Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kenge Kenge from Kenya: representative of Obama's support abroad

I know some Australians, Canadians and Brits that support Obama (you know who you are!), and I'm enjoying the international support he's getting all around.  

These days, it's no secret that the President of the United States has more impact on the international community than any other government official on the planet.  Even though other countries can't vote in our election, we should at least take a notice to what they have to say, or sing.

If you don't watch the whole video of "Obama for Change," let me just at least point out the last verse and the public figures and communities that Kenge Kenge single out as Obama supporters:
Hillary Clinton supports you
Al Gore supports you
Jimmy Carter supports you
Europe supports you
Africa supports you
It's always healthy to see things from a different perspective and specifically who these particular individuals see as important to them. Something to think about. 

In this song, Kenge Kenge play a traditional kind of Kenyan dance music called benga.  It evolved in the late 1940s and 1960s in Nairobi by the Luo people, a ethnic group of people from Kenya, eastern Uganda and northern Tanzania. Perhaps it is not a surprise that Barack Obama is of Lou descent. Benga features the nyatiti (eight-stringed lyre), asili (flute), the orutu (one-string fiddle) and oporo (horn). Benga is often played with electric guitars, but "Obama for Change" is strictly acoustic.

Here is a cool photo album I found of a Kenge Kenge concert at the BBC's Live at WOMAD taken by KayHanPep on flickr. 

"Obama for Change" is available for purchase on itunes and emusic and their album "Introducing Kenge Kenge" (shown above) can be purchased at

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What's YOUR favorite Beatles song?: Let's get interactive

Hello reader!  I know you're out there, and there are quite a few of you! Thank you so much!  I'm having such a good time with this blog, and I'm so excited that so many of you enjoy reading.

Everyday I think of more and more things to write about, so I won't be going anywhere. As this blog is so aptly named, "there's always more to hear" and I don't see my interest in good music going anywhere.

SO, because I want to hear from you: Here's a question:

What is your favorite Beatles song and why?  Do share.  Please leave your answer as a comment. I know this question is VERY hard to answer, but give it your best go.  Just pick one.

If I had to chose (and this choice might change tomorrow depending on my mood), I would say my favorite is "Tomorrow Never Knows," the last track on Revolver.  Whenever I hear it, I sort of celebrate a little.

Why?  The lyrics are awesome.  They are so indicative of the late 60s and The Beatles' humanitarian pacifism:
Turn off your mind,
Relax and float down stream
That love is all 
And love is everyone
I love the sitar and the use of that seagull like sound which I believe to be a recording of Paul laughing played backwards at various speeds.  I also think Ringo plays one of the phattest drum beats he ever laid down.  I also remember reading somewhere that John told producer George Martin that he wanted to sound like the Dali Lama singing from a mountain top. And George's backwards guitar solo?  How cool!

What's your favorite Beatles song and why?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Cadillac Records": Chess Records Biopic

I know a lot of people are sick and tired of biopics, but I love them.  Especially the musical ones.  

Lucky for me, Yahoo! News just reported that Beyonce gained 15 lbs to play Etta James in "Cadillac Records," a movie about Chess Records. She still looks thin to me, but whatever, this article alerted me to it's holiday release and I can't wait.  

Check out this cast: Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, Beyonce as Etta James, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon and Mos Def to play Chuck Berry.

Chess Records has always held a special place in my heart.  To begin with, Chess was of course the home of some of the most talented and innovative pioneers of rock'n'roll, R&B, blues and early soul: Chuck Berry, Etta James, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Koko Taylor and Big Bill Broonzy just to name a few.  

Without Chess Records and Leonard and Phil Chess, I would argue that American music today would not be the same.  I'd imagine that many of these artists would have been signed by other labels, but the Chess brothers had insight into African American music that proved to be spot on.  They created an insular environment of competition and creativity among their Chicagoan cliental. (There are great stories about the friendly rivalry between Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and the Chess brothers milking it for every penny.)

Although the relationships between the Chess brothers and their artists were problematic in many ways, they knew their artists and their artists appreciated them.  In her inspiring autobiography "Rage to Survive"  Etta James speaks of how she owes the survival of her career and the mere fact that she is alive today to Leonard Chess and the support he provided her.  Chess stood by and supported her through years and years of substance abuse and wreckless living.  She was even able to keep her house in Los Angeles because part of it was in his name, a move otherwise thought to be against ones best interests.

Chess Records also embodies a small but important corner of American Music history that I have thought long and hard about- the Jewish American and African American musical partnership (a possible future dissertation topic if my life ever blows that way).  Sure, the Chess brothers were the business men and the artists were African American, and the relationships were problematic in many ways as many business partnerships are, but, they were for the most part successful relationships. The relationships between Jews and African Americans in the music industry were, and still are, very important. Gnarls Barkley, anyone?  

The book "The Record Men: The Chess Brothers and the Birth of Rock & Roll" by Rich Cohen tells the story of Chess Records in many of Leonard Chess' own words, and he was a crass, blunt, all-business SOB.  And I hope Adrien Brody plays him that way, because it's pretty hysterical. 

Like this Leonard Chess quote:
"Schmucko! Why do for others what you can do for yourself! If you spend a buck, make sure you back a buck and a half."
Personally I can't wait to see Mos Def rock out as Chuck Berry and watch Beyonce wail as Etta James.  When Beyonce wants to blow, people step back.

I've added a couple of my favorite Chess Record tracks to my playlist. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Sway Machinery: traditional psychedelic klezmer afrobeat show in San Francisco

Alright, I know that traditional psychedelic klezmer afrobeat doesn't exist as a genre or even as a logical combination of musical sounds or even adjectives in general, but honestly I have no idea how to explain what this band sounds like.  Just like I said in my last post about Dengue Fever, this band has taken the idea of '"world music fusion" to a whole new non-cheesy dimension.  And I'm diggin' it. (Thank god the 90's are over, eh?)

In fact, the song that I'm adding to my playlist over there on the right called "P'sach Lanu Sha'ar" is a little too African sounding (take a special notice to the guitars and some of the horn lines) and it's freaking me out a little, but in a good way.  But honestly, that should be no surprise considering the band consists of musicians that have played with Antibalas and the Arcade Fire to Middle Eastern percussion bands and Brazilian bands. 

I first heard about the Sway Machinery at the South by Southwest Festival in 2006 as part of the JDub records showcase.  But I really took notice when Jeremiah appeared as a featured artist in a documentary about the New York City Jewish Musical Renaissance.  There's one going on, and Matisyahu and Golem are part of it.  I read about this Ethnomusicologist at UCLA that's writing his dissertation on it and there's a class on it, who knew?   

As a vocalist, Jeremiah Lockwood is somewhere between Robert Johnson and my great-great grandmother's Belarusian rabbi. Honestly, I'm a little worried that his super stylized vocals might make me a little crazy, I mean I am a vocal snob, I totally admit it. (I'm a singer, I can't help it! I mean it took me a few years to enjoy Robert Plant and Thom Thorke for petesake!) But, he's just so different and the music is so interesting, I'm completely drawn to it.  He's also worked with Israeli and American collabortive band  Balkan Beat Box. Here's a really neat clip of Jeremiah playing some jewishy-blues in the New York Subway.

If you've been reading this blog for the short time it's been in existence, you've probably noticed my love of afrobeat, and the band Antibalas in particular.  Not every afrobeat band can cut it, but if the horn arrangements are there and the different layers lock in, there's nothing better for me. And with Stuart Bogie (Antibalas) on tenor sax, Colin Stetson on baritone sax (Arcade Fire), Jordan McLean (Antibalas) on trumpet, Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) on drums and , I'm sorry, but I'm just going to have to go.

My great-great-grandmother's rabbi would be proud.

Here's their myspace page and their website (download some tracks) check them out.  And see you at the show.

The Sway Machinery will be playing this Saturday, October 25 at the Elbo Room, local funk band Monophonics to open.  Show at 9:30pm.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Missed Bay Area Shows: Dengue Fever & Kings of Leon

As I head down to Los Angeles tomorrow for my 10 year high school reunion (yikes!) I am gutted to miss two more local San Francisco shows.

Overseas sensation Kings of Leon will be playing at the Warfield on Friday, October 17th and Saturday, 18th.  We Are Scientists and The Stills will be opening.  Man, what a fantastic show. Understandably, it looks like these two Leon shows are sold out.  

Spin Magazine wrote a great article about the Kings and their tumultuous relationship as brothers (and one cousin) and their struggle in being one of the biggest bands overseas while still being virtually unknown here in their own country.   They headlined the Glastonbury Festival in England and are very popular among folks I was talking to in Australia, including my aunt.  Even though they are selling out two nights at the Warfield, you can't usually judge the national popularity of a band by a Bay Area hipster turnout.  

After listening to their album a few times, I'm totally jumping on the bandwagon that got going years ago. Once you get past their glam rocker prettiness (Jonas Brothers much?), they're pretty awesome.  

Here's a bit of "Use Somebody."

Also, Los Angeles based band Dengue Fever will be playing a show at Bimbo's 365 Club (my favorite venue in the area might I add, it's so Ratpack!) on Friday, October 17th at 9pm. Throwback San Francisco soul band Lord Loves a Working Man will open.  Tickets are $16.  This show is NOT sold out.  

I've now missed Dengue fever two or three times, and I'm sorta pissed about it, especially considering I think I've been in LA when they've been San Francisco, but that's the way it goes.  

Dengue Fever is especially interesting to me because of Cambodian born vocalist Chhom Nimol.  Most of her lyrics are in the Cambodian language, although she does in some instances sing in English. Dengue Fever has consistently retained a Southeast Asian pop music feel in the guitars and rhythms.  Chhom's moves are also based on traditional Cambodian dance.

When Chhom lived in Cambodia she performed for the King and Queen.  When Dengue Fever toured Cambodia in 2005, it was the first time since 1975 any band had performed music like this kind. The documentary Sleepwalking Through the Mekong was made about this experience.

Lord Loves a Working Man brings the house down as well.  Bring your dancin' shoes!

Here's a video of Dengue Fever's "Sni Bong"

I added some Kings of Leon and Dengue Fever tunes to my playlist over on the right there.

And on that note, anyone in the area feeling crazy enough to see Tina Tuner with me next week?  It's expensive, but man, it'll probably be worth it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I-LOVE-THIS: Sonseed merch!

Okay, first of all, if you haven't seen the video, PLEASE watch it. And read my previous blog entry if you need any help in deciphering why this is so amazing (I am not being facetious, I really do think this is awesome music, there are just some VERY humorous things about it).

Now, take a look at all of these awesome t-shirts and other merch.  While they are all cool, this one above is the only one with a v-neck, the most horrible neckline to ever grace the fashion world (especially on men, sorry!) but is totally appropriate for this 70s fabulous fashion.  

I believe this will be more popular than "Jesus is my Homeboy." I *almost* wish I was a believer so I could get in on this.

But until then: ZAP!

Thank you Dougsploitation, thank you for making my year.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I especially love Muppets at 5am

I'm up at 5am because I'm still on Australian time and this is making me very, very happy. 

Thanks Sarah!

"I've never seen anything like that before!"
"And with any luck I'll never see anything like it again! Haaaa ha ha!" 
"Play it again!"
"Oh, right..."

-Statler and Waldorf (the two old man puppets that like to heckle)
How about Gonzo, Camilla and Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz," in "Classical Chicken":

And just because I can't get enough... 
"How many hits did that thing receive?"
"Unfortunately not enough to kill it! Ah ha ha haaa!"

-Statler and Waldorf


Friday, October 10, 2008

Country Music Love Down Under

Who knew that Australians love country music until Nicole Kidman married Keith Urban (who was actually born in New Zealand). But they do. And even I recognize some of the names on wikipedia's list of Australia's country music stars.

When I lived in Sydney in 2000, my friend's mom insisted that she and Reba MacIntyre were old friends and on a first name basis. And this was before the sitcom "Reba" was on the air.

A small town in New South Wales called Tamworth, is the Australian tourist equivalent of Nashville, Tennessee. In a week in mid-January, Tamworth is home to a week long Country Music Festival. Like the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, this festival takes over dozens of night clubs in town.

The above pictured 40 foot golden guitar replica of the Country Music Awards trophy can be found next to the Gallery of Stars Wax museum. Every few years, another figurine of an Australian star is added.

I'm thinking that Australia and Texas have more in common than I ever knew.

p.s. Apologies to Australians, my family and friends included, that hate country music : )

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Missed African Music Shows: The Soweto Gospel Choir and Cesaria Evora

While I'm so happy to be in Australia this week visiting family and friends, I am sorry to report that I am missing two beautiful shows.

Singer Cesaria Evora from Cape Verde will be performing at the Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley, California on October 9th and 10th as part of the Cal Performances Season. Go HERE for details. I've never seen her before, but I've heard that she's amazing live.

Evora sings mouna which can be described as a soulful genre unique to the archipelago (off the West Coast of Africa) that fuses Latin jazz and Afro beats with traces of Portuguese fado and Brazilian modinha (ballads).

Here's her myspace page, and a youtube video of my favorite song, "Sodade." Love the cigarette!

I will also be missing the Soweto Gospel Choir performing in Palo Alto, California on October 7th at the Memorial Church as part of the Stanford Lively Arts series. This group fuses two of my favorite "genres" of music, gospel and african music and understandably, each time I've seen this group ( once at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest in 2003 and once in San Antonio in 2007), I've ended up a soggy, weepy mess on the floor with goosebumps: This nice jewish girl loves her gospel music!

They get a little cheesey for my taste sometimes when they sing in English and include synth keyboards, but they also break out into dance on some numbers. I prefer the a capella numbers.

Here's the Soweto Gospel Choir's website. Notice that they will be continuing their 2008 tour into the Midwest, East Coast, Canada, back to Southern California and then it looks like Europe too (maybe there are two choirs touring at the same time?). Check out their touring schedule if you're interested.

Here's a youtube video that gives you a pretty good idea of what they sound and look like.

I've added a couple songs on my playlist over to the right, take a listen!