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Archive for the ‘Toni Morrison’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DAVE-Tiny Desk Concert #908 (November 8, 2020).

Usually if you go by a mononym, your name is unique.  This British rapper goes by “Dave,” which seems rather bold since it’s hardly unique.  It also seems like it would be very hard to find in a search engine.

Perhaps the understated name applies to his understated delivery.  He has a lot of great things to say, but he’s not grandiose about how he says them.

He also seems very nervous (you don’t mind if I steal one of these waters, do you?).

 Dave made a special trip all the way from the UK just for his Tiny Desk performance. If that isn’t proof that it was a big deal, his nervousness before the show confirmed it. But he powered through in a performance that puts his gift for making the personal political on full display.

“Location” is first.  Tashera Robertson sings the introduction. There’s quiet but somewhat complex guitar work from Markelle Abraham.  Daves’ rapping is very understated almost quietly rhymes.  His delivery is almost mumbly because it is so quiet, but her remains clear.

He shares the inspiration behind the aptly-titled song “Black” from his opus of a debut. “It’s just about the black British experience,” he says. “Everyone’s experience of being black is a little bit different, but this is my take on it. I wanted to deliver it to the world and here it is for you guys.”

“Black” starts with a spooky piano melody Aaron Harvell and a very simple drum beat Darryl Howell based around rim shots.  The bass from Thomas Adam Johnson punctuates the melody.  There’s cool scratching sounds from Abraham on the guitar which add a spooky texture.  Robertson sings backing oohs and ahhs.

But the lyrics are fantastic

Look, black is beautiful, black is excellent
Black is pain, black is joy, black is evident
It’s workin’ twice as hard as the people you know you’re better than
‘Cause you need to do double what they do so you can level them

With family trees, ’cause they teach you ’bout famine and greed
And show you pictures of our fam on their knees
Tell us we used to be barbaric, we had actual queens
Black is watchin’ child soldiers gettin’ killed by other children
Feelin’ sick, like, “Oh shit, this could have happened to me”

Black is growin’ up around your family and makin’ it
Then being forced to leave the place you love because there’s hate in it

Her hair’s straight and thick but mine’s got waves in it
Black is not divisive, they been lyin’ and I hate the shit
Black has never been a competition, we don’t make this shit

Black is my Ghanaian brother readin’ into scriptures
Doin’ research on his lineage, findin’ out that he’s Egyptian
Black is people namin’ your countries on what they trade most
Coast of Ivory, Gold Coast, and the Grain Coast
But most importantly to show how deep all this pain goes
West Africa, Benin, they called it slave coast

Black is like the sweetest fuckin’ flavour, here’s a taste of it
But black is all I know, there ain’t a thing that I would change in it

The song builds slow and dramatically with more guitar work as Dave’s delivery gets more powerful.  It’s really intense.

But the climax here comes near the end, when Dave takes a seat at the piano to accompany himself while rapping his 2018 hit, “Hangman.” In the moment before he plays the opening keys, he pauses to take a breath before channeling the weight of the world through his fingers.

“Hangman” is more of the intense personal political storytelling.  His delivery is so perfect for this power of his lyrics.  This song has a few extra musical elements–some cool bass lines and guitar fills.  It also has an instrumental interlude at the end which allows Robinson to sing wordlessly.

I’m not sure if he has earned his mononym, but it’s a great show.

[READ: April 30, 2020] Bitter Root

I was drawn to this book by the outstanding cover art.  A 1920s era family dressed to the nines standing around a robot-like creature.  It’s sort of steampunk, but with a Harlem Renaissance twist,

In the essays in the back, the style of this book is described with a bunch of awesome phrases: cyberfunk (black cyberpunk), steamfunk (black steampunk) and dieselfunk (black dieselpunk).  There’s also EthnoGothic and ConjurePunk.

This story starts in 1924 indeed, during the Harlem Renaissance.

The story opens with music and dancing in full swing until something terrifying happens.

Next we see some police officers.  The black officer saying that “these people” give me the creeps.  A white police officer says “these people?” and the black officer says “The Sangeyre family ain’t my people. My people don’t mess with this mumbo jumbo.”

So then we meet the Sangeyre family.  Blink Sangeyre says she doesn’t like it that the police just bring them to their store. But Ma Etta Sangeyre says it’s better they bring them in before the kill someone.

We cut to the roof where Berg Sangeyre, a very large man with a wonderfully expansive vocabulary says “Cullen, might I offer you a bit of sagacious insight to your current predicament.  My assistance would hardly prove heuristic to your cause.”

Cullen Sangeyre is a skinnier, younger gentleman and he is fighting a bright red, horned demon known as the “Jinoo.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF-Tiny Desk Concert #702 (February 5, 2018).

I first heard of Hurray for the Riff Raff from their previous album (the song “The Body Electric”).  I loved Segarra’s voice and the politics behind the song.  I could hear that she was a proud woman, but I had no idea that she was a proud Puerto Rican as well.  I learned about that aspect of her music when they played Newport Folk Festival.

Alynda Segarra’s unamplifed voice in this Tiny Desk performance had no problem rising above the drums, congas, cello, violin, bass, keyboards, and an electric guitar. The passion for her Puerto Rican roots feels boundless. As Soul Captain for Hurray for the Riff Raff, she and her band weave tales of man’s inhumanity to fellow humans, often from bigotry, intolerance and ignorance.

“Rican Beach” adds a lot more Latinx accents to the music–between the congas and other percussion from Juan-Carlos Chaurand and the riffs and, of course, Segarra’s lyrics, this is a much more culturally aware album without removing any of the folk/rock that the band is built on.

First they stole our language
Then they stole our names
Then they stole the things that brought us faith
And they stole our neighbors
And they stole our streets
And they left us to die on Rican Beach

“Pa’lante,” is such a wonderful mix of the Hispanic and Americana.  Singing in Spanish to Juan and Miguel the song includes a more traditional American folk style with piano (Sarah Goldstone), violin (Claudia Chopek), cello (Patricia Santos) and even a guitar solo (Jordan Hyde).  Introducing the song, she says, “There’s a lot of people trying to hold us back but we have a whole generation of children counting on us to change the world.  And I believe in us.”

The song “Pa’lante,” one of the most articulate songs of a generation, speaks of being colonized and hypnotized, sterilized and dehumanized, with the refrain, “pa’lante” which translates as “forward.”  To continue the fight to freedom and respect:

“To all who lost their pride, I say, Pa’lante!
To all who had to survive, I say, Pa’lante!
To my brothers, and my sisters, I say, Pa’lante!”

But before that empowering end, the opening lyrics speak to the everyday that we all want:  Over  a simple piano melody, she sings:

Oh I just wanna go to work / And get back home, and be something
I just wanna fall and lie / And do my time, and be something
Well I just wanna prove my worth / On the planet Earth, and be, something
I just wanna fall in love / Not fuck it up, and feel something

And then more specifically:

Colonized, and hypnotized, be something
Sterilized, dehumanized, be something
Well take your pay / And stay out the way, be something
Ah do your best / But fuck the rest, be something

After four verses the song shifts gear entirely.  There’s some louder chords and then it moves on to a an almost chamber-pop style with some prominent snare drum Charlie Ferguson.  The end of the song, with her singing “P’alante” it’s catchy and inspiring at the same time.

For “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl” Segarra picks up a guitar.  It’s a slower more traditional folk song with full string accompaniment.  There’s quiet backing vocals and delicate yet pronounced bass from Justin Kimmel and some fun percussion before the ending refrain “before you love me like this, oh yeah, love me like this.”

I have tickets to see them and Waxahatchee this spring, it should be a great double bill.

[READ: July 22, 2016] “Sweetness”

I haven’t read very much by Toni Morrison.  I have always intended to but just never did.

So this might be the first thing I’ve read by her.  And man, does it pack a lot into the few pages of it.

The story begins with a woman saying, “It’s not my fault. So you can’t blame me.”  And then she reveals that what’s not her fault is the color of the skin of her baby.  The woman–the mother–is a light-skinned black woman with “good” hair, “what we call high yellow.”  So was the girl’s father.  So how could the baby have come out so dark-blue black?  She was embarrassed as soon as the baby was born.

She talks about her family’s past–how her own mother was light-skinned and could have passed but chose not to.  She told the price she paid for that decision–colored water fountains and, even more offensive: a colored Bible. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARGARET GLASPY-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 30, 2017).

Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Margaret Glaspy set; stream it while it’s still active.

Margaret Glaspy has been making music professionally since 2010, but she released her solo debut last year and it’s really good.  She plays a rocking guitar, although she seems to play a lot on the higher strings.  Her sound isn’t tinny, but it’s a much more treble than bass.  But she’s got a two piece backing band to pick up and complement the low end.

She also has a unique vocal delivery style.  She enunciates words with a strange inflection–I never would have guessed that she is from California.  And it’s that unique sound that I think makes her lyrics that much more interesting.  She’s also not afraid to throw in a curse or a graphic description in her lyrics.

Glaspy played 13 songs in total.  10 of the 12 songs from her record, two new ones and a Lucinda Williams cover.

She doesn’t speak much, she just gets right to the music, playing the first five songs faithfully to the record with just enough grace notes to make it stand out.  But she seems to let it all hang out by the time she gets to “Situation” which has a much louder, rougher guitar sound–she really lets loose and it sounds great.

She introduces the band Daniel Ryan on the bass and Tim Kuhl on the drums and then she starts the slower “Black is Blue.” I hadn’t noticed before but at times her delivery is kind of like Laura Marling’s in this song.  “You Don’t Want Me” has a spoken word section and her delivery once again reminds me of Marling’s.  They certainly don’t sound alike, but there is something similar in the style–that would be an awesome double bill.

She might explain her lack of talking when she says, “This is my first time at Newport and I don’t take it lightly.  So thank you so much for having me.”

The NPR blurb also sees a lot of strength at the end of her set, so I’ll let them sum up

She says she’s “Got some new songs for you:”

a slow-burner called “Mother/Father” and another that doesn’t yet have a title [the chorus: life was better before we were together].  A late-set highlight was “Memory Street,” which boiled over into a seething solo before a final verse that had Glaspy repeating a disjointed phrase over and over, to the point of uneasiness [it is quite long, she sings the words “Times I” with an appropriate skipping sounding drum click for over 20 seconds]— a compelling imitation of the skipping record her lyrics invoked.

She plays a cover of Lucinda Williamss’ “The Fruits of my Labor.” and then ends with “You And I” and that catchy circular guitar riff that is so wonderful and original.

Glaspy has been on my list of people to see live and I hope she comes back this way after she tours around for a while.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “The Work You Do, The Person You Are”

This issue has a section of essays called “On the Job,” with essays about working written by several different authors.

Toni Morrison (it’s hard to think of her as doing something “before” being an author) speaks of working for Her, in the 1940s in a house that had all kinds of things that she had never seen before: a hoover vacuum cleaner or an iron not heated by a fire.

She gave half of her earnings to her mother–which meant she was helping pay the rent, which made her feel good. But she also got some money to squander of junk. (more…)

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dec2000SOUNDTRACK: FLY ASHTRAY-“Also Muffins” (2013).

flyRecently I was thinking to myself that I don’t hear much music that is just weird anymore.  It could be that I am exposed to it a lot less than I used to be (when I was music director at my college station I received all kinds of crazy stuff) or maybe people just don’t do unconventional music as much.  This latter option seems very unlikely give the preponderance of cheap home recording equipment.  But bands that are not exactly novelty acts, but who are just totally out there (and amazingly used to get album releases).

And then my friend Paula forwarded me this absolutely weird song from Fly Ashtray.  Not only was I delighted to hear a weird song, I loved how good it was.

“Also Muffins” starts with big sloppy guitars and a piercing guitar riff which is simple but slightly off.  This goes for about 20 seconds before a staccato decrescendo brings the riff to a halt.  This fun chaos is repeated three times. It’s a crazy wonderful punk intro.

Then at a minute an a half the song turns almost folkie, with strummed acoustic guitars.  The band starts singing together (in no-part harmony) about how good their delicatessen is (they also sell muffins).  They all seem somewhat flat in their delivery, as a deliberate let down from the frenetic earlier section.  Then for part 3, an electric guitar comes back in with a kind of great alt 90s solo and a series of fast chords.  I love this section a lot.

The final section comes in and opens with another simple riff that is at once catchy even if the last note is flat.  It is fast and vaguely sinister (with a kind of siren sound in the background) and with some skittery guitars and an occasional bass element thrown in.  This last part lasts for over a minute and then the whole song fades out.

The video is low budget and fun and gives a kind of explanation to the music, although I have found that i enjoy it without the video as well.

And visit the band’s website.

[READ: November 1, 2013] “All is Vanity”

This is not an actual article by Bissell, it is one of those “annotation” items in Harper’s in which an advertisement or press release is critiqued.  in this one they analyze an Xlibris ad.

Bissell was an editor at Henry Holt (and may still be) when he wrote this.  And he is snarky from the start (as the Annotation always is), emphasizing the “Publishing Services Provider” and noting with numbers why Xlibris is a foolish vanity project.

“70 percent of the books the company has sold have been bought by their own authors.”

And how in general

“90 percent of the half-million [books] written each year remain unpublished.” (more…)

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nealSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-Made in USA (1986 released in 1995).

usaThe liner notes explain a lot of what was behind this disc.  The then largely unknown Sonic Youth was asked to score a cool indie film, which later became a less cool more mainstream film and ultimately went straight to video.

The CD is mostly background music, but it is notable for how mainstream it sounds (for Sonic Youth in the mid-80s) and for how bad it sounds–like it was recorded in a can.

It’s mostly completely listenable soundtrack mood music.  It’s nothing to rush out and buy, especially if you like the noisier SY stuff, but, and this is something of a shock, its sounds quite nice, almost ambient at times.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, it’s worth noting that “Secret Girl” from EVOL appears in a slightly different form (twice actually).

[READ: July 29, 2009] The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature

This is the first book published by McSweeney’s Books.  And it is indeed handsome, with a nice yellow ribbon for marking your page.

And so, who is Neal Pollack?  Well, as you all know, Neal Pollack is the greatest living writer today.  He has been writing for decades and has written some of the most important books, and the most important articles that anyone has ever read. His book on life as an African America has not only impressed Oprah, but it has inspired Toni Morrison and Henry Louis Gates.

And, as you can see from the back of the book, everyone from Hunter S. Thompson to Normal Mailer sings his praises. (more…)

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