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Archive for the ‘Sexism’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MDOU MOCTAR-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #213 (May 24, 2021).

Mdou Moctar has been getting some well deserved recognition lately.  It’s pretty great to see a Nigerian performer, who plays distinctly Nigerian style music making an impression on American audiences.

Of course, since I’m contrary, I’m more attracted to Moctar’s drummer who is playing a calabash–in this case red object that looks like a turtle shell and makes a remarkable range of sounds.  But really the focus should be on Moctar’s guitar playing.

Get ready for some fiery desert guitar-shredding, Saharan style, with the music of Mdou Moctar. Producer and American bassist Mikey Coltun told me that “the concert was filmed outside of the house we were all staying at in Niamey, Niger, in November/December 2020.” He continued, “As with any sort of musical happenings in the region, once some music is blasted, that’s an invitation for anyone to come join, sing, clap, dance, and just come together as a community. We wanted to present the Tiny Desk exactly like this, from when we started playing to finally the energy growing with fans crowded around filming on their cell phones and passing around Tuareg tea.”

And so, the four musicians, seated on a blanket (designed with oversized roses) with amps on either side, start playing with no fanfare.

The (home) concert starts off with Mahamadou Souleymane, a.k.a. Mdou Moctar, playing a melodic line on acoustic guitar, with Ahmoudou Madassane on rhythm guitar, Souleymane Ibrahim playing percussion on a calabash, and Mikey Coulton on his Fender Mustang bass on the song “Ya Habibti” from the album Afrique Victime. It’s an album of songs dealing with intense subjects close to Mdou Moctar’s heart: colonialism, exploitation, inequality, but also love.

The song almost feels like a drone because the bass and rhythm pretty much never change throughout.  The drumming is muted–effective but never sharp.  And Moctar’s voice and lead guitar work is subtle.  I’m sure since I don’t understand what he’s singing (which sounds pretty intense), I find his voice very soothing.

“Tala Tannam” follows in the same pattern–except the bass is even less mobile and the way Moctar sings it feels like a lullaby.  The best part is watching Ibrahim and Coltun clearly enjoying themselves–smiling to each other and even hugging at one point.  It’s hard to know how long these songs are as they seems to just go until they stop, but this one does have a deliberate ending.  It’s when he puts down his acoustic and grabs the electric guitar.

You can hear the real musical fire on the last song, the roughly 7-minute psych-rock title track to Afrique Victime. “Africa is a victim of so many crimes,” Mdou Moctar sings in French. “If we stay silent, it will be the end of us.” Silence is not something in Mdou Moctar’s vocabulary.

Moctar’s soloing was subtle on the other songs, but you can really here it standing out with this sharp electric guitar sound.  It’s nice to watch his fingers fly around the neck. There’s some guitar god moments in the soloing–including some finger tapping–but having him seated and equal with everyone else, the solos never seem showoffy.  I also like the way the song speeds up incrementally as it goes–mostly notable by how fast Ibrahim is suddenly hitting the calabash.

[READ: June 10, 2021] Losing the Girl

This final book of the trilogy was a little disappointing for me.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I feel like there wasn’t enough resolution for anyone.

The book opens on Nigel.  Claudia has shown up to tutor him in math.  He is so smitten he writes a poem that he submits for class.  He calls it “Teacher” and his teacher assumes it is about her.  I can’t even believe that he would submit a poem with the line “teach me how to make puppy love turn into doggy style”  (Nigel is so clueless).

Next we see Brett at his mother’s funeral.  Johanna tries to comfort him but he blows her off demanding to know why she didn’t tell him about her and Paula.  They smooth things over and she asks if his father knows that his mother died.  He says no, he hasn’t talked to his father in a long time.  Jo says her mother might know how to get in touch with him.

The next section is about Darren.  He is by himself remembering how his father hurt his mother and how he doesn’t want to repeat the cycle. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURIE ANDERSON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #212 (May 20, 2021).

Anyone who likes original or avant garde music knows Laurie Anderson.  Even forty years later, her music is unlike most other music out there.  Her music still sounds futuristic.

Which doesn’t mean it’s always enjoyable.  But some of it is quite good and it’s all pretty fascinating.  It’s also fascinating that you know instantly that it’s Laurie Anderson.  Her voice hasn’t changed in years–true she doesn’t sing, but it’s still the same.

She begins this set, which feels incredibly minimal with her keyboardist (and so much more–she played on and produced Big Science with Laurie Anderson in 1982) Roma Baron playing a simple clicking beat track.  She speaks (with her voice processed):

I met this guy and he looked like he might have been a hat check clerk at an ice ring.  Which in fact he turned out to be.  And I said oh boy, right again.

And Rubin Kodheli on the cello is playing gentle strings, including high notes sliding down the fretboard.

Is the song a story?  Does it have a narrative?  Or is it just stream of consciousness?  I’m not sure.

Laurie Anderson is a revolutionary artist who has mixed storytelling, music and technology for the past four decades plus. This Tiny Desk (home) concert celebrates the truly breathtaking breakthrough album she put out in 1982, Big Science. On that record, she used a few different voice processors; one of them was a Vocoder. By singing into a microphone attached to a keyboard, you can hear how it effectively adds harmony to her voice on “Let x=x.”

Laurie Anderson’s music seems so serious, so it’s delightful to hear her be so loose and chatty (and funny) between songs.

She introduces Rubin Kodheli, her favorite musician, with whom she plays all the time.  They create what’s listed here as “Violin Cello Improv.”  It’s about a minute of vaguely dissonant string music.

Then comes the big song, the one that people know Laurie Anderson for.  If it wasn’t a hit, it was certainly popular.

Laurie Anderson also used that [Vocoder] effect, creating what I think of as ‘the voice of authority’ in her storytelling, on “O Superman,” a song unlike anything music I’d heard when it came out in 1981. She made use of a vocal loop, something ever-present these days in sampling, but here she uses an Eventide Harmonizer, looping the single syllable “ha” as the rhythm of the song. It’s a song about dealing with the technological revolution, about compassion; if it’s your first time hearing it, take it in and see what strikes you.

The song has always felt very mechanical to me (it must be the looping and the synthesized voice), but it’s really interesting to hear how it changes live. Not drastically, but it feels like a living breathing song, which is pretty neat.  As is Bob Boilen’s story:

On a personal note, I was a lover of Laurie’s music back in those days; they were also the days I played synthesizer in my band Tiny Desk Unit. We opened for Laurie Anderson in 1981, and Laurie joined us onstage for a song. I bring this up because the Tiny Desk name (created by our guitarist Michael Barron) was familiar to Laurie long before this NPR series existed. At the end of her home concert, Laurie, I assume, mistakenly, thanks Tiny Desk Unit for having her. It made me smile and sparked so many memories. Thank you, Laurie.

Laurie Anderson is 74 and she seems as vibrant as ever.

[READ: June 10, 2021] Gravity’s Pull

I really enjoyed everything about Book 1 of this series and I was delighted to see that Volumes 2 and 3 were already out.

Volume 2 follows the same characters and is laid out in the same way (with each section following one of the characters but having the timeline stay linear.  MariNaomi also seems to be having even more fun with her drawings,

The first part is about Nigel Q. Jones (just like in the last book).  He’s in class when his teacher announces that the girl who was missing in book one (Claudia Jones–no relation) has suddenly returned and is coming back to school.  The teacher asks that everyone just give her space.

We realize it has been four months since the last book so Claudia has been gone along time.

Meanwhile Nigel still thinks about Emily (who has a cool new haircut–when a friend said she finally has good hair, the insult is not unnoticed) but realizes it’s time for him to move on.  As he’s thinking this Claudia Jones walks into the building and Nigel falls instantly in love with her.  How does she suddenly look so beautiful?  Almost otherworldly.  Here’s where MariNaomi has fun with the illustrations, making Nigel’s dreadlocks look like a kind of glove the way she draws his head. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATHLEEN EDWARDS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #211 (May 19, 2021).

Kathleen Edwards is a wonderful songwriter with a fantastic voice.  I discovered her from her 2008 album Asking For Flowers.

She put out one more record and then disappeared.

Struggling with depression, Kathleen Edwards opened a coffee shop called Quitters Coffee and lived a very different life.  A handful of years later, in 2017, she was invited to Nashville by Maren Morris to write some songs. That Nashville visit sparked a new beginning and eventually the 2020 album Total Freedom, which birthed the four songs you hear in this Tiny Desk concert.

So Kathleen Edwards is back with a wonderful new album.

On this Tiny desk she is joined by Todd Lombardo and Justin Schipper on dobro (that slide guitar looking thing).

Kathleen’s voice sounds great and on “Glenfern.”

From a house in East Nashville, Kathleen Edwards sings about how thankful she is for those early aughts when she was praised with awards, television appearances, touring to packed venues — even if the tour bus with the bed in back was “total crap.” As she continues to sing “Glenfern,” the opening track to her first album in eight years as well as this Tiny Desk (home) concert, she remembers her former husband and collaborator.

After the first song she introduces the band and says I can’t sing through a mask so after this we’re going straight to to the COVID clinic.

Kathleen Edwards seems happy playing these new songs.  They can be songs of sadness, sometimes filled with seething, such as “Ashes to Ashes,” but she’s also grateful for her everlasting love for a four-legged creature and the little catalpa tree where it’s buried.

There’s some beautiful interplay of guitars in this song.  It’s amazing how great her voice sounds with no accompaniment, no effects.  And afterwards she tells a delightful story about catalpa trees–I just passed one on a dog walk yesterday and absolutely want to try to grow my own this year.

“Hard On Everyone” is the song that’s been getting some airplay around here.  It’s so catchy, I love it.  And the lyrics are pointed and spot on.  when the song is over she and Todd bump elbows and their guitars bump for a nice resounding thump.

I would love to see Kathleen Edwards live.  She played one of her first shows after retiring at XPN Fest, unfortunately that was the year we went to Newport Folk Festival.  Now I see she’s coming around again, but she’s opening for Jason Isbell, and I don’t want to see him, so I’ll have to hope she finds a smaller club to headline.

[READ: June 10, 2021] Losing the Girl

T. brought this book home from school and I though the cover looked pretty neat.  When I looked inside I really liked the crazy drawing style(s) of it (S. did not like it at all).

The book opens on Nigel Jones, a boy with dreadlocks (his profile is always great, and MariNaomi uses these dreadlocks to express Nigels’ mood in clever ways).  The book also uses simple things like arrows to convey movement in a panel, which I liked.  One of the early ones shows a city block.  We just saw Nigel get off a bus and the arrows and a tiny figure on a skateboard show which way he is going.  This effect is used very well at a party later as we see the crowd move about the room in a static picture.

It’s through Nigel that we learn that nobody’s phones are working–this is a steady concern and a minor (or major) irritant throughout the story.   We also learn that a girl, Claudia Jones, (no relation) has been missing for three days.  Everyone has speculations about what happened to her.

Nigel lives with his mom (his dad has moved out) and Nigel is not too happy about the new arrangements–just because your parents separate doesn’t mean they fight less.  In school the next day Nigel tells a joke to Emily.  I found it very funny but Emily doesn’t seem to.  She asks if that’s his way of flirting with her.  A lightbulb goes off and he says yes (he’s had a crush on her for years).  She agrees to meet him at the bleachers later. (more…)

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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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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: C. TANGANA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #194 (April 20, 2021).

It’s surreal seeing this many people standing so close to each other singing and having a good time. It’s also an incredible reminder of how good it sounds when a lot of people sing together.

The blurb is surprisingly lax about explaining who C. Tangana is–but I gather he must be pretty huge.

From Mexican Regional to Spanish flamenco, C. Tangana is simultaneously coming home and reaching out to bridge Latin music boundaries. He’s building a community of cross-cultural collaboration, rooted in a unifying love of language and tradition, making it clear he’s intent on giving everyone a seat at the table.

The blurb does say that this gathering is Tangana’s extended family (the clinks of salud certainly suggest familia).

After more than 13 months amid a global pandemic, C. Tangana’s extended family basking in the warmth of sobremesa with easy smiles and effortless baile looks otherworldly. (Check his mama and tía vibing in the corner.)

They open the set with

This first live performance of his latest album, El Madrileño (including a global premiere of a fresh single, “Me Maten”) buzzes with communal energy, spotlighting talent from across Latin landscapes.

C. Tangana sings with Antonio Carmona, on “Me Maten” and the whole show gets off to a warm, relaxed feeling.  The backing singers (Lucia Fernada Carmona, Pilar Cerezo, Marina Carmona, África Heredia, María Rubio, Mariola Orellana, Patri Alfaro and Mari Estrada) do an amazing job of fleshing out this and the other songs.

The concert’s star-studded cast of Spanish collaborators, including long-time friends (producers Alizzz and Victor Martínez) and new contributors (rumba legend Kiko Veneno and flamenco-pop icon La Húngara), are each spotlighted for their contributions to the record.

Up next is C. Tangana and Kiko Veneno singing “Los Tontos.”  Kiko plays guitar and opens the song.  When everyone sings along (especially the la na na na) it sounds wonderul.  Then Alizzz, who has been playing the keys, sings the New Order line “Every time I see you falling…” into the vocoder and it fits perfectly.  Kiko ends the song with lovely guitar melodies.

Tangana switches positions for “Demasiadas Mujeres.”  He walks away from the table to a nearby string octet (Pablo Quintanilla, Paula Sanz, Franciso Palazón, Marina Arrufat, Paloma Cueto-Felgueroso, Adrián Vázquez, Irma Bau, Daniel Acebes).  Huberto Morales (I think) plays a martial drumbeat.  Tangana raps this track and it sounds pretty great with the strings–the octet is really into it–rocking and bopping around.  They play a pretty solo as Tanagana heads back to the table.

There’s lots of friendly chatter before “Tú Me Dejaste De Querer.”  Alizzz once again plays keys and sings into the vocoder to introduce this wonderfully catchy simple guitar riff.  I’m not sure who is playing guitar as there are so many guitarists: Victor Martínez, Juan Carmona and Niño De Elch who sings a verse.  He’s also joined by La Húngara whose female voice brings a wonderful change to this great set.

[READ: February 1, 2021] Hasta el Mismísimo

I saw Hasta el Mismísimo which Google translated as “Even the Very” at work.  It was in Spanish but the cover was cute and I was curious what it was about.  The translated title certainly didn’t help.  I flipped through the book and found that it was mostly cartoons.  So it seemed easy enough to translate.

The first text is a big thank you page, the final line of which is Thank you to @glorianietophoto who gave me the brilliant idea of drawing a talking pussy [Google translates that last word a bit more harshly when it is by itself].

So THAT’s what this book is about and what’s on the cover.

The second pages says A los Mismísimos del mundo, !Bienvenido!  which gets translated as “To the themselves of the world, welcome.”  Clearly “Mismísimo” is a hard word to translate inthis context.

The first cartoon shows the talking pussy with a cup full of blood painting on a cave wall: “It seems that a long time ago we painted in the caves, but really today there are still a lot of cavemen.  That’s why it’s easy to finish UP TO THE SAME [Hasta el Mismísimo]. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEMI LOVATO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #191 (April 14, 2021). 

I’ve never given much thought to Demi Lovato.  All I knew about her was that she also sang a version of “Let It Go” on the Frozen soundtrack and that I liked her version a LOT LESS than the one by Idina Menzel.

But aside from that I didn’t even know if she was all that popular.

Recorded on a sunny spring day in her Los Angeles backyard, Lovato begins with a moving rendition of “Tell Me You Love Me” from her 2017 record of the same name, accompanied by subtle, sparse keys.

Given how over the top “Let It Go” is, I did expect a lot more over-the-topness here.  But it is quite subtle.  Well, musically it’s subtle.  Steven “Styles” Rodriguez plays quiet keys throughout the set.  But Lovato is anything but subtle.

She continues her set with the title tracks from her recently-released studio album, Dancing With The Devil…The Art Of Starting Over. On both tracks, Lovato’s voice feels stabilizing and grounding; there’s a sense of clarity and purpose in its power.

The blurb suggests she’s gone through some rough times, but I don’t know about them.  I do know that she has managed to feed a squirrel from her hand, so that’s something.

Through it all, her voice is something to behold.  Wow, can she ever she hits some really amazing notes–long and lasting and powerful.  I like the deep keys that “Styles” adds to the chorus of “Dancing With The Devil,” it adds some nice drama.

[READ: May 3, 2021] A Wiser Girl

Different things can attract a person to a book.  In this case, it was the author’s name.  I’m not sure why the name Moya Roddy appealed to me, but it did.  I’d never heard of her and this short book seemed like an interesting way to get to know her work.

This is the story of Jo (Josephine) Nowd, a Dublin girl who had to escape Dublin and flee to Italy in 1975.  The reason that she fled Ireland is twofold, although the primary reason is to escape her ex, a man named Eamonn.  The other is because she wants to be an artist and feels that an artistic life is more likely in the land of art than in Dublin.

Jo is a mostly engaging narrator.  She has a pretty strong personality.  Part of it is directed inward–she has some insecurities brought on by growing up as a poor Irish Catholic girl.  But she is also very opinionated, especially about art.  For her art is all about the supernatural–primarily the divine–but mostly she doesn’t like art that represents reality, she wants art to transcend reality.

She also has a (justifiable) hatred of the rich.  She feels that the poor get the shaft while the rich (especially the English rich) are oblivious to all that they have and all they step on while they get it.

And yet, for all of her insecurities, it’s pretty daring to up and leave your country to move to a place where you do not speak the language and have hardly any money. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE PEELS-“Juanita Banana” (1966).

I heard this song today on WXPN’s “Worst Song in the World” segment.  And as soon as it started, I understood why it was on there.

The person who submitted the song said she just wanted to know…  why? Why would someone make this?  And this is a good question.  More amazingly why would they make a Part 2?  (They did).

The song opens with a kind of Mexican guitar intro and spoken word story of Juanita–a banana grower’s daughter.  She wanted to sing at the opera, so she left the banana fields and went to the city.  And as the chorus comes in Juanita sings an incredibly high pitched (and way out of context) note that turns into the melody of “Caro Nome” from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto.

What?

Then the band sings the “Juanita Banana” chorus in a kind of Mexican accent complete with horns.

What?

Her melody comes one more time and just when you think that the operatic vocals are enough, Juanita’s father burns down the trees, moves to the city and sings in a deep voice the same melody.

They even duet at the end!

It is so bizarre, so potentially offensive, and yet so catchy (that Rigoletto part is wonderful) that it could only be a mid 60’s novelty song.

The DJ explained that it was a novelty song but it was actually a minor hit in 1966.  He said a little more about it, but sadly I  didn’t catch the whole story.

And yet I can’t get that scream melody out of my head.

[READ: May 3, 2021] “The Case for and Against Love Potions”

This story opens with an older, married man talking to a younger, single man.  The younger man asks what one should do if the person he loves does not love him back.  The older man is pleased that the younger man recognized that the older man is “the most sagacious man in this part of the country.”

I rather enjoyed the tone of the story and the amusing way the sagacious man spoke:

As you know, there are a million and three solutions to this problem.. .I imagine you tried at least twenty-eight of them before coming to see me today.

The best advice the man can give is simple: love potions. (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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