Deciphering Culture

Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Review: Watcha Clan, Live in San Francisco (@Afropop.org)

with one comment

It took a little while to post (and it will move to Afropop.org’s front page later this week) but here is my review of Watcha Clan at the finale of the 2010 Jewish Music Festival in San Francisco. And be sure to check out the links to Charming Hostess, the opening band that was truly astounding.

Watcha Clan, Live in San Francisco

Jeffrey Callen

Never judge a band by a single performance. The first time I saw the Marseilles-based Watcha Clan was in July 2009 at a small club in San Francisco and the performance fell flat. The songs lacked the moments of unpredictability that worked so well onDiaspora Hi-Fi, the arrangements felt hackneyed and stale. I left feeling Watcha Clan was just another electronic band that created interesting studio work but was out of its element live (check out my interview with Lado Clem of Watcha Clan on Afropop.org in 2009). I’m here to report that this is one of those times when I’m happy to be wrong. I saw Watcha Clan again on Sunday July 18, 2010 in a very different setting and they killed.

Watcha Clan, headlining the finale of the 25th edition of the Jewish Music Festival in San Francisco, turned in an exciting musical performance where, surprisingly, everything clicked. The staid, buttoned-down performance space of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) is not an ideal setting for a “world & bass” band. YBCA books some interesting and innovative musical acts (just take a look at a fascinating installation by Oakland’s musical iconoclasts Charming Hostess) but it feels like what it is: a room tacked onto a museum. The lines of folding chairs set up in the room (for the rest…)

Fat Freddy’s Drop: Live in San Francisco (@Afropop.org)

leave a comment »

Here’s my review of the best live show I’ve seen this year — published on Afropop.org today.

Fat Freddy’s Drop: Live in San Francisco

Fat Freddy’s Drop tore up the Independent in San Francisco on Friday, June 25. Soul drenched vocals and reggae riddims mixed with electronic effects, club beats and a killer horn section to create a fresh sound that is contemporary but deeply rooted in a diverse collection of black music styles that came of age in the 1970s. Funk, soul, reggae, ska, dub—sometimes straightforward, sometimes deconstructed—were not unexpected from an outfit that started out as a jam band. What was unexpected was that it all worked!

I was drawn to Fat Freddy’s Drop’s show by the song “Boondigga” (from their last album Dr. Boondigga and the Big BW), which had been firmly entrenched on my personal playlist for a month before the show. The song came early in the eighty-minute set so if things had bogged down or fell flat, I wouldn’t have second thoughts about cutting out and looking for a plan B but I didn’t leave until the show ended. Now back to the song that drew me to the show because I think there’s something in there that explains the appeal and brilliance of Fat Freddy’s Drop. “Boondigga” opens on a smooth soul groove, anchored by the sweet Philadelphia sounds laid down by the horn section and driven by a very ‘70s electronic drum track. Joe Dukie’s smooth vocals ride on top of the slowly building arrangement that does not gain its full power until after the break, three minutes in. A subtle shift in the horn chart brings in the more harmonically extended controlled dissonance that Tower of Power brought out of Oakland signaling the beginning of a major deconstruction of Boondigga’s smooth soul sound. The horns exit and a soulfully deviant aural soundscape is created from distorted guitar, swelling keys and electronics. Live the horn section left the stage at the start of the deconstruction, which was given twice as long to develop as on the album – a full four minutes. And that was true of the entire show: (for the rest…)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 26, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Watcha Clan at the Jewish Music Festival

leave a comment »

I’m only posting this to add to my archive of published work (no matter how short). And, btw, it was a great show!

From East Bay Express:

Watcha Clan

Sun., July 18, 8 p.m. 2010

$23, $25

The final night of this year’s Jewish Music Festival features performances by two groups that stretch the usual definitions of diasporic music (Jewish or otherwise). French “world & bass” group Watcha Clan is dedicated to making music that advocates for nomadic peoples, for whom national boundaries are an inconvenient detail. It’s roots music where the roots intertwine with each other, creating a technologically enhanced vision of a world of unfettered movement. In that context, the idea of a “pure” music, or culture, is an anomaly. Sephardic and Ashkenazi music are integral parts of the mix, brought to the band by vocalist Sistah K (daughter of an Algerian Berber Jewish father and a Lithuanian Jewish mother). Opening the night is the San Francisco-based punk/funk/Balkan/Jewish band Charming Hostess, presenting their own take on diasporic music. Sunday, July 18 at YerbaBuenaCenter for the Arts (701 Mission St., San Francisco). YBCA.org

— Jeffrey Callen

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Watcha Clan performs at the Jewish Music Festival

with one comment

From East Bay Express

Watcha Clan

Sun., July 18, 8 p.m.

$23, $25

The final night of this year’s Jewish Music Festival features performances by two groups that stretch the usual definitions of diasporic music (Jewish or otherwise). French “world & bass” group Watcha Clan is dedicated to making music that advocates for nomadic peoples, for whom national boundaries are an inconvenient detail. It’s roots music where the roots intertwine with each other, creating a technologically enhanced vision of a world of unfettered movement. In that context, the idea of a “pure” music, or culture, is an anomaly. Sephardic and Ashkenazi music are integral parts of the mix, brought to the band by vocalist Sistah K (daughter of an Algerian Berber Jewish father and a Lithuanian Jewish mother). Opening the night is the San Francisco-based punk/funk/Balkan/Jewish band Charming Hostess, presenting their own take on diasporic music. Sunday, July 18 at YerbaBuenaCenter for the Arts (701 Mission St., San Francisco). YBCA.org

— Jeffrey Callen

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 13, 2010 at 10:49 pm

How WordPress is changing publishing

with 8 comments

Interesting article on the effects of blogging (good & bad) on the way we publish (and the way we write, read…) and the questionable value of “democratizing” the role of the writer.

Reposted from Slate‘s Big Money blog:

The Son of Gutenberg. How WordPress changed the way we publish.

By Marion Maneker  — Posted Wednesday, June 16, 2010 – 7:47am

A year ago, Justin Halpern was an underemployed comedy writer who had to move back into his parents’ home in San Diego. Today, he’s got 1.4 million Twitter followers, the No. 1 book on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, and a CBS sitcom starring William Shatner. All it took was writing down quotes from his father that he tweets out as “Shit My Dad Says.”

Technology and social media are redrawing the roadmap to authorial success. And for every Justin Halpern, there are 10,000 professional writers wondering how to turn blogs, microblogs, and Twitterfeeds into media empires, especially now that their magazines, newspapers, and media organizations are contracting at an alarming rate. Blogs, of course, are the first refuge for professional writers fleeing the withering establishment media, and for hordes of would-be scribes finding their own voice. For these multitudes, WordPress.com has become the 21st-century equivalent of Gutenberg’s printing press. (to read the rest, click here)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 2, 2010 at 10:20 am

Yoga-Tainment for the BlackBerry Generation (@ East Bay Express)

with 3 comments

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)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

April 27, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Posted in East Bay Express, Journalism

Tagged with ,

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

leave a comment »

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

Intimate Dialogue (@ East Bay Express)

with one comment

Indo-Pak Coalition melds Indian music and jazz for a stylistically ambiguous sound.

By Jeffrey Callen

Like most musicians who suddenly burst onto the scene, Rudresh Mahanthappa has been working on his craft for a long time. His reputation as an innovative jazz musician and composer took a major leap from the realms of the cognoscenti into popular culture with the enthusiastic reception of his 2008 album, Kinsmen. That album featured the Dakshina Ensemble, co-led by Mahanthappa and fellow alto saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath. Kinsmen, which melds jazz and South Indian Carnatic music, ended up on more than twenty top jazz CDs of 2008 lists, and the prestigious Downbeat International Critics Poll named Mahanthappa a rising jazz artist and alto saxophonist of 2009. He also became the subject of numerous features in The New York Times, the New Yorker, and Rolling Stone. That’s how the message used to come down from the cognoscenti to us hoi polloi and, sometimes, even in this age of viral marketing, it continues to do so — and sometimes, it still works. (to read more got to East Bay Express).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 11, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Tinariwen in San Francisco (@Afropop.org)

leave a comment »

Desert rockers Tinariwen of Mali have been on tour in the US this winter.  Jeffrey Callen caught the show—on an off night, it seems—in San Francisco, February 22, 2010.  Here’s his review.  The photos by Banning Eyre are from Tinariwen’s performance at New York’s Highline Ballroom about a week earlier.

It’s easy to review a great performance. The feeling of elation from being taken out of the daily flow of life stimulates the creative centers of the brain and the words flow. Reviewing a bad performance also comes fairly easily. As an exercise in figuring out why the event didn’t work—the music didn’t gel, the crowd didn’t respond—it offers its own kind of satisfaction. But when a show almost works, when nothing is terribly wrong, there is little to say. It just fell flat. The emotional and intellectual drivers to write fail to appear:  elation is missing, no intellectual problem to unravel. The performance just fell flat. And that’s what happened when one of the great bands working today, Tinariwen, played the Palace of Fine Arts on Sunday, February 22nd. (for more go to Tinariwen in San Francisco).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 8, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Local Bands Get a Boost at Noise Pop

with one comment

Judgement Day and the Mumlers headline for the first time this year.

By Jeffrey Callen

From its humble beginnings in 1993 as a single club show of five bands, Noise Pop has grown into a week-long “celebration of indie music and culture.” It now includes a film festival, art shows, a music industry mini-conference, and a design fair and marketplace. However, music remains Noise Pop’s focus with more than thirty shows in large and small venues scattered around San Francisco and, for the first time this year, at the Fox Theater in Oakland.

While there are no designated headliners at Noise Pop, each year’s lineup includes internationally prominent performers. This year it’s the Yoko Ono Plastic Band and the Magnetic Fields. Star acts add excitement to the festival but Noise Pop’s national status is based on it being one of the premier showcases for that most loosely defined musical genre, indie rock. Noise Pop prides itself on bringing exposure to emerging bands, (to read more go to the East Bay Express).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 26, 2010 at 3:05 pm

%d bloggers like this: