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Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ Category

SOUNDTRACK-XAVIER OMÄR-Tiny Desk Concert #181 (March 15, 2021).

Xavier Omär has a fantastic voice–one that I thought was rather unexpected given his appearance.  He’s a pretty big guy and seems like he’d have a deep resonant voice, but his voice is really soft and high.  And powerful.

He’s also had a pretty interesting career.

Omär’s career began in Christian music under the moniker SPZRKT, before he moved into secular R&B and hip-hop. Through his first couple of projects and work with Seattle DJ and producer, Sango, the 27-year-old singer’s heart-on-sleeve approach quickly created a buzz.

He says that the whole band is from San Antonio Texas.

Xavier Omär decided to turn his Tiny Desk home concert into a whole Texas affair. Initially, Omär wanted to recreate the look of the Desk: “I wanted to kind of bring the feeling of Tiny Desk back, so I had booked a library,” he said. Ultimately the library didn’t work out, but Rosella Coffee and Wine in his home base of San Antonio proved to be a great match for his sound–spacious and airy.

“Like I Feel” opens with some grooving bass from Korey Davison and wailing sax from Kevin Davison.  Josh Greene adds some big drums fills and guitarist Billy Ray Blunt Jr. plays some wailing leads.  Xavier trades off lead vocals duties with Talyce Hays whose voice is also terrific.

During “Blind Man” he throws in some rapping–a softer cadence, but to good effect.  There’s some response backing vocals from Jay Wile while Alana Holmes and Hays fill in the backing vocals.   Lyrically the song is kinda lame (sweet, but lame), but there’s some cool musical moments–splashes of four notes and more than a few tempo changes.

For good measure, he plays the song that put him on the map, 2016’s “Blind Man.” This is undoubtedly Xavier Omär’s best live performance on record.

I had no idea that this was his breakthrough song.

He tells a quick story (it’s amusing) about how he wishes he was at the beach.  But even if he can’t get there he can think of the the rhythm of the waves and the “SURF.”  He says he could enjoy the surf because his woman has that “splah” (?).  Its’s a pretty ripping song with, again, surprising tempo changes.  The song has moments that I would say come from Frank Zappa’s oddball melodies.  Ands once again, the drums are massive.

He says “So Much More” is the wedding song of the year.  It features Justin Crawford on keys and is a much more mellow song than the other.  It also allows Xavier to really show off his voice.

The Alamo City resident and his cohorts orchestrated a charismatic and vocally rich show. The set list perfectly depicts the emotional arch of if You Feel. He’s on a clear path to greatness in R&B music.

It was probably a smart move to go secular.

[READ: March 31, 2021] “A Man in the Kitchen”

The September 3, 2007 issue of the New Yorker contained several essays by their writers about the subject “Family Dinner.”

Donald Antrim starts this rather sad memory with an amusing story.

His father learned how to cook when his mother served “hot tuna-and-mayonnaise casserole with potato chops as a decorative garnish.”

This story had become Received History in the family: “Baked mayonnaise! I had to take action!”

Soon cooking had become his father’s second full time job.  He taught literature at the University of Virginia and then he would drive around buying all of the food stuffs for their meals.  He would travel to different markets for different foods and he was an early adopter of the Cuisinart. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK COFFEE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #180 (March 11, 2021).

Black Coffee is such an excellent name.  And yet the music he creates is nothing like what I was expecting.

Born in Durban and raised in the Eastern Cape in Mthatha, Black Coffee’s subculture of soulful … house music has always been about love. It’s a form of sonic escapism that provides a sanctuary for all beings, regardless of race, age, or gender. Therefore, it’s only fitting that Black Coffee rocks a tee embossed with “I Heart You” across his chest.

Black Coffee stands behind a big mixing board as he generates most of the sounds.  Although next to him is Pansula on the drums.  And Pansula is possibly the real star of this set, with his persistent and powerful rhythms.

Black Coffee, a figurehead of the global South African dance movement, is known for his undeniable DJ sets and AfroHouse anthems that (under normal circumstances) light up dancefloors around the world. He brings that same feeling to his Tiny Desk (home) concert, but with a unique configuration: live instrumentation.

Kicking off the set is “You Rock My World” featuring Soulstar, a classic dance joint from his Africa Rising album whose convergence of pulsating percussion, a calming melody, and the sultry vibes of Soulstar’s voice feels like a spiritual palette cleanser.

It starts with drums and drums and more drums from Pansula.  Black Coffee’s samples provide most of the music with some fleshing out from Nduduzo on the keys.  Then Godfrey Mntambo plays some sultry sax as the lead melody.

The backing singers (Musa Nhlapho, Sandisiwe Sishuba and Bonokuhle Nkala-Mtsweni) start cooing and then lead singer Soulstar sings.

“Flava” is up next with lead vocals from Una Rams and Tellaman.  My favorite part comes at the end of each verse as Black Coffee thumps the bass and Pansula echoes with cymbals.  The gentle keys on this track provide some nice high end amid all the bass.

“Flava” and “Wish You Were Here” come from his new LP, Subconsciously, whose litany of special guests — include Diplo and Pharrell.

“Wish You Were Here” is a bit more mellow and includes a much wider array of samples–guitars, flutes and crashing sounds.  Singer Msaki has an Annie Lennox vibe and sounds really great.  Nduduzo plays a jazzy piano solo as the song nears the end, which adds a fun new component to this house song.

[READ: March 31, 2021] “Real Food”

The September 3, 2007 issue of the New Yorker contained several essays by their writers about the subject “Family Dinner.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains that when she was little she hated garri, a food served for lunch every day except Sunday in her house.  Her mother was concerned that she was not eating at all and sat with her to watch her eat the garri.

It was made in various ways, with different ingredients (primarily yams) but was always cooked, stirred or pounded in a mortar until it became a soft mash: “it was jokingly called ‘swallow,’ because one swallowed the morsels without chewing.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COMING 2 AMERICA, SOUNDS OF ZAMUNDA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #179 (March 10, 2021).

I thought that this name meant that it was the soundtrack for the movie.  But no, this release highlights

the new compilation Rhythms of Zamunda: Music Inspired By Coming 2 America.

Tenuous connection to the movie, perhaps, but the results are great:

six artists representing four countries in Africa perform a megamix of selections from the project. Each performance from the pan-African project bridges the distance between the countries and cultures.

The songs jump back and forth to different locations

In addition to the sweeping range of the showings, the look of each set is stunning: vibrant, opulent colors; meticulous Tiny Desk shelf recreations; gorgeous African artifacts; and a few nuggets dedicated to King Akeem of Coming 2 America.

The majority of the songs are filmed in South Africa.

South Africa’s Nasty C — who’s arguably the biggest rapper on the continent — opens the set and trades verses with Tiny Desk alumni Ari Lennox on “Black and White.”

The set looks like the original Tiny Desk Room with cluttered bookshelves.  I like the lines where Nasty C pauses before saying the last word.  Ari Lennox’s vocals are really great.  Fundile “FD” Dlamini plays drums while Christer Kobedi and Vaughan Fourie play keys.

He then sends us over to Cameroon for some Afrobeats flavor, courtesy of Locko and his stripped-down version of “Magnet.”

His book-filled room is also a nice backdrop.  I enjoyed this song more than the previous because of all the instrumentation–drums (Marc Nzana), guitar (Benjamin Mouangue Bossamo), cool bass (Joel Parfait Ondigui) and even a violin (Martien Oyono).  Brice Essomba fleshes out the songs on the keys.

We then circle back around to South Africa to hear from R&B newcomer Ricky Tyler.

It’s the same set as Nasty C, but this time with a full band.  There’s deep bass from Tendai “Shoxx” Shoko and soft guitars from Innocent Mzizi.  The keys from Zādok float throughout grounded by drums from Tino “Beatboy” Damba.

From there, we head north to Nigeria to do the “Jiggy Bop” with Alpha P.

Alpha P is lounging on a zebra bean bag chair.  Then his hype man (David Osang?) gets everyone going and then comes a seriously funky bass from Ayodele Agbabiaka Oluwasegun.  Rocking guitars from Best Amakhian and rocking drums from Ebenezer Olayinka really power this fun dancey jam.  Olabiyi Julius sprinkles melodies from the keyboards throughout.  The backing vocalists (Agu Chinyere Gift, Tosin “SDK” Tade, Femi Jacobs) keep the song flowing nicely.

Then it’s back to that original set as

we take one last trip to South Africa for award-winning dance DJ and producer Prince Kaybee’s “Fetch Your Life,” featuring Msaki.

I haven’t heard of Msaki but her voice is really beautiful.  Prince Kaybee lays down a thumping ground track (while wearing one glove to twist the knows).  There’s a cool guitar solo from Zādok (who returns to show off his multi-instrumental skills) and gentle keys from Fundile “FD” Dlamini.  Like with the other songs, the thumping bass, this time from Katleho Motlatla really grounds the song.

Finally, Togo duo Toofan dares us not to dance to “Yé Mama.”

This song has a great island feel with lots of percussion (Therence Egue), grooving bass (Martin Lawson) and vocals from Barabas and Masta Just in French.  When Lionel Adjovi plays his guitar licks you can really hear where Paul Simon got the tunes for Graceland.  Paul Akakpo keeps the sound full on the keys while Sylvie Akpedjo and Lamabara Paul provide backing vocals.

This is a pretty great introduction to music from all over Africa.

[READ: March 31, 2021] “Choke”

The September 3, 2007 issue of the New Yorker contained several essays by their writers about the subject “Family Dinner.”

Anthony Lane was in France on a student exchange program.  The family he stayed with was wonderful.  Until they dropped an artichoke on his plate.  It steamed with the promise of pure malice.

Can you imagine a food less appetizing than one that possessed: “bristles, bottom and choke.”

The family watched him in bemused delight as he tried not to look like a an irredeemable hick–not knowing what to do with this hand grenade

He watched Madame rip off a spiky leaf, dip it into butter and then eat the inside.  He followed suit and felt like Tigger eating one of Eeyore’s thistles. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSAMPA THE GREAT-Tiny desk (Home) Concert #173 (February 23, 2021).

I thought that Sampa was actually Sammus, the indie rapper named after the character in Metroid.  So I was a little bummed to find out I had the wrong Sam… rapper.  But I quickly came over to Sampa’s style.

Sampa Tembo is better known as Sampa The Great, an understated title. In her Tiny Desk (home) concert, the poet, rapper and singer-songwriter delivers evidence that it’s more like Sampa the Greatest.  Initially raised in Botswana, Sampa moved to Australia as a young adult and established herself in Sydney’s hip-hop scene. There, she released two mixtapes, 2015’s The Great Mixtape and 2017’s award-winning Birds and the BEE9, all the while generating buzz. She had been based in Melbourne for the last four years, but the next chapter of her musical journey will find her at home in Zambia.

She plays four tracks and her live band is really solid.  She opens with “Rhymes To The East” which features a nice guitar riff by Samuel Masta.  I like the way the backing singers (l-r: Joy Tusankine Namwila, Mwanje Tembo, Tio Nason) sing the end of the rapped lines.

When Sampa really starts flowing her voice is great–a rough gravelly cadence with a Southern African/Australian accent.  It’s especially cool when she introduces the third verse with a snarl

Rhymes beast mother fucker
Tembo from the east put the beast in a trucker
Timbuktu, as I question all the loyalty
Build a big wall when you stole all of the royalties

The end of the song is really catchy, too.

The next three are from her 2019 album The Return.

“Mwana” opens with a drum solo Kasonde “Tek1” Sunkutu.  The song is mostly sung by the backing singers.  Then Sampa starts her flow.  Musically this song is much more spare with gentle keyboards Lazarus “Lalo” Zulu playing around the drums.

As she introduces the band, they jam, with some funky bass from Mapalo “Mapskeys” Mapalo which leads into an improv  that sounds like an island fun.

“Freedom” is up next.

Sampa Tembo is in Lusaka, Zambia, her landlocked African home country.  [She says] “Freedom is what we feel when we perform. And freedom is what the world is in need of right now. In this pandemic it feels like we all need a sense of freedom.”

“Freedom” features some terrific backing vocals. The end has a rocking jam as the singers all give up whooos and Masta plays a ripping solo.

When the camera is in full frame you can see that Sampa’s dress has a really long train which covers almost the entire floor (no wonder she sits through the whole set).

The set ends with “Final Form,” my favorite song of the set.  It’s got a big, heavy noisy riff with thumping bass and wailing guitars.  Her delivery is raw and raspy and really affecting.

The end is particularly cool as the band rocks out punctuating along and singing “Black power!” “Louder!” “Black power!”

Sampa is pretty great, indeed.

[READ: April 12, 2021] Parable of the Talents [2032]

Parable of the Sower ended on a vaguely optimistic note:  Lauren felt that they were ready to set up Acorn, the home of her Earthseed community.  Bankole thought there was no chance it would work.  But this is Lauren’s story, so we’ll assume that the story is tipped in her favor somewhat.

Plus, there’s a sequel, so things must work out reasonably well, right?

Well, surprise!

Parable of the Talents opens up with the news that Lauren is dead.

She is mostly called Olamina during this book because Bankole “doesn’t like my first name, so he ignores it.  That’s fair.  I didn’t like his first name either. It’s Taylor, by the way and I ignore it” (122).

This book is narrated by Olamina and Bankole’s child–unspecified gender and age in the Prologue, although by the end of this week’s reading we can assume the writer is their daughter [Bankole wants her named Beryl and Olamina wants her named almost anything that isn’t Beryl–“such an old fashioned name” (122).  The narrator later says something about high school, so it must be around 2050.

The child shares Olamina’s diary entries, but her basic attitude is that she hates her mother and thinks well of her father and wishes she knew him.

The book opens with this narrator saying “they’ll make a god of her” and the continues with something surprising about that

I think that would please her, if she could know about it.  In spite of all her protests and denials she’s always needed devoted, obedient follower–disciples–who would listen to her and believe everything she told them.  and she needed large events to manipulate.  All gods seem to need these things.  (7)

I never got the sense that Lauren wanted to be a god.  But maybe Olamina does.

She also tells us that Lauren’s middle name “Oya” is the name of a Nigerian Orisha–goddess f the Yoruba people (goddes of the wind, fire, and death, more bringers of great change (50).

Butler wrote this book five years after the Sower.  As I read Talent, I wondered what the intent of this story was. Had she planned all along to have a follower (child or otherwise) criticize Earthseed?  Had five years of thinking about Earthseed made her question the validity of Lauren’s ideas?  I don’t know anything about Butler, about whether she “agreed” with Lauren’s ideas or not.  I don’t have anything besides textual evidence to know how she felt about religion in general.  So was this book a commentary on her own ideas/ideals from five years earlier?  Or is this just interesting storytelling by having a new protagonist dispute the doctrine of the previous protagonist.  Especially if the bulk of this book is made up of Olamina’s diary entries (just like the first book was).

That’s right, even though the book is set after Olamina has died, the book so far is primarily her own diary entries from 2032, By the end of 2032, she is pregnant with, presumably, the person who is narrating this book and criticizing Olamina’s ideas. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKFLEET FOXES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #178 (March 9, 2021).

I absolutely loved the first Fleet Foxes album.  The harmonies were just outstanding.  And then after a couple more records, Robin Pecknold pretty much made Fleet Foxes a solo project.  Since then I have found most of his songs to be really pleasant, but not all that memorable.

I’ve listened to the new album, Shore, a few times and only two or three songs really stand out for me.

But the sound of this Tiny Desk is amazing.

“I’m Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes. Thank you so much for asking me to find the tiniest desk I could, and sing unadorned for the first time in too long.”

With his guitar and that unadorned voice, Robin Pecknold performs four songs from Fleet Foxes’ 2020 album, Shore. … Robin wrote the songs while driving in the Catskills and (as you hear on “Going-to-the-Sun Road”) Montana, a place that feels like home.

“Going-to-the-Sun-Road” is a quietly picked song.  His voice sounds great and the melody is really lovely.  I think my favorite part might be the end where he sings in Spanish.

He gets an amazing sound from his acoustic guitar.  I can’t get over how softly he seems to be playing the strings and yet how full it sounds.

“Sunblind” is the catchiest song on the new album.  I hadn’t realized until reading this that it

pays homage to some of the greats that we’ve lost — some more recently, including David Berman and Richard Swift, and some long gone but still influential, like Elliott Smith, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix and Judee Sill.

“Featherweight” is a reasonably catchy song–especially at the end where he has those repeating three note melodies.

“I’m Not My Season” ends he set with a slow, pretty ballad.  The song has some very nice melodies in it.

I’m curious how long it will take for this album to really resonate with me.

[READ: March 31, 2021] “Grandmother’s House”

The September 3, 2007 issue of the New Yorker contained several essays by their writers about the subject “Family Dinner.”

Nell Freudenberger was on a flight to Rochester–her grandmother had just died.  She was reading Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Hungry Tide which was set in the Sundarbans in Bangladesh: “one of the last places on earth where humans are occasionally consumed by tigers.”

A young couple sat next to her on the plane and the woman said she was born in the Sundarbans and that her grandmother still lived there. They exchanged contact information and the woman, Farah said that the next time she was returning to Bangladesh, Nell would have to go.

Farah had considered staying in a local guest house, but her nanu  and auntie were insulted that they would even think of not staying with them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKKIRK FRANKLIN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #175 (February 25, 2021).

Religion is inextricably linked to gospel music, which I think is rather a shame became gospel music can be a lot of fun, regardless of the lyrics.

If I wanted religion in my music I would call on Kirk Franklin in a heartbeat.  His songs are super catchy and inspirational and he is a great band leader.

For nearly 30 years, Franklin has been widely regarded for revolutionizing gospel. He incorporated secular music, particularly hip-hop, while preserving the message and integrity of traditional gospel. Here, he and his powerhouse choir pace through a decades-long, sixteen Grammy award winning discography of faith, praise and encouragement while cracking plenty of jokes. I cannot recall a more moving Tiny Desk home performance.

The set begins with “Love Theory.”  Franklin doesn’t even sing on this one, leaving it up to the rest of his singers [from left to right Darian Elliot, Eboni Ellerson , Michael Bethany, Deon Yancey, Melodie Pace,  Tia Rudd] to croon the melodies.

He gets up and claps his hands.  He even does some dancing behind the keys.  His energy is undeniable.   And actually, this one could be secular: “I don’t love nobody but you.”  By the end of the song, he tells everyone to make it bounce y’all and the funky bass from Matthew Ramsey kicks in heavy.

Kirk Franklin, set up with his band and choir in a corner of Uncle Jessie’s Kitchen, makes a declaration. “I know you’re at home right now, in your draws, listening to some Jesus music. It’s ok. Jesus loves you in your draws!”  Those are your draws!  He blessed you with those draws.

“Silver and Gold” slows things down old school.  Franklin plays the piano but it’s all about the harmonies that the singers include.  They keep building on the word “gold” getting bigger and bigger to a huge, outstanding peak.

The Arlington, Texas studio, named after a long time close friend, features a large photo of the iconic “I AM A MAN” protest signs from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike on the wall. The jubilant energy that Franklin and company emit, juxtaposed with a visual reminder of the strife that Black people have endured is illustrative of the importance of gospel music in the Black community.

He continues “If you still haven’t put any clothes on yet we gonna groove a little bit more. You in one sock, I see you with just one sock with a flip flop or a house shoe.  I see you.  You look crazy but Jesus loves you still.

“Melodies From Heaven” has a quieter intro, but it builds bigger and then Franklin gets up and dances around the room while Shaun Martin plays the keyboard and Terry Baker plays some crashing drums–But its all about that wild bass.

The song ends abruptly.  He says that’s all you gonna get now … but after the pandemic I’m coming to your house and I’m bringing everybody and we gonna do this in your living room, your living room–everybody gets a concert.

For the final song “I Smile” he gives this positive intro:

All you gotta do, no matter what you face, even if you don’t have all your teeth, even if you got one good tooth all you gotta do is smile.

It’s a fun, boppy song with some more terrific drums at the end.

If all church was like this, more people might go.

[READ: March 31, 2021] “Sixty-Nine Cents”

The September 3, 2007 issue of the New Yorker contained several essays by their writers about the subject “Family Dinner.”

Gary Shteyngart’s family moved to the United States when he was young and by the time he was fourteen, his accent was mostly gone.

He now had three goals: to go to Florida and Disneyworld, to have a girl say she liked him and to eat at McDonald’s.

His parents did not believe in spending money–they bought clothes “by weight on Orchard Street.”  Despite their frugality, their parents agreed on a trip to Disney.  The tickets were free after a timeshare presentation.
“You’re from Russia?
“Leningrad … please Disney tickets now.”

They drove to Florida and stayed in cheap motels along the way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JACK HARLOW-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #176 (March 3, 2021).

Tiny Desk had posted exclusively black artists for Black History Month.  So it feels really weird to follow that up with a white rapper.  And, yes, it feels even weirder to see him surrounded by all black musicians–although they seem to be really into it, so clearly I’m the only one who finds it odd.

Jack Harlow is apparently huge, but I’ve never heard of him.  I am greatly puzzled by his outfit in this video.  Are those leather pants?  I can’t tell.  And with that jacket–he looks really uncomfortable.

The Louisville, Ky., emcee delivers a performance with the confidence of an old pro. His set, however, is the first time he’s relied solely on live instrumentation to bring his songs to life. “It’s been a long time since I had a chance to perform and I’ve never done it like this,” he says.  Over the past few years, the 22-year-old rapper has steadily ticked the boxes for a successful career, and this showing undoubtedly checks the performer section.

Indeed, for my mocking in the first paragraph, his flow is really smooth–and apparently more than a bunch of his fans didn’t realize he was white.

I’m disappointed, though, to hear that he doesn’t normally play with a band because this band is tight a anything.  Bassist Joe Cleveland is hot throughout playing some great riffs and runs and “Rendezvous” is a good opening for showcasing his skills.

He says he’s going to play a few songs that he hasn’t played before.

“21C / Delta” really shows off the backing vocalists (Erik B, Chimera Patrice, Porcha Clay) who sing the final word of each line and sing the chorus.  “21C” segues into “Delta” which has some cool improvised keyboard melodies from O’Neil “Doctor O” Palmer.

The orchestration underscores his sentimental and introspective side on songs like “Same Guy” and “Funny Seeing You Here,” but it also elevates the melody, which is the true hero here.

“Funny Seeing You Here” is a quieter song (he sits on a stool for that one) and has a thoughtful side.

He used to say her man was trash and tell me ’bout the way he’d act
I would shake my head until I realized I’m the same as that
Now I wonder, did she tell her man that I’m a trash dude?

“Same Guy” is one of the most honest songs he’s ever written.  It’s got some really great basslines and big vocal flourish from the backing singers.

“Creme/ONCE MAY COMES” features some great drumming from Rico Nichols (his drums sound great throughout including the electronics–the reverse cymbal sound is particularly cool and the big bass really pounds.  “Creme” segues into “ONCE MAY COMES” which is a slower jam.

There’s an awkwardly fake moment before the last song, where he says “I can’t lie fellas, I’m having a really good time. You think we could do one more, maybe?”

Harlow landed a big hit last year in “WHATS POPPIN.” That performance earned him a Grammy nomination ahead of his very impressive debut album, Thats What They All Say.  [I can’t IMAGINE the outrage if he’d won]

Musically this song is really catchy–it’s understandable why this was big hit.  Throughout the set guitarist Rob Gueringer has played some great solos and chords in the background, but he never gets a moment to show off how good he is.  Except near the end of this song when he gets to play a ripping solo to end the set.

[READ: March 31, 2021] “Lunch”

The September 3, 2007 issue of the New Yorker contained several essays by their writers about the subject “Family Dinner.”

Cristina Henriquez details the joy of a family dinner held at lunch time.  This was either a Panama tradition or a family one–she was never sure which.

Every summer Cristina’s family would summer in Panama where her father grew up. It was very different from the Unites States but it was the same every year.

They stayed at her grandparents’ house and as Cristina woke up, she would smell the garlic that her grandmother was cooking in preparation for the lunch time feast. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RICK ROSS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #169 (February 16, 2021).

I’ve heard Rick Ross’ name a lot although I don’t remember why–do people love him or hate him?  I can’t remember.

This Tiny Desk is fascinating because Ross is clearly in charge (he sits in the golden throne for some of the set), but the stars of this set are really Ross’s backing singers.  Elijah Blake (with the pink hair and muscles) and Troy Tyler have fantastic voices–singing backing and lead for most of the tracks.  And, actually I’m even more fond of his hype man DJ Sam Sneak, who is saying all kinds of things in the background in a kind of growl.  I’d love to hear his vocal track without Ross’ to really get all the things he’s shouting.

He starts with “Super High.”

This Tiny Desk marks just the second time Ross has performed with a live band. On “Super High,” from his Teflon Don album, drummer Rashid Williams and bassist Thaddaeus Tribbett lay down the foundation for Ross’ smooth cadence and signature nonchalance. Background singer and Ne-Yo protege Troy Tyler projects the lead vocal lines originally sung by his mentor.

I really like the intensity of the music in “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast).”  The heavy bass works well.  Sam Sneak is going to town with the responses.  Meanwhile, Elijah sings along accenting everything Ross raps. The live drums from Rashid Williams are great for this with heavy thumps and cymbals at the end of each line.

Blake sings lead on “Aston Martin Music.”  He has an impressive, delicate falsetto.

Monty Reynolds drops in with the sparse, yet catchy key melody that made it the contagious hit single it was in 2010.

Then Ross pauses.

At one point, Ross pauses between songs to speak on his inspirations. “So many inspired the Boss,” he says. “I could look at any brother on the street and get some inspiration from them, regardless of how many followers you got on social media, regardless of what you’re riding in. I could learn something from you. I ain’t scared to. Let’s make sure we keep building.”

“I’m Not A Star” is my favorite track–it’s got great intensity and it’s fun to watch everyone bouncing to the song.

“F*ckwithmeyouknowigotit” opens with samples from the DJ then adds low bass and sprinkled keys.  Ross says, “If you remember the Blockbuster days right now you’d be recording this with your VHS.  And I know you was one of them who never rewinded your shit after you watched it it and they charged you that extra $3 at Blockbuster.”

“Tears of Joy” ends the set with nice use of floor toms by Williams.  Dj Sam Sneak is hyping behind him.  And Troy sings backing on this one.  He’s really impressive.  The song ends as Ross rests in his chair while Elijah takes us out accompanied by grooving bass work.

[READ: March 31, 2021] “Rationed”

The September 3, 2007 issue of the New Yorker contained several essays by their writers about the subject “Family Dinner.”

Aleksander Hemon starts his essay talking about his family routine when he and his sister were adolescents.  His parents returned from work at 3:45PM.  They ate their dinner at 4PM.  [Four PM?  That is so early!]  Did they go to bed at 6?

They listened to the news on the radio, their parents asked them endless questions about school and the whole thing was done at 4:30 after the “you must be silent” for the four twenty-five weather report.

It was like a horrible oppression.  The childrens’ ideal meal would involve Bosnian fast food, comic books, television and no parents.

Then he was conscripted into the Yugolsav People’s Army. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAE KHALIL-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #171 (February 18, 2021).

Rae Khalil was a contestant on Netflix’s music competition show, Rhythm + Flow.  I distrust anyone who wins a music TV show, but I really liked Khalil’s music.

She is recording in Harun Coffee in the historic Leimert Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles.  Khalil’s set is a colorful explosion of talent, perfectly complimenting the funky patchwork and textures of her attire.

She calls her band The ill, and they are pretty great, in particular the fantastic bass work from both Dominick Cruz and special guest Kelsey Gonzalez of The Free Nationals (they switch mid set).

“Way Down” opens with retro keys from Elyzr and grooving bass (from Gonzalez) and a fiddly guitar solo from Takoda Barraza (on a nifty green Steinberger guitar).  Khalil has a great delivery throughout–quiet, understated and yet powerful too.  Drummer Nico Vasquez sets a killer rhythm throughout, too.

“Tiny Desk! Happy Black History Month!,” rapper, singer and songwriter Rae Khalil exclaims before gliding into “FATHER,” from her LP Fortheworld.

“FATHER” has a lengthy jazzy keyboard intro from Elyzr.  When Khalil sings, her delivery is understated on this one as well, although she occasionally lifts her voice into a kind of croon.  Dominick Cruz plays a jazzy guitar solo.

Sticking to the “inspiration” theme of our Black History Month celebration, she recites an excerpt from Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again.” The 86-year-old words still read painfully relevant for many Black people in this country today.

Her reading of this poem is really good.  I wasn’t familiar with it and I can’t believe it is 86 years old.  I thought it was quite possible she had just written it, it felt so disturbingly contemporary.

The Torrance, California native’s musical theater background shines through here; she exudes an array of emotions in a span of minutes on tracks like “UP LATE” and “MARIA,” making it impossible to look away.

“UP LATE” has an outSTANDING bass line from Dominick Cruz.  Rae starts the song singing softly , but with speedy delivery.  Then she takes off!  Dramatically singing/rapping/laughing/pausing and then on a drop of a hat, “MARIA” shifts tones and she starts scatting along to the gentle jazzy music.

Vasquez get a few mini drum solos in the middle before the song takes off again and then ends with a jazzy bass solo from Cruz.  It’s fun watching her dance in he big bell bottoms.

This was a really great Tiny Desk and while it won’t get me to watch any reality music programs, I will acknowledge the success of this performer (although she didn’t even come in the top 8, so the heck with that).

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

This is the second book in the Charlie Thorne series.  I had not read the first one but S. told me that I would love it and that the first book wasn’t necessary for the enjoyment of this book.  And that was absolutely true.  This story does follow that one, but it is wholly independent and anything that needs to be filled in from the previous adventure is dealt with pretty handily.

So who is Charlie Thorne?  She is a genius.  She is a fugitive.  She is not yet thirteen.

I have not read any Stuart Gibbs before (except for one short story), but I understand his Spy School is a great series.  I have to hand it to him right away for writing such a cool and compelling protagonist for this series.  And also for having a story with so much fascinating information included.

As the book opens, Charlie is surfing off a small island near the equator.  She chose this location because it is very remote.  She needs to be remote because of what happened in the previous book (she has a piece of information that everyone from the CIA to a dozen other international cartels would kill for).

She assumed she was safe, but knew she wouldn’t be for very long–nowhere was totally hidden.  But while she’s here, she’s going to learn to surf.

Gibbs using surfing to show off Charlie’s brain power.  She has never surfed before but because she is so smart–so good at using numbers to read nature–she never misses a wave and never wipes out.  The locals think she might be a demon.  I enjoyed the way he uses her skill at figuring out angles and pacing and such in several later scenarios. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKKeiyaA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #168 (February 11, 2021).

I had not heard of KeiyaA (and have no idea how to say her name), but i was quite stuck by this performance.

KeiyaA is a new performer, and her debut album

Forever, Ya Girl, appeared last year with kismet timing, unveiling her as a fully formed star. The 2020 release is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood.

The set opens with “Do Yourself a Favor.”  For this track KeiyaA sits behind the keyboard a while 13th Law plays a slow funky bass line plays accompanied by finger snaps and backing vocals from the amazingly named Nelson Bandela.

KeiyaA comes out front for the rest of the tracks.

Cornrows braided back with the precision of an architect. Stiletto nails commanding a sampling machine. Gold-glinted lids to match her light-up Beads Byaree earrings. With every move, KeiyaA shines so bright, it’s impossible to look away. And while your eyes are fixated on her person, the music KeiyaA conjures inside Brooklyn’s Electric Garden is what leaves you completely spellbound.

On “Hvnli,” Nelson Bandela plays keys behind a new slow funky bass line.  Keenyn Omari played guitar on the first song but he plays saxophone on this one.  It starts with soft bursts and then he really starts wailing.  With the sax and the syncopated drums from Buz “Hvnli” sounds like a spare jazz song.  She sings:

Gone for so long I prefer to spend time in my pain, hey / Gone for so long I can barely recall the last my phone rang,” she sings on “Hvnli.”

Her album

is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood. Whether it’s through jazzy woodwinds, heavy synths or prickly staccato, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares waves of anguish, depletion, love and elation in a swirling stream of consciousness.

She says that “Most of the work that has carried me has been the writing of Black women Jayne Cortez and Ntozake Shange [she holds up their books] who both speak unabashedly of the plight and joys and general experiences of the Black femme woman.  And those writings are paramount in my work.”

She opens “Finesse Without a Trace” with a wobbly sample and The 13th Law plays some bass chords and splashy drums.  The sample turns into some quotes while Omari plays some wild distorted flute.

The song ends with an improvised flute solo which KeiyaA accompanies with samples and some oohing.  The song slowly morphs into “Rectifiya” a funky piece with response vocals on the chorus.

She ends the whole set with the sampled quote from Nina Simone.

“Everybody is half-dead. Everybody avoids everybody. All over the place…in most situations, most of the time. I know I’m one of those everybodys. And to me it is terrible. And so all I’m trying to do, all the time, is just to open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That’s it.”

Apparently the album sounds very different than this Tiny Desk: (The “album version of these tracks boast much of KeiyaA’s own production, affirmations and layered vocals in chorus”).  Perhaps I’m better off just enjoying this and not looking further.

[READ: April 5, 2021] Parable of the Sower [end]

The end of the book provides something of a skeptical feeling of hope for our travelers.   I read in the Foreword that Earthseed was meant to be a trilogy; however, Butler only finished a sequel (and an unrelated novel) before she died.  The Foreword (by N.K. Jemisin also gives a spoiler to Parable of the Talents–uncool!  Even if the books are over twenty years old.

By the way, Jemisin sounds pretty interesting.  Anyone read her?

To me, it is astonishing how many big questions go unanswered in the book.

I had mentioned wondering about the Mars mission and there’s no mention of that again.  We never find out anything about any state east of Central California and we never find out What Happened.  Obviously that information is irrelevant for the characters–they just have to move on–but it’s frustrating not to have even a hint.  [I accept that it wasn’t relevant to Butler, but I’m still curious].  We never hear anything about the community that the corporation bought, either–although there is a kind of follow up with someone from a similar community telling about how badly it turned out for the people living there.

This section starts off with an earthquake.  Earthquakes are bad news in general but in this situation they are much worse because earthquakes tend to cause fires.  And we know who fires attract.  Zahra thinks that they might be able to scavenge for something they can use, but Lauren suspects, rightly, that it would be a dangerous thing to do–druggies and people more violent than they are would be there.  And this proves to be true.

In fact, it proves to be very smart to move on because they wind up putting some distance between themselves and the violent crowds that scavenged the burnt out houses. (more…)

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