In Turn completes its coverage of Morocco’s Master Musicians of Jajouka with a review of their Toronto performance. Photos by Joel Trenaman. (Read the interview/show preview.)
The nine men of Jajouka arrived at the Phoenix Concert Theatre for a July 15 performance—their first in Toronto in fifteen years — to almost otherworldly expectations.
A tradition passed down over thousands of years. The originators of the world music genre. Spiritual expression rooted in transcendental mysticism. These are some of the heady descriptions that have followed the Master Musicians of Jajouka around the globe for decades.
A week before the show, featured performer and hereditary standard-bearer Bachir Attar told my fellow blogger that, “This music can build, for the human being, mercy in the heart.” So, for a night, I put the details of the history and debates over rightful group representation out of my head, and focused on the visceral experience of a cultural legacy. (more…)
“Legend has it if they ever stop playing the world will come to an end…”
These words appear on a flyer for the upcoming Master Musicians of Jajouka concert in Toronto (July 15 at the Phoenix); the flyer shows the Master Musicians in white robes, with their leader, Bachir Attar, front and center. Is he smirking? Pouting? Keeping a mysterious secret?
Legend certainly surrounds this group of Moroccan musicians, layers upon layers of it. To fully understand the legends, one would have to excavate beneath the recent bohemian myths surrounding them—beneath the mystique of the Interzone-Tangier scene in the 1950s, and the iconic writers and musicians like Brion Gysin, Paul Bowles, Brian Jones, and William S. Burroughs, who brought the power of Jajouka music to Western ears. The deeper mystique is that of the music itself: it has been taught in early childhood and passed down from father to son, through the Attar family, for centuries. Master Musicians would travel with the sultans of Morocco as official royal musicians; in more recent times, the clan performed as royal musicians for the Moroccan king. Trance-like, hypnotic, this Sufi music is reputed to possess power. [Listen to the track "Memories Of My Father", written by Bachir.]
Listening to this music, I wonder: what is “powerful” music, really? Or: what can music do? Most of us would agree that it can lift the spirit. Some would say that music has the power to transport a person; others credit music with giving strength, or even with healing.
Through a stroke of luck, and the wonders of globalized communication, I was able to interview Bachir Attar via a shaky Skype-to-cell connection two nights ago. It was 1:30 a.m. in the village of Jajouka, Morocco, but he was awake and passionate, ready to discuss the power of his music, his musical heritage, and its possible disappearance. (more…)
I had heard it would be harrowing. I had read that it might be offensive. But the last thing I was expecting of My Name is Rachel Corrie, a one-woman show about the young American activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer, was to see Rachel Corrie’s real life mother deliver a talk-back at the end. For those who don’t know Corrie’s story, a brief history:
Rachel Corrie was a young American activist from Olympia, Washington, who travelled to the Gaza Strip in early 2003 to support Palestinians there in non-violent demonstrations. Two months later she was run over and killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah. The bulldozer operator either clearly saw her before he ran her over, or didn’t see her at all (depending on who you ask, of course). (more…)
Brief history of the internets:
Web 1.0: More and more American white guys get their rocks off developing esoteric languages to exchange porn and escape into fantasy worlds where they weren’t only white but powerful and rich.
Web 2.0: These same white guys don’t have to play games any more (but they do!), their fantasies having become reality. You see, a bunch of rich white guys begin to agree that their esoteric work is going to change the world. All the white guys in the world start piling on! Some white girls do too, as well as a few privileged others.
Web 3.0: A black guy gets elected president. Then a black woman (Oprah, naturally). Black people take over the internets despite the seeming insurmountability of centuries of economic and cultural violence against them. They are able to do this because they make sick music videos.
If you want to get more detail on all the activities of these white guys, the latest issue of white magazine Vanity Fair gets into more white facts as told by various important white guys. But my version gets to the meat of the matter.
Web 3.0 is indeed the semantic web—but not the way us white people thought. It’s about word meaning alright. But not about another round of esoteric languages that cull the connotative and contextualized meaning of words. Nope. It is about changing the meaning of whiteness from normal to political. From average to privileged.
The semantic web was crowned recently on Perez Hilton after he posted the new Nas video: Be A N-word Too. It garnered this comment:
You usually post alot of BS we indulge on on a daily basis about who’s wearing what and how many pounds and what a mess, d list… BLAH BLAH BLAH… BUT WHEN YOU POST REAL MUSIC, REAL PEOPLE, REAL NEWS, I REALIZE YOU’RE NOT JUST A GOSSIP BLOGGER… YOU’RE INNOVATIVE!!! Who else would post this video??? how else would I have seen it? NO television network would have posted it and nowhere would we have found it without being censored… SO YOU KNOW WHAT PEREZ… F*CK YOUR HATERS, SPOILED “STARS”, UNTALENTED BITCHES (avril jijiji), AND KEEP ON SPILING THEIR MESS OF LIVES SO YOU CAN ENTERTAIN US ****AND**** THANK YOU FOR ENLIGHTNING ME WITH THIS MUSIC… I WAS NEVER A FAN UNTIL TODAY! XOXO
This music video is what the internets will be for. It is probably beyond our imaginations right now. Revelatory cultural productions that come contained in previously unbroadcasted forms. Boundaries are exceeded. Failure of imagination will cause many to belittle and condemn the work. Just like no one in 1849 could imagine a human would fly from New York to Los Angeles. There were cartoons about how silly it would be for a human to fly across the continent.
Nas is being overtly political—but he has to be. Take your Scoble, your Arrington and even the little Kevin Rose. They are the normal. Our culture’s natural. So they can pass as apolitical. Why would they need to bring politics up when the system’s milk nurtures and sustains their delectable plumpness? White capitalist patriarchy is only a political issue to those who aren’t the norm. Like Nas and his N-word.
There are no apolitical spaces, only tacit functional denial. There are no dirty words, only dirty contexts. Across the board social regulation of all kinds services the interests of the white people who invented the N-word word to rationalize past violence and, in that grand old tradition, reinvent new violence by cross-contextual bans on its use in public broadcasts.
Nas is danceable enlightenment. His is the new semantic language. He is the vanguard of Web 3.0.
If you are among the not-terribly-silent majority that sees opera as a three-and-a-half-hour ordeal consisting of people in funny costumes screaming at each other, well, I can sympathize. Despite listening to and playing classical music for most of my life, and try as I might, for the longest time I could never quite *get* opera. Sure, I could get swept up by a beautiful aria, but as a whole, opera seemed to me a mess of hackneyed plots, bad acting, and overblown, bombastic music. It seemed that way, that is, until I encountered Claude Debussy’s haunting and ravishingly beautiful Pelléas et Mélisande in an undergraduate seminar on the French post-romantic/impressionist/symbolist composer. I’ve since never looked at opera the same way. Pelléas is now on stage at The Four Seasons Centre in Toronto in a production by the Canadian Opera Company, and I’ve had my ticket in hand for months. (more…)
While in Montreal last weekend, I skipped out on watching the Habs game for an equally hot ticket: the twenty-year retrospective of Belgian dancer and choreographer Wim Vandekeybus’ Ultima Vez (Spanish for “The Last Time”). Judging by the generous turn out and hearty applause, the show was anything but a swan song. Rather, it had the power, speed, and fervor of another spectacle being played out on TV screens across the city. (more…)
(Backstage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, photograph by Edward Burtynsky.)
In the sixth grade, I played Lysander in the Iles Elementary School’s presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was as professional a production as you’d imagine it to be. The fairies danced to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”; Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and I wore pyjamas (it was nighttime, you see, and we were very sleepy); and Christie Walden’s memorable Titania looked like a twelve-year-old cross between the Bride of Frankenstein and Diana Ross on the cover of Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
I wasn’t cut out to be an actor, and it was my second and final appearance on stage. (The year before, I’d played a senile mountie in a show about an old folks’ home. My job was to intermittently wander across the stage singing, “I love the North.” Video survives.) In fact, I’ve grown to vaguely dislike the theatre. I prefer my artifice in the form of anapests and enjambments, and I do not like being seated in a crowded room. In high school, I tried to avoid the theatre kids, and was largely successful. I went to one play in university, and only because a friend was playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, a role that I knew (from reading, not seeing) that I liked. While she was good, I enjoyed the version in my head better. (more…)
To celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary, Winnipeg’s Video Pool media art centre made a poster detailing its history. But the twenty-five year history of an artist-run centre is as harried as they come. Rather than a straight timeline, Video Pool’s history looks more like a brainstorming session gone wrong. In the aptly titled The Incomplete, Contested, Anecdotal, Unedited, Messy, Nostalgic, Faulty, Controversial History of Video Pool So Far…,bubbles of people, places, moments in time, and minor scandals are connected with AV cables. (more…)
If, like me, you’d never guess this shimmery post title is also the name of a soon-to-be released album from Minneapolis hip hop artists Atmosphere, your indie music radar needs amplifying.
Help is out there. The Indie Music Filter, put together by tireless music promoter Chris Budd, is a great start. Budd keeps his entries mercifully short letting the tracks and videos do the work. His discerning taste points virgins and doyens alike to the choicest indie gigs, artists and tracks.
This week he’ll follow the axis of indie to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest. Guided by his geeked-out Excel spreadsheet of must-sees, his picks should be on point.
*check out Road to Riches on Atmopshere’s myspace for a taste of the hip hop duo’s styles
TANZANIA—The tropical island of Zanzibar, formerly an Arab slaving port and now home to the aging, labyrinthine city of Stonetown, survived a close brush with World Music last weekend when it hosted its fifth annual Sauti za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom) festival.
Well-tailored musicians and wrinkled hippies, travelers and tourists, muslims and rastas, black Zanzibarians and pink Europeans — for four days, thousands of us squeezed between the ramparts of Stonetown’s Old Fort to nod and shake and whistle at a continental assortment of musicians.
Years ago, the Old Fort was the spot where captured slaves were once herded for inspection, then auctioned off and hustled onto dhows across the seas from Arabia to Alabama. (Miniature relics of those same dhows now hustle tourists off to sandbars and coral reefs.) Their new lives consisted of toiling in cotton fields, but we all know the real work took place in the alleyways, abandoned staircases and ghetto hovels where no master cared to tread or listen. In those hideaway places, expatriated Africans concocted the sounds — of wisdom? of freedom? of plain old feelin’good? — that would eventually become blues and jazz, rap and hip-hop, hard-talking stuff that made for easy listening. If they left their motherland as slaves, one has to ask: who’s the master now? (more…)
Nairobi—Everyone was waiting for the Americans. Dead Prez, the New York hip hop duo, had touched down in Nairobi twelve hours ago for a brief tour of the motherland. They had a noon appointment at Ukoo Flani’s courtyard-in-the-slum.
Friends, rappers, and rastas started filtering in well before that, and by late morning the compound had taken on a fairground atmosphere. Three girls with magnificent posture set up a jewellery stand beneath Haile Selassie’s watchful gaze, while a troupe of devout Rastafarians hung T-shirts in the bougainvillea. “Give t’anks,” said their leader, Joseph, when I bought one, tapping his heart with his fist.
By two o’clock, about fifty of us were milling about as best we could in the limited space, but still no Prez. I met Ngulu, a photographer from Capetown who had been backpacking around the continent for the last couple months. We talked about the relative merits of African slums. “Kenyans are lucky,” she said. “Most of them have families with land in the country. But South Africans have nowhere to go. Mandela let the whites keep everything.” (more…)
“Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men…the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight.”
—Haile Selassie, 1963 address to the United Nations
Nairobi—Six graffiti portraits gaze in on the yard: Malcolm X, Haile Selassie, Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and Dedan Kimathi, the 1950s freedom fighter who is Kenya’s version of Che Guevara.
“That guy could swim under crocodiles, man,” Kamau is saying. “He was invisible, everywhere at once. Government troops ambushed in the south — Kimathi. Later the same day, another battle five hundred kilometres away — Kimathi!”
Kamau’s own weapon of choice, as he likes to say, is a microphone. Twenty-nine years old with a fang-like chipped front tooth and chin-length dreadlocks, he’s part of the hip hop trio Kalamashaka, whose lyrics express a world view shaped by life in the ghetto. Kalamashaka, in turn, forms part of Ukoo Flani Mau Mau (“Another Mau Mau Clan”), a well known artists’ collective in the Nairobi slum of Dandora. We’re standing in their headquarters, an open-air compound sheltered by the broad canopy of an acacia, talking about the faces on the walls.
“We were going to paint Marcus Garvey too,” Kamau says, “but we ran out of room.” (more…)