Deciphering Culture

Posts Tagged ‘Popular music

"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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For the Archives: a selection of entries from my SF International Music Examiner page on examiner.com:

Moh Alileche at Ashkenaz — a musician with a mission (March 2009)

Latin jazz pianist Omar Sosa explores the music of the Black Atlantic (March 2009)

Joshua Nelson rocks the Jewish Music Festival but I wanted more (March 2009)

Post-modern Listening: new Justin Adams / Juldeh Camara release (June 2009)

U2 tour & global warming (August 2009)

Strong on-line presence for London International Festival of Exploratory Music November 2009)

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

Rock ‘n’ Roll & Ritual (’80s Peter Gabriel)

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From the back of the concert hall, the five-person ensemble, four dressed in simple black clothing and one in simple white, proceeds through the crowd, playing drums. As they reach the stage, the synthesizer takes up the same rhythm and the band members pick up their instruments and don headsets. The singer, dressed in white, re-appears from the back of the stage, his face, now clear in the stage lights, in stark black and blue make-up that recalls, to some, a shaman from some non-specified culture and, to others, the image from his latest video.

That’s the intro to ““I need contact” (from Performance and Popular Music), a piece I wrote in 2006 for inclusion as a chapter in Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time, edited by Ian Inglis, a pop music scholar at Northumbria University in Britain.  The chapter analyzes Gabriel’s use of ritual in his live performances of material from the influential Security album and discusses the musical sources (and inspirations) Gabriel drew upon.It’s going to be reprinted in 2010 in Peter Gabriel: From Genesis to Growing Up (Michael Drewet, Sarah Hill & Kimi Kari, eds. – London: Ashgate Publishing) and I think it stands up pretty well. The use of ritual in secular popular culture, especially music, is a continuing interest of mine and a key element in my research on Moroccan alternative music. 2010.

Album cover from Peter Gabriel Plays Live

Gabriel has continued create interesting and sometimes innovative pop music (and hits) but, for me, none of it has the creative spark of his ’80s work after leaving Genesis.  The latest effort, the forthcoming Scratch My Back, is interesting in theory, featuring Gabriel covering a dozen songs written by other songwriters. The set list if intriguing but the instrumentation (an orchestra) plays into Gabriel’s worst musical instincts that haven’t had such free rein since his over-dramatic and sometimes treacly performances with Genesis on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Selling England by the Pound. At least that’s my impression from hearing clips of the first three tracks — AND I hope I’m wrong. Check it out yourself at PeterGabriel.com.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 21, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Queering Pop Music Studies

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I had a female impersonator for years named Jean LaRue. I didn’t tell you about that. She was out of Oakland. I don’t know if she is living or dead. She was with me for years. Name was Jean LaRue. (August 14, 1998 Interview of Clarence ‘Little Red’ Tenpenny).

“Little Red” was one of my richest sources of information (and knowledge) when I was doing research for my Master’s thesis on the blues nightclub district that existed in North Richmond, California from the mid-40s to early ’70s. Red mentioned Jean LaRue in our first interview but didn’t mention that she was a female impersonator until a later conversation.  That remark sparked my interest and led to later research, which resulted in my writing “Gender Crossings: A Neglected History in African American Music”*,  an analysis of the exclusion of female and male impersonators from the history of African American music. I’ve also written an encylcopedia entry for the long-delayed but forthcoming Encyclopedia of African American Music: “Transgendered Experience in African American Music” (a terrible title — not my choice). {Digital copies of this entry and/or my MA thesis Musical CommunityThe “Blues Scene” in North Richmond, California available on request

Also, check out Sherrie Tucker’s excellent article “When Did Jazz Go Straight? A Queer Question for Jazz Studies” in Critical Studies in Improvisation (2008). An insightful article that asks the right questions (and kindly cites my article “Gender Crossings”). I haven’t checked it out yet but Sherrie is one of the editors of Big Ears:  Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies that was published in October, 2008.

Female Impersonator Jean LaRue with the Red Calhoun Orchestra (from "Woman's a Fool to think her man is all her own" -- Nationwide Production, 1947 -- available from ACinemaApart.com) Not the Jean La Rue that Clarence Tenpenny told me about. La Rue seems to have been a popular stage name for female impersonators (i.e. the famous British entertainer Danny La Rue).

* published in Queering the Popular Pitch in 2006 (Sheila Whiteley & Jennifer Rycenga, eds. – New York & London: Routledge). 2006.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 15, 2009 at 7:07 pm

“Family Ties” (Moroccan Roll column from The Beat, Vol. 27 #2)

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Family Ties (my first “Moroccan Roll” column in The Beat in 2008) — Tarik Batma was an early member of the fusion movement in Morocco in the 1990s. He is also belongs to an influential musical lineage, the Batma family: his father and uncle were prime movers in the ’70s Folk Revival (Morocco’s first fusion movement).

Tarik Batma

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 12, 2009 at 4:55 pm

"Family Ties" (Moroccan Roll column from The Beat, Vol. 27 #2)

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Family Ties (my first “Moroccan Roll” column in The Beat in 2008) — Tarik Batma was an early member of the fusion movement in Morocco in the 1990s. He is also belongs to an influential musical lineage, the Batma family: his father and uncle were prime movers in the ’70s Folk Revival (Morocco’s first fusion movement).

Tarik Batma

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 12, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Review of Melvin Gibb's Ancients Speak (Afropop.org)

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Ancients Speak (published in Afropop.org in March 2009) — review of Ancients Speak, a journey by Melvin Gibbs’ Elevated Entity through the past, present and possible future of the “Black Atlantic continuum.”

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 12, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Review of Melvin Gibb’s Ancients Speak (Afropop.org)

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Ancients Speak (published in Afropop.org in March 2009) — review of Ancients Speak, a journey by Melvin Gibbs’ Elevated Entity through the past, present and possible future of the “Black Atlantic continuum.”

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 12, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Article on Moroccan rapper Don Bigg (Afropop.org)

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Article on Bigg in the Moroccan press

Don Bigg Works the Room (February 2009 article on Moroccan rapper Don Bigg — published at Afopop.org)  – I interviewed Don Bigg in 2008 in Casablanca and he told me about his work and gave me a primer in Moroccan rap styles. Steeped in the history of hip-hop, Don creates music that is firmly rooted in Morocco without using Moroccan musical material (an approach that hasn’t worked for many others) and is one of the most significant voices as Moroccan hip-hop comes of age.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 11, 2009 at 10:58 pm

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