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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAUTI SOL-“Love or Leave” (Field Recordings, May 30, 2012).

Here is another Field Recording [A Morning Walk With Sauti Sol] filmed at SXSW.  But this one is on a bridge. The four members of Sauti Sol are up at dawn (one even sings “good morning.”  As a guy runs past them, they realize “We didn’t have our morning job, today” so two of them run around the other two, to much laughter.

Their happy mood is clearly reflected in their wonderfully colorful jackets (and amazing harmonies.

“Love or Leave” is terrific, with a great riff.   There’s only the one acoustic guitar and their voices fill in everything else.

I don’t know anything about Sauti Sol.  So the blurb says:

In spite of the early hour and chilly air, Sauti Sol arrived at the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge in Austin, Texas, in good spirits — not to mention colorful jackets that provided a welcome contrast to the cloudy sky. There, the Afro-fusion quartet from Nairobi greeted the morning birds and joggers with a version of its recent single, “Love or Leave.” The song amply demonstrates the group’s signature acoustic sound, which is anchored by the guitar of Polycarp Otieno and vocal harmonies of Bien-Aime Baraza, Willis Chimano and Delvin Mudigi.

There’s some pop elements including a kind of choreographed dance but the way the minor key hits in the chorus is outstanding.

It’s great that bands from Nairobi come to SXSW, and it’s even cooler that we get to hear them.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “On Not Growing Up”

I don’t really understand what this is supposed to be.  It is listed as fiction according to Harper’s.  It is written as an interview but neither party is introduced.

The first question is “How long have you been a child?”   The answer is “seventy-one years.”

The second question puzzles me even more and I think I’m thrown off from there.  “Who did you work with?”

Meyerowits for the first phase: colic, teething, walking, talking. He taught me how to produce false prodigy markers and developmental reversals, to test the power in the room without speaking.  I was encouraged to look beyond the tantrum and drastic mood migrations that depended on the environment, and if you know my work you have an idea what resulted. The rest is a hodgepodge

The interviewee says that the term adult is problematic.  It’s too easy to say that his childwork is directly divisive to Matures. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DRY THE RIVER-“Bible Belt” (Field Recordings, March 27, 2012).

The Field Recordings project was such a neat idea.  Kind of like the Tiny Desk, but not.  Many of them were planned ahead of time and some of t hem seem surreptitious.  It’s a wonder they didn’t do more or aren’t still doing them.

Since the whole NPR crew goes to SXSW, it just seems like these little songs would be easy to score.  I realize that they now do the South by Lullaby, but this is different (sort of).

This Field Recording [Dry The River: An Oasis Of Calm Amid The Feedback] is from a band I don’t know.  They were playing at SXSW and NPR got them to play on the secluded patio of Joe’s Crab Shack’s  overlooking the Colorado River (which is one thing that makes this cooler than a Tiny Desk).

“Bible Belt” is a gentle acoustic song with delightful harmonies–not unlike Fleet Foxes or Band of Horses.  Dry the River includes a violin which adds a slightly different quality.  But like those other bands, the song looks to soar:

Dry the River typically writes music with big, cathartic climaxes in mind: Songs on the band’s first full-length album, Shallow Bed, tend to start with miniaturized melodies that eventually burst into thunderous rock anthems.

You can feel like this song wants to be bigger, but they handle a quieter version nicely.

On this particular morning, Dry the River arrived in a more intimate formation, swapping electric guitars for acoustics and its full drum set for a single snare. While this performance of the gorgeous “Bible Belt” eases back on the loudness of the original, the band by no means lacks power. The result is a hushed, stirring performance that highlights the band’s many strengths.

My favorite part is the moment the band grows really quiet and you can hear some birds singing.  I’m very curious to hear just how big the original gets.

[READ: November 8, 2018] “Cattle Praise Song”

This is a story about genocide and cows.  The genocide is unavoidable but not explicit; the cows are the focus.

Starting in Rwanda, a seven-year old boy, Karekezi, watches his father with their herd of cows.  The cows are everything to them.  Karekezi even has a cow of his own: Intamati–all of the cows are named.  Every morning they look after the cows carefully–removing ticks or other insects, carefully inspecting them, calling them by their name and petting them–even worrying about a cow that takes too long to pee:

He’d hold her tail high and boldly lean forward–never mind that if the cow finally decided to urinate she might shower him.  Nobody dared to laugh.  Anyway, isn’t cow urine, amagana, considered to be a potent remedy?

The first few pages discuss the caring for and nurturing of these cows–the hand feeding, the fires to keep away flies; the special water only for the cows to drink.  And then the milking–a family event in which the best milkers milked and the others carried the bowls of milk like a priest with a chalice.  The young children drank hungrily from the fresh warm milk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HASSAN HAKMOUN-“Balili (My Father)” (Field Recordings, June 11, 2014).

I didn’t know Hassan Hakmoun, but he is one of many West African musicians whose music I have come to really enjoy.  I absolutely love this song.

Hassan Hakmoun’s music is very much rooted in his homeland. Born in Marrakesh, he is from the Gnawa community, whose ancestors were brought from West Africa to North Africa as slaves in the 15th and 16th centuries. Gnawan music and dance, which are central to their spiritual tradition, fuse Muslim mysticism with sub-Saharan traditions in rituals meant to heal the body and lift the soul.

This Field Recording [On a Magical Mystery Tour with Hassan Hakmoun] has a different component to it–it is (so far) unlike any other one.

When we plan Field Recordings, we usually look far and wide to find off-the-beaten-path locations for filming musicians. But a unique opportunity presented itself when a duo called Wanderlust Projects — designers of “transgressive placemaking experiences” for urban explorers, usually in abandoned or otherwise places — invited us to come along on an adventure.

Wanderlust invited a crew of intrepid New Yorkers to accompany the fabulous Moroccan musician Hassan Hakmoun and his band on a mysterious day trip. So we piled into a van with the musicians, and off we all went to points unknown. After a long morning being driven to our secret destination — with no one but the organizers knowing where we were heading — we arrived upstate at the stunning Widow Jane Mine.

Along with providing spectacular visuals, the mine proved to be an oddly fitting location for Hakmoun and his musicians. The Widow Jane is a limestone mine that once supplied cement for such landmarks as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Capitol. Hakmoun’s music has found its fullest flower in New York with a highly transnational lineup of nomads.

The song opens with Hakmoun playing a fast riff on his instrument.  I cannot believe that they don;t say what it is–is it homemade?  is there one string or more?  how does he get such a great sound out of fit?).

He starts playing what will be the song’s main riff–a cool fast melody with some counterpoint loud notes.  The percussionist sings along , the flutist plays a solo of sorts and then after about a minute, the drums kick in and the song just rocks.

His band includes

Percussionist Chikako Iwahori is originally from Japan; guitarist Raja Kassis hails from Beirut; flutist Bailo Bah comes from Guinea; and drummer Harvey Wirht is from Suriname.

The sound is incredible.  Whether the caves enhance the music is unclear, but it sounds wonderful there.  The song is about 8 minutes long.  There’s not a lot to it–the riff is repeated almost throughout, but there are great variations throughout. The flute solo, the guitar solo or when he starts stomping his feet on the limestone while wearing bells on his ankles–it adds a great new component to the music.

This is just fantastic.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Sprawl”

This is an excerpt from Dutton’s novel Sprawl (getting a reprint in 2018).

It’s a little hard to tell what the novel is about from this excerpt but I loved the whole take on suburbia that the export displays.

The excerpt is full of letters, presumably written by the same person (it’s unstated).

The first one is to Mrs Barbauld and is designed as a re-orientation to the neighborhood.  It is a bit confusing so I’m moving on.

The narrator is talking to us, I suppose as if setting the ultimate example: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIE BYRNE-Tiny Desk Concert  #788 (September 19, 2018).

Julie Byrne plays a quiet acoustic guitar and sings in a melodic whisper (almost).  She reminds me of Nick Drake in many ways.

Even in an office in broad daylight, Julie Byrne sings with both a husk and a whisper as if she’s gone a long time without speaking – as if she’s been alone, as if she’s been traveling. Her opening number at the Tiny Desk, “Sleepwalker,” sings of the road as a source of freedom.

I lived my life alone before you
And with those that I’d never succeeded to love
And I grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude
I fought you, I did not know how to give it up

Byrne’s guitar playing sounds very full as is each string gets its own special attention.

Julie Byrne’s hypnotic fingerstyle picking conjures a sense of wandering, a style she adapted from her father and a sound she grew up with until multiple sclerosis robbed him of that companionship and comfort. She now plays her dad’s guitar.

After performing “Sleepwalker” alone, Julie Byrne was joined by her musical companions, Marilu Donovan on harp and Eric Littmann on electronics. Together they conjure an ethereal compliment to Julie’s love of the open landscape.

“Follow My Voice” begins with just Byrne.  After a verse or so, the harp enters, making the song seem somehow even more delicate.  And the keys are there just to add a bit more substance–but not to solidify this delicacy.

“I Live Now as a Singer” is just the keys and the harp.  It reminds me a lot of Enya, with the washes of keys and Byrne’s deep but delicate voice.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “The Short History of Zaka the Zulu”

This story is set in a boys’ Jesuit boarding school in Africa.  The narrator is relating the story of a boy they nicknamed Zaka the Zulu. The narrator explains that Zaka was always odd but that they had never expected that hew would be accused of murder.

He was a very smart boy and he succeeded very well–which made him a little unpopular.  But he became even more unpopular when made head prefect.  He was so upright and sincere; he would get boys in trouble for the slightest infraction.  His worst punishment was when he made the younger boys stay for an extra period so that they could not watch the Mary Wards (the girls from Blessed Virgin Mary school) go for their weekly swim.

There were 40 or so Mary Wards every year.  They didn’t live with the boys, of course, but they were all part of the same school–the girls got the best Jesuit education the country could offer.   Only senior boys were allowed to mingle with the girls–particularly at the one or two dances each year.  It was felt that the girls had a civilizing effect on the boys. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING-“Supernatural” (Field Recordings, September 17, 2014).

This Field Recording [KING Makes A Record Lover’s Paradise Even Better] was created before Prince died.  Hard to believe that was two years ago already!

I mention this because the women of KING (Paris and Amber Strother and Anita Bias) speak of him in the present tense.  Which is strangely comforting.

The women mention Prince because evidently he heard a song from their debut EP and contacted them out of the blue.  His manager sent them a one line email: “Would you be interested in meeting Prince?”  Get outta here!

On a steamy morning upstairs in a record lover’s paradise KING laid down a gorgeous version of “Supernatural,” one of the songs that lit up Twitter three years ago.  While customers quietly thumbed through LPs — then stopped to stare — the singers gently and precisely intertwined their three voices in service of a love song.

Their voices and harmonies are quite lovely.  Although this is not a type of music I enjoy.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “In the United States of Africa”

This is an excerpt from a novel originally written in French and translated by David and Nicole Bell.

The blurb says that the novel opens with “a brief account of the origins of our [African] prosperity and the reasons that have thrown the Caucasians onto the paths of exile.”

This excerpt is not terribly compelling.  There’s a hint of a cool story there but it seems to be overtaken by philosophical musings. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOYCE DIDONATO-“When I am Laid in Earth’ (Dido’s Lament)” (Field Recordings, February 4, 2015).

Joyce DiDonato is an opera singer with a wonderful voice.  She is also an outspoken LGBT+ advocate.

DiDonato, 45, straight and a native Kansan, is outspoken on LGBT issues and one of today’s most sought-after opera stars. At London’s popular Proms concerts she capped off the 2013 festival with “Over the Rainbow,” saying it was devoted to LGBT voices silenced by Russia’s anti-gay laws. At the Santa Fe Opera, she dedicated a performance to a gay New Mexican teen who took his life after being bullied.

For this particular performance, she was drawing attention to Mark Carson, a gay man fatally shot almost two years prior. The city’s police commissioner stated Carson’s death was clearly a hate crime.

The murder happened just blocks away from the famous Stonewall Inn, a historic gay bar.  And that is where she chose to perform this piece [Joyce DiDonato Takes A Stand At Stonewall].

“The idea of a murder happening blocks away from the Stonewall Inn is incomprehensible to me,” DiDonato says. “It shouldn’t happen anywhere. It tells me that we’re not done talking, and we are not done working for people to comprehend what equality is about and why it is important.”

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. A riot broke out, sparking successive nights of protest and, many say, the emergence of the modern gay rights movement.

LGBT rights have come a long way since that summer night 46 years ago, when there were still laws criminalizing homosexuality. But mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato believes there’s still work to be done, so she chose the Stonewall to gather a few friends, talk about equality and sing a centuries-old song that still resonates.

For this memorial she chose to perform a piece from Henry Purcell’s 17th-century opera Dido and Aeneas. The piece is called “When I am Laid in Earth” also known as “Dido’s Lament.”  She explains the piece: “‘Dido’s Lament’ is about a woman who is dying and she asks for absolution.  When I am in the earth, I hope that I haven’t created any trouble.  Remember me but don’t remember my fate.”

The aria unfolds slowly yet purposefully, with a refrain that seems to predict the mournful strains of an African-American spiritual.

The piece is beautiful and mournful.  And the musical accompaniment (students from Juilliard415) is understated and lovely.  The inclusion of the viola de gamba and the therobo is inspired.  Musicians:  Francis Liu and Tatiana Daubek, violins; Bryony Gibson-Cornish, viola; Arnie Tanimoto, viola da gamba; Paul Morton, theorbo.

[READ: April 15, 2016] “The Lower River”

This story looks at a man from Medford.  As the story opens its says the man, whose names is Altman, always imagined he’d one day return to Africa, to the Lower River.  He had loved it there when he volunteered in a village called Malabo.  He stayed for four years (longer than anybody else had).  He helped to build a school and taught at it.  He felt a real connection with the people there.

And now, some forty years later, as he was getting tired of Medford, as his clothing store was failing, as his marriage was failing, as he had very little left for himself in Medford, he decided, why not.  Why not go back to Africa and see if people remembered him at all.

The Lower River is the southernmost region of the southern province of Malawi, the poorest part of a poor country.  It is also the home of the Sen people.  They were a neglected tribe and rather despised by those who didn’t know them.  They were associated with squalor, credulity and incompetence.  And indeed, when he went there the first time people, were afraid to take him as far as the Lower River.

Now, Malawai is something of a vacation destination where rich people are pampered by the poor locals.  But when Altman arrives and asks for transport to the Lower River, people are hesitant to take him, there, making sure he knows where he is going.    Even after his driver drops him off he speeds away without any concern for formalities. (more…)

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