The 75-year-old South African jazz artist made the rounds at a few Smithsonian locations, concluding with an interview in our office at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. He talked about social justice and sustaining cultural heritage through music, with representatives from the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Howard University, WPFW and more.
He was explaining something about how historically Europe has preserved its arts much more thoroughly than Africa has. Offhandedly he said, “I was kicked out of an opera once,” the first opera he ever saw. I started recording.
He’s a sweet, funny guy. He gave everyone in the office hugs instead of shaking hands. And he also gave me a KDVS station ID!
This never ending winter has been punctuated by a few amazing musical experiences, and at the top of that list is a free concert at the Freer Gallery of Art last month, Songs of Okinawa featuring The Ryukyuans.
The four musicians played traditional folk songs from their native Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa, Yaeyama and Miyako) on the standard sanshin fiddle and shima-daiko drums, plus original songs adding acoustic guitar.
Every song seemed so familiar, brought me right back to adventuring in Okinawa with my family, brought a tear to my eye!
The one woman in the group, Shinobu Matsuda, performed a few songs alone with only drum accompaniment. Each one was captivating. Her sanshin (above) has been in her family for over 100 years, passed down from her grandfather to father to her, and she introduced this “pop” song as her father’s favorite:
“Moashibi Chijuya” (as you can hear, she’s a badass)
They did a song I featured once before, when I complained I couldn’t translate the lyrics. Luckily singer Isamu Shimoji prefaced with an explanation: “I love you, I need you, I want you/ Hold me tight/ Love. Very, very simple song.”
“Kanayo / Amakaa”
They closed with a contemporary song that got everyone on their feet dancing and some finger-whistling along. Isamu began saying the title translates to “Summer Solstice, Southerly Wind.” “I don’t know why.” (Haha, and I’m just now noticing that he’s the composer).
“I tried to stick around for punk kids Heller Keller, but watching one of the singers put out a cigarette on the ground inside the gallery and then tell the audience ‘fuck all you guys’ three times in five minutes was my limit. If that were my venue, I wouldn’t invite them to play again.” (Ema and Her Lady Parts) I just Googled this myself and found that Heller Keller has been using this quote from my post as their bio on Bandcamp. I mean, that’s pretty great.
Thanks for reading and listening! Many more audio adventures to come.
There’s a drum circle in Washington, D.C., that meets (nearly) every Sunday afternoon at the top of Meridian Hill Park. According to legend (a.k.a. this Washington City Paper article), some newly freed slaves danced and celebrated emancipation at this park in 1862. The weekly tradition began after the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965.
I carried my bike up like a hundred steps to see them a few weeks ago. They stalled until a guy named Lizard or Owl or something rolled up on a bike with a conga on his back and a full-sized marching band-style bass drum on his handlebars. It was pretty jammin’.
I would have jumped in with some samba school breaks, but no one offered me an instrument! Next time I’ll come prepared.
My last couple of trips back to Davis have perfectly coincided with glorious gamelan gatherings. In October, I made it to town just in time to see the giants of the UC Davis and UC Berkeley ensembles perform a free noon concert in the lobby of the Mondavi Center.
Gamelan has a huge range in sounds, dynamics, instrumentation, performance setting and number of performers. This particular version, gamelan gadhon, is the classical chamber music style of Central Java, and this ensemble was only six players plus the singer. Traditionally ensembles and repertoires were divided into “loud” and “soft” styles; most modern groups combine the two, but this group featured the soft instruments.
You can read about the performers in the program notes (and… ignore the “Audio or visual recording is prohibited”).
In fall 2009, I had a whole house to myself for three weeks for the first time in my life. Feeling liberated and lonely, I recorded a short piece of music every day for 19 days straight on my Nokia flip phone.
This was before I had a digital audio recorder, so I used Blog Talk Radio’s now-discontinued Cinch recording service: they gave you a number to call, recorded whatever you played into the phone, and then uploaded an MP3 for you.
The end product is a goofy musical sketchbook, with few completed thoughts but something I would like to send out into the universe anyway. I mostly used that Casio PK-1 on top (that elephant keyboard, while the cutest, was garbage). By the 19th day I was ready to attempt something more ambitious — that recording was the prototype of this song.
In the winter of 2005, I was a freshman at UC Davis, a new volunteer at KDVS, and a night owl. Because my dorm roommate always went to sleep much earlier than I did, I created a Fortress of Solitude underneath my partially lofted bed, complete with futon, stereo, party lights, and a blanket big enough to hang down from my bed like a curtain and close myself in.
In the middle of one crazy day — wherein I overslept because Rob Roy was playing metal on the radio and it made me so upset that I turned it off and forgot to wake up, almost got hit by a semi truck riding my bike, missed two classes and an oral presentation, and was forced to get a shot for the first time in like 15 years — I bought some blank cassettes and made this mixtape.
This is all the kind of stuff I was listening to at age 18. It was all on the fly, since I wanted to practice sequencing songs for my future radio show. I called it “Analog Oatmeal” referencing something John McCrea from Cake said at a concert: “There are a lot of good things in life, and there are a lot of bad things. And they’re all stirred up into a confusing, oatmeal-like mixture.”
Note: This recreation of the mix is missing “Time Is Now” by The Hi-Fives after Tori Amos, “Real Love” by John Lennon after Ani DiFranco, and “Black Sand Beach” by Mr. T Experience after Green Day because Grooveshark didn’t have them. Sorry! I gave the original away!