Thursday, June 14, 2012

Regional Music: Gogom Ghimili Machuka

Iveroni: Gogom Ghimili Machuka


The Republic of Georgia was in the headlines in 2008, and it wasn't in regards to their music. An album from Iveroni arrived in my mailbox at the very same time that Russia was aggressively invading the small, independent, pro-Western democracy to subordinate it and remove its freely elected President. I immediately put on the album and said a prayer for the refugees who were being forced to flee from their homes in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions.

Regardless of the tense situation in their homeland, Iveroni is a group of five young talented musicians (Roman Lashkhia, Gieorgi Chikovani, Davit Batiashvili, Davit Gogitishivili, Beka Tcertcvadze). Their instruments are the panduri, bass panduri, salamuri, and changuri. Their traditional songs emphasize vocals, and they relate stories of love, heroism, and brotherhood. Producer Nathaniel Berndt traveled to the old city of Tblisi to record Iveroni on location. Their album includes 26 different tracks that range in length from one to three minutes each. Additional liner notes would've been nice to explain more about this group, their music and traditional songs. I don’t know what the song “Gogom Ghimili Machuka” is about, but I like its mixture of vocals and instrumentation. And don’t these four guys look cool in those outfits with those Russian dirks and kindjal daggers at their side!

Back in 2008, the war with Russia left Georgia's countryside scorched by bombs and tank fire, and I wonder if Iveroni has songs that would be appropriate in such a circumstance. The war most likely put a damper on their performances. I hope that they are back out singing them now that peace has been restored to the Caucasus Mountains and Russian forces have withdrawn.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Regional Music: Loveless Love

Just across the river from New York City lies a small city just two square miles in size but with a musical heritage that rivals some of the biggest metropolitan areas in the US of A. Hoboken, New Jersey--the city where Elia Kazan shot Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint in On The Waterfront--is the birthplace of both Frank Sinatra and the polyrhythmic guitar raves of great 80's bands beginning with The Feelies and including The Bongos, The Cucumbers, The Individuals, The dB's and , of course, Yo La Tengo. They all played at Maxwell's, a dark club that can hold no more than 200 people. 

In his book Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo And The Rise of Indie Rock, writer Jesse Jarnow says Maxwell's owner Steve Fallon really nurtured the Hoboken Sound. He gave The Bongos a place to rehearse and gave Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley jobs ( as sound man and DJ respectably). Fallon has since sold the club but Maxwell's is still going strong and there is still a thriving indie rock scene in Hoboken.

Regional Music: Amairam

Malam Maman Barka: Amairam


From southeastern Niger, Malam Maman Barka is a teacher, musician and poet. Barka has been performing on his 2-stringed gurumi for over 20 years. The gurumi's body is a calabash shell, and its skin head comes from an iguana. While his music is deeply rooted in the traditions of the Hausa civilization, Barka has composed over 250 new pieces that document life experiences, address contemporary issues, build bridges across cultures, make political statements, and provide optimistic direction to deal with life's struggles. It's understandable how Malam Barka's captivating vocals and intriguing gurumi have built him a strong fan base among Nigerians.

While the musical ambassador has traveled internationally, this is his first album to be released outside of Niger. Accompanied by percussionist Oumarou Adamou on douma and kalongu, Barka's music is being disseminated through the efforts of the album's producer Nathaniel Berndt who collected these field recordings on location for our education and enjoyment. I may not be able to speak or understand Barka's language, but I appreciate what he's trying to accomplish as a contemporary African bard.

With the song “Amairam,” Barka is singing an ode to a woman who is “very beautiful, beautiful like a gazelle” (from the translation offered at The song has many beautiful and heartfelt sentiments, but the recurring theme may be best expressed as follows:

Amairam respects me,
Amairam is respectful,
Come next to me with your smile,
Come next to me with your laugh,
You have taken my spirit
Friend Amairam, darling Amairam, for the love of God trust in me

Regional Music: Gothenburg

Maia Hirasawa: Gothenburg

Ten years ago this week, I lost my grandfather.  It wasn't a shock as he had been ill for some time, but having looked after him for a good few years the aftermath of his passing and the nasty physical minutiae of having to sort through his affairs and possessions found me oddly rudderless.  Over thirty but still living like a first-year undergraduate, staggering from work to pub to off-license and then home again to the house in less-than-sunny Harringay that I shared with friends.  Lather, rinse, repeat - and if I felt any pang of regret or doubt at the aimlessness of it all it didn't last long, especially if my housemate was mixing one of his magic G&Ts.

As I write these words, I can hear my two elder children outside.  They are arguing over the correct deployment of a hula-hoop.  The sunlight, refracted through the leaves both in-and-outside the window, dapples the walls with faint, apt, reminders of yellow and green.  This is no idyll - the baby is screaming and the hula discussion will escalate into war at any second, but it's bliss.  And I owe it to Gothenburg, a city that had it been suggested to me a decade ago that I would choose to visit, let alone emigrate to, would have elicited a shrug at best.

But there's magic to this town, to this country.  I know most miss it, but then that's often the case.  Our eyes can't always see the light to which they are most acclimatised.  I should be thankful for that, at least, otherwise Gothenburg couldn't have given me someone to love, to lead me back here.  In the corner of the room, I see an old ghost smiling.  From the hallway I hear the sound of a hula hoop clattering off a hard object, possibly a cranium.  I hear the sun is shining in London today, but I don't care.  Gothenburg, I really owe you.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Regional Music: Istanbul's Dolapdere Big Gang

Dolapdere Big Gang: Another Day in Paradise
Turkey – Istanbul in particular – deserves its name as a crossroads of cultures. Half of the city is in Europe, the other half in Asia. And while it isn’t the political capital of the country, it is the cultural and economic center. Noted as one of the coolest cities in the world several years ago, it certainly has a lively music scene. (Madonna was on stage a few blocks away from me a few days ago)
Traditional Turkish music is based on a different style of music than what we listen to – nay –what we in the West can count the beats to: time signatures of 5/8, 7/8, 9/8 and so on. Believe me, if you didn't grow up with it, you can’t keep time. Turkish music also uses a different scale. Whereas western music typically uses a scale of 7 notes (ABCDEFG - well... add a few more with sharps and flats), the Turkish musical scale uses notes that are half-way between (for example half way between B and B-flat).
Combining East and West gives rise to some creative/curious mixtures and the convergence of East and West certainly colors the current Turkish music scene. About 5 years ago, I learned about a musician named Mercan Dede, who fuses East and West: a month later, I saw him perform in Seattle. Of course, two prominent Turks made their mark on music we in the west are familiar with: Arif Mardin (Atlantic records) and Ahmet Ertegun. There are several other examples (MFO, Sezen Aksu, Tarkan..)

About 4 years ago (2008) I was partially responsible for bringing to our stage a band that produced one of these East/West combinations. Their music was an Eastern interpretation of Western songs. Like most of the tracks on "Just Feel" (yes, the title is in English) in the link above, you’ll hear local instruments: among them notably the “kanun”, a version of the autoharp and the common use of the clarinet as the song resolves to a more recognizable format. Unfortunately, the band has not made the international splash I thought they might: personally I love the mélange and thought for sure that their music was destined for international recognition.

The Age of Aquarius --> Regional Music: Life During Wartime

Talking Heads: Life During Wartime

I just finished reading a great book, Love Goes To Buildings On Fire by Will Hermes [purchase], which is about the “regional music” being made in New York City in the mid-1970’s. By that time, much of the optimism of the Age of Aquarius had been turned into pessimism brought on by Watergate and economic crises (particularly the oil crisis). New York is kind of a big region, and Hermes’ book details the many different kinds of music that were being made, improved and cross-pollinated in the city during this time, including rap, disco, minimalism, avant-garde jazz, salsa and, closest to my heart, punk. So the region that I am focusing on here is Lower Manhattan, the nearest thing to the birthplace of punk.

At this time, New York was at maybe its lowest point since, maybe, the British occupation during the Revolutionary War. A vicious cycle of budget and service cuts resulted in increased crime and drug use. The infrastructure was falling apart, which led to cheap housing and performance spaces. The city was on the verge of bankruptcy and the Daily News ran its famous headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” In 1977 there was a huge blackout, followed by widespread looting and crime. I suspect that most readers of this blog are aware of the bands and clubs, both famous and not, that arose from New York during this period, so I won’t waste your time, or expose myself to criticism for leaving out your favorite band, by listing them here.

I graduated from high school in the New York suburbs in 1978 and started college in central New Jersey that fall. My musical tastes at that time were, as careful readers of my posts well know, geared more toward Genesis, Led Zeppelin and Jefferson Airplane/Starship. But I started to become aware of “New Wave” music that was beginning to get played on the radio, such as Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. I’m sure that I had heard Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” and “Take Me To The River,” but I don’t recall much specifically about them.

So, I’m a freshman in college, trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and two concerts are announced—Bruce Springsteen at the big gym on Monday, November 1, 1978, and Talking Heads, at a smaller auditorium the Friday before. I get tickets to Springsteen, which was an incredible show, and decide to pass on the Talking Heads. This is probably my life’s biggest musical regret. But, to be fair, I wasn’t that into them yet and my friends weren’t into them (remember, I’d been at college less than two months, and I was still figuring out my friends’ names, much less being aware if they liked the Talking Heads). I hear it was a great show. (Grrrrr.)

Second semester, I start working at WPRB and begin to immerse myself in the new music that I soon become to love. At some point, I finally “get” The Ramones. And in the fall of 1979, when I return to WPRB, I get to play songs from Fear of Music, which had been released during the summer. One of my favorites is “Life During Wartime,” which encapsulates the paranoia and craziness of living in New York, especially the Lower East Side, during that era. David Byrne has said that the song was written in his loft in that part of the city and that it is about living in Alphabet City, a tough part of downtown. In probably its most famous line, the song name checks two of the most prominent downtown punk clubs, CBGB’s and The Mudd Club. Further, in keeping with one of the themes of the Hermes book—that New York music was full of stylistic cross-pollination—it is a rock song influenced by disco, and produced by Brian Eno, whose own musical influences were myriad.