Deciphering Culture

Posts Tagged ‘World Music

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

Review: Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Gnawa Trance and Music in the Global Marketplace, by Deborah Kapchan (Middle Eastern Studies Association Bulletin)

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This review was published in the Winter 2008/2009 edition of the Middle Eastern Studies Association Bulletin

Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Gnawa Trance and Music in the Global Marketplace, by Deborah Kapchan. 325 pages, 19 b/w illus., endnotes, bibliography, index. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007. $75.00 (unjacketed cloth) ISBN 0-8195-6851-1, $27.95 (paper) ISBN 0-8195-6852-X.

reviewed by Jeffrey Callen

The ritual practice of the Gnawa, a Moroccan Islamic order formed by descendants of slaves from sub-Saharan Africa, centers on the performance of healing rituals (lilat; sing. lila). During a lila, afflicted individuals enter into trance and communicate with and placate spirits that are causing disturbances of their physical or psychological well-being. Lilat and the experience of trance have been the predominant focus of scholarly attention on the Gnawa, most notably from Francophone scholars (most notably Viviana Pâcques and Bertrand Hell). Traveling Spirit Masters, the first English language book of scholarship on the Gnawa, extends that focus to examine the ways in which trance and the Gnawa themselves have become commodities in the international marketplace. In the “Introduction”, Kapchan asserts that Traveling Spirit Masters is  not a book about the Gnawa but an exploration of the “power of trance, the way it circulates globally, and its relation to music and gendered subjectivity” (1). To fulfill the broad scope of  this goal, the book is divided into two sections: “The Culture of Possession” (Chapters 1-5) and “Possessing Culture” (Chapters 6-11). The first section, set in Morocco, explores the ritual practice of the Gnawa with particular focus on the role and involvement of women, both as individuals who seek relief through trance, and as overseers of the rituals (mqaddemat, pl.). The second section, set in France and Morocco, examines the movement of the Gnawa and their musical practice into the global marketplace. (for the entire review click here)

Cultural Exchange vs. Cultural Tourism (@Community Arts Network)

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Interesting essay by James Bau Graves, director of the Old Town School of Folk Music (Chicago) on the slippery distinction between cultural exchange and cultural tourism.

Cultural Exchange vs. Cultural Tourism

“Cultural exchange” is often cited as one of the few tools for dismantling tensions with other countries that doesn’t involve force or coercion. The arts can bridge misunderstanding where military adventures and the flood of consumer goods usually just make matters worse. It is assumed that the power of art is attached to universal human values, and that the sharing of these distillations of meaning from disparate communities will reveal our commonalities. It’s a small world after all, and all you’ve gotta do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.

Musicians
Musicians from Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music performing in Finland

Anybody who has traveled abroad will find this assertion self-evidently valid. When you encounter another culture, even on a very cursory level, abstract foreign-ness becomes human and personal. Distant, amorphous categories — the Chinese; Africans; Arabs — suddenly have an individual face, the man whose home you visited, the woman who made a special effort to accommodate you in her country. Direct, personal encounters inevitably color our impressions of entire nationalities. The more intensive the interaction, the more aware we become of the nuances of another community’s modes of life and thought, the more secure we feel in our comparative assessments of the Other, and the less prone we are to inaccurate generalizations and stereotype. (Continued here...)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 25, 2010 at 10:21 am

Youssou N’Dour : From Dakar To Kingston – United Reggae

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Reposted from UNITED REGGAE

Senegalese artist releases a new album celebrating the relationship between Reggae and the Motherland.

Youssou N’Dour is one of the most famous and great African musicians. He’s a renowned singer, songwriter, and composer who began his career at only 12 ! The king of M’balax is now coming with a new album recorded between Paris and the Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica alongside legendary musicians like Tyrone Downie (from The Wailers), saxophonist Dean Fraser, guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, drummer Shaun “Mark” Samson and bassist Michael Fletcher.

This new album called Dakar-Kingston connects Jamaica, Senegal and the whole Africa. It features 13 tracks including several reggae recuts of Youssou N’Dour classics, a tribute to Bob Marley and special guests like Ayo, Patrice and Morgan Heritage. Check out the EPK of this new effort out on CD since March 8.

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 20, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Addendum to: It’s only rock ‘n’ roll (Tinariwen)

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The exoticizing of the non-Western other in World Music is a continuing phenomenon — freely used in marketing and eagerly accepted by most fans. “Music of resistance” is one sub-category of that phenomenon. In a recent preview of a San Francisco concert by Tinariwen, I avoided emphasizing their music as born out of resistance (it’s only part of the back story) but the headline my editor wrote included “rebel music” as a descriptor (see: It’s only rock ‘n’ roll — also links to two other recent pieces on Tinariwen).

Today (February 20, 2010), the Touareg website Temoust posted an enlightening interview with sociologist Denis-Constant Martin of the Cité de la musique museum in Paris. Martin discusses the “musics of resistance” phenomenon. Must reading for World Music fans. 

Musique touaregue de résistance : La marchandisation des sons (reposted from the Cité de la musique website: )

“Un mythe, voire une mystique de la résistance s’instaure à partir de discours tenus sur la musique qui ne correspondent pas nécessairement à ce que l’analyse musicale pourrait elle-même déceler.”(“A myth or a mystique of resistance is established from discourses about music that does not necessarily correspond to what music analysis itself could detect.”)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 20, 2010 at 10:45 am

It’s only rock ‘n’ roll (@ East Bay Express)

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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)

A couple of other recent pieces on Tinariwen in the New York Times and S.F. Bay Guardian

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 19, 2010 at 5:33 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

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