Wednesday, December 10, 2008

International Music

All texts (c) DG

Excerpt from “The Search for Home: Dee Dee Bridgewater, Red Earth

Dee Dee Bridgewater traveled to Africa and found herself drawn to Mali, and many people told her of her resemblance to the Peul people there; and this album, recorded in Mali, is the result of her quest for a spiritual home. (She is reported to be building a house there too.) I have reservations about Red Earth, but I think it is, for the most part, wonderful!... “Red Earth” is about a childhood in Tennessee, blues music, a life of searching, of finding, with connections seen between America and Africa: “the red earth has always been so good to me.” (That affirmation reminds me of the book African American Environmental Thought by Kimberly Smith, published by the University Press of Kansas, 2007, a book that argues that the African-American response to nature—a philosophical and spiritual ethos regarding how land is lived on and with, how land is a vital part of private and public life—is a unique resource for the conservation movement.) That is recognition of the earth’s splendor that sees an individual human life as part of a larger whole.

Excerpt from “Reconciliations: Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale, Breathing Under Water

Traditional and modern music, eastern and western, acoustic and electric, male and female: they are all to be found on the recording by Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale, Breathing Under Water….She is associated with classic Indian music, and he with contemporary electronic music. Each has spoken of how natural their collaboration has been, allowing them to explore new aspects of their talents, while making a statement about how complementary different forms of music are: on Breaking Under Water, she, as composer and instrumentalist, handled some of the electronic productions and worked as a pianist, and he composed, and played guitar, drums, and even sang. Yet, her sitar is central to all the music they have made.

Excerpt from “Difference Is No Threat: Angelique Kidjo, Djin Djin

Angelique Kidjo is one of those people who seems to have a destiny; who seems to have expected respect and success. Her albums—including Logozo (1991), and Aye (1994), and Fifa (1996), and Oremi (1998), and Black Ivory Soul (2002)—have won her a loyal international audience. I recall being excited about Aye in the mid-1990s, and having a conversation with one person who was skeptical about Kidjo’s Prince influence (she apparently recorded Aye at Prince’s Paisley Park studio), someone who found her African essence compromised; and I recall speaking with another person who attended a Kidjo performance and championed Kidjo’s authenticity: I found the artificiality/authenticity question a bore. The only thing that mattered to me was that Angelique Kidjo’s music sounded good. Angelique Kidjo is a dynamic, intelligent, and intense performer; and with Djin Djin Angelique Kidjo may be posed to consolidate and expand her popularity.

Excerpt from “Comic Voice, Tragic Vision: Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

What is there but abundance, calculation, death, futility—and the subterfuge with which we approach or disguise them in the western world? What but consciousness and pleasure? In “We’ve Got Everything,” the narrator admits, “We’ve tried everything half-assed and as liars. That’s how we got everything.” One life can embody the consciousness of a world. One hears the triumph of a man who has gone through the worst, and maybe been the worst, and survived, still able to laugh—at the world and at himself. It is the triumph not of morality, not even of mind, but the triumph of spirit.

Excerpt from “Cuban Pianist, International Treasure: Bebo Valdés”

Even knowing that many of the associations one has with the island of Cuba are clichés of a vintage to turn wine into vinegar, much of Bebo Valdés music on the solo recording Bebo sounds like a lost score for an ideal life. Bebo Valdés has said that he absorbed all kinds of music, not only classical music but jazz, boogie, the danzon, and the rumba (with danzon being the name for the ballroom dance music, featuring brass, tympani or kettledrum, and woodwind instruments, played by Cuban musicians; and danzon had European roots, as did some of the other early Cuban music). Bebo Valdés played music in Cuba, working in clubs and for a radio station, but he, like some other musicians, did not feel as welcomed in Cuba after the Cuban revolution. He spent many years in Sweden, living the life not of a famous man but of a working musician, though he is now much acclaimed.

Excerpt from “Instruments Made of Ice: Terje Isungset, Two Moons

Terje Isungset’s Two Moons is likely to ring still as one of the most interesting musical recordings I have ever heard: all the instruments played on the album were made with Norwegian ice, and the music was recorded in an igloo and at an ice festival. On Two Moons, the musicians are Terje Isungset, who sings and performs with ice percussion and an ice horn, and Per Jorgensen, who sings and plays ice trumpet. Such stark and somber music is an affirmation of nature and of nation.

Excerpt from “The Beautiful Music of the Son of Ali Farka Toure: Vieux Farka Toure”

Vieux Farka Toure, a musician of guitar and calabash, studied at the Arts Institute in Bamako, and Vieux Farka Toure considers his own music a force that can oppose hypocrisy and speak for truth. I do not know the language, or languages, in which Vieux Farka Toure’s songs are written so I cannot discuss their meaning: I can only suggest something of what they sound like and their effect on one listener. This is music of many delicate notes, notes like softly splashing rain, refreshment for a dry season.

Excerpt from “We Are Not the Same: U2's Achtung Baby

“You’re dangerous ‘cause you’re honest. You’re dangerous ‘cause you don’t know what you want,” begins the song “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses,” about an acquaintance who is both attraction and trouble, like a glimmering piece of glass on a beach, very similar to the person described in “So Cruel,” someone with a lack of appreciation for love: “The men who love you, you hate the most.” I like the shimmering rhythm in “So Cruel,” a shimmer I identify with Daniel Lanois, who worked on Bob Dylan’s great album Time Out of Mind, and who is fond of imbuing music with—or finding within music—a rare mystique. The narrator of “So Cruel” concludes, “Between the horses of love and lust we are trampled underfoot.”

Excerpt from “African Rhythms, World Sensibilities: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Afro Celt Sound system, Femi Kuti, and Angelique Kidjo”

Listening to the latest Ladysmith Black Mambazo recording Long Walk to Freedom is like a visit to a grandparent one has not seen in a while, a visit that was occasioned by other concerns but a contact for which one is very grateful. I had been listening to the music group Afro Celt Sound System, and that reminded me of Ladysmith and other African musicians, such as Femi Kuti and Angelique Kidjo. One of the most fascinating recordings I have heard in a long time is Anatomic, the album by Afro Celt Sound System, a band that mixes Irish and African music. The word experiment is used to describe works that are little more than pastiche, but Afro Celt Sound System is genuinely experimental, and its experiments, inventions and explorations of technique and sounds, are beautiful successes.