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Archive for the ‘Coronavirus’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RACHELE ANDRIOLI-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #135/153 (January 13, 2021).

Rachele AndrioliGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The third artist of the third night is Rachele Andrioli from Italy.  She is (almost) a one-woman band and makes amazing music with her voice and a loop pedal.

Recording from southern Italy, Rachele Andrioli’s performance highlights her mix of old and new, of traditional music and modern technology. Her trance vocals and loop pedals create a sound all her own, mixing music from Italian, Indian, Lebanese, Albanian and Romani cultures and traditions.

She plays three songs.  For the first, “Te Spettu” (“I Respect You”) she loops a jaw harp (who would have thought that that could be the basis for a song).  Then she loops her voice crooning.  She picks up a hand drum that looks like a tambourine (and gets an amazingly robust sound from it).  Her vocal style feels Middle Eastern.  It’s a really impressive piece of music.

“Pranvera Filloi Me Ardh” (“Spring Started with the Coming”) is in Albanian.  As the song starts, her accompanists come out.  Redi Hasa picks up a cello and plays a harmonic note (looped) followed by a gentle plucked melody.  Then Rocco Negro plays the accordion.  The mournful accordion solo sounds very Italian.  Hasa plays a mournful melody and she sings gently with them both.

The men leave and it’s just her for  “Ederlezi.”   She loops her voice singing a single note and then accompaniments herself including a distortion on her voice making it a very deep harmony.  She plays another small hand drum which gets an amazing sound.

This is a wonderfully unique set that I really enjoyed.

[READ: January 22, 2021] Snapdragon

For a while, I was reading every single First Second book that was published.  Once the pandemic hit, I fell behind and have not really been able to catch up just yet.  But S. brought this book home and I thought it looked interesting even before I saw that it was from First Second.

The cover is a little disconcerting.  Snapdragon, the girl in the picture, has hair up in pig tails.  But with a ghostly deer behind her, the way her har is drawn, it almost looks like some kind of antler (probably not intended).  But there’s a lot of things that are confusing in this story at first (and even second and third) glance.  I assume that these other decisions are deliberate.

Many of the characters in this story are African-American, including Snapdragon.  But her skin coloring is very different from all of the other characters.  I don’t think it matters for the story, whether she is or not (until the very end anyhow).  But it was very nice to see so many characters of color in the book.  In a strangely similar way, a main character, Jacks, I was sure was a man, but indeed, she is not.  Snap recognizes her as a woman right away, but I wasn’t sure if that made a difference either.  In fact, Jacks’ masculine appearance is important in the story, but I’m not sure if the reader is supposed to think that Jacks is a man as well?

None of that matters, of course, because once you learn the reality, you can just move on.

So just what the heck is this story about?

Snapdragon is a girl (all the women in her family are named after flowers).  She’s a little odd and the other kids are happy to let her know that.  The only kid who is nice to her is her neighbor Louis.  Louis thinks Snap is weird, but Louis is also pretty unconventional. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKADITYA PRAKASH ENSEMBLE-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #135 (January 13, 2021).

Aditya Prakash EnsembleGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The second band on the third night is the Aditya Prakash Ensemble.

Performing from their home base in Los Angeles, Aditya Prakash Ensemble highlights songs borne from South India’s Carnatic tradition. Prakash uses his voice as an instrument to tell powerful, emotive stories — which he reimagines in a fresh, dynamic way. Aditya Prakash Ensemble’s modern take on traditional music mixes in jazz and hip-hop and features a diverse L.A. ensemble.

The Ensemble is a quintet.  With Julian Le on piano, Owen Clapp on Bass, Brijesh Pandya on drums and Jonah Levine on trombone and guitar.

As “Greenwood” starts, I can’t quite tell if he’s actually singing words (in Hindi or some other language) or if he is just making sounds and melodies.  It sounds great either way.  He sings a melody and then the upright bass joins in along with the trombone.  He displays a more traditional singing and then Le plays a jumping piano solo which is followed by a trombone solo.  The ending is great as he sings along to the fast melody.

“Vasheebava” is a song about seduction.  Levine plays the guitar on this song.  It starts with gentle effects on the cymbals (he rubs his fingers on them).  Prakash sings in a more traditional Indian style and Levine adds a really nice guitar solo.

“Payoji” is a traditional devotional song and Prakash sings in a very traditional style.  But musically it’s almost a kind of pop jazz.  It’s very catchy with a nice trombone solo.

This conflation of Indian music with jazz is really cool.

[READ: January 11, 2021] Fearless.

“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”-Malala Yousafzai

This book begins with this wonderful sentiment:

Not long ago, a wave of exciting books uncovered stories of women through history, known and unknown, for young dreamers around the world.  Women who had been warriors, artists and scientists.  Women like Ada Lovelace, Joan of Arc and Frida Kahlo, whose stories changed the narrative for girls everywhere. Readers around us were thrilled to discover this treasure trove. But there was something missing. They rarely saw women of color and even fewer South Asian women in the works they were reading.

It’s a great impetus for this book which opens with a timeline of Pakistani accomplishments (and setbacks) for women.  The timeline is chronological in order of the birth years of the woman in the book.  Interspersed with their births are important events and the year they happened.

Like in 1940 when women mobilized and were arrested or in 1943 when the Women’s National Guard was formed. In 1948, a law passed recognizing women’s right to inherit property.  In 1950, the Democratic Women’s Association formed to demand equal pay for equal work (it doesn’t say if it was successful).

In 1973 the Constitution declared there could be no discetrmaton on the basis of race, religion, caste or sex.

But in a setback in 1979, the Hudood Ordinance passed which conflated adultery with rape, making it near impossible to prove the latter–and the punishment was often death.

And yet for all of the explicit sexism in Pakistan, the country accomplished something that America has been unable to do–elect a woman as leader. In 1988 Benazir Bhutto became the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The woman in this book are given a one-page biography and a cool drawing (illustrations by Aziza Ahmad).  They range from the 16th century to today.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKVOX SAMBOU-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #135 (January 13, 2021).

Vox SambouGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The first band on the third night is Vox Sambou a Haitian band recording in Montreal.

There are few performers as “alive” as Vox Sambou, whose energy and soul transcends the virtual space. He starts his performance at Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST with a short moment between himself and his son, overseen by a painting of his mother, highlighting the ways we pass down traditions from generation to generation. Based in Montreal, Quebec, Vox Sambou writes and performs in Hatian-Creole, French, English, Spanish and Portuguese. His music is a joyous fusion of Haitian funk, reggae and hip-hop.

He starts with a call and response with his adorable son.  Then the music starts and doesn’t let up  There’s intense trumpet, lots of percussion and some fantastic dancing from he co-singer.  He introduces everyone, but between his accent and their very French names, I couldn’t pick out a single one.

“African Diaspora” has fast intense and fun rapping and singing in French.  The joyousness of the music is infectious, and i love watching everyone dance.

“My Rhythm” is slower with a pronounced beat.  It’s great watching them all move in synch to that rhythm.  The song pauses for a few seconds until another dancer comes out.  There’s a ripping trumpet solo followed by a cool sax solo with all three up front dancing.  There’s even a brief time to show off the conga players.

“Everyone” ends the set fast and intense.  So much drumming, so many horns. It’s pretty wonderful.

These guys must be exhausted!

[READ: December 16, 2020] Something to Live For

S. read this book last year when it was called How Not to Die Alone.  In her post about it, she comments about what a great title it was.  I agree with that and am not sure why they changed it to the more generic Something to Live For. Although it was the cover/title that grabbed me when I saw it at work, so I guess this new title is good to.  But I think the Die title is better.

Compared to some of the more complicated stories that I’ve been reading lately–where I feel like a lot of background information needs to be filled in–this story was delightfully straightforward.  It was an enjoyably fast-paced read and resonated in a surprisingly powerful way.

Andrew is a middle aged British man.  He had worked in a public service role for many years until his position was terminated.  His boss helped him find a new job in the public service field.

This new job is absolutely fascinating to me and I have to wonder if we have such a job in the States.  Andrew’s job is to go to the house of a recently deceased person.  These are people who died alone and apparently have no contacts.  Andrew’s job is to determine if the deceased has someone to contact to come to (and pay for) the funeral or if the deceased has enough money in their apartment to pay for the funeral themselves. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKEMEL-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134/145 (January 12, 2021).

EmelGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The fourth band on the second night is Emel from Tunisia.

Tunisia-born singer Emel first performed at globalFEST in 2015, the same year she performed her song of Tunisian Revolution, “Kelmti Horra,” at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. Emel was hailed by NPR as a “21st century catalyst for change.” She created her latest album, The Tunis Diaries, equipped with only a laptop, tape recorder and a crowdsourced guitar after she was unexpectedly quarantined in her childhood home in Tunis last spring.

Emel plays only two songs.  It’s just her and her co-guitarist Kareem.  The songs are spare but very full and quite powerful.

“Holm” (A Dream) is a pretty, quiet song with soaring vocal melodies over the restrained lead guitar from Kareem.

“Everywhere We Looked Was Burning” is sung in English.  The spare and lushly echoed guitars make her voice sound especially raw and passionate.

[READ: January 14, 2021] “Drawing from Life”

I found this story to be a little confusing as it started.

Without really referring to the narrator specifically, the story starts with talk of being called out of retirement and away from Netflix, etc.

It wasn’t until the third paragraph when things started to get explained that it made sense.

Harold is a 70-plus year-old-man.  He was one of the first people in his neighborhood to get the Coronavirus.  His son had thought to get him an oxygen tank and so he didn’t need the hospital.  Two weeks later he had survived the virus and was more or less immune.

It was sometime a month or so later that the local rabbi called up.  He explained that people could no longer sit with the dying, with the deceased, as their faith prescribed.  Perhaps, since he was now immune, he would be willing to do so.  And, more to the point, perhaps he would be willing to paint the deceased for their family–as a last gesture.

Harold was an excellent painter–former teacher, exemplary artist who sold paintings to raise money–and often made a lot.

And so, Harold found himself in the hospital, often overnight, by himself, painting. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKHIT LA ROSA-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134/144 (January 12, 2021).

Hit La RosaGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The second band on the second night is Hit La Rosa from Peru.

Kidjo says their music is like a psychedelic surf-punk cumbia.  That’s true, but in a rather restrained way.  The music is cool and a little wild but it never gets out of control.  They play three songs and again, the musicians’ names aren’t given.

From the candle-lit home of their lead singer, Hit La Rosa comes in hot and doesn’t stop until the final measure. The band explores the many facets of Peruvian cumbia music, infusing it with pop music, folklore, jazz and dancehall to produce its distinctive grooves and hooks. The band’s precise-yet-dreamlike music and punk sensibility all come together to make music that explores life’s shadowy sides. Despite living through a political crisis in Peru, the band brings a message of hope and joy in the midst of struggle and upheaval.

“La Montañita” has a latin drum opening with a weird echoing surf guitar intro.  Sliding bass and trippy keys propel this danceable song along.

“La Marea” opens with a mellow keyboard and slow bass and guitars.  After a coupe of minutes,a drum fill introduces the faster part of the song.  An echoing vibrato-filled guitar solo and trippy synths are accented with Peruvian percussion and drums and it all works really well together.

“Salvia” is trippy and moody with more of the vibrato guitar soloing.  I really like at the end of the song the juxtaposition of the looping guitar melody and the bouncing bass.

[READ: December 14, 2020] Simantov

This story (originally written in Hebrew and translated by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman) was a combination police procedural and eschatological novel about the end times.

I read the summary of the book at work, but the summary really doesn’t indicate just how supernatural the book is going to get.

It would greatly help to have a solid foundation in Biblical lore to fully understand what’s going on in this book.  I mean, the first chapter title contains a footnote:

The First Day of the Counting of the Omer*
*According to the Torah (Lev. 23;15) Jews are obligated to count the days from passover tp pentecost. This counting is a reminder of the link between the Exodus and harvest season.

Things are supernatural right from the get go.  Elijah the prophet comes to Earth to prepare for its smiting (it’s quite an elaborate introduction).  Elijah lands in Israel and leaves a trail of destruction all the way to Shamhazai’s mansion.

So, obviously it helps to know who Shamhazai is (I didn’t–Shamḥazai and his companion Uzzael or Azael are fallen angels of Nephilim).  The Nephilim are literal giants in the Bible–often taken as fallen angels.  That’s a lot of background for the first 9 pages.

The next chapter reminds the reader of the first humans created by God–Adam and Lilith.  Shamhazai was gaga over Lilith.

Incidentally, after reading the book I was looking at what other readers had thought.  One reader on Goodreads said she had to stop reading the book on page 10 after this sentence:

[Lilith] was dark and comely, her eyelashes fluttered like turtledoves, her perky breasts like two erect towers.

I’m going to admit that I found this simile to be really awkward (translation problem or just poor writing?).  I mean, even if Lilith were a giant, her breasts wouldn’t be like towers, right?  It’s hard to know even where to begin with a simile like that.  But I pressed on. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMINYU CRUSADERS-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134/142 (January 12, 2021).

Minyo CrusadersGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The first band on the second night is Minyo Crusaders from Japan.

Min’yō folk music was originally sung by Japanese fishermen, coal miners and sumo wrestlers hundreds of years ago, and the Minyo Crusaders are on a mission to make these songs relevant to an international audience. For their performance, the Crusaders found a unique take for their desk: a “kotatsu,” which is a heated Japanese table traditionally used for gathering in the winter months.

The diversity of music melding together here is quite impressive.

They open with “Hohai Bushi” (The album credits the style of this song as “afro”).

It starts with high notes like a theremin then quietly jangly guitars.  Cumbia-sounding horns (sax and trumpet) and complicated percussion (shakers and cowbells) flesh out the song.  Once everybody is established, a groovy bassline underpins the whole thing.  The male singing starts singing and the female adds some nice high backing oohs with it. Sadly, band member names are not given so I can’t credit anyone.

When the song is in full swing the guitars play loud and the keys play a retro sound including a retro fuzzed out keyboard solo.  Toward the end, a bass line slowly builds and the drums add intensity as they sing “ho hai ho hai.”

The guitarist speaks between songs.  He says his English is very poor but he does a fine job.

The second song “Yasugi Bushi” (bolero) is much more chill.  The male singer sits aside and the female singer takes lead.  There’s some nice basslines that repeat although for this song it’s really the saxophone that takes the lead with a lot of soloing.

The guitarist says these songs are old work songs and festival songs: “Minyo is dead in Japan but they are trying to bring it back.”

They end with “Aizu Bandaisan” (latin).  This song is much more dancey.  Lots of Latin horns, groovy bass and congas.  The lyrics are in Japanese (of course) but there’s a fun part where it sounds like they are singing “soy soy.”  As the song jams toward the end, there is lots of whooping and yelping and a wild trumpet solo.

This is a super fun set.

[READ: January 14, 2021] The Inugami Curse

Seishi Yokomizo was a hugely prolific writer.  He created Japan’s most famous detective (comparable to Sherlock Holmes in scope), Kosuke Kindaichi, who featured in seventy-seven books!  The Inugami Curse is apparently one of the best known of the stories and has been adapted into film and TV.

There are only two of his novels translated into English, this one (translated by Yumiko Yamazaki) and The Honjin Murders (1946) (translated by Louise Heal Kawai).

This book was an absolutely fantastic, complicated mystery.  There were many twists and turns.  And the way the story was plotted was perfect.

Sahei Imugami was a wealthy man.  He was called the Silk King of Japan and his business provided work for many many people.  He was a local celebrity to be sure and even had a biography written about him.

Sahei never married, but he did have three daughters with three different women.  The book opens with a character list which is quite helpful.

DAUGHTERS: Matsuko; Takeko; Umeko
GRANDONS:     Kiyo;       Také;    Tomo

There are some husbands involved as well.

There is also Tamayo Nonomiya, the granddaughter of a married couple who took Sahei in when he was just starting out.  He thinks of them as family, so when Tamayo was orphaned, he took her in. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDEDICATED MEN OF ZION-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 /138(January 11, 2021).

Dedicated Men Of ZionGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The first band on the first night are the Dedicated Men of Zion from North Carolina.

Dedicated Men of Zion come to you from their backyard barbecue in North Carolina, bringing with them an electrified version of sacred Gospel soul music. This family band (all related through blood or marriage) has been isolating together during the pandemic, and the members are excited to provide an uplifting note during difficult times.

They sing three songs in front of an amazing looking barbeque in Dex’s backyard.  The first, “Father, Guide Me, Teach Me” is a rocking gospel song.  There’s a great old-fashioned organ sound from Aaron Adams.  The four men sing.  Anthony “Amp” Daniels sings lead, Dexter Weaver [his nephew-in-law], Antwan “Ace” Daniels [his son], and Marcus Sugg [his son-in-law] sing great backing vocals.  There’s a fun jam at the end.

“Can’t Turn Me Around” opens with Mark Richardson playing a simple blues riff on the guitar. Then Jerry Harrison joins in on bass.  Amp is full on power singing through it.  He sounds great.

For “It’s A Shame,” Ace takes over lead vocals.  He has a good voice, but not nearly as commanding as his father.  Drums throughout are provided by Amp’s little brother Jaheim Daniels.

They sound great, but honestly I kept thinking about that barbeque.

[READ: January 2, 2021]

Despite the boring title I was really intrigued by this story.  The cover is tshirtking and the blurb was really intense-sounding.

So, I was really fascinated that the fundamental basis of the story the #FeesMustFall Rally was real: #FeesMustFall was a student-led protest movement that began in mid-October 2015 in South Africa.  Much of the story is grounded in the reality and danger of this movement.

The story takes place over the course of a week and each chapter is told from one of six character’s person’s point of view.

Hector, a student protester is looking to get everyone riled up about the cost of education in Cape Town.

Noné, South Africa’s president is not ready to deal with this interruption because she has a big public event coming up–an extraordinary zoo.  Noné was once a student protestor herself but she has since become The System.  She can’t trust anyone because everyone is out to get her.  The only reliable face she knows is Alice.  Alice is young an beautiful and while Noné knows that Alice probably wants her job (and is undoubtedly prettier than she is), at this point Alice is a perfect assistant and only makes Noné look better.

Thuli is a student and friend of Hector.  She has been “glitching” where she can see seven days in the future.  She knows that Hector’s life is in danger.  She has to try to convince reporter Helen that what she’s saying is true. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDakhaBrakha-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133/141 (January 11, 2021).

DakhaBrakhaGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The final band on the first night is DakhaBrakha.  I have wanted to see DakhaBrakha live for years–ever since I saw them ona Tiny Desk Concert.  It’s wonderful to see them again, this time with new songs.

Tonight marks DakhaBrakha’s return to globalFEST and Tiny Desk. The Ukranian band’s first globalFEST performance was in 2014, and their 2015 Tiny Desk concert remains a favorite. We’ve had them in our spaces, so it’s a real treat to see them in theirs, the Dakh Theater in Kiev. Coming together, their performance maintains the energy and joy that define their music, bouncing off each other musically and emotionally. DakhaBrakha aims to keep Ukraine’s musical and storytelling tradition alive by making it more accessible to a younger, international audience, a kind of self-proclaimed “ethno-chaos.” They craft stunning sonic worlds for traditional songs, reinventing their heritage with a keen ear for contemporary resonances.

I was initially disappointed that they only played two songs, but these are long complex and varied song.  And they are both great.

“Komora” is a new song.  It opens with Nina Garenetska singing while slowly bowing the cello. Keyboardist Iryna Kovalenko and drummer Olena Tsybulskajoin join in on backing vocals with great harmony and sweeping high notes.  Then Nina starts playing a bass line on the cello and accordion player Marko Halanevych and the other ladies seem to be having a conversation of sounds.  Iryna takes over on lead vocals.  Marko adds some accordion while Olena plays soft drums.  Nina is back to bowing then it returns to cello/bass line and lots of oohing from all the singers.

Then Marko sings a lead line and the women seem to be answering him.  The song starts getting faster and faster as they call to each other leading to a spectacular ending.

“Vynnaya ya” is from their latest album.  It opens with Iryna and Olena clappin a rhythm and Nina plucking the cello.  Marko sings lead and they sing back in a call and response.  Nina takes over on vocals to mostly drum and cello accompaniment.  Then Marko plays a “horn” solo using just his hands.  It sounds like a duck call or muted trumpet and is weird and wonderful.

Olena sings the next verse and then Iryna sings the final verse.  When her verse is done, Marko puts down the accordion, stands up and plays another “trumpet” solo with his hands.  Then the whole band kicks up the tempo to nearly double speed as they race to a wild conclusion.

I can’t wait to see them in person!

[READ: November 15, 2020] Starlite Memories

I had never heard of Dov Fedler.  The title of this book made me look at it twice and then I skimmed the back cover blurb.

Beloved political cartoonist Dov Fedler had the opportunity in the 1990s to make a lifelong dream come true: Directing a movie. …  A laugh-out loud story of pitfalls follows.

Turns out he was a political cartoonist for The Star for over 50 years.

Then I saw that Fedler is from South Africa.  I’d never read anything by anyone from South Africa before this, I don’t think.  So I was curious to see what a comedy from South Africa was like.

Somewhere along the line I completely missed that this was a memoir.

So I spent the first 2/3 of the book believing that this was based on something that really happened but that he was making up names and other details to protect the innocent.  Especially since in the beginning the note to the reader says writing is always about the story.

There are times when a writer may have to embellish, obfuscate, conflate and conjure to keep the thing alive.

Again, somehow I glossed right over that word memoir (actually I thought it was a the main character talking about writing a memoir or something).

None of that really changed the way I would have read this.  I had no idea who he was or any of thing the things he did, so it might as well have been fictional.  But I think it’s funnier that it really happened.

This memoir proved to be mostly funny with a lot of thoughtfulness thrown in for good measure.  It is written by a political cartoonist who has always loved movies.  He is a Jewish man in South Africa.  There are not very many Jewish families in South Africa, but there are enough to have a small cultural center there.

Each chapter of the memoir is titled after a film.  He then summarizes the film in a few words.  The chapter is tangentially tied to either what happens in that film or to the title of the film.

Dov explains that he was hired to directed the film Timer Joe Part 3.  This crazy film title is a real film–the third after two popular movies.  But this one is clearly made simply to ash in on the popularity of the other two.  The film is basically the brainchild of his producer Moe Mankowitz.  Moe says, “I make films for black audiences.  Black people like the same moveis we do, but they like them with black people.”  Timer Joe 1 and 2 were a success, so he wants Dov to write the script for 3.  What’s it about?  All he knows is that it’s a comedy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSOFIA REI-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133/140 (January 11, 2021).

Sofia ReiGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The third band on the first night is Sofia Rei.  Rei is

an award-winning Argentine vocalist and songwriter [who] blends South American folk traditions with experimental pop and electronic music. That mix of tradition and modernity extends to her surroundings, which features traditional iconography, exuberant plants and looping pedals.

Rei plays three songs.  “Un Mismo Cielo” (The Same Sky) opens with her looping her voice.  Big electronic drums are added and then JC Maillard is messing around with their electronics to create interesting sounds and textures.   After a quiet introduction, Jorge Glem adds lovely cuatro and Leo Genovese plays a trippy electronic flute-sounding keyboard solo.  I enjoy watching Maillard playing the electronic melodies on the keys and then the quick switch to bass guitar for a funky riff.

“Negro Sobre Blanco” (Black On White) is about putting things into perspective.  Rei picks up the charango as the drums echo in.  The charango plays a delightful echoing melody.  Ana Carmela Rodriguez Contramaestre sings backing vocals and platys percussion.  The middle jam with some wild electronics then Maillard picks up guitar a plays kind of spaghetti western melody.  Then the song returns to the original melody with an even fuller sound.

Saving the best for last, Jorge Glem takes an amazing solo on the cuatro.  His hands move so fast and he simultaneously plays high chords along with percussive strumming.  At the end of the solo he does so fascinating strumming with his fingernails to make a trippy psychedelic sound.  It’s phenomenal.

The set ends with “Escarabajo Digital” (Digital Beetle), a fun dancing song.  The juxtaposition of the fast cuatro with the grooving bassline is fantastic.

I enjoyed this set a lot and want to hear more from her (and Glem who has several of his own albums out).

[READ: January 11, 2021] Okay, Okay, Okay

This story is set around Adamastor University in South Africa.  The focus is on Simon, a former teacher (now an administrator) and his family.  Also his assistant Viwe (and his family).  There’s also Vida, a sound technician for live theater.  She is unrelated to them but she gets pulled into their drama.

The story initially seems to be about how Simon (the “Head of Effective Communication”) is desperately hoping to get promoted into a more plum position. He is currently in a very good position financially, although his former colleagues feel like he threw his soul away when he became an admin.  But the story grows bigger–tackling University policies as well as racism and sexism in South Africa.

But the book opens on Vida. Vida is a sound engineer.  She is familiar with University politics because she has been to a few of Professor Bruno Viljoen’s academic parties.  Viljoen is head of the drama department and invited Vida along because she has done sound work for them.

The one thing I didn’t care for in this book was some of the younger characters occasional throwing in text speak (WTF, LOL).  While those are certainly things people of that age might say (although Vida is in her 40s), it was jarring to see text speak in a character’s thought process:

A dinner party full of academics: WTF, she’d had more fun driving her car around with nowhere to go.

Why not write it out?  It just seemed odd.

Aside from that, Vida is a wonderful character–no nonsense, takes no crap from anyone.  She loves sound and is great at her job.  She also has two dogs and two cats and she is crazy about them.  There’s at least five times when she speaks her mind and it’s terrific.

Cecily is Simon’s daughter.  She is currently taking a class with Boris. He is, everyone agrees, a silver fox.  Even younger girls swoon for him.  But Cecily has known him since she was little and she’s not impressed.

As this class opens, Boris is encouraging them to dig into their past to present a monologue.

Half the people in this class probably have slave ancestry.  That blood flows in your veins.  You are slaves.

Immediately a student raises her hand:

I just want to say that it gives me offense when you, a settler, say that I, whose ancestors are buried here, am a slave.  “Slave” implies that a person is not a person–not a mother, a lover, a human being.

After class Bruno asks Cecily what that was all about.  She says that students are very sensitive these days so just mind what he says.  He then offers to set her up with his nephew–a rather handsome fellow who looks like “a Puerto Rican Ken doll.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LABESS-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 (January 11, 2021).

LabessGlobalFEST is an annual even, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.  

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The second band on the first night is Labess.

This Algerian and Canadian band proves that music has no boundaries even in times of isolation. Recording its set from France and Colombia, Labess blends flamenco and Gypsy jazz-influenced North African chaabi into energetic soul music with a nonstop beat. Singing in Arabic, French and Spanish, lead vocalist Nedjim Bouizzoul mixes realism and hope, gentleness and fury, in stories about exile that illustrate the joys and the distress that pave the road from the native countries to new homes and back again. Through his poetry, he proposes we reflect on cultural diversity and the necessity to unite, no matter our differences.

“Yal Maknin” opens with Rabah Khalfa playing the derbouka hand drum and a great riff on the banjo from Simon Demouveaux.  Nedjim Bouizzoul sings lead.  As the song move on, Demouveaux plays a solo along with strings from Simon Lannoy (cello) and Loran Bozic (violin).  It’s a lot of different sounds that work well together.

“Yemma” is a much quieter ballad.  Bouizzoul plays acoustic guitar and sings.  Khalfa plays the derbouka and Demouveauz plays a grougious melody on the oud.

They end with “La Vida Es Un Carnaval.” Mike Rajamahendra opens with drums accompanied by François Taillefer and Julio Frias on percussion.  Pierre Bonnet played some excellent bass in the first song. It sounds even better in this song.  Bouizzol sings in Spanish on this one.  The middle of the sing shifts gears and sounds very Spanish, with great horns from Javier Villa (trombone), Rafael “Pachalo” Gavilan (trumpet) and Moises Marquez Leyva (saxophone).  Then comes a drum and percussion section (including Bouizzoul playing percussive guitar.   Finally, along comes the star of the song–Miche Molina plays a wonderful button accordion solo.

[READ: January 2, 2021] A Poor Season for Whales

After having not had much exposure to South African writers (or really much of anything South African), I’m now on my second book.  This one is fiction.

My ignorance of South Africa is pretty vast, so I had to do a bunch of looking things up while I was reading.  Race plays a pretty big role in this book, so i wante dto look up some information about that.

About 80% of South Africans are of Black African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages. The remaining population consists of communities of European, Asian, and multiracial ancestry.

According to the 2011 census, the two most spoken first languages are Zulu (22.7%) and Xhosa (16.0%).  The two next ones are of European origin: Afrikaans (13.5%) developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most coloured and white South Africans; English (9.6%) reflects the legacy of British colonialism, and is commonly used in public and commercial life.

The vast majority of black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994.

So South Africa has a pretty intense history.  This story addresses that history in some ways–it seems almost unavoidable frankly–but it’s more about an older white woman and the relationship she forms with a younger colored man.

The book starts on November 20, 2018 and runs through the new year.

Margaret Crowley a white fifty-something woman.  She is an architect, is clever and rich and has just moved into a home she designed for herself in Hermanus.  She used to live in Cape Town but left all of her friends and family to find some space in the more bucolic suburbs. The only living creature she brings with her to Hermanus is her dog Benjy, a fun and loyal Doberman.  

There’s some more fascinating things I learned about South Africa.  This story is set at Christmas time and in South Africa, Christmas is warm.  There are also whales who come to calve outside of Hermanus, making it a very popular tourist destination.  The title “a poor season for whales” refers to the fact that not many whales came to calve this year.

Margaret has recently had more upheaval than just a new house.  After twenty-six years of marriage, her husband has left her for a younger man.  She is not angry about it–she’s coping rather well, but she is still disappointed in the way things turned out.

The back of the book draws you in with this

After nearly fifty six years in the world with very little to stress or vex her, it was therefore hardly to be foreseen that in her fifty-sixth year she would kill a man with a kitchen knife.

Things get exciting at the very start of the book.  Margaret is walking Benjy along the sea front when he spots some dassies and charges after them.

Okay, so what the hell are dassies?  That was the first thing I had to look up (they are an African rodent found among rocky outcroppings.)  They were several meters down the cliff.  Benjy went after them he had no way to get back up.  And if he went further over the cliff he would clearly plummet to his death.

As she is freaking out a young man calms her down.  He says he will help.  He rappels down the side of the cliff an helps poor Benjy up and back to safety.  Benjy has made a new friend for life.   The man is a twenty four year old named Jimmy Prinslii-Mazibuko. 

He is very handsome with gray green eyes and caramel skin.  Jimmy is what is known as “colored” in Africa–

In early 20th-century South Africa, the word “Coloured” was a social category rather than a legal designation and typically indicated a status intermediate between those who were identified as “white” and those who were identified as “black.” The classification was largely arbitrary, based on family background and cultural practices as well as physical features. Most South Africans who identified themselves as Coloured spoke Afrikaans and English, were Christians, lived in a European manner, and affiliated with whites

Margaret is obviously very grateful to Jimmy for saving Benjy.  She asks how she can repay him and Jimmy basically asks if he can stop by her house for coffee and maybe a clean up (he’s cut in a few places).  Margaret is hesitant obviously–she doesnt know this man at all–but Jimmy is persuasive and seems sincere enough.  She agrees.

As she puts the ointment on his leg (at his insistence), she finds the whole scene erotcialy charged–but what could a 24 year old want with a fifty-six year old woman?   

Jimmy stays for a time and is completely irritating to her.  He loves to argue and enjoys giving her grief about pedantic issues.  Their conversations are wonderful–funny and very believable.  Jimmy is clearly smart and knows how to turn convention on its head to get what he wants.

Jimmy has really left an impression on her, but she assumes she’ll never see him again.  But the next morning when she goes to the grocery store, she sees him hitchhiking.  He flags her down and she takes him in to town.  She assumes that’s the end of it but he’s waiting at the car when she is dione shopping. She gives him a ride back home and he helps unload the groceries and then offers to make a meal for her.  (She is a terrible cook and he studied to be a chef).

She really doesn’t know what to make of this young man.

One of the most wonderful things (and timely for today–ITMFA) about this book is how much their discussion revolves around eviscerating donald trump.

The ANC was off the wall, Brexit had been a colossal blunder and donald trump was a buffoon, albeit an extremely dangerous buffon.

Even better is Jimmy assessment of how trump won

“I know I’m not saying anything original, said Margaret, but it remains a mystery how a developed, prosperous country like America could have elected a vulgar huckster as its president”
He laughed, “What is democracy but vulgar hucksterism dressed up as the will of the people?
“But democracy is the will of the people,” she objected.  “At least of a majority of the people.”
“Okay fair enough, yea but what determines the will of the people?”  Most people wouldn’t know what to have for breakfast if their TV didn’t tell them.  It’s all showbiz, reality TV, and Trump wasn’t on reality TV for chicken shit. His deal is selling himself to people who like to believe hey too can live in gold-plated skyscraper and screw supermodels”
“But he’s so unappetising.”
… “Sure he’s unappetising but that’s part of his appeal.  Most of the people who vote for him aren’t that appetising either–you’ve seen them on TV, men with paunches, brassy blonde women with too many teeth.  It’s the Revenge of the Uncool, the people left behind in Gun-and-God Gulch, who at the snobbery of the cool, with their trigger warnings and their safe spaces and their gay marriages and their abortions, the people who fly over what they call flyover country and cannot understand how anybody can actually live there…and electing Donald fucking Trump doesn’t make them any more cool, but it sure makes the cool eat a lot of shit. Because the last revenge of the uncool is to annoy the cool.

The story also deals with race issues in an unexpected way.

Jimmy introduces margaret to his friend Thuthukile.

She says to Margaret, “as a black person, I feel unsafe in Sea Point, I feel my identity threatened by the rising tide of whiteness.”
“Excuse me,” Margaret could not help but saying, “but did you say ‘as a black person?'”
“Yes, sure I did, I mean just because I was born with a white skin that doesn’t mean I’m white, Right?”
“Oh, I thought that was exactly what it did mean.”
“No, that’s the old essentialist argument.  I have a while skin but I self-identify as black. I mean, you have people born with penises who self-identify as women, and people born with vaginas who self-identify as men, right?”

When she talks to her friends and family back home about Jimmy, they have amusing reactions. Her best friend Frieda is scandalized (but fascinated) by this young man and wants all of the salacious details.  Her daughter Celia is actually too interested in her own life to care all that much, but her son Carl is concerned.  He is the same age (almost) as Jimmy and goes to the same school that Jimmy did.  He finds out some things about Jimmy that Margaret is not too pleased about.

As Christmas approaches, Margaret get st the unwelcome news that her former cleaning lady Rebecca needs to move in with her.  When Margaret moved to this smaller place, she no longer needed Rebecca who went to live with her own daughter.  But now the cleaning lady finds her living situation unbearable and insists that Margaret allow her to live with her.  Margaret can’t say no largely out of guilt.

There was an earlier comment from Jimmy that I found interesting.  When Margaret told him that she no longer employed a cleaning lady he was offended that she had money and wouldn’t give a needy person a job.  She had felt a little guilty about employing someone to clean for her, but he says it’s better that she an income, right? 

Rebecca lives in a sketchy area and Margaret is nervous to go there, but Jimmy offers to drive. He also speaks isiXhosa which impresses Rebecca and her neighbors very much.

Another wonderful subplot comes when Maraget goes to her daughter’s engagement party.  No one is looking forward to it because no one really likes her fiancee.  But everyone has a pretty good time.  Margaret also runs into her ex-husband’s sister Felicity.  Felicity is a large brash woman–the exact opposite of her brother.  She is flirtatious (even with her nephew) and tells some wonderfully scandalous stories (she believes that her father killed her mother).

This all leads to a big event on Christmas Eve at Margaret’s house.  She invites Miriam, her children and Felicity.  Jimmy agrees to cook and serve.

The party is a disaster with Felicity getting drunk and offending everyone: “when did young people get so humourless.”  At the talk of politics, Felicity grew animated

with trump the troll in the white house, Timid Theresa in Number 10 and Balls-over-Brains Vlad in the Kremlin, we’re fucked.  America is fucked, of course, it goes without saying, but where America goes the planet goes, so the planet is fucked.  And you know why?  Because fifty-two percent of white American women want their pussies grabbed.  That’s the percentage of white America women who voted for trump, right?  In the full knowledge of his pussy-grabbing propensities.
Aunt Felicity are you saying women want to be sexually assaulted?
No love I’m saying that a politically significant number of white women, fifty two wpercent,to be exact don’t regard pussy grabbing as sexual assault otherwise they wouldn’t vote for that tangerine troll, would they?
They may think that trump’s other virtues cancel ot his less admirable propensities
What other virtues love?  His humility?  His honesty?

At this point Celia stormed off.  Felicity was too drunk to drive home. Her son was too drunk to drive home. Carl and Jimmy hit it off and Jimmy wound up spending the night, with Carl.  Margaret is not sure what to think of this.

Things get very intense after this.  Margaret finds out that Jimmy’s secretive past is quite bad–he is mixed up with some very bad people  She can’t decide if she wants him gone for ever or wants him around all the time.  Two big unexpected events happen–one with Jimmy and one with Jimmy’s associates.

And yes, she does stab someone with a kitchen knife. 

I really enjoyed this story a lot and it has led me to other South african authors who I have also liked a lot.  

Incidentally, this book has a blurb: “Pitch Perfect. Aclever, bitingly funny novel.  It had me riveted,” from Finuala Dowling and I just happen to have a book by her with a blurb from Heyns: “Alive with wit and intelligence and beautifully written, this novel will keep people talking and arguing for a long time.”

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