Saturday, June 5, 2010

Essay--Musically Nutritious

Soul Music, Comfort Music and Junk Music

When I was hanging out at my local food co-op recently I made the comment that Putumayo compilations are music’s equivalent of “comfort food.” I listen to those compilations when I need comfort, warmth or need to lift myself out of a funk.

So I started thinking about soul music and junk music too. I’m not talking Stevie Wonder or Earth Wind and Fire when I say “soul music,” but of course, you could include those artists if you choose. Soul music massages the spirit. You could include actual music from various sacred traditions, but even The Beatles fit into soul music, depending on the song. George Harrison wrote a lot of “soul music” and so did Paul McCartney after all, sometimes a popular love song opens the heart chakra allowing a sacred feeling to entrench itself.

Comfort music almost defies description. It can hail from a variety of traditions, countries and it’s not set to any specific rhythm or tempo. Depending on the circumstance a Puerto Rican salsa song could bring comfort to a person feeling home sick for the Caribbean just as a lullaby by a classical composer or folkloric tradition could bring comfort to a mother and child. But if you need a more succinct example, listen to one of the acoustic music Putumayo compilations.

Junk music mirrors junk food. While junk food is full of salt, sugars, and chemicals most of us can’t pronounce, junk music is also overproduced. It often has a strong mechanical beat and trite lyrics (that you try to resist). Junk music plays in the background of commercial grocery stores, electronic stores, and shopping malls. Similar to its junk food equivalent, teens enjoy listening to junk music, even though their parents nearly lose their minds hearing it. Some people use the term "noise" when exposed to junk music.  Personally, I feel nauseated listening to junk music and I clear my chakras with soul music after returning home, when I’m exposed to it.

Now, that I’ve described my versions of soul, comfort, and junk music, it’s up to you, the readers to come up with your own music inclusions in those categories. If the music gives you a headache, causes you to feel dizzy or fall into a zombie state, good chance you have heard some junk music. If you feel more invigorated and loved after hearing the music, you have heard either comfort or soul music. Notice I didn’t write an article featuring specific music genres. I refrained from mentioning genres because most genres have exceptions. And depending on our age, race, culture, and level of education, not to mention geography, one’s person’s comfort music is another person's fill in the blank. Some songs transcend categories such as John Lennon’s Imagine or Bob Marley’s Redemption Song which fall into the universal realm. Those are songs that you can play anywhere at any time and most of the listeners will bond to the music and each other.

* Please note when I refer to "soul music" I'm referring to a sacred feeling that a listener feels when he or she listen to the music.  I use the term "soul food" (which refers to food founded by Afro-American slaves) lightly in this article and definitely out of context.  Music can be so nebulous and describing my experiences with music often leaves me stumbling over my words.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In Conversation--French Troubadours and Possibilities

The Return of Lo'Jo: Conversation with Denis Pèan

Lojo, World Village
Writing about the French globetrotting troubadours Lo’Jo requires some effort, as any music journalist familiar with the sextet will attest. A dictionary is required along with a sense of childhood whimsy. All preconceived concepts of world music must be tossed out so that an emphasis on “playing” music comes through loud and clear. When it comes to describing Lo’Jo to my friends and colleagues, not to mention readers of my articles, I’ve been stumbling over words since 1998 when I first caught these musicians on a small indoor stage at WOMAD USA.

I wasn’t into world music yet nor did I have any idea that over a decade later I would blog about the healing power of music. Lo’Jo’s enchanting music elegantly brought many cultures onto a single stage, thus proving that we could all get along if we spoke the universal language. I woke me up from a collective trance. And since 1998 and 2001, (the 2nd appearance of Lo’Jo at WOMAD USA), I have been astounded at what this small group of determined and passionate French musicians could achieve. The musicians have traveled to places many of us had no idea existed, they co-produced a music festival in the middle of the Sahara Desert with nomadic Tuareg people and touched the hearts of music lovers worldwide. Who can even guess how many air travel miles Lo’Jo has accrued. More important is how many hearts they have captured with this universal music (which includes Klezmer, French chanson, West African, Caribbean, and so much more...)

However, Lo’Jo disappeared off of the North American radar in recent years. The group gave its last Canadian performances in 2003 and its last US performances in 2002. I was pleased to hear that the musicians are returning to North America, even if only for 4 performances (Toronto, Montreal and New York). If you read this article and you happen to live in any of the above cities, go see Lo’Jo.

I caught up with bandleader Denis Pèan as Lo’Jo prepares to hop over the pond and reconnect with its North American fans.

WME: It has been 8 years since Lo'Jo toured the U.S. and 7 years for North America (Canada). Why has Lo'Jo not toured in North America for that many years?

Denis Pèan: We don't have agents in North America. And we had so many (other) countries to visit and things to do and experience.

WME: Lo'Jo has recorded at least 2 albums during that time. Will any of the albums be released in North America?

DP: It's the same thing: no tour no release, no release no tour!

WME: What changes have occurred with Lo'Jo over the past 8 years?

DP: We change the drummer. The girls and many of us had babies. At the beginning of the band we became our own producer and publisher. We used to receive artists in Lo'jo’s house (Mûrs-érigné, western France) giving energy, political and social implications close our own area. We had an amazing project in Caucasus "Babel Caucase" in a way to meet Georgian and Tcetchen people. The band travelled into Laos, Morocco, Algeria, Australia, U.K, New Zealand, Slovakia, Lettonia etc... We created the big circus show "Lo'jo Music Circus". We drunk good wine with spirituals sisters and wrote poetries about futility or eternity. We had a change of the French President--it's a pity for culture and intelligence.

WME: I know that Lo'Jo made sacrifices in support of the festival au desert and Tinariwen, both of which have reached worldwide success. Does Lo'Jo feel like proud parents for helping the festival and Tinariwen in the beginning? In a way, you did give birth to the festival and recorded Tinariwen's first album.

DP: Lo'jo gave birth to the first "Festival au désert" like an innocent child drawing his dream without imagining the impact. The best thing in this incredible adventure was the friendship we kept with Tinariwen and other Sahara nomads. In early May we played in Bamako and we appreciated the mixed crowd of European, northern and southern Malians; music makes it. Music provides education for each one, a collective inheritance and we feel great to act as a junction for a destiny.

WME: Tell me about Lo'Jo's current music. Have you added any new genres or musical flavors over the years? What are they?

DP: All the music I met gave me a good or a bad fate but most exciting for me is to create a theater of sensations, an emotional possibility. I would like to play my own genre, to paint a specific instant in an illumination with a woodblock or a funky symphonic orchestra with a tear of Indian Ocean or a Persian rhyme.

WME: Finally, do you have any West Coast dates planned for North America?

DP: We don't have concrete project except the concerts in Toronto, Montreal and New York. I hope we will return in the West Coast soon.

Tour Dates:

June 12, 2010, Luminato Festival (Queen’s Park North), Toronto, ON, Canada

June 13, 2010, La prise de la Bastille, Montreal, QC, Canada

June 18, 2010, Zebulon, Brooklyn, New York, US

June 20, 2010, SummerStage, Central Park, New York, US (3:00 p.m. and FREE)

The SummerStage concert also features Salif Keita (Mali) and Tabou Combo

Lo’Jo’s North American recordings can be found at

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In review--Carmen!

Carmen Souza
Protegid (Protection)
Galileo Music

Imagine if Billie Holiday sang in Creole and revisited her African roots then you would be half way to describing the voice of Cape Verdean Carmen Souza. The globetrotting musician possesses one of the most out-of-this-world voices to come along in a long time. On her album Protegid Carmen gives her vocals a tour of the African Diaspora, leaping back and forth between Cape Verdean music and American jazz. She sings in half-scat and half glissando uttering phrases in alto and then trilling in the soprano with her heavy vibrato voice fluttering like nervous birds. I recall Zap Mama more than I do Cesaria Evora, the Queen of Cape Verdean song.

Protegid feels more like world travel than world music. The album possesses everything from heavily syncopated Manhattan cabaret jazz to Afro-Latin grooves and energetic funana rhythms that introduce the song Afri Ka. Accordion, double bass, syncopated piano, various percussion, an Arabic oud (Adel Salameh) and guitar offer a backdrop for Souza’s spiritual-tinged lyrics. She sings about spiritual tests and challenging topics such as child abuse in Mara Marga which ends the otherwise uplifting album on a somber note.

My favorite track, Horace Silver’s Song for My Father recalls another virtuoso, Stevie Wonder’s Afro-Latin-tinged songs. The effervescent piano interlocking with the Afro-Latin percussion and double bass contributes the perfect canvas for Souza’s meanderings. In contrast Sodade (made famous by Cesaria Evora) features haunting piano and soulful vocals. Decision sounds like it hailed from the heart of tribal Africa with its whispery grunts and poly rhythms that introduce the song.

Protegid has a lot going on musically from dense percussive grooves, jazz idioms, vocals journeying up and down scales, scat, and a variety of musical styles. It’s not an easy-listening album by any stretch and the only relaxing song on the album is Sodade. Therefore, this album invigorates, but would not be beneficial to a stressed out listener. I had to wait until I felt relaxed to give this album a good listen. If you’re in the right frame of mind Protogid could take you on an enchanting ride across the African Diaspora. And if you're not, it could overstimulate an exhausted nervous system. Not suggested for bedtime. or