Deciphering Culture

Posts Tagged ‘World Music

Kronos Quartet feature “Women’s Voices” / An Interview with Tanya Tagaq (@PopMatters)

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 This weekend (May 11 & 12, 2012), Kronos Quartet is presenting a program entitled Women’s Voices at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in Sn Francisco. One of the special guests is Inuit throat singer Tanya Taqaq. I’m taking this occasion to repost an interview of Taqaq  I did for PopMatters in 2010. One of my favorite interviews of the last few years, it’s also a good introduction to an innovative artist. If you happen to be in the Bay Area, seriously consider checking out this weekend’s show at YBCA.

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).

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“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.

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)

 

New book: Peter Gabriel, From Genesis to Growing Up

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Self promotion aside (although my chapter, “‘I need contact’ – rock ‘n’ roll ritual: Peter Gabriel’s Security tour, 1982–83” is quite good), this is an excellent collection on an influential figure in popular music. Out on Ashgate on December 23, 2010. From the publisher’s press release:

Ever since Peter Gabriel fronted progressive rock band Genesis, from the late 1960s until the mid 1970s, journalists and academics alike have noted the importance of Gabriel’s contribution to popular music. His influence became especially significant when he embarked on a solo career in the late 1970s. Gabriel secured his place in the annals of popular music history through his poignant recordings, innovative music videos, groundbreaking live performances, the establishment of WOMAD (the World of Music and Dance) and the Real World record label (as a forum for musicians from around the world to be heard, recorded and promoted) and for his political agenda (including links to a variety of political initiatives including the Artists Against Apartheid Project, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Now tour). In addition, Gabriel is known as a sensitive, articulate and critical performer whose music reflects an innate curiosity and deep intellectual commitment. This collection documents and critically explores the most central themes found in Gabriel’s work. These are divided into three important conceptual areas arising from Gabriel’s activity as a songwriter and recording artist, performer and activist: ‘Identity and Representation’, ‘Politics and Power’ and ‘Production and Performance’….

“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

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