Deciphering Culture

Archive for the ‘World Music’ 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)

“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.

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…)

Tinariwen in San Francisco (@Afropop.org)

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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

“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

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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