Protest is a fluid concept. In that I mean to say the what, how, and why protest “is” changes as much as the cycles of oppression and injustice protest targets. Regardless of the ends and means, to protest is to act subversively against systems of oppression whatever you identify those systems to be. Trump’s recent travel ban on immigrants from Libya, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq calls, in my mind, for protest. In thinking of ways to act, I came along the idea to compile a list of musicians from these seven countries, in order to showcase the incredible humanity and creativity Trump’s hateful, dualistic and un-American policy will keep out of America. It’s important to acknowledge the political regimes and cultures many of these artists live under add an inherent political tone to their work. Many of these artist have been forced to flee their homeland because of war and violence, in this way these artist give a face to the faceless refugee xenophobic American policies attempt to lock out. To create in oppression is a necessary act of resistance, and to present their work in America is to stand in solidarity with that creative resistance by means of our own. To defy globalism is to defy the incredible artists and people of the entire world, to defy xenophobia is to embrace the incredible musics and cultures you will find below. Above all, I hope you enjoy the music of these incredible artists and appreciate the beautiful creators Trump’s ban throws fear and hate against. Please feel free to reach out at email@example.com if you have artist suggestions or comments.
Day One: Naseer Shamma, Iraq
Shamma, who was born in Al-Kūt, Iraq and studied the Oud in Baghdad, was forced to flee to Cairo during Saddam Hussein’s regime as political refugee and remained away from his beloved country of origin during the entire occupation of the U.S. military. Under the occupation of al Qaeda music was forbidden and reason for execution, in the past few years Shamma has been able to return to Baghdad on a few occasions for concerts and educational sessions, he currently runs Arab Oud House, a music conservatory, in Cairo in addition to his activities and collaborations as an artist.
Day Two: Emmanuel Jal, Sudan
Jal’s story is one of violence, loss, and escape. Forced into being a child soldier in the Sudan Liberation People’s Army as a seven year-old attempting to flee the war torn Sudan to Ethiopia, Jal eventually escaped the clutches of the army into neighboring Kenya. While studying in Kenya, Jal used singing as a way to ease the pain he had experienced as a child soldier in Sudan and in becoming a musician hoped his music to promote the unity of the citizens to overcome ethnic and religious division and motivate the youth in Sudan. Jal now lives in Canada and spends his time as an activist and musician spreading his story of loss and hope to the world.
Day Three: Mohsen Namjoo, Iran
Mohsen Namjoo combines religious songs and the everyday, American rock and classical Persian rhythm, Hafez and Rumi with street slang. For these incongruencies, which in many ways reflect the incongruencies of contemporary Iran, Namjoo was forced into exile from his hometown of Mashhad after the New York Times released his illegal music. Music outside of the traditional religious forms is banned in most of Iran. Before leaving the country Namjoo operated in the Iranian underground music scene, giving secret shows in DIY basements and carefully distributing his music. Though making music in itself was a political act for Namjoo, he does not write explicitly political music, in part recognizing the ways political dissent would only reduce his artistic credibility within Iran: “It’s important that you get your identity from art, and not animosity. The nature of art is not war.”
Namjoo currently lives in America as an Iranian immigrant, where he performs and has also been a visiting scholar at Stanford and Brown. In the same way Namjoo’s career embodies a political struggle in Iran, he now stands as a testament to the beautiful people open American borders bring into our country at a time when Trump’s administration has attempted to close them.
Day Four: Lena Chamamyan, Syria
Born to an Armenian family in Damascus, Lena Chamamyan grew up singing in both Armenian and Syriac choirs, as well as oriental Arab music. With the encouragement of her grandmother, Chamamyan decided to pursue singing at the conservatory level and along the way encountered the American Jazz idiom and classical forms. The music she creates now is a blend of this myriad of influences, injected with lyrics about the social situation in contemporary Syria. This social situation forced Chamamyan out in 2010, she currently lives in Paris. In an interview with News and Noise! she had this to say about Syria : “You can’t be Syrian and just live above or beside the situation. Every Syrian is affected by the situation, especially artists connected to the people. There’s no work, so no money, being confronted with too much death and unfairness daily. We feel lost. As if we’re losing our country and losing the trust in each other. I feel we reached a point where no one is protecting the Syrian people. The politicians’ actions cause more deaths and my first concern is in stopping the bloodshed and the deaths and to give the people hope. I keep asking myself questions like where are we going? What can we do? Well, we should never lose our relation with Syria, keep caring for each other, keep supporting each other. We should keep caring about every death because it’s all human blood being shed. Everyone has the right to say his opinion. It’s not possible to just stay silent, but sometimes you just can’t talk.” (https://newsandnoise.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/we-should-support-each-other-an-interview-with-lena-ch…)
Day Five: Kawi, Yemen
The outbreak of hip-hop in Yemen often traces back to the influence of American-Yemen rapper Hagage “AJ” Masae. Kawi is one of the young disseminators of the genre and appears to now split time between Yemen and Nuremberg, Germany. While not much information is available on the life of Kawi, he and his contemporaries, under the name of Yemen’s Montsers, exist primarily on the spheres of YouTube and Twitter.
Day Six: Ahmed Fakroun, Libya
Originally from Benghazi, Fakroun’s career as a musician can be best described by the ways he has straddles Europe and Libya. In terms of his European influences, Fakroun takes after Europop and French Art Rock. As a young child, he picked up the electric bass though he also plays the bouzouki-like saz, mandol and darbouka drum. His combinations of European and Arabic forms have deeply informed popular Arabic music, and he maintains his ties and roots to Libya following a large period of exile during Muammar Gudaffi’s oppressive regime under which all forms of music were illegal.
Day Seven: The Yellow Dogs, Iran
Much like Mohsen Namjoo, the Yellow Dogs came up in the underground Tehran scene, where western rock influenced music was illegal. The band cites Joy Division and Talking Heads as influences and play strictly western rock instruments for The Yellow Dogs. Following their musical contribution to the film No One Knows About Persian Cats and an interview with CNN, the band was forced to flee Tehran. They played their first “above-ground” show in Istanbu in 2010 and have since made home in Brooklyn. In 2013 two members of the band were shot and killed in New York City by another disgruntled musician, the remaining members of the band have continued making music, though The Yellow Dogs ceases to exist.
Day Eight: Kahbez Dawle, Syria
Khebez Dawle is a Syrian five-member rock band. Founded in Damascus, Syria in the late 2012 as a one-man project, the band consolidated in a refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon in early 2013 after fleeing the conflicts and crises of their own country. Anas Maghrebi, Muhammad Bazz, Bachi Darwish and Hikmat Qassar & Dani Shukri make up the band and are currently working on a follow up to their 2015 self-titled debut.
Day Nine : Nancy Agag, Sudan
Having split time between her birthplace of Omdurman and the Netherlands from a young age, Nancy Agag brings a unique blend of styles to her renditions of traditional Sudan songs. Though she has spent more than half of her life outside of the war-torn country, her connection to the history of Sudan through music acts as a lifeline between her shifting modern global life and the conflicts of her home. Now based in Khartoum, Agag and the Kush Music Band perform music from all parts of Sudan in an effort to unite the shattered country under one peaceful cause of music.
Day Ten: Akvan, Iran
Akvan is the solo “Aryan Black Metal” project of Vizaresa, blending the sounds of western metal instruments with traditional Persian instruments like the tar and setar. His songwriting tackles Iranian history and mythology through deeply considered meditations on his own culture and how it is misinterpreted—not only by outsiders, but by his own country’s leadership. Even the mythologically-charged name of the project, Akvan, aims to encourage western audiences to seek understanding through education about Iranian tradition. In a similar way Vizaresa attempts to reclaim and debase the racist implications of Aryan in reference to his own music and the black metal community. Listen and find out more below.
Day Eleven: Omar Souleyman, Syria
Perhaps the most popular musician on this list thus far, Omar Souleyman got his start as a local wedding singer in his hometown of Ra’s al-‘Ayn in Northeast Syria. He has released over 500 studio and live albums, both from his private engagements as a wedding singer and beyond. In recent years he has worked increasingly with European dance producers like Four Tet to create a very unique blend of Syrian electrified folkloric dabke, Iraqi choubi and Arabic shaabi that has captured the ears of a worldwide audience. Souleyman, in both appearance and sound, challenges conceived negative Western notions and racism toward Arabic culture, and in doing so stands as a testament to the ways music can break down walls of ignorance.
Day Twelve: Wirephobia, Iraq
As he describes himself on his bandcamp page: “Wirephobia is a guy who likes noise music and makes noise music and the albums here are all noise so be careful little child the road is hard to go!” That and his hometown of Erbil, Iraq are the only two things we know about this elusive Iraqi noise musician, and somehow it makes his music all the better.
Day Thirteen: Groupe Amnar Awal, Libya
There is very little information available about this large band from Tripoli. The music, like much of the recordings above, is a blend of Western instrumentation and traditional Libyan rhythms and singing styles. Under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, music was essentially banned. This ban accounts for the lack of publicly distributed music leaving the country at the current moment as the music community slowly forms amid more political instability in the country. Listen and learn here: https://groupeamnarawallibya.bandcamp.com/album/awal-akalin
Day Fourteen: Sahra Halgan, Somaliland
Sahra arrived in Europe in 1992, a political refugee from her native Somaliland, a territory in the North East of Somalia (East Africa), formerly a British colony, self-proclaimed independent since May 1991, but as yet unrecognised by the international community. Halgan began singing at the thirteen and throughout the Somalian civil war worked as a nurse, using her music as a form of medicine for the soldiers she treated. She now uses her music to spread awareness for the unrecognized state of Somaliland, which has remained independent from Somalia as a sovereign democratic state for over 15 years. Halgan currently splits her time between her home in Hargeisa and touring Europe and Asia.
Day Fifteen: Porya Hatami, Iran
Porya Hatami is an experimental sound artist based in Sanandaj, Iran. Working in the field of ambient/minimal, his compositions explore the balance between electronics and environmental sounds, utilizing processed acoustic and electronic sources and field recording. Hatami is concerned with the land itself and how sound travels through that land, and his albums often feel like journeys through landscapes both imagined and real.
Day Sixteen: Sinkane, Sudan
Born Ahmed Gallab, Sinkane has grown over the course of his career to be a true blend and amalgamation of his many musical and geographic influences. Though he has spent the majority of his life in the U.S. , Gallab considers his origins to be Omdurman, Sudan. Gallab left Sudan when he was five because of political pressure on his professor parents and migrated to the U.S. In his music Sinkane makes near constant reference to his roots in Sudanese pop music and rhythmic structures, while also bringing in his many electronic and new-funk influences into the sound. Before releasing his own music, Gallab worked as a session musician for Caribou and Yeasayer and fronted the Atomic Bomb! Band, a tribute act to William Onyeabor. His newest album “Lif & Livin’ It” is out now on City Slang.
I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard a song by Into It. Over It. I was in my friend’s passenger seat and his iPod cued up “Midnight: Carroll Street.” Within the hour, I had downloaded and fallen in love with the album Proper, one that would soundtrack much of that summer and my freshman year of college. Into It. Over It. started as an outlet for the incredibly prolific songwriting of Evan Weiss, a Chicago-based punk singer-songwriter who had written and recorded upwards of 65 songs under the Into It. Over It. moniker before putting together the first full-band lineup to record Proper. As soon as I saw the announcement that Proper was going to be played in full January 13, I knew I had to go. I’d missed several other chances to see Into It. Over It.; I wasn’t going to miss this one.
The first band on the bill was Mother Evergreen, a five-piece mixing indie-folk vocals with atmospheric post-rock. The twinkling guitars and hazy keyboards give the songs a decidedly Midwestern feel; they evoke nights spent inside with your friends while a storm rages on outside. Their set was incredibly tight, made even more spectacular considering it was their first ever performance, and it closed with the epic sleigh-bell-infused “Endful,” the closer number from their self-titled LP. Next up was Pianos Become the Teeth, a band I actually discovered by reading an Into It. Over It. interview. The Baltimore-based group played a mix of styles from across their career, including the intense post-hardcore from Lack and the more melodic, restrained rock from their Keep You album.
Finally, Into It. Over It. took the stage and began playing the first notes of album opener “Embracing Facts,” after which Weiss laughed and warned the audience that he would be switching guitars between pretty much every song. One of the hallmarks of Into It. Over It.’s guitar playing is Weiss’s use of self-created open tunings, giving the music an echoic quality. Apparently, Proper was recorded before Weiss was “smart enough” to write a whole album in similar tunings, or at least that’s what he says. From there on out, the band never let up.
“Discretion & Depressing People” was fast and loud, and “No Good Before Noon” sounded anthemic after three years of struggling to get up for morning classes. However, nothing could have prepared me for how transcendent “Midnight: Carroll Street” was as a live experience. The recorded track starts quietly with a pulsing guitar riff and Weiss’s voice; on this Friday night at The Metro, it seemed as if every audience member sang every lyric with rapture, each word reverberating through the venue.
Before playing the title track, “P R O P E R,” Evan went into a long list of people he wanted to thank, including managers, producers, engineers and musicians who had played with Into It. Over It. The crowd laughed along, applauding the names they recognized, and shouting some that they expected to hear but didn’t. This list of thank-yous was emblematic of the homecoming nature of this show. The audience gathered for the performance was of such an intimate nature that they even knew the names of people the band had forgotten to thank. Here was an ensemble that was so deeply tied to the city of Chicago, who had made it big and been around the world, performing a fan favorite record that helped put them on the map. Weiss returned tonight as a conquering hero, reporting to raucous cheering that the Proper show was the biggest they had ever played in their hometown of Chicago. To end the night, the band played a second-half set of requests from the audience, collected by Weiss through a didactic method of hand raising and writing on a clipboard. Crowd favorites from both of the bands’ other studio albums, Intersections and Standards, as well as early cuts from various EPs and splits, were played to enthusiastic sing-alongs. One particular highlight was 52 Weeks’s acoustic jam “Pinky Swear,” about using heavy traffic to think about the trajectory of one’s life. This kind of lyrical introspection is a hallmark of Into It. Over It.’s music, and this particular song ends with Weiss asking listeners to make a promise with him that neither will allow themselves to waste the opportunities life affords them. For a brief moment, as everybody quoted those final words alongside the singer who wrote them, it seemed as though audience and performer would be able to keep their promise.
Marquis Hill’s performance this past Thursday evening at Constellation was, in many ways, a homecoming for the young trumpet virtuoso. The awards and accolades which sprung him out of this city go without saying for any fan or frequenter of the Chicago jazz scene, and his current residence in New York is one which surely makes those same fans proud. In coming home, Hill left his current ensemble project, The Blacktet, in New York (with the exception of Joshua Johnson) and instead chose to play with Chicago mainstays Makaya McCraven and Joshua Abrams. The bill, correspondingly, was not simply Marquis Hill, but the names of each in the quartet. In the spirit of this non-permanent ensemble, the feeling of a relaxed homecoming pervades. On Thursday night, the homecoming seeped through in the familial interaction between the four musicians on stage, celebrating the return of their friend, but also, in the sense of the overall connected American jazz culture, asking the question: did he ever really leave? We live in a time, and an international Jazz culture in which Chicago’s tentacles of influence and musicianship extend all around the world. Be it Wadada Leo Smith and Nicole Mitchell in Los Angeles or the annual Doek Festival in Berlin celebrating the ongoing collaboration between musicians from Berlin, Amsterdam and Chicago, Marquis Hill has joined the ranks as a continuing force in/of the Chicago jazz scene, regardless of where he calls residence.
After three flowing and fairly free compositions each with distinct moments of freedom and rehearsed starts and stops, Hill took to the mic for the first time to thank the audience for coming. In doing this he also expressed his motives for coming home “to play some creative music, to play some improvised music.” This statement from him, a declared connection and homage to the AACM tradition in Chicago, set the tone for the rest of the concert, which featured mostly loosely composed, freely improvised extended pieces. For a musician like Hill, who tends to stay more “in” than his AACM forbearers, the choice to play a set of mostly free material was, if nothing else, a bit surprising. But with this surprise there also came a treat, as the sold out room experienced an ensemble and a sound rarely heard from one of the city’s contemporary greats.
These free compositions were structured around the individual sounds of those making up the group. Each took their turn beginning a tune with an open solo, and seemingly dictated the nature of the improvisation to follow from there. The standout player of the night for me, and for many others, talking as they left the club, was Makaya McCraven. Another Chicago staple, McCraven has been playing and recording his unique brand of fast rhythmic “beat-jazz” for some time now. The distinctive and virtuosic voice he brings to the instrument was one which lent itself very well to the creative music sound Hill seemed to be reaching for on Thursday night. There were certainly moments of rhythmic cloudiness and indistinguishable pulses, but to my ears, what made Hill experiment novel was the fairly continual rhythmic underpinning McCraven provided. Halfway through the concert, Hill brought out a friend from New York (via Houston), the young and supremely talented James Francis, who sat down at the piano for the rest of the concert. With the addition of the piano, the group took on a different sound, suddenly tethered to a more complex and harmonically-driven rhythm instrument. Francis, like Hill, plays a more ‘in’ style of jazz than the AACM creative music of the mid-sixties, but nonetheless embraced the genre and experiment with tact and open ears.
Those two descriptors, tact and open ears, for me really sum up the night. In saying “creative music” Hill acknowledged his experiment and the footing he and the rest of the band would be taking outside of their comfort zones. This experimentation and paying homage was admirable for a proper homecoming, but also as an audience member, enlightening to hear musicians playing outside of their primary musical focuses. Frankly, the creative music of the quintet on Friday night pales in comparison to the Wadada Leo Smith and Roscoe Mitchell shows I saw in the same room last year. Maybe that is an unfair comparison, to the true masters and legends of Chicago creative improvised music, though it certainly reflects the conundrum musicians encounter when they take a moment to step outside their sound. While it would be easy, and perhaps commonplace, to tell a musician to stick to what they know, it was above all refreshing to hear musicians at the level of Marquis Hill experimenting and expanding the range of their sounds together in respect for the great Chicago jazz tradition. As with any style of music, there is good and bad free jazz, and as far as I can tell that distinction has to do with respect. Do the musicians approach the tradition with tact and open ears? In the case of Hill, McCraven, Francis, Abrams and Johson on Thursday night, that answer was yes and the resulting experiment was successful because of it.
Catch a show at Constellation soon! Full calendar here: http://www.constellation-chicago.com/calendar/
The mechanics of the live musical performance enter a whole new arena when the separation between the artist and the observer breaks down. When the observer spontaneously becomes the art, the result can be quite exhilarating. When the artist performs without a stage detaching them for the viewer, it is refreshing. I’ll always remember the time my roommate, an extremely casual concert goer, turned to me during Princess Nokia’s headlining set at the Language Between the Lines event and shouted to me “this is one of the coolest things I have ever experienced.” He had not heard a note of Princess Nokia’s music before, but that didn’t matter; when you are accustomed to experiencing art within a bubble, all types of emotions rush by when that bubble pops.
This intimacy was one of the inherent strengths of Living in Color’s event, a showcase of underrepresented expression among the Northwestern community. More specifically, this event exhibited the art of many young creatives who “live in color,” a condition defined by Living in Color as “the heterogeneous, always fluid lived experience of people of color and other ‘others’ such as those in the queer, trans, and epiphenomenal communities.”
In addition to the Afro-Nuyorican Princess Nokia, performers included Northwestern students such as rapper Joshua Kim (pictured above), whose performance focused on the identity crisis lingering over members of the Asian-American community, poet Tanya Munoz, who discussed the pain caused by oppression of Hispanics in America, and punk-rock band Carbona ( lead singer Jacqueline Ovalle below), a bilingual group who delivered venomous political music.
The audience opted to stay seated and munch on many of the mouth-watering snacks from the back of the hall during the student performers, but the first sign of this barrier breaking came when Carbona urged the audience to fill the space and come closer. Just like Princess Nokia, this amped up the dynamic; screeching violin solos are significantly more intense when they occur a few feet in front of your face.
However, when the lights dimmed for Princess Nokia (above), the crowd promptly formed a circle around her, before she proceeded to plow through bangers like ‘Tomboy’ or ‘Cybiko’. The only source of illumination was from the video projection behind her, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t lit (haha lmfao)! When my buddy Samuel Berston lost himself to the music and joined Princess Nokia to dance during the last song, it was sensational. When Princess Nokia handed the mic to someone in the crowd because “she had blood dripping down her leg,” the community of viewers became even more united. Props to Living in Color for throwing together something so visceral. It’s not everyday that student groups put together an experience that transcends expectations and celebrates diversity quite like this.
This season we had an airplay set with Divino Niño, a Chicago-based band known for their dreamy, psych-inspired pop. Be kick back and watch this performance of their song “Initials LV,” video courtesy of the WNUR Media Team. Listen to the rest of the set below.
The North Shore Center for the performing arts was filled with soulful music Thursday, October 20 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Jung Yup, a member of the Korean ballad group Brown Eyed Soul, had agreed to sing as part of a fundraising concert jointly hosted by Korea Daily Chicago and the Korean American Sports Association of Chicago (KASAC).
Jung Yup is a nephew of the president of KASAC, Hong Byung Kil, who organized this event to raise funds for KASAC’s entry to the 19th Korean American National Sports Festival (KANSF) set to be hosted in Dallas, Texas, June 2017.
The stage felt as though it was set in an orchestra (to be fair, North Shore Performance Center also hosts orchestra performances). The audience were all formally or semi-formally dressed, a completely different vibe from a hip hop or rock concert where people are much more energetic. When Jung Yup came up onto the stage himself, he gave a sincere promise to the audience that he would do his best to convey the emotions embedded in his songs, which are predominantly ballads.
Jung Yup, Guitarist Park Juwon, Pianist Uniqnote, Bassist Ahn Byungchul and drummer No Yongjin performed jazz covers of Jung Yup’s songs and famous pop numbers. Tracks ranged from Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World and Maroon 5’s Sunday Morning to Nothing Better, Jung Yup’s signature cover, and Unrequited Love.
Park is the most renowned jazz guitarist in Korea, while Ahn and No were both active session members in the Korean indie music scene. Uniqnote is a singer-songwriter who wrote songs for groups like Fly to the Sky and Brown Eyed Girls. The acoustic collaboration between Park and Jung Yup were especially poignant, awing the audience with covers of YB’s Cigarette Girl and Yoo Jae-ha’s You in My Arms.
Surprisingly, unlike at a vast majority of concerts, there were only a few phones out to record the show throughout the concert. When Jung Yup started off the show with What a Wonderful World, everyone was silent and listened in as they immersed themselves in the performance. They seemed to be pointing out that our own eyes and ears are probably better suited for concerts than cellphone cameras are.
Due to Brown Eyed Soul’s legacy as a group of lush R&B-flavored vocalists renowned for their harmony, it was hard to initially fathom how Jung Yup would be able to fulfill that expectation on his solo concert. Jung Yup and the band pleasantly surprised the audience with a wide variety of arrangements, starting from the moody acoustic covers to groovy and jazzy tunes. The audience had little time to be bored.
Jung Yup was relaxed and enthusiastic on stage, taking his time to talk with the audience. He also tried to share his enthusiasm with the crowd as he set up the audience for an interactive session during one of his songs, so everyone could sing along in the chorus. He walked off the stage into the aisles while singing a Bob-Marley-inspired reggae/jazz interpretation of Peter Frampton’s Baby I love your way, taking selfies with the audience and passing the microphone to them. At this point, the show was not just a place to relate and immerse oneself into the songs, but it became a place where everyone had fun in an opportunity to sing with their favorite singer.
Saving the best for last, JungYup ended with Its Love, an OST for the Korean TV series Doctors. Before he sang his last song, he told his fans that if enough people screamed “encore” after his song, he would come back onto the stage for one more song. He even went off to say that he always stands at the edge of the stage behind the curtain, preparing himself for the encore. Once the song ended and people excitedly screamed “encore” to call him back, JungYup returned and joined forced with the guitarist Park in an acoustic rendition of You, In My Arms, an original song by singer Yoo Jae Ha that Jung Yup had covered on Yoon Do-hyun’s MUST, a Korean music TV show hosted by the leader of the rock band YB.
Overall, the concert was a fun and interactive experience. Jung Yup told us that people are welcome to ask him anything they wanted to ask about his personal life. His female fans took advantage of the opportunity to scream how good looking he was and ask whether he had a girlfriend. Jung Yup comically welcomed them, requesting them that they send in more praises as it “makes him feel like a star.” And a star he was indeed.
Special thanks to Korea Daily Chicago for providing the materials for this publication.
If you want to learn more about Korea Daily Chicago and its event schedule, check out their website and social media.
We are here with Volcano Radar. The band is Julia Miller, Elbio Barilari, and joined today by Sam Bradshaw on Bass and Tim Davis on Drums. So what did we hear today?
2 original compositions, 1 song/poem by Leonard Cohen, and finally we ended with an open improvisation.
Tell me about that Leonard Cohen tribute arrangement.
Elbio: Well as you can tell from my accent I am not exactly from here. I’m from the south, but very south, like 10 thousand miles south, from Montevideo, Uruguay. And over there we have a very active Rock and Pop scene, as well as our own Tango and Folk music, etc. And I always loved songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, and I have been a fanatic of Leonard Cohen for my whole life. I was really sad when he died, and even more sad because he died in these circumstances. Julia came up with the idea of doing one of his songs, one of his most recent songs in this broadcast and I immediately said yes.
Julia: But there are not too many people who have the gravitas to do that song and really have the connection to it.
Was that the premiere here on Airplay?
Julia: Yes it was!
On that note, I’m wondering how you guys compose and arrange? Is it a very collaborative process?
Julia: Well those two compositions came from a live, improvised show that we did and recorded, with Tim Davis actually. We improvised those as a group on the spot and ended up forming them into tunes and have used them as tunes in various ways ever since.
Elbio: That’s one of the procedures. Julia and I are both composers, working with symphonic music and chamber music. And we do some structured music. But one good thing about this band is we don’t need to write so much, we write a lot for other things. In this band, what we normally do is bring in some little idea and develop the idea with the band or we just improvise something, we like it, and we try to repeat that and keep it.
I saw you guys are in the studio recording some new material. What projects do you have on the horizon?
Elbio: Yes, we have a few projects in the oven right now. I have been working with Paquito [D’Rivera] for like 15 years, 20 years in different projects – chamber music, Latino music. Finally, he was coming to Chicago and we decided to do a recording session and it went great. But, we still need to mix that one and work a lot in postproduction. But we have a live CD that we are trying to release by the end of this year, or the beginning of next year, most likely. And on March of this past year, we released our duo CD, called Electro Parables or Parábolas Electricas. That one is up and we got great reviews. It’s a record we did in-studio, Julia playing guitar and synthesized guitar and I’m playing all the things I play.
Julia: That was a long form, structured improvisation for us. So the whole piece, especially the first piece, Two Hundred Years of Solitude is one take and then a few overdubbings. No editing or breaking or anything like that, it’s all one large take.
We have it here in the stacks. Electro Parables is a great recording if you haven’t checked it out. I want to thank you for joining us, it was really a pleasure.
Julia: Absolutely. Thank you for having us, it was our pleasure.
Elbio: Thank you very much
Summing up Wadada Leo Smith and John Lindberg’s Oct. 29 performance at Constellation in words seems to be an almost impossible task. Somehow translating the night’s journey into words. Words, words, words. Does that word even mean anything now? What if I say it 100 more times? A thousand?
My girlfriend is in an acting class right now, and she tells me the Greeks used words impeccably. In their writing, words weren’t hollow signifiers, they moved and felt and had intentionality, had courage. Courage- what a word. I can’t say I fully understand what it means, or that I know how to use my words impeccably. She might be able to give you a better picture. But I walked out of Constellation that night feeling like I maybe understood that word “impeccably” a little better, because it’s really the only way I can sum up how Lindberg, Smith and Mike Reed performed: impeccably.
Having an appropriate attitude towards fear.
Smith put the horn to his lips and there was fear. Fear of music maybe, or fear of the power he assumed in front of the audience. But there was also a disposition to that fear. An awareness. Awareness of the power behind each note he played and, equally important, each note he didn’t.
Suddenly there was the first note and the performance began. In that beginning there was a courage and a sincerity in playing for more than just the reason that people paid to come see him do just that. There was an urgency to say something, a courageousness to jump into the relative unknown. And so they began, Lindberg with fluttering arco work on his bass and Reed sensitively moving around the kit. Soon Wadada leapt in with the spirit of a man half his age, with sharp attacks and blaring lines cascading across the energetic soundscape. Sometimes there were wrong notes and sometimes silence was the only right note. Music means something more when you play with courage, because suddenly that note and that silence mean something.
No one was hiding on stage as the timbre shifted and Smith growled airily through his brass pipe, while Lindberg and Reed accompanied with solid strokes and crashes. The three musicians followed the path of Smith’s “Malachi Favors: The Monarch of Making Music” for over 30 minutes. There were points of congruency throughout- Lindberg peeked over his stand at Wadada, recognizing they had reached a landing point together; Smith and Reed suddenly changed together, like magic. But, in their case, magic was really trust and awareness. I saw trust in their glances that night, so their ears could better navigate. I heard trust in the deep groove that permeated the entire performance. The groove that night was not something you could tap your foot to or line up with a metronome. It was a spiritual groove because of the faith they had in each other.
Each musician had their solo. Lindberg, in the second set, played to the bewildered eyes of Reed, who at one point just gave up trying to play along and sat smiling wryly at the master before him. Wadada played lines and wiggles and journeyed through his horn to places of imagination. Reed captivated me with his downbeat that paid absolute attention to everything happening around him and everything in between. Each star shone individually that night, but in many ways it was the collective combination of the light and courageously-played meaningful notes that elevated the music beyond.
The music or creative spirit that surrounds us always. Like wind moving the air or atoms warring around and against your body.
It felt like Smith, Lindberg and Reed captured a creative force and followed it to loud places and some of the softest places I’ve heard in awhile. The brilliant way Smith and Lindberg write music moves congruent to these forces rather than perpendicular. It’s an impeccable awareness to the true forces behind music. Improvisation often serves as a route along this undercurrent and it did the same in Lindberg and Smith’s composition. Each musician seemed to sensitively pick up on the energy that passed through the room and expressed in as few soft words as possible exactly what they were trying to say. Smith leaned into the mic as the trumpet softly cried its brassy warbles through the cup mute in response to Lindberg’s flautando bowing less than ten feet away. Behind this, Reed sat with brushes in hand, moving slowly around the kit, locking into the quietest pocket for a few measures. Impeccable was all around us.
Acknowledging the tradition of music in the language of the future.
I don’t think it’s worth it to start a discussion concerning the roles of tradition and progressivism in jazz music today. As my good friend and co-D.J. Leo often jokes, jazz seems almost as divided as American politics with real right-wing Wynton supporters in constant tension with the various left-wing parties from the realms of fusion, free and beyond. It’s a discussion I’ve had too many times and one that a truly great musician deflects and proves the ultimate futility and, really, childishness of. (Maybe it’s not so different from American politics after all.) After this show, I’m convinced one of those musicians is Smith. Impeccable requires knowing the intricacies of your language. Jazz as a language came from the blues. Not the twelve-bar-standardized-by-W.C. Handy blues, but the feeling. Wadada, who grew up in Mississippi in the late 50s and 60s, knows this blues well. The spirit of the blues lives deep inside the core of the enigmatic man with a soft smile and quiet eyes. Deep blues, like deep groove, will not be expressed in licks containing flat fives and 4/4 meter. Deep blues exists in the ether and the feeling of how a note is played rather than what that note is. And from that deep blues grows swing, which again doesn’t live within how a musician treats their eighth notes. Smith, Lindberg and Reed don’t need basic and educationally-simplified signifiers to base their music within the jazz tradition; their connection is a deeper one that arises from an internalization of the tradition. By discipline and respect towards the past, they create an impeccable language for the future that assimilates the past without any ball and chain attached to it. As the profile of Wadada arched back on Lindberg’s composition “Feather and Earth” to a burst of fiery lines exiting his horn, I couldn’t help seeing Miles and hearing the future.
“Sometimes when you’ve made art or done something like turning buildings into pancakes or whatever you do, it can be hard to just walk out and leave the room,” Wadada said as the concert wrapped up. He walked out into the audience not as a the incredible performer and cultural force that he is, but as a humble human, seemingly searching for another human to bring him back to existence. To help him walk out and leave the room.
If you haven’t seen a show at Constellation yet, please do yourself a favor and go now: http://www.constellation-chicago.com/
Here’s our visit with singer-songwriter Ava Suppelsa. Ava, who grew up in Evanston, is a student at the prestigious Berklee College of Music ; but to hear her play, you’ll think you’re listening to a seasoned veteran of the music scene.
Listen to the interview here at The WNUR Folk Show’s website.