Monday, July 27, 2009

Morley Brings Lyrics to LA; TJ’s Got Talent 2



Don’t look now, but sincere heartfelt lyrics may just be making a comeback. Just when you (or I, that is) thought that hip-hop’s mindless but infectious rap and the lush soundscapes of re-mix dance grooves had just about rendered real lyrics obsolete, there are encouraging signs that such is not necessarily the case. No, I don’t mean Coldplay. Sure, they’re okay, but still not much more than window-dressing in the lyric department. Read the lyrics without the music and you probably wouldn’t get very far or be very impressed. Come to think of it, that’s probably true of most pop (*in the broad sense) music. That could be changing, and Morley is part of that trend. Bottom line: if it’s good, it’ll sell. I’ve never seen such an explosion of pop* music of all genres, and almost wouldn’t have believed it possible if I weren’t seeing it. I remember distinctly in 1961 (at the age of seven) thinking that it had all been done in pop* music, nothing left to do. I was wrong. This is what the MySpace revolution is all about, more than just false friends and free music. We’ve always had free music. Now it’s OURS.

Morley wears her politics like a badge close to her heart, and keeps it right there, available for inspection. It serves as an inspiration for her, not a whipping post. Listen to ‘Women of Hope,’ dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, quoting her timeless dictum: “If you feel helpless, then help someone,” and continuing on, “I believe the Almighty knows each and every one of you by your name.” This is good stuff (the fact that Daw Aung San’s political naivete’ and unrealistic expectations may have actually harmed her cause and held her country back is another story: would any country allow a woman to be President while married to a foreigner?). But that’s another story. Aung San was just visiting her mother in 1988, remember…


Morley’s equally at home with her emotions… and her beauty… and her sex… as in ‘Pleasure’: “one kiss on your lips… I could die and be happy… to have lived… just to bring you pleasure.” We haven’t seen female suppleness and emotional vulnerability like this since Joni Mitchell. Then there’s the perennial existential dilemma expressed in ‘Temporary Lighthouses’ (“on a raging sea… doing my best to follow your lead”). Tracy Chapman’s got nothing on her, not much anyway. Her optimism and down-hominess is infectious, too, not bad for a NYC gal. Obviously she knows that McArthur Park is hardly LA’s prime venue, yet didn’t even insult the place by condescending to it: she lifted it up as an epiphany, an event something larger than us that we were sharing in. Did I yet mention that she’s a looker, even elegant? One blurb puts her “somewhere between Sade and Portishead.” I’d add Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman- two points define a line; four points define a compass.


I’ll get used to Morley’s name eventually. I still visualize a middle-aged kinky-haired TV reporter, but it’ll pass. Why she chooses to market herself through world music channels I don’t know, but she’s welcome. I’m loosening my requirements. McArthur Park itself is undergoing a face-lift, too, I might add. First they ran off the drug dealers, now they’ve run off the soccer players (read: the port-a-poopers ARE CLEAN). They must have read my complaints. The soccer players’ loss is our gain. They’ve got a free music program second to none and almost every night of the week, gracias a Levitt Pavilion. Get down there and show some support, so they’ll know their efforts were not in vain.


Susan Boyle, the frumpy church-singer, is now a full-fledged singing star only three months after her first Britain’s Got Talent appearance. I experienced something similar in TJ (Tijuana) a few nights ago. His name’s Armando Vidal, aka ‘El Gume’ (?!). He’s got a voice like a church organ, a guitar style somewhere between Segovia and the Del Castillo brothers, and I estimate he tops the scales at over three hundred pounds, all the better for that voice to resonate inside of (how’s that for a dangling participle?). I saw him do a solo set of his own particular brand of trova, folk songs from all over Latin America, and including poems that he himself put to music. Apparently he plays salsa also, but I haven’t seen that yet. Latin America’s got TV judge shows, and they’ve got an ‘Idol’ show, but I don’t think they’ve got a ‘Talent’ show yet (we stole their ‘Ugly Betty’ btw). When they do, look out! Fortunately, you can see him now for the price of a drink, at Antigua Bodega de Papel, Calle 11 between Revolucion and Madero in beautiful downtown TJ, all the way down from the silver arch, usually Thursdays but Google first to make sure. GO!

Monday, July 20, 2009

‘TECHNO ISSA’ KICKS OFF SKIRBALL’S SUMMER CONCERT SEASON




If you’re a world music fan then you live for creative musical combinations- Cambodian psych-pop, Celtic salsa, Swedish bluegrass, etc.- the more unlikely the better. What could be more unlikely than Mali techno music? If you’ve never been to Mali, suffice it to say that there’s no place earthier. And here I’m talking traditional Mali techno music, too, not just some DJ-types who happen to be from Mali, but a fusion of traditional Mali instruments and styles with modern computer-generated drum tracks and other effects. Issa Bagayogo’s is not an electronic trance band at all, then, but a true mix, essentially adding modern techniques to update traditional styles. That’s his musical mission, and he brought it to LA’s Skirball Cultural Center last Thursday night to kick off their season of free world music concerts. The mission is easier said than done, of course. It’s not as though you just push the ‘update’ button on some computer screen and ‘wham bam!’ it’s done. There’s much cultural and musical insinuation to be accomplished for a comfortable mesh to occur. Fortunately for music and musicians that process is largely non-verbal. Once it sounds right, it IS right. Now do it again… and again… and again… slight variations occurring along the way, toward a higher synthesis, the genetic drift of music in evolution.

Get it? That’s at least part of the beauty of world music, the musical communion with something higher, easy to agree on the harmony of octaves and beats per minute, even if we can’t always agree on a God (even when it's the same God). Issa gets it right, too, playing on his primitive banjo-like n’goni and backed up on keyboards and African drum and computer laptop (when will someone come up with a guitar-shaped version? Hmmm…). The result is something that is instantly recognizable as part of the West African griot tradition while finessing modern groove beats that make it imminently danceable. The request by the evening’s host to ‘turn off your cell phones’ was a joke. By about half way through the first song, you couldn’t have heard a cell phone if you’d had your ear phones in. The empty space in your mind would’ve been quickly filled with infectious grooves and a visual dim sum that kept coming in paired-off sweet/sour harmonies- north/south, black/white, traditional/modern, acoustic/electronic, hot musical licks in cool night air. The empty space in front of the stage quickly became a dance floor and remained that way the rest of the evening. Issa is no purveyor of sit-down soliloquies. This is boogie music.


One nice thing nice about the Skirball is that you can do that there, right up close, without blocking the stage. The Skirball is an excellent venue, nestled up in the Santa Monica Mountains, so it’s nice and cool on summer evenings, yet still connected by freeway to LA. Since it’s a Jewish cultural center by day, security for the shows is a bit stricter and more formal than other free shows in the greater LA area, but not too bad all things considered (ever see the El Al check-in counter in Warsaw? Don’t make any sudden moves…). It also serves as a museum, too, with permanent exhibits related to the Jewish diaspora, both physical and cultural, and temporary exhibits, currently featuring a retrospective on comic book heroes. All in all a trip to the Skirball is imminently worthwhile, especially in conjunction with the Thursday night summer concerts. Scheduled for next week are Vasen, with Mike Marshall and Darrol Anger, playing a hybrid mix of Swedish/American ‘newgrass,’ followed by Gadji-Gadjo, the Wild Magnolias, and Omar Faruk Tekbilek. The Skirball follows the idea, as I think we all should, that by fostering increased understanding and appreciation of each other’s cultures and traditions, others will also understand us that much better, also.


Issa Bagayogo’s Mali homeland is Muslim btw, with a rich and turbulent past, giving the lie to simplistic versions of Africa’s history. Google the word ‘jihad’ sometime, if you don’t believe me, and see what they were doing in the 1850’s while we were compromising in Missouri and explaining to Dred Scott how a slave is a slave is a slave. There’s a logic to it all somehow, however twisted and contorted, but I prefer not to get lost in the incongruities and the non sequiturs. I’d rather listen to Mali groove and Swedish bluegrass. See you at the Skirball.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

AMADOU & MARIAM: ‘THE MAGIC COUPLE’


It’s always been urban legend that handicapped people compensate for it in other ways, sharpening their other capabilities even to the point of developing a ‘sixth sense’ to replace the one they lost. There’s no hard evidence to support that hunch, of course, but you could almost believe it sometimes, especially if there were such a thing as a ‘musical sense.’ Amadou & Mariam position themselves in that great tradition, along with Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder and Jose’ Feliciano, of blind musicians who’ve achieved great things in the field of popular music, not bad considering they’re from one of the poorest countries in the world. If it were just one of them it would be incredible enough, but the two of them together, partners in art and life, is a wonder to behold. They must be doing something right, since they’re currently opening for Coldplay in major venues around the US. First they take Bamako… then they take LA.

Amadou & Mariam’s current tour with Coldplay is the biggest thing to happen in world music since Tinariwen opened for the Rolling Stones a couple years ago in the UK. This is a big deal and worth noting. Little by little world music is evolving beyond its curio status as something merely ‘other.’ Folk festivals especially are getting hip that there’s nothing ‘folksier’, nor cooler, than these representatives of the world’s great musical traditions. Not coincidentally I suspect, Wrasse Records has released a new album, Magic Couple, featuring the best songs from Amadou & Mariam’s first three albums. Their current dates with Coldplay are not their first brush with fame of course. A previous album Dimanche en Bamako was essentially a collaboration with legendary European pop-rocker Manu Chao, featuring the hit ditty ‘Senegal Fast Food’ in which Amadou & Mariam served as little more than backup singers for ‘producer’ Manuel. Hey, work’s work. Anyway there’s no such silliness here. This is the real stuff, made in Africa, before they found success in Europe, and now America.


At least half of these songs are sung in local Mali dialect. And if some of the French language songs on Magic Couple seem a bit clich├ęd (“Thinking of You,” “That’s the Way it Is,” “Everybody Has Their Own Problems,” “Such is Life,” etc.), that’s because they refer to the universal experiences common to us all. What do you sing about anyway, or even think about, when your main source of sensory input has been taken away from you? As adept as Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder are and were at evoking the visual concepts of redness and loveliness or whatever, the mind’s eye can only reproduce so much from memory, though that process of simulation and emulation is certainly interesting and notable. But Amadou and Mariam stick to the basics, the broad themes, more or less equally divided between rockers and ballads. A Chacun Son Problemes” continues “a chacun son affaires… a chacun sa vie” (“Everybody has their own problems… their own business… their own life”), and that’s one of the heavier themes.


More typically the songs are self-referential, celebrating the act of song itself, particularly in the lively rocker “C’est la Vie” singing “chantez ensemble, chantez ensemble” (“sing it all together”) or “Chantez-chantez”… “jouez-jouez… dansez-dansez” (“Sing… play… dance”) only occasionally invoking higher political ideals- “Liberte’ pour toute le monde!” (“Freedom for everyone!”). Amadou handles the lion’s share of the vocal chores on these rockers, his being the stronger voice, Mariam carrying a larger load on the ballads and love songs. Particularly charming are her vocals on “Toubala Kono” and “Djagneba.” If ‘stickiness,’ the inability to get a song out of one’s head, is the criterion of judgement, then maybe the best song overall is a ballad that Amadou sings, “Je Pense a Toi” (“I’m Thinking of You”), self-explanatory. That’s the one that got them on the map of Africa years ago. They also celebrate the ethnic diversity of their country Mali, as in “Poulu/Les Peuls” (Fulanis), though their song “Bozos” didn’t make this edition. I think I know some people in that tribe.


The album’s title says it all. Amadou & Mariam truly are a Magic Couple. They have overcome a curse and made it a blessing, and that shows through in every song, the joy and fragility of it all. You can still catch them with Coldplay this week in San Diego or LA or next week in Dallas or Houston or… you can catch them on their own tour later this year (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in SF? Yeah…), or… you can buy the album, or… you can buy all their albums, or… all of the above. ‘None of the above’ is not an option.

Monday, July 13, 2009

QUILOMBO EM PASADENA, ROCKY REGGAE IN DOWNTOWN L.A.



Sometimes music genres and sub-genres emerge and disappear largely on the basis of the fame of its one or two chief protagonists. If he or they fade away, the genre they largely created doesn’t always survive. ‘Grunge’ is maybe the best example of this. After Kurt Cobain self-destructed, there didn’t seem to be much left to say, nor much of anyone left to say it. Cobain didn’t create the genre, but he certainly defined it. Eddie Vedder was not even a Pac NW’er by origin, and others had their own drug problems, so the genre was without a spiritual leader. Heroin certainly wasn’t cool any more, and after the success of the well-scrubbed Spice Girls, it seemed like a good time to kick out the jams with cute little boy bands. I gave up on reggae for the same reason years ago. Without Bob Marley, and then runner-up Peter Tosh, I figured that was that. Without Bob’s lyrics and leadership, there didn’t seem to be much left but empty baggage and an empire to be divided up amongst the sons, the musical fruit, so to speak. I always liked the island theme, and reggae was the perfectly focused complement to Jimmy Buffett’s all-you-can-eat island style, but after Marley it seemed there was just Rasta, no more reggae.

Somehow it survived all these years, so I’ve been giving it another listen lately. What with all the Marley brothers collectively carrying on Dad’s tradition in good form, and Ziggy acquiring some seniority and well-earned moral leadership (even if Daddy penned half his live set), it seemed worth a try. But what really inspires me is some of the Afro-pop artists, particularly Oliver Mtukudzi, doing a fine job of picking up the original musical spirit of reggae BUT WITHOUT ALL THE RASTA STUFF (if you overstand what I mean). So it was with high hopes that I ventured out to Grand Performances last Friday noon to catch Rocky Dawuni’s act, the so-called ‘Bob Marley of Ghana,’ though I really wasn’t very familiar with his work. My standards for acceptance are not that high really. I’ve even gotten used to the red-gold-and-green chrocheted turbans that hide more hair than a Sikh cabbie in NYC. Just don’t give some some strutting peacock with flying locks spreading pheromones and more dread than his half-baked lyrics. Unfortunately Rocky seemed all that and more, apparently lots of baggage but not much inside, all style and no substance. I left early. If there’s anything worse than a woman trying to pass off her good looks as good music, it’s a man doing the same. Fortunately in the spirit of fairness I decided to check out his MySpace site before completing this paragraph. It’s a good thing. ‘In Ghana’ is a first-rate song and some of the others aren’t bad either. Too bad Obama didn’t use it last week in Accra. This is a warning, Dawuni- tone down the strut (and please don’t name your next album ‘Lion of Zion’- please?). You’ve been warned. Some of us are neither stoned nor hormoned.


“VIVER BRASIL” is something else, though, no substance abuse here. I caught this as a freebie at Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena, though I’m sure it’d be well worth the full fare for the full bill at any of the venues they’ve played over the years around LA while honing the act. Though ‘Ballet Folclorico’ is not a new concept and similar productions have been done based on the traditions of a number of countries around the world, the results are mixed. Such things can be truly inspiring or horribly hokey. Fortunately ‘Viver Brasil’ falls into the former category. The show is essentially the interaction between music and dance, a la Brasileira, the dancers all female and all local, the musicians all males and Brazilian, headed up by co-founder Luiz Badaro’. The themes, for both dance and music, are based on the cultural milieu of Salvador de Bahia, which is to say Afro-Brazilian, colorful and throbbing. The costumes alone are worth the price of admission.


A special treat is the inclusion of native carioca (that means from Rio, not a tribe of voice-over lounge singers) Katia Moraes of LA’s Sambaguru handling vocal chores for the show. This is an excellent place for her to stretch beyond her more typical smooth samba/bossa nova style into something deeper and more aggressive and more tribal. She’s excellent at it of course. The show’s only hokey moments came during the mock-capoeira dance (though real capoeira is not much different), as the two ‘combatants’ competed for applause. That’s okay; chalk it up to the reality TV influence. Capoeira is in its element on the dance floor regardless. I can’t imagine walking through a Sao Paulo slum and every time a fight breaks out the choreography begins. West Side Story would be proud.


I also caught a piece of David Zasloff’s band Thursday night while shopping at the Farmer’s Market and was pleasantly surprised. They rocked, though I’d have probably been at McArthur Park to hear Lili Haydn if I’d known about it. It’s not often you get to hear someone who’s been called the ‘female Jimi Hendrix of the electric violin,’ but they apparently only got their 2009 schedule up on the web within the last week or so. Oh well, maybe they’ll get their act together one day, probably the day of deadline. There’s so much good music in summer in LA, if you snooze you’ll lose. I’d like to be covering San Diego and TJ also, and could too, but LA’s got so much already that it’s hard to get motivated to look around the edges. This week’s no different, starting off with Bobby Matos at Hollywood and Highland on Tuesday, then Malian techno-tribal singer Issa Bagayogo at the Skirball on Thursday, while the West African Highlife Band holds the stage at Levitt Pavilion in McArthur Park. Watcha Clan and Cucu Diamantes will be at Grand Performances downtown Thursday, and Albita will show up Friday. And of course it’s all free. It’s hard to beat that. El Gran Silencio will be in TJ and Amadou & Mariam will open for Coldplay at Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre in San Diego. Get off the Net and out the door.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

OMAR FARUK TEKBILEK GOES BEYOND THE NEW AGE IN ‘RARE ELEMENTS’ REMIX







Omar Faruk Tekbilek has been pleasing Western audiences, particularly those of ‘new age’ orientation, for some twenty years with his Sufi-inspired Turkish-derived melodies. So why does he need to have his work re-mixed a la mode by a bunch of urban-oriented DJ’s? Short answer- why not? You get a greatest hits collection and something extra in the process, two for the price of one, more bang for your buck, and Mr. Tekbilek hopefully gets a new audience for his tunes. Almost as short and maybe more to the point- he doesn’t need the DJ’s. They need him. Obviously the raw material for DJ’s is previously recorded material, which they slice and dice and stir together in the audio equivalent of a hot wok. As such their work is by definition derivative, maybe one reason it took me so long to recognize the value of their art (and it IS art). Or maybe I resented them taking center stage (and much credit) while some poor (perhaps starving) artist gets sampled, swished around the mouth like so much product, then spit out. But as they say, all’s fair… , all’s well… , if you can’t lick them… Of course what they’re doing here is not DJ’ing; here they’re producing, but using the techniques they’ve mastered as dance-club DJ’s, not typical studio producers, i.e. techniques that evoke the ‘live’ and spontaneous feel of a dance floor.

Re-enter the pre-eminent role of the producer into the sound of music, something that lay dormant for decades since the 60’s when George Martin was the ‘fifth Beatle.’ That’s a good thing. With the advent of cheap CD’s came a rash of self-produced albums that blurred the line, at lease in terms of final product, between amateur and professional. Of course back in the ‘60’s it was more than knobs and buttons and production technique; it was physical acoustics, which varied from room to room. If you wanted a ‘Buddy Holly sound’, you had to go to Clovis. If you wanted a Stax sound, you went to Memphis, ditto for Muscle Shoals, Detroit, Nashville, etc. In the 90’s artistry returned to the studio and someone like Daniel Lanois could put Bob Dylan back on the charts and U2 in the history books, largely through the beauty of his soundscapes which, like a good makeup artist, shows the client at his best. At the same time, rap and hip-hop were removing the melodies from songs to allow for more lyrics, so the overall sound took its place in importance, and the best hip-hop music moved quickly to enhance production. It’s no accident that some of today’s best urban recording artists, e.g. Kanye West and Danger Mouse, are also producers.


DJ’s have come a long way from radio stations to clubs to production studios. But what can they do for Omar Faruk Tekbilek? He already creates soundscapes. His songs ARE productions. And he gets dissed for it sometimes, too, “middle Eastern music for western tastes,” etc. One particularly comprehensive- and highly opinionated- popular music historian whose Italian name I’ll leave out (I don’t enjoy busting people’s chops lest it come back…) even accuses him of “selling out his traditions.” Ouch! Of course this particular historian also dismisses the Beatles as “trivial pop,” and Holly, Costello, and Beck fare little better, so go figure. Though I also slip into the petty communistic dictate (i.e. jealousy, resentment) to simultaneously exalt the lowest and humble the highest, more important is the democratic principle that the audience is always right and the only choice that really matters is that of the ultimate consumer. You can never please all the people all the time, so “damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead.” All art, all creation even, is ultimately the art of combination, ‘re-mixing’, hybrid vigor and all that, the more the better. No one is truly original or totally bound by tradition. Everybody is dealt a hand, and everybody plays a hand.


So Tekbilek’s already atmospheric music gets squeezed, stretched, enhanced and manipulated into something a little bit different than the original. Apparently he even had to request that his own instrument, the ney, be mixed back into one of his signature songs. These are no docile producers after all. These are DJ’s, masters of their domain, and they’ve remixed and produced for many of the biggest stars of the music industry. Some (Joe Clausell, Nickodemus, Jordan Lieb) were also part of the first Rare Elements album which consisted of re-mixes of Ustad Sultan Khan, the world-reknowned sarangi master. They know what they’re doing. What was once two-dimensional now has three. What was already three-dimensional now has something extra, something indefinable, almost like being plugged in, like acoustic going electric.


The advent of re-mixing and electronic music (and Internet) is all part of a paradigm shift rippling through our fabric of time and space like one of those time travel movies where the ‘time-line’ is literally like some heat-wave ripple changing everything in its path. That’s what they’ve done to Faruk, submitted him to the musical uncertainty principle. After all, how do you know that the first version was the ‘correct’ one? Best of all, now you can dance to it. My favorite track is Cheb i Sabbah’s version of ‘Shashkin.’ Why is that not surprising? This album may not be what a Sufi mystic might have had in mind originally, but I bet he likes it. Omar Faruk Tekbilek’s vision of a ‘tree of patience’ is the overriding metaphor, both the tree and the patience. All branches lead to God, sooner or later.

Monday, July 06, 2009

DJANGO LIVES IN LA, TRIPOLAR DISORDER IN TJ



Where else could you go and hear Django Rheinhardt music live? KJAZZ kicked off their ‘Wine and Jazz’ Tuesday night music series at Hollywood and Highland Center last week with Gonzalo Bergara, the Argentine jazz guitar whiz. Of course by ‘Django Rheinhardt music’ I mean that style, the old swing-style acoustic jazz guitar that Django perfected before electric blues and rock opened up a whole new dimension in guitar playing, before Pat Metheny and others ‘redefined jazz guitar’ to mesh with different expectations. If it seems odd for an Argentine to be carrying on the old tradition, it shouldn’t, given their still-current attachment to tango, their huge population of Italian immigrants, and their strong ties to the European old world (probably more than Europe itself). Then there’s the tradition left by their own Oscar Aleman, a son of natives in the Argentine Chaco region. Little known by most Americans (his skin was a bit dark for most American tastes in the thirties, so he spent little time there), Aleman was Josephine Baker’s guitarist in Paris for many years and a friend of Rheinhardt’s before WWII came along and forced him to return to Argentina, where he lived many years in obscurity before finally being ‘rediscovered’.

In many ways Gonzalo Bergara one-ups both of them, having seen what electric blues and then rock were able to do with the solo guitar style that Rheinhardt largely invented. That influence is incorporated into his more modern style, which sometimes ebbs and flows in a style more akin to ‘Chuchito’ Valdes’ sonic keyboard washes than typical guit-picking. Rob Hardt’s clarinet serves as a perfect counterpoint and twin lead, picking up wherever Bergara leaves off and doing some woodwind acrobatics before taking it right back to him, enriched and enhanced. Jeffrey Radaich and David Tranchina round out the band, on rhythm guitar and upright bass, respectively, keeping rhythm the good old-fashioned ‘swing’ way, drumless and tight. Hollywood and Highland keeps up the good vibes all summer, all for free (no, not the wine, silly), with such luminaries as Carl Saunders, Bobby Matos, Ernie Watts and many more all lined up and ready to go. Check it out; the red line goes right there.


There’s another California just across la lineaof course, lying there like a sixth dimension that most US Californians only access occasionally for cheap drugs, carnival ambience, and underage drinking. I’m talking about Baja, of course, and specifically Tijuana, which is its cultural capital. Don’t laugh. Manu Chao plays there every chance he gets, as does Lila Downs, and there are scores of local groups trying to emulate the recent success of locals Julieta Venegas and Nortech Collective. The more the tourist strip dries up and literally goes south with the triple-whammy of narco violence, pig flu and economic collapse (guns, germs, and deals?), the more that Tijuana becomes a center for local and regional culture and entertainment. Let the tourists have their safe haven down in Rosarito; Tijuana is blossoming in the ashes. So what if some parts of the city look like 90’s-era Phnom Penh? It keeps rents reasonable and beer costs low, like $2-$3. Try to find that in LA. Planeta Tijuana (ex-MultiKulti) is one of the best examples of this, occupying an old abandoned movie theater and booking acts like Manu Chao, Maldita Vecindad and Sigur Ros. Even EZLN spokesman Subcomandante Marcos showed up at one point, so how’s that for variety? The Chilean reggae act Gondwana played there last night, but I didn’t make it. They’re good though, as good as any reggae I’ve heard in a long time, with a creation myth on ‘Kln’ (?) to rival Sam Sparro’s on ‘Black and Gold’ any day. Who said ‘reggae en espanol’ doesn’t cut it? I didn’t.


Others are getting in on the act. ‘Le Drugstore’ is an actual drugstore that occupies only a corner of a large split-level facility which yesterday hosted a ‘Metal Battle’, TJ’s best heavy-metal bands vying for top prize right on Avenida Revolucion. But the new plum venue is the beautiful old jai alai fronton’, now converted into El Foro and open for business. Friday they hosted a punk-rock festival which didn’t seem very well attended. The musica ranchera place across the street was hopping, though. I guess you can take the Mexican out of el rancho, but you can’t take el rancho out of the Mexican. There are things going on all summer, but no big names yet, being hard to compete with the big bucks on the Gringo side of town. While the gueros blow off their fireworks and celebrate their freedoms, Mexicans go through another important vote, the first in which the congressional majority will be of a different party than the president. They’re in a process as painful as that of Moscow, and now with the world’s 12th largest economy, just as important.


The Freak Film Festival starts Monday, an ongoing event (which originated last year in Spain) in which short films and videos are submitted by Internet link. Winning entries will be shown simultaneously in Spain, Berlin, London, New York, and… LA maybe? Tokyo? Beijing? Guess again. How about TJ? Hopelessly small time, you say? Who knows? That’s what they said about You Tube. Maybe these videos will have more than dogs that surf. There’s more to TJ than border-blasting discos and cheap Viagra. Check it out sometime. Or don’t. They say it’s dangerous. Of course the conspiratorial ‘they’ say a lot of things. The editorial ‘we’ take it with a grain of salt. Now THAT is what is dangerous, that and sugar. You gotta’ wear protection. That’s what Uncle says.

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