FIDDLERs ON CAPE BRETON – PART II
FIDDLING, FLOODING, AND FELLOWSHIP: A DAY ON CAPE BRETON
In October I related my encounter last spring with the fabulous young fiddler from Cape Breton Island, Andrea Beaton, who performed in Pasadena. The column ended with my decision to attend the island’s nine-day Celtic Colours cultural festival the following October. As I approached writing this follow-up, I tried at first to focus on the fiddling I heard, but images of my trip to the island’s west coast kept interfering. So I will follow my gut and tell you what happened to me on October 10th.
After a few days in Sydney, the bustling little city on the island’s eastern coast, I was ready to explore. I had attended a symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music and enjoyed two large-scale Celtic Colours concerts, one featuring Andrea Beaton with other players from prominent fiddling families. Now I was going to visit two small towns to hear traditional music in smaller venues, starting with the town of Judique. There, at the relatively new Celtic Interpretive Center, I would attend a lunchtime ceilidh, an extended musical gathering ordinarily held in people's homes. Following the live music and food, they would show a film about Cape Breton fiddling that held great significance for the musical community. In the evening I’d take in a concert featuring Andrea Beaton’s father, master fiddler Kinnon Beaton.
FIDDLERS FROM CAPE BRETON – PART I
As I drove my rented Ford Fusion south on Cape Breton Island’s Route 19, the name of the folk festival I had attended, Celtic Colours, took on glorious meaning. Maple and oak trees on both sides of the highway were busting out yellow, orange, and red. They were as vibrant as the music I had experienced for five days. As fragile too: The fiddling tradition that had all but vanished some 60 years ago has made a spectacular comeback since the seventies.
You aren’t familiar with this island? Cape Breton is part of Canada’s eastern province of Nova Scotia on the Atlantic Coast, occupying 3,981 square miles. In the 1600s, French settlers emigrated and established a thriving community. They came to be known as Acadians. The mid-18th century spelled catastrophe for them. The British, following victory in an Anglo-French war, deported approximately 10,000 Acadians between 1755 and 1758. They were sent principally to the southern colonies where survivors became the Cajuns who eventually developed their own musical style. Several hundred Acadians escaped exile; their descendants are French-speaking residents of a few Cape Breton towns such as Cheticamp on the west coast. British loyalist settlers partially filled the population void left by the exiled Acadians. But the character of the colony shifted dramatically in the 1800s when some 50,000 Gaelic-speaking immigrants from Scotland, fleeing famine, settled on the island. Its character is now decidedly Scottish. In fact, because of its isolation, musicians from Scotland now consider Cape Breton fiddling more representative of centuries-old musical traditions than styles currently played by Scots.
UKE EVENTS TO TOOT ABOUT
As August gives way to September, this ukulele lady looks back fondly at special uke experiences and forward with gusto to upcoming events featuring Mighty Uke. A highlight in June was the Ukulele Expo held at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in the heart of downtown L.A. It was largely organized by Jason Arimoto, musician, ukulele instructor and uke dealer at JACCC’s U-Space, along with musician-arranger-composer-producer and six-time Grammy winner Daniel Ho. Besides the now-traditional mass uke strumming session outside on the steaming plaza, the event offered some fascinating workshops.
Alan Lomax Revisited—in Performance!
Lovers of folk music discover Alan Lomax (1915 – 2002) in various ways. As a teenage folk junky in Toronto (still dutifully practicing classical piano), I treasured my 1975 volume of The Folk Songs of North America (Doubleday 1960), described on the cover in bold print as “the first complete paperback edition of the definitive book by the foremost authority on American folk music. Words, music and origins of over 300 songs, from ballads to spirituals, from every region of the country.” The book was so heavy that I couldn’t lift it with one hand.
The film The Red Violin spins intriguing tales about successive owners of an instrument and how it impacted their lives. In reality, every musical instrument has a story to tell about itself and the people who have played it. These stories have unpredictable twists and turns.
Have you ever attended a world/traditional/ethnic music performance and seen someone playing a –and you think: What in the world is that???
Talking Blues with Doug MacLeod
Last column I shared the first part of my conversation with consummate blues guitarist Doug MacLeod, who is nominated by the Blues Foundation for three 2016 Blues Music Awards – best acoustic artist, best acoustic album, and best song (You Got It Good (and That Ain’t Bad).
Talking Blues with Doug MacLeod
Listening to a concert (or set) by Doug MacLeod means confronting the cruel jokes life can play on us, sometimes evoking moaning protests, other times raucous laughter. MacLeod’s guitar playing is gritty and true. Like the sound of his instrument, his voice and storytelling draw from the roots of the blues in the African-American South. The evening before our interview, I had ridden a roller-coaster of emotions listening to this white-skinned, white-haired bluesman at Boulevard Music in Culver City.
A TRIO OF MUSICAL TREATS TO TRY
The holidays come and ho-ho-hum
Do we do what we always do?
Maybe you haven’t tried
Or can’t quite decide
How to make the holidays new.
To answer your questions, I’ve got three suggestions
To help make the holidays gleam.
Three events that inspire,
That deep inner fire
Of joy and good will you can beam!
A WHALE OF A SEA MUSIC FESTIVAL
Is it strange for me to be enthralled with sea music? My sea legs are so shaky that a ferry from San Pedro to Catalina Island leaves my stomach emptied. Nevertheless, when Michael and I were in San Francisco to attend the opera (our tastes are eclectic, I avow), we encountered traditional folksongs of the sea on the San Francisco waterfront. This day-long festival of sea music, sponsored by the Maritime Museum, was taking place on Hyde Street Pier just steps from our hotel, The Argonaut. The working chanteys, ballads of loss and nostalgia, rollicking ditties – hooked us so completely that we returned the next year for the event. Michael and I would stock up on sea music CDs in the little Maritime Store by the Pier; a number of them were recordings from a mega sea music festival at a place called Mystic Seaport. A few years ago the San Francisco Sea Music Festival was discontinued. We were in need of our annual sea music fix. What to do? Hence our pilgrimage this past June to the 36th Sea Music Festival in Mystic, Connecticut for four days of sea music immersion.
MUSIC AL FRESCO
[Editor’s Note: The eclectic programming of these concert series ranges under and well outside the big umbrella of “folk” music.]
Summertime and the listening is easy… in parks and courtyards, on museum and library grounds, even on oceanside piers. Outdoor concerts are a seasonal delight in Southern California. However, when I say outdoor concerts, I am excluding the most obvious venue of all, the one that amplifies the music so it can be heard half a mile away, projects what is happening on stage to multiple giant video screens, and programs half the concert with “opening” artists you didn’t come to see or pay for. Not to mention the tedious traffic and convoluted parking maneuvers you must navigate before hiking in search of a space for your delectable picnic. Every spring I study the Hollywood Bowl concert calendar and mentally drool over the array of gifted musicians it presents. But I have suffered too many disappointments there, except for the concerts where I sat in box seats and felt in touch with the actual performers. I ask you, FolkWorks readers, who can afford box seats at the Bowl more than once in a blue moon? All right, I’ve vented. Now let’s consider concerts produced on a much smaller scale that often have more to offer.
THE MANY FACES OF THE MUSIC CENTER
Ah, the Music Center. That bastion of high culture for the City of Angels. As a subscriber to L.A. Opera, I have strolled beneath the bands of shimmering crystal that drip from the ceilings of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. At the Ahmanson Theater, I have patronized Broadway musicals (Les Miserables twice). At the Taper I’ve sat, enthralled, as gifted and often renowned actors inhabited raw emotional terrain. Clearly the Music Center is a gift from the County of Los Angeles to the audiences for high culture. To those with the means to buy the tickets, that is.
Hello! Roll back the tape, please! The above assessment is terribly out of date. Terribly! Like about a dozen years.
TAKING THE CONFUSION OUT OF FUSION
Decades ago I used to have a beef about the rock-style bass beat too often introduced into folk music performance. Living in Montréal, where traditional folk music groups abounded, I noticed a trend that infuriated me. A group that had a warm, vibrant acoustic sound evoking rural French-Canadian roots would acquire a trap set. Presto! Their sound would become more contemporary. Now the musical ensemble could proudly bid for attention alongside rock groups. I assumed these groups were aiming to expand their audience. That’s what the word fusion meant to me. I was vaguely familiar with the term as a reference to the combination of disparate musical elements. If the above was an example of fusion, then I hated fusion.
CHORDS ACROSS THE GENERATIONS
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SLACK KEY GUITAR FESTIVAL 2015
“I have a professional set director helping me design the stage this year,” Southern California Slack Key Guitar Festival organizer Mitch Chang told me. “We're going for a Hawaiian backyard look to honor the "Let's Play Music" theme of the famous Gabby Pahinui backyard jams at his house.”
Hundreds of returnees along with new initiates to slack key guitar will make the pilgrimage to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on the afternoon of January 18, 2015, to attend the largest such festival of the guitar playing style outside of Hawaii. The atmosphere always is celebratory. The Hawaiian shirts, leis, and floral print dresses you see in the audience blend right in with the booths selling Hawaiian merchandise and food, making it a true festival, not just a three-hour afternoon concert.
NOTES FROM A UKULELE LADY
Time to confess! In my last column when I reported on the Los Angeles Uke Expo, I was not one hundred percent objective. You see, I play the ukulele. Three years ago I joined Uncle Lincoln Kaio’s ongoing Hawaiian ukulele class in Carson as an adjunct to my studies in hula at Halau O Lilinoe. I interrupted both avocations to spend two years completing a master’s program in music with a specialty in ethnomusicology. Since June I’ve been back at the halau (school), and feel even greater impetus than before to master that four-stringed source of musical fellowship. The Uke Expo made me realize that I have a lot of company.
HAVE UKE WILL TRAVEL!
By nine a.m., under mercifully overcast skies, a steady stream of participants was filing into the front plaza of the Japanese-American Cultural Center in downtown LA. They all seemed to have a bounce in their step. From the balcony overlooking the plaza, I watched the crowd grow, a jocular mingling of darker and fairer-skinned persons from diverse age groups, some wearing neutral jeans, tee-shirts, and huaraches, others adding vibrancy with Hawaiian shirts and Aloha print sundresses.
How the Tango Took Vietnam
If you’re a Boomer like me, and someone asks you your first association to the word Vietnam, your answer will be The War. Right? This past spring, while studying music of Southeast Asia, I wanted to change that automatic association to something that acknowledges the culture of this country of nearly 89 million. I have discovered traditional Vietnamese music that is hauntingly beautiful — I recommend Eternal Voices: Traditional Vietnamese Music in the United States (New Alliance Records, 1993). But I have to admit: what intrigued me most was discovering the affection the Vietnamese have for the tango.
The dance? The music? The impassioned vocals? Yes, all of that. Since the 1920s and right into 2014 in both unified Vietnam (that’s what they call their country) and the Vietnamese diaspora, tango has been hot. Google yielded some fun sites: an annual tango festival in Hanoi, numerous tango clubs and classes in both Hanoi and former Saigon, and my favorite –“our tango Christmas package to “Ho-ho-ho Chi Minh City!”
From Clay Flutes to “El Condor Pasa”
But is it authentic?
You hear them playing in pedestrian malls or at farmers markets, the round and full yet plaintive-sounding quena flute floating in the air before you actually see the group of four or five male musicians. Beside the quena player, a musician is blowing on a set of panpipes, which may be small and soprano-pitched or larger and deeper in tone. Another is alternately strumming and picking the ukulele-sized charango. Another is harmonizing the melody with guitar chords. You might even see a member of the group hitting the big animal-skin covered bombo drum if this is a fully-formed Andean conjunto. I remember one group of young men playing in their ponchos in the plaza of old town Santa Fe, New Mexico. Another sporting both ponchos and the brimmed hats in a little park in Montreal’s café-dotted Latin Quarter neighborhood. I’ve seen them playing in the super-clean subway corridors in Toronto. Despite the variety of settings, one has the impression that their sound has existed for centuries.
What is it that draws audiences around the world – or at least around the West -- to Andean music? These street performers would not appear so frequently if their open guitar cases did not fill up with bills and change. Considered a super-popular roots music in this age of globalization, the Andean sound has traveled a fascinating world trajectory to obtain this status. So let’s look at its roots.
Singing for Mother Earth
As the bus pulled into the dusty town of Tilcara in the Jujuy province of Northwest Argentina that late July afternoon, I already knew I had a date with Mother Earth. My friend Miguel at the folk club Peña Altitud had told me on the phone a couple of months before, that August was the month in which Jujeños venerated Pachamama, that is, Madre Tierra, our Mother Earth. Exactly how they observed this winter tradition, I was soon to discover.
From talking with Miguel and the local librarian, I learned that the ceremony involved food offerings to Pachamama and the singing of traditional songs called coplas. Unfortunately for me, these practices usually took place privately with only family or extended family present.
A MONTH IN PEÑA ALTITUD
Until July 29, 2013, my clearest memory of Miguel Llave was witnessing him improvise on the quena surrounded by Andean slopes, the sound of the wooden flute rippling among the cliffs where we were hiking. My husband Michael and I had first met the multi-instrumentalist at his Peña Altitud, the folk music and jazz venue/restaurant located in the town of Tilcara, nestled in the Andes of northwestern Argentina. There Miguel hosts visitors enchanted by the sound of traditional Andean instruments, curious about Andean-jazz fusion and/or tempted by the unique cuisine of Jujuy province. Watching him play sets switching from saxophone to quena to siku (panpipes) of different sizes and tones to charango (a strongly resonating, lute-like instrument) during that Andean summer inspired my FolkWorks article of February 2012 titled “Musician of the Mountains.”
This past Andean winter (our summer) I returned to Peña Altitud alone as a graduate student in ethnomusicology to take a closer look at musical traditions in Jujuy province. Miguel had invited me to rent a room at the peña as a base for side trips to different pueblos. In the process, I encountered more dimensions of Miguel Llave as a musician, mentor, and cultural force in his community.
Of Songs and Silence
A lot of us FolkWorks-niks became aware of the power of folk music through the sixties-era Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War protests. Even if we weren’t present at the marches, the musical legacy of that tumultuous time has influenced our sense of nationhood. Memorable experiences from that legacy include Jimi Hendrix’s searing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, Bob Dylan’s universal plea for humanity, Blowin’in the Wind, Pete Seeger’s indictment of war, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, and anything Joan Baez sang in her imploring soprano (because Joan Baez could sing the contents of the phone book and make it sound like a hymn).
Pan Pipe Revelations
Nearly one year ago on a sweltering June evening in Riverside, I was waiting for a performance of Mayupatapi to begin. It felt as if the air-conditioning was not functioning in the small theater of the UCR Arts Building. Having been accepted into the graduate ethnomusicology program for 2012-13, I wanted to see a performance of the Andean music ensemble that I would be joining in the fall.
The members of Mayupatapi did not walk out on stage. They ran. Clad in black jeans and tops over which they wore heavy colorfully embroidered vests, they ran in a circular formation while playing the pan pipe.
I slumped in my seat. How could I ever hope to do what these ensemble members – young enough to be my children – were doing? Probably it was hotter under the spotlights on the stage than it was in the rest of the theater. Round and round they went for about three minutes until they came to a standstill and played the entire melody again with great verve.
Who put the “Folk” in FolkWorks?
Once upon a time there were the Folk. All kinds. The wee Folk. The country Folk. The hale and hearty singing Folk. Did they play instruments? Yes, they did. They played their pipes and beat their drums. Nothing complicated. It went on like that for a long, long time.
But then one day towns began to sprout up where trees had been growing. Towns multiplied like mushrooms. Towns blossomed into cities as busy as a beehive. Many of the Folk were dismayed at this development and lost touch with the old ways of music, disappearing into forests, mountains, split-levels, and high rises.
About two centuries later there happened what people called the Folk Revival. It came in waves in different parts of the world. In North America, folk singers surfaced in the 1950s and 1960s. Joyous gatherings brought musicians and singers together with hungry listeners. Then folk rock and hard rock came to pass and the old music threatened to disappear once again. But here and there signs of the Folk and their music and the hungry listeners persist. If you are still reading this, it is a sign.
Questions lurk about this whole folk business: Whence came the fairy tales about the Folk? Who has decreed that certain folk music and folk tales shall be deemed authentic?
Early Growing Pains of World Music
Well into my first quarter of graduate study in ethnomusicology, I am losing my innocence –intellectually speaking. No longer can I use the terms “world music,” “folk,” and “culture” without mentally pausing and musing, “What exactly do I mean by this? What do most people understand it to mean?” Nevertheless, I am thrilled to be tackling such questions in seminars and readings. I’d like to share a story about the early stirrings of “world music.” Please accompany me to turn-of-the-century Germany.
Instrument Classification by Sachs and Hornbostel: Was this progress?
Organology is the study of musical instruments. There, that’s out of the way. In ethnomusicology, you can’t get away from the Sachs-Hornbostel musical instrument classification, even if you hate it. Not that it didn’t have its good points. The project of classifying the musical instruments of the world implied that regardless of origin, complexity, or familiarity to the Western ear, instruments had value and should be made known. Sachs likely considered the classification to be, among other things, one more tool for cultural preservationists. A major goal in this endeavor was clarification. The names and descriptions of instruments needed to be rendered more consistent; for example, they mention confusions of vocabulary; for example, the word marimba was used in Central America for the same instrument called in the Congo a sansa and in Western popular music usually called a xylophone. Their Dewey numbering system showed clear links between instruments that were not necessarily apparent initially.
Following Those Fantastic Fingers
His name conjures up the terms "Gypsy Jazz," "Hot Jazz Guitar,” "Le Jazz Hot,” and "Jazz Manouche." Gone for 59 years but far from forgotten, Django Reinhardt has inspired countless guitarists and ensembles to honor his memory with both imitations and innovations. In fact, a Django fever of sorts seems to be afoot. The recent Martin Scorsese film Hugo features a character that portrays the founder of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. French jazz guitarist Stéphane Wrembel composed “Gypsy jazz” music for Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris and performed on the 2012 Academy Awards show. Django tribute concerts and “Gypsy Jazz” festivals abound throughout Europe and North America.
In our Southern California backyard, a multi-ensemble musical project known as In the Footsteps of Django begins a North American tour this fall with a concert at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on October 6. The musical credentials are intriguing. Bandleader/guitarist Lulo Reinhardt is a grandnephew of Django.
Celebrating Great Guitarists
What makes a great guitarist? What are the ingredients of the magic Django Reinhardt conjured by melding jazz with Gypsy music? That Charlie Patton spun down in the Delta with the blues? That Gabby Pahinui drew upon to take the Hawaiian slack key style to unforeseen heights? That Jimi Hendrix stirred up in a rock-based frenzy? The magic that John McLaughlin, Eric Clapton, Pierre Bensusan, Carlos Santana and other masters continue to create on this incredibly versatile instrument?
Two upcoming concert events at the Redondo Center for the Performing Arts will suggest answers. On August 24 and 25, the second Los Angeles Guitar Festival will host a stellar line-up of acoustic players, several of the world-class talents based in Southern California. On October 6, In the Footsteps of Django will pay tribute to the Gypsy guitarist's unique brand of jazz.
How the French Do It
When the anthology CD Francais d’Amerique arrived by mail last year, I was delighted to discover a label that specialized in folk music with a French connection. It turns out I discovered much more.
I had contacted Frémaux et Associés after having read about their 10-CD anthology of French folk music in RootsWorld. It made sense that they sent me a sample that dealt with French musical influence in North American folk music. Leafing through the Frémaux catalog, I was bowled over. This is a major world and vintage music label!
A Musician of the Mountains
This is the first in a series of articles on Audrey’s musical adventures in Argentina.
The Andean cliffs on either side of the highway shone burnt orange, yellow, and rose in the afternoon sunlight as we approached Tilcara, a village in the Argentinian province of Jujuy, not far from the Bolivian border.
We knew little about the place beyond clues from Fodor’s and Lonely Planet suggesting that genuine Andean folk culture might have survived in this outpost. It was completely by chance that, as our rental car navigated the narrow dusty streets in search of our reserved lodging, we noticed a hand-written blackboard sign in front of an ancient-looking house. If I recall correctly, it said: Peña Altitud – Paris en Tilcara. 9:30 esta noche: Tomàs Lipàn.
As we head into the depths of SoCal winter (having to wear coats, living with the threat of rain, and oh, those heating bills), how uplifting to think on news from the Hawaiian music scene.
Slack Key Guitar Festival Adds New Faces
This year’s Festival takes place Sunday, January 22, 2012 at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. It still features Cyril Pahinui, arguably the heart and soul of the event. Without the enthralling sounds of Cyril's slack key playing and soulful vocals, we wouldn't feel that link to his father Gabby Pahinui, whose performances and recordings transformed the art of slack key from a hidden, down-home gem to a world class guitar style. Other returnees: Composer-guitarist Jim ‘Kimo’ West has a mellow nahe-nahe sound, deft technique, and gift for arranging that make him one of the most sought-after slack key guitarists in the Southland. Bay Area-based Steve Espaniola received a Hawaiian Music Award for 2007 New Artist of the Year for his proficiency not only in slack key, but also Hawaiian falsetto singing, ukulele, and upright bass. Maui-born Jeff Peterson has played slack key at all the major festivals, accompanied renowned vocalists, and has experimented with fusions of slack key and jazz. He will be joined by acclaimed vocalist and bass player (formerly of Hapa) Nathan Aweau for a set of "slack key jazz" along with newcomer Jeff Linsky. Linsky is known for combining classical guitar technique with improvisation and jazz. From his bio: "Always eager to experience different cultures and musical influences, Jeff...performed with variety of artists from the popular gypsy violinist Marcus Reinhardt (Django's nephew) in Germany to ukulele master Ohta-San in Hawaii."
A Primer for World Music Lovers (and Students)
To connect with a book, sometimes it works to start reading in the middle. This was true for me when I first opened Michael Bakan's World Music: Traditions and Transformations.
Actually, I had been saving it to read and review last summer when I would be recovering from carpal tunnel surgery and would have the time to tackle the University of Florida ethnomusicologist’s 377-page Second Edition. However, an opportunity to dive into it arrived when I needed to prepare for an interview with a Middle Eastern master multi-instrumentalist. Here was a challenge I had faced before -- interviewing someone from a musical tradition with which I had little familiarity. In these situations, I often turn to my Rough Guide books since I have little time to consult multiple sources. Rough Guides give a reliable overview of a musical genre's history, identify master contemporary practitioners, and analyze current trends. One can seek out representative recordings based on their discographies or even get the Rough Guide CD for super-easy reference. In terms of doing one's journalistic homework, who could ask for a more efficient way of getting up to speed?
E Hula Mau Hula
and Chant Competition
Countdown to Labor Day Weekend, the watershed between summer's holiday mood and September's "back to business" tone. For Michael and me, that weekend means hula immersion. For the past seven years, we have spent that Friday through Sunday of LDW at the Long Beach Convention Center watching the 17th Annual E Hula Mau Hula and Chant Competition. The Hawaiian words mean “the hula lives” and while celebrating excellence in that dance form is at the root of this event, E Hula Mau is actually as much a cultural festival as a competition. During breaks between the competition segments in the Terrace Theater, we browse the displays of vendors stationed in the lobby and outside on the Convention Center mall. I've taken workshops in lei-making and the art of the Hawaiian nose flute. Delicacies such as lomi-lomi salmon and spam musubi tickle the palate and satisfy the tummy.
This year fourteen Southern California hula halau (schools) and one halau from Las Vegas will compete in categories by age group of the dancers, gender, and dance style. Judges confer at the end of each day and hand out awards to the applause and shrieks of delight from hula students, friends, family, and fans. Friday afternoon is devoted to performances by solo dancers and chanters from each halau. Saturday features group kahiko (ancient hula accompanied only by gourd drums and chanting) while Sunday showcases hula auana with groups dancing to modern instrumental and sung accompaniment.
Celebrating UCLA’s 50 Years of World Music
Whenever I listen to music in Disney Concert Hall, I have the feeling of sailing on an elegant three-tiered ship. On Saturday evening, April 16, from my orchestra seat, I looked up at the people seated behind the gently curving tan wood balcony barriers to my right and left, at the huge scalloped pieces of wood overhead, reminiscent of billowing sails, and at the deep aquamarine peeking out on the top right and left corners behind the stage. Soon the audience would be sailing in this magnificent vessel on a sea of sound. It was the right setting for a concert celebrating not only world music but also the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology, which in 2010 reached its 50th year.
Further on Flamenco
Adam del Monte drummed his fingers on the body of his guitar, following this with a couple of resounding pounds and then a series of rapid-fire dissonant chords. His furrowed brow framed by brown curly hair and his body bent over the instrument he cradled, the guitarist seemed to be in a world far away from the audience at the Souls on Fire concert at Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue last month. Yet his playing kept you on the edge of your seat.
In the January 30 program, in addition to playing solo, del Monte performed with vocalist Pilar Morales, cajon player Geraldo Morales and dancer Lakshmi Basile. The communication among ensemble members seemed telepathic. Why were the musicians sometimes silent, other times playing passionately? Who was leading? The dancer’s arms would rise, undulating with fingers curved in different directions, like two serpents piercing the air. Then she would stamp out a rapid-fire rhythm and twirl in a split second, arms still raised, the fringes of her black shawl sliding over her face. The audience would burst into applause periodically while the musicians called out enthusiastically in Spanish. Suddenly the somber-faced dancer would stop and burst into a momentary smile, acknowledging the audience. Just as suddenly, she would turn away, grasp the skirt of her dress, and hike it up several inches to reveal her legs as she stamped out the equivalent of an extended trill.
SOULS ON FIREWhat springs to mind when you hear the phrase “Souls on Fire”? For Yale Strom, musical director of an upcoming concert with that title, it has three dimensions. “One – (it refers to) the souls of the Jews and the Moors and the Gitanos (Gypsies),” explains Strom. “When you play music of great passion, your soul is on fire in a good way – burning, levitating in a desire to be closer to God, Allah, Adonai (or whatever you want to call it)…Two – I also wanted "Souls on Fire" to mean that our souls are on fire from crying, from desperation and sadness when we were kicked out of Spain – Jews, Gitanos, and Moors. We were leaving a home we’d been living in for more than half a millennium. And three – the flamenco dancer is on fire making that beautiful percussive sound on the floor (with his or her soles). When we think of Flamenco, (although) we think of the guitar and the deep singing of the Gitano, what we usually think of first is the dancing. And when Lakshmi Basile, who’s coming in from Sevilla to perform with us, when she dances, her soles are on fire.”
A NETFUL OF ISLAND DELIGHTS
Oh, we throw our nets out into the sea
And all the ‘ama ‘amacome a-swimmin' to me
Oh, we're goin' to the hukilau
If you've sampled Hawaiian entertainment live or on the silver screen of yesteryear, chances are you've heard this hapa haole (signifying Hawaiian-themed English language) standard.It is based on fact. The Hawaiians had a traditional method of casting out their nets to pull in the mullet mentioned in the song, along with a wealth of other ocean goodies.
On the Cusp of the
On a balmy evening last May, a line of film festival-goers stretched from the box office of the Laemmle Fine Arts Theatre down a block of Wilshire Blvd. and around the corner to a side street. Why was this festival different from all other festivals? First of all, it was the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, the fifth one, to be exact. Where else would you find a jovial man wearing a fedora making his way along the line of cinephiles carrying a platter of -"Kugel! Have a piece of delicious kugel while you're waiting," announced Aaron Paley, founder of the non-profit Yiddishkeit. It was also the premiere of a documentary about the bright star of the Klezmer revival, The Klezmatics.
She was a commanding presence, statuesque and still, on the stage of Getty Center's Williams Auditorium that Sunday afternoon in January. A clarinet broke the silence with a rhythmic series of tonic-to-subdominant figures, gradually joined by other instruments in the Middle Eastern fusion ensemble, at last ushering in the voice everyone had come to hear. With strength yet vulnerability, the poetry of 13th century Sufi poet Rumi poured forth from Mamak Khadem. The Persian words flowed upon an Armenian melody the Iranian-born singer had encountered on her travels. In the course of the song, Mamak slowly raised her arms and moved her hands in tiny, graceful spirals, her willowy form and the filmy drapery of her gown bending and billowing like reeds in a breeze.
I will return, I will return
To my ascent, I will return
Release me, unbind me
For to this refuge I have come back again.
CHAMPIONS OF THE MEXICAN SON
Part 2 - Families of the Son
When I entered Alfredo Lopez's tiny studio apartment, he began by introducing me to the family jarocho. Across the pillow side of his neatly made bed lay the main instruments you would find in a performance of son jarocho one hears in Veracruz State. Deftly picking up the oversized guitar-like, jarana leona, he plucked a melody which resonated like a harp. Then he gave a few percussive strums to the smaller jarana seconda beside it. Next, he picked the still smaller four-string requinto jarocho using a piece of bull's horn for a pick. Complementing the strings was a tambourine-like percussion instrument called a bandero.
CHAMPIONS OF THE MEXICAN SON
PART 1 - DISCOVERING THE SON
It seemed fitting that a concert of Mexican folkloric music was taking place at the Venice headquarters of SPARC (the Social and Public Art Resource Center). Surrounded by murals of mythical farm workers, a hundred or so fans of Alfredo Lopez had crammed into the theatre space of the artfully converted jail. They had come to hear a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist known for his interpretations of the son. A giant idealized portrait of Cesar Chavez hung behind Lopez and two fellow musicians, violinist Jesus R. Carlos and guitarist Isaac Ruben Izquierdo. As Lopez's robust voice interpreted sones from various regions of Mexico, his face, framed by unruly dark curls, shone with the joy of sharing the music he loves. His fingers unlocked the magic of guitar-like instruments of various sizes.
Fiddling in West Africa
A Conversation with
Professor Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje
Last October I attended an international symposium at UCLA called the Dialogue in Music Project: Africa Meets North America. Hosted by the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology with Department Chair Dr. Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje at the helm, the four-day event brought scholars from as far as Pretoria, South Africa into contact with academics from Southern California and other parts of the U.S. and other continents. Lectures, performances, panels, and social gatherings explored such varied subjects as African gourd roots of the American banjo, the state of African art music, the marketing of African popular music, the effects of the colonial period on the development of African musical idioms, a method for teaching polyrhythmic percussion using tap dance, and hip-hop in Senegal, to name a few. Although I took copious notes and interviewed several presenters, I confess to feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of crafting an article on the symposium for FolkWorks.
Slack Key Festival Hits Its Stride with Led Kaapana
Call me a stickler. I believe that once a festival has made it happen for three consecutive years, it has truly earned the word "annual." The Third Annual Southern California Slack Key Festival is making it happen again on Sunday, January 24 at 2:00pm., transforming the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center into a slice of musical paradise.
If the art of slack key guitar is on your radar, then you'll notice familiar names from the artist line-up of the past two years - Cyril Pahinui, Makana, Jeff Peterson., Jim "Kimo" West, for example.
Muldaur and Kweskin Kick Off New Acoustic Series
A round of applause for the Shannon Center, please! Acoustic Voices, a series of four concerts at Whittier's Shannon Center for Arts will launch its inaugural season on November 21, 2009 with two veterans of the folk revival, Geoff Muldaur and Jim Kweskin. The Jim Kweskin Jug Band was the first of the jug bands formed in the 60s and gained national acclaim, sharing billing with groups such as The Doors and performing on network television. Though categorized as "folk," their music encompassed American musical traditions from blues to Tin Pan Alley to The Great American Songbook. With Kweskin and Muldaur on guitar and vocals, the groundbreaking Jug Band also included Mel Lyman on harmonica and banjo, Bill Keith on banjo and pedal steel guitar, Fritz Richmond on jug and washtub bass, Richard Greene on fiddle, and Maria D'Amato (later Maria Muldaur) on vocals and percussion. The group disbanded 1968.
DRUMMING DIFFERENT CULTURES INTO YOUNG HEARTS AND MINDS
We are in a season of beginnings. From kindergarten through college, September has always signaled a new start. The pattern continues if you have kids, or if you work in the field of education. That's a tough gig these days and especially tough for arts educators. With teacher layoffs and program cutbacks, some music educators - like an acquaintance of mine - find themselves serving not just multiple classes but several schools in their district. If music education is spread so thin, what can we hope for it to accomplish? Can we expect innovative programs that introduce the music we celebrate in FolkWorks: the sounds and rhythms of other cultures and the roots music of our own?
Some of the programs doing just that originate outside the traditional school system. It was at one of the Music Center's World City Saturday performances that I first encountered Dr. Craig Woodson, originator of a curriculum called Roots of Rhythm, designed for elementary and middle school children. I can still feel the excitement of that March morning on the garden level of Disney Hall.
SoCal Hawaiian Summer
Do you dream of escaping to Hawai’i? I do. Not the parasol-in-your-mai-tai Hawai’i but the Hawaiians’ Hawai’i. The islands where the strum of the ukulele, the chimes of the slack key guitar, the airy tones of falsetto singing, and the sway of the hula revive your spirit. Where down-home “plate lunches