I found this compilation the last time Nada and I were in Chicago, in an Indian book/video/CD store on Devon Street.
Rahul Dev Burman, better known as RD Burman, was the son of the famous and successful Bollywood composer, SD Burman, and the husband of one of Bollywood's most famous singers, Asha Bhosle, who sang more than 800 of RD's songs. Considered the last great innovator of Bollywood music, Burman took inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, and often used unconventional instruments, such as the bottles you'll hear being blown into in "Mehbooba Mehbooba," or--in a song not included in Momentous--water, being gargled by Asha as she sang.
Formally trained in his childhood, RD's music was all over the map, ranging from Bollywoodized Indian classical to rock to disco to funk to jazz to Bengali song to--you name it. He plagiarized shamelessly, always making what he stole distinctly his own. See, for instance, this Web page, which offers numerous samples of RD's music along with what inspired it. (Listen, for instance to "Mehbooba Mehbooba" next to Demis Roussoss’s "Say You Love Me." A clear case of lifting, but there's no contest as to which is the stronger version.)
He died fairly young--at 44, in 1994--at a time when his career was on the outs. But, in the 15 years that have followed he's gone on to become the single most remixed Bollywood composer of all time. Even younger people who don't know they know his songs, know his songs--or at least re-versions of them.
Given the breadth of his work, this CD is hardly representative, but perhaps a nice entry. Note: You may have to scroll up on the playlist, which for some reason seems to want to start you out with the 8th track rather than the 1st.
Found in a Thai gift store in Manhattan's Chinatown a few months ago. I can't remember the exact coordinates of the store, but it's midway down the block from Canal Street on Elizabeth, Mulberry, Mott ... or something else in that area.
This is absolute must-download material for anyone obsessed with the Sublime Frequencies series.
Download the 4 songs on the playlist in one zip file here.
"In the beginning, it is always downy, chewy and dressed warmly."
These are the first (of admittedly few) English words in the booklet that came with this uneven, but fabulous-in-places CD that I picked up after work this evening at P Tune & Video Co on Chrystie Street.
I know as much, or less, than you about this band. I do know that the CD was released decades after The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" and at least three years before The Runaways/Joan Jett movie.
But, what do you think? Is this Taiwanese all-girl rock band a conscious nod or knock-off ... or flukey kowinkidink?
All I know is that the first song, "Guai Guai," or "Goody Goody," is some of the most amazing power pop I've heard since, well, since power pop. According to this, "Goody Goody" is their second of two CDs. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for their maiden launch.
I found this CD many, many years ago at Princess Music on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. The last time I stopped by Princess Music their doors were closed. I've since called the number on the awning a number of times and always get nothing. They were the last of some half a dozen Arabic music places in the area that I used to haunt; now, it looks like they're gone with the others.
Kazim Al Saher, born in 1957 in Iraq, is perhaps the Arabic world's biggest living superstar. I have maybe a dozen of his CDs, most of which are heavily Western influenced. "Aghsilly Bilbard" is an exception.
Unlike many Arabic singers, Kazim Al Saher composes most of his own music. I don't think there is any question that the man is a genius. But more importantly, every time I listen to "Waneen," the first track (of only three) on this CD, I get terribly misty-eyed. I think it's one of the most moving pop songs--if it can actually be called a "pop" song--ever recorded.
In August of 2008, I took a week off work for what I had hoped to be an uneventful "staycation." Unfortunately, I found myself, the Friday night prior to my week off, digging around in Chowhound. Nothing wrong with that. Except that this time I happened to stumble onto someone's Google map of every taco, quesadilla, tamale, burrito, and fresh juice truck parked in East Jackson Heights, Queens.
To the extent that my plans for the week involved nothing more or less than throwing my ass onto the couch and watching as many Hong Kong movies as I could cram into 168 hours, I was, to put it baldly, fucked.
And, though I managed to remain indoors glued to the TV Saturday and Sunday, sure enough, on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. I found myself wide awake, making a transfer from the G train to the 7. By 9:00 a.m. I was in East Jackson Heights, or "EJH," sucking down the most glorious chorizo sopes I have ever managed to squeeze between my lips. Forgive me if I do not recount my tamale and quesadilla experiences that same day; this is a PG-13 rated blog, and I plan to keep it that way.
While wandering around EJH, I took a series of photos, eventually finding myself in a bit of hot water after I took a quick snap of a funky bookstore in a sort of Jackson Heights-y "mall" type situation.
"I know the LAW!" the bookstore owner bleated into my ear as he grabbed my arm forcibly, trying to wrest my camera away. Had I had my wits about me, I'd have explained that I, too, know the law, and that--whether or not my taking a photo of his bookstore was legal--his grabbing my arm like that was, technically speaking, assault.
But, no; I was groggy from all of the cornmeal, cheese, chorizo, and beans. I deleted the photo of his bookstore as he watched, and moved on.
Perhaps it was for the best. In my haste to put distance between myself and this rather unpleasant experience, I stumbled upon an Ecuadorian bodega that seemed to stretch all the way back to Ecuador itself. One entire wall seemed to house nothing but CDs, glistening hauntingly, wantonly beneath their shrinkwrap. Rubbing my reddened arm, I slipped in.
I knew, and still know, next to nothing about Julio Jaramillo. Googling him this morning, I see that he was one of Ecuador's most popular singers, comparable to our own Frank Sinatra. He died young (aged 42) in 1978, but by then had recorded more than 4,000 songs.
I have no idea what happened to the bodega where I found this CD. I've been back to EJH many times, but have not been able to locate it again. I can, however, if you are nice to me, tell you where to get the best chorizo sope you can expect to find in the 718 area.
Download CD here. (The first song starts out a bit muddy but clears up by the first 30 seconds or so.)
A summer or two ago, Nada and I flew out to Portland, Oregon, to visit family and friends in Oregon and California.
While staying with our friends Rodney Koeneke, Leslie Poirier and their son, Auden, I did a bit of Googling around to find a few comic book shops. I'd heard that Portland was something of a Mecca for indy and self-published things and, sure enough, stumbled upon Guapo Comics & Coffee (6350 SE Foster Road). Being a cafe, in addition to a comic book store, they were open bright and early (it was barely 9:00 a.m.). I mapped out my trip and was soon on a bus rumbling down Foster.
As we began to roll through a series of strip clubs and other seedy offerings, I spotted a rather large store with a sign reading THAI CAM VIDEO.
I pulled the "Please God Stop The Bus" cord and slipped out at the next stop, smiling at a young woman making her way into the strip club where, presumably, she worked.
When I entered the store, the (presumable) owner of Thai Cam Video (5230 SE Foster Road, 503-788-0967) greeted me and watched as I made my way over to the wall of CDs. "You like Cambodian music?" she asked. Here we go again, I thought. "Do you speak Cambodian?"
I gave my standard spiel about how "I am the kind of dork who goes waaay out of his way whenever possible to find 'obscure' little markets just like yours selling delights from around the world of a musical nature."
"Have you been to Cambodia?" she asked. It seemed she really wanted some other explanation.
"No," I said, "but I am going soon," I lied. (I'm going to Japan.)
After picking up a number of items, mostly things recorded on the Thailand-Cambodia border, I asked the shop keep if she had anything older, "say, from the 60s or 70s?"
She nodded and went to the CD wall, pulling down three things.
When I got back to Rodney, Leslie and Auden's place, Rodney and I popped one of the CDs into their ghetto blaster. It didn't work. (We later discovered it was a DVD or VCD.) The second CD did work and we walked out to sit on the porch as the amazing Cambodian music you'll hear on that playlist above filled the crisp late spring Portland air.
More than anyone I can think of, this whole blog has been inspired by, and is hereby dedicated to, the Koeneke-Poirier family.
Listen the mix above. Download the whole shebang here.
Every now and then, after months of trawling the same dozen or so bodegas and ethnic video/CD stores, a simple wrong turn down an unfamiliar street or alleyway can lead to discoveries of a musical nature never before imagined.
Such a misstep two or three weeks ago resulted in my stumbling onto the Mother of all Motherlodes of indy Hong Kong hip-hop and rock the city of New York has yet yielded. Yes ... I remember it as if it was just yesterday [wave-y "flashback" screen] ...
It was Friday, 6:15 p.m. I had had a horrific week at work and was both famished, not having had a proper breakfast or lunch, and exhausted. After hopping the 7 train from Grand Central over to Bryant Park, I leaped onto the first thing that came: a D train. Why? My train is the F. I had planned, in fact, to take the F not home but to the last stop in Manhattan, East Broadway, where I was going to march several doors down to Lan Zhou Noodles: I had planned to inhale a bowl of Pork Chop Noodles ($4.50) and a Coke ($1.00). But when the D train pulled up and the doors opened with a rusty smudge, I nudged my way in, pulled by an invisible force ...
My addled thinking was this: D stops at Grand Street. Striking distance to Lan Zhou. When I exited the train at Grand, I hurried down Chrystie, the sound of the dough being WHACKED hard against the marble table by the guy "hand pulling" them at Lan Zhou in my head. I could smell the thick broth of the soup.
Normally, had I been less famished, I'd have sauntered one block over to Bowery to hit my favorite two Hong Kong Video/DVD places, then turn left on Canal, where I'd pop briefly into the Vietnamese sandwich place to see what treasures lay in their dusty CD bins. But not this evening. I was ravenous. I was being "hand-pulled" to Lan Zhou.
But, wait--what was this? P Tune & Video Co the sign outside the Video/CD store at 75 Chrystie Street read. (See photo above.) I bit my lower lip. I ignored the growling of my stomach. I popped in.
Two and a half hours later I emerged from the store, an ungodly number of CDs now filling my backpack. I was dizzy to the point of hallucinating with hunger and hunched over under the weight of the CDs, inching along to Lan Zhou as though I had just come down from Everest.
I don't even remember eating the noodles. I'm sure they were great--they always are. I do remember suddenly realizing, once I was on the F train headed home that the sheer number of CDs was not something I necessarily wanted my wife to see. I had never been entirely clear on just how many CDs purchased in one outing would technically be "grounds for divorce," but I was clear that I wasn't interested in finding out. Using my apartment key, I began to peel the wrapping off a full 2/3rds of my purchases.
My plan was simple: Once home, I would "stealth" the unwrapped CDs into the growing pile on the floor near the CD case. My wife would see them, but not actually recognize they were new. Then, acting "normal," I would sit on the couch and unwrap the remaining third of the CDs as though that was all I had bought as Nada and I shared details of our workday and laughed or fumed about all of the various bullshit that had gone on in the poetry world that week.
In the months and weeks to come, I'll be featuring a number of the artists included in the playlist above--all of whom I found at P Tune--in individual posts. Until then, here's a smattering of context for what's there:
* The first song is actually the only thing included NOT by a Hong Kong artist. It's Taiwanese rapper MC Hotdog, who in this tune makes great use of what sounds like James Brown's "Good Foot" and a keyboard lick from Stevie Wonder
* Next up, the unfortunately named Ketchup (I say that because they're next to impossible to find via Google, for obvious reasons), covering an old Rebecca Pan song, Solid Gold Rickshaw
* I have no idea who the next act is, but I do know the producer's name: Gaybird. Fabulously breathy vocals, whoever it is
* Next we have the popular hip-hop duo Fama, from their CD "Money U Spend I Collect"
* Neo-rockabilly band Chicken Rice from their CD "Lucky 7"
* The Pancakes, "Abenteuer," from their (well, actually "her") first CD, "Les Bonbons Sont Bons"
* "Crazy Children" by LMF, or Lazy Mutha Fucka, Hong Kong's most notorious, and in many ways most thrilling, hip-hop band of all time
* A electric but still folk-indy sounding song from the most recent CD, "Poetics," by My Little Airport
* My absolute favorite song of the bunch, a cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" by Hong Kong cinema superstar Anthony Wong
* "照做," from a recent CD by hip-hop band 24 Herbs.
Listen to whole CD above. Download entire CD here.
As I said in an earlier post, there are two kinds of shop keeps: Those who are thrilled to find someone besides their usual customers combing through their tapes and CDs and those who--
Every single guy who works in the Albanian bodega on Church Avenue a few blocks from my apartment is friendly, helpful and talkative--until you ask about the music on the wall behind them.
"Thees museek NOT for you."
[extreme sarcasm] "What you like? You speak Albanian, yes?" [/extreme sarcasm]
"I don't know thees music. You don't know? I don't know."
[extreme disgust] "Just tell me WHEECH one." [/extreme disgust]
"I cannot halp you."
Given the looks some of these guys would give me, you would think I was asking them which hand to use when wiping my ass with pages from the Koran. So, how, then, did I ever manage to amass my SuperPosse of Albanian pop CDs, given this gauntlet?
I'm not altogether sure. I know I faked it a couple of times:
"No--I really--[cough]--I especially like Dava [mumbles unpronounceable last name], do you have anything else by her?"
I even tried telling the truth now and then:
"I just--I LOVE music from around the WORLD ... including Albania."
I know nothing about Fatmire Breçani other than she has one of the most powerful voices I've ever heard. And I've put her song "Ani Rushe Ruxhes Kush O Ma Ka Pa" (the 4th track on the playlist above) on nearly every mix-tape CD I've ever made anyone.
I haven't, though, been back to the Albanian bodega since well before Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Maybe they've chilled out a bit since then?
A recent find--in a Vietnamese CD/Video store on Argyle Street in Chicago--this is quite honestly one of the most bizarrely satisfying purchases of a musical nature I have ever made.
First, let's take a look at "what's up" on the cover. Note that "Rap" is in quotes on the back. As it should be. I have never heard rap like this. I'm fairly certain that, unless you have already heard this CD, you probably have never heard rap like this either.
Well, so what is it, then? I'll go out on a limb and just say that it's quite likely the single most carnivalesque melange of rubbery cartoon-y dance-y hip-hoppy trippy-y influences from around the world ever burned into polycarbonate plastic. It is simultaneously the flarfiest and rockin'est thing I have ever heard. I have quickly grown to love it almost as much as life itself. Could any language be less suited to rap than Thai, the most soft-spoken-deferential-un-pissed-off-sounding language on the planet?
What's up with the Chinese and English on front and back, when the songs are titled in Thai and/or English? What's up with the Kuala Lumpur address and phone number on the back? Well, okay; plenty of people read Chinese and/or English in Malaysia. But what's up with it winding up in a Vietnamese store in Chicago, Illinois?
And why is that woman in the sunglasses on the cover pointing to her nose like that?
I don't have a whole lot more to say about this CD other than to suggest that, if you like the Sublime Frequencies series, you're probably going to want to download this.
Download the entire CD for free here. And see important note in top box, right.
I've learned from more than a decade of scrounging through bodega racks for pop music CDs that there are basically two kinds of shop keeps. Those who are suspicious as to why you are looking through "their" music and those who are nothing short of thrilled to see someone other than their regular stream of customers actually show an interest in it.
My first experience, happily, was the latter. After moving to New York and a year of month-long sublets in three boroughs, I finally settled in an apartment on 13th Street and 6th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in a fourth-floor apartment with the poet Chris Stroffolino. I lived there from mid-1998 to mid-1999, during which period I was writing back and forth with Nada Gordon, who was then still in Tokyo. (Our correspondence was later published in Swoon.)
While strolling a few blocks away on 5th Avenue, I noticed a corner bodega, which appeared to have a whole rack of CDs and tapes for sale. I popped in, said hello to the shop keep--a friendly looking middle-aged woman wearing a scarf over her hair--and began perusing.
"How much are these?" I asked, holding up the CD you see at top of this post.
"Five dollars," she said, "or twenty dollars for five." A brief pause, as my eyebrows arched. "You speak Arabic?" she asked.
"Oh. Not really. I just--"
"If you like Najwa Karam," she nearly blurted out, "you should try Asalah! She is from my home country: Syria. Beautiful voice!"
Thus began one of the most pleasant customer-shop keep relationships I have ever had in my life. I took the five CDs--including the Najwa Karam and something by Asalah she recommended (more on her in another post)--and headed home. My world, to put it mildly, had been rocked.
Najwa Karam was born in 1966 in Zahle, about an hour east of Beirut. At an early age she showed signs of a natural gift for singing and, in 1985, without getting her parents' permission, signed up to compete on "Layali Lubnan," a TV show that I gather might have been a classier sort of "American Idol," which she won.
She began recording in the late 80s and by the 90s was an international superstar. Her career, however, has not always been the smoothest. She hasn't shied away from controversial, often feminist material (in one song she tells her fictional cousin that, because she was forced to marry him, he can have her body, but never her soul). Perhaps because of this, she has sometimes run into trouble.
In 1999 a rumor was started that she had told an interviewer that she had named her pet dog after the prophet Muhammad, and was subsequently banned from entering into Egypt to perform. A former Jordanian prime minister reportedly issued a fatwa. The rumor was false, and after a concentrated PR effort, she overcame it.
More recently, in 2004, the Lebanese Surete Generale censored the video clip, "Why Are You Emigrating?" which focused on Lebanon's economic crisis and the problems of the young.
Najwa Karam singing a mawal
Over the years I managed to find all of Karam's CDs, but still return most often to "Rouh Rouhi," one of the most powerful, rockin' pop efforts I have ever heard. After I moved from Park Slope to Kensington I returned one day to the Syrian bodega on 5th Avenue, and was happy to find the shop keep still there. She still recognized me, made a few recommendations, and played a few things for me to see if I could guess who the singer was. (I could, but when she asked if I knew what each song was, I had to shrug. She seemed to like that.)
I haven't been back in nearly half a decade, though, and I was a bit saddened that I have been thus far unable to find it looking around the area via Google's "Street View" function.
Later that year (1994, see previous post) a friend across the river in Minneapolis took me to see an Indian film, the title of which had been translated as “God Is My Witness.” This three-hour 1992 Bollywood epic following a couple of generations of Afghan tribes-people was the first Indian movie of any kind that I had ever seen.
To say that I was not really prepared for it is both an understatement and the wrong approach. More than any other film I’ve seen, “Khuda Gawah” completely changed my life forever. I loved every second of it: the supercharged game of buzkashi that opens and sets the pace and tone; the incredible songs (composed by superstar team Laxmikant Pyrarelal); and the fabulous performances by Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi:
It is no exaggeration when I say that I spent the next 10 years of my life desperately searching for a tape or CD of this soundtrack. Unfortunately, I was missing a key piece of information: Hindi Bollywood film titles are never, ever, ever translated into English, even though DVDs of almost every Hindi Bollywood film have English subtitles. As I discovered on subsequent trips to Devon Avenue in Chicago, "God Is My Witness" was not a film that anyone working in an Indian video/CD store was familiar with.
It wasn't until 2004, three years after Nada and I moved to the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn, that I discovered first a DVD of the film (I instantly recognized the image on the cover) and then, shortly thereafter, a CD of the soundtrack (shown above), at a Pakistani video store on Coney Island Avenue (Pak Video, 1058 Coney Island Avenue, just below Foster).
Six years later, I'm still listening to this remarkable CD; it remains one of my all time favorite Bollywood soundtracks.
Soon after I moved to New York City in 1997 I began to notice that bodegas run by people from around the world sometimes stocked CDs and DVDs of music and film from the countries they had come from.
The music I've collected from these bodegas can almost never be found in the "World Music" sections of the few remaining places to buy CDs in the U.S.; nor, for that matter on iTunes (or cheapo MP3 sites like Soundike).
If you are an artist or publisher and do not want your music here, just let me know and I'll remove it.