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Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ORQUESTA AKOKÁN-“Mambo Rapidito” (2019).

Since this story is about something shameful in Cuba, I thought I’d tie it to something that is wonderful in Cuba: Orquesta Akokán

Orquesta Akokán is a band comprised of Cuban musicians and “Latin music freaks” from New York.   They play the kind of Cuban music that filled New York nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s.  As their website explains:

Robust, time-tested musical architectures of son cubano and mambo are honored and modernized through a synthesis of the rich compositional styles of Havana, New York, and beyond.

This song begins with a descending piano riff that quickly gives way to horn hits and a cowbell that doesn’t stop for the whole three minutes.

The main melody comes in as a swinging, wholly danceable riff with shouted refrains of “baile!”

Then lead vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez shows where the rapidito comes in as he sings an insanely fast vocal part ( I wouldn’t even guess what he’s saying).

The song is fun and swinging and should make everyone want to baile!

Then comes an awesome flute solo.  There’s a cool swinging instrumental sections in the middle before the call and response of the backing vocalists and Pepito.

Then a wild and cacophonous piano solo sprinkles the end of the song.  It is a ton of fun.  The NPR blurb says that

when globalFEST decided to host this year’s edition at New York’s Copacabana nightclub — a venue with a history that stretches back nearly 80 years and boasts a long association with Latin music — the festival’s organizers decided that Akokán had to be the first group they invited this time around.

Mambo!

[READ: December 23, 2019] Guantánamo Kid

This is a story of injustice.

Injustice at the hands of Americans.

Americans should be humiliated and outraged by this injustice.

Injustice that is utterly horrific to behold–and I suspect that this graphic novel holds back a lot of the really unpleasant details to make it readable.

This is the story of Mohammed El-Gharani, an innocent kid who was sent to Guantánamo Bay for seven years.

At the age of 14, Mohammed El-Gharani made money in the streets of Medina, Saudi Arabia.  His family was from Chad and, as such, he was treated like an outsider in Saudi Arabia.  He wasn’t allowed to go to school and the locals treated him badly.  He and his friend knew this was no way to make a living.

One day his friend told him that if he went to Pakistan he could learn how to fix computers.  He even knew people there who would put him up while he studied. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEREBA-Tiny Desk Concert #919 (November 27, 2019).

Who the heck is Mereba?

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

As with many singers I’ve never heard of, I’m not sure if these songs sound like this on the record or if they are more dancey.  I do quite like the simple, organic sounds that accompany these songs.

The stripped-down soundscape Mereba achieves live with her four-piece band is equally dreamlike here, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as the many places she’s called home (Alabama, Philly, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ethiopia). As she pulls from genres as seemingly disparate as folk, rap and spoken word, her set reflects the years she spent perfecting her craft on live stages in Atlanta cafes and clubs, where she attracted the attention of the indie creative collective Spillage Village  before joining them in 2014.

She sings three songs and recites a poem (all on the album).

When “Black Truck” started I thought she sounded exactly like Alanis Morissette.  The way she says “and I said world would you please have some mercy on me” sounds very uncannily like her.  The song is a quiet, mellow piece that starts with a simple bass line (including some harmonics) from Chris James and guitar washes that turn into a nice picked melody from Sam Hoffman.  After a minute or so, Aisha Gaillard plays a simple drum beat and the song kicks into higher gear.

Through all of this, the backing vocals from Olivia Walker were just beautiful.  The end of the song turns into a kind of rap as the guitar and bass fade out.  I say kind of a rap because Mereba is also a poet and she has more of a poet’s delivery than a rapper’s delivery.

For “Stay Tru” the guys switch instruments and the bass takes on a slightly more lead role.  But this song is also very mellow.  Mereba’s vocals sound a bit more Jamaican in his song.  Midway through, James switches to violin and Mereba plays keys which adds a whole new texture.  I didn’t like this song as much because the chorus is kinda lame with a lot of repeating of “cut the bullshit, this time” sung in a sweet voice.  It also seems to drag on for a really long time (although it is very pretty).

“Dodging The Devil” is a poem she wrote when things just didn’t seem to be going right.  After a couple of verses, a quiet guitar line fills in the background.

On the last song, “Kinfolk,” Mereba plays the main guitar line while Sam plays single soaring notes.  The song kicks into gear with a simple guitar riff and some prominent bass.

I really enjoyed this set.  I thought the music was beautifully restrained and her voice distinct enough in each song to show such a range of sounds.  It’s always nice to be surprised by a new musician.

[READ: November 15, 2019] Cursed

I saw this book in the new YA section at the library.  I was attracted by the cover and fascinated by the “soon to be a Netflix Original Series” sticker.

I have known of Frank Miller for years.  I’m sure I’ve read graphic novels by him, although I don’t know if I’ve read Sin City (maybe a long time ago?).  Mostly he drew superhero comics which is not my thing.  Turns out I really don’t like his artistic style in this book (at least for the way he draws the heroine–I rather like the way the bad guys are drawn).  If the series was in any way designed to look like the art in the book I don’t think I’d watch it.

But the story itself is petty darn good.  It took me a while to read it for some reason. I guess maybe the opening was a little slow because there’s so much going on it takes awhile to really get settled in this universe.

But the description of the story is pretty intriguing: Whosoever wields the sword of power shall be the one true king.  But what if the sword has chosen a queen?

For this is a story of Arthurian legend with many many twists.  My knowledge of Arthurian legend is surprisingly minimal.  I love the story and I know the main participants, but there is a lot of information in here that I didn’t know about–or even how much Wheeler is making up. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANDREA CRUZ-Tiny Desk Concert #836 (March 27, 2019).

I was really surprised by the music that Andrea Cruz played, especially when I learned she is from Puerto Rico.  It felt very folk-music, in the way she strummed and the trombone (Jomar Santana) was used more as a solo instrument rather than a dance-accompaniment.  That’s certainly reductive, and yet the blurb backs me up:

It’s important to note that the instrumentation of the band that traveled with her (keyboard, two percussionists and trombone) hardly fits what you’d expect music from the island to sound like these days. But Cruz is part of a movement in Puerto Rico that emphasizes largely acoustic instruments and a folk-based approach to interpreting life before and after the hurricane of 2017. It’s a bold creative statement in a land of reggaeton and salsa.

I was very pleased to see that Cruz’s live performance is very much like the stripped-down sound on her album and the handful of singles she’s released. In fact, I would say her music is a perfect soundtrack to a growing, back-to-nature movement in Puerto Rico that encourages local farming and a careful stewardship of the environment.

Cruz sings three songs, all from her first album, 2017’s Tejido de Laurel.

“No Toquemos Tierra,” opens with a lone trombone and Cruz’ guitar.  I love the delicate keyboard accents from Antony Granados. It looks funny that there are two of them playing the tiny percussion kit, but that changes later.  The way Cruz plays her guitar here I almost expected her to bust out into something like Laura Marling a few times.  The coda at the end is really pretty, too.

The emotion of the lyrics of the first song, “No Toquemos Tierra,” is evident in her angelic voice as she makes a declaration of love for the earth as a metaphor for a lover. The beauty of the song is in her poetic lyrics set to a melody that defies language.

“Santas Flores” is a prayer to the flowers.  I love in the middle that everything drops away except for the percussion and her voice.  I’m very curious how that trombone is so quiet.

“Canción de Amargura” begins with a martial beat from Francisco Marrero but when Ángel Rafael Rivera plays the cuatro venezolano, the mood lightens.  Despite the fact that this is an intense song

there was no mistaking the intense feeling behind her song about femicide on the island in the song, “Canción de Amargura.”

Their voices raised in harmony at the end are really powerful and the way her own voice just soars in the last few seconds is really lovely.

“Contigo” is listed as a fourth song but she doesn’t play it, I don’t think.

[READ: March 31, 2019] “The Match”

This is an excerpt from Whitehead’s not-yet-released book The Nickel Boys, which is set around 1964.

This part is about a boxing match at The Nickel Academy, a reform school for boys.  The main competitor is a black boy named Griff.   He is a miserable bully most of the time and the other boys really hate him.  But if he has the chance to defeat a white boy, they are all for him.

The “colored boys” had held the boxing title for fifteen years.  “Old hands on the staff still remembered the last white champion [Terry (Doc) Burns] and talked him up.”

Griff arrived at Nickel just after the last champ turned eighteen and was released back in to the free world.  Griff pulverized his opponents.  At the end of the school year, they would pit the dorm’s best fighters against each other and then in the finale, the best black fighter fought “whatever chump the white guys put up.”

Obviously, racism is inherent in this system.  Indeed, Trevor Nickel who opened the Academy was a member of the Klan.  During one of the brief asides, Turner, brought Elwood to the two trees in the back.  There were rings embedded in the trees, part of the trunk now: “Human bones would break before it came loose.”  This was where the black boys who disobeyed were brought.  The official word was that they escaped, obviously they did not. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: September 2017] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy complete radio series

The history of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is almost as convoluted as the story itself.

Douglas Adams (with help from John Lloyd) wrote the radio story in 1977.  It aired in 1978.  A second season aired in 1980.

Adams wrote the novel based on the radio series in 1979.  And then the second book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in 1980.

Then they made the TV show.

Apparently Adams considered writing a third radio series to be based on Life, the Universe and Everything in 1993, but the project did not begin until after his death in 2001.  The third, fourth and fifth radio series were based on Life, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless which were transmitted in 2004 and 2005.

It’s interesting and a little disconcerting how different the radio play is from the story of the book. There are a lot of similarities of course, but some very large differences.

The first series obviously leaves a lot out from the book, since the book wasn’t written yet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #495 (December 14, 2015).

I thought I had posted about every Tiny Desk Concert, but on double checking I found that I had missed this one.  I had heard of Shakey Graves and I assumed he was a country/folkie singer.  Which he is, although really his style is to mix country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.  I also had no idea his real name is Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

This set sees Graves on acoustic guitar (with a strap with his name on it) accompanied by another acoustic guitar (which seems rather small) and a mandolin.

“To Cure What Ails” is a pretty, slow folk song. It’s simple enough with nice high mandolin notes and a good guitar line between verses.  Shakey has a nice voice and the song feels compelling like a story, although I don’t think it is.  He’s also charming and funny in little ways–he makes a lot of funny faces and chuckles.  But his music is really solid and the harmony at he end of the song is really great.

For “The Perfect Parts” the mandolin switches to bass and they have a little discussion n how to play it.  Shakey tells the drummer how to play the beat and then says they’re going to make it us as they go along.  This song is darker and has a cool sinister vibe.  He sings in kind of deep mumble for this song which works well for this song.  The song gets a little intense for a few lines.  And by the end it builds pretty loud with some good whoa ho ho backing vocals.  So much so that for the last chord, “he attempted a stage dive at the Tiny Desk.”

For the last song, “Only Son,” he:

breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, [and] a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

He says it is soon to be the last of the suitcase kick drums (this is his third).  He dreamed about having an object that he could cart around with him and still make a lot of noise.  The drum is actually behind him and he stomps the pedals with his heels (I can;t believe the camera never zoomed in on it).

He says the song is about “the moment in your life when you realize you’re not alone… there’s an aha! moment where you’re like ‘not just me?’  The drummer plays bass, the mandolin player has the mandolin back and Shakey has the kick drum suitcase.  There’s some terrific harmonies (and chuckling ) throughout the song, and I love the way it stops and starts.

[READ: Late 2016 and early 2017] McSweeney’s #45

The premise of this collection was just too juicy to pass up.  Although it did take me a while to read it.  Eggers’ introduction talks about the contents of this issue.

DAVE EGGERS-Introduction
Eggers says he came across a collection of stories edited by Hitchcock. He really liked it and then learned that Hitchcock had edited 60 volumes over the course of 35 years.  He was excited to read literary genre fiction.  But he was more impressed that theses stories did what literary fiction often forgets: having something happen.  He then bought a cheap book edited by Bradbury (Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow) and he liked it too.  He was surprised that there were so many canonical writers (Steinbeck, Kafka, Cheever) in a Bradbury collection.

So, why not make a new collection in which we can compare the two genres.

Despite this looking like a pulpy paperback, there were still Letters.

LETTERS

CORY DOCTOROW
Doctorow says that Science fiction is not, indeed, predictive.  That any genre which deals with so many potential future events is bound to get some things right.

JAMIE QUATRO
Quatro says she was asked to write a letter for this genre issue, but Quatro doesn’t do genre, so she was about to pass.  Then her son, from the backseat, asks what bulwark means.  Then inimical.  Then miasma.  He is reading a book called Deathwatch about soldiers whose brains are removed so they no longer fear. Suddenly, when she compares this idea to her essay on Barthelme, she sees that maybe McSweeney’s was on to something after all.

BENAJMIN PERCY
In fifth grade Percy (who has a story below) gave his teacher a jar full of ectoplasm.  He has always been different.  He proposes the Exploding Helicopter clause: if a story does not contain an exploding helicopter (or giant sharks, or robots with lasers for eyes or demons, sexy vampires. et al), they won’t publish it.

ANTHONY MARRA
Marra discusses Michael Crichton and how something doesn’t have to be Good to be good.  He says Crichton was a starting point for him as an adult reader.  And what can be wrong with that? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SKATING POLLY featuring LOUISE POST & NINA GORDON OF VERUCA SALT-New Trick EP (2017).

So Kelli (17) and Peyton (21) have added their brother Kurtis (20) on drums which allows the grrrls to focus on guitars and bass.  This EP, as the name states, was co-written with Louise and Nina of Veruca Salt

“Louder in Outer Space” is the catchiest thing they’ve done by far.  The harmonies are great and the chorus (and even the verse) has the clear impact of Veruca Salt.  The co-songwriting has upped their game in a number of ways too with interesting vocal harmonies.

“Hail Mary” has a real Nirvana feel in the chord choices and in Kelli’s vocal delivery.  The addition of Peyton’s backing vocals in the chorus are a wonderful detail.

There’s a simple bass and drum set up on “Black Sky.”  But when it gets going, it’s the most Veruca Salt of the three songs. It’s even more so when the song pauses and someone (even their voices intertwine) sings “the monster of a sky.”  Then end the song with the following section, the way the vocals (all four of them, I assume) swirl around is really great.  It’s such a terrifically catchy song.  And a dynamite EP.

[READ: December 17, 2017] “Lynch Law”

This story was constructed around what I assumed was a fabricated title but which is very much real: Mounted Police Life in Canada, A Record of Thirty-One Years’ Service by Superintendent Richard Burton Deane (you can see the whole book here).  I was willing to accept the “truth” of the book even if it was made up, but knowing that it was real makes this a more interesting (but not more enjoyable) story.

Basically what we have is Deane’s official transcript of events and then a woman’s explanation of the story from her point of view.

The story begins with quotes from the manuscript: (more…)

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2008_03_24-400SOUNDTRACK: MILAGRES-Tiny Desk Concert #198 (February 27, 2012).

milagresI hadn’t heard of Milagres before this set.  Bob mentions how they are a band with many layers of music–practically a wall of sound.

The big sound of Milagres is built from small, simple elements: the boom of the kick drum, the clack of the claves, the repetitive tap-tap-tapping of a piano. This is a band of selective minimalism — which, in the end, somehow gets me thinking about the big sounds Phil Spector made. It’s all about attention to detail, and Milagres is a band that cares.

And yet for this Tiny Desk:

Frankly, I worried more when the band’s list of gear didn’t include a single amp and its members said they didn’t need to use our keyboard. They came armed with a red toy piano, an autoharp, a shaker egg, a melodica, a glockenspiel, a few acoustic guitars and not much else.

But in the end, that same attention to detail made this a great Tiny Desk Concert. In spite of the tiny sound, the songs were big and strong — delicately built, yet sturdy enough for the emotive sounds of Kyle Wilson’s voice.

Wilson’s voice is kind of  loud whisper, but the band, with all of their funny gear sounds really full and the elements come together very nicely.

“Hard to Stay” starts out nicely, but when the band adds the lovely “ooohs” during the first verse it sounds amazing.  And you can hear all of the instruments perfectly balanced—the authoharp, the melodica and then the xylophone.  Couple that with some lovely lyrics

All the leaves are glowing green / as the seasons rage all the birds seem to sing in the key of A

“Halfway” opens with a toy piano—which doesn’t sound cheesy.  Wilson hits lots of delicate falsetto notes that work perfectly with the piano and xylophone.  The chorus “Halfway, halfway, I could be halfway” is all sung in gentle falsetto.  And then add more of those beautiful ooohs during the second verse.  I also really like at the end when he keeps playing his chords higher and higher up the neck–getting kind of noisy–until it all abruptly stops

“Glowing Mouth” opens with shaker and melodica and again, the sound is nice not cheesy.  he sings wonderful falsetto “haaas” in the middle and the autoharp returns with the great sound.   He play a simple but pretty riff on the acoustic guitar as the song ends (its fun to watch his fingers playing it close up).

The band really won me over with their sound here and now I’m very curious to hear what they’re “supposed” to sound like.

[READ: January 27, 2017] Y’all Torture Me Home”

I am astonished that this essay had to be written at all back in 2008.  But I am even more upset that now, 8 years later, issues of torture are being considered again.  Really the only word that should be coming up regularly is impeachment.

When I was in college I wrote a humorous piece for my college newspaper that was all about Deconstruction.  There had been a debate going back and forth about it (seriously), with the people who were opposed to it saying that it led to a belief that nothing had meaning–which could cause a spiritual crisis.  (Ah, the 90s).

Since no one was winning this argument, I jumped in with my piece which was all about “de construction” at “da University” (our school was expanding and there was orange construction fencing everywhere).  It was hailed and enjoyed (at least by one of the professors in the philosophy department).

I bring this up only because Saunders takes a similar mis-understanding approach in the essay, which, sadly, is timely once again.  His piece begins:

I was overjoyed that Congress refused to override President Bush’s veto of a bill outlawing the washboarding of prisoners, a technique that some have described as torture—a ridiculous notion if I’ve ever heard one.

[After you unpack the negatives, the ruling was that “washboarding” can continue]

And thus begins Saunders detailed account of his own experience with being washboarded. (more…)

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