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Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CALMA CARMONAA-Tiny Desk Meets AFROPUNK: #204/196 (May 2, 2021).

Tiny Desk Meets AFROPUNK was the opening event of AFROPUNK’s “Black Spring” festival. The virtual celebration, hosted by Jorge “Gitoo” Wright, highlighted outstanding talent in Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean music across the globe. Our showcase featured four artists who honored their homes and celebrated the art their heritage has inspired.

Calma Carmona got her start in 2013 when the Latin soul singer-songwriter released her first EP and opened for Beyoncé’s The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour in Puerto Rico.

Carmona is mesmerizing as the massive amount of dreadlocks is piled on top of her head.  The setting is fascinating–it looks like an aquarium–a dark hallway with lit windows, but instead of fish there seems to be technology in the windows.  I love how in some scenes, it’s almost totally black–since (almost) everyone is dressed in black as well.

Her music is not dark, though.  Indeed, “When I Was Your Girl” has a kind of reggae feel, at least from the rhythm guitar (which I’m assuming is looped because Pedro “PJ” González is playing lead throughout. Carmona’s voice is quiet and kind of sultry through this song and when she’s supported by her backing singers, Athina Alejandra, Almonte Duluc and Yarinés Salgado, they sound great together.

There’s a lot of drums in these songs, although it’s so dark it’s hard to know who is doing what. Gabriel Oliver plays drums and he, Andres “Kino” Cruz and José “Junny” Elicier all play the barril, a traditional hand drum.

From her hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Calma Carmona delivers a bewitching Tiny Desk performance. Her voice rarely rises above a whisper as she sings over impassioned Afrobeats during her three-song set — but when it does, it’s a gritty, intimidating growl.

That growl is present on “Ella Se Mueve” a darker song with deep bass from Adrián “AJ” Rodríguez and distorted deep keys from J. Rochet.  “PJ” González noodles some guitar solos throughout and you can really hear the barril.  Carmona sang in English on the first song but she switches between English and Spanish here

“Vibra” opens with the three men playing the barril and a slow bass line.  She sings the verses and then throws in a growly rapped verse.  I really enjoy the slinky way the song ends with them singing “and I’ll be on my way.”

And before the send us out, there’s a quick barril serenade.

[READ: May 3, 2021] “How Octavia E. Butler Reimagines Sex and Survival”

Having read three of Octavia E. Butler’s book recently, I was saving this article (what timing) until all three were done.  And considering the opening line of this article mentions Parable of The Sower (the second book of the three that we read) I’m glad I waited.

Although this is really a book review of her new Library of America Collection (she is the sixth science fiction writer to be featured in the series and the the first Black science fiction writer).  The book collects Kindred (1979) Fledgling (2005) and short stories.

He says, as we have noted

It’s often observed that the Parables, already prescient when they were published, now read like prophecy

But I didn’t know that Earthseed had inspired an opera by folksinger Toshi Reagon and that last September Parable of the Sower was back on the best seller list (we’re so trendy).

The article notes that her protagonists often begin as fugitives or captives but emerge as prodigies of survival only to find that adaptation exacts hidden costs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LUEDJI LUNA-Tiny Desk Meets AFROPUNK: #203/196 (May 2, 2021).

Tiny Desk Meets AFROPUNK was the opening event of AFROPUNK’s “Black Spring” festival. The virtual celebration, hosted by Jorge “Gitoo” Wright, highlighted outstanding talent in Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean music across the globe. Our showcase featured four artists who honored their homes and celebrated the art their heritage has inspired.

I don’t really understand why this is called AFROPUNK, as there is nothing even remotely punk about any of the music here.  I thought maybe it was a typo, but this music isn’t even terribly funky.  This music is very smooth jazzy

It is quite good though and Luna’s voice is understated and pretty as she sings in Portuguese.

Luna performs from her coastal hometown of Bahia in the city of Salvador, Brazil, where African culture flows in abundance. She is a powerhouse, entrancing and elegant, soulful and spiritual, as she uses her platform to discuss individual and systemic forms of anti-Blackness.

“Lençois” opens with some gentle piano from Gabriel Gaiardo and washes of cymbals (struck with mallets by Sergio Machado).  Then Luna starts singing in a kind of raspy, seductive whisper.  After a verse, Weslei Rodrigo (and his spectacular beard) lay down a smooth, anchoring bass line.

After the first song, she introduces the band.  After she introduces guitarist Vinicius Sampaio, he plays a solo and sings along with himself in a particularly jazzy way.

Elements of jazz and blues are infused with African rhythms as Luna uses music to express her ongoing struggles for autonomy as a Black woman.

She says,

“I feel that we are living in a crazy moment in a crazy time and music has been a safe place for me — the only safe place for me,” Luedji Luna says in a low, alluring voice as she explains the purpose of her latest album, Bom Mesmo É Estar Debaixo D’Água.

“Erro” opens with a slightly more rocking sound and a guitar solo intro.  I appreciate how different these songs sound from each other while still maintaining her overall vibe.  “Chororô” is a little funky, at least from Rodrigo’s bass.  But jazz is the overall vibe.

I really like the way the song’s chorus plays a five note and pause refrain to give a dramatic opening for the piano and guitar solo.  It’s also fun watching Luna dance.

[READ: May 3, 2021] Parable of the Talents [end]

I wound up reading this book very quickly.  I finished it before the deadlines of the first week’s read.  I was totally sucked in.  I hated parts of it–the woes of 2033 were unbearable–but I couldn’t stop reading it.

And wow, did Butler mess around with my head.

Contradict the first page of the story late in the book, but have it be a totally justifiable reason!  Check.

Not reveal why one of the character has a book published until almost the very end and have it be a real surprise!  Check.

Make me completely reassess the tone of the book and why Butler was writing it?  Check.

This break was a pretty fortuitous one because this week’s reading starts with a lengthy introduction from Asha Vere.  She began making up her own Dreamasks when she was 12.  When she was discovered he was punished. But that didn’t stop her from writing fictions to escape her own life.

When she was 15, an enemy in her school told her that her mother was a heathen and a whore–Asha punched the girl and broke her jaw.  She was spared detention by her stepfather who mostly just liked to molest her.

Once the diaries resume, we see what Olamina’s dealing with.  She is desperately seeking her daughter and is still trying to build up Earthseed.  Allie has actually been settling down with Justin.  She’s making furniture and instructing younger kids how to make it as well. But Olamina can’t stay in Georgetown.  She has decided to head up north.  Inexplicably she is going to go to Portland to find her brother–the brother who disagrees with everything she stands for and who ran away from her.

Allie has arranged a traveling companion for her–against her wishes.  Her name was Belen Ross but she went by Len.  She was born to a rich family; however, she was born from a surrogate and once the family had a natural birth, they gave the cold shoulder.  At 18 ,she was kidnapped and held for ransom.  But her family never paid it.  Eventually her captors just abandoned her.  When she returned home she found that her parents has moved to Alaska.  She had no other option but to go to Alaska.

So here were two people going in search of those who don’t want them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEADY HOLIDAY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW: #187 (April 5, 2021).

Every year, NPR Music participates in the SXSW music festival, whether it’s curating a stage or simply attending hundreds of shows at the annual event in Austin, Texas. Last year, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it returned this March as an online festival. We programmed a ‘stage’ of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and presented them on the final day of the festival. Now, we present to you Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: four videos filmed in various locations, all of them full of surprises.

Steady Holiday is the music of Dre Babinski. This video, filmed for our virtual SXSW showcase, finds her by the fireplace, a dog at her feet, an acoustic guitar in her arms. Steady Holiday is singing “Living Life,” a tune about a favorite topic of mine: the everyday, the mundane, and living in the moment. All the songs in this Tiny Desk (home) concert are from Steady Holiday’s 2021 album Take The Corners Gently, a top record of mine this year.

As “Living Life” opens, Dre Babinski sings the first verse solo, then you can hear other musicians join in and she reveals their secret location (with some very loud shutters).  Derek Howa plays a pretty solo on the keys and by the end of the song drummer Brijesh Pandya is “da da daing” along to really flesh out the song.

Surprise guests aren’t the only surprise.  After the first song, her printer (with googly eyes and an arm) prints out the next song on the setlist.

“Tangerine” is a bouncy song with some heavier ends and an interesting chord progression.  Howa’s keys sound almost like a toy piano (but louder) and add a chiming quality.  It’s wonderfully catchy.  I’m curious how much bigger the proper version of this song sounds. Howa adds some creepy spacey effects in the middle, so I imagine the recorded songs have more going on.

The printer spits out a piece of paper: Your band is overdressed.  Then she tells us why the guys are outside (it’s pretty funny).

Laughing while her dog grabs a chew toy, she performs the album’s opening track, “White Walls,” a song about self-reflection and how doing the same thing over and over (“painting white walls white”) won’t make life better.

This is a slow bouncy song with a really catchy chorus: “painting white walls white just to kill the time.”

Then she shutters out her band and

As her printer cues the last song, (oops, small spoiler), Steady Holiday takes us out on a lovely tune, Love Me When I Go To Sleep”:

It’s just Bea and her guitar as she delicately sings

“Fragile aren’t we, who would guess / Here today, tomorrow’s taking bets.” Her refrain amplifies that fragility with a reminder to appreciate the gift of life. “Love me when I go to sleep / Love me with no certainty / Love me when I go to sleep.”

Her voice is clear and lovely and the final song feels like a lullaby.

[READ: April 20, 2021] Joan & The Man

This book came in at work and something about it made me want to read it (the shortness helped).

So this is a self-published book (I think–it could use some editing) that we received as a gift (from the author?).  It is Rykaczewski’s fourth novel and it is a wonderfully weird mix of reality and nonsense.

Chapter One focuses on Joan as she tried on some clothes in a mall–she is buying bralettes–imposed propaganda to younger hip girls.  Then it pushes back as she and The Man head to their place–the World Revolt Art Gallery.  But more on that place after a brief excursion to the Riverbend Arts Market.

Joan & The Man are artists living in Florida.  She works in paint and he works in words.  They spend time at the RAM hoping to sell some works, but really it’s a sucker’s market.  They often head down with their dog Duke,  Duke is a nasty dog to everyone but The Man. Then there’s a weird moment where Duke winds up trading places with a movie star dog (to the terminal end of the movie star dog).  But losing Duke frees them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YASSER TEJEDA & PALOTRÉ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW #188 (April 6, 2021).

Every year, NPR Music participates in the SXSW music festival, whether it’s curating a stage or simply attending hundreds of shows at the annual event in Austin, Texas. Last year, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it returned this March as an online festival. We programmed a ‘stage’ of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and presented them on the final day of the festival. Now, we present to you Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: four videos filmed in various locations, all of them full of surprises.

Yasser Tejeda, a New York-based guitarist from the Dominican Republic, started his musical career on the Dominican cuatro (a folkloric guitar-like instrument) and has incorporated guitar stylings that have made him a “go-to guy” for Dominican artists looking for passionate elegance in their sound.

They play three songs in fifteen minutes.  And as with much music from this part of the world, the drums (Victor Otoniel Vargas) and percussion (Jonathan “Jblak” Troncoso) are unstoppable.

Yasser Tejeda and his band Palotré begin their set behind a home desk with “Amor Arrayano,” weaving a vaguely Caribbean feel with a killer R&B hook.

“Amor Arrayano” is a smooth love song gently echoing guitars and a smooth grooving bass.

After a brief introduction of his bandmates Tejeda launches into “La Culebra,” the track that caught my attention from their album Kijombo. Palotré is a powerful groove machine behind Tejeda’s virtuosic guitar playing and his playful dance moves.

“La Culebra” (The Snake) opens with percussive rattlesnake sounds from “Jblak.”   Kyle Miles plays a bouncy bass while Tejeda plays a cool virtuosic lead.  This (mostly) instrumental rocks on in various tempos for the duration of the song.

Tejeda has stated one of the goals of this project is to explore the crossroads between Afro-Dominican musical traditions with anything else that pops onto their radar. Their final song here,”Nuestras Raices,” [Our Roots] has become one of my favorites because I hear the essence of Africa mixed with jazz and maybe a hint of heavy metal, as Tejeda steps on his distortion pedal to kick the band into overdrive with guest tenor saxophonist Mario Castro in tow.

“Nuestras Raices,” opens with a ton of drums and Castro playing the intro melody on the sax.  The songs shifts gears to a quiet verse and then Tejeda stomps the distortion pedal for a brief foray into ripping guitar before pulling back for another quiet verse.  After some faster sections, the song slows down to a kind of moshing feel with all kinds of wild time changes, jazzy sax and heavy metal chords.

It’s pretty fantastic.

[READ: March 30, 2021] Charlie Thorne and the Lost Island

This is the first book in the Charlie Thorne series. I read the second one last month.  I don’t like to read things out of sequence, but it didn’t really impact this story all that much.  The only thing that I “knew” was that Charlie escaped at the end of the story.  But that’s pretty obvious since there was a second book.

This book was also good for some of the background information I was seeking.  Although, it turns out that Gibbs didn’t include a ton of background info on Charlie.  We learn just enough to understand how she is the way she is without getting bogged own in details.

The story starts with a Prologue set in Princeton, NJ in 1955.  It’s the evening of Einstein’s death and after being given some (unwanted) painkillers, he starts muttering something.  By the end of the night the secret service are all over his small house trying to uncover whatever it was he muttered (in German) about.

The book properly starts at CIA Headquarters as Dante Garcia is heading a team.  He is insisting that they call in the help of Charlie Thorne, a super-smart 12-year old girl with a potential criminal past.  His boss is skeptical but trusts Dante, so she agrees.  he also says he wants to work with Milana Moon, one of the best agents in the force.

Cut to a ski slope in Colorado where we are introduced to Charlie and her amazing mathematical mind.  She is able to picture the angles and speed she needs to conquer Deadman’s Drop.

The way she does it is pretty cool and it also sets up the first exciting chase.  She recognizes Dante and his partner as agents.  She doesn’t know why they are here but she knows she needs to evade them.  This leads to the first of many exciting chase scenes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Jasper Heritage Folk Festival-Day Set (August 3 2001).

Rheostatics played two sets at the Jasper heritage Folk Festival in 2001.  They did a day set to promote their new children’s album Harmelodia and then later an evening set full of hits.

This is a fantastic sounding show … the afternoon set at the Jasper Heritage Folk Festival and is unique in that it is an almost complete run through of the entire Harmelodia album including Dave reading parts of the book. One of the earliest shows with Michael Wojewoda on drums.

In the intro Dave explains that they’re playing the entire Story of Harmelodia album, borrowing a page out of Luther Wright and the Wrongs’ book and do a concept program.  [I wonder what that was].  We’re going to read a little bit and play a few songs.

The Intro music is kind of like the more we get together, the happier we’ll be.  Dave narrates and the music sounds really good.

He tells everyone that the album is available for only $25 over there, easy.  How much you got?  $15?  We’ll take $15.  And your hat and your glasses.

Tim sings “Monkeybird” which is, admittedly, not as good as Kevin Hearn’s version, but which is still fine (they have a really hard time with the high note of the “we love the sound.”

“Invisible Stairs” is a twist on the “Twinkle Twinkle” melody–a pretty 2 minute interlude.

During “Popopolis/Drumstein” Martin makes a cool humpback whale sound.

They take a small break, “a little interlude then the program will resume.”  Then he says “hurry hurry come on up,” and some girls wish Chrissy Way a happy birthday.  Dave jokes Chrissy’s 37.

Tim says that Dot wrote “Loving Arms,” but ripped off The Beatles.  Dave replies, “it’s make believe Tim, there’s no copyright in make believe land.”

They don’t do “Father’s Sad Song” (because Gord Downie wrote it?).

The bass is suddenly too loud but otherwise it sounds great.  You can compare the concert setlist to the album at the bottom of the post.

[READ: February 21, 2021] “Paris Diary (1992)”

I’m not sure who Mavis Gallant is, but she had the third of three “Memory” sections in this issue of the New Yorker, so here it is.  It is indeed a few samples of her 1992 diary.  The first few entries are from January.

She writes about three prisoners released from solitary confinement after eighteen years.  Two of them are shrunken and need a wheelchair.  The third has his daughter to look after him.  She imagines what it must be like to get your father back after so long.

Gallant was young when her father died and yet she could not accept the truth.  She always imagined he would return.  Like how Isaac Babel’s daughter wrote, “Every time a car stopped in front of the door, I expected to see my father step out of it.”  But of course, he never did.

Then she recalls Josée de Chambrun (her father ran the Vichy government in 1942 and was tried for treason).  She has just died.  Mavis and Catherine (whoever that is) saw her in a gallery, eyes full of defiance.  After the war, the French either stood behind her or despised her.

The next entry (February) concerns her friend at dinner.  She smoked through the meal, juggling fork, knife and cigarette.  No one seemed to mind. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKNORA BROWN-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/148 (January 14, 2021).

Nora BrownGlobalFEST 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 fourth and final night is fifteen year old banjo player Nora Brown.  Nora was born and bred in Brooklyn, but she has a huge affinity for Appalachian banjo music.

30 feet below the surface in Brooklyn, 10th grader Nora Brown brings incredible, surprising depth to the Appalachian music she plays. Over the course of her Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST concert, surrounded by innumerable globes and instruments, she infuses new life and energy into the traditional songs of Addie Graham, Virgil Anderson and Fred Cockerham. Nora weaves together songs and storytelling, speaking of the great history of the music that came before her and at which she excels.

Nor plays three songs. “The Very Day I’m Gone” is an Addie Graham song.  Graham was a singer from eastern Kentucky.  It is a slow piece that is primarily a bass riff with some high notes and very soft singing.

Her dad made the banjo she is playing.  As the song ends you can hear the shuttle train that runs back and forth about every seven minutes.

Nora has her school stuff on her tiny desk, since she’s been doing remote school learning.  And she’s a high school student which means she ends her sentences with, “So yeah”

“Miner’s Dream” is a Virgil Anderson tune.  He is from the Kentucky/Tennessee border and brought a bluesy touch to his banjo playing.  This one is a faster instrumental played on a snake head Gibson banjo, the bowl of which is over 100 years old.

“Little Satchel” is by Fred Cockerham.  The banjo she is playing is from John Cohen’s of the New Lost City Ramblers.   Roscoe Halcomb would use it when touring with John.  John recently passed away and the banjo is on its way to the Library of Congress.   The song has fast playing with a cool lyrical melody.  It’s my favorite of the three.

[READ: February 10, 2021] 5 Worlds Book 4

I had actually forgotten about this series, and was quite happy to see this book at the library.  This is book 4 of 5 (5 due out in May).

The book does a nice job of bringing us back up to speed in the first few pages–reintroducing everyone and reminding us what is going on.

Of all the books, this one was the most straightforward.  There’s not a lot of travels and we understand most of what’s going on by now.

Oona, Jax, An Tzu and Ram Sam Sam land on planet Ambrine in the town of Salassanra (where Ram Sam Sam is from).  They receive a mixed welcome.  Since they have lit 3 beacons things have not been great on all the worlds.  (The task is not completed, and the process is a little rocky).  Oona is met with some hostility although the planet people love her (she brought water to them after all).

But this task (to light the fourth (amber) beacon) seems pretty easy. The beacon is in a pyramid.  It’s right in front of them and they meet little resistance.  As Oona begins to dance she realizes this beacon is encrusted in indestructible amber.  She can’t break it, but old runes pop up and most likely lead to a clue. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CECIL TAYLOR-Jazz Advance (1956).

As the biography below states, Cecil Taylor was ahead of his time and harshly criticized for being so.  This was his first album and it made waves–as did his subsequent performance at Newport Jazz Festival (it’s like when Dylan went electric, but for jazz).

Since I’m not a big jazz follower, I’ll start with those who are.  Here’s some notes on the album from The Guardian.

A Taylor group comprised of Buell Neidlinger on bass and Dennis Charles on drums is augmented here and there by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy; the repertoire mixes tunes by Ellington, Monk and Cole Porter with the leader’s fearlessly personal reinventions of the blues. Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” is played even more cryptically and succinctly, the lines breaking up into jagged fragments and jutting chords. Taylor’s “Charge Em Blues” is a 4/4 walk with a surprisingly straight Lacy sax solo, and “Azure”‘s lazily struck chords and delicate treble sounds might even remind you of Abdullah Ibrahim, until the cross-rhythmic improvised piano patterns clattering chords typical of later Taylor emerge. …  It’s a historic document that still sounds more contemporary than most jazz piano music being made today.

As I listened I first thought it didn’t sound all that shocking and I wondered if that was because I was listening in 2021 and not 1956, but around two minutes into “Bemsha Swing” he starts throwing in some atonal and dissonant notes.  You can tell that he knows how to play, but that he’s deliberately hitting either “wrong” notes or just letting his fingers fly where they will.   And it still sounds surprising today.

“Charge ‘Em Blues” sounds far more “normal” at least in the beginning.  Lacy’s sax solo is fun and bouncy.  Then around 5 minutes a back and forth starts with Taylor’s wild free-jazz atonal improv and a drum solo.

“Azure” is a more chill track although about halfway through the improv starts going off the rails.

About half way through “Song” the solo is all over the place–sprinkling around the piano and pounding out a few chords here and there.  It’s dissonant and off-putting, but seem more like it’s trying to wake up the listener. When Lacy’s pretty sax comes in and plays a delightful improv and Taylor is bopping around behind him, the contrast is stark.

“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” is the only song on the record that I knew before and I never would have recognized it here.  As AllMusic puts it

At his most astonishing, Taylor slightly teases, barely referring to the melody of “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” wrapping his playful, wild fingers and chordal head around a completely reworked, fractured, and indistinguishable yet introspective version of this well-worn song form.

This is a solo piece and he is all over the place.  At no point did I recognize the original melody.

“Rick Kick Shaw” features some lively drums and walking bass while Taylor goes to town.  He plays some really fast runs which slowly turn experimental. I’m very curious if future renditions of this song were in any way the same or if all of this soloing was improvised each time.

“Sweet and Lovely” is very slow and more traditional sounding.  Without the speed of his solos, this song comes across as almost like a standard jazz song.  Although at the very end he throws in a few sprinkles of chaos just because he can.

[READ: February 2, 2021] The Musical Brain

I’d only read a couple of short stories from César Aira (all included here).  His novels are so short it almost seems weird that he’d write short stories, but some of these stories are very short indeed.  They do also tend to meander in the way his novels do which makes it seem like some of them don’t end so much as stop.

“The Musical Brain” was the first story I’d read by Aira, and what I wrote about the story has held true for pretty much everything I’ve read by him:

There are so many wonderful and unexpected aspects to this story that I was constantly kept on my toes.  This also made it somewhat challenging to write about.

“A Brick Wall”
I thought I had read this story before but I guess I hadn’t.  It begins with the narrator saying that he went to the movies a lot as a kid–four or six films a week (double features). He says he has an impressive memory for details.  He remembers seeing Village of the Damned decades ago.  A small village’s children are all born as zombies. The zombies can read everyone’s minds so the hero thinks–erect a brick wall.  He also remembers North By Northwest which was titled in Argentina: International Intrigue.  He and his friend Miguel loved the elegance of the movie. And they decided to become spies.  So they created a game in which they would “forget” that they were spies. They would leave notes for each other and then “discover” them so that when they came upon them they were new and exciting.  It was surprisingly easy to forget the game, apparently. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROKIA TRAORÉ-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136 (January 14, 2021).

Rokia Traore.GlobalFEST 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 artist of the fourth and final night is Malian singer Rokia Traoré.

Rokia Traoré performed at globalFEST in 2005, the music festival’s second year, and it’s a thrill to present her meditative performance as part of Tiny Desk meets globalFEST. Her work is rooted in the Malian musical tradition, but defies the confines of a single culture. Born in Mali to a diplomat father, Traoré had a nomadic upbringing that exposed her to a wide variety of international musical influences. She joins us from Blues Faso, a theater inside her Foundation Passerelle in Mali, which she created to support emerging, interdisciplinary artists, from music and the performing arts to visual arts and photography.

She plays three songs that more or less segue into each other.  I don’t know a lot about music from Mali, but the little I know I can recognize from the Ngoni played by Mamah Diabaté and the guitar played by Samba Diabaté, with lots of speedy runs.   In “Souba Lé” melody is played on the balafon by Massa Joël Diarra (although I wish they’d have shown us it up close).  Both this song and “Tiramakan” feature subtle bass from Aristide Nebout.  The final song “Fakoly” is a little louder and drummer Roméo Djibré is a bit more prominent.

But all of these songs are all about Rokia Traoré’s vocals which soar and ring out.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 3

Each book has gotten longer.  Book one was 121 pages, Book 2 was 187 and Book 3 is 246.

This book begins right after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.   You meet the victims before they were killed.  It continues through until the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.  Holy cow was there a lot of violence in these two years and the amazing art by Nate Powell never shies away from showing it.

Eagle Scouts at Klan rallies who then go on to kill Black teenager’s, hicks in pickups celebrating the deaths of the girls in the church with anti-integration chants and, as we see more and more in this book, police killing innocent people and not getting in any trouble because of it.

This book has opened my eyes to what Black people have known all along about police forces.  That they are completely corrupt and need to be restructured from the ground up.  When you see that it was their job to be racist in 1963, is it any surprise that they are still racist in 2021?

Reading a book like this I can’t help but think that the best thing we could have done for our country would have been to let the south secede.  Bring all people of color north and let the racists fester in their own lack of diversity.  Because their racism poisons the whole country.  And yet that is exactly the opposite belief that this book is based upon.

I’m embarrassed at how naïve I am. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKELISAPIE-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/156 (January 14, 2021).

ElisapieGlobalFEST 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 artist of the fourth and final night is First Nations singer Elisapie.

Elisapie returns to Tiny Desk for a show-stopping performance from Montreal, with the disco globe of our dreams helping to light her set. Elisapie, in both her songs and work, is a resounding advocate of First Nations culture in Canada. In her set, she harnesses an incredible energy with electrifying, emotive vocals.

I had really enjoyed Elisapie’s previous Tiny desk.  I found her to be a less extreme, but no less dramatic performer than Tanya Tagaq.  Her band is outstanding creating all kinds of textures to surround her voice.

The first song is “Qanniuguma.”  It starts quietly with a single ringing guitar note from Jean-Sébastien Williams and little taps of percussion from Robbie Kuster.  Joshua Toal adds some quiet bass as the guitar plays some higher notes.  After a minute Elisapie starts singing.  Another 30 seconds later the drums get louder and Jason Sharp start sprinkling in some raw bass saxophone.  As the song grows more intense, Elisapie adds some breathing and chanting–throat singing.  Things quiet down and then build again with the sax and the guitar soloing as the drums and bass keep things steady

Behind her you can see Mont Royal, which has a lot of history.

The second song “Wolves Don’t Live by the Rules” is “a small song” but very meaningful.  It starts in a similar way with ringing notes an thumping drums.  She sings this one in  English and it feels like a much more conventional sounding song.  It’s pretty quiet but the instrumental breaks adds huge guitar chords and the end is really loud.

Introducing the final song, “Arnaq” (which means Woman) she says women tend to forget that we have a lot of strength and we should celebrate it loud and clear.  This one opens with a loud raw sliding guitar like an early PJ Harvey song.  The song’s chorus builds with an “ah ya ya ya” as the instruments add chunky noises–scratches from the guitar and skronks from the sax and all kinds of precious.  It’s a cool noise fest, although the guitar could be a smidge louder.

I’d really like to see her live.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 2

Book Two picks up John Lewis’ life.

Like the first, it starts with Lewis’ preparations for the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Then it flashes back.  Lewis was in college and had moved to Nashville where the growing student movement was gaining strength.

The visuals are even more striking in this book.  The panels of the white woman pouring water and then soap (or flour) on the quietly sitting Black diners and then hosing them down is really arresting.  As is the sequence (which is almost entirely black) of a room full of peaceful protestors being locked in a room when the fumigator was set off.

I couldn’t believe that a man couldn’t really left us there to die.  Were we not human to him?

Then next round of protesta was at the segregated movie theaters.  I love that they chose the Ten Commandments to protest (the irony was lost on the whites in Alabama).  The Black protesters would line up and would be refused seating.  Hundreds of people who would then get back on line and be refused seating again.  Whites would throw things at them and hurl abuse at them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKEDWIN PEREZ-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/155 (January 14, 2021).

Edwin PerezGlobalFEST 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 artist of the fourth and final night is Edwin Perez.

From the basement of the Bowery Electric in downtown Manhattan, composer and vocalist Edwin Perez and his 10-piece band come together to put on a show. With a strong backbeat and enough room to move around, Perez’s up-tempo energy brings the party and keeps it going. The theme of the night is salsa dura music, which originated in New York in the 1970s and gained acclaim thanks to acts like the Fania All-Stars and Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

This set is a lot of fun (even with the seriousness of the second song).  Cuban music is so full of percussion and horns it’s hard not to want to dance to it.  And this band has three percussionists: Nelson Mathew Gonzalez: bongo, cowbell (from Puerto Rico); Manuel Alejandro Carro: timbales (from Cuba); Oreste Abrantes: (from Puerto Rico).  The horn section is also pretty large: Leonardo Govin (from Cuba) and Michael Pallas (From Dominican Republic): trombone; Jonathan Powell (from USA) and Kalí Rodriguez (from Cuba): trumpet.

They play three songs. “La Salsa Que Me Crió” has lots of percussion and a great trumpet solo.  Perez even dances during the instrumental breaks.  And throughout, Jorge Bringas (from Cuba) keeps the bass steady.

After introducing the band, he says “Say her name Breonna Taylor.  Say his name Philando castile.  Say his name George Floyd.  End the abuse.”  This is the introduction to the quieter “No Puedo Respirar” (I Can’t Breathe).   Despite the subject, this song is not a dirge.  I don’t know what the words are but there is joy in the music as well.  There’s a jazzy keyboard solo from Ahmed Alom Vega (USA).

Yuniel Jimenez (From Cuba) opens the final song “Mi Tierra” with a fantastic introductory solo on the Cuban tres guitar.  The rest of the song brings back the Cuban horns and percussion. There’s even a drum solo (or two) in the middle.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 1

I had heard amazing things about this trilogy of books.  I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading them.  Now that John Lewis is dead for almost a year, it was time to read them.

This is essentially a biography so it’s not easy to write about.  It’s also an incredible story of selflessness, fortitude and unbelievable courage.

The framing device is very well executed.  After a brief prologue that shows John and is marchers getting attacked by police, the book shows us Washington D.C. January 20, 2009, the day that Barack Obama is being inaugurated President.  Since John is (in 2009) in office he will be attending the ceremonies.

As he is preparing and getting ready to leave, a woman and her two children walk into his room hoping to look at Mr. Lewis’ office–a inspirational moment for her young boys.  But it happens that John (or Bob as he is called) is still in his office. They are embarrassed to interrupt, but he welcomes them warmly and shows them some of the things around his office.

Like photos of him meeting President Kennedy when Lewis was 23.  And from the March on Washington in 1963, where Dr King gave his “I have a dream” speech.

Then the boy asks him why he has so many chickens in his office.

The story then flashes back to young John (called Bob by his parents).  His father purchased 110 acres in Pike County, Alabama for $300. John was incharge of the chickens on the farm.  He also loved preaching.  He learned to read at 5 and began preaching to the chickens (they never said Amen or anything).

He also loved going to school.  He would even away from his house on the days his father insisted all the children work in the field because he didn’t want to fall behind.  (Even if it meant getting in trouble).

One of the first being moments in his life wa when his Uncle Otis drove him North.

Otis knew which places offered colored bathrooms and the ones where you would never get out of the car: “Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky.  These were the states we had to be careful in as we made our way North.”

It wasn’t until they got to Ohio that his uncle relaxed.  They arrive in Buffalo 17 hours later and John was amazed to see white and black people living next door to each other. (more…)

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