious shooting was of a homeless man, James Boyd, who was shot and killed while apparently surrendering to police. Other shootings by APD include a man in his own back yard, and a young woman running from an officer who brought her down but apparently didn't turn on his lapel video camera. All of this, coupled with the recent national discussion focusing on the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson and about the militarization of police forces nationwide during the War on Terror continues to shine a spotlight on the role of the police. Are they our guardians, or should we be guarding ourselves from the police? And if you are a minority, are you automatically targeted? This discussion isn't just happening in the United States. The recent conviction of Oskar Pistorious in South Africa on lesser charges after shooting his girlfriend through a bathroom door (by a black judge) has reignited questions of whites in that country automatically get the benefit of the doubt in criminal cases. The fact that in this country, blacks comprise about 13 percent of the total population but about 40 percent of the total prison population may hint at many things - the role that poverty has on our minority communities for one, but also the way that police view minority communities for another. If anything, El Ballad de José Campos Torres can remind us that until we are all treated in similar fashion as guaranteed to all US citizens under the Constitution, regardless of whether we are shopping, driving, or getting picked up on suspicion of a crime, the United States will always still have a way to go to live up to its full potential as a democracy.

El Ballad de José Campos Torres is by Charanga Cakewalk. Charanga Cakewalk is the brainchild of Michael Ramos, a Latino Chicano Mexican who also describes himself as a citizen of the world. A once sideman and rocker who played with John Mellencamp, Paul Simon, Patty Griffin and others and was a sometime member of the BoDeans and The Rembrandts, he maintained a keen interest in the Latino music of his childhood. Ramos has made Charanga Cakewalk the leading proponent of a style called cumbia lounge. Within his musical landscapes, you might hear tejano, flamenco, merengue, salsa, garage rock, ska and reggaeton. Charanga Cakewalk has released three albums. El Ballad de José Campos Torres is from his 2006 album Chicano Zen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Christmas Time All Year: White Fort and "Svyatki!"

It took awhile, but I finally realized that today's random world music song selection was a Christmas/holiday song. You see, not having much of a second language, I often don't know the meaning of the titles of songs that I find. I just listen to the song and if I like it, it gets added to my collection and eventually makes it on to our Global Music Show. I suppose I could have run the title, Svyatki!, through Google Translate, but I often don't think of that.

What I heard when I listened to this song at first was amazing guitar and violin work, a fast tempo, a catchy tune that one would want to dance (fast) to, and man, could these guys play! I don't know about you, but my idea of Christmas music, which has evolved over the past 20 years or so, was still music that had some kind of identifier that it was holiday-oriented. Either a word (which was out because I don't understand Russian) or clues in the music such as bells or choirs. Admittedly, my ideas of Christmas music have changed since I have become a kind of collector of interesting, non-traditional Christmas music but, there was always still that identifier somewhere. But not understanding Russian, all I heard was a really jammin' song that had no connection to the holiday. And I liked it. I played it over and over.

I once lived in a community house in Milwaukee and another resident was an ex-nun who had a few issues and loved Christmas music and would play said Christmas music at all times of the year. We eventually had to make it a rule that she wouldn't play Christmas music except during the holiday season. Well, I felt like I must have seemed a little like her when I found out last year, after a year of listening to Svyatki!, that it was a Christmas song. I could see myself in Russia, telling people in July what a great song this was and playing it over an over while they looked at each other and made the universal symbol of craziness sign by twirling a finger around an ear. And wouldn't you know it, just as I was starting to write this post I had the idea to look up the title in Google Translate and the title is very plainly, translated into English, Christmas Time!

Well, I still like the song. And I still will play it whenever I want because I like it so much. The label doesn't mean anything. I shouldn't have been so judgmental of my ex-nun roommate and her Christmas music love, and it took White Fort to teach me that lesson.

White Fort is a duo from Russia. Consisting of guitarist Yuriy Matveyev and fiddler Artyom Yakushenko, the two met in college and started making music together while procrastinating from their studies. They took a prize for Best New Band at their first national folk festival in Novosibirsk and were put on probation back at school. After 3 studio CDs and a ballet score, they moved to Moscow and were discovered by an American promoter who released an album of their music in the US under the title "Two Siberians." They also continued making albums in Russia, and scored film and television. They suspended their music-making in 2008 to take sabbaticals, but reunited in 2012 and began recording touring again. Svyatki!, is from their 2012 CD 6/8.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Marco? Polo!: Loreena McKennitt and "Beneath a Phrygian Sky"

One of the most impressive men I've ever met was a diminutive 90-something-year-old journalist named Gary MacEoin. An Irishman with still more than a hint of his accent, he was a towering figure in social justice reporting, particularly in Latin America, and in covering the Catholic Church during Vatican II. He spoke a number of languages, was extensively traveled, and in his 90s he still had his wit, his intellect and a dry sense of humor. I remember that he was preparing, even in his 90s, of traveling to Samarkand. "Do you know where that is?" he asked me. I replied that I thought Samarkand was in Uzbekistan. I asked him why he wanted to go there. He replied that as a young boy, he read about Marco Polo's travels upon the Silk Road. Something about Polo's description of Samarkand fascinated him, and he put that city on his bucket list. Unfortunately, Gary took a fall while visiting family and a couple of weeks later, while recuperating, suffered cardiac arrest and died before he was able to realize his dream.

That story comes back to me now because our artist for today, Loreena McKennitt, also is fascinated by the Silk Road and especially the culture and music that traveled there. McKennitt, a Canadian known for her soprano voice, is a composer, harpist, accordionist and pianist who writes and performs world music with Celtic and Middle Eastern themes. She released her first album in 1985, and since then has gone on to release nine studio albums and five live albums which have sold 14 million copies worldwide. Her songs have also been featured in television and movies. Beneath a Phrygian Sky is from her 2006 album An Ancient Muse, in which she explores Celtic and Arabic musical elements as she imagines a journey along the Silk Road. In fact, I relate to this song now because in her notes about the song, she mentions visiting Ephesus in Turkey, a biblical city (Paul's letters to the Ephesians), and one whose stately ruins I have also walked. She relates of being swept away, and wondering what the stones could tell her about commerce and culture past. She also wonders if we will ever learn from our history, and quotes Edmund Burke: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." And I'm brought back to my late friend Gary MacEoin, a good man who did a lot, and was still planning things to do up until the day he died.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Disbanding: Black 47 and "Fire of Freedom"

One of the iconic Irish rock bands of the 1990s that is still playing today is disbanding, I read today in Wikipedia. I remember hearing some Black 47 songs back in the day, and they were a favorite of some friends of mine who were really into Irish rebel music. I remember at the time I really didn't the concept of Irish music mixing with other types - after all, I had only recently become aware of Irish traditional music in the 1990s and started out a bit of a purist. But now, after all these years, I appreciate the unique experimentation that took Irish and Celtic music into different realms such as reggae, hip hop, and punk. Bands like The Pogues, The Prodigals and Black 47, as well as the more mainstream groups such as U2 I think helped develop an interest in Irish traditional music that only boosted the popularity of folk music from the Emerald Isle and other Celtic-influenced regions around Europe. When I listen The Pogues Fairytale of New York, or Black 47's Funky Ceili, I hear some great music and, dare I say it, poetry in the lyrics that can be missed if one simply concentrates on the music.

Black 47 is a Celtic rock band from New York City with roots in reggae, hip hop, folk and jazz. Known for their Irish Republican sympathies, their name refers to 1847, the worst year of the Irish famine. Their music was initially embraced by both right- and left-leaning people as they sang songs with socialist lyrics and about everyday life in America, but their outspoken opposition to the Iraq War and other topics garnered them controversy and their outspoken Irish republicanism led to a reluctance by UK labels to promote or support their albums overseas. A series of tragedies also befell various band members in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After 9/11, the band began to play regular and emotional gigs in Manhattan to allow people grieving over the tragedy to have a voice. Their albums have almost all been critically praised, with their music being given as examples of how Irish music can rock, and their lyrics drawing comparisons even with Irish author James Joyce. Black 47 announced in 2013 that they will disband in November 2014 after exactly 25 years of making music as a band, and they have released their final album, Last Call. Their disbanding is, according to their statement, not due to any internal band dissension but because they want to go out at the top of their game and on their own terms. Fire of Freedom, a reggae-inspired song, can be found on their 1993 album of the same name.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Just Dance: Systema Solar and "Yo Voy Ganao"

Today has been one of those days. So sometimes, when the random tune comes up for your daily blog, you just go with it and it's exactly what you need. As I play this right now, I'm dancing in my seat and making an idiot of myself in front of my coworkers...but hey, they're used to it! The lyrics are included under the video, in case you want to dance and sing along wherever you are right now.

Yo Voy Ganao is by Systema Solar, a Colombian collective of DJs, MCs, producers and percussionists brought together in 2006 by a passion for Afro-Caribbean music. They weave together different genres such as champeta, cumbia, and other South American rhythms with rapid fire socially conscious lyrics delivered through some amazing MCs between brilliant electronics. As such, they've created their own style they call "berbenautika" inspired by pikos (sound systems) and verbena (festivals). Yo Voy Ganao is from their 2013 CD La Revancha del Burro.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Under the Covers: Albert Pla and "El Lado Mas Bestia de la Vida"

Today's song is one I really like. I liked the original version, performed by Lou Reed, but I like this one too. One reason is that it is not just a cover from someone who is trying to piggyback off someone else's work. From what I read about Albert Pla, the artist who performs this cover, he chooses songs often based on their content and especially likes taking on controversial subjects. Walk on the Wild Side is about people doing self-destructive things, but it is also about drawing attention to the people who hurt in our society. The song doesn't necessarily exhort us to "walk on the wild side" but it does urge us to have a bit more understanding of those who do, and to have some level of compassion for them. At least that is how I interpret the song.

Albert Pla is a Spanish performer who sings in both Spanish and Catalan. He swings from controversial music to music that is very whimsical. His songs often touch on the choices between participation or leaving, whether that involves a relationship with a girlfriend, deciding who owns a piece of property, choosing to participate in a radical political group with a terrorist agenda. He is also an actor, having acted in films and on stage and his song Suffer Like Me is on the soundtrack of Pedro Almodóvar's movie Live Flesh. El Lado Mas Bestia de la Vida is on Pla's 1995 album Assumes Fonollosa and can also be found on Putumayo's Cover the World compilation album.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Little Naughty: Mexican Institute of Sound and "A Girl Like You"

Poon-chee-ta-ta poon-chee-too. This is the lyric repeated over and over, in a slightly enhanced whisper, in Mexican Institute of Sound's A Girl Like You. At least that's what it sound like. When I looked up the lyrics, this is how it is actually written: Bu ti tata bu ti to. Either way, it sounds slightly naughty. Why, I can't really say. Why do certain sounds said certain ways conjure up all kinds of images? If you just say that lyric normally, in a normal voice, then it doesn't sound half so scandalous. But put it in a half whisper and give it a steady rhythm, and suddenly one thinks of other things.

A glance, a look, a way of speaking, a word, a motion, a gesture...any of these things done one way can be completely innocent, but done another way trigger responses in our brains and perhaps even deeper instincts. I have always been amazed at how easily we are triggered and how music and sound can be one of those triggers. Is a moan one of pain...or something else? Without context, our minds can run wild with speculation and titillation. And even our context matters - where, when and how we interpret those sounds, movements and gestures can vary from place to place and situation to situation. So many variables!

I have never been able to listen to A Girl Like You without interpreting it in a certain way, however. Perhaps that says something about me. Or perhaps I interpret the song, even without knowing the words, just as it was meant to be interpreted.

A Girl Like You is the product of the Mexican Institute of Sound (MIS), MIS is Mexico City based producer and DJ Camilo Lara's electronic music project. Fusing Mexican folk music modern sounds, MIS is part of a growing movement in Mexican music. Lara started with mixing music for holiday mixtapes, and after getting enthusiastic receptions for his creations, began creating musical collages under the moniker Mexican Institute of Sound, relying on samples of Mexican classical music. He has released four albums, with a fifth due next year. A Girl Like You has a lush, sensual sound that was apparently used with great effect in the Showtime TV series Californication. It can be found on MIS's 2007 album Piñata.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Going Mediaeval: The Mediaeval Baebes and "Quan Vey la Lauzeta"

Space and time are a funny thing, especially when they intersect and intermingle. Today's song, Quan Vey la Lauzeta by The Mediaeval Baebes, is an example of how global music can bend the rules of space-time as well as anything else in the world.

A French song from the middle ages, it is sung in mediaeval French. The lyrics are sung from the perspective of a person who has lost his love and still burns with desire for her. For an example of how music transcends time and space, yesterday's song by Ebo Taylor of Ghana, Love and Death, explores a similar theme - how loving can lead to pain and broken-heartedness. Here we see a similar theme from almost a thousand years ago in a culture and world vastly different.

When I see the lark beating
Its wings for joy against the sun's rays,
Until it forgets to fly and allows itself to fall
For the sweetness that goes to its heart,
Alas! such envy comes over me
Of those I see filled with happiness
I marvel that my heart
Does not melt from desire
Alas, how much I thought I knew about love
And how little I really know.
For I cannot keep myself from loving
Her from whom I will gain nothing.
She has taken all my heart, my soul,
Herself and all the world.
And when she left, she left me nothing
But desire and a longing heart.
I have not had control over myself
Or belonged to myself from the hour
When she let me gaze into her eyes -
In a mirror that pleases me so much.
Mirror, since I saw myself reflected in you
Deep sighs have been slaying me.

Translation found at lyricsmode.com

Formed in 1996 when a group of friends broke into a North London cemetery and sang together in flowing white gowns and ivy garlands, the Mediaeval Baebes were conceived by Katharine Blake of the band Miranda Sex Garden and initially was made up of members of that band and other women with a love for mediaeval music. Their music consists of mediaeval poetry set to original music and sung in a variety of languages from the time period - French, Italian, Middle English, Spanish, Latin and regional or forgotten languages. Sometimes their sound is expressly traditional and performed with mediaeval instruments, and at other times modern instrumentation and electronic sounds are blended in with traditional harmonies. As such, they are not an "authentic" mediaeval group but interpreters that stretch bounds through creativity. They have toured extensively throughout Europe, Canada and the US, and have performed in Lilith Fair. It can be found on their album Undrentide (2000) and also on their 2003 holiday album Mistletoe and Wine.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Killing Me Softly: Ebo Taylor and "Love and Death"

Do you remember your first broken heart? It probably occurred sometime in school, I'm guessing. For me it was around 6th or 7th grade. There was a girl I really liked, and I dreamed about her a lot. I was an awkward, ungainly kid with unruly hair and large glasses, and I most likely didn't have a chance in a world with this girl or as I thought at the time, any girls. But that didn't stop me from dreaming and fantasizing about her. Dreaming and fantasizing are okay, because in those dreams and fantasies you create yourself in the image that you want - handsome, strong, someone who would be immensely attractive to the girl you want. And of course, she wants you. If your dreams stayed just that, dreams, then you'd be okay.

Unfortunately, dreams clash with reality because at some point, you realize that you can't stay in the dreams. You have to make contact with the object of your affection, and doing so means you find out whether there is anything possible. When there isn't, and for me that seemed to always be the case, your dreams crash about you. When my dreams came crashing down that first time, a tightness developed in my chest while the rest of my body felt a malaise. I felt like crying and probably did once or twice. A depression sank over me, and it was like I could only speak in monosyllables, walk with my head down and avoid the stares that I was certain others gave me, and resist the urge to crawl into some hole somewhere and die. In fact, I felt like I would die - the death of my dreams meant the death of me. Of course, that's not what happened, and after that grief period I was back to dreaming and fantasizing about some other girl, to repeat the cycle over again.

It is exactly that heartbreak and grief that Ebo Taylor references in his song Love and Death. At the bottom of this post you'll get a bonus...a little video documentary of Taylor explaining how he came up with some of his songs, and he states that love and death go together, that love often feels like a death especially when it goes wrong. A Ghanaian guitarist, composer, bandleader and producer, Taylor is one of the legendary figures of Ghana's highlife musical genre. Briefly, highlife is a style developed in 20th century Ghana featuring a jazzy horn section and multiple lead guitars. Taylor first broke into the Ghana's music scene in the late 1950s with the bands The Stargazers and Broadway Dance Band. In the early 1960s he lived for a while in London where he met Fela Kuti and other African musicians and collaborated with them. These influences eventually led him to experiment with fusing Ghanaian highlife with other forms of Afro-beat as well as jazz and funk, leading to his own recognizable style that culminated in the 70s. In the early 21st century, rapper and hip hop artists rediscovered Taylor's music and revived interest in his works. In 2010, Strut Records released the album Love and Death and followed that up in 2011 with Life Stories: The Best of Ebo Taylor 1973-1980. In 2012, Strut released Taylor's intensely personal Appia Kwa Bridge, an album where he combines traditional Fante songs and rhythms with children's rhymes and his own personal experiences to push the frontiers of Ghanaian music and highlife even further. This version of his song Love and Death can be found on Life Stories: The Best of Ebo Taylor 1973-1980.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Déjà vu: Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys with "Oh Mam (Oh Mom)"

Oh, Mam [Oh, Mom] by Steve Riley and The Mamou Playboys on Grooveshark

I couldn't find lyrics for this song, and I had hoped to see if the lyrics would echo anything of what I'm experiencing right now with my own mom. But, I couldn't find anything. I often think "Oh Mom" nowadays, but for different reasons than in the earlier stages of my life. I'm at the age where my mom is elderly, and experiencing all the fragility and uncertainties of a life of old age. She is forgetting more and more, particularly in the short term, her physical infirmities mean that she doesn't get out much, and she needs more and more supervision and care. So, at this point in my life my "Oh Mom" is a mix of empathy, exasperation, humor and some sadness. I have empathy that she cannot do the things she used to do, which is frustrating for her. I get exasperated with her, especially at the times she tries to do too much and gets herself tired, worn out, and perhaps into positions where she could be in danger. Humor comes at times we least expect it, when she can laugh a little about where she's at in life - laughing about forgetting something that she usually remembers, for instance. Sadness comes from comparing the mom I know now with the more vital, younger mom back a few years or longer. And, there is the wondering about how long she'll be with us - how many years? "Oh Mom..."

Oh Mam (Oh Mom) is performed by Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, a Cajun band from Southern Louisiana and our first repeater on this daily global song list. Founded in 1988, the band takes its inspiration from Cajun traditional legends Dewey Balfa, Belton Richard and Walter Mouton. However, the music of Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys has grown into a style that is distinctly Cajun but also personal to them. They sing almost exclusively in Cajun French. They have been nominated twice for Grammys in the Best Traditional Folk Album category and have released 11 albums to date as well as one compilation album. Oh Mam (Oh Mom) can be found on their Best of Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys CD of 2008.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Born to Pun: Balkan Beat Box and "9/4 the Ladies"

9-4 The Ladies by Balkan Beat Box on Grooveshark

I am not very good at punning, which is why I like them, bad ones and all. One of my favorite newspaper comics right now is Stephan Pastis' Pearls Before Swine. On Sundays, he often puts together a very elaborate pun which culminates in the next to last panel, and the last panel of the comic usually consists of his cartoon characters heaping verbal or physical on him for the pun (he is often a character in his own strip). He has punned on "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," "Patience is a virtue," "Don't cry for me, Argentina," and I think my favorite, "O say can you see by the dawn's early light."

Today's song is a small pun. 9/4 the Ladies is by Balkan Beat Box, and this pun refers to the time signature for the piece of music. For those of us who didn't study music, the general rhythm consists of nine beats per bar. The rhythm would go 1-2-3 2-2-3 3-2-3, or something like that. But of course the pun uses the 4 (the indicator that the main length of the note is a quarter note or crotchet) so that it sounds like "Nine For the Ladies." I don't know if there are any other hidden meanings, such as if the song was written on September 4th (9/4). But I appreciate the pun, and putting some lighthearted fun into a song title.

Balkan Beat Box is an Israeli band that is influenced by traditional Jewish, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Gypsy punk and electronic music. They were formed in Brooklyn, New York by Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat, who felt that ancient and traditional songs needed an upgrade through an infusion of hip hop in order to make them popular in dance halls and clubs. They really wanted the music that they loved to better reflect their world and the movement toward a global culture. Their artistic influences ranged from Manu Chao and Rachid Taha to Jamaican dub and Boban Marković. Their first album, Balkan Beat Box, focused on Mediterranean sounds but after the addition of Tel Aviv musician Tomer Yosef to the band in 2006 they expanded to include Arabic and Spanish influences in their second album. 9/4 the Ladies can be found on their eponymous first CD, released in 2005.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Pioneering: Karsh Kale and "One Step Beyond"

We are back from our anniversary trip! I haven't had much time to think about a well-thought out post for today, but spending so much time outdoors in the high desert of Taos, New Mexico had me thinking of pioneers. Everywhere I go, I imagine what the first people in that area, those with the pioneering spirit that set out from the relative comforts of what they had known and ventured forth into the wild in search of something, might have thought as they encountered the wonders that I was seeing. They set out in search of...a new place to live, a new beginning, new horizons, new challenges? For example, as I stood on the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge near Questa, New Mexico, looking over the edge at the Rio Grande River about 800 feet below, I imagined the first people to see that wonder, beginning with the first Native Americans in the area and then the waves of white settlers that came later. What must the first person to see the Grand Canyon must have felt? What might the first people to see the Rocky Mountains have thought gazing up at their majestic peaks? Or, conversely, what about seafarers who happened upon a coastline for the first time, perhaps the first to discover what would become a great bay? I have written elsewhere that one of the casualties of the modern world is the loss of physical frontiers. There are dwindling opportunities for geographical discovery, barring exploration into space and on other planets. What we are left with is exploring our inner frontiers, and the exploration of frontiers of mind, science and arts.

Our artist today is one to whom the word pioneering has been applied. Karsh Kale is an Indian-American musician considered one of the early developers of the Asian Underground genre of music, mixing such music as Indian classical with electronica, rock, pop and ambient music. He was born Uttkarsha Kale in West Bromwich, England and moved to Brooklyn, NY when he was three. He took an early interest in tabla and music in general, spurred by his father who introduced him to traditional Indian classical music, rock and early hip hop. Kale taught himself the tabla, developing his "electric tabla" style. In 2000, he was invited by Bill Laswell to join Tabla Beat Science along with Zakir Hussain, Talvin Singh, Trilok Gurtu and Sultan Khan, and their album Tala Matrix is considered one of the most influential Asian fusion albums to date. About this time, Kale became the first Indian-American to be signed to a solo recording contract in the US, and released his first solo album Realize, with it's "Asian Massive" sound in 2001. He has written music for Bollywood and crossover films, television series such as HBO's True Blood, and with artists such as Sting and Norah Jones. Today's tune, One Step Beyond, appears on Kale's 2001 album Realize.