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Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BLACK MOTION-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #233 (July 8, 2021).

 Black Motion specializes in Afro-House and this set is infectious.

Afro-House has spread joy and healing across the country of South Africa, transcending local boundaries to become a thriving global dance phenomenon. In my experience, Its indigenous sounds and percussive rhythms drench the soul and heart with healing powers and cultivate communion with the infinite.

This Afro-House set is brought to life thanks to several featured vocalists and guest musicians.  Black Motion’s Tiny Desk (home) concert, recorded at the former residence of Nelson Mandela, feels like a spiritual sound bath. The South African production duo turntablist Bongani Mohosana of the Zulu tribe and percussionist Thabo Mabogwane of Sotho tribe — open their set with “Mayibuye iAfrica,” a cry for Africa to return to its culture and history.

“Mayibuye iAfrica” opens with a fun introduction.  There’s whooping, growling, cawing, (from DJ and producer Bongani Mohosana and keyboardist Almotie “Alie-keyz” Mtomben).  There’s some great percussion (producer and drummer Thabo Roy Mabogwane’s set has over ten different drums and a few cymbals).  Then, after a minute or so Siyabonga Hosana Magagula’s grooving bass and Lifa “Sir_Lifa” Mavuso’s slow but perfect-sounding guitar enter the picture.

Then the singers come in singing a beautiful chorus.  The three of them are: Lusindiso “Jojo” Zondani (tenor), Gugu Shezi (soprano) and Noxolo Radebe (alto), and there voices gel wonderfully.

Up next is “Rainbow” which shuffles along with the DJs sampling and a simple keyboard melody (that sounds a bit like The Way It Is).

South African singer Msaki makes her third appearance in our (home) concert series, after earlier credits with Black Coffee and our Coming 2 America special. She lends her vocals to “Marry Me,” a soulful jam from Black Motion’s 2020 album, The Healers: The Last Chapter.

Next up is “Marry Me.” Msaki sings lead vocals on this song which has a grooving echoing lead guitar. “Alie-keyz” plays a cool retro organ solo before “Sir_Lifa” jams out a guitar solo.

Interestingly, Msaki’s voice was relatively deep, but on the next song, “Joy Joy,” Brenden Praise’s voice is pretty high (in the choruses).  For the verses, he sings a bit deeper.  I like the way the backing vocalists sound like gospel singers here.

“Imali,” featuring Nokwazi, soothes the lingering remnants of pandemic fears,

The snare drum introduces the colorfully dress Nokwazi who sings “Imali.”  Her call and response singing is really great, as is her intense, growling style.

Tabia closes with the lilting “Prayer for Rain.”

Tabia comes out for “Prayer For Rain” and says “let’s pray” as she sings some wordless notes to warm up the song.  When she starts singing, I don’t know what language she’s singing, but the passion is palpable.  And the thunderclap that DJ Bongani Mohosana adds at the end is a welcome touch.

This is a powerful and moving (emotionally and physically) set of songs.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Easy, Tiger”

After reading David’s story about shopping in Tokyo, it was funny to go backwards and read about one of his first few trips abroad and how he started learning the local language(s).

He says that he had been using Pimsleur Japanese and felt fairly comfortable when in Japan.  But on this trip he was also going to Beijing and he had forgotten to study.

But this is not so much about China as it is about learning languages in general.

Since he doesn’t drive, phrases like “as for gas, is it expensive” don’t really help him out.  But he uses “fill her up please” when asking for a tea refill.  He also gets to say that he is a man with children since they do not have a phrase for “I am am middle aged homosexual…  with a niece I never see and a small godson.”

He recommends Pimsleur for pronunciations and memorization.  But he also likes Lonely Planet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE & THE MELTING PARAISO U.F.O.-Pink Lady Lemonade ~ You’re From Inner Space (2011).

This album is something like the fortieth AMT album and somewhere in the middle of the band’s tenure with this lineup:

Tsuyama Atsushi: monster bass, voice, cosmic joker
Higashi Hiroshi: synthesizer, dancin’ king
Shimura Koji: drums, latino cool
Kawabata Makoto: guitar, guitar synthesizer, speed guru

The album consists of one song, the title track, broken into 4 parts all based around a simple, but rather lovely guitar melody

 “Part 1” is 32 minutes long.  It begins with the opening guitar melody which plays along with some trippy sounds.  Tsuyama is reciting the words (in Japanese?  English?  Gibberish?) and occasionally you hear the words “Pink lady Lemonade.”  At around 12 minutes drums and bass are added.  Once the bass starts meandering through some catchy riffs, Kawabata starts soloing.  It’s pretty far down in the mix (the main melody continues throughout).  Then around 22 minutes Tsuyama starts adding the monster bass–wild riffs that go up and down the fretboard.  With about 5 minutes left Kawabata starts playing s louder solo–louder than the rest of the music–and you can really hear him wailing away.   Part 1 fades out completely before jumping into Part 2.

“Part 2” is only 5 minutes, but it is utter chaos, with everyone making a big pile of noise–keyboard banging, sliding bass, thumping drums and wild, seemingly uncontrollable guitars.  It ends five minutes later with some warbling keys

Then comes “Part 3,” which runs just over the minutes.  It’s a faster chord version of the same guitar intro with slow bass notes and a big guitar solo.  It changes shape and adds some discoey bass lines.  About midway through the synths take over and while there is music in the background the song becomes mostly washes of sounds.

“Part 4” ends the disc at just over 18 minutes.  It picks up with the original guitar melody once more.  This time, it’s only a minute until the drums and bass kick in and the soling begins.  At five and a half minutes the guitar solo gets really loud and takes over.  The soloing is wild for over ten minutes and then around 13 minutes the song grows very quiet with only the lead guitar and the heavily echoed main riff playing.

There’s on online version here that has this entire record but adds six minutes at the end of the last part which is mostly the introductory melody and some washes of keys over the top.  i rather like this extra 6 minutes and it feels like a really nice ending.

 

[READ: May 1, 2021] “My First Passport”

This essay was translated from the Turkish by Maureen Feely.

Pamuk talks about people travelling from Turkey when he was young.  First it was his father, who left the country when Orhan was seven.  No one heard a word from him for several weeks when he turned up in Paris.  He was writing notebooks and regularly saw John-Paul Sartre.   He had become one of the penniless and miserable Turkish intellectuals who had been walking the streets of Paris.  Initially Orhan’s grandmother sent Orhan’s father money but eventually she stopped subsidizing her bohemian son in Paris.

When he ran out of money he got a job with I.B.M. and was transferred to Geneva.  Soon after Orhan’s mother joined his father but left Orhan and his brother with the grandparents.  They would follow when school was done.

Orhan sat for his first passport photo (included in the essay).  Thirty years later he realized that they had put the wrong eye color down–“a passport is not a document that tells us who were are but a document that shows what other people think of us.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MR. BUNGLE-The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo (2020/1986).

In 1986, Mr. Bungle released a demo tape called The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.

In 2020, after a reunion tour of sorts, the band rerecorded the album, with some slight personnel changes. Original singer Mike Patton was still there as was masterful guitarist Trey Spruance and bassist Trevor Dunn.  But they had two impressive guests stars (who also performed live with them), Scott Ian (from Anthrax) on rhythm guitar and Dave Lombardo, drummer extraordinaire.

And thus they re-recorded the initial demo.  Fans of Mr. Bungle’s later genre bending work would be a little disappointed because this was pretty much a heavy heavy metal record.  But it is Mr. Bungle so you know there’s gonna be some weird stuff too.

The only song they don’t play from the original is “Evil Satan” which is more or less a goof anyway.

“Grizzly Adams” opens the album with a very pretty guitar instrumental. Spruance really shines with this moody, weird piece.  But even when the full band joins in in the last 30 seconds, it doesn’t prepare you for the heaviness to come.

“Anarchy Up Your Anus” is old school metal–heavy guitars with an Anthrax/Slayer vibe.  There’s even a lengthy scream after the opening drum fills.  This song has an opening narration by Rhea Perlman.  Yes.  Rhea Perlman.  The narration comes from the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House Disney album (on the demo they just played the audio from the record).

“Raping Your Mind” is out of sequence from the demo (it was originally song 6).  It continues with the heavy Anthrax-like riffage and some serious drumming.  There’s a cool middle moment where there’s two guitar solos and just bass and drums in the back–there’s some seriously wicked guitar soloing going on.

“Hypocrites /Habla Español o Muere” was originally a longer song, but they decided to shorten it and add this humorous cover of the Stormtroopers of Death song.  The title is mentioned in the first few seconds, then after 30 seconds, the song jumps into a bit of “la Cucaracha” and then segues into “Speak Spanish or Die.”

“Bungle Grind” is really heavy with some classic mosh sections and faster riffage.

“Methematics” is a new song.  It’s a bit more standard heavy metal and not so much early thrash until the double bass drums kick.  There’s lots of parts including a classic punk style in the middle.  This is more akin to the later, adventurous Mr. Bungle, but at 8 minutes it is a little long.

“Eracist” is another new song.  This one is great.  Really catchy with some good old fashion metal riffs and chanted chorus.  There’s a seriously heavy middle section, too.

“Spreading the Thighs of Death” was the third song on the demo.  It’s some good fast thrash with wicked chord changes and massive double bass drum.  There’s some really wild guitar soloing too.

“Loss For Words” is a Corrosion of Conformity cover.  It’s a pretty serious cover version.  Patton’s vocal delivery is even a little different.

“Glutton for Punishment” is another new song that fits into the classic riff an thump thrash.  There’s a whispered vocal part where you can actually hear the words!  And a fascinatingly fiddly guitar solo that left me wondering how he did it.

“Sudden Death” ended the demo and ends this as well.  A heavy chugging riff and super fast thrashing–it’s impressive that they can keep it up for seven plus minutes.  I rather liked the “yes/no” chanting at the end.

This album isn’t for everyone (as most Mr. Bungle albums aren’t).  But it does show off some quality old school metal and some serious skill for a band covering themselves 30 years later.

[READ: March 24, 2021] Zed

I saw this book in Barnes & Noble and fell in love with the cover.  I made sure to look for it at the library and was pretty psyched when it came in.

And I was pleased as soon as I started reading.

Set in the not too distant future, one tech company, Beetle, dominates the world.  I thought that Beetle was pretty inspired name.  It could be Apple (who have a connection to The Beatles, with Apple Records) and it looks a lot like the word Google, although I suppose it is probably closest to being about Amazon–with their online assistant Athena.

Nearly every citizen (the book takes place in London, but Beetle is global) wears a BeetleBand which monitors everything you do–like a Fitbit or Apple Watch on steroids.

It tells you when you are stressed or when you should hydrate or that you shouldn’t have that donut.  Indeed, everything is now really “smart”: fridges, doors, cars.  Everything in your house is monitoring you. And everyone has a Veep, a personal assistant who does everything for you (except for physical things, since it has no body). You pay for all the best stuff in Beetle bucks–the cryptocurrency that replaced actual  money as the dominant currency.  If you didn’t convert your pounds, euros or dollars, when the rate was good, you’re just stuck.

When the book says everyone, it’s really mostly everyone. There are some people who can’t afford such extravagance.  People who don’t work for Beetle get paid in regular money which isn’t very useful.  There are also neo-Luddites who want nothing to do with Beetle.  But they are carefully monitored by Beetle.

Most people work and communicate in a virtual world with avatars that are some version of themselves.  And most importantly, every person has a Lifechain–the algorithm that determines the longevity and happiness you should experience.  This predictions are pretty much never wrong and everyone uses them to judge people–employers, police, etc. Everything you do, every decision you make changes our Lifehchain, which changes you likelihood of doing x y or zed. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: THE REDNECK MANIFESTO-The How (2018).

Despite a terrible name that would keep me away from wanting to see them, The Redneck Manifesto are a very interesting and complicated band.  I discovered them through the book of Irish drummers.  TRM drummer Mervyn Craig is in the book.

The How is the band’s fifth album (and first in eight years).  The album is chock full of instrumentals that touch all genres of music.

There are jazzy elements, dancey elements and rock elements.  There are solos (but never long solos) and jamming sections.  Most of the songs are around 4 minutes long with a couple running a little longer.

“Djin Chin” has jangly chords and quiet riffs that switch to a muted melody.  All the while the bass is loping around.  It shifts tempos three times in the first two minutes.  Around three minutes the bass takes over the lead instrument pushing the song along with deep notes.

“The Rainbow Men” has a circular kind of riff with swirling effects that launch the song during the musical pauses.  After a minute and a half it drastically shifts direction and the adds in a cool solo.

“Sip Don’t Gulp” starts with a catchy bouncy guitar riff and bass lines.  At two minutes it too shifts gears to a staggered riff that sounds great.

“Kobo” is the shortest song and seems to tell a melodic story.  The two guitars play short, fast rhythms as call and response while the bass rumbles along.

“Head Full of Gold” is over 6 minutes with a thumping bass, rumbling drums and soft synths.  “No One” is nearly 7 minutes and feels conventionally catchy until you try to keep up with the beats.  After a middle series of washes from various instruments, the back half is a synthy almost dancey rhythm.

“Sweep” is a pretty song until the half-way mark when it just takes off in a fury of fast drumming and complex chords.  The end builds in upward riding notes until it hits a calming ending

“We Pigment” is a poppy staccato dancey number.  The second half turns martial with a series of four beat drum patterns and a soaring guitar solo.  More staccato runs through to the end.  “The Underneath Sun” also has a lot of staccato–fast guitar notes interspersed with bigger chords.  The end of the song is just littered with sweeping guitar slides until the thumping conclusion.

This album is great and I’m looking forward to exploring their other releases.

[READ: January 10, 2021] A History of Ireland in 100 Words

This book looks at old Irish words–how they’ve evolved and how they show the way Irish history came about.  The authors say:

our store of words says something fundamental about us and how we think.  This book is meant to provide insights into moments of life that may be otherwise absent from history books.  The focus is on Gaelic Ireland throughout as Gaelic was the native language of the majority of the inhabitants of the island for the last 2000 years. It yielded its primacy to English only in the last 150 years.

We selected words with the aim of illustrating each of our themes as broadly as possible.  We wanted the words in all their richness to tell their story … like how the word that originally meant noble came to mean cheaper (saor).

Almost all of the entries reference The cattle raid of Cooley (The Ulster Cycle) which features the hero Cú Chulainn.  This story is at the heart of most of historical Ireland and it’s pretty fascinating how many of these Gaelic words either originate with that story or get their foundation from the story.

There’s a general pronunciation guide although I wish each word had a phonetic guide because anyone who speaks English will look at Irish a if it is just a jumble of nonsensical consonants.

The book is broken down into sections, although the authors insist that there is no correct way to read the book.

  • Writing and Literature
  • Technology and Science
  • Food and Feasting
  • The Body
  • Social Circles
  • Other Worlds
  • War and Politics
  • A Sense of Place
  • Coming and Going
  • Health and Happiness
  • Trade and Status
  • Entertainment and Sport
  • The Last Word

There are also delightfully weird wood carving-like drawings from by Joe McLaren scattered throughout the book.

The words are listed below with either a definition or an interesting anecdote included. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL-“Ballad of the Times” (1985).

In Stuart David’s book, In The All-Night Café, he lists the songs on a mixtape that Stuart Murdoch gave to him when they first met.

Although I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for a long time, I knew almost none of the songs on this mixtape.  So, much like Stuart David, I’m listening to them for the first time trying to see how they inspire Stuart Murdoch.

In the book, David writes how much he does not like “rock,” especially music based around bluesy rock.  Most of these songs, accordingly, do not do that.  In fact, most of these songs are (unsurprisingly) soft and delicate.

Of course I know of Everything But the Girl, they really took off a few years after this album came out.  Indeed, their sound changed quite a lot since this first album.

But I never really listened to them.  Of course, I knew their song “Missing” (“like the deserts miss the rain”) which was pretty ubiquitous in mid 1990s.  But in the mid 1980s, the band’s sound was very different–characterized by jangly guitars and a more upbeat feel.

Love Not Money was the band’ second album.  The first song on the album “When All’s Well” has a very distinctive feel like The Smiths–with the picked echoing guitars and louder grooving bass.  But “Ballad of the Time” is a bit more downbeat (as a ballad should be).  There’s some big overdubbed guitars on top of the pretty picked melody.  It’s catchy in a very “of its time” way.

Interestingly, this album apparently sounds unlike anything else in their collection, which makes me think Stuart wouldn’t have pit a later song on the mix.

[READ: December 29, 2020] Solutions and Other Problems

Seven years ago I read and loved Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh’s first book.  So I was pretty excited that Allie Brosh had a new book out. Apparently she has gone through some stuff in the last seven years which I won’t go into.

Instead, I want to talk about how freaking funny this book is.

I hadn’t considered or realized that her art style had changed much since the last book.  Although comparing the covers, I see that her drawings do seem more sophisticated–which somehow makes her characters look even crazier.  I love that that yellow oval on her head is her hair.  And the massive eyes.  And that crazy smile.  It’s bonkers and hilarious.

This book starts out with a bang–a very funny story about a young Allie getting stuck in a bucket. But the best part is that she was in the bucket because she felt the need to get her whole body into the bucket.  She looked at the bucket and looked at her body and decided that one needed to be in the other.  The look on her face (and then later on her parents’ faces when they find her in the bucket) makes me laugh just thinking about it.

“Richard” is all about a person who lives next door.  Young Allie couldn’t quite grasp the idea that someone lived not in their house.  She never even thought about the next door house until Richard walked out of it one day.  So she snuck in through the cat door and started investigating the neighbor,  She would also steal trinkets on each trip.  And occasionally leave a “gift” (like a creepy drawing).  When her parents found some things, they asked her about it and she said she was “hanging out” with Richard.  This obviously made her parents…uneasy.  Poor Richard.  She went too far when she stole Richard’s cat. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FELT-“Hours of Darkness Have changed My Mind” (1985).

In Stuart David’s book, In The All-Night Café, he lists the songs on a mixtape that Stuart Murdoch gave to him when they first met.

Although I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for a long time, I knew almost none of the songs on this mixtape.  So, much like Stuart David, I’m listening to them for the first time trying to see how they inspire Stuart Murdoch.

In the book, David writes how much he does not like “rock,” especially music based around bluesy rock.  Most of these songs, accordingly, do not do that.  In fact, most of these songs are (unsurprisingly) soft and delicate.

Felt is another band I’ve never heard of.  This is especially surprising since they were together for over ten years.  Much like with The Blue Aeroplanes, this song has a kind of spoken vocal delivery–although it’s more akin to Lou Reed’s sing-speaking than say a spoken delivery.

The band emphasized jangly guitars and this song has a very old fashioned organ solo (which must have been especially jarring in the 1980s indie rock scene.

The mixture of organ and guitar and lead singer (the mononymed) Lawrence’s very British delivery really make this band stand out.  This song has a chorus melody that is quite subtle and you need to listen a few times before it grabs you.  In fact, the first song on the album Forever Breathes the Lonely Word, “Rain of Crystal Spires” is much more immediate and catchy and relishes that VU feel.

[READ: January 21, 2021] “The Old Man in the Piazza”

I enjoyed the way this story seemed to be about one thing but turned into something much bigger, much grander.

Every day at four o’clock an old man goes to the piazza.  He sits at the cafe and orders a coffee.  At 6PM he orders a beer and a sandwich.  At 8PM he shuffles home–no one knows where he lives.

During those four hours he watches the piazza as it gets busier and nouisier and people start to argue very intensely.

The arguments are varied and loud.  They range from the teleological, to the eschatological to the mundane.  Anything that there is to argue about, the people in the piazza will argue about it.  They will honk horns and rev engines just to prove their points.

The piazza has been like this–“ever since the end of the so called time of the ‘yes.'”

About forty years ago it was made illegal to argue.  Everyone was obliged to agree all the time–regardless of the proposition, one was to nod and agree.  The language itself was altered.  The word no was no longer permitted only “yes” or “for sure” or “absolutely.”

Then things get more abstract. (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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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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SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN BISS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #126 (December 14, 2020).

This is the first of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

Biss is uniquely qualified for the task at hand. The 40-year-old pianist has recorded all 32 of Beethoven’s freewheeling sonatas, performed them worldwide and has taught an online course in the music.hat’s impressive. Still, what’s more astounding is the personal story behind Biss’ obsession with Beethoven. The recording project alone took nearly 10 years and the things Biss says he gave up – relationships, even his sense of self – in order to live the dream is heartbreaking. The pandemic has shut down the life and livelihoods of many musicians, and for Biss the down time offered space to confront his relationship to Beethoven and his own demons. He tells his story in a raw and insightful audio memoir called Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven.

You can hear some of Beethoven’s own struggle in these perceptive performances. The bittersweetness of the Bagatelle Op. 126, No. 1, the moments of fragility in the Sonata, Op. 90, and the interior perspective that reaches outward from the Sonata Op. 109, all prove that Beethoven’s music is as meaningful today as ever.

Jonathan Biss is a chatty pianist.  After playing the lovely if brief “Bagatelle in G, Op. 126, No. 1” (it’s under 3 minutes), he explains that the six bagatelles were the last thing Beethoven ever wrote for the piano. 

He also jokes that he had the overwhelming urge to introduce himself via the “invent your NPR name” by inserting your middle initial somewhere in your first name and your last name is the most exotic place you’ve ever traveled.

He says that didn’t expect to be drawn back to Beethoven during the pandemic because hos music is so intense and so much.  He thought he’d rather be drawn to comfort food.  But he can’t get away from Beethoven.

The pandemic has sidelined many big Beethoven birthday plans. Jonathan Biss was slated to play concerts around the globe in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Instead, he’s home in Philadelphia. So it’s no surprise that for this all-Beethoven Tiny Desk concert, Biss chose music that explores the composer’s own isolation, brought on by deafness and an uncompromising personality.

He talks about cancelling his tour in March.  He came home  and decided to read more–do he randomly picked out How to Be Alone as if the fates were telling him something.  Biss feels that beethoven provided a guide to being alone.  He was alone for most of his life–his personality was rather off putting, but he was also functionally deaf–the most profound form of isolation.  He retreated into his imagination to create these songs.

“Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90: I. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck” is a piece that shows his vulnerability–a rare things for Beethoven.

He plays the first two movements of “Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109: I. Vivace, ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo, II. Prestissimo.”  You can hear him humming an grunting along.

He signs off with his “NPR name” which I can’t quite make out.  Then he concludes with the final bagatelle, “Bagatelle in E-flat, Op. 126, No. 3” which ends by drifting into the ether.

[READ: January 1, 2021] The Linden Tree

I’ve had a few César Aira books sitting around that I wanted to finish and the beginning of a new year seemed like a great opportunity.

It’s not always clear if his stories are fiction, non-fiction or some combination of the two.  The back of this book calls it a “fictional memoir,” as if that clears things up.  Chris Andrews translated this fictional memoir.

The book opens with the narrator explaining that his father used to go into the town square to take leaves and flowers from the linden trees (in particularly one unusually large tree) and make a tea out of them.  This had some kind of regenerative properties for him–they cured his insomnia at any rate.

From there, as happens with Aira stories–it goes everywhere.

About a different Aira story Patti Smith once wrote:

I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything, like a complex cinematic dream that dissipates upon awakening.

And THAT is exactly the way Aira books work for me too.  I have to go back through them just to try to remember the details.

So, in this story the narrator’s father is black (mixed race marriages were unusual in Pringles at the time of their marriage).  His mother, who he praised for marrying a black man, was also flawed in many ways, including being very short and very bossy.

But the main thing about this story is the rise and fall of Peronism. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-präparat (2013).

präparat is Boris’ 18th album.  It contains a huge variety of styles in its 40 some minutes.  It also features a couple of guests.  Michio Kurihara plays guitar on track 3 and 5 and Gisèle Vienne offers spoken word on track 6.

So this album starts with one of the band’s most beautiful instrumentals.  “december” is slow with a cool bassline and gentle drums. The lead guitar perfectly matches the strummed bass.  It’s a lovely post-rock instrumental complete with a section that manipulates the volume knob to bring in extra soft notes.

The pretty guitars continue to ring in on “哀歌 -elegy-” for about 20 seconds before the ominous distortion means an oncoming crash of chords.  But this is a slow crash of chords with some gentle singing (from Takeshi?) in the melodic verses.  About three minutes in the song jumps into a fast rocking section with a great guitar riff and heavy drumming. It’s excellent.

It segues into the 57 second noise fest that is “evil stack 3.”  It’s just distortion and wild soloing, a noisy interlude that is abruptly ended by the gentle “砂時計 -monologue-”  This song is four minutes long complete with gentle drums, and pretty guitars.  About halfway in, it takes off in another postrock spectacle of pretty guitars and a gentle melody.

“method of error” features Michio Kurihara on guitar and starts with some slow heavy thumping chords.  Church bells come echoing in followed by soaring guitars.  The drums interject crashing sounds from time to time.  Two guitars provide an extra wailing solo as the rest of the band jams a heavy chunky riff.  This song runs over 7 minutes.

“bataille sucre” starts off quietly but then brings in a loud ringing guitar.  Then an old school heavy metal riff begins with some screaming lead guitars.  The guest vocals are whispered (presumably in French) and add texture (if you don’t know what she’s saying).

Then comes two songs in under a minute.  “perforated line” is 34 seconds of fast heavy guitar (and synth) that feels like the beginning of song, but it abruptly ends and jumps into the oddball, almost dance stylings of “コップの内側 -castel in the air-” all SEVEN SECONDS of it.  It’s followed by “mirano” which is a warped, carnivalesque waltz with keys and possibly vibes.

“カンヴァス -canvas-” has the tone of a Kim Gordon Sonic Youth song with fuzzy guitars and an almost whispered vocal, although the chorus is pure shoegaze with layers of soft vocals.  About half way through the band add a noisy wall that sounds like it’s going to explode, but it just drops away for some clear crooning from Takeshi.

The disc ends with the eight and a half minute “maeve.”  It opens with skittery percussion and faraway gongs.  Then comes a distorted slow riff.  It’s a slow drone-like song that lumbers along for about six minutes.  The last two are a wave of distortion that sounds like a slow heavy train echoing through your head. 

I love the diversity of this record and the tracks that are not experimental are just dynamite.  I’m really glad this album is no longer hidden away.

[READ: November 12, 2020] The Proof

The Little Buddhist Monk (written 2005) has been bundled with The Proof (written 1989) together in one book.  Both stories were translated by Nick Caistor.

The Proof is about as different from The Little Buddhist Monk as you could get.  It’s also the most visceral story I’ve read by Aira, whose stories tend to be very “of the mind.”

Indeed, you can tell this story is quite different just from the way it starts.

“Wannafuck?”

This question is asked to Marcia (a senior in high school?–she’s “fourth year”) as she is walking down the street.  There are groups of teenagers hanging around,and this question comes from one of the girls.  (more…)

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