...where sounds, words, and sights hopefully comingle, in the sensical and non-sensical terrain
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Audio Geek & Turkey...
I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving. Like a lot of folks, I have my ambivalence about this holiday. It's a time for people to come together, sometimes family, sometimes chosen family, other times new friends who find themselves far from home. There's an opportunity for genuine thankfulness and gratitude in these gatherings and sharing of food, stories, laughter, etc. At the same time the popular story of the holiday that most of us get taught in school is problematic to say the least. The arguable victor gets to write the history, and that history has its definite omissions concerning indigenous people on the American continent. So in the spirit of engaging history, and moving towards a more inclusive historical portrait (small pox blankets, genocide, and all), I've included some links in the Endnote section. I'm sure there are others of which I'm unaware; if there are other better sites it would be great to learn about them.
The Third Coast International Audio Festival takes place each Fall in Chicago, Illinois. Even if you can't get to middle of the USA, the hosts, Chicago Public Radio, post audio and video from a number of the events on the festival website. Also, during the Thanksgiving weekend various NPR stations broadcast the winners of the eighth annual TCF / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition "represent radio at its finest: moving, insightful, surprising and sometimes even life changing." If you find yourself hooked, no worries. Chicago Public Radio hosts, Re: sound, a weekly program of radio stories "culled from around the world ranging from personal narratives to investigative documentaries, experimental sound art to humorous essays" and is hosted by "independent producer and essayist" Gwen Macsai (yea! women in radio/audio! The TCIAP festival staff is comprised of four women, with Macsai among their number). (above a shot of the vintage Studer A807 Professional reel to reel tape recorder - simply gorgeous!)
Two of my favorite composer/producers, crafters of the Philly sound (The O'Jays, Billy Paul, Patti Labelle, Phyllis Hyman, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, The Three Degrees, T.S.O.P., Soul Survivors, The Trammps, Stylistics, etc.) creators of the classic "Soul Train" theme, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff are true originals. They couldn't be contained by Barry Gordy's Motown (though they politely demur on the question of that short-lived association), and founded their own label, Philadelphia International Records, to allow the development of their more expansive sound. The name says it all, produce the music locally, disseminate the love globally.
As Gamble says, "Philadelphia International was about spreading love." Gamble and Huff have a new box set coming out called Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia which includes work from both before and during the Philadelphia International era.
Check out the November 26, 2008 NPR interview of Gamble and Huff with Fresh Air's Terri Gross. (above the contemporary Gamble and Huff, below, the "legendary duo" back in the day)
Endnote: • "The Sound of Philadelphia: Heard Around the World" CNN profile from November 20, 2008 • Gamble and Huff, 2008 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees profile. • Profile of Gamble and Huff from ThatPhillySound.com • BrotherMen, a "performance-based documentary" featuring "five African American men who through their art transmit the historic, political and cultural realities of the African American experience." Includes profiles of Gamble & Huff, documentary photographer Chester Higgins, Jr, musician/songwriter Pops Staples (The Staple Singers), and choreographer/performer David Roussève.
In honor of the mood this month, on axes that speak to me individually and from the global framework--all the Clinton era appointments notwithstanding. Obama clearly knows his weaknesses, and is aware of the successes of the Clinton team, it would be foolhardy not to
Afro-German soul vocalist Joy Denalane with a little help from Lupe Fiasco singing about "Change."
I realize that youtubers are linking Seal's rendition of "A Change Gonna Come" with the Obama presidential election, but from that first line "I was born by the river," you have to commit to the song not just as a conceptual performance for a soul album collection as Seal's new release is being touted. The other rendition that speaks to me is Aretha Franklin's rendition which was more tribute to her lost friend, Sam Cooke, than cover recording and the piano and organ work is heartbreaking, as is Franklin's vocal. Of course Otis Redding can't be ignored, the way he lands on a note hard and wrenches everything out of it in just a quarter note in a common time meter--and melisma wouldn't be so painful to hear all the time if some people had the skill to give it texture the way Redding did. Tina Turner's live performance from the late 80s (from the Break Every Rule video, initially backed up by a synth sample choir of "ah's" until someone realized continuing that throughout the song would sound rather soulless, though it unfortunately returns after the break) is worth a listen as well. Though there's something almost incongruent in the performance. She seems so much the Tina Turner of the Ike & Tina Turner review, or Annie Mae Bullock/Nutbush City Limits in the performance, while most of her musicians (except for the young Robert Cray-look-alike, or wait, that's actually Robert Cray: Turner says, "Take it Robert" at the start of the break, and I recognize his gestures, plus she shouts him out at the end) are doing back up for the re-designed, and re-branded Tina Turner (enough with the sax already!). I felt like I was watching two different, yet simultaneous performances. I have to give it up for Leela James' version which opts for understated, restrained delivery with her cracked honey tones that remind me of Toni Childs, but with more flexibility and range in the vocal instrument.
Ultimately, this one I have to give to the original songwriter and interpreter, Mr. Sam Cooke.
This is another one of my favorite renditions, by the Neville Brothers off their Yellow Moon album (another fav).
I am really without words. I still remember wearing out the grove on my mother's Pata Pata album. It was an album Makeba did circa 1967, which included some live cuts, and one of my favorite albums to play. I would jam out to the title cut, and look at the image of the beautiful Makeba whose spirit always seemed victorious no matter what. With her voice she made you know joy, wonder, sorrow, grief, hope, and faith. I always remember her singing "Ring, Bell" with its refrain of "all is well." Every time I heard that song, I was uplifted. Makeba was and is a wonder. She will be greatly missed.
Makeba collapsed while performing at a benefit in support of Italian writer, Roberto Saviano, who is facing death threats from the mafia. Thanks writer/musician Ned Sublette for explaining that in the below report the Sicilian organized crime syndicate Cosa Nostra or Mafia, is spelled with an upper case "M," while the lower case "mafia" refers to the Camorra, which is Neopolitan, but apparently no less dangerous.
Here are two reports one from AfricaAsia.com's Rome coverage, and the other from Johannesburg AFP.
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) — Miriam Makeba, the musical symbol of black South Africans' struggle against apartheid, has died at the age of 76 after collapsing at a concert in Italy.
Nelson Mandela led tributes Monday to the singer who had international hits with songs such as "Pata Pata" and "The Click Song" while she was banned from entering her homeland.
"She was South Africa's first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of 'Mama Africa' . She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours," Mandela said.
Ever the activist, Makeba collapsed after singing in support of an Italian author facing Mafia death threats. She was treated while the audience shouted for an encore but died in hospital from a heart attack, officials said.
Makeba "died performing what she did best -- an ability to communicate a positive message through the art of singing," said South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
He called her "one of the greatest songstresses of our time."
Born in Johannesburg on March 4, 1932, Makeba became one of Africa's best known singers and while Mandela was in prison took up the battle against apartheid through her music.
South Africa revoked her citizenship in 1960 and refused to let her return for her mother's funeral. Makeba spent more than three decades in exile, living in the United States, Guinea and Europe.
Her music was outlawed in her homeland after she appeared in an anti-apartheid film. But she was an international success, winning a Grammy award for Best Folk Recording with US singer Harry Belafonte in 1965 for the album "An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba".
"I kept my culture. I kept the music of my roots," she said in her biography. "Through my music I became this voice and image of Africa, and the people, without even realising."
But she also met controversy abroad. The third of her five marriages -- to civil rights activist and Black Panthers leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968 -- provoked anger in the United States and some of her concerts and contracts were cancelled.
She was also briefly married to trumpeter Hugh Masekela, another famous South African artist who spent long years in exile under apartheid.
Makeba was the daughter of a Swazi mother and Xhosa father.
She started singing professionally in the early 1950s with a group called The Manhattan Brothers, with whom she toured the United States in 1959.
Her career at home took off in the same year when she appeared in a musical version of the film "King Kong". She also made a brief appearance in an early anti-apartheid film "Come Back, Africa" which earned an invitation to pick up an award at the Venice film festival.
Once there however, it became clear that her life would be in danger if she went home, where harsh apartheid laws had been enacted in 1958. South African authorities revoked her citizenship.
Makeba had her biggest hit in 1967 with "Pata Pata" -- Xhosa for "Touch Touch", describing a township dance -- but unwittingly had signed away all royalties on the song.
She was often short of money and could not afford to buy a coffin when her only daughter, Bondi, died aged 36 in 1985. She buried her alone, barring a handful of journalists from covering the funeral.
According to her biography, she also battled cervical cancer and a string of unhappy relationships. She denied rumours of alcoholism.
While she was still in enforced exile, she performed with Paul Simon in the US singer's 1987 "Graceland" concert in Zimbabwe, neighbouring South Africa.
She finally returned to her homeland in the 1990s after Mandela was released from prison and the apartheid system began to collapse. It took six years to find someone in South Africa to produce a record with her. She entitled it "Homeland".
Sunday's benefit concert was at Castel Volturno, near southern Naples, to support Roberto Saviano, author of the best-selling mafia expose "Gomorrah."
Makeba was the last on stage, performing for the 1,000 crowd for half an hour before collapsing, according to Carlo Hermann, an AFP photographer at the concert in the town which is considered a stronghold of the Camorra mafia.
"There were calls for an encore and at that moment someone asked if there was a doctor in the house. Miriam Makeba had fainted and was lying on the floor."
Ever the activist, South African legend Miriam Makeba, the musical symbol of the struggle against apartheid, died after singing in support of an Italian author facing death threats from the mafia.
The benefit concert in Castel Volturno, near southern Naples, on Sunday was staged to show solidarity for Roberto Saviano, author of the best-selling mafia expose "Gomorrah."
Underscoring the uphill struggle against the Camorra, the workers who set up the stage for the concert were forced to pay extortion money, said Castel Volturno mayor Francesco Nuzzo.
"The concert organisers are going to lodge a complaint in the coming days," Nuzzo told AFP.
About 1,000 people attended the concert in Castel Volturno, a stronghold of the Camorra mafia that was denounced in Saviano's "Gomorrah," whose film version won second prize at the 2008 Cannes film festival and is now in the running for an Oscar.
Castel Volturno was the scene of the shooting deaths in September of six African immigrants by a suspected Camorra commando unit in circumstances that remain unclear. An Italian businessman was also killed in a separate attack the same day.
The town plans a memorial service for Makeba in the coming days, the mayor said.
The 76-year-old Makeba died of a heart attack after collapsing onstage while fans were shouting for encores.
Makeba had been the last to go onstage, performing for half an hour before collapsing, according to Carlo Hermann, an AFP photographer who covered the concert and witnessed fellow singers rush to her aid.
Last month, six Nobel prizewinners including Makeba's compatriot Desmond Tutu launched an appeal to urge the Italian government to assume its "responsibility" to protect Saviano, 28.
Altogether some 100,000 people have joined the petition, prompted by Saviano's announcement that he would flee Italy after learning that the Camorra want him dead by Christmas.
Signatories also include Nobel peace laureate Mikhail Gorbachev and literature prizewinners Orhan Pamuk of Turkey, German author Guenter Grass and Italian playwright Dario Fo.
If Saviano leaves Italy, he would become the first writer to do so because of mafia death threats.
Endnotes: • NPRcoverage and past interviews and profiles • Guardian UKnotice. • TimesOnline UKnotice, "Mandela leads tributes to 'Mama Africa', songstress Miriam Makeba." (this links to article in which Makeba's former husband, famed trumpter Hugh Masekela, asserts that the South African government is fearful of the power of music as a catalyst for social change) • In the New York Times Fashion and Style blog Alexandra Marshall remembers "The Style of Miriam Makeba." I take offense at her characterization of "Pata Pata" as "more of a rump-shaker than an overt indictment of the sicko regime ruling her country at the time." Say What??! (OK, somebody send this Ms. Marshall some of the writing of Emma Goldman, and Thomas DeFrantz, please!) Wisely Marshall resists editorializing any further, writing, "[w]e’ll let others do the heavy lifting on singing Makeba’s full praises, and simply take a moment here to bask in the joy of her style." (phew)Thank you! • The New York Times coverage proper, which indicates the cause of Makeba's death as cardiac arrest.
Below check Miriam Makeba performing "Pata Pata" on Brasilian television in the mid-60s. The guitarist is the great Brasilian musician Sivuca (1930 - 2006) who was better known for playing the accordion, and perhaps in this country for his work with Makeba, Harry Belafonte, and Oscar Brown, Jr. (1926 - 2005). According to one biography, Sivuca arranged "Pata Pata" for Makeba. In Makeba's narration of "Pata Pata" I saw the revolutionary power of music and dance, and the strength of a community renewing its bonds with a weekly communal gathering, and yes the power of the sensual to reconnect each of us with our own and other's humanity in the face of devastating oppression. That's how I account for the luminous spirit radiating from Makeba in this performance.
"Khawuleza" (1966) recorded in Stockholm, Sweden with Sivuca on guitar.
More 5 November 2008 newspaper covers from around the globe...
Another one of my favorites from The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana. You have to click on the image to get the full effect of the thumbnail portraits of the previous 43 presidents of this here "perfect union" states, with a pointed RGB choice for the 44th thumbnail.
From a "too-close-to-call" state, The Fayetteville Observer, Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Diario de Pernambuco, Pernambuco, Brasíl. One of the many covers from Brasíl acknowledging the historic precedent in relation to the racial history of the United States.
From La Tribune, Paris, France. A headline in English.
A couple of odd-seeming images from Austrian newspapers. On the left the Salzburger Nachrichten, Salzburg, Austria; on the right Kurier, Vienna, Austria. Perhaps if I read German it wouldn't seem so strange to see a black child representing, um, who? Black American voters, Barack Obama? What about those hands on the presidential seal? They couldn't just use an AP image of Obama? Clearly those aren't his hands, coming out of an ill-fitting suit, holding a fake presidential seal...
Back to images that make sense...and I don't even read Hebrew. Maariv, Tel-Aviv, Israel...
... or Portuguese, Diário de Notícias, Lisbon, Portugal
I'd like to think their jubilation over Obama's victory might give Jamaica's journalists and other "mainstream" public voices impetus to consider his more tolerant stance on gays and lesbians (yes on civil unions, waffling on marriage, but a definite NO to sanctioning assault, rape, and murder as a public policy for accommodating some people's insecurity with sexual difference). The Gleaner, Kingston, Jamaica.
I'll be posting a few samples over the next few days from various locales:
Oakland Tribune, Oakland California (where Proposition 8 banning gay marriage unfortunately passed) tooting "A New Era"
The Times, Johannesburg, South Africa
La Presse, Montreal, Canada
An-Nahar, Beirut, Lebanon (Unfortunately, I can't read Arabic.)
The Gray Lady herself, The New York Times, proclaiming "racial barrier falls." They aren't the only one to advance this notion in their election results reportage. I mysefl wonder what journalists mean by this declaration?
'Now it's official, a black man can be elected to the highest office in the nation'? Hmm, well, when Harold Washington assumed the post we found 'a black man could become Mayor of Chicago.' But it's worth noting that history hasn't yet repeated itself in Chicago. Yes, a particular and singular black man can be elected to an office that previously excluded all black men--and black women for that matter--in a particular and singular moment in history. I think for a racial barrier to have truly fallen the result cannot be summed via a single, albeit mind-blowingly historic, victory. Black male and female elected officials would have to be serving in greater numbers as governers and congress-persons, really all through government. And they'd have to be allowed the priviledge of being as mediocre and ineffectual as some of their white counterparts, and for the same mundane reasons as their white counterparts OR of being as or more exceptionally skilled as their white counterparts without white people calling them arrogant, or making surprised statements as to the quality of their elocution and/or hygiene. Most importantly they wouldn't have to carry the almost unimaginable weight of being the first, this late in the game. But for the failure of the United States to follow through on the Reconstruction of the country, during and after the Civil War, it is entirely possible that neither President-Elect Obama nor Mayor Washington would have been "firsts." What a nation that might have been.
The Huntsville Times, Huntsville, Alabama. Interesting how the paper's photo choices foregrounds both the Obama family dynamic, and the obviously deep bond between wife and husband.
Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois both choose variations on an iconic presidential /statesman image.
There were plenty of headlines shouting, "Yes He Did!" and variations on "Change Has Come." But one of my personal favorites comes from the Sioux City Journal, in Sioux City Iowa. It's direct and to the point: BELIEVE IT.
Still hasn't sunk in. So glad I have grandparents who lived to see this. So amazed to see this happen in my lifetime.
Matt Bai, political writer for the New York TimesMagazine, from NYT's November 4, 2008 election coverage videos:
"It will be represented tomorrow as this huge victory for African Americans. But I really believe in the long view of history it is more than that. It is the breaking up of a 220-odd year monopoly on the presidency--with one small incursion by John Kennedy--but really a monopoly of white protestant men that I think all groups, women, Jews, Asian, Italians whoever else, I think allgroups can look at this as a breach of a monopoly. And I think it's a huge generational moment, your and my generation [speaking to colleague Michael Cooper, political writer for theNew York Times]--the generation after the boomers--kicks down the door of of American politics after a very long and unproductive governing period."
Tavis Smiley on MSNBC: "We are a better nation..." Smiley talks about this historic event and the weight of expectations that now surround President-elect Barack Obama.
I got to the polling location at 6:09am and there was already a line, fortunately it was only a 30 minute wait. The black woman ahead of me on line had brought numerous forms of identification, as had I. The white female pole attendant joked, 'didn't want to be challenged, hunh?' In triumph, the black woman raised her fist a little when the other white female poll attendant found her on the roll. I was similarly thrilled when I was on the roll and didn't have to file a voter complaint.
I took my time voting, though there were only two referendums on the ballot and I already knew all the candidates who were getting my vote. Really it was a moment to savor. But I kept my cool until I got back home, when did a little happy, hopping dance with gleeful giggles.
Lines may be long, but don't let complacency and poll-based assumptions set in. I overheard a woman who used to work as a pollster indicating how misleading they can be--as far as getting people's confidence up so they take victory for granted. Bad idea.
J's Theater saying it better than I can with Flash slide show that I wish I could post here, but it's just a click away...
The same could be said about the future of the United States: It's just a click, or a punch(card), or a check mark, away depending on your county or state's voting technology.
It's your VOTE, USE IT, DON'T ABUSE IT.
Pictured left Christia Adair, Texas, 1920. Adair was "approached by suffragists to enlist the support of black women for the vote. Adair states: Back in 1918 Negroes could not vote and women could not vote either. The white women were trying to help get a bill passed in the legislature where women could vote. I said to the Negro women, 'I don't know if we can use it now or not, but if there's a chance, I want to say we helped make it.'"
Despite the success of the suffragist efforts Black women in Texas were still refused the right to vote based on race. During her work with the NAACP Adair continued to pursue this struggle and became "one of the first black women to vote in the Texas Democratic primary in 1944."
Below images from Freedom Summer 1964 Voting Rights activism, right McCabe County, Mississippi activists
Below, Lowndes County, Alabama Voting Activism, 1960s:
"Launched by the League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF) in October of 2006, VOTE411.org is a "one-stop-shop" for election related information. It provides nonpartisan information to the public with both general and state-specific information on the following aspects of the election process:
Absentee ballot information
Ballot measure information (where applicable)
Early voting options (where applicable)
Factual data on candidates in various federal, state and local races
General information on such topics as how to watch debates with a critical eye
Polling place locations
Voter registration forms
"An important component of VOTE411.org is the polling place locator, which enables users to type in their address and retrieve the poll location for the voting precinct in which that address is located. The League has found that this is among the most sought after information in the immediate days leading up to, and on, Election Day."
Talk about making it easy! And remember, do not, do not, DO NOT, wear any hats, buttons, shirts promoting your candidate, or any other election paraphernalia to the polling place or you could be turned away and legally refused the right to vote (as opposed to the illegal forms of voter refusal that are occurring throughout the nation).
Also, if for any reason you cannot vote on Tuesday, November 4th, in some states you can still vote the day before the election via absentee ballot. Check to see what your options are; in some states you must vote IN PERSON at the Office of your COUNTY CLERK.
A little motivation from Lady Kier of Dee-Lite...circa 1991...voting is always relevant, baby!