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SOUNDTRACK: PALBERTA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #210 (May 18, 2021).

Palberta has a great name (even if they are not from Alberta).  They are an underground Philly band.  I saw them a few years ago, and this attitude of relaxed yet frenetic fun was evident then as well.

While many of us have gotten better at using technology to feel close to our friends and collaborators over the past year, there’s still no replacement for being in the same room as someone who you swear can read your mind. That’s what it feels like to watch punk band Palberta, whose music makes magic out of repeated phrases sung in tight harmony and charmingly zany pop hooks. For its Tiny Desk (home) concert, shot on a MiniDV and a Hi8, the band crams into Nina’s Philly basement for a set that’s a testament to the group’s tight-knit collaboration and playful exuberance.

The band plays six songs in fifteen minutes (including the time it takes to switch instruments).  Five songs are off of their new album Palberta5000.

The guitar-bass-drums trio is made up of Ani Ivry-Block, Nina Ryser and Lily Konigsberg, and each member sings and plays each instrument. Here, they trade places every couple of songs.  The songs aren’t over-complicated but still manage to surprise at every turn – a true Palberta specialty.

The “frenzied opener” “Eggs n’ Bac'” has a wild instrumental opening which jumps into a faster indie punk sound for most of the song.  All squeezed into less than 2 minutes.  For this song Nina is on bass, Lily on guitar and Ani on drums.  Their sound reminds me of early Dead Milkmen.  Is this a Philly thing?

For “No Way” Nina stays on bass, Lily switches to drums and Ani takes the guitar.  Nina sings lead with the other two giving great tight harmonies.  For these songs the bass lays down the main melody and the guitars play a lot of single note melodies that run counter to the bass.

For the “queasy-yet-sentimental” “The Cow” it’s the same lineup but Lily sings lead on the first verse and Ani sings leads on the second verse.  The staccato guitar style on this song is so unusual.

For the “anxious and melodic” “Big Bad Want” Lily stays on drums and sings lead, Ani switches to bass and Nina gets the guitar.  Ani plays some chords on the bass and you can really see how the guitar plays a repeated pattern while the bass takes more of a lead role.  The call and response for this chorus is really tight.  Nina even plays a guitar solo.

“Sound of the Beat” (from 2018’s Roach Goin’ Down) is “a sweet testament to grooving” and gets a full lineup switch.  Nina sits behind the kit, Ani is back on guitar and Lily is on bass.  This song is really catchy–surely the catchiest thing in this set.  It has a feeling like early Sleater-Kinney.  All three sing harmony lead.

They end with “Before I Got Here” with same line up.  It’s one of their longer songs at over three minutes.  Ani and Lily switch off lead vocals for the fast verses.  After a minute or so, the tempo shifts and the last two minutes are a slow instrumental jam with Ani playing a guitar solo while Lily keeps the melody on bass.

It’s tempting to try to see if one of them is “better” at one instrument or another, but they are all clearly very comfortable on each instrument.  This leads to endless possibilities for songs.

[READ: May 1, 2021] Weird Women

“Introduction” by Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger

Why summarize when they say what this book is about so well

Any student of the literary history of the weird or horror story can hardly be faulted for expecting to find a genre bereft of female writers, at least in its first two centuries. …

Yet there were women writing early terror tales—in fact, there were a lot of them. During the second half of the nineteenth century, when printing technologies enabled the mass production of cheap newspapers and magazines that needed a steady supply of material, many of the writers supplying that work were women. The middle classes were demanding reading material, and the plethora of magazines, newspapers, and cheap books meant a robust marketplace for authors. Women had limited career opportunities, and writing was probably more appealing than some of the other avenues open to them. Though the publishing world was male-dominated, writing anonymously or using masculine-sounding names (such as “M.E. Braddon”) gave women a chance to break into the market. It was also still a time when writers were freer than today’s writers to write work in a variety of both styles and what we now call genres. A prolific writer might pen adventure stories, romantic tales, domestic stories, mystery or detective fiction, stories of the supernatural—there were really no limits.

Spiritualism—the belief that spirit communication could be conducted by a medium at a séance, and could be scientifically proven (despite continued evidence to the contrary)—was widely popular, and so one might expect to find that many writers of this period were producing ghost stories. But ghost stories were just one type of supernatural story produced by women writers at this time. Women were also writing stories of mummies, werewolves, mad scientists, ancient curses, and banshees. They were writing tales of cosmic horror half a century before Lovecraft ever put pen to paper, and crafting weird westerns, dark metaphorical fables, and those delicious, dread-inducing gems that are simply unclassifiable.

ELIZABETH GASKELL-“The Old Nurse’s Story” (1852)
Gaskell wrote primarily about social realism, but she also wrote this creepy story.  The set up of this story is fascinating. A nursemaid is telling a story to her new charges.  The story is about their mother–from when the nursemaid used to watch her.  The story seems like one of simple haunting–strange things are afoot at this mansion.  But there’s a lot more going on.  I love the way everyone is so calm about the broken pipe organ playing music day and night.  Way back then, the children’s mother saw a girl outside and went to play with her.  But it was winter and when they found the child, alone, under a tree, there was no evidence of anyone else being there with her.  That’s when we learn the history of this house and the way the owner treated his daughters.  The ending gets a little confusing, but when you unpack it, there’s some wonderful deviance at hand. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSHELLEY [fka D.R.A.M.]-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #198 (April 26, 2021).

I’m always puzzled by the FKA in a singer’s name.  Is it part of the singer’s name? Is this singer’s official name Shelley FKA D.R.A.M.?  I don’t think so, I think it’s just for us to know who Shelley used to be.

When D.R.A.M. played the Tiny Desk back in 2017, he made a couple of things clear to us: His playfully dynamic personality was primed for the spotlight, and beneath the catchy hooks, there’s a real singer waiting to come out. For his Tiny Desk (home) concert, he does a complete 180. “It’s like a new beginning. Full circle. So this time, call me Shelley.” he says, following the opening track, “Exposure.” Everything is new. Silk pajamas and slippers replace the trench coat and plush beanie, and thanks to lifestyle changes, he’s slimmed down quite a bit and goes by his government name now: Shelley.

I enjoyed D.R.A.M and his vulgar silliness.  But Shelley is one of those singers who intends to hit every note every time he holds a long note.  He whines up and down the octaves constantly and I hate it.  I know that there are listeners who love this as the blurb admires

The shift from lighthearted melodic hip-hop to full-on R&B crooner shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen him perform live. It feels like it’s his way of saying, “Now that I have your attention, allow me to introduce myself.” We still get glimpses of the “Big Baby” here and there — the charm, a little bit of silliness, and the million-dollar grin — but other than that, it’s grown folks business and vocally flawless performance.

For the Shelley Show, he gathers a groovy band in front of a massive bookshelf and runs through selections, including the premiere of “Rich & Famous” from his upcoming self-titled project, due out on April 29, his late mother’s birthday. If D.R.A.M. was the ploy to break into the music industry, then Shelley is the longevity play.

“Exposure” and “The Lay Down” really accentuate his new vocal style.  But I liked the music of “Cooking With Grease.”  The simple drum beat from Keith “KJ” Glover and then the live viola from Yuli (a highlight throughout).  Sensei Bueno follows the melody on guitar and the song grows from there.

Of the four songs, I liked “Rich & Famous” best.  Trey Mitchell plays a grooving bass line, the backing singers Crystal Carr and David Fuller are ah ha-ing.  Sensei Bueno is wah wahing the  guitar and SlimWav is floating the keys around.  Shelley’s voice stayed low and less whiny.  Is he really going to try to make it with the name Shelley?

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “The Way We Are”

Reading this essay in 2021 was a really uncomfortable experience.  David Sedaris is not afraid of saying a risqué thing or three. But it’s amazing how much things seem to have changed in 13 years.

This essay begins in Normandy with David saying that the city shuts off the water without any warning.  Usually it’s a construction project or something.  It usually happens when David gets up around 10:30, which is practically the middle of the day for Hugh and the neighbors.

What they do at 6AM is anyone’s guess, I only know that they’re incredibly self righteous about it, and talk about the dawn as if it’s a personal reward bestowed on account of their great virtue.

The last time the water went off, David had a coffee problem. In order to think straight, he needed caffeine.  In order to make this happen he needed to think straight.  One time he made it with Perrier which sounds plausible but isn’t.  He tried leftover tea which might have worked if the tea weren’t green.  This time he decided to use the water in a vase of wildflowers that Hugh had picked. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAÐI FREYR OG GAGNAMAGNIÐ-“10 Years” (Iceland, Eurovision Entry 2021).

I first learned about Daði og Gagnamagnið last year when Eurovison didn’t happen.  I have no idea how they came on my radar (something in Instagram, I assume).

Daði og Gagnamagnið is the creation of Daði Freyr Pétursson.  Much like The ROOP, the visuals from Daði and his band are what really sells the song(s).

Daði is the composer/musician and in performances, he is supported by his sister Sigrún Birna Pétursdóttir (backing vocalist), wife Árný Fjóla Ásmundsdóttir (dancer), and friends Hulda Kristín Kolbrúnardóttir (backing vocalist), Stefán Hannesson (dancer), and Jóhann Sigurður Jóhannsson (dancer)—known as “Gagnamagnið”. Gagnamagnið, means “the amount of data”, and is the Icelandic word for “data plan”.

And the real selling point?  Teal green sweaters with pixelized portraits of themselves on them.  Last year’s “Think About Things” was pretty awesome (the video is incredible).  A blast of disco fun.

This year’s “10 Years” opens with a string quartet playing a sad sounding melody and then Daði appears singing in his deep clipped style.  Then a huge disco bass line comes in and before you know it, the song is in full dance mode–a swinging disco confection with the remarkable hook

Everything about you [pause} I like.

Add in some disco wah wah guitars and some irresistibly dopey dance moves and its impossible to look away.

And what on earth are the weird keytars?  Presumably homemade and non-functioning except that now they shoot sparks from the bottom.

Just when you think its all over, up pops a fairly large choir of little girls to sing along before the disco resumes.

And then it’s over but they are not done because after an awkward pause of them standing there, one of the guys shoots a confetti cannon at the camera.

Novelty?  Sure.  Funny?  Absolutely.  Catchy?  Definitely.

UPDATE: This song came in fourth.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Girl Crazy”

Back in the mid to late 1990s, David Sedaris wrote a few Shouts & Murmurs for the New Yorker.  It’s interesting to see a writer whom you know for a certain style of writing crafting jokes in a very different manner.  Shouts & Murmurs are rarely actually funny, and that’s true of most of these.

Obviously the topical nature of most of these means there’s a component of “wait, what was going on?”, but the set up usually explains everything pretty well.  Now we are more likely to say, “Aw, remember when that’s all we cared about?”

This piece is about when Ellen DeGeneris’s character Ellen was about to come out on Ellen.  (Wow, remember when that was a big deal?).  And like several of these pieces, these are written as letters to the person in charge.

There are five letters here.

The first suggests that a six year old boy from North Carolina wouldn’t have gotten in trouble for sexual harassments for kissing a girl in his class if only he had kissed a boy.  The network best not mess with Regis and Kathie Lee. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CALMA CARMONA-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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SOUNDTRACKDUCKWRTH-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW: #189 (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.

DUCKWRTH decided to do something special for Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: brand new music. The dynamic R&B singer proceeded to debut two exclusives: a slow jam titled “make u go,” which he dedicates to the “lovers and freaks,” and the upbeat “Birthday Suit,” which KCRW astutely compared to Estelle’s “American Boy.”

The new material wasn’t the only thing that made this Tiny Desk such a treat. For this funky and flamboyant performance, DUCKWRTH dressed his backing band entirely in white and switched up the lighting for each song so that the hue matched the mood he was laying down.

“Kiss U Right Now” [red lights] opens with a muted guitar line from Justin “Jhawk” Hawkins.  After a  soft “Okay” from DUCKWRTH, a kind of sci-fi warbly keyboard comes in from Devin Smith.  And then with a slide on the bass from Solomon “Solo” Smith the song bounces to a start.  DUCKWRTH has a soft croon that he intermixes with rapping verses.   It’s quite inviting and not given to histrionics.

Before “make u go”  [purple lights] he says “Welcome to my Tiny Desk,” he says. “We are gonna play some new songs for y’all if that’s OK. Y’all ain’t got no choice!”  This is mostly gentle keys and then backing vocalists Olivia Walker and Amber Olivia Kiner start by singing the chorus.

He says “Birthday Suit” [white lights] is morning music.  With this amusing line “Meet me in my birthday suit / This ain’t Gucci, it’s way more cute.”  Amber Olivia Kiner sings the lead lines.  The song ends with this refrain:

we look better naked / better in the nude / bend it over baby while in public / we may end up on the news.

“Super Good” [blue lights] is a slow jam with an interesting drum pattern from Darryl Staves Jr.  I really enjoy the simple but synchronized dance steps at the end of the song.

[READ: April 19, 2021] Parable of the Talents [2035]

When this book started I thought that it was an interesting idea to have Lauren’s child go wholly against her.  I even wondered if it was Butler’s rethinking about Earthseed.   Larkin’s attitude about her mother doesn’t exactly change over these chapters, but it does morph a bit.  So much so that by the time chapter seventeen rolls around, Larkin comes across as a bit more of a petulant, jealous person than a critical thinker.

I wonder what my life would have been life if my mother had found me.  I don’t doubt that she would have stolen me from the Alexanders–or died trying.  But then what?  How long would it have been before she put me aside for Earthseed, her other kid?  I was her weakness.  Earthseed was her strength.  No wonder it was her favorite. (265)

2033 was a terrible time and, frankly, a painful read.  The chapter of 2035 tells us that all of Olamina’s diaries from 2034 are lost.  Which is just as well for me since 2034 was a year of the same torture and hellishness and I’m just as happy to not have to read it.

Larkin writes that she met some people who were at Camp Christian (we don’t know how yet) and spoke to a woman named Cody Smith who told her about the attempted uprising by Day Turner and his people–an uprising that failed and that caused a massive increase in suffering for everyone there.

Larkin tells us that everything that was done at Camp Christian was illegal–despite what Jarret tried to make legal. The one thing that seems to have been made legal was the removal of children from their families at the Mexican border because of vagrancy laws. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIAM BAILEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #184 (March 23, 2021).

I had heard of Liam bailey but I didn’t really know anything about him.  I’m fascinated by his voice because his British accent comes through as he sings (in the way that Billy Bragg’s accent is quite audible).

For this performance, Bailey teeters between belting and crooning, with emotions that ignite the screen from the top of “Fight” to the closing notes of “Paper Tiger.”

“Fight” is a short song that is primarily made of percussive chords and slaps on the guitar.  For most of the songs, he is playing the chords and you can hear them change but there’s no ringing notes, just muted chords.  Until the very last lines when the music resumes and he sings powerfully.

So it’s all about his voice.

Wiping the sweat from his brow between songs, he exclaims, “We don’t normally have these glaring lights in my living room.  This is my front room by the way welcome. We’re not doing no studio productions. We’re keeping it real. Keeping it raw.”

I don’t know what “Vixit” means.  He says he wrote this and the next song in upstate New York.  The music is a little darker. Trying to figure out he lyrics:

I still have my memories I still hear your song. They were always so vindictive, you always got me wrong. I cherish every day now I’m happy to be alone.  I get every thing I want and I still get stoned.  I’m out of love, I’m out of love never seemed to make sense.

If only I had realized the other side was fine.  If only I had realized.

“Paper Tiger” is another powerful song and once again, the guitar is the vehicle for his voice and lyrics.  Which is not to say the song isn’t good, just that the melody is not as important as the words.

Perched atop an amplifier in front the peeling walls of his living room, he presents three selections from his latest album, Ekundayo, accompanied by one acoustic guitar. Ekundayo, which means “sorrows become joy” in Yoruba, fittingly describes the Nottingham, England, native’s music industry journey thus far. After various projects and record deals, he found it impossible to operate under the confines of a major label. He finally found the liberation he yearned for on Leon Michels’s Big Crown Records, which released Ekundayo last November.

This set is not even ten minutes long, but it’s really solid.

[READ: April 12, 2021] Parable of the Talents [2033]

2033 is a brutal year for Acorn and Earthseed.  The end of the section was really hard to read.

As the year opens, our narrator, who we later learn is named Larkin Beryl Ife Olamina Bankole says that her mother should have left Acorn and gone to Halstead like Bankole asked.  It makes it seem as though perhaps Bankole went without her, but he did not.

“Larkin” is a derivative of Lauren and from the Greek Laurel ,  “Beryl” was his mother–emerald is type of beryl.  “Ife” is the Yoruba word for “Love”

Olamina dna Bankole had actually stayed in Halstead for a short time.  A family was moving from Halstead to Siberia (!) for a better life.  The election of Jarret was the last straw for them.  Bankole is amazed:

If [when I was a boy] anyone had said that Americans would be giving up thier homes and their citizenship and going to make new lives in Siberia, the rest of us would have looked around for a straightjacket for him (130).

Olamina and Bankole stayed in the family’s house while Bankole was trying to decide if he should move there.  Well, he knew he should, he was trying to convince his wife.  She doesn’t want to move but says it was a good trip for her.  Living in a modern house with plumbing.  Being so close to the Ocean.  She could see the appeal.

Bankole had told people that they were leaving.  Or, more specifically, Marc was telling people they were leaving and the faithful were understandably freaked out.  But she convinced them, and herself, that she wasn’t leaving.

When I started this year I was taking notes on things that interested me, but after having finished it and reading all the horrors, it seems bizarre to include little observations about things that made me smile.  But I get to throw this one in because I am a cataloger for a library.

Olimani and Channa have been sorting and cataloging books for their library and Olamina hated to be interrupted, but not too much: “Still, cataloging is tedious” (137).

The first bad news comes from Marc.  After he had been rescued by Olimani and taken in by  Acorn, he decided that he wanted to preach his own Christian beliefs to the people.  He was going to do it without asking his suiter, but Olamina found out and told him to preach at their next Gatehring.  She warned him that he would be questioned about what he said and he was cocksure enough to go on with it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUCK MEEK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #185 (March 25, 2021).

Buck Meek is the guitarist for Big Thief.  I loved the first Big Thief album, but have found the newer ones to be a little too soft for my liking.

Initially I would have thought that Buck Meek would be a harder guitarist.  But I don’t really know that much about his contributions to the band, so it should probably come as no surprise that he writes folky songs.  Although even Bob Boilen seems a bit surprised.

The back of a van on a sunny day holding an acoustic guitar is a far cry from the usual setting where I’d see Buck Meek. More likely, I’d be in a dark club; Buck’s intense electric guitar and backing vocals are a part of what makes up my favorite rock band these days, Big Thief. But here, home is Buck’s Toyota Land Cruiser in Topanga Canyon, Calif.

Buck plays a pretty acoustic guitar and his voice is soft and gentle.  He reminds me a lot of Nick Drake.  He plays three songs from his 2021 album, Two Saviors.

“Pareidolia” is, as Buck Meek explains, “this human instinct to put symbol to stimulus.” He says, “I’ve been spending this time of solitude in the canyon here spending a lot of time observing the clouds and things” — in other words, finding shapes and objects in clouds and objects where none intended to exist and perhaps turning them into stories or songs or just letting your mind wander.

He follows that with the title track “Two Saviors” and “Halo Light,” two more songs that continue the soft and gentle style.

The Texas native has a tender voice with a bit of a yodel and a resplendent way with words. After three songs from Two Saviors, Buck treats us to a new song written in quarantine titled “The Undae Dunes,” once again drawing pictures in the sky, this time of rockets and perhaps an astronaut and a love, all from the back of a Cruiser.

He says that “The Undae Dunes,” is dedicated to the woman he loves who may be an astronaut.  She’s applying to the space program.  That’s pretty fascinating in and of itself.

I enjoyed this chill Tiny Desk/Van set.

[READ: April 10, 2021] Pobby and Dingan

I had never heard of Ben Rice or this story until one of his other stories was in a New Yorker issue from 2001.  I enjoyed that story and when I looked him up, I saw that he had written this story. And nothing else!

Which is weird because this story

was joint winner of the 2001 Somerset Maugham Award and shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. It has been made into the 2006 film Opal Dream, a 2010 play for children by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company and a 2012 play The Mysterious Vanishment Of Pobby & Dingan for Bristol theatre company Travelling Light.

Perhaps he decided to leave on a high note.

The book is a novella (about 90 easy-to-read pages) set in the opal mining community of Lightning Ridge in New South Wales.  That’s over 400 miles from the nearest big city (Brisbane).  So while I don’t know if it’s in “the bush,” it’s certainly not suburban.

Lightning Ridge is apparently the opal capital of Australia.  Much like during the American gold rush, prospectors flocked to Lighting Ridge to try to get rich.  This story is about one such family.  The dad, Rex, is the prospector, the mom has followed him here from England.  She clearly misses her old life (they refer to her as Pom and her mother as Granny Pom).

The narrator is Ashmol Williamson, a ten or so year old boy.  But the story is about his sister Kellyanne.

He thinks that his sister is a fruit loop.  Because she is old enough to be going to school but she refuses to admit that her imaginary friends Pobby and Dingan are imaginary.  She talks to them constantly.  It drives Ashmol mental. (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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SOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-“South Gotta Change” (2020).

Adia Victoria is a singer songwriter who describes her music as “Gothic blues” and that’s pretty apt.  She has two albums out.

On her first album Beyond the Bloodhounds, she has a song entitled “Stuck in the South” (she is based in Nashville).  This song featured a wonderful couplet:

“I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”

Her voice is raspy and powerful and she’s not opposed to letting that raspiness really shine through–especially when her songs rock out (which some do).

“South Gotta Change” is her latest single (not attached to a third album yet) and it is a moody piece of perfection which she describes as a

promise to engage in the kind of ‘good trouble’ John Lewis understood necessary to form a more perfect union.

The song opens with a six-note echoing reverbed guitar and Victoria’s clean vocals

You’ve been running from the ghost
You keep it hidden in your past
The veil before your face is falling, and it’s falling fast

When she gets to the direct chorus

“The South gotta change”

a guitar solo rips through the quiet and then a chorus of voices sing “Change!”

She sings the same verse several times throughout the song with each version changing somewhat.  By the end when she sings

‘Cause I love you, I won’t leave you
Won’t let you slip away
Come what may
We’re gonna find a way

Her voice is imploring and demanding.

[READ: April 3, 2021] “Let America Be America Again” 

Rae Khalil read part of this poem during her Tiny Desk (home) Concert.  I had never heard of this poem before and I was sure that she had written it because it seemed so pertinent.  The title alone seemed like a n excellent response to what we’ve just been through.

Then she said it was by Langston Hughes and I had to look it up.  And I saw that it was 86 years old.  And it is staggeringly apt.

Whether or not you can say you have the same experience as the narrator (America never was America to me)–and I can’t say that I can–it is certainly easy to empathize with him.  As more and more injustice comes to light and as public figures are more upfront about their racist hearts than they have been in eighty-some years, this poem needs to be more prominent.

“Let America Be America Again” 

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

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