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2016 Christmas Music Guide

Perhaps you’ve just ventured to the darkest part of the attic or basement, plucked out those dusty boxes from under the bags of horded, hideous sweaters, checked the boxes for holiday-hating raccoons and hauled the whole lot to the living room. Or perhaps you’ve gathered all your holiday stash from their secret hiding places, found the one roll of tape that doesn’t have cat hair stuck to it and piled the new rolls of wrapping paper along with the remnants from years past onto the dining table. Or maybe you’re just biding your time in between trips to the oven as Christmas cookies bake. What you really need now is some music. Well, maybe you need a little bourbon too, but what you really need some holiday music to build up your morale. Good thing we here at World Music Central have got you covered with our annual Christmas music guide. So, brush the cobwebs from your hair, get someone to grab the “good” scissors, pop a few chocolate chips and let’s get you some holiday tunes.

You know how just about every musician and singer puts out at least one Christmas album? Yeah, well, this year Neil Diamond has put out Acoustic Christmas (ASIN: B01MAZIGZQ ), Jimmy Buffett has ‘Tis the SeaSon available and Frankie Valli has put out his own tribute to Christmas this year with ‘Tis the Seasons (ASIN: B01LYUABCJ) . Unless you are a big fan of Diamond, Buffett or Valli, I think it’s safe to take a pass on these offerings because none really are all that likely to wrap you in holiday warmth. I’d be interested in having a list of popular artists who haven’t done a Christmas song or album.

Of course, if you’d like to experience a diabetic coma you might want to download a copy of Friendship Is Magic: It’s a Pony Kind of Christmas by My Little Pony (ASIN: B01LQC4UPG). My advice? Run, run away quickly because there’s not enough bourbon, vodka or a round of ayahuasca with an Amazonian shaman and an out of body experience that’s ever going to erase this from your mind once you’ve heard it. I guess you could give it to folks who have kids, but you’d really have to hate them or desire to completely cut ties with these people. I don’t think the International Criminal Court has heard this particular recording, but I’m fairly certain it should be classified as a crime against humanity.

Gene Autry – A Melody Ranch Christmas Party

If you are feeling particularly nostalgic and miss those ole time classics, there’s A Melody Ranch Christmas Party by Gene Autry with standards “Jingle Bells,” “Here Comes Santa Claus & Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer Medley” and “Cowboy Santa Claus” to round out this tribute to the cowboy crooner. This offering means that you can put the 2013 Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas from Captain Kangaroo by Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans and give the track “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” a rest this year.

If you’re looking to jazz up your holidays Verve has Joyful Jazz! Christmas With Verve, Vol. 1: The Vocalists with tracks by Nora Jones, Diana Krall and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as Joyful Jazz! Christmas With Verve, Vol. 2: The Instrumentals with tracks by Mark Whitfield, Oscar Peterson Quartet and The John Coltrane Quartet.

Andra Day - Merry Christmas from Andra Day
Andra Day – Merry Christmas from Andra Day

Warner Brothers/Buskin has on tap this year Merry Christmas from Andra Day with “Someday at Christmas” with Stevie Wonder, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Winter Wonderland.” Holiday Soul on the Prestige label by the jazz pianist and composer Bobby Timmons is all cool Christmas with goodies like “Deck the Halls,” “White Christmas” and “You’re All I Want for Christmas.” Okeh/Sony Masterworks kicks the holiday humdrum with The Beautiful Day with goodies like “Star of Wonder,” “The Michigan Farm (Cradle Song, Op. 41/1)” and “Little Drummer Boy.”

Sarah McLachlan - Wonderland
Sarah McLachlan – Wonderland

Those hoping to burrow into a little country Christmas have plenty to choose from with offerings like Sarah McLachlan’s Wonderland with tracks “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Away in a Manger” and “Go Tell It On the Mountain” or Trisha Yearwood’s Icon Christmas on the MCA Nashville label or Jennifer Nettles’s sassy To Celebrate Christmas with her own version of “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” with Andra Day and “Little Drummer Boy” with Idina Menzel. Atlantic Nashville has this year Brett Eldredge’s Glow with a big band backing the singer. Rascal Flatts has put out The Greatest Gift of All, while Mercury Nashville has on offer A Very Kacey Christmas by Kacey Musgraves with tracks like “Let It Snow” with the Quebe Sisters, “Christmas Don’t Be Late” and “Present Without a Bow” with Leon Bridges.

Ray Conniff - The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings
Ray Conniff – The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings

Classic Christmas songs are fine idea for drowning out those political warthogs at your parties and there’s some goodies out there like The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings by Ray Conniff. Two CDs, 31 tracks and freshly remastered, you won’t have to hear about the 2016 election for a good while with classics like “Sleigh Ride,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “My Favorite Things” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” There’s also NOW That’s What I Call Merry Christmas. Ignore the cheesy cover and the Justin Bieber track, because there are some legitimate lovelies on this like “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Frank Sinatra, “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” by Johnny Mathis and “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” by Dean Martin.

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy - A Celtic Family Christmas
Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy – A Celtic Family Christmas

Whipping a bit of world music mystery this holiday season, fans might want to take a listen to tracks like “White Christmas,” “The Christmas Medley” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on A Celtic Family Christmas by Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy. This year there is also Winter Fantasy by Charlee Brooks and David Arkenstone with goodies like “The First Noel,” “Noel Nouvelet” and “The Darkest Midnight In December.” The Steel Tropics have put out the Caribbean sounding collection Christmas Paradise with offerings like “White Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Cara Dillon - Upon a Winter’s Night
Cara Dillon – Upon a Winter’s Night

Some other goodies include Putumayo Presents Latin Christmas with tracks like Bobby Rodriguez’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” Juan Carlos Quintero’s “Jingle Bells” and Nossa Bossa Nova’s “Joy to the World.” Irish folk singer Cara Dillon has a lovely CD out called Upon a Winter’s Night with some yummy tracks like “Upon a Winter’s Night,” “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Rug Muire Mac Do Dhia,”

Please remember to be respectful this holiday season and those of you playing 2012’s A Heavy Metal Christmas (ASIN: B0189CFLWW) with Christopher Lee (yes, that Christopher Lee) or any of the selections from 2015’s Goth Christmas (ASIN: B017BNCXNU) to please try to not scare the native too much.

Happy Listening.

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The Charango, a Peculiar Instrument

Charango
Charango

One of the most popular Andean musical instruments is a small guitar with five double strings that looks like a Spanish bandurria. If looked at from the front, there is nothing special, but when you turn it around, it is surprising. Its resonator, which is more or less rounded, is not made out of wood. It’s the shell of an animal!

The fact is that the resonator of this mini-guitar is made out of the outer skeleton of a small mammal, the armadillo, which is also known as tatú, atatou, quirquincho, querú, cabasu, piche, mulita, toche, mataca… These are names that are sometimes also applied to the instrument.

There are 20 or 21 species of armadillos (biologists cannot agree on how to classify them), and all of them live in the South American pampas and other plains areas, and as far north as the southern part of North America (very few of them are found in the jungles).

The uniqueness of the armadillo lies in the fact that, despite being a mammal, instead of having its body covered with hair, it is covered by a protective shell or armor. The word armadillo comes from the Spanish word armado, which means armored. This armor, articulated to allow for movement, is composed of two large shields. One covers the shoulders and the other covers the back, separated by a series of transverse armed bands that vary according to the species (from 3 to 13). Another frontal shield protects the head.

The tail and the outer part of the limbs are also covered by articulated plates, although there are some species, like the tatús de rabo molle (from the Cabassosus class), that have an exposed tail.

armadillo
armadillo

When the animal is attacked, it rolls itself, like hedgehogs do, and becomes practically invulnerable. The one known as mataco (Tolypeutes matacus), forms a sphere so perfect that in some places it is know as bolita (little ball in Spanish), a name that is also given to the charango.

It should be noted that some armadillos, as good mammals, do have long disperse hairs, such as the one called peludo (hairy in Spanish or Chaetophractus villosus).

It is the hard shell that is used to make the resonator for the charango, specifically the one that covers the body, without the head, limbs and tail, and that is why the instrument is rounded. Nevertheless, not all charangos are made using armadillo shields. Some are made from cedar or chestnut wood. In that case, the resonator is usually flat. The cover is normally made out of pine or fir.

Inspired by Spanish guitars carried by the colonists, some of the first charangos appeared in the 18th century. The charango has become one of the most popular instruments in the Andean regions of Bolivia, Peru and northern Argentina.

The Quéchua and Aimara country folk of Peru and Bolivia prefer the charango with a flat wooden resonator and metal strings. The players from northern Argentina and Lake Titicaca region prefer the armadillo charangos, also with metallic strings. This version of the charango is also used in urban areas, although the strings are usually made out of nylon, giving it a deeper and clearer bass sound.

Sources: Charango description based on the article The Charango, a Peculiar Instrument by Marta Vigo, biologist. Translated by Angel Romero. Courtesy of Arca de Música.

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A Nobel Prize?

The victory in Bob Dylan’s winning a Nobel Prize is for songwriting. Dylan is nowhere near one of the greatest songwriters. However, this may finally be Gideon’s triumph.

Many of the men and women of literature’s ivory tower are well known for not giving the respect that is due to songwriters by not considering them writers of literature, despite the fact that the first poets of Western Civilization like Homer were singer-songwriters (aoidos.) Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature finally vindicates literate songwriting.

For some, Dylan’s win reinforces what much of his public has known all along: that we’ve been listening to a home grown Homer, writer of the Illiad, this whole time.

For others, it is a bad decision on the part of the folks at the Swedish Academy.

Songs are literature and have always been. In the England of the 18th century, with which the US shares its culture, poems were often referred to as songs. The classic English poet William Blake, who was well known for singing his poems, even wrote a book of poems entitled Songs. Elizabethans of the 16th century before him wrote “song books” to mean books of poetry, for poems were meant to be both read and sung. It was in this same age and spirit that a man by the name of William Shakespeare was also a songwriter, for example for his play Othello.

Some might argue that the English tradition is not the American one and that we don’t traditionally produce that many songbooks that can be read to go along with songs. Genius.com would beg to differ.

It’s not just that musical literature deserves praise. Let’s be real: written literature owes itself to sung literature. Popular songs provide the lyrics, the verses, stories, romances, dramas, that culture a populace. The lyrics of songs gave way to the souls that write lyrics, being that sung literature defines a national community’s outlook on life like a written poem never does.

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Singer’s Warsaw Festival 2016: An annual celebration of music and culture in Warsaw

warszawa_singera_2016

 

Yiddish culture returns by way of pre-war films and contemporary performances, workshops of dance and song, Jewish paper cutting, ceramics, and Hebrew calligraphy …

 (from the Festival’s website)

Jewish culture in Poland is experiencing a renaissance. Festivals of Jewish music, language, and ancient and modern history are among the finest undertakings of this kind in Poland. This was confirmed by the 13th edition of the Singer’s Warsaw Festival, organized as always by the Shalom Foundation. The creator of the festival is the General Director of the Shalom Foundation, Golda Tencer, an outstanding Polish singer, director, and theater actress.

 

Shabbat Shalom - Sabbath of peace
Shabbat Shalom – Sabbath of peace

 

Collaborating in the organization of the festival were The Ester Rachel and Ida Kamińska Jewish Theater, the Center for Yiddish Culture, and the Edward Dziewoński Teatr Kwadrat (Square Theater). Every year, some of the global music scene’s most prominent artists, their art inspired by and created in the spirit of Jewish culture and religion, come to the Polish capital. Many of these artists have Polish roots, and thus participate with even greater pleasure in this sentimental journey along the road of their lives, one that sometimes runs through countries such as Israel, the United States, Sweden, France, Canada, and many others.

As we read on the organizers’ website, “The Singer’s Warsaw Festival of Jewish Culture has been, for twelve years, bringing back the memory of the pre-war Jewish ‘Warsze’ praised by Singer in numerous short stories and novels […] Our goal is to recreate the pre-war climate around ul. Próżna and Plac Grzybowski, if only for a few days, and show the lost world of the Polish Jews. Here we situate Jewish cafes, restaurants, small shops, and artisans’ workshops. At one of the festivals, an old bookstore made an appearance; at another, the editorial office where Singer worked before the war; every year there is also a wine bar and bakery” (see: www.festiwalsingera.pl/en/cele-i-misja).

 

Yakov Rotner conducting famous cantors: Yaakov Lemmer, Benzion Miller and Tzudik Greenwald, accompanied by Menachem Bristowski. Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016. Photo by Janusz Paliwoda
Yakov Rotner conducting famous cantors: Yaakov Lemmer, Benzion Miller and Tzudik Greenwald, accompanied by Menachem Bristowski. Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016. Photo by Janusz Paliwoda

 

Thanks to the Singer’s Warsaw Festival, for a short time every year the streets of the city resound with klezmer music, synagogal singing, traditional Jewish songs, and even jazz (the Singer Jazz Festival, whose artistic director is Adam Baruch, constitutes a separate part of the Festival), as well as remarkable cantorial singing.

The third edition of the Singer Jazz Festival kicked off on August 26 with an opening concert featuring Wania/Bernstein/Parker/Grey (Poland/USA), comprising Dominik Wania (piano), Marc Bernstein (saxophone), Michael Parker (bass), and Devin Grey (percussion). The following day was marked by the appearance of the Dominik Bukowski Group (Poland/USA), featuring Amir Elsaffar (saxophone), Dominik Bukowski (vibraphone, marimba), Piotr Lemańczyk (bass), and Przemysław Jarosz (percussion).

The official opening of the Singer Jazz Festival took place during a concert by the Sefardix trio (the Oleś Brothers and Jorgos Skolias). This World Music ethno-style group forms a part of the Greek-Jewish tradition, reaching back for Sephardic themes and drawing on multicultural instrumentation. In 2013, Sefardix received the Polish Radio Folk Phonogram of the Year award.

Next was a musical event with the theme “Something’s Coming: Love or War,” created by Lena Piękniewska and Paweł Skorupki, who accompanied the poems of young poets from the Warsaw ghetto. Taking part in this event were Lena Piękniewska, Paweł Skorupka, Krzysztof Dys, Sebastian Frankiewicz, Michał Górczyński, Wojciech Pulcyn, and the Royal String Quartet, with visual effects by Karolina Fender Noińska.

The same evening featured a performance by World Citizen Band (Denmark/Germany/Ecuador/USA), comprising Ramiro Olaciregui (guitar), Kenneth Dahl Knudsen (bass), Alex Terrier (saxophone), Tomasz Dąbrowski (trumpet), and Rodolfo Zuniga (percussion), as well as by the duo Oleś Brothers (bassist Marcin Oleś i percussionist Bartłomiej Oleś), with the participation of Leszek Żądło (Germany).

 

Leszek Żądło
Leszek Żądło

 

Appearing at the Singer Jazz Festival on August 30 was the Israeli trio Savannah and the Stringz, known for their daring experiments at the crossroads of music and the performing arts, i.e., cabaret, jazz, and indie-rock all in one: real World Music! They were followed by Ugo Trio (DE), comprising Federico Eterno (saxophone, clarinet), Marco Papa (guitar), and Gioele Pagliaccia (percussion), as well as by the duo Maciej Obara/Dominik Wania with the participation of Leszek Żądło (saxophone).

Playing the next evening was Trio Kuby Stankiewicza: Kuba Stankiewicz (piano), Wojciech Pulcyn (bass), and Sebastian Frankiewicz (percussion instruments). Later, the Singer Jazz Festival hosted the Francesco Bruno Ensemble (Italy). At the end of the day was a concert by Łukasz Borowicki Quartet (Poland/Denmark), with Borowicki (guitar) accompanied by Mads la Cour (flugelhorn), Mariusz Praśniewski (bass), and Karol Domański (percussion), as well as an appearance by Trio Jachna/Wójciński/Szpura with a guest appearance by Leszek Żądło (saxophone)

The next day of the Singer Jazz Festival belonged to the Francesco Bruno Trio (Italy), including Marco Rovinelli (percussion instruments) and Jacopo Ferrazza (bass), and the Małgorzata Hutek Quintet (composed of Małgorzata Hutek, Dominika Kątny on viola, Bogusław Kaczmar on piano, Paweł Wszołek on bass, and Szymon Madej on percussion). The day closed with an appearance by the Nahorny Trio: Włodzimierz Nahorny (piano), Mariusz Bogdanowicz (bass), and Piotr Biskupski (percussion), with guest appearances by Lora Szafran (vocals), Sabina Meck (vocals), Zbigniew Namysłowski (alto saxophone), Wojciech Jachna (trumpet), and Wojciech Myrczek (vocals).

The next-to-last day of the Singer Jazz Festival showed that these final days of music would constitute a transition from cultural World Music towards traditional jazz. An encounter with Warsaw jazz was graced by the Kuba Płużek Quartet: Kuba Płużek (piano), Marek Pospieszalski (saxophone), Dawid Fortuna (percussion), and Jakub Dworak (bass). Immediately following this event was an appearance by the Leszek Żądło European Art Ensemble with the project “Expulsion from Paradise,” followed by Leszek Żądło again, this time performing with the concert band Sphere.

The last day of this monumental jazz undertaking featured a performance by the group Orange Train. We listened to Dominik Bukowski (vibraphone), Piotr Lemańczyk (bass), and Tomasz Łosowski (percussion). Appearing immediately afterwards was MusiConspiracy (PL/UK): Zbigniew Chojnacki (accordion), Fabrizzio Brusca (guitar), Michał Kapczuk (bass), and Jacek Kochan (percussion).

Concerts by world-famous cantors are always a great event at the Singer’s Warsaw Festival. Cantorial concerts constitute truly unique encounters of traditional Jewish and Hasidic music. From this year’s stage we listened to the wonderful voices of Benzion Miller, Yaakov Lemmer, and Tzudik Greenwald. The singers were accompanied by the Chamber Orchestra of the Warsaw Chamber Opera, conducted by Yaakov Rotner and accompanied by Menachem Bristowski. As is true every year, the performing cantors pride themselves on a traditional education under the guidance of masters, enormous talent, and international renown. They perform Chazanut singing, works from liturgical, Jewish, and Hasidic music, and traditional Yiddish songs, along with selections from the repertoires of opera and Broadway.

 

Yaakov Lemmer at Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016 - Photo by Janusz Paliwida
Yaakov Lemmer at Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016 – Photo by Janusz Paliwida

 

This year’s Singer’s Warsaw Festival ended with an open-air concert by The Klezmatics (US), consisting of Lorin Sklamberg (lead vocals, accordion, guitar, piano), Frank London (trumpet, keyboards, vocals), Lisa Gutkin (violin, vocals), Matt Darriau (kaval, clarinet, saxophone, vocals), Paul Morrissett (bass, tsimbl, vocals), and Richie Barshay (percussion instruments). Their music is valued around the world for its experimental connections with multilingual singing, development of arrangements using many traditional and modern instruments, capitalization on Yiddish culture, and combination of contemporary styles of music. During the concert in Warsaw, The Klezmatics celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of their presence on the world music scene. Every year, the Singer’s Warsaw Festival brings us more and more excellent music.

 

The Klezmatics - Photo by Paulina Tendera
The Klezmatics – Photo by Paulina Tendera

 

We asked Nadia Issa, a Polish artist in the art of light who presented her work in the course of Singer’s Warsaw Festival in 2015, what she associates with this festival. Nadia said: “Nostalgia, tradition, music, memory. In the Old Testament, hell (Hebrew: sheol) is understood as a place of silence and forgetfulness. The Singer’s Festival protects us from the ‘sin’ of forgetfulness. In the context of the tragedy of the Second World War, there are memories about the past generation and about tradition, as well as an attempt to save the timeless values in Jewish culture as a debt to our tragically deceased ancestors.”

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Opinionated Piano: Jason Moran, Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Diehl

The piano.  It is unique: the piano is melodic like no other instrument is and plays us heavy loud and even sometimes fast, producing sounds that momentarily darken one’s soul.  Piano history is as fascinating as the sound the instrument makes.

The instrument’s best players have been those who have dared. Mozart, Monk, Jelly Roll Morton: the list goes on of musicians who have mastered the mass of matter that is the piano, all the while moving others with their style, opinions, and all around spirit. Three jazz musicians, Jason Moran, Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Diehl, are amongst today’s great, daring, pianists, but first a short introduction to the instrument.

The piano was invented during Europe’s Middle Ages: a time of adherence (to the Church) for many musicians but also a time of quiet dissent, as all times are in the end.  Given that its coming-together was financed by the Medici who were well known Renaissance patrons, the piano was probably born to some sort of moneyed dissent.

The Padua (now in Italy) that served as a host to the invention more than likely had the lutes, the hammered dulcimer, the clavichord, and the flutes that the Middle Ages were known for, instruments that excel at expressing lightness, and also the Harpsichord whose strings are plucked instead or struck despite its resemblance to the piano. With the piano came new direction; loudness and heaviness to add to instrumental largeness. The instrument that, to me, dethroned the plucking of strings, was first named the Fortepiano, a name that includes the word forte or loud, though it was also meant to play soft music.

The instrument made its way through Europe and especially to Vienna and  to the genial playing of Mozart. It eventually made its way to other societies, and communities that’ve included the Storyville living in New Orleans that bred Jazz. It continues to matter.

Jason Moran, Sullivan Fortner, and Aaron Diehl, three Jazz pianists, all belong to the new lineup of formidable, daring, piano players. All three play us very well formulated modernist or postmodernist opinions and wow us with the subjective. They often play us notes that are not accompanied with words that mirage the piano playing and because of this require us to feel instrumentation as we listen to make sense of their language. If one does listen in, formidable experience ensues.

 

Jason Moran - Modernistic
Jason Moran – Modernistic

J

ason Moran’s album Modernistic is a personal favorite but his piano playing is always sits a listener, whether it be long and lyrical or stride-ish.

 

Jason Moran All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller
Jason Moran All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller

 

The album of his that is the easiest listen is the soulful, melodic, and comic All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller; the rule is that Moran’s songs require serious contemplating. His playing is sharp and does not intend to either please or be celestial.

 

Jason Moran - Same Mother
Jason Moran – Same Mother

 

Moran seems to be always be playing an opinionated deconstruction of the times that we live – his playing is very complex and yet resonates with much odd familiarity. His song “The Field” on the album Same Mother is one of his best.

 

Sullivan Fortner - Aria
Sullivan Fortner – Aria

 

Sullivan Fortner is a very young musician. He has released a single solo album so far, Aria. He is a stride pianist who plays us the soft and smooth with incredible elegance. His song “You Know I Care” feels like an epic of well theorized beauty in movements. He plays us quiet very well with “For All We Know.”

 

Aaron Diehl - Space, Time, Continuum
Aaron Diehl – Space, Time, Continuum

Aaron Diehl seems to want to plays neo-traditional Jazz. The songs on his album Space, Time, Continuum, despite its having a title that we would associate with Free Jazz, tell us this. Sometimes he is an experimental piano player, the song “Le Tombeau De Couperin,” as many traditional Jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington were in their day, but he is never philosophically avant garde.

His piano playing is very controlled and allows to plunge into the sounds of individual notes all the while feeling along to the mood and other instrumentation in the song. His song “Single Petal of Rose” is a piano tragedy that will leave any listener asking about his or her own life.

Videos:

 

 

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I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face

Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson

Listening to Spotify shuffle Cassandra Wilson songs, I stumbled upon a song that I believe spoke to me in a political way: “I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face.” The version that plunged me into dream was the one on her album Blue Skies. It had me think of it as a metaphor for political sentiment.

The song itself is a Broadway tune “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,”  though made grave this time my Wilson’s voice. This one in particular is from the musical My Fair Lady, a tale of becoming. It can be sung as either his, her, or your face. She takes her time at feeling her sentiments and at the sound of a magnificent voice until our walk through the song we are left amazed at a fantastic expressionist performance.

A Broadway tune that can be felt as a political metaphor? Who would have guessed. The  song’s lyrics can be interpreted in two ways. On the one had, I’ve grown accustomed to a face, sung to slow Jazz can only mean that I do not want this to end. On the other hand, the song can only be a rallying cry for change. We live in a world that most of us would like to change whether on the right or on the left. What is the root of much current political sentiment is inequality and cultural morbidity felt in a society that turns a bit too much to the dollar.

The lyrics added political layer to an already sentimental and poignant musical composition and much can be said about the fact that the instrumentation itself can be felt politically. I’ve grown accustomed to his face sung over and over again can signify that things much change or that things should remain the same with phenomenal elegance only if the instruments are well played.

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Artist Profiles: Rasbawa

Rasbawa
Rasbawa

Beninese singer-songwriter Rasbawa is the son of a businessman and a traditional music singer. Very early, he became interested in music. While in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), he fell in love with reggae.

He started to sing in the school choral society and later sang and composed within several groups based in Yamoussoukro (Ivory Coast), including Akanza, New Fashion and Ebioso.

In 1992 he moved to France, where he registered at the Modern School of Music in Grenoble. While he improved his musical skills and learned musical theory, he worked with several local bands, Fallah Five in 1993 and Struggle in 1994. In 1995 he formed his own group and in December recorded his first album, Black or White Image of God.

Rasbawa played live alongside major Jamaican acts. His second album, Passeport, came out in 1998.

His third recording, Jeunesse Africaine (African Youth) came out in 2000.

In 2002 he produced 2 young Beninese artists: Adjag and Daristo.

Island King Records, a label specialized in roots Reggae, released the fourth album, De Paris a Bohicon (From Paris to Bohicon).

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Continental Garden: Gilberto Gil, Mini-Jazz

Gilberto Gil’s song on the album Expresso 2222 ‘Qui Nem Jilo’, originally written by Luiz Gonzaga, sounds very similar to a certain Haitian mini jazz aesthetic: the songs of the group Les Ambassadeurs and of Les Fantaisistes from respectively the Bel Air and Carrefour areas of Port Au Prince.

Upbringing? Gilberto Gil and the Haitian mini jazz musicians are originally from black lower middle class to middle class origins – areas well known for having much less prejudice than other areas in their country. Gilberto Gil was born in the mythical Salvador de Bahia, well known for being much less prejudiced than other Brazilian cities. Carrefour was a neighborhood that hosted the living of dark skin Blacks in Haiti and so was Bel Air.

Politics? Gil and the Mini-Jazz musicians all faced similar political realities: bourgeoisie and dictatorship, despite the stark difference between the economies of Haiti and of Brazil. They all chose to respond to the times that they lived with music and perhaps it is why both “Qui Nem Jilo” and the Mini-Jazz from Carrefour play are so thrilling.

Globalization?? Religion?? All lived in a world shaped by mass media broadcasting the music of Americans and Europeans. There is certainly a heavy undercurrent of African diaspora religion music in both Gil’s and in Mini-Jazz songs from Carrefour and Bel Air.

The reason why might be frenzy: both parties committed their songs to expressing frenzy: their sentiments about absolute love and its urgency, whether if it was love of country or or a significant other.

Gilberto Gil - Expresso 2222
Gilberto Gil – Expresso 2222

Headline photo: Gilberto Gil – Photo by Priscila Azul

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In order to rear a beautiful child: Rhiannon Giddens, Mermaid Avenue

On the road to eternal rest, perhaps one of the greatest challenges that a person can face is how to raise a child. The answer is complex and layered but it surely includes listening to folk songs. Folk songs cultivate empathy. Rhiannon Giddens plays folk songs that will enthrall any contemporary soul. The Mermaid Avenue albums are collections of songs that do the same.

Folk songs perform magic. For one, they allow us to feel along with others in a grassroots sort of way – they delight not because of heavy marketing’s affect but because of genuine sentiment. Like all things that delight, they are not taught in school and are associated with the “wild” or the “reckless” to be consumed in humorous “doses.” It should not be the case. Listening to a great folk song is a communion with years of sentiment, interpretation, and expression. As a child learns of his or her world, it would be wise for that child to feel the world, the weight of it, by listening to folk songs. He or she will feel the soul of the times that came before his or her own and that will have shaped the times that he or she will live.

Rhiannon Giddens is mixed raced folk singer waist deep in the business of dwelling in the South, the same dwelling in the South that has often been horrific to African Americans. The public lynchings and other torture many African Americans suffered still hurt. The South has also been a great region for the production of American culture. The South has hosted folk courage beyond belief and its folk songs are products of this. Giddens plays with folk songs: sings them beautifully and always while committed to the grandeur that a song may have. By doing so, she sings us magnificence.

The Mermaid Avenue albums by Billy Bragg and Wilco reveal the twists and turns of American history. They sing Woody Guthrie’s collected songs along to well played instrumentation and never singing these songs in a way that will not thrill themselves.

It’s always wise to dance and sing along to songs that have gone from one singer to the other, as if a song that collected mounds of sincere nods about delight and detail. It’s even wise to do it with one’s child. Then, you will have raised a beautiful, comprehending, soul.

Headline photo: Rhiannon Giddens – Photo by Dan Winters

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Balladeers: John Coltrane, Charles Lloyd

Central to the African American musical tradition is the writing of black ballads – an even more fitting way of understanding black music than simply tying down black music to the use of minor chords i.e. the blues.

The list of black balladeers is long. One name that sits high on the list is John Coltrane. In John Coltrane’s music, one hears the entire history of the undercurrents in African American music: impressionism, expressionism, religious expressionism, American nationalism, and the frustration from music’s inability to emancipate the African American. We hear American existentialism and nationalism through his ballads.

Key to the ballad is narration. It was not easy. Coltrane came to the Ballad as a Jazz saxophonist. He was often left to narrating without words. What helped him was that Ballads had socialized Americans for years before and so he had the opportunity of matching his ballads to written ballads despite his improvisations. He released an album of 22 ballads in 1963, each narrating beauty to American soul.

The ballad is the oldest form of American music. It is a descendant of European culture made American by years of practice. It is still practiced today and many beautiful ballads are being written as much as folk ballads continue to be played. What’s fascinating about the American ballad is that a culture of deep democracy and the individualism that comes from deep democracy could have killed the ballad but it has not. Commerce has re-branded the ballad as whatever profitable genre it fits into but that’s about it. African Americans wrote secular ballads using cosmological retentions from African cultures and the musical concepts that came along with these cosmologies inherent in African religions.

Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd

Another great balladeer is Charles Lloyd. Lloyd’s ECM album Mirror is a great album of ballads that tell stories without words, revealing themselves as they go on onto that final point in a musical composition we term as “end.” Lloyd’s ballads are informed by his spiritual quests: the teller is wants to be at peace. It makes for Ballads that are light and sincere and that will surely stand the test of time of such because of Lloyd’s skill.

The black ballad becomes what we call R&B. A great example is Ray Charles’s “Hit The Road Jack.” As R&B, it becomes a commercialized ballad and the stories it tells are formulated for radio. The practice of producing black ballads is lost there and old black ballads inspire the black music of today.

Headline photo: John Coltrane – Photo by Charles Stewart

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