Saturday, March 2, 2013

In review--Morna Posthumous

Cesaria Evora 
Mãe Carinhosa 


(Reviews of artists who passed away are the hardest to write, especially posthumous recording reviews.  I want every word to count and every word to honor the performer.  I put so much pressure on myself that I end up procrastinating instead of writing the review.  Not only that, but it’s hard to write anything objective when music journalists and researchers are also fans of the musicians we review and we’re only human).

After the Cape Verdean vocalist Cesaria Evora died in 2011, her producer Jose da Silva felt reluctant to release a posthumous album, but according to the press notes that accompanied my media copy of Mãe Carinhosa, he was moved by tribute albums produced by other artists and he wondered what to do with unreleased tracks from Evora’s previous albums.  I think that Evora’s fans and colleagues will embrace this posthumous CD which possesses Evora’s warm and effervescent spirit.  It’s almost like she never left us and her voice lingers a bit longer among the living.

Many people love Evora because she represents the common person who through hard work and a fortunate turn of events, ended up as a world music superstar.  Other people love Evora because of her signature vocals that when combined with the lively rhythms of Cape Verde, accordion, violins, and guitar causes happiness to stir even in a depressed person’s heart.  Known for singing morna, Cape Verde’s answer to the blues, Evora's voice cures the blues.  And even the posthumous Mãe Carinhosa radiates a joyful vibration that will have more people dancing than crying.  I wonder if posthumous albums bring the artist immortality or just leave us with the impression of “I was here”or in this case, "she was here."

The opener Sentimento is an alternative track to the titular song of Evora’s last studio album (or the last of her albums I reviewed).  The title track of this CD sounds equally lively.  Whereas, Dor Di Sodade moves at a slower moody pace and while Evora sings with longing, it’s still not as aching as American blues, Portuguese fado or Spanish flamenco.  Of course, having an English translation of the lyrics could change my mind and my mood.  And even if it did, I would bounce back to a joyful place listening to the danceable Quem Tem Odio or Cmê Catchôrr.  However, the album ends on a melancholic tone with Nôs Cabo Verde which we could dedicate to Cesaria Evora, the Barefoot Diva of Cape Verde.  We still miss her even if we enjoy one last musical glimpse with this fabulous collection of songs.

The Practice--Music Elimination Diet & Delicious Replacements

If you’re reading this blog then you’re not the average music listener.  I imagine that you prefer that music bolster some area of your life or bring healing to you on some level.  Or perhaps, you enjoy listening to music with substance composed by musicians with the intent of bringing beauty, power, and grace to the world.  As each of us grows our consciousness we need music to support us and musicians as well.  This begins with our music diets.

A few years ago, I gave up eating gluten then eventually I also eliminated cow dairy from my diet.  I’m already a vegetarian so people around me asked the question, “Well, what will you eat now?”  I noticed a similar scenario when I stopped listening to pop and rock music.  People asked, “Well, then what will you listen to now?”  They asked this question because they prefer a life of limited options and ones that are spoon fed to them by the media and large corporations.  Little thought goes into the foods or music that the average person consumes, but then those folks aren’t reading this blog, unless they’re on the cusp of transforming their lives.

It turns out that a wide world of music exists outside American pop or western rock music.  Just look at the labels on the right side of this blog to get an idea of a small portion of the music you can find in the world.  The internet has brought the world to our computers and with a visit to YouTube we can explore virtually every type of music on the planet, from Tibetan folk dance music to a night at the opera.  Of course, this appeals to world travelers and Cultural Creatives whose soul mission in life revolves around exploring and connecting with other cultures.

While it might seem like a limitation to the casual observer that eliminating a specific music genre from our music diet, in essence we make room for music with more substance, as mentioned earlier.  When I eliminated many popular foods from my diet, I switched to whole nutrient dense food and found that I could actually get away with eating less and feel healthier.  I could afford to buy organic super foods too because I wasn’t spending money on bags of cookies (even the natural kind are junk food) and other comfort foods.  After I changed my diet, I didn’t need comfort food any longer because I felt healthier emotionally because I nurtured myself with healthy food.  I didn’t crave love in the form of food.

I find that it’s a similar situation with music.  I get all the excitement I need from flamenco, Brazilian samba, folk dance music, the occasional tango, and rustic Cuban music that I don’t need rock music to jolt my nerves and pump up my energy.  I also don’t miss some of the ridiculous lyrics in modern pop music.  However, I will admit that pop music from other eras contained poetic lyrics and thoughtful stories.   And I’m sure there are still talented songwriters these days that choose the pop and rock arenas to express their gifts.  But I’m not interested and prefer to explore more complex music with purposeful intentions rather than selling lots of records.  Surprisingly, some of the complex music breaks through at times and excites larger audiences too.  Think Gregorian Chant craze, for example, or Mozart’s music after books like The Mozart Effect hit the market.

I have no rules for developing your music diet, except to keep a diary where you truthfully record your emotional and physical responses to music and the situations in which you listened to the music.  You will find yourself eliminating some music and replacing it with another type of music.  Then this new music will lead you down a road to another type of music, and then another type, and this is where the adventure comes in.  The other thing you’ll notice as you explore different types of music and observe your responses to that music, is that you will find your own way in the world and make up your mind about what you enjoy instead of feeling like music is force fed.  As you take this journey, you also become more authentic and discover yourself.  You could return to some of the music you eliminated earlier but with a new perspective or you might just find that you radically changed your life to a place of no return.

And by transforming your music diet, you also support folkloric and classical musicians who some times etch out a living preserving a tradition.  Without your support some of these musicians are forced to enter the pop music arena or to “modernize” the folk music that was orally passed down to them.  We must get past this belief that old is bad and new is good.  In my opinion, most folkloric music doesn’t need a makeover and by keeping its integrity we honor our elders and heritage.  This isn’t to say that music doesn’t naturally evolve over time and change of culture, but that the change needs to come naturally and not manipulated and controlled by the high-tech industry, which in the wrong hands, leaves music sounding plastic.

So keep a music diary, explore new (to you) music, and develop your personal music diet based on your experiences.  By doing this you attract new people, experiences, and situations in your life.  And when you raise your vibration by listening to music with cleaner intent and purpose, you discover your authenticity.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In review--Voila & Ooh, La, La...

Putumayo Presents
Vintage France
Putumayo World Music

The folks at Putumayo World Music love France and ever so often, the label releases a delightful compilation of French music, ranging from nostalgic fare to contemporary folk-pop performed on acoustic instruments.  Vintage France features nostalgic French music from the 1950s and 60s or the Post War Generation music performed by contemporary artists.  Chansons about love mingle with gypsy jazz rhythms and swirly accordion wafts through the air like a summer breeze.  It’s the kind of music you would expect to hear at touristy cafe and what many people imagine when they think of Paris--debonaire male vocals and restrained Parisian women who's vocals barely raise above a whisper.  However, there is also hearty female vocals.

The songs hang together, but a few famous ones stand out such as Martijn Luttmer’s instrumental cover of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg from the 1960s movie starring Catherine Deneuve and Serge Gainsbourg’s La Javanaise performed by Madeleine Peyroux (who is an American jazz crooner with a convincing French accent and diction).  Listeners who enjoy swing will enjoy Daniel Roure’s Les Baleines Bleues, Norbert Slama Trio’s Nany (which is actually Parisian cafe music), Raphaël Bas’ Confessin’ (slow swing), Jean-Claude Laudat’s Cloviswing and Philippe Gautier’s Mènilmontant.  However, I choose Francesca Blanchard’s ballad Sous le Ciel de Paris which reminds me of a traditional Quebecois ballad.  The strong melody and moody vocals sound quintessential French to my American ears.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Practice: Your Musical Evolution in 3 Suites

photo by Patricia Herlevi

Just like we wouldn’t try wearing shoes we wore as a child, as adults, our musical tastes and experiences evolve over time.  We might even discard genres of music in the wake as we evolve spiritually and our minds and bodies mature.  Certain songs will bring only sad memories and hanging onto those memories or songs no longer serves us.  Other types of music provide bridges from one genre to the next.

For instance, when I began evolving from alternative rock to world music, I discovered the new tangos of Astor Piazzolla, African pop, and archival fados.  I began hearing my first strains of jazz and Cuban music, such as Perez Prado’s mambos (  When I first began listening to world music I listed to global pop music as opposed to field recordings or traditional music played on traditional instruments.  Then over the following decade, I embraced global jazz and European classical along with art music from the Middle East and the East.

After I learned the basics of psycho-acoustic tools, and I took sound healing workshops where I experienced sound frequencies shifting the energies in my body and mind, not to mention, helping my soul evolve, I went through a purification stage. I couldn’t listen to any electronic music, not even new age CDs with synthesizers.  Ironically, I came out of this stage when I heard strains of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke while shopping for groceries.   

This led me on a nostalgic trip which helped me heal issues from my teen angst years. When I immersed myself in soul and funk music of the 1970s and 1980s, I noticed that my sensitivities to some pop music elements had subsided, but barely.  I still couldn't handle high-pitch guitar solos or anything loud and jarring.  Programmed drums were out too, but I could handle some synthesizer if it sunk into the background with acoustic instruments in the forefront.

I realize we’re all different.  Some humans have stronger nerves and constitutions.  They don’t sink into depression or anxiety easily, and their mellow attitudes can handle more stimuli than more sensitive types who hear a loud sound and their bodies go into fight or flight or freeze.  And it is up to each of us to discern which category we reside--sensitive or desensitized.  When you think about it these two types balance each other out.  Obviously, we need people with stronger nervous systems to deal with emergency situations and sensitive types to handle nurturing and healing situations.

The problems arrive when we bring music to communities that consist of both types.  The sensitive types need less stimuli in the form of softer and slower tempo music to relax their delicate nervous systems.  While the stronger types need louder and faster stimuli to get them up on their feet and into action.  Since I fall into the sensitive category, showing up at events with louder stimulating music gives me a headache.  Does this mean that both my musical tastes and types of life experiences have evolved in tandem? After all, people who don’t like loud, and crowded events aren’t going to naturally gravitate toward loud staccato music.

The stronger types who need more stimuli fall asleep during chamber music or other classical music concerts.  Smooth jazz or new age music won’t work for these folks either.  As we evolve musically, and if we pay attention to our body’s needs, we discern where our musical tastes have evolved.  And I wonder if age has anything to do with this evolution.  When I was in my 20s louder music didn’t bother me and it kept me awake on nights when I had to study for a final exam.  The louder or quicker tempo music acted like caffeine boosting my energy levels when I needed it.  But now in my middle age years, I find myself listening to music I once deemed for mama’s boys.  I find myself listening to and enjoying nostalgic lyrics or love songs without any jaded sentiments.  A sweet melody moves me to tears.

Suite One: Nostalgia

What role does nostalgia play with music? Do we find ourselves listening to music from other eras of our lives out of habit or because that music could lead us on a healing journey? If we only listen to music out of habit then it’s time to become more conscious about our musical choices and ask some challenging questions.

For instance if hearing an old song that reminds us of a romantic breakup or painful period in our lives then that song could be used in a therapeutic setting.  If the song triggers emotions, allow those emotions to surface and release them once and for all.  You might find that the song no longer appeals to you after releasing the stuck emotions.  Or you might notice that you are able to forgive yourself or others after listening to the song for release purposes.

If you are just listening to a song out of habit or to cling to another time in your life, then it’s time to let the song and the memories go.  Don’t squeeze your feet into childhood shoes because you have changed since that time.  True, a song you loved in your childhood now has ironic meanings that you didn’t sense during your childhood. 

Suite Two: Exploring New Music

Astor Piazzolla, Wikipedia
Think of yourself as a pioneer heading into new lands.  Even with the internet making the world look smaller, it’s still larger than we imagine.  Musical cultures await your exploration especially the music from your heritage and lineages.  When I took my first steps that would begin my global musical journey (I’m still on it), I felt my heart fluttering in my chest with excitement and it felt like trying new food from exotic locations.  When I read books about ethnomusicologists I felt a kinship with these musical explorers.

Explore one genre at a time or immerse yourself in several.  One thing that will happen if your current diet is mostly rock and pop music, and that is, you’ll discover roots such as the troubadour tradition of ancient times that now shows up with singer-songwriter material. And if you don’t have funds to travel, exploring music and culture from other parts of the world and satiate your travel and exploration appetite until you can pack your bags and travel to other places.   

Also if you don’t have funds seek out free folk music festivals (which don’t only feature singer-songwriters or what most people think of as folk music) or head to the local library to check out world music CDs.  Look for free or low-cost classical music events in your city or town and local libraries usually have a good classical collection of the most popular operas, symphonies, and composers.  Start with a composer you already know about such as Mozart or Beethoven.  Don’t start out with J.S. Bach since his music needs some explanation before fully appreciating it.  However, if a local ensemble happens to produce a Bach concert with lectures, put on your explorer hat and go.

Suite Three: Keep a Music Diary

Call it a music diary or call it a music travel log, but keep track of your musical experiences in a notebook.  Keep track of your emotional and physical responses to your first and subsequent encounters with the types of music you have explored.  Since your tastes and music sensibilities develop and evolve over time, that field recording that turned you off at the beginning of your journey might turn you on later.

Your musical tastes evolve also through all the knowledge about different cultures and music you acquire on your journey.  This is the main reason why I taught music appreciation classes and hosted a music-based community radio show for a year (2008) so that I could plant seeds about various types of music in listeners or students’ minds.  Unfortunately, I taught music appreciation classes to people 55+ and so I wasn’t able to reach younger music audiences.  I also ended up playing nostalgic music samples in class rather than more modern approaches.  Again, older people have sensitive nervous systems so sticking with what they already know was the healthiest route.

Your journey will differ from mine.  You might stay in the modern era or time travel to ancient Egypt.  Your past lives might influence your musical tastes or you meet people who introduce you to their favorite genres of music.  But regardless of the twists and turns in your journey, keep a music diary.  Years later you can refer back to your first musical stumbling with a nostalgic gleam in your eyes.

And if you wonder if I kept a music diary, the answer is no and I regret that omission.  You will track your musical evolution through the music diary and you might find that halfway through your journey you’re giving lectures and teaching workshops about your favorite musical discoveries. 

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