Deciphering Culture

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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)

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Kronos Quartet feature “Women’s Voices” / An Interview with Tanya Tagaq (@PopMatters)

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 This weekend (May 11 & 12, 2012), Kronos Quartet is presenting a program entitled Women’s Voices at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in Sn Francisco. One of the special guests is Inuit throat singer Tanya Taqaq. I’m taking this occasion to repost an interview of Taqaq  I did for PopMatters in 2010. One of my favorite interviews of the last few years, it’s also a good introduction to an innovative artist. If you happen to be in the Bay Area, seriously consider checking out this weekend’s show at YBCA.

Living Outside the Box: An Interview with Tanya Tagaq

By Jeffrey Callen 16 April 2010

My introduction to Inuit throat singing was a lecture by musicologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez on the semiology of katajjaq, the vocal game played by pairs of Inuit women standing close together, holding each other’s arms as they sing into each other’s mouths. I remember some striking video and audio clips, a lot of charts detailing Nattiez’s semiotic analysis and a feeling that something human and vital was being elided.

A decade later, when I first saw Tanya Tagaq on a podcast from the London International Festival of Exploratory Music, I didn’t think once of katajjaq or semiology. She isn’t that kind of Inuit throat singer and that kind of analysis would not get to the questions that I was interested in pursuing.

Born in the Nunavut Territory in the northernmost reaches of Canada, Tagaq taught herself Inuit throat singing during college in Halifax when she longed for the sounds of home. In the decade since, she has taken Inuit throat singing into previously unimagined musical arenas, working in hip-hop, hard rock and classical settings.

She has also worked with a diverse set of collaborators including Bjork, Mike Patton (of Faith No More) and the Kronos Quartet. In late January 2010, I interviewed Tanya Tagaq as she was about to begin a six-month tour of North America and Europe. During our conversation, Tagaq illuminated her approach to her craft, the sources of her inspiration, the relationship of her art to the Nunavut landscape/soundscape, and her ambitions.

On the last point—her ambitions—she eloquently stated what may be an underlying reason people are drawn to the experience of art: “…(to wake up to) the potential of what we’ve lost and what we can gain.” (To read more go to PopMatters).

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

“S.F.’s Cuban Cowboys flavor Latin grooves with punk power” (SF Weekly)

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[A duplicate post from Pop Culture Transgressions]

The Cuban Cowboys bring together rock ‘n’ roll and Latin beats with a punk sensibility that brings to mind such post-punk genre busters as The PixiesManu ChaoJonathan Richman, and Moroccan cha’abi rockers Hoba Hoba Spirit. Musically promiscuous and lyrically inventive, head Cuban Cowboy, Jorge Navarro, has found the musical voice on their new album Diablo Mambo that was only hinted at in the Cowboys’ debut album, Cuban Candles — but he didn’t find it on his own. A couple weeks ago I interviewed Jorge for a piece in SF Weekly and found out the fascinating backstory behind the band and the new album. Check it out!

Trails Mixed

By Jeffrey Callen

The Cuban Cowboys‘ new album, Diablo Mambo, doesn’t hesitate to let you know what it is all about. Drop the digital needle on the first track and you learn all you need to knowwithin the first 50 seconds: A Jimi Hendrix lick establishes the rock bona fides before the track morphs into a mambo section overlaid with a post-punk, art rock guitar pattern. The Hendrix lick then returns and signals the transition to driving punk guitars, but with a difference — the usual straight up-and-down thrash is blended with the sway of a Cuban son rhythm pattern. Two musical streams — rock and Latin music — are introduced, then blended, before the story of the song begins.

Bandleader/songwriter Jorge Navarro has interesting, engaging stories to tell. The opening track, “Cojones,” relates an early lesson in navigating the contradictions of the code of machismo taught by his knife-wielding grandfather. Navarro’s songs portray his family’s memories of a mythical Cuba born out of the nostalgia of exile and his experiences as a first-generation Cuban American, immersed in American pop culture and drawn to cowboy boots and rock ‘n’ roll. These two themes establish the narrative poles for the songs on Diablo Mambo, and Navarro skillfully navigates this bi-cultural territory, spinning tales of romance, sex, politics, and family. The music plays an essential role in the effectiveness of the stories, weaving together various tributaries from the two main musical streams — classic rock, punk rock, doo-wop, post–punk, rockabilly, and son, mambo, calypso, and salsa. (to read the rest, go to SF Weekly).

 

 

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Regenerating jazz?

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There is a lot of talk about the need to regenerate jazz and bring back the audience it has lost (a recent NEA study documents the dramatic aging of the jazz audience). Just take a look at the website of the Jazz Audience Initiative (of the Jazz Arts Group), one of the projects investigating the fading of jazz from the American cultural landscape.

Why is this Work Necessary?

Relatively little research has been done on jazz audiences and what they value. We know that jazz audiences are aging, jazz media outlets and festivals are fading, jazz organizations are struggling, and jazz musicians are overly burdened. In addition, the jazz field lacks meaningful opportunities to network and learn as a professional community.

But maybe the problem lies somewhere else — in assumptions implicit in the suppositions of this problem statement. I think a statement by Cicely James, author of the book The New Face of Jazz, in an NPR interview is instructive:

…I came to realize that hardly anyone I knew (and I consider my circle of friends to be well-educated and very cultured folks) could name a single player alive and well on the jazz scene today, I knew something had to be done. As a reader, I was also frustrated with the endless supply of books out there on Coltrane, Miles, etc. Why do we keep hashing their lives over and over again and ignoring the Coltranes of today? We’re allowing jazz to pass up this generation and the next ones by revering the past as if it’s the only period in this art form that matters.

How can a musical style stay vital if it is defined (and perceived) as being in the past? Let’s take an abbreviated, and admittedly cursory look at the history of the creation of this perception of Jazz. Many mention a 1988 opinion piece in the N.Y. Times What Jazz is and isn’t by trumpeter Winton Marsalis as significant. In this piece, Marsalis argued for a narrow definition of jazz that would place many “jazz” players outside of the tradition. Disgusted trumpeter Lester Bowie responded, “If you retread what’s gone before, even if it sounds like jazz, it could be anathema to the spirit of jazz.” Bowie was one of many critical voices but Marsalis’ opinion held more sway, particularly after the success of Ken Burns’ PBS series Jazz (Marsalis was the executive producer of the series). Beautifully done, Jazz became influential in creating the current perception of Jazz as America’s Classical Music. I must confess that I’ve used it in university classes on Jazz history but innovators (after Miles) and iconoclasts have little place in the history it presents. And where does that leave the current crop of innovators and iconoclasts. Jazz has always been busy reinventing itself — at least until now.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 21, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Living Outside the Box: An Interview with Tanya Tagaq (@PopMatters)

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Living Outside the Box: An Interview with Tanya Tagaq

By Jeffrey Callen 16 April 2010

My introduction to Inuit throat singing was a lecture by musicologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez on the semiology of katajjaq, the vocal game played by pairs of Inuit women standing close together, holding each other’s arms as they sing into each other’s mouths. I remember some striking video and audio clips, a lot of charts detailing Nattiez’s semiotic analysis and a feeling that something human and vital was being elided.

A decade later, when I first saw Tanya Tagaq on a podcast from the London International Festival of Exploratory Music, I didn’t think once of katajjaq or semiology. She isn’t that kind of Inuit throat singer and that kind of analysis would not get to the questions that I was interested in pursuing.

Born in the Nunavut Territory in the northernmost reaches of Canada, Tagaq taught herself Inuit throat singing during college in Halifax when she longed for the sounds of home. In the decade since, she has taken Inuit throat singing into previously unimagined musical arenas, working in hip-hop, hard rock and classical settings.

She has also worked with a diverse set of collaborators including Bjork, Mike Patton (of Faith No More) and the Kronos Quartet. In late January 2010, I interviewed Tanya Tagaq as she was about to begin a six-month tour of North America and Europe. During our conversation, Tagaq illuminated her approach to her craft, the sources of her inspiration, the relationship of her art to the Nunavut landscape/soundscape, and her ambitions.

On the last point—her ambitions—she eloquently stated what may be an underlying reason people are drawn to the experience of art: “…(to wake up to) the potential of what we’ve lost and what we can gain.” (To read more go to PopMatters).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

April 18, 2010 at 9:39 am

French Fries in the Tagine — Moroccan Alternative Music

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In 2002, I spent the year researching the emergence of an alternative music movement in Morocco. Made up of a collection of genres that lie on the periphery of mainstream culture — hip-hop, electronica, rock/metal, fusion — alternative music had yet to break through. 2002 was its year on the cusp. In 2003, it would make its move to center stage and, within a few years, hip-hop and fusion bands would become major players in Moroccan pop culture.

My dissertation, French Fries in the Tagine: Re-imagining Moroccan Popular Music (UCLA, Department of Ethnomusicology, 2006),  which focused on fusion, examined this change in the musical playing field, how it happened and what it meant. I’m posting this link to share the work and ask for feedback. I’m currently writing a book on Moroccan alternative music that will hopefully bring this fascinating story to a wider audience.

All the best,

Jeffrey Callen, Ph.D.

Now for a little music:

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