7/17/2012 1:31:55 PM
Clare and the Reasons
Available now on Frog Stand Records
necessary to leave one’s usual stomping ground for a while to be truly inspired to create. Brooklynites Clare and the Reasons did just that to make their new album,
KR-51 - traveling to Germany to write and record over 8 months last year. The band soaked up Berlin culture and architecture, oftentimes from the seat of an old KR-51 Schwalbe motorbike. When the group had finished writing, they packed up once more and drove to the German village of Haldern-Rees to settle-in and record. The result of all their travel is an intricately composed collection of songs largely influenced by the foreigner’s experience of life on the other side.
Much of KR-51 buzzes with a welcome and dark mysteriousness that hinges on the whispery childlike voice of Clare Manchon and the epic contributions by the Orchestre de Paris. Album opener and single, “The Lake,” begins with the simple tick-tock of an acoustic guitar alarm clock and lap steel haunts that trace Clare’s sleepy vocal hook. The band’s scope of ambition is evident when the chorus drops in with a thick beat, lush string arrangements and syncopated synthesizer whirlings. The album picks up speed with “Bass Face,” a poppy dance song of short, energetic vocal phrases and reeling, distorted guitars à laDirty Projectors.
The fluttering, string-heavy production of “Westward” provides an adequate backdrop for the album’s most outwardly thematic lyrics - “She had just one suitcase / She doesn’t take a radio / She understands the great big blue / And where she comes from fades to sky.” While Brooklyn serves as muse to plenty of bands these days, Clare and the Reasons were right to leave it in search of their own. KR-51 is available now on Frog Stand Records.
7/11/2012 3:09:40 PM
Herat, Afghanistan - June 5, 2012
My name is Peyton Tochterman. I’m a musician from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I make my living writing, teaching and performing American folk music—the music that tells stories in notes, chords and verse about who we are and what we Americans are all about. And I’m now in war-torn Afghanistan.
Today, I’m with two friends and fellow musicians, Gary Green and Radoslav Lorkovic, in the shadows of the Hindu Kush, in one of the most difficult, dangerous and inhospitable places on our planet. We didn’t come here to climb the mountains.
We left Charlottesville, Virginia on May 26 and headed off for Afghanistan—a 30 hour “travel adventure” on two commercial airlines and then military aircraft “in theatre.” When we boarded our first flight at Dulles International Airport, I had my two best hand-made Rockbridge guitars, a little more than $131 dollars in my bank account and a solemn promise (by email, no less!!) that someone from the United States Government would meet us in Kabul. Talk about an act of faith!
The U.S. State Department invited us here as “cultural ambassadors.” What I didn’t know until we arrived was that I was THE Spokesman, representing The United States and showing how diplomacy can be shaped by the musical arts—even in war-ravaged Afghanistan. Given all I have read and heard about this place for more than a decade, I did not anticipate the magnificent reception awaiting us.
Since we have been here, news reports all across Afghanistan have complimented us for our “mini-concerts,” seminars and a “historic” performance at The Citadel (built by Alexander the Great) here in Herat. Critics in neighboring Iran were somewhat less gratifying. The Iranian press described our music as “dangerous” and “evil.”
Thankfully, the audiences and musicians we have met here in Afghanistan have been more appreciative. In little more than a week we have already met thousands of Afghans and found them to be kind, generous, hospitable, talented and honorable. They take great pride in their heritage and culture, but they also have a thirst for American folk music, for the stories we tell, our instruments and the way we play. The Afghan musicians with whom we played are some of the best in the world and were eager to share their masterful techniques and songs.
Some might ask “What difference can a folk singer from the Blue Ridge Mountains make in a tortured place like Afghanistan?” It’s a valid question—partly answered by one of the State Department officers who said our visit did “more for diplomacy between Afghanistan and the United States than any diplomat had done, more than any road that was built, or any power plant that was constructed in the last year.”
If nothing else, we are returning home reassured that music really is a universal language that can unite diverse peoples. We have proven to ourselves and others—U.S. and allied troops, elected officials, diplomats, students, children, and people of every walk of life – there are no borders for good music. We are all connected through music and we must continue to celebrate this connection, this language that is so important not just to our own culture, but also to cultures around this fascinating world of ours.
Download "Smile" off Peyton's Tochterman's debut album A New World for FREE with redemption code UTNEFREE.
7/3/2012 3:59:41 PM
Dr. Mahir Saul at the African Film Festival in Istanbul.
Photo by Emrah Gürel / Hurriyet Daily News
Dr. Mahir Saul has three things on his mind—continents, connections and cinema. He is a one-man tectonic plate, attempting to bind Europe, Asia, North America and Africa into one large land mass. For him, accepted geographic norms aside, it makes perfect sense. Now, he wants to shift and align public perception to see the world as he does.
In early 2012, he curated the first-ever African film series, to be held in Turkey, for the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. Saul, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign anthropology professor, 62, brought to the project over three decades of academic research, an entire career studying West African cultures in places like Burkina Faso, lengthy fieldwork examining Istanbul’s Afro-Turk population, and a thorough knowledge of African filmography. As a native of Istanbul, a city located in both Europe and Asia, he wanted to give something back to his country.
Africa, the world’s second largest continent, is a region that he holds in high esteem, resenting that it is always negatively associated with Somali pirates, disease, famine, and pot-bellied kids. Western media coverage tends to focus on pessimistic, crisis-oriented stories that equate Africa with misery—a place filled with unimaginable horrors. In Istanbul, the only interaction most citizens have with an African is when they pass by seemingly invisible street peddlers selling watches out of a suitcase. When teaching African Film and Society, for the past 15 years, he isn’t surprised to hear new students describe the Hollywood film, Blood Diamond, as an example of African cinema.
He wants to debunk stereotypes about Africa. “It’s important to show these films, by Africans, proving the vast intellectualism that exists there, beyond just ethnographical documentaries, but rather avant-garde works that enrich our knowledge,” he says.
In the African film series, Saul showcased 10 movies, attempting to focus on the connectedness between African lives and the common themes that other people around the world might experience; and, to prove that rich imaginations exist beyond Western shores. He thinks that anthropology has gone in the direction of stressing cultural differences and he does not like it. “As a person, I am directly the opposite. At a basic level, we are all the same and our shared historical and family connections are very important,” he says.
Faat Kine, a Senegalese film, examines the daily life of a successful business woman, a single mother who faces the challenge of raising her son and daughter, while protecting the family unit against the fathers who abandoned them. It’s a universal story that could easily be understood in California or China. In the film, Waiting for Happiness, villagers interact in a remote Mauritanian seacoast town, dealing with mundane tasks such as restoring a home’s electricity to more weighty subjects like acceptance and migration. Someone in rural Kansas or Kazakhstan might identify with the same themes.
Filmmaking, in some African nations, was once banned by the Laval Decree, a mid-20th century French colonial law. Before the 1960s, it was feared that films could be used to denounce the French occupation and promote subversive activity. Effectively, it shut out artists from using the medium to create visual representations of how they viewed their own identity and culture. It would be like prohibiting America’s greatest jazz musicians from developing their craft in the 1920s and 1930s during the Harlem Renaissance.
The Istanbul Modern Film Series is a testament to how much has been accomplished by African filmmakers in recent decades. The term avant-garde is too diminutive a description for the genre-defying film, The Bloodiest (Les Saignantes). In 97 minutes, a wild thematic mixture of politics, eroticism, suspense, horror, and science fiction leaves the mind wondering what was seen on the screen. It’s a cult classic that needs a worldwide cult following. And, if Hyenas wasn’t an African film, it could be mistaken for something imagined by Woody Allen.
Müge Tüfenk, Istanbul Modern’s Director of Film Programs, is an expert on her city’s culture scene. Although she is a veteran film and arts journalist, she admits that prior to collaborating with Dr. Saul, African cinema was completely unknown to her. If this void existed in her own mind, she knew that it most certainly existed for her museum audience. She felt compelled to introduce Turkish people to an opportunity that had never been provided to them and that they had never even thought about.
“Mahir was very passionate about his ideas. He made me aware, all of a sudden, that there are many African people in Istanbul, they are part of this city, and even their native restrictions and lifestyles are similar to our own. It was worth discovering.” she says.
After the success of his project, Saul hopes to take the accomplishment to other venues in North America – perhaps starting in Chicago or collaborating with other universities might be a next step. It’s not within his reach, nor is it his intent, to compete with more established events like The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, created in 1969, or The Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles, established in 1992.
However, he found an isolated audience in Istanbul and he knows that there are other people and places that are yet to know the value of African cinema.
Other notable films in African cinema:
The Wind (FINYÉ)
Souleymane Cissé (Mali)
The Law (Tilaï) - 1990
Idrissa Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso)
Karmen Geï - 2001
Joseph Gaï Ramaka (Senegal)
Dry Season (Daratt) - 2006
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Chad)
7/3/2012 11:12:09 AM
Signs and Signifiers
Available now on Rounder Records (April 17, 2012)
If there’s a way to go straight forward while looking
backward, JD McPherson has found it.
McPherson delivers a dozen straight ahead, no-nonsense
R&B rockers on Signs and Signifiers, all with an eye on rock and roll’s
formative decade. To be sure, this is no regression, just an exercise in
honoring the past without falling into a nostalgia trip. With a voice that
calls to mind Little Richard, McPherson joyfully belts out songs designed to
get feet on the dance floor.
“North Side Gal,” the opening track and first single, is a
sure sign of what’s in store. McPherson strums on his six string, focusing more
on his vocals, while Jimmy Sutton and Alex Hall put down a smooth rolling
rhythm. That’s primarily the formula throughout: McPherson’s raspy, yet
smooth-around-the-edges vocals glide along over beats that sound like they’d be
at home in a 1950s dance hall.
“Wolf Teeth” is perhaps the roughest cut, as McPherson veers
his farthest into rough rock territory, but he proves he can work his way
around a smooth, slower-tempo number as evidenced in the title track and
“Country Boy,” a cover of Tiny Kennedy’s tale of a farm hand who only knows
working the land. Sutton, who also produced and plays upright bass, shines on
the latter, plucking a bass line that frames the whole affair without getting
While it would be easy to shoot for a sound that captures an
era and miss, McPherson’s aim is true. He’s not singing about malt shops, sock
hops or any other number of ‘50s archetypes, yet he has managed to capture the
feel of rock and roll music from a bygone era. Signs and Signifiers is R&B that honors
its roots. The themes are timeless, the band is tight and McPherson has a voice
too big to contain in a museum piece.
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