Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Music Review Podcasting

Go here to download a podcast of my recent review of the new Guns n' Roses album "Chinese Democracy." I'll be doing music reviewing in this format more in the future.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Music as Torture Update

What do Nine Inch Nails tunes and the Barney theme song have in common? In addition to Reznor's and the dinosaur's penchant for purple velvet, they both share the unfortunate commonality of torture.

As I chronicled in a series of posts from last April, the US military and intelligence services have been using music as a weapon of torture with imprisoned "foreign combatants" since the invasion of Iraq and the opening of Guantanamo. Today, however, it was reported that musicians whose music was used in these enhanced interrogations are organizing and fighting back (including angsty NIN frontman Trent Reznor, Massive Attack, former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, and a crew of children's song writers).

More on this development here.

Manze Dayila - Solé

Originally posted on Fábrika here.

Listening to the recent album by New York-based Haitian singer Manze Dayila made me think of the title to A Tribe Called Quest’s first record, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.” This title has always impressed upon me the organic and always moving nature of music, its ability to traverse seas and cross cultures. Indeed, the cultural travels and complexities that inform the history of any post-colonial music are profound. Picking up the exact same rhythmic motto in Cuban son, Dixieland jazz, samba, and West African drumming, for instance, gives one a glimpse into the journey of one people from Africa to the New World. These are the paths of rhythm.

There are numerous crosscurrents of musical influence apparent in Dayila’s music. On one hand, you have the Caribbean sources: her band, The Nago Nation, possesses a technical mastery over the gentle lilt of reggae (witness the opening cut, “Kwi”). There are even traces of calypso in some passages. Among “Caribbean sources” can be included, of course, many different varieties of native Haitian music that have developed on the western part of Hispaniola over the last few hundred years as a distinctive mixture of West African, French, Spanish, and Taino influences. In addition to her immediate roots, Dayila’s band dabbles in African forms both ancient and modern, from the elegant flourishes of the “kora” (a many-stringed harp) and the rhythmic patter of the “balafon” (an African variety of marimba) to highlife and other contemporary African genres, themselves the result of all sorts of fascinating cross-Atlantic musical borrowings. (The second track, “Miseye Rigaud,” exemplifies this well.) Toss into this mix a healthy dose of samba (“I Want to Be Free”) as well as the great-grandchildren of these earlier colonial styles, hip-hop and club electronica (“That Feeling” and “Simbi D’lo”), and you can begin to approximate Dayila’s sound. Of course, all the music on this record represents a coming together of different influences and musical cultures – nothing in here in purely one thing or another. Like the colonial history of Haiti itself (and the rest of the New World), this is an album where diverse sounds mingle freely.

Another notable feature of the album is Dayila’s earthy contralto voice. Like Sade, her instrument is as haunting as it is distinctive, often occupying that titillating sex-ambiguous register where a voice can be either a mannish woman or a womanish man. Her melodies are broad and expansive, even when the grooves underlying them are quick and jittery. Soaring above the lively activity of the band, Dayila’s voice is powerful and elemental in a way that is all too rare in today’s world of pop music. Moreover, the quality of her singing convinces you that the lyrical subjects of her songs are of equal weight (although she sings almost entirely in Haitian Creole).

Manze Dayila’s “Solé” is a superb record with a chimera’s soul. Listening to it is like standing in the middle of an intersection where all sorts of paths of rhythm are colliding in a steady rush.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Series of Short Thanksgiving Reflections

Please feel free to add a little blurb that highlights something funny, inspiring, thought-provoking, sad, happy, or even mundane about everyone's favorite gut-distending holiday.