Deciphering Culture

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Updating the archive: article on Gnawa music for MTV IGGY

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Healing via Rock’n’Roll? Morocco’s Gnawa Music Leads the Way

Healing via Rock’n'Roll? Morocco’s Gnawa Music Leads the Way

By MTV Iggy
September 27, 2012

Words by Jeffrey Callen, Ph. D. Photo by Nusrat Durrani.

The driving rhythm of the qraqebs (large metal hand cymbals) quickly envelop the listener, creating a sonic wall that simultaneously supports and obscures the bass pattern provided by the hajhouj (bass lute). In a healing context — and this is healing music — the afflicted individual must find his way to a particular melody provided by the hajhouj in order to enter into a dialogue with the spirit that is perplexing him or her. Sung invocations, particular colors and incense hasten the summoning of the spirit and the falling of the afflicted individual into the trance state where the healing takes place. A lila(all-night healing ceremony) is a multi-sensual event but it is the music that drives it, orchestrates its highs and lows, and signals the entry of the different spirits. This is the music of the Gnawa of Morocco and you can hear — and feel — the kinship with musical/healing practices, such as Santeria(Cuba) and Candomble (Brazil), that while born in the Americas, have clear West African roots. You can also feel the kinship with other tributaries of the West African musical river—rock, blues, jazz, reggae and numerous other pop musics—that were born in the Americas but have since spread throughout the world.

(to read the rest, click here)

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…)

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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