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Happy Birthday from Kepi Ghoulie

17 Mar

kepi ghoulie at comet ping pong
Today is my birthday! So I’m posting this recording of Kepi Ghoulie playing his “Happy Birthday” song that I forgot to post on my brother’s birthday.

Allan came to visit Washington, D.C., for Thanksgiving, and then we got to see Kepi with the Mean Jeans as his backing band at Comet Ping Pong in December. It was a hella Sac throwback. Since the last time I saw Kepi was an acoustic show, nice and mellow, it was a jolt to see him thrashing around on stage. The birthday song was for one of the Mean Jean Moms, who all live in the D.C. suburbs.

They played another one of our favorites (though I still prefer the Kirsty MacColl version on my favorite mixtape Allan made for our parents), “A New England.”

Any advice on stupid, irresponsible things I should do in the last year of my twenties?


Andhe Andhe Lumut

25 Nov

embassy gamelan

By the end of next month, I’ll have been playing gamelan for eight years. I started out very timidly in the UC Davis Gamelan Ensemble, jammed once with the Evergreen State College instructor in Olympia, twice with the Geidai arts university in Okinawa, a year with the Los Angeles consulate, and now over a year at the Indonesian Embassy.

At the embassy, we’ve been practicing this epic wayang theater piece, Andhe Andhe Lumut, for several months. In May I challenged myself to the gongs, the largest and loudest instruments—which is fun for me as the smallest and quietest member. Sometimes it takes a bit of contorting to reach every kempul and some juggling with three different mallets, and that’s why I love it.

This recording is just an excerpt, but it’s some of my favorite parts. It sounds pretty echoey in the embassy’s ballroom instead of our basement practice space.

Tom Brosseau in Padova

8 Nov

tom brosseau
Our trip to Europe was full of highlights, but one serendipitous night stands out. By chance, our time in Italy matched the tour schedule of Tom Brosseau, a folk singer from North Dakota via Los Angeles who often played in Davis and put out a record called Grass Punks this year on my pal Michael Leahy’s label.

Tom played in a little co-work studio called CO+ in Padova, a river town 25 miles inland from Venice. It was such a treat to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice (speaking a language I speak!) 4,300 miles from my home, 6,100 miles from the last place I saw him!

I made a request from the new album, “Tami”:

But my favorite song of the night was an oldie, “West of Town”:

Keep an eye out for this guy on both U.S. coasts this winter (some dates with John C. Reilly) and another record out on Crossbill in February.

Buskers of Bologna

7 Nov

Bologna brass duo

On a search for new sounds, sights and smells in Bologna, Italy, I found the bulk of buskers in Piazza Maggiore, the center hub of the radial Roman city. This brass duo was pretty good. Mostly I like seeing tubas out in the wild.

Bologna accordion player

The accordion player was not bad either, although I gave him some euros and he didn’t even smile! By that point he was being drowned out and I was being lured away by these guys across the plaza…

Bologna busker band

Electric guitar with battery-powered amp, and a drum set of a bucket, paint can, busted coffee can, metal disc, and Tibetan singing bowl. This Eddie Veder soundalike and dreamboat of a drummer attracted the biggest crowd, stationed in front of the Fountain of Neptune. It took about the length of this recording to feel like I had fallen in love.

Mirah at Black Cat

16 Oct

Mirah at Black Cat
Every time I turn on my recorder at a show, it’s a gamble if I’ll like the following song enough to want to record and then share it. At this show at the Black Cat last weekend, I got lucky!

First, I started recording just as Death Vessel began playing “Block My Eye,” the very first song I ever heard by him and played on my radio show. (Some party girls were talking too loud though, so I scrapped it.) I would have been happy to capture all of Mirah’s set, but on a hunch I switched on just in time for the first of only maybe three classics out of mostly new songs.


Her new album, Changing Light, came out in May on K Records / Absolute Magnitude Recordings, and it’s lovely as always! Here’s one of the new ones.

“Turned the Heat Off”

Hey West Coast, she’s still on tour! Maybe you’ll get lucky and hear your favorites too.

Sonic Circuits Festival

4 Oct

MOMMOM at Sonic Circuits Fest

The only reason I started going to experimental shows in California was that my friends played experimental music. I went to support them and to hang out. And after a while, I couldn’t tell if I liked the music or if I just liked watching my friends play the music. And after another while, I realized it doesn’t matter. Music  = friends = community. You know?

So that’s why I went to the opening night on the 2014 Sonic Circuits Festival on Friday night, to explore that community in D.C. Sonic Circuits is a local experimental show presenter, and they’ve been hosting this annual festival since 2001, with a variety of sound art, film and other performances.

My favorite moment of the night was from Mind Over Matter, Music Over Mind (or MOM²). Thomas Stanley played these ostinatos on a contact-miked mbira while Luke Stewart laid on the effects. Sorry I only had my phone recorder!

Lazurite at Sonic Circuits Festival
I also really liked when this girl Lazurite played that ladder with a bow and made it sound good. Looped with a thumb piano and clarinet, actually quite pretty.

Songs of Okinawa

31 Mar

elisa with shinobu matsuda
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).

“Kaa chi pai” (cut off due to dead battery)

If you want to read more about the concert and some history of Okinawa and its folk music, I wrote a short article for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival blog.