For years as a college radio DJ, I said that my dream job would be to work at Smithsonian Folkways, the institution’s record label that specializes in regional folk music, field recordings and spoken word. The dream is coming true — temporarily and with no pay, but I’ll take it.
To get myself psyched up, I wanted to make a D.C.-themed mix, mostly so I could start it with that Magnetic Fields song. Instead I pulled out the few Folkways records I have in my collection and picked some favorites. If you’re unfamiliar with the label, here’s a tiny primer.
The greatest thing about Folkways is the detailed liner notes that come with each record: descriptions of musicians and instruments, translations of lyrics, and social contexts to what you’re hearing. (Sorry I can’t share those too.)
The other greatest thing is that every single record they’ve ever released is still, in a way, in print. You can order anything from their catalog digitally, on CD, or on tape. If the professionally manufactured copies are gone, they will burn you a CD-R or dub you a tape and Xerox all the liner notes. You can also listen to snippets of everything online (that’s where I got all the spoken word bits.)
This is a pretty measly sampling of all Smithsonian Folkways has to offer. Hopefully through the summer I’ll have much more to share!
I spent all last school year thinking and writing about how American students adopt a sort of Indonesian identity through gamelan music. We start playing, usually out of curiosity or boredom, and continue because we find a sense of self and belonging, a musical, cultural community.
It all culminated in my thesis project in April, but last month I got to have some freeform fun with the idea when I subbed my friend’s radio show on KDVS.
The idea was to collect an hour of songs reinterpreting tradition gamelan in a Western context. From Lou Harrison’s dueling Indonesian suling bamboo flute and French horn to Th’ Mole’s use of a killer (probably synthetic) bonang sample, it’s all artistic appropriation. It’s all introducing new audiences to these exotic sounds and furthering the power of the music.
For as confident as I feel talking about this subject, I still got nervous during the show! But I think it’s a good sign that after being a radio DJ for eight years, I still get excited enough to momentarily lose my voice.
I’ve been going through my old radio shows from KDVS — a mixture of nostalgia and thirst for more musical exposure, I suppose. I did a whole series of “Analog Oatmeal Abroad” episodes, going through all the CDs and vinyl from one country and picking out the best folk and funk songs.
One I’m particularly proud of is the Peru episode. The first Peruvian music I ever heard was an album by The Blind Street Musicians of Cusco, consisting mostly of the arpe harp seen above. When people are born or become blind in Peru, it is a common belief that all they can do to survive is play the harp — and, man, they totally shred.
I originally edited this down to a CD-size file for my favorite Peruvian, Mr. Mick Mucus, and now I want to share it with you!
One week into the fall semester seems like a good time to start getting nostalgic about summer. I got inspired by Teddy Briggs’ Appetite Summer Mix and puzzled together a few of the songs I’ve been jamming the most lately. They’re not all new, and they’re not all underground, but this is my summer soundtrack:
1. Germany Germany – “Too Much to Say” (mix download)
2. Carmen McCrae (GB remix) – “Just a Little Lovin’”
3. ALAK (Patten remix) – “My Love Is the Best” (download)
4. Michael RJ Saalman – “Phaser Crane” (video)
5. TV Girl – “Baby You Were There” (mix download)
6. J Dilla – “So Far to Go” (instrumental)
7. Appetite – “Tussy” (video)
8. ALPS – “I Get So High” (stream)
9. Why? – “Simeon’s Dilemma”
10. Motorbikes – “Shapely Iceberg” (blog)
11. Stephen Steinbrink – “It’s Home – Make My Nest” (blog)
If I were making this mixtape for you, these are the notes I would write: Continue reading →