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Archive for the ‘Violence’ Category

SOUNDTRACKDEDICATED MEN OF ZION-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 (January 11, 2021).

Dedicated Men Of ZionGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The first band on the first night are the Dedicated Men of Zion from North Carolina.

Dedicated Men of Zion come to you from their backyard barbecue in North Carolina, bringing with them an electrified version of sacred Gospel soul music. This family band (all related through blood or marriage) has been isolating together during the pandemic, and the members are excited to provide an uplifting note during difficult times.

They sing three songs in front of an amazing looking barbeque in Dex’s backyard.  The first, “Father, Guide Me, Teach Me” is a rocking gospel song.  There’s a great old-fashioned organ sound from Aaron Adams.  The four men sing.  Anthony “Amp” Daniels sings lead, Dexter Weaver [his nephew-in-law], Antwan “Ace” Daniels [his son], and Marcus Sugg [his son-in-law] sing great backing vocals.  There’s a fun jam at the end.

“Can’t Turn Me Around” opens with Mark Richardson playing a simple blues riff on the guitar. Then Jerry Harrison joins in on bass.  Amp is full on power singing through it.  He sounds great.

For “It’s A Shame,” Ace takes over lead vocals.  He has a good voice, but not nearly as commanding as his father.  Drums throughout are provided by Amp’s little brother Jaheim Daniels.

They sound great, but honestly I kept thinking about that barbeque.

[READ: January 2, 2021]

Despite the boring title I was really intrigued by this story.  The cover is tshirtking and the blurb was really intense-sounding.

So, I was really fascinated that the fundamental basis of the story the #FeesMustFall Rally was real: #FeesMustFall was a student-led protest movement that began in mid-October 2015 in South Africa.  Much of the story is grounded in the reality and danger of this movement.

The story takes place over the course of a week and each chapter is told from one of six character’s person’s point of view.

Hector, a student protester is looking to get everyone riled up about the cost of education in Cape Town.

Noné, South Africa’s president is not ready to deal with this interruption because she has a big public event coming up–an extraordinary zoo.  Noné was once a student protestor herself but she has since become The System.  She can’t trust anyone because everyone is out to get her.  The only reliable face she knows is Alice.  Alice is young an beautiful and while Noné knows that Alice probably wants her job (and is undoubtedly prettier than she is), at this point Alice is a perfect assistant and only makes Noné look better.

Thuli is a student and friend of Hector.  She has been “glitching” where she can see seven days in the future.  She knows that Hector’s life is in danger.  She has to try to convince reporter Helen that what she’s saying is true. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSOFIA REI-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 (January 11, 2021).

Sofia ReiGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The third band on the first night is Sofia Rei.  Rei is

an award-winning Argentine vocalist and songwriter [who] blends South American folk traditions with experimental pop and electronic music. That mix of tradition and modernity extends to her surroundings, which features traditional iconography, exuberant plants and looping pedals.

Rei plays three songs.  “Un Mismo Cielo” (The Same Sky) opens with her looping her voice.  Big electronic drums are added and then JC Maillard is messing around with their electronics to create interesting sounds and textures.   After a quiet introduction, Jorge Glem adds lovely cuatro and Leo Genovese plays a trippy electronic flute-sounding keyboard solo.  I enjoy watching Maillard playing the electronic melodies on the keys and then the quick switch to bass guitar for a funky riff.

“Negro Sobre Blanco” (Black On White) is about putting things into perspective.  Rei picks up the charango as the drums echo in.  The charango plays a delightful echoing melody.  Ana Carmela Rodriguez Contramaestre sings backing vocals and platys percussion.  The middle jam with some wild electronics then Maillard picks up guitar a plays kind of spaghetti western melody.  Then the song returns to the original melody with an even fuller sound.

Saving the best for last, Jorge Glem takes an amazing solo on the cuatro.  His hands move so fast and he simultaneously plays high chords along with percussive strumming.  At the end of the solo he does so fascinating strumming with his fingernails to make a trippy psychedelic sound.  It’s phenomenal.

The set ends with “Escarabajo Digital” (Digital Beetle), a fun dancing song.  The juxtaposition of the fast cuatro with the grooving bassline is fantastic.

I enjoyed this set a lot and want to hear more from her (and Glem who has several of his own albums out).

[READ: January 11, 2021] Okay, Okay, Okay

This story is set around Adamastor University in South Africa.  The focus is on Simon, a former teacher (now an administrator) and his family.  Also his assistant Viwe (and his family).  There’s also Vida, a sound technician for live theater.  She is unrelated to them but she gets pulled into their drama.

The story initially seems to be about how Simon (the “Head of Effective Communication”) is desperately hoping to get promoted into a more plum position. He is currently in a very good position financially, although his former colleagues feel like he threw his soul away when he became an admin.  But the story grows bigger–tackling University policies as well as racism and sexism in South Africa.

But the book opens on Vida. Vida is a sound engineer.  She is familiar with University politics because she has been to a few of Professor Bruno Viljoen’s academic parties.  Viljoen is head of the drama department and invited Vida along because she has done sound work for them.

The one thing I didn’t care for in this book was some of the younger characters occasional throwing in text speak (WTF, LOL).  While those are certainly things people of that age might say (although Vida is in her 40s), it was jarring to see text speak in a character’s thought process:

A dinner party full of academics: WTF, she’d had more fun driving her car around with nowhere to go.

Why not write it out?  It just seemed odd.

Aside from that, Vida is a wonderful character–no nonsense, takes no crap from anyone.  She loves sound and is great at her job.  She also has two dogs and two cats and she is crazy about them.  There’s at least five times when she speaks her mind and it’s terrific.

Cecily is Simon’s daughter.  She is currently taking a class with Boris. He is, everyone agrees, a silver fox.  Even younger girls swoon for him.  But Cecily has known him since she was little and she’s not impressed.

As this class opens, Boris is encouraging them to dig into their past to present a monologue.

Half the people in this class probably have slave ancestry.  That blood flows in your veins.  You are slaves.

Immediately a student raises her hand:

I just want to say that it gives me offense when you, a settler, say that I, whose ancestors are buried here, am a slave.  “Slave” implies that a person is not a person–not a mother, a lover, a human being.

After class Bruno asks Cecily what that was all about.  She says that students are very sensitive these days so just mind what he says.  He then offers to set her up with his nephew–a rather handsome fellow who looks like “a Puerto Rican Ken doll.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSEVDALIZA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #130 January 5, 2021).

Sevdaliza is the first Tiny desk Home Concert to be published in 2021.  Let’s hope she signals a great new year.

Sevdaliza is Iranian born although this concert is filmed in a culturally significant bookstore and publishing house in Amsterdam called MENDO.

Her collection of music is a wonderful mix of the organic and the electronic all centered around her gorgeous voice.

The set opens with “an old reel-to-reel tape machine spinning some Brazilian bossa nova.”  Then it stops and she starts singing “Human,” a song which

casts away the notion of artists — particularly female artists — as products.

It’s a moody Portishead-like track.

It opens with synths and drums as she sings achingly.  Her voice sounds a bit like Beth Gibbons as well.  Then in the middle of the song, the electronics drop off and she recites

I am flesh, bones / I am skin, soul / I am human /Nothing more than human.
I am sweat, flaws / I am veins, scars / I am human / Nothing more than human.

While she speaks, the strings of Jonas Pap (cello) and Mihai Puscoiu (violin) play an eerie backdrop.  When the strings stop a very cool electronic section takes over.  Leon den Engelsen manipulates sounds, making voices sound mechanical and machines sounds human–it’s really cool watching him do this.  Meanwhile, drummer Anthony Amirkhan adds some complex electronic and analog drums.

Then den Engelsen resumes the bossanova tape as Sendaliza announces:

“Good afternoon humans, my name is Sevdaliza, you’re very welcome on flight 808; our destination is Shabrang.”

I feel like “Dormant: sounds even more Portishead-like.  Her voice carries Gibbons’ ache as she sings “I need a different type pf caring, a different type of sharing.”  The percussion is minimal but interesting.  Meanwhile the electronics are buzzing around while the strings ground the song in melody.

As the song fades out she sings notes and words which I believe the keys are manipulating in real time.

“All Rivers at Once” opens with a pre-recorded guitar melody.  The song is just full of samples and interesting melodies and then the middle falls into place with a lovely violin solo.  It ends with a deep resonating cello note

“Gole Bi Goldoon” is sung in Iranian (I assume).  It sounds much more like an old folk song–strings and piano.

I really enjoyed this set and want to check out more of her album.

[READ: January 9, 2021] Do the Macorona

I’m not exactly sure why we have been getting so many books from South Africa at work lately, but it’s fantastic.

This book is a collection of editorial cartoons from South Africa’s Daily Maverick newspaper.  Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro) has been making editorial cartoons and caricatures since the early 1990s and has 25 books of cartoons published.

Although I have been reading some novels from South Africa, I really don’t know very much about the country.  I have learned, however, that reading about a year’s worth of editorial cartoons is a pretty great way to learn about a country.  I don’t understand all of the jokes in here, but I do feel like I have a vague grasp on the country now. However, it’s when Zapiro turns his pen abroad–especially against trump, that I can see how good of a satirist he is.

It feels especially timely to include this post now as we prepare to get the corrupt traitor out of office for good.  He has, in fact, made a cartoon out of the insurrection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKJAN VOGLER AND ALESSIO BAX-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #128 (December 16, 2020).

This is the third of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. This was my favorite. The first was just piano the second was a quartet of strings.  But this one, a combination of the two, was the most exciting.  I love the way the cello (Vogler) played off of the piano (Bax).

For this Tiny Desk (home) concert, we pay a visit to the doctor’s office. Actually, the venue is called Rare Violins of New York and it’s something of a second home to cellist Jan Vogler, who pops in frequently to have the experts give his 1708 Stradivarius cello a thorough checkup. If your multi-million-dollar fiddle has a cough or the sniffles, or even needs a full-blown restoration, Rare Violins, which sits just a block away from Carnegie Hall, can help. The firm also has a lovely music room, kitted out with a fine piano – something Vogler lacks at his place.  With help from the fine pianist Alessio Bax, Vogler makes a convincing case for Beethoven as one of the great heroes of the cello. Beethoven, whose 250th birthday falls this week, wrote five cello sonatas, plus other works for the instrument, which, before his time, was primarily relegated to beefing up the bass line in various chamber music situations.

Beethoven, in essence, liberated the cello. Listen to how it dances and struts in the opening scherzo from the Sonata in A, Op. 69.

“Cello Sonata in A, Op. 69: II. Scherzo” starts with a piano and the cello quickly jumps back in.  The song builds and swells and then quiets down to a pretty piano and cello melody.

Like Jonathan Biss, these two are very chatty. They are mostly chatty with each other, but they do direct their answers to the camera sometimes too.

Up next is a short piece from the beginning of his career “12 Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus: Variation XI: Adagio.”   In this piece the cello “sings sweetly.”  Vogler says that Beethoven was friendly with a fantastic cellist and he may have inspired the composer to write more pieces for the cello.

Although the piece starts with a lovely piano intro and has several moments of just piano, the cello adds so much to it.

Before the final song the two talk about how the pandemic has changed them and what they are looking forward to doing when it is over.

And finally there’s the opening to Beethoven’s last cello sonata, which Bax — whose role is far more than just an accompanist here — says is compact with emotion, yet “stretches the boundaries” for the instrument.

“Cello Sonata in D, Op. 102: I. Allegro con brio” feels like a call and response–two instruments in conversation.  And they had a lot to say.

[READ: December 20, 2020] The Disaster Tourist

In continuing with my around-the-world reading, I picked up this novel that was originally written in Korean (translated by Lizzie Buehler).

This story sounded really weird and interesting.

Yona works for a company called Jungle which specializes in offering vacations in areas that have suffered a disaster.

On a disaster trip, travellers reactions usually went through these stages

shock; sympathy and compassion, maybe discomfortable gratefulness at their own lives; a sense of responsibility that they’d learned a lesson and maybe a feeling of superiority for having survived where others didn’t.

For instance, a tsunami had hit Jinhae–in an instant everything was underwater.  Yona travelled there because Jungle currently didn’t offer any tours there.  But they would soon.  Yona would give donations and offer condolences to the community.  Then she would create a vacation package that involved viewing the aftermath along with volunteer work.

Yona had worked at Jungle for over ten years.  She was something of a star.  But apparently, her star was starting to fade because she had all of sudden been asked to handle some customer service phone calls–never a good sign.

Things got even worse when a supervisor named Kim got on the elevator with her.  He said:

Johnson is asking me to send my greetings to you.
Who?
Johnson.  My Johnson. Kim pointed to his crotch.

At this point I had to wonder.  Is this level of harassment something that happens in Korea?  Is this  shocking incident for any reader?  Is this a hyper real fiction in which everything is just a bit beyond reality?  I don’t know.

Then Kim grabs her bottom and put his hand in her blouse.  The gesture suggested that Kim didn’t care if he was caught.

Yona was upset, but not because of the sexual assault. Because Kim was known to only target has-beens. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORROMEO STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #127 (December 15, 2020).

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

The Borromeo String Quartet consists of Nicholas Kitchen: (first) violin, Kristopher Tong: violin, Mai Motobuchi: viola and Yeesun Kim: cello (who is Kitchen’s wife).

Beethoven doesn’t score high when it comes to positive personality traits. Paranoid, litigious and a micromanager, Beethoven didn’t suffer fools and often fought with friends. Still, he possessed a well-developed funny bone, which Nicholas Kitchen and company put on display here, along with their own whimsical tiny “desks.” Because of the virus, and the confined space, the players wear masks.

The humorous side of Beethoven’s personality seeps into his music, such as the false stops and musical giggles that fuel his two-minute-long Presto from the Quartet Op. 130, which opens this performance.

“String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130, II. Presto” has many fast moments and interesting parts where the first violin pays fast melodies but the rest of the quartet plays slow triplets over and over.  This is one of Beethoven’s shortest movements and is full of variety and energy.

For contrast, the Borromeos follow with a serious movement from later on in the same piece, the prayerful Cavatina, which Beethoven said even got him choked up.

This movement is full of serenity and tranquil beauty.  This is called the beklemmt section meaning trouble breathing. 

Kitchen can barely contain himself about the humor in the next piece, “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, II. Presto.”  He says this has a playful melody and “berserk” middle with instruments going all over the place.

More hijinks ensue in the Vivace from the Quartet in F, Op. 135, where Kitchen says the music becomes “completely berserk.”

And finally, in the last movement of the same quartet, Beethoven inserts a musical inside joke, the brunt of which falls on a wealthy music lover who displeased the great composer by not showing up at an important concert.

Kitchen says that Beethoven never met an occasion when he did not have a pun.  And he enjoyed injection his own brand of humor into his pieces.  In “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, IV. Der schwer gefasste Entschluss” there is an inscription: question must it be?  answer: It must be it must be!  Kitchen explains there was a patron who did not attend the premiere of opus 130.  The next day the patron  asked Beethoven to send him the music so his court musicians could play it. Beethoven said he’d send it but “you not only have to pay the price of admission for the concert you missed but for everyone in your family.”  The man looked at him and said “Must It be?”  Beethoven wrote a canon for four men to sing “it must be it must be.”  Then he made that joke the basis of the last movement of Op. 135.

[READ: January 3, 2021] Dinner

The Linden Tree was an interesting trip down memory lane for Aira.  

Dinner, by contrast is a wild violent fantasy (translated by Nick Caistor).  But its starts in the mundane–with a man and his mother going to dinner.

The two of them went to his friend’s house.  The friend was a terrible storyteller.  But he and the narrator’s mother had one thing in common–they were great at remembering the names of everyone in Pringles.  They knew the genealogies and configurations of nearly all the families.

But the narrator was terrible at remembering names–he had no facility for it at all.  He had plenty of memories from the town, but could never put a name to an event.

Evernatully the friend brought out a precious toy that he had.  It wa an old and rather sophisticated wind-up toy.  Two separate gears would go at the same time.  As it began to run, the door to a bedroom opened an a fat man came out and started to sing (as well as an old 19th century toy could sing). An old woman was in bed and she began to move back and forth “as a blind person does.” Then the second mechanism kicked in an the bedspread began to move and it looks like flocks of birds were flying out from underneath it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN BISS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #126 (December 14, 2020).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[READ: January 1, 2021] The Linden Tree

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

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

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

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

About a different Aira story Patti Smith once wrote:

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: DUA LIPA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #121 (December 4, 2020).

I first encountered Dua Lipa a few years ago when I was watching the NPR series Field Recordings.  It showed Dupa Lipa in 2016 singing a song from a balcony.  An accompanying essay said that she was hoping to “break America.”  I said I thought her song was fine.

I guess she has now broken America as she was on lots of best of lists this year (and the blurb lists her as a “global megastar.”

I haven’t actually heard anything from this album (or any of her albums–oh, she only has two), so this is really my introduction to her.

Of Kosovar Albanian descent, Dua Lipa was raised in the UK and rose to super stardom in the three years since her eponymous debut album dropped in 2017.

The band gets a remarkably full sound for having just a bass (Matthew Carroll) and a guitar (Alex Lanyon).  Even when Lanyon solos, the recording is robust.

I do find it strange that she has FOUR backing singers, though (Naomi Scarlett, Ciara O’Connor, Izzy Chase, and Matthew Allen).  I can’t hear that any of them are doing anything different than the others, making me thing two or even one would suffice, but whatever, it’s good to give musicians a job, right.

And, this is the first time she has been able

to reconnect with her band for their only performance since their tour in support of her sophomore album, Future Nostalgia, was cancelled in March. This vibrant four song set of dance hits, all from Future Nostalgia, will surely have you cutting up the floor in your kitchen while quarantining in the cold weather.

All four of these songs are enjoyable but pretty forgettable.  Even though You can sing along by the end of the song, it’s not likely you’ll be humming them an hour later.

“Levitating” has a fun descending vocal melody and a funky bass line.  I do rather like th emiddle “rapped” section because I like hearing Lipa’s accent as she says her London o’s in

My love is like a rocket, watch it blast-off
And I’m feeling so electric, dance my ass off

“Pretty Please” is a fun dancer. “Love Again” has a lovely full guitar introduction.  And the refrain of “God damn, you got me in love again,” is quite arresting.

“Don’t Start Now” has a cool funky bass line and a catchy chorus–definitely fun to dance along to.

[READ: January 2, 2021] “Our Lady of the Quarry”

This story is written in second person plural (and translated by Megan McDowell).

A group of younger (16 year old) girls are jealous of an older girl, Silvia.  Silvia has a place of her own, a job with a salary, and a know-it-all attitude:

If one of us discovered Frida Kahlo, oh, Silvia had already visited Frida’s house with her cousin in Mexico.

Silvia’s hair was perfectly dyed, she always had money and, worst of all, Diego liked her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIA BULLOCK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #119 (December 1, 2020).

I had not heard of Julia Bullock, so when I started this video I was surprised that she was an operatic singer.  Their setting seems so casual–just her sitting next to her husband, Christian Reif, at the piano.  And then pow–what a voice!

Soprano Julia Bullock prefers to be called a “classical singer.” It’s a rather humble, even vague, appellation for one of today’s smartest, most arresting vocalists in any genre.

Bullock is in Munich Germany and has decided to sing songs in both langauges.

Carefully choosing songs in German and English, Bullock begins with something bittersweet and introspective by Franz Schubert that cautions patience when looking for inner peace.

Franz Schubert: “Wanderers Nachtlied II” [Wanderers Night Song] features poetry by Goethe and is barely two minutes long.  It’s a wonderful start.

She follows with “Wie lange noch” (How Much Longer), a World War II-era song by Kurt Weill. Written after Weill emigrated to the United States, the song contained coded messages for Germans back home. But Bullock has no time for secrets in these days fraught with uncertainty. The meaning behind her insistent cries of “How much longer?” as she stares straight through the camera, couldn’t be more transparent.

That direct look at the camera is certainly uncomfortable–I hope the right people are made uncomfortable by it.

The next two songs are a gut-punch of clear-eyed observation, struggle and hope. The spiritual “City of Heaven” finds a determined protagonist facing down sorrow.

The song is sung as a spiritual, but Bullock’s operatic voice cannot be denied.

while Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free,” written at the height of the civil rights movement, speaks truth to power. At the very end, Bullock spins out a long flowing line on the word “free.”

After a soft piano intro, she sings the beginning of the song a capella.  So that when the piano comes back in it’s even more powerful.  As are the deep notes she hits.

[READ: December 29, 2020] “The Heart of the Circle”

This was an excerpt in the back of the novel Simantov.  It’s another book from Angry Robot and “more Israeli fantasy.”  The story was translated by Daniela Zamir.

I enjoyed the way this book starts right in the middle of the action–giving very little in the way of context.

A few people (college students) are seated at a bar.  There’s Reed and Daphne.  He is close with Daphne (her curls tickle his nose), but she is a free spirit.  There’s also Reed’s brother Matthew.  Daphne and Matthew were supposed to be an item (according to the boys’ mother) but it never happened.  Their mother now sees her as part of the family–as a sort of sister.

They are all somber.  It is the day after the latest murder.

The first murder was unbearable.  This is now the fifth or sixth and they are almost numb. This time they didn’t know her, but they were marching with her when she was killed.

When pyros tried to get revenge after the first murders, they were arrested and executed by the Prevention of Future Crimes Unit. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MULATTO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #117 (November 25, 2020).

Most of the Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts have been live (or slightly edited).  This one is clearly not.  There are many times when as she crosses her leg one way, a quick cut shows her with her legs crossed the other way.  So I’m not sure what’s going on–if it’s multiple takes or just her lip-syncing, but it’s very disconcerting.

Mulatto, known as Big Latto has released her debut album, Queen Of Da Souf,

At a time when women in hip-hop are running laps around the guys without so much as shifting their lace fronts, Latto is finding her footing in the new rap canon with Gold-charting singles and standout freestyles.

Also, who knew this was a thing:

As the inaugural winner of the Lifetime reality show The Rap Game and someone who’s made music since the age of 10, the personality that Latto brings to her bars is goofy, assertive and steadfast.  Latto rocks an aqua wig and raps perched from her throne.

I really like that the first song features a live violin (Joy Black).  It’s such an interesting idea and she plays some fast, intense strings.  It works perfectly.

“Blame Me” is a slower sone.  The melody sounds more than a little like “The Way It Is.”

It’s not until “He Say She Say” when Latto rises up from her seat to put extra emphasis behind this reminder: “Self-made b****, hell you talkin ’bout? / Yea, I got it out the mud, no handout.”

“He Say She Say” has a cool off-kilter almost horror movie melody from keyboardist SK.  Her singing and rapping is really good, but I get really bored of all the bitches and f-bombs and n-words.  I realize that that’s the street and the way young people talk, but it gets really monotonous.

[READ: December 20, 2020] Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel.

Jason Reynolds wrote the novel Long Way Down in 2017.  This graphic novel adaptation has some great artwork by Danica Novgorodoff

This is the story of William Holloman–Will.

The story starts out with Will and his friends on the basketball court.  His friend Tony is a great player but he is short and he knows you can’t go pro if you’re short. Will’s brother Shawn comes over to say hi to them.  Then there is a gunshot. Everybody

Did what we’ve all been trained to do.  Pressed our lips to the pavement and prayed the boom, followed by the buzz of a bullet, ain’t meet us.

But this time it hit Shawn.

When bad things happen, we can usually look up and see the moon big and bright shining over us.  But when Shawn died the moon was off.

Novgorodoff does some wonderful color work in these scenes–really creating a range of emotions in a small space. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DON BRYANT: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #116 (November 24, 2020).

I was not familiar with Don Bryant, although I must have heard his music over the years.

Bryant, almost 80, has been in the music business since the early days of rock and roll; he wrote his first hit, the Five Royales’ “I Got to Know,” in 1960. He went on to his biggest success as a songwriter for Hi Records in Memphis …. For a number of years he only recorded gospel music, until 2017 when he began releasing soul records again, backed by members of the Bo-Keys.

Although

Classic soul music feels best in a club, with a lead singer and big band, preferably with horns, playing off the excitement of a sweaty crowd, drawing them in to stories of love, or love lost, or love reclaimed. It’s a hard feeling to find in our pandemic times.

Bryant manages to play some gorgeous old-school soul with just a guitarist (Scott Bomar) and a keyboardist (Archie “Hubbie” Turner).  And his voice, of course.

Wearing an elegant black and grey jacket matching his salt-and-pepper hair, Bryant evokes style and experience – someone who has been in it for the long haul.

This set is three songs from his latest record, You Make Me Feel, all written by him

His voice is powerful and resonant, deeply rooted in gospel. The keyboard sound is a classic soul sound and the guitar provides a mixture of rocking riffs and mellow accompaniment.

In “Your Love is to Blame” he even gives some good James Brown yelps.

Between songs he sounds like a preacher:  I’m going to give these songs to you as strong as I can.

“Is It Over” is slower and more mellow.  His voice sounds great, hitting high notes and unlike contemporary singers, his grace notes sound great–strong and not whiny.

“Your Love is Too Late” is a classic soul kiss-off track: “I found somebody new to do the things I wanted you to do.”  It opens with an old fashioned guitar riff and moves on from there with grooving guitars and fleshed out keyboards.

I don’t listen to much soul, but I do rather like it.

[READ: December 26, 2020] By the Way 2

This is Ann Lane’s second book about public art in Ireland.  She compiled the first in 2010.  I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know what is in it.

She says that in the ten or so years since the first book, more art has been added and she had been made aware of all of the art that she had missed.

But the fact that there are over 1,000 images in this book, that this is her second book and that in the introduction she says that she pretty much ignores the big cities (due to size constraints of the book) makes me think that Ireland is absolutely amazing with the amount of public art that the country has.  Ireland is about the same size as Indiana, and I would bet a ton of money that Indiana does not have 2,000 (some absolutely gorgeous) piece of public art to look at.

This book is broken down by county.  Lane includes many pieces of art from each county and provides some context for the piece, whether it is the impetus for the creation, some comment about its construction or even an occasional personal reflection.

It isn’t easy to photograph pubic art.  Some pieces absolutely fail when taken out of context or when trying to encompass an entire piece of art with a tiny photo.  Sometimes you cannot do justice to a piece because it must be seen from different angles to be really appreciated.  But Lane does a great job conveying these pieces.  And if her main goal is to get you to want to come to Ireland see them, then she has succeeded.

I marked off dozens of pictures in here because they were either my favorites or they were interesting in some way.

I followed this format.
COUNTY
Town: Title (Artist) Location.  Comments. (more…)

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