Utne Reader is proud to premiere "Bread and Butter" by Sri Lankan-American folk singer Bhi Bhiman from his new album Rhythm and Reason, available May 19.
Combining a witty sense of humor with biting social commentary, Bhi Bhiman has earned well-deserved comparisons to Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen for his brand of socially-conscious folk rock. On his third album, Rhythm and Reason, Bhiman based the album's 10 songs on his childhood in St. Louis, and his experience as the son of immigrants.
Here is the premiere of Bhiman's new single, "Bread and Butter," followed by a brief Q&A that offers some insight into the lyrics:
What was your inspiration for "Bread and Butter"?
It was inspired by people who find happiness and an appreciation for life despite difficult circumstances.
How did you come up with the idea of describing the 7 deadly sins with
The 7 sins appear throughout the lyrics. On that verse in particular, it started with "Don't be jelly, that's my bread and butter." The next thing I knew I had written "That's my jam right there, Cinnamon Sugar Honey / Lady Marmalade, that tart, she owes me money." And I just kept going. I love wordplay and comedy and it's fun to incorporate that into my lyrics.
You sing, "This is what I do, sweat down to the bone / Lifetime of hard work, I've come into my own." Who are you channeling? Who are the
hardest working people you know?
That line is probably about me and the work I've put in as a musician ... my 10,000 hours if you will. But the hardest working people I know are often immigrants. They leave their home and community for an uncertain future in the hopes of opportunity (often taking enormous risks to do so).
What does it feel like to release an album out into the world and relinquish control of the music?
In some ways it feels good, because a lot of hard work was put into it. And it's a great privilege to have your craft be seen or heard. On the other hand it can be intimidating (and sometimes frustrating) to open yourself to scrutiny and critique.
What does Bhi Bhiman eat for breakfast? What sin are you most guilty of?
On a good day, I eat oatmeal with raisins and maple syrup. On an awesome day, it's cold pizza. I'd say my biggest sin is probably gluttony (see eating cold pizza for breakfast).
Rhythm and Reason is out May 19 on BooCoo Music/Thirty Tigers.
Utne Reader is proud to premiere "Kote'w Te Ye" by Haitian songwriter Beken from his new album Troubadour, available May 4.
Like most of the people in Haiti, songwriter Beken (given name Jean Prosper Dauphin) has experienced more than his fare share of hardship. Losing his leg in a car accident at the age of 12, Beken seemed destined to live the life of a malare—the ones considered most unfortunate in Haitian society. Beken didn't allow his circumstances to define him, though; in addition to earning a high school education he also learned how to play guitar in order to support himself. He even toured the United States briefly in the 1980s thanks to the initial interest in his brand of melancholy Haitian folk music.
Though well-known in Haiti and with those familiar with Haitian music, Beken is still very much one of the many Haitians just trying to live day to day. In the aftermath of the devastating January 2010 earthquake, a New York Times photographer found Beken living in a temporary camp with thousands of other homeless and destitute Haitians. Once again, luck was on Beken's side as his rediscovery caught the attention of the U.S. distributor Thirty Tigers and producer Chris Donohue.
Though it took several years, Donohue and Beken were able to work together on a new batch of songs that would become Troubadour, his first release on a U.S. label. The lead single is a song called "Kote'w Te Ye," which translates to "Where You Have You Been?" As Donohue explains, the song is Beken's way of addressing the rumors swirling about his whereabouts since the earthquake:
"In the song, he dispels various rumors of his death and political exile, reassures his fans that he has not abandoned his 'wooden guitar' or his 'beautiful profession,' and asserts that 'whatever your nationality may be, as soon as you hear me you must be consoled.' The passionate urgency of Beken's vocal performance in 'Kote'w Te Ye,' supported by the song's infectious groove and melodies, leave no doubt that the much-revered Haitian maestro has returned with fire in his belly and much left to say to his fans at home and abroad."
Here are the translated lyrics to "Kote'w Te Ye":
Since a very long time I’ve had a wooden guitar
I’m singing for the Holy Trinity
I mustn’t forget Saint Cecilia
Who’s the mother of all musicians
The fans have been impatient
They’re asking where I’ve been
Man, Beken, what are you doing to me this way?
Where have you been, horseman Beken?
Where have you been?
Such a beautiful profession as I have in my hand
How would you want me to abandon it?
It’s not everybody who can find such a gift
That’s my gift that the good Lord gave me
The political crisis made me be silent
They walk around saying I don’t sing any more
But no no no that ‘s not true
Ask me a question
Yes, I know very well that Beken is a serum
That carries a solution to every level of society
Whatever your nationality may be
As soon as you hear me you must be consoled.
(Seven times six,) truth under the drum
Blow the conch shell, I’ll cry, Advance!
I’m bringing a new serum for us
(I am) the medicine
Rumor’s running around, the news is spreading
In Miami they say that I’m dead
The fans say that it’s a lie
The last time I was with them in Haiti
The New York community called to me
What is this news I am hearing?
I have to go back to Paris to sing
Let me cry out!
“I would like to state this:
That Nile water that God has given you,
Don’t fight among you just for it,
But it might help you all and you might all protect it.”
-“Uruzi Nil” (Burundi)
People have gathered and settled near rivers, lakes and coasts for millennia. As much as these water sources have the power to unite and build communities, they can also divide and create conflict when resources become sparse. In the East African Nile River Basin, the underdeveloped countries in the region often struggle to cooperate and overcome environmental hurdles. The ramifications of colonialism left the area around the world’s longest river paralyzed by complex and politicized water conflicts.
According to The Nile Project, this is part of a greater disconnect between these nations. “In east Africa, even though we’re neighbors, even though the Nile River connects eleven countries, we actually don’t know each other that well,” co-founder Meklit Hadero told Seattle’s KEXP 90.3. Hadero, an Ethiopian-American musician, joined forces with Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis to create The Nile Project, which provides educational programs, leadership prizes, fellowships and cultural outreach to promote unity in the region as well as bring international attention to the water conflicts in the basin. “We strengthen institutional capacity not by giving money to governments like the World Bank does,” says Girgis, “but by supplementing the governmental capacity with citizen, civil society and private sector capacity by engaging (inspiring, educating and empowering) them to understand and address the cultural, social, economic, and environmental challenges to the Nile's sustainability.”
Founded in 2011, The Nile Project collective (comprised of musicians from various basin countries) goes on extensive international tours, not only to perform but to educate and inspire multicultural efforts. They hold workshops, visit college campuses and elementary schools, and take residencies in various East African countries spreading their message. “We’re modeling the kind of relationship that we’d like to see in East Africa,” says Hadero.
“Who besides you could’ve gathered the people,
We rise to the heights, come down to the gravel,
Come closer to me beloved, come closer to me,
Bring your people’s goodness, enrich me,
Come closer to me beloved, come closer to me,
Break down your barriers, rise to me,
Who besides you could’ve gathered the people,
We rise to the heights, come down to the gravel.”
-"Gharib Ley" (Arabic)
Images provided by The Nile Project.
Utne Reader is pleased to premiere "Song of the Sun" by songwriter and composer Timbre from her new album, Sun & Moon.
Steeped in music from the moment she was born, Nashville-based harpist, songwriter, and composer Timbre Cierpke is pulling together everything she's learned on her ambitious new double-album, Sun & Moon, which is out April 7 on Aurora Music. With the Sun portion of the record featuring her chamber folk pieces and the Moon portion featuring her classical compositions, the new release is a beautiful demonstration of Timbre's versatility as a musician; a skill set she's honed collaborating with a diverse group of musicians from Jack White to Ricky Skaggs to mewithoutYou.
All of Timbre's musical gifts are on display in "Song of the Sun," which is one of the record's most vibrant songs. Featuring lovely vocals and harp playing by Timbre, the song is also a great blend of contemporary instrumentation and classical composition. Here's what Timbre has to say about the song:
"Song of the Sun" is one of my favorite songs to perform, and one of the most energetic songs I’ve ever created. It is written from the perspective of the sun, singing over sleeping nature as winter finally comes to an end. There is an affection to it, a tenderness towards the ones that barely made it through, the ones that thought winter would never end, gently warming them to life. It starts out with a single voice, the song of the sun, and then one by one, different kinds of voices begin to join, like they are singing it over themselves, trying to understand that its true for them too, tasting its joy. Drums, harp, strings, brass, and even a huge choir all begin to respond to the sun’s song, stacking theme upon theme until they all respond in one voice, 'We are standing in the sun, and there is nothing light can’t touch! I am alive!'"
Utne Reader is proud to premiere the video of Lowland Hum's "Four Sisters: Part 3" from the folk duo's Four Sisters EP.
Lowland Hum is a North Carolina-based folk duo comprised of Daniel and Lauren Goans. Married in 2012, the duo released its first album, Native Air, in 2013 followed by a three-song EP titled Four Sisters in late 2014. The three songs were intended to be part of a second full-length, but the Goans felt they fit well with each other as a package and decided to release the songs as a limited edition 10-inch with a cover handmade by Lauren, who is also a visual artist.
Here's the video premiere of "Four Sisters: Part 3," which is the final song on the EP. A beautiful backdrop of mountains and waning light provide the perfect setting for the duo's delicate harmonies and Daniel's perfectly subtle guitar. Simply shot and evocative, the video is a great representation of the Goans' approach to making and sharing their music.
On April 14, the duo will release its self-titled second full-length record and will embark on a two-month tour to spread the word. Attendees to their live performances are not only treated to lovely music infused with deep meaning, but to a multisensory experience that includes light installations, art, handmade lyric books, and even local baked goods, all to emphasize the community-oriented focus of their music. As Daniel puts it, their intent is to "remove the 'transactional' nature of the artist / listener relationship."
Listen to more of Lowland Hum's music and view more of Lauren's art at their website.
Utne Reader is proud to premiere "The Fish and Sea" from Gondolier, the new album by singer-songwriter Kristin Andreassen.
Known primarily for her work in traditional folk and old-time music circles with the stringband Uncle Earl and other groups, Kristin Andreassen took her time putting together the songs that became Gondolier. The album took shape over a period of years, shaped both by Andreassen's foundation in folk music and the opportunities that came her way to work with artists in other genres, such as Sufjan Stevens. The end result is a beautiful collection of songs that reflect the varied influences Andreassen has encountered and taken to heart over the course of her career thus far. “Most of these were written on a quiet island in New Hampshire,” she says of the songs on Gondolier. “So the lake itself shows up everywhere—rainstorms, boats, fish—submersive sounds and layers in the lyrics and the music.”
Below is the premiere of "The Fish and the Sea" along with three additional songs from the new album. Gondolier is out on Feb. 17, and Andreassen is on tour now in support.
Photo by John Madere
If you think you aren’t familiar with Lella and Massimo Vignelli, you’re probably wrong. Anyone who has seen the maps and signs for the New York City Subway, the logos for Ford, Bloomingdales and American Airlines (1967-2013), or noticed the ubiquity of the font Helvetica, knows their work. The Vignellis worked together throughout their 57-year marriage, their strengths and weaknesses working in perfect compliment until Massimo’s death last year. Design is One, a documentary by Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra, took on the task of reducing the extensive careers and endearing personalities of the design world’s most influential couple to 79 minutes of film. The result is an accessible look into the Vignellis’ diverse resume in design, peppered with off-the-cuff philosophizing by the prolific duo as they look back on a lifetime of creative inertia.
Design is One does not call the viewer to action, pander to the emotions or bury the subject in its own artistic vision. Much like a designer, the film seems to realize that its primary duty is function, disappearing behind subjects who are thankfully articulate and charismatic enough to carry it. Mirroring the varied careers of Lella and Massimo, the film lacks discernible structure. Not necessarily linear or divided by medium, it is most accurately an impressionistic snapshot of the creative passion, celebrated innovation, design philosophy, and contrarian but loving relationship of the famous pair.
The working partnership of the Vignellis is at once contentious, adoring and above all, symbiotic. Lella, the MIT-trained architect and shrewd businesswoman has the less glamorous job of reigning in Massimo, the dreamer, the graphic innovator. As a pair, design is constant—a lifestyle rather than a 9-5 profession. “If you can’t find it, design it,” their motto echoes throughout the film, and true to it the couple even designed clothing and jewelry when they found their standards of utility and aesthetics unmet.
The scene that most concisely encompasses the Vignellis’ dedication to design is set inside their favorite project: the interior of St. Peters Church in New York City. Vignelli design in its purest form, the space is elegant, minimalist, and deceptively functional—seemingly unmoving pews can be rearranged for various uses, and steps open up to reveal additional seating. Lella and Massimo are visibly fulfilled in this space, as they look around with satisfaction and single out their favorite details. At one point, Massimo gestures to a high corner where he and Lella are to be entombed. As if it weren’t poetic enough to spend eternity together amid their own designs, Massimo explains that his name will not be inscribed in his signature Helvetica font, “Which everybody will expect,” he says. “The typeface for the church is Optima. In deference to the standards, my tomb will be in Optima, my name will be in Optima.”
For those interested in the delicate combination of beauty and utility or curious about the figures who contribute to our visual lexicon, Design is One is time well spent.
Images provided by Vignelli and Associates