I’m late for a date with my blog! Someone flicked the winter switch while I wasn’t watching, and meanwhile March and April slipped the selections by.
Better late than never … There are albums to talk about, as well as strolls through Soundcloud. I’m wandering slightly outside my own briefs here, it’s been an eclectic couple of months ..
To begin with, to go back to a January release (if I’m going to be late, be late). Out of Canada:
On Quebec’s Productions de l’onde label, the third collection of tracks from Canada’s spoken word / slam impresario Ivy (Ivan Bielinski). “Hors des sentiers battus” (Off the beaten track) is a 12 track album with musical arrangements by collaborator Philippe Brault. He first got me with 2008′s Slamérica with its cool mixture of pop sounds, operatic sampling, soft beats and urgent spoken /sung lyrics. Hors des sentiers battus continues that mood with the music and the poetry even more intertwined, and a real strong sensibility that is more than pop, has the kind of irreverence musically of artists like M, or France’s Ronan Ronan, mixed with Ivy’s spoken word (in French) covering everything from mad love to the madness of our apathetic polluting ways.
The thing I like most about Ivy’s work is his concentration on working with the spoken word in the same way that singers work with lyrics – poetry as music, within music, arranged with music, not as a complement to music. It’s something Canadians do well across the board. I’m thinking of Ian Ferrier, Taqralik Partridge, Fortner Anderson – those Canadian poets are musical beasts.
Closer to home, a new album from Australian storyteller Luka Lesson:
Performance poetry, slam poetry – unaccompanied – follows the rhythm and the beat of the body and the breath, and is its own music. Sometimes when a poet is really successful in this practice they struggle to immerse their voice into a musical rhythm. I often wish Australian poets would be more adventurous when exploring their words in music, especially heading into hip hop / rap territory. Luka’s super confident and is playing in and around and across that line mostly very successfully, from the pure performance poetry of “Please Resist Me” (he’s a slam champ and this is a slam poem for sure) and the pretty voice/guitar of “Confluence” to the beat-driven hip hop on tracks like “Desire” and (the funky!) “If This War Is Won.”
In between, there are refreshing explorations of other musical styles, like the lovely oud of “Athena”. It’s eclectic, shifting around these styles, perhaps seeking. Seeking is great, so long as the style doesn’t overtake the substance because Luka is essentially best as a storyteller when he’s simply telling a story. But on this album this eclectic is good, and when it works it’s great. I’m looking forward to hearing where his seeking takes him.
A great Australian storytelle is Pataphysics with his “soulful guerilla hip hop”. “Listen” arrived last month – a gentle track but powerful, a clear call for stopping violence against women. Click on the “buy” link via Soundcloud to buy the track, all proceeds are going to CASA House, the Centre Against Sexual Assualt here in Melbourne. We’re waiting on a new album from Pat, I am really looking forward to that.
Hip hop as a force for change is the hip hop I really love. And the master of that form out of Spain is El Chojin. I don’t recall how this video came up last month, but to whoever linked me up with it, gracias!:
This is El Chojin, Locus y Nerviozzo de Dúo Kie, Gitano Antón y El Langui de La Excepción, Nach, Lírico, Kase O y Sho-Hai de Violadores del Verso, Xhelazz, Titó y El Santo de Falsalarma, Zatu de SFDK y Ose – together rapping about racism and social equality for the Movement Against Intolerance – a call for a stop to racist and hate crimes across Europe. Good style, immense substance. Madrid’s El Chojin, el poeto, focusing on the struggles of immigrants in Europe, violence against women, social injustice. One of our great storytellers.
Leading me to … one of our greatest storytellers! Serendipitous that in this past month Dub Gabriel also shared with us a wild live track featuring the godfather of hip hop himself, Umar Bin Hassan (The Last Poets). “This Is Madness” with the Baraka Orchestra live at Tonic New York City, circa 2000. Would have been hot in that audience.
Cruising through Soundcloud in the past two months I came across a three year old track from Teleseen featuring vocalist/poet Abena Koomson. I include it because I love the use of her voice as an instrument, since I was talking about voices and stories as instruments working together as with Ivy. Teleseen’s a crafty musical creator and this is a lovely track so it’s worth a revisit.
Voices as instruments – fantastically well manipulated by A Tribe Called Red on this next track, General Generations. From a project with Nolan Warden from the Ethnomusicology department of UCLA – the voice samples are taken from a wax cylinder, recorded in the 1930′s. As they say: “This was particularly cool project because DJ Shub’s last name is General and so is the man recorded on the cylinder. They’re also both Cayuga from Six Nations reserve, so it’s not too far off to think that they’re related, hence the name “General Generations”.” Check out this blog post for the story of the collaboration.
A Tribe Called Red is a DJ collective from Ottawa, Ontario that creates much of their work using video and audio samples related to their Native American heritage. They also run a monthly club in Ottawa, Electric Pow Wow, dedicated to showcasing Aboriginal DJ talent and Native urban culture Their debut album is amazing – get it here.
I mentioned Ian Ferrier earlier … the master of word/music immersion. From his collaborators Pharmakon MTL – a recent track featuring harsh whispering voice and soft whispering instruments. I like the click track appearance in this raw recorded demo – it feels appropriate here, clock ticking, time passing, or perhaps a forgotten bomb…
In April I played an Arabic morning set at the Easter Renaissance Festival, in the forest outside Melbourne. So of course I dropped a couple of CP-303′s latest into the mix, from their March EP, Sidi Bouzid Syndrome ( get it here):
“Al Dik” (The Rooster) – features samples of two poems by the late Syrian Poet Nizar Qabbani, “in which he elegantly and explicitly criticizes arab dictators, state violence, tyranny and military repression.” CP-303 shared this great link on their site to Nizar Qabbani on Youtube performing the poem live – watch his hand dancing…
I’ve talked about Checkpoint 303 here before – their work is some of the best sensibility in a sound collage sense, a musical documentary sense. This EP as they say is “inspired by and in support of the uprising of the arab civil society in its struggle for dignity and freedom.” These tracks all have a heart-in-the-mouth sensibility. The final track on this EP is really something, using the sound of the Hama water wheel (known as Norias), apparently a symbol of the resistance of the people of Hama, Syria. After a while, it sounds like a muted morse code message, a hypnotic and disturbing relentlessness, with the sound of Hama’s murdered revolutionary singer Ibrahim Qashoush breaking through as though channels of freedom open and are closed.
Brian Routh also working with what you might call documentary material, with two new tracks catching my attention these past weeks:
Social economist Richard Wolff has a great frustrated edge to his voice which Brian’s muted techno beats emphasise…
Remixing UK rapper Plan B speaking about society’s failure to nurture its disadvantaged youth, in the context of the UK riots. I think these samples come from his speech at the London TEDxObserver in March (http://youtu.be/xhtAfIw4qJY) Again, Brian’s driving minimal background creates the perfect meditative space for listening. Classy, sir. (I mean you, Mr Routh, and you too, Mr B).
Not spoken word, but definitely storytelling – I can’t not mention Filastine’s new album – this is what they mean when they say hotly anticipated, right?
Filastine bangs drums, travels the razor’s edges of the world reporting back on the consequences of western excess – consequences that we hide away in landfill, shipyard dumps, downhill from mining sites, until the natural world spits it back out at us. He’s tuned into the places most people try to tune out of. It’s not a pretty or gentle, but then neither always is nature, and the reality of our planet right now is definitely unpretty, pretty violent. The track ‘Colony Collapse’ is music almost strangled. Nova Ruth’s vocals strain through a megaphone like spider threads, the samples and drums – morse code? – sound like ghosts emerging from a pile of rubble. The orchestration is beautiful – especially Amélie Bouard’s cello – and that’s what gives £00T an extra dimension – its sentimentality. Because of the sentimental elements in the music it plays as a foregone conclusion – this is music from our very near future, already past. It appeals to me in that sense the same way that cyperpunk storytelling did – almost reveling in the mess of it all. That may sound like a pessimistic view but there’s an inevitability to all this that Filastine invites you to turn and face – and facing it changes it.
Ghosts … morse code … I was reading about Titanic this month – from the perspective of the wireless operator kid on Cape Race receiving the distress signal, not believing it (and, in the most gloriously poetic twist to his story, not talking about that night until he was an old man, by which time he was almost entirely deaf, so that his family could only communicate with him through – morse code).
The economic system we are watching fail now is the product of the same thinking as the Titanic, the same foolhardy, extravagant, wasteful thinking, the same lack of lifeboats for the poor. And maybe, it will sink the same way. Titanic would have survived a head-on collision with the iceberg, but the fact that she was scratched slowly imperceptibly and extensively along her side meant that she had to fill with water and she had to sink. There’s something in that.. The exclamation mark I have to give you is Australia’s (literally) fat cat coal-mining billionaire Clive Palmer. He announced last month that he wants to – get this – rebuild the Titanic. Writers’ heads around the world exploded. We couldn’t have dreamed him up if we tried.
Uh-huh. So what has this to do with Filastine’s new album £00T? Well, everything and nothing. The “morse code” of “Colony Collapse” was playing as I read the Titanic story. The overtext of £00T seems to me to be the grand charades, the charlatanism, and the essentially sinkable structure of imaginary dollars and the monsters they build – they sink under the weight of their own waste. How brittle is something that we were taught to believe unsinkable. The Titanic now, is just one more iron / ironic rubbish dump. The ghosts of wrecks like these sing through artists like Filastine and Nova Ruth who collect and voice them and they teach us something. So, they’re storytellers. Really, really good storytellers. And this is a really, really good album.
And because I am not going to let you go down with the ship without a band playing, I’ll wrap with something big band, and German … in that eclectic month April I played a live electro-swing / comedy set for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, which got me seeking out new sounds from the fascinating electro-swing movement. This offering from [dunkelbunt] (Ulf Lindemann, out of Vienna) and the Secret Swing Society is hot – German hip hop, solid beats, big band interludes. You can get it on vinyl too… which makes it also cool.
But wait – there’s more!
Much more. So much goodness to share over the coming month, I promise to be more faithful.