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Bel Ochan for Michel Lamartiniere Honorat

"Les Danses Folkloriques Haitiennes"
“Les Danses Folkloriques Haitiennes”

In the history of Haitian dance, and thus of Haitian music, there is a name that few people know but that signifies conviction: Michel Lamartiniere Honorat. A politician famous because of his courage, who was an cultural anthropologist (ethnologist) first, he wrote the very first book on Haitian folkloric dance: “Les Danses Folkloriques Haitiennes.” It has yet to be translated in English.

It is impossible to understand Haitian music without understanding Haitian dance and the fact that the music is for the most part produced to dance others and that dance is the foremost expression of liberty, even more than writing or speech, in Haitian culture. Haitian music is meant to dance Haitians, even politically. Not all does, but the majority of it must or else it will be pushed aside.

Most of Haitian dances carry the names of old African tribes, Igbo, Nago, etc and are preserved rites of belonging and identity. We can safely say that Haitians danced the revolution of 1804, as odd as it may seem in 2016.  For a long time, neo-colonial Haitians defined Haitian folk dancing as “primitive.” Honorat wrote these dances down as ethnography and produced the very first text to go along with the preservation of Haitian dance.

As it is the case in traditional Haitian culture and it was especially the case before the American occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934: an Ochan is a military salute to a great person. A Bel Ochan, a beautiful Ochan, is an Ochan full of gesture and of conviviality, sent from a world that smells of humanity, dignity, and satisfaction. Bel Ochan Michel Lamartiniere Honorat, Mama, a man who even left behind “secret writings” about Haitian vodou that have not been published, because you have accomplished.

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Evora Sightseeing During EXIB 2016

During my recent stay in Evora, Portugal, for the 2016 Ibero-American Music Expo (EXIB), I had the opportunity to visit some of the monuments in and around Evora.

Evora is a UNESCO world Heritage site. It’s a walled city that includes dozens of monuments ranging from a Roman Empire-era temple and aqueduct to a cathedral, numerous churches, public squares and other historic buildings.

The city is visited by hundreds of tourists daily. Some of the most popular shops for tourists sell dozens of items made out of cork, such as purses, wallets, hats, floor mats and lots of other items. The cork comes from the cork oaks found in southern Portugal and Spain.

Here’s a photo report of my visit to Evora.

Street art on Avenida Sebastiao - Photo by Angel Romero
Street art on Avenida Sebastiao – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Evora city walls - Photo by Angel Romero
Evora city walls – Photo by Angel Romero

 

another shot of the Evora city walls - Photo by Angel Romero
another shot of the Evora city walls – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Travessa do Barao, one of the numerous narrow city streets - Photo by Angel Romero
Travessa do Barao, one of the numerous narrow city streets – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Curved building on Rua Serpa Pinto - Photo by Angel Romero
Curved building on Rua Serpa Pinto – Photo by Angel Romero

 

One of the main squares, Praça de Giraldo - Photo by Angel Romero
One of the main squares, Praça de Giraldo – Photo by Angel Romero

 

 Cork item souvenir shops - Photo by Angel Romero

Cork item souvenir shops – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Bags and hats made out of cork - Photo by Angel Romero
Bags and hats made out of cork – Photo by Angel Romero

 

The ancient Evora Roman Temple - Photo by Angel Romero
The ancient Evora Roman Temple – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Evora cathedral - Photo by Angel Romero
Evora cathedral – Photo by Angel Romero

 

On May 7th, my colleague Albert Reguant (Director of "Les Rutes del So" Ona Sants Montjuïc de Barcelona and member of the World Music Charts Europe) and I encountered fado singer Jaqueline and her band at the cathedral.
On May 7th, my colleague Albert Reguant (Director of “Les Rutes del So” Ona Sants Montjuïc de Barcelona and member of the World Music Charts Europe) and I encountered fado singer Jaqueline and her band at the cathedral.

 

On May 7th, local sponsors organized a trip to Convento do Espinheiro in the outskirts of Evora. The 15th-century convent is now an upscale hotel and spa, about 5 km from downtown Evora.

EXIB delegates were welcomed by local officials and this was followed by a fascinating performance by Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Carlos Malta, playing wind instruments in the chapel. Following that, we were scheduled to go to the adega Herdade das Servas wine cellar in Estremoz, for a wine tasting, but it turned out to be too far away so the trip was cut short and we returned to Evora.

 

Convento do Espinheiro chapel - Photo by Angel Romero
Convento do Espinheiro chapel – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Brazilian musician Carlos Malta performing at Convento do Espinheiro chapel - Photo by Angel Romero
Brazilian musician Carlos Malta performing at Convento do Espinheiro chapel – Photo by Angel Romero

Related articles:

The Passionate Music of Alentejo, the Focus of EXIB 2016 Opening Concert

Three Continents Represented at EXIB 2016 Day 1 Showcases

The Diverse Sounds of Iberia, Mexico and Cuba at EXIB 2016 Day 2 Showcases

Cuatro Mastery and Hip Shaking Cumbia at EXIB 2016 Day 3 Showcases

EXIB 2016 Conferences and Trade Show

Related links:

EXIB Música

Evora Tourist Guide

Visite Evora

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EXIB 2016 Conferences and Trade Show

The Iberoamerican Music Expo 2016 turned out to be a great opportunity to catch up with Portuguese music and some of the album releases from neighboring Spain and Latin America.

The EXIB trade show area was smaller than WOMEX, but there was a pretty good representation of booking agencies, festivals, institutions and record labels/producers.

 

EXIB Música 2016 trade show - Photo courtesy of EXIB Música
EXIB Música 2016 trade show – Photo courtesy of EXIB Música

 

One of the most fascinating exhibitors was Tradisom Producoes Culturais. This record company puts together fabulous boxed sets, books with CD, hard cover CDs, and regular CDs focusing on traditional and contemporary Portuguese folk music. Some of the goodies exhibited included a mammoth hard cover 552-page book accompanied by 4 CDs titled A Origem fo Fado (the origin of fado).

 

A Origem fo Fado (the origin of fado).
A Origem fo Fado (the origin of fado).

 

Tradisom also had a boxed set with the entre discography by one of the greatest Portuguese folk bands in the late 20th century, Brigada Victor Jara. There were also fado boxed sets, a Julio Pereira (cavaquinho master) hard cover book+CD and much more. This label is a goldmine for Portuguese music.

Several of the exhibitors represented some of the artists that showcased throughout EXIB 2016. I managed to get a pretty decent amount of CDs and memory sticks with press kits so we will be reviewing some of this material in the next weeks.

 

Covers of La Tundra magazine
Covers of La Tundra magazine

 

In this era of digital everything, it was great to see a new print magazine made in London. La Tundra is a free Spanish language culture and arts magazine published and designed by Silvia Demetilla. The magazine features CD and book reviews, the theater scene, urban radar (reviews of recommended places in London neighborhoods), urban spaces, travel articles, interviews and environmental consciousness reports.

Iberoamerica Musical is the umbrella organization that supports EXIB. The organization runs several other initiatives such as the upcoming Revista Digital Pura Mestiza, a quarterly magazine targeting Ibero-American music industry professionals.

Conferences

Three influential music journalists, Gabriel Plaza (Argentina), Enrique Blanc (Mexico), and Humphrey Inzillo (Argentina) gave a presentation about the network of Ibero-American music journalists.

left to right Humphrey Inzillo, Gabriel Plaza and Enrique Blanc at EXIB 2016
left to right: Humphrey Inzillo, Gabriel Plaza and Enrique Blanc at EXIB 2016 – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Inzillo, Plaza and Blanc also introduced some of the most interesting sounds coming from Latin America, like various forms of cumbia, including electronic cumbia produced by companies like tropical futurism label ZZK Records; the new tango scene in Argentina, featuring new tango orchestras and bands with a new attitude such as Orquesta Típica Fernández Fierro, El Arranque, Buenos Aires Negro, Melingo and La Chicana.

 

 

Enrique Blanc explained that Mexico has four main music production areas: Mexico City, Tijuana, Monterrey and Guadalajara. Mexico City is a huge city that produces all music genres; Tijuana has an interesting electronic scene and is heavily influenced by its northern neighbor, the USA; Monterrey (near Laredo and Brownsville in Texas) focuses on conjunto and norteño sounds.

Guadalajara, meanwhile, is considered the cultural capital of Mexico. Enrique introduced Guadalajara acts like indie rock band Porter, showcasing their video Huitzil; and Hoppo! a new band featuring Chilean and Mexican artists, including Café Tacvba vocalist Rubén Albarrán.

 

 

 

Festival programmers met for the 2nd Encounter of Ibero-American Music Festivals. The first session was a networking and strategizing section open to festivals only. The second part was open to artist managers and agents as well as musicians.

Brazilian wind instrument virtuoso Carlos Malta gave a masterclass and conference at Evora University, and then there were numerous micro-conferences presenting books, events, new media platforms, music guides and more within the EXIB trade show space. Lastly, the expo featured an Ibero-American music documentary series.

My impression this year is that EXIB has grown. Naturally, this year the Portuguese presence was much larger, which made the event very attractive for those unfamiliar with the Portuguese music scene. I also saw some media colleagues from beyond Ibero America: musician and writer Andrew Cronshaw (UK), Simon Broughton of Songlines magazine (UK) and Drago Vovk from Radio Sraka in Slovenia.

Plans for EXIB 2017 have not been finalized yet, but it looks like Cordoba in Spain might be the next location for this unique music expo.

Related articles:

The Passionate Music of Alentejo, the Focus of EXIB 2016 Opening Concert

Three Continents Represented at EXIB 2016 Day 1 Showcases

The Diverse Sounds of Iberia, Mexico and Cuba at EXIB 2016 Day 2 Showcases

Cuatro Mastery and Hip Shaking Cumbia at EXIB 2016 Day 3 Showcases

Related links:

EXIB Música

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Gauche! / In Gouache ..

Zeca Baleiro
Zeca Baleiro

Given the news that we receive about Brazil daily, that the President will be impeached, that millions are sliding into poverty, that corruption is mining hope’s coal, a song could remind us of Brazil’s first commitment to leftist politics after years of dictatorships all the while also explaining us why Brazil is going through what it is going through. Which song? Brazilians produce many great musicians and songs but perhaps the very best song to tune to is Zeca Baleiro’s “Pastiche” and his singing that someone is told by an angel to stand “gauche!” or with the left but that this person was painted by life in gouache.

Baleiro’s song treats the fundamental contradiction that every citizen in every society has to live with: either doing the right thing or not and being reminded of when has or has not. It does it with lyrics that are resolutely urban and can mock a very sad situation that plagues most contemporary societies. Corruption is what is destroying Brazil and Baleiro sings us the corrupt, survival-obsessed, individual.

The song itself is the sort of samba that can be danced with one’s hands in the air or with each of one’s hands on one’s sides. He sings the song along with a woman’s voice (I can’t seem to find out who this woman is,) and the duo is incredible. The wind instruments are a great addition but it is the song’s rhythm that affects a listener the most. It is a song full of humor, though one should not forget that it is political humor and its reason for being is so that we treat the topic of contradicted and unproductive individualism seriously.

Listening to it will do wonders. It’ll put a fundamental contradiction to music. It’ll remind us that Bossa Nova was the sound of progress and that despite the pain that came after Bossa Nova, Brazilian musicians, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso have always kept hope alive through song. It’ll remind us that human societies both regress and progress but what remains the same is one’s ability to stand in solidarity with the right principles. It’ll also remind us that a political song can be beautifully written enough to read like a poem.

I like to write pastiches

I like to eat pistachios

In a past life I was a whirling dervish

Currently the life I lead is full of satire

An Angel came to me and said: ‘Gauche!’

Life came and painted me in gouache

I dance with a doll

Dressed in a Versace suit

I used to own a chop shop

And dress like an Apache during Carnival

I played a minor character in the movie “A Revanche”

Shared a scene or two with Irene Ravache

All great horses bray

Every scoundrel makes mistakes

I had a band but it had some umph

Nobody’ll step on me, I’m no doormat

I worked from Sunday to Sunday

I’m very fancy, I eat sushi and quiches

Though when I lived at Largo do Arouche

I only ate sandwiches

I became famous by starring in trash movies

It was a horrendous life, O God, o my!

Like everyone else, I do a dream

I’d like to be John Malkovich

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Les Moncada Remembering Conga Bata Master Francisco Aguabella in 2016

Francisco Aguabella - Photo courtesy of Virgilio Figueroa
Francisco Aguabella – Photo courtesy of Virgilio Figueroa

Francisco Aguabella was one of the greatest Latin drummers. He was a conga and bata master, a Latin Jazz orchestra leader, and composer. Francisco was born on October 10th, 1925 in Matanzas, Cuba and passed away on May 7th, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.

Francisco composed many pieces and eyes and ears were always open to his tunes. ‘El Agua Limpia Todo and ‘Complicacion’ were composed by him and recorded and performed by the Tito Puente Orchestra. The dance halls from New York City to the West Coast went crazy. This was the mambo era after the war, a magnificent time and reason for all the races to unite, whites, blacks, Jews, Latinos, Asians, all who wanted to learn the new dance steps to the mambo, cha cha cha and the rumba (as in Walter Winchell rumba not Afro-Cuban folkloric rumba).

 

 

Tito Puente made the world go crazy with Francisco’s tunes. One of these, ‘Marchando Bien’ was recorded on Tito Puente’s last CD that featured Eddie Palmieri, and was sung by the late Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodriguez.

 

 

At times, I would be at a restaurant, eating with Francisco and he would hum a few bars of a tune and chuckle, saying “Listen, this is something I composed and Eddie Palmieri is interested in it”.

 

 

Francisco resided in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, making recordings, performing with the Latin rock group Malo; Carlos Santana; and Tito Puente. He was the musical director to Cesar’s All Star band nightly at Cesar’s Palace, a nightclub owned by pianist Cesar Arscarrunz. Francisco was always performing with his own Latin Jazz orchestra and traveled at night to play a bata drum ceremony in Los Angeles the next day without resting. Francisco traveled back and forth to New York City to play with Eddie Palmieri, to participate in recordings and to perform with various other Latin orchestras. In his later years, Francisco returned to Los Angeles.

 

 

Francisco had a knack in finding young new talent, such as the late vibe player, composer and bongosero Nerio Degracia. Nerio wrote compositions and performed with Francisco and in his later years had his own Latin Jazz band.

Composition by Nerio De Gracia, Image of a Star:

 

 

The first Latin female pianist in San Francisco, Patricia Thumas performed with Francisco Aguabella while Armando Peraza was in his orchestra.

 

 

Conga drummer and batalero master, Virgilio Figueroa, colleague, friend and apprentice with Francisco Aguabella says about Francisco:

I first met personally Francisco Aguabella in 1972 in Los Angeles through Julito Collazo, who was my bata teacher and friend in New York City at a bembe toque at Bebo Ochun ocha house, when I was 15 years old at the time. I relocated to Los Angeles in 1974 and became Francisco’s personal friends till his passing 5 years ago.

I became a full member of his traditional Afro Matanzero folk group in 1980. Francisco was living in the city of San Francisco at the time. In 1982 I became a Lukumi priest and traveled to Cuba in 1983 to expand my knowledge of the Lukumi religion and ceremonial bata drumming in the city of Mantanzas (Cuba). In turn, I met my padrino (godfather) Alfredo Cano Calvo (deceased) who also happened to be Francisco’s sister Librada Aguabella’s godfather.

I met all of Aguabella’s blood relatives and became the bridge between them. In 1983 I decided to bring from Matanzas Cuba the first consecrated full set of añan bata to Los Angeles and recruited Aguabella to move here to Los Angeles from San Francisco and teach us how to play Matanzero style since he was the only one in the USA that new how to play in that manner. Tony Rosa, Mike Orta and myself were his only students at that time.

What impressed me to most about Francisco Urrutia Aguabella was his commitment in preserving the traditional Matanzero añan style of playing which he learned at the tender age of 15 by master oluaña Carlos Alfonso and the power he had when he played never got tired and demanded the same from his players.

Francisco Aguabella, courtesy of Aguabella Family.
Francisco Aguabella, courtesy of Aguabella Family.

Personally, I learned with him many other style of drumming such as olukun, iyesa, bricamo, bembe, arara and bakoso, styles that are no longer played in Matanzas today.

Francisco was a time capsule from the 40s and 50s.The main thing I miss about him is his sincerity and honesty and overall loyal friendship. Francisco did not befriend many people, but he made friends with me, and gave much needed advice growing up as a young man. For me, besides a friend and teacher he will always remain my Afro-Matanzero legend the one and only.”

 

 

Francisco Aguabella had few personal apprentices some who have reached legendary status due to their contributions in music:

John Santos, 5 time Grammy nominee and musical director of many charanga orchestras and Afro-Cuban folkloric groups throughout the decades. He’s a bata, instructor and clinician and a Latin music historian and musicologist.

Michael Spiro, music professor at University of Indiana, clinician, instructor, musician, and bata and Brazilian percussion master.

Tony Rosas, conguero, bata master, and musician currently based in New York City, performing with Conjunto Libre and Conjunto Folklorico Nuevorriqueño and other Latin orchestras;

Virgilio Figueroa, bata master, conguero, performing musician with other Latin orchestras in the Los Angeles area, with his tireless contributions to the Los Angeles, Nevada and other communities with his sacred añan drum group;

And me, Les Moncada, musician; former Latin orchestra leader & Afro-Cuban folkloric drum group leader; bata performer in clinics with Francisco Aguabella; founder of Latin Drumming Educational site on Facebook: Timbales and Congas Bongo Bata and Bells and 8 other Latin instrument sites on Facebook, and writer for World Music Central.

Francisco left us history in his recordings, especially his Afro-Cuban folkloric recordings. Additionally, Francisco contributed a great deal of folkloric knowledge to the Afro-Cuban recordings of Ramon Mongo Santamaria.

Francisco you are greatly missed by all.

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The Passionate Music of Alentejo, the Focus of EXIB 2016 Opening Concert

The 2016 edition of the Iberoamerican Music Expo (EXIB) opened May 4th in Evora, Portugal. Evora is a beautiful walled city, a UNESCO world heritage site that includes numerous monuments spanning centuries. Evora is located in the Alentejo region of Portugal. It’s part of Portugal’s heartland and is defined by its rural nature. For the EXIB opening, organizers treated the audience to a mix of southern Portuguese traditional and contemporary folk music.

 

Grupo Coral e Etnográfico Cantares de Évora - Photo by Angel Romero
Grupo Coral e Etnográfico Cantares de Évora – Photo by Angel Romero

 

The concert at the Teatro Garcia de Resende started with the Grupo Coral e Etnográfico Cantares de Évora, marching through the center aisle towards the stage. This group of talented male and female singers, perform dressed in various costumes reflecting various social strata and professions from the mid-20th century, including traditional farmer, cowboy, and shepherd attire.

They perform traditional cante alentejano, an a cappella style that celebrates rural life. Grupo Coral e Etnográfico Cantares de Évora perform “old style”, without any modern arrangements to the traditional music poems.

A series of short videos were screened, in between performances, highlighting Evora, farm life, the enthralling sheep bell makers and other aspects of the local culture.

 

Celina Da Piedade - Photo by Angel Romero
Celina Da Piedade – Photo by Angel Romero

 

One of the great artists from the region, accordionist and vocalist Celina Da Piedade appeared next, accompanying herself on accordion. She was later joined by Há Lobos sem ser na Serra musicians, who accompanied Celina on guitar, drums and vocals.

Celina is a conservatory-trained musician and specializes in music from the Alentejo region. In addition to her talent as a passionate singer, she is also a virtuoso accordionist, playing beautiful melodies inspired by the Alentejo region. She participates and leads numerous workshops and has performed abroad. She leads weekly gatherings of Cante Alentejano in Casa do Alentejo, Lisbon. Celina has participated in over 50 recordings as well as soundtracks for film, theater and dance. She is currently part of the celebrated collective TaisQuais that includes some of the biggest names in Portuguese music: Vitorino, Tim, Sebastião, Serafim, Jorge Palma, Paulo Ribeiro and João Gil. They released a critically acclaimed album titled “Os fabulosos Tais Quais”.

 

Há Lobos sem ser na Serra - Photo by Angel Romero
Há Lobos sem ser na Serra – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Há Lobos sem ser na Serra played next. They represent a new generation of cante alentejano musicians. Their sound is rooted in tradition although the arrangements take the music into exciting new directions. While the band plays, a graphic artists paints desings on a video screen.

Há Lobos sem ser na Serra use the 8-shaped guitar called viola campaniça. It’s a rare guitar from Alentejo with a peculiar mouth that nearly disappeared in the 1960s. It has unusual tunings and the band extracts unexpected sounds and some jazz elements. Band members include António Bexiga on viola campaniça; Bernardo ‘Buba’ Espinho on vocals and drum; and David Pereira on viola campaniça and vocals.

 

João Afonso -- Photo by Angel Romero
João Afonso – Photo by Angel Romero

 

One of Portugal’s most cherished singer-songwriters, João Afonso, performed accompanied by various guitars. João Afonso plays contemporary folk music and pop inspired by various Portuguese traditions. We have a João Afonso artist profile that you can read for additional information.

 

Luis Peixoto - Photo by Angel Romero
Luis Peixoto – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Two string masters participated in the event, accompanying João Afonso, playing solos and mesmerizing interplay. Luis Peixoto is a multi-instrumentalist who plays various string instruments and also mixes folk music with electronics. For this occasion he used the tiny cavaquinho, which is one of the ancestors of the ukulele.

 

Juan José Robles - Photo by Angel Romero
Juan José Robles – Photo by Angel Romero

 

Juan José Robles, from southeastern Spain, was one of the two international guests. He’s also multi-instrumentalist specialized in string instruments and the folk music from the Murcia region. He used the mandolina (mandolin), octavilla (a guitar from La Mancha) and a guitarro valenciano.

 

Carlos Malta - Photo courtesy of EXIB
Carlos Malta – Photo courtesy of EXIB

 

Carlos Malta’s flute sounds entered the theater down the center aisle. The Brazilian wind instrument master brought the sounds of South America and joined the rest of the musicians for several beautiful songs that were very familiar to the Portuguese members of the audience, who sang along.

 

Ovation at EXIB 2016 - Photo by Angel Romero
Ovation at EXIB 2016 – Photo by Angel Romero

The EXIB 2016 opening concert was a superb introduction to the music of Alentejo.

Videos:

 

 

 

 

 

Related links:

Iberoamerican Music Expo (EXIB)
Celina Da Piedade
João Afonso
Luis Peixoto
Carlos Malta

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Poetry & Music: Haiti’s Infatuation

Wooly St Louis Jean
Wooly St Louis Jean

Haitian musicians have recently been seriously focused on making music out of poetry. It is an interesting practice that has produced countless gems, such as the albums of Wooly St Louis Jean and Tamara Suffren.

In 1570, during the French Renaissance, a well known French poet Jean-Antoine de Baif founded the “Academie de musique et de poesie” along with composer Joachim Thibault de Courville. They aimed to combine music and poetry in order to revive the Roman and Greek practice of putting poetry to music, amongst other things, and for some time put on infamous concerts attended by the high society of the time. Combining music and poetry either for theater or for non-theatrical song had been prevalent in both ancient Greece and in ancient Rome but the middle ages had put an end to the vitality of the practice.

Chorus from The Bacchai

Euripides (480-406 B.C.)

Where is the home for me?
O Cyprus, set in the sea,
Aphrodite’s home in the soft sea-foam,
Would I lend to thee;
Where in the wings of the Lovers are furled,
And faint the heart of the world!
Ay, or to Paphos’ isle,
Where the rainless meadows smile
With riches rolled from the hundred-fold
Mouths of the far-off Nile,
Streaming beneath the waves
To the roots of the seaward caves!

Jean Antoine de Baif’s would not be the only time in European history that poets would be interested in working with musicians and vice verso. By the 20th century, ancient Rome and Greece were again through infamous collaborations such as Jean Cocteau and Edith Piaf’s and Leo Ferre and Aragon’s.

The Europeans were not the only ones doing it this time and in the nations of the Americas, colonies and former colonies, turning poetry and to song came to be practiced. A song like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is a very popular example of the practice. In Haiti, artists of upper class and middle class backgrounds also aspired to turn poetry into music. The very first successful version of this was “Choucoune” a poem by Oswald Durand written in 1893 composed into a song by Micheal Morton. It is still very well known in Haiti and was copied by Harry Belafonte as the song “Yellow Bird.” It was originally about a woman named Marie Noel Belizaire whose eyes “shone like candle light.” The practice continued on with classic interpretations of one of Haitian poet Emile Roumer’s poems “Marabout de mon coeur”, or ‘Marabout (a dark skin woman with very long hair found in the north of Haiti probably of Senegalese descent) of my heart’ and other lesser known songs.

In the 21st century, the practice of putting poetry to music continues in Haiti as it also does in Europe. The poet is are most put to song is Syto Cave. The internationally known Haitian writer Lyonel Trouillot is a major advocate of turning poetry into music and many of his poems have been composed into music. A singer Wooly St Louis Jean has made an entire career out of turning poetry into music. Tamara Suffren, an incredible singer, has also done the same, though she does not call her music “poetry turned into music” unlike Wooly St Louis Jean. The combination has produced songs that explore imagery and language as only poetry really ever does. Their songs are beloved and though most are not popular, some crossover and become radio hits feeding the weak polity that Haiti is and its agora of cynicism with humanity and profound beauty.

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Hathor: Ancient Egypt’s Goddess of Music

Depiction of Hathor (left)
Depiction of Hathor (left)

Understanding Hathor, the ancient Egyptian goddess of music, is understanding how one of human kinds most fascinating civilization’s thought of music’s relationship to life. Understanding Hathor can help us judge what aspects of life we associate music with.

The Egyptian civilization of the very long Egyptian antiquities is one of the most thrilling in human history. To this day, fascinates millions if not billions and Egyptian pyramids are visited by large numbers of tourists whereas neighboring Sudan’s Meroe pyramids are not as well known. What’s mind boggling about the civilization of the Egyptian antiquities is many of its practices and concepts it found their way into both European (Athens), are the heart of carnival culture, and also into West African civilization and thus into American life. Examples of this are many. Barack Obama’s father was a Luo, belonged to the Luo ethnic group in East Kenya, an ethnic group who are direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians, and so the President of the United States today is direct descendant of ancient Egyptians.

Music played a central role in the life of ancient Egyptians and the goddess, or the idealization, of music was Hathor. She was one of the ancient Egypt’s most popular goddesses. According to brittanica.com, the Greeks equated Hathor with Aprhodite. She was also a goddess of fertility, of women, of mirth, of fertility, of beauty, and of love. The Oxford Dictionary of Ancient Egypt adds happiness to the list. She was also a goddess associated with mining and in particular with Turquoise. She was represented as a woman with cow horns or as a cow, obviously to signify giving life. She was considered to be the daughter of Re, the sun, and her cult centre was in Dandarah, of which ruins exist today. She was celebrated side by side with Horus, the god of both power and healing symbolized as a falcon.

The following epitaph is a translation of an song used to praise Hathor. It is from the book Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion by Claas Jouco Bleeker, a Dutch historian of Egyptian religion.

We laud thee with delightful songs

For though art the mistress of jubilation

The mistress of music, the queen of harp playing,

The lady of dance,

The mistress of chorus dance, the queen of wreath-weaving

How do our own conceptions of music compare to Hathor traits? We each conceive of music in different ways but all or most seem to agree on some of its uses. We agree that it dances us and that it makes us happy. Mirth, or amusement, s certainly a reason why we listen to music.

Some societies do equate music with fertility and do celebrate music when celebrating power of healing (Hathor is celebrated alongside Horus.) Not all do however and there is a lot of sobriety silence in contemporary life. Very little music is composed to celebrate fertility in some areas in the world though in other areas the practice is prevalent. Do we equate music with beauty? We do, but the art elites seem to equate it more with paintings. Beauty seems to be fixed or affixed to as opposed to in movement. However, most people would equate a beautiful time with participating in beautiful dance to a beautiful song.

There is a certain sobriety that comes with gems and with the contemplation of a cow that is unlike celebrating Hathor. A cow today would mean prosperity through work and very little of us globally sing work songs wen compared to how we sang them one or two centuries ago.

Its hard not to agree with the ancient Egyptian’s definition of music through their god or shall we say theology of music. Music is certainly the grand way to celebrate and seems to be agreed upon by all of our senses as communing with beauty, life, mirth and happiness. May it continue to be the case, and may we compose and perform a few more fertility songs and work songs

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Kinshasa: a Musical City & The Pictures Jean Depara Took

Like Dakar, Bamako, or Nairobi, Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is one Africa’s great cities for music and has been for some time. Some would argue that Kinshasa has eclipsed the other cities in terms of producing music that has dominated all of subsaharan Africa. It is debatable. One photographer Jean Depara spent an entire lifetime participating and photographing Kinshasa’s night life and urbanity, leaving behind him brilliant photographs that illustrate the gourmand consumption of Congolese rumba in Kinsasha and the world of emotions that propelled the rise of the musical powerhouse soukous.

Jean Depara was born in Angola but made a name for his self as a photographer in DRC. He focused Kinshasa’s nightlife from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, when he became an official parliamentary reporter in 1975. At the heyday of Depara’s career, around the time and right after “Les Independances” or when African nation states became independent, the great name in DRCongolese music was Franco. Franco, short for Francois Luambo Makiadi, like many other African musicians, was first well known for playing in an orchestra that fused Afro Latin American and African rhythms, OK Jazz.

Cuban rhythms were especially beloved in many African cities and it was the case in at first the Belgian Congo and then in the many names that the DRC has gone by where a Congolese rumba was developed. Franco not only played a terrific guitar but was also an incredible vocalist. He was the king of songs that hid messages and often political messages. OK Jazz would go on to develop into TPOK Jazz and become one of the country’s major figures in the soukous movement and dominate the music of subsaharan Africa in general. It would soon be globally recognized.

In 1954, Depara became Franco’s official photographer. He was granted access to the life that fed Franco’s music. TOPK Jazz’s only real rival was Grand Kalle et L’African Jazz who were well known for the phenomenal “Independance cha cha cha,” though Zaiko Langa Langa and Tabu Ley Rochereau were as well known on the music scene though not as well loved. They all thrilled Kinsasha. In addition to Franco’s TPOK Jazz and its rivals, there were many other groups. DRCongolese groups were the major acts of subsaharan African music of the time both in terms of popularity and critical acclaim.

Depara’s subjects were often under strain though it does not seem to be the case. As Latin-African fusion and eventually soukous made their way into DRCongolese hearts, DRCongo’s politics began to know its highs and lows. The much loved Prime minister Patrice Lumumba was violently followed by Kasavubu and then violently by the dictator Mobutu Sese Soko in 1965 until 1997.

By the beginning of Mobutu’s reigns, DRCongo’s great orchestra and Kinshasa’s nightlife were already in existence. With Mobutu came a time of general absurdity that included both harsh dictatorship but also a campaign of authenticity and of pride in one’s own history. The DRCongolese people, for some time renamed Zaire by Mobutu, lived to the rhythm of daily national life imposed by Mobutu Sese Soko as much as they did to Soukous and their other musical rhythms. The people of Kinshasa’s continuing to attend nightclubs and their living along to DRCongolese’s many musical rhythms created the sort of life that fed soukous and the songs of Franco.

Jean Depara captured the emotion in Kinshasa’s living that came from cultural glory and from political doubt; the living that fed music’s brilliance and perpetuity.

headline photo: Congolese rumba master Franco – Photo by Jean Depara

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Kingston’s Summer of ’66

In the history of Jamaican music, there is a before and an after the summer of 1966. Jamaican history had always been both turbulent and productive because of its social movements and polarized politics but this time it was hot weather that would go on to make universal cultural history by creating the demand for in Jamaica for rocksteady and reggae.

Jamaica is a pretty small island and were it not for the explosive character of its cultural innovations would be considered as such. However, history has placed the island’s society and cultural history at the center of global interest and its especially the case for the music that it produces.

Even before reggae, Jamaicans produced the internationally acclaimed ska (as just one of their indigenous music genres.) Ska came into being during the 1950’s of commercial radio, hotels and the advent of nightclubs and of Jamaica’s sound systems and slowly exploded into global significance. At the time, mento and ska were the indigenous musical genres that dominated in Jamaica.

During the summer of 1966, both ska and mento’s popularity came to a halt. Kingston experienced a massive heat wave and the demand for ska dancing immediately went down. The demand for ska had previously enlarged with the migration of many young Jamaicans to Kingston, the island’s capital. Suddenly, these youngsters needed a new music to dance along to and to meet this new demand rocksteady’s popularity was born.

Rocksteady had much less instrumentals than ska and much more vocals. The drums and the bass were slowed down and arrangement was much less stressed. It was a crooner’s music and its songs told tales. It was immigration music at first and was created by the interaction of a Trinidadian in Kingston, Lynn Taitt, and the Jamaicans that he played along with. It was sort of a slow calypso turned Jamaican. Its name was coined from a song by Alton Ellis named “Rock Steady.” It was also born at the same time as commercial soul music was thriving so it was profoundly influenced by soul music. Musicians like Roy Shirley, The Maytals and The Heptones became the new dancehall pleasers.

The Maytals - Never Grow Old
The Maytals – Never Grow Old

Rocksteady’s popularity would only last until 1968, when reggae overtook it. By then, Kingston had changed into a city with many more slums and “dreadlocks”, to quote the Jamaican anthropologist Barry Chevannes, or rastafarians who fashioned themselves like mau-mau fighters by wearing dreadlocks, living in them.

The rastafarians had danced to rocksteady but with “dreadlocks” ideology came the need for a change in “sound” that matched their new ideologies.

Rastafarians had typically stayed out of politics and been a rural movement. It was no more the case. From rocksteady, reggae was produced to be less slick and as a much more raw expression. It was not yet purely political as it would get with Max Romeo’s classic album War Ina Babylon but it was different.

What’s important to note, however, that reggae became popular in large part because of the heatwave of 1966, which had brought along popularity for the new music rocksteady. Without the heatwave, there would have been much less of a receptiveness for either Max Romeo or Bob Marley.

Headline photo: Lynn Taitt

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