Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Blues legend John Dee Holeman will perform live today (3/31) on WXDU's "Bull City Cosmic Hoedown" with host Washboard Dave. Andy Coates will play with Holeman; guest segment starts around 7 pm.

WHAT: John Dee Holeman w/ Andy Coates
WHEN: TODAY, Tuesday (3/31), "Bull City Cosmic Hoedown" 6-7:30 pm (guest segment: circa 7pm)
WHERE: WXDU 88.7 FM or live stream with iTunes at www.wxdu.org

More from Dave:
"John Dee Holeman is a North Carolina treasure and has won National Heritage Fellowship awards and NC Heritage Awards over the years for his guitar playing and singing. His style on guitar combines the Piedmont Blues sound (which developed in Durham in the '30s and '40s) with touches of Texas blues and R&B. You've likely seen him playing outdoors at street festivals, at the Eno River, or in clubs. He knows a million tunes, and tonight I hope he'll play a few for us.

John Dee Holeman turns 80 years young this weekend and there will be a birthday party for him Saturday night at Broad Street Cafe with a host of other blues artists on hand to help celebrate. Come on out if you can:

Afro Cuban All Stars in Greensboro THIS FRIDAY (4/3)

The Afro Cuban All Stars will target Greensboro's Carolina Theatre for a massive vacilón this Friday (4/3):

Nostalgia band brings new faces in '09.

Juan de Marcos' latest combination features expatriated Cubanos, to steer clear of potential headaches with visas and the all-important FBI security clearances. This is the hurdle that since 2003 has in essence prohibited Cuban touring, going on 6 years now. Soon to be a thing of the past? Rumors are flying, but at this time unconfirmed. We'll keep you posted!

Meanwhile, Afro Cuban All Stars are in the 7th week of a grueling 8-week tour that has already taken them from the West Coast through the Southwest, the Midwest and Northeast. View full tour schedule here on Timba.com, including dates in nearby Virginia and Atlanta this week. The tour will wind up in Miami on April 11.

These details on the 2009 Afro Cuban All Stars lineup were reported in All About Jazz.com:
"Ignacio 'Nachito' Herrera (Minnesota), pianist and ex-musical director of Tropicana Orchestra and Cubanismo

Calixto Oviedo (Stockholm), drummer, performed with Adalberto Alvarez, NG La Banda, Pacho Alonso, etc.

Yaure Muniz (Madrid), Igort Rivas (Curacao) & Miguel Valdes (Vancouver), trumpeters, members of the Buena Vista Social Club, but also lead trumpet players with Paulo FG, Klimax, Tropicana Orchestra, etc.

Alberto 'Molote' Martinez (Amsterdam), trombonist, member of the original line up of Buena Vista Social Club, but also a featured member of Elio Reve's Orchestra, Cuban Symphonic Orchestra, etc."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bride of Fado: Mariza @ UNC Tuesday (3/31)

Photo © by Eduardo Mota

Fado's fashion leader.

Read my 2004 column on Mariza in the Independent Weekly.

WHAT: Mariza
WHEN: Tuesday, March 31, 7:30 pm
WHERE: Carolina Performing Arts, Memorial Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill
COST: $25-$40, Students $10

Box Office: (919) 843-3333

Friday, March 27, 2009

His Majesty: Oquendo

Update: According to his wishes, there will be no public viewing for Manny Oquendo. A funeral mass will be held at St.Margaret's Roman Catholic Church in Queens, NY on Wednesday, April 1st at 11 am. Interment will be one block away at St.John's Cemetery.

St. Margaret's RC Catholic Church
66-05 79th Place
Flushing, NY 11379

St. John's Cemetery
80-01 Metropolitan Avenue
Middle Village, NY 11379

Here's a musician's appreciation [more of these below, see updated post] of Manny Oquendo's legacy, and a detailed look at his career, from fellow percussionist Bobby Sanabria:

"Manny Oquendo was/is one of the last living ties we have to the past in terms of the majesty of Afro-Cuban-based dance music as it is performed in New York City. Majesty is the word. Manny was a big part of the development of that music.

He first started his early career in the band of violinist Juanito Sanabria (no relation) then, as many of you know, he replaced Francisco "Chino" Pozo on bongó with the early group of Tito Puente, then performing with the Vicentico Valdes, Marcelino Guerra and Pupi Campo Orchestras, just to name a few of the many well known groups he performed and recorded with at this time, the early to mid '50s. His work with Tito Rodriguez's orchestra solidified his position as a premiere bongocero, but he had started to come into prominence as a timbalero on the early recordings of Johnny Pacheco's charanga in the late '50s. His work on the Eddie Palmieri's La Perfecta recordings in the early to mid '60s solidified his legendary status amongst the cognoscenti of percussion in New York City and the world through the band's recordings and live performances where Manny was prominently featured as a soloist on timbales. These solos have become textbook examples of speaking in the language of clave as Manny transferred much of the quinto solo vocabulary of rumba to the instrument, making them perfect vehicles for dancers to express themselves. They are in fact compositions unto themselves that have been studied by generations of percussionists. But when asked about his style by poet/activist/radio host/TV reporter Felipe Luciano on his "Latin Roots" radio show on WRVR in New York City in the '70s, Manny wryly replied: 'Heavy-handed, but with finesse.'

Manny's skill as bongocero made him the choice of many bandleaders on recordings and that side of his prowess gets little to no attention. Work on seminal albums like Larry Harlow's Tribute to Arsenio Rodriguez are great documents of this; as Larry states, 'Phil Newsom was in awe of Manny. He shared the bongó duties on that album with him. I can't tell which is which because Phil studied his style so much. It's the ultimate compliment when a player does that.' It's only fitting. The word bongó means in the Efik language of Southern Nigeria, drum. But it is also a synonym for, the truth. Manny spoke 'La Verdad' in volumes on el bongó.

Manny's attention to detail and his extensive knowledge and record collection of Cuban music became a source of knowledge to many in the community, becoming an inspiration to bassist Andy Gonzalez. Manny's eventual forming of his own group Libre, in collaboration with Andy in the '70s, became a laboratory, spawning ground, and vehicle for expression for many talented players like Dave Valentin, Jimmy Bosch, Steve Turre, Willie Rodriguez, Jerry Gonzalez and Jorge Dalto to name just a few.

was not one for giving compliments. Why would he. He was part of a generation of musicians who created this genre establishing extremely high standards of excellence. In terms of the Clave Police, Manny was Inspector Chief. So if you got a compliment from Manny, it was a unique, rare thing. Someone asked me last year the standard question, 'What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?' I replied, 'Getting a compliment from Manny Oquendo.'

A TRUE master of el tambor, native Nuyorican son of Brooklyn, rest in peace Maestro José Manuel Oquendo.

Ibae y aché,
Bobby Sanabria

--Originally posted on 3/26 in the Latin Jazz Yahoo Group; reprinted here with permission.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

R.I.P. Manny Oquendo

January 1, 1931 - March 25, 2009

It hasn't hit the English-language media yet, but the Latin music world is rippling with the sad news of Manny Oquendo's passing.

Photo © by Martin Cohen, used with permission.

The timbalero's legacy is towering, from Eddie Palmieri's first band, La Perfecta, to the groundbreaking Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino, to Oquendo's own Conjunto Libre, which was known as a "university" of salsa for all the musicians who trained up in it, including trombonists Papo Vazquez and Jimmy Bosch, and the classy sonero Herman Olivera.

Much more to follow...this is a big one.

With the scoop: Radio Gladys Palmera, Barcelona (in Spanish - nice recent photo)

Of course, Gladys heard it here, from the mother of all Latin music sources, Herencia Latina (in Spanish). Authoritative. Contains a link to their previous interview with "Manolo" conducted by Eric Gonzalez.

Nice piece of information here at Primera Hora (obit in Spanish): Manny was honored last year, along with Larry Harlow and record store owner Rafael Viera, at Z93 FM's Dia Nacional de la Salsa in Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, while we are waiting for an obituary to appear in English, here is a short musician profile for Manny (in English) at All About Jazz.

Puerto Rico, Spain, now Italy. AP, Reuters, where are you? Posted on Friday (3/27), 10:30 am.

The online record store and music resource Descarga.com has published an acknowledgment of Manny Oquendo's death. As a memorial, they offer Roberta Singer's interview (in English) with one of Oquendo's closest musical collaborators, Andy Gonzalez. My Google news searches still turn up nothing in English. I should be over being surprised that a record store on Flatbush Avenue has scooped the New York Times, NPR, etc. --Link added Friday (3/27), 2:33 pm.

UPDATES on Saturday (3/28):


Word is Felix Contreras is preparing a radio report for NPR. No doubt it will be another accessible, probing, connecting of the dots like his recent piece inspired by the passing of Joe Cuba.

Aurora Flores has sent out an extensive press release, so expect some more mainstream coverage soon. Her comprehensive obit (in English) has now been posted at Herencia Latina, with a totally smokin' photo of a young Manny Oquendo! MUST SEE

Meanwhile, here are some blurbs from fellow musicians and music aficionados reacting to Oquendo's loss, all quoted here with permission:

"One of my favorite timbaleros of all time! Why? A unique combination of sabor with a minimalist approach, while also taking risks."

--Gregory "Goyo" Pappas, music critic, philosopher, associate professor at Texas A&M University

"Manny was the one who made me a true believer of 'Less is More.' I compared Manny's playing with two people having a conversation, the first person speaking at a normal pace, clear, well-spoken, the other speaking at about 100 miles an hour. Someone may say, 'wow,' that guy sure speaks fast...BUT did you understand him?"

--John "Dandy" Rodriguez, bongocero with Tito Puente, Tipica '73, Latin Giants of Jazz, et al.

"The world is a lot less swingin' today."

--Ramon Banda, timbalero with Poncho Sanchez and Banda Brothers

"Manolo's thundering timbales as heard on the ground-breaking mid-'70s Concepts In Unity left an insistent impression which was definitive and absolutely timeless. His aesthetics of rhythmicity is like a sculptural milestone or like an ancient tale which will always live on in the culture."

--Zeno Okeanos, filmmaker/musician/record collector

"During my teenage years, we never went in a bar or a club unless the jukebox had Eddie Palmieri's 'Oye Lo Que Te Conviene' on it. There was always the excitement of that bongo solo by Manny. Even before we could put a face to the name, we felt like we knew him."

--César Diaz

"My first recollection of noticing how I really loved how Manny Oquendo played timbales was at The Embassy Ballroom in the Bronx. I became a diehard Eddie Palmieri fan. I would go see Eddie, Ismael Quintana, Barry Rogers, Jose Rodrigues, a very young Chucky Lopez whenever they performed at The Hunts Point Palace or the Colgate Gardens. Drinking age back then was 18, and we were able to get into theses gigs since we looked so much older dressing in cashmere coats, Stetson (a beaver hat), tailored sharkskin pants, alpaca knit shirts and wearing a pair of gators, lizards or playboys. Manny always looked serious and quiet offstage but when he was playing, man, oh man. We were all blown away with his solo in 'Mozambique' which was the sound I came to expect whenever I see Eddie."

--Eddie Rodriguez, producer/promoter, president of Latin Works Music. Went on to produce many shows for Conjunto Libre.

"Being able to carry Manny's timbales is and will always be one of the highlights of my career."

--Ralph Irizarry, timbalero with Ray Barretto and Ruben Blades, leader of Timbalaye and SonCafe, talking about one night in 1984 when Libre opened for Blades' band, yet Irizarry carried Oquendo's instruments for him.

"His sound and style on the timbal and handbell will stand forever as the real shizzle that separates him from the pack. He was a fierce defender of the traditions and protected them like a mother grizzly bear in the wild with her cubs. I know I am not alone in saying that we will do all we can to uphold the rhythmic traditions that Manny represented and loved and to which he dedicated his entire life."

--John Santos, percussionist

"I studied Manny's recorded timbal solos and tried to memorize as much as I could. This taught me how melodically and in clave he played."

--Bobby Matos, percussionist

"I have fond memories of Maestro Oquendo from the musican's seminar that was part of the Albert Torres Salsa Congress. Manny Oquendo taught the old school timbal class in 2004 and 2005. What a rush that was. When I joined the seminar in '04, I had only been playing one year. He was an awesome instructor and quite the jam session instigator."

--Shelly Lee, timbalera with Los Puros

"Manny is one of the primary sources of the true language of timbal and bongó. I experienced a very old timbalero at the Casa de la Trova in Santiago de Cuba (on real paila criolla) a long time ago, and having had listened to Manny so many times, I thought: Hey, he plays like Oquendo... That's the way Manny Oquendo played, old school. And so hip at the same time!"

--Nils Fischer, percussionist, leader of Timbazo

UPDATES on Sunday (3/29):


Well, it's happened. A magazine in Havana has scooped American journalism, including Manny Oquendo's hometown paper of record (New York Times?). This appreciation (in Spanish) appears in La Jiribilla's March 28 - April 3 edition.

UPDATES on Monday (3/30):


I think newspapers are officially dead. The blogosphere is singlehandedly covering this with a flowering of nice tributes and obituaries. It's a matter of dignity. There are stories that need to be told.

Here's one I missed, posted on Friday--at Latin Jazz Corner. Beautiful photo captures the ineffable moment of communication. That's Frankie Vazquez, vocal/guiro, and Andy Gonzalez, bass, with their eagle eyes on the maestro.

Also capturing the moment is independent radio. Andy Gonzalez went on WBAI 99.5 FM's "Barrio Block" yesterday from 2-4 pm to talk about his partner in Libre. The show is archived for 90 days; you can download it or listen online here (look for time slot "Sunday, March 29, 2 pm"). Hosts Ibrahim Gonzalez and Nando Alvaricci also welcome Machito saxophonist Ray Santos, a childhood friend; musical historian Rene Lopez, Oquendo's bandmate in Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino; trombonist and Libre alum Jimmy Bosch; and Orquesta Broadway timbalero Charlie Santiago among other guests.

A gig that Libre was booked to play on May 30 at the Bronx Museum will go on as planned, as a memorial to Manny.

WHAT: Libre Memorial Concert for Manny Oquendo
WHEN: Saturday, May 30, 7:30 pm
WHERE: Bronx Museum, 1040 Grand Concourse at 165th Street

UPDATE added 4/13/09:

PRESS WATCH: The New York Times finally weighed in yesterday with a Manny Oquendo obituary. Better late than never. It's pretty nice, including this:
"While playing in La Perfecta...Mr. Oquendo picked up and adapted the complex carnival rhythm called Mozambique, made popular in Cuba by Pello El Afrokán, and reworked it for the timbales, introducing a hypnotic African beat to the dance halls of New York.

I think that's right. Manny's sound in La Perfecta is iconic in the ears of salsa fans, whether they are consciously aware of his presence or not. Manny Oquendo is one of those people you need in order to imagine salsa.

Note also: All About Jazz has excerpted the New York Times story on the news page of their website.

UPDATE added 5/8/09:

PRESSWATCH: One of the sweetest for last. Beautifully written piece by Alan Lockwood in the Brooklyn Rail.

isn't it romantic

Fresh-squeezed from the grapevine: Bio Ritmo sonero Rei Alvarez is experimenting with a bolero sideproject. Billed as "Miramar," the female half of the vocal duo is one Laura Ann. Ritmo pianist Marlysse Simmons accompanies.

First gig:

WHAT: Miramar
WHEN: April 4, 9:00-11:30 pm
WHERE: Que Pasa, 623 N. 25th St (at Jefferson and M Streets), Richmond, VA

Rei aka DJ Rattan will spin vinyl between sets.

Balkan Billy Bragg

This is a classroom performance at Duke by Ferhat Tunç, bağlama, recorded and posted with his permission. Nuray Ahmed plays guitar. An English translation of the lyrics is included below.

No To War from Santa Salsera on Vimeo.

Noble mountains and plains
Burn and turn into ashes
Let not children grow up
In the midst of blood and gunpowder

Let not passions be stained by blood
Let not human beings be murdered
Mothers, mothers
Let not mothers cry
Hearts, hearts
O let not hearts cry

No to war
No to death
Let there be peace
Let there be brotherhood

Enough for blood
Stand for peace
From the mountains and plains
Each soul must rush to hope

Enough for oppression
People must laugh from now on
Mothers, mothers
Let not mothers cry
Hearts, hearts
O let not hearts burn

No to war
No to death
Let there be peace
Let there be brotherhood

--"No To War," lyrics and music by Ferhat Tunç

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Ferhat Files

I've learned a lot about Turkey, its politics and culture, in the last few days, hanging out with Ferhat Tunç and his entourage.

The last event on his local residency is TODAY, Wednesday (3/25) from 7-9 pm at NCSU's Stewart Theater in Raleigh. (After this, they are headed to California, then Rome, then back to Istanbul.) I hear that Ferhat and Nuray will play music at the beginning, and again at the end of this event. There will be a panel discussion in between with Louise Meintjes and Catherine Admay, the two professors responsible for bringing them to Duke.

Tuesday afternoon I visited their class, "Human Rights and The Arts." The students had a lot of great questions for Ferhat about music and politics (and might I add, that classrooms are a different place now than when I was last a student? Everyone--without exception had laptops open, typing their notes and toggling between Google maps of Turkey, Wikipedia entries and the Freemuse.org site that has lots of source material about Ferhat in English.)

After that, he met some Turkish students for coffee in Van der Heyden, the café in Duke's library; they debated the Kurdish question and possible roads toward multiculturalism in Turkey.

Later I learned from Ferhat that his instrument, the bağlama, has a long history of being associated with political protest and persecution.

Ferhat Tunç Unplugged from Santa Salsera on Vimeo.
Ferhat Tunç playing the bağlama and singing a song about Pir Sultan Abdal, a 16th-century musician who was killed by the Ottoman Empire because he would not renounce freedom. Translation at the end provided by Ömür Kayikçi.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

El Gran Combo in The Carolinas in April

According to this flyer, the "musical flag of Puerto Rico" is coming to Bongo's in Greenville on Friday, April 17:

Oh dear, here we go again: the club domain name is expired. I called the promoter and will let you know what I find out.

And wouldn't it be nice if the band's website listed their itinerary? It does not. Bummer.

I feel like begging at this point. Just how DOES one ascertain with authority where Grupo Niche, El Gran Combo etc. are going to be playing on a given night? Must the fan's pursuit of information remain as mystical as la clave?


Hay que tener fé. What do you know, sometimes it pays to go to the top. The contact number on El Gran Combo's webpage goes directly to Señor Rafael Ithier himself! Holy frijoles. Well, he says YES, babies, El Gran Combo is playing in South Carolina on April 17. And he says, there are MORE tour dates through North Carolina...I am to call him back tomorrow afternoon to get that information. I imagine I probably tapped him unexpectedly (that makes it mutual) as he was taking a nice lunch on his patio in Puerto Rico, or something like that.

Old School...you've got to love it. The band's founder still handles the business calls himself after all these years. God bless Don Rafael!

UPDATE added 3/26:

Willie Sotelo, who plays piano with the band on tour in Ithier's place, emailed me back that there's another date somewhere in North Carolina around July 10 or 11 (?). Hopefully details forthcoming. Willie also wrote that the band hopes to get a calendar page up on the website soon.

happy to be here
Oh, and he also said thanks for the picture. :-)

This is Willie Sotelo at the Rumba D'Cache show in October. There has been a lot of complaining about that show from the point of view of the venue and logistics. Promoter integrity matters, yes, a great deal in fact, but I go to shows primarily out of loyalty to the band. I was not at all disappointed in this show. I knew from talking to Richie Bastar (bongocero) before the performance how exhausted they were, and how far they had travelled that day: from Vancouver to Chicago to Charlotte, with flight delays, then bussed to Greensboro. The day before that, they were in Alaska. (Which, of course, put me in mind of the great 1984 album that yielded "Azuquita Pa'l Cafe.")

This the touringest band in salsa; travel and logistics are not always going to go smoothly, but when they don't, my sympathy is more often with the band than for myself. Trying to find some venue in Roanoke or Greensboro at night can be a harrowing experience if your bus driver gets lost, your flight connection is late, your instruments didn't arrive or whatever (all of which has happened). There is this assumption circulating that the promoter was to blame for their late arrival, when in fact I'm sure the guy was sweating bullets until they arrived. There is no reason why El Gran Combo would want to go on stage that late, either, so I'm sure it was just circumstances beyond everyone's control.

By contrast, I drove only one hour to this gig, and while waiting, I danced and hung out with some of my favorite people: the musicians who make our own local scene happen. There was a nice feeling of community that night.

As you can see by the look on Willie's face, once El Gran Combo took the stage, they did so with love for the fans and gave a full court press. I feel sorry for the folks who didn't have the fortitude to stay through the encore, but dancing to "Un Verano en Nueva York" at 4 am was the high point of my night.

Hondurans Play Exhibition Soccer in Cary FRIDAY

WHAT: Carolina Railhawks vs. Club Deportivo Olimpia de Honduras
WHEN: Friday, March 27, 8 pm
WHERE: WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary
COST: $20-$35

First 1000 kids receive free soccer balls, courtesy of Blue Cross/Blue Shield, according to an email from Railhawks President Brian Wellman.

Tickets range from $20 Spectator, $27.50 Premium, and $35 Club seating. Children 3+ years of age require ticketing; under age 3 they can be admitted free with a parent and must share parent's seat.

Box Office: (919) 859-5425

Visit the team website for tickets, directions and full schedule.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Bulgarian La Bamba

I mentioned Ferhat's sideman, Nuray, who comes from Bulgaria and is ethnically Turkish. While we didn't have a language in common, we were able to "converse" in snippets of a few Spanish cover songs he knows.

Sure enough, here is Nuray (in purple shirt, far right) singing "La Bamba" on KanalTurk TV:

Mambo Film, Demos TONIGHT in Richmond

This just in: a new documentary film, La Epoca: The Palladium Era will be shown Sunday, 3/22 in Richmond at the Fuego Restaurant.

The 7:30 pm screening costs $10 and includes a "live orchestra" and dancers who will demonstrate mambo styles, as well as a Q&A session with producers, who are taking their film around independently to show it in nightclubs and universities. More at the website, www.laepocafilm.com.

Behind the scenes: the soundtrack includes new music by Alfonso "El Panameño" Joseph and his son, the film's executive producer Josue Joseph, as well as his vocalist daughter, Raquel-Maria. Tres legend Charlie Rodriguez also plays.

I'm a little confused by the soundtrack, which appears to be half originals by the Joseph family band, padded with long-reissued tracks by Arsenio Rodriguez, the godfather of son conjunto. I hope the movie doesn't turn out to be more creative niche marketing to the dance congress crowd than a true mambo documentary. It should be interesting to see how they connect the dots.

[Update: ok, I get the connection now--Alfonso played bass with Arsenio. So what the album appears to be in reality is a retrospective/renewal of his career. The clips do make this film appear to be pretty much oriented to dance obsessives--do I really need the difference between "on 1" and "on 2" explained to me again? This is just counting, it doesn't take a new film to grasp it. What is disappointing already is that the group purports to be purists of the style, but the producer's sister's vocal ("Vale Mas") is already an R&B flavored modern fusion. That is fine, for what it is, but how does this take me back to the roots of mambo? Also, there is an awful lot of straw man construction; Johnny Pacheco as the epitome of "salsa," not to mention some very strange (to me) implicit tearing down of Fania including Hector Lavoe! Don't tell me Hector Lavoe doesn't have clave. There is a LOT MORE to salsa/son/mambo/Afro-cuban music/whatever you want to call it than counting from 1 to 2.

I think this project makes a lot of good points, about connecting the dots from Arsenio to mambo through Cachao, about the marginalization of black guys like Arsenio in the salsa market. But you can hardly say that Arsenio's sound or his commercial presence was central to the mambo scene, either. They make a big point about mambo coming before salsa, historically, but mambo is also a modern urban creation in New York City that was in essence a commercial adaptation to the influences of that time and place. But so was Arsenio's son, which came before that. I don't like the leveraging of these arguments about the history in such a way that one era is privileged as purer, better, than the others. If people want to dance mambo today I think that is cool and well and good but it's very obvious that commercial interests are behind the mambo revival as well. They aren't giving away dance lessons or salsa congress subscriptions or instructional videos. Do I think dance instructors and musicians have a right to earn money from their art and instruction? Absolutely. But the narrative of a golden age can get carried away. There is absolutely NO NEED to tear down the artistry and craft and poetry and clave brilliance of a Hector Lavoe, in order to recognize the importance of an Arsenio or a Cachao. Can't we all just get along?]

If Charlie Rodriguez is in the house, that would worth the drive. Tres, though, is not really a mambo thing, it comes from the tipico side of Cuban music, not the big band era. Hence I'm mildy confused, yet curious as hell.

Basically, in a world of iPods and cable TV, I think I speak for many when I say we are hungry out here for a anyone and anything bringing a consciousness of history to the scene, and maintaining the dancer's connection to live performance. Bring it on.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ferhat Tunç Date Added THIS AFTERNOON at Talullah's

WHAT: Ferhat Tunç, Kurdish singer from Turkey
WHEN: TODAY, Saturday (3/21), 4 p.m. - ?
WHERE: Talullah's, W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
COST: (unknown, if any)

I saw Ferhat Tunç last night at the Duke Performances show. (Ferhat is on a short artist residency at Duke.) He played the saz or bağlama, a narrow-necked, fretted instrument which has 3 pairs of double-coursed strings. An extra bass string on this particular saz, for added depth, made for a total of seven tuning pegs. He sings with a particular, rather rapid, full-throated vibrato; at times it helped to just close my eyes and listen. I don't know what kind of scales or modes this music employs, but in my "Western" terms it sounded like minor keys exclusively--nothing I would characterize as a major mode--and occasionally micotonal, but not as much as the Arab music we heard recently. I picked up some unusual meters (9/8, maybe? what was that?) and one of Tunç's original tunes I thought could be happily repurposed into prog rock. A few of us thought he looked like Billy Bragg up there on stage, in jeans and a flannel shirt.

Tunç (pronounced "Too-nch") had just one musician with him (which is a shame, listening to the videos, would have liked to hear a whole band to get a better feel for this music): Bulgarian/Turkish classical guitarist Nuray Ahmed. Nuray was the one who explained the saz' workings to me, with the help of a very kind UNC student who translated for us. The owner of Tallulah's was at the concert last night, and they set up this impromptu concert for this afternoon at 4. Not sure if they will charge admission or not, but this is a nice chance to hear him if you missed the Duke show. He performed a lot of Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian songs, and through translator Firat Oruc, provided some context for the political and cultural contest.

See also, panel discussion on Monday (3/23):

Roger Lucey performs Monday night at 7:30 pm in the Nelson Music Room, Duke East Campus in the East Duke Building. He is a South African musician whose career was suppressed by security police in the '70s and '80s. This concert is a fundraiser for Freemuse.org, a Danish organization promoting free speech and human rights for musicians.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sure Thing: Rumba Tonight in Raleigh

Almost forgot...tonight is the monthly Cubanismo party at Mosaic. Salsa dancing, live drumming by Tambor Vivo. And it's FREE.

See calendar and/or search blog for details...

Grupo Niche, Si o No?

Can anyone confirm or deny the Grupo Niche show that was announced by Rumba D'Cache in Greensboro this Friday (3/20)? I have tried repeatedly to contact club owner and promoter, Edwin Dubois, and haven't been able to reach him at his email or phone numbers. Has anyone bought advance tickets?

Furthermore, the event poster is no longer displayed on Rumba D'Cache's homepage or myspace page. What gives?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Original Gangsta: Get Well Soon

Reports say Willie Colón is in the hospital, awaiting surgery for gallstones today (3/17). Let's hope his doctor doesn't use a trombone.

Colón had to cancel an appearance in Lima, Peru on Thursday, where he was scheduled to appear on a double bill with Marc Anthony. Anthony extended his part of the program to make up for the absence, and brought out members of Colón's band, who were already on a plane by the time Colón fell ill, for "Aguanile" and "Mi Gente." The concert had been billed as a tribute to Hector Lavoe, Colón's former vocalist whom Anthony portrayed in the 2007 film El Cantante.

UPDATE added 3/18:

Contact: Ernesto Hernandez
Tel (917) 438-7187


"On Monday, March 16, 2009, Willie Colon underwent a cholecystectomy procedure at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

He is now resting comfortably at home and thanks everyone for
their thoughts and prayers."


"El lunes 16 de marzo de 2009 Willie Colón fue sometido a una colecistectomia en el NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

Él esta ahora descansando confortablemente en su casa y desea agradecer a todos por sus buenos deseos y oraciones."

March Showers, April Flowers

Is it time yet to get excited about all the live salsa and festival gigs piling up in April?

Shakori Hills has done right by Latin music fans and set a nice double jewel in the crown for Thursday night (4/16): Jose Conde & Ola Fresca at the Meadow Stage at 9pm, topped off with Orquesta GarDel from 10:30-midnight in the Dance Tent. On Friday (4/16) Jose Conde will do a "Baby Loves Salsa" set for kids at 2:30 pm, then holds down the Dance Tent from 11:30 pm into the wee hours.

It is difficult for me to remain tight-lipped about what Orquesta GarDel has been working on in the woodshed these days. Yet keep silence, I must! At least for awhile longer...

GarDel pianist, composer and co-leader Eric Hirsh is so up and coming, I'm going to have to start referring to him soon as a "phenom." Next week, Eric will take part in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead residency at the Kennedy Center. Congratulations, Eric! You make us proud. Somehow, we will be able to hear his concerts on the internet, so stay tuned.

GarDel also has an unconfirmed appearance slated for next month's Copa Night at George's Garage. The way to find out about these things is not through George's, but via the Cobo Brothers Dance Company, who have a new website, www.ncsalsa.com; both of their sites were 404 on me a little while ago, will check back later. The Cobos announced it at their monthly party this past Saturday, but Eric says the date (April 11) is still tentative pending final confirmation of GarDel's availability. Ojalá.

More good clubbing news...DJ Salsa Mike brings live music to his Carmen's Tropical Night party again on Friday, April 24. The band? The Latin Project, co-led by local trumpeter Alberto Carrasquillo. Alberto is a conservatory-trained musician whose resumé in local bands includes GarDel and Carnavalito, but in Puerto Rico he played first trumpet with the brass impresario Rubby Haddock, among other first-call salsa bands.

If you're wondering why you haven't seen The Latin Project since last year's Earth Day at Durham Parks & Rec, it's because Charlotte has discovered them and has been hogging their favors. Come on Triangle, support your own Latin music scene! Big Kudos to Salsa Mike for booking them, and for bringing live music to his fiestas.

Speaking of Earth Day, Carnavalito plays at Durham's downtown celebration at the CCB Plaza on Saturday, April 25. The varied lineup includes Wigg Report. A week before, on Saturday, April 18, Carnavalito plays Raleigh's Earth Day festival too, at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Percussionist Beverly Botsford and The Old Ceremony will also hold court.

Completing the festival roundup, MerleFest is going to rouse me to make the trip west to Wilkesboro this year to see Linda Ronstadt and Los Camperos Nati Cano on Sunday, April 26. Cano's Smithsonian Folkways-signed mariachi band backs Ronstadt, whose heritage is Mexican-American, on this tour called "Songs of my Father / Canciones de mi Padre.",

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tower of Power

This sculpture made of reclaimed vinyl by Peruvian artist William Cordova, called "Greatest Hits," was just installed last week in the main hall of the Nasher.

This link takes you back to the flickr set where you can see the whole installation in progress.


Apparently, this is sneak preview for an upcoming show being put together by contemporary art curator Trevor Schoonmaker called "The Record" (!). So is a three-part work by American conceptual artist Dario Robleto, also installed last week. Robleto will be on hand Wednesday, March 25 at 7 p.m. to talk about it. Navigate yourself through the reservation form here.

Also at the Nasher now: Esculptura Social, conceptual art from Mexico City

UNC acquires major artwork by Cornelio Campos

I am a big fan of painter Cornelio Campos and was DELIGHTED to hear from him, at the end of last year, that UNC was buying one of his large canvases. It's about time, not only that he achieve that kind of institutional recognition, but that a local entity with the resources to do so snap up some of his major work and keep it on display here, locally, on a permanent basis.

Now, this press release came from Sharon Mujica:

Sunday, March 22, 2009, 5:00-6:30 at CHICLE,
Talk and display - HIS ART by local artist Cornelio Campos

About the Artist:
Cornelio Campos has worked and lived in his native Mexico, in California, and now lives in Durham, NC. He is an electrician by trade and the founder of Los Viejitos, a dance group from his native Mexico. His paintings include expressive narratives of his beloved home town of Cheran, in the state of Michoacan in Central Mexico, and of his immigrant experiences in the US. He has drawn since he was a young child, and began to paint at the age of 10. He attended art classes in Cheran, taught by Panfilo Macias, and CREA Summer School in Guadalajara, Jalisco.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has recently purchased one of his paintings and it may be seen at the Campus YMCA.

Artist's Statement:
"My paintings are inspired by the nostalgia I have for my home town of Cheran, Mexico, my family, and the customs I grew up with. I also see my paintings as a tool for sharing my indigenous background, and for offering a teaching lesson to people here in the United States. I currently do two types of art; one which is folkloric, and the other would be considered political. In these pieces I address the issues faced by people from Central and South America — the lingering cultural significance of Spanish colonization, and the experience of creating a life in a new country. I would describe this work as narrative – a free expression of what I think about – a way to respond to what is happening in society in general, and the status of immigrants in the US." — Cornelio Campos

Please call us at (919) 933-0398 if you want more information.

CHICLE, or the Chapel Hill Institute of Cultural and Language Education, is located above the Weaver Street Market in Carrboro.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Grupo Niche in Greensboro NEXT FRIDAY

One that got away: El Tri

Why doesn't Disco Rodeo have a website? Because they can pack the place without bothering to let the gringos know that El Tri is in town. I hear...I hear, they played there last night.

I really should listen to the radio more often. Mexican acts promote through three main means: Hispanic media (Que Pasa newspaper, La Ley 96.9 FM), physical postering at tiendas, and word of mouth. Zero web presence. Perhaps I need to increase my word of mouth presence; get a stringer on the street who, for a nominal subscription fee, would keep Onda Carolina up to date. This is one information gap Lisa and I intended to bridge, or at least make inroads, when we started the blog. But it takes time to chase down information at tiendas every week.

It would be nice to somehow make more connections between the two entertainment economies, the Hispanic word-of-mouth market, and the "mainstream" one where the threshold of expectation is that there will at least be an internet presence, maybe even a Facebook page. Mainstream promoters are often interested in breaking into this market, but it's a communications gap as well as, often, a cultural one.

Easier said than done. Still, this is a good reminder to keep trying harder.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dancing in the D.R.

Does anyone have tips on where to go dancing and/or hear live music in the Dominican Republic? This query has come in from a reader:

"We want our four days there to be very much centered around dancing and music. We're hoping to dance with the locals and experience the roots of merengue and bachata firsthand!"

Please share in the comments section!


Ok, Salsonero suggests the "only disco grotto in the world"--with a website: Guácara Taína in Santo Domingo.

OC pal Steve seconds that recommendation ("how can you resist saying you danced in a cave?"), and adds two more:

1) La Sartén
Hostos 153
Santo Domingo
"Tiny hole in the wall salsa/merengue club where you can see mostly middle aged and up folks dancing old school. It's like going back in time 30 years. Bring hearing protection, it's loud, even out on the sidewalk, where a large part of the dancing takes place. When I was there, this place was strictly for locals, but I heard a rumor a while back that somebody was taking tourists there. Hard to imagine, but times change. This is in the old center (Zona Colonial)."

2) Kantabar Plaza Unicentro
Av. 27 de Febrero esq. Abraham Lincoln, Unicentro Plaza, Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana
"This is actually a Karaoke place, something that I'm typically not really into. Got dragged there, I thought I'd hate it, but ended up loving it. You can see ordinary folks letting their hair down and going through the classics. Looking on the web, it looks like they may have at least 2 locations now, so I hope this is the right one. Lots of dancing going on."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Salsa Producer Ralph Mercado Dies, 67

Photo © by Martin Cohen, used by permission.
Mercado pictured in 2001.

Word is circulating that salsa producer Ralph Mercado, head of the RMM label in the '90s, has passed away.

Said musician Bobby Matos in a public forum on Yahoo:
"I understand that Ralphie was controversial and sometimes difficult but he was very important in the careers of a number of our great musicians. In addition to being a business person, I always found him interested in the people around him. Descansa en paz, Ralphie, Ibae (como dice los Lucumi)."

This obituary appeared yesterday in the Miami Herald.

Interesting obituary in the New York Daily News.

This 2001 article in the New York Times gets into the nitty gritty of Mercado's business practices, including his bankruptcy that year, lawsuits over copyright infringement and unpaid royalties, and loss of RMM.

This appreciation of the industry giant (en Español) by Josue Rivas appears in La Opinion.

Aurora Flores wrote this story with many details about Mercado's career in 2006. At the time, he was recovering from cancer surgery.


RADIO ALERT: This SUNDAY (3/15), 4-6 pm Rocky Mountain Time [6-8 pm Eastern Time], Denver DJ Arturo Gomez will be paying tribute to Ralph Mercado on the KUVO program "Salsa con Jazz." He will give retrospective spins from labels RMM and Tropijazz, and artists such as Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Hilton Ruiz and more.

jazz at the franklin

Brevan Hampden & Friends played at the Franklin Hotel Sunday night...

Brevan led from the drumset, occasionally spelled by trombonist Ryan Robinson, so Brevan could play congas. Mark Wells played piano and sang; what a lovely voice. Al Strong, Brevan's bandmate in Orquesta GarDel, was there with his trumpet, and Brian Horton with his elegant inventions on tenor sax. Sitting in (between bites of a tasty looking burger) was Barney Branch on alto sax. Mitch Butler too, who is working long distance on his doctorate in trombone performance at UT-Austin.

just desserts
Someone had birthday cake; all of us got our just desserts.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mexico City at the Nasher through June 7

Link: My story about the exhibition in This Month at Duke

WHAT: Escultura Social: A New Generation of Art from Mexico City
WHERE: Nasher Museum of Art
, 2001 Campus Dr. (corner Anderson), Duke University
WHEN: Jan. 15 - June 7, 2009 (Closed Mondays)

MUSEUM ADMISSION: Adults $5; Senior adults and Duke Alumni with card $4; non-Duke students with ID $3; Duke students, faculty and staff with ID, Durham city residents with ID, and Children 16 and younger FREE.

General Admission is FREE on Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Arturo O'Farrill on Democracy Now

Grammy winner Arturo O'Farrill, who leads the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, son of Chico O'Farrill, is interviewed here at Democracy Now in support of easing travel restrictions to Cuba.

Thanks to Mappy Torres for the heads up.

Here is the Letter to President Obama from U.S. Artists, Arts Presenters, Arts Educators and Cultural Scholars in support of Cultural Relations with Cuba, referenced by Democracy Now's Amy Goodman in Arturo's interview.

Friday, March 6, 2009

BREAKING: Live Bandoneon on 9th St - SATURDAY

Thankfully we can re-run this for today--Saturday, 3/7. Apologize for the false alert last night. The details from Triangle Tango are below. If you want to have dinner at Metro 8 in conjunction with this milonga, reservations are recommended.


Breaking news from the live tango frontline:
"Bandeonista Osvaldo Barrios will be playing at the milonga at the Metro 8 restaurant on 9th St. [in Durham] tonight. The milonga runs from 9 pm -2 am but i haven't been able to get a fix on when exactly Barrios will be playing."

That source prefers to remain on the downlow. Do your own digging.

Update: Eric did, and found this link:

"Triangle Tango and tangueros, Dan Plonski & Eduardo Lazarowski, are excited to be hosting bandoneon player, Osvaldo Barrios, at Metro 8, Saturday March 7th.

is originally from Argentina and has been playing the bandoneon since the age of 12. He has performed with many orchestras including, Miguel Calo, Mariana Mores, Jorge Caldara, and Mario DeMarco. More information on Osvaldo’s career can be found at www.bandoneonbarrios.com.

Thierry Olivry will DJ between the live music sets. Dancing is from 9 p.m. - 2 a.m. Admission is $8."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Shaheen & ASWAT Orchestra WORLD PREMIERE Tonight

Concert Review added...scroll down.

Simon directing

The last few days hanging out at Duke, I've been trying to learn Simon Shaheen's musicians by name, the instruments they play, and grasp just the tip of the iceberg of Arabic music. 16 musicians arrived Monday at Duke--from L.A., Boston, New York, Lebanon, Tunisia--and have been rehearsing like mad on a program of classical Arabic music from the "Golden Age." Apparently this refers to a golden age for cinema and movie music, in the Egyptian film industry of the 1930s-1960s. The concert tonight (Page Auditorium, 8 pm, Duke Performances) will also feature video projections of rare movie clips to go along with the music.

Simon Shaheen Rehearsal Series
Jamal Senno plays the zither-like qanoun.

The four vocalists, 2 male and 2 female, all came from overseas. I've only heard Sonia M'Barek (gorgeous voice) and Ibrahim Azzam in rehearsal, and can't wait to hear Rima Khcheich and Khalil Abonula, who I'm told are also great. No doubt. This is an ensemble of first class cats, many of whom turned down other gigs to do the 20-day U.S. tour with Shaheen. Duke Performances shared this personnel list:

Orchestra (12 members)
Kamil Shajrawi - violin
William Shaheen - violin
Abeeb Refela - violin
Georges Lammam - violin
Simon Shaheen - violin / oud
Najib Shaheen - oud
Bassam Saba - nay/flute
Jamal Sinno (alt spelling: Senno)- qanun
Tomas Ulrich - cello
Walid Zairi - bass
Michel Merhej Baklouk - percussion
Dafer Tawil (alt spelling: Zafer) - percussion

Vocalist (4 featured)
Ibrahim Azzam - vocal
Sonia M'Barek - vocal
Khalil Abonula - vocal
Rima Khcheich - vocal

Welcome to the world of transliterated Arabic: I've found alt spellings for artist's names (what they tell me and what is on their Facebook page sometimes varies from the artist management's travel manifest), and for the names of instruments, and so I'm going to just print what people have told me and allow that there is some variation.
Simon Shaheen Rehearsal Series
Tomas Ulrich, cello, Zafer Tawil and Michel Merhej Baklouk, percussion

As you can see from that list, many, if not most of these musicians are multi-instrumentalists. So for instance, Zafer Tawil is one of the two percussionists, but is also adept at oud, violin, etc. I'm not sure if I photographed Bassam Saba with a violin in rehearsal at one point, in addition to Western flute and Arabic reed flute(or nay/nye), but I wouldn't be surprised. (Saba is a member of Silk Road Project, and Shaheen's Quantara and Near Eastern Music Ensemble.) All three Shaheen brothers, Simon, Najib and William, play both oud and violin. (Najib is a master luthier, while William sidelines as an optometrist.) I've played a violin in my life and know that this is obviously not the same technique at all. [Although a local musician I talked to at the gig pointed out, both are fretless and have a neck and fingerboard of similar size.] I find it intriguing that this is a common prerequisite for these Arabic musicians, who must have a well-rounded approach to the music that would come from mastering very different techniques to achieve the same ends. While it's not completely rare in Latin, jazz or classical circles, it's certainly more typical for instrumentalists to specialize in one instrument, or in instruments with a similar technique (i.e. trumpet/flugelhorn/valve trombone, saxophones/flutes, etc.)

UPDATE - Concert Review, added 3/6:

"ASWAT (Voices): Celebrating the Golden Age of Arab Music" was a monumental concert event, 3 hours of music with intermission, and well worth being among the first to hear it last night in Duke University's Page Auditorium.

"You are going to hear the best voices in the Arab World," Simon Shaheen said, and he wasn't kidding. The first half of the program featured the exquisite Khalil Abonula and Rima Khcheich, performing individually and then as a duet. Part two followed a similar format, with Sonia M'Barek followed by Ibrahim Azzam, closing with a duet.

Before they played, a short segment of film clips introduced us to stars of the Egyptian film industry who first sang these tunes on screen and, via the magic of mass culture, popularized them throughout the Arab world. A montage of the images and voices of Egytian stars Um Kulthum and Mohammad Abdel Wahhab, the Lebanese diva Fairuz and Syrian movie star and composer Farid Al Atrash, among others, flashed onscreen above the musicians, and were referenced briefly throughout the evening as new singers took on their roles. [It occurred to me during the program that one could do something similar with the Mexican film industry.]

Farid Al Atrash with bellydancer Samia Gamal
in 1950

The musicians wore black tie without the tie, but Simon proved very down-to-earth as he spoke with the audience to introduce the program. (That's the vibe I got from them throughout their visit; friendly and unpretentious, with a low-key sense of humor). It's not for nothing Shaheen is considered an ambassador for Arabic music; not only is he a multi-ensemble leader and performer, but since 1996 he has organized an annual workshop retreat in Arabic music at Mt. Holyoke College.

Program Notes:

Part 1

They opened with an instrumental arrangement of "Fakkaruni" (Remind Me) by Mohammed Abdel Wahhab. It seems not uncommon for an Arabic music audience, like a jazz audience, to applaud mid-way through a piece to acknowledge solos. Musicians will also express a word or gesture of appreciation for solos that are tasty or cooking; we witnessed both of these during this opening number.

Next, Khalid Abonula from Palestine sang a truly exquisite song called "Jannat" (Gardens), by Lebanese composer and singer Wadi' Al Safi to lyrics by Abdel Jalil Wihbeh. This was a slow piece with wrenchingly elaborate ornaments, and like all the singers, he was mighty and effortless. I can't interpret the words, yet I could really sense the storytelling energy behind his delivery. [Off the record: I ran into these guys at the grocery store a few nights earlier, and Khalid was stocking up on Kit Kats--could that be part of his regimen for maintaining his silky smooth voice, I wondered?]

Abonula followed that with an equal tour de force by the same songwriters, "Wayli Laou Yidrun," about a guy in love with a woman not approved of by his parents. Both of these opened with qanoun solos by Jamal Sinno, over a low drone in the violins. I don't know enough about the structure of this music to speak knowledgably about it, but I was trying to take notice. Mr. Abonula projected warmth and polish with a deep blue tie peeking out of a high-buttoned, long-cut jacket.

Lebanese singer Rima Khcheich ('Ka-shaysh') was introduced for the next two numbers. The petite Ms. Khcheich wore a simple all black emsemble of trousers, strapless top, and an airy, full-length wrap bordered in white or silver embroidery. She gestured emphatically, raising her upper arms near her head while singing, beginning with the long, intense 'Qasida' poem "Sakana I-Layl" (Calm Night), an Abdel Wahhab tune setting lyrics by Gibran Khalil Gibran.

Rima literally stole the show with an a capella interlude between that and her next number, "Il Wardi Gamil" (Lovely Flowers), an Um Kulthum hit in the 1947 film "Fatima." In the interlude, introduced by Simon's violin solo, Rima's high, ampflied solo voice, literally trembling at times, entranced everyone I talked to in the hall. It's worth noting that none of the singers read their parts from sheet music, and the intricate melodies and lyrics they have committed to memory is no doubt extensive.

Part one wrapped by bringing Khalil back out to sing with Rima an excerpt from a 1960s Lebanese musical about rural life, Sahrit Hubb (An Evening of Love), a TV sketch that originally starred Fairuz and Wadi' Al Safi.

Part 2

Again they opened with a sort of jam session [an Arab descarga, I thought], "Kahramana" by Farid Al Atrash [who looks a little like Tito Rodriquez in the film clips, in one of them wearing a tuxedo.] Solos in order, if I'm not mistaken, by: Jamal Sinno (qanoun = zither), Bassam Saba (nay = flute), Najib Shaheen (oud = lute), Kamil Shajrawi (violin). This tune is an instrumental dance number from a 1949 Egyptian film, "Afrita Hanim" (Jinni) starring Al Atrash and Samia Gamal.

Also of interest to me, as an aside, was how often the string players tuned up between numbers. With microtones in their scales and modes, I'm sure that pitch is an especially keen matter. I am not sure how the violins, cello and bass are tuned, i.e. if they vary from Western tuning, but it didn't sound like it as they were bowing their open fifths. However, that's just my guess. Also, I wondered how they play microtonal scales on the reed flute (nay/ney); I thought to look more closely and saw that Bassam had at least 6 nays on a table by his side. Are these keyed to different maqams, or what? Clearly I need to do more research.

The stately, emotive Sonia M'Barek came out next, looking like a queen in a pillar of aqua silk, to sing a really divine Arabic ode to Vienna. "Layalil 'Unsi Fi Vienna" (Merry Nights in Vienna) is in vals time, which Simon says is no stranger in Arab music. The tune comes from the 1944 film Gharam Wa Intiqam (Love and Revenge) starring Farid Al Atrash's sister, Asmahan.

Asmahan in one of the films that inspired ASWAT

Sonia then sang "Ana Fi Intidharak Malleit" (I Am Fed Up Waiting For You) which was another glorious highpoint of the evening. She emotes from deep within her body when she sings. Not to shortshrift the concert performance--you definitely got the feeling she gave her utmost to a live audience--but it's possible this tune was even more delicate and moving in the rehearsal, when the band and singers were without amplification. In any case, it moved listeners at the open rehearsal to spontaneous applause. M'Barek is Tunisian and has specialized in Tunisian and Andalucian music since she was a child.

"Ya Wardi Min Wishtirik" (The Flower Buyer) brought Palestinian singer Ibrahim Azzam to the stage next, in a bright yellow tie, and with a second oud in hand. They set him up troubadour style, standing at a pair of mics with one leg on a chair to support the oud. The song is an Abdel Wahhab tune, setting lyrics by Lebanese poet Bishara Al Khoury. It tells the story of a moody monologue by a young man, thinking about buying a flower for his beloved.

Next was "Ya 'Awathil Falfillu," another Farid tune from the 1950 film "Akhir Kithba" (Last Lie) that got the audience clapping. A brief oud solo from Najib was welcome, and the duelling ouds with Najib and Ibrahim was a real crowdpleaser.

The evening ended with a happy ending: "Ya Di n-Na'im" (Living in Happiness), from the 1938 film Yahyal Hubb (Love Wins) starring Layla Murad and Mohammed Abdel Wahhab. Sonia and Ibrahim sang this dialogue about reunited lovers.

A few sound problems got worked out in the first half, so the premiere should set them up well for their big coming out party in D.C. There was talk among the musicians of the program running long, so it could be that some numbers will get tightened up or cut during the tour. I don't know if the Arabic music scene is just super laidback about autographs or what, but the supporting musicians seemed very phlegmatic about signing CDs. They all referred me to Simon to do the honors. He did, with the graciousness he showed to everyone throughout his residency here. (And I even got Najib to throw his John Hancock on it in Arabic.) Thanks to ASWAT Orchestra for access to their practice sessions and a fantastic, extended play concert of rare music.

If you're in a touring city where tickets are still available, I definitely recommended you catch this, it's an epic work on the visionary scale of Wynton Marsalis' Congo Square with Yacub Addy, bringing together musicians it will be hard to catch together anywhere else. As someone new to traditional Arabic music, I found it accessible and entrancing; there can't be a better way to hear this music for the first time than live, by some of the best practitioners in the world. Fans of Arab music won't have to be told twice; ASWAT is a cultural experience not to be missed.


Simon Shaheen on WUNC's The State of Things
A story I wrote for Duke Today about Shaheen's reception on campus
Syrian Clarinettist Kinan Azmeh on Weekend Edition
NPR's Sampling of the Arabesque Festival in D.C.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Malaquias Montoya Gallery Reception Today

Dedication of the new Fredric Jameson Gallery in Duke's Friedl Building (formerly Duke Art Museum on East Campus) kicks off today with an opening and reception for Chicano graphic artist Malaquias Montoya's "Premeditated: Meditations on Capital Punishment."

WHEN: Wednesday (3/4) Reception 5 pm, Gallery Talk by the Artist at 6 pm.
WHERE: Fredric Jameson Gallery, Friedl Building Room 115, Duke East Campus
COST: FREE, Open to the public.

Map of parking for this event on the East Campus Quad
Sponsored by Duke University's Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South.

From exhibit web page:

From press release:
"Montoya is a leading figure in the West Coast political Chicano graphic arts movement, a political and socially conscious movement that expresses itself primarily through the mass production of silk-screened posters. Montoya's works include acrylic paintings, murals, washes, and drawings, but he is primarily known for his silkscreen prints, which have been exhibited nationally as well as internationally. This exhibition features silkscreen images and paintings, and related text panels dealing with the death penalty and penal institutions--inspired by the escalation of deaths at the hands of the State of Texas in recent years. As Montoya states, 'We have perfected the art of institutional killing to the degree that it has deadened our national, quintessentially human, response to death. I want to produce a body of work depicting the horror of this act.'

Since 1989 Montoya has been a professor at the University of California, Davis. His classes, through the Departments of Chicana/o Studies and Art, include silkscreening, poster making and mural painting, and focus on Chicano culture and history. He is credited by historians as being one of the founders of the "social seriography" movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1960s. His visual expressions, art of protest, depict the struggle and strength of humanity and the necessity to unite behind that struggle. Like many Chicano artists of his generation, Montoya's art is rooted in the tradition of the Taller de Grafica Popular, the Mexican printmakers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, whose work expressed the need for social and political reform for the Mexican underprivileged. Montoya's work uses powerful images that are combined with text to create his socially critical messages.

The exhibit will be on display from the reception through April 17th and from mid-May through Mid-September. Hours from March 5 through April 17th are 10am - 5pm. Summer and fall hours to be determined - please check back on our website after April for those hours."