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.
Headline photo: Gilberto Gil – Photo by Priscila Azul
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
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.
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
In the 20th century, a wonderful thing happened to American poetry. The recordings of musical troubadours, a singer of vernacular poetry, became very important to most of the population. Not even Robert Lowell has known the poetic esteem of Muddy Waters, of Bob Dylan or of Bill Withers. They were the product of years of social dissent and political organization that had created a new ethos in this country: a love for poetic and popular song.
Some of these musicians were educated at the University level. Some were not. The USA, singer of countless ballads, had produced a Guillaume IX d’Aquitaine. Millions, not hundreds, not thousands, sang along. In his book Writing Degree Zero, Roland Barthes writes that modern poems are a matter of “verbal luck.” The “verbal luck” had worked. Three such musicians are undeniable greats: Charles Bradley, Charles Caldwell and RL Burnside.
Charles Bradley is a singer who has had the chance of officially beginning his career as a matured man. It has allowed him to sing from the bottom of his heart and with verve. He does not sing us a traditional ‘composition”; instead he chooses for his songs to be incredible moments strung together as a formidable experience. He sings about a multitude of things: He sings us nationalism superbly in the song “Good to be back home” and love in at most beautiful vernacular in “Crazy for your love.” In five words, he is a superb musician.
Charles Caldwell writes songs that burn. He is a man at a fireplace: with few words he attempts a flame, adding more wood to the fire (with his guitar) without saying more than the minimum “and along / come another man ..” His album Remember Me is magnificence.
RL Burnside will change your mind about what to dance along to. His songs are introductions to an art of life of humor, contemplations, but also of feeling. His lyrics are amazing. His songs like “Fireman ring the bell” and “I be troubled” have the ability to erase and leads towards other avenues and in doing so ‘stomping one’s blues.”
They are known as blues singers or folk singers but those are commercial categories. What they are in American society are troubadours. What makes these singers of poetry troubadours is the fact that, like European troubadours, they propose language and conceptions through their songs, though they are not court poets. Music has dethroned religion in the US for how it is (i.e. tones) that people speak. Music has made vernacular not only accepted but also revered. Like European troubadours, American singers are those who propose definitions of emotions like “love.” Love introduced in Europe in the middle ages by Troubadours who also rebelled against static living.
Before the rise of the Bourgeoisie into power through revolutions like the American Revolution, monarchy and Aristocracy decided on great poetry. Whether if it was classical poetry, the Alexandrin for example, for example, the poems of Joachim de Bellay or the English poetry of Chaucer and of Hoccleve, they all had to produced, promoted, and approved by a system. With the Bourgeoisie rise in power came, through revolution, new liberties.
American poetry was born as the poetry of this modern world and never had to submit itself to the court system, though it has to academia. Academia, however, in the end, has not decided for the people. Unlike academics, Americans have never longed read court poets. They have rebelled against court society. They would also agree with Barthes’s stating that a poem is a “possible adventure”. It’s some sort of intellectual entertainment. Most would disagree that poetry functions in American society like the Iliad did in Greek society. The most well known “poetry” in American life that is both known and revered is poetry put to song.
Sovereignty has chosen poetry. Charles Bradley, Charles Caldwell, RL Burnside are American culture’s great European troubadour poets of the Middle Ages, singing in such a thing as American language. They have been loved by many Americans and have shaped resting, sitting, or limping American souls.
Headline photo: RL Burnside – Photo courtesy of Fat Possum Records
The impressionists produced a massive boom of cultural significance and so did the nationalists and their affect on society lingers but no aesthetic has had more massive appeal than musical expressionism to today’s youth. What does that translate to in English? The impressionists, those who played the complexities, the points, of what we all see, Ravel and Debussy, and the nationalists, folk music practitioner for example, transformed this world but subjective emotion translated into music now thrills today’s youth.
Who are these expressionists? They seem to share one thing in common: songs that use poignant beats, meter, and synths to create an atmosphere. They tend to produce alter-narratives, ripping away the hegemony of narrative writing from the traditional guardians of our society who tell us all that are lives will be school, work, home, death. They bring in hurt, healing, and freedom into public sphere and in doing so have socialized millions to look forward to healing or to anticipate hurt.
An expressionist par excellence, we cannot see the bittersweet world that she sings to us given its private nature but can only imagine the distortion felt when she sings us about hurt and longing. We sit and stand amazed at a world of dark colors and of productive dissatisfaction. 21 is a fine expressionism and its climaxes express an interior and not a romantic exterior (war, power, conquest) which move us to sing along to “we / almost had it all ..”
Seu Jorge, Brazil
Seu Jorge’s song “Motoboy” sounds like a human’s experience living a city and perhaps is one of the great expressionist songs of this era. How he achieved this is the question and we can only imagine that solitude is behind it. Imagine living in a massive metropolis in a country marching in the streets to express their opinions and it is a plunge into human living. The expression of that is Seu Jorge.
Kamasi Washington, USA
In The Epic, what others do in quiet music, he does in loud Jazz. He expresses his habitus which includes his accumulation of experience, and by doing so seems to move his listeners beyond having to accept the immediate world. In his case, he does it with an entire band and that’s the beauty of it: all playing towards several colors and shapes to fall into.
Headline photo: Claude Debussy in 1908. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music