Deciphering Culture

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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)

 

SF MusicTech: Has Over-Tweeting Killed the Mystery Around Musicians? (SF Weekly)

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My first contribution to SF Weekly‘s All Shook Down blog:

SF MusicTech: Has Over-Tweeting Killed the Mystery Around Musicians?


By Jeffrey Callen, Tue., Dec. 7 2010 @ 8:09AM
The only discernable displays of emotion at yesterday’s S.F. MusicTech Summit — the seventh such gathering of musicians, techies, and industry types — came during the artist panel at the end of the day. Moderator Tamara Conniff (founder of The Comet and former editor-in-chief of Billboard) set the stage for a discussion of how the artists on the panel used social media to build their careers — but the panel took this subject and ran with it.
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​In response to Conniff’s question about whether musicians had ended the “mystery” that stars used to have through over-tweeting, Evan Lowenstein (of Evan and Jaron, the twin brothers responsible for 2000’s “Crazy for this Girl“) said the “romance needs to come back between artists and fans,” and plugged his website StageIt, a social media site designed for musicians, as one means toward that end. Oakland’s own Del the Funky Homosapien said all that was needed to bring back the mystery was to create “good product.” Lebo (of ALO) and singer-songwriter Raul Malo (formerly with the Mavericks) said what solidified their relationships with their fans was playing live, not tweeting or Facebook.
After some theorizing about where and how it had gone wrong, the entire panel agreed that the industry was ready for change, and stressed the need for creating one-of-a-kind musical experiences: live internet concerts (Lowenstein), a return to albums with artwork and credits (Del) and bringing back vinyl and analog sound (Malo and Lebo). Showing that they’d all talked with an MBA or two at some point, the panel disagreed about whether “the long tail model” had gone too far in opening up the music market, but agreed with Malo that, “we don’t need the wizard behind the curtain anymore.” It’s a new day for artists and fans; where it will take us is hard to say.
My interest at yesterday’s summit was captured by what the changes — tech, biz, and social — mean for the music-makers themselves. Is the landscape for creativity opening up or closing down? Are the new revenue streams offering creative independence for artists, or is “the new boss the same as the old boss?” (for the rest)

“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

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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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