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Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco
Celia and Johnny
Fania : 1974
Celia Cruz is not Peruvian; she's Cuban. And if you ever need to explain why salsa is salsa, just listen to what she does with this song. Her version was another huge hit. It was sort of a pan-African shout-out: Afro-Cuba flashing the fist to Afro-Peru. In fact, when the first generation revivalists got going in Peru, they filled in missing pieces by borrowing from Cuba and other successful Afro-Latin cultures. A nod from Cuba was like a pat on the back from your big sister.
According to their promotional literature, Peru Negro were the ones to introduce Cuban drums into Afro-Peruvian music. Remember, drums had been banned, they had to come from somewhere. Not that there weren't indigenous options. My favorite instrument is the cajita. It's a box, with a lid you open and close while you hit the box with a stick. It was made from the collection boxes the priests used at church. (Take that, Spaniards!)
Luaka Bop : 20002
Susana Baca is an academic, a serious folklorist. She and her husband traveled to the coastal towns around Lima where black Peruvians lived, places like Chincha, site of a plantation that once housed 30,000 slaves, and El Carmen, the town where Peru Negro formed. They published their research and set up an archive of their findings in Lima, the Instituto Negro Continuo. Baca discovered different versions of "Toro Mata" with different political messages. One version warns of deadly Chileans instead of deadly bulls (there was a war going on); another sings about a deadly Spanish general. Caitro Soto de la Colina, Lucila Campos's lyricist, created his version from his childhood memories.
Baca's version (I don't have her lyrics) starts off with the sound of a quijada de burro, a rattle made from the jawbone of a donkey. I like that. But the overall result seems pale compared with the raucous, choral, dance-til-you-sweat versions. She's refined the song, made it more sophisticated, but she's taken the body back out of the music. This is a bit unfair to Baca, who is a joyous and radiant performer. She has a lovely, sensual vocal delivery; many of her recordings are poems set to music. Still, I find myself dissatisfied. Why is it that "refined" somehow always implies "less black" on the sliding scale of culture? And how did I learn to hear things this way? Is this refined sound a function of Baca's long-time collaboration with the noodly, cerebral Marc Ribot? Is it a concession to her overseas audiences? Or is it because, although she looks eternally young, she's getting older and prefers a quieter set?
Or is the real question this: what on earth do you do with a song that's been done so well already?
You see? It's all so complicated. It was Baca, by the way, who got Dave Byrne interested in Afro-Peru. (Who knows, the writhing, gyrating dancers might have scared him away.) Baca hadn't made a studio recording at all before his intervention, only cassettes she'd hand out at street performances. Now she tours and teaches and studies us: she was doing fieldwork in New Orleans when Katrina hit.
Peru Negro set up a school in Lima too; that's where los Peru Negritos come from. Institutions are funded; culture endures.
A reader writes: "wonderful entry about an incredible tradition of music but the timing is tragically ironic. the earthquake that struck the day this was posted destroyed the city of chincha."
For more information about the August 15 earthquake, including some stunning photos, click here.
Labels: afro-latin, megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, August 13, 2007
Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru
Luaka Bop: 1995
Some of you may remember the Tom Tomorrow cartoon where Sting, Paul Simon, and David Byrne, all wearing pith helmets and holding microphones, run into each other in a jungle searching for world music. (Was there a fourth guy? Maybe Ry Cooder or Mickey Hart?) The cartoon probably appeared a few years before The Soul of Black Peru was released, on the Luaka Bop label co-founded by Byrne with his new-wave wealth. Because of the cartoon, I've always been a little sheepish about liking the album. There was some imperialist sell-out anxiety. There was also the fact that Byrne insisted on recording an embarrassingly bad version of one of the most beautiful songs on the album: Susana Baca's "Maria Lando." What was he thinking? Did he think he was good? Did the marketing people make him do it? Was Baca stroking his ego, "Ah, David, you have such a gift for the tradition"?
The album didn't need Byrne and I wish he'd said no. Still, without his celebrity clout and his ethnographic bent, I probably wouldn't have heard this music. The African music revival only broke through to the Peruvian mainstream in the late 60s, one local outgrowth of Black Pride movements around the globe. Until then, most African-derived songs, dances, and instruments weren't considered part of official Peruvian culture. (In Peru, as elsewhere in the Americas, the rituals of enslaved Africans - especially the dances! - had been branded lewd, obscene, and un-Christian. The offending practices were suppressed, without irony, by the same morality police who invented the mestizo and the mulatto. The Spaniards also banned drums and marimbas, hoping to control that demon rhythm.)
The musicians and folklorists of the 50s and 60s recovered, and in some cases recreated, a musical idiom that was on the verge of dying out. And that brings us to "Toro Mata" ("The Bull Kills.")
La Mejor Del Ritmo Negro Peruano
El Virrey: 1973
available on: Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru
This song has become the "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" of Peru. But I didn't know that until recently. I grew to love this song because of its tight, springy horns and the cha-cha congas. The vocals are very salsa-influenced, which I would guess is less local style and more dance hit style. It makes me do a sort of stiff-legged merengue mixed with a samba-style shimmy. The way I do it, it's pretty strenuous. The song has Kikongo words in it, which suggests its great-great grandparents may be Angolan. If that's the case, my samba shimmy isn't so far off: A large percentage of Angolans were shipped to other Portuguese-held territories, such as Brazil. And the lando, another dance central to the Afro-Peruvian tradition, is close cousins with both the Brazilian londo and the Angolan londu.
Like the lando, the toro mata is a dance as well as a song. According to Wiki, the toro mata dance "mocks and parodies the stylized waltzes of European Conquistadores." The Wiki entry is also full of mistakes, so I'm not sure I should trust it. However, this bit of information does help explain the strange costumes you can see in this clip, where the Peru Negro junior dancers accompany Eva Ayllon's performance of the song.
And that brings us to Peru Negro.
Sangre de un Don
Times Square : 2000
[Browse Freely and Buy It]
Peru Negro were revivalists who could put on a show. They date from the late 60s, which makes them early adopters of the folk idiom, once its crossover appeal had become evident. Their shows featured not only the songs, but the lost dances of Afro-Peru, and it was the dancing that made Peru Negro famous. Consider how Dan Rosenberg describes the dance called the alcatraz:
This is a couple's dance. Traditionally, the woman has a piece of tissue on her behind while the man dances with a lit candle. If the man can light the woman's fire, she is his.You see where the banning came in? Wait, there's more.
Eventually, one of the dancers succeeds and the "burning dancer" gyrates uncontrollably until finally collapsing and grinding against the floor to put out the flames.For years I had idle visions of browsing a record store in Lima and stumbling across a 1970s Peru Negro release (worn but in good condition). Ah, dreams. I like this version fine, but the Campos still rules my heart. The legato delivery here masks the violence of the song lyrics, which include lines like "Who brought this black man here? / We must kill this black man." Note that both versions use a female lead, which is interesting. Although I can't hear Lucila Campos as a woman, no matter how hard I try. Is it just me?
What I discovered when pulling together this post is that Lucila Campos and Caitro Colina (the lyricist) were both members of Peru Negro in its early years. (I'm also guessing Lucila is related to Peru Negro founder Ronaldo Campos.) The Campos version was so hot, and such a big hit, it brought back to life the whole genre of the Toro Mata, which turns out to have a whole variety of secret meanings. And that means the David Byrne compilation was even more right on than I'd originally thought.
Are you guys over this, already? I have a few more stories and two more versions I could post, including a hot salsera rendition by Celia Cruz. Make yourselves heard.
Labels: afro-latin, megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, January 22, 2007
An Open Letter to the People of Moistworks:
The moistworkers convened recently for a grueling criticism/self-criticism session. Once we'd gotten the group sex out of the way, we began our thought correction.
"Moistworks sucks," said Alex. "Fix it."
In accordance with the wishes of the Supreme Commander, we're changing our format a little. Fewer, better posts. Mon, Wed, Fri. Regular installments of Joanna. Brian on Mondays. The return of former City Paper graphic designer James Morris, shown backstage at Vanilla Ice on Ice, here.
And Alex will start writing again, instead of complaining about his deadlines.
Now, onto the music.
DER GLATER BULGAR
Available on: Hallelujah, Anyway
Tzadik : 1999
Mulatta : 2004
Tail of Moonlight Stone
GOK : 2003
Respect : 2001
Soul Flower Mononoke Summit
Levelers Ching Dong
Respect : 1997
Klezmer again? New year, new moistworks, but mama's got the same old bag. People, one wearies of the fetish for novelty that rules the capitalist universe. Which was exactly my reaction upon discovering Japanese klezmer. Must we do EVERYTHING? Does the world really need Tuvan bossa nova or Inuit-Cossack rap? All this relentless hybridity: fresh! new! polymorphous! So much buzzing of postmodern mosquitos for so much feverish monotony.
Only in this case, the story proved to be more interesting.
Klezmer travels to Japan via the whole downtown NYC, avant-jazz scene. "Der Glater Bulgar" and "Himatsuri" are both fine examples of this Knitting Factory genre of klezmer. The first is actually a cover of a Dave Tarras number. The second has this slinky tango beat that reminds me of the Lounge Lizards, or at least the Marc Ribot portion thereof. The klezmer-jazz transference is perfectly logical. It's musician's music, filled with wild improvs and odd time signatures. American klezmer flirted with jazz, leading to the birth of Yiddish swing. (Incidentally, Dave Tarras was marketed, without irony, as the "Jewish Benny Goodman.") And so, Japanese jazz musicians looking for a challenge adopted the klezmer idiom, much like the young Don Byron, only without so much soul-searching and ethnic upheaval.
Komatcha Klezmer is a small ensemble that grew out of Betsuni Nanmo Klezmer, an 18-piece orchestra whose recordings (Omedeto, Waruzu, and Ahiru) are now out of print. Clarinetist Kazutoki Umezu is the anchor of both groups, whose members include assorted luminaries of Japanese free jazz: what Michael Parker calls "an abridged who's who of Tokyo's bohemian prankster avant-garde" in this review. I tried and tried to track down BNK stuff and in the end shelled out many yen for the Komatcha Klezmer. It's ok. Parker's review raves about BNK's amazing bizarro Yiddish vocals, which are not in evidence on this KK release. "Cigany Himnusz" is actually a traditional gypsy song, here given a rowdy klezmer treatment. See what you think.
And then there's Cicala Mvta (shikala moota), from the Osaka noise underground that produced Shonen Knife, John Zorn faves the Boredoms, the Ichi-Bang Boshi Crew, and the Soul Flower Union. The band name is Italian for "mute cicada" and comes from the epitaph of Japanese street singer and songwriter Soeda Azembo: CICALA-MVTA CHE CANTAVA E LA SVA MOGLIE CHE L' AMAVA (The mute cicada that sang and his wife who loved him). Azembo wrote catchy comic satires and protest songs that spread across Japan without the benefit of radio play; in the 20s, his songs were banned and he was repeatedly imprisoned (hence, the muting). This genre of street music, called chin(g)don, features drums, saxophones and clarinets, and face-painting. With the drum in the lead, musicians would march around the streets playing popular music, advertisements, and folk songs. Mass media killed off the tradition, which was revived in the late 80s by Japanese punk rockers tired of Western-derivative rock.
Chindon revivalists were attracted to klezmer because of its affinities with chindon: both non-military band music (as opposed to the military brass bands) made by anarchic, itinerant musicians, both hybrid forms that plundered any and all available sounds. Cicala Mvta draws not only from klezmer, but also from Nepalese wedding music, Turkish folk songs, and Albert Ayler. Results are mixed; pardon the pun. I think I liked Deko-Boko (Inside-Out) better than the earlier album, Ching-don: The Return of Japanese Street Music, but both have some hits and misses. Fans of noise jazz will be happier than I. "Bessarabian Hora" isn't the best track, but it's the most recognizably klezmer, and those of you who read my earlier klezmer epic will have some basis for comparison. (Those of you who didn't, just follow our incredible new(TM) labels feature to find it.)
The leader of Cicala Mvta is freaked-out clarinetist Wataru Okuma. He started off playing in the punk rock Soul Flower Union (see Osaka, above). They in turn spawned the Soul Flower Mononoke Summit, whose klezmerish version of the socialist anthem The Internationale was one of the happiest finds of 2006. You can hear the chindon drum and if those wild yips don't move you, you're a stone. I do see the klezmer analogy, but I have to wonder if that's a serious description of the music or a handy label for overseas listeners. ("If you like klezmer, you'll love Cicala Mvta!") Well, it worked on me. And now I know some things I didn't know before. Win-wins all around.
Labels: klezmer, megan, world
posted by Megan
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
HORA F# MINOR
Kalman Balogh and the Gypsy Cimbalom Band
Rounder : 1999
Maramaros: The Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania
Hannibal : 1993
Naive : 2006
Trans Balkan Express
Essay : 2004
[This is part 3 of a series. Read parts one and two.]
This weekend I was at a holiday concert, listening to a children's choir sing songs like "Hanukkah Nagilah":
light the menorahThe hora is one of those dances that everybody has and calls by a different name, the way you can buy Greek Delight or Israeli falafel. The harpsichordean tones you hear come from the cimbalom, a kind of hammered dulcimer common to both Roma and Jewish music. (It's related to the Persian santour and the Greek santouri.) The Roma play with the standup version, which is sort of like a piano stuffed in a rectangle. Klezmorim often used an economy-sized cimbalom called the tsimbl, which hung from the shoulders.
dance the hora
We'll let the gypsies take it away, while I tell you a story.
Imagine your dilemma: you're a Polish aristocrat in the 1800s. You're throwing a party and you want some lively gypsy music to entertain your guests. But gypsies are scary. They drink too much and rape Polish women. What should you do? You ask a Jew instead. They play the same music, but they are less drunk and they don't like goy women.
Minstrelsy begins at home. And what the Jews did for the gypsies, later they'd do for the blacks.
The gypsies were used to these sorts of slights. They were slaves in Romania until 1864. (Blacks in the U.S. were allegedly freed in 1863.) But Jews and gypsies both did their share of shucking and jiving to get by. For extra entertainment value, tsimbl players performed with a chained bear. When bears were hard to come by, audiences opted for a Jew in a bear costume. The point, really, was to humiliate the Jew. But a musician doesn't turn down work. Every so often a Jewish song would catch on among the goyish public, who imagined it expressed the very essence of this strange people. The sabbath song "Ma Yofis" was one of these early Jewish hits. Its melody was taken from a popular Polish song; maybe that explains its crossover appeal. This song was so widely requested during these minstrel-show performances of Jewishness, that it dropped out of the Jewish repertoire entirely. "Mayofisnik" became an insult, roughly translated as "goy-pandering sell-out." Like calling a black man an Uncle Tom. In today's world, mayofisnik might translate as "Jewface."
Of course one man's sell-out is another man's Borat. Or vice versa.
Things were different after the Holocaust. In Hungary, Jews were slaughtered so effectively that only a handful of gypsies who'd played with klezmer bands were left to remember the music. (I don't know if Jews returned the favor elsewhere in Europe.) With the help of Roma consultants, the Hungarian band Muzsikas recreated some of these Hungarian Jewish songs on their album Maramaros. It was largely this sense of a lost tradition that fuelled the klezmer revival to begin with. So many local forces drove this phenomenon: interest in folk music, Holocaust tourism, discomfort over Zionism and religious orthodoxy among secular Jews, Holocaust guilt among Europeans. Mark Slobin calls this movement a "nostalgic diasporism," which substitutes a carefully preserved, static past for a living culture grounded in social practice. And through the proliferation of graduate programs, arts festivals, historic tours, and audio recordings, some version of these once-vibrant traditions is kept alive.
Based on the comments to the first installment of this series, many of us agree that culture is not static and, as one reader put it, miscegenation is inevitable (even desirable, I might add). But when does culture become kitsch instead? Is it when Oprah gets involved? Is it when folk goes electric? Is it when things get too hip for their own good? Or is it just when we lose too much of what made it all meaningful to begin with?
It's been a long journey these past two weeks. I'll stop here and rest for a while. Thanks for your company.
Labels: klezmer, megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, December 18, 2006
OLD MOLDAVIAN KLEZMER SUITE IN E: OLD BULGAR
European Klezmer Music
Smithsonian Folkways : 2000
SZOL A KAKAS MAR
Rhythm Media : 2000
NAFTULE SHPILT FAR DEM REBN
Recorded in 1923
Available on: Yikhes
Trikont : 1995
Golden Horn : 2004
DER TERKISHE YALE VE VOLE
Amsterdam Klezmer Band and Galata Gypsy Band
Kalan : 2002
Dave Tarras and The Musiker Brothers
Columbia : 1955
To read the prequel to this post, click here. You won't be sorry.
The first klezmer album I bought was The Klezmorim: First Recordings. (I included a track from this album in the prequel.) I was dating an angsty Israeli guy who was concerned about my (lack of) Jewish credentials. "According to religious law, you are not really a Jew. Maybe if you convert?" One day he asked me, "Do you even know about klezmer music?" I didn't convert, but I did buy the CD. I don't remember why I picked that one; maybe it was the Robert Crumb cover.
The Klezmorim play kooky, slapstick kind of klezmer: Greek, Turkish, and classic klezmer tunes, with a heavy early jazz influence (they sound a lot like Naftule Brandwein's 1920s recordings). Apparently, when the klezmer revival was starting up in the 1970s, they were criticized for their eclecticism, for not identifying themselves specifically with Jewish music. The more I learn about the history of klezmer, the more ridiculous this seems. Here's an excerpt from the liner notes for Brandwein's "Natfule Shpilt far dem Rebn":
[This piece] is in the so-called "terkish" rhythm, which may have entered the klezmer repertoire from Asia Minor via Moldo-Wallachia. Like other New York klezmorim, Brandwein probably performed such pieces when he played for the Greek communities of New York.And no further comment. Oh, of course, this Jewish guy is playing Turkish music for Greeks. (Does he not play them for Jews? Do the Greeks know?)
Around the same time the Klezmorim were getting started, Zev Feldman of Khevrisa and Dave Tarras protege Andy Statman were playing in a rebetika band. One night, they followed their set of Greek and Armenian songs with some old klezmer numbers they'd pulled off of 78s. According to Feldman, "the Greek audience went wild, with a standing ovation. So the Greeks we worked with asked us if we knew more Jewish tunes."
America, the melting pot? No, the melting pot was Eastern Europe. The three main sources for the klezmer sound were European folk dances, Hasidic prayer songs, and Greco-Turkish dance music. These were mixed in various combinations. As one example, "Szol a Kakas Mar" was a Hungarian folk tune that was repurposed as the melody for a Hasidic prayer song. Romania was a main site in developing this syncretic music: the regions of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bessarabia, which eventually formed present-day Romania and Moldova, were former Ottoman territories. Wandering Jews traveled with Rom musicians from Odessa to Istanbul, picking up Turkish and Greek melodies. According to Yale Strom,
The new music they composed -- with its Turkish modalities, its different tuning and playing styles -- influenced the klezmer style and repertoire to such a degree that it is now some of the most popular klezmer performed. (The Book of Klezmer, 25-26).Even back in the old country, the Greeks were a main market for this Near Eastern-influenced Jewish music. Naftule Brandwein, one of the biggest names in klezmer, was especially partial to the "Oriental" sound. He was a character: a skirt-chasing drunk, a favorite of Jewish mobsters. His dad had 14 children and 4 wives, so I feel a bond with him. Naftule liked Turkish-style syncopated tunes; I've included a few examples of these terkishers, which were part of the Romanian repertoire. These songs were often played on a violin using a special "ciftetelli" tuning, common in Greek and Turkish music, which allowed the violinist to play double-stringed octaves. (Ciftetelli is also a dance rhythm; I'm not sure how it's related to the terkisher form rhythmically.)
Dave Tarras is the other biggest name in klezmer. He was smoother, more reliable, and less drunk than Brandwein. He was more successful, too, and adopted more of a swing sound. Yet he also favored the Bessarabian repertoire, and helped make that sound definitive of New World klezmer. His favorite form was the bulgar, a sprightly dance common in Bessarabia and the Ukraine.
So much, and so much more. Tomorrow, I'll talk about the importance of dancing bears in klezmer culture, what makes a klezmer an Uncle Tom, and why the Rom, not the Jews, are the blacks of Europe.
I'm heavily indebted to Yale Strom's The Book of Klezmer. Any unattributed quotes are from his book. And you should [buy it]
Labels: klezmer, megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, December 11, 2006
Trans Balkan Express
Essay : 2004
You've noticed this post-Soviet thing happening in our culture, right?
New Yorkers will likely know Gogol Bordello, whom I caught at a world music festival in Chicago, back in 2000. (I'll not digress here to gripe about how world music might as well be called IMMIGRANT STUFF, the way it's used in the States.) They played after Fanfare Ciocarlia, which was nuts: these round, ancient Romanians who played like the devil and spoke no English whatsoever, on stage at an Irish bar on Chicago's west side, in front of a granola-ish audience of twenty-somethings. And here comes Gogol Bordello, with Eugene Hutz hanging cruciform off the mike stand, and striped cabaret girls banging on drums. Five years later I saw Gary Shteyngart and Jeffrey Eugenides do a panel at the same venue. You don't get more post-Soviet than Gary Shteyngart. The event was sponsored by Nextbook, one of the many outfits that promotes Jewish culture to the young and hip. So they do Shteyngart and Israeli reggae and Hasidic rap and all this klezmer, which leads us back to Eastern Europe again.
As a trend, as a demographic shift, as a local manifestation of global capital: whatever its causality may be, I'm enjoying the results. It's not all good, but for every Alexander Perchov, there's something like OMFO, Our Man from Odessa. This is not an earth-shaking discovery, I realize; that's why I don't write for Pitchfork. "Money Boney" is featured prominently in Borat, one of the only movies I've bothered to see all year. OMFO's label, Essay Recordings, is also home to Balkan Beat Box and Boom Pam, bands I've written about, and De Amsterdam Klezmer Band, which I'll write about next week. But I still didn't figure it out until I saw a post about OMFO on my new favorite blog, undomondo. Could there be a more perfect song? It's goofy and tinkly and makes me laugh. It's obsessive with a sense of humor, and that's catnip for me.
In recent weeks, I've devoted a lot of my own high-quality obsessivating to unraveling the lineage of klezmer music. You will reap what I've sown next week. Because I'm a syncretist, I'm most interested in klezmer's cross-pollination with adjacent cultures: with gypsy music, with local Balkan styles, with Turkish rhythms and modes. How could one begin to make separations between them? Take these two songs:
CRAZY SERBIAN BUTCHER'S DANCE
Rounder : 1987
First Recordings: 1976-78
Arhoolie : 1993
Brave Combo is a polka band from Texas; did they not know the Serbian Butcher's Dance was really a hasaposerviko? Or did the Klezmorim not know they were playing Greek music? But it's all of these things. Hasaposerviko means hasapiko, or fast butcher's dance, Serbian-style. The name is derived from the Turkish word for butcher. I know the hasapiko as a Greek dance, related to the sirtaki. And if you look at OMFO's playlist, he's playing the sirtaki too. Except his is called "Sirtaki on Mars." Opaa! Hasaposerviko for everyone.
And that's just a start. Like klezmer, gypsy music has become an established market niche. Witness the New York Gypsy Fest, another Gogol Bordello-induced phenomenon, or Asphalt Tango. A snooty New York friend of mine turns up his nose at nouveau gypsy groups. "Megan, they aren't REAL gypsies." But then, it's hard to be a real gypsy after World War II and Ceausescu, isn't it? Ceaucescu had intended to breed gypsies (more properly, Roma) as a "robot work force" to serve the pure Dacian people of Romania. (Under the Roman Empire, present-day Romania was a province called Dacia. That should give you an idea of how far the clock needed to be turned back.) So the wall fell, and Ceausescu was shot, and then there was Tony Gatlif's film Latcho Drom, which helped put the Roma on the world music map. But in Romania, Roma music had been government regulated since 1944, creating an alternate tradition of fakelore - state-sanctioned, "pure Romanian" music. The aforementioned Fanfare Ciocarlia, comprised of authentic Roma musicians, was a touring group assembled by a German promoter. He's the one who came up with the name. (See how tricky this authenticity thing can be?) And yes, they're on the Borat soundtrack, too.
Next week, I'll be trying to tease some of this out into a coherent and entertaining format, while also delivering some quality tunes. Don't think it's easy.
Labels: megan, world
posted by Megan
Friday, November 17, 2006
LET ME TOUCH
Essay : 2006
JUDAS GOAT (TERROR REMIX)
Soot : 2006
I've been waiting for this Boom Pam album for about a year. They're an Israeli band that I discovered via their guest appearance on last year's Balkan Beat Box album. The song they played on, "Gross," was prominently featured on Megan's Passover party mix: it's a fantastic Greek-style, get-drunk get-down circle dance. (I have a deep affinity for circle dancing.) But I must say, I'm a little disappointed. I get the sense from this first release that Boom Pam is still finding their way and maybe groping in the dark a bit.
Because our mp3s are posted for instructional value, I've chosen a couple of exemplary failures. I actually do like quite a few of their songs, but with all this mouthing off in the comments box lately, I guess I need an outlet for my aggression.
"Let Me Touch" is a freaking train wreck of a song. First, the creepy vocals
don't be afraidand then these overbearing discordant strings! They seem like they're saying something portentous, then they turn into cheesy Bollywood-style exclamation points (POW!). I'm guessing they're going for a klezmer-type comic feel, and, with a tuba in the band, they're halfway there. But this song just doesn't work for me, except at the bridge, where you have a glimpse of what these guys are all about.
I will not hurt you
just a little touch
and then I do you
"Dalida" starts off, and I'm feeling like, "Hey now, hey now, don't dream it's over." Then it goes off into this cool Middle Eastern groove, with the crazy surf guitars chiming in. But then, around 1:20, it goes into prog-rock freak-out. (I'm not a prog kind of girl, du tout.) See, you want to love a band that lists Dick Dale AND Umm Kulthum as influences, but the mix can be a little hard to pull off. When it works, it's wonderful. "Otto Chiconi" might be my favorite song on the album and you can't go wrong with "Hashish," available on their myspace page, here.
Let's consider Boom Pam a work in progress. I'll bet they're a great live show. Useless trivia: one of the lead guys is named Uzi Feinerman (he's the mastermind of that "Let Me Touch" song). There was also a Knesset member named Uzi Feinerman and for some reason I find this amusing.
Speaking of Israel, I discovered this Filastine track on the fantastic Aussie blog fat planet. (As of Tuesday, they've got some truly ill Palestinian hip-hop/electronica posted. Definitely check that.) Filastine, however, is an indigenous product: well, he lives in planet Seattle, anyway. He's a founder of the Infernal Noise Brigade, an anarchist marching band, and he does "guerilla audio interventions" and "counter-hegemonic brown sound." That is, he's a mixmaster, on the global political tip. Check him out, here. And note the Butthole Surfers sample in "Judas Goat."
Here in the States, we're all about equal time for opposing points of view. We'll sell you a t-shirt, no matter what your politics are. You a Palestinian sympathizer? Order here. You down with Israel? Order here. You a self-loathing Jew? Order here. Supporters of the two-state solution have to buy two shirts. There's justice in that.
Moistworks sez: Let's all wear our shirts and live together and be free.
Labels: megan, world
posted by Megan
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Doublemoon : 2005
[Preview and Buy It]
Most of what I know about Turkish culture I learned from my Greek friends. I am endlessly fascinated by the uneasy fit between culture and political boundaries, and people's stubborn determination to fill those boundaries with coherent, self-adhesive stuff.
Orhan Osman, who was born in Greece and now lives in Turkey, seems a good vehicle for my weighty thoughts. I'm not a huge fan, but I love this song, a remake of an old rembetika tune. I have a version recorded in the 1920s by the great Roza Eskenazi, a Sephardic Jew born in Istanbul who sang in Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Ladino, and even Yiddish, I think. Rembetika music is all about getting high, getting into fights, and getting laid, which is why it's called the Greek blues. (Ime Prezakias means "I'm a junkie.") Mostly, the drug songs are about hash, but some of them sing about smack and cocaine too. Like this one:
EGO THELO PRIGIPESSA
Rembetika: Greek Music from the Underworld (v.1)
JSP : 2006
He's singing how this Moroccan princess has fallen in love with him. (Why a Moroccan princess would be hanging out in Piraeus, he doesn't say.) She says she'll make him a king in Arabia and give him wagonloads (camel-loads?) of hash and cocaine. And there'll be lots and lots of hookahs.
Rembetika is Greek music, but very Turkish, especially in the 1920s and 30s. For example, Ime Prezakias is a tsifte telli, or, in the Turkish way, cifte telli: a Turkish dance rhythm that's particularly friendly to belly-dancing. More fundamentally, the whole culture of rembetika reflects life in the multicultural Ottoman cities of Constantinople/Istanbul and Smyrna/Izmir. In 1923, in an attempt to make national boundaries make sense, ethnic Greeks were expelled from the newly formed Turkish Republic and vice versa. Many of the Greek rembetes and rembetisses emigrated to the homeland they'd never seen then, bringing their decadent Ottoman ways with them. The refugees weren't especially welcome in Greece. They settled in port cities like Piraeus and Thessaloniki and became manges, outlaw types who scorned conventional society, especially jobs and cops. In Greece, rembetika was played mainly in jails, hash dens, and brothels. Early rembetika is sometimes sung in Turkish; there are songs like "The Dervish's Broad"; and it has a distinctly Middle Eastern sound to it. More musically literate folk than I could explain why, but you can hear what I mean.
TAKE ME INTO YOUR EMBRACE
Available on: Women of Rembetica
Rounder : 2000
Marika Kanaropoulou, who was born in Bursa, was also known as Tourkalitsa, little Turkish girl. And now, some notes from two of my favorite diasporas.
HICAZ DOLOP ROM
Hasam Yarim Dunya
Available on: Latcho Drom (soundtrack)
Mercator : 1994
USKUDAR TAXIM/TERK IN AMERIKE
Rhythm Media : 2000
Migrations, expulsions, exile: they keep culture moving. If you've ever seen the magnificent Latcho Drom, you know exactly what I mean. "Hicaz Dolop Rom" is from a Turkish gypsy ensemble featured in the film. I don't know much about Turkish gypsies, but, on the whole, gypsies don't seem to do well in other people's countries. Which means all of them. And then, there's the Jews. Uskudar is a suburb of Istanbul today, but was originally a town near the old Jewish district of Kuzguncuk. A taxim, or taqsim, is a highly formalized kind of improv, and if I had the Naftule Brandwein version of "Terk in Amerike" you'd be hearing clarinet magic. But I have to buy food for my kid, so I can't buy so many CDs. And Metropolitan Klezmer isn't bad, as new klezmer goes.
People of the world, my apologies: Blogger doesn't let us do accents or diacritics.
Labels: megan, world
posted by Megan
Monday, October 23, 2006
Warner : 1982
Ba Da Bing : 2006
BAYM REBNS SUDE
First Recordings 1976-78
Arhoolie : 1993
BUTUN KIZLAR TOPLANDIK
Trikont : 2006
Double Moon : 2005
[Preview and Buy]
I have a Turkish friend who, when he's not complaining about other things, complains that the only ideas Yanks have about Turkey are 1) that it's in the Middle East and 2) that there may or may not be camels there. (There are. See?*) But a country is so much more than its livestock, isn't it? Turkey has a Nobel Laureate, so apparently it has some sort of civilization. And with Pope Ratzinger having public flashbacks of the Crusades, it seems like a good time to do a little Turkish-conscious-raising among my fellow Americans.
Despite Europe's god-given victory at the Battle of Tours, most of the continental periphery has been tarred with the Islamic brush. The Ottomans, like the Byzantines before them, ruled most of Eastern Europe; they were also, if indirectly, responsible for the world domination of the brass band. The Ottoman Janissaries, elite troops recruited by a slave tax of nubile Christian youths, brought their own theme music with them to dazzle their enemies: military bands that marched ahead of the troops. The colonized Balkans translated this into their local idiom, the brass band, which eventually spread from Eastern Europe to New Orleans and points beyond. But that's a whole other post.
I guess, from a certain point of view, "Bratislava" isn't authentic; it's the work of this 19-year-old New Mexico wunderkind and a couple of his indie-rock pals. I don't care about that. I fell in love with Beirut over the summer and this song is Balkan brass beautifully done. And "Baym Rebns Sude" ("Dinner with the Rabbi") is brass done klezmer style, based on the Russian army versions of the Janissary bands. My daughter and I used to play this tune in the car on the way to school every day, at her request. Marching music is good for mornings, gets the day started right. She also likes the Nil Karaibrahimgil cut. If I spoke Turkish, I'd probably be too snotty to listen to the song; it seems, well, poppy. Linguistic barriers are sometimes freeing, no? Me, I'm really digging Baba Zula, or BaBa ZuLa, as they seem to call themselves. I guess a bunch of songs on Duble Oryantal (like "I Think I'm Pregnant") were banned from Turkish Radio and Television. Which makes me kind of wish I knew what they were talking about.** Go to Calabash and check out their stuff; highly recommended.
Listen, people: I know not everyone has my tolerance for wild baglama solos and minor mode melisma so I've tried to keep it lively today. Tomorrow I'll get a little folkier as we view Turkey through the eyes of various despised minorities.
*Careful readers will note that the camels Salon describes are actually imported from Iran. Camels are not native to Turkey, but are available to tourists seeking picturesque Oriental excursions.
**A reader from Istanbul writes: "The song [BaBa ZuLa's "Children of Istanbul"] is a celebration of Istanbul's ethnic and religious diversity. He names most of the groups living there, and calls the city a rainbow of peoples, condemning a history of violence against minorities."
Labels: megan, world
posted by Megan
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
out|here : 2004
[Preview and Buy It]
LET ME DOWN EASY
Calla : 1965
Available on: Down and Out: The Sad Soul of the Black South
Trikont : 1998
African Underground Vol 1: Hip-Hop Senegal
Nomadic Wax : 2004
[Preview and Buy It]
Sabir Yaaaa Sabir
Zorba Muzik Yapim : 2004
Thanks to the success of our recent pledge drive (give it up for resident diva Alex Abramovich!), we've renewed our commitment to you: the end user, the target market, the unwashed masses yearning to breathe free. And we're newly dedicated to our mission as responsible global citizens.
Nobody told me this was a rock blog, so I've been planning a musical tribute to the Ottoman Empire for weeks. It'll probably run sometime after the High Holy Days (I've got a lot of sins to apologize for this year -- Phillyis, Clive, LeShaun, Ahmadou? if you're reading, please get in touch. I left the matchbooks at the motel and I forgot to ask for last names.) Also, this week the world music festival is running in Chicago. I'd post about that except I'm missing it all to stay home with the kid.
Instead, here's Alif. All I can tell you is what they put in their press kit. They are apparently the only all-woman crew in Dakar, the East Coast of African rap, out of a field of 3,000+ (gee, that's a lot of rappers!). Myriame, Mina and Oumy are on the socially conscious tip, using their rhymes to document daily life in Dakar. Hence, Dakamerap. I've never wished so hard I could speak Wolof. "Addu Kalpin" is apparently about a gang of thugs robbing minibus passengers. The sisters do sound a little squawky and disapproving on this track, don't they? Wolof-speakers, liner-notes-havers, I welcome your insights. Also, Alif? It stands for Attaque Liberatoires de l'Infanterie Feministe -- Attack of the Feminist Liberation Army. (Dude, you had me at hello.) The Buy It link sends you to Calabash because you can preview all their tracks there and tons of other stuff besides. It's my one-stop shop for Senegalese rap.
Alif is on this German label out|here records. When did the Germans get so hip? I was in Germany in 1989 and all I remember are jumpsuits and the occasional sex shop. And let me take a moment to give mega props to Germany's Trikont label. I've bought maybe six of their compilations and they're all gold. One of them had this tough Bettye LaVette on it. Cause bopst is right: we can't forget about Bettye LaVette.
Not all of you know this (warning: spoiler), but I have a thing for black women. I get it from the Jewish side. But just because I'm down with the sisters, doesn't mean I'm a player hater. Here's Abass, another Senegalese rapper, representing for the men. His case doesn't seem too compelling, but my French is rusty. Seidrik, des autres copains Francophones?
And then, Ciguli. The "C" sounds like the "J" in "Jew," and it rhymes with "Svengoolie." You know, there aren't a lot of English cognates in Turkish, so I'm flying blind, Latin alphabet notwithstanding. (And we don't have Turkish characters enabled, so I had to approximate spelling.) A very sleazy Ukrainian turned me on to Ciguli, which he described as "Turkish gypsy fuck music." Ciguli does mean gypsy, and my hips really do some surprisingly lewd things when I play this. But on the album cover the guy looks like Telly Savalas with a drawn-on pencil mustache. What's that about? Is he like a Turkish Stepin Fetchit or more of a Cantinflas? Dear readers, I leave the mysteries in your hands.
Labels: megan, soul, world
posted by Megan
Thursday, June 22, 2006
MONA KI NGI XICA
MUIMBO UA SABALU
Reissued on: Tinder Records : 1997
Sometimes I get lonely and I feel sorry for myself. But then I remember Barbra Streisand's nose. My mom would use this nose to make a point: "You see how Streisand never got that nose fixed? She's not crazy. She's not going to take a chance and get her voice screwed up. So she's stuck with that nose. What are you gonna do?"
Point taken, mom. And so, with this in mind, I accept a certain degree of loneliness as an essential condition of my life. Lonely is my engine, the secret behind everything I do. Lonely makes me dress up to go to the library, but it lets me find an Ideal Friend inside a hardback cover. Lonely makes me talk to random people on the street, but it's why I know so many people, so many stories. Lonely makes me a magpie for wonderful, irrelevant things, and that makes me a person I like to be.
The trick is to make the lonely work for you. Lonely is a rupture with the world you're in, but if you use it well, it's also a door to other places, other lives.
I first heard Bonga in 1996. I was living alone for the first time since I'd left home and loving it. I had a sunny studio apartment near the lake that I couldn't really afford - not so fancy, I just couldn't afford much. I started work at 3, so I spent my mornings reading and writing, surrounded by the glow of hardwood floors. I couldn't afford CDs either, so I'd tape stuff off of college radio, diligently recording playlists for future reference. WNUR had this world music show, Continental Drift, that was so good I actually called in with a pledge during the inevitable fund-raising drive. I don't remember what I was doing when they played "Mona Ki Ngi Xica," or "The Child I Am Leaving Behind," but I remember I stopped and sat and listened. I put that song on the first mix tape I made in bulk, one of those crappy tape-to-tape-to-tape jobs I sent out to a handful of friends. At least one of those tapes is still kicking around; my college roommate stumbled across it when packing for a recent move. He'll tell you, it's a weird tape: Thinking Fellers and Funkadelic and Marian Anderson. And Bonga.
Bonga Kwenda recorded Angola 72 in Rotterdam; he'd been exiled for his affiliation with the anti-colonial insurgency, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. The album was banned in his homeland, offensive to Portuguese sensibilities on two counts: its lyrics described the desperate poverty of Angolans under colonial rule and its music contained coded shout-outs to Angolan national pride. Bonga's band back home was called Kisseuia, or "poor people's suffering." He wrote songs based on the traditional semba style, the ancestor or close cousin of Brazilian samba (depending on your read of the circular genealogy of Afro-Latin music). He included Angolan instruments like the dizanka, a bamboo-scraper-type beat-keeper that reminds me of the fish. Wait, is that what it's called, the fish? You can hear it in this song:
What's Going On
Motown : 1971
I don't know the lyrics to "Mona Ki Ngi Xica" - it's sung in Kimbundu - but the emotion needs no translation: the plaintive guitars, the throaty hum, Bonga's husky cries, all speak anguished accusation. In 1974, a coup in Portugal brought down the colonial government; in 1975, a newly independent Angola imploded into a 27-year civil war that left the country in ruins. For many Africans, especially Bonga's fellow exiles in Europe, Angola 72 and the follow-up, Angola 74, became landmarks in time, music made in an explosive moment and instantly imbued with history (see Marvin Gaye, op cit).
I didn't have access to that history or those memories when I first heard the song, but it haunted me. Little by little, I learned new stories - about the song, about Bonga, about Angola.
Maybe eight years after that first hearing, another friend who got the tape I made picked up a copy of Angola 72 on a trip to San Francisco. Hearing Bonga then called up a lost moment in my own history: a rough, disheveled time when it was easy and necessary to imagine a radically different life-to-come. I grew to love another song on the album, "Muimbo Ua Sabalu," about which I can say nothing except, listen.
Hearing Bonga changed my life. It wasn't a conversion experience; I just learned something. And because I had some time on my hands, and because I bothered, the Bonga spread. I even got a little of the Bonga back. Nice, huh?
But thinking about Angola 72 makes me revise my lonely thesis. Maybe lonely isn't quite right. Loneliness is too diffuse. Maybe what I'm really talking about is longing - for home, for a time long past, for a better tomorrow - whatever endlessly deferred dream traps you, arms outstretched, in the infinite present. It's longing that opens the door. It's the door left open, waiting for someone to come home. Lower the arms, shut the door, miss the chance? No, I'm stuck with the longing, I guess. What are you gonna do?
-by Megan Matthews
Labels: african, afro-latin, megan, memoir, world
posted by James