Saturday, January 31, 2015

Not the Movie: Gigi and "Enoralehu"

The random tune today is from Gigi, the stage name of Ethiopian singer Ejigayehu Shibabaw. Gigi learned traditional music from an Ethiopian Orthodox priest in her family home in northwest Ethiopia. After living in Kenya for a few years, she moved to San Francisco in the late 1990s where she made her first albums for the Ethiopian expatriate community. These albums brought her to the attention of Chris Blackwell, whose Island Records made reggae mainstream, and he and producer Bill Laswell matched Gigi with musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Pharoah Sanders, among others, on her 2001 album Gigi which gained her widespread attention. A combination of traditional and modern sounds, it was a great success on the international music scene as well as a source of controversy in Ethiopia because of its radical reworking of traditional music. She later married Bill Laswell and recorded an album with him called Zion Roots. This song, Enoralehu, is from her 2006 album Gold and Wax and features a haunting vocal.

Friday, January 30, 2015

My Sweet Lord: MC Yogi (featuring Sharon Gannon) and "Krishna Dub"

Krishna Dub (feat. Sharon Gannon) [Bonus Track] by MC Yogi on Grooveshark

When I lived in New Orleans, just down the street from my house was a large Hare Krishna temple. All I knew about the Hare Krishnas was that they often walked around with flowers and they often chanted "Hare Krishna." I didn't know what the connection was between them and George Harrison's My Sweet Love, if any. They always seemed cultish and were lumped in with other, similar groups such as the Moonies. But the temple down the street did some good works that I was aware of. They fed homeless people and I think they may have even housed some of them. They had a community dinner every week and invited the rest of the neighborhood to come - sadly I never went. The official name for the Hare Krishnas is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and they are dedicated to the practice and spread of bahkti yoga. Of course, knowing next to nothing about Hinduism, I would not have known that the Hare Krishna mantra they sang was a devotional prayer to Krishna, who is seen as the highest avatar of the Supreme God Vishnu in their religious beliefs. Indeed in Hinduism, depending on the way you practice, Krishna can himself is the Supreme Being. And Krishna is considered a great figure in Buddhism, and even in a branch of Islam

So let the love of Krishna wash over you today with this song, Krishna Dub, by MC Yogi and featuring Sharon Gannon. MC Yogi is the avatar of Nicholas Giacomini, a Bay Area hip hop artist and yogi who promotes themes of Hindu religion and philosophy. In fact, many of his songs and raps are bhajans, or Hindu devotional songs. Giacomini began rapping at 13 and, while living in home for at-risk children at age 17, he became a practitioner of yoga after his father took it up. Sharon Gannon is a yogina (female yoga master), animal rights activist, musician, dancer, choreographer and painter who co-founded the Jivamukti Yoga Method that fueled the popularity of yoga in the west in the late 20th century. As such she has taught yoga to high profile celebrities such as Sting and Madonna, and as musician she has collaborated with Run-DMC's Rev. Run and the Beastie Boys' Mike D, as well as founding the influential Seattle music collective Audio Letter. Krishna Dub can be found as a bonus track on MC Yogi's 2008 album Elephant Power.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ambience: Rapoon and "Waddi Jah"

Today's random tune is from a CD entitled I Am Powerful: Music to Empower Women. It was gotten at a spa near where we live that sells products created by women in poor countries that are made of recycled materials. A portion of the proceeds of the CD went organizations to empower women and families to help them achieve self-sufficiency. The tune is called Waddi Jah, and it is by Rapoon, which is a project of British musician Robin Storey who used to be a member of the British ambient group Zoviet France. The music by Rapoon largely falls into the ambient category, and as such Waddi Jah resembles more a soundscape than a musical number. You can find Waddi Jah on Rapoon's 1999 album What Do You Suppose? (The Alien Question).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bowing Like a Champ: Vincent Griffin and "The New Year's In / Youghal Quay"

The New Year's in! At last that's what this random song for today is about. The New Year's In / Youghal Quay is by Vincent Griffin, a traditional Irish fiddler from County Clare in Ireland who won the prestigious All-Ireland fiddle championship in 1974. He made his first solo album in 1977 after a chance meeting with the Scottish/Irish/Celtic band The Boys of the Lough. I can't find much more information about him, other than raves on the internet about his fiddle playing. Today's song, which I believe either refers to a quay in a town called Youghal along the Blackwater River in County Clare (which might make sense given that Vincent Griffin is from County Clare) or to a quay in the community of Youghal a resort town in County Cork in southern Ireland, can be found on the compilation album Harps, Pipes and Fiddles (2008).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In the Name of Love: Hapa and "Mele A Paku`i/Ho`okumu"

Mele A Paku`i/Ho`okumu [Instrumental] by Hapa on Grooveshark

We go to Hawaii for today's random tune by Hapa. 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 duo consisting of Flanagan and Keli'i Ho'omalu Kaneali'i. Flanagan later joined 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. Mele A Paku`i/Ho`okumu can be found on their 2002 album In the Name of Love.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tricksy: Mank and "Gwydion"

This song is in our collection because every year we do a trickster show the KUNM Global Music Show. This usually happens around April 1st, and it is a fun show because there are a lot of cultures that have tricksters. What is a trickster? A trickster is a being or a god that is mischievous, sometimes cruel, that usually circumvents the normal rules of behavior and in doing so, serves as a way for us to learn about ourselves. For example, in Native American traditions coyote, or raven in some traditions, is a trickster that impersonates the creator, plays tricks on people and sometimes steals from them, and also guards the old ways from the new. It's amazing how many cultures have these figures in their mythologies, and even in America we have our own trickster figures in Br'er Rabbit of the 1800s who eventually morphs into Bugs Bunny of the 20th century...a modern day trickster!

Today's random tune is an ambient/electronic piece from Wales by an artist who calls himself Mank, and is titled directly after a Welsh trickster god. Mank is the electronic project of Ben Powell in North Wales. Begun in 1998, Powell began releasing his own homemade CDs under the name of Mank. His recordings characteristically employ a computer-based combination of field recordings with virtual and real instrumentation. Powell utilizes exotic locations for recording, such as on the Russian polar research ship where he recorded two albums. Radio Wales has labeled him one of the most important electronic artists in Wales. This song, Gwydion, is from Mank's 2010 album Awen. The title of the song refers to the magician, hero and trickster of Welsh mythology.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Not Lost in Translation: Los Crazy Boys and "La Novia de Mi Mejor Amigo"

Today's song is a blast from the past from Mexico's golden age of rock and roll in the 50s and 60s. I don't know about you, but I was born in early 1960s and so the music from that time, though familiar to me, is not something I grew up with. When they talk about 50s and 60s music, I relate more to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole because that was the 50s and 60s music my mom and dad played on the stereo. When I was growing up, the rock and roll of the 50s and 60s was cute songs about itsy bitsy bikinis and monster mashes. I didn't truly get into rock and roll until almost high school, and by then the late 70s style of rock was in vogue, everything from hard Led Zeppelin, country rock like The Eagles, and pop stuff. So it has been a bit of an education to revisit some of the 50s and early 60s rock and realize just how revolutionary it was - for example the rock of Buddy Holly and Elvis. Not only was it revolutionary, but it also had broad appeal around the world so that nascent rock bands in other countries, just by translating a song into their own language, gave a song a broader appeal and shelf-life than it might ordinarily have. In turn, this helped spark creativity around the world. It's kind of extraordinary, when you really think about it.

Today's tune is an example of a band in Mexico following the American rock style and perpetuating it for the Mexican music market. Los Crazy Boys were formed in 1959 and were at the forefront of the English to Spanish translation of popular rock songs for the Mexican music market, as well as penning their own hits. They were also notable for being the first Mexican rock and roll group to use violins. The band is still performing, though not with its original lineup. La Novia de Mi Mejor Amigo (My Best Friend's Girl) can be found on the 2013 retrospective album Los Exitos de Oro de Los Crazy Boys.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Polyphonic Spree: Chet Nuneta and "Ayazin"

ayazin by Chet Nuneta on Grooveshark

Today's random tune is a haunting song called Ayazin by Chet Nuneta with Michael Fernandez. Chet Nuneta is a French five piece polyphonic group accompanied by percussion. Their music draws from Arabic, Eastern European and Sephardic influences. Started in 2000 as a female vocal trio, they have increased to five members and have always been inspired by the musical traditions of the world. They sing in more than 15 languages and have performed at prestigious venues such as WOMEX and WOMAD. They have released 2 albums. Ayazin can be heard on their 2008 album Ailleurs.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Iron Maiden: Värttinä and "Neitonen"

Step outside of being human for a moment. Imagine that you are some being of an alien race who is studying humans, a kind of Jane Goodall from the planets who is spending time with the humans on earth, learning their ways and socializing with them. Of course, you watch their mating rituals and given that you are an alien, you have technology that allows you to read the chemical balances inside human bodies. So, you are well aware of the chemical changes that take place when one human becomes attracted to another, and when two become attracted to each other. You are also aware that humans have a drive to match up, to experience these chemical differences, and then to mate in the process of procreation, and that the actual coupling is apparently very, very good in most cases.

And then you examine their customs and beliefs, and the big social prohibitions against mating and procreation before certain criteria are met such as being of a certain age and whether a social and religious contract called marriage or something like it has been entered into. And you try to reconcile - how do some humans resist the chemical changes caused by hormones, which rage and scream against the prohibitions against copulation, while others fail?

I guess that's what I wonder when I read the translation of the lyrics to this song, Neitonen, by Värttinä:

The maiden had waited for a perfect suitor.
She dreamed of her soul mate--
a son-in-law for her family
to stand by her side and embrace her.
Many a hard year she waited,
not marrying even for gold and silver.
Now she has a man to her liking--
knowing what she found,
she found what she knew...

I think it would be difficult, especially if you have many suitors, to resist the temptation but then again. The lyrics said it was hard for her to go without companionship and help, but her waiting led her to a soul mate. We often sing of battles fought physically, and when love has conquered. Rarely do we sing of the mental and emotional battles against our own urges other than when we fail, and rarely do we sing about conquering love until we are ready for it.

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. Neitonen, is from their 1998 CD Vihma.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tango Crazy: 8½ Souvenirs and "Tango Lunatico"

Tango Lunatico by 8½ Souvenirs on Grooveshark

One my my current co-workers went through a tango phase. Once or twice each week he'd go to tango lessons. Part of the motivation was to meet people, especially single women, and part of the motivation was just love of the movement and dancing. He got to be relatively good - probably a mid-level tango dancer - but he would tell me the stories of the hierarchy that developed among tango dancers. The advanced students danced with the advance students, and would get annoyed at having to dance with a lower level student. The mid-level dancers would feel lucky if they managed to score a dance with a higher level dancer, but annoyed themselves if they got a beginner. And beginners? They were s*** out of luck unless a set of circumstances all came together in a perfect storm. This hierarchy of tango, along with its reputation as a dance associated with a more sophisticated, upper class set, seems to clash with the origin of the tango, which was developed in the slums of Argentina and Uruguay. But there is no denying its global reach. It is danced in various forms throughout the world, and some tangos even have countries' names associated with them or are very regional, such as the Finnish tango or the tango camacupense popular in Angola. Putumayo World Music devoted one of its world music compilations to tango from various parts of the globe. Even I learned a couple of tango moves, though the sum extent of what I know would last about 3 seconds on the dance floor.

So, tango's the reason for the big lead up to today's random tune, Tango Lunatico by 8½ Souvenirs. You'll hear the typical tango beat, aggressive and lush reflecting the sexuality and machismo also associated with the dance, with a very prominent lead guitar (though electric, unlike the traditional tangos). 8½ Souvenirs is an Austin band of the 1990s that disbanded about 2000. While called an American swing jazz band led by French turned American lead guitarist Olivier Giraud, it was clearly influenced by gypsy jazz and other European and Latin American styles. It's name came from the Fellini movie and the Django Reinhardt song Souvenirs. Tango Lunatico is from 8½ Souvenirs' 1997 album Souvonica.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Don't Worry About Tetanus: Kila and "Rusty Nails"

I have stepped on more than a few rusty nails in my lifetime, leading to tetanus boosters so that I would not come down with the fabled lock-jaw. Growing up in a rural area, with a father who thought of himself as a carpenter but who was just improvising a lot (and not very successfully sometimes resulting in neighbors and relatives helping out), I often found nails lying around. I imagine that in any rural communities, and Ireland is certainly made up of many rural communities, you will often find do-it-yourselfers who more than a few times drop a nail in the grass and it stays there, slowly rusting, until some child's bare foot finds it or, it happens to sit at just a way that it punctures a shoe.

Today's random tune is not rusty, even though it has been sitting around for 18 years. Kila is an Irish world music and folk music group formed in 1997 in the Irish language secondary school in County Dublin. Their music has been described as breathing new life into contemporary Irish music through their blend of Irish and world music with a rock sensibility. Kila has worked with other notable Irish musicians including U2, Shane MacGowan, Glen Hansard and The Dubliners, and collaborated on the soundtrack to a wonderful animated movie, The Secret of Kells. This song, Rusty Nails, is from their 1997 album Tóg É Go Bog É, and an abbreviated version can be found on the Putumayo compilation A Celtic Odyssey: Dublin to Dakar.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Entrancing: Cheb i Sabbah and "Raja Vedalu"

Question: Is trance music of the nineties roughly similar in its goals and effects to the psychedelic music of the 60s and 70s? From what I've read, the answer would suggest yes. Psychedelic music of the sixties developed out of a culture that was clearly into experimentation and usage of drugs such as LSD, and the music was often played by people who were taking these drugs and translating their experiences into music, and the music was in turn listened to by people who were also using drugs and getting not only a chemical but an aural high all at the same time. The music was also known for bringing in new instrumentation, particularly Indian instruments such as the sitar and tabla, as well as using other techniques such as looping, phasing, backward taping and lots of reverberation.

In turn, in the 1990s as electronica became more popular in music, many of these techniques were also used along with repeating melodies, and usually a fast beat though not always. Trance music was also used to replicate the effects of the drug Ecstasy, or X, by amplifying inner peace, self acceptance, heightened mood and euphoria, intimacy and love for others, insight, introspection and clarity, self confidence, desire, drive, motivation, energy, endurance, alertness, awareness, awakening, empathy, compassion and forgiveness while diminishing aggression, hostility, fear, anger and insecurity. Trance music is supposed to do all of this without the harmful effects of drug usage. Glow sticks are also a big part of the trance music scene.

Despite both psychedelic music and trance music having an association with drug usage, I think that they stand well on their own. I certainly like both, and the fact that they have a similar history doesn't surprise me.

The random tune today is a trancy kind of composition from DJ Cheb i Sabbah called Raja Vedalu. Sabbah, who died in 2013 at age 66, was a DJ, composer and producer that combined Asian, Arabic and African sounds. Born Serge el Beze, he was Algerian of Jewish and Berber descent. Born into a family of musicians, he moved to Paris as a teenager and began DJing in 1964, working primarily in American soul records. In 1984, he moved to San Francisco and took the name Cheb i Sabbah which means "young of the morning." He was nominated in 2006 for the BBC's World Music Award in the Club Global category, and he was known for concerts featuring live musicians, dancers and massive projections that backed up his electronic music. He died of stomach cancer in November of 2013 in San Francisco. Raja Vedalu can be found on the Shiva Rea's compilation CD Nataraja (2006) and other compilations as well. It has also been remixed and mashed up a few times.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Cajun Pride: Feufollet and "Fier d'Être Cadien"

Fier d'Être Cadien (Proud to Be a Cajun) by Feufollet on Grooveshark

Today's random tune is from down Louisiana way, in the Cajun country of Lafayette. Feufollet was formed in the late 1990s by some very young musicians (when they formed, their drummer was 8) and recorded their first record before they were teenagers. The band's name refers to the "crazy fire" or will-o-the-wisps in the swamps that mystified both travelers and swamp dwellers alike. Still a young band age-wise (all of them are in their 20s) they are an old band and very experienced in playing with one another. They do both straight ahead Cajun music, but they also improvise and add new elements to the old. This song, Fier d'Être Cadien (Proud to Be a Cajun), is from one of their earlier albums - 2002's Belle Louisiane, and therefore more typical of their straight-up Cajun sound.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Between Love and Luck: Badi Assad and "Pega no Coco"

As I've now passed the 50 year mark (actually I'm 51 or as I'm calling it, forty-eleven), the issue of time has become more and more important to me. Sometimes in the morning, I wake up and realize that I've lived another day, shortening the number of days I have left on the earth. I don't obsess about it, but sometimes I do have some sadness, especially if the previous day has been so busy that it feels like it went by in a blur of activity without proper reflection and appreciation. I can imagine that at times a lot of parents, caught up with their families in our modern lifestyles, feel the same way. They have career and families, and work at both of them, all the while watching their kids grow up while they get older. I'm sure that they want to hold onto some moments and lengthen them, stretching them out so that they last. Unfortunately, time is implacable and it's inertia is inexorable. We are caught between seeking the busy aspects of life to keep ourselves occupied, and craving the quiet reflective moments with ourselves and our loved ones, and for me, there is hardly ever a perfect combination of both.

Today's song encapsulates some of that - a modern woman juggling her career and family and the demands of both. Badi Assad is natural born Brazilian with a Lebanese background. She was born in the state of São Paulo, Brazil but moved to Rio de Janeiro. Her family was a musical family - her father plays the bandolim (mandolin) and her two brothers are classical guitarists in their own group, Duo Assad. She studied classical guitar at the University of Rio de Janeiro and joined the Guitar Orchestra of Rio de Janeiro in 1987. She released her first solo album in 1988. More albums and Brazilian fame followed, but in 1998 she released Chameleon and took Europe by storm - her appearance on a French late show on the Canal+ channel was seen by over 2 million viewers. From 1998-2001 she was afflicted with focal dystonia, a motor skill disability but recovered completely and continued writing music, performing, releasing albums and collaborating with many of the music industry's major stars. She is known for reinterpreting well known songs in different styles, such as putting a bossa nova style on U2's "One," as well as her experimental musical interpretations. In 2013, her album Between Love and Luck was released, and this song, Pega no Coco, garnered her first prize in the world music category of a USA songwriting competition. The upbeat song (and video) shows Assad in the roles of career woman, wife, and mother and the various demands of each, but also a woman who likes the combination. I'm glad she's found hers...I'm still trying.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

High Desert Mbira: Jaka and "Walking"

Walking by Jaka on Grooveshark

I will admit something. I have complicated feelings toward Santa Fe, New Mexico. Why? I live in Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico but which also has an inferiority complex toward the state's capitol, Santa Fe. When tourists come to New Mexico, they usually land at the airport in Albuquerque, rent a car, and drive straight to Santa Fe. When events are held in Albuquerque, such as our amazing Globalquerque world music festival or our fantastic Tricklock Revolutions avant-garde theater festival, it seems to be the rare Santa Fe resident that drives down for it while Albuquerqueans will often make the hour-long trek to Santa Fe for their festivals and happenings. In fact, once at Globalquerque I overheard two young men who attended because they won tickets on a Santa Fe radio station. "Wow," I overheard them say. "This is great! I never knew Albuquerque could have anything like this!" It's that type of stuff that drives me wild, because I live in Albuquerque but I like to go to Santa Fe on occasions, such as when I attend their wonderful folk art market, or see a music act that has toured there, or go to a museum such as the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, or hike in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I know Albuquerque is an arts town, even though it may not seem like it, with over 40 theater groups and many great artists. I know that we have good food in Albuquerque, including James Beard award winning restaurants and chefs. Santa Fe is a really interesting town with some wonderful things to see or do, but I wish that Albuquerque would get its due as a destination in its own right, rather than being the stuff on the freeway that you have to drive through to get to Santa Fe. I suppose rivalry breeds innovation through competition, but I wish that since we live in a poor state that could use exposure to the outside, Albuquerque and Santa Fe could be partners, not unequal but both perceived as being unique and interesting in their differences.

Certainly, what contributes to my complicated feelings is that many great artists, musicians and writers live in Santa Fe. Jaka is one example. Their tune Walking is our random tune for today. Jaka is an Afro-Pop Funk dance band that was begun by Dan Pauli in the mid 1990s. They play ancient songs, and modern compositions using a mix of contemporary and traditional instruments, such as mbira and marimba. The band has a fluid lineup around five core musicians, and also offers marimba and drumming classes at their Santa Fe studio. Walking is from their third album, 2014's Glow.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Aye, Matey: The Corsairs and "Leaving of Liverpool"

Leaving Of Liverpool by The Corsairs on Grooveshark

Pirate lovers - or lovers of old sea shanties - today's your day! Our random tune is from a group that's a bit of a mystery. I remember seeing The Corsairs at some festival in San Antonio years ago and purchased their album. This is not the 60s doo wop group, but an American a cappella group that sings sea shanties and pirate songs. I can't find too much on them except that they've released a number of albums, each named after a color - for example, The Red One, The Black One, etc. This song, Leaving of Liverpool, is from their 1998 first album The Red One.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sunny: Adriano Adewale and "Sunflower Song"

Sunflower Song by Adriano Adewale Group on Grooveshark

Because my day has been so busy, I can't write as much as I would like today. Today's random song comes from Brazil by way of London and is about sunflowers. I tried to plant sunflowers, which grow pretty well here in New Mexico, but they didn't do too well in my backyard this year. I like how healthy sunflowers look, and my sister does wonders with them in her garden - and with a great variety of types and colors!

Percussionist Adriano Adewale was born in Sao Paolo, Brazil and moved to London in 2000. He formed his first UK band, Cru, around that time which released one album. He then became part of the Antonio Forcione Quartet and toured the world with them. In 2007 he formed his own quartet, the Adriano Adewale Group and has developed a cross-music and art project called Sound Journey. He has collaborated with some huge names in global music, such as Seu Jorge, Oliver Mtukudzi and Cesaria Evora. He is currently artist in residence at the Lakeside Theatre of the University of Essex. The Guardian has called him compositions "simple but uncliched." Sunflower Song can be found on his most recent album Raizes, released in April of 2014.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Hometown Blues: Kobo Town and "Diego Martin"

My hometown is always within me, and I can't escape it even if I wanted to. My hometown is the beacon that pulls me back to my beginnings, and my dark place where many of my life's difficulties and tragedies were first conceived and realized. My hometown is the quiet place where I find beauty and joy. My hometown is where I still hear the sounds of my childhood - the endless roar of the ocean, the low moaning of buoys, the wind whipping through the cypress trees. My hometown is where rain, sun and fog combine to create a kaleidoscope of rainbow colors in sunlight sparkling through dew on a blade of grass, and in an instant wash everything out in hues of gray as the mist settles in. My hometown is where my family lives, and where all our shared histories come together and part ways. My hometown is where I came of age. My hometown is where I achieved some of my greatest early achievements, and made some of my greatest early mistakes. My hometown is a part of me, and I will always have it with me.

An homage to a hometown is our random tune today. Diego Martin is the hometown of Toronto-based musician Drew Gonsalves, who formed the Caribbean group Kobo Town in 2004. The band's name refers to the neighborhood in Port Au Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, where calypso was conceived and first performed. Kobo Town blends calypso music with other Caribbean music, as well as genres such as ska, reggae, dub, rapso, zouk and hip hop. Gonsalves moved to Canada from Diego Martin, Trinidad & Tobago with his mother when he was thirteen. She was a Canadian citizen who was escaping her abusive marriage. He turned to music and poetry to deal with his situation and feelings of exile. He studied history and political science at Carleton University before taking up music as a career. Diego Martin can be found on Kobo Town's 2013 album Jumbie in the Jukebox.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Well Done Dun Dun: Quiero Club and "It's All About the Dun Dun"

Today's song comes from experimental pop and indie band Quiero Club from Monterrey, Mexico. Their music draws from rock, pop and electronic music, and they have been called by NPR "arguably today's most eclectic and critically acclaimed Mexican pop band." Their 2006 debut album, WOF, garnered rave reviews anchored by a Spanglish hit single called No Coke. They followed up with the successful, pop/psychedelic/dance/experimental Nueva America in 2009. They have recently released their third album, the Mexico City-recorded El Techo es el Suelo, produced by Camilo Lara of the Mexican Institute of Sound. Its All About the Dun Dun can be found on their 2009 album Nueva America.

Monday, January 12, 2015

There's No Crying in World Music: DakhaBrakha and "Please Don't Cry"

I remember the first time I saw DakhaBrakha. It was Globalquerque 2012, I think. It doesn't really matter. I didn't know what to expect - the picture showed 3 women dressed in white wearing funny hats. Their description said something like "ethnic chaos music." So, I nestled into the Roy E. Disney Theater at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and prepared for what I thought would be a nice little concert of Ukrainian music. Instead, it was one of those shows that make your jaw drop. From the opening song, when all four members (there is a man in the group as well) pound out a frantic rhythm on drum to the three female voices putting it down on a Ukrainian rap, to a jazzy number with scat from the male member of the group, the whole audience was transfixed. I've since seen them again in, of all places a country and western bar, and they didn't disappoint, and were even in a playful mood which was charming.

DakhaBrakha presents the styles of several different ethnic groups, which includes Indian, Arabic, African, Russian and Australian instrumentation. Their name is a combination of two Ukrainian words meaning "give" and "take." All the groups members are graduates of the Kiev National University of Culture and Arts, and DakhaBrakha was originally a project of the avant-garde theater project called Dakh. This theatricality is embodied in their shows, including their costumes. This song, Please Don't Cry, can be found on their 2014 album Light.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Window Through the Labels: Mamak Khadem and "A Call to Beginning"

A reminder that Iran cannot be completely summed up, as we Americans like to do, in religious fanaticism, nuclear threat and silly labels like "Axis of Evil" comes in the form of today's random song. An ancient and very literate society in the cradle of civilization, Iran (and its predecessor Persia) has a tradition of music and poetry that predates the Roman Empire - prehistoric Persian king Jamshid is credited with the "invention" of music in Persia and Alexander the Great was said to have been impressed by the music he found in Persia upon his invasion. While little is known of what that music sounded like or how it was produced in Alexander's era, subsequent Persian eras indicate that lutes, harps, flutes and bagpipes, among other instruments, were used to create the distinctive Persian style. After the Muslim conquest of Persia, the traditional music that we associate with Persia and Iran became to take shape.

Today's song, A Call to Beginning, is performed by an ensemble including Iranian singer Mamak Khadem, percussionist Benjamin Wittman, bassist Larry Steen, santoor player Hamid Saeidi, orator Fereidoun Farahandouz, setar player Kourosh Taghavi and saxophonist Ole Mathisen. A Call to Beginning is on Khadem's 2011 album A Window to Color which is Khadem's exploration of the intersection of Eastern and Western traditions. The album is inspired by the poetry and paintings of Iranian artist Sohrab Sepehri. Khadem has been called "one of the wonders of world trance music" by the Los Angeles Times, and works from a base of Persian classical music and poetry to weave a sound steeped in ancient tradition but also completely new.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Portuguese Baby Blue: Gal Costa and "Negro Amor (It's All Over Now, Baby Blue)"

Today's random tune is a Brazilian cover of a Bob Dylan tune. Negro Amor (It's All Over Now, Baby Blue) is by Gal Costa, a popular Brazilian singer. She first got interested in music at age 14 after listening to João Gilberto's Chega de Saudade, cementing her interest in bossa nova, and later she worked in a record store to be closer to music. At 18 she was introduced and became lasting friends with Caetano Veloso. She began her musical career at age 19, performing in a concert with Veloso, Gilberto Gil and others, and she released her first album three years later in 1967. In 1968 she joined the Tropicalismo movement, which encompassed music, poetry and theater and encouraged the fusion of Brazilian artistic endeavors with foreign influences. Her 1969 album Gal Costa is considered a classic of Tropicalismo, balancing Brazilian music and psychedelia. She was also controversial - the cover of her 1973 album, India, was censored due to the revealing nature of her red bikini. Negro Amor (It's All Over Now, Baby Blue) can be found on her 1977 album Caras e Bocas and her on 1982 album (re-released in 2001) Minha Voz, Minha Vida.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Kootenay Hootenanny: TerraTara and "Kootenay Kombu"

Kootenay Kombu by Terra Tara on Grooveshark

Today's random tune, Kootenay Kombu by TerraTara, is from a Canadian musician who formed the all-female group Mahzu and who also writes and performs her own material. She is backed by a Jamaican drummer while she performs on guitar and mandolin. Her music contains elements of folk, gypsy, blues and world music. In case you are wondering about the song title, Kootenay is a region of southeastern British Columbia. It is also the name of a Native American/First Nations tribe in British Columbia, Idaho and Montana. Kootenay Kombu can be found on her 2010 album Mahzu, though we got it off the Oasis World Radio Sampler Vol 10, No. 4.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Indian Power: Keith Secola and "NDN Kars"

About a year before Megan and I moved to New Mexico, we made a vacation in the Land of Enchantment. We had no idea that we were going to be moving there, we just had never been and wanted to see a new state. One of the lasting images I have from that vacation was my first sight of an Indian car. We were driving in our rental car to Chaco Canyon, an amazing place that everyone should visit. The road to Chaco Canyon was unpaved and, even worse, it was a washboard road meaning that it had regular grooves in it so that driving over it was sort of like running fingernails over a comb. There was nothing around - very little evidence of human habitation. The slower you went, the more jarring it became but the faster you went, the less traction you had. Because we were in a rental car I was being very careful because I didn't want to throw a rock up into the oil pan or puncture the radiator. So, we're tooling along at about 35 miles per hour when I look in my rear view mirror and see a car trailing a big cloud of dust coming fast upon us. It passed us on the left, barreling by in a spray of rocks, dirt and dust and I could see that it was a four door sedan, probably an early 90s or late 80s model, full of long-haired young Indian men. Then, up ahead of us, it appeared to crash off the road. It suddenly veered left and disappeared off the road. We drove up, me preparing to get out and see if there were any survivors, but as we got closer I realized they had gone off on a road or path that only they knew, and there they were, trailing a cloud of dust out on the desert off-road. They hadn't even slowed. As I watched the dust cloud get smaller as the car moved away from us through the desert, I wondered where they were going, and marveled at this beat up car that could take that kind of punishment.

When I first heard NDN Kars on KUNM's Singing Wire program, it immediately brought the car we had seen to my mind I didn't have to wonder where that sedan full of Indians was heading any more. It just made sense. Megan loves this song, and our colleagues on Singing Wire, a show hosted by Native Americans that highlights Native American music, play it almost every week. NDN Kars is by Keith Secola, an Ojibwa from Minnesota. A graduate of the University of Minnesota in American Indian Studies, Secola plays guitar and flute as well as sings. His band, mostly known as the Wild Band of Indians but also as the Wild Javelinas and the Wild Onions, plays rock influenced by Native American folk music and reggae. An award winner for best artist at the Native American Music Awards in 2006, he is also an environmental and Native rights activist. NDN Kars has been called by some the Native American national anthem, and can be found on his 2006 album Circle. The song above is the original studio version, but Secola and the band joined with Shawn Bernard (tragically paralyzed in an attack in October of 2014) and Joey Stylez to create this fun remix of NDN Kars (below).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Gypsy Hop: Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra with "Sljivovica"

I have waxed poetic in the past on my surprise and delight at the emergence of Balkan brass band music, especially in dance-able club music. Today's song is another example of this, but with a twist. Hip hop, until I started listening to it in a world music wrapper, was not a really big attraction for me. Hip hop lost my interest when it seemed to become, at least in the popular songs, hedonistic and glorifying violence instead of highlighting up front the social and economic issues of the communities from whence it sprung. Thankfully, hip hop seems to have gone through that adolescence and, while it now has pop success there is also a new focus on issues of substance.

With hip hop in foreign languages, I could listen to the beat and the rhymes without understanding the language and I found that I actually liked that. There is a great quality to hip hop, to me at least, in that you don't need to understand the language to appreciate the artistry. Hip hop in French sounds great. Hip hop in German has a fun quality to it. Today's song gives us hip hop in Serbian - and while I might seem like a hypocrite because the song is about a plum brandy and it appears, from the video, that it is promoting some of that hedonistic qualities that drove me away in the first place, I love the use of it with the brass band sound. So yeah, if I close my eyes and listen to the song, and I don't understand the language, I like the new sound it brings.

Boban Marković is a Serbian Romani trumpet player and brass ensemble leader frequently recognized as the greatest trumpet player to emerge from the Balkans. The Boban Marković Orchestra has been one of the leading Balkan brass bands in Serbia over the last 17 years. They have won several of the most important prizes ("Golden Trumpet", "First Trumpet" and "The Best Orchestra") at the Guča trumpet festival, called "Dragačevski Sabor" which has been held every August in Central Serbia's town of Guča since 1961. Boban Marković's son, Marko, has played with the band since 2002. Marko was said to practice ten hours a day before joining with the band. During the two years he spent touring with the band, Marko became the main soloist and arranger of the renamed Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra at age 17. Sljivovica can be found on the Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra's 2013 album Gipsy Manifesto.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I Nodi: I Califfi and "Ti Giuro è Così"

Today's random tune is an Italian throwback cover. You'll recognize the tune immediately as a cover of The Kinks You Really Got Me. I always thought of The Kinks as the forgotten fourth band of the British Invasion. Not that they were really forgotten, because they weren't. But they just seemed to me to be in the shadow of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who. But for me, they put out the most memorable riffs and guitar hooks. When You Really Got Me or Lola begins to play, you immediately know what it is and are ready to take up the song as soon as the lyrics come around. Their songs, especially the early ones, didn't aim for any fanciness - they were simple tunes with lyrics that were easy to remember. That doesn't mean that the songs themselves were somehow lacking - what they didn't have in musical artistry they made up for in pure raw power and emotion. Even their later songs, as the band became better songwriters and practitioners, seemed to me to keep simplicity at the forefront. Come Dancing, for example, is a great tune masquerading as a simple melody, the lyrics concealing pain and loss behind an uptempo dance beat. No, to me The Kinks were the real deal.

The Italian band who covers the song, I Califfi, was formed in 1965 by musicians Franco Boldrini, Giuseppe Maffei, Marco Bracci and Carlo Felice Marcovecchio. It was their first experience in a rock band, though Boldrini had played bass previously in professional orchestras that toured abroad. They were influenced early in their career by such bands as the Spencer Davis Group, The Animals, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Boldrini stated in an interview that in the 60s, the musical skill of Italian bands was very low and everyone imitated someone else. The band went through several lineup changes through the 1960s and 70s, and disbanded for a while. However, Boldrini has resurrected them and also has started a solo career, with the most recent I Califfi album released in 2010. Ti Giuro è Così (You Really Got Me) was initially released as a single in 1966.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Lozenge: Yat-Kha and "Ahoi"

Hello friends! I'm back from my travels and hopefully will be able to resume my more intensive commenting on the music in the next couple of days. However, you know how it is...having to get back into the work scene after a two-week vacation means that there are many things in my in-box. I hope you'll forgive me if there is just a bare-bones entry today.

Today's random tune is by Yat-Kha, a band from Tuva, an ethnic region in Russia. Begun by Albert Kuvezin and Ivan Sokolovsky, Yat-Kha originally blended traditional Tuvan music with post-modern rhythms and electronica. After the departure of Sokolovsky after the release of their third album in 1993, Yat-Kha began to de-emphasize the electronica and focus on a blend of Tuvan traditional music with rock. This song, Ahoi, is from their 2005 album Bootleg and the 2010 compilation The Ways of the Nomad - The Best of Yat-Kha and features Kuvezin's distinctive throat singing.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Legend: Clannad and "Robin (the Hooded Man)"

Today's random tune is from the soundtrack to a British TV series called Robin of Sherwood. The music to this series was provided by Clannad, an Irish band whose music draws from Celtic, traditional Irish, new age, folk and folk rock. The band was formed, according to local story, when Ciarán, Pól, and Máire Brennan were performing late at night in their uncle's pub and a police sergeant walked in - they feared a summons but instead he had a form to participate in a music contest. After winning a local folk festival, they scored a record contract. Subsequent years saw them shooting to fame, providing music for television and film and collaborating with superstars such as Bono. They are considered pioneers in the fusion of Celtic and new age music, creating an earthly yet spiritual sound. This song, Robin (the Hooded Man), is from their 1984 album Legend, which is all of the music from the British TV series Robin of Sherwood.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Fixes Your Wagon: Buena Vista Social Club and "El Carretero"

The random tune for today is from Cuba - appropriate given our newfound relations with that country. El Carretero is by the Buena Vista Social Club. The Buena Vista Social Club was the name of a club in Havana where musicians met and performed together in the 1940s at a time when new Latin styles were being created. Juan de Marcos González and Ry Cooder assembled a number of those musicians that had played there and recorded them for a CD in 1997. After the release of the CD, 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. El Carretero is a guajira, and has Eliades Ochoa on lead vocals. The song is about a wagon man who brings the harvest of the plains to the harbor. 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. I guess that obstacle will soon be coming to an end.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Modern Geisha: Umekichi and "Kirigirisu"

Today's random song is by Japanese folk and pop musician Umekichi. She is well known in Japan for her interest in traditional Japanese music and also for her playing of the shamisen, a traditional 3-stringed Japanese instrument, in both traditional and modern styles which has garnered her both support and criticism. She is also a modern Geisha, and combines her performance with education about the art of the Geisha. This song, Kirigirisu, is from her 2006 album The Voice of Geisha Doll.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Artist to the Stars: Valya Balkanska and a song from Glas ot Vechnostta

Сьбрали Cе Cьбрали by Valya Balkanska on Grooveshark

Breaking in the new year is a song by Valya Balkanska. You've probably never heard of her, but you should, as she is one of the human voices that may eventually be heard by aliens should they ever run across one of the two Voyager spacecraft leaving our solar system. A Bulgarian folk singer, she was known locally for her wide repertoire of over 300 songs. Her rendition of the song Izlel e Delyu Haydutin was chosen to be included on the Voyager Golden Records included on the two Voyager spacecraft. She is a recipient of Bulgaria's highest honor, the Stara Planina Orden, and is a member of Bulgaria's Walk of Fame. I'm not sure what this song title is as it is in Cyrillic, but it is on her album Glas ot Vechnostta.