Deciphering Culture

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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

Intimate Dialogue (@ East Bay Express)

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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

Local Bands Get a Boost at Noise Pop

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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

“Desert Rock”

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Desert Rock

Tinariwen brings rebel music out of the Southern Sahara.

By Jeffrey Callen

A slow Hendrix blues riff, deep, rough and insistent, slashes through the aural space. Broken down and repeated, the opening riff is joined by the offbeat upstrokes of a second, trebly electric guitar establishing a shuffle counterpoint. A fast rap barely breaks through the sound of the guitars, becoming louder when it morphs into a sung chorus with backing vocals (three, maybe four words). About four minutes in, the guitars drop out and the song is stripped down: a fast rap over a loopy funk bass line, accompanied by handclaps and soft percussion. The offbeat guitar upstrokes return joined by an arpeggiated riff on a second guitar, then a lead guitar. The vocals become secondary as the guitars propel the song to its ending and the opening riff returns. While the description could fit a performance of an up-and-coming indie band at the Noise Pop festival later this month, (to read more click here for the East Bay Express article)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 17, 2010 at 12:23 pm

"Desert Rock"

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Desert Rock

Tinariwen brings rebel music out of the Southern Sahara.

By Jeffrey Callen

A slow Hendrix blues riff, deep, rough and insistent, slashes through the aural space. Broken down and repeated, the opening riff is joined by the offbeat upstrokes of a second, trebly electric guitar establishing a shuffle counterpoint. A fast rap barely breaks through the sound of the guitars, becoming louder when it morphs into a sung chorus with backing vocals (three, maybe four words). About four minutes in, the guitars drop out and the song is stripped down: a fast rap over a loopy funk bass line, accompanied by handclaps and soft percussion. The offbeat guitar upstrokes return joined by an arpeggiated riff on a second guitar, then a lead guitar. The vocals become secondary as the guitars propel the song to its ending and the opening riff returns. While the description could fit a performance of an up-and-coming indie band at the Noise Pop festival later this month, (to read more click here for the East Bay Express article)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 17, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Selected Writings from my examiner.com page (3/09 to 12/09)

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

January 5, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Deciphering Watcha Clan: Interview with Jeffrey Callen

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As the year wound down, I found myself thinking a lot about my favorite albums of 2009. They’re not falling into an easy categorization but there is a thread that ties them together. They all are based on crossings of musical boundaries. My runaway favorite album of 2009 is Omar Sosa’s Across the Great Divide, a brilliant jazz album that does the usually impossible: tells an engaging story, melds music and spoken voice, and makes a profound musical statement without losing the listener. A wonderful album that ignores boundaries of musical genre as it traverses the Black Atlantic, incorporating a diverse range of musical influences (including the incredible “Northern Roots” singer Tim Eriksen), to capture the musical and spiritual profundity of the Middle Passage. The other album that keeps finding its way to my digital turntable is the debut release of Warsaw Village Band. Brilliantly executed Polish music that crosses musical borders—check out the wonderfully funky “Skip Funk” and “Polska Fran Polska,” an inspired meeting of Swedish and Polish dance musics—but always remains rooted in Warsaw. It has a sense of travel, meeting, and exchange but it’s always rooted in a sense of place, a sense of home. That sense of musical travel, meeting and interchange is what is drawing me to cds this year. Last year’s Snakeskin Violin by Markus James was another effort that worked for me but there are all the misses, mostly World Music endeavors that perpetuate the worst of the North–South colonial heritage under the auspices of intercultural understanding. It’s the forefronting of the “Western” artist or musical reference and a certain rhetorical smugness that stands out. But all of this is just preamble to an album I don’t know what to do with. I should hate it. It’s rootless, “multi-cultural” music produced by “musical nomads.” On the surface, it’s all too precious but it’s got something and, sometimes, it’s got a lot.  (to read more click: Deciphering Watcha Clan: Interview with Jeffrey Callen).

Watcha Clan

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 22, 2009 at 5:16 pm

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