Tuesday, August 26, 2008
It’s the curse of the world traveler and world music aficionado- while other normal people are off doing other normal things, we’re out searching for that elusive ‘other’, at one and the same time exotic and novel and accessible, a dimension hidden in plain sight, degrees of separation defined only by the mutations of time, language, and circumstance. So while others are off at Sunset Junction groping and grappling with the latest ‘indie’ fave raves, I’m searching the Metro web-site, trying to get to the African Marketplace at Rancho Cienega and the Guatemalan ‘Fiesta Chapina’ out at Hollywood Park all in one single day’s outing, and still end up in Thai Town in time to meet my wife after work. Hey, Thai Town’s not too far from Sunset Junction, maybe I could do a quadruple flip off the Hollywood springboard and win gold at the LA Metro Olympics. Such are the daydreams of the world traveler reduced to arm chair gymnastics and the search for new dimensions in inner space. Does anyone still remember that there was an active public search for a fourth dimension little more than a century ago, such was the need for such? Time heals all.
Okay so the African Marketplace probably ain’t so exotic really, variations on typical SoCal street fare, booths and entertainment, etc., good clean fun, well advertised and open to all who want to get irie with the Homies out on their own turf. But the Feria Chapina? You gotta’ be a dedicated Gringo/Farang/Gaijin looking to ‘out’ himself to end up there on a Sunday afternoon. You’ve got to read HOY. The Gringo ‘zines are out of the loop on this. It should be an adventure and a sort of homecoming too, shouldn’t it? After all Guatemala was my first point of ex-patriation way back in the old post-hip days when Europeans still slept on the beaches of Lago Atitlan and tried to decide where they’d make their next ‘scene’ when they tired of that one. We Americans were trying to figure out how to make a buck on it. Many of them are still there, though I got tired of it a few years later when they found a dead body in the ravine by our house and the Guatemalan civil war was on. I still traveled in and out for many years doing business, but the bloom was off the rose.
I went back last year for the first time in twelve years, and it really hadn’t changed that much since the last time, though quite a bit from the first time. In other words, most of the changes happened on my watch, in effect caused by me and ‘my kind’. It’s always been like this, the search for something else, not necessarily better but ‘other’, on both the micro and macro scale. When the sun starts arcing low in the sky, I start making plans to go south for the winter. The same thing happens a little bit every day, circadian rhythms not so much different from ‘circanian’ ones. I made that word up. There’s a constant process of extending oneself outward, come what may.
In other words, the ‘Feria Chapina’ sucked… big time. Notwithstanding my sentimental attachment to Guatemala, I figured that since the Central American fair by MacArthur a couple months ago at no charge was half-way decent, then this one at Hollywood Park for a five-spot should be pretty good. It wasn’t. After running a zig-zag maze of vendors, designed for their optimum exposure, certainly not fire safety, you finally arrive at… nothing. The music was lousy, the lines were long, the costs were steep… and the crowds were thick. Ironic, isn’t it, that America’s ethnic minorities are happy to pay a premium to call something their own, while across town they could get something in the same genre but world-class, all for free? I wish I’d gone to the African Marketplace instead, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be disappointed twice in one day.
Fortunately I caught the NEA Folk Arts Heritage Award Winners downtown at Cal Plaza first. That was eminently worthwhile. This is the highest honor that can be bestowed on an artist in the folk and traditional arts. The program started with Richard Hagopian on the Armenian oud, accompanied by dumbeg and kanoun. Born in the Armenian stronghold of Fowler near Fresno, Hagopian has studied music and the oud since an early age and received its highest honor, the title of ‘oudi’ in 1969. His music is available from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and any of their outlets. The next NEA recipient on the bill was Zakir Hussain, the Indian tabla master probably best known by most people for his work with Mickey Hart on the earlier Grammy-winning Planet Drum album and the current Global Drum Project. In fact he is a fixture of Indian classical music and has a PhD in musicology in addition to having collaborated with many Westerners in his long and storied career, from the Beatles to John McLaughlin. Sunday was unusual in that he was playing alone unaccompanied, admitting “I have no idea what I’m going to do.” Apparently he figured something out, teaching us all along the way, thumping poly-rhythms while simultaneously picking bass lines and weaving melodies in and out. The man is a master.
That was the highlight but the week had other bright spots, also. Saturday evening at LACMA featured Scott Martin Latin Soul Band, playing a lively set of standards. Ex-Poncho Sanchez, saxophonist Martin has played all over and recorded with many greats. Saturday evening they must have been hungry, because the titles seemed to contain a large number of references to food, particularly “Fried Neck Bones and an Order of Fries.” Sounds good to me. Later that evening Dona Oxford played some rockin’ soul and blues over at MacArthur Park. Too bad nobody was listening. They were all over at Grand Performances’ Cal Plaza presentation of the DaKAH Hip Hop Orchestra, conducted by Geoff Gallegos. It was interesting and the music itself was great, but the hip-hop aspect itself was a bit disappointing, as usual. As always the attitude outweighs both the music and the message, leaving me all revved up and no car to drive. I persevere in my quest to get into hip-hop. The concept of ‘talking blues’ helps, but I don’t remember it being quite so… so… so full of itself.
This week the hot ticket is the Andy Palacio tribute by his band The Garifuna Collective, joined by Umalali. For those who don’t already know, the Garifuna are runaway slaves from the Caribbean who mixed with the local Arawak Indians and founded their own civilization and culture. Finally they landed on the shores of Central America where Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras all meet. There they remain today, speaking their own Arawakan-based language in addition to either English or Spanish or both. Andy Palacio was their pride and joy, prominent in the world music community until struck by a heart attack a short six months ago. It should be a good and heart-felt performance. Besides that, there are Sammy Figueroa, TAIKOPROJECT, and Mili Mili at MacArthur Park and Kobo Town at Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena. Angel Lebron is at LACMA Saturday and Charangoa is at the Farmers’ Market Friday evening. Jose Rizo’s Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars are at Hollywood & Highland tonight Tuesday. See you there.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Chana is something totally different. Now if there’s anything more suspicious to me than models-as-singers, it’s music coming off a stage from instruments that don’t exist except in some studio somewhere hopefully no farther away than Echo Park. So Chana came with two strikes against her for me. Of course, if the girl can sing, you can’t begrudge her her fetchingness, and if the band members are all holding instruments and playing them, then what’s wrong with a few supplemental tracks? Still, it stretches the definition of ‘live’ and again raises those artificial reality scenarios and conspiracy theories that I fear more than the conspiracies themselves. Just gimme the truth. I’m a big fan of multi-media, mind you; I just like to know what’s what. Still it’s a sign of the times and if you start rejecting dub tracks you may just be relegating yourself to the sidelines. Should I go ahead with that prototype for a guitar-shaped laptop?
The audience is always right after all, but you might want to make a distinction between what’s appropriate for a disco and what’s appropriate for an outdoor stage. I remember lone drummers playing along to DJ tracks way back in the Stone Age for extra oomph in the butt-twitchability department, but I don’t think I’ll pack a picnic and take my kids to see that, if I had kids, and if I liked cold fried chicken and potato salad, that is. What’s that? Wine and cheese? Really? That’s legal? Playing self-described ‘trop-electro-hip-pop’ Chana is headed up by Rosanna Tavares (NuYoMinican) and Martin Chan (Chinese-Peruvian). They each have multiple talents and I’d be interested in seeing them in a club along with ‘multimedia stuff’, as long as Martin winds up back in front of his instrument by the time the song is over. Some of their abrupt endings after extended texturing are like sex without the climax. They played a short set also, if that helps the metaphor…
I stopped in to see Fishtank Ensemble at Cal Plaza Saturday night almost as an afterthought, so that was a pleasant surprise. They were opening for the movie Gypsy Caravan, so their own brand of mostly East European Gypsy music was great. They even played a Flamenco song or two to satisfy that branch of the musical DNA, but it certainly wasn’t a Flamenco band. This was Slavic drinking music and Romanian rants, filtered through the translocations of time and space. With strong backing from bass, guitar, and violin, front-woman Ursula Knudson was free to explore other terrains with more exotic instruments, such as a theremin-like musical saw, and especially, her voice. She hit notes that are best appreciated by dogs, and did things with it that might best be described as ethereal scat. I’d like to see a longer set, with alcohol…
This week is a mixed bag for world music in LA. If you’ve got time, gas, and fifteen bucks, Manu Chao is down at the bullring-on-the-beach in TJ on Sunday after his gig in SF Outside Lands on Friday. I think they backed off on that new passport requirement. You definitely won’t need it this Wednesday at the Knitting Factory on Hollywood for ‘Verano Alternativo’ with alterno-Latinos Quetzal, the Salvador Santana Band, Chicago’s Alla’, and ZocaloZue. For us cheapies ZocaloZue will be at the
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Like I said before, if you’re a true music aficionado, whether musician, promoter, critic, or mere fanatic, the pay-off is that moment when music just knocks you on your ass. You went in expecting nothing, got blown away, and then left with a wet spot in your mind where something hard and unyielding used to be. That’s just what happened Saturday night at
The LACMA non-stage was perfect for Katia Moraes of Pure Samba earlier Saturday evening, enabling her to walk right out into the crowd in her frequent exhortations to dance and to love. Her charm is infectious; few would dare refuse. That’s what’s I like about speakers of Romance languages- they’re so romantic. If Dennis Hopper epitomized the northern barbarian outlook in the movie Water World with his line, “Don’t just stand there- kill something!” Ms. Moraes one-ups him with the Romantic counterpart, “Don’t just stand there- kiss something!” Katia Moraes’ is samba almost to the point of bossa nova, sleek and sexy but most of all sensual, fingers interlocking fingers, hands holding hands with Nature and everything else surrounding, including him or her, lost in the moment. And this is a down-to-earth moment, too, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and just one of the guys. But don’t be fooled by her tom-boy casualness. She really is a good looker, and a good singer too. I don’t know how her other band Sambaguru differs from Pure Samba, but I plan to find out. I’ve been to
Friday was also a good day for music. I managed to catch a bit of Chekere’ at MacArthur and also some of Jaipur Kawa at
I’ve never been a huge fan of Irish music either, though always respectful mind you, and definitely a bit skeptical about so-called ‘Celtic’ music, soaring and wailing, mystical and magical, with overtones of Lindisfarne and undercurrents of little people. But you can’t beat traditional Irish music for drinking in a pub and getting happy with your friends. Okay, so
Irish music and culture have affinities with the Mexican, however bizarre that may seem at first glance. They both come by circuitous routes before meeting in Catholic churches and a sentimental attachment to homeland.
It’s another good week for world music coming up. First there’s Pistolera at the Mac on Wednesday playing their own unique brand of Mexican ‘alt-folklorico’ the way women would do it if they could. They can. I saw these ladies at Webster Hall NY earlier this year amidst the cluster-funk of GlobalFest, and they rock out. Rangoli will follow them with Indian dance on Thursday and then CHANA with electronic musica
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
These guys have really got something, and any notion that Rodriguez himself might deserve the credit is undermined by the fact that these guys predated Erase Una Vez en
Latino music took a totally different turn with Quetzal Guerrero as part of the Fresh Roots Jazz Festival at
Last but not least, and not even last chronologically, Thursday night was reggae night at McArthur Park with Elan, who has made a name for himself, and still does sometimes, by assuming Bob Marley’s vocal roles with Bob’s old band The Wailers. His voice does sound uncannily like that of Uncle Bob’s. Big deal; I know a guy in Chiang Mai who’s made a career out of being the Thai John Lennon. Do we love Bob Marley because of his singing voice? No, we love him because he articulated something that needed to be articulated and gave musical voice to African/American identity in the lean years between soul and rap. His current MySpace numbers verify the timelessness of his message. Fortunately Elan has got some good hooks in his own right, and his music is unmistakably reggae, both technically and spiritually, among the best of what that genre has to offer in this age of lifeless re-hash. It’s eminently listenable.
There was a lot more world music this past week that I couldn’t make, like Dengue Fever at El Rey and Nomo at Amoeba, but that’s the breaks. I’ve seen them both and DF is one of my all-time faves, but you live for the thrill of discovery. This week gives some much-needed African music into the mix with Oliver Mtukudzi and Rocky Dawuni at Santa Monica Pier and Daby Toure’ at Skirball Cultural Center. Unfortunately they’re at the same time, so you can’t see both. There should be some sort of way to avoid this. Besides that there will be plenty of other choices, including Juan Manuel Barco’s Tejano conjunto, the