Friday, August 30, 2013

SHARQ TARONALARI Music Fest in Samarkand: Great Music & People, Too Many Babies & Police

I guess I’m a sucker for spectacle.  I’ve been known to watch the Olympics opening ceremonies (just leave out the smoke machines, please), and I’ve traveled around the world more than once with music and cultural events in mind and on the itinerary, if not exactly the destination per se.  That includes WOMAD’s and Womexes, and multiple SXSW’s, and music and cultural festivals in cities as diverse as Livingstone-Zambia, Pyongyang-North Korea, and Zanzibar.  

Sharq Taronalari is not the kind of music festival where you top up on your favorite intoxicant, then boogie till the sun comes up with music from all over the world.  No, this is more like music carefully curated from state-sponsored entities in Uzbekistan in coordination with state-sponsored agencies in foreign countries to provide representative selections from representative groups to showcase the world’s ethnic diversity, sort of an Olympics of world music, without the competitive edginess.
No, this is not WOMAD.  But then again, it’s not North Korea’s Arirang Mass Games, either, a carefully orchestrated propaganda spectacle that would rival or surpass the opening to the Beijing Olympics in showmanship, but still a carefully-staged propaganda event.  Still, here you are expected to sit down.  That’s one of the only problems really, not that kids threaten to turn the venue into their own private playground, but that the Soviet-era authorities seem overly concerned to try and stop it, acting as truant officers to control the miscreants, to the point of limiting access to the festival’s entry.     

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The End is Near: Get it While the Getting’s Good…

It had to happen sooner or later, of course, that the summer would end, and that life would resume its typical humdrum course of ‘normalcy,’ as if summer were more of a carnival show than a respite, more of a vocation than a vacation, since huge sums are made and squandered in the business end of summer—traveling, resting, relaxing, recreating, and procreating, or working at it, anyway. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hollywood Babel On: Summer Winding Down? No, It’s Just Getting Hotter…

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times.  It is Rome before the Fall.  It is the last cabaret in Berlin.  The Emperor sips tea while the opposition join forces at the gate.  Still the violins play on while the Titanic sinks.  Nothing stops the music.  Nothing silences the singing.  Nothing can suppress the art that decorates our lives and simultaneously gives it meaning.  That’s the key to our survival.  That’s our tiny window in the upper corner of a stifling prison cell, a little patch of blue and a little ray of hope in the darkest and direst of situations.  In other words—and I quote—“loosen your butt screws” and dance a little.  The Fall will come later.  For now it’s still summer.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Hollywood Babel On: Diaspora Blues

Days like today are what you live for if you’re a fan of world music and/or a reluctant Angeleno, hoping to justify your existence, or at least the higher rents of LA, vis a vis the Golden Triangle (that’s northern Thailand I’m talking about, not the greater Beaumont area).  How often, on some random Thursday, do you get your choice of the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars, Bombino, or the Garifuna Collective?  And this isn’t even the weekend ferchrissakes!  And they’re all for free, unless you count parking fees.  That may apply most seriously to the Sierra Leone guys, who’re playing out at the Skirball, difficult of access by public trans.  Only problem there is the security check, reminiscent of the El Al counter in Munich.  Better eat those brownies first, just to be safe.  If you don’t know, they’re war refugees from Sierra Leone—Britain’s equivalent of Liberia—who chose to make the best of a bad situation, and who, over the last decade, have produced some of the world’s best music.

Friday, August 02, 2013

HOLLY WOOD BABEL: Peruano, Africano, Colombiano, Angeleno… Novalima, guey

Did you know that Peru had Africans?  If you’ve heard (of) Susana Baca, then you did; or should, anyway.  They’ve been there since the early days of Spanish colonialism, though never in huge numbers, apparently.  Still it doesn’t exactly fit the image of an Andean nation with an Amerindian culture defined by its high degree of advancement and largely unassimilated entrance into the modern age.  That’s the point, that the races in Peru never really mixed, natives confined to the Cordillera, and whites content to stay along the coasts where they—and their African slaves—landed.

Friday, July 26, 2013

HOLLYWOOD BABEL: Speaking in Tongues—Ethiopian, Arabic, Castellano, Anglo

If you saw the movie “La Bamba” many years ago, and hopefully paid attention to the Los Lobos soundtrack, then you know there’s a folk version of that song that predates the pop-rock version that Richie Valens made famous, and in many ways is superior to it.  Did you know that it goes on forever?  My favorite verse is the one that begins: “Para subir al cielo…”, reminding me of the Spanish title of the Bunuel film “Mexican Bus Ride,” se necesita,  una grande escalera…” and so on into infinity.  I think at some point Jarocho son masters just make up their own verses and let the Homies decide what sticks.  And now Las Cafeteras does their own East Los Angelized version that just happens to rock, not suck.  Got politics? 

The best part of living in LA (‘Hollywood’ for short) for me is that it is at the crossroads of so many immigrant cultures.  With the possible exception of Nueva York, I doubt that any other American city even comes close.  Miami?  Naah.  Chicago?  No way.  Even my favorite city San Francisco really only specializes in a few Asians in geographical symmetry and a few Hispanics in cultural sympathy.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Summer Heats Up in LA

How’s this global warming working out for you?  If it gets any hotter, I might have to go buy some beachfront property in Point Barrow, and charge tolls from oil tankers looking for a northwest passage straight over the North Pole.  I know some people like it like this, and most others would prefer to ignore global climate change rather than give up their petroleum-guzzling toys.  It’s an exciting time to be alive; I’ll give it that.  Fortunately, there is plenty of outdoor entertainment in the summer, though the cocktail waitresses can’t be too happy about that, can they?  

Friday, July 12, 2013


“Hendrix of the Desert:” don’t you just love that name they try to hang on Vieux Farka Toure’, son of Ali, son of Ishmael and Mariam?  Yeah, about as much as I love PR rap in general, and ad copy in particular.  About as much as I love the attempt to fit Alex Cuba with the title “Hendrix of the North” or “Hendrix of Kootenay” or whatever it was, a few years ago.  The problem, in both cases, is that it’s just not accurate.  Alex Cuba’s pop guitar stylings are wonderful, but closer to Eddie Van Halen than those of His Majesty Hendrix.  And I dig Vieux, too, but he ain’t Hendrix; hey, he’s not even from the desert!  Hometown Niafunke is still the Sahel, not Sahara, last time I checked, and he obviously has sub-Saharan—not Semitic or Berber—physical characteristics, as the neighboring Tuareg do. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Vaud and the Villains - How Do You Spell E-C-L-E-C-T-I-C?

The last thing I had in mind when I left my apartment last Saturday was to receive some musical epiphany at LA’s MacArthur Park… yes, THAT MacArthur Park.  I really wanted to go see Alex Cuba at Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena but just couldn’t talk myself into riding the metro for an hour and a half just to see a show probably not even that long and then ride the darn thing home again.  And I really like Alex Cuba, but you know what they say: “Time is money.” 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's That Time Again in LA: Let the Music Flow...

It’s that time again in LA—summer—and there’s so much good music for free that it almost makes the smog and traffic jams and lack of parking space worth it (BTW there’s a solution to the aforementioned problems: sell your car and ride public trans).  When I first arrived in LA five years ago from the Golden Triangle outback I went almost ape-shit crazy gorging on sights and sounds, as if you could just fill your belly like a big ol’ bear, then snooze it off for a season or two.  So that’s what I did.  But I think maybe it’s time to get back in the swing, especially since this may well be my last summer in LA, therefore time to fill up the esthetic tank. 

Here’s the best deals I can find, ALL FREE, highlights (in chronological order) looking like: Carmen Souza (tonight 6/20), Alex Cuba (6/22), Vieux Farka Toure’ (7/12), Dirty Dozen Brass Band (7/14), Bachaco (7/25), Jeffrey Broussard (8/1), Mia Doi Todd (8/21), Chicano Batman (8/10), LoCura (8/23), and Quetzal (8/24)… hijole… plus many more…

Friday, June 07, 2013


Have you ever noticed that the best travel writers never really considered themselves as such?  Look at anybody’s list of favorites and you’ll see names like Kerouac, Bowles, Matthiessen, etc. quite often, along with names like Theroux and Iyer, writers who certainly consider themselves travel writers, but not exclusively.  You’ll only rarely if ever see a guidebook writer.  But there is a historical tradition which goes back directly to Marco Polo and Ibn Battutah , and even Tacitus and Herodotus, before them. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Голос кочевников : Dengue Fever Live in Ulan Ade, Buryatia, Siberia, Russia? Oh yeah, baby, right there, that’s good…


My glorious career as a music promoter lasted a total of one band (I count time in personalities, not days-months-years).  Let’s just say it wasn’t my cup of pu-erh.  And no, I’m not some rich kid who decided to hire a hip breakout band for my fancy birthday party.  I’m actually a half-way respected travel and world music journalist with a background of intensive and extensive travel, and dealings in folk art and world-based cottage industries. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

SIXTO RODRIGUEZ: A Tale of Three Continents… and the #MassMarketing of #BigBox #America

searching for sugar man oscar best documentary feature predictions

Primero, Segundo, Tercero, Cuarto, Quinto, and… and… Sixto, ahhhh…  And the sixth time was a charm (not that the first five weren’t), and Sixto Diaz (Jesus) Rodriguez came into this world on July 10, 1942, the sixth son of Mexican immigrants working in war-time Detroit, more than three years before atomic bombs would fall on Japan and twenty-five years before rockets would land men on the moon.  No one would have predicted that his life would have been easy, but no one would have predicted that it would turn out like it did, either.  It all started with his love of music and song and… words full of meaning.  In case you don’t know the story yet—though you likely will soon if all goes well at the Oscars Sunday night---it goes something like this: in 1967 he released his first single “I’ll Slip Away” on a small label, to general neglect, and in 1970 and 1971 he released two killer albums, “Cold Fact” and “Coming from Reality,” on a larger label, also to general neglect.  He was immediately dropped from the label, of course, and so he discontinued his musical career in favor of jobs generally revolving around the related acts of construction and demolition.  But an Australian company picked up the rights to his work because his stuff was selling a bit there.  He even toured Oz in 1979 and 1981 with Midnight Oil.  And that was that.  He remained philosophical, of course, so in 1981 he got a BA in philosophy; so did I. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

MALI’S JIHAD #4, and Counting: The Day the Music Stopped

It’s horrible, of course, the war currently going on in Mali, the desecration of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu, and the disruption of lives in a place where life doesn’t allow much margin for error.  Maybe the most ironic aspect of it all is that Mali has been able to cast itself so successfully in the last twenty years as the capital of world music, starting with Ali Farka Toure’ and including dozens of regional stars in its roll-call before making Ali’s son Vieux its latest luminary.  The griot and djeli traditions go back much farther than that, of course, which is about all that can be reliably said on the history of the subject.  Urban legends of Tuareg revolutionaries turning in their guns for guitars may be more or less accurate, if generously embellished for marketing purposes, but the claim of being able to trace American blues or jazz back to a single village in Mali is probably an over-simplification, if not necessarily false, given only anecdotal evidence and no clear genetic links.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Great Travelers, Great Stories

Traveling through space is geography.  Traveling through time is history.  I just finished reading the Travels of Marco Polo and Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux simultaneously; okay, actually I was alternating between them.  As fate would have it, they’re traveling somewhat the same route, at least part of the way.  No I didn’t plan it that way.  If I had, then it wouldn’t be serendipity.  I like that word, and I like the meaning behind it, the happy accident; the brilliant mistake.  It’s not a race, because I already know who’d win.  Slow as they are, trains are fast compared to caravan travel on the Silk Road, or even the open seas, which was the only option in Marco Polo’s time.  But as long as every picture tells a story, then overland travel is eminently worthwhile.  Once they’re known and renowned, then even the most impressive trail among them can become boring.

The strangest thing is not that Polo’s observations seem so dated, though, as you would expect from travels that occurred some 750 years ago.  No, the strange thing is how dated Theroux’s observations seem.  Those observations are barely forty years old, and occurred in an era that I know well, the same one that gave birth to my own significant travels.  In fact if I had to place them within a historical continuum between Polo’s era and this date of January 2012, then I’d place them about half-way, which is to say that almost as much has happened within the last forty years as in the seven hundred which preceded it.  If that s

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