Saturday, May 14, 2011

Speaking in Tongues: Asimbonanga (Mandela)


Johnny Clegg: Asimbonanga (Mandela)


I've posted Johnny Clegg once before. I was poking at Any Major Dude to post this week cuz, well, he's living in South Africa and all, but I think the giant Blogger hiccup this week might have thrown him off. But I couldn't let it pass because I got the chance to see him in concert on Tuesday, and he sang this great anti-apartheid song. Most of the lyrics are Zulu.

I'm sharing a live version to give you the same feel that I got while hearing it.

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang' uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph'ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph'ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the island into the bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Speaking in Tongues: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)


Jim Hall: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)


Like many good tales, this one starts with a garden.

The gardens at the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, to be precise. The Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo wrote this concerto for guitar and orchestra in 1939 to celebrate and evoke the feel of these gardens. The original piece was a success, but not much known outside Spain.

Twenty years later, Gil Evans, another composer and arranger who'd formed a successful partnership with trumpet virtuoso Miles Davis, brought him the concerto's second movement (the Adagio). Miles loved it as much as Evans did and made it the centerpiece of his 1960 album Sketches of Spain.

This version I'm sharing was released in 1975 by the brilliant jazz guitarist Jim Hall. Since it showcases the guitar, it might be closer to the original than the 1960 version. It features a terrific supporting cast: Chet Baker, trumpet; Paul Desmond, sax; Roland Hanna, piano; Ron Carter, bass; and Steve Gadd, drums. And it may be a little sacrilegious to say, but I think I like this version a little bit better than Miles'.

Warning: long song is long. Just short of 20 minutes long. Worth every minute, though.

Speaking in Tongues: Fado Marujo

To me, Portuguese has always been the language of fado. The old, seemingly timeless music from Portugal, always filled with that special kind of sadness they call saudade. Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999) was the undisputed queen of fado, or, in Portuguese, rainha do fado. She just might be one of the greatest singers you've never heard.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Speaking in Tongues: Rock el Casbah

Rachid Taha: Rock el Casbah


I’m cheating a bit with this post. Looking at the title of the song, you might think the cheat is the fact that the title is not entirely in another language. In fact, I’m OK there. Rock in Arabic, when it refers to music, is rock, and Casbah is a place name that comes out the same in many languages. The cheat has to do with the informal rule we have at Star Maker, that songs must date from before 2000. There has always been some give there, and this one is from 2004. If you have never heard Rock el Casbah, you must. You probably know the song, but not like this. Rachid Taha is from Algeria, and he is a star in the Arab world. The music he makes is called Rai, and it is a mixture of rock energy with more traditional sounds of Arab music. Rock el Casbah was an inspired choice, not only for Rai fans, but also for introducing this music to the rest of the world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Speaking in Tongues: Akuro no Oka

Dir en grey

Dir en grey: Akuro no Oka


If I hadn't already been a fan, Dir en grey would have my affection for being the only top J-rock band to ever bother playing in my town, Denver, and not just once but multiple times. I admit, we're not exactly known as a breeding ground of J-rock fans here. I mean, there's me, and…. J-rockers, when they do make it to our shores, tend to gravitate to the coasts (they're especially thick on the ground at anime festivals), with an occasional foray into Texas or Chicago.

I posted that picture of them to snag your attention, of course. Dir en grey started out in 1997 as a Visual Kei (VK) band, and their wild appearance predates Lady Gaga by at least a decade. It's fun to Goggle images of them and watch them change over the years. These days, they're fairly sedate, although you'd probably still want to hide your daughters (and maybe even your sons). Lead singer Kyo (the diminutive blond) looks more like a wee biker dude now. If he tops 5 feet I'd be surprised (he stands on a platform to sing), but don't let that fool you — his voice can bring down buildings.

Like their costumes, their sound has progressed over time. They are variously described as some flavor of metal, be it experimental, thrash, progressive, alt, screamo, or core. On the other hand, they come out with some pretty sweet ballad stuff, albeit with more raw emotion that we're used to. I can't say I like all their stuff (Agitated Screams of Maggots, for example, leaves me cold), but the things of theirs I do like, I love a lot.

In fact, I'm going to slip in one more song (and it's got a Japanese title, too, so it fits the theme) just to showcase this group a bit more. Like many other J-rock or J-pop groups, Dir en grey often releases their singles in various incarnations, usually "unplugged." Here's a pair from a more recent release, Marrow of the Bone, and I adore the unplugged version (complete with anguished emo scream). Check out the complicated yet subtle rhythm changes, from 4/4 to 5/4 to 6/8:

Dir en grey: Namamekashiki Ansoku, Tomerai ni Hohoemi

Dir en grey: Namamekashiki Ansoku, Tomerai ni Hohoemi (unplugged)


Monday, May 9, 2011

Speaking in Tongues: Ta Tudo Certo - Mas Que Nada

tania maria

Tania Maria: Ta Tudo Certo - Mas Que Nada


Tania Maria (not to be confused with R&B singer Teena Marie) is a renowned Brazilian jazz vocalist/pianist and a longtime favorite musician of mine. She started playing music with her dad's small band as a teen, took a side trip into law school, and quickly returned to her first love in the late 1960's. She's been a fixture in Brazilian jazz ever since (currently touring Europe, if you're lucky enough to catch her live).

I thrashed around for two days deciding which of her many wonderful songs to present and finally settled on this. I do like her earlier albums quite a bit, but this one showcases her at her best, sounding relaxed, confident, and energetic. Ta Tudo Certo (Everything Is Fine) is a self-penned tune with a swinging samba rhythm that segues nicely into Jorge Ben Jor's hit, Mas Que Nada (No Way!).

Speaking in Tongues: Bene Mote

In the years between the end days of emperor Haile Selassie's reign in the sixties and the emergence of a brutal new regime in the mid seventies, the music scene in the poor African country of Ethiopia was flourishing. Tons of groovy records were made in Addis Ababa, in an astonishing diversity of musical styles.

More or less ethnic sounds featuring traditional instruments were en vogue, but you also got funky instrumentals with Stax-like horns, soul singers as inspired as James Brown or Wilson Pickett, and plenty of jazzy stuff to boot. Alèmayèhu Eshèté, Mahmoud Ahmed, Mulatu Astatqé and Tlahoun Gèssèssè were household names, but lesser known singers like Muluqèn Mèlèssè, whose fine Bèné Mote is featured here, could conjure up the magic just as well.

With vocals in the main Ethiopian language of Amharic you probably won't understand a word of it, but that all adds to the mystique. The double disc compilation pictured above would make an excellent starting point for further exploration. You won't be sorry.

Speaking in Tongues: Wunderbar

Tenpole Tudor: Wunderbar


Tenpole Tudor was – and still is – a British band that emerged from the 1970s punk rock scene. By the time this German-titled single was released, in 1981, they had crossed over to what was loosely called New Wave, before that term referred to bands with resourceful haircuts, cheekbone-highlighting make-up and an obsession with synthethisers.

Singer Edward Tudor-Pole (his real name) had appeared, as Eddie Tenpole, in the Sex Pistols film The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, in which he performed a few songs, including the title track. In fact, he was penciled in to replace Johnny Rotten as the Pistols’ lead singer before manager Malcolm McLaren decided to break up the band which he had essentially created.

Wunderbar (the single sleeve spells it incorrectly and probably deliberately with an Umlaut, the two dots on certain teutonic vowels) reached #16 in the UK charts. The song is a cursory existential reflection that is relieved by reference to a German woman who says nothing but repeatedly exclamations of “wunderbar”, a word that means “wonderful”.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Speaking in Tongues: Hyeonshileui Hyeonshil


Nell: Hyeonshileui Hyeonshil (Reality of Realities)


Darius might as well have sent up a flare this week saying, "Geoviki, go wild!" And I shall, whether he wanted me to or not, heh.

This is more of a drive-by, though, and even though your first guess might have been "J-Rock", it's not (just wait a day or two….). It's K-Rock. Korean rock. The genre is kind of a lone wolf in some ways. Korean music currently hosts a flourishing pop scene, and I'm just starting to dabble in some of the K-pop groups, so I'll spare you for the moment. Korean fans look to Japan (and the west, of course) for a lot of their straight-up rock.

Nell is one of the better known Korean indie rock groups. Their influences are British bands like Radiohead, Muse, and Coldplay. This song's more of a ballad, so the rock angle is diminished, but me, I love those guys who can sing falsetto, so this is the song I'm sharing. Hope you like it too.

Deep Album Tracks => Speaking in Tongues: Loco De Amor

David Byrne: Loco De Amor


I have found Salsa music tremendously exciting since I first heard it. But there was also a certain sameness for me, because I couldn’t understand the words. So I always wished that someone would record an album of this music with words in English. In 1989, as Talking Heads were breaking up, David Byrne granted my wish with his album Rei Momo. Keep in mind that this was long before Latin artists started to cross over, and record English-language songs or albums themselves. Being based in New York City, David Byrne was able to work with some of the legendary musicians of salsa. Willie Colon was Byrne’s bandleader for this album. Loco de Amor is a co-write between Byrne and Johnny Pacheco, and the song features vocals by Celia Cruz. Since Rei Momo had no hits, I feel justified in using it for our Deep Album Tracks theme. But I should note that the song originally appeared on the soundtrack of Something Wild, and it was added to Rei Momo for the CD release.