Category Archives: Book Reviews

Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music

Sara Le Menestrel - Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music, Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications
Sara Le Menestrel – Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music, Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications
Sara Le Menestrel

Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music, Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications (University Press of Mississippi, 2015)

Those of us who work in the music business use the terms Cajun and Zydeco frequently when referring to music from southern Louisiana. We normally identify Cajun as the music of the white descendants of Acadians and Zydeco as the music developed by the black musicians. A new book by cultural anthropologist Sara Le Menestrel titled Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music, Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications reveals fascinating details about the origin of Cajun and Zydeco music.

Le Menestrel brings to light a third genre called Creole music. Creole is used for any purposes referring to food, people, culture and the term Creole music is used in the context of southern Louisiana music to define the pre-Zydeco music created by French-speaking blacks.

Sara Le Menestrel’s book is not an extensive study of Louisiana musicians. Instead, she focuses on how the different racial and ethnic groups interact with other, creating cross-pollination across musical genres. Le Menestrel discusses the interactions between black and white artists, urban and rural, and other distinctions.

The hybridization in southern Louisiana’s music has materialized in past decades and continues today. We’ve seen recently how some modern southern Louisiana bands have incorporated rock, blues, western swing, country, bluegrass and Celtic music into traditional Cajun music.

The author spent time talking to musicians although this was not an easy task. Many of the artists who make a living from music are often busy, touring extensively. Sara Le Menestrel also gained additional knowledge by observing concertgoers and dancers.

Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music takes the reader from the early 20th Century to present times, providing abundant documentation about the evolution of music, the musicians involved, and the venues they performed. The author also provides helpful chronological charts and vintage photos of the artists and posters.

Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music is a 400 page-book with color and black and white illustrations, graphs and bibliography.

Sara Le Menestrel is currently based in Paris, France. She is a cultural anthropologist and a research fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. Her research concentration includes the anthropology of music and the anthropology of disaster through post-Katrina and post-Rita Louisiana. She is the co-editor of Working the Field: Accounts from French Louisiana, published by University Press of Mississippi.

Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music is a must read for anyone interested in the development of southern Louisiana and an excellent resource for music journalists and scholars.

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Wildman of Rhythm: the Life and Music of Benny Moré

Wildman of Rhythm: the Life and Music of Benny Moré
Wildman of Rhythm: the Life and Music of Benny Moré by John Radanovich University Press of Florida; 1st edition (September 27, 2009)

Benny More was one of the top singers that Cuba ever produced. I highly recommend this book if you are into Latin, Cuban, mambo music. Benny More was born in Cuba and as a young child exposed to the rich folkloric music and drumming. This music was instilled in Benny’s soul as a child and portrayed through his music. Benny is one of my favorite singers, coming first among other Latin singers and has a style like to no other.

John Radanovich details events in Benny’s life from start to finish in a complete history of Benny More’s life.

John, I have seen different spellings from Cuba for Benny More (Beny), what would you say the correct spelling for his name would be correct?

Although much of his early recordings show his name spelled “Beny,” according to the More family, Benny named himself after Benny Goodman when he went to Mexico with Miguel Matamoros. There are many people willing to violently argue for one spelling or the other. “Benny” is on his gravestone.”

What gave you the momentum to write this book?

I always loved big bands and grew up with jazz, but when I heard “Que Bueno Baila Usted” for the first time in New Orleans, I was completely knocked out. For some years I had been writing about Latin jazz and salsa, and every singer I talked to always said—as did Celia Cruz—that what they did was nothing compared to what Benny did. Eventually I had interviewed many people who knew Benny, and Paquito D’Rivera urged me to keep going, so I found myself with much of the preliminary materials for a book.”

In your research, did you get any assistance for details of Benny’s life?

Benny’s family, like his daughters in Miami, and his daughter in Havana, helped me with lots of details. Benny’s grandson in Miami, Roly, knows probably more than anyone in the world on Benny, though Roly was surprised by some of the things I found. I also interviewed Benny’s first cousins: the great Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros in New York City, and Enrique “el Conde Negro” Benitez in Havana.

Chocolate was Benny’s first bandleader, and Enrique taught Benny how to sing and wrote many of his songs. I went to meet Generoso Jimenez in Havana in 2000, and returned to do more research in Havana and Santa Isabel de las Lajas, Benny’s hometown, in 2007. I also interviewed others who knew Benny like Bebo Valdes and Graciela Perez.”

In writing the book, did you discover things that were not true/or untrue that were said about Benny?

Some people in the U.S. believe Benny was beaten by Castro security forces and died from the wounds, which isn’t true. Benny definitely died at age 44 of cirrhosis of the liver caused by incredible drinking throughout his life. I also learned that Benny was neither an anti-revolutionary nor pro Castro; there are people who want to argue either belief. The fact is that Benny was completely nonpolitical. I also learned that Benny was only legally married once, to a Mexican named Juanita Bocanegra, though he fathered at least 12 children.”

Have you received feedback from readers, regarding the publishing of the book?

Readers who love Benny’s music are very happy with the book, and so is Benny’s family. I wrote the book for his fans and his family, so it’s great to know that after a lot of difficult research, I was able to please the people who I wanted to most. I also wrote the book for those who don’t know anything about the music and era in Havana, with the American mafia owning the hotels, the excitement of the music, and all the stars who regularly went to Havana like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.”

Has the book been translated into Spanish and sent to Cuba where Benny was born?

The book hasn’t been translated into Spanish yet, and I hope that will happen since there are still lots of his fans in Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and Spain. It might be a bit difficult for Cubans in Cuba to have the book because it contains a few stories of how Castro manipulated musicians and other artists. Though I believe some writers in Cuba do have the book in English.”

John what other books have you written and what other books about musicians, do you intend to write?

“This was my first published book. I know someone needs to do a book on the last great Cuban musician, Bebo Valdes, but writing books these days is a very expensive and time-consuming pastime, and it’s very difficult to get books published in the U.S. now, unfortunately.”

This book needs to be on your list or lists to buy if you are a Latin music lover. A chance to learn the rich history, rewards and struggles of the best Latin singer that ever lived. I think Benny would have been proud of his book and of John Radaovich’s writing of him. John, Benny would have said, “Que bien escribe usted!”.

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: University Press of Florida; 1 edition (September 27, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9780813033938
ISBN-13: 978-0813033938

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Voice of the People Book Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

IZ: Voice of the People
The book Israel Kamakawiwo’ole IZ – Voice of the People celebrates the life of one of the most beloved singers in recent Hawaiian history. Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole had a prodigious voice and successful career. Unfortunately, he died at a young age of a debilitating disease.

IZ – Voice of the People contains interesting biographical details, following Israel since he was a child up to the time of his death and the numerous tributes he received. It is full of fascinating family photos as well as professional photographs taken throughout his career.

The book begins with an introduction about Hawaii, its music and culture. It sets the background for the time period in which the native Hawaiian Israel Ka’ano Kamakawiwo’ole was born, 1959, in the island of Ni’ihau.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole grew up in an environment where Hawaiian music and the islands’ native language was spoken.

The author sets the context for the musical career of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole at a time when Hawaiian traditional music had its ups and downs. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was a member of the popular band Mäkaha Sons of Ni‘ihau. In 1993, Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole started his solo career and became a star in his native land and beyond.

His first solo album was the CD “Facing Future”. It was followed by another five (some of them post humous) recordings, “E Ala E” (1995), “In Dis Life” (1996), “IZ In Concert: The Man and His Music” (1998), “Alone In IZ World” (2001) and “Wonderful World” (2007). Facing Future remains the top selling Hawaiian music album in the world. In 2002 it was certified gold by the RIAA, a first for a Hawaiian Record label. In 2005, the album was certified platinum by the RIAA for sales of over 1 million units.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole IZ – Voice of the People provides details about Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s family and its history of heart disease and obesity. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole found it very difficult to lose weight and he became morbidly obese. This affected his health and he died on June 26, 1997.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s legacy cotinues in various forms. His versions of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” have been featured in various films, television programs, and commercials.

Buy the book: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole IZ – Voice of the People

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Mambo Diablo – My Journey With Tito Puente Book Review

Mambo Diablo: My Journey With Tito Puente
Mambo Diablo – My Journey With Tito Puente by Joe Conzo, with David A. Pérez. AuthorHouse, 2010. ISBN-10: 1452082812, ISBN-13: 978-1452082813.

Tito Puente was the legendary bandleader, timbales player, vibe player, composer, and Latin musician like no other, who has been an inspiration to all Latin percussionist and bandleaders. Joe Conzo long time friend of the late Tito Puente gives and outstanding view in “Mambo Diablo” My Journey with Tito Puente, a book regarding the life and times of Tito Puente.

From bandleader Perez Prado of mambo fame to non-comparable Cuban singer Beny More, legendary trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and the life and moments of New York in the 1940’s with the invention of BeBop, the Bird Parker and others,the book provides intimate details of the life of Tito Puente.
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Sindo Garay: Memories of a troubadour

By Marta Valdés

To stop reading has rarely been so difficult to me like now, when it’s almost Sunday and the moment draws near to type these paragraphs in which I inform those who love the rich history of the Cuban music about the recent publication of this precious book, the result of the loving, persistent dialogue between the distinguished figure of the lyric and researcher Carmela de Leon and Sindo Garay, the great troubadour.

Sindo Garay, Memorias de un Trovador (Museo de la Música) is a publication -the third one, to my knowledge-, which is part of the collection of publications that the Museum of Music has been presenting as part of the program for the preservation, publication and dissemination of our musical heritage carried out by the Cuban Institute of Music. I’m not happy filling spaces by literally copying this information, albeit it is fair to stress the importance of actions aimed not only at emphasizing and preserving memorable things but also at providing researchers with a valuable source of information.
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An Enthralling Portrait of Fela

Fela - Kalakuta Notes
Fela – Kalakuta Notes
Nigerian musician and band leader Fela Kuti was one of the most influential African musicians in the past decades. He has become a  legendary figure and his legacy continues through dozens of Afrobeat bands throughout the world, including groups led by some of his sons, Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti. A new book, titled Fela – Kalakuta Notes (Kit Publishers, ISBN 9789068327489) provides captivating details and photography about the life of Fela Kuti. The mesmerizing photographs are by Jak Kilby, Rico d’Rozario and Thierry Secretan.

The multifaceted author, John Collins, knew Fela Kuti well. He constructs a captivating picture of Fela thanks to testimonies by musicians that played in Fela Kuti’s bands (as well as personal accounts, essays, diary notes and a 1975 interview with Fela Kuti. Collins provides juicy details about the birth of the Kalakuta Republic. While in prison for marihuana charges, Fela became a leader among inmates, who called the jail cell Kalakuta (rascal in Swahili). After his release, Fela renamed his home the Kalakuta Republic, a haven for musicians and artists in the thriving Lagos scene that also the scene of numerous confrontations with the local authorities.

Throughout out the book, John Collins explains how and when the term Afrobeat was coined, in the early 1970s (we’ll let you read the book to find out). Readers will also learn about Fela Kuti’s travels and his long stays in Ghana, a country where he found considerable support during hard times.

Kalakuta Notes includes an extensive discography by Ronnie Graham, originally published in 2002. If you are interested in all of Fela’s CDs, this is your opportunity to get the complete list.

The author of Kalakuta Notes, Dr John Collins, has been actively involved in the Ghanaian and West African music scene since 1969, as a musician, band leader, recording producer and engineer, music union executive, writer and music journalist. He has published numerous articles on West African music and over the past 30 years has influenced and inspired countless others. His previous books include African Pop Roots (1985), and Highlife Time (1996).

The extraordinary Fela: Kalakuta Notes is a must read for all who are interested in one of the most influential contemporary musicians that came out of Africa.

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Border Techno

Nor-tec Rifa!: Electronic Dance Music from Tijuana to the World by Alejandro L. Madrid
Nor-tec Rifa!: Electronic Dance Music from Tijuana to the World by Alejandro L. Madrid
Nor-tec Rifa!: Electronic Dance Music from Tijuana to the World by Alejandro L. Madrid (Oxford University Press)

Border towns are fascinating urban centers, which are natural crossroads for the exchange of ideas and cultures. The Mexican city of Tijuana, located just across from the United States, south of San Diego (California) is no exception. During the past decades, Tijuana’s most creative artists were exposed to music and other art forms from both sides of the border and beyond. The book Nor-Tec Rifa! explores the history and development of the exciting Nor-Tec sound, a blend of northern Mexican popular music with electronic dance music from the United States and Europe. The name Nor-Tec combines norteño with techno.

 

Alejandro L. Madrid sets the context for this hybrid musical revolution, providing details about the Mexican regional (norteña, banda, and grupera) traditions and various electronic genres (house, techno, ambient, breakbeat, trance, etc. ) styles that inspired the Nor-Tec musicians.

Most famous of all was the Nor-Tec Collective, founded by musicians and producers, including Ramón Amezcua (Bostich), Pedro Gabriel Beas (Hiperboreal), Ignacio Chávez Uranga (Plankton Man), Fernando Corona (Terrestre), Roberto Mendoza (Panóptica), Jorge Ruiz (Melo), José Trinidad Morales (Pepe Mogt), Jorge Verdín (member of Clorofila), and Fritz Torres (member of Clorofila). These musicians were joined by an equally talented group of graphic designers.

Personal accounts by the artists themselves explain how the musical ideas came together. In a personal interview with the author of the book, Pepe Mogt describes how at a family party he came up with the idea of using sampled northern Mexican rhythmic patterns:  Jorge [Ruiz] "Melo" and I went to my sister’s party. Obviously, my family hired a norteño group, and we ended up sitting right by the stage. We were there, enjoying the party but I was already listening to those norteño sounds with new ears.

Listening to the instruments, especially the  percussion, the drum set … and I thought that it might be possible to integrate them into electronic music because they sounded very interesting. You know, when it is live, the sound is really huge and that motivated me to try to experiment and create something new, especially because it is a sound that has always been in Tijuana but I had never really paid attention to it. So I told Jorge and he was like: "No, No, man! How do you think we are gonna mix norteño? That’s the very last thing we are gonna mix!" That’s why I call him the first Nor-tec dissident. Jorge’s attitude was that of most musicians."

The author, Alejandro L. Madrid is a musicologist and cultural theorist whose research focuses on the intersection of modernity, tradition and globalization in music and expressive culture from Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2005 Alejandro received the prestigious Casa de las Américas Musicology Prize. He is Assistant Professor of Latin American and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Nor-Tec Rifa! is a captivating account of the infectious energy brewing in Tijuana that led to the creation of a new hybrid musical genre.

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A Whale of a Song: David Rothenberg Jams with Orcas

David Rothenberg - Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound
David Rothenberg – Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound
David Rothenberg

Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound
(comes with CD)
Basic Books

I realize that a review for a book focusing on whale songs might seem a bit strange, maybe even out of place on a world music site. However, musician and author (of several books including "Why Birds Sing: A Journey Into the Mystery of Birdsong"), David Rothenberg brings us another dimension. And he brings up the concept that non-human creatures enjoy listening to and making music as much as humans. And for many readers such myself this seems like a manifestation of one of those wild childhood dreams.

Depending on your level of rationality, you could say that I and others who think along these lines are anthropomorphizing or you might just consider that creatures such as birds and whales have been singing since the beginning of time. I won’t start philosophizing because I am not that good at it. Instead, I encourage you to read Rothenberg’s thoroughly engaging books. He is good at philosophy and putting all the pieces together in a unique puzzle.

"Thousand Mile Song (Whale Music in a Sea of Sound)" offers a fascinating and well-documented glance at a musical interaction between humans and whales. Similar to "Why Birds Sing," Rothenberg engages various researchers on his quest to find out if non-humans sing because they enjoy it. And the author-musician also invites the whales into a musical jam–an exchange between his clarinet and their whale clicks and songs.

The book comes with a CD and the music on it, falls somewhere between experimental jazz and otherworldly sounds. The music also sounds oddly Finnish. The author performs with Orcas off the coast of British Columbia, spends time in New Zealand, the former Soviet Union and other locales exploring whale songs. He also takes us back to the 1970s when listening to whale songs was hip and somewhat trippy. This quest leads to an insightful ending that transforms readers’ view of the natural world.

I believe that any musician, no matter the genre, can glean a lot from this book and CD. As we search for more cross cultural exchanges with music, why not consider cross species jam sessions? Perhaps this sounds too far out, or just right down your alley. After all, this is a new era where anything is possible if we just open our hearts.

And what better way to preserve non-human life on this planet, then to honor what we share in common. This planet is home to a myriad of creatures, and many seem to enjoy music as much as humans do. And unlike the whales, you do not need to travel a thousand miles to reap rewards from this unusual musical connection.

Patricia Herlevi hosts the music consciousness blog, The Whole Music Experience. She also feels a strong connection to birds, whales and other creatures.

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Peter Cox’s Set into Song

Set into Song
Set into Song
Take a communist playwright, actor, singer, and songwriter and introduce him to a young American musician and singer half his age. They fall in love. Add an ex-submarine commander with a eccentric view of radio as Art. Send them with the new mobile tape recorder to railway yards, onto fishing vessels, down coal mines, in search of gypsy encampments. Now read about the most compelling series of radio programs ever made.

So state the notes on the cover of Peter Cox’s latest book, Set into Song. The book that all folk music lovers wish they had written. The making of the eight ground breaking Radio Ballads. It’s about the lives of the makers, the lives of their subjects set into song, public broadcasting, the BBC and above all it documents a slice of the folk revival in the UK. Such tremendous subjects and timely too as 2008 marks their 50th anniversary year.

So what of Peter Cox’s treatment, who by his own admission has only been involved in the "folk scene" for the last two years. It is impeccably well researched. Access to Peggy Seeger’s phone book was a huge initial step up, serving as an introduction to the old folkie grapevine. As a consequence, the original musicians and studio hands could be contacted along with the actual subjects of the ballads. When he wasn’t on the phone or chatting face to face, time was spent pouring over various archives. A year in fact, writing content, cross referencing and checking his sources.

The result is an absolute treasure trove of a book that delivers and delights on so many levels. The early chapters satisfy any biographical interest in the contrasting lives of the three protagonists. Whilst the middle section with its behind the scenes approach, transcripts and detailed processes for each of the eight ballads, immediately turns the book into a companion to the audio material and at times a handbook for radio producers.

The latter part continues with a number of chapters on life after the Radio Ballads for all concerned. The final one, devoted to the 2006 radio ballads, finds the author bold enough to offer a comparison between the two series. This book is an absorbing, entertaining and educational read. It deserves to be cited many times as an invaluable reference book.

Copies of the book can be purchased postage free through its own website, where you’ll also find transcripts of the radio ballads, the first two pages of each chapter, photographs and other companion material.

Peter Cox was my guest on GondwanaSound on the auspicious day of 2nd July 2008, the 50th anniversary of The Ballad of John Axon, the first of the Radio Ballads to be broadcast by the BBC.

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Rich History of the Beginnings of the Tango

Tango Voices Songs from the Soul of Buenos Aires and Beyond
Tango Voices Songs from the Soul of Buenos Aires and Beyond
Tango Voices Songs from the Soul of Buenos Aires and Beyond
Compiled and Edited by Donald Cohen
Wise Publications

New Yorker attorney, history and music professor, guitarist and music folklorist Donald Cohen explores the life of the tango canción and its propagation throughout the world in his book Tango Songs From the Soul of Buenos Aires and Beyond. With printed music and lyrics, photographs, reprinted songbook covers and accompanying CD, Mr. Cohen introduces readers to the music, lyricists, composers, performers and stories behind twenty-six tango cancións from all over the world, celebrating the worldwide seductive lure of the tango.

Mr. Cohen delves right into the rich history of the beginnings of the tango in the orillas of Buenos Aires and finally ends up exploring the Hon Ghen or Jalousie by Danish musician and conductor Jacob Gade and lyricist Vera Bloom as sung by Vietnam’s Khanh Ly. Mr. Cohen fills in the history of tango canción greats through life and music of Carlos Gardel and his truly exquisite Me Buenos Aires Querido and Francisco Canaro’s tango vals (waltz) You No Se Que Me Han Hecho Tus Ojos or the Algerian tango Ana El Owerka with music by Mustapha Skandrani and lyrics by Mustapha Kechokoul with not only a music professor’s sense of historical importance but with a personal passion for the music.

Readers of every stripe will love Tango Voices as it is no staid history, just as the tango is no polite, friendly hop. Juicy nuggets like the affair of tango maestro Francisco Canaro with songstress Ada Falcon or tales of Oh, Donna Clara lyricist Fritz Lohner Beda and his defense of African American dancer Josephine Baker are shot throughout the book, making it clear that the passion of the tango exceeds far beyond the music.

Tango Voices captures a modest selection of the tango canción’s history (a complete history would take volumes) in an easy fashion that will appeal to both the dedicated aficionado and the tango novice. Musicians are certain to take to the book with its printed music that includes melody line and chord boxes. Another draw is the lovely black-and-white photos and printed lyrics like those from A Media Luz:

"And all in half light
That is the sorcerer of love
At half light the kisses,
At half light the two of us
And all in half light,
Twilight within
As soft as velvet,
The half light of our lov
e"

Tango Voices exists nicely with the text and photos, but the accompanying CD is worth its weight in gold with such plummy treats like Nelly Omar on La Cumparsita, Alberto Podesta’s version of El Bazar de Los Juguetes and the vocals of Roberto Goyaneche on Astor Piazolla’s Vuelvo Al Sur. Without a doubt the CD is filled with wonders like Mesanichta, Le Plus Beau Tango Du Monde, Ana El Owerke with vocals by Lili Boniche and my personal favorite Viejo Coche with vocals by Rosita Quiroga. Mr. Cohen takes readers and listeners around the world with Tango Voices and it’s a rich, sultry journey.

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