Friday, October 31, 2014

Nordgrass: Frigg and "Grannen"

Grannen by Frigg on Grooveshark

Bluegrass is one of those genres of music that, like funk, I feel right down to my bones. I think I read somewhere that genetics can play a part in how you relate to places and what you like and don't like. Or maybe I didn't. But I think that now. My example...I grew up in Northern California on the coast. My family has property inland in the Mendocino Range, and I always loved going out there and being among the mountains and the valleys. There are few things more peaceful for me than sitting under a tree on the top of a ridge and hearing the wind move through the branches of the trees above me.

In my 20s, when I was doing volunteer work for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I did some pre-scouting with the group for a community in Hazard, Kentucky in the center of the Appalachians. When I got there, I almost felt I was home. I thought it was because the Appalachians looked like the mountains in the Mendocino Range, but it was more than that. I almost felt like I identified with the people and the culture there also, including the music. I had a chance to do another year of volunteer service there, but decided against it because I had already done two years of volunteer service and felt like I needed to get on with my life. I now think that had I gone to live in Appalachia for a year, I might have stayed there.

Fast forward into my forties, when I discovered my birth family. I was adopted when I was two and I never had known who my birth family was. My biological mother's side of the family came from West Virginia in a region that is Appalachian. And then it hit me - that must have been the reason for why I felt such affinity for mountains and valleys, for bluegrass music, for folk music in general. Could it be that all of this is ingrained in my genetic makeup? I would ask some geneticist (if one ever reads this) to let me know if this is a valid theory or if any research has been done on genetics and place and genetics and culture. I know that genetic memory research has been done on genetics and language and genetics and trauma, but it seems that there is more to genetic memory than this.

Today's random tune is by a group that comes from a region that I have really no genetic affinity with but which I desperately want to see and whose folk music I like very much. Frigg is a Finnish-Norwegian folk band formed in 2002. Their members hail from the Kaustinen region of Finland and the Nord-Trøndelag region of Norway, and they play folk music from both of those regions as well as mixing in some Americana, particularly bluegrass (which is probably why I like them), and some Irish folk music as well. They are named after the Norse goddess of love and fertility, and have taken to calling their mix of Nordic folk music with other musical styles Nordgrass. Grannen is from their 2010 album of the same name.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Minimalism: Las Ultrasónicas and "Quiero Ser Tu Perra"

In the mid- to late-70s, there was a revolution in rock music. Too bad I missed it.

Now, just a warning. I'm not a music critic of any kind, and chances are that I don't know what I'm writing about. These are just my own musings and not some kind of cultural dissection that fully explains causes and consequences in music. I'm just an average Joe. And here I'm writing about the punk movement or at least my experience of it. The fact is that up to that point, rock music had been getting more and more complex and more ambitious. I can remember listening to the almost orchestral movements of the progressive rock bands, and the operatic goals of bands like The Who. Much of that kind of music stirred me, and therefore I wandered down those paths. Of course, there were some spectacular failures. For every "concept album" that worked there seemed to be one that didn't. But given that rock music was coming into its middle age by the late 70s, like all anyone that ages it had become more thoughtful and introspective. The giants of rock were trying to make put their stamp on the new classical music of the time and cement its respectability. Gone were the days of simple guitar riffs and chord changes with vocals layered on top.

Yet they weren't. A small but growing and sizable group of musicians decided to go the other way. They stripped rock music of all the baggage that had been added on to it...the complex chord changes, the literary allusions, the flowery fluffery, the operatic pretensions. Instead, they went back to three chords and vocals and, even better, added in a significant dosage of rage. Rage against what rock had become, as well as rage against the conditions that had been one of the original underpinnings of rock - social injustice, economic stagnation and inequality. Rock had started as rebellious dance music with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, then had become a vehicle for protest in the 60s. When punk bands stripped off the ornamentation, they uncovered layers back to the original rebellion and they amped up the rage. In doing so, they made rock more minimalist but also truer to its roots in a way. Everything else was still there - dance (in free-for-alls at punk concerts), anger (in straight ahead, driving, distorted guitars and songs playing at intense speeds), rebellion (involving everything from style of music to style of clothes and hair), and protest. Punk became a music and a lifestyle, much as rock in the sixties had been music and lifestyle. It's just that punk hoped to save the essence of rock from itself.

It's only been lately, at a time when most people are well past their punk years, that I've taken initial forays into punk and I'm surprised that I like it. For one, I find that I can still touch on that rage I felt in the late 70s and early 80s and what I perceived were the injustices of the world - it's easy to take those things personally at a young age and I think punk, in its stripped down minimalism, must have felt pretty personal to young people who were into it. I also have discovered that punk was pretty egalitarian. Because it stripped rock to its essence, often three chords on a guitar, you didn't particularly have to be a good musician to play it. Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols supposedly was a very limited bassist. But he had charisma, which was important when you stripped down the music. Gender also didn't seem to matter so much, and I remember hearing of more women in punk than in other areas of rock - sure you had your Go-Gos and your Bangles, but you also had your Runaways and Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Plasmatics. And who can leave out Patti Smith, often called the godmother of punk? We found out from these bands that women could rage as much or even more than men, with a deeper well to dig from given gender inequalities.

I wish I hadn't missed it in its heyday, but I can appreciate it now looking back over the years. And all this is preamble to today's random tune from a girl-punk group out of Mexico City called Las Ultrasónicas. Formed by Jenny Bombo and Tere Farfissa in 1996, Las Ultrasónicas started out as a quintet playing in seedy Mexico City dives. They became a quartet in 1997 with the departure of Farfissa. They released their first album, Yo Fui Una Adolescente Terrosatánica, in 1999. The band broke up in 2000, but reformed in 2002 as a trio with the release of Ohh Síi, Más... Más!!! Besides Mexico, they have toured in the United States and Colombia. Quiero Ser Tu Perra is their cover of The Stooges' I Want To Be Your Dog and appeared on Yo Fui Una Adolescente Terrosatánica.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

At the Movies: Charanga Cakewalk and "El Cine"

The title of today's random tune, El Cine, reminds me that I haven't been to a movie in a while. My wife and I used to go to at least one movie a week, but as our lives have gotten busier our movie watching has gotten more rare. Even with the advent of streaming video, we haven't really made a lot of time to see movies. It's gotten to the point that when Academy Award season rolls around, we usually have only seen one or two of the ten movies nominated for best picture. However, we do try to catch the live action and animated shorts - and I find that I really look forward to those. Just as the short story is an under-appreciated literary art form, the short film is not given its proper due, particularly in the artistry involved to present a full story in 5 to 25 minutes.

I am also woefully ignorant on Latin American cinema, even though I know that there are classic films from those regions. Some of the newer directors I know, such as Alfonso Cuarón, and some of the newer stars. But classic Latin American cinema is something that has eluded me. I am not proud of this - but it only points toward the necessity of me exploring these cultural art forms.

El Cine is by Charanga Cakewalk, which 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 Cine is from his 2006 album Chicano Zen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gentrified: Capercaillie and "Waiting for the Wheel to Turn"

I first heard the word "gentrification" in the mid-eighties when I was doing volunteer work in the inner-city. At the time I thought that the term meant white people coming into black neighborhoods, buying up the real estate and forcing the original inhabitants out. I have learned that is only one possible outcome. Gentrification happens, of course, when any group of people with money comes in, buys up real estate and moves in, driving out the original inhabitants and changing the cultural character and flavor of the neighborhood. Given this definition, it is perfectly plausible that non-whites can gentrify non-white neighborhoods, and non-whites could even gentrify poor white neighborhoods. However, that doesn't happen very often in the United States, which is why gentrification has a just-below-the-surface ethnic and racial component. The main point is that people are forced out through the forces of capitalism and the very cultural underpinnings that made the neighborhood what it was is lost forever. Neighborhoods in northside Chicago are being gentrified by young, white people, and corporations gentrified Times Square. Brooklyn is being gentrified by people who can't afford to live in Manhattan, and San Francisco is being gentrified by waves of high paid tech workers.  Low income housing in New Orleans is torn down and replaced with high income apartments and condominiums.

Today's song, Waiting for the Wheel to Turn, references a similar process in the British Isles. The lyrics speak eloquently to this phenomena: 

Remember the Buachaille Mor
Reaching for the skies from the barren shores
Watching over the village of burns
And counting the days since the gael kept home
 Well, the stranger claims it now
Sitting like a king with his gold from the south
Don't you see the waves of wealth
Washing away the soul from the land?

It speaks to the loss of culture and tradition:

Yes, you're taking it all away
The music, the tongue and the old refrains
You're coming here to play
But you're pulling the roots from a dying age

It also relates this phenomenon to The Clearances, the Highland Clearances policies in the 18th and 19th centuries that allowed Scottish farmers to be forced off of their lands to make way for aristocratic sheepherding.  The original Clearances were government policies, but the latest waves of these types of things in the developed world are capitalism at work.

I am divided on whether this phenomenon is inevitable or even harmful.  I lament the losses that come with gentrification of any kind, and certainly people and cultures are hurt by it.  But I am also open to the fact that change happens and can lead to dynamism in decaying neighborhoods, just as new participants in things like arts, music and literature can provide bursts of creativity.

I'm glad therefore that groups like Capercaillie keep the old traditions alive while also giving them new relevance by infusing them with new styles and instrumentation. Capercaillie is a Scottish band founded in the Argyll region of Scotland in the early 1980s. Known for their mixing of traditional Gaelic tunes with modern recording techniques and instrumentation, Capercaillie started as a purely traditional band. In the 1990s, they began mix in funk bass lines, synthesizers and electric guitars into their repertoire of traditional tunes, but lately have been going back to more traditional instrumentation while retaining a light fusion feel to their music. In 1992, they recorded the first Scottish-Gaelic song to crack the UK Top 40. They have released eleven studio albums, four of which have made the UK Albums chart, and one live album. They also have two compilation albums and have performed on two soundtracks. Waiting for the Wheel to Turn can be found on their 1991 CD Delirium, on the remix album Get Out (1992), and on the 1998 compilation album Dusk Til Dawn. The version above is their original 1991 version and video, but if you want to hear their longer remix version I am posting it below.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rockin' Newfies: Great Big Sea and "Fast As I Can"

Fast as I Can by Great Big Sea on Grooveshark

In the late 1990s, I was very excited one evening. I had recently been turned on to a group called Great Big Sea, from Newfoundland in Canada, and I had learned a few days prior that they were going to be playing the House of Blues in New Orleans, where I was then living. I persuaded a few friends to go with me, including a guy from Ireland, a woman from England, and an Austrian friend. I told them about the band and how good they were. I had almost worn out my CD of Rant and Roar, their US-only compilation release, and now I was in the House of Blues with wife and friends and waiting for them to start. They came out and gave a great show, in my opinion, including their light-speed version of REM's End of the World. After it was over, I asked my friends what they thought, and to a person they said the band was terrible. They not only didn't like Great Big Sea, they hated them. I was thunderstruck, literally floored. They were all annoyed that I had dragged them to this concert And for a long time after I didn't share my musical interests with my friends again.

One thing about doing this daily random tune is that I once again can share my musical interests with others, but the nice thing about the Web is that people can decide whether or not to listen to a particular song. However, I notice that a huge sea change has happened in music sharing since I was younger. Back in the 70s and 80s we often shared mix tapes - cassette tapes where the recorded songs were an expression of a person's interest or what they thought was important. Nowadays, with the advent of the iPod and personal listening devices and cell phones, music has become a much more private pursuit. People make the equivalent of mix tapes for themselves by ordering their playlists and listen on their headphones. I've found also that people are less willing to venture into the unknown. As I have become more and more immersed in global music, I am astounded by the variety and the incredible musicianship outside of the United States, and yet getting many of my friends to even give a listen to a fantastic song from another country has been like pulling teeth. I'm not sure if it's related to the fact that the music isn't of the United States, or if it isn't sung in English, but I suspect the aversion goes deeper than that. Our electronic media, rather than encouraging community around particular things, actually sets us apart in a lot of tiny ways that in aggregation becomes very big and noticeable. I think music and the sharing of music is one of those casualties of our age. I may be wrong, and feel free to argue against my point, but that's how I feel at present.

Great Big Sea was formed in 1989 under the name Newfoundland Republican Army and has become known for its rock interpretations of Newfoundland folk songs drawing from the island's Irish, Scottish and Cornish heritage. Every year between 1996 and 2000 they won East Coast Music Association's Entertainers of the Year until they stopped submitting their name to allow other bands to compete. They have also been nominated several times for the Juno Awards, Canada's top music awards. They have released nine studio albums, three compilation albums, and three live albums. Fast As I Can is from their 1995 album Up, and is also included on their 1998 compilation CD Rant and Roar which was released only in the United States.

I'm going to trust that you won't hate them.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Wide World of Sport: Sportfreunde Stiller and "Ein Kompliment"

Ein Kompliment by Sportfreunde Stiller on Grooveshark

Today's random tune is by a German indie band named Sportfreunde Stiller. I was introduced to this band by a young German guy who was staying with Megan and me when a volunteer position that he had taken in El Paso didn't work out for him and he needed a place to crash while he looked for another position. He eventually ended up in New Orleans. We asked him to give us some ideas about German music that we could highlight on our show. Among the groups he suggested was this one.

The song is just what the name implies, a romantic compliment from one person to another. What makes it interesting is the imagery that takes it a little above the usual romantic pap that you find out there. "You are my chill-out sweets department in the supermarket." You don't usually see such vivid imagery in these types of songs, and as a wannabe poet, I like such imagery.

Sportfreunde Stiller was founded in 1996 in Germering, region of Bavaria, Germany. They based their original name, Stiller, on the manager of their local football side. However, they had to change the name because a different band already owned the rights to the name, so they added Sportfreunde (friend in sports) as it is commonly used in names of sports teams in Germany. One of their songs, Independent, was used in the video game FIFA 2003. They are five time nominees for Best German Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards. They are also only the sixth German group to perform for the MTV Unplugged series. Ein Kompliment can be found on their 2009 CD Die Gute Seite. This version is from their 2009 MTV Unplugged appearance.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Surely It Is Not I: Los de Abajo and "Sr. Judas"

I'm getting this in just under the wire today. In case you're wondering about the post's title, it is a paraphrase of what Judas replied to Jesus when Jesus said "Tonight one of you will betray me." I'm not really a biblical scholar, so I probably don't have the words right.

Today's random song is from Mexico. Los de Abajo was founded in 1992 in Mexico City as a Latin ska group. Over time, their musical influences have become more inclusive of rock, reggae, salsa, Son Jarocho, banda sinoalense and cumbia. Liber Terán is their main vocalist and writes most of the songs. After releasing their first album independently, they were signed to David Byrne's Luaka Bop label and released their international debut, the eponymous Los de Abajo. Their followup album, Cybertropic Chilango Power, earned them a BBC Radio 3 World Music Award for the Americas. They have released eight albums and are noted supporters of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and have even featured Zapatista leader Commandanta Esther on one of their songs. Sr. Judas is from their 2002 CD Cybertropic Chilango Power.

Playlist for August 2014 Random Tunes of the Day

I have been putting together playlists on for the months that I've been posting the random tune of the day. I invite you listen to the August 2014 playlist. The songs are in the order in which I posted them, from August 1st through August 31st. You do not have to be a member of 8tracks to listen to the playlist.

The artists featured on the playlist are the following:

Sara Tavares (Portugal)
Ada Milea, Dorina Chiriac & Radu Banzaru (Romania)
Charanga Cakewalk (United States)
Mariza (Portugal)
Niuver (Cuba/Spain/United States/France)
Owiny Sigoma Band (United Kingdom/Kenya)
Tom Teasley (United States)
Paolo Conte (Italy)
Göksel (Turkey)
Liana (Portugal)
Gypsy Caravan (United States)
Zeb & Haniya (Pakistan)
Cathie Ryan (United States)
Alka Yagnik with Sonu Nigam & Udit Narayan (India)
NovaMenco (United States)
La Bien Querida (Spain)
The Chieftains (Ireland)
The Rogues (United States)
Cheb Mami (Algeria)
Yungchen Lhamo (Tibet/United States)
Flight of the Conchords (New Zealand)
A-Yue Chang Chen Yue (Taiwan)
Wyclef Jean (Haiti/United States)
Capercaille (Scotland)
Los Amigos Invisibles (Venezuela)
Señor Coconut (Germany/Chile)
Maighread ni Dhomhnaill (Ireland)
Eileen Ivers (United States)
Sulman (Spain)
King Posse (Haiti)
Dorothy Masuka (Zimbabwe/South Africa)


Friday, October 24, 2014

Ramblin' and Sellin': Old Blind Dogs and "Tramps and Hawkers"

Tramps and Hawkers by Old Blind Dogs on Grooveshark

The word tramp has a pretty negative connotation. Most recently, tramp seems to refer to a worman with a dubious reputation, as in "she's such a tramp, she'd give it up to anybody." A tattoo on the small of a female's back is often called a "tramp stamp." But as it is used in this song by Old Blind Dogs, tramp has a little less of a dubious reputation. The word tramp was often used to indicate someone, usually itinerant and perhaps homeless or jobless, who traveled around from place to place and comes from the same word that connotes walking with heavy footsteps. In fact, in the United Kingdom, tramps of yore were often called "gentlemen of the road." In that way they might be akin to hobos, who traveled the rails for much the same reason. Charlie Chaplin portrayed a beloved "little tramp" in the movies as he went from place to place and fell into adventures. Perhaps the fact that these people, like homeless of today, could range from harmless to dangerous made the word much more pejorative. However, where it went from describing essentially homeless and jobless traveling men to promiscuous women, particularly in North America, I haven't been able to find. My supposition is that tramps hung around seedy places, and women who did so also became known as tramps but with a more sexual connotation to the term.

A hawker, on the other hand, might refer to a couple of things. A hawker could be a person who keeps and flies hawks. I think that is unlikely given this song's subject matter. Therefore, the hawkers in this song I believe refer to traveling salespeople, also known as peddlars. Again, there is a bit of the pejorative in this term, as many of us don't want to be accosted by a hawker. The common perception is that they sell cheap goods and do so with a bit of dishonesty as they try to take your money. While they used to be common in the United States, especially during difficult economic times, they are found fairly commonly in the developing world shouting out on street corners and confronting the unwary tourist. And they can be very good at persuasion - when I was in Turkey it was amazing how fast a rug "hawker" could maneuver a tourist into the back of a rug store and trap him or her there while rolling out rugs, talking the whole time, all while serving tea. Hawkers are experts at playing on people's fear of disappointing others, and often get a sale with a sad look and a story of how their kids will starve if their intended target starts to turn away.

So there you have it. Tramps and Hawkers is by Old Blind Dogs, a Scottish group that plays traditional Scottish music but is also influenced by jazz, reggae, rock, blues and Middle Eastern music. Old Blind Dogs were notable because they were the only group representing traditional music from northeast Scotland and would sing in the Aberdeen region's distinctive "Doric" dialect. However, the departure of longtime member Jim Malcolm has led to the band exploring a wider range of influences. The band started in 1990 after three founding members came together on a "busker's holiday" and decided to start playing together after that. Only one original member, Johnnie Hardy, remains. The band has won numerous awards and has toured extensively throughout Europe and North America. The version we have of Tramps and Hawkers is from their Play Live album (2005) but I couldn't find that version online so this is the studio version from their album Fit? (2011) which was a finalist for UK Celtic Album of the Year.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's Better in Spanish: The ValRays and "Yo Me Pregunto"

Sometimes things just sound better in another language. I often think that rap and hip hop sounds cool in French, and I have been pleasantly surprised when I hear Celtic songs in another language, like the Celtic songs in Italian performed by The Modena City Ramblers. There's also covers of famous songs by people in other countries - Bebel Gilberto covers Neil Young, Albert Pla covers Lou Reed, and the like. So it shouldn't come as a surprise when a song that seems like it is "American" just sounds good in another language.

In that vein, a little treat for you in the random tune department today. Yo Me Pregunto is a 1960s doo wop dittie by The ValRays. There isn't much about The ValRays on the internet, but I was able to glean that they were, surprisingly, a group of two white guys out of New York who released a string of records in the 1960s. Yo Me Pregunto (I Ask Myself) was originally written in English, but they liked the sound of the lyrics better in Spanish. Ironically, it became their biggest hit considering that all their other songs were in English. I think it was released as a single, so I couldn't find an album for it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wheat and Crowe: Djivan Gasparyan and "Your Strong Mind"

Your Strong Mind by Djivan Gasparyan on Grooveshark

I remember being thrilled by the movie Gladiator. As I wrote in a previous post, I love reading about ancient civilizations, so the swords and sandals movies are right up my alley. And Gladiator was a spectacle. If you've never seen the movie, Russell Crowe plays a onetime high ranking general who after falling out of favor is put into slavery and forced into gladiatorial combat. In the movie, he eventually fights the emperor Commodus, killing him but also losing his life in the bargain. From the first moment when the camera does a flyover of Rome as it looked in 192 BC, you are transported to that world. Historically, the story could have that the real emperor Commodus didn't die in the gladiatorial arena but was assassinated - he was strangled by his wrestling partner Narcissus. However, the events in the movie could have happened - Commodus was known for staging huge entertainment events and did like to fight in the gladiatorial arena himself.

The reason I'm bringing up the movie Gladiator is that today's tune, Your Strong Mind, is written and performed by Djivan Gasparyan. Gasparyan also contributed music to Gladiator, and it is very haunting. In particular, every time Russell Crowe's character flashes back to the time that he is arrested, he is walking through a field of wheat and a haunting melody is playing. That melody was Gasparyan, who plays an instrument called the duduk. Gasparyan is widely thought of as "The Master of the Duduk," a double reed woodwind instrument related to the oboe. Gasparyan has received the WOMEX Lifetime Achievement Award and has collaborated with many artists, including Hossein Alizadeh, Sting, Erkan Ogur, Michael Brook, Peter Gabriel, Brian May, Lionel Richie, Derek Sherinian, Ludovico Einaudi, Boris Grebenshchikov, David Sylvian, Hans Zimmer and Andreas Vollenweider. He and Hossein Alizadeh were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2006 for their album Endless Vision and he is the oldest person to be featured in a Eurovision song performance. Your Strong Mind, can be found on his 2013 album I Will Not Be Sad In This World.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Round and Round: Afro Celt Sound System and "Whirl-Y-Reel 1"

I am not really into things that spin around really fast right now, because tomorrow I have to go to the dentist to get a filling replaced and so my experience of whirly things will be a drill. But notice how today's random tune, Whirl-Y-Reel 1 by the Afro Celt Sound System has a "1" added to it. You guessed it! There is more than one Whirl-Y-Reel - three, I think. Two are on the same album.

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. Whirl-Y-Reel 1 can be found on their 1996 debut release Volume 1: Sound Magic. Listen to that talking drum and bodhran go and dance!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bend the Knee: Bendeniz and "Kirmizi Biber"

Okay, my title is a bad pun. That's what happens when I've had a long day at work with a lot of little niggling things going wrong.

Thankfully, what didn't go wrong is our random tune of the day. Today's tune comes to you from Turkey via Switzerland. Bendeniz is the performing name of Deniz Çelik, a Turkish pop star born in Zurich. She is very popular in Turkey, and has released twelve albums. She also won a contest on French TV in 1995. This song, Kirmizi Biber (Red Pepper), can be found on her 2005 album Aşk Yok mu Aşk and on the Putumayo Presents: Turkish Groove CD (2006).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Give Me Moor: Aromates and "Ritournelles"

One of my favorite books when I was growing up was a giant Readers Digest tome that laid out all the histories of all the known civilizations in the world. I would pore over that book, looking at the maps of the civilizations. The ancient civilizations were the ones that interested me most - those in the Middle East between the Tigris and Euphrates, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans and their war for Mediterranean supremacy with the Carthaginians. One thing that I found really interesting, however, was the rise of the Islamic world after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, and how they nearly matched Rome by encircling the Mediterranean. If the Umayyad Caliphate had continued to expand, or if later Vienna hadn't held against the Ottomans, the history of Europe might have been much different. On the other hand, if the Moors had not conquered most of Spain, the history of Spain might have been much different also. Spain was largely under the rule of Muslims for almost 500 years, forging a deep connection with what would become Spanish society. The influence of the Moors is everywhere in Spain - its architecture, its language, and its music to name a few. It is said that the last Muslim ruler in Spain, Muhammad XII of Granada, reined his horse on a small hill overlooking Granada and the Alhambra and wept and sighed before turning away and riding into exile.

Today's tune is by the French ensemble Aromates and its leader and percussionist Michèle Claude. The ensemble fuses the ancient and contemporary, uses old and new instruments, and explores into gypsy and Cuban rhythms and jazz in its music. It's first album, Jardin des Myrtes (Garden of Myrtles - 2005), features traditional Arab-Andalusian songs played by the musicians on traditional instruments. The music takes you straight back to an Umayyad court in Spain - you might even be in the presence of the Caliph himself. Today's tune, Ritournelles can be found as the 8th track on Jardin des Myrtes.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sweet and Salty: Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys with "Zarico Est Pas Salé"

I've never really thought of zydeco as being "sweet" music, but I've never really thought of it as being salty either. Zydeco is too rooted in different types of music, such as the blues and country and a rollicking dance beat, to be sweet. But it often touches on a lot of cultural norms so present in folk music so it doesn't really have a salty flavor either. When I think of zydeco music, I think of a bunch of people getting together in the rural Cajun areas of Louisiana and just having a good time with each other over beer and dancing. You don't need too much sweetness or saltiness, just a good delicate balance between the two. I guess you could call zydeco the kettle corn of music.

Zarico Est Pas Salé is a zydeco tune that our first three-peaters, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, perform with Sonny Landreth. A Cajun band from Southern Louisiana, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys were 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. Sonny Landreth is an American blues guitar player especially known for his slide guitar method and of whom Eric Clapton said that he is one of the most advanced and under-appreciated guitarists in the world. He is known as "The King of Slydeco." He has released twelve albums. Zarico Est Pas Salé can be found on The Best of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys (2008).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Making the Traditional Really Dance: Balkan Beat Box and "Cha Cha"

This is the second song by Balkan Beat Box that gets randomly highlighted in this blog, and it's a fun one!

Balkan Beat Box, despite their name, 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 traditional 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. This song is called Cha Cha and is off of their 2005 album of the same name.

Playlist for July's Random Tunes of the Day

KUNM Random Global Music July 2014 from mhessnm on 8tracks Radio.

Here is an playlist for the random tunes from this past July. You do not need an 8tracks account to play the songs. The playlist is about 2 hours and 7 minutes, and has 31 songs starting from the song I highlighted on July 1st and going through July 31st.

Artists included:

Irinna Zhelannaya (Russia)
Lo Cor de la Plana (France)
Iļģi (Latvia)
Ron Wiseman (Canada)
Deolinda (Portugal)
Momonashi (Japan)
Sherele (Mexico)
Afro Celt Sound System (UK/Ireland/Senegal/Mali)
Blick Bassy (Senegal/France)
David Arkenstone (United States)
Un Solo Pueblo (Venezuela)
Julie Murphy (Wales)
Old Blind Dogs (Scotland)
Tinariwen (Mali)
Mexican Institute of Sound (Mexico)
Adama Yolamba (Mali)
Serge Gainsbourg (France)
LaBrassBanda (Germany)
Youssou N'Dour (Senegal)
Joy Harjo and Poetic Justice (United States-Native American)
Gabin (Italy)
Didge Project (United States)
Salim Merchant & Sunidhi Chauhan (India)
Systema Solar (Colombia)
Väsen, Darol Anger & Mike Marshall (Sweden/United States)
Gnawledge (United States)
Ani Cordero (United States)
Shazalakazoo (Serbia)
Fatoumata Diawara (Mali/France)
Kiran Ahluwalia (India/Canada)
Dr. Nigel Kennedy & Kroke (United Kingdom/Poland

I listened to it, and it's a nice playlist - some good sweet tunes, a few to stir you up, and just enough weirdness to keep you interested.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

English Holiday: Paolo Conte and "Fuga all'Inglese"

I'm not exactly sure what today's song, Fuga all'Inglese, means. I took the lyrics in Italian and put it through Google Translate, and what came out leads me to believe that it is about a couple on a holiday or vacation in England. I'm going to go with that until someone who knows Italian tells me differently. And what is wrong with an English vacation? I would love to go on an English holiday. I have only been in England once, and that for only three days, just enough to get a very brief flavor of London. In fact, right now I would like to have a holiday anywhere. Given that the album that this song comes from is called Reveries, I believe that it paints a picture of an event in the past. What seems to be missing from my life right now is the opportunity to create those scenes that create reverie. You don't really get those scenes from an eight hour workday. You do get those kinds of scenes from a holiday somewhere, particularly somewhere exotic or even pastoral and outside of your daily norm.

The musician who brings this song to us is Paolo Conte, who is no stranger to painting these types of soundscapes. A singer, pianist, composer and lawyer, Conte was 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 on his own. His star rose in the 60s and 70s as he was the main creative songwriter behind hits of other well-known 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 also been used in many movies. Fuga All'Inglese can be found on his 2003 album Reveries.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Singing the Truth: Soneros de Verdad and "Hoy la Lluvia"

The name of the group responsible for today's random song is what intrigues me today. Soneros de Verdad means "Singers of Truth," and as I was thinking about why that particular name struck me, I realized that artists throughout history have largely been our truth seekers and truth-sayers. Art and music is uniquely positioned to provide us with the truth or at least point us toward the truth. It is just as uniquely positioned to provide us with lies and deception it is true - look at propaganda art and film for an example. And some artists may disagree with me. A notable artist, Pablo Picasso, said:
"We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies."
But I think that many artists of all stripes often see themselves in a more noble light. Take for instance Flannery O'Connor, who wrote:
 "The basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode."
Now, it may be that artists tell us the truth as they see it, and therefore we have to accept this truth with a certain amount of subjectivity. It may be that Leni Riefenstahl, in her artistic propaganda films of the Third Reich, believed that they encompassed a truth that resonated with her. Can we forgive that? History is very unkind to supposed truths that are discredited and upholds "truths" that linger with the backing of cultures or civilizations only to be discredited over time in their turn. Perhaps that is why, in Song of the Lark, Willa Cather wrote:
"Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is."
Art and truth certainly has an uneasy relationship and yet, I am struck about how closely intertwined they can be.

Specifically toward music, Jack Kerouac wrote:
"The only truth is music."
Why is that? Perhaps it is because, as Leopold Stokowski said:
"A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence." Without the truthsayers, there is only silence."
And regardless of the subjectivity of the artist that is put on the truth, we have the ability to read between the notes, listen between the words and know if truth is being touched. I'd much prefer to wade through the noise to touch the truth, than founder in the silence and not know if the truth actually exists.

Soneros de Verdad call themselves the second generation of the Buena Vista Social Club, and they bridge the gap between the son cubano of 50-60 years ago with more modern sensibilities and original compositions. Fronted by Luis Frank and Mayito Rivero, both international music award winners, the band also employs some other Cuban stars of the newer generation, giving a whole new sound layered on top of the old urban mixed with rural, son, jazz, and other genres. It's Cuba in one package. This song, Hoy la Lluvia, is from the album Luis Frank Presents Soneros de Verdad: A Buena Vista Barrio de la Habana (originally released in 2000, CD release in 2010).

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

They Rock the Bangles: Hakim & Cleopatra with "Walk Like an Egyptian"

I wrote an earlier post of how I enjoy it when, on a cover song, the person or group doing the cover just takes it over and owns it. That happens in today's random tune by Hakim and Cleopatra: their version of Walk Like an Egyptian. Now don't get me wrong. When it came to the 80s, I had a soft spot for The Bangles, and even though this song is not really about anything that I can think of I liked its beat and its energy. It didn't hurt that The Bangles were all good looking and for the most part, good musicians. The lyrics of Walk Like an Egyptian start out as a description of paintings on a tomb wall but then turn into some kind of tune that is trying to sell a new dance - strike a pose like an Egyptian!

But here comes, almost 20 years later, Hakim and Cleopatra. I can't find much on them, other than that Hakim may be an Egyptian folk singer. This is the guy that I think Hakim is. Here's something else on Hakim. If this is the Hakim that did this song, he apparently mixes Arab traditional songs with Western beats in an update of Egyptian popular music known as Sha'bi. However, there is nothing on Cleopatra anywhere, unless the original Cleopatra came back from the dead to sing this song. Be that as it may, this cover of Walk Like An Egyptian is great because an Egyptian musician actually turns this American pop song into something different, something that is actually Egyptian...and what helps is that Cleopatra sings it like she owns it, like she really owns it. Adding the Egyptian motifs such as Arabic, slowing the song down with the Egyptian style drumming on goblet drums, and the Middle Eastern orchestration makes it even better than the electric guitar riffs with a faintly Middle Eastern sound that The Bangles put into it. Good stuff! This was the only decent version of the song I could find online, though there is a guy who talks briefly in the middle of it. You can find an unsullied version of Walk Like An Egyptian on the CD Desert Roses, Vol. 3 (2004).

But I'll let you give it a listen!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Incendiary: Buckwheat Zydeco and "Where There's Smoke There's Fire"

A lot going on at work today, so I'm going to keep this post to the bare minimum. Today's random tune is a fun zydeco from a zydeco superstar. Buckwheat Zydeco (jeez, how many times can I type zydeco?) is the stage name of Stanley Dural, Jr. He got the name "Buckwheat" from his resemblance to a character on the Our Gang film shorts. Dural's father was an accomplished Creole accordionist, but Dural preferred rhythm and blues, and actually started out backing artists such as Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Joe Tex. He started his own funk band in the early 70s with some success, but then began backing zydeco legend Clifton Chenier as an organist and discovered the popularity of zydeco. His relationship to Chenier led him to take up the accordion, and after a year he felt confident enough to start Buckwheat Zydeco in 1978. Buckwheat Zydeco has opened for and collaborated with some of the biggest names in music, and it is one of the few zydeco bands to achieve mainstream success. This song, Where There's Smoke There's Fire, can be found on the band's 1990 CD of the same name.

Playlist from June posts

It may be nice to have these songs individually once per day, and know that you can come back here and listen to them. But I thought that any readers might like also to hear them in their own playlist. So, I'm going to start putting each month's songs into a playlist. I do a lot of things with, and I've made some playlists there. Here is my inaugural playlist for this blog, which will allow you to play all the tracks from June 15 (the first day of this blog) until June 30th.

The songs covered on the playlist:

1. Hawa - The Touré Raichel Collective (Israel/Mali)
2. Venus Nabalera - Mau Mau (Italy)
3. Ooh La La - From The Dirty Picture (India)
4. En el Barrio - El Vez (United States)
5. Dame una Seña - Los Straitjackets (United States)
6. Grand Isle - Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys (United States)
7. Rang zen-Independence - Techung (United States/Tibet/India)
8. Q'apac Chunchu - Inti-Illimani (Chile)
9. Nuit Magique - Jazzamor (Germany)
10. Maria Lando - Susana Baca (Peru)
11. Elle Donne - Erik Pédurand (Guadeloupe/France)
12. Elephant Power - MC Yogi (United States)
13. Sinanay - Gülseren (Turkey)
14. Ahoi - Yat-Kha (Russia/Tuva)
15. l'Orange - Marce LaCouture (United States)
16. Wonder of the Storm - Amanaska (Australia)

You do not need an 8tracks account to listen to the playlist. You can reach the playlist here:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dreaming of the Sea: Madredeus & Banda Cósmica with "Não Estamo Sós"

I grew up in a small town on the Northern California coast...a small town filled with Portuguese families that made a living through fishing. In that way, our harbor back in the early days of the town must have seemed like a harbor on the Portuguese coast, with the sounds of the Portuguese language waxing and waning as the fishing boats made ready and left port in the morning, and returned and were moored in the evening. I grew up with the smell of the sea in my nostrils, the wet sea air in my hair, and the sound of the roaring surf in my ears at all times of the day. I went to sleep with the low moaning of buoys, their sound carried by winds for miles, on windy evenings. Two of my uncles were fishermen (though they weren't Portuguese) but they fished alongside men with names like Figueredo, Tomás and Pacheco. My father (adoptive father) was also part Portuguese - his mother was a Pacheco and my father had dark skin like someone whose lineage may have originated in the Azores.

Having grown up near the ocean, I am very empathetic with the Portuguese love for the sea, and have come to appreciate that their songs often extoll the sea or express a deep longing for it. As a coastal boy who has now lived over half his life away from the sea, and who ironically now lives about as far environmentally from the sea as he possibly could in a high desert environment, I still dream of the ocean, its sounds, smells and taste. When I go back home to see my mother, my body almost automatically adjusts to the damp air, drinking in the wetness in the atmosphere. My love for fog and the other variations of coastal weather returns. If I were a musician, I think I too (and I recently found out that I may actually have some Portuguese in me) would write songs about the sea expressing my love for her in no uncertain terms.

Não Estamo Sós (I believe it translates as "We are not alone") is by Portuguese band Madredeus & Banda Cósmica. Madredeus combines traditional Portuguese music with contemporary folk, creating melancholy songs that often, like fado, refer to the sea, travelling or absence. This may sound like fado, but fado is a subgenre of the type of traditional music of Portugal that Madredeus draws from. The band was largely unknown for a long while outside of Portugal, but became internationally known when filmmaker Wim Wenders asked them to perform for the soundtrack of his movie Lisbon Story and the soundtrack received rave reviews. Banda Cósmica is a portion of Madredeus that brings in new instrumentation, such as African instruments and percussion. They have released nineteen albums to date. Não Estamo Sós is from their 2009 album A Nova Aurora.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hoping for Haiti: Dadou Pasquet and "New York City"

An artist friend recently tried a business venture. Working with Haitian artists, she developed with them designs for papier-mache animals that she felt would sell in the United States. Her hope was to establish a business model that would not only help her earn a living but would give employment to Haitian artists and give them fair compensation for their talents. After a few months, the initiative failed. It wasn't the resolve of the artists or any of the people she worked with - it was the state of infrastructure and transportation that still suffers in Haiti years after the hurricanes and earthquakes that devastated much of the country. Despite the fact that Haiti is the oldest independent country in Latin America and the Caribbean, the only country in the Western Hemisphere to defeat three European powers, and the only country successfully founded as the result of a slave revolt, Haiti is the forgotten child of the West. We throw a little money at it, and then try to forget the suffering under the mantra that Haitians must take care of their own problems. But ruined infrastructure and transportation systems are problems that do not go away easily, and without them, businesses large and small are not going to take root and help the Haitian economy, leaving Haiti a beggar state that other countries will occasionally, like people on their way to work in large cities who encounter homeless on the street, will hand a few bucks and then move on.

One thing that keeps Haiti on my mind is its music, and it has a rich musical tradition that most of us are not aware of. Today's random tune is by Dadou Pasquet. Born Andre Pasquet in Port au Prince, he is also a composer, singer and arranger. Pasquet started his musical career at age 9 and played with Haitian great "Tit" Pascal when he was 12. He first achieved fame with the Tabou Combo from 1970-76. After that, he joined with his brother Tico to form The Magnum Band which achieved popularity in the Caribbean and Europe. He plays in styles as diverse as salsa, jazz, blues, funk and reggae. Supposedly, one of his successful songs with the Tabou Combo was recorded by Carlos Santana as Crazy Crazy. This song, New York City, is from his 2003 album Dadou en Troubador and can also be found on the compilation Les Titres Essentiels Haiti.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Motherland's Girl: Sevara Nazarkhan and "Yol Bolsin"

Uzbekistan is one of the 'Stans, a country that was formed out the breakup of the former Soviet Union. Since then, like the other 'Stans, it has been struggling to forge its own identity. During the period of Soviet rule, a large part of Uzbek history was that of "Russification." In other words, to get ahead in the Uzbekistan SSR during Soviet rule one had to give up any connection to Uzbek culture, lifestyle, identity and language and conform to Russian lifestyles, language and identity. Those who didn't were excluded from political and meaningful economic opportunity. Out of the wreckage of the Soviet Union, ethnic animosities in Uzbekistan led to clashes between Uzbeks and Turks, and animosities against Russians led to 2 million ethnic Russians fleeing Uzbekistan. Political upheaval and fraudulent elections also led to instability and violence.

However, one of the positive things about Uzbek independence was a reflowering of traditional Uzbek art and music. From this exploration back into culture and history came artists like Sevara Nazarkhan, who has not only given new life to Uzbek folk music traditions, but has also enabled its appreciation on a wider world basis. Nazarkhan was born into a musical family. Her mother taught traditional instruments at an Uzbek school, and Nazarkhan began her career as a doutar (a long necked lute) player for a state ensemble. By 2000, Nazarkhan had already achieved fame in Uzbekistan in her solo career as a pop singer, but she wowed crowds and Peter Gabriel when she performed as a last minute replacement at that year's WOMAD. Gabriel asked her to record an album for his Real World record label, and matched her with legendary French music producer Hector Zazou. The resulting album, Yoʻl Boʻlsin (2003), propelled her to international fame in its incorporation of traditional Uzbek folk music and contemporary sounds. She has released six albums and and has collaborated with artists such as Peter Gabriel, Sinead O'Connor and the Afro Celt Sound System. This song, "Yoʻl Boʻlsin," appears on that 2003 album of the same name. (The version I have is a five minute version, but the only similar one I could find online was edited to 3 minutes or so for radio airplay).

Addendum after I posted this: I just found longer version of this song, with Sevara Nazarkhan singing a capella:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

An Ich for an Ich: Ich + Ich and "Vom Selben Stern"

I believed that I was of German heritage for most of my life. I say believed because I now know that I don't have much, if any, German in me despite my last name. While this is another story, I was adopted and my adoptive parents believed I had Irish, English, German and French Canadian heritage. Turns out that they were right on the English and French Canadian, but not so much on the Irish and German.

However, believing this, I was attracted to all things German. My grandmother had gone to Austria twice when I was young, and I loved to look at her pictures of the houses in the Austrian Alps, houses of her relatives that she had established relationships with. I also liked looking at the different style of writing - some of it was in the old German typeset. And as soon as I could, which meant college, I started taking German. I never got over halting German, but was able to put my meager skills to the test when I spent two months backpacking around Europe and spending about a month of that time in and around Germany and Austria. I think I even got to a point where I could understand a lot of what was being said, and keep a slow conversation going. I still also have a soft spot in my heart for Germans over all other European peoples. They are quick to an opinion, very justice-oriented, in many cases are not overly expressive, but when you get to know Germans they are very good friends and will go out of their way for you. I like them a lot, and have missed going over to see my friends in Germany since I haven't been there in a long time. But my German is now very rusty again.

A German tune is our random song for the day. Vom Selben Stern is by the pop duo Ich + Ich (I and I) which is made up of Annette Humpe and Adel Tawil. Ich + Ich was formed in 2002 when Tawil, a former member of the German boy band The Boyz came into the studio to sing a song that Humpe, an icon of the New German Wave of the 1980s with the band Ideal, had written. Their first album together, the eponymous Ich + Ich, came out in 2005 and two songs reached the German Top 10. Their followup album, Vom Selben Stern (2007), reached Number 1. A third album, released in 2009, also reached the top of the German charts and yielded their first Number 1 single. Humpe writes or co-writes most of the duo's songs, and sings lead on some tracks but mostly does backing vocals, leaving most of the lead vocals to Tawil. She has heavy stage fright, so Tawil is the only one of the two on stage with the band when Ich + Ich tours. Tawil is a native German of Egyptian and Tunisian heritage. Vom Selben Stern (From the Same Star) can be found on their 2007 album of the same name.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Middle English: Mediaeval Baebes and "Besse Bunting"

Back in the day, when I was studying as an English major in college, I really enjoyed my literature class that focused on works in Middle English.  I can still recite, in Middle English, the opening to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  You know, the one that starts "Whan in Aprille the shoures soote, the draocht of March had perced to the rote..."  Or something like that.  It was an exciting time for English.  The Normans had invaded from France and conquered the island in 1066, French replaced Old Saxon English at court, and even though the common folk still spoke Old English in whatever regional dialects they had, French words started to infiltrate.  By the time we get to Chaucer, who lived from the mid to late 14th century, English more closely resembled what we speak today, though the pronunciations of words still retained elements of the Old English.

For me, reading in Middle English was almost like reading in another language, but one where things were mostly recognizable.  I had read some bits of Old English, which may have well been a foreign language, but Middle English was very doable.  I could, even without notes, understand most of what Chaucer and other Middle English authors were trying to convey but it was foreign enough to really make me think if that word or phrase really meant this or that.  And the literature was good!  Chaucer in particular is very funny - alternating between serious themes and slapstick that included bawdy, raunchy humor and fart jokes.

When I stumbled upon the Mediaeval Baebes some years ago, it was fun to hear some of these works sung.  They didn't sing Chaucer, at least not that I'm aware, but songs and poems from that era.  And it was fun to realize that I could still understand them.  And you probably can too!  Take these lyrics from the song:

In Aprell and in May
When hartes be all mery
Besse Bunting, the millaris may
Withe lippes so red as chery
She cast in hir remembrance
To passe hir time in daliance
And to leve hir thought driery
Right womanly arayd
In a peticote of whit
She was nothing dismayd
Hir countenance was full light

In this time of our fall, it reminds us of spring as it captures a snapshot of a maid with full red lips happy and clothed in a "peticote of whit" with a countenance full of light in the months of April and May. 

This is the territory of the Mediaeval Baebes as today's song Besse Bunting illustrates. The group started in 1996 when a group of friends led by Katherine Blake of Miranda Sex Garden broke into a North London cemetery and sang in flowing white robes and leaf garlands. They soon became a group, and their first album, Salva Nos, shot to number two on the classical charts. It didn't hurt that they were all beautiful and very talented. The group has since had many incarnations. They sing in an array of obscure and ancient languages, and have placed three albums in the top ten of the classical charts and participated in the BBC's television series The Virgin Queen. Besse Bunting is from their 2000 CD Undrentide.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Catch our October 6 Show on KUNM's Two Week Archive

Yes, that's right, we did our show last night. Catch our October 6th show on KUNM's Two-Week Archive. Just enter October 6, 10 pm and hit "play."  Our show consisted of the following:

  1. Shereen Abdo (Egypt)
  2. Kardeş Türküler (Turkey)
  3. Esteban Copete y su Kinteto Pacifico (Colombia)
  4. Bongeziwe Mabandla (South Africa)
  5. Freshlyground (South Africa)
  6. Hope Masike (Zimbabwe)
  7. Peni Candra Rini and Ade Suharto (Indonesia)
  8. Neil Chua (Malaysia)
  9. Alexander Shirunov (Russia)
  10. Romanica (Ukraine)

We also played music from the following artists:
  1. Bob Marley & The Wailers (Jamaica)
  2. Banda Magda (USA)
  3. ZAZ (France)
  4. Aurelio (Honduras)
  5. Los de Abajo (Mexico)
  6. Fofoulah (UK)
  7. African Rhythm Travelers (South Africa
  8. Kanda Bongo Man (Dem. Rep. of Congo)
  9. Dub Colossus (UK)
  10. Nabil Othmani (Algeria)
  11. Tom Landa and The Paperboys (Canada)
  12. Sevara Nazarkhan (Uzbekistan)
  13. Aziza Brahim (Algeria/Western Sahara)
  14. Seu Jorge (Brazil)
  15. Sonzeira feat. Gabriel Moura (Brazil)
  16. Baba Zula (Turkey)

So go to the archive and check it out!

Making the Music One's Own: Rachid Taha and "Kelma"

Apparently one of the legendary stories of music revolves around the chance meeting in Paris in the 1980s of a young up-and-coming Algerian singer for a rock band and The Clash. He admired The Clash and was influenced by them. He saw them as equal parts militant and hedonists, which he found exciting, and as musicians they were willing to branch out into different styles and genres and not get stale. I don't know what the particulars are of that meeting, or what passed between them. But apparently the young up-and-coming Algerian musician gave The Clash a demo tape to listen to. He never heard back from them, and assumed they lost the tape or just didn't listen to it. A few months later, The Clash released Rock the Casbah, and the young musician wonders if perhsps The Clash listened to his tape after all. And just as The Clash may have been inspired by the music of a young Rachid Taha, it is apparent that Taha was very influenced by the image and music of The Clash. Some years later, Rachid Taha would issue his own cover of The Clash, renamed Rock El Casbah, which was named one of the 50 Greatest Covers of All Time by The Guardian.

These stories are great, and always make one speculate. Musicians have so much contact with one another, it's hard to know who directly inspired whom, or what after-hours jam sessions might have produced in people's minds. Another great song, Under Pressure, evolved from a jam session between David Bowie and Queen, and though none of the musicians was completely satisfied with it, it became one of the best known collaborations. Even when not directly working with one another, artists of all stripes are constantly soaking up the influences of other artists, and then reworking that influence in their own particular ways to come out with something new. When I listen to world music covers of famous songs, and I have a few of them, I'm always impressed how usually the artists make those songs their own and in some cases, even better. David Bowie said of Seu Jorge's Portuguese covers of his songs for film that had Seu Jorge not covered them, he would not have known of the beauty that his interpretations could bring.

Wow, how did all this come out? The random song for today isn't even a cover, though it is by Rachid Taha. Kelma first appeared on his 1995 CD Olé, Olé and then on his 1997 CD Carte Blanche. Now based in France, Taha's music is influenced by rock, punk, electronica and Algerian raï and has been described as "sonically adventurous." He first became exposed to music through his Algerian culture, but moved to France as a child where in his teens he worked menial jobs during the day but DJ'd at night playing Arab music, rap, funk, salsa and other music. He also soaked up raï, which was a music of political protest in Algeria during the 1980s. He co-founded a rock band in 1981 and became lead vocalist. Later in the 80s he went solo, and in 1989 he recorded with producer Don Was playing Arabic style beats, but didn't achieve much success with American audiences. In 1998 he recorded his breakthrough album Diwan, which were remakes of songs from Algerian and Arab traditions. He is known for playing the mandolute, essentially a fretted oud. He is described as an eclectic artist who is gregarious, quick with a smile, and who loves to party through the night.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Listen to the KUNM Global Music Show tonight, and hang out with us!

That's right, it's the first Monday of the month and time for your favorite hosts to bring you Global Music from 10 pm - 1 am Mountain time. And boy howdy, do we have a show for you! Megan is interviewing an organizer of the OneBeat Albuquerque at the Rail Yards, a world music event that will bring 25 musicians from 17 countries to Albuquerque. We will play some selections from these musicians, as well as listen to some of the newest recently released world selections (including Robert Plant, if you can believe it!). Of course, it will all be sprinkled with the wit and banter of your two hosts, Megan Kamerick and moi. 10 pm - 1 am on KUNM 89.9 FM or at If you MUST miss it tonight, then catch us on the two-week archive starting tomorrow. But don't miss it!

A Nice Vintage: Ian Oliver feat. Eastenders and "Vino Vino (Lukas Lehrmann remix)"

_Vino_Vino_(Lukas_Lehmann_Remix).Mp3 by Ian_Oliver_Feat._Eastenders_ on Grooveshark

I love wine...but I can't drink much of it. Well, let me restate that. It's not that I can't, it's that I shouldn't.

That's tough for a native Northern Californian who grew up just north of wine country and who therefore has had ample reason to enjoy a few vintages in his lifetime. But there it is. The problem is not the wine. The problem is that my body has more than two glasses of wine, and then decides it's time to go to sleep. A third glass, especially on a warm afternoon, will put me to complete sleep. This is a problem if I'm at a party. I can ameliorate the effect by sipping the wine but even that works its toll sooner or later.

But here's the thing about wine for me that doesn't work with any other libation: wine (especially red wine) is the only alcoholic drink where at some point I go from completely sober to that delicate balance of feeling completely at peace and good with the world for a few minutes to a half hour. The problem is that either I don't drink anymore and the feeling goes away, or I drink another one and tip the balance into sleepy time. That being written, it's that peaceful feeling I crave. A good glass of wine with friends in a relaxed atmosphere is the perfect tonic for pretty much everything. A glass of wine on my front porch as the late afternoon sun provides its gentle warmth is an experience I can have over and over again. It's a good thing that I can always revisit that feeling for the rest of the time I'm on this earth. And occasionally, I know that I will end up sleeping away the rest of the evening on a bed because of one glass beyond that perfect balance.

One doesn't necessarily associate the Balkans with fine wine, though recent reports indicate that it's star is rising in the world of appellations, but in terms of vintage brass instrumentation and accordion the Balkans are about as exciting as it gets. And one of the amazing things that has happened has been a cross of the old with the new, almost like a blending of traditional grapes with some new hybrids to create something completely new. In the past decade or so Balkan brass and accordion has become more popular, and with it experimentation in turning these tunes into danceable club music. And to my surprise (though perhaps not the surprise of people who have listened to this music for a while) it works marvelously. There is something about Balkan brass and accordion being sampled and looped, augmented by electronica, and put to a beat that never fails to get the body moving.

To that end, Vino Vino (Lukas Lehrmann remix) is a remix of a Balkan dance tune by Ian Oliver featuring Eastenders, which in itself uses a lot of sampling. Unfortunately, I can't find much information about Ian Oliver or Eastenders (please feel free to comment and provide some information), but this remix is infectious and makes you want to dance! You can find Vino Vino (Lukas Lehrmann remix) on the compilation CD The Balkan Club Night #2, Disc 2 (2011) Enjoy! I've also included the original, below, with the official video so you can compare it with the remix.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ramblin': Baka Beyond and "Wandering Spirit"

Well, I know that anyone who reads this little blog of random world tunes waits with bated breath every day for my little bon-mots and homespun wisdom. Unfortunately, there are times like yesterday and today when I don't have the luxury and only have the time to bring you the random tune with the meticulously researched background (cough, cough...Wikipedia) of the bands that I write in each post. To those of you who wait for my ramblings, I apologize that I cannot always provide them.

Speaking of ramblings, today's random tune is by one of the more established "world' groups. Baka Beyond, formed in 1992, calls themselves "the original Afro-Celtic dance band," probably to distinguish themselves from the Afro Celt Sound System which formed around the same time. Baka Beyond fuses Celtic and other western styles with the traditional Baka music of Cameroon. It started when vocalist Su Hart and her husband, Martin Cradick (guitar, bazouki and mandolin), went to Cameroon to live with the Baka pygmy tribe to record their music. At first Hart and Cradick worked with English musicians to try to recreate the Baka music sounds and integrate it into their music. However, as the group evolved it began to include more musicians from African countries such as Senegal, Sierra Leone, Congo, Ghana and Cameroon. The group has also kept its relationship with the Baka people, returning regularly to record their music and integrate with the music created by the band. The band donates much of its profits to rainforest preservation and at the request of the Baka tribe, has built a music recording studio in their tribal area and has helped the tribe deal with various social and health issues in their villages. The BBC's Andy Kershaw has said that Baka Beyond's music may be the definition of world music. The group has released 11 albums, including one this year in 2014. This song, Wandering Spirit, can be found on their 2002 CD East to West.