Thursday, January 27, 2011

thanks to the Schleicher bros . . .

RIP Ross Snodgrass, 107 . . .

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

World Music News Wire #40

Big-Band Blasts from the Funky Past: Chopteeth Unleashes the Live Power of Africa’s Golden Age

Chopteeth high res
Bursting with old-school big band power, Afrobeat crew Chopteeth know how to turn skeptical foot-tappers into shirt-whirling, wolf-whistling believers. The group regularly fills DC’s dance floors with nostalgic African fans and American-born converts to the style exemplified by the now revered Fela Kuti. They’ve supported diverse acts from Aaron Neville to Gov’t Mule, from Konono No. 1 to Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

Chopteeth Live captures that full-on energy, with a heavy-hitting horn section, layers of irresistibly catchy interlocking percussion, and carefully crafted takes on African pop classics.

Chopteeth Live CD Cover HI-RES For Chopteeth, even a seeming straightforward live album became a deep exercise in tracing musical lineages. Over many sweaty gigs, the band honed a late Fela piece of fugue-like complexity (“Question Jam Answer”) and spent months calling Nigeria to find an unsung master of African funk. They dug through record store bins, trolled the internet, and mined the vinyl of die-hard African record buffs to find lo-fi and neglected gems.

These gems harken back to the golden age of African pop, the 1970s. In rough-and-ready studios, musicians laid down heady mixes of James Brown-inspired funk, complex chord changes, and local rhythms. They reacted to soul and rumba, to jazz and rock, to harsh political realities and deep roots. Though some musicians of this generation rose to international prominence, many languished, only recently rediscovered by dedicated African music fans, labels, and collectors.

Chopteeth’s discoveries, presented with passion on stage, point to several major figures, forgotten in the recent Fela craze on and off Broadway, who were instrumental in shaping what came to be known as Afrobeat. One striking example, Nigerian jazz player Peter King, had a show so hot back in the day that it rivaled even Fela’s own. Once celebrated, King receded from the international spotlight after his early 70s heyday.

Chopteeth loved King’s tune “Freedom Dance,” a funky vamp on a compelling jazz chord progression that was a blast to play live. When they captured a live version for the album, though, they knew they had to track King down. What began as a simple exercise in copyright clearance became a multi-continent hunt for the forgotten icon.

After a month’s worth of calls to Nigeria, Chopteeth bassist Robert Fox finally connected with King on the phone. “I told him who we were and that we wanted to do a version of his song, and to arrange permission and payment,” Fox recalls. “He was really cool about it. It was an honor for us, to get his blessing, and give him the due he deserves.”

The album gives many other artists their due, from Guinea (“Festival”) to Senegal (“Jiin Ma Jiin Ma”) to Congo (“Gagne Perdu”), showing the musical and geographic sweep that characterizes Chopteeth’s live shows. Their versatility and energy have won them a wildly devoted local fanbase—and garnered them six Wammies (the DC answer to the Grammies®), including Artist of the Year. Their debut studio CD Chopteeth helped build this following, thanks to trans-African originals that eclectically combined the wealth of African pop with upbeat lyrics in multiple languages.

Two years went by, and it was time to capture the band’s live vibe, the heavy-duty intensity of a good old big band, something increasingly rare in this age of mp3s and streaming files. “The truth is people don’t often hear big bands playing dance music live anymore,” muses Fox. “You hear a song like Fela’s ‘J.J.D.’ in person, and it just feels different. It’s a shocking experience for the audience.”

The audience at the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, for example, barely knew what hit them. The band decided to tackle a little-known Ellington tune, “Didjeridoo,” after they were invited to play at the DC celebration of its iconic native son.

Chopteeth had a unique take on the composition, created after Ellington toured Africa in the 60s as a musical ambassador. They had a feel for the musical roots that inspired the elegant piece. Trombonist Craig Considine whipped out his circular breathing chops to simulate the drone of a didjeridoo, while the group’s baritone sax player Trevor Specht stalked the piece’s elusive final note.

“There’s a low A note that some saxes get and some don’t,” explains Michael Shereikis with a laugh. “If your horn doesn’t go there, you can stuff something in the bell. Mark Gilbert, our tenor sax player, stuffed his big fist into the horn of the baritone sax to get that low note. They practiced in the dressing room and it worked. It made quite the impression on stage.”

And, like all of Chopteeth’s prime live cuts, makes for an equally striking impression on record.


“A storming powerhouse of big-band African funk, Chopteeth is smart, tight and relentlessly driving. Their live shows have been known to make even the most motionless of concert-watchers flail their limbs and do something that resembles dancing. Only the most determined stoics will be able to resist the grooves conjured up by Chopteeth.” —Washington Post

“Afrofunk with lunatic energy”—National Public Radio

“It’s as if Tower of Power resurrected as Afrofunk.” —The Albuquerque Journal

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

how does this stuff happen? . . . - Irec, find this guy and give him a room

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

RIP Sargent Shriver

World Music News Wire #39

A Shipwreck, A Fight, A People: Aurelio Releases New Traditions on Laru Beya

Aurelio_Martinez(photo2_Sarah Weeden)
After a shipwreck crossing the dreaded Middle Passage from West Africa, the human cargo wound up on an island intermingling with local residents, a mixture of Arawak and Carib groups. The resulting hybrid group known as the Garifuna fought British colonizers and were eventually deported en masse, deposited on the Caribbean coast of Central America and left for dead, as young Garifuna musician Aurelio recounts in his song “Yurumei” on his new album Laru Beya.

In Aurelio’s world, ocean currents flow from Africa past and present, from that long-ago shipwreck and lost island sanctuary, from a world now embracing the threatened sounds of his deeply creative people. Laru Beya is the second release on the label Next Ambiance, an imprint of Sub Pop. The Seattle-based Sub Pop label was the original home to such legendary bands as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney, and has enjoyed more recent successes with such artists as The Postal Service, The Shins, Iron & Wine, Band of Horses, Flight of the Conchords, and Fleet Foxes.

Aurelio_LaruBeya With the sea as his constant companion, Aurelio makes music that spans tragic history and soulful ceremonies, music sparked by his childhood in an insolated coastal hamlet and channeled to honor his late friend and mentor, Garifuna musical icon, Andy Palacio. Aurelio is the tradition bearer for a unique culture with African, Caribbean Indian, and Latin influences, but also a thoroughly modern artist determined to break new ground for his centuries-old roots.

Aurelio came to love these roots, growing up in a tiny Honduran village far off the beaten track. He learned sacred drumming from family and performed at adults-only ceremonies at age six. Encouraged by a mother with a gorgeous voice and his widely admired troubadour father, the young Aurelio made tin-can guitars. Music was the only entertainment in a place with no electricity and little contact with the outside world.

Aurelio’s father was an expert in paranda, a street-friendly, Latin-inflected style that chronicles everything from social ills to humorous tales to aching love, all in a highly improvisatory and soulful mode. Aurelio has retained this musical flexibility, and in the sessions that became Laru Beya he revealed his tireless, playful love of making music on the fly—sometimes for hours at a time, lying in a hammock with his guitar, late into the night. Senegalese Afropop legend Youssou N’Dour selected Aurelio as his protégé in 2009 and encouraged Aurelio to channel his virtuosity, to balance his evanescent stage presence with reserve until just the right moment. N’Dour also contributed his unique vocal abilities to several songs on Laru Beya, including “Wamada.” Aurelio visited Dakar visiting clubs, where groups like Orchestra Baobab invited Martinez up on stage and later joined him in the studio, learning a verse of Garifuna lyrics phonetically, a first for non-Garifuna musicians. Baobab join Aurelio on two tracks.

While Aurelio has the gift of spontaneous creation, his compositions are solidly rooted in the traditions he grew up with. At the heart of every song on Laru Beya beats a traditional Garifuna rhythm, and not just the most widely known popularized rhythms of punta (“Ereba”) or paranda (“Ineweyu”) familiar to fans of Central American music. Aurelio uses rarely recorded rhythms such as the sacred ugulendu or the African-inflected abeimahani rhythm, connected with women’s singing. To deepen the sad tale of migration to the U.S., Aurelio concluded the song “Tio Sam” with part of a traditional female song set to the abeimahani beat, sung by a chorus of Garifuna women.

Many of the songs on Laru Beya draw on traditional refrains, little pieces of old melodies that intrigued Aurelio and his long-time friend, producer, and musical collaborator Ivan Duran, who was intimately involved in the album’s distinctive arrangements.

They also drew on family heirlooms, including songs Aurelio’s mother had written, such as the moving “Nuwaruguma,” about a mother’s star watching over her son. When recording his version, Aurelio couldn’t recall all the lyrics and called his mother, who lives in Brooklyn, New York. After giving him the missing words, she chided him for not inviting her to sing with him, an omission he corrected once she visited Honduras.

Beyond the beauties of Garifuna tradition and Aurelio’s striking interpretations lay the true guiding force behind the album: the loss of one of the Garifunas’ most eloquent and musically talented spokespeople, Andy Palacio.

Palacio, who passed away suddenly in 2008, can be credited with transforming the music of the Garifuna from local curiosity to global icon. He won regional popularity as the powerhouse behind punta rock, a Garifuna-rock synthesis that broke onto the Central American scene in the 1990s. Then in 2007 came his groundbreaking, chart-climbing, international award-winning album, Wátina (Cumbancha Records), a recording that truly put Garifuna music on the map and garnered Palacio global acclaim.

“The last time I was with Andy in Belize, he took me many places, like he had never done before. Every Garifuna community where we went, he would ask me to speak to the youth and sing Garifuna songs to them,” Aurelio remembers. “He also promised he would take me to his village of Barranco but we never got there. I was surprised by the humble way in which he lived. But at the same time he was very sophisticated.”

A mere month after Andy’s death, Aurelio, Duran, and the talented Garifuna musicians who joined them on Laru Beya headed for a small fishing village, where they set up a studio in a beachfront house. They were often joined by local singers and dancers, like the chorus of village women who stopped by to add their voices to the title track, “Laru Beya.” Recording and living by the sea for several weeks, they were still in grief and shock, yet they knew they had to do something amazing to honor Palacio’s life and work.

Yet Palacio’s impact was arguably even greater in his native land of Belize and in the surrounding Garifuna communities of Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, where his life inspired a new generation of Garifuna artists. “When we talked,” Aurelio explains, “we often discussed the rescue and preservation of the Garifuna culture and how to inspire the new generation to be proud of their culture.”

Musicians like Aurelio have been able to forge an innovative approach to Garifuna sounds thanks to Palacio’s willingness to try new arrangements while keeping true to Garifuna tradition, adding new instrumentation to the drums and vocals characteristic of most Garifuna music.

“When Aurelio and I were talking about how to approach the arrangements for the album, we became convinced that it had to be forward looking and tear down all the barriers,” Duran reflects. “Andy allowed Garifuna artists to break free and be as creative as they wanted, free to go in any direction they wished. They don’t have to be totally true to their roots, because Andy’s work was very far from traditional music, but still clearly Garifuna.”

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Monday, January 17, 2011

part of me wants to say 'get a life' . . .

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @

Thursday, January 13, 2011

congrats to HEB for winning the 2011 Texas Medal of the Arts for their support of the arts community . . .

o-la! this forwarded from my high school biology teacher Marvin Baker

final dress rehearsal for Arsenic & Old Lace tonight, opening tomorrow at the Cailloux Theatre, downtown Kerrville, Texas, 7:30 p.m.

at the end of a week in which i've seen the uglier side of humanity, it will be nice to make people laugh . . . sooooo . . .

a) nice that i could approve them, which i did for all but one stalkerish thing; but b) where the heck have they been hiding (for minus 50)

and finally 3) for half and half - i got a flood of just under 800 photo tag requests last night dating back to the fall of 2009!- cont'd

. . . 2b) it's another privacy breach, AND it's a customization nightmare for minus 75

2) the 25% positive, 75% negative - 2a) i got the new profile, it's not really unattractive for 25 points . . .

1) the 100% positive - the really obnoxious, totally dysfunctional, and massively unprecocious smart-tag engine disappeared from my universe

going to reget this but i'm going to give facebook a one and three quarters out of a possible three positive kudos today - coming up next

Monday, January 10, 2011

PLEASE Stop the Hate -- westboro baptist church to picket funerals of tucson shooting victims . . .

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

RIP Si Ragsdale . . .

Monday, January 03, 2011

now i can't remember who clued me into this - anyway -

RIP Clarence Wiedenfeld . . .

bad news for Zsa Zsa . . .

Saturday, January 01, 2011

this stuff always hurts . . .