Deciphering Culture

Archive for the ‘Cultural History’ Category

Updating the archive: interview of Moroccan rock star Reda Allali (Hoba Hoba Spirit)for MTV IGGY

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Moroccan Rock Legend & Journalist

Reda Allali Wants to Save The Music

Moroccan Rock Legend & Journalist Reda Allali Wants to Save The Music

JOURNALIST AND HOBA HOBA SPIRIT GUITARIST, SINGER AND SONGWRITER TALKS THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC IN MOROCCO

By MTV Iggy
October 10, 2012

Words by Jeffrey Callen, Ph. D.

Hoba Hoba Spirit was there when an alternative music scene came together in Casablanca in the late 1990s. They were there on the front lines of the protests after 14 heavy-metal musicians and fans were arrested and accused of being satanists in 2003. Creating distinctively Moroccan rock ‘n’ roll (with lyrics in French, Darija and English, and music infused with healthy doses of Gnawa music, reggae & Moroccan rhythms), many critics and supporters considered them too hip to ever be popular outside of Casablanca. Playing wherever they could get a gig, they introduced the live experience of rock ‘n roll to audiences in small cities and villages throughout Morocco and, by 2007, they had become one of the most popular Moroccan musical acts of any genre. More than any other alternative band, Hoba Hoba Spirit has advocated an opening of the Moroccan cultural landscape—through music and through the writing of bandleader and journalist Reda Allali in the magazine Telquel. In a far-ranging interview, Allali talks with ethnomusicologist Jeffrey Callen about the Hoba way, their unexpected road to success, the alternative music movement and the obstacles to making a living as a musician in Morocco.

(to read the rest, click here)

Tommy on the edge of a cliff

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Labyrinth at Eagle's Point (Land's End, San Francisco)

A labyrinth is not a maze. There is no intention to fool you: there is one way in and one way out. You simply follow the path to the center and then back out, a metaphorical equivalent to any number of spiritual traditions. Walking a labyrinth can be a walking meditation if you do it with intention.

Placing one foot in front of the other,

Gauging the distance as you frame the intention;

Taking the step, intention inseparable from action.

It falls into a rhythm, step after step, clearing the mind.

For the last  year, I have been working to rewire my brain in response to some neurological difficulties. Choosing alternative modalities of treatment in lieu of the bag of drugs the neurologist handed me, I made steady but uneven progress. Bodywork, meditation, exercise, music became part of my daily routine. Recently, my wife suggested I add labyrinth walking to my regimen: “I think if you walk a labyrinth once a week, you’ll be healed.” She described her experience walking a labyrinth and I decided to give it a shot. A Google search located three labyrinths in San Francisco and I decided to visit the one at Eagle’s Point along the Land’s End trail where the bay meets the ocean. A drive across town and a forty minute hike led me down the bluffs to a labyrinth perched on a cliff. I entered the labyrinth and tried to walk the path with singleminded intention. Maintaining the clarity to keep an even gait was harder than I imagined, especially when the outer circle of the labyrinth passed within three feet of the sheer drop to the rocks and water a hundred feet below. I followed the circuitous path to the center, stood for a while then retraced my steps out of the labyrinth.

Entrance to the labyrinth at Eagle's Point

I left the labyrinth refreshed and inspired, and a little mentally tired. A beautiful sunny day, the experience of walking the labyrinth on the edge of the cliff had left me with the feeling of possibilities.  A number of the healing modalities I’m using are  premised on the theory that brain waves need periodic recalibration. To me, walking the labyrinth was most like becoming absorbed in listening to a piece of music. Like deep listening to music, walking a labyrinth can take you away to another world and bring you back reoriented to this one.

The hipster — the “dead end” of Western civilization?

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"fuck u hipster cookie cutters / leave"

Walking to the Zen Center in San Francisco, I passed by the first piece of anti-hipster graffiti I’ve seen. The nearby Lower Haight neighborhood is a hipster preserve and maybe this indescript portion of Laguna Street is feeling a wave of hipster-fueled gentrification, which made me think of the slew of anti-yuppie graffiti that appeared in various neighborhoods in S.F. during the ’90s &  ’00s as that wave of gentrification crested. And yes, it’s true “yuppies kill culture” or at least replace it with a whole new set of aesthetics, which made me think  of the recent trenchant critique of the hipster subculture.

We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum. So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality.

 

Take a stroll down the street in any major North American or European city and you’ll be sure to see a speckle of fashion-conscious twentysomethings hanging about and sporting a number of predictable stylistic trademarks: skinny jeans, cotton spandex leggings, fixed-gear bikes, vintage flannel, fake eyeglasses and a keffiyeh – initially sported by Jewish students and Western protesters to express solidarity with Palestinians, the keffiyeh has become a completely meaningless hipster cliché fashion accessory.

 

Two quotes from Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization by Douglas Haddow in AdBusters 79 — a well-written and influential piece of cultural commentary that echoes a common perception of those of us outside the hipster circle that it is a counter-cultural movement devoid of cultural critique. And Haddow’s description of a hipster is pretty spot on except it leaves out the small hipster hat and scruffy beards on the male members of the hipster tribe (and at least here in San Francisco, they seem to be self-identified as DJ’s as often as not). While I’m not sure this is the first subcultural movement devoid of cultural critique, it may well be the first not orchestrated by commerce or politics. From all I can see it is a fundamentally grassroots movement and the lack of substance may be just what hipsters are looking for.

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 25, 2011 at 8:02 pm

“Pianist Omar Sosa is on a musical and spiritual mission” (@ SF Weekly)

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Cover of "Afreecanos"

Cover of Afreecanos

Omar Sosa’s exploration of the shared roots of the musics of the Black Atlantic is documented in an impressive body of work. A number of his albums are regularly featured in my own personal soundscape: Prietos (2001), Sentir (2002), Afreecanos (2008), and the brilliant, transformative Across the Divide: A Tale of Rhythm and Ancestry (2009). If you are not familiar with his work, I heartily recommend that you check it out. On Wednesday May 18, the Omar Sosa Afreecanos Quintet, featuring Bay Area Latin music icon John Santos, played Yoshi’s San Francisco. Below is the preview I wrote for SF Weekly.

Omar Sosa Mixes Jazz and Electronica into an Afro-Cuban Cocktail

By Jeffrey Callen Wednesday, May 18 2011

Pianist Omar Sosa is on a musical and spiritual mission. His music, steeped in Afro-Cuban and jazz influences, melds traditional and modern sounds (and aesthetics) to show the unseen threads that connect cultures throughout the African diaspora. His mission has taken him into myriad musical settings that have been documented on an impressive array of recordings. His rare stop in the Bay Area at Yoshi’s this week is a sort of musical homecoming.

The Cuban-born pianist spent three years in the Bay Area in the ’90s — a period that marked a turning point in his career. “It was the first time I did what I felt,” Sosa explains in a phone interview. He began exploring the roots of African music a decade earlier, but it was here that his sound took shape. Sosa particularly admired the vision and work of percussionistJohn Santos, who was already an established figure on the Bay Area Latin music scene. Santos became pivotal, offering moral support and hiring Sosa to tour with his Machete Ensemble. Wednesday’s show will see the two reunited, with Santos performing as a featured sideman in Sosa’s Afreecanos Quintet.

Sosa’s group formed to record the albumsPromise (2007) and Afreecanos (2008); it has appeared in various configurations and included more than a dozen musicians from the Americas, Africa, and Europe. It has become “more a collective than a group,” Sosa says. In addition to Sosa and Santos, the version that will appear atYoshi‘s includes drum ‘n’ bass pioneer (and founding member of New York City’s Black Rock CoalitionMarque Gilmore, bassist Childo Tomas from Mozambique, and Berkeley nativePeter Apfelbaum on saxophone and flute. Apfelbaum was another of Sosa’s inspirations when he moved to the Bay Area. He remembers that the first concert that made him exclaim “That is the kind of music I want to make” was the final San Francisco show by Hieroglyphics Ensemble, a legendary jazz group Apfelbaum formed while still in high school. (Apfelbaum relocated to New York to play with jazz icon Don Cherrysoon after Sosa hit the Bay Area, but remains one of Sosa’s musical heroes.)

Since he departed the Bay Area in 1998, Sosa has stayed connected, regularly releasing albums on Oakland-based Otá Records that document his ongoing musical explorations. He draws upon a diverse array of traditions to create an eclectic body of work. Ritual sounds of Cuban Santería orMoroccan gnawa blend with straight-ahead Latin jazz, big band horn charts, and hard bop; contemplative moments on ngoni or piano are flavored with electronic samples.

Sosa’s recorded output is driven not by commercial calculations but by what he calls “spiritual messages.” When Sosa’s spirits call him to record an album, he says he has to do it right then, or “the message will kill me.” Last year, when he was in New York City with two days off, Sosa received the message that he “needed to heal himself.” So his manager found an available studio, and Omar played solo improvisations on piano, electric piano, and electronic percussion for two hours. When he finished, he had recorded the raw tracks for his latest release, Calma (2010).

Perhaps not surprisingly, Sosa’s best ensemble work features a thrilling drive and intensity along with the vibrant interplay of sounds — see Prietos (2001), Sentir (2002), Afreecanos (2008), and the brilliant, transformative Across the Divide: A Tale of Rhythm and Ancestry (2009). The introspective, laid-back Calma has a different kind of eloquence, contemplative and restrained without the drive and diversity of textures that characterize his ensemble work. Sosa says it’s the only one of his albums he currently listens to: “When you feel calm, you see life in front of you more clearly. … You have time to see things and choose in the moment.” Expect a variety of emotions, along with extraordinary performances, when Sosa’s Afreecanos Quintet takes the Yoshi’s stage.

Feel It Again: Cuba’s Los Muñequitos de Matanzas Return to S.F. (@ SF Weekly)

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I must admit that I am not a big fan of folkloric performances. Straddling the gap between “traditional” and “popular” entertainment is difficult and the more context you strip away, the more difficult it becomes. Of courses the very effort to do so creates the gap. This dilemma came up for me last week when I sat down to write a preview of the upcoming appearance of the legendary Cuban folkloric troupe Los Muñequitos de Matanzas at Mission High School in San Francisco on April 4, 2011.be. With only a cd and some less than satisfying videos to work with, it was hard to get a real feel for their live performance. What I came up with began as a riff on the multi-sensual nature of the musical experience:

Feel It Again: Cuba’s Los Muñequitos de Matanzas Return to S.F.

By Jeffrey Callen Wednesday, Mar 30 2011

Music is a multisensual experience. Putting aside synesthesia — a rare condition in which what a person experiences in one sensory realm (like seeing) activates a second sensory realm (like hearing) — musical performances are most fully experienced when they are heard, seen, felt, and moved to in a communal space. Recorded music is great — how else could you listen to metal or a symphony while driving your car? — but you shouldn’t forget that the multisensual experience of live music is something special. For some styles of music, it is essential. This digression is by way of encouraging you to see the legendary Cuban ensemble Los Muñequitos de Matanzas when they perform this week at Mission High School.

Previewing Los Muñequitos de Matanzas’ 2007Grammy-nominated album Tambor de Fuego during a car trip last week, I realized the necessity of hearing this music live. Deprived of the visual elements and unable to move freely, I was struck by the seeming sameness of the tracks. An archetypal rumba pattern on claves (a pair of wooden sticks) sets the beat. A male vocalist then establishes the primary melody of the piece, supported by the pattern of interlocking rhythms set by the drummers on the quinto (a high-pitched conga — the lead drum), and two or more tumbadores (low-pitched congas). (to read the rest…)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 30, 2011 at 10:17 am

One for the archives:”Yoga-Tainment for the BlackBerry Generation” (@ East Bay Express)

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I keep an archive of all my published writings (with a few exceptions — encyclopedia entries for example) but somehow this piece from 2010 got overlooked.

 

Yoga-Tainment for the BlackBerry Generation

A plethora of events highlights music’s growing role in yoga.

By Jeffrey Callen

 

// 

Doug Boehm

 

 

Late night in the Mission, the class begins with the sound of kirtans accompanied by slowly pumped chords on the harmonium. The class members respond hesitantly, repeating back the unfamiliar sounds chanted by the teacher. The call-and-response chanting subsides and the teacher announces the first asana as tinkling sounds from a kora replace the languid chords of the harmonium. For the next two hours, the class moves forward with the musical accompaniment of the kora and manipulations of its sounds through a small array of electronic devices. It’s not the background music typically heard in an American yoga studio, but it’s not quite foreground either. Solidly in the middle, it works sometimes, fitting perfectly with the slow movements; other times, it seems distracting, an extraneous element unconnected to the physical activity.

Every Friday night since October 2007, the Midnight Yoga class at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in San Francisco’s Mission district has offered live music as accompaniment to yoga. Developed by the yoga center’s parent studio in New York City, the class features various genres and musical configurations: kora and electronics; freestyle guitar, bass, and keys; cello, voice, loops, and percussion toys. Yael Kievsky, who has taught the class since December, says that live music to accompany yoga is simply an extension of the use of taped music as background that has been a part of yoga classes in the United States for decades.

But the addition of live music changes things: The class becomes an event — a “full-on experience”…  (to read more go to East Bay Express)

 

The Art of Agency 3 (Asian Improv aRts @ SF State)

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From March 2 through March 5, Asian Improv aRts (AIR) and SF State’s World Music and Dance Program are holding a “collaborative presentation of public dialogue, workshops and performances exploring the intersection of traditionality and hybridity in the formation of community.” It is an interesting mix of events, culminating with “Sounding Asian Improv aRts (AIR),” the keynote session of the Annual Meeting of the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology.


ImprovisAsians 2011! – The Art of Agency 3

March 2nd – 5th, 2011

San Francisco State University College of Creative Arts

All events are free and will take place at San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue

Wednesday, March 2nd

Diaspora Tales #2 – An interdisciplinary work featuring music by the Francis Wong Unit, spoken word by A.K. Black, dance by Lenora Lee and media design by Olivia Ting. “1969” reflects upon the Third World Strike at UC Berkeley and Wong’s family history from the period.
1:10 – 2pm Knuth Hall, Room 132, Creative Arts Building

Thursday, March 3rd

Asian Improv aRts Master Class with SF State Creative World Music Ensemble featuring composer Francis Wong
2:35 – 4:50pm Room 150, Creative Arts Building

The Artist as Public Intellectual Panel Discussion with Yutian Wong, Jeffrey Callen, Lenora Lee, Francis Wong, and Hafez Modirzadeh
6:10 – 8:50pm Room 147, Creative Arts Building

Friday, March 4th

The Creative World: A collaborative concert featuring Francis Wong, Hafez Modirzadeh, Bryan Bowman, John-Carlos Perea, and Jimmy Biala with members of the SF State Creative World Ensemble
1:10 – 2pm Knuth Hall, Room 132, Creative Arts Building

Saturday, March 5th

Asian Improv aRts in collaboration with the College of Ethnic Studies, College of Creative Arts, and the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology (NCCSEM) are proud to present:

Sounding Asian Improv aRts (AIR) A lecture demonstration. This Keynote Roundtable Session is part of the NCCSEM 2011 annual meeting. Co-moderators: John-Carlos Perea, Francis Wong, and Hafez Modirzadeh. Participants include Melody Takata, Dohee Lee, Wayne Wallace, and Kat Parra.
1-2:30pm Knuth Hall, Room 132, Creative Arts Building


New book: Peter Gabriel, From Genesis to Growing Up

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Self promotion aside (although my chapter, “‘I need contact’ – rock ‘n’ roll ritual: Peter Gabriel’s Security tour, 1982–83″ is quite good), this is an excellent collection on an influential figure in popular music. Out on Ashgate on December 23, 2010. From the publisher’s press release:

Ever since Peter Gabriel fronted progressive rock band Genesis, from the late 1960s until the mid 1970s, journalists and academics alike have noted the importance of Gabriel’s contribution to popular music. His influence became especially significant when he embarked on a solo career in the late 1970s. Gabriel secured his place in the annals of popular music history through his poignant recordings, innovative music videos, groundbreaking live performances, the establishment of WOMAD (the World of Music and Dance) and the Real World record label (as a forum for musicians from around the world to be heard, recorded and promoted) and for his political agenda (including links to a variety of political initiatives including the Artists Against Apartheid Project, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Now tour). In addition, Gabriel is known as a sensitive, articulate and critical performer whose music reflects an innate curiosity and deep intellectual commitment. This collection documents and critically explores the most central themes found in Gabriel’s work. These are divided into three important conceptual areas arising from Gabriel’s activity as a songwriter and recording artist, performer and activist: ‘Identity and Representation’, ‘Politics and Power’ and ‘Production and Performance’….

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